Climate Camp Is Dead! Where Now For Climate Action?

Capitalism is crisis; revolution is the solution

Last night, the Camp for Climate Action released an ‘official’ statement, announcing that there would no climate camps either this summer or in the future. Citing the “near-collapse of the financial system; droughts in the Amazon, floods in Pakistan; a new government in the UK; a violent programme of unprecedented cuts; food prices rising and real incomes eroding; revolutions across the Middle East”, the group has decided to “team up with the anti-cuts and anti-austerity movements and play a crucial role in the revolutionary times ahead”. I welcome the statement, and the consensus reached at a Dorset meeting last week.

In 2008, after two years of skepticism, I decided to attend the camp at Kingsnorth in Kent, where people were protesting against a proposed new coal-fired power station. On returning home, I wrote a lengthy piece called ‘Climate Camp and Class‘ for Shift magazine. The article examined the successes, failures and contradictions of the camp.

In one paragraph, I described how:

“Though the Climate Camp website is declaring the week a resounding success, it can surely be judged a valiant failure in terms of its stated objectives. E.ON were inconvenienced for a few hours, but Kingsnorth was not shut down. Some campers learned about non-hierarchical organising and strategies for sustainable living, but this made little impact on the wider public. ‘Direct action’ became a media buzzword, but only as something irresponsible and to be feared. Carbon emissions became a hot topic, but in the context of the above, only as ‘footprints’ to feel guilty about.”

I argued that this outcome was inevitable, given a structural weakness of ‘green and black anarchism’:

“The idea of a class-based transformation of society is rejected – in some cases because of righteous disillusionment with traditional forms of class struggle, in many cases because the individual is from a relatively wealthy background. When such people see impending environmental catastrophe as the number one threat to their lives, their philosophy often becomes more anti-technological than anti-capitalist. Taking this perspective to its logical conclusion, capitalism and the state wouldn’t be much of a problem if they could somehow leave people alone in ecological peace, but since they can’t, both must be overcome. But with international class-based solidarity apparently ruled out, the result is that “setting an example” (as one woman put it) becomes the main method of ideological recruitment.”

However, “setting an example” is difficult – if not impossible – when:

“Due to the built-in ideological structures of mainstream media and the state, the example set is of using those compost toilets, getting attacked by police, and putting yourself in mortal danger on your week off. Understandably, this is not an example that many are willing to follow.”

I wholeheartedly agree with yesterday’s statement that “In 2011 the climate science is as strong as ever – and the need for action on climate change never greater – but the political landscape is radically different.” But if “setting an example” of green living is not working (never mind the fact that it’s horribly patronising), and we discount the idea of competing capitalist states doing anything serious about climate change, the only option left is to completely reorganise society, and abolish the profit motive. On paper, the Climate Camp propaganda always acknowledged this, but in reality climate campers did little to put it into practice.

In 2008, a group called Workers’ Climate Action held a session at the Kingsnorth camp, and many went to talk with Kingsnorth workers at their local pub. In summer 2009, Workers Climate Action supporters were instrumental in agitating for an occupation at the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle Of Wight, when it was threatened with closure.

The 2009 Vestas occupation gave hope to climate activists

The Vestas occupation failed in its aim of keeping the factory open. The reasons for this were many and varied. From the government’s perspective, then Environment Minister Ed Miliband was determined to outsource to China, which was much cheaper and therefore more profitable. As for our side, the Vestas workers remained geographically and politically isolated, receiving insufficient practical solidarity from workers and activists around the country.

However, the occupation did demonstrate a couple of very important things. One: governments are only interested in ‘green jobs’ in so far as they are profitable. Two: the demand for a ‘green economy’ is therefore a revolutionary demand.

In 2011, let us be in no doubt: the only way to create a sustainable future for our species is to have a working class-led revolution. I’m delighted that many dedicated and talented climate activists have chosen to focus more of their energy on this cause, because the class struggle and the environmental struggle are one and the same.

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