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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wind turbines near Carberry – image Pete Cannell CC0

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

A reply to justice, jobs and the military industrial complex.

Ex oil worker Neil Rothnie reflects on the post we published three days ago Climate Justice, Climate Jobs and the Military Industrial Complex. We welcome further responses.

I suppose I just thought that campaigning amongst armament workers and on behalf of armament workers would be likely to be difficult in terms of how we might begin to “actually” impact global heating.  I know that if we weren’t building all this military shit and jetting it all over the world and destroying humans and other productive forces with it, then we would avoid putting a lot of carbon into the atmosphere.  It’s just that I’ve never considered that it was an issue that you might be able to intervene in quite the same way as I think we might be able to when it comes to oil and gas production.

The issue of oil and gas is looming ever larger in the consciousness of the climate movement.  It’s way, way higher than it was when I discovered XR in 2019. When I took part in the London Rebellion it was hard to get a sensible conversation about oil and gas and the North Sea was a very nebulous “concept” for many. Look at the movement today with Stop Cambo.   If reporting on mainstream media is anything to go by it’s beginning to exercise thoughts in layers way beyond just the activists and the scientists now.  Interestingly the only people who dare not mention oil & gas is the COP.  I don’t know if any of this is true about the military complex.

But I can see that from the perspective of jobs, and that’s how the discussion was framed, there’s pretty much no difference in making “demands” about just transitioning armaments workers and oil workers into renewables and other sustainable work. 

But I can’t see how it would ever be likely to be more than just a “demand” in the case of armaments workers.  In the case of oil workers I have, as you know, an idea that a mass intervention amongst oil workers is a crucial first step if we’re ever going to get to the point where we try to choke off oil and gas production – the absolute first and crucial necessity of a movement that has any hope of abating climate change in the face of this system.  There has to be a time and it has to come very soon when the licence society gives the industry to produce fossil fuels is withdrawn.  Who is going to force that issue?

I don’t know if a part of all this that as oil is is all I’ve ever known/done, oil is all I can ever really see.  The opposite was surely very widely the truth for the bulk of the population until very recently.  I think that’s changing.

But I’m beginning to realise that what I see as the impossibility of armaments workers turning their weapons into ploughshares, is what others see as impossible when the issue of confronting/challenging the oil and gas workers.   I can see why people think it’s a very long shot to imagine that they’ll either participate in the ending of oil and gas production.  But I think that least they can be neutralised, picketed at the heliports and stopped from producing the oil.  For how long?  And anyway!  They need to be informed of the science and we can’t rely on the media to do that.

These two issues, fossil fuel and the armaments/military complex, seem to be of different orders (qualitatively and quantitatively) in the context of tackling climate change.  Fossil fuel production seems to me to be primary.  Once the fossil fuels are out of the ground, they are pollution – they will be burned/processed.   Being used to build and deploy military hardware is just (just?) the path the pollution takes to get into the atmosphere. Or do we think that realistically we can take on the military complex and somehow stop it, and therefore stop the demand for fossil fuel?  

They (?) take fossil fuels out of the ground and then make fortunes on it.  They need to keep taking it out of the ground to keep making fortunes – to keep feeding the beast.  So they are endlessly imaginative in finding new and more extravagant and destructive ways of using it.  It looks like a real madness. to me.  The thing is that they can’t turn this hellish roundabout off themselves.  But turned off it will have to be if life is to survive, inasmuch as I understand the science.

Capitalism is the problem.  But to a great extent isn’t the oil industry pretty much the same thing as capitalism (?) . . the same thing as climate change? The military complex surely is just (just again?) how they regulate capitalism – keep the imperialistic plunder going and ensure that the trade routes remain open to keep that wealth flowing north, and in the process provide an ever-renewing market for the oil.  I never did get my head round the concept of a permanent arms economy – it was an idea touted by a political tendency I was taught was beyond the pale.  But I guess I’m stumbling along in the same neck of the woods here.

Obviously, the military complex is a huge issue for humanity, but I just don’t see how you tackle it head on with any hope of affecting climate change.  On the other hand, if you end oil you end capitalism (don’t ask me to prove that – I was hoping someone else would though) and then you have at least a fighting chance (is that a pun) of ending the military complex. The other way round it’s even clearer.  You don’t stop oil and life on earth is in danger.  However, you frame it you need to stop oil.

Edinburgh COP 26 Demo

As the climate talks were starting in Glasgow, the Edinburgh COP26 Coalition and Edinburgh XR held a march of around 400 people from the Meadows to the Scottish Parliament – ending with a rally at the parliament. Speakers included a young activist from Kenya, Friends of the Earth, the Edinburgh Muslim Women’s Association and many more. Ex oil worker Neil Rothnie spoke for Scot.E3.

Neil Rothnie speaking at the rally

Eco Ableism is not the answer

Stephen McMurray argues that the climate movement needs to be a movement rooted in social justice, not one that falls into the trap of individualism and promoting policies which increase exclusion.  

