How did you get involved in climate activism?
G8 2005 Gleneagles as a direct predecessor to Climate Camp. Tying in with being at university at the time thus having the time to explore these issues and begin organising were very explicit causes. People looked at the Hori-Zone convergence space and said “right we should do this on our own terms, we should organise an outdoor camp next to a thing”. I remember seeing a poster in The Basement [Manchester social centre from 2004-ish to 2007] for the 2006 climate camp and thinking that climate is one of many issues among many, which it is, but then going to the Climate Camp and getting clued up about the urgency of it. I came back that September 2006 proper fired up and was like, I remember having conversations with my friends.
What kept you involved?
In some respects it felt like there was an upward trend, and that made it inspiring to be involved in that movement because people, I started to get really clued up and mobilised by it and then you look around you and there were encouraging signs like front pages of newspapers and dire warnings from climate scientists and expert reports from Treasury economists like Nicholas Stern and this step-by-step ratcheting up and the climate movement in some ways was ratcheting up it’s activities as well with various climate camps, more audacious, successful Heathrow to Kingsnorth. It all kind of crescendoed towards Copenhagen which had always been on the horizon and after that I suppose we hadn’t done enough planning for how do we sustain this sense of crescendo, critique economic growth. Personally after Copenhagen I switched to a much more local focus in Manchester because it was like continuing with the same mindset of think global act local, and then I went away. I’ve not actually taken my foot off the climate accelerator, but this trend is not as discernible.
But the other secondary point was the change of the political scene in the UK, and the massification of people’s involvement in struggle because of the cuts and the massive banking bailout and how that brought in many more people on a much more broader level than this more narrow focus on climate change. So we saw the student demos, so by the time we get to these mass demos with like hundreds of thousands of people again, those kind of set piece style spectacular covert direct action, those kind of tactics seem like they need to be changed for the current context, which we saw at Millbank.
In the style of these kind of set piece direct actions, that the climate direct action movement got fame for, yeah there hasn’t been a diversification of people involved in that. But what was encouraging about the student riots was that loads of EMA kids came out, and I can’t speak for them, but one interpretation of what happened is that they see this rebellious atmosphere, they see their material conditions being affected (cutting their EMA), they see the prospect of paying £9,000 and they’ve already got that teenage rebellion in them as well and it’s a potent mix which leads to a kick off. And there was a much more diverse crowd involved in that.
Why did you stop/ become less involved?
It would be interesting to look at the barometer or yardstick which you measure the climate movement by, it would interesting to chat to the more mainstream NGOs about perceptions and involvement with their organisations. So taking the most prominent national direct action focussed group like Climate Camp, who carried organising throughout… Copenhagen has to have some mixed influences, most people seem to agree that Copenhagen was the high point of climate activism, even though groups/ networks like Climate Camp could see that it was never going to come up with a just solution I think even climate activist were surprised back the lack of… we thought there would be a fudge that would be green-washed, but it wasn’t even that. It was a failure even on their terms. It also knocked the time frame out a little bit because up until then, my involvement had been from 2006 and pretty immediately all things pointed to Copenhagen as a time by which we needed to get all our shit together.
What are you doing now?
A continual focus is airport expansion, partly because that’s about finishing what you started. But certainly you can see a campaign cycle being based around government policy unfortunately, 2003 aviation white paper was the kick off point. For the first time that brought together a comprehensive strategy from the government on airport expansion, so therefore the next policy whilst it won’t do everything we want, might signal an exit from…. might have sufficient gains in it for people to do other things or whatever. So my things are airport expansion in Manchester, but that’s not my main focus with my time, but just something I continue to do. But that’s not necessarily direct action related because lots of people who do direct action don’t just do direct action. And then squatted spaces is another focus, partly, again brought on by the threat, exterior threats, notably the criminalisation of squatting. And then finally some other stuff around advertising.
Fathers 4 justice said this about Plane Stupid actually, in private to my mate: we rate what you do, we saw what you did in the papers, we didn’t come to any of your camps or any of your actions, we’re very busy with our own shit, but we need to talk more, because people are seeing the systemic violence that is going on, people are seeing the war that is going on.
I think the Climate Camp metamorphosis statement is an interesting point of reference for this. That statement pointed out that it’s encouraging to see that the emerging anti-cuts movement is disobedient, or something like that. And there are some direct genealogies, lineages between climate camp and UK Uncut, you just look at the personnel involved. And that’s great, that is people responding to other issues which are linked, more immediate threats to our lives.
What it take for you to get back involved?
For me a less relevant question because I am, I do have, the cost of participating in a camp or actions is now sufficiently high to be a deterrent to me, community service for your typical action of times past now, which makes the stakes higher, which makes you a lot more questioning of, a lot less gung-ho about it, it has to be a really kick ass action. Or not accountable. To get you through the long hours of community service afterwards you’ve got to really look back on that action and think yeah that was worth it. Otherwise…. I’d be pissed off if I got done for scrapping with a copper on that street at a demo or something and ended up doing ten weeks community service for it, it’s just a pain in the ass. That’s probably going to happen now I’ve said it.
What, in your opinion, should climate activists in Greater Manchester be doing?
The airport needs hitting. Communities need mobilising, around the airport more. I don’t know actually. Not so much on what people should be doing, but it’s interesting to look at the circumstances in which people feel motivated to take action, one of them is about support structures and national, for me national support structures. Even though Manchester is a massive city, you need stuff to get you through the lonely dark campaigning nights and being tied in with, by email, especially by friendship networks with national structures, national networks is really important. Like I’m motivated to do stuff on fuel poverty, which I’ve always thought is an issue, but there are many issues to choose from aren’t there? There is war, there is the arms trade, there is trade injustices, so it’s interesting about what motivates you, and a lot if that is who you have to work with. If you are working with ass-holes who you can’t on with on a personal level, that makes is a lot more difficult to work with them.
Whereas if you are working with people who are sorted and politically interesting like [names removed] inspiring people basically. And that’s… on the one hand that might sound a bit like, you know, you’re not going to do it unless your mates are doing it, well it’s not really that, So that’s why I might be doing fuel poverty stuff because I know that if I do that, I’m not going to be taking on the whole thing on my own.