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Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

Ye know who is the foeman, and that is the proud man, the oppressor, who scorneth fellowship, and himself is a world to himself and needeth no helper nor helpeth any, but, heeding no law, layeth law on other men because he is rich; and surely every one that is rich is such an one, nor may be other.”

– William Morris, The Dream of John Ball (1888)

The Climate Camp gets underway on Blackheath | Image by logan.freelance@gmail.com

The Climate Camp gets underway on Blackheath | Image by logan.freelance@gmail.com

In 1381, a huge crowd of disgruntled peasants set up camp atop Blackheath in London. It was there that the Lollard priest John Ball delivered a rousing sermon against the inequalities and injustices of a society segregated by class.

Today, over six hundred years later, another band of insurgents have pitched their tents on this patch of common land: Blackheath is the location of this year’s Camp for Climate Action.

Critics will no doubt point out that the majority of activists at the Climate Camp are not, unlike their peasant forebears, impoverished people suffering under injustice. Indeed, previous instances of direct action against climate change have been criticised for acting “on behalf” of people in ecologically vulnerable parts of the world, or in the name of future generations. But such arguments are based on a very narrow view of what dissent can be. While it is true that many successful social movements have been led by people defending their own lives and freedoms, there have instances of resistance where one group of people have acted on behalf of others. The abolitionist movement, which led to the end of slavery, is a case in point. According to historian Adam Hochschild, the abolitionist movement “was the first time a large number of people became outraged, and stayed outraged for many years, over someone else’s rights”. The courageous people who hid Jews from the Nazis are another example. The movement to stop climate change is part of this tradition: a kind of protest which demands empathy. It’s an uprising which recognises, as Martin Luther King did, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

And so, with the weight of history behind them, the climate campers are taking on the injustices of an economy which destroys the natural world and pushes already disadvantaged people into further poverty and even exile. This year, nef is joining in.

On Saturday morning, Saamah Abdallah, a researcher at nef‘s centre for well-being and one of the brains behind our Happy Planet Index, will be joining Green Party leader Caroline Lucas in a discussion entitled Happiness and Growth: can we have both?, which explore the drawbacks of relying on GDP as our sole measure of national progress, both for ourselves and the planet.

And on Monday afternoon, nef‘s climate scientist Dr. Vicky Johnson will join SolarCentury CEO Jeremy Leggett and others for a discussion about The Future of Energy: in a time of peak oil, climate change and economics collapse.

I’ll also be reporting back from the camp, right here on the nef blog.

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P.S. For anyone wanting some further reading on social movements:

Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

Sisyphus, you may remember, was the mythical king whose punishment in the afterlife was to push a massive boulder up a hill. But before Sisyphus could get the boulder to the top, the damn thing would always roll back down to the bottom, forcing him to start again.

Being any sort of environmentalist is always a Sisyphean task.  Every time you think that humanity might be approaching some sort of watershed, some great awakening to the dire ecological reality that our species has created, the big stone of progress rolls back down the mountain. In my darker hours, I start to wonder what we all did to make the gods so angry.

A few months ago, we were celebrating the acquittal of the six Greenpeace activists who scaled a chimney at Kingsnorth power station and painted “Gordon” on the side, to protest the Government’s collusion with E.ON in its suicidal plan to unleash a new wave of coal-fired energy plants. The damage done to the power station, concluded the jury, seemed trivial when compared with the damage which will be done by climate change. The protestors had a ‘lawful excuse’ for their actions, and were found not guilty.

It was a verdict which smelt of change and new beginnings. The great social change theorist Bill Moyer spoke of a stage in the development of all social movements called ‘Take Off”. At this stage, the general public hear, for the first time, the activists’ side of the story. Suddenly the powerholders are no longer the sole narrators. This is exactly what happened during the Kingsnorth trial: a jury is, after all, intended to be representative of the broader public.

But perhaps the take off was a false one. Read the rest of this entry »

Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.


climate-2On Saturday the consuming hoards of the Christmas season were forced to share central London with an altogether different crowd as 8,000 activists took to the streets to demand Government action on climate change under the banner of a Green New Deal.

Amid the calls for “No New Coal”, “No Airport Expansion” and “No to Unsustainable Agrofuels”, the calls for a Green New Deal sounded an unusually positive note. For too long global warming activists have been forced to campaign against the climate-wrecking industries that are jeopardising our common future. Now, the Green New Deal meme might just provide the iconic, populist cause which is so necessary for the success of any social movement.

And speaking of social movements, Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, has said today that the problem of climate change will not be solved without some sort of mass movement, along the lines of the Make Poverty History campaign.

It’s hard to know how to react to such a comment. Read the rest of this entry »

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