For many who believe in equality, justice, and peace, the re-election of the Tory government brought horror, dismay, even fear – fear of what misery another four years of Conservative rule could bring, from cuts and privatisation to attacks on our basic rights.
Another important issue on the list should be that this is a government in bed with the fossil fuel industry, who now think they have free reign to push full steam ahead with fracking and other fossil fuels, helping out their industry friends while thousands die of fuel poverty each winter.
Meanwhile the UN climate talks in Paris this December loom on the horizon, with no meaningful action in sight and a corporate stranglehold choking the process for private profit. This is not what democracy looks like. This is what a broken system looks like.
We don’t have to rely on people in power to make the changes we want for us. We can take action now. Direct action has brought about some of the biggest progressive changes in society – women’s suffrage, the abolition of slavery, civil rights for all. It’s the best tool we’ve got, it’s empowering, meaningful, transformative and fun. And there’s a big opportunity coming up to take mass action together.
This month, Reclaim the Power returns with its third mass action camp, as part of an international weekend of climate action that’s happening across the world.
The summer of 2013 saw thousands descend on Balcombe, where Cuadrilla’s fracking operations were shut down for six days. Last summer, thirteen nationwide actions sprung from the camp on a proposed fracking site in Blackpool, including activists superglueing themselves to Defra’s headquarters, occupying Cuadrilla’s Blackpool office, blockading iGas’ London headquarters, and shutting down a fracking site near Hull.
In previous years, Reclaim the Power has responded to calls for support from communities on the frontline of fracking. Why are we at Didcot power station this year? And why now, in the spring?
Rather than being the sole target of this year’s actions, the Didcot plant provides a symbolic backdrop for nationwide action against fossil fuels and corporate power, symbolising many of the issues we want to respond to, on an international day of action against the corporate capture of the UN climate negotiations.
The complex political landscape of 2015 includes a new Tory government pushing ahead with the dash for gas, the possibility of fracking going live in Lancashire in the summer, coal still not being off the table, and the UN climate negotiations. Didcot stands as a half-demolished monument to the unfinished job of kicking dirty coal out, the government’s misguided dash for gas and fracking fixation, and the corrupting influence of corporate power on our democratic processes.
The coal-fired section of Didcot was demolished last year after becoming unprofitable due to EU anti-pollution legislation. But aggressive lobbying by companies like RWE Npower, which owns Didcot, is weakening the legislation and keeping coal in the mix. We need to get rid of coal.
The gas-fired section of Didcot still stands, and in December RWE Npower will decide its fate. We need to get rid of gas. It’s not the clean, green solution the government’s spin would have you believe. Gas, including fracked shale gas, is dirty, expensive and pushing us further into climate chaos and fuel poverty, just like other fossil fuels.
More fossil fuels might help Npower make £766 million in profit in three years – while paying no corporation tax – but meanwhile 10,000 people die each year from cold-related illnesses. Last year 15,000 people died from fuel poverty, up 77 per cent from the previous year.
RWE Npower and other corporate lobbyists are also lobbying to weaken emissions controls and prevent a global climate deal. RWE Npower is one of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies who control the UK’s energy supply – and lobby the government to extend the life of dirty power stations. It is one of Europe’s biggest fossil fuel polluters, and owns a huge open cast coal mine in Germany – the single biggest source of CO2 emissions in Europe. Yet they’ve been chosen to help represent the UK government in EU decision-making on reducing carbon emissions in Paris this December.
In countries like Germany, the big energy companies have been undermined by flourishing community-owned energy projects. The Big Six energy companies in the UK are lobbying aggressively to avoid a similar situation occurring here, pushing for public money to prop them up regardless of whether their energy is even used. Worldwide, fossil fuels receive £6 million every minute in subsidies, greater than the total health spending of all of the world’s governments.
At the key climate talks in Paris this year we know that RWE Npower will put their profits first – regardless of the cost to us – and we can’t afford to let that happen. This year’s camp is part of an international weekend of action that’s taking on corporate power all over the world; together we will show that we’re not prepared to let the fossil fuel industry continue with their stranglehold on the climate talks.
We need to transition to community-owned renewables for clean, democratic, safe and affordable energy – but the government, RWE Npower and the rest of the Big Six are holding us back.
The myths about renewable energy not being able to produce enough power to keep the lights on is not true, and evidence-based research proves it. We can drastically reduce the amount of energy we use, through insulation, greater efficiency, better transport and healthier diets and land use. This would create more jobs and healthier communities at the same time.
When the gas-fired section of Didcot power station caught fire last October, the lights didn’t go out. Why? Because wind energy picked up the slack. Just like Balcombe, who now have a community owned renewable energy project up and running after the threat of fracking in their community was met with mass protest, the Didcot community could be a flagship for communities reclaiming their energy and their power. We hope to work with the local community to envision what their future could look like once RWE Npower has packed up and left.
It’s clear that if we want to change the way we power our lives, we need to change who has power over our lives. This isn’t just about energy. This is about democracy. This is about equality, and the ongoing struggle for social, economic and climate justice. This is about people’s lives – the people with flooded homes, the people dying from fuel poverty each winter, or from drought and extreme weather events.
This is about power – and the time to reclaim our power is now. See you at Didcot.
The camp is from 29 May to 2 June. For more information see www.nodashforgas.org.uk