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.

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.

No market solutions

Neil Rothnie spent his working life on the North Sea oilrigs.  In this post he looks at Covid-19 and the slump in oil process and how oil workers pay the price for the super profits stolen by the oil companies.

COVID19 exposes that there are no “market” solutions to the real problems that face us.  In fact the, “neo-liberal” market-led society has left us with a precarious health service which has all but had to shut down looking after the health of the majority of people just to be able to cope with this virus.  And it’s left us with insufficient resources in the form of testing kits and PPE and ventilators.  The market can’t lead us out of this COVID19 emergency (no one is even making this claim) neither will it be able to lead us out of global warming and the developing climate emergency.  When the oil & gas industry says that it is the solution to global warming it’s lying.  Their plan is business as usual – produce every drop that can be economically produced from the North Sea and (presumably) worldwide.  Greed, private property and getting rich drive the oil industry.  Co-operation, the recognition of the crucial role of key workers, an end to poverty homelessness and the provision of basic necessities to all has to be the response to COVID19.  No going back to the days when our “heroes” will once again be the “celebrities” that stand in for and apologise for the filthy rich.  Our heroes are health and care workers, supermarket and delivery workers.  Let’s make sure it stays that way.

Under conditions of this Covid19 pandemic, the exploitation of the workforce has taken on a more overt and sinister form, where workers are herded offshore under conditions where it is impossible to maintain social distancing.  Only a virtual news blackout has allowed employers to try and mitigate the risks (to their reputations) by jumping the queue being formed by health and care workers, and privately organising COVID19 testing for oil & gas workers going offshore.  Who knows how effective this is, or whether the infection is spiraling offshore only to come home with these guys at the end of their trip?  Are all the companies quarantining all outward and inward bound workers?  Are they testing everyone every day? Otherwise what possible precautions could be put in place to get workers offshore via helicopter to work eat and sleep (sometimes in shared cabins) cheek by jowl in an atmosphere of endlessly recycled air? 

Belatedly the industry have organised their own “testing” regimes but are still capable of fucking that up by sending guys offshore before results are in and have, in at least one case, ended up sending one guy out who had tested positive to the virus and then disallowed his fellow passengers from self-isolating.  

The testing of oil & gas workers for COVID19 before many health services and care workers could get tests, needs I think to be challenged.  It’s not on as far as I’m concerned.  How essential are oil & gas workers during a pandemic and a global glut of oil? Even a 10% cut in global production isn’t enough to artificially hike the prices that we ultimately pay to levels where the rich can continue to get their “dividends”.  Many of these workers, far from being “key” workers have turned out to not even be essential to the industry.  The industry is sacking workers en mass in the midst of a social crisis that we’re all supposed to be in together.  What bollocks!

Oil that workers have sweated and risked life and limb to produce is trading at negative prices in a market that’s driven by greed and geopolitics and periodically crashes.  Where the workers pay with their jobs, again and again?  An industry that cannot learn the lessons of the periodic disaster and near-disasters and must be very close to another.  What kind of life is that for the workforce?  And all this from the industry that threatens an existential crisis for people and nature.

If the employers can’t/won’t furlough their workers, then the Government should step in and do so directly.  If the Government won’t do it they should come out and explain why.

At every opportunity, and to get out of the holes they’ve dug themselves into, the industry periodically drives up exploitation by driving down wages and increasing offshore work periods.  Dumping whole swathes of the workforce is the traditional method of achieving this. We’re well into the latest phase of this with another 30,000 UK job losses predicted on top of the steady stream of redundancies already underway.

We need to go for the industry by the throat and break this unholy alliance that exists between them and the Government and in which the trade unions have been willing participants or “partners” in sweetheart agreements.  The media has largely failed to be anything more than a propaganda mouthpiece.

Should we not shut-in oil production, furlough the workers and use up the global glut if need be.  Is this not the time to start offering oil & gas workers the chance to retrain for the renewables sector (or for whatever they want) and escape the ongoing nightmare of an industry that is an eater of men and women and a threat to our very existence?

The coal miners, their families and communities were fucked-off in the last energy transition. Oil & gas workers will get the same treatment if they stand by and let it happen this time.

Cromarty Firth – image by Pete Cannell CCO

COVID19 AND CLIMATE CHANGE CAMPAIGNING – THE SAME PRINCIPLES APPLY

Matthew Crighton continues the discussion on organising at a time of pandemic. You can check out earlier contributions here, here, here and here.

SUMMARY                            

The Covid19 crisis and climate change have in common not only that they are both deadly but also that we know that they can both be tackled. The reasons that each has become a massive crisis is that they have been exacerbated by the neo-liberal economic system, by the weakening of health systems and social protection, and by the lack of capacity, globally and nationally, to manage the economy so that it protects us and meets our needs.                                                                                                                                                   

To solve both of them and to put us on a safe trajectory into the future, we need a radically different approach – publicly-driven, pro-people and pro-nature, collective and egalitarian. Broad and strong  mobilisations leading to decisive shifts in power away from the corporations and their political allies are required to ensure that, drawing in the diverse popular movements with a stake in this alternative.

These struggles are inter-linked. So climate change activists ought to be engaged now in the politics and economics of the coronavirus, and practical solidarity actions which it necessitates.

The essential messages are the same including:

  • Save lives! Take immediate urgent measures to stop the avoidable death, illness and suffering which will arise if we don’t act.
                
  • Collective actions for our shared needs must displace the pursuit of private profits. Public institutions must be strengthened and resourced.
                
  • In crises the powerful will seek to protect and consolidate their grip on power. Only mass organisation, vigilance and democratic accountability can prevent that and ensure change for the better.
  • Inequalities will increase unless strong and determined actions are taken to reverse that. Our actions must protect and empower the vulnerable and make the rich pay most.

We can build back better and merge our ideas about just transition into campaigns for a just recovery. It’s not in doubt now that radical public interventions in the economy are possible, in this case to reduce transmission of the virus, to boost public health systems, to support workers affected, and to sustain otherwise vulnerable companies. Only governments have these powers and they can and should be used to rapidly cut emissions as well. All support for private companies should include conditions that they should create forward plans for a just transition; and just transition approaches to redeploying and training of workers from one sector to another should be applied in the current crisis. 

