11 Sep 2008

Blow to shameful coal policy

The Kingsnorth 5
Yesterday six Greenpeace volunteers (5 pictured above) were acquitted of criminal damage by a Crown Court jury in a case that centred on the contribution made to climate change by burning coal. Well done indeed to them, Greenpeace and all the others who took part - and indeed all those who joined the Climate Camp this summer that was also all about stopping Kingsnorth.

The six had attempted to shut down the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent last year by scaling the chimney and painting the Prime Minister’s name down the side. They pleaded ‘not guilty’ and relied in court on the defence of ‘lawful excuse’ – claiming they shut the power station in order to defend property of a greater value from the global impact of climate change.

The acquittal is a serious challenge to the Government’s plans for new coal-fired power stations from jurors representing ordinary people in Britain who, after hearing the evidence, supported the right to take direct action in order to protect the climate. Over five days of evidence Maidstone Crown Court heard testimony from the world’s leading climate scientist, an Inuit leader from Greenland and even David Cameron’s environment adviser. The jury was told that Kingsnorth emits 20,000 tonnes of CO2 every day - the same amount as the 30 least polluting countries in the world combined – and that the Government has advanced plans to build a new coal-fired power station next to the existing site on the Hoo Peninsula in Kent.

The ‘not guilty’ verdict means the jury believed that shutting down the coal plant was justified in the context of the damage to property caused around the world by CO2 emissions from Kingsnorth. See more here.

Kent Green Party spokesperson Steve Dawe was jubilant with the result - he said: "If EoN can invest in the London Array Wind Farm in the Thames Estuary - which it is - then it can invest in other renewable energy technologies rather than in new coal-fired power stations. Coal fired power stations are amongst the very worst sources of Carbon Dioxide emissions in Europe. Since it is proposed a new Kingsnorth power station would be built regardless of the presence of Carbon Capture and Storage, then its construction is in direct conflict with the need to cut UK greenhouse gas emissions. The main UK energy need is efficiency. The cheapest option for households, businesses and the public sector is to use energy efficiency measures to cut energy wastage. A 20% cut could be achieved quite easily and a 50% cut in UK energy use is conceivable. This is far better for households than a new coal fired power station given that 5.4 million households are now in fuel poverty, with more than 10% of their income going on fuel bills. The new European emissions requirements and renewable energy targets are mandatory and that means there is no place in the future for coal in power generation."

Greenpeace have issued a press release with all the details - they quote two of the Kingsnorth 6, Emily Hall, after her acquittal - she said: “This is a huge blow for the Government’s plans to build new coal-fired power stations. It’s coal that should have been on trial, not us. After this verdict, the only people left in Britain who think new coal is a good idea are business secretary John Hutton and the energy minister Malcolm Wicks. It’s time the Prime Minister stepped in, showed some leadership, and embraced a clean energy future for Britain.”

Another of the defendants, Ben Stewart, added: This verdict marks a tipping point for the climate change movement. If jurors from the heart of Middle England say it’s legitimate for a direct action group to shut down a coal-fired power station because of the harm it does to our planet, then where does that leave government energy policy? We have the clean technologies at hand to power our economy, it’s time we turned to them instead of coal.”

The news release goes onto say: The defence called as a witness Professor James Hansen, a NASA director who advises Al Gore and is known as the world’s leading climate scientist. Hansen told the court that more than a million species would be made extinct because of climate change and calculated that Kingsnorth would proportionally be responsible for 400 of these. “We are in grave peril,” he told the jury. He said he agreed with Al Gore's statement that more people should be chaining themselves to coal-powered stations. “Somebody needs to step forward and say there has to be a moratorium, draw a line in the sand and say no more coal-fired power stations.”

Asked by Michael Wolkind QC, for the defence, if carbon dioxide damages property, Hansen replied, “Yes, it does.” Asked if stopping emissions of any amount of it therefore protects property, he replied, “Yes it does, in proportion to the amount.” He added that he thought there was an immediate need to protect property at risk from climate change.

