Climate Change: Time for a Revolution
There can be no state solutions to climate change: governments won't give up the powers that lead to environmental ruin
There was a joke going round the Climate Camp in the last days. As well as the "wellbeing tent", which dealt with mildly traumatised activists on the receiving end of 5am police batons, someone proposed a "wellmeaning" tent. It would accommodate those who'd like to include state and capitalism-based solutions in the movement to reverse climate change. The camp's outer fence would curve into the wellmeaning tent to create a round-table for stakeholders including the police (successfully kept out of the site after days of stand-offs), E.ON UK and other energy industry representatives - tea and hand-wringing optional.
The joke was prompted by a controversial presentation by George Monbiot, in which he endorsed the use of the state as a partner in resolving the climate crisis. Monbiot held the audience rapt as he explained the fundamental incompatibility of economic growth with the emission cuts needed to avert catastrophic climate change. Yet he confessed not knowing where to turn next to solve the issues of how to generate the changes necessary to shift our sources of energy, production and consumption, and where the state and capitalism fit in. He ended by endorsing the use of the state: "By God, let's use it". Amid the applause, some were appalled. Let me explain why.
Many of the organisers of the climate camps honed their skills in the anti-roads movement of the mid-1990s. Some came from the traveller, squatter and free party communities, an alliance of resistance built up to counter the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which criminalised travellers and activists reclaiming land and buildings for social, cooperative use. These activists came from a culture of anti-authoritarian anti-capitalism - rejecting the property ladder and the commodification of living space, and embracing collective enjoyment, dance and music.
The continuum of this culture of resistance, of a struggle for a commons, for control over one's own and one's family's life, for non-alienated labour and social interaction, stretches back to the Diggers, Levellers and the Luddites - English radicals struggling against the monarchy, taxes, land enclosure and austerity measures designed to empower a new industrial class, funded by a feudal and colonial land-grab and slavery.
This historical memory, and these beliefs in a global commons, in leaderless, participative organising and grassroots anti-state and anti-capitalist action run deep through the camps. They're also informed by a culture of direct action and a refusal to accept top-down solutions and a system of parliamentary democracy that reduces participation in politics to 16 "X"s in a box in an average lifetime.
But did Scargill and Monbiot really "get" the camp and its cultures of resistance? The latest edition of the NUM's newsletter criticised the camp for being too middle-class, anti-miner, and alienated from "real", genuine working class "realities". Are these representations fair? Many participants in the camp could be defined as the "precariat" - neoliberalism's answer to the proletariat. No longer an urbanised worker in a regular job in for a majority of their working life, the precariat lives and works in a precarious state, at the mercy of a deregulated labour market. Work is dominated by casualisation, flexible and migrant labour, zero-hour contracts, temping, seasonal work, home working, self-employment and unemployment. Many at the camp form a part of this working class, no more in the control of the means of production than energy industry workers here or China or Poland.
State solutions to the climate crisis were presented to us 10 years ago through the Kyoto protocol - what were they? To privatise the air we breathe and turn carbon emissions into commodities, to buy and sell atmospheric poison, to create a new market of trading in the means of ecological destruction. It's no wonder many at the camp reject state solutions to climate change.
Entertaining as the two-minutes-in-a-room-full-of-poison standoff between Monbiot and Scargill is, this gesture politics isn't getting to the heart of the fight. The question is, who and under what conditions, controls decision-making, and has climate-changing power? Who will pay the price of exile from family and common land, water and food insecurity, as land and rivers become polluted or diverted into the energy industry's use, for bauxite, uranium, coal, and iron-ore to build new infrastructure, power nuclear energy, expand the global coal market and concomitant infrastructure to perpetuate the whole process?
How do we bring about a transformation which empowers us all? Grassroots organising in cooperative, low-impact, sustainable ways, glimpsed at the Climate Camp, and practised daily by millions, is one way towards this. Another is to live at the sharpest end of climate chaos today.
So how about this for a challenge, George and Arthur? Spend two months, not two minutes, (together!) living in Matlu Camp in Jharsuguda, in Orissa province, India. One of the poorest states on earth, here in the heart of India's coal belt, are families displaced by mining, living in a polluted form of captivity. Where our very own Department for International Development has been restructuring governance, reinforcing the mining industries, and guiding land reforms allowing for the felling of pristine forest, more tribal resettlement and more environmental destruction.
Changing our sources of energy without changing our sources of economic and political power will not make a difference. Neither coal nor nuclear are the "solution", we need a revolution.
© 2008 Ewa Jasiewicz