Climate camp double agent: money well spent?

Apparently it cost £2.25m to fund Mark Kennedy’s undercover exploits. Was it really worth it?

Apparently, PC Mark Kennedy's infiltration of the green protest movement, which culminated in the policeman's unmasking by the campaigners who had thought of him as their friend for the best part of the past decade, cost an estimated £2.25m.

This seems like a lot. Even taking into account the fact that he seems to have won the affection of the protesters by bankrolling some of their activities (the way to impress green campaigners, apparently, is to have your own set of wheels) it's hard to imagine how he had to spend this much. Presumably he was just the kind of guy that can't say no.

Eventually he switched sides and declined to give evidence in the trial of the six protesters charged with conspiring to shut down the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station in 2009.

Anxious to be sure that as much money as possible was well and truly wasted – as well as the last nine years of his life – he waited until after the trial had already racked up costs of £400,000 before doing so. That way he made sure that his name was definitively erased from the good books of both parties.

If a gaggle of mild-mannered green campaigners were worth spending £2.25m on, you can only assume that the Met has a snoop in every protest organisation in the country. That Father 4 Justice dressed up as a paunchy batman? Mole. He's probably not even a real dad.

At this very moment, the shadowy top brass of the Taxpayers' Alliance are looking at one another in their volcano lair, trying to figure out whether Kevin who does the accounts really hates regulation as much as he says he does. He talks like a sound free-marketeer, sure, but how can you know for certain? It could just be a ploy. He could be a cop – who doesn't even care about taxes all that much.

Caroline Lucas supported direct action on climate change – does this mean that there are moles in the Green Party?

Anyway, I digress. The important things are: a) how on earth can pretending to be an eco-campaigner justify annual expenses of a quarter of a million quid, and b) what other useful things could the Met be spending all that money on?

Useful things the police could have spent all that money on

  • Employing 50 actual policemen (ie, those not on extended Smoking Dope and Messing About leave) for a year.
  • 2,812 shiny new Tasers – why spend so much money investigating suspicious crusties when you can just keep them on the straight and narrow with the occasional paralysing zap?
  • Setting up two new five-horse mounted units and maintaining them for three years. Police horses are pretty and everyone can enjoy patting their glossy noses and/or running in blind panic as they charge in terrifying unison. A much better use of public money.
  • Keeping a police helicopter in the air for 4,500 hours. Think about all that invaluable surveillance time going to waste! (Incidentally, 4,500 hours is almost as much time as PC Mark Kennedy spent chilling out with a doobie and a nifty hat in nine years of sterling police work.)
  • 30 police dogs for 10 years. The number of police dogs was cut two years ago. The credit crisis was blamed at the time, but that's only because giving the real reason – a chronic drain on funds caused by maintaining the offbeat lifestyles of undercover agents – would have risked blowing Mark Kennedy's cover.
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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