Thursday, December 07, 2006



The Rise of the Climaction Movement

Joe Carolan

Icebergs floating off

the coast of Dunedin. Serious skin burn time down to a matter of minutes. Freak storms, citywide power cuts, massive traffic jams. Welcome to Carmaggedon, Aotearoa 2007!

The horrors facing the world as a result of Climate Change are becoming all too apparent, through films like An Inconvenient Truth. John Darroch’s blog Auckland’s Burning has some frightening descriptions of how Climate Change and a Peak Oil Crisis could trigger a System Collapse in Aotearoa-

As people begin to experience record high levels of unemployment and food shortages the country experiences a swing towards the right, rampant nationalism and racism are openly expressed by both the public and politicians. A highly right wing government is initially elected and rapidly cuts back on personal freedoms in the name of security- racism becomes ingrained in public policy.

New Zealand enters into a strategic pact with Australia and America and every attempt is made to continue our current consumption levels both of oil and other material goods. As part of our agreements with the states our army is placed on the front line in Arab and African nations with significant oil reserves. Our coal supply is almost solely exported to members of this alliance. The Kyoto protocol and all other such agreements are scrapped in favour of coal power generation, nuclear is also widely adopted.

While some people do start growing some of their own food it only produces a tiny amount of people’s daily requirements. When things get desperate this food is stolen by hungry neighbours and mobs of hungry unemployed start raiding those with resources. This isn’t helped by attempts to prevent rioting by nationalising all resources.

By attempting to sustain growth we use up all those resources we could have used for a transition to a sustainable culture. Eventually
Auckland is sacked by rioting youth, abandoned and weeds are left to grow through the pavement as office towers collapse. The country fragments into several warring factions with hundreds of thousands of boat people fleeing Australia and Asia forming raiding parties which move through the country looting and taking land.[1]

A Hobbesian war of all against all. Mad Max meets Sleeping Dogs. Barbarism, not Socialism…

The growing realisation that we need a fundamental system change, not just an electoral parliamentary party or a specialised direct action NGO focused on media stunts, is leading to the birth of a neo-eco movement. The problem with either parliamentary MPs or traditional eco-warrior models is that both rely on a small group of specialised professionals to incrementally lobby for change or reforms. Now you can lobby with a vote or lobby by lobbing a Molotov, but these approaches leave the system that is destroying the planet intact. There is room now for a new way, one that sees neither MPs nor specialised NGOs as saviours, but that looks to a mass people’s movement to stop climate change. This was the impetus around the formation of the Climaction group in Auckland.

Climaction was formed in early October, about a month before the International Day of Action on Climate Change on November 4th. Some groups and individuals who attended the first meeting in the Methodist Mission had worked well together on previous campaigns, testament to the fact that the Auckland radical left is light years ahead of some of the other cities on the planet in terms of respecting each others ideological differences but uniting in action around issues like Lebanon and Palestine, Youth Rates, union drives, the Lockout etc. But what was noticeable about that first meeting was the plethora of new faces- Climate Change is an issue that hundreds if not thousands of people out there will take action on. The challenge after the foundation meet was how to find and involve them.

We agreed on two major demands, one global and one local in focus. The first was for Free and Frequent Public Transport in the city, an achievable reform that would cut carbon emissions drastically in Auckland as well as improve the quality of people’s lives. This demand could be repeated in cities elsewhere. The second was to move Beyond Kyoto and to campaign for a 90% reduction in greenhouse gasses by 2030. Kyoto was never enough, merely a global parking ticket, but we were no longer going to waste our breath trying to get idiots like George Bush to ratify it. What was required was a mass movement committed to direct action- a Civil Rights Movement of our generation. Comrades like Martin Luther King had started small in the 60s, but by the end of that turbulent decade, had triggered a mighty force for racial equality that was unstoppable. With his example as an inspiration, we decided we would block Queen Street on November 4th, and went off to spread the word. It was time for the Carnival against Climate Change!

We had a wealth of experience in committed individual activists from organisations like Greenpeace, the Save Happy Valley campaign and the Green Party. Socialists from SW (and Andrew from the Workers Party) were joined by anarchists and autonomists from Radical Youth. We also looked to the trade union movement, and found some great Pasifika people around Fala Haulangi from the Service and Food Workers Union. Comrades from Unite, Solidarity, the Tramways Bus union and the NDU helped to build the Nov 4th Carnival. Radical Youth activists put up hundreds of posters around the city.


