Climate Camp, where next?

This weekend the Climate Camp where next? discussion moves on to Grow Heathrow.

I'm not involved in CC right now partly because I came to believe that the best way to stop climate change is not actually in tackling fossil fuels and emissions directly but by moving to a more just and democratic society and so that's what i'm working on. Largely inspired by the non hierarchical organisational genius of people i met in Climate Camp i'm trying to create some real grassroots democracy where I live, with the hope that this virus can spread. However, this weekend I will be attending the 'space for change' meeting with a question in mind - What is Climate Camp really? and what should it be in the next few years.

To my mind CC is the latest incarnation of a particular strand of anti capitalist, non hierarchical, very well organised, media savvy and pragmatic grassroots direct action movement with its origins in the Anti Criminal Justice Act and then Reclaim the Streets era.

Since then it's areas of focus and tactics of choice have been varied and shifting from CJA, Road protests camps, street parties, car culture, GM, Arms fairs, war on Iraq, transport policy, summit hopping, international bodies (WTO,G8,IMF) then in 2006 it shifted again to climate change. Climate had been a part of what it did from very early on as yet another reason not to build more roads, but they had the foresight to realise it was soon to become a dominant issue and a perfect platform to argue for and build a better, fairer world.

This was a choice made at a time when no one issue was clearly dominant, previously this movement had sometimes been able to choose an issue, but often had to react to issues that were thrust upon them (the CJA, GM or a road building programme) but this choice soon proved fortuitous with the skills built up inside the movement and the level of public discussion around climate issues rising generally they came together spectacularly with the Climate Camps of 2006 at DRAX and especially 2007 at Heathrow.

After this more and more people joined who were more specifically interested in Climate Change as a single issue and saw the camp as a better or complementary method to more traditional NGO campaigning as opposed to using the issue of climate change simply as one example among many of the failures of capitalism, also it seemed that during the years 2007-2009 all you had to do was mention climate change and you had a chance of getting some pretty radical politics all over the newspapers, but it couldn't last. Just as soon as mainstream media interest in Climate Change had arrived it seemed to disappear. At the same time a financial crisis and the opportunism of the politicians meant that many activists (and non activists) saw the most vital arena for challenging capitalism shift from climate to austerity, this shift was perfectly natural for the people most focused on changing society as a priority but the organisation that they had built was left behind, mostly because of it's name. Attempts were made to link cuts and climate, but this really isn't necessary - both are symptoms and only need to be linked to their real cause - capitalism.

Obviously a climate strand should continue (it's still a HUGE issue), but as part of a much larger group that continues the bigger theme of using whatever issues are out there to highlight the failures of capitalism using creative and confrontational direct action to expose and challenge the people / institutions / companies responsible - that is what it does well. Another strand should focus on austerity - UKuncut have shown a glimpse of what is possible, but have been rather timid in their politics, some people have tried to replicate the central square occupations seen in Spain and Greece but these could really do with the backing of the organisation formerly known as The Camp for Climate Action.

After Copenhagen

The narritive this morning in the UK media has shifted to blaming Chinese intransigence and lauding the heroic efforts of Ed Milliband, but all this misses the point.

The force that prevented real action wasn't one country against another, it was an idea - the idea that economic growth is the only thing that matters and must at all costs be allowed to continue. This idea is present in the thinking of almost all of the 'leaders' at Copenhagen although it expressed itself in different ways - The US wants to to continue their growth that has been going on for a century or two, China has just got a taste of it and wants more and many developing countries have looked on longingly and want their chance to sup this magical elixir.

But the truth is that none of these countries can have what they want. Any solution must first recognise this and then decide how to distribute the kind of opportunities that we can sustain.

my idea to stop climate change - stop trying to

My assesment is that any direct attempts to tackle climate change will fail, whether its councils, governments, companies or even movements such as Transition Towns and ClimateCamp. so instead i'm arguing that we don't do this at all. Instead we try to totally re-build society from the bottom up, creating happy, healthy human scale communities that almost as a by product don't cause climate change and are resilient to the climate change that does happen.

lets solve the 'democracy problem' and the 'climate problem' will be a piece of (vegan) cake.

open cast, closed minds and a (small) victory - Climate Camps in Scotland and Wales

I am writing this from inside a police cell in Mertyr Tydfil, South wales. Most people know Merthyr because everytime there's a news story about people being 'on the sick' they come here because it has the highest rate of people on incapacity benefit in the UK. I always thought this was due to resourceful job centre employees reacting to the complete lack of jobs in the area by shifting people off the official count as officially unemployed, but now i'm not so sure. The reason for my doubt is that Merthyr is also the site on one of the largest open cast coal mines in Europe, in fact to call Fos-Y_Fran and other similar projects 'mines' is misleading - it's a huge, black moonscape crater in which machines the size of a house relentlessly gouge out coal. Open casting is 'mining on the cheap', after the closure of deep mines in the 80s and 90s coal companies exploited the desperation for jobs in coal areas to build these mines even though they employ very few people, and even fewer of those are locals (most are contractors that follow the work as mines open, extract and close). They may be cheap to run but the cost to the locals is massive - a document from climate camp scotland bringing together stats on the health effects of open casting shows that asthma, COPD and cancers all show a significant increase, plus the disturbances from noise of machinery and vehicles transporting the coal. And this is without even considering coal's contribution to climate change.

