What Climate Emergency?

In the aftermath of the experience of last week’s ‘extreme weather’, something has ‘broken though’ in the parlance of media chatter. Several friends have asked “What should I do? “I want to do something”. “I want to join something.”

Do nothing I tell them. Just stop it.

Many of us have been saying this for about thirty years, but this week George Monbiot wrote:

“All this time, environmentalists have been telling people we face an unprecedented, existential crisis, while simultaneously asking them to recycle their bottle tops and change their drinking straws. Green groups have treated their members like idiots and, I suspect, somewhere deep down, the members know it. Their timidity, their reluctance to say what they really want, their mistaken belief that people aren’t ready to hear anything more challenging than this micro-consumerist bollocks carries a significant share of the blame for global failure. There was never time for incrementalism. Far from being a shortcut to the change we want to see, it is a morass in which ambition sinks. System change, as the right has proved, is, and has always been, the only fast and effective means of transformation.”

This pattern of minimising risk and always urging the least hard, the lowest-hanging fruit has been repeated for decades. It’s tactics are proven to fail. As Chris Hedges notes:

“Environmental campaigners, from The Sierra Club to 350.org, woefully misread the global ruling class, believing they could be pressured or convinced to carry out the seismic reconfigurations to halt the descent into a climate hell. These environmental organizations believed in empowering people through hope, even if the hope was based on a lie. They were unable or unwilling to speak the truth. These climate “Pollyannas,” as Hamilton (Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change) calls them, “adopt the same tactic as doom-mongers, but in reverse. Instead of taking a very small risk of disaster and exaggerating it, they take a very high risk of disaster and minimize it.”

Now, Rishi Fucking Sunak keeps telling us his kids have told him about climate change? What is he a Man-Child? Where has been for the past forty years?

I mean Exxon and Shell knew since the 1970s and 80s.

So what are we to do if we are stop concentrating on our oat milk and endlessly sorting our glass and our cardboard? Isn’t just demanding ‘system change’ just as disempowering in a different way? Well yes, endlessly describing a ‘meta crisis’ without any roots or solutions isn’t particularly helpful and can be alienating. Pointing out ‘we are all doomed’ while people are fending off debt-collectors isn’t really a way forward.

But here’s some thoughts on how to move beyond this binary of ‘micro consumerist bollocks’ and ‘end capitalism now’.


There is a need for far greater unity among those being criminalised in Britain today. As RMT union boss Mick Lynch says of Liz Truss’s recent statements about ‘banning strikes’: “This is a direct attack on one of the main pillars of our democracy” … “Truss is seeking to make effective industrial action illegal” adding “it’s oppression of working people”.

This is a mirror on the attacks on the right to peaceful protest aimed at criminalising environmental protestors and suppressing dissent. The highly draconian Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill being rushed through parliament is a chilling erosion of our freedom of expression, by which ministers will have the power to suppress any protest they don’t agree with.

These forces – unions demanding decent pay and conditions and safety of the travelling public on public transport – and protestors calling out the death-cult of the fossil fuel industry have common-cause. The first step to real change is to make solidarity beyond the silos of our single campaigns.

Power Analysis

Understanding the predicament as a question of justice and solidarity, not a question of ‘carbon’ may be a better way to frame this.  We need to get a better perspective that the system failure we’re seeing is part of the same phenomenon ie. the inability of the state and the economic system to meet people’s basic needs: housing; food; health, is the same inability as the one which causes climate breakdown.

This is what’s behind the desperate need for the UK government to alienate ‘ordinary hard working people’ by demonising trade unionists and protestors and making them out to be some radical fringe, some alien force, as Thatcher had it: ‘the Enemy Within’.

The apparent (and misleading) dichotomy between ecology and social issues needs broken down. A power analysis of environmental justice shows that just as globally it is the north that exploits the south, within the global north it is the poorest communities that suffer the most from environmental degradation.

Secondly the narrative that “we can’t afford this green stuff” and “debt is too high for real change” is a spurious one. We now know that ‘close to 40% of multinational profits are shifted to tax havens each year.’

Not all the ‘solutions’ are utopian. Not all of the critiques are unachievable

The idea that nothing can be done, that there are no solutions is called ‘reflective-impotence’. It’s endemic but not total.

Exploring what ‘true prosperity’ might look like, centering class struggle, transitioning to a ‘clean economy’, exploring the explosion of anti-capitalist economic alternatives can all be woven into a blueprint for change. The combination of actions can be described in different ways, some have it as a combination of: ‘private sufficiency, public luxurydoughnut economicsparticipatory democracy and an ecological civilisation are some.’

