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Tents on the runway

A rising tide of direct action on climate change is spreading across the UK. Tom Bailey records the spread of this movement, from last summer's Camp for Climate Action, which targeted the Drax power station, to this year's gathering near Heathrow Airport

July 1, 2007
4 min read

Last summer’s Camp for Climate Action saw hundreds of people take direct action against Drax, the country’s largest coal-fired power station. It was a defining moment in the fight against climate change. The mass actions at Drax came with a powerful message: although we do all have to make changes in our own lives, it’s not enough just to switch brands. We have to challenge consumerism itself, along with the corporations fuelling climate change.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the camp last year was the positive response to the day of action – not so much ‘Why do you want to turn the lights out and live in the stone age?’ as ‘It’s about time somebody’s solutions squared up to the scale of the crisis.’ Within weeks, Greenpeace had staged a similar action at Didcot power station, the country’s second largest source of CO2 emissions. Then two dozen people were arrested after blockading a runway at Nottingham East Midlands Airport, and Plane Stupid, the country’s first anti-aviation direct action group, took off.

The protests have continued. On April 2007, a group occupied Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, another of the country’s biggest coal burners, and shut it down for several hours. The same weekend, s mini climate camp took place outside Bath, with workshops and a day of action against Land and Marine, the main construction camp building a controversial gas pipeline across Wales.

This type of action – actually attempting to shut down the biggest emitters – was unknown a year ago. Now it’s not only happening all over, but it seems to be pushing at an open door. All over the country, small groups are springing up to take action locally, shutting down petrol stations, travel agents and corporate offices.

New forms of climate change denial, such as biofuels and carbon offsets, are being rebuffed even as they try to take hold. In February, activists from London Rising Tide occupied the offices of the Carbon Neutral Company, coinciding with the release of The Carbon Neutral Myth (see www.carbontradewatch.org), a highly critical report on how ‘offsetting’ emissions detracts from the task of changing carbon-intensive lifestyles.

The precedents for the kind of collective mass action needed to address climate change are closer than we sometimes think. For all its faults, the Make Poverty History campaign got 250,000 people to stand up for a cause that was of no material benefit to them, and in many respects was asking for a reduction in our privilege and comfort.

There is a similar clamour for action on climate change now, but time is running short. Governments and corporations have made it plain that they prize economic growth over survival. We cannot wait for them to act and watch them fail. Change in 20 to 30 years time will be too late, and it is those of us who live in the major carbon emitting countries who must take responsibility.

From 14-21 August 2007, the second Camp for Climate Action will take place near Heathrow Airport. Heathrow’s planes emit the equivalent of 31 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year – more than even Europe’s biggest power station, and more than most countries’ total emissions. By pitching its tents at Heathrow, the camp aims to oppose the absurd contradiction of the government attempting emission cuts while forcing through large-scale airport expansion that would lock in massive emissions increases. The camp will also target industry giants, such as British Airways and the British Airports Authority, who are lobbying hard for a third runway at Heathrow, and will make plain the need for us all to fly less.

Although the location is different to last year, the philosophy of the climate camp remains the same – to be a place for sustainable living, learning, strategising and direct action, involving and evolving all of us who see the need to be part of this burgeoning movement.

Everyone now knows what the climate change problem is and what’s causing it. We need to be a spark that lights that powder keg of change.The Camp for Climate Action takes place from 14-21 August 2007 near Heathrow Airport. For more details, see www.climatecamp.org.uk.

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