Cool Britannia: Climate change is “lawful excuse” to damage coal plant (with Hansen comments)

Kingsnorth chimney The nation’s top climate scientist writes today:

Good news from the UK: The Kingsnorth Six were acquitted by a Crown Court jury. They were members of a group of 23 Greenpeace volunteers who had attempted to shut down the Kingsnorth coal-fired power plant, specifically the six were the ones painting the smokestack with “Gordon Bin It” when interrupted by the police.

Their defense was ‘lawful excuse’, that they were protecting property of greater value (the Earth!) from the impact of climate change. We will need our Mercedes-driving lawyer friends to tell us if the verdict has greater significance — but the jurors were common people, not politicians. It was an impressive show — judge and lawyers with their white wigs — hopefully it has an impact.

The Guardian account of the acquittal here says “It was the first case where preventing property damage caused by climate change has been used as part of a “lawful excuse” defence in court. It is now expected to be used widely by environment groups.”

Written testimony that I submitted for the case is a bit long. The “Summary Facts” are below. The main point, that the government, the utility, and the fossil fuel industry, were aware of the facts but continued to ignore them are more generally valid worldwide. It raises the question of whether the right people are on trial.

Summary Facts
These summary facts were known by the UK government, by the utility EON, by the fossil fuel industry, and by the defendants at the time of their actions in 2007:

(1) Tipping Points: the climate system is dangerously close to tipping points that could have disastrous consequences for young people, life and property, and general well-being on the planet that will be inherited from today’s elders.

(2) Coal’s Dominant Role: Coal is the fossil fuel most responsible for excess CO2 in the air today, and coal reserves contain much more potential CO2 than do oil or gas. Coal is the fossil fuel that is most susceptible to either (a) having the CO2 captured and sequestered if coal is used in power plants, or (b) leaving the coal in the ground, instead emphasizing use of cleaner fuels and energy efficiency.

(3) Recognized Responsibilities: The UK is one of the nations most responsible for human-made CO2 in the air today, indeed, on a per capita basis it is the most responsible of all nations that are major emitters of CO2. This fact is recognized by developing countries, making it implausible that they would consider altering their plans for coal use if the UK plans to continue to rely on coal-fired power.

(4) Recognized Impacts of Climate Change: The UK government, EON, and the fossil fuel industry were aware of the likely impacts of continuation of coal emissions, specifically impacts on future sea level, extinctions of animal and plant species, and regional climate effects, i.e., they were all aware that their actions would contribute to these adverse impacts, leaving a more impoverished planet for today’s young people and the unborn.

(5) Greenwash: Governments, utilities, and the fossil fuel industry have presented public faces acknowledging the importance of climate change and claiming that they are taking appropriate actions. Yet the facts, as shown in this document, contradict their claims. Construction of new coal-fired power plants makes it unrealistic to hope for the prompt phase-out of coal emissions and thus makes it practically impossible to avert climate disasters for today’s young people and future generations.

Recognition of these basic facts by the defendants, realization that the facts were also known by the government, utility, and fossil fuel industry, and realization that the actions needed to protect life and property of the present and future generations were not being taken undoubtedly played a role in the decision of the defendants to act as they did.

Kudos to the Greenpeace, Hansen, and the Crown Court jury. Cool Britannia — literally!

27 Responses to Cool Britannia: Climate change is “lawful excuse” to damage coal plant (with Hansen comments)

  1. John Hollenberg says:

    Joe, this is an amazing story! It brings some hope that ordinary citizens can have an impact on climate mitigation efforts.

  2. Ike Solem says:

    You are missing the real story re. Palin, as is every other web site on the planet, apparently, except the oil industry trade journals and blogs, who are all well aware that the entire gist of Palin’s energy plan is to use Alaskan natural gas to melt Canadian tar sands and ship the resulting dirty crude to China and Louisiana – the most damaging fossil fuel project on the face of the earth – and every single media outlet in the United States is lying about it and claiming that Alaskan natural gas will be delivered to the Lower 48. It won’t – it will be used in Alberta to extract bitumen from tar sands and convert it to dirty crude.

  3. Brewster says:

    Ike, where did you hear that?

    Why in the world would Alberta need to use Alaskan Natural Gas? We have lots of our own…

    I’ve got no use for Palin, but that is just too far off the wall.

    As for “dirty crude”, yes, it’s pretty messy right now, but many new steps are and will be taken over the next few years to clean it up. There’s new Federal and Provincial regs in the books to make sure of that.

    It’s highly unlikely it’ll ever be “clean”, but it will hardly be “the most damaging fossil fuel project on the face of the earth” – that honor will go to shale oil in the US as soon as the Reps get in.

  4. paulm says:

    Canadian Oil sand will not be developed. Canadians will rise up and either vote the right candidates in and there will be civil action like what has started in the UK (we have to think positive even if David Letterman isnt)

  5. Rick C says:

    Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Halleluha! Ha aaa le lu ja! (Sung to the song of the same name)

  6. jorleh says:

    Hallelujah! The criminals are shown to be criminals, double-faced murderers.

