Time to ring some changes

Climate protestors at Aberdeen The results of the first climate trial in Scotland’s history were declared a few days ago when the court imposed modest fines ranging from £300 to £700 on each of nine activists who had broken into the Aberdeen airport in protest against the soaring carbon dioxide emissions caused by aviation.

Dan Glass, one of the nine, has commented:

“We’re not terrorists, we’re people who believe delivering our message on climate change is worth being charged and fined…We are secretaries, parents, cooks, community workers, architects and saxophonists. We are part of a growing movement of concerned citizens who are prepared to put our bodies in the way of dangerous high-carbon developments.”

He spoke of their action as “justified, proportionate and necessary” in the face of catastrophic climate change, and quoted Michael Mansfield QC, one of Britain’s best-known defence barristers, who a couple of days prior to the sentencing said:

“As I write, one fifth of Pakistan, already blighted by earthquakes, is covered with flood waters threatening the health and safety of over six million people. Without conscientious and principled protest which focuses on the undoubted factors which contribute to this decimation of the environment, the urgency of the problem will not be addressed. I trust these entirely legitimate and selfless objectives will be reflected in the way the Climate 9 are judged by the court.”

It looks as if they were.

They certainly were last year in the UK when the Kingsnorth protestors, charged with criminal damage after painting messages on the chimney stack, won a jury  acquittal, aided by the testimony of expert witness James Hansen. The defence lawyer Michael Wolkind QC wrote afterwards:

“The formal document served on the court set out our position: the defendants acted in order to protect property that included ‘the Siberian permafrost and tundra regions, especially the Kola peninsula; the continental ice sheets; the Tibetan peninsula; the Yellow river in China, its banks and connected waterways; public and private property in Bangladesh; property belonging to or cultivated by subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Senegal, Namibia and Mozambique; private and public property in coastal regions and inland waterways of Indonesia and Sri Lanka, including farm land producing crops; property belonging to the Inuit people of the Arctic, northern Alaska, eastern Greenland and Canada’.”

The statutory framework was according to the law:

“A person shall have a lawful excuse if he damaged property in order to protect property belonging to another and at the time of the act he believed (1) that the property was in immediate need of protection and (2) that the means of protection adopted were reasonable having regard to all the circumstances.”

Across the Atlantic  in June last year James Hansen announced his readiness to engage in civil disobedience:

“If the Obama administration is unwilling or unable to stop the massive environmental destruction of historic mountain ranges and essential drinking water for a relatively tiny amount of coal, can we honestly believe they will be able to phase out coal emissions at the level necessary to stop climate change? The issue of mountaintop removal is so important that I and others concerned about this problem will engage in an act of civil disobedience on June 23 at a mountaintop removal site in Coal River Valley, West Virginia.”

He did that and was arrested as a result.

In a recent statement he explores the issue.

“‘How did you become an activist?’ I was surprised by the question. I never considered myself an activist. I am a slow-paced taciturn scientist from the Midwest. Most of my relatives are pretty conservative. I can imagine attitudes at home toward ‘activists’.

“I was about to protest the characterization, but I had been arrested, more than once. And I had testified in defense of others who had broken the law. Sure, we only meant to draw attention to problems of continued fossil fuel addiction. But weren’t there other ways to do that in a democracy? How had I been sucked into being an ‘activist’?”

He explains his disappointment that even green governments like Norway’s find it too inconvenient to address the implications of scientific facts. (I reported that disappointment recently.)

“It becomes clear that needed actions will happen only if the public, somehow, becomes forcefully involved. One way that citizens can help is by blocking coal plants, tar sands, and mining the last drops of fossil fuels from public and pristine lands and the deep ocean.”

He then delivers what will no doubt be denounced as a call to further acts of civil disobedience:

“To the young people I say: stand up for your rights: demand that the government be honest and address the consequences of their policies. To the old people I say: let us gird up our loins and fight on the side of young people for protection of the world they will  inherit.

“I look forward to standing with young people and their supporters, helping them develop their case, as they demand their proper due and fight for nature and their future. I guess that makes me an activist.”

Non-violent civil disobedience has a long and honourable tradition back through Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Thoreau and many others.  Thus far in relation to climate change it is sporadic but if governments continue to ignore their responsibility to drastically reduce emissions we may expect to see more of it. Understandably so. What else will serve to communicate the deep seriousness of the issue? The capacity of governments to blandly absorb the climate message, sometimes to acknowledge it, and then to carry on regardless is beginning to seem limitless. Civil disobedience puts a strain on the body politic which the kind of people who engage in it would normally seek to avoid. But there is much at stake.

