Hauns Affa Torry

Taking the Fight for St Fittick’s Park to Parliament

THURS, 12 JANUARY 2023 1.30pm

At the Scottish Parliament – Holyrood, Edinburgh

This post is a copy of the call from Aberdeen campaigners

Come and join people from Torry and the Friends of St Fitticks Park, outside the Scottish Parliament to demand the government uses its powers to stop the industrialisation of the last remaining accessible greenspace in Torry, Aberdeen. 

Meet and hear directly from the people who will be most affected by the reckless plans. And the why destroying a thriving and much loved greenspace is not the answer for Aberdeen’s, or indeed Scotland’s energy transition.  

Why are we at the Parliament? 

Time is running out. The minister for Planning, Tom Arthur has until Monday 16th January to use his powers to direct Aberdeen City Council’s new development plan is changed to ensure St Fitticks Park is protected from an unjust corporate land grab in the name of energy transition. For more details visit here: https://saintfittickstorry.com 

We need as many locals and friends of the park to demand the Scottish Government acts in the interest of people and not profit. 

For those travelling from Aberdeen the Friends of St Fitticks Park will provide free coach travel for the day. Booking details will be released early in the new year, but you can provisionally book places by emailing FriendsofStFitticksPark@proton.me . 

#HaunsAffaTorry
#YirNaeGettingAwaWiThisAgain
WhoseParkOurParkWhoseLandOurLand 

For more about the campaign check out these posts on this blog

Save St Fitticks – defeat the oilogarchy

World-scale scandal in Aberdeen

Please share the Facebook event and invite your friends

Beyond the COPs

Quan Nguyen was the Scottish Coordinator of the COP26 Coalition.  His recent article reflecting on how the climate movement has developed since COP26 is well worth reading.  

Here we publish a personal response to Quan’s article from retired oil worker Neil Rothnie.  This is an important discussion, and we’d love to publish more views. If you’d like to write something, or perhaps be interviewed, please use the Contact tab to get in touch.

I think we can share the confidence of Quan’s final thought that;

“ . . . . we are still standing and can rise again to challenge the heart of Europe’s fossil fuel capitalism on its own soil.”  

And this from the man who has more reason than most to be “tired and exhausted”.  Because on top of his big job as Scottish Coordinator of the COP26 Coalition, he also led the hugely successful and well organised weeklong Climate Camps. This year the 2022 camp challenged the UK climate movement’s London-centricity, and confronted the international oil and gas industry in its European capital by occupying the Torry dock of Aberdeen harbour and laying down a marker for the whole movement.  Sooner rather than later the job of shutting down the North Sea will have to be carried out by a movement that has the active support of the masses.  Who thinks the industry/government conspiracy will do it themselves in a planned way that avoids climate chaos and gives us renewable energy?  Looks like Quan thinks that that scenario is a fantasy.

This of course begs the question of what part in this transition – the “real” transition not the greenwashing shite that Quan warns about – will be played by the oil workers, their families and friends and neighbours in communities throughout the country.  An issue we in ScotE3 have been grappling with at some length.  And more thought needs to be given.

When Quan deals with the lessons of COP26, his call is for a rethink of what he sees as a form ofprotest” that no longer works.  His analysis is a hard read but his conclusion that:

“We need to recognise that the climate crisis will worsen and there is no blueprint for the climate movement to follow towards climate justice”.  

surely opens up a space for a detailed examination of his thoughts on the lessons. Perhaps others reading this post might want to look at the problems he perceives in more detail.

I’d never heard of Alaa Abd El-Fattah, who both Quan and Naomi Klein champion.  But we could do a lot worse than give serious attention to his 4 themes. Quan pulls the 3rd and 4th together as, 

“We need to defend the complexity and diversity of our own movement, and create our own spaces, not consume ready-made action plans that lead to nowhere.”

At one level, this is exactly what Climate Camp Scotland was doing in partnership with local oppositionists to Shell’s Ethylene plant at Mossmorran last year, and the Friends of St Fittick’s in Torry in Aberdeen this year.  

Action at the 2021 Climate Camp at Mossmorran

Certainly the “complexity and the diversity” was there for all to see in those who turned out and made the camps a huge success.  But I’m guessing that there is another level at which this theme is even more relevant.  “Our own spaces” must surely be understood not only as our camps, and the spaces we control when we take our actions onto the streets, but also (even more so?) as our communities – the geographical areas in which we share our everyday lives and where we can begin to take some real control.  “The diversity and complexity” is surely our neighbours in all their uniqueness and individuality. “The ready made plans that lead to nowhere” surely the poverty and cold mapped out for us by government in lock step with oil industry profiteering and investor dividends, all predicated on the weaponisation of North Sea gas,

“The ready-made action plans” are also the endlessly failing blah blah blah of successive COPs that lead not to “nowhere” but to global climate disaster already breaking out now in the Pakistan floods, now in the Sudanese drought and famine, and Net Zero obfuscation everywhere. 

And where can we “fix our own democracy” if not in our own communities? It’s here that the lessons we are learning in the climate justice movement about inclusivity can be fought for amongst the widest layers of society in the coming actual everyday struggles to access warmth and food and companionship in the face of the cold, hunger and debt that the billionaires both in and outside government and in the markets and in the oil and gas industry have planned for many of us this winter. There’s no way that what Quan calls “Fossil Capitalism” can be ended without the active participation of the widest layers of society.  We need to go where the people are.  They’re in their communities getting ready to face cold and hunger.  The climate justice movement needs to begin to think about being there with them, engaging in conversations and organising in solidarity.  We have a common enemy – North Sea gas.

