Drax The Destroyer

It is difficult to overstate the case with climate change. There is no bigger issue. Calm and informed voices – even David Attenborough’s – are saying it is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. Indeed, it could even be the last.

Next month, the Camp for Climate Action plans to kickstart a campaign of radical protest on climate change with direct action against Drax power station (which, hilariously and aptly, has a namesake in Marvel Comics’ Drax The Destroyer).

Drax produces over 20 million tonnes of CO2 a year. There are more than 100 countries that produce less.

Knowing there is no way they can defend their position positively, Drax try to downplay it. They say they ‘take our environmental responsibilities very seriously’, explaining how they are a clean and efficient coal-burner.

Coal generates far more CO2 per unit of electricity than any other fuel; proudly being the least polluting coal power station is like proudly being the least murderous serial killer. This might sound like overstating the case, but as climate change extends deserts, submerges or dries up fertile lands and provides new opportunities for epidemics, wilful climate change is indeed akin to mass murder.

Drax burns 13 million tons of coal a year. There’s nothing ‘clean’ about that. Burning coal has no place in a society that wants to avoid catastrophic climate change.

They trumpet their mixing coal with biomass fuels to cut down on their emissions. What they don’t mention is that their use of biofuels peaked at a mere 2.5%. Despite saying Drax uses biomass as part of ‘continually looking for ways to improve its business and environmental performance’, in March 2006 they slashed their biomass use by 90%. So it’s now 99.75% coal. Cutting your green fuel in favour of the most CO2-intensive is not improving your environmental perfomance.

More to the point, there isn’t enough land to replace coal with biofuels. As oil and gas become more expensive, so the agri-chemicals they provide become uneconomical for many farmers. This decreases the yields whilst the global population rises.

Furthermore, climate change is already affecting irrigation for farmland, and this is set to get far worse. If we are to feed everyone then we can’t afford to set aside vast areas for plants for electricity on the scale Western society currently requires. We’re already losing tropical forests to plantations for supposedly green biofuels. That has to stop. Rather than seeking such inequitable and seemingly impossible solutions, we need to reduce consumption and stop burning fossil fuels.

Drax coo their concern for climate change. Yet they are taking legal action against the European Union to get an increase in their already massive emissions allowances. This, also, is not the action of people who want to decrease emissions.

Responding to the Camp for Climate Action’s plans, Drax said they ‘share the objectives of these people,’ which is odd, given that the protesters want to see Drax shut down; if the spokeperson did share the objectives they wouldn’t have been at work to give the statement. They went on to say that as the protesters share the same objectives, Drax ‘would like their help in getting government changes to help us’ before they act.

It’s absurd to say ‘we know we shouldn’t do this thing, but we will continue to do it until someone forces us not to’. As a FTSE100 company, Drax could easily afford to invest in cleaner technology without waiting for a new regulatory framework, if such technology existed. The fact that they don’t shows their claims to responsibility are spin and lies.

The Yorkshire Post has come out against the Camp for Climate Action and in favour of Drax as they are a major local employer. Yet more people would be employed implementing sustainable energy and energy efficiency measures that could reduce our demand by more than Drax generates. Jobs that result in mass extinction and the deaths of millions are jobs that should end today.

Drax say that ‘We need a diverse mix of power sources’. Coal is already the largest source of electricity (around half). Increasing the largest source is not about increasing diversity but reducing it. We do indeed need a diverse mix of power sources. But all of them sustainable, most of them decentralised, and none of them fossil fuels that threaten the continuation of life on this planet.

Put bluntly, we need a future without places like Drax if we are to have any future at all.

  1. Peter Clay said:

    Jobs that result in mass extinction and the deaths of millions

    It’s this kind of exaggeration that makes it difficult to take this protest seriously. Yes there is anthropogenic global warming, but that doesn’t mean that people are going to sit still while the sea rises around them. Moreover, Drax is only a drop in the ocean, and new coal-fired power stations are coming online in China regularly.

    What’s your preferred technical solution for baseline power?

