A blue sea of protesters flowed through central London last Saturday as Britain’s biggest ever climate protest hit the city.
Tens of thousands of people marched from Grosvenor Square to surround parliament and demand that Gordon Brown take action to cut carbon emissions.
The protest, called “The Wave”, was organised by the Stop Climate Chaos coalition. It united people from a diverse range of groups – including churches, charities, trade unions, political parties, environmentalists and students.
Margaret Morris travelled to the protest on a train from Manchester. She attended a Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC) rally in Hyde Park before joining the march to parliament.
“People are willing to take action, but the government isn’t,” she told Socialist Worker.
“The government should bring in stricter building regulations and provide funding for people to insulate their homes. It can find money for war in Afghanistan, so it should find money for this.”
Steve, a Green Party member, came to the demonstration from Sevenoaks in Kent. “This protest is about people taking back our society and showing that we’re fed up with the excesses of the system,” he said.
Speakers at the CACC rally included MPs Simon Hughes and John McDonnell, Caroline Lucas MEP and John Stewart from the Hacan anti-airport expansion campaign.
Activists applauded them when they referred to the hypocrisy of politicians – and when they mentioned Vestas, the wind turbine plant occupied by workers earlier this year.
There was a wide variety of opinions among protesters about who is to blame for climate change and what should be done to combat it.
“I’m not opposed to a market system but I think it needs to be better controlled,” said Steve.
“We should have more local trade rather than flying goods all around the world.”
Some saw individual consumer choices as a key factor behind climate change, while others were angry at the lack of action by governments.
“The government should invest in renewables and launch a programme for one million green jobs,” Sally Ruane from Leicester told Socialist Worker.
“Some green taxes could hit the poor hardest – we need to reform the tax system so they don’t.”
Mirfat Sulaiman came to the protest from Birmingham. “I’m concerned about the future for my children,” she told Socialist Worker. “The government should close factories that are emitting carbon and open green ones.”
Some protesters focused on specific sources of emissions.
Alex Barr from west Wales carried a placard that read, “Give up flying”. He told Socialist Worker. “I’ve given up flying for the past five years. Of course I’d like to go to interesting places but I think we have to make sacrifices.
“I know that some people say that cutting back on flying would have a bigger impact on poorer people – but climate change will hit them even harder.”
Many protesters took a harder line on the British government’s role in dealing with climate change than some of the organisers of the protest.
Paul Brannen, head of campaigns for Christian Aid, addressed protesters gathered in Grosvenor Square saying, “To the British government we say: Yes, you’re good on climate change, but you’re not good enough.”
Yet for some of those marching, the British government was not good at all.
“It seems like there’s no urgency from the government on climate change,” said John Watson, a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
“They say there’s a lack of money – but they’ve poured lots of money into the banking sector. Renewable energy should be government financed, not left to the private sector.
“Trade unions can play a bigger part in demanding action too because it would create jobs.”
Kevin brought Plymouth’s trades council banner to the protest. “I expect the Copenhagen talks to be another cop-out,” he told Socialist Worker. “Politicians just seem to want to meet and talk every year but do nothing concrete.”
The protest reflected the scale of concern about climate change that exists among ordinary people and a real willingness to take action.
Gordon Brown tried to put himself on the side of ordinary people by attacking the “flat earth” climate deniers this week. But accepting that climate change is a problem while still refusing to take any real measures to tackle it is sheer hypocrisy.
Brown has refused to impose strict emissions limits or invest in renewable energy – but has backed plans for airport expansion and new coal and nuclear plants. No one should be fooled by his green rhetoric.