Jonathan Neale spoke about his new book “Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs” at a Scot.E3 online public meeting on 12th March 2021. The book is a tremendous resource for climate activists and trade unionists.
You can watch the full video of Jonathan’s talk below. But do read the book – it’s available in hard copy from Resistance Books – make sure your local bookshop stocks it.
“The most compelling and concise guide to averting climate breakdown.”
Brendan Montague, editor, The Ecologist.
The Ecologist has published the digital version of Fight the Fire for free so that it is accessible to all. Click on this link to download a PDF or ebook from the Ecologist website.
Boris Johnson’s ten point plan has received largely uncritical responses from the main stream media. We’re pleased to repost here the Campaign Against Climate Change’s ten point response. We welcome other contributions that develop or extend this critique.
We’ve had the big announcement: Boris Johnson’s ten point plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. But following initial positive headlines, the details start trickling out. £12 billion was announced, but just £3 billion, it emerges, is new money. This is paltry. Other countries have already made much larger commitments, including Germany’s green stimulus of over €40bn and France around €35bn.
Most importantly, how does it stack up compared to the scale of the task facing us? Two years on from the IPCC’s ground-breaking report calling for an urgent transformation of the global economy to stay within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, global emissions are still (excluding the limited impact of the pandemic) on an upward trend. As temperatures continue to rise, sea level rise is accelerating as polar ice melts. And in the background a steady stream of records broken for ‘natural’ disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, hitting the poorest hardest.
The UK’s carbon budgets reflect out of date targets, an 80% cut in emissions by 2050. Previous policy failure means we are nowhere near on track to even stay within these deficient targets. This latest set of announcements is therefore doubly inadequate. It leaves a major hole in meeting even these out of date commitments. However we don’t just need to close that gap. Last year the government set a new climate commitment of ‘net-zero’ carbon by 2050. In relation to this new target, the gap is even greater. But unfortunately even ‘net zero by 2050’ doesn’t cut it. We need to act even faster than 2050 to be compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement.
Meanwhile, we also face a devastating pandemic leaving in its wake widespread unemployment. Now is the time for a real climate jobs programme to tackle the climate and jobs crises.
What would a real 10 point plan to tackle the climate crisis look like?
1. A comprehensive approach
Climate change cannot be tackled as an add-on, or a piecemeal approach that takes us one step forward, two steps back. We need a commitment that every economic policy, every spending commitment, every piece of legislation, will put us on track for a safer future, not jeopardise it by locking us in to business as usual.
If the government had really taken on board the scale of the crisis, it would be rethinking the policies of unconditional corporate bailouts, planning deregulation, aviation expansion, road building, stifling onshore wind. It would not be giving a £16.5 billion windfall to military spending.
2. Meeting the needs of both people and planet
Austerity has left us, more than ever, with a grossly unequal society with continued deep inequalities in race, gender and for disabled people. Underfunded public services are struggling. The move towards a zero carbon society must also ensure access to food, healthcare, education, income, job security, good, affordable, housing, clean and affordable energy and heat, public transport, clean air and green spaces for everyone.
There is huge public support to ‘build back better’ as part of recovery from the pandemic, investing in public services and frontline workers. Instead, a public sector pay freeze is being mooted. These are the wrong priorities: we need huge investment and expansion in the public sector and the people who work in it.
3. ‘New Deal’ levels of spending
Boris Johnson has tried to compare his plans to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. In today’s money, Roosevelt’s spending programme amounted to about £4,300 – for every American living through the turmoil of the Great Depression. In contrast £12 billion is about £180 each.
Our own ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ report or Green New Deal plans give more of a sense of the levels of investment and ambition needed if the government is taking this seriously. Other recent analyses include an IPPR report which estimates that £33 billion a year in additional annual investment is needed to meet the government’s net zero target, creating 1.6 million jobs, including £8 billion on homes and buildings and £10.3 billion on transport.
The pandemic has shown that money can be found. It has been found for other spending, including billions to private companies for medical supply and services in contracts awarded with no oversight, regulation or transparency. These are the sums of money that now need to be directed into tackling the climate crisis, sums that can actually make an impact in reducing emissions and would truly justify the term New Deal.
4. Not relying on techno-fixes that don’t solve the problem
There are valuable technologies that help us cut waste and greenhouse gas emissions. But those we’d call ‘techno-fixes’ are a double-edged sword. Despite serious drawbacks, these pull resources away from proven solutions (for example onshore wind and solar are not even mentioned in Johnson’s plan). They often support the continuation of fossil fuel infrastructure, and give a sense of false security about the need to radically cut energy use. Boris Johnson’s ten point plan overly relies on these techno-fixes which seriously undermine any genuine and far reaching attempt to transition the economy.
There is more detail below about why we are concerned about the emphasis on hydrogen, carbon capture and storage and nuclear energy. The promotion of ‘Jet Zero’ (zero carbon flying) also hides the fact that the scope for genuine decarbonisation of aviation is limited and the pursuit of ‘sustainable aviation growth a mirage. There should be no further airport expansion in a serious plan to tackle the climate crisis. While not mentioned explicitly in this latest plan, biofuels and biomass (burning wood for power) also fall into the same category – unsustainable while subsidised as ‘green’ technology.
