Climate change crisis - not a natural disaster

Climate talks collapse as thousands die in man-made floods, drought and forest fires

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 158 – December 2000/January 2001

‘It is no longer a question of whether the earth's climate will change but rather when, where and by how much.'

 The world is getting warmer and the consequences are already showing. In mid-November, 180 governments met in The Hague, Holland under serious pressure to act. Yet despite the recognition that a severe crisis is imminent, the polluting nations, led by the United states, refused to cut carbon emissions and the talks collapsed. Meanwhile, time is running out for planet earth.

At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio Janeiro, Brazil, world leaders signed the United Nations framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as recognition that climate change posed a serious threat to the earth. The treaty did no more than request that signatories draw up proposals to limit carbon emissions. The world returned to a dream state and little change took place.

It had a serious awakening in 1996. The Inter-Government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made up of 2,000 scientists and climate specialists from around the world, revealed that 'there is a discernible human influence on the global climate'. They concluded that 'world-wide cuts in carbon dioxide of at least 60-70% are necessary to guarantee no further increase in atmospheric concentrations'. Climate change was back on the agenda.

In 1997 the world's governments agreed to the Kyoto Protocol which required them to protect the climate system and called for a reduction in carbon emissions from the industrialised countries by the year 2012. The agreed targets would be legally binding.

There is good reason for this. The twentieth century's 10 warmest years were all within the last 15 years. 1998 was the warmest year since records began and 1999 was not far behind.

Weather records show that the average global temperature has risen 0.3 to 0.6 °C since 1890. The IPCC states that 'small changes in the mean climate can produce relatively large changes in the frequency of extreme events'

Natural disasters over the past year alone include:

  • November 1999, India. 10,000 killed and whole villages washed into the Bay of Bengal, after a cyclone tears through Orissa.
  • December 1999, Venezuela. 30,000 killed and 150,000 made homeless as the country is struck by torrential floods and mudslides.
  • December 1999, France. 83 people are killed by storms and many left without power.
  • February 2000, Mozambique, Botswana, South Africa. 100,000 flee their homes as floods sweep through the three countries, sparking fears of a disease epidemic.
  • April 2000, Kenya and Ethiopia. 8 million face drought and forest fires which devastate crops.
  • May 2000, northern India. 100 million suffer drought in the third successive year without rain.
  • August 2000, north-east India. 400 killed and 4.5 million made homeless by flooding which devastates crops and infrastructure
  • August 2000, USA. 4.3 million acres of forest burn in forest fires.
  • November 2000, Britain, eastern Australia, and northern Italy. Thousands of people evacuate their homes after torrential rains.

Kyoto promises forgotten

Three years after the Kyoto conference, only 30 governments have ratified the protocol. No major industrial nations have legally bound themselves to the targets. Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialised nations would be committed to reducing their overall emissions by 5.2% over the next decade. Given that emission reductions of 60-80% are needed, the Kyoto target is a vital first step that is being ignored.

The real obstacle is the capitalist lobby, the multinationals and imperialist governments that represent them. Their only concern is profit. Imperialist governments protect their industries and evade responsibility for climate change. In Britain, representatives from multinationals are at the heart of government, determining policy and defending their business interests. This is what happened in The Hague.

Talks collapsed because, refusing to put checks on its national industry which is responsible for high carbon emissions, the US attempted to quota barter. This means buying up unused entitlements from countries where heavy industry is collapsing, such as Russia and the Ukraine. Even within countries companies have already started bidding for each others reduced emission. Furthermore the measurement criteria are corruptible. For example the US wants to avoid fines by buying up forests and not cutting them down, pumping carbon dioxide into oceans, or spreading iron solution across the surface of the Antarctic to simulate plankton growth. Such schemes shamelessly finance environmental destruction by hiding behind the Kyoto Protocol.

Meanwhile there is little recognition in the imperialist bloc that the poorest countries are suffering because of pollution. Tony Blair has the arrogance to say 'industrialised countries must work with developing countries to help them combat climate change'. Yet the reality is that while Britain emits 9.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person, countries like Honduras emit just 0.7 per person. In fact:

  • 45% of world carbon dioxide comes from the G8 countries.
  • The USA holds just 4.5% of the world's population, but emits 22% of the world's greenhouse gases.
  • India holds 17% of the world's population, but emits 4.2% of the world's greenhouse gases.

Danger signals revealing the destructive effects of capitalism on the environment have been flashing for over 40 years. Capitalism should be jamming on the brakes but instead it pushes down harder on the accelerator. There will be no answer within a capitalist system. The latest failure to introduce even token carbon reductions, backs this up.

An alternative to destruction

Back in 1983 Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolutionaries published a pamphlet titled: The world economic and social crisis — its impact on the underdeveloped countries, its sombre prospects and the need to struggle if we are to survive. Describing the catastrophe unfolding in poor nations and the impact of multinational expansion, Castro states ‘man's actions on the environment, are increasingly causing changes in the stability, organisation, balance, interaction and even survival of the earth's main ecological systems.'

At the 1992 Rio Summit Fidel Castro gave his celebrated speech `Tomorrow is too late — development and the environment crisis in the Third World'. He warned the developed world to: 'Stop transferring to the Third World lifestyles and consumer habits that ruin the environment ... Use science to achieve sustainable development without pollution. Pay the ecological debt instead of the foreign debt. Eradicate hunger, not humanity...Tomorrow will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago.' He concluded: 'Humanity can still stop and reverse the destruction of the environment ... but time is running out.'

At the Millennium Summit this September, Castro warned: 'Nature is being devastated. The climate is changing under our eyes and drinking water is increasingly contaminated or scarce.' He continues: ‘There is nothing in the existing economic and political order that can serve the interests of humankind' and concludes 'the dream of having truly fair and sensible rules to guide human destiny seems impossible to many. However, we are convinced that the struggle for the impossible should be the motto ... '

The deadly hand of capital was present at The Hague. Greenpeace called it 'the moment when governments abandoned the promise of global co-operation to protect planet Earth'. It is clear that to combat climate change and its devastating effects, we must change the present world order, before it is too late.

