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Bring the flare to SEPA

Earlier in the year we held an online public meeting with speakers from the Mossmorran Action Group. Prior to Covid19 Climate Camp Scotland were planning their summer action around Mossmorran. Limitations on social contact have made the original plans impossible but Climate Camp are continuing to campaign for action on Mossmorran. On Sunday at Midday there will be protests at SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) offices around Scotland. The action will continue via social media on Monday; for more details go to the Facebook event or read the action briefing document.

Flaring at Mossmorran

Scot.E3’s July organising meeting

We held our latest organising meeting on 23rd July. It was a chance to catch up and share ideas. You can find the full list of actions here and if there are particular actions that you would like to get involved with please do email us.

Part of the discussion focussed on the impact of Covid19 on the Scottish economy. We will soon be publishing an extended article on the importance of the education sector in the transition to a zero carbon economy – in light of this it’s very important to support education workers who are fighting to keep their jobs. Edinburgh Napier University is the first to announce that it is looking for compulsory redundancies. Do sign and share the petition in support of Napier staff.

In Glasgow jobs at First Bus are under threat – Get Glasgow Moving are looking for support for their campaign to take Glasgow bus services into public ownership. You can sign their petition here.

We are planning two public meetings, one on Ineos and one on a Worker Led Just Transition – watch this space for dates and further details.

Decarbonising our heating systems

Leeds TUC’s Environmental sub-committee held a webinar recently on ‘Alternative ways to decarbonise our heating systems’ – the video includes a lot of useful information and some sharp critique of the idea that’ blue hydrogen’ could be a way forward.

Thanks to Les Levidov for the link

Nuclear power subsidises nuclear weapons production

This video has Professor Andy Stirling and Dr Phil Johnstone, in conversation with CND Chair Dave Webb, about the connections between the UK’s nuclear weapons programme and nuclear power. Their research shows that the sole case for nuclear power is to subsidise nuclear weapons production. Electricity consumers are paying for the high cost of nuclear generated electricity and thereby subsidising research that is used by the military to maintain the nuclear weapons programme. The argument that Nuclear Power is ‘climate friendly and necessary’ is a convenient afterthought to disguise the real reasons for developing it.

You can read more on Andy and Phil’s project page.

Eileen Cook (Edinburgh CND)

Two critical responses to the EAG ‘recovery’ report

Yesterday we published Scot.E3’s case for immediate and radical action on climate and social justice.  We contrasted our proposals with the recommendations of the Scottish Government’s Economic Advisory Group (EAG), which were published on Monday.  Here two regular contributors to this blog give their personal reactions to the EAG report.  In the coming days and weeks we want o publish more on this topic, but not just on policies and plans, we need to discuss movement building so that we can apply the kind of pressure that is required to achieve the system change we need.

Mike Downham writes of the EAG report:

77 pages of neoliberal propaganda, with passing references to climate change, inequality and racism to soothe the voters – all empty rhetoric, devoid of any proposals on how to address these social injustices other than through increased, top-down private sector activity.

But what else did we expect from a group of eight people hand-picked by a Government wedded to ‘Sustainable’ Growth (sustainable for capitalists) and to extracting the last drops of oil and gas from the North Sea, and which put profit before people’s lives by obsequiously following the UK Government’s response to the Covid-19 epidemic? 4,878 people have died in Scotland as a result of the epidemic at the last count on 16th June. People are still dying as the report is published.

That Graham Smith, previously General Secretary of the Scottish trade Unions Conference, which represents more than 500,000 workers, has put his name to this report is an ultimate manifestation of the successful co-option by neoliberal governments of the trade union bureaucracy.

On Just Transition we’re given “There is the jeopardy, as well as the opportunity, of the transition associated with climate change”, along with carbon capture and storage in the North Sea, and “positive behavioural change”.

This is not the time to “recast a new model”, or to follow “abstract arguments around the creation of new institutions”. By which the Group presumably means a National Climate Service, consisting of the National Investment Bank, a publicly owned Energy Company, and the creation of 100,000 carbon saving or carbon neutral jobs essential for improving the quality of life for people across Scotland, with training opportunities for all those who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, the many more who will soon lose their jobs as the recession bites, and those who didn’t have a job to start with.

Instead we should rely on the “might of the private sector” to create more jobs, because (logically?) that’s where 79% of jobs currently are. The “backdrop” is “constrained public sector resources”, which we know is nonsense.

This has to be based, the Report says, on “transforming some aspects of the relationship between business and the Scottish Government” a relationship which is working “reasonably well for financial services, agriculture and renewables”, but not well enough in other sectors. “If one party in a relationship says it’s not working, it isn’t. This could be “an opportunity for the Government to draw on businesses to second senior executives”. The Group reminds the Government that an election isn’t far away, so it had better get on with improving its relationship with business if it doesn’t want to lose its voters. The tone is overbearing, arrogant and amounts to bullying.

Apart from the pressure of elections, and the need to create more private sector jobs fast, there’s no hurry. Change will take time and will rely on “patient capital”. We need to build an attractive prospectus for inward investment. We also need to develop a new “pragmatic approach to regulation and planning”, for which read privatisation.

Overall, “recovery” is taken to mean recovering growth, sticking to the 2015 Scottish Economy Strategy with its ambition for Scotland to reach the top quartile of OECD countries, as measured by GDP.

There is much further detail in the Report but given that the principles are set in the four pages of the Foreword, it’s questionable whether it’s helpful to study the proposals further.

