There is a growing network of campaigns for a Green New Deal in the United States. This is an example from a newly established campaign in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. They are keen to get feedback from the wider network in the US and internationally.
Boris Johnson’s ten point plan has received largely uncritical responses from the main stream media. We’re pleased to repost here the Campaign Against Climate Change’s ten point response. We welcome other contributions that develop or extend this critique.
We’ve had the big announcement: Boris Johnson’s ten point plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. But following initial positive headlines, the details start trickling out. £12 billion was announced, but just £3 billion, it emerges, is new money. This is paltry. Other countries have already made much larger commitments, including Germany’s green stimulus of over €40bn and France around €35bn.
Most importantly, how does it stack up compared to the scale of the task facing us? Two years on from the IPCC’s ground-breaking report calling for an urgent transformation of the global economy to stay within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, global emissions are still (excluding the limited impact of the pandemic) on an upward trend. As temperatures continue to rise, sea level rise is accelerating as polar ice melts. And in the background a steady stream of records broken for ‘natural’ disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, hitting the poorest hardest.
The UK’s carbon budgets reflect out of date targets, an 80% cut in emissions by 2050. Previous policy failure means we are nowhere near on track to even stay within these deficient targets. This latest set of announcements is therefore doubly inadequate. It leaves a major hole in meeting even these out of date commitments. However we don’t just need to close that gap. Last year the government set a new climate commitment of ‘net-zero’ carbon by 2050. In relation to this new target, the gap is even greater. But unfortunately even ‘net zero by 2050’ doesn’t cut it. We need to act even faster than 2050 to be compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement.
Meanwhile, we also face a devastating pandemic leaving in its wake widespread unemployment. Now is the time for a real climate jobs programme to tackle the climate and jobs crises.
What would a real 10 point plan to tackle the climate crisis look like?
1. A comprehensive approach
Climate change cannot be tackled as an add-on, or a piecemeal approach that takes us one step forward, two steps back. We need a commitment that every economic policy, every spending commitment, every piece of legislation, will put us on track for a safer future, not jeopardise it by locking us in to business as usual.
If the government had really taken on board the scale of the crisis, it would be rethinking the policies of unconditional corporate bailouts, planning deregulation, aviation expansion, road building, stifling onshore wind. It would not be giving a £16.5 billion windfall to military spending.
2. Meeting the needs of both people and planet
Austerity has left us, more than ever, with a grossly unequal society with continued deep inequalities in race, gender and for disabled people. Underfunded public services are struggling. The move towards a zero carbon society must also ensure access to food, healthcare, education, income, job security, good, affordable, housing, clean and affordable energy and heat, public transport, clean air and green spaces for everyone.
There is huge public support to ‘build back better’ as part of recovery from the pandemic, investing in public services and frontline workers. Instead, a public sector pay freeze is being mooted. These are the wrong priorities: we need huge investment and expansion in the public sector and the people who work in it.
3. ‘New Deal’ levels of spending
Boris Johnson has tried to compare his plans to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. In today’s money, Roosevelt’s spending programme amounted to about £4,300 – for every American living through the turmoil of the Great Depression. In contrast £12 billion is about £180 each.
Our own ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ report or Green New Deal plans give more of a sense of the levels of investment and ambition needed if the government is taking this seriously. Other recent analyses include an IPPR report which estimates that £33 billion a year in additional annual investment is needed to meet the government’s net zero target, creating 1.6 million jobs, including £8 billion on homes and buildings and £10.3 billion on transport.
The pandemic has shown that money can be found. It has been found for other spending, including billions to private companies for medical supply and services in contracts awarded with no oversight, regulation or transparency. These are the sums of money that now need to be directed into tackling the climate crisis, sums that can actually make an impact in reducing emissions and would truly justify the term New Deal.
4. Not relying on techno-fixes that don’t solve the problem
There are valuable technologies that help us cut waste and greenhouse gas emissions. But those we’d call ‘techno-fixes’ are a double-edged sword. Despite serious drawbacks, these pull resources away from proven solutions (for example onshore wind and solar are not even mentioned in Johnson’s plan). They often support the continuation of fossil fuel infrastructure, and give a sense of false security about the need to radically cut energy use. Boris Johnson’s ten point plan overly relies on these techno-fixes which seriously undermine any genuine and far reaching attempt to transition the economy.
There is more detail below about why we are concerned about the emphasis on hydrogen, carbon capture and storage and nuclear energy. The promotion of ‘Jet Zero’ (zero carbon flying) also hides the fact that the scope for genuine decarbonisation of aviation is limited and the pursuit of ‘sustainable aviation growth a mirage. There should be no further airport expansion in a serious plan to tackle the climate crisis. While not mentioned explicitly in this latest plan, biofuels and biomass (burning wood for power) also fall into the same category – unsustainable while subsidised as ‘green’ technology.
5. Provide decent, well paid, secure jobs
With a wide range of sectors hit by the pandemic, unemployment is expected to rise in 2021 to levels not seen since the 1980s. The transition to a zero carbon economy needs a workforce, but opportunities are being lost even when the investment is made. Manufacturing contracts for offshore wind supply have not been used to provide work for a skilled workforce in Scotland. Instead Scottish workers who could have been making the infrastructure needed for offshore wind have been made redundant. We need a proper climate jobs strategy, not a piecemeal approach rooted in a market based thinking. A strategy which is driven by understanding of the huge transition that is needed across manufacturing, transport, agriculture, construction, insulation, managing our land and biodiversity, in training and education. And one which seeks to create well paid secure jobs across these sectors to meet this challenge.
