UK jury rules climate damage justifies coal protest

12 September 2008

Greenpeace activists in the UK have been acquitted of criminal damage by arguing that the coal-fired power station they shut down was causing more property damage than they were. A jury has let them off despite the fact that they painted the Prime Ministers name down the side of a chimney at Kingsnorth power station.

Kingsnorth spews out 20,000 tonnes of CO2 every day the same amount as the 30 least polluting countries in the world combined. Professor James Hansen, a NASA director and leading climate scientist, told the court that more than a million species would be made extinct because of climate change and calculated that Kingsnorth would proportionally be responsible for 400 of these. That has to be the worst kind of damage there is, right?

The jury has basically ruled that we have a right to protect the environment from burning coal. It’s a decision that raises serious questions about the UK government’s plans to build new coal-fired power stations.

Meanwhile in Australia, Greenpeace activists are waiting for their court case after occupying one of Queensland’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power stations, Swanbank B, near Ipswich. Activists painted Go Solar on Swanbanks chimney — a good idea given Queensland has the best solar resources in the world.

Burning coal is just like dumping nuclear waste into the ocean, hunting whales until they teeter on the edge of extinction and using chemicals that destroy the ozone layer. As hard as it is to believe now, industries and governments once vigorously defended these activities. In between these practices shifting from being seen as OK to really not OK, Greenpeace activists were arrested for their non-violent actions to expose and stop them. It’s a sign of the times that no one really complains about those protests now.

In the near future we will look back and marvel, not that activists had the cheek to paint on a coal stack, but that it was once thought acceptable to continue burning coal despite the threat of global climate catastrophe, mass extinctions, climate refugees and the death of vital ecological treasures such as the Great Barrier Reef.

PS. Activists in Australia have so far been luckier than my colleagues in Israel who were arrested by armed police a few days ago. They’ve been deported from Israel, and are continuing their Quit Coal tour in other countries.