The underbelly of the report which we can focus on is the triad of trusting the private sector to alleviate social injustice, which history has demonstrated time and again fails; the lack of urgency in relationship to global warming; and a top-down approach as opposed to grassroots leadership, which history has plenty to say about too.

So here, in the flesh, is the “madness”, that ScotE3 and many others have warned against. If we allow these recommendations to fool us, and don’t promote alternative, coherent and more attractive recommendations quickly, we will have lost any possibility of slowing down global warming, and of effectively addressing poverty, inequality and social justice in general. We know, already knew, that only a mass movement will save us against significant attacks from capitalism, of which this Report is the latest.

Matthew Crighton’s view of the report: Green Recovery – what a disappointment

Yesterday started with hearing on Radio 4 the Pope say that the recovery must be ‘just and equitable’. He called for integrity not hypocrisy from politicians. Then came Mark Carney on how getting to net zero is part of the solution to the crisis, for companies as well as countries. He reminded us that net zero is ‘the law of the land’. Would these two be the warm-up acts to the revelation of truly transformative recommendations from the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery?

Image: Public Domain CC0

What a let down, then, to hear at lunchtime from ex-banker Benny Higgins who chaired the Group, set up “to advise the government on actions for economy recovery but also to build a fairer, greener and more equal society”(Nicola Sturgeon 17 April). There were lots of words from him and Nicola, but little useful content that I could find.

There are mentions of inequality in this report – but not one of them comes in the Recommendations! Nothing here for the Pope.

There is a section on prioritisation and delivery of green investments. It reads quite well – but it stands on its own and doesn’t permeate into any of the other recommendations. This is ticking the green box, not delivering a green recovery. The authors haven’t grasped the zero carbon imperative which Carney reminded us of. Instead of using the recovery to drive urgent decarbonisation action, they want to use green investments to boost the economic recovery which is the subject of the other 23 recommendations.

Left to Benny Higgins and his crew, that would be a very conventional recovery. One good thing is that it does call for a boost to investment levels, but it has no suggestions about how to do that apart from asking Westminster for more funds or borrowing powers. No plan for Scottish Green Bonds here, no call for a massive increase in the capitalisation of the Scottish National Investment Bank, just a suggestion that it should invest in housing – which looks dangerously like a dilution of its commitment to funding a Just Transition.

It’s a set of headings taken from the conventional economic development text book which has brought us to the dire state our economy was in before Coronavirus. Why set up an Advisory Group when you have Scottish Enterprise to write this stuff, and do a better job? It’s as if a Green New Deal had never been proposed!

One idea which got some attention is a business-led Scottish Jobs Guarantee scheme which would offer employment for at least 2 years to 16-25 year olds. This is a worthy objective but it misunderstands the challenge. It’s based on the Edinburgh Guarantee, an excellent initiative to address problems of a relatively small layer of young people not in education, employment or training at a time when unemployment was relatively low. We are, however, facing a scenario in which businesses of all sizes will be struggling to retain existing employees, let alone take on new youngsters.

The reference point has to be the mass unemployment of the 1980s and 1990s and the appropriate responses have to include a publicly-led intermediate labour market programme – a Future Green Jobs programme which funds rate-for-the-job employment in green projects to give people skills needed in decarbonising the economy. Not just for young people, there must be a clear offer to the adults who lose their jobs as recession bites. Apart from the expansion of PACE services, which support people facing redundancies, and platitudes about skills and lifelong learning this report offers nothing to them. The Advisory Group doesn’t even want to try a Universal Basic Income.

Disappointed doesn’t do justice to my feelings about this report! Instead of being the climax of a gig with the Pope and Mark Carney as warm-up acts, this was like an embarrassing local band trying to sound like they could share a stage with the stars but fumbling their words and striking some discordant notes as well.

Now that this report has come, and will probably sink without trace, we need to look forward to something sharper and more radical from the Just Transition Commission (it’s Call for Evidence is open until 30 June). And we need to continue to press for the Scottish Government to come forward with a list of specific programmes and policies which can make a difference, like a massive energy efficiency programme for our cold and draughty homes. Nicola Sturgeon can still bring on policies for a just and green recovery but she won’t find much in this report to help her.

Act Now: save lives, save jobs, save the planet

Yesterday saw the publication of ‘Towards a robust, resilient wellbeing economy for Scotland’. The report was written by the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery with a remit to make recommendations to the Scottish Government. As Ben Wray notes in today’s edition of Source Direct the report is strong on buzzwords but devoid of real urgency and concrete proposals. The end of this week is also the deadline for submissions to the Just Transition Commission. As a contribution to this debate we publish the near final draft of Scot.E3’s submission, which makes the case for radical and immediate action on the climate crisis.

Climate Crisis

There has been a yawning gap between the Scottish Government’s rhetoric on the climate crisis and its actions. Vaunted cuts in domestic greenhouse gas emissions are almost entirely attributable to the greening of electricity production and the export of emissions as a result of deindustrialization.   To date the Scottish Government’s actions have failed to measure up to the urgency of the crisis.  

Covid19

However, the impact of Covid19 on society and the economy provides an opportunity to take decisive action.  Job losses in the North Sea oil and gas sector, as a result of the impact on oil and gas prices, are already significant and are increasing rapidly.  There have been layoffs before , however, this time round many analysts are predicting that the sector is unlikely to bounce back.  These redundancies will have a direct additional effect on employment in the supply chain and an indirect effect on local economies, particularly in North East Scotland.  The North Sea is only part of a much larger employment crisis in Scotland that includes tourism, some sectors of manufacturing, education and retail.  

