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Why We Don’t Need Utopias, We Only Need Cages

As part of our ongoing call for reflections on Cop 15, Richard B addresses alliances, identity and protest.

Richard B has been involved in climate activism since the Kingsnorth climate camp in 2008, and organises with London Climate Camp and Workers’ Climate Action. Under various names he has written for Shift Magazine, Counterfire, The Guardian and is a weekly columnist for The Third Estate.

<http://www.thethirdestate.net/>

Why We Don’t Need Utopias, We Only Need Cages.

1.

It is important not to forget that the first concentration camps in Germany were the work not of the Nazi regime but of the Social Democratic governments, which interned thousands of communist militants in 1923… which housed mainly Eastern European refugees and which may, therefore, be considered the first camp for Jews in this century – Giorgio Agamben, 1998.

1.1 Last December, I spent 10 hours in detention without water, and  without food for the first 7 hours. I was pepper sprayed through the bars while I stood on the other side, my hands tied behind my back. More importantly, I was held without cause, in a pre-emptive arrest, made entirely to terrorise civil society and deter demonstration. While we –hundreds of us – were locked up, NGO delegates and indigenous rights activists were surrounded by police on the bridge to the conference centre,and beaten.

1.2 When we were arrested, we were initially sat in so-called ‘herring bone’ lines (how Scandanavian can you get?), legs splayed out like a grotesque teddy bear, hands tied behind my back, and then each person slotted into the next. Without cause. Three months later, in a solidarity action, we replicated the line outside the Danish embassy in London. On a sunny morning in the middle of Poshville (aka Chelsea), all those red brick buildings around us, I felt the pain in my ham strings just the same as back in Copenhagen, on a pavement next to a car park, 100 police around us.

1.3 Without cause? What was the cause for our arrest in Copenhagen? Was it, simply, that the forces of the state found it necessary to silence us? If that’s the case, then we really have a problem: if the Danish government could count on the beating and imprisonment of activists as not news-worthy.

1.4 Partly, the amazing thing was the lack of interest by anyone – and I don’t just mean media hacks, I mean our friends in the blogosphere, other political groups, etc – in the fact that thousands of activists were being legally detained ‘without cause.’ And this is the point for me: legally. We’ve spent so long campaigning about the police doing illegal things, is it the case that, so long as it’s legal, they could get away with, well, murder?

1.5 Sometimes it feels as if fighting the police is just a game of toy soldiers – rarely is anyone seriously hurt (with very notable exceptions), and often we go through the business of lights, cameras, protest with an enthusiasm beyond tiredness, the glory of the chase. But eventually the endorphins have to give way, and then what are we left with?

2.

If I moralised or became sentimental, I simply didn’t do well what I was supposed to do, namely, to describe the totalitarian phenomenon as occurring, not on the moon, but in the midst of society – Hannah Arendt, 1954.

2.1 When we protest, we really get into the spectacle of the whole thing. If the cameras aren’t there, it seems almost as if it didn’t happen. Actually, maybe it really didn’t, in any meaningful way. So when we’re in prison, or cages, or court, or doing community service, the lack of cameras means we lose the glamour and the attention. Sometimes protests don’t need media attention.

2.2 It was amazing how the BA cabin crew strikers were so worried about their media image: it’s a strike. You don’t need a good media image on a strike. So perhaps that should be our benchmark. Whether we’re handling the media, or think we’re using it as a priority to affect change. This isn’t a question of radical vs liberal, or any other pointlessly divisionist rubbish like that. It’s about whether we really think images, art, videos, can bring about significant change by themselves.

2.3 Trawling through photo galleries both during and after the COP, I was amazed how few good images there were of our protests, even of actions specifically made for such things, like the bike bloc. It took weeks to find anything good enough to put up on the climate camp website. The main images that had any power, any emotion in them, were of all of us in the herring bone lines, splayed out on the ground, the running dogs of the counterrevolution around us, lit by the sulphurous yellow street lights and the flood lights of the meat wagons.

These are the images the media took, just like they took the bleeding man at the G20, packaged him up and sold him to the non-protesting public.

2.4 When the violence we suffer gets commodified like that, it becomes useless. We don’t need another commodity. But the silent violence we, and our comrades, suffer in cages is not commodified. Rarely is the monotonous, painful drudgery of the picket line or the day in the cell packaged up and sold on. The media don’t care, the government is disinterested. The public, however, are engaged. Because we are the public.

2.5 We don’t need to fight with images. The police fight with those:everyday in their uniform, with their dogs and flashing sirens. Lights, cameras, action, as the FIT say. But the real action happens in the darkness. That doesn’t mean we should be secretive, or give up on public mass action. It means that the real changes, the truly revolutionary moments, come when we least expect it.

3.

So successful has the prison been that, after a century and a half of ‘failures’, the prison still exists, producing the same results, and there is the greatest reluctance to dispense with it – Michael Foucault, 1975.

3.1 As I slumped down in the cage, feeling like finally perhaps I could sleep, a voice whispered to me -‘Hey, hey are you ready?’ Ready for what? I’d been sitting on the ground in an uncomfortable position for hours, I was thirsty and hungry, needed to piss and was pissed off. The only thing I was ready for was sleep. ‘Hey’ said the voice, ‘On the count of three, we all lift up the bars.’ As I looked around, I could see the others in position. And so we spent the next 4 hours ripping up the cages that contained us. We cheered, jeered, rioted and scolded. We spat at, mooned and insulted the police. We praised, adored and helped each other. There was a Swedish activist I’d interviewed the other day about his first night in the cages.

And also a Polish anarchist I’d first met at the Rozbrat squat in Poznan in the week of COP14. He was an animal in those cages. He swore and spat in three languages.

3.2 Sometimes it would go kinda silent, without anyone realising – just people being tired. But then there’d be a lone, hollow ‘one solution’ and the thundering response: ‘REVOLUTION!’ We sang songs as duets, rounds, call and response – sometimes across our gender-segregated cages. Songs about revolution, love, diggers.

3.3 There’s often this cry from groups in meetings, summits, websites: Let’s draw up alternatives; let’s outline our perfect worlds! But when we get down to it, we usually end up with little more than chocolate fountains, worker control and lots of wind turbines. Of course we can’t envision the good future now: we’re far too ideologically caught up in all this mess, all this commodity and spectacle for all that. But what we can do is accidentally find ourselves in moments when we work together towards a radical objective. In Copenhagen, I spent a day quite literally breaking cages down.

3.4 One of the songs we sang, first softly then louder and louder, was:”Break ’em on down, break ’em on down, these walls between us.” This was the place to build utopias. Not the shiny wind turbine Utopias, nor the straw-bale-for-a-toilet version. But rather, somewhere where we could be free to destroy in order to create, breaking walls to build new ones.

4.

I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it,and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free – Eugene Debbs, IWW activist, 1918.

4.1 Alliances are, so often, made through the identification of common enemies as part of a common ground (as part of a commons, perhaps). So what alliances are we forming, for better or worse, by being locked up? It’s worth remembering here that we, so far at least, have not been the target of long term incarceration. At least not yet – though that day may come. But for now we are the victims of detention, restriction on movement, and temporary brutality. For most of us, unlike victims of race crimes, we can walk away from the persecution, back into another life of work, study or play.

4.2 So here, I think, is our choice. Whether we form alliances with other game players, or walk away from the game. If cages are what happen when we act out our cat and mouse game with the police, what would happen if we couldn’t stop the game, if the timer couldn’t run out? I think the push for localisation, community involvement and worker engagement comes not just from a sense that this is an effective strategy, but also from a desire that we need to immerse ourselves in the struggle, not just for the camp, summit or day in the cage.

4.3 And this is where our strength lies. Not that we have some perfect Utopian blue print (the chancellor’s Budget and the Tory party manifesto come to mind as examples of such washed-out blue prints), nor that we have perfected the art of playing the activist game – but that we’re prepared to create our Utopias in the most surprising of ways. In the cages that surround us when activism goes wrong, that’s when organising starts to go right.

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The Climate Crisis or the Crisis of Climate Politics?

In this essay Andre Pusey and Bertie Russell address the Crisis of politics in the Domestic climate movement (UK) and point the movement towards an ‘antagonistic politics of the commons’ via the emerging international climate justice movement . Andre Pusey and Bertie Russell are PhD candidates at the University of Leeds. Both have a long involvement with ecological and social struggle.

The threat of an impending climate crisis has rightly dominated the headlines over recent years – unabated carbon emissions, alongside peak oil, are leading us to a bleak, even apocalyptic scenario. In addition to this we are experiencing a crisis of neoliberalism, where the restructuring of capital is finding ways to exploit (and hence worsen) the ecological collapse it has fomented. Both in the UK and worldwide, we have seen the emergence of movements aiming to tackle climate change. These movements embody a politics that appears to cross the political spectrum, but in fact all gravitate around a single apolitical space, or as Steven has termed it, a “post-political space.”

As the UN prepared to meet for the COP15 in Copenhagen, we found our movements in a state of political crisis. Dominated by methodologies that rely on an emerging carbon consensus as the basis of their (a)politics, movements such as the Camp for Climate Action find themselves powerless to engage with the decentered problem of climate change. There is an urgent need to reassess climate change in terms of power and productive relations, and to move beyond the single-issue environmentalism that has isolated climate change as the preserve of a specialist eco-activist vanguard.

This essay understands the COP15 and its aftermath as a potential for revealing and overcoming the schizophrenic tension of environmental movements. We point towards the emerging climate justice movements as an opportunity to move beyond the post-political towards an antagonistic politics of the commons.

It can be argued that over recent years, the UK has seen the development of a broad popular response to the clarion call of tackling anthropogenic climate change. At the forefront of this movement, at least from our perspective, is the Camp for Climate Action (CCA), a movement that began in 2006 as a “place for anyone who wants to take action on climate change… and for anyone who’s worried about our future and wants to do something about it.” Elsewhere we have seen widely recognized environmental NGOs such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace joined by more traditional development or aid NGOs such as Oxfam and Christian Aid, often in broad coalitions such as Stop Climate Chaos. Even governments have jumped on the social movement bandwagon, with the UK’s Environment Secretary, Ed Miliband, calling for a “popular mobilization” to tackle climate change.

