Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Guest Post: Camping for our future

Douglas Coker from Enfield Green Party kindly promised me an eyewitness account of the camp for climate action. The camp has been extra-ordinarily successful in getting good press coverage, raising the profile of direct action, the behaviour of the police and most important of all the environmental issues at stake (pic from Indymedia).

Last year I chickened out of going to the Heathrow Climate Camp with the rather feeble excuses that it looked like it might rain and from what I’d seen on the telly the folk there didn’t look like my “tribe”. My dress code is smart(ish) casual, with beard and sandals, of course. However this year, with some prompting from a fellow Enfield GP member, I got myself along to climate camp at Kingsnorth.

So … last Tuesday I was detained under PACE and searched three times, observed the very impressive organisation in the camp and had vegan food for lunch, attended a (police helicopter interrupted) session on the science of climate change and chatted with a miner who was there distributing copies of … The Miner.

Getting searched was of course a nuisance but I approached it in a fairly assertive fashion and joshed the coppers who were questioning and searching me. The result was some interesting conversation with 3 or 4 youngish coppers who were “just doing their job”.

One declared himself to be a fan of the Guardian and liked G2 especially. I swapped notes on PACE which I taught on when it was introduced in the 80s and compared Brixton, where the copper was based, with Hackney where I used to teach. One of the other coppers, after some ribbing from me asked, “do you think I joined the police to do this?” (that is - search people in a remote late in Kent). I reckon there was some embarrassment on the part of the copper searching me on leaving the camp.

Just outside the gate I was told I was being searched again as the police had received information that people were leaving the camp with implements they were going to use to break into the Kingsnorth power station. As if... What chance this near 60 year old was going to hike 2 miles across country and, using my bare hands, tear down the fences, find the big red off switch and shut the whole thing down.

No... the coppers I talked to were shamefaced, embarrassed and pretty uncomfortable with the whole thing. Oh... and their powers of observation were somewhat lacking. Comparing my pink slips when I got home I was apparently 5’ 10” on the way in and 5’ 6” on the way out. Five foot eight and three quarters actually...!

Many other reports have noted the impressive organisation of the camp - wind and solar, friendly folk, good food and an interesting mix of central organisational points and autonomous camps within the camp. All this must have taken some planning and organising. I heard mention of climate camp “stars” in conversation. I’d be fascinated to know how it all gets put together and how decisions are made.

The police of course made it difficult. I missed some of the major dramas but was seriously pissed off at the police helicopter hovering overhead while I was trying to listen to 2 very good speakers on the science of climate change. Despite the efforts of the police to drown everything out I now know how to pronounce Svante Arrhenius (google him) and know what Dr Simon Lewis is doing in South American and African forests to ascertain the net carbon sink/source effect of trees. (Google him too if you want.)

Arthur Scargill was at the camp the day before me so I missed him. However I bumped into a very personable miner who was distributing a four page Special Edition of THE MINER. He was adamant that coal has a future and of course insisted that carbon capture would work soon. The argument is put forcibly in the leaflet. Climate Camp is compared to Thatcher and accused of lacking “politics”. Here we see a major fault line between green and red.

The NUM is arguing that jobs and whole communities are at stake if “clean coal” is not part of the mix to “ … keep the lights on … [and] … save the planet.” While I think the NUM are wrong I’m not at all convinced the green movement, and that includes the Green Party, have paid enough attention to the transition from a carbon profligate world to a carbon constrained world and the consequences for jobs and livelihoods. The TUC have recently published this - “A Green and Fair Future: For a Just Transition to a Low Carbon Economy" which addresses “employment churn”. I think we should read and discuss!!

On reflection I wonder if the Climate Camp and the whole range of police actions mirror each other in some ways. At one level you have day tippers like me who are no threat to anyone chatting with ordinary coppers. Elsewhere in the “organisations” you have protesters who are intent on gaining access to the power station and shutting it down and senior police officers deploying their 1,500 officers to harass and intimidate the protesters. Climate camp does, in some respects, point the way to the future and the police are clearly acting on behalf of the state to protect vested interests. The drama, threats and police overreaction did of course lead to quite a lot of media coverage, some of it sympathetic.

Oh well - I lost my climate camp virginity, no one (I hope) got seriously hurt and Monbiot spars with Scargill (today’s Gdn). And the government continues on its merry way.

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