On November 16th, 2017, hundreds of workers at the BiFab fabrication yards in Fife marched down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile towards the Scottish Parliament in a magnificent show of determination to save their jobs. Three years on, and despite nearly £54 million investment from the Scottish Government, the hope raised on that day lies in tatters. BiFab could have been a milestone on the path to a zero-carbon economy. Instead, it stands as a warning that should not be ignored.
In this post I tell the story of BiFab and argue for the importance of a radically different approach.
BiFab was founded in Fife in 2001. Initially based at Burntisland, it expanded to take over the huge construction yard just up the coast at Methil and the Arnish yard on the Isle of Lewis. The company played a significant part in fabricating platforms for the development of the west of Shetland oil and gas fields. As demand declined it began manufacturing jackets for offshore wind installations.
In 2016 the company won a £100 million order to manufacture jackets for the Beatrice windfarm in the Moray Firth. The November 2017 crisis was sparked by cash flow problems linked to this contract. At this point the company employed around 1400 workers, although notably 1200 of these were on agency contacts rather than direct employees. All these jobs were at risk.
BiFab workers responded by occupying the yards, ensuring that no valuable equipment could be removed, and, on the 16th November, they marched on the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government stepped in, providing a £15 million loan that ensured that the firm avoided going into administration. The occupations ended and work on the jackets for Beatrice resumed. But the relief was short lived. The Beatrice contract was nearly complete, there was nothing else in the order book, and agency contracts were just not renewed. The workforce was scattered to the winds.
In April 2018 the Scottish Government brokered a take over of the company. The new owners were DF Barnes, a subsidiary of the Edmonton based Canadian company DV Driver. The Herald on Sunday has recently revealed that DV Driver obtained ownership for £1. The Government retained a minority stake.
Since the takeover, opportunities to build jackets for major new North Sea windfarms have been up for grabs. One of these, ‘Neart na Gaoithe’, is just a few miles off the Fife coast from the BiFab yard at Methil. Another, Seagreen, which, when complete, will be the biggest in Scottish waters, is just a bit further north, off the coast of Angus. But contracts have gone to overseas yards in Spain, Indonesia, the UAE and China.
So, despite a Scottish Government investment that may reach £52.4 million, BiFab is close to total collapse. The Scottish and UK Governments argue that despite, or because, of their stake in the firm, European competition rules made it impossible for them to guarantee the BiFab bids.
‘In a legal opinion for the GMB and Unite trade unions, Lord Davidson has described the Scottish Government’s reasoning as “remarkable”, given the looming end of the Brexit transition period and suggested Scottish ministers could have deferred any decision until after Brexit on December 31.’
This legal view is clearly true; however, focusing on interpretations of the law misses much more important issues. The Scottish Government is firmly wedded to the idea that the transition to a zero-carbon economy can be carried through by private enterprise. BiFab is just one of many examples of how this approach fails. Bids are allocated primarily on price and when the ‘cheapest’ bidder is located on the other side of the world that’s the one that’s chosen. The fact that this results in massive carbon emissions as jackets are shipped to the coast of Scotland isn’t factored in. Equally important the bidding system favours international companies that operate on a world stage and take no responsibility for joined up planning of transition in the local economies from which they profit.
To achieve zero carbon, we need much shorter supply chains, so that construction, energy generation and consumption are brought much closer together. Demanding that the manufacture of jackets and wind turbines takes place in Scotland is not about putting Scottish workers first but a necessity for the rational use of resources. Different locations offer different combinations of renewable energy resources, but sustainable energy production is necessary everywhere. Tackling the climate crisis requires local and global perspectives. Climate jobs are needed in every part of the world. It’s important to stress that while construction and energy production should be as local as possible – international solidarity requires that knowledge should be shared freely and that financial and material support is provided to countries in the global south. This of course is the opposite of what happens now as new innovations are locked into commercial patents.
Leaving transition to the market relies on the expectation that multiple independent decisions made by individual companies on the basis of maximising profit will achieve the goal of a zero-carbon economy. It’s an incredibly inefficient approach. Consider wind, a resource that’s abundant in Scotland. There has been a rapid growth in offshore wind powered electricity generation but at the same time the numbers working in renewables in Scotland has fallen, reducing local skills and knowledge and impacting on local economies. A partial transition but one that has been inherently unjust, and which puts obstacles in the path of the full transition that we need.
