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I’m writing this only a week after the student occupation of the Tories’ Millbank Tower HQ – a protest that opens up the possibility of a real fightback against the austerity that will affect the living standards of so many almost immediately. In this context, it can seem almost frivolous to continue to talk about climate change. It is not. Climate change will affect billions of people in the most disastrous ways. And it has its roots in the same system that lies behind the cuts.
Opinions on the potential outcomes of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Cancún this December are mixed. Officially, politicians remain hopeful, even those such as Venezuela’s delegation who were at the forefront of pushing for a meaningful and just outcome in Copenhagen last year. Others are less optimistic. George Monbiot has written that: ‘The best outcome anyone now expects from December’s climate summit in Mexico is that some delegates might stay awake during the meetings.’
In reality, even the politicians have limited their ambitions to ‘unprecedented’ (but also unspecified) results short of a binding treaty, as Mexican president Felipe Calderon put it. The reality is that the US and other northern countries will probably continue to push the ‘Obama accord’, which came out of Copenhagen at the last minute and without the democratic involvement of most countries represented there. Ecuador and Bolivia have already been turned down for US climate finance because they refused to sign the accord, and in all likelihood this kind of blackmail will continue.
There are a number of reasons why there has been no progress at the UN, including the gulf between a just outcome for the global south (which would include the recognition and payment of a huge climate debt by the global north) and what rich countries are prepared to offer. And unlike previous global environmental problems, such as sulphur dioxide emissions causing acid rain, or CFCs depleting the ozone layer, the climate crisis cannot be solved by a technological fix.
In May, the Bolivian government organised a civil society response to the failure of Copenhagen. The ‘Cochabamba agreement’, which Bolivia intends to present in Cancún, is full of radical proposals, which include rich countries reducing their carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2017, opposition to carbon trading and the establishment of an International Court of Climate Justice. The demands, though rather far from the reality of negotiations at the UN, serve to highlight just how problematic the response of most of the world’s governments actually is.
Important though it is to fight on every front, however, it is surely time to face up to the reality that the UN talks are dominated by corporate lobbyists and a global elite utterly wedded to an economic system inextricably bound to the overexploitation of the planet’s resources.
The green critique of economic growth, though hardly mainstream, is becoming much more widely known. It’s an important corrective to the ‘common-sense’ celebration of economic growth at all times and in all places. But the danger is that, at best, we end up with a limited anti-capitalism that has an inadequate understanding of class structure and power, and no strategy for reclaiming our planet. John Bellamy Foster opens up a debate on this.
At the same time, the necessity of radical social change implied by this analysis must find an anchor in real world examples – we must be able to ‘envision real utopias’, to borrow Erik Olin Wright’s phrase. He argues that ‘transcending capitalism in a way that robustly expands the possibilities for realising radical democratic egalitarian conceptions of social and political justice requires social empowerment over the economy’.
We might add environmental justice to that list. The German eco-village that Heather Rogers reports on gives us an example of ‘green living’ based on this kind of social empowerment, rather than on a ‘consumer choice’ that ultimately empowers corporations.
Many of those involved in grassroots climate activism over the past few years have understood the connections between the climate crisis and the cuts agenda, resulting among other things in the actions at Vodafone shops around the country. Should November’s cuts revolt flower into something more sustained, an alternative vision of a democratic and sustainable society could fall on fertile ground. Our response to both the climate crisis and austerity should be: it’s time to cut back on capitalism.
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns