Thursday, 13 August 2009

Climate Camps Galore!

A week after activists formed a climate camp at an opencast coal mine in Scotland, another mine in Wales has been targeted by campaigners protesting against the hypocrisy of an authority that is apparently dedicated to fighting climate change but continues mining fossil fuels.

Both camps aim to draw attention to the business-as-usual agenda of their respective governments while exhibiting sustainable living and providing workshops on the issues involved.

Climate Camp Cymru's target is one of Europe's largest opencast mines at Ffos-y-Fran, which has been given permission in face of heavy campaigning from locals, many of whom live a stone's throw away from the mine despite regulations that homes mustn't be located less than half a kilometre from a mine's edge.

The Welsh camp 'swooped' on Wednesday morning and quickly established their temporary sustainable community just 36 metres away from the coal mine, as close as some homes. They intend to stay for three days.

The Scottish campaigners gathered last week for seven days at the recently squatted Mainshill Wood solidarity camp in South Lanarkshire, earmarked for a new opencast coal mine by the Scottish government.

During the camp, the nearby Glentaggart mine was sabotaged by activists who shut down one of the conveyor belts transporting coal to the Ravenstruther rail terminal, where the fuel is loaded onto trains bound for Drax power station.

Both camps have been characterised by great support from local residents opposed to the two mines targeted by activists, which helps to dispel the myth that Climate Camp is the preserve of hippies and crusties.

One resident near the Ffos-y-Fran mine in Wales told the BBC: "I think it's absolutely fantastic. I will be going. I've been fighting the social injustice of the mine for over five years now.

"During that time, you come to realise it's not only a social injustice but a climate injustice as well. We simply cannot be going down this path any longer if we're serious about tackling climate change.

"The message now has to come from the people. We can't rely on the politicians to do this job for us."

At the Scottish camp, according to the Guardian "many locals supported the protesters... and wanted the opencast mines to be dramatically scaled back."

It will be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out at the London camp though, which has no discernible target unlike the Welsh and Scottish camps. The London event aims to draw attention to the role of unfettered capitalism in propelling climate change, but that is such an abstract entity in comparison to the two coal mines which are symbolic of what's wrong with the current energy policy in this country. At the national gathering in Hebden Bridge, much of the discussion stalled when it came to deciding on where the camp will be, other than a green space somewhere in London.

The April camp couldn't have been more perfect in terms of imagery: a street at the heart of the City dominated by grandiose architecture, reclaimed and transformed into a thriving eco-community. The juxtaposition was clear to see and would have been seen by more people if the media coverage hadn't been dominated by police violence.

But how will the August camp fair? There's no way it will be able to occupy such prime territory for a week, likely it will be no where near the City at all, so how will residents and the wider population make that connection between capitalism and climate change? I can't help but wonder if the camp's message will be diluted somewhat. Perhaps a prolonged, concentrated campaign of protests and action in the City is what is needed?

And one final thing; the police presence at both camps seems to have been quite low key. Admittedly the camps are small compared to the 'main' camp in England, but have the police learned their lesson from the G20 and Kingsnorth fall out? Fingers crossed we'll see a more relaxed attitude at the London camp.

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