The difficulties and delays with the recent Green Homes Grant are a warning example of what happens without this strategic approach including workforce skills. Trade unions have a key role. There are more accidents in non-unionised offshore wind jobs than there are in offshore oil. A worker-led Just Transition is needed. As set out in the One Million Climate Jobs report, a National Climate Service could take on key aspects of the transition to zero carbon, providing well paid, secure, flexible, permanent jobs in the public sector.
6. Keep it in the ground: phase out fossil fuel extraction
Extraordinarily, the UK’s Infrastructure Act introduced in 2015 a legal obligation to maximise economic recovery of oil and gas. It was clear then, and even clearer now that we can’t continue fossil fuel extraction. Keeping the planet safe means leaving remaining fossil fuels in the ground.
The oil and gas industry has already been hit hard by the economic impacts of the pandemic. We need instead a just transition for oil and gas workers as part of a strategy to phase out UK fossil fuel extraction. Many of these workers could be and want to be retrained to be part of a new offshore wind industry.
We also need an immediate end to the anomaly whereby the UK offers billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in financial support to companies that bid for work on fossil fuel projects overseas
7. Tackling car dependency and increasing public transport, walking and cycling
The transport sector accounts for around a third of emissions in the UK. Surface transport alone represents around a quarter of our total emissions, while air pollution is a serious health problem. So far, electric vehicles have barely made a dent (less than 2% of new car sales), while SUVs represent over 40% of new cars sold.
But this cannot be solved by a simple like-for-like switch to electric vehicles. We need a property resourced and integrated public transport system under democratic public ownership. Alongside this, we need a reallocation of road space in towns and cities away from cars to walking, cycling and public transport, and a presumption in favour of development that reduces travel.
These changes would not just benefit our climate: the social inclusion and health benefits would be huge. It is shocking that the £27 billion currently intended for road building, which will significantly worsen our climate crisis, is far more than the entire ‘green industrial revolution’ budget touted as tackling the climate crisis.
8. Decent homes for all
We do need a programme of mass retrofitting our homes and buildings to be warm and energy-efficient, but it must be much more ambitious. We also need to be wary of corner cutting which does little other than inflate the profits of companies. Poorly fitted cavity wall insulation has been a scandal affecting thousands of homes with damp and mould, while post-Grenfell, there are still tower blocks with unsafe cladding. This is an example of where a National Climate Service could ensure high standards of work by employing a well trained public sector workforce with the goal of delivering warm homes and energy use reduction rather than quick and easy profits at the taxpayers expense.
It is much easier and cheaper to build homes and public or commercial buildings to near-zero carbon energy standards, than it is to retrofit. The scrapping of the Zero Carbon Homes standard in 2015 was a huge step back, and proposed new energy standards are totally inadequate. One of the major problems facing the UK is a lack of affordable housing, in particular social housing. We need to invest in jobs to ensure decent homes for all – quite literally ‘build back better’.
9. Land use and agriculture
With the UK’s biodiversity in crisis, and agriculture a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, it is not simply a matter of ‘plant more trees’. Alongside reforestation and protecting habitats, we need to consider land ownership, the vital role of access to nature for all, even and especially in urban environments and the potential of rewilding. Meanwhile, we are still waiting for the government to take the simple step of banning peat burning, an easy climate win which appears to be being blocked by grouse shooting interests.
There is huge potential for agriculture which is better both for climate and biodiversity. The government has been remarkably reluctant to promote, for both climate and health reasons, a dietary shift to reduce meat and dairy consumption. Without forgetting, when talking about diet, that the obesity crisis still coexists with real food poverty in one of the world’s richest nations.
With food and environmental standards likely to be a casualty of post-Brexit trade deals, it is clear that our unhealthy food system also has implications for workers rights and animal welfare. The prospect of further zoonotic diseases – and future pandemics – cannot now be ignored. Land use, our food system and biodiversity have to be a key part of any climate strategy.
10. Climate justice beyond our borders
Any real climate policy must be rooted in climate justice. This is a global problem and the UK has a historically disproportionate contribution to the climate crisis. As well as doing our fair share in reducing domestic emissions, the UK’s policies must address this historic responsibility.
The goods we import, as well as having their own carbon footprint, may also hide ecosystem destruction and exploitation of workers. So do the deals made by UK banks, pension funds and insurance companies. There must be no ‘solutions’ for this part of the world which rest on further damage and explotation of nature and people in other parts of the world, whether that be in mineral extraction or land grabs for carbon ‘offsetting’. Solutions must be rooted in climate justice, collaboration and internationalism.
We need a real climate jobs plan, a real Just Transition, a real Green New Deal.
Techno-fixes – what’s the problem?
Carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) has promised to make fossil fuel burning environmentally friendly by capturing carbon dioxide from the smokestack emissions of power stations or industrial plants. However, additional fossil fuel burning is needed for energy to capture the carbon. The new funding promises to bring the total government funding back to £1 billion – the same amount promised for a pilot that was suddenly cancelled at the last minute in 2015. But CCS technology still has not been successfully scaled up elsewhere, with problems of finding reliable storage for the captured CO2. Certainly for power plants it seems more an attempt to continue fossil fuel production than a significant climate solution.
