Changing the political system = saving the Earth, say protesters at Copenhagen climate talks

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COPENHAGEN – T-shirts. Banners. Picket signs. Chants. Those were the weapons most demonstrators wielded to get across their plea as tens of thousands rallied to send a message to United Nations climate-treaty negotiators meeting here.

Their overriding point was probably best summed up in one placard: “Change the politics, not the climate.” Another frequently seen sign: "There is no Planet B:" The Copenhagen march was echoed by an international campaign of demonstrations.

[caption id="attachment_7155" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="InvestigateWest photo by Christopher Crow."]InvestigateWest photo by Mark Malijan.[/caption]

The protesters targeted a proposal emerging from global negotiations here that wouldseek to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide by putting a price on the right to pollute. A similar system has worked well to control acid rain in the United States, by most accounts. But critics say exporting that concept to a worldwide climate treaty is foolhardy because it privatizes the right to pollute. (Jim Tankersley of the LA Times has an interesting look at what goes on inside the negotiations versus what's transpiring outside.)

The Saturday protest, billed as the largest likely during the climate talks, was not without violence. A few hundred of the 30,000 or more demonstrators tossed bricks at police, smashed windows and set off homemade explosives near the end of the march. Nearly 1,000 were arrested.

But most protesters proceeded peacefully as they sought to warn the world it must do more to head off increasingly serious and potentially abrupt changes in the global climate.

Before the throngs made their way down a three-mile path from the Danish parliament building to the conference center where the United Nations negotiations are being held, the protesters heard from a series of speakers including a native American who said of the heads of state expected here soon:

A lot of these world leaders are not negotiating for you, they are negotiating for corporations.

Meanwhile, inside the UN climate talks, negotiators slogged on -- with some harsh exchanges between China and the United States -- in anticipation of the arrival Monday of high-ranking government officials from nearly 200 countries.

Outside, at the protest march, Canadian Clayton Thomas-Muller, who organizes an indigenous people's campaign against the incredibly carbon-intensive Alberta tar sands, reflected a practical reality of climate change -- it’s people who are at risk, not the environment:

Mother Earth is going to be just fine. We’re not here to save the earth, we’re here to save ourselves.

The InvestigateWest team followed the march the entire way. One of the more interesting moments came when the protesters passed a McDonald's and KFC (didn't that used to be "Kentucky Fried Chicken?") . They were protected by police in riot gear.

[caption id="attachment_7156" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Police guard a McDonalds along route of the march. InvestigateWest photo by Christopher Crow."]Police guard a McDonalds along route of the march. InvestigateWest photo by Mark Malijan[/caption]

We couldn't help asking a cop:  

Who are your protecting?

The answer was unsatisfying:

We don't want people here to get hurt.

Well, yeah. We inquired about why the cops might suspect that marchers would hurt the eaters of the fast food. We didn't get a great answer. But suffice it to say the memory of what happened at the World Trade Organization riots in Seattle in 1999 lives on in Copenhagen today.

-- By Alexander Kelly in Copenhagen and Robert McClure in Seattle.