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The fight against fracking continues

No frackingBalcombe, one of the first places in the UK to be earmarked as a potential fracking site, has been the new frontline in a major struggle over the search and exploitation of yet more fossil fuels – and with mounting evidence of the urgent need to tackle climate change, the stakes could hardly be higher.

That’s why I, and many others, took part in peaceful protests outside the Cuadrilla site in August of last year. My acquittal and that of my four other co-defendants on Friday is a huge relief, but it’s by no means a cause for celebration. That will only happen when David Cameron announces an end to fracking, and investment instead in cleaner, greener energy sources.

The latest evidence suggests that as much as 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground if we’re to have any hope of avoiding dangerous climate change. The widespread use of shale is quite simply incompatible with the UK’s international commitments to try to avoid its worst impacts.

Fracking will not lower our fuel bills, it will not give us energy security, and it will not create significant numbers of jobs.

Instead, it will accelerate climate change, pollute our environment, and lock us into more dependence on fossil fuels precisely when the overwhelming scientific and political consensus confirms that we urgently need to be moving in the opposite direction.

The two UN reports that were published during our trial made it clearer than ever that unchecked climate change will cause violent conflict, displace millions of people and wipe trillions of dollars off the global economy. They reaffirmed that the only way to avoid the worst impacts of climate change is by urgently switching to renewable energy, reducing energy demand, and weaning ourselves off fossil fuels completely.

As an MP, I’m in the privileged position of being able to make the case against fracking in Parliament. I’ve tabled motions, championed debates, and put questions to Ministers – and will continue to do so. But the Government is not only refusing to listen to the evidence, it is choosing to become flag-waver in chief for the fracking industry, offering them generous tax breaks as well as senior roles within Government itself.

There is a proud tradition of non violent direct action in this country. I believe that using peaceful means to try to stop a process that will cause enormous harm is not only reasonable, but also morally necessary.

Protest is the lifeblood of democracy. Yet there are real concerns about the way the right to protest is being eroded and undermined, with legitimate protest criminalised in an attempt to silence dissent.

The policing at Balcombe, so often arbitrary and disproportionate, appears to bear this out. The fact that, during the summer protests, of around 126 people arrested, and 114 charged, there have been only around 27 convictions, suggests that many of the arrests were unnecessary, and many of these cases should quite simply not have come to court at all. There is no evidence that they were in the public interest, and a huge amount of money and resources were wasted, when both are in short supply.

In a further damning statement, the district judge Tim Pattinson said that the conditions imposed on people at the Balcombe protest on 19 August were unlawful, since the senior officer who issued the conditions was not authorised to do so, he was wrong to issue them and they were so vague and unclear as to be meaningless.

The campaign against fracking is growing, and spreading throughout the country. But as well as opposing this last gasp of a dying fossil fuel industry, it’s equally important to champion positive alternatives.

Fittingly, people in Balcombe are showing the way forward again. Last month saw the launch of Repower Balcombe, a new community energy company set up by local residents with the aim of generating the equivalent of 100% of the village’s electricity from clean, renewable energy. They plan to raise the funds for the first phase of work through a community share issue, with a proportion of the profits being fed back into the community via projects to reduce collective energy use, like insulation and recycling.

As Repower’s spokesperson Joe Nixon says, “We all need energy, but buying dirty fossil power from giant utilities is no longer the only option. Advances in renewable technology mean that communities like ours can now generate the energy we need ourselves, locally, in a way that benefits us directly instead of big power companies – and helps the environment instead of harming it. This is win-win for Balcombe and for the planet.”

Hopefully it won’t take many more protests before the Government finally recognises this.

88x31  This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 licence. This article previously appeared at OpenDemocracy



  1. James Martin says:

    I don’t oppose fracking myself, nor do I buy these arguments. Gas is cleaner than coal, and while it produces more Co2 than nuclear (which I also support) it has the advantage of no radioactive waste to deal with. If green forms of energy were good enough I’d want those, but right now they aren’t.

    So the key for me is not the technology – but who controls it and what safety standards it has. Shale is a massive industry now in the US and has meant that for the first time in a long time they US is energy sufficient an is moving towards being a net exporter. Energy like that and under nationalised control would lower fuel bills, it is daft to say otherwise. It would also prevent us from having to either build more nuclear or coal power stations, import more gas from Russia, or turn the lights out. Caroline Lucas doesn’t actually say which of those options she would prefer. Me, I’m happy to go with shale – but with government control and ownership…

  2. Robert says:

    Funny really, people who look at America and then say we will have lots of cheap gas, yet all the experts are saying our gas is more complex to get to, so the belief that we will get it cheaper is simply wrong. Plus so far we have been told of massive amounts of gas but they have produced sod all.

    Share prices in these drilling companies are going up and up and yet no gas has been produced or not enough.

    We are not America and in the UK governments will always try to make money out of gas Fuel Oil petrol it’s the nature of government.

    So cheap nope expensive yes and we will pay for this.

  3. James Martin says:

    Robert, we are still in a testing phase, but I have no doubt there will be large amounts of gas extracted down the line. But if your arguments are correct then there is nothing to worry about or talk about really is there?

    The point about government control (that we currently do not have) is that yes, this could involve subsidies (just like those for nuclear and green – and what should be there for coal and carbon capture), and as a socialist I believe in production for use and not profit (so a non-profit making NHS etc.). If you could take the capitalist companies out of all this what would we be left with in terms of providing energy for a socialist society? Where would we get energy to provide the goods and services for the use of the people? And this is why the green argument is in many ways so utterly reactionary – yes, by all means lets have a battle around climate change, but at the same time it is simply not progressive to think we can return to a pre-industrial economy to provide for a future socialist society.

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