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Anuradha Vittachi Headshot

The Occupation, St Paul's, Thailand and Durban: For Love or Money

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What links the Occupation movement, an ancient cathedral, floods in Thailand, and the UN? You can thread them as four beads on a single necklace.

The Occupation protestors, our first bead, see bankers as the 1% that caused our economic crisis and left the rest of us -- the 99% -- to pick up the tab. And then the self-serving bankers added insult to injury by demanding bonuses while everyone else was still smarting from paying for their trillion-dollar bailouts. By contrast, the protestors are juggling work and parental commitments to spend days or nights in cold and rainy makeshift camps -- unpaid acts of caring to draw attention to those who have lost homes and jobs because of the faulty banking system. The love/money dichotomy couldn't be clearer.

The second bead on the necklace is St Paul's Cathedral. The London Occupation is camping in its forecourt. St Paul's Canon Chancellor, the Rev. Dr. Giles Fraser, welcomed them to stay -- and since, according to Christians, Jesus Christ railed against money changers at the temple court, and caring for the needy and oppressed is central to Christian values, what could be a more appropriate place for the Occupation?

Others at St Paul's weren't as welcoming. The protestors had to leave, they said, for health and safety reasons. Then the real reason emerged, to popular shock: the cathedral's tourist revenues were falling. The tourists apparently didn't appreciate St Paul's so much as a monument to Christ's compassion as a -- well, as a monument.

St Paul's executives were faced with a choice: either work with the Occupation or reach for the tourists' wallets. Would they choose love or money?

The Occupation suggested, helpfully: 'What would Jesus do?'

St Paul's ignored the irony and chose the wallets. The Rev Dr Fraser resigned. Since then, the drama at the forecourt has escalated daily, with the Dean of St Paul's resigning this week.

What has this drama of love v money to do with Thailand, the third bead on our necklace? Thailand is steadily being engulfed by floodwaters that now surround its capital city, Bangkok, for miles around. After a bizarre, three-month monsoon, 2.5 million people are homeless. It's not their fault: it's the result of wild weather patterns, a consequence of climate change.

But who is responsible for climate change? The wealthiest 1% of the world's people emit carbon at a terrifying rate, especially when they fly around the world for casual pleasure -- an activity otherwise known as tourism.

So whether we are talking about lives wrecked in London because of the economic crisis or in Bangkok because of the climate crisis, the pattern is the same: a self-serving minority misuses their wealth and creates chaos for the rest of the populace. And it's the 99%, to use Occupation terminology, that picks up the tab.

The U.S. government has made a humanitarian gift of 18 million baht to the Thai people. Eighteen million of anything sounds like a lot. But translated into dollars it comes out as less than $600,000 -- less than the annual bonus expected by many bankers. And if you set it against the $6,000,000,000's worth of damage already done, it leaves a balance of $5,999,400,000 (give or take a few thousand) to be met by Thai taxpayers, the 99% who did nothing to cause the damage.

It's not fair and it's not proportionate, so the problems in Thailand won't -- can't -- be solved. The most urgent problems of the 21st century, like economic globalisation and climate change, are internationally manufactured problems that, by definition, can't be dealt with by governments that have been set up to deal with problems on a national basis. Given that we don't have a world parliament (is it time we did?), the nearest we get to an institution that can make international policy for taking proportionate action is the UN.

Which is the fourth and last bead on our necklace. And it's not long to the next UN Climate Change Conference, due to be held from 28 November to 9 December in Durban, South Africa. But even at UN Summits, negotiators are not really mandated to think globally. They are still a group of national government bureaucrats expected to prioritize national interests over protecting 'the needy and oppressed' of the world -- just like the executives at St Paul's felt obliged to protect St Paul's revenues.

Soon climate justice protestors will be camping on the UN's forecourt in South Africa, demanding that governments protect the global 99%. A rich and vocal fossil fuel lobby will be there too. Like the bankers demanding new bonuses, they'll be there for the money.

Heads of state -- Jacob Zuma, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel -- could instruct their UN negotiators to think bigger, to think about the Earth and humanity's future. They could insist on it with the fervour they brought to the Eurozone financial crisis in Brussels last week.

Will they? To find out what happens at the UN's Climate Summit, check into www.oneclimate.net/durban from Nov 30th to watch the action, live, as it unfolds.

Full disclosure: I am part of the OneClimate team.