Ratcliffe Power Station Court Case : Nottingham Magistrates [day 2]

The prosecution case having closed yesterday. The defence opened today with their expert witness: Dr Simon Lewis, a climate scientist at the University of Leeds and Royal Society Research Fellow.

Scientific evidence suggests CO2 add to global warming temperatures and if reduced, would minimise climate fluctuations. There is no doubt that there is a causal relationship between CO2 and climate change. It is however difficult to unambiguously associate rise in CO2 with specific changes in weather events, and thus mortality of any individual. So, scientists talks about statistical probabilities.

He cited various examples of catastrophes across the globe from every continent. World Health Organisation figures say that currently 150,000 people per year die of effects directly attributable to climate change. Closer to home, the 2003 heat-wave across Europe is probably responsible for 35,000 additional deaths over the ‘background’ death-rate, that might have been expected.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) says that there is a direct link between the increases in CO2 emissions and an increase in mortality. They are concerned and acknowledge the idea of ‘tipping points’. Thresholds of irreversibility. Put simply ‘points of no return’. An example of which would include the loss of the polar icecaps. As they continue to melt, there is thus a smaller area to reflect sunlight, there is thus a consequential rise in temperature that further results in yet a greater increase in the rate of ice melting. There are different tipping point thresholds for different earth systems, the Amazon Basin, the Arctic, coral reefs etc.

There is no doubt, that to reduce these tipping point thresholds, there is a need to reduce carbon emission. What is a safe limit? It is difficult to say but suggests a tipping point might be crossed at global average temperature of 2 degC above pre-industrial levels. Currently we’re at 0.74 to now with 1.34 left to this point.

Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research reports point out that not only is it necessary to prevent further emissions, it is further necessary to remove some that is already there. Some CO2 will remain in the atmosphere for centuries. But there would be some relief in taking immediate action to ameliorate emissions. We are always playing ‘catch-up’.

On being asked to comment on the prosecution opening statement, that the protesters action could not have had the result of ‘avoiding death or serious injury’. Dr. Lewis said that yes, that it defiantly could have had such a result.

Asked for his views on future trends, Dr Lewis said the scale of future threats could see a global average temperature of 4 degC above pre-industrial levels. This would result in exceeding the capacity of resilience of many global systems. Species numbers collapse, widespread agricultural failure and events like the 2003 heat-wave being a statistically normal event by the 2080’s.

Climate change increases the mortality risks for all peoples. However, dis-proportionally affects such vulnerable groups including the young, old, and the poor. Britain has been one of the largest CO2 emitters since the industrial revolution. We have been emitting longer than many other countries in the developing world. It simply is a fact that the majority of emissions are caused by a richer minority of people.

Is current international action and agreement sufficient to avoid dangerous climate change? The Kyoto Protocol is resultant from United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It was signed in 1997. But, since this date, there has been a substantial increase in emissions in spite of UNFCCC limits, and are still increasing.

We need substantial reductions within the next 10 years. Some experts say that if we want to mitigate major climactic events, we are 25 years to late. But with some immediate actions we may be able to make small changes.

Asked if he thought all experts agree on these matters, he referred to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, pointing out figures and predictions were quite conservative in estimates, to keep the most consensus of 2 – 3000 academics in public universities. There are of course some that are outside of this consensus, but these work for private business.

After his initial evidence, Mr Kevin Tomlinson, acting for 4 of the defendants, then asked Dr Lewis about the targets set worldwide and the generally accepted views of what’s dangerous. Are the current UK targets achievable? To keep below the 2 degC increase on pre-industrial levels, there has to be a 60% cut in emissions. However to give some scope for other countries to have some increase in their emission, to alleviate their poverty, UK targets should be much greater than this 60% already targeted.
Mr Cunningham for the Crown Prosecution Service then suggested to Dr Lewis, that we are not dealing with an exact science, there is very much room for error? Of course, we have to deal with probabilities, however there is a consensus from 2 – 3000 climate scientists in the field say the existing climate systems are showing the changes I’ve described. Mr Cunningham points out that the for the defendants to succeed in the defence of necessity, they have to show essentially they were engaged in rescue. He makes efforts to draw parallels between Indonesian illegal logging and forest clearances for biofuels and demonstrating similar risks here. Dr Lewis then reminded the court of the 150,000 people per year that die of effects directly attributable to climate change.