When Quan says that;

We need to recognise that the climate crisis will worsen and there is no blueprint for the climate movement to follow towards climate justice.” 

He’s surely saying that there’s going to be no rational transition to renewables – no peaceful road to climate justice.   What chance that the RMT union, let alone other oil and gas investors, can break their addiction to Shell and BP dividends, or that the banks and the markets are prepared to voluntarily slaughter the golden goose?  All indications are that the exact opposite is the plan that they just cannot deviate from.  They’ll transition only when the last dollar has been made from the last profitable barrel of oil and gas from the North Sea.  It’s called “maximising economic recovery” and it’s the UK government plan handed to them by Sir Ian Wood.  And if this is the industry plan in the UK, you can bet that it’s the industry plan everywhere.  And we all know that by that time it’ll be too late.  As Quan says,“Time is running out”

One way or another we are facing, I think, a huge discontinuity.  Piper Alpha, Deepwater Horizon, the trashing of the Niger Delta, in fact the trashing of almost everywhere the industry sets foot in, is how the global oil industry organises.  Dictatorial regimes around the world are the industry’s preferred stomping grounds.  The myth of an organised and orderly North Sea Transition as espoused by Deirdre Michie of Oil & Gas UK, and other industry leaders, politicians and union apologists couldn’t be further from the traditional methods of, and outcomes of, the industry.  There’s no peaceful road to oil and gas, no peaceful transition, to sustainability.  Unaffordable North Sea gas and the unaffordable electricity it underpins have been weaponized, and are guided missiles launched straight into our homes to destroy our personal economies, and if unchallenged, our lives.

Save St Fitticks – defeat the oilogarchy

This post is a report of the Scot.E3 public meeting held on 24th October 2022. It includes videos from the meeting and links to resources and further information about the St Fitticks Campaign. Please share widely.

The meeting began with a contribution from Ishbel Shand from the Save St Fitticks Campaign

You can read a written version of Ishbel’s contribution here

Pete Cannell followed up with a short contribution on the North Sea oil and gas industry

The two speakers were followed by a wide ranging discussion which is summarised in the following account:

At the ScotE3 public meeting on 24th October “St.Fittick’s Park – Defeat the Oilogarchy” Ishbel Shand, on behalf of the Save St.Fittick’s Park campaign in Aberdeen, reminded us that nearly a century ago Antonio Gramsci, writing from a fascist prison cell, said “The old world is dying, the new is struggling to be born. We live in a time of monsters.”  You can watch the whole of Ishbel’s speech about the history and current significance of St.Fittick’s Park on the YouTube link above. It’s a compelling story not to be missed.

Pete Cannell spoke next, on behalf of ScotE3. He emphasised in particular the catastrophic nature of the North Sea Transition Deal, agreed in March last year and flouted as the first agreement “between the government of a G7 country and its oil and gas production community”. Almost unbelievably this Deal has been signed up to by the Scottish Government and by the Unions which represent the oil and gas workers. More oil and gas, nuclear, and hydrogen for heating. This is a disaster for the climate – particularly in terms of investment. It’s what underpins the Cost of Living Crisis because energy prices would inevitably remain high – much higher than would be the case with renewable sources of energy. It would also be a disaster for jobs – preserving the status quo for jobs is the worst-case scenario, defying any chance of a just transition. You can watch Pete’s presentation on the second YouTube link.

We had hoped for a speaker from Climate Camp, who sited their annual camp this year in St.Fittick’s Park and illegally occupied the site of the old fishing and boat-building village of Torry, destroyed to make way for oil and gas industrialisation. Unfortunately no-one from Climate Campaign was available for this meeting, but their name was on the lips of many participants as a model of how to respect local communities rather than impose on them.

The bulk of the meeting was given to general discussion. Many good points were made, including:

  • The oil and gas industry has never brought anything positive to the Torry community
  • There is a parallel between the threatened industrialisation of St.Fittick’s with the Bo’ness road in Grangemouth, which physically divides the local community and threatens the health of that community with air pollution from traffic congestion.
  • There is also a parallel with the Buckie community’s fight to save the Slochy Wloods
  • The potential power of communities is huge when they come together to fight – for example the success last year, at enormous personal costs, of the Ujaama indigenous communities in securing land rights in Tanznia.
  • There is a fundamental democratic deficit which in general communities face.
  • There’s not just one unaccountable Goliath faced by the David of the Torry community but four –  One North East, oil tycoon Ian Wood’s company which will control the development of an “Energy Transition Zone”; Aberdeen Harbour; Ironside Farrar, the environmental consultants tasked with drawing up a “master plan”; and Aberdeen City Council and its Local Development Plan.
  • Artists/musicians recently performed 45 minutes of songs and poetry at the new Arts Centre in Banchory
  • Films, short and long, have been made about St. Fittick’s.
  • University students are giving St. Fittick’s magnificent support
  • Those of us who don’t live in Aberdeen need to extend the Local actions of the Torry Community to National actions and solidarity across Scotland, through spreading the word far and wide about the threat to St. Fittick’s.
  • We all need too to take opportunities to spread the St. Fittick’s story internationally.
  • There’s a need for more radical change than just fighting for “renewables” – a term which can conceal negative elements – for example the jackets for off-shore turbines are plastic and the blades are steel.
  • The Cost of Living Crisis is fundamental in that it has the potential to mobilize nearly everyone.
  • The Scotland-wide COP 27 mobilisation is at 12noon on Saturday 12th November in Edinburgh. People from Aberdeen wanting to join this rally were encouraged to accept hospitality from those members of ScotE3 based in Edinburgh.

