New Internationalist

‘This Changes Everything’: What the Paris attacks mean for the climate protests

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'To change everything it takes everyone' under a Creative Commons Licence

Key organizers are pushing for the climate marches and protests to go ahead in Paris despite threats of a government clampdown (see last night’s press statements by and Climate Coalition 21). Claire Fauset, one of many climate justice activists planning to attend the talks, explains why it’s more important than ever to take action in Paris.

This changes everything. The title of Naomi Klein’s book on the urgency of the fight to stop capitalism destroying our planet was the phrase that immediately came to mind as the horror of the Paris terror attacks settled on my brain last Friday night. I was with friends recording poems and snippets for a radio project during the climate summit, and all our thoughts were already in Paris.

My mind raced like a movie montage of paranoiac dystopianism. Remembering that day in 2001 when, while planning for a campaign against the World Trade Organization, the World Trade Center crumbled to the ground. Remembering the fear, not of terrorism, not of Islam, not of getting on a plane, but of war, xenophobia, repression, and spiralling cycles of violence. Fearing now what this attack means for a Europe already swinging to the right and restricting freedom of movement in the desperate hope of stemming the tide of people fleeing the wars and poverty for which Europe itself is partly responsible. And fearing the growth of the unthinking, poisonous prejudice that values white lives over the lives of people of colour in Beirut, Baghdad, Syria and everywhere.

And of course my fears were for our mobilizations around the climate summit. Will it even happen? Are we mobilizing people to be an easy target for terrorists in a heavily militarized state? Will climate change even be on the agenda? This changes everything.

Climate change is a greater threat than terrorism, we said, in those innocent days only a week ago. And it is. And the two are interconnected. The war in Syria is thought to be partly sparked by a drought, linked to climate change. And resource dependency – specifically oil – is what is buying the guns for the Islamic State. Climate change is a greater threat, but terrorism certainly has the ability to overshadow other issues by its immediacy and horror. Our intention was to go onto the streets of Paris when the summit fails, as it inevitably will, to reach an agreement that has a hope of keeping us within a 1.5 degree temperature rise, to take to the streets and take the last word. But how can we realistically hope to take the last word with our barricades when the first word has been so devastatingly stolen by the terrorists?

Right now social movements are trying to get their heads around what these attacks mean for resistance to the corporate agenda that hijacked the climate talks long before IS hijacked the Bataclan concert hall. We know that the summit will go ahead, but there are strong indications that marches and protests may be banned as a state of emergency is extended to cover the talks.

Paris is a traumatized city. We should not stay silent about the climate crisis, but our resistance must show empathy and solidarity, both with those affected by the attacks and those targeted by the fear, racism and paranoia that now follows. More than ever this is a time for solidarity and a rejection of false ‘solutions’. The COP process over the past 20 years has led to a worsening of the climate crisis and a rise rather than reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the war on terror has led to more terror – in Beirut and Baghdad as well as Paris – and to a refugee crisis that leaves dead bodies washing up on Europe’s shores. The same logic underlies both of these failures. A logic of maintaining the status quo, of protecting our economic interests at all costs, of ignoring the historical and current ways in which the West is deeply implicated in the root causes of the problem. In this moment of fear and uncertainty, of multiple crises sweeping the globe, a movement for justice, equality, anti-oppression, for a liveable planet and for a change to the system based on greed and exploitation is ever more needed.

Now is not the time to stay silent.

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  1. #1 Benny Profane 17 Nov 15

    A hugely necessary point which needs to be made as loudly and as widely as possible. Isis is part of the global economic system of trade in fossil fuels and would stand to suffer from any move to limit their production. Yesterday I wrote a lengthy piece looking at the implications of this: [email protected]

  2. #2 Marc Hudson 17 Nov 15

    Hi Claire,
    this will be an unpopular view, I suspect, but here goes; we developed a critique of summit-hopping as exclusionary (around race, class, gender, physical fitness, ability to take time away from job/family responsibilites etc) etc etc. And Climate Camp 2006 was, as you know even better than me, a response to how our agendas were always reactive. So it was with some degree of ironic detachment when in 2008 and 2009 I saw (from a distance) the UK climate movement gee itself up for... summit-hopping. And now this. Mobilising and movement-building CAN work in synergy. Or they can be polar opposites. At the moment, from where I sit, nobody is interested in doing the grunt work of making their local (that's normally one of our buzzwords, right) democratic structures keep their promises. All people want(ed) to do was get people to go on some dismal march in London, while a few of the ’most committed’ (cough cough) went on to Paris. So, I think the fact that the march will be small/non-existent and the ’Climate Games’ which some people have put so much capital into will almost certainly be a damp squib, is neither here nor there. As for the COPs being useless. Well, yes, we've known that since The Hague (no, I wasn't there) in 2001. So why are we still summit hopping?

  3. #3 Arif 18 Nov 15

    In this time of hatred, fear, suspicion, violence and turmoil, It was heartening to read your post. Very well said!

  4. #4 Claire Fauset 18 Nov 15

    Hi Mark,
    Thanks for your reply I think that your point is by no means an unpopular one. It is a debate that has been had very vocally in Reclaim the Power (a UK grassroots action network working on climate change, fossil fuel extraction, system change) and in the processes organising for Paris.
    There were long discussions in Reclaim the Power about whether we should support mobilisations around Paris, organise something in the UK parallel to Paris, ignore the COP etc. Some of the points being amongst others were:
    - The failure of the Copenhagen climate summit and the repression of the police there created a depression in the movement rather than new energy.
    - The fact that there is no faith in the social movements at all in the COP process. (Indeed many in these movements have had no faith in the process for over a decade, as you say).
    In response to these points and others the strategy of those mobilising for the COP has been (I am paraphrasing here based on my discussions with people who are more involved in the process):
    - To use Paris above all as an opportunity to build movements across borders.
    - To expose failure of the COP, the corporate capture of the COP and the false solutions that it is pushing throughout the process and particularly at the flagship, corporate led, 'solutions' in the centre of Paris. The aim is to stop those involved in the COP process with claiming anything remotely like a victory. To show that it cannot succeed on any criteria from equity to emissions reductions, and to form blockades around the summit when it inevitably fails to meet the minimum requirements for a livable planet.
    - To build, through the connections made in Paris and at home, for major mobilisations in early 2016.

    I think it is disingenuous to say that this is the only game in town for the UK climate movement. Reclaim the Power this year, for example, supported a lot of different activities: organised a camp in May with actions across the board on the fossil fuel industry, supported Frack Free Lancashire around the decision on fracking in Blackpool in June, supported the Frackanpada in the Basque Country (getting together funds for people involved in frontline frackng struggles to attend), and the Klima Camp in Germany and its outrageously successful day of mass action where 1000 people invaded Europe's largest open cast coal mine. As well as mobilising for Paris. Lets also not forget actions and local movement building (through the ongoing occupation of Grow Heathrow) against a third runway at Heathrow. The growing calls for divestment. And I think it is also fair to say that the anti-fracking movement is the most locally based and diverse phenomenon that the UK 'climate movement' has ever seen. And those working on climate change have certainly contributed to that though they can by no means take the credit.

    As always there is a lot we don't do, and a lot we don't do well. and a lot of ways in which the movement has failed to become more diverse.

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