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For a European strategy against the pandemic. Let’s support the initiative from science!

Just over a month ago we welcomed the establishment of the Zero Covid campaign.  Throughout 2020 we’ve published posts  looking at the challenge of organising for a just and sustainable transition at a moment when we face continuing threat from Covid 19, the likelihood of more pandemics in the future.  

With the permission of the author, Christian Zeller, we are pleased to republish an article that looks at the need to apply the principles that inform the Zero Covid campaign internationally.  It originally appeared in German and has been kindly translated by the author with further editing by Terry Conway.

On 19 December, scientists launched an international appeal for the containment of the Covd-19 pandemic throughout Europe.[1] Trade unions, liberation movements and socialist organisations should unreservedly support this call and enrich it with a socio-ecological programme of demands. On this basis and inspired by the campaign #ZeroCovid recently launched in England, Wales, and Scotland they should launch mass campaigns throughout Europe.

The authors of the appeal note that European governments have so far failed to formulate a common vision for dealing with the pandemic. However, in order to fight the pandemic effectively, a common European strategy is urgently needed. This is the only way to keep the borders open. The vaccines will take some time to get the pandemic under control, probably not before the end of 2021. The authors formulate a clear and immediate societal goal: every single SARS-CoV-2 infection in Europe must be traceable. To achieve this goal, the authors call for the implementation of a three-step strategy.

1. Firstly, reduce infections to a maximum of 10 Covid–19 cases per million people per day. This requires decisive action and in-depth interventions. To avoid a ping-pong effect between countries and regions, the measures to reduce the number of cases must be enforced in all European countries as quickly and as synchronised as possible.

2. Secondly, once this first step has been achieved, the restrictions can be gradually relaxed. The low case numbers must be maintained in the long term with a control strategy – at least 300 tests per million inhabitants per day. Local outbreaks must be contained immediately and vigorously, if necessary through regional lockdowns.

3. Thirdly, a common long-term vision must be developed. Context-specific regional and national action plans should be developed based on European targets. These include screening and vaccination strategies, protection of at-risk groups and support for people who are particularly affected by the pandemic.

This goal and the strategy of this appeal are to be fully supported from an ecosocialist and emancipatory perspective. Why does such a massive containment of the pandemic to only a very few infections make sense? Five arguments:

  • As the spread of a virus increases, so does the frequency of its mutation. Only with the lowest possible number of infections can mutations of the virus be kept so low that their unexpected consequences can be adequately controlled by society.
  • The ideology of herd immunity is inhuman and reactionary. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that such a strategy would lead to a social catastrophe with SARS-CoV-2. The vaccination campaigns will only achieve their effect after a significant delay towards the end of 2021. The vaccinations will take place very unevenly, geographically and socially, reflecting imperialist relations and the lack of social justice on a global scale.
  • The much-vaunted protection of at-risk groups is an illusion. In European countries, about a quarter of people belong to a high-risk group or are in close contact with people at risk (a high proportion of people over 65, workers in health and social care, family members, friends, etc.). So many people cannot be specially protected or even shielded. The course of the pandemic and the helplessness of the authorities reveal this very brutally. Moreover, it would be neither acting on the principles of solidarity nor socially appropriate, but rather extremely selective to simply isolate the sick and elderly for months or even years and exclude them from social life.
  • Only a containment of the pandemic to a very few cases would make it possible to prevent the burdens and consequential costs from being disproportionately borne by workers, the most exploited and the poor, and especially women. The radical containment of the pandemic must be a central concern of the organisations of the workers’, women’s and anti-racist movements. The pandemic is exposing class relations, gender relations and racism more starkly than ever.
  • Imperialist countries can contain the spread of the virus through technical and social means, with lockdowns, closures, and targeted restrictions. This requires social and political will. In the emerging and poor countries, especially in the huge urban agglomerations and megacities, such a radical containment strategy is almost impossible because of poverty, living conditions and lack of infrastructure. That is why imperialist countries also have a global responsibility.

It is obvious that the balance of power at this moment is not sufficient to enforce this orientation towards near eradication of the virus. Nevertheless, these arguments must be raised. An ecosocialist orientation consists precisely in overcoming the apparent economic constraints and making what seems socially unrealistic conceivable and realisable. Large sections of the left denounce the authoritarian tendencies of governments’ pandemic policies. This is of course correct. But this democratic argumentation only makes sense if one recognises the fundamental challenge of the pandemic for people’s health and at the same time defines and supports the goal of radically containing the spread of the SARS-Cov-2 virus. To insist only on individual liberties is tantamount to reactionary libertarianism. 

With the above-mentioned appeal, numerous natural and medical scientists are actively intervening in a central social debate. They are thus acting more directly politically than many trade unions and left-wing parties, which, after almost a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, have still not managed to define a clear policy about the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In order to develop joint health policy initiatives, it is useful to start a dialogue with these researchers. In Germany, some of them have already spoken out, in April and September, with valuable opinions about how to combat the pandemic.[2]

However, this appeal leaves out key social and economic concerns that need to be raised in order to make this strategy one based on solidarity and to convince working-class people of the necessary measures. Governments are expanding their repressive apparatus, forcing people to restrict their social life and at the same time doing everything to satisfy the interests of capital. The pandemic affects people extremely unequally, globally and in every society. The restrictive measures taken by governments are exacerbating social inequality and social discrimination. 

The pandemic reveals the social misery of our societies.

The foremost aim of governments’ measures so far is to defend competitiveness and thus the profitability of companies in the sectors of the economy they consider important. Covertly, most European governments have in mind the hazy goal of a slowed down herd immunity. In doing so, governments are complicit in the deaths of several hundred thousand people in Europe. Economic interests come first. Some liberal representatives of capital openly express this “balancing of interests”.

Governments have allowed and continue to allow the spread of infection until the health system is on the verge of collapse. In doing so, they deliberately plan for the physical and psychological exhaustion of health workers. They are counting on a massive vaccination campaign to end the pandemic. But this will take time and many people are sceptical about the hasty vaccination campaign. Moreover, the vaccines currently being approved have only been tested for giving immunity. It is not yet known to what extent they also prevent someone from being a carrier.

Verena Kreilinger, Winfried Wolf and I have already described in detail in our book Corona, Krise, Kapital. Plädoyer für eine solidarische Alternative in den Zeiten der Pandemie (Corona, Crisis, Capital: A plea for an alternative based on solidarity in times of pandemic) [3] the failure of the EU in the fight against the pandemic and called for a joint response based on solidarity. There has never been a European pandemic strategy. This is logical because the EU is not a community of solidarity but an institution for intensifying competition. Therefore, no solidarity-based impulses can be expected from the EU in the future. 

What is serious, however, is the failure of the trade unions and socialist parties, which have never even proposed the rudiments of a solidarity-based European pandemic strategy. Worse still, neither The Left Party in Germany nor any other socialist or left party in Europe of any weight have been able to set a clear goal for combating the pandemic in its own country. Why don’t the Left Party in Germany and similar political forces in other European countries demand clearly and simply that infections must immediately be reduced to a level so that every single infection can be traced? 