The economic and social dislocation of Covid19 is having a massive impact on the lives and livelihoods of working people in Scotland and across the world.  Attempting to reset the economy to its pre-pandemic state at a time of climate crisis is madness.  Millions of working people will bear the brunt of hardship, unemployment, sickness, stress and anxiety, and precious time to act on a Just Transition to a new sustainable economy will be lost. 

The time to act is now

Many of those being made redundant in Scotland, oil and gas workers, engineers at Rolls Royce, have skills and experience that are needed to develop a new sustainable economy.  They represent a precious resource.  Yet if climate action is deferred, their knowledge and skills will be lost.  Meanwhile, those who have lost their jobs, together with their families, and communities will have repeated the experience of mining communities in the 1980s.   If these workers are not supported now it will be so much harder to win the case that Just Transition is possible.  

Around the world responses to Covid19 have demonstrated that rapid action and mobilisation of human and material resources by governments is possible at a time of crisis.  We suggest that the Commission recommends that the Scottish Government should learn from international responses to the pandemic and tackle the Climate Crisis and ‘recovery’ from the pandemic with the same urgency.

Public information on the nature of the crisis and the policies being adopted will be crucial in winning hearts and minds.  But Just Transition has to go beyond rhetoric – people will not be convinced unless there is clear evidence at every stage that Just Transition is underpinned by actions that have social justice at their heart.   But it should also be based on the premise that while the crisis is global, Scotland has a significant role to play.  We are a country rich in sustainable energy resources.  We have workers with exceptional skills and experience.  We have a historic obligation as part of a British state that contributed massively to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last two centuries.  

Establish a Scottish Climate Service

The JCT Interim report noted that climate action needs to be planned, systemic and coordinated across the whole of the country.  The private sector simply can’t do this, the public sector can.  However, planning requires appropriate infrastructure.  One component of this, the National Investment Bank, is in place – but its role needs to be much expanded.  The mooted State Energy Company, as another supplier in the energy marketplace is inadequate.  It should be replaced by a vertically integrated, publicly run organization that is involved in every aspect of energy; generation, distribution and supply.  The third necessary component is integrated research, education and training, planning, monitoring and evaluation.  Scotland has rich potential in this respect.  The knowledge and creativity from Universities and Colleges, think tanks like Common Weal, unions, workers, communities and climate activists can contribute to a democratic, open and coordinated planning process.  All three components might be seen as part of a Scottish Climate Service.It is perfectly possible to initiate effective action to reduce carbon emissions now.  We have the scientific knowledge and technical expertise.   A great deal of work has already been done on the steps that can be taken immediately.  Our Common Home – Common Weal’s costed blueprint for a Green New Deal for Scotland – is an example.  There will be need for debate and development of the details.   Critically investment should be into technology that exists and that provides solutions that are effective now.  New and unproven technologies like CCS should have a low priority (reversing what seems to be current practice).

Core principles that should underpin recommendations to the Scottish Government

  • End support for maximum economic extraction from the North Sea and begin a managed and rapid phase out of North Sea Oil and Gas through public control of oil and gas production and processing
  • Take INEOS’s Grangemouth facilities into public control
  • No subsidies or compensation for oil and gas companies – they have received super-subsidies for 50 years (see North Sea Taxation report by Juan Carlos Boué)
  • Support the workers who are losing their jobs in the North Sea with guaranteed income and fully funded support for retraining
  • Planning, action and investment for Just Transition should start now – establish a Scottish Climate Service
  • Ensure that social justice is at the heart of transition.  Social justice requires the protection of lives and livelihoods, working with BAME communities to end environmental racism, the creation of a gender equal economy and a focus on further improvement of air pollution in our cities
  • Democracy and accountability – involve energy sector workers, climate activists, workers and communities in the process of building the new sustainable Scottish economy
  • Creation of 100,000+ climate jobs – these are jobs that ensure reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (energy, transport, housing, home insulation, a new smart grid …) and jobs that are neutral with respect to emissions but contribute to health and well-being (care, health, education, recreation, nature conservation, local food production)
  • Ensure the safety of workers in all industries – no one should be penalized for refusing to put themselves in an unsafe working environment
  • A massive expansion in opportunities for education and training in all of the disciplines and skills required for transition – keep full time education free and make part-time education opportunities free for all 
  • Public control over an expanded and integrated free public transport system

Comments on this submission are very welcome as are reactions to the Advisory Group report. Use the contact tab to get in touch.

Food, food poverty and big business

Eileen Cook responds to Mike Downham’s posts on local food production.

In the region of 10m people in the UK could be said to be living in ‘Food Poverty’ or find it difficult to obtain sufficient healthy and affordable food. This will have worsened under the Coronavirus lockdown.

The link between income (wage) poverty and food poverty has been important to Governments since people moved from the land in the early years of industrialisation. Wages had to be kept low to guarantee profits but workers who were too poor to buy expensive food in urban areas wouldn’t be able to work. Industrial capitalists were big supporters of the repeal of the Corn Laws, that was protecting high prices of food grown in Britain.

In more recent times Governments and Agri-business have conspired to make ‘cheap’ food available with the help of the oligopolistic supermarkets. Cheap often meaning low on nutrition and high on additives. This suits the (big) agri-producers and retailers and allows neo-liberal governments to avoid dealing with the income issue. It also loads the production side in favour of large-scale production reliant on farming methods that are dangerous to both the environment and people’s health. For example, 13 dairy firms worldwide are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the UK.

