Briefing 16: oil and gas are costing us the earth

Here’s the text of out latest briefing on climate, oil and gas and the cost of living. You can download it here.

Cost of Living

Everyone knows that we are in a cost-of-living crisis.  Most of us in Scotland rely on natural gas for cooking and heating and North Sea gas is a guided missile sent into every home in the country which will drive thousands of new people into poverty and will kill the most vulnerable.  Oil and gas producers are making mega profits and demanding money with menaces.  

Before this happened around a quarter of Scots lived in fuel poverty.  As a result of the price rises hundreds of thousands more will be forced to make impossible choices between food and heating.  The response from the Tories has been derisory. Their so-called Energy Security Plan does nothing to tackle immediate hardship and doubles down on the most expensive energy options for the longer term – nuclear, oil and gas, hydrogen for heating and carbon capture and storage.  

Business as usual – the North Sea Transition Deal

There is a simple reason why the Tories have made these choices.  In the face of the climate and cost of living crises they’ve chosen to protect the interests of big oil.  It’s not just that they won’t tax the enormous profits that are being made from North Sea Oil and Gas – it’s that they are following the logic of the oil industry’s ‘North Sea Transition Deal’.  

A phony deal

The ‘Deal’ is a partnership between the UK and Scottish governments and the unions.  It aims to continue the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas up to and beyond 2050.  It talks about a net-zero oil and gas basin where the greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas would be captured and stored.  This is not going to happen, certainly not in the next few decades, and the consequence will be that the UK will fail to meet its contribution to restricting global temperature rises.  

Maintaining profits – wasting resources

Moreover, the ‘Transition Deal’ drives high-cost energy options at every step and leaves working people to pay the price.   The latest UK government energy strategy aligns entirely with the ‘Deal’. Most of the electricity produced by new nuclear power stations will be required to produce the hydrogen for domestic heating.  Using electricity to produce hydrogen for domestic heating at large scale is hugely inefficient.  Moreover, nuclear produces much more carbon emissions over its lifecycle than wind or solar.

Torness CC-BY-SA-4.0 Image by NH2501

The alternative

There is an alternative.  Electricity produced by wind and solar is already much cheaper than that produced by nuclear, oil and gas and the costs of renewables continue to fall.  The money the Tories want to spend on new nuclear is enough to retrofit most homes across the UK – creating jobs, improving health and well-being and cutting energy demand.  

An economy based on renewables results in many more jobs than the fossil fuel and nuclear options.

A challenge for the trade union movement

It’s time for a decisive shift in policy and end to partnership with the oil industry.  Just transition, indeed arguably any transition that restricts temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, is incompatible with the ‘North Sea Transition Deal’.  Sticking with the ‘Deal’ is a disaster for the planet and undermines the ability of the workers movement and the climate movement to build the power we need to win over climate and the cost of living.

A new policy for the union movement

Tackling the cost-of-living crisis and the climate crisis means breaking the partnership with big oil that is inherent in the Transition Deal and campaigning for an end to the development of new North Sea oil and gas and the rapid planned phase out of existing fields.  Large-scale investment in renewables and a massive programme of retrofitting would result in lower energy prices and reduced carbon emissions.   A serious plan would include support for the oil and gas work force while they transition to new jobs and ramping up options for reskilling, education and training in the new industries.

No more subsidies

The oil and gas industry has been subsidised heavily over the lifetime of the North Sea.  The subsidies must stop.  Working people are suffering because what they pay for energy fuels super profits for big oil and goes into the pockets of the richest in society whose wealth grows as hedge funds speculate on the oil market.  There’s plenty of money to pay for an energy transition.

Among the components of a new policy for the workers movement should be: 

Massive investment in wind, solar and tidal energy.

Large-scale expansion of energy storage options.

No more North Sea development. 

Taking the North Sea into public ownership and beginning a planned phased out of production.

Support for oil and gas workers to transition to new jobs.

Regulate energy prices to consumers and tax big oil and the rich to end the cost-of-living crisis.

