A foot in both camps - Merrick

Merrick looks at the politics of Spiked Online and argues that you can support both climate change (and the Climate Camp) and open borders ( and the camp near Heathrow that year). Originally published early in 2008.

It’s always something of a fish/barrel/firearms combo going for Spiked and their writers. But given the scandalous denial of the facts and complete absence of research in one particular piece, I’ll do it anyway. Just so you know who we’re dealing with, Spiked rose from the ashes of Living Marxism, the magazine of the Revolutionary Communist Party. They had the traditional fanatical far-left party allegiance and devotion to allies right or wrong. This cost them dear when their love of Bosnian Serbs during the Balkan wars led them to fabricating a libellous story about ITN’s coverage, and LM was sued out of existence.

The party folded, the communist ideas evaporated, but that fixation with making the story fit your beliefs has endured. They always had a strong anti-environmental stance, seeing humans - and especially their technology - as capable of fixing everything with industrialisation. (Quite where the energy sources and raw materials are coming from, well, let’s just keep seeing further industrialisation as the only progress worth having and have faith it’ll all come out alright.)

This has led them to their present position of being fervently ‘pro-science’ (ie pro-corporate science) and extremely critical of environmentalism. The team donned suits and formed a number of front groups (am I the only one who always wonders why a person is presented as a plausible pundit just because they’re from something that can be called a think-tank?) with names like Global Futures and London International Research Exchange.

Living Marxism and Spiked folks were climate change deniers for as long as it was tenable and quite some distance beyond. Indeed, Martin Durkin, maker of denialist documentaries The Great Global Warming Swindle and Against Nature, as well as ones ‘proving’ that silicone breast implants are good for womens’ health and that genetic engineering is more or less the best thing ever, has strong links with the personnel and ideology of LM and Spiked.

Brendan O’Neill is Spiked’s editor. So we can expect anything he writes to be in the Durkin tradition of highly selective fact-mincing.

He’d already used his keen political intellect to lay into this summer’s Camp for Climate Action for being ‘made up of painful miserabilists, who wouldn’t know what fun was if it stamped its eco-footprint on their faces’.

But after the Climate Camp he wrote this other piece, comparing the Heathrow Climate Camp with the No Borders camp at Gatwick a month later. No Borders is an international network who work with and for migrants and asylum seekers on the issues of freedom of movement and for the freedom for people to stay in the place which they have chosen.

O’Neill talks of the contrast between the ideals of the two camps, concluding “You’re either in the Gatwick camp or the Heathrow camp. Make your choice.” All the hallmarks of LM journalism, there. Challenging, bullish, ideologically driven, and completely at odds with the facts.

The Camp for Climate Action and No Borders openly supported one another. Their websites link to one another. As well as the day of mass action, there were several smaller bits of direct action from the Climate Camp. One was an occupation of the offices of budget airline XL. The target was chosen not only because of their cheap flights but also for their contract to deport refugees from the UK. The action was explicitly in solidarity with the No Borders camp. In the press release one of the protesters, Allannah Currie, explained: “environmental refugees outnumber all other kinds combined, and climate change will make that get a lot worse. We in the wealthy countries have welfare to protect us from climate chaos, but the world’s poorest have nothing to help them except us taking responsibility. Our carbon emissions threaten to take the essentials of life from the poor of the world, it makes a mockery of our concern about aid and debt relief.” The press release went on to plug the No Borders camp and had the No Borders URL at the bottom. When protesters (except one who’d locked on to a stairwell) were removed from the building they continued outside, holding a banner saying ‘CHEAP FLIGHTS… CHEAP LIVES?!!’. This action upped the ante considerably and led to XL pulling out of deportations within weeks.

The Climate Camp’s programme of workshops included ‘No Borders and the Harmondsworth Detention Centre’ and ‘Climate Change: Making Poverty Permanent?’. Additionally, there was one from anti-Shell campaigners in Ireland who’ve forged links with indigenous groups fighting Shell in Nigeria, and several from anti-biofuels campaigns that are largely based on the fact that oil plantations are destroying forests which is an attack not only on the ecosystems but also displacing the people that live there.

