Combining climate justice and social justice

Thanks to everyone who contributed to yesterday’s Scot.E3 conference.  We’ll be posting videos and reports of the discussion over the next few days.  Here we repost (in slightly edited form) an article by Pete Cannell from the latest Scottish Left Review that provides some background to the discussion at the conference.

On October 11th 2015 I was one among several thousand linking arms across the Forth Road Bridge. Hands Over Our Forth (HOOF) was meant to be the latest stage in a mass campaign to stop underground coal gasification (UCG) by burning the coal seams under the Forth. However, just before the event the Scottish Government announced that UCG would not go ahead. So the demo became a celebration. It was an assembly like no other environmental protest I’ve ever been on. Diverse, militant and embedded in the working class communities of Fife and the Lothians. When we formed my local group in Portobello, ‘Our Forth Against Unconventional Gas’, no one knew about UCG, but a whole host of local people, including ex-miners (appalled at the stupidity of setting fire to coal seams) quickly spread the word and through imaginative campaigning and direct action we won.

A great deal has happened in the four years since HOOF, much of it in the last year; XR has injected urgency into climate campaigning, the school student strikes have been inspirational and put the idea of collective action back on the agenda. Yet all of this has been against the backdrop of accelerating rates of carbon emissions and new evidence of the severity of the climate crisis.

ScotE3 was initiated by a small group of rank and file trade unionists (mainly working in construction and defence) and activists like myself keen to find a way of taking climate action into workplaces and working class communities. We were inspired by the Million Climate Jobs programme for a transition to a sustainable economy and by the struggles for just transition taking place in working class and indigenous communities in the US and elsewhere.

After working together on a submission to the Scottish Government’s energy consultation, we began by producing briefing documents that aimed to frame the politics and practice of transition in ways that related to trade unionists. The lived experience of our class is that change usually means paying the price for the problems of the rich and powerful. The havoc wreaked by pit closures and the end of coal still scars communities across. Scotland. The message we want to get across is that a just transition, based on the million climate jobs strategy, means more employment not less, better transport, more comfortable homes and a future for our children and grandchildren.

It’s a big step forward that issues of social justice have become prominent in the climate movement and reference to just transition is now routine in the climate movement. The challenge, however, is to articulate the ideas implicit in just transition in ways that can engage working class people who are rightly cynical about the promises of politicians and expect that they will be asked to pay the price for transition. Just transition is usually framed in terms of ensuring that the lives and livelihoods of those currently dependent on work in the hydrocarbon sector are protected as we transition to zero carbon. This is absolutely correct, but in our view the definition needs to go broader and deeper.   The skills and knowledge of those currently working in the oil and gas and defence sector are critical to the rapid transition that is required. The new climate jobs need to be on decent terms and conditions – not the short-term agency contracts that are more and more prevalent in these sectors.   An effective transition needs to work for the bulk of the population and not just for the rich and powerful. So it needs to tackle the gross inequality that has been a feature of the last few decades of neoliberalism.   Moreover, it also needs to encompass free movement given that the impact of climate change is, and will be, experienced most rapidly and in its most extreme form in the global south.

In November 2018 we held our first conference at which the participants spent the day working on a practical manifesto for just transition. A diverse set of participants found common cause about what needs to be done. The harder question, which we returned to at the 2019 year conference, is how to make just transition real. Not just because a just transition is the right thing to do; it’s the only way to build the kind of mass campaign that’s needed. Reliance on market solutions has led to a world teetering on the edge of catastrophe. The alternative requires us to take the spirit of rebellion into every aspect of our lives, health, transport, housing … to demand action and to not take no for an answer.


Common Weal’s Green New Deal campaign

The final speaker session of the ScotE3 conference on 16th November will see Jonathon Shafi from Common Weal talking about their new campaign for a Green New Deal for Scotland – Our Common Home

You can register for the conference on Eventbrite or simply register on the day at St Ninian’s Hall, Greyfriars Charteris Centre, 138/140 Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9RR.  Doors open at 9.30am and the conference starts at 10am.