Despite this seemingly burgeoning response, the political imagination of those responding to the crisis of climate change has been stifled by a scientific discourse that has fostered an apolitical space and resulted in a carbon consensus. A fundamental compatibility has arisen between autonomous organizations, NGOs, government and business, around the shared discourse of “parts per million,” facilitating a politics-without-antagonism where “the ‘enemy’ is a mere thing [CO2], not socially embodied, named and counted.” The result of this abstraction is the suspension of the political, where the only debate that remains is over what technical or ascetic measures are best placed to remedy the crises we face. The politics of these movements have become focused on carbon-cuts and tipping-point timelines, and despite sometimes fiery rhetoric, the methods for affecting change become hardwired to affecting a thoroughly apolitical debate.

This apolitical space means groups such as the Camp for Climate Action have failed to find the antagonism they need in order to develop a fully anti-capitalist perspective, and as the UK Anarchist Federation state, “there is a very real danger of the Climate Camp being turned from a genuine movement for social change into a lobbying tool for state reform.” As capital restructures itself around so-called “green” policies, the emerging climate movement risks unwittingly bolstering this restructuring, ushering in a form of “green capitalism.”

However, the emerging climate justice movement, composed of diverse networks such as Climate Justice Action (CJA) and Climate Justice Now! (CJN!), is pushing the tension between the liberal carbon consensus and a properly anti-capitalist analysis to its limits. While this appears as a crisis in climate politics, we encourage the reading of “crisis” in a positive sense. This political crisis is indeed the “hope of Copenhagen,” the hope that what may emerge from the period following the COP15 is a more expansive politics that moves beyond the restrictions of existing climate change movements towards a struggle over life itself.

The Post-Politics of Climate Change
The global warming that we have experienced over the past 150 years is directly linked to the increase in CO2 and other greenhouse gases emitted as a result of human activity. The full range of the political spectrum have nailed their colors to the mast – to be a climate change denier is akin to being a ‘flat earther’ – and the calls for urgent action to tackle the impending climate catastrophe are being heard on a daily basis. Although difficult to predict accurately, the effects of anthropogenic climate change are already contributing to over 300,000 deaths a year, widespread droughts and famine, and the increasing precariousness of global security . The Refugee Studies Centre considers that “human migration, forced or otherwise, will undoubtedly be one of the most significant consequences of environmental degradation and climate change in decades to come,” both directly and through an increase in conflict over access to arable land or fresh water. In short, the climate crisis is the “greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced.”

Given the grave implications of maintaining existing levels of global emissions, let alone increasing them, stunningly little has been done to change global trends of production and consumption. The so-called attempts to reduce global emissions, most notably the UNFCCC process and its infamous Kyoto protocol, have been deemed woefully ineffectual in creating any real emissions reductions. Indeed, the only significant reductions in CO2 emissions in the last thirty years have coincided with the collapse of the state-capitalist economies of the Soviet Union, and the current neoliberal crisis.

The reality of the climate crisis combined with the complete lack of concrete global emissions reductions has been responsible in part for the significant rise in civil society groups campaigning ‘against’ climate change. In the UK, climate change has over the course of the past decade risen to the top of the agenda not just for environmental NGOs such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, but also for more traditional aid and development organizations such as Oxfam and Christian Aid, often in broad coalitions such as Stop Climate Chaos. Outside of the NGO sector, campaign groups such as Plane Stupid and Climate Rush have emerged, taking actions ranging from runway occupations to super-gluing themselves to a number of symbolic subjects/objects, such as the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the Department for Transport, BP Headquarters, and the statue of Viscount Falkland in the Houses of Parliament.

Of standalone significance, the Camp for Climate Action (CCA) is a network that aims to build a “social movement to tackle climate change,” which developed directly out of the Horizone Camp at the Gleneagles G8 in 2005. Taking inspiration from the Argentinean uprising in 2001, the Horizone Camp was organized into a series of ‘barrios’ that represented the different geographical regions of the UK; the CCA still organizes on this principle, but has dropped the term ‘barrio’ in favor of ‘neighborhoods.’ The CCA publicly emerged in 2006, where it organized a weeklong action camp outside Drax coal power station in Yorkshire, the UK’s largest single point emitter of carbon emissions. It has subsequently organized a yearly week long camp along the four principles of “education, direct action, sustainable living, and building a movement to effectively tackle climate change.” While the yearly camp has been a mainstay of the CCA, it has also organized a number of high profile direct actions including ‘The Great Climate Swoop’ (a mass invasion of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station) and a protest at the European Climate Exchange in the City of London as part of the G20 protests.

Given the diversity of groups that are calling for action on climate change, even the UK Climate Change Secretary Ed Milliband has called for a strong social movement, it may seem absurd to suggest that climate change exists in a post-political space. However, despite the apparent diversity represented by these groups, they all place scientific discourse at the centre of their understanding of the problem and also the solutions. As such, all antagonistic positions are subsumed “within a new political space grounded upon science and technocratic administration, where the only legitimate debates that remain concern the finer points of the governance mechanisms to be implemented.” The post-politics of climate change is therefore one of liberal consensus, where “there is no contest on what appears, on what is given in a situation and as a situation. Consensus means that the only point of contest lies on what has to be done as a response to a given situation.”

While the science of global warming has formed arguably the most totalizing liberal consensus, it is by no means the first time what we have experienced the apolitical effect of liberal governmentality. The nature of liberal consensus is by definition the exclusion of real difference, the reduction of contestation to nothing but quantitative variations on a predetermined identity. Alain Badiou makes this point through his assault on liberal multiculturalism, in which he finds that the demand for respect of the “Other” is a rhetorical stand in for assimilation or exorcism. This “Other” – the Pakistani, Turkish, Jewish, Whoever – is only tolerable if it is understood as a variation on the self, as something that can be related to the “Self” through association. However, as the unfolding of global conflict at the hands of Western governments since 9/11 has shown, “the self-declared apostles of ethics and of the right to ‘differences’ are clearly horrified by any vigorously sustained difference… this celebrated “Other” is acceptable only if he is a good other – which is to say what, exactly, if not the same as us?” The essential characteristic of liberal consensus, as Foucault traced in his genealogies of judicial and medical institutions, is therefore the exclusion of dissenting views and the homogenization of difference.

Previous attempts to establish consensus have been based on seemingly more ideological grounds such as ‘development’ or ‘democracy,’ ground, whichcould ultimately be contested. As has been highlighted by Hardt and Negri, the two decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the overcoming of the binary between ‘East’ and ‘West’ were dominated by a project to establish a unilateralism based on a liberal consensus of democracy. The discourse adopted to support this project was one of terrorism, the ‘Other’ which was posited as the ultimate threat to the liberal consensus. Yet the “financial and economic crisis of the early twenty-first century,” along with the increasing lack of legitimacy in contradictory attempts to export ‘democracy’ through bloody wars, ultimately sounded the end of this fragile consensus.

The unique nature of the ‘carbon consensus,’ and what makes it infinitely more dangerous than previous attempts to establish liberal consensus, is that there can be no tolerable ‘Other.’ Anthropogenic climate change is a totalizing force that encompasses the entirety of human activity, and given the apocalyptic picture that has been painted, it becomes ‘morally’ impossible to be opposed to the ‘carbon consensus’ and those regimes that act in the name of it. What is evident is that “the parameters of democratic governing itself are being shifted, announcing new forms of governmentality, in which traditional disciplinary society is transfigured into a society of control through disembedded networks of governance.” This new form of governmentality will be based on a set of moral principles embedded in the carbon consensus, and will be enforced using new tools of governance such as carbon rationing and the subsequent monitoring of every aspect of our daily lives. As with all regimes of governmentality, the ‘madman’ or the ‘terrorist’ will forever be created in a witch hunt that ends in either exclusion or destruction, where the role of government-as-police extends to the elimination of both internal ‘dissidents’ and external ‘rogue’ states that fail to conform.

While the carbon consensus may provide the new-and-improved platform on which an emerging governmentality is developed, overcoming the present crisis of political legitimacy, the “postpolitical condition is [also] one in which a consensus has been built around the inevitability of neoliberal capitalism as an economic system.” This is a reflection of Fukuyama’s thesis that after the collapse of ‘actually existing socialism’ we have reached the ‘end of history,’ where the neoliberal capitalist method of organization has emerged the eternal victor. This ‘end of history’ is a fundamentally post-political condition, since it describes a space with no political contestation, just the absolute hegemony of neoliberalism. As Zizek has outlined, “it is easy to make fun of Fukuyama’s notion of the ‘End of History,’ but most people today are Fukuyamean, accepting liberal-democratic capitalism as the finally found formula of the best possible society, such that all one can do is to try to make it more just, more tolerant, and so on.” Much as in the political manifestation of the liberal consensus there is no room for real contestation but rather only difference in relation to the self, the neoliberal condition is one where all forms of economic organization are ultimately subsumed to the ‘ultimate’ leveling force of the market.

The crisis of climate change not only offers a way to reinitiate liberal forms of governmentality, but to ‘reboot’ the neoliberal failure as ‘Capitalism 2.0.’ As the chairman of Shell UK has noted, “for business, tackling climate change is both a necessity and a huge opportunity. This creates a huge new opportunity for British business nationally and internationally.” This post-political carbon consensus fosters a situation in which capital-in-crisis is capable of restructuring, unleashing a new round of accumulation made possible through initiatives such as the ‘Green New Deal’ and carbon trading, thus maintaining capitalist hegemony even if it’s neoliberal clothing is out of fashion. The carbon consensus can therefore be understood as the much sought elixir that not only allows for the reformation of political systems but the reengagement of capitalist processes of expropriation and accumulation.