As Nov 4th approached, there was some increase in tensions around taking direct action. Some favoured a conspiratorial approach, thinking it a mistake to advertise where and when we would reclaim the streets. Others predicted that there would be a bloody riot and the whole thing would end in tears. Climaction, to its credit, held its nerve, and told people the time and place to get to. Hundreds of people turned up on the day, and the cops seeing their numbers and determination, conceded to Liaison steward Jo Mc Veagh about 5 minutes before we were due to reclaim the streets.

Those who favoured conspiratorial politics now accused organisers of making deals with the police, or being involved in purely symbolic politics. Jogrrl, a veteran of many’s an arrest for direct action, answers the critics-

I had been elected as Police Liaison by ClimAction in the week before the Carnival. A few days before it was on I phoned up and told them where and when we would reclaim the street. I didn’t ask permission – I simply told them what we were going to do. I made sure to emphasise that I wasn’t ‘in charge’ of the group because we’re pretty democratic, but that I had the role of police liaison on the day. Our plans were no secret to them, and they were pleased to have a contact point for the day.

So it was all out in the open, and everyone knew exactly what was going on. This meant that we got the hundreds of people out there on the day, and the police took a ‘low-key approach’ – those were their words!

Some people said that it was symbolic, and yeah it was - we weren’t under any illusion that we would close the street indefinitely. But we did what we set out to do – we closed the street.

A lot of people there hadn’t been involved in any sort of civil disobedience, so that’s why we wanted something “soft” – so that we would include as many people as possible, and so that we didn’t end up having a scuffle with the cops. People won’t come back if it degenerates into fisticuffs, but I think that overall, with the Peoples Assembly, the ice, the stalls - people had a positive experience, and that gives us something to build on. Maybe we can do something ‘harder’ next time…?

Malcolm France, Climaction and Happy Valley super activist-

Police permission was never asked for; we were going to reclaim the streets with or without their consent. The next Climaction Carnival will be bigger, and that is the key, the numbers. They can’t arrest us all! It was also important to involve ordinary people and have a family friendly atmosphere- not all of the people in a mass movement will fit the activist stereotype, whatever that is! This movement is for everybody.

The People's Assembly held around a ton of melting ice was also fantastically dynamic, with both Auckland Regional Councillor Robyn Hughes and Elaine West from RAM speaking strongly in support of Climaction's demands for Free and Frequent Transport and a 90% reduction in greenhouse gasses by 2030.

Climaction hegemonised the debate; challenging Councillor Christine Caughey (Action Hobson) and Auckland Regional Council transport committee chair Joel Cayford whether they both supported the free buses policy. Councillor Caughey said she did, with Joel Cayford saying yes in principle but how was it going to be funded? A later vote at the Assembly resolved by a huge deafening majority that it should be funded not by taxing ordinary workers, but taxing the rich and the corporations. RAM’s free buses song “Moving On” sung by our own Roger Fowler went down a storm as it wrapped up the assembly.

The Union input into the People’s Assembly was also something mainstream environmentalists had not seen before- there were banners and reps there from the SFWU, NDU, EPMU, Unite and Solidarity. Fala Hualangi, the SFWU organiser leading the CleanStart campaign in the city for cleaners, spoke eloquently about the fate of her native Tuvalu, which will be under water in a few decades unless there is major change. She also passionately supported the demand for free and frequent public transport- not only would it help save the planet, it would be a major benefit for the working poor-

As a Tuvaluan who lives in New Zealand, global warming has always been a concern for me and my people because Tuvalu and its people are going to be the first victim of global warming. In 50 years time Tuvalu is going to disappear from this planet. Not because of our choice. This makes me angry and very sad because we are going to be the first environmental refugees and are forced to go somewhere else which is not the same as HOME.

As a union organiser for Service & Food Workers Union / Clean Start campaign we support Climaction because we need free and frequent public transport in Auckland as an environmentally responsible policy that will have major benefits for the working poor who rely mainly on buses and cannot afford a car.

If we are serious about saving the environment, then it is time for the whole community to come together and do something. Talking time is over, it is time for Action Now.

