The changing wind – shedding the carbon skin

11 Aug 2016 james



I am cramming chocolate into your mouth. I feel the dampness of your lips against my fingertips and see the brown squares tumble into the darkness. It takes seconds to complete the task, but the time draws out, slows down. All around is mayhem. The wind makes the shrouds howl. The sound thrusts a sickness into my stomach. My body is drenched. It is a cold August and we had both put on layer after layer, hoping to keep warm and dry. Taking my right hand off the straining jib sheet for an instant, I wipe the salt water off my face, before the prow of Isis plunges into the jade green river and a white wave breaks over me.

We are trying to make headway up Kethole Reach near the mouth of the Medway in our wooden sailing dinghy. It is a dark Summer evening and we’ve been caught unawares. The forecast had promised us a Force 2 or 3 south-westerly accompanied by moderate rain. Now, after turning the corner of Saltpan Reach, we are heading directly into the wind, tacking back and forth across the river channel as we attempt to make with the aid of the flooding tide. And the wind is rising, beginning to scream and filling my mind with panicked questions: when do we realise that this is too much for us? Do we try and run her ashore and drive the boat up onto a mudflat? At what point are we going to capsize?

I look back at you. So powerful, so graceful. Hands gripping the tiller, legs straining as you lean out to balance the boat. The wind blowing back your brown hair. Your eyes darting this way and that, scanning the waves, searching for the buoys, as you calculate the moment to call out “Ready about”. You catch my stare, your eyebrows lift, and wordless you tell me “Yes, more chocolate”

Kingsnorth Powerstation being detonated during demolition 9th July 2015
Kingsnorth Power Station being detonated during demolition 9th July 2015

As you push the rudder through the water and drive the mainsail to the port side, we pivot onto a new tack and careen westwards. Before us looms the now redundant chimney of Kingsnorth Power Station. This tower of concrete thrusting into the dark grey sky has been shorn of the buildings that once covered its lower reaches. The turbine halls, where the powdered coal was driven into the furnaces, have been flayed, the twisted steel floor joists are now open to the elements and the chimney stands as a naked pillar.

By burning the bowels of the earth, shipped across the seas from all corners of the world, this machine could generate 2,000 Megawatts at peak output and propel carbon high into the atmosphere. They’ve been demolishing the monstrous plant for a year and a half now, for its 39-year life was brought to an abrupt halt by the rising of tide of opposition that flowed through the European Parliament, activist groups like KCAM[1] and WDM[2], and the wild tornado of Climate Camp 2008. I think of the five Greenpeace protestors who occupied the top of the 200 meter chimney and were cleared in Maidstone Crown Court on the grounds that they were preventing the greater crime that burning fossil fuels causes through driving climate change.

Wind turbines at the London Array in the Thames Estuary
Wind turbines at the London Array in the Thames Estuary

The wind that howls through the shrouds of Isis and whistles around the stump of Kingsnorth blows across the Hoo Peninsula and out into the Thames Estuary where it turns 320 electricity turbines that stand in the Kentish Flats Wind Farm, the Thanet farm, and the London Array.[3] The blades turn gracefully, a rhythm of pale lines against the grey sky as the waves of the North Sea pound the base of each of these great pillars. This immense battery in the seaspace of the Thames is generating about 1,000 Megawatts in this hour.[4] And carbon is not wrenched from the rocks and hurled into the sky.

Everything is shifting and changing. And I look back at you. I catch your eyes again and they say “More chocolate.”

‘And in the spring I shed my skin

And it blows away with the changing wind’


With thanks to Jane Trowell


[1] Kingsnorth Climate Action Medway

[2] World Development Movement – now called Global Justice Now

[3] Kentish Flats: 45 + Thanet Wind Farm: 100 + London Array:175 = 320 turbines

[4] Kentish Flats: 90 MW + Thanet Wind Farm: 300 MW + London Array: 630 MW = 1,010MW

Focus Areas