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Solidarity with the railworkers

We are pleased to republish this statement from the Climate Justice Coalition – please follow up on the suggested actions and share widely

Solidarity with RMT members – no Climate Justice without workplace justice

The Climate Justice Coalition stands in solidarity with RMT members taking industrial action to protect their pay, jobs and working conditions, and the wider fight to protect a public transport system for people – social need – not private greed.  Billions are being cut from our transport system at a time when we should be increasing investment to ensure a fully public, affordable, integrated, and sustainable transport system. 

Our railways are already being impacted by the effects of climate change, putting additional demands on a stretched workforce providing an essential public service.  This action by the Government is symptomatic of their disregard for the concerns of climate, environment, and workers.

As a coalition representing groups within climate and environmental campaigns, faith, race and social justice groups, and trade unions, we call on you all to support this struggle.  This includes adding our voices to resist the anti-trade union and worker narrative being driven by the Government in the mainstream media and publicise that it is their inaction and behaviour that is detrimental to people, not workers seeking justice.

Inaction on climate change is harming innocent people across the globe. Protecting the rights of workers and living standards must be a priority for the climate justice movement in fighting for a Just Transition to a zero-carbon economy.

We stand with the RMT to fight for their aims, and to campaign for a better deal for workers and a fairer, climate just, society.

Support the Strike:

💌 Write a letter of solidarity to the striking workers from your organisation, union branch or group: info@RMT.org.uk 

📣 Join a picket line! https://strikemap.co.uk/

🚋 Discuss the strike in your workplaces, communities, and coalition hubs. 

 Write to your MP: actionnetwork.org

Why nuclear is not the answer to the climate crisis

Our new briefing – number 15 – looks at nuclear power.

New nuclear power stations are central to the UK government’s new energy strategy. Some influential environmentalists like George Monbiot support nuclear as part of tackling the climate crisis and the Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change (IPCC) argue that globally by 2050 energy production should 70% renewables and 30% nuclear.  So why do we say that there should be no role for nuclear?  In this briefing we explore the arguments around nuclear and demolish some of the myths about nuclear power.

A military technology

The raw material for nuclear weapons is produced in nuclear reactors.  In the US, the UK, Russia civil nuclear power was developed after the second world war to support nuclear weapons programmes.  Researchers at the University of Sussex Science Policy Research Unit have shown that to this day the main role of nuclear power in the UK main has  been to subsidise nuclear weapons.  Electricity consumers have paid the price through higher costs, providing a hidden subsidy for the nuclear weapons programme.

Chernobyl CC0 pixabay.com

High cost

Nuclear power costs two to three times as much per unit of electrical energy than offshore wind. Onshore wind and solar is even cheaper.  These comparisons don’t include the cost of decommissioning old nuclear power stations (which takes many decades) or the cost of safely storing the radioactive waste that they generate (which is necessary for thousands of years).  These additional costs are born by consumers and taxpayers.  

Long construction times

Since 2011 construction has started on 57 nuclear power plants around the world.  Ten years later only 15 are operational, with many incurring long delays and massive overruns on predicted costs.  Even advocates of nuclear power argue that it would take around 25 years for new nuclear to make a significant impact to global energy production.

Carbon free? Not at all!

To widespread consternation, the European Commission recently declared nuclear a green technology.  Clearly nuclear reactions don’t generate greenhouse gases.  However, it’s a myth that nuclear is a carbon free resource.  Uranium mining, plant construction, which requires large amounts of concrete, and decommissioning are all carbon intensive. A 2017 report by WISE International estimated nuclear lifecycle emissions at 88–146 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour. More than ten times higher than wind with lifecycle emissions power of about 5–12 grams. Uranium fuel is scarce and carbon emissions from mining will rise as the most easily recoverable ores are mined out.

Safety

The consequences of nuclear accidents are severe.  Proponents of nuclear power downplay the impact of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and argue that the number of deaths was small. In a scrupulous investigation, Kate Brown author of ‘Manual for Survival – A Chernobyl Guide to the Future’ has researched the decades long efforts by the old Soviet Union, and then the US, to cover up the impact of Chernobyl.  She estimates that the true figure for deaths is in the range 35 – 150,000.  Many nuclear plants (like Fukushima) are built close to the sea to provide water for cooling. increasingly these reactors will be at risk as sea levels rise.

CCO pixabay.com

Environmental impact

About 70% of uranium mining is carried out on the land of indigenous people. Mining and leaks of radiation have had a devastating effect on the environment in these areas. Building more nuclear power will result in more leakage of radioactive materials into the environment and more workers exposed to unsafe conditions and preventable deaths.  

