After 10 years of campaigning on climate change, and bang in the middle of preparations for tomorrow's Campaign Against Climate Change march, Phil Thornhill is, as usual, in a fairly Eeyore-ish frame of mind.Is going away, shutting the hell up and getting a real life an option?
He's worried, naturally, about climate change, the backlash after the Copehagen climate talks, and the fact that the movement is in "a bit of a downturn, just like after 9/11". He's worried about the fact that "the NGOs have just given up on popular demos around climate change and decided that they're just going to lobby on the subject. They think they can do what they need to do through lobbying government, but one of the major problems with this issue is what's going on in people's psyches."
And he's worried about his organisation, Campaign Against Climate Change, which is, he says frankly, "running out of money massively. I'm exhausted, we've been running on risible funds for years now, and to be honest I don't know what we're going to do."
Given CACC's position as one of the very first groups campaigning straightforwardly on climate change, it is indeed worrying that they, sitting in the middle of the campaign spectrum from conservative to radical, should be going bust.Of course it was the U.S. Senate which unanimously rejected Kyoto in 1997, while Bill Clinton was POTUS, but hye, let's lay it at Bush's feet.
CACC started life in November 2000, with a vigil outside the American embassy after the climate talks in the Hague had gone badly wrong. Thornhill, sleeping in a bivouac, spent two weeks outside the embassy in protest, and began to think that this was something that he was going to have to take on.
The following year he formally founded CACC in response to George Bush's decision to reject the Kyoto protocol, "which signalled," says Thornhill, "pretty dramatically, that the nature of environmental campaigning had changed. Now it was no longer possible to just fight to protect a river or a forest, now it was about confronting the most powerful man in the world. The whole thing had changed."
Previously, Thornhill had been a climbing bum, volunteering with Friends of the Earth in Hackney, and making a living in a rope-harness, washing windows on skyscrapers and mending the gutters at Kensington Palace. Now he was running a small campaign organisation full-time and constantly looking for funds. But he felt that "the NGOs were dealing with climate change in a very fragmented way, and there was a desperate need for a group who would express the climate change problem in the traditional language of political protest as the new major political issue of the day, and manage to get it out of its little box."Then along came those messy emails a few years later and next thing you knew people realized what a fraud this entire scam is.
9/11 and then the Iraq war dominated the political scene, and trying to make himself heard over that din was near-impossible, he says. In 2003 a CACC demo timed to coincide with George Bush's visit got some attention, and then finally, in 2005, on the back of G8 and with the help of the anti-war campaign effort, there was a sudden breakthrough and about 10,000 people turned up for the December CACC demonstration.
"It felt as if things were finally taking off, I felt very optimistic. After that the NGOs really started talking, and Stop Climate Chaos coalition [the umbrella organisation for co-ordinating action on climate change] emerged, and I feel as if we really accelerated all that."
Over the next year campaigners from every point on the spectrum would converge on climate change - SCC at the NGO end of things, and Climate Camp at the other, with CACC an important bridge in the middle, representing legal mass action for all those who would find Climate Camp a little alienating.
Thornhill - these days a well-known figure on the climate campaign scene - quickly returned, however, to his normal state of sanguine pessimism. "Since then I've learnt that usually at the moment you think things are lifting off they tail off instead. The novelty factor dissipates and just keeping plugging away at that point is very hard."
Seems to me this clown is hooked up with the wrong people. Hasn't he got any idea how much money is going toward partying in Cancun?