With the COP conference taking place in Glasgow in Autumn 2021, there has been renewed focus on tackling climate change, particularly given the severe fires and floods which have affected many parts of the world.  There are however, concerns that policies which are aimed at reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases, may have a negative impact on the lives of people with disabilities.

Ableism is the discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities in favour of non-disabled people. Eco ableism is defined as a failure by environmental activists to recognise that many of the climate actions they are promoting make life harder for people with disabilities.

Action to tackle climate change requires a wide range of policies and actions to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases.  These include changing the way we travel and the way we generate and use energy. However, there is a danger that such policies could further marginalise people with disabilities.  This has been illustrated in Edinburgh, which introduced ‘Spaces for People’ in reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Bollards were introduced to separate cyclists from vehicles and pavements widened.

Edinburgh Morningside: Copyright M J Richardson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Whilst improving cycling and walking routes to encourage people to cycle and walk more is vital in reducing transport emissions, there is evidence that they have made it harder for people with disabilities getting around.  Restricting parking with bollards and introducing double yellow lines has made it much harder for people with disabilities who rely on motorised vehicles to get shopping and socialise.

RNIB Scotland and the Edinburgh Access Panel have expressed serious concern over the introduction of floating bus stops, as it means that people with disabilities will have to cross cycle lanes to get on and off buses.  This is particularly worrying for people with visual impairments. 

Eco ableism is linked into the neoliberal agenda of tackling climate change by individualism.  That individual actions can influence the market and effectively tackle climate change. This ignores the reality that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions.  Individualism can also be tied into victim blaming.  Many people with disabilities are limited in the individual actions they can take.  

There remain difficulties, for example in using public transport.  Only 80 out of 270 London Underground stations feature some form of step-free access. Furthermore, there is the issue of planning ahead to organise the wheelchair ramp and the worry that a member of staff won’t turn up on either end of the journey[ii].

With buses as well, wheelchair spaces are often taken by buggies, leading to tensions and arguments. This is despite a court ruling that drivers should ask passengers to make way for wheelchairs.   This can put wheelchair users off public transport and more reliant on private vehicles.

Much of the advice given to individuals to reduce their energy use is in the form of turning down the heating and watching what we eat.  However, many people with disabilities struggle to keep warm due to limited mobility and may require special diets, therefore reducing their choices.  A home insulation programme is desperately needed to reduce energy use and bills.  People with limited mobility should be prioritised.  

Even when it comes to electric cars, people with disabilities face challenges. Research found that there was concern in relation to; lifting the charge cable from the boot, manoeuvring the cable to the charge point, space or trip hazards around the car and charger, charging points not designed for wheelchair users and lack of public charging points.   

The challenge therefore, is to design the charging of electric cars to be accessible as possible.  There is a definite need to greatly increase the need of charging points.  Ideally, these should include disabled parking bays in the street, hospitals, GPs, supermarkets, and shopping centres.

The climate movement needs to be a movement rooted in social justice, not one that falls into the trap of individualism and promoting policies which increase exclusion.  Just as we should strive for a just transition for workers and communities, we should strive for policies that not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also increase social justice and inclusion. 



 

 

The Glasgow Agreement

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!
 
Platform:
The assembly will be online, using the Big Blue Button (BBB) platform.
In English, the link will be this one: https://meet.nixnet.services/b/gla-nnw-hgv.
(You can download here a guide about how to use BBB or watch this tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYYnryIM0Uw)


Scot.E3 is not currently signed up to the agreement we’ll discuss this at our next meeting – please send feedback to triple.e.scot@gmail.com


Free Our City

Scot.E3 is part of the Free Our City campaign which launches with a conference on 19th September. We’re demanding a 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 [1]. 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, [2] 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 [3]. 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. 


Why now? 

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 [4].  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 [5].

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 [6].

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 .


[1] 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.

[2] By the end of 2020, as many as 1 in 3 young Scots could be unemployed as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

[3] ScotE3, 2020, Act Now: save lives, save jobs, save the planet

[4] Transport for Quality of Life, 2019, A Radical Transport Response to the Climate Emergency, p.2

[5] Jeff Turner, 2020, How Much Will Free Buses for Glasgow Cost and What are the Benefits?, p.1

[6] Transport for Quality of Life, 2019, A Radical Transport Response to the Climate Emergency, p.4

Alexander Dennis – time for action

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

Pete Cannell

Dennis Enviro 400XLB by dmilburn007 CC BY SA 4.0

Bring the flare to SEPA

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

Flaring at Mossmorran

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.

What’s to be done about Mossmorran

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.  

Campaigning

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.

Other points

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.

It was agreed that there was a need to submit something more robust on Just Transition to the Just Transition Commission.  Scot.E3 is working on a document and will share with MAG before final version is produced.  The deadline is the end of June.

Further reading

George Kerevan in Bella Caledonia writing on Big Oil, SEPA and Mossmorran

Information on ‘Cancer Alley’ in the US