Copenhagen 2009… backgrounder from

This email was circulated prior to an organising meeting for the Copenhagen 2009 protests which was held on the 13th to 14th September 2008. This text provides a bit of a background to the call for action at Copenhagen 2009 that has been circulating recently.

Please distribute this information far and wide.


UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen, December 2009

From the first International Climate Gathering
13 to 14 September 2008

Towards Climate Action in Copenhagen:

A. The Copenhagen Conference

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is expected to sign at the Copenhagen Conference the new protocol that will replace the Kyoto protocol and set the global framework to fight climate change. It will be one of the highest-profile global media shows ever, by which the governments will try to convince us that they are doing something about the existential crises facing us. In addition to a hypocritical display of public relations, we only expect the further development of destructive measures (such as carbon trading) and technologies (such as nuclear power and carbon capture and storage) to come out of this conference.

We live in interesting times. Capitalist expansion and a brainless consumerist culture are bringing social and environmental devastation to several global points of rupture. This is already triggering major historical changes that will intensify in the next few decades. Nobody knows yet in which direction this process will take us.

The most important single factor determining the outcome of this change will be the intensity, sophistication and creativity of decentralised grassroots social mobilisation. We cannot afford to wait for the breakdown of the existing order in the hope that this will bring a happier future.

We see the 2009 Copenhagen conference (CPH09) as a chance to advance towards positive grassroots solutions, to spread and reinforce constructive bottom-up responses to the global crisis. As a stage to communicate loud and clear, through direct action and civil disobedience, the need to actively confront our destructive economic system and the meaningless culture and empty values on which it is based. As a platform to promote the expression, expansion and mutual solidarity of the diverse grassroots movements that can attack the roots of the crisis and build a better future. As a vital stepping-stone for global struggle and hope.

a1) The climate crisis

We are about to enter a new phase in the history of the planet, defined by what scientists call “non-linear effects” in the earth’s climate – the process by which one change leads to another which leads to another and so forth. We are about to reach several of these critical changes, known as “tipping points”. When the first one is reached, there is no way back. The earth’s system then continues evolving, without us being able to do anything about it, until a new natural balance is reached. Nobody can predict what the chemical composition of the atmosphere or the average temperature of the earth will be in this new equilibrium. The process of change will be extremely violent, leading to the collapse of natural systems and human societies as we know them. It will happen very fast – it has already started, and we are witnessing its acceleration each year. The next decade is critical.

According to latest findings, in order to avoid catastrophic climate change we need to stabilise CO2 levels at 350 parts per million (ppm). Otherwise we will witness a 2-meter rise in sea levels during this century. As of March 2007, the widely accepted CO2 concentration to avoid a catastrophe was 450 ppm. We are already beyond 385 ppm.

We therefore need to stop all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within the next 10 years – stop burning fossil fuels and biofuels, ban combustion engines in all forms of road and rail transport, and shut down coal, gas and oil power plants.

We need to enable natural systems to capture CO2 from the atmosphere by reducing the environmental space taken by humankind and allowing forests and other ecosystems to grow back.

We need to stop using fertilisers (a major source of GHG emissions) and turn to organic agriculture in order to fix carbon in the soil. We also need to minimise the consumption of meat in order to take less environmental space, as it takes between 10 and 20 times more space and substantially more energy to feed a meat eater than a vegetarian.

We need to dismantle the current urban structures, which is based on the destruction of functional communities, the physical division between functions of life, the slow but steady construction of a “social apartheid” regime, and the consumption of ever-growing amounts of time and resources (including transport) to cover basic needs. We need to overcome the fossil- and nuclear-based mega-city and (re-)build rural societies based on freedom and sustainability.

We need to stop manufacturing absurd consumerist products that only generate corporate profits, social and environmental distress, and collective stupidity.

We need to challenge and replace the dominant set of cultural values, which see nature and people as commodities to be exploited and only attach value to material wealth and to dominant and hierarchical forms of power.

In short, we need to overcome capitalism, oppression and individualism, and build societies based of solidarity, collective emancipation, justice and equity.

a2) The energy crisis

The industrial revolution and the astonishing expansion of the economy in the last two centuries were based on fossil fuels and cheap energy of different forms – including human energy. This is still the case today: most of the cheap products that fill our stores are based to a large extent on the inhuman labour conditions of coal miners in countries such as China and South Africa and of local and migrant workers in oil and gas platforms in the Middle East and other regions, whose work provides power to the post-fordist sweatshops of the Global South. In these, women and men work their health away in exchange for a bare survival wage, transforming raw materials that result from the exploitation of other humans and the destruction of nature into corporate profits for the global elite.

