Introduction

Due to the accumulation of a terrorist attack with the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris last November 2015 and now too recently in Belgium on March the 22nd, two big topics defining our historic experiences met for the first time in the West. After the Paris attacks, the War on Terror clashed with the politics of the climate movement in Paris.

These events shook the world, but mainly they shook the west, since there was enough conflict in the world already. To be more precise, France experienced a retaliation as a response to its involvement in the mess in Syria and so did Belgium. What rather is the case is that the disconnection between Europe and its involvement the conflict in Syria is broken. While Western leaders and media shout out loud that Western values are under attack, reducing the conflict to a clash of values it rather is the case that Western audiences are being kept oblivious to fact that to the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks these are acts of war directly related to the Syrian conflict.

My argument is that the coming together different spheres of development defining contemporary history for many, being terrorism, the war on terror, the COP 21 and the climate justice movement last November has been a pivotal moment in recent history. Within it lie important clues as to what we can expect concerning the relationship between the State apparatus and social movements in the West. The way the climate movement was policed in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, make clear that whatever is left of democracy will increasingly be put to test in moments of crisis.

The use and abuse of crisis situations for increased control at the expense of civil liberties is centuries old and is well documented. Naomi Klein’s ‘Shock Doctrine’ would be a well cited source on contemporary examples of the application of this tactic. The Paris experience of the last three weeks invite for a unique opportunity to have a taste for what the future will bring as different developments such that of the police state and the corporatization of climate interventions come close to one another.

Given the implications of the Paris attacks I believe that the climate movement, together with other social movements, will have the difficult task to push for change in times of increased tensions as well as increased political conservatism concerning social movements calling out for justice. The climate movement will have to ponder deeply the implications of a ‘climate justice’ agenda in times where there remains less space for justice movements to work within accepted and legitimate civil spaces as these will likely decrease.

I am, pointing out that democratic rights and protection will increasingly be put under stress as ecological and social relations will come under stress. At the same time I want to put forward the question of what the role could and should be of a ‘Climate Justice Movement’ in a global context of increased stress on social and ecological relations. My own position on the subject is that the Climate Justice Movement needs to become aware of its historical precedence through the development of a self-awareness informed by its similarities with other historical social movements such as the anti-apartheid movement, the civil rights movements, the several anti-war movements and the anti-nuclear movement.

All the same current developments imply that the need for a strong voice centered around values of solidarity and peace will be needed more than ever as geopolitical tensions will grow while regional destabilization will so too. My question towards the climate ‘justice’ movement is how it sees its role with regard to this as it might seem tempting to define the climate movement as a movement that is ‘merely’ focused on a transition to a post-carbon economy, as it seems out of touch with reality to stick to such a restricted focus.

The Broader Philosophical and Historical  Perspective

I would like to take on the work of Boaventura de Sousa Santos on Abyssal Thinking in his paper ‘Beyond Abyssal Thinking; From Global Lines to Ecologies of Knowledge’ from 2007 to reflect on how the Paris attacks have influenced how the Climate Justice movement has been policed in Paris. Santos describes how the world is made up of ‘Abyssal lines’[1]. These lines stand for invisible divisions that divide distinctly different social realities with distinctly different underlying social mechanisms at play. Furthermore these abyssal lines stand for a division of the world into realities that remain mutually ungraspable for those on each side of the line.

What Boaventura de Sousa Santos describes is how the experience of the development of the Modern world has been inherently different for those who were European and those who were not and how these inherently different experiences are mediated through a power relation defined by colonialism. Whereas the ‘modern’ experience is characterized by a dialectics of regulation and emancipation, the ‘colonial’ experience is characterized by a dialectics of appropriation and violence. According to Santos these abyssal lines especially apply to the realms of knowledge (as in what is science and what is not science) and legality (as in what is legal and what is illegal). Furthermore, he maintains that knowledge from persons subject to the colonial dialectics per definition is unscientific and that legality does not apply to them.