For the sake of the climate that our children will inherit and for the lives and livelihoods of the present generation there’s a pressing need for trade unionists and climate activists to campaign together for a new approach that integrates social justice with real, immediate practical actions to tackle the climate crisis. This means:
Systematic planning at local and national levels to plan a rapid transition to zero carbon.
Large scale public investment in new democratically controlled public enterprises to implement these plans.
These demands may seem a long way off. But we’ve seen during the pandemic that, when there’s political will, things that would have been considered impossible become possible. Old laws are thrown out and new laws are written. We’ve also seen how in the face of a crisis public systems deliver and private companies rake in profits and fail.
The first and immediate step should be an emergency action plan that takes the BiFab yards into public ownership, reemploys the workforce and puts the skills and knowledge of the workers at the heart of a sustained commitment to develop the yards as hubs for the engineering initiatives that are essential to a worker led just transition.
Yesterday saw the publication of ‘Towards a robust, resilient wellbeing economy for Scotland’. The report was written by the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery with a remit to make recommendations to the Scottish Government. As Ben Wray notes in today’s edition of Source Direct the report is strong on buzzwords but devoid of real urgency and concrete proposals. The end of this week is also the deadline for submissions to the Just Transition Commission. As a contribution to this debate we publish the near final draft of Scot.E3’s submission, which makes the case for radical and immediate action on the climate crisis.
There has been a yawning gap between the Scottish Government’s rhetoric on the climate crisis and its actions. Vaunted cuts in domestic greenhouse gas emissions are almost entirely attributable to the greening of electricity production and the export of emissions as a result of deindustrialization. To date the Scottish Government’s actions have failed to measure up to the urgency of the crisis.
However, the impact of Covid19 on society and the economy provides an opportunity to take decisive action. Job losses in the North Sea oil and gas sector, as a result of the impact on oil and gas prices, are already significant and are increasing rapidly. There have been layoffs before , however, this time round many analysts are predicting that the sector is unlikely to bounce back. These redundancies will have a direct additional effect on employment in the supply chain and an indirect effect on local economies, particularly in North East Scotland. The North Sea is only part of a much larger employment crisis in Scotland that includes tourism, some sectors of manufacturing, education and retail.
The economic and social dislocation of Covid19 is having a massive impact on the lives and livelihoods of working people in Scotland and across the world. Attempting to reset the economy to its pre-pandemic state at a time of climate crisis is madness. Millions of working people will bear the brunt of hardship, unemployment, sickness, stress and anxiety, and precious time to act on a Just Transition to a new sustainable economy will be lost.
The time to act is now
Many of those being made redundant in Scotland, oil and gas workers, engineers at Rolls Royce, have skills and experience that are needed to develop a new sustainable economy. They represent a precious resource. Yet if climate action is deferred, their knowledge and skills will be lost. Meanwhile, those who have lost their jobs, together with their families, and communities will have repeated the experience of mining communities in the 1980s. If these workers are not supported now it will be so much harder to win the case that Just Transition is possible.
Around the world responses to Covid19 have demonstrated that rapid action and mobilisation of human and material resources by governments is possible at a time of crisis. We suggest that the Commission recommends that the Scottish Government should learn from international responses to the pandemic and tackle the Climate Crisis and ‘recovery’ from the pandemic with the same urgency.
Public information on the nature of the crisis and the policies being adopted will be crucial in winning hearts and minds. But Just Transition has to go beyond rhetoric – people will not be convinced unless there is clear evidence at every stage that Just Transition is underpinned by actions that have social justice at their heart. But it should also be based on the premise that while the crisis is global, Scotland has a significant role to play. We are a country rich in sustainable energy resources. We have workers with exceptional skills and experience. We have a historic obligation as part of a British state that contributed massively to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last two centuries.