As it moves towards an end, the reconstruction of a new normal for economic activity should integrate health, wellbeing, climate change and environmental objectives at its core. We need work on a new economic strategy for that to start now.    

                                                                 

THE SAME PRINCIPLES APPLY

We are all bewildered by the rapidity and scale of the Covid 19 crisis and most climate justice campaigners are juggling with reactions which can appear to pull in different directions. These include: this has knocked other issues from the attention they need – if only climate change had been treated as seriously – solving Covid will give us tools for stopping climate change – at least emissions are falling if only temporarily and at massive human cost – the same groups of people are at risk from both. 

Thinking clearly about the similarities and differences will help fit these all into a perspective which can in turn help us to orientate to the political and campaigning challenges ahead. Here’s my first effort, with some concluding thoughts specifically about implications for work on sustainable economics.

These are very different problems. One is a disease – a medical problem with associated public health problems related in particular to the rate at which it can spread in urban societies. The other is at its heart an economic problem, an externality – an unintended, unanticipated, uncosted and initially unnoticed consequence of economic activity. In free markets, no costs are attributable to anyone responsible, even though the costs to society and nature are enormous. 

Accordingly there are few intrinsic synergies between the two crises. Solving one has no necessary relation to solving the other. For example an end to Covid 19 through rapid creation and deployment of a vaccine will leave greenhouse emissions untouched, or rather bouncing back to previous levels. Equally a clear and rapid downward trajectory of emissions will bring no benefit to those dying from the virus, nor to the medics treating them. The timescales and the degrees of threat are also contrasting. Climate change threatens civilisation and therefore the lives of billions, in the fairly long term by the destruction of liveability and agriculture in much of the earth; and in the shorter term through disease, drought, flooding and wars, probably involving nuclear powers, driven by escalating resource competition. Unless it mutates badly, the virus will only kill a fraction of any human population but it could do that in a few years.

However the connection between the two crises is not just that efforts to solve one may distract from the other. We sense that there are lots of similarities and perhaps we have tried out the idea that they have common roots in a dysfunctional relationship between nature and humanity. Maybe, but perhaps that’s really just tautologous – restating as a generalisation that they both cause illness and death and both involve natural processes which we don’t have ways of controlling. (However I recognise that there is an argument that they are fundamentally connected – that Covid 19 would not have infected humans without the effects of globalised economic expansion on marginal agricultural communities and the pressure on wildlife from habitat extinction, even though viruses do transfer between species naturally. This could mean that it also could be portrayed as an externality of similar economic processes, though in my mind that is a stretch. Another true point is that climate change will make more pandemics more likely).

While both are instances where the interaction between the scientific community and politics is in the spotlight, it’s not in the natural sciences where we should look for similarities but in the social, economic and political spheres. There, I think we will see that the contradiction is not between nature and humanity per se, but between nature and humanity on the one hand and, on the other, the particular dominant way of organising economy and society – neo-liberal capitalism.

Firstly, equity and inequality: the impact of both Covid19 and climate change are universal in the sense that anyone may be victims, but both tend to fall most on particular sections of the population, disproportionately on those who suffer other disadvantages. People in poverty are more likely to have poor health and to be badly affected by COVID (think for instance of rough sleepers) and citizens of poor countries with limited health services will be much more likely to die. In a similar but not identical way, the impacts of climate change are mediated by social oppressions and global inequalities. A rich person can get the virus, or their house may be burnt by a wildfire, over all it is the poor and oppressed who will suffer most. Social inequalities kill, in both cases. 

Secondly, the economy: both cause economic dislocation. That caused by climate change is slow and long term and if unchecked it will be massive, resulting in breakdown of the economic life support systems of many  – for example through drought and starvation or flooding of coastal settlements. In the short term the consequences of climate change are more about the value of financial assets in specific sectors; and on specific countries and geographical areas.  COVID 19 is having some similar effects, in an immediate and dramatic way. However, mostly it is not the illness which is having them but the measures being taken to prevent its spread. 

It is when we get to think about these, the policy responses and the solutions, that we start to see really big connections between these two crises. At root, both require that the economy, and social conduct, is managed in order to achieve shared human purposes – prevention of a pandemic disease or stopping catastrophic global warming. Economic policy in capitalist countries, however, has as its formal purposes achieving economic objectives (though some might say that its real purpose is continuing a regime of accumulation which benefits the already rich).

These are both crises which need urgent solutions but which free markets cannot solve. They require decisive and forceful action by the state. Conversely the pro-market, neo-liberal consensus has contributed to making both of these crises worse in various ways (for instance the massive growth in cheap air travel). Austerity has weakened the capacity of our institutions and infrastructure to respond (for instance the stripping of the NHS to the bare minimum for regular, expected peak demand). The recognition that markets need to be constrained and that collective action and public agency are vital has de facto dispelled neo-liberal prescriptions.

We have been developing the tools, measures, policies which are needed to prevent greenhouse gas emissions and when we look at Covid 19 we find that we need them for that too, whether in preventing its spread or dealing with the economic consequences – again, not in identical ways. For each of the measures needed for a just transition to net-zero emissions listed below (in no special order) we can compare the way they need to be applied for the Covid19 crisis:- 

  • Public leadership
  • State intervention
  • Economic management and regulation, general and sectorally specific 
  • Fiscal policy
  • Restrictions on the rights of private owners
  • Bail outs, conditionality and extension of public ownership
  • Investment planning and direction of production in specific sectors
  • Social protections (unemployment benefit, pensions etc)
  • Redeployment, training and other labour market measures
  • Planning and long-termism
  • Regional and local responsibilities
  • Community organising and service delivery
  • Behaviour and consumption changes

(There are other tools used against Covid 19 of course – most notably social distancing, public health systems, digital surveillance – see annex).  

It’s not just the policy tools, it’s how they are done.

National governments are the key agents of a pro-public response – only they have the capacity to overrule the decisions and desires of companies and individuals in order to impose measures which can limit and end these crises. Each nation, in its own political system, has its way of balancing consent and coercion and deriving the authority for the state to act in these ways. Between and within states there are right wing and left wing solutions (and ones in between) –  this is a tension between ones which won’t be effective and will exacerbate social problems and existing inequalities – and ours, which will actually work and bring wider benefits. 