The ‘Brexit’ impact on food and agriculture, therefore, is not just any immediate impact of a no deal. The big danger is a ‘free trade’ deal with the US. This would set us (both as producers and consumers) back decades in our quest for sustainable and healthy food supplies.

Image CC0

Build Back Green, The oil and gas industry’s response

Geraldine Clayton looks at the urgency of building a new green economy post pandemic and reviews the Absolute Zero report, which was published in November 2019.

Discussions are now underway on how best to restart our economy after the coronavirus crisis. There is much to play for, and many groups and organisations have taken the message they want from the present crisis. We all, however, want to build a more efficient and less fragile economy than that which came about after the banking crash. For this to happen we will need a skilled workforce spread across the country able to take on the challenges ahead. The answer is surely in the regional planning and industrial strategies we can use to revitalise communities across the country by working towards a real zero carbon future. 

In the world of finance, investors are now looking towards green policies for economic recovery. Unless policy makers put these at the top of the agenda we will be jumping from the coronavirus frying pan into the climate change fire. We need to be making structural changes now; investing in the supply chain for a green economy, changing legislation and regulation, and implementing an environment-led stimulus package. Putting the energy sector into some form of public ownership would place workers and communities at the centre of the recovery through public enterprise strategies and regional planning.  The Scottish government could take advantage of the fact that EU state aid rules have been largely suspended to take over strategic sectors of the economy such as clean energy production. This would provide badly needed revenue. Profits would not be going onto the balance sheets of companies owned in this country and subject to future takeover activity, or to overseas investors.  By acting now will we be advancing progress on tackling the climate emergency.  But there is no time to waste. The government must either lead from the front or it will become irrelevant to the changes taking place around it. 

What better way to build the economy than around tasks such as retro-fitting insulation for energy saving, getting rid of old gas boilers, building district heating systems, smartening up the grid, and developing, manufacturing and installing the new technologies we will need to conform to our carbon reduction targets?

The UK FIRES ‘Absolute Zero’ report which came out last November, written across five universities in the UK, funded by the government and endorsed by the House of Lords, states that we need to be out of fossil fuels by 2029, including that used in shipping and aviation. The only exception to this will be for a limited amount of oil to be used in the making of some plastics. 

Screenshot of the cover page of the Absolute Zero report

Sad to say the oil majors and fossil fuel companies, while publicly endorsing the need to act on Climate Change, are at the same time massively increasing their investments in a huge expansion of oil and gas extraction.  They are putting themselves forward as the solution, when they are a major part of the problem. 

The industry spends a lot of money and effort on lobbying.  They have set up a network of supposedly independent organisations around the world whose job it is to lobby policy makers with positions that run counter to a lot of the top line statements of the major companies.  This practice is known as ‘astroturfing’.  It’s a murky business, but thanks to a determined group of academics, journalists and investigators some of these activities have been exposed.  Another strategy is to hide behind trade organisations. Cross sector industry bodies tend to adopt the positions of their most vocal members, often fossil fuel related companies.  The other majority members tend to stay silent, so these stances prevail. Trades associations have been weaponized by the fossil fuel companies to allow them to outsource the ‘negative stuff’.  These, along with other lobbying strategies, have hindered governments globally in their efforts to implement policies aimed at allowing us to reach our climate change targets.  The industry says its position on climate change is transparent and clear, yet their lobbying activities tell another story.  Added to that, years of suggested solutions based on breakthrough technologies, including projects such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), and on market driven fixes like carbon markets have held us back from dealing with the ecological tsunami which could soon overtake us.  For years the industry has proposed these types of solutions, and has been asking governments for money for funding CCS and other projects.  These solutions are expensive and up until now none of these schemes has been proven to work at scale.

The Absolute Zero report states “The target of zero emissions is absolute.  There are no negative emissions options or meaningful carbon emissions offsets. The UK is responsible for all emissions, including imported goods and international flights and shipping.” “Breakthrough technologies cannot be deployed at the scale needed rapidly enough.”  We are concerned that most plans for dealing with climate change depend on breakthrough technologies, so will not be delivered in time.  Until we wake up to the fact that breakthrough technologies will not arrive fast enough we cannot even begin having the right discussion.”  

The stark reality is that the carbon to CO2 ratio is 1:3.7, which means that to stick to absolute zero emissions, for every ton of carbon we burn, we would have to take 3.7 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere. (Professor Miles Allan , in ‘The Life Scientific’ on Radio 4). 

The current crisis has exposed the cracks in our system, and we now have a clearer understanding of what an emergency is.  Even the super-rich cannot escape in any meaningful sense.  Our life support systems are under threat, and there is a danger we could soon reach the point where, in a world in which biodiversity loss is amplified by climate change, there will be no turning back.  Coronavirus will be brought under control eventually, but environmental collapse will be permanent from a human perspective.

If the fossil fuel industry wants to sell its product it should demonstrate that it can be used safely, and that the industry can clean up its own mess.  It cannot do either.  The fact that the industry spends so much time and effort in lobbying demonstrates that its arguments are weak.  These arguments include;

“We can’t get out of oil and gas because if we do, production will be taken up by the ‘bad’ producers, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia. Our oil is good oil.” 