Yes, this is a time of monsters, but it’s also a time of jewels. St. Fittick’s Park itself is a jewel, as is the current response of the campaign to the threat of industrialising the Park. 

The chair ended the meeting with this quote from Ishbel, which emphasises the often-neglected but fundamental significance of the Nature Crisis in all our current struggles:

We can choose to continue with the old dying world of exploitation of people and nature for short-term financial gain. Or we can choose to repair and nurture our damaged environment and learn to live within the constraints that nature imposes.  

Links for further reading/information:      

Some background information on ETZ – click here

A trailer for a film by Martina Camatta

Some films by Robert Aitken can be accessed via this link

The film about Old Torry is particularly moving.  The Aberdeen Social Centre have a complete collection of issues of the “Aberdeen People’s Press” from the period..  One Old Torry resident, with a compulsory purchase order on her home, laments that the same Council that wouldn’t allow her to put in new windows because of the historic importance of her house are now going to bull-doze it, because Shell want the land.

A link to Mike Downham’s post on St Fitticks on this site

World-scale scandal in Aberdeen

Mike Downham explains why the fight to save St Fitticks Park is so important.

As I write this (on 22nd September) the Scottish Government Reporter has announced her decision to confirm zoning changes in the Aberdeen Local Development Plan which would allow St. Fittick’s Park to be industrialised.

St. Fittick’s Park

The 17-acre St. Fittick’s Park is owned by Aberdeen City Council and currently zoned as Greenbelt and part of the Greenspace Network. For centuries the land had been grazed by farm animals, until the 1960s when it became a rough field, much explored by children and known affectionately by the local community of Torry as “Our Fieldie”. The East Tullos burn which crosses the land had been channelised and over time became polluted with heavy metals and hydrocarbons.

About 20 years ago the Torry community came together to create a nature-based vision for a public park, with access paths and play equipment for children. £250,000 was raised to realise this vision, £168,000 by the community, with Aberdeen Council contributing the remainder. The new park was named St. Fittick’s because it includes a ruined church overlooking the North Sea at Nigg Bay. From here you can look across fields to the edge of Torry, and wonder how different this landscape must have looked when, according to legend, a religious foundation was established here by St Fittick in the mid 600s.

The story runs that St Fittick, an Irish monk, was thrown overboard by superstitious sailors when a storm blew up. He came ashore at Nigg Bay and established a church to give thanks for his salvation. Legend became history in the late 1100s  when a chapel was built on the site of today’s ruins, under the auspices of Arbroath Abbey. This chapel was consecrated in 1242 by the Bishop of St Andrews David de Bernham, and continued to serve the local community until the Reformation.

In 2012 Aberdeen City Council carried out a city-wide greenspace assessment and identified St. Fittick’s Park as a priority for nature-based improvements. The Council commissioned a feasibility study for a project with three objectives: 1) Improve water quality of East Tullos Burn, 2) Improve

biodiversity and 3) Create a public amenity. Combining Aberdeen City Council funds with funds from SEPA, Aberdeen Greenspace, and others, £365,000 was spent to complete the project in 2014. Using a nature-based design, the burn was naturalised with meanders and aquatic and riparian vegetation and reedbeds and wetlands were added to provide habitat and help clean the water of pollution. The project installed 180,000 native wetland and wildflower plants, 20,000 square metres of wildflower seeding, extensive woodland planting on the adjacent upland slopes and 800m of access paths. The community got to work, in one day alone planting 10,000 trees.

The biodiversity and aesthetic beauty of the Park have significantly improved year on year over the last ten years. The Park is now well used and well loved, with school children, families and seasoned or budding naturalists enjoying this rich and diverse landscape. Many species of birds, amphibians, invertebrates and mammals are observed and studied.

This summer an MSc graduate of Aberdeen University carried out an aquatic biodiversity and water quality study of East Tullos Burn and found statistically and biologically significant improvements in the burn as a result of the restoration project, notably an increase in species abundance and richness, an increase in the dynamics and complexity of the food web, and improvements in water quality. Additional studies have found an explosion in biodiversity since the restoration was completed, including 115 plant species, 42 breeding bird species, including eight red listed and eight amber listed, and dozens of migratory species. Invertebrate surveys found over forty species of moth, 11 butterfly species, and a range of other invertebrates. Two invertebrates found on survey were nationally threatened species.

The Torry Community

 St. Fittick’s Park is the last remaining accessible green space for a community of 10,000 people, in an area unfairly burdened by pollution, where few residents have private gardens. Before the advent of the Oil and Gas Industry, Torry was a centre for fishing, fish-processing, boat building and boat repair. Only the fish-processing remains. The old fishing village was destroyed in the 1970s to facilitate oil-related harbour developments.

