Published on
Agence France-Presse

Climate Change: Global Issue Spurs Global Protest

Marlowe Hood

Greenpeace demonstrators protest against perceived government inaction on climate change. (AFP)

PARIS - Could climate change spark the first worldwide grassroots
movement? Even as politicians dial down expectations for the December
7-18 UN climate talks in Copenhagen, analysts and activists detect a
groundswell of anger, channelled through the Internet and voiced
especially by the young, demanding action on global warming.

Conventional wisdom says environmental issues wax at times of prosperity and wane when belts are tightened.

But these sources believe that adage no longer holds true in the face of the unique threat posed by climate change.

the talks to craft a post-2012 climate pact get underway, leaders may
find themselves facing a coordinated movement cutting across
continents, creeds and class, they argue.

"As evidence mounts of
the severity of the threat, civil society groups will be fuelled by the
urgency of acting now to avoid the worse consequences of a problem for
which future generations will surely hold us accountable," said British
expert Peter Newell.

"We can expect the continued and expanded
use of all resources available to them -- legal and non-legal,
constructive and coercive, national, regional and international," said
Newell, a professor at the University of East Anglia in England.

the past half-century, broad-based movements -- from civil rights in
the United States to anti-missile protests in Europe, "people power"
revolts in the Philippines and South Korea -- have been largely
confined to national borders.

Climate change, though, cuts across
all frontiers. Some regions will be hit earlier and harder than others,
but no place on Earth will be spared the greenhouse effect.

has also been boosted by disasters. Typhoon-driven floods that ravaged
east Asia last month drove home the perceived links between warming and
extreme weather, even if scientists point out such connections are far
from linear.

"There is a growing awareness in developing
countries that this issue is impacting them now and that they need to
do something about it. That awareness is especially strong in Asia,"
Yvo de Boer, the UN's top climate official, told AFP.

Then there
is the Internet, an infinitely more powerful organisational tool for
protest than the cassette tapes, fax machines and roneo-copied
"samizdat" leaflets of the recent past.

In authoritarian
countries, notably China, it has helped civil society cohere around
environmental and climate issues to a degree not tolerated for
political and human rights, or trade unionism.

The prospects for a borderless protest movement will be put to the test on Saturday, selected by grassroots group as a "day of global action" with some 3,000 events around the planet.

The brainchild of US environmentalist Bill McKibben,
takes its name from a warning issued by climate expert James Hansen,
who says atmospheric concentration of CO2 must be pegged below 350
parts per million (ppm) to avoid potential catastrophe.


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Levels are currently around 385 ppm and on track to bust a 450 ppm threshold previously viewed as safe.

in March 2008, the Web-based network says it has nearly 200,000
activists in dozens of grassroots groups spread across 170 countries.

has worked beyond our wildest expectations," McKibben told AFP. "We've
basically got the whole world organised, much of it for the first time.
October 24 is going to be, by a very large margin, the most widespread
day of environmental action ever."

Two demographic profiles dominate among's rank-and-file, McKibben said: educated youth and people linked by religion.

was aware of climate change but didn't know what I could do," Gan Pei
Ling, 22, a student at Tunku Abdul Rahman University in Malaysia, said
this month at climate talks in Bangkok, where she had come to lobby

Meeting a small node of activists in Malaysia gave her the courage to speak out, and put her in touch with like-minded young people across Asia and beyond.

Pei Ling and hundreds of other 20-something activists who converged on
Bangkok -- many sporting T-shirts asking "How Old Will You Be in 2050?"
-- see global warming as an injustice toward the poor and the young.

people don't seem to care," said Lokendra Shrestha, a 28-year-old
sociology student from Nepal, where vanishing glaciers threaten much of
Asia's water supply.

Religion is also emerging as a lightning rod.

has risen up massively as an issue of concern in religious
communities," said Stuart Scott, a former statistics professor from
Hawaii who has crisscrossed the globe garnering support for his .

cause got a big boost when the declaration was included in an
ecumenical ceremony at the UN Nations last month ahead of the world's
first climate summit.

"It would be a huge mobilising force if people started to frame the issue of climate change in religious terms," noted Newell.

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