climate action cafe

A space for discussion and analysis within the global climate movement

Is the Camp for Climate Action challenging or embodying capitalist consumerism?

Posted by KM on July 15, 2009

This article discusses the fact that Climate Camp t-shirts have been sold as a fundraiser, and problems this raises, from the perspective of having a critique of capitalism and consumerism.

This is a proposal that is on the agenda for the July planning meeting of the Camp for Climate Action that will be in London 27 Aug – 2 Sept 2009. The meeting hasn’t happened yet so I don’t know it this proposal will be accepted, modified, or rejected, but I thought it was interesting enough to include here as an article. -Editor

by Neil Page

Background

The Camp for Climate Action (Climate Camp) initially grew out of the anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist movements, notably the mobilization around the G8 at Gleneagles. Most of us involved in Climate Camp seek to embody these politics in our daily lives, and this year we have already agreed to try and make explicit the link between the economic system (i.e. Capitalism) and the environmental crisis. Capitalism is a system based on relationships of violence – withholding access to essential goods and services that we all have a right to (e.g. food, water, a place to live etc.) unless you can pay for them – and the cultural manufacture of wants for unnecessary commodities, that seek to force people into wage slavery and play their alloted (i.e. dis-empowered and disenfranchised) role in existing power structures. If Climate Camp is seeking to critique this existing economic structure and its concomitant destruction of the planet due to dogmas such as infinite economic growth and overproduction/consumption, we surely need to embody this political analysis in the way that we function as a movement. This is also part of our aim to demonstrate sustainable alternatives, so we seek to manifest the kind of society we would like to live in by organising non-hierarchically, eating communally with food for donation rather than charge and generating power ourselves from renewable technologies.

Capitalism is also very good at subsuming people’s ethical concerns within itself, so that for many people the choice to live in a more environmentally sustainable way is converted into another consumerist choice around commodity. So, for example, people are told that solving Climate Change involves buying low energy light bulbs, a new Toyota Prius, ‘green’ electricity from your energy supplier etc. and choices such as consuming less, gaining control over the means of production and sharing resources within communities are neglected and ignored as viable options because they challenge rather than uphold the existing capitalist power structures and our relationship to resources and each other.

Capitalism has also sought to commodify our relationships to each other, so that people pay money to belong to dating agencies, social clubs etc. as in our society we have become so fragmented and alienated from one another, that for many people it is inconceivable that you could have a genuine connection with another human being without paying for the privilege. This tendency also manifests itself in the need to belong in society, so that you don’t ‘fit in’ to your social group unless you are wearing the right clothes, drive the right car, fly on holiday to the right places etc. In this way social relationships have been linked to (over)consumption and commodified through capital. So it is for many people that they gain that sense of ‘belonging’ to a socio-cultural group by their consumerist choices i.e. the clothes they buy etc. If Climate Camp is to be the vibrant and confrontational social movement that many of us want it to be, our connections with each other should be based upon substantive affinity and community, not apeing this commodification of social relationships that we see in the capitalist system we are trying to challenge.

Recently there have been worrying developments within Climate Camp in terms of our relationship to and critique of capitalism as the dominant economic system. This has been seen recently with the printing of a large quantity of new t-shirts with the Climate Camp branding (along with other merchandising such as badges, bags etc.), and the subsequent attempts to sell these goods for profit to the general public (for example at Glastonbury) and people associated with the Climate Camp movement. The design and production of these goods was not agreed through any consensus decision making process, either at a national gathering or in any working group who was empowered to make these decisions. An individual designed, produced and fronted the money required for this production, as well as individually determining the price at which they would be sold, believing that they should re-coop these costs from monies given to Climate Camp where these goods are being sold before any money goes to Climate Camp itself. This all happened without any agreement through Climate Camp processes that this was a desirable thing to do. This seems
problematic on a number of levels:

1) We are producing goods that people don’t need (but may want) and thus engaging in the same overproduction and overconsumption that we have already identified as a problem with capitalism that we want to change.

2) We are providing or withholding access to these goods based on people’s ability to pay an amount of money that is predetermined by and profitable for Climate Camp.

3) We are commodifying a social movement and playing into people’s assumptions and understandings (from capitalism) that expressing your affinity with other people and gaining a sense of social belonging can be done through buying stuff.