Thoreau in his famous essay on civil disobedience was forthright:

“How does it become a man to behave toward the American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also.”

It will be protested that failure to act on climate change is hardly in the same league as condoning slavery. Perhaps not, though how do you class an issue that threatens so much human misery and will make fragile the bases of human civilisation?  And like the abolition of the slave trade and slavery it is being put off because of the economic dislocation it will allegedly cause. Vested interests trump democratic processes.

[Richard Thompson]

40 thoughts on “Time to ring some changes”

  1. In regard to this it would be interesting to know how much coal is being burnt at Huntly Power Station. For many years it burnt gas, but the present rumour is that it has switched back to coal.

    Perhaps this requires some direct action…

  2. Good old Kiwis proposing violence and direct action on UK citizens. Reminds me of the good old days when the IRA was the terrorist fashion accessory du jour and you collected money in pubs to kill British citizens

    Easy to do when you are on the other side of the planet, you weak shits

    1. As someone who lived through the Troubles I find it pretty insulting to compare protesters with terrorists – their actions are in no way comparable, though some may graduate from one camp to the other.

      As for raising cash for the IRA in bars, I think that happened in a lot of places around the world, and in the UK – it’s pretty silly to construct an Ad Hominem attack on the NZers around that.

  3. Civil disobedience against Huntly power station…….

    Lets think about that. Huntly has the capacity to provide 20% of NZs power when needed, and is strategically located near both Auckland and Waikato. These two regions represent NZs most important commercial and industrial regions. Huntly can produce approximately 1500MW.


    China built 60GW of new coal generation in 2008. Thats 40 times Huntly in one year.


    The USA has 333,000 MW of coal capacity. Thats 222 times Huntly.


    What would it achieve for New Zealand to shut down this strategically important part of electricity sector, that is 70% renewable, while our actions will always be crowded out by nations who have no where near the percentage of renewable generation that we have?


    1. According to your own source roughly 10 (not 60) GW of new coal-fired power plants came online in China in 2008. As far as I know, China is taking old low-efficiency, high-emission coal-fired power plants offline at the same time. China has becomed the world leader in wind energy capacity growth (+13 GW in 2009), and in the USA, 10 GW of wind capacity was added in 2009, vs 3 GW of coal capacity (with an unspecified amount of old coal capacity taken offline).

      1. Sorry, 2007 was 60GW. 2008 was 40GW of construction began, but not all projects are finished yet.

        I think you get 10GW from the projects that were begun in 2008 and were finished at the time of the reference.

        China may be leading the world in aggregate wind generation but NZ is doing pretty well in renewable as a percentage of total generation.

    2. Didn’t say shut down.
      Said protest coal burning.
      But now that you mention it, isn’t Huntly due to be shut down – decommissioned anyway?
      So what will we replace it with – Coal / fossil carbon or something our grandchildren will truly respect us for?

      Our choice!

      1. All power plants are due to be decommissioned at some point.

        I hope we are able to replace Huntly with a reliable high output power plant. One that is able to act as back up to the Waikato hydro schemes and also offer peak generation. I also hope this can be done at a reasonable price.

        This may be thermal-renewable, thermal-fossil, new renewable, whatever. It will depend on the technolagy available at the time and what makes sense for the country. It will not make sense for NZ to martyr itself and take coal off the table if the rest of the world has not demonstrated a willingness to do the same.

        1. It depends how concerned we are about global warming. You are probably quite safe, since as a country we don’t appear to be very concerned at all. The government has been very clear that whatever happens we are not going to find ourselves out in front. We would rather drive over the cliff than be the first to apply the brakes.

        2. How about the unemployed on push-bikes connected to generators – does that make sense for the country?

          How about a metre rise in sea level – does that makes sense for the country?

          How about NZder’s per capita the second biggest generators of CO2 behind the Aussies – does that make sense to the country?

          Does that makes sense to the world??

        3. The problem with your position is that a brand sparkling new coal fired power station would in other circumstances have a projected lifetime of decades. So what’s going to happen in five or ten years when there is a sudden outbreak of common sense and some serious moves are afoot to curtail emissions? Somebody is going to have to pay to decommission that thing. What a waste. Far better to not build it in the first place.

