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UK Court Acts to Save Planet from Coal

Posted in Coal,UK by Cheryl Morgan on the September 11th, 2008

Concern about global warming has penetrated most of the world by now. Here in California our local utility, PG&E, sponsors TV ads encouraging us to help save the planet by saving energy. But in the UK some Greenpeace activists have gone several steps further, and have received court backing for what they did.

As this report in The Independent describes, the Greenpeace activists entered a coal-fired power station in Kent and painted a slogan on a chimney. Cleaning this up cost the owners, E.On, £35,000, so they sued for criminal damage. Yesterday a court acquitted the activists on the grounds that their action had the “lawful excuse” of saving the planet from global warming. Under British law, citizens are allowed to cause small amounts of damage in order to prevent much greater damage. The example that The Independent gives is of someone breaking down a door in order to tackle a fire blazing inside the building. And in this case the jury ruled that global warming is sufficiently serious that damaging a coal-fired power station as part of a campaign to stop CO2 emissions is justified.

Quite where this leaves Gordon Brown’s energy policy is unclear. Thus far Greenpeace has only painted a slogan on a power station, but the one previous successful case of this type involved them destroying a field of genetically-modified crops. It is conceivable, therefore, that they could get away with causing sufficient damage to shut down coal-fired power stations. And the UK has a lot of coal-fired power stations. Mr. Brown might think he should press ahead with new nuclear plant, but who is to say that construction might not be blocked by protesters worried about a Chernobyl-style meltdown? Of course is Greenpeace were to cause such serious damage that immediate blackouts resulted then they would quickly loose their public sympathy. Damage to long-term plans is rather more difficult to quantify, and to ascribe blame for.

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