Apologies for the short notice – we’ve just received notification that there’s an Open Assembly of the ‘Glasgow Agreement’ tomorrow (Sunday) at 2pm – the invitation to attend is copied below. You can see the latest draft of the agreement here.
We want to invite you to our next open assembly of the Glasgow Agreement on the 27th of September (Sunday), from 2pm GMT until 4pm GMT. You are more than welcome to participate, and to invite other groups that you know and that might be interested to participate in the Glasgow Agreement, even if they are not in the process yet.
Agenda: We will talk about: the current status of the text and how you can be involved on the process; what space does the climate justice movement need in 2021; what is the inventory tool and the climate agenda. Introductory webinar: We will also have an introductory webinar at 1:30pm GMT, in the same links, for those who don’t know the Glasgow Agreement that well. Feel free to join us if you want to know more about the agreement before the assembly!
Scot.E3 is part of the Free Our City campaign which launches with a conference on 19th September. We’re demandinga world-class, fully-integrated and accessible public transport network for Glasgow – free at the point of use.
Over the last few years hundreds of forward-thinking cities across the world – from Kansas to Calais – are upgrading their public transport networks and making them free for everyone to use. This radical policy is a necessary one: to address the climate emergency and gross inequalities in our society.Free public transport benefits everyone, but especially those living on poverty pay or benefits, young people, women, black and ethnic minorities – who all rely on public transport more. In a city like Glasgow with such low car-ownership (49% of households), free public transport would have a dramatic effect in reducing social isolation and lifting people out of poverty.
Last year, Glasgow City Council agreed the ambitious target to reduce the city’s emissions to net-zero by 2030, and agreed to undertake a ‘formal assessment of the potential for making the transition to a public transport system that is free to use’.
The Free Our City coalition has been founded to ensure this ‘assessment’ becomes action, and that this policy becomes a reality sooner, rather than later. We don’t have time to waste. Reliance on private cars is the main cause of carbon emissions and toxic air pollution in our city.In order to meet the 2030 target, car mileage will have to be cut by as much as 60% in the next ten years . We need to provide universal and comprehensive active travel and public transport networks, so that everyone can fully participate in the social and economic life of our city without need or aspiration to own a car.
Free public transport also has economic benefits which far outweigh the cost of running it – returning £1.70 to the economy for every £1 spent,  and it can pay for itself in increased tax receipts. But it is only practical and cost-effective to deliver with full public control of the whole public transport network . We must therefore use all new powers available in the Transport Act 2019 to re-regulate our bus network (under ‘franchising’) and set up a publicly-owned bus company for Greater Glasgow to take over routes and reconnect the communities left stranded by private bus company cuts.
The coronavirus crisis has proved that public transport is an essential public service to get our keyworkers to their jobs. It has also laid bare the absurdities of running our public transport on a for-profit basis. The need to maximise profits from fares is not compatible with current social distancing guidance. When services were reduced during lockdown, they ended up costing us more to run. The Scottish Government has already bailed-out failing private bus companies by more than £300 million. This should be an opportunity to buy back our buses, so that they can be run in the public good for the long term.
There are many ways to improve the safety of our public transport and public control is central to them all. If we own and run our own buses, then we control the safety for staff and passengers. We can improve pay, conditions and training for staff. And we can deliver far more frequent and reliable services for passengers to reduce overcrowding, and better plan the routes to speed-up journey times and minimise the need to change. We can upgrade the fleet to zero-emissions electric buses and make them more spacious, with air-conditioning and multiple entrances and exits . Upgrading the fleet of Glasgow buses can be an opportunity to save Alexander Dennis, the world-leading bus production company based at Larbert, which is currently threatening to make 650 workers redundant because orders have slowed down through the coronavirus pandemic .
We need to use this crisis as an opportunity to build back a far better public transport network, which actually serves our needs and helps us meet the many challenges of the decade ahead. Once the pandemic has passed, we will be faced with a massive economic crisis and a climate emergency that is not going away.[
Building a world-class, fully-integrated and accessible public transport network – free at the point of use – will provide the thousands of high quality, ready to go green jobs that we’ll urgently need for our city to make a just and green recovery .
