This week I spent a glorious evening attending a small but perfectly formed meeting to discuss Climate Justice. It was never going to be a mass gathering, the subject matter appearing at first glance both too high-minded and too challenging. For most, the rigours of work and domestic demands are far too engrossing to allow for a period of reflection on “Big Picture” stuff.
I cannot portray the level of hope I gained there. I came away elated. A dozen activists, reasoned and assertive, informed and rational. But most of all, mostly young, with four engaged participants under the age of 21 and clearly practiced in deep thought and focussed action. Without betraying confidentialities, a 17-year old 6th form student offered a matter-of-fact picture of his entire cohort being politically engaged, climate aware and system-critical.
The discussions were so wide, exploratory and crucial that I wanted the meeting not to end. Reinvigorating is an understatement. The meeting opened with a reading from a short set of definitions of climate justice agreed by UNICEF. Crucially, “The climate crisis is the result of a system which prioritises profit over sustainability…the world’s richest 10% are responsible for 50% of greenhouse gas emissions and the poorest 50% are only responsible for 10% despite population and energy consumption increasing.”
The 17-year old already knew well the requirement for reparations from the early-industrialised North to the Global South. There can be no solution to the deepening climate catastrophe without that happening. A young woman student interrogated the United Nations-sponsored evidence that 90% of those most impacted by current climate change are women. It became clear that the global oppression of women left most with the responsibility of family and child-rearing, managing conditions of systemic discrimination and abuse alongside the day-long material horrors of food shortages, insecure housing and repeated displacement.
This spun the conversation sideways into an examination of the United Nations itself. 192 nations making policies based upon both the lowest-common-denominator and the imperialist powers exerting political censorship in their own interests. Those at the top distorting and obfuscating all facts, whether on the rights of Palestinians or the IPCC scientific reports on just how bad the climate emergency actually is.
The discussions clearly related oppression to exploitation, both of people and the ecology. It was wholly unnecessary for the seasoned adults in the room to raise the issue of the inequities of social class society. The corruption of the political class, and the anti-human and uncaring domination of the mighty corporations were exposed, in quiet but clear voices, by the young.
And they voiced their hopes and aspirations. This juxtaposition between full acknowledgment of the coming societal turmoil and the drive to live full lives, to continue to learn and have agency, was inspiring. I joined a small group where a young man who works in Aldi explained in detail the strengths and weaknesses of online media in this age of corporate-sponsored fake news. I was enthralled.
He could not only see through the misinformation but has a critical method for sifting facts from lies.
At the same time, another young woman student identified the immense pressures of life today, and we discussed how to stay solid, composed and focussed – how to care for ourselves so as not to go under. There was a draft of chilling emotional distress pervading the room.
There was also ready acknowledgment of the resulting use of social opiates to manage the dystopia, offered to keep us from engaging with society. From drugs through to online gaming and TicToc, we are constantly and consistently distracted from immersing ourselves in the real human society. It’s part of what keeps the billionaires in power, we all agreed.
The nuances of divide-and-rule were examined, the racism, weaponisation of gender and current “culture wars”. Class unity was valued. And more, the crucial recognition that this is an irreconcilably polarised society, and indeed world, between ultimately the two Great Classes, the producers on the one side and “profiteers” – owners of Capital – on the other, working class and ruling class, proletariat and bourgeois. There is a class war, the intensification of which is inevitable as society strains to the disruption caused by unpredictable extreme weather events.
We all shared much the same moral codes and ethics. How much high-mindedness changes anything was up for debate. Indeed, if you are not anxious in this era of human history you’re probably not looking. We shouldn’t be required to remain chilled or passive. The debate developed about the role of anger. I confided that I found it difficult to look at any aspect of Capitalist society without feeling and expressing anger. Surprisingly, no-one felt anger to be a negative emotion. It just requires focus and collective expression so as not to eat the individual alive.
The personal disclosures raised the question of the power of the individual and strength of the collective. To what extent do individual acts, for example being a vegan or boycotting dairy, really matter. There was an absence of belief, even by the vegans in the room, that individual acts change society. These personal choices simply help self-management and positive self-image. Those in their teens observed that “telling people” not to do this or that usually promoted the opposite response. This is not a time to be dictated to. Quite the opposite, this is the time of individual agency within a collective enterprise. There was general consensus that there can be no consensus. There are sides to be taken, with the very real threat that if our side doesn’t get organised for the protection of people and planet, there shall be fascism – the social organisation of humanity with no care for the individual, only pursuit of tyrannical national and racial domination.
And so we need organisation. We need to join together, debate our differences, share our strengths and, above all, act in unity to change society. I had declared my identification with Marxism and Trotskyist organisation at the very beginning of the meeting in order to avoid hidden agendas or accusations of manipulation. I remained unchallenged, perhaps out of politeness but I don’t think so. Those attending had no time for half-measures or niceties.
The penny has dropped for a new generation. There can no more business as usual. Things will not stay the same. Indeed, our facilitator closed the meeting with this observation, “the world is changing every day, it always is. Nothing stays still. The question is what drives the change that happens, and what should we do to make the change we dream of?”
Tomorrow isn’t written. But there are patterns that predict some of what is likely. The most conscious amongst the young, (and they are in the majority) know much of what is to be faced. Fast-accelerating climate change is bringing mass injustice to the fore: war (both global and civil); rationing (self-imposed as well as dictated by availability); oppression (by the top onto the bottom); and system change (either imposed or won).
However bad it all seems, another world is possible. The only question is, Who’s World? Let’s make it ours. It’s never too late and anyway, every generation has had to fight for their future.