Briefing – the use and abuse of hydrogen

The latest in our series of briefings. Like all of the briefings this one is just two sides of A4 and is published under a Creative Commons license which means you are welcome to share, adapt and reuse the content. Download a PDF version here.

Abuse

Check through the news bulletins and the financial papers and you’ll find hydrogen in the news.  Big energy companies, the Westminster and Holyrood governments and some trade unions are all heralding hydrogen as a ‘green’ alternative to the natural gas which most of us use for heating and cooking.  For example, SGN who run Scotland’s gas network are promoting a plan in which hydrogen would be produced and stored at the St Fergus gas terminal, north of Peterhead.  It envisages starting to use hydrogen in Aberdeen and then extending the hydrogen network to the rest of the northeast coast and the central belt by 2045.

Natural gas used for heating and cooking accounts for around 30% of the UK’s carbon emissions.  In contrast burning hydrogen for heat results in zero emissions.  So, it appears that replacing natural gas with hydrogen is a no brainer.  In this briefing we’ll explain why that’s not the case. 

Grey, blue and green?

You will hear talk about grey, blue, and green hydrogen.  The colours refer to how the hydrogen is produced – and it’s the production method that determines the impact of hydrogen on the environment.

Grey hydrogen is made from natural gas. Almost all the hydrogen that’s in use now is produced in this way. World-wide production currently amounts to 70 million tonnes.  Greenhouse gases are a by-product of the production process, and current production has a similar impact on global warming to the whole aviation industry.

Much of the current hype is over blue hydrogen.  Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas in the same way as grey – the difference is that the production process incorporates carbon capture and storage. Greenhouse gases are stored rather than released to the atmosphere.  Using blue hydrogen for all our domestic heating and cooking would require carbon capture on a massive scale.  Large-scale carbon capture is untested, the technology for capture is not yet available and there are serious concerns about the long-term safety of large-scale storage.  The production process for blue hydrogen is energy intensive and needs large amounts of green electricity.  One example – Northern Gas Networks have a plan to convert domestic gas supplies to hydrogen.  The aim is to have converted 15.7 million homes by 2050.  This would require 8 million tonnes of hydrogen and need the equivalent of 60 production plants of the size of the largest currently operational plus a huge deployment of unproven carbon capture and storage technology.

Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysing water – if that electricity is from a renewable source the process is zero carbon.  However, the process requires even more green electricity than producing blue hydrogen.  The NGN scheme to supply 15.7 million homes would require around seven times as much wind generated electricity as is currently produced in the UK.

Image by Utahraptor ostrommaysi CCBY-SA 3.0

Generating electricity to provide the energy to ‘reform’ natural gas or electrolyse water into hydrogen and then using the hydrogen for heat is inherently inefficient.  Direct use of electricity is cheaper, more efficient and would require much less generating capacity.

So why the hydrogen hype?

A new hydrogen economy (dependent on carbon capture and storage technology) is at the heart of the North Sea Transition Deal, dreamed up by the industry body Oil and Gas UK, published by the UK government in March 2021 and endorsed by Holyrood. The transition deal aims at continuing extraction of oil and gas through to 2050 and beyond. It is a costly diversion. To be sure of cutting emissions with the speed that is required we need to phase out oil and gas and invest in proven technologies that are based on renewable energy sources.  

Ed Matthew Associate Director at independent climate and energy think tank E3G says hydrogen is the wrong choice for heating homes.  Blue hydrogen (manufactured from natural gas) needs CCS so would be massively expensive and keeps us hooked on gas. Green hydrogen (made by electrolysis using renewable electricity) is 4 times less efficient than using heat pumps. “Hydrogen is being pushed by the gas industry. Beware.”  Dave Toke, reader in energy politics at Aberdeen University agrees. He calls it: “the start of one of the greatest pieces of greenwash that have been committed in the UK.”

Use

There is a place for hydrogen in a new sustainable economy.  Hydrogen fuel cells supplied with green hydrogen are likely to be an integral part of a full decarbonised economy.  Fuel cells work by using hydrogen to produce electricity which can then power a motor instead of using battery power, such as for electric vehicles.

