An Open Letter to the St Paul’s Protesters

What is the significance so far of "Occupy LSX"?

Dear protesters,

I will be sorry to see you go. I work in the City of London, and I have walked past your tents most days since you camped in the churchyard of St Paul's Cathedral. Anyone who knows the area around the Cathedral will appreciate that you have not been any genuine obstruction. Indeed, one almost has to go out of one's way to be obstructed by you. No one walking from, say, Ludgate Hill, or St Paul's Tube, or from the Millennium Bridge is impeded. Your stay has made no real difference to the coming and goings of the City workers in that part of the City.

But you are now to be evicted. Your removal is inevitable, unless there is some unexpected intervention. The immediate environs of the Cathedral will return to their boring relative emptiness. The Cathedral itself will revert to its role as offering a peaceful and reflective place for tourists to be financially exploited for visiting what is sometimes a place of worship. The Dean and Chapter can again maximise their revenues without any worry of the protesters outside.

The bailiffs and the police may now come at any time, probably within the next few days. The City Of London's press officer refused to tell me exactly when. Will it be later today, I asked, but he said he would not speculate. So have the bailiffs already been, I then asked mischievously, and he still would not speculate. All one knows is that you have to remove your camp in a reasonable amount of time.

If the City is going to be sensible in the eviction operation, it should evict you during daylight. That makes it safer for everyone. And they should do it when there are few commuters, office workers, and tourists about; again, to minimise risk to third parties. For these reasons, I suspect eviction will probably be at the weekend. And coming in at dawn will perhaps mean few will be prepared to argue back or obstruct: sleepy-heads are relatively easy to evict.

On the other hand, the City may like the drama of a night-time eviction, or the media coverage of a week-day eviction, regardless of the safety of those who may be caught up. However, no one really knows.

Should you resist? Well, it is a decision for each of you. There is no genuine prospect of you defeating the coercive force which may be used against you. Your resistance, as they say, would be futile. And it would be a pity if there was any confrontation; the "Occupy" movement is about engagement, not violence. Marching off together at an time of your own choosing, with a brass band or something similar, would be a more fitting conclusion to your stay in the churchyard. And this is because you do have something to celebrate.

I understand you did not intend to camp outside the Cathedral. The target of the occupation was originally elsewhere in the City. But by choosing the Cathedral as a second or third resort, you unintentionally created a remarkable circumstance. Within days most of the cathedral clergy were shown up as buffoons, closing this great building on dramatic but spurious health and safety grounds before sheepishly re-opening. The undemocratic and opaque Corporation were forced to a decision to evict you in a bizarre closed session, demonstrating their contempt for transparency. Just by staying put you shoved those in power into uncomfortable and telling predicaments. It was refreshing to see how things were thrown into the air.

And you have been decent and polite throughout your stay. The camp has applied health and safety measures which show a genuine care for yourselves and those who could be affected by you. There has been sincere and often constructive engagement on various issues with bankers, lawyers and other City workers. You have been a standing reminder that the force of capitalism may not be what its champions say it is. In my opinion, you have been a useful if colourful corrective to the arrogance and financial vandalism of many who work in the Square Mile.

Nonetheless, you failed to convince the High Court and the Court of Appeal that your camp should stay in breach of the laws of the highway and of planning. That was unfortunate, as it was possibly open to the judges to say that a significant and influential protest like yours was just the sort of thing that Article 10 of the ECHR is there to protect against the indifferent enforcement of statute law. However, your arguments were presented and heard, even the contentions that smacked of complete legal woo-woo ("heirs of Magna Carta") were considered. But you lost. Of course, you may wish now to be civilly disobedient and take on the bailiffs. As long as you realise the consequences, it is a course you may like to take; but remember the Rule of Law is precarious and a valuable public good, for without it the powerful can abuse the power which they have, and you do not.

So the camp will soon disappear, but the ideals of "Occupy" will perhaps linger in the City of London. You have shown that anti-capitalistic and other progressive protests do not have to be one-day wonders with violent disorder and breathless commentary, but that they can be patient and respectful even in the face of those which you say are destroying our society and our planet. For a short while, you were even the "Shock of the New", causing some well-paid managers to make the first difficult decisions of their careers.

Your immediate shock value has now gone. It would be nice if you could stay a while longer as a reminder that capitalism gets things badly wrong. But the great achievement of "Occupy LSX" was never the physical camp. It was the realisation that those in power can be wrong-footed, and that their bullshit can be exposed, by those who are serious and thoughtful about promoting a better world. This can be done anywhere, and not just in a churchyard of a Cathedral.

David Allen Green is a City lawyer as well as legal correspondent of the New Statesman

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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North Yorkshire has approved the UK’s first fracking tests in five years. What does this mean?

Is fracking the answer to the UK's energy future? Or a serious risk to the environment?

Shale gas operation has been approved in North Yorkshire, the first since a ban introduced after two minor earthquakes in 2011 were shown to be caused by fracking in the area. On Tuesday night, after two days of heated debate, North Yorkshire councillors finally granted an application to frack in the North York Moors National Park.

