Noot van de redactie: Dit is het verhaal van Vatan over de Climate Hunger Strike. Gepubliceerd in december 2015. Feiten zijn soms gewijzigd maar de reden om klimaat actie te ondernemen blijft hetzelfde.


Vatan is onder andere mede initiatiefnemer van het Rotterdams Klimaat Initiatief, een burgerbeweging die pleit voor sluiting van de kolencentrales in Rotterdam

I will hunger strike to demand climate action, and here’s why

Published 1.12.2015 on EUtopia. Now archived here.

The urgency of countering global warming is mounting and mass demand for action growing. However, chances of seeing meaningful climate commitments are thwarted by continuing efforts of fossil fuel corporations to protect their bottom line. Hunger strike is my latest attempt to convince governments to shed their fossil fuel shackles and end the climate crisis before it’s too late.

Dangerous climate change is real, here, and will get worse if we do nothing
Since the industrial age we have been burning fossil fuels on a large scale. In doing so humanity has emitted a lot of carbon dioxide (CO2), a heat-trapping greenhouse gas. This has been going on for so long and so intensely that we are now witnessing unprecedented temperature rise around the globe.

Latest reports suggest man-made global warming is largely responsible for 2015 being on course to become the hottest year in recorded history, followed by 2014. Except for 1998, the ten warmest years ever measured have occurred since 2000.

If we continue to burn fossil fuels at the present rate, the climate will change unrecognizably in the foreseeable future and our way of life will be fundamentally undermined. This is a process which has already started. In the business-as-usual scenario we will eventually face effects including food and water scarcity, compromise of human activities due to high temperatures and humidity levels, extreme droughts and heavy rainfalls, catastrophic weather events, changing precipitation patterns, sea level rise and surges, spread of diseases, substantial species extinction and collapse of ecosystems. One can easily imagine all of this to lead to resource-related conflicts, millions of displaced people, escalations of societal tensions, negative health effects and high global economic costs.

Parts of the world have already, are now, or will soon suffer such consequences of global warming.

Researchers argue that the 2006-2010 drought in Syria, the worst in instrumental record, helped spark the civil war as it caused widespread crop failure, prompting a mass migration of out-of-business farmers to politically unstable cities. Eventually discontent grew out of control and violent protests broke out.

In Russia, climate change provoked the hottest summer ever recorded there. In 2010, extreme heatwaves and drought caused fires and swept acrid curtains of smoke across the country, killing nearly 56,000 more people than in a normal year. As if that wasn’t bad enough, between 9 and 13.3 million acres of crops were destroyed. In an attempt to protect domestic food security the Russian government instituted a grain export ban, which led to international wheat price inflation. Egypt was the top importer of Russian grain so its food-prices were hit relatively hard. Along with discontent about other issues, food-price inflation flared the Egyptian riots in the lead-up to the revolution in January 2011.

Right now, global warming is also exacerbating a precarious situation in Turkana county, northwest Kenya. In the last 50 years, the poor county has seen an incredible average temperature rise of up to 3°C and shifting precipitation patterns. A recent report by Human Rights Watch showed that dwindling herd sizes, increasingly difficult water access, deteriorating animal health, and increasing armed conflicts over remaining grazing lands and water are now daily concerns for hundreds of thousands of pastoralists living in the vicinity of Turkana lake.

Around this largest desert lake in the world, climate change is making a bad situation worse. The majority of the water needed for regional communities to stay alive will soon be consumed by an elaborate upstream development scheme in Omo Valley, southwest Ethiopia. Planned hydroelectric projects, irrigated sugar plantations and commercial agriculture will bereave Turkana county of its main water source. This is a silent climate change disaster just waiting to happen.

Climate change is not an abstract concept for Kiribati, either. Last year the Pacific island state purchased 20 square kilometres of land on the Fiji island of Vanua Levu, in anticipation of rising sea levels and encroaching tides. Now serving to guarantee food security for its population, later all Kiribatians will probably relocate to it as the low-lying state gradually – but inevitably – submerges.

Internationally it has been agreed that an average global temperature rise of 2°C compared to pre-industrial time is the threshold after which climate change becomes ‘unacceptably’ dangerous. But this consensus is merely a political feat. Recent research indicates that abrupt regional climate shifts with possibly far reaching societal consequences could be triggered far below that level of warming. For Kiribati, a temperature rise of more than 1.5°C could be lethal. By the end of this year, we will pass the milestone of 1°C warming.

