«It is already 10 past midnight»
On Friday the 15th of November, 700 Belgian activists boarded a train to Warsaw specially chartered by “Climat et Justice Sociale” (Climate and Social Justice) to join a demonstration on the margins of the COP 19 (19th conference), the climate summit of the UN, which took place in the Polish capital. Some demonstrators had a clock which indicated 10 past midnight painted on their faces, to symbolise that the situation is so urgent that it is already a little too late…
The African delegation in Warsaw kept claiming that climate change is already happening there, and that their concern is not what will happen tomorrow, but what is happening today. The recent disaster caused by the Haiyan typhoon in Philippines also cruelly reminded us that it is urgent to act and to put an end to empty speeches. But it is clear that since the first conference on climate organized in Rio by the UN, nothing or little has changed. The aim of the Warsaw Summit was to prepare an agreement on the limitations of CO² emissions, which should be signed in Paris in 2015 during the COP21. But official arguments to prevent any constraining agreement can be heard everywhere. The United States have already stated their refusal to try to reach a goal that they haven’t decided themselves in 2015, and other countries don’t stray too much from this decision, often hiding behind the hypocritical excuse that the major powers do not wish to do anything concrete.
A summit under the sign of capital
A member of the Corporate Europe Observatory told a journalist of the daily French paper Libération that “the COP19 will be the most extreme case of private control on the COP so far. The Polish government granted 11 private companies the status of partner, including those which accumulate some of the most ecologically harmful records, such as ArcelorMittal, the biggest beneficiary of the European carbon market, or the car manufacturer BMW, which has been blocking the attempts of the EU to cut down car gas emissions for years”
Even if the Polish authorities make for quite an extreme example (the Ministry of Economics went so far as to organise a worldwide summit on coal and climate on the margins of the UN negotiations in order to support the mining sector), the competitive logic and the race for profits promoted by capitalism force every government to attend these negotiations with one main goal: to safeguard the competitiveness of its national economy.
Nothing changes, let’s just leave it at this?
Albert Einstein used to describe madness in these terms: “to behave in the same way and to expect a different result”. In a way, that’s what counter-summits are. For many activists and quite a lot of NGOs from Belgium, the goal of this mobilisation was to ensure that “the leaders prove their courage and their determination”, first and foremost. But these leaders have done nothing so far to face the core of the problem: the gigantic waste of resources and energy caused by an international mode of production based on the maximisation of profit at the expense of the environment and the majority of the population. Why would they start now?
Every day, we can witness the fact that these governmental authorities are only mere puppets under the control of a dictatorship led by banks and multinationals: austerity, environmental norms adjusted downwards on the pretext of economic crisis, massive hand-outs to companies (to bosses and shareholders, that is, not to workers),…
Some activists hide behind the idea that their demonstrations, along with natural catastrophes and the reality of climate change, will be enough to start a sudden U-turn among the elites at the top. The example of the shrinking Arctic ice cover shows us once more how capitalism has a tendency to adapt to the worst of circumstances: the melting of the ice has opened a new economic battlefield to extract newly accessible oil in the region.
System change, not climate change!
The Belgian demonstrators accounted for roughly half of the demonstration. Less than 2000 people were there, a stark illustration of the legitimate loss of enthusiasm for the useless summits and these demonstrations, whose effectiveness is also very limited. Moreover, it is particularly difficult to mobilise on this issue in Poland.
There is a complete lack of media coverage on environmental issues. 86% of the power produced in the country is made from fossil fuels, and roughly 3 million jobs depend on them one way or another (among them, 90,000 miners). Talking about “ecological transition” is a delicate matter in this country still marked by the “democratic transition” that saw savage capitalism replacing the Stalinist economy. Even trade unions are extremely sceptical towards every mention of an environmental agreement. In such a context (and elsewhere too), to limit environmental solutions to speeches based on “responsible consumption” or photovoltaic energy is useless.
Countering the fake opposition between employment and environment implies facing the core of the problem. It is absolutely crucial to link the total bankruptcy of capitalism on an economic, human and environmental level, and thus to link the mobilisations around a socialist program that would break with capitalism, while using the means of action of the workers’ movement: the blockage of the economy by the means of general strike and mass struggle.
Against the environmental threat, we need an audacious plan to reorientate the economy and sweep away the reactionary responses of big business by collectivising the key economic sectors under democratic control, as opposed to the bureaucratically planned economy known in the East before the fall of the USSR.
Only a democratically planned economy can plan the Earth’s resources in a responsible way and at the same time provide alternative, stable jobs for those workers, such as miners, whose livelihoods are at present dependent on the exploitation of fossil fuels. Climate justice should mean that it is not the workers or the population of poorer countries that will suffer as a result of the measures taken to counteract climatic changes.
The recent mass mobilisations that shook the world starting with the Tunisian revolution of 2011 show us the way forward. But the apparent dead-end in which all those admirable movements have ended shows the absolute necessity to deeply discuss the alternative to capitalism and the way to attain it. Simply denouncing the responsibility of the system will in no way slow it down, let alone overthrow it.
Some activists of the PSL-LSP were also present in the train. We were able to find our comrades from the Polish section of the CWI, Alternatywa Socjalistyczna (Socialist Alternative), and to campaign together during the protest. At the final rally, one of our comrades was able to speak briefly to highlight the link between the environmental crisis and the economic crisis, and the importance of linking social mobilizations to a mass struggle for a democratic socialist society.