Grist's coverage of Copenhagen climate talks

Ricken PatelRicken Patel, executive director of the international activist group Avaaz.org.Photo: Jonathan HiskesCOPENHAGEN — If I’m delayed in the Copenhagen Bella Center by one more crowd of earnest chanters, or a dude in a funny costume, or the 800 people who feel compelled to stop in the middle of busy hallways to snap pictures of each dude in a funny costume, I swear I’m going to, well, probably mutter quietly in a passive-aggressive manner and go on my way.

Fix-the-climate hallway obstructions, er, ‘actions’ happen a lot here. There are demonstrations by Australian youth, French youth, Pacific-island. There’s a Fossil of the Day award given each day to a country that’s seen to be holding things up. There are Lebanese young folks in “Arabs are more than oil” t-shirts — who I hope to interview.

It’s easy to be cynical about all this theater. To get a better understanding, I spoke with one of the activists Ricken Patel, executive director of the international activist group Avaaz.org (which means “voice” in Hindi, Persian, and Turkish). Did he think the delegates, in their mad rush (or cloistered away in back rooms) were going to notice kids with signs and costumes?

“The world’s media is here,” said Patel, 32, a Canadian who now works out of New York. “A small protest of a few people here can have more impact than a massive protest of hundreds or thousands of people somewhere else in the world.”

Sign Up for More News from GristOh, right. The people with the cameras and notepads are the target. But there’s just so many climate petitions, actions, artworks, all of it seeming to urge people to somehow “care” even more about the problem. Can the sheer multitude drown itself out?

“I don’t think you can care too much on this issue,” he said. “But I do think we need to move beyond vague exhortations to action and draw a bright line between success and failure in Copenhagen. That’s what our ‘real deal’ aims to do. The work now is to translate all this concern into some hard targets and real benchmarks so we can hold our leaders accountable.”

To that end, Avaaz set up a phone bank yesterday where passersby could call government leaders and demand a legally binding deal, $200 billion in long-term climate adaptation financing, and a peak in CO2 emissions by 2015.

The Avaaz action was timed to this week’s European Union meeting in Brussels, where E.U. leaders will decide what climate package they’ll bring to the final week in Copenhagen. Avaaz was particularly encouraging European citizens to phone their leaders.

Patel expected the group would settle on a message to push each day at late-night or early-morning meetings. This week they may stay focused on the E.U., he said (more on the E.U.’s situation). Patel said Avaaz has about 200 members accredited to be in the Bella Center, including volunteers and about 25 paid staff. It has more volunteers around the world — in local clusters that he considered just as important.

“There are huge decisions being made here, that affect everyone’s lives, in small back rooms with no public scrutiny,” he said. “It’s a real development that day-by-day we have organizations around the world following the decisions and statements of each of these countries and holding them accountable. That’s a huge improvement in the level of scrutiny and democracy of these international processes.”