Friday, July 11, 2008

Everyone has a right to protest ....

.... at something that they disagree with; and (my caveat) providing it is peaceful and sensibly done. But yet again, we have total and utter madness reported as a climate change group hijack a train delivering coal to Drax power station. Full story is from the Guardian.

Sorry, but this is on a par with the animal liberation people freeing thousands of mink a few years ago. These caused absolute devastation to the wildlife within 20 or so miles of the mink farms.

To the people in this Climate Change Action group - I'm all for raising awareness of climate change, but if you want to make a point, make it fairly, sensibly and politely; actions such as hijacking trains make you look like nothing less than outlaws, lunatics and complete idiots. All you will do is alienate yourselves from the man in the street. Go get a life!

Guardian - Addendum (JM) - Is hijacking a train the right tactic? - Methinks some protest to much, and actually get active in more productive ways too little.

Indy - Addendum 2 (JM) - Climate campaigners threaten to invade and shut down power plant - 'Green activists are vowing to force their way...'


Peter said...


But in the current climate (sorry), especially as stirred up by most media, I fear there will be more.

Charitably it could be put down to misguided passions and/or frustrations.

More cynically, many of these stunts originate from activist corporates with boards and pension plans to support.

The problem comes when there is a tacit 'good on yer' in certain quarters, and this extra-legal 'protest' in the name of green percolates down.

I could just imagine the howls if all the Priuses parked at an eco-concert got keyed by radical cycle group.

Dave said...

Yes, point taken.

My big fear is just how long will it be before anti aviation fanatics actually bring down a passenger aircraft? Or anti nuclear fanatics damage a reactor causing a major radiation leak? There are protests and there are crazy protests, but fanaticism seems to always slowly but surely rise to the top eventually.

Whatever happened to reasoned debate?

Joeboy said...

I don't really understand your comparison to freeing mink. Other than the fact you disapprove of both I don't see what the two things have to do with each other.

I guess the core of what you're saying is that this action was 'too extreme'. I think that depends on how extreme you perceive the problem to be. If you believe that climate change is as serious a threat as, say, the IPCC do then halting a train to stop people burning coal seems far from disproportionate to me.

If you think this action will stop 'the public' from being concerned about climate change then I think you underestimate them. I believe that many people understand the need for forthright challenges to the status quo. As your blog post demonstrates some people will think differently, but that's always going to be the case.

Also consider this: People will, more or less by definition, always disapprove of extremes and congregate around the centre ground. If people abandon the extremes, then what was previously the centre ground becomes the extreme and thus the target of the public's ire.

So, I don't agree that the action was 'too extreme' per-se, nor do I believe that it was likely to deter people from thinking about environmental issues.

Moving onto the subsequent comments, I can only second Dave's the sentiment "Whatever happened to reasoned debate?". In the nicest possible way, you come across in these comments as a pair of loonies ;-)

Peter said...

Ah well, it had to come to pass.

Having watched, and pondered on this blog for some time about the tricky line that moderators have to walk, I am at last confronted with a tangible example of the dilemma one faces.

Though mild enough, a silly pejorative has been used, playing the poster(s) on a personal basis (as an aside, reference to affiliations I believe are acceptable as they can add to context) more than the argument, and it’s a shame as it’s preceded by some entirely valid counters. Hence I have decided to allow such a post this time, if only to allow other readers make their own minds up. We don’t get too many posting, but I always value the highly informed and considered nature of those that do, as they suggest the thoughtful calibre of our readership by those we have had...until now.

So let’s review. A poster has despaired of some actions that he deems unhelpful the cause of reasoned environmentalism. I wrote in support. Two entirely, equally valid views (from two people who have, and are demonstrably DOING things to raise awareness and mitigate our enviro impacts (Climate Camp blurb: 'Click the subscribe button to join over 1,500 people on our low-volume climate camp announcement list opt-in list: 3,000) that many seem to appreciate. And in reply: by not sharing an alternate viewpoint we are deemed... ‘loonies’. Way to go on the persuasion front if that is going to be your favoured tactic with any other free-thinking folk. I believe the questioning of mental states may be better directed in future.

If he returns to this post I’ll leave Dave to address your comment on the mink analogy if he chooses. I tend to agree that they are not totally comparable cases. While both test legal process, the mink release was obviously environmentally worse than that being protested against, and in an enduring way. This protest was a relatively considered spoiler (I wonder what the enviROI of putting everything back will be?). However, the word ‘hijack’ has been bandied about.

