Critique of Criticism without Critique “A Climate Camp Reader”

April 23rd- just found out that RBS will be on the “recieving” [sic] end of Climate Camp love this summer. So, from bold agenda setter in 2006 to sharp-end of an NGO campaign in 4 years. That didn’t take long…

A week or two back a 52 A5 page booklet found its laborious way to the top of my reading pile. “Criticism without Critique: A Climate Camp Reader (January 2010).

This collection, which you can knock over in an hour if you want, shows all the signs of having been cobbled together at high speed- no graphics, no layout attempted (boxes, shading), not even the logo of the relevant bodies (shi[f]t magazine and dysophia). The editors have not tidied up typos and literals in the original essays, nor provided any gloss on them. It’s unclear what criteria were used to select articles (explicit criteria would tell us where these editors are coming from). Operating at high speed is not automatically a bad thing of course- sometimes the most urgent publications capture a moment (Merrick’s Battle for the Trees, for instance). But at the same time, there are serious gaps here.

I’ll list them and then suggest a couple of ways forward. Then I’ll close out with a look at some of the articles, and give some suggested reading.

Most seriously for a reader that hopes to get historical reflection going, there is no synoptic overview of the four years of Camps (Drax 06, Heathrow 07, Kingsnorth 08 and Blackheath 09), and the various successes/failures/lessons learnt and the differing political environments they have operated in.

There is an assumption in the articles (unchallenged by the editors) that what the camp has been doing (more or less successfully) is building a movement. That’s a pretty big question to beg.

There’s no historical comparisons (besides some glancing references) to other attempts at movement building (e.g. anti-roads movement) and no social movement theory (amid the spurious, superficial and dangerous wank that academics have churned out, there IS worthwhile work does exist- McAdam, Traugott, Tarrow, etc Derek Wall, Brian Doherty, Alex Plows and a couple of PhDs including one by a Climate Camper who swore she’d turn her work into a useful product. Yeah. Right.)

There’s nothing on the farcical dead end that was the Copenhagen jamboree, or any reflection on the Great Climate Swoop of autumn 2009. There’s nothing on where other organisations (the dreary Trots of “Campaign against Climate Change”, the clueless liberals of Stop Climate Chaos), the bobos and hippies of Transition Towns and the “Low Carbon Communities Network” are at? The impact of 10:10. The relations with Plane Stupid, Climate Rush etc. Nothing.

A reader will emerge none the wiser to concepts like opportunity cost, “Pioneers, Prospectors and Settlers,” Vanishing mediators (that fail to vanish!), barriers to participation, There’s nothing on race, nothing specific on gender, nothing on cultural capital (Bourdieu‘s habitus, for instance), There’s nothing on the overlaps between friendship networks/affinity groups and cliques or on movement cycles, repertoires.

The further reading is mostly stuff published in 2009, and there are not even links to Turbulence (but then, in this I sympathise- Turbulence is mostly turgid).

What would have been interesting, useful and as far as I am aware unprecedented, would have been to do “exit interviews” with people who USED to be involved in Climate Camp but left the process. You could ask

  • why did you get involved
  • what was the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ for you leaving
  • what were the build up factors for you, that made you uneasy
  • as a sympathetic (?) outsider what do you think of Climate Camp now? What have you heard from people still involved?
  • What are you doing now? Are you now in a period of recovery? Are you working on other projects- if so, what do you think they have that Climate Camp never had/lost?
  • What do you think should be done?
  • I’m not sure why the producers of this reader didn’t do this. Maybe they doubted that they’d get useful info? Or didn’t have time? Or didn’t think of it? If I gave a rat’s arse, I’d do it myself, but climate camp is a busted flush.

    Picking up on a few of the articles
    Climate Camp on Blackheath by the editors of Shift Magazine themselves –

    “… and many of our friends and allies have dropped out of the Climate Camp process altogether. They shouldn’t have.”
    Really? Why not? Doesn’t it depend on what else they’re going to do with their time, energy, money, bandwidth? Maybe they’ve made a decision that their energy is best spent on other projects? Maybe they know what they’re doing?

    And the very next paragraph “The Council of Elders”… worked hard to conceptualise and deliver the first camp at Drax”. You what? Are you saying that the first camp was led by a secretive vanguard?

    The article then lists some of the “issues” for climate campers to discuss- science, the state, capitalism, lifestyle, austerity. But nowhere effectiveness in movement building. That is taken as a given. Falsely.

    The Austerity section ends with “Yes we want sustainability but we also want freedom, creativity and luxury.” Hmm. Politics is about choices (resource allocation without violence, as someone recently defined it to me). You can’t have your cake and eat it. To think you can, to say that, is Just. Plane. Silly.

    It also ducks the whole question of effectiveness. And criteria for success.

    A G.R.O.A.T.s (link) to “critiquing climate camp” similarly implies that movement building has been at the core. “Over the years what happened is that the Camp has become very focused on building a mass movement.”
    Really? I thought it had become focused on a national jolly to garner media attention and ego-feed the participants and organisers.

    But interestingly “at the 2008 Earth First! Gathering there was a long debate about the CCA. Out of this it emerged that the division of labour within the camp was falling along class and political lines. That was, site was largely made up of by [sic] the working class and anarchists while the media and outreach teams was dominated by the middle-class/politically liberal end of the spectrum…. This latter point was exacerbated by two factors: a) naïve belief on behalf of those presenting the message that their circle was actually representative; and b) site crew being too exhausted to participate in much of the rest of the message shaping.”

    GROAT touches usefully on ‘biographical availability’/the tyranny of those who can turn up when he/she writes “The biggest issue however is that this is a self-perpetuating problem. As the “climate camp movement” attracted particular types of individual (liberal green students basically), the message was distorted by the weight of their presence. This is in [sic] inherent in the process of unrepresentative national gatherings, where it is easy to create a bias through the demographics of those able to attend.”
    This is all true, but GROAT fails to explain what would be representative – surely not voting?- and the editors of the collection don’t pick up on it either.

    Groat also picks up on the arrogance of the Camp- “There is an attitude from some of those in [sic] involved in the CCA that it is the only thing worth doing. This fails to recognise that there are other people out there who are being tossed about in its wake, many who have been working on ecological and social justice issues long before the Camp came along…

    And the closest anyone comes in these essays to examining the “local OR national” dilemma is GROAT. “There is a lot of people interested only in doing national work, and some have a sneering attitude towards neighbourhoods as if that sort of organising is beneath them. That is a betrayal of the more fundamental politics of non-hierarchy.”

    Jessica Charsley’s “Climate Camp: Hijacked by a Hardcore of Liberals”, written in the aftermath of the Heathrow Camp (2007), stands up very well, despite being three years old. “I first became concerned about the politics within the camp when I saw the workshop programme lead with four white middle class men who have no trouble getting their voices heard elsewhere; Lynas, Hillman, Monbiot and Kronick.”

    Stuart Jordan’s “Where Next for Climate Camp” raises some useful points, but underplays the intent behind the Drax protest by calling it “reformist environmentalism” and calling the ‘theory’ of “liberated spaces “new”. I distinctly recall reading all about Temporary Autonomous Spaces a decade ago around the time of the Carnival against Capital, and Seattle and all that malarkey.

    Embarrassingly, it’s left to a hack with the establishment press- Peter Beaumont – to name check one of the most important social movement theorists around, Saul Alinksy. You know you’re in trouble when drivel produced by the Guardian Media Group improves the quality of your publication…

    About dwighttowers

    Below the surface...
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    2 Responses to Critique of Criticism without Critique “A Climate Camp Reader”

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