A band of pioneering environmental activists landed outside Heathrow airport last summer and injected energy and urgency into the climate change debate. The Climate Camp showed there are people sufficiently fed up with waiting for the Government to act that they are willing to put themselves where they can no longer be ignored – and they weren’t.
BAA went to the High Court to stop the camp – they stopped me, unfortunately – and The Evening Standard ran a smear campaign. The attempted crackdown shows Climate Camp was the green movement at its most effective. If grassroots movements are the engines of social change, this is it: something special to counter the fear and sense of powerlessness that has gripped the debate on climate change.
The first Climate Camp was outside Britain’s single biggest emitter, Drax coal plant, in 2006. Among its successes came the formation of Plane Stupid. The second, at Heathrow, emboldened and empowered the local resident’s third runway campaign, whose profile has since rocketed. It also inspired a number of similar camps around the world. Next month, Climate Camp will be back – but will it be bigger?
From 3 to 11 August we’ll be pitching tents near Kingsnorth in Kent, where plans are afoot for Britain’s first new coal plant in three decades. The climate change imperative says we need a green army to derail E.ON’s plans before they gather steam, yet Climate Camp has involved less than 2,000 people. I work for Greenpeace, an organisation with some 175,000 members in the UK. At least 174,000 of them didn’t show up. As an Ecologist reader, by definition you’re one of tens of thousands environmentally aware people who didn’t either. In London, 70,000 people voted for the Green Party mayoral candidate and live within an hour of Heathrow, yet at least 69,000 of them didn’t come. Why not?
With toilets, showers, wind-powered computers and a cinema, it’s hardly trench warfare, and is timed to allow families to make it along in the summer. I’ve been trying to think why so few got involved. Perhaps you think our elected representatives will sort things out for us. Are you prepared to wait much longer? Maybe you think we’re all scary, smelly eccentrics. This is a stereotype perpetuated by the media, which will ignore the group of normal-looking folk and slap a picture of the dreadlocked girl with fairy wings on the front page. Perhaps you’re scared a wall of riot police will bash you and you’ll end up in prison. Those yellow jackets are only there to intimidate you, so don’t let them. Finally, maybe you just don’t think direct action works – in which case you’ve perversely been proved wrong by a bunch of disgruntled hauliers who recently blocked roads and overturned government policy so they could pollute even more.
Britain supposedly has the most sophisticated debate on climate change in the developed world. Let’s make Climate Camp 2008 show it. See http://www.climatecamp.org.uk/ for information.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist June 2008