Campaigning for climate jobs

The first session after the lunch break at Saturday’s Scot.E3 conference focuses in on the campaign for climate jobs. Find out more about the conference here.  Book for the conference on Eventbrite 

This quote from the Million Climate Jobs Pamphlet explains the critical importance of these jobs to the transition to a zero carbon economy.

’Climate Jobs’ are not the same as ‘green jobs’. Some green jobs help the climate, but ‘green jobs’ can mean anything – park rangers, bird wardens, pollution control, or refuse workers.   All these jobs are necessary, but they do not stop climate change.

Climate Jobs are jobs that lead directly to cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases, and so slow down climate change. For instance, workers who build wind farms replace power stations that burn coal or oil. Workers who insulate buildings reduce the oil and gas we burn. Bus drivers reduce the amount of oil we burn in cars.

You can read more about climate jobs from the pamphlet online on the Campaign Against Climate Change website 

Speakers in the session are Clara Paillard, an activist in the PCS Union and the Campaign Against Climate Change, Davie Brockett from Unite Rank and File and Eurig Scandrett on behalf of UCU Scotland.





Conference creche deadline

In order to ensure that we have the right level of support on the day of the ScotE3 conference we are not able to take creche bookings after 5pm on Wednesday 13th.  If you want to book a creche place please email before then.

conference flyerv3

From arms to renewables

At the 2018 Scot.E3 conference we were fortunate to have a contribution from Andrew Feinstein from Corruption Watch and author of ‘The Shadow World – Inside the Global Arms Trade’.  Andrew made the case that ending the arms economy should be an integral part of a broader strategy of tackling the climate crisis.  In the course of the year this topic has been raised again at meetings that we’ve held or participated in.  Some people have argued that whatever your opinion on the arms trade – taking arms divestment on board at the same time as taking measures to decarbonize is a distraction.  Others have supported Andrew’s view and in the course of this debate the outline of a more developed and strategic view has emerged.  We hope that this can be developed further in the course of the 2019 conference.

This autumn a number of peace organisations have joined up with Extinction Rebellion to organise around XR Peace.  The London October rebellion included a number of actions highlighting the links between war and the environment.  XR Peace has focused on the massive carbon footprint of the military, the environmental devastation cause by war and social and economic upheavals as a result of climate change as a cause of conflict.

In the discussions that we have been involved in throughout the year other reasons for including arms and ‘defence’ divestment in our strategy have emerged.  The first is very pragmatic.  There is a pressing need to switch from energy systems that produce green house gases (carbon emissions) to zero carbon technologies.  These technologies exist and it perfectly possible to implement them.  But to make the transition at the speed that is required requires the skills and labour of a large number of engineers, electricians and other specialists.  Most of these jobs will have to be done by people already in the workforce.  Some of them work in oil and gas and as these carbon-based sources of energy are phased out they can be redeployed in the new renewable industries.  But there are not enough people in oil and gas – we also need the skills of those currently employed in the military industrial complex.  Shifting from arms to renewables is morally right but it’s also an economic imperative if we want to prevent catastrophic climate change.


Image: Pete Cannell CC0

There are of course other economic reasons too.  Levels of investment and state support for the arms trade and for the military are huge.  Our economies are distorted by the privileged position that the major arms companies (along with the big energy corporations) occupy.  These privileges go hand in glove with eye watering levels of corruption and huge levels of corporate lobbying with a revolving door through which politicians and executives continually move and switch roles.  It’s these relationships which actively oppose realistic attempts to take action over climate and as a movement we need to demand that state support and investment ends, lobbying stops and arrangements are put in place for a rapid shift to sustainable and ethical employment for those who work in these industries.   These demands have a particular resonance in Scotland where the Trident nuclear system and arms manufacturing have had a disproportionate impact on our economy.


Image: Wikimedia Commons

Borders and the Climate Emergency

The climate emergency is forcing ever-greater numbers of people to migrate, Ida Picard analyses the function that borders play in extinction capitalism and argues that we must be uncompromising in calling for all borders to go.  This post was first published at 

There will be an opportunity to discuss some of the issues raised in this article at the Scot.E3 conference this weekend in Edinburgh. Find out more about the conference here.  Book for the conference on Eventbrite and email if you want to book one or more crèche places.

