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Climate depression? A response to Tadzio Müller’s Coming out No. 6

The #ClimateEndgame is in full swing, one heat wave after another. Drought, floods. War is back in Europe, the ruling class is responding with a gigantic rollback to fossil fuels, driving people into poverty by making them pay for decades of failed energy policies. It’s not just dependence on Russian gas, fossil fuel dependence represents failed policies for all living organisms on this planet. Riot Turtle responds to Tadzio Mueller‘s Coming out No. 6: Hi, my name is Tadzio, and I’m suffering from climate depression.

Image above: WAA_Protests_(1980s). Image by Oliver M. GRUER-LAVIN. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Written by Riot Turtle.

After last year’s floods, I wrote an article for Sūnzǐ Bīngfǎ (English version: here). I had a strange feeling and decided to wait for the flood in our garden:

I decided to observe the scenery from our backyard. Sirens howled incessantly and several helicopters with huge spotlights flew over the Wupper river while loudspeaker vans drove through the streets asking people to clear the basements and first floors of their houses. Welcome to dystopia.

While I watched this 3D real-life dystopia movie from my backyard, my mind went back to the eighties. In 1982, hundreds of people occupied Amelisweerd, a forest near Utrecht in the Netherlands. Actions to preserve Amelisweerd began in the early 1970s, but on September 24, 1982, the forest was finally evicted and uprooted for the A27 highway (video below). It was a bitter defeat, yet I was still optimistic at the time that the struggle for Amelisweerd had changed something fundamental. A total misjudgement.

Welcome to dystopia

Amelisweerd, 1982. I lived in Amsterdam and those were exciting years. In the 1980s we experienced a number of defeats. I wrote about some of those struggles in Sūnzǐ Bīngfǎ (Some of these pieces were translated in English: here). We had overestimated ourselves and times were changing. The struggle for Amelisweerd (once again: 1982 !), was difficult. Most people didn’t get it when I (and other Amelisweerd activists) started talking about climate change and the need for a traffic transition. But people loved the forest, and many didn’t want to see it cut down for another highway, in a country where there aren’t many forests anyway, so we were still able to mobilize hundreds of people. But the climate issue was still a dead issue.

Amelisweerd was chopped down and more and more squats were evicted. We suffered defeat after defeat, but still used a language that was already old in the 1990s, as if we did not want to admit that we had lost many battles. We pretended it didn’t happen. At least that’s how it seemed to me. From many collectives in squats with bakeries, plumbing collectives, grocery stores, etc. to a rental apartment, and most of us were eventually forced to leave Amsterdam. Gentrification said hello and goodbye.

Video: Deadly comment on the 08:00 p.m. news on Dutch public television (voice at the start of the video: “It had something of a harmless Amsterdam folklore. Everyone has experienced this a few times. They know each other, they know the rules of the game, they know what to expect.” – Amsterdam 1987: Eviction Singel 114

I moved to Hilversum, about 30 kilometers from Amsterdam. I knew how to enjoy myself before, but in Hilversum I took more substances than was good for me. Today I know that the many lost battles had hit me hard. And yes, I was not aware of it at the time, but I had fallen into a deep depression. It was a deep shock: displaced from Amsterdam by gentrification. I didn’t want to talk about it and tried to ignore it with all power I had.

At some point I met some great people and we started to squat houses in Hilversum. Step by step I got myself back together, but it was a long process. Falling and standing up again. We occupied a building in Havenstraat and managed to mobilize some people in the “rich” city Hilversum as well. A hearing during the court case against the eviction took place in the occupied spaces at Havenstraat. The judge did not react when we refused to let the cops in. Despite this, the 2nd court hearing took place in the squatted building. In the end, the Havenstraat was evicted, and I still have a picture that was taken after the eviction, where you can clearly see that I was devastated. But by now I was able to deal with it well.

Poster against the eviction of Havenstraat, 1988, Hilversum (Netherlands).
Poster against the eviction of Havenstraat, 1988, Hilversum (Netherlands).

