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

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

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

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

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

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has to be a time and it has to come very soon when the licence society gives the industry to produce fossil fuels is withdrawn.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate justice, climate jobs and the military industrial complex

This is the slightly expanded text of a contribution that Pete Cannell (speaking for Scot.E3) made to a meeting organised by the global climate jobs network at the COP26 people’s summit.

Scotland is well placed to make a rapid transition to a zero-carbon economy.  It is well endowed with natural resources for wind, wave, tidal and hydro power generation.  Hydro power was developed in the 1950’s and sixties, more recently there has been some further development of local, small-scale hydro.  Offshore and onshore wind power has developed rapidly, wave and tidal has seen very little investment.  But Scotland also has a relatively strong representation of engineering skills among its workforces.  These workers have skills in electrical, marine engineering, fabrication and so on – skills that are needed for the transition to a zero-carbon economy that needs to begin right now.

Most of these workers are currently employed in either the Oil and Gas sector or ‘Defence’.  Sectors which are significantly larger as a proportion of the Scottish economy than they are of the UK as a whole. 

The current state of play with climate jobs is disastrous.  The policy of leaving transition to the market has resulted in declining numbers of jobs in renewables.  We’ve written about the closure of facilities at BiFab and Machrihanish elsewhere on this site.  At the same time there have been massive job losses in the North Sea and a long-term decline in engineering jobs in the defence sector.  While there has been a massive increase in offshore wind generation the private sector has driven down wages and conditions, used low paid workers from around the world, shifted production to sites thousands of miles away and focused on profit maximisation rather than just transition.

There’s a lot more we could say about oil and gas but in the context of the other talks at this meeting we want to focus now on the arms trade.  Britain is one of the biggest arms manufacturers in the world and Scotland has a disproportionately large share of this activity.  It has been excellent that during this mobilisation around COP26 there has been a lot of discussion of the huge carbon emissions of the military.  

Defence Imagery CC BY-NC 2.0

In Scot.E3 we’ve argued for the need to go further – the military industrial complex in Scotland (and globally) acts as a barrier to transition.  It thrives on public subsidy – far more than that provided for renewables.  This is a characteristic it shares with the oil and gas sector. It distorts the economy, it’s secretive and hugely corrupt, dominates research agendas and monopolises skills and resources that should be directed to saving the planet.

We look forward to a day when the commitment and imagination of young people currently in school can be deployed to develop the kind of sustainable and socially just society that we are fighting for.  But time is short, and we need to start the transition now with the skills and knowledge that are already available. To achieve climate justice and win the climate jobs we need it’s going to be necessary to force a radical shift of resources away from the defence sector as well as from oil and gas.