Tara Clarke blogs on science and the environment at Tara’s Eco Science Blog.

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No Dash For Gas back in action as West Burton activists sentenced

protesters outside the arena
The protesters accused EDF of ‘silencing science’ Photos by activists

‘I’d love to be a fly on the wall at EDF’s head office today’, laughed a student activist as the news broke that No Dash for Gas are back in action. This was not so much a vindictive comment, but a sign that the climate movement cannot be stopped by the bullying tactics of corporate bodies directed at people who get in the way of their profits.

On Thursday 6 June 2013, university students from Oxford, Reading and Bristol UWE staged a guerilla protest on the stage of the packed out EDF Energy Arena at the Cheltenham Science Festival. They held a large banner which read, ‘EDF Silencing Science Since 1946’.

The action coincided with solidarity events in London and Nottingham as 21 activists were sentenced to conditional discharges and community service for climbing and shutting down EDF’s West Burton power station for a week in 2012 to highlight the British government’s dangerous dash for gas.

In Cheltenham, one protester took to the stage posing as an EDF executive with a dunce cap, and regaled the audience with all the reasons why his company loved corporate science but hated climate science.

‘I’ve been reading about this whole “global warming” thing on the internet – it turns out we have absolutely nothing to worry about. There are a number of blogs with profit-producing proof, proving that we can burn all the gas we like,’ said Dominic O’Donnell acting as ‘chief executive’ of EDF.

man dressed as dunce
One person dressed as an ‘EDF executive’ for the stunt Photos by activists

But what connects energy giant EDF, climate science and the No Dash For Gas activists who staged Britain’s longest power station occupation last winter? EDF have been part of the Treasury’s grand plan to build 40 new gas-fired power stations in the UK, ignoring the overwhelming evidence that fossil fuel use needs to be dramatically reduced and the targets the government has made to reduce our carbon emissions by 2050.

Britain is developing an economy based on gas and increasing our reliance on it will push millions into fuel poverty, putting us at risk of reaching global temperatures that humanity has never experienced. There are an overwhelming majority of peer-reviewed scientific papers taking a position on global warming saying that human activity, mainly fossil fuel extraction and consumption is what’s causing this.

‘A toxic greenwash is under way, EDF’s sponsorship of the Cheltenham Science Festival is misleading people into thinking they support science whilst they work hard at silencing the main body of climate science,’ said student activist Ben Powrie as the group assembled on top of the stage.

‘The global scientific community has repeatedly warned us that the burning of fossil fuels is contributing to dangerous changes in the earth’s climate system, but EDF prefers to keep its head in the sand.

In early 2013, more than 64,000 people signed a petition in support of the West Burton protesters after EDF launched a £5 million ($7.7 million) damages claim against them. This was dropped after they accepted an injunction preventing them from entering multiple EDF Energy sites.

It had been feared that they would go to prison but sentences ranged from 18 months conditional discharges to community service. The judge said the group’s ‘motives were genuine,’ and said the group were ‘industrious committed individuals who wok and volunteer in your communities.’

Supporters of No Dash For Gas have said they will return to West Burton power station in August 2013 for a four day action camp.

On 6 June, the audience cheered as the activists left the Cheltnham arena. Large greenwashing corporate bodies, such as EDF, who spend millions on sponsoring events like the Cheltenham Science Festival, are on the back foot. No Dash for Gas is back to reclaim the power.

Keep tar sands out of Europe!

Keystone protest in London
Protesters came to meet John Kerry at a G8 meeting Tara Clarke

A group of around 70 climate activists met in London on 11 April, as the US Secretary of State John Kerry joined a G8 foreign ministers’ meeting at Lancaster House.

Campaigners from People & Planet, 350.org, Platform, UK Tars Sands Network, UKYCC, Campaign against Climate Change, Rising Tide North America and even Gulf Coast activists from Houston, Texas were there to greet Kerry at 8.00 am and send him the clear message: ‘We don’t want your tar sands!’

Kerry, and President Obama, will soon be deciding on the future of the Keystone XL pipeline. If given the go-ahead, it will run through the heart of the US, transporting tar sands from their source in Canada to refineries in Houston, Texas. This could pave the way for this unconventional, dirty fuel to come to Europe.

Ruthi Brandt from the UK Tar Sands Network warned that the Keystone XL pipeline is intended for export: ‘The reality of tar sands oil coming to the UK is not far off, with a refinery in Pembrokeshire [Wales] lined up by Valero to bring imports of tar sands from the Gulf of Mexico.

‘In the EU we are pushing for legislation to make sure that tar sands imports are strongly discouraged due to their high emissions. We hope other countries will follow suit.’

