By the people, for the people

Frack protestorsYesterday these three men were jailed for protesting against fracking in Lancashire. They had climbed onto trucks carrying drilling equipment and so prevented them from moving. The men were charged with causing a public nuisance. Simon Roscoe Blevins and Richard Roberts were jailed for 16 months, Richard Loizou for 15, and a fourth man, Julian Brock, was given a 12-month suspended sentence. In sentencing them, the judge said that he believed they were not rehabilitated inasmuch as they remained convinced of the rightness of their cause and that only a custodial sentence could punish them.

Lancashire County Council had refused planning permission for fracking at this site, but the UK government over-ruled the local authority. There is talk of making fracking exempt from planning permission, but the Lancashire case shows that local democracy counts for little anyway. So not only is the democratic channel of protest demolished, but in applying anti-terrorism and other laws to what in the past would have been regarded as peaceful, non-violent direct action and imprisoning those who protest, the government has illegitimated all opposition.

What will never happen is the oil and gas companies, or their political friends, being charged under public nuisance laws for the nuisance their drilling activities will cause to local people, which is likely to be far greater than a country road being closed for a couple of days. Neither will they ever be imprisoned for the criminal damage that burning their products causes to people, animals and plants all over the world, with the poorest and most vulnerable being the first and worst affected.

Biblically, rulers have a duty to protect the poorest and most vulnerable. Psalm 72, praying for the king, says, “May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.” (Psalm 72.4). When governments defend the cause of big business and crush the poor, they act contrary to the will of God. When governments put money-making before caring for the vulnerable, and at great cost to the vulnerable, they act contrary to the will of God. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6.24).

But… When governments choose money over God, are they simply reflecting a democratic mandate in the sense that choosing money over God is a daily choice many of us make? Jesus also said, “The rulers of the nations lord it over them and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you…” (Matthew 20.25-26). If I want to say that my government, in delegitimising opposition and promoting economic growth through developing a domestic oil and gas industry whose products we should not use if we want to check climate change and keep the earth habitable for humans and many other species – if I want to say that they are not acting in my name, I need to make sure that I am choosing God over money, choosing servanthood over power, and doing what I can to defend the cause of the poor against the oppressor. I have much to learn, and there’s no time to lose.

 

Why don’t I get out into the countryside more often?

On Monday, it was my day off.  My older son (just back from university for Easter) and I set out on our bikes.  We went down to the sea-front, along the eastern arm of Shoreham Harbour and crossed at the lock gates.  At Shoreham, we turned up the old railway line, now a trackway, and cycled along the river bank to Bramber.  Then through Upper Beeding, Edburton, Fulking and Poynings, where we had lunch at Rushfields Garden Centre and stocked up on supplies at their farm shop. Then we toiled up Devil’s Dyke and then coasted down back into Hove, barely having to pedal.

It was a dull day but mostly dry.  These little Sussex villages are so pretty and the countryside is just super, breath-takingly beautiful.  We really enjoyed our ride.   One of the things I love about cycling is that if you want to stop and look at something, you can.  You don’t have to find a parking space.  The freedom is half the exhilaration.  Physical achievement and going fast down a long hill combines for the other half.

Most of Sussex is covered by licences to explore for oil and gas through fracking.  I know that the landscape is already post-industrial (it used to be covered by trees – hence “Weald” from the Saxon for wood – which were cut down for ship-building, construction, iron-smelting and cleared for agriculture).  However, I think that it would be a crime and a sin to turn this beautiful countryside into a gas field – not to mention the harm that would do to the environment at large by burning all that gas and by the extra road traffic on the little winding lanes.  It seems a bit simplistic, maybe even sentimental, but is the beauty of the earth the best reason to look after it?

Talking of sentimental, I took some pictures and put them into a film.  It’s a bit rough and ready, but I enjoyed putting it together and I hope you’ll enjoy watching and listening.  One day I might part with some money to upgrade this blog so that I can embed video.  For now, you’ll have to click this link.

 

Burn, baby, burn

The second biggest energy company in the UK, SSE, has announced a price freeze on domestic gas and electricity until 2016.  Good news for customers for the next two years, then.

That’s the limit of the good news in this announcement.  Because of the expectation that this will hit the firm’s profits, they have also announced cost savings – 500 job losses (not good news for them) and the withdrawal of much investment in biomass and offshore wind generation.

Presumably, SSE’s plan is to focus on burning fossil fuels.  That makes sense given the prevarication of successive UK governments over energy policy, which has discouraged investment and left the nation with little alternative. The present government is putting most of their energy into promoting fracking, with tax breaks for corporations, and financial incentives (I think we used to call them bribes) for local communities.

The only way in which fracking makes sense is if the alternative is burning coal.  It’s a very short-term solution.  A shale gas well will only be productive for a couple of years, if that.  We will need many thousands of them in our densely populated country in order to meet our needs. I’m not sure what we’re going to do about water supply and road safety and so on, but then joined-up thinking doesn’t seem to be our strong point.

What we need to do is to invest in technologies that help us to use much less energy. We need to invest in renewable generation.  We need to re-think how we generate, distribute and use electricity. (We need to move away from using gas altogether – there is no climate-friendly gas).

But while the government (and opposition parties) fail to think beyond their big idea of winning the next election, and corporations fail to think beyond the next AGM and dividend pay-out, and citizens fail to think beyond this month’s bills, we will remain addicted to ways of living that will kill us all.

There is a bigger, longer picture, that involves us all living and thriving.  But who has the courage to imagine it, let alone seek to make it reality?