Do or Die

An article from Do or Die Issue 5. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 45-47.

What a Joke!

The Berlin Climate Conference Gathering

Between March the 28th and the 7th of April over 150 governments and about the same number of multinationals came together supposedly to discuss what to do about the worsening climate crisis. Despite the constant efforts of most of these bodies to discredit those scientists and activists who have exposed global warming, the public realise that something big is happening and that something needs to be done. The world leaders know that to survive they must wallow in greenwash. Resistance to this giant piece of theatre was mixed, and reflected many of the internal contradictions of the 'European youth environmental movement'. [1]

During the first week EYFA (European Youth For(est) Action) held its 'Direct Action Conference' attended by over 50 activists from all over East and West Europe.[2] This was a great opportunity to plan action and carry out valuable international networking. Very quickly the different perspectives of groups came to the surface. Those from Britain and some from the Czech Republic and Germany argued that our actions should aim to expose the conference as a sham, that we should take advantage of the unique opportunity and target the assembled heads of multinationals and economic bodies. This perspective challenged that of many others who had come intending to lobby, with demos and banner drops, the conference into accepting the motion put forward by many of the soon-to-be-under-water, small Pacific island states. They had obviously not learnt the lessons of the Rio 'Earth Summit'. This motion merely asked for a 20% decrease in greenhouse gases. Considering that the world's leading climate scientists in the International Panel on Climate Change believe that no less than a 60% decrease will stabilise the climate, this motion was staggeringly pointless. It was however, they countered, a realistic demand. This was also nonsense. With Japan and America openly opposing it, it was very unlikely that their client countries would support it either. If the motion had been passed without America, (the world’s biggest consumer of oil), it would be totally meaningless. Supporters of the motion wanted us to compromise and not to disrupt the conference, attack the leading delegations or burn UN flags etc. This, they claimed, would make environmentalists look bad, and lose them influence over the world powers. The idea that 50 predominantly middle class white Europeans in their early twenties could have any influence in these circles was pretty ridiculous. We were in the rather bizarre situation of having to defend direct action at a 'Direct Action Conference'.

The Situation was urgent - the planet was in danger and time was running out!!! This calls for - a multi-million dollar research grant!

Seeing that 'consensus decision making' and 'process' [3] was getting us nowhere, those of us into organizing radical action simply organized it. In the end we won people over and nearly everyone came along and participated. We arrived at eight in the morning outside one of the hotels where many of the industrial lobbyists were staying, and locked onto the buses that were due to take them to the conference. Some activists were arrested and treated very badly. In retaliation, and to wind up the riot cops who were stationed on every street corner, on three occasions the buses were paint bombed as they drove down the route. Those responsible escaped into the underground system chased by police who were caught totally off guard.

A large march through the city was attended by about 6,000. Riot police blocked the pavements and before they could get to the gathering point anyone who looked scruffy was searched for weapons. Armoured water cannons were stationed in three locations on the route and an underground car park opposite the conference centre teemed with thousands of cops. Not surprisingly then the march stayed quite passive. The following day the largest ever cycle action took place with over 100,000 participants.

The DAC although sometimes infuriating was very worthwhile. Most of the participants were new to direct action and were radicalised by it. Many good debates were held and contacts and friendships were made. It finished the day of the march and a larger event called 'The Greenhouse Gathering' began with over 700 participants from all over Europe; there was even people from New York EF! This conference had a massive budget and was being funded by the EU to the tune of £100,000. Much of this money went on transport costs, but the majority went on booking the conference hall and buying flash new CBs, computers etc.[4] The gathering consisted of five days of talks and meetings - most of which were on exhilarating and relevant topics such as eco-taxes. Most people were spectators and there was no substantive networking sessions. Only one and a half days were actually set aside for taking action. When a large contingent of EF!ers from the north and Glasgow arrived, many on the organising committee complained that they had been deceived. They had been told that those coming were from the Green Student Network. They were worried that Earth First! was going to hijack 'their' gathering and get people doing action rather than attend the 'real events'. This set the tone for the rest of the week. Most of us attended very few meetings. We met many people from other countries who believed much the same as we do - mainly around dinner and in the bar.

British EF!ers and activists from the Czech Republic were the main conference action co-ordinators. One Reclaim the Streets action was held with over 200 people. Numerous press conferences were disrupted by activists with press passes. On the final day after the conference decision had been announced (more talk, no change), over 300 activists D-locked themselves to the entrances of the conference hall, occupied the foyers and stormed the UN stage. The idea being that the delegations should not leave until something had actually been done. Amazingly no one was arrested. As well as the actions we were involved with, we also heard that the private coaches of the Japanese and French government delegations had their tires slashed; and on two occasions hotels full of delegations and industrialists were emptied after fire alarms were set off at one in the morning, (it's amazing where you can get to when wearing a suit!).

We made many new contacts and this was invaluable. We in Britain who say we 'think globally' have far too much of an island mentality. Good actions were taken over the two weeks, but resistance to the conference could have been much larger. Many mistakes were made, but if we learn from them, next time we can really make a difference. The next climate conference will be in Japan so I doubt many of us will make it over. However, as the crisis gets worse, the industrialists’ need for such greenwash will increase, so we can look forward to many more such conferences. Next time let’s really expose them for what they are, and make them feel our anger at the destruction of life and the continuation of their system.


1) Although it describes itself as the 'European youth environmental movement' it is more accurate to describe it as the 'European student environmental movement'.

2) Although activists came from many countries to the DAC, radical ecological groups from Germany were not represented: German EF! were not even aware of its existence. This was not the fault of the organisers who miraculously managed to organise a gathering in Berlin from Amsterdam and the Czech Republic. German EF! appeared at the Greenhouse Gathering, although they had not been officially invited. There is a massive anarcho-punk squatting scene in Germany and especially in Berlin. On a number of occasions it has disrupted international capitalist gatherings with great success, and it can still mobilize thousands. Fearing that they 'might cause trouble' the organisers of the Greenhouse Gathering actively discouraged them from being involved. By destroying any real link to the town’s counter-culture the organisers undermined our ability to smash the conference - this was their intention. Due to their alienation from local radicals they were unaware that they were holding their conference on the estate which is Berlin's fascist stronghold A few hippies walking around at night would have been an easy target.

3) When there are two radical opposing views Consensus Decision Making simply does not work. The jargon and hand signals designed to liberate people, more often than not simply creates a new elite who feel confident in ‘the process'. Bad facilitation and the language barrier can make this unbelievably infuriating.

4) One of the most interesting things we discovered was the way Western Europe’s 'youth' environment movements are funded. Their main source of income seems to come from the government. When a network begins to grow the state gives them ridiculous amounts of money to organise seminars and alternative conferences. The most active in the movement end up spending all their time organising these things (and arguing about the money) rather than actually confronting those that are destroying the earth. This level of co-optation is non-existent (as yet) in the student green movement over here - never mind in EF! British Earth First! in four years has probably used less money than the Greenhouse Gathering did in one week. If we need something more often than not we beg, borrow, or steal it. Poverty is a great radicalizer, and tends to give you a different slant on private property. There was no way we could have actually paid for the scaffolding that made the tower at Claremont!!! For a banner drop during the conference they actually rented a ladder, this when half of Berlin city is a building site. The idea that they could just go and steal one simply didn't occur to them.

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