What got you involved?
Well I’d already become involved in human rights work having worked in [location removed for anonymity], and I went to the World Social Forum and my initial step was about human rights. Upon going to [location removed] for a year I then found out that- I was also mixing with a lot of people who were saying that the biggest impending problem that’s coming towards us at the moment is our own destruction of the natural habitat and the habitat of the earth that is actually keeping us alive, that we are part of. There was an element of a spiritual side to that which was understanding that we are the earth, it’s not there for us as a garbage can, it is actually part of us, so therefore seeing up close the whole extent to which this things is going towards this whole runaway train, that we are crumbling everything around us, every species going down as we are on the up, it is just the most clear cut thing.
Any alien looking in would say we are a virus and I started to see that and a whole level picture and that was what really started to inspire me to start looking into this more.
It was partly my understanding of things as I travelled which was 2003/04 and reading a lot more, the whole issue coming to the fore. I think the issue was propelled forwards partly with the IPCC 2001. That was a major thing where there was a consensus of all major climate scientists around the world and this was quite a jolt for a lot of people I think, and it had a lot of weight to it and I think that was one of the catalysts, but there were a lot of things happening at that time which propelled me forwards and there was a big movement rising because of that. Just the suddenness, the real seriousness of it, the calculate seriousness of it, it really, really planted a kind of ‘this is coming’ sort of sense to it, and we have to do something now.
And of course then the movement started growing and I went to the G8, when I started my activism here and I went to the G8 in Gleneagles in 2005, and I did start getting involved in a lot of the activist scene here from then on. A lot of it initially was about awareness-raising, but then once Climate Camp began, and as much as climate camp did ultimately not succeed because it didn’t build a movement, it did provide me, when I was there, of a bigger understanding of what was going on. There were a lot of good workshops, there was a sense of who the main culprits are, there was a large understanding that there are a lot of people who are willing to go all the way on environment, we actually went into Drax power station, we were part of the seven that went in. It just felt completely right, this is the power station, this is one of the largest producers of CO2 emissions in Europe, and it was a major symbol of what it is that’s causing the climate change to happen, and the human impact on it. The way of life that we so desperately want through massive power stations and burning coal and gas. That is something that frankly we can’t sustain, its absolutely impossible without a major crash of some kind.
I think trying to avoid that, trying to do something while we felt it was still tangible, there was still a feeling that perhaps the enthusiasm of entering it, perhaps we were thinking that we could make massive changes at that time, and of course direct action is one action to take when the other kinds of action are not doing anything, this is whole point of direct action. Once you have tried to normal means necessary you start to take more radical action, and given the dangers approaching us, given that nothings happening really we’ve not tried everything. So we can’t look at ourselves, or our grandchildren, or everyone else’s grandchildren and say well we didn’t do enough, given the serious crisis we are facing in the future.
Which groups were you involved in?
After Climate Camp, out of it came MCA [Manchester Climate Action] and this was an attempt to do that, I did used to go to some Friends of the Earth meetings, events more so, I didn’t really organise with them. I turned to, my main activity if you like, was with the Uni. Because I went back to study there, and we started working with People and Planet. We took them on basically, and we did actually, relatively speaking, we achieved quite a lot. It was me, [names removed] and we just basically pushed it and pushed it with the Uni, we did a lot of different action, we did some direct action and this was an example of doing it institutionally, of approaching the institution that you are working in because you were… at the time students were paying for their degrees and I don’t think generally Unis are pushed to do much by students, they’re not that active so that the fact that we were, the fact that we were quite intelligent, we’d done our homework and we approached the university heads and said why haven’t we got an environmental policy, why haven’t we got any environmental staff? What about recycling, why haven’t we got any recycling?
That was my main energy being spent, I was going with MCA but it wasn’t a big enough group, it wasn’t active enough, I think people were too concerned about getting arrested, which is fair enough, because we were all arrested at one point, and it takes fucking ages, and there’s a court case which takes ages, and I’m not saying that that should put us off, because we should be out there, but what I’m saying is that there was a window, round about Climate Camp 1 and 2, there was a window for proper serious action. The newspapers were reporting it, it was a mainstream thing, even the Murdoch papers started to turn towards accepting that it was the problem, and there was obviously a lot of stuff coming out of the Guardian and the Independent at that time. It’s been put under the carpet by cuts, the economy, by war carrying on since then. You could argue its partly down to groups like us, like MCA, for not building enough, not going into the communities enough, not sustaining it enough, not continuously doing action, not having a practical campaign that we could win on, which is another thing, and I think that’s where Call to Real Action probably did have something that they could get there teeth into, but equally these things could have been better but, there were some pitfalls.
