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. 



 

 

Divest Strathclyde

On April 1st Glasgow City Council will be debating whether to end investing pension funds in fossil fuels. If successful, this will be a big step forward for divestment campaigns. The motion is proposed by the Green Party and we post their press statement below.

Image from Friends of the Earth Scotland on Flickr CC BY SA 2.0

Scottish Green Party
25/03/2021Glasgow City Council to vote for end to fossil fuel investments.  Today will see the publication of a motion by Scottish Green party councillors in Glasgow for the Council to commit to ending its pension fund investments in fossil fuels. At present the Strathclyde Pension Fund, which GCC is part of, has over £500 million worth of holdings in fossil fuel companies.  The motion, included below, is part of the budget agreement between the SNP administration the Scottish Green Party, so is expected to pass with overwhelming support when the vote takes place on April 1st.Green Party Councillor Kim Long, who will be moving the motion on April 1st, said: “It makes no sense, financially or ethically, to continue to invest in the fossil fuels that are destroying our planet. We know that in Glasgow, the climate crisis will impact the poorest communities the hardest – and all the money the city plans to spend on mitigating this damage is wasted if we keep pouring money into the very thing we know is making the problem worse. But this is also an opportunity – local government pension funds are the single biggest public store of wealth in Scotland. We need to stop fuelling the crisis, and instead invest in a Green recovery to create the fairer, greener Glasgow we need.  “Isla Scott from Divest Strathclyde, which supports the move, said: “We urge Councillors and the Strathclyde Pension Fund (SPF) committee to show climate leadership as we head towards COP26 and to commit to start divesting immediately. The continued investment of over £500 million in fossil fuels is abhorrent and cannot be justified in a climate crisis. Furthermore, it risks pensioners’ money being lost in stranded assets, money that could be better invested in funding climate solutions and a just transition to a green economy. We will continue to campaign for divestment for as long as the SPF continues to fund the breakdown of our climate.”  The motion is below. 

Council. 

Recalls its previous support for a transformative Green New Deal to respond to the climate and ecological emergencies; 

Believes that a Green New Deal for the city region will require massive investment, and that the Council’s own pension investments could play an important part in that;
Recognises that the Strathclyde Pension Fund supports low carbon initiatives through its direct investment portfolio, but is concerned that the Fund retains large holdings, worth in excess of £500 million last year, in fossil fuel industries that are driving the climate and ecological emergencies and perpetuating global inequalities;.

Notes the Council’s fiduciary duty as administering authority for the Strathclyde Pension Fund must be paramount in all decision making around the pension fund. Further notes the calls made over many years from campaigners on the issue of fossil fuel divestment and notes that many other major public and private institutions have already made and acted on commitments to fossil fuel divestment, demonstrating leadership on the climate emergency at the same time as protecting the long-term interests of their individual investors;.

Believes that in the year of the COP26 climate summit, when the eyes of the world will be on Glasgow, the city and its institutions must show climate leadership; and therefore.

Resolves to write to the Strathclyde Pension Fund committee, asking that it make a formal commitment to fossil fuel divestment prior to COP26, with the intention of divesting completely as quickly as possible, and no later than 2029; and that it further considers how it can reinvest the Pension Fund Members’ hard-earned money to drive a green recovery for the Glasgow region.

Andrew Smith
Communications Officer
Scottish Greens
0141 321 7940
07800 972393

Glasgow Trade Unionists organise for COP26 and beyond

Stuart Graham writes about how trade unionists in Glasgow are organising for COP26 and beyond

Glasgow Trades Union Council (GTUC) attended the STUC Trades Councils conference on Sat 30 January and had requested that a session was added to deal with COP26 and the required level of mobilisation for the Nov summit.  Consequently 2 of the Glasgow delegates led the session to discuss the work started on one campaign (Free Our City campaign for free public transport) and the intention to devise another (along similar coalition-building type lines) around a retrofitting agenda for the city.  The opportunity to engage with Glasgow City Council on these issues has been presented by the fact that GCC declared a climate emergency in June 2019, published a list of recommendations from the Climate Emergency Working Group that considered the response and has subsequently undertaken public consultations on transport and the wider Climate Emergency Implementation Plan (CEIP).  While these are not always going to provide the desired solutions (indeed the transport proposals are particularly frustrating at this stage) this does provide some kind of opening to initiate genuine social dialogue and discuss what social protections are actually needed in the process of just transition. However, we need to ensure that such social dialogue remains genuine and capable of being a two-way conversation and not just a monologue with the option to tell the council in question how much you agree or disagree with an already defined endpoint.

