2007 - 2021


COP15 isn’t just a political failure it’s the failure of politics, leaving liberal lobbying exposed as a strategic model. Where does  that leave us in Scotland as part of a wider geopolitical movement?

“The most progressive US president in a generation comes to the most important international meeting since the Second World War and delivers a speech so devoid of substance that he might as well have made it on speaker-phone from a beach in Hawaii. His aides argue in private that he had no choice, such is the opposition on Capitol Hill to any action that could challenge the dominance of fossil fuels in American life. And so the nation that put a man on the Moon can’t summon the collective will to protect men and women back here on Earth from the consequences of an economic model and lifestyle choice that has taken on the mantle of a religion.”

So writes Josh Garman, Independent on Sunday. Josh’s piece sparked off much discussion. Here our friend and collaborator Alastair McIntosh mentions it in his commentary:

“There’s some very good analysis of Cop15 here from that decent man, the BBCs Roger Harrabin, at. His bottom line:

One veteran of these talks told me: “All these leaders have signed up to climate policies and targets, but they don’t realise the scale of the clean industrial revolution that we need to undertake if we’re going to protect the climate. They think they can do some version of modified business as usual. They haven’t got a clue.”

I was also very struck by Joss Garman (co-founder of Plane Stupid) in the Independent on Sunday. But I question his bottom line: “We have to admit to ourselves the scale of the problem and recognise that at its core this carbon crisis is, in fact, a political crisis.” In my view Copenhagen was a triumph for politics. The people of those parts of the world causing the problem mostly don’t want solutions that will significantly affect their material standard of living. Yes, they’ll go light green, but not dark green. They got the politics they wanted at Cop15 and thus my metaphor that they’re, or should I say to be inclusive, we’re like alcoholics in the bar, expecting the publican up for re-election to call time.

I am in profound agreement with our Scottish Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, who says that in a democracy the politicians can only lead so much ahead of the electrate otherwise they’ll not only get voted out, but the lot that replace them will be even more wary of such policies. To whinge on about the politics is a displacement activity, a process of projection and scapegoating, unless we, as the electorate, first put our house in order.

Trouble is, as Harrabin’s bottom line says, we are in denial of the scale of what needs to be done. Even most greens! Ask any recovering alcoholic what it was like, and they’ll tell you a tale of self-delusion. “Just one more little drink.” Breakthrough comes only on facing “rock-bottom”. Recovery then becomes a process of regrounding the Self in authenticity, truth, and integrity of the inner life, and that in a sustaining context of outer community – because we are not meant to live this life alone.

Consumerism, which along with population growth is at the cutting edge of what drives climate change, has rendered us inauthentic; plastic people in a plastic society that, given just a little heat, a little warm puff from from the breath of a demagogue like Tony Blair, melts in a moment to the shape of war and the violence to the soul that underpins it. Consumerism has placed us in a position where we feed the addiction by living the lie that masks the denials.

That is why the work that we must do now to face climate change must go far beyond the perceived failure of politics. We as the people that comprise the body politic have to do the inner work – the psychological and even, should it be on the Richter scale of our worldview, the spiritual work. And from there the work of rekindling community – with one another, with nature, with the Spirit or however you conceive of the deep underpinning of reality, life.

To those who say we should only focus on climate change mitigation, and should not talk about adaptation because that concedes defeat, well, sorry, but Cop15 was our Rock Bottom moment. At Copenhagen we took a beating from the “beasts” of selfishness, ignorance, and hubris in its full Greek etymolgical sense derived fom hybris – violence. But at least it unmasks the Powers. It shows us that the work henceforth is both the outer stuff of a global green new deal but also the inner work that might render future humankind adapted to facing what, if the science that Cop15 has “noted” is right, is being brought upon us. This in my view is the kind of politics that liberation theology is about, and conscientisation pedagogy. It is about digging out the channels into which subsequent mainstream political process might be able to flow.

Such pioneers as Paulo Freire and Erich Fromm speak of as laying the ground for “full humanisation” of the human condition”.

I agree with Alastair’s analysis, but only up to a point. How can ‘the electorate’ put it’s house in order if it’s still cheaper to run a car than take public transport, or if all the energy companies are privatised? If we have little control of the major financial institutions we own? There’s a danger of a lifestylism being evoked that lets the State and the political institutions off the hook. There’s  a danger of a sort of spiritual privatism that evokes spiritual development but restreats from public political action, this is a false distinction. We need both especially as we have now ‘unmasked the Powers’.

