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Climate justice hunger strike
It runs ahead of the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December, where world leaders will be effectively tasked with deciding the fate of our planet at the UNFCCC COP15. Climate Justice Fast! will be a demonstration of the commitment and courage required of all nations and all global citizens if we are to equitably solve climate change
Climate change is a global emergency. Every leading scientific body on earth is warning that if we do not act now to rapidly reduce greenhouse emissions, we will cause an unprecedented environmental disaster, bringing famine, drought, disease, mass population displacement, extreme weather and extinctions.
Failure to heed this warning would amount to nothing less than a crime against humanity, and against all of life on earth. It would also represent an enormous injustice to the global poor, who are the least responsible for causing climate change, yet are predicted to suffer the most from its effects.
It is no exaggeration, then, to say that the current movement for climate action is the most important social movement in the history of humankind. Previous generations did not understand the problem, and future generations will be too late to change it. It is up to us.
What we seek is a better future- where people from all nations enjoy the same, fair, sustainable level of consumption. The developed world will undergo a fundamental values shift towards sustainability, and under-developed and poverty-stricken nations will be strongly supported to attain acceptable levels of well-being. We will recognise the limits to growth, understand wasteful materialism for what it is, and end the growth-at-all-costs ideology that has brought the global ecosystem to the point of collapse.
Our task is enormous, and we are fast running out of time to achieve it. All indicators of climate change are tracking at the top end of scientific predictions, and natural feedback mechanisms, such as the loss of reflectivity from vanishing ice sheets and the release of greenhouse gasses from melting permafrost threaten to force climate change beyond our control.
Our progress in achieving the political changes required to confront the crisis is far too slow. Politicians have shown time and time again that they will not act appropriately until public demand becomes so strong that it makes any other action impossible. We must somehow engineer a radical shift in public awareness capable of bringing about a political response unprecedented in both its speed and scope.
If we are to achieve this, it is obvious that we can no longer continue with “activism as usual”. Traditional methods of protest, such as marches, petitions, and direct actions, all lack the power to communicate the importance of the climate issue. These strategies have been used by environmental groups for years over countless different issues, and consequently are all too easily ignored by the media and the public. We need something more.
Hunger striking is a form of protest unparalleled in its ability to capture attention and catalyse social movements. Throughout history, it has been successfully used numerous times to create awareness and mobilize the public behind social causes, and as the ultimate, most powerful statement against injustice. Mahatma Gandhi wrote that "under certain circumstances, fasting is the one weapon God has given us for use in times of utter helplessness.”
For the climate movement, hunger striking could not be more appropriate. We desperately need to bring attention to the issue, and to alert the general public as to the urgency of climate action. Moreover, the concept of hunger also directly relates to our cause, with climate change threatening to cause famine on a massive scale.
Climate Justice Fast! will therefore serve three important purposes:
1. Raising awareness.
An international hunger strike is a new, exciting and newsworthy action, with enormous potential for capturing attention. If taken up by the mainstream media, it will send a powerful message to members of the public who are as yet unaware of the importance of the issue.
2. Providing inspiration.
Climate Justice Fast! also has enormous potential to inspire those who are already aware of the climate issue to become more politically active. By putting our bodies on the line we will lead by example and show the level of commitment and courage that the climate crisis requires from us all.
3. Sending the strongest possible message to our leaders.
Our act will also serve as a powerful reminder to our political, social and economic leaders of the importance, and moral consequences, of their decisions on climate change.
All these aims are achievable. There are already a number of activists committed to undertaking the fast. If enough people worldwide have the strength and courage to join us, or support Climate Justice Fast!, it has the potential to become the most powerful action ever taken on climate change, and a pivotal moment in the global climate movement.
Together, the global community must make a stand, now, for the future of our planet, and for the survival of future generations. Climate Justice Fast! is an opportunity to do just that. Please join us.
Hunger Strikes - A Fast History
Fasting in order to bring attention to an injustice is an ancient practice, and was common in both India and pre-Christian Ireland. In both of these places, individuals who felt they had been wronged would fast outside the house of the perpetrator in an attempt to shame them into rectifying the perceived injustice .
In the twentieth century hunger strikes were first used effectively by the British suffragettes in their campaign to earn women the right to vote. Both by fasting and by publicising the brutal methods of force-feeding which they were subjected to by prison authorities, the suffragettes gained widespread sympathy for their cause. Later, leaders of the suffragette movement credited the hunger strikers as having had “the rarest form of moral courage and physical self control”, and playing a pivotal role in their ultimate triumph. Hunger strikes were also employed by suffragettes in the USA, where they again played a major role in winning women the vote .
Soon after, the Irish republican movement adopted the tactic. In 1920 the Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney died after 74 days on hunger strike, which brought international attention to the Irish struggle, and greatly mobilised Catholic Ireland in support of republicanism . In 1923, following the Irish civil war, up to 8000 IRA prisoners went on hunger strike to protest their continued detention, eventually securing the release of all female prisoners following the deaths of two strikers .
Perhaps the most famous exponent of the hunger strike is Mahatma Gandhi, who undertook several fasts during his struggle for justice and independence in India. Gandhi wrote that "under certain circumstances, fasting is the one weapon God has given us for use in times of utter helplessness.” One of his fasts, a protest against inter-religious violence, resulted in leaders from Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities vowing to resolve their differences peacefully. Another, undertaken to improve the lives of the Dalits (untouchables), resulted in policy changes after just six days of fasting .
