Caroline Lucas shortly before arrest at Balcombe. Image courtesy of Sophie Stammers.
I risked arrest at Balcombe to send the coalition a message on climate change
October 24th, 2013
Green party MP Caroline Lucas tells the Ecologist why she has no regrets about joining the peaceful non-violent direct action at Balcombe that led to her arrest back in August......
Ministers appear determined on a reckless and irresponsible new dash for gas
A politician being arrested still causes something of a stir. At last, you might think, someone's being held to account. Someone's being charged with fiddling their expenses, taking us into an illegal war, or crimes against humanity.
All these things are rather more serious than sitting down on a path at the entrance to a drilling site run by a fracking company, which is what I did in Balcombe on 19 August. But along with a group of others I was arrested, and subsequently charged with obstructing the highway and failing to comply with police conditions imposed on the protest. And when I appear in court, I'll be pleading not guilty.
Risking arrest is not something I did lightly. But the Sussex village is the new frontline of a major battle over the search for, and exploitation of, yet more fossil fuels. The stakes could hardly be higher.
Last month saw the publication of the most comprehensive report on climate science ever produced. It highlighted the need for urgent action and the increasing dangers of delay - from more expensive food and the effects of political instability overseas to increased drought, flooding and heatwaves.
The latest scientific evidence suggests that as much as 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground if we are to have any chance of avoiding dangerous climate change. The widespread use of shale gas is quite simply incompatible with the UK's international commitments to keep global warming below 2C. But, as Professor Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, remarked last year: "With emissions continuing to grow, it's as if no one is listening to the entire scientific community." Instead, ministers appear determined on a reckless and irresponsible new dash for gas.
I'm in the privileged position of being able to make the case in parliament. I've tabled motions, arranged debates, put questions to ministers, and spoken out in the media. Alongside other MPs, I will continue to raise the issue in all of these ways.
But not only is the government refusing to listen to the evidence, it's also choosing to become flagwaver-in-chief for the fracking industry, offering them generous tax breaks as well as senior roles in government itself. Ministers are ignoring the evidence from industry experts whose analysis undermines their claims that extracting shale gas in Britain will mean lower fuel bills.
The International Energy Agency has forecast that natural gas prices could rise by 40% by 2020, even with an influx of cheap supplies from shale. In fact, our dependence on gas is one of the underlying causes for price increases and fuel poverty: the International Committee on Climate Change has estimated that electricity bills could be £600 higher in 2050 if we continue to rely on gas.
Ministers are also refusing to accept proposals, supported by a huge coalition of charities, for a radical programme to make homes more energy-efficient. This would cut bills, tackle fuel poverty and create hundreds of thousands of green jobs across the country. Alongside much better policies to support local community and co-operatively owned renewable energy schemes, this would do far more than a temporary price freeze, enabling us to free ourselves from dependence on the big six energy companies and get our emissions down.
But ultimately this isn't just about jobs and the economy. It's about whether we grasp the last chance to get off the collision course we're on with climate catastrophe, or go down in history as a species that spent its last days monitoring its own extinction rather than taking active steps to avoid it.
The unprecedented nature and urgency of the climate threat means that, for me, there's a moral responsibility to explore all peaceful strategies to achieve change. Across the world, citizens are increasingly taking non-violent direct action against fossil fuel companies because of the failure of our democratically elected representatives to act in the public interest.
Four years ago, climate scientist James Hansen was first arrested when taking part in a protest against coal mining in West Virginia. In Canada and elsewhere, civil society resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline is diverse and growing - because the exploitation of tar sands is devastating for First Nations communities and the local environment, and spells game over for our climate.
I've been humbled by what some people are prepared to risk. Right now 30 activists, including six British citizens, remain imprisoned in a Russian jail following their peaceful protest against oil drilling in the Arctic. My roadside sit-down, while motivated by a similar appreciation of the urgency of climate action and the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, does not compare with their resolve and courage, nor the personal sacrifice they are making to win a better future for our children.
It's likely that there will be a trial next year. I have sought to reassure my constituents that they will be able to contact me as usual, and I will continue to hold my weekly surgeries, attend local meetings and represent Brighton Pavilion in parliamentary debates.
There is a proud tradition of non-violent direct action in this country. In joining the peaceful protest I wanted to support the people at the proposed fracking site in Balcombe who were standing up to be counted, and to send a clear message to the government.
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