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For Climate Activists, All Eyes on Copenhagen

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Women such as Gracen Johnson have been pouring time and energy into demonstrations pressing for lower global greenhouse gas emission standards. Now many of them are hoping the U.N. meeting in Copenhagen this week won't be too disappointing.

Subhead: 
Women such as Gracen Johnson have been pouring time and energy into demonstrations pressing for lower global greenhouse gas emission standards. Now many of them are hoping the U.N. meeting in Copenhagen this week won't be too disappointing.



Gracen Johnson leading Ottawa rally.(WOMENSENEWS)--Gracen Johnson hopes Canada, her country, will receive international criticism this week in Copenhagen, where the United Nations Climate Change Conference is being held Dec. 7 to 18.

"I want the world to recognize that Canada is not acting, not playing its part," said Johnson, a third-year international development and environmental studies student at the University of Guelph, Ontario. "The situation is so serious that inaction is inconceivable."

Canada, under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has committed to a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2020. No budging, no room for negotiation, unless other developed countries take the lead. This is much lower than the 25 to 40 percent range that climate change advocates are demanding.

Canada needs to commit to scientific targets and a fair and binding agreement, Johnson said.

She has been doing what she can to stir up climate activism in Canada.

For the first 10 months of the year, Johnson, 20, mustered Canadians through blogging and social networking to convene at Parliament Hill, Ottawa, on Oct. 24. It was the International Day for Climate Action, organized by 350.org, a U.S.-based grassroots international campaign to raise awareness about climate change.

More than 3, 000 converged for Johnson's event, despite the nippy fall weather and a heavy downpour. "The event was telling Canada they need to lead, follow or get out of the way in Copenhagen," said Johnson.

350.org is lobbying lawmakers to commit to policies that will lower atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, or CO2--considered key to global warming--to 350 million parts per million. The current level is 387, according to a dynamically updating monitor on the organization's Web site.

'Women's Involvement Astonishing'

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, says women's involvement has been instrumental in building support for the campaign.

"The range of women's involvement is astonishing," he said, "ranging from women on the beach in California in bikinis to women in full burkas in Yemen and Zanzibar doing amazing things."

He credited women with organizing one of the biggest protest events last October: a march by 15, 000 young people on the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

McKibben said the disproportionate impact of climate change on women is more easily perceptible in developing countries.

"In places where there are already (climate change) effects taking place, women are bearing the brunt because they are often the people most involved in agriculture, in dealing with raising children, sickness and health," he said.

This weekend, 350.org organized more climate activism to coincide with the Copenhagen conference. Grassroots events were planned worldwide, from concerts in Bolivia and Caracas, Venezuela, to vigils in Sydney, Australia. In Hawaii surfers will carry candles on their boards.

McKibben is guardedly optimistic about this week's climate conference. His group had hoped that negotiators would agree to policies that would start to rapidly lower their levels of CO2.

"I don't think we are going to get a terrific agreement. I think we are going to have to use it as a kind of springboard for a real movement to push harder, make our leaders do more," he said.

In one bright spot this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that greenhouse gasses are a threat to public health and welfare, setting the stage for sweeping regulations. This could potentially give the federal government the leeway to bypass Congress--responsible for U.S. resistance to lower emissions targets--in imposing lower emission standards.

Faces of Climate Change Activism

Lauren Thorpe, a Greenpeace field organizer in California, is hoping that Obama will keep his promise and "restore science to its proper place in the White House."

She led a daylong event in San Francisco on Oct. 24, which included female poets and writers talking about climate change.

The same day, Joan Brown led a 3.5-mile Healing Walk for Earth along the Rio Grande River in New Mexico as part of the global climate protests.

Now Brown, who calls climate change the greatest moral and spiritual issue of our moment, is at the summit in Copenhagen.

Before her departure, Brown, a Franciscan sister and member of the New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, told Women's eNews she'll be trying to talk to "leaders not as scientists but as very informed people of faith."

Brown said she dreams and prays for a strong equitable agreement, but is afraid that "the old paradigm of power and greed are still at play."

Samantha Bailey, field coordinator for the Africa division of 350.org is also in Copenhagen.

"Gender representation is a matter of concern, as in most of the delegations women are underrepresented by and large across the continent," she said.

However, things seem to be a little different in Copenhagen. Bailey, who is from South Africa, said she sees a strong showing, particularly of young women, "who are feeling empowered to act upon the causes they are passionate about and feeling the space to take leadership roles."

Activists remain hopeful that their efforts will help influence world leaders at the summit, including those from the United States.

"We are hoping that with 350.org assembling thousands of pictures for display in Copenhagen, we will be able to influence the U.S. delegates to improve and increase the laws," said Midge Pinkerton, a member of the League of Women Voters and the Peacemaking Committee of First Presbyterian Church, based in Columbia, Mo.

Bijoyeta Das is a multimedia journalist based in Istanbul, Turkey.

For more information:

350.org
http://www.350.org/

U.N. Climate Change Conference Web site
http://en.cop15.dk/

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