5. Provide decent, well paid, secure jobs
With a wide range of sectors hit by the pandemic, unemployment is expected to rise in 2021 to levels not seen since the 1980s. The transition to a zero carbon economy needs a workforce, but opportunities are being lost even when the investment is made. Manufacturing contracts for offshore wind supply have not been used to provide work for a skilled workforce in Scotland. Instead Scottish workers who could have been making the infrastructure needed for offshore wind have been made redundant. We need a proper climate jobs strategy, not a piecemeal approach rooted in a market based thinking. A strategy which is driven by understanding of the huge transition that is needed across manufacturing, transport, agriculture, construction, insulation, managing our land and biodiversity, in training and education. And one which seeks to create well paid secure jobs across these sectors to meet this challenge.
The difficulties and delays with the recent Green Homes Grant are a warning example of what happens without this strategic approach including workforce skills. Trade unions have a key role. There are more accidents in non-unionised offshore wind jobs than there are in offshore oil. A worker-led Just Transition is needed. As set out in the One Million Climate Jobs report, a National Climate Service could take on key aspects of the transition to zero carbon, providing well paid, secure, flexible, permanent jobs in the public sector.
6. Keep it in the ground: phase out fossil fuel extraction
Extraordinarily, the UK’s Infrastructure Act introduced in 2015 a legal obligation to maximise economic recovery of oil and gas. It was clear then, and even clearer now that we can’t continue fossil fuel extraction. Keeping the planet safe means leaving remaining fossil fuels in the ground.
The oil and gas industry has already been hit hard by the economic impacts of the pandemic. We need instead a just transition for oil and gas workers as part of a strategy to phase out UK fossil fuel extraction. Many of these workers could be and want to be retrained to be part of a new offshore wind industry.
We also need an immediate end to the anomaly whereby the UK offers billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in financial support to companies that bid for work on fossil fuel projects overseas
7. Tackling car dependency and increasing public transport, walking and cycling
The transport sector accounts for around a third of emissions in the UK. Surface transport alone represents around a quarter of our total emissions, while air pollution is a serious health problem. So far, electric vehicles have barely made a dent (less than 2% of new car sales), while SUVs represent over 40% of new cars sold.
But this cannot be solved by a simple like-for-like switch to electric vehicles. We need a property resourced and integrated public transport system under democratic public ownership. Alongside this, we need a reallocation of road space in towns and cities away from cars to walking, cycling and public transport, and a presumption in favour of development that reduces travel.
These changes would not just benefit our climate: the social inclusion and health benefits would be huge. It is shocking that the £27 billion currently intended for road building, which will significantly worsen our climate crisis, is far more than the entire ‘green industrial revolution’ budget touted as tackling the climate crisis.
8. Decent homes for all
We do need a programme of mass retrofitting our homes and buildings to be warm and energy-efficient, but it must be much more ambitious. We also need to be wary of corner cutting which does little other than inflate the profits of companies. Poorly fitted cavity wall insulation has been a scandal affecting thousands of homes with damp and mould, while post-Grenfell, there are still tower blocks with unsafe cladding. This is an example of where a National Climate Service could ensure high standards of work by employing a well trained public sector workforce with the goal of delivering warm homes and energy use reduction rather than quick and easy profits at the taxpayers expense.
It is much easier and cheaper to build homes and public or commercial buildings to near-zero carbon energy standards, than it is to retrofit. The scrapping of the Zero Carbon Homes standard in 2015 was a huge step back, and proposed new energy standards are totally inadequate. One of the major problems facing the UK is a lack of affordable housing, in particular social housing. We need to invest in jobs to ensure decent homes for all – quite literally ‘build back better’.
9. Land use and agriculture
With the UK’s biodiversity in crisis, and agriculture a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, it is not simply a matter of ‘plant more trees’. Alongside reforestation and protecting habitats, we need to consider land ownership, the vital role of access to nature for all, even and especially in urban environments and the potential of rewilding. Meanwhile, we are still waiting for the government to take the simple step of banning peat burning, an easy climate win which appears to be being blocked by grouse shooting interests.
There is huge potential for agriculture which is better both for climate and biodiversity. The government has been remarkably reluctant to promote, for both climate and health reasons, a dietary shift to reduce meat and dairy consumption. Without forgetting, when talking about diet, that the obesity crisis still coexists with real food poverty in one of the world’s richest nations.
With food and environmental standards likely to be a casualty of post-Brexit trade deals, it is clear that our unhealthy food system also has implications for workers rights and animal welfare. The prospect of further zoonotic diseases – and future pandemics – cannot now be ignored. Land use, our food system and biodiversity have to be a key part of any climate strategy.
10. Climate justice beyond our borders
Any real climate policy must be rooted in climate justice. This is a global problem and the UK has a historically disproportionate contribution to the climate crisis. As well as doing our fair share in reducing domestic emissions, the UK’s policies must address this historic responsibility.
The goods we import, as well as having their own carbon footprint, may also hide ecosystem destruction and exploitation of workers. So do the deals made by UK banks, pension funds and insurance companies. There must be no ‘solutions’ for this part of the world which rest on further damage and explotation of nature and people in other parts of the world, whether that be in mineral extraction or land grabs for carbon ‘offsetting’. Solutions must be rooted in climate justice, collaboration and internationalism.
