Climate Camps

Disrupting the Illusion of ‘Normal’
Encampments targeting focal points of climate breakdown, such as power plants, extraction sites, road building, and airport expansion, raising awareness, confronting people with the violent operations that make their lives comfortable and can force long-term changes in policy and culture


The smooth running of critical infrastructure such as energy, transport, and communications is often in direct conflict with longer-term environmental concerns. The “carbon state”—a term describing the interdependency of corporate and state economies on fossil-fuels—relies on the availability of an uninterrupted supply of carbon-based energy, and deprioritises the urgency of facing climate breakdown. The denialism inherent in functioning “as normal”, even in the face of stark warnings and incontrovertible evidence of climate breakdown, also denies citizens’ democratic rights to contribute to society’s management through leadership and systems of infrastructure.  


Direct action taken in the name of environmentalism disrupts the smooth running of society and its infrastructures to question society’s values and priorities. Despite having much in common with urban protest encampments, climate protest camps are distinct in their targeting of sites such as power stations, new fossil fuel projects, road construction sites, and airport expansions—sites that are often located in rural areas. These camps’ presence is designed to disrupt ongoing activity such as construction, while also drawing attention to it, and to rural sites that are sometimes little known.1See also Center for Land Use Interpretation: Documenting Extractivism. With a view to increasing visibility, climate camps draw both from what the Swedish environmentalist Andreas Malm calls a “long and venerable tradition of sabotaging fossil fuel infrastructure” in regions including Nigeria2Andreas Malm, How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire (New York: Verso, 2020), pp. 70-71. and the tradition of peace camps such as that at Greenham Common RAF base in the UK, where women gathered to protest nuclear weapons in the 1980s. Climate camps also share features with protests such as that at Standing Rock, though those are distinguished by being part of very particular Indigenous land struggles. 

In Europe, recent climate camps include the recurring Camp for Climate Action, active between 2006 and 2011, which grew out of an activist camp at the G8 summit in Scotland in 2005, and targeted a new site each year. Throughout the 1990s, a series of camps opposing motorway expansions united environmentalists and local campaigners. In the UK, Grow Heathrow—a ten-year occupation of four acres of land on a site near the proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport in West London—became the focal point of local campaigning, as well as of a prolonged legal battle.3Charlotte England, ‘Inside Grow Heathrow: The UK’s Most Famous Protest Camp’, Huck, 13 July 2017 <> [accessed 2 February 2023]. A series of protests at Balcombe in Sussex in 2013, meanwhile, played a significant role in raising public awareness of fracking.4Fiona Harvey and Peter Walker, ‘Caroline Lucas among dozens arrested in Balcombe anti-fracking protest’, The Guardian, 19 Aug 2013 <> [accessed 2 February 2023]. More recently, Lützerath in North Rhine Westphalia in Germany became the focus of international media attention after protestors occupied the village, which is facing complete demolition to make way for mining coal.5Ingmar Björn Nolting, ‘The eviction of Lützerath: the village being destroyed for a coalmine – a photo essay’, The Guardian, 24 January 2023 <> [accessed 2 February 2023]. In the UK, the campaign groups Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil launched high profile campaigns in 2021 which targeted transport and fossil fuel infrastructure, with multiple European groups subsequently adopting their tactics of disruption. In direct response to the UK actions, the British government introduced new public order laws that are widely seen as some of the most repressive in the world.6Chris Hilson, ‘Public order bill: new law is designed to stop climate protests – but it could actually give activists a legal tool’, The Conversation, 31 October 2022 <> [accessed 2 February 2023].

Climate camps and protests often provoke debate as to whether disruption to people’s lives alienates public opinion on climate change, and therefore reinforces mainstream orthodoxies on the “need” for a fossil-fuel economy. Other approaches, such as the Moderate Flank and Extinction Rebellion’s shift away from direct action announced in January 2023, use alternative strategies of engagement.7Robert Booth, ‘Extinction Rebellion announces move away from disruptive tactics’, The Guardian, 1 January 2023 <> [accessed 2 February 2023]. Undeniably, however, forms of direct action play an important part in disrupting the ongoing practice of what is considered “normal” in a society built upon extraction, by imposing a sudden and radical change. Climate camps demand systemic change by forcing people to reassess what is inconvenient and to confront the denialism of short-term planning. They can be effective and appealing, meanwhile, in the way they unite global concerns with local struggle and create a tangible sense of solidarity. 


External links

Hambacher Forst Forest Occupationa struggle against lignite mining, occupying an evicted village that was scheduled to be torn down for mining