There are no ‘persons unknown’

I was quite struck by a briefing last week from the New Economics Foundation, reporting on community opposition to fracking. It highlights a high court injunction that has been taken out by the company Ineos, banning people from interfering with their fracking activities. It is addressed to ‘persons unknown’, and threatens said persons with prison, fines or seizure of assets for obstructing the frackers in any way.

The local community is furious about this, naturally. As Rebecca Winson from NEF says, “they are not ‘persons unknown’. They are neighbours, locals, builders, farmers, pensioners, gardeners, healthcare workers, carpenters and even beekeepers, all with strong links to the towns and villages they are prepared to fight for”.

This reminded me of Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything. In the book she argues that industrial capitalism has always needed ‘sacrifice zones’ – marginal places where resources or fossil fuels could be mined, or where waste could be dumped. They might be poorer countries where we dump our electronic waste, or faraway places like the Niger Delta where land and human lives are cheap. Klein’s point is that as resources get scarcer, the sacrifice zones are getting closer to home. The places that were wrecked by fossil fuels used to be out of sight and out of mind. The damage was being done, the people displaced, but we didn’t see it.

That’s changing. Fracking has brought the fossil fuels debate to our doorsteps. It’s already activated and radicalised people across the United States, with broad coalitions forming to fight fracking or the Keystone XL pipeline. As the government and the fossil fuel industry pushes for fracking in Britain too, despite the public’s opposition, we’re seeing the same thing emerging.

People in Eckington, Derbyshire, resent being referred to as ‘persons unknown’ – the anonymous ciphers standing in the way of progress. Rightly so. Every human story matters, whether it is in the heartlands of England, the mining villages of the Congo, or the deforested hillsides of Indonesia.

So many places around the world have suffered at the hands of the fossil fuel industry. Here in Britain, we’re not used to them being communities that look like ours. As Klein says, “this is coming as a rude surprise to a great many historically privileged people who suddenly find themselves feeling something of what so many frontline communities have felt for a very long time: how is it possible that a big distant company can come to my land and put me and my kids at risk – and never even ask my permission?”

The positive side to this, as the book explains, is that it creates a new solidarity. “In the era of extreme energy, there is no longer the illusion of discreet sacrifice zones anymore.” We’re all involved, all at risk. That gives us common cause with all those distant communities who’ve been putting up with fossil fuels for far longer than we have. It creates the possibility of a global movement to transition beyond fossil fuels. Because the best thing to do with them, in Eckington or anywhere else, is leave them in the ground.


  1. “The people of Eckington, Derbyshire, resent being referred to as ‘persons unknown’ “. Do they? Each and everyone. Amazing how you know what all of them feel despite living several hundreds of miles away.
    My point beyond the sark is that you should be careful not to focus on the loud and visible when the more deliberative approach you claim to want in politics might very well go the other way. In South Korea a local citizen jury recently supported new nuclear stations the new president wanted stopped.

    1. Sure, what do I know? There’s probably a substantial group of people in Eckington who love being called ‘persons unknown’ and can’t wait for the fracking to begin. Maybe if someone were to organise a pro-fracking march in the village, they might be able to rally them together. I nominate you to organise that.

      1. As I am not local to Eckington it would be hardly right for me to swan in and try and impose my views. I see that doesn’t hold on your side.

        The entire population of Eckington aren’t being called ‘persons unknown’ as you well know but you are exaggerating to try to drum up support.

        Don’t complain about exaggerated claims of Brexiters when you come out with this nonsense.

        The problem with the silent majority is that, being silent, its hard to know what they think. Stop pretending you do.

        1. Not sure what’s got your goat with this post. I’m not claiming to speak for Eckington, they’re making their feelings known just fine with their marches and very noisy consultation meetings. I’m highlighting a global issue which Eckington now finds itself part of – that fossil fuels have always relied on an anonymous ‘elsewhere’ to function.

          I’ve got no problem with what I’ve written, but just for you, I’ve changed ‘the people of Eckington’ to ‘people in Eckington’ in the post above.

    1. It’s already underway. are the organisation at the forefront of it, but the real action is at the local level, which is why we don’t hear so much about it. I can recommend reading This Changes Everything, especially the later chapters. I’m not a huge fan of Klein, I find her a bit too polemical. But the later chapters describing the breadth of the movement against fossil fuels is very inspiring.

  2. I trust this will all help : Fifty major companies, such as Adidas, Puma, and Nestlé, are starting a petition to help Germany transition off coal altogether. They hope to use their combined global turnover of 350 billion euros to convince the government to put an end to fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 and decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 95 percent by 2050.

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