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Marching orders

For those of you who've never taken part in a climate-change action, this is the way it goes. You meet a few like-minded people - perhaps at Climate Camp, perhaps through your local branch of Greenpeace - and form your own affinity group.

You hold a couple of meetings (taking the battery out of your mobile because you've been told that the police can bug you through it) and come up with something a bit eye-catching, such as standing naked in the lobby of a corporation. Then off you go, full of nerves, and you do it! And although the odd passer-by looks disapproving, others clap. The police arrest you but then let you go, or they don't arrest you and you go home, determined to do it all again as soon as possible. Wahey, this is the way we're going to get governments to take action on climate change! That, at least, is what activists are telling themselves.

What I am worrying about, with just a few months left until the world's governments meet in Copenhagen, is whether it's actually working. Activists are looking at two big problems at the moment. First - where to go now. In the past few years we've seen some spectacular pieces of direct action - a number of self-motivated young people have mounted the roof of the Houses of Parliament and climbed the chimneys of Kingsnorth Power Station. These people seem to be as serious about fighting our inertia over climate change as the brigadistas were about fighting fascism. They've inspired us, and they've got corporations and politicians talking about climate change.

Now, though, it feels as if the movement is in danger of frittering this away in "fluffy" actions that don't hit the headlines. It's the daring, heist-type operations that get coverage - and although some activists may hate the media, others admit that unless they are getting climate change talked about by Daily Mail readers, they are failing.

But more importantly, where is everyone else? The hope was that by now there would be the upswellings of a mass movement, yet it seems as if this particular issue is still failing to get people off their sofas.

Climate Camp has pledged to shut down Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station in October; I'm sure there is plenty more on the drawing board for Copenhagen and beyond. But will this - will anything - finally get anyone but the diehards on the march?

Perhaps they are tired, or perhaps they're giving up, beginning to believe that this thing just can't be done. The next few months will be a very demanding time for a young generation of activists. Let's see if they can weather the test.

This article first appeared in the 28 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter