It is the 21st United Nations conference on climate change (Copenhagen was the 15th, Kyoto the 3rd to cite only the best known) which will be held in Le Bourget exhibition centre, Paris, from 30th November to 11th December 2015. For two weeks, 40,000 dangerous and irresponsible people from across the whole world will meet to determine which sauce they are going to use to season the climate and save humanity. The objective announced by this " biggest of all times climate conference " is to reach binding agreements on the release of greenhouse gases and atmospheric pollution.
There will the chance to dream up new pollution quotas which the lesser polluters can sell to the biggest polluters (we all know that the atmosphere balances itself out in the end...), to develop the "green" industry, to introduce crazy scientific plans for geo-engineering (modification of the climate by chemical and/or physical processes), and even to produce new labels of green-pollution. Usually, they support the most polluting industries, and all the various ways of destroying the planet, but it seems that this time they are going to put it all right. In other words, it’s as if we gathered a load of Mafiosi in a room and asked them to collectively rap themselves on the knuckles and to be good boys from now on.
Opposing this incredible democratic parody of a world driving on four wheels but constantly checking its exhaust, is "civil society", the heterogeneous mass of associations and political organisations who participate in the end of the year media-political social gathering.
On the one hand we need to exert pressure on decision makers through constant lobbying and on the other, to prick the public conscience, they say. And all this needs to be achieved through benevolent non-violence, an assault on neither goods nor people. Petitions, flash mobs, blockades, demonstrations, alternative villages and acts of civil disobedience are some of the tools that we are told can be used.
The COP21 mobilisation will be a social struggle or it will be nothing
In this muddle, where everyone wants to be able to say they were there, that they too are worried about the climate and the future of humanity, there is nevertheless a gaping hole that all these initiatives have cruelly failed to address : the deficit of a political ratio of power, conflictual social relations. The mere presence of tens of thousands of people saying that they want a greener and brighter future won’t help build a big international social movement which can fundamentally question the capitalist system.
Unfortunately, we’re living in a fool’s paradise if we imagine we can avoid full-on and thus brutal conflict with ultra-liberal governments for whom communities, life, minerals, gases and liquids are all just elements in their economic equations (the dramatic situation of Greece leaves no doubt on this matter - even to save the economy of a small country, there is no authorised room for manoeuvre). No course will be set towards transition when corruption is at the helm of the ship : every " small victory" is in reality only a dishonest compromise and a (badly-)disguised concession. We can win only what we can grab from this system, and not what it grants us. And we can only win it, and keep hold of it, if we can build the necessary balance of power, in terms of numbers, organisation and determination.
In December, if thousands of people converge on Paris, we must seize the opportunity, not to launch a fruitless assault on a heavily-defended Le Bourget or to settle for a traditional symbolic demonstration, but to occupy space on the streets, in the squares, across the city and to build our communal space there - that of a true international social forum. This isn’t about providing a stage for the polished rhetoric of academics and politicians but about creating cracks in the cityscape through which resistance can emerge, a physical and political space where hundreds of struggles can reclaim the streets, express themselves, meet, mingle, enrich each other.
The politicians want to give the impression that they can solve everything with a few days’ worth of fine and fancy words, but we don’t have to buy into this illusion. A counter summit has to be the opportunity to attack, in words and acts, against their deceitful propaganda and to build a real and permanent resistance against their actual policies. Against their economy, which enslaves humanity in its hunger for more goods and new means of production, against the states, in all their forms and whether or not they are supposedly "democratic", which want to monopolise control and keep us all on the outside. If we make do with a mere display of resistance, with a week-long sound and light show for anarchists and activists, we won’t be doing anything more substantial than those we claim to oppose.
The ZAD of Notre-Dame-des-Landes and other struggles against controversial imposed development projects have called for convoys to converge on Paris during the COP 21. These comrades, still too few in number, did not wait for counter summits or fixed dates in their diaries before they took up their fight and their struggle will continue afterwards. In this sense, they show us the way forward.
