Blockades, shutdowns, lock-ons, love-ins, tripods and nanas…..Reclaim the Power’s day of action against the fossil fuel industry today (1 June 2015) saw 18 different actions drawing the dots between big energy firms, government ministers, public relations companies, oil arts sponsorship and the fracking industry.
Let’s take a run-down of the day’s events…
We’ve all had the threatening letters from energy companies demanding payment for bills we can’t afford – and today we hit back. Reclaim the Power groups visited RWE Npower’s offices in Leeds and blockaded the front doors. Many households are forced onto pre-payment meters which are more expensive than direct debit accounts.
Action 2: 9.08am – Delegates at World Coal Association conference locked out of Institute of Directors
The coal industry are trying to continue burning fossil fuels by dangling the promise of Carbon-Capture-and-Storage technology. Conference delegates at a World Coal Assocation event found all five entrances to the exclusive Institute of Directors blocked this morning. There no arrests but lots of marigolds.
Cheeky protesters highlighted the continued fossil fuel bias within the Department for Energy and Climate Change by blockading its steps. Rowan Tilly explained, “Against the advice of their own Committee on Climate Change, the government has approved the construction of up to 30 new gas-fired power stations, and intends to go ‘all out’ for shale gas – with up to two thirds of the UK licensed for fracking. This new dash for gas is recklessly at odds with our national and international obligations on climate change and must be resisted, for both the sake of ourselves and future generations.
“We are now finding ourselves at a stage where we don’t know where government ends and corporations begin and unless we act now we will soon find ourselves be locked into infrastructure which will burn carbon for years to come whilst killing off renewable energy, with political decisions ruled by profit and acting in ignorance of the blatant dangers of climate change. We simply can’t afford to let this happen.”
Continuing this theme, Reclaim the Power activists visited the offices of Invesco – the investment management company which owns 26% of Drax coal-fired power station in Yorkshire. New DECC minister Andrea Leadsom worked at Invesco for 10 years before taking up her post in government. The revolving doors were literally blocked and banner dropped above the London Wall road.
Public relations firm ‘Media Zoo’ represent chemicals giant Ineos – who have recently pledged £640 million investment in fracking. Eight activists occupied their offices in Imperial Wharf, London carrying a banner banner reading, ‘Fracking is Shit. You can’t polish a turd.’ They used arm tubes lock ons to stay put. Seven people were arrested around lunch time.
Mediazoo’s website boasts extensive experience of dealing with “industrial disputes”, “fatal accidents” and “child labour”. They are consulting Ineos on PR and media strategy. The CEO of Ineos Upstream Gary Haywood said, “I want Ineos to be the biggest player in the shale gas industry.” Mediazoo were responsible for what UNITE described as Ineos’s “campaign of fear” during the dispute at Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland when 1400 workers fought cuts to pay, jobs and pensions.
As well as representing RWE Npower, public relations firm Camargue also spin the work of Horizon Nuclear Energy. 12 protesters targeted the firm’s offices in Soho. Clare Jones said, “The public has a right to be informed about the real dangers of nuclear – from cancer to contamination to climate change. For the cost of building one nuclear power station you could build over 1000 offshore wind turbines.”
Action 7: 10.25am – Energy UK lobby group blockaded
Energy UK is the trade body for the Big Six energy companies. They have lobbied the government to introduce the ‘Capacity Market’ into the recent Energy Act (2014) – which uses public money to subsidise new gas power stations. Three people blockaded the entrance, including two in an arm tube lock on. There were two arrests.
Action 8: 10.30am – Big Six Love-in at Oxfordshire Conservative Party headquarters
Activists staged a ‘love-in’ (a blockade in a bed) outside David Cameron’s constituency office in Witney, to illustrate the Big 6 energy companies’ close relationship with the current British government. Ms Stacey from Reclaim the Power said: ‘The new Tory government are in bed with the fossil fuel industry. This continued cosying up with the ‘Big 6’ energy companies has got to stop. Corporations are raking in the profits from dirty energy, whilst Britain’s most vulnerable citizens are dying from fuel poverty, unable to heat and power their homes. Cameron claims to be a supporter of clean energy but his actions speak otherwise. If his government continue their support of the Big 6, they are putting the world on a fast track for destructive and irreversible climate change. People all over the world are building community-led renewable solutions to replace fossil fuels and its about time we got with the programme.’
Action 9: 10.55am – RWE Npower headquarters in Swindon blockaded
Reclaim the Power activists occupied the roof of RWE Npower HQ in Swindon, as well as maintaining a carnivalesque presence outside the building, to highlight Npower’s role in the fuel poverty crisis and their impact on fossil fuels for generations to come.
RWE is one of the Big 6 energy companies. In the last three years they made nearly 800 million pounds in profit whilst paying no corporation tax.They also lobby the UK government to extend the life of of dirty power stations and yet they’ve been chosen to help represent the UK government in EU decision making on reducing carbon emissions.
Joline, one of the group, said: “I am doing this in solidarity with our friends in Germany, occupying and defending the last precious corner of the 5,500 hectares of the Hanbacher forest from the open cast mine owned by Npower.”
Action 10: All morning – Subvertising in Oxford
Activists dressed as shivering grannies hand delivered to British Gas Headquarters a “Bill” demanding payment for the funeral costs of the 15,000 people who died last year from cold-related illnesses from fuel poverty.
