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

Extreme Weather in Two Lands

Big Snow in LondonAS the UK struggles with the worst snow for six years across large parts of England, down under the Australians are having to deal with the worst heatwave in decades, with temperatures in excess of 43C (109F) in the south-eastern part of the country. Health officials in South Australia are blaming the high temperatures for an increase in the number of sudden deaths among the elderly. While in the north near Queensland authorities are monitoring a low pressure system that could develop into the state’s second cyclone within a week. More than 60 per cent of Queensland is covered by floodwaters and more devastation is expected. Already there are almost 3,000 properties in the north of Townsville surrounded by floodwaters caused by ex-tropical cyclone Ellie.

Australian heatwaveThe snowfall in England resulted in schools being closed, public transport closures and airport delays. The heatwave in Victoria is the worst since 1908. Wildfires in the west of the state made worse by dry conditions and sweeping winds destroyed 2,000 hectares (4,900 acres) of forest and grassland, forcing residents to flee their homes, emergency workers. The high temperatures resulted in a massive increase the use of air conditioners which have claimed to have caused a breakdown in Melbourne’s electricity grid – leaving half a million homes without power. The economic cost of the heatwave in Melbourne is estimated to be 100,000 Australian dollars.

In the UK the big snow is estimated to have cost the country £1bn in lost productivity due to approximately 20 per cent of the country’s workforce is believed to have taken Monday off due to the extreme weather. Many businesses in London and the south-east were forced to operate on a limited basis with transport services in chaos after up to eight inches of snow. Nearly half of businesses in London were operating at only 50 per cent capacity.

These recent extreme weather events clearly demonstrate our vulnerability to the impacts of a sudden change in climate. The social, economic and environmental impact of such extreme weather should be a warning to us all about what we can expect in the future as the planet warms up and the climate changes. We need to act now to prevent the possibility of run away climate change. We need to make the necessary investment to ensure the infrastructure, social and emergency services can adequately cope with extremes change in the weather.

© Gary Haq 2009