Friday, 31 August 2007

What I Did On My Holidays / A Climate Uprising

It was around 1am, and in the small tent village that had appeared across the only vehicle entrance of the British Airports Authority’s corporate headquarters, a giggling gang of protesters ate lentil pate sandwiches and sang daft songs while a large white bunny rabbit scampered around the feet of the bemused police officers standing nearby. This unlikely scene was part of the much-heralded Day of Mass Action for the Climate Camp near Heathrow, and it was the culmination of the most extraordinary, hilarious, inspiring, exhausting, terrifying and wonderful week of my life. Even as I fought through my fatigue and tried to prepare myself for the barrage of stupid questions that the morning media scrum would bring, I was filled with the warm, glowing knowledge that this week had been A Very Good Thing.

Inside the BAA car park shanty town (Image by Kristian Buus)

The fact that I have such powerful, personal memories of the Camp for Climate Action might cause some to doubt my ability to take a cool, rational overview of the whole affair. To such doubters I say: ahh, you’re just jealous that you weren’t there. Plus, you’re missing a really important point: many of the two-thousand-odd people who came through the camp will have left with similar feelings of inspiration, energy and hope – and this, more than anything, was the camp’s real achievement.

Yes, the camp got incredible global media coverage, reaching news outlets serving ¾ of the world’s population. Yes, activists were able to appear all over the mainstream media hammering out the key messages about aviation expansion being madness, about how climate change will only be solved by major social change, and about the importance of mustering people power against entrenched political and corporate interests. Yes, the political balance in the UK seems to have shifted, with Heathrow’s 3rd runway no longer seeming like a done deal, and the government now talking about including aviation in the Climate Bill. This is all fantastic stuff – but these weren’t the most exciting or important things to come out of the camp. Oh no.

During the eight days the camp was officially open, I counted at least nineteen peaceful direct actions taking place against climate criminals. You can find more information, pictures and first-hand reports at Indymedia, but the brief run-down goes something like this (with much text taken directly from the Climate Camp website):,

13/08/07:

- A group of activists set up a climate camp on the wing of an Airbus A380 on its way to be assembled in France. The Welsh police decline to arrest them, and they all walk free.

16/08/07:

- Farnborough and Biggin Hill airports, both exclusively used by private executive jets, are blockaded by two teams of climate activists in disgust at the obscenity of the super-rich using planes as a taxi service.

17/08/07:

- The doors of six London travel agencies are chained shut and plastered with signs saying 'Closed, gone to the Climate Camp.'

- Activists superglue themselves to the front doors of the Department for Transport's London headquarters. A tourist spontaneously joins the protest by chaining himself to the doors.

Main entrance to Department for Transport - closed (image from Indymedia)

- Ten people occupy the office of private charter company XL, which has a contract with the Home Office to deport rejected asylum seekers, exposing the connection between climate change and forced migration.

18/08/07:

- Children and their parents blockade the World Freight Centre at Heathrow in protest at the damage to the climate caused by unnecessarily flying food around the world.

Cargo terminal closed by slightly damp picnickers (Image from Indymedia)

- 60 people occupy Carmel Agrexco's Heathrow warehouse in Hayes, where produce is air freighted in from territories occupied by Israel, highlighting the issues of food miles and the unjust and unlawful distribution of natural resources in the Middle East.

19/08/07:

- Several marches take place around the site of the proposed third runway, involving local residents from Sipson and Harmondsworth (the villages that BAA is planning to demolish), John McDonnell MP, and the striking sight of hundreds of activists wearing copies of the Tyndall Report on their hands, carrying a banner reading, 'We are armed....only with peer-reviewed science'.

Pictures of people affected by climate change that doubled as handy cardboard shields when the police got their batons out...leading to the horribly surreal sight of cops trying to beat their way through the faces of Bangladeshi children to get at peaceful protesters. (Image by Kristian Buus)

- Despite the presence of 1,800 police wielding batons and the Terrorism Laws, BAA’s attempts to slap injunctions on people, and the fact that the date, time and target had all been announced in advance, hundreds of protestors still make it to BAA’s corporate headquarters, blockade the only vehicle entrance, set up a new neighbourhood of the camp and stay there for 24 hours. BAA tells most of its staff to stay at home or work elsewhere on Monday.

It was around this point that the words of the song "Power To The People" became changed to "Shower to the people...coz the people need a shower..." Look, it was funny at the time, OK? (Image by Kristian Buus)

- BA World Cargo depot is blockaded for about four and a half hours by eight protestors locked to each other.

- Three teenaged girls make it onto the roof of the Heathrow Business School and unfurl a banner that reads “Make Planes History”.

20/08/07:

- Two carbon offsetting companies (in Oxford and London) are targeted by protesters dressed as red herrings. In Oxford the campaigners get into the offices and have a round table discussion with the staff about the problems with offsetting.

- Five protesters use a concrete lock-on to block the entrance to Sizewell A and B nuclear power stations. Their banner reads, 'Nuclear power is not the answer to climate chaos.'

(Image from Indymedia)

- Eighteen protesters occupy the office of the owners of Leeds airport, Bridgepoint Capital, on Warwick Street in London, armed with Yorkshire puddings and a banner declaring “Yorkshire’s flooding, yer daft puddin!”

- Twelve protesters superglue themselves to the entrance of BP’s headquarters.

It's clearly meant to look like oil, right? Not blood. Journalists are weird. (Image from Indymedia)

- A troupe of rebel clowns stake out a fourth runway in the garden of Clive Soley, pro-runway lobbyist and Campaign Director of Future Heathrow.

