Day Five to Day Nine: Reclaim the Power camp, Balcombe, Sussex.

The main marquee at Reclaim the Power

The main marquee at Reclaim the Power

Leading the singing at the blockade

Leading the singing at the blockade

Police watch as drilling site is encircled by protesters

Police watch as drilling site is encircled by protesters

March for a Frack Free Future  Sunday 18th August

March for a Frack Free Future
Sunday 18th August

Connecting fracking the arctic

Connecting fracking the arctic

Placard at the camp

Placard at the camp

Good messages

Good messages

Just after lunch on Friday 16th August, I arrived at the ‘Reclaim the Power’ protest camp at Balcombe, Sussex. I was at the camp to offer storytelling sessions of the ‘Tales from the Far North’ as part of the ‘Kids’ Zone’ but more importantly, to join in the protest against fracking and against the government’s ‘dash for gas’ more generally.

Reclaim the Power was organised by the ‘No Dash for Gas’ group. Nine months earlier twenty one people had occupied a gas fired power station in West Burton, Nottinghamshire for a week. You can watch a film all about the occupation here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HovQqw9jEJY. The group did this to protest against the government’s ‘dash for gas’. It has plans for forty new gas fired power stations. This strategy has been described as incompatible with its own climate targets, according to its own independent advisors, the Committee on Climate Change.

What’s wrong about the government’s approach is not just what they’re doing but also what they’re not doing. The occupation of West Burton took place less than one month before the government put its new Energy Bill before Parliament. Ignoring the appeals of many organisations and businesses, it failed to include a target for producing near-zero electricity by 2030. The Committee on Climate Change produced evidence to demonstrate that following this course would be achievable, would mean lower bills for consumers by the mid-2020s and would enable us to meet our 2050 climate targets but were ignored. You can read their report that dispels the notion that clean energy will be more expensive than predominantly gas generated electricity in anything other than the short term on(http://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/next-steps-on-electricity-market-reform-23-may-2013/). The newspaper coverage of this included the Independent’s headline‘Switch to low-carbon future would save households £1, 600’. http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/switch-to-lowcarbon-future-would-save-households-1600-8628138.html

The Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change, Tim Yeo, tabled an amendment to the Bill to include a decarbonisation target. The rebellion had started.Personally, I was involved in a lot of campaigning on the Energy Bill during the past year. My local group, Kirklees Campaign Against Climate Change organised meetings, ran stalls, made links with other groups and met with our local MP. In the event our local MP, Jason McCartney was one of the few Conservative MPs who admirably voted for a clean energy target but overall, the vote was lost by just twenty three votes. The Energy Bill would not include a target for near carbon electricity. Once again, a minority government had been able to push through harmful policies against the wishes of the people because they’d been supported by the Liberal Democrats –once rightly proud of their environmental policies- to push them through, even though voting on the Energy Bill had not even been part of the Coalition Agreement.

When I arrived, the camp was still being put up so I spent most of the day helping to construct marquees, unloading materials from vans and putting out access boards to enable wheelchair users to get around the site. The first camp I attended like this was the Camp for Climate Action in 2007 and I was amazed by what I saw: a village being set up with running water, toilets, ‘eco-wash’ showers, kitchens, media and legal support, entertainment, renewable energy and marquees for workshops and training. This camp was very similar and it was good to meet many friends and acquaintances from the past as well as meeting new people too.

Over three days I did storytelling at the Kid’s Space. The kids and adults were a pleasure to meet and to work with and were full of ideas and imagination. Instead of the one hour session that I had done previously, I did half hour sessions on three consecutive days and this worked well. Ironically, given that we were in a protest camp, I talked much less about climate change in the arctic and just told the stories. This was partly because they were shorter sessions and partly because I felt there was probably less need. These children were probably more aware than any children in the country of the need to live sustainably because of the parents they had!

As I said, though, I wasn’t just here to tell stories. I wanted to learn about the issues and to protest against fracking in Sussex. To keep this blog entry reasonably short, I think it’s best to write a separate blog entry about the arguments for and against fracking. On Sunday there was very large (over 1000) demonstration at the site where Cuadrilla are drilling. This was loud, colourful and passionate. Even better, at the end was the making of a human chain around the site. On the next day I attended the blockade of the main entrance and watched as the police arrested numerous protestors, including the MP Caroline Lucas. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-23759827

The Reclaim the Power camp was positive, inspiring and effective! I met some very inspiring and impressive people. Here are a couple of them who took part in different ways in the Day of Action. Tara Clarke is a campaigner and scientist who has been working with People and Planet. With five other women Tara blockaded the offices of Bell Pottinger, Cuadrilla’s PR company. Bell Pottinger had been targeted, partly because one of its employees had been caught admitting that he was talking ‘utter f***ing bulls**t’.http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/climate/balcombe-or-bullshit-20130524. You can read Tara’s account of the whole experience, from planning to prison and release on http://tarascienceblog.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/bell-pottinger-spinning-fracking-lies/. Abi Mortimer is a campaigner with the Campaign Against Climate Change and Greenpeace and was planning to collaborate with me and others as part of the Arctic Storytelling in the City project later in the week. Abi took part in the blockade at the main gate in Balcombe. You can read her account on http://ecotheme.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/the-battle-for-balcombe-the-blockade/

And it’s not over. As I write the ’28 days later’ blockade of the Balcombe site has just begun and groups around the country are preparing to fight fracking when it comes to their neighbourhood.

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