  2. ‘millions of deaths’ is no exaggeration. doesn’t mean that people are going to drown in rising sea levels. Christian Aid is predicting 184 million people in Africa alone. Do you take them seriously? http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4771399.stm
    What about the government’s chief scientific advisor David King? He’s used the m word too! http://politics.guardian.co.uk/green/story/0,,1754436,00.html

    Climate change doesn’t just mean temeratures rising – it means the climate is changing – the clue is in the name. if there is drastic change to thecliamte – which is predicted, then our ability to sustain life is threatened. How can we grow food in the mediterranean region if land that becomes desert? How can we survive in the UK if the gulf stream reverses and tempoeratures becme siberian? How can native plant that have evolved to suit the current climate adapt to drastic changes? If diseases such as malaria spread across the globe.

    In Bangladesh I’m sure people aren’t planning to sit still while the sea levels rise around them but so many people are too poor to prepare for the effects of climate change and the extreme weather events that it will bring. Heck even the richest country in the world was utterly incapable of an effective response. Just look at Hurricaine Katrina.

    And once land is lost to rising sea levels where do you propose these people go? This isn’t just a threat elsewhere – the whole area where Drax is located will be one of the first to go (along wiht the fen country) when (not if) sea levels rise.

    So take the protest seriously.

    The camp is a place for information sharing and disccussion. If you are concerned and want to know what an equitable, sustainable and positive solution to climate change might actually look like in practice, then there is no better place for you to go.

  3. Merrick said:

    Mass extinction is an exaggeration?

    According to a study in Nature, ’15–37% of a sample of 1,103 land plants and animals would eventually become extinct as a result of climate changes expected by 2050′.

    1,103 isn’t much of a percentage of total species, but it’s enough to give you a darn good clue, don’t you think?

    The new ‘Global Warming and Extinctions of Endemic Species From Biodiversity Hotspots’ report in Conservation Biology draws similar conclusions.

    “What’s your preferred technical solution for baseline power?”

    A rapid shift away from fossil fuels to renewables, reducing demand in part from efficiency measures, but primarily from not doing so much stuff that demands power in the first place.

    This generation of Westerners and its predecessor are weird blips in the history of humanity. Our grandparents did not consume like us, nor will our grandchildren be able to. Nor can most people on earth today.

    The nettle that’s staying resolutely ungrasped by government and mainstream NGOs is the need to seriously reduce this overconsumption.

    If an action is not sustainable then it is inequitable. Sustainable means using a resource in a manner that does not impinge upon future generations’ ability to use the resource. Clearly, the buring of fossil fuels would hit a crunch point even without climate change. The magnitude and urgency of climate change is making us face it sooner.

    Climate change is already here and will get worse. It’s up to the people of the next 20-50 years or so to decide whether it’ll be severe or catastrophic.

    According to the Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change conference (a UK government sponsored thing this year, expert scientists from around the world in ‘just the facts’ mode), as it stands we have two-thirds odds on climate change shutting down the Gulf Stream.

    As Radical Supergirly says, this would have serious impacts on us; an 8 degree drop for Western Europe seems likely. This would unquestionably mean the extinction of many species.

    If, right now, we introduced a $100/ton carbon tax, ADCC scientists estimate it’d bring that down to a 1 in 4 chance. Still not enough to make us feel comfortable.

    Such an inadequate tax would slap $2bn a year on Drax. See why it’s a target yet?

    Peter, you are dead right that globally speaking Drax is tiny. However, it is the largest single emitter of CO2 in the UK. It is on our doorstep and there for our consumption. It seems a damn good place to start.

    There are indeed coal fired power stations coming on stream at a staggering rate in China. So do we do nothing until we can tackle everything at once?

    If there are people starving in front of you, do you not give food to some because you can’t give it to all?

    We need to do what we can. Any reduction in emissions buys us more time to make the changes needed. This means personal lifestyle changes, but it also means taking a wider social responsibility too.

  4. alxvy said:

    How about if they could switch to clean goal or coal gas production? Correct me if I’m wrong, but this would massively reduce their CO2 release and even help gas supplies.

  5. Claire said:

    The idea of clean coal is a smokescreen.

