System Change not Climate Change! Taking direct action for climate justice.

In 2009, Indigenous peoples throughout the world called for a global
mobilisation ‘In Defense of Mother Earth’ on October 12, reclaiming
the day that used to be imposed as ‘Columbus Day’. Responding to this
call, and the demand for a day of action for ‘system change, not
climate change’ issued by the global movements gathered in Copenhagen
last year, Climate Justice Action is proposing a day of direct action
for climate justice on October 12, 2010.

Today, we know…

For years, many had hoped that governments, international summits,
even the very industries and corporations that caused the problem in
the first place, would do something, anything to stop climate change.
In December 2009, at the 15th global climate summit in Copenhagen
(COP15), that hope was revealed as an illusion: a comfortable way to
delude ourselves into believing that ‘someone else’ could solve the
problem for us. That ‘someone’ would make the crisis go away. That
there was someone ‘in charge’.

Today, after the disaster of COP15, we are wiser. Today we know:

– That we cannot expect UN-negotiations to solve the climate crisis
for us. Governments and corporations are unable (even if they were
willing) to deliver equitable and effective action on the root causes
of climate change.

– That the climate crisis isn’t a natural process, nor is it
accidental. Rather, it’s the inevitable outcome of an economic system
that is bound to pursue infinite economic growth at all costs.

– That only powerful climate justice movements can achieve the
structural changes that are necessary, whether it is through ending
our addiction to fossil fuels, replacing industrial agriculture with
local systems of food sovereignty, halting systems based on endless
growth and consumption, or addressing the historical responsibility of
the global elites’ massive ecological debt to the global exploited.

Today we know that is up to all of us to collectively reclaim power
over our daily lives. It is we who must start shutting down and moving
beyond the engines of capitalism, the burning of fossil fuels, the
conversion of all life into commodities, and the toxic imaginaries of
consumerism. It is we who must create different ways of living, other
ways of organising our societies.

Today we know that climate justice means taking action ourselves.

The 12th of October: then, and now

As the COP15 came crashing down, so did any remaining belief in the
capacity of UN-negotiations to implement equitable or effective
solutions. As they plan to stage their 16th summit in Cancun, Mexico,
it is becoming clear already that the movements will need to put up a
strong fight to stop any attempt to use the UN to profit from the
crisis through privatising our forests and carving up our atmosphere.
But real and just solutions to the climate crisis will come from
elsewhere – we must create other strategies, find other ways out of
the crisis.

In the ashes of the COP15, a meeting of global movements proposed
organising a global day of action under the banner ‘System Change not
Climate Change’. Climate Justice Action, the network responsible for
organising some of the disobedient actions in Copenhagen, took up this
suggestion by calling for a ‘global day of direct action for climate
justice’. Rather than once again following the global summit circus
around the world, being forced into nothing but a reaction to their
failures, we decided to set our own rhythm and our own schedule for

On the 12th of October, 1492, Christopher Columbus first set foot on
the landmass that we know today as the Americas, marking the beginning
of centuries of colonialism. Thus began the globalisation of a system
of domination of the Earth and its people in the eternal pursuit for
growth, the subordination of life to the endless thirst for profit.
Latin America’s liberation at the beginning of the 19th century put an
end to direct rule by foreign crowns, but failed to put an end to the
exploitation of the many for the benefit of a few. Instead, this
system has become ever more pervasive, reaching to the bottom of the
ocean, to the clouds above us, and to the farthest depths of our
dreams. This is the system that is causing the climate crisis, and it
has a name: capitalism.

This day has recently been reclaimed by movements of indigenous
peoples – those who first felt the wrath, the violence, the
destructive force of this project – as a day ‘in Defense of Mother
Earth’. On May 31, 2009, the IV Continental Summit of Indigenous
Peoples of Abya Yala (the Americas) called for a Global Mobilization
“In defence of Mother Earth and Her People and against the
commercialization of life, pollution and the criminalization of
indigenous and social movements”.