The Deep Water Horizon well was exploratory at the time of the disaster, but the oil destined for production would presumably have gone under the heading ‘good oil’.  Would the people of the Niger Delta, who have lost much of their livelihoods to oil pollution think Shell’s oil is ‘good oil’?  It takes nine times more land to produce a barrel of oil on the US mainland than it does in Russia or Saudi Arabia because of the amount that is recovered from fracking.  That is neither environmentally nor financially sound.  We have a moratorium in Scotland on onshore fracking, but companies such as INEOS are pushing hard to have the moratorium overturned.  In any case, the ‘chemically enhanced’ treatments used in oil recovery to get that ‘extra bit’ of oil out of a well are now standard practice across the world, including in the North Sea. 

Many people still believe we import much of our gas supply from Russia.  In fact we weaned ourselves off Russian gas years ago, and now import only a tiny fraction from there.  Most of our gas comes from Norway, while the Norwegians obtain their own domestic power from hyrdro-electricity.

We were fed a similar line regarding the ethics of supplying arms during the seventies and eighties by the arms industry, who told us that if British companies stopped selling weapons this would allow the ‘wicked’ arms sellers to take over.  Decades later the world is still awash with arms, and we are entering into yet another arms race.  Oil, and the rights of access to it have both stimulated and fueled conflicts for a very long time now.  But natural resources for clean energy are spread across the planet.  There is no point in fighting for the wind, the sun or underground and airborne heat sources. 

“We need to produce more oil and gas to save on expensive importing.”

Oil and gas is bought and sold on the world’s markets, so the oil produced here will go to the highest bidder.  A report in January 2019 from the UK’s National Audit Office estimated the costs of dismantling offshore oil and gas infrastructure in the North Sea over the next twenty-five years could exceed £240 billion, most of which will be funded by the taxpayer.  When this, along with the tax handouts and generous benefits handed out to companies are taken into account, the product appears to be rather expensive. 

“We have the skills and the technological know-how to solve the problem of climate change.”

They are right, but it’s time for the industry to put their money where their mouth is.  Their biggest resource lies in their workforce, who have families, and like us are hoping to live in a world where the future will be safe for their children and grandchildren.  This is a truly solvable problem, and the fossil fuel companies have the resources, capital, cash flow and engineering capability to make this happen.  Together they account for 10% of the world’s economy. But it requires the whole industry to clean up its waste rather than hoping someone else will do it for them.

“We will still need a mix of fuels by 2050”

Just listen to the science.

The sharp drop in the price of oil allows us to see what will happen in the future.  The value of these companies lies in the value of their oil, and they have tanks of it.  The days of peak oil have gone, but still many of them continue to take on debt to enable them to carry on with exploration and drilling.  Offshore drilling tends to be done at greater depths than previously, and in more hazardous conditions. Clean-up operations will become much more difficult and expensive in the future.  Oil leaks have increased recently, including in the North Sea, and the oil companies have been told to clean up their act.  Climate change means insurance firms will be hit with increasing claims related to extreme weather, and fossil fuel companies will lose their value as the world implements increasingly urgent climate targets.

The Arctic is now being viewed as one of the most lucrative places for fossil fuel investment, but oil production in the area is beset with environmental dangers.  Protection treaties have not been agreed for oil and mineral extraction in the Arctic, and there are no safety protocols in place for the region.  The detrimental effects of oil spills in such a cold climate will be many times longer lasting than in temperate areas (think how much longer things last when kept in your fridge or freezer).  The Deepwater Horizon disaster was estimated to have cost $100 billion to clear up.  Any such occurrences in the Arctic region could be much costlier and more damaging to the environment.  Shell, to its credit, has said it will not explore in the region until regulatory measures are put in place, but many other companies are keen to get started. 

Greenland’s southwestern coastline Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

For pension funds and other investors, oil dividends and investments have up until now been safe and lucrative, but this cannot continue.  Shell has for the first time in decades cut its shareholder dividends, and BP has seen a sharp drop in profits.   Over the past three to five years global stock indexes without fossil fuel holdings have held steady with, and even out-performed otherwise identical indexes that include fossil fuel companies.  Fossil fuel companies once led the economy and the world stock markets.  They now lag.

According to the Institute for Energy, Economics and Financial Analysis, trustees face growing fiduciary pressure to divest from fossil fuels due to volatile revenues, limited growth opportunities and a negative outlook.  Scottish local government pension funds have been advised by the Scottish Local Government Fiduciary Duty Guidance Advisory Board that pension committees may take environmental social and governance considerations into account in relation to investments if the financial performance of that investment may be impacted as a result of any particular environmental, social and governance considerations.  Legal & General has put climate change risk as its top concern in terms of profit warnings.

Oil tends to mirror the stock market’s rise and fall, so it’s not a particularly good investment in a properly diversified portfolio.  The value of these companies is bound to crash. We don’t know when this will happen, but we know it will.

Fossil fuel and aviation companies are currently asking the government for yet more handouts and tax breaks. The UK already has some of the lowest oil tax rates in the world.  Last year Shell paid no tax at all on its UK operations. They already receive handsome tax breaks on investments and decommissioning, but the taxpayer can no longer keep on funding private businesses only to see them create more costs in the future in the form of climate impacts.  The UK should remove all incentives and tax breaks from oil and gas extraction and redirect them to funding a just transition. Money spent on green initiatives will provide decent training and employment opportunities and help small and start-up businesses which are well placed to deploy new technologies.  Given the right policies, job creation in clean energy industries will exceed affected oil and gas jobs more than three times over.  These opportunities will be spread across the UK.

