‘On The Highway To Climate Hell’ – The Climate Crisis, Activism And Broken Politics

Last month, the United Nations environment agency issued arguably its starkest warning yet about the climate crisis. The failure by governments around the world to cut carbon emissions means there is ‘no credible pathway to 1.5C in place’. Limiting the rise of global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels was the international agreement at COP21, the UN Climate Summit in Paris in 2015.

Inger Andersen, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said:

‘We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over. Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.’

Professor David King, a former UK chief scientific adviser, responded:

‘The [UNEP] report is a dire warning to all countries – none of whom are doing anywhere near enough to manage the climate emergency.’

Scientists are now admitting more often that they are ‘scared’ about the climate crisis. Record high temperatures this summer in the UK alone prompted Professor Hannah Cloke, from Reading University, to say:

‘This sort of thing is really scary. It’s just one statistic amongst an avalanche of extreme weather events that used to be known as “natural disasters”.’

This language was echoed by Professor Dame Jane Francis, director of the British Antarctic Survey. Temperatures in the Antarctic of 40C above the seasonal norm have been measured, and 30C above in the Arctic.

Francis was alarmed most of all by a recent report warning that if the 1.5C threshold were exceeded, now regarded as almost inevitable, it ‘could trigger multiple climate tipping points: abrupt, irreversible and with dangerous impacts.’

She said:

‘It’s really scary. It seems some of [these trends] are already under way.’

Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, wrote that humanity has:

‘to accept that we are going to crash through the 1.5C climate breakdown guardrail, so that we are forced to face the brutal reality of desperately challenging climate conditions in the decades to come. This means facing the fact that we have no choice but to adapt rapidly to a very different world, one that our grandparents would struggle to recognise.’

He added:

‘Only if Cop acknowledges that 1.5C is now lost, and that dangerous, all-pervasive climate breakdown is unavoidable, will corporations and governments no longer have anywhere to hide, and no safety net that they can use as an excuse to do little or nothing.’

However, he added a vital, hopeful perspective:

‘The failure of the Cop process to avert the arrival of Hothouse Earth conditions doesn’t mean that it’s all over, that the battle is lost. Far from it. Above and beyond 1.5C, each and every 0.1C rise in global average temperature that we can forestall becomes critical; every ton of carbon dioxide or methane we can prevent being emitted becomes a vital win.’

Some scientists have now resorted to direct action, for which they have been arrested. NASA climate scientist Peter Kalman explained his motivation when locking himself to the doors of a terminal for private jets:

‘We say: this is our Earth; this is not the rich people’s Earth. This is for all of us. This is for future generations. This is for all of the other species that live on this planet, too.’

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres warned at the start of COP27, the UN climate summit taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, that the world is:

‘on the highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.’

He added:

‘We are in the fight for our lives – and we are losing.’

The war in Ukraine cannot be used as an excuse to delay the urgent transformation of society that is required:

‘It is the defining issue of our age. It is the central challenge of our century. It is unacceptable, outrageous and self-defeating to put it on the backburner.’

Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego, president of Colombia, began his COP27 speech with a warning about the risk of ‘the extinction of humankind’.

He added:

‘It is time for humanity, not for markets. The markets have produced this crisis, it will never get us out of it.’

He specifically called out the fossil fuel industry for their climate crimes.

Meanwhile, BP has just reported a huge profit due to high oil and gas prices exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. The fossil fuel giant made £7.1 billion for the period from July to September, more than double the profit over the same three months last year. As we discussed in a recent media alert, BP is making large sums of money from oil in ‘liberated’ Iraq where the company is causing extensive human and environmental damage. 

Likewise, Shell announced a massive profit of £8.2 billion for the same period, its second highest quarterly profit on record. Reuters reported that the combined quarterly profits of four of the largest global oil companies was almost £50 billion.

These eye-watering sums, in the face of climate breakdown, are both outrageous and immoral. And they just skim the surface. But it’s much, much worse even than this.