However no national government on its own can solve these crises. Effective global governance is vital –  we need institutions which can constrain global capital and ensure solutions are applied across the world. It is obvious that neo-liberalism has weakened these institutions and empowered corporations and profit seeking instead. In particular mechanisms for achieving a fair distribution of pain and gain between rich and poor, and rich and poor countries, have been fatally undermined.

To legitimate this, and to weaken the alternatives when the failures of globalisation and neo-liberal crisis management become apparent, xenophobic ideologies and the racist narratives of the right have been fostered.  A focus on justice and combatting oppressions conversely has to be built in to our approach to both climate change and to Covid19.

In the face of hesitant, inadequate and incompetent response to Covid 19 from governments, in particular in the UK and USA, political campaigns and workplace organisation have been essential to insist on action to protect both the population and the workforce. Similarly, we have learnt from bitter experience that those same governments are failing to protect us from the consequences of climate change. We will only be protected if we have developed the power to insist on it, so democracy, scrutiny, movement building and populare mobilisations are essential – we need to force the existing system to deliver real solutions; and in doing so, to change that system.

The strength to do that will depend on seeing that these struggles are inter-linked – success in one can strengthen the likelihood of success in others. Workers, health, environment, social justice, liberation/anti-oppression are up against the same enemies. The strength of each helps the other.

Core Messages about both Covid 19 and climate change

The Covid 19 crisis is about mortality and illness, which is why people are prepared to accept such draconian measures against it. It is preventable, in the short term by lockdown, testing and tracing and effective health systems; in the long term by treatments and vaccines. It has arisen in the context of reckless exploitation of our environment and has been fostered and enhanced by neo-liberal capitalism. The most vulnerable and poorest are likely to be hit hardest- in our communities and across the world.

Each of these things is true of climate change too. It kills people, it is preventable and it is rooted in economic and social structures which put short-term profit above collective human needs.

So, many who care about climate change care equally about preventing the Covid 19 crisis from escalating and about ensuring that actions to stop it don’t make injustice and inequalities worse. Instead they want them to create a much stronger foundation for the solutions to both climate change and future pandemics. In political terms, this also suggests that they ought to become actively engaged in the immediate arguments and struggles about the virus and the responses to it.

Just as the solutions which we need to climate change are vital parts of the armoury we have to deploy against Covid 19 and its consequences, most of the measures which we need to take now are also required to stop greenhouse gas emissions. The essential messages are the same:

  • Save lives! Take immediate urgent measures to stop the avoidable death, illness and suffering which will arise if we don’t act.
             
  • Collective actions for shared needs must displace the pursuit of private profits. Public institutions must be strengthened and resourced.
             
  • Inequalities will increase unless strong and determined actions are taken to reverse that. Our actions must protect and empower the vulnerable and make the rich pay most.
             
  • In crises the powerful will seek to protect and consolidate their grip          on power. Only mass organisation, vigilance and democratic accountability can prevent and reverse that.
             
  • Xenophobic, racist and reactionary ideologies which seek to blame and weaken other communities strengthen the elites and weaken our capacity to deal with these crises.                 
  • The workers most affected must be protected from danger, their voices must be heard and their actions supported. The principles of just transition can be applied to the management of any planned changes, not just decarbonisation.
             
  • Economic powers must be used to protect the wellbeing of the people. Support for businesses must ensure that the benefits are transmitted to workers and customers and tight conditions must reduce harmful impacts on our environment.
             
  • Tackle the crisis globally! We are dependent on each other for our health so governments must cooperate and create institutions which can ensure funding, delivery and oversight of solutions across the world.          
  • The poorest countries and their poorest peoples will suffer most so rich countries must direct large-scale funding and support to them.
             
  • Build back better! The ways in which we act will determine whether we are in a stronger or weaker position to deal with ongoing and future crises.

The way in which a government deals with a crisis is likely to be the way in which it comes out of it. It not only affects how effective it will be but also all the other outcomes, for instance whether the society which emerges is more or less equal. It is vital, therefore, that we are stronger and better equipped to deal with the climate change crisis as a result of the massive efforts and sacrifices made to stop the Covid 19 pandemic.

The inescapable conclusion from this is that climate change activists ought to be engaged now in the politics, economics and practical solidarity actions of the coronavirus.

Some conclusions about campaigning

At the moment there is almost no news except coronavirus. Quite rightly people and journalists are giving full attention to this extraordinary crisis and the measures being deployed to tackle it; and to the economic questions. 

In the debates about what the measures should be and how they should be implemented, our voice is unlikely to be heard, in large part because we don’t have anything to say about these which is specifically within our remit (or do we? ‘look after what keeps us healthy and that requires a healthy environment’ might work). 

On economic questions we have a bit more to say because we identify that the way in which the economy develops and is managed is central to achieving our objectives regarding climate change and biodiversity. We have a unique contribution to make as part of the broad movement advocating for different objectives and policies. 

While health-related measures and the economic response are to the fore at present, in parallel everyone will start thinking about more general issues as well, to differing degrees. These include questions like Why did this happen? What went wrong? Who might be blamed? What should be done differently from now on? On these we have a lot to contribute from our decades of experience of thinking about these questions in relation to climate change.

My conclusion from the discussion above is that our overall approach should be:

Covid19 and climate change have different roots but they have in common not only that they are both deadly but also that we know that they can both be tackled. The reasons that each has become a massive crisis is that they have been exacerbated by the neo-liberal economic system, by the weakening of health systems and social protection and by the lack of global and national capacity to manage the economy so that it protects us and meets our needs. To solve either or both of them and to put us on a safe trajectory into the future, we need a radically different approach – publicly-driven, pro-people and pro-nature, collective and egalitarian. Broad and strong popular mobilisations leading to decisive shifts in power away from the corporations and their political allies are required to ensure that, drawing in diverse popular movements with a stake in this alternative. We have a powerful and unique contribution to put alongside those of other allies; and we want to support them and learn from them in their struggles for protection of workers, care for the vulnerable, public health etc. 

