Is the climate change movement splintering?

Guardian Environment Network
Article reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Environment Network
Climate change activists are regrouping post-Copenhagen – and some are reasserting their radical roots

The climate change movement is dead, long live the climate change movement! was the proclamation made last week by Rising Tide North America, as green campaigners around the world begin coming to terms with the switchback ride of the last three months.

'A particular model of dealing with climate change is dying. It is revealing itself before the world as nothing more than a final scramble for the remaining resources of a planet in peril,' states a quote from Naomi Klein at the beginning of the document, before stating:

'Many in the climate movement have grown all too cosy with the status quo. The 'bold' action they call for will result in the privatisation of the air, to be divided up by mega-polluters. Their demands for carbon neutrality seek to offset our problems onto poor countries while the rich keep burning and consuming. Those who still cling to the old climate movement have committed themselves to a sinking ship.'


It comes out against a backdrop of restlessness, as activists take stock of where they have been and where they are going. Now that the climate talks in Copenhagen have failed, the activists who campaigned inside and outside the Bella Centre are subsiding naturally into two groups – those who didn't want a deal in the first place, and those who did.

People in the latter group, which includes campaign groups such as UK Youth Climate Coalition and the umbrella group tck tck tck, are devastated.

As Gemma Bone, one of UKYCC's members puts it; 'I didn't expect that there would be a final agreement, but I did think that we would make some kind of progress, and that this year would be all about finalising details. Now it's not clear how the UN process will even go forward. It's absolutely knocked me for six.'

But activists in the former group – including Climate Camp, Rising Tide and Climate Justice Network – are more positive. A spokesman for Rising Tide said: 'To be honest we never expected a deal at Copenhagen. We don't want an international agreement.'

Like many activists he is profoundly sceptical about the ability of a carbon trading market – one of the central mechanism of any international agreement – to deliver real reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide.

Climate camp

In fact Copenhagen and the failure of the meeting has in some ways liberated activists. Climate Campers, for example, have been discussing being more upfront about their anarchist and anti-capitalist roots.

In the Climate Camp reader which was circulated in January, writers suggested that the camp had been "hijacked by a hardcore of liberals" and asked if it might be time to be more open about the anarchist, anti-capitalist core to the camp.

Direct action

In many cases the focus is shifting from global action to local issues, such as fossil-fuel power plants or mines. Rising Tide North America's document calls for 'an asymmetrical assault on the fossil fuel industry' while in the UK and in Europe campaigners are also planning to focus more on local grassroots campaigns, "to start from the bottom" as the Rising Tide spokesman put it.

The global network that was formed in Copenhagen, as activist groups from around the world worked together to organise the giant march and the Step Up the Resistance demonstration outside the Bella Centre, will also be in correspondence.

Nicola Bullard of Focus on the Global South and Climate Justice Network, will be attending the People's World Conference on Climate Change in Bolivia this Easter, along with representatives from Climate Camp, Via Campesina and Jubilee South.

But there is no plan to return to the old summit-hopping ways of the anti-capitalist movement, following the G20 and the WTO from conference to conference. 'We need to carry on building on the simple principles that we've established, which held us together in Copenhagen,' says Bullard.

She agrees that the main focus now has to be getting on with what is already happening. 'Sometimes the issue is just too big, too contingent on everything else going on around you. Sometimes, to be honest, you just have to start to do the work.'

This article is reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Environment Network

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