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Plane speaking

This summer revolution was in the air in Britain as a new direct action movement was born. As evidence stacked up that climate change is already upon us, and the UN predicted that 150,000 people will die this year as a result, 1,500 activists set up camp just a stone’s throw from the world’s busiest international airport.

The Camp for Climate Action took place in a field scheduled to be asphalted over to build a third runway at London’s Heathrow airport, doubling its capacity. In partnership with residents of two local villages facing demolition if the expansion scheme goes ahead, protesters set up a week-long camp and held a day of mass direct action against airport expansion.

The campers reasoned that, given the need for industrialized countries to reduce their emissions by around 90 per cent by 2050, curbing aviation – the world’s fastest-growing source of CO2 emissions – must be a top priority. Yet aviation is not included in any binding international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol, and national plans to build more airports and runways proliferate. Government and industry, the Camp programme argues, clearly aren’t taking climate change seriously: ‘Mainstream solutions to climate change are no solution at all. Catastrophe beckons. So it’s up to us, the public acting together, to push solutions that fight against climate change and for social justice, to adopt different measurements of value, to turn things around.’

The Camp’s packed schedule of workshops and training sessions covered everything from climate science for beginners, through low impact living on the land, to blockading tactics and knowing your legal rights. Much time was given over to collective action planning.Participative democratic processes culminated in a mass 24-hour ‘siege’ outside the headquarters of BAA – the company that runs many of Britain’s airports.

Many attendees of the grassroots-organized event formed ‘affinity groups’ during the day of action, taking autonomous direct actions against a wide range of other climate-related targets across the country. Two private airports and a nuclear power station were blockaded; activists superglued themselves to the Government’s Department for Transport office and the lobby of BP’s headquarters; others staged a sit-in at Heathrow’s freight cargo depot; while yet more protesters occupied the offices of carbon offset company Climate Care and low-cost airline xl.com, which also deports asylum seekers.

The direct actions inspired by the camp didn’t end in Britain. Two parallel camps took place on the west and east coast of the US, where activists occupied a proposed liquefied natural gas development in Redwood, Oregon, for several hours; shut down a branch of the Bank of America in Asheville, North Carolina, for its leading role in financing the coal industry; and locked on to PacifiCorp’s headquarters in Portland, Oregon, in protest at four dams being built.

The Climate Camp dominated the British mainstream media, forced the issue of the damage done by aviation to the climate on to the political agenda, and attracted public support to a perhaps unprecedented degree. It was also covered in the national media in at least 35 different countries and there are already plans to organize similar camps next summer in several other countries. As the campers put it: ‘Moments of revolution and social change are built by living them. This is one such moment.’

Jess Worth

New Internationalist issue 405 magazine cover This article is from the October 2007 issue of New Internationalist.
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