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?

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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

When The Lights Go Out

THE UK government would be acting as a “climate criminal” if it allows a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent to go ahead, say campaign groups. If we are to address depleting energy resources and tackle climate change then we will need to face up to the impending energy crunch and the difficult choices ahead.

Gary HaqTHE UK government would be acting as a “climate criminal” if it allows a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent to go ahead, say campaign groups. If we are to address depleting energy resources and tackle climate change then we will need to face up to the impending energy crunch and the difficult choices ahead.
Power failures are a rare thing where I live. I have experienced then when visiting Karachi and Kathmandu. There the lights tend to flicker as a warning sign that we will soon be thrown into darkness. After experiencing the black void for a couple of seconds there is a sudden loud noise as the hotel generator normally kicks in and light is restored.

The last time I experienced a power cut in the UK was as a young child in the 1970s. Then sitting in the dark with a candle seemed like fun. However, after recently experiencing three power failures within a few days I was left with the realisation how the simplest of things in the home were energy dependent. For more than one hour in the evening I could not watch TV, boil the kettle, listen to music, neither see the time, call out on the landline nor could I use my mobile phone as that needed to be recharged. I had forgotten the inconvenience of being left in the dark. I was not totally lost. My 1930s wind-up wall clock and black 1950s Bakelite telephone, which I tend to keep plugged in because I like the ring, were both still functioning. These products are from a bygone age when we were less profligate with energy.

Gary HaqOur demand for energy has been increasing. According to the International Energy Agency world energy consumption is projected to expand by 50 per cent from 2005 to 2030. While the global economic recession will obviously result in a fall in current demand nevertheless we will continue to be a fossil fuel based economy. Our demand for energy has increased so much that we are now on the verge of passing the peak in oil production. This “Peak Oil” is the point where the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached. After this point the rate of oil production goes into terminal decline. The peak is expected in the next 20 years. However, this may be delayed due to the global economic downturn. The use of fossil fuels has resulted in carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas, being pumped in to the air. Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide was 280 parts per million (ppm). Our use of oil and gas, have increased this to 385 ppm. It continues to grow by about 2 ppm per year.

If we are to meet future energy demand and avoid climate change then we need to address our demand for energy and look to alternative energy sources. Campaign groups claim the new coal-fired power stations will increase the impact of climate change on poor countries. If the Kingsnorth does get the green light it would be the first coal-fired plant to be built in the UK for more than two decades.

Gary HaqA number of leading environmentalists are now supporting nuclear power as a viable energy source arguing it is better than climate change. Nuclear power together with wind, wave and solar power are seen as vital if low-carbon energy generation is to be achieved. Nuclear power currently accounts for about a fifth of the UK’s electricity, compared with the 35 per cent from coal and 35 per cent from gas. The UK’s nineteen reactors in ten different power stations across the country are ageing. If action is not taken then by 2015 we will lose eight gigawatts power generation that is equivalent to approximately six coal-fired power stations. In the next 15 years the UK will need to replace 33 per cent of its generating capacity. Even with the planned gas-fired power stations there will still be a short fall to meet the increase in energy demand in the coming decade.

We need to face up to the fact that we will be left with an energy gap. Action to increase the efficiency of the energy we use and reduce our overall demand will be needed. If we are serious about tackling climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions then can we afford to leave out nuclear from the energy package? Its drawbacks may seem insignificant when compared to the scale and impact of a changing climate. Unfortunately, we may only realise this when it is too late to do anything about it.

Start stocking up on the candles now!

© Gary Haq 2009