Aaron Theirry, co-founder of Scientists for Extinction Rebellion, recently pointed out that:

‘The world’s largest oil and gas companies are set to invest $930 billion over this decade in new fossil fuel projects. Whilst the largest investment banks such as J.P. Morgan, Citigroup, etc. have continued to pour hundreds of billions into the sector since the Paris agreement.’

He added:

‘It was recently calculated that fossil fuel companies already own seven times more reserves than can be burned if we are to stay below 1.5C of global warming – yet they continue to explore for more, with government backing! Mark Camanale, CEO of Carbon Tracker points out that if we look at current investment strategies then we are heading way beyond 3C degrees. In other words, the global political and financial elites are still marching us towards catastrophe.’

Even the establishment Economist magazine has been blunt, with a recent editorial in a special issue on the climate crisis warning that:

‘The world is missing its lofty climate targets. Time for some realism. Global warming cannot be limited to 1.5°C.’

The Economist explained:

‘An emissions pathway with a 50/50 chance of meeting the 1.5°C goal was only just credible at the time of Paris. Seven intervening years of rising emissions mean such pathways are now firmly in the realm of the incredible. The collapse of civilisation might bring it about; so might a comet strike or some other highly unlikely and horrific natural perturbation. Emissions-reduction policies will not, however bravely intended.’

The article continued:

‘Most in the field know this to be true; those who do not, should. Very few say it in public, or on the record.’

Although the Economist would likely never point to capitalism as the root of the crisis, others do. Media analyst and political writer Alan MacLeod tweeted:

‘It’s capitalism or the planet. It really is that simple.’

Climate Activists Are ‘Truthsayers’

In a recent interview with Aaron Bastani of Novara Media, wildlife television presenter and conservationist Chris Packham made highly articulate comments about the climate crisis, grassroots protest and the destructive nature of the private media. It is well worth quoting him at length. As Bastani noted, Packham is a genuine national treasure, highly regarded by much of the British public for his knowledge and passion about the natural world and the environment, and for his keen ability to communicate these issues effectively.

Bastani asked him:

‘Do you think politics in this country is capable of addressing the climate crisis?’

Packham answered:

‘No. No, I think the people will have to force our politicians to address it. That’s why I continue to support those activists [referring to Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil] who are making a noise about this, and trying to bring it to the forefront of public attention, and express and articulate the urgency [of the situation] that we now find ourselves in.

‘It’s not only that I don’t trust them [politicians], it’s that even if they were trustworthy people, I don’t think the system’s there to make it work.’

Packham highlighted the acceleration of the climate crisis and the lack of response from political leaders to tackle it:

‘As every day goes by, we do more and more damage. My concern is, of course, that we go beyond the point where we can adapt and recover. And as someone who is aware of that damage within the environment – I’m not an economist or social scientist – but, within the environment, what I read coming from the scientists says that the time to act is now. It’s not something that we should wait any longer for. And it’s that lack of urgency that we see in our global elected representatives, and the enormous inertia when it comes to the transformative changes that we need to make, that are scary.’

He then expressed his strong support for climate activists:

‘That’s why people are glueing themselves to bridges. That’s why people are glueing themselves to Van Goghs and chucking mashed potato and tomato soup over it. They’re scared. They’re terrified out of their wits – because they’ve read the writing on the wall, and they understand that we need to address it, and implement the whole plethora of means that we have at our disposal to restore, recover and repair. And there’s a lot of work there that we could be getting on with. I’m not saying we have all the answers. But we’ve got way more than enough to get started.’

Of course, much of the so-called ‘mainstream’ media vilifies climate activists which then provokes anger towards them by some members of the public:

‘And then, what happens to those people? Well, they’re demonised by the billionaire press – again. And we have members of the public dragging them off of the street, beating them up, almost, dragging them off the street. When, really, all they’ve done is display their fear. I think when it comes to these sorts of protests, we should think far more about what motivates these people than the way that they choose to manifest their protest. Yes, it’s inconvenient. But why are they doing it?’     

