Skip to content or view screen version

Climate Camp Cymru workshop report

workshopper | 16.08.2009 21:39 | Climate Chaos | Ecology | Free Spaces

How can UK actually cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020?

What will be the economic, employment, social and political consequences of the 40% cut?

The first Climate Camp Cymru, which was held in Merthyr Tydfil right next to the Ffos-y-fran open cast coal mine, has just finished. Here’s an account of the best workshop I went to during the four day camp. Actually, it was the only workshop I went to, being busy with other stuff most of the time, but it was excellent, so I thought I’d write it up.


In a somewhat unlikely scenario, workshop participants were put in charge of the country, responsible for deciding how to achieve a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years. We had a diagram of global greenhouse gas emissions from the Stern Report, broken down by category, for example: industry, domestic light and heat, transportation, agriculture [Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change, Chapter 7, p174], and a bit of information about UK emissions, which differ from the global figures on several counts. Like the real government, we’d apparently promised to make swingeing cuts in greenhouse gases, and now we had to deliver them - no cheating with carbon credits and offsets either!

Nothing like a bit of power to bring out the authoritarian streak in us. It didn’t take us long to decide that domestic heat and light emissions were going to have to be reduced by half; no one was going to be jetting off on holiday or taking business flights because there wasn’t going to be any civil aviation; other transport emissions would have to drop to 20% of their current level; all non-essential industry would be closed down; most livestock farming would be abandoned and we would completely shut down our military services.

Easily done? Well, the practicalities of how we would actually achieve these cuts prompted quite a bit of discussion and concern. Being politicians for the afternoon, we were worried about our chances of re-election and, more crucially, that we might find ourselves strung up by the disgruntled populace and be left swinging from the now defunct lamp posts on the streets. Seriously though, how were we going to reduce domestic light and heat emissions by half? Stop the rich from using more than one room in their mansions? Force people already living in cold, damp flats to wear extra jumpers? It’s easy to see how newly-built eco-homes can be designed to use hardly any energy for heat and light, but existing properties - particularly in towns and cities, poorly insulated and with no south-facing roofs or usable wind - pose more of a problem. A comprehensive home insulation programme was suggested, and heat capture from local industry chimneys to warm homes, although there wasn’t going to be so much industry around to utilise if we had our way.

Transport cuts weren’t going to be easy either. We talked about how private car use dropped to virtually zero during the Second World War, although there weren’t nearly so many people dependent on their private cars at that time, and discussed how Cuba had coped in 1990 when its oil supply was suddenly curtailed with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Cuban response was to improvise huge public transportation vehicles and to do a lot more cycling and walking (See the film The Power of Community for more on this). We thought that we could re-open lots of village railway stations, improve bus services dramatically and insist that there should be no more pointless transportation of food around the country to suit crazy corporate distribution policies, as well as finding a way to stop people from driving around in cars. We decided to start using canals again for moving stuff around, as well as sailing boats to ferry goods between ports.

With much of our livestock gone, we could concentrate on growing more of our own food, closing the carbon cycle by composting all human waste for use as fertiliser and burning the by-product, methane, in our homes. There was a bit of contention over whether a completely vegan-organic lifestyle for all was the most ecological or desirable, and some talk about vegan fascist dictators, but it was agreed that we definitely needed less livestock and more arable farming, smaller, labour-intensive farms rather than agro-industrial complexes, and more people living on the land.


In the second part of the workshop, we looked at what we’d done in the cold, capitalist light of day and thought about the economic, social and political consequences of our actions. It didn’t take too long to work it out.

In one fell swoop, we had swelled the ranks of the unemployed with our soldiers, sailors, airmen and half our industrial workers, including those working in the military industrial complex, hopefully. With less tax revenue coming in, we wouldn’t be able to afford as many public services, like all those health workers – the managers especially, we thought. The stock market would collapse too – more redundancies. No one would have a private/public sector pension, these being dependent on the stock market. People would lose their fortunes overnight. In short, if we are going to seriously cut carbon emissions, our existing economic system is fucked. We were talking about a 40% cut here, and our government has promised an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. Well, well.

