Joys and Agonies Past: 40 Years Since the Last Stonehenge Free Festival; 39 Years Since the Battle of the Beanfield

An aerial photo of the Stonehenge Free Festival in June 1984, and police storming the last bus at the Battle of the Beanfield on June 1, 1985.

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40 years ago, a colourful, kaleidoscopic array of old second-hand vehicles — trucks, coaches, buses, even old military vehicles — began arriving in the fields opposite Stonehenge, the ancient stone sun temple on Salisbury Plain, for what would be the last huge, unlicensed, unpoliced, weeks-long temporary autonomous zone to root itself to the earth of ancient Albion.

The vehicles that arrived were the vanguard of the eleventh annual Stonehenge Free Festival, a month-long anarchic happening, which began in June 1974 with a handful of playful mystics, but had grown significantly in its latter years, as ever-increasing numbers of young refugees from Margaret Thatcher’s decimation of the economy joined the political hippies of an earlier generation, on the road, and on a circuit of free festivals whose biggest manifestation was at Stonehenge, to rock out, to consume vast amounts of drugs, and to — in some cases — to visit the stones for invented pagan rituals on the morning of the summer solstice.

It was a demonstration that, more or less, the anti-materialistic US counter-culture of 1960s America, which had spread to the small towns and suburbia of Britain in the 1970s, could create a low-impact nomadic lifestyle, in convoys that travelled across England and Wales from May to September, and that, at Stonehenge, involved a gathering of the tribes, joined by tens of thousands of other participants, who arrived in cars and camper vans, or who came by train to Salisbury, set up tents and stayed for days or for long weekends to soak up the acid rock, punk and reggae, and the rebel atmosphere.

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Five Years Since the Violent Tidemill Eviction, Its Ghosts Still Haunt Peabody’s New ‘Frankham Walk’ Development

Frankham Walk, Peabody’s housing development on the site of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, October 4, 2023 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Five years ago today, on October 29, 2018, the brave two-month occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, a community garden in Deptford, came to a violent end when bailiffs hired by Lewisham Council, from the union-busting company County Enforcement, raided the garden at dawn, evicting the handful of campaigners staying there overnight in what they subsequently characterised as a terrifying quasi-military operation.

The bailiffs subsequently began tearing down trees, including the garden’s prized Indian bean trees, and demolishing all of the structures that had contributed to its community focus — the colourful tree house by the bean trees, which had entertained children throughout the garden’s 25-year history, and a number of sheds that had, most recently, been used as exhibition spaces.

Throughout the rest of the day, there was a tense stand-off between campaigners and hundreds of local people who had turned up to offer support, and the bailiffs, protected by a row of police. As campaigners conducted interviews with a number of broadcasters, including the BBC, and campaigners railed against the bailiffs and the police via a loudhailer, occasional skirmishes broke out, in which a number of people were injured, but by the end of the day the garden was ‘secured.’

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Trying to Stay Sane in a World of Rapidly Accelerating Climate Collapse

Watching a wildfire: how do we deal with the reality of climate collapse and the failure of our governments to take the necessary action to ensure that the planet remains habitable?

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Some days are better than others. Some days, the dread, the anger, the sadness don’t begin until some time after I’ve woken up, but it never takes long, to be honest, until I remember that I’m living in a dying world.

If you think I’m exaggerating, I can only suggest that you’re not really paying attention to what’s happening. For at least 35 years, climate scientists have been warning, based on a forensic analysis of observable reality, that our obsession with burning fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) has been supercharging the atmosphere with greenhouses gases (carbon dioxide, methane and others) that are increasing temperatures worldwide to an alarming degree.

In 1992, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), drawing on the expertise of climate scientists worldwide, first began warning about the danger of ever-increasing greenhouse gas production, but it wasn’t until 2015, in Paris, that they were able to secure a commitment from most of the world’s governments to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels”, and to pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

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As the Planet Burns, Why Is the Media Still Downplaying the Severity of Climate Collapse?

A speculative, but not far-fetched image of the reality of climate collapse.

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The world is on fire, like never before. As the author Gaia Vince explained in the Guardian on July 18, “This June was the hottest ever recorded on Earth. July led with the hottest ever day, swiftly followed by a hotter hottest ever day, then the hottest week — and, possibly, the hottest month. A few years hence, during the ceaseless climate catastrophes of the 2030s, as my kids’ generation reaches adulthood, they might ask about that terrifying summer of 2023 when 120,000-year-old heat records were smashed day after day: how did everyone react?”

