Climate Camp 2007: Another End of the World is Possible

By Damian Abbott, 3 September 2007

Now that environmentalists and government ostensibly have the same interests at heart one might expect a bit of collusion. But the Climate Camp at London's Heathrow Airport last month saw protesters, media and the police co-produce an event of extraordinary restraint, reports Damian Abbott. While the Met made the protesters' lives as difficult as possible, the campers seemed to be doing a pretty good job of this on their own

Tuesday 14 August: outside Staines BR station and it's raining. Pissing down, and despite being medically ill-disposed to tents, mud, and more fucking rain, I'm asking someone holding a leaflet that states 'You are not fucked' for directions to the camp site. He sends me, and a couple of others, over to a white hire van. The driver looks frazzled, he has apparently been on the go since seven in the morning, and drives us at a sedate pace along the dual carriageways that feed traffic towards the north of Heathrow airport. He's been stopped and searched several times, and responded, 'I don't know' to numerous questions, except for the necessary name and address. Understandably, he's feeling a bit singled out, but I don't think the mobile speed camera on the central reservation is for our benefit. There's no sign of the ANPR unit (automatic number plate recognition) he claims is also in the area, but there is an unmarked Saab pursuit car parked nearby. The driver is in blue combats and no fluorescent vest, so not your average traffic grunt, but the only people getting pulled over fit the usual profile: young black men, young white men, young men. Business as usual.


Gatsometer, a Dutch company, are involved in researching image encryption techniques (as a consequence of developing the use of digital speed cameras), while Truvelo, established in the UK in 1993, describe themselves as a manufacturer of 'Traffic law enforcement and data gathering products'. Truvelo make handheld laser speed guns, as well as forward facing speed cameras (that enable a photograph of the driver and passenger to be taken), and the 'Moving Violation Recorder with Digital EyeWitness®.' Their South African sister company, Truvelo Manufacturers (PTY) Ltd, also makes high-powered sniper rifles and an array of carbines. Both companies are in the avant-garde of establishing the mechanisms of an automated process, producing a system of justice that removes an event from the particularities of its causation, and places it into the irrational realm of moral absolutism. The threshold that differentiates the citizen from the criminal is so precisely measured that it becomes a border without any width, the consequence being that it is only possible to be either a citizen or a criminal, but not both.

This side-effect of globalisation, an increased tendency towards an extensive, totalising, and absolute system of reference, seems to me also to produce the more millenarian tendencies of the social movement gathering around climate change issues. While the state will always be quick to use calamity to shore up its authority, its 'millenarian' antagonists oppose a simplified sense of virtue to both the perceived crisis and the state's response. Far from offering an analysis of globalisation, they remain its offspring, its inevitable waste product. For instance, Only Planet (the camp handbook given to all arrivals by the 'welcome team') states clearly that any change in the climate does not affect us all equally and makes a statistical argument that air travel is a class issue, citing an average salary of £48,000 for passengers from British airports. Absent, though, is any discussion about the nature of working-class transnational mobility. Absent too is any sign of awareness as to how the demand to 'be more realistic about whether the entire human race can afford for you to go on your holidays' [sic] (Only Planet again) plays into the hands of right-wingers, who would readily use the impending doom scenario to curb immigration. Telling people to stay at home, assumes that they have a 'home' in the first place, indeed it assumes a degree of comfort with the very idea of a national identity. 'Social change, not lifestyle change', is the demand on one prominent banner that I see later in the day, secured to a marquee in the centre of the site, but the obscurantist belief, the ersatz nationalism, that seems to be required has more in common with a faith than with any revolution that I can readily identify with.


The road leading up to the camp has been closed to traffic, so we get out of the van. I'm interested in knowing which Act has been used to block off a public road, but the grunt on duty will only offer the somewhat occult answer of 'Commissioner's directions'. It’s not until I walk further down the road that it's evident to what degree the camp is being scrutinised. A towering hydraulic arm suspends CCTV cameras in the air, and police floodlights enhance the notion of the camp as being an arena, as well as acting as a light source of psychological pressure. When the Tour de France cut its way through London this summer, the effect was no less intense, and all the accoutrements of contemporary sporting spectacle are here, right down to the journalists tapping towards an evening deadline on wireless equipped laptops, in cars parked on the camp's periphery. Any casual passer-by might come up with the same analogy, since the land being squatted by the Climate Camp is part of Harlington Sports Ground. This may have been an astute choice of trespass: the sports fields are owned by Imperial College and are currently under threat of a Compulsory Purchase Order to facilitate Heathrow's expansion. Since CPOs rarely match a property's potential market value, I'm sure Imperial College will already have approached BAA with some tentative negotiations, offering to speed the sale for the right deal. Equally, it’s likely, though not by any means sure, that an academic institution would move slowly to force an eviction: one eye on maintaining an image of civility; another eye on sections of the student body that might be supportive of the camp's aims. A prolonged or high-level news 'incident' would threaten to bring disruption to the campus when everyone returns after the summer, and might also raise awkward questions as to whether the land was originally acquired with knowledge of its potential value to the operators of Heathrow. For their part, the squatters managed the camp's representation to local residents (up to 2000 of whom face eviction and are running their own campaign:, as carefully as they managed its media representation, letters describing the camp's aims being sent to most households in the vicinity.

Imperial College warning found at Climate Camp 2007Image: Imperial College statement at the Climate Camp


A Forward Intelligence Team (FIT) is busy doing its thing at the camp entrance. If the camp seeks to authenticate its authority with an image of virtue, then Forward Intelligence policing is its antithesis. Forward Intelligence is primarily about intimidation, and has been adopted even at the most quotidian levels of maintaining public order. Their most visible incarnation is the FIT photographer. The blue baseball cap and combats are intended to give the impression that they are brothers-in-arms with their American cousins in S.W.A.T, or their cooler, Gallic comrades in the CRS. These ninjas of data collection carry cameras with a huge lens, large flash, and an attached digital camera, so that it resembles some kind of biomechanical prosthesis. The uniform belies the fact that Britain is one of the few European countries not to have a barracked, paramilitary police force; FIT photographers are more like paparazzi that have lost any index of their subject's economic value and now take photos indiscriminately. Anyone is fair game, you merely have to come into the lens' field of view to merit a snap.

Such an indiscriminate collection of data can have little real intelligence value in the traditional sense. I'm sure we're meant to believe that they possess an arcane knowledge of 'hidden Markov chains' and 'dynamic link matching' that has spawned accurate facial recognition algorithms (ones that perform consistently across the genders, that don't get confused by expressions of emotion), powering a RapidResponse database. I have no doubt that this is their desired future, but for now, FIT policing relies on the fact that we actually care about being seen. I'm not sure if my photo is taken as I arrive, since the paparazzo are dithering between the choice of capturing an old gentleman on his bicycle or a couple stretching a banner between them on which is written 'Prevent Privacy Invasion', or some such legend.(I thought the point of squatting was to question the notion of privacy and private property in general, but at this point of the day I was actively trying not to be a source of schismatic, hair-splitting argument... ). After my last brush with public order policing, enough DNA was collected to clone an army of me, so I'm not too bothered. If understood merely as intimidation then FIT is something of a short-term strategy. In a world where everyone carries a camera, we no longer believe that the lens steals our souls, but perhaps the FIT methods must be seen as an acknowledgement that traditional forms of intelligence gathering have limited value in the face of an increasingly heterogeneous 'threat'. It is the other state response to globalisation, another form of surrendering to the irrational, but in this case rather than seeking to homogenise instances of the particular, make them recognisable under a single scheme of identification, it seeks simply to revel in them. That the activity has some kind of formal use is the cover for an orgiastic indulgence, the side effects of which are as yet unknown to the state. It hankers after effect, any effect, because it knows, at some base level, that in such eroticism there is power.

Stop and search sheet found at Climate Camp 2007Image: Stop and search sheet found at Climate Camp


Conversely, it's a mark of almost all the actions that the camp builds up to on the Saturday that they involve some form of voluntary restraint or self-immolation. Rather than indulgence, there is denial. People lock themselves on to fences and gates. Workshops throughout the preceding week, train people in the art of superglueing their hands onto any available symbolic surface, in order to await the police solvents that will free them. Even the ritual of marching on the headquarters of BAA seems to be no more than a case of presenting oneself for temporary encirclement by a cordon of police officers, and submitting oneself to the gaze of the media. It's less a case of misfortune, and more a direct consequence of the mental and physical asceticism of the camp that the banner which dominated later news photos claimed the movement's desire to 'Make Planes History'. How are we to leave behind all desire for flight? We cannot. It's nonsense. Let's make more planes, let's make our own aircraft, our own, more varied types of flight... Gliders, airships, ground effect vehicles, types of craft as yet untested and types of craft as yet unknown. Let's counter the state's indiscriminate gaze with the full extent of our own desires, the full extent of who we are. At the limits of prediction, it’s tempting to revert to the foetal, but if the task is truly one of transformation then the tactics of restraint should not be allowed to control and dominate the heterogeneous outcomes of playful chaos.

I receive updates on the progress of the actions from Indymedia, via text messages:

20/08/07 08:03:35 IMCUK: Sizewell nuclear power station blockaded by five people in concrete lock-ons. Banner reads 'nuclear power is not the answer to climate chaos'.

20/08/07 11:21:01 IMCUK: Sizewell B blockade still in place. No cutting team present yet. All the media and all but one of the support team move down the road.

20/08/07 13:57:48 IMCUK: As recently as 1:30pm, Sizewell B blockade still in place after six hours and still no cutting team present.

20/08/07 14:04:18 IMCUK: Sizewell B blockaders have called in to report they packed up five minutes ago, walking off without arrest. Now on their way home, wet but happy.

As I walk back from the camp-site to the village of Sipson, I have an eye on the hedges that line the road; full of ripe damsons, I figure that they'll probably make dessert for someone at the camp. A fleck of bright green catches my glance, so I opt to delve a bit deeper. 'Surrey Police. With you, making Surrey safer'. The green pad is a receipt book, a 'record of persons and vehicles stopped and searched'. There are a few pages torn out, but more interestingly, the dust cover has been used to compile a list: one column for films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger; another for Sly Stallone. There's more on the back, more time filled by a random process of indexing. I wonder how the pad came to be in the hedge and hope that it wasn't carelessly dropped, or conspiratorially placed. There's always the possibility that having completed this list it dawned on our constable that he had a few more lists of his own to complete. And none of them involved the random designation of old men on bicycles as 'terrorists'. But there's no empty and abandoned uniform to be found, not in this hedge at least. Perhaps someone decided being an object at the orgy was nowhere near as much fun as taking part, and decided to take back a little of that erotic power. Perhaps that person tried to put the little receipt book in a place where neither the sun nor floodlights shine. Futile as that gesture might be as an isolated, individualised instance, it’s the mark of a particular kind of absence that I leave, hungry for a complex unmediated moment.

Stop and search sheet found at Climate Camp 2007Image: Stop and search sheet found at Climate Camp

Damian Abbott <damian AT> is a co-founder and editor of Inventory and has worked under various pseudonyms on other collective enterprises


The Climate Camp took place near Heathrow Airport, London, 14-21 August 2007