Packham’s support for Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil is not without reservation; but only in the sense of encouraging them to be even more effective:

‘In a time when it’s so difficult to get “news” to the masses, they’re doing everything in their power to do that. And, yes, sometimes they could be a bit more imaginative and, yes, sometimes their ideas overstay their welcome. I’ve said that to them; I’ll say it now. You know, there’s only so many times you can throw soup on a painting to get news because that’s the way that the media works. But, as long as they keep up that imagination, as long as they keep finding ways of peacefully, non-violently demonstrating, and keeping that at the forefront of people’s minds, then they will be making progress. But what they’re up against is people turning them into villains. They’re not; they’re truthsayers. They’re the canaries in the coal mine. We should be listening to these people, and many of them are extremely articulate and they know what motivates them.’

When ‘Opposition’ Is Complicity

Following the interview, Bastani used Twitter to highlight the glaring contrast between Packham’s cogent remarks on climate activism and the disparaging comments by establishment stooge Sir Keir Starmer. Bastani presented a clip of Starmer, the supposed ‘Leader of the Opposition’, addressing Just Stop Oil as though he were a fossil-fuel-friendly government minister:

‘Get up, go home. I’m opposed to what you’re doing. It’s not the way to deal with the climate crisis. And that’s why we’ve wanted longer sentences for those that are glueing themselves and stuck on roads.’

As Bastani observed:

‘It’s not pretty but relentlessly keeping climate crisis at the top of news agenda is absolutely “effective”. Politicians only address things regarded as salient by electorate. Otherwise you just get words.’

Last year, Starmer blanked a young activist, a Labour Party member, when asked about supporting the Green New Deal. In the viral video clip from Brighton, where the Labour annual conference was taking place, Starmer pointedly ignored the young woman who had politely approached him. It was excruciating to see Starmer’s desperation to avoid answering her.

Alex Nunns, author of ‘The Candidate – Jeremy Corbyn’s Improbable Path To Power’ and former Corbyn speechwriter, tweeted ‘A short video about fraud’ showing Starmer’s transition from a supposed supporter of climate activism in 2019 when he had said:

‘Climate change is the issue of our time, and as the Extinction Rebellion protest showed us this week, the next generation are not going to forgive us if we don’t take action. There’s been lots of talk. Now we need action.’ 

Three years later, you see an authoritarian, right-wing politician calling for longer sentences for climate activists. Fraud, indeed.

But this is symptomatic of Starmer’s disreputable bid to shake off any links with Labour under Corbyn, ditching the pledges he made, and now presenting himself as an establishment safe pair of hands of whom the billionaire press need not be afraid.

To what extent can Starmer be trusted to tackle the state-corporate establishment on climate? As we noted in a recent media alert addressing the mass media’s omerta towards Al Jazeera’s ‘Labour Files’, dissent in Starmer’s Labour is being crushed.

This even extends to purging Labour of left-wing candidates in the party’s selection process for parliamentary elections. Angus Satow, head of communications at Momentum, the grassroots left-wing movement made up of members of the Labour Party, highlighted on Twitter how Starmer’s Labour have been blocking council leaders, other senior council figures and even ex-Labour MPs if they have been deemed insufficiently loyal to the Labour right-wing:

‘They’re stitching it up’.

The Labour selection strategy for candidates is blatant:

‘They block all left-wingers from the start, and ensure any candidate offered to members is “friendly”.

‘This is no democratic choice at all.’

The Labour process relies on something they call ‘due diligence’. Satow explained:

‘A “dossier” is compiled of “concerning evidence” which has “come to light in the course of routine due diligence” checks on social media.

He added:

‘There are some truly laughable examples of what this evidence consists of.

