Jonathan Bartley: Fracking activists have a right to protest. We must support them

14 July 2017

In every corner of the globe people are taking action on climate change as governments refuse to tackle the greatest threat we face. In the US, the Standing Rock protesters stood tall against the Keystone pipeline. In Brazil, brave defenders are standing in the way of the destruction of the rainforest. This week we learned that in 2016, 200 activists lost their lives while defending the environment, with another 98 killed in the first five months of this year. Here in Britain, too, people are putting their bodies on the line in a fight against the frackers carving up green spaces.

Green party councillor Gina Dowding was one of a number of people arrested last week for blocking the entrance to fracking company Cuadrilla’s new site in Preston New Road, Lancashire. The context for these protests is clear: democracy has been overridden.

In a move which put an energy company’s profits over the wishes of a community, the government overturned the local authority’s decision to stop Cuadrilla fracking for gas here. The people of Lancashire said no – but the government ignored their objections. Members of this community tried to use the democratic process to express their concerns but were sidelined – and that’s why they’re making this stand. As has so often been the case, peaceful protest has been met by the strong arm of the law and private security.

The reports of violence carried out by security services at the Cuadrilla Preston New Road site are shocking: allegations of a protester being hit by a van, another punched in the face, held by the throat. Dogs were brought in, with the apparent objective of frightening protesters.

The police are investigating, but what actions is Cuadrilla itself taking? Violence and heavy-handedness make protesting frightening and jeopardises its future, when fear of protest is exactly the opposite of what the climate movement needs right now.

Alongside this week’s reports of violence against environmentalists came the news that the Earth’s sixth mass extinction of wildlife is already under way. Scientists have warned that we are facing a “biological annihilation”, with species becoming extinct at a faster rate than for millions of years – with habitat destruction, toxic pollution and climate change all listed among the causes.

This is the context in which the anti-fracking activists in Lancashire are working – and this is why their fight isn’t just a local one. It’s a battle for the future. Fracking is dirty, dangerous and expensive. It contaminates local water, soil, and air and it locks us into a future of dependency on fossil fuels when science tells us we should be keeping them in the ground. We need a rapid shift to a modern, clean, zero-carbon economy, and that won’t happen if we’re pouring resources into fracking.

Last year a government poll showed just 19% of people backed fracking; support for renewables, meanwhile, had surged to 81%.

This is the future, and I can’t thank anti-fracking activists in Lancashire enough for fighting for it. They are on the right side of history, and in years to come we will remember them as heroes.


Orignially published on The Guardian 

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