Ireland’s first Climate Camp in 2009 pitched up beside the peat-burning power station at Shannonbridge. The plant has since shut. In 2010 they protested against a planned new road in Tyrone. It was never built. There’s been only one Climate Camp since then – last year in Kerry where US billionaire Wes Edens wants to build the climate-wrecking Shannon LNG terminal. The jury – ie Bord Pleanála – is still out on that one.
They say that since environmental wins are rare, you have to celebrate them when they come along, but it would be quite a stretch for Camp organisers to take credit for all of the above.
This year’s Camp – near Manorhamilton this week – is focused on industries threatening Leitrim but is also rather ambitiously taking aim at the biggest target of all: the capitalist economic model that’s driving the climate catastrophe now unfolding.
For an event billed as an all-island “festival of resistance” at which hundreds of activists, community workers, academics, farmers and others gather to share strategies for collective action, North Leitrim was an obvious choice. This is the home turf of Love Leitrim, the heroic campaigners who saw off fracking companies, triggering Ireland’s fracking ban in 2017, and who have turned their attention to yet more industries that threaten to turn Leitrim into a sacrifice zone – gold mining and industrial conifer plantations.
In both cases climate action is used as cover to greenwash extractive industries that are environmentally and socially destructive. Not only are the Sitka spruce plantations an ecological disaster, they often contribute to global heating – planting them on peatland and then clear-felling emits more carbon than the trees sequester.
For climate solutions to work, they must have buy-in from local communities. But the state’s approach is like its approach to everything else – developer-led and driven by corporate profit. By contrast, 70% of wind farms in Denmark are owned by people living near them and guess what? Danes like wind farms.
The Climate Camp is at Pollboy, one of 47 townlands in Leitrim for which Eamon Ryan issued prospecting licences to Canadian mining firm Flintridge Resources last year. With 28% of the state licensed for mining, a Critical Raw Materials Act being drafted by the EU – with a lot of help from mining firms – will fast-track licensing to dig up the minerals needed for the ‘green economy’.
What the Climate Campers – along with many climate scientists and others – are saying is, yes we need rapid decarbonisation but that must include reducing demand. That means a complete system change rather than business as usual fuelled by a different type of resource extraction.
Our only hope for a liveable future is a dramatic shift from a society organised around shareholder profit, endless growth, individualism and hyper-consumerism to one organised around, in the words of a Climate Camp slogan, “communities not shareholders”. A low-energy, low-demand society organised around people’s needs, equality, justice and ecological recovery. The only way we’re going to get there is by people getting political and collectively taking on corporate power.