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Articles from the Peace News log: Climate Change

Articles from the Peace News log.
For articles in this category from the whole site, look here

Cedric Knight comments on Theo Simon's recent piece on Extinction Rebellion.


I hope to join at least some Extinction Rebellion events. I'd like to add further cautions, though, that aren't in any way meant to reduce enthusiasm but might affect tactics as regards communication, prompted partly by the talk by Dr Gail Bradbrook on the XR website. I'm a layperson but familiar with some of the climate science (less of the general ecology), and also some of the debates in science communication. In brief, we need to reflect the science accurately but also make those dispassionate facts emotionally meaningful by expressing our own reactions and the values we have in common with our audience, and present positive political and personal options that people can be inspired by and work towards. Climate Outreach's guidance warns that many people are turned off by pictures of demonstrations as well as pictures of polar bears, although this is social science research and a lot of it is uncertain and conditional.

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Theo Simon responds to Gabriel Carlyle's recent article.


Gabriel's Peace News piece, “Why I'm sceptical about the Extinction Rebellion initiative (and why I hope I'm wrong)”,  contained some really interesting and valuable insights for structuring political  campaigns, but I think it missed the point entirely about what the Extinction Rebellionrepresents.

This isn't a campaign, it's an alarm.  We’re not trying to build fire-safety awareness and improve the provision of emergency exits - we’re trying to evacuate a burning theatre.

Some of us, myself included, have perhaps been aware of the unfolding eco-crisis for so long that we’ve grown acclimatized to it. We’ve seen the window of opportunity that a growing green awareness has opened, but forgotten that it is a time-sensitive, closing window. With every hour that passes the opportunities for survival have been shrinking, and the corrective measures required have become more drastic.

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If Extinction Rebellion plans to gradually build capacity for its big demands by winning smaller-scale victories then why has it launched itself with (apparently) no indication as to what these smaller-scale wins are going to be?


Melburnians at the March for Science on April 22, #Earthday2017. Image: Takver via Wikimedia Commons.

Lots of people seem to be very excited about Extinction Rebellion (XR)’s ‘declaration of rebellion’ and its plans to ‘bring large parts of London to a standstill [later this] month’ to push its three big demands on climate change.

The issue could hardly be more important, a lot of effort appears to be going into XR, and hundreds of people are apparently fired-up and committed to engaging in civil disobedience over climate change. This is both impressive and commendable.

And yet, I have to say – as someone who has been involved in organising and taking part in acts of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience for over 20 years – that I’m highly sceptical about this initiative.

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An important perspective on last November's 'People's March for Climate, Justice and Jobs'

The Department for Energy and Climate Change was renamed the 'department for extreme climate change' as COP21, the UN climate negotiations, opened in Paris.

Christian climate action in LondonFive Christian climate protestors were arrested in Whitehall on 30 November for protesting against government hypocrisy on climate change, which they called a 'climate whitewash'. The five, from Christian Climate Action, were arrested for criminal damage after writing in whitewash and black paint on the wall of the DECC (department for energy and climate change). They said 'underneath the hypocritical whitewash of fine talk on climate, are DECC policies that lead to death.'

The five, acting on the first day of the Climate summit in Paris, arrived at the DECC wearing white paint suits with 'DECC' on them. They delivered a letter to Amber Rudd, the energy secretary, prayed and stood with a skeleton and a 'whitewashed tomb' outside, before whitewashing the wall, and painting in black letters, 'Dept for Extreme Climate Change' on the wall of the DECC. (Jesus, in Matthew 23:27, says: 'Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.')

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The G8 summit in 2005, praised for 'Making Poverty History', was a cynical sham. How can we prevent the Paris climate talks following the same path?

ImageThe climate negotiations in Paris in December are shaping up to be an orgy of self-congratulation for the great powers, as they trumpet pledges to reduce their carbon emissions. There's a real risk that an inadequate - and non-binding - deal will nevertheless be represented as ʻsolvingʼ the problem of climate change.

Thereʼs an ominous parallel here with the 'Make Poverty History' campaign 10 years ago. The mass media projected the impression that global poverty was on the way out, because of pledges made at a G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005. This picture of the G8 agreements was reinforced by some figures at the centre of the Make Poverty History campaign itself, and even more by British rock star Bob Geldof, who organised a series of 'Live 8' concerts in support of the campaign.

