It all started in the spring of 2001 as a demonstration in reaction to President George W. Bush's rejection of the Kyoto treaty - a definitive event in environmental politics. Although only seven or eight hundred strong, this ‘Kyoto Rally’, got a great deal of media coverage. After 9/11, however, climate change became a very difficult issue to instigate mobilisations around since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq dominated the world of political protest.
The response of the Campaign against Climate Change (CCC) was to concentrate on a yearly ‘Kyoto March’ around the anniversary of Bush's dumping of the Kyoto Protocol. Staged again in 2002 and 2003, in 2004 it saw the European Social Forum arrive in London and marked the beginning of the CCC's attempt to network internationally. The international effort resulted in a handful of small demonstrations around the world on February 12th 2005 - Athens, Brussels, Kyoto in Japan – and laid the foundations for the first Global Day of Action later that year. In the UK more than a thousand demonstrators took the flags of all the nations that had ratified Kyoto to the US embassy in a spectacular demonstration.
An international effort required an international focus, so from 2005 the CCC focused its efforts on the annual UN Climate talks when world leaders are supposed to be making critical decisions to prevent climate catastrophe. December 3rd 2005, the Saturday midway through the Montreal Climate talks, saw demonstrations in more than 20 countries. 2006 saw the formation of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition of NGOs in the UK and in 2007, despite the awful weather, around seven to eight thousand people gathered to march in London.
The March on Parliament on the 6th December 2008 for the Climate marks the Saturday midway through the UN Climate Talks in Poznan, Poland and we make our demands on the UK government in solidarity with the world's poorest and most vulnerable communities that will suffer worst and most immediately from climate change caused overwhelmingly by the rich long-industrialised countries. We are looking forward to a bumper National Climate March and Global Day of Action this Saturday, as a stepping stone for a really mammoth effort to mark the critical Copenhagen Talks in December 2009.
The achievements of the CCC marches, however, overshadow the sometimes enormous difficulties of mobilising people to care and perhaps more importantly show they care. And it’s reasonable to ask if it’s worth? After all, over a million people marched in London in 2003 against the invasion of Iraq, yet it happened anyway. So, what difference does a march make? The war was win or lose; climate change is all about how much is done and how soon. So everything counts. And arguably, so much more is at stake.
So, what does it take to make a Climate March? Well, actually years and years of standing outside the US embassy in the cold hoping someone else will join you, years and years of holding meetings that only three people come to, years and years of lugging enormous rucksacks of fliers around, years and years of painting the banners and fetching the costumes and finding everything that got lost last time and tying the big wooden panels of our ‘greenhouse’ to the roof-rack, years and years of wondering if anyone will turn up and what you will say to the painfully few that do.
That’s a kind of personal and highly subjective perspective, but so many people don’t see that these things only happen because they have a history behind them – and this is a history that’s burnt on the brains of the long-time protagonists and of course that covers a lot more people than me. Nevertheless it’s the baggage I metaphorically carry around when someone complains that the sound wasn’t too good. Or, there were too many speakers, or the wrong speakers, or the march was too long or too short, or the coffees I’m bringing the stewards comes in the wrong kind of paper cup or whatever.
So, why demonstrate? The UK government, with the new Climate Change Bill, appears to be changing its tack on climate change, with what looks like a pretty progressive stance compared to other countries. Instead of a demo would time be better spent plodding around the garden, growing our own food and if we all started cycling? Small steps contributing to a wider change? Perhaps? But the key is the scale and urgency of the unprecedented threat of climate change. The latest in climate science suggests we are very close, if not already, past a tipping point leading to untold catastrophe that would kill billions. The only way out is via a crash programme of de-carbonisation, energy-efficiency and improvements. In other words, very big things done very quickly.
This can only be done by the whole of society acting together through government. So, getting people up on their feet and out on to the streets is still the best way to let politicians know, we take it seriously and we want you to as well.
Phil Thornhill is National Coordinator of the Campaign against Climate Change
UK National Climate March // Saturday 6th December 2008 // Assemble 12 noon, Grosvenor Sqaure, London // More details: Tel: 0207 833 9311, Mobile: 07903316331, Media on the day: 07931 661230 website: www.campaigncc.org email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in the Ecologist December 2008