‘We come armed only with peer-reviewed science’
The conditions of the emerging post-political consensus around climate change are somewhat different to previous regimes of governance. What makes the climate consensus not only possible but also so dangerous is the supposed neutral prophecy of the ‘science’ which supports it; the only ground for contestation appears to be within the domain of science itself. The political is erased from the debate, as the only way to affect a change in policy is to contest within science itself. Whether it be ‘climate deniers’ jumping on the UEA email scandal like a pack of wolves or environmental activists holding up the IPCC Fourth Assessment report as the holy grail, politics becomes nothing but a management process. All this points to a coming-of-age of liberalism, in perhaps its most frightening of guises, and demands a reassessment of the existing political attempts to engage with climate change.

As has been outlined in the previous section, the past decade has seen a dramatic rise in the number of civil society groups and NGOs mobilizing around the issue of climate change, deploying methods from postcard campaigns to the blockading of coal power stations. Despite this, climate change has remained almost uniquely an ‘environmental’ issue, “an issue of science rather than politics,” and the various goals or demands of these movements have a dangerous tendency towards supporting the emerging carbon consensus and the associated shift in governmentality and neoliberal restructuring.

The broad environmental coalition Stop Climate Chaos (SCC), which incorporates over 100 different organizations, is the sine qua non of this post-political tradition. Jointly founded by Ashok Sinha, who was also behind the much-maligned Make Poverty History coalition responsible for the suffocation of dissent at the G8 in Gleneagles, SCC has organized a series of campaigns such as ‘I Count’, which lobbied for a stronger climate bill in UK parliament. In response to the COP15 conference, SCC organized a march through London entitled ‘The Wave,’ calling on “world leaders to take urgent action to secure a fair international deal to stop global warming exceeding the danger threshold of 2 degrees C,” and calling for “a green economy and [the creation of] new jobs.”

The methods used by groups such as SCC and their member organizations tend to be eschewed by campaign groups such as Climate Rush and Plane Stupid as either ineffective, or as inaudible without more militant direct action forcing these concerns to be addressed by those in the seat of power. It is possible to distill the actions of these groups in to two categories; firstly, the explicit attempt to put pressure on decision makers, an example of which is a Climate Rush banner drop at the UK Coal headquarters in February 2009, which was part of “calling for tougher measures to control CO2 emissions.” This form of action can be considered as ‘militant lobbying’ which in no way questions who makes decisions or the interests in which they make them, but seek to use more dramatic and often illegal methods to influence the decision makers. The second form of action is a more direct intervention where the purpose is to have an immediate impact on carbon emissions. Examples of this include when 29 activists halted and boarded a coal train bound for Drax power station in June 2008, the shutting down of Kingsnorth power station in August 2008 , or the Didcot power station occupation in October 2009. For many involved, these actions aim to directly prevent carbon emissions at points of production. Nonetheless, these highly media orientated actions also appeal strongly to the first category of action, demanding popular support for their effectiveness, and more often than not have carefully crafted press releases designed at placing pressure on either corporations or government.

The actions taken by these groups are often interpreted as being more ‘radical’ or ‘militant’ than the methods deployed by major NGOs. However, this appears to be no more than a battle of rhetoric, based on a flawed logic of what it means to be taking more radical or militant action. The approaches of both SCC and some direct action groups illustrate an underlying complicity, and indeed reliance, on the liberal ‘post political environmental consensus,’ and are therefore radically reactionary as it obstructs the development of divergent and conflictual trajectories. Underpinning these diverse methodologies is an agreement on how we interpret the climate crisis, meaning the “only debate [is] over technologies of management, the arrangements of policing, and the configuration of those who already have a stake whose voice is already recognized as legitimate.”

Some groups, such as the CCA or Workers Climate Action, entertain more explicitly anti-systemic politics, however, as we will argue in the next section, even for those elements of the burgeoning climate movement who proclaim an affinity with anti-capitalism, there is a problem with locating an antagonism in their political analysis which would enable them to develop a full anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian praxis.

‘We’re all anti-capitalists… tomorrow’
The Camp for Climate Action has a headache. It wants to deal with capitalism; many of those involved consider themselves ‘anti-capitalists,’ there are wide ranging debates about the role of capitalism in the climate crisis at workshops held during climate camps, and there is possibly even a general agreement between those active in the climate camp process (those who attend monthly national gatherings, are involved in working groups and local neighborhoods) that capitalism is the root cause of climate change. However, any concrete engagement with an anti-capitalist politics is shut down, either by the perceived ‘urgency’ with which it is deemed necessary to act, or through the lack of antagonism present within its politics. This means that CCA has papered over the real cracks of tension present within its politics and actions, rendering itself a paper tiger.

The urgent nature of the climate crisis has a debilitating affect on the development of more radical forms of political engagement within the CCA. While it is foolish to contest that the crisis of climate change is of immediate concern to us all, the invoking of urgency generally plays into the development of the liberal carbon consensus. Reports such as the New Economics Foundation’s 100 Months report and the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, which predicted the need for a peak in global emissions by 2015, has infused a need to deal with climate change ‘first,’ where everything else becomes relegated to something we can deal with tomorrow. As Monbiot states, “stopping runaway climate change must take precedence over every other aim.” It is not only think tanks and commentators that have fallen into using the urgency card, individuals active within the CCA have also proclaimed “the aim of climate camp should be to stop human kind destroying the planet, leave aside the socialist/capitalist debate. The system we have is capitalist, stopping climate change is more important than stopping capitalism.” As is made explicit above, this “invoking [of] urgency is essentially a politically indeterminate move” whereby those that invoke urgency do so to explain why a certain political project demands precedence. This is the underlining of the carbon consensus, a fundamentally apolitical position that “legitimizes itself by means of a direct reference to the scientific status of its knowledge.”

The implication of this consensus is, as outlined above, the suffocation of the space for antagonistic politics. Rather then simply an abstract point, this suffocation has concretely emerged within debates within the CCA – a number of workshops at the 2009 Camp at Blackheath standout as examples of this widely experienced tension. The first of which was a workshop attended by one of the authors and around 200 other participants entitled ‘If not Carbon Trading then what?’ The discussion took as its starting point the illegitimacy of carbon trading as a solution to the climate crisis, but rather than opening up a discussion on the problem of the financialization of climate change, it proceeded to offer a number of more ‘workable’ solutions such as ‘Tradable Energy Quotas,’ a ‘Green New Deal,’ or a ‘Kyoto 2.’ Despite contributions from the audience challenging the underlying premise of what was being offered to us as ‘workable solutions,’ the urgency of climate change was reasserted by both the speakers and a number of voices in the audience, re-grounding the debate firmly “over technologies of management.”

Damien Abbot found this same problem in his attendance at the workshop ‘Green Authoritarianism: Can we save the climate without surrendering our liberty?’ In a discussion around the legitimacy of an aviation tax, the prevailing sentiment was that despite ‘our’ anti-capitalist politics, a tax is a measure that we should accept, as it would reduce the demand for aviation and hence benefit the climate. What he observed as “more pernicious” was the regularity with which “the time-frame in which it is posited that something can be done to halt a global temperature rise [was] used as a bludgeon to quell any argument.” A report by the Anarchist Federation on the workshop entitled ’10 Years on from Seattle: Anti-Capitalism, Where Now?’ again highlighted this tendency to stress “the urgency of climate change, and the time scale we have to work with” and the corresponding “possibility of using the state as a strategic tool for our movement” – yet these very same points were held side by side with a discussion of “what ‘our’ (i.e. anti-authoritarian) alternatives are.”

This regularly experienced suffocation of antagonist anti-capitalist positions exists as form of schizophrenic tension, for both individuals and with the CCA as a whole, between an anti-capitalist desire and the quasi-gravitational pull of the liberal carbon consensus. To this extent, we argue that it is not the case that the CCA is full of entrenched liberals wishing to take the camp on a more liberal trajectory (although this may will be the case with certain individuals), but rather that the presence of this schizophrenic tension, and the consequent attempts to commensurate two fundamentally incompatible positions, leads to contradictory and often unintelligible political positions.

This schizophrenic tension manifests itself not only in discussion but also in the emerging political demands for ‘green jobs’ and ‘just transition,’ along with some of the actions taken by the CCA. Plane Stupid and the group Workers Climate Action, a group that formed and has been largely active within the CCA, but has over the past year been active with a number of non-aligned campaigns such as the Vestas have taken on the demand for ‘just transition’ and Visteon disputes. The underlying principle of a just transition is that the interests of workers in environmentally damaging jobs, such as the coal, automobile and aviation industries, need to be a fundamental part of our transition to a low carbon future. Given the necessity of closing down these industries if we are to drastically reduce carbon emissions, those that campaign for just transition recognize that it is morally vacuous to abandon these workers to the scrap heap of precarious labor, and that the ‘interests of the working class’ in these industries is incompatible with the environmentally driven demand for the closure of these industries. As such, the push for a just transition prioritizes the ‘reskilling’ of these workers in ‘green jobs’ such as windmill production or environmental auditing, facilitating both the closure of environmentally untenable industry and the provision of jobs in new ‘clean and green’ sectors.

While these demands may appear to be a highly progressive step forward for environmental and class politics, they make a fundamental mistake about the ‘interests’ of the working class that makes these demands fully compatible with the restructuring of neoliberalism as a ‘green capitalism.’ This demand for a just transition to a green economy is “in line with dominant political and economic structures and interests,” as neoliberalism seeks to overcome the ecological “limits to capital” through internalizing the contradiction between the environment and capital accumulation, installing it as a fundamental driver in the new round of ‘green’ capitalist accumulation. This demand for “an economic transition… ensuring a just transition of the workforce” has been incorporated in the UNFCCC negotiating texts and at a national government level as Gordon Brown promises ‘100,000 Green New Deal jobs’ as part of providing a “good driver of growth” that can allow neoliberalism to restart accumulation. Yet as any coherent left analysis of capitalism will tell you, the interests of capital and of the workers are fundamentally opposed. As a worker during the Liverpool dockers strike from 1995 onwards exclaimed:

“I don’t particularly want a politics centred on “the right to work at all costs”. I don’t want to see my kids struggling for crap jobs. I think we’re actually going through a revolutionary period, one where we should be saying “fuck you and your jobs and your slave labour”. If wage labour’s slave labour, then freedom from wage labour is total freedom… [H]ow many socialists within the political groups that have supported us have or would build a political strategy out of the refusal of wage work? I haven’t come across any, but I know that’s what Reclaim the Streets activists consistently argue and find that a breath of fresh air… Yer know, when we unite with people like Reclaim the Streets, we have to take on board what they are saying too, which is: “Get a life. Who wants to spend their days working on the production line like that famous poster of Charlie Chaplin depicting modern times?” I think this is a concept the labour movement has got to examine and take on board.”

