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Archive for August, 2009

So it seems that after a flurry of activity for the climate swoop last week where climate activists met at six strategic locations before converging on Blackheath to set up this year’s Climate Camp the mainstream media have largely lost interest in events.

On the Guardian website today we have bibi van der Zee claiming that ‘Five days in and the campers admit things are a little boring – there are no more toilets to put up and the police have vanished. But a plan for direct action should put the zip back into things’

If you took reports like that seriously you would believe that essentially nothing has been going on at camp since the set up on Wedsnesday and Thursday last week. In fact the site has been awash with activity as the camp has hosted roughly 30-35 workshops a day in addition to the daily neighbourhood meetings.

These workshops have covered everything from creating bicycle powered sound systems to the science of climate change and the current state of geoengineering, from creating your own media to understanding the subtleties of carbon trading schemes, from communicating climate science to lay audiences to building your own wind turbines, from direct action and legal observer training to understanding the links between the arms trade and climate change, from consensus based decision making and direct democracy to creating biochar as a green energy source.

In fact there have been so many disparate workshops, seminars and debates that it would be impossible to to attend more than a fraction of them. Meanwhile, the small amount of mainstream media coverage still focusing on the camp (largely in the Guardian) sees the likes of Van der Zee moaning that the camp has come boring because there aren’t campers being beaten up by the police like at the G20. It truly indicates the sad state of corporate media when even the allegedly left wing papers are interested in issues only so long as they are presented with dramatic images of police attacking protesters.

Somewhat bizarrely in yesterday’s Observer Peter Beaumont claimed that ‘the protesters should spend more time convincing others that their actions are sound,’ it’s hard to understand what he believes the workshops on the science of climate change and the careful efforts of campers to provide factually accurate workshops which clearly delineate why they are involved in protesting around these issues, but somewhat unsurprisingly he fails to mention that any workshops are taking place, instead focusing on what he claims are Climate Camp’s ‘often hazy messages and complex inner negotiations.’ Quite how specifically targetting institutions such as the European Climate Exchange, Barclays Bank and Shell, while holding discussions and workshops which communicate precisely why these targets have been chosen can be understood as ‘hazy’ is somewhat beyond me. In fairness it merely appears to be another case of a lazy journalist writing poorly researched rubbish having been disappointed at the lack of sensationalist images of police fighting with protesters.

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Recently George Monbiot has been in the blogosphere for his exchange with Iam Plimer in which he joined the bastion of scientists, bloggers and journalists condemning Plimer’s recent book. Personally I found his debate with Paul Kingsnorth far more interesting,

Kingsnorth criticises Monbiot for seeking to create ‘Liberal Democracy 2.0′ arguing that

‘What we face is what John Michael Greer, in his book of the same name, calls a ‘long descent’ – a series of ongoing crises brought about by the factors I talked of in my first letter, which will bring an end to the all-consuming culture we have imposed upon the Earth. I’m sure ’some good will come’ from this, for that culture is a weapon of planetary mass destruction.’

Monbiot’s retort is that a series of crises would mean billions deaths and an immense amount of suffering, and that this scenario would likely see

‘instead of gathering as free collectives of happy householders, the survivors of this collapse will be subject to the will of people seeking to monopolise remaining resources. Thiswill is likely to be imposed through violence. Political accountability will be a distant memory. The chances of conserving any resource in these circumstances are approximately zero.’

Consequently Monbiot argues that

‘Strange as it seems, a de-fanged, steady-state version of the current settlement might offer the best prospect humankind has ever had of avoiding collapse. For the first time in our history we are well-informed about the extent and causes of our ecological crises, know what should be done to avert them and have the global means – if only the political will were present – of preventing them.’

Of the two perspectives pertaining to the probable and possible outcomes for humanity in the medium term future I would say that I more closely associate with Monbiot’s position of remaining hopefull despite mounting evidence that climate change will create massive detrimental impacts to civilisation as we know it.

Similarly I consur with Monbiot that the likely consequences of inaction are widening global inequalities, which under the current geopolitical climate of nationalism and antagonism fuelled by a neo-liberal drive for competition and self-interest will likely translate into war between nation states for resources, the collapse of social welfare where it does currently exist and a vast amount of suffering for billions. I also agree that this kind of scenario would not represent a positive development.

Where I feel that I differ from both authors however is in the framing of the debate itself. Civilisations are not static objects which can be saved (preserved intact) or destroyed (completely) as some kind of binary pair, they evolve as dynamic processes dependent on a multitude of factors. This means that the actions we take now are relevant as these actions will have an effect on which of the many potential futures we realise. The more sustainable technologies are developed and implemented, the more ghg emissions are cut, the more social solidarity and a sense of community, both locally and globally are constructed in the here and now, the better the prospects for the future will be. The difference may only be a small one, but that will largely depend on how many people decide to actively engage with the problem – larger actions now mean better conditions for the future.

Even if the future looks decidely gloomy, and both Monbiot and Kingsnorth argue that they are, the actions of people today still has some agency (not the myth of unilateral control Kingsnorth critiques, but an active factor in a dynamic causal network) in deciding what the future will be like. While individually our actions are only minutely consequential, collectively they can be massive. That is why I believe in building networks of change from the grassroots up.

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Having mounted a public relations campaign in an attampt to restore the image of the met after the G20 debacle, the police have decided to codename their operation for this year’s Climate Camp Operation Bentham.

The operation’s moniker is a reference to the English social theorist and philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Bentham’s most frequently used concept is that of the panopticon.  The panopticon is essentially a prison where the inmates are constantly aware that they may be under surveillance but cannot know whether anyone is actually watching. Consequently they are forced to act as though they are constantly being surveyed and so internalise the process of surveillance .

The concept of the panopticon was utilised by French theorist Michel Foucault as a metaphor for modern ‘disciplinary socities.’ With the police using badge sized cameras to record activists alongside the report that all campers are to be photographed by the police, we shall wait and see whether the police tactics do indeed revolve around creating an Orwellian situation of self-censoring activists

Alternatively, if the Police do adopt a far more relaxed and less confrontational attitude towards Climate Camp, it will hopefully mean that the huge amount of media attention generated by the camp will actually focus on the issues the camp campaigns around, the workshops meetings and debates which happen at the camp, the array of sustainable technologies used by the camp, the consensus based direct democracy practiced by the camp, all of which has been sadly lacking in the coverage of Climate Camps at Kingsnorth and the G20.

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