Small modular reactors

Rolls Royce is pushing for the development of small modular nuclear reactors as a response to the climate crisis.  It’s argued that they could be built more quickly although this is unproven.  In addition to sharing all the negative features of larger reactors, new research at Stanford University suggests that smaller reactors are less efficient and produce up to 35 times the amount of low-level radioactive waste and 30 times the amount of long lived waste compared with larger reactors.

Scotland

While Westminster is planning huge investments, the Scottish Government is currently opposed to new nuclear generation.  Nevertheless, Scotland has more licensed nuclear installations per head of population than anywhere else in the world.  Only one of these, Torness, is currently generating electricity, and it is scheduled to shut down in 2028.  There will be strong pressure on the Scottish government to buy in to a new generation of reactors.

Alternatives

Advocates of nuclear power argue that nuclear is essential to the energy transition we need because, unlike wind and solar, it is not dependent on the weather or the time of day and so can provide a reliable base load.  There are alternatives – more investment in tidal generation could also support based load supply – and the development of a smart grid involving multiple types of storage – pumped hydro, local heat pumps and battery could ensure an energy supply system that is resilient.  Developing these systems alongside wind and solar would enable the energy system to be transformed much more rapidly than is possible with nuclear.  A nuclear strategy is just too slow to meet the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions over the next decade.  And the big sums of money being channelled in to nuclear divert investment from renewables and prevent that rapid and necessary transition.

Download this briefing.

Oil, gas and the cost of living

This post by Neil Rothnie was written as a letter to the Herald newspaper but the Herald declined to publish it

It’s North Sea gas price increases that are largely responsible for the cost of living crisis,  making energy bills unpayable for growing numbers of people. 

90% of the gas we use in our homes comes from the North Sea.  Wholesale gas prices  were soaring well before Russia invaded Ukraine.  So far Ukraine and Russia have  collaborated to keep most Russian gas flowing to Europe and finance both sides in this  war.  There have been no power outages or gas shortages in the UK or Europe. 

North Sea gas price increases have not been caused by rising costs of production.  There  have been no wage increases for oil and gas workers, and no new pipelines or gas  platforms built.   

So what are the sky high gas prices all about?  Supply and demand?  Prices pushed up  by a global shortage?  China, Japan and India, where it is claimed that there are gas  shortages, can’t access North Sea gas however much they’d be prepared to pay for  it.   There are not the facilities in Europe to liquify North Sea gas and there is not a fleet of  empty LNG tankers waiting to transport it to Asia.   

The oil companies either sell North Sea gas to us at prices people can afford or they drive  consumers into cold and hunger.  The choice they have made is clear.  Profits of Shell, BP  and Total in the first 3 months of this year are colossal – £7.5, £5 and £4 billion  respectively. 

Ordinary people can’t and won’t go on indefinitely paying for oil company  profiteering.  We can’t just live with the gas and electricity disconnections that are the  inevitable result of unaffordable bills.  Already Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion are  justifiably on the streets engaged in civil disobedience aimed at the oil and gas industry.  Far more widespread civil disobedience is surely inevitable as people respond to cold and  hunger.  Remember the Poll Tax?   

Manipulating gas markets to impoverish your customers can’t in any way be described as  a “windfall”.  It’s an unprovoked and deadly attack by an industry whose time has passed,  and a one-off tax won’t cut the mustard.  

The plan to slash civil service jobs to free up the cash to meet the cost of living crisis is a  perverse response.  The industry needs to be taken out of the hands of our own  oligarchs.   The oil and gas that will have to be produced in the short term, needs to  finance the transition that will allow us to stay warm in our homes, and the planet to stay  cool enough to remain habitable. We need a plan to insulate our homes properly, and  massively expand wind and solar generation to heat and light our homes in a way that  doesn’t feed the climate crisis. 

This is the opposite of the current oil industry/Government plan to Maximise Economic  Recovery of North Sea oil and gas, ie, to produce and burn every barrel of hydrocarbon  they can turn a profit on – business as usual.

Oil and gas are costing us the earth

ScotE3 will have a stall at the Scottish Trades Union Congress in Aberdeen for 25th – 27th April. We’ve produced a leaflet for the delegates. The text is reproduced here.

Fuel Poverty

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.  They’ve unilaterally torn up the social contract that they operate under and have weaponised gas.  The 54% increase on 1st April will be followed by another steep rise later this year.  

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 dragged into a position where they are 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

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 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

Following the ‘Transition Deal’ drives high-cost energy options at every step and leaves working people to pay the price.   Under the UK government plan, most of the electricity produced by the 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.

http://www.pixabay.com CC0

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

A challenge for the trade union movement

Right now, industry, unions and both the Westminster and Holyrood governments are signed up to the North Sea Transition deal.  It’s time for a decisive shift in policy.  Just transition, indeed arguably any transition that restricts temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, is incompatible with the ‘North Sea Transition Deal’.  