Susan Rose

What is climate change?

Solar energy from the sun drives the earth's weather systems, the climate and heats the earth's sur-face. Most of this energy is emitted back into space. Some is trapped in the Earth's atmosphere by a layer of `greenhouse gases', mainly carbon dioxide. Plants and animals absorb carbon dioxide and give out oxygen, maintaining the balance of gases in the atmosphere for the last 10,000 years.

However, the industrial revolution meant that human activity interfered with the natural cycle. Burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests increased amounts of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere.

Most man-made greenhouse gas emissions are carbon dioxide, released by burning fossil fuels for heat, electricity and transportation. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by around 30% in the last 200 years.

Many recent 'natural disasters' are caused by climate change, in reality an entirely man-made disaster.

New reports warn global warming threatens human extinction

Latuff CapitalismGlobalWarming

“An important biological species – humankind – is at risk of disappearing, due to the rapid and progressive elimination of its natural habitat. We are becoming aware of this problem when it is almost too late to prevent it. It must be said that consumer societies – the offspring of imperial policies – are chiefly responsible for this appalling environmental destruction.” – Fidel Castro, Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 1992

A new climate change report has warned that humanity is heading towards extinction by ecocide if the required action to slash carbon dioxide emissions isn’t taken immediately. Drawing on a number of studies, How Climate Change is Tearing the Planet Apart,1 by Will Denayer for Flashback Economics, states that ‘we are currently experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events’.

Read more ...

London can’t escape water scarcity crisis that affects four billion people

A new study has revealed that over four billion people – two-thirds of the world’s population – live with severe water scarcity for a total of at least one month over the course of each year. The crisis is far worse than previously thought, with 500 million people living in places where water consumption is double the amount annually replenished by rain.

People in India and China are most affected by insecure sources of water, but the report also highlighted regions in the US, Australia and even London. Indeed, the capital of the world’s sixth richest country is the 15th most 'water-stressed' city on the planet.[1] Prof Arjen Hoekstra, at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and who led the new global research, published in the journal Science Advances[2], said that with its dense population the Greater London area experiences water scarcity 'regularly', adding: 'You don’t have the water in the surrounding area to sustain the water flows [to London in the-long term].' The Colne and Lee catchment areas are the most seriously affected. According to a separate study by the Environment Network, 'over-withdrawal' and pollution have led to 'inadequate functioning' of three-quarters of the rivers and lakes in England and Wales.[3]

The crisis is of course much more acute in poor and underdeveloped countries. In January, the World Economic Forum cited water scarcity as one of the world’s three greatest crises alongside climate change and mass migration. Severe water scarcity is defined as water-use being more than twice the amount being replenished. Yemen, where most of the population struggles to find clean drinking water on a daily basis, could see water run out within a few years.[4] Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia aren’t far behind as the depletion of aquifers continues apace.

Researchers concluded that without urgent solutions water shortages would increase alongside growing populations, warming climates and further urbanisation. But another major factor is the continued increase in meat-eating by classes with rising incomes. Farming easily consumes more water than any other activity.

'Taking a shorter shower is not the answer,' said Hoekstra, because just 1-4% of a person’s water footprint is in the home, while 25% is through meat consumption. It takes over 15,000 litres of water to make 1kg of beef, with almost all of that used to irrigate the crops fed to cattle. 

The study also looked into environmental water requirements, ie the water needed to ensure that life (ie another food source, fish) survives in rivers and lakes, which are of course also used by people as waterways for transport. Just one month of severe water scarcity can have fatal impacts on the health of a river. 'An empty river is not a river,' said Hoekstra. He said caps on water-use should be put in place for all river basins.

David Tickner, chief freshwater adviser at WWF-UK, said: 'This paper is another pointer to the urgency of this challenge. Billions of people, and many economies, are increasingly suffering because of water-related risks which could be better managed. The same risks are causing a collapse in aquatic wildlife around the globe.'

It is essential that new practices are developed which use and maintain water supplies more efficiently, by decreasing profligacy from urban water systems, increasing the use and safety of recycled water, and improving the efficiency and safety of agricultural irrigation. Fulfilling these solutions have become increasingly vital to the sustainability of life and civilisation. But the short-term interests of a profit-driven system are a barrier to solving these problems. As with climate change and mass migration, water scarcity is a crisis that capitalism could not prevent from developing in the first place, and is drastically ill-equipped to combat.

Barny Phillips

[1] Study by The Nature Conservancy published in the Global Environmental Change Journal




We only want the Earth - environment pull-out - FRFI 125 (1995)

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no 125 - June/July 1995

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! has produced this pull-out feature because we recognise the importance of the struggles for social and environmental justice that are taking place in many parts of Britain. People are protesting against the endless encroachments of the car; against the methods and effects of intensive agriculture; the criminalisation of youth culture and protest itself. Through this supplement we support and give a voice to those struggles. We identify the enemies of this movement and answer their slurs.

There are many potential and real currents of opposition in Britain today - from those fighting roads, to those fighting racist attacks, to those living in poverty as yet with no political voice. They know that none of the existing political institutions or parties expresses their interests or wants to radically alter British society. If all these streams came together a powerful force could be created which would begin to change the political landscape. It will not be easy to build such a movement and our present rulers will try to suppress it. Their vicious response to protests such as Greenpeace's successful anti-nuclear activities and the adoption of the Criminal Justice Act shows what they will do.

But all over the world the poor and oppressed, those fighting for a better world, build their own organisations often in the face of violent suppression. The terrible suffering being caused by capitalism and its potentially disastrous destruction of the earth makes such a movement not an optional extra but a vital necessity.

