Headed by the State oil executive Sultan al-Jaber, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) kick-started in Dubai, UAE, on November 30th with the establishment of a first-of-its-kind Climate Disaster Fund. However, putting a portion of carbon energy profits in a fund to pay for climate disasters highlights government and corporate neglect of climate and ecological breakdown.
The present socioeconomic system can't protect people, the environment, and nature from the climate crises to come because that system’s very structure creates these crises–and then ignores them.
Our key institutions, corporations, and governments function according to quarterly profits, the election cycle, and without regard for the long-term dangers to our survival. This system is designed to steal from future generations and cause extreme biodiversity loss, and air and water contamination to maintain a lifestyle that benefits the “one percent” to the detriment of everyone else.
To highlight this message, young Extinction Rebellion activists in New York City stormed the Metropolitan Opera House on the opening night of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser, which explores the theme of the struggle between sacred and profane love, as well as redemption through love.
The half-hour interruption by activists on the start of COP28 was perfectly timed to coincide with the main character’s declaration that “love is a spring to be drunk from” and was less serious and less inconvenient than the severe weather delays that are now becoming more and more frequent.
Extreme weather has already disrupted the opera and other indoor and outdoor performances. This has become so common that Ticketmaster has devoted an entire page to weather contingencies.
In recent months, we’ve seen large-scale performances canceled. Weather-related travel disruptions have prevented artists from reaching the city or venue where they’re scheduled to perform. In at least one case, a heat-related death at an event where drinking water was not permitted caused public outrage and forced cancellation after the event was already underway.
Young protestors point out that there is "no opera on a dead planet” and demand an end to fossil fuels. Because, contrary to those words spoken on stage, springs are not pure now, because we are in a climate crisis, and our water is contaminated.
If protestors don't disrupt the opera, nature will certainly—and soon.
“If XR doesn’t disrupt, the climate will. Violently. Activists are disrupting peacefully. Nature will disrupt violently.”,
explained Miles Grant, an Extinction Rebellion spokesperson.
John Mark Rozendaal, an Extinction Rebellion spokesperson, cellist, and viola da gamba player added,
“We love opera. We are interrupting the things we love. We are acting in ways that may seem irrational, but this is because no one is having a sane response to the urgency, danger, and magnitude of the climate crisis. There have been 28 COPs, and emissions have only gone up! We stand to lose everything.”
To draw attention to the urgency of the existential crisis that we’re facing, young activists demand the government tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
These concerns mirror UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s sentiment:
"We can't save a burning planet with a firehose of fossil fuels. We must accelerate a just, equitable transition to renewables. The science is clear: The 1.5°C warming limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning fossil fuels. Not reduce. Not abate. Phase out."
The climate and ecological crisis threaten everything on our planet, including opera.
“We're not protesting the event itself; we are not protesting opera; we are not protesting the emissions that brought spectators here. That's not the point. We are here because we have to disrupt this public event as our last resort to draw public attention to the climate emergency we are facing today,”
Linda Solomon, an Extinction Rebellion activist, said.
This and similar actions are the response of a movement with no other recourse; it must engage in unconventional forms of protest to bring mass attention to the greatest emergency of our time. All normal means of effecting change commensurate with the scale of the catastrophe – voting, petitioning, lobbying, etc. – have failed and failed again.
Unfortunately, children and youth face disproportionate risks and impacts from this as the generation who will inherit a planet with tougher conditions in which to live without being responsible for contributing to the problem.
Artist Fatma Kadir, with her work in Future of Power Art Show on exhibit at the Resilience Hub at COP28, draws attention to young climate change advocates who “at very early ages are becoming plaintiffs in climate litigation around the globe–including Juliana v. United States, Held v. Montana, Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and 32 Other States –as they advocate for their human right to a clean and healthful environment as granted by their constitutions.
Youth climate litigation is becoming an integral part of securing climate action and justice. The total number of climate change court cases worldwide has more than doubled since 2017, according to the report prepared by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.”
Future of Power at Resilience Hub at the COP28
"We’re not going to stop disrupting, because nature is only getting started. The orange skies and the flooding in New York City this year are just the beginning,"
said Jack Baldwin, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion. The science makes clear that we have only a very small time window in which to end fossil fuel use and halt carbon emissions.