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December 02, 2011

The Sierra Club in Durban: Day Five

Durban

Friday is fun-day for the Sierra Club delegation at COP 17. After the success of last year's Heads in the Sand event at COP 16 in Cancun, we staged a second event on the beach in Durban this morning to highlight governments that continue to bury their heads in the sand and block critical action at the negotiations –- with a few COP 17 twists.

The SSC brought the youth out in force this morning, including representatives from the Canadian Youth who came in their corporate logo blazers to protest Canada's stance in Durban. While most of us pinned flags on our backs and buried our heads in the sand to represent the lack of action, the Canadians buried their heads in black lined holes to represent tar sands. At the back, activists held windmills and solar panels to represent the clean energy that can safely power our future. Once again, the media was out in force snapping pictures and doing interviews.

Durban

Despite foot dragging by governments like the U.S. and Canada, progress is being made. Following up on yesterday's successful energy-access discussion with Carl Pope and Mary Robinson, Sierra Club delegates participated in a distributed solar demonstration by EcoNet Wireless to counter the myth that the only way to electrify rural communities with distributed solar is to give it away. Aside from the fact that the expensive kerosene the poor are often forced to use as fuel is already subsidized in many parts of the world –- and the fact that this money could go toward distributed renewable energy –- mobile networks offer an innovative way for users to pay for renewable energy in small amounts that work out to be cheaper than the kerosene they buy.

This week, activists from across Sub-Saharan Africa arrived in Durban to demonstrate to the COP negotiators the power of their communities as a reminder of those who are most affected by inaction on climate change. Hundreds of these activists gathered at an anti-coal event hosted by a German Energy Foundation and Earthlife Africa at the People's Space outside the COP to learn about Germany's anti-coal efforts, and the many coal project struggles around South Africa.

Durban

As people filed in to the large auditorium, participants sang together, opening the presentation with rich harmony. T-shirts captured the sentiments of the UNFCC proceedings, such as "COPorations" and the “Conference of Polluters”, and South African activists shared stories of struggles against coal in their communities.

A woman from the far North of the Venda people spoke of confronting new mining, and the food and water shortages the mining would cause. Earthlife Africa's rousing organizer Makoma Lekalakala described the monstrous Medupi and Kusile coal plants –- each over 4,000 megawatts –- which are under construction now that U.S. tax dollars are helping finance. These projects bring many challenges like air and water pollution, displacement, and false promises of employment, while current livelihoods are squashed in the wake of pollution and water scarcity.

In between testimonies and questions to the speakers, people would sing and chant, the room erupting again into a unified chorus, evolving into shouts of calls to action. It was a powerful gathering in its own right, and simply a remarkable preview of a global day of action that will demand greater action from the COP17 negotiators. Look for more information and pictures in an update from Cesia Kearns.

We wrapped a very busy day by joining a briefing with U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing, a training for the booth we'll host in the convention next week, and an all Sierra Club delegation dinner to celebrate a great first week. A special thanks goes out to our cooks Lauren Ressler, Katie O'Brien, Janice Meier, and Jim Dougherty.

-- article and photos by Nicole Ghio

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