    The coal industry is pinning its hopes for expansion on so-called ‘clean’ solutions. The primary method under discussion is burying captured carbon dioxide in disused oil wells. This is currently an experimental technology, being tested at three sites worldwide. Putting aside the problem that it is just an experimental technology and that we require action now, there profound issues around carbon sequestration: it is questionable whether carbon dioxide can be securely stored, it isn’t economically viable to capture and transport the CO2 and we would we have to build power stations only in places where storage is possible, there is also a major conflict in the fact that the main interest in this technology coming from the oil and gas industry who intend to use the technology to extract more fossil fuels. Plus it’s only viable in certain parts of the world with access to old oil and gas wells. Three of the biggest producers and consumers of coal – Australia, India, and China – have very few suitable geographical features.

    The second ‘clean’ coal technology is Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) generation technology, which is a far more efficient way of burning coal in the generation process. Certainly in winter, without major investment in peoples homes something is going to have to be burnt to provide heating. Community scale IGCC plant could (if it becomes viable soon enough) provide combined heat and power generation at emission levels that would also meet radical reduction targets. But it’s certainly no panacea for the problem of massively innefficient centralised power system that is rocketing our society towards dangerous climate change.

  6. peter shone said:

    if you don’t want the co2, then switch off your computer. Idiot.

  7. Merrick said:

    Thanks for that considered comment, Peter.

    Leaving aside your presumption that I take my electricity from fossil fuels, your premise seems to be that if we get the benefits of a system we have no right to complain about it presently works.

    Do I also take it that nobody who uses electricity from nuclear power stations has any right to complain about nukes?

    And nobody who participates in an election has any right to complain about the government they get?

    I think we all have a duty to consider ways to improve society, to discuss those ideas and implement the ones that make sense.

    Thanks for your tip. Like many people, I do switch things off and take a variety of other efficiency measures.

    It is perfectly possible for people to consume an amount of power that allows them to use a computer occasionally without the need for continued burning of coal or other fossil fuels.

    I’d be interested to know quite what’s idiotic about that.

  8. DC said:

    You kids and your stories. Don’t you dare camp on my golf course

  9. In full-time employment. said:

    Look, I know that climate change is probably the most serious issue we face BUT if you lay one finger on that power station you will be doing your cause harm. Millions of people rely on that dirty old thing to get on with their daily lives. How do you think the PC you are using now works; how do you think the cars were manufactured to allow you to get to the protest;how did you heat the water to get a wash when you left the house this morning; how do you think the public will react if the electricity supply is interrupted? Drax is a symptom – not the cause.

  10. In full-time employment. said:

    All thos in the silent majority who want to support Drax against direct action got to the draxwonderful blog and post your comments NOW.

    Save Drax from the campaign dogma.

  11. Merrick said:

    IFTE, I fully take your point that Drax is in many ways a symptom; we are the demand for energy that creates it.

    However, as you say, climate change is the most serious issue we face. Burning coal, even in a more efficient coal burner like Drax, has no place in a society that wants to avert catastrophic climate change.

    I’ve already addressed the real issue, that there isn’t a non-fossil fuel source that can supply our hunger.

    Fossil fuels are millions of years of solar energy captured by organisms, then millions of years of compression. It’s a phenomenal amount of stored power. There’s nothing else like it, and even if climate change weren’t looming, there would intevitably be a crunch point where the stuff ran out. (Or, more importantly and sooner, where demand outstrips supply forever and it becomes very expensive indeed).

    The last two generations of Westerners are a peculiar blip in the history of humanity. Most people do not consume like us, and nor could they. Our grandparents did not consume like this, nor will our grandchildren be able to.

    So, the question is raised: do we power down smoothly and fairly, or do we accelerate off the cliff and leave the generations that follow to wallow in the mess we made?

    We have a choice to make, and it’s up to us, now. The science is in and it is very clear. We need to stabilise emissions in the next decade or two.

    Thankyou for repeating Peter Shone’s cheap shot about switching off my PC, which I’ve already responded to.

    Aside of presuming my electricity comes from fossil sources (it doesn’t), you ignore the fact – spelled out to Peter – that it is perfectly possible to generate enough energy to run a PC occasionally without the need for burning coal.

    I suggest you get some elementary understanding of the electricity supply before you comment on how it works. Closing down Drax would not disrupt the electricity supply. All power stations (and many micro genrators) feed into the National Grid.

