Roads and runways everywhere

IssueDecember 2006 - January 2007
Feature by Jason Torrance

A lot has changed over the last 15 years. We now live in a world ravaged by Climate Change, a world where the World Health Organisation estimate that 150,000 people die every year and the development charity Christian Aid estimate that 182 million will die in sub-Saharan Africa alone by the end of the Century, as a result of diseases exacerbated by climate change.

Here in the UK we're told that we've never had it so good. Social inclusion, community involvement and environmental protection are all phrases used by government and corporations. We're told that in the UK more people than ever before have a high quality of life but at the same time we read stories of progressively worsening social exclusion and environmental degradation. However, as always, a small group of people can have a large effect on creating change.

Changing times

The contemporary environmental direct action movement in the UK was born out of a wider movement that had been maturing since the beginning of the 1970s. With acquired and often shared experiences from the peace and animal rights movements, a generation that was energised by a rightwing government elected in 1979 and was forced to grow up very quickly.

In the 1990s environmental direct action became widespread as the UK roads programme sparked action, and protest camps mushroomed, much as peace camps had across Europe in the early 80s. But just as time rubbed away at the fabric of the peace movement, changing its size, direction and style - so, the environmental direct action movement has changed over time.

With new people come new inspirations, new ideas and new energy. The new direct action movement focusing on climate is both a timely call for action and a vital home for new passion and energy. However, the 21st century holds a different challenge in the one-sided love affair by the mainstream media.

New challenges

Whereas the anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s endured widespread press hostility, green activism of the last 15 years has often been embraced - and even co-opted - by unlikely quarters.

Mainstream media are often keen supporters of environmental action of a short term and single issue nature. Radio, soap operas and reality television all have their own brands of environmental activists or individuals seeking to minimise their impact on the environment. Peace may have been a dirty word in the 80's, but nowadays everyone wants to be green.

While on the surface that may seem like an enviable situation, the potential for trivialising issues is significant, posing significant problems for the communication of information that can make a real and tangible difference.

But one thing is clear, as a legitimate part of politics, as part of a wider movement and as a result of dwindling opportunities for public participation in decision-making, direct action is here to stay.

Topics: Green