Pressure points in the pipeline

Letter by Cedric Knight, London

Milan Rai’s article ‘How to blow up a movement’ (PN 2667) prompted appreciative discussion in my local climate action group.

My impression is that almost all climate activists want to take the concerned majority of the public with them, and ideally involve those people who are currently disengaged – George Monbiot recently quoted an aim to have 25 percent of the population active on the environmental crisis. However, there is simultaneously widespread worry that existing strategies will not scale to have sufficient impact.

I may have misinterpreted some of the article’s points, for example about expectations activists might place on themselves. I haven’t actually read Andreas Malm’s treatise How to Blow Up a Pipeline (although I did watch the thriller of the same title!)

Chris Packham interviewed Malm for his documentary ‘Is It Time to Break the Law?’, broadcast on 20 September.

Malm argued for disrupting pipeline construction and operation, mentioning temporary shutdowns already happening in Portugal (presumably Sines gas pipeline, 13 May 2023; also actions in Germany in 2022); and also says there should be a ‘diversity of tactics’ and actions should be ‘precise’ in targeting elites and decision-makers, and claims to be only advocating for people to think about consequences and do what they are comfortable with. Whether or not the tactics are right or effective, this did not come across as undue moral pressure.

The article states ‘The question is not how we can inflict more damage on fossil fuel companies’, but how we can reduce carbon emissions, presumably thinking of physical damage to infrastructure.

However, it is justified to believe that the the main obstacle to resolving the second question has been the economic institutions mentioned in the first, so the ‘damage’ to be done is to self-interested corporations’ ‘social licence’ to operate.

It is necessary to highlight and curtail their malign political influence. So for example, the nonviolent ‘Oily Money Out’ action from 14-20 October in London has an appropriate target of an international oil finance conference.

On the other hand we do need to be careful how ‘tactics impact the wider movement’.

I still worry about newer campaigns’ ‘theory of change’: sometimes this is seemingly to encourage repressive anti-protest legislation so as to increase confrontation and thence popular support. This, to say the least, seems a high-risk and onerous commitment.

The overwhelming feeling is that we still haven’t found adequate and appropriate ‘pressure points’.