Hydrogen sounds like a great idea – a fuel that when burned, produces only water. But so-called ‘blue’ hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels and requires carbon capture and storage. It has been heavily promoted by gas companies. Meanwhile green hydrogen, generated from renewables, also has significant limitations. It is approximately 4-5 times less efficient than using renewable power directly because you have to convert power to a gas and back into power, and will probably take around 10 years to generate at scale. Hydrogen may have a place in the zero carbon economy for some hard-to-decarbonise uses. But the idea that it is a cost or energy efficient way to heat the nation’s homes – and could be rolled out in the time needed – seems far less plausible.
Nuclear is a dangerous, unnecessary and expensive diversion which will pull away investment from safe and cheap renewable energy which could come on stream quickly.
Apologies for the short notice – we’ve just received notification that there’s an Open Assembly of the ‘Glasgow Agreement’ tomorrow (Sunday) at 2pm – the invitation to attend is copied below. You can see the latest draft of the agreement here.
We want to invite you to our next open assembly of the Glasgow Agreement on the 27th of September (Sunday), from 2pm GMT until 4pm GMT. You are more than welcome to participate, and to invite other groups that you know and that might be interested to participate in the Glasgow Agreement, even if they are not in the process yet.
We will talk about: the current status of the text and how you can be involved on the process; what space does the climate justice movement need in 2021; what is the inventory tool and the climate agenda.
We will also have an introductory webinar at 1:30pm GMT, in the same links, for those who don’t know the Glasgow Agreement that well. Feel free to join us if you want to know more about the agreement before the assembly!
The assembly will be online, using the Big Blue Button (BBB) platform.
In English, the link will be this one: https://meet.nixnet.services/b/gla-nnw-hgv.
(You can download here a guide about how to use BBB or watch this tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYYnryIM0Uw)
Scot.E3 is not currently signed up to the agreement we’ll discuss this at our next meeting – please send feedback to email@example.com
Scot.E3 has joined with a number of other organisations in signing a letter sent to the Scottish Government arguing that Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage should have no place in the their updated Climate Change Plan.
The key points in the letter are listed below.
- Risk of exacerbating rather than mitigating climate change
Biodiverse forests are vital protection against the climate and ecological emergencies. Protecting mature forests and allowing more land to revert to forest and other natural ecosystems is a vital part of our efforts to sequester and store carbon. Large-scale tree burning for biomass energy is not compatible with this need, and any level of BECCS implementation would further increase demands for extraction of wood and other types of biomass.
To date, the only working example of BECCS anywhere in the world is the capture of CO2 from ethanol fermentation. This process emits more carbon than it sequesters once the fossil fuels burnt during the refining process and the emissions released by land-use change are taken into account. Cutting down trees for energy production exacerbates the climate crisis because it takes too long for new trees to grow back, and forest ecosystems that are logged will not recover for many decades, if ever.
- High risk to nature
The suggestion from the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) that Scotland could grow and supply around 33% of all UK biomass and would therefore be an ideal location for BECCS is extremely concerning. Existing demand for biomass energy in the UK far exceeds the availability of genuine biomass residues and wastes. If BECCS was applied on a large scale in Scotland, it would increase the demand for wood and land, and therefore add pressure on woodland and other biodiverse ecosystems.
The world’s only example of a pilot BECCS project involving the burning of biomass – one which has not succeeded in sequestering any carbon so far – is at Drax Power Station in Yorkshire. Drax is the world’s biggest biomass burner and routinely sources pellets made from clearcut, coastal and hardwood forests in the Southeastern USA as well as from forests in the Baltic States. These forests are home to countless rare and endangered species and Scotland must not have a role in their destruction.
In Scotland, biomass electricity relies heavily on burning domestic wood from tree plantations, most of which are Sitka spruce. The Forestry Strategy for Scotland highlights the major role of biomass energy in the overall demand for wood, itself one of the ‘strategic drivers’ of expansion. Conifer plantations may be faster growing than native woodlands and thus preferred for bioenergy, but they provide little habitat for wildlife.
European biofuel policy has shown that large-scale demand for crop-based biofuels causes large-scale land-use change. In the case of European crops, it involves more intensive agriculture with greater agrochemical use, contributing to the decline in farmland birds, animals, insects and wildflowers.
- Diverts resources from meaningful responses to the climate emergency
We urge the Scottish Government not to rely on speculative negative emissions technologies such as BECCS in the energy sector to make up for, or “undo”, carbon emissions. These unviable technologies distract us from the urgent action needed to tackle emissions at source and meet our climate targets.
Scotland’s new 2030 climate target requires urgent action to reduce emissions, and the costs – both financially and environmentally – of trying to develop BECCS are huge, representing a real risk of diverting much needed resources and financing away from proven and effective responses to the climate and biodiversity crises which, unlike BECCS, can be implemented immediately.
The Scottish Government must end support for new fossil fuel developments, focusing instead on ensuring a Just Transition that protects the livelihoods of communities which currently rely on high carbon industries. Swift efforts must be made to upscale truly clean energy, to develop a mix of energy storage systems at scale and to greatly expand the roll out of heat pumps and the insulation of homes.
The Scottish Government must invest in, and provide policy support for, increasing biodiverse forest and woodland cover and the protection of forest, peatland and wetland ecosystems which naturally sequester carbon prioritising the expansion of native woodland through tree planting and natural regeneration.
Scot.E3 is part of the Free Our City campaign which launches with a conference on 19th September. We’re demanding a world-class, fully-integrated and accessible public transport network for Glasgow – free at the point of use.