One I think was that quite a lot of the group had been arrested already and I don’t think they wanted to have weeks and week’s preparation for court cases and stuff like that. And number 2 climate is a bit more difficult when you’re doing it at that level, because you’re going right to the top of the tree. At the Uni we were putting in place what is the normal protocol for sustainable development- if you like that catchword- whereas we have recycling, we have energy reduction by this percentage, we have solar panels, renewable energies. But is it linked to the absolute formula required to save us from relentless climate change? It’s not really done to that, it’s not really done to what we know are the amount of reductions in carbon emissions that we need.
For MCA we just desperately want to be at that level. To be at that level you need a huge army! It could have been better, no question, and people could have been more serious, and people could have linked it to practical winnable actions that were also linked to community organising that could have grown and brought more people in. This is a problem, but I don’t think we’ve seen it with any group all round England where they’ve suddenly just flourished at a newly created climate group that was linked to Climate Camp. But it was a fault of Climate Camp that it became too much of a centre of action. I still think that it did contribute to the decision on the third runway for example, which is quite a big deal. I think it did, I think that the amount of column inches that Climate Camp got was quite significant, but were we after column inches and awareness and things like that, or were we after a sustained movement?
Well, we were after both, and I think it achieved a part of one, sustained movement it did not achieve, but could it be that with the economic crisis that began- let’s face it around –around about the second Climate Camp or the third one, 2008 was when Northern Rock I think wasn’t it? Once that started, it was bit like Seattle and all the movements then, and suddenly there was the Iraq war and suddenly the whole Left was about anti-war. We had this situation where, before the Iraq war people were looking at proper structural change, they were looking at G8, they were looking at system change, they were looking at in Geneva, Seattle, and it was a proper focus on the powers that be that are really right at the core of some of these problems. And then suddenly the Iraq war happened and we were straight delved into ‘Stop the War’, and the proper Left, I’ve heard quotes from people in America saying the Left became about 3,000 people.
I think the economic crisis had a similar effect in that suddenly you’ve just thrown a massive sledgehammer in to try and save about 30% of people’s jobs, which was the immediate threat then, and then all of a sudden because of that there’s not the connection between actual prosperity and concern for your environment has not been made enough. Or that different way of looking at things like happiness, and the happiness factor and all this kind of stuff, which should be, for me, implanted into any economic and social systems and ideas. That case had not been made strongly enough by then, and so we’re there, we’re back to where we are, just looking for quick saving of the thousands of jobs and workers rights that is very important.
How long were you involved?
From 2005-2010. Involved, just because I focussed on [another] issue, that I was not finding as much time as I used to. I was always still around and doing it and I was still around the [Uni] project and stuff like that, I was involved in the Climate Camp’s until the last one when I wasn’t around.
What kept you involved?
I’d say it was the importance of the issue. People did still start to become more aware. It started becoming implanted I believe in GCSE at school, and I think there became more and more people aware and concerned, but it was more the problem of groups not having found a way of maintaining themselves.
I think one problem that you’ve got with environmental issues is that you’ve not got yourself a sort of end-win sort of imagination. You’re plugging away without knowing that you’re getting anywhere near, and in the back of your mind you’re thinking that we’re going to have at least 2 or 3 degrees of change anyway, which is like catastrophic, so all of these danger signs are all coming at us anyway. What kept me going? The importance of the issue kept me going, it’s just hugely important. And it never got less important.
Why did you stop?
I definitely would not have been involved in the last Climate Camp had I of been here even, and I think there was a feeling amongst a lot of people that it had run its course, which is a shame, but it shouldn’t have run its course in a way, it should have morphed into something purely about local action that’s combined with other actions.
I think that in truth it was that I became incredibly active on [a different issue] and it’s really quite difficult to maintain it. And as much as we can all blame ourselves for not doing enough towards what we feel is the problem, and are we just pissing in the wind or are we just talking big and all the rest of it, there is only so much extra time you can have, I find, and energy. I think there was an element of burnout; I think there wasn’t enough achieved and so people did feel that despite all these things very little has changed. And while it could be argued well of course why didn’t you see it coming there wasn’t enough being achieved, there wasn’t sustainable groups happening, there wasn’t community stuff that was getting everyone involved and it wasn’t enough anyway, but still given the concerted efforts being made you could also argue that on a wider humanity level people were not ready to counter the continuing paradigm that we’ve always been living under which is growth, more, and better everything, own more, move around faster, that whole paradigm, all this is human, focussed on only on the human and it is totally anthropocentric to the point where it’s forgetting about everything else that’s going on in the climate that actually again we require for us to be thriving to live.
