Article in Red Pepper Magazine all about what Rising Tide is up to
The Tide is High [article from red pepper magazine]
- risingtide tour now ended..
Is it safe to come out then? Is it really all over? No, I don't just mean the election. I mean the long winter of heavy skies - the end of March this year marking the wettest 12 months in the UK since records began in the mid- eighteenth century - and the seemingly non-existent spring.
Against a background of grey skies and the equally undistinguished general election, the Rising Tide climate change tour travelled around the UK, visiting 11 places and spreading information on climate change, inspiring action, and instilling hope that things really can get better, not just wetter.
It doesn't need spin to underline the severity of current climatic changes - a look at the weather chaos around the globe last year makes this plain. There is overwhelming evidence that humans are having a discernable effect on the climate. Yet none of the main political parties in the electoral race quoted the 60 - 90% cuts in emissions which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, says are necessary to stabilise the climate. None of the main electoral contenders asked for our approval to challenge the root of climate change - the dogma of economic growth. Such devotion to economic growth ignores the ecological and social effects of our levels of consumption - effects which are now upsetting the atmosphere that supports life on Planet Earth. Even those who are sceptical about the degree to which climate chaos is occurring have to break out of the lie that we can carry on polluting on the current scale without seeing significant changes.
While Prescott's fighting spirit came out on the campaign trail, any DETR proverbial punches to tackle climate change were pulled long ago. Even though the UK has, for now, moved on from the wettest winter, it is no longer enough to push through panic measures after the event or to presume the solution lies in a bigger flood barrier. Time is getting on. We cannot wait any more for politicians to catch up with the changes needed to ensure future survival. This is the message at the heart of the Rising Tide Tour - it's time to leave a monopoly on cynicism with the politicians; it's time to break out of denial over the significance of consistently record-breaking weather events; it's time to stop presuming that it will all be okay if only Bush will put his name to the Kyoto agreement. It's time, quite simply, to do something.
'Do what?' is the million dollar question. People who came to the Tour events often seemed to start from a point of understanding that something needs to happen, the challenge then being to work out what. One suggestion doing email rounds in May and June was the 'rolling blackout'. This was a call to people to avoid using household electricity for a couple of hours in the evening of the summer solstice: hardly a great structural challenge to society's suicidal addiction to fossil fuels. While the consciousness which motivates such acts forms the backbone of struggle, it is also easy to become a little too symbolic for the sake of doing something.
The Rising Tide Tour provided space to develop awareness of the issues and aimed to come up with ideas for resistance beyond purely symbolic
activities. In Farnborough, we heard from a campaigner against aviation who started off being concerned about noise, as the planes flew over her house. More information led to her broader concern over the pollution that flying represents. Many Friends of the Earth supporters have heard of the campaign to boycott Esso - Tour workshops provided space to question the activities of other oil companies as well, and to talk about finishing, once and for all, oil's dominance in our lives. Cyclists have suggested Critical Mass demonstrations, while in one workshop a participant commented that: "people say that capitalism is like the weather - it is how it is, and nothing can be done about it. But I see the weather changing and personally I'd rather change capitalism."
While the Tour was going on, a group of families from Hebden Bridge took part in the '90% for 90%' campaign, making the link between accessible and affordable public transport and the need for emission cuts. This campaign calls for 'a 90% cut in public transport fares, to make public transport affordable, to start making changes, that bring the 90% cut in greenhouse gases needed to halt climate change'. Supporters carry the railcard-sized 90% card, distributed through the Rising Tide website, and show it to the guard alongside their ticket, or, as has happened in several group actions, show it and refuse to pay more than 10% of the fare. Of course, greater accessibility to public transport and a properly functioning transport system doesn't equate exactly with the end of climate chaos. But these would be a first step in finding different ways of living and working, ways that are a change from our current relationship to fossil fuels. Ways that are relevant to what makes up peoples' lives, not just what stimulates increased economic growth at the expense of reason.
Many moments during the Tour have been quite inspirational. Even so, it takes blind hope to hang on to that inspiration, when walking out of a room full of people buzzing with ideas is followed by the route home down a street bursting with corporate chain stores promoting products made in terrible conditions before being flown halfway across the globe; fast food outlets; and corporate chain bars packaging and serving up the 'leisure experience'. Meanwhile, the more I read about climate change, the more I discover the mounting scientific evidence that humankind is pushing the planet's systems to their limits, and the mounting political evidence that governments are failing to act while corporations are adapting to carry on much as usual, but with a claim of concern. The next intergovernmental conference on climate change, COP 6.5, takes place in Bonn, Germany this July. The last UN climate conference, COP 6 in the Netherlands last November, failed to come to any agreement over tackling climate change. What discussion there was was based around figures for emission cuts so low as to be virtually meaningless, and took place in a context of developing market-based mechanisms - to solve a situation created by the market in the first place. Research by the Amsterdam-based Corporate Europe Observatory has found that rather than cut emissions, these market-based mechanisms will actually allow for an increase. They will also do nothing to change the patterns of consumption and resource use which need to shift if there are to be long-term solutions to climate change.
The social context for reversing current damage stands alongside the immediate need to halt environmental degradation. It is not possible to ensure the survival of the planet without addressing power structures which are inherently inequitable and oppressive. Climate change is an issue of social justice - the first to feel the effects are the most vulnerable, the poor. The neighbours of the oil refineries are the poor and those whose voices are already politically marginalised. The people whose lands are destroyed to lay the oil pipelines have no voice at the international negotiations to limit use of fossil fuels. Civil society, like our
ecosystem, is not a passive entity. Neither will obligingly accept their own demise.
Neither switching off the lights, nor blaming the social and economic conditions under which we live, is wholly adequate on its own. The scale of action needed to halt, let alone reverse, climate change tempts me to reach for a road map to the nearest Welsh hillside, equipped with a couple of joss sticks and a handful of seed potatoes. But everything has to start from somewhere and doing absolutely nothing about the connections between our own lives and other peoples' cannot be an option.
Climate chaos is not going away, nor are those who are attempting to change the situations which create it. I don't know precisely where the often haphazard ideas which came out of the Rising Tide Tour will go. But I do know that people starting to reduce their own dependence on fossil fuels; and people coming up with ideas which are based in their own lives signals the beginning of broader change. Why is there still a gap between the knowledge that things are going wrong, and the motivation to act to change the situation? Why don't those who hold a tentative grip on the reins of political power begin to engage with the core issues? After all, social and ecological justice aren't just buzzwords: it's time to start picking apart what they could really mean.
[article from red pepper magazine]