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The Rising Tide Tour, Summer 2001

Coinciding with the COP6.5 UN climate talks in Bonn, climate change group Rising Tide took to the road for an eleven date stop tour of Britain to raise awareness and inspire people to take direct action - a bit like the Earth First! roadshow in the 1990's. The tour looked at questions of what people can do personally and politically to make a difference about impending climate change.

The end of March 2001 marked the wettest twelve month period in the UK since records began - and under the grey skies of a seemingly non-existent spring, the tour set out to spread the word and instill hope that things really can get better, not just wetter...

Time is getting on. We cannot wait any more for politicians to catch up with the changes needed to ensure future survival. This was the message at the heart of the Rising Tide Tour - it's time to leave a monopoly on cynicism with the politicians; it's time to break out of denial over the significance of consistently record-breaking weather events; it's time to stop presuming that it will all be okay if only Bush will put his name to the Kyoto agreement. It's time, quite simply, to do something.

'Do what?' is the million dollar question. People who came to the Tour events often seemed to start from a point of understanding that something needs to happen - but what? It provided a space to develop awareness of the issues and aimed to come up with ideas for resistance beyond purely symbolic activities. In Farnborough, we heard from a campaigner against aviation who started off being concerned about noise, as the planes flew over her house. More information led to her broader concern over the pollution that flying represents. Many Friends of the Earth supporters have heard of the campaign to boycott Esso; the tour broadened the debate to the other oil companies and the dominance of oil in our lives.

While the Tour was going on, a group of families from Hebden Bridge took part in the '90% for 90%' campaign, making the link between accessible and affordable public transport and the need for emission cuts. This campaign calls for 'a 90% cut in public transport fares, to make public transport affordable, to start making changes, that bring the 90% cut in greenhouse gases needed to halt climate change'. Supporters carry the railcard-sized card, distributed through the Rising Tide website, and show it to the guard alongside their ticket, or, as has happened in several group actions, show it and refuse to pay more than 10% of the fare. Of course, greater accessibility to public transport and a properly functioning transport system doesn't equate exactly with the end of climate chaos. But these would be a first step in finding different ways of living and working, ways that are a change from our current relationship to fossil fuels. Ways that are relevant to what makes up peoples' lives, not just what stimulates increased economic growth at the expense of reason.

Many moments during the Tour were quite inspirational, and others plain bizarre, like reading spoof weather reports wearing a tie and a mask and snorkel. Even so, it takes blind hope to hang on to that inspiration, when walking out of a room full of people buzzing with ideas is followed by the route home down a street bursting with corporate chain stores promoting products made in terrible conditions before being flown halfway across the globe; fast food outlets; and corporate chain bars packaging and serving up the 'leisure experience'.

The social context for reversing current damage stands alongside the immediate need to halt environmental degradation. It is not possible to ensure the survival of the planet without addressing power structures which are inherently inequitable and oppressive. Climate change is an issue of social justice: the first to feel the effects are the most vulnerable, the poor. The neighbours of the oil refineries are the poor and those whose voices are already politically marginalised. The people whose lands are destroyed to lay the oil pipelines have no voice at the international negotiations to limit use of fossil fuels. Civil society, like our ecosystem, is not a passive entity. Neither will obligingly accept their own demise.

Neither switching off the lights, nor blaming the social and economic conditions under which we live, is wholly adequate on its own. The scale of action needed to halt, let alone reverse, climate change tempts me to reach for a road map to the nearest Welsh hillside, equipped with a couple of joss sticks and a handful of seed potatoes. But everything has to start from somewhere and doing absolutely nothing about the connections between our own lives and other peoples' cannot be an option.

Climate chaos is not going away, nor are those who are attempting to change the situations which create it. I don't know precisely where the often haphazard ideas which came out of the Rising Tide Tour will go. But I do know that people starting to reduce their own dependence on fossil fuels; and people coming up with ideas which are based in their own lives signals the beginning of broader change. Why is there still a gap between the knowledge that things are going wrong, and the motivation to act to change the situation? Why don't those who hold a tentative grip on the reins of political power begin to engage with the core issues? After all, social and ecological justice aren't just buzzwords: it's time to start picking apart what they could really mean.