Climate Camp: A Pointless Protest?

IS the Climate Camp protest at Blackheath, the historic London open space that was key in the peasants’ revolt, really making a difference on climate change?

153673902IS the Climate Camp protest at Blackheath, the historic London open space that was key in the peasants’ revolt, really making a difference on climate change?

The Camp for Climate Action has become an annual grass roots event that brings together a wide range of protesters concerned about climate change and the role of “climate criminals”- companies, institutions and government departments which are guilty of helping to cause global warming and/or not doing enough to stop it.

The first Climate Camp was held in 2006 at Drax Power Station, the UK’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. In 2007 the Camp descended on Heathrow airport to protest about the contribution of aviation to greenhouse emissions. Last year the Camp took root at Kingsnorth, the proposed site of a UK’s new coal power station for 30 years.

The Camp has become a base for direct action and a focal point for activists to meet and exchange information and learn protest techniques. It also aims to showcase sustainable living and community spirit in action, organised in a non-hierarchical way, with decisions taken by consensus. Workshops at the Camp range from the “Nuts of Bolts of Direct Action”, “Destroy the Banks! Destroy the Investors! Destroy the Arms Trade” to “Eco-Feminist Story Telling for Kids”.

Climate Camp provides a catharsis for many individuals who are angry at the capitalist system and the lack of progress in tackling the climate issue. The Camp receives much media attention most of which tends to be negative, highlighting the disruption and mayhem caused by protesters. This year attention has focused on the role of the police who, unlike April’s G20 protests, are keeping a low profile. Over the coming week climate campers will target the headquarters of Shell and BP to Heathrow Airport and the Bank of England. Direct action will involve demonstrations, entrance blockings and attempts to occupy office blocks.climate camp 2009

If we are to inspire action in those individuals who are either sceptical about climate change or just not interested then is Climate Camp the most effective and positive way of doing it? Already, the protesters have been compared to football hooligans.

About 7.1 million (18%) of the UK population are classed as Positive Greens who think it is important to do as much as they can to limit their impact on the environment. Unfortunately, there is a similar number (7.4 million) who are Honestly Disengaged and are indifferent to whether we are on the verge of a global ecological disaster or not. The rest of the population are divided in other types with varying degrees of willingness to engage in environmental issues and greener living.

In order to gain support for the radical changes to the British way of life that is necessary to survive in an increasingly resource and climate constrained world then we need to both convince our politicians and the different segments of the population to wake up and take action. Images of “hippies”, “new age types”, “anarchists” and “serial protesters” congregating every year and creating havoc makes the Camp a self-indulgent event where only “extremists” are concerned about the issue.

images-2A number of regional Climate Camps are also taking place in Scotland and Wales. If we are to succeed in making a global issue such as climate change a local issue and of concern to local people then it would be more effective to engage the public in local Climate Camps. Equally, such events should be positive and a celebration of what individuals and groups are doing to make a difference and what can be done locally, for example Transition Towns Movement and Carbon Rationing Action Groups (CRAG).

By raising awareness, inspiring action and creating a critical mass at the local level then perhaps then the issue of climate change will be owned by the many not the few and the voices of the majority will finally by heard by our decision makers and global leaders.

© Gary Haq 2009

No Time to Waste – Returning to the Good Life

earth-clock-01AS a child the school summer holidays seemed an eternity. Time seemed to pass very slowly. These days as an adult its hard to keep up with all the things one has to do. How many times have you heard people complain we “just don’t have the time”?

Psychologist William James’ explanation is that children experience everything for the first time and that all experiences are new. Their intense perception of the world around them means that times goes slowly. As adults we have fewer new experiences, life is more familiar and less information is taken in and time is less stretched. While there are obvious cognitive psycholgoical explanations to our perception of time there are also other factors at play.

As a child growing up in the 1970s there was only three TV channels which only ran for a limited number of hours. We did not have a computer, mobile phone, video player or DVD to distract us. Most of the time was enjoyed playing out in the streets with other friends. On TV there was a popular sitcom called The Good Life which described the experiences of Tom and Barbara who have had enough of the rat race and decide to become self-sufficient. They convert their garden into a farm, keep pigs and chickens and grow their own crops.the-good-life1

Life seemed a lot simpler back then but perhaps I am looking back through rose-tinted spectacles?. Afterall, I did not have to worry about paying bills, going to work or doing house work. Despite all this, I do feel that life has speeded up.

streetsThis is evident in our breakdown in our sense of community. In the cobbled streets of inner city Salford (UK) where I grew up we knew or had a good idea who lived in the 40-plus houses there. These days I only know three of my neighbours. This is partly due to people being more mobile and not staying in one place too long and partly due to being more private individuals. No longer do we have the time for idle chit chat. Like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland we are rushing around saying we are late.

In his Novel Momo Michael Ende wrote about a mysterious young orphaned girl, who arrives in a small town and notices that the inhabitants are starting to change, becoming obsessed with time and money. Momo discovers that the culprits are the “Grauen Herren”, sinister, ghost-like men who are stealing time. The effects were dramatic. The village barber found that:

he was becoming increasingly restless and irritable. The odd thing was that, no matter how much time he saved, he never had any to spare; in some mysterious way, it simply vanished. Imperceptibly at first, but then quite unmistakably, his days grew shorter and shorter. Almost be­fore he knew it, another week had gone by, another month, and another year, and another and another.”

In his article entitled Time Pollution, Prof. John Whitelegg attempts to explain the paradox that the more people try to save time, the less they seem to have? Whitelegg argues:

Time is central to notions of sustainability. A sustainable city or a sustainable transport policy or a sustainable economy cannot be founded on economic principles which, through their monetarisation of time, orientate society towards higher levels of motorisation, faster speeds and greater consumption of space. The fact that these characteristics produce energy-intensive societies and pollution is only part of the problem. They also distort value systems, elevate mobility above accessibility, associate higher speeds and greater distances with progress, and dislocate communities and social life.”

There is no doubt that our lack of time has contributed to the community disintegration that has been occuring across Europe and other western countries in the last few decades. Perhaps we need to change our perception of time and spend more time being rather than doing. A global recession may provide that window of opportunity to reassess our values and lifestyles and perhaps like Tom and Barbara we can return to the “Good Life” that many of us remember.

© Gary Haq 2009