School strike for climate

Last Thursday, when I cycled home on my way back from the university, kids on a schoolyard screamed to me “Spijbel voor het klimaat” (School strike for climate) and “Boeit onze toekomst je iets?” (Do you even care a little bit about our future?). I quickly realized what was going on as I had earlier that day seen in the news that there would be a large demonstration for climate action by children. The article I read was about the fact that 350 Dutch scientist wrote an open letter in support of the movement, saying that the children were absolutely right to demonstrate for climate action. It is interesting to see how scientists use their status as experts as a form of power in order to influence the policies concerning climate. Something similar happened two weeks earlier. More than 70 Dutch economists collectively also published a plea for a higher economy wide uniform carbon tax, that would force private industry to take serious steps towards becoming more sustainable.

To put these events in a broader context, climate policy has been very prominent in Dutch news during the last months. Especially the climate agreement that the current right-wing liberal and Christian cabinet, set up in long and complex set of negotiations with the Social and Economic Council, which represents trade unions and employers’ organizations, has received a lot of attention. There was particularly a lot of criticism arguing that large corporations would not pay its fair share and do enough to realize the transition to a sustainable economy.

Presentation of the climate agreement in December 2018

This theme of the role of private companies in the move to a sustainable economy also came back in discussions about the demonstrations of children for climate action. The girl who initiated the movement School strike for climate, Greta Thunberg, is supported the tech-start-up company We Don’t Have Time. This company governed by a corporate structure, with among its board members, for example, a representative of the multinational corporation of IKEA, Daniela Rogosic. Because of this, the movement is criticized in a recently published article as being orchestrated by the corporate sector and not a real cause for change. The articles argues that the movement is a prime example of how the Non-Profit Industrial Complex operates. The logic of the non-profit industrial complex is that the corporate sector does not want a fundamental change that could hurt them and that they therefore support movements in order to gain control over them and insure they will not cause real change (for more on this, see the book: The Revolution Will Not Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex).

In the article, it is argued that in this case of climate policy, a part of the corporate sector tries to gain control over the environmental movement in order to promote new investment programs that will enhance, instead of harm, their profits. The specific program, that is referred to, is The Green New Deal, which is inspired by the New Deal of US president Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s as a response to the Great Depression. The Green New Deal has been proposed various times, but in all cases it refers to a governmental program that would stimulate the economy, reduce inequality and address climate change (see Wikipedia for a brief overview of the various proposals). To just name a few noteworthy examples, the British think-tank New Economic Foundation published a report called A Green New Deal in 2008, the pan-European political movement Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 proposes a European New Deal in 2017, and more recently, various members of the US Democratic Party have drafted a resolution called the Green New Deal.

Personally, I am quite supportive of these various proposal, even though I agree that there exists non-profit industrial complex. There is a great danger for movement to be cooped or neutralized by corporate actors. Fundamentally changing the structure of the economy requires a lot social action and probably also social struggle. Nevertheless, I think that, given the urgency of the problems we face, a green new deal could be a good pragmatic step in the right direction. Such a program would not solve all the problems, but at least would start to address them. From there, many steps would still have to be taken in order to create a sustainable and social economy. But this does not take anything away from the fact that it is a step forward.

Pushing against such programs and movements seems therefore to me to be counterproductive in helping positive change to come about. Nevertheless, I think critical articles like this are valuable, because they point out important issues that help us to better reflect on movements. Being ignorant of the fact that a movement, that is supported by business, will probably be limited in how far it can go in arguing for fundamental change, is I think a real problem that social democratic parties, with the so-called Third Way, have been experiencing for the last decades. I would, therefore, argue for consciously and strategically making alliances as movement with different groups, in order to take steps forward.

But what do you think? Is it wise for children, scientists, economists, activists and politicians to collaborate with businesses, to achieve their goals? Or do you think that it is very unlikely that the movement School strike for climate will help solving climate change?

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