Protesters target Cuadrilla HQ – see report below. Photos: Mark Luscombe
When George Osborne recently unveiled the world’s most generous tax breaks for shale gas extraction, in a desperate effort to kick-start the shale industry here, he might have inadvertently sowed the seed for the largest environmental movement the UK has seen in decades.
He will have watched last week’s events in Balcombe with concern. Local people, anti-fracking groups and environmentalists joined together to protest against shale gas company Cuadrilla’s plan to drill a test well in a picturesque Sussex village.
The UK anti-fracking movement effectively launched on 6 August 2011, when the coalition Frack Off unveiled a banner from Blackpool Tower protesting the UK’s first test drillings for shale gas in the town. Several other groups have followed, often local in nature, facilitated with the support of Frack Off and other experienced mobilisers.
The movement draws together a wide range of people, from environmentalists to advocates of the green economy and the large core of local people concerned about water contamination, localised earthquakes, chemical use, pressure on local infrastructure and the impact of local industrial activity on rural villages. It has also been reported that people are struggling to sell their houses in areas near suggested drill sites.
The current protest could have considerable political implications for the Conservatives. Balcombe is in a deeply Conservative constituency, with some locals having voted Tory their whole lives, and these people are now threatening to switch their vote unless the party changes its stance on fracking. They are also calling for more renewable energy.
In an editorial published on Monday, the Telegraph newspaper stated that the protesters in Balcombe ‘would happily return the economy to pre-industrial times’. They should read their own environmental correspondent Louise Gray’s report on Balcombe, in which she writes: ‘Sarah Hirst, 37, a teacher, left with her young children as soon as the protest started. She said she was scared to take part in protests before but felt so strongly she brought along three young children under seven. She said local people would be showing their anger at the Tories at the next general election. “At the last election I voted Tory but I have gone Green because of this.” Mrs Hirst said a wind farm comes down after 25 years, but a faulty well could leak decades afterwards without anyone knowing. “I would happily have a wind farm and happily support it – a lot of people involved would. It is not a blight on the countryside, it is renewable energy in the long term,” she said.’
The shale gas debate is only just starting in the UK. Judging by the current protests, the industry’s hopes that they could conduct exploratory drilling away from the public eye have been dashed. Instead, communities across the UK worried about fracking are looking at Balcombe in admiration and mobilising anti-fracking movements, ready to strike when Cuadrilla or other shale gas companies move into their communities.
Meanwhile, elsewhere the shale gas industry is facing scrutiny. In Poland, which holds the largest shale gas reserves in Europe, investors are fleeing despite the government welcoming shale gas. US filmmaker Josh Fox’s Gasland Part 2 has just been released – his first film, Gasland, kick-started the anti-fracking movement five years ago, and the follow-up will unveil more revelations about the dirty business of the shale gas industry.
The largest environmental mobilisation for decades is now underway in the UK, due in part to the urgency of climate change but mainly driven by the threat of fracking. It is being directly fuelled by George Osborne and his allies, in opening the door to a fantasy gas future that is far from a safe bet. While George Osborne promises tax breaks for shale gas consumers, energy prices are set to soar once again as we enter the autumn and winter. We should ask ourselves if shale really is necessary to keep our lights on, or whether this is another move to make powerful corporations more money whilst the real cost to the consumers and the environment rises.
Dom O’Dwyer reports
Protesters yesterday stormed the HQ of fracking firm Cuadrilla in Lichfield, near Birmingham, in solidarity with the Balcombe blockade in Sussex.
A man in a suit, calling himself ‘Mr Fracktastic’, was accompanied by another man in a high-vis carrying a fracking rig, which appeared to be made of cardboard. The unsightly duo were chased down the streets of a picturesque city, known by the locals as LichVegas, by an articulate and well-dressed mob armed with well-researched facts and catchy chants. Mr Fracktastic shouted incoherently through a megaphone: ‘It’s going to be fracking fantastic, we’ll produce billions of litres of chemically enriched delicious water for you all to drink.’
The group responded by chanting: ‘No Dash For Gas! Reclaim the Power!’ and handed out leaflets to bemused onlookers. They explained how fracking has become the frontline of the government’s Dash for Gas, its plan to build up to 40 new gas-fired power stations as our existing power stations come to the end of their life. They’ll be pumped full of fracked gas fresh from our devastated countryside, leaving a trail of broken communities behind.
The rag tag bunch finally arrived at Cuadrilla HQ only to find that the doors of the office were locked and de-logo’d, guarded by police and surrounded by a (modest) media frenzy. It was a small victory in a battle that is set to continue in the coming weeks, with the ongoing blockade at Balcombe and the Reclaim the Power camp.
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram