Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke is no tourist in the climate activism world -- he's defended fair trade, campaigned for Friends of the Earth, edited a climate change edition of the Observer, and sought to make Radiohead's tours low carbon affairs. And now he's come to Copenhagen, just hours before a possible agreement, determined to find reason for optimism -- and perhaps set world leaders straight.
When I spoke to the head Radiohead this afternoon, he had recently come out of a meeting with the UK environment minister Ed Milliband. Video below.
"It's not enough," Yorke said of the UK's proposed emissions cuts. "But the political pressure they're feeling, that's very obvious. Hopefully something will come from that in the next 24 hours."
After fretting the conference would turn out to be a dud, Yorke comes to Copenhagen for the last few days on a press pass (NGOs have been booted, and he's not too happy about that). His mood was hovering somewhere between his characteristic genius-angst and begrudging optimism. ("You've got to try and be positive!" he told Grist's Umbra Fisk in an interview of the anti-Bono just after his arrival.)
After he appeared with former Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper on a webcast The Stupid Show -- part of The Age of Stupid campaign -- I and a few reporters swarmed. I asked him what he thought would come of Copenhagen, with or without a satisfactory deal.
Neither you nor I know what the fuck's going on in those negotiating rooms. I'm trying to be optimistic about it, and think this is quite a thing to be achieved. In theory, we've been going at it for twenty years. But this is the first time you've got this kind of political pressure. Everybody can see it everybody knows, everybody has written to their politicians. The political pressure is utterly different.
And on the climate movement mobilized around the summit:
They're mobilized, but as with many other things in the past, and many of these summits, you have the riots outside, you have the NGOs thrown out, you have the world leaders show up and they think they have their nice little fucking boys club going. But this time it ain't gonna happen. Because there's no way they can write the deal and we won't see the whole thing. And that's what's dawning on them.
And on changing the whole economic system:
What's dawning on the Western countries -- they're still arseing about at 17 percent ... if they're going to commit to [real cuts] -- they have to build a different sort of economy... I think it's only been the past year or so they're seeing what that would mean.
Yorke added that keeping in mind the interests of developing nations was crucial to a deal, the possibility of a walk-out still real. "David Milliband just said that -- if they walk off there's no deal, and we fail." Would no deal be better than a weak deal? "A lot of governments know the consequences if they fail."
Working Climate Campaigns Is Easy
Yorke told me later that lobbying for stronger climate change policy in Britain as part of FOE's Big Ask campaign was important, but working the political side was really hard. At one point he dissed his erstwhile nemesis Tony Blair by refusing to meet with him ("Blair has no environmental credentials as far as I'm concerned.")
"That fucking burned me out, man," he said. (Mmm, kind of like blogging a climate summit! No, it's great.)
Not Only the Greatest Rock Band: Radiohead Is Model for World Leaders
The band's pay-what-you-wish system for their In Rainbows album was a big F-you to music's business as usual, and a healthy experiment in the power of the internet and the fanbase to create a new more efficient art economy.
In other words, a nice metaphor for what the developed world can do with its reining carbon-heavy system. Sorry Radiohead-denialists -- turns out Radiohead can do no wrong after all.
"The sooner we understand how we proceed to make this happen," he said, "the happier people will be."
Follow more of TreeHugger's Copenhagen coverage.