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 phase 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.

About ScotE3

Check out our website at https://scote3.net The resources page includes short briefings designed to be used in the workplace and created under an open license so that you can modify and adapt them providing you acknowledge ScotE3 as the original source of the material.  We are keen to produce more briefings and we’d welcome suggestions for new briefings and updates to existing ones. We can also provide speakers for trade union branch meetings and discussions. 

Come along to our stall and have a chat.

Why workers and climate activists should reject the ‘British energy security strategy’

Yesterday (6th April) the UK Government announced a new ‘British Energy Security Strategy’.  The shape of the strategy isn’t a surprise with many of the elements being trailed in recent weeks.  Put simply the strategy is a disaster.  It’s a recipe for failing to meet UK greenhouse gas emission targets and ignores the recommendations of the IPCC report that was published earlier in the week (4th April).

This post is a first response, and we will share more detailed analysis in the weeks to come.  

The government’s press release notes that the strategy involves an ‘ambitious, quicker expansion of nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, oil and gas, including delivering the equivalent to one nuclear reactor a year instead of one a decade.’  

Note the ‘expansion of oil and gas’.  The aim will be to accelerate the approval of new oil and gas fields in the North Sea and west of Shetland.  Essentially, it’s a doubling down on the oil industries so called ‘North Sea Transition Deal’.  The aim of the deal is to make the North Sea a ‘net-zero’ oil and gas basin by 2050 – but this can only happen if carbon capture and storage can be developed and introduced at large scale, which is as yet uncertain.  

Hydrogen is part of the oil industry strategy – the aim of the transition deal is for hydrogen to replace North Sea gas in domestic and commercial heating systems – these currently account for more than 20% of UK greenhouse gas emissions.  The strategy talks about hydrogen supplying around 10% of energy needs.  What it doesn’t say is that producing hydrogen by splitting methane or water is an enormously inefficient process and so a very significant proportion of all the new electricity produced from nuclear, wind, solar and oil and gas will be needed to produce the hydrogen!

After a period of equivocating on nuclear power it’s now back at the centre of the strategy.   No figures are given, but if we extrapolate from the cost of the current Hinkley C project the proposed developments will cost around £150 billion.  The government refers to nuclear as clean and safe.  It is neither.  This blog has looked at the arguments about nuclear elsewhere.  It’s a hugely expensive form of energy, high risk with long construction times and a history of cost overruns and serious and unresolved problems with radioactive waste.   

The new strategy says nothing about reducing energy demand through insulating new buildings and retrofitting existing housing stock.  Retrofitting the majority of UK housing is estimated to cost around £160 billion – this is roughly what the new nuclear programme will cost.  So, it seems like their plan is to construct large scale nuclear plants whose output will then provide the energy that is lost through the walls and roofs of homes, office and factories.

The supposed rationale for the new strategy is energy security.  Currently working people are paying the price for the super profits being earned by the oil and gas sector.  Led by that sector the strategy opts for a future of high energy prices – continuing oil and gas and new nuclear.  Renewable costs continue to decrease, nuclear energy costs continue to rise.  Currently renewable electricity is 6 times cheaper than gas and the gap is even bigger between the cost of renewables and the cost of nuclear.   

Wind turbines near Carberry – image Pete Cannell CC0

It will be interesting to hear the response from the Scottish Government.  Until now Holyrood has been firmly signed up the North Sea Transition Deal and the oil industry agenda, but it has had a firm position of no new nuclear.  Similarly, it is now crunch time for the trade unions who have advocated just transition while endorsing the Transition Deal Strategy.  The argument at root has been over jobs.  It has been the case for a long time now that large-scale investment in renewables creates far more jobs than the same investment in nuclear.  Yesterday’s strategy announcement means in effect no transition and no justice.  There is an ever more urgent need for the workers movement and the climate movement to work together in opposition to the new strategy (really just the old strategy with more investment in false solutions).  Less than 24 hours after its release the strategy has been widely criticised but we will need to do more than oppose this latest attempt at preserving an unacceptable status quo and reject the North Sea transition deal in its entirety.

An open letter to the climate movement 

In the wake of COP26 in Glasgow, ScotE3 (employment, energy, and environment) have been reassessing our focus.  

At the centre of our discussion has been North Sea oil and gas, UK’s major contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. and the imperative “that business as usual” must end and must end soon.  

