Guest blog by Hervé Kempf. A French version of this article was originally published on Reporterre.
The government’s offensive against the Zad, a decades-old occupation of the site, a precious wetland, where a huge airport was to be built close to Nantes in France, aims to destroy the possibility of alternative ways of living. The battle against the airport has grown into the most iconic fight of the French climate and social justice movement that regards the airport project as symptomatic for a system of unnecessary expansion that serves the economic interests of a minority at the expense of local communities, farmers’ livelihoods, the environment and the climate. After 50 years of opposition that saw hundreds of people occupying the site, the government shelved the project in January in an historic success for the French climate and environmental movement. The crackdown now is part of a global trend to maintain the climate-destroying status quo for the richest elites.
2,500 riot police, armoured vehicles, helicopters, trucks, livestock trucks and a few hundred state security police in Nantes and Rennes as back-ups… Since Monday, 9th April France appears to be at war. Against who? Against some two hundred people living in a grove where they make their own bread, beer, have a farmers’ market, tinker, discuss, read, come and go. The military apparatus of France, which intervenes in Mali, Syria and Iraq, has been deployed in the Zad of Notre-Dame-des-Landes – without a debate in Parliament, which violates article 35 of the French Constitution.
After the government gave in to a popular struggle to abandon the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport project, it apparently now feels compelled to demonstrate its force by expelling “illegal occupiers”. The government neglects the procedures meant to rigorously supervise evictions and has refused to even enter into a dialogue about a proposal for collective management of the land that has for ten years been maintained by these occupants. There are no plans to use this ecologically unique area, which has been well preserved thanks to the very people that the French government now wants to drive out.
French president Macron, prime minister Philippe, interior minister Collomb and environment minister Hulot want to show the public that they will maintain ‘order’ and send a warning of what they can expect to the various movements that are bubbling in the country. They enjoy the support of the handful of billionaires that own the French media to complacently relay this message.
The mission of the 2,500 riot police is to destroy the possibility to live differently
However, this is not the only political impact Macron and his government seek. The disproportionate response is an indication that what is happening at the Zad threatens the currently predominant economic order: the possibility of different ways of life, seeking cooperation rather than competition, flat hierarchies between people, settling conflicts without the police or judiciary, sharing resources in harmony with nature, escaping from the rule of money… Has this kind of life become a reality at the Zad? It’s hard to say. But they try. There are many examples that give us a glimpse at alternative economies. The mission of the 2,500 riot police sent by the ex-banker French president is to shoot down the possibility of a different way of life.
Moreover, what is happening in Notre-Dame-des-Landes is part of a bigger crackdown by the world’s oligarchy against the people. Recent news of how the Israeli state kills demonstrators and journalists in the Gaza Strip are just the latest outburst of a global wave of authoritarianism by the ruling classes. Almost all of Latin America (Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Guatemala, …) has come under harsh austerity. In China, President Xi Jinping has recently grabbed even more power. In Russia, Putin reigns by stifling all opposition. In the United States, Trump continues his policy of financial and environmental deregulation dismantling real checks and balances. In the Philippines, Poland, India, in dozens of countries, we see a combination of concentrated power defending the interests of the oligarchy, destroying the environment in the name of economic growth. Europe is increasingly moving towards this model. There is a global civil war unfolding – a war waged by powerful elites against people that lose out with globalisation, and against those that put up opposition.
The real culprits – 80 tons of CO2 per year
This is more than a social struggle but one that will determine the future of humanity on a planet in an historic ecological crisis. A simple figure illustrates what’s at stake for the most privileged: the richest 1% in the world emit an average of 80t of CO2 each year. That is twelve times more than the average of the world’s population (6.2t). In other words, the richest of the rich pollute the most. Given the gravity of climate change and its foreseeable impacts, emitters of 80t CO2 per year are the real culprits.
What the oligarchies promote is to maintain a system in which they undermine the public interest. It’s at the heart of the public interest to address the ecological crisis of the twenty-first century. Its outcome will decide the conditions of humanity’s existence. It is almost ironic that the attack on the Zad is directed at a place where people seek to find ways to live in ways that don’t destabilise the climate.
This is why Messieurs Macron, Philippe, Collomb and Hulot, who preserve the interests of the members of the 80-tons-a-year club, are equally guilty. And that is why we must defend the Zad.