Contradictions on the Horizon

You see them as you fly in. 'Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, Lovely Ol' Girl of the Sea,' as Danny Kaye's Hans Christian Anderson character once sang in the '50's movie, embodies in its skyline the contrasts and contradictions facing us all in the inevitable transition to a post-carbon future. A scan across the harbor's horizon reveals a phalanx of giant wind-generators spinning ponderously in the ocean breeze, flanked by an array of coal- and gas-fired power plants discharging plumes of carbon into the lowering overcast. Just visible to the east across the narrow strip of ocean that separates Denmark from Sweden you can make out the inactive cooling tower of Barsebek nuclear power plant, shut down as a result of public pressure generated by anti-nuclear NGO's in both countries.

Denmark itself enjoys a reputation as a bastion of cradle-to-grave social democracy that makes it the envy of US universal health care advocates. Yet its current politics exhibit an alarming strain of right-wing repressiveness made evident in recent draconian legislation hostile to public dissent, and in the repressive tactics employed by its 'politi' toward non-violent mass demonstrators during COP 15. At least a thousand were preemptively detained, some brutally beaten with batons, all denied water and toilets and caged for long periods in a cold detention center in recent days. Yet only four were formally charged. The most egregious case was that of Climate Justice Action's German spokesman and famously non-violent organizer Tadzio Muller, who was grabbed by Danish plainclothesmen outside the Summit meeting, detained for several days, and released without charge after the UN's fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 15) was over.

Still, despite its large per capita carbon footprint, Denmark has much to teach the world about energy transition. It has officially eschewed nuclear power and weapons. It has a thriving bicycle culture rivaling that of China, with broad bike lanes lining all its main streets and a teeming daily multitude of dedicated cyclist-commuters even in the depth of the scandinavian winter. Its public transport system of reliably scheduled trains, subways and buses, and its redly-available taxies is second to none.

Top-Down Meets Bottom-Up

My partner, Mary Beth Brangan and I manage a non-profit, EON - the Ecological Options Network, that provides media services for progressive organizations. Having decided to come to Copenhagen too late to secure accreditation for the over-crowded official UN COP 15 process at the Bella Center, we have focused our efforts both of necessity and by preference on documenting on video events at the alternate venues of the Klimaforum 09 and Christiania's 'Climate Bottom' conferences, where hundreds of activists and progressive thought leaders concentrated on sharing solution-oriented analysis and organizational strategies.

In contrast to the official conference venue, the Bella Center, where elitism, non-transparency, jargon, acronyms and acrimony held sway (the official Climate Summit orientation document contains many pages of definitions of arcane code words for various negotiation categories and processes), events at the Klimaforum 09 and in Christiania have been characterized by egalitarian, cooperative, friendly events and processes demonstrating the democratic, bottom-up spirit the 'movement of movements' is committed to embody.

References to COP 15 dominated Copenhagen's landscape, with globes, banners, billboard and advertising displays about the climate talks everywhere. Huge posters emblazoned with 'Hopenhagen' festooned every bus stop and metro station, advertising would-be 'climate-friendly' corporate sponsors from Siemans and Vesta to Coca Cola. But one series of adverts seemed to inadvertently, yet ironically capture the attitude of many of the summit's governmental and corporate participants. Promoting some kind of fancy alcoholic drink , the glossy posters portrayed expensively dressed couples in various tableaus suggesting sexual intercourse accompanied by the slogan 'Party now. Apologize later.'

Voices from the Climate Bottom

Thanks to former European Parliamentarian Else Hammerich, our long-time friend and hostess with whom we stayed during our time here, we began our coverage of events, appropriately enough, in Christiania. This famous enclave of counter-culture in the heart of Copenhagen is an expansive former military base taken over in the 'sixties of the last century by 'hippies' who transformed it into an embodiment of egalitarian community, democracy and liberatory life-style that has managed to maintain some of its original funky character despite continuous pressure from the surrounding forces of officialdom. Numerous signs proclaim that both cameras and hard drugs are prohibited.