Oil production has just peaked (or is about to peak), and at this rate, coal, gas and uranium production will peak in the next few decades. After the peak in production is passed, the production will go down while the demand continues growing. The energy prices and corporate profits and power thus will reach unprecedented levels (as is now happening with oil companies), accelerating negative redistribution: the already outrageously wealthy will become even more so, the middle class will quickly fall down the social ladder, the already dispossessed will become disposable, and the disposable will be starved to death. As is already happening.

A 100% transition to renewable energy sources (RES) such as solar, wind, wave and tidal energy holds part of the key to avoid this catastrophic scenario. They can also be the material basis for the decentralisation of the economy, since they are decentralised by nature (unlike oil fields or uranium mines) and can best be managed collectively by local communities rather than by centralised (state-owned or private) corporations. The experience of Denmark (before the 2001 change of government) shows that if communities are given the tools to do the transition to RES, it can happen astonishingly fast and smoothly, without provoking social sacrifices, and resulting in an increased quality of life. In just five years (1990-95), 25% of the Danish power supply changed from conventional coal to locally owned and operated Combined Heat and Power (CHP) stations. The driving force in this change was the people striving for a common good (supplying cheap heat to the community) rather than private profit. Simultaneously, wind energy increased strongly: from 1991 to 2001, wind energy took over 20% of the electricity production. This transition was combined with a coal-stop that was first introduced in 1990 and repeated in 1997 (but is now about to be broken with the construction of a coal power plant). The same speed of transition to locally and collectively owned RES (such as wind, solar, etc) can take place on the basis of sound policies and instruments. But this will require considerable grassroots mobilisation and social confrontation with powerful economic interest, as happened in Denmark prior to the establishment of the coal stop.

However, despite their positive potential, RES can also have even more destructive effects than fossil fuels. Not all RES are sustainable – for example, burning agrofuels and biomass on a large-scale is worse than burning fossil fuels, since it implies the large-scale destruction of ecosystems. More significantly, the decentralised nature of RES can provoke unprecedented injustice and oppression. Central control of a RES-based energy system requires direct territorial control across vast regions, especially in rural areas. This is what will happen if private interests are in control of the transition to RES.

This process is already resulting in massive shifts in the ownership of land due to the recent take-off of a global biofuels industry. The displacement of African, Asian and Latin American peasant and indigenous communities, to make room for plantations based on slave labour and equivalent labour practices, is advancing at record speed, due to the billions poured in by global banks and investment funds.

Therefore, technology alone is not going to solve any problem. We are facing an unprecedented political, economic and social crisis, not a technological one. Thus, major changes need to take place in world-wide social relations, not merely on the technologies we use.

The energy sector is the most powerful and strategic part of the economy. Energy corporations have the largest private assets on the planet, have a decisive impact in all other economic sectors, provoke wars, run puppet governments in countries such as the USA and Iraq, and determine the policies of the European Commission. They are not ready to allow the source of their wealth and power to be dissolved through the construction of decentralised RES-based systems by local communities. They prefer to continue basing the core of the energy system on fossil fuels in order to continue amassing insane profits due to scarcity, and undertake an incomplete transition to RES in a centralised, top-down manner in the midst of social energy panic. Therefore, the governments and institutions that represent their interests will do what they can to keep most RES in the corner, playing an insignificant greenwash role, while they continue building up coal, gas and nuclear power stations.

We need to confront them head-on. They depend on us more than we do on them. We can build our own energy systems – for the common good, not for private profit. We have the tools and the experience, we just need to get better at sharing them, especially at a world-wide level and putting them into practice. We also have to get hold of the means. It can be done. It depends on us.

a3) The other crises – hunger, thirst, inequality, displacement, racism, war…

The globe is bursting at the seams, and all the lines of fracture are interconnected. They share common roots: the dependence of the economic system on ever-growing rates of profit for the owners of capital.

In pursue of this goal, everything seems to be valid. The current food crisis, provoked by speculation, biofuels and consumerism, is a crime against humanity, a silent holocaust. But almost no government dares to question the murderous market logic that provokes it: if car owners have more money, then their gas-guzzling vehicles have priority over millions of human lives that will be condemned to death or bare survival under the poverty line. The existing conflicts on water are also intensifying due to the combined impact of biofuels and of the privatisation of such a basic human necessity and essential public service.

