From the breakfast table in Belsize Park to dinner at the Climate Change Camp
PUBLISHED: 17:20 16 August 2007 | UPDATED: 14:36 07 September 2010
Alexis Rowell, Chair of Camden Council s Sustainability Task Force, reports first hand from the Climate Change Camp at Heathrow. AT the breakfast table in Belsize Park the outlook was distinctly overcast. The weather outside was awful: the Climate Chang
Alexis Rowell, Chair of Camden Council's Sustainability Task Force, reports first hand from the Climate Change Camp at Heathrow.
AT the breakfast table in Belsize Park the outlook was distinctly overcast. The weather outside was awful: the Climate Change Camp at Heathrow would be a swamp. The newspapers were unhappy about only being allowed on the site under escort. 'Shambolic Camp Plots Protest' was the headline in one tabloid. And my fiancee told me I was wasting my time and that she would be in no hurry to release me from jail if I was arrested. Sometimes you have to stand up and be counted, I said, and walked out of the door.
I believe we have 10 years to change the way we live as individuals, as families, as communities, as nations and as a planet. That is not alarmist, nor is it unrealistic - it is based on the science.
There is no disagreement among climate change scientists: the current bout of global warming is man-made; temperatures are rising far faster than anything the planet has ever seen before; and if the warming is not kept to 2dC, then the human race is at risk of extinction.
If we provoke more than 2dC of warming (and we're nearly a third of the way there), the planet is likely to kick in with its own warming mechanisms. The Amazon rainforest, which soaks up carbon dioxide, will quite literally burn up. The Siberian tundra will melt releasing greenhouse gases from frozen bogs. The oceans will warm, releasing more greenhouse gases currently held in the icy depths. The Poles will melt raising global sea levels catastrophically, potentially turning Hampstead into an island.
That's why I've been taking part in the Climate Change Camp on a muddy field near Heathrow. It was easy to find - with 1,800 police patrolling, it would have been hard to miss. Seeing the marquees, the tents and the good natured hustle and bustle for the first time was uplifting. Even in the pouring rain! Planes roared overhead every two minutes - a very visual reminder of why we were there.
No-one was in charge because that would mean risking arrest. The male toilets were straw bales to be composted later. If anyone felt stressed or argumentative then there was a Tranquility Tent with masseurs and mediators.
The camp is divided into regions of the UK so you can meet people from your own area. In the London tent I was taught how to make a "rocket stove" out of used cooking oil drums (see picture) , then I chopped wood, mushrooms and garlic as part of the dinner team. The rain came and went but didn't bother us. There was a palpable sense of camaraderie among activists of all ages.
But during a particularly fierce downpour, and just as we were about to serve dinner, about 30 police officers armed with cameras tried to enter the camp. Police liaison officers escorted by camp representatives had been on site all day without any problems. Now - maybe to mark a change of shift - the police tactics turned heavy-handed. Quickly hundreds of protesters gathered. By sheer weight of numbers they walked the police off the camp. No violence, just firm mass action. It later transpired that the police action had not been sanctioned from on high. It was, the police command said, a "freelance operation". But it provoked a minor revolution.
We need a revolution. A mindset revolution. A behavioural revolution. And quite possibly a political revolution.
I've never really seen myself as a revolutionary. I've always believed in gradual change using democratic means. But I'm starting to wonder whether that's going to be enough. We've only got 10 years. After that it will be about trying to live with the consequences.
The government throws crumbs with one hand and chops off our legs with the other. The Climate Change BiIl will enshrine greenhouse gas reductions in law, but road building and airport expansion programmes will wipe out all the hard work being done to reduce carbon emissions.
This country, like the US, is suffering from an acute failure of political leadership. Winston Churchill might have understood the scale of the problem; Gordon Brown and George Bush do not.
This is not about going back to the Stone Age. It is about thinking carefully about our actions, about trying to cut out the more environmentally unfriendly habits. It's about asking the companies we work for, or that we invest in, what they're doing to stop global warming. Most of all it's about asking our politicians to spearhead serious change. Words are not enough.
Instead of asking ''What did you do in the war, Daddy?", our children and grand-children will say: ''What did you do in the battle against Climate Change?