We need a real climate jobs plan, a real Just Transition, a real Green New Deal.
Techno-fixes – what’s the problem?
Carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) has promised to make fossil fuel burning environmentally friendly by capturing carbon dioxide from the smokestack emissions of power stations or industrial plants. However, additional fossil fuel burning is needed for energy to capture the carbon. The new funding promises to bring the total government funding back to £1 billion – the same amount promised for a pilot that was suddenly cancelled at the last minute in 2015. But CCS technology still has not been successfully scaled up elsewhere, with problems of finding reliable storage for the captured CO2. Certainly for power plants it seems more an attempt to continue fossil fuel production than a significant climate solution.
Hydrogen sounds like a great idea – a fuel that when burned, produces only water. But so-called ‘blue’ hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels and requires carbon capture and storage. It has been heavily promoted by gas companies. Meanwhile green hydrogen, generated from renewables, also has significant limitations. It is approximately 4-5 times less efficient than using renewable power directly because you have to convert power to a gas and back into power, and will probably take around 10 years to generate at scale. Hydrogen may have a place in the zero carbon economy for some hard-to-decarbonise uses. But the idea that it is a cost or energy efficient way to heat the nation’s homes – and could be rolled out in the time needed – seems far less plausible.
Nuclear is a dangerous, unnecessary and expensive diversion which will pull away investment from safe and cheap renewable energy which could come on stream quickly.
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 supporters of nuclear energy are at it again, attempting to position it as key to a ‘green’ recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and as part of the solution to the climate catastrophe. In this post, first published at www.rs21.org.uk and republished here with permission Scot.E3 activist Brian Parkin exposes the dangerous myths of nuclear power.
Climate of doubt
Nuclear power has made many bold claims on economic viability, safety, reliability and environmental sustainability over the years. Again and again it has been disgraced. But nuclear power is the come-back-kid when it comes to energy technology reincarnation and rebranding. Backed up by state revenues, corporate confidentiality and operational unaccountability, the nuclear industry remains the biggest fraud of the industrial age.
One of the most persistent frauds is the claim that it is the most technologically advanced form of electricity generation available. In fact, the global nuclear inventory is ageing and, as safety fears mount, it delivers ever-decreasing load factors (efficiency) and availability (the amount of time when energy is produced). The industry persistently claims that past operational problems are being resolved with each successive advance in reactor design and waste management improvement. It is forever promising that technological leaps will bring the cost of nuclear-derived power inexorably down.
The advocates of nuclear power now see the current economic and climate crises as an opportunity. Nuclear power still holds onto its reputation as a clean source of energy since it produces neither acid-rain precursors nor CO2 emissions, and does not rely on relatively short-term finite fuel resources. Yet, despite this continually revamped argument, nuclear power cannot address either the prohibitive costs reality nor the safety issues that inevitably arise from an energy source created by fallible humans attempting to harness a power source hotter than the sun. It also hinders rather than advances the path to a low-carbon future.
This article will explain why the periodically disgraced nuclear dream is so dangerous, explain the political power that the industry can mobilise, and resist the arguments of supporters of nuclear power, such as George Monbiot, within the climate movement.
Today, nuclear power accounts for some 10.5% of all electricity generated worldwide. This power comes from a total of 457 reactors across a total of 31 countries.Initially, the promotion of nuclear power generation was limited to the post-war ‘spheres of influence’ contest between the Soviet Union and the USA that extended their influence via the means of offering client states a various range of infrastructural vanity projects. This arrangement was later complicated by the rift opened up between the USSR and China, mainly in the Indian sub-continent, with India and Pakistan respectively choosing Russia and China as economic allies.
Another factor was the post-war craze for the developing economies (‘Third World’ in the terminology of the time) to obtain sexy totemic technologies that marked their entry into the ‘First World’ via the procurement of mega-projects that gave swagger-power to the various state bureaucracies but little in terms of gross benefits to what remained impoverished populations. This often proved to be the case in countries where gross electricity demand was low and where the necessary distribution and supply networks were near non-existent.
In fact, what these projects did, via the means of fuel-cycle and operational technology, was to increase the subordination of developing states. Any illusions of sovereign security of supply and energy self-sufficiency, printed on the tin of the latest Pressurised Water Reactor or Boiling Water variants, were quickly blown out of the water. Operational ‘teething troubles’, low load factors and poor availabilities left developing states unable to pay off debts acquired throughout the construction, commissioning and life-time operation of reactors that had not been needed in the first place.
Nuclear power relies on the controlled heat energy released by the separation (fission) of the nucleus of an enriched heavy radioactive element, in most cases Uranium235. This process is therefore closely related to that of the uncontrolled fission of a nuclear weapon. With further ‘enrichment’, a totally artificial and radioactive element, Plutonium, can be created: the stuff of thermo-nuclear ‘hydrogen’ bombs. Consequently, it has always been a matter of international concern that civil nuclear programmes may well lead down the road to nuclear arms proliferation.