COP26 gave us a glimpse of the potential power when the workers movement and the climate movement come together.  Together we can win.

COP27 ‘Don’t be fooled by Sisi’s climate lies’

A message from the Egypt Solidarity Campaign

Egyptian activists warn ahead of COP27 summit

As Egypt prepares to host the COP27 climate summit in November 2022, Egyptian activists have issued an urgent appeal to the global climate justice movement not to be taken in by the regime’s claims to speak on behalf of ordinary people in the Global South. In a statement published by Egypt Solidarity Initiative, the Egyptian Campaign for Climate and Democracy warns that the regime of Abdelfattah al-Sisi is planning to use the COP27 conference to burnish its reputation after presiding over a decade of brutal repression. 

“The aim of this greenwashing is twofold: first, to extract as much financial aid as possible from the rich industrialised countries. Most of this money will end up being syphoned out of the country into the bank accounts of Sisi and his generals in those same industrialised countries. Second, is to distract from his abysmal human rights record, and as usual, the leaders of the supposedly democratic Western governments will allow him to get away with it.” 

The Egyptian Campaign for Climate and Democracy

While the COP27 conference takes place, thousands of people have been jailed and abused for demanding basic democratic rights, including journalists, activists, academics and students. The response of the military regime to protests and campaigns related to environmental issues has been just as harsh, whether over plans to build coal-fired power stations, polluting industries or the destruction of green spaces. Climate justice movements attending the summit are likely to find themselves alongside ‘astroturf’ government-sponsored ‘climate campaigns.’ 

“No real Egyptian opposition activists will be allowed near Sharm El-Sheikh during the conference. It would be a shame if genuine global grassroots movements are fooled into taking part in such a state-orchestrated charade” 

The Egyptian Campaign for Climate and Democracy

This appeal follows a similar warning by jailed activist Alaa Abdelfattah, a British citizen who was convicted of ‘terrorism’ for posts on social media and other trumped charges. Alaa has been on hunger strike since 2 April to protest at the abusive conditions in prison. He is also calling for a consular visit from the British embassy. “Of all the countries to host [the COP27] they chose the one banning protest and sending everyone to prison, which tells me how the world is handling this issue. They’re not interested in finding a joint solution for the climate,” he told his sister during a prison visit. 

Writer and activist Naomi Klein has also sounded the alarm. “The international climate movement must start paying attention to what is happening in Egypt’s prisons,” she told the Guardian. “We cannot sleepwalk to Cop27 as if these are not crimes against humanity.”

The TUC has also called on the British government to hold the Egyptian regime to account during COP27 for its attacks on workers’ rights to organise. In a statement published in June, ahead of preparatory talks in Bonn ahead of the COP27 conference, the TUC said: 

“The Egyptian trade union organisations affiliated to the ITUC – the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions and the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress – have faced repeated repression, with labour organisers forced to retire, limiting the unions’ ability to function. … Vital to tackling the climate emergency is the need for freedom of association and the rights of workers and communities to organise for change. Since seizing power, the Egyptian government has consistently demonstrated a disregard for human life and these fundamental freedoms. By hosting COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian government will have an unprecedented opportunity to greenwash its atrocious record in human rights”

TUC statement, 10 June 

What you can do: 

  • Read the full statement from Egyptian activists online here
  • Share with climate networks in your country and on social media 
  • Take action in solidarity with Egyptian political prisoners, write to your MP or government calling on them to demand the Egyptian regime releases political detainees and stops repressing protest.Go to FreeAlaa.net for more information on Alaa’s campaign. Find out more here about the cases of journalist and lawyer Hisham Fouad and Haitham Mohamedain.

The Transport Revolution

An international conference in Brussels organised by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation 27-28 June

Ellie Harrison (Get Glasgow Moving) and Mike Downham (ScotE3), representing their organisations in the Free Our City coalition which campaigns for free, publicly owned, democratically controlled buses across Greater Glasgow, were invited to speak at this conference as a result of contacts made during COP26. They also showed the Reel News film of the Free Our City protest during the COP as previously published on this Blog.

