Messages for UK Climate Activism
Process Vs. Outcome
All of us involved in taking action on Climate Change! Hold Tight! And ask, who are we taking our actions for? Who are they supposed to empower? Our actions to halt runaway climate change in the UK are, at present, too small, too minor and too abstract to make an impact in the scale we want it to. It is embarrassing. An embarrassment, by no means fully at the fault of our organisation, but an embarrassment nonetheless. An embarrassment that there is a gaping divide between our intentions and the very people we earnestly desire to reach. Embarrassing too that we have been gladly blindfolded, polarised and now the state is playing toy soldiers between the people who can afford to take a week off work to sit in a camp during the biggest recession since WWII and care about climate change and the, well, vast majority of society.
Look out the window of the environmental movement and stare hard at the potential audience of the camp. Right now, our intentions, our passions, and our desire to break the law for justice mean nothing to the boy in the park chasing smack to escape his poverty; to the single mum, laden with heavy bags working two jobs; to the families eating dog food for Xmas dinner and to the many communities of ethnic diversity, whom everyday is a grim battle for food, water, shelter and above all some semblance of dignity. Sod All. Right now, most of the UK population is broken and need some form of rescue, from poverty, from environmental injustice. When everything has been snatched from them, as it has been, as it continues to be. From basic necessities to survive to having faith in a system which is snatching their livelihoods out from under their nose, who are we to tell them they should change their way, buck up their ideas and come to weekly meetings, when they can’t afford to take time off in the first place? What have they got left? A state which is demonstrating an absolute command over their destiny. A society which is squeezing the very breath from their bodies. Right now, homelessness is rife, poverty is everywhere. We are facing a society which forces the poor to live where they dump their belongings. A crevasse so big between those who can afford to preach about climate change and those who have to suffer being told how to live their lives once again is staring us, and UK climate action square between the eyes. They will not turn to us looking for inspiration from a movement they cannot afford to be involved with. Our action needs to mean something to people’s daily realities. Peoples Action.
Let me say from the outset, I am no rich-basher, anti-snob, nor a proselytiser for the eternal upholding of working class rights. What I am however to do is willing to put myself in their shoes. At the moment we have got it fairly easy, we still have the privilege to treat activism as day job and go to the pub. The shit may hit the fan, as it has for the global majority, for us too. Real resistance recognises its own privilege, recognises where it’s from. Real resistance comes with no perks, no salaries and no media contracts. Anyway, if we want to do something worthy of achieving our aims we’ll get nicked and end up in jail horrified at people who prefer a prison life of drugs and 24 hour TV better than Climate activism and the outside world. Reality. Check.
Believe me this is not to underestimate all the great work that UK climate activism has done so far (would I be here otherwise?), but the shower isn’t on, the praises aren’t coming out, the bath is overflowing with good intentions, but it is making a wee mess on the floor.
The last thing we need as people living under the shadow of the climate -economic crisis is any more sparkling ‘movements’ careering nosily around our street corners shouting that they have the answers on how to change our poor lives. We need this just as little as we need a 2′ climate increase. Anyway, UK climate action knows as well as us all, there really is no such thing as voiceless. There is only the preferably unheard. The unheard who can’t afford to notice our protests, our demonstrations; let alone take off work time to dance and lock-on at coal sites. Across the UK, it’s as if we are being rounded off into two trucks in the middle of the night. The lucky few, armed with their climate science peer reviewed journals, overland tickets to Europe, organic cotton bags and energy saving light bulbs. And the mass. The mass stuffed into a truck, laden with no options, no climate change information and no avenues for action. These are the people around the airports, around the coal fired power stations waiting for the court of redress, hoping that one day, one of the activists, journalists, biographists and writers who shove a microphone in their face to cover their story turns out to be Good Luck. Or God.
If we are true radicals, we get to the root of the problem. The sticky mess that got us into this tragic mess in the first place. The loss of solidarity. The lack of recognition of listening to people and their problems from their own perspective. The loss of community. The loss of support. The problem is systematic, and until we realise that, there will be no change. The internal organisation of UK climate activism could be, on a small scale, a shining example of community support that so many have lost under the capitalist empire. It could be really special. For, you, me, all of us. There could be support for collectivism, for solidarity, for individual and group empowerment. And that’s a rarity in the UK today which idolises the individual. ‘Individualism’ a nasty by-product of capitalism is the very reason why most of the people our actions are aiming to reach are scratching around in the back yard, wondering how we they are going to beat each other down to get to the dazzling solutions to climate change; environmental justice. It is almost possible to wade through the congealed mass of society and see the isolation which is tearing our collective spirit apart. This swamp, in which it is possible to wade through and pick up the pieces of community cohesion, youth support, celebration of ethnic diversity, dignity.