– Once having liked a Caroline Lucas tweet

– Liking a tweet by Nicola Sturgeon about testing negative for covid’

But, worse:

‘Equally, there are some truly disturbing examples of “evidence” which is grounds for blocking:

– having mentioned Palestinian refugees (a blatant act of anti-Palestinian racism)

– Liking a tweet calling on Labour to be bolder in its economic policy

 – a “history of protest”’

Some readers may recall the appalling revelation in Al Jazeera’s ‘Labour Files’ that ‘Palestine’ was used as a search term by Labour HQ to root out members whom they might deem as ‘antisemitic’. Meanwhile, the party exhibits a ‘hierarchy of racism’ characterised by Islamophobia and anti-Black racism.

Satow observed:

‘All this is the polar opposite of what Starmer promised in 2020.

‘The media shouldn’t have any hesitation in saying this: Starmer lied to get elected.

‘He did so because this strategy is wholly out of touch with the mood in the Party and the country.’

Satow concluded:

‘So in sum:

* promises broken

* rights of trade unions disregarded

* local members & parties disrespected

* failing on anti-racism

* anti-democratic stitch-ups

This is Keir Starmer’s Labour Party.’

As if all this was not sufficient to discredit Starmer, Peter Oborne, former Telegraph chief political commentator, pointed to:

‘The conspiracy of lies about Corbyn that unites Sunak and Starmer’.

At Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on 2 November, Rishi Sunak:

‘resorted to smear and fabrication about Jeremy Corbyn’s 2019 Labour Party general election manifesto, saying: “Let us remember that national security agenda: abolishing our armed forces, scrapping the nuclear deterrent, withdrawing from Nato, voting against every single anti-terror law we tried, and befriending Hamas and Hezbollah. He [Starmer] may want to forget about it, but we will remind him of it every week, because it is the Conservative government who will keep this country safe.”’

Oborne observed:

‘Yet Labour’s 2019 manifesto proposed none of these things.

‘Sunak must surely have known all this was untrue. As chief secretary of the Treasury, he played a prominent role in the 2019 election and must have been familiar with the contents of the Labour manifesto. To knowingly utter an untruth is to lie.’

The following day, Corbyn responded in the Commons, saying that the prime minister had given ‘a wholly inaccurate representation’ of the 2019 Labour manifesto, and suggested that the prime minister should correct the record. This has yet to happen.

Oborne then pointed to Starmer’s disgraceful silence:

‘When Sunak unloaded his barrage of fabrication and smear, I am puzzled that Starmer did not correct him. As one of Corbyn’s most senior lieutenants during that campaign, he must have known every word of that manifesto.

‘This means that when Sunak spewed out his falsehoods, Starmer was in a position to point out that he was wrong. He could have quietly noted that there was no Labour plan to scrap the nuclear deterrent, abolish the armed forces, withdraw from Nato etc. He could have demanded an apology.’

Oborne added:

‘Yet he chose not to stand up for his former political colleague. I assume this was a political – and not an ethical – decision.’

He concluded:

‘Starmer has chosen not to define his leadership of the Labour Party in opposition to the Tories. He defines himself against his predecessor, Corbyn, even if that means entering into a conspiracy of deceit with the man who ought to be his real opponent – Rishi Sunak.’

Can anyone seriously believe that Sir Keir Starmer, a dissembling establishment politician, will actually take the necessary radical steps to address the climate crisis?

‘Eco-Zealots’ And ‘Sociopaths’ Who Want To Save Your Life

Starmer might as well declare that he stands foursquare behind the billionaire-owned, extreme right-wing press who have vilified climate activists as ‘eco-zealots’ and ‘eco-mobs’ (Daily Mail); ‘sociopaths with sickening levels of entitlement and self-importance’, a ‘lunatic fringe’, ‘criminal cult’, ‘extremists’ (The Sun); and ‘eco bullies who inflict misery on epic scale’ (Daily Express).