The final action from the Climate Camp was a protest at Harmondsworth Detention Centre where asylum seekers are kept in prison-like conditions. The report on Indymedia describes the protesters as being ‘from the Climate Camp, including many from No Borders’ and explains: “The link between the Climate Camp and detention centres is in no way convoluted. Climate change is already producing millions of environmental refugees. These millions will become hundreds of millions in a business as usual scenario. Many of those refugees managing to flee to this country, along with many fleeing torture and war, are met not with compassion and asylum, but brutal repression and detention. The policies of UK plc with regard to climate change are hurting these people, but instead of helping them, UK plc locks them up.

If he’d, ooh I dunno, checked what the Climate Camp actually did then O’Neill would have known this. Knowing any of it - all of it easily found in obvious places - would have totally undermined his case. If he’d gone one further and actually made contact with anyone from either camp he would have discovered all that and more too. O’Neill says of the No Borders camp ‘this time freedom-loving greens are nowhere to be seen,’ yet at No Borders many of the organisers and attendees were the very same people as the Climate Camp. They also shared infrastructure; the same marquees were used, the same bike library available for borrowing, the same vehicles delivering stuff and taking it away, you name it.

O’Neill talks about his imagined lack of solidarity between climate activism and No Borders as illuminating: “the deeply anti-humanist strain in the politics of environmentalism. Because environmentalism is built on ideas about scarcity and shortage, it tends towards misanthropic solutions: demands for smaller families, harsher living conditions and restrictions on migration. Strip away the trendy gloss, and environmentalism increasingly looks like an expression of middle-class outrage against the masses and our dirty habits.” I love that, calling himself ‘the masses’.

As a rule of thumb, the richer you are the greater your personal consumption and carbon emissions, so environmentalism is pretty much an attack on people’s habits in direct proportion to the size of their income. It’s an attack on the rich and their dirty habits.

If we are to talk of global migration and global climate, we have to look at humanity globally. In those terms, the masses do not have dirty habits. Most people will never fly or own a car, indeed barely half the world’s ever made a phone call. To do any of these things says you’re actually in the rich elite. Why do the likes of O’Neill always use ‘middle class’ as the criticism? Don’t the upper class ever offend their beliefs? But the term is not used in a strict socio-economic sense. It has other connotations, it implies a woolliness of thinking, a kind of personal and intellectual inauthenticity as a human being. It’s a nice handy catch-all dismissal, vague enough to not have to be defended.

He says that it is ‘inhumane’ to restrict immigration if climate change is going to force vast numbers of people to leave their homeland. Quite so. Indeed, at both the Climate Camp and the No Borders camp this point was made repeatedly. But might it be more humane to let people stay on their land amongst their culture rather than deprive them of the basics of life and force their migration just so the rich can jet off for weekends in Barcelona?

Such an idea as espoused by the climate campaigners left O’Neill incredulous: “They were effectively calling for less choice, less freedom of movement, and for tougher taxes and restrictions on people’s ability to fly. Their argument with BAA can be summed up as follows: “We demand the freedom to protest against freedom!””

Absolutely. There are limits to freedom. Your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. When climate change is already killing people in their thousands every week, the freedom to increase emissions is the freedom to throw ever more punches.

The whole principle of Contraction & Convergence is that we find the safe level of total human emissions - so nobody’s fist is hitting anyone’s nose - then we share those out equally. As opposed to the idea that whoever has money can do what they want and if it inflicts suffering and deprivation on the poor and those yet to come, well, tough shit.

In talking about the ‘masses’ yet just meaning those in the rich nations, and in talking about ‘freedom’ meaning the freedom to do what your money allows, O’Neill and Spiked reveal a deeply held sense of superiority over and contempt for those they exclude; those who do, in actuality, constitute the mass of people.

For the vision that joins up its thinking and acts responsibly out of concern for humanity at large, you need a foot in both camps.

"Merrick is a writer and activist on environmental and other issues. Whilst keeping a hand in as part of the Godhaven Ink publishing collective, in these cybertimes not much of his writing comes out on actual paper things. Nowadays it’s most frequently done on his Bristling Badger blog (www.bristlingbadger.blogspot.com) DISCLAIMER: This article was first published online at www.thesharpener.net"