To Prevent Ecocidal Climate Change we Need to Tell Better Stories: Lessons from Ratcliffe-on-Soar.
After a year and a half 26 of us were charged, and twenty of us sat trial in November of last year. We plead not guilty, arguing that stopping emissions from Ratcliffe was both necessary and reasonable in light of the impending chaos of climate change, and the complete inaction of government to do anything meaningful about it. A host of witnesses spoke on our behalf, including James Hansen, one of the world’s foremost climate scientists, and Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party. Dr Ian Roberts, Professor of Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Medicine, told the court that we risk a “generational genocide” as we “sleep walk into a nightmare”. Yet after a three and a half week trial, we were found guilty.
But days before the trial of the other six defendants was due to start, the police officer Mark Kennedy was exposed by the people he had been living amongst in Nottingham. For seven years he had been living undercover, posing as an environmental activist. He was also one of the 114 arrested back in 2009, and had been involved in planning the action from the beginning. Soon after, it emerged that the prosecution had been holding onto tapes made by Kennedy just before our arrest, tapes that would have shown that we believed what we had maintained throughout our trial – that our planned action was crucial in order to save lives. The second trial collapsed, and we were invited to appeal. Two weeks ago, 827 days after our arrest, we had our convictions overturned at the Court of Appeal.
Of course it is nice to be vindicated. Yet we are left with many questions unanswered, and despite the launch of seven separate inquiries, it seems unlikely that we will get answers any time soon. Who made the decision not to disclose the tapes? Why were only twenty-six of us charged (or eighty-eight of us wrongfully arrested)? Why are there undercover police infiltrating environmental activists in the first place, and how many others are out there, preventing peaceful, proportionate action? Why was the plan not stopped back when the police first knew about it, instead of arresting as many people as possible just before it happened, and then tying them up for two years in the courts? It is hard to see how such tactics help to facilitate protest, which, as we are often told, is a healthy part of a functioning democracy.
For each week of the last two years, as we have been dragged through the courts, Ratcliffe has continued to pump out 150,000 tonnes of CO2. Each week, at even the most conservative estimate, 3000 people have died due to climatic changes. Despite a dip following the recession, global emissions hit a record high last year. Business as usual is proving to be a lousy, scared solution, and I have been made starkly aware, over the past two years, of the lengths gone to to protect it.
But we are not communicating this. The jury did find us guilty, and even though that was due to crucial evidence being withheld, it is worth asking if it is also because we were unable to express our message effectively. I know it isn’t the best test of public opinion, but read any message board beneath any article on this trial, and the majority write off climate change protest in Britain as both privileged and irrelevant. Maybe, currently, it is. We are failing to tell the tales to show that environmental justice is an issue for every person on this planet, and that the same system that perpetuates ever increasing emissions also perpetuates poverty and oppression. Our actions need to draw these links. If we can support other oppressed communities in their own struggles, rather than cajoling them to come to us and think as we do, then maybe we can begin to appeal to peoples’ hearts, rather than shouting facts at their minds.
Adam Weymouth is a writer and storyteller. He can be contacted at adamweymouth (at) gmail (dot) com
For the story of the whole trial, see http://ratcliffeontrial.org/