So, you may ask, if things are so bad and we have so much to do, (reasonably I think) why not just withdraw into inaction? Because whether we like it or not, we, communities suffering injustice stick together. It’s an instinct. Like stopping a child walking in front of a car. Or not banging you head against a brick wall. Or stopping unnecessary climate change. If you see something you love being destroyed, whether it’s a lover, a walk in the local park, your mates, your community, the planet, you act to protect your beloved. It’s natural.
We can, if we choose, be in this for the long term. We can still be here when we have shut the airports, dug up the motorways, supported serious ‘just’ transition plans and seriously reversed the problem. We can still be here when we can look children in the eye and explain that the planet is not decaying, that playing in the sun is no longer dangerous and the streams have all been cleared of the poison. That frogs no longer have five modified legs and teenagers no longer blow themselves up in the process of killing other teenagers. When we are truly a people’s movement and when my Mums found cheap options for food other than ASDA.
We have tragically so much more to do until tackling climate change is the story it needs to be; for the single mother, for the Bangladeshi families, for the boy in the hoodie in the park, for us. We can look forward to many more years of trouble making, solidarity and fun together. Climate action is worth planning when we have truly changed the world by making long-lasting impacts. And for now? The rest of this is just the beginning.
Messages for UK Climate Activism
1. Effective climate action needs to… address privilege
Why the ‘movement’ is predominantly young, white, middle class and able bodied and why if someone isn’t one of these they are assimilated and assumed to be anyway. The way that the language, the way of organising, the use of abstract thought, the way of debating and arguing, the accessibility of venues, the need of time and money and many more issues all contribute to the exclusivity and elitism of the movement. What is needed is an analysis of ways of how to have proper solidarity and support of/with other already organising groups from the under-represented groups in these circles NOT trying to work out how to welcome them into ‘our’ movement.
2. Effective climate action needs to… not think that ‘we’ are the experts
On the elitism of activists…..it turns out most people know more about the world than activists — CAUSE THEY LIVE IN IT, not a privileged bubble. Do we have a self reflective analysis of what ‘being an activist’ means and who it excludes/oppresses? Are we accepting that we don’t know all there is to know? That we’re not the enlightened few? And our experiences don’t represent the all encompassing impact/oppression of climate change/capitalism? People from non-‘activists’ experience and ideas are just as valid and important and ‘we’ have a lot to learn too. Many have noticed (and been guilty of) that many activists tend to disregard the wisdom of elders…. people who have seen massive change in their lives… people who are in a unique position to offer insight into how the world has changed in their lives and how they think it should move forward. There is incredible insight out there — a definite resource that is underused… there is a bunch of crap there too, but then again, that is the case with everyone!
3. Effective climate action needs to… address time as a privilege
Money and time are privileges in themselves and are upheld by other privileges e.g. patriarchy and education etc. and continues to uphold cycles of privilege. For example, who has the time to attend hours and hours of meetings and do all the stuff that ‘needs’ to be done in such a short time-scale? Why do they have access to that time? Why do other people not have access to that time? Why meetings are made at times so inaccessible/unsustainable for parents/workers/etc?
Saying things like ‘well he’s put in so much time so I think its fair….’ has many implications. Why has he had so much more time to put in in the first place? It may be an idea to provide avenues for mass involvement which don’t require hours that most people can just not afford to put in.
4. Effective climate action needs to… have an analysis of ‘direct action’
This simply means taking action/decision making into our own hands, not being ruled by an ‘authority’ so…why do many ‘activists’ think that direct action is only locking onto something and shutting something down for a very small amount of time? What is the purpose of such action? Reformism? Media attention? To cost ‘them’ a bit of money? Are these things REALLY a long term effective form of resistance or catalyst for revolution? What about the workers you potentially stop getting paid? Who is even able to do this kind of action? Perhaps white, middle class, young, able bodied people we see often in meetings. Change can happen when alternatives are provided so that we don’t have to stoke the coal fires to keep us warm, load the bags onto the aeroplanes to keep us eating and flying away for one week breaks to keep us sane.