Over the last few years hundreds of forward-thinking cities across the world – from Kansas to Calais – are upgrading their public transport networks and making them free for everyone to use. This radical policy is a necessary one: to address the climate emergency and gross inequalities in our society.Free public transport benefits everyone, but especially those living on poverty pay or benefits, young people, women, black and ethnic minorities – who all rely on public transport more. In a city like Glasgow with such low car-ownership (49% of households), free public transport would have a dramatic effect in reducing social isolation and lifting people out of poverty.
Last year, Glasgow City Council agreed the ambitious target to reduce the city’s emissions to net-zero by 2030, and agreed to undertake a ‘formal assessment of the potential for making the transition to a public transport system that is free to use’.
The Free Our City coalition has been founded to ensure this ‘assessment’ becomes action, and that this policy becomes a reality sooner, rather than later. We don’t have time to waste. Reliance on private cars is the main cause of carbon emissions and toxic air pollution in our city. In order to meet the 2030 target, car mileage will have to be cut by as much as 60% in the next ten years . We need to provide universal and comprehensive active travel and public transport networks, so that everyone can fully participate in the social and economic life of our city without need or aspiration to own a car.
Free public transport also has economic benefits which far outweigh the cost of running it – returning £1.70 to the economy for every £1 spent,  and it can pay for itself in increased tax receipts. But it is only practical and cost-effective to deliver with full public control of the whole public transport network . We must therefore use all new powers available in the Transport Act 2019 to re-regulate our bus network (under ‘franchising’) and set up a publicly-owned bus company for Greater Glasgow to take over routes and reconnect the communities left stranded by private bus company cuts.
The coronavirus crisis has proved that public transport is an essential public service to get our keyworkers to their jobs. It has also laid bare the absurdities of running our public transport on a for-profit basis. The need to maximise profits from fares is not compatible with current social distancing guidance. When services were reduced during lockdown, they ended up costing us more to run. The Scottish Government has already bailed-out failing private bus companies by more than £300 million. This should be an opportunity to buy back our buses, so that they can be run in the public good for the long term.
There are many ways to improve the safety of our public transport and public control is central to them all. If we own and run our own buses, then we control the safety for staff and passengers. We can improve pay, conditions and training for staff. And we can deliver far more frequent and reliable services for passengers to reduce overcrowding, and better plan the routes to speed-up journey times and minimise the need to change. We can upgrade the fleet to zero-emissions electric buses and make them more spacious, with air-conditioning and multiple entrances and exits . Upgrading the fleet of Glasgow buses can be an opportunity to save Alexander Dennis, the world-leading bus production company based at Larbert, which is currently threatening to make 650 workers redundant because orders have slowed down through the coronavirus pandemic .
We need to use this crisis as an opportunity to build back a far better public transport network, which actually serves our needs and helps us meet the many challenges of the decade ahead. Once the pandemic has passed, we will be faced with a massive economic crisis and a climate emergency that is not going away.[
Building a world-class, fully-integrated and accessible public transport network – free at the point of use – will provide the thousands of high quality, ready to go green jobs that we’ll urgently need for our city to make a just and green recovery .
Imagine if buses were free?
The Free Our City coalition is launching with a conference “Imagine if buses were free?” on Saturday 19th September. Speakers from other cities which have achieved free public transport will describe how their system works. We will discuss in break-out groups what we need in Greater Glasgow, and how we move forward to achieve it. The conference will be open to all, welcoming representatives of community organisations across Greater Glasgow and interested individuals to share in the discussion. Register for the conference on Eventbrite. Promote the conference by sharing the Facebook Event and the Event Tweet .
 During the crisis, publicly-controlled buses in London were made free so that passengers did not need to make contact with the driver to pay fares.
 By the end of 2020, as many as 1 in 3 young Scots could be unemployed as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
 Transport for Quality of Life, 2019, A Radical Transport Response to the Climate Emergency, p.2
 Jeff Turner, 2020, How Much Will Free Buses for Glasgow Cost and What are the Benefits?, p.1
 Transport for Quality of Life, 2019, A Radical Transport Response to the Climate Emergency, p.4
Earlier in the year we held an online public meeting with speakers from the Mossmorran Action Group. Prior to Covid19 Climate Camp Scotland were planning their summer action around Mossmorran. Limitations on social contact have made the original plans impossible but Climate Camp are continuing to campaign for action on Mossmorran. On Sunday at Midday there will be protests at SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) offices around Scotland. The action will continue via social media on Monday; for more details go to the Facebook event or read the action briefing document.
Eileen Cook responds to Mike Downham’s posts on local food production.
In the region of 10m people in the UK could be said to be living in ‘Food Poverty’ or find it difficult to obtain sufficient healthy and affordable food. This will have worsened under the Coronavirus lockdown.
The link between income (wage) poverty and food poverty has been important to Governments since people moved from the land in the early years of industrialisation. Wages had to be kept low to guarantee profits but workers who were too poor to buy expensive food in urban areas wouldn’t be able to work. Industrial capitalists were big supporters of the repeal of the Corn Laws, that was protecting high prices of food grown in Britain.
In more recent times Governments and Agri-business have conspired to make ‘cheap’ food available with the help of the oligopolistic supermarkets. Cheap often meaning low on nutrition and high on additives. This suits the (big) agri-producers and retailers and allows neo-liberal governments to avoid dealing with the income issue. It also loads the production side in favour of large-scale production reliant on farming methods that are dangerous to both the environment and people’s health. For example, 13 dairy firms worldwide are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the UK.
The ‘Brexit’ impact on food and agriculture, therefore, is not just any immediate impact of a no deal. The big danger is a ‘free trade’ deal with the US. This would set us (both as producers and consumers) back decades in our quest for sustainable and healthy food supplies.
The supporters of nuclear energy are at it again, attempting to position it as key to a ‘green’ recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and as part of the solution to the climate catastrophe. In this post, first published at www.rs21.org.uk and republished here with permission Scot.E3 activist Brian Parkin exposes the dangerous myths of nuclear power.
Climate of doubt
Nuclear power has made many bold claims on economic viability, safety, reliability and environmental sustainability over the years. Again and again it has been disgraced. But nuclear power is the come-back-kid when it comes to energy technology reincarnation and rebranding. Backed up by state revenues, corporate confidentiality and operational unaccountability, the nuclear industry remains the biggest fraud of the industrial age.
One of the most persistent frauds is the claim that it is the most technologically advanced form of electricity generation available. In fact, the global nuclear inventory is ageing and, as safety fears mount, it delivers ever-decreasing load factors (efficiency) and availability (the amount of time when energy is produced). The industry persistently claims that past operational problems are being resolved with each successive advance in reactor design and waste management improvement. It is forever promising that technological leaps will bring the cost of nuclear-derived power inexorably down.
The advocates of nuclear power now see the current economic and climate crises as an opportunity. Nuclear power still holds onto its reputation as a clean source of energy since it produces neither acid-rain precursors nor CO2 emissions, and does not rely on relatively short-term finite fuel resources. Yet, despite this continually revamped argument, nuclear power cannot address either the prohibitive costs reality nor the safety issues that inevitably arise from an energy source created by fallible humans attempting to harness a power source hotter than the sun. It also hinders rather than advances the path to a low-carbon future.
This article will explain why the periodically disgraced nuclear dream is so dangerous, explain the political power that the industry can mobilise, and resist the arguments of supporters of nuclear power, such as George Monbiot, within the climate movement.
Today, nuclear power accounts for some 10.5% of all electricity generated worldwide. This power comes from a total of 457 reactors across a total of 31 countries.Initially, the promotion of nuclear power generation was limited to the post-war ‘spheres of influence’ contest between the Soviet Union and the USA that extended their influence via the means of offering client states a various range of infrastructural vanity projects. This arrangement was later complicated by the rift opened up between the USSR and China, mainly in the Indian sub-continent, with India and Pakistan respectively choosing Russia and China as economic allies.
Another factor was the post-war craze for the developing economies (‘Third World’ in the terminology of the time) to obtain sexy totemic technologies that marked their entry into the ‘First World’ via the procurement of mega-projects that gave swagger-power to the various state bureaucracies but little in terms of gross benefits to what remained impoverished populations. This often proved to be the case in countries where gross electricity demand was low and where the necessary distribution and supply networks were near non-existent.
In fact, what these projects did, via the means of fuel-cycle and operational technology, was to increase the subordination of developing states. Any illusions of sovereign security of supply and energy self-sufficiency, printed on the tin of the latest Pressurised Water Reactor or Boiling Water variants, were quickly blown out of the water. Operational ‘teething troubles’, low load factors and poor availabilities left developing states unable to pay off debts acquired throughout the construction, commissioning and life-time operation of reactors that had not been needed in the first place.
Enter the International Energy Agency
Nuclear power relies on the controlled heat energy released by the separation (fission) of the nucleus of an enriched heavy radioactive element, in most cases Uranium235. This process is therefore closely related to that of the uncontrolled fission of a nuclear weapon. With further ‘enrichment’, a totally artificial and radioactive element, Plutonium, can be created: the stuff of thermo-nuclear ‘hydrogen’ bombs. Consequently, it has always been a matter of international concern that civil nuclear programmes may well lead down the road to nuclear arms proliferation.
From its inception in 1956 at Windscale (now Sellafield) in Cumbria, nuclear power in the UK has been driven by the military imperatives of weapons grade material: supporting US missile ambitions, offering a means of repaying the US-UK lend-lease debts, while ensuring that by ownership of a military nuclear programme, that the UK would be ensured a seat on the UN Security Council. In this regard the post-war Labour government was as culpable as successive Tory administrations.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established in order to promote nuclear power, albeit within a tightly set-down set of protocols policed by the United Nations. However, by this point nuclear weapons ownership had already expanded beyond the post-war Cold War four of the US, USSR, France and the UK to China, India, Pakistan and Israel.
The other IAEA concerns were the standardisation of operating standards, mainly in order to create a safety culture as well as control over the fuel cycle and the manufacture of fuel rods and subsequent ‘waste management’. The latter issue was never satisfactorily resolved either technically or economically. What these arrangements have ensured, though, are techno-dependencies whereby fuel-cycle management has been out-sourced to the wealthier ‘nuclear club’ states for fuel manufacture, enrichment and the alchemy of fuel recycling.
Reactor enigma variations: jam tomorrow
Over some 55 years of reactor design and development, little in the way of a standard ‘safe’ reactor consensus has arisen. This is largely due to state-sponsored nuclear competition looking for export opportunities.