Ruth London, a pensioner who joined the protest from Fuel Poverty Action said: “It is a scandal that thousands die of cold in one of the richest countries in the world. British Gas, which profits from the policies causing many of these deaths, bears a heavy responsibility. Before the election they and other big six companies claimed they could not drop prices in line with plummeting wholesale costs because of Labour’s proposed price freeze. Their excuse is now off the agenda. When will our bills come down?”
Action 12: 12.11pm – Lancashire Nanas link fracking and gas-fire power stations at Didcot B
Anti-fracking ‘Nanas’ from Lancashire – who hosted last year’s Reclaim the Power camp in Blackpool – visited the gates of Didcot B gas-fired power station – joining the dots between the government’s push for fracking and the proposed construction of up to 30 new gas-fired power stations. The Nanas were accompanied by a 14-foot high ‘Cuadzilla’ fossil fuel dinosaur puppet.
Major polluters also maintain their ‘social licence to operate’ through sponsorship of cultural institutions and academic institutions.To highlight this, 30 people staged a surprise protest performance in the room containing Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ in the National Gallery, criticising the Gallery’s proposed privatisation plans and its controversial funding relationship with the oil company Shell.
The performance began with two “Shell executives” giving a speech to surprised gallery visitors, explaining how happy they were to be using arts sponsorship to distract attention from Shell’s destructive extraction activities and contribution to climate change. The fake executives explained how “with this sponsorship the public will associate us more with art than Arctic drilling”. They also praised the Gallery’s plans to outsource up to two-thirds of its staff, calling it “a real commitment to privatisation; we fully support this attack on workers’ rights.”
Thirty more protesters then launched into a series of noisy chants and songs calling on the Gallery to end their relationship with Shell and halt the privatisation. They unfurled banners reading “Art for People not Profit” and “Kick Out Shell, Bring Back Candy”. This second banner refers to sacked PCS union rep Candy Udwin, who was unfairly dismissed from her job at the Gallery after raising concerns about the cost of the privatisation plans. PCS union members at the National Gallery are currently on strike over the outsourcing proposal, and are calling for Candy’s reinstatement.
The protesters were eventually removed by private security guards, as many of the Gallery’s own security staff are participating in the strike. Outside the gallery, the fake Shell employees unveiled a “new improved” version of Van Gogh’s sunflower painting, with several of the flowers replaced by oily Shell logos.
Action 14: 1.00pm – Avonmouth Biofuel plant invaded
In Avonmouth near Bristol, activists occupied a site belonging to Boomeco, one of several companies in the area chipping used wood for fuel. This controversial practice has been the subject of a legal case by residents who believe that the wood dust it generates has increased respiratory and other health problems in the area. It is also highly contested by sustainability groups. Local charity and green business the Bristol Wood Recycling Project explains that 25 percent of ‘waste’ streams supplying such businesses are viable for reuse and should not be regarded as fuel.
Boomeco, which is facing legal action over a fly infestation in the area last year, is set to double the scale of operations in the area to supply the contested Balfour Beatty/Nexterra plant should construction go ahead.
Claire Taylor explained:
“Big biofuel projects simply aren’t sustainable. Yet the Tory government continues to subsidise such businesses. We’re suffering cuts to public services and genuinely renewable energy systems, while the real scroungers in the business sector are given a hand out for making things worse. It’s got to stop.”
Joe Williams added:
“We’ve come from the Reclaim the Power camp today because the fighting spirit of Avonmouth is something people across the country should know about – a community that takes to the streets when local pollution becomes unbearable and which forced a planning enquiry into yet another incineration project in the area. The scrapping of plans for the giant Helius biomass plant at Avonmouth shows that finance is key to such projects, even when they have been granted planning permission.”
At around 12:30pm a group of activists erected a 30 foot tripod outside the front of City Hall and superglued themselves to the front of the building, in response to Boris Johnson’s recent dismissal of the Divest London and London Assembly call to divest their £4.8bn pension fund from oil, coal and gas and his supportive stance on fracking and shale gas extraction. Johnson recently argued that “we should leave no stone unturned, or unfracked, in the cause of keeping the lights on.”
Action 16: 1.41pm – Edelman PR firm deliver first fracked baby (trigger warning)
Edelman PR company, a long-term target of climate protests, was also visited by anti-fracking activists who produced a disturbing video drawing attention to the company’s representation of the ‘independent’ Taskforce on Shale as well as highlighting previous astro-turfing activities to engineer grassroots consent.
Action 17: 2.00pm – Blockade of Cuadrilla offices in Lichfield (again!)
In what is becoming a tradition for Reclaim the Power, the Lichfield offices of major fracking firm Cuadrilla were also blockaded in the afternoon – complementing similar office occupations in 2013 and 2014.
Imperial College London accepts millions of pounds from the fossil fuel industry, more than any other university in the UK, in order to fund research projects.
Around 10 people entered the college in the afternoon. Some proceeded to act out the invisible relationship held between big businesses like Shell and BP and the University department whilst others opened up banners and took to the front stairs to inform passers by. Lots of passing students engaged positively with the group, and discussed concerns about their university’s links with the fossil fuel industry. The university has a student-run divestment campaign working to prevent the university profiting from investments in the fossil fuel industry.
Sarah of Reclaim the Power said “we hope that this action will reveal the corrupt nature between academia and climate destroying fossil fuel companies. We want to see a renewable future which is fairer for people and the planet.”