Fantasy vs reality at 'Hopenhagen'


As I write, there are two Copenhagens. One is the Copenhagen swamped with 100,000 protesters demanding climate justice, social justice, solidarity and community before corporate profit.

This Copenhagen is flooded with activists, students, parents, academics and blue-collar workers fiercely, and collectively, discussing ways out of the climate crisis — how to create a world that is sustainable for people and the planet.

The second is "Hopenhagen". Hopenhagen ("population 6.8 billion") is not a real place, but it's a world that Denmark and the United Nations would like us to believe exists.

Hopenhagen is a feel-good public relations campaign, propped up by multinational corporate partners such as Coca-Cola, Siemens, DuPont and even BMW.

Billboards all over the city carry the campaign's trademark green-coloured scrawl and shiny photos of wind turbines in the ocean, falling autumn leaves, smiling children, thoughtful children, solitary figures on mountaintops and Third World peasants in lush green fields.

The Hopenhagen campaign has taken over Copenhagen's city hall square, Radhuspladsen. There, projected onto a giant globe, you can watch news updates of what's going on in the UN climate summit and how many people have signed onto the Hopenhagen petition.

You can pedal a bike that powers the lights of a giant Christmas tree. You can learn how to minimise your power bill at home, and walk through a series of miniature model green houses.

You can pick up some cool new clothes and recycle old clothes at the clothes swap centre.

You can even catch a few bands that are part of the Hopenhagen Live program. At the Hopenhagen website, you can buy a T-shirt that says: "I am a citizen of Hopenhagen".

Copenhagen is widely touted as a model green city and this is part of the reason why it's hosting the COP15 UN Climate Summit.

About 40% of the city's inhabitants cycle to work, school or university on excellent cycling paths. It also has a great district heating system, reuses a lot of greywater and has a relatively low carbon footprint.

Hopenhagen promotes some of these good achievements. But it goes a lot further than this.

At the heart of the Hopenhagen promotion campaign is the idea that citizens like you and me can lend a helping hand in the fight against climate change by simply changing our consumption habits. The solution is as easy as switching to organic shampoo, ditching the car and cycling to work, and filling your kettle only halfway.

Maybe you could sign the Hopenhagen petition, or even write to your local leader to let them know that you really care about the environment.

The message is contradictory — consume less, but buy our t-shirts. In essence, its message is that we can make capitalism cleaner and greener. There's no need for any fundamental shifts in the way our society functions. We should use less energy, but forget about where that energy comes from — coal-fired power plants owned by corporations that exist to generate profit for their shareholders.

For the corporate sponsors of Hopenhagen, environmental sentiment is just another commodity that can be bought and sold for profit — just like every resource, stretch of land, species, and energy source the world has to offer.

Of course, as a PR stunt, there's nothing new about the Hopenhagen brand — most corporations are falling over themselves to advertise their green credentials. That's why one of the main slogans of the climate justice protesters has been: "Our climate — not your business!"

Hopenhagen is another attempt to divert the popular sentiment for climate action, and the growing discontent about rich country inaction, into a culture of consumerism. But it's a particularly sophisticated campaign because it also emphasises the idea that people are more than just consumers, but are citizens.

In a similar vein, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a statement of public support for the 50,000-strong "Wave" demonstration in the Britain on December 5.

He said: "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."

The leaders of the First World nations know that, regardless of the outcome of COP15, they have to take into account the growing popular support for action to stop climate change. Corporations and governments know they must adopt a green shine to be appealing to consumers.

Hopenhagen, Brown and other First World leaders can't stop citizens from taking action, so they offer action that is acceptable and non-challenging. Going to the mainstream climate demonstrations like "The Wave", that don't actually demand anything of the government, or signing petitions, or writing to parliamentarians, are examples of this "acceptable" dissent.

By contrast, the many thousands of people who did determinedly put forward their message at Copenhagen were met with brutality, their civil liberties severed. More than 1400 protesters have already have been arrested — mostly arbitrarily and without charge.

If the Danish government — one of the main sponsors of the Hopenhagen campaign — were genuinely serious about listening to and enacting its people's views on stopping climate chaos, then why has it introduced draconian laws that limit the right to protest?

The Hopenhagen campaign is blatantly at odds with the reality of what the rich countries, including Denmark, have proposed at COP15.

The proposals in the initial Danish text fell far short of the emissions cuts needed to avoid runaway climate change. The rich nations' revised range of proposals have no quantified targets, and lacks proper guidelines for reforestation and for finance to allow developing nations to adapt to climate change.

Discussion has shifted from "stopping" climate change to "adapting and mitigating" the worst aspects of warming.

Global warming cannot be pasted over and glossed up with rhetoric and branding. In reality, the climate issue is about much more than what we buy. It's not even just an environmental issue.

Global warming goes to the core of how our society is organised and the kind of values we want for our society. It's a choice between capitalist values of ever-expanding accumulation — of profit for profit's sake — or the humane values of sustainability and social justice.

Even "green" capitalism has shown itself to be incompatible with the latter.