From Pittsburgh to Copenhagen: It’s Time to Act in Defense of the Planet

By the end of this year the world’s most influential and powerful individuals will be assembling more than once to discuss the economic and ecological future of the planet. From September 24 through the 25, the G-20 Summit will be taking place in Pittsburgh to address the recent financial collapse and the economic implications of climate change.

Later this year, from December 7 to the 18, many of the same power-players will be flocking to Copenhagen to discuss global warming and climate change. Calling it the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15), global elites will be discussing potential solutions to climate change, as well as setting up new treaty mechanisms that will replace the futile Kyoto Protocol that is due to expire in 2012.

It’s no surprise that Pittsburgh is taking extreme measures to shield G-20 delegates from the mobs of dissidents converging there. The steel city is ushering in thousands of additional police, including the U.S. Coast Guard to patrol its three rivers. According to an article from the Wall Street Journal, "The city has fewer than 900 police officers but is seeking an additional 3,100 temporary officers, including 1,000 state-police officers. The state’s National Guard, which has more than 2,000 troops in a nearby brigade, is on alert for possible activation. …The cost of all this extra security could hit $19.5 million, according to the mayor’s office. The federal government is providing $10 million, Pennsylvania $4.3 million. Expected costs include $2 million for personal-liability insurance for all police officers and $1.2 million for food and water." [1] This illustrates that the government is providing the muscle while financial institutions and their transnational progeny privatize profits and externalize costs.

Global warming and climate change is perhaps the most threatening specter we face today. Yet even if global warming were not happening, our industrial culture would still be killing the planet. The extinction of various species at a scale never before seen would still be occurring. With most of the large fish removed from the planet’s oceans and 95 percent of the world’s original forests clear-cut, sustainability of the planet’s diversity is a moot point. With rivers, streams and brooks in the continental U.S. contaminated with carcinogenic material, potable water is pushed further away from our lips. And even if we could take carbon, sulfur dioxide, and mercury from coal to burn it "cleanly" it will never be clean: mountains still have to be torn apart by excavators and ammonium nitrate to access seams of coal. Dams are killing salmon and their young. Cell-phone towers are disrupting the flight paths of migratory birds. Dioxins taint the breast milk of mothers. Uranium is handing out death sentences to the indigenous that have been forced onto lands being mined. All of this is exacerbated by global warming.

What global warming and all of these conditions have in common is they are all the results of industrial production. Ninety-seven percent of environmental pollution is caused by industry. Weapons of mass destruction, implemented during times of war are derived from industry. Green house gas emissions are spewed by industry. And governments, transnational corporations and the financial institutions run industry – that is the point of assemblies like the G-20 Summit.

Chances are good that at the Summit in Pittsburg and COP15 in Copenhagen, participating governments will end up making agreements that will be nothing more than a "business as usual" approach to solving the world’s problems. It is the people’s responsibility to put pressure on world leaders so that market-based solutions are not the answers delivered to the world once delegates return to their respective countries after these summits.

Many false solutions are already being jammed down the public’s throat. Looking to biofuels, for example, is one very dangerous approach. In a recent essay in The Progressive, Wendell Berry writes: "To use our agricultural land for the production of "biofuel," as some are now doing, is immediately to raise the question whether it can ever be right to replace food production with the production of a fuel to be burned. If this fuel is produced, like most of our food at present, without the close and loving care that the land requires, then the land becomes an exhaustible resource. Biofuel may be a product of the land and our world-changing technology, but it is just as much a product of ignorance and moral carelessness."[2]

Another false solution that is being embraced by governments right now is the cap-and-trade model, referred to as carbon-trading. This method has been practiced in Europe for quite some time now, and there has been no reduction in emissions. In a nutshell, carbon-trading is a way for the rich to make profits off of global warming.[3]

On the other hand, The Mobilization for Climate Justice provides some real solutions:

– Drastically reducing emissions without resorting to carbon trading and offsetting or other false solutions such as nuclear energy, agrofuels, or "clean coal", while protecting the rights of those affected by the transition

– Keeping fossil fuels in the ground

– Re-localization of production and consumption, prioritizing local markets and cooperative economies

– Decentralized utility systems and community-controlled clean renewable energy

– Rights-based resource conservation that enforces indigenous land rights and ends corporate control over energy, forests, seeds, land and water

– Ending deforestation and its underlying causes, imposing international sanctions and wood tariffs, coupled with a massive forest restoration effort, managed primarily by indigenous forest-dwelling peoples

– Ending excessive consumption in the North and by elites in the South

– Repayment of ecological debts owed by northern governments and resource-extracting corporations to peoples in the Global South

This weekend at the G-20 in Pittsburg marks a fight to restore the planet back to health. Because leaders of the world’s twenty most influential industrial nations are coming together at the Summit it makes perfect sense that our actions in defense of the planet should continue in Pittsburgh.

On November 30th, marking the ten-year anniversary of the historic shutting-down of the WTO meetings in Seattle, many will be mobilizing for climate justice around the U.S. in preparation for yet another mass mobilization organized around the COP15 in Copenhagen. It is important that everybody tries to plug into at least one of these events. A good starting point is to visit

Frank Joseph Smecker is a student, social-worker, and writer from Richmond, VT.


1. Timothy Aeppel, "Pittsburgh Steels Itself for G-20 Protests," The Wall Street Journal, 

2. Wendell Berry. "Inverting the Economic Order". The Progressive, (September, 2009)

3. For more information that shows that carbon-trading is a sham, read: Carbon Trading: a critical conversation on climate change, privatization and power. Development dialogue no. 48 Sept. 2006. Published by the Dag Hammarskjöld Centre in cooperation with The Corner House.