First of the defendants representing himself, AW then gave evidence. He had an obvious concern for his family and friends on the future effects of climate change. The facts and further reading obviously add to this concern. Personally he takes all measures he can to minimise his ‘carbon footprint’. Over the previous week, he had attended the week of activities ‘Spring into Action’. Became scared by the concept of ‘tipping point’ that appeared to indicate matter were even more urgent than previously thought. Further he believed that Ratcliffe Power Station was an obvious local cause of concern and was the 3rd largest CO2 emitter in the UK. Thus with others, walked into the power station and locked onto the nearest bit of machinery. The intention being to stop CO2 emissions for as long as possible. He knew of 15 other such stations had been the subject of actions all over the world. Quoted a statement by Al Gore who had said he couldn’t understand why there is not more action to close down power stations worldwide.

Mr Cunningham for the Crown wanted to know what level of criminality is acceptable in pursuit of aims? He also returns to his continued argument that if you really has serious believe in this defence of necessity, with the ‘imminent dangers’ you describe, then you really would have offered more resistance than you actually had!

Mr Cunningham had returned to this theme with most of the defendants as they gave their evidence in chief. The distinction he was trying to draw was between people who really believe in such imminent dangers would take extraordinary measures to effect a ‘rescue action’. As yesterday, he cited the earlier case of Abdul Hassain, an Iraqi national who fearing persecution had hijacked an aircraft to escape oppression in that country. He appeared to be suggesting that by taking less severe measures, the defendants were simply looking for a ‘legal cloak’ for their criminality of the offences for which they were charged, aggravated trespass. They were in fact simply protesting. This was rebutted by all the defendants saying that if they were simply protesting, they wouldn’t have done so there, It would have been more appropriate to do so in public, visible by many and in front of a media presence to attempt to get maximum exposure and thus to draw attention to their concerns. All said that their motive was in fact to shut the power station down for as long as they could to minimise CO2 emissions.

Next to give evidence was SB.  She said she simply walked into the station and took action because of her concerns.  She has a degree in Ecology, and with that awareness takes all step that she can personally to minimise her own contribution to CO2 emissions. Also attended the Spring into Action week of events and further already knowing about the concept of tipping points and the ecological threats and the associated millions of deaths by the end of the century, represented by the 2degC previously referred to.  Said she thought that it was her duty to take action to attempt to reduce CO2 emission personally. Saying that fear for herself, family and the future and that she also knew about the issues displacing so many people to effectively make them climate refugees. With such worries, wonders if it is right for her to consider bringing a child into ‘this world’.

Mr Cunningham pointed out that the defendants accepted they had committed the offence.  In spite of their efforts, they didn’t succeed in their aim to reduce CO2 emissions, but in fact, had triggered the firing up of another power station. However, SB didn’t know anything of government and company emergency planning that would have resulted by such interruption. Cunningham again put the notion, that they were just simply protesting.  The idea that they really did believed that they were preventing death or serious injury could not be sustained, since the effects were just too remote.  This was denied.

Third defendant TA said the intention was to simply walk into the power station and shut it down. He had been campaigning on environment, climate change and social issues for 15 – 20 years. It is obvious to him that climate change is resulting in many deaths.  Influenced by the earlier event ‘Spring in Action’ held in various locations around Nottingham which drew attention to the issues of concern. He had read information produced by James Hanson, a climate scientist from NASA who is of the opinion that the burning of coal is one of the principle causes of CO2 emissions. The practice needs to be eliminated since it is at least 80% of the problem.  It is so frustrating knowing that Ratcliffe, located locally, is such a major part of this problem.

The plant manager, Mr Smith, in his evidence yesterday said that the firing up of Ironbridge station had created more CO2 than if Ratcliffe operations had not been shutting down over the 5 hours of operation.  Simply didn’t believe this.  No figures were produced to support this as the defence had requested. In fact Smith had simply said that he had not had time to produce them!

The crown put it that surely, you would realise that the authorities would not allow, the successful closing of a power station. There was bound to be a contingency plan. Mr Cunningham makes yet another attempt to show that really, by any measures, they are simply protesters and not taking the rescue action they claim. Yet again, this was denied.

A few more defendants gave their evidence in turn, broadly reiterating most of the arguments as already covered.

The case continues ………………

Dr. Simon L. Lewis is Royal Society Research Fellow, Earth & Biosphere Institute, School of Geography, University of Leeds. http://royalsociety.org/page.asp?tip=1&id=4689

Simon L. Lewis – Research Interests http://www.see.leeds.ac.uk/ebi/people/simon-lewis-research.htm

Royal Society – A guide to facts and fictions about climate change http://royalsociety.org/downloaddoc.asp?id=1630

Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research http://www.tyndall.ac.uk

IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change http://www.ipcc.ch

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change http://unfccc.int



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