Monday 3 December 2012

Climate Change: Fears and Failures

Submerged footpath at West Hendon Playing Fields last weekend

Let's face it, the turnout at Saturday's Climate Change march, whether the BBC estimate of 300 or the organiser's 500, was poor. A climate crisis billed as threatening the very future of humankind could only get a handful of humans out on the street.  In the circumstances the media coverage we achieved was generous helped by the spectacle of a the erection of a fracking rig outside the House of Parliament.

Chatting in the crowd we speculated why with Hurricane Sandy, the floods in the UK, harvest failures in the US, more people were not concerned enough to come out. We joked that perhaps we needed the Thames Barrier to fail and Westminster to flood, before MPs took notice.  After all it was only when the stench of the Thames got severe enough to penetrate the Palace of Westminster that action was taken to build a proper sewage system.

However, also on Saturday, Anne Karpf's article in the Guardian LINK  reviewed the recently published Engaging with Climate Change, Psychoanalytic and Interdisciplinary Perspectives LINK .

Confessing to being a 'Climate-Change Ignorer' she says despite not being a sceptic she 'tunes out' when she hears apocalyptic warnings about global warming:
The fuse that trips the while circuit is a sense of helplessness. Whatever steps I take to counter global warming, however well-intentioned my brief bursts of zeal, they invariably end up feeling like like too little, too late.  The mismatch between the extremely dangerous state of the earth and my own feeble endeavours seems mockingly large. 
She goes on to describe some of the coping mechanisms described  in the book, including blame-shifting, technoptimism, hedonistic fatalism and dark optimism. It is argued, against the view of my colleague Brian Orr, that apocalyptic warnings are counter productive:
As Ed Miliband has observed, Martin Luther King never inspired millions by saying 'I have a nightmare'.
I would argue that the sense of helplessness is caused by the failure of politicians, governments and the UN, to face the crisis head on. It is as  if, faced with the Nazi menace in the second war, the government had, rather than mobilise troops and the economy and pour money into production and research,  instead asked everyone just to perform the home front task of digging for victory. Of course people would have felt helpless as German troops massed at the channel and bombs fell on our cities. Politicians now are in the equivalent position of those who ignored or down-played the rise of Nazism for fearing of frightening the people.

Here in Brent, in our own small way, following the briefing for councillors and the public, a paper has been produced outlining the extent of the crisis and some ideas for moving forward. A copy is available by clicking the link below:

Another dimension is making a link between the current economic crisis and climate change and on Sunday the following resolution from Green Left was passed by an overwhelming majority at the AGM of the Coalition of Resistance:
This conference notes that the current economic crisis is closely linked to a global ecological crisis particularly involving human caused climate change,. Neither crisis, in so far as they can be separated, is soluble under capitalist socio-economic arrangements. Technological fixes and geo-engineering enacted under capitalism can only be short term at best, since ecologically damaging forms of consumption and production are engendered and maintained by capitalism.

We therefore call on the coalition of resistance to recognise this publicly and include combating climate change in its campaigning agendas.


DON'T dis US said...

blame-shifting, technoptimism, hedonistic fatalism and dark optimism

I do the lot simultaneously

Martin Francis said...

Brian Orr, Chair of Brent Green Party writes:

We are certainly entering a very unhappy era where it would seem the majority of ordinary people have more or less given up on climate change but still a significant number of people are suffering real anguish as they put together the facts presently being presented by cutting-edge climate scientists.

Your analogy with the situation in World War II is strikingly apt. The salient political fact of that time was that a coalition government was formed because the vast majority of elected politicians saw that defeating
the Germans took priority over every other political consideration.

There is only one way forward on the political front to deal with the horrifying threat of climate change: that
is to take the politics out of the issue: to get the majority of politicians to agree that climate change must become the first priority over any other issue. (That doesn't mean that all other issues are relegated to the dust-bin, but you can't even run a corner shop without a clear set of priorities.)

It is politicians who have got us into this mess because they have pandered to people's wants rather than prioritised the future for the people's children and their children. They are the only agents who can now lead us out of this pending

Here is the acid test for your own politician, Parliamentary or local: "Would they be prepared to join a coalition government that placed dealing with climate change at the top of its agenda?" And if they say "Yes", (pretty easy for them to do so, I guess) then follow the first question up with "So will you add that to your manifesto?"

If your politician doesn't agree to that, then they are nowhere near grasping the deadly seriousness of the predicament we are in - and you should tell them so in plain language. If they hear that from enough people they might actually start to listen!

Simon Hales said...

"...There is only one way forward on the political front to deal with the horrifying threat of climate change: that is to take the politics out of the issue: to get the majority of politicians to agree that climate change must become the first priority over any other issue..."

As a socialist, my big worry about this kind of approach is that when the ruling class do decide to tackle climate change, the measures they will use will impact on the most vulnerable in society whilst leaving their own wealth and power untouched.

There are many people within the Green Party (such as the Neo-Malthusian element that still exists within our ranks) who will be perfectly willing to let this happen and collaberate with this approach in the same way that the Irish Greens collaberated with a conservative, capitalist government.

Only an explicityly eco-socialist (and therefore very much political) approach to climate change, linking the issue with the class struggle against capitalism, can make sure that climate change is tackled in a way that does not involve even more crap being piled on the heads of ordinary people.