Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for June 1st, 2009

The Time Comes

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The Guardian is hosting a documentary  by Nick Broomfield about the ‘Kingsnorth Six’, the environmental activists who scaled a tower at a coal-fired power station in protest against pollution in 2007. The resulting court case drew support for them from leading scientists, and their subsequent acquittal proved historic and changed government policy.  I would like to embed the video here but apparently I can’t do that so here is the link. The video is about 20 minutes but is well worth your time.

You can also read the story and download the music. 

Al Gore famously said that he did not understand why people were not chaining themselves to power stations. Actually I think that may well be because the elites who control our society have come up with fairly effective strategies for convincing people that protest and direct action are pointless. After all action at Eagleridge Bluffs did nothing to stop an absolutely needless desecration of a unique habitat. And last week Betty Kraczyk once again lost another of her court cases over that protest. The timing of the protest at Kingsnorth was crucial. It came before an election and at a time when the environment seemed to matter to people i.e. before the great financial crash.

The people in this video talk about why they felt they could not wait for an election. “It would have locked us in” they say. Well that is what our decision to continue to widen the freeway will do to us – with similar consequences for greenhouse gas emissions. Interestingly it is only CO2 that they talk about, whereas obviously there is a lot of very nasty stuff indeed going up that chimney. And Jim Hansen came over to defend them.

At one time I would have supported some kind of direct action to try and stop the Gateway – even though I knew it would have been a quixotic gesture at best. And by the time we did do the democratic right thing, the attention of the voters was elsewhere. I very much doubt we could have secured a jury trial (something the English prosecutors must now recognize was a strategic error) but even if we had, the probability of twelve people understanding the legal principle that Kingsnorth established being repeated here is slim to none.

My admiration of this small band of ordinary people is boundless. I know I could not physically have done what they did – but what they risked was much greater. The important point is that they did actually change government policy. I do not think any action – no matter how bold or well timed – could change policy here: while Britain’s “New Labour” may be “Thatcher in trousers” they are still in the social democrat tradition. The BC Liberals – and the federal conservatives – are quite a different matter.  

More sobering for us is not only the Gateway going to proceed but the possibility of some kind of democratic breakthrough has also vanished for another generation at least. For us, the time came, and went: and we missed it. And now we have to live with the consequences. We have governments here that are determined to widen freeways, build a pipeline and a terminal to export oil from the tar sands, expand the production of oil, gas and coal, allow open net salmon farms on wild salmon runs, allow free range to run of the river power no matter what the consequences – and so it goes. The “Best Place on Earth” will be pretty much trashed by the time any change can happen. No matter what else the rest of the world decides to do, for Canada it will be business as usual for the foreseeable future.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 1, 2009 at 9:43 pm