We should avoid saying that the Covid19 virus is helping fight climate change, even though emissions are falling, because it suggests that a) we think they are directly connected somehow and b) that high mortality and economic crisis are necessary parts of the solution to climate change.

We should try saying: Climate change will make similar disasters more likely and is already on course to cause similar levels of harm. Why do all this to stop a virus pandemic without using the same tools to also stop greenhouse gas emissions?

Implications for alternative sustainable economics

In relation to economics work and just transition, the key links with the response to Covid 19 are:

  1. radical public/state interventions in the economy are possible and effective, in this case to reduce transmission of the virus, to boost public health systems, to support workers affected, to sustain otherwise vulnerable companies;
  2. only governments have these powers and they can and should be used to rapidly cut emissions as well;
  3. the terms of support for private companies should include conditions that they should create forward plans for a just transition;
  4. just transition approaches to redeploying and training of workers from one sector to another should be used and developed in the current crisis;
  5. social protections for the workforce should be improved permanently to make such shifts easier in the future; 
  6. as and when the Covid 19 crisis moves towards an end, the reconstruction of a new normal for economic activity should integrate health, wellbeing, climate change and environmental objectives at its core. We need work on a new economic strategy for that to start now.  
  7. in the longer run, it is likely that the Covid 19 crisis will lead to re-balancing of the offshoring of production in favour of greater self-sufficiency, complementing the requirements for creating local employment and a just transition;
  8. the experiences of this episode should be instructive for how we promote circular economies, de-coupling and de-growth.

Author: Matthew Crighton

Email: mcrighton@gmail.com

Annex

Covid 19 campaigns and messages

Prevent avoidable deaths –

Immediately: through lockdown, testing, tracing and quality universal health and social care.

Restrict intra-national and international travel

Defend the disadvantaged and vulnerable (and all communities with greater vulnerability)

Protect frontline workers with PPE

Support union actions and community solidarity

Invest in health systems

Strengthen and empower public services

Convert industry to make health equipment

Protect and support poor countries

Create drug treatments

Create vaccines

Make them universally available

Global governance to ensure funding, delivery and oversight

Protect people economically – incomes, food, rent, bills

Ensure supplies of necessities

Bail out private companies with the right conditions – prevent profiteering, extend public ownership

Address inequalities- share the pain fairly – tax the rich

Resist restrictions on liberties

Build an economy which won’t repeat these mistakes

This changes everything

Mike Downham reflects on discussion at a recent Scot.E3 organising meeting.

This piece began as a report on a ScotE3 discussion about its forward strategy at an organising meeting on 19th March. The meeting had been planned before COVID-19 had become the over-riding priority. By the time we met, it had. For most of us it was our first Zoom meeting.

Over the week since we met, events have moved more quickly and more significantly than in any of the 4,213 weeks I’ve been alive and aware (too young to be aware of the outbreak of World War 2, and too distracted as a medical student  to be fully aware of the Cuban Missile Crisis.). So this report has become an attempt to develop the main points which emerged from our discussion in the light of the subsequent escalation of COVID-19 – an escalation in terms of the spread of the disease, the number of deaths, Government intervention, and the response of communities and activists.

coronavirus-4833754_1920

The key points which emerged from our discussion that night were that the COVID-19 pandemic is laying bare the contradictions in the capitalist system;  and that increased consciousness of these contradictions among working-class people, already noticeable, has the potential to build to a point where those people will collectively insist on fundamental change.

What are the contradictions in the capitalist system which the pandemic is particularly exposing? Above all, the vulnerability of our health and social care infrastructure as a result of market-led policies over recent years has become blatantly obvious. The NHS has about 5,000 ventilators, and we are predicted to need around 100,000 within the next few weeks – this despite a flu pandemic exercise run by Government three years ago which pointed to the need to increase ventilator capacity. The Government took no action. On top of that it’s now widely known that the Government, as recently as a month ago, was prepared to sacrifice older people to save the shareholders. Though it became politically impossible for them to hold tightly to that strategy, it still informs their inadequate and confused public health interventions.

The economic impacts of the epidemic are likely to be as big for working-class people as the health impacts. Yet the Government’s income-support interventions have been slow to emerge, inadequate and confused. What for example is an ‘essential job’? Essential for who?

Food will inevitably become scarce soon, particularly but not only for those with least money.  The official figure for the percentage of food the UK imports is 50%. But this is a figure massaged by the inclusion of foods processed in the UK. If ingredients for the processing are included, the real figure is around 80%. A lot of that comes from Europe. Wholesale prices of the fruit and vegetables we import from Europe are rocketing in the context of the pandemic, some of them have already risen by 100%. Wherever food comes from it has to be distributed and many of the waggon drivers come from central Europe. Homegrown fruit and vegetables are threatened by the shortage of harvesters, most of whom also come from Europe.

What are the signs of increased consciousness of these contradictions? Already many people are expressing lack of confidence in the Government. That, to date, 600,000 people have responded to the call for volunteers to help the NHS is a sign that people recognise just how under-resourced the service is. At this point the Government is arguing that the scale and severity of COVID-19 was unpredictable, but as the facts emerge about their inaction in the face of what became known to them from the experience of China and other far-eastern countries, this argument will be seen through, especially by the new volunteers as they experience working at the front line. The vigorous responses of local mutual aid associations will lead to increased confidence and a growing collective consciousness about the way working class people have been failed, particularly as people lose loved ones and as their economic conditions deteriorate. Workers are standing up for their rights for protection from Coronavirus infection in their workplaces – at Moy Park poultry processing plant, Northern Ireland’s biggest employer, 1,000 workers have walked out.

ScotE3’s primary aim is to contribute to the building of a mass movement to achieve a Just Transition from North Sea oil and gas to renewable sources of energy within a timeframe which prevents catastrophic climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic, despite its devastating outcomes, which have now become inevitable, offers an opportunity for ScotE3 to support the growing consciousness of the way the capitalist system is threatening the very survival of working-class people. We can support the generalisation of that consciousness, so that it extends to an understanding of the urgency of Just Transition. As one of our members put it recently:

Oil & gas need to go the way coal went, but this time without victimising the workers and their communities…The people, if they get the facts, will not allow either the industry or the Government to lead us into a future that condemns our grandchildren.