This is necessary to ensure the health of the population. Why is the workers movement unable to stand up unconditionally for the health of wage earners? Is it because the trade unions subordinate themselves to the economic interests of big companies or certain sections of the economy and fear that they cannot effectively defend workers against corporate blackmail and layoffs?

The huge health disaster is now leading a growing number of people in England, Wales, and Scotland to bring a radical perspective to the social debate. Trade unionists, social health activists and activists from various movements, as well as ecosocialists, launched a campaign in November under the slogan Zero Covid to eradicate the spread of the virus as far as possible. Socialists in Ireland also support this position. Whether this will broaden into a mass campaign remains to be seen. In any case, it makes sense for socialist organisations in other countries to take up these issues. The pan-European call by academics now offers the chance to broaden this discussion. 

Trade unions, liberation movements, and socialist organisations must unreservedly support the international initiative presented here and set out a socio-ecological programme of demands. These include:

  • Lockdowns, closures, and measures to contain the pandemic must involve all areas of society – production, transport, consumption, and leisure – based on the principles of solidarity. Areas of the economy that are not immediately necessary for society should be temporarily restricted or shut down if necessary if the restrictions help to quickly contain the spread of the virus. This is especially true for meat factories, large warehouses and all businesses where employees have to work in close proximity to each other.
  • The entire health and care sector must be expanded immediately and sustainably and strengthened with an expansion of the workforce. Wages must be raised significantly.
  • All privatisation in the health and care sector must be stopped immediately. Hospital financing based on the number of cases must be replaced by a system based on solidarity and needs.
  • There must be no rescue packages for companies that help to maintain sectors that are socially and ecologically nonsensical (e.g. the aviation and automotive industries). Instead, a socio-ecological restructuring fund should be set up to co-finance industrial conversion and decommissioning
  • Workers must be protected against unemployment. Unemployment benefits should be increased. Cultural workers and micro-enterprises must be directly supported.
  • The measures to contain the spread of the virus hit the already disadvantaged the hardest. This discrimination must be countered with appropriate measures (smaller groups in nurseries and schools, opening vacant hotels for families in overcrowded flats and for refugees, etc., see also Kreilinger, Wolf, Zeller 2020).
  • The measures to contain the pandemic must be financed by society through a solidarity levy on inheritances, large incomes and corporate profits and assets.
  • Vaccines must be a global public good for all humanity. Therefore, patents must be abolished. People in poor countries must have the same right to vaccination as people in imperialist countries. 

The trade unions should immediately initiate an open discussion process with workers in workplaces in compliance with the pandemic precautionary measures to design and implement joint steps “from below” against the pandemic in workplaces, in public transport, and at home. In dialogue with the feminist movement, refugee solidarity groups, the tenants’ movement, and the climate movement, as well as the scientific community, an effective programme to fight the pandemic based on solidarity can be developed and realised. Governments will not protect the people; the people need to protect each other both against the pandemic and against the unjust measures of governments.

Christian Zeller is the author and co-author of two recently published books in German.

Kreilinger, Verena; Wolf, Winfried und Zeller, Christian (2020): Corona, Krise, Kapital. Plädoyer für eine solidarische Alternative in Zeiten der Pandemie. Köln: Papyrossa, 277 S.

Zeller, Christian (2020): Revolution für das Klima. Warum wir eine ökosozialistische Alternative brauchen. München: Oekom Verlag, 248 S.

[1] Contain COVID-19. A joint statement of scientists from all across Europe. Calling for Pan-European commitment for rapid and sustained reduction in SARS-CoV-2 infections. 19 Decembers 2020 https://www.containcovid-pan.eu/.

[2] Kleiner, Matthias; Neugebauer, Reimund; Stratmann, Martin und Wiestler, Otmar D.: Strategies to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. A statement by the presidents of the non-university research organizations based on mathematical analyses of the data situation, April 28th 2020, Wissenschaftsgemeinschaft Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz e.V., Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e.V., Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften e. V., Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft Deutscher Forschungszentren e. V. https://www.helmholtz-hzi.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Aktuelles/News_Pressemitteilungen/2020/PDFs/29042020_statement_COVID-19.pdf. Meyer-Hermann, Michael; Pigeot, Iris; Priesemann, Viola und Schöbel, Anita (2020): Adaptive strategies to contain the COVID 19 epidemic. April 28th 2020, Wissenschaftsgemeinschaft Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz e.V., Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e.V., Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften e. V., Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft Deutscher Forschungszentren e. V. https://www.fraunhofer.de/content/dam/zv/en/press-media/2020/april/adaptive-strategies-to-contain-the-covid-19-epidemic.pdf. Kleiner, Matthias; Neugebauer, Reimund; Stratmann, Martin und Wiestler, Otmar D.: Together we can do it: Each individual contribution protects health, society, and the economy. A statement by the presidents of the non-university research organizations on the COVID-19 epidemic based on mathematical analyses of the data situation. September 24, 2020, Wissenschaftsgemeinschaft Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz e.V., Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e.V., Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften e. V., Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft Deutscher Forschungszentren e. V. https://www.helmholtz-hzi.de/en/news-events/news/view/article/complete/gemeinsam-koennen-wir-es-schaffen-jeder-einzelne-beitrag-schuetzt-gesundheit-gesellschaft-und-wirtsc/.

[3] Kreilinger, Verena; Wolf, Winfried und Zeller, Christian (2020): Corona, Krise, Kapital. Plädoyer für eine solidarische Alternative in Zeiten der Pandemie. Köln: Papyrossa, 277 S.

North Sea and Just Transition – let’s talk about public ownership

We republish this article with thanks from the excellent People and Nature blog (well worth following) – it has also been reposted by the Ecologist.

The UK paid Royal Dutch Shell $116 million of tax rebates in 2019, while the company reported $92.1 billion revenues in the UK for the year.

Internationally, Shell made pre-tax profits of $25.5 billion in 2019, and paid $7.8 billion income tax and $5.9 billion royalties, in dozens of countries. But the UK, France, South Africa and Indonesia handed money back to Shell.

The figures were published last month by Shell. The UK tax rebate to Shell also shows up in the UK Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) report, published last week, along with a smaller £14.7 million tax rebate to BP.

At least the UK’s upstream oil industry as a whole paid some tax in 2019 – £1.43 billion – unlike 2015 and 2016, when the Treasury paid out more 

in rebates than it collected in tax (as shown in this earlier EITI report).

Shell and BP’s rebates are part of the hugely generous system of tax breaks for North Sea producers, linked to the decommissioning of declining oil fields (and analysed last year in the Sea Change report by Platform, Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth).

These are subsidies to fossil fuel production, running into billions of pounds, devised by a Tory government that claims to be taking action on climate change.

And the problem runs deeper. North Sea oil production has since the 1980s been taxed with profit-based, rather than resource-based, methods, which gave the international companies access to the resources in the ground on unprecedentedly favourable terms.

