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Climate crisis to the fore at Greenbelt

30 August 2022

Andrew Mackley/Greenbelt

The sun, with tall attendants, which appeared on the fringes of the eucharist crowd on Sunday

The sun, with tall attendants, which appeared on the fringes of the eucharist crowd on Sunday

RAIN is such a dampener at outdoor festivals that it was hard to grasp how much of a problem the lack of it might be at Greenbelt, returning to the grounds of Boughton House in Northamptonshire last weekend for the first time since pre-Covid 2019.

But as the the festival site was being built last week, the estate’s tree specialist announced that some of the most venerable trees on the estate were also the most vulnerable. The summer drought had affected the earth around their roots to such an extent that they were now seriously unsafe, and the tramping past of thousands of festival-goers would have threatened them further.

Alterations were made to the site layout, but not so great that Dave Walker’s reasonably accurate map, an annual commission by the Church Times, was misnamed. And the newest, coolest venue, Rebel Rouser, was still able to hide itself in a copse of younger trees which (one hopes) were resistant to the punk music that featured on its small, canopied stage: the songs were loud — but, being punk, they didn’t last very long.

An awareness of the cause of the fine weather, which lasted through the weekend, was articulated in the festival eucharist on Sunday morning, supposedly set in 2052 and complete with forecasts from John Kettley the weatherman.

The service was split into two. The first half imagined what the world would be like if humans did nothing and the planet heated an additional three degrees — no longer quite so inconceivable. After a pause — and turning the service sheet over on to its greener side — the service became more hopeful, on the assumption that the people back in 2022 had been more active in combatting climate change.

Church TimesBrowning trees cordoned off on the Boughton estate

The topic was never far away throughout the weekend, not least because one of the venues on the festival site was dedicated to the climate emergency, appropriately named the Hot House, with talks such as “Why talking about the climate crisis might be the most important thing you ever do” and “Why the climate crisis is a racist crisis.”

The fact that it was T-shirt weather meant that everyone who wanted to could sport the clothing that declared their allegiance to past Greenbelts, their borrowed wit, their political leanings, or their inner nerdiness. And it was a pleasure to watch the festival children play outdoors for hours on end with nothing to worry about beyond their factor-50 rubbing off (they were camping, so there was no danger of it washing off).

The trees were referenced again in Giles Fraser’s conversation with Richard Dawkins. Looking out from the main stage at the encircling trees, Fraser attempted to persuade the biologist and anti-religion writer that his belief that creation was “God-breathed” was a valid premise. There was a magnificence, Dawkins agreed, but it existed in each cell, not in anything beyond.

There were many other examples of magnificence over the weekend, and artistry, and sublimity, and fun. But unease about the planet’s future was ever present. If it does not translate into action, the festival did not fulfil its purpose.

Jubilee. Next year, Greenbelt celebrates its golden jubilee. It announced on Monday that it was changing its pricing structure. It is keeping its concessions and under-18 prices, but, apart from that, it is allowing would-be festivalgoers to choose how much they pay. There are three categories: Supported (£150); Standard (£190); Supporter (£230). The prices, which the organisers call a “jubilee reset”, apply to the whole year: “No deadlines, no gimmicks, no tiers before bedtime,” they say.

The other significant change is that the festival is moving forward 24 hours: people will be allowed on to the site on the Thursday for a relaxed opening in the style of the Prospect Farm weekend last year. The programme of events will start at midday on the Friday, and finish on the Sunday night, leaving the Bank Holiday Monday free for people to decamp and return home.

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