Copenhagen: We marched in Berlin, and the wall fell.
We marched in South Africa and apartheid fell.
We marched at Copenhagen and we WILL get a real deal.”
To the roar of thousands of young people gathered in a Copenhagen townsquare, an excited Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu—his face aglow under a grey, cold Scandinavian sky—sensed anew the energy of previous battles to change the world.
Click here to view a slideshow on the Copenhagen Summit 2009 to save the planet where leaders disagreed, crowds clashed with police, hopes turned into despair and the cliché ‘negotiations should go on’ got forwarded to Mexico
It was billed as the meeting that could save the world from overheating itself on a path of species destruction, but COP15 (the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties) did none of that. So much time was spent bickering over intricate details of sub-sub-clauses and procedures that until the last hours of the climate summit, 193 countries struggled to cobble together a common statement.
You can forget about the real deal for now. That may only be discussed at Mexico City in November.
Yet, for all its failures, Copenhagen gave the world a rallying cry, a defining point, and a rare opportunity for multiple generations, governments, sectors and causes to merge under the clear, glass roof of a former garbage dump turned the Bella Convention Centre. Its capacity: 15,000. People trying to get in: more than 45,000. Those who did get in included Indian ragpickers, Peruvian farmers, Malian agriculture experts, Tuvaluan managers; CEOs, energy experts, economists, engineers and a variety of other professions. In this wired era, many millions more joined the great climate debate.
It was hard not to be affected by the feeling that you were setting the agenda for the era ahead. From 113 heads of state to teenagers with metal studs in their tongues used similar phrases: history’s biggest mandate; the greatest threat to humanity; saving the planet; making history in the next week/two days/24 hours.
Was it the Woodstock of our age? What could Copenhagen’s 12 days have in common with three muddy days of rock and roll in a field outside New York 40 years ago?
“I’ve been smiling lately, dreaming about the world as one. And I believe it could be someday it’s going to come,” sang Cat Stevens in 1969. “A thousand people in the streets, singing songs and carrying signs,” agreed Buffalo Springfield, as The Beatles warbled the bottom line, “We all want to change the world.”
The Woodstock generation never really got the chance; they were outsiders who had their party outside. The Copenhagen generations sense a real chance to change the world because everyone truly came indoors under one roof.
Young people dressed like trees, rabbits and any metaphor you might think of sang, danced and staged impromptu demonstrations in the corridors of the Bella Centre whenever they heard of progress stalled, an advance watered down. Diplomats and CEOs alike stopped to watch this great spectacle of global democracy before hurrying off to their negotiating rooms or power meetings.
Their energy radiated across the world. By the last day, 11 million signed on to an online petition organized by the advocacy group Avaaz.org, co-founded by Indian-American Ricken Patel. They even got British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to join them on conference call before he flew off to Copenhagen for the last 48 hours. Outside the Bella Centre, as the snow piled up, the air grew colder and a deal receded, the quiet, smiling Japanese women were there, as they had been every day and every night for 12 days, handing out carefully packed vegan sandwiches and leaflets beseeching you to abjure meat and save the world. By then, with 113 heads of state streaming in, the police had cleared all protesters from the area, as security helicopters clattered overhead. They winked and smiled at the vegan women. The world was one.