climate action cafe

A space for discussion and analysis within the global climate movement

Governments can’t solve climate change: only movements can

Posted by KM on February 3, 2009

An open letter to Climate Summit participants

By Tim Briedis and Holly Creenaune

We are deeply concerned with, and critical of, the direction of the politics of the campaign proposals submitted to the Climate Summit so far. They advocate top-down, government-led solutions to climate change. Ideas range from calls for ‘government leadership’ and a ‘green economy’ to the very scary concept of a ‘wartime mobilisation’ and ‘declaration of climate emergency’. We feel support for top-down, government-controlled climate ‘solutions’ sits in contradiction with the aim to help build a democratic climate justice movement in Australia.

Given, for instance, the failure of repeated international negotiations between states, most recently at Bali and Poznan; the target of 5% reductions set in Australia by the Labor Party in December; and the power of international capital in influencing government policies; it seems to us these approaches have little to no chance of success.

If the proposals are adopted, there’s a good chance they will help lend support to a wide array of state and capitalist strategies. Under the public face of ‘responding to climate change’, these will reduce control over our own lives and significantly increase already massive social divisions. They will give greater power to the rich and attack the working class and the poor. Such approaches include a more authoritarian state, price rises of food, fuel and other essential goods, the implementation of carbon taxes and trading, and the land appropriation of Indigenous people.

We are wary of building ‘unity’ in the climate justice movement by agreeing to emissions reductions targets and however-many parts per million. For us, this is a false unity, when the strategies and solutions that are being put forward could dramatically curtail the dignities and civil rights of people across this continent, and the rights of peoples across the globe.

Instead, we believe that our best chance lies in supporting the struggles of oppressed people, workers and participatory movements from below. Movements have the ability to be infectious. They have changed the world before – and can do so again.

There’s potential for a climate justice movement to follow in this tradition. But this will only happen if we trust people, not governments that have a long history of oppression and violence.

Across Canberra, at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, people are currently meeting in a convergence against the Northern Territory Intervention and for justice for Aboriginal people. For Labor and Liberal politicians alike, the NT intervention, which is stripping away control of lives and land, is what an ‘Emergency Response’ is. It’s hardly legislation that can drastically reduce emissions and save the planet.

Emergency powers on climate change are not powers that can increase ‘co-operation’ on the issue; they are powers that will increase state control of polluting infrastructure and of our lives.

2008 saw, in over 30 countries, massive protests and direct actions around increasing food and fuel prices all over the world. In China, the State reports around 50,000 protests annually on pollution related issues, which have forced industrial factories to close. In South America, indigenous communities are mobilising strongly around environmental attacks on their land. It could be these kind of actions, sometimes leading to the closure of important greenhouse-related infrastructure, that makes the difference in preventing temperature rises that lead to runaway climate change.

People around the world are not sitting back quietly, politely asking the state for results and putting up with environmental and economic injustice. We should try and work with them: their struggles are ours too.

By Tim Briedis and Holly Creenaune. We’d love to talk more about these ideas: tbriedis (@) and hollycreenaune (@)


5 Responses to “Governments can’t solve climate change: only movements can”

  1. Holly said

    People can check out the outcomes, decisions, objectives and developing policies of grassroots community climate movement in Australia here:

    This article was written prior to Australia’s Climate Action Summit, critiquing the proposed campaigns, objectives and policies.

  2. Anthony said

    Hi Holly and Tim,

    great article. Wish i had found it a few weeks ago. Just wondering how you found the summit itself and what you thought about the outcomes?

    – anthony

  3. my blog said

    check this out…

    this is mine…

  4. Tim H said

    This is very interesting.

    However, I find that instead of making me feel empowered and excited, the idea of taking on both corporations and the government is rather daunting. However, you’re right, I don’t want to give the government more surveillance power. Is there no opportunity for a compromise? As I see it, governments and corporations are currently pretty much working hand in hand on the capitalism mission. Could we not celebrate what is good in democratic governments, whilst condemning the corporate influence? Can we seperate government from corporations? Then the government would be able to be a powerful, democratically mandated body which could regulate corporations. Is this possible?

  5. […] Briedis ja Holly Creenaune: Governments can’t solve climate change: only movements can (February 3, […]

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