Interviews

Fighting the good fight

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The environmental activist believes organisational efforts on a worldwide basis are required to defend the earth’s remaining resources.

 

Joss Garman knows a thing or two about coordinated campaigning. The activist, who works for Greenpeace UK, has become a prolific voice in Britain after involvement in demonstrations against coal-fired power stations, politicians and airlines. He has reportedly been arrested more than 20 times. Yet Garman knows results are best achieved through grouped efforts. “We won’t save the world through altruistic individual action, but through working together as a worldwide movement to transform the way our economy is powered,” he says.

Garman was born in Wales in 1985 and has already conducted a lifetime of environmental action. At 15 Garman wrote to Greenpeace asking to become a volunteer. When he discovered there was no local branch where he lived, he established his own. “I grew up in a beautiful, wildlife-rich part of the Welsh countryside and I think that was key to why I always felt very strongly about protecting nature,” he says. “The more I learned about the scale of the threats, the more I wanted to be part of the movement that would get in the way of the dirty industries and promote cleaner ones instead.”

While at school Garman campaigned outside supermarkets against issues such as fossil-fuel power plants. He protested against genetically modified food and the Iraq war. Once he organised a mass walkout at his school against the conflict. He even broke into a Royal Air Force station in Fairford, south-west England, to block the runways and halt bombers leaving for Iraq. He was threatened by armed guards and held in solitary for more than two days.

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Such efforts have raised the profile of unsustainable conduct among corporations and politicians. “The most successful environment campaigns are the ones that speak to people’s existing, deeply-held values about protecting the special places and creatures that people love and want to nurture for the next generation,” he says. “Most people want to do what’s right but often the key decisions are removed from them; the levers of power held in corporate boardrooms and the corridors of Whitehall. The best campaigns are the ones that empower people to get involved and to en-masse effectively challenge those decision makers.”

A good example is Plane Stupid, a non-violent direct-action group co-founded by Garman in 2005. It campaigns against short-haul aviation, airport expansion and aviation advertising. Members have occupied three British airports, shut down the headquarters of easyJet and BBA, and campaigned atop the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament. Garman, though no longer involved in the group, says aviation is the climate’s biggest threat and that we cannot wait for sustainable technology to validate it. “It’d be a bit like holding out for cigarettes that don’t cause cancer,” he says.

He continues: “This means we need an end to the culture of binge-flying to destinations reachable by cleaner alternative forms of transport, and it means advertising for cheap flights should start being seen in the same way as adverts for Big Tobacco. The good news is that a staggering proportion of all flights in Europe, for example, are to destinations easily reachable by train or bus which are way, way less polluting.”

Another chief danger is unsustainable energy. Two years after co-founding Plane Stupid, Garman was involved in defending six Greenpeace activists who were part of a larger group breaking into a coal-fired power station in Kingsnorth, south-east England, to campaign against plans of another plant nearby. They hit the emergency buttons, chained themselves to a conveyor belt and shut down the plant for a day. Six were put in trial for causing £30,000 worth of damage, but they got away. “In shutting down the plant for only one day we were stopping the equivalent of 30 developing countries worth of pollution,” Garman said later.

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In Garman’s view it was an example of required action. He says the biggest obstacle in the climate change debate are fossil fuel industries with “vested interest in business-as-usual” – as well as politicians who believe fossil fuels are essential to maintaining prosperity.

He says: “To win the battle for a switch to a greener global economy in my view requires more demonstrable examples of low-carbon prosperity in action – actual evidence of green growth offering security and prosperity to people in major economies – and it requires people power to stand in the way of those corporations who will do whatever they can to burn their oil, coal and gas irrespective of the costs of today’s society and nature as well as future generations.”

Looking ahead, Garman will focus on environmental efforts for Greenpeace UK. He recommends travellers join organisations like his own, or others – he mentions 350.org, a global grassroots group – who take action against carbon. Where does he think the next climate change battle will be fought? “In an era where the biggest fossil fuel companies in the world are literally trying to chase the last drops of oil, coal and gas from literally the ends of the world – underneath the melting Arctic ice, in the deep seas off West Africa, and from underneath the English home counties – it will be in these places that the global climate movement must get in the way using every peaceful means at our disposal.”

Photos: Gwoeii/Shutterstock.com, Greenpeace UK.

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