A truly awful false dichotomy

Saturday, 22nd September 2007 at 22:04 UTC 5 comments

I’ve been watching the Google alert emails “Climate Camp” lately and spotted a couple of really quite disturbing pieces. The first appeared on a website called Spiked and the second appeared in the Guardian Online’s ‘Comment is Free’ section, both basically making the exact same argument: that somehow those of us who protested at Drax and Heathrow are in opposition to those who are currently camped at a much less publicised protest at Gatwick Airport.

Starting right at the top, the first article can be found here. The premise seems to be that Greens oppose freedom of movement (the author has never seen me in a discussion about this issue, where I usually get really hot under the collar) while NoBorders activists are promoting some kind of fluffy freedom-to-travel situation.

Firstly, NoBorders is quite a diverse organisation, taking in three main perspectives: the voices of migrants, often deified in a weird way, and yet wrapped in cotton wool at the earliest convenience, those who simply want an end to oppressive rules that threaten the lives of those most in need, and those who, broadly speaking, want to dissolve the nation state as the breeding ‘ground’ of nationalist feeling, and thus counter-nationalist feeling, aka racism.

Secondly, the No Borders camp has relied on the Climate Camp for equipment, logistics and ideas throughout its process. My understanding, though I couldn’t be there, is that the same compost loo structures are being recycled from Climate Camp, and that the kitchen was also at Climate Camp. And remember those huge photos being carried beneath the banner saying “we are armed… only with peer reviewed science”? Most of them are of people who will be forced to migrate if Climate Chaos ensues.

Asylum Seekers do not come here out of choice. Neither, to some extent do migrant workers; they do it because the market has reduced the options for them ‘back home’. NoBorders is not about people who have made a choice to come here, not in any real way. They may have selected the UK out of a list of possible destinations, but selection and choice are two totally different things when you really think about it. To say that NoBorders is about Choice and Climate Camp is anti-choice is another matter completely.

There are so many other levels upon which this whole article is wrong. We aren’t against choice at all. Free markets do not present choice, they present a predestination based upon economic wisdom and a continuously refined logic of profit that must be allowed to dictate people’s decisions. Free markets only benefit from freedom of movement in two ways: by allowing the rich to move between and thus exploit multiple geographic markets at once, and by providing cheap labour that is easily abused and which will move in to take underpaid jobs in richer countries. In a sense Climate Camp is about saying that we can choose something that Capitalism does not put on the menu.

Reading this for the first time, I found myself feeling bewildered that anyone should try and claim that these two movements were somehow completely polar opposites in some way. But I did not that there was an obvious bias against environmentalists in the entire site, and that much of thinking seemed to run on the idea that unrestrained consumption somehow made us better human beings. People do not develop strength of character and deep interpersonal relationships through over consumption, they turn into spoilt brats with shallow relationships, and I think we all recognise this to some extent.

So it was with some disbelief that I found myself reading almost the exact same sentiments in a piece on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site, and I have to say, I’m really sorry for the NoBorders folks if this is all the coverage they can get. The take has swung around slightly; because the non-organisation that is Climate Camp hasn’t spoken out in defence of the NoBorders camp as it has come under the same sort of pressures from police and councils (if not worse) that the Climate Camp did, this is proof that Climate Campers only care about freedom of speech when it concerns them. I take this very personally and very seriously: how dare anyone claim I’m not in favour of freedom of speech?

Anyhow, this part of the article puzzles me…

It is a six-day event where pro-immigration protesters will demand “freedom of movement for all and an end to all migration controls.” They will also demonstrate against the British government’s penchant for building prison-like detention centres for “illegal” and “paperless” immigrants, including one inside the grounds of Gatwick airport.

Pro-immigration? True, pro-immigration to the point that people can enter this country, but not pro-immigration in the sense that we want people to be forced to flee their homes. “They will also…”, no, the main point of the camp is to protest the building of a new detention center; this isn’t simply a minor aside. Oh well…

“today’s green ethos, which views movement around the world as toxic and immigrants as intolerable emitters of carbon”

Fuck off, no we do not. We view corporations as intolerable emitters of carbon. And holidaying is not “moving around”, its taking a detour which can be just as effective at a fraction the distance. Living simply doesn’t mean not traveling, it means traveling in simple ways. I could get to the far east end of Europe with nothing but a ferry ride’s worth of carbon emission to show for it, if I cycled the whole way. Its interesting how blind to criticism of corporations this person is, and particularly how determined he (and she, in the previous article) is to have the reader believe that the Climate Camp was anti-consumer and not anti-corporation.

I started to read down the list of comments, and found several of them to be really quite distasteful, whether in support or against the original opinion piece. Then I started to find a few which gave the game away, and make me wonder whether the posters of earlier ‘green’ comments weren’t really friends of the author. I refer you most specifically to the work of LobbyWatch.org, tacitly supported by George Monbiot, who I have at least some respect for, and who have written this list of the activities which Spiked and the network which runs it, LM, have gotten up to.

You see, it turns out that the group that runs Spiked (the author of the guardian piece being the editor of the website) is basically a bunch of lobbyists who believe in a kind of freedom best described as Right-Wing Libertarian. They include ‘Natural Law’ lovers and other weird sects that have ties in America to groups like the State Militias shown we were introduced to by Michael Moore.