Establish a Scottish Climate Service
The JCT Interim report noted that climate action needs to be planned, systemic and coordinated across the whole of the country. The private sector simply can’t do this, the public sector can. However, planning requires appropriate infrastructure. One component of this, the National Investment Bank, is in place – but its role needs to be much expanded. The mooted State Energy Company, as another supplier in the energy marketplace is inadequate. It should be replaced by a vertically integrated, publicly run organization that is involved in every aspect of energy; generation, distribution and supply. The third necessary component is integrated research, education and training, planning, monitoring and evaluation. Scotland has rich potential in this respect. The knowledge and creativity from Universities and Colleges, think tanks like Common Weal, unions, workers, communities and climate activists can contribute to a democratic, open and coordinated planning process. All three components might be seen as part of a Scottish Climate Service.It is perfectly possible to initiate effective action to reduce carbon emissions now. We have the scientific knowledge and technical expertise. A great deal of work has already been done on the steps that can be taken immediately. Our Common Home – Common Weal’s costed blueprint for a Green New Deal for Scotland – is an example. There will be need for debate and development of the details. Critically investment should be into technology that exists and that provides solutions that are effective now. New and unproven technologies like CCS should have a low priority (reversing what seems to be current practice).
Core principles that should underpin recommendations to the Scottish Government
End support for maximum economic extraction from the North Sea and begin a managed and rapid phase out of North Sea Oil and Gas through public control of oil and gas production and processing
Take INEOS’s Grangemouth facilities into public control
Support the workers who are losing their jobs in the North Sea with guaranteed income and fully funded support for retraining
Planning, action and investment for Just Transition should start now – establish a Scottish Climate Service
Ensure that social justice is at the heart of transition. Social justice requires the protection of lives and livelihoods, working with BAME communities to end environmental racism, the creation of a gender equal economy and a focus on further improvement of air pollution in our cities
Democracy and accountability – involve energy sector workers, climate activists, workers and communities in the process of building the new sustainable Scottish economy
Creation of 100,000+ climate jobs – these are jobs that ensure reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (energy, transport, housing, home insulation, a new smart grid …) and jobs that are neutral with respect to emissions but contribute to health and well-being (care, health, education, recreation, nature conservation, local food production)
Ensure the safety of workers in all industries – no one should be penalized for refusing to put themselves in an unsafe working environment
A massive expansion in opportunities for education and training in all of the disciplines and skills required for transition – keep full time education free and make part-time education opportunities free for all
Public control over an expanded and integrated free public transport system
Comments on this submission are very welcome as are reactions to the Advisory Group report. Use the contact tab to get in touch.
Matthew Crighton continues the discussion on organising at a time of pandemic. You can check out earlier contributions here, here, here and here.
The Covid19 crisis and climate change have in common not only that they are both deadly but also that we know that they can both be tackled. The reasons that each has become a massive crisis is that they have been exacerbated by the neo-liberal economic system, by the weakening of health systems and social protection, and by the lack of capacity, globally and nationally, to manage the economy so that it protects us and meets our needs.
To solve both of them and to put us on a safe trajectory into the future, we need a radically different approach – publicly-driven, pro-people and pro-nature, collective and egalitarian. Broad and strong mobilisations leading to decisive shifts in power away from the corporations and their political allies are required to ensure that, drawing in the diverse popular movements with a stake in this alternative.
These struggles are inter-linked. So climate change activists ought to be engaged now in the politics and economics of the coronavirus, and practical solidarity actions which it necessitates.
The essential messages are the same including:
Save lives! Take immediate urgent measures to stop the avoidable death, illness and suffering which will arise if we don’t act.
Collective actions for our shared needs must displace the pursuit of private profits. Public institutions must be strengthened and resourced.
In crises the powerful will seek to protect and consolidate their grip on power. Only mass organisation, vigilance and democratic accountability can prevent that and ensure change for the better.
Inequalities will increase unless strong and determined actions are taken to reverse that. Our actions must protect and empower the vulnerable and make the rich pay most.
We can build back better and merge our ideas about just transition into campaigns for a just recovery. It’s not in doubt now that radical public interventions in the economy are possible, in this case to reduce transmission of the virus, to boost public health systems, to support workers affected, and to sustain otherwise vulnerable companies. Only governments have these powers and they can and should be used to rapidly cut emissions as well. All support for private companies should include conditions that they should create forward plans for a just transition; and just transition approaches to redeploying and training of workers from one sector to another should be applied in the current crisis.
