GF Blog – Week 25

June 21st

Summer Solstice, Sun and Stonehenge, take us to orange paint versus other ways to protest

Summer Solstice eve, Luxulyan Valley
Midsummer Solstice Sunrise at Stonehenge

My heartfelt thanks go to the God of Weather this week, for giving us some real summer sun. It enabled us to lead our German guest, Iris, on two very lovely walks with many mining stories. The 2nd, last night, with colleague David and dog, Toffee, was – as you can see – exactly what I always hoped a summer evening experience could be for visitors. It is strange how, even after hundreds of visits to the viaduct, one can still see something new and different – below you can see that the arches above were not built entirely symmetrical. I had never noticed … presumably demanded by the lay of the land below.

200 years old granite – should I spray the base of arches orange or not?
5000 years old granite – being sprayed with powder paint on Wednesday 19th June

Stonehenge was built to align with the sun on the solstices. On the summer solstice, the sun rises behind the Heel Stone in the north-east part of the horizon and its first rays shine into the heart of Stonehenge. On the winter solstice, the sun sets to the south-west of the stone circle.

Summer solstice will be celebrated from the evening of Thursday 20th June to the morning of Friday 21st June 2024. Sunrise and sunset will be live streamed on the official English Heritage YouTube channel. If you plan to attend in person, please read the pages of instructions carefully.

Just Stop Oil methods

Rishi Sunak, Sir Keir Starmer and rock star Liam Gallagher have all expressed dismay at the latest Just Stop Oil protest methods, using orange paint.

The climate activists took part in the action on Wednesday (19 June), as they demanded the next government sign up to a legally binding treaty to phase out fossil fuels by 2030.

Video footage of the protest shows two people in Just Stop Oil t-shirts, named by the group as Rajan Naidu, 73, and Niamh Lynch, 21, running up to the ancient structure with canisters of paint.

Just Stop Oil
 said the orange powder paint was cornflour and it would “wash away with rain”.

The group named the two protesters as Niamh Lynch, a 21-year-old student from Oxford, and Rajan Naidu, a 73-year-old from Birmingham, in a statement.

‘Extremely upsetting’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned the incident as a “disgraceful act of vandalism”.

Leader of the Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer said the damage was “outrageous” and described Just Stop Oil as “pathetic”.

Members of the public were heard shouting “no” and seen running to intervene as the campaigners ran up to the stone circle at the UNESCO world heritage site.

Nick Merriman, chief executive of English Heritage, said the vandalism was “deeply saddening”.

He told the BBC’s Today programme the stones are “testament to people’s desire to connect to nature”, and while he respected the rights of people to protest, he hoped they would channel their activism away from museum sites in future.

A list of all artworks Just Stop Oil have attacked

Artwork on the list includes Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh, and John Constable’s The Hay Wain

Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh

On Friday, October 14, activists from Just Stop Oil went further than before, throwing tomato soup on Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London. The protest took place during Frieze London, and also involved two activists glueing themselves to the floor beneath the painting.

As it happens it is one year, almost to the day, since I was helping my son Tom film a similar type of orange paint event, in a deep mine pit near St Day. We were preparing for his One Man Show and spent quite a time reflecting on the moment in his childhood when – with 2 cousins – he threw paint at wind turbine protest road signs. I remembered the paint was orange then too, but had forgotten about the face masks! 

So, let’s get to the heart of this. When – if ever – is it a good decision to throw orange paint for making your point to others?

My conclusion is that splashing paint over a board on the side of a road, with a message you oppose, is not that terrible. Hardly comparable with an ancient heritage site or a unique work of art in a famous museum. I think ‘ill-informed’ and a bit irresponsible is my label, simply because the vandalism achieves nothing except aggravation of people who have no power over oil. Which brings us nicely to a court case, which has achieved a significant outcome against an oil development, using official, legal channels …

This image and the following text came up on top as I searched for the environmental story of the week. It is on a web site for a firm I have never heard of, Leigh Day, so I quickly copied their summary but wasn’t quite ready to leave … my attention caught by 2 films. More on this in a minute.

To continue from the heading above, I am giving you almost all the text below. As usual of course you can skip over, but I really recommend staying with it and seeing how they work, because this law firm has been fundamental to success. I find it incredibly heartening to learn of their ethos, offering representation for the tiny man or woman in fights against massive corporations. In Surrey it was a client called Sarah Finch, but in Nigeria they led a fight on behalf of a single fisherman and his community against Shell Oil and raised their compensation for loss of earnings and habitat damage from a paltry £4000 to £55 million!! Isn’t that incredible!! It did not stop the oil company but one would hope it made them sit up and take notice. Hear about it in Martyn Day’s film, plus also try the one higher up the page, which describes some major achievements of Sarah Leigh. Inspiring stuff!  

