Today's Guardian reports that talks ahead of December's crucial Copenhagen meeting on climate change are stalling. A major stumbling block appears to be the US government. With an eye on what it thinks it can sell to its own public, the US government is apparently pressing for a relatively weak agreement that EU countries think will be inadequate to the task of holding the global rise in temperatures down to 2C.
Jonathan Freedland has an interesting follow-up article which further explains the political constraints facing Barack Obama. He ends his piece with a call to US climate change activists to step up their campaigning in the next few months in the hope that this might help shift US public opinion and so enable the Obama administration to sign up to a stronger deal.
This all leaves me feeling rather disempowered. Of course, as an individual I don't have power (of the relevant kind). But what can we, citizens of the UK and/or EU (and/or world), do? Given the stakes, we surely ought to do something if there is a something we can do that has even a small chance of being effective in helping to shift US public opinion.
So let's consider some possibilities:
(1) Protest. Should we be protesting, e.g., establish a climate protest camp outside the US Embassy in every European capital city?
(2) Boycotts. Should we boycott US goods and services?
(3) Letters. Should we initiate some sort of letter writing campaign aimed at US citizens?
(4) Civil disobedience. Should protest carry over into selected acts of non-violent civil disobedience aimed at relevant US institutions? (By civil disobedience I mean, specifically, acts that break the law but which are non-violent and aimed at communicating an ethical message to an audience one believes to be complict in injustice.)
(5) All of the above.
In selecting tactics we have to be careful to distinguish between what is likely to have an effect and what is merely going to make us feel good.
Given the huge amount of frustration I feel at the US government and its citizenry in this matter, I'd really be quite up for a bit of civil disobedience. It would vent my frustration. But unless well thought-out, such activity might well have zero effect or even be counter-productive.
But I'm sure we have to do something. It seems clear that leaving this to our leaders to sort out is not going to work. And the stakes are just way too high to let them fail. I think Ed Miliband himself acknowledges this when he calls for popular campaigning and protest to add to the pressure on politicians to take effective action. Ed is right.
So what should we do?