The current calls for ‘just transition’ by environmental groups, which have also been made by large labor unions in the US such as the AFL-CIO, face the very real danger of playing the “role that trade unions played in the Fordist era: acting as safety valves to make sure that demands for social change remain within the boundaries set by the needs of capital and governments, and actually further drive capitalist growth: the more they protest, the more ‘green technologies’ will grow.”

It is not only through engagements with just transition and ‘green economies’ that environmental groups have attempted to commensurate anti-capitalist politics and the climate crisis. At the beginning of 2009 the CCA made a decision to link the climate crisis and the financial crisis, in both its propaganda and its actions. This led to a ‘swoop’ and subsequent establishment of a Climate Camp held outside the European Climate Exchange in London as part of the G20 summit protests. The location of the camp was designed to send a clear message about the links between capital, carbon trading and the climate crisis. This attempt to develop an anti-capitalist direction to CCA repeats many of the criticisms leveled at the J18 ‘Carnival against Capital’ in 1999, namely that activists skilled in specific issue-based campaigns, well versed at the occupation of head offices and construction sites, mistakenly applied the same action repertoire to capitalism, locating its center, or at least a key node, in the City of London.

Although this criticism almost certainly doesn’t apply to all involved, many of who would have had a more nuanced analysis, the targeting of the City creates a mystification of capitalism with an overemphasis on financial capital. We would level the same criticisms at the G20 meltdown demonstration outside the Bank of England, which although a good symbolic target, given the collapse and bailouts of the banking industry, personified capitalism as ‘those greedy bankers’ rather than articulating a generalized critique of capitalism. These events placed too much emphasis on financialization and risk being steered from generalized anti-capitalist critique into a call for more regulation, or worse, a moral indignation with the banking industry resulting in a scape-goating where ‘someone’ is to blame.

We must recognize that the schizophrenic condition between anti-capitalist politics and the liberal carbon consensus cannot be reconciled. Attempts to do so, as have been outlined, arrive at the subsumption of the values of one (anti-capitalism) in the process of the other (liberal consensus). Rather, we need to first diagnose our own schizophrenic political condition, and then tackle the mechanisms that serve to subsume the anti-capitalist to the liberal position. Our split personality may be entering a decisive moment of crisis, unable to contain these two personalities within the same subject. There is no dialectical synthesis to this crisis.

Copenhagen: Just another summit mobilization?

‘Crises precipitate change’

From the 7th-21st December the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met in Copenhagen for the Fifteenth Conference of Parties (COP15). The COP process emerged from the 1992 Rio Summit on the Environment and Development, or what has become colloquially known as the ‘Earth Summit.’ The most high profile of the COPs was in Kyoto in 1997, where the infamous Kyoto Protocol was adopted introducing a series of carbon reduction strategies such as Cap and Trade and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The COP15 has been elevated to a messianic position by media and politicians alike, heralded as not only “compar[able] with Bretton Woods or peace treaties after the war” but “the most important negotiation the world will ever see.”

The apocalyptic discourse surrounding the COP15 was echoed by the vast majority of NGOs campaigning around the issue of climate change. The UK’s ‘Campaign Against Climate Change‘ understood the COP15 as “our last chance to avert a global catastrophe of unimaginable proportions” and along with major NGOs such as Friends of the Earth Europe, called on “world leaders to take the urgent and resolute action that is needed to prevent the catastrophic destabilization of global climate.” Together these NGOs mobilized up to a hundred thousand citizens to march in the streets of Copenhagen on December 12th, rallying behind a core of demands that call for “world leaders [to] take urgent and resolute action.” Much like past summit mobilizations such as Gleneagles G8 in 2005, a large ‘alternative’ network also mobilized for the summit. Beginning in September 2008, the global network Climate Justice Action (CJA) formed around a ‘call to action,’ which the UK’s Camp for Climate Action unanimously supported. Through a number of international meetings throughout 2008 and 2009, a series of working principles and ‘network goals’ were developed that illustrated the shared trajectories of CJA and the ‘movement of movements’ that had been dominant throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s. This shared trajectory has led to those (mostly legitimate) criticisms of summit hopping that were directed at the ‘movement of movements’ to be regurgitated and directed at those groups mobilizing around the COP15. For instance, an article in the UK movement publication, Shift Magazine, claimed that “besides having a good time” what could be achieved by the mobilizations “will be minimal.” Contrary to these criticisms, we argue that the COP15 offers a unique place in terms of summit mobilizations, falling in time with a series of multiple crises.

It is not only the climate that is in crisis; as Mueller has outlined, we also face (at least) a bio-crisis, a capitalist crisis, and a crisis of political legitimation. The COP15 arrived at time when we face not only a tipping point for our complex climatic systems, but also a tipping point in terms of how capital organizes its accumulation and expropriation. Yet the nature of tipping points is that they are full of potential, they are when our systems are precariously balanced on an ‘edge of chaos’ where anything can happen. It is for this reason that we must embrace crisis for all of its potentials; crisis as opportunity for something different. The COP15 spectacle was precisely an attempt to force these crises to unfold in a certain way, pushing systems back into a state of equilibrium where our potentials for radical change are once again extinguished. Yet there is no teleology in a crisis, they unfold based on the decisions and actions we take in the here-and-now. As Joel Kovel has noted, “these meetings will be a turning point. The question remains as to the direction taken, whether toward eco-catastrophe or hope for life.” The COP15 may well become understood as the point where one half overcame its other, where the schizophrenic subject of the environmental movement was forced into a final resolution or split entirely. But let us reiterate the point – we must embrace this subjective crisis, fermenting the split between the liberal consensus and the antagonistic movements it captures. It is only through overcoming our personal political crisis that we will be able to form movements that can truly engage antagonistically with capitalism, governmentality and climate change.

The Hope of Copenhagen From Above
Copenhagen, or ‘Hopenhagen’ as some branded it, was representative of a crisis of values – do we solve climate change and move towards a more sustainable way of life, or do we start a new cycle of accumulation? This value-crisis is a battle between Copenhagen from above and Copenhagen from below. The battle of Copenhagen from above and below is a battle over ‘justice,’ a battle of values. Capitalism wants to maintain and extend its system of value over all existence – whereas the ‘below’ wants to change what it means to value existence in all its forms. Mainstream discourse branded Copenhagen as the ‘Bretton Woods’ of the twenty-first century, an epoch defining summit. Beneath this hyperbole laid a concrete aim to use Copenhagen to restore faith in the capitalist system and representative democracy in the midst of both a political and economic crisis. As Mueller & Passadakis state, “the biocrisis is the opportunity that might just allow capitals and governments to at least temporally deal with the legitimation and accumulation crisis.”

Not only was the COP used in attempt to bolster the ideology of neoliberalism, governments attempted to use the climate and the bio-crisis as an opportunity to restructure and unleash a new round of enclosures. As the Turbulence collective point out, “the secret of capital’s longevity lies precisely in its ability to use limits and the crises they engender as a launch pad for a new round of accumulation and expansion.” One example of this new round of accumulation is the development of new international regulation for the “rights to pollute,” which as Brunnengräber affirms is “the precondition for the creation of new markets.” The ‘cap and trade’ initiatives introduced at Kyoto are a fundamental part of this, providing a new basis for investment in the model of the derivatives markets. Yet as Lord Nicholas Stern has outlined, it is not enough to create new cycles of demand, the neoliberal model demands the creation of a “good driver of growth” through “a sustained program to invest in and deploy energy conservation and renewable energies,” incorporating the environmental limits of existing neoliberalism as the very driver of the new ‘green capitalism.’

This new round of accumulation and governmentality isn’t something that has its beginning in Copenhagen, elite climate change ‘solutions’ have always had capital accumulation as their rationale. As Brunnengräber states, “the Kyoto protocol was […] the starting point for the emergence of an international regime of resource management that would soon open up new business opportunities.” Not only do these false ‘solutions’ generate more profit for capitalists, but in addition a “number of ecologically sustainable forms of producing and living have actually been put under pressure not just by globalized capitalism, but more specifically by a top down kind of climate politics.” The attempts to both reassert new forms of governmentality and to begin a new cycle of accumulation will not only fail to solve the climate crisis, but will also shut down grassroots alternatives in the here and now.

To be clear, there is no conflict between the ‘greening’ of society and the continuation of the capitalist mode of production. Even Thomas Friedman has gone green, stating, “making America the worlds greenest country is not a selfless act of charity or a naive moral indulgence. It is now a core national security and economic interest.” It would appear that Brunnengräber is right when he suggests that “we are witnessing the emergence of a climate neoliberalism.” The development of ‘Green Capitalism’ is more than green wash or a rebranding exercise for Capitalism 2.0; while some reactionary capitalists may drag their feet and fail to pick up on the new direction markets are going, green capitalism “embodies the faction of the global bourgeoisie that understands the reality of climate change and of its own decline in political legitimacy in the face of the banking crisis and the consequent end of the neoliberal monetarist hegemony.”

Green capitalism may help shore up capitalism’s legitimacy crisis, but as Mueller & Passadakis state, it will not “solve the antagonism of the biocrisis, it will draw energy from it to drive forward which always must be capital’s first and foremost project: the accumulation of more capital.” This accumulation rests ultimately on the capture of the common(s). As Foti states, “green capitalism wants to solve the economic crisis via green jobs and a new welfare system, but it will succeed in its task, only if it manages to widely redistribute what Negri and Hardt call ‘commonwealth.’” The struggle over Copenhagen from above and below was a value-struggle over our commonwealth, and this commonwealth is central to our antagonism over the crises we face.