As the provision of renewably-powered, free public transport is one of the significant, societal transformations that the Free Our City coalition (which includes GTUC) has identified as capable of delivering the just transition to a low carbon/carbon neutral economy, GTUC will be meeting with trades councils from the local authorities surrounding Glasgow to devise a common approach to take to the politicians which sit on the Strathclyde Regional Cabinet.  Bus service provision in Greater Glasgow cuts across local authority boundaries to such an extent that we will require a common mobilising agenda that is also capable of being adapted as we go.  Whether we view this solely from the perspective of municipal bus transit for a domestic population, or consider the amount of visitors we may be hosting come November (if the covid-19 vaccine roll-out permits an in-person attendance at COP26 that we were expecting pre-pandemic), we need to continue to make the case that the Bus Service Improvement Programmes (BSIPs) that continue to subsidise private companies like First Bus and Stagecoach, with public funds, are neither good enough nor capable of delivering what bus users across Greater Glasgow need.  Therefore irrespective of the current or anticipated positions of the various administrations which make up the Strathclyde Regional Cabinet, part of any campaign on public transport/buses needs to have the demand for public ownership and democratic control at its centre.  Public sector job creation – as drivers or mechanics as well that offered through renewables-focused supply lines – would also result from re-municipalization. 

GTUC are in the early stages of devising a local retrofitting campaign too and are watching with interest the progress of and obstacles to Leeds TUC’s retrofitting report and recommendations. Carbon emissions from domestic energy use/consumption remains a significant contribution to the city’s overall emissions levels, and while GCC’s CEIP has a commitment to a retrofitting programme, it is nowhere at the scale or level of ambition which will be required to retrofit all of the city’s homes, which will have different specifications depending on property types, ranging from multi-storey flats to tenemental and four-in-a-block properties.  While still in its very early stages, what is known about the scale of the retrofitting task ahead of us all, is that it has massive, public sector job creation potential and this is what we want to see.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs created to carry out the deep retrofitting of all homes, with the associated training available to those who want to work in this sector, as well as for those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic or are finding it particularly difficult as they are younger workers with little to no work experience because of the lack of real job opportunities (both pre- and mid-pandemic) and being forced into precarious work.  We will once again attempt to do so through coalition-building, and hope that Living Rent will also be one of the coalition partners due to its status and work as the only tenants union in the city.  

We appreciate that the priorities detailed are specific to Glasgow/Greater Glasgow and rely upon the demands of urban societies/economies.  And we know that some of the more rural local authorities/trades councils eg. Highlands & Islands, will have significantly differing demands, including a greater reliance on electrical vehicles.  Once known, these aspects can be better articulated, but will take some time to properly assess.  However, the proposal is to use one, other or both campaigns as a mobilising template or impetus which trades councils can then use to build coalitions and bespoke campaigning agendas around.  Transport and housing affect everyone – so the aim is to try and harness the energy that type of appeal can bring as a common mobilising agenda across trades councils.  Scottish trades councils will be meeting more regularly throughout 2021 under these and other auspices, to bring their affiliates under the banner of the COP26 coalition and call for more participation and action at all levels, and as we (in Glasgow at least) will definitely be here for the Nov summit, to build for it as if we are expecting a million people are (still?) coming to town.

Energy From Waste Is No Part Of A Green Transition

In December 2019 we published the text of a new briefing (Number 11) on Energy from Waste.  It’s good news that this issue is now getting more publicity.  The Ferret has highlighted a new report and briefing from Friends of the Earth Scotland that points out that the combined capacity of the Waste burning power plants proposed in Scotland exceeds the total tonnage of household waste available.  These plans run a coach and horses through recycling targets and will increase carbon emissions.  They should be stopped.

Decarbonising our heating systems

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

Thanks to Les Levidov for the link

Towards Net Zero?

On the 7th February 2019 Edinburgh City Council resolved to declare a climate emergency. On the 25th October Edinburgh City Council’s Policy and Sustainability met to consider a draft report from the Place-Based Climate Action Network (P-CAN) research project on Achieving Net Zero in the City of Edinburgh. The report will form the basis for discussion of an action plan at the February 2020 meeting of the committee.

In this post Pete Cannell gives a personal response to the report. We hope to publish further contributions on this important topic and we welcome comments, responses to the questions he poses and further contributions.

It’s important and encouraging that, in response to pressure from the School Student strikers, XR and the wider movement, Edinburgh City Council is set to discus actions to reduce carbon emissions. This post takes a critical look at the report that forms the basis for the council’s discussions.

‘Achieving Net Zero in the City of Edinburgh’ is a technical report that summarises research undertaken by the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI), drawing on expertise from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Leeds. Net zero means that carbon emissions from activity in Edinburgh are balanced by an equal amount of carbon being removed from the atmosphere. The net zero target applies to emissions from within the local authority boundaries. Critically, however, some emissions, most notably those from aviation are not included.

The cost-benefit analysis used by the research team is based on the same methodology that was used in the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change that was published in 2006.

