By Adam, Young FoE Steering Group
I’m not a fan of Lord Browne.
For me, it started when the Browne Review (recommending tuition fee increases) came out in 2010 – I was the Vice President of my Students’ Union at the time – thousands of us took to the streets chanting ‘Down With Browne’ – then I learnt about BP, greenwashing, the Deepwater Horizon disaster that many hold him culpable for, and to top it all off, my university gave him an honorary degree. Great.
Over 120 arrests at Balcombe later, fracking is rightfully a national controversy. So when it turned out that he was doing a public lecture at the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute last week, I knew I had to be there. And I wasn’t the only one, either.
Appallingly, the LSE collaborated in portraying him as some sort of climate hero – ‘in 1997, Lord Browne broke ranks with the rest of the oil industry and acknowledged the risk posed by climate change,’ the lecture synopsis puffed. Browne was going to be allowed to style himself as someone concerned for the environment. You don’t get prizes for simply recognising the biggest threat the human family has ever faced.
Lord Browne has spent most of his life working for and running a company that has been responsible for some of the worst environmental and humanitarian disasters the world has ever seen, and is locking us into a climate changed future. He’s is the chairman of Balcombe frackers Cuadrilla Resources, and a lobbyist for his own business interests within government. He’s current advising the owners of a Russian oil and gas fund. Clearly, he’s no environmental hero. For LSE to put him up as a speaker, unopposed, is disgraceful.
As he took to the stage of the night, there was more security than usual for a public lecture at LSE. It only became clear just how many people were in the audience to oppose Browne until he mentioned how there were no examples of fracking contaminating water, and suddenly the whole audience was overcome with a coughing fit:
From then on, it was obvious what was going to happen when it was time for questions. Browne looked flustered as he was barracked by audience members about his role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, his links with government, his claims that fracking doesn’t cause earthquakes or water contamination, and how all this squares with his apparent concern for the environment. His claims of fracking not causing groundwater contamination (well over 1,000 separate reports in the US alone) was rubbished by the vast majority of the audience.
The only drop of truth seemed to come when Browne contradicted the government’s apparent rationale for fracking – that it would cut bills.
For nearly two hours, Browne was assailed by hostile questions. Only around two or three questions during that time were not direct challenges. The nearest Browne got to anything complimentary was ‘I think you’re pretty brave for coming here.’
But that’s how it should be. If he wants to stand up and spout the myth that fracking is safe and just what we need, he should need to be brave. The crowd at the LSE made sure he wouldn’t get a free platform – like he does at the Cabinet Office – to spout propaganda. He needs to be opposed and challenged wherever he goes.
That’s why Young FoE have started a ‘Dirty Energy Group’ opposing dirty energy in the UK and across Europe. If you’d like to join, get in touch.