Two thousand protests urge action on climate

Actions not words: Protesters in New York with a message for the UN climate change summit © PA

Across the world yesterday passionate people marched through the streets demanding action to fight global warming. What makes our leaders so slow to respond? Is there nothing they can do?

It was a colossal demonstration of global collective will. Yesterday, in New York, London, Madagascar, Vietnam, Peru, New Guinea and 2,000 other places, hundreds of thousands took to the world’s streets. They were demanding that their leaders take serious action now against irreversible climate change.

In an unusual show of solidarity, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joined the 100,000 people in the streets of New York. As one organiser said, ‘to change everything, we need everyone’.

The unprecedented scale of the protest was meant to put pressure on the 125 world leaders meeting at the UN in New York to discuss climate change on Tuesday. This will be the largest international gathering on the issue for five years and the UN hopes it will ‘mobilise political will’ ahead of longer talks in Paris next year.

Most climate scientists agree that efforts to halt global warming have been entirely inadequate. The UN set an upper limit of two degrees centigrade for this century, as any higher temperature would bring about irreversible changes. Yet at current rates, that will be reached in just 30 years, and by 2100 the planet may have warmed by four degrees, which will cause a catastrophic rise in sea-levels, devastating heat waves and threaten the world food supply.

An often discussed measure is the introduction of carbon taxes, which would charge companies for using carbon-intensive fuels. The cost would create an incentive for them to use greener technologies.

While unpopular to start with, many corporations now say they support them. Reports suggest at least 150 major companies, including Google and Microsoft, have changed their business models to accommodate carbon taxes. With huge corporations and so many of the world’s people apparently united against climate change, is the tide finally turning?

Taking care of business

Most political leaders have so far paid lip service to fighting climate change but been too afraid to impose policies that might hurt their economies and their popularity. But now that corporations are showing they are prepared to take action, and with global demonstrations on such a scale, the momentum is building for real progress.

Yet social activist Naomi Klein says that it is not the lack of carbon taxes which is the problem but the capitalist system itself. Business leaders say they care about the environment, but rarely take meaningful action. Governments are too dependent on coal and oil for energy to dare to take on the big carbon emitters. Change can only come by appealing to the public’s sense of what is right and wrong. Rather than relying on the market to change, people must mobilise and change the market itself.

You Decide

  1. Is capitalism itself to blame for climate change?
  2. ‘No business cares about people. They just try to sound caring so they can sell more.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. In groups, imagine you are joining one of the climate change demonstrations. Try to come up with five punchy and relevant slogans for your protest banners. Compare with the class.
  2. Using the links in ‘Become an expert’, research the carbon tax. What are the arguments for and against it working?

Some People Say...

“Democracy is not safe when private power becomes more powerful than the democratic state itself.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why should I be interested in the protests?
It was the largest climate change protest in history, and the mobilisation of so many across the world was phenomenal. The hope is that by showing governments that popular concern transcends national borders, it will spur meaningful action. And as climate change will affect every single person on the planet, trying to prevent it concerns all of us.
Which corporations are the worst offenders?
A report last year found that two thirds of the carbon emissions that have led to global warming have come from just 90 companies. These are almost entirely oil and gas companies such as Chevron, Exxon and BP, as well as state-run gas companies in Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Word Watch

General
Ban Ki-moon says he wants to show that this is not a matter of the people against leaders, but about working together. As Secretary General he has lots of influence and access to leaders, but he cannot set a climate agenda if the UN’s member countries do not agree to it themselves.
Fuels
Many environmentalists worry carbon taxes can be abused. Companies might even produce more carbon before the tax in order to obtain a larger tax break when it is introduced.
Policies
A major issue has been whether richer countries which have already benefited from using carbon-intensive energy should pay more than countries that are only developing now. Some believe the UK and US should subsidise countries like Sudan and Kenya to go green.
Action
Klein cites Richard Branson, who pledged to invest £1.85bn in green technologies by 2016. Yet with that deadline fast approaching, he has only invested around one third of that figure.

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