What reason could there possibly be for a country not having a popular movement to fight against global warming?
As insane as it now seems to me in retrospect, this was the lay of the land in Denmark as recently as November 2007. To my knowledge, the same lack applies in a number of other countries. In the lead-up to the Copenhagen Climate summit of 2009 (i.e. the new Kyoto!), it is a matter of the utmost urgence that this situation be corrected.
I will try to relay a few of our initial experiences with building a broad popular movement against global warming in Denmark, in the hope that this may inspire similar initiatives in other countries, and that movements focused on other issues perhaps also may benefit.
Environmental organisations not enough
To be sure, there was, and still is, a constellation of environmental (Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF, local org’s, etc.) and other (Red Cross, etc.) organisations in Denmark, each with climate change as a topic on their agenda, each in its own way doing a lot of good work: publishing studies, documents, and websites; collecting and disseminating knolwedge; lobbying; etc.
But none of these organisations was (or is) actively seeking to grow in numbers around the issue of global warming, at least seen from the outside — or even in some cases as seen from the inside by me. There often floats an air of specialisation, of formality, of ceremoniousness, of exclusivity around many of them — or so is the public perception, which is intrinsically important when trying to garner massive support.
Where was the inlet for the throngs of angry people who want action on gloabl warming now? Constantly being organized were open lecture upon open lecture on what the IPCC is saying, or whether carbon capture works, or whether the EU’s carbon trading scheme is a good thing. Droves of interested and concerned people would come in from the street and attend, but would then be allowed to leave without any serious effort being deployed to harness the energies they came in with. These energies were left to dissolve as participants returned home, likely to wallow in solitary dismay and feelings of helplessness.
Ripe for the picking
Building a popular movement is always tremendously hard work, but as things stood in October 2007, building a movement around the issue of global warming had to rank amongst the least hard tasks in the history of popular organising. Events around the issue were regularly attended by sizeable audiences, a large portion of wich were obviously simply waiting for a forum to do something about it.
Recruiting concerned and interested citizens did not, therefore, seem like a major obstacle in the medium or long term. But the question was: How do we start this? How do we begin? Where do we want to go?
The first spark
Until November 2007, I had only very limited experience in the world of organizing, having only few-month-long stints in a Toronto global justice (2001) and a Copenhagen anti-war (2003) organisation in my bag. I’m a physicist. After finishing a very difficult Ph.D. in 2006 after five years of hard labour, I felt liberated and I started looking for opportunities to get involved in the fight against global warming, an issue that appeals to me probably due to its scientific aspect.
As series of fortuities led me to give a seminar on global warming at the Danish Social Forum in October 2007. I largely based the seminar on George Monbiot’s book, "Heat" (which I highly recommend).
This is where I met my friend Nynne Holm, who was one of the attendees. She and I quickly convinced each other of the need to spark a broad, nationwide, popular movement.
But we couldn’t believe that the initiative hadn’t already been taken by anyone else more experienced. We couldn’t believe that (to put it humbly) the fate of the planet rested on the shoulders of two newbies like us.
Even though Denmark is a rather small nation (5.5 M inh.), the task of building a nationwide movement from scratch was quite daunting, given that we both were equally inexperienced and had no idea where to start.
During our first discussions we elaborated a basic but far-reaching vision for a Climate Movement (sounds better in Danish: Klimabevægelse).
I’ll have to stop for now because I have to go to capoeira training… I’ll continue in my next post, starting with our vision.
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