I just realized Climate Action Cafe has been going for almost a year! So I thought I should take a few moments write about how I think it’s going…
My motivation for starting this website was that I felt frustrated that there doesn’t seem to be much space for really thoughtful, critical discussion about what the Climate Direct Action Movement is doing. In the UK the Climate Camp been very successful at getting mainstream media exposure, and this is brilliant because it means lots of people get to hear about us, but of course the trade-off is that our messages are severely watered down and reduced to 20-second sound-bites. We have meetings once a month that last for two days, but there is little or no time for discussion, since pretty much all the time is taken up by the nitty-gritty of planning the amazing events we put on. On the Internet, Indymedia is intended more for news than for discussion pieces, and there are so many articles every day that you could easily get lost looking for articles on a particular topic.
So Climate Action Cafe creates an online space for some very meaty (uh, sorry, tofu-ey) discussion pieces about Climate Direct Action. If you believe the WordPress stats there are between 50 and 100 visitors a week – this is tiny compared to the amount of people who will read about Climate Camp in the Guardian, but then the articles on Climate Action Cafe are definitely aimed at people who are already very much involved in the movement (and in fact, I think anyone else would have a hard time understanding what they are about) and I think this is fine. We tend to think a lot about outreach, but it’s OK to create something that just caters to ourselves!
When the site was new I was surprised that a lot of the articles were clearly written by people from an academic background. (Surely only a small percentage of climate activists are academics?!) But after some thought I’ve realised this isn’t really that surprising – academics are used to writing stuff, while people who aren’t academics might discuss their ideas in a meetings or in the pub, but never think of writing them down.
So I’d like to really encourage activists to try writing down their ideas. If an idea is interesting and important enough that you would spend some time explaining it in a meeting, why not also take the time to write it down so other people around the world can read it? Articles for this website don’t have to be written in a “formal” way, it’s fine to write in the same sort of language you would use talking to your mates in the pub (or wherever) and shorter pieces are fine as well as longer ones.
Of course people with an academic background are still very much welcomed to send stuff in. I’d encourage academics to translate what they write into everyday language – e.g. “capital” means a city, “subject” means topic, and “structural” usually refers to a building :-) In general people have lots of different writing styles and all are OK, as long as they are understandable. My suggestion would be to go for clarity and simplicity, and remember that the shorter an article is, the more likely people are to read it through to the end!
There is a definite UK focus, which makes sense because I live in England, but articles from elsewhere are particularly welcomed. There have been some good articles from Australia, but surprisingly few from the US, Europe, or elsewhere. This probably just means I should take some time on the Internet to find articles from other places, and email groups to invite them to send stuff in.
There are definitely some technical things that could be done to make the site better. I think the first priority would be to make it so there are summaries of articles – it’s probably quite hard for people to decide which ones they want to read, especially since the titles aren’t always that descriptive. It would also be nice to incorporate some photos somehow, just to make the site less bland visually. Also, when the site was new, there were so few articles that I didn’t bother with tagging, which would allow articles to be grouped according to topic, but I now realize this was a mistake, and I should probably spend some time with the WordPress admin interface trying to sort this out…
Turning my thoughts away from such dorkery for a moment, it’s an exciting time right now in the UK: there are three Climate Camps coming up, in Scotland, Wales, and London, and a few more nearby in Ireland, France, Denmark, and on the Dutch / Belgian border. Vestas Wind Turbine factory is occupied by its workers, with a Climate Camp set up nearby and more people pouring in each day to give support, while the Climate Camp legal team is involved in a couple of different court actions against the police for a long list of abuses, and of course preparations are being made for actions at the COP climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December. My expectation is that over the next few months everyone will be far too busy to write, but there will be an explosion of new articles in September and October as people take time to reflect over all the amazing things that happened over the summer.
So this turned out to be quite a long post! It certainly helped me get my ideas together, although I don’t know if it was interesting to anyone else.
Katie, 30 July 2009