Others have it centering around the emergent ideas around a radical degrowth rethinking of the economy.

As Timothée Parrique has put it summarising the three “dimensions of the degrowth vision” in a recent review feature:

“The first one is ecological justice, “the vision of an ecologically sustainable and socially more equal world”. This is degrowth in the literal sense of the term (“a planned contraction of economic activity”; “a reduction of production and consumption among the affluent,”) for the sake of global justice: the lowering of footprints among the wealthiest towards a “solidary mode of living” that can reverse exploitative North-South relations.

The second principle is about social justice, self-determination, and a good life. By social justice, they mean “undoing broader structures of domination such as class society, racism, colonialism, (hetero-)sexism, ableism and other forms of exclusion”. Self-determination, following Cornelius Castoriadis, has to do with collective democracy and individual autonomy. And finally, a good life is the search for a holistic understanding of prosperity, a form of “alternative hedonism” [Kate Soper] including notions of “resonance” [Hartmut Rosa] (“meaningful and good self-world relationships,” p.205), conviviality (“thriving coexistence and collective self-determination,” p.205), and time prosperity (“more self-determined time,” p.206).

The third principle is growth independence. “A degrowth society is a society that, through a democratic process, transforms its institutions and infrastructures so that they are not dependent on growth and continuous expansion for their functioning”. It involves dismantling certain growth-inducing material infrastructures and technical systems like the car-based system, transforming growth-dependant social institutions like the financing of the welfare state, cleansing mental infrastructures from the belief that more is always better, and more generally ensuring that the economic system as a whole can “prosper without growth” [Tim Jackson].

Yes we need to protest, disrupt and cause chaos. Yes we need to strike and show solidarity. Yes we need to stand up for ourselves but we also need to withdraw consent and create different futures. Some of them are emerging right now.

The first task is to foreground the class and power elements of climate breakdown, and the climate and ecology elements of social breakdown. We need to reject the desperate efforts of the governing classes to separate ‘ordinary people’ from strikers and protestors. This will need to create a ‘dissenting mass’ rather than pockets of isolated activists, but it will also require a critique of daily life and its habits and cultures that is so venerated in tabloid-land.


Image Credit: Clare Farrell / BodyPolitic

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Comments (22)

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  1. Michael Orgel, MD says:

    Agree on creating a ‘dissenting mass ‘ rather than isolated pockets of activists. Would only add that the need to include addressing the existential crisi of nuclear weapons needs to always be mentioned with the climate crisis. Their intersectional nature clear but not always appreciated by many activists.

  2. AudreyMacT says:

    Mike Small calls for unity and ‘centering class struggle’!
    For a year now Mike has been silent as Australian state governments have threatened and sacked unvaccinated workers. He’s been silent as people have been hauled off to camps.
    He’s been silent as Justin Trudeau in Canada has made dissent illegal and seized the assets of truckers.
    He was silent as the UK government sacked unvaccinated care workers.
    He was silent when the BBC revealed that over 200,000 children in South Asia have died from COVID disruptions to healthcare
    He’s silent as the German Federal Ministry of Health admit that 1 in every 5,000 vaccinations leads to an injury serious enough for hospitalisation.
    But now he wants unity!

    1. Vishwam says:

      Hi Audrey, I’m not sure what you expect from Mike. He’s only one man who can’t cover all the news stories of the world.

      1. AudreyMacT says:

        Hi Vishwam, I’m sure Mike is well aware of all these stories. He says we should foreground the class and power elements of climate breakdown but he focuses relentlessly on the politicians who have very little power – they are merely puppets. He never questions who is above them pulling the strings. And when workers take to the streets en masse, as they did in Canada and Australia, he simply ignores them.
        He tells us we should ignore the msm and look to alternative news sources but he swallowed the msm pandemic narrative hook, line and sinker.

        1. Vishwam says:

          Hi Audrey,

          Mike may well be aware of the stories but that doesn’t mean he has either capacity or inspiration to write about them. I don’t know if you’re a writer yourself? It’s not an easy job.

          And different people have different ways if seeing things. That’s really valuable.

          I think criticising each other is what makes the unity you both call for more challenging. Maybe it’s time to be supporting and encouraging what we value in each other as we learn to work together. These challenges require us all learning to cooperate and get along.

    2. Derek Thomson says:

      Right, so we know you’re an anti-vaxxer. Other than that, what’s your point caller?

