December 5 — "It feels like we're going to war", I overheard one teenager say to his friend. Such was the atmosphere of serious, creative resistance to government inaction on climate change that marked the London's December 5 Wave demonstration.
London's streets were awash with a sea of blue as more than 50,000 people joined together, filling the city with noise and colour. Protesters encircled parliament to demand immediate government action on global warming ahead of this week's COP15 United Nations Climate Summit in Copenhagen.
The Wave was called to urge a deal at Copenhagen that commits rich countries to significant cuts in carbon emissions, while allowing Third World countries to continue to develop with the aid of the First World.
A diversity of protesters — young, old, families, students, cycling blocks, community contingents and drumming circles — urged the British government to quit coal, act fairly and quickly, and protect the poorest in its response to the biggest single threat to the planet and its people.
Before the Wave, hundreds participated in a "Climate Emergency" rally, which was called around more explicit and radical demands — and to ensure the demonstrations weren't hijacked by the media and government to portray support for the COP15 talks.
The five demands of the "Climate Emergency" rally were: the declaration of a climate emergency; a 10% cut in carbon emissions by the end of 2010 (which many protesters amended on their placards to 40%); a million green jobs by the end of 2010; an immediate ban on all domestic flights; a national 55mph speed limit and an end to the roads program; and a ban on agrofuel use.
Many speakers highlighted the need for a comprehensive system of free and frequent public transport, a shift to renewable transport and solidarity with workers' struggles as key to building a society that is both ecologically sustainable and socially just.
Tom Stewart, an activist from the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise, highlighted the British government's hypocritical stance on climate change, pointing out that should plans for a new runway at Heathrow airport go ahead, Heathrow will be the single largest emitter of CO2 in Britain.
While posturing as green ahead of the COP15 talks, "the UK government aims to triple domestic flights by 2030", Stewart said. He instead called for "fast and affordable rail alternatives".
The Climate Emergency rally also included a contingent of workers from Vestas, Britain's only wind turbine manufacturing plant, who have been struggling against job losses and plant closures.
Theo Simon of the radical folk band Seize the Day, which provided musical interludes during the rally, spoke of the need to protect workers' rights in the shift to a low carbon economy.
"There's a company called Vestas that makes windmills, but they are not a green company", Simon said.
"Because if you are green, and you support the climate, then you must also support social justice and you treat your workforce well."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown posted an online video in response to the Wave demonstration shortly after it occurred.
He tried to spin the demonstration as one of support for the British government's position on Copenhagen.
Brown said: "I strongly support the Wave demonstration today. We will only get an ambitious climate change deal at Copenhagen and make climate change history if governments all around the world feel the pressure of their public calling on them to make ambitious commitments and thereby to put the world on a path toward a safe future for our children.
"On the eve of the Copenhagen conference it is vitally important that people lend their support for an ambitious deal. Four years ago, public commitment and huge demonstrations changed the world through the Make Poverty History campaign, and it can be done again.
"Copenhagen needs to be something we have never achieved before — a climate change deal which involves all countries and sets the world on a path toward the reduction of global emissions.
"It can be done. Together we can make climate change history."
Brown's rhetoric is at odds with the reality of his government's climate policies.
A recent UN report says that Britain's pledged commitments at COP15 fall short of what is necessary to prevent catastrophic warming of 2°C.
Nonetheless, Brown's attempt to pay lip service to public desire for action on the climate reveals the growing pressure for serious measures.