Coal is the worst climate offender
Hansen's evidence will be crucial in establishing their defence,
since while the defendants accept the damage they caused, they say
they did so to prevent much greater damage to other property and
The trial is in its fifth day. The
six Greenpeace activists are on trial for scaling a smokestack
at Kingsnorth power station in October last year. They have been
charged with causing £30,000 worth of criminal damage for painting
"GORDON" down the chimney. They planned to paint "GORDON - BIN IT",
but they weren't able to because of poor light.
The defendants accept that they caused the damage, but are
arguing that is was lawful for them to damage the chimney in order
to protect other property in Kent (where Kingsnorth is located),
and around the world, said to be at the risk of much more serious
damage from climate change caused to a large degree by coal-fired
Yesterday, Hansen was called to the stand to give evidence.
Hansen has an impressive CV, having spent the last 20 years
studying the Earth's climate. As well as numerous accolades for his
work, he has given evidence to the US Congress and Senate several
times and warned a succession of US Vice-Presidents, including Al
Gore, about the impacts of climate change.
James Hansen in conversation outside Maidstone Crown
He told the 12 jurors at Maidstone Crown Court in Kent that
emissions from the Kingsnorth power station led to damage to
property worldwide, as well as the extinction of species and the
creation of climate change refugees. During his testimony, Hansen
warned that, if the world continues with business-as-usual, our
descendants will be "left with a much more desolate planet and much
less biodiversity". He said that even a two degree rise in
temperature is "a recipe for global disaster" and that the last
time the Earth was more than two degrees warmer than it is now,
there was a 25-metre sea level rise. He pointed out that the UK
bears the most responsibility for historical CO2 emissions in the
atmosphere per person (followed by the US and then Germany) and
that, if the UK carries on with business as usual, it could cause
the extinction of nearly one million species; several hundred of
these species extinctions could be associated directly with
Kingsnorth power station.
It's not too late
During Live Earth, last year, he was invited to go on stage with
Al Gore. He took his grandchildren along. "How many species do we
need to save?", he asked them. "All of them," said his
grand-daughter. "Me too," said his grandson.
"We can't save all of them," Hansen told the Court, "but we can
still save most." But, although "there's just barely still time" we
need an immediate moratorium on the construction of all new
coal-fired power plants (without
CCS) and the phasing out of existing coal plants. And somebody
- whether it's the UK, US or Germany - needs "to stand up".
"Gordon Brown," he said, "should announce a moratorium on all
new coal plants without carbon capture and storage." Speaking to
the Jury, he also agreed with a statement made by former US Vice
President and Nobel Peace Laureate, Al Gore: "I can't understand
why there aren't rings of young people blocking bulldozers and
preventing them from constructing coal-fired power stations".
Just before Hansen's evidence, another defence expert witness,
Dr Geoffrey Meaden (via video link from Brazil), confirmed that the
examples of climate change impacts being cited by the defendants
are 'true circumstances'. "It is overwhelmingly perceived," he
said, "by the defendants, the scientific community and myself" that
we are changing our climate. "There's an increasing urgency," he
said, "for all citizens and governments to take action."
"Within five years," said Dr Meaden, "there could be no summer
ice left in the Arctic...Ironically, the Kingsnorth area itself
will be extremely vulnerable to flooding due to climate change. The
situation is so urgent that unless we act immediately to rapidly
reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by the next century we may have to
abandon up to 20 percent of Kent to the sea... It behoves us to act
Taking a stand
One of our activists, Emily, also took the stand, and introduced
herself and how she'd come to be involved with Greenpeace. Emily
explained that whatever emissions are in the atmosphere now will
have impacts for years to come. When asked why she climbed the
chimney, she said, "I felt very strongly that I wanted to do that."
And, when the pictures of her hanging off the top of Kingsnorth's
smokestack were handed out, at least a couple of jurors gasped.
Another activist, Kevin, was next and introduced himself as a
rope access worker from Wiltshire who had become concerned about
climate change back in the '80s. Kevin's questions focused mostly
on the safety aspects of the direct action. Much of the evidence
presented by the expert witnesses was of a highly complicated
technical nature and the 12 jurors really have a tough job to take
it all in. But, in the end, burning fossil fuels causes climate
change that is wreaking massive damage to the environment, the
economy and human health. It is not too late to bring climate
change under control and avoid the worst impacts.
Somebody needs to take a stand.
Stay updated on this trial
Without donations from individuals like you we can't afford the necessary legal support for our activists. Please give whatever you can.