Fala is now a key ally of Climaction, and is promoting the Climaction demands within her union, and other “new unionists” there pledged to do the same. Grassroots workers get it- VaeVae Pokino, introduced by Solidarity Union’s secretary Grant Morgan, represented a delegation from the striking Independent Liquor Workers in Papakura, overcoming his shyness to speak at his first ever rally, in front of a banner from Independent Liquor striking Workers supporting System Change Not Climate Change!

The other noticeable thing about the People’s Assembly was it’s wholehearted support of the word “Revolution” as synonymous with the slogan “System Change not Climate Change”- Revolution was used as a political term unapologetically, confidentially and joyously by speakers as diverse as myself from SW, Simon Oostermann from NDU, John Darroch from Radical Youth, and a woman called Josie in her 70s who made a beautiful speech at the end of the Assembly, saying that climate change would effect everyone on the planet regardless of race, gender or age, and that she would support a revolution to stop it. This got a huge roar of joyous applause from an audience not really expecting this from a woman in her 70s, but revolution is an infectious thing. Not since the heady days of the early anti capitalist movement of 2000-2001 have I seen an openness on the left to discuss anti capitalism and revolution as openly as this.

The day was also a great carnival and celebration- the music was rocking, with anthems of struggle and resistance echoing across an occupied Queen Street-

Mick Jagger’s “Street Fightin’ Man”, Public Enemy’s “Shut em Down”, John Lennon’s “Power to the People”, Lindon Kwesei Johnson’s “War ina Babylon” and the Manic Street Preacher’s “Masses Against the Classes” providing a backdrop for the snowball fights, tobogganing, chalking, dancing, football, break dancing, samba, sunbathing, picnicking and networking going on in the middle of the street. Andrew the Polar Bear sat on a ton of melting ice, Food Not Bombs fed the masses, colourful banners and flags flew in the sun, 45 people joined Climaction.

“AL Gore! What’s the score? The System’s Rotten to the Core!”

Ten days later, Al Gore paid a fleeting visit to Aotearoa, meeting with a handpicked audience of NZ’s corporate and political elite at Auckland University’s business school. Despite the fact that over 100,000 Kiwis have seen his film “An Inconvenient Truth”, Mr Gore only spoke to those who could afford a 950 dollar ticket, and declined Climaction’s offer to speak to the people outside.

Gore’s film raises many of the problems we will face in the next 20 years, but is none too hot on possible solutions to the climate crisis. Climaction launched its petition for free and frequent public transport in Auckland as a tangible and achievable reform that will practically reduce carbon emissions, and invited Al to be the first signatory. But lost in the media scrum, he was ushered away by security guards to an awaiting gas guzzling limo, which sped off to the kerosene spewing airport. We would have bought him a bus ticket![2]

Instead, the first signatories of Climaction’s Free and Frequent Public Transport Petition were Green Party Leader Jeanette Fitzsimmons, Residents Action Movement Councillor Robyn Hughes and Mayor of Auckland’s Waitakare City Bob Harvey.

Thousands more signatures will be gathered by Climaction over the next year- you can add your moniker online at

Many members of the corporate and political elite present at the Al Gore presentation did NOT sign, however. John Keyes of National, Minister Benson-Pope of Labour and arch ozone offender Peter Dunne of United Future seemed content that listening to a lecture for an hour was enough to save the planet. Auckland Regional Council chairperson Mike Lee defended his policy of motorway building, saying he would never support free and frequent public transport because busses ran on diesel. So one bus carrying fifty people causes more pollution than 50 cars, then Mike? Very scientific.

The Carnival and the protest against the Corporate Greenwashers at the Gore hui gave Climaction a little bit of mana and goodwill that we can use to build bigger and louder Carnivals with in the future. These are key to breaking out of the activist ghetto and involving hundreds of “ordinary Kiwis”, be they students, workers or pensioners. At time of writing, we plan to spotlight New Zealand’s biggest greenhouse gas, the methane from meat agriculture, by targeting multi billion dollar corporation Fonterra, in early March. Methane accounts for over half of New Zealand’s emissions, as opposed to over a quarter for carbon. The next Climaction Carnival will see a 30 foot high Trojan Cow, belching stinky green gas, being pulled on rope by hundreds of student ‘slaves’ from Auckland Uni’s Quad, down Princes Street to Fonterra’s HQ. Call it a mass Moovement if you like. We need as much creative, material and financial help as possible (any good carpenters, prop builders or designers out there?) and will be going hard building student groups in the weeks beforehand on all major campuses!


