The sign over the entrance to the Climate Camp at Blackheath overlooking the City of London, was spot on: “Capitalism IS Crisis”. Broadening out climate change from a single issue, to seeing it as a part of the interconnected crisis that pervades every aspect of human economic and social life today, is a big step forward. And by the same token, to ask for, or expect, solutions to climate change within the existing structures is to call down misery on the heads of millions.
A report just published by the Grantham Institute for the study of Climate Change at Imperial College, London, shows that the cost of adapting to the impacts of climate change has been consistently underestimated by the United Nations.
The report warns that the real costs are likely to be two-three times greater than estimates made by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). And if the full range of impacts on human activities is considered, the cost would be even more. For example, the UNFCCC left out energy, manufacturing, retailing, mining, tourism and ecosystems.Where is the funding for adaptation to come from? Who will be protected? In Britain, the public finances are shot to pieces and Darling will not even limit bonuses in banks the public owns. Government bonds are not selling and next year will bring a devastating round of public service cuts.
In the US, it is estimated that as a result of the recession, one in five families do not earn enough to feed themselves. Repossessions will add 1.5 million more to the soaring homeless total in the next two years. A number of state governments are facing bankruptcy and are slashing their budgets. In the EU, Italy and Germany are back-peddling on the existing carbon trading scheme and everywhere there is a desperate desire on the part of governments to shore up business-as-usual at any cost. Throughout the world, the burden of the economic crisis is being imposed on the poorest, and it will be no different with the impacts of climate change.
We must not get hung up on single issues, such as coal-fired power stations, but rather recognise the world in the same way the capitalist class does – as a series of interconnected structures bent on nothing more productive or useful than the generation of profit from private property. The Climate Justice campaign, to which Climate Camp is affiliated, says it is time to “change the system, not the climate”. They plan to mobilise to take over the conference hall at the Copenhagen climate summit, for one day. Well, it’s a start. But the knotty problem is how do we remove the decision-making power of capitalism for good?
The AWTW workshop at Climate Camp focused on this – and we agreed that we would open up a forum for debate about how it can be done. One idea we discussed was the need for a democratic Convention of the People (working title!). It would not seek to co-ordinate protests or strikes – activists can do that quite effectively themselves – but instead focus on becoming a rapidly-developing representative body, with the perspective of replacing the existing structures of ownership and power.
It could bring together climate campaigners, trade unionists, miners, migrants, power workers, unemployed people, public sector and any other workers in a representative body for mutual defence and development of agreed alternatives in economy, energy, ownership and political power. Its ultimate goal would be to challenge the legitimacy of the current political system, and achieve a transfer of power to the people in a regenerated popular democracy.