Originally published in September 2008.
The Climate Camp at Kingsnorth was great! These were our initial thoughts on arrival at the first German climate camp in Hamburg, which took place just one week after the British one in Kent. The Hamburg camp seemed less organised, there were far fewer people and the lack of a clear neighbourhood structure meant that we aimlessly walked around the site for a good half hour before finally pitching the tent in the ‘anti-barrio’ barrio.
In Hamburg the climate campers weren’t camping alone but were doubled up with the anti-racist movement. There were thus two main action targets (coal and deportation flights), two press groups and two websites for example. The inherent complexities that have been noted between the austerity politics typical of the green movement and the calls for freedom of movement from many anti-racists (see the article by No Borders) didn’t seem to be a problem for the Hamburg campers, however.
But Hamburg was an attempt at a broad church movement that was built upon a compromise solution tied to the concept of ‘Global Social Rights’. For the climate campers this meant re-evaluating the notion that climate change is a purely ecological problem and situating the threat, and our response to it, in a social context (a banner hung from a crane during the climate camp’s mass action read “expropriate energy production”). On the other hand the anti-racists had to accept a quasi-fearsome language of new migration pressures caused by climate change: ‘climate change will lead to more ‘climate refugees’, that’s why we must do something about it!’
There is something else inherent in the ‘Global Social Rights’ slogan that doesn’t seem fitting with radical grass-roots politics. Demanding rights is not only a passive and liberal notion (Which rights? And who is going to warrant them? The state?), but also undermines any attempts to de-legitimise the authoritarian and economic structures that shape our everyday lives and experiences, including our experiences of climate change and border controls.
This was also a major topic at the Kingsnorth Climate Camp. With climate change understood as a mainly ecological problem scientific facts were thrashed around that encouraged the projection of non-emancipatory, authoritarian solutions. This culminated in George Monbiot calling for a state response to climate change in one of the camp’s major plenary sessions as well as in a later Guardian article, and a backlash of interventions from an anti-authoritarian minority (see Adam Ford’s article). Such interventions demanded a social, anti-capitalist, bottom up response to climate change, the importance of which was evident in the outraged response from the National Union of Mineworkers at the Climate Camp’s demand to ‘leave it [coal] in the ground’ (see our interview with Dave Douglass).
Despite the problems inherent at Kingsnorth, anti-state and anti-capitalist positions were being reaffirmed and discussed again. One camper in Kent felt that he had experienced the “maturing of the green movement”. The fact that the coal workers were invited (and the resulting discussions around class, work and climate change) was testimony to a mature movement that can foster such debates. However, in its ‘old age’, is the Climate Camp now losing sight of its roots in the direct action movements of the 90s or the anti-G8 Dissent network?
A clear dividing line through the movement was drawn by journalist-turned-climate ‘expert’ Monbiot who after the camp criticised the “anarchist” Climate Campers for “diverting from the urgent task” of stopping climate change. In a remarkable return of Hobbes’ 17th century Leviathan into the contemporary direct action movement, he could do no better than to imagine a life without government as the freedom for Daily Mail readers to pick up a gun and kill the nearest hippy. As we remember it, the Drax camp had set out to claim that corporations and governments were the problem not the solution to the climate crisis. We would hope thus that the Climate Camp would ‘find the time’ for a political rejection of all eco-authoritarian claims that “stopping runaway climate change must take precedence over every other aim” (Monbiot).