It is extremely welcome that climate change has moved so far up the agenda and is now being discussed outside of the circles traditionally concerned with it. However, climate change and its crises need to be seen in connection with other elements of capitalist crisis, such as imperialism, austerity and the border regime, to name just a few.


Capitalism is crisis

In order to bring these other aspects into focus it is useful to begin by examining on a general level certain aspects of capitalist production. The capitalist mode of production is dependent on continuously escalating the extraction of natural resources, thereby necessitating the non-stop rise of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and environmental degradation.

Realistically, without ending capitalism, we have no chance of halting or reversing the complete breakdown of the world’s ecosystems. Within our current economic order major petroleum companies are able to manipulate and to a large extent control state policies and act as stakeholders in international agreements, avoiding liability for damage done to people living near pipelines and other oil facilities.

All the big petroleum companies have entire departments dedicated to lobbying states. In addition, states in capitalism are locked in to the pursuit of the maximisation of national economic growth. And so, within this one example, we can see how the reciprocal dependence between fossil capital and the state locks in a logic of climate breakdown.

As Brian Parkin has put it:

It is both an irony and a paradox that [within capitalism] we have developed the scientific means of understanding both the causes and possible means of reducing climate change, whilst being locked into a mode of production for which the appetite for petroleum remains insatiable. 

Meanwhile, the numbers of people displaced across the world over continues to grow. The UN is predicting 200 million climate refugees by 2050, or as they call it ‘persons displaced in the context of disasters and climate change’.

However, when we talk about climate refugees we should not think just about people having to relocate due to floods, droughts or other extreme climate phenomena. We must go further and include among climate refugees people moving due to conflict over resources, food insecurity, imperialist wars and economic migration in the wake of whole areas of the world being rapidly made uninhabitable.

It is becoming increasingly evident that more and more people will be forced to flee circumstances which make life unsustainable, whilst there exists a relationship between capital and the state system which guarantees the increasingly intense exploitation of human labour power and degradation of the world’s resources.

Extractivism and border regimes

In this context – the role of the state as a ‘container’ of the crisis facing us starts to become clear. While the pressure builds and breakdown looms, Western states including Britain are fortifying their borders, as border controls creep ever deeper into all strata of our societies.

Borders perform a crucial function: border regimes ensure that the crisis appears ‘contained’ through the regimentation and control of citizenship and the movement of people.

At the same time, borders represent an attempt to maintain the global division of labour through creating areas of the world where social reproduction is significantly cheaper, that is, where the wages and the maintenance costs of the labour force are lower, and where workers are unable to travel between areas of the world to seek better pay and conditions.

This division of labour structures the world in such a way that entire sections of the economy are particularly specialised. Extractive industries, such as oil drilling or coal mining, destroy the capacity to produce in any other way, by polluting the soil, destroying the conditions of production, or simply driving out competing forms of capital. These same regions are also dependent on certain markets, which make up the ‘other side’ of this division of labour.

For example, highly intensive mineral mining in Africa depends on and supports global supply chains for phones made in China and then sold in Europe. This means that entire areas of the world have become less and less able to provide for the varied needs of populations who live there.

Borders reinforce this division by regulating the flow of commodities between these different poles and tying people to particular areas of the world. We also see that extractive industries often provide the majority of the funding for those same militias who police the borders and control the supplies of resources, in part because they tend to deliver higher rates of profit than other forms of production, and are oriented around simple labour processes which are easy to control and securitise.

In Sudan, for instance, the Janjaweed militia get most of their revenue from the Sudanese oil fields, but also from the European Union, which pays them to violently enforce its borders and stop desperate people trying to reach crossing points into Europe.

This interdependence of extractive industry, borders and the repressive state machine is highly significant. For decades, people have been fleeing the wars in the Middle East waged over one of the world’s petroleum hubs, or moving away from areas of the world made uninhabitable or unable to support its population by extractive capital.

