On Saturday the consuming hoards of the Christmas season were forced to share central London with an altogether different crowd as 8,000 activists took to the streets to demand Government action on climate change under the banner of a Green New Deal.
Amid the calls for “No New Coal”, “No Airport Expansion” and “No to Unsustainable Agrofuels”, the calls for a Green New Deal sounded an unusually positive note. For too long global warming activists have been forced to campaign against the climate-wrecking industries that are jeopardising our common future. Now, the Green New Deal meme might just provide the iconic, populist cause which is so necessary for the success of any social movement.
And speaking of social movements, Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, has said today that the problem of climate change will not be solved without some sort of mass movement, along the lines of the Make Poverty History campaign.
It’s hard to know how to react to such a comment. On the one hand, it’s encouraging. It suggests that future protests and perhaps even direct actions will no longer be crushed by the kind of heavy-handed policing and grossly undemocratic legislation that so many activists are used to. I was gratified to see a relative scarcity of police on Saturday. Most of them were community support officers, rather than the unmarked, riot police who intimidated climate campers earlier this summer. Perhaps things are changing. We’ve already seen the acquittal of six Greenpeace protestors who scaled a power station chimney to highlight the folly of building new coal-fired powerstations. I’ll be interested to see how future trials go: particularly that of the twenty-nine people who stopped a coal train and shovelled its contents out onto the tracks. And just this morning, a whopping fifty-seven people have been arrested after direct action group Plane Stupid occupied a runway at Stanstead Airport, causing most of the day’s flights to be cancelled.
On the other hand, Miliband’s comment is infuriating. Most of the people who organise protests around climate change are not paid to do so. They give up their time, money, energy and sometimes their otherwise clean criminal records in order to act. For a government minister to suggest that these hard-working and very brave people should be doing more is, in this blogger’s opinion, pretty callous. It is, after all, Mr Miliband’s job to be doing something about climate change, and he has far more power than any of the activists he calls upon. To make matters worse, the Make Poverty History campaign which Mr Miliband praises has not, sadly, managed to change the attitude of rich countries towards poorer ones. Big promises were made by the G8 in 2005, but they haven’t been met with action. Our pathetically inadequate response to climate change is evidence enough that the industrialised, wealthy countries aren’t prepared to help the poor if it means abandoning such sacred cows as economic growth and consumer lifestyles.
Of course, I recognise that governments can do nothing without popular support. But what we are ultimately calling for is government action because nothing less can put a stop to our obsession with cars, consumption and jet-setting. Nothing less can stop the roll out of new coal plants and new runways. Nothing less can deliver the Green New Deal we so desperately need. So yes, I ‘m pleased to see a government minister supporting activists. But I’d also like him to do his job and show some leadership. Even if Mr Miliband isn’t (yet) prepared to glue himself to a branch of RBS or the offices of E.ON, he could at least look Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown in the eye and tell them that to stop trying to appease climate change with “eco-towns” and hollow promises, and start reorganising our economy as fast as possible.