I was standing near the Millennium Bridge and it was raining. A small team of us were going to do an arctic storytelling tour of the City of London. The idea was that we would do a circular walk beginning and ending at the Thames. I would tell three stories from the arctic region and my friend Tony would sing three songs related to climate change. Tony Black is a performer and songwriter as well as a campaigner with the Campaign Against Climate Change and Friends of the Earth. He has performed at a number of campaigning events including the Climate Emergency Vigil in London on 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTU4hHt2S-w (See him perform from 2:30!)
We were also lucky to be joined by Abi Mortimer who was going to tell us about Greenpeace’s climb up the Shard and the ‘Arctic’ campaign and by Richard Solly, the Co-ordinator of the London Mining Network who would speak about the way that specific banks are financing fossil fuel projects. I was also grateful to Roger Moody of Nostromo Research who had assisted in preparing information for this event.
We’d been planning and discussing this for some time and put in some hours of promotion. The World Development Movement kindly hosted a blog entry of mine about the event. http://www.wdm.org.uk/climate-change/bringing-arctic-stories-city-london
Tony performed a song about cycling, ‘Ridgeback’ and then we were off. Standing on the Millennium Bridge I talked about the record-breaking melt of arctic sea ice in 2012 and introduced the event. Abi gave us an eyewitness account of the climb up the Shard in July to promote Greenpeace’s Arctic campaign.
On the Millennium Bridge I talked about Liberate Tate’s protests against BP’s sponsorship of the Tate Modern (reading from their open letter to Nicholas Serota (http://liberatetate.wordpress.com/liberating-tate/about/) and at St Pauls’s I read Andrew Simm’s analysis of the Occupy protest. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/26/occupy-london-big-bang-city After that I told the first story, ‘The Poor Hunter’ about a polar bear and a hunter who help each other we moved on to the London Stock Exchange. There, Richard Solly explained that it was home to many mining companies including four of the biggest six in the world: BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Glencore Xstrata and Anglo-American.
At the Colombian El Cerrejon mine, one of the largest in the world, Glencore Xstrata, BHP Billiton and Anglo American have been in dispute with workers over attempts to cut back on basic workers` rights such as pay, health, pensions and the rights of sub-contracted workers. The mine has had a long history of clashes with communities and local people over resettlement issues, and the mines has reportedly contaminated groundwater and created air pollution, which has led to health problems for the local people.
Richard Solly told us about Bumi and BHP’s actions in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Their mines have destroyed rainforests and peatlands and have been linked to forced displacement of people and local pollution.
We walked to Gresham Street and outside Lloyds Richard explained the way Lloyds has been funding fossil fuel projects. Lloyds states that it ‘aims to be one of the leading oil and gas banks in Europe’. It has bankrolled the coal sector with £845 million between 2005 and 2011. Tony sang a song that expresses frustration with climate sceptics called ‘Scientists’. He’s performed it at a few events like this including the all-night ‘Climate Emergency’ vigil, just after the last general election.
Past the Guildhall and turning into Bassinghall Street we stopped outside Standard Chartered. I told a story about an animal even more sensitive to climate change than the polar bear; the narwhal. ‘How the Narwhal Got its tusk’ is a wonderful tale featuring a wicked grandmother, a talking bird that gives a boy his sight and a magical transformation into a narwhal. Richard told us how Standard Chartered has financed many mining projects. It has bankrolled coal mining and coal fired power companies with £632.7 million between 2005 and 2011.
Outside Legal and General Tony performed ‘Seven Acres in the Hills’, a song that explores some people’s response to environmental crises: individual survivalism. Richard told us about Legal and General’s funding of coal mining projects like Rio Tinto’s and Vale’s mines in Mozambique. In May of this year, Human Rights Watch condemned Rio Tinto for failing in its obligations to the many people who have been displaced by coal mining operations. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-22646243. He also spoke about Rio Tinto’s copper and gold mine in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, Oyu Tolgoi. The mine has displaced nomadic herders, who are experiencing water shortages, and is to get its energy from a power station supplied by huge coal mines elsewhere in Mongolia.
We walked along London Wall, passing HSBC and Barclays. HSBC has put a total of £3.8 billion into coal between 2005 and 2011. Barclays has been the top lender to the coal industry in the 2005-11 period and has been involved in funding the Canadian tar sands project. We looked up Bishopsgate and I read out an account of the Climate Camp in the City that took place there in 2009 before turning back down Bishopsgate and into Threadneedle Street. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2009/apr/02/g20-climate-camp-protest-london-police-bishopsgate
There’s a huge office of Royal Bank of Scotland on Bishopsgate. RBS is now 82% owned by the British public and it using tax payer’s money to bankroll dirty energy. It has financed the Canadian tar sands, the Madagascan tar sands and the Cerrejon coal mine. Richard Solly explained how it has even financed corporations involved Mountaintop Removal, one of the most drastic methods of coal mining, to the tune of $362.5m despite acknowledging the devastating impacts of the process, Friends of the Earth Scotland can reveal. Mountaintop Removal literally blasts the tops off mountains to access thin layers of coal. Communities in the Appalachian Mountains in the USA where the technique has been pioneered report high incidences of severe health problems linked to the toxins released from the coal.
Outside the Bank of England, I pointed out the RBS branch that was vandalised in April 2009 and spoke about the carbon bubble: the idea that carbon assets are overvalued because we can only use 20% of known fossil fuel reserves if we are to avoid runaway climate change. I read out the words of Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org
“It’s simple math: we can emit 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming — anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth. The only problem? Burning the fossil fuel that corporations now have in their reserves would result in emitting 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide – five times the safe amount.
Fossil fuel companies are planning to burn it all — unless we rise up to stop them.”
Then we were back where we’d started – the Millennium Bridge. How do you end an event like that? It was an event that brought together traditional stories from the arctic with real-life stories of the corporations driving climate change and the people in London and around the world resisting them. We ended with the words of Sheila Watt-Cloutier that she made to the Circumpolar Council, ten years ago. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2003/dec/11/weather.climatechange
It was a great event. The turn-out was disappointing, notwithstanding the rain. But I, for one, was pleased that I’d done it. I’d learned a lot in planning, made good connections with people I hadn’t known before and was pleased that I’d done a different type of storytelling event on the final day of the tour.
It was pouring with rain as I cycled across London to get to Paddington Children’s library. I was telling ‘Tales of the Far North’ for the last time. As usual, I was pressed for time. As I cycled alongside the shoppers in Oxford Street I wondered if I should check the map again.
Paddington was an absolute pleasure, mainly because of the meticulous planning and organisation of Laurence Foe. The space was set up for me, he had a list of people booked on, he’d copied the ‘programmes’ I’d emailed and even phoned to check that I was alright when I was a few minutes away. The storytelling went well. Children and adults engaged were involved in the workshop and I certainly enjoyed myself.
There was one more gig to go: a performance of ‘The Boy Who Dreamed Only Ice’ at Highgate Library. It was still pouring with rain as I cycled north from Paddington. And then I did it- the final performance of ‘The Boy Who Dreamed Only Ice’ on this tour. I had a mixed audience- some young children, some older ones and some adults.
Then it was over. The tour was finished. All that was left now was to cycle across town to Brick Lane for a curry with Tony and then bed.