Internal borders

The border also creates and reinforces a division of labour within Britain. The border regime determines which people have the ‘right’ to work, or to claim benefits, or even to reside in the country. In reality, under capitalism, no-one can live without a wage, and so many migrants are forced to accept illegal contracts paying less than minimum wage, or are frightened into not demanding better pay and conditions by the threat of deportation and criminalisation.

However, even sections of the left still fail to show the basic political solidarity needed against the border and against these racist divisions. The border is, in many ways, a microcosm of the global division of labour, which structures the capitalist mode of production that is destroying the planet. The border regime even mirrors many of the practices of colonial control, previously tested on colonised peoples, such as surveillance methods, violent repression, detention without trial and accusations of subversion.

The solidification of the border regimes in the UK, Europe and the US cannot be analysed without recognising that the borders imposed on the world through colonialism and imperialism are arbitrary and unstable, and that the global ravages of capitalism – in the form of imperialism – is creating conditions from which people will necessarily need to move.

Fighting the state on the territory of our borders, calling for an end to borders altogether, has long been seen as an extremely radical demand – maybe more polemical than real. But with the climate breakdown this is no longer so.


Often, however – conversations about climate change centre not on the ravages of capital, but instead the supposed ravages of people. This can be demonstrated with reference to two different, but related, examples. The first is ‘overpopulation’ – a bogeyman for the climate crisis which is shared across the political spectrum, from mass-murdering fascists to David Attenborough.

This idea that it is ‘people’ exhausting the world’s resources, and that these resources can never grow at the same rate as the human population, is not a new argument. Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) called for population control for poor people, whose ‘overpopulation’, he claimed, led to a host of societal ills.



The same arguments are used today, primarily against ‘populations’ in the Global South: climate change is caused by ‘too many people’ and in particular, the ‘too many people’ who live outside the West. Marx himself addressed this argument several times – particularly as it relates to Ireland. In volume one of Capital (1867) he wrote:

As appetite grows with eating, English rentiers and capitalists will continue to discover that Ireland with three and a half million people, still continues to be miserable, miserable because she is overpopulated. Therefore Ireland’s depopulation must go still further, in order that she may fulfil her true destiny: to be a sheep walk and cattle pasture for English capitalists!

Ireland was not overpopulated – neither is the global south overpopulated today. Capital is, however, over-extracting and overproducing. In the same way that English capitalists restructured the Irish economy to gear it towards the wool trade and meat production, large parts of the world are made uninhabitable through organising local economies for the production of commodities for export on the world market rather than for the reproduction of the population.

Put more specifically, areas of the world are only overpopulated insofar as their whole ecosystems become organised to produce certain commodities for international markets.

These global markets are what cause people to have to move. When capital is ‘booming’ there is huge demand for labour, when it is bust those populations are no longer required. This explains, in part, the change in attitude in Western Europe towards migration in the last 50 years. In the post-war period European markets demanded more labourers. European states were happy to bring labourers in from the colonies, at worse pay and in poorer conditions than the native population.

Of course, now, in the context of climate breakdown and imperialist warfare, the situation is different. In the same way the Malthusians argued that it is people draining the natural resources of the world, people in the West are describing those who migrate here as draining the resources of our nation states or national economies. The broader point here is that we cannot talk in abstract terms about overpopulation: economic conditions always underpin state responses to migration.

Voices within the environmental movement use these arguments too. For example, Rupert Read, who recently went on Question Time as a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion has written that ‘mass migration’ reduces social cohesion. He argues that it makes the development of ‘the increasingly collaborative, progressive economy we need to become greener’ impossible, and he has argued against moving people from areas where they would have a low environmental footprint to high impact areas like the West.

This is thinly veiled racism, the belief that some people simply belong in poorer and more exploited parts of the world. It is also part of what fuels a growing number of eco-fascists. It relies on an essentialist, racist view of environmentalism, which views environmental politics as being about retreating back to our ‘original’ homelands and living separated by race.

Climate justice is migrant justice

While many on the left have been unacceptably slow at accepting that responding to climate change must be a key part of our internationalism and international solidarity as socialists and anti-capitalists, there are some very positive examples too.