Initially, the design of reactors was a military thing. In the case of the US, this meant a Pressurised Water cooled Reactor (PWR), which over time became the dominant and preferred reactor for US power utilities. Elsewhere, designs favoured other means of moderating (slowing down) neutron release via different core materials such as graphite or heavy water, while others favoured different primary heat/cooling cycle systems such as pressurised light (ordinary) water, heavy water, gas (usually carbon dioxide) or sodium (liquid salt). But whatever the means, the sole object remains to raise super-heated steam in order to drive a steam turbine in order to produce electricity via an alternator. Whatever the glitz, nuclear power is a steam-age technology.
For over 50 years, nuclear power in its civilian guise has promised clean and infinite energy at a price ‘too cheap to meter’. In every respect, it has failed abysmally: due to impossible engineering challenges, rocketing costs, ever-demanding and failing safety systems and a perpetually irresolvable economic and technical waste management issue. Despite the continual claims that, ‘this time we have really got it right’, there is still no standard and generic design and operational culture.
When this is combined with newer imported costs and construction delays, the consequence has been that nuclear power has never been able to operate in a ‘free’ market, without state subsidies and a skewed regulatory environment.
Meanwhile, epic nuclear ‘incidents’ such as Windscale (now called Sellafield) (1957), Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) have all resulted in massive nuclear releases to the outside environment with melt-downs and huge reactor fires beyond the scope of established safety procedures. With each such incident, the nuclear ‘community’ has had to pause, think and then go into inventive mode regarding another excuse and a massive falsehood regarding the extent of environmental damage and long-term radiological health assessments.
Then, after a respectful moment of silence, this has been followed by another vast PR offensive, garnished with even more Jam Tomorrow.
An energy technology looking for a cause
Nuclear power has met each set-back with a new justification for its existence: security of supply, cheap power, clean power, infinite power and a source of power beyond the control of working class militancy (in the case of the UK, the miners). And at each challenge, a new fall.
But with the realisation of an impending climate catastrophe, the advocates of nuclear finally think that they have a irrefutable case. As nuclear power has no operational CO2 footprint, it is touted as the environmental answer for clean and sustainable baseload power. They foresee a new and massive worldwide programme of nuclear reactor construction, standardisation and replication costs that will set generating costs on a downwards trajectory.
One persistent argument is that the ‘replication costs savings’ would be possible if only the industry world-wide could agree on one generic reactor design that could be used as the architecture for an ongoing sequence of revisions. The new basic stations could be built in line to growing capacity demand and with an actual reduction in capital costs as new orders came on stream. Not so much as jam tomorrow as pie in the sky.
However, such ‘replication savings’ arguments persisted within the UK nuclear cabal up until 1988, where at the Hinkley Point C nuclear inquiry, the UK Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) insisted that the Hinkley Point PWR would be the first-born of a ‘small family’ of UK PWRs. This claim was blown out of the water by evidence submitted by the National Union of Mineworkers.
The nearest thing that an international nuclear agreement has come to is an emerging view that the Pressurised Water Reactor offers the best basic model upon which future reactors should be based. The US Westinghouse (now General Electric) AP100 PWR is now being copied by China as an export model within its developing ‘sphere of influence’. It also forms the basis for technically and economically disastrous ‘third generation’ European PWR (EWR) at Flamanville in Normandy and Olkiuoto in Finland. The EWR is also the reactor of choice for the massive cost and schedule over-running Hinkley Point C project in the UK, and has been accepted as the design favourite for China’s Taishan 1 project which started in December 2018.
A little jam today?
Beyond the third generation of PWRs there are a number of other technical options on offer. Hitherto aimed at big capacity baseload units of reactors with a 1,000 Megawatt plus output, the nuclear industry has been looking at the development of smart grids with response capabilities for inputs from more intermittent small scale units. Within this scenario, smaller and more operationally flexible nuclear reactors are envisaged: the so-called new generation of Small Modular Reactors with capacity sizes down to as small as 10 MWe. Such SMRs could be prefabricated and shoe-horned into existing conventional power station sites.
But even if operationally proved as safe and capable of high load factors, SMRs would hardly contribute much to the capacity need as stated by the advocates of nuclear power. Given that the SMRs will be little more than down-scaled versions of already tried and tested failed reactor designs, there is little reason to expect them to behave over time little better than their bigger grand-parents.
Moreover, funding for nuclear research and development (R&D) drains from the pittance devoted to R&D for renewable energy, and the development large scale storage batteries and disaggregated smart grids which could do so much to create baseload potential for otherwise intermittent and ‘micro’ renewables.
It is a dangerous fantasy to think that nuclear power is best placed to replace fossil fuel power production. According to the International Energy Agency, the installed global power generating capacity as of 2018 was:
|Fuel Source||Capacity (TW)|
|All fossil fuels||4.154|
|All renewables, including:||1.278|
Statistics compiled and amended by Dr T. Wang, Statista, 3 December 2019
Meanwhile, of non-renewable fuel sources, in terms of total % global electrical power consumed:
|Non-renewable fuel source||% total global electrical power consumed (2017-18)|
IEA World Energy Outlook 2019.
The projection of a 65% nuclear capacity to replace all fossil fuel power plant by 2040 does not just mean the replacement of all existing carbon power generation. It also means an immediate programme for replacing all existing nuclear power plants, two thirds of which will be due for end-of-life decommissioning within the next five to ten years anyway. With no standardised reactor type and operational culture, this would mean 65% of global power generating capacity depending on a variety of plant designs for which no commercial insurability safety assurance will be possible.