Again I think that people really did start to get disheartened by that as well, and even if there were so many flaws in the movement there were lots of difficulties in terms of how we can actually manage to make that change as fast as we wanted it to happen and I think the environment has thrown up an even bigger sledgehammer into that as much as any other issue has in terms of not seeing some kind of movement like it did for the South African apartheid, like we saw for wars where eventually things started to end and people started to learn about it and soldiers started to speak out against it with the environment you are dealing with an entire mindset that doesn’t really have that many with a mindset that is opposed to it, in truth, in terms of way of life, because we’re so sucked into this way of life, from the moment we are born, de-conditioning ourselves from that is going to be a real hard task- but it’s one that we have to get our heads around. So on the one hand there is the flaws of this; on the other hand there is the overwhelming size of the challenge.
What would it take for you to get back involved with climate activism?
If they solve the [other issue]! I mean I would definitely get back involved. I think to be fair I would be more involved if there was an accessible… if there was a structure that had been put in place, that was really making inroads, really smashing it and having that sense that we’re not wasting any time, we’re going for it, we’re all pulling in the same direction we all understand the issue. Now that’s just an idealistic thing and slightly fanciful given that that’s not around but, you asked me the question, I’m doing a hell of a lot on [other issue] so it would take something like that for me, given the extent to which I’m committed to something else at the moment.
Perhaps it would take that for a lot of people who aren’t ready to act yet until something like that is in place. But that’s a bit fanciful and really I’m holding back on complaining too much I have to say, because I was involved in the group so I could have been doing it more before, and secondly it’s not like I’m complaining and angry that that isn’t in place yet, although I would prefer it, it’s just that for me to be committed to lots of other things as well like a lot of other people are committed to playing tennis, and other things like that. And then its going to need a group that’s going to catch the imagination of a wider group, and this is where I think community work is really important because, I think MCA did suffer from, like a lot of groups traditionally, where it does become a clique it becomes the same kind of people, which hasn’t really embraced and attracted the masses of people that are most on the receiving end of it.
And you could argue the same has happened with the cuts. Those active, those with the megaphones, those pushing for change on a political sense from a radical angle have not been the ones working hard inside the communities to help, just either talk and discuss about some of the main issues or why they are being shat on the most and link that to who is causing these problems, and so therefore the actions against that is not manifested in riots where you’re trying to get an iphone as a status symbol that has been rammed down our throats as a status symbol, that’s not happiness in my opinion. And therefore they wouldn’t have been able to be reduced to just random thugs like the media portrayed them as, if there had been a greater understanding within those communities. And if we do claim to fight for those communities that are going to get hit hardest by environmental disaster or the cuts and the banking crisis and all the rest of it, then we have to be out there working with them and not in the comfortable clique that a) is not going to be sustainable in terms of growing and b) not getting involved those people who could then continue to work at that in their communities. Everything I’m saying I believe but everything I’m saying also, I’m well aware is very hard and hardly anybody has pushed for this, and hardly anybody has acted on this. And this is the big shame. But I think we are all as much to blame as anyone and I’m not going to… I’ll get bitter about it when there are mass wars over water and coal and gas.
What should climate activists in Greater Manchester be doing?
It’s got to be action that is local, that is ideally that has already built movements linked to communities on this issue, and young people and it needs to be understandable and accessible so that random actions are understood as important and relevant in communities and in wider society. It’s all cliquey stuff really but I think that it’s got to start from the ground up, not necessarily from people not working with governments which is important and of course is going to have to continue they control the national grid. To not approach local government unfortunately is not an option at this stage as well as the other stuff which is about pushing from the fringes, which has always been important. So it really has to be real and serious and linked to what could be a possible first step victory. And this is all about local action and focus on everybody getting to grips with the dangers of it, and everybody being able to be sustained in small groups around Manchester and this needs local people.
There are a hell of a lot that are interested, it just starts small like that but this is what can grow, and of course the emphasis there is on creating the facilitators and the movers and shakers in this area and in these areas, so it’s not left to people who aren’t part of those communities who have sort of stepped out and therefore it’s too easy to become as clique without them. So it’s going to take a huge, huge effort and we know that there is going to be massive crisis before we get to any sense of reversal of climate change or tolerance of a certain level of climate change, so I think that these are the things that we need to focus more on and making is sustained and I hope that that can happen, but I’m leaving soon!