Magazine article The Spectator

Climate Camp: Next Year We'll Go for Longer

Magazine article The Spectator

Climate Camp: Next Year We'll Go for Longer

Article excerpt

Itis 11 p. m. on Saturday night and I am way out of my comfort zone. With my husband, two young children and dog, I have spent the day with 1,300 climate campaigners, none of whom I knew before, in a sodden field near Heathrow's second runway. Now the five of us are squeezed into a three-man tent, rain seeping through the sides, listening to the roar of planes taking off and landing. It's not exactly summer camp.

And yet I feel strangely elated.

The irony is that we nearly didn't come to climate camp -- because of the weather. At home in Wiltshire on Saturday morning, with a nice dry house full of chores and entertainments, the idea of camping in the rain seemed particularly unappealing. Like eating cold baked beans, or stepping barefoot on worms.

But we couldn't pull out completely. We've spent the last 13 months feeling quietly proud of our decision to stop flying. We've enjoyed holidays by train, and gritted our teeth as friends gaily said they were taking up our carbon slack. But what had seemed like a radical decision at the time was beginning to feel inadequate. Climate Camp offered the possibility of taking our private protest a step further, and joining a mass campaign against airport expansion.

In the end we opted for a halfway house:

we packed the car full of camping gear with the idea that we didn't have to use it. We could spend the day at the camp, and then retreat to my parents-in-law in nearby Maidenhead if the going got too muddy.

We parked as close as we could: the police manning the barricade at the end of the road leading to the camp refused to let us drop off our stuff at the gate. So we left it in the car and walked in our wellies. None of us knew what to expect. It was our first protest. While Mark and I have strong views about all sorts of subjects -- climate change being uppermost among our concerns -- we're more likely to express them around the dinner table, to fellow non-protesters with expensive haircuts and Audi estate cars.

We were welcomed warmly at the gate and led up a gangway through the open door of a large cut-out of a plane, with 'Exit the System' painted in large letters.

'Cool', said Alfie, seven, running through and back again. 'What does that mean?' It wasn't easy to explain, but as we walked around the camp, past the ingenious contrivances that enabled a large number of people to live, eat, excrete and wash (barely) for up to nine days with no mains electricity and minimal impact on the purloined field, he began to get the idea that we were in an alternative world, where much of the same sort of stuff went on as in ours, but in a rather different fashion.

In the kid's tent, a giant aeroplane was being made out of scrap cardboard and covered in shiny paper and streamers for the march the next day. An environmental film was showing in the cinema tent -- I think our children were hoping for Harry Potter -- while volunteers in the legal tent were busy compiling guides on what to do if arrested (we nabbed one for Notty's holiday scrapbook). In various other large tents, people were painting banners, or discussing plans for the following day's protest. The decisions were being made, we were told, by consensus: if you agreed with a proposal, you 'twinkled' -- waved both hands in the air as if gently shaking cocktails. Adamant disagreement was signalled by a block. The problem, it soon transpired, was that after five days of discussion, a firm consensus had yet to be reached. …

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