Socially and politically, we thought that 15 million unemployed might be a disaster unless they have something to do, although this might just lead to a popular revolution, of course. We considered some Keynesian measures to create new jobs in renewable energy, home insulation, public transport and – mainly – agriculture, permaculture and forestry. Currently, just 1% of the workforce is directly involved in agriculture. If we’re going to change that – and we really must – then people need to be able to move out of towns into rural areas, where they can work on the land. This is an opportunity to build lots of eco-dwellings where they’re needed.

With a multi-billion pound National Health Service no longer affordable, we would have to concentrate on primary health care in the community, on prevention and simple cures, including alternative therapies. Goodbye drugs companies.

Whatever happens, we’re all going to have to learn to live much simpler and more frugal (or at least less wasteful) lives, and we’re going to have to find a way of redistributing wealth so that everyone has their basic human needs for food, water, shelter, warmth and community met. How this might be achieved is a moot point – could it become a popular mass movement, a peaceful, bottom up, de-industrial revolution, where the urban poor will jump at the chance to move out of towns into the countryside to live healthy, happy lives, or will a supposedly benevolent dictator adopt a Maoist policy of forced resettlement? It certainly seems unlikely that the landowners are going to give up their fields of their own free will.

At this point – triggered by talking about Mao I suppose – the discussion moved on to re-education. We’ve had decades of consumerism, with generations brought up to believe that money and possessions are all. Our children are fed a diet of competitive education, compulsive computer games, mindless television, throwaway toys and fast food. This might be good preparation for a career in reality TV or bombing civilians from remotely operated aerial vehicles, but it’s no use at all for living sustainably on the land. Can we change our education system so that it teaches practical skills and co-operative values? Can we rescue young people after they’ve left school and teach these things through direct experience of living and working in rural settings? Or, I wonder, can we abandon our educational institutions altogether and just learn together while getting on with our lives? The evidence from home educating families suggests that we can, and probably should.


I think I’ve probably gone beyond the end of the workshop now, into my thoughts as I wandered back across the climate camp field, past the compost toilets, vegan kitchens and wood burning stoves, past the geodomes, yurts and marquees, past groups of campers making decisions by consensus in lengthy meetings, and others making music, sawing wood, building stuff, painting banners and signs, welcoming newcomers and escorting journalists round the site.

One of the main functions of the camp, as I see it, is to be a practical demonstration of how we can live in a sustainable and peaceful way with no leaders. Camps for climate action are also committed to building a movement of people prepared to take nonviolent direct action to confront the root causes of climate change - to stop the big, corporate climate criminals in their tracks and make them clean up their acts or, preferably, shut down and go away.

This workshop made me realise, in a way that I think I hadn’t properly appreciated before, that climate change can’t be solved with a bit of tinkering round the edges. If we’re going to save the planet, then the current economic, political and social order will have to go, and quickly. What’s more, it will have to be replaced with something with human and animal rights, dignity, equality and community at its core. This gets me to thinking about the poverty of the exchange system, and about gift economy as an alternative, where needs are met as a matter of course, without expectation of anything in return, where wealth flows downwards in abundance for all, rather than upwards to satisfy the greed of a few at the expense of the many.

I’m left with more questions than answers, and should probably be feeling depressed at how desperate the climate situation is and about what’s going to become of the world we know when we get round to tackling it properly.

The economy is going to collapse. Oh dear!
Stocks and shares will go through the floor. How sad!
Tax revenue will plummet. Tragedy!
Fortunes will be lost. Woe!

I can’t stop smiling.

- Homepage:


Display the following 4 comments

  1. the C-word — s
  2. moot points — workshopper
  3. primary health care in the community? — sickly
  4. Other good workshops — another workshopper