The energy crisis will substantially increase the brutal inequalities provoked by capitalism, and climate change will hit the most vulnerable people hardest. This will produce economic and environmental refugees on an unprecedented scale, as is already starting to occur. Some of them will be able to migrate into the global centres of accumulation of the planet’s plundered wealth, to be exploited as cheap labour and used as scapegoat by racist politicians and societies. Most of them will face an even worse future.

This process provides a perfect breeding ground for totalitarian ideologies of different kinds. The religious right and the oil lobby that took George W. Bush to the White House have a perfect mirror image in the myriad of fundamentalist and totalitarian ideologies that are growing around the world. This serves well the needs of global capital – it is no coincidence that the CIA funded the emergence of Islamic fundamentalist networks and continues providing unconditional and unlimited military help to Israel’s apartheid regime. Capitalism can only survive in a context of global war, particularly due to the climate and energy crisis. Afghanistan and Iraq represent our future, unless we act very soon and unite our struggles across the artificial divisions which the racist “clash of civilisations” ideology tries to impose due to the interests of energy corporations.

a4) The role of the European Union

In this context, the EU hypocritically presents itself to the world as the “soft” and “responsible” counterpart to US cowboy politics. It is all manipulation and deception.

The EU is currently discussing a “climate and energy policy package” that is a masterpiece in public relations. On a superficial reading it seems to be a positive (although insufficient) step in the right direction. It includes several targets, most notably a reduction of 20% in GHG emissions and a 20% target for the share of renewable energies in overall EU energy consumption by 2020. This seems to reflect a sincere concern for the environment and a strong political will to promote renewable energies through mandatory action.

A closer look reveals a large number of destructive policies hidden behind a convenient green façade. The individual directives are plagued with problems in their own right, but their combination makes the package more damaging than the sum of its components.

The Commission proposes to introduce a European market for renewable energy certificates, which is incompatible with the only successful RES policy (known as “feed-in tariffs”). This proposal is highly lucrative for large power utilities, which will make immense profits and regain complete control over the power sector by pushing out independent power producers. It denies an opportunity for public supply of RES at the local level, keeping it firmly in the hands of large energy companies. In addition, this virtual market will make RES more expensive and therefore less competitive in comparison with fossil and nuclear energy, delaying the transition to RES. It will have a devastating effect on promising technologies (such as photovoltaic solar or thermo-electric power, wave energy, etc), condemning them to irrelevance instead of giving them the opportunity to reach the leading role that they should and can play in our energy supply.

There is also a 10% minimum mandatory target for biofuels in transport. Production of biofuels on such a scale will have immensely destructive indirect consequences along the complex web of relations that interconnect the global food system, natural and plantation forests, and biofuel production networks. Our environment and social relations will suffer immensely, since biofuels link the price of oil with the price of all the basic need to sustain life (including food, land and water). However, it will also allow the established oil sector to maintain its power, and the car industry to continue making profits from inefficient technologies.

Regarding the reduction in GHG emissions, it is supposed to happen through an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). This not only accounts to a privatisation of the atmosphere: it also puts into the hands of large corporations one more powerful instrument to manipulate production costs, bring smaller competitors to bankruptcy and concentrate economic, political and physical power. It cements an emerging market where enormous speculative profit margins (the best basis for economic concentration) are only possible if a continuous demand for carbon credits is maintained. This produces a very strong incentive to keep an active carbon economy alive and kicking, and contributes to the marginalisation of RES.

The policy package includes a push for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies. CCS offers the opportunity for the power sector to claim that they are working on supposedly “clean” fossil energy – further delaying the urgently needed (and perfectly feasible) quick transition to RES. CCS also increases the amount of energy required to produce energy, offering a perfect vehicle to increase profits on behalf of the environment. It leads, in the case of most capture technologies, to higher levels of other pollutants being emitted to the atmosphere. But the main problem with CSS is that the carbon will not remain where they plan to store it – in depleted oil and gas fields or saline underground water. It will come back to the atmosphere, sooner or later. But in the meantime, the process will have made it easier and cheaper to extract the last remaining reserves out of oil and gas fields. Public funds to promote CCS are indirect subsidies to oil corporations.

In addition, the carbon market artificially created by the ETS provides the conditions on which the nuclear industry can plan its grand renaissance. This is a brilliantly concealed way to make us all pay for the revival of the nuclear industry.