      1. AudreyMacT says:

        I’m warning you of creeping fascism on a global scale.

      2. AudreyMacT says:

        And I’m not an anti-vaxxer. The mrna treatments are not vaccines in the conventional sense. They don’t stop you getting COVID or transmitting it. They can also have serious side effects.

        1. Niemand says:

          It is not uncommon for people to get still get ill after some vaccines. Most vaccines have a percentage effectiveness in terms of infection. I believe to be considered worthwhile, it must be (well) over 50%. But they reduce the severity either way. There is nothing unconventional about this. If they do not reduce severity either then yes, they cease be a vaccine.

          1. AudreyMacT says:

            It’s a ‘vaccine’ that can’t prevent you getting the disease and can’t prevent you passing it on. The claim that it prevents you getting very ill with COVID is dubious and most people only get cold or flu- like symptoms anyway. And now the German health authorities confirm that the chances of side effects which could kill or land you in hospital are one in 5,000!
            You’d really have to be out of your mind to take it.

          2. Niemand says:

            You are entitled to your opinion on Covid and the vaccines but it is worthless to anyone except your fellow conspiracy theorists. Sane people listen to other sane people on the matter and above all, to those who actually know about medical science through study and years of practice.

    3. Drew Anderson says:

      There are only so many hours in the day.

      I put a lot of effort, when time permits, into keeping up-to-date on current affairs, but I didn’t know about any of those issues. I was aware of the Canadian trucker protest, but not its aftermath; the rest are news to me.

      Am I guilty of being “silent” too?

      Or, did you not consider that, some or all of, these stories didn’t pop up on Mike’s radar either?

      1. AudreyMacT says:

        You’re not guilty of anything Drew. I’m accusing Mike of hypocrisy because he’s lecturing us on unity and solidarity but over the past two years has ignored workers who have been threatened with the sack, fired at with rubber bullets and had their assets frozen.

    4. You are right Audrey I have been ‘silent’ on pockets of right wing paranoid libertarians which are part of the anti-vaxx movement which I deem to be completely reactionary.

      I don’t agree with you. I think you are completely wrong. I don’t share your beliefs. Get over it.

      I’m sure there are sites and blogs somewhere that will confirm and ratify your belief system. This isn’t one of them. I’m sorry if this is somehow confusing for you.

      1. AudreyMacT says:

        It’s a vaccine that can’t prevent you getting the disease and can’t prevent transmission. It has dubious claims to prevent serious COVID 19 but it can produce serious side effects and even kill people.
        Australian workers who protested because they didn’t want to be jabbed were fired at with rubber bullets.
        Thank you for making clear that you DON’T agree with ‘ my body, my choice’, you DON’T agree with informed consent and you DON’T agree with the Nuremberg Code.
        That’s quite a statement!

  3. Cathie Lloyd says:

    You mention Mick Lynch: getting the trade unions onside would be a major plus. I’m unclear about their individual positions, but the movement needs to work constructively with those who are aware of the links between workers rights and struggle for a sustainable future.

  4. John O'Dowd says:

    “I mean Exxon and Shell knew since the 1970s and 80s”.

    I went to high school 1964-70. We were taught about the greenhouse effect and global warming in science classes.

    We knew about it when I was a science undergraduate and post-graduate in the seventies. When I studied zoology as an undergraduate, we were made deeply aware of how global warming would destroy species, habitats – and ultimately our own species through ecological catastrophe.

    Throughout my working life as a scientist (biochemist) and academic we have all been aware of it.

    In short, this knowledge is NOT new.

    Scientists have been screeching about it for at least over half a century – to my certain knowledge.

    I have always known why science would not be heeded – and sorry to say – will not be heeded. The reason?

    In a word: Profit. In two words: Finance Capital.

    A system whose economy is based on oligopolies and monopolies seeking to create ever-expanding fictitious capital on automatic pilot, and where businesses have a fiduciary duty to maximise profit, is utterly incapable of self-reform.

    Add to that the insatiable greed of the Money Power behind finance capital (or fictitious capital to be more accurate – real capital is genuine investment in the factors of production; fictitious capital in contrast is a rentier system of legal claims on the value created by labour power in the real economy)

    This is a self-perpetuating machine that relies, for example, on computer trading of financial instruments, stocks and bonds, simply cannot be halted from within that system. Its intrinsic tendency is towards exponential growth of fictitious ‘wealth’ (rentier claims) whereas the real economy, if it grows at all, grows linearly. And so we see repeated, and now permanent crisis, since these two systems are mathematically incompatible.