Imagine if buses were free?
The Free Our City coalition is launching with a conference “Imagine if buses were free?” on Saturday 19th September. Speakers from other cities which have achieved free public transport will describe how their system works. We will discuss in break-out groups what we need in Greater Glasgow, and how we move forward to achieve it. The conference will be open to all, welcoming representatives of community organisations across Greater Glasgow and interested individuals to share in the discussion. Register for the conference on Eventbrite. Promote the conference by sharing the Facebook Event and the Event Tweet .
 During the crisis, publicly-controlled buses in London were made free so that passengers did not need to make contact with the driver to pay fares.
 By the end of 2020, as many as 1 in 3 young Scots could be unemployed as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Alexander Dennis, based in Falkirk, is internationally important as a manufacturer of double decker buses. In the wake of Covid19 it faces a short-term decline in orders. The response of its new owners, Canadian firm NFI, is to cut 650 jobs.
Clean, sustainable public transport is a critical part of the transition to a zero-carbon economy and Alexander Dennis is a world leader in building all-electric and hydrogen powered buses. The skills of the workforce at Alexander Dennis will be essential in reshaping the way we use energy, the way we produce and the way we live in response to the climate crisis. Sacking 650 workers will blight lives, wreck futures and set back the struggle for a just transition to a new sustainable economy.
In an excellent article in today’s Source Direct Ben Wray notes that the company is asking the government to buy the buses that private operators are not buying at the moment. We do need government action, but as we argued recently in ‘Save Lives, Save Jobs, Save the Planet’ such action needs to be planned and systemic. It needs to tackle issues of safe public transport and it needs to look forward to the zero-carbon future. The private sector is incapable of this kind of joined up thinking. Saving jobs, skills and livelihoods at Alexander Dennis should be seen as part of the broader campaign of taking public transport into public control.
All the signs are, however, that any Scottish Government action is unlikely to measure up to either the immediate crisis in Falkirk or the longer-term crisis of climate. There is a huge gap between the government’s rhetoric on just transition and just recovery and their actions. So how do we turn this round? I’d argue that to make progress we need to think in terms of a ‘worker led just transition’. It’s hard, but collectively we need to take every opportunity to turn the slogan into real action. At a time of public health and climate crisis, when the wealth of the super-rich is rocketing up, and the Westminster government is spending billions on contracts to their friends and bailouts to big business, redundancies in carbon-saving jobs are unacceptable. One option would be for Alexander Dennis workers to refuse to accept redundancy and occupy the factory. Combined with a public campaign for socially useful production as a part of a just transition this would have huge resonance in Scottish society and could provide common cause to the trade union and climate movements. The 1971 occupation of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders is a model – but this could be so much bigger.
Save Lives, Save Jobs, Save the Planet
Support Alexander Dennis Workers
Take Public Transport and Public Transport vehicle production into public ownership
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.
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.
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.
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.
The twin gas plants run by Shell and Exxon Mobil at Mossmorran in Fife have had a devastating impact on the lives of people living nearby. At our 3rd June online meeting Linda Holt and James Glen from the Mossmorran Action Group (MAG) gave a presentation on the progress of the campaign.
In the discussion that followed Linda and James addressed questions about the campaign and participants shared useful links and ideas for solidarity and joint activity.
Linda noted that the MAG Facebook page is a really useful resource for following what’s happening and is used to share reports of flaring and other impacts from the gas plants. However, Twitter has proved effective in pressurising the Scottish Government – the MAG twitter handle is @MossFlare – do follow and retweet.
We discussed the importance of phasing out Mossmorran as part of a Just Transition in Scotland and the opportunities for joint campaigning.
Linda and James talked about the SEPA investigations into Mossmorran and the limitations of SEPA as a Scottish Government Quango, whose board members are nominated by Scottish Government Ministers and dominated by representatives from the oil and gas industry. There was strong support for replacing SEPA by an independent body that could take a critical view of government (in)action. The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) was suggested as an alternative model. The UKSA has a statutory objective of promoting and safeguarding the production and publication of official statistics that ‘serve the public good’.
