Like many others, I went to the London Rally on the 4th of November full of expectations. Yet, I was in two-minds when I saw the limited number of protesters (20,000 to 30,000 max): it was a good number, but still a drop in the ocean when compared to the UK population or to the protest against the war in Irak in 2003.
I started wondering why we were so few. At the American Embassy (where I went before joining the "I Count" event in Trafalgar Square, George Monbiot indirectly gave us some clues when he summarized the strategy of those who, for years, have been trying to deny Climate Change. According to Monbiot, so called 'think-thanks' funded by energy companies like Exxon launched a few years ago a denial campaign by saying that CC was not happening or was not a major problem (for more information on this, see George Monbiot's latest book, Heat (Penguin, 2006), chapter 2). Then, the same people and others with vested interests claimed that it would cost more to limit CO2 emissions than to pay for natural disasters' damages, or that Climate Change is the fault of China. Very recently they've been trying to convince people that it is too late to act. These people have been quite successful in instilling the doubt in people's mind (starting with me – even though I have always been worried about the way we are using fossil fuels like oil or coal, I was a Climate Change sceptic a long time). In his movie "An Inconvenient Truth", Al Gore shows that although there is a strong scientific consensus on Climate Change (i.e. that it is happening right now, and that it is caused by CO2 emissions) a majority of newspaper articles when they report on the issue still voice doubts about the reality of the problem.

Of course, I think, this must account for the relatively low turnout at the demonstration in London. But I unfortunately think this is not the only – possibly not even main reason. In his latest book (Heat, 2006), Monbiot thinks the energy lobbies and the denial industry are not the only ones to blame. He also emphasizes our own contradictions. As most people in the rich countries will realise that Climate Change is indeed happening, he fears that "our response will be to demand that the government acts, while hoping that it doesn't. We will wish our governments to pretend to act. We get the moral satisfaction of saying what we know to be right, without the discomfort of doing it. My fear is that the political parties in most rich nations have already recognized this. They know that we want tough targets, but that we also want those targets to be missed. They know that we will grumble about their failure to curb climate change, but that we will not take to the streets. They know that nobody ever rioted for austerity" (p.41-42).

Is it possible that the combined force of our own contradictions and that of the "denial industry" explains the numbers of protesters at the rally? Should we despair? No! Many positive things have recently happened: the Stern report; the hope brought by a bill in this year's Queen's speech (unbelievable a few months ago!); the numbers of protesters in Trafalgar square: about twice as many as last year; the fact that more and more people and organisations are bridging their differences and uniting to lobby the government into taking action now. Moreover, the future is not written. Monbiot's fear are grounded, but we face an entirely new challenge: history does not repeat itself, and even though we should not wish to see rioting for austerity, as he puts it, let's hope that through consciousness-raising, education, lobbying, more and more people will join the movement, and pressure governments into tackling Climate Change (by setting annual targets of 3% CO2 emission reduction) and energy waste. Who knows? We might be 2 millions in the streets next year?