31 March 2012
Last night I was one of 18 people around the world watching an historic event on internet TV, the Global Greens congress in Dakar, Senegal. I worked on media at the first Global Greens, in Canberra in 2001 so I can imagine how exciting it must be in Dakar.
The 11 years since the 2001 congress was mostly dominated by George W. Bush’s war on terror and the associated conservative cultural shift. As a result of this ‘wasted decade’, the ecological crisis is more acute than it was in 2001. Global warming has begun, the fisheries are failing, forests are drying and Peak Oil is starting to damage the economy. During 2012 the Kyoto Protocol will draw to a close and climate denialism is at a historic high. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that although the ruiners of nature still dominate the political economy, solar and wind energy have proven that we can have ecology together with prosperity. That’s why smart investors, even in the USA, are betting billions of dollars on solar, such as Warren Buffett, General Electric and Google.
Renewable energy will protect the economy, increase employment, raise urban and rural amenity, improve the standard of living of billions of people and give world peace a chance.
If the Global Greens want to succeed, it must create formal alliances with the climate movement and the renewable energy companies. This 3-fold alliance is the only configuration that will be powerful enough to break the fossil fuel industry’s grip on politics, in time to prevent climate catastrophe.
My main reason for continued optimism is the solidarity and intelligence of the global green movement. Here are some of my fondest memories from 2001.
From the moment I landed in Canberra I knew I was in for an adventure. There was some commotion at the baggage area. Several tall, Melanesian men were looking lost and unhappy, arguing in French about what to do. I mustered a few words of my bad schoolboy’s French together and ascertained that they were indeed our delegation of Kanak Chiefs, from the Customary Senate in New Caledonia.
We waited until a convoy of French diplomatic cars arrived. Florence Mayol-Dupunt, First Secretary at the French Embassy took charge of the Chiefs.
Christine Milne, from Australia, was in charge of the media unit. It was important to set the right culture for future events, which required us to be more professional than we could afford to be. Money had already been committed to the venue, translators and travel assistance, so there was not enough budget to establish our international media centre.
Pat Mackle, the founder of AvantCard, saved the day. Her ethical marketing business donated the expertise and materials that we could not afford. It wasn’t quite the UN, but the international and Australian journalists all had their needs met and the operation had the right tone.
We gave a briefing to the media in the mornings, for backgrounding not attributed quotes. This was to preview the day’s proceedings and explain the issues. This was followed by a press conference later in the day, plus exclusive interviews for TV, radio, press and wires.
We had so many media requests that I spent very little of time participating in the conference sessions. I spoke to the plenary at the end of a session one day, asking for delegates to volunteer to do interviews to foreign media. The list of languages was so long that there was an eruption of happy applause; it felt like the Greens had suddenly come of age, as a force in the world. One TV crew arrived by helicopter, to interview Reinhard Bütikofer, from Germany.
Wangari Maathai, from Kenya, was there. She was a true peace maker, who had fought for the environment and the rights of women, endured brutality and prevailed. I aproached her in the conference foyer one morning and told her what I thought. She laughed and looked embarrassed by this ernest praise. Her work was later recognised with the Nobel Peace Prize.
Environmentalists around the world challenge the political economy and the backlash is often brutal. In the western countries, the backlash is led by extremist think-tanks funded by polluters and the ‘hate media’ as Bob Brown calls them. In the rest of the world the backlash comes from the butt of a rifle, or worse.
Global Greens supremo, Margaret Blakers from Australia, had put this issue of security on the agenda. I suggested to her and Bob Brown that we should make a public commitment to a ‘Green Shield’, where we global greens would watch over each other and come to the defence of those threatened by violence from the coal industry or whomever.
The Green Shield was announced to a packed media conference. We broke one of the golden rules of media conferences (keep it simple), by having about eight speakers. This unusually large cohort was chosen in order to demonstrate global solidarity, not just describe it. Speakers included Wangaari Maathai, Bob Brown, Christian Sterzig (Germany), Wangaari Maathai and Ingrid Betancourt from Columbia.
Senator Ingrid Betancourt was one of the most threatened greens in the world at the time. Ingrid sometimes had several bodyguards protecting her and travelled in an armoured car. There were so many questions for her that we allowed her to continue the conversation after the Green Shield announcement was complete.
Ingrid broke the other golden rule of media conferences (keep it short), by speaking for an hour. In 20 years I have never seen journalists so attentive. A female reporter asked how Ingrid could stand a situation where she had to send her children out of the country, for their own safety. Ingrid paused to think and said that it was a spiritual opportunity for them and she hoped they would eventually understand why she felt compelled to help her country, even if it meant danger. Even the most cynical journalist understood then, the reality of the situation.
At the end of the conference, Ingrid said “You have a good energy” and we hugged. It broke my heart later when I heard that she had been captured by the FARC. Our Green Shield had failed her. Bob Brown wanted to go to Bogota to campaign for her freedom and I was terrified that he too would be taken.
We sought advice from someone with army training, who said that unless Bob had overwhelming protective force, it would be safer to use unarmed bodyguards. The principle is that you either provide the armour and ammunition to dominate the space or you make it clear to any potential kidnappers that the VIP has no armed protection and hopefully no shots will be fired.
Bob went to Columbia, called for Ingrid’s release and came back safely. He did not wear armour or have armed body guards.
I wish that I was in Dakar this week, meeting great people from the Global Greens. There is no other political movement able to shepherd our globalised world safely through this century. We either create a clean energy future, or suffer a Mad Max world of climate chaos and fossil-fuelled, fiscal demise. (You can download the latest presentation on the issue from Hans-Josef Fell here.)
Back in 2001 is seemed that we may be wrong and that ‘clean coal’ and nuclear power could be the answer. History tells us that ‘clean coal’ is economically unviable and the nuclear ‘renaissance’ never happened. After Fukushima, there is no alternative to renewable energy.
Global Greens need to become economically credible and politically powerful, by working with the renewable sector and broader climate movement. This will create the right political economy to defeat the fossil fuel corporations and then negotiate a robust successor to the Kyoto Protocol. That social process should be the core of our work for the next eleven years.