Climate fair, school strike and a walking activist – Cambridge looks to COP26 for change
With just weeks to go before the crucial COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Cambridge climate activists have taken to the streets to share their stories of hope and concern as a rapid changeover to a sustainable carbon footprint meets obstacles and delays.
In Cambridge, Cambridge School Eco Council and XR Youth Cambridge organised a protest – the first such public event this year – outside the Senate House on Friday evening, on the same day Greta Thunberg spoke at the Bundestag in Berlin. Hundreds of school strikes took place across Germany ahead of their election on Sunday in the week the UN secretary general, António Guterres, said the world was “seemingly light years away from reaching our targets” on climate change.
“As the world slowly reawakens from a horrid pandemic, youth strikers across the world are rising up with actions to say #BuildBackBetter,” says the schools eco council, as speakers repeated their concerns at the prospect of having no water in Cambridge, and demands for “a Green New deal now!” on King’s Parade.
Activities on Saturday morning began with a Silent Rebellion at 11.30am on Parker’s Piece. At midday Cambridge Climate Fair, organised by Cambridge COP26 coalition, began. The fair is “a gathering of climate activists and campaigns to engage the public with local and global issues”.
Campaigners from across the spectrum of climate activism in Cambridge attended, including COP26 Umbilical cord, Friends of the River Cam, Cambridge Schools Eco Council, XR Cambridge, Global Justice Now Cambridge, Friends of the Earth Cambridge, Clean Air Cambridge, Little Blue Dot, Insulate Britain, Cambridge Stop The War and Pesticide-Free Cambridge.
“They say they are going to phase pesticides out,” Ben said on the Parker’s Piece stall, “but what that actually means is that they are going to carry on using them, at least on verges – they have stopped using them in parks.”
Tim, an XR aficionado, was at the Insulate Britain section of the main drag.
“I’m usually here with my wife,” he said, “but she’s at the Insulate Britain protests this weekend.”
The Insulate Britain protests, which brought the M25 to a halt at times this week, have induced outrage in the population similar to the infamous digging-up of Newton Lawn protest last year.
Tim suggests the news cycle promotes initial outrage which subsides as people recognise that Extinction Rebellion (XR) is acting as a positive force for change. His main concern is for his partner’s safety at Insulate Britain’s campaign, and her ability to protest.
The right to protest is under threat in the UK as the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill makes its way through parliament despite the UN saying the new laws “jeopardise the right to peaceful protest”.
Tim says the alarm bells are going off even louder following the one-year jail sentence handed down to James Brown, 56, a blind Paralympian who glued himself to an aircraft as part of an XR protest. Brown’s solicitor, Raj Chada, of Hodge Jones Allen, said there would be an appeal. “This is a dangerous judgment for our right to free speech, our right to protest and for those who campaign on environmental issues,” he said.
“The prospect of going to jail is unsettling but I don’t think it will put campaigners for climate justice off,” said one of the campaigners on Parker’s Piece, adding that a one-year sentence doesn’t seem proportionate to the crime (no injuries, no serious damage to property).
A member of the public passing through the Cambridge Climate Fair said: “It was quite a contrast to hear the seriousness of the issues and the way they were being discussed, and the prime minister’s Kermit the Frog jokes at the UN General Assembly – which were pretty stupid when you see climate change all around the world.”
At the Cambridge Community Kitchen stand was Peach Rose, who lives with the community on Fair Street.
“We’re currently delivering 100 meals to people who need it every week,” says Peach.
Little Blue Dot were also on the Piece, with their sewage artworks as used in the recent ‘Stop the Poonami’ protest.
Claire Preston, one of Little Blue Dot’s co-organisers, said that the pandemic has one nothing to dampen the spirit of activism in the city.
“We thought today went brilliantly and thanks to the CambsCOP26 coalition for organising it,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to talk to all sorts of people about the climate crisis – so many people wanted their photograph taken. It was also great to meet and chat to other people in like-minded groups and organisations. We’re not hoping for much from the conference itself but it is an opportunity to mobilise the climate justice movement, not just for a couple of weeks but for the months and years ahead.”
Meanwhile, Pushpanath ‘Push’ Krishamurthy is preparing to set off from his Cambridge home to Glasgow for COP26, where he will speak out on behalf of those already suffering the effects of climate change.
“I have always worked with people in farming and poverty, they have been hit much harder – and these people have not done anything,” says Push, who trains on Jesus Green.
“Three billion people contribute just 7 per cent to global warming, but they have to adapt to the change while everyone else is just talking about change.”
Push sets off from Cambridge on October 1 for his walk, which is backed by Oxfam and supported by the city council. Read the full interview in next week’s Cambridge Independent.