The central role of these tax arrangements in the neoliberal “process of redefinition of the economic frontiers of the state” was analysed in this article by Juan Carlos Boué, published by Scot.E3, the just transition campaign group. The UK tax model was promoted across the world and “destabilised many key petroleum producers, whose governments found themselves starved of fiscal income”, Boué argues.

This is all politically relevant right now, as trade unionists and environmentalists seek ways to unite to ensure a just transition away from oil and gas production on the North Sea. 

There have been some vital steps forward in recent weeks.

In September, a report compiled by Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace gave voice to North Sea workers’ views on just transition. It was based on a survey of 1383 workers, all in upstream oil and gas.

The report showed that most people who actually work on the North Sea (91% of respondents) had never even heard the term “just transition” – a reminder of the yawning gap between working people on one hand and political, academic, trade union and “left” circles on the other.

The report – which was greeted by the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union – also showed that North Sea workers definitely embrace the idea of moving out of oil and gas production and into offshore wind, in particular,

Oil and wind. Photos by Berardo62 (oil) and David Dixon / Creative Commons

and other twenty-first century ways of doing things in general. The respondents were overwhelmingly positive about retraining and moving to other industries, and offshore wind was the favourite choice.

On a webinar arranged by Platform last week, three offshore workers gave their views, together with a trade union official (Jake Molloy of the RMT), a Labour politician (Lewis MacDonald, Member of Scottish parliament) and an energy researcher (Anna Markova, Transition Economics).

The workers spoke of the hardship and demoralisation caused when the oil price falls and big companies shed labour, which they have been doing throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The high level of casualisation on the North Sea makes matters worse.

Workers who hope to move to offshore wind jobs are further aggrieved by an unjust, bureaucratic qualifications regime. They are required to pay for re-training courses from their own pockets – at the very moment when they are looking for a job and short of money. Many companies add insult to injury by requiring them to do e.g. basic safety training that covers issues they have learned over decades offshore.

The webinar provided space to reflect on what a worker-led just transition would look like. Jake Molloy of RMT pointed to the huge job, now starting, of decommissioning old oil rigs. “The steel should be recycled and used for wind turbines”, he suggested. (He said similar things when addressing the Scottish TUC recently. See this recording, at 4 hours 52 minutes.)

Such suggestions will take on meaning if they are linked to calls for public ownership, and for an end to the subsidies paid to oil and gas producers, in my view.

Only public corporations, acting in the interests of society as a whole and not for profit, would be able to act on proposals such as Molloy’s. Running down oil and gas production, and decarbonising the economy, needs integrated approaches by entities that take full account of the social and climate consequences of their actions.

Only moves towards public ownership can challenge the energy companies who see the North Sea as one part of their global operations, and use their lobbying power to mould the tax regime to their interests.

At last week’s webinar, repeated mention was made of work that could be done in the UK, e.g. building and repairing rigs and wind turbines, being done elsewhere.

There is a danger of the labour movement approaching this as a competition between workers in different places, going back along the road trod by Gordon Brown, with his notorious call for “British jobs for British workers”.

This can only feed the divisive nationalism and protectionism to which the Johnson government appeals.

A campaign for public ownership, by contrast, highlights the fact that the state can be used to challenge the power of multinational capital and constrain its exploitation of working people and of natural resources.

It highlights the fact that state action could run down oil and gas production on the North Sea, expand electricity generation from renewable sources, and develop other industries in the areas where communities now rely on employment offshore.

A campaign for public ownership to underpin a just transition could start to challenge the multinational oil companies and their accomplices in government, and unite offshore workers with school students and all those demanding rapid action to stop dangerous climate change. GL, 15 December 2020.

■ As the discussion on just transition got started in Scotland, Shell’s truth-bending claims that it is doing something about climate change have been taking a beating. Several senior executives in its renewables energy business have quit, amid what the Financial Times reported is “frustration” at the minute quantity of investment in non-carbon technologies. Two big court cases against Shell by Friends of the Earth Netherlands are close to their conclusion. The first is to compel the company to clean up the damage it has done over decades to the Niger Delta, in Nigeria, where it produces oil. The second case is aimed at forcing Shell to reduce its carbon emissions.

Further Reading

What the BiFab disaster tells us about class rule – Scot.E3

Bifab- time for action – Scot.E3

Crisis, North Sea oil and Covid 19 – Platform

North Sea oil and gas: the elephant in the room – People & Nature, October 2019

Where the virus grows

We’ve published a number of posts on Covid and Climate, most recently ‘Covid, Climate and Transition’. Graham Checkley continues this theme reflecting on the links between ecology, environment and pandemics.

Habitat destruction has been pointed out, by both the UN and the World Health Organization, as a major contributing factor behind pandemics.  In such situations we see displaced and stressed animals, carrying their own viruses and probably sick, coming in to contact with new potential hosts, including humans.  It is not only the animals that are stressed; people, driven off their land and deprived of any other food, can end up eating dangerously prepared and already diseased meat.

Nature does not usually do things this way; a common analogy for the relationship between species is a long, slow, evolutionary arms race between predator and prey, sometimes, oddly, to mutual advantage.  But there is a potential for violent change, and from an evolutionary point-of-view it is nothing personal, just a virus living through a period of mass species extinction by evolving to use a novel new host, all 8 billion of us.  Avian flu, Ebola, HIV and SARS have all jumped the species gap from their original host to humans; Covid-19 is only the latest virus to do this, and with global habitat destruction it will not be the last.

While the habitat destruction in Africa, Brazil and China makes the headlines, something just as terrible is happening here in Britain, a few trees at a time.

The report from the state of nature partnership for the UK in 2019 documents that 15% of UK species are threatened with at least local extinction, and that 41% have decreased in abundance over the last 50 years.  Perhaps most alarming is the 60% drop in UK priority species over that period, species identified as key indicators of the health of UK biodiversity; what this means in practice is that our habitat is becoming less species rich and as a result less resilient to change.

Habitat loss is a major factor here, putting pressure on wildlife as thousands of hectares of farmland, woodland and wetland are built on every year to meet the needs of our increasingly urbanised population.  However, it is local government policy that is driving that urban sprawl, a policy with an emphasis on city centre offices, shops, cafes, restaurants, hotels, Airbnb, student accommodation and no affordable housing.  Family home in Edinburgh?  You need to move out to East Lothian and commute.

How things often are: Graham Checkley

At a more detailed level we see one development project after another leading to habitat destruction.  While the most infamous have been the destruction of ancient woodland for the HS2 rail project and the conversion of SSSI protected dune systems into golf courses, we also see proposals for a theme park on Swanscombe Marshes and the building of a dual carriageway through bat habitat in Norfolk.  But perhaps the most bizarre and revealing piece of un-joined-up thinking is a proposed development in Edinburgh, felling more than 800 trees to create a new green corridor walking and cycle pathway; a development green-washed by planting 5000 new trees, aka trees moved there from a nursery that may never grow to maturity and do their bit to combat climate change.  In other words, a net loss of trees.  It is perhaps not surprising to discover that biodiversity is a declining government priority, with expenditure in this area dropping by 42% in 5 years; it now stands at 0.02% of GDP.

