The Melancholy Of A Civilisation

Earlier in the month, I visited Cardiff for the first time and found a city rooted in its cultural identity and signs of the want for something different.

Scattered throughout the city were YesCymru – the Welsh campaign for independence – stickers, posters and graffiti, finding a place on lampposts, street signs and in windows. With similar branding to Yes Scotland, Cardiff looked not unlike many places across Scotland back in 2014 and what remains visible of the campaign today.

Another movement, Extinction Rebellion (XR) – an environmental group – which has seen people take to the streets in London, Leeds, Bristol, Edinburgh and Glasgow as they demand urgent action to tackle the climate crisis, was also making its cause known on the streets of Cardiff.

Since late 2018, Extinction Rebellion has promoted mass nonviolent civil disobedience and rebellion in full public view. XR believes this will cause economic disruption – shaking the current political system – and civil disruption – to raise awareness of ‘the truth’. This particular kind of activism is rooted in grassroots movements spanning from across the decades. Workers’ rights movements, the fight for civil rights and, the AIDS crisis which led to AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) mounting a long series of spectacularly headline-grabbing civil disobedient actions. These actions by ACT UP included shutting down the New York Stock Exchange, resulting in 73 arrests, disrupting taxpayers filing last-minute tax returns at NYC’s General Post Office and shutting down the Golden Gate Bridge during rush-hour which disrupted resident’s daily commute. The idea behind these actions was to make it no longer convenient for America to continue to ignore the AIDS crisis.

Like XR, the Scottish independence movement has deployed similar tactics and both movements could and should be able bring everyone from every background together, transcending age, class, race, disability, gender and sexual identities and immigration status to make a stance against neo-liberalism.

However, the demands for change seldom have radical change at its core and the rhetoric remaining firmly embedded in a capitalist system.

The Politics of Disappearance

The current climate crisis discourse places emphasis on how little time we have remaining. However, we must remember that the many communities who had their ways of living and knowledge erased, time for adaptation wasn’t an option.

Today, patterns of environmental discrimination continues to be sustained by capitalistic extortion. Those who have little to no political clout, are often then driven into the worst jobs in agribusiness, heavy industry and often live in areas of heavy pollution.

In her book Reversed Realities: Gender Hierarchies in Development Thought (1994), Naila Kabeer writes,

“Given that a disproportion amount of the world’s resources are consumed by a small minority located mainly in the North, that the greed of a wealthy minority, rather than the need of the world’s poor, deserves a disproportionate share of the blame.”

This can provide some context as to why climate crisis activism is being led by those in those Global North either a sense of guilt, or a need to ensure the crisis affects those with the most the very least. least. A myth exists that some communities don’t care about the environment because they are too concerned with mere survival. However, if anything, their survival is an environmental issue.

A Single Thread Does Not Make A Weave

Undeniably and with credit, Extinction Rebellion has been responsible for mobilising thousands of people and shifting the narrative on climate change in unprecedented ways. It has – intentionally or not – become one of the leading voices of the environmental movement and will shape the ideology which comes from its successes and failures. The climate crisis emergency should be an opportunity to learn from the past and centre the voices which have experienced generations of erasure at the cost of progressing capitalism.

The movement – and all others fighting for change – must recognise that climate change is inherently political, with different impacts for different communities. It must recognise that capitalism, colonialism and the climate crisis are also inherently linked.

Those of us engaged or beginning to engage with the climate emergency, need to acknowledge the position of privilege which is afforded to us. One which enables us to speak of the sense of grief being experience and dedicate time to the psychological and emotional (pre-)trauma which accompanies our knowledge of the ecological crisis. Our privilege affords us choices, be that becoming BirthStrikers or choosing what kind of diet to adopt. Relinquishment, is also choice and our resilience isn’t one which has been borne out of violence or resistance.

It is not about a (re)turning back, a resurrection of a past which we have been taught to acknowledge as truth and respect. It is about grasping our past, present and future with a critical yet authentic stance against the actors who perpetuate and reinforce capitalism. If we don’t, we are at risk of a capitalism which is more green but still as deadly.

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  1. SleepingDog says:

    Perhaps we lack metaphors for the complex systems we inhabit nowadays. From what I can see, Extinction Rebellion is concentrating on parts of the system which are already visible and commonplace, like roads and bridges, although they have also apparently highlighted business-as-usual conferences. To me, we need to see the unseen, as when the BBC’s War on Plastic tracked British recycling wastes to illegal and abandoned plants and dumps in Malaysia. What happens when our waste export ports are blocked? Can we see the uncensored harm that our weapon exports are causing? Can we see what secret decisions are made that affect our lives and survival chances? Can we see how the secret parts of the UK state work, and what interests it collaborates with?

    The climate emergency imposes such a brief window of opportunity that suggests that rules for normal civil disobediance no longer apply, but what action is justified? That at least is among the important questions this article asks:
    https://freedomnews.org.uk/justified-resistance-in-the-face-of-catastrophe/
    although the call for revolution seems (to me) fraught with the dangers of creating new autocracies in the image of the old, and undermining chances for an orderly transition, let alone a just transition. After all, many capitalists seem to be currently thriving on chaos and disaster.

    At some point in UK mainstream culture, vulgar displays of consumption have become acceptable positive symbols of status. Reversing the polarity of many of these cultural norms would be a start. A large, warm palace bodes a small, cold heart.

  2. Jim says:

    Can you ask Leila to write more on this topic please?

  3. George says:

    I’ve held apprehensions about XR’s intentions. Can you ask Layla-Roxanne if she would be willing to develop this piece as it feels like she has a lot more to say and has held back.

    1. What are your apprehensions George?

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