Our situation regarding climate change and loss of biodiversity is very serious indeed.  We are closer to a real tipping point than we think. The stimulus packages released now hold the key as to whether this coronavirus crisis delays or advances progress on tackling the climate emergency.  As the saying goes, why not make an opportunity out of a crisis?  After all, I don’t think we will get another chance.

Platform’s worker survey

Platform recently released a survey for workers in the oil and gas industry, its supply chain, and relevant bodies that interact with both. Its objective is:

  • To find out how the oil crisis and Covid19 has impacted job security and work conditions
  • To understand what a ‘Just Transition’ means for oil and gas workers. 

If you are a worker in any of the industries that Platform would like to talk to please take a few minutes to complete the survey.

Not an atom of truth

The supporters of nuclear energy are at it again, attempting to position it as key to a ‘green’ recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and as part of the solution to the climate catastrophe. In this post, first published at www.rs21.org.uk and republished here with permission Scot.E3 activist Brian Parkin exposes the dangerous myths of nuclear power.

Climate of doubt

Nuclear power has made many bold claims on economic viability, safety, reliability and environmental sustainability over the years. Again and again it has been disgraced. But nuclear power is the come-back-kid when it comes to energy technology reincarnation and rebranding. Backed up by state revenues, corporate confidentiality and operational unaccountability, the nuclear industry remains the biggest fraud of the industrial age.

One of the most persistent frauds is the claim that it is the most technologically advanced form of electricity generation available. In fact, the global nuclear inventory is ageing and, as safety fears mount, it delivers ever-decreasing load factors (efficiency) and availability (the amount of time when energy is produced). The industry persistently claims that past operational problems are being resolved with each successive advance in reactor design and waste management improvement. It is forever promising that technological leaps will bring the cost of nuclear-derived power inexorably down.

The advocates of nuclear power now see the current economic and climate crises as an opportunity. Nuclear power still holds onto its reputation as a clean source of energy since it produces neither acid-rain precursors nor COemissions, and does not rely on relatively short-term finite fuel resources. Yet, despite this continually revamped argument, nuclear power cannot address either the prohibitive costs reality nor the safety issues that inevitably arise from an energy source created by fallible humans attempting to harness a power source hotter than the sun. It also hinders rather than advances the path to a low-carbon future.

This article will explain why the periodically disgraced nuclear dream is so dangerous, explain the political power that the industry can mobilise, and resist the arguments of supporters of nuclear power, such as George Monbiot, within the climate movement.

Visit to the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant IAEE Image Bank CC BY-SA 2.0

Proliferation

Today, nuclear power accounts for some 10.5% of all electricity generated worldwide. This power comes from a total of 457 reactors across a total of 31 countries.[1]Initially, the promotion of nuclear power generation was limited to the post-war ‘spheres of influence’ contest between the Soviet Union and the USA that extended their influence via the means of offering client states a various range of infrastructural vanity projects. This arrangement was later complicated by the rift opened up between the USSR and China, mainly in the Indian sub-continent, with India and Pakistan respectively choosing Russia and China as economic allies.

Another factor was the post-war craze for the developing economies (‘Third World’ in the terminology of the time) to obtain sexy totemic technologies that marked their entry into the ‘First World’ via the procurement of mega-projects that gave swagger-power to the various state bureaucracies but little in terms of gross benefits to what remained impoverished populations. This often proved to be the case in countries where gross electricity demand was low and where the necessary distribution and supply networks were near non-existent.

In fact, what these projects did, via the means of fuel-cycle and operational technology, was to increase the subordination of developing states. Any illusions of sovereign security of supply and energy self-sufficiency, printed on the tin of the latest Pressurised Water Reactor[2] or Boiling Water variants, were quickly blown out of the water. Operational ‘teething troubles’, low load factors and poor availabilities left developing states unable to pay off debts acquired throughout the construction, commissioning and life-time operation of reactors that had not been needed in the first place.

Enter the International Energy Agency[3]

Nuclear power relies on the controlled heat energy released by the separation (fission) of the nucleus of an enriched heavy radioactive element, in most cases Uranium235. This process is therefore closely related to that of the uncontrolled fission of a nuclear weapon. With further ‘enrichment’, a totally artificial and radioactive element, Plutonium, can be created: the stuff of thermo-nuclear ‘hydrogen’ bombs. Consequently, it has always been a matter of international concern that civil nuclear programmes may well lead down the road to nuclear arms proliferation.

From its inception in 1956 at Windscale (now Sellafield) in Cumbria, nuclear power in the UK has been driven by the military imperatives of weapons grade material: supporting US missile ambitions, offering a means of repaying the US-UK lend-lease debts, while ensuring that by ownership of a military nuclear programme, that the UK would be ensured a seat on the UN Security Council. In this regard the post-war Labour government was as culpable as successive Tory administrations.[4]

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established in order to promote nuclear power, albeit within a tightly set-down set of protocols policed by the United Nations. However, by this point nuclear weapons ownership had already expanded beyond the post-war Cold War four of the US, USSR, France and the UK to China, India, Pakistan and Israel.[5]

The other IAEA concerns were the standardisation of operating standards, mainly in order to create a safety culture as well as control over the fuel cycle[6] and the manufacture of fuel rods and subsequent ‘waste management’. The latter issue was never satisfactorily resolved either technically or economically. What these arrangements have ensured, though, are techno-dependencies whereby fuel-cycle management has been out-sourced to the wealthier ‘nuclear club’[7] states for fuel manufacture, enrichment and the alchemy of fuel recycling.

