We asked MCFly reader “shakkka” to tell us what she thought about the past, present and future of non-violent direct action on climate change. Here’s what she sent us. (We’re publishing this today to mark this.)
As Paul Mason said in his 2011 blog post, it’s “kicking off everywhere”[i], and that can be applied to virtually any scale; globally with the various ‘Springs’ (from the Arab spring has sprung – excuse the pun – numerous movements including the latest, ‘Maple’ Spring relating to student protests in Quebec); nationally with anti-austerity and anti-cuts campaigns as seen particularly last winter; and locally on a host of fronts.
Amongst all of this oppositionary, and often radical, clamour, it seems that climate activism has lost some of the voice it had gained over the past few years. People are focussing more on their immediate present, with economic hardship being top of most priority lists. The widespread resistance to government austerity measures and the riots last August perfectly demonstrate this, though in contrasting ways.
In the most recent generation of climate activism, it seems to me that the ‘Golden Era’ of a radical Climate Camp and a high profile, influential Plane Stupid has passed its peak. Several events stand out in my memory of the period; the 2007 Heathrow and 2008 Kingsnorth Climate Camps; Plane Stupid actions at Manchester in 2007, Stansted in 2008 and Aberdeen in 2009; the beginning of the No Third Runway campaign[ii] which has continued into the incredible project that is Grow Heathrow [iii].
Perhaps my view is guided by the fact that the start of this period coincided with my radicalisation and introduction to the activist world, as well as the fact that I have spent a lot of time in London, but I think the lull before the recession provided the perfect conditions for climate conditions to gain a footing in public awareness. Loath as I am to admit it, it is cool to be Green, especially amongst the readership of the Guardian, and although that doesn’t directly imply nor incite activism, it opens up new avenues of acceptance and support. Most climate demos attract publicity in sympathetic media outlets like Indymedia[iv] (which is a grassroots, independent and non-corporate network), though events such as the over-policing of the 2008 Climate Camp or G20 reached more mainstream news, thus upping the profile of climate activism.
Different things have changed since that peak; climate issues are still important but they hold less sway, particularly outside of the affluent, middle-class sectors of society. It is much to my disdain that the ‘scene’ remains hopelessly inaccessible to outsiders at times, as well as often being very white and middle-class. I think that is something that has to change if climate issues are to be linked up with other struggles – which has to happen – because without those connections, we are unlikely to succeed. The recession and slow realisation that the banking system and capitalism is flawed changed things, as every newspaper became clogged with dire economic forecasts and people put their hands back into their pockets. The resulting cuts enforced by the Coalition government diverted attention onto problems of student fees, cuts to EMA, the NHS and benefits. People have reason to be angry about a multitude of other things now.
It almost seems like climate activism, spurred by NVDA groups like Plane Stupid or Climate Rush, was big while we could afford to focus on it, because activism takes time, and time means money.
Climate change is inexorably linked to capitalism, and to economics, and to labour, and to development, and to politics, and to an infinite number of other things – ultimately there is huge scope for activism and particularly NVDA to be connected with whatever inspires and engages people. It’s easy to see how anti-airport expansion and anti-cuts movements are related for instance, but the link between climate and the concerns of the majority of people who aren’t involved needs to be dissected.
A fresh wave of anger and discontent looks set to tip the scales; Plane Stupid and Climate Rush recently occupied Southend Airport[v] and as Transition Heathrow faces eviction next month[vi], it appears as if NVDA and climate activism are creeping back up the agenda. Watch this space.
A note on the title of this blog post; it was chosen by a MCFly editor, not the author of the post.