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The #Heathrow13 will ‘almost inevitably’ be sent to prison on 24 February for occupying the northern runway of Heathrow airport. They took this action, which led to 25 flights being cancelled, to protest against the building of a third runway at Heathrow airport, as recommended by the Davis Commission less than a fortnight previously. The fact is, we can’t build any new runways in the face of climate change. It’s that simple.
In going to jail, the #Heathrow13 will be the first climate activists in the UK to be given a custodial sentence. Given the seriousness that a prison sentence implies, it would be easy to let this scare us from taking the necessary action that our movements need. That would be a mistake, for now is the time for exactly the opposite. Now is the time to escalate things and given the amount of outrage towards this sentencing, as well as the love and support that is being shown to Plane Stupid, it seems like there is a real possibility of such an escalation.
Escalation, as it happens, is already the theme of the year. Since last year, groups around the world have been calling for 2016 to be the year we take down the fossil fuel industry. Mobilisations in Paris against the COP21 were designed and framed as a movement-building stepping stone towards escalation in 2016. Days, weeks and a whole year of action have already been called for and it’s likely that tens of thousands of people will take part, following the successes of Ende Gelände in Germany last year and the mobilisations in Paris.
If we are really serious about taking down the fossil fuel industry, we surely have to expect people to go to prison – a lot of people. There are nearly 1,500 oil and gas companies globally and the industry is valued at around $5 trillion. That equates to a whole lot of power, for instance in lobbying, which has resulted in the ineffective deals on climate for 21 years. Beyond this, fossil fuels are the lifeblood of the global economy. Fossil-fuel based products are in every aspect of our lives: from energy and transport to agriculture and medicine.
Without a drastic shift in the way the world works, when fossil-fuels stop, almost everything stops. This is why governments around the world are so willing to go to war at the cost of countless lives, why the Canadian government is willing to destroy an area the size of England to extract poor quality oil from the tar sands. Well-meaning campaigns for divestment in the fossil fuel industry aren’t going to be able to stop this (though what they do offer is eroding the ‘social licence’ of such activities).
Fossil fuels, though, aren’t the only thing we’re up against. We’re facing a complete change in worldview, a total cultural reversal. Beyond fossil fuels, we must talk about the fetish of growth. Perpetual economic growth is impossible on a finite planet, as it requires more and more inputs and produces more and more waste. Yet, the assumption that this is possible underpins our entire economic system. Growth is an unquestioned good in itself, that even the mainstream ‘left’ has yet to question. On top of this, the worldview we must challenge is one based on hierarchy: one that places rich white men at the top and paves the way for the exploitation of women, people of colour and nature.
Given that the scale of the issue is so complex and so interconnected it could seem like an impossible task. As Naomi Klein so clearly states, if we are to avoid climate chaos, we need to ‘change everything’. Conversely, as the root causes of the crisis we face are so interconnected, to change everything we can start anywhere.
It is vital, in fact, that we don’t compartmentalise our struggles and that we see that seemingly different issues are actually intrinsically connected. To change everything, it doesn’t mean we should just focus on aviation or fossil fuels, but join the dots between issues such as housing, gender, race, inequality, indigenous rights, animal rights and more, and how they all tie into the culture that rewards ecological destruction. Environmentalists should therefore show real solidarity to the important work being done in these areas, from Black Lives Matter and Idle No More to the fight against gentrification and social cleansing of so many cities.
We can look to inspiring struggles around the world from the Kurdish struggle in Rojava to the 22 years of the Zapatistas’ revolution. Both these examples show that resistance has two aspects: fighting to stop what we are against, while simultaneously building a new world.
With the scale of the challenge we face being so huge, it’s vital that we find common ways to work together and support one another. Thankfully, the beginnings of such structures are forming.
In the coming year there will be many opportunities to get involved. On the ecological side of things there will a global week of action in May under the banner of ‘Break Free’, which will include a second Ende Gelände coal mine action in Germany. Following the success of last year, the UK Earth First Gathering is likely to be even bigger this summer. The Climate Games were a success in Paris with over 124 teams and 214 actions happening in just 48 hours, and they too have promised to be part of the escalation in April this year. Reclaim the Power is calling for a year of decentralised action under the name of ‘Groundswell’, which aims to offer trainings and facilitate the formation of affinity groups. These initiatives offer opportunities for us to come together, build networks of solidarity, build relationships of love and trust.
The #Heathrow13 have given us an example of what a high-profile, effective action can look like, as well as showing us the inevitable repression that the state will impose on those who dare to fight for a better world. Many people have been outraged by this and are looking for ways to support these activists. One way that people can support them is to get active. Alone, their action and actions like it will fail – but together, we’re unstoppable. Here’s to 2016, the year we turn back the tide!
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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
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Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
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Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
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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