This means that for the European the development of the so-called Modern Age is one of the Enlightenment, Industrialization and eventually the development of social democracies as a triumph of justice. The point here is that this history is premised on the engagement of Europeans in colonialism elsewhere. Therefore tor the large majority of the world the development of Modernity does not start with the Enlightenment at all, but rather with a history of oppression and destruction through the history of European Colonialism, starting precisely in 1492 when Columbus arrived in the Americas. He points out these abyssal lines are not static, they move. While before there was movement through which the dialectic of regulation/emancipation was expanding as decolonization took place, as in more people could have the hope that they would live in ‘liberal democracies’ with (semi-) accountable governments. Since the late 1970s the movement has been opposite.

This can be observed in how globalization came with increased appropriation of land and resources and the oppression of those standing in the way.   the strategies for oppressing dissenting parties under the colonial regimes will increasingly be felt by dissenting voices in the Modern or European context. Lately, the dialectic of appropriation and violence has been expanding through neocolonial wars such as the Gulf Wars and now too in how Syria has become ground for a new proxy war between parties divided internally in the Middle East and between the East and the West and is now having its repercussions by breaking through the European experience of peace with terrorist attacks [2].

Santos maintains that the abyssal lines have become harder to draw as divisions have become messier. People subject to each side of the line are now living alongside of each other when they shouldn’t. Think of refugees, migrant workers and terrorists specifically and how they are being governed as they shouldn’t be among the general population while they actually are.

My point is exactly that the Paris attacks need to be understood in the light of this developments. I maintain that the logic of oppression will increasingly befall the Climate Justice Movement and other movements as the policing of criminalized populations of color intermeshes with the policing of other social movements that could priorly somewhat count on being entangled in the dialectic of regulation and emancipation.

Crisis intervention and the Death of Democracy: The real Spectre of the Paris attacks

I started writing on this piece just after the Paris attacks at the end of November, shaken as I was not just by the attacks themselves, but by their implications. Before the attacks in Paris my main concern for the COP21 was centered around the huge presence of business interests and the resulting market based solutions that was threatening to shape the complete agenda of how and by what standards climate change was going to be ‘countered’. After the attacks this, naturally, changed.

We live in dangerous times. We have seen the political abuse of the situation by right pointing towards the so-called dangers of allowing the many refugees to enter Europe. The War on Terror once again took over the collective consciousness in the West. The Clash of Civilizations has once again proven its functionality as self-fulfilling prophecy, resurging fascism and xenophobia thankfully embraced another reason for espousing toxic discourse. These kind of ripple effects are amongst the ones to be expected.

One of the peculiarities about the events in Paris is that it has never occurred before that the ‘War on Terror’ affected the Climate Justice Movement so directly. Therefore we can we can witness in the Paris events how the state will respond to crisis. The exercise of democratic values will always be given up for security, while the claim will always be that this is done for the protection of those  liberal values. The consequence of this culminates into many things, like for example the fact that communities of color will experience heavy policing, but also the marginalization of the only true force of democracy: progressive social movements.

Democracy wouldn’t exist without popular uprisings. One only would have to look for the cradle of contemporary Western Democracy, such as in the French and American Revolutions and year of 1848 to be remembered of the importance of popular uprisings. I speak Western Democracy specifically because I do not believe that Democracy is a Western invention, democracy has existed in many forms throughout the centuries all over the world just like totalitarianism did.

True democracy cannot do without the possibility of the people to revolt against their leaders and the way by which the ruling system selects its leaders, much like the first conception of modern democracy in Europe is to be traced back to the riots of the French Revolution. In this day and age the Climate Justice Movement is an example of a movement that is revolting against the political status quo by which the main causes of climate change, being capitalist industrial production and environmental exploitation, remain unchallenged by the political elites. The political elites rather cooperate with the business sector in looking for ways to keep the game the same, but somehow magically the outcomes different. If the movement is burdened by force from asserting itself, a real force of democracy is being kept in check by the status quo.

We have seen the severe and skewed restrictions of use of public space as the climate movement was heavily curfewed in Paris while Christmas Fairs were allowed to continue just like that. Thus the attacks reached, full potential[3][4]. Freedoms for progressive elements in society were restricted; hate towards the marginalized increased and became more naturalized; another victory for ISIS as well as for the political elite and the conservative forces in the West.