An open letter from a local GP, signed by 22 doctors from across Aberdeen, points out that Torry is surrounded by two industrial harbours, an industrial estate, a railway line, a sewage works, landfill sites, a regional waste center, an incinerator that is currently being built, and one of the most polluted roads in Scotland. Much of the housing, the doctors say, is poor-quality – small, damp and affected by noise and light pollution. Residents frequently complain of high levels of exposure to antisocial behaviour. The doctors draw a comparison between the Aberdeen area of West End North, where the residents of two streets have exclusive access to 15 acres of mature riverside woodland, and the residents of the Torry community: “There is a 13-year difference in life expectancy between these two areas …The difference in healthy life expectancy is around twenty years. There is an eight-fold increase in the risk for someone in Torry being admitted to hospital with complications of chronic lung disease …Torry has a higher proportion of young people and children living in it … there is a significantly higher proportion of dependent children per household than in the rest of the city, and more often in single parent households. Child poverty is accordingly high. Access to private transport is less common in the area and access to distant green space is thus much more difficult …[Torry] also has the highest level of unemployment in the city. Median household income is more than four times greater in West End North … Rates of dental decay in Torry run at over 80% by the end of primary school. These schools have some of the lowest levels of attendance in the city. Teenage pregnancies are still more than twice the average for the city and around eight times more than for West End North. Prescriptions for antidepressant medication are more than twice those for West End North. Drug-related hospital stays are almost three-times the Scottish average, and drug overdoses are more frequent here than anywhere else in the city. There are also disproportionately high levels of domestic abuse and household fires.”

St Fittick’s Park, Torry, is being eyed for an energy transition zone business park. Photo by Kenny Elrick/DCT Media
The award-winning wetlands in St Fittick’s Park could be at risk if the ETZ goes ahead on the Torry site. Photo by Kath Flannery/DCT Media

The Threat

Now St. Fittick’s Park is under threat of industrial development, which would pave over with concrete a large part of the Park. Unbelievably, Aberdeen City Council has agreed with the Oil and Gas Industry to designate St. Fittick’s Park as an opportunity site for a new Energy Transition Zone (ETZ) in the local authority’s 2020 Proposed Local Development Plan. The Council and Energy Transition Zone Limited, the private partner in the proposed development, assert that industrial use of the park, adjacent to Aberdeen’s new South Harbour, is necessary to advance the North East’s transition to a low carbon economy. The new South Harbour itself is an affront to the biodiversity and well-being of the Torry area. As recently as one year ago, visitors to St. Fittick’s Park could walk along the shore of Nigg Bay and look out across the bay to the North Sea. Now this shore has been reduced to a placid pool blocked from the ocean by a high concrete wall.  

The Enemy

But this proposal is only ‘unbelievable’ if you continue to think, as it was reasonable to think in the past, that our elected representatives, whether in local or national governments, are serving the interests of their electorates. These days it’s the big energy corporations with their huge wealth who run things – through lobbying and bribing our politicians, and through their control of the media so that we get to be told only their version of reality. In relation to the proposed Energy Transition Zone in Aberdeen it’s the oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood who is the mover and shaker. He got control of economic development in the city in 2016 via the City Region Deal. Wood chairs the development company Opportunity North East (ONE) which is pushing the ETZ.  He has enormous influence on both Westminster and Holyrood. The Wood Review of 2014 led to the tax cuts for the Oil and Gas Industry and the principle “MaximizingEconomic Recovery of UK petroleum” in the Infrastructure Bill, 2015. Note the intentionally occult jargon of “Infrastructure Bill” and “Maximum Economic Recovery” – for which read extracting every last drop of oil and gas from the North Sea regardless of costs and climate impact. Inevitably Wood also has a huge influence on a Scottish Government which increasingly tails the Westminster Government in its energy policies.  He is the man behind the plans to industrialise the park. 

A Scam

If you look a little more closely at the purpose of the ETZ , you are told that “The project is based on using clean energy such as offshore wind, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage”, with a quote from Wood who says “We’ve got the opportunity in the north-east of Scotland to help balance the economy with a new industry, and at the same time, play a really significant role in one of the world’s greatest problems right now in global warming.” Wood said recently that it was only in the last two or three years that he realised that climate change was a serious problem.  

This is a classic example of being told only his version of the story because in reality neither hydrogen or carbon capture and storage have any chance whatsoever in reducing global warming in the necessary time-scale, nor can they be described as ‘clean energy’. For simple explanations about hydrogen energy and carbon capture and storagesee Microsoft Word – briefing 13.docx (wordpress.com) and Microsoft Word – Briefing 10.docx (wordpress.com). In reality these technologies are fake tickets to allow the oil and gas companies to continue to pay their executives and their shareholders and to remain in business. 

Collision of Crises

At St. Fittick’s Park we are seeing a head-on three-way collision between the Oil and Gas Industry, the Climate Crisis, and the Cost of Living Crisis. Neither the Climate Crisis nor the Cost of Living crisis can be sustainably resolved until extraction and burning of fossil fuels is stopped globally – see the report of a recent discussion which made this clear at North Sea Oil and Gas and the Cost of Living – Employment, Energy and Environment (scote3.net) . Stopping reliance on fossil fuels will mean different things for different countries, depending on their current energy sources. But for the UK and Scotland it’s primarily about stopping North Sea oil and gas extraction.

Collisions like this are of course not unique to Aberdeen. But what makes this one unusual is that it’s actually a four-way collision involving the Nature Crisis too, plus the visual proximity between a resource vital for Nature and a resource vital for the survival of the North Sea Oil and Gas Industry. This proximity makes obvious a choice which is often blurred by the topographical distances between the conflicting interests. Moreover in the case of St. Fittick’s Park it’s not only Nature which is being put under yet another threat which it can’t afford, but it’s also the well-being of one of the most deprived communities in Scotland. 

