- Will Penkethman-Carr
The COP26 protest: a look at the sidelines
Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
The COP26 protest started at Kelvingrove Park, in Glasgow. As protestors took their places, from the Marxists to the Quakers (and sometimes it became truly congruous with the Anarchists being followed by the Scottish Liberal Democrats), there the Police also stood, arms folded, straight faced, unmoving. One of the most interesting pieces of equipment they had brought along with them was a mounted security camera/ watchtower. Four cameras stood tall, surveying at all times and in all directions, behind a steel mesh. What was it looking for? Criminal behaviour? There was none: the people gathered were protesters, not criminals. But it is doubtful whether the majority of protests felt threatened by the police’s presence anyway: there was no tension, nor seemingly the feeling of being watched. The police and their cameras and horses and shields appeared to be there more out of a largely unrecognised demonstration of force. And their own acknowledgment of their redundancy at the protest was obvious: many stood outside McDonald’s looking bored.
More than the police, however, the biggest threat to climate change protests and protestors is green washing. As the protest moved through the streets, Sky, McDonald’s and Scottish Power had all taken a substantial investment in advertising how green their companies were (or, at least, were going to be) and how they oh so supported COP26. Clearly the new move for corporations to make is to deny they have a share in the problem at all. The gall of it is almost impressive especially coming from Sky, McDonald’s and Scottish Power. Suddenly it is in fashion for every corporation to proclaim itself as green and carbon neutral, with a big happy smiling planet looking all happy because the great happy corporations were great and clever and made everything all happy again. However, advertising is clearly effective, so how many people will fall for this? How much of the movement will be sapped away because people will have bought into the great green washing ad campaign?
As the protest moved through the streets, faces and phones appeared at the windows. A protest with over 100,000 attendees justifiably attracts attention, and lo and behold thousands of those protesting faces have doubtless formed a part of someone’s Instagram post. Certainly, those posts will have ‘spread the word’ so to speak, but posting on social media is merely a protest by proxy. The weather was far from auspicious, but looking up and seeing people a little too snug in dressing gowns waving makes one wonder whether the protest just became tinsel for someone’s profile.
Surrounding the protest appeared a consensus of general apathy. There is no existential terror in face of the gravity of what was being protested: the very real possibility of the extinction of humanity. If this realisation were truly conceived as an immanent reality, one would hope that people would stop wearing their dressing gowns and move beyond the perimeter of their well-heated living room and do something. As it stands, the protest itself was an oddly happy affair, with happy faces, smiling to music. There was no anger. Certainly, a feeling of solidarity, but it was almost too civil.