Climate change has revolutionary potential

Thousands of people will be marching in London today to put pressure on political parties before the general election, and raise the profile of climate change. Tabitha Spence discusses how the movements against climate change open up a space to for wider radicalisation

Photo: amdc101/

Photo: amdc101/

Nothing today reinforces the urgency for an alternative system more than the climate crisis, since the current system is undermining the very conditions of existence for many species, including billions of our own.

While climate change is the greatest threat that has ever faced humanity, it could also opens up the clearest opportunity to remake our world into one that is just, humane and democratic. As climate scientist Kevin Anderson put it last year, “after two decades of bluff and lies, the remaining 2°C budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony.”

Socialism can act as a horizon to give us orientation for the kind of world to aim for, but doing politics requires concrete demands in the here and now that can bring people together and begin to change what is within the realm of possible. Activists are showing that we already have alternatives, for example in the demand for climate jobs. They are deploying a diversity of tactics, ranging from the creative, like the oil–slicked ‘orgy’ protest against UCL’s links to BP and Shell, to the militant, like blockades of fracking sites. They act inorder to shed light on the complicity of institutions in wrecking the planet and demand that they stop investing in, funding, or accepting money from fossil fuel companies.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the privatization of everything is part of the processes perpetuating inequality, eroding civil liberties, locking countries into debt and people into crushing austerity, and undermining the ecological system. Recent attempts by the police to restrict public protests to those who can pay for private traffic management firms has further solidified links between the climate movement and other struggles. The March 7th Time to Act National Climate March will go ahead without paying, with a multitude of blocs representing a variety of voices and highlighting the interlinked nature of these issues. The shared goal of building a better society is bringing different struggles together to form a larger movement.

The COP21 meeting in Paris in December is a crucial moment in strengthening this movement. After the lessons of Copenhagen in 2009, many people no longer have faith that our voices are likely to mean more to the decision-makers than the flow of oil-saturated money inside the negotiation hall, and this time the slogan is “don’t trust the COPs”. But there will be a show-down in the lead-up to Paris, and, crucially, after the climate talks are over.  We’re talking about simultaneous dispersed actions around the world (like university occupations), masses converging on Paris, alternative summits, decentralized direct actions targeting key institutions (as part of the Climate Games) and mass actions before and after the COP.

The climate movement is beginning to focus on shifting the dominant narrative more broadly to discuss how the world operates, who benefits, and about what kind of world we really want to live in.

We have seen the dominant discourse around climate change in much of the world move from debating whether climate change was even happening, and if so, whether it was human induced, to discussions about individual carbon footprints and how to reduce one’s personal carbon guilt, to a market opportunity, in which companies were ‘green washed’ and people argued a carbon market would save the day.

Today we are working to move beyond these diversions to render visible what is really happening. The slogan “system change, not climate change” is emblematic of the recognition that the same paradigm that brought this problem about cannot solve it. Truly confronting climate change will necessitate a drastic reconfiguration of power dynamics.

What we are witnessing is the opening of a space to talk openly about capitalism as incompatible with a livable and just world. What many on the left have understood all along is now beginning to be more common in public discussions about climate change, at least in part due to people like Naomi Klein’s popularising and framing these questions for the public. And in pushing the discourse around what actually needs to be done, that it’s not just about transforming the energy system, the movement is shedding a light on the need for a new, collective form that entails rational economic  planning unbound by the irrational fetters of the bottom line. We don’t know exactly what that system would look like or how exactly we can get there, but not trying or debating alternatives would only be an option if the stakes weren’t so high.

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