Image by Bill Harrison CC BY-SA 2.0

Hydrogen fuel cells are currently better suited than batteries for long distance transport and to transport heavy loads.  There are likely to be applications in energy storage and in some very specialised processes that are difficult to decarbonise.  Sea transport may be a case in point

Campaign

The main message of this briefing is that the hydrogen + CCS strategy is designed to maintain the profits of the big energy company’s and will not achieve the cuts in carbon emissions that are needed.  It puts profit before people and planet.  There are alternatives that will work.

To decarbonise heat, we need retrofitted insulation, heat pumps and district heating schemes on a mass scale that can only be achieved by the public sector.

Firms producing filthy-dirty “grey” hydrogen must be required to take action to reduce the horrendous levels of greenhouse gas emissions they produce. 

Hydrogen use must be limited to applications that are socially useful and don’t add to the climate crisis.

You can find all our briefings on the resources page.

A Botched Rehearsal

Mike Downham reflects on the impact of Covid, the aftermath of COP26 and what we might do differently in future. This article was first published in Scottish Socialist Voice.

It’s nearly two long years since we began to become aware of the potential scale and danger of the new virus. At that point some prescient people suggested that how we reacted to the pandemic would be a rehearsal for our performance in the forthcoming big show of climate breakdown.

This wasn’t the first time ‘rehearsal’ had been used for how we organise on the left. John Berger described every act of resistance as a rehearsal. Colin Barker called his 1987 book about the uprisings in France, Chile, Portugal, Iran and Poland between 1968 and 1980 Revolutionary Rehearsals. And he used this title again in his subsequent book Revolutionary Rehearsals in the Neoliberal Age, written jointly with Gareth Dale and Neil Davidson published this year – posthumously for both Colin and Neil – which describes the uprisings in Eastern Europe, South Africa, Indonesia, Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt since 1989. 

It’s reasonable I think to say that we’ve made a right mess of the Covid rehearsal. Had we known two years ago what we know today, we would have learnt our lines and our cues more thoroughly. What we know today is that 9,634 people in Scotland have died; that the majority of these snuffed-out lives have been among the poor, the disabled and the marginalised; that 99,000 people in Scotland are living with Long Covid; that about 10% of children who catch the virus go on to have disabling poor health for weeks or months; and that the NHS has broken down.

That the NHS has actually broken down, no longer something we just fear might happen, was brought home to me this week by hearing about a middle-aged woman in the Paisley area with an 18-month history of severe neck pain who waited so long for surgery that she’s been forced to give up her job as a care-worker, then lost her home because she couldn’t keep up with her mortgage repayments. Not that this is the only tragic story about NHS failure we could tell between us.

Now the omicron variant (whether or not it turns out to be as bad as feared – we’ll have to wait a week or so before we know) is shouting at us from the wings, telling us that if we allow the virus to spread, whether in Scotland’s communities, schools and workplaces in an incompletely vaccinated population, or in largely unvaccinated countries sent to the back of the queue because they can’t pay, sooner or later we’re going to get a variant which will evade current vaccines.

And yet the cues were there in the script from the beginning. If we’d read it and learned it we’d have known we couldn’t trust the governments of wealthy counties, including Scotland, to not rely so heavily on vaccines, or to prioritise supply and reduce the cost of vaccines for poor countries, because these governments are locked into a system where profit trumps health. Yesterday’s top news was about Pfizer rubbing its hands as it suggested that annual vaccination was likely to be necessary – without mention of the financial and logistical implications of vaccinating eight billion people annually. Pfizer is relishing not only the prospect of a limitless market but also that it has outcompeted AstraZeneca both technically and in its propaganda.

Just as profit trumps health, so that the ruling classes allow the Covid virus to spread, it also trumps the devastating impacts of global heating which are unfolding for all humanity. COP26 has finally made it clear that neither wealthy governments nor the oil and gas corporations are going to take effective action in relation to global heating, despite being fully aware of and no longer denying the scale of the impacts which will result from their inactivity.

