We recently published the Scot.E3 contribution to the XR “Oil & Gas” Public Meeting held in the Garnethill Multicultural Centre, Glasgow on Saturday January 25. Thanks to Neil Rothnie for this much more comprehensive report.
Rather than try and summarise the individual contributions by invited speakers and the discussions from the work groups, I’ll try and give a sense of what I thought the meeting achieved.
It was, it seemed to me, a success. It was well attended. Maybe 60 odd people? Men and women were fairly equally represented and there was a wide range of ages amongst those attending, though we were predominantly young. The speakers were good, the meeting attentive and discussion lively.
The success of the meeting owes much to the fact that it took place at the end of the month long Rig Rebellion 2 which, receiving considerable media attention, had brought the issue of fossil fuel production in UK into sharp focus. This meant that the struggle to end fossil fuel production on our patch was no longer just a theoretical question. We are engaged. This was reflected in the meeting.
A document laying out the basic premises on which the meeting was called had been circulated widely in the movement in Scotland. A “critique” of Rig Rebellion 2 presented by Andrew and a further document for discussion presented by Paul had been received by the facilitators and Paul was able to attend and speak to the documents during group discussion. All three of these documents are appended.
The meeting was facilitated by Dario Kenner, active in XR Families in London who had travelled up with partner and two toddlers – an expression of seriousness if I ever did see one. Dario is author of “Carbon Inequality: The role of the richest in climate change” (Routledge, 2019). He’s also co-author with Rupert Read of a memo to XR. I’ve appended it. Dario’s presence, more than any argument, shouts that the struggle to decarbonise the economy, to take on the polluters, is a UK issue as part of a global issue. Certainly not a Scottish issue. No more than XR Aberdeen can be expected to shoulder the burden of confronting Big Oil, XR Scotland do not have the resources to take on the UK’s major polluters and chief source of UK’s greenhouse gasses. We are part of a movement that spans the whole of the UK.
A very personal message from a rebel “allegedly” involved in the most ambitious of the Rig Rebellion 2 actions was delivered to the meeting. It placed central stage, the issue of civil disobedience and direct action against the polluters, and nailed, as central to the struggle for survival, the end of fossil fuel production. Our speaker challenged the web of relationships in which oil and gas worker, rebels and the myriad other victims of climate change are caught up, in a toxic system built on misinformation, social conditioning, debt, powerlessness, privilege, excuses and ignorance. Rig Rebellion 2 means that no longer is the discussion about the future of North Sea oil & gas to be solely the property of industry and Government. The text will be appended if legal advice allows.
My ideas/comment on what the meeting achieved borrows heavily from the contributions of the two main speakers. Ryan Morrison from Friends of the Earth Scotland talked us, at breakneck speed, through the FotE sponsored “Sea Change” report , and Pete Cannell from Scot E3 took the discussion on to how we respond to this crisis. I’ve tried to reflect, as best I could, what came out of the group discussion I was involved in, and/or had notes from.
The big lie at the centre of today’s, still restricted, public discussion about global warming and species extinction is laid out clearly in Sea Change as presented to the meeting by Ryan. We can’t avoid climate chaos without tackling global warming. We can’t stay “well below” 2 degrees of warming without decarbonising the global economy. That is, not without the planned rundown of the source of greenhouse gasses – fossil fuel production. (North Sea oil & gas on our patch). And we can’t decarbonise the economy by following the “magic thinking” of industry and Government (Pete Cannell) who want business as usual and the maximum economic recovery of every barrel of oil & gas under the North Sea. 20 billion barrels more is the industry’s guesstimate. This gives us warning of what the industry plan is globally.
The issue of a “just transition” is central to the struggle to end fossil fuel production, and it’s not just about providing well paid jobs in renewables for workers who stand to lose well paid jobs in oil & gas, important as this is. Just transition is seen very differently in the global south (Ryan) and when we get the chance to explore this when activists from throughout the global south descend on Glasgow for COP26 later this year, we can show no more solidarity than be seen to be fighting to end to fossil fuel production in the global north starting with on our own patch, the North Sea.
The meeting took the discussion forward from the understanding that the Sea Change report gives us. Direct action is crucial in applying pressure on industry and Government and as Rig Rebellion 2 did, bringing the issue centre stage. But it is not in itself enough if the mass of people only look on – scared. The ideas of a just transition must become the common sense of society. (Pete) But to do that the ideas need to be sharply defined, not just the easy ones like why the oil & gas needs to stay in the ground, but those that confront the smoke and mirrors employed by industry and Government to justify business as usual. We need to understand carbon capture and storage (discussed by Ryan). If, as widely suspected, it cannot be delivered at anything like the scale required, then we need to be able to expose this with thoroughly researched materials and in a clear and concise fashion.
