Just about a year or so ago I spent a week living out of a tent on Blackheath Common in London. Along with a load of other people. Not in the same tent of course… fortunately we all had our own tents. Just as well really cos there were lots of us. And hundreds of people all crowding into my little one-man tent could have made things a mite uncomfortable.
The event was what’s become known as a “Climate Camp”… annual week-long (or thereabouts) camps that have crystallised out of a loose network that’s been named the Camp for Climate Action (a bunch of folk determined to do something about tackling some of the contributory factors to climate change rather than just accept the sticking plaster “solutions” and oftentimes false palliatives offered by politicians and big business).
And so far I’ve been to almost every one of these Camps… the ones in the UK at least. The first was at Drax in Yorkshire; then there was Heathrow; then Kingsnorth in Kent. A tiddly little one (didn’t even last 24 hours… thanks to the rather brutal intervention of the cops) at Bishopsgate in London. And then Blackheath.
And at Blackheath I’d resolved that would be my last. About which I had a weird sort of sad feeling. I vividly remember wandering around the site on its final day as everything was being packed up and feeling quite emotional as I took my last few pics.
“Can’t be having this,” mutters I to meself. If word gets out folk might start thinking I have soppy feelings and all that sentimental type twaddle. That’d never do. And after all, it was my choice; my decision. A decision I’d come to cos it appeared to me that the whole Camp idea had somehow lost its focus and if it carried on in the same direction then there didn’t seem much point in attending future Camps.
In fact toward the end Blackheath had more the atmosphere of a festival than an activists’ campsite. Or at the very least a gathering of fluffies and hangers-on rather than yer hard-core protesters. And it seemed to have become much more “image focussed” (aka spin) than actually doing anything.
Yeah, sure, I’d been to these ’ere Camps specifically to take piccies… to sort of document what’s happening. Cos that’s what I do. And at Blackheath, Kingsnorth and Heathrow (plus the little Bishopsgate affair) I’d been one of what was known as the “Camp Photographers’ Pool”… kind of “embedded photographers” type thing. Moreover, observing the growth of the camp concept and how it seems to have evolved into a world-wide grassroots movement over these past few years has been both fascinating and inspiring.
But that’s not the only reason of course. Hell, why would I put up with all the privation, a week of veggie food (that I actually quite dislike) and risk getting belted over the head by cops’ batons just to get a few pics? To say nothing of the week or so it usually takes me to recover from such camps, with all the tramping miles every day from one end of a lumpy field to the other and back again, over and over. Or following demos around various locations and trying to keep myself out of trouble! And taking a seemingly endless series of pics of cops photographing us.
At my time of life it’s not the sort of thing I’d readily choose to pass the time. And if taking pics was all I was about I think I’d sooner be shooting portraits… or even weddings maybe [shudder].
No. The other reason I drag myself out of my nice cosy festering pit is cos the whole issue of climate change really concerns me, and I’ve no objection to mucking in and doing my little bit to help bring the whole matter to a wider audience. Or something like that. (Then there’s that entirely separate business of documenting the misdeeds of, and intimidation by, the cops… but that’s another issue entirely, albeit one I’m really passionate about.)
And it all plays rather neatly into my Pagan/Druidic background, wot with the emphasis on looking after the environment an’ all… us being mere stewards who should leave this place as good (if not better) as when we arrived here, rather than shitting on our own doorstep and then leaving it for someone else to clean up. This Earth alone supports and sustains us, and we should be doing everything in our power to look after it… not just endlessly abusing it, and everything that dwells thereon.
Which isn’t necessarily to say that I agree with all the interpretations of the science behind the arguments, or go along with some of the explanations given for climate change. But to my mind there’s little doubt that we’re already experiencing some quite dramatic effects of climate change, and have been for some time, and we really do need to be addressing these in whatever manner seems most effective. Too late, I fear, to arrest these changes, but at least we should be doing everything we can to moderate them… if at all possible! Else we’re all gonna suffer. Including the so-called “debunkers” of climate change!
Or so I think. And it works this way… if we’re wrong then we’ve just made ourselves look like a bunch of silly arses (a quite familiar experience for me at least). And maybe helped bring about a few rather neat and beneficial changes along the way. Whereas if the debunkers are wrong then we’re all in bad trouble, that will likely get worse if nothing significant is done. In which case its best to not be on the side of the debunkers.
However, over the years I’ve become increasingly concerned by the Camp’s targeting of coal as the evil and polluting fuel yet without an equivalent opposition to nuclear energy… a strategy that seems to me to play right into the hands of the pro-nuclear lobby. And, far as I’m concerned, that’s a big no-no. For, no matter how bad the burning of coal may be for the environment in the longer term, the potential consequences of accidents in using nuclear technology are unimaginably worse. Just think Chernobyl, or even Three Mile Island… but on a much larger scale! Hence the decision (and not one reached quickly, or without considerable thought) to sever my ties to the whole Climate Camp thingy.
