A campaign to switch off modern society

The raid on climate protesters was disgraceful — but so was the protesters’ plan to shut down a power station.

Rob Lyons

Topics Science & Tech

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It seems like hyperinflation may be at work in the world of the causes célèbre. In the past we’ve had campaigns to defend the Guildford Four, the Cardiff Three and the Birmingham Six – all groups of people imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. Now, following a police raid in the English Midlands city of Nottingham in the early hours of Monday morning, we have the Ratcliffe 114.

According to press reports, 200 police officers swooped on the Iona School, a primary school and nursery in the Sneinton area of Nottingham, where protesters had gathered. The authorities revealed that they had acted pre-emptively to stop an attempt by climate campaigners to shut down a local coal-fired power station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, seven miles from Nottingham. All of the people arrested have now been released on police bail, some with conditions not to approach power stations, while the authorities consider whether to press charges.

The scale of the raid is surprising for a group which, it would appear, was planning a peaceful protest. According to one of the local members of parliament, Alan Simpson, the protesters were ‘more al-Ikea than al-Qaeda’. Simpson is appalled at the scale and manner of the raid, claiming that the police smashed their way into every part of the independent school even though the protesters had only gathered in one section of it.

Writing in the Nottingham Evening Post, he rightly condemned this heavy-handed approach: ‘Only major acts of international terrorism justify pre-emptive arrests. Otherwise we enter the Orwellian world of thought crimes and the closed society. No freedom of assembly. No right to challenge something deeply damaging to society. Everything can be outlawed because of the “possibility” of violence.’ In all likelihood, only a tiny fraction of those arrested will eventually be charged with anything, but any attempt at making even a lawful protest at a power station will be scuppered.

Indeed, recently introduced laws allow the police to impose pre-charge bail conditions restricting people’s right to take political action even if they are not formally accused of a crime, never mind convicted. That seems to have been the case for many, but not all, of the 114 arrested in Nottingham. As Bibi van der Zee notes in the Guardian, such restrictions can now be applied without even the often-flimsy protection of legal oversight and they do not come with time limits. In short, the police can make it impossible for someone to protest for months without having to justify this restriction by making a case in court. By arresting a number of leading lights in direct climate action in one go, the police have been able to make protests much more difficult to carry out.

Yet while I absolutely defend the right of people to protest, I have absolutely zero sympathy for the aims of those arrested. In the name of ‘saving the planet’, in recent years climate campaigners at Drax and Kingsnorth power stations have attacked one of the pre-eminent achievements of modern society: the widespread availability of affordable electricity. It seems Ratcliffe-on-Soar was next on their hit list.

I have something of a soft spot for Ratcliffe-on-Soar. A few years ago, I lived in Nottingham and commuted most days to London. In the evenings, I would sit on the train when at a certain point something would catch the corner of my eye and lift my gaze from whatever I was reading. Next to the railway line were a line of giant cooling towers, standing hundreds of feet above the train. Whereas city tower blocks get lost amongst other buildings, here I could look up at these manmade mammoths standing proud above the countryside and the nearby motorway. Forget the Angel of the North; if I had to name my favourite landmark in Britain, it would be Ratcliffe-on-Soar.

More impressive still is the scale of production at Ratcliffe. A mountain of coal is burned to produce enough electricity, claim the German owners E.ON, to power two million homes. To put that into perspective, the same company wants to build what would be the world’s largest offshore windfarm in the Thames estuary. The 341 massive turbines of the London Array would produce enough power for 750,000 homes according to E.ON, little more than a third of what Ratcliffe produces and not nearly as reliably (and the windfarm is now in the balance due to a lack of finance).

For millions of people, then, Ratcliffe-on-Soar means light, heating, communications and all the other myriad benefits of electricity. The message of those climate protesters who seek to shut down power stations seems to be that we should shut down modern society. A long-term solution to producing energy that doesn’t involve burning fossil fuels would be desirable for many reasons – from improving air quality to ending the sometimes hazardous business of coal mining. But until a viable economic alternative is found, the benefits of burning coal to produce cheap, reliable electricity far outweigh the costs.

I suspect most people, even those who profess concern about the climate, would rather keep the comforts brought at a flick of the switch than give it all up to save the polar bears. When they try to halt our power stations, it is clearly climate campaigners who are disconnected from society. They should have the right to protest, of course, and it is likely to be in the process of protesting – effectively against modernity – that they will be exposed as elitist and unpopular.

Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.

Previously on spiked

Rob Lyons looked at the uncritical conformity of the Kingsnorth climate camp. Nathalie Rothschild described the protesters at last year’s event as not-so-happy campers. Tim Black claimed Britain has become a world leader in dithering on nuclear power. Rob Johnston argued that nuclear, not wind is the answer to our energy problems. Joe Kaplinsky demanded that the government put a positive case for nuclear power. Or read more at spiked issue Energy.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Science & Tech


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