‘Natural disaster’. These words have been used a lot in the past month or so. But they’re words we need seriously to question. Of course, the Indian Ocean tsunamis themselves were not the fault of human activity; they were caused by tectonic movements that no human agency, no scuba-diving vanguard party or mass campaign, could prevent. But the fact that the attendant suffering was on such a tragic scale was the result of human acts and omissions.
Why didn’t the Pentagon issue a possible tsunami alert, despite the fact that the US military base on the island of Diego Garcia received more than enough advance warning? Similarly, why didn’t the government of Thailand act on information it was given? Then there were the precarious communication and emergency systems in many of the places hit, which would have made effective response to any alert difficult anyway. Also contributing to the tragedy was the human destruction of nature’s own sea defences: the region’s mangrove swamps and coral reefs. In other words, the production of a disaster is a complex combination of human and natural causes.
In this month’s Red Pepper we have responded to Boxing Day’s shocking reminder of the powerfully active nature of the earth by focusing on both the tragedy in south Asia and another disaster: the steadily building catastrophe of global warming. Global warming is also the product of a combination of natural and human activity, but, as Mark Lynas vividly describes, mankind certainly is the catalyst for this manifestation of earth’s destructive powers.
Historically, the left has viewed nature as something to be tamed. But the clear limits to the earth’s resources, the analyses coming from the green movement and the left’s own investigations and experiences have produced a seismic intellectual shift towards a recognition of the need to understand nature and work in partnership with it. Hopefully, this recognition will lead to a fresh determination to work for social and economic changes (including in our own lives) that might mitigate the disastrous legacy of our abuse of the planet and ensure that all peoples are equally prepared when genuinely ‘natural’ disasters do occur.
It helps if we see ourselves as products of nature, not outside it, but products of nature with free will. We can choose, for example, to rethink our own relationship to energy, reducing the way we waste it and the way we bump up our oil consumption without thinking. At the same time, we need to campaign for government to choose differently. Richard Heinberg and Elmar Altvater outline some of our options: ending our reliance on fossil fuels, and promoting the use of renewables; supporting development of local food markets and food production in the UK instead of oil-dependent supermarkets; moving, in all spheres of life, towards greater energy efficiency and patterns of reduced energy use.
Sometimes our political system in Britain seems so blocked and impermeable that New Labour itself faces us as a natural disaster. But the crisis in south Asia must lead us to renew our determination to work for progressive change. We must learn from those experiences when we have built really powerful campaigns in the past to create a climate change or global warning movement to transform the oil economies that capitalism has produced into ones based on sustainable energy.
Britain ‘s presidency of the G8 provides a great opportunity to kick-start such a movement. Downing Street will flood us with words on climate change while at the same time promoting oil-guzzling policies in transport, industry, food and the projects it funds overseas. We must be active in unvanquishable numbers exposing Blair’s hypocrisy and forcing action.
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry