This article is written as a direct response to Alan Cochrane’s piece titled “Supporters of Climate Camp action are ‘useful idiots’” which appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 23 August.
Alan begins his charmingly reactionary article by taking the liberty of renaming ‘activists’ as ‘useful idiots’, and later adapting the more politically correct term, ‘nutters’. I must concede to being a Climate Camp-supporting ‘nutter’ myself: I love to camp, I want to help prevent runaway climate change from occurring, and as someone who enjoys foraging for food all year round, nuts are certainly a rare and welcome find this time of year.
Alan’s scathing tone should provide a pleasing experience for any activist in the green movement. The Suffragettes were female activists for equal rights who were initially labelled ‘Suffragettes’ by the Daily Mail newspaper as a way of belittling them, and I wouldn’t repeat the use of lexicon applied to black activists in America used during and post slavery. Such earnestly derisive opposition across the mainstream media of a necessary and non-violent movement only reminds me that Climate Camp – ‘so-called’, Alan says, as he further struggles to distinguish fact from hearsay- is on the right path.
However, I do have a bone to pick with Alan’s claim that Climate Camp’s campaign-focus on RBS does not show ‘common sense’. If we are ‘useful idiots’ for responding to potentially catastrophic climate change, then what should we call the main perpetrators of the damage?
Tar sands are deposits of sand and clay that are saturated with bitumen and require large amounts of energy and water to extract and process them into useable oil. Many environmental organisations, as well as Climate Camp, argue that by funding tar sands extraction, the Royal Bank of Scotland invests in environmental destruction on a mass scale. No less than five reports have been written on the impact of tar sands extraction on the environment in the last five years.
The cost of the current tar sands extraction in Canada is immense. The process produces ‘tailings’, which are a mixture of sand, water, clay, silt, hydrocarbons and toxic chemicals that are left as massive lake deposits, as there is no way of disposing of the toxic mix they hold. These lakes are so large that they can be seen from space by the naked eye: the Environmental Defence report The Report contains some striking images demonstrating this, as well as detailed information on toxic aquatic pollution, unexplained cancer clusters in local populations, and increasing problems of air pollution in Canada.
In addition to this, tar extraction has led to the displacement of indigenous people and deforestation on a mass scale: tar sands deposits currently stretch over 138,000 square km of primary boreal forest.
A detailed review by Friends of the Earth titled Tar sands – fuelling the energy crisis reports that:
- ‘Tar sands production in Canada has resulted in serious damage to local communities and the environment, including destruction of the boreal forest and increased pollution that has impacted on the health and livelihoods of the First nations communities’
- ‘Tar sands generates on average 3 to 5 times more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than conventional oil’
- ‘Canada is currently the only country where tar sands are being commercially exploited, but expansion is underway, with…exploration or planned in Jordan (Shell), Russia (Shell), Republic of Congo (Eni), Venezuela (Repsol), and Madagascar (Total). A bitumen licensing round has also been mooted recently for Nigeria’
- ‘Open cast mining techniques used to extract shallower resources have led to creation of huge lakes or “tailings ponds” for storing toxic waste matter, for which there is no long term solution’.
Page 7 of the review also shows a striking photograph of tailings ‘seeping into the surrounding watershed’, which is one of the many problems with attempting to store them indefinitely in large quantities.
A report by several environmental groups including Greenpeace and People & Planet called Cashing in on Tar Sands: RBS, UK banks and Canada’s “blood oil” explains why tar sands extraction is so expensive, and that the perpetrators are dependent on project or corporate finance which currently comes from ‘the three main high street banks in the UK (Barclays, HSBC, and the Royal Bank of Scotland)’.
Cashing in on Tar Sands reveals that RBS loaned more than $7.5 billion to extraction companies between 2007 and 2009, and has underwritten corporate debt and equity worth nearly $2.5 billion with tar sands related companies. The report goes on to outline a detailed request to reduce the escalating environmental problems in Canada, including practical measures that can be taken such as calling for a moratorium on finance for ‘unconventional oil’.
Although the Royal Bank of Scotland is not the only investor in tar sands extraction, the reason for Climate Camp’s focus on RBS this year has is due to the fact that 84% of the bank is owned by the UK taxpayer, which means that the general public has (or should have) a say in what RBS does- this is known as public accountability.
Cashing in on Tar Sands exposes complex details of the loans; the report contains tables showing finance made to companies engaged in tar sands between 2007-09, corporate debt, underwriting and equity underwriting: ‘The data shows that RBS led underwriting for over $7.5 billion in loans to tar sands related companies, over five times more than Barclays and over eleven times more than HSBC.’
Alan claims that people who support Climate Camp’s actions are ‘supporting a malign cause in the mistaken belief’, but he fails to reveal what this ‘cause’ and ‘belief’ entails. From where I’m sitting, it is common sense to target RBS to me. Indeed, a cinching point for the general public may be the fact that RBS is the UK bank that received the most public money during the financial crisis of 2008, meaning that the public owns 84% of the bank’s shares, and yet Alan does not seem to be aware of this.
Part of the reason for Climate Camp and other environmental groups zoning in on RBS’s actions in recent years is due to the fact that RBS has repeatedly failed to respond to criticism from the public. In May 2009 RBS came last in a league table of consumer banks in Ethical Consumer magazine, and ‘in September 2009, in conjunction with Oil and Gas UK, RBS sponsored, and provided a key speaker for seminars on how to revitalise the oil and gas industry in wake of the financial crisis.’ In December 2009 thirty public figures, including Andrew Smith MP, called on Alistair Darling to clean up RBS, which we have yet to see take place.
Other publications detailing the local and global impact of tar sands extraction include Unconventional Oil – Scraping the bottom of the barrel? by WWF and Dirty Oil – how the tar sands are fuelling the global climate crisis by Greenpeace Canada.
Back to Alan Cochrane the so-called reporter (to replicate his own use of lexicon), then, his argument that it is against comment sense to put pressure on RBS, the people’s bank, lacks understanding of the fundamental issues underlying RBSs actions, and the environmental impact of tar sands extraction.
Alan continues to defend RBS by vaguely suggesting that people cannot actually protest oil investment because, admittedly (and thanks for pointing this out, Mr Cochrane), we are all dependent on oil use. (I’ll leave that ‘complex argument’ as a treat for Monbiot to unravel). He also defends RBS because they will not be able to pay the UK taxpayer back without ‘making successful investments’. However, in late 2009 a group of investor organisations stated in a letter to the Senate that tar sands are a ‘risky investment’, and the Greenpeace report BP and Shell: Rising Risks in Tar Sands Investments states their concern that ‘the risks are significant for BP and Shell shareholders, and that investors should question the companies more deeply on their tar sands strategies and call for greater transparency regarding the assessment of the mid to long term viability of these projects. Investors should call for full disclosure of the risks involved in the tar sands strategy in a carbon constrained world and the development of new tar sands projects should be halted’.
Meanwhile, according to Cashing in on Tar Sands, ‘An investigation by The Guardian showed that in the first six months following the bank’s initial recapitalisation in October 2008, RBS has been involved in loans worth nearly £10 billion in oil, coal and gas companies – a quarter of the total amount of public funds put into RBS at that point’. Does this seem at all reckless to you?
Next, Alan asks in his article why police didn’t leave protesters glued to a bridge over the A8. This is possibly the best idea he has offered us yet (albeit unintentionally), as in my own opinion protestors left glued to the bridge for a long period of time in self-deprecating celebrity style might have actually been able to harness the short-term memory of the mainstream media, and cultivated some actual interest in what the protesters were protesting (note to Alan: RBS and tar sands investment).
Regarding Alan’s accusation that protesters fail to ‘mention’ certain points that he has actually thought up himself as being important, perhaps there would be evidence of these points if Mr Cochrane has actually visited Climate Camp himself and spoken to some of protesters there, instead of lifting a little information from the statement about RBS on the Climate Camp website, and failing to pick it apart successfully. Alan continues his rant against these supposed unnamed points that Climate Camp have apparently not considered by suggesting that another reporter’s ‘detailed account of how ordered everything is’ in the Climate Camp amounts to nothing- unlike the very organised and well-prepared nature of his article, evidently.
Choose not to marvel at it if you will, but if you did actually visit the camp yourself and see the organic site come together, with people communally erecting marquees and kitchens, assembling compost loos, scribbling last-minute signs regarding last-minute alterations, dealing with plumbing issues, organising tents for Media and for Legal business, erecting workshop spaces and a space for music and a Tranquillity tent for people to rejuvenate in (and for anyone who might have taken Cochrane too seriously), as well as people preparing and serving meals together, cleaning up together, and camping without conflict in an occasionally-wet and constantly police-surrounded field for a week, making decisions concerning Camp matters via consensus (which is more than our politicians are able to achieve) – if you have seen this and really not appreciated the coming-together and self-governing of people of all ages, including children and office workers, teachers and builders, artists and families, then fine. But I concede to differ, and I ask that you at least visit the welcoming Camp first, before passing judgement on it.
And I certainly wouldn’t recommend writing a snide article about Climate Camp prior to doing so.
Alan attempts to twist his twisted tale into a defence for the general public in relation to ‘taxpayer-funded policemen’ who are apparently ‘caught in the middle’ of the conflict he wishes to create. However if he had actually approached the site himself he would have in fact found the police to be overall smiling, friendly, talkative and happy. Not only did we share hugs with various policemen and women surrounding the Camp and at some of the direct actions that took place in Edinburgh, I was actually told more than once and unprompted by several policemen that they enjoyed policing the Climate Camp because it was a nice break for them from the regular policing of the streets – and I witnessed this myself in the form of two angry locals who shouted abuse at us including that age-old statement, ‘go home’- the police present immediately assured us protesters to ‘take no notice’ of the two men, and then took them aside to explain that we had a right to be here. One local newspaper (I failed to note the name, having already looked away in disgust) actually ran the front page headline ‘protestors: go home’, so it seems to me that the local tabloids caused more trouble for the police than us protesters.
Camp for Climate Action is a non-violent protest movement, and the 2010 Edinburgh camp was the 5th of its kind, however there have been no cases of violence by protesters in its history. Alan seems keen to dub this growing peaceful movement as ‘violent’ in view of police who are supposedly ‘vilified if they act against law-breakers’, as if police violence at the Kingsnorth Climate Camp in Kent in 2009 was acceptable- and I won’t even mention Ian Tomlinson. Also, much of what was reported by the media regarding the Kingsnorth Camp at the time turned out to be lies.
Alan’s high-profile attack goes on to state that RBS investment and all that it entails ‘is not the UK’s most popular concern at the moment’. However the Kingsnorth Six changed government policy with their activism, which seems to suggest that the UK needs more radial action in order to help keep the legal system up to date in regards to climate change.
I’d like to thank Alan for pointing out that the Edinburgh-based direct actions were not already about high-profile issues. The protesters had clearly worked hard to create a high profile surrounding RBS and tar sands investment because they thought that it receives enough media attention already. I think a certain commentator may lack understanding of the fundamental reasons for any protest or media campaign.
Cochrane does, however, concede on one point. RBS, he writes, have been very naughty boys: ‘banks such as RBS have not exactly been innocent in helping to deepen this country’s economic doom’. In reality, the real effects of the current cuts that are taking place have yet to really reach the general public, yet Alan seems to think that the £20 billion of UK taxpayer money that went to RBS in 2008 is ‘nothing of which they should be ashamed’?
Alan concludes that supporters of Climate Camp should hang their heads in shame. He argues that the Campers are outside of the law because they have no effect on in what happens in the UK, and also that they should be ignored by the law- he cannot fathom why ‘the police bothered to remove them’, while also condemning the protestors for speaking out about an issue that he admits has little attention and concern in the UK ‘at the moment’.
