the Disillusioned kid: Camping it up for the climate
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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Camping it up for the climate

Drax may sound like a character from a dodgy 1950s B-Movie, but it is in fact the name of a power station located near Selby, North Yorkshire. Drax is noteworthy because it is the largest single electricity producer in the UK, producing around 7-8% of the country's energy needs. It generates this power by burning coal, an infamously dirty process. According to the Times, in 2006 Drax produced 20.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. To put that number into some context, that means it pumps more carbon into the atmosphere than 103 nations each do.

It's for this reason that Drax has this week been the target of climate change campaigners. A "camp for climate action" has opened near the power station and activists have been meeting to discuss the problems we are facing, consider possible solutions and organise actions. While the camp is taking place from August 26-September 4, today (August 31) has been a particular focus, with a day of action intended to disrupt normal business at the plant.

As is now traditional with such events, there has been no central organisation telling people what to do, resulting in a plethora of actions, kicking-off with the occupation of a lighting tower at 7am. Typically, the local constabulary don't think themselves up to the task of defending society against the anarchist hordes and have called in help from seven other forces, including the ubiquitous representatives from the Met. This overwhelming presence is, they claim, "to ensure that residents, power station employees and the demonstrators themselves do not come to harm, and that no laws are broken" (emphasis added).

This selfless concern for the wellbeing of the protesters is also shown by the kind souls at Drax Power Ltd, who earlier this month were granted an injunction "prohibiting trespass" on the site and "restricting the use" of a public right of way running along the site boundary. These measures, they insist are necessary "to ensure that protesters are not exposed to the dangers and hazards inherent to our highly complex industrial site."

According to the Beeb, 38 people have been arrested so far, with the police claiming that the majority of these took place outside the plant. Alleged offences (which Auntie describes simply as "offences") include "criminal damage, aggravated trespass and possession of offensive weapons", although some have campaigners have contended that articles seized on the basis they were weapons include a fork and a penknife (hardly an unusual piece of equipment if you're camping).

The police were predictably unimpressed by the day of action and the number of arrests which took place, resorting to the tired good-protester/bad-protester cliche:
Following the day's first arrests the force's Deputy Chief Constable, Ian McPherson, said: "This is a sad contrast to the sincere and law abiding intentions of the majority"

He said the majority of the protesters were "behaving themselves".

"However we are conscious that within that group there is a hardcore - a number of individuals who have made their aims very clear, see themselves as rising above the law and it's those individuals who I think will undermine what is a serious point."
This is, of course, exactly what you'd expect the Old Bill to say. It was always unlikely that they would base their criticisms on activists' failure to breach their defences in greater numbers. The reality is that everybody involved in the camp knew that illegal actions would take place today, To be sure, not everybody was in a position to risk arrest, but this does not imply an opposition to actions where that is a posibility.

Returning to the Beeb's report, they comment that Drax Power's chief exec Dorothy Thompson "found it hard to understand what the demonstrators hoped to achieve." This seems strnage; the aims are obvious enough, they certainly aren't any great secret: disrupt Drax, raise awareness of the issues and force the Powers That Be to stop talking about climate change and actually do something about it. Today's actions constitute a statement that we (if you'll excuse the entirely unwarrranted royal we) will no longer stand by while our "leaders" play Russian Roulette with the planet's climate. Barry Smith claimed, "There was no disruption whatsoever to the functioning of the power station." That's as maybe. The protest is all over the media, Drax's shares have taken a slide and the police have spent a fortune policing the whole event. This is only the beginning.
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