The Nature Crisis

The Nature Crisis is often side-lined, especially at times like the present when human beings are facing multiple crises. Exploitation of Nature by man goes back to the Garden of Eden. But for the roughly two hundred years since the crescendo of industrialisation in the West, we’ve become more and more conditioned to the arrogant idea that other species are here only for our benefit. It’s arguable that this arrogance is the most fundamental reason for the mess humanity is in now. Places like St. Fittick’s can help us shift our mind-set towards thinking in terms of every non-human species being important in its own right – not only those species which benefit humanity or those which are threatened by extinction. 

Large numbers of local community-driven initiatives, not necessarily as big or remarkable as the St. Fittick’s initiative, are more likely to make a real difference to biodiversity than top-down directives. The Scottish Government’s top-down Biodiversity Strategy Consultation closed a week ago, the Friends of St. Fittick’s Park having submitted a robust contribution. As well as telling the remarkable story of the Park’s restoration and enhanced biodiversity, the submission points out that the Scottish Government, led by the Scottish National Party for 15 years, has presided over a range of policies which have driven the current Nature emergency the Government is consulting about:

These policies have in common that they are designed to benefit wealthy people and are driven by profit. Some of these policies are entirely the Scottish Government’s responsibility, some are through collusion with the UK Government. Unless these policies are radically reformed any attempts to address the Nature Emergency will fail, sooner rather than later. The policies which have been most crippling for Nature include:

1.         Land ownership

50% of Scotland’s private rural land is owned by 432 individuals, mostly large estate-owners and industrial-scale farmers. As historian James Hunter has said: “Scotland continues to be stuck with the most concentrated, most inequitable, most unreformed and most undemocratic landownership system in the entire developed world”. In addition nearly all public land is controlled by central or local government, not by local communities.

2.         The sacrifice of biodiverse land for development

Weak regulation enables more and more biodiverse land to be paved over for industrial or unaffordable housing development.

3.         Farm subsidies

Huge sums of money continue to be paid to farmers, particularly large livestock farmers, to boost their profitability. Further money is paid to mostly large farmers and estate owners to improve biodiversity, but most of these people are primarily concerned with increasing their wealth, both profits and land values.  Biodiversity is not often their primary motivation.

4.         Bioenergy with carbon capture (BECCS)

The Scottish Government remains wedded to the concept of planting up huge areas of land with monoculture fast-growing trees, even to felling more diverse forests to make way for these new plantations. The plan is to burn the timber from these new forests in power stations and deal with the carbon emitted by “Carbon Capture” – a process yet to be developed and tested at scale. 

5.         North Sea oil and gas extraction

The Scottish Government is also wedded to extracting every last drop of oil and gas from the North Sea. This has a negative impact on marine species; fuels, literally, global heating; and is responsible for the current cost of living crisis.

6.         A one-nation perspective 

The Scottish Government’s current proposals for addressing the nature emergency are an example of its tendency to think in terms of only one nation. Biodiversity has to be considered internationally. We should be thinking in terms of what Scotland can do to contribute to the efforts of other nations.

If the Nature Crisis was brought centre-stage two benefits, beyond enhanced biodiversity, could follow. First, at least some of the many people who care strongly about Nature, given information which would help them to recognise that profit for the wealthy is what drives the Nature, the Climate, the Cost of Living and the Poverty crises in common, they would be more likely to join the fight to stop North Sea oil and gas extraction, which is fundamental to all four crises in the UK and Scotland.

Second, young people and children are in general more and more aware of the devastation to Nature they see around them. These are the people who will sustain the fight for a better world long after our time is up. It was because the young people of the Climate Camp movement feel an urgency to stop this devastation that they based themselves in St. Fittick’s Park this summer. When they arrived they were shown round the Park, having to take care not to tread on abundant tiny frogs.

Children in particular tend to be alert to the Nature around them. The younger the children, the closer they are to the ground to make observations that we may not notice. A few weeks ago, at an Open Day for the Strathblane Wildlife Sanctuary (a much smaller and more recent initiative than St. Fittick’s Park), it was my pleasant job to lead tours of the site. For the first tour of the day ten pre-school children and ten parents turned up at the gate. The tour was led not by me but by the children, who ran ahead to point out lady-birds, slugs and molehills. 

Our fight as adults must include ensuring that every child has the opportunity to explore wild land in their immediate neighbourhood.

If you want to join the fight to save St. Fittick’s Park by becoming a Friend of the Park please email

saint.fittick.torry@gmail.com

Follow the campaign on Facebook

Decommissioning Fictions

Neil Rothnie – ex oil worker and one time editor of the OILC newsletter Blowout spoke to a conference of people involved in the creative industries in Aberdeen on Saturday 4th September. He talked about the North Sea, climate jobs and just transition. We publish his contribution in full here.

I’ve been asked to speak because a large part of my life has revolved around struggle in the oil and gas industry. I spent my working life offshore, mostly on the North Sea, latterly in the Norwegian sector.  On the whole I enjoyed my working life.  I miss it a bit.  But mainly the Norwegian bit.

In my early days in the industry, I was active in the Aberdeen Branch of the National Union of Seamen. And during the strikes and occupations led by the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, in the wake of the Piper Alpha disaster, I founded and produced Blowout.  At that time a “nasty scurrilous” tabloid that aspired to giving oil workers a voice. 

