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December is the month of plastic baubles and technological must-haves, when politicians look to boost flagging growth figures with consumerist intemperance. It is always a fitting month to host the ‘conference of procrastinators’, as Patrick Bond has dubbed the UN climate talks. On this occasion the tired gaggle of government and business negotiators assembled in Durban, South Africa.
2012, the year when the first phase of the Kyoto agreement ends, is upon us. Instead of replacing it with more ambitious targets, the principle of mandatory emission reductions seems about to be abandoned. Climate change is rapidly falling down the list of political concerns, replaced by the crisis of finance – the integral role of capitalism in the climate disaster is conveniently ignored. As always, the vested corporate interests of northern countries will be a major stumbling block. Increasing consumption is the only logic that will hold any sway in Durban.
Richer countries also have the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ in their sights. The now infamous US state department negotiator Todd Stern, whose bullying tactics at Copenhagen 2009 were revealed in the Wikileaks diplomatic cables, expressed his contempt for any claim that there is historic responsibility for climate change. He stated: ‘The sense of guilt or culpability or reparations – I just categorically reject that.’
The facts are, still, terrifying. In 2010, carbon emissions rose by a record amount. We must start to reduce carbon emissions by 2017 if we are to avoid water shortages and mass migration. Current pledged cuts would put us at a 5 degrees celsius temperature change. This would mean large parts of the planet becoming uninhabitable.
Our political elites are so in thrall to private finance that they will not act to save their own citizens. Nowhere is this democratic deficit clearer than South Africa itself. One in six South Africans live in shacks (see our interview with Bandile Mdlalose this issue). Some 2.5 million homes do not have electricity, and companies predict a 125 per cent price increase in the coming years.
Yet despite its energy-poor majority population, South Africa is the world’s 13th-largest carbon emitter. It is part of a bloc of rapidly industrialising countries that have skilfully, if cynically, set up their economies to make carbon trading work for them. You won’t see South Africa fighting for binding emissions targets.
Of course, most of South Africa’s carbon emissions are created by mining and manufacturing commodities for the global North – only 16 per cent of South Africa’s total energy consumption is used by its residents. Both the products and the profits are syphoned off for northern countries, leaving the nation’s citizens with depleted and polluted resources.
This is a government that is failing its people. The ANC, as Vishwas Satgar argues this issue, have become overseers of Afro-neoliberalism. Accompanying this is a narrowing democratic vision: opposition voices are marginalised, politicians are market servants and participation is limited to voting – a particularly inadequate option in a de-facto one party state.
The campaigns of the African climate justice movement find themselves oddly disjointed from the climate negotiations – their demands on jobs, energy poverty and extraction will not even be discussed at a summit concerned with quantitative targets. The climate discussions have always been framed in terms that suit northern elites, though even within these narrow parameters an adequate solution evades them.
The domination of politics by corporate interests extends far beyond the climate talks, as neoliberalism brings its limited market democracy to every arena. In Europe, the IMF, assisted by Europe’s ‘inner core’, is once again asserting its right to dictate national polices. Some solutions politicians refuse to discuss: taxation on the rich, significant losses to banks or credit easing for the poor.
But there is a rising tide of resistance. The largest UK strike of my lifetime took place on 30 November – one organised by unions that are starting to address the dual crises of economy and environment by demanding the creation of one million climate jobs.
And from Romania to Peru, the Occupy movement has spread to 82 countries. Beginning with the indignados in Spain and Greece, the reclaiming of public space for debate and deliberation has been a crucial aim. The participatory politics practised by protesters is far removed from our tick‑box democracies.
In a political system dominated by corporate finance, creating more participatory forms of democracy, although crucial, will not be enough. We also need economic democracy. The challenge to Occupy activists and trade unionists alike is to begin a move towards a democratic economy by collectively organising our own productive forces and striving for cooperative workplaces. To become a regenerating force that creates real democracy, we must also create real economic change.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun