"To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing." - Raymond Williams

Land, and the army marching to claim it, in the UK and around the world

by Shaun Chamberlin on November 20th, 2012

Greenham Reach

The right to access land matters, in a fundamental way. It is a place to live, a source for food, for water, for fuel, and for sustenance of almost every kind. And land management also has profound impacts on our ecosystems and environment, and thus on our well-being and our collective future. So it matters deeply that while UK supermarkets and housing estates find permission to build easy to come by, those who wish to use land to explore truly sustainable living are blocked and frustrated at every turn.

It is this sorry state of affairs that has given birth to the “Reclaim the Fields” movement and activist groups like Grow Heathrow and the Diggers 2012. Inspired by the example of Gerrard Winstanley’s 17th Century Diggers, these peaceful, practical radicals have moved onto disused UK land in order to cultivate it, build dwellings and live in common “by the sweat of our brow”.

In other words, they have asserted their right to simply exist on nature’s bounty, seeking neither permission from anyone nor dominion over anyone; a right that they believe people should still share with the other animals. A right, indeed, that was enshrined in UK law in the 1217 Charter of the Forest. More recently, however, the strange young notion of owning exclusive rights to land has pushed back hard (as this excellent article documents). Thus, as they fully expected – and as happened to their forebears – the Diggers 2012’s crops have been torn up and they themselves have been hassled, moved on and in some cases arrested.

It might seem, then, that the efforts of these determined folk are being successfully repelled by ‘the system’, were it not for two crucial considerations – that they have history on their side, and that there is an enormous army surging at their backs.

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Transition Money

by Shaun Chamberlin on May 17th, 2012

The Joy of Not Being Sold Anything

Last month I was one of forty or so attendees of the Transition ‘Peak Money’ day. It was a fascinating collection of people, from theorists to activists, and a potent opportunity to reflect on the challenges facing us all as the glaring errors at the heart of mainstream economics take their toll. This post is far more personal reflection than report, as Rob Hopkins has already done a great job on that front.

The key theme that seemed to run throughout the day, then, was ‘collapse’. Sadly, I was an hour late to the event, but the first sessions I witnessed were reports from Transitioners in Portugal, Ireland and Greece on the ‘front line’ impacts of the economic crunch. The talk was of collapse having already happened for many families and communities there, with statistics quoted including an 89% increase in Greek unemployment in three years, and Irish suicides having doubled since 2007.

They pulled no punches. Most of us were left grey and shaken as the harsh realities of the crisis were relayed. For me, a defining memory of the day was watching the alternative economists listening to this – people who have spent decades warning of these outcomes and trying to head them off – their heads shaking sadly with lips pursed, hands involuntarily coming to their faces in dismay as their Cassandra curse unfolds. Of course, the statistics were not new to them, but hearing these stories in person somehow always brings a heavier human impact. Watching that impact reflected in their expressions felt almost inappropriate, yet doubly powerful.

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Climate Camp 2009 needs you

by Shaun Chamberlin on June 29th, 2009

Dark Optimism Police

This year’s Climate Camp will run from Thurs 27th August to Weds 2nd Sept, at an as yet undeclared location in or around London (inside the M25).

This year the camp will not be culminating in a ‘direct action’, but will instead be focusing on movement-building and skill-sharing. I’m helping to organise the workshop programme, and would encourage all Dark Optimism readers to consider offering a talk/workshop/debate, by following this link. The deadline has now been extended, but if you’re interested then the sooner you can submit details the better. Read more »

Why do they do it?

by Shaun Chamberlin on July 27th, 2008

Mum's the word

Since my earlier review of Burn Up I have discovered a comment on the film posted yesterday by Jeremy Leggett, one of the few with any media profile to openly discuss the interplay of peak oil and climate change.

In his piece Leggett asks: “Why do the carbon-club lobbyists and contrarians do what they do? What is in their heads as they go about their work? Surely they must see the power of the emerging evidence that the threat is real, and massive? … I don’t have an explanation.”

This is a question I have devoted a lot of thought to, and I will venture an answer. Read more »

Reinventing collapse

by Shaun Chamberlin on June 29th, 2008

Reinventing Collapse

As George Carlin once said, “they call it the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe in it”.

At the risk of this blog becoming ‘review corner’, that seems the perfect introduction to the book I just finished reading – Dmitry Orlov’s brilliantly enjoyable Reinventing Collapse. This is a true work of dark optimism, with a fair dash of dark humour to boot.

In it, Orlov draws on his experiences of the collapse of the Soviet Union to explore the future American residents like him are likely to face as the effects of the USA’s disastrous economic, energy and foreign policies take hold. Read more »

TEQs (downstream) or Cap and Dividend (upstream)?

by Shaun Chamberlin on June 8th, 2008


In the climate policy community there is a growing debate between advocates of ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ carbon caps (dams?). The terms draw an analogy between the flow of water in a stream and the flow of energy through an economy. ‘Upstream’ advocates want to regulate the few dozen fuel and energy companies that bring carbon into the economy, arguing that this is cheaper and simpler than addressing the behaviour of tens of millions of ‘downstream’ consumers.

At first glance this seems a convincing argument, but there is one important regard in which an upstream scheme fails – it does not engage the general populace in the changes required. Read more »