On 20 July 2011 twenty climate activists who were convicted in Nottingham Crown Court in December 2010 for conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass, had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal.
These activists had always maintained that whilst they had planned to shut down e.on’s Ratcliffe on Soar coal fired power station (thereby stopping emissions temporarily), they had done so out of necessity and self defence of the planet, of which we are a part, and its population. Wild Law UK shares these values too – life is precious and sacred, and we have a duty to defend it.
We should be concerned about the circumstances of the arrest and trial that led to the Ratcliffe activists being convicted. The State has invested vast resources into undercover police officers who have been infiltrating the climate justice movement for many years. The actions of the State, which before this Mark Kennedy story broke might have been considered the imaginings of conspiracy theorists - prove that they are threatened by climate activists and want to put people off peaceful dissent of climate policy.
In general the attitude of our society, business and government is that life is cheap, so economic interests continue to be prioritised over the health of the Earth. Even the more progressive initiatives proposed to protect nature tend to focus on valuing nature in monetary terms (for example, TEEB). The logic of this approach seems to be that if nature is more ‘expensive’ then fewer people can afford to destroy nature, and people will have a financial incentive to conserve nature instead. Nature is always a resource to be exploited, not a dynamic living system of which we are a part, or a Mother to be respected, which is how the Greeks thought of Gaia. The narrative never starts from the premise that life is inherently valuable. We don’t see the world through the Romantic poet Blake’s eyes – for him ‘everything that lives is holy’. This mindset helps to explain why we keep trashing the planet and why we are quite relaxed with this course of action.
Not everyone of course is relaxed with the destruction of the planet – hence brave people like those Ratcliffe on Trial activists. They are a voice speaking out against destruction of the planet for profit. Direct action has a vital role to play in our democracy and in securing Earth justice. (Although, in the Ratcliffe case, the activists were pre-emptively arrested by hundreds of police during a meeting in a school where they were discussing how to shut down Ratcliffe on Soar safely – no action actually took place). In the UK we have a proud tradition of civil rights movements. Before slavery was abolished and before women got the right to vote, there were protests and civil resistance.
Direct action is particularly relevant in cases where the injustice is systematic or hardwired into our institutions. In these cases, it may be that nothing short of a mass movement and civil resistance will force the State to recognise that the status quo cannot be sustained and there must be radical change. Our planet is telling us through – for example - the mass collapse of ecosystems and the phenomenon of climate change – that we need radical change.
Whereas Wild Law UK is looking at ways to change the law so that the rights of nature are respected, the Ratcliffe on Trial activists are highlighting the issue of climate injustice by high profile actions, and by their efforts to build a movement based on solidarity with the repressed and marginalised in society, and other social justice movements. We are working for the same end, to secure Earth justice, in different ways.
In the Court of Appeal’s judgment, the judges stated that they shared the public disquiet over the convictions. But to secure fundamental change public disquiet must be translated into mass movement – we all have a civic responsibility to protect our planet.