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Soul, not coal, holds sway at the Climate Change Camp

PUBLISHED: 13:18 07 August 2008 | UPDATED: 15:17 07 September 2010

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Hundreds of climate change activists have begun a week-long protest outside the proposed site of the UK s first new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent. Camden s Eco Champion, Cllr Alexis Rowell, is among them and se

Soul power not coal power

Hundreds of climate change activists have begun a week-long protest outside the proposed site of the UK's first new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent. Camden's Eco Champion, Cllr Alexis Rowell, is among them and sent us this report:

I think it's fair to say that a key battle for the future of the UK's ability to deal with climate change is being played out in a small corner of the Garden of England this week. Hundreds of people concerned about climate change have taken over a field near the Kingsnorth power station in Kent, which is where the energy generator E.ON is proposing to build the UK's first new coal-fired power station for 33 years.

Coal has the capacity to overwhelm us in terms of carbon emissions. If we build a new generation of coal-fired power stations (and we don't give the developing world assistance to move to cleaner technology), then we will guarantee catastrophic runaway climate change. Some speak optimistically about carbon capture and storage technology, where CO2 is pumped underground into old oil fields or other "safe" sites. But carbon capture will not be ready for decades, if indeed it can ever be made to work properly. Just as we cannot guarantee that there will be no leaks from nuclear waste facilities, we cannot guarantee that CO2 will stay in the ground.

Last year's climate camp near Heathrow helped draw attention to the nonsense of a government supposedly committed to reducing emissions but also seeking to build a third runway. I hope this year will raise awareness about the craziness of building new coal-fired power stations.

I rode from London to Kingsnorth by bike with a group of some 50 concerned citizens. Among them was Cllr Paul Braithwaite, Camden's Cycling Champion. One man had cycled all the way from Glasgow to be with us. Our cavalcade was led by a tandem-cum- sound-system that kept our spirits up. We lunched in a graveyard somewhere in south-east London and then cleaned up the litter on the site in an impromptu gesture of goodwill to the local community.

After seven hours, one puncture, much walking up hills, a couple of rain storms and one accidental diversion on to a dual carriageway, our exhausted group was greeted by the sight of the existing Kingsnorth power station on the horizon. We were also confronted by the biggest police operation most had ever seen. It reminded me of the sort of scene I used to witness as a BBC war correspondent crossing frontlines across Eastern Europe. I never thought I would see such a thing in the UK.

Anyone wishing to access the camp was searched in a massive police holding area just outside the camp. Bike locks were confiscated on the grounds that they could be used by protestors to chain themselves to the power station. Everyone was photographed - little old ladies, Camden councillors, two year olds - apparently we all represent a potential threat to the British state.

Eventually we were allowed to enter the camp, exhausted but happy to have arrived. The Climate Camp is divided into regional neighbourhoods which each have a central marquee surrounded by smaller tents where people sleep. We made our way to the London tent just as heavens opened. Thankfully this year's camp is on top of a hill.

The London tent was set out like a large home. At one end dinner was being prepared in the "kitchen". At the other end sofas and armchairs created the sense of a "living room". Toddlers played with a wooden train set, guitarists strummed merrily, and all around there were conversations about climate change or wellington boot fashion. With my fellow cyclists I sank into the sofas and waited for our lentil stew.

All of Britain is represented at the Climate Camp and more besides. A veritable rainbow coalition. It was apt then that as the rain clouds finally broke that evening the Kingsnorth power station was framed on the horizon by a perfect rainbow. It was as if nature itself was highlighting the follies of mankind. It seemed like a sign of hope.

But there was to be no brave new dawn. At first light the cry went up - "cops in camp". Riot police were trying to break into the field. On the previous day they had gone through tents confiscating anything they felt could be used to damage private property. One woman told me tearfully that the Bluetac she had brought for her workshop about low carbon communities was taken because "it could be used to stick up protest posters."

Rudely awoken campers rushed to man the gates of the field in their pyjamas. Once the police had been pushed back by waves of peaceful citizens shouting "out, out, out..." the situation settled into a long stand-off. To pass the time people stood up one by one and spoke from the heart about why they had come to the Climate Camp. I explained that I had gone into active politics because of my concern about climate change, that it was hard work trying to persuade councillors and officers of the need for dramatic change, and that seeing so many people, from all walks of life, at the Climate Camp gave me strength to continue.

Some recited poems they had composed to mark the darkness of our times and the hope that protest would succeed. Someone produced a guitar. Another a saxophone. "Soul not coal" became the chorus of an improvised protest song. "Soul power not coal power." Even hardened police officers were struggling to not be moved. One female officer had to be replaced because she started crying.

I know why I went to the Climate Camp - because I'm concerned about the future that we are bequeathing to our children. But how do you sleep at night if you are a politician who says climate change is the most serious problem the human race has ever faced but does nothing? Or the chief executive of an energy generating company that understands how emissions from coal will exacerbate global warming but who still wants to build a coal-fired power station? Or a police officer who uses force against peaceful protesters trying to alert the world to the threat of runway climate change?

I urge anyone that can to go down to the Climate Camp this weekend, even if it's only for a day. Show your support for this protest against coal. Or write to your MP and register your concern about new coal-fired power stations. Best of all do both. We have less than 100 months to bring down our carbon emissions. If we fail, all bets are off.

Cllr Alexis Rowell, Camden Eco Champion

The Climate Camp runs until Monday 11th August. Details can be found on the website: www.climatecamp.org.uk


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