Posted by keith on August 26th, 2009
I find myself a little confused, not for the first time admittedly. Having just come back from a wonderful direct action and environmental information camp in the English Lake District, replete with thoughts of anarchy (proper anarchy, that is) and a future that we have to make our own, the news is now full of London Climate Camp 2009 which appears to be assembling at the scene of the 14th century Peasant’s Revolt, Blackheath in south-east London. Wat Tyler would have approved of the location, but would he have approved of the motivation?
I spoke to a fair number of people last week who were intending to go to London Climate Camp, most of whom I would consider to be anarchists (“anarchist” simply means “one who has no leaders” : any other definition must be taken with a big pinch of salt) and most of whom were pretty excited about going. This made me feel better about Climate Camp than I had in the past: they had no intention of watering down their ideas. But this must be tempered with the fact that many people who attended the last summer Climate Camp were certainly not radical, and spoke at length about the need to engage politicians and work to help corporations become greener(!)
BBC Radio 5Live featured a few interviews from Climate Camp attendees this morning, one of whom called himself “Oscar” (actually, it’s probably his real name). Oscar found himself in the apparently uncomfortable position of having to defend actions that would potentially affect people’s “legal right to work” (the presenter’s words, not his). Unfortunately, rather than take the magnificent opportunity to decry the entire industrial capitalist machinery that is progressively destroying every aspect of the global ecosystem in the pursuit of profit — and which most of the people who are “legally” working are playing a very active part in — he proceeded to apologise to those people who would be affected, and then stumbled into a description of why climate change is a serious issue.
It would be unfair of me to single out Oscar, after all he was probably one of many people put forward for interview, but his words are deeply resonant of the environmental mainstream, not any radical form of environmental activism. If a camp is to be about taking action to prevent climate change then it needs to take action against the root cause of the problem, not scratch at the surface of our cultural concrete overcoat.
I don’t say this as an unqualified armchair observer: I have taken part in many actions on behalf of groups like Greenpeace, Campaign Against Climate Change and Friends of the Earth, and seen f-all result from them, even the ones that appeared to be fairly radical at the time. The reason for this is because the environmental mainstream are utterly petrified of facing up to the reality of the problem: the ubiquitousness and all-pervasive nature of the industrial economy.
So where does that leave Climate Camp?
At best, it is a place for people to meet, discuss the things that are upsetting and angering them and, for a good few of them, become radicalised against Industrial Civilization, understanding that nothing in the industrial system should be trusted nor accepted as a way forwards. I have no doubt that some of the people attending will already be radicals and anarchists, and they may help guide more mainstream activists towards actions that are more effective in undermining the industrial system. That said, Climate Camp is not, directly at least, a threat to the industrial system.
At worst, Climate Camp will reinforce the mainstream belief that it is possible to create change through existing means — political lobbying and campaigning, symbolic protest (such as banner drops and office invasions), public engagement and so on — and so ensure that those people who might have become radicalised remain deeply entrenched in a “softly softly” mindset. Meanwhile, the (largely symbolic) direct actions continue to emanate from the camps, giving the activists the impression that they are making a real difference.
I don’t know how this one is going to pan out, nor does anyone else; my guess is that it will fall somewhere between the two, but it would be nice to think that something really good could come out of Climate Camp, rather than just a load of placards and pro-consumer platitudes.