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In the front line Climate Camp provides an opportunity to examine design activism in action. Jody Boehnert attended this year’s event
The design industry is an important player in the creation of a sustainable society. Designers could help the world collectively rise to the challenge, but only if we wrench our creative faculties free from their recent history as servants of industry, pawns in a game that spawns the conspicuous consumption that is now clearly causing ecological overshoot.
In the wake of the latest IPCC reports activists have become increasingly focused on climate change and are confronting the systemic problems that lay at the heart o f the crisis. The Stern Report made it clear even within the highest corridors of power that climate change threatens to be the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen. We are now witnessing a movement of people convinced that we cannot buy or sell our way out of this predicament. The Limits to Growth [a report commissioned by think tank The Club of Rome] warned us over 30 years ago that unlimited growth within a finite planet was a recipe for disaster, but now the reality of resource depletion, pollution and climate change is acknowledged by mainstream audiences. Whether we respond fast enough to avoid cataclysmic climate change remains to be seen. There is still an immense disconnect between the consensus within peer reviewed science and awareness and action on the ground. Designers are key intermediaries between science, policy, and the public. Design activists are filling a gap where more conservative organisations and governments fear to tread.
“A design activist will activate people to ‘become the change’ by using the power of the design process to engage, raise awareness, amplify existing capacity and generate transformative actions,” explains Alastair FaudLuke, author of the original Eco Design Handbook who is presently working on a new book, Design Activism (to be published in 2009 by Earthscan). Ann Thorpe (author of Atlas of Sustainability and blog designactivism.net) describes design activism as work where designers use their skills to
A B O V E : Activists at Climate Camp 2007 march on b a a ’s offices at Heathrow. The cardboard ‘shields’ feature images o f a representative cross-section o f the world’s population. They were created by John Jordan and the Climate Camp team. Photo: Kristian Buus make the changes in the world that neither the market nor the government pay for, but are design actions that seek to protect and act for the disempowered. The theme of design activism featured strongly at the recent Changing the Change conference in Turin and new work developed in this field is creating a better understanding of design as a tool for social change.
Meanwhile, one of activism’s most visionary and potentially influential manifestations is the Climate Camp which set up this year outside the Kingsnorth power station in Kent. Climate Camp, now in its third year, is a congregation of diverse individuals so concerned about climate change that they are willing to take non-violent direct action to demonstrate their determination to stop a new generation of fossil fuel-based infrastructure. The camp is organised as a radically decentralised entity with ‘no leaders’. Decisions are made by consensus through an elaborate series of meetings. The Climate Camp is also funded primarily by the people who attend. An estimated 2,000 people participated in the creation o f a completely sustainable temporary community powered by the sun, wind and cycles for a week at the beginning of August this year. The camp held over too workshops. Somewhat miraculously, it all worked. The Climate Camp this year managed to shut down the Kingsnorth power station (the site of the proposed first new coal fired power station in the UK in over 25 years) with a day of action that was remarkably disciplined >
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