To Gandhi, spirituality, fasting and political action were one. He was insistent that his fasts be seen as acts of moral conscience, rather than coercive political tools. They were, he claimed, “resolved upon in the name of God, for His work, and as I believe in all humility, at His call”, and were “undertaken with the purest of motives and without malice or anger against any single soul” .
1981 Maze prison hunger strike
Another famous example was the 1981 Maze prison hunger strike in Ireland, in which ten IRA prisoners died protesting against the revocation of their status as prisoners of war. The strike attracted international attention and widespread support within Ireland, with some of the hunger strikers elected to both the Irish and British parliaments during their fast, and 100,000 people attending the funeral of Bobby Sands, the first of the men to die . The ten men survived without food for 46 to 73 days (average 61.6) , taking only water and salt. After their deaths, and following severe public disorder, the strike was halted and partial concessions were granted to the prisoners.
In 1987, a young general of the Sri Lankan rebel army the Tamil Tigers named Thileepan fasted for 12 days without food or water until his death. Angered by what he saw as the collaboration between the Indian and Sri Lankan governments against Tamils, and frustrated by what he considered a mistaken trust of India amongst his people, Thileepan sought to rouse his people into resistance by his fast. In this, he was enormously successful. The indifference of Indian authorities to his death led to widespread grief among Tamils, who thereafter became largely supportive as the Tigers commenced hostilities against Indian troops .
In 1989, the world’s attention turned to Tiananmen square in Beijing, where over 100,000 students gathered to protest against authoritarian government and call for democratic reform. During their protest, some of the students began to hunger strike in the square, with their fast eventually involving up to 1000 people. The decision to hunger strike was a crucial moment in the protest, as it convinced ordinary people that the students were not simply pursuing personal gains but were making a sacrifice for China as a whole. Soon however, the Chinese military forcefully broke up the protest, leading to high numbers of deaths and the suppression of democratic reform .
Turkish political prisoners
In Turkey, hunger strikes have been employed numerous times by political prisoners protesting against inhumane prison conditions. The largest, a strike involving 2000 prisoners in 1996, lasted 69 days and led to 12 deaths. Following a public outcry at the government’s indifference to the deaths, a handful of prominent Turkish intellectuals intervened and eventually many of the prisoners’ demands were met. This came at a high price however, with many of the surviving strikers experiencing permanent health problems, and brain damage [1,7].
Guantanamo bay detainees
By far the most renowned hunger strike this decade was carried out by inmates at the Guantanamo bay military prison in Cuba, who have staged several hunger strikes to protest the denial of their human rights and torture by US authorities. The largest strike occurred in 2005, and involved up to 200 inmates . One of the most controversial aspects of the fast was the US authorities’ use of force feeding on the hunger strikers in contravention of the World Medical Association Declaration on Hunger Strikes which states: “Hunger strikers should not be forcibly given treatment they refuse. Forced feeding contrary to an informed and voluntary refusal is unjustifiable.” 
The most recent hunger strike to gain significant attention was performed by Parameswaram Subramaniam, a 28-year-old student of Tamil descent, who went without food for 24 days and without water for several days in Parliament Square London to call for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka in April of this year. He was convinced to come off his strike by British foreign secretary David Milliband, who wrote to him explaining the "strenuous efforts" the government was making to secure a ceasefire in Sri Lanka .
The effectiveness of Subramaniam’s strike in bringing attention to his cause was highlighted by supporter Ram Sara, who noted “in past years we have done, as a Tamil community, a lot of protests in the UK and all over the world but it hasn't been mentioned in any media. But today… they are ready to do live telecasts from this place to tell other people about this community. So I feel proud of him and I feel it is the best way to get the message across the world." 
-  http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Hunger_strike last viewed at 09/05/09 10PM.
-  Vernon, J. (2007) Hunger: A Modern History, Cambridge, The Bellknap Press, pp. 60-75.
-  http://www.codepinkalert.org/article.php?id=1025 last viewed at 09/05/09 10PM.
-  Altun, G., Akansu, B., Altun, B. U., Azmak, D., Yilmaz, A. (2004) Deaths due to hunger strike: post-mortem findings. Forensic Science International 46, 35–38.
-  http://www.tamilnation.org/tamileelam/maveerar/thileepan.htm last viewed at 09/05/09 10PM.
-  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square_protests_of_1989 last viewed at 10/05/09 10AM.
-  Sengupta, S. Turkish hunger strikers risk body and mind, The New York Times, Tuesday December 18, 2001 http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/18/world/turkish-hunger-strikers-risk-body-and-mind.html last viewed at 5PM 11/05/09.
-  Leonnig, C. More join Guantanamo hunger strike. The Washington Post, Tuesday September 13, 2005. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/12/AR2005091201690.html last viewed at 10PM 11/05/09.
-  World Medical Association, World Medical Association Declaration on Hunger Strikes, (Declaration of Malta), Revised October 14 2006, http://www.wma.net/e/policy/h31.htm last viewed at 10PM 11/05/09.
-  Jones, S. Tamil student calls off parliament square hunger strike, The Guardian, Thursday 30 April 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/30/tamil-hunger-strike-sri-lanka last viewed at 10PM 11/05/09.
-  Stevenson, A. Parliament hunger-striker ‘close to death’, Wednesday 29 April 2009. http://www.politics.co.uk/news/foreign-policy/parliament-hunger-striker-close-to-death--$1291493.htm last viewed at 10PM 11/05/09.