Opinion The UK's advertising watchdog has upheld a complaint against advertising by hippy collective Greenpeace, which solicited money to help in such things as breaking into power stations and defacing property.
The ad in question explicitly stated that gifts to Greenpeace would be used for "direct action" efforts such as painting slogans or messages down the side of power station chimneys. It said:
Chimneys, they're a bit dull aren't they? We prefer them when they have statements written down them, like 'no new coal' or 'stupid', which say what we think about them. Actually we'd prefer them if they weren't there at all, because coal is the most climate-wrecking fuel there is, but we're working on that one.
£80 Send this Gift.
How this gift works ... Direct actions are about being there in person to stop an environmental crime from taking place ... Shutting down dirty power stations is just one of the ways Greenpeace is working to secure a clean energy future, but painting down the side of giant chimneys cranks up the political pressure and throws a vital spotlight on one of the greatest threats to our climate ...
Famously, Greenpeace hippies broke into the Kingsnorth power station in 2007 and climbed its chimney, which meant that the plant had to briefly be shut down for their safety. The activists also painted the plant's chimney. Having been arrested and charged with criminal damage, they were controversially acquitted by the jury when brought to trial – a fact which Greenpeace pointed out when the Advertising Standards Authority looked into their ad this year.
However the ASA was having none of Greenpeace's assertions that it's OK to solicit for money that will then fund such activities as breaking into private premises, disrupting commercial activity and defacing property. The standards watchdog wrote in its ruling yesterday:
Although the Kingsnorth activists had been found not guilty of criminal damage, other similar activity might nonetheless lead to acts that were illegal or anti-social.
We considered that defacing property would generally be viewed as anti-social, and would in some circumstances be illegal, and considered that the claims "Redecorate a power station chimney" and "... We prefer them when they have statements written down them, like 'no new coal' or 'stupid' ..." and the photograph of a man painting slogans on the side of a chimney condoned such behaviour. Although we considered that the claims themselves were unlikely to influence the public to engage in such exploits themselves, we considered that the claim "£80 Send this Gift. How this gift works ..." sought donations in order to make it possible to finance similar direct action by others and thereby encouraged such behaviour. We therefore concluded that the ad was harmful and irresponsible because it encouraged and condoned anti-social behaviour.
The claims must not appear again in their present form. We told Greenpeace to ensure that their advertising did not encourage or condone anti-social behaviour in the future.
The ASA ruling doesn't really appear likely to have much effect on the hippies' behaviour or their attitude to publicising it, however – the Greenpeace website continues to laud the concept of "direct action".
Greenpeace are quite correct to say that coal-fired power stations are one of the most polluting methods by which to generate electricity, though a properly-run coal station in Europe or the US is not a big issue compared to the powerplants you might find in Russia, China or other developing economies – and where the understandably timid "direct action" activists of Greenpeace are notable mainly for their absence. Even these coal power stations are clean and efficient compared to many widespread forms of heat or mechanical power generation – for instance the use of coal, charcoal and wood stoves or open fires for cooking (and some forms of industry) and/or poorly-maintained diesel engines in generators and vehicles. Such practices are endemic just about everywhere except the world's wealthiest nations.
Probably the biggest issue with the Greenpeace position is that they don't offer a viable solution: they are also against gas, oil and nuclear power. Running a developed economy only or mainly on renewables is wildly impractical – quite apart from anything else it would require colossally expanding the production of concrete, steel and other energy-dense materials like glass and carbon fibre. Even if this could be done using electrical power (at the moment such materials are produced by burning large amounts of fossil fuel) the result would be to seriously expand energy requirements no matter the savings made in other sectors, so requiring even more renewable powerplants and so even more concrete and steel – and so on.
This is because the scale and amount of stuff, of construction, required to produce power from renewables is at least an order of magnitude greater than with thermal generation. The idea of fully renewable energy supplies is a pipe-dream.
By contrast, 200 modern nuclear powerplants (requiring no more than fifty sites) could supply all the UK's energy requirements in the form of electricity. This would be a lower number of power stations than we have now - you would actually need less construction materials. You really could electrify most of the transport and industrial sectors should you wish to; prices would be comparable to today's or lower (much, much lower if the nuclear plants were allowed to be as serious a health hazard as wind or gas ones are).
This is not even to mention being able to store several years' national fuel supplies in a few fairly small buildings, and being able to replenish that stockpile from friendly nations like Australia and Canada as opposed to living hand-to-mouth off gas pipelines from Russia and tankers from Saudi Arabia. You wouldn't care much if uranium prices went up, even if they went up ten- or twenty-fold, as the fuel is only a very small percentage of the cost of making nuclear electricity.
And as a side benefit, you'd have got rid of 90+ per cent of the UK's carbon and other greenhouse-gas emissions.
Needless to say, Greenpeace and similar organisations are the main reason why that plan – while perfectly achievable – is scarcely any more likely to happen than full renewables. ®