12/06/2011 11:52 am ET Updated Feb 05, 2012

Head of Greenpeace Calls for Civil Disobedience in Durban

Kumi Naidoo, head of Greenpeace International, has called for non-violent civil disobedience, to push government delegations at the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa into action.

Speaking to OneClimate on Saturday, December 3rd, after a week of negotiations that has produced little movement, he said: "We appear to be going nowhere...slowly. I believe our political leaders are sleepwalking into a crisis of epic proportions."

The annual UN climate talks in November/December are two weeks long. During the first week, negotiations are conducted by national civil servants thoroughly briefed to serve their own country's interests. The middle weekend sees the arrival of ministers of state -- and sometimes even heads of state -- who are theoretically in a position to make decisions that rise above these strictures.

Climate-watchers will recall the wild hope that stirred during the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009 when President Obama arrived there in the second week. Would he use his famous rhetorical skills to inspire the other leaders to make wise decisions for the sake of the world as a whole? He did not. He looked wretched as he toed the nationalist line, as if he were saying not what he wanted to say but what he had been told to say: but he obediently said it anyway.

So if the most powerful political leader in the world was not able to rise above the demands of vested interests back home, what would make the ministers arriving in Durban this weekend to behave more global-mindedly? Naidoo explained that his hope lay in the pressure from people outside the conference halls. Stepping away for a few minutes from a people's march through Durban in order to speak to OneClimate, he said: "People get it! There is a sense of reality here, sanity. Inside, it's business as usual."

Naidoo is a veteran of human rights actions, expelled from high school and arrested many times in his youth for his commitment to mobilizing people against the apartheid regime during South Africa's liberation struggle. He is convinced not only that people can make a difference but that it is the only way that change comes about.

"What history teaches us is that struggles for justice only go forward when decent men and women say, 'Enough is enough and no more! We are prepared to go to jail if necessary, to put our lives on the line if necessary.'"

For centuries people have mobilized on the streets for political and economic justice. Is it now necessary to do so for climate change? Naidoo is in no doubt. It's not as if climate change is going to impact us in the future, he explains, people are losing their lives now -- about 300,000 people every year:

"We have to recognize that the biggest struggle that all of humanity faces is the threat of global warming and climate change. I hope that those who are in leadership will step forward and encourage other people to engage in peaceful -- but active -- non-violent direct action and civil disobedience. Because that is what is missing.

Politicians and business leaders have the same medical problem: they all struggle to hear. Their hearing abilities will be enhanced by peaceful, but strong and creative, civil disobedience and non-violent direct action."