My main concern (and Dave’s, clearly), and what I was addressing in my reply, is what this might lead to, as to get noticed in the media (the avowed aim) in ways they can ‘love’, the bar always needs raising. What next? Maybe a cute little ‘kidnap’. A bunch of jolly hooded folk grab a plant manager for a short while to sit in his or her office. Not serious, but just making a point. The law needn’t apply as the cause is one those participating happen to believe in fervently, so that’s OK.

There’s also what the public retain of those who make environmental points. What ends up front page is usually the broadest, darkest shade of tar, that can obscure or end up splashing on other viewpoints and methods of expressing them, thereby weakening the overall case.

You don’t think it was too extreme. Dave did. And I agreed. We’re allowed to have those opinions, but there is a worrying sense that there are those who think that if the issue is ‘important enough’ (ie: one they happen to have got excited about) then dissent is not acceptable and must be attacked by any means. Sorry... no. So, in the nicest possible way, deal with it like an adult and not a sulky teenager frustrated that their cause is not being espoused and lauded as much as they think it should.

Action is fine. But make it creative, entertaining and empathetic. Adversarial, agenda-driven and smacking of extremism, especially of the well-funded variety, can create a negative reaction and make things worse (assuming some have a grasp of what they are actually trying to make other than an ‘anti’ noise). I have and do admire much that such as Greenpeace has done, is doing and will do, but not everything. Climate Camp, so far, less so: ‘We need money to make the camp happen, if you've got some spare, click on the button below to find out how to get it to us.’

I’m guessing that having dipped in here, as you don’t like what you have found you may not return, and frankly on current evidence will not be missed much. Certainly anything in similar ad hominem vein will not be welcome and not published.

Might I suggest returning to a comfort zone of like-minded folk. I was going to suggest the Guardian CiF (so popular with and representative of the majority of the UK population), but actually the debate here seems equally spirited, though typically breaking down into artillery exchanges from entrenched positions that will simply pass over the heads of those in the middle ground with other aspects to their day to day lives to get excised about.

I find it a pity that the main take away I have are these is mirrored by another who might be deemed a sympathetic advocate:

‘What it does is allow the climate change deniers, obstructionists, and their apologists to lump us all in with them as "extremists". These actions actually help discredit the movement, and bring only bad publicity to it... The sensationalism is a distraction, even though the media loves it. These activists need to get smart in PR, advertising, think-tanks, and other channels of communication already in place.’

Dave said...


Very neatly (albeit verbosely) put. I may be a 'loony' according to some (and perhaps, to some extent, they may even be correct) but I still believe very strongly in sensible, reasoned debate, rather then dangerous actions that could (and in the case of the released mink, did) damage others in the local community.

Interesting to note that Joeboy has a highly informative and detailed blogger profile that tells you everything about himself .... Not!

Oh well, anonymity is often one of the easiest hiding places for those unable to handle reasoned debate.

Joeboy said...

Hi Peter/Dave.

Ok, I regret using the L word. It was genuinely my intent to enter into reasoned debate, and apparently I misjudged. In mitigation I would point out that it was an *extremely* mild admonition, followed by a winking-smiley, and that it was in response to a post which itself used the terms "madness", "lunatics" and "complete idiots" and was tagged with the word "insanity". I hope you can appreciate that the original post and subsequent comments were written somewhat provocatively. I am going to do my best to continue to try and have a sensible conversation with you. If you feel the need to reply it would be nice if you could try and do the same :-)

I continue to feel that the comments I used the L word in response to were... can I say "misguided"? The suggestion that this stunt happened in order to support the pension plans of 'activist corporates' (I assume that means Greenpeace?) is nonsensical, as is the casual linking of environmental direct action with terrorism. As someone who has been somewhat involved in environmental direct action in the past, I probably reacted similarly to how you would react to someone claiming that recycling is a conspiracy originated by Al-Qaeda to undermine the Western economy and bring about the starvation of the infidels.

It wasn't my intention to be in any way critical of the work you do at junkk. I don't know much about you as I only randomly discovered you on the internet yesterday. I'm sure you're doing awesome work, but that doesn't give you a license to be negative about people who are doing different things. Even if you disapprove of the more militant end of the movement, you should be aware that people involved with Climate Camp etc are invariably also involved with other projects including recycling, food production, alternative energy etc. I hope you would count those as "demonstrably doing things".