At that time I also became active again in the movement against militarism. In the Netherlands, there were a lot of burglaries in military bases at that time. Direct expropriations were my thing anyway. So I was able to get back on my feet, and I think a certain ritual helped me do that. I organized my first demo when I was 7 (!) years old. We had moved to Zevenaar, a province town between Arnhem and the German border (Emmerich), because of my father’s job. I loved to play soccer, but we had no place to play. So we played near some private gardens in our neighborhood and again and again the ball flew into some of the gardens. Some asshole was always destroying the ball with a knife when a ball came into his garden. On the evening news I saw people with white sheets on which they had painted their demands. I decided to organize a demonstration for more playgrounds and soccer fields. I stole a bunch of sheets from our closet and started painting slogans on them. My mother later told me that she had found some of the sheets I had hidden in the garage, and she was fascinated by the demo slogans. She knew I was a creative kid and decided not to interfere. I rode my bike from school to school handing out handwritten flyers, and 300 kids ended up coming to the demo. The cops wouldn’t let the demo march because the demo wasn’t registered. I was 7 years old and didn’t know what they were talking about (registration? huh?), but in that moment I learned that cops are not my friends. Important knowledge for a 7 year old. Some parents who accompanied their children to the demo interfered, after which we were able to march after all. After the demonstration, there was a lot of coverage in the local media, and the city decided to build 15 playgrounds and soccer fields. There was a competition for the best playgrounds and soccer fields at all schools, and indeed the 15 playgroundss that won the competition were built.

Why this long introduction? Because these playgrounds still play an important role in my life. After another defeat, I often go to one of these playgrounds. I just sit there and watch the kids play. That gives me the power I need to keep going. To remind myself again that a lot more is possible than we often think. But yes, the signs are not good at the moment.

In the 1980s, the Cold War was still going on, and the threat of nuclear war was always present. Anti-militarism was a big issue in the Netherlands, but after the “end” of the Cold War it slowly disappeared out of our heads. But until then, the nuclear threat caused many depressions. Sometimes with fatal outcome. It was like a constantly threatening sword that hovered over our heads. One of my friends saw no future for him in this world. He was convinced that a nuclear catastrophe was coming. I was sitting on the train when it happened. The train stood still for a long time. Later I found out the reason. Many people came to a memorial service to commemorate Oliver. But no one wanted to talk about his fears or his depression. Including me. I just blocked it out and didn’t talk about it with anyone, until today. But I felt an incredible pain. I tried to turn the pain into anger, I succeeded pretty well. But it did leave deep scars in my soul.

Even though we certainly have different views on many things, Tadzio Müller’s “coming out” regarding his climate depression is important. Unlike a possible nuclear war, the climate catastrophe is already underway. It is not a threat, it already exists. It is real. After the end of the Cold War, the northern states started a neoliberal political and economic sweep across the planet. Climate change and its causes were already known, but the decentralization of supply chains and production around the world made emissions skyrocket even more. The only thing the ruling class cared about was growth and stock values. Resistance to this total madness waned after Genoa (2001). At the same time, a propaganda machine had been “teaching” many people that there was no alternative to capitalism. There were still protests, but they were often powerless and appealed to the ruling class, which of course did something symbolic every now and then, but CO2 and other emissions increased year by year. Poverty figures were also rising. Everywhere.

When did I actually realise that it was already too late to avert climate collapse? I think it was in spring 2018, when all of Berlin reeked of forest fires at the end of April. Forest fires, in northern Europe, in spring? That’s when I realised that the escalation of climate crisis effects was happening so rapidly that we must already be in a state of progressive climate collapse, that the macro tipping point of the climate system had already been passed; that we were moving rapidly towards a hothouse earth, even an uninhabitable earth.

Since then, the anti-coal movement, to which I had basically devoted my entire adult life, was defeated by Team Coal in the “Coal Commission”; Fridays For Future, my next messiah, too, was defeated, this time by a cocktail of ignorance, cooptation and their own lack of radical courage.