‘The KXL Pipeline is set to deliver a toxic slurry of dirty oil to communities across the US,’ explained Bryan Parras, who lives in Houston, Texas joined the British campaigners in London. ‘As we have seen from all the pipeline spills in the last two weeks, the delivery of tar sands is too risky and too costly for the communities in harm’s way.’

‘It was really exciting to see young people from organizations all over Britain, coming together to call for action,’ said Izzy Braithwaite, medical student and National Coordinator for Healthy Planet UK.

Rob Abrams, People & Planet activist from Swansea left the protest feeling invigorated and ready to put pressure on his university to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry: ‘It’s time to cut our ties with an industry that cares more about it’s profits than the lives of millions living in zones vulnerable to climate change,’ he said.

In the US, Kerry and President Obama have been met by Canadian First Nation’s communities, including people living on the path of the pipeline. They want to see an end to tar sands extraction and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. On 17 February, over 40,000 people travelled to the White House to demand that Obama rejects the pipeline.

At the London protest, we stood in solidarity with our allies in Canada and the US to tell Kerry: reject the Keystone XL, keep tar sands out of Europe and address climate change.

A version of this post was originally published on Tara’s Eco Science Blog. Crossposted with the writer’s permission.

Meet Irish environmental activist Tara Clarke

Lough Allen, where the exploratory licences have been granted. Photo: dusi_bbg, under a CC license.

This post is part of a series of profiles celebrating October’s special youth-focused New Internationalist magazine. Read articles or buy a copy here .

‘I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made.’ William Butler Yeats

Growing up in Ireland, I had the opportunity of learning about Irish mythology and the stories that were tied to the land, such as Tir na nOg, an early paradise that lay far off the west of Ireland, a place were sickness and death never existed. I was named after the Hill of Tara in County Meath, believed to be the seat of kings until the 6th century. This sacred hill lies in close proximity to Newgrange. Every year, on 21 December, the winter solstice (and my birthday), light from the rising winter sun floods the inner chamber of this prehistoric monument; a symbol, it is believed, of the days getting longer. I feel a close connection to the land and a determination to protect it – this is why I became a campaigner with Young Friends of the Earth in Ireland.

Whenever I read the first line of The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Yeats, I am reminded of the shear beauty, elegance and purity of the west of Ireland. In March 2011, my vision of this peacefulness was broken when Labour member of parliament Patt Rabitte awarded exploratory licences to two energy companies in the Lough Allen Basin, northwest Ireland. Canadian-based Tamboran Resources and LANGO (Lough Allen Natural Gas Company) were granted licences to explore the possibilities of extracting shale gas from the region.

Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking), the method used to extract natural gas from the ground, has been used in the US, where it has caused widespread environmental damage and water pollution, including death to livestock and wildlife.

Richard Moorman, chief executive of Tamboran Resources, claims to have found reserves of up to 4.4 trillion cubic feet, worth $154 billion. He promises to open up Ireland’s market, providing 3,000 jobs over the next 40 years and a long-term supply of fuel which would attract international businesses to Ireland.

My heart sank when I found out that the lake isle, the naturally carved landscape of Counties Clare, Mayo and Leitrim, would soon be pierced with 150 wells. Production is expected to peak in 2025, supplying 400 million cubic feet of gas daily. Dreams of Ireland becoming a leader on climate change are fading. Most of the pollution from fracking comes from the evaporation water that has been pumped into the well and released. Farmers who believe they would make money from leasing their land are not thinking about the future pollution clean-up costs. The livelihoods and health of the population are at risk.

In 2014, Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency will have completed its full independent report on the feasibility of extraction of natural gas in the Lough Allen Basin. Sian Cowman, climate activist with Young Friends of the Earth Ireland, wrote about her concerns that researchers taking part in this report may have close ties with the fossil fuel industry’s funding body: ‘This kind of industry co-opting of scientific studies is becoming more common than you’d think.’

I have lost trust in the government, which is looking into the tax benefits of this venture. I have lost trust in experts that are claiming to be doing independent research while oil money is flowing into their bank accounts. The only hope I feel is in being an activist with Young Friends of the Earth Ireland, talking to people who feel as passionate as I and who are eager to push for change.

On 21 October, in Dublin, Young Friends of the Earth Ireland held a FRACtion – an anti-fracking day of action. Young activists took to the streets to raise awareness of the harmful effect fracking can have on the environment. People all over Ireland are working in solidarity with groups from Europe, the US and Australia to highlight the dangers of fracking in our community. I believe that our generation can revoke our dependence on fossil fuels and push for a future of renewable, sustainable energy.

This post originally appeared at Tara’s Eco Science Blog.
Find out more at Young Friends of the Earth Ireland.

Above photo: Young Friends of the Earth Ireland protest against fracking. By Young Friends of the Earth Ireland.

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