In what turned out to be a preview of coming events in the streets, as we approached the main entrance to Christiania, which is decorated by a fanciful mural portraying fairies and fecund lifeforms, we encountered a large group of police in riot gear exiting the gate - apparently making a show of force. Later in the week, a celebratory dance in the enclave would suffer an unprovoked attack by the 'Politi,' who fired teargas directly at the crowd and carried out 'preventative arrests' of many activists. But the place was peaceful enough during our visit as we wended our way through streets lined with colorfully decorated shops and living spaces and shared by mostly young folks clustered around bonfires and a large contingent of freerange dogs.

After a quick lunch in one of the community's many restaurants we found our way to a large circus tent where Else, who founded the Danish Center for Conflict Resolution (, moderated a panel on non-violence, one of many events scheduled in a two-week program titled 'The Climate Bottom Conference.' Else's panel was followed with a talk by African American constitutional law professor Sandra Ruffin. A Harvard graduate from the class just ahead of Obama's, Dr. Ruffin laid out what she saw as the many structural and political constraints within which the US President labors. It turned out to be a prescient analysis of his actual performance at the Climate Summit ten days later, caught between the mythic projections and impossible expectations of an adoring global public and the retrograde burden of an obdurate Congress and a benighted American populace misled by denialist propaganda. As professor Ruffin summed it up, "Reality is a bitch."

A Festival of Realities and Possibilities

Klimaforum 09, an 'alternate climate summit' held in a huge conference center in central Copenhagen, served as the main focal point of the convergence of activists and intellectuals from around the world. The rich program was packed from dawn to midnight every day for two weeks with concurrent events on every conceivable issue area representing the full spectrum of challenges and solutions confronting humanity in this evolutionary moment. The crowded halls and sessions teemed with indigenous people in native dress, young people wielding video cameras, laptops and cellphones, and activists wearing costumes and sporting signs presenting their favorite cause. We never saw a single suit.

Luminaries, journalists and experts of every stripe and focus rushed about looking for the locations of their next scheduled presentation. We rushed about trying to video tape as much of the rich harvest as we could with hardly any time to catch up on jetlag, much less edit our recordings for posting on-line. What we did manage to process and upload are available for viewing on our YouTube channel at: . More will follow in coming days. The presentations have lasting value for all those working for a just and peaceful transition to a post-carbon future. Please stay tuned.

Don't Nuke the Climate!

The most sobering presentations were those detailing the tragic impacts of industrial corporatism-caused climate change on indigenous people on every continent and in every island group. One wonders if arch denialists like US Senator James Inhofe had the intellectual courage to sit through any one of the many presentations on this topic during Klimaforum, how their ecopathic worldview could possible remain intact. The plethora of examples are too numerous to detail in this limited space. But, for example, the International Forum on Globalization's Claire Greensfelder chaired a panel of indigenous and minority activists from around the world detailing the catastrophic impacts of uranium mining and the nuclear fuel cycle on their various cultures, people and ecosystems. ( )

From the American Southwest to Alaska; from Niger to Kazakhstan; from uranium mines in Australia and India to reprocessing plants in France, Japan and the State of Georgia, indigenous and minority communities testify to horrendous health and environmental devastation that shows the current industry push for a 'nuclear renaissance' to be nothing less than genocidal. Inhofe, who boasts of having killed Kyoto and of his intent to kill any future climate treaty, had the temerity to make a cameo appearance the COP 15. One of the few reporters at his impromptu news conference told him, 'You're ridiculous.' From the indigenous point of view, Inhofe and his ilk are far worse than merely ridiculous, they're deluded homicidal maniacs on a mass global scale.