An attack like this one, two weeks prior to the start of the Climate Negotiations has been nothing but crippling to any sort of bottom up democratic potential that could have been achieved at the COP 21. The plans the climate movement had were huge, the number of people expected to join the manifestations in Paris were estimated around one million in total. Eventually, only 15.000 showed up to make their voice heard at the last day of the Paris Climate at a manifestation intended to send a signal to the world that real change can only come from below and not from the leaders inside the negotiation rooms.

The slow death of democracy is developing creeping for years already. The Paris attacks have, however, made visible once again the workings of the process and the extent to which citizens are pacified spectators of this process under the guise of security. While public space becomes policed at the expense of social movements to assert themselves, migrants are increasingly cornered into the scapegoat role. At the same time space is created for (proto-)fascists to call for militias to protect the public domain from terrorist attacks.

The French government thankfully curtailed civil liberties in the French streets while it intensified its attacks on ISIS. I feel disgust when I see how the so-called liberal leaders claim the moment to call for a semi-crusade in the name of classical liberal tradition. Freedoms are already under pressure already for at least fifteen years. The curtailing of freedoms merely reflect structures of domination that underlie the so-called liberal democratic principles, capitalism.

The Climate Deal

So what is positive about the new Paris Climate Deal? 1) A deal is better then no deal. 2) The deal is better then what many people who followed the negotiations dared to hope for. But that’s it… really.

So what is bad about the deal? It shows in any way possible the entrenchment of the neoliberal status quo. While a few years ago we could still produce a voice that was critical of the links between policy makers and business interests this small moment of hope in middle of the misery of the 2008 crisis seems long gone. While we know that nothing was solved, those in power do not have to explain the overwhelming presence of market focused solutions anymore.

The COP 21 had come to the public with an agreement and the world was celebrating it. For the moment critical voices were not heard. If they would be, it would become clear that the deal is a scam in no time. The target set is unrealistically ambitious, especially when you consider the lack concrete targets to get there. There is no way to remain underneath the 1,5 Degree raise in temperature, especially not when there are no concrete limits to what taken out of the ground [5][6]. It has already been laid out clearly by climate science that it is very unlikely that we manage to stay underneath the 2 degrees temperature rise and when I say that the current climate deal is nothing more than empty promises I can back myself up with the most renowned climate scientists, who by the way didn’t get as much of a say as they should have in the COP 21 negotiations [7]. I guess the fact that they didn’t, but according to people on the ground, corporate representatives did sort of indicates once more exactly what is wrong with the global corporate UNFCCC negotiations[8].

This agreement has been shaped in a context where the Climate movement was choked while business people joined the politicians at the negotiation table and while the corporate class had all space to portray its visions on how to cash in on the coming ‘energy revolution’[9].  No agreements on emission cuts are being made, while investments in fossil fuels are dropping fast no political commitments are being made on actually leaving it in the ground. While the use of coal for energy production is increasing. The transition to a fossil free future is completely left to the restructuring of the market . This reflects  the lack of political will on acknowledging how close to the edge we really are. How we are chocking meaningful transition while we should be chocking the oil pumps.  Remember when we were underneath the Eiffel Tower with a 100 meters long banner stating ‘It’s up to us to leave it in the ground’. This slogan could be interpreted in ways much more radical than what would be associated. The last word about the COP 21 is not that we have forged a climate deal, but that we forged a climate deal that runs short of what the situation demands. Therefore it’s up to us to leave it in the ground.

 

Climate justice in Paris

I myself attended the last weekend of action in Paris. The main focus was the Red Line action at the Avenue de la Grande Armée and underneath the Eiffel tower, 15.000 strong. That is a lot of people, but it is a very small group of people if you consider that this is an issue that concerns the whole world and if you consider that 100.000 people filled the streets of Copenhagen. The Paris negotiations were indeed historic moment, even more so because they revealed so deeply how social movements are given increasingly less space to influence political process at a moment where we need change below very badly.

Before we took part in the protests we did not know what to expect. We had the images of the previous day of climate action in the back of our minds, where people clashed with the police and when there was zero tolerance for activist presence in the streets. It laid down a foundation of fear we felt quite strongly. Up until the last moment the authorities made us believe the demonstration would be illegal and we were in a state of mind in which we believed anything could happen.