Profits or the Planet

At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, a US delegate commented that 'environment protection has replaced communism as the great threat to capitalism'. Recently a spate of publications have sought to respond to this 'threat'. Dubbed the 'new contrarians', the authors argue that environmental concerns and capitalism need not conflict. Their arguments will be trotted out wherever a particular issue stirs wide sections of society, as the environmental question has begun to do. The basic tenet is always the same, whether the issue is the environment, poverty, housing, racism, attacks on democratic rights: don't worry, the system can accommodate your concerns, capitalism can be reformed. Such arguments are a danger to the progressive movement.

Probably the most significant and certainly the most widely publicised of these new publications is Richard D North's Life on a Modern Planet: A manifesto for progress. North with his green credibility — a former editor of a pioneering green magazine Vole and former environment correspondent for The Independent — is a suitable agent for pro-capitalist propaganda. It is not surprising that the multinational ICI paid him an undisclosed sum for writing the book.

North does not dispute that humanity faces serious environmental problems: 'Even when one strips out the hype, atmospheric change remains a serious threat'. On action against global warming, he accepts that we need to start soon if we want to see our actions produce an effect within, say, two or three generations'. What he and his fellow contrarians dispute is the necessary connection between these problems and the activities of big business. North believes that it is 'the strongly-resourced, widely-experienced multinational that [stands] a chance of doing things well'. In particular, North argues that the third world needs 'capitalism and the vigour of the market' to feed its growing poor population.

Dirty business

There's a bit of a problem here: these multinationals are actually the ones most responsible for the damage already done to the environment. For example, the world's largest 500 companies produce 50% of the world's greenhouse gases. Capitalist development in the IMF's miracle economies of the third world is only wreaking more havoc. Brazil spews into Rio's beautiful Guanabara Bay 470 tonnes of raw sewage, 5,500 tonnes of rubbish, 70 tonnes of industrial effluents and nine tonnes of oil every day. More people have access to a television than to clean drinking water. Taiwan has three factories per square kilometre and 15 times more cars per square kilometre than the USA. The cancer rate has doubled in the last 30 years. Asthma amongst children has leapt four-fold in the last ten.

So can capitalist enterprises clean up their act? No. There is an inherent trend for capitalism to increase the devastation which it unleashes upon the environment. As its enterprises compete for the mass market, they constantly seek to increase the rate at which they can produce cheap commodities. This requires enormously productive labour processes, which suck in vast amounts of energy and raw materials and spew out waste. So in the post-war period, plastics have replaced leather in the US shoe industry, using only about a quarter of the amount of labour but ten times as much capital (machinery, raw materials etc) and 30 times as much energy. The growth of great monopolies whose operations span the globe and have the pick of its resources only increases this trend. The great productive capacity of capitalism holds an ever-increasing capacity for destruction.

What is more, at every stage of their operations these giants seek to cut costs to increase profitability. They will not saddle themselves with extra costs of meeting environmental standards if it can be at all avoided. That is not to say that they are not capable of adapting to public pres-sure, when they can afford to. But they will make as small a concession as is necessary to diffuse public concerns and, in times of recession such as these, even minor concessions will be resisted tooth and nail. So countries still relying heavily on the oil and coal industry, such as the US and Japan, bitterly opposed even the token restrictions on fossil fuel emissions recently discussed at the Berlin summit on global warming. And, if necessary, these mighty corporations can always keep happy their privileged domestic market by shifting environmentally hazardous operations or products to other, usually third world, countries.

 Notwithstanding this, North says capitalism can be taught to behave itself. 'One should not expect industry to be green', he says, 'only to be good citizens' (p266). We can expect nothing of the sort. The sort of companies responsible for the state of the planet are not accountable citizens. They rim the show. North says 'the public can trust the regulators who advise politicians about how to control...chemicals'. The reality is that the regulatory bodies are stuffed full of business placemen. Of the 26 members of the recently established watchdog 'Business and the Environment' 24 are from big business. If business cannot get its own people in on the act, it bribes those who are. In 1 99 3, 12 out of 17 members of the government's Food Advisory Committee admitted receiving cash payments from food corporations.

North says higher taxes and tougher legislation should protect re-sources and prevent pollution. What government has the political will to carry through a serious programme aimed at curtailing these engines of the capitalist economy? Tony Blair's (or anyone else's) Labour? In the US the grain producer Cargill, whose offices in India have recently been attacked by Indian farmers, is the single biggest contributor to the balance of payments. Is Bill Clinton going to bite the hand that feeds his electorate?

Capitalism or socialism

Matt Ridley (nephew of Tory grandee Nicholas Ridley), another contrarian, was praised by The Daily Telegraph for exposing the fact that 'many green arguments are just old socialist ones dressed up in new clothes'. Ridley is right. Even North's proposals are impossible without interfering with the production of profit. It is clear that the sort of decisions that have to be made cannot be left to greedy men in corporate boardrooms. It is clear that production must be planned and controlled according to need and what is ecologically sustainable. A social system is required that prizes the supply of clean water above televisions. Capital-ism will not and can not do this.

We are not without examples of possibilities for recuperating the environment damaged by capitalist greed. Take Vietnam which, after defeating the US, faced appalling environmental devastation caused by the US' use of Agent Orange. The Vietnamese Communist Party addressed this problem with a programme which included every school-child planting one tree a year. A sustained governmental programme has reclaimed vast areas of land devastated by US bombing. Together with such environmental programmes, socialism also brought Vietnam, one of the poorest countries in the world, universal free education and healthcare. That is real human development. But unfortunately, as a recent John Pilger documentary showed, with capitalism now 'developing' Vietnam the first things to go have been the environment, education and healthcare.

Socialism has the potential to salvage the environment because it puts people not profits first. It would dispossess the corporations that have done all the damage and place power in the hands of the poor who, as author Paul Harrison puts it, 'tread lightest upon the earth'. In other words, it would give humanity a chance to seriously address the problems North acknowledges, but cannot answer.