5. Effective climate action needs to… have an analysis of ‘doing’
Science tells us that we have to act ‘now’ to stop Armageddon…. this has lead to a dogma of what are you ‘doing’? We have to ‘do’ something —- this usually leads to really unthought-out, short sighted ‘actions’. There is always a rush since the planet is getting desecrated at an ever faster pace… but this is always true. What about strategy? Inclusivity? —- It’s still DOING to strategise and plan before the putting into action stage. A year’s thought and process before a major event like a climate camp may be more useful than hastily put together, reformist, headline grabbing, inactive activity that has occurred to date. Sometimes it just takes sitting back and observing a mountain to understand change. It will come… it is inevitable. But with proper planning and a view to 40 years down the road, loads can happen that will move things along in a very positive way. Yes I know that climate change is at a particularly important juncture and that there is limited time to act, but there are still at least 80 months where people could be planning for what is going to happen in 10 months… that is almost a year, where we can do REALLY REALLY effective things….
6. Effective climate action needs to… address the exclusivity and oppressiveness (classist, racist, sexist) nature of the consensus process in action
We all know the bullshit problems with consensus…. usually ruled by informal hierarchies and more. Just using the process isn’t any more democratic or unoppressive than voting etc. It’s still dominant (mostly white, middle class, educated and, slightly less so, male) people that get their way. It’s still who shouts loudest and minority voices are made to feel insignificant, difficult, like their holding up the process etc. consensus is about safe space, listening and working together – Should we ask, is this related to the environmentalist perception of urgency?
7. Effective climate action needs to… address the level of personal insecurity and lack of emotional support among ‘activist’ circles
As climate change only becomes more intense our levels of psychological and social support need to increase. Waking up every morning trying to tackle the world’s greatest problems is no easy feat. Burnout, stress, paralysis and depression are rife in our communities. Our methods of community organising should embrace the need for more support if we are to build action on climate change, not dismiss it as a ‘liberal’ inconvenience.
8. Effective climate action needs to… address anti-capitalism, workers solidarity and just transition
Inviting people to our spaces is elitist and assumes ‘we’ have stuff to teach them and vice versa. Taking ‘action’ regardless of the consequences for them, and/or without doing it WITH them means we’re just forcing our opinion and dogma onto other people. ‘We’ do what ‘WE’ think is necessary, relevant, important — that’s not useful, long sighted, anti capitalist, anarchist, consensual, realistic or going to actually change anything long term. We have to LISTEN. We have to cooperatively and consensually create just, long sighted and useful solutions TOGETHER.
9. Effective climate action needs to address ‘identity’ politics
We must analyse our involvement in such a necessary movement on its identity — being in the scene — of the environmental movement, road campaigners, etc… Is it about long term investment in change? Do we plan to be doing the same work when we are 40? This is a crucial question….. If we are not in this fight for the long haul, then we are part of the problem. Real change takes real commitment, not just until we get a ‘real’ job… If we are in it for the long haul, then we know that it takes ‘building coalitions’ to achieve anything. Our focus could be on community self-determination and leaving a LASTING legacy for where camps are — i.e., at least a freaking community garden… A camp is nothing but a vacation if there is nothing to show for it after it is gone. A long term investment in an area is best.
10. Effective climate action needs to….address problems from people’s daily realities
It is the HOW we are organising that is the MOST troubling…. Just swooping in on a site and then swooping away the next week is not going to get anyone into the Climate Action groove. Community organising methods without relating the issues to people’s daily lives when compared to more imaginative methods we could be so proud of, remind me of the methods of yester-year. That smelly, deaf dog that farts across the house that we just don’t have the heart to put out. This is about eradicating methods which contribute nothing to our imaginations. Without community consultation or an outlet for people to get involved through their means of communication, not ours, there is no community buy-in to the events we plan. This leads to the community feeling alienated and frustrated with yet more outsiders coming to tell the locals that they are doing things wrong and should do things in a new/different way. This is privilege. It doesn’t have to be this way; not with the amount of talent and commitment of those involved in UK Climate Activism so far.
Fundamentally, UK Climate Activism has so much potential to make a massive positive difference and this is why we are sharing these thoughts.