I myself suspect that this way of dealing with the situation was most beneficial for the authorities. There was a strategy of deterrence that scared away many of the people that wanted to come to Paris. Thus when the negotiations would be concluded, either positively or negatively, there would not be too many people in the streets, which is good either way. In the case of a failed negotiations there would not be tens of thousands angry people in the streets that would have to be contained. In the case of successful negotiations there would not be tens of thousands of people to question whether it all is good enough for what is necessary.

 

…. and Beyond

Despite the silencing of the Climate Movement in favor of the corporate class there is one thing to celebrate about the presence of the climate movement in Paris. I witnessed the first hints of the Climate Justice Movement as a peace movement. I saw signs where the link between climate justice and peace or climate chaos, terrorism and war were stressed. The awareness is there. It only needs to grow and to develop into one of the core pillars of the movement’s consciousness.

At the moment I can see how the slogans used by mainstream activist platforms and spokespersons such as 350.org, Naomi Klein and Greenpeace are coming up with slogans that reflect a radicalism that is much needed, but does not necessarily reflect the activities they engage in, but they are seeds of the sort of consciousness we need. What is most important here is how the climat movement will pick up on them.

Underneath the Eiffel tower we chanted ‘It’s up to us to leave it in the ground’, Naomi Klein is travelling the world promoting her concept ‘Blockadia’, Friends of the Earth walked the city mapping their ‘Climate Justice Peace’ slogan on GPS. All these slogans and concepts are very much to the point, but the people behind it unfortunately merely play their political game at the level of the symbolic. The campaigners behind them are not going far enough yet to make them a reality.  These slogans happen to express exactly what sort of direction the Climate justice needs to be taking. Taken together they are a very powerful message both to ourselves as to those who keep investing in and holding up the structures that need to disappear.

How to make it Real?

We indeed need to move from the symbolic to the structural. For example, a while ago in Germany the Garzweile mine was stormed under the slogan ‘Reclaim Power’ and they did by blocking one of the biggest brown coal mines in Germany for a day, made stocks fell and now RWE is casting of the mine because of ‘decreasing profits’.

What we can also learn from the Garzweile example is that while it might seem hauntingly impossible to halt the structures of production (or destruction if you will), in reality they are so vulnerable that the powers that be are scared shitless by the idea that the masses would move against them. It is but one of the reasons why international governance is increasingly less open to active participation of civilians. It would simply put into question whole structures of power, including relationships between the political class and the business class and intertwined geopolitical structures.

It would be much more convenient for the status quo if the strong culture of consumerism we are swimming in today simply stays up (as it indeed seems to be the case in many ways), meanwhile somewhere at the top of the pyramid a transition from an unsustainable form of capitalism to a supposedly sustainable form of ‘green’ capitalism is engineered by those that have the most at stake to keep everything the same.

We are unfortunately in a situation where the inherent contradictions in the status quo will increasingly lead to more conflict and less freedom. As the environment is decreasing in quality at fast rates we can expect higher risks of resource conflict. Such conflicts are already taking place in the form of landgrabs and so on. Such conflicts are often expressions of highly unequal power relations and they often come together with much killings and the evaporation of safety and peace, but perhaps we will also see a resource conflict among powerful nations or ‘blocks’ in our time as water is becoming scarce but the domination of world trade will continue to shift towards the Pacific[10][11]. Like I said before, under the pressure of risk of conflicts democratic rights will easily disappear.

Climate Justice and Radical Peace

Could Paris be a lesson for what is there to come? Could it be a wakeup call? Could we take inspiration from that moment today? Could we learn from a long history of social movements to deal with the challenges of today? Could we remind ourselves of our common future? The risks we are taking for failing to live up to the challenge thus far? Could we keep the attacks in the back of our heads as a reminder of how future instabilities will culminate into struggles expressed as cultural clashes? Could we be brave enough to open our eyes to see how any attempt at security is merely democracy being stolen from us and reclaim what is ours, our democracy. Could we come together and rise above?