    And anyway, with some elementary switching off of unused appliances left on standby, we’d reduce our consumption by more than Drax produces. We could close it down forever right now and not miss it. But that would only be the start.

    Those who denied the science now concede it but seek to downplay it; the threat’s not that bad; hydrogen will save us; or scientist will come up with something soon. Anything to avoid the fact that overconsumption has to stop and sharpish if we are to avert catastrophic climate change.

    The best place to start is the worst agents of climate change. That’s coal burning. Amongst them, the best place to start is the biggest emitters. That’s Drax.

  12. In full-time employment. said:

    You present many strong arguments to reduce emmissions but none that justify direct action against a power station.

    Thanks for your comments merrick.

    Good to see that some are willing to engage in dialogue and not irresponsible action.

    I am won over by some of your agruments but I am still not convinced that such direct action is the best answer. We also have to remember the good that Drax does. It’s not as if Drax is generating power just so the environment can suffer. It’s generating power to meet a demand.

    Sure, some of that need is frivolous (see this link: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1843587,00.html) but it is wrong to assume that all the power Drax produces is used for frivolous purposes.

    I don’t think the 100 countries argument stands up. I’m sure we could find 100 countries that are less democratic than the UK but that would not be a sound reason for for making the UK less democratic.

    The only viable alternative in the short term would be to change completely the way we all live our lives within modern economies. The way to win that argument is not by distrupting the good work Drax does. The way to do that is to win the argument.

    The last 2 generations of westerners are a blip in the history of humanity. They are the only example I know of where for two generations a free society has been sustained without catastrophic wars, economic colapse or hardship. This is also the phenomenon which has tolerated demonstrations of your sort without either the society imploding or introiducing oppresive/violant state control of such protest.

    I’m proud to call myself a member of such a “peculiar blip in the history of humanity”.

    Drax is not the cause, it’s a symptom. nay form of victimisation is wrong so don’t victimise Drax.

  13. Man in the middle said:

    As a man in the middle of all this, my wife is there today campaining(Drax Thurs), me at home with kids we live 10 miles from the site….in a village in our cottage with solar heating, power etc…and we see loads of orrible smoke and emissions everyday.
    My brother in law used to deliver cut up CAR and TRUCK tyres for the station to BURN!…how does that sound to you?
    Tyres???? What next????
    Drax needs a big change in it’s running and the country needs to sort out it’s wind, solar and water power for the main Grid.

    We are doing our bit, are you the people who complain about direct action doing yours, do you recycle everything, turn lights off, stop using standby on your tv’s etc? and the list goes on and on.

    And in reply to IFTE…you might be supprised to find that many climate warriors do NOT use cars, they produce their own power, my pc has never been plugged into the mains..or my laptop….or my tv…or my drill…..etc…..I know power was used in the building of these items but with better management all these things can be built with alternitave power.