Reactor enigma variations: jam tomorrow

Over some 55 years of reactor design and development, little in the way of a standard ‘safe’ reactor consensus has arisen. This is largely due to state-sponsored nuclear competition looking for export opportunities.

Initially, the design of reactors was a military thing. In the case of the US, this meant a Pressurised Water cooled Reactor (PWR), which over time became the dominant and preferred reactor for US power utilities. Elsewhere, designs favoured other means of moderating (slowing down) neutron release via different core materials such as graphite or heavy water, while others favoured different primary heat/cooling cycle systems such as pressurised light (ordinary) water, heavy water[8], gas (usually carbon dioxide) or sodium (liquid salt). But whatever the means, the sole object remains to raise super-heated steam in order to drive a steam turbine in order to produce electricity via an alternator. Whatever the glitz, nuclear power is a steam-age technology.

For over 50 years, nuclear power in its civilian guise has promised clean and infinite energy at a price ‘too cheap to meter’. In every respect, it has failed abysmally: due to impossible engineering challenges, rocketing costs, ever-demanding and failing safety systems and a perpetually irresolvable economic and technical waste management issue. Despite the continual claims that, ‘this time we have really got it right’, there is still no standard and generic design and operational culture.

When this is combined with newer imported costs and construction delays, the consequence has been that nuclear power has never been able to operate in a ‘free’ market, without state subsidies and a skewed regulatory environment.

Meanwhile, epic nuclear ‘incidents’ such as Windscale (now called Sellafield) (1957), Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) have all resulted in massive nuclear releases to the outside environment with melt-downs and huge reactor fires beyond the scope of established safety procedures. With each such incident, the nuclear ‘community’ has had to pause, think and then go into inventive mode regarding another excuse and a massive falsehood regarding the extent of environmental damage and long-term radiological health assessments.

Then, after a respectful moment of silence, this has been followed by another vast PR offensive, garnished with even more Jam Tomorrow.

An energy technology looking for a cause

Nuclear power has met each set-back with a new justification for its existence: security of supply, cheap power, clean power, infinite power and a source of power beyond the control of working class militancy (in the case of the UK, the miners). And at each challenge, a new fall.

But with the realisation of an impending climate catastrophe, the advocates of nuclear finally think that they have a irrefutable case. As nuclear power has no operational COfootprint, it is touted as the environmental answer for clean and sustainable baseload power.[9] They foresee a new and massive worldwide programme of nuclear reactor construction, standardisation and replication costs that will set generating costs on a downwards trajectory.

One persistent argument is that the ‘replication costs savings’[10] would be possible if only the industry world-wide could agree on one generic reactor design that could be used as the architecture for an ongoing sequence of revisions. The new basic stations could be built in line to growing capacity demand and with an actual reduction in capital costs as new orders came on stream. Not so much as jam tomorrow as pie in the sky.

However, such ‘replication savings’ arguments persisted within the UK nuclear cabal up until 1988, where at the Hinkley Point C nuclear inquiry, the UK Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) insisted that the Hinkley Point PWR would be the first-born of a ‘small family’ of UK PWRs.[11] This claim was blown out of the water by evidence submitted by the National Union of Mineworkers.[12]

The nearest thing that an international nuclear agreement has come to is an emerging view that the Pressurised Water Reactor offers the best basic model upon which future reactors should be based. The US Westinghouse (now General Electric) AP100 PWR is now being copied by China as an export model within its developing ‘sphere of influence’. It also forms the basis for technically and economically disastrous ‘third generation’ European PWR (EWR) at Flamanville in Normandy and Olkiuoto in Finland. The EWR is also the reactor of choice for the massive cost and schedule over-running Hinkley Point C project in the UK, and has been accepted as the design favourite for China’s Taishan 1 project which started in December 2018.

A little jam today?

Beyond the third generation of PWRs there are a number of other technical options on offer. Hitherto aimed at big capacity baseload units of reactors with a 1,000 Megawatt plus output, the nuclear industry has been looking at the development of smart grids with response capabilities for inputs from more intermittent small scale units. Within this scenario, smaller and more operationally flexible nuclear reactors are envisaged: the so-called new generation of Small Modular Reactors with capacity sizes down to as small as 10 MWe. Such SMRs could be prefabricated and shoe-horned into existing conventional power station sites.

But even if operationally proved as safe and capable of high load factors, SMRs would hardly contribute much to the capacity need as stated by the advocates of nuclear power. Given that the SMRs will be little more than down-scaled versions of already tried and tested failed reactor designs, there is little reason to expect them to behave over time little better than their bigger grand-parents.

Moreover, funding for nuclear research and development (R&D) drains from the pittance devoted to R&D for renewable energy, and the development large scale storage batteries and disaggregated smart grids which could do so much to create baseload potential for otherwise intermittent and ‘micro’ renewables.

It is a dangerous fantasy to think that nuclear power is best placed to replace fossil fuel power production. According to the International Energy Agency, the installed global power generating capacity as of 2018 was:

Fuel SourceCapacity (TW)
All fossil fuels4.154
All renewables, including:1.278
Wind 0.515
Solar0.387
Hydro0.166
Geo-thermal0.130
Tidal/wave0.180
Nuclear0.354

Statistics compiled and amended by Dr T. Wang, Statista, 3 December 2019

Meanwhile, of non-renewable fuel sources, in terms of total % global electrical power consumed:

Non-renewable fuel source% total global electrical power consumed (2017-18)
Coal41
Natural gas22
Nuclear10.5
All other26.5

IEA World Energy Outlook 2019.