4) People who want to contribute to our movement because of the affinity and solidarity they feel towards Climate Camp may be sold commodities instead – thisalienates some people who perceive the conflict of this model with their (and Climate Camp’s supposed) anticapitalist views/aims, and subverts other people’s intentions based upon solidarity, affinity and community (i.e. human interpersonal tendencies) and converts them into a relationship to Climate Camp based on commodity and capital (i.e. an economic and exploitative relationship based essentially on violence).

It is important to note that this applies both to people wanting to donate money to Climate Camp and those who may want a deeper involvement in doing things with Climate Camp. We may be sending a consumerist message to some people that they can tackle climate change by buying a t-shirt!

Our process of organising in a non-hierarchical way has broken down on a number of levels:

1) Although I am sure that this project was undertaken to try and benefit Climate Camp, one person has taken control of a project that affects us all, without any sanction, empowerment or input from the wider group.

2) Funding provided to Climate Camp (be it in the form of a donation or loan) should be at the consent of, and benefit to, the movement. We must be able to decide whether we want to accept money (and from whom), and to make sure that accepting any funds will not affect our ability to decide what we want to do as a group. There have been cases where people wishing to donate money to Climate Camp, not wanting a t-shirt etc. have been ‘sold’ one and the money that could have gone straight to Climate Camp has gone instead to cover the costs of producing these t-shirts with no benefit to the movement.

It seems clear that this merchandise was produced outside of the Climate Camp process, without any consensus decision having been made about it, either at a National Gathering or within a working group empowered to make these decisions.
We therefore need to think seriously about how this is avoided in the future.

Proposal

There seem to be two issues that can be resolved without a full discussion of how Climate Camp is critiquing, challenging or apeing capitalist consumerism (which I would obviously hope can happen at the Camp and/or at another National Gathering when we have more time). The first is what to do with the merchandise that has already been produced. I would propose that the Camp agrees and makes the following statement:

Whilst we recognise that the recent design, production and sale of merchandise with the Climate Camp branding was done with the intention of promoting and raising funds for the movement, it is clear that this has happened outside of any consensus process at either a national gathering or within a working group, and this is not acceptable. It is obvious that decisions like this affect Climate Camp as a whole, and therefore should have been brought to a national gathering. As such Climate Camp cannot accept any financial liability that may result and will not cover any deficit if
these goods fail to cover the cost of their production. As well as subverting and/or ignoring the non-hierarchical way in which we organise within Climate Camp, the production of these goods has been extremely contentious as through the production and sale of this merchandise we are embodying many of the failings of capitalism that we are seeking to critique as well as effectively commodifying the Climate Camp movement.

As this merchandise has already been produced and cannot be unmade, we recommend that:

1) The merchandise should be given away for donation rather than sold (this means that people can have a t-shirt etc. for whatever amount of money they decide, and can still have one if they can’t pay anything for it).

2) All money generated from these donations (and any sales to date) should be accounted for and go into the Climate Camp funds towards the summer camp.

3) After the camp, the finance working group should be empowered, in light of our financial situation at that time, to pay whatever proportion (up to 100%) of the costs of production to the individual concerned. The second issue is how to prevent this kind of thing happening again. I would therefore propose the following guidelines for any further fund-raising or merchandising activity:

1) Any decision to produce goods should go through a consensus process within the networking working group to agree the design, method and cost of production. This should be done in consultation with the fund-raising working group if the aim of producing the merchandise is to raise money for Climate Camp.

2) In making decisions about how to outreach or fund-raise for Climate Camp, groups should consider what the aims of their project are and how these fit in to Climate Camp’s more general aims (Education, Movement Building, Sustainable Living and Direct Action) as well as our specific priorities at any given time. The environmental and social impact of creating new goods should be considered carefully and we should question whether we really need to produce new goods in order to meet the aims of the project (e.g. old t-shirts could be screen-printed rather than producing new ones).

3) In designing any goods we should seek to include some sort of political message in their design, so that we are saying more than that Climate Camp exists. We should be stating something about what we stand for wherever possible, otherwise we run the risk of becoming an apolitical entity and changing nothing.

4) No goods should be sold for profit. They should be given away for donation, so that no one is excluded from accessing them due to lack of funds.

5) Any funds donated or loaned to Climate Camp should be to the general camp funds which can then be used as the camp sees fit. Specific projects of Climate Camp that are seeking funding should only do so once they have been agreed at a
National Gathering and should include the provision for these monies to be used a Climate Camp sees fit, so that our priorities are not determined by external funders.

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