This past Thursday, one day before the end of the 2009 Conference of Parties (COP 15), I fasted to help call attention to the great injustice of global climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions, which come disproportionately from people in industrialized countries, are imposing serious climate impacts on the rest of the world–droughts and desertification in places like the Horn of Africa, and crop-destroying floods in places like Bangladesh. By emitting like we do, we are depriving people in vulnerable places everywhere of food and other basic means of survival. Forgoing food voluntarily for a day was a small and completely inadequate token of my care for these impacted people.
But I was not the only one fasting. I was joined by hundreds of other temporary “solidarity fasters” from around the world, including fellow Will Steger Foundation delegate Holly Jones, and a brave team of eight long-term hunger strikers and organizers, who created the Climate Justice Fast campaign earlier this year.
I met one of the co-founders of Climate Justice Fast last year when we were in Poznan, Poland for COP 14. She is a 24 year-old Australian named Anna Keenan. Anna’s capacity to sacrifice for just climate solutions was evident then as well–the two of us stayed up together at a print shop until four in the morning one night making placards that read “Survival,” which we then handed out to official country negotiators for them to place on their desks during the plenary session. This effort, together with a wider coordinated campaign, yielded enough interest in the principle of “Survival” among the negotiators that the chair of one ministerial roundtable inserted a reference to “safeguarding survival of the most vulnerable countries and people” into her Conference summary.
Despite occasional victories like the “Survival” campaign, which originated with a team of youth climate activists and negotiators from small island states, the pace of progress in the UNFCCC has been depressingly slow. The apparent failure of traditional advocacy efforts compelled Anna and Sara Svensson, co-organizer of Climate Justice Fast, to try a more serious approach.
At the end of the UNFCCC’s Barcelona negotiating round this past November, during which a bloc of African delegates walked out of the conference center in disgust with industrialized countries’ unwillingness to commit to adequate mitigation targets, Sara, Anna, and their team stopped eating, drinking only water, and committed to continue their fast until the world agrees on a fair, ambitious, and binding global climate treaty. Sara described her decision to begin the fast in a press release:
“I undertook this fast in solidarity with those who are suffering the effects of climate change, but also to show my dedication to the climate movement – to show that there is something that I care about more than myself, more than my own personal comfort and gratification.”
Sara and Anna continued their fast for 44 days. They broke it on Saturday morning, drinking juice together with two other long-term strikers at a cafe in Copenhagen. That afternoon I ran into Sara as I entered the Bella Center, where the night before delegates had forged a weak “politically binding” Copenhagen Accord. My mood was grim during much of that day, and my frustration with the shameful outcome of these talks continues. But I felt a new sense of hope after my brief conversation with Sara, who spoke with joy about her first meal since the fast started.
“We have decided to end this fast today because we know that we need to keep on working as climate activists for our whole lifetime,” she said. “We will keep on pushing on our governments, harder and harder, until we see the necessary political shifts achieved and a global deal sealed.”