Occupy the biosphere

December 5, 2011

NEW YORK--As United Nations climate talks were set to begin in Durban, South Africa, activists with Occupy Wall Street's Environmentalist Solidarity Working Group staged a Climate Justice Day in New York City November 27 and called on occupiers around the world to do the same.

A statement from the working group reads:

For two decades, world leaders have gathered to discuss what is to be done. If history is an indication, this year's round of UN climate talks in Durban will only offer more false promises. Regardless of the lip service of greenwashing campaigns, competing states and corporations will only exacerbate the ecological crisis they have spawned. We, the 99 percent, will not stand idly by while the 1 percent desecrates our earth in the name of profits.

The pressing need for drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions was highlighted this month by a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which cautioned that extreme weather events and patterns such as heat waves, droughts, cyclones and floods will dramatically increase this century.

The IPCC's report came on the heels of the International Energy Agency's 2011 World Energy Outlook which noted the carbon dioxide emissions rose 5 percent in 2010 and cautioned that unless global carbon outputs are significantly reduced within the next five years, climate change will spiral beyond a threshold where humans can mitigate its effects.

Rather than heed these dire warnings, the world's wealthiest nations--including the U.S., Japan and the members of the European Union--won't attempt to forge a binding emissions reductions treaty before 2020 at the earliest, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Under a banner reading "System Change not Climate Change," physicist and Ecology and Socialism author Chris Williams told the crowd at Washington Square:

Negotiations in Durban are set achieve absolutely nothing, even as protesters outside the conference draw attention to the fact that the world is heading for uncontrollable heating. The powers that be, the 1 percent, are determined to keep the world on track for a biospheric crisis that threatens the stability of human civilization and ecosystems across the world.

The only alternative is to launch a mass movement and emulate what's going on in Egypt and build the Occupy protests for worldwide social and ecological change...Our leaders will only listen to the force of mass protest. Which means we have to build a movement here in this country in solidarity with movements in Egypt and now South Africa. Because we have a world to win and not much time to do it in.

Investigative journalist Greg Palast was also on hand for the Climate Justice Day. In what activists dubbed "Climate Court," Palast was the prosecutor against BP for spilling millions of gallons of oil and toxic waste into the Gulf of Mexico. Adorned in ceremonial black robe and white wig, Ken Gale, host of the radio show Eco-logic, acted as presiding judge. The 100 occupiers who attended the trial served as the people's jury.

BP is not the only multinational oil company that could have been put on trial, but since the corporation's crimes in the Gulf were so glaringly obvious, activists decided they were worthy of the foremost spot on Climate Court's docket.

Waving documents he had uncovered regarding a previous blowout two years earlier in the Caspian Sea, Palast said BP had prior knowledge that the cement used in its Deepwater Horizon well was faulty. "I went to Azerbaijan," he told the court. "They had an identical blowout, your honor, and BP covered it up with beatings...of workers who said a word and bribery, millions and millions of dollars!"

Palast submitted to the court an invoice he said was for $84 million used to cover up the blowout. The people's jury pronounced the corporation guilty of ecocide and conspiracy to commit ecocide.

AS THE sun set, activists marched to their former encampment at Zuccotti Park in New York's Financial District, which was torn down in a raid by police earlier in the month. On their way downtown, the marchers stopped off to deliver a warrant for the arrest of Tony Hayward, BP's former chief of North American operations, at a local BP gas station.

After posting a wanted poster to the gas stations windows, they headed down Broadway. Heads popped out of department store windows as protesters thronged past, chanting, "Whose Planet? Our Planet!"

To many, Zuccotti--renamed "Liberty Square" by the occupiers--was a model of what the new world they continue fighting for could look like. Aside from free health care, food and education (via daily teach-ins and a peoples' library), a number of ecologically sustainable measures were taken within the camp. For instance, electricity was supplied by bicycle-powered generators after city officials removed gas-powered generators ahead of an unseasonal snow storm in October. Efforts by the occupiers to model a sustainable future, at least for now, have been stamped out by police.

Activists drew comparisons between the stripping of their shared land and resources at Liberty Square to what capitalism does on a daily bases to the planet.

Waving the warrant of Hayward's arrest, the protesters called for the cops guarding Liberty Square to stop harassing them and go after the real criminals. Their pleas were were met with stony faces and averted eyes.

The following day, the 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (as the climate talks are officially called), began in Durban. South Africa, which receives 90 percent its power from coal plants is currently experiencing a bout of extreme weather, linked to global warming. On the same day as protesters marched in New York, eight people were killed in Durban by heavy flooding and scores of homes were damaged. As the conference got under way, activists in South Africa's Occupy Movement began a series of sit-ins demanding climate justice.

As the previous two decades of UN climate talks have shown, world leaders who do the bidding of corporations will not make the drastic cuts to carbon emissions that are needed to mitigate the effects of corporate induced climate change. In New York, in Durban and elsewhere, the voice of a new global movement is emerging, gathering the mass pressure it will take to halt the destruction of earth.

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