Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Five Things That Changed in 2015

1. The Climate

Last year El Nino returned and the climate records began to tumble. The hottest year ever recorded record was pretty much clinched by autumn, even before winter Arctic temperatures reached 25 degrees above average and the north of England disappeared under record breaking rainfall. Nobody was talking about a 'pause' in global warming any more.

Climate change denial indeed seemed to be in retreat generally. This is good news, although really they have done their job. There were always very few actual deniers in the world, and they almost all spoke English, but they had the ear of the most powerful people in the world.

We've already got one degree of warming and may have blown the budget for two degrees by the time the Paris Agreement is first reviewed in 2025, but at least outright denial is now largely a thing of the past.

2. Naomi Klein joined the dots

Although it first came out in September 2014, the book everyone was talking about last year was Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything. Not only did the author of No Logo and Shock Doctrine push climate change into the mainstream, she highlighted two important concepts that usually get ignored in the ordinary coverage of the issue.

Firstly she talked about the Sacrifice Zone, the part of the world being destroyed to feed our fossil fuel addiction. As Naomi Klein points out, the Sacrifice Zone is growing as we chase even more extreme oil and gas, and so Indian villagers fighting open cast mining and American Indians opposing tar sands are now fighting the same battle as the Lancashire folk trying to stop fracking.

Secondly she linked this quite explicitly to our system of Neoliberal Capitalism. She showed how it corrupted the Big Green groups that emerged from the environmental activism of the seventies and how billionaire philanthropists are peddling snake oil non-solutions to climate change.

She also provided poignant warning of the people of Nauru, who sold themselves to the mining companies for a fortune they blew. The result was political corruption, a public health crisis of obesity and an island that had been transformed from tropical paradise to lunar landscape.

Above all she showed how blockades, with the support of local communities, are our most effective weapon in the battle against those who would destroy our world for profit. From the First Nations people of America to our own Barton Moss protest (which she gives a brief mention to) her message was above all inspiring.

3. We beat Shell and Keystone XL (and VW beat itself)

There were three big setbacks for corporate world last year

Greenpeace started it's campaign against Arctic oil after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. 28 activists and two journalists spent three months in a Russian prison after targeting Gazprom, but the main target had always been Shell. Greenpeace scored a big success when they persuaded Lego to abandon a long term, and very profitable, partnership with the company in 2014. Then, after five years of campaigning which saw activists hanging off bridges, paddling around in kayaks and singing songs outside its London HQ, Shell agreed to quit the Arctic.

It was a huge victory for the campaign against climate change, but it was equalled or perhaps
exceeded by the news that Obama would not be approving the Keystone XL pipeline. This had been the signature campaign of the US environment movement but this wasn't just a symbolic victory, it potentially left the Alberta drowning in tar sands oil with no way of getting it to all market.

The third setback wasn't a victory for the Greens as it was entirely self inflicted. The VW scandal showed that playing fast and loose with the regulations wasn't something the banks had a monopoly on. The resulting hit the company's profits took even led to some people talking about diesel cars as 'stranded assets'.

Add in the wobbly state of TTIP and the failure of the fossil fuel industry to get its way in Paris (they wanted a three degrees target and a commitment to geo-engineering) and the corporate world is as vulnerable as it's been since 2001.

4. China approaches Peak Coal

China continued to play a double game in 2015, as both the world's top polluter but also top manufacturer of solar panels. Within China itself the environment was a battlefield where campaigners faced a government crackdown and a film on air pollution was watched 5 million times in the 24 hours before it was taken down.

Peak Oil has been predicted for a while, often with hopes that it will spur the drive for renewables. However things could easily go the other way as we have coal reserved to last us hundreds of years and ever more efficient ways of getting the horrible stuff out of the ground. If China really is about to start demolishing coal fired power stations faster than they are building them it is not because of a lack of supply, but because they do not see the black rocks as the future.  

The implications for the world are significant. Not only is China the world's biggest emitter, but China's dependence on coal has long been used as an excuse by politicians in countries with higher per capita and historical emissions as an excuse for inaction.

5. We became a mass movement


Two years ago I was feeling very proud of myself for being part of the team that gathered four thousand people together for a march against climate change in Manchester.

Last year I went on three marches each of which made our little gathering seem like a vicars tea party. The most recent one, in Paris, took place in a state of emergency with activist under house arrests and all such demonstrations made illegal. Ten thousand people still turned up.

Campaigning for the climate still remains largely outside of party politics, with campaigner's calls for less shopping and a complete rethinking of what we regard as a good life too outre even for the most unreconstructed old lefty, but mainstream politics cannot ignore a movement of this size forever. We may not go them, but they might well come to us.

The result may not be pretty, but it needs to happen. Like the insurgent anti-austerity parties springing up across Europe, anyone who challenges the status quo to this extent will be jumped on hard.

But every climate related 'natural' disaster is another referendum in favour of the scientists and against the economists, every blockade of a fossil fuel site is a political meeting on how to do things differently, every setback for a big corporation is a lesson on how to take back the power, every Chinese power station that shuts is a endorsement of renewable energy and every climate rally is a message that the future is not fixed and we have the power to make a better one.


Elizabeth Pruszynski said...

Hello! Thank you for the cheer... Could you change the picture that gets posted when I paste the link on FB?

Martin Porter said...

FB appears to have changed the way it does things. It used to give me a preview and let me select the picture. Now I don't know what will appear until I post and the preview is often different.