“Coming Out” Tadzio Müller

One of the problems I see in the climate movement is a lack of tactics. A variety of tactics makes movements unpredictable. Movements that use a variety of tactics, including militancy, develop much more pressure; the ruling class is often afraid of such movements, and rightly so. The approach of major parts of the climate movement to appeal to political clowns was and is doomed to fail. Fridays For Future (FFF) was good in the sense that it created a lot of awareness among many young people. But FFF was never a threat to the 100 corporations that blast 70% of the worldwide CO2 into the atmosphere. Ende Gelände was good to provoke and force a reaction. But Ende Gelände was never flexible enough to seriously threaten the power of the fossil fuel industry and its henchmen in parliament. Without the willingness to use a wide range of tactics, powerlessness is inevitable and depression is not far away. The abandonment of nuclear power is also due to the fact that the (german) anti-nuclear movement adopted a wide range of tactics. A part of the anti-nuclear movement did not hesitate to resist the cops with militant methods, another part committed numerous acts of sabotage. Others carried out sit-in blockades. Nobody distanced themselves from other groups, even if they practiced different tactics. People were aware that it was the variety of tactics that made the movement so powerful. In places like Brokdorf and Wackersdorf, people didn’t pull off actions planned and carried out for a few days, but they occupied the area for an indefinite period of time, and many people were ready to defend the occupation. Partly with militant methods. The fact that the phasing out of nuclear power in Germany, one of the greatest victories of the environmental movement, is now under pressure is also due to the fact that the nuclear mafia and their political clowns know that there is no militant wing anymore. There is no threat against their power. Not from the anti-nuclear movement, not from the climate movement, not from the left.

But we also lose a lot of struggles because it’s often mainly a kind of event activism. If we want to build up more pressure, we have to disrupt operations for more than a few days. Like the squatters’ movement of the eighties or occupations like in Wackersdorf, or more recently the various forest occupations. We need permanent occupations from which people can launch actions on a regular basis. And we should be aware that our enemies are structurally violent. That’s why we need a militant wing of the climate justice movement. The movement should finally wake up and realize that it cannot beat a structurally violent enemy with appeals and time-limited actions. It is the self-imposed limitations of the tactics used that create powerlessness. The general threat of climate change to human life on this planet gives many people the rest. Many people retreat, feeling powerless, and some of them are doomed to slide into depression.

Do I think we can stop climate change by using a broader range of tactics? No, I think we’ve passed the point, some tipping points at which there’s no turning back. But we can fight for every 0.1 degrees to make the planet as habitable as possible. That’s not going to be possible in a capitalist society. Not in a society ruled by politicians controlled by the fossil industry. Not with artificial constructions like states that will always compete with each other. We have to learn again to think out of the box. Out of the box. Our current form of social organization has failed. To use the buzzword at least once in this piece: yes we need nothing less than a revolt. We need to draw a line here and now. If only to put solidarity with the global South into action.

Fear of inflation is another issue that needs to be addressed. The fear of inflation and a redistribution of income from the bottom to the top is being used to impose a massive rollback in climate policies. If we don’t take to the streets to fight against the results of failed state policies against Russian gas, oil and coal, i.e. the German state’s support for BASF and its 66% stake in Wintershall Dea, which together with Gazprom exploits gas fields in Russia. BASF has been sitting at the table for every gas contract signed with Gazprom & co. It is important to raise awareness that more renewable energy would have prevented dependence on fossil fuels from Russia. Renewable energy would have reduced the current inflation and we would have been able to avoid being involved in the Russian invasion of Ukraine because we would not have financed the Russian war machine with our gas purchases. We need to take the connection between fossil fuels and inflation to the streets. Also because otherwise the climate deniers of the far right will hijack the coming protests against inflation. We are late, damn late!

Dear Tadzio, I already wrote you that I am in the middle of preparations for another aid transport in Ukraine. That is why a lot of my thoughts here are not fully thought through. Not enough time. In the end, my thoughts can be summarized in two sentences: We must fight for the good life for all living beings and be ready to defend it. Without the willingness to do this, feelings of powerlessness and resulting depression are inevitable.

Riot Turtle, Augustus 9, 2022.

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