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Direct action works, it’s why climate protesters are targeted by the Tories

The new Public Order Bill aims to criminalise our right to protest. It’s not too late to stop it.

26 May

Insulate Britain. Just Stop Oil. Extinction Rebellion. Stop Cambo. Tyre Extinguishers. It’s likely you’ve heard the name of at least one of these climate groups. Why? Because of their direct action.

In the past few years, British climate protesters have been doing everything from glueing themselves to motorways to staging protests at high-publicity events, in order to raise the public’s awareness of the climate crisis and campaign for the government to take urgent action. And it has worked. Following disruptive protests, the UK government was forced to declare a climate emergency and commit to net-zero by 2050, multiple fossil fuel projects have been rejected or indefinitely paused and the need to insulate our homes has become a mainstream topic of conversation. Also, fossil fuel companies regularly see their stocks crash when direct action is taken against them as well as resignations from senior staff.

However, this hard-fought-for progress is now entirely under threat. In the midst of a cost of living crisis made worse by spiralling energy costs, the UK government is looking to criminalise direct action resisting the violence inflicted by the fossil fuel sector. After many of the draconian amendments of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act were removed by the House of Lords in January, the Tories are simply trying to bring them back in the new Public Order Bill.

“Though this proposed bill will affect all of us, one group seems a particular target – climate activists”

This new Bill includes increased stop and search powers; long prison sentences for people who use ‘lock-on’ equipment or intend to lock on for the purpose of obstructing transport routes and interfering with ‘key infrastructure’; and “Serious Disruption Prevention Orders” which encourage increased police surveillance of protesters, such as making them wear an ‘electronic tag’. 

Though this proposed bill will affect all of us, one group seems a particular target – climate activists. As well as blocking people from interfering with road transport (such as motorways), rail, air transport or harbours, the ‘key infrastructure’ the government is so keen on protecting includes downstream (refining) of crude oil, downstream (processing and purification) of natural gas, onshore oil and gas exploration and production, onshore electricity generation and newspaper printing infrastructure (previously targeted by Extinction Rebellion activists).

“The Tories are protecting the profits of the same Big Oil companies who give the party millions of pounds in donations”

The inclusion of the fossil fuel industry as “key infrastructure” makes it clear that the Tories are protecting the profits of the same Big Oil companies giving the party millions of pounds in donations. And their loyalty is unwavering, seeing as in the face of astronomical energy costs, the UK government has given billions of pounds in public money and tax breaks to the same fossil fuel companies boasting record profits. Without drastic resistance from activists and the wider public, all of this is will get worse, especially when our rights to protest are under threat. 

This new legislation points directly to recent successful campaigns that have delayed or completely prevented the government or their big industry pals from making the climate and ecological crisis even worse. 

Last year, I was involved in the #StopCambo campaign. A group of us came together to strategically resist this massive oil field set to be approved in the North Sea, mere months before the UK government were hosting COP26 in Glasgow. We used a bunch of different strategic actions: a solid mainstream media campaign, social media, working with and putting pressure on MPs, petitions and many different forms of nonviolent direct action. We occupied the UK government building in Edinburgh at the start of the campaign, Fossil Free London staged multiple disruptive actions at Shell’s HQ, Greenpeace activists used kayaks to physically block boats from leaving to begin extraction at the field and in Glasgow during COP26 many actions were also taken. 

This all worked to delay extraction and approval of the field and keep #StopCambo as a key criticism of the UK government. In less than six months, Shell had dropped out of developing the field and the other investor – Siccar Point Energy – was forced to indefinitely pause the project. This was heralded as a “death knell” for big North Sea oil and gas projects. It wouldn’t have happened without nonviolent direct action (NVDA). Much of which would not have been possible, if the Public Order Bill had existed.

“There’s another way to read this. They’re going to all this trouble because they know that protest works”

As a black climate activist, I’m scared to see more legislation being put in to further criminalise peaceful protest. Part of that fear is for my personal liberty, but mainly it is fear for our collective future. The UK government is currently trying to push through dozens of massive new oil and gas fields, including the Jackdaw gas field which is set to be approved very soon. Every single field approved and extracted puts thousands – if not millions – of lives at risk. 

I truly believe the only way to ensure our collective safety is for a mass movement of resistance. For humanity to survive, extractive industries must be disrupted and stopped. Increased policing, criminalisation and imprisonment will only make this harder. 

Make no mistake, this government knows what it’s doing and is doing it deliberately. The Tories are choosing to sacrifice the most vulnerable people in our society and all our futures for the short-term profits of their donors. And now they’re boldly proposing legislation to make sure there’s nothing we can do to stop them. 

But there’s another way to read this. They’re going to all this trouble because they know that protest works. They know how much power we have when we take action together. So why not begin by taking a stance against this bill?

How you can act

Reach out to and support these groups taking action against it: 

Learn more about the movement for prison abolition in the UK: 

Resist new fossil fuel projects in the UK: