First the Amazon was on fire. Then the Arctic. Now Australia. In the UK, as elsewhere, 2019 was the year that climate exploded onto the agenda, following the IPCC’s dire 12-year warning and the emergence of a new climate movement, from Extinction Rebellion to young climate strikers.
Over the course of last year, much of the radical left coalesced around an answer: a green new deal (GND). Buoyed by an upstart campaign within the Labour party, the GND proposed a radical programme which, although not enough to end ecocidal capitalism, did at least begin to address this crisis at the scale required, combined with a socialist programme to transform people’s lives. The ‘green industrial revolution’ (GIR) outlined in Labour’s manifesto was ground-breaking.
Of course, the effort to get these policies into government was unsuccessful. That should not be read as a condemnation of the GND or Labour’s policies, which polled very favourably. But it does mean that any prospect of an interventionist government taking on the big polluters and enacting a socialist GND is a long way off. The UK, like many of the world’s leading economies, is in thrall to a reactionary nationalism enmeshed with fossil capital.
Meanwhile, ecological catastrophe beckons. We are on course for an earth-shattering rise in temperatures of 3-4C. In predicting the 11 years left to limit climate catastrophe, scientists may actually have been too optimistic. We are fast approaching ‘tipping points’ beyond which it becomes impossible to prevent a ‘Hothouse Earth’ cataclysm. Brace, brace.
Those on the left know what is required: full-throated eco-socialism. But in its immediate absence, our focus must be on acting strategically to avert the worst of the climate catastrophe while building the class power we to implement a GND. Here are four ways to get started:
1. Get organising in trade unions and communities.
We cannot abandon hope for a green new deal – only an active and interventionist state can transform our economy at the scale and pace required. We should, however, learn from our mistakes. Many have pointed out the disjuncture between the ambition of Labour’s policy agenda and the state of working-class struggle, not to mention social and political institutions, after 40 years of neoliberalism and ten years of austerity.
Reliant on (ineffectual) communications alone, Labour’s transformative green agenda seemed distant and technocratic. Instead, we must build working-class power for climate justice in communities and workplaces across the country: a GND from below.
It’s time to get organised. We need trade unions actively leading demands for a just transition, building on work by the likes of David Wearing to help us understand our unjust, death-dealing political economy, and demanding – as Harland & Wolff workers did – retraining for new, secure green jobs locally.
Equally, we must work from the understanding that a green economy is a care economy in which the needs of all are met – a world of social as well as environmental sustainability. Nurses, teachers and social workers should be considered green jobs as much as renewable energy workers, and by organising in those sectors we can build power for the future we want to see. Likewise, we need a workers’ movement for a three-day weekend – it’s better for us and better for the planet.
2. Resist the fossil fuel industry.
While building the new, we also need to remember to bury the old. A burning priority for the left should be to take down the fossil fuel behemoths before they take down life as we know it. It is not enough to merely increase renewables investment (as the Tories would have us believe) if we are not also actively powering down oil, gas and coal. Unchecked, by 2030 these companies would extract 120% beyond what’s compatible with a 1.5C target.
Stopping them means localised campaigns against new and existing pollutive projects. Climate activists did this most successfully in their anti-fracking activities, which forged connections with local communities and caused enough economic damage through direct action to render an already-shaky business model increasingly unworkable. This formula will be vital in the years to come to stave off the revival of fracking, a third runway at Heathrow, and other oil and gas extraction domestically.
3. Strategic interventions.
We also need to intervene at a larger scale. Of the £2.6bn that the government credit agency UK Export Finance has spent on global energy exports over the last five years, 96% of it has gone to supporting fossil fuel projects overseas – it is an engine of climate colonialism exporting ecocide across the world under the guise of ‘development’.
We can find an opening here: during the election the Tory thinktank Onward advocated ending this funding. A gap has been prised open between fossil capital and other sections of capital, as well as the state – it is our job now to isolate the former completely from the latter, targeting bank investments, policy shifts and research within universities. We should feel emboldened by widespread public appetite for strong action on climate change and the growing street movement.
We have to recognise we are past the point of preventing climate crisis – it’s already here. It’s time, therefore, to take seriously the argument made by Holly Jean Buck for left policies around carbon removal to mitigate the crisis. Uncontested, geoengineering planning is serving fossil capital and imperialist powers – we need to develop a left strategy for equitable carbon removal and winding down fossil fuels.
4. Internationalist solidarity.
Resisting climate imperialism means building active international solidarity too. The COP26 climate summit – held in Glasgow in November 2020 – is an opportunity to do just that. These gatherings have become routine affairs where rich countries feign concern about climate breakdown before taking a wrecking ball to demands from poorer countries, all to protect the interests of their pollutive industries.
Our role in the run-up will be to burst the illusion of the UK as a climate leader and expose the climate crisis as being rooted in everyday exploitation and global inequality, while expounding a vision of a brighter future with a socialist GND.
The summit itself offers an opportunity to forge connections with climate justice movements from across the world. This should not serve merely to enlighten us and broaden our climate politics, but as an opportunity to build new forms of transnational solidarity: organising along supply chains and building a vision for what a transformed international political system would look like. The seeds of a new world have not disappeared – but by the strength of our collective endeavour we can still make them reality.
Angus Satow is a socialist writer, organiser and co-founder of Labour for a Green New Deal.