Written by Maryam Arshad
4 weeks, 400 grassroots campaigns – a number that’s still climbing. That was what ‘The Community Planning Alliance’ saw after they launched an interactive open access map which allowed for the locating and sharing of environmental grassroots campaigns across the UK.
That number is huge−indicating the widespread presence of campaigns who are working to fight environmental issues−however, this may only be a small representation. As we see more communities and campaigners being suppressed when speaking out against unsustainable and unethical plans, this map succinctly shows the magnitude at which communities are rising up. However, we simultaneously see an abundance of misrepresentation across the media, alongside the downplaying and ignoring of these campaigns. Why are they misrepresented – and why is the presence of environmental campaigns growing?
Misinformation across the media. As we have witnessed global shifts in relation to the occurrence of environmental protests, we see the media placing great significance on solely a few faces and places. Greta Thunberg’s face plastered on the front cover is designed to draw attention, accompanied by the headline ‘Who’s right about climate change? Greta Thunberg or Bill Gates?’. Too often do we witness media publications resorting to pitting groups against one another based on statements they make about the environment and climate. The media also contributes towards downplaying the impacts of plans which have tremendous environmental consequences.
HS2 is one amongst plans like these, a 176km high-speed railway connecting key locations across the UK. Despite the continued large scale protests against this project, it is still depicted as “Britain’s largest environmental project”. Despite being ‘Britain’s largest environmental project’ the destruction of ancient woodland was approved. The protests against HS2 have been ongoing for years and growing by force, using non-violent direct action, only to be portrayed in the media as “Climate activists scale HS2 headquarters and vandalise building”.
Extinction Rebellion (XR), who use non-violent civil disobedience, are often seen featured across the media. Although global, they work independently organising and protesting across several cities in the UK. XR protesters have been painted in a negative light across the media, used in some aspect to represent all grassroots campaigners. What the media fails to highlight are the objectives of all these campaigners – voicing their concerns about the environment, fighting for change, and rising up as a community to take action where others have failed. Misinformation, and more notably the use of biased information, trails behind these campaigners. The use of misinformation to diminish community power is evident and is seen utilised time and time again in relation to the environment.
Insufficient environmental change. Maybe its commendable that the UK announced they were aiming for net zero emissions by 2050. But when an announcement like this is followed by continuous unsustainable, damaging, and unethical plans, it remains contested as to whether this is plausible at all. The map shows over 400 grassroots campaigns, amongst these are those specifically protesting against unsustainable housing developments: Save Ryebank Fields, Cumberworth Road Action Group, Save our Matlock greenfields, and Stand for Dorchester, amongst hundreds of others.
If local authorities in the UK are now more environmentally led, in accordance with government plans and legislation, where are we witnessing the prioritisation of climate change? Why are we witnessing a growing number of grassroots campaigns against these damaging plans? Stand for Dorchester is campaigning against a development plan by Dorset Council to build 4,000 homes, which will inevitably lead to the mass destruction of green space and local heritage, with no promise of housing affordability. New policies have little substance when local authorities are working on and approving projects like these where the costs largely outweigh the benefits.
Prioritisation against environmental values. Out of 20 biodiversity targets set by the UN, the UK failed on 17. On some, progress was actually worse. Whilst the UK government has recently set out an aim to plant 30,000 hectares of trees each year, undoubtedly benefitting biodiversity, the rates at which damage is occurring is immense. In the last 50 years, the UK has lost more than 40 million birds. There is now only half of the natural biodiversity remaining in the country, this is amongst of the biggest losses globally. Grassroots campaigns extend to biodiversity, protesting against plans which will dramatically damage an increasingly fragile and unique environment. The White Horse Alliance is one of these, fighting against the threat of a massive development which will cause significant damage to an area of Wiltshire that houses protected species and green space. Where priorities go against environmental plans and targets, and profit is placed at the forefront of developments, there is a greater need for campaigns like this.
The map by ‘The Community Planning Alliance’ highlights the massive scale at which grassroots campaigns are emerging and occurring. The power of the community in protesting, lobbying, and working for change is unparalleled. The media plays a role, alongside corporations, in greenwashing. Working on broadcasting false, incomplete claims and targets whilst simultaneously acting against these environmental goals. Grassroots campaigners have a significant challenge; however, the importance of their actions is clear. The likelihood is that they will continue to emerge and grow, as we see a disappointing lack of real change by the UK government and local authorities. Net zero emissions by 2050 is a great sentiment, but only when backed by visible, sufficient and imminent change.