Sunday, 5 December 2010

A call to arms for the green movement

Hi folks, I am tired, but here are some post-protest thoughts.
The green movement, and particularly the climate part, needs to regroup. It has been a miserable year. The nonsense of climate-gate, the failure of the Copenhagen talks and the fact that much of the media seems to have gotten bored has sapped energy out of the campaigns. People are a little lost. They feel they have tried everything. Large protests from 2005-2007 achieved something, but not enough. Direct action groups like Climate Camp and Climate Rush changed the narrative, injected some enthusiasm and won some victories, but even they are changing. Much of the energy, and many of the people, are now focused on the protests against government cuts. This does not mean they are not still committed to slowing climate change (and the two are certainly connected), but simply that the immediacy is elsewhere. Environmental protests have always been harder for certain kinds of people to understand than ones which purely deal with money. Yesterday's climate march through London brought all this into persective. It was well organised, and worth attending, but the lack of energy and optimism contrasted heavily with the Kingsnorth coal protests or student demonstrations. It is also worth noting that it did not get a single mention in the press, which was dominated by an excellent direct action at Topshop that I must admit I was loath to tear myself away from.

So what now? At the march yesterday Green MP Caroline Lucas quoted Emily Pankhurst and called for a new wave of (peaceful) militancy to affect policy on the environment. I think she is absolutely right, and I will make some suggestions below. Before that thought I think it is important to recap on what has been achieved. First of all climate change is a word in everyone's lexicon. It is taken seriously at the highest levels and is discussed by everyone from sitcoms to Heads of State. That was not the case ten years ago, and while the press may be bored for now, the issue is not going away. Other progress has been made too. Since 2005 renewable energy, one of our best hopes, has become increasingly mainstream and respected, with all major parties committed to supporting it. That is also a huge achievement. Protests and campaigns have also made decisions such as building new coal power stations and oil infrastructure diffficult and increasingl risky, and won some significant victories (stopping new coal plants with carbon capture and storage for example). School children all over the country are taught about climate change and the environment, and overwhelming support measures to tackle it.

But will still need to do much, much more. We need to work out how to engage those people who do care, but will never do much about it, apart from vote and make some purchasing decisions, since that is all they do on any issue. There is still a lot of thinking to be done, but for now I will suggest a three pronged approach.
First we need a local movement. Something like re-energised and more activist Transition Towns. They could work on practical solutions (such as community power, local conservation etc), but also become much more political, acting as a power base for more dynamic actions. The practical stuff is important as it gives a sense of empowerment. The political action is crucial too, because groups like this, expanded and organised could have a major influence on local government and council elections, where a lot of real environmental governance takes place. We could draw up profiles of councillors, MLAs, MSPs and MPs according to their green credential and campaign and run accordingly. They can also play a role in supporting more militant actions, issuing statements that support the aims and objectives of demonstrations and occupations, and writing letters to the press and broadcasters.
At the same time we need many more people willing to take part in direct action. Climate Camp did well, but we never got above a few thousand active particpiants. We needs hundreds of thousands, a million, ready to engage in civil disbedience. The local groups above might provide a source of activists. So too may the newly energised student movements. We need to be actively making those links. We also need to be joining 'traditional' protestors with the new decentralised groups, not segregating ourselves into legitimate and illegitimate protestors. We must not be so squemish about the odd broken window or occupied power station.Yes, violence against people is wrong, but that has almost never happened in the environmental movement, and no one is calling for it. Obstruction or minor damage to property is quite different. (I also feel that Direct Action groups must do what they can to restrain their wider political impulses. The green agenda is too important to be held hostage to the factional differences between liberals, social democrats, libertarians, anarchists, socialists or communists. NGOs and networks too must overcome their fears of promoting others activities.)

Finally we need to combine mass civil disobedience and local activism into something high-level. We need to keep the big marches, educational and (dare I say) even celebrity campaigns going for those who can't engage in any other way, but we must try to make them chellenging. A weak message is no message at all. We must support those politicians and groups that do act on climate change to give hope to others. We do not need to support everything they do to back them up on this. We need to support the positive solutions that are available. We need to vote for greener parties, we need to back the think-tanks and NGOs that are best tackling the climate issues. We must use local campaigning, protests, blockades, pickets, infiltrations, on-line actions and our own votes, investments and purchasing power to fight the government, the apahetic, the industries and political parties into a corner, and then welcome those that wriggle out and back us, until there is no one left in the corner.

There will be a lot more thinking to be done in the coming days and weeks, and things will change, but I guess what I am saying is that no one group or method will itself be enough to win this. We need everything. Direct Action will only work if enough people tacitly support it. Protests and marches will only work if enough people feel motivated to take part. Politicians will only act if they realise there is a demand for it, and complaining only works if you are actively pushing some alternatives...

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