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Climate Change? What do we do now?

PN's Wales editor reflects on the UK climate change movement

Next month the Camp for Climate Action meets to discuss how we organise. Actually, the agenda will be much broader than process. At issue is not just how we do things but what we do. CCA is, of course, not unique in asking this question. Ever since the farce of COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 environmentalism – radical and reformist – has been virtually rudderless. Observing that ‘the process is dead’, George Monbiot asked the question directly: So, what do we do now? We do not have a proposal for how to proceed. With the exception of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, emanating from World People’s Conference on Climate Change in Bolivia, the environmental movement – if such a unity exists – has been losing ground fast. And, while the symbolism of the Declaration is significant, politically it hardly registered beyond a narrow margin.

I hope to be at the CCA gathering and it will, I know from experience, involve the deepest most difficult thinking by a highly committed and creative group of people. One thing I have learned from working collectively is that the gathering will surely come up with something better than this musing. That, said, I feel I can predict much of what we will decide, and in the process more ‘off the wall’ proposals may be lost. We will agree that the root cause of climate change is capitalism; that this is a struggle for social justice; we will refute corporate and state-based “solutions”. Some greener thinkers will ensure that a wider nature and environmental justice is included in any declaration. In all likelihood, we will restate our intention to take direct action against fossil fuel extraction and use, because that is literally what powers capitalism’s advance (sic) beyond global exploitation to global extermination. Perhaps we will even try to open up capitalism, to define what we mean, what exactly we oppose: If capitalism is the root cause of climate change, what is the root cause of capitalism? Again, almost undoubtedly, we will seize upon current protests against public sector cuts and increases in student fees in the UK as new allies.

All this makes rational, strategic sense, and unions such as the Public and Commercial Services Union have already linked their struggle to a green agenda, calling for the creation of ‘climate jobs’ in housing, public transport and renewable energy. My guess is, though, that our resistance will be simply too predictable. Can we think beyond resistance, beyond oppositional strategies, and come up with a proposal that outflanks even capitalism’s seemingly mythical ability to reinvent itself – actually to materially re-impose itself? Can we conceive a proposal that will loosen the political elite’s dead-hand grip on power? Easier said than done. But, if we have, as I believe, already moved beyond the possibility of mitigating climate change, then we should be the first to adapt, to adapt across the board – technically, economically, ethically… And, of course, politically.

Environmentalism has to help us make this shift, drawing on concepts like diversity, dissenus and irrationality (usually labelled spirituality). Echoing Talking Heads, we should stop making sense – at least insofar as what we believe makes sense has been shaped by the brutal nonsense of the world in which we live. We should reject this history, but also not look to the future: Between Apocalypse and Ecotopia is only numbing habit and bloody upheaval that is no emancipatory social change at all. If the process is dead, it is because the rationality which we thought underpinned it is also dead. Or rather, rationality has no meaning when it encounters the social architecture of neoliberal capitalism and western models of democracy: We are sustaining the unsustainable and embracing that contradiction. If making sense mattered a jot, all the arguments would be won and we, the people, would be participating in power as stewards for distant others in space and time. So, now is the moment to be unreasonable and focus not on optimal solutions but on emotional relationships with others, including a wider nature, and on living with crisis; living in the moment and building community.

Does this mean we give up on politics? No, it means practicing a prefiguratiive politics – being the change we want to see. But it also means, as Paul Chatterton has put it, ‘learning to walk with others on uncommon ground’. To reject rationality and strategy is not to enter some postmodern political vacuum. Rather it is to enter a space of infinite relational possibility. There is an unknown world out there, a world whose voice is never heard – an ‘other’ world that has been ignored as rationality constructed a world of hierarchy, capitalism, climate change, institutionalised violence and crises; an other world that is not reflected in our statistics, in what we accept as facts or truths. Even as we constructed our epistemologies, our ways of knowing, we knew nothing from this other world. We need to engage with the non-voter, the non-reader, the non-participant in the society that is, looking to increase the diversity of our relationships but seeking dissensus not consensus. An embrace of irrationality cannot be an attempt to recruit; it is not pretended. More than anything, what we must seek is a new version of ourselves, an other who understands the irony of our current predictable resistance, a resistance that serves to co-construct our continued subjection; an other whose response to any appeal to reason is a belly-laugh.

Acknowledgments: Apart from those commentators mentioned, my thanks to Michael Albert, David Harvey, Doreen Massey, and the students at the Centre for Alternative Technology whose proposals – or knowledgeable lack thereof – I have been lucky enough to hear lately.

Kelvin Mason is PN's Wales Editor.

Topics: Strategy