We are well placed to continue to contribute strongly to a Just Transition movement, despite the restrictions of the pandemic, given our emphasis on providing high-quality information widely available online, and the diversity and depth of the experience of our membership. The pandemic will make it more possible for us to promote radical solutions, above all the need to replace the capitalist system. The COVID-19 pandemic should inform all our activities, the resources we work on, and the politics of the material we publish. The pandemic is the new prism through which we should view everything.

 

 

 

 

A Green New Deal for Scotland

The Common Home Plan: A Green New Deal for Scotland

Reflections on the plan dubbed ‘This is how we save the world’.

Common Weal’s Green New Deal for Scotland was launched in November 2109.  A costed plan for a transition to a zero carbon economy, it is an important contribution to the debate about just transition.  Previously we’ve published a summary review of the plan by Pete Roche from Nuclear Free Local Authorities and a video of Tiffany Kane from Common Weal https://wp.me/p8FiJr-cE.  In this post Annie Morgan takes a critical look at the plan from an internationalist perspective.  Annie writes:

There is much that is commendable and doable in the Common Home Plan.  However, there is a lack of an international perspective.

‘No man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main‘

(John Donne. Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624))

Donne’s writings from 400 years ago have a prescience similar to John McGrath’s play ‘The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil’, in our theatres again this year. Donne compares people to countries and his writing is a plea for recognition of our inter connectedness.  The poem is an argument against isolationism and has resonance today in terms of climate change (or as some would say, climate chaos, since change may not describe the devastation already occurring). McGrath’s play is testimony to the centuries old exploitation of people, landscape, land and resources that has blighted Scotland.  Therefore the Common Weal collective are quite right to assert that our land isn’t ‘natural’ nor is it ‘well stewarded’ (Page 57).  The proposals for land reform, national planning approach, reforestation regenerative/agroecological methods are excellent.  Careful planning is demonstrated.

4313848887_a891732033_k

The Cheviot,the Stag and the Black Black Oil Poster Abbey Theatre Dublin 1974 CC BY 2.0

However, there are considerations in the global context that impact on the implementation of the plan.  I explore these below.

In Common Dreams Brian Tokar summarises the problems inherent in the global capitalist economy.  I have added to the list.

  • Metals, mineral extraction and exploitation of mining workers and communities
  • Oil, gas, coal burning is still dominant and in the control of multi national corporations.
  • Food insecurity exacerbated by climate change
  • Neo-liberal doctrine dominance, read privatisation, deregulation and ‘free’ markets.
  • International Monetary Fund/World Bank/World Trade Organisation stranglehold with continued imposition of structural adjustment programmes (now referred to as Extended Credit Facility)
  • Rise of right wing /fascist governments and influence aided even encouraged by global powers

These all demonstrate that the Common Weal assertion that ‘negotiations at an international level’ are unrealistic, sits alongside, but at odds with Asbjørn Wahl’s perspective on a clear policy on energy (the main source of emissions and global warming).  He argues for a move from market oriented ‘green growth’ towards a position ‘anchored in the need to reclaim energy in public ownership and democratic control’.  The Common Weal report, while consistently and rightly calling for Public Ownership, does not consider the required programmatic shift at a global level. Asbjørn calls for the work of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy and the Global Climate Jobs Network and allied networks to be recognised.  Allied groups could include environmental agencies, Climate Activist groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Friends of the Earth and others, ScotE3, the Scottish Trade Union Congress and Trade Unions, Common Weal, students and workers. An international solidarity ethos as described by War on Want would recognise the consequences of climate damage particularly for vulnerable groups and working people and that climate chaos is impacting both here in Scotland/UK and worldwide.

Another impact of IMF imposed programmes is that impoverished countries have to compete with each other, leading to massive over production and lowering prices. Thus cheap imports in the Global North clog Landfills after short-term use.  Examples include the clothing industry (Fast Fashion -the Global Rag Trade), plastic toys, household items and trainers.  This inhibits the progress to the circular economy, rightly called for by the Common Weal team.  A walk round any shopping centre/recycle centre/landfill will highlight the slow progress towards halting the throw away mindset.  Communities in the Global South must be supported in their human rights to sustainability.

That business as usual is the predominant response by both governments is the concern. This is illustrated below in consideration of current energy policy.  Peter Roche does a good job of reviewing favourably, the Common Weal Plan for a Green New Deal.   However, I will highlight, some of what may be considered ‘ omissions’.  I have conflated the categories of Buildings, Energy and Electricity into one section on energy.  I further highlight the international context.  I will pay particular attention to Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Carbon Usage and Storage with reference to the Common Weal comment that CCS is unproven at scale, risks leakage and prolongs unnecessary use of hydrocarbons.  This is totally correct but Energy Voice in 27/11/2019 announced ‘Ground Breaking New CCS charter agreed by the Scottish Government and the Oil sector.’  No progress to public ownership there and the oil giants are calling the shots.  We will have to work hard and quickly if we have any chance of reversing this strategy, which lies at the heart of energy policy in Scotland.  More below.

  1. Energy

New models of public ownership are required to combat the corrupting influence of the extremely powerful extractive industries. The Scottish Trade Unions Congress (STUC) will debate Public Ownership at a Conference this May . The Common Home Plan steers clear of prescriptive political solutions.  In doing so there are two problems; firstly, the reality of the political context in Scotland, UK and secondly, the power of multi-national corporations. Brexit compounds this. In addition, the lack of detail in the ‘how to’ increase the role of the public sector is problematic.  The plan rightly advises and gives practical means of public sector borrowing, ‘quantitative easing’, or new money with progressive taxation to repay but does not expand on how to reverse the current ownership arrangement.  Energy policy itself remains largely reserved to Westminster.  Increased self determination and progress to Independence will be necessary to realise a Scottish Green New Deal, a sentiment that is expressed in the Commonweal plan.

