Climate Camp – a new tragedy of the commons

The following, or at least something resembling it, was published today in the newspaper Greenwich Time.

Blackheath is ancient common land, managed by local government for the benefit of the community. How, then, can a group of environmental activists who we are told operate by consensus justify fencing-off much of Dartmouth Field for their annual Climate Camp, and do so without warning let alone consultation?

Following an initial exchange between campers and police, the latter were excluded from the site, and journalists subject to unacceptable restrictions. The corporate PR operation run by Climate Camp is slick, but it has succeeded in antagonising many, including those sympathetic to the philosophy and aims of the project.

I posed my question about the fence to a camp media liaison named Robbie. The answer from this affable young man was that:

“Climate Camp does things on its own terms. The gate is open, and we’re not excluding people for lack of money. I don’t think the fence constitutes a breach of our principles.”

Blackheath is occasionally host to commercial circuses and funfairs, but they are held with the prior consent of the community. And in any case, apart from some inadequate responses to questions concerning funding, logistics and accountability, it isn’t money that troubles the more serious critics of Climate Camp strategy.

As a still civilly disobedient veteran of the 1980s’ peace movement who led direct action workshops before many of today’s Climate Campers were born, I know where these people are coming from. While I have a problem with the overwhelmingly white middle-class demographic, and oversimplification of certain scientific, political and economic issues, the activists enjoy my qualified support.

Political sympathy aside, what bothers me is Climate Camp’s amoral appropriation of the commons. Squatting common land is not the action of principled green libertarians. One may understand their reluctance to co-operate with the authorities – especially given the appalling behaviour of the police at the G20 demonstrations – but this does not excuse the violation of common land we saw last week on Blackheath.

John Ball will be spinning in his graves.