Wednesday, 17 September 2008

August 2008 - Kingsnorth Climate Camp

The third annual Climate Camp ( took place between 4th-11th August at the site of a proposed new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth, in Kent. There is already a coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth, but it is soon to come to the end of its sooty little life, and energy behemoth E.On have kindly offered to build a brand new one in its place. All that stands between Kent and a shiny new power station is government go-ahead...and several hundred committed climate campers.

The aim of the camp was to highlight the dangerous absurdity of building new coal-fired power stations whilst simultaneously trying to reduce one's carbon emissions. The UK government look likely to pass legislation that will commit Britain to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60% by 2050 (a scientifically unjustified and pitifully inadequate target, but a target nonetheless). Coal, being the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, must necessarily be phased out if emissions are to be reduced, but the proposed power station at Kingsnorth alone would belch out as much carbon dioxide as a country like Zambia does in a year.

Malcom Wicks, the Energy Minister, displayed a criminally glib attitude towards the camp, declaring that "The real prize is to develop technologies so that the CCS technology can be retro-fitted onto coal-fired plants in countries like China. Our decisions about any one application for a coal plant in Britain are pretty small fry compared to the risk of global CO2 emissions in coming years."

Wicks' barely disguised drooling for the 'real prize' of Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) technology is a clue to the solution that the British Government favours to the problem of climate change - and guess what? It involves lots of lucrative contracts for new coal-fired power stations, but with the proviso that an as-yet unproven technology will, at some yet to be specified time, be fitted to these new power stations. CCS may prove itself to be a viable way of capturing emissions from existing coal-fired power stations. But it's primary use at the present is as a justification for coal new-builds.

His assertion that any one planning application is 'small fry' is also terrifyingly disingenuous - if Kingsnorth is given the go-ahead, it is likely to be the first of seven new coal-fired power stations in Britain. While the climate camp succeeded in grabbing some media attention for a short time, the real work to prevent Kingsnorth being built is likely to be played out over years, not days. the camp organisers have declared that a rolling blockade, and peaceful, direct action, will be deployed if the new plant is given the green light (which looks highly likely).

As the 100 month countdown begins, things are not off to a good start - in order to prevent dangerous climate change, fossil fuels must ultimately be phased out altogether. They will run out of their own accord, of course, but this will be too late for millions of people in low-lying settlements, and the eco-systems they depend on. Plus, the quicker we start making the transition out of a fossil-fueled economy, the softer the landing on the other side of the oil peak will be.

Sadly, the short term interests of a government that has firmly hitched its cart to the kamikaze horse of globalised capitalism are not easily reconciled with an end to the age of fossil fuels.


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