          The newer a fossil fuel burner is the more resistance there will be to shutting it down because the investors will be seriously out of pocket.

          1. Yeah that is a fair point. It is likely we can come up with something better to replace Huntly when it does expire.

            Huntly is due to be decommissioned in 2025, but may be shut down earlier if climate policy makes it uneconomical to continue generation.


            I hope by then other options are more viable. At the moment I really don’t think the country could offer secure supply to Auckland without coal or gas generation.

  4. In its draft Energy Conservation Strategy our government’s first goal is to “Develop petroleum and mineral fuel resources”.

    It views our petroleum reserves as possibly “one of the country’s most significant economic opportunities.” It is committed to “ensuring that New Zealand is a highly attractive global destination for petroleum exploration and production investment, such that we are able to develop the full potential of our petroleum resources.” http://bit.ly/cX4urk

    The government is also retrofitting the Crown Minerals Act 1991 to further this goal: http://bit.ly/cAH4Dk

    In February 2009 MED was advised by GNS of the following rough estimates of recoverable oil, gas and methane hydrate reserves:

    40,000 billion cubic feet of recoverable gas
    4400 million barrels of oil
    21 trillion cubic feet of methane hydrates (these are described as some of the largest reserves in the world)

    Combined, by my rough calculation these would produce around 8 billion tonnes of CO2.

    The document makes vague mention of CO2 sequestration, but there dont appear to be any government reports or research programmes on it. Unless you count a couple of web pages at MED and GNS:

    Looked at in one way, my government is suggesting that as a matter of policy it wants to engage in a massive geo-engineering enterprise to wreck the atmosphere for me, my family, my fellow citizens, and the globe.

    Civil disobedience and taking to the streets. Hell yes.

      1. Yes I do! And I fail to see how your comment is pertinent to the comment above. Surely Tom is implying that he wants (no DEMANDS) that an outside agency (Government or EU) impose rules and conditions on the use of the common. Precisely the means by which the tragedy may be avoided!

        1. But that hasn’t happened. And until that does it makes no sense for NZ to shut down Huntly. Or not build another coal power station.

          (Kyoto runs only until the end of 2012 and covers approx 20% of global emissions)

  5. For me, its simpler than that. The future wellbeing of my kids is under direct and serious threat. Under those circumstances, what father forgoes action simply because others who should have acted have not?

  6. I live in Aberdeen, and here we have a bunch of New Zealanders endorsing civil disobedience in my town.

    (Including a lawyer: interesting way to end your career Tom)

    I find this utterly reprehensible.

    I visited NZ in the eighties and found a country of extremely poor housing quality. Why don’t you sort out your own country first?

    This “civil disobedience” will end in violence, like all political movements where you don’t get your way.

    Do you imagine that people will allow their energy supplies to be interrupted by a bunch of eco-nutters? Scotland has just endured one of the coldest winters in decades. There is some indication we might be in for another.

    You have nothing to offer except droning on about “deniers”. The Armageddon scenarios are not panning out.

    You have nothing to offer in the way of innovation.
    You only want civil disobedience, and ultimately, this will lead to violence and deaths.

    Yet you sit in your warm homes, use the internet, enjoy a standard of living higher than at any other time in history, and all you have to offer is civil unrest.

    New Zealand: The Land of the Long White Hypocrite.

  7. “I live in Aberdeen, and here we have a bunch of New Zealanders endorsing civil disobedience in my town.” – Jamie

    Cool. You Brits & Europeans are such hierarchal drones.

    “I visited NZ in the eighties and found a country of extremely poor housing quality. Why don’t you sort out your own country first?” – Jamie.

    Yeah, just like Scotland, crap house design principles. Oh, that’s right you guys burns heaps of fossil fuels to keep warm. No wonder you’re anti-science.

    “This “civil disobedience” will end in violence, like all political movements where you don’t get your way.” – Jamie.

    Maybe, or maybe it will finally draw some attention to the obvious 800 pound gorilla in the room.

    “Scotland has just endured one of the coldest winters in decades.” – Jamie

    Don’t doubt it, but globally it was the warmest NH winter on record in the RSS MSU satellite data, and 2nd warmest on record in the surface temperature dataset (NASA). And it is global warming that’s the concern, not Scotland warming. If it was only Scotland I’m sure it would have been given a different moniker.

