CAMPAIGN HERO: Joss Garman of Plane Stupid

Joss Garman

Joss Garman, campaigner

Joss Garman, campaigner

Veteran campaigner and former Ecologist contributor Joss Garman talks to us about past campaigning successes - and why a Green Investment Bank should be a top priority for the Coalition Government

What has been your most successful campaign to date?

There are two campaigns where I feel particularly proud to have been involved. First, stopping the third runway at Heathrow was an epic victory for the climate movement. I don't think it would have happened without the collective effort of a movement that stretched from the residents of Sipson village to the direct-action community, and in particular Climate Camp and Plane Stupid, through to the lawyers who made our case in the High Court.

Second, successfully derailing plans for a whole fleet of new and unabated coal-fired power plants in the UK was an extraordinary achievement for the climate movement. I'm happy to have been working for Greenpeace on that issue, because our organisation played a key role in bringing people together to make Kingsnorth a litmus test for the last government, especially with the iconic trial of the Kingsnorth 6 activists, who were acquitted after they shut down a coal plant to stop emissions. Both these totemic campaigns show what activism can still achieve.

What has been your least successful campaign to date?

When I was still at school and sixth form I spent many a Saturday campaigning on the high street with the 'Stop Esso' campaign, aimed at trying to loosen the grip the world's most powerful oil company held over White House climate policy. I'm sad to say oil majors like Exxon still hold a death-grip over the US Congress, as we've seen with the failure of the Obama administration to pass climate change legislation. But I think it's time we took the oil industry on again. Climate hawks in California recently took on the oil industry over their efforts to repeal that state's world-leading climate laws, and they won. We need to build on that success.

Corporations: work with them or against them?

Both. Of course many familiar brands line up to push back against climate progress. It's well known that all the major oil firms and many car and coal companies spend millions every year opposing measures that would protect the environment and make the world safer and cleaner. But many other companies could turn out to be our biggest allies on climate change. In the past few months in California, for example, progressive businesses lined up with green groups to take on the oil industry to protect environmental laws there. Increasing numbers of businesses are coming to see the new clean energy economy as a big economic opportunity, and they don't want to lose out to the emerging economies in the green industries of the future. That's an opportunity for those of us who want to see new laws on climate change.

What is the best way to motivate people?

To state the obvious, people do things for a whole host of reasons. On Heathrow, some people were motivated initially by wanting to reduce levels of noise pollution. Others were worried about the destruction of their communities. Others by the threat to the green belt, and many by a fear of the impact aviation growth will have on our attempts to tackle global warming. That's why when you're planning a campaign you need to find ways of bringing in people who are motivated by a whole range of interests - that way it's possible to build a movement. The campaigns that are built on movements are invariably the most successful.

What is the best way of reaching politicians?

Politicians are ultimately just people, so they're moved by completely different things. They have certain interests in common, however. What does this mean for their electability? Where does this position them in relation to their political oppositions? What does this mean for the economic interests in their constituencies, and other economic interests they may hold for whatever reason, and which may in turn influence the positions they take? With these questions in mind, it's possible to make politicians sit up and think. The aviation climate campaign of the past few years clearly impacted on the answers to all of those questions and more, and that's one of the reasons it changed the politics around the issue, which in turn saw expansion plans for Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick get scrapped.

What is the most important thing to avoid when campaigning?

Overwhelming people with gloom and/or ideological dogma is poisonous to all campaigns.

Most important thing government could do this year?

Establish a proper Green Investment Bank that can function as a real bank, issuing loans and bonds. If it does this, and it gets billions of pounds of private capital flowing into the low-carbon economy, it will show the world the UK isn't just a talker on climate change. It will show that the UK government is genuine when it says we can be prosperous and still cut our carbon. Right now that's a nice but abstract idea. We need to make it into a solid reality so that emerging economies start to believe the hype because they see that they don't need to rely on polluting industries to develop their economies.

Most important thing individuals could do this year?

Get involved with a campaign to change the politics around climate change. It's all very well to green your own lifestyle, but there are several billion other people who may not be greening theirs. We need transformational, not incremental change, and that can only come about by applying real collective political pressure - just as we did on Heathrow and just as we did on coal. We won those battles here, and now we need to win others.

What (other) campaign has caught your attention recently?

Fish Fight, which is the campaign Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has just launched. 2011 will be a huge year for the future of our oceans. Overfishing and wasteful fishing practices are plundering our seas, and next year many governments are due to renegotiate fish policy for the whole of Europe and beyond. This is a huge opportunity to protect many of the fragile creatures we often forget about because they lurk beneath the waves. Fish Fight caught my eye because we don't hear people talking about the future of the seas enough - and if enough people join Hugh's campaign it has the potential to shift supermarket policies just like his campaign on chickens did, and Jamie Oliver's campaign on school meals.

Who is your campaign hero (past or present)?

I'm very lucky to know Ben Stewart and Leila Deen, who are just two of the Greenpeace activists who spent much of this summer bobbing up and down in dry suits in the North Sea, swimming out in front of oil drilling ships off the Shetland Islands, and hanging off oil rigs in the Arctic. As the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico showed, oil companies are going to extraordinary and risky lengths to drill for oil in some of the most fragile wildernesses left on Earth. Ben and Leila and the crew of that Greenpeace ship are campaign heroes of mine because they went to the frontline of an environmental abuse - and they froze their arses off to try and stop it happening.

Further information: Joss Garman's website,  twitter feed @jossgarman

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