The Campaign Against Climate Change held what seems to have become a regular event, its annual International Climate Conference, over the weekend of May 12-13, with over 350 people - mainly white, but a mixture of young and old - attending its plenaries and individual sessions. Tony Stevens reports
CACC activists first came together as a tiny minority who would hold protests outside that symbol of the evil empire, the US embassy in London, but slowly, over time, the campaign has grown until it is now part of the mainstream. This is to the detriment of not only the anarchists and radicals, but also the Socialist Workers Party, whose influence has clearly declined compared to, say, last year's event. Obviously there is tension between those around Phil Thornhill, the long-time CACC leading figure, and the SWP, led by its climate change 'expert', Jonathan Neale, with his cynical attempts to regain lost ground.
This year's event, co-sponsored by the London School of Economics, featured representatives from a wide range of climate-related organisations and NGOs, including the Institute of Public Policy Research, World Development Movement, Friends of the Earth and the Christian Ecology Link. The problem with such 'broadness' (I suspect it is a little too broad even for the SWP) is that the large variety of organisations represented are totally at odds over the necessary global political remedies and tend to settle for some lowest-common-denominator consensus on the need for individual action - not only totally inadequate in relation to the scale of the problem, but inevitably hitting workers and the poor, while the rich and powerful are free to carry on as before.
The SWP is well aware of this, of course, but it falls far short of being able to develop a working class programme that will directly challenge the underlying cause of global warming - the rapacious and ever-expanding system of capital, with its incessant drive to production for profit, not for human need. An example of this came in the session on 'Can we avoid climate change and maintain growth?' Guy Taylor gave an incoherent speech and appeared stumped as to how to pitch his argument against capitalism without alienating large sections.
A good number of contributors, armed with the findings of the Stern report and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, claimed that there were indeed technological solutions within the current system - recycling, energy-saving, etc. Nevertheless, questions were raised whose logic posed the need for a different system - what drives growth and what causes consumerism? Such questioning was valuable, even though no satisfactory answers were provided.
For example, one speaker from the floor harked back to David Blunkett's cheap public transport scheme when he was the leftwing leader of Sheffield city council in the early 80s. The problem for this comrade ("I am a member of Respect and proud of it") was simply a lack of political will today. So it appears old Labour is the solution to climate change. What no-one pointed to directly was that, although climate change could theoretically be solved under capitalism, in practice such 'remedies' are doomed to failure - not only do they run counter to the system's recurrent tendencies, but they singularly fail to address issues of democracy, alienation, the class divide and inequality.
Another session tackled 'contraction and convergence', which attempts to provide a global framework for advanced countries to cut back on carbon emissions, while undeveloped countries are allowed to catch up. 'Convergence' takes place on a per capita basis and it is the state that is responsible for divvying up the 'carbon quotas' to its population. The speaker thought this was a non-political issue and only two members of the audience even raised the question of the state.
In the session on 'Combating climate change - the role of the unions', Rania Khan, a Respect councillor in Tower Hamlets and introduced as Respect's environment spokesperson, claimed that the unions had solved all of the social problems of the past century, and that the unions could solve the climate crisis too. At least she was looking to working class forces, if not a working class political solution. In her pre-prepared speech she said the 12 Respect councillors had been championing all things green, having forgotten there were only 11 councillors after last month's defection.
During this session someone suggested that a green union conference should be organised - you can see the SWP's method a mile away. Accordingly a clipboard was passed around for the taking of contact details. Victimised union activist Tony Staunton correctly pinpointed the problem of the union bureaucracy in holding back rank and file initiatives, but he was slapped down by the SWP's Chris Nineham as being too negative.
A defining moment came in one of the plenaries during the question and answer session. One anarcho type stood up and ranted on about the evils of the big corporations, while the audience got visibly uncomfortable and eventually, very politely, told him to get to the point. The last of the activists?