The policy package proposed by the European Commission keeps renewable energies in the corner, strengthens the artificial market for carbon, and presents CCS, nuclear and biofuels as the only viable alternatives to confront climate change. It therefore contains all the ingredients necessary to increase the economic and political power of the fossil and nuclear sectors and of the power utilities. But the package has also been designed to foster power concentration at the national / geo-strategic / military level.

The industries and politicians behind the EU package, and the bureaucrats at their service, act according to the same principles and goals as George W. Bush and his cronies. We therefore propose to organisations in Europe that we act together against the EU policy package as part of the build-up towards the actions in CPH.

a5) Turning point – and the role of the CPH Conference

The next 10 years offer a unique window of opportunity. During this period, we are likely to face an acceleration of the process that has been constructed in order to run a crisis economy on the basis of growing inequality, oppression, racism and war. It is not accidental that concepts such as “clash of civilisations”, “permanent war on terror”, “migration control” constitute the core of the discourse permanently fed into public consciousness by media corporations and most governments. We are being prepared for the next phase of the development of a disintegrating capitalism, based on accumulation through scarcity and social control through fear and increasingly authoritarian regimes.

We can only avoid this if we take the initiative and build alternatives based on totally different cultural values and on the construction of new relations of production and exchange. The concepts and discourses for this change already exist in peasant, indigenous, feminist, environmental, autonomous workers’, solidarity, participative, queer, freedom-based struggles and collectives all over the world. But we need to get better at building infrastructure, at creating and multiplying working examples of positive futures.

We also need to be better at communicating with all those who are not yet actively part of these struggles, and at facilitating their involvement, as well as overcoming divisions imposed on us by totalitarian and nationalist ideologies.

We want to use the global media show in Copenhagen to get these ideas across, through a wide diversity of messages, tactics and forms of action that reflects the diversity that exists in our grassroots networks and beyond.

B. Proposals on the scope and organisational principles of the campaign

We propose that the campaign to be launched in Copenhagen has a limited scope. Its main role would be facilitating the self-expression of the diverse voices that share an anti-authoritarian, decentralising and autonomous approach in the struggle to protect life, build positive alternatives and overcome capitalism.

The campaign would therefore essentially prepare and share logistical and mobilising efforts. The campaign would not be responsible for the planning and execution of actions, nor for the communication with media and the public on behalf of the organisations and collectives that come to Copenhagen. We hope that the shared work and efforts of the campaign will facilitate cooperation with regards to action and communication, as well as mutual solidarity, but this process has to happen on the basis of the autonomy and initiative of different organisations and collectives. The campaign should, if at all, act as facilitator, but never as top-down central coordination.

There would be two main strains on the work of the campaign: logistics and mobilisation. Both aspects will need the active involvement of many organisations, collectives and activists from all over the world.

We hope that there will be a widespread mobilisation process encouraging people to come to Copenhagen (biking, hitch-hiking or by public transport, but please not by airplane) and prepare themselves well in advance: discuss what they want to do, form affinity groups, and contribute as they can to the logistics. We expect to create common campaign materials for this mobilisation process, and hope that diverse groups will cooperate in each country/region/place in the mobilisation efforts.

We hope to be able to open a convergence centre several months before the conference takes place, to facilitate the participation of people from all over the world in the logistical preparations. We also expect that specialised collectives (such as cooking collectives, translation collectives, etc) will come forward and contribute to the preparation.

We hope to form open working groups on different aspects (mobilisation, communications, translations, accommodation, food, legal team, transport, etc). We would like to discuss about this during the preparatory meeting in September.

C. Next steps and communication channels

We hope that from now until September, the proposals presented here can be distributed to and discussed by local groups from all over the world.

All groups are welcome to post their feedback and proposals to the wiki. There will be the possibility to comment on all proposals and to carry on the dialogue in advance of the September meeting. However, we would like to wait until September before we make any decisions.

We would like to know in advance who will come to the September meeting. If you want to come, please send a mail asking to be added to the September meeting mailing list, describing briefly your collective or your work as activist, so that we all know about each other before we meet in CPH.

The meeting will be open to all organisations, collectives and individuals sharing an anti-authoritarian, decentralising and autonomous approach in the struggle to overcome capitalism. We also invite those who do not share all these perspectives to enter into a constructive dialogue with us on these issues. In particular we are very keen to open up this dialogue with different organizations within the renewable energy sector and with critical workers’ organisations. We hope that a very wide diversity will be present – not only those working on environmental issues or climate change, but also those working on all forms of emancipatory struggles, including feminist, queer, anti-racist, workers’, independent media, students’, youth, peasant, solidarity and many other kinds of collectives.

See you in Copenhagen!


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