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Whos got all the money? We have: G-7 protests hit the beach with blimps, games, banners, flames and more

5 min read

FALMOUTH, England – Surfers against sewerage. I stand with Tigray. Drowning in promises. Tell the truth. Climate change kills children. We need to make them pay. 

The sun finally came out here Saturday at the Group of Seven economic and political summit in Cornwall, attended by President Joe Biden and other world leaders. 

And so did the protesters, who used a smorgasbord of marches, staged events, blimps, banners, flames, drones, kayaks, air horns and numerous other eccentric theatrical actions to sound the alarm over climate change, predatory banks, business-as-usual diplomacy and even malnourished children caught up in fighting between government forces and rebels in Ethiopia. 

“I am here to make sure we put children at the core of all our decision-making,” said David SmarKnight, an environmental educator and activist who wore a kilt and a determined look as he rushed around Falmouth’s Kimberly Park.

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SmartKnight, who handed USA TODAY a business card emblazoned with the title “Possibilist,” was one of the main organizers of an event aimed at raising awareness of “greenwashing,” when companies and governments falsely or misleadingly promote a product or policy as environmentally friendly for promotional purposes.   

“If we don’t do that, we end up in the place where we are heading, and that’s not a good place,” SmartKnight added, before storming off to check on a group of activists – “rebels,” he called them – rehearsing a dance routine to “Stayin’ Alive,” the hit song by the Bee Gees from the “Saturday Night Fever” movie. 

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Several hundred “rebels,” along with their kids, dogs and environmental and social justice conscience, showed up at Kimberley Park, which acted as a staging ground for a march through Falmouth that featured art installations, choir performances and a lot of simmering but polite rage about the state of the world and what G-7 leaders aren’t doing about it. 

“It just really sticks in my throat that the G-7 think they can lead us into some kind of recovery,” said Jasmine Appleby, a member of the Extinction Rebellion global movement of environmental activists who advocate for the use of nonviolent civil disobedience to compel governments to take meaningful action on climate issues, during an address.

Activists gather in Kimberley Park, in Falmouth, England, on June 12, 2021, as they rehearse for a protest march involving a dance routine.

Along with the global coronavirus pandemic, climate change is one of the major topics leaders in Cornwall are discussing during the three-day event.

”The global health emergency has shown us what a truly borderless crisis looks like. Of course, we did not fully see COVID coming. Yet climate change and bio-diversity loss represent a borderless crisis, the solutions to which have been argued about and postponed for far too long,” said Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, during a dinner event Friday night with world leaders on the sidelines of the summit. 

“The fight against this terrible pandemic provides, if ever one was needed, a crystal-clear example of the scale, and sheer speed, at which the global community can tackle crises when we combine political will with business ingenuity and public mobilization. Ladies and gentlemen, we are doing it for the pandemic. So if you don’t mind me saying so, we must also do it for the planet,” the queen’s son said.

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Still, it’s not clear what concrete policy measures, if any, will emerge from the summit.

“Greenwashing is entrenched in the fossil fuel industry, but also in the banking and investment industries that finance it,” said David Callaway, editor of Callaway Climate Insights, a newsletter about climate finance, and a former editor of USA TODAY. 

“Most of the pledges, commitments and long-term climate goals laid out in breathless press releases are simply marketing. The actual transition to a renewable energy economy from a fossil fuel one will involve risk and pain, but will also generate huge rewards, and not just in the environment.”  

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Waters sports enthusiasts takes to the sea at Gyllyngvase Beach, Cornwall, in England, to protest how oceans are impacted by climate change. Photo: June 12, 2021.

Many of the protesters in Cornwall seem to recognize that. 

A couple of miles away, on Gyllyngvase Beach, there was a mass gathering of surfers, paddle borders, bodyboarders and other waters sports enthusiasts who came to bring attention to the damage and destruction warming seas are doing to the oceans and to call on G-7 leaders to commit to cutting emissions further and faster.

“It’s vital that the words of the G-7 leaders turn into actions,” said Hugo Tagholm, who leads a Cornwall-based marine conservation and campaigning charity called Surfers Against Sewage.  

“Everyone appears to be listening, and saying the right things here, but we need that urgent action. We need areas where people can’t fish. Areas where they can’t extract oil. Areas where they can’t do anything to our oceans,” Tagholm added, before running off, surfboard under one arm, to join about 1,000 people who had paddled a hundred yards or so off Gyllyngvase Beach. While in the water they splashed and thrashed paddles and hands as part of a call to protect the seas and biodiversity. 

A little higher up the beach, there was a rival protest featuring a mock soccer game between environmental activists, with one team wearing masks of G-7 leaders.

Will Bamford, the referee of soccer match protest aimed at highlighting economic and climate-related inequities, in Cornwall, England, on June 12, 2021.

Will Bamford, an environmental educator from Wales, was the referee, only in the form of a banker from “Sharklys” – a pun on Barclays, the British bank.

Bamford said he was used to dealing with “rowdy” soccer games and players because he used to teach gym in a school.  

“Oh, look at (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel, she’s so competitive in midfield, as you’d expect from a German,” shouted a pretend sports broadcaster from the sidelines as the soccer game got underway.

“And now the referee is penalizing (Canadian Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau despite his fantastic hair. And there’s (President) Joe Biden pushing everyone out of the way. This game is so rigged,” the broadcaster said. 

“Who’s got all the money? We have,” the announcer said, as the G-7 leaders flailed about in the sand. 

A pretend soccer match between environmental activists near Falmouth, England, on June 12, 2021. One side is wearing masks with the faces of G-7 leaders on them.

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