You're absolutely right to worry about the nature of media coverage and the relationship protesters have with the media. It's a very real concern that people will end up devoting time to activities the media will cover, rather than ones that achieve the desired outcomes. However I think these are pitfalls people have become increasingly aware of. I don't presently see any risk that activists are going to turn their hands to the murderous activities Dave alluded to in his comment.

Of course you're allowed to hold the opinions you do, and I'm aware that many people share your opinions. Others of us hold different opinions. The holding of any opinion tends to mean that you want to persuade others that your opinion is correct, and theirs is incorrect, which is what we're both doing. As far as I know neither of us feels that "dissent is not acceptable and must be attacked by any means". I am happy (well, happy-ish) for you to hold your opinion, but I would like you to know why I believe something different.

I just don't agree with the suggestion that extreme political positions put people off less extreme ones. I think the effect of extreme political positions is to make less extreme ones seem like reasonable compromise. Yes, extremists on the other side will try to lump the 'acceptable' along with the 'unacceptable', and that's undoubtedly irritating, but that doesn't mean they succeed. Rather, the existence of Malcolm X makes Martin Luther King seem like a reasonable compromise instead of a dangerous radical. This is aside from the question of what position is 'right', but being cynical about it I think things work more this way than the way you suggest.

I'm going to end by trying to put a positive spin on this little spat, which is that I think we might be witnessing Freud's Narcissism of Minor Difference, which broadly states than when people mostly agree they will fight all the more bitterly about their few differences. I wish you all the best with junkk :-).

Peter said...

Cripes. Why is it these that always end up with the to & fros. I guess we all want the last word. Always.

Dave, if ever you want to volunteer as a sub. you're on. For a writer I don't half go on I know, but when giving forth it just comes out and that's that. It's also a matter of time. As Mark Twain said (something like), 'Writing great literature takes time. Writing great literature in the most effective and economical way takes a lot more'.

Which brings me to the burning... and rebuilding... of bridges.

Had I realised Joeboy was, essentially, 'Anon', we would not be at this point as his/her comment would not have made it on this basis. Ad hominen plus anon is a straight strike.

However, and just 'cos I can, I have made an exception.

Engagement is being sought and, well, as Churchill said (OK, I'm quote dropping too much now), 'jaw-jaw is better than 'war-war'.

Joeboy, you are welcome to debate in this latter manner any time you like. Were other disagreements conducted in such a way, and with or without winky-smileys... that are not, at least to me, an effective 'get out of saying anything free' mechanism:)

One reaps what one sows, and hence caution can be required. It's back to that time thing. Blogs tend to let pass things that might not given a wee while to ponder.

Yes, Dave did use some strong words. They are for him to defend. I don't believe I did, and hence should not have to.

Hence I proceed, somewhat riskily, as there might well still be different interpretations of what constitutes 'a sensible conversation'.

I would stress that in my view commenting in a blog on the actions of an entity is a tad different to labelling a fellow blogger.

I didn't say Climate Camp was Greenpeace, but I used a better known (and obviously copied) example to show where I was uncomfortable with certain more 'extreme' actions. And also where individual beliefs can be overtaken by other strategies, usually set by the leadership.

All I know is that, as a consequence of this 'hijack' I clicked a link and was pretty soon confronted with 'send us money'.

Though you accept certain realities, if you cannot see how one 'slightly' illegal act can lead to others, and worse, then this really is a circular argument not worth continuing.

Just look at some responses in support of such actions on such as CiF, where 'doing more' is the call. When one becomes the norm then the next level up... down... will click into the frame. It is... inevitable.

I can see me becoming verbose again, and while talk can be fun it is also cheap, and I do have things to do.

But I do feel I may still feel the urge to make any comments I might wish to, however 'misguided'. Within certain bounds that is actually my right. And if what I am commenting upon is in my view hurting others or a cause, I think it can often be even a duty to speak (try mixing up Voltaire's 'May not agree..' with the chap who coined '...good men do nothing..' and you'll get my drift.

I thank you for the good wishes, but whatever good some or all may be doing elsewhere (big ups all round) hardly absolves them from comment or indeed critique on specifics if... misguided. This was a singular action that has resulted in targetted repsonses.

The bed has been made; now it needs be lain upon. As brand, IMHO, Climate Camp has been tarnished and, unfortunately, along with it more moderate environmental activism that goes for media shock but doesn't involve playing soldiers.

That's my belief. Yours is equally clear. I may still disagree with most (there is some merit, though one with a worrying aspect to it, in your closing comment on 'relative positions'), but I respect it all... if shared in a civilised manner.

As to whether we're any closer as a consequence of this exchange I am not sure.

I will one day take the chance to read your link to Dr. Freud's thoughts on the matter, but broadly, if sadly, would say you are probably right. So, who is going to compromise and respect the wishes and opinions of others? Those who advocate a more moderate approach, or those itching to seek extremes? That sound, by the way, is my breath not being held.

Hence may I in turn wish you, and your colleagues (whoever and wherever they may be) well in trying to do what's for the best*, in the best* way.

*definitions can and might vary;-0

Dave said...

Let me try to put some perspective on this.

Now the recent father’s rights protest where a guy climbed onto the roof one of our Gov’s ministers, in order to make a peaceful, albeit highly irritating to the occupier, point to the world at large, I can understand.

Peaceful campaigns to prevent the construction of what may, or may not be a required by-pass, I can get my head around too.

Even the picketing of air bases where nuclear armaments are stored I can also kind of empathise with.

But when it comes to something as dangerous as hijacking a train, sorry but there is a line (no pun intended) to be drawn. OK, just suppose that the train had been stopped, using apparently legitimate methods, on the main line, and not on the Drax sideline? What might have been the consequences? The deaths of 100’s of passengers on the London to Edinburgh early express? Loads of publicity, no doubt, but this group would then have been guilty of mass murder.

Where is the line to be drawn? Sorry, but there are lots of lines already drawn and clearly defined – it’s called the law. Hijacking a train is breaking the law, as well as being dangerous, irresponsible and downright crazy – there can be no argument whatsoever. Whatever the point you want to make, breaking the law, no matter by how little or how much, is just not the way to do it. Our legislative system is there to protect the majority from the minority who either have no morals, who may have been brainwashed by extremists, are simply insane, or who just don’t give a hoot. The vast majority, in this case, are very strongly opposed to the dangerous stunt that was pulled by Climate Camp. Maybe Joeboy just cannot see that, but it IS the case.

There are very many of us (I’m counting myself and Peter in) who are very concerned about the environment, about what humanity is doing to our little planet, and who are highly concerned for the futures of our children, and their children after them. And there are many of us who are actively trying to do something about it. But we do not, and cannot, condone irresponsible and dangerous actions by factions at the extreme end of opinions that cross the line of public and social acceptability, or break the law.

My original words may have been strong, and I believe I was justified in using strong words in this case. As Peter pointed out, every action such as this simply makes the step up to the next level all the more possible, and indeed, all the more likely. So I will not be overtly surprised when the next thing I hear on the news is how a train has been derailed, or that an executive of the power utilities has been kidnapped, or that a nuclear reactor has been sabotaged, or that a group has attempted to blow up a coal fired power station, all in the name of ‘environmentalism’.

Sorry guys, but when you step over the line of acceptability to the majority, you DO lose (and HAVE lost, in this case) any empathy that they may have felt with you. If you cannot see that that marginalizes the cause, then you must be wearing some very strangely tinted spectacles. It may get you loads of publicity, but it sure as hell doesn’t win you any additional support from the common man.

I’m proud that I haven’t stepped over, or ever would step over, the line of legal, public or social acceptability. And if that makes me a ‘loony’, them I am, indeed, proud to be a ‘loony’ too.

Peter said...

In the spirit of positivity, and to suggest a worthy close for this thread, may I share this just in:

Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall lobbies Tesco investors over chicken

However one views the merits, or otherwise, of the cause, you can't really get much better PR. This came to me under the heading 'Tesco cries foul as celebrity chef enlists heavyweight support for chicken coup'

There's a lot at stake here... jobs, money, etc.

But fundamentally the right to protest is being taken a long way, creatively and effectively.

Now imagine if someone thinks that is not far enough, and they put self or others in danger by actions that may have unforeseen consequences? And let us not forget that challenging livelihoods can lead to conflicts, and new levels of public threat and/or the much maligned 'elf 'n safety can unnecessarily bring into the fray a whole bunch of others.

It is different days to the efforts (which I applauded) of Greenpeace activists risking life and limb in Zodiacs as nuke vessels were dumping waste.

In fact I recall a more recent whale(?)-related effort that either required cutting across bows in equally-sized vessels and/or boarding against the wishes of hostile defenders. Could have got ugly and/or backfired badly.

Go legal. Go satire. Go fun. Go embarassment.

Works just as well. And wins converts to help pay for more of the same.

He got, what, £90k to make his challenge? And the end payees will mainly be his supporters!