From its inception in 1956 at Windscale (now Sellafield) in Cumbria, nuclear power in the UK has been driven by the military imperatives of weapons grade material: supporting US missile ambitions, offering a means of repaying the US-UK lend-lease debts, while ensuring that by ownership of a military nuclear programme, that the UK would be ensured a seat on the UN Security Council. In this regard the post-war Labour government was as culpable as successive Tory administrations.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established in order to promote nuclear power, albeit within a tightly set-down set of protocols policed by the United Nations. However, by this point nuclear weapons ownership had already expanded beyond the post-war Cold War four of the US, USSR, France and the UK to China, India, Pakistan and Israel.
The other IAEA concerns were the standardisation of operating standards, mainly in order to create a safety culture as well as control over the fuel cycle and the manufacture of fuel rods and subsequent ‘waste management’. The latter issue was never satisfactorily resolved either technically or economically. What these arrangements have ensured, though, are techno-dependencies whereby fuel-cycle management has been out-sourced to the wealthier ‘nuclear club’ states for fuel manufacture, enrichment and the alchemy of fuel recycling.
Reactor enigma variations: jam tomorrow
Over some 55 years of reactor design and development, little in the way of a standard ‘safe’ reactor consensus has arisen. This is largely due to state-sponsored nuclear competition looking for export opportunities.
Initially, the design of reactors was a military thing. In the case of the US, this meant a Pressurised Water cooled Reactor (PWR), which over time became the dominant and preferred reactor for US power utilities. Elsewhere, designs favoured other means of moderating (slowing down) neutron release via different core materials such as graphite or heavy water, while others favoured different primary heat/cooling cycle systems such as pressurised light (ordinary) water, heavy water, gas (usually carbon dioxide) or sodium (liquid salt). But whatever the means, the sole object remains to raise super-heated steam in order to drive a steam turbine in order to produce electricity via an alternator. Whatever the glitz, nuclear power is a steam-age technology.
For over 50 years, nuclear power in its civilian guise has promised clean and infinite energy at a price ‘too cheap to meter’. In every respect, it has failed abysmally: due to impossible engineering challenges, rocketing costs, ever-demanding and failing safety systems and a perpetually irresolvable economic and technical waste management issue. Despite the continual claims that, ‘this time we have really got it right’, there is still no standard and generic design and operational culture.
When this is combined with newer imported costs and construction delays, the consequence has been that nuclear power has never been able to operate in a ‘free’ market, without state subsidies and a skewed regulatory environment.
Meanwhile, epic nuclear ‘incidents’ such as Windscale (now called Sellafield) (1957), Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) have all resulted in massive nuclear releases to the outside environment with melt-downs and huge reactor fires beyond the scope of established safety procedures. With each such incident, the nuclear ‘community’ has had to pause, think and then go into inventive mode regarding another excuse and a massive falsehood regarding the extent of environmental damage and long-term radiological health assessments.
Then, after a respectful moment of silence, this has been followed by another vast PR offensive, garnished with even more Jam Tomorrow.
An energy technology looking for a cause
Nuclear power has met each set-back with a new justification for its existence: security of supply, cheap power, clean power, infinite power and a source of power beyond the control of working class militancy (in the case of the UK, the miners). And at each challenge, a new fall.
But with the realisation of an impending climate catastrophe, the advocates of nuclear finally think that they have a irrefutable case. As nuclear power has no operational CO2 footprint, it is touted as the environmental answer for clean and sustainable baseload power. They foresee a new and massive worldwide programme of nuclear reactor construction, standardisation and replication costs that will set generating costs on a downwards trajectory.
One persistent argument is that the ‘replication costs savings’ would be possible if only the industry world-wide could agree on one generic reactor design that could be used as the architecture for an ongoing sequence of revisions. The new basic stations could be built in line to growing capacity demand and with an actual reduction in capital costs as new orders came on stream. Not so much as jam tomorrow as pie in the sky.
However, such ‘replication savings’ arguments persisted within the UK nuclear cabal up until 1988, where at the Hinkley Point C nuclear inquiry, the UK Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) insisted that the Hinkley Point PWR would be the first-born of a ‘small family’ of UK PWRs. This claim was blown out of the water by evidence submitted by the National Union of Mineworkers.
The nearest thing that an international nuclear agreement has come to is an emerging view that the Pressurised Water Reactor offers the best basic model upon which future reactors should be based. The US Westinghouse (now General Electric) AP100 PWR is now being copied by China as an export model within its developing ‘sphere of influence’. It also forms the basis for technically and economically disastrous ‘third generation’ European PWR (EWR) at Flamanville in Normandy and Olkiuoto in Finland. The EWR is also the reactor of choice for the massive cost and schedule over-running Hinkley Point C project in the UK, and has been accepted as the design favourite for China’s Taishan 1 project which started in December 2018.
A little jam today?
Beyond the third generation of PWRs there are a number of other technical options on offer. Hitherto aimed at big capacity baseload units of reactors with a 1,000 Megawatt plus output, the nuclear industry has been looking at the development of smart grids with response capabilities for inputs from more intermittent small scale units. Within this scenario, smaller and more operationally flexible nuclear reactors are envisaged: the so-called new generation of Small Modular Reactors with capacity sizes down to as small as 10 MWe. Such SMRs could be prefabricated and shoe-horned into existing conventional power station sites.
But even if operationally proved as safe and capable of high load factors, SMRs would hardly contribute much to the capacity need as stated by the advocates of nuclear power. Given that the SMRs will be little more than down-scaled versions of already tried and tested failed reactor designs, there is little reason to expect them to behave over time little better than their bigger grand-parents.
