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British journalist George Monbiot delivered a fiery talk on the state of fossil fuel use as part of an alternative climate change conference running taking place in Copenhagen at the same time as COP 15. Klimaforum 09 consists of provocative lectures, films, dance, displays and even spontaneous demonstrations and emotional outbursts. It’s open to all comers.

The same cannot be said for COP 15 today, where many non-governmental delegates were shut out of proceedings. COP 15 is expected to grow increasingly secure and secretive as the week progresses. It might be possible no one outside of official government negotiators will be permitted access to the Bella Centre Thursday and Friday – particularly as security tightens like a vice with the arrival of Barack Obama.

CUPE delegates, frustrated being the stuck outside the Bella Centre, headed straight to Klimaforum 09 instead. They were not disappointed by an afternoon lecture delivered by Monbiot. The British journalist recently hit a nerve in Canada, identifying our country as the most destructive nation on earth when it comes to fighting climate change. Monbiot called Canada a “corrupt petro-state.” In Copenhagen he did not back off from this viewpoint, referring to Alberta’s tar sands as “hideous and disgusting.” He then paused and acknowledged that there were Canadians in the audience of about 500. He challenged Canadians to shut down the tar sands by directly intervening and occupying the machinery that runs the tar sands. The crowd cheered and applauded. But Monbiot is not only a provocateur. He assessed the state of climate change negotiations at COP 15, saying there are virtually no countries on earth (apart, perhaps, from some small island states such as Maldives) that are truly interested in solving climate change. Monbiot pointed to the absence of any serious talk of fossil fuels supplies as part of the problem. He challenged the common belief that fossil fuels are running dry. He said “the real problem is that there is still too much fossil fuel available.” The world must commit to keeping those energy sources in the ground and peruse, instead, the renewable path if we are to avert disaster. Monbiot warned the worst impacts of climate change “will make all other catastrophes to date look like side shows to the real magnitude of human suffering that is to come with climate change.” Unless humans embrace true renewable sources of power;  the world will increasingly turn to dirtier and dirtier sources of energy from fossil fuels, such as the tar sands and extracting oil  from coal.

I chatted with Monbiot after his talk, telling him that not all Canadians agree with the unfettered exploitation of the tar sands, nor do they support the Harper government’s stance on climate change negotiations in Copenhagen.  I told him I would relay his message that the tar sands is hideously destructive to CUPE members across Canada. Monbiot received my message well and was buoyed by my assertion that many in the trade union movement in Canada support his idea of a complete shift to renewable sources of energy.

CUPE Environment Committee members Carolyn Unsworth and Robert Coelho also spent the afternoon listening to Monbiot and other speakers at Klimaforum. “Monbiot brought clarity to the concept of our use of fossil fuels,” said Coelho. Unsworth added, “George Monbiot’s presentation made complete sense to this novice environmentalist. There was no sugar coating or fancy words but he left me with no doubt that this guy’s passion and mission is to leave oil and gas in the ground and to plan a future for the planet that is based on renewable sources of energy like wind and solar power.”

This was a unique opportunity for CUPE environmental activists to hear directly from one of the world’s most insightful critics of the climate crisis and what has gotten us in this mess.

Meanwhile CUPE delegates Charles Fleury, Nathalie Stringer and Pam Beattie took part in panel discussions and planning meetings with international  labour delegates at the Danish trade union central, LO Denmark.  It was a very productive day all around and tomorrow we have meetings scheduled with government officials and advisors.

Matthew Firth in Copenhagen