The report notes that Edinburgh’s baseline emissions have declined by 40.3% since 2001. This reduction is almost entirely a result of changes in the way that Scotland’s electricity is generated with coal fired power stations closing down and replacement by renewables – primarily wind. Renewables are now such an important part of the grid that there is little scope for further reduction from this source.

The report models three scenarios for how much energy use and emissions could be reduced by 2030:

1. A 56% reduction in carbon emissions as a result of ‘cost effective’ investments amounting to £3.976 billion over the next 11 years. The savings resulting from these investments would repay the investment in 7.5 years and continue to generate savings thereafter.

2. A 62% reduction as a result of ‘cost neutral’ investments of £7.492 billion over the 11 years to 2030 that would be paid back in savings over 12.5 years.

3. A 67% reduction exploiting the full technical potential of the different mitigation measures proposed. This is estimated to require investment of at least £8.135 billion with the cost neutral pay back extending to 16.1 years.

The figures aggregate emission reduction strategies across multiple sectors – commercial, transport, domestic and industrial and the report provides some detailed proposals for the kinds of investment that needs to be made in each of these.

The report is honest about the scale of the technical and investment challenge but confines consideration of politics and strategy to the observation that:

Whilst the opportunities outlined here are all feasible and ‘win-wins’ for stakeholder groups across the city, they will require near-immediate and unequivocal support from institutions and the public.

Will the City Council’s action plan be framed in a way that faces up to the urgency of the crisis and wins unequivocal support? And will it address the gap between the reductions proposed in the report and net zero? Climate campaigners have a critical role to play here. We have a responsibility to build a movement embedded in working class communities across the city that is active, restless, rebellious and probes, questions and criticizes at every stage and every step. And we need to develop a collective understanding of how actions to reduce emissions and the unequivocal support of the mass of the population are achieved and built through democratic engagement and a focus on social justice.

There are a host of questions that we need to address. In the hope of starting a debate I’ll mention just a few!

The activities of the city council are responsible for only a small percentage of Edinburgh’s emissions. So how does an effective action plan ensure that the investment into emissions reductions envisaged by ‘Towards Net Zero’ take place across all areas of energy consumption? How does a council action plan leverage action across the whole city? Clearly there’s a role for regulation – for example imposing building regulations that mandate carbon neutral new builds. There’s also a case for investment in large-scale public initiatives – for example building insulation.

‘Towards Net Zero’ focuses on a cost benefit approach together with the implementation of existing low carbon technologies – and holds out the promise that in future emerging technologies will bridge the gap to net zero. Is this an appropriate methodology in the face of an existential crisis? Can it actually work? It’s not business as usual but it suggests that conventional methods together with technology can achieve net zero. So is net zero achievable without system change? And if it’s not, what does system change look like?

Treating carbon reduction as an issue about investment and technology may also hide real issues of policy. So for example business and tourism planning in Edinburgh have both had huge impact on how and where we live, the distances we travel to work and how we travel. As Edinburgh’s workforce is pushed further outside the city boundaries to find affordable accommodation the carbon footprint of our daily working lives has grown. But the ‘Towards Net Zero’ effectively excludes these issues, as it does the massive rise in aviation emissions, which are so strongly linked to current planning priorities. So while we can commend the City Council’s steps towards an action plan there is a powerful case for integrated planning across the region and for new policy frameworks for housing, health, work, transport and tourism that centre on zero carbon and social justice.

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Image: Pete Cannell, CC0

There is an opportunity to discuss the issues raised in this post at the  Scot.E3 conference that takes place on 16th November.  Book for the conference on Eventbrite and email triple.e.scot@gmail.com if you want to book one or more crèche places.

Support the global strike for climate

Edinburgh City Council (having already told school students in the city that they can only walk out to take action over climate once in a year) is now saying that they can’t march down Princes Street on 20th September.  This from a council that has happily closed down streets around the city in the last few days to facilitate a multi million dollar movie.  No questions asked about the huge climate footprint of that operation.

School students around the world have done a magnificent job in putting collective action on the agenda.  Contact the council, email your councillors, get your workmates and/or union branch to send a message to the council that their declaration of a climate emergency rings hollow unless they give full support to the school students who are leading the way.

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NFLA Seminar on just transition

On Friday 10th May I attended the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) Scotland Spring Seminar in Dundee on behalf of Scot.E3. The subject of the seminar was ‘Dealing With Climate Change, Just Transition and Divestment Issues’.

The four presentations grappled with issues of just transition and sustainability from a local authority perspective:

You can use the hyperlinks to access the presentations. NFLA have also produced a useful briefing on some of these issues – ‘Climate Emergency’ Declarations and the practicalities in Local Authority Action to go ‘Carbon Neutral’

Eileen Cook

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