The fight against fracking continues

Britain's only Green MP writes about her acquital after being arrested for blockading the entrance to a fracking site in Balcomb, Sussex.

Caroline Lucas head shot
Caroline Lucas
20 April 2014

Balcombe, 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.

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