Sarah Bond

We've been taught to drink poison

Recent months have seen a rash of media articles extolling apparent moves by the government to halt the so-called `great car economy'. 'Transport Secretary Brian Mashing has taken a greener approach than his predecessors', sang The Observer, while The Guardian in a recent editorial ('U-turns on the road to salvation') announced that the suspension of a number of road schemes was 'a prime example of the Thatcherism revolution going into reverse.'

These views have been echoed in some parts of the anti-roads movement who have proclaimed delight that the government has 'lost the arguments' and `seen sense' at last.

Meanwhile, in the Stanworth Valley in Lancashire a massive police/bailiff operation has violently evicted the remaining anti-M65 protesters protecting acres of trees that have now been felled. As nitrogen dioxide and ozone levels have again soared to dangerous levels in the recent hot weather, risking the health of millions of people, one wonders precisely what kind of U-turn has taken place.

Fourteen lanes becomes twelve lanes

Under mounting public pressure certain highly unpopular and high profile road schemes have been dropped or cut back. The plans to expand a section of the M25 to 14 lanes have been shelved, although the DoT is pressing ahead to expand other sections to ten and 12 lanes. The M11 Link Road, M77, M65 and other schemes which have been opposed by popular direct action are, of course, underway and those protesting against them are being criminalised.

It may look good on TV for Mawhinney to threaten to penalise drivers of 'dirty vehicles', but the reality is that the car's hegemony is unchallenged. The recent resumption in growth in car sales has been lauded by Ministers as a 'green shoot of economic recovery'. Car ownership and use, which increased by 33 per cent between 1983 and 1993, continues to rise inexorably. Emissions from vehicle exhausts have increased by 73 per cent since 1981. More than 19 mil-lion British people are exposed to deadly levels of pollutants. Asthma has become an epidemic amongst children. Perhaps someone can put the following to Mawhinney or Gummer next time they are on Question Time.

Why was the report on road accidents involving children suppressed?

The 'green' Mr Mawhinney personally vetoed a DoT report showing that children of poor families and non-white ethnic groups were more likely to be killed and injured by traffic. Transport Consultant John Whitelegg commented, 'Those children who stubbornly hang on to the street as a vital part of their social life ... are punished by death and injury for their temerity in resisting the complete domination of the car'.

Why are road protesters being criminalised?

The government spends £500,000 per month subsidising security for road building sites. It has also been a bonanza for private investigators who have been paid to spy on and infiltrate campaigns. Despite the failure to force Twyford Down protesters to pay millions of pounds in compensation for disrupting work, the same tactic is now being used against M11 campaigners.

Why aren't we told the truth about vehicle pollution?

The British government routinely lies to the public about air quality. We are told air quality is 'good' even when pollution massively exceeds World Health Organisation standards. Pollution monitoring sites are placed away from heavy traffic in defiance of EC law. The government sets no air quality standard for nitrogen dioxide and has sabotaged EC moves to formulate one. There is no standard for the carcinogenic particulates emitted mainly by diesel engines, which kill an estimated 10,000 people every year in Britain. The government also has no plans to issue a standard for benzene, another known carcinogen, until the year 2000.

Why are there no restrictions on vehicles when pollution is very bad?

As nitrogen dioxide and ozone smog blanketed Britain in early May, Dr John Moore-Gillon, chairman of the British Lung Foundation, commented that `Britain may run out of fresh air in many parts of the country. Five million lung disease sufferers could be affected by this cocktail cloud of pollution: Even the minimal measures proposed by Friends of the Earth (closing some roads, lowering speed limits etc) to deal with this crisis have been ignored. Instead, the government's laughable free pollution helpline tells people whose health is affected by the appalling air quality that they 'may feel uncomfortable', and should 'talk to their doctor'. Children are expected not to play outside, and joggers to stop jogging. But the right to drive is the one human right you can guarantee the system will respect.

Profits first

Car manufacture and consumption is central to the world capitalist economy. This global industry dominated by transnational corporations reflects a world divided — pockets of affluence and privilege for a minority, grinding poverty, hunger and destitution for the majority. 25 per cent of the world's population drive 90 per cent of the world's cars and consume 70 per cent of the fossil fuel used to power them. Transport policy in the UK, and most of the world, is geared to the profit-making activities of these corporations.

The car-making multinationals are rapidly creating new markets in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Their reach is already extended in the Third World, where they are responsible for 90 per cent of the vehicles produced. Wielding enormous economic and political power, the multinationals have exported car-based transport systems throughout the Third World, increasing dependence on oil and petroleum imports which further push up punish-ing levels of foreign debt. In Haiti, only one in every 200 people owns a car, yet at least a third of imports are fuel and transport equipment.

Between 1972 and 1985 only one per cent of World Bank funding for urban transport in the Third World went to pedestrian facilities, with almost 80 per cent directed to road vehicle schemes. Non-motorised forms of travel, such as bicycles, receive almost no subsidy. The transport systems built serve the needs of wealthy local elites. Structural adjustment programmes forced on these countries by the World Bank have in practice deprived the poor of any form of mobility other than walking, as subsidies to public transport have been cut.

Continents of hunger and pollution

The worst effects of pollution are experienced by people living in the huge cities of the South — Seoul, Bombay, Bangkok, Manila, Calcutta, Cairo, Lagos, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Mexico City etc. Every child born in Santiago de Chile breathes the equivalent of seven cigarettes daily, and one in every four children suffers from some form of bronchitis. 60 per cent of the residents of Calcutta have pollution-related respiratory disorders. The writer Eduardo Galeano has described how the imperialist system has imposed a 'dictatorship of the auto-mobile' on the South, where cars have the freedom to 'vomit lead from their exhaust pipes' and in the name of free enterprise the air is made unbreathable.

