Hunger strike for Copenhagen begins

Posted on 10/11/2009 by

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A diffuse group of individuals from fourteen different countries have started a fast in the run-up to Copenhagen, to try to keep the pressure on their Governments to commit to definitive action at the conference. They want Western countries to commit to stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gases below 350 parts per million, and to provide at least $160 billion per year to poorer countries for climate change mitigation measures.

I spoke to Paul Connor just before he and his fellow fasters sat down for their last meal. A 29 year old Australian student from Canberra, he came up with the idea for the fast after reading about Ghandi’s hunger strikes in India.

My latest piece for Free Speech Radio News is a great example of using the internet as a a campaigning tool – and as a tool for independent journalists.

He was angry that his own Government seemed to be doing so little to reduce it’s carbon emissions. Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter, the developed world’s worst performer on C02 emissions, and in December, set itself the modest target of reducing emissions by “at least 5%” by 2020.

Connor’s aim may have been domestic, but his idea has spread far beyond the shores of Australia. Through facebook, email and skype chats, people from many other countries, including India, the UK, Canada and Sweden, decided to participate in the fast themselves.

Howard Bulmer from Cornwall told me that he would be fasting for the twelve days of the conference itself – inspired by a young group of people from the other side of the world, who he’s never really met.

So what’s the attraction? Why not use other forms of protest – direct action, marches, lobbying politicians?

Perhaps it’s the nature of this conference itself. Travelling to Copenhagen to protest – especially if you have to fly – would feel hypocritical. Marching feels too tame. And trust in politicians to actually make the tough decisions required is, understandably, in short supply.

Connor was frank about his motives; he said he didn’t want to look back in twenty or thirty years time and feel like he hadn’t done enough. Fasting is a symbolic act of serious intent, of sacrifice, and an act over which the individual has power and control. Perhaps it’s a way of making one feel less impotent, during a time in which the world’s richest countries and most powerful leaders appear so impotent themselves.

I’ll be following the hunger strikers stories over the next month – stick with the nose for more updates.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Making this piece was a lot of fun, because of the logistical challenges. FSRN had asked me to do the piece, but hadn’t realised that the epicentre of the campaign was in Australia. And the UK fasters were in Cornwall and London respectively – whilst I was working from my home studio in Edinburgh.

I used skype for the interviews, recording straight onto my laptop. But the quality is very variable – sometimes better fidelity than recording a phone line, and sometimes terrible (as with Howard Bulmer in Cornwall.)

When Paul Connor told me that they were about to eat their last supper, I had a brainwave. “Could you record the meal on your laptop?” I asked. He was then able send me this relatively high quality audio as an MP3. That audio compensated for the quality of the interviews.

I’m hoping to use this technique for other skype interviews in the near future. By getting the interviewee to record the interview at their end on a program like audacity, I’ll end up with a good quality recording of both my voice and theirs.

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