On the one hand the new Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Amber Rudd, appears committed to stopping the spread of onshore wind farms; this despite the fact that they are already the most important and cost effective source of renewable energy in the UK, and enjoy the support of two thirds of the population; and on the other, she is determined to push forward fracking in line with David Cameron’s promise to ‘go all out’ for unconventional gas.
The interesting thing here is that communities are promised some kind of veto on wind farm schemes, but clearly not on the appearance of fracking rigs and their associated infrastructure, even though recent polls show that public opposition to fracking outweighs support.
So far so obvious. The British state belongs to Big Oil (amongst other corporate interests). Still, it’s worth having a closer look at the idea of giving communities a veto over developments. There’s an important idea here, and one that has not been missed by the opponents of fracking.
Britain is a signatory to the Aarhus Convention, a multilateral environmental agreement meant to enhance environmental governance, and to increase public participation in order to create an environmentally responsible society. One of the central pillars of this convention is public involvement in the decision-making process. We already have the right under international law to participate in the preservation and extension of environmental justice. I wonder whether Amber Rudd has read the Aarhus Convention.
You can have a look at some details here.
It has to be admitted then that communities should be able to make their voices heard with regard to the spread of onshore wind farms. That’s an important principle. but one which must not be limited to only one sort of development.
One of the most exciting things to come out of the popular opposition to fracking, and a very good reason to think that sometimes confrontation with the powers that be can be radicalising and profoundly transforming for those involved, is the Community Charter developed by Falkirk Against Unconventional Gas in the course of 2013.
You can read it here.
The Community Charter is a claim for control of a territory, and all of the things that that territory means to the people (and other beings) who live in it. It reads like a radically democratic genie, its bottle uncorked, but as yet awaiting to be called forth.
At the heart of this is the idea, none too strange you might think, that local resources should be controlled locally. From this arises a powerful conception of community and ecosystem, and a demand for rights that cuts directly to the contradiction between meaningful democracy and capitalism.
There’s another aspect to this. Control of local resources, generally realised, that is to say through a dramatically changed political system, would rest not only rights to environmental integrity with communities, but responsibilities. I’m sorry to use this formulation, but just because a turn of phrase is employed by weasel politicians doesn’t mean that the principle behind it has no validity. Oh, and I like weasels, so let’s just say politicians.
So, much of the material wealth that many of us currently enjoy, is guaranteed by the extraction of resources from distant lands, the exploitation of unseen workers, and the pollution of places which, for the moment, the lucky ones amongst us do not have to consider. This is an old game. If you’ve ever wondered why the wealthy parts of towns in Britain tend to be towards the west, imagine where our prevailing winds would have blown the smoke of coal fires and industrial smoke stacks when those towns first burst their medieval boundaries.
The flipside of saying no to fracking, or to wind farms for that matter, or to any development, should not be that that energy must be produced elsewhere, or ham factories built on someone else’s doorstep, or zero grazing units for dirt cheap milk put up in another county. A community empowered to defend its own environment should generate the power it needs itself, should farm for itself, should deal with its own waste. That is a formula for citizenship and community responsibility.
The Community Charter developed by Falkirk Against Unconventional Gas is for present and future generations; it talks about resources, livelihoods, community and heritage. None of those things is compatible with corporate power or the continual extraction of resources and wealth from the periphery to enrich the metropolitan elite. This is powerful stuff.
If we take this ball and run with it, we come to the place where democracy, not the thing that poses now under that name, but real democracy, meets ecology.
An ecological society must be radically democratic because that is the only way that local communities, radically conceived and ecologically meaningful, can guarantee environmental justice, and therefore, by the way, social justice, for present and future generations.
If we are to find a way to live on Planet Earth in harmony with the life around us, and with one another, democracy must exist in every community and in every workplace. Only then will decisions be made where they need to be made; to respect those who they affect, and the places influenced by them.
I’m not talking about voting for the likes of Amber Rudd, or anyone, I’m talking about being citizens, about taking decisions directly; that’s democracy.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Mia May 24th, 2015
How are we going to define “local” without becoming territorial?
2Dave Darby May 25th, 2015
Hi Mia. Good question. I suppose it’s a case of trying to obtain our essentials from as near to where we live as possible, and from non-corporate sources. So our energy, our food, our building materials – there are different options, so let’s try to choose the most local and least corporate one. It doesn’t have to involve any claim on territory, I don’t think. For example, community energy groups are fighting to be able to supply their local members with electricity, but the government’s licensing system makes that pretty much impossible. So they have to sell their electricity to the grid (cheap) and buy from energy corporations (expensive). Let’s turn that round, for a start. Another example – if I go into an off-licence for a bottle of wine, I’m not going to buy Australian wine if there’s French wine there. It doesn’t make any sense environmentally, but it doesn’t mean I’m making any claim on French territory – it’s just closer. And it doesn’t mean I have anything against Australian wine – just let Australians drink it.