As it moves towards an end, the reconstruction of a new normal for economic activity should integrate health, wellbeing, climate change and environmental objectives at its core. We need work on a new economic strategy for that to start now.
THE SAME PRINCIPLES APPLY
We are all bewildered by the rapidity and scale of the Covid 19 crisis and most climate justice campaigners are juggling with reactions which can appear to pull in different directions. These include: this has knocked other issues from the attention they need – if only climate change had been treated as seriously – solving Covid will give us tools for stopping climate change – at least emissions are falling if only temporarily and at massive human cost – the same groups of people are at risk from both.
Thinking clearly about the similarities and differences will help fit these all into a perspective which can in turn help us to orientate to the political and campaigning challenges ahead. Here’s my first effort, with some concluding thoughts specifically about implications for work on sustainable economics.
These are very different problems. One is a disease – a medical problem with associated public health problems related in particular to the rate at which it can spread in urban societies. The other is at its heart an economic problem, an externality – an unintended, unanticipated, uncosted and initially unnoticed consequence of economic activity. In free markets, no costs are attributable to anyone responsible, even though the costs to society and nature are enormous.
Accordingly there are few intrinsic synergies between the two crises. Solving one has no necessary relation to solving the other. For example an end to Covid 19 through rapid creation and deployment of a vaccine will leave greenhouse emissions untouched, or rather bouncing back to previous levels. Equally a clear and rapid downward trajectory of emissions will bring no benefit to those dying from the virus, nor to the medics treating them. The timescales and the degrees of threat are also contrasting. Climate change threatens civilisation and therefore the lives of billions, in the fairly long term by the destruction of liveability and agriculture in much of the earth; and in the shorter term through disease, drought, flooding and wars, probably involving nuclear powers, driven by escalating resource competition. Unless it mutates badly, the virus will only kill a fraction of any human population but it could do that in a few years.
However the connection between the two crises is not just that efforts to solve one may distract from the other. We sense that there are lots of similarities and perhaps we have tried out the idea that they have common roots in a dysfunctional relationship between nature and humanity. Maybe, but perhaps that’s really just tautologous – restating as a generalisation that they both cause illness and death and both involve natural processes which we don’t have ways of controlling. (However I recognise that there is an argument that they are fundamentally connected – that Covid 19 would not have infected humans without the effects of globalised economic expansion on marginal agricultural communities and the pressure on wildlife from habitat extinction, even though viruses do transfer between species naturally. This could mean that it also could be portrayed as an externality of similar economic processes, though in my mind that is a stretch. Another true point is that climate change will make more pandemics more likely).
While both are instances where the interaction between the scientific community and politics is in the spotlight, it’s not in the natural sciences where we should look for similarities but in the social, economic and political spheres. There, I think we will see that the contradiction is not between nature and humanity per se, but between nature and humanity on the one hand and, on the other, the particular dominant way of organising economy and society – neo-liberal capitalism.
Firstly, equity and inequality: the impact of both Covid19 and climate change are universal in the sense that anyone may be victims, but both tend to fall most on particular sections of the population, disproportionately on those who suffer other disadvantages. People in poverty are more likely to have poor health and to be badly affected by COVID (think for instance of rough sleepers) and citizens of poor countries with limited health services will be much more likely to die. In a similar but not identical way, the impacts of climate change are mediated by social oppressions and global inequalities. A rich person can get the virus, or their house may be burnt by a wildfire, over all it is the poor and oppressed who will suffer most. Social inequalities kill, in both cases.
Secondly, the economy: both cause economic dislocation. That caused by climate change is slow and long term and if unchecked it will be massive, resulting in breakdown of the economic life support systems of many – for example through drought and starvation or flooding of coastal settlements. In the short term the consequences of climate change are more about the value of financial assets in specific sectors; and on specific countries and geographical areas. COVID 19 is having some similar effects, in an immediate and dramatic way. However, mostly it is not the illness which is having them but the measures being taken to prevent its spread.
It is when we get to think about these, the policy responses and the solutions, that we start to see really big connections between these two crises. At root, both require that the economy, and social conduct, is managed in order to achieve shared human purposes – prevention of a pandemic disease or stopping catastrophic global warming. Economic policy in capitalist countries, however, has as its formal purposes achieving economic objectives (though some might say that its real purpose is continuing a regime of accumulation which benefits the already rich).
