Editorial - From Heiligendamm to Heathrow

This editorial was published in the summer of 2007.

“The decision to go to Heathrow was wrong!” This was the impulsive thought that was playing on our minds as we followed eight politicians and herds of protesters to Germany; to meet Shift contributors, eat in squats, sleep in tents and on dirty floors, drink 50p-a-bottle beer with ‘the movement’, and of course to “shut them down” – again. Throughout the journey, this impulse became a much reflected upon certainty (avoiding the quick guilty trip by plane allowed us the luxury of 26 hour-a-go bus journeys and plenty of time to think). Yes the aviation industry is a major problem, as the fastest growing source of C02 emissions plans for expansion fly in the face of any commendable efforts to tackle climate change. Heathrow seemed an obvious choice simply because of its size and expansion plans. But to make radical politics work, we need to come up with more than just big=evil!

Sometimes the Camp for Climate Action transcended such simple equations, but more often than not it presented itself as a protest for austerity. If the anti-G8 mobilisation in Germany showed anything, it was that protest is not necessarily progressive. Opposition to neoliberal globalisation did not only come from the Left. Anti-consumerist and “Bush go home” slogans were also heard on neo-Nazi marches. The common target on both sides of the political spectrum was the greed of a few causing unemployment, ecological disaster, widespread poverty and imperialist war. The German far Right had mobilised against a profit-driven system run by multinationals, America and Israel. Sound familiar?

But there are no puppeteers holding the strings of the world in their hands. Capitalist society is characterised by more hidden and complex forms of domination that underlie all aspects of our lives. Bush, Brown and BAA are all too easily depicted as greedy fat cats with a master plan for environmental destruction and world domination. But capitalism is not a conspiracy of a few politicians and airport bosses. The anti-globalisation focus on the opaque power of the rich and famous neglects the social aspects of capitalism.

This is where the choice of the aviation industry as the prime target of this summer’s Climate Camp is flawed. Sure, from a moral perspective, we need to switch to less carbon intensive modes of transport. However, it seems to reduce our critique to one that simply contrasts the ‘ethical’ lifestyle to an ‘unethical’ one. Instead of showing the interconnectedness of the Social and the Ecological, Climate Camp has picked the individual as the point of attack. Of course, the mass action targeted BAA’s corporate power and not individual passengers, but the message remained: “Fly less”.

This disrespect of the social aspect of our lives seems to us reminiscent of a Thatcherism that stood firmly against the assertion of social classes in the 1980s. For Thatcher, the Social was no more than the accumulation of individual behaviour, denying the existence of society. This green Thatcherism is one that we can see in the UK’s political centre. Cameron, Miliband and Co. are its true inheritors, with policy proposals that are aimed at consumer behaviour. Accordingly, Hillman, Monbiot and other movement theorists demand government action to make individuals comply with a more ‘ethical’ lifestyle. Yet, society is not just the sum of its individuals; it is shaped by social relations. The focus on individual consumption ignores the peculiarity of the social processes intrinsic to capitalism.

The campaign against the aviation industry is an ethical and moral undertaking worthy of support. And Climate Camp brings forward convincing arguments against the unequal distribution of power in society as one of the root causes of climate change. However, we also need to explore criticisms that go beyond moral and ethical positions. With this magazine we want to intervene into movement discourses, from the G8 to Climate Camp and beyond, and to force open spaces for a more radical analysis of capitalist domination.

Capitalism is no conspiracy, it exploits on an everyday level and there is no ‘do or die’. From this perspective, the emerging social movement against climate change is as radical as an ethical lifestyle guide.