At 6pm on Saturday 30 October, I’ll be standing on my doorstep banging a saucepan more often used for stews. Not because I’ve taken leave of my senses (yet) – it’s part of a big national action called ‘Clang for Climate’ that’s encouraging people in communities across the country to raise the alarm about the climate emergency as leaders gather in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit.
The aim is to send a loud and clear message from our doorsteps, or in groups in town centres, using pots, pans, buckets or bells: this is an emergency and we need governments to take immediate and decisive action on the scale that scientists are saying is so desperately necessary.
The recent report by the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) described a situation that is, as UN Secretary General António Guterres has said, ‘code red for humanity’. And unless governments get real about addressing it, the climate system that supports all life on our planet will very soon be ruined beyond repair.
We’ve all seen the scenes of terrible fires and floods in the past few months, everywhere from California to Siberia. Many communities in the UK have been hit by flooding, which is only set to get worse with each passing year. The world is accelerating towards complete climate breakdown, and the emissions that are causing this are not falling but continuing to rise. This year looks set to see the second largest rise ever recorded.
The government’s own Climate Change Committee recently warned that the UK is way off track to meet its emissions targets for 2027 and 2032. Meanwhile, our government is still building new roads and granting licences for oil companies to open up new oilfields in the North Sea.
Failure to drastically rein in emissions will have devastating impacts on every community in the UK in the not too distant future. Clang for Climate gives people in these communities an opportunity to show they understand just how serious this is – and that they want to see real action from government, not more distant targets and empty rhetoric.
The event draws inspiration from Greta Thunberg’s words: “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” It also draws on a long history of communities using pots and pans as a means of protesting or raising an alarm, from Spain and Argentina to Canada and Iceland.
In Iceland in 2009, the ‘kitchenware revolution’ saw ordinary citizens use pots and pans to signal their anger and dismay at the recklessness and corruption of Iceland’s government, which had fed into the financial crisis and caused many to lose their life-savings. The protesters succeeded in bringing down the government and triggering far-reaching reform of Iceland’s constitution. In Quebec in 2012, ‘casserole nights’ were a way of showing widespread opposition to a government bill that gave draconian powers to police to suppress protest (the bill was later rescinded).
I’m under no illusion that pots and pans will bring down Boris Johnson’s government, but they may help to show that many thousands of ordinary people are dismayed at the inadequacy of its efforts to cut carbon emissions. The UK is hosting the most important conference in the world’s history from 1 November, and we expect it to be showing real leadership rather than posturing as a cover for inaction and delay.
As David Attenborough said recently: “The only chance we have at the forthcoming COP is if people actually say to their politicians: we want action.”