The projection of a 65% nuclear capacity to replace all fossil fuel power plant by 2040 does not just mean the replacement of all existing carbon power generation. It also means an immediate programme for replacing all existing nuclear power plants, two thirds of which will be due for end-of-life decommissioning within the next five to ten years anyway. With no standardised reactor type and operational culture, this would mean 65% of global power generating capacity depending on a variety of plant designs for which no commercial insurability safety assurance will be possible.

Then there is the issue of waste management. Given a present 10.5% global nuclear power generation with no waste management consensus, a capacity increase of six times over presents the stuff of nightmares.

Waste management

The problem of waste recovery, recycling and long-term management (storage) has so far proved insoluble for the nuclear industry. The industry adopted wet storage – large underground cooling pools – pending proper technical waste management. This was meant to be a temporary solution, but it is still used to this day.

In the mid-1970s, the UK BNFL declared a worldwide solution with the development of a Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) to be built at Sellafield in Cumbria. But dogged with a continuous string of technical problems, as well as very real doubts as to the safety of the Thermal Oxide process, the THORP project with a bill in excess of £5 billion was scrapped in 1989. THORP contracts worth many billions of dollars were force majeured, and nuclear states such as Canada, France, Japan and Sweden were asked to take their waste back home.

According to a 2019 report, some 250,000 tonnes of highly radioactive spent fuel material is in wet storage in some 14 countries awaiting a waste storage solution that will never come.[13] Meanwhile, some 2 billion tonnes of uranium mining ‘tailings’ and process waste remain untreated and with no treatment or financial liabilities settlements in sight.

This is the legacy for future generations that 65 years of nuclear folly has bequeathed. Long-life and long half-life waste radioactive elements, isotopes and their ‘daughter’ products that will last further into the future that human civilisation has taken to reach this moment.

Conclusion

Virtually all of the statistical information referenced above was compiled before the present Covid-19 pandemic. It also predates another global economic event: a growing global recession that has so far been eclipsed by the immediate public health disaster. Such pandemics are, like recessions, treated as natural forces: events beyond the comprehension and control of mere mortals like the ‘rational self-interested actor’, much beloved by liberal economists.

Statistics based on real and reliable evidence make projections rooted in a status quo, which itself presumes business as usual. From such vulgar assumptions, trends are discernible and tendencies towards increasing capital accumulation, urbanisation and population growth can be factored in as verities based on a dismal human condition, unfettered population growth and the persistence of the rule of capital and the inevitability of capricious markets.

Against such projections the IEA and an ever-predatory World Nuclear Association now draw on the undeniable probability of worst-case climate catastrophe to create a new age for nuclear power need. So from a current 10.5% of nuclear generated power, we have to envisage a COabated 2040 where nuclear power will provide 62% of electricity.[14] This means that 70% of all currently operating reactors will have been replaced and that every 40 years or so, all reactor capacity will have to have been renewed.

This means that forever, humanity will have to exist on the brink of a barely containable climate threat, and a source of dangerous energy at barely affordable prices for the bulk of the global population- and that forever, the deceptive alchemy of waste management will remain the radioactive legacy for generations to come. Such a projection is both hopeless and apocalyptic. It offers an eternity of business worse than usual, and it offers a totally fraudulent scenario.

Furthermore, it denies the human capacities of both hope and redemption through struggle. It denies the organised agency of a proletarian class that by 2009 (by UN estimates) had already come to comprise over 52% of the world’s population. Statistical apologists for capitalism and its compendium of various barbaric imperialist scenarios may interpret the world in many ways, but it still remains the role of a revolutionary working class to change it. For the better.

Notes

[1] International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report 2019.

[2] The PWR and BWR reactor types use ‘light’- ordinary water in the primary and secondary cooling cycles.

[3] The IAEA was set up as an ‘independent’ agency in 1957 for the promotion of ‘Atoms for Peace’. It is located in Vienna and has 171 member states. It reports to both the UN general and Security Councils.

[4] Former Secretary of State for Energy Tony Benn in his statement of case for the NUM at the Hinkley Point Inquiry, went on to describe the UK Magnox reactors as little more than ‘bomb factories’.

[5] Israel is neither a member state of the IEA nor a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

[6] The ‘fuel cycle’ covers the process of mining Uranium or to the manufacture of nuclear fuel and its waste ‘management’.

[7] The so-called ‘Nuclear Club’ presently comprises Argentina, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, S Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Ukraine, UK and US.

[8] Heavy water is water with a molecule of oxygen plus two isotopes of deuterium- a hydrogen ‘heavy’ isotope with two electrons as opposed to the usual one.

[9] Baseload power is electricity from a reliable round-the-clock source not subject to daily or seasonal interruption.

[10] ‘Replication savings’ are the economic benefits arising from series production: i.e. the ‘economies of scale’. In the UK such replication benefits were promised with the Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) which now make up all but one of the UK nuclear inventory. In this case the ‘savings’ ended up as double the original project cost.

[11] The 1986-89 Hinkley Point Inquiry was for an original proposal involving a Westinghouse Type AP100 PWR. The present Hinkley Point project presently taking place is based on an Areva/EdF European PWR (EWR).

[12] NUM Proof of Evidence. Parkin et al. Hinkley Point C public inquiry. Proof denied on grounds of ‘misappropriation’ of confidence and ‘purloining’ of information.

[13] P. Roche et al. The Global Crisis of Nuclear Waste (Greenpeace France, 30 January 2019).

[14] World Nuclear Association. World Energy Review December 2019.