    “There is some indication we might be in for another.” – Jamie

    And you know this how?

    “You have nothing to offer except droning on about “deniers”. The Armageddon scenarios are not panning out.” – Jamie.

    Hmmm, doesn’t look too good for Pakistan, Russia and China. But then I guess you have no idea that the scientific predictions are starting to “pan out” as you say.

    “You have nothing to offer in the way of innovation.” – Jamie.

    Did you comment on the renewables thread or not?.

    “You only want civil disobedience, and ultimately, this will lead to violence and deaths.” – Jamie.

    Nope, just to limit global warming, so humanity doesn’t get wiped out. And you made the violence comment earlier remember?.

    “Yet you sit in your warm homes, use the internet, enjoy a standard of living higher than at any other time in history, and all you have to offer is civil unrest.” – Jamie.

    Does that mean you expect people to stick their heads in the sand?. Fat chance, we’re not hierarchal drones.

  8. Hierarchical drones? Where did you get that idea from?

    Yes we use heaps of fossil fuels to warm our houses. That’s because it is frikken cold here.

    Of course, there are always “renewables” I drove past 4 windfarms yesterday. All stationary. No wind yesterday. Useless.

    1. So why did Eigg – 100% renewable – have to resort to diesel generators recently when they ran out of power?

      Because the wind doesn’t always blow.

      Eigg, a showcase for the failure of renewables.

      1. Tsk, tsk, as pointed out, wind is only one form of renewable energy. You might think advances in technology are smooth and implementation is without obstacles, however that’s just ignorance.

        I can just imagine you, had you lived in earlier times, rubbishing those “horseless carts” and “flying machines”.

        No shortage of ideas being put to the task of renewable energy, note the steps taken to reduce intermittency in wind generation:

        Renewable Energy Solution of the Month – Wind

    2. There may be no shortage of wind most of the time but when there is no wind 100% backup is required . That means that most of the time there is 200% capacity. That has to be paid for somehow. The amortization costs must be added to the price of the power. The end result is that the price per kilowatt.hour or megawatt.hour will be nearly doubled. And, as someone commented elsewhere, nobody is bothering to fix wind towers blown over and lying on the ground somewhere in the USA.

  9. “Hierarchical drones? Where did you get that idea from?” – Jamie

    Never heard of the class system that operated in Britain for so long?. Some still cling to that, but the point is – see how easy it is to categorize people?.

    “Yes we use heaps of fossil fuels to warm our houses. That’s because it is frikken cold here” – Jamie

    Yes & there’s a very slim chance that Britain will get colder in a global warming scenario, if (and it’s a very big if) the North Atlantic Thermal Conveyor shuts down. Most scientists consider it unlikely, given they don’t consider there’s enough ice likely to calve from Greenland to disrupt the ocean circulation. Still the remote possibility exists,

    “Of course, there are always “renewables” I drove past 4 windfarms yesterday. All stationary. No wind yesterday. Useless.” – Jamie.

    Renewables, not just wind. Agreed, there are many hurdles to overcome, but do you not think Tesla had problems implementing AC electricity generation?. Put enough smart minds to the task, and I’m positive many of the problems can be overcome. Time is the critical factor, we need to act very soon or we “may” be too late to stop drastic climatic change.

    1. Hierarchical drones?
      Was it you that was DEMANDING that the EU impose rules on NZ?

      A non-elected body of bureaucrats imposing rules on a country the other side of the world.

      Drones? Indeed. Look in the mirror pal.

      1. “Was it you that was DEMANDING that the EU impose rules on NZ?” -Jamie

        No idea what you’re referring to.

        “Drones? Indeed. Look in the mirror pal.” – Jamie.

        No Jamie, YOU look in the mirror. You’ve seen fit to comment on this climate related blog, the majority of your witterings illustrate you don’t have the foggiest idea of what you’re talking about. In fact if I remember correctly your first post was some ignorant, insulting comment.

        You’re a drone alright, you just repeat crap that has been spoon fed to you, without even bothering to ascertain whether it’s true or not.

        1. Dappledwater.

          This is a CLIMATE blog?

          Are you serious???

          This is a pile of marxist bile proposing civil disobediance.
          There is no science here. It is 100% political excrement.

            1. We really are enjoying some rational, calm and perceptive posts of late. That’s not Jamie though.

              So much anger, so little substance.

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