Revived by Climate Camp

IssueSeptember 2008
Feature by Sophie Wynne-Jones

Before I am tempted to say I am just tired; activist-burn-out would be the technical term. But I feel that there is something more deep-seated at work undermining my ability to bounce back. We have less than a week to go until climate camp, and I had been wondering whether to go at all.

The intensity of stress experienced before Fossil Fools Day and the ongoing grind of the Ffos-y-Frân open-cast coal-mine campaign has made me nervous. The classic frustration of whether I should be channelling my energies into positive change, rather than being “anti”, has been niggling away at me: being the change you want to see in the world is a very enriching thing to do.

Standing up to authority and saying no – staring them in the face as they glare – is hard. I worry about the public perception of our direct action – I worry whether it creates a good image or whether we seem totally at odds with society.

I hate the stress and the pressure and keep feeling that if we could only raise enough awareness of the problem then the weight of public opinion would be sufficient to steer our government towards the right choices for the future of the planet – rather than their bank balances. Unfortunately, this is not the case; unfortunately, we – that is all of us, citizens of this earth – have to stand up and exercise our civil rights to tell John Hutton, Gordon Brown, E-on, Npower and Miller Argent, that coal is not what we want. This is positive change.

Frankly this exhausts me – I am tired of having to abandon the life that everyone else around me seems to be living: blinkers firmly on. I am tired of being terrified and I want to put my head in the sand – to leave on a jet-plane and imagine it is all a bad dream. Is it really real?

It can seem so intangible that the climate is warming, that something so dramatic as the systemic failure of the its life support mechanisms might be in process.

The weight of it seems to be getting heavier and I feel quite sick. It is very hard to play the rational game – to do “reasonable” things, to speak to the politicians about what needs to be done to avoid “catastrophic two degree warming…” And I am angry that I need to keep putting up this façade of sensible engagement when I really just want to cry and feel so squashed by the impossibility of achieving anything in the face of ignorant greed and an entrenched antipathy towards the metabolisms of life.

But the small vestige that keeps me fighting is knowing that I am privileged – knowing that as the water rises I am in the top percentage of those who could be left standing.

Rather than revelling in this good fortune I feel, instead, that privilege means I have to act and can not face the other way. I am not pretending this is easy anymore, and I understand why so many of us hide in the safety of routines, claiming to be too busy to think or do anything about the black cloud on the horizon – but there are hands out there to hold when we act together.

And that is my strength: those who hold my hand – those who are also brave enough not to turn and face the other way. Like the women of Greenham who hoped against hope and demanded the impossible, even if there is no chance of survival I will not live the lie, I will witness this with my eyes wide open.

And After

Two weeks later and I still have my eyes open – and I still see those things that made me feel so vulnerable and bleak before the camp: we still face a daily onslaught of bullshit and impossible decisions that undermine the possibility of any security and confidence in our simple acts of living. And I still feel that to face climate change is to be left free-floating in an ideological void, which is not only depressing but also deeply traumatic.

Yet I feel strangely calm – having helped create the first Wales Climate Camp Neighbourhood; having built, cooked, debated, danced, loved and cried with other people who are brave enough to keep on hoping. I haven’t found a blue-print for the future, I don’t even think I have all the right answers, but I can talk about it in an open and un-oppressive manner; I can listen, learn and respect.

I believe what we do matters and that we must keep trying, because this time last year I had never done anything like this – and now I couldn’t possibly look back, because I am sure there are more people who are about to reach out to hold our hands.

See more of: Wales