The current political reality is found in the on going influence of a neo- liberal outlook (Growth Commission), the limited commitment to public ownership at state/nationalisation level for energy and the lack of a municipalisation strategy for heating /transport.  Thus great ideas around district heating and integrated, connected public transport may be neglected.  The Common Weal plan alongside the ‘Sea Change’ report demonstrates the increased number of climate jobs, which can be created in the transition to a low carbon economy. The time is now to push for strategies to implement a Just Transition.

The current lack of commitment to public ownership, not least in the refusal to take the Caley rail depot in North Glasgow into public ownership, the refusal to support the Bi-fab workers and the chaotic ownerships of energy provision and renewables in Scotland points to a near future lack in public investment.  Pat Rafferty of Unite outlines the ‘ smorgasbord’ of foreign ownership in the energy sector – ironically sometimes European state owned.  The Bi-Fab story highlights the need for government action-EDF (French) awarded the contract to Siapem (Italian) who subcontracted the manufacture of wind farm jackets to Indonesia to be shipped back to Scotland with a small number of jackets to be made in the Methil yard.  This type of globalisation with companies chasing cheap ‘Global South’ labour must end; decommissioning, arduous work on rigs in the North Sea, is undertaken by migrant workers, paid a pittance.

Furthermore the lack of progress to ‘ Green Jobs’ is undermining union confidence and support in a Just transition with unfortunate calls for retention of Hunterston Nuclear facility, continued Oil and Gas extraction, continued subsidies to ‘Defence ‘ (the Arms Trade) and the biggie – Trident.

38460797761_54baa9052f_z

The Common Weal plan does an excellent job of costing the transition in a supplementary booklet.  However, I would argue that current subsidies to the Oil and Gas industries, to the Arms Traders, to the Trident obscenity both in financial and moral terms, and in the deployment of blue hydrogen with Carbon Capture Usage and Storage which is underway will  continue to seriously damage the public purse.  Alongside divestment, a challenge to the Oil industry’s dominance in Carbon Capture Usage and Storage is an urgent priority.

Patrick Harvie (Scottish Greens) noted that

 ‘Entrusting Climate Change Policy to the Oil and Gas industry is comparable to entrusting Public Health to the Tobacco Industry‘  (paraphrasing exchange during FM question time (September 2019)).

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (hardly a left wing think tank) predicts £20-£30 billion costs for the scaling up of the new technologies.  Bio energy with CCS is also of concern with Drax in England in the forefront; expensive and likely to drain money from other ecological restoration projects.  The  Common Weal plan conflates the Hydrogen economy into the most environmentally responsible type – Green Hydrogen.  Oilrigs could be used in the manufacturing of green hydrogen by electrolysis using seawater and wind energy.  However grey hydrogen and blue hydrogen; the grey reforming from ‘natural’ gas (methane), and the blue meaning storing the resulting CO2 beneath the North Sea, is the favoured option at Government and Scottish Investment Bank level.  Common Weal note that Scotland is in the forefront of the hydrogen transformation and the Levenmouth project and Orkney green hydrogen developments are welcome.  Fuel cells for transport could play an important role in decarbonisation (Aberdeen buses already using them).  However, the reality is that the St.Fergus operation (Blue Hydrogen/ CCS)  is well underway and scheduled to come online in 2024.  Shell, Total, SSE and Chrysoar have signed up to the ‘agreement’ with the Scottish Government.  Pale blue dot, the Oil and Gas Technology Centre and Peterhead Port Authority are the partners in North East CCUS Enterprise (NECCUS).  The £275 million CCS project underway by Acorn will be scaled up.  Note the cynical use of greenwashing titles and images – Acorn and Pale blue dot;  a tree, the Earth from the Voyager photograph.  Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish Government Energy Minister declared his delight at the Alliance, adding that CCS was essential for Scotland to reach net zero emissions by 2045.

In contrast, Equinor (Norway state) lobbying of the German Government has failed and green over blue has prevailed.  These discussions are absent from the report, yet they are vital – the Commonweal plan aims to encourage responsible trade ( export)  in renewable fuel. Further research on the role of hydrogen and potential for export is required.

2. Food

Our Common Home suggests that Scotland could move towards self-sufficiency in food production needs qualification. Certainly localised and seasonal production in restored soils with good stewardship and land reform can be highly effective in climate mitigation.  However, available arable land, renewable energy usage, peatlands, wetland, rewilding are all to be considered.  Natural Carbon sinks/trees/hemp also require growing space.

Moreover the IMF/World Bank continues their imposition of structural adjustment/cash crops on the majority world, its practice for decades.  If the ‘Global North’ quickly reduces imports without expanding fairer trade and enabling counties globally to be more self sufficient (as they were once and know how to be) there will be increased food insecurity.  Insecurity made worse with crop failures, lower yields, petroleum based fertilisers, geo engineering and so on.  Again this is a call for an interdependent, intersectional, Internationalist understanding.

3.Transport

The transport section of the Common Weal plan has proposals for decarbonisation, city and town planning, to have local facilities and encourage active travel /recharging infrastructure/discouraging air travel and so on.  The call for a National Transport Company is welcome.  However again there is little detail on moving towards public ownership for public transport.  We require increased public transit – reliable, with greater frequency, convenient and integrated for workplace/hospital/education; these details are missing.  Hopefully the proposed National Transport Company would look at details – for example, expanding underground for Glasgow and expanding rail for passenger and freight throughout Scotland.  A move towards fare free transport to impact on individual car use will necessitate a reversal of private ownership.  The recently announced free fares for under 18’s are welcome but will do little to decrease car use.  Democratic ownership as described by Andrew Cumbers is also important. Lothian buses, although Council owned, has not considered drivers conditions sufficiently and Edinburgh remains at the top of congested cities in the UK. (TomTom traffic index January 2020).  Improved communal transit is vital in reducing emissions and a National Transport Strategy vital to impact on car culture, that is, to reduce individual car use.

The other categories around resource use and producer responsibility could be enhanced by a consideration of the Lucas Plan and the democratisation of the economy with bus driver input to developing integrated routes, engineering workers in heating and so on.  I had a very enlightening conversation with a heating engineer who was fixing my central heating, very knowledgeable on renewables, and I was thinking it would be excellent to have workers input in think tanks and climate activism.  Communities also need to be actively engaged in a path towards greener energy.  Common Weal is well placed alongside climate groups to be encouraging community involvement.

