Victory At Kingsnorth..?
Today was hailed as a major victory by those engaged in climate change activism here in the UK. The energy company E:ON has shelved plans to build new power stations at the Kingsnorth site in Kent, site of last year’s Camp For Climate Action (known to all as simply ‘Climate Camp’).
E:ON cited the current economic climate, as well as a drop in demand for electricity, as being the decisive factors in their decision to shelve the Kingsnorth builds, a decision that was immediately heralded by environmental campaigners from many groups as a major victory and perhaps the beginning of the end of coal-fired power in this country.
Personally, I’m somewhat more cautious in my optimism that this decision. Optimistic for the future of climate change activism in the UK, definitely, but only cautiously optimistic. And this is why:
- E:ON have not stated that they are PERMANENTLY shelving their plans for new coal-fired stations, merely that they are putting the Kingsnorth project on hold for a few years or perhaps until economic conditions and/or demand for electricity has increased enough to make the project profitable.
- There is a General Election in the UK not too far away. Who knows what the (more than likely) incoming Conservative government will opt for in terms of its energy policy. (the Tories have never been exactly friendly to activists of a non-right wing persuasion). The honeymoon period after a Conservative election victory would give the Tories freedom to pursue pretty much any energy policies they want, especially if Labour suffer a meltdown at the polls, as could perhaps be expected given Labour’s severe unpopularity at the moment.
- It has to be said that, while the climate change activists are growing in numbers and profile (and thus influence), it is the energy companies and big business that have the ear of government to a much greater degree. Unless stopping coal-fired power stations became a make-or-break election issue for the government of the day, then there’s nothing to stop that government from pushing them through, especially in the name of avoiding energy shortages for the voters.
Of course, there can be little doubt that the climate change movement and accompanying protest activities have done E:ON in particular no favours in the PR department. And those protests actions haven’t been solely confined to power stations such as Kingsnorth either. E:ON publicity events have been disrupted. E:ON also sponsors the FA Cup and it’s sponsorship has been marked by actions at various FA Cup ties at matches around the country. Recruitment events have been repeatedly disrupted as well, as at careers fairs and universities and the E:ON corporate annual dinner was also disrupted. How much the protests focused on E:ON have damaged the E:ON brand is debatable, for while I don’t doubt the PR damage has been considerable, no arm of big business is ever going to admit to a flagship project like Kingsnorth being halted by public pressure as that would be a massive shot in the arm to protest groups everywhere. It would also be an admission that people power, and in particular direct action, does get the goods and that would only lead to a proliferation in groups willing to adopt those methods to achieve their aims.
And it isn’t a matter of halting climate change simply by halting the building of new power stations, either, it’s rather more long-term than that. There are no shortage of other places and companies to be targeted in addition to E:ON and Kingsnorth. The fight will have to go on for a long time to come if climate activists are to continue pushing for the necessary changes to be made, so a possible victory over the Kingsnorth project is only one possible victory in a much longer and larger campaign.
Yes, Kingsnorth being shelved is something to celebrate. A major multinational has had to alter its plans and the Labour government’s greenwashing has left it with egg on its face and its plans apparently in tatters. But there will be a new government to engage with, more than likely, and big business won’t be going away any time soon either. Climate activists are entitled to celebrate this news, but not to rest on their laurels.
The fight is a long way from over yet.