Thursday, March 03, 2011

climate camp is dead, long live climate action

The Camp for Climate Action has announced that it is disbanding. The statement is bold and clear, acknowledging the Camp's achievements - tangible in the cancellation of Heathrow's third runway and the shelving of Kingsnorth power station - and is certainly a brave move.

I want to be clear that I admire the work the Camp has done, and I genuinely don't have a clear idea as to whether the disbanding is a wise move or not. What I am uneasy about is the unreserved glee with which it is being met, and the underlying reasons for that.

Climate action requires long term effort with little chance of major success, and even less chance of being able to measure your contribution to that success. As such, it is really not very rewarding. I should know, I'm one of the people who was involved in the Camp and has latterly ducked out.

It also demands that we all change much of the way we live our lives. This is never going to be comfortable. It is much easier to have 'me and my friends good, those people over there bad' campaigns. This tendency was seen in Climate Camp with some people saying action should never impede the actions of individuals and that 'government and corporations' should be the sole targets.

The anti-cuts campaigns are much more comfortable from this position (as long as we ignore the contradiction of anarchists complaining about a reduction of state intervention in our lives).

The austerity issue should not distract people from continuing vigorous climate action. Take it from The Onion.

climate change, the popular mid-2000s issue that raised awareness of the fact that the earth's continuous rise in temperature will have catastrophic ecological effects, has apparently not been resolved, and may still be a problem.

Back to the Climate Camp statement itself, there are elements that smell a bit funny to me.

Climate Camp leaves a space. What fills that space is up to us. This is a unique opportunity to work together with others to create a more co-ordinated, dynamic and stronger movement against climate change and its root causes.

Climate Camp acted as a lightning rod for those who wanted to take action. Much of climate action away from the Camp has been taken by people who have met and bonded through the Camp. With such loose structure and affiliations, it was easy for people to be involved in different ways and to different degrees and yet still feel part of it, to be propelled by its underlying momentum.

With no other organisation having a similar role, it is very hard indeed to see how taking it away will create something stronger and more dynamic.

we can’t demand that society changes radically, while we ourselves do not.

This is a rationalisation hiding in a word game. The implication is that drastic change of methods and views is, in and of itself, a good thing. That is simply wrong.

Doggedly holding on to a tactic that has become useless is stupid, sure. Refusing to revisit your fundamental philosophy to see if it still makes sense leaves you open to inconsistency and irrelevance. And as William Blake said, 'The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind'.

However it is perfectly possible to hold a radical political perspective and advance it by the same methods for a lifetime. If we oppose some of the fundamental structures of our culture - the profit motive, consumer-capitalism, enormous concentrations of power - then we're unlikely to be in for a quick win. We are probably going to spend our whole lives working on this stuff. Radically changing away from that is not going to help the cause. Doing so for its own sake would actually reduce our chances of improvement.

The movements for women's rights and trade unionism took several generations to make solid advances. Had they been distracted by more popular issues or decided to change for its own sake, we may well not be enjoying the fruits of their work today.

None of this is to say that Climate Camp has taken the wrong decision. Time will tell whether it was the right move or not, and I can readily see how it might turn out to be the right thing. But regarding such change as an intrinsically good thing is erroneous, and engendering that idea could damage radical movements in future.


EcoLabs said...

Nice article. As someone who was at Space for Change I'll add that many of us are far from gleeful about this decision. It risks dissipating a movement that we have devoted five years building. Yes, the thankless struggle to resist climate change will be on-going and will need to be sustained indefinitely. Any networks established should not be disbanded. But they can be transformed. The fear of the camp ending could be a motivating force in creating a stronger movement.

Dunc said...

Without wishing to be overly negative, I'm really not sure that the movement can take credit for the cancellation of the 3rd runaway at Heathrow - I think that's far more down to high oil prices and the subsequent cratering of the airline industry.

merrick said...

EcoLabs, I don't dispute that this disbanding might be a rejuvenating force; I say as much in the post. But I don't think the talking of that as a probable outcome is justified. It may well be akin to disbanding the WSPU in 1910.

Dunc, I don't think the movement is the sole factor in the cancellation of the third runway, but I do think it is a crucial one. If it were just about the economic future for aviation then why are expansion plans going ahead at numerous regional airports?

Anonymous said...

Thoughtful piece without taking sides or sharpening your axe, thanks, makes a change from elsewhere.

Hopefully the loose structures and affiliations can continue to develop and deepen, at this year's Earth First! Summer Gathering (10-15 August).

Since the first gathering in 1992, it has remained a really important place for people taking ecological direct action to come together, plot and plan. Though numbers participating have been less whilst the climate camps have been happening, it has been what people make it, and with the transforming energy around, it looks to be exciting this year.