How can it be that one small fraction of human beings can inflict such suffering on the rest of their species? Andreas Malm and colleagues, in their new book White Skin, Black Fuel try to explain:

They are not perturbed by the smell from the blazing trees. They do not worry at the site of islands sinking; they do not run from the roar of approaching hurricanes; their fingers never need to touch the stalks from withered harvests; their mouths do not become sticky and dry after a day with nothing to drink … After the past three decades, there can be no doubt that the ruling classes are constitutionally incapable of responding to the catastrophe in any other way than by expediting it; of their own accord, under their inner compulsion, they can do nothing but burn their way to the end.

The lake at Sweetwater Creek State Park Lithia Springs GA is one of the sources that Georgia residents are dependent on for drinking water Image by Global Water Partnership CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As we get our last call to take the stage in the climate crisis, what have we learned from the Covid rehearsal? What are our lines and what are our most critical cues?

The best approach to these questions may be to ask first what mistakes we made in the rehearsal, to avoid making them again. We should perhaps beware of:

  • Knocking politely on town-hall and parliament doors asking the politicians to do things few of them can even contemplate doing 
  • One-off marches and protests which aren’t part of a charted programme of resistance
  • Loosely knit coalitions, which dilute militancy with compromise
  • Hoping to build a social democratic party which could win at the ballot-box
  • Organising strictly within our political silos, whether parliamentary parties, or revolutionary groups, or single-issue institutions 
  • Underestimating the extent to which the ruling classes have stifled trade union power so that collective withdrawal of labour is no longer the readily available weapon it used to be 

How then can we organise, if not in these ways? First, the Covid pandemic is far from over – in fact it can be said to be at a critical point, with the prospect that vaccines may not protect us, and that relying on vaccines alone is not sustainable. We’ll only be able to overcome this pandemic through traditional public health measures, delivered through a greatly expanded and well-resourced public health service. This is what we can start turning our attention to and fighting for. Covid is offering us the experience of another rehearsal, the key changes needed to address both Covid and climate becoming more clearly the same – rolling out and investing heavily in existing technologies instead of switching to uncertain ones. Vaccination on its own becomes the equivalent of Carbon Capture and Storage, both of them profitable for the ruling classes but disastrous for the rest of us.

Second, COP26 has shown us that targeted and sustained direct action works. The Indian farmers, after a year’s disruptive presence in Delhi, during which 700 of them died at the hands of the police, have won a historic victory. The first thing Modi did when he returned from Glasgow was to announce that he was going to withdraw the three laws against which the farmers had been protesting. Two weeks later Shell announced that they are giving up their ten-year plan to extract oil and gas from the Cambo field. This is a huge victory for the Stop Cambo! campaign – a direct result of its persistent visibility in Westminster over the last year, then its strong performance at the COP in Glasgow.

Art, Pen and People by Randeep Mandoke CC0

But in the midst of our celebrations of these two wins, we can see that the farmers are continuing to swamp Delhi. They want to see the three laws actually withdrawn, not just hear a promise. It’s probable that even then they will continue their protest for further, more systemic changes. Stop Cambo! knows too that it must not relax. There’s still Siccar Point Energy to unseat (the majority partner in the development of the Cambo field), and there’s the UK Government to force into a decision that no extraction license will be granted. A win is the cue to increasing the strength of a protest, not to ending it.

Third, we would do well at this point to start discussing what so far we’ve shunned: how are we to oppose the state oppression which is bound to escalate in relation to increased direct action? Is XR right to remain adamant about non-violence? Or did Mandela have a point when he said “The attacks of the wild beast cannot be averted with only bare hands”?    

Don’t let CCS dominate the climate action agenda in Scotland

Part of the coalition deal between the Scottish Greens and the SNP was the allocation of £500 million to support the creation of new sustainable jobs. There are indications that all of this funding may now go to CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage projects). One time chair of the Wood Group, Sir Ian Wood is a strong advocate of CCS and has been vocal in his criticism of the Westminster government’s failure to fund the Acorn CCS project in Scotland. The Wood Group lobbies and argues for CCS. Their website asserts that ‘If we are to achieve a net-zero world, carbon capture and storage infrastructure is a necessity and needs to scale up rapidly.’ Scot.E3 believes that CCS is a central plank of Oil and Gas UK’s strategy to continue the policy of maximum economic extraction of oil and gas from the North Sea. Choosing to spend the £500 million on CCS would constitute big step down a road that the Oil Industry wishes to travel and a setback for the campaign for a rapid just transition away from fossil fuels. There are many other projects that could be funded.

