Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I visited Berlin and the still standing guardstand in 2004 while I was traveling through Eastern Europe not waiting tables. While traveling Poland and Hungary all the way south to Istanbul, I spoke with many people about their own observations of the volatile presidential election the US had a few years prior and the upcoming election the month after I landed in Krakow. But sometimes people just wanted to talk about democracy and what it meant to them to an American. It was a really intense time (Oct 04 - Jan 05) for me to be traveling as I was always in some conversation about the fate of my country. People I met wanted to take me out for beers so we could talk about what the actions of MY president were having on their own country, even with my statements that Bush as not MY president.
Some of the most profound conversations I had were with young Polish people who were benefiting from the fall of communism while their parents and grandparents were not or at least were in a cultural struggle to understand what democracy meant or could mean. The Christian Science Monitor published this article todayabout the mental freedom of east Germans when the wall fell.
In 1989, I was old enough to understand that something was happening, but not old enough to understand what was happening. I don't remember hearing about the 1988 Burmese student and monk massacres but I do remember some story telling about the Tiananmen Square massacres. I've always been extremely interested in history and politics and government, maybe these events during a time when I was just beginning to understand that a world existed around me was the foundation of this interest.
I’m sure you know where I’m going with this conversation, where does climate change fit in the long list of great human rights struggles and what lessons does our movement need to learn from the fall of the Berlin wall?
I read an article that discusses the ending of jihad to the falling of the Berlin wall. The article talks about east Germans being able to see their western counterparts have success and material items that they couldn't with a mix of the societal impacts of the Helsinki Accords of the agreement with the Soviet Union on the freedom of thought, conscience and religion. I think this is a much too simplistic view of terrorism, social impacts of mass illiteracy, and the now bursting anger in young and poor Muslim boys and men that is threatening the balance of our world. (Balance might not be a good word in this case as there can never really be a balance when it comes to peace and war)
Just like the fall of communism was a shift in reality for my parents generation, I think that global leadership on climate change solutions is my generations moment of shifting reality. What the climate change movement is missing is a thing like the Berlin Wall. The solutions and the problems of climate change are scattered and so connected that it is hard to wrap your head around it in many ways. I say scattered in the context of there being so many places that it impacts and so many ways in which to make a difference from ending mountaintop removal to new technology for cars and electronics, that it is hard to see how you fit into it. It is still an academics issue of sorts.
Without a one problem one location one solution campaign, it is difficult for people to feel accountable for their own actions and the actions of their neighbors. Just like in the Civil Rights movement in the US, shifts in societal norms come when a son can shame a father into action and then into a belief of why those actions are necessary. Climate change does not have a wall or footage of children walking out of school into the streets of fire hoses. It interesting to see footage of melting icecaps but I can’t touch that and I can’t understand what that means to my life. I can’t see the impacts of that walking to the grocery store and I've never dreamt of seeing an icecap in the first place.
We have been taught by organizations that are willing to make big compromises and not wanting to make moms and dads feel bad about their actions that exchanging your disposable plastic grocery bag for a canvass one that you bring with you is enough. Conserving water is enough. That turning out the lights is enough. That owning a reuseable water bottle is enough. But it isn't. The problem with climate change is that it is so easy to move the blame around and not be held accountable. Why can we get a tea-bagger protest in DC but not a climate change impacts protest? We have yet to build a movement that makes sense to people, but more importantly people are not angry enough.
I feel that having concerted efforts in the first impacted places would make a real difference for the rest of the population. The Maldives held a government climate meeting underwater not too long ago as a symbol of where their country is headed. As activists these are the types of events we should be doing in addition to the 350 day of action type events (not too mention the shutting down of sources of pollution like coal fired power plants and mountaintop removal facilities). And I'm tired of championing bullshit politicians that aren't really doing anything to help our country. Those of us in the movement are frustrated that we aren't able to make the case clear enough, but we too are scattered and too self-important to have honest and heated conversations that lead to a unified voice. Our calls for action is not how climate change solutions will be won, it will be won in the streets by pregnant moms alongside their angry family members.
We are beginning to see more civil disobedience demanding for climate change solutions. There have been several banner hangs throughout the US this year and in Barcelona last week African nations walked out of the debate because of the (in)action of developed countries who are not taking the impacts to developing nations seriously. Though we saw those types of walk outs many times during the Doha trade negotiations, which has still not been settled.
I do believe that these international talks are important but we must learn that they will not solve our problems. I believe that until we can make climate change real through creating urgency by shaming or applauding our neighbors (yes, the ones that live in the apartment next door) we will not see governments take action because there are no substantial consequences for their inaction.
No better way to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the berlin wall than a viewing of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
From a rainy, cold, and grey Amsterdam,