After COP21: Marching in Place for Climate Justice

Shoes left symbolically after the French Government banned the Paris Global Climate March. credit: Ian Bremmer

By Carol Newton, DSA-LA

Shadowed by the Paris terror attacks before the opening of the international climate summit (COP21), the conferees gathered to try to agree on principles intended to rescue the planet from catastrophic warming. Unfortunately, marches and protests planned for the 2-week event were banned for security reasons. Thousands of shoes were placed as stand-ins for the planned demonstration preceding the conference.

After 20 previous attempts by the Conference of Parties (COP) and 2 weeks of recent negotiations, a climate “deal” has been reached and 196 nations have signed on to implement it. Despite the exultant speeches of world leaders, rejoicing has not broken out in the Left community that marches to the beat of System Change Not Climate Change.

So what have the parties agreed to?

Nutshell version: a promise to contain temperature increase to less than 2 degrees C by 2050 with an aim to further reduce the temps to 1.5 degrees C by 2100; reductions in fossil fuel use, (mainly after 2050); increases in renewable energy; “regular” reviews to reassess targets based on evolving scientific analysis; finance for developing countries to help them cut emissions and deal with climate related problems.

The last-minute compromises added drama to the accomplishments well beyond what the decisions deserved. While the capitalist community hailed the agreement as historic and ambitious, it lacks any legally binding goals set by the international community. All participation is voluntary.

The lack of enforcement mechanisms or accountability is the most disappointing feature for the anti-capitalist community. Our values support political AND economic equality. How will we assure that the parties adhere to their voluntary targets for participation so that the inequality gap doesn’t widen, so that those who have contributed least to the climate crisis don’t suffer the most serious effects? What assurances have First Nations that the “First World” will not renege on the commitments they have made? What assurances do union members have that the loss of their fossil-fuel-related livelihood will be offset by promises to provide a “just transition”?

On December 10, we wrote about the scarceness of the mainstream news on COP21, which increases our burden to educate and organize those not already aware and engaged in the climate justice movement. On December 16 (4 days after the close of the conference) I kept the TV on CNN or MSNBC all day while I went about my chores—not one mention of the climate, the conference, or the agreement in 8 hours of semi-attention. In just 4 days, public access to information about what’s next had been downgraded. I was not surprised; holiday, family life and the 2016 political horse race were back at top-of-mind even for even for many climate activists. After all, a major agreement has been signed and it’s in the hands of governments now, isn’t it?

A hopeful Nation article by Robert Pollin published before the conference began urges readers to support the concept of a “global green-growth program” that would generate tens of millions of new jobs in all regions of the world. Certainly this is the likely scenario ahead but socialists must review the miserable record of the capitalist community in de-carbonization. What about the effects of continuing to push prosperity in the U.S on the fragile planet? Only socialists are sounding the alarm about the limits to the carrying capacity of Earth. We have a major contribution to make in restoring the ideals of caring for all people as one human family in tune with our only home.

Our Los Angeles compatriots marched locally on at least 5 occasions before, during and on the last day of the conference, which was dubbed “D12” or 12/12/12 (December 12 at 12:00 Noon), and #D12 in the parlance of Twitter. On that day DSA-LA marched with the residents of Porter Ranch. They have been suffering from the poisoning of their air caused by a methane and mercaptan leak at a SoCal Gas natural gas well that moved into their existing community where many had chosen a home on the outskirts of metropolitan Los Angeles to take advantage of the quiet, suburban, cleaner environment.

When the leak first became apparent, SoCal Gas initially denied it, reminding us of the “tobacco defense”—you know the one—“there is no proof that our (fill-in-the-blank) is causing these effects.”

Two and a half months later, 5,000 people have been evacuated including many children who are suffering from breathing difficulties and rashes that started when the leak did. And, what of the recent reports of the volume of methane escaping? The leak is the largest environmental disaster in California in a generation, and has been compared to the BP oil spillon land.

Do you feel a chill creeping down your spine—not related to winter? Clearly our job is not done. The temperature targets are too loose, the time targets are too generous, and the impulse to carry on without changing the system—just replacing fossil fuels with renewables—is too ingrained in the mainstream political community.

The activist community in Los Angeles is unanimous in their criticism of the agreement: perhaps this agreement was the one finally signed BECAUSE it was worse than earlier attempts. Marching in place will not lead to progress!

Then what must we do?

Of course, when the issue looms large enough to break out in large political protest, join in: rally, march, and demonstrate. But, I hope by now you are all thinking organize, build the socialist movement, and above all use DSA’s Bernie literature and wear your DSA Bernie gear to build DSA for the long game ahead.

Author’s Notes:

Thanks to Mark Schaeffer and Bill Barclay for their helpful suggestions.

I also read this article from the Guardian, which illustrates the conferees conclusions:

Two links for pix showing the international response to COP21, please note the wide-spread use of System Change Not Climate Change (very cheering to know so many people understand the anti-capitalist message):

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