Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Steering the Camp for Climate Action back on course

The Camp for Climate Action 2010 is drawing to a close. Having occupied a site on the doorstep of Royal Bank of Scotland's (RBS) global headquarters since last Thursday, tomorrow they will be returning the basecamp to nature. So what's been achieved - and what was the point?

Firstly, it should be said that the camp was never going to bring down capitalism. That was never the point, and it would be a rare and special soul who went to the edges of Edinburgh with that idea in mind.

So why do it then? In the words of the Camp's website;
The Camp for Climate Action is a grassroots movement taking direct action against the root causes of climate change. After mobilising and helping stop the proposed third runway at Heathrow and a new coal fired power station at Kingsnorth, we're growing into a mass movement reclaiming our future from government and profit-hungry corporations.
The point is not some vague and impossible goal of "overthrowing capitalism," but of challenging its advances in the present whilst drawing peoples' attention to what is happening.

The choice of RBS as this year's target is a case in point;
RBS is the UK bank that has been the most heavily involved in financing fossil fuels and corporate bad guys around the world. It took part in providing E.ON with $70 billion at the time it was looking to bust out 17 new coal and gas power plants across Europe, and underwritten $8 billion in loans to ConocoPhillips in the last three years, who apart from being active in the Peruvian Amazon are one of the biggest players in the Canadian tar sands. In fact RBS is the UK bank the most heavily involved in providing the most loans to oil companies that are extracting tar sands and in doing so trashing the climate and destroying Indigenous Communities.

Since the financial crisis, RBS has received billions of pounds of public money to keep it afloat, to the point where it is now 84% owned by the UK public. Communities in the UK are now facing years of cuts to health, education and social services as a result of bailing out the actions of irresponsible bankers. And now they are using our money to prop up the E.ONs and the Shells of this world.

Using public money to support banks in trashing the climate embodies the absurdity of the economic and political system we live in. We need to stop our money from being used to finance tar sands, coal and all fossil fuels, and we need to have democratic financial institutions that serve the needs to people, communities and sustainability rather than just lining the pockets of greedy bankers.

The only way to prevent catastrophic climatic change is to stop burning fossil fuels by leaving them in the ground and switching to the alternatives. The current growth-orientated economic system causes our society to be addicted to burning fossil fuels. In order for our species to survive we need to move beyond capitalism by radically transforming human social relations.

World leaders, Politicians and the Capitalists they serve are failing to prevent the destruction of our planet because they have a vested interest in maintaining profits through business-as-usual. The false solutions they offer (such as bio-fuels, carbon trading, carbon capture and storage, nuclear etc) serve only to "green" capitalism in the search for more growth.

Banks and finance institutions are essential to maintaining the social control of capitalism for the benefit of the ruling class. British banks such as Barclays, Lloyds TSB and RBS are also major investors in companies that extract and burn conventional and unconventional fossil fuels. While the economy is in crisis after the bailouts and austerity measures begin to bite we must ask: Why is it that elites are benefiting from the profits of destructive investments which are killing the planet all loaned with money they stole from the public in the first place?

This disastrous investment must stop because fuels such as coal and the tar sands will if fully exploited certainly lead to global climate catastrophe. The building of new coal power stations and the expansion of other polluting industries must also be stopped and existing plants decommissioned.

The exploitation of Coal, Tar sands, Oil and Gas affects the health and environments of communities the world over, often causing militarization and conflict. Many are resisting this locally and finding solidarity globally, the climate justice movement works in solidarity with these struggles against these corporations for direct community and worker control.
Direct community and worker control being not only the ultimate goal of the anarchist movement but also, as I've argued previously, the only way to seriously combat climate change. This cannot happen overnight, but only through serious efforts to educate, agitate, and organise.


There was a day out from Climate Camp to Cousland on 21 August to participate in Growing Resistance, an event organised by Coal Action Scotland in solidarity with Communities Against Airfield Open Cast.
Report from the Growing Resistance event.


On Sunday, several hundred climate campers, including lots in 'greenwash guerilla' outfits took a stroll across the bridge from the camp and into the grounds of RBS Headquarters. Undeterred by police attempts to keep them on the climate camp side of the bridge, a large number of activists reached the RBS HQ, where it appears that balloons full of molasses (dirty oil) were catapaulted at the building, a couple of windows got broken and some activists may have got onto the roof (unconfirmed).


Monday's Day of Action saw campers taking diverse actions against RBS and other connected climate criminals. Five activists were arrested following an occupation, lock-on and banner drop at the headquarters of Forth Energy in Leith, protesting against the company's plans for four biomass power stations. In Edinburgh, a giant pig delivered and spilt a large quantity of 'oil' at the entrance of oil prospectors Cairn Energy, with more sprayed onto the walls; several branches of RBS also received attention.
In themselves, these actions have done nothing but cause some inconvenience to RBS and good copy for the media. The "climate justice movement" is not a big one, and its hestures are often tokenistic. Moreover, being an extremely broad-based movement, it is unable to build momentum based on class struggle.

In short, it holds lofty and admirable goals at its core, but is doing little more than tread water.

This is not to say that actions such as Climate Camp are a waste of time and should be scrapped. Far from it. If we are to take that attitude, we might as well simply declare that we are fucked, wash our hands, and wait for disaster.

More constructively, we need to see this movement become more explicitly anti-capitalist. If that seems a strange statement, then it is down to a fundamental misunderstanding of what capitalism is.

As an article on Infoshop.org explains;
Capitalism is the name for an entire social order. It is not just an "economy." Thus, the international nation-state system is an integral part of capitalism, and has been from the very beginning. Capitalists took over the pre-existing state forms and turned them to their own ends, integrating them into their project of accumulating capital. The ability to make profit from privately owned productive properties would be impossible without the legal framework provided by governments, backed by police and military violence. Businesses and governments are in bed together, and have been for the past five hundred years (profit takers + politicians = capitalism). Yet even when a few climate justice activists do admit that capitalism has to be destroyed in order to stop global warming, they fail to note that states do too. Except for anarchists. 
Though the mission statement and press releases from Climate Camp hint at exactly this perspective, talking of the "political and economic power" that "lies at the heart of the problem," an anti-statist anti-capitalism is never explicitly laid out.

Indeed, as one commenter noted on Indymedia, "many come from an anarchist position, [but] others [come] from more mainstream (i.e. Labour, Conservative, and Liberal) positions." This limits the potential of the Camp to offer a genuinely anarchist perspective on the matter or to push for the kind of broader social movement neccesary to enact real change.

Indeed, the dilemma Adam Ford described a year ago still holds true;
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.
This sets green and black anarchism up for its own failure. 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.
Thus, a shift in focus is needed from the "lifestyle" of the Camp to germinating the ideas behind it amongst the working class. After all;
While capitalist ideas prevail amongst the working class, invasions of power stations are less direct action and more dramatic lobbying; ultimately impotent appeals to the government to see further than the short term bottom line, something it is organically incapable of doing.
Needless to say, overcoming this point will not be easy.

As the Infoshop article notes, effective and long-lasting action "will require an unprecedented, massive, global anti-capitalist (including an anti-statist) movement." Such a thing may be beginning to emerge, but it remains in its infancy. Susceptible to easy diversion along less radical paths.

In both action and dialogue, we need to fight to ensure that doesn't happen. In short, we need to turn direct action away from gesture politics and towards pushing more long-term change.