Moreover, funding for nuclear research and development (R&D) drains from the pittance devoted to R&D for renewable energy, and the development large scale storage batteries and disaggregated smart grids which could do so much to create baseload potential for otherwise intermittent and ‘micro’ renewables.
It is a dangerous fantasy to think that nuclear power is best placed to replace fossil fuel power production. According to the International Energy Agency, the installed global power generating capacity as of 2018 was:
All fossil fuels
All renewables, including:
Statistics compiled and amended by Dr T. Wang, Statista, 3 December 2019
Meanwhile, of non-renewable fuel sources, in terms of total % global electrical power consumed:
Non-renewable fuel source
% total global electrical power consumed (2017-18)
IEA World Energy Outlook 2019.
The projection of a 65% nuclear capacity to replace all fossil fuel power plant by 2040 does not just mean the replacement of all existing carbon power generation. It also means an immediate programme for replacing all existing nuclear power plants, two thirds of which will be due for end-of-life decommissioning within the next five to ten years anyway. With no standardised reactor type and operational culture, this would mean 65% of global power generating capacity depending on a variety of plant designs for which no commercial insurability safety assurance will be possible.
Then there is the issue of waste management. Given a present 10.5% global nuclear power generation with no waste management consensus, a capacity increase of six times over presents the stuff of nightmares.
The problem of waste recovery, recycling and long-term management (storage) has so far proved insoluble for the nuclear industry. The industry adopted wet storage – large underground cooling pools – pending proper technical waste management. This was meant to be a temporary solution, but it is still used to this day.
In the mid-1970s, the UK BNFL declared a worldwide solution with the development of a Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) to be built at Sellafield in Cumbria. But dogged with a continuous string of technical problems, as well as very real doubts as to the safety of the Thermal Oxide process, the THORP project with a bill in excess of £5 billion was scrapped in 1989. THORP contracts worth many billions of dollars were force majeured, and nuclear states such as Canada, France, Japan and Sweden were asked to take their waste back home.
According to a 2019 report, some 250,000 tonnes of highly radioactive spent fuel material is in wet storage in some 14 countries awaiting a waste storage solution that will never come. Meanwhile, some 2 billion tonnes of uranium mining ‘tailings’ and process waste remain untreated and with no treatment or financial liabilities settlements in sight.
This is the legacy for future generations that 65 years of nuclear folly has bequeathed. Long-life and long half-life waste radioactive elements, isotopes and their ‘daughter’ products that will last further into the future that human civilisation has taken to reach this moment.
Virtually all of the statistical information referenced above was compiled before the present Covid-19 pandemic. It also predates another global economic event: a growing global recession that has so far been eclipsed by the immediate public health disaster. Such pandemics are, like recessions, treated as natural forces: events beyond the comprehension and control of mere mortals like the ‘rational self-interested actor’, much beloved by liberal economists.
Statistics based on real and reliable evidence make projections rooted in a status quo, which itself presumes business as usual. From such vulgar assumptions, trends are discernible and tendencies towards increasing capital accumulation, urbanisation and population growth can be factored in as verities based on a dismal human condition, unfettered population growth and the persistence of the rule of capital and the inevitability of capricious markets.
Against such projections the IEA and an ever-predatory World Nuclear Association now draw on the undeniable probability of worst-case climate catastrophe to create a new age for nuclear power need. So from a current 10.5% of nuclear generated power, we have to envisage a CO2 abated 2040 where nuclear power will provide 62% of electricity. This means that 70% of all currently operating reactors will have been replaced and that every 40 years or so, all reactor capacity will have to have been renewed.
This means that forever, humanity will have to exist on the brink of a barely containable climate threat, and a source of dangerous energy at barely affordable prices for the bulk of the global population- and that forever, the deceptive alchemy of waste management will remain the radioactive legacy for generations to come. Such a projection is both hopeless and apocalyptic. It offers an eternity of business worse than usual, and it offers a totally fraudulent scenario.
Furthermore, it denies the human capacities of both hope and redemption through struggle. It denies the organised agency of a proletarian class that by 2009 (by UN estimates) had already come to comprise over 52% of the world’s population. Statistical apologists for capitalism and its compendium of various barbaric imperialist scenarios may interpret the world in many ways, but it still remains the role of a revolutionary working class to change it. For the better.
 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report 2019.
 The PWR and BWR reactor types use ‘light’- ordinary water in the primary and secondary cooling cycles.
 The IAEA was set up as an ‘independent’ agency in 1957 for the promotion of ‘Atoms for Peace’. It is located in Vienna and has 171 member states. It reports to both the UN general and Security Councils.
 Former Secretary of State for Energy Tony Benn in his statement of case for the NUM at the Hinkley Point Inquiry, went on to describe the UK Magnox reactors as little more than ‘bomb factories’.
 Israel is neither a member state of the IEA nor a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
 The ‘fuel cycle’ covers the process of mining Uranium or to the manufacture of nuclear fuel and its waste ‘management’.
 The so-called ‘Nuclear Club’ presently comprises Argentina, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, S Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Ukraine, UK and US.
 Heavy water is water with a molecule of oxygen plus two isotopes of deuterium- a hydrogen ‘heavy’ isotope with two electrons as opposed to the usual one.
