Ben Samuel B.Sc. (Hons.), 2009/10 Campaigns and Elections Co-ordinator, National Young Greens Committee
As the case of the Ratcliffe 14 (and the ongoing pre-trial hearings of the Nottingham 114) shows well-targeted action on coal nearly reversed the Industrial Revolution… if it weren’t for that pesky police state and Crown Prosecution Service.
Whilst the Green Party doesn’t necessarily endorse anarchism in its manifesto nor the sort of disregard for environmental law shown in this action reported, I feel it’s worth making my debut in the Young Greens own national newsletter to focus your minds a bit on the origins of the Climate Camp that many London Green Party members found in Black Heath, just down the road from Darren Johnson’s and Charlotte Dingle’s local Green Party constituency. It’s at such gatherings, which are organised on a monthly basis, that you can pick up such radical literature for free!
On April 10th, 2007, a bus-load of activists concerned about climate change headed towards the single worst source of air pollution in the East Midlands, a power plant at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, located across the M1 from the airport. A dozen people peacefully walked in, climbed up and locked themselves to the machinery. The law states clearly that the owners are responsible for the safety of those on site, meaning the conveyor belts had to be stopped. The police were called and arrived to cut the protesters from their positions, but not before they had prevented an estimated 5,000 tonnes of coal from getting to the bunkers. The activists were arrested, questioned, and released on bail. In court, they did not deny their actions, but pleaded innocence on the defence of “duress of circumstances”, or the necessity that they had to act because human lives were threatened by climate change. In a landmark case of climate action on trial, the judge found climate activists guilty, and imposed fines on them that totalled £2670 – more than twice the Young Greens budget deficit. The decision to convict the activists contrasts with the Jury’s verdict at Kingsnorth 2008, shown in the excellent GreenPeace documentary.
On the last week of Winter exams, I donned a media badge and a reporter's notebook to observe the trial of the climate change activists. Tim, 23, who first met me at a charity club-night, nervously expressed thanks to more public protesters. Whilst he just walked inside, at the power-station gates more people covered the corporate sign to the make the "reclaim power" agenda clear. They intended to shut down a key part of our electricity supplies.
The case for action was based on science, which was not disputed by the crown prosecutor. The activists called an expert witness, Dr Simon Lewis, Royal Society Research Fellow at the Earth & Biosphere Institute of the University of Leeds. He is the author of many peer-reviewed technical papers in the world’s leading journals, several of which are cited by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He is a member of the Royal Society’s Climate Change Advisory Network and the United Nations ad hoc Expert Working Group on Biodiversity and Climate Change. He advised the Government of the United Kingdom during preparations for the G8 and UN meetings discussing climate change. Scarier than "Gore's Law" as I call it, that CO2 warms the planet, is what I like to call "Climate Chaos". Previously regarded as a stable atmosphere, scientists now think the biosphere is fragile, and could be thrown into a state of catastrophic climate change. Dr Lewis used the term nonlinearities: points at which global warming feeds back to generate more global warming, creating a spiral effect. Every climate scientist with an academic position agreed that the government's 2-degree target is already 50% likely to tip the system over the edge. Climate chaos is not like gradually polluting a lake as it gets gradually muddier and muddier; it is more like pushing a car over the top of a hill.
International negotiations which stalled at the disappointingly-unfair “Copenhagen Accord”, continue.
We suspect there are corporate sensitivities around energy traders and carbon emissions. Energy traders match demand by buying electricity from the cheapest source every half-hour, keeping computerised records of supply and demand across the electricity and gas distribution network. The activists asked how much carbon dioxide his plant produces but the Plant Manager Ray forgot to bring any data to his evidence session.
I read the judgment fully and published it on my blog and can email it to anyone. The legal and historical importance of this trial in terms of environmental issues highlights what is a step too far.
The first Camp for Climate Action was an international convergence of thousands of people to Megawatt Valley in 2006. The Nottingham neighbourhood continued to cook hot curries and share practical skills. Rather than trusting statutory regulators, direct action depends on more and more ordinary people. At the time of the case we could name 15 similar actions against coal but that has multiplied since April “Fossil” Fools day.
I agreed with those determined to shut down that machine because the power station’s cooling towers are a symbol of waste. I estimate that the wasted steam released from Ratcliffe could be piped to provide free hot water for the entire borough of Rushcliffe, (which has 2 green councillors Richard & Sue). And what these people were doing was a creative strategy designed to raise to public attention the government's wasteful policies, which are only Green on the surface. The government is continuing to press ahead with coal power stations, and even granted planning permission for a new power-plant to be built in Kent. Storming the station in a recent swoop was worth a try to bring these issues to attention.
Did you know that the University of Nottingham's growing rate of carbon emissions could fill three hot-air balloons for every student? (Source: Estates dept. 2008)
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