In collaboration with Coal Action Network and the London Mining Network, Biofuelwatch went to protest against subsidies for Drax’s biomass burning at the new department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). This department was created to take on some of the work of the now axed Department for Energy and Climate Change. We wanted to urge the new department to turn over a new leaf and stop subsidising energy that damages the climate, forests and communities. Drax currently burns wood pellets made from 12 million tonnes of wood each year – more than the UK produces – as well as 6 million tonnes of coal.
About 20 people came to protest outside BEIS and heard speakers including some visitors from coal-affected areas of Colombia and Indonesia. Luz Angela Urania from La Guajira in north eastern Colombia talked about the impacts of coal mining in her community, where coal is taken to be burnt at Drax. She told us that her area has high levels of infant mortality caused by pollution, water shortages, poverty and malnutrition, and that ‘the area is rich in coal, but it is very poor’. Ruth from Fuel Poverty Action spoke about the insanity of an economic system that creates jobs that make the 1% richer while destroying ecosystems and making the rest of us poorer. Ruth suggested that ‘keeping the lights on’ is a red herring when we could instead be subsidising home insulation (thus requiring less power in the first place) and the work of caring for each other and regenerating land that has been damaged by deforestation and mining. Richard Solly from the London Mining Network spoke about the connections between the mining industry and pension funds, and our responsibility as ‘the unwitting beneficiaries of economic imperialism’ to end the destruction caused by extractive industries.
Protesters handed gigantic cheques to a ‘Draxosaurus’ and to walking cooling towers, representing the £1.3 million a day Drax gets in subsidies from the UK government for burning biomass from biodiverse forests from the southern US. We finished the protest by delivering a petition signed by 145,000 people to BEIS, calling for an end to subsidies for biomass at Drax.
Then on October 22 in Yorkshire, about 60 people gathered at Drax power station itself. Drax was the site of the world’s first climate camp ten years ago, and we wanted to commemorate its impact on local and global climate activism in the intervening decade. Drax remains the UK’s largest coal burner and the world’s largest user of biomass, so it is as fitting a place as ever for a protest against all that is wrong with government policy in relation to climate change.
There were a range of speakers and performers, reflecting on the ongoing problem of Drax and its subsidies as well as the array of climate problems we are currently facing and the variety of activist activities that occur in response. Scarlet from the Coal Action Network delivered her extremely powerful performance about coal-affected areas of Colombia in front of Drax’s cooling towers. As well as talking about Drax’s use of coal and biomass, there were speakers on a variety of other extreme energy related topics that affect us today, such as opencast coal mining in Northumberland, fracking in Yorkshire and the renewed threat of more nuclear power in the UK.
Local councillor Andy Hines talked about the problems of having Drax as a neighbour, and others talked about having participated in the 2006 Climate Camp before going on to organise more audacious climate actions.
There was a greenwash brigade who kept everybody active with some chanting. Veggies provided food and tea which kept morale up.
Before it got dark and we packed up, Sophie from the Beehive Collective talked about the collective’s amazing ‘True Cost of Coal‘ banner, which tells the story of forest destruction, mountaintop removal mining, coal workers’ struggles, false solutions and community efforts towards creating a more sustainable future.
It was cold and rainy at times, but well worth doing to remind Drax that we will not go away until the power station is shut down and replaced by something genuinely sustainable.