by Naomi Klein ( Excerpted from The Guardian, UK)
Whose security gets protected by any means necessary? Whose security is casually sacrificed, despite the means to do so much better? Those are the questions at the heart of the climate crisis, and why climate summits often end in acrimony and tears.
The French government’s decision to ban protests and other ìoutdoor activitiesî during the Paris climate summit is disturbing. What preoccupies me most is the way it reflects the fundamental inequity of the climate crisis itself ñ and that core question of whose security is valued.
Here’s the first thing to understand. The people facing the worst impacts of climate change have no voice in western debates about whether to do anything to prevent catastrophic global warming. Climate summits are rare exceptions. For two weeks every few years, voices of the people who are hit first and worst get a little space to be heard where decisions are made. That’s why Pacific islanders and Inuit hunters and low-income people of color from New Orleans travel thousands of miles to attend. The expense is enormous, but being at the summit is a chance to speak about climate change in moral terms and put a human face to this catastrophe.
Even in these rare moments, frontline voices don’t have enough platform in official climate meetings, where the mic is dominated by governments and well-funded green groups. Ordinary people are heard in grassroots gatherings parallel to the summit, in marches and protests, which attract media coverage. Now the French government has decided to take away the loudest megaphone, claiming securing marches would compromise its ability to secure the official summit where politicians meet.
Once again, the message is: “our security is non-negotiable, yours is up for grabs.”
Some say this is fair against the backdrop of terror. But a UN climate summit is not a meeting of the G8 or the World Trade Organization, where the powerless try to crash the party. ìCivil societyî events are not distractions from the main event. They’re integral to the process. So the French government should’ve never been allowed to decide which parts of the summit it would cancel.
Rather, after the attacks of 13 November, it needed to determine whether it had the capacity to host the whole summit ñ with full participation from civil society, including in the streets. If it couldn’t, it should’ve delayed and asked another country to step in. Instead Hollande has made decisions that reflect values and priorities about who and what will get full security protection. Yes to world leaders, football matches and Christmas markets; no to climate marches and protests pointing out that the negotiations, with the current emission targets, endanger the lives and livelihoods of millions if not billions of people. Should we expect the UN to follow suit and revoke the credentials of half the civil society participants?
It’s worth thinking about what the decision to cancel marches means in real terms. Climate change is a moral crisis because every time wealthy nations fail to act, it sends a message that we in the global north are putting our comfort and economic security ahead of the suffering and survival of the poorest and most vulnerable people on Earth. Banning the most important spaces where the voices of climate-impacted people would’ve been heard is an expression of this unethical abuse of power: once again, a wealthy country is putting security for elites ahead of the interests of those fighting for survival.
I write these words from Stockholm, where I’ve been doing climate-related public events. When I arrived, the press was having a field day with a tweet sent by Sweden’s environment minister, ≈sa Romson. Shortly after news broke of the attacks in Paris, she tweeted her outrage and sadness at the loss of life. Then she tweeted that she thought it would be bad news for the climate summit, a thought that occurred to everyone I know who is connected to this environmental moment. She was pilloried for her supposed insensitivity ñ how could she be thinking about climate change at a time of such carnage?
The reaction was revealing, since it took for granted that climate change is a minor issue, a cause without real casualties. Especially when serious issues like war and terrorism are taking center stage. It made me think about something Rebecca Solnit wrote: ìclimate change is violence.
It is. Some is grindingly slow: rising seas that erase whole nations, and droughts that kill thousands. Some violence is fast: storms with names such as Katrina and Haiyan that steal thousands of lives in a single event. When governments and corporations fail to act to prevent catastrophic warming, that’s an act of violence. It’s violence so global and inflicted against so many ancient cultures, present lives, and future potential that there’s not a word capable of containing its monstrousness. Using acts of violence to silence the voices of those who are most vulnerable to climate violence is more violence.
In explaining why forthcoming football matches would go on as scheduled, France’s secretary of state for sport said: Life must go on. Indeed it must. That’s why I joined the climate justice movement. Because when governments and corporations fail to act in a way that reflects the value of all of life on Earth, they must be protested.
© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited