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August 11, 2009

Local campaign grows arms and legs

A few weeks ago, LPL  highlighted a local campaign which was opposing a new open-cast coal mine near Douglas in Lanarkshire.  Since then the community’s efforts have mushroomed into Scotland’s first climate change camp. Hundreds of climate change activists have been arriving from all over the country to lend their support and bringing new meaning to the old adage – think global, act local.

Chris Watt, The Herald

If the organisers of Scotland’s first climate change camp wanted a symbolic backdrop to make their point, they couldn’t have picked a better spot.

Activists converging on the South Lanarkshire site yesterday were presented with a panoramic example of the crossroads the country now faces – directly to the north lies the ugly scar of an open-cast coal mine, while to its east and west the turbines of two wind farms whirr quietly in the breeze.

The site has already been occupied for nearly two months by activists opposed to the development of an open-cast mine at Mainshill, south-west of Lanark, and as their campaign captures public imagination the movement has mushroomed its own wider-reaching offshoot.

Billed as the first Scottish event of its kind, the Camp For Climate Action in Scotland is expected to attract between 200 and 600 activists over the next week, following a model already common around the UK and elsewhere.

Attendees will share ideas for improvement and take part in workshops teaching a number of eco-warrior tactics, ranging from the innocuous-sounding “researching corporations” class to the slightly more daunting “digger diving” afternoon, where participants will be shown how to throw themselves in front of construction equipment to maximum effect.

Professional activist Dan Glass, a 25-year-old science graduate and the camp’s spokesman, said the growing public awareness of climate change had developed into anger and frustration at the failure to address key issues.

“We’ve heard so much talk from the Scottish Government,” he said. “On the one hand it’s great that they want to have the strongest climate bill in the world, but it’s all just talk if, on the other side, they’re expanding the coal industry.

“It’s a complete contradiction.”

Mr Glass said that rising numbers of people were now taking matters into their own hands and involving themselves in “direct action”, such as the occupation of the Mainshill site.

“Fifty years down the line the next generation here in Scotland will either thanks us for what we’re doing today or lament us for not taking the necessary action,” he added. “Climate change isn’t something that’s in the future any more; it’s happening now, and people are seeing the health impacts.”

The protest has attracted widespread local interest, and residents of nearby Douglas have donated hundreds of items of food and clothing to the campaigners living on-site.

Lindsay Addison, vice-chair of the Douglas Community Council, said direct action was seen as one of few options left where political pressure had failed.

Protesters have complained that local Labour MP Jimmy Hood, who is paid £7500 per year as a consultant to Scottish Coal, has been unsympathetic to their plight.

Mr Hood has strenuously denied that there is any conflict of interest.

Mr Addison said his constituents continued to be hugely supportive of the Mainshill Solidarity Camp, as the initial campaign was known, and would throw their weight behind the new climate change camp.

While Lanarkshire has a proud history of coal mining, he said, the latest developments pose greater and more thoroughly understood threats than mines in years gone by.

“What is different is that the mining that went on before was underground, while this is open to the elements,” he said.

“Whatever pollution is created by the mining is going into the atmosphere. It has to go somewhere, and that somewhere could be our lungs.”

South Lanarkshire is one of the most heavily mined areas in Europe, Mr Addison added, and already has four mines within a few miles of Mainshill.

Scottish Coal was granted permission in February to mine a further 1.7m tonnes of fuel from the local woods.

A spokesman for Scottish Coal pointed to the tradition of mining in Scotland, adding: “Coal consistently provides up to half of the nation’s electricity needs, therefore it is a resource that is still in demand by power station operators.

“Scottish Coal remains committed to maximising the use of indigenous coal, which supports Scottish jobs and the Scottish economy and reduces the need to import coal from foreign sources, which carries a greater environmental cost.”

The firm also highlighted the development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology, currently being trialled at Longannet, and said it could ensure that harmful emissions were “reduced or eliminated altogether”.

However, Mr Addison denounced the new technology as an expensive “fig leaf” that would simply gloss over the underlying problems of fossil fuels.