'The giants that make cars and gasoline — businesses nearly as juicy as arms and drugs — have convinced us that the motor is the only possible prolongation of the human body... We Latin Americans have swallowed the pill that the hell of Los Angeles is the only possibly model of modernisation; a vertiginous superhighway that scorns public transport, practises velocity as a form of violence, and drives people out. We've been taught to drink poison, and we'll pay any price as long as it comes in a shiny bottle.'

Global warming

The multinationals of the motor industry have historically opposed any legislation or measures that may restrict their freedom to make money. Move for improved fuel efficiency, control over exhaust emissions, lead in petrol and vehicle speeds have all been vigorously fought. The big three of the US auto industry, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, paid lobbyists and lawyer more than $1.8 million to fight clean air legislation between 1981 and 1988.

In the UK, the road lobby similarly opposes any attempt to oppose any road scheme. John Gummer's recent launch of Air Quality: Meeting the Challenge was warmly welcomed by the AA and the British Road Federation for giving local councils no statutory powers to do anything about serious vehicle emissions.

It came as no surprise to hear that the car multinationals and the oil-producing states engaged hundreds of lobbyist at the recent disastrous UN Conference on Climate Change in Berlin in a successful attempt to prevent any meaningful agreement on cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the major cause of global warming. Representatives of the Alliance of Small Island States, whose survival is threatened by a rise in sea levels that global warming will produce, called for a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 levels b the year 2005 — a level that scientists agree is a minimum requirement for the industrialised world who produce 7 per cent of CO2 emissions. As direct action protests against road building and in defence of the environment have grown rapidly and successfully, ministers have donned the 'green' attire. Gummer posed a defender of the environment in a recent comment: 'Sustainable development is exactly the right phrase: you need to have growth and prosperity if you're going to sustain the environment.'

The sustainable development Gunmer is talking about is the sustainable development of capitalism — a system based on the right to pollute and which creates affluence for a few.

Movements that seek to defend environment from the forces of institutionalised greed will of necessity have to challenge not just the primacy of the car as a means of transport, but also, multinationals whose lust for profit is the root cause of the crisis facing humanity.

Bill Hughes

Communists and the fight for the future

Does communism have anything to offer the anti-CJA, anti-roads movement? Colin Chalmers, a communist actively involved in the anti-CJA group Justice?, looks at a movement fighting for all our futures.

Mayday 1994 saw the first national demonstration against the Criminal Justice Bill - over 20,000 people marching and partying their way through London. What was most significant about this march was that the people who had turned up to defend our democratic rights were not the unions, not the Labour Party, not the left. It was people involved in the dance scene, travellers, squatters and supposedly 'apolitical' young people who said 'enough is enough'. A movement was in the making. After a second demonstration in July the Daily Star wrote 'they made a nauseating sight. For three hours the dregs of Britain - scroungers, anarchists, and shaven-headed troublemakers - rampaged through London... The sooner the new law comes into force the better'.

Yes, the dregs were on the move - and making links between oppressive laws, racism, intolerance and wider attacks on some of the most oppressed sections of society. As a leaflet put out by travellers in Bristol at the time put it:

'Late last year a family with their baby in Gloucestershire were attacked with CS Gas while local onlookers cheered the attackers on. Last month people in Manchester were shot at by gunmen. Several ended up in hospital. One woman nearly lost her baby. The reality of the Criminal Justice Bill is here already.'

A movement under attack

In October the police attacked an anti-CJA march as it approached Hyde Park. Their intention was clear - to see if physical intimidation would frighten and split this new and politically inexperienced movement.

The ruling class did, after all, have a lot to be scared of. As The Independent said: 'A rainbow coalition has been created that none of the main parties can call its own. Once united, it is likely to have a political impact that outlasts controversy over this particular Bill ... Tony Blair's new Labour Party, fearful of straying from the centre of British politics, is at best ambivalent, at worst openly hostile, to this social phenomenon'.

The answer to police intimidation came soon enough. The day after the Bill became law five protesters scaled the roof of Parliament and stayed there for over five hours; six days later the forcible eviction of the 52-day-old anti-CJA squat in Brighton's old Court-house saw protesters take to the roof again. On 18 November there were illegal demonstrations throughout Scotland in defiance of the new Act, including a march of 4,000 in Glasgow (the SWP-run 'Coalition against the CJA', true to form, held its own legal march). On 20 November Michael Howard's house was occupied by 250 protesters; and the anti-CIA movement got a weekly newsletter when the SchNEWS started publishing that week.

Then on the morning of 28 November 200 bailiffs, 400 security guards and 700 police started evicting 500 anti-M11 protesters from Claremont Road in East London. The eviction took four days and cost £2m.

Movement of the people

The movement that has grown up around opposition to road-building, the Criminal Justice Act and other issues draws support from a wide variety of people. It is a real movement - and because it is real it is complex and contradictory. What is unarguable is its progressive content.

Against a political background where the traditional left has failed to build any real opposition to attacks on our rights and our environment, this movement has made a stand for what it believes in - a way of life that sustains the planet, a society based on the needs of people not profit, decent housing for all, justice and equality. This movement has shown a degree of self-reliance and militancy that has not been seen in Britain since the miners' strike; it has its closest parallels today with the struggles of peoples in the third world fighting against the unending attacks on their ways of life and environment.

As Jeremy Seabrook wrote about the anti-M11 protest, 'The people in Leytonstone understand these connections. They aren't just another pressure group, but represent a growing movement of dissent and hope in the desolate social landscape of contemporary Britain'.

It would have been impossible for a serious movement to come into existence in Britain today that saw itself as a socialist one. The left (with honourable exceptions such as Militant's support for the anti-M77 campaign in Glasgow) is seen as opportunist and sectarian, unable to participate democratically in a wider movement. The Labour Party supports free market economics, private health and education and couldn't even oppose the CJA - and it calls itself, in its new Clause 4, a 'socialist' party. What a handful of communists have been saying for years about the narrowness of the British left is simple common sense to a movement that has seen how they operate at first hand.