These are both crises which need urgent solutions but which free markets cannot solve. They require decisive and forceful action by the state. Conversely the pro-market, neo-liberal consensus has contributed to making both of these crises worse in various ways (for instance the massive growth in cheap air travel). Austerity has weakened the capacity of our institutions and infrastructure to respond (for instance the stripping of the NHS to the bare minimum for regular, expected peak demand). The recognition that markets need to be constrained and that collective action and public agency are vital has de facto dispelled neo-liberal prescriptions.
We have been developing the tools, measures, policies which are needed to prevent greenhouse gas emissions and when we look at Covid 19 we find that we need them for that too, whether in preventing its spread or dealing with the economic consequences – again, not in identical ways. For each of the measures needed for a just transition to net-zero emissions listed below (in no special order) we can compare the way they need to be applied for the Covid19 crisis:-
Economic management and regulation, general and sectorally specific
Restrictions on the rights of private owners
Bail outs, conditionality and extension of public ownership
Investment planning and direction of production in specific sectors
Social protections (unemployment benefit, pensions etc)
Redeployment, training and other labour market measures
Planning and long-termism
Regional and local responsibilities
Community organising and service delivery
Behaviour and consumption changes
(There are other tools used against Covid 19 of course – most notably social distancing, public health systems, digital surveillance – see annex).
It’s not just the policy tools, it’s how they are done.
National governments are the key agents of a pro-public response – only they have the capacity to overrule the decisions and desires of companies and individuals in order to impose measures which can limit and end these crises. Each nation, in its own political system, has its way of balancing consent and coercion and deriving the authority for the state to act in these ways. Between and within states there are right wing and left wing solutions (and ones in between) – this is a tension between ones which won’t be effective and will exacerbate social problems and existing inequalities – and ours, which will actually work and bring wider benefits.
However no national government on its own can solve these crises. Effective global governance is vital – we need institutions which can constrain global capital and ensure solutions are applied across the world. It is obvious that neo-liberalism has weakened these institutions and empowered corporations and profit seeking instead. In particular mechanisms for achieving a fair distribution of pain and gain between rich and poor, and rich and poor countries, have been fatally undermined.
To legitimate this, and to weaken the alternatives when the failures of globalisation and neo-liberal crisis management become apparent, xenophobic ideologies and the racist narratives of the right have been fostered. A focus on justice and combatting oppressions conversely has to be built in to our approach to both climate change and to Covid19.
In the face of hesitant, inadequate and incompetent response to Covid 19 from governments, in particular in the UK and USA, political campaigns and workplace organisation have been essential to insist on action to protect both the population and the workforce. Similarly, we have learnt from bitter experience that those same governments are failing to protect us from the consequences of climate change. We will only be protected if we have developed the power to insist on it, so democracy, scrutiny, movement building and populare mobilisations are essential – we need to force the existing system to deliver real solutions; and in doing so, to change that system.
The strength to do that will depend on seeing that these struggles are inter-linked – success in one can strengthen the likelihood of success in others. Workers, health, environment, social justice, liberation/anti-oppression are up against the same enemies. The strength of each helps the other.
Core Messages about both Covid 19 and climate change
The Covid 19 crisis is about mortality and illness, which is why people are prepared to accept such draconian measures against it. It is preventable, in the short term by lockdown, testing and tracing and effective health systems; in the long term by treatments and vaccines. It has arisen in the context of reckless exploitation of our environment and has been fostered and enhanced by neo-liberal capitalism. The most vulnerable and poorest are likely to be hit hardest- in our communities and across the world.
Each of these things is true of climate change too. It kills people, it is preventable and it is rooted in economic and social structures which put short-term profit above collective human needs.
So, many who care about climate change care equally about preventing the Covid 19 crisis from escalating and about ensuring that actions to stop it don’t make injustice and inequalities worse. Instead they want them to create a much stronger foundation for the solutions to both climate change and future pandemics. In political terms, this also suggests that they ought to become actively engaged in the immediate arguments and struggles about the virus and the responses to it.
Just as the solutions which we need to climate change are vital parts of the armoury we have to deploy against Covid 19 and its consequences, most of the measures which we need to take now are also required to stop greenhouse gas emissions. The essential messages are the same:
Save lives! Take immediate urgent measures to stop the avoidable death, illness and suffering which will arise if we don’t act.
