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Prologue to Copenhagen: Fasts, Lock Downs, Sit-Ins, Die-Ins for Climate Justice Across the Nation

by Jeff Biggers

As a prologue to the COP 15 in Copenhagen, protesters took to the streets across the country in a national day of climate justice action. From die-ins, to fasts, to streets protests, to locked down acts of civil disobedience, citizens groups called for a halt to new coal-fired plant construction, the abolishment of mountaintop removal mining, derided watered-down cap 'n trade legislation, and appealed to governmental leaders to transition to clean energy sources.

(www.risingtidenorthamerica.org) On the 10th anniversary of the Seattle globalization protests, today's actions also took place on the heels of a new study by the Physicians for Social Responsibility that coal "contributes to four of the top five causes of mortality in the U.S. and is responsible for increasing the incidence of major diseases already affecting large portions of the U.S. population."

"The findings of this report are clear: while the U.S. relies heavily on coal for its energy needs, the consequences of that reliance for our health are grave," said Alan H. Lockwood, MD FAAN, a principal author of the report and a professor of neurology at the University at Buffalo.

"These stark conclusions leave no room for doubt or delay," says Kristen Welker-Hood, SCD MSN RN, PSR's director of environment and health programs. "The time has come for our nation to establish a health-driven energy policy that replaces our dependence on coal with clean, safe alternatives. Business as usual is extracting a deadly price on our health. Coal is no longer an option."

Outside of Greenville, South Carolina, four protesters were arrested for locking down a truck convoy delivering nearly 2 million pounds of equipment to the new Duke Energy Cliffside coal-fired power plant in North Carolina. According to most estimates, the conventional, pulverized coal technology at the Duke plant will needlessly pump over 6 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. Citizens groups from around the region have held numerous protests against the Cliffside plant this past year, pointing out seven key reasons why it is not only dangerous but unnecessary. A study this spring by emeritus Duke University economist John Blackburn concluded:

Electricity rates for most North Carolina customers will increase dramatically if new coal-fired and nuclear power plants are successfully completed by Duke Energy and Progress Energy. Our analysis of recent filings by both companies shows that even with a growing population, North Carolina can eliminate the need to risk $35-40 billion on new plants. This can be accomplished through modest increases in energy efficiency, cogeneration and renewable power sources, and if necessary, by using a large oversupply of electricity in the Southeast. This approach will generate thousands of jobs statewide and allow retirement of over one-quarter of the existing coal generation capacity -- the equivalent of 7 to 9 sizeable plants. Doing so would help the state become a leader in the critical task of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To that end, several conditions already in place remove the need for Duke Energy's Cliffside coal-fired unit now under construction.

In Charleston, West Virginia, 81-year-old activist Roland Micklem entered the state's capitol and began an open-ended fast against mountaintop removal coal mining. A native of Hopewell, Virginia, Micklem led a senior citizen's march against mountaintop removal earlier this year, and has been arrested twice in acts of civil disobedience. In launching today's fast, Micklem released a letter about his intentions and his long-time role as an orinthologist--the population of the Cerulean Warbler, in fact, has been greatly affected by this type of reckless mining. According to Micklem:

For a former naturalist whose interest in and concern for the natural world has spanned over half a century, the loss of so many once common and beloved species has been traumatic and depressing, depressing to an extent that has resulted in a loss of enthusiasm for a field of study that had stoked my fires in bygone years.

In the year 2009, I am, and have been for several years, an environmental activist.

I have exchanged my academic interest in the world of nature for a commitment to see that some of it is left for succeeding generations to study and enjoy. My sorrow over the changes that self aggrandizing humanity has wrought have resulted in my decision to fast, and I will do so, as indicated in my statement, in a very public place before those with the power to bring about needed reform.

But I'm not without hope. I'm inspired and energized by the young people here at Climate Ground Zero, who at great personal risk are carrying on a campaign to stop mountaintop removal by nonviolent direct action. Despite the awesome challenge of climate change and other threats to the global ecology, there's a new awakening among people and a renewed commitment to save Mother Earth from the excesses of our own species.

In Chicago, hundreds of activists took to the streets in front of the Chicago Climate Exchange, protesting "cap and trade, carbon offsets and other 'false solutions' to climate change." The broad coalition of protesters also targeted JP Morgan Chase, one of the leading funders of mountain top removal coal mining and Midwest Generation, the owner of Chicago's two coal-fired power plants.

"The solution to climate change isn't carbon trading; it is a just, rapid transition away from the industries that are poisoning our communities and the planet. We can begin by shutting down the Crawford and Fisk coal plants right here in Chicago," said Dorian Breuer of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO).

"From Chicago to Copenhagen, powerful companies are cashing in on the climate crisis, taking advantage of public concern over climate change in order to make a buck. Carbon trading institutions like the Chicago Climate Exchange are privatizing the air we breathe and handing over rights to the atmosphere to the biggest polluters," stated Angie Viands, of Rainforest Action Network (RAN) Chicago. "Carbon Trading is a fraudulent market that intensifies social injustice, does not reduce emissions in a meaningful way, and acts as a dangerous distraction from the real climate solutions we urgently need."

For more information on a "die-in" at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and numerous other Global Day of Action direct actions, see the Mobilization for Climate Justice.

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