21/08/07:

- The building works for a controversial gas pipeline being constructed through the Brecon Beacons are sabotaged overnight.

Despite the patchy-at-best coverage of all of this in the mainstream British media, it’s not hard to see why a CNN news bulletin referred to the week as a “climate uprising”. And for those of you sceptical about the effectiveness of this kind of action, here’s why it’s so important:

1) It’s proportionate to the scale of the problem. As George Marshall has pointed out, it’s hard for people to see climate change as a huge problem when the proposed solutions are “change your lightbulbs” or “pump up your car tyres”. Once people start taking peaceful, arrestable action on climate change – demonstrating that they are ready to break the law and go to prison over this issue – it significantly raises the game and marks climate change as a “real” issue.

2) It raises the political temperature. The Iraq war demonstrated how much attention the Government currently pays to large numbers of people marching from Point A to Point B. Every past movement which required major social change – from the anti-slavery campaigners to civil rights in the US to women’s suffrage – required an element of civil disobedience and peaceful law-breaking to keep the issues on the political agenda. Tackling climate change will require bigger changes than all of these previous campaigns were calling for. Direct action helps everybody working on climate change issues across the whole of society, by opening up new political space and pushing the debate forward.

3) It identifies and confronts the culprits. The uncomfortable truth is that the prevention of catastrophic climate change won’t happen with a big warm cuddly consensus. We have to stop burning fossil fuels, massively reduce our reliance on cars and planes, and make some fundamental changes to the way we run our lives and the economy. A lot of influential people and corporations who rely on the current system for their wealth and power will lose out in a big way (while the great majority of people should benefit from a low-carbon world, if we do things properly), and so we can’t pretend that there won’t be confrontation and conflict. There will. We have to accept that, and then figure out how, in the battle of people vs. corporate profits, the people are going to win.

4) It’s the most genuinely empowering form of action that anyone can take. To strip away all of the distractions and just place your body in the way of the bad stuff…it’s not enough by itself, but it’s infinitely more powerful and inspiring that turning down your thermostat or paying £50 for a pop concert.

There are now thousands of people all over the UK who have been informed, trained, educated and inspired by the Camp for Climate Action, and are gearing up for more action (as Green Party Speaker Derek Wall put it, the camp “built capacity, with a vengeance”). Hundreds of new people have been drawn into the movement (the poets and folk singers at the camp's open mic session were joined by rappers, post-rock noise merchants and a teenage emo-punk duo), and loads of older activists have been re-energised and re-inspired. If you want to know more about what’s happening near you and how to get involved, have a look at www.climatecamp.org.uk, or Indymedia, or ask whichever one of your online friends seems to be a member of the right sort of Facebook groups.

Even if you’re not ready to take peaceful direct action yourself, then think about what you can do to support it – the actions around the camp couldn’t have happened without the time and energy of hundreds of helpers, and the camp would have received far less favourable media coverage without the quiet (or, better yet, noisy) support of millions of people across the UK. So turn up to meetings, make sandwiches, organise benefit gigs, gather donations, give talks, write supportive letters to the local paper, set up or join community food/transport/renewable power projects, create stunning political artwork for people to take on demonstrations…there’s loads you can do. The Climate Camp was important, but it was still just one step along the path to building a real, powerful movement for climate action in this country – a movement that we all need to be a part of.


7 comments:

Shannon said...

That's terrific. I wish I could have made it, but I was working on my dissertation and (gasp!) traveling. (Although by train/ferry/bus.) Did you happen to meet anyone from Shell to Sea by the way? When I visited where I did my research in Ireland, the hostel owner said that one of the guys from the objector organization, Terrence Conway, was at the Climate Camp. I doubt you met him, but I figured I'd ask anyway.

Alice said...

Shannon - Yeah, I met someone from Ireland and chatted about the Shell thing.

Danny - This is great. The whole thing was so amazingly well organised, I was really inspired too.

You might like Freeluncher's blog Talking Liberties www.mybloglog.com/buzz/members/freeluncher/

patrick said...

" CO2 for different people has different attractions. After all, what is it? - it's not a pollutant, it's a product of every living creature's breathing, it's the product of all plant respiration, it is essential for plant life and photosynthesis, it's a product of all industrial burning, it's a product of driving I mean, if you ever wanted a leverage point to control everything from exhalation to driving, this would be a dream. So it has a kind of fundamental attractiveness to bureaucratic mentality. "

- Richard S. Lindzen, Ph.D. Professor of Meteorology, MIT

"In searching for a new enemy to unite us we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like, would fit the bill."--Club of Rome members Alexander King and Bertrand Schneider in their book 'The First Global Revolution'

patrick said...

your sick danny, the world is run by psycopathic eugenic freak shows and all you care about is the global warming story they created and you bought. Grow a fucking heart for humanity asshole.

Danny said...

In case anybody's wondering, I said everything I needed to say to our friend Patrick on an earlier Comments page, here: https://www.blogger.com/
comment.g?blogID=629931033429655018
1&postID=3876478311500606877

Despite his charming attempts to attract my attention by calling me sick (I do actually have a slight cold, thanks for noticing), asking me to commit suicide, and - even worse - quoting arch-denialist Exxon-sponsored rent-a-gob Richard Lindzen, I'm afraid I'm going to continue to ignore him and the only point of this post is to encourage everyone else to ignore him too. Life's just too short, really.

Patrick CM said...

interesting danny, isn't George Bush backed by Oil money? Isn't he talking about a nuclear reaction to global warming? What's the deal?

zoe said...

mr chivers, very well done and well written.
and, from spending time in the poetry corner with you, well spoken xx