Daily Telegraph columnist and assistant editor Michael Deacon published an article under the headline: “Just Stop Oil are no longer simply activists – they’re a cult.” Another Telegraph comment piece, from the notorious climate sceptic Ross Clark, was titled: ‘Will the environmental extremists of Just Stop Oil slowly morph into terrorists?’

As we said earlier, Chris Packham correctly describes climate activists as truthsayers who are doing what they can, not just to raise the climate alarm, but to demand that government treats the climate emergency as an emergency. Just Stop Oil are adamant they will not stop until the government halts all new oil and gas licences and projects.

Extinction Rebellion, too, are standing firm in the face of media demonisation:

‘Do radical protests turn the public away from a cause? No, despite what people say on social media.

‘Do radical protests bring attention to that cause? Absolutely.’

Indeed, an opinion poll published last month showed that two-thirds of the British population supports peaceful direct action in support of the environment. In any case, as the independent journalist and political writer Jonathan Cook noted recently:

‘criticism of the protests has missed the point. The activists aren’t trying to win elections – they are not engaged in a popularity contest.

‘Their goal is to disrupt narratives and mobilise resistance. That requires building consciousness among those parts of the populace more receptive to their message, swelling the ranks of activists prepared to take part in civil disobedience, and making life ever harder for things to continue as normal.’

The ‘MSM’ may actually sit up and take more notice now that journalists have been arrested as they try to report on climate protests. Charlotte Lynch, a journalist with LBC, tweeted on 9 November:

‘Yesterday I was arrested by @HertsPolice whilst covering a protest on the M25. I showed my press card, and I was handcuffed almost immediately. My phone was snatched out of my hand. I was searched twice, held in a cell for 5 hours, and I wasn’t questioned whilst in custody.’

Jun Pang, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, said the arrests were ‘being enabled and encouraged by the government’s dangerous assault on protest rights’.

Jane Merrick, policy editor at the i newspaper and former political editor of The Independent on Sunday, tweeted:

‘This is extraordinary and deeply worrying. The plea “can I show you my press card?” – which would have avoided this – is just ignored. Police should not be arresting journalists in this country.’

As an important corollary, let us not forget that the journalist and Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange has been effectively held prisoner since 2012 – first when seeking political asylum in London’s Ecuador embassy and then, after being abducted by the police in 2019, in Belmarsh high-security prison – for publishing evidence of US war crimes. Shamefully, ‘mainstream’ journalists have largely washed their hands of him.

Political analyst Nafez Ahmed noted last month that ‘Britain is sleepwalking into societal collapse’. He warned:

‘Over the coming months, we are going to witness an acceleration of interconnected political, social and economic crises which strike at the heart of Britain’s social fabric, and strain critical institutions and services – energy, transport, housing, food, health, criminal justice, policing and beyond.’

Ahmed continued:

‘the next Labour Government is going to inherit a bigger and more intractable crisis than the 2008 crash – a comprehensive crisis in which every sector of British society experiences a breakdown, with a destructive impact on the lives of citizens. This is why it is a form of societal collapse.’

Given Labour’s ditching of pledges under Starmer as the party shifts ever further towards the right, there is little prospect any time soon of averting this collapse.

Meanwhile, the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg rightly labelled COP27 a ‘scam’ that is ‘failing’ humanity by not leading to ‘major changes’. Instead, it is a high-profile, attention-seeking gathering for people in positions of power for ‘greenwashing, lying and cheating.’

She provided a defiantly hopeful note:

‘I’m convinced that when we are enough people to push for change, then change will come and we will never give up. We will never stop fighting for the living world. And it will never be too late to save as much as we can possibly save.’

She concluded:

‘About a month ago, on the global climate strike, hundreds of thousands of people climate striked across the planet. We are still here, and we are not planning on going anywhere. Young people all over the world are stepping up, and showing that our leaders messed with the wrong generation.’

As history has revealed time and time again, real change comes from below. The same will be true if we are to mitigate the worst effects of climate breakdown and societal collapse.