There’s only one conclusion I can draw from his confusion. Alan Cochrane, Telegraph commentator, promotes protecting banks that we the UK public own, from our own scrutiny. He is happy for the immense environmental destruction to continue in Canada because people drive cars and read newspapers that have been delivered by cars, which apparently means that we should never criticise anything, lest we realise our own hypocrisy. I could adopt more of Alan’s lingo and call his arguments daft and deluded, his agenda a ‘malign cause’ based on a ‘mistaken belief’, but as I have provided a breakdown of a complex issue due to the need to clarify the other side to Alan’s arguments, there is really only one word left to respond to Mr Cochrane.. He is the real idiot in this discussion- though he has, admittedly, been useful with his contributions to this article, which is a direct response to his phenomenal idiocy.
As Climate Camp 2010 winds down, there’s been plenty of debate happening online. So here’s a quick tour of some of the articles which are doing the rounds.
Starting with some light amusement, we have Alan Cochrane in the Telegraph calling us ‘useful idiots’. He blunders past the reality of climate change and the role fossil fuel companies take in perpetuating it, preferring to brand us ‘nutters’, ‘arrogant’ and ‘unashamed apologists for illegality’. (That last one at least is true!) Sadly Alan doesn’t really contribute anything useful, but it makes for some entertaining reading if you try to ignore the fact that we are talking about the biggest threat humanity has ever faced.
Staying with the mainstream media, well known protest photojournalist Marc Vallée says Climate Camp is restricting freedom of speech through our policies on press access to our working camp. This may ring bells with those who remember the Heathrow days; John Vidal came out with a similar article back in 2007. While we understand photojournalists have a job to do and access policies are a frustration to them, it’s really not that hard to see the reasons for them.
During the camp, it is our home. Yes, the land legally belongs to RBS but for a week we took it from them. On it we cooked, worked, debated, socialised, lived out our personal lives, and of course planned actions. We understand the camp is of interest to the press and want to provide access for them, but they have to understand it is also our home for a week. RBS were not inviting journalists into their boardrooms or staff kitchens, either.
In the ‘blogosphere’ a number of campers have been sharing their personal reactions to the camp. Sophie Lewis makes ‘a case for the Camp for climate action‘, Jack writes a huge article titled ‘The Mighty Mighty Climate Camp‘ and Dominic Rowland chips in with ‘Homage to Caledonia‘. These articles cover a wide range of areas so I won’t try to summarise, but whilst they are written from the perspective of supporting Climate Camp, they also contain insightful critique about how we could be better and more effective as a movement.
Over at Indymedia Scotland, camper Harry Giles posted an article called ‘Climate Camp Criticism: Onwards!‘ Again he makes a number of important points about how we need to improve, but explains how this year’s camp changed him from feeling ‘cynical and disillusioned’ to ‘inspired and optimistic’.
At A Daisy Through Concrete, Danny Chivers is writing a series titled ‘Five things you didn’t know about the Edinburgh Climate Camp‘. We’ve already talked about the supposed ‘oil spill’ here, but Danny gives a thorough analysis on why it’s a ridiculous slur. (Also check out our article, published today on the Guardian Environment Blog.)
Finishing as we started on a light note, Guardian journalist James Randerson published an absolute hatchet job with ‘Twitter backfires for Climate Camp‘. In it he wrangled a melodramatic article out of three Twitter users who posted abusive comments about the camp. James even managed to find one with links to far-right fascist group, the English Defence League. Amelia, one of our tweeters, gives a perspective on her blog.
Have you read any interesting and/or laughable articles about the camp? Let us know in the comments!
So the day of mass actions has passed and there’s a useful list of what happened in this round-up blog post as well as loads of inspring and informative films over at climate camp tv.
There’s been plenty of debate (and mud-slinging) on the blog with the passionate arguments of outraged “law abiding taxpayers” being tackled by those who believe the protection of the planet is paramount and that the usual suspects of capitalism and the government are part of the problem, rather than the solution.
One particular issue that has caused outrage has the been ‘oil on the road’ story that appeared yesterday morning so it’s probably worth setting out Climate Camp’s position on this to hopefully clarify the situation.