For the ever-growing number of people who are aware of the scale of the crisis, in which catastrophic climate collapse is happening much quicker than even the most pessimistic climate scientists predicted, our options, sadly, are severely limited.

While brave protestors take to the streets, and interrupt significant events to try and raise the alarm, they face arrest, often through draconian new laws introduced specifically to try to prevent them from raising the alarm, and often face hostility, from mildly inconvenienced drivers, for example, whose disproportionate rage is often genuinely alarming, or from a wide array of ‘commentators’ — some ‘professional’, some not — who seem to regard interrupting a major sporting event for a few minutes, to highlight the suicidal nature of our collective inaction — as some sort of unforgivable crime.

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Have We Already Forgotten About New York’s Apocalyptic Orange Skies, and What It Told Us About the Climate Crisis?

The Empire State Building and New York City’s orange sky in June 7, 2023.

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For a few days, from June 7 onwards, when toxic, apocalyptic orange skies engulfed New York City and Washington, D.C., caused by wildfires in Canada burning on an unprecedented scale, it seemed that the reality of the climate crisis had finally struck home in two of the places that counted most in terms of sounding alarms in the Global North, where so much of the world’s economic and political power still resides, and where people, in general, are largely oblivious to the disasters regularly afflicting the Global South, via unprecedented heat, droughts and flooding.

For the Global North to wake up to reality, climate change, it seemed, needed to arrive on their doorstep, and for a few days the media coverage was suitably sombre, although, even then, as the worst of the pollution passed, the relentless churn of the news cycle returned to its typical dreary pattern of distraction.

Few dwelt on the irony that, as the veteran environmental activist Bill McKibben explained for the New Yorker, the arrival the toxic skies coincided with Joe Biden’s approval — to save the Inflation Reduction Act, “the first truly serious climate bill our government has ever passed” — of “the MVP pipeline, which will carry fracked gas across West Virginia and Virginia”, and which “is precisely the kind of new fossil-fuel infrastructure that climate scientists have repeatedly said we must stop building”, and of “plans for an enormous new oil-drilling complex in Alaska (and liquefied-natural-gas exports), and huge new offshore-drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.”

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Marking 11 Years of ‘The State of London’, An Appeal for £1000 to Support My Unique Photo-Journalism Project For the Next Three Months

The most recent photos from Andy Worthington’s ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London.’

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Dear friends and supporters of ’The State of London’,

Every three months I ask you, if you can, to make a donation to support my unique, reader-funded photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, which has just reached 6,200 followers on Facebook, and has over 1,550 followers on Twitter. As I have no institutional backing whatsoever, I’m entirely dependent on your generosity to enable me to continue this project, which takes up a considerable amount of otherwise entirely unpaid time.

If you can help out at all, please click on the “Donate” button above to make a payment via PayPal. Any amount will be gratefully received — whether it’s £10, £20, £50 or more!

You can also make a recurring payment on a monthly basis by ticking the box marked, “Make this a monthly donation,” and filling in the amount you wish to donate every month. If you are able to do so, a regular, monthly donation would be very much appreciated.

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‘We Can’t Trust the Weather Any More’: My Speech at ‘The Big One’, Extinction Rebellion’s Four-Day Protest in London

Extreme weather in the UK in 2022: flash floods in London, houses on fire on the hottest day in UK history, and drought at a reservoir in Yorkshire.

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On April 21, the first day of ‘The Big One’, Extinction Rebellion’s four days of arrest-free, family-friendly protest in Westminster, backed by over 200 other organisations — which I wrote about enthusiastically here, while berating the mainstream media for not taking the climate crisis seriously enough — I also made my first ever public speech about the already unfolding climate catastrophe.

I delivered my speech, written the night before, to a crowd of about a hundred people outside 55-57 Tufton Street, which I described in my article about ‘The Big One’ as being “home to a number of opaquely-funded right-wing ‘libertarian’ think-tanks that are actively committed to maintaining the murderous status quo, defending unfettered big business, and denying the reality of catastrophic climate change.”

Earlier, XR Writers Rebel had held a prominent event featuring Ben Okri, Zadie Smith and many other writers, which was followed by a kind of open mic session, where I followed a great performance by the West Country political collective Seize the Day, who first emerged from the road protest movement of the 1990s.

