Changing climate

Pub date December 17, 2008
WriterJeremy Spitz
SectionGreen CitySectionNews & Opinion


GREEN CITY In its final full month in power, the George W. Bush administration has managed to screw up one last chance to take action on the increasingly desperate climate crisis, the latest in a string of diplomatic failures being inherited by the incoming Barack Obama administration.

The UN Climate Change Conferences in Poznan, Poland concluded Dec. 12 after nearly two weeks of negotiations, presentations, and demonstrations. Greenpeace pushed hard for strong action at the conference, even using San Francisco as a staging ground for its message.

Yet what Greenpeace officials initially viewed as a great chance to show a new face of American leadership on global warming instead turned out to be what group spokesperson Daniel Kessler called "a profound disappointment."

Kessler and other representatives from Greenpeace told the Guardian that members of the American delegation refused to agree to any international agreements because they didn’t want to constrain the incoming administration. The indecisive US stance then spread to other industrialized nations and no substantial agreement was reached.

"In Poznan, it seemed like everyone was in a holding pattern waiting for the Obama administration. But it’s just another excuse when what we really need is action," Kessler said.

For Ben Smith, Greenpeace’s global warming national organizer, this is just the most recent strategic move that the administration has made over the past eight years to obstruct any meaningful progress on the environment.

"The reality is, of course, that they’re catering to industry and don’t want to come to an agreement," Smith said. "They’re continuing their efforts to stall any progress."

Much of Greenpeace’s work at the conference has been to work around the US delegation, attempting to show the international community that the Bush administration is in its death throes and out of touch with the country when it comes to dealing with global warming.

On Dec. 6, Greenpeace organized "A Global Day of Action" to send the message that the American people are ready to help save the planet. It staged demonstrations in 25 cities around the country and dozens more around the world. In San Francisco, the organization brought more than 300 volunteers, activists, and community members to Crissy Field to hold a 30-by-50-foot green postcard reading: "Dear World Leaders, We are ready to save the climate — San Francisco. P.S. Yes We Can!"

A helicopter buzzed overhead to capture the image with the Golden Gate Bridge towering in the background. The images and others like it were sent to the Greenpeace delegates in Poland.

During the San Francisco event, Lauren Thorpe, a field organizer with Greenpeace, stood on the back of the flatbed truck that served as the stage and summed up the day’s message. "We really want strong action on global warming and we’re ready for America to take a leadership role on that again," she said.

The atmosphere at the event was hopeful and enthusiastic. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi even stopped by midway through his morning jog, apparently unaware he was scheduled to speak until 20 minutes before. He stood above the crowd in gray sweats and, after catching his breath, delivered a stirring impromptu speech encouraging the audience to hold officials at all levels of government accountable.

"Our federal government is moving at a very glacial pace in order to address the global warming crisis," he said. "And I’m not seeing any evidence that that’s going to turn around soon enough so that we can relax here from a local or municipal perspective."

Though the negotiations in Poland may have fizzled, the outpouring of support from San Francisco and elsewhere has encouraged Greenpeace during this important transition period. Kessler says that Greenpeace will continue to pursue its direct action strategy while working with the Obama administration’s new team.

"There is a lot of hope that he’s going to do the right thing," Smith said.

Lucy Pearce, a campaign leader from the British organization Stop Climate Chaos, urged the Crissy Field crowd to push for bold action on the climate change in the coming year: "We have to keep the pressure on and make sure that we don’t just rest on hope. We’ve actually got to deliver on climate change."