It's clear then that coal causes misery and death, it's also clear that the governments of the UK, wales and scotland and energy companies want to make things worse. that is why the first climate camps in wales and scotland targetted open cast mines: the existing Fos y fran in Merthyr and the proposed mine in Mainshill South Lanarkshire where there are already a number of open cast sites. Mainshill is owned by Lord Home - the 'queen's banker' and a 'comedy toff' is ever there was one. During the scottish camp people invaded his lawn to play frisbee, and dumped coal at the offices of South Lanarkshire council. I went to to put some questions from the residents of the town of Douglas to their Councillor - one of the leading movers in the expnasion of open casting in the area since the mid 90s - Daniel Meikle. Meikle made his money from a building firm and when he became a councillor in 1996 was almost immediatley given the job of chair of the planning committee - an almost unbelievble case of putting the fox in charge of the chickens, even with the fig leaf of signing control of the business to his wife and son. Since then he's left his post on the planning committee but Meikle construction has still benefitted from a close relationship with Scottish Coal, meanwhile athough he has avoided sanction on conflicts of interest in a number of standards board enquiries he wasn't so lucky when he was convicted of racially abusing one of his contituents (he referred to a welsh born constituent as 'boyo' amongst a large number of expletives when he was questioned about open cast mining. This kind of attitude to democracy has lead to a real raritiy, so disgusted were the residents of the area that they elected a Tory MP! So you can understand why the locals had a few questions for Cllr Meikle and his family, who live in a 3 house 'compound' on the edge of the village of Coalburn (yes, really). 3 of us outsiders decided that, given his attitude to his constituents we might have more luck. Unfortunately we did not. seconds after answering the door and without even an attempt to listen, the councillor's son Daniel junior was verbally abusing us at the top of his voice, soon after he was joined by others, both male and female and including the councillor doing the same. They pushed us back and tried to grab our cameras, eventually forcing us out on to the road and throwing one of the cameras into the field opposite. When we recovered from the shock we regrouped, cleaned the cuts and grazes and waited for a bus, disappointed that we hadn't been able to get any answers, shocked by the reaction to questions from an elected representative but satisfied that at least he knew people were scrutinising him. We called the police and they arrived, asked us a few questions, then they went to speak to the Meikles, we heard one of them shout that the police officer was 'his mate' but thought nothing of it untill the officer returned and informed us that we were being detained on suspicion of a breach of the peace. This eventually lead to a charge and a night in the cells. Did any of the familly get arrested for their part in this fracas, what do you think? The whole thing seemed like some surreal western - a few strangers enter town, annoy the local big wig, he has a word with the sheriff, who locks them up before escorting them out of town the next day.

the Scotland camp had it's own unqiue character, partly due to the facrt that there is a permanent camp at mainshill which despite only being there for 6 weeks was already well established with some formidable defences, as indeed had the wales camp (scotland was very much focussed on the action that people wanted to take whereas wales had more kids and families and an incredibly impressive selection of workshops, especially on the educational philosophical side of thing). But both also had all of he things that make climate camps such an inspiring and empowering community. Climate Camp really is the most overtly positive social movement that I can think of. Yes, a fundamental element is discrete events of direct action to prevent runaway climate change, but for me the most important action we're taking is happening all the time - we are building a movement that is a glimpse of a democratic, healthy, sustainable and happy society and it's growing all the time.

In doing this I suppose it's inevitable that there'll be some friction with elements of existing society, and most obviously the police, especially when they are doing what they see as protecting 'legitimate business activities' but we, and many others, see as profit driven, short term industries that benefit only a tiny minority and are pushing us towards the point when we start to lose even the tiny gains human civilisation has managed so far. And it's not just us - NASA scentists, the women's institute, the UN... the list is endless which makes the reaction of the police here in the UK all the more puzzling.

