What happened when a small group of intrepid aficionados of climate justice occupied the Carbon Neutral Company offices, London, 21.2.07
A good day was had by those three of us who walked into the Carbon Neutral Company (CNC) at 9.30am, deciding to dispense with duplicity and say we were from London Rising Tide. Having signed in, we decided one of the two boardrooms in the spanky new ‘King’s Cross is very up-and-coming-don’t you-know’ offices would do the trick, and quickly barricaded ourselves inside with the boardroom table and chairs. Actually it took a while for them to work out what we were actually doing – they might have wondered why we had moved the table and were drawing big words in felt pen on the flip chart paper, but that didn’t automatically spell out the words ‘office occupation’ to them. ‘Weird kindergarten types’ maybe, but ‘protest’, no. The words eventually spelt out the slogan ‘Carbon “offset” = climate upset’, which we stuck to the windows facing down on the insanely busy street below, where our three friends below had a banner fiendishly bearing the exact same slogan, and were busy symbolically sweeping coal under carpet.
Back upstairs, we spent the day drawing more big slogans (‘Carbon Neutral Con’ being one), ringing the press, playing the blues on the harmonica, throwing executive stressballs at each other, talking over the issues, sleeping, and chatting to the CNC CEO who subsequently told employees that we had refused to talk to him, when in fact he had declined our invitation of a reasoned discourse, albeit through the glass of our barricaded door. (Why is it that people like that always seem to think that the offer of a meeting in the boardroom where we get to sit with the grown-ups and maybe even eat some of their biscuits while outlining our concerns is going to result in anything other than yet more prevarication and empty greasy promises of a fruitful working relationship to come in the future? And why would the world outside have any interest whatsoever in the news that yet another campaigning group has been coaxed in from the icy streets to join together in mutually beneficial partnership with another bunch of bemusing-statistic-spouting besuited lunatics who claim that markets are going to dig us out of the climate crisis. Phew. Short version: watch out if you get invited into the cosy offices of the dark forces, boys and girls, unless you want to end up on the boss’s knee.)
When the police arrived, one asked with dark jocularity if the one of us who was locked on by the neck to the door-blockading-table had any life insurance. But then they went away having said it was unlawful but not illegal and that it was a civil matter, leaving us to enjoy the tranquil drowse-making summer sunshine until we decided to make a move at 4.15pm, while the All Party Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change, run by the CNC, to which we had declined the opportunity to make a presentation, was still in session.
We had been harbouring a stray piece of coal all day, and so, once we had tidied up after ourselves and pulled the table from the door, we presented it to the (extremely helpful) receptionist along with a note reading ‘Offset this (please)’. Actually, on reflection I think it should have read ‘Offset this (cannot be done)’ or some such similar. But never mind, we were free, or free at least after I had scampered to the open plan office and said to the underwhelmed assembled ‘Goodbye…and by the way, please find a better way to save the planet, because this method ain’t working’, (at least I hope that’s what I said.) We’d been discussing through the day about what effect our action might have been having on the employees working in their open-pan office behind one of our boardroom walls. The indications that we could glean were that we had upset them mightily, and who wouldn’t be upset by a group of outsiders wandering in with a message that what the company is doing, is doing the opposite of helping the climate heal. We tried to make it clear that our critique was of the company – not to mention capitalism itself – but still it can’t be a hundred laughs to have us lot saying that the morality of offsetting is deeply flawed.
And then, with an apology to the man at the desk who we signed in with, (he seemed relaxed about it, fortunately) we really were free. Free to enjoy the bourgeois delights of this teeming metropolis, free to accept a free lobotomy (sorry, I mean ‘London Lite’) from an overworked giver-outer chasing a quota, free to enjoy a rush-inspiring throwaway-cupped smoothie in a cafe down the street, free to trundle home to a warm house and immediate access to the wonders of the www. Yes, free to acknowledge how bedded-in we are to this system built on exploitation and injustice, topped off with a wholesome-looking but totally toxic layer of bullshit and greenwash. Hypocrites? Probably. In that case, how about ‘hypocrites who helped strip away that toxic layer just for a millisecond and let some real daylight flood into the debate’? Definitely. And I feel really good about that.