What we need more than ever is a coming together of people. To forge connections amongst ourselves which are stronger than the divisions that nationalism and racism aim to forge amongst us, that we understand that our faiths are deeply intertwined and that our destiny is bound together until the bitter end if we wish to avoid the worst pitfalls of our recent past. We are facing hard and difficult times together that could spell the darkest hour known to our collective memory, the world wars or the atomic bomb of our generation. We need to protect the commons, the commons that have been wasted for the last 200 years at least. What the climate justice movement shares with the anti-nuclear movement is that it is struggling against the consequences of where the journey of progress has taken us, lethal pollution which is transforming the natural world to great extends. What we share with the anti-apartheid movement and the civil rights movement is that we struggle for justice for the oppressed masses.

Climate justice is not merely about keeping capitalism out of the climate change solutions, hence fighting false solutions to climate change. As chaos resulting from climate change and other forms of environmental destruction, geopolitical mess, the entrenchment of globalized capitalism increasingly becomes interwoven it becomes clear that climate Justice is about more than fighting climate change and poor solutions alone. Social movements will be struggling to keep the peace in times of increased militarization, heightened chance of conflict and the decay of democracy. We need to demand better solutions. We need to frame justice in our agenda’s as the primary strategy to avoid conflict. We need to be clear about our position on how we deem our leaders responsible for putting us in the dangerous situation we are in by virtue of the lack of responsibility they have taken on the issue of sustainability, perhaps drawing on the Rio 92 agreements. This comes together with pleas for deep change since the status quo is one of deep injustice, rooted in centuries of colonialism. Things cannot remain the same.

So what I am conceiving here is a climate justice movement that has self-awareness as a radical peace movement, with a desire to go beyond the projects of the UN and is ready to interfere with the geopolitical consequences of climate chaos.

In conclusion

What I started out with was to point out what is to be discerned from the way authorities dealt with the Paris terror attacks. Space for democratic appeal in the streets was curtailed for ‘security reasons’.

Following this pointed towards the works of Boaventura de Sousa Santos to point to how those countries that up until now have experienced liberal democracy close to what it has promised will increasingly experience tactics for oppression based upon strategies primarily in colonized and formerly colonized countries.

Then I went on to share my experiences in Paris and how I discerned some hints of a new self-awareness that I found very inspiring. I continued by putting forward a position on what it entails for a Climate Justice movement to be called a ‘Climate Justice’ movement. I claimed that under the current conditions a climate justice movement is much more than a ‘climate movement’ alone and that the movement will have to acknowledge that it shares traits with the anti-nuclear movement and the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements in times that a lot of turmoil will come to us while we discover that many of the political promises for a more just and sustainable world will mean nothing.

[1] de Sousa Santos, B. (2007). Beyond abyssal thinking: From global lines to ecologies of knowledges. Review (Fernand Braudel Center), 45-89.

 

[2] The War in Syria explained in 5 minutes: http://www.vox.com/2015/11/14/9735102/syria-isis-history-video

[3] Our Fight for Survival: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/11/climate-change-paris-cop21-hollande-united-nations/

[4] COP21 climate marches in Paris not authorised following – Guardian: attackshttp://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/18/cop21-climate-marches-paris-attacks

[5]  Tollefson, J. (2015) Is the 2 °C world a fantasy?, Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/is-the-2-c-world-a-fantasy-1.18868

[6] A successful climate summit, but no progress for climate justice?: http://www.rosalux.de/news/42006/a-successful-climate-summit-but-no-progress-for-climate-justice.html

[7] James Hansen, father of climate change awareness, calls Paris talks ‘a fraud’: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/12/james-hansen-climate-change-paris-talks-fraud

[8] RUW abroad: The COP21 climate conference in Paris: http://stichtingruw.nl/2015/12/08/ruw-abroad-the-cop21-climate-conference-in-paris/

[9] Not a fair COP…a report from Paris by Robert Hutchison: http://www.capglobalcarbon.org/2015/12/15/not-a-fair-copa-report-from-paris-by-robert-hutchison/

[10] Risk of water wars rises with scarcity – Al Jazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/06/2011622193147231653.html

[11] The World In 2030: Asia Rises, The West Declines – NPR: http://www.npr.org/2012/12/10/166895624/the-world-in-2030-asia-rises-the-west-declines

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