  14. Tony Harvey said:

    I believe any hope that the problem of climate change can be solved within the existing economic framework of Neo-Liberal Capitalism will prove to be utterly unfounded. To try to put this right without rectifying the clapped out global financial system won’t work and environmentalists doing so will carry on coming up against a brick wall. They need to look at the way this system works and intellectually grow beyond the conditioning that economics and finance can only be understood by economists and financiers. Of course its true that they are doing something very useful in highlighting to the unaware the “elephant standing in the corner” but we’re all locked in to an international economic system that most effectively blocks substantial change. **New Para**
    Let me try to explain. The two main cornerstones of Western economies are usury and speculation. Usury in that the vast majority of money in circulation has been electronically created by the commercial banks, is called by them “credit” and is lent to Governments and individuals for quick profit not for a particular motive of world betterment. No-thing moves when electronic money circulates when you use your debit card, direct debits, cheques etc and when Governments borrow money- all that happens is that the drawer’s account data entry is debited (decremented) and the payee’s is credited, (incremented). So this money can be created at negligible cost to the banks because it is created and exists only as a DATA entry in our electronic bank accounts and is exchanged between them as such only. The stuff in your wallet/purse created by the Royal Mint for the Bank of England (whose revenue DOES accrue to the state) represents a tiny fraction of all the ‘money’ that exists, the vast majority originated as loans mostly created- yes, out of thin air- by the commercial banks under this “fractional reserve banking system”, circulates electronically between banks’ computers and the vast profit (interest) levied on all of us accrues to bankers not Governments. For more information on how this amazing system has evolved (which one could be forgiven for thinking has been deliberately designed with a main aim to enrich private financial elites) in the UK and many, many countries I refer you to the expert writings, monetary reform proposals and how you can protest- at http://www.moneyreformparty.org.uk and http://www.jamesrobertson.com. I think most people fondly imagine that when they press ‘Balance Request’ on the cash machine, the computer figure that comes back represents the amount of notes, coins and/or precious metals their bank holds for them in some vault somewhere! Even pretty low corporation tax is often avoided by the use of foreign tax havens, (At least £20 Billion total in the UK per annum avoided at 2003 figures- War on Want ‘Tax Havens Briefing’- http://www.waronwant.org/?lid=5441). The need for the continuing increase of the assault on the world’s resources substantially stems from the imperative of “economic growth” which is necessary to keep up with the ever spiralling overall interest payments due on the explosion in recent years of different types of loans created by commercial banks and other private interests. I read that this enormous growth in private credit has been allowed to occur with all its wanton increase in the consumption of resources and debt hardship because of outsourcing by corporations of huge amounts of skilled & unskilled jobs to developing countries with cheap labour and minimal regulations under globalisation (“corporate flight”). With the generally decreasing availability therefore of properly paid quality jobs, to make ends meet governments, public services (eg using PFI) and individuals in the richer (developed) nations have all had to be allowed to borrow more and more; Its only this explosion of credit that has been plugging the gap in our economies. I recommend the reading of the website and books by the US professor of economics Ravi Batra who has a lot of hard hitting and extremely interesting things to say on this matter, http://www.ravibatra.com. **New Para**
    I refer to the ‘cornerstone of Speculation’ in that National economies and their populations are utterly dependant on the $2 Trillion or so (equivalent) that changes hands electronically every DAY- untaxed- around the world on the “financial markets” in search of speculative quick profit unrelated to any exchange of real goods or services. Utterly dependant because National Governments create hardly any of the money that is in circulation as I have already explained and they need to compete internationally to keep on attracting this privately created & transmitted globally mobile electronic money which has become the lifeblood of all our economies. Financiers and corporations increasingly trade IN money not WITH money, since deregulation in the 1980s- eg Removal of foreign capital exchange controls (and credit controls) which happened then. Why did we multi-nationally give up so much control over our economies then to those which to many might seem like a load of locusts? Are the ones (within the IMF, WB?) who pushed our nations’ leaders to do this still in positions of influence? In this “liberalised” regime why create, innovate and trade in cumbersome goods when one can make far more far quickly and with far less risk just by moving money (data) and money instruments between computers around the world? Almost all the global financial institutions and even many corporations are at it, a parasitic activity. A “monstrous global casino” in the words of sustainable economics columnist Hazel Henderson. Any government that even publicly SPEAKS of restricting it, or taxing it, or significantly environmentally regulating the stock market listed business that it invests in, or getting off the absurd merry-go-round of competing with other nations to clamp down on corporation tax so as to attract employment and capital, or creating their OWN electronic (credit) money, or even threatening tax havens, faces economically disastrous capital flight to nations NOT doing so within hours on the trading computers on the stock markets and the derivatives computers of the international corporations and banks. You see how the financier oligarchy has got us all over a barrel? No Government dare even publicly