We are pleased to publish this post that has been submitted to the site. The author has asked to remain anonymous.

One of the SNP’s proposed solutions to climate change is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). This is very dangerous in our mission to decarbonise Scotland’s economy and provide other countries with the tools to do the same. On the face of it CCS may seem like another tool in the box to reduce carbon emissions, and that might be right if it weren’t for the very strong vested interests. 

There are very strong arguments that CCS can’t work for technical reasons – such as the inability to actually avoid the carbon being stored leaking. There are also strong economic reasons it can’t work – wind and solar are already cheaper than fossil fuels in most markets, with plenty of scope for further reduction. Adding an additional cost to the production of fossil fuel energy makes it even less competitive. 

Image Pete Cannell – View from Cromarty – CCO

So why are fossil fuel interests so keen on CCS?

There are two reasons why CCS is favoured by fossil fuel executives who want to portray themselves as concerned about climate change. The first is that it allows them to continue extraction of the oil and gas that their company’s valuations are based on. The second is that it distracts from other clean technologies that will actually decarbonise energy, such as renewables and storage. It does this by ‘crowding out’ renewables investment.

So CCS will do two things, even if it isn’t viable. It will allow more drilling for fossil fuels and it will divert investment from renewables and storage.  

The argument put forward by Oil and Gas UK is that CCS means we can continue to drill in Scottish waters and that those resources can be made ‘carbon neutral’ through CCS. 

The danger particularly comes because the UK Government has chosen not to support the Scottish CCS project. This has created an opportunity for the vested fossil fuel interests in Scotland to argue that the Scottish Government should use the money set aside for a worker-led just transition from oil and gas jobs should be diverted to supporting CCS. The £500m negotiated by the Greens as part of the coalition deal for clean jobs to replace oil and gas is now at risk from a dead-end technology that exists mainly to prevent the end of fossil fuel drilling. 

This illustrates exactly how CCS will crowd out renewables investment, but worse it will rob workers of the jobs that they need in truly clean industries. 

The fossil fuel industry tried the same approach with fracking in the last decade. We urgently need a campaign to persuade politicians who have fallen for the CCS lies and greenwash that this is another wrong turn. At the moment, that means SNP ministers and backbenchers.

END

There are other posts relevant to CCS on this site:

Video on carbon capture

Briefing on BECCS

Articles here and here

Building a Workforce for the Climate Emergency

A new pamphlet, and accompanying technical resources, from the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group is indispensable reading for every trade unionist and climate activist.  

It’s now 13 years since the One Million Climate Jobs pamphlet was published.  The pamphlet’s proposition is a simple one – solving the climate crisis requires a rapid transition to a zero-carbon economy – transition involves ending economic activity in areas that create greenhouse gas emissions and hugely expanding the number of new jobs that are essential to a decarbonised economy – these jobs are what the pamphlet describes as ‘climate jobs’.   

A focus on climate jobs is practical and political.  It’s practical because an energy transition is simply impossible unless the jobs are created.  So, the extent to which jobs are being created is a measure of progress.  If there’s no evidence of jobs, then all the rhetoric about a climate emergency from politicians is just hot air and greenwashing.  Scotland is a good example of this – we’re told that the Scottish Government has world leading policies – but there is no evidence of a growth in climate jobs, or of the planning and infrastructure required to support growth in climate of numbers.  And while there is no evidence, it’s very hard to convince working class people that plans for dealing with the climate crisis will not have the same impact as past transitions.  Many parts of Scotland are still deeply scarred by the transition from coal in the 1980s.   So, to build the kind of powerful mass movement we need to drive an effective and socially just transition a sharp focus on climate jobs and the positive effects that transition would have on employment and quality of life is essential.  It’s important to stress, however, that a socially just transition – system change in short – should also mean a re-evaluation of employment across the board.  Social justice requires climate jobs, but it also requires that there are more jobs in health, care and education and these jobs that support social reproduction are valued much more highly.  

