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No Dash For Gas is just the beginning

United Kingdom

A No Dash For Gas occupier inside the chimney of West Burton power station..

In the early hours of the morning on Monday 29 October, I was one of a group of around 30 people who walked through a gap in a fence and started the longest power-station occupation ever.

I was arrested on the first day, and since being released on bail I’ve been glued to my laptop watching videos of highwire bravery, photos of dear friends camped out 80 metres in the air, and a website timer ticking its way into the record books.

When we arrived at the power station the central unit was operating – burning gas and belching greenhouse gases. Sometime after I was arrested, and after speaking to the staff on the ground to let them know about the protest and pass on important health and safety information, I heard cheering from the top of the tower. West Burton power station had been shut down.

The final two people still camped out at the top of the chimney came down today, after seven days. According to the power station’s owners EDF, the plant is still being tested and so wasn’t providing energy to the grid, meaning that no other power stations were brought online when West Burton was shut down. For every day that people were up there, they prevented 2371 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to taking 465 cars off the road for a year.

West Burton power station is one of the first of 20 proposed new gas power stations that the government and Big Energy want to build –  which would make Britain dependent on this highly polluting and increasingly expensive fuel for decades to come, throwing efforts to tackle climate change on the scrapheap and causing household energy bills to soar.

A carbon-free power system is entirely possible, and we can create it by investing unprecedented funds into energy efficiency. After all, this is money we will get back soon enough by slashing waste. And we invest massively in renewable energy, creating hundreds of thousands of green jobs. Britain has enough off-shore wind potential alone to power itself six times over. According to WWF, up to 88 per cent of Britain’s electricity could be renewable by 2030.

We also need to break up the big power corporations and start to treat power generation and distribution as a public good, not a means by which powerful corporations fleece ordinary people. We’re not talking about rolling out a carbon-free electricity system next week – more like 2030 – but if we don’t stop the new dash for gas then it won’t be a reality until it’s far too late to make a difference. We’ll lose decades, but the climate won’t wait for us. When we’ve seen the government mobilize billions of pounds to bail out the banks, you’ve got to ask yourself, where’s the pocket change from that to revolutionize the energy system?

Austerity measures have taken standards of living in this country from bad to worse for many people. Rising fuel bills and cuts to winter fuel allowance have seen pensioners taking to the streets to protest. Climate change may have dropped off the political agenda, but it’s ever more real and will impact upon those living most precariously first. This year the Arctic melted more than ever before in recorded history; drought in the US caused global food prices to soar, and at home regular summer flooding has devastated local communities. Building a new wave of dirty gas plants doesn’t fix any of that: it makes the problems worse.

We put humans on the moon and brought them back alive nearly 50 years ago – our species is capable of genius. You don’t think we can invent a better way of powering our TVs than digging up the fossilized remains of dead trees and animals and burning them? Of course, we already have clean technologies, as well as the ability to reduce demand, but our broken politics isn’t making it happen on the ground, and that’s why we’re here.

This occupation fires the starting gun on a huge nationwide battle over Britain’s energy future. Campaigners stopped a third runway at Heathrow and blocked a new generation of coal plants – the current government’s dash for gas is next.

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