However, the good news is that good work is still being done.  Local Ranger Services still look after important biodiversity sites, public groups participate in such work both physically and financially, and conservation groups can still celebrate major achievements in habitat restoration and species re-introduction.  Similarly, some species have benefited from improved legal protection under EU law, but Boris Johnson wants to see an end to that.

But why does it have to be such a struggle?  Surely the science tells us that we need a healthy ecosystem to avoid pandemics, and aren’t we all in this together?

I believe that the answer goes back to the question of the 8 billion hosts; not all hosts are born equal.  Covid-19 has proved to be a disease spread by the rich that kills the poor; a president who catches it is guaranteed a place in hospital, a slum resident is not.  The rich can afford to self-isolate, the front-line worker cannot.  So, for the rich few of the 8 billion it is just a case of hanging out by their personal pool until they can get a private vaccination for this pandemic, and for the one after that, and for the one after that, and…  Also, many of them have money invested in mining companies, where environmental destruction comes as standard.  Given a choice between green and money, well, money will pay for that emergency bunker and the security guards to go with it.

So, if this explains the, at best, indifference of the rich, what about our elected representatives?  There are some good ones who lobby to see the right thing done, but they are mostly mesmerized by the money, and trees do not pay council tax.  Decades of cuts have made councils very developer friendly when it comes to planning regulations and decisions; they will enforce the letter of the law, but why should a little less woodland matter?

If we don’t force system change, the system will produce pandemic purgatory.

BiFab goes into administration

Yesterday the Scottish Parliament Voted by 61 Votes to 60 to condemn the government’s failure to save BiFaband calling for specific actions to save the yards.  The motion is reproduced below.  Today the firm was put into administration.

A joint statement by trade unions GMB Scotland and Unite said BiFab’s administration exposed the “myth of Scotland’s renewables revolution as well as a decade of political hypocrisy and failure, in Scotland and the rest of the UK.”

GMB Scotland secretary Gary Smith and Unite Scotland secretary Pat Rafferty added that the workers and communities dependent on the yards had “fought so hard for a future”.

The Scottish Parliament vote calls on the government to take a number of actions – including that the government produces a report by January that sets out steps to ensure future renewable work comes to Scottish fabrication yards.  If BiFab is lost it’s a tragedy for the workforce and for workers in the sector more generally.  It’s also a major setback on the path to a sustainable economy.  Transition requires skilled workers and infrastructure.  BiFab should be part of that.  

Scot.E3 has argued consistently that the only effective way to develop a serious plan for transition is through public planning and public control.  Taking BiFab into public ownership could be a first step.  One thing is clear that to get the Scottish Government to take this seriously and to respond to the motion extra parliamentary pressure is required.  A new UN report shows how the big energy companies are doubling down on fossil fuel extraction.  It’s time to turn the tide – if not now when!

See recent articles on BiFab here and here.

Photo by Pete Cannell CC0

The motion

That the Parliament believes that Scotland has the potential to lead Europe’s green energy revolution over the coming decades; further believes that, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and job losses, green jobs will be central to creating new employment and training opportunities across Scotland; considers that, with the support of the workforce and their trades unions, the maximum effort has to be made to secure wind farm contracts for Scottish manufacturing companies; notes that, in open competition, BiFab won a £30 million contract to build turbine jackets for the NnG North Sea wind farm, work that could have started in January 2021, but has been prevented from going ahead with this; condemns the Scottish Government’s decision to withdraw the financial guarantee that was needed to enable this work to go ahead, thus risking Scotland’s reputation as a new green investment hub, and further condemns the Scottish Government’s failure to produce any legal opinion to justify its claim that support for BiFab was against the law; calls on it to act now to secure the future of the Burntisland Methil and Arnish yards, and the jobs that depend on them; further calls on it to talk to the workforce’s representatives and to ask for the help of the UK Government through the joint working party to urgently negotiate with EDF and Saipem to find a solution that ensures that the NnG contract for eight wind turbine platforms is carried out in the yards, and, with Glasgow being the venue of the COP26 summit in December 2021, calls for a concrete plan to be published in January by the Scottish Government that ensures that future work on renewables comes to Scottish yards, and further calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that these policy commitments on renewables are part of a coherent industrial strategy for the post-COVID-19 era.

Time to divest

The non-profit organisation, Platform, commissioned Transition Economics to conduct an analysis of investments by Scottish local government pension funds in fossil fuel companies. The analysis reveals that £194 million was wiped off Scottish council pension funds due to their oil and gas investments crashing over the past three years. This post summarising the Platform report is reprinted from a press release by Friends of the Earth Scotland.

The largest losers were Strathclyde Pension Fund which lost £46,374,450, Lothian Pension Fund which lost £36,077,023 and Falkirk Council’s Pension Fund which saw losses of £34,769,723. These amount to losses of £626 per member of the Strathclyde Fund and £429 per member of the Lothian Fund.

In March this year, Strathclyde Pension Fund (SPF) managers argued that they should be allowed to keep investing over £700 million of their members’ pensions in fossil fuel companies such as Shell, BP, Exxon, and Chevron – despite major concerns about the climate impact of these companies and despite Glasgow City Council’s declaration of a Climate Emergency in 2019.

This analysis concluded that, across the UK, local authority pension funds could have lost at least £1.75 billion in value over the past three years as a result of retaining their investments in just nine oil & gas companies.

In 2018 the advisory board for Scotland’s local government pensions began investigating major reform. A full merger was being considered and could improve transparency and make it easier to pursue ethical investments. As this would require legislative change it could be an issue in the 2021 Scottish elections.

Divest Strathclyde is a Glasgow-based campaign for fossil-free local government pensions. Sally Clark from Divest Strathclyde said:

“We have repeatedly presented the Strathclyde Pension Fund with evidence demonstrating the dangers of continued fossil fuel investments and the need to rapidly decarbonise the fund. This loss is the direct result of a conscious failure to act, causing harm to the finances of pension holders by continuing to invest in fossil fuel extraction companies that are poor investments and endanger all our futures through exacerbating climate change.”

“This news is a further demonstration that fossil fuel investments are neither good for the planet nor our pensions. Forward looking pension funds can instead support the transition to a more sustainable Scotland, investing in sectors that will enhance the wellbeing of citizens while ensuring good returns for pensions holders.”

Robert Noyes, Platform, responsible for the data said:
“It is well past time for pension funds to drop oil and gas stocks, both for the climate and their future valuation. Funds like Strathclyde, Lothian and Falkirk lost tens of millions by sticking with BP and Shell. They should have listened to divest campaigners. Instead, the burden is being dumped on the public, pensioners and the Global South.”