Since the publication of ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ other studies have taken a similar approach to analysing what needs to be done to reach Zero Carbon. It’s striking that although methodologies have varied estimates of the number of climate jobs required for the UK and for regions of the UK are remarkably similar.  The Green European Foundation’s regional focus is very helpful at understanding more localised impact.  It provides data that enables estimates of the numbers of jobs in different sectors in Scotland to be made.  Sea Changedemonstrates that phasing out North Sea oil could result in significantly more skilled jobs in renewables.  

Nevertheless, ‘Climate Jobs – Building a Workforce for the Climate Emergency’ is a hugely valuable addition to the evidence base for organising and campaigning.  It looks though a UK wide lens – and of course there will be regional variations – but the data and analysis on Energy Production, Housing, Transport and Decarbonising industrial processes provides a clear and accessible guide to what can be done using existing technology.  The pamphlet also demolished the most common ‘false solutions’ (or greenwashing) that characterise so much of current government and industry priorities.  

This pamphlet deserves to be used and shared widely.  We will have copies on ScotE3 stalls,  and you can order hard copies, download a PDF and access the back-up technical resources from the CACC TU website. 

The power to change the system

Another contribution to our ongoing thread of debate about ‘what next after COP26’.  This post from Sara Bennet, Raymond Morrell and Pete Cannell, based on a revised and updated version of an article originally published on the rs21 and Conter websites, is intended as a contribution to that debate.  It looks the rising level of industrial militancy in the UK and discusses the importance of this for developing a movement that has the power to force the kind of system change that we need to avert climate catastrophe.

The imperative for the COP 26 conference was to agree actions that ensure that greenhouse gas emissions (mainly CO2 and methane) are cut rapidly to restrict average global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees centigrade.  It failed to do that.  This is the latest in a long line of failures.  Carbon emissions have increased almost every year that COP talks have taken place since the first conference in Berlin in 1995.   In 2020, despite reduced economic activity because of lockdown, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose faster than the average for the previous decade.  2021 is set to see the second biggest ever increase in CO2 emissions.    The aggregate increase in parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere since 1995 exceeds the total increase over the previous 200 years.  A staggering lack of impact that is pushing humanity close to the edge of runaway global heating.

Nevertheless, despite the failure of the COP, there are reasons to be hopeful.  Glasgow was the focus for a diverse and dynamic series of protests that took place in more than 300 locations around the world.  There has been a convergence in understanding of the science and economics of the crisis between climate activists and scientists and researchers.  So for example, the IPCC reports are produced by consensus among scientists from around the world. The physical science section of the latest report was published in August 2021.  It highlights the chasm between the reductions in greenhouse gases that need to happen and the reality of continuing increases.  Increases that reflect the fact that while investments in renewables have grown, that growth is outstripped by new investments in fossil fuels.  The second and third sections of the report were not due for release until 2022 but, in an unprecedented move, scientists have leaked drafts of the texts. Essentially the message is that restricting the average rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century is only possible if there are fundamental changes to the way economic and social activity is organised around the world.  Quite simply the message is that business as usual, based on the assumption that the market will drive a transition to a low carbon economy, is just not an option.  

But in essence COP26 stuck with business as usual.  So how do we build a movement that is powerful enough to drive through system change in the face of opposition from the rich and powerful?

Over 100,000 marched in Vancouver in solidarity with the youth of the world in the September 27 Climate Strike. Image by Chris Yakimov CC BY-NC 2.0

Part of the story of the Glasgow COP is the strikes and threats of strikes by Scottish workers.  The industrial action by ScotRail workers that would have paralysed Scotland’s rail network while the COP took place was called off after the RMT union reached a settlement over a one-year agreement.  But in a separate dispute strikes by workers on the night sleeper trains from Scotland to England went ahead as did action by Glasgow refuse workers, members of the GMB union.  It was important that the COP coalition that brought together activists to protest and demonstrate at the COP provided open and consistent support for the strikers.

Image by superalbs CC BY-SA 4.0

For too long the demand for a worker-led just transition has been abstract and disconnected from any sense of working-class agency.  While climate activists have promoted the idea, concrete examples of class action have been lacking.  So, whilst climate change has moved up the agenda of most trade unions in Britain, the disconnect between economics and broader politics continues to exert an influence over trade union engagement in the climate question.  For example, the GMB has turned its back on meaningful action with its support for fracking.  It also supports an approach to mixed-energy provision which may appear like a step in the right direction but allows the status quo to continue under the guise of sounding more balanced.  Meanwhile Unite, which represents members working in some of the key ecologically damaging sectors, opposes fracking.  However, it has often passed sensible-sounding policies around supporting climate jobs while simultaneously limiting their effectiveness by being unable to think beyond the immediacy of job provision, such as its position in favour of Gatwick airport expansion position.

Trade unions’ main role, of course, is to defend workers, their jobs and working conditions. However, this has too often led to a narrow focus, and a determination to defend the climate-damaging jobs that in time will simply undermine the very existence of such jobs in the future. Jobs in these polluting sectors have often also tended to be more highly skilled with a history of organisation. They also wield some power within the union structure. Due to their importance in terms of UK manufacturing and output, they have also been some of the worst affected by partnership arrangements, which basically attempt to convince workers that their interests align with their bosses. 

When climate activists see unions acting in this way, it can breed a sense of cynicism, and to regarding the those working in these sectors as part of the problem, rather than as key to the solution. However, workers are right to insist that there will be meaningful and sustainable jobs for them and future generations. What’s more, increasing numbers of workers within and outside these sectors realise that time is up. These are workers that could and should be at the heart of planning what a real just transition would look like: which skills it could retain and build on, how to transfer them to building a viable future. 

Things are changing.  Four decades of neo-liberalism have resulted in grotesque levels of inequality.  So, for example lorry drivers pay has remained stagnant while working conditions declined, and workloads grew.  This is mirrored across society.  The accumulated impact of these trends, compounded by the pandemic, is reflected in staff shortages in key sectors from transport to care.  In this context workers are starting to organise, take action and win.  

Whether or not the anger that these actions represent, and the confidence they engender, can generalise beyond immediate economic demands to grapple with the need for system change depends on the way in which political ideas develop in both the trade union and climate movements.  Not least, a worker-led transition requires new forms of organisation at the base and a rejection of employer partnership.  

Objectively the conditions are favourable for this to develop.  Marxist Ecologist John Bellamy Foster argues that the existential threat posed by the climate crisis can create a revolutionary situation in which the struggle for freedom (from oppression, poverty and more) and the struggle for necessity (survival in the face of climate chaos) coincide.   Such a formulation may seem like an impossible step from the action of rail workers and council workers in Scotland – yet building a movement that can achieve system change (necessity) will be one of many steps and reversals – sometimes slow – sometimes rapid.   

For many, perhaps most climate activists, the IPCC’s conclusions are old news.  It is precisely because of the way in which, year on year, world leaders have jetted into the latest COP and made decisions predicated on the assumption that the market is sacrosanct that so many have concluded that system change is the only answer.  The slogan ‘System Change Not Climate Change’ is ever present on climate protests worldwide.  But what the slogan means and how the change is achieved is less clear.  Will capitalist enterprises respond to ethical imperatives or is state regulation required to force changed behaviour?  Can a system driven by profit and capital accumulation ever coexist with a sustainable zero carbon economy?  Or do we need a much more fundamental reorganisation of society? And at the same time, given the strength of fossil capital – structured through a century of exploitation of coal and oil and resting on vast resources of wealth and power – where is the power to make this happen?

The beginnings of the answer to that question of the power to change the system are evident in the rise of the school student strike movement around the world, the mass demonstrations that preceded the global pandemic and on the streets in Glasgow this month.  But, apart from a moment two decades ago when the turtles and the teamsters marched together, organised workers have largely been absent from the stage.  This why the industrial action around the Glasgow COP is so important.  

In the aftermath of the COP a priority for climate activists must be to actively lend their support to striking workers, whether it be the refuse collectors in Glasgow and Brighton, the HGV drivers nationally or bus and rail workers. Supporting road haulage might on the surface seem contradictory to the fight against climate change but ultimately the change we need will come from below, with unity across the struggles being of paramount importance. Likewise, we need to see trade unionists march with their banners alongside climate activists at COP26 and beyond. The fights for decent jobs and a decent environment are not in opposition: they are one and the same. 

Writing about how neo-liberalism and its consequences can be overturned, Panagiotis Sotiris talks about “productive reconstruction”.  

We must think of “productive reconstruction” not as “a return to growth” but as a process of transformation and intense confrontation with capital, based upon public ownership, self-management, and forms of workers’ control. It has to be a process of experimentation and learning.

This seems like a pretty good agenda for both the climate and workers’ movements.

Offshore – film trailer

Platform has released the trailer for Offshore, an independent documentary about working in offshore oil and gas and renewable energy. The film explores what the coming energy transition means for workers and communities around the UK North Sea. 

Offshore looks at how communities and regions have been impacted by past industrial decline, the risks workers face in an increasingly precarious industry, and how they can organise for the future. 


The climate crisis means we must rethink our energy systems: where we get energy from, how it’s produced and who benefits from it. We must answer the questions of what to do next – and how to organise for a just transition – together. 

You can check out the website, sign up for a community screening and download the trailer via this link.


Flooding in British Columbia

The major disaster in British Columbia a week ago has been conspicuously under-reported in the UK, whether in the interests of those who want to minimise concerns about climate change, or as part of the British exceptionalism which increasingly dominates our mainline media.

A key feature of the disaster is that much of its devastation has impacted on already impoverished First Nations communities, many of whom are without power, short of food and shelter, and cut off by roads made impassable by huge landslides.

It’s also clear that increased run-off following the forest fire-storms in a uniquely hot summer has contributed to the flooding and landslides.

Large numbers of dairy cows have been swept away, to the extent that there’s a widespread shortage of milk in western Canada.

Here’s a link to some reporting and video footage from CTV News. 

Meritt BC Flooding, Image by Stepan CC BY 3.0

COP26 outcomes – short summary

Thanks to Gus Woody for permission to adapt and share this brief summary of outcomes from the Glasgow COP

The COP26 Globe at the Hydro. Photograph: Karwai Tang/ UK Government CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The run up – C19 and access

  • Delegate passes – limited, for the rich
  • Covid Red list restricted access from global south – borders and racism made this the least accessible COP for a long time
  • The ‘Leaders Summit’ at the start is new at COP – performance art rather than substance
  • There had only been one formal ‘Leaders’ meeting since Madrid 2019, all others informal

The run up – NDCs and the framework

  • Ratchet mechanism – Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)
  • Most nations submitted new NDCs in advance of COP26.
  • Around 40 nations did not submit. 
  • Next round of NDCs covers the 2030s so this was effectively the last chance for setting policy on emissions reductions prior to 2030M

Major Policy Outcomes

  • Glasgow Climate Pact – this was a new development
    • Requests review by end of 2022. Australia has already announced that it won’t do this.
    • Requests greater adaptation, climate, and loss and damage finance. 
    • Requests coal phasedown. 
    • Various other features.
  • Article 6 finally agreed – system of carbon markets and other forms of cooperation (6 years late). Major issues remain on how emissions are counted and attributed. 
  • Similarly, finally agreed transparency rules.

Climate Colonialism continues

  • Refusal to agree a Loss and Damage Facility. Refusal to therefore plan for climate impacts on the Global South. 
  • Failure to even cough up $100bn promised to developing countries. (Serco Test and Trace £37bn ~ $50bn). African group suggest $1.3tr. 
  • Adaptation, similar failure, calls to double finance in Glasgow Pact, but from low base. ($40bn in 2025)Warming Amounts

Warming Amounts

‘Current policies in place today will lead to a best-estimate of around 2.6C to 2.7C warming by 2100 (with an uncertainty range of around 2C-3.6C).  If countries meet both conditional and unconditional nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for the near-term target of 2030, projected warming by 2100 falls to 2.4C (1.8C-3.3C).’ Carbon Brief

Key Takeaways

  • Not enough, money and fossil fuels absent. 
  • Climate colonialism and imperialism continues.
  • Too much faith in tech and markets. 
  • COP increasingly spectacular, inaccessible, and uneven. 

Signs of life

  • The COP26 Marches centred calls for reparations and involved trade unionists.
  • Life outside COP26 
    • Neurath Coal Plant – Blockaded 5th November
    • Lützerath Opencast Coal mine – Invaded by hundreds on 31st October/1st November

A reply to justice, jobs and the military industrial complex.

