Climate activists stand trial
By Will McCallum
As I write, twenty activists are currently standing trial in Nottingham Crown Court for conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass. The night before the plan to occupy Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, the UK’s third largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions, all 114 participants were arrested in a nearby school. All but 26 of the protesters had their charges dropped, and now twenty of them are finally making their case before a jury. Their case is unusual, though not unprecedented, as they put forward the claim that by preventing at least 150,000 tonnes of CO2 from being emitted, they would have been preventing a greater crime, a crime that E.ON, as the owner of several coal-fired power stations, is committing.
Though a bold claim, the defendants have several leading climate scientists (such as Jim Hansen, giving evidence today), politicians and other eminent figures on their side. It is therefore a claim that will hopefully see them acquitted of their charge, as the jury realise ‘conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass’ is relatively minor compared to the 300,000 deaths a year caused by climate change, and conservative projections of what a climate-changed-world looks like.
Today the Ratcliffe 114 trial entered its second week with the defence opening their case. After the opening statements, in which the prosecution tried to demean the defendants by suggesting that the whole plan to shut down Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station was nothing more than a bit of a laugh, and they were only doing it because they couldn’t get tickets for Glastonbury, the prosecution spent the next few days making their case. Here were just a few of the high/lowlights:
- Felicity Gerry QC, barrister for the prosecution, describing the plan to shut down the power station.
- Felicity Gerry QC making a slightly incomprehensible point when she stated that ‘we all know what Jim Hansen’s going to say: that coal is bad and we’re all going to die’ – yes, thank you, he is of course the expert witness and may just have a point.
- The prosecution unveiled the 114’s attention to health and safety when describing all the equipment, such as first aid kits, respiratory masks, gas detectors amongst many other items.
- And finally, Raymond Smith, plant manager at Ratcliffe-on-Soar at the time of the arrest and first witness for the prosecution, admitted that the power station’s decision to use coal is based on it being the most profitable source of fuel, superseding any environmental concerns.
- For a more comprehensive review of what has happened so far, just check out the defendants’ website on http://ratcliffeontrial.org.
Bizarrely, a former Labour MP, Alan Simpson, has managed to articulate my own personal view on the trial:
“On the issue of coal-fired power stations they are right … carbon emissions will kill us all … As politicians we do not grasp the urgency of scientific warnings about how little time we have left to radically transform our whole thinking about sustainable energy systems. Inevitably, this leaves the challenge to be picked up by the public rather than by parliament. In doing so, it just doesn’t help if we end up locking up those who would save the planet rather than those who drive us towards climate crises.” Alan Simpson, former MP for Nottingham South.
Threatening to imprison these activists demonstrates our government’s inability to fully take into account the seriousness of climate change and the role that the UK must play in effecting change. Locking up twenty people whose lives revolve around raising awareness about the issue and taking action to slow-down man-made climate change is silencing twenty voices that are working far harder to reduce our emissions by 80% by 2050 than the government ever has – and they’re not even paid for the privilege. Keeping these activists under such close surveillance, leading to their pre-emptive arrest the night before the action is an example of our government’s misguided funding priorities: a country without NETCU (National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit), or a country without Ratcliffe-on-Soar? I know which one I’d choose.
The Ratcliffe defendants are not claiming that they were going to take part in a legal action, they are claiming that the legal system defending a multinational, high-emitting, environmentally immoral company such as E.ON, over the lives of all those currently affected and yet to be affected, is wrong. This is why the case is ground-breaking. The Kingsnorth Six was one positive step, but they were protesting against the building of a second power station at Kingsnorth. These activists are going one step further and directly challenging not just future environmentally criminal activities, but the energy industry and government policy as it exists right now. We need to be doing more, the government needs to be taking the issue seriously (not just taking a holiday to Cancun), rather than silencing those who are taking collective responsibility and tackling the issue themselves.