At the Drax Camp for Climate Action in 2006 a few Wales participants formed a neighbourhood with the West Country and West Midlands, the legendary - out West anyway – ‘Westside Hood’. By 2008 at Kingsnorth, Wales got together our own neighbourhood. This year Wales hosted Climate Camp Cymru (CCC) in Merthyr Tydfil, very near the notorious Ffos-y-Frân opencast coalmine. In tribute to the movement we are building, CCC was actively supported by the Westside Hood. In turn, CCC supported the hard-pressed Residents Against Ffos-y-Frân (RAFF). RAFF campaign against a corporate and legislative stitch-up which means opencast coal mining, with its attendant harmful dust and oppressive noise, is carried out just 37 metres from the houses of some residents.
Wales could soon be self-sufficient in clean energy but we continue to produce fossil fuels for England. Coal from Ffos-y-Frân will generate the same amount of carbon dioxide per year as Mozambique.
If we are serious about preventing runaway climate change, coal must be left in the ground. We have little time left to act on the root causes of climate change. Yet our governments insist on ignoring the science and driving us towards a catastrophic tipping point, beyond which it will be too late to avert the worst of global warming. Pledging to live fossil-fuel-free for a year, Dr Larch Maxey from Swansea University said: “Coming here has given me clarity and inspiration to move forward.”
From Thursday 13 to Sunday 16 August, CCC held a site in Merthyr and walked the walk of sustainable living: generating our own renewable energy, composting our waste, recycling… The theme of the camp was Clean Coal, Dirty Joke. Bev, a local resident said: “I live near here and didn’t know what was happening until I saw the banner. It’s great to see so many people coming here to help us deal with our problems. Now I’m going to get involved with RAFF - this is brilliant!”
Workshops throughout CCC featured everything from a carbon chronicles opera to consensus for kids. One adult camper was asked to leave a space by the participants meeting there, not one of them more than seven years old! Jill Evans spoke on lobbying, Molly Scott Cato discussed creating green jobs, the Welsh Youth Forum for Sustainable Development (WYFSD) looked to building ‘a savvy future’… Arfon Rhys of Cymdeithas y Cymod (The Fellowship of Reconciliation) presented the history of nonviolent direct action in Wales, commenting after: “One aspect of the workshop was to bring together peace movements in Wales with the Climate Camp activists. War and conflict, after all, are bad for the environment! We felt there was room for peace and climate activists to co-operate on issues such as pollution due to military activities, including flying.”
On Saturday, some CCC participants went for a stroll to get a closer look at Ffos-y-Frân. The stroll was facilitated by local residents who acted as guides on a compelling if grim tour. Police deemed that the stroll contravened the Public Order Act, however. Blocking the single-track road that passes the mine, they invoked Section 12 via which they can impose conditions on public processions “to prevent serious public disorder, serious criminal damage or serious disruption to the life of the community”.
So, although the stroll was obviously and deliberately not a procession, everyone was stopped in their tracks. Rebel Clowns tried to (un)reason with the police, citing their own presence and that of a colony of waddling penguins to illustrate that “serious” public disorder, damage or disruption was highly unlikely.
At this point strollers left the road and took to the hills, and police deployed mounted officers and dogs to contain them. One dog attacked and seriously bit the arm of a stroller who had already been sworn at by its handler. To add further insult to injury, police then arrested the stroller! He was subsequently released on bail with no terms, magistrates refusing police requests to bar him from returning to the camp.
Meanwhile, back atop the hill, two “men-in-black” apparently directed police operations. An attendant local sergeant told strollers the men were “planners”. These planners refused requests from legal observers to confirm they were police, and they would not reveal their numbers. Asked about the coalmine and defending something he admitted was wrong, the sergeant said: “There’s the law and there’s moral and ethics – they don’t go together, do they?”
CCC succeeded in cementing solidarity in the climate action movement and between communities oppressed by corporations and complicit states. In Wales, a climate action network will meet regularly to discuss a spectrum of actions: everyone who participated in CCC left the camp knowing what they would be doing next. First-step: sign up to the CCC newsletter online. Between now and the Copenhagen climate summit (COP-15) in December, activists in Wales will take direct action against the root causes of climate change.
Meanwhile, RAFF are set to establish links with Erris in Ireland, where Shell are building a gas pipeline in the face of local opposition, with Sipson village which is threatened by Heathrow Expansion, and with Mainshill in Scotland where Scottish Coal plan to opencast 1.7 million tonnes of coal. Addressing the final plenary of CCC, Jock, a local councillor said: “This is a beautiful friendship! It started as a twinkle and now it is really strong. Thanks from us in Merthyr to all of you coming here!”