Prior to lockdown Climate Camp Scotland was planning its summer 2020 action at Mossmorran. Local campaigners were highly supportive, and it’s hoped that action will take place in the future.
MAG has attempted to get data on cancer in the areas adjacent to Mossmorran but NHF Fife refuses on the grounds of data privacy. The only data available covers an area so large as to be useless.
ExxonMobil and Shell largely employ workers from outside the local communities so that the communities don’t get to find out what’s really happening in the plants. Closing down Mossmorran would not have a negative impact on local jobs. The skills of those who work at Mossmorran are valuable and with support for retraining could be redeployed into new sustainable industries.
Provide essential public services for people, not profit. Expand public ownership of public services and boost investment, including in social care, strengthen the NHS and cradle-to-grave education, and create zero-carbon social and cooperative housing instead of buy-to-let.
Protect marginalised people and those on low incomes by redistributing wealth. Provide adequate incomes for all instead of bailouts for shareholders, significantly raise taxes on the wealthy, ensure all public workers receive at least the real Living Wage and strengthen health, safety and workers’ rights, including access to flexible home working. Investigate and mitigate the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 and social distancing on women, children and young people, disabled people, LGBTI people, people of colour, key workers, unpaid carers, private renters, and those on lower incomes.
Provide new funds to transform our society and economy to meet Scotland’s Fair Share of climate emissions cuts and greatly enhance biodiversity. Create and protect jobs in sustainable travel, renewable heat, affordable local food and energy efficiency, with ambitious green employment opportunities for young people and support for retraining where whole industries are affected. Put measures in place to ensure all government programmes tackle inequality, public health and the just transition away from fossil fuels, excluding rogue employers, tax avoiders, major polluters and arms manufacturers from bailouts.
Strengthen democracy and human rights during these crises. Withdraw new police powers, surveillance measures and restrictions on protest as soon as possible. Enable full scrutiny of planning and policy decisions. Create an independent Recovery Commission founded on participatory democracy to engage and empower communities, trade unions and civil society. Introduce fundamental human rights into Scots law so that safety nets are always in place for the most vulnerable.
Offer solidarity across borders by proactively supporting an international Coronavirus and climate emergency response that challenges the scapegoating ofmigrants, centres on the worst affected, bolsters global public health, development and environmental bodies, and ensures equitable access to COVID-19 treatment. Use the UN climate talks in Glasgow to push for robust implementation of the Paris deal, platforming the voices of indigenous and frontline communities and advancing climate finance and global debt cancellation. Ensure coherence between all domestic policy and global sustainable development outcomes.
Decisions made in times of crisis have long-lasting consequences. After the 2008 financialcrisis, inequality grew and climate emissions spiralled. We want to see this moment seized for the common good, not repeat the mistakes of the past.
The annual Edinburgh May Day rally moved online this year. Scot.E3 had a contingent on the 2019 march and we were pleased to support and publicise this year’s rally. All the speeches (and excellent music) are online at the Edinburgh and Lothians May Day website. Well worth listening to if you weren’t able to make the event and sharing with friends and workmates. We heard from Asad Rehman (Director of War on Want), Mary Senior (UCU and STUC), Kate Rutter (actor and socialist) and Quan Nguyen (Climate Camp. To wet your appetite here’s most of Asad’s contribution.
Edinburgh and Lothians May Day Committee has organised an online rally for climate justice for 1pm on Friday May 1st, International Workers day.
The speakers are: Asad Rehman (War on Want), Quan Nguyen (Climate Camp), Mary Senior (UCU and STUC) and Kate Rutter (actor/socialist). The compere will be Susan Morrison and there will be music from Penny Stone and Calum Baird.
Scot.E3 is holding an online event in partnership with Edinburgh CND as part of the Edinburgh and Lothians May Day events. On Wednesday 6th May 7pm we’ll be showing the short version of the Lucas Plan film and then having a discussion on divestment and alternative production. Full details of how to join the meeting on the events page.
In this post, the latest in a series on the pandemic and climate crisis, Mike Downham discusses some of the lessons that we can learn. The article was first published in the Scottish Socialist Voice newspaper.