I became the Secretary of the OILC branch of RMT after OILC “merged with” the Rail Maritime and Transport union, and I briefly represented RMT’s oil worker members on the executive of that union.  I remain a member of the Norwegian union, Industri Energi. 

I was inspired to join the struggle against climate change by Extinction Rebellion.  I’m also active with ScotE3, campaigning for jobs and a just transition (the three Es in ScotE3 are employment, energy and environment).  I’m speaking for neither of these organisations. I’m sure a lot of what I say here would get agreement from many, but not all, of the supporters of these two organisations.

As I understand climate science, it is fossil fuels that are very largely the source of the greenhouse gasses that are heating the environment and causing climate change and threatening the existence of much of life on the planet. For fossil fuel read oil & gas, at least for the purposes of this meeting.

So, I find myself back in a fight with the oil industry.  In the wake of the Piper Alpha disaster, I struggled alongside the very best, and most conscious of the offshore workforce, many of whom were lifelong trade union members. Today I struggle alongside the very best, and most conscious of the youth, organised in Extinction Rebellion and in other civil society organisations, and with other old guys in ScotE3.

It’s a lifetime of work in the industry, and recent activity as a climate activist that informs my understanding of a “just transition”.  Global heating and climate change is not the fault of oil and gas workers, and it isn’t/wasn’t the fault of the coal miners either.  

That’s the good news.

This thought consoles me just before I try and get to sleep while trying to imagine my grandchildren having long, happy and fulfilled lives, sharing a planet teeming with life.  

The bad news is that blameworthy or not, oil and gas workers are going to have to stop being oil and gas workers.  Sooner rather than later if they share my concern for their own grandchildren.  The solution it would seem is a “just transition”.  I think we should have a look at the two parts of this “just transition” construct.

The transition! It’s already underway. And insofar as I understand the science, there’s no going back. 

One possible outcome is that we’re going to complete that transition to a sustainable habitable world powered by renewable energy and a planet where we’ve stopped the practice of dumping greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere. 

The alternative is that we’re going to transition to a largely uninhabitable world      where the earth’s delicate ecological balance is disrupted,  and enormous forces of nature are released, eventually taking humanity and the rest of life on the planet into a premature and manmade fifth mass extinction.

Transition, it seems to me, is not a choice.  It’s begun.  We’re in the process. We WILL transition to a planet beyond fossil fuel burning.  

Mind you there’s a possibility that there just might not be people there to see it.  But if we and lot of the rest of life on this planet are going to survive oil and gas is going to have to go and soon.

But what about the “just” bit of a “just transition”?  Does “just” mean “fair”?  I only ask because it renders my next question into English.  

Fair to whom?  Do we mean fair to our grandchildren and to their grandchildren?  Those who are going to inherit the planet in whatever state we’re going to leave it?  Do we mean fair to those who have spent their lives with little access to the fossil fuel energy that’s destabilising the planet?  The very same people who are often at the sharp end of climate change?  Do we mean fair to all other life forms on the planet?  Or, as it’s usually understood in our corner of the globe, do we mean fair to the workers who currently produce and process the fossil fuels that have kept the lights on in the Global North?  In the sense that oil and gas workers, and the communities in which they live, should not be dumped, as were the miners before them, when the UK transitioned from coal to gas in the 1980s and 90s?

Surely, we mean “fair” in all of the above senses of the word.  But with, I think, an important qualification.  “The transition” is primary.  

Whether it is to be just or not, is entirely subordinate.  No transition to renewables  and the fairness or otherwise, really won’t matter a shit.   

None of this means that I don’t think it matters what happens to oil and gas workers and the communities in which they live.  But I think we should be clear that oil and gas workers and their families are not some sort of special case. The future for their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren will ultimately be bound up with the future of ALL of our grandchildren.  

There’s no special case, no “business as usual” scenario for the North Sea, where the transition doesn’t happen, and where oil and gas workers just keep on keeping on, producing fossil fuels.  And the fairness or otherwise of the “transition” for oil and gas workers is going to be determined in some part by the stand taken by the workforce and their families and communities.

From the standpoint of a roughneck, or a scaffolder, or a caterer on an oil rig on the North Sea, this “business as usual” might well look, pretty damned attractive if you’re hanging on to even a precarious “ad hoc” job, and the alternative is a wage thousands of pounds a year less, and that’s if you could actually get a job ashore or in offshore renewables.  In the same circumstances what would your initial reaction be?  You’d have a bit more of the “business as usual” too, at least till you could plan your exit.

But what has “business as usual” really meant for offshore workers in the UK sector.  Relatively good money!  That’s true.  But it’s been falling real wages and diminishing job security and major layoffs after successive oil price shocks going right back to 1986. You can have spent your whole working life on the North Sea and still be liable to arbitrary dismissal (I can explain the NRB later if anyone here is not familiar with it). And for many, work schedules in the UK sector are as ball bustlingly bad as ever. The boom days were pretty much over by the time Occidental killed 167 workers when they allowed Piper Alpha to blow up.

There are a lot of very good reasons for workers to get off the North Sea and into an industry with a future.   The problem is how,and where, because the Government and the industry, are hanging on, as if to dear life, to a hydrocarbon future.  Where is the clear plan to run down the industry and retrain and redeploy the workers in renewables, using the skills that they already have?  And where is the plan for learning to live with the amount of renewable energy that we can reasonably expect to produce in the crucial near future? Which is what a Government and an industry would be doing if they gave a fuck for the workers, or the planet for that matter.      .  