 Baseload power is electricity from a reliable round-the-clock source not subject to daily or seasonal interruption.
 ‘Replication savings’ are the economic benefits arising from series production: i.e. the ‘economies of scale’. In the UK such replication benefits were promised with the Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) which now make up all but one of the UK nuclear inventory. In this case the ‘savings’ ended up as double the original project cost.
 The 1986-89 Hinkley Point Inquiry was for an original proposal involving a Westinghouse Type AP100 PWR. The present Hinkley Point project presently taking place is based on an Areva/EdF European PWR (EWR).
 NUM Proof of Evidence. Parkin et al. Hinkley Point C public inquiry. Proof denied on grounds of ‘misappropriation’ of confidence and ‘purloining’ of information.
The second part of Mike Downham’s four part series in which he looks at the extent to which local food production features in different versions of the Green New Deal. You can read the introduction here.
Green New Deals
One of the demand formulations now gathering widespread support is for a Green New Deal. There are many versions of GNDs, but they have in common huge expenditure by states, decarbonisation, new jobs and, to a greater or lesser extent, urgency. Until recently GND movements tended to focus tightly on renewable energy. Proposals then began to embrace additional approaches to decarbonising energy, particularly through improved heat efficiency of buildings and public transport initiatives.
But now something new has come into sight – the idea that a GND should not be focussed exclusively on energy but should cover every sector of society. The International Panel on Climate Change, in its October 2018 Report responding to the Paris Agreement’s readiness to settle for a 2.0⁰C rise in global temperature, said that “rapid, far-reaching , and unprecedented change in all aspects of society” were necessary to limit warming to a 1.5⁰C rise. But their definition of ‘all aspects of society’ included only “land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, cities” – a limited definition of society inevitable given the political influence the IPCC is subject to.
A few months later, in February 2019, Senator Markey and Representative Ocasio-Cortez proposed a more radical GND for the US, which includes job security for all, along with “providing high-quality health care; affordable, safe, and adequate housing; economic security; and access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature”. But the way this was presented exposed them to dismissive right-wing attacks that these non-energy proposals were just ‘socialist add-ons’.
Later last year, in November, A Planet to Win – Why We Need a Green New Deal by Aronoff, Battistoni, Cohen and Riofrancos was published in response to the Markey / Ocasio-Cortez initiative. I was among those who had an opportunity to meet with three of the authors at a ScotE3 zoom meeting on 15th May (see report on this website). They have developed the idea of a trans-sector GND extensively. Just as the root causes of global warming go beyond energy policy to the whole capitalist system steered by the market, they argue for a GND which addresses energy, jobs, housing, transport, recreation, nature conservation, education, and health and social care services. They explain that these aren’t just add-ons, but practically essential to reduce emissions, in three ways.
By shifting more people from carbon-emitting jobs into carbon neutral jobs, which include education, health and social care services, overall emissions will be reduced.
Secondly, as a GND can only be effective with intervention and massive investment by the state, market control over what is produced will necessarily be replaced by regulation. Without the distortion of profit, the ‘good life’ will be more closely aligned with the rationales of low resource use, low carbon emissions and well-being, rather than with status based on consumption of what the market tells us to buy. As the authors of Planet to Win give as an example, people will prefer to spend their money on dancing classes than on another ipad. This shift will leave large numbers of workers without jobs – those who are currently employed by companies selling products which emit carbon, either in their manufacture or their use. In the context of a cross-sectoral GND these workers can readily be offered carbon-saving or carbon neutral jobs, accompanied by whatever training they need.
Thirdly, a just transition from fossil fuels can only be achieved through public ownership under local democratic control. Local control cannot be truly democratic and effective without removing inequality and poverty. Job guarantees for all workers are a pre-requisite for reduction of poverty and inequality, so we will need a flexible and responsive employment sector. Any job whose purpose is to improve the quality of life, and which does not emit carbon, will be understood as a climate job.
A Planet to Win came out just one month before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The book’s recommendations are extraordinarily timely. They might have looked far-fetched at the point of publication, but now here they are – proposals which we can immediately move forward with and develop. That they are available at this point is a bonus for the climate movement, which has no time to lose.
The pandemic has not only ripped off the protective blanket from the capitalist system, revealing the bankruptcy of its ideology for all to see. It has also presented us with new opportunities for organising. But before I move on to discuss those opportunities, what is it that at this moment is so important about local food production?
Local food production as part of a Green New Deal
Few would disagree with the importance of local food production, the benefits of which I summarised at the start of this piece. In contrast, few of the GNDs which have been tabled have dealt with it in any detail. But, if for no other reason, the fact that food production and distribution are estimated to account for at least 30% of global carbon emissions, food has to be given a prominent position in the articulation of any GND. Furthermore, as agreement grows that GNDs should be trans-sectoral, the argument for putting food at the heart of a GND becomes stronger, given the big but less easy to measure impacts of food on the physical and mental health, security and biodiversity of communities.
The authors of A Planet to Win acknowledge that food is an important omission from their book, implying that it’s too big a subject to cover in a short book. This perhaps says something about the extent to which American people have become habituated to the commodification of their food.
The IPCC did not include food in its list of societal factors which we need to address (though it did list land, without saying anything more about it).
