The Green MP is Britain's leading voice of reason on climate change, yet a stand against shale gas has put her in courtprosecuted for causing an obstruction outside the Balcombe gas fracking site. The possibility that one of the most sensible politicians in parliament could receive a criminal record, rather than the medal she deserves, for standing up against greedy energy bosses tells us everything we need to know about the topsy-turvy state of British politics on the environment.
In fact the past few weeks have been an object lesson in why Britain desperately needs more politicians like Lucas – that is, if we are to emerge from this recession with a chance of improving ordinary people's living standards rather than being locked into an outdated fossil-fuel economy and a desperate struggle to cope with increasingly dangerous climate change.
It started with George Osborne bragging about his desire to "extract every drop of oil we can from the North Sea". Presumably he had his ears covered when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its latest damning assessment of the threat from human-made climate change, providing yet more evidence of the extraordinary risks our political leaders are taking by continuing to ignore scientific advice that we need to rapidly stop burning fossil fuels.
Then, soon after Lucas's court case began, David Cameron discarded the last vestiges of his hug-a-husky, fake-green disguise by caving in to Tory backbench nimbyism over onshore wind farms. This was effectively a declaration that a future Conservative government will abandon the most cost-effective method of producing clean energy in the British Isles (something that three-quarters of the public, but a much lower proportion of Tory voters, are in favour of).
While the Tories are withdrawing support for clean power they have instituted the world's most generous tax regime for shale gas – a dirty old fossil fuel that is "fracked" from deep under the countryside (although if Boris Johnson has his way fracking will come to London too). But even with massive subsidies shale gas won't bring down heating bills, because the price of gas is determined on the European market where British gas is sold at the highest price. If the government was serious about tackling fuel poverty it would follow Ed Miliband's lead and impose price freezes while massively increasing investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency. That's not just an environmental choice, but a cool headed economic judgment. It is also why there is such a frenzy of anti-renewable energy rhetoric at the moment.
It is easy to get lost in the numbers about climate change, but there are a couple that stick in my head. The first is that to have a 50/50 chance of avoiding tipping our eco-system into an irreversible pattern of rising temperatures we can only risk putting about 700 gigatonnes more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The second is that if we burned all the proven reserves of conventional oil, gas and coal – never mind exotic shale gas – we would release 2,800 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. In short, we already have four times as much fossil fuel as we can ever afford to burn. Armed with just these two numbers, spending scarce resources on smashing up the beautiful English countryside to extract more of the stuff seems not only reckless but utterly perverse.
Indeed, in an interview with Decca Aitkenhead in the Guardian, Lucas was spot on in explaining why the coalition government has to be stopped in its reckless dash to frack. Even if it were possible to address the local environmental impacts associated with fracking, such as soil and water contamination, the bottom line is that "we are just about to put into place a whole new infrastructure for a whole new fossil fuel industry, at exactly the time when we need to be reducing our emissions."
To me, that sounds like simple common sense, and yet it is for having the bravery to stand up for these views that Lucas now finds herself in the dock. Last summer she joined thousands of other protestors at one of Britain's first fracking sites at Balcombe, not far from her Brighton constituency. A few minutes before the peaceful protest was about to disperse the police arbitrarily arrested some of the protestors for criminal obstruction. Lucas's defence, which I wholeheartedly support, is that "using peaceful means to try to stop a process that could cause enormous harm is not only reasonable but also morally necessary."
When future generations, struggling with the climate mess we have created, look back at the current period of British politics it will be with horror and incomprehension. The Tory-led coalition is systematically serving the interests of its fossil fuel friends at the expense of the UK's economy, national security and people's long-term living standards. And yet it is a backbencher who has become the country's leading voice of reason on the environment who is facing criminal charges.
At next year's general election Lucas and I will be campaigning for different parties, but I will be keeping my fingers crossed for her when the court delivers its verdict. Given my experience of court battles for the right to implement progressive policies, from cutting fares in the 1980s to trying to stop the privatisation of the London underground as mayor, I can't say I am optimistic. But I am confident that anyone interested in building a sustainable future wants to see people like Lucas standing up for us in the House of Commons and not languishing in prison.