Some activists have described COP15 as when the environmental movement ‘came of age’. I think we are still hopelessly naive.  This description personifies this political immaturity:

“While those closing, dramatic moments in Copenhagen were definitive and emblematic, the process leading up to them was already quite revealing. Many complaints have been heard  (and will be heard) about the CoP-15 process, the delays, the procedural wrangling. Strangely, I found it all a sign of progress — at least, from the standpoint of equity and democracy in global governance.  The CoP-15 process reminded of nothing so much as the U.S. Senate, where all U.S. states have equal representation, regardless of their size, population, or wealth, and every Senator has an equal capacity to disrupt or smooth the proceedings with filibusters or smart behind-the-scenes deal-making.  This makes for challenges when trying to take tough decisions, but it is, in purely political terms, highly democratic. ”

Other comments and input are welcome as we try and make sense of where to go from here.


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  1. That is a really helpful analysis Mike. On the point of whether it is the people or politicians who can lead, it is surely all of us who need to? If we are not politicians we need to lead, if we are politicians we need to lead.

    Alastair is right that for us general public to simply blame politicians is “To whinge on about the politics” as “a displacement activity, a process of projection and scapegoating”. But likewise for politicians to say they can’t act in case people vote them out is likewise r us general public to simply blame politicians is “To whinge on about the public” and is as much “a displacement activity, a process of projection and scapegoating” as the public blaming the politicians.

    This moment is far too important for blaming public or politicians, for:
    (i) not noticing those in corporations controlling the politics, the media, the agenda, and whose displacement activity can be to blame an economic model in which they have to secure 5-7% return on shares or lose their position, and for
    (ii) not noticing that we struggle to keep afloat in the destructive freefall of the market and that this has an internal (emotional, isolating, addictive) quality to it, as well as an external (politically dumbing down) aspect to it.

    Political social community direct action expressed in forms that build companionship (as experienced in transition, in the broader climate change movement here, and also in Copenhagen last week) is the best antidote to both. And, on a related note I just received this brilliant note on why we do what we’re doing despite what ‘realism’ would tell us:

    “I must pass on Orlov’s comment from a while back, in case you missed it. He was asked why he does what he does, given that he thinks collapse is inevitable anyway. He answered that he thinks humour is often missed off lists of crucial factors for thriving through difficult times, and that in his experience, the better-informed people are, the better the jokes they tell. That’s kept me going through many a dark night!”

    p.s. This page on the Holyrood 350 website (http://holyrood350.org/2009/12/responses-to-copenhagen/) pulls together a range of recent responses to Copenhagen in case you’re interested.

  2. R Bell says:

    15,000 people FLEW into Copenhagen for this conference.

    Unfortunately most of the climate change “solutions” seem to concentrate on unfair taxes on goods etc, which hit the poor hardest in the pocket – and not the rich, since they pay more for everything anyway. Like petrol duty, which makes up most of the price of a litre, but has never been reinvested into alternative fuels… These taxes pay for duckhouses, chauffeurs, not to mention wars and nukes etc.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Ray – your right that environmental justice needs to be at the heart of reconstruction but it’s not an excuse for inertia

  3. dc says:

    Everyone needs to read Jim Hansen’s book “Storms of my grandchildren” (see http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1). Please publicise. It’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever read – think Venus.

    Summary of outcomes needed:
    # Ban exploitation of unconventional fuels (e.g. tar sands) now. They must never be developed.
    # Developed nations to end coal use by 2020.
    # Developing nations to end coal use by 2030.
    # End oil and gas prospecting by allowing use of current reserves.
    # Start testing ways of removing atmospheric CO2.

    Using current reserves under standard depletion assumptions gets us (worldwide) to emissions of 20% – 40% of 2008 levels by 2050 (i.e. this is almost the only imaginable policy consistent with stated targets). Target to aim for is CO2 levels of 350ppm by 2100 (currently 390ppm).

  4. Robin Ramsay says:

    It is blindingly obvious, is it not, that conventional party politics is and will be incapable of dealing with the climate change issue. Indeed conventional party politics in this country is incapable of dealing with something infinitely simpler, namely the financial crisis. History shows that to affect great unpopular changes – most obviously fighting big wars – command economies and ‘national’ governments are required. Which raises the question: how bad will it be before the general population are willing to accept a command economy of some kind?

  5. bellacaledonia says:

    Given the obsession with consumerism, the propaganda and disinformation to protect vested interests and the lack of political vision by mainstream parties it will have to get far worse. However in Scotland we have a uniquely ambitious plan for moving to a low carbon economy, and if Salmonds recent utterances are right, an awakening to the need to enact that plan. It begs the question what sort of ‘National’ govt you have in mind Robin?

  6. Rupert Read says:

    A great piece, and useful discussion.
    I do think that the point about so many people flying to Copenhagen can’t be ignored. It sends all the wrong messages. Next time, leaders etc should attend by train etc., by video conference – or not at all. THAT would signify that they believed in the problem.
    Also: Check out the discussion we are having over at OUR KINGDOM on this: http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/rupert-read/beyond-copenhagen-what-kind-of-bottom-up-climate-activism-do-we-need

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