These people work with Genetic Modification companies to create sob stories about protesters being against the natural advance of science, as though anti-Nuclear protesters must be opposed to the natural course of human history. They have also been involved in denying the Rwandan Genocide and accused ITN of making up their groundbreaking reportage of atrocities in Bosnia that have since become the targets of international war crimes tribunals. Some of the other articles on the website are frankly weird, with arguments that fail to hang together.

Back to the Guardian piece and I have just two things I want to pick up on. First, greens are informed by ‘ideas’ of scarcity. Scarcity is a much documented fact, and anyone who claims that the potential for development is endless is missing staringly obvious facts, and also highly likely to approach development of other people’s lands in a way which imposes western values on indigenous populations. Second, that to say ClimateCamp represents the middle-classes taking it out on the poor is a completely stupid suggestion. LM and Spiked are not people from the working classes, they are established business people who want all controls on their activity removing. They believe that we are more human if economic activity is unrestrained, if money rules our lives.

People can be in both camps. To allow people to migrate for economic reasons is to recognise that their weren’t enough resources where they were before, and to allow them to migrate for humanitarian reasons is to accept that people are being abused and that this is a serious situation. To imply that environmentalists are somehow small minded to fail to understand the sheer scale of the threat facing humanity and to equate wealth with happiness. These people who wish to divide the two movements are not allies of the NoBorders movement, and they are not representatives of the working classes, but are instead the beneficiaries of all that is wrong with unfettered capitalism, and we must challenge them wherever they raise their heads.


Entry filed under: Activism, Climate Change, Environment, Free Space, Politics, Sustainability.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Duck  |  Sunday, 23rd September 2007 at 17:22 UTC

    ‘I could get to the far east end of Europe with nothing but a ferry ride’s worth of carbon emission to show for it, if I cycled the whole way’
    & lots of extra food, & costs of making & transporting bike (guessing yours was Far East & aluminium – high energy costs). Interesting stuff in New Scientist in the last few months – if you are eating a high-carbon-footprint diet (eg meat from overseas) you loose a lot of the benefits of walking over driving. Hmm, wonder if I’m better cycling or running around the place, given a life-cycle analysis of bike costs vs vegan cake?

  • 2. Greg  |  Sunday, 23rd September 2007 at 19:20 UTC

    Then again, Graham already owns his bike, and the environmental cost of making a car will be far greater than that of making a bike. Plus, he’d eat food even if he wasn’t cycling to Turkey or wherever. True, you need about twice as many calories as usual if you ride all day, but surely the carbon footprint for one person’s eating isn’t as great as a day’s tank of petrol? A lot of it, as you say, will depend on where they get their food from, but I reckon that anyone crazy enough to ride to the other end of Europe to save on emissions will be pretty strong on eating local produce wherever possible, too.

  • 3. Graham Martin  |  Sunday, 23rd September 2007 at 19:31 UTC

    And might I point out that we already live in an age of over-consumption of food: if I rode all day, I’d simply make better use of it all, I guess.

  • 4. Duck  |  Tuesday, 25th September 2007 at 12:09 UTC

    ‘over-consumption of food’?
    over-processing, lack of environmental considerations, junk & wastefulness, maybe, but if you stay the same weight then it’s not ‘overconsumption’.
    & anyway, .

    Sorry, being pedantic.

  • 5. Ben  |  Monday, 1st October 2007 at 13:09 UTC

    Don’t know if you know the background to the Spiked/LM mob? They started out as the Revolutionary Communist Party, who split from the Third-Worldist Revolutionary Communist Group, who were in turn (ta-da!) a tiny split from the SWP (hey, who wasn’t?)

    The real weirdness started after they launched as the RCP, suddenly they seemed to ‘find’ pots of dosh to launch a snazzy glossy magazine with a WHS distribution deal, in which they vaguely mentioned in passing that they might perhaps eventually favour something post-capitalism, then got stuck into the real business of attacking the Left, anti-war, anti-racist and esp. Green movements for being anti-technology Luddites and NOT COOL ENOUGH.

    Over the next few years, they put on frighteningly expensive designer suits, rapidly paddled away from even the vaguest link to any kind of social movement (Trade Unions? eurgh, how 1970s!), renamed themselves from the RCP to Living Marxism (sic) to LM and finally (for now) to Spiked. They still oddly claim some link with Marx, though also with Adam Smith, natch, and have at least, at last, come out as what they really are – corporate shills for free-market capitalism.

    Their main role now is to act as faux-sophisticated hatchet-people attacking the Green movement using fave terms from the progressive dictionary, in an analogous way that the B52 Liberals use secularist vocab to justify imperialist wars.

    (If you detect an element of bitterness in here, it’s because I wasted a couple of months when I was, hm, 16 or 17 selling papers with these idiots, dazzled by their apparent cleverness. Happily I got better!)

    Also btw it’s not an unhappy coincidence that Brendan O’Neill, the chap on Guardian Comment Is Free makes the same argument – he’s another Spiked columnist. They’re all over the web, somewhat like an irritating rash. Except rashes don’t get corporate funding.


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