Losses of Scottish local government funds

Strathclyde Pension Fund: £46,374,450
Lothian Pension Fund: £36,077,023
Falkirk Council Pension Fund: £34,769,723
Tayside Pension Fund: £30,005,131
North East Scotland Pension Fund: £15,780,431
Dumfries and Galloway Pension Fund: £13,506,338
Highland Council Pension Fund: £11,650,109
Fife Council Pension Fund: £2,356,219
Scottish Borders Pension Fund: £1,968,406
Orkney Islands Council Pension Fund: £1,625,133

Total: 194,112,963

Shetland Islands Pension Fund were excluded from analysis due to lack of data on direct equity holdings in oil & gas companies

Notes to Editors

Original report:
http://transitioneconomics.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/TransitionEconomics_Local-Gov-Pension-losses-from-oil-investments.pdf

Scottish losses by percentage value of the total pension fund:
Falkirk Council Pension Fund 1.69 %
Dumfries and Galloway Pension Fund 1.62 %
Tayside Pension Fund 0.88%
Highland Council Pension Fund 0.66 %
Lothian Pension Fund 0.49 %
Orkney Islands Council Pension Fund 0.48 %
North East Scotland Pension Fund 0.39 %
Scottish Borders Pension Fund 0.30 %
Strathclyde Pension Fund 0.24 %
Fife Council Pension Fund 0.11 %

Divest Strathclyde campaign for the Strathclyde Pension Fund to divest from the fossil fuel industry and invest in environmentally and financially sustainable alternatives.

Platform London is a research and advocacy organisation with a focus on energy system change, that supports campaigns to divest local government pension funds out of fossil fuels.

Friends of the Earth Scotland is:
* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 75 national member groups, and 5,000 local activist groups.

What the BiFab disaster tells us about class rule

In the first of what we hope will be a series of further perspectives on BiFab following the article we posted six days ago David Jamieson argues that capitalists and their institutions are not in a serious conflict over the failing ‘just transition‘ in Scotland. David is editor of the Conter website and his article was first published there.

The tragic saga of the BiFab yards at Burntisland, Methil and Arnish goes on – but for how much longer? The Scottish Trade Union Federation reacted with vehemence to the Scottish Government last week (24 November) “as it sneaked out a joint statement with the UK Government on pulling the plug on Bifab and breaking promises to keep unions informed of developments”. The vaunted ‘Just Transition’ has been flushed.

The first things that we learn on this recognition are obvious: capitalism will generate a chaotic response to climate change and environmental destruction, one that will only feebly mitigate its effects. Further, this transition will be organised to benefit capital, create new transnational production networks (that will damage the environment) and will be borne on the backs of workers, who will variously lose work, be exploited in the new industries, or see their communities pulverised by the collapse of old industries and the extractive qualities of the new.

Perhaps the less commonly understood are the organic links between different nodes and actors in the system. It has been common for politicians, trade unionists and activists to seek out responsibility for the industrial carnage by dividing-out responsibility between the triad of actors; the EU, the UK Government and the Scottish Government (a fourth of we count the profit seeking of the private firms).

In recent weeks Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer suggested EU state aid rules did not preclude government action to save the yards, the GMB union demanded to see the legal judgement (as well they should) the Scottish Government alleged informed them of the limits of their action. Meanwhile, Sundry Scottish nationalists repeated the now well-worn approach of blaming Westminster exclusively, while some Scottish Labour activists pretended things might be significantly different were their party in charge at Holyrood.

It’s one thing to apportion blame where it is merited. It is another to raise this portioning to a pathology, with mutually guilty actors redefined as healthy and malicious to serve a wider (but shallow) political perspective.

In one sense, it is absolutely true that EU state aid rules can be got around when the political will exists, especially when both the London and Edinburgh governments, whether they like it or not, are soon to leave the bloc. But this misunderstands the relations between the EU and its member states. The EU is not a ‘transnational’ organisation that submerges national sovereignty beneath a common project. It is an organisation of class rule, just as the national governments that operate within its structures.

As such, there is an organic unity between Brussels and London, Paris, Berlin and Athens. Brussels can expect national governments to adopt an appropriate attitude to state aid rules (varying in implementation from powerful Berlin to relative supplicant Athens with everywhere else in between) understanding that the lineage of power between these elite actors is coherent and conjoined.

In the case of Scotland and the Bifab yards, the EU provides the excuse (governments can only supply so much finance to industrial ventures under these circumstances) and the Scottish Government, aware that rules and instituted authorities are negotiable (as elsewhere on the continent – not least Germany) opts for full and grovelling supplicancy. This happens for reasons both domestic and foreign. The foreign policy terms are obvious enough – the SNP leadership wants to align an independent (and devolved) Scotland with Brussels, and wants to signal submission to rules in advance. Additionally, as is common across the EU, the Scottish Government doesn’t want to encourage demands for the protection of jobs and industries in Scotland – particularly when industries like North Sea oil are shedding jobs rapidly.

These attempts at distributing criticism to sub-factions of the ruling class have become commonplace on the left in recent years. It is this projection that has led to the abundance of adjectives before the words ‘capitalist’ and ‘capitalism’: disaster capitalists, neoliberal capitalism, late capitalism, fossil capitalism. Finance capitalism is counter-posed unhelpfully to productive capitalism. Whole new strata of ‘oligarchs’ with ‘dark money’ are constructed.

Oil refinery http://www.pixabay.com CC0

It is no bad thing that, for the purposes of analysis, we can identify sub-categories of broader class structures. But this is most often done to ignore the organic totality of the capitalist system – its highly evolved capacity to manage internal divisions and reproduce a coherent social order – and to appeal to more rational or even moral elements in the establishment.

In a recent analysis for the Guardian George Monbiot made this case explicit by distinguishing “housetrained capitalism” which “seeks an accommodation with the administrative state, and benefits from stability, predictability and the regulations that exclude dirtier and rougher competitors” from a more pernicious “warlord capitalism”. These housetrained capitalists are the same who for decades have viciously de-regulated British society, leading to an utterly dysfunctional state incapable of a robust response to the pandemic. They are the majority capitalist bloc who support the continued attacks on workers in Rishi Sunak’s latest pay freeze. But in the minds of Guardian writers they ought to be protected from a dangerous insurgency of their peers.

It’s time to take capitalism seriously. That means not separating it out into ‘bad’ and ‘good’ (or simply ‘less bad’) factions and institutional centres. The temptation to do so is a conservative one; those who no longer believe in a mass, democratic challenge from the base of society typically look up to competing factions at the pinnacle. But the fundamental division is society is not between capitalist factions marshalling vying visions of their rule, but between all the elements of their class and those who produce the wealth of society, but do not control it.

‘Green Industrial Revolution’? Not with this plan

Boris Johnson’s ten point plan has received largely uncritical responses from the main stream media. We’re pleased to repost here the Campaign Against Climate Change’s ten point response. We welcome other contributions that develop or extend this critique.

