Balcombe: trials and installations

Tony Bosworth

28 March 2014

Balcombe has been in the news again this week.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has been on trial in Brighton for her part in the anti-fracking protests in the village last summer. Her defence is that “using peaceful means to try to stop a process that could cause enormous harm is not only reasonable but also morally necessary”.

This idea of ‘necessity’ arose in 2008 when six Greenpeace protestors were acquitted of causing criminal damage to Kingsnorth Power Station on the grounds that the threat of climate change constituted a ‘lawful excuse’ for their actions.

If ever there was an issue where action is necessary, it’s climate change. The recent floods have underlined that climate change isn’t just going to affect countries on the other side of the world in the distant future – it’s here and now. And the Met Office has said heatwave summers could be the norm by the 2040s.

And it’s not just in the UK: this year the US has seen record cold temperatures in many places and Australian scientists have concluded that the country’s record heatwave last year was caused by climate change.

What is the reaction of our supposedly ‘greenest Government ever’? It wants to “extract every drop of oil we can” from the North Sea and is promising the most generous tax regime in the world for shale gas. And at the same time it is cutting funding for energy efficiency measures which would help cut the number of people dying of cold in winter.

We need to say no to this vision of our energy future. And the right place to start is with unconventional gas and oil.

Fracking for shale gas and oil and coal bed methane extraction just add to the stock of fossil fuels that we can’t afford to burn if we want to tackle climate change. As Oxford economist Professor Dieter Helm has put it “The problem is that we have too much fossil-fuel resource, not too little – enough to fry the planet several times over”.

How do we say no?

We need to show that the claims made by the fracking industry and its supporters don’t stand up to scrutiny: it’s very unlikely to cut energy bills, it’s not clean (the academic jury is still out on whether shale gas is cleaner than coal, but  the bottom line is that it's still a fossil fuel) and it involves big risks for the local environment and human health. In short, fracking is a risk we simply do not need to take, and cannot afford to take.

We need to show that there are alternatives. And that’s where Balcombe is showing the way. The local community isn’t just saying no to fracking – it has launched Repower Balcombe, an initiative to install solar panels on village roofs to generate all the electricity the village needs.

Alongside community solutions we also need big-scale renewables, and that’s why the announcement of a £300 million investment in offshore wind manufacturing in Hull was a real boost.

And we need to make our voice heard by politicians. Non-violent protest is a part of this, and Friends of the Earth supports the right of people to protest peacefully.

It’s not just happening in Balcombe. Wherever unconventional fossil fuel exploration is being proposed, local people are protesting - in Lancashire, Salford, Nottinghamshire and many other places. And it’s great when our elected politicians themselves have the courage of their convictions to join the protests.

We know what the real answers to our energy crisis are: energy efficiency and renewables. But getting these involves saying no to false solutions such as shale gas.

Let’s hope that the example of Balcombe – opposition to fossil fuel extraction coupled with support for community-based renewables – spreads far and wide.




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