The SWP-dominated 'Coalition against the CIA', for example, operates almost entirely outside the network of groups and activities that everyone else realises is the movement against the CJA. It has no democratic structure and its concern with legality weakens the protest movement. The frequency with which the left end up chanting the meaningless slogan 'Major! Major! Major! Out! Out! Out!' (Do you want Blair as Prime Minister?) has led many to shout back 'Slogan! Slogan! Slogan! Shout! Shout! Shout!' in response to this inanity.

Is it therefore surprising that most of the people who put their lives and freedom at risk on the nets above Claremont Road do not call themselves socialist? Is it surprising when politics is defined as what MPs do to us that some of those most active in organising this movement argue that what they are doing is not even politics at all?

But for communists this is not the point. What people do, not what they say, is the measure of any movement and this movement has fought against oppression and ecological madness with enormous courage and organisational ability. Increasingly, however, the movement faces its next big challenge - to transform its energy into sustainable, democratic organisations that involve thousands more people.

Communists and organisation

Communists and Marxists do not provide blueprints for how to organise protests. We take part in struggle alongside others, arguing against elitism and for democratic forms of organisation. We point out the need for the movement to defend itself and its members against attack, whether that means physical self-defence, prisoner support or opposing those within the movement who would divide it for their own narrow political ends. We argue that the movement has to grow, building alliances with others who are fighting back against capitalism and imperialism. Finally, we argue that only by over-throwing capitalism and imperialism can we build a sustainable society free from oppression.

Practically, this means that communists support the unity of the movement and its independence, particularly from the dead hand of the Labour Party. It means communists learning from the movement; Marxism is not a strong force in Britain today and has much to learn from present struggles. It means encouraging links with other struggles throughout the world - against eco-madness, against the growth of racism and fascism - and learning important lessons from past struggles. Most crucially, it means working in ways that encourage the involvement of our natural allies - working class youth, black people, single parents, the one in three people living in poverty - because it is only by uniting with these people that our movement will be able to win.

The communist tradition is a very different one to that of the British left. It goes back 150 years, has encompassed the struggles of millions of people, usually in the poorest countries, and has won significant victories against imperialism. Its message of solidarity between ordinary people is universally hated and feared by the rich and powerful.

Socialist Cuba, for instance, is like a squat on the world stage. The imperialists hate it - they want Cuba back under their control and they will do anything to evict the current occupants. What they hate most about Cuba is that multi-national companies don't make super-profits there like they do in Latin America - instead, a country that is blockaded by the United States is able to provide free health care and a better literacy level than the United States itself.

How do the Cuban people manage to do this, you might ask? Well, how do people turn run-down buildings into thriving community squats? How are the 'dregs of Britain' able to organise creches and cafes, hold up motorways and build villages in the sky? The position of Cuba and the position of the anti - CJA, anti-roads movement isn't that different - both are sustained by poor people trying to build a better way of living through cooperation. And both are attacked by those who fear any alter-native to the 'free market'.

Communism is the common sense of the oppressed. Only in a world as divided and corrupt as ours could it seem 'madness' to suggest that the 'free market' is not the only way to run society, that we can live in a way that does not mean poverty, starvation, genocide and war. Communists and those active in the anti-CJA and anti-roads movement share that 'madness'. With a bit of luck, and a bit of listening on both sides, it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

No M77!

As reported in FRFI 124, a huge force of ice and security guards attacked the Pollok Free State camp in Glasgow on 22 March to clear the way for the M77. Fearful of a repeat of the St Valentine's Day action, local school students were locked in with police at the gates to prevent the youth joining in.

Surprise of the year is that drunken Tory minister Alan Stewart is to face breach of peace charges at Paisley Sheriff Court.

FRFI/RCG supporters and activists in the Dundee Alliance against the Act paid a solidarity visit to Pollok Free State after the attack on the camp and learned first-hand of the brutality of police and security guards. The protesters called for solidarity actions and on 6 April the Dundee Alliance occupied a walkway over a busy dual carriageway flying banners in support of the M77 protest.

On 15 May, M77 protesters took the battle against vehicle pollution right into the heart of Glasgow. At morning rush hour, they handcuffed themselves across Hope St, the most polluted street in Europe due to the build-up of exhaust fumes from the masses of deregulated buses. Arrests were made but campaigners have promised 'a summer defiance and fun'.

Michael Taylor

Critical Mass

On the last Friday in April, 500 cyclists gathered at Waterloo Bridge to mark a year of Critical Mass-the anti-car, pro-bicycle, pro-public transport, pro-clean air campaign that, once a month, literally reclaims the streets of London.

The bikes poured onto Waterloo roundabout, cycling slowly round and round till no cars could get on, then progressed, in a colourful, musical, joyful procession around central London to Trafalgar Square. Passers-by, seeing the banners - 'Car free zone' and 'Let London breathe' - cheered and waved but some drivers frothed at the mouth and screamed abuse. One driver at Hyde Park Corner deliberately knocked a cyclist off his bike before speeding off.

Critical Mass takes place the last Friday of every month. Next rally: Friday 26 May, meet 5.45 near the Bullring, Waterloo.


No M65! Siege of Stanworth Woods                                                                                                                              

Arriving in a huge convoy of vehicles, special climbing teams, Group 4 security guards and over 300 police immediately sealed off several acres of ancient woodland. Besieged in the centre, 80 feet above in an aerial village of tree houses linked via five kilometres roped walkways were the No M65 anti-road campaigners. Back on the ground, powers now available to the police under the CJA were used to turn away the gathering crowds of spectators and supporters. Nobody was allowed to witness what happened.

The siege of Stanworth Woods lasted seven days and involved 62 arrests. Violent tactics were used by the police and bailiffs. Rope walkways were cut down with protesters still on them, trees were hacked down before all the protesters were evicted. One woman was struck on the head with an industrial saw. Those arrested were only granted bail on condition that they did not return to the wood. The belongings they left there have now been trashed along with the woods.