And then there’s the offshore wind industry, driven by profit. They’ll have studied carefully how the oil companies have tackled decommissioning.  They too would rather pay wage rates that might well allow a decent standard of living in Manilla, but certainly doesn’t cut it in Aberdeen or Middlesbrough or Burntisland.  The workers who used to produce wind towers in Campeltown could tell you all about this.  What we have instead of a plan for a just transition,     is a deal between the Government and the industry to further support hydrocarbon production, to continue with “business as usual”  on the North Sea, subsidised to the hilt by taxpayers’ money. 

The end of oil and gas globally must look like the end of the world to the fossil fuel industry, the bankers who finance it, the traders who parasitise it and the politicians. Hopefully it’ll only be the end of a rotten and corrupt system.

The Government parrots the industry formula about oil and gas production being necessary “for decades to come”.  They call their plan for the North Sea “maximising economic recovery”.  Producing every barrel that they can turn a profit on.  This perverse version of “business as usual” has been written into the UK’s statute books.  

And it begs the question of whether our Government, hosts of COP26, self-anointed global leaders in the fight against climate change,are giving the nod here to maximising economic recovery of ALL oil and gas?      

Globally?                            

I shouldn’t think Vlad the poisoner or the Crown Prince murderer need much encouragement to follow suite.  

Central to the UK plan is one mitigation measure. It’s an expensive, energy guzzling technology that has been stalling for the last three decades,    and which would require a 1000 fold increase in capacity worldwide to begin to address the situation.  It’s called carbon capture and storage (CCS) and it’s linked to so called “blue” hydrogen production.  CCS at scale is not even up and running in one single location in UK. It’s pretty much only commercially viable as a tool for producing even more oil and gas mainly in the States, and only then when oil and gas prices are high.  CCS is beloved of the oil industry and the Government, but is “disappeared” by the media in much the same way as the North Sea itself is largely disappeared in public debate about global heating.              

And the questions that never get asked?

Who’s going to pick up the bill for producing the hydrogen from natural gas and then capture and store this polluting waste product. The oil and gas industry itself?  Not very likely!  They don’t even pay for the oil.  And they’re not going to pay to clean up much of their old hardware on the North Sea when its useful life is over.  

The taxpayer is going to have the privilege of paying for a vast amount of the decommissioning of redundant platforms.

The polluter pays?  Huh!

Putting the cost of hydrogen and carbon capture on top of the cost of production of oil and gas sounds very much like the kind of squeeze on profits that periodic oil price collapses have repeatedly given us. And the oil and gas workers know what happens every time the oil price falls and profits are squeezed.  Investment dries up and the workers get dumped, and if they’re lucky, rehired at lower rates down the line.

If hydrogen and carbon capture and storage is a serious solution to global heating, then we need to know how much more fossil fuels will have to be produced to fuel this energy hungry process and how much carbon will be captured and stored and by whom on what timescale      and at what cost, to whom.  We need urgently to open a conversation with those, and I’m thinking here of the hugely respected climate scientist Myles Allen, who sees the transition led by the oil industry. Which sounds a lot to me like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

Although it’s not the oil workers’ responsibility alone to change this situation, they are first in the firing line, and what they do is going to be decisive in deciding whether the transition is going to be fair or “just” from their point of view.  They can swallow the plan of Government and industry for continued exploration and development of new oil and gas fields. They might gamble that the industry will see them out and fuck the consequences for their grandchildren and the planet.  They might opt for the “business as usual” option that gives them periodic job crashes and diminishing wages and conditions, and very likely future disasters and loss of life, and leaves them negotiating their escape from the industry alone as individuals.  Certainly, the last time any significant section of oil and gas workers took up a struggle was over three decades ago after Occidental dispatched 167 workers on Piper Alpha. 

Back then the official trade union movement completely failed to step up to the challenge.  They were utterly useless, and it took the rank-and-file Offshore Industry Liaison Committee to try and ensure that Piper Alpha would never be repeated. But a quarter of a century later, French oil giant Total did exactly that.  They presided over a complete breakdown of safety offshore, endangering the lives of the 267 men on Elgin and the Rowan Viking in 2012.  Only luck stopped Total blowing up the Elgin complex with all hands onboard.  

The Blowout publication never reported on the Elgin Blowout. That edition coincided with the 25th anniversary of Piper and would have seriously challenged the  “never again” and the “we’ve learned our lesson” mantras.

So, who can predict what lies ahead, and what the workforce might, or might not do?  We’ll no doubt get the measure of the offshore unions’ commitment to fighting climate change when we hear what their response to the proposed new Cambo oilfield West of Shetland will be.  

Yesterday’s Just Transition Coalition Conference featuring the trade unions gave us a bit of a clue.  The unions kept quiet on the issue.

But not one section of society alone is going to turn the climate crisis around. And the offshore worker is no more to blame than anyone else for the crisis, and no more responsible for solving it.  

But if the oil and gas workers are to play a part in securing a just transition for themselves and their communities, they’ll certainly need all the support they can get. 

The environmental movement have the responsibility for making sure that oil and gas workers have access to the science and an understanding of the role that fossil fuels play in global heating. 

Creatives also have a role, maybe even some sort of responsibility here. And indeed this exhibition and related events suggests that this community is awake to oil and gas and its colossal implications locally, and for the planet.  Maybe here in Aberdeen we’ve seen an end to an era, when for almost two decades, BP could sponsor the Grays’ School of Art degree show, drink their champagne in their own cosy enclosure, and with their own invited guests.