This antagonism is completely lacking in the discourse of the big NGOs and the majority of environmental movements, they inhabit the post-political space they have helped to create and foster. Copenhagen from above thrives on this apolitical space that has been manufactured around the climate crisis. Many environmental lobby groups even go as far as being entirely incorporated into the false solutions being proposed by the big corporations, making them indistinguishable in their solutions to the current crises. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), for example, fundamentally supports capitalist strategies for dealing with the bio-crisis, giving its logo, and therefore tacit support, to a huge advert 1km from the Bella Centre that states “climate responsibility is simple, it’s just good business sense” going on to say “let the clean economy begin.” On their website they state that “WWF partners with companies to help them achieve their environmental objectives.”

Commentators were correct in placing the COP15 on a level of equal or greater importance than Bretton Woods, but for all the wrong reasons. Despite those ‘inside’ voices hopelessly fighting for progressive solutions – we do not deny the heterogeneity of the conference itself – the UNFCCC negotiations are part of a dominant framework that has “precious little to do with the climate, and everything to do with the haggling over percentage points of economic growth.” Copenhagen ‘from above‘ was concerned with establishment of new regimes of governing and the emergence of a new round of capitalist accumulation, representing a fundamental restructuring in both the political and economic rules of the game.

The Hope of Copenhagen From Below
‘Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin Engines stop running, but I have no fear’
The Clash

The crises we face are by definition an opportunity, both for capitalist accumulation/restructuring, and the creation of a new world. We need to keep the categories open and in flux. The temptation in struggles around crises and the precariousness these crises engender is an entirely understandable desire to return to some form of normalcy. Yet we need to resist this conservative urge, as well as the apolitical overcoding that attempts to close these open moments into either ‘environmental’ (partial) struggles devoid of political content, or from economic crisis to ‘recession’ or ‘recovery.’ We must resist attempts to determine these crises as ‘depressions’ or ‘instabilities,’ as events that already have a preordained resolution in the continuation of that which already exists. The crises we face are unique, and offer us the opportunity to remake the world on our own terms.

Copenhagen offered us more than just a summit protest, more than the sum of its parts, whether it had turned out to be another round of street battles, like those over the eviction of Ungdomshuset in 2007, or a more carnivalesque creative spectacle, such as that enacted by the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination and their Bike Bloc. Copenhagen promised to be an Event, and the ‘Reclaim Power’ action on the 16th can be viewed as an attempt to create a rupture with the refigurations of capital and governance that are underway. The attempt of demonstrators to enter the UN conference area to host a ‘peoples summit’ was not a call for a ‘different’ set of talks or a ‘better’ agreement. As dissident delegates on the inside disrupted the sessions and participated in an exodus from the proceedings, we witnessed a fundamental challenge to the process of Copenhagen from above and all it entails.

This is not just a struggle against climate change, or even the bio-crisis more generally. It is crucially an affirmative struggle, or as Mueller & Passadakis put it “a struggle not just against green (or any other) capitalism, but struggle for the constitution of alternatives.” For us, these struggles, and the alternatives we hope to foster are fundamentally about the creation and defense of the common(s), in both their material and immaterial forms. Copenhagen and its affects must force a change in how we struggle around climate change. The traditional PPM framework and the value-neutral carbon consensus are incapable of accounting for the fields of struggle that animate the world we create. The inconsistencies and tensions that vitalize this emerging movement have the potential to force the crisis of climate change out of its environmental straitjacket and into a fundamental struggle over life itself.

The uncertainty of the world that we face is something to be seized – for better or for worse. Copenhagen is an uncertain and open space occupied by forces from above and from below. We need to make sure that our energies have not become captured, constantly reaffirming our politics to the hope from below. We need to ensure that our struggles don’t become a ‘Make Poverty History’ that cheer on government leaders in their business of expanding business, prioritizing endless economic expansion over life. The battle we face is clear – capital or life.

In-Conclusion

‘Tomorrow dawns a day when nothing is certain’

The COP15 came hot on the heels of the ten-year anniversary of the Seattle WTO demonstration in 1999. Ten years before that, 1989 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of ‘actually existing socialism.’ A decade earlier in the UK the election of Margaret Thatcher ushered in an era of neoliberal policies and the totalizing mantra that ‘there is no alternative.’ Ten years before that the Piazza Fontana massacre marked the beginning of the ‘strategy of tension’ in Italy, part of a state-sponsored right-wing attack on the Italian Left’s ‘Hot Autumn.’ What do all these dates and events illustrate? That the circulation of struggles to remake the world from below, and of those that wish to close down that space and return it to the profit motive, is a refrain throughout history. It is more than possible that the COP15 will be looked back on as the point at which we entered a new cycle of (carbon) struggle.

The sense of hopelessness that is implicit in the failure to find non-capitalist solutions has been deliberately produced through the post-politics of the carbon consensus; we need to collectively overcome this hopelessness and replace it with a ‘hope in common.’ This common hope is the prerequisite for the creation of ‘other values’ which will help us to struggle against the bio-crisis while also expanding the common(s), creating the possibility of a real movement that can abolish the present state of things. To this extent ‘Hopenhagen’ is not an empty concept, but rather the prerequisite for a new politics.

This essay is a call for both political activity beyond measure – beyond economic value – and also towards the affirmative creation of common values. As De Angelis states, “either: social movements will face up to the challenge and re-found the commons on values of social justice in spite of, and beyond, these capitalist hierarchies. Or: capital will seize the historical moment to use them to initiate a new round of accumulation.” The climate, or even the ‘environment,’ isn’t just another ‘issue,’ it’s a central political battleground from both above and below. We need to fully realize this and act accordingly. We need to put aside purist political positions and become involved in the messy world of actually existing social struggle. As Böhm states, “in times of crisis, act!”

Andre Pusey and Bertie Russell are PhD candidates at the University of Leeds. Both have a long involvement with ecological and social struggle.