The long and short of it is that having asked around, the Climate Camp media team don’t know anything about it and as of yet no one has taken responsibility for it. Furthermore, Lothian and Borders Police’s new release regarding yesterday’s actions does not directly connect the oil spill with Climate Camp. Read carefully and you’ll see that the paragraph about the oil spill makes no connection to the Camp, but rather passively states the Police’s involvement in dealing with a spill. The connection is implied with it being in a press release about the Camp but there’s no actual evidence presented to support this.
While some of the comments to the blog have suggested that the police claimed they traced the oil back to the Camp there has yet to be an official statement from the police on this and again no evidence presented.
People familiar with the way the police have handled Climate Camp and movements for social change in the past will be aware that a tactic often used by the police is to try to discredit us.
For example, ahead of the Climate Camp at Heathrow in 2007 police told the media that activists were planning on issuing bomb hoaxes to disrupt travel which wasn’t true.
Similarly the police told media that weapons were being confiscated from activists at Kingsnorth power station in 2009. Of course, these “weapons” included dangerous items such as toothbrushes, bike locks, solar charger cables and other every-day items (see the video above for more).
As ever, the media can be used to reveal the truth as well as conceal it.
If you want to get a flavour of the kind of things that go on at Climate Camp, meet some of the people taking part and find out more about the real issues that don;t get reported in the corporate media then you should definitely check out climatecamptv.
You can find them by clicking here.
The Climate Camp media team have issued a press release providing an overview of the main actions that have taken place today.
Importantly, the media team have expressed bewilderment as to police claims of oil being spilled on a main road, and have no knowledge who was responsible for it if the incident did take place.
More action from today… the Trojan Pig challenges RBS and Cairn Energy
Nice video round-up of Climate Camp Day 1 courtesy of You and I Films.
Ian Fraser is an award-winning and financially-savvy journalist who has reported on the economic turmoil in The Sunday Times, Financial Times, BBC News, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Independent on Sunday, the Herald and the Sunday Herald.
In a post on his personal blog Fraser writes eloquently and insightfully about the destruction caused by RBS and highlights the bank’s lies it has been using to try to hide its involvement in scandalous and destructive fossil fuel projects around the globe.
Specifically, Fraser links to the US-based charity Rainforest Action Network that has shown that “of the $15 billion of funding provided by RBS to the energy sector since its October 2008 bailout, only $83m went to alternative energy – that’s less than one per cent.“
Fraser also blogs that while some people “resent the climate camp, dismissing the protestors as a bunch of misdirected middle-class students and wastrels with too much time on their hands [...]Much of this knitpicking misses the bigger picture.”
We think so too and Fraser goes on to tell those who aren’t Climate Camp supporters why. He writes:
“I admire the climate campers for having the balls to challenge the (almost certainly unsustainable) economic and environmental status quo – and believe they have picked a good target in RBS. As well as becoming the world’s biggest purveyor of subprime-infected timebombs (CDOs etc) under chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin, the bank also became the world’s leading funders of fossil fuels and carbon-intensive industries including Albertan tar sands.”
Good on yer Ian. Hopefully see you down at Gogarburn tomorrow for the mass action.
As you might have read elsewhere Climate Camp is underway targeting the Royal Bank of Scotland [pdf]. To highlight the global destructiveness of RBS we’re joined by two indigenous representatives from Canada’s First Nations that are representing the North American-based Indigenous Environmental Network.
They are coming to Scotland to team up with Climate Camp which plans to take direct action to shut down RBS’s global headquarters tomorrow (Monday 23rd August).
The bank is being targeted for its role in financing fossil fuel developments around the world [pdf]– including the Canadian Tar Sands developments in Alberta, Canada and the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline in British Colombia.
Since the British taxpayer bailout of RBS in 2008 (meaning RBS is now more than 80% owned by the UK taxpayer) the bank has arranged financing for more than US$5.2 billion in debt for companies operating in Canada’s Tar Sands.
This has earned the bank an estimated US $18 million in fees for supporting what is often called ‘the most destructive project in the world’.