We’ve had the big announcement: Boris Johnson’s ten point plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. But following initial positive headlines, the details start trickling out. £12 billion was announced, but just £3 billion, it emerges, is new money. This is paltry. Other countries have already made much larger commitments, including Germany’s green stimulus of over €40bn and France around €35bn. 

Most importantly, how does it stack up compared to the scale of the task facing us? Two years on from the IPCC’s ground-breaking report calling for an urgent transformation of the global economy to stay within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, global emissions are still (excluding the limited impact of the pandemic) on an upward trend. As temperatures continue to rise, sea level rise is accelerating as polar ice melts. And in the background a steady stream of records broken for ‘natural’ disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, hitting the poorest hardest. 

The UK’s carbon budgets reflect out of date targets, an 80% cut in emissions by 2050. Previous policy failure means we are nowhere near on track to even stay within these deficient targets. This latest set of announcements is therefore doubly inadequate. It leaves a major hole in meeting even these out of date commitments. However we don’t just need to close that gap. Last year the government set a new climate commitment of ‘net-zero’ carbon by 2050. In relation to this new target, the gap is even greater. But unfortunately even ‘net zero by 2050’ doesn’t cut it. We need to act even faster than 2050 to be compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement.

Meanwhile, we also face a devastating pandemic leaving in its wake widespread unemployment. Now is the time for a real climate jobs programme to tackle the climate and jobs crises.

What would a real 10 point plan to tackle the climate crisis look like?

1. A comprehensive approach

Climate change cannot be tackled as an add-on, or a piecemeal approach that takes us one step forward, two steps back. We need a commitment that every economic policy, every spending commitment, every piece of legislation, will put us on track for a safer future, not jeopardise it by locking us in to business as usual. 

If the government had really taken on board the scale of the crisis, it would be rethinking the policies of unconditional corporate bailouts, planning deregulation, aviation expansion, road building, stifling onshore wind. It would not be giving a £16.5 billion windfall to military spending.

2. Meeting the needs of both people and planet  

Austerity has left us, more than ever, with a grossly unequal society with continued deep inequalities in race, gender and for disabled people. Underfunded public services are struggling. The move towards a zero carbon society must also ensure access to food, healthcare, education, income, job security, good, affordable, housing, clean and affordable energy and heat, public transport, clean air and green spaces for everyone.

There is huge public support to ‘build back better’ as part of recovery from the pandemic, investing in public services and frontline workers. Instead, a public sector pay freeze is being mooted. These are the wrong priorities: we need huge investment and expansion in the public sector and the people who work in it. 

3. ‘New Deal’ levels of spending

Boris Johnson has tried to compare his plans to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. In today’s money, Roosevelt’s spending programme amounted to about £4,300 – for every American living through the turmoil of the Great Depression. In contrast £12 billion is about £180 each.

Our own ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ report or Green New Deal plans give more of a sense of the levels of investment and ambition needed if the government is taking this seriously. Other recent analyses include an IPPR report which estimates that £33 billion a year in additional annual investment is needed to meet the government’s net zero target, creating 1.6 million jobs, including £8 billion on homes and buildings and £10.3 billion on transport.

The pandemic has shown that money can be found. It has been found for other spending, including billions to private companies for medical supply and services in contracts awarded with no oversight, regulation or transparency. These are the sums of money that now need to be directed into tackling the climate crisis, sums that can actually make an impact in reducing emissions and would truly justify the term New Deal.

4. Not relying on techno-fixes that don’t solve the problem

There are valuable technologies that help us cut waste and greenhouse gas emissions. But those we’d call ‘techno-fixes’ are a double-edged sword. Despite serious drawbacks, these pull resources away from proven solutions (for example onshore wind and solar are not even mentioned in Johnson’s plan). They often support the continuation of fossil fuel infrastructure, and give a sense of false security about the need to radically cut energy use. Boris Johnson’s ten point plan overly relies on these techno-fixes which seriously undermine any genuine and far reaching attempt to transition the economy.

There is more detail below about why we are concerned about the emphasis on hydrogen, carbon capture and storage and nuclear energy. The promotion of ‘Jet Zero’ (zero carbon flying) also hides the fact that the scope for genuine decarbonisation of aviation is limited and the pursuit of ‘sustainable aviation growth a mirage. There should be no further airport expansion in a serious plan to tackle the climate crisis. While not mentioned explicitly in this latest plan, biofuels and biomass (burning wood for power) also fall into the same category – unsustainable while subsidised as ‘green’ technology. 

5. Provide decent, well paid, secure jobs

With a wide range of sectors hit by the pandemic, unemployment is expected to rise in 2021 to levels not seen since the 1980s. The transition to a zero carbon economy needs a workforce, but opportunities are being lost even when the investment is made. Manufacturing contracts for offshore wind supply have not been used to provide work for a skilled workforce in Scotland. Instead Scottish workers who could have been making the infrastructure needed for offshore wind have been made redundant. We need a proper climate jobs strategy, not a piecemeal approach rooted in a market based thinking. A strategy which is driven by understanding of the huge transition that is needed across manufacturing, transport, agriculture, construction, insulation, managing our land and biodiversity, in training and education. And one which seeks to create well paid secure jobs across these sectors to meet this challenge.

 The difficulties and delays with the recent Green Homes Grant are a warning example of what happens without this strategic approach including workforce skills. Trade unions have a key role. There are more accidents in non-unionised offshore wind jobs than there are in offshore oil. A worker-led Just Transition is needed. As set out in the One Million Climate Jobs report, a National Climate Service could take on key aspects of the transition to zero carbon, providing well paid, secure, flexible, permanent jobs in the public sector.

6. Keep it in the ground: phase out fossil fuel extraction 

Extraordinarily, the UK’s Infrastructure Act introduced in 2015 a legal obligation to maximise economic recovery of oil and gas. It was clear then, and even clearer now that we can’t continue fossil fuel extraction. Keeping the planet safe means leaving remaining fossil fuels in the ground. 

The oil and gas industry has already been hit hard by the economic impacts of the pandemic. We need instead a just transition for oil and gas workers as part of a strategy to phase out UK fossil fuel extraction. Many of these workers could be and want to be retrained to be part of a new offshore wind industry. 

We also need an immediate end to the anomaly whereby the UK offers billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in financial support to companies that bid for work on fossil fuel projects overseas 

7. Tackling car dependency and increasing public transport, walking and cycling

The transport sector accounts for around a third of emissions in the UK. Surface transport alone represents around a quarter of our total emissions, while air pollution is a serious health problem. So far, electric vehicles have barely made a dent (less than 2% of new car sales), while SUVs represent over 40% of new cars sold.

But this cannot be solved by a simple like-for-like switch to electric vehicles. We need a property resourced and integrated public transport system under democratic public ownership. Alongside this, we need a reallocation of road space in towns and cities away from cars to walking, cycling and public transport, and a presumption in favour of development that reduces travel.

These changes would not just benefit our climate: the social inclusion and health benefits would be huge. It is shocking that the £27 billion currently intended for road building, which will significantly worsen our climate crisis, is far more than the entire ‘green industrial revolution’ budget touted as tackling the climate crisis. 