    It is this drive for growth, incompatible with finite nature, that is leading to disaster.

    But of course it is worse than that: Ecocide and planetary degradation are, first slowly – and now probably exponentially, degrading even the prospect of linear growth – more likely we have incipient positive feedback loops leading to rapid rapid planetary collapse – which is quite possible what we are witnessing right now. War, famine and pestilence will follow.

    Unlike ostriches – which do not bury their heads in the sand in response to threat – it is only humans who do that.

    The global ruling class knows very well what lies ahead. They likely believe that they and their ilk will find some means of escape. They have planned such ‘escapes’.

    I doubt very much they can, but they will take the rest of us with them.

    Unless we wake up – if there is still time!

  5. Sue Laughlin says:

    Yesterday SANE – Solidarity Against Neoliberal Extremism – hosted a Conversation for Transformation with the aim of bringing different campaigns and organisations in Glasgow together to focus on the climate crisis and the role that a city should ideally play. Our aims were to get to know each other better, to explore how we might work more effectively in solidarity rather than in silos, work out what some of the building blocks to transformation look like, where there was strong action on these but also where there were gaps. Many were invited, only 3 turned up. Are activists too exhausted to work on creating synergy? is it just easier to work in silos? Thoughts welcome


  6. 220728 says:

    Now you’re talking, MIke. The b*gg*r is, however, that we’re locked into the totality of the failing system (capitalism) and there’s no ‘outside’ to which we can escape/from which we can construct a transcendent critique. That’s why, as you point out, even our ‘solutions’ are themselves manifestations of ‘the problem’ and take the form of a voice crying (ineffectually) in the wilderness for the creation of a ‘dissenting mass’, for which the eschatological Left has been invoking through its magical thinking for over two centuries now. The insolubility of ‘the problem’ from within the total system is part of capitalism’s epistemological crisis.

    The ‘good news’ is that the system will break down (both materially and reflectively) under the weight of its own contradictions, without any prophetic intervention on the part of some socio-political ‘saviour’ or ‘superhero’ or ‘historical subject’ and that the new reflective paradigms we ‘need’ to survive will emerge retrospectively, from the breakdown itself, rather than prospectively as some wiseguy’s redemptive teaching in advance of ‘the end-times’.

    When it comes to eschatology (what we may expect when negative world events reach a climax), ye cannae buck the fact that history makes itsel.

  7. SleepingDog says:

    I think Monbiot grotesquely misrepresents the green groups that I am familiar with. For example, Greenpeace is currently going to take the UK government to court over the Jackdaw field:
    conducts research and investigative reporting, takes action to shut down environmentally harmful activities all round the world, and so on. I do not recollect it ever preaching ‘micro-consumerist bollocks’. Neither does Extinction Rebellion. The campaigns to stop whaling, for example, were fought at high inter-governmental level, with direct actions against whale hunts. It would not have hurt if consumers stopped eating whale products. Indeed, moves towards plant-based diets can hardly be called ‘bollocks’.

    The latter part of the article essentially spells out the need for a common good life philosophy, which I agree with. That is ‘good’ as in ethical, not sure about where hedonism comes in. And that is possibly the only way to go if you want solidarity not just survival: call out the evils that contribute to the climate emergency, the pollution of the planet, and unnecessary harms to the living world. Contributors on the BBC documentary on Big Oil v The World essentially spell this out: the evils that, for example, the leaders of Exxon-Mobil and Koch Industries perpetrated in cahoots with their lackeys, shills and right-wing wingnuts, who have effectively captured much of USAmerican politics. At the close of the second episode, an Obama-administration employee reflects on surprise that the ‘climate hoax’ narrative became the mainstream alternative to climate science. It’s a toxic mix of supremacist ideology, religion, anti-science, unashamed wilful ignorance, unscrupulous media manipulations, pathological lying, and hideous me-first attitudes welded into a global anti-life blowtorch.

    I mentioned Reagan’s conversion to never paying off the national debt recently: I should have mentioned that his politics and economics were apparently shaped by a belief that the world would be ending shortly (the Rapture and all). Not much has changed since, in Republican and Conservative ruling circles, and in significant cliques of their shadows.

  8. AudreyMacT says:

    C J Hopkins on Lauterbach’s lies and the Normalization of the New Normal Reich

    1. Wul says:

      Goannae just sling yer hook “Audrey” ?

      No one here is buying your schtick.

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