The fossil fuel industry stands in the way of a climate-resilient future
These examples of climate hurt alone make clear that our governments should have long shown the courage to commit to binding policies to mitigate the unfolding climate crisis.

But they have not. Despite exceptionally thorough climate science assessment reports, twenty precious years of climate conferencing have yet to produce legally binding and successfully ratified regulations to reduce the CO2-concentration to safe levels. It is highly doubtful the round of talks in Paris will change that. Although it may be the last chance of getting it right, it is highly uncertain if and how the deal to be reached will be obligatory at all. Moreover, even when all of the submitted country intentions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are combined our planet will still be put in peril.

The waning distrust of central governments’ ability or willingness to take the necessary responsibilities has translated in people around the world voicing their global warming concerns in domains outside of institutionalised politics. With success. The divestment movement (of which I am proudly part of) convinced close to 500 faith-based groups, foundations, pension funds, colleges, universities and schools, NGOs, corporations and health institutions worth $2.6 trillion to pledge they will end investments in coal, oil, and gas. Governmental organisations only make up 12% of those pledges.

Of course, it is well understood that support from the traditional political arena is eventually needed to implement policies that limit global warming. But often it is hard to generate that support, despite the loud mass demand for climate action. There are different reasons for this, but one has everything to do with the unrelenting political efforts by fossil fuel corporations to protect their bottom line.

If we want to stand an 80% chance of limiting climate change to 2°C, up to four-fifths of all fossil fuels owned by coal, oil, and gas companies have to be kept underground. The higher of a chance we go for, the less amount of fossil fuels we can burn. Implementation of effective climate policies would render these reserves ‘stranded assets’, not a viable option for the fossil fuel industry. To prevent, influence, and delay climate action from being taken their lobbyists have turned up everywhere.

To see hordes of their hired ties fluttering around one should visit Brussels one day. Last year, Royal Dutch Shell spent close to €5 million on opposing climate action at the EU offices. Oil giant BP spent up to €3 million on their own army of suited mercenaries. The former influenced the European renewable targets announced last year since 2011. BP’s boys enjoyed “privileged access” to European Commissioner-cum-oil baron Miguel Arias Cañete, Commissioner for Climate and Energy, and Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President for the Energy Union, and their cabinets. On average, they met every 24th day to catch up.

In the United States, presidential hopefuls receive funding from petro-billionaires. Fossil fuel corporations pay think tanks and front groups bent on undermining climate policy, sometimes anonymously to evade reputational damage. Congress members and state level office holders sign ‘No Climate Tax’ pledges at the request of Big Fossil. No surprise then, that election candidates openly doubt that climate change is a problem that should be policed.

The fossil fuel industry is a rogue one that is corporate in its goals, but feels entitled to also have far-reaching political power over the design of climate and energy policy. In a time of imminent climate crisis, this shameful corpocracy should end immediately. For even if it is to be expected that corporations defend their business – they are judged by shareholders on grounds of quarterly return-on-investment results – the short-term value of any stock listed company should not be upheld if it erodes our shared chance of long-term survival.

However, short-term thinking does seem to indeed dominate current climate and energy governance. The IMF estimates that when hidden externalities such as health costs and climate change effects are accounted for, in 2015 the fossil fuel industry will have received subsidies worth $5.3 trillion (that is $14.5 billion a day), equalling to 6.5% of the global GDP. The EU pays $330 billion to cover the true cost of fossil fuels. Joint research from the Overseas Development Institute and Oil Change International shows that fossil fuel production activities alone receives $452 billion worth in yearly subsidies from G20 governments. Although those governments called for an end to the subsidies five years ago, and there is some good news to be shared here and there, little systematic progress towards those promises has been realised.

These fossil fuel subsidies have to end. It is one of the best chances we have to free societies everywhere from the shackles of the fossil fuel industry and solve the climate crisis before it is too late. We can no longer afford to give away money to companies that thrive on wrecking the climate. The answer to the question “When should fossil fuel subsidies end?” is “Whenever the hardest-hit communities need them to end so that they can safely survive man-made climate change”. Probably, that translates best to “Now”.

What I am about to do to get this demand across to my national leaders, I have never done before. In light of the ominous circumstance we find ourselves in, I have decided I will hunger strike starting on December 11th, the last day of the climate conference in Paris. Starting then I will blog every day to share my experiences, motivations and more background information. I will post the links to the blogs on my Twitter and use #ClimateHungerStrike. I am incredibly thankful for the support I am receiving from friends, some of whom will join me in this strike through Paris. You can, too. Even if it is just for one day. Because only one day is needed to make history.