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Is the Climate Change Movement Splintering?

Climate change activists are regrouping post-Copenhagen – and some are reasserting their radical roots

Bibi van der Zee

Activists reflected in a police riot shield at the Climate Camp near Kingsnorth power station in Kent, August 4, 2008. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

climate change movement is dead, long live the climate change movement!

was the proclamation made last week by Rising
Tide North America
, as green campaigners around the world begin
coming to terms with the switchback ride of the last three months.

particular model of dealing with climate change is dying. It is
revealing itself before the world as nothing more than a final scramble
for the remaining resources of a planet in peril," states a quote from
Naomi Klein at the beginning of the document, before stating:

in the climate movement have grown all too cozy with the status quo.
The 'bold' action they call for will result in the privatization of the
air, to be divided up by mega-polluters. Their demands for carbon
neutrality seek to offset our problems onto poor countries while the
rich keep burning and consuming. Those who still cling to the old
climate movement have committed themselves to a sinking ship.

comes out against a backdrop of restlessness, as activists take stock
of where they have been and where they are going. Now that the climate
talks in Copenhagen have failed, the activists who campaigned inside and
outside the Bella Centre are subsiding naturally into two groups -
those who didn't want a deal in the first place, and those who did.

in the latter group, which includes campaign groups such as UK Youth Climate Coalition and the umbrella
group tck tck tck, are devastated.
As Gemma Bone, one of UKYCC's members puts it; "I didn't expect that
there would be a final agreement, but I did think that we would make
some kind of progress, and that this year would be all about finalising
details. Now it's not clear how the UN process will even go forward.
It's absolutely knocked me for six."

But activists in the former
group - including Climate Camp,
Rising Tide and Climate Justice
Network - are more positive. A spokesman for Rising Tide said: "To be
honest we never expected a deal at Copenhagen. We don't want an
international agreement." Like many activists he is profoundly skeptical
about the ability of a carbon trading market - one of the central
mechanism of any international agreement - to deliver real reductions in
emissions of carbon dioxide.

In fact Copenhagen and the failure
of the meeting has in some ways liberated activists. Climate Campers,
for example, have been discussing being more upfront about their
anarchist and anti-capitalist roots. In the Climate Camp reader which
was circulated in January, writers suggested that the camp had been
"hijacked by a hardcore of liberals" and asked if it might be time to be
more open about the anarchist, anti-capitalist core to the camp.

many cases the focus is shifting from global action to local issues,
such as fossil-fuel power plants or mines. Rising Tide North America's
document calls for "an asymmetrical assault on the fossil fuel industry"
while in the UK and in Europe campaigners are also planning to focus
more on local grassroots campaigns, "to start from the bottom" as the
Rising Tide spokesman put it.

The global network that was formed
in Copenhagen, as activist groups from around the world worked together
to organize the giant march and the Step Up the Resistance demonstration
outside the Bella Centre, will also be in correspondence. Nicola
Bullard of Focus on the Global South
and Climate Justice Network, will be attending the People's World Conference on Climate
in Bolivia this Easter, along with representatives from
Climate Camp, Via Campesina
and Jubilee South.

But there is no plan to return to the old
summit-hopping ways of the anti-capitalist movement, following the G20
and the WTO from conference to conference. "We need to carry on building
on the simple principles that we've established, which held us together
in Copenhagen," says Bullard. She agrees that the main focus now has to
be getting on with what is already happening. "Sometimes the issue is
just too big, too contingent on everything else going on around you.
Sometimes, to be honest, you just have to start to do the work."

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