Normally it’s easy to carry on screwing the climate if you are a profit driven corporation or a corrupt western government. Simply take one soulless public relations firm, stir in words like “sustainable,” “efficient,” and “clean,” pour about 1000 times the amount of money into advertising your “green” initiatives as actually doing them. Then combine with a mainstream media pre-marinated in obedience and regularly tasted by a less-than-attentive public and PRESTO- you have made a nice tidy profit-er-ole, baked to perfection in the oven of a warming planet.
E.On, the German energy giant who wants to build a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent has tried really hard to follow this recipe, to ensure that its’ shareholders have a nice big tasty income sandwich to feast on at the end of every quarter.
However, this year, with momentum building for taking action on climate change, and stronger scientific evidence coming in every week that we must arrest our carbon emissions, E.On was worried. The Camp for Climate Action, a growing movement that started three years ago with a camp outside Drax coal burning power plant, and last year had a high profile presence outside of Heathrow, decided to turn its attention to Kingsnorth, which is the first of seven proposed new coal fired power stations in the UK.
I mean, the government does have a point- how else are we supposed to power all those old, inefficient lightbulbs, standby buttons, and mind-numbing electronic toys shipped from China? Who cares about the flooding of cities in the future when there are tasty profits to be had today?
E.on was so worried about the camp, that they spent £12 million on new security to protect their little moneymaker. Their defences included a field of bulls, 12-foot high barbed steel fence, a moat, a second heavy duty mesh steel fence, and behind that, a rather evil looking fence with 10,000 volts of electricity (I guess they have a good supply of that particular commodity).
Operation “Oasis” was also over the top, with at least £3 million spent on policing the camp. The operation was military in nature, and used at least 4 helicopters, 1500 police from 26 agencies all over England and Wales, and a modular aircraft hangar used to search every single person entering and leaving the camp. Quite an apt name, as the camp often felt like an oasis of humanity and community in the desert of police intimidation.
Whatever you want to say about that, the rising tide of resistance (of which climate camp is the most visible part) is clearly perceived as a growing threat to a system that continues to place profit above human and ecological well-being.
Your blogger has just come back from spending a week at the frontlines at Climate Camp, and I have returned inspired at our collective power and also daunted by the forces arrayed against those wanting true climate justice.
I cycled from London to the hillside site in Kent last Sunday with about 30 others. Led by Bicycology’s mobile sound system, we took the lane where necessary along the 40 mile journey. We filled a couple of trash bags with litter at our lunch stop in a local cemetery, which won the locals onto our side and even seemed to impress our police escort.
Upon our arrival, after being searched by the bobbies (the first of dozens), and our D-locks having been confiscated, we entered the camp. The large field was abuzz with activity. It was surrounded by woods and orchards, and overlooked the reason we were there- E.On’s large smokestack, two miles away. We quickly got to work helping to set up the camp- together with others from Westside (the camp was organised into geographically based neighbourhoods) we built a table for the kitchen, brought supplies in via wheelie-bin, and helped to set up gatewatch and cooking rotas.
Because most everyone pitched in to do what needed to be done, there was a feeling of common responsibility in the running of the camp. All decisions were reached through an inclusive, consensus based process. It was this- more than the day of action, more than the heavy police presence, which defined the camp for me- gave it its power. If a group of 2000 concerned citizens can come together for ten days in a field, demonstrate sustainable living carried out without the burden of authoritarian structure, all while under siege from an increasingly militaristic police force, you know this is a movement that will continue to grow and thrive. Once people get a taste of what is possible, it’s hard to turn back.
So, after a couple of days at the camp, I decided I needed to take a closer look at the power plant- this coalfire belching dragon that released the same annual emissions as Ghana.
Together with a friend, I rode down to the River Medway, then followed the sea wall, where we were stopped and searched by Kent Police, and told we were okay to stick to the path. We arrived at the power station, and took a few photos, in order to document the plant for this blog, and to peacefully and legally express our protest.
About ten minutes later, we were stopped by about 10 Manchester Police in an aggressive mood, who searched us thoroughly, found a cash card that a friend had given me to withdraw cash for her, and gleefully declared that I was under arrest for suspicion of a stolen credit card. We were also both arrested under suspicion of conspiracy to cause criminal damage, apparently simply for taking photos.
Our keepers kept us waiting in the hot afternoon sun for over two hours while “waiting for transport,” repeatedly refused to allow us to drink the water we had with us because they “didn’t know what it was” and denied us access to a toilet, both for 3 hours.
The transport finally arrived, and we were driven to the police’s own “climate camp” across the main road. While waiting in the back of a police van in handcuffs within their compound, I heard repeated spine-chilling screams and yelling. I tried to position myself to see who was being tortured- that’s unfortunately the conclusion the mind jumps to these days of Abu Gharib and Guantanamo…..but I couldn’t see anything, and the screams just kept coming. As we pulled out of the compound I saw about 6 or 7 off duty policemen playing a game of baseball, when one of them hit a home run their team screamed- that explained the “torture.” Bloody hell….
We were sent to Medway Police Station, interviewed, fingerprinted, photographed, and our DNA taken (yes that’s right our DNA) and held until 4am, when, after work from our solicitors, we were released without charge. They told us they “couldn’t find our bikes” and when I came to collect mine 4 days later, both tires had been flattened, a pool of water collected in the bottom of my panniers, with rust all over the bike- it was clear it had been left out all night. So much for facilitating peaceful protest….
<enough about the cops>
On Friday, there was sunshine, and the camp was humming along- hundreds of new arrivals pitching their tents and getting acquainted with camp life. A cricket game was being played by the Wales neighbourhood, and (happy) exclamations could be heard from participants and spectators. Workshops were being held discussing the pros and cons of carbon capture and storage, DJ’s were spinning pedal powered beats in the bicycology tent, pizzas were being baked in an earthen oven in the Wales neighbourhood, and everything seemed remarkably calm and normal, despite the siege all around us. The camp had found its groove, the calm before the storm, and everyone was relishing the moment.
The day of action on Saturday saw dozens of rebel pirates on rafts float down the river, disrupting the water intake of the plant, and hanging banners on the jetty, a mass march and occupation of the front gates. A couple of dozen protesters managed to gain access to the plant, using police barriers to “pole vault” over the high security fencing.
The weary protesters returned to camp for a celebratory night with hundreds dancing to a wicked DJ under the main marquee, with photos of the week projected onto the ceiling. Meanwhile, hundreds of others were getting their turn to eat bad microwaved jail food in their cells across the river….
There are climate camps sprouting up all over the world, so get involved with your local one- if we wait for governments and corporations to act on climate change, it will be too late. They are saying we only have 100 months to avoid runaway climate change, a blink of an eye really…
No need to wait until next August to take direct action though. Rising Tide is one of the many groups who will carry forward the momentum generated at Kingsnorth. Together we can take the corporate profit-er-ole out of the oven of climate destruction (it’s not very healthy for us anyway) and cook up a tasty dish of strengthened community, resistance, and a just (and fun) transition to a low carbon world.
Won’t you join us for supper? There’s plenty to go around…