Good news from the U.K.: 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.

Written testimony [PDF] 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 U.K. government, by the utility EON, by the fossil fuel industry, and by the defendants at the time of their actions in 2007:

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  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • Recognized responsibilities: The U.K. 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 U.K. plans to continue to rely on coal-fired power.
  • Recognized impacts of climate change: The U.K. government, EON, and the fossil fuel industry were aware of the likely impacts of continuation of coal emissions, specifically impacts on future sea levels, 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.
  • 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.