Jack Straw, Labour MP for Blackburn, said 'I offer my full support to the way in which the police have handled their operation to clear the wood'. He and the Labour Party also fully backed and campaigned for this destructive road development.

Billy Cookson

'People accept a lot, but they're starting not to'

Is the current anti-CJA and anti-roads movement growing into a real challenge to the people who are currently destroying the planet? And do communists have anything to offer this movement? In a discussion between communists and activists within this movement, Colin, Kate, Maxine, Millie, Paul and Warren met in the Brighton squat run by Justice? - the anti-CJA group that publishes the SchNEWS - to look at some of the issues.

Colin: It was a year ago today, on May Day 1994, that the first big march against the Criminal Justice Bill took place. How do people think things have developed?

Warren: I came back from Spain at that time and the country was buzzing for the first time since the miners' strike. After the miners' strike everyone's heads seemed to go down, and now people were doing things again. But the left were missing and because of that all the demos were carnivals. There was real imagination around. I went to the Twyford Down mass trespass and that was excellent.

Kate: I was abroad last year as well, and when I came back it was like a whole new country. People were really alive, they had a real purpose. That was just at the time we squatted the Courthouse in Brighton. The best thing Michael Howard's done is pulled a lot of people together - raves, that's a whole culture, football fans, he's attacking the lot. The live exports issue has brought the most unlikely people into the protesting world and I think they'll move on to other issues afterwards. People are waking up.

Warren: We're learning from other struggles. At the Courthouse, we had Women against Pit Closures coming down to talk to us and their talk was the best thing I ever heard there. I think they convinced a lot of people that we should barricade and stop the bailiffs. Up till then, a lot of people were saying we should just walk out and go to another squat - then these women from a mining village came along and said, 'It's your space, you defend it.'

Maxine: It was good that you were able to contact those women, because, by and large, the whole experience of the miners' strike - villages occupied, the police being compared with the army in Ireland - just gets forgotten.

Warren: It's up to us with the SchNEWS to look back at what's happened before and put what we're doing in context. The miners' strike was a big marking point in the way public order went in this country, but a lot of people involved in Justice? don't know anything about that history. A lot of them are 17, 18 - it's up to us to get the information out to everyone.

Paul: I think it works best in places like the M11 where links were built with working class communities because that road affected them. I'm a bit wary of the notion that you've got to go and recruit people.

Kate: I don't think it's a question of recruiting.

Warren: I don't think walking round estates shoving bits of paper at people works. There's got to be something going off, like at Shoreham where you take the SchNEWS down and everyone's queuing up for it. They're more open because they're directly affected.

Maxine: There was a report out recently that showed that road pollution affects working class areas ten times more than other areas. So there's a natural constituency for the roads issue to be raised.

Colin: There's a very wide range of people involved in the anti-roads, anti -CJA movement. Do people think that's a good thing or can it lead to problems?

Warren: There were massive differences in Justice? before the eviction from the Courthouse. As soon as the eviction happened, and we were all on the roof together, all those things dropped, and it's much more relaxed now. Petty differences get forgotten when you're in struggle.

Colin: I remember these big arguments about 'spikeys' and 'fluffies' and I couldn't understand what they were about.

Kate: It was put about by people in the movement that you were either spikey or fluffy and it seemed a bizarre thing to do, split your own movement like that.

Paul: There are people who believe in non-violence and people who came from an anarchist-type background attacked that, and I think it backfired and created this huge artificial division. Freedom Network gets painted as very fluffy, but they don't actually have that different a viewpoint. They'll support self-defence as much as anyone else.

Colin: Maybe there aren't such big divisions about violence as are made out, but are there big divisions about the Labour Party? Do you think there are still people who see Labour as worth voting for?

Kate: Most people I know are just pissed off with it all. They know that Labour's no better than the Tories. Labour didn't oppose the Criminal Justice Bill. With Labour and the Tories both moving so far to the right there's a huge gap on the left.

Colin: And that's in a society where a third of children are brought up in poverty and the poorer sections of the working class have no political voice. There's an enormous political vacuum for a movement of the dispossessed in this country - is that what we're seeing the beginnings of?

Millie: Most people these days, especially young people, are apolitical, they see politics as having no bearing on their lives, and what they want to do. With things like Shoreham, Brightlingsea, Pollak, politics becomes relevant to people.

Warren: People I know who went to Claremont Road really changed. Struggle changes people's minds. I had a big argument the other day about the 'conscious revolution' in your head, and to me that's a load of hippy bollocks - you have to be involved in things, involved in struggles like those women at Shoreham, to see the way things are. No one can tell you 'the police are really bad, they were hitting everyone'. You've got to see it and actually feel the power of what's going on.

Kate: The power when those bailiffs came round the bend into Claremont Road. It was amazing. Everyone was shouting and screaming, there was a real energy there.

Colin: I think what's happening with the anti-road protests and the squats has much more in common with working class organisation in the rest of the world than the parades and sloganeering of the British left over the past 20 years or so. If you look at the way the anti-M11 protesters organised, it's very similar to the way people organise in the Philippines against 'beautification' or the way the poor in India or Thailand organise against 'development' that destroys people's lives.

Maxine: There's just been a John Pilger programme on TV about Vietnam. The Vietnamese were a people who fought against major powers in the world, vastly superior to them in arms and money, and they won - and now they're being forced to accept the market economy. The free healthcare and education they fought for aren't free anymore. Struggles come and go and you need to organise politically so lessons get remembered. I come from a tradition where organisation has always been the key. Communists have always seen organisation as the way you express the tradition and lessons of past struggle.

Paul: That kind of thinking about organisation is obsolete. Hierarchical models of organisation where there's a belief that you need to subsume yourself to the cause, be disciplined, be the vanguard, all that tradition of democratic centralism is totally corrupt and useless.