The US Green New Deal recommends access for all to “healthy and affordable food” but is silent on how that might be achieved.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the EU GND, trotted out again last week by the European Commission in the context of a Just Recovery from the pandemic, does better by giving a whole section to food in its proposals, headed From Farm to Fork. Butthat section reads, along with its heading, as if written 20 years ago, with nothing more radical than improved labelling.
The Labour Party’s Green New Deal, agreed at its conference in September last year, is broad and radical and has urgency. But the word ‘food’ appears only once in the large document, at the bottom of the list of Universal Basic Services the Party intends to introduce, without any detail about what that ‘service’ would consist of.
All GNDs need to some extent to be country or region specific, while learning from each other about how best to articulate their demands. In Scotland the Green Party’s GND proposals, announced in April 2019, are limited to investing in low carbon industries, restoring our natural environment, giving everyone a warm home, and providing access to cheap, reliable and green transport. Food is not mentioned.
In contrast the Commonweal GND proposals for Scotland, put out in November last year (the same month as the publication of a Planet to Win) include a wordy 17-page paper on food. This, along with all the Commonweal GND proposals, is about long-term strategy. The proposals do not articulate the urgent demands which we need to make at this moment if we are to limit global warming effectively. They also do not address the imbalance of power which confronts us. Notably, the paper on food says “It’s easy for food to become a class battleground, and we need better ways to talk about it”. But we don’t – a class battleground is precisely where we need to muster if we are to change food policy in Scotland, because the current confused policy is a reflexion of the class struggle, as is global warming. Once we’ve won that battle the Commonweal proposals will come into their own as contributions to the public debate about our collective strategy. To give them the respect they deserve, the Commonweal proposals were put together before the coronavirus pandemic, which has changed everything.
The climate movement in Scotland needs to make urgent demands, addressing them not only to the Scottish Government but also to workers, including the many who have lost their jobs, or will soon loose them as a result of the coronavirus epidemic and the simultaneous collapse of the North Sea oil and gas industry. Rapid change will only be achieved through the combined agency of the state and of workers. But we have to be clear first about what changes we are going to demand as part of a radical GND. As there’s been little discussion so far about demands in relation to food, here are some suggestions for starting that discussion. The suggestions are all about the production of food locally. Production and local democracy are fundamental to radical change.
In Part 3 to be published on 12th June Mike looks in more detail at different forms of local food production. If you’d rather read the full text of the article you can find it here.
On Friday evening (15th May) three of the authors of ‘A Planet to Win – why we need a green new deal’ joined us from the United States to talk about the issues that are raised in their book. The video of their introduction to the meeting is included in this post.
While the book focuses on the US and draws inspiration from the original New Deal its themes resonated with the participants in the event – mostly from Scotland but also from England and the Republic of Ireland. In an overview of the book Thea Riofrancos asks ‘what kind of labour movement do we need to win a green new deal and argues for the importance of broadening the idea of Just Transition and Climate Jobs to include care and social reproduction; a position that we have adopted in Scot.E3.
It’s impossible to do full justice to the range of issues raised in the discussion. Participants raised the issue of housing and home insulation. In Scotland, well over 90% of the homes expected to be in use in 2050 have already been built – so dealing with the current buildings and current layout of cities is key to reducing emissions from the built environment. Several people picked up on the issue of care and noted that the pandemic has underscored the fact that while care jobs should be central to a green new deal they have to be valued equally and paid equally to other jobs.
A Planet To Win lays the blame for the climate crisis on the fossil fuel companies – one participant suggested that staging a mock trial of CEO’s (and politicians?) for crimes against humanity might help take this view into the mainstream. There’s a useful link to who the leading ‘criminals’ are on the Why Green Economy site.
We didn’t have time to properly explore another question that was raised about how capitalist growth drives the continuing degradation of the climate. There is a useful article on Degrowth in a recent issue of the Ecologist.
There were also contribution on food and land use, taxation, the value of discussions that bring people together across national boundaries, the need to find new ways of using and conserving natural resources and the impact of extractivism on the global south. The final question before the speakers rounded up raised issues of the role of the state and the challenge of avoiding cooption by organisations whose purpose in proposing change is in fact to maintain the status quo.
If you were at the meeting or have watched the video we’d welcome contributions to this site on any of the issues raised.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
Earlier this week we shared a video of Tiffany Kane talking about Common Weal’s plan for a Green New Deal for Scotland. This post is a review of the plan written by Pete Roche. It was originally published in the bulletin of Nuclear Free Local Authorities.
The Common Weal think tank has published a revolutionary green new deal plan for Scotland that will cost billions of pounds and create thousands of new jobs. The most costly of the raft of proposals is the biggest overhaul of housing since the Second World War, with a plan to have greener Scottish homes by installing loft installation, double glazing and renewable technologies. That would involve setting up a national housing company and spend £40 billion to make every home in Scotland more thermally efficient, saving 40% off heating bills.
The Common Weal’s plan of action would be financed through public borrowing – and it is understood it could be paid off over 50 years. It would require no additional private spending by households – while creating a carbon-neutral Scotland and future-proofing the nation for generations. The think tank says it is one of the most ambitious projects they have ever organised and consists of a “fully costed” blueprint for how to bring about a net zero Scotland – the first in the world. It will also claim that all current projections about how much of Scotland’s GDP will be needed to tackle climate change are underestimates and that every year for the next 50 years Scotland will have to spend an annual amount closer to three per cent of GDP than to the two per cent often quoted. (1)
Take responsibility to identify what can be done domestically rather than waiting for multilateral agreements.