One of these companies is Enbridge, whose proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline would be laid through British Columbia, across more than 50 First Nations’ territories and pristine ecosystems.
Members of two of these First Nation communities – who have committed to resist the construction of the pipeline – will be attending the Camp in Scotland to talk about the direct link between RBS and this threat to their traditional territories.
Jasmine Thomas, a member of the Frog clan from Saik’uz, which is a member of the indigenous Carrier Nation, has said:
“Tar Sands is a global phenomenon. It is the largest industrial project in the world. It is also the dirtiest. Tar Sands extraction produces three times as much CO2 per barrel as conventional oil. There’s enough under the ground to push us over the edge into runaway climate change. It should be everyone’s concern.”
Similarly, Riannon Ball, a member of the Crow clan from the Indigenous Tahltan Nation, has said:
“We are determined to prevent the Enbridge pipeline from passing through our territory. A spill from Enbridge’s Michigan pipeline has just released over 800,000 gallons of oil into the river system. We cannot allow this kind of risk to our sacred rivers and the salmon that our people depend on for our culture and subsistence. It is shocking that the Royal Bank of Scotland is using British taxpayers’ money to finance such a destructive project.”
Riannon and Jasmine will be at the Camp from Friday 20th August to Tuesday 24th August and will be available to chat with – or interview if you’re the media – throughout that time. If you would like to do so, please drop an email to tarsandsuk [at] gmail.com
Leaving our cosy field in the back of HQ for a field trip to Cousland felt a little bit like the shambolic field trips to the zoo or science museum that I remember taking as a child. I visited the loo before getting into the minibus (rule number one for field trips), and I wondered what this trip would be like. I couldn’t imagine that any village would really care whether or not fifty or so activists- half on bikes and half in minibuses- came along to simply say “we support you”. But as we arrived at the village, we were met by a big group of residents who warmly welcomed us and shared their story with us.
Cousland is located in beautiful countryside which is threatened with destruction if the plans for a new open cast coal mine go ahead. The plans are proposed by Scottish Coal, one of the main open cast coal mine operators in the UK. Their projects are made possible through loans from Lloyds TSB, another UK bank which, like RBS, prioritises profit over our future.
The area has a listed historical building, a protected badger population, and the ruins of a castle where Mary Queen of Scots met with one of her conspirators. In addition to all of this, the vast majority of the village (95%) is in opposition to the construction of the mine. Considering all of this, it is hard to believe that Scottish Coal is still pushing for planning permission. But Scottish Coal has a bad track record, as it just pushed ahead with plans to dig a new mine in Douglasdale, the site of the Mainshill Solidarity Camp.
With the recession showing no signs of receding, corporations seem keen to use the economy as a “get out of jail free” card that allows them to get away with anything. They promise that the open cast coal mine will create jobs for the local area- but the residents have conducted their own survey and concluded that in addition to the devastating effects on the landscape, local ecosystems, and the health of local people, the proposal would actually have a negative economic impact and harm local jobs.
The attempts of corporations to buy local approval- and the adamant refusal of local communities to sell out their future and the environment- reminded me of the plight of indigenous communities in Canada fighting against tar sands extraction. Indigenous communities are fighting against tar sands extraction- financed by banks like RBS and Barclays- as their communities suffer from alarmingly high rates of cancer and the absolute destruction of the ecosystems within which they live. I met two women from First Nations communities in Canada- they spoke about the devastation they are witnessing in Canada- all for the sake of profit and a fossil-fuel driven economy.
I found it incredibly powerful how the experiences of communities around the world were brought together through the lens of fossil fuel finance, and the brutal demands that banks and corporations make of people who live in areas where there is profit to be made from fossil fuel extraction. It is absolutely essential that we support these communities, in every way possible. Yesterday, that meant taking a field trip to Cousland and writing a letter of objection to the proposals. Tomorrow, it means joining in the day of mass action. The resistance won’t end there, but it’s a meeting point of many struggles where we can draw strength and inspiration from each other.
More information about:
Communities Against Airfield Open Cast
Tar Sands resistance- Indigenous Environmental Network