It is this outward focus, seeking to involve people in mass action that is Climaction’s hope to effect system change. At the moment we can pull hundreds, maybe a thousand tops, to our actions. But if we want to break out of activist ghettos and create a true mass movement, we need to be constantly involving new people in the struggle. That means looking to building grassroots Climaction chapters everywhere- in the colleges, in the unions, in other towns and cities. Nascent groups in Northland, Hamilton and Rotorua are beginning to emerge.

SO in 2007 we will form campus groups. We will need people to put their hands up as college reps to help grow those groups with us. Stalls in Orientation week on Unis everywhere are key. We also need to bring the two main demands into New Zealand’s largest democratic organisations, the trade unions, in a more systematic way. Free and Frequent Public Transport would be of huge benefit to the working poor, and we want to mobilise the working class around this fight. We need union resolutions moved and voted on. We want union banners and members mobilised for future events- maybe a big union march for Free and Frequent Public Transport endorsed by all the unions would be an event to build towards. Union organisers need to follow the lead given by activists like Fala Haulangi from the SFWU.

Laile Harre, National Secretary of the NDU, supported the Climaction Carnival-

As awareness of climate change grows, the kind of TINA (there is no alternative) thinking that gave neo-liberalism the upper hand in the 80s and 90s must not be allowed to shut down a debate among the worlds people around the fair and democratic management of limited resources. Economists and management consultants will tell us that only the market can tackle this crisis. After years of market-driven waste and inequality, giving the market the power to fairly allocate the atmosphere would be like getting the Managing Directors of Foodstuffs and Progressive to set the minimum wage.

Mike Treen, Auckland Secretary for the Unite Union and a leading activist with Global Peace and Justice Auckland, also pledged his support-

It is welcome that the need to confront global warming is becoming mainstream common sense. What is disturbing is that the solutions being offered - taxes and carbon trading - offer no way forward and will penalise the poor.

Carbon taxes will increase the price of petrol which will be paid for by those using company cars but hit workers who lack adequate public transport. The obvious start is to have a massive increase in public transport available at little or no cost to the user. When that is in place we can think of taxes to encourage greater use not before.

While the World Bank estimates the value of the global carbon market nearly doubled from $11 billion in 2005 to $21.5 billion in 2006, there was no equivalent global increase in carbon emission reductions. In fact, they argue, as the carbon market has soared, global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise - a stark indication that a more pragmatic and direct approach to cutting emissions is urgently needed.

These "market-based" so-called solutions only entrench existing problems, enrich the already rich countries and individuals while discriminated against the poor. We need an alternative that penalised the corporate polluters while protecting the poor. That will require democratic social and economic planning on a national and international scale - the world can't be left to corporate markets to fix.


There are lessons for how to build this movement in the movements that have gone before. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s shows how civil disobedience and direct action can be used in a mass, democratic way, and is a touchstone for us against seduction by either parliamentary or NGO dead ends. The mass anti war movements built earlier in this decade show how we can build coalitions that mobilise hundreds of thousands, even millions, in the end.[3]

We also need to involve Aotearoa’s large Pacific Island community, many of who’s home islands face aquatic extinction in a matter of decades. This community is a powerful force that we have seen step up to the front line in struggles like the Progressive Lockout and the Tongan Democratic Revolution. We need to answer capitalism’s rising tide in the Pacific with the rising tide of a new people centred Pasifika, and the concentration of working people from the islands here in Auckland can help spread the Climaction movement ocean wide.