8. Decent homes for all

We do need a programme of mass retrofitting our homes and buildings to be warm and energy-efficient, but it must be much more ambitious. We also need to be wary of corner cutting which does little other than inflate the profits of companies.  Poorly fitted cavity wall insulation has been a scandal affecting thousands of homes with damp and mould, while post-Grenfell, there are still tower blocks with unsafe cladding. This is an example of where a National Climate Service could ensure high standards of work by employing a well trained public sector workforce with the goal of delivering warm homes and energy use reduction rather than quick and easy profits at the taxpayers expense. 

It is much easier and cheaper to build homes and public or commercial buildings to near-zero carbon energy standards, than it is to retrofit. The scrapping of the Zero Carbon Homes standard in 2015 was a huge step back, and proposed new energy standards are totally inadequate. One of the major problems facing the UK is a lack of affordable housing, in particular social housing. We need to invest in jobs to ensure decent homes for all – quite literally ‘build back better’.

9. Land use and agriculture

With the UK’s biodiversity in crisis, and agriculture a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, it is not simply a matter of ‘plant more trees’. Alongside reforestation and protecting habitats, we need to consider land ownership, the vital role of access to nature for all, even and especially in urban environments and the potential of rewilding. Meanwhile, we are still waiting for the government to take the simple step of banning peat burning, an easy climate win which appears to be being blocked by grouse shooting interests.

There is huge potential for agriculture which is better both for climate and biodiversity. The government has been remarkably reluctant to promote, for both climate and health reasons, a dietary shift to reduce meat and dairy consumption. Without forgetting, when talking about diet, that the obesity crisis still coexists with real food poverty in one of the world’s richest nations.

With food and environmental standards likely to be a casualty of post-Brexit trade deals, it is clear that our unhealthy food system also has implications for workers rights and animal welfare. The prospect of further zoonotic diseases – and future pandemics – cannot now be ignored. Land use, our food system and biodiversity have to be a key part of any climate strategy. 

10. Climate justice beyond our borders

Any real climate policy must be rooted in climate justice. This is a global problem and the UK has a historically disproportionate contribution to the climate crisis. As well as doing our fair share in reducing domestic emissions, the UK’s policies must address this historic responsibility. 

The goods we import, as well as having their own carbon footprint, may also hide ecosystem destruction and exploitation of workers. So do the deals made by UK banks, pension funds and insurance companies. There must be no ‘solutions’ for this part of the world which rest on further damage and explotation of nature and people in other parts of the world, whether that be in mineral extraction or land grabs for carbon ‘offsetting’. Solutions must be rooted in climate justice, collaboration and internationalism. 

We need a real climate jobs plan, a real Just Transition, a real Green New Deal.

Techno-fixes – what’s the problem?

Carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) has promised to make fossil fuel burning environmentally friendly by capturing carbon dioxide from the smokestack emissions of power stations or industrial plants. However, additional fossil fuel burning is needed for energy to capture the carbon. The new funding promises to bring the total government funding back to £1 billion – the same amount promised for a pilot that was suddenly cancelled at the last minute in 2015. But CCS technology still has not been successfully scaled up elsewhere, with problems of finding reliable storage for the captured CO2. Certainly for power plants it seems more an attempt to continue fossil fuel production than a significant climate solution.

Hydrogen sounds like a great idea – a fuel that when burned, produces only water. But so-called ‘blue’ hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels and requires carbon capture and storage. It has been heavily promoted by gas companies. Meanwhile green hydrogen, generated from renewables, also has significant limitations. It is approximately 4-5 times less efficient than using renewable power directly because you have to convert power to a gas and back into power, and will probably take around 10 years to generate at scale. Hydrogen may have a place in the zero carbon economy for some hard-to-decarbonise uses.  But the idea that it is a cost or energy efficient way to heat the nation’s homes – and could be rolled out in the time needed – seems far less plausible. 

Nuclear is a dangerous, unnecessary and expensive diversion which will pull away investment from safe and cheap renewable energy which could come on stream quickly.

BiFab – time for action

On November 16th, 2017, hundreds of workers at the BiFab fabrication yards in Fife marched down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile towards the Scottish Parliament in a magnificent show of determination to save their jobs.  Three years on, and despite nearly £54 million investment from the Scottish Government, the hope raised on that day lies in tatters.  BiFab could have been a milestone on the path to a zero-carbon economy.  Instead, it stands as a warning that should not be ignored. 

REEL News reported on BiFab in November 2017

In this post I tell the story of BiFab and argue for the importance of a radically different approach.

BiFab was founded in Fife in 2001.  Initially based at Burntisland, it expanded to take over the huge construction yard just up the coast at Methil and the Arnish yard on the Isle of Lewis.  The company played a significant part in fabricating platforms for the development of the west of Shetland oil and gas fields.  As demand declined it began manufacturing jackets for offshore wind installations. 

In 2016 the company won a £100 million order to manufacture jackets for the Beatrice windfarm in the Moray Firth.  The November 2017 crisis was sparked by cash flow problems linked to this contract.  At this point the company employed around 1400 workers, although notably 1200 of these were on agency contacts rather than direct employees.  All these jobs were at risk.

BiFab workers responded by occupying the yards, ensuring that no valuable equipment could be removed, and, on the 16th November, they marched on the Scottish Parliament.  The Scottish Government stepped in, providing a £15 million loan that ensured that the firm avoided going into administration.  The occupations ended and work on the jackets for Beatrice resumed.  But the relief was short lived.  The Beatrice contract was nearly complete, there was nothing else in the order book, and agency contracts were just not renewed.  The workforce was scattered to the winds.

Photo by Pete Cannell CC0

In April 2018 the Scottish Government brokered a take over of the company.  The new owners were DF Barnes, a subsidiary of the Edmonton based Canadian company DV Driver.  The Herald on Sunday has recently revealed that DV Driver obtained ownership for £1.  The Government retained a minority stake.

Since the takeover, opportunities to build jackets for major new North Sea windfarms have been up for grabs.  One of these, ‘Neart na Gaoithe’, is just a few miles off the Fife coast from the BiFab yard at Methil.  Another, Seagreen, which, when complete, will be the biggest in Scottish waters, is just a bit further north, off the coast of Angus.  But contracts have gone to overseas yards in Spain, Indonesia, the UAE and China.

So, despite a Scottish Government investment that may reach £52.4 million, BiFab is close to total collapse.  The Scottish and UK Governments argue that despite, or because, of their stake in the firm, European competition rules made it impossible for them to guarantee the BiFab bids.  

The trade unions representing BiFab workers have contested this view. The Courier newspaper noted on October 29th that 

In a legal opinion for the GMB and Unite trade unions, Lord Davidson has described the Scottish Government’s reasoning as “remarkable”, given the looming end of the Brexit transition period and suggested Scottish ministers could have deferred any decision until after Brexit on December 31.

