Stretching the limits

Wednesday, 31st October 2007 at 9:15 UTC 2 comments

Having been accused of posting a few too many sectarian posts recently, maybe I should post something a bit more unifying. Recently I’ve heard some rather worrying statements being made about radical climate activists demanding too much, or pushing agendas which most other campaigners aren’t ready for, let alone wider society. It seems that there are those who wish to disown certain elements within the campaign, something I find most disturbing.But surely this is missing the point? 10 years ago, it was these radicals who were the lone voices on the issue; by being outspoken, they’ve moved the agenda from a scientific debate to a real sense of political urgency. What the mainstream campaigners are saying now would not be possible, nor would many of them be saying it, if it hadn’t been for the work of a smaller number of activists taking what at the time seemed a tough stance.

As the agenda has shifted, and Climate Change has become a reality, so many more groups have come on board, and with them, many more people. This shouldn’t mean that we all stick to the messages we were on 10 years ago (or 2 years ago in my case) simply to maintain some kind of unity between campaigners. Movements thrive on, well, movement, and without people prepared to go off and push back the boundaries, the bigger groups with the heavier structures will simply never be able to move into these areas.

Most campaigns contain a “curve-of-action-level” (personal term, bare with me). Get some paper and draw one of those graphs with a curve that starts really high and goes down steeply at first, getting less and less steep, but never reaching the bottom line (exponential, but backwards). On the bottom, write “Activity” and the side “Participants, and you’ll see what I mean. If the 30,000 people who took part in the march and rally on November 4th last year are pretty near the ‘high’ end, then the people who turned up at climate camp are near the ‘low’ end, and the folks who’ll make the effort to not only attend, but also to plan, the next Climate Camp, will be a bit further along the thin end. Someone who goes around smashing up road or pipeline building machinery will go even further along.

But the thing is, its still the same line, and though it will change over time, broadly speaking it will always look the same, whether the movement grows to twice or a hundred times its current size. If the radicals push hard upwards, then it will be possible for some of the NGO’s to increase their activity too. And if more people move out along the graph, others will follow, moving the curve to the right. But the curve will stay more or less the same.

Hope that made sense. What I’m trying to get at is that this is all one movement, and it ranges from those who pick their aims based on what appears acheivable in the short term, and those who pick them based on what the science tells us is needed to actually prevent the temperature spiralling out of control. By being ambitious, those who have gone the furthest out from the mainstream have created new space into which the bigger organisations can fit. And in turn, they’ve allowed the movement to progress.

Last year at Drax, though the Climate Camp had picked itself a target with a very real contribution to Climate Change, the result was really to shift the emphasis from “is it happening” to “how can it be stopped”. Only when we reached Heathrow could we begin to discuss the effects of an individual industry. Had we done Drax this year, either we’d be in the same position as we were last year, or something else would have shifted the agenda, and we’d have been able to talk about non-renewables much more directly.

What the next agenda shift will actually look like, I have no idea. But to discard the actions and aims of the more radical wing of the movement is to remove the ability of more formalised NGO’s to move forwards into making tougher demands. And this will also mean losing the bits that actually grab people’s attention and excite them with the possibilities of real change. And if the radicals have simply moved the centre ground, then this alone is an important achievement, not one to be ignored.


Entry filed under: Activism, Climate Change, Environment.

The BIG 10,000! Forgive us for we haven’t a clue

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg  |  Wednesday, 31st October 2007 at 15:26 UTC

    “this is all one movement, and it ranges from those who pick their aims based on what appears acheivable in the short term, and those who pick them based on what the science tells us is needed to actually prevent the temperature spiralling out of control.”

    I’d actually say that it ranges between those who can be persuaded to sign a parliamentary postcard shoved in their faces by ActionAid now and again, and those who are anarchist hippies by nature, want to bring about the dowfall of government and politics as we know it, and see the evironment as one campaigning field on this front, whether they be good scientists or not. Both the others are also on the scale, just slightly further in at each end.

    But apart from that, I agree with you.

  • 2. Graham Martin  |  Thursday, 1st November 2007 at 23:09 UTC

    Actually, I wonder whether I confused activeness with tactical interests. I know people who are staunchly anti-direct-action who are just as active as a hardcore-Climate-Camper, but I also know people who think only stuff like the camp will work, but do about bugger all.


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