Back to the Surrey case

The Court ruled that planning permission for fossil fuel production should not be granted unless and until a planning authority has properly assessed the climate impact of the project and specifically assessed the downstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that will inevitably arise from the combustion of the fuel. In so doing, the Supreme Court declared that Surrey County Council’s decision to grant planning permission for oil production at Horse Hill, near to Gatwick Airport, was unlawful, bringing to a successful conclusion a five-year battle fought by campaigner Sarah Finch (supported by the Weald Action Group) against the development. 

In their judgment, Lord Leggatt, Lord Kitchin and Lady Rose ruled that the council should have taken into consideration the “Scope 3” downstream GHG emissions of the crude oil to be extracted from the Horse Hill site in its environmental impact assessment (EIA) before deciding whether to grant planning permission for the development. 

They held that it was unlawful to grant planning permission, without assessing the unavoidable indirect effects on climate of the inevitable burning of the extracted petroleum. 

The case centred around the correct interpretation of the EIA Regulations 2017. The Supreme Court found that downstream GHG emissions are an indirect effect of the development and must – as a matter of law – be assessed before granting planning permission for fossil fuel development.

Key to the Court’s finding was that, for the EIA regime to function effectively, and for approval for projects with likely significant environmental effects to be given lawfully, those decisions must be subject to public debate and made with full knowledge of the environmental cost. Otherwise, such decisions – so the Supreme Court found – would lack the necessary democratic legitimacy.

The Court concluded that the reasons given by the council for refusing to carry out this assessment were inadequate. The Court held that it was wrong to limit the requirements of EIA by reference to UK policy and legislation designed to control GHG emissions, making the common sense point that combustion emissions were unavoidable and there were no other controls that could be relied upon to reduce their impact. For similar reasons, the Court also dismissed an argument that the fact the oil would need to be refined somehow excused a failure to assess its impact at the earliest possible stage.

It follows that planning authorities in England and Wales must now assess the climate impact of any proposed fossil fuel developments that come under the EIA regime, and that the assessment must include consideration of the nature and magnitude of the proposed GHG emissions that would be caused by combustion of the oil to be produced at the site.

Sarah’s claim was supported by both Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace UK. Both organisations had intervened in the case and are expected to hail the decision as a huge victory in their ongoing campaigns to prevent fossil fuel extraction. The Office for Environmental Protection also intervened, using its powers to do so for the first time since its creation in November 2021.

 Sarah was represented by Leigh Day lawyers and her Supreme Court appeal was supported by £s from Law for Change.

The proposed expansion of the Horse Hill Developments Ltd site, with five drilling cellars, four hydrocarbon production wells, four gas-to-power generators, a process, storage and tanker loading area, seven 1,300-barrel oil tanks, and a 37-metre drill rig would have allowed large-scale production of up to 3.3 million tonnes of crude oil for sale and use as transport fuel for 20 years.

Sarah brought a High Court claim for judicial review on behalf of the Weald Action Group in 2019, arguing that the emissions from burning the oil are “indirect effects” under the EIA Regulations and should have been assessed by Surrey County Council planners before granting planning permission.

Her claim was originally rejected by Mr Justice Holgate. Sarah appealed that decision. Her appeal was also dismissed, albeit by a majority of 2 to 1 judges, who concluded that downstream GHG emissions may be an indirect effect of a development for the production of fossil fuel, but that it was ultimately a matter of planning judgment for the planning authority whether those emissions are truly a likely significant effect of the proposed development. The two judges also concluded that the reasons given by Surrey County Council for deciding that the downstream GHG emissions were not an effect of the development were sufficient and lawful.

 In the Supreme Court, Sarah argued that the Court of Appeal’s decision was wrong on both counts. Three of the five Supreme Court Justices agreed and allowed her appeal, whilst the other two Justices dissented. The Supreme Court’s decision is historic and of major importance in the fight to prevent further fossil fuel extraction in the UK.

Historic and Major Importance

If Leigh Day prediction is right, this court ruling could turn over so many energy plans across the UK. I have written already about the Shetland oil, and Rosebank oil field:-

the Supreme Court’s decision is seen as a green light to proceed with the legal case against the Equinor-operated Rosebank oil field, as activists believe their lawsuit is now standing on much stronger ground. The court had put the lawsuit on hold, pending the decision in the Finch case, as one of the claims was also about the need to assess the emissions from burning oil and gas.

As a result, the activists expect to get the all-clear to move forward with the Rosebank case soon, along with a date for the hearing.

Rosebank oil field is estimated to contain over 300 million barrels of oil, so climate campaigners argue that burning the field’s oil and gas would produce more CO2 than the 28 lowest-income countries produce in a year. Even though Equinor is saying Rosebank may be powered by renewable energy, climate activists see this as a greenwashing attempt to lower the carbon footprint of the oil field.

Taken from

Later in their report the focus changes to consideration of damage to the marine environment. Oceana, an ocean conservation organization, is threatening the government with legal action, following the decision to grant 31 new oil and gas licences, over a third of which are believed to overlap with marine protected areas.

One does not need a crystal ball to predict that we will see a major burst of legal challenges, launching from the first few days of our next parliament.

And the trend will surely continue unabated here in the UK.

Will it spread like a rash into Europe and beyond, I wonder?   

But what about another somewhat different topic requiring a big fight, in the USA?  

Drax is Great Britain’s largest utility  

They’ve been burning products in their power plants for over a decade, which come from forests in the Southern part of the USA. As I have described in the past, an organisation called The Dogwood Alliance spearheads opposition and this week I have been forwarded an email from the Alliance by Carole, our London correspondent, notifying of a new threat. This is a scheme to build at least two power plants in the Southern USA, for generating electricity by burning their nearby forests but then also to use a new technology called Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). If built, these biomass power plants would be the first of their kind in the US.

BECCS is an unproven technology. Drax claims it “captures” carbon at the smokestack and stores it underground and thus they also say such power plants are climate friendly.

BECCS is a preposterous greenwashing scam

Dogwood say ‘We know that standing forests are a proven carbon capture and storage technology. We know that burning trees for electricity is bad for the climate. Burning trees is bad for forests. And burning trees is bad for communities. Burning more forests will create more air pollution, more flooding, and more habitat loss.’

Today, despite more than a decade of BECCS hype in political debates (notably pushed by fossil fuel interests), there are no operational BECCS facilities claiming to produce substantial negative emissions anywhere in the world. Only half a dozen demonstration projects exist, with only one, a United States of America (US) ethanol-from-corn plant funded by the US Department of Energy, claiming to remove more than one million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year (see Box: Decatur project). Many scientists have highlighted feasibility constraints that would make it unlikely to ever work, at least not on the scale foreseen. On 27 February 2022, EASAC updated its previous BECCS assessment and insisted that “there are substantial risks of [BECCS] failing to achieve net removals at all, or that any removals are delayed beyond the critical period during which the world is seeking to meet Paris Agreement targets to limit warming to 1.5–2°C.”

Later they follow with, solar systems can generate more than 100 times the useable energy per hectare than bioenergy is likely to produce in the future, even using optimistic assumptions. To meet the 2 degree aim, an area of land 1-2 TIMES THE SIZE OF INDIA, would be necessary for BECCS!!

Can you guess where I am going with this? Is there anyone out there, able and willing to tackle the DRAX situation by contacting Leigh Day lawyers to explore options for a major legal challenge?

Before leaving forest protection issues, although I have run out of time and space to explain this more fully, an unprotected section of forest and indigenous people in Peru needs our help too. Sign a simple petition please!  

Introducing the largest known uncontacted tribe in the world: the Mashco Piro, whose territory is now under threat as never before.

A logging company called Canales Tahuamanu has been extracting timber from their land for years. It has built more than 200km of new roads since 2016, putting the Mashco Piro’s survival at serious risk: the destruction of their forest, chance encounters with the loggers, and the spread of disease could all wipe them out.

What about close to home?

The beautiful evening picture by Treffry viaduct is actually the place for me – I mean it is where I could take a paint canister and hose, to spray in large orange letters RESTORE, because I am so frustrated by the lack of progress in restoring heritage and hydro. You will be glad to know that was not my choice of method. Instead, I have taken a leaf out of the book of Par Desalination Group (by the way congratulations on the many, many objections that were sent to the Marine Management Org by the Wednesday 19th deadline) and tried my best to record local voices, with their comments and hopes for this area. I shall be collecting more and more, over time and – with apologies for the amateur nature and low res of pics – will use them to stimulate discussion and hopefully make plans into the future.