Getting to the Bottom of Things: Copenhagen’s Underground Climate Conference

The controversy and confusion following December’s UN Climate Conference has somehow cast a dark shadow over the city of Copenhagen, the UNFCCC, and the IPCC. As if those three things were the source of all our climate woes, people are now asking “What went wrong in Copenhagen?” and “How do we fix the UNFCCC?”, and critics are picking at every single IPCC chart, graph, and personage.

An Alternative Climate Conference in Copenhagen

But those measures fail to get at the root -causes of climate change, which run much deeper than   any set of charts and graphs or could possibly communicate. That’s because the cause is us – humans. It’s our individual habits and consumption patterns repeated billions of times throughout the population that is creating ecological change on a global scale.

While these root causes of climate change received little attention inside the Bella Center, the discussion was not absent in Copenhagen. Klimabundmøde – “The Climate Bottom Meeting” – was a conference held during the same two weeks as the UN Conference and hosted by a coalition of groups dedicated to environmentally sustainable communities. These included The Danish Association for Eco-villages, and the Global Eco-village Network.

You may be a bit confused about the name “Climate Bottom Meeting” – as I was. I think the name was a bit lost in translation. Something like “Root-Causes Conference” or “Underground Climate Conference” would have been more accurate, if not more edgy. The conference aimed to “present a number of practical sustainable cities and eco-village initiatives around the world, showing different solutions to overcome the world’s ecological, social, spiritual and economic challenges.” Several European eco-village groups, topical experts, and many indigenous groups (in town for the big UN meeting) were invited to present in the Climate Bottom tent throughout the week. Their presentations were aimed at inspiring people to return to their own communities and implement some of the ideas they acquired. Daily themes ranged from, “Worldview, Culture, and Spirituality” to “The Ecological Footprint of Sustainable Energy.”  [The full program is here]

Though I only attended the Climate Bottom Meeting on two short occasions, I got enough of the feel to know that there was indeed a saving grace in Copenhagen – a discussion that really tried to get to the bottom of things and was both philosophical and practical.

The conference was held in Freetown Christiania, the distinctive Copenhagen neighborhood with a commune-like way of existence. Apparently the city of Copenhagen is actually restricted from enforcing certain laws within the area’s walls. As access to the Bella Center became increasingly restricted to government representatives and security personnel in the final days of COP15, some fellow Worldwatchers and I were naturally drawn to Christiania. It was there that we came across the big blue circus tent – the venue of the Climate Bottom Meeting.

Freetown Christiania is a neighborhood in downtown Copenhagen

Inside, a meal was being served, and a string instrument band played loudly in front of a crammed set of bleachers. When we were waved into the food line, my co-worker Ben asked the first person serving us, “So do you do this to support the community?”

“We are the community,” said the man filling our plates with pasta. “We’re supporting you.”

It felt good to uncover some local roots in Copenhagen.  I don’t know how such an intimate discussion could be brought to the forefront of climate action. Perhaps the narrow focus on climate statistics and UN funding mechanisms doesn’t fit at all into a community-level process like the Climate Bottom Meeting. I also don’t expect Mexico’s resort town of Cancun – the location of this year’s UN Climate Conference – to play host to many community-focused meetings, but perhaps we’ll soon have no choice but to start digging deep, and thinking locally about the global climate.

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