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Losing my religion

Written by: on October 7, 2009

This year’s Climate Camp was at once uplifting, empowering, uncomfortable, and ultimately it ground me into the less frequented recesses of my mind. (Where the nihilist lives). I am pleased to say he doesn’t come out much. Fittingly it acted as the keystone in the seasonal bridge. It carried us into autumn, and, perhaps, the autumn of humanity. The Americans would call it the ‘fall’ of humanity. Quite.

Remember how with the same hubris as the weatherman they wrongly predicted a ‘Summer of Rage’? They got the more benign (and delicious) tag of ‘Barbeque Summer’ wrong too. We have predicted things poorly before. I needn’t offer examples; you’ll be more than capable of thinking of some hilarious ones yourself. In any case, it is possible global warming won’t happen. Or maybe it’ll be for the governments of the 22nd century to wilfully ignore instead of ours. Who can say for definite? Still, I’ll nail my colours to the mast: I very much believe in global warming, even though the summer of rage happened in spring, as the Met trampled all over the “shits” in Bishopsgate. I had a lovely barbeque the week after, though.

{{ quote “When it comes to global warming, fact and truth have become just another opinion, to be politely considered, and then waved aside if it seems too distasteful.” }}

As we stare towards the sun, setting over our days of plenty, the G20 outrage feels like a sinister shadow, trailing elongated behind us, threatening with the next sunrise to dig its claws back in. Such shadows cast by the sun swing like pendulums, in front of us, behind us, and back in front again. Each new outrage lying in wait; striking; lingering a while in collective memory before fading into darkness, so as to allow the next one to strike. A terminal repetition of history, first as tragedy, and then as farce. We have an uncanny ability to forget inconvenient truths (forgive the pun).

Although history has a way of retrofitting significance to certain moments in time, Climate Camp feels like it might be significant. Significance is rarely felt in a situation as it unfolds, often because we’re all too busy feeling sorry for ourselves, or trying to get the dirt out of our fingernails. When we do feel it, it is usually because of an unchecked ego. Or drugs. But only time will tell. If in 2030 we find ourselves knee-deep in water where our homes ought to stand, we’ll know the camp had no impact whatsoever against our self-imposed apocalypse, and that the special feeling we all felt at the time was merely our egos writing cheques our collective willpower couldn’t cash. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Weren’t Glasnost and the rubble of the Berlin Wall supposed to signal ‘the end of history’? Only then some recalcitrant foreigners flew a couple of planes into the Twin Towers. History quietly restarted its engine.

When I arrived at Blackheath common, the camp’s location, I soon found my comrades, and our tent circle in the Midlands neighbourhood – Climate Camp has regional zones, to better facilitate the cooperation of local activists, thereby amplifying the level of nuisance around the country. I arrived at a time when, hemmed in to one of the larger tents to avoid the rain, a group of about eight was singing climate related cover versions of pop songs and musicals. Thankfully the sun came out and delivered me from the terror of ukuleles and re-worked West Side Story numbers.

Initial thoughts were of the police: conspicuous by their absence were the Met. I believe I saw only three or four officers during the whole week. Most of the time they were skulking around a corner somewhere. After the brutal fallout from Bishopsgate, a new approach was evidently being tried, and, in the PR competition, the police did well by just letting the camp get on with it.

That night a small crowd amassed on a step-pyramid made of hay bails, sheltered from the elements under canvas. Aside from a nagging fear that it would only take a single negligent smoker to spark an inferno from the mass of tinder, it felt comfortable among kindred spirits.

If the first day was defined by a core-warming satisfaction that this was the place to be, the next couple of days were ones filled with some concrete realisations, and equally tangible frustrations:

Firstly, consensus decision making. Consensus is a way of discussing problems and proposing solutions in a non-hierarchical way. There are no votes as such, and thus no majorities to tyrannise, and no minorities to grumble and sabotage. The mechanisms, whilst not complicated, I shall not delve into here. Suffice it to say, if you ever encounter a group of people all doing ‘jazz hands’ at each other, you are watching consensus in action. It is a bit strange. One thing I noticed after spending the better part of three hours in a camp meeting was that nobody actually likes consensus. After the second hour in which crucial matters such as ‘whether or not to allow the police on site on a one-off basis’ were bandied around to no avail, it was evident in everyone’s eyes that they would like nothing better to jack the whole thing in. So yes, whilst no one really likes consensus, because of its arduous nature, and unwavering ability to make mountains out of molehills, everybody really believes in it. In a cynical country where the reservoir of faith –religious or otherwise- is so painfully empty, it is refreshing to see real belief in something.

Secondly, low carbon living is easy. For a while at least. The camp was entirely self-sustained, in terms of its energy. The solar panels, wind turbines, and pedal powered sound-systems were enough to power the amps of dubious ska bands on more than one occasion, and cooking was undertaken on Biblical proportions, so that no one went hungry –provided that you enjoyed lentils…a lot. We even built our own toilets out of some rustic Ikea style flat-pack. My only problem with the camp’s lifestyle stemmed from an almost phobic dislike of camping, though even this does not preclude the potential for drastic carbon reduction, if we apply the technologies, skills, and green mentality to our own day-to-day lives.

As the week drew on a third realisation hit me. At no point in my politically sentient life have I seen the kind of genuine willpower, either popularly or from government, needed to really stop global warming. Countless genocides are quietly ignored as our spokespeople mutter phrases like “acts of genocide have been committed” that tick the lip service condemnation box, but that fall just short of accepting an obligation to do something about it. As for global warming, what government would openly declare it will raise oil prices drastically, and penalise those who continue to pollute for the sake of ‘global warming’, or the more politically ambiguous ‘climate change’? It is far too intangible a threat. Not nearly as tangible as the stranglehold on politics held by big business, or the speed with which such a brave party would be flung from office into the purgatory of opposition status, were it to suggest such heresy. Western capitalism doesn’t much like global warming. It’s not very profitable.

The fiery commitment the people around me had to preventing global climate catastrophe was inspiring, but not indicative of the wider public opinion. The regular jeering of “get a job!” hurled from passing cars was testament enough to that. From where does the malaise stem? I think it must have something to do with this: we live in the age of opinion. The freedom to have an opinion is sacrosanct, and this is no bad thing. Sadly though, fact and truth have become just another opinion, to be politely considered, and then waved aside if it seems too distasteful. Just as the winds buffeted us around on Blackheath, the indiscriminating morass of information blasted cannon-like towards us from the internet does not help in the search for clarity.

There are two ways forward: despondency in the form of ignoring or shrugging our shoulders at the problem, and struggling on. Being the change we want to see is the best, and perhaps only way of facing the mounting challenge ahead. Nothing short of a full reappraisal of the way in which we live in the face of almost certain failure and ultimately destruction will suffice. A week in Climate Camp can give you some of the skills you need for such an undertaking, but more importantly the support from others, and the knowledge that you’re not alone in wanting to make a difference. If there is any hope, it comes from this.

The Boar
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University of Warwick
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Coventry
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