Brighter Green and the Green Belt Movement, in Copenhagen

Brighter Green and the Green Belt Movement, in Copenhagen

Cornfields and sugarcane grown by Kenya's Maasai, Luo and Kisii tribes

Happening right now at the Copenhagen climate summit (COP 15)—outside of the negotiating rooms that is—a performance art protest. “Don’t Freeze the Deal” say the signs, surrounded by young people in various states of arrested action. They’re mostly activists who are here in their numbers (I’ve seen armbands and T-shirts and buttons so far) and they’re very still, and quiet. That’s unlike the rest of the conference so far, which I’d describe as, well, noisy, with people chatting or texting on cellphones, tapping on computers, conferring over round tables, recording and uploading video, clattering dishes, and attending side events.

Brighter Green’s side event, held this morning with the Green Belt Movement, was truly packed. I’d estimate more than 200 people, the overflow standing in the aisles and sitting on the floor; many cameras (video and still) occupied the front seats, trained, mostly, on Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai who introduced the session and moderated. The discussion was very good, ranging over forest protection, reafforestation, the challenges of community-based carbon finance, and the role of livestock in climate change . . . and climate change’s role in challenging the livelihoods of pastoral communities. I gave the big picture: land use, deforestation, desertification, risks to food security, seemingly inexorable growth in GHGs. This issue needs to be fully on the climate agenda, I concluded, as well as other critical global agendas (development, economics, public health, ethics).

Then, Samwel Naikada of Transmara, Kenya, gave a rich small-scale picture of what drought, desertification and overstocking of animals mean to his community, and the ways it’s responding. (See links to both of our presentations below). Bee-keeping has taken off, as has development of a market for women’s beadwork; community members are offering nature walks and working to develop ecotourism around a standing indigenous forest. In describing efforts for forest protection, he commented: “Prevention is better than the cure.”

Communities like his lack information on climate change, even as they feel its effects. This extends to the livestock-climate connection. When he first heard, very recently, that cows are significant emitters of GHGs, Samwel said his reaction and that of others, could be described as: no, why, really, how? Yet they’d seen the grass disappear and cows, goats and sheep die from drought. They’d seen milk production levels decline. They’d seen, too, wildlife exhibiting behaviors never seen before: baboons leaving the forest for grasslands and preying on young goats and sheep, due to lack of other food; zebras and gazelles grazing in the forest, unable to find other forage. To community elders, the world has turned upside down. The most common phrase he hears, Samwel says, when people talk about their environment today is this: “It used to be.”

Then we went to lunch. Samwel and his colleague from Uganda noted, ruefully, that the food has a vegetarian orientation, perhaps, he said, due to the nature of the conference. They, however, wanted meat. Even after that morning panel, I asked? They smiled. It turned out the “dish of the day” was chili con carne. They ordered two. The vegetarian dish of the day (6 Danish krones cheaper) was root vegetable and fruit stew. I ordered one. I’ll be curious to know: which is the more popular?

Photo courtesy of Kate Cummings