Monday, 12 December 2011

A movement for people and the world.

“There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”.
-          Martha Graham quoted in Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawkin

How do I sum up my first experience of COP into a measly blog post? Does the complexity of language used, action seen, colours viewed, emails exchanged, conversations had, thoughts entertained over the past two weeks even lend itself to being described? I now sit, post-Durban, in front of my computer screen and try to envision what I want to say.

I had wanted this post to summarise nicely what happened in Durban. Did the nations agree, what was the impact of us being there? However, my experience of COP was too complex, too volatile. It can’t be described simply. At times over the last two weeks I found myself wondering, why am I doing this? Am I making an impact? Dangerous thoughts weaselled their way into my brain, challenging my dedication and impact in the world. What if I’m misguided in my struggle and could concentrate my energy more productively to making the world a better place?

Maybe I felt this way because it was almost impossible to quantify what my being there actually achieved. There are so many people. So many youth. So many vegetarians. So many loud voices. So much enthusiasm. At the same time, there is intense fragmentation. Different claims. Different solutions. Different organisations. Different approaches.

Many people who I’ve spoken to about the experience agree when I describe the paradox of COP17: it felt so fragmented, so complicated, but at the same time, the reason we were all there seemed so simple: we want to address climate change, to stop the damage we’ve already done.

On the last Friday of COP17 I took part in a demonstration. After a clash with some UN police and last minute phone calls to ensure that we had “permission” for our event: Wearing our “Green Police” overalls, we walked backwards, holding signs which asked “why are we going backwards?”. The ridiculousness of the last two weeks seemed nicely symbolised by that action. It was innocent and simple, and our message was clear. But even to do it – to walk backwards – we were caught up in a chain of bureaucracy, layers of protocol; so much so that we were confined to one area, a time limit, and what we were allowed to do.

Does COP feel like an impossible task because of the way in which environmentalists, youth, and even well-meaning politicians are restricted by bureaucracy, by the “politics of knowledge”? And if so, what does this mean for our fight: do we continue, do we fly all the way to Qatar next year? And if so, what do we achieve?

Despite these questions, which still need a lot of mulling over in my head before I attempt to answer them, I can say this: COP made me realise that I am part of something big, something fundamental. The environmentalist movement spans all levels of thought, social injustice, political ability and articulation. It spans all races, ages, occupations. There’s something profoundly human about it, some recognition that we’re not doing stuff as well as we could, and a deep desire to change that.

And if for all the fragmentation of the movement, we’re relentlessly working towards something better, then, well: I’m in.

“Then finally,
we opened the box, we couldn’t find any rules.
Our heads were reeling with the glitter of possibilities, contingencies...
but with ever increasing faith we decided to go ahead and just ignore them,
despite tremendous pressure to capitulate with fate”
-          The Books, Smells like Content


  1. Very insightful post Kate. Its true that sometimes COP seems complicated at fragmented yet at the same time the power of the environmental movement is quite inspiring and at some point somethings gotta give. Ohene

  2. Well written Kate, enjoyed reading.

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