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|Subject: Getting in the Way - new emphasis on direct action in global warming activism|
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Date Posted: 12:55:00 11/16/06 Thu
In reply to: Mark Tirpak 's message, "Sustainability Resources" on 17:39:28 09/18/06 Mon
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Getting in the Way
Direct-action protesters in the U.K. are focusing on climate change
13 Nov 2006
By Mike Wendling
It's half an hour or so after the end of Britain's biggest-ever protest against climate change, and I'm still hanging out in Trafalgar Square.
A few groups of kids are milling around, and a couple of anarchists have set up a bicycle-powered disco. One or two old-timers are trying to get rid of their last remaining copies of the Socialist Worker. Most of the protesters have heeded the organizers' advice to reuse or recycle their placards, but the local cleaning crews are quick on the job, cleaning up the rest of the rubbish to get the place ready for a typical London Saturday night. Everyone else is heading home, or to the pub.
My cell phone rings.
"Meet us near the top of the square," says the voice on the other end of the line. "We're wearing the tiger suits."
So begins my foray into the world of radical opposition to climate change.
It's been a big year for climate change in Britain -- in several ways. The country's three main political parties have more or less converged on the idea that something needs to be done urgently about global warming. Even the last holdout, the Conservative Party, has come over all green, going as far as to change their party logo from a torch to a tree.
The recent Stern Review, commissioned by the man likely to be the next prime minister, puts a pound amount on future upheaval along with a cost estimate for the change to a low-carbon economy. A system of mandatory individual carbon allowances -- an idea outlined in Grist last year -- is closer to becoming reality. And that big march to coincide with the Nairobi climate change conference? It drew 20,000 people.
Bubbling underneath all this highly visible mainstream progress, however, is a current of direct action -- a hardened core of activists who have decided that it's time to throw their bodies in front of the coming storm.
My efforts to track down this new wave led me to settle down on steps near Nelson's Column to chat with a guy in a tiger suit.
A Rising Tide Floats All Votes
John Zee (not his real name) is a polite chap, and once we get to talking he seems no more outrageous or paranoid than your average activist. But behind the whiskers it's clear that his brand of action is much different than that of mainstream environmental groups. Zee is part of London Rising Tide, a group with about 10 or 15 regulars and 40 or so occasional sympathizers.
"What people speaking at the demonstration today want is capitalism light, capitalism with a smile, and most of them believe this is the way we're going to fight climate change and save the planet," he says. "We disagree."
Traditional direct actions, like tree sits and bulldozer blockades, have been designed to halt or stall the effects of environmental destruction. But you can't chain yourself to a hurricane or stand in the way of a flood, so these protesters have had to focus on the sources of climate change -- things like power stations and airports.
In August, Rising Tide helped organize a "climate camp" at Europe's biggest coal-fired power plant, the Drax Power Station in Yorkshire, northern England. Hundreds of protesters spent a week near the station and nearly 40 were arrested in minor scuffles with police.
Another coal-fired power station west of London has been targeted twice this year: in July by a small group of protesters calling themselves "Reclaim Power," and again by a larger group from Greenpeace earlier this month.
"We want to show that the only way we're going to cut carbon emissions by 90 percent is if we shut these plants down ourselves," Zee says.
Of course, direct environmental action is nothing new, and energy generation has long been a source of controversy. But several of the people I talked to indicated that activists here in Britain are ready to unleash a massive new wave of climate change-focused actions to rival in scale the opposition to the government's huge road-building projects that took place in the 1990s.
"People who have been environmental activists on a variety of issues before are shifting their focus, largely because the problem of climate change is on such a massive scale that it makes other causes look small in comparison," says Leo Murray of the group Plane Stupid.
"In the process, we've seen loads of new people contact us recently," Murray says. "These are people who aren't traditionally drawn to direct action but they realize the extent of climate change."
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