Here Mike Downham summarises his reactions to the conference:

It was a privilege and a pleasure to be invited to speak at this conference and to get to know in the evenings the other speakers from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Brazil.

The lid on the coffin of cars was firmly nailed down, whether powered by a combustion engine or by electricity. It was clearly demonstrated that if cars continue to be produced there is no way that carbon emissions can be reduced in time to avoid a more than 1.5 degree rise in global temperature  or that levels of poverty will fall in time to prevent societal chaos, despite the huge effort by car manufacturers to greenwash electric cars. We were able to point out that in any case only 49% of households in Glasgow have access to a car – that figure predating the price rise in cars and the cost of living crisis.

The EU’s carbon emissions discourse has been reduced to targets and choice of technology, with little reference to just transition for the millions of car manufacturing workers across Europe – 800,000 in Germany alone – nor to the transformation needed, especially in the way we move about our cities. Furthermore the emissions targets look less and less realistic.

Moving to mass transport is as urgent as stopping oil and gas extraction. Free public transport is also a more immediately attractive concept for large numbers of people than doing without oil and gas.

Three expert speakers (Ellie Harrison of Get Glasgow Moving, Alana Dave of the International Transport Workers Federation, and Mario Candeias of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation) told us exactly what needs to be done about public transport – above all that it needs to be publicly owned, democratically controlled, integrated in a way that gets people quickly to where they want to go, and free. 

Electric Bus pixabay.com CC0

Key to the transformation of transport are the highly developed skills, self-esteem and producer pride of car production workers. These skills are needed in the production of electric buses, trains, bicycles and ships. Some but not all workers will need new training, giving them the choice to remain within the transport sector or into other carbon negative sectors like renewable energy, or carbon neutral jobs in public services.

Transport needs to be seen as a common good and a right. Mobility poverty is as urgent an issue as fuel poverty and food poverty, though in Brazil, where there are 30 million hungry people, transformation of transport will inevitably take longer to achieve, even if Lula regains power.

Once again we know what to do – that’s not the issue – the issue is how to achieve the power to get it done. But transport workers have more power than most other workers, both because so many people rely on them in their day-to-day lives, and because many of their skills are hard to replace – witness the current RMT rail workers strikes, and the Rolls Royce workers in East Kilbride who grounded half the Chilean Air Force in 1974.

Mario Candeias speaks of a pathway to power: 

MOVEMENTS → STATE INTERVENTION → PUBLIC OWNERSHIP → INDUSTRIAL STRUCTURAL CHANGE OVERSEEN REGIONALLY BY WORKERS AND USERS

The question is what movements? He suggests partnerships between existing trade unions and civil society organisations. In my opinion movements which can reach sufficient scale fast enough are more likely to arise from new formations, especially those led by young people currently active for climate justice. These are currently targeting their civil disobedience on oil, gas and coal production sites, recognising that opposing forces largely reside in the fossil fuel industries. Will they also see the need to target car production sites to challenge the huge power of Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW? 

These discussions were taking place in Brussels, where it’s estimated that there are between 15,000 and 30,000 lobbyists – that’s between 20 and 40 per Member of the European Parliament. Of these 87.5% represent capital interests.

The most encouraging thing for me was to have two days in international company – the first non-remote opportunity for me since before the pandemic. I was left reflecting about the central importance of workers and communities united across borders in opposing the power of capital. The EU is perhaps an object lesson about how not to deal with borders – the old issue of merging economically, but retaining political independence. The speaker from Hungary described his country as in a “German trap”, German companies using cheaper Hungarian labour for their assembly lines for both cars and weapons.

Further reading – English copies of these three booklets, all published by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, are available free in limited numbers. If you’re interested please contact me first at mandrdownham@phonecoop.coop

Switching Lanes by Mario Candeias, 2022

The European Car Lobby by Tobias Haas and Hendrick Sander, 2019

Industry 4.0 by Christopher Wimmer 2019