This legal view is clearly true; however, focusing on interpretations of the law misses much more important issues.  The Scottish Government is firmly wedded to the idea that the transition to a zero-carbon economy can be carried through by private enterprise. BiFab is just one of many examples of how this approach fails.  Bids are allocated primarily on price and when the ‘cheapest’ bidder is located on the other side of the world that’s the one that’s chosen.  The fact that this results in massive carbon emissions as jackets are shipped to the coast of Scotland isn’t factored in.  Equally important the bidding system favours international companies that operate on a world stage and take no responsibility for joined up planning of transition in the local economies from which they profit.  

To achieve zero carbon, we need much shorter supply chains, so that construction, energy generation and consumption are brought much closer together.  Demanding that the manufacture of jackets and wind turbines takes place in Scotland is not about putting Scottish workers first but a necessity for the rational use of resources.  Different locations offer different combinations of renewable energy resources, but sustainable energy production is necessary everywhere.  Tackling the climate crisis requires local and global perspectives.  Climate jobs are needed in every part of the world.  It’s important to stress that while construction and energy production should be as local as possible – international solidarity requires that knowledge should be shared freely and that financial and material support is provided to countries in the global south.  This of course is the opposite of what happens now as new innovations are locked into commercial patents.  

Leaving transition to the market relies on the expectation that multiple independent decisions made by individual companies on the basis of maximising profit will achieve the goal of a zero-carbon economy.  It’s an incredibly inefficient approach.  Consider wind, a resource that’s abundant in Scotland.  There has been a rapid growth in offshore wind powered electricity generation but at the same time the numbers working in renewables in Scotland has fallen, reducing local skills and knowledge and impacting on local economies.  A partial transition but one that has been inherently unjust, and which puts obstacles in the path of the full transition that we need.

For the sake of the climate that our children will inherit and for the lives and livelihoods of the present generation there’s a pressing need for trade unionists and climate activists to campaign together for a new approach that integrates social justice with real, immediate practical actions to tackle the climate crisis.  This means:

  • Systematic planning at local and national levels to plan a rapid transition to zero carbon.
  • Large scale public investment in new democratically controlled public enterprises to implement these plans.

These demands may seem a long way off.  But we’ve seen during the pandemic that, when there’s political will, things that would have been considered impossible become possible.  Old laws are thrown out and new laws are written.  We’ve also seen how in the face of a crisis public systems deliver and private companies rake in profits and fail.  

The first and immediate step should be an emergency action plan that takes the BiFab yards into public ownership, reemploys the workforce and puts the skills and knowledge of the workers at the heart of a sustained commitment to develop the yards as hubs for the engineering initiatives that are essential to a worker led just transition.

Pete Cannell (November 25th, 2020)

Covid, Climate and Transition

Mike Downham and Pete Cannell suggest ideas for campaigning priorities that tackle the pandemic, future pandemics and the climate crisis.

A new campaign, ‘Zero Covid’ was launched a week ago.  The Independent SAGE committee of scientists has been arguing for a Zero Covid UK since the summer. This approach is also supported by the Hazards Campaign for workplace safety.  The campaign aims to build a movement that can force UK governments to adopt the Independent Sage proposals as public policy. 

There’s a compelling case that we are living in an age of pandemics.  It’s possible, although by no means certain, that successful vaccination programmes will have had a significant on UK population immunity in 12 – 18 months.  Given the profit motivation of Big Pharma it’s likely to take much longer in the global south. However, the likelihood of a mutation from Covid 19, or one or more completely new viruses over the next 5 years is high.  So, a longer-term strategy for the campaign ought to be to ensure that we live safely in the face of recurrent pandemic.  This is not a new idea – the British government had plans for such contingencies at the start of the millennium, then failed to maintain and update them and trashed the public health infrastructure that was needed for effective pandemic control.

So, one demand that should be campaigned for is that we learn the lessons of Covid and establish a well-funded local based public health service as part of the NHS.  No place for private companies.  It would be a tragedy if we are as ill prepared for the next pandemic as we were for Covid 19.

But we need more, and this is where the link with climate comes in.  To be prepared we need to reimagine and redesign public transport systems so that they are safe to use and carbon free.  We need to build new zero carbon houses and retrofit existing housing stock to high insulation and good ventilation standards.   New public buildings and retrofitted existing public buildings also need to be zero carbon and have good effective ventilation.  All of this is technically possible and is good for health and the environment.

All the key things we need to do to address both virus epidemics and global warming are not only largely the same (it’s very important that we keep stressing this point, though it’s been made before) but also their technical solutions are linked. Pumped air recirculation in buildings reduces virus cross-infection and improves energy efficiency. New bus design, rolled out in quantity production, can incorporate low-carbon motility and virus infection safety in one design, especially if the buses are in the context of no fares (protecting drivers, and passengers too because of reduced queuing and shorter journey times). Workplaces for the construction and maintenance of renewables can be much safer in relation to the spread of virus infection than oil and gas rigs. More people working in non-intensive local food production, whether commercially or in voluntary organisations, will mean more people working outside.

There are some things, like deforestation and food production, with their linked impacts on global warming and the liberation of new viruses, which we have little chance of influencing until we’ve stopped competitive capitalists from exploiting everything and every person for their profit. But these things related to housing, transport, energy production and food production are technically (and politically) achievable now. And if we don’t achieve them now there will be untold additional human suffering.

Image by Artivists at Work

Large scale investment in Carbon Capture is a dangerous diversion

This site has published a number of articles on Carbon Capture and we have also produced a two-page briefing on BECCS (Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage). 

The excellent People and Nature blog has recently published a really useful addition to the debate in the form of a review of a paper on Carbon Capture and Storage by June Sekera, a public policy analyst, and Andreas Lichtenberger, an ecological economist.

Here are some headlines from the report:

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) systems, touted as techno-fixes for global warming, usually put more greenhouse gases into the air than they take out.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS), which grabs carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by coal- or gas-fired power stations, and then uses it for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), emits between 1.4 and 4.7 tonnes of the gas for each tonne removed.

Direct air capture (DAC), which sucks CO2 from the atmosphere, emits 1.4-3.5 tonnes for each tonne it recovers, mostly from fossil fuels used to power the handful of existing projects.

And if Carbon Capture were to be used at large scale things get much worse.

To capture 1 gigatonne of CO2 (1 GtCO2, just one-fortieth of current global CO2 emissions) would need nearly twice the amount of wind and solar electricity now produced globally. The equipment would need a land area bigger than the island of Sri Lanka and a vast network of pipelines and underground storage facilities.

We strongly recommend reading the full review.

The original paper – “Assessing Carbon Capture: public policy, science and societal need”, by June Sekera, a public policy analyst, and Andreas Lichtenberger, an ecological economics researcher – is free to download on the Biophysical Economics and Sustainability web site.

A metal sign warning of a buried carbon dioxide pipeline, located near the intersection of county roads 520 and 521 in Huerfano County, Colorado. Image by Jeffre Beall CC BY 4.0