This week, I’m doing something I’ve never done before. I’m going to (quite possibly) get arrested for something I believe in. I’ve been arrested before, and I’ve believed in things before, but I’ve never been taken into custody as a result of my principles.
I may not come to that, of course, and I hope that it doesn’t. But the prospect of some time in a German police cell is something I’m considering. Why? Because after too many years of a comfortable and very contemporary apathy, I’m finally stepping off the fence. I’m becoming a climate activist. On Saturday, along with thousands of other normally law-abiding citizens, I’m going to enter a great big hole in the earth and put a temporary halt to one of the largest machines on the planet.
Bagger 288 is a 13,500 ton strip mining monster, part testimony to human ingenuity and part symbol of our dysfunctional relationship to the earth. Every day it excavates 240,000 tonnes of lignite for the power stations of the Rhineland – enough to fill 2,400 train wagons. That’s a very, very long train. So long, it’s kind of hard to imagine.
But if it’s hard to imagine the scale of the extractions taking place in northern Germany, it’s harder still to justify them in the face of climate change. Lignite, or brown coal, is the dirtiest and least efficient form of coal, an already notoriously dirty fuel. Because of it, the Rhineland coal fields are Europe’s largest single source of CO2 emissions.
But Bagger 288 is not really draws me to Germany. Putting a temporary halt to the excavations won’t make a dent in European emissions or the coal industry’s profits. It won’t usher in a new era of clean energy, make mining CEO’s suspend operations and reinvest in wind farms and hopeful fields of biodynamic spirulina. Realistically, in and of itself, it won’t change a thing. But for me, that’s not the point. The point is that this protest is part of something much larger.
If you’re alert, you might have noticed it in the wind and solar farms now common across the continents. You might have noticed it in movements like localism, organic farming and slow food. And although it’s absent in the vast majority of mainstream culture, you may find it in concepts like fair trade and the creative commons, or political movements like Podemos and Syriza. What’s it is, is change.
Inexorably, millions of people across the world are demanding a new conversation. They’re asking if we can’t evolve a more creative and compassionate system, a system which elevates the wellbeing of people and planet above profit as our collective organising principle. And because the conventional means of expression are too often muffled by the smog of vested interests, people are getting more creative in their bid to be heard. Our problems have gone global. Our response needs to go global too.
And that’s why I’m going to gatecrash the strip mines of the Rhineland. I’m joining with thousands of people across the world to voice my frustration at the disempowerment of materialism and the dangerous dogma of perpetual growth. We are a phenomenal species. Collectively, we can do better than this.
So for me, the Rhineland represents my desire to be part of something bigger, more hopeful, more interesting, more inspiring. Whether or not I go into the pit, chain myself to the top of Bagger 228 or spend time in German custody isn’t the question. The question – when my daughter is old enough to ask it – is at what point I stopped being a closet environmentalist, got off my arse and cared.