War on Want have good examples of communities fighting back against the ‘Free Trade’ doctrine and privatisation agenda. The current pandemic of the Covid virus may impact on the neo liberal trade agenda. It is important that changes in trade are explored from a Global Justice perspective. Examples are the Bolivian Alliance ALBA and La Via Campesina.  It is hope that delegations from the majority world will be able to attend alternative conferences at Cop26 in Glasgow.  We can learn and adapt strategies.

Finally, the above by no means seeks to undermine the good work and intentions of the Common Weal think and action tank and their supporters.  I will finish on a further example of War on Want’s request to consider the ways in which we can lessen the impact on communities in our move towards sustainability in towns, cities and countryside.  The Common Weal plan considers recycling in the sense of failure and rightly calls for a circular economy.  This article asks for awareness on the obstacles to the realisation of this circular and sharing economy within a capitalist, always for profit, paradigm.  Thus, yes, we have to have optimism that a different world is possible while recognising the long ecological revolution it will take (see John Bellamy Foster). This does not imply that we can procrastinate.  The 2020’s is the Climate decade.  Now or never!  Therefore, one last example of the here and now , what we can do while building for the society outlined into Common Home Plan.  Jake Molloy of the RMT Union calls for large recycling hubs for steel, glass, vehicle chassis, brick and concrete.  War on Want call this Urban Mining.  Landfill mining also: electronic waste is full of precious metals – Anthropogenic waste (all the pollution from human activity) can be recycled to reduce raw extraction. Now there is a transition idea – one that would be labour intensive (that’s a good thing -more jobs!).

Finishing with a quote from Arundhati Roy, Indian Activist and writer.

A new world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day , I can here her breathing’.

 

 

 

 

Climate Change and Conflict

Mike Martin made a speech reflecting on Climate Change and Conflict at an event during the Aberdeen Climate Strike on 14th February.  Mike is an environmental modeling group programmer dedicated to mitigating the greenhouse gas emissions from different land uses and land use change.  He’s a member of CND and the Stop the War Coalition

Here are his notes:

Since the last time I addressed you much has happened – Australia, US drone assassination ramped up tensions with Iran, General Election and a massive locust plague in East Africa.

Australia

As of 14 January, fires this season have burnt an estimated 186,000 km2, about 0.75 size of UK, destroyed over 5,900 buildings (including 2,779 homes) and killed at least 34 people. Eastern Australia is being gripped by a heat wave and a prolonged drought.

49327928461_4a5cd02659_c

Image by Pierre Markuse Smoke of the Australian Bushfires – January 4th, 2020  CC BY 2.0

Conflict not only kills people but is also carbon intensive

A 2019 report from Brown University has estimated that since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the U.S. military has emitted 1,212 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. In 2017 alone, CO2 emissions added up to 59 million tons – more than many industrialized nations including Sweden and Switzerland.

General Election

We now have a leadership who want to bring the UK into a closer alliance with the US, which will mean accepting US standards (chlorinated chicken) and being a loyal participant in US interventionist geostrategic objectives.

Locusts

The swarms spread into east Africa from Yemen across the Red Sea, after heavy rainfall in late 2019 created ideal conditions for the insects to flourish.

Conflict prevents progress on implementing measures to address climate change as the UN FAO could not deploy in Yemen and Somalia because of security concerns.

Technical solutions already exist

There are measures, which can be taken to straightforwardly address this threat and which could, through their implementation, result in a more attractive environment in many ways.  For example:

The Green New Deal:

  • Planting a trillion trees across the planet in underutilized, marginal or degraded land forest cover is currently 42% in EU, 11.8% UK, 10% England, 15% Wales, 19% Scotland and 8% in NI, 11% Ireland
  • Deployment of renewable energy systems
  • Deployment of new methods in cement production, improved building construction methods, upgrading of existing housing
  • The provision of heat – vast amounts are vented into the atmosphere
  • Transport electrification – health benefits, Aberdeen has hydrogen-powered buses and cars
  • Agriculture – poor land management, individual farmers making impressive efforts. New farming methodologies

An expanded workforce

The Green New Deal has the potential to create millions of jobs as much additional labour will be required

Importance of Government

The role of government as an enabler is crucial:

  • state led investment
  • mobilization of underutilized capital (80% held privately) and labour

Importance of Government intervention

I grew up in 60s and 70s with war, racism and increasing standard of living

State investment 3-4% of GDP, built up pharmaceuticals, nuclear power, computers, and council housing, which peaked at almost 200,000 in 1967.   There were remarkable changes in energy use – the transition from town gas from coal to natural gas took place between 1967 and 1977.  There is a parallel with WW2 – government can direct the economy as well as mobilize and motivate people

Above all intergovernmental cooperation is required

Situation now

There is war, racism and falling standard of living.  State investment is less than 1% of GDP, stagnant economy across Europe plus climate crisis

What holds us back – the importance of understanding the UK

The UK government is perfectly capable of intervening and doing all of this, but the problem is that both the UK government and organs of the state are locked into the past, in a sort of military-empire alcoholism

Barriers

British Naval patrols operate thousands of miles away from the UK but in close proximity to other countries, Persian Gulf, South China Sea – very provocative! The US-led “Operation Sentinel” maritime security coalition patrols the Strait of Hormuz. Operation Sentinel’s members include Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK and Albania – interestingly not the EU.

400 UK Army personnel are deployed in Iraq, across three bases forming part of Operation Shader – the UK’s contribution to the US-led mission against so-called Islamic State. The RAF is also part of Operation Shader through launching air strikes over Iraq and Syria from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, and by Reaper drones operated remotely from RAF Waddington and Nevada in the US.

The UK has no business there, the people of the Middle East are perfectly capable of sorting out their own affairs if they are left to do so – as per UN Charter. This is where the first civilizations in human history in Mesopotamia (what is now Iraq) began 5,200 years ago.