Endnotes
2. See http://www.climatecamp.org.uk/about
3. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/dec/08/ed-miliband-climate-politics-environment
4. Steven, P. (2009) ‘Are we anywhere? Carbon, Capital, and COP15’, Shift Magazine, 5.
5. Syngedouw, E. (2009) ‘The Antinomies of the Postpolitical City: In Search of a Democratic Politics of Environmental Protection’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(3), pp. 601-20
6. Anarchist Federation (2009) ‘Climate Camp and Us: A perspective paper’, available on the World Wide Web:
7. Despite the recent ‘climate email’ scandal.
8. Global Humanitarian Forum (2009) The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis, GHF: Geneva
9. Steiner, A. (2008) ‘Foreword’, Forced Migration Review, 31, Refugee Studies Centre: Oxford
10. Gurría, A. & Leape, J. (2009) ‘Climate Change: the biggest threat to economic review’, OECD Observer, available on the World Wide Web:
11. Mueller, T. & Wolf, F. (2009) ‘Green New Deal: Dead end of pathway beyond capitalism?’, Turbulence, 5, pp. 12-16
12. See http://www.stopclimatechaos.org/
13. See http://www.climatecamp.org.uk/about
14. See http://climatecamp.org.uk/about
15. Lear, B. (2009) ‘Are We Anywhere? The (Post)Politics of Climate Change’, in Anonymous (ed.) Dealing With Distractions: Confronting Green Capitalism in Copenhagen and Beyond, self-published: Copenhagen
16. Ranciere, J. (2003) Comment and responses, Theory & Event, 6(4), pp. 5
17. Badiou, A. (2002) Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, pp. 25
18. Hardt, M. & Negri, A. (2009) Commonwealth, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.
19. Syngedouw, E. (2009) ‘The Antinomies of the Postpolitical City: In Search of a Democratic Politics of Environmental Protection’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(3)
20. Syngedouw, E. (2009) ‘The Antinomies of the Postpolitical City: In Search of a Democratic Politics of Environmental Protection’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(3), p. 209
21. Fukuyama, F. (1992) The End of History and the Last Man, Free Press: New York
22. Zizek, S. (2009) First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, Verso: London
23. James Smith, quoted in Shell (2006) ‘Climate Change to be £30bn opportunity for British business over next ten years’, available on the World Wide Web:
24. Green New Deal Group (2008) A Green New Deal: Joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices, New Economics Foundation: London
25. This was a banner at the 2007 Climate Camp at Heathrow. It was created, in part, to diffuse hostile media coverage that the camp had received in the previous weeks that had indicated the Camp was a hotbed of ‘violent’ individuals.
26. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/20/climate-sceptics-hackers-leaked-emails
27. Brand, U. et al. (2009) ‘Radical climate change politics in Copenhagen and beyond: From criticism to action?’, in Brand, U. et al. (2009) Contours of Climate Justice: Ideas for shaping new climate and energy politics, Dag Hammarsköld Foundation: Uppsala, p.11
28. See Hewson, P. (2006) ‘‘It’s the politics, stupid’ How neoliberal politicians, NGOs and rockstars hijacked the global justice movement at Gleneagles… and how we let them’, in Harvie, D. et al. (eds.) (2006) Shut Them Down! The G8, Gleneagles and the movement of movements, Autonomedia/ Dissent G8: New York/ Leeds
29. See http://www.stopclimatechaos.org/the-wave
30. See http://www.stopclimatechaos.org/quit-dirty-coal
31. See http://www.earthfirst.org.uk/actionreports/node/22254
32. BBC (2008) ‘Police hold 29 train protestors’, available on the World Wide Web:
33. See http://climatecamp.org.uk/actions/kingsnorth-2008
34. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/oct/28/didcot-power-station-protest-ends
35. Syngedouw, E. (2009) ‘The Antinomies of the Postpolitical City: In Search of a Democratic Politics of Environmental Protection’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(3), p. 610
36. IPCC (2007) “Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change, Summary for Policymakers” Working Group III, IPCC. pp. Table SPM.5, page 23. Available on the World Wide Web:
37. See http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/08/22/identity-politics-in-climate-change-hell/
38. A response by ‘Harvey’ to Resonance (2009) ‘The liberal “Anti-Capitalist”: Climate Camp 2009’, available on the World Wide Web:
39. Mueller, T. & Wolf, F. (2009) ‘Green New Deal: Dead end of parthway beyond capitalism?’, Turbulence, 5, pp. 16
40. Zizek, S. (2006) The Universal Exception, Continuum: London, pp. 188
41. Syngedouw, E. (2009) ‘The Antinomies of the Postpolitical City: In Search of a Democratic Politics of Environmental Protection’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(3), p. 610
42. Abbott, A. (2009) ‘The State Climate Camp’s In’, Mute Online, available on the World Wide Web:
43. Anarchist Federation (2009) ‘Climate Camp and Us: A perspective paper’, available on the World Wide Web:
44. The authors are using the term ‘schizophrenia’ in the colloquial sense that infers a dual personality. The authors are aware that schizophrenia and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) are clinically distinct conditions, and that DID offers a ‘clinically’ more accurate analogy of the split subject we are suggesting. However, we are using the term schizophrenia colloquially so as to not muddy our political-philosophical analysis with clinical analysis, a topic on which neither authors are literate.
45. Indeed for the authors, the process of writing this paper is a ‘self-diagnosis’ of sorts, as we search to purge the liberal consensus from our political engagements with climate change.
46. Brand, U. et al. (2009) ‘Radical climate change politics in Copenhagen and beyond: From criticism to action?’, in Brand, U. et al. (2009) Contours of Climate Justice: Ideas for shaping new climate and energy politics, Dag Hammarsköld Foundation: Uppsala, p.10
47. Negotiating text (see Shared Vision, para 4)” (in English (others available)). United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. pp. 53. http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2009/awglca6/eng/08.pdf
48. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jan/04/gordon-brown-employment-new-deal
49. Stern, N. (2008) “Upside of a downturn”. http://www.ft.com/climatechangeseries 2/12/2008
50. The authors are aware of the difference between ‘just transition’ and the calls for ‘worker led’ just transition. Whilst there is not space in this paper to discuss this, we recognize that the calls for ‘worker led’ are an important qualifier that has different political implications. We hope either ourselves or someone else will be able to dedicate themselves to producing a paper detailing the political implications of this in the near future.
51. Aufheben (2002) ‘Anticapitalism and ideology… and as a MOVEMENT?’, Aufheben, 10
52. See http://blog.aflcio.org/2009/09/22/trumka-calls-for-just-transition-to-green-economy/
53. Mueller, T. & Passadakis, A. (forthcoming) ‘Another Capitalism is Possible?’, in Kolya, A. (ed) (forthcoming) Sparking a World-wide Energy Revolutions – Social Struggles in the Transition to a Post-Petrol World, AK Press: Oakland
54. Deltron 3030 (2000)
55. Reyes & Gilbertson (2009) ‘Carbon Trading: How it works and why it fails’, Critical Currents, 7, Uppsala: Dag Hammarskjöld Foundations
56. Ruddock, J. (2009) ‘Transcript of Parliamentary debate on COP15’, available on the World Wide Web: [accessed on 28.11.2009]
57. Campaign Against Climate Change (2009) ‘Invitation to Day of mass Climate Action in Copenhagen’, available on the World Wide Web: [accessed 28.11.2009]
58. See http://www.risingtidenorthamerica.org/wordpress/2008/08/19/copenhagen-2009-un-climate-conference/
59. See http://www.climate-justice-action.org/about/about-cja/
60. For criticism of previous summit hopping see Venemous Butterfly Publication (n.d.) Summits, Counter-Summits and Social War, Eberhardt Press: Portland, and, Some Roveretan anarchists (2009) Notes on Summits and Counter-Summits, available on the World Wide Web: [Accessed 28.11.2009]
61. Bassett, L (2009) ‘The Climate Camp as Radical Potential’, Shift Magazine, 7, available on the World Wide Web:
62. Mueller, T. (2009) ‘Green New Deal: Dead end or pathway beyond capitalism?’, Turbulence, 5, pp.12-16
63. See Priogine, I. & Stengers, I. (1985) Order out of Chaos: Man’s new dialogue with nature, London: Fontana Paperbacks
64. Kovel, J. (2009) ‘End Times in Copenhagen’, available on the World Wide Web:< http://info.interactivist.net/node/13310&gt; [Accessed 22.11.2009]
65. In suggesting the resolution of this specific ‘schizophrenic’ crisis, we are not implying that any other case demands resolution, or that other cases of schizophrenia are necessarily composed from antagonistic positions.
66. Mueller, T. & Passadakis, A. (forthcoming) ‘Another Capitalism is Possible?’, in Abramsky, K. (ed.) (forthcoming) Sparking a World-wide energy revolution: Social Struggles in the transition to a post-petrol world, Oaklend: AK Press
67. Turbulence Collective (2007) ‘Move into the light? Postscript to a Turbulent 2007’, Ephemera, 7(4). pp. 593
68. Brunnengräber, A. (2009) ‘Kyoto’s flexible mechanisms and the right to pollute the air’, in Brand, U. et al. (eds.) ‘Contours of Climate Justice: Ideas for shaping new climate and energy politics’, Critical Currents, 6, Uppsala: Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation. pp. 27
69. Green New Deal Group (2008) A Green New Deal: Joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices, New Economics Foundation: London. pp.2
70. Brunnengräber, A. (2009) ‘Kyoto’s flexible mechanisms and the right to pollute the air’, in Brand, U. et al. (eds.) ‘Contours of Climate Justice: Ideas for shaping new climate and energy politics’, Critical Currents, 6, Uppsala: Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation. pp. 27
71. Brand, U. et al. (eds.) ‘Contours of Climate Justice: Ideas for shaping new climate and energy politics’, Critical Currents, 6, Uppsala: Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation. pp. 11
72. Friedman, T, (2008) Hot, Flat, and Crowded; Why We Need A Green Revolution And How It Can Renew America, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. pp.23
73. Brand, U. et al. (eds.) ‘Contours of Climate Justice: Ideas for shaping new climate and energy politics’, Critical Currents, 6, Uppsala: Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation. pp. 27
74. Foti, A. (2009a) ‘The Precariat and Climate Justice in the Great Recession’, available on the World Wide Web: [Accessed 22.11.2009]
75. Mueller, T. & Passadakis, A. (forthcoming) ‘Another Capitalism is Possible?’, in Abramsky, K. (ed.) (forthcoming) Sparking a World-wide energy revolution: Social Struggles in the transition to a post-petrol world, Oaklend: AK Press
76. Foti, A. (2009a) ‘The Precariat and Climate Justice in the Great Recession’, available on the World Wide Web: [Accessed 22.11.2009]
77. The Bella Centre is the location of the COP15 summit.
78. See http://www.worldwildlife.org/climate/business.html
79. Mueller, T. & Passadakis, A. (2009) ‘Green capitalism and the climate: It’s economic growth, stupid!’, in Brand, U. et al. (eds.) ‘Contours of Climate Justice: Ideas for shaping new climate and energy politics’, Critical Currents, 6, Uppsala: Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation. pp. 58
80. Mueller, T. & Passadakis, A. (forthcoming) ‘Another Capitalism is Possible?’, in Abramsky, K. (ed.) (forthcoming) Sparking a World-wide energy revolution: Social Struggles in the transition to a post-petrol world, Oaklend: AK Press
81. The words of an initiative from the occupation of the Athens University of Economics and Business
82. Angelis, M. (2009) ‘The tragedy of the capitalist commons’, Turbulence, 8, pp. 32
83. ibid
84. Böhm, S. (2009) ‘In Times of Crisis: Act!’, Mute Magazine, Available on the World Wide Web:

INTERVIEW WITH Tadzio Müller – C.J.A Spokesperson

Tadzio Müller is a political scientist, an editor of Turbulence and a spokesperson for the ‘Climate Justice Action’ network.
During the build up to Cop 15 Tadzio played an important role for the C.J.A network, fielding questions from curious journalists, debating solutions to climate change and mobilizing for the ‘peoples assembly’- a focal point for the day of action called as ‘Reclaim Power!’ (an action that sought to radically transform the dialogue of the Copenhagen summit). On the 15th of December he was pre-emptively  arrested by the Danish Police as he left the Bella centre after a joint press conference between Climate Justice Action and Climate Justice Now. He was released on the 19th. Below is an interview conducted by Notes from Below after his release.

Notes: The pre-emptive arrest of Climate  Justice Action spokespersons in Copenhagen has led many to speculate that climate justice action were intentionally targeted by the police, precisely because the ‘peoples assembly’ sort to open up a political space that bought both, horizontal groups, NGO and state actors into a dialogue, in stark contrast to the heavily mediated and politically biased discourse inside the Bella centre. How much do you agree with this sentiment and what outcomes did the peoples assembly create?

TM-

To be fair to the Danish police: I doubt that they have that much political wherewithal to understand the potential (and maybe actual) significance of Reclaim Power! and the planned ‘people’s assembly’. To do that, they would have had to had a more highly developed sense of the complicated relationships between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ of the official UN-process, because it was this interplay, and the desire of the more ‘postautonomous’ groups and activists that were dominant within CJA to create a space into which more inside-based groups could move and thus begin to break away from the official process, that created the significance of the assembly.

My sense is that Climate Justice Action were targeted primarily because we were the network that was most effective in using the media space created around the Copenhagen summit to call for civil disobedience, that is, actions that are illegal, but nonetheless legitimate. From the perspective of the police, hitting networks like the more old-school autonomous ‘Never Trust A Cop’ (NTAC) is easy, because they do not really spend time and energy trying to create legitimacy around their actions. We in CJA, on the other hand, not only did lots of really effective media work (this may seem like bragging, but CNN did refer to us as a ‘vast and influential network’, and to Reclaim Power! as ‘probably the most hotly anticipated action of the summit’), we also created broad political alliances around our main action, and spent a lot of time trying to explain the reasons behind our action to the Danish and global publics.

