Sunday, December 13, 2009

On the Streets at the Copenhagen Climate Summit

[post 048]

Greetings from COP 15, the U.N. climate "Conference Of Parties" in Copenhagen, Denmark. In case you don't get out much, COP 15 is considered a big deal not only because it was designed to forge an environmental treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, but because global warming trends have proven to be even worse than what the "alarmist" scientists were predicting just a few years ago. Thus not only do all the nations of the world have delegates at the conference, like it or not they have us "unofficial delegates" in town in the form of environmental activists staging their own Klimaforum, and taking to the streets with a variety of theatrics and actions intended to pressure the politicians and hopefully grab some international media attention.

Truth be told, it's a madhouse here, with so much going on at any given time that, like the parable of the six blind men and the elephant, it's impossible to ever get much of an overview. Saturday's big 6-kilometer march from Parliament Square to the Bella Conference Center attracted somewhere between 60,000 people (police estimate) and 100,000 (organizers' estimate). The march — I almost wrote "parade" — was quite theatrical, with the clear intention of engaging onlookers and attracting major media. Of course most of the headlines focused on the arrest of a very small number of violent protesters, even in newspapers you would think more attuned to the actual issues and to the not insignificant fact that this was the largest and most international climate change protest ever.

Of course the problem with political theatre is that you are mostly preaching to the choir, but I guess if that choir is empowered and goes on to preach to others, picking up a few tricks along the way, then all is not in vain.

So how do you visualize the politics of climate change? Here's what I saw:

• Depictions of the rich and powerful as puppets, robots or clowns.

• Images of imminent extinction, with the earth's most vulnerable inhabitants dying a grim death. Our contingent included a boat ("we're all in the same boat"), plus a dinosaur on poles created by a couple of Bread & Puppet Theatre vets.

• Masks, puppets, floats giving voice to the powerless, including endangered species — polar bears, penguins, and assorted wildlife.

• Personifying the positive: the wholesome qualities of the environmental movement (organic, natural, green, warm, fuzzy, etc.). Clowns, bright
costumes, and green noses were part of this joyous branding of the movement. The motto for Mr. Green's Circus (see below) is "We are gonna save the planet — and we will have fun doing it."

• Imagery centered on the desirable number 350 (target for safe number of carbon particles per million in the atmosphere).

Here are some images and video of the spectacle. I don't have time for everything while I'm here, but will add some more to this post later, so check back!

Here's my friend Adnan Saabi, from IndyAct in Lebanon, in action inside the Bella Center, in clown nose and glasses unsympathetically portraying a member of the oil lobby. The 850 refers to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere this character is apparently willing to tolerate, and the "recruiting e-mail hackers" refers to the recent brouhaha in England. So in this case the clown persona is basically saying the guy's a bozo.

The Greenpeace puppet of a rich cigar-chomping industrialist manipulating the world's political leaders (including Obama) on marionette strings; all of the "puppets" were in fact human performers.

Mr. Penguin and Mr. Dinosaur.

Clowns on a mission.

Frosty the Snowman says: "I fell down and I can't get up!"

Three puppets (about 35' tall) swaying in the wind, from Seven Meters, whose poster you see toward the top of this post. Seven meters is the height water will rise if all the ice in Greenland melts.

Partial view of our "We're all in the same boat" contingent.

Mr. Green's Circus.

And here's one of their videos.

And here they are at the mall. Not sure what they're doing there, but at least you get to see the whole group in action.

Okay, I admit it, this last one isn't from Copenhagen, but I figured I could sneak it in while we're on the subject of climate change. Besides, it is visual and I did learn about it in Copenhagen. If you like 3D street art, I think you'll love this ice-age video of the summer 2008 work of German street painting artist Edgar Müller .

Physical Comedy in the 21st-Century

One way for physical comedy to break new ground is to move it outside of your standard performance structures and into a remix with everyday life. The work of Improv Everywhere (motto: "we make scenes') offers some good examples of this, as does the history of street theatre. But with street theatre, we're usually talking about a band of outsiders trying to shake up the complacent and the powerful. Think Abbie Hoffman throwing dollar bills onto the floor of the NY Stock Exchange.

You may be pleasantly surprised, therefore, to see similar shock tactics being employed by an actual government, though one that itself is very much on the outside of world power. I am talking about the Maldives, whose president, Mohamed Nasheed, I will in fact be hearing speak later today. The Maldives are an island nation in the Indian Ocean and because of global warming they are literally sinking. Here are the text and the image from an excellent Daily Beast slide show, Our Sinking Earth:

What does it take for a small country like the Maldives to get noticed on the world stage? The nation’s cabinet recently held a meeting underwater, in scuba gear, to call attention to the state — the lowest-lying country on earth. Using hand signals and white boards 20 feet underwater, the cabinet produced a document calling for all countries to cut their carbon dioxide emissions before the Copenhagen meeting.

More to come....


Tony said...

Gday, Just a note to say I'd like to use an image of yours on my blog.

And also enjoying what I'm reading here.

jt said...

No problem. You officially have my permission... and I liked your post! --jt