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‘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.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control.
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
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
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
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