Yesterday I met two front-line doctors in Pakistan at a Zoom meeting. They described their work as a suicide mission. They have no PPE provided – they make what they can themselves. Health workers who protested were arrested and brutally treated. They have three ventilators for the whole country (population 213 million), and no staff trained to use them. Anyone who gets coronavirus pneumonia dies. The government doesn’t have a policy.
In India slumdwellers are being issued with hydroxychloroquine as an experiment – there’s no evidence that it’s effective. Getting food to these people, who by the way are human beings, is a bigger immediate problem than stopping infection. The government is panicking, already opening up the lockdown at a point when the epidemic is just taking off.
Yemen, after five years of civil war, has 2 million malnourished children. Malnutrition is notorious for reducing resistance to infections of all kinds. They don’t know how much coronavirus they have in the country because they don’t have tests.
As for Africa, a continent of poverty and underfunded health services, the predictions for numbers of deaths range from the terrible to the catastrophic – but how can you usefully describe the difference between hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of deaths?
Meanwhile the Government of our rich, relatively small country, remains more concerned with covering its tracks than doing anything of significance. The Scottish Government didn’t adopt a better policy than Westminster’s at the point when they could have split, an act of subservience which the independence movement won’t forget.
Saving lives must be our priority, and I’ll come back to that. But, first, this pandemic is a huge learning opportunity, and if we don’t take action on the basis of what we learn, and begin to take action now, rather than wait until ‘it’s all over’- there will be other pandemics of new viruses, waiting for their moment. We need to act now to tackle the root causes, not just the symptoms.
There is little doubt that this new coronavirus originated in primary forests, as did Ebola, Zika, Swine Fever, Sars and Mers. All these viruses are thought to have existed for centuries in primary forests, where they were contained by sustainable ecosystems. The trouble started with deforestation to make way for agriculture – agriculture which has become more and more industrialised, monocultural and as a result unsustainable. There have been different intermediate hosts for each ‘new’ virus before it reached humans, and we don’t yet know which hosts were involved for the Covid-19 virus. Pigs are prime suspects, because pork has become a staple in China for the many who can now afford it. The Chinese eat an average of 39kg of pork in a year – even the Americans eat only 27kg. This appetite for pork has fuelled a huge expansion of highly profitable production by big companies. The animals are raised in factory farms with the usual inhumane crowding and conditions. Last year 100 million pigs died in China with Swine Fever. These farms are mostly sited on newly bulldozed forest land.
The initial theory that the pandemic started in a wild animal market in Wuhan is no longer holding up, though it may have contributed. An additional factor may also have been that wild-animal foragers were forced to push deeper into forests to satisfy demand, another large and profitable food market for big business, disrupting sustainable ecosystems as they hunt.
The first thing we’ve learned, then, is that the profit motive on the part of big agricultural companies is the root cause of this pandemic. These companies, as we know, have expanded by grabbing forested land in poor countries – less expense, and easier to buy off protest.
The second thing we’ve learned is that governments, for the most part, have failed us in controlling this pandemic once it started. The most despicable examples are the UK and USA Governments. For the UK Government to be prepared to sacrifice older people to save the shareholders is an abuse of human life which people will never forgive.
The third, and biggest thing we’re learning is that we have the power to control this epidemic ourselves. London bus drivers, having failed to get adequate protection from the Government, or from the Mayor of London, or from Transport for London, took things into their own hands. They organised through a whatsap group, sealed the front doors of their buses and waived fares. They were driven to this because they were dying – at the last count 30 TfL workers, bus drivers or Tube workers, have had their lives ended by corona virus infection.
Some intensive care NHS workers have decided, hospital by hospital, to refuse to work if they don’t have adequate protection. NO KIT, NO CARE. They feel they have a responsibility to make that painful decision, not only for their own survival as vitally essential workers, but also because they know that if they become infected they will pass on the virus to large numbers of both patients and other workers. They will not be complicit with intensive care units becoming coronavirus reservoirs.