consider democratically demanded change to the status quo. No corporation dare significantly reduce the current quick profit return to its international capital investors by SIGNIFICANT investment in alternative forms of energy & transportation as to do so invites a declining share price and capital flight to corporations not doing so. The intellectual economist Lyndon LaRouche in Executive Intelligence Review (see below) actually uses the term “Financier Oligarchy” referring to the way our ‘democracies’ are going under the economic & corporate globalisation model I have already described. If you think carefully about it you might realise that under neo-liberalism what we have is a global financial tyranny where essential human needs come second to nations being forced to compete with each other to make often fabulously wealthy owners of international capital- grow even richer- for no effort. Before anyone pulls the “pension funds” ‘old chestnut’ on me, let me retort that I recently heard on a BBC financial programme that only 20% of shares are owned by pension funds. A POSSIBLE SOLUTION to re-gain control over international capital and corporations by electorates and governments is proposed by “The Simultaneous Policy” at http://www.simpol.org and I believe progressives might feel their strategy warrants participation. **New Para**
    Most mainstream media outlets are owned by stock market listed corporations. Does anyone believe such a corporation will allow SERIOUS debate in its pages or TV stations, of reform to the international financial system when it is this system that is the investment hand that feeds it, both owning the shares and placing the corporate adverts? Does anyone seriously believe that one example tabloid and TV/news station owning international corporation that currently pays no corporation tax in the UK by the use of tax havens will seriously allow such debate in its media outlets? I’m not suggesting columnists and editors are directly told what to say and what not to, but they know there are limits which they must not cross if they are to retain their jobs which are mostly in the form of shortish term renewable (or not) contract posts. And most of them seem never to have asked themselves what money really is, who creates it, who administers its circulation, who profits from it and why no Government of left OR right credentials strangely refuses to reinstate fair corporate taxation and environmental regulations ONCE IN POWER despite the obvious dire financial state of our public services, worsening annually, and the developed countries still paltry overall help to the developing ones whose populations are starving to death in their millions monthly for the want of the huge surplus of food per capita that exists worldwide (Some 10%- look up UN Statistics). It should be obvious surely that there’s a CHRONIC lack of money for foreign aid and public services for all our government’s sorry obfuscation that the latter need more “modernising”, ie. another round of cuts. The neo-liberal free movement of capital & corporations is leaving the competing nations’ governments with a chronic lack of cash for public spending on virtually everything- from palaces to prisons. **New Para**
    I believe that “Planet Earth [environment] is in a sad and perilous condition while each day brings it nearer to the critical… [and] that even the most dire prophecy falls short of the calamity facing the world today. Few there are who see the immediacy of the threat and the urgency of the steps needed to counter it”, (this quote from http://www.share-international.org). Anyone who seriously believes that humanity can burn off gigantic amounts of carbon into the atmosphere daily over what will total to some 200 years (in the form of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels) that had been gradually accumulated beneath the earth over hundreds of MILLIONS of years, and while annually cutting down tens of millions of acres of atmosphere purifying tropical forests- all of this without incurring MAJOR upheaval and destruction to the earth’s life supporting natural climate systems- is conditioned and deluded indeed. **New Para**
    I believe that only a total and systemic collapse of the world’s financial system will bring humanity to its senses and- (even though I know this itself would cause major trauma for a while because we have allowed stock market listed corporations to take over most food and energy production and distribution worldwide)- it is my belief and hope that this is coming to pass. (I refer again to the writings of economics professor Ravi Batra). The men of money’s selfish greed and competition is over-reaching itself at long last and the frantic efforts to prop up the system behind the scenes are at long last crumbling. “The REAL economy has fallen out from under the markets which have been artificially propped up by accounting tricks, enormous and unpayable debt loads, and mass delusion on the part of the markets and the public” (John Hoefle banking columnist, and refer also to the writings of economist’s Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review for more information, http://www.larouchepub.com). The signs of the oncoming collapse are obvious for those who look beyond their own narrow interests and look below the surface at powerful people’s MOTIVES- not what they SAY but what they DO and WHY that might be- with objectivity. People who make the effort to READ & STUDY widely. Anyone who thinks that substantially unrestrained powerful people in today’s out of democratic control globalised capital/corporate world have not been manipulating to retain and enhance their own selfish interests, and who denounces those who highlight this as “conspiracy theorists”, is deluded and conditioned indeed. They have just not reflected seriously on the sad condition of greed and fear of loss as well as spiritual poverty and poverty of intellect that dominates the natures of many, many of our fellow human being financier oligarchs in power. We live in a competitive economic culture which makes a VIRTUE out of consumption and greed and it’s essential that more & more of us realise it, detach from it and protest peacefully against it. If we want to survive un-decimated as a species, we’ve surely got some major waking up to do- and quickly.