In early 2023, while researching an article I hoped to have published on “The Conversation” I went looking for an electronic copy of the 2011 statement that drew a line under the “Camp for Climate Action.”
Nothing came to hand (but this was entertaining).
Metamorphosis: A statement from the Camp for Climate Action.
The near-collapse of the financial system; droughts in the Amazon, floods in Pakistan; a new government in the UK; a violent programme of unprecedented cuts; food prices rising and real incomes eroding; revolutions across the Middle East… This is all very different from 2005 when the Camp for Climate Action first met to spark radical action on the greatest threat to humanity, climate change.
In 2011 the climate science is as strong as ever – and the need for action on climate change never greater – but the political landscape is radically different. As a movement, to be relevant, we need to move with the times. Therefore the Camp for Climate Action has decided by consensus, after much discussion and reflection, to change. To that effect,
1. We will not organise a national Climate Camp in 2011.
2. We will not organise national gatherings as ‘Climate Camp’ or the Camp for Climate Action in 2011.
This closure is intended to allow new tactics, organising methods and processes to emerge in this time of whirlwind change. With the skills, networks and trust we have built we will launch new radical experiments to tackle the intertwined ecological, social and economic crises we face. To that effect,
3. We have created interim working groups to manage the transition.
4. There will be a major meeting in the near future.
In 2006, 600 people camped in the shadow of Drax power station in West Yorkshire, the UK’s biggest, single source of carbon dioxide, for ten days of learning and sustainable living, culminating in a day of mass action against the power station. Our aim was to kick-start a social movement to tackle climate change. This experiment – its organisation and the form – fitted that moment and proved a success. Instead of a one-off camp we then went on to target planned infrastructure projects that showed the suicidal nature of ‘economic development’. In 2007, we made the daring and difficult decision to join the campaign against the expansion of Heathrow Airport culminating in 2,000 people camped on the site of a proposed third runway. In 2008, we opposed the building of a new coal-fired power-station at Kinsgnorth, Kent, the first in the UK for 20 years. Despite police infiltration, repression and violence, plus regular media attacks, these camps, in alliance with diverse campaigns, won. Neither looks set to be built.
As the financial crisis unfolded we moved to directly targeting the root cause of airport expansion and coal-fired power stations: our economic system. We had a hectic 2009. When London hosted the G20 in April, the European Climate Exchange (home of EU carbon trading) had to close its doors after 4,000 people set up camp on Bishopsgate, in London’s financial centre. Later that year we organised a camp at Blackheath overlooking the City of London, attended by over 5,000 people. There was no mass action at the camp – we separated it to be more effective – so in October 1,000 people swooped to shut down Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, in Nottinghamshire, a major carbon emitter owned by E.ON the energy giant behind the Kingsnorth plans. In December, many travelled on Climate Camp coaches to Copenhagen as part of our affiliation to the international direct action network Climate Justice Action, against the skewed UN negotiations known as COP 15. Despite much success, weaknesses in our organisational structures and processes were exposed within our networks.
There had been a dramatic surge in climate-related action, understanding of the root causes of the crisis, and developing truly sustainable and socially just solutions. But many worried that using the same tactic – mass squatted action camps in antagonistic locations – would become ineffectual. Yet, these camps were an inspirational experience for large numbers of people. So, again we camped, taking aim at RBS, the now publicly owned ‘Oil and Gas Bank’. For the first time we actually squatted the land of our target – RBS global headquarters near Edinburgh – a massive success. But the decision, target and form of action were being hotly debated within the movement.
As a result, we continued a process of deep reflection and in November 2011 [sic – clearly a literal. They meant 2010] , at our national gathering in Manchester, it was decided that we needed additional time to think and strategise together about the future of Climate Camp. We therefore held a week-long ‘retreat’ type event at Monkton Wyld in Dorset to figure out what to do. Fittingly, the Manchester gathering named the event ‘Space for Change’.
Over six days, about 70 people shared their experiences and critical reflection. We should not pretend that these discussions were easy. We talked about the limitations of an organisational model built to plan one camp a year, when we now have both the will and capacity to do much more. We debated the constraints of this model, which was devised when we were much smaller in numbers. We discussed how other movements and groups have responded to changing circumstances in the past to learn from those experiences. Here is not the place to repeat the discussions: extensive minutes will follow on our website. But the premise is worth repeating: how do we best harness the energy, dynamism and commitment to fight the root causes of climate change at local, national and international levels? How do we best grow a climate justice social movement that is relevant, vibrant and successful over the next few years? What organisational structures, consistent with our desire to tackle hierarchy, will take us to a new level of participation and action?
The decision not to organise a camp, nor organise as Climate Camp or the Camp for Climate Action, will be a shock to some, and may provoke a lot of questions. We hope these decisions will give space and time for those questions to evolve into new forms of effective and inspiring action and organisation. This is no retreat from organised large-scale action on climate change, rather a freeing of our energy to organise much more effectively all year round. For local groups using the Climate Camp name, these decisions are not intended to direct them, as they have always been autonomous.
Internationally, it has been amazingly inspiring to see that climate camps have happened from Ghana to the US, France to Australia. Wherever people are, we urge them to use the organisational tools and tactics that have been popularised or developed by Climate Camp if they are useful and relevant: these were never ours to own.
To make sure that we don’t lose what we have learnt over the years, nor the capacity, relationships, networks and skills, we have created four interim working groups to help us in this transition:
- A group to maximise the usefulness of our material resources.
- A group to address ongoing communications plus learn from and document our experiences over the past few years.
- A group to investigate new organisational forms, structures and tactics for possible next experiments.
- A group to organise a meeting to share ideas about these next experiments.
The next newsletter will let everyone know how to get involved in these, with all information also posted on our website. Details of the meeting will also be made available shortly. Separately, the Climate Camp legal team will continue ongoing legal actions against the police.
Nothing lasts forever. Movements have to move. That doesn’t mean there won’t be grieving: many of us have given heart and soul to Climate Camp. But we can’t demand that society changes radically, while we ourselves do not. As everyone who has tried something daringly new knows, it can be scary and there are no guarantees of success. But that didn’t stop us before the first Climate Camp, nor did it stop the students at Millbank, nor the people of the Middle East. And it shouldn’t stop us now.
Yes, Climate Camp leaves a space. What fills that space is up to us. This is a unique opportunity to work together with others to create a more co-ordinated, dynamic and stronger movement against climate change and its root causes. Now is a chance to team up with the anti-cuts and anti-austerity movements and play a crucial role in the revolutionary times ahead. Anything but co-ordinated action is doomed to fail.
See you on the streets.
The Camp for Climate Action. Monkton Wyld, Dorset. 27 February 2011.
“When storms come, some build walls, some are thrown by the wind, others build windmills.” Lao Tzu