From the cops’ perspective, this is where the danger lies. Remember that just before the summit, the Danish government passed a package of laws that was referred to as ‘lømmelpakke’, or, roughly translated, ‘hoodlum package’? In that package, they dramatically increased punishments for all public-order related offenses, using the justification of the upcoming climate summit in the context of an ongoing process of militant contestation of urban space in Copenhagen (for several years, there have been fights between the police on one side, and shifting alliances of radical left political networks, youth networks, and drug gangs) to shut down any and all political space for collective rule-breaking, whether that takes a more militant form (riots), looks more like ‘civil disobedience’. Take this, add the transnationalisation (or at least Europeanisation) of ‘preventive policing’, and the near-certainty of increased social conflicts about resources in the framework of a coming ‘green capitalism’, then police forces across Europe are today both increasingly able, and under pressure, to totally enforce their monopoly of the exercise of legitimate violence.

That in turn presents us as social movements for climate justice with some problems: not only is one of the essential aspects of our political practice the self-empowerment that arises from collective rule-breaking actions (from dancing on motorways to occupying factories), in the context of the escalating climate crisis as well as the total (albeit expected) failure of governments to deal with the problem, we absolutely have to (be able to) take disobedient, illegal actions: to, say, shut down coal-fired power plants, new nuclear plants, or socialise the renewable energy sector. If the police are able to simply arrest 2000 people preventively, i.e. for things they have not done, then this is likely to create, as it did in Copenhagen, a situation where folks are afraid to go on the streets, go to actions, even to demonstrations – and to do the things we know to be necessary in the current crises. The police’s targeting of CJA occurred along this axis, around the fight for or against the possibility of civil disobedience. To think that it had to do with the brilliance of our political strategy gives too much credit – to them, and to us.

As for the outcomes from the people’s assembly: well, I’m not totally sure I’m the best person to ask this, as I was unfortunately in jail while it happened (though I got to watch it: Danish jail cells are equipped with cable TV!) – and I think that in such a situation, much of the effect happens in and through the collective affect produced in such situation. My sense – but again, others might want to chime in here – is that the politically most significant outcome of Reclaim Power! happened around the attempted breakout from the conference centre: that hundreds of people would literally turn their backs on the conference, only to then get clobbered by Danish police as they tried to join the rest of the assembly, was an enormously important development. It created new alliances between NGOs that tend to work on the inside, and activist groups and movements that tend to work on the street, much like CJA had intended with the action.

notes: It can be stated that ‘horizontalism’ dominated the alter-globalization movements of the last decade, post-Copenhagen many in the movements have spoken of the increased capacity for co-operation, respect and communication between states, ngos and grass routes movements. To what extent is this emergent ‘ diagonalism’ functional and what risks, if any, does this pose the autonomous movement for climate justice?

TM-

Interesting idea, this notion of diagonalism… Especially because, as we argue in our text ‘Life in Limbo’ (http://turbulence.org.uk/turbulence-5/life-in-limbo/), the horizontalism of ten years ago was not necessarily (that is, for everybody in the alterglobalist movement) born of a strong ethico-political commitment to never working with larger institutions – from parties to trade unions to, horror of horrors, governments – but rather from a historical context where nothing else really made sense: the ‘End of History’ in practice meant that neoliberalism has successfully colonised all major institutions, as a result of which cooperation with them seemed pointless, in fact, it seemed like collaborating with the enemy. Today, things have changed somewhat: not only does the issue of climate change pose an entirely different challenge than, say, free trade did, but the crisis of neoliberalism has gone hand-in-hand with the so-called Pink Tide in Latin America; with the strengthening of radical left parties in Europe; and the increasing disillusionment of many ‘NGOs’ with the processes of global governance that have so long captured their resources, their attention and their strategies. So in that sense, and if we see the global movements for climate justice not as totally new movements, but as the second round in the cycle of global justice struggles, then this emerging diagonalism certainly represents both a changed historical situation, and very positive learning processes within the global movements.

But, as you suggest, there are also challenges – take as an example the conference on climate change that Evo Morales has just announced will take place in Bolivia in April. Currently, the movements are debating the question whether this will be simply a top-down jamboree designed to celebrate compañero Evo’s empowerment by the indigenous movements as their new spokesperson; or whether it will be a space genuinely organised by movements from below where we discuss strategies and tactics for the upcoming global fight for climate justice – or will it be something in between? More concretely, I think that from an ‘actionist’ (i.e. street-based activist) perspective, I think we spent a lot of time and energy in the run-up to Copenhagen to create alliances with, and design actions accessible to, our friends and comrades in groups that had been working within the summit for a long time. In doing so, we went significantly outside of our own comfort zones, our activist ‘politics as usual’. I think that it is now time for our allies to make the same moves, to focus their attention away from these failed summits, and towards a more ‘movementist’ strategy. The danger, in other words, is that the new diagonalism draws our activist energies towards a process that we know to have failed, while neglecting our ‘core competencies’: not only ‘shutting stuff down’, but also ‘creating other worlds’ – the latter doesn’t really happen at UN-summits…

Notes: If the left has so far failed to exploit the crisis in capital to collective advantage does the crisis in the biosphere present the social movements with similar opportunities and if so what should we be looking towards?

TM-

Complicated question: obviously, as much as we on the left would like to think that, crises don’t necessarily play into our hands. The economic crisis has seen the obliteration of the left in Italy, and the weakening of centre-left parties (such as they are) everywhere in Europe. Let’s not even speak of the comedown some people must be having after the Obama-hype.

As for the biocrisis, I think that for anticapitalists, its greatest potential lies in the possibility of pitching a critique of capitalism that resonates far into the ideological centre of society: namely one that focuses on what some used to call capitalism’s third contradiction, that between its need for infinite growth (accumulation), and the fact that we live in a finite biosphere (see also my discussion with Frieder Otto Wolf about the Green New Deal: http://turbulence.org.uk/turbulence-5/green-new-deal/). This critique has a number of advantages over traditional radical left critiques of exploitation, alienation and immiseration: first, it is entirely impossible to try to contest it based on the empirical data – it is an extremely obvious fact that most significant processes of environmental destruction neatly track the development of global capitalist economic growth; second, from a socio-ecological perspective, there is no ‘upside’ to capitalist growth – whereas with regard to social and political emancipation, the occasionally progressive character of capitalist development is hard to entirely negate (the Marxists among us might recall that Marx and Engels were initially rather enamoured with this progressive character of capital: its ability to profane all that is holy and melt all that is solid into air); third, it is a critique that is easily absorbed and agreed upon by people who would not think of themselves as anticapitalists – in fact, even people who would not say that they are necessarily on ‘the left’ find it hard to argue against this position. Speaking the weird language of US-social movement ‘professionals’, the ‘infinite growth on a finite planet’-critique is the only genuinely anticapitalist ‘meme’ (idea, soundbite, message) that has really penetrated far into mainstream social discourse in the global North. Therein lies the opportunity.

But there are also some significant dangers in deploying this story: first, in focussing on capital’s need for accumulation, the critique of growth tends to obfuscate questions of class, exploitation, and differential impacts of the biocrisis – in other words, we are not all in the same boat, although we all live in the same biosphere. To inject this element into a critique of growth is a key task for anticapitalists. Second, and connected to the first problem: the critique of economic growth can, if not handled carefully, acquire some nasty Malthusian overtones, where – as someone once put it – rich, old white men tell people in the global South to stop having so many kids. There is good empirical evidence to argue against this point (environmental destruction is, by and large, driven by economic growth, not population growth, and the record is unequivocal about this), but it can easily slip into the story. Thirdly, it is a story that is easily told in the global North, but – especially if and when told by global Northerners – often and understandably generates a somewhat suspicious response in the global South: ‘are you (Northerners) now telling us not to grow our economies, not to develop? Sure, we agree with your critique of capitalism, but we need development, and who are you to deny us that right?’ In light of this, I think it is crucial that the critique of economic growth be coupled with the recognition in the Northern movements that the Southern movements’ call for reparations to be paid for ‘our’ ecological debt to the global South be put on the forefront of our agenda. This leads to the final problem: while the critique of growth may be easily understood hereabouts, the real question is – is there any way to implement it? Is there any way to get important actors like, say, trade unions on board with a political programme that is critical of the only way they have found in the last 30 years to deliver wage rises ‘their’ members, namely by getting a shrinking slice of a growing pie? More generally, what does a post-growth (post-capitalist) macroeconomy really look like? Who gains, who loses – and how do we do it? Conceptually, this is one of the key challenges for this cycle of global struggles.

Notes: Could Copenhagen kick start a second wave of summit hopping? What benefits,if any, would this bring the movements?

TM-

To be sure, it probably could: global summits are exciting places, not just (or even primarily) because of the political effects we can achieve there, but also because they are moment where we can break out of the national/issue-based separation and decomposition of our respective struggles, and recognise ourselves and each other as part of a diverse and dynamic global movement. But the critique of summit hopping is something we’ve already been through in the last round of global struggles, and the contemporary corollary to the argument that ‘summits are not the place where capitalist social relations are (re)produced’ is that UN-summits are not only not the places where the climate crisis is solved, they are certainly not the places (in spite of all the hot air that comes out of them) where the climate crisis is produced.

A radical climate justice politics ultimately needs to target the (fossilistic) capitalist energy sector, and here I see a need for a three-pronged strategy (if what follows is a somewhat European perspective, I apologise for that – it is so far in Europe where I have been most active, but I wait to be inspired by the movements’ climate change conference in Bolivia in April): first, we need to shut down coal-fired power plants, old ones, and the many new ones governments are planning to build. In the current situation, building coal-fired power plants is a criminal act and should be exposed as such. Second, we need to prevent the so-called ‘renaissance of nuclear power’. Not only because none of the problems originally associated with nuclear power have been or can be solved, but also because there is enormous mobilisation potential (at least in Germany, but also, I believe, beyond) around this question. Thirdly, we need to fight for a just – that means, socialised, decentralised and fair – renewable energy sector. It is here where we can get the trade unions on board: for example, the German metalworkers’ union IG Metall is trying to unionise the renewable energy sector, and we should be part of those discussions. Such an ‘energy justice strategy’ is definitely strategically ambitious, but in the current situation, we really do need ambitious strategies – nothing else will do.

