We’re all doomed. That’s how I felt as I dragged myself through the streets of Oxford tackling the assault course of confused tourists, hungover students and irate locals. When you spend most of your waking life thinking about climate change, impending apocalypse follows you around like a bad smell. It can make you very unpopular at parties. On this particular day I’m trudging the crowded streets on my way to meet some climate activists so they can tell me about their new plan to save the world. If I’m honest I’m not optimistic, but that comes with the territory.
I sit outside the crowded cafe as the untrustworthy sunshine retreats and leaves me shivering into my soya cappuccino, waiting. When they arrive I ask one of them, Sally Reeve, to tell me about the ‘climate camp’, their plan for solving climate change.
Sally pauses thoughtfully. ‘The climate camp is an action camp taking place in the summer, getting people to engage with climate change and take action.’ Another intense pause and then: ‘I think people are really scared by climate change. They know that some massive response is needed and that actions by the government and corporations aren’t proportionate to the scale of the problem. We need to come together and educate ourselves, share ideas and do some really important direct action.’
Doubts enter my mind unbidden as I hear those two little words: direct action. A common response – a direct reaction – for many. Does that mean it’s all about climbing trees and fighting the boys in blue? Sally patiently replies: ‘Obviously direct action is an important part of the camp, but it’s not something we expect everybody to take part in. People who haven’t taken direct action before shouldn’t feel excluded.’
Ian Kilminster, another organiser of the camp, adds: ‘What we should remember is that solutions to climate change have to be grassroots and that encompasses direct action but needs to include all sorts of action. It’s not just about taking responsibility for yourself but making the changes around you collectively.’ I begin to relax a little and ask why they felt the need for a climate camp at this moment.
Sally explains that most of the focus for action on climate change has been on changing individual consumption, with little scrutiny of the institutions and economic forces driving the climate crisis. The bottom line of fossil fuel corporations precludes them from taking real action on climate change because it’s an inherent contradiction for their core business. She states that the real solutions must be determined by us, the people.
But why do we need to slum it in a campsite for two weeks in order to do this? Sally skims over my whining: ‘Most of the NGO campaigning is asking the government for reduction targets or persuading oil companies to be more socially responsible. We don’t believe that either of those is going to be effective because the government can only do what the corporations allow it to do. And the corporations can only push for more consumption because that’s the way they’re legally structured. Therefore it’s up to us.’
As we talk more about the camp, that it will be organised into ‘neighbourhoods’ to welcome people into an open but organised structure, the childcare available, the range of topics covered – from the effects of oil pollution in the ‘developing world’ to challenging the irrepressible aviation industry – I can no longer deny the effect they’re having on me and I spontaneously exclaim that they’ve even inspired me. Me! This is a disturbing experience which I've done my best to repress ever since by frantically watching Big Brother. Listening again to their words on my mini-disc later brings back those tired old stirrings of, is it .... hope? Through my headphones Ian enthuses: ‘If we don’t get this right everything else is wrong. If you want a fair and equitable future then it will have to be envisioned and created by everybody that will live in it. The camp won’t be the thing that does that but will be a kick-start for it. When the camp is over it’s just the beginning for grassroots movement on climate change.’
We may well be doomed, but this old hack will certainly be there this summer with the positive and the inspired. See you there?