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