Ex oil worker Neil Rothnie reflects on the post we published three days ago Climate Justice, Climate Jobs and the Military Industrial Complex. We welcome further responses.

I suppose I just thought that campaigning amongst armament workers and on behalf of armament workers would be likely to be difficult in terms of how we might begin to “actually” impact global heating.  I know that if we weren’t building all this military shit and jetting it all over the world and destroying humans and other productive forces with it, then we would avoid putting a lot of carbon into the atmosphere.  It’s just that I’ve never considered that it was an issue that you might be able to intervene in quite the same way as I think we might be able to when it comes to oil and gas production.

The issue of oil and gas is looming ever larger in the consciousness of the climate movement.  It’s way, way higher than it was when I discovered XR in 2019. When I took part in the London Rebellion it was hard to get a sensible conversation about oil and gas and the North Sea was a very nebulous “concept” for many. Look at the movement today with Stop Cambo.   If reporting on mainstream media is anything to go by it’s beginning to exercise thoughts in layers way beyond just the activists and the scientists now.  Interestingly the only people who dare not mention oil & gas is the COP.  I don’t know if any of this is true about the military complex.

But I can see that from the perspective of jobs, and that’s how the discussion was framed, there’s pretty much no difference in making “demands” about just transitioning armaments workers and oil workers into renewables and other sustainable work. 

But I can’t see how it would ever be likely to be more than just a “demand” in the case of armaments workers.  In the case of oil workers I have, as you know, an idea that a mass intervention amongst oil workers is a crucial first step if we’re ever going to get to the point where we try to choke off oil and gas production – the absolute first and crucial necessity of a movement that has any hope of abating climate change in the face of this system.  There has to be a time and it has to come very soon when the licence society gives the industry to produce fossil fuels is withdrawn.  Who is going to force that issue?

I don’t know if a part of all this that as oil is is all I’ve ever known/done, oil is all I can ever really see.  The opposite was surely very widely the truth for the bulk of the population until very recently.  I think that’s changing.

But I’m beginning to realise that what I see as the impossibility of armaments workers turning their weapons into ploughshares, is what others see as impossible when the issue of confronting/challenging the oil and gas workers.   I can see why people think it’s a very long shot to imagine that they’ll either participate in the ending of oil and gas production.  But I think that least they can be neutralised, picketed at the heliports and stopped from producing the oil.  For how long?  And anyway!  They need to be informed of the science and we can’t rely on the media to do that.

These two issues, fossil fuel and the armaments/military complex, seem to be of different orders (qualitatively and quantitatively) in the context of tackling climate change.  Fossil fuel production seems to me to be primary.  Once the fossil fuels are out of the ground, they are pollution – they will be burned/processed.   Being used to build and deploy military hardware is just (just?) the path the pollution takes to get into the atmosphere. Or do we think that realistically we can take on the military complex and somehow stop it, and therefore stop the demand for fossil fuel?  

They (?) take fossil fuels out of the ground and then make fortunes on it.  They need to keep taking it out of the ground to keep making fortunes – to keep feeding the beast.  So they are endlessly imaginative in finding new and more extravagant and destructive ways of using it.  It looks like a real madness. to me.  The thing is that they can’t turn this hellish roundabout off themselves.  But turned off it will have to be if life is to survive, inasmuch as I understand the science.

Capitalism is the problem.  But to a great extent isn’t the oil industry pretty much the same thing as capitalism (?) . . the same thing as climate change? The military complex surely is just (just again?) how they regulate capitalism – keep the imperialistic plunder going and ensure that the trade routes remain open to keep that wealth flowing north, and in the process provide an ever-renewing market for the oil.  I never did get my head round the concept of a permanent arms economy – it was an idea touted by a political tendency I was taught was beyond the pale.  But I guess I’m stumbling along in the same neck of the woods here.

Obviously, the military complex is a huge issue for humanity, but I just don’t see how you tackle it head on with any hope of affecting climate change.  On the other hand, if you end oil you end capitalism (don’t ask me to prove that – I was hoping someone else would though) and then you have at least a fighting chance (is that a pun) of ending the military complex. The other way round it’s even clearer.  You don’t stop oil and life on earth is in danger.  However, you frame it you need to stop oil.