14 years ago today… #Climate Camp and what is (not) remembered #history #academics #power

“The struggle of man (sic) against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Milan Kundera


On 26th August 2006 the first “Camp for Climate Action” began, in the shadow of Drax power station in Yorkshire, then the biggest single point source of carbon dioxide in Europe.

The camp (and the shorter name, “Climate Camp”, missing the word “action”) became what used to be called “a thing” for a few years, before they pulled the plug on themselves in 2010, with a typically self-regarding statement (statement here, Guardian gloss here, PR Week gloat here).

It had come from activists’ frustration with ‘summit-hopping’. At the Gleneagles G8 in mid-2005 a bunch of hardened environmental NVDA types, veterans of Twyford Down, the M11, Newbury, Fairmile, Manchester Airport, GM, J18 etc asked themselves the standard sensible questions-

  • how come we are always reactive to the agendas of our Lords and Masters?
  • how come there is so little direct action on climate change?

And thus the idea of a Camp for Climate Action, to kick start (or reinvigorate – let’s not forget the Rising Tide stuff)  a movement of people willing to take arrestable NVDA on the climate “issue” (the scare quotes because, well, it’s tied to everything, innit?) was born.

I wasn’t at Gleneagles, but I was at the one day meeting in January 2006 at MERCi (now known as Bridge 5 Mill) in Manchester which started the ball rolling.  I knew at the time it would all end in failure, and remember a conversation on the day with someone.   I was just kind of surprised at how exactly it played out.  Still and all, it was an education…

Now is not the time (or it is, but I don’t have the time or appetite) for a detailed set of reflections, reminisces and attempts at passing on Lessons to The Next Generation.  So a few scattered observations.

  • The Camp ended up being seen as an end in itself by many who had started out coming to drain the swamp but ended up fighting alligators.  The tail wagged the dog, just from sheer exhaustion and the constant presence of immediate problems in need of solution. This was rarely articulated.
  • The Camp only happened because it was in the interests of the police to let it happen (they needed to justify the big big budget they had, quite separate from the undercovers horror that we found out about properly years later).  The “taking” of the site, which at the time was a masterpiece of activists outwitting Mr Plod turned out to be a “wave-through”. They knew exactly what was going on, and it suited them to let it happen.
  • The Camp got loads of publicity because it was ‘silly season’ and ‘middle-class hippies in a field’ was a new story, sort of.
  • The facipulation of the discussion of  the ‘strategically, does it make sense to have another national camp next year, and what else could we do?’ in October  2006 (back at MERCi) was a farce, and a crime, and those who did it should hang their heads in shame.
  • Within three years the Climate Camp “movement” had churned out its soi-disant radicals and was reduced to … summit hopping, at Copenhagen. There’s probably an irony/lesson in there somewhere.

And finally, this (and I have been mulling this for years, but it’s very live right now because of the job I am doing, which involves trips down memory lanes and into dusty musty (and digital) archives.)

  • It is very very hard to argue that Climate Camp left meaningful traces, that it saved today’s XR lot from having to learn from their own mistakes.  That’s partly the fault of the XR crew- the usual arrogance of ‘youth’ (or newcomers), the “piss-off -grandad” problem, and partly the fault of the oldies for being so bad at keeping the conveyor belt of tradecraft etc going.

And a sidebar – my goodness academics can tell themselves all sorts of self-serving shite about the power of “data”, while running away from the lessons of history.  This, like Climate Camp, is of course old news…

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