The reason I am still in the cell in here in Merthyr much longer than is usual for being suspected of breaching an obscure restriction on public processions (so obscure that the custody sergeant had never heard of it before) is that the police tried to put a condition on my bail that I "do not attend any climate camps in the UK" I refused to accept this grossly unfair restriction from attending a peaceful week of education , skill sharing, meetings and planning how we can act to prevent catastrophic climate change. This is the first time such explicit terms have been used, but by no means the first time that bail conditions have been used to prevent people engaging in similar activity. last year the DRAX 29 were were de facto banned from the climate camp at Kingsnorth, I myself was similarly barred from the April 1st 'climate camp in the city' in bishopsgate during he g20, although the custody sergeant was adamant that the terms weren't designed to prevent me attending the camp, even though that was clearly its aim and outcome. Police have also taken steps to prevent legitimate protest by arresting 114 people in Nottingham claiming they were intending to do something at a local power station. Some will argue that the police should be engaging in prevention of crime, and on the whole you can see this point, but protest and even illegal direct action should be exempt from this, after all, police have more than enough powers to deal with things when they do happen, people engaging in DA generally allow themselves to be apprehended and it should be a universal right to take proportionate action to prevent disasterous activities. In fact it's worth remembering that the law NEVER says that you can't do something, simply that if you do the authorities reserve the right to enforce sanctions.
There are other sinister elements at work - from the visible - photographing, searching using dogs to intimidate peaceful protesters (and not just intimidate, I have a painfull series of bites on my arm which attest to the lengths individual officers feel they can go to to protect our targets - but also interesting because there was a police videographer there for the whole incident, but he failed to capture the moment when the dog handler lost his temper, shouted at me to 'fuck off' and then attacked me with the dog) to the clandestine - Strathclyde police offering cash for iformation (they're still at it even though it was exposed earlier this year - we each received a visit while waiting or court last week at Lanark) and a shadowy group set up by ACPO called the National extremism and terrorism coordination unit (NETCU) is getting heavily involved in the policing of protest - when i was arrrested following my dog bite the arresting officer was given a booklet or form with the NETCU logo clealry visible on it's front. I'm not sure exactly what it was - perhaps a kind of 'know your enemy' type thing to help this poor unsuspecting bobby deal with this dangerous domestic extremist, or perhaps just a series of questions NETCU wanted him to subtley slip inbetween small talk about the weather. Whatever it was it's this deep hostility that's the reason I am forcing down an almost inedible 'vegetable chilli' having been in this cell for about 28 hours, with at least another 12 to go.


Three magistrates at Merthyr court saw sense and released me on unconditional bail, the prosecutors didn't even have the sense to schedule a court date during the camp. A combination of fair minded judging and stupidity which along with a bit of determination and a growing movement mean that we can win, and the dog bites are healing nicely thank you, see you in London on the 26th

after the tipping point...

...will be the age of the hare brained geo engineering project. there are many corporations out there who are laying low until we pass the tipping point, then they'll pop out of the woodwork asking for billions to stop the inevitable catastrophe - and they'll get them. There'll be a few decades of the this period - between being committed to runaway climate change and actually passing the tipping point. we need to think now what we're going to say about this, pick and choose which schemes we like or resist this appraoch completely and demand we spend all the money on development and adaptation. of course we need to contine to argue to keep pushing renewables and low carbon options in order to slow down the inevitable, but we still need to decide if can we tolerate the kind of geo engineering schemes that will be proposed?

who are Greenpeace

i've heard a few grumblings around about Greenpeace not doing enough actions, i thought i'd wait until that had been comprehensively disproved (as it has been in the last few weeks here and here) before responding on the the general point of where i see Greenpeace fitting in.

when i first joined GP i was slightly surprised by how keen they were to be seen as respectable and respected policy thinkers, but it quickly became cear to me that years of hard work and detailed knowedge meant that that position was inevitable. There was still some way to go with getting the media and public to catch up (certain sections of the media were still cautious and much of the public still think it's all ships and whales) but the process was in it's final phase.

Then, after conversations with one or 2 staff and volunteers i wondered whether GP should be aspiring to be a mere 'think-tank' - it was more than that, and uniquely for such a large international NGO was about taking action rather than lobbying. If anything it should be going back to it's roots of concentrating on actions and allowing the others to do all the political, lobbying policy type stuff.

However, I now realise that this mis reads Greenpeace's historical and contemporary role. Greenpeace has always been first and foremost an organisation that puts pressure on the bad guys to do the right thing - in essence lobbying them, except it uses a lobbying tool that others don't - actions that are always highly visible and sometimes also act directly on the problem.

So, GP is not a direct action movement, it (almost) never has been - except perhaps the very first activities stopping nuclear tests, after those very quickly the action became simply a tool, albeit an important one.

GP is also not a 'movement' it is a really quite small organisation that has loads of supporters. This is one of it's strengths, it keeps it focussed and says 'we do what we do, if you agree support us, if not then don't'. movements involve everyone and are open and have certain strengths through that, but GP (in the the UK at least) is really no more than 20-30 people, giving it a huge amount of strategic integrity. This kind of centralisation isn't for everyone, but many people who support GP are also members of 'movements' as well, they support GP because it works bloody well at what it does, the mistake, made by the author of the link at the top, is to mis interpret what it does.

what's the best way to start the process?

let's say that democratic communities are 100-150 people and that that they could possibly federate together through a 'spokes' system of 50-100.

what's the best way to start the process?

i think one good approach is to split up into areas of about 15,000 (borough wards are about this size) and find a group of people who are interested in starting out, then over time try to find people in each of the 100 or so communities and gradually build the capacity of what will eventually make these the sovereign communities. This approach gives a context for activists and residents that may live close by, but not live in the same street or block to make a start, they will be able to engage people from the whole community and then help to build core communities when numbers start to grow.

maybe we should aim to start by identifying and supporting a small group of ward size areas with a good concentration of interested people / campaigns / resources?

obviously this is all for discussion at the first meeting, but these are just a few thoughts