The vote by the Tory-dominated council was passed by seven votes to four, and sets an important precedent for the scores of other applications still awaiting decision across the country. It also gives a much-needed boost to David Cameron’s 2014 promise to “go all out for shale”. But with regional authorities pitted against local communities, and national government in dispute with global NGOs, what is the wider verdict on the industry?

What is fracking?

Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, is the extraction of shale gas from deep underground. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into the earth at such high pressure that it literally fractures the rocks and releases the gas trapped inside.

Opponents claim that the side effects include earthquakes, polluted ground water, and noise and traffic pollution. The image the industry would least like you to associate with the process is this clip of a man setting fire to a running tap, from the 2010 US documentary Gasland

Advocates dispute the above criticisms, and instead argue that shale gas extraction will create jobs, help the UK transition to a carbon-neutral world, reduce reliance on imports and boost tax revenues.

So do these claims stands up? Let’s take each in turn...

Will it create jobs? Yes, but mostly in the short-term.

Industry experts imply that job creation in the UK could reflect that seen in the US, while the medium-sized production company Cuadrilla claims that shale gas production would create 1,700 jobs in Lancashire alone.

But claims about employment may be exaggerated. A US study overseen by Penn State University showed that only one in seven of the jobs projected in an industry forecast actually materialised. In the UK, a Friends of the Earth report contends that the majority of jobs to be created by fracking in Lancashire would only be short-term – with under 200 surviving the initial construction burst.

Environmentalists, in contrast, point to evidence that green energy creates more jobs than similar-sized fossil fuel investments.  And it’s not just climate campaigners who don’t buy the employment promise. Trade union members also have their doubts. Ian Gallagher, Secretary of Blackburn and District Trade Unions Council, told Friends of the Earth that: “Investment in the areas identified by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign [...] is a far more certain way of addressing both climate change and economic growth than drilling for shale gas.”

Will it deliver cleaner energy? Not as completely as renewables would.

America’s “shale revolution” has been credited with reversing the country’s reliance on dirty coal and helping them lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction. Thanks to the relatively low carbon dioxide content of natural gas (emitting half the amount of coal to generate the same amount of electricity), fracking helped the US reduce its annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 556 million metric tons between 2007 and 2014. Banning it, advocates argue, would “immediately increase the use of coal”.

Yet a new report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (previously known for its opposition to wind farm applications), has laid out a number of ways that the UK government can meet its target of 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 without necessarily introducing fracking and without harming the natural world. Renewable, home-produced, energy, they argue, could in theory cover the UK’s energy needs three times over. They’ve even included some handy maps:


Map of UK land available for renewable technologies. Source: RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision.

Will it deliver secure energy? Yes, up to a point.

For energy to be “sustainable” it also has to be secure; it has to be available on demand and not threatened by international upheaval. Gas-fired “peaking” plants can be used to even-out input into the electricity grid when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind is not so blowy. The government thus claims that natural gas is an essential part of the UK’s future “energy mix”, which, if produced domestically through fracking, will also free us from reliance on imports tarnished by volatile Russian politics.

But, time is running out. Recent analysis by Carbon Brief suggests that we only have five years left of current CO2 emission levels before we blow the carbon budget and risk breaching the climate’s crucial 1.5°C tipping point. Whichever energy choices we make now need to starting brining down the carbon over-spend immediately.

Will it help stablise the wider economy? Yes, but not forever.

With so many “Yes, buts...” in the above list, you might wonder why the government is still pressing so hard for fracking’s expansion? Part of the answer may lie in their vested interest in supporting the wider industry.

Tax revenues from UK oil and gas generate a large portion of the government’s income. In 2013-14, the revenue from license fees, petroleum revenue tax, corporation tax and the supplementary charge accounted for nearly £5bn of UK exchequer receipts. The Treasury cannot afford to lose these, as evidenced in the last budget when George Osborne further subsidied North Sea oil operations through increased tax breaks.

The more that the Conservatives support the industry, the more they can tax it. In 2012 DECC said it wanted to “guarantee... every last economic drop of oil and gas is produced for the benefit of the UK”. This sentiment was repeated yesterday by energy minister Andrea Leadsom, when she welcomed the North Yorkshire decision and described fracking as a “fantastic opportunity”.

Dependence on finite domestic fuel reserves, however, is not a long-term economic solution. Not least because they will either run out or force us to exceed international emissions treaties: “Pensions already have enough stranded assets as they are,” says Danielle Pafford from 350.org.

Is it worth it? Most European countries have decided it’s not.

There is currently no commercial shale-gas drilling in Europe. Sustained protests against the industry in Romania, combined with poor exploration results, have already caused energy giant Chevron to pull out of the country. Total has also abandonned explorations in Denmark, Poland is being referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to adequately assess fracking’s impact, and, in Germany, brewers have launched special bottle-caps with the slogan “Nein! Zu Fracking” to warn against the threat to their water supply.

Back in the UK, the government's latest survey of public attitudes to fracking found that 44 per cent neither supported nor opposed the practice, but also that opinion is gradually shifting out of favour. If the government doesn't come up with arguments that hold water soon, it seems likely that the UK's fracking future could still be blasted apart.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.