Wednesday, April 3rd 2013, 8:05 AM EDT
The climate campaigners should be given a medal for their outstanding bravery and public service, not prison sentences
What if, instead of giving Marie Curie and Alexander Fleming Nobel prizes for their life-saving work on radiation and penicillin, they'd been thrown in jail? Or, instead of being awarded the Grand Croix of the Légion d'honneur for his work on the germ theory of disease, Louis Pasteur was imprisoned like Napoleon on Elba?
It would be perverse to return the favour of great, public works by depriving people of their freedom. Yet that is just what we're doing in Britain right now. The contributions of the people above were remarkable, but how much greater is the challenge of preserving a readily habitable climate, and how thankful should we be to those prepared to throw their life's energy and creativity at the task?
The answer according to the British establishment currently is not at all. Their response is the kind of gratitude a Caesar might hand-out to an innocent messenger on receiving unwelcome news. He throws them first into court, and then possibly into prison. In early March many celebrated when the state-backed French energy company EDF dropped a £5m civil lawsuit against climate campaigns who occupied one of the company's gas-fired power stations for several days in 2012.
The case was seen as an attempt to intimidate and therefore frighten-off other campaigners, and the victory therefore an important signal. Less noticed, however, was that many of the campaigners still face criminal charges in relation to the occupation. Faced by a magistrates court, with no jury to appeal to on the wider issues, several pled guilty to charges of aggravated trespass. Due for sentencing on 6 June, they could be the first people in the UK sent to prison for acting to prevent global warming.
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