The Make Poverty History campaign officially demanded: the cancellation of the debt of the poorest 62 developing countries; the doubling of aid, with G8 countries committing 0.7% of national income; and trade justice between the North and the Global South.

Debt cancellation was the most successful area. As is well-known, the G8 cancelled the World Bank and IMF debts of 18 of the world's poorest countries (the number grew after the summit).

What is less-well-known is that the debt cancellation came with a neoliberal agenda. Only countries which completed the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative qualified for debt cancellation under the Gleneagles agreement.

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Climate change and capitalism: Six points of view

PN: In your view, can we halt runaway climate change without overthrowing capitalism?

GC: I hope so – because if we can’t then it looks like we’re well and truly stuffed.

PN: Why?

GC: I think the burden of proof is on those who say that we can’t – not least because if they’re right then this severely limits the range of strategies that it’s sensible to pursue.

Some activists simply assert that it’s impossible, as if it’s a self-evident truth.

Too often the train of thought appears to be: “Climate change is an immense systemic problem that’s very difficult to address, and which may even threaten the future of human civilisation as we know it, therefore we can’t deal with it without getting rid of capitalism”. That’s just a non sequitur.

By the same “logic”, fascism couldn’t have been defeated and the 1987 Montreal Convention [limiting the production and use of ozone-depleting chemicals] could never have been signed.

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Climate change and capitalism: Six points of view

PN: How do you see the relationship between capitalism and climate change?

CC: I think they’re inherently linked because capitalism can only exist with continual growth based on turning natural resources, i.e. bits of planet, into money. And the way it does that is by chopping it up, excavating it, turning it into product, burning it, disposing of it. Basically whatever it takes, we’ll degrade, and that leads to climate change.

PN: Can we stop runaway climate change without overthrowing capitalism or at least altering the way our economic system works?

CC: That’s a difficult question—I don’t think so, no. Whether we can stop it at all is another question.

PN: Well do you think we can?

CC: I don’t see any signs that we can. I don’t think we can. I think we can maybe try to mitigate its effects or make it go a bit slower until we can handle it better but no, I don’t think you can stop it now.

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Climate change and capitalism: Six points of view

PN: Can we halt runaway climate change without overthrowing capitalism?

BC: No, it’s impossible. Short answer. Well, I really don’t believe it’s possible at all, because, for a start, the way capitalism is set up is based on growth, and it would basically disintegrate without growing. And so, a planet is finite, and all the resources that capitalism depends on are finite, so it’s not going to last, it’s not sustainable. But before it’s actually stopped by the laws of the physics, it’s going to get as much out of it—it being the planet—as it can with no regard to the consequences for future generations, or current ones for that matter.

But I don’t think it stops there. I’m not proposing any sort of alternative like communism…. I believe that the problem lies with civilization in general, really. It’s based on getting resources out of the countryside into the cities, and it’s impossible to do that in a sustainable way. So to a large degree, the problem started a lot longer ago than capitalism did.

PN: So in your opinion a civilization divorced of capitalism would still inevitably lead to the degradation of the environment?

BC: Yeah, because capitalism seems to be the most efficient way of getting stuff out of the ground and burning it up…but the domination of nature started with agriculture ten thousand years ago and the domination of nature is always going to lead to the degradation of nature because we’ve sort of taken ourselves out of the web of connectedness with beings that are alive.

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Climate change and capitalism: Six points of view

PN: In your view, can we halt runaway climate change without overthrowing capitalism as well?

PT: I think you’d have to take the first question, which is a quite valid one, which is: ‘can we halt runaway climate change.’ There are serious reasons to think that we won’t be able to and that we’re too late already…. It could be a more complex question in that, if we ever get into a situation in which something that dire is happening, we’ll be doing all sorts of things like geo-engineering solutions and stuff like that, all of which are likely to be very damaging in themselves.…

What is very clear is the moral imperative to try to stop it… With something so big and so calamitous, in a sense you might as well forget all the other struggles and moral questions and whatever that beset the world because if we don’t deal with the biggest problem it will lead to a kind of pervasive cynicism in dealing with anything.

When it gets to capitalism, as Campaign Against Climate Change, our organisation is focused on the climate change issue…. [Overthrowing capitalism] is not something the Campaign would identify itself with – or could. For me personally, I find that kind of thing is too vague to be useful really. What exactly does that mean? Because it’s too undefined to be useful, to be honest.

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