Most sensible people are rightfully concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weaponry. But in fact we should be even more concerned about the proliferation of nuclear energy sources, for here we’re not talking about some tinpot dictator (whom the whole world’s watching in readiness to thwart him) deliberately and by intent trying to unleash some sort of nuclear holocaust. Rather, we’re talking about normal common-or-garden human error, faulty or ageing equipment, cost-cutting in materials or maintenance budgets, and general cock-ups… whilst the rest of us just sit complacently by as it happens. These are much more likely scenarios for a major nuclear disaster. And the risks increase dramatically with the spread of nuclear power plants, especially when such are in the hands of profit-driven transnational corporations!
Can such corporations really be trusted in regard to safety issues and suchlike? Well, let’s just think about BP and the Gulf of Mexico for a moment. And no matter how safety-conscious an establishment may claim (or genuinely strive) to be there’s always, always, human error, lack of forethought, and simple carelessness.
You could almost say that humans are inherently unsafe, no matter what regulations are introduced (just look at the number of road accidents each year!). Anyone who thinks otherwise, and focusses exclusively on the alleged safety of the technology, is living in cloud-cuckoo land. And the consequences of having a disgruntled, disturbed, or maliciously inclined employee working in the bowels of a nuclear power plant don’t even bear thinking about.
So I’d decided that until such time as Climate Camp takes a more determined stance on nuclear and thereby openly demonstrate that there’s no support within the movement for the pro-nuclear lobby (as some could easily suspect or imply) it’d be best that we go our separate ways. Otherwise they could be just as guilty of the same greenwash of which they accuse others.
Yet here I am, a year down the road from Blackheath, and just returned from yet another Climate Camp… in Scotland! And, I have to say, an incredibly soggy week in Scotland… with most mornings having me peering blearily out of a rain-soaked tent at grey, chilly, and wet days. And this slap bang in the middle of August! It just ain’t right I tell ya.
So what happened? How come I managed to get myself sucked in again? Did I forget my resolve? Lose my marbles? Or what? Well y’see, the whole nature of the Camp was a tad different this year… a somewhat different target for starters. RBS this time (the Royal Bank of Scotland).
Ok, the Climate Camp “official line” on “why RBS?” seems still to be weighted heavily against the coal industry. Thus we have:
The building of new coal power stations and the expansion of other polluting industries must also be stopped and existing plants decommissioned
along with a number of other such references, specifically to coal. Now compare that to its much more lightweight opposition to nuclear. Just a single (almost “token” one might say) mention in fact, tucked in like an afterthought:
The false solutions they offer (such as bio-fuels, carbon trading, carbon capture and storage, nuclear etc) serve only to “green”capitalism in the search for more growth
That aside though, there are other great reasons for going up against RBS. For starters, it’s a bank. And we all despise those greedy grabbing bastards wankers bankers… don’t we? Particularly these days when so many decent honest hard-working folk are scratching around in an effort to just keep body and soul together. Then there’s its rather dodgy record of loan underwriting:
In October 2007, RBS underwrote loans of $1 billion for Lundin Petroleum. The Sudan Divestment Task Force (SDTF) has classified Lundin in its Top 5 “Highest Offenders”, for its direct support for the Sudanese government during the continued ethnic cleansing in Darfur. Lundin was exploring for oil in Block 5B in south Sudan, together with Sudapet, the Sudanese national oil company, which is part of the regime. Human Rights Watch and Christian Aid asserted that, if not complicit, the company enabled Sudanese military operations against local civilians, including the clearing of villages and widespread rape. 83 MPs signed EDM 1338 in support of Sudan Divestment UK, while MEPs managed to divest the European Parliament’s pension holdings from Petrochina (also active in Sudan).
This is to say nothing of its other “dirty investments”, including its involvement with tar sands oil extraction projects. All in all then a fairly despicable and unethical institution and certainly not one that we, poor old muggins joe public, should have been conned into bailing out of trouble. Not before it had cleaned up its act anyway. Yet as it stands, its lights are still burning brightly throughout the night, squandering our money and wasting precious energy.
So I thought it was fairly worthwhile to put my decision of a year ago on hold and hitch myself once more to the Climate Camp wagon. Which, once again, has resulted in a load of pics. (Just yer bog-standard link to the set on Flickr this time rather than a slideshow cos there’s far too many for such a gizmo.)
Update 02 September 2010 19:00hrs: Now here’s an interesting little item (arrived just now in my Inbox) that feeds rather neatly into my comment above regarding the “safety” record of transnational corporations. And whaddya know… its BP again!