Activists plan hunger strikes for climate justice

Saturday, October 10, 2009 - 11:00

Climate change is deadly serious. Predicted water shortages, rising sea levels, crop failures and dangerous weather events threaten the lives of billions within decades unless action is taken now.

Australian climate activist Paul Connor is one of many who are deadly serious about stopping it. He will go without food for more than 40 days, fasting on water only, to draw attention to the global warming emergency.

Connor is an organiser of the Climate Justice Fast — an internationally coordinated protest hunger strike that will begin on November 6, the date of UN climate change talks in Barcelona and the last day of negotiations before the Copenhagen talks.

The fast involves more than 60 climate activists from 13 countries. Some of the hunger strikers will fast for a few days or weeks, but others have pledged to continue right through the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

"Climate Justice Fast is going to be a really effective communication on a few different levels", Connor told Green Left Weekly. "It can send a powerful message to people that don't already realise how serious climate change is.

"I also think it can send a message to people who are aware of climate change about the enormity of our responsibility. To be alive now and to understand climate science is a huge responsibility because all future generations are … counting on us to win this one."

The hunger strikers also want to send a strong message to the world leaders that will meet at the Copenhagen conference. "I think it will tell them that we are not going to let them off the hook on this one. We're … not going to accept climate policies that ignore the science."

US-based activist Diane Wilson is another long-term faster. Her fast will begin in Texas on November 6 before she flies to Copenhagen later that month, she told GLW. There, she will continue her hunger strike right through the conference.

"I believe that the negotiators and world governments are arguing on the basis of old projections, which call for action far less urgent than what is actually required, and they grind on as if we had an eternity to achieve outcomes", she said.

Anna Keenan, an Australian now living in Europe — she travelled there by train and bus through Asia to arrive for last December's UN climate conference in Poland — will begin her long-term fast at the Barcelona climate conference, before joining Wilson. She told GLW climate change is "the most urgent issue that we face in this generation".

"All people who hear about Climate Justice Fast receive a powerful message, which is the seriousness of [climate change]", she said. "It heightens the moral stakes. It brings a moral focus and a spiritual voice back to the movement, which is a big contribution."
Connor said Climate Justice Fast organisers had received a tremendous amount of support since the project's launch this year.

Wilson said she was not surprised the idea had caught on internationally. "I've been involved in nine fasts over my 20 years of activism and I know that with some hard work, a fast can gain momentum", she said. "What I'm surprised about is the youth of the group I'm fasting with ... I'm 60 years old and it is refreshing to see the youth running things."

Climate Justice Fast will raise three main demands: that world leaders agree to stabilise the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to well below 350 parts per million of CO2 equivalent; that US$160 billion a year be made available to the developing world to help meet the adaptation and mitigation costs of climate change; and that government subsidies to fossil fuel industries be phased out.

Connor said the injustice of climate change, which was caused by the past emissions of the rich countries but would impact most on the world's poorest people, was a big motivating factor behind the hunger strike. "Climate change policies that ignore the science are literally a crime against humanity in my view", he said.

Keenan said: "The primary thing is that the policies of the world's governments are scientifically inadequate. They don't understand that physics and chemistry don't negotiate. These people are literally negotiating the future of humanity. If we don't get government leadership then we are not going to solve climate change."

The Australian government is one of the biggest climate criminals. In December last year, the Rudd Labor government announced its emissions reduction target of a 5% unconditional cut by 2020 — far less than what climate science and global justice demand. Australia is the world's worst polluter per person.

The announcement spurred Connor to take action. "I couldn't believe it, I couldn't believe they would ignore the science like that", he said. "And I voted for Labor. I might have been very naive but I believed them that they were going to address this issue.
"That was the point I decided I had to do something really drastic about it and had to do everything I could … this massive injustice was being committed by a government supposedly acting in my name."

He described the Rudd government's business-as-usual climate policy as immoral. "They are basically prioritising re-election over the future of humanity. Obviously, I think that's morally wrong."

Climate Justice Fast participants are urging world leaders to take every action possible to halt and reverse climate change at Copenhagen. But their action is also designed to contribute to a global movement capable of bringing about a radical shift in public awareness before and after the conference.

"I have a very strong democratic theory of change", Keenan said. "There needs to be grassroots leadership from the people to hold their governments accountable and to make sure their representative democracies are truly representative."

Connor added: "We're not under any illusions about what will happen at Copenhagen. But Copenhagen will be an enormous opportunity to raise awareness worldwide about the urgency of climate change and the fact that world leaders are failing us.

"If they do fail, as most of us expect them to fail, we just want to make sure everybody knows about it."

Wilson is going to Copenhagen "because I believe that the actions we do can make a difference. The Climate Justice Fast can bring attention and awareness to the global crisis. We can help build the global consciousness for [halting] climate change."

Keenan said she was not predicting failure at Copenhagen. Yet she stressed: "I'm not just going to sit here and hope, I'm going to work at actively creating that just future.

"If Copenhagen fails I'm not going to stop [campaigning]. I'm confident that the climate movement is going to keep working until we win. I've seen the movement grow. The people in the climate movement are too dedicated to let us fail."

[Fourteen Australians have committed to joining Climate Justice Fast for fasts of different lengths. The fast begins in Canberra on November 6. For details visit www.climatejusticefast.com.]

From GLW issue 813