Other realities that blow holes in the denialist illusion are the proliferating populations of climate refugees fleeing sea rise, flooding, and glacier-melt-caused drought. Mary Beth interviewed young Maasai filmmaker Jemimah Maitei Kerenge, a participant in the Conversations with the Earth project, which trains indigenous people to in video production. She tells about the dire situation of her drought-devastated people. Their ancient culture, like many others around the world is being destroyed by climate change, their animals are dying and they are being forced to migrate, all 700,000 of them, out of their ancestral lands in Kenya into neighboring countries. ( For more info: and )

Planetarian Prospects

Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci famously admitted to having 'pessimism of the intellect, but optimism of the will.' Despite the many causes for discouragement coming out of the fifteenth year of the UN's Conference of the Parties here in Copenhagen, Gramsci's quip captures my mood as we pack for the homeward journey. The Copenhagen Convergence has confirmed my awareness that never before in human history have so many activists, on so many issues, on so many levels, on every continent, and in every island group been at work. The immune response of the planetary body politic is alive and well in thousands of initiatives all around the world.

We encountered two of my two personal favorites on the penultimate day of the Klimaforum as it became more and more evident that negotiations at the official Summit were melting down despite the long and grueling efforts of many sincere governmental and civil society negotiators. One comes from British barrister Polly Higgins, who gave her analysis of the current planetary state of affairs, drawing the parallels between the arguments put forth by slave traders of yesteryear in the face of the ultimately successful abolition movement and those being put forth by the cap-n-trade corporate capitalists of today. They are exactly the same.

In response, Ms. Higgins is advocating a 'planet rights' approach, following the lead of Bolivia and Ecuador, and modeled on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and has launched a campaign to establish the right-to-exist of all life-forms in binding international law. You can find out more about her 'Peoples Declaration' at: and

My other personal favorite is an initiative launched by our old friend Jakob von Uexkull, founder of the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize.' His new project, the World Future Council, is dedicated to the rights of future generations. You can find out more at: and

The Parable of the Mastodon

The Copenhagen Convergence represents a coming together of single-issue activists in the process of realizing that whatever their main concern - women's rights, indigenous rights, water, energy, food, agriculture, peace and disarmament, environmental justice, debt cancelation, uranium mining, tar sands, chemical and electromagnetic pollution, the abolition of nuclear power and weapons, you name it - the underlying cause is the top-down, full-spectrum dominance of the current system of globalized corporate capitalism. And further, that the solutions to all these evolutionary challenges all involve the same remedy: capital punishment for unregulated corporate capitalism - an end to 'market-based,' profit-motivated non-solutions and commodification of the planetary commons. It is as if a group of blind people have, without realizing it, each had ahold of some appendage of a wooly mastodon in the throes of causing its own extinction.

Hopenhagen or Hoplesshagen?

As the Norse mythology version of 2012 has it, Ragnarok is the great battle at the end of an era, the 'twilight of the gods' brought about by the temporary triumph of the forces of evil, resulting in various natural disasters, the inundation of the world in water, followed by the re-emergence of a new and fertile world repopulated by the two remaining human survivors. I have been painfully reminded of that myth as an apt metaphor as I watched so-called Climate Summit events unfold here in Copenhagen over the past two weeks. Preemptive, brutal police repression of non-violent, mostly young activists who have converged in their thousands; official paranoia in the face of mass dissent and its equation with 'subversion' and 'terrorism;' shameful short-sighted game-playing and posturing by governmental negotiators.

It is not hard to make the case that what we have been witnessing here in frigid Denmark is indeed the twilight of the gods of globalized corporate capitalism, as Obama flies away in carbon-spewing Air Force One having brokered a non-binding, face-saving deal that is, in fact, no deal at all.

But that's only half the story, the fading shot of an historic cross-dissolve. To my mind what we are also witnessing is the continuation of a birthing process begun even before the 'Battle of Seattle;' the maturation of a 'movement of movements' and the emergence of a new 'planetarian paradigm' the implications of which will become ever more powerfully evident in the coming months and years.

James Heddle is co-director with Mary Beth Brangan of EON - the Ecological Options Network ( and His e-mail is