Multi billion pound taxpayer subsidies (our money) is handed to the industry by a Government whose ear they have. The threat of job losses in oil & gas that the industry say would accompany the ending of such subsidies and the ludicrous industry claim that they are ready to deliver net zero as a part of the solution as they continue business as usual. (Ryan). Our answer is the massive expansion of renewables during (and financed by) the end to subsidies to the oil & gas, and the planned run down of the industry starting now. This could leave us with a world class green energy industry to replace oil & gas. Otherwise where would we be in 2050 if this ludicrous plan for “maximum economic recovery” is allowed to proceed. Apart from fire fighting the results of another 30 years of full on fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions, we’d still have a reliance on oil & gas from wherever, when the North Sea fields have been pumped dry.
The weakness in the regulatory regime that encourages the misuse of migrant labour who are paid a fraction of the UK minimum wage in the offshore renewables industry was noted. (Ryan) A practice they no doubt learned from offshore oil decommissioning. The Sea Change report puts trade union organisation at the centre of a just transition to renewables, though this, given the state of trade unionism on the North Sea, is problematic.
When we confront Big Oil in Dundee and Aberdeen as we have begun to do, who are we actually speaking to? We challenge the industry’s vice grip on a media traditionally prepared to repeat any old nonsense that flows from oil company PR. But we’re also speaking to wider society. Those working in the industry might be the last people to be convinced, but they need to know that the energy transition is inevitable one way or another, and that their intervention will be crucial in determining whether it is to be fair to them or not. They also need to know they do not have a veto. All our grandchildren must have a future.
The discussion is impossible for me to record in any readable form. I’m here setting down some of the ideas that emerged from the contributions of our speakers and from the workgroups I have notes from. This is obviously not definitive and my be controversial. It’s not the final say and can only at best provide a framework for further more concrete planning if, as I hope, an Oil & Gas Working Group can be set up to carry forward what the Rig Rebellions have started.
Although direct action can’t stop oil & gas production, it can identify Big Oil as the problem and can generate press interest and effectively open the issues to public scrutiny. Maybe we can call our self Big Oil’s Big Nuisance. That’s a joke! But not for the industry who spend big keeping everyone “on message”.
Only as the role fossil fuels plays in generating greenhouse gasses and climate change becomes “common sense” in society (throughout the UK) can pressure be progressively brought to bear on Government and industry and finance to begin the mass expansion of renewable energy in sync with the rundown of oil & gas production.
The voice of even a small minority of oil & gas workers prepared to speak out on the issue of just transition and a future for their grandchildren would have a powerful effect and therefore outreach amongst this group is particularly important. But whatever they want to say, the workforce must be encouraged to say it. It is the workforce who will be forced to transition sooner or later, in a planned or a chaotic way. They need to intervene if it is going to be anything like fair to them. The last time there was an energy transition the coal miners and there families and communities, were shafted.
Amongst the citizens of Aberdeen, and amongst oil & gas workers, is where there is likely to be maximum pushback against these ideas, and has to be where we do our most serious listening. They will tell us where our arguments are weakest. Aberdeen also provides us with potential allies amongst those sections of the population who live amongst oil wealth and the high prices it generates, but who are living without oil wages. Making common purpose with them in the Oil Capital of Europe will bring the spotlight on the iniquity of the system and the nature of Big Oil. The transition is inevitable. But the industry, left to its own devices, will leave that city with little of value. What it threatens to leave society with is mass extinction of species
Research into carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen production, pushed as solutions to global warming needs to be accessed and turned into outreach material.
Imaginative materials allowing us to interact with citizens and oil & gas workers will be needed.
Media penetration will be important.
Should it be decided that an Oil & Gas Working Group be established to take this discussion further and make concrete plans, I think one of it’s first tasks will be how it can penetrate XR UK Circles, and challenge them to take responsibility for encouraging the whole movement to see ending oil & gas production from the under North Sea, and a major upscaling of renewable energy production, as a major strategical aim for the movement. This will need the whole movement with all its skills and operating at its regenerative best. UK’s greenhouse gas reserves/emissions are not a Scottish issue. XR UK must be challenged to encourage a movement wide campaign.
None of this is possible unless the necessity becomes “common sense”. Outreach is fundamental.
This is the year of COP26 in Glasgow. Let us show our solidarity with the activists from the Global South who come to Scotland. Let them see our determination to end fossil fuel production in the UK. We can organise transport and hospitality for Nigerian and other activists from around the world who may want to share our action and give their own message to Shell (and others) in Aberdeen, one of the the Oil Capitals of the Global North.