‘All these planes — does no one realise the damage they cause?’
When I was three years old, I went on a five-mile Christian Aid walk. This summer, I am marching 1000 miles from Belfast to London, as part of the longest protest-march in British history.
We are a group of 18 — ten walkers from the UK, and eight international marchers from countries such as El Salvador, Kenya, and the Philippines. Along the way, thousands of people are joining the campaign to cut carbon emissions.
Saturday 14 July was the start of our march, sailing from Bangor in Northern Ireland to Troon in Scotland. I was placed on the smallest sailing boat with Mohammed from Kenya. Mohammed works for the organisation Northern Aid, which supports pastoralists in the north of the country, as they struggle to cope with the demands of climate change. Droughts in northern Kenya have been occurring more frequently over the past decade.
Mohammed is on the march to tell people about the problems caused by climate change, and to demand that rich countries reduce their emissions. He is insistent: “It is not the emissions of the poor which are hurting my people.”
We arrived in Troon to see plane after plane fly into Prestwick airport. Mohammed told me: “This is what I don’t like — all these planes. They never stop. Does no one realise the damage they cause?”
The UK emits 9.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per year, compared with 1 tonne in India, and 0.2 tonnes in Kenya. And our emissions are still rising — they have gone up by five per cent since Labour came to power in 1997. Our march is therefore challenging those in authority who continue to support our high-carbon economy, but we also seek to offer an alternative of a better, low-carbon world.
Last Friday, we walked through Gordon Brown’s constituency near Kirkcaldy, and gratefully received messages of support on the Prime Minister’s behalf from his election agent. But Mr Brown does not yet support our campaign. The Government is passing a most welcome climate-change Bill through the Houses of Parliament in the autumn, but there are weaknesses in it that need to be rectified.
The draft climate Bill sets a target of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, when scientists are telling us that, in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, the reduction needs to be one of at least 80 per cent.
The Government is leaving flying out of the climate Bill. The World Development Movement has shown that as aviation is the fastest-growing source of emissions in the UK, ignoring aviation threatens to undermine completely the UK’s efforts to reduce our contribution to climate change.
Our first week of walking from Troon to Edinburgh has been hard: 103 miles in six days. On consecutive days of 21, 27, and 20 miles, one of the heroes was Rosalia from El Salvador. Rosalia works with communities who are battling against the effects of increased flooding over recent years because of more frequent and intense storms. She was one of the many who carried on despite her blisters, determined to keep going.
As we were covering the final stretch up to Dunfermline, we sang together the words of a song from the apartheid era in South Africa: “We shall not give up the fight we have only started. Together we’ll have victories, hand holding hand.”
For me, the Old Testament prophets were campaigners. They were challenging those in power, and offering an alternative vision of how the world could be.
Elsewhere in the march, Mahesh from India was speaking to Chira from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mahesh said: “I wonder why we are suffering like this. We are doing it on behalf of others. We cannot give up.”
Tim Jones is an activist with the World Development Movement, and a member of Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church.