A few weeks ago, an environmental group named Bristol Rising Tide occupied part of the Home Office’s depot in Portishead with Reclaim the Power, stopping Immigration Enforcement vans for leaving. Similarly, the Stansted 15 action, where activists blocked a deportation plane from taking off, was organised in large part by individuals who had learnt the techniques of airport protest from (and within) the climate movement. During the school strike in September, migrant solidarity groups including Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants organised a bloc, using the slogan ‘climate justice is migrant justice’.

While, for now, we are not feeling the sharpest edge of climate change in this country and are in some ways separated from those who are, those of us who consider ourselves to be anti-capitalist must recognise that climate change, as with capitalism itself, binds together each place, each person, and each contradiction.

This worldwide ecological breakdown – and the ravages of imperialism, of transnational petro-capital, of increasingly militarised border regimes across the world – cannot be addressed by disorganised legalistic proposals. The Paris Accord, the Supreme Court, and even the Labour Party will not save us from climate breakdown, because they are embedded in the logic of the same system that drives exploitation and imperialism. For the same reason they will certainly not save those forced to migrate through imperialist wars, breakdown of ecological systems or deepening poverty.

This is not an argument for abandoning our responsibility for fighting our own states – we must struggle for a breaking down of the border regime.

But it should come as no surprise to socialists and communists that the world is facing a breaking point: we have always known that capitalism leads to constant crisis, misery and war.

For so many across the world, the catastrophe is already here, it has already been going on for much longer than climate change has been on the agenda in the Western world. Climate change is simply demonstrating that it is completely untenable to continue to organise the world this way.


Building the movement: challenges and opportunities

In the second session of our conference on Saturday 16th November Simon Pirani and Mary Church will take a look at the challenges we face locally and internationally.   This, together with session one on American Climate Rebels will form the backdrop to discussion during the rest of the day.

At last year’s conference we worked together to draft a climate jobs manifesto. In the twelve months since November 2018 there have been hugely significant developments driven by the Youth Climate Strikers and the growth of XR. However, we still have a long way to go. This year we hope to take the discussion forward by looking at the politics and practice of building a mass social movement that has climate justice at its heart.

Find out more about the 2019 conference here.  Book for the conference on Eventbrite and email if you want to book one or more crèche places.


REEL News at Scot.E3 conference

Shaun Dey from REEL News will introduce the first session at the Scot.E3 conference on 16th November in Edinburgh In 2018. Reel News went on a 14 week tour of North America to look at grassroots struggles around climate change, particularly struggles around a “just transition” from fossil fuels to renewable energy, where workers and communities control the process so that they benefit from the transition, and around “just recovery” – recovery from extreme weather events which do not exacerbate current inequalities. Shaun will introduce video clips from a range of inspiring struggles by unions, indigenous communities and people of colour in the US as a starter for the discussion and debate for the rest of the day.

Find out more about the conference here.  Book for the conference on Eventbrite and email if you want to book one or more crèche places.

Here’s one of the longer videos from REEL News’ American Climate Rebels series



Towards Net Zero?

On the 7th February 2019 Edinburgh City Council resolved to declare a climate emergency. On the 25th October Edinburgh City Council’s Policy and Sustainability met to consider a draft report from the Place-Based Climate Action Network (P-CAN) research project on Achieving Net Zero in the City of Edinburgh. The report will form the basis for discussion of an action plan at the February 2020 meeting of the committee.

In this post Pete Cannell gives a personal response to the report. We hope to publish further contributions on this important topic and we welcome comments, responses to the questions he poses and further contributions.

It’s important and encouraging that, in response to pressure from the School Student strikers, XR and the wider movement, Edinburgh City Council is set to discus actions to reduce carbon emissions. This post takes a critical look at the report that forms the basis for the council’s discussions.

‘Achieving Net Zero in the City of Edinburgh’ is a technical report that summarises research undertaken by the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI), drawing on expertise from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Leeds. Net zero means that carbon emissions from activity in Edinburgh are balanced by an equal amount of carbon being removed from the atmosphere. The net zero target applies to emissions from within the local authority boundaries. Critically, however, some emissions, most notably those from aviation are not included.

