Today in the House of Commons MPs vote for education cuts in the form of new £9000 a year tuition fees. Today in a courtroom in Nottingham the case against the climate activists who conspired to shut down Ratcliffe Power Station sums up and the jury retires to deliberate. What have they got in common?
These two events are part of the same problem. This is why: our economic system is structurally reliant on growth – and when growth hits geo-physical barriers, or social barriers, or cultural barriers it does whatever it has to do to abolish these barriers. Growth occurs through a process of turning our ecological, social and cultural space into economic space i.e. into commodities to be traded. The economy needs to do this to grow, and it needs to grow to survive – so yes, as Thatcher might say, within the current set of conditions, ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA). But there absolutely are alternatives to this way of organizing society. TINA serves elite interests and keeps us from demanding structural change.
The first victims of the processes of economic growth are those with the least political power. Some of these victims are distance in space (in the global south) or in time (our descendents). Other victims are non-human such as the hundreds of species disappearing every year. Capitalism is blind to its victims; they exist as ‘externalities’ and are not on the balance sheet or the minds of those in power.
Due to the economic crisis of 2009 the government is imposing its ‘inevitable’ austerity measures on the public sector, on education, the arts and the environmental sector. In 2009 the Labour government transferred an enormous chunk of public wealth to private corporations and banks, virtually without condition. One year later, the bankers are back to their bonuses. Meanwhile, the common people are left to foot the bill and all public institutions will suffer
The climate and the cuts are part of the same problem; the growth of the economy within current conditions relies on the exploitation of ecological and human resources. Those of us who have been keeping an eye on the health of the planet and looking deeply into the roots of the problem have been aware for a long time that the climate is suffering the repercussions of unbridled dirty capitalism.
What do students and the climate have in common? They are resources for the economic machine. When ‘externalities’ are needed to become part of the machine of production they had better not attempt to have any autonomous plans. The climate is not able to defend itself, luckily the students can.
The Con-Dem proposal is to make education, culture and the environment pay for itself. To those well trained and indoctrinated in neo-liberal thought, this seems like a good idea. Yet the expansion of economic space onto other spaces can only lead to negative outcomes because the integrity of both cultural and ecological spaces cannot be violated without severe repercussions. The economy is a sub-system of the social and ecological spheres. The economic lens that perceives people and planet as resources to be exploited ignores geophysical reality.
The government plots to impose a system that enlarges the economic space at the expense of students. It is the nature of the system we exist within. Today, its victims are close to home; our youth feel the sharp edge of the cuts. Saving the climate and fighting the cuts are two parts of the same struggle. The students on the streets and those in the court room in Nottingham have more in common than is immediately obvious.