Collective actions for shared needs must displace the pursuit of private profits. Public institutions must be strengthened and resourced.
Inequalities will increase unless strong and determined actions are taken to reverse that. Our actions must protect and empower the vulnerable and make the rich pay most.
In crises the powerful will seek to protect and consolidate their grip on power. Only mass organisation, vigilance and democratic accountability can prevent and reverse that.
Xenophobic, racist and reactionary ideologies which seek to blame and weaken other communities strengthen the elites and weaken our capacity to deal with these crises.
The workers most affected must be protected from danger, their voices must be heard and their actions supported. The principles of just transition can be applied to the management of any planned changes, not just decarbonisation.
Economic powers must be used to protect the wellbeing of the people. Support for businesses must ensure that the benefits are transmitted to workers and customers and tight conditions must reduce harmful impacts on our environment.
Tackle the crisis globally! We are dependent on each other for our health so governments must cooperate and create institutions which can ensure funding, delivery and oversight of solutions across the world.
The poorest countries and their poorest peoples will suffer most so rich countries must direct large-scale funding and support to them.
Build back better! The ways in which we act will determine whether we are in a stronger or weaker position to deal with ongoing and future crises.
The way in which a government deals with a crisis is likely to be the way in which it comes out of it. It not only affects how effective it will be but also all the other outcomes, for instance whether the society which emerges is more or less equal. It is vital, therefore, that we are stronger and better equipped to deal with the climate change crisis as a result of the massive efforts and sacrifices made to stop the Covid 19 pandemic.
The inescapable conclusion from this is that climate change activists ought to be engaged now in the politics, economics and practical solidarity actions of the coronavirus.
Some conclusions about campaigning
At the moment there is almost no news except coronavirus. Quite rightly people and journalists are giving full attention to this extraordinary crisis and the measures being deployed to tackle it; and to the economic questions.
In the debates about what the measures should be and how they should be implemented, our voice is unlikely to be heard, in large part because we don’t have anything to say about these which is specifically within our remit (or do we? ‘look after what keeps us healthy and that requires a healthy environment’ might work).
On economic questions we have a bit more to say because we identify that the way in which the economy develops and is managed is central to achieving our objectives regarding climate change and biodiversity. We have a unique contribution to make as part of the broad movement advocating for different objectives and policies.
While health-related measures and the economic response are to the fore at present, in parallel everyone will start thinking about more general issues as well, to differing degrees. These include questions like Why did this happen? What went wrong? Who might be blamed? What should be done differently from now on? On these we have a lot to contribute from our decades of experience of thinking about these questions in relation to climate change.
My conclusion from the discussion above is that our overall approach should be:
Covid19 and climate change have different roots but they have in common not only that they are both deadly but also that we know that they can both be tackled. The reasons that each has become a massive crisis is that they have been exacerbated by the neo-liberal economic system, by the weakening of health systems and social protection and by the lack of global and national capacity to manage the economy so that it protects us and meets our needs. To solve either or both of them and to put us on a safe trajectory into the future, we need a radically different approach – publicly-driven, pro-people and pro-nature, collective and egalitarian. Broad and strong popular mobilisations leading to decisive shifts in power away from the corporations and their political allies are required to ensure that, drawing in diverse popular movements with a stake in this alternative. We have a powerful and unique contribution to put alongside those of other allies; and we want to support them and learn from them in their struggles for protection of workers, care for the vulnerable, public health etc.
We should avoid saying that the Covid19 virus is helping fight climate change, even though emissions are falling, because it suggests that a) we think they are directly connected somehow and b) that high mortality and economic crisis are necessary parts of the solution to climate change.
We should try saying: Climate change will make similar disasters more likely and is already on course to cause similar levels of harm. Why do all this to stop a virus pandemic without using the same tools to also stop greenhouse gas emissions?