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Photos and Report: Extinction Rebellion and 200 Other Groups “Unite to Survive”, Building a Movement Despite Mainstream Media Indifference

A great placard at ‘The Big One’, the Extinction Rebellion-led gathering in central London of over 200 organisations committed to urgent action on climate change, April 22, 2023 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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On New Year’s Eve, Extinction Rebellion (XR), the disruptive but non-violent climate activist group that did so much to propel the climate crisis up the political agenda in October 2018 and April 2019, occupying bridges, and, perhaps most memorably, occupying Oxford Circus with a pink yacht bearing the message ‘Tell the Truth’, directed at politicians and the media, announced a change of tactics.

“We quit”, they announced in a press release, stating that they were making “a controversial resolution to temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic”, in an effort to build a bigger and more inclusive movement “beyond traditional divides.” As they explained, “No one can do this alone, and it’s the responsibility of all of us, not just one group. It may be uncomfortable or difficult, but the strength of all social, environmental, and justice movements lies in working together.”

It was a bold move, although there was also a certain logic to it. After the actions of October 2018 and April 2019, tolerance for the group’s disruptive tactics had waned after a group of protestors blocked a morning rush hour commuter train at Canning Town, and the Covid lockdowns had then thwarted efforts to mobilise further.

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From Ignorance to Denial to Disaster: 60 Years of Living With Climate Change — Part Two: The 1980s

An image of an environmental protestor and Planet Earth.

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This is the second of what will be four articles looking at how awareness of the climate crisis has developed, and been supported, ignored or resisted, over the last 60 years. I’m writing these articles to reflect on my 60th birthday, which somehow ambushed me at the end of February. The first part, covering the 1960s and 1970s, is here.

When the 1980s began, I was in a good place personally. 16 going on 17, freed from the bullying, insecure tribalism of the mid-teenage years, and also freed from the plate-spinning requirements of the ‘O’ level syllabus, which, then as now, essentially required everyone to demonstrate competence in maths, science, languages and the humanities, I was free to specialise for my ‘A’ levels — in English, History and French — which I took to with enthusiasm, helped by some genuinely inspiring teachers, not least my English teacher, Mr. King, who took us on theatre trips across the country, which, in particular, vividly brought Shakespeare to life.

I also started going to gigs, in those fascinating years of post-punk experimentalism and the rise of Two-Tone, got a girlfriend, published a fanzine, became a singer in a band, began watching arthouse films, and generally found life full of fascinating possibilities.

Politically, the situation was far different. The rise of Margaret Thatcher cast a cloud over life in general, as she began her malignant mission of de-industrialising the nation to break the power of the unions, and privatising everything in sight.

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David Attenborough’s ‘Saving the Wild Isles’: A Powerful Message, But Urgent Concerted Direct Action Is Still Overwhelmingly Needed

David Attenborough’s ‘Wild Isles’, and a poster for Extinction Rebellion’s ‘The Big One’ protest in London beginning on April 21, 2023.

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Last night, after watching the fifth and final episode of David Attenborough’s ‘Wild Isles’ series on BBC1, a three-year project that has provided a beautifully filmed and visually unprecedented perspective on the extraordinary wildlife of the UK, I watched the online-only extra episode, ’Saving the Wild Isles’, which, we heard last month, was only being shown on iPlayer “because of fears its themes of the destruction of nature would risk a backlash from Tory politicians and the rightwing press”, as the Guardian explained.

In the end, the programme failed to present what we had been led to expect — “images of rivers polluted with plastics, sewage and pesticides, tales of dwindling numbers of insects, birds and mammals, of ancient woodlands destroyed, overfished seas, mature urban trees felled, meadows ploughed, raptors such as golden eagles poisoned, the climate crisis running amok”, as Dave Goulson, professor of biology at the University of Sussex, explained in a critical article for the Guardian today, entitled, ‘David Attenborough’s online Wild Isles isn’t too hard-hitting for TV — it doesn’t go far enough.’

Instead, ’Saving the Wild Isles’ was an uplifting endorsement of ‘rewilding’, focusing on important efforts across the country by farmers, ecologists and volunteers to undo the worst effects of industrial, pesticide-driven agriculture, to ‘rewild’ denuded nature (with a particular focus on the Cairngorms), and to re-plant vital, wildlife-supporting sea meadows on the ravaged ocean floor. For Londoners, there was even a focus on the inspiring work restoring nature to the River Lea at Cody Dock, a formerly heavily polluted industrial site in Canning Town, which everyone in the capital should visit.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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The Battle of the Beanfield

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Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

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