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Bush Gets Dinner While Protesters Fast

Bush Gets Dinner While Protesters Fast

By Kelpie Wilson
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

More than 80 heads of state met at the UN on Monday to discuss the launch of post-Kyoto climate negotiations. Although this was the most high-level UN meeting yet held on the global climate emergency, President Bush refused to attend. He did, however, assent to an invitation from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to attend a private dinner afterward.

Ban opened the UN meeting by showing a short film about the rising seas, more intense storms, and droughts that will result from global warming. The film warned there is no time to waste in crafting solutions. But President Bush did not see the film nor contribute to the discussion. He would only agree to dinner.

Ironically, who eats and who does not eat is very much what the climate crisis is about. Scientists with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict global warming is likely to cut African crop production by half in the next dozen years.

On Tuesday, film stars and celebrities from Bollywood and Nollywood (the Nigerian film industry) rallied near the UN with a "Mayday Message" on behalf of Africans and Asians. They said: "Please help save us from climate change. We are the ones who have done the least to cause it, but we are suffering from climate change now. If you don't come to our help today, tomorrow it will be all of you."

Bollywood actress Shabana Azmi said, "There are 854 million hungry people in the world today - 54 million more than when the world leaders pledged to halve hunger 11 years ago." As global warming saps food production in poor countries around the world, the Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger by 2015 recedes into impossibility.

While Bush was eating his dinner with Ban ki-Moon, a half-dozen American climate change activists continued a weeks-long fast to protest American inaction on climate, "so that others might eat." The fast began with participation from more than 1,200 people on September 4, the day Congress came back in session.

"The starting date was deliberate," said Ted Glick, one of the ongoing fasters and an activist with the Climate Emergency Council. "Congress needs to act," he said, despite veto threats from the White House. Feeling physically weak from his fast, Glick made the effort to go to Capitol Hill last Friday to talk to key legislators about climate change and energy bills before Congress. "The main thing I learned," he said, "is that the chances of climate legislation even getting to the floor of one of the houses of Congress this fall don't look good right now. Barring either a major climate disaster in the US or what this fast is calling for, a grassroots political uprising, which galvanizes our elected officials into an urgency mode, the odds look good that the best we can hope for is floor debate sometime in the winter of 2008."

Glick and others are doing their best to organize the grassroots revolution. On Thursday, Glick will join a non-violent civil blockade of the second climate meeting this week, President Bush's "Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change," also known as the "Major Emitters Meeting." This is the meeting Bush announced at the G-8 summit in June when he blocked the G-8 from adopting binding emissions targets. This is the meeting where Bush will try to steer the world away from any mandates or caps on emissions and substitute vague "aspirations" for clear goals, and voluntary action for legal obligations.

To Africans facing famine in the next dozen years, will Bush say, "Let them eat aspirations"?

It is the moral dimension of global warming that keeps Glick committed to his fast. He says the deaths of 35,000 people in the European heat wave of 2003 are what first made him realize he had to put body and soul into this effort. "We only have one life," he said. "What will we do with it?"

Glick describes fasting as a form of prayer and says that religious people of all stripes have joined in the climate fast at various times. A Muslim man fasted in addition to his Ramadan fast, and 39 members of a church in Montana fasted. But Glick does not want to limit climate action to fasting and passive resistance. He also calls for more "ruckus."

"We need more people out in the streets," said Glick. "A Tiananmen Square-type action down in front of Congress would be timely and called for."

In August, climate activists camped out at Heathrow Airport in London to protest aviation's contribution to climate change; and, earlier this month, Australian activists locked down a coal-fired power plant and then a facility loading coal onto ships at the world's biggest coal export port. They were trying to send a message to the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) discussions on climate, another meeting where Bush's "aspirational" climate goals prevailed.

In addition to the civil resistance planned on Thursday, the Climate Emergency Council is holding a rally protesting Bush's "Major Emitters Meeting" at noon on Friday, September 28 near the State Department building where the meeting is being held.

On October 22, peace, justice and climate activists are sponsoring a "No War No Warming intervention" in Washington to pressure the government to stop the war in Iraq, shift funding to rebuild communities, and go green with new jobs in a clean energy economy.

On November 3, Step It Up 2007 is organizing coast to coast actions to demand leadership on global warming. Part of the action is to invite politicians to join the rallies and tell communities what they will do about climate change. Then, says the group's web site, "We'll see who rises to the occasion and who has a real plan to tackle the defining challenge of our time. One year before the election, let's make sure the world witnesses our national call to action."

Glick endorses all these actions and more. "When you have everything from letter writing to riskier actions that push the envelope, you have a powerful movement that can't be ignored."

A powerful movement to save the planet would certainly be worth missing a few meals for.


Kelpie Wilson is Truthout's environment editor. Trained as a mechanical engineer, she embarked on a career as a forest protection activist, then returned to engineering as a technical writer for the solar power industry. She is the author of "Primal Tears," an eco-thriller about a hybrid human-bonobo girl. Greg Bear, author of "Darwin's Radio," says: "'Primal Tears' is primal storytelling, thoughtful and passionate. Kelpie Wilson wonderfully expands our definitions of human and family. Read Leslie Thatcher's review of Kelpie Wilson's novel "Primal Tears."

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