  7. Richard C says:

    Whilst it is laudable that the courts are starting to recognise our responsibility to the planet. The verdict creates a worrying precedent regarding criminal damage.

  8. Robert says:

    paulm – I’ve got bad news for you:

  9. paulm says:

    Unfortunately it is not news.

    However, the groundswell is building and hopefully this is the start of change….Greens to be in debates

    May gets green light with a push from the people

  10. P. G. Dudda says:

    I’m not sure smaller property damage is justified by the threat of greater damage. OTOH, it reminds me of a line attributed to a Cherokee/Tsalagi proverb:

    “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

    And yes, I think today’s children are justified in being royally PO’d by the way the adults in their lives are treating their land.

  11. Ronald says:

    This article goes a little into what it is that motivates people. How can we get people excited and to care about something? What are the things that more or less are universal motivators?

    Some might say people can be influenced by rhetoric. But that is only if they will read the stuff and haven’t read other rhetoric that confuses the issue.

    The universal human thing that all people will feel and have is pain. And sometimes suffering.

    What is it that allowed Gandhi to be so influential over so many people in India? The pain and suffering of imprisonment, beatings and starvation that he was willing to endure for the people. Others were making speeches just like him, but he was willing to live like the people and suffer the pain that they did.

    Why is Jesus in Christianity so much followed and revered? Sure we all want to get a prize, and living forever in paradise (heaven) just by being a member of an exclusive club (christianity) is one of the best of all. But what Jesus really brought was someone who was willing to suffer great pain for people, someone who was willing to fight for them.

    We all feel pain. All of us will know someone who dies. All of us will be sick at sometime in our lives. That is what connects us.

    Compare that to Scientists who want us to believe that Global Warming is true and that we should care.

    Scientists are willing to do long hours of research developing Scientific instuments, studying lots of data, writing Scientific papers, and giving these to magazines and giving talks for peer review. They are also willing to receive large sums of money to get paid well, apply for funding and go to conventions to give these talks. They are scientists after all.

    But that doesn’t reach the average person. The Scientists at CERN do the same thing. That’s what Scientists do so, the research and getting paid for it.

    That’s why we have the big disconnect between what these Scientists say and the average person thinks and believes. Nothing to make the connection. The average person has more connection with their fossil fuel company and employees than with Scientists.

    Why should the average person listen to the Scientists about Global Warming? If Global Warming is so bad and it can really limit the lives of humans in the future, why are scientists still advocating the spending of money on research like CERN in Europe. Why if all these Scientific organizations make the claim that Global Warming is a problem that the research money doesn’t go to energy research instead of high energy Physics.

    It’s like it was World War II and scientists didn’t want to work on military equipment like radar, proximity fuses for anti-aircraft shells, coding and decoding equipment of of messages and instead worked to work on their own pet projects, but they still thought that Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany were a threat to humanity.

    Unless Scientists do more than just make statements from Science organizations about Global Warming that it is true, which is helpful but not enough, the average person is not going to be motivated to care.

    What can Scientists do?

    Reduce and Refuse the amount of money recieved in grants for research in all other areas, except human medical research, by half and insist the money goes to energy research.

    Stage a walk accross America with the top 500 (or 50 or 10) Climate and Atmospheric Scientists from Los Angeles to New York city over 90 days in the summer. Each day, give morning and afternoon press conferences on different aspects of Global Warming and what future humans have to look forward to. Stay in tents along the way. Get picked up by wagons being pulled by ATV’s to the campsite every day and start walking the next day.

    Can’t get Scientists to do that? Well you can’t get average people to care with the level of commitment from Scientists the way things are now. If you want the average person to care, if you want people to give up some conviences in life and for some other people to give up billions and billions of dollars in income from mining and extracting fossil fuels, Scientists who think they know better had better to give up a little bit of pain and suffering.

    What were people willing to give up for during World War II? There lives, pain, and treasure. What are Scientists who claim to know better are willing to give up in the 21st Century? Hardly anything at all.

  12. Ron says:

    I guess we just need to re-think our priorities. Criminal property damage is acceptable if we have the planet’s needs in mind. So it’s just another small step to viewing ‘problem humans’ as something to be disposed of if the need arises.

    “A total population of 250-300 million people, a 95% decline from present levels, would be ideal.” – Ted Turner, 2008

    Don’t you agree, Joe?

  13. cpmmoe says:

    A very worrying precedent in light of Greenpeace’s wrongheaded views on some other issues-agricultural biotechnology, for instance.

  14. John Hollenberg says:

    > So it’s just another small step to viewing ‘problem humans’ as something to be disposed of if the need arises.

    Ridiculous, as the action was taken to protect humans “for the next 50 generations” as Joe would say.

  15. Ron says:

    Mr. Hollenberg,

    It is a slippery slope. Once you begin violating peoples’ rights (in this case property rights) and justifying it as being for ‘the greater good’, it’s only a small step before you begin to justify larger and larger violations on the same grounds.

    I’ll probably be branded a ‘liberty cultist’ for this post (as I have been before on this blog), but I’m confident that thinking people can see the point I’m making.

    Read some history, my friend!

    Those who fail to understand history are doomed to make the same dumb-ass mistakes and fall for the same nice-sounding evils over and over again.

    I’m sure vandalism against ‘the bad guys’ sounds like a lot of fun – until somebody blows up YOUR car because it’s not ‘green’ enough, or burns down YOUR house because your electricity usage is too high, or shoots you in the head because you consume too many calories.

    Ted Turner is a nut job, but he’s a well-funded nut job. And there are many more like him. Joe Romm, for example, is a well-funded nut job……

    [JR: Congrats, Ron, you are the first person to be permanently banned from this site.]

  16. Greg N says:

    But Ron, the coal industry is violating people’s property rights.

  17. Ron says:

    In what way Greg? Please splain.

  18. John Hollenberg says:

    > I’m sure vandalism against ‘the bad guys’ sounds like a lot of fun –

    There is nothing in the article to suggest that this was a random act of vandalism. The article states that the protesters “attempted to shut down the Kingsnorth coal-fired power plant, specifically the six were the ones painting the smokestack with “Gordon Bin It” when interrupted by the police.”

    Given the facts presented in the article, it may have been a reasonable step to take in this specific case. Apparently the jury thought so. I don’t see any danger of a jury making the same determination for the other hypothetical cases you presented above, so I don’t think the “slippery slope” is an issue. The rule of law still applies, and in this specific instance, the protesters were not found to have acted unlawfully. I know it is messy to make reasoned determinations in the real world with shades of gray, but that is what juries do every day.

    Calling Joe a “well-funded nut job” certainly violates the terms of use. I assume you would agree that we wouldn’t want to allow you on the “slippery slope” and that your punishment for this violation should be sure and swift.

  19. Earl Killian says:

    Ron, as far as I’m concerned, that plant is violating most people’s property rights. Something needs to be done about that violation. Property rights are not just for big corporations.

  20. Joe says:

    John — Thanks for pointing out Ron’s TOS violation. He is banned for life.

  21. Robert says:

    The key thing about the judgement was that it was trial by jury. Clearly a majority of the 9 men and 3 women making up the jury felt strongly enough about the threat of climate change to return a verdict of not guilty, however tenuous the legal justification.

    My daughter has just received her law degree this summer and opined the judgment to be absurd. Apparently the law exists to protect a person, for example, who breaks into someone’s house to put out a fire. To me this seems like a reasonable parallel to coal fired power station = climate change and the verdict is perfectly justified.

  22. David B. Benson says:

    Robert — I beleive I am completely correct in stating than in English law, as in the USA, criminal trials require a unanimous verdict by the empaneled jury, either ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. In this case it seems that the jury found that the minor vandalism was justified by the warning it delivered. I beleive this now sets a precedent for at least the county and maybe all of England.

    Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney and have never formally studied law.

  23. Ron says:


    How do you plan to save the world if you can’t even keep a curmudgeon like me off your site?

    Terms of use violation? Can you get through one day without violating it yourself?

    You are a hypocrite and a whining wussie Joe. And now a few more people know it :-)

  24. John Hollenberg says:

    Ron, I think you may be undercutting your argument with this juvenile behavior.

  25. Coal contains: URANIUM, ARSENIC, LEAD, MERCURY,
    Antimony, Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Selenium, Barium, Fluorine,
    Silver, Beryllium, Iron, Sulfur, Boron, Titanium, Cadmium,
    Magnesium, Thorium, Calcium, Manganese, Vanadium, Chlorine,
    Aluminum, Chromium, Molybdenum and Zinc. There is so much
    of these elements in coal that cinders and coal smoke are actually
    valuable ores. We should be able to get all the uranium and
    thorium we need to fuel nuclear power plants for centuries by
    using cinders and smoke as ore. Remember that, to get a given
    amount of energy, you need on the order of 100 MILLION
    TIMES as much coal as uranium. That means the coal mine has
    to be 100 million times larger than the uranium mine, not counting
    the recycling of nuclear fuel. We can keep our mountains and
    forests and our health by switching from coal to nuclear power.

    Chinese industrial grade coal is sometimes stolen by
    peasants for cooking. The result is that the whole family
    dies of arsenic poisoning because Chinese industrial grade
    coal contains large amounts of arsenic.

    I have zero financial interest in nuclear power, and I never have
    had a financial interest in nuclear power. My sole motivation in
    writing this is to avoid extinction by H2S gas due to global

  26. Steve says:

    The same moronic approach was taken against Nuclear Power plants 30 years ago. If Greenpeace is the forward thinking organization it would like us all to believe it is those Nukes today would be online today instead of being canceld and we wouldn’t have this global warming issue.

    PS Don’t try this in the USA we have guns and we don’t like terrorists regardless of their cause. You might be right but you’ll be dead right.

  27. shop says:

    We should be able to get all the uranium and
    thorium we need to fuel nuclear power plants for centuries by
    using cinders and smoke as ore. Remember that, to get a given
    amount of energy,