Implications for alternative sustainable economics
In relation to economics work and just transition, the key links with the response to Covid 19 are:
radical public/state interventions in the economy are possible and effective, in this case to reduce transmission of the virus, to boost public health systems, to support workers affected, to sustain otherwise vulnerable companies;
only governments have these powers and they can and should be used to rapidly cut emissions as well;
the terms of support for private companies should include conditions that they should create forward plans for a just transition;
just transition approaches to redeploying and training of workers from one sector to another should be used and developed in the current crisis;
social protections for the workforce should be improved permanently to make such shifts easier in the future;
as and when the Covid 19 crisis moves towards an end, the reconstruction of a new normal for economic activity should integrate health, wellbeing, climate change and environmental objectives at its core. We need work on a new economic strategy for that to start now.
in the longer run, it is likely that the Covid 19 crisis will lead to re-balancing of the offshoring of production in favour of greater self-sufficiency, complementing the requirements for creating local employment and a just transition;
the experiences of this episode should be instructive for how we promote circular economies, de-coupling and de-growth.
Author: Matthew Crighton
Covid 19 campaigns and messages
Prevent avoidable deaths –
Immediately: through lockdown, testing, tracing and quality universal health and social care.
Restrict intra-national and international travel
Defend the disadvantaged and vulnerable (and all communities with greater vulnerability)
Protect frontline workers with PPE
Support union actions and community solidarity
Invest in health systems
Strengthen and empower public services
Convert industry to make health equipment
Protect and support poor countries
Create drug treatments
Make them universally available
Global governance to ensure funding, delivery and oversight
Protect people economically – incomes, food, rent, bills
Ensure supplies of necessities
Bail out private companies with the right conditions – prevent profiteering, extend public ownership
Address inequalities- share the pain fairly – tax the rich
Resist restrictions on liberties
Build an economy which won’t repeat these mistakes
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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!
Following actions in Dundee (see video) and at First Ministers Questions Glasgow XR held a well attended meeting on the 25th January. The meeting began with contributions from XR activists, Friends of the Earth Scotland and ScotE3, before breaking into discussion groups. The remainder of the post reproduces the text of the ScotE3 contribution in which we shared some thoughts on strategies for achieving a just transition to a zero carbon economy.
ScotE3 campaigns for the importance of climate jobs. Jobs that are critical to the economic transformation that is needed to prevent a climate catastrophe. In Scotland 100,000 of these jobs are needed . However, to date we are not doing well. According to the Office of National Statistics the UK’s green economy has shrunk since 2014. The number of people employed has declined as has the number of green businesses. This is true UK wide and in Scotland. It’s no wonder that some representatives of unions that organise workers in the hydrocarbon sector pour scorn on talk of a just transition.
The Sea Change report makes it clear that unless we phase out North Sea Oil and Gas the UK will produce far more green house gas emissions than is compatible with restricting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. But we have a huge challenge; the big energy companies are still committed to maximising extraction of oil and gas and so are the Holyrood and Westminster governments. Just a year ago when the discovery of new oil and gas reserves east of Aberdeen was announced energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse highlighted,
the significant potential for oil and gas which still exists beneath Scotland’s waters.
Scotland’s offshore oil and gas industry has an important role to play with up to 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent remaining under the North Sea and in the wider basin and discoveries such as this help to support security of supply as we make the transition to a low carbon energy system.
Just this week the Africa summit in London ended with the Westminster Government pledging £2 billion to projects concerned with fossil fuel extraction.
From the outset North Sea has been a bonanza for the oil companies. Nigel Lawson, now a prominent climate change denier, was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1986 and said then
the whole outstanding success of the North Sea is based on the fact that it is the freest petroleum province in the world
He meant of course almost complete freedom for the oil companies – few if any benefits accrued to society as a whole and even centres of the industry like Aberdeen were then, and remain, centres of acute inequality.
So we need a rapid phasing out of North sea Oil and Gas. How can we overcome the powerful vested interests that oppose this and at the same time protect the lives and livelihoods of the workers in the industry. Theer is no evidence that the private sector can lead such a transition. The public sector has to take the initiative – and in Scotland that means a much more ambitious role for a state energy company and the new national investment bank. However, for this to happen we need a powerful movement of movements that has deep roots throughout Scotland.
To grow the movement and force the pace of change clarity of ideas is essential. We don’t have all the answers but the core issues around climate jobs and just transition are clear. So we need to patiently and persistently explain why hydrocarbons need to stay in the ground, why we need zero carbon, why the counter proposals from the industry are a dangerous diversion and how a just transition would have a positive impact on working people.
