Climate protests – a breath of fresh air

‘We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.’

– Greta Thunberg, founder of the Global Youth Strike for Climate

According to a report published by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October 2018, global emissions will need to reduce by 50% within 12 years if temperature rises are to be kept below the tipping point of 1.5°C. The UN Paris agreement requires signatory states to keep the global temperature increase ‘well below’ 2°C (3.6°F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. Crucially, however, there is no mechanism that forces a country to set a specific target by a specific date. The only requirement is that each target should go beyond previously set targets. The urgent need to reduce carbon emissions has inspired millions of people, many of them young and completely new to politics, to protest on the streets as it becomes clear that traditional politics has failed. Sam Vincent reports.

Youth Strike for Climate Justice

On Friday 15 March, 1.6 million school students, in 2,000 cities and 125 countries around the world participated in the global youth strike for climate justice. Skipping school and protesting on the streets, these young people were calling out the complacency of the UN and its member states in the face of undeniable evidence that the Earth is set for climate breakdown.

16-year-old Greta Thunberg started the Strike for Climate during the 2018 general election in Sweden. Responding to drought and wildfires in the country, Thunberg began her strike alone, protesting outside the Swedish Parliament every day between 20 August and 9 September 2018. School students across the globe began organising similar pro-tests, with strikes taking place in 270 cities to coincide with the United Nations climate change conference in Poland (COP14) in early December 2018. The strikes now have mass international mobilisations each month. In Britain the protests are organised by Youth Strike 4 Climate (YS4C), which demands the government declare a climate emergency, systematically educate young people about the urgency of the climate crisis and lower the voting age in Britain to 16.

At the 15 February YS4C strike in London, RCG supporters spoke to crowds outside Downing Street about the example of Cuba, where the voting age is already 16, with its planned socialist economy, and its achievement as the only country in the world recognised by the WWF as having achieved sustainable development. Our mess-age was well-received because the young people drawn into this movement can see the capitalist system has no solutions to the climate crisis.

Greta Thunberg herself is clear in this regard; addressing the delegates of the COP14 meeting she said:

‘Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money.... We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself.’

Extinction Rebellion

Alongside YS4C, Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a protest group that has also drawn in tens of thousands of people around the country. Sup-porters use tactics of civil dis-obedience, blocking roads and bridges and occupying buildings to cause disruption and draw attention to climate change. XR also has three demands: that the government tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, that it enacts legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025, and also calls for a national Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes.

RCG comrades attended the first XR ‘Rebellion Day’ in London on 17 November 2018. Refreshingly, there was an open platform where anyone could speak and share ideas. We talked about the international and class dimension of the fight for the climate. While imperialist countries profit the most from environmental plunder, less developed countries will suffer the most detrimental effects. The openness of the movement is a breath of fresh air in the stale atmosphere of the British left, dominated as it is by the facile call to just ‘Kick the Tories Out’ and its belief that the Labour Party is a progressive force.

XR allows anyone who supports the aims of the movement to sign up and start organising themselves. This has led to the rapid formation of new XR groups across the country. People who are completely new to politics, especially young people, are joining at a rate where it is not possible for the opportunist left to dominate or take over. Despite this ostensibly open structure, the core of XR is a small group of activists from the campaign group Rising Up. According to its plan, if 3.5% of the population actively rebel – ie, support non-violent direct action in one way or another – then the government will have to listen and give in to demands. Its principles and values stress a commitment to non-violence, which means ‘that in all situations we stay respectful towards police and the people in power and don’t resort to blaming and shaming individuals’, so that XR can provide ‘space for the people in power to more easily defect and come out in support of the movement.’ In relation to the police, Nigel Hallam, one of XR’s founders, claims

‘As soon as you don’t talk to police, you’re more likely to provoke police violence. We try to charm the police so they’ll arrest people in a civilised way. The Metropolitan Police [in London] are probably one of the most civilised police forces in the world. They have a professional team of guys who go to social protests.’

This ignores the experience of black and Asian youth targeted for stop and search by the Met: it is and always has been a brutal and racist force.

