Today I sat through what must rate as one of the most depressing left-wing meetings I’ve ever been to. It was ‘planet day’ at the convention, and the evening session was based around a direct question: ‘How can we build a movement to stop climate change?’ The resounding answer, it seems, is: ‘We don’t know.’
Perhaps that’s unfair. Climate change is a huge, global issue that demands a huge, global response – you can’t expect a motley crew in a Manchester meeting hall to solve a problem like that. And there was no shortage of ideas in the room. It was just that each one came with a disclaimer: this will be difficult, and it won’t be enough.
No-one offered a tactic that seemed to hold any hope of success. We could launch a global mass movement, taking to the streets – but that didn’t work for anti-war protesters, did it? We could organise direct action, and spend a few nights in the cells for our trouble. We could take the issue to the unions, pretending that the workers’ movement isn’t timid and hamstrung by bureaucracy, and that we can somehow find new jobs for workers in ‘unsustainable’ industries. Or we could try for revolution … really, it’s even not much less likely.
Robbie Gillett of Plane Stupid made criticisms of our last mass movement, Stop the War, and called for a ‘diversity of tactics’ to tackle the climate crisis. He then proceeded to unveil his own idea: a flashmob outside Manchester town hall tomorrow that will see protesters suddenly reveal red T-shirts with ‘stop airport expansion’ written on them. (If only Lindsey German and friends had thought of this tactic, all those Iraqi kids might been saved.)
Tony Kearns of the Communication Workers’ Union made the fundamental point that ‘the destruction of the planet stems from capitalism’ – and that’s why all the media-savvy campaigning in the world ain’t going to get anywhere. Jonathan Neale, the author of Stop Global Warming, Change the World, took it further, albeit in somewhat coded language: we need ‘to force the governments of the world to act, or to replace them with governments that will act’. He also made an interesting comparison with the economic shift that took place when the second world war started, when ‘every economy reoriented itself to make weapons’. The technology is there to halt climate change, but the problem is taking control of the means of production – hmm, sounds familiar, that.
Towards the end of the meeting, Neale hit the nail on the head when he said that ‘it’s going to take a massive mobilisation in many different forms – some that have not yet been invented’. I hope someone gets around to inventing them soon, because I left that room feeling that our planet is more doomed than ever.