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Climate Camp: a very middle-class protest

August 27, 2009

“If I yelled out ‘Tarquin’, how many boys would turn around do you reckon?” one press photographer asks another. It’s easy to smirk.

Climate Camp 2009 has set up on Blackheath, a wealthy ‘village’ in southeast London. It’s now teeming with young, enthusiastic people with bright clothes and excessive hair. They’ve set up tents and sofas, activity areas and slogans. There are plenty of broad smiles and earnest proclamations about how we can and should be living sustainably right now. There are workshops: butterfly and bee-making with felt, how to compost and make a wormery; debates on alternatives to money and the capitalist state; wooden pencil meditation (?); classes on how to occupy your university… What’s not to like?

The press, searching for locals ‘up in arms’ about a protest on their doorsteps, have discovered that few are bothered. If the campers aren’t actually the children and grandchildren of locals, then they’re certainly in the same demographic (who else can afford to take a week off work?).

The majority of climate ‘activists’ here in the West and also in the developing world are from the middle classes. There’s nothing particularly strange about this – most political or social change has been either led by or strongly supported by the middle classes. Che was a doctor. I’m not entirely sure what Climate Camp is trying to achieve aside from better climate change awareness, which is itself a good thing. But I wonder if young mothers from the Kidbrooke housing estates down the road will feel incentivised to use ecofriendly nappies by the camp. Or if young black men from nearby Lewisham will be persuaded by the camp that material wealth is less important than recycling?

The common is bisected by the Shooters Hill Road. Climate Camp is set up on one side. On the other, is the scheduled fun fair, with a helter skelter, dodgems and other rides. It’s a regular fixture for bank holiday weekends and is already drawing interest from children on the heath. After dark, its bright lights from a thousand coloured bulbs are in stark contrast to the muted tents.

It will be interesting to see who crosses the road, this weekend.

Being an August bank holiday, this weekend also sees the Notting Hill Carnival, which is a big draw for black and ethnic minority groups. I wonder if there is some way of bringing that level of inclusivity to the climate camp.

It will never be possible to convince everyone of the need to act urgently on climate change, and perhaps targeting one demographic at a time is the best way forward. Climate camp at Blackheath, though, does seem to be a case of preaching to the converted.

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