Energy is not a luxury, it is a basic human need: it is required for cooking food, as well as for heating homes in a cold climate such as ours – and yet it is being put beyond the reach of increasing numbers of ordinary people in our society.
We have known for some time however, that we can no longer use energy unthinkingly. The continued exploitation of fossil fuels to provide for this basic need is making extreme weather “the new normal”, and leaving a planet which will, within a few short decades, be essentially uninhabitable for future generations.
For both of the above reasons, there is an urgent need to retake democratic control of energy and ensure that it is used for the common good.
When EDF declared its intention to sue twenty-one No Dash for Gas activists for £5 million, for having closed down its West Burton power station for a week last November, many were outraged at the company’s bullying tactics, which amounted to an assault on the right to peaceful protest. In fact, the state-owned French corporation already has a track record on intimidating activists in its home country, and at present is working with construction companies which have blacklisted environmental activists in the UK. At the same time, however, the affair drew attention to a whole series of other matters in which private interests are being given priority over the wider public interest.
First of all, the lawsuit gave extra publicity to the activists’ own cause: the impossibility of the Government carrying out its plan to build up to forty new gas-fired power stations, and at the same time meeting even its own inadequate carbon reduction targets. In the context of increasingly urgent warnings from the scientific community regarding the accelerating pace of climate change, this amounts to gross irresponsibility, showing an utter disregard for present and future generations, most notably to the poorest here and in the global south, who will be hit hardest by the consequences.
Nor will a dash for gas bring down bills for domestic consumers, as George Osborne seems to believe. Moreover, EDF and the other big six companies – Npower, SSE, Scottish, E-ON and British Gas – hardly have a shining record on reducing bills for customers in recent years, whilst directors award themselves bonuses that could pay several thousand household bills. Not only have these companies raised prices well above inflation several years in a row, but they have also been involved in various misselling scams, defrauding their customers on a massive scale. In this area as in so many others, the regulators, supposed defenders of the public interest following the privatisation mania of recent decades, have once again proven that they are no match for large private corporations.
But that is not all, as regards EDF: the company intends to build a third nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset. This comes only two years after the Fukushima disaster and when in otherwise the Government seem very sensitive to the risks of international terrorism. In addition, it will leave a site which will be contaminated for thousands of years to come and produce yet more radioactive waste, for which there is still no safe method of disposal. For years, Governments have promised the British people that no taxpayers’ money would be used to subsidise new nuclear power. Now the UK Government has gone back on its promise to its electors, and has essentially handed over £50bn of taxpayers’ money to a private company over the 40-year lifetime of the plant, according to one expert.
However, there is a growing refusal to accept the “abuse of power” of the Big 6 energy companies, and to propose positive practicable alternatives. Occupy London Energy, Equity and Environment Group and various other groups have been planning a series of events to support and build on the success of No Dash for Gas, starting with our EDF* Off assembly this Friday, bringing together various groups campaigning on some of the issues raised above.
Occupy London Energy, Equity & Environment Working Group
Read this to see where Ireland’s energy future lies
The big six UK energy suppliers have been accused of “cold-blooded profiteering” after official figures showed they had more than doubled their retail profit margins over the last 18 months and were now earning an average of £95 profit per household on dual-fuel bills.
The industry regulator Ofgem, which produced the estimates, said profits per household would reach £100 over the next 12 months.
Other new figures obtained from British Gas, EDF and the four other suppliers showed their profit margin from power generation – a separate part of the business – averaged more than 24% in 2011. They are believed to have risen since.
The escalating earnings were condemned by fuel poverty campaigners, rival energy companies and the shadow energy secretary, Caroline Flint.
Just under 60,000 people have now signed a petition that demands that the French energy company EDF drop a sinister lawsuit against 21 climate change activists who occupied one of its power plants last year.
It was back in October last year that the activists spent a week up a chimney at EDF’s power station in Nottinghamshire in the UK, highlighting the hypocrisy of Britain’s continuing reliance on fossil fuels, typified by a new generation of gas power plants.
Last month, the activists pleaded guilty to aggravated trespass and now await sentencing. But now EDF has taken out a separate civil lawsuit against them for a staggering £5 million. The move has caused outrage.
Yesterday, two of those protesters appeared on BBC1′s The Big Question show to debate the question “should activists be sued”? “Was it scary?” Ewa Jasiewicz, one of the protesters was asked by the presenter: “Climate change is scarier,” she replied. “Fuel poverty is scarier.”
Another of the activists Danni Paffard then spoke passionately about the lawsuit against them, saying “I think the civil case is awful. I think it is completely wrong that this multinational should be suing protesters. “
Asked what could happen if they lose, she replied “We lose our houses, we lose our change to ever get a house, we lose our savings, we pay a portion of our salary to a big company for the rest of our lives.”
Danni went on to add: “it is not about us – it is about the principle of suing protesters it is about the ability of SLAPP a big fine on you.”
The £5 million would “destroy” the protesters, she said, pointing out in contrast that it was only half a days profits for the company.
SLAPP is the right word her. Last week, Guardian columnist George Monbiot was right to point out that EDF’s legal action is not about money – it is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation – or SLAPP.
Nearly twenty years ago I wrote a book called Green Backlash, which looked at the backlash against environmental activists, including legal intimidation like EDF’s action. I wrote “just as violence is designed to chill people into silence through physical intimidation, so SLAPPs are meant to chill through legal intimidation.”
But, with intimidation comes risks. EDF is rapidly becoming seen as the bully boy of the energy market, which is causing its own intense backlash.
Monbiot argued that EDF has “made the biggest strategic mistake since McDonald’s pursued two impoverished activists – and inflicted more damage on its brand than its critics had ever managed.”
Ben Stewart from Greenpeace said yesterday that EDF was suffering from a “reputational collapse.”
He is not alone in thinking that EDF’s reputation is being shredded. Brendan May, founder of the corporate consultancy Robertsbridge, argues that the lawsuit is “reputational Armageddon and suicide” for EDF. EDF was even now trumping Shell as his ‘PR idiot’ firm of the year.”
May wrote: “It will take EDF a generation to recover from its idiocy if the firm persists with this unprecedented civil claim against the individual protesters. EDF will be the poster child for all that is wrong, not just with energy policy, but with big business. Those of us who work with very large companies day in day out, must speak out.”
We must all speak out. Yesterday Naomi Klein posted on Youtube a video in support: “Our Governments have been negotiating about the climate crisis for 23 years. In that time, global emissions have soared by 54%. Clearly the official, respectable, legal means for dealing with this crisis aren’t working. What used to be radical is now rational.”
Customers are said to be leaving the company in droves. As I said, just under 60,000 people have signed a petition set up by the parents of another protester, Claire Fauset.
The petition reads: Claire “lobbied the government, emailed companies, signed petitions and marched with placards, but nothing changed. So Claire and her friends decided they needed to take more decisive action to get the government and energy companies to change their ways.”
Her parents argue that it “is totally unfair” that EDF are suing their daughter. “It’s heartbreaking to think that Claire and her friends are being punished for putting themselves at risk for the good of humanity,” they argue.
If you think its unfair speak out too. As a first step sign the petition. And then share it will your friends.
It is also now time for those in sports with sponsorship ties to EDF to stand up to the corporate bullying too and to sever all ties with the bully boys too.