Tory green adviser Zac Goldsmith also gave evidence for the defence. He told the court: “By building a coal-power plant in this country, it makes it very much harder in exerting pressure on countries like China and India. I think that's something that is felt in Government circles.” He later told the jury: “Legalities aside, I suppose if a crime is intended to prevent much larger crimes, I think then a lot of people would consider that as justified and a good thing.”

Some of the property the court was told was in immediate need of protection included parts of Kent at risk from rising sea levels, the Pacific island state of Tuvalu and areas of Greenland. The defendants also cited the Arctic ice sheet, China’s Yellow River region, the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica, coastal areas of Bangladesh and the city of New Orleans. The acquittal is the first case where preventing property damage from climate change has been used as part of a ‘lawful excuse’ defence in court. The defence has previously been successfully deployed by defendants accused of damaging a military jet bound for Indonesia to be used in the war against East Timor before independence.

The defendants had intended to paint ‘GORDON BIN IT’ down the side of the chimney but were served a High Court injunction by police helicopter, meaning they only got as far as painting the Prime Minister’s first name. Last month a new report by Poyry - Europe’s leading energy consultants - concluded that Britain could meet its energy demands without new coal. If the UK hit its existing efficiency and renewables targets it would negate the case for a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth and at least seven other proposed sites. An earlier Poyry report, published in June, found at least 16 gigawatts of untapped potential from ‘Combined Heat and Power’ plants – super-efficient power stations that are popular in Scandinavia but little used in the UK.

Greenpeace ‘case against coal’ can be found at:

Climate Camp at Kingsnorth

Many will have seen the news reports on the Climate camp this year at Kingsnorth to highlight the absurdity of the Government's position. It was while I was away but it has been good to hear the various stories about the camp from Green party and Transition Stroud folk who attended - although not so good to hear about the way the Police seem to have handled the event - see Reuters here. I am not going to cover that here but instead here are a couple of accounts from folk on the camp:

- We travelled on bike with the Climate Caravan the 60 miles to Kingsnorth - with a 4-wheeled-bike/pirate ship/ark, a larger than life polar bear outfit for two, a beautiful and enormous banner, a variety of beautiful flags, our own guitarist/singer and spoken-word artist, a multiplicity of trailers and load-carrying bikes carrying tea, coffee, water, fruit and the all important cake, and with sorrow in our minds, outrage-usually-held -beneath-the-surface- but-occasionally-bubbling-out, and joy in our hearts. It was a fantastic journey. We stopped off for events each evening - personal faves being the Putney Climate Debates, speakers from Andrew Simms of New Economics Foundation on 100 months, someone from WDM, Permaculture Association, Green Party, debating how we sort ourselves out...Ah, the Camp. Yet again an amazingly invigorating, inspirational and - despite police provocation, disruption and intimidation - a downright joyful experience. When the Caravan arrived it was tipping it down,
and the police took an hour to search the 50 of us. But we were greeted by a huge crowd of cheering clapping campers. And a huge rainbow appeared from horizon to horizon. Climate Campaigning never felt that good before! The workshops were great. Reuteurs interviewed me about my Pedal- Generator/Soundsytem (they even asked if such things would "catch on"!). We had 40 plus people huddled in our marquee every night for pedal and solar-powered films. We had over a hundred watching our pedalpowered spoken word poet as lightning sparked in the distance!

- I understand that policing of demonstrations and protests is always necessary to ensure public safety. However the overall response driven by the Kent police to this year's Climate Camp was wholly disproportionate to the perceived threat posed by those attending the camp. It was ludicrous for the police to confiscate items such as children's crayons and protest banners as ‘offensive weapons.’ I found a number of the tactics employed by the police deeply unsettling and disturbing. These included helicopters flying very low over the campsite during the early hours of the morning (disrupting people's sleep and causing anxiety), police floodlights erected each evening, shining directly onto the campsite and again disrupting people's sleep, and constant surveillance performed by the police FIT [Forward Intelligence Team]”.

See Caroline Lucas comments here - she spoke at the camp. Also see many viedos from the camp at: www.envirospeak.tv which includes a Transition Stroud member talking about pedal-generators.

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