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The GOOD 100: The Kingsnorth Six

Doing Justice to Climate Activism Michael Wolkind is the lawyer who defended the Greenpeace activists for disrupting operations at a British...

Doing Justice to Climate Activism

Michael Wolkind is the lawyer who defended the Greenpeace activists for disrupting operations at a British coal power plant.


In October, 2007, six Greenpeace activists climbed the chimney at the Kingsnorth power station, a coal and oil plant, in Kent, England. The dramatic 650-foot ascent was followed by a frightening rappel down the side to paint a political message.

They did it as a protest against a dirty plant and a shocking government policy to build a second plant at the same site, one which could emit as much carbon dioxide as the world's 30 least polluting countries combined.

They did it knowing that they were bound to be charged with criminal offenses.In September, 2008, their high-profile trial began, with the defendants charged with causing criminal damage, or, as I described it to the jury, "six of the nicest defendants ever to be in a dock and accused of trying to save the planet."

Their defense was to argue their right to cause damage while the world was under threat. Jurors must have been moved as they were shown how flooding could affect their own towns, their own homes.

I had to acknowledge that a vociferous minority continued to deny the evidence for climate change, so I "flirted" with a juror wearing a Frank Zappa T-shirt by quoting the brilliant musician: "Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe."

Our jury was not stupid.

The statutory defense I adapted relied on the idea of emergency trespass and incidental damage, such as when you break down a neighbor's fence to extinguish a fire in their garden.

I asked the jury to accept that "the defendants acted to put out the coal fire and save the Earth because so much is in danger and immediate action is called for. Not tomorrow, but now."

The jury accepted the Greenpeace position that "every ton of carbon dioxide burnt makes a difference; it makes an immediate contribution to the quantity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and a long-term, irreversible contribution to the greenhouse effect."

The "establishment" may have expected easy convictions at trial. The actions of the Kingsnorth Six, and their acquittal, have brought comfort to activists and encouraged them to stand by their own convictions.

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