So again: summits are important, and we should surely mobilise people for COP16 in Mexico (and probably the COP15.5 in Bonn). But our substantive strategic future must lie, I think, in an integrated energy sector strategy. That’s where climate change is caused, and that’s where climate justice must start.


Notes:Where next for Climate Justice Action?

TM-

That’s a tricky question: right now we are trying to decide where to hold our next meeting, and we are running into some problems with this question – should we hold our next meeting again in (Northern) Europe, which is where most of the people who were actively organising with CJA are based? Or should we make good on our claim to being a global network by trying to organise a meeting somewhere completely different (say, Latin America or Southern Africa), which would run into the problem of there not being a strong CJA-base, which really exists only in Northern Europe (Denmark, Germany, the UK, the lowlands, possibly Sweden – but also some US-Americans). The problem arises, I think, because there were always two CJAs: one was a networking space or platform, and that was indeed a really broad space, both politically and geographically. Here, people from attac France met people from Via Campesina met people from Belarussian anarchist groups met people from Nigerian NGOs met… This networking platform ceased to exist just before the summit in Copenhagen, because it was not needed anymore. Then there was CJA as an organising platform, which was dominated by people from Northern Europe and might be called an incipient climate camp International. It was this second CJA that largely organised the Reclaim Power! action, and did most of the work that was done in the name of CJA.

So now the question is: do we acknowledge this fact, and start organising in the areas where we have some strengths, or do we try to extend ourselves into new areas? I’m not quite sure, but I think that the former option is more realistic. CJA is largely a Northern network, and as such, I think it should on the one hand provide a space for folks who want to organise something around the summit in Bonn, but more importantly, be a space where the different climate camps and emerging Northern climate justice folks can develop strategies. Specifically, I think that CJA would be an excellent space to coordinate simultaneous climate camps in Europe and maybe beyond (the climate camp being a very ‘Northern’ form of action), with a common set of messages, maybe slogans (languages permitting), and a common agenda for how to move forward. Also, the kind of energy strategy I mention above could very well be discussed within CJA. Ultimately, it’s not the network’s name, though, that’s important, but the connections and affinities that we formed during the mobilisation for Copenhagen. And whatever CJA’s future, these will definitely continue.

Reflections on Cop-15 call out for articles

Dear All…….

The Cop 15 round of discussion ended somewhat predictably with no resolutions or commitments to carbon reduction, yet outside the Bella Centre, activists from horizontal movements, N.G.Os and State representatives from the Global South opened up a space for dialogue that sought to challenge the power relationships implicit in the ‘official discourse’. If ‘Horizontalism’ was the dominant political formation of the preceding alter-globalisation movement, what possibilities for systemic change, if any, does the emergent ‘diagonalism’ (the co-operation between state actors, NGOs and horizontals) offer? Conversely what risks does such co-operation pose the autonomous movements for climate justice?

With these and other questions in mind, we are asking for contributions to evaluate the impact on the movements after Copenhagen. We welcome articles from individuals, collectives, NGOs, Unions and political groups. These can take the form of personal reflections, action reports and analysis.We also welcome art/graphic contributions. We are going to print in the first week of April 2010 and the deadline for copy must be March 29th. Articles must be between 2000-5000 word maximum (although this can be negotiated). Please send contributions to –

notesfrombelow@googlemail.com

We look forward to your participation,

Notes from Below Collective.

COP15: Thoughts before Copenhagen


In this ‘open letter’ to the domestic Climate movement, Katy Smith and Seth Wheeler address concerns regarding the lack of class perspective in the mobilising texts of the emerging Climate Justice movement. Both are contributing editors to Notes from Below, ‘green’ corespondents for Freedom and have been actively involved in the Camp for Climate Action and other movements for social and ecological Justice.

The following was commissioned for Freedom- the UK’s Longest running anarchist paper.

www.freedompress.org.uk/news/

This December (ten years since the alter-globalisation movements took to the streets of Seattle to oppose the world trade organization) activists from across the globe will be descending on Copenhagen to protest the COP15 round of discussion. Has the UK Direct Action movement changed in the interceding years between these cycles of struggle? And what lessons, if any, can it learn from its recent past?

Why Should You Care About COP15?:

In the wake of the financial crisis it seems apparent to us that states and the international markets will use the threat of runaway climate change as a means to restructure capital and to shore up state power.

What Do We Mean By This?

That the very industries and national bodies that have created this crisis will make the working and poor population of the world pay for carbon reduction through increased attacks on our collective standards of living and our limited freedom. It seems likely that these attacks will take the form of green taxes leveled against populations, the control or regulation of people’s movements between borders (flight allocation/personal carbon rations), rising fuel prices, energy rationing or through the establishment of renewable industries (which will involve layoffs/retraining).

The ‘Radical’ Green Movement, As We See It:

From the outside it appears that these concerns for COP15’s outcome seem to be drowned out by the louder voices of the ‘mainstream’ green movement who seek solely to cut carbon emissions by ANY means necessary. This desire to halt emissions is fueled by the apocalyptic rallying cry of  ‘100 months’. This ‘peer reviewed’ timeframe states that the world has less than 100 months to reduce carbon emissions before runaway climate change leads to catastrophe. This tempo has set the agenda for what is believed possible, with many campaigners claiming that only state-led solutions can be offered in the timeframe posed. The failure of anti-authoritarian movements  to organize themselves materially and to challenge state power, has only helped maintain people’s faith in a process that has systematically failed to deliver any agreements over the last 14 years. Another narrative shared by the both the state and the broad green movement is the belief that climate change is a ‘man made’ problem and not one of our economy. This confusion only lends the state more power when offering up its solutions. While human industry has undoubtedly contributed to climate change to pin this on a ‘neutral humanity’ is to miss the point entirely. Climate change has not been brought about by mankind’s progressive march towards a petroleum-driven technological future, but by capitalism, the means by which our lives are ordered.

Summit Hopping Again?

The activist movements seem awash with an excitement not felt since the heyday of the alter-globalisation movement. In the UK, Climate Camp have called for a national mobilization, similar to Earth First’s mobilization to Prague  for the IMF/WB meeting in 2001.Many have projected that climate change will kick start a new cycle of summit struggles, if this is to be the case there seems to be little comparisons or inter-movement dialogue regarding the failures and limited successes of the last cycle.

Uneasy victory?

Anarchist and ultra left groups have often recognized what is at stake at these summits, and as such played an important role in  summit mobilizations during the last cycle, especially against economic forums such as the WTO and  IMF . These manifestations were able to galvanise activists from diverse backgrounds (environmentalists, faith groups, indigenous peoples through to steel workers) due to the obvious nature of the unelected and unaccountable illegitimacy of the institutions these protests opposed. It can be also argued that the inclusion of just ‘8’ of the worlds leading economies was justification enough for many to mobilise against the predecessor of the G20. Anti-state voices were often in the minority at these mobilizations. While the legitimacy of such institutions matters little to anarchist groups, COP15 presents itself as a united effort on behalf of ‘world democracy’ (the UN) to reorder itself, and as such, antagonisms to the process are not as clearly defined by those attending as in previous summit event. Or, to be more precise there is no shared understanding of what is at stake and who or what is to blame. Already there have been calls to both ‘shut them down and keep them in’! from activist networks mobilizing for COP. This confused position has been seen as a positive representation of the  ‘diversity of opinion’ of the groups attending. Regardless of  political difference, for all attending be they radical or reformist, carbon reduction remains the priority of the movement. A priority that could lead  to strange and uncomfortable ‘victories’ if the governments and business leaders attending COP15 have their way. From the outside the debate seems solely focused on carbon emission reduction with the occasional nod towards ‘worker’s issues’ in the shape of a ‘just transition to a carbon free future’. Without addressing by whose agency a just transition will be achieved, protests will do little to counter the attempts to restructure labour from above. It could be argued that those attending the COP15 protests could also be seen to be supporting any planned ‘new green deal’, austerity is the only outcome likely in our mind. We have yet to hear of radical voices inside the green movements that articulate our concerns or address the inadequacy of  narrow single issue demands effectively. We hope that those attending the protests take our concerns with them, and articulate them, in order to broaden the debate inside the  ‘carbon justice’ movement.

Give Up Activism…

It can now be stated with some certainty that summit hopping of the past failed to generalize itself outside of the activists who attended them. Protests became the increasing expertise of a small class of  international activist ‘experts’. We see little to convince us that this trend has changed in the interceding years. In the end the only people who understood the politics of summit mobilisations were not the millions of passive observers the protesters imagined being radicalized by their actions, but the dwindling numbers of participants and the police. If the radical green movement, of which climate camp is a main player, is serious about ‘confronting and reversing the route causes of climate change’ it must broaden itself out to include  the concerns of the international working class. Whilst it is to late to halt the process set in motion by a ‘summit call out’ ,we hope that all those attending COP15 return to their homes safely and without the necessity to reinvent the wheel- i.e  condemning their generation to another decade of spectacular riots with little or no real material gains. Instead, we hope they return refreshed and willing to expand the movement at home, wherever that may be, that deal with the route causes of climate change. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing our species’ continued survival on this planet. Whilst we must strive to halt emissions, this must be contained within the framework of a totalized understanding of the problems we face e.g capitalism and the State as the motor of climate change. Failure to articulate our demands or to meet other people in contestation with capitalism will condemn the movement to one of radical posturing and isolation, like its ‘anti-globalisation’ predecessor. A posture that will not be noticed from the outside, regardless of how many column inches the Guardian devotes to its unofficial leadership.

for info regarding the ‘ radical left mobilisation’ check out-

http://www.nevertrustacop.org/