Construction workers are forcing closure of non-essential sites – luxury flats and hotels for example – if they do not have adequate protection, either by persuading management to shut down, or by walking out. NO KIT, NO WORK.
People not at work are setting up highly effective mutual support networks in their communities.
That’s a lot to have learned in a few weeks, but it’s not all. We’re learning, through lockdown, ways of daily living that had been taken away from us – people are realising they’ve been working too hard, delegating too much of the care and education of their kids, delegating too much of the care of their older people, and relying too heavily on long and vulnerable supply chains for their necessities, especially food. They’ve learned above all that they like to have opportunities to be kind.
This pandemic isn’t the biggest crisis we face. Far bigger is the crisis of global warming. Yet there are similarities between these crises. Both are killing large numbers of people. Both are global. And the only solution is radical change of the economic system, mediated through participative and decentralised democracy.
Some of the things we’ve learned from this epidemic are directly transferable to the fight against global warming. Bulldozing primary forest is as lethal through its huge impact on global warming, as it is through the setting free of new viruses. As we come to understand more intimately the unsustainability of monoculture of pigs we’ll be able to more confidently reject the crazy proposal, supported by the Scottish Government, to replace Scotland’s old forests with monoculture quick-growing trees to capture carbon, harvesting these trees frequently to burn them in power stations – ‘Bio Energy and Carbon Capture and Storage’ or BECCS, which is nothing more than a capitalist scam.
One of the construction sites which was shut down last week on the insistence of workers was the building of a new gas power station at Keadby, near Scunthorpe. The workers saw this as work which was only essential to the company (SSE, headquarters at Perth), not to them or to the rest of us. It’s a short step from here to seeing the nonsense of building a new fossil fuel power station at the very point when we should be argueing, right now, for a Just Transition away from North Sea oil and gas. The construction workers will have jobs which are truly essential to all of us, and which will put their essential skills to better use. And we will be able to meet our carbon targets without resorting to carbon capture.
The action by London bus drivers to provide free bus travel puts us into a strong position to argue right now for publicly owned, democratically controlled, decarbonised and free public transport across the board. What’s more, people are already talking about how good it is to have less traffic on the roads. They know their health is benefitting from reduced air pollution.
I’ll finish by coming back to the immediate priority of saving lives. There are three things we can all do to save lives, on top of social distancing. We can encourage people in our communities and networks, particularly older people, who develop symptoms they think may be due to coronavirus, and become breathless, to phone for an ambulance if they can’t get through to NHS 111 or their GP. It’s become clear that many people are uncertain how ill they should be before calling for help, yet we’ve also learned that breathing difficulty can get worse rapidly, and that getting to hospital quickly gives people a better chance of being treated successfully. This decision isn’t easy to make, especially if you live on your own, or even for the people living with you. It can help to give your phone number to any older people you know so that they can at least speak with someone if they can’t get NHS advice when they need it.
Secondly, it’s also become clear that some people who suddenly become ill in other ways – they think they may be having a heart attack, or a stroke, or they have breathing difficulty because of COPD or asthma which has got worse – are hesitating about going to hospital at all. They may be frightened of catching the virus, or of putting further strain on the hospital and the ambulance service – or both. They may delay phoning, or even not phone at all. They can be supported to understand that although there is a risk of catching the virus if they go into hospital, the risk of not going into hospital is more certain. Paramedics are reporting that people are dying at home with these common non-Covid emergencies – or getting to hospital too late to be treated successfully.
Thirdly, we can join the swelling chorus of people demanding better PPE and testing in care-homes – for the sake of both residents and workers. It’s an on-going scandal that the Government continues to be slow to respond to the needs of care homes, and to be less than open about the numbers of deaths of people in care homes caused by this virus. In France, where care-home deaths have been added to hospital deaths in daily reports since early in their epidemic, around 50% of all Covid deaths have been in care homes. The lack of respect shown by the UK Government for people dying in care homes by not even counting them is despicable.
This pandemic is frightening – people are dying around us in appalling numbers, and our governments have failed us. But the virus has brought with it a determination among people everywhere to change the way our world works. Nothing could be worse than a return to ‘normality’.