My recent discussions around Climate, through this period of mass protest that “Black Lives Matter”, have been tense. Meetings and online forums appear to be spinning in repetitive circles much like the swirling weather fronts rumbling across the Atlantic. The impasse created by, on the one side, COVID-19 Lockdown and on the other, spontaneous and death-defying outrage at State murder of people based upon their skin colour, appears to have rendered the Climate Movement almost paralysed.
As a microcosm of all that I have become abrupt and over-assertive (I hope not abusive) during online meetings where the same-old-same-old is being proposed, completely disregarding the febrile and era-announcing social upheavals taking place. The political tensions are enormous and raise the spectre that the status quo cannot hold. We have to push.
Our side must put actions before words, and yet, little is happening other than cleaning plastic from beaches and scrawling names of wild flowers on pavements, the best to save them from Roundup’s toxic glyphosphates. The analogy works out – if we don’t push forward with mass revolt to save the Planet and ourselves, we’ll succumb to being gassed, too.
So below is my response to a well-meaning and honest reformist seeking to build political alliances with local politicians in order to win change: cuts to emissions and the move away from the carbon economy. we share the sense of urgency but my impatience got the better of me and caused upset. For that, I’m sorry.
“Oh dear. I am in a state of almost constant heightened awareness/alert about “things climate”. I’ve read too much, and keep on doing so. My ancient optimism and long-lived positive outlook has been so deeply dented that I have developed an impatience not seen in earlier life. Perhaps I’m simply experiencing the inevitable “Victor Meldrew” grumpy-old-man syndrome. Every reflective experience is one of “Groundhog Day” – how many times must we go round the same discussions and arguments that have failed so dismally for decades? Rather than patiently explain myself, I’ve become snappy, and I sincerely apologise for that. My time with the local Extinction Rebellion Group allowed a completely fresh approach, consciously recognising that “the old ways hadn’t worked” and demanding direct action in order to challenge “The Power”. Along with the school student strikes enticed by Greta Thunberg, they worked. So much so that the conspiracy theorist would argue that the COVID-19 Lockdown was made-up in order to quash the revolt. I don’t think that for one moment, and in any case, as we see with Black Lives Matter worldwide, (or the Hong Kong revolts, or strikes in China) it hasn’t worked completely. Rather, there is a distinct confusion of direction. The protests had their time, so what’s next. And, as someone informed by the Climate Justice group, a radical international organisation engaging India and Africa, and the World Social Forum, an all-embracing global Movement of Movements, I see the debate as testing the most hardened campaigners worldwide. No-one has the answers. As I said at our Zoom meeting, the unquestionable science is of an acceleration of the indicators of climate collapse far beyond the computer models. 12 of the 16 measurements of environmental stability have now passed their tipping points. We’re on the brink. At the same time, there is a worldwide crisis of democracy, rendering the People’s voice and wishes redundant. It is not irrelevant to the discussions in small UK town like ours that there is a huge rise in the number of far-Right governments, oppressive in many ways but united in their Climate Denial. Local municipal political bodies, such as UK elected Councils, are also steeped in corruption and political dogma…and ours is no exception.So I’m over sensitive to reinventing the wheel, repeating the mantra, revisiting lost ground, rehearsing ancient plays (when there is contemporary art full of new forms available), or rolling that boulder back up the mountain side even one more time. The issue for me is the powerlessness of the people, and I get most cross whenever The People are blamed for not utilising the Power they don’t have. The argument of consumer power is the most pernicious. Only those with sufficient independent resources can afford to choose what and where to buy or boycott. The vast majority of us have limited means, our essential requirements owned and controlled in a wholly dictatorial mode (rented accommodation, price of foodstuffs, rate of pay for the job or level of Universal Credit, access to education, even access to healthcare despite the NHS – long ago stripped of any democratic control). The lack of resource is astounding, rendering half the population unable to live outside the very “Now” of life – looking back at our own history is too painful, and looking forward equally distressing – the poorest amongst us just have to get on with coping today, living for today in tiny bubbles of close-horizons and scrimped diet. Best not to think at all about reality, history or generations hence – best live in a dream of TV and drugs. The bottom 50% of UK society shares less than 20% of GDP, the poorest 20% have a disposable income as a household (not person) of less than £13k per year whilst the top 20% average £70k. One in three of our children live in poverty with precarious access to diet, housing, education and health. In the Western end of our poor City, the unskilled working class man has a life expectancy 15 years lower than his contemporary as a skilled male 2 miles to the East .And then there’s the media lies and propaganda concoctions that dull and divert public consciousness away from the things that matter. For example, were we to put a Press Release out today about methane release, our words would evaporate in front of the heat generated by the death of Dame Vera Lynn at 103 years old. More than 80% of all our media (on-and-offline) is owned by 5 individual billionaires who control the messages, to their own advantage, of course. The resulting broadcasts, so dull and banal that most don’t even listen, meaning the small nuggets of fact and reason that we manage to get through the censor’s net often falls on stony ground. So your proposal for mapping where the power lies is, for me, very straight forward but very little to do with seeking-out individual councillors in a rotten borough where Councillors have no freedom of thought or action from their Political Party’s contrived message for short-term electoral gain. We’ve done it to death, tested it to destruction, and by all that is sacred, its a tattered corpse. I’m personally averse to trying again, although I recognise that each generation has to test out afresh and learn the lessons for themselves. I simply wish we could better learn from history. What’ll it take? A critical mass of bodies heaped into death-defying action in the face of overwhelming odds, in a reckless and selfless bid for the survival of humanity in some form? Well, I’m not quite so pessimistic, nor a nihilist. There are uprisings, there is a developing consciousness in a proportion of the young, worldwide, that offers huge hope. And they are tearing down the statues. No more status quo. Not going through the same old rigmarole. Right now the Establishment are trying to incorporate as many of them as they can before they send in the politically-driven Police to round-up the doggedly non-compliant, but there is a huge Movement afoot. I refuse to become oppositionist against anyone trying to do anything towards human progress. But we each have only so much energy and mine is waning. Let a million flowers bloom. I simply cannot have faith in turning or replacing at least 26 local Councillors into hardened environmentalists who recognise that we must cut emissions drastically enough to ensure global cuts to production that result by 2030 in all oil being left in the ground and zero-emissions soon after. With our little town in poll position? Really? I think we need to shout the facts of science and offer symbols of the terrible impact of global heating now, in every way possible wherever we can, in public and with drama. We need to link with an international Movement of Movements to a point where workers collectively take strike action and close down the polluting and carbon-emitting workplaces and transform society root-and-branch. That’s why I like XR’s “speak Truth to Power” although my experience of that organisation (as with most) is the difficulty in determining whose “Truth” predominates. I prefer Facts. Let’s push the facts. Let’s bombard public discourse with climate facts. There’s tons. And tear down the symbols of fossil fuels. The final analysis, tho’, is that Oil and Capitalism are intrinsically linked and inseparable, just as is the System wholly reliant upon the institutional racism currently fomenting protest. I have to observe that you cannot end the one without ending the other. The challenge on all fronts is Capitalism as a System that can and must be replaced, and that means linking all the issues and movements in common cause, not deferring at all to the old structures.
Thanks for your tolerance. Lovely to talk. Love and Struggle, Tony