Capitalism means extinction

People in power, those who are part of or who represent the capitalist class are not going to defect in the way XR imagines. Capitalism has as its sole aim and end the accumulation of capital. ‘Accumulate! Accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets’, Marx said. Capitalism’s very nature requires it to break every fetter on its expansion. In its imperialist stage, it depends on the looting and plunder of the less-developed nations for its survival. The enormous environmental destruction it has wreaked on the poorer countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America is testament to imperialism’s predatory character. This tendency towards barbarism is even more accentuated in the conditions of global crisis in which we live today. It cannot obtain the levels of profits that it needs to survive without more carbon emissions, not less. Any attempt to seriously reduce carbon emissions represents an unacceptable fetter. To resolve its crisis, capitalism will accelerate environmental destruction and global warming, whatever the honeyed words of its political representatives. That is why capitalism means extinction for humanity.

Earth Strike

Another movement, Earth Strike, understands this. Present in 60 countries, its aim is to prepare for a global general strike starting on 27 September. It dismisses the attitude that changes in individual consumption are key, and opposes ‘embarking on campaigns against tiny issues of consumption’, adding that ‘Earth Strike recognises that the time for this is long past, and our real target is not the consumers, but the institutions of production.’ It does not permit ‘alignment with, or sympathy for hateful, bigoted, or reactionary ideology, politics or actions. This includes: homophobia, transphobia, white supremacy, ethnonationalism, imperialism.’ It makes no demands on the tactics or approach that local Earth Strike organisations must adopt so long as they conform to the aims and basic principles of solidarity – in particular, it does not stipulate any respect either for the representatives of the ruling class or the police. It is anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist.

Socialism key to survival

While capitalism is intent on destroying humanity, Cuba is showing that it is possible to meet the needs of ordinary people in an ecologically sustainable way:

Cuba is a world leader in organic sustainable farming. 70% of the vegetables consumed in Havana are produced by cooperative farmers within the city.

A reforestation programme that began in 1998 means that 30.6% of land in Cuba is now forest.

In 2005, energy-saving light bulbs were installed in every household on the island, delivered to the door free of charge as part of a government initiative.

Cuba now produces 400,000 cubic metres of biogas annually – eliminating three million tons of carbon emissions.

State ownership and central planning, alongside a grassroots system of participatory democracy, allow a rational allocation of resources for the benefit of the population’s collective interests.

Building a movement

Anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism represent the essential political basis for a movement against climate change. The disastrous effect of Cyclone Idai in Southern Africa, the drought conditions in Central America driving subsistence farmers off the land to migrate to the US, the desertification of parts of Africa because monoculture driven by agribusiness multinationals, all show that the poorest countries are suffering the worst through climate change driven by global warming. We have to stand against the uncontrolled looting and plunder of less developed countries by the imperialist world.

Democratic and open organisation, allowing free debate to decide the path towards a common goal, will be key. In her book on climate change, This changes everything, Naomi Klein says:

‘I have, in the past, strongly defended the right of young movements to their amorphous structures – whether that means rejecting identifiable leadership or eschewing programmatic demands... But I confess that the last five years immersed in climate science have left me impatient. As many are coming to realise, the fetish for structurelessness, the rebellion against any kind of institutionalisation, is not a luxury today’s transformative movements can afford.’ 

Any tendency towards unaccountable control of the movements will undermine their political development and alienate those who want to make a serious contribution towards the struggle. The fact that so many young people, fresh to politics, without the prejudices of the old left, are involved, gives hope for the future. No serious socialist can stand aside from this.

Solidarity with the Youth Strikers!

Capitalism is extinction, socialism is survival!

The next Youth Strike for Climate is on 12 April at various locations across the country https://ukscn.org/ys4c-where

Extinction Rebellion are planning an international rebellion starting on 15 April. The London action will take place Parliament Square from 11am. https://rebellion.earth/

Revolutionary Communist Group will have contingents at these events and more. Contact us to get involved.