Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Monday, 3 January 2022

Review of the year 2021


2021 began with us all in lockdown, which put a bit of a limit on how much campaigning we could do. Still, it meant I could enjoy the snow that we had.

Down in London though a certain Mr Daniel Hooper and co. are deep underground at Victoria station, trying to stop the HS2 high speed railway line. Dan, when he was under the alias Swampy, 'stole' my socks in 1997 after I apparently lost a drinking game, so I wasn't going to let him have all the media attention.

I sent The Guardian an email saying that they could be getting to the tunnels-starting-to-fall-apart stage, and The Guardian rang straight back as apparently they were at the tunnels-starting-to fall-apart stage.

In the end everyone is safe, although HS2 wasn't looking so good, and I got my fifteen seconds of fame.


Lockdown made campaigning difficult still, but the Manchester Greenpeace Group still managed a celebration of walking and cycling. We didn't manage to get out together, but we cycled on our own and I spiced the pictures and videos together to make a short film. Bea had the best job, of pedalling round the Manchester CYCLOPS, a new style of junction where the traffic lights synch to the cyclists. 


In March the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission failed to take any action on catastrophic overfishing, more proof that are oceans are not safe from industrial fishing. We took minister Zac Goldsmith to task online over this.

Meanwhile lockdown gave me plenty of time to explore my local corner of the Peak District National Park, in particular the bits in between the bits I usually walk around. I found a few new waterfalls, and some quite places I will try to visit more often.


And finally we are allowed out again to play. Sort of. Ocean floor mining is a new threat to our oceans, not that they needed another one, and on that Greenpeace intends to campaign on.

We weren't allowed to meet the general public yet, but we did make a nice banner and got to hang it off various places around Manchester.

Steve Speed took some decent photos, and one ended up in the Morning Star. 


The lingering pandemic may have still prevented us meeting real people, but we were still able to carry 'secret squirrel' missions in the dead of night. 

Deforestation is the major driver of climate change after buring fossil fuels, and most of that is animal agriculture. We don't import much meat raised on former rainforest into the UK, but we import a lot of animal feed grown in Brazil, and the main company doing this is Tesco.

In order to let people know about this the Manchester Greenpeace 'secret squirrels' carried out a number of dawn raids on Tesco stores, leaving chalked messages outside. 

The Greenpeace group also decides to go wild camping this month. Unfortunately, we pick the wettest day of the year so far and nearly drown just getting to the site. However, I set up the tarp and light the fire and we all have a good time, even the dog.  


We're still targeting Tesco, and Greenpeace pay a proper photographer to come out with us. We take the poor chap for a rather long walk around Manchester and Salford, but we get some really good pictures back.

Also, in June a little reunion was arranged for the anti-fracking tribe. Old friendships were remade, much was drunk, and we remember those we stood with who are no longer with us. In the UK, at least, shale gas will now stay in the ground. 


And it's Tesco again, but this time in the daylight. The aim is to deliver a letter to every store in the country, and to be photographed outside. Seeing as there are over 100 branches in Manchester alone, that's a challenge. The shop managers though, when we meet them, are mostly supportive of the campaign, which shows how difficult it is to pick heroes and villains in this game.


Tesco campaigning continued. However, as it was summer, I thought I did deserve a sort of a holiday, so Number two son and I went off for a few nights camping in Cambridgeshire, and I now have a new favourite camp site.

Fen End Farm near Cottenham is an off-grid, organic orchard where you can pitch your tent amongst the trees and be alone with the stars. It has composting toilets, home-made apple juice and firsts rate facilities and is run by friendly people. I brought my own tent, but their yurts and tipis looked very tempting for next time. 


Normality returns by degrees, and we get to go to a festival. Wigan Diggers is always fun, and this year our stall celebrated 50 years of Greenpeace. 

This year was especially exciting for our Sami as she got to meet two of her heroes; Jeremy Corbyn and Maxine Peake. Jezza got to blow out the candles on our small, but perfectly formed, vegan birthday cake.

Elsewhere, celebrations of Greenpeace's half century were relatively restrained. This was not really a time for resting on laurels. There were some interesting online events though, and I got to 'meet' some of the significant people in the history of the organisation, including Susi Newborn, one of the founders of Greenpeace UK.  

My own contribution to this, as someone who has been involved for about half of those fifty years, was to appear on the Manchester New Green Deal podcast.

The Greenpeace group were also out and about in Chorlton, getting ready for the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. Greenpeace UK was making a tapestry with contributions from groups around the country, and we set some small people the job of making our offering. Using the theme "No Planet Bee" they made little hexagrams of what they would like the future to look like.


The Tory Party was in Manchester and so there was a demonstration. It was a decent turnout, probably the biggest post-Covid gathering outside of a Black Lives Matter demo. 

We formed a climate block at the back of the main event, and as a result were the last to arrive at the Castlefield Bowl. 

As far as the press were concerned, we needn't really have bothered, but it was great to be back out with real people again.

Also in October, Greenpeace sent us a
cardboard cut-out of Tesco CEO Ken Murphy. It was actually a rather flattering one, as he he's a lot trimmer in our version than real life. Anyway, we took our cardboard Ken on tour round some of the branches in central Manchester.

Tesco are apparently feeling the pressure, but they weren't throwing in the towel. This looks like a being a campaign that's going to be a long haul. 


So, after six years of waiting it's finally COP26, the most important international conference on climate change since Paris in 2015.

There were various lead up events, including a big Youth Strike, which I was at, and an early morning 'secret squirrel' mission to display messages from people on the front line of the climate crisis on a disused building before the big march in Manchester.

As for the march itself, it was a bit stressful, but it got there in the morning. I was one of the compares on the stage, and Covid meant a quarter of our invited speakers failed to turn up, one sending her apology by text whilst I was opening the rally. In the end though it was a success. Our speakers were almost all women and people-of-colour and mostly trade union or refugee activists.

The march over, I went up to Glasgow myself. In Paris six years ago there was a state of emergency due to terrorist attacks, this time it was Covid. This meant wrist bands and queuing to get into venues. This made it all rather less spontaneous and anarchic, but it was a still a chance to meet activists from around the world. The theme of the week was climate justice and in particular Loss and Damage, which, thanks to the demonstrations at the weekend, was discussed at COP for the first time. 

This is a little video I put together afterwards. 

Also in November, the Glossop Guild invited me back to do an evening lecture on the history of Greenpeace. It's an easy audience and it goes down well. 


And with that I was done with activism for the year.

It was difficult to point to any major successes for the green movement during 2021. COP certainly wasn't one.

However, come the end of the year things were looking better. The number one film on Netflix as the year ended was Don't Look Up. A film with a strong message about climate change denial, it was actually pretty good. More importantly it started a conversation about the climate crisis amongst people who don't usually talk to crusty eco-warriors. 

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