The high points of the Global Justice movement preceding the Iraq War, from Seattle in 1999 to Genoa in 2001, give us many examples of creativity and strategy that we can learn from. During that time I was with a group in Ireland called Globalise Resistance, and we organised a Nuclear Meltdown Drill in Dublin, complete with a Springfield style Nuclear reactor, a gasmask clad Ministry of Disasters and Montgomery Burns was the capitalist hate figure on the placards. Air raid sirens blared as we ran through the streets of Dublin in a simulated mass panic, before hundreds of us were body bagged in a mass die in on parliament’s gates. Traditional paper selling leftists learned through groups like GR that a bit of pre planned imagination wasn’t the enemy! If it had just been the standard march from A to B with speakers, we wouldn’t have got a quarter of the people out there.[4]

But we should never just be a radical street theatre group or a core of uber-activists chasing the next media stunt. We also need to get serious about organising the hundreds of people who do turn out to protest, and that means getting emails and mobile numbers down on paper. The Climaction egroup and blog are great democratic resources- we need their addresses stickered, stencilled and linked everywhere. There are no specialists in movement building- all of us need to use these tools to their utmost. There is no reason why we couldn’t be an organisation of a thousand members on AP within a year, with the capacity to mobilise many more than that for the next International Day of Action on Nov 4th. Could we mobilise 10,000 then? People were stunned by the amount of people who marched in Australia this year- 40,000 in Melbourne and 50,000 in Sydney. If we are serious about affecting system change, we need to get into this mode of mass movement building.

The upcoming local elections in Auckland in 2007 are another front we should look at in the battle for Free and Frequent Public Transport. From the start, Climaction has been supported by the city’s Resident Action Movement, which won near 90,000 votes as part of the Rates Rebellion in 2004. RAM are now going to make Free and Frequent Public Transport their key demand, and have a proven track record in mobilising the grassroots vote. A big enough vote could make this reform a reality sooner than we hope, but this is the radical vision we need if we are to avert climate change. Breaking out of the habit of just protesting like glorious underdogs always doomed to heroically lose. Can we win one city before we win the world?

There are lessons in the movement against Genetic Engineering here in Aotearoa that we need to learn too. Electoral politics can be used as a weapon in the struggle, for getting a message across, building a mass movement, even creating the support for a tangible reform like free public transport. But if we get 50,000 people out like the GE march did, we do not want to restrain that movement within parliamentary committees, papers, coalitions or games. Mass direct action will be more powerful if done by 50,000 than by 1,000. Free fare days led by bus and rail unions, climate camps, a ring around the CBD or mass blockades of what urban warfare strategists call key system punktsnodes of the system vital to its economic functioning such as motorways or the Huntly coal burning power station, become real possibilities with such numbers.

Parliamentary games are odious to our movement- Labour used the Greens callously in the 2005 elections to discard them in favour of United Future and NZ First, for god’s sake. And the role of the German Greens in power spell a dire warning for us all- they allowed the system to continue with nuclear power, supported the war in Yugoslavia which used depleted uranium weapons, and joined the neo liberal attacks on German workers and trade unions. Many grassroots members left in disgust and are now activists with the new Left Party there.[5]

IN its short existence, Climaction has brought a breath of fresh air to the Auckland political scene. One of the main things I like about Climaction is its tolerance of political diversity- I saw Globalise Resistance rip itself apart in Ireland by the inability of reformists, autonomists and revolutionaries to work together. Socialists are learning from ecologists, vegans and permaculturalists debate about solutions to meat agriculture. Tuvaluans find solidarity in their islands struggle for survival. Trade unions begin to take up ecological demands. But also growing is the realisation that we need a fundamental alternative to infinite-growth, exploitative capitalism- an economic machine that cannot control its own addiction.

At the Climaction conference in late November 2006, we looked at widening our demands after researching George Monbiot’s ten point programme. His programme reminds me a lot of what Leon Trotsky called transitional demands- in order to achieve these logical, life saving concrete changes, we are going to need a revolution. Capitalism will not concede then unless challenged by a mass movement.

The Inconvenient Truth is that Climate change poses all the terrors of the Day After Tomorrow, Mad Max and Waterworld combined. The Hollywood disaster movie became all too real after Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans, which should be a wake up call to us all. But it can also see the rebirth of the audience for revolutionary politics in a way not seen since the 1960s. This time, we cannot fail.

[3] See the excellent history “Stop the War- the story of Britain’s biggest mass movement” by Andrew Murray and Lindsey German, Bookmarks 2005.

[5] The German result is one more advance for the radical left in Europe. It follows the performances in recent elections by Respect in Britain, the Left Bloc in Portugal, the Red-Green Alliance in Denmark, and the defeat of the European constitution in the French and Dutch referendums. Behind the rise of this new left is a rebellion against the neo-liberal consensus that reigns at the top of European society.