It may seem difficult to envisage a fight against atmospheric and other kinds of pollution, against the destruction of the environment in general, taking place in a metropolis built essentially, like any metropolis, around the principle of permanent growth in economic output, infrastructure, energy consumption and, therefore, pollution. It might well seem absurd to defend the last remaining corners of agricultural land and forests when the construction of new extensions to this metropolis gobbles up ten times as much every year (about 80,000 ha per annum across France). As food-growing land that is vital for our future is sacrificed on the altar of urbanisation, so are many lives pushed out of the desertified countryside into the city or swallowed up by the latter as it expands. Metropolisation,or competition between cities, leads to irrational spending. The excess of street lights and various means of "securing" and "enhancing" the city do not exactly lead to a checking of energy consumption. In the same way that climate summits are used as fig leaves, "green" housing and prefabricated good-living serve to conceal this profusion. To hide their huge profits, the big developers offer "bread and circuses" to the people in a bid to justify their urban and architectural extravagances.
But the apocalyptic consequences of climate change will spare none of Earth’s inhabitants, whether they live on islands which will be covered by the rising ocean or in the Parisian suburbs. Amongst the population of Paris, there must already be a large number of people who have suffered from, or whose friends and families have suffered from, either the irreparable degradation of their land, or from devastating floods, or from conflicts over water or fossil resources (oil, uranium). We use the term " climate refugees " as if we did not share one and the same planet : we are all climate refugees in the making.
Immigration isn’t just the result of the rising tides or the desertification of certain countries, but before and above everything else the consequence of economic wars waged over the last 50 years in the Middle East,in Asia, in Africa and in Latin America. If capitalism hadn’t picked up where colonialism left off in targeting the resources of so-called "poor"countries, the latter wouldn’t have had to swap political slavery for economic slavery (to the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO and all the other bodies behind the new neoliberal colonialism). Seeing how our rulers are welcoming those currently fleeing war and famine, we can hardly be confident of their hospitality when they are also confronted with the refugees of the disasters which lie ahead.
Fighting climate change can only mean fighting capitalism, of which the massive production of greenhouse gases is just one monstrous aspect. We cannot fight against that which oppresses us on a daily basis at work, in our neighbourhoods and in our class and gender relationships, but close our eyes when our city plays hosts to one of the biggest insults ever to the human race and to life in general.
The industry behind pollution is the same as the one behind exploitation : the same productivist rationale is used to justify the race to the bottom in working conditions as is used to ride roughshod over common sense when it comes to the environment.
The whole of global society is charging blindly forward, justifying human sacrifice in the holy name of economic growth, even though it’s heading for a short-term planetary crash. Red lights are flashing not just for the environment but for the economy : the blinkered pursuit of Progress is going to end in significant regression for the whole of humanity.
We can’t stick with a "not in my backyard" attitude, telling ourselves that all of that is too remote for us to be able to influence, or that the battle will be mainly fought on a local rather than a global level. The struggle starts locally but doesn’t end there. As December draws near, as before any big international political or sporting event, they are socially cleansing the areas around the summit venue, chasing away the poor so that they don’t offend the eyes of the rich and transforming the urban space into a private high-security zone. The Seine-Saint-Denis département is one of the poorest and most heavily polluted in France and it is there that COP21 will be staged, next to Le Bourget private-jet airport. Attendees will be able to fly right in to the conference site and won’t have to encounter either the endless traffic jams which clog up the motorways north of Paris or the high-rise estates and factories which stretch as far as the eye can see.
For miles around there will be no more squats, gypsies, immigrants or anything else typical of an area which is normally is a byword for Parisian precarity. Unfortunately there will be police violence, home evictions and raids. Local and global struggles form part of an indivisible whole of which the sole cause and enemy is the capitalist system.
We must start to act now, as the propaganda machine gears up to "involve civil society" in its massive scam. Let’s collectively set out targets for our rage, work to breach the divide between social and environmental struggles, actively prepare for what we want to happen, for everyone’s dignity, for the story of a crushing defeat for the Fausts of the 21st century.