Today it is all of us, and the entire planet, who increasingly suffer
the fate that some five centuries ago befell the indigenous of the
Americas and their native lands. Then, it was the colonisers’ mad
search for the profit obtained from precious metals that drove them to
wipe out entire cultures; today, it is capital’s search for fossil
fuels to drive its mad, never-ending expansion, that still wipes out
entire cultures, and causes the climate crisis. Then, they were
enslaved and often killed to provide labour to the infernal machines
of Europe; now, we are all enslaved and exploited to provide labour to
the infernal machines of capital. Then, it was a continent and its
people that was driven to destruction; today, it is a world and its
people that is being driven to destruction. Today, we are all the
global exploited.

Of course, not all life submitted to the rule of capital in a single
day. Capitalism is a complex web of social relations that took
centuries to emerge and dominate almost the entire planet. Nor will we
bring down the entire system, or build a new world, in a single day.
This day is a symbol, and symbols matter. This day is the unveiling of
the root causes of the climate crisis – capitalism. It is an
affirmation that – wherever you live and whatever your struggle – we
struggle against capital and for other worlds, together.

There’s only one crisis

But why focus on the fight for climate justice at a time when, all
around the world, people are losing their jobs, governments are
imposing austerity measures, all while the banks are once again
posting their exorbitant profits? Doesn’t the ‘economic crisis’ trump
the ‘climate crisis’? This perspective, however, looks at the world
from above and outside of it. Seen from above, there is a ‘climate
crisis’, caused by too much CO2 in the atmosphere, which is a threat
to future stability and future profit margins; seen from above, there
is an economic crisis, which is a threat to current stability and
current profit margins; seen from above, there is an energy crisis, a
food crisis, a water crisis… But from where we stand, there are no
separate crises. There are only threats to our livelihoods, our
reproduction – in short, our survival: it doesn’t matter whether it is
a physical tsunami that destroys our houses, or a tsunami of
destruction wrought by recession. Either way, we end up homeless.

The reason we can’t treat the apparently separate crises as separate?
They are all symptoms of the same sickness. They are, all of them, the
result of capital’s need for eternal growth, a cancerous growth that
is fuelled by the ever-expanding exploitation of social and natural
‘resources’ – including fossil fuels. Crisis is, in fact, the standard
mode of operation for this global system.

To struggle for climate justice, then, is to recognise that all these
crises are linked; that the climate crisis is as much as social and
economic crisis as it is an environmental disaster. To struggle for
climate justice is at the same time struggling against the madness of
capitalism, against austerity enforced from above, against their
insistence on the need for continued ‘growth’ (green or otherwise).
Climate justice isn’t about saving trees or polar bears – though we
probably should do both. It is about empowering communities to take
back power over their own lives. It is about leaving fossil fuels in
the ground and creating socialised renewable energy systems; it is
about food sovereignty against the domination of, and destruction
caused, by industrial agribusiness; it is about massively reducing
working hours, and starting to live different lives; it is about
reducing overproduction for overconsumption by elites in the North and
the South. Climate justice, in short, is the struggle for a good life
for us all.

Global movements for climate justice

In April this year more than 30,000 people came together in
Cochabamba, Bolivia, for the Conference on Climate Change and the
Rights of Mother Earth (CMPCC

). Together we produced a ‘Peoples’ Agreement’ which offered a
different way forward, a counterbalance to the failure of the
neoliberal market driven ‘solutions’ peddled in the COPs. Despite its
submission to the UN, it was completely ignored at the intersessional
meeting of the UNFCCC in Bonn, Germany.
The failure of the UNFCCC to respond to the Peoples Conference is of
no surprise to us, and as was perhaps the intention of its submission,
it has only further delegitimised the COP process. Perhaps most
importantly, it has once again shown that it is only ‘the movement’
that can bring about real changes for climate justice. But what is
this movement, and where are its edges? Movement is precisely that –
movement. The movement is all those moments when we consciously push a
different way of living into existence; when we operate according to
our many other values rather than the single Value of capital. And now
we are trying to make these moments resonate.
We invite all those who fight for social and ecological justice to
organise direct actions targeting climate criminals and false
solutions, or creating real alternatives. This means taking direct
responsibility for making change happen, not lobbying others to act on
your behalf, but through actively closing things down and opening
things up. This is an open callout, we are not picking targets. But it
is not a day for marches or petitions: it is time for us to reclaim
our power, and take control of our lives and futures.

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