This conviction hasn’t been shifted by Russia’s attack on Ukraine.  Possibly Putin sees the writing on the wall for oil and gas, the basis of his economic power.  He has certainly gone for the breadbasket of Europe, and a country with rich reserves of mineral resources, and in doing so reminded the world that nuclear power is not an alternative to oil and gas.

If we think we’ve identified what is to be done on our patch here in the UK, we’ve also been trying to identify the forces that can achieve it.  

It’s not the Government.  They are fully behind the oil and gas industry, and the North Sea Transition Deal struck with the industry and designed to perpetuate it. If they are to play a progressive role at all, they will have to be dragged on side screaming and kicking. They do know the transition is inevitable, but they can’t break habits of several lifetimes, and can only imagine doing what the North Sea oil and gas industry allows them to imagine, and that results in policies that protect the power of big oil, invests in false solutions and cuts to emissions are too little and too late.

Despite the increasing number of trade unionists who recognise the importance of climate action the major unions are still signed up to the partnership with the oil and gas industry through the North Sea Transition Deal.

The North Sea oil and gas workers are another story altogether.  Dormant for 30 years since the Piper Alpha disaster where the North Sea oil and gas industry killed 167 men, they are between a rock and a hard place.  They produce the gas that’s being used to loot as well as heat the homes of the poor, and that drives climate change. But they are also subject to the whims of an oil and gas market that periodically throws thousands of them out of work, dictates wage cuts, imposes punitive work schedules, and will dump them again as the transition takes place – just as the coal miners were dumped before them.  If the transition is going to be “just” to North Sea oil and gas workers, they’re going to have to demand the training and jobs in a sustainable alternative. We think they need to be invited to the debate.

The climate movement, unique amongst the players here, is energetic and imaginative and has made massive inroads into popular consciousness.  These predominantly young people have transformed the debate, and by direct action have laid out the shocking implications of climate change that the science has been exploring now for many years. It is getting progressively more impossible to say that you just didn’t know.  Over the past few years, the focus of the climate movement has turned towards the North Sea oil and gas industry.  Its current trajectory will take it into more and more direct conflict with that industry. The climate movement and the oil workers have a common enemy.  

Now, as gas prices go sky high it looks very likely that masses of people are about to be drawn into open conflict with the oil and gas industry and the Government.  Here in the UK it is widely predicted that hundreds of thousands of families will be driven into poverty for the first time. Leaving the vulnerable and poorest in the cold, or hungry, or both.  There has been no increase in the cost of producing North Sea gas.  There is no shortage of North Sea gas. The oil and gas producers are profiteering from the rise in prices as are the hedge funds and the super-rich who drive the crazy casino style operation of the spot market for hydrocarbons. 

Many people will have no option but to not pay the increases.  The rest of us will have to decide whether we sit in our expensively warmed homes and watch them freeze.  Either that or we’ll have to be part of a struggle that the poor can’t avoid.  Is this the moment the struggles of climate movement meet up with the struggle of masses of people?  

Some things which we think are worth campaigning for are:

  • establish a publicly funded and democratically accountable Scottish Climate   Service to coordinate, fund and drive forward the transition
  • cease exploration and development of new oil and gas fields in the North Sea
  • initiate a phased close-down of oil and gas production, to be completed by 2032
  • provide free training and retraining for workers displaced as oil and gas activity is run down
  • guarantee employment in new climate jobs for oil and gas workers
  • regulate the renewables industry on and around the North Sea to ensure that wages and conditions are protected
  • North Sea oil and gas workers must face no more redundancies
  • As the industry is wound down, workers must be furloughed until they are retrained and re-employed

We know this list is incomplete and we don’t have all the answers.  We almost certainly haven’t even asked all the relevant questions.  We believe that working out the demands that we fight for is a job for oil and gas workers and the climate movement together. 

We’re inviting the climate movement to join us in this discussion. There needs to be the widest cooperation if we’re going to constantly update the strategy that’ll take this existential struggle forward.  We do have ideas.  We need them to be challenged, amended, scrapped – whatever.

Action

We’d love it if your organisation could discuss this letter at whatever levels, local groups and/or national organisation that you think appropriate.

Whatever your response we’d like to publish your reactions to this letter on the Scot.E3 blog https://scote3.net

We plan to hold a conference in the autumn of 2022 on how we can play our part in the struggle to shut down the North Sea and replace it with zero carbon energy systems.  We invite you to join the conference planning group.

We are holding a workshop on the North Sea at the Global Climate Jobs Network’s International conference taking place from 3-5th June and we invite you to join us in working out the plan for the workshop. 

[The text above is version 1.1 (updated 6th April 2022, it’s work in progress – we expect to make changes in the light of feedback]