WHEN we speak of a climate emergency it’s not mere rhetoric. The real life consequences of the emergency have life-changing effects for millions of people.
When West Country villages and German valleys flood, East Anglian coasts crumble, torrents tear into tube stations and fires consume Mediterranean vineyards and Californian forests alike this is a real emergency that requires immediate action.
Insulate Britain is taking direct action to pressure the government to fully fund the insulation of all social housing. This is an urgent need and it is a good fit with a wider policy to reduce emissions.
Before we rush into judgement about the tactics of bringing the M25 to a standstill we should first consider the differential impact of climate change and the degradation of the environment that burning fossil fuel entails.
It is one thing in developed metropolitan capitalist countries but the effect it has on the lives and livelihoods of people living in those parts of the underdeveloped and colonially exploited world where the consequences are most damaging is of a different order.
Being late for work or a hospital appointment, a romantic assignation or a sporting fixture is undoubtedly vexing.
Watching your animals die, crops wither, water sources dry up, your children’s bellies swell with starvation and disease tear your family and community apart is of a different order.
The consequences of climate change for developed urban societies with extensive infrastructure investment, good communications and robust civil society structures are challenging enough. But such societies have enormous resources available. Our problem is political, it is the contradiction between collective need and the paralysis that private ownership entails when profit is threatened.
The consequences for much of the developing world are forced migration, the real risk of extortion, imprisonment and slave labour, the certainty of an expensive and dangerous journey across the sea and, within the EU, and without, a hostile environment for migrants.
It is against the scale of the threat to people and planet that we must evaluate the actions of all who put the environment at the centre of politics.
And by this yardstick we need to make mature judgements about what is needed to effect real change. The moral imperative to set an example in both personal consumption and political action is a powerful force.
But of itself it is not sufficient.
If we accept the incontrovertible truth that the time available to make the necessary changes is finite then we need to make a realistic assessment of what is necessary to effect those changes.
Extinction Rebellion’s argument — that if we are to have any hope of coping with the emergency, we have to move beyond the politics that have so far held us back, and into listening, dialogue and towards unity and action — is a compelling message
When it says that does not want to seize power, it wants to place power in the hands of citizens it sets out a particular kind of politics.
It is here that a distinction must be made between tactics and strategy.
The tactics of blockade and disruption by a highly conscious minority must be measured — not against the metrics of moral outrage — but with a more careful calculation of the cumulative effect on the minds of millions.
And against a strategy that can call into effective action the decisive forces for the transformation of society as a whole.
This is not a criticism of the people who block the M25. It is an argument for a strategy that unites the widest range of forces that can compel change.
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