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Fighting in a World on Fire by Andreas Malm review: how can we take on the system?

Dylan Williams—who was a schools climate striker in 2019—looks at Andreas Malm’s new book on the politics of the climate movement
Issue 2849
Fighting in a World on Fire by Andreas Malm book cover

Fighting in a World on Fire: The Next Generation’s Guide to Protecting the Climate and Saving Our Future by Andreas Malm

Fighting in a World on Fire—a new adaptation of Andreas Malm’s work—is a great introduction for young activists who are interested in the climate movement.

It starts by giving a broad overview of past and present climate struggles, primarily highlighting the more radical groups of Europe, and begins to dive into the more technical aspects of the strategies these groups employ.

Malm blames the ruling class’s “commitment to the endless accumulation of wealth, power and possessions” for the climate crisis. “There can be no doubt that the ruling classes are inherently incapable of responding to the climate catastrophe in any other way than by speeding it along,” he writes.

If you want an illustration of this, says Malm, look at the Cop conferences of world leaders that have failed to take the most basic action. He remembers going to counter-protests at the Cop1 conference in Berlin “with banners calling for emissions to be slashed”. But “since then, total annual CO2 emissions in the world have grown by some 60 percent”.

As such, Malm argues that demonstrations over COP must continue and grow in order to combat the false narrative that the elites are going to be the ones who fix the climate catastrophe.

What’s behind the ruling classes’ inaction? Malm looks at the relation between capitalism and fossil fuels, and how the system is driving the climate crisis. He explains well how “capitalism is an economic system based on the accumulation of profit, or capital” and “emphasises competition, which demands that businesses constantly try to produce and sell more and more”. And that this “drives people working within the system to act according to its logic” of capital accumulation.

Yet, almost antithetically, in the same breath Malm talks about veganism as a way people may reduce their own carbon footprint. While true, individuals’ carbon footprints are nowhere near the same level as the huge amounts of CO2 pumped out by companies. And veganism doesn’t tackle how unsustainable and wasteful food production is under capitalism, whether it’s rearing animals or growing other foods.

Towards the middle of the book, Malm gives a detailed assessment of the despairing nature of the lack of success that the climate movement has seen.

He analyses the way forward for the climate movement. “When do we start physically attacking the things that devour our planet?” he asks. “So far, the movement has mostly avoided one type of action: physical force, whether offensive or defensive.”

Malm highlights the pros of a non-violent strategy and uses the case study of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the US Civil Rights and Black Power movements. He acknowledges the lack of public support that violent campaigns can garner. But he says that when faced with the need for self-defence against the Ku Klux Klan surrounding someone’s house, the question of non-violence becomes harder. So Malm argues non-violence should be a tactic not a principle.

We need militancy to take on the capitalist states, corporations and system driving the planet over the edge. But understanding class, I would argue, is pivotal if we are to tackle climate change.

The working class, as the source of profits under capitalism, has a potential power to shut down the system. And, for socialists, it means building mass and disruptive mobilisations that harness the power of the working class and trying to link the climate movement with the present wave of strikes.

Overall, I would recommend Fighting in a World on Fire to any young activist looking to learn more about the climate movement. It serves a great purpose as an introductory book into not only the world of the climate movement, but also reading political books in general. It teaches you the facts in a clear manner without going too fast at the risk of alienating people who haven’t heard of a political concept or group in the climate movement.  

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