Maxine: I didn't say any of that.

Paul: One of the things that's good about what we're doing is that we're inventing new political forms that are relevant to our times, not bowed down by the past.

Maxine: I'm not talking about the past. I'm talking about the creation of the future. There's no blueprint for the future and no serious communist would say there is. Anyone who says you have to organise the way the Bolsheviks did in Russia in 1917 is round the bend. We don't live in Russia in 1917, we live now. What is going on here is fantastic - the question is, can it mould a new force that wins against a formidable enemy?

Colin: Millions of people have died in struggles against capitalism and imperialism throughout the world, and the lessons they learned need to be remembered. For me, that's what organisation is all about -it's nothing to do with hierarchies and leaders, it's about learning lessons so that when a policeman hits you over the head, the next time people know what to expect and how to deal with it.

Millie: The trouble with a lot of organisations is that they become inaccessible both to themselves and to other people. We've had those problems ourselves, but somehow things happen. Anyone can say, 'I'm pissed off with this, perhaps we should change something.' The potential is there for everyone to have a voice.

Warren: We are organised, we get the SchNEWS out every week, we do political organisation, it's just we don't have a membership and we don't say, 'That's the leader over there, talk to him.' We know we still have to get together to organise.'

Millie: Since the miners' strike, a lot of people haven't had a voice, and now a lot of people are starting to find one again. People accept a lot, but they're starting not to.

Reclaim the streets

Camden High St in North London was traffic-free on Sunday 14 May after hundreds of people took over the road for a street party. A children's play area, chairs and tables, street performers, bands and two cars sacrificed in mock collision illustrated how city space could be used.

Banners proclaimed 'Beneath the tarmac, the grass', 'Car free zone', 'Free the city, kill the car' and 'Reclaim the streets'. The police had no choice but to cordon off the entire road and adjoining side streets. After most people had left the police attacked protesters and bystanders. There were at least eight arrests and two people were hospitalised, one with broken ribs. They are appealing for witnesses and support. Contact the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group on 0181 802 9804.

Hannah Caller

Support Cuba - Rock around the Blockade with FRFI

'If we want to save humanity from self-destruction, there must be a better distribution of the planet's available wealth and technology...A just economic order must be applied. We must pay our ecological debt, not the foreign debt. Hunger must disappear, not humankind.'

Cuban President Fidel Castro, at the Rio Summit 1992

The Cuban revolution shows that socialism has the possibility of providing health, education and social justice for its people. It is an inspiration to millions. That is why the US is trying to destroy Cuba and the achievements of socialism through a punitive economic and political blockade. Join the resistance - help break the US blockade and support Cuba by getting involved in Rock around the Blockade.

FRFI is raising money to buy a sound system for a youth centre in Cuba and organising a work brigade to Cuba in December, for two weeks. The cost will be around £600 each - we can help you with lots of ideas to raise funds if you would like to come.


Fight for the Forest - review

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 90 - October 1989

Fight for the forest. Chico Mendes in his own words, Latin America Bureau, £2.95, 96pp.

At 5.45pm on Thursday 22 December 1988, Chico Mendes was assassinated in the doorway of his home in Xapuri, Acre, north west Brazil.

Chico Mendes was President of the Xapuri Rural Workers Union, member of the National Council of Rubber Tappers, member of the national council of the Trade Union Congress (CUT), an activist in the Workers' Party (PT), and commit-ted to the defence of the Amazonian eco-system. At the time of his death he was 44 and married with two young children. Fight for the forest is the last major inter-view given by Chico Mendes just weeks before his death.

Fight for the forest outlines the growth of the organisation of the rubber tappers in the last two decades and in particular the great contribution of Chico Mendes in building the structures of self-organisation and defence against the destruction of the rain forests.

Chico Mendes was born into a rubber tappers family. The traditional rubber estate (seringal) operates on a system of debt bondage. During the rubber boom at the turn of the century the rubber tappers (generally men from the semi-arid north east escaping the droughts) were obliged to remain single, forbidden to plant food for themselves and obliged to sell their rubber at artificially low prices to the seringal. Illiterate and innumerate, they were permanently at the mercy of the rubber estate owners (seringalistas).

In many parts of the western Amazon this system remains unchanged, although in the area around Xapuri the seringalista has given way to the rancher. In the region around Xapuri, the 1970s and 1980s have seen a growing conflict between ranchers clearing the forest for pasture and rubber tappers facing eviction and loss of livelihood.

In his words Chico Mendes explains the struggles of the rubber tappers, first to learn to read, write and become numerate and as a result of their growing awareness of their exploitation and the destruction of the rain forests by the ranchers, the growth of their own trade unions and the physical defence of the rain forest.

Through Projecto Seringueiro (the Rubber Tapper Project) rubber tappers and their families were educated and enabled to run the first extractive reserve on the Cachoeira estate.

In 1987 Cachoeira was bought by Darli Alves da Silva who tried to drive out the 60 families of rubber tappers who had lived and worked on the estate for generations. Chico Mendes used all his powers of persuasion and leadership to convince the rubber tappers of Cachoeira to stay where they were and Darli issued death threats against him. In the second half of 1988, the federal government sought to defuse the situation by signing expropriation orders for three extractive reserves including Cachoeira, where 6,000 hectares were allocated to the rubber tappers.

The victory for the rubber tappers was also the death sentence for Chico, as the family of Darli Alves sought to avenge their defeat. The attempts on his life became systematic and on 22 December 1988 he was murdered.

Chico Mendes devoted his short life to fighting for the rights of the rubber tappers and for the future of the rain forest. He refused to give in to the intimidation of the ranchers and government officials who wanted to make fast bucks out of the rain forest. Equally he refused to co-operate with right wing elements of the church and the workers party who feared for their own interests above the interests of the rubber tappers.

Fight for the forest is a powerful book and highly recommended.

Lorna Reid