The crisis can’t be solved through market forces alone.
The time for setting targets is long gone – these tend to emphasise what it would be good to achieve, not how to achieve it.
You don’t want to have to make any transformations twice. The scale of investment needed is so large it must deliver value for money for many generations.
The plan must be a once-in-many-generations fix for persistent social problems.
Above all this will transition Scotland away from a linear extractive economy to a circular participatory economy – more wealth would be retained and circulated round the domestic economy and much less exported in the form of corporate profits.
Because this is a collective task which will serve many generations, the cost should be met through low cost public borrowing paid back through progressive taxation.
The headline cost of £170bn may be a sobering figure, but it is less than double Scotland’s contribution to the 2009 UK financial bailout, and will only have to be found over 25 years, and gradually repaid over 50 years. And the investment will create new revenue streams, for instance there would be a publicly-owned energy system for electricity and heating which would generate an income. The plan would create around 40,000 direct jobs. Other positive impacts would be: warmer homes, cheaper to heat; healthier food; travel faster and more efficient; quality of life would improve.
The thermal performance of all new build houses and other buildings should be up to Passivhaus standard. (15kWh/m2/yr) But the materials used should be healthy and organic mostly sourced in Scotland.
All new houses should be ready for district heating unless they are energy neutral.
A National Housing Company should be set up to retrofit all existing houses to achieve 70 to 90% thermal efficiency. Commercial premises should be retrofitted to a similar standard. All public buildings should become energy positive.
Moving to electric heating would roughly double the load on the grid which would require significant upgrades to cope. But peak load might increase by a factor of five. While better-insulated houses would reduce the problem much of the spike would come from water heating which would not be reduced by insulation. Ground source heat pumps require a substantial land area. Air source heat pumps struggle to provide sufficient heat in the winter.
Hydrogen would have problems with leakage. All household boilers would need to be replaced. Because of the difficulty of phasing in hydrogen, boilers would probably need to be dual use. Hydrogen would probably be expensive.
Solar thermal, geothermal and industrial waste heat recovery delivered via a district heating network are probably the most viable method of heat delivery.
Scotland uses around 86TWh of heating each year. Firstly, we need to reduce demand by about 40% to about 52TWh. The next step would be to make the most of solar thermal, but this would also require inter-seasonal storage. This could provide around 20TWh via district heating. Geothermal from old mines could provide another 12GWh. Biomass could also add around 6.5TWh of heat to the mix.
A Heat Supply Act could be implemented to require all developers of large waste heat sources to recover and recycle heat to feed local homes.
An Energy Development Agency would plan the shift to renewable heating; a National Energy Company would install a national district heating system and renewable heat generation infrastructure.
Planning the future electricity generation requirements involves replacing current non-renewable electricity generation and meeting the needs for the electrification of transport and the production of hydrogen for transport and heating.
The National Energy Company would progressively take over energy supply to customers and would develop and own all future large-scale energy generating facilities. It would also generate hydrogen for energy storage.
The Scottish Energy Development Agency would plan all new capacity and have responsibility for ensuring the lights stay on while meeting the decarbonisation agenda.
Oil & Gas
The Common Home Plan says Scotland must stop extracting oil and gas. By the end of the 25-year plan Scotland will no longer be using oil and gas.
One of the biggest unknowns is the development of driverless vehicles. On call vehicles, if deployed effectively, could displace a large volume of car ownership resulting in some major changes in urban planning assumptions.
The Common Home Plan calls for the establishment of a National Transport Company which would roll out a comprehensive charging infrastructure and develop a national transport transition plan.
The Company should integrate the ability to make more journeys by foot and bike with its overall transition plan.
Scotland has around 3 million vehicles. It is generally assumed that this number will increase as population rises. Most of these would be parked in residential streets which would imply the need for charging facilities in every residential street – an enormous task. But if other transport approaches develop this could be an enormous white elephant. The National Transport Company would have to make some decisions on which way forward.
Hydrogen could become the fuel of choice for HGVs, ferries, and trains on non-electrified lines. A strategy for air travel will need to be developed.
Food and Land-Use
The plan envisages the establishment of a National Food Agency and a National Land Agency. Amongst the proposals is the suggestion that 50% of Scotland’s land area should be reforested.
There are also chapters on Resources, Trade, Learning and Us. The plan calls for, for instance, a circular economy; and training for an appropriate workforce (there are only 140 plumbers being trained at the moment and yet we will need thousands to install district heating).
Tiffany Kane from Common Weal speaking on ‘Our Common Home’, their plan for a Green New Deal for Scotland. Thanks to Edinburgh RIC for permission share this video, which was recorded at their Assembly on January 29th 2020
The final speaker session of the ScotE3 conference on 16th November will see Jonathon Shafi from Common Weal talking about their new campaign for a Green New Deal for Scotland – Our Common Home
You can register for the conference on Eventbrite or simply register on the day at St Ninian’s Hall, Greyfriars Charteris Centre, 138/140 Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9RR. Doors open at 9.30am and the conference starts at 10am.