Then there is the issue of waste management. Given a present 10.5% global nuclear power generation with no waste management consensus, a capacity increase of six times over presents the stuff of nightmares.
The problem of waste recovery, recycling and long-term management (storage) has so far proved insoluble for the nuclear industry. The industry adopted wet storage – large underground cooling pools – pending proper technical waste management. This was meant to be a temporary solution, but it is still used to this day.
In the mid-1970s, the UK BNFL declared a worldwide solution with the development of a Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) to be built at Sellafield in Cumbria. But dogged with a continuous string of technical problems, as well as very real doubts as to the safety of the Thermal Oxide process, the THORP project with a bill in excess of £5 billion was scrapped in 1989. THORP contracts worth many billions of dollars were force majeured, and nuclear states such as Canada, France, Japan and Sweden were asked to take their waste back home.
According to a 2019 report, some 250,000 tonnes of highly radioactive spent fuel material is in wet storage in some 14 countries awaiting a waste storage solution that will never come. Meanwhile, some 2 billion tonnes of uranium mining ‘tailings’ and process waste remain untreated and with no treatment or financial liabilities settlements in sight.
This is the legacy for future generations that 65 years of nuclear folly has bequeathed. Long-life and long half-life waste radioactive elements, isotopes and their ‘daughter’ products that will last further into the future that human civilisation has taken to reach this moment.
Virtually all of the statistical information referenced above was compiled before the present Covid-19 pandemic. It also predates another global economic event: a growing global recession that has so far been eclipsed by the immediate public health disaster. Such pandemics are, like recessions, treated as natural forces: events beyond the comprehension and control of mere mortals like the ‘rational self-interested actor’, much beloved by liberal economists.
Statistics based on real and reliable evidence make projections rooted in a status quo, which itself presumes business as usual. From such vulgar assumptions, trends are discernible and tendencies towards increasing capital accumulation, urbanisation and population growth can be factored in as verities based on a dismal human condition, unfettered population growth and the persistence of the rule of capital and the inevitability of capricious markets.
Against such projections the IEA and an ever-predatory World Nuclear Association now draw on the undeniable probability of worst-case climate catastrophe to create a new age for nuclear power need. So from a current 10.5% of nuclear generated power, we have to envisage a CO2 abated 2040 where nuclear power will provide 62% of electricity. This means that 70% of all currently operating reactors will have been replaced and that every 40 years or so, all reactor capacity will have to have been renewed.
This means that forever, humanity will have to exist on the brink of a barely containable climate threat, and a source of dangerous energy at barely affordable prices for the bulk of the global population- and that forever, the deceptive alchemy of waste management will remain the radioactive legacy for generations to come. Such a projection is both hopeless and apocalyptic. It offers an eternity of business worse than usual, and it offers a totally fraudulent scenario.
Furthermore, it denies the human capacities of both hope and redemption through struggle. It denies the organised agency of a proletarian class that by 2009 (by UN estimates) had already come to comprise over 52% of the world’s population. Statistical apologists for capitalism and its compendium of various barbaric imperialist scenarios may interpret the world in many ways, but it still remains the role of a revolutionary working class to change it. For the better.
 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report 2019.
 The PWR and BWR reactor types use ‘light’- ordinary water in the primary and secondary cooling cycles.
 The IAEA was set up as an ‘independent’ agency in 1957 for the promotion of ‘Atoms for Peace’. It is located in Vienna and has 171 member states. It reports to both the UN general and Security Councils.
 Former Secretary of State for Energy Tony Benn in his statement of case for the NUM at the Hinkley Point Inquiry, went on to describe the UK Magnox reactors as little more than ‘bomb factories’.
 Israel is neither a member state of the IEA nor a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
 The ‘fuel cycle’ covers the process of mining Uranium or to the manufacture of nuclear fuel and its waste ‘management’.
 The so-called ‘Nuclear Club’ presently comprises Argentina, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, S Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Ukraine, UK and US.
 Heavy water is water with a molecule of oxygen plus two isotopes of deuterium- a hydrogen ‘heavy’ isotope with two electrons as opposed to the usual one.
 Baseload power is electricity from a reliable round-the-clock source not subject to daily or seasonal interruption.
 ‘Replication savings’ are the economic benefits arising from series production: i.e. the ‘economies of scale’. In the UK such replication benefits were promised with the Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) which now make up all but one of the UK nuclear inventory. In this case the ‘savings’ ended up as double the original project cost.
 The 1986-89 Hinkley Point Inquiry was for an original proposal involving a Westinghouse Type AP100 PWR. The present Hinkley Point project presently taking place is based on an Areva/EdF European PWR (EWR).
 NUM Proof of Evidence. Parkin et al. Hinkley Point C public inquiry. Proof denied on grounds of ‘misappropriation’ of confidence and ‘purloining’ of information.
 World Nuclear Association. World Energy Review December 2019.
The second part of Mike Downham’s four part series in which he looks at the extent to which local food production features in different versions of the Green New Deal. You can read the introduction here.
Green New Deals
One of the demand formulations now gathering widespread support is for a Green New Deal. There are many versions of GNDs, but they have in common huge expenditure by states, decarbonisation, new jobs and, to a greater or lesser extent, urgency. Until recently GND movements tended to focus tightly on renewable energy. Proposals then began to embrace additional approaches to decarbonising energy, particularly through improved heat efficiency of buildings and public transport initiatives.