Reaching the audience we need goes hand in hand with maximising pressure on the energy corporations and local and national government. Much of this will be through all kinds of direct action. There have been some brilliant examples already but we need much more.
Direct action is necessary but not enough. The power to force a transition can only come from a mass movement and to build the movement we need to win hearts and minds. This means reaching out into unions, communities and community organisations with a vision of just transition that goes beyond simply defending existing jobs and embraces practical steps that have direct and understandable benefits for working class people across Scotland and beyond. We need win people to a positive vision of transition, but more than that we need to win them to be active agents in the transition: part of a movement of rebels, not just on the streets, but in workplaces and communities. So as we plan actions we always need to think about how to reach new audiences – through stalls, street leafleting, public and workplace meetings and patient door to door leafleting debate and discussion. It may be that some of those who work in the industry will be the last to be convinced (although that’s not inevitable – our opponents are the same corporations that drive down their wages and conditions and play fast and loose with health and safety). But if they are unconvinced we need to aim for a situation where climate justice is common sense to millions and where the people that oil workers meet in the pub, out shopping, their kids and relatives, are all won to the need for transition.
With the COP being held in Glasgow this year we have a huge opportunity to build outwards and take a massive step forward in creating a campaign for transition that is unstoppable.
The final speaker session of the ScotE3 conference on 16th November will see Jonathon Shafi from Common Weal talking about their new campaign for a Green New Deal for Scotland – Our Common Home
You can register for the conference on Eventbrite or simply register on the day at St Ninian’s Hall, Greyfriars Charteris Centre, 138/140 Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9RR. Doors open at 9.30am and the conference starts at 10am.
This quote from the Million Climate Jobs Pamphlet explains the critical importance of these jobs to the transition to a zero carbon economy.
’Climate Jobs’ are not the same as ‘green jobs’. Some green jobs help the climate, but ‘green jobs’ can mean anything – park rangers, bird wardens, pollution control, or refuse workers. All these jobs are necessary, but they do not stop climate change.
Climate Jobs are jobs that lead directly to cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases, and so slow down climate change. For instance, workers who build wind farms replace power stations that burn coal or oil. Workers who insulate buildings reduce the oil and gas we burn. Bus drivers reduce the amount of oil we burn in cars.
In order to ensure that we have the right level of support on the day of the ScotE3 conference we are not able to take creche bookings after 5pm on Wednesday 13th. If you want to book a creche place please email email@example.com before then.
This autumn a number of peace organisations have joined up with Extinction Rebellion to organise around XR Peace. The London October rebellion included a number of actions highlighting the links between war and the environment. XR Peace has focused on the massive carbon footprint of the military, the environmental devastation cause by war and social and economic upheavals as a result of climate change as a cause of conflict.
In the discussions that we have been involved in throughout the year other reasons for including arms and ‘defence’ divestment in our strategy have emerged. The first is very pragmatic. There is a pressing need to switch from energy systems that produce green house gases (carbon emissions) to zero carbon technologies. These technologies exist and it perfectly possible to implement them. But to make the transition at the speed that is required requires the skills and labour of a large number of engineers, electricians and other specialists. Most of these jobs will have to be done by people already in the workforce. Some of them work in oil and gas and as these carbon-based sources of energy are phased out they can be redeployed in the new renewable industries. But there are not enough people in oil and gas – we also need the skills of those currently employed in the military industrial complex. Shifting from arms to renewables is morally right but it’s also an economic imperative if we want to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Image: Pete Cannell CC0
There are of course other economic reasons too. Levels of investment and state support for the arms trade and for the military are huge. Our economies are distorted by the privileged position that the major arms companies (along with the big energy corporations) occupy. These privileges go hand in glove with eye watering levels of corruption and huge levels of corporate lobbying with a revolving door through which politicians and executives continually move and switch roles. It’s these relationships which actively oppose realistic attempts to take action over climate and as a movement we need to demand that state support and investment ends, lobbying stops and arrangements are put in place for a rapid shift to sustainable and ethical employment for those who work in these industries. These demands have a particular resonance in Scotland where the Trident nuclear system and arms manufacturing have had a disproportionate impact on our economy.