While BP were basking in the glow of appreciation from academia and creating a warm and fuzzy image in Aberdeen, they were breaking all the rules on the Deepwater Horizon where they killed 11 men, and in the process trashed the Gulf of Mexico with the world’s worst oil spill?  I’m guessing BP’s paltry sponsorship money didn’t stretch to getting that years photography class from Garthdee over to Louisiana’s beaches. Not that that would have appreciably added to their 65 billion dollar costs that included a 4 billion dollar criminal penalty.

Andy Kennedy, old friend and neighbour, and one time tutor at Gray’s and known to a few of you here today,  told me

Artists are encouraged to practice thinking, questioning, observing and reacting.  It’s what they do.  

He said,

Artists are supposed to upset the apple cart, knock on doors and ask for change

He said a lot of nice things about artists but these are the only bits I understood.Ah!  Some of you do know him I see.

Maybe from here on in we’re likely to see, reflected in the degree show, a much more critical appreciation of the industry that’s dominated Aberdeen for the last 5 decades.  Maybe that’s not how it works.  

But at least creatives should be checking what is being funded by Oil and Gas, what if any hidden strings are attached, and ask themselves just what are the BPs and Shells of this world getting out of sponsorship of the arts.

We all, including the workers, will have to work out where we stand in this existential crisis.  Nobody on this side of the fence is forcing the workers into a corner. It’s the climate crisis itself that’s doing that to all of us.

So, who knows whether the transition is going to be just?  The brightest light in this gloom are the youth inspired by Greta Thunberg.  They include the sons and daughters of oil workers, and they now find themselves on the front line of struggle. It’s their future that’s at stake. They are more likely than anyone to speak truth to the workers and to the industry.

The climate movement, armed by climate science, has a responsibility not to shy away from the very difficult questions posed by the transition for the industry workforce.  The workers need to know the facts about climate change and fossil fuels. The workers and their communities will themselves have to come to terms with what continued hydrocarbon production means.

Maybe climate activists in Aberdeen and the North East          bolstered by the creatives might consider opening their doors    for a couple of days during the COP to activists who will be in Scotland from all over the global south.  

Maybe together we can challenge Shell, Siccar Point, and the Oil and Gas Authority in Aberdeen, and let them know what we think of their Cambo plans.  

Maybe together we can get out to the heliports and into the city and open up a conversation with the oil workers about what would be a “just transition” for everyone, and how that might be achieved.  

Maybe we can set the tone for a global conversation about the future of hydrocarbons.

The transition is already under way.

How “just” it will be is yet to be seen.

Stand with the people of Torry

Thanks to Friends of the Earth Scotland for sharing this call to action from a working class community in Aberdeen. Residents in Torry, just south of Aberdeen, are having their only green space threatened by an oil industry land grab in the name of ‘energy transition’. The group has been campaigning to protect their local park and for a just transition that meaningfully includes local communities. 

The oil industry and Aberdeen City Council are planning to destroy a much-loved greenspace called St Fitticks Park, which lies in the heart of Torry, a community in the south of Aberdeen. The council, together with a consortium of oil companies and Aberdeen Harbour want to dig up the park and build an ‘Energy Transition Zone’. This project now also has funding from the Scottish Government. 

St Fitticks Park is the main greenspace in Torry and is enjoyed by generations of Torry residents, as well as attracting people from outside the community due to its thriving wetland, which is a home to a variety wildlife.

A community group has formed to resist the proposals (The Friends of St Fitticks) and they have various plans to safeguard the future of the park. They support the idea of an energy transition zone in response to the climate emergency, but argue this should be located on vacant industrial land to the south and west of Torry, not on their beloved greenspace.

Unwanted industrial development has been imposed on the people of Torry down the years. In the 1970’s homes were demolished to make way for a harbour expansion to accommodate the new oil industry, but many people living in Torry have seen little economic benefit from an industry that dominates the city. So once again they are fighting one of the most powerful industries in the world. 

On Saturday 28th August, local people will gather in the park for St Fitticks day. We need to show that the community has wider support and help them to get their message heard. Please show your solidarity with the people of Torry, by either:

A) Taking a photo with ’Save Saint Fitticks Park’ placards (on your own or with your group) in your local green space and posting on social media with #HandsOffStFitticks

B) Share the graphic on social media with #HandsOffStFitticks

You can read more about the local struggle on the Friends of the Earth Scotland website.

#HandsOffStFitticks

Climate Change and Conflict

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

Here are his notes:

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

Australia

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

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

Conflict not only kills people but is also carbon intensive

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

General Election

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

Locusts

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

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

Technical solutions already exist

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

The Green New Deal:

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

An expanded workforce

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

Importance of Government

The role of government as an enabler is crucial:

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

Importance of Government intervention

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

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

Above all intergovernmental cooperation is required

Situation now

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

What holds us back – the importance of understanding the UK

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

Barriers

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

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

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

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

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

Legacy of Empire – UK’s nuclear weapons

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

497px-Trident_II_missile_image

Trident II Missile CC0 Image from Wikimedia Commons

UK is bonded to the US

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

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

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

Enormous societal assets

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

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

Most comparable states do not have this baggage of empire

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

Reasons to hope

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

We must lobby politicians who come in different types:

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

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

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

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

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

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