The cost-benefit analysis used by the research team is based on the same methodology that was used in the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change that was published in 2006.

The report notes that Edinburgh’s baseline emissions have declined by 40.3% since 2001. This reduction is almost entirely a result of changes in the way that Scotland’s electricity is generated with coal fired power stations closing down and replacement by renewables – primarily wind. Renewables are now such an important part of the grid that there is little scope for further reduction from this source.

The report models three scenarios for how much energy use and emissions could be reduced by 2030:

1. A 56% reduction in carbon emissions as a result of ‘cost effective’ investments amounting to £3.976 billion over the next 11 years. The savings resulting from these investments would repay the investment in 7.5 years and continue to generate savings thereafter.

2. A 62% reduction as a result of ‘cost neutral’ investments of £7.492 billion over the 11 years to 2030 that would be paid back in savings over 12.5 years.

3. A 67% reduction exploiting the full technical potential of the different mitigation measures proposed. This is estimated to require investment of at least £8.135 billion with the cost neutral pay back extending to 16.1 years.

The figures aggregate emission reduction strategies across multiple sectors – commercial, transport, domestic and industrial and the report provides some detailed proposals for the kinds of investment that needs to be made in each of these.

The report is honest about the scale of the technical and investment challenge but confines consideration of politics and strategy to the observation that:

Whilst the opportunities outlined here are all feasible and ‘win-wins’ for stakeholder groups across the city, they will require near-immediate and unequivocal support from institutions and the public.

Will the City Council’s action plan be framed in a way that faces up to the urgency of the crisis and wins unequivocal support? And will it address the gap between the reductions proposed in the report and net zero? Climate campaigners have a critical role to play here. We have a responsibility to build a movement embedded in working class communities across the city that is active, restless, rebellious and probes, questions and criticizes at every stage and every step. And we need to develop a collective understanding of how actions to reduce emissions and the unequivocal support of the mass of the population are achieved and built through democratic engagement and a focus on social justice.

There are a host of questions that we need to address. In the hope of starting a debate I’ll mention just a few!

The activities of the city council are responsible for only a small percentage of Edinburgh’s emissions. So how does an effective action plan ensure that the investment into emissions reductions envisaged by ‘Towards Net Zero’ take place across all areas of energy consumption? How does a council action plan leverage action across the whole city? Clearly there’s a role for regulation – for example imposing building regulations that mandate carbon neutral new builds. There’s also a case for investment in large-scale public initiatives – for example building insulation.

‘Towards Net Zero’ focuses on a cost benefit approach together with the implementation of existing low carbon technologies – and holds out the promise that in future emerging technologies will bridge the gap to net zero. Is this an appropriate methodology in the face of an existential crisis? Can it actually work? It’s not business as usual but it suggests that conventional methods together with technology can achieve net zero. So is net zero achievable without system change? And if it’s not, what does system change look like?

Treating carbon reduction as an issue about investment and technology may also hide real issues of policy. So for example business and tourism planning in Edinburgh have both had huge impact on how and where we live, the distances we travel to work and how we travel. As Edinburgh’s workforce is pushed further outside the city boundaries to find affordable accommodation the carbon footprint of our daily working lives has grown. But the ‘Towards Net Zero’ effectively excludes these issues, as it does the massive rise in aviation emissions, which are so strongly linked to current planning priorities. So while we can commend the City Council’s steps towards an action plan there is a powerful case for integrated planning across the region and for new policy frameworks for housing, health, work, transport and tourism that centre on zero carbon and social justice.

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Image: Pete Cannell, CC0

There is an opportunity to discuss the issues raised in this post at the  Scot.E3 conference that takes place on 16th November.  Book for the conference on Eventbrite and email if you want to book one or more crèche places.

Building Worker Power

On the Wednesday following the ScotE3 conference on Saturday 16th November the Scottish Trades Union Congress is holding an important event in Glasgow. Contact Louise Ireland, for booking details,

 Building Worker Power in the Context of the Climate Crisis: An STUC Energy Conference

 Wednesday 20th November, 2019

9.00 am – 4.30 pm

The Lighthouse, Mitchell Lane, Glasgow

energy graphic