The economic war against Russia and Iran is just one step from actual war. Two large states but although Russian threat is played up bear in mind its economy is only

just larger than Spain but smaller than Italy’s. Sanctions damage prospects for individuals and businesses in the UK also. This year 2,500 UK troops are participating in Defender Europe 20, NATO’s biggest war-games for over 25 years which will take place in April and May in border regions with Russia, including Georgia. 18 states are involved deploying a total of 37,000 troops, 20,000 of which are US – a huge source of Green House Gas emissions.

Legacy of Empire – UK’s nuclear weapons

The UK is one of the few countries to have nuclear weapons; their use was threatened in the Falklands-Malvinas war in 1982. CND cites approximately 11,520 civilian jobs are directly dependent on Trident. Guaranteeing people’s livelihoods matters but the £205 billion cost of Trident could be used far more effectively to create well-paid jobs than wasting it on replacing Trident. The skills of the workers would be welcome in building conventional ships or in rapidly developing industries such as renewable energy.  A government-led economic diversification plan would minimise the job losses should Trident be scrapped. The Dreadnought class is the future replacement for the Vanguard class of ballistic missile submarines. Like their predecessors they will carry Trident II D-5 missiles.

497px-Trident_II_missile_image

Trident II Missile CC0 Image from Wikimedia Commons

UK is bonded to the US

The 1958 US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement, is a bilateral treaty on nuclear weapons co-operation. It allows the US and the UK to exchange nuclear materials, technology and information. Since 1958 the treaty has been amended and renewed with the most recent renewal extended it to 31 December 2024.

From the dead end of the Warfare State to the repair state

Our focus needs to be on fixing the climate, but like an alcoholic, the UK cannot move forward until it has kicked its military-empire habit built up over several centuries since 1707.   We must find ways to let go of the past and effect transition.  International, mutually beneficial, scientific and technical cooperation is needed to assist transition to a post oil and gas economy and sustainable planet.

Enormous societal assets

Many scientists and technicians are employed in the UK defence sector: BAe 83,500; Rolls Royce: 50,000 the majority of whom are on defence contracts; oil and gas sector currently supports more than 283,000 jobs in the UK. We need these skills for the transition.

In my past life I’ve met many people who work for BAe and in the oil and gas sector – it is not so much a problem with people – so many of them are excellent – it is a problem of the government and state – they have the power to set the direction of travel of society.

Most comparable states do not have this baggage of empire

  • the UK is a punitive state (compare German imprisonment rate)
  • it has underage military recruitment
  • UK maintains expensive overseas garrisons (military bases) in Brunei, the Falkland Islands, Cyprus
  • UK maintains strong relationship with the GCC states – sovereign wealth funds invested via the City of London, provision military services, a conveyor, friend of the family – Saudi pilots, Saudi researchers. Locking in current Saudi leadership, when Saudi Arabia could be leader of the solar transformation
  • Inherited wealth from the Empire

Reasons to hope

“It is still not too late to act. It will take a far-reaching vision, it will take courage, it will take fierce, fierce determination to act now, to lay the foundations where we may not know all the details about how to shape the ceiling. In other words, it will take cathedral (grand-mosque) thinking.”

We must lobby politicians who come in different types:

  • some are insecure people and blow with the wind, try to mold them
  • others are hopeless, they buy into the military-empire illusion
  • quite a number are principled and progressive.

obviously, we must take the opportunity to influence through elections but also by becoming the government, state and the media,

I am reminded of the philosopher and political activist Noam Chomsky “don’t just slate the media, be the media!”, contest the political process and also every job where we can influence society, don’t leave it to the chancers and self- promoters

It is important we find ways to exercise maximum leverage, to influence, to refashion the government,

  • Understand the problem,
  • tactics subordinate to strategy (Sun Tzu)
  • boldness of vision, meticulousness of preparation,
  • energy and persistence but have a capacity to recognize and learn from mistakes,

It is not yet 1938 when World War 2 was inevitable after the defeat of Republicans in Spain and the consolidation of Hitler in Germany.  We’re in it for the long term but there will be no long term if we mess up!

 

 

Understanding Climate Change

Myles Allen has made an important contribution to our understanding of  role of human activity on the global climate.  He was interviewed on Radio 4’s ‘The Life Scientific’ last week.  Well worth listening to the podcast on BBC Sounds.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000fgcn

myles allen

Energy efficient housing

The announcement by Paul Wheelhouse that the Scottish government will work on new regulations to ensure that new homes use renewable or low carbon energy sources for heating is a small but welcome step in the right direction.  However, the timescale for action is disappointingly unambitious; the new measures are not planned to be implemented until 2024.  Setting a much shorter deadline would send a message to private sector builders and local authorities that ‘climate emergency’ is exactly what it says. In housing, as elsewhere, action needs to be take place on the shortest time lines possible.

Let’s up the pressure for a mass public programme of retrofitting existing houses to be energy efficient.  This is a necessary step and in addition the climate jobs and the improvements in living conditions that it would generate would have a massive impact on people’s attitude to the climate emergency and what needs to be done.  It would be just transition in practice.

Passivhaus_section_en

Passive House, Image CC BY SA 3.0

Disaster Environmentalism

The People and Nature blog has just published three really thought proving articles.

The first ‘Disaster environmentalism looking the future in the face’ takes a critical look at recent writing by Rupert Read, Jem Bendell and others that argues that civilisational collapse as a result of climate change is inevitable and for approaches to dealing with collapse that require ‘deep adaptation’.

The second ‘Disaster environmentalism: roads to a post-growth economy’ is a contribution to the debate on Degrowth.   It argues that ‘“Economic growth”, as manifested by global capitalism, is completely unsustainable. “Green growth”, or “socialist growth”, are no substitutes. Our challenge to the economic system must open the way for a society based on human happiness and fulfillment, values completely at odds with – and distorted and defaced by – the rich-country consumerist ideology that helps to justify ever-expanding material production’.

The final post ‘Disaster environmentalism: what to do’ explores the political implications of the positions outlined in the first two posts and takes a sharp look at the politics and practice of social change.

Taken together the three posts are an important contribution to debate in the climate movement and recommended reading for climate activists.

Typhoon Ondoy Aftermath

Typhoon Ondoy Aftermath CC BY-NC-ND 2.0