Monday, August 4, 2008

Three approaches to climate movement strategy

"To grow the movement is not simply a matter of rally after rally, or the single message of "climate emergency". If we want the government to reach a point of crisis, where ignoring climate change is causing them to be blocked at every point by protests and blockades and loss of support, the government has to start losing on projects like desal and freeways."



These are the notes used for a short presentation to the August 2 Climate Justice Seminar in Melbourne

I'd like to suggest 3 strategic approaches that different people in the movement are taking and examine them a little.

1. if you think the climate emergency is such a compelling idea that everyone will listen, the obvious thing to do would be to talk to politicians and major capitalists to convince them to fix it, because after all it's in their interests too. You just have to convince them to declare "climate emergency" and they will take care of it from there.

Of course it seems unlikely at this stage that people who spent most of the last twenty years denying that there was a problem will wake up overnight, which leads us to point 2.


2. If you think people in power are not likely to listen so quickly, you might want to organise protests and all sorts of radical and noisy stunts to grab their attention and make them see sense.

3. If you think that not enough of our rulers are likely to wake up in time to do anything useful, bearing in mind we have to get going on all this very soon, then options are more complicated. I guess I'm in this camp.

Essentially we need to replace the current people in power. Whether that means an election, or people seizing the whole economy off the private investors in a revolution, is secondary to the general idea. Certainly some of the ruling elite will come over to the side of saving the climate and some already have - Al Gore, Ian Dunlop. But we can't afford to assume that the current elite will save us.

The general outline of what needs to happen in this situation is to block the destructive projects that the current system is engaged in so that it is stonewalled and cannot function any more, and to simultaneously prepare the ideas that will guide a replacement government that can actually enact the appropriate measures for a climate emergency.

This "third option" actually includes the practical activities of the first two: public education (including lobbying where it's useful) and also the public protest of the second option. It's just that we have a different strategy guiding what we do.

We need to keep pumping out the information through media like the book climate code red and so on that can inform everyone from sympathetic politicians and CEOs all the way down the ladder to the working class.

We need to get everyone (at all levels) who is concerned to make that concern public and to take public action whether it be protests on the streets or motions in parliament oir whatever, and broadcast it so everyone can see who is getting stuff done, and who is stopping stuff from getting done.

I think the left needs to keep up the street pressure e.g. September protests and Walk Against Warming. We need to take this movement, as it grows, repeatedly into the community and into our strong areas like the unions. Not everyone will listen, e.g. pragmatists in the unions, but as the movement grows they will be forced to take notice.

To grow the movement is not simply a matter of rally after rally, or the single message of "climate emergency". If we want the government to reach a point of crisis, where ignoring climate change is causing them to be blocked at every point by protests and blockades and loss of support, the government has to start losing on projects like desal and freeways.

At that point, either the government decides to listen and do what we want, or they will collapse and we have the opportunity to put in a new government.

On this note, I want to suggest that we focus first on the desalination campaign. Certainly those campaigning against the Eddington review and the new coal power station need to keep going, but the desalination campaign is a unique opportunity.

  • It is backed by a very well mobilised community campaign already on the coast
  • It is a good opportunity to push a dual agenda of halting climate change and fighting for social justice (considering the likely price rises of water involved)
  • It is a good lead-in to campaigning against the HRL power station because the desal plant will use up to 40% of the power station's output.

It's too easy for inner city lefties to dismiss "rural" campaigns as being too single-issue focused, tainted by NIMBYs or whatever. This is an important campaign that we should get behind. FoE in the UK picks one of their local groups' campaigns out of a hat and brings the whole national organisation into supporting that. Instead of being dispersed over a lot of local campaigns that lose, they have begun winning some of these local campaigns. We can learn from this approach and use it to our advantage.

After the July 5 rally the organising committee is circulating a call for national protests around the spring equinox. I'd like to motivate that and that the desalination plant and the HRL power station are at the centre of whatever protest we organise.

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