I was embarrassed to admit to Bill McKibben today that this was the first time I had ever taken part in a march. We were standing in Copenhagen’s Parliament Square, about to embark on our walk to the Bella Center and a candlelight vigil. I say “embark” advisedly -Bill’s organization, 350.org, had chosen to march in the guise of ships, with sails bearing logos and slogans, which seemed almost spookily appropriate given my recent imagery of the COP15 delegations as ships on an ocean.
On my way to the start I had pushed past polar bears, pirates, penguins, and home-made creatures of indeterminate species. It seemed less like a statement of political intent and more like a costume party. There had been fears of troublesome elements turning up. And apparently some “black hoodies” were there and later duly caused trouble, but I didn’t encounter them. I only saw a few punks sporting mohicans, and some people smoking rather interesting-smelling tobacco. Ahem.
As helicopters and birds circled in the wintry blue skies over Parliament Square, I asked Bill what his thoughts were on a likely outcome from the negotiations. He wasn’t optimistic, expecting a watered down treaty. But I remain relentlessly positive – as if by sheer force of will I can push these boats in the right direction. It never works on the ocean, but I’ve nothing to lose by trying.
Just as we were starting to turn blue with cold, the procession started. I stepped into one of the 350.org boats, along with various others including Garrett from the Climate Ride. As the march progressed slowly and the sun dropped in the sky towards a 3.30 sunset, I had cause to envy the polar bears. At least they looked warm. Being politically active is all very well, but I was starting to wish it involved being more physically active. Eventually I had to make a coffee shop stop to administer to various bodily needs (including, but not limited to, the need for a good hot drink) which at least gave me an excuse for a good brisk walk to catch up with the ships afterwards. I found them cruising majestically a half mile ahead.
The police were maintaining a significant presence – most notably a lineup of six burly officers across the frontage of a McDonalds along the route. They clearly weren’t leaving anything to chance. I was sorry to hear about the arrests later. I’m fairly sure the black hoods were not genuinely supporting the cause. Civil disobedience for a cause you believe in is one thing. Hijacking a genuinely peaceful demonstration with malicious intent to cause trouble is another, and very much to be regretted.
Despite the arrests, I very much hope that the march, candlelight vigil, and the parallel events taking place around the world help to influence the decision-makers. Like everything else going on here – the side events, media coverage, op-eds, blogs, art installations and presentations, we just can’t know which ones are making a difference and which aren’t. I’ve heard it said here that there is no “magic bullet” for climate change – it’s more like magic buckshot – a multulitude of partial solutions that, when added together, hit most of the key targets. It seems likely that any successful approach to campaigning will require a similar philosophy. Different governments and different leaders will respond to different strategies.
And so we all carry on doing what we can, adding our breath and our energy to the invisible wind of change that needs to blow through COP15, and get all these ships of nations moving together towards a common goal.
As we enter the final and most crucial week of the conference, everything is still very much up for grabs. The swingometer needle continues to fluctuate with bewildering rapidity. In such a fluid situation anything could still change. It might only need one country, one leader, to step forward and show some moral courage to do what is right rather than what is politically expedient, for the chemistry of the whole assembly to change. With the future of humanity hanging in the balance, it still ain’t over till it’s over.