A big, bombastic huzzah for the 20 climate activists that infiltrated and occupied West Burton Power Station this morning. This is the first of a new generation of some 20 gas fired plants that the government are planning on building, and represents a ‘line in the sand’ of climate change and energy policy much in the same way that the Kingsnorth Power Station did a few years back.
The group No Dash For Gas have scaled two of the 300 ft concrete cooling towers and say that they have enough supplies to last them a week. In a press release, one of the climbers, Anneaka Kelly said:
Energy bills are going through the roof, people are getting flooded out of their homes, we’re seeing droughts across the world but the energy companies are making a killing. We’re here because we want an electricity system that doesn’t cause our world to warm and our bills to rise ever higher. Gas is expensive and highly polluting, but if the Government gets its way we’ll be reliant on it for decades. Instead we should be investing in clean high-tech renewables that slash pollution and in the long run will cost a lot less.
The government’s intended “dash for gas” would lock us into decades of dependence on a dirty and increasingly expensive fossil fuel source at a time when there’s an urgent need to redirect resources into renewables infrastructure. Instead of creating hundreds of thousands of green jobs and consolidating our ability to create clean energy for generations to come, the government is choosing to shore up the profit margins of a handful of energy companies who are determined to put their profits ahead of climate safety.
Direct action of this sort is always controversial, and of course, that’s partly the point. If there hadn’t been such a failure of democratic process in the way that these decisions have been taken, then there wouldn’t be the need for people for people to break the law in order to prevent far greater crimes from unfolding. Energy companies have spent millions on lobbying campaigns to make sure that the government has gone in this direction. Just recently Shell was accused of having a ‘schmooze-athon’ with the government after senior Whitehall officials from 10 government departments and agencies attended exclusive “training courses” on energy systems laid on by Shell over two days at its London headquarters. Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP, Tate-chair and now chairman of Cuadrilla, one of the UK’s main shale gas prospectors is acting as an adviser to Osborne on energy.
Gas is presented as being ‘clean’ but more recent studies, especially focusing on the associated emissions in the production and transportation of gas, shows that it’s not that much cleaner than coal. Gas is also presented as being less politically problematic than other fossil fuels – people think it just comes out of the North Sea and thus we avoid any of the human rights issues and resource wars that happen in association with, say oil. Our recent book The Oil Road (which would be more accurately titled The Oil and Gas Road) highlights a whole host of human rights abuses from Azerbaijan to Turkey in the transportation of gas from the Caucausus to Europe. How many people realise that pours into the UK grid from the LNG terminal at Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire arrives on ships from Bonny in the Niger Delta?
Gas is presented as being cheap, but figures from Ofgem show that in 2011 the average UK energy bill rose by £150, with £100 of this due to the rising cost of gas. With Fuel Poverty becoming an increasing serious issue in the UK, yoking our horses to an ever more expensive fossil fuel is only going to make the problem much worse.
Although the threat of climate change may have dropped off the political or mediatic agenda, it’s impossible to ignore the rising food prices as a result of droughts in North America this year, the monumental and massively under reported flooding in the Niger Delta and as I type the tropical storm Sandy battering New York City. In the face of a government that seems almost ideolgically committed to ignoring the threat of climate change, it’s vital that there’s more action like that taken by No Dash For Gas today to dramatically push the issue to the fore. Concerted, daring, creative climate activism in the UK opened enormous political space over the issues of new coal and aviation, and hopefully this is the start of normal people coming together to hobble the government’s suicidal dash for gas.