Anti-fracking protesters should be celebrated not imprisoned

Climate change is accelerating, yet peaceful protesters face harsh sentences

In the real world, everything is linked.

The four protestors who have been handed unforgivably and inexplicably harsh sentences for climbing onto the roofs of lorries in Lancashire were raising the alarm about fracking.

Ironic is unlikely to be the word they would use, as they contemplate the 15- or 16-month sentences handed down for causing a public nuisance’. But their court appearances were coming to an end just as the world’s top scientists were gathering in South Korea to finalise their latest assessment of the evidence on climate change.

The news from the frontline of climate science is grim (there’s a brilliant, staggeringly clear graphic in this BBC piece). Many of the indicators of warming are running ahead of the predictions of longer-standing climate models. Recent events, such as the heatwave that covered much of the northern hemisphere this summer, or Hurricane Florence which brought havoc to the East Coast of the US, are further signs of how temperature increases due to human activity are interacting with the earth’s climate. Scientists are always careful to point out that one swallow does not a summer make, but the pattern is abundantly clear.

Burning gas, whether from conventional sources or extracted by fracking, has no place in the future of a world that has already warmed by more than 1 degree Celsius. Hence the daily war of attrition that is currently underway on Preston New Road in Lancashire, where in in defiance of local opposition and a decision by the County Council, frackers Cuadrilla were given government permission to start drilling. 

Their sentences are so disproportionate that you have to go back to 1932 to find something that compares.

The Frack Free Four” – Simon Blevins, Richard Roberts, Rich Loizou and Julian Brock – were causing a public nuisance’ precisely to raise awareness of the ridiculousness of fracking in a world that is warming so fast. Their actions were also calculated to contribute to what local people have been doing day-in day-out for more than one year and to slow Cuadrilla’s progress.

Their sentences are so disproportionate that you have to go back to 1932 to find something that compares. And that’s an even greater irony, because the protestors jailed all those years ago were taking part in the landmark (literally) trespass on Kinder Scout, which gave rise to the Ramblers’ Association, the National Parks and the right to roam.

The great tragedy is that we will not need the benefit of 80 years’ hindsight to appreciate the contribution made by heroic environmental defenders who are prepared to stand up – in this case on top of lorries – to the polluters and try to prevent the escalation of climate impacts. Fracking is wrong on every level: local people oppose it wherever it is proposed and most do so out of concern for the global as well as local environment.

With support and training from NEF, a community across the other side of Kinder Scout from Lancashire, in Eckington Derbyshire, also successfully fought off the frackers locally, only to see the County Council’s decision overturned nationally. Local people stood up against Ineos, a privately-owned chemicals company fashioned out of the remains of the old ICI, in spite of the legal threat from an injunction imposed at the request of the company and intended at chilling any protest or local dissent.

There will therefore be more fracking protests and more court cases. What is critical is that there are not further custodial sentences and that the sentencing of the Frack Free Four is urgently reviewed. Science and history stand as powerful testaments to the fact that we should support, not imprison, those whose desire is to save humanity from itself.

Watch: Frack Free Four – in their own words.

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