Environmentalists have been looking forward to the Copenhagen climate talks this December with a mixture of dread and expectation, as it may be the last opportunity to craft a global climate treaty as we barrel towards dangerous tipping points pointed out by leading scientists. Yet, as environmental organizations started to prepare to mobilize their members, send out their lobbyists, and make their arguments for climate action, there is new momentum from both ordinary citizens and unusual partners. Global civil society organizations, representing hundreds of millions of people, the leaders of religions, humanitarian organizations, business groups, and many more, have embraced the reality that climate change is not an environmental problem, it is a human problem.
This year, a group of leaders from humanitarian, anti-poverty, and environmental circles came together to try something new to build the political will for a global climate treaty this year. Many pundits had already written off the Copenhagen climate treaty, saying that governments had given up on climate change after the financial crisis. To get world leaders to support a global climate treaty, people all over the world need to show that they are ready for an unprecedented level of leadership. Citizens needed to call on their Presidents and Prime ministers to show that they were willing to think ahead to the future, not just the next financial quarter.
The truth is that polar bears and melting icebergs are not sufficient to more leaders to regulate the sprawling and powerful fossil fuel, agriculture, and timber industries. The language of environmentalism and political pressure from the membership of organizations that have led on responding to climate change would not have been sufficient. So a few campaigners, organizations, and leaders decided that climate change was too big for just the environmentalists to take on. Even before the Copenhagen climate conference, 2009 is shaping up as the year where the rest of civil society took up climate change.
This year has been the year where athletes, doctors, musicians, and bloggers from organizations big and small have added their voice and their efforts to secure a global climate treaty. Over just the past few weeks, from my perspective as a blogger for the TckTckTck campaign, I have watched as groups that I never expected, suddenly joining in to take action on climate change.
Freerunners, the acrobatic athletes jumping across rooflines, held the largest simultaneous freerunning event on September 26th, in over 75 cities around the world. The International Red Cross/Red Crescent joined the TckTckTck campaign, moved to act by the health and humanitarian impacts of climate change. Leading bicyclists served as ambassadors for 350.org and inspired bikers all over the world. Dozens of international musicians recorded a remake of the classic “Beds are Burning” song to inspire their fans to act. When the pictures from the organizers of the Global Wake Up Call on September 21st, streamed in last month, photos of Nepalese monks blowing horns and holding signs were next to crowds setting off their cell phone alarms in London, of people beating pots and pans in Dehli. Over 7,000 bloggers have signed up, to write about climate change on Oct. 15th, no matter what they normally write about on a day-to-day basis. Something is happening here.
I think what is happened is that the world is waking up to climate change and not just the environmentalists concerned about coral reefs and the rainforest, although we need to protect the coral reefs and rainforests, but also the people living on islands and relying on forests for their livelihoods and even their survival.
The big messy world of humanity has realized that climate change is such a huge issue; it will impact whatever they hold dearest. However, people are not just focused on the threats and dangers that climate change can hold to their community. Ordinary people, from all walks of life are getting really excited about the opportunities to make their community healthier, more secure, and a better place to live.
The beautiful thing, to see people from different cultures, different walks of life, and very different reasons to care joining an effort to take action on climate change is the example that is being made to world leaders. When diplomats and lobbyists and nonprofit groups descend on Copenhagen this fall, perhaps the cliché that the whole world is watching will, this time, be nothing but the truth. If so, this could be the start of something new, the rise of a global climate movement that actually starts to represent the cultures and societies of the world.