But now something new has come into sight – the idea that a GND should not be focussed exclusively on energy but should cover every sector of society. The International Panel on Climate Change, in its October 2018 Report responding to the Paris Agreement’s readiness to settle for a 2.0⁰C rise in global temperature, said that “rapid, far-reaching , and unprecedented change in all aspects of society” were necessary to limit warming to a 1.5⁰C rise. But their definition of ‘all aspects of society’ included only “land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, cities” – a limited definition of society inevitable given the political influence the IPCC is subject to.
A few months later, in February 2019, Senator Markey and Representative Ocasio-Cortez proposed a more radical GND for the US, which includes job security for all, along with “providing high-quality health care; affordable, safe, and adequate housing; economic security; and access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature”. But the way this was presented exposed them to dismissive right-wing attacks that these non-energy proposals were just ‘socialist add-ons’.
Later last year, in November, A Planet to Win – Why We Need a Green New Deal by Aronoff, Battistoni, Cohen and Riofrancos was published in response to the Markey / Ocasio-Cortez initiative. I was among those who had an opportunity to meet with three of the authors at a ScotE3 zoom meeting on 15th May (see report on this website). They have developed the idea of a trans-sector GND extensively. Just as the root causes of global warming go beyond energy policy to the whole capitalist system steered by the market, they argue for a GND which addresses energy, jobs, housing, transport, recreation, nature conservation, education, and health and social care services. They explain that these aren’t just add-ons, but practically essential to reduce emissions, in three ways.
By shifting more people from carbon-emitting jobs into carbon neutral jobs, which include education, health and social care services, overall emissions will be reduced.
Secondly, as a GND can only be effective with intervention and massive investment by the state, market control over what is produced will necessarily be replaced by regulation. Without the distortion of profit, the ‘good life’ will be more closely aligned with the rationales of low resource use, low carbon emissions and well-being, rather than with status based on consumption of what the market tells us to buy. As the authors of Planet to Win give as an example, people will prefer to spend their money on dancing classes than on another ipad. This shift will leave large numbers of workers without jobs – those who are currently employed by companies selling products which emit carbon, either in their manufacture or their use. In the context of a cross-sectoral GND these workers can readily be offered carbon-saving or carbon neutral jobs, accompanied by whatever training they need.
Thirdly, a just transition from fossil fuels can only be achieved through public ownership under local democratic control. Local control cannot be truly democratic and effective without removing inequality and poverty. Job guarantees for all workers are a pre-requisite for reduction of poverty and inequality, so we will need a flexible and responsive employment sector. Any job whose purpose is to improve the quality of life, and which does not emit carbon, will be understood as a climate job.
A Planet to Win came out just one month before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The book’s recommendations are extraordinarily timely. They might have looked far-fetched at the point of publication, but now here they are – proposals which we can immediately move forward with and develop. That they are available at this point is a bonus for the climate movement, which has no time to lose.
The pandemic has not only ripped off the protective blanket from the capitalist system, revealing the bankruptcy of its ideology for all to see. It has also presented us with new opportunities for organising. But before I move on to discuss those opportunities, what is it that at this moment is so important about local food production?
Local food production as part of a Green New Deal
Few would disagree with the importance of local food production, the benefits of which I summarised at the start of this piece. In contrast, few of the GNDs which have been tabled have dealt with it in any detail. But, if for no other reason, the fact that food production and distribution are estimated to account for at least 30% of global carbon emissions, food has to be given a prominent position in the articulation of any GND. Furthermore, as agreement grows that GNDs should be trans-sectoral, the argument for putting food at the heart of a GND becomes stronger, given the big but less easy to measure impacts of food on the physical and mental health, security and biodiversity of communities.
The authors of A Planet to Win acknowledge that food is an important omission from their book, implying that it’s too big a subject to cover in a short book. This perhaps says something about the extent to which American people have become habituated to the commodification of their food.
The IPCC did not include food in its list of societal factors which we need to address (though it did list land, without saying anything more about it).
The US Green New Deal recommends access for all to “healthy and affordable food” but is silent on how that might be achieved.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the EU GND, trotted out again last week by the European Commission in the context of a Just Recovery from the pandemic, does better by giving a whole section to food in its proposals, headed From Farm to Fork. But that section reads, along with its heading, as if written 20 years ago, with nothing more radical than improved labelling.
The Labour Party’s Green New Deal, agreed at its conference in September last year, is broad and radical and has urgency. But the word ‘food’ appears only once in the large document, at the bottom of the list of Universal Basic Services the Party intends to introduce, without any detail about what that ‘service’ would consist of.
All GNDs need to some extent to be country or region specific, while learning from each other about how best to articulate their demands. In Scotland the Green Party’s GND proposals, announced in April 2019, are limited to investing in low carbon industries, restoring our natural environment, giving everyone a warm home, and providing access to cheap, reliable and green transport. Food is not mentioned.
In contrast the Commonweal GND proposals for Scotland, put out in November last year (the same month as the publication of a Planet to Win) include a wordy 17-page paper on food. This, along with all the Commonweal GND proposals, is about long-term strategy. The proposals do not articulate the urgent demands which we need to make at this moment if we are to limit global warming effectively. They also do not address the imbalance of power which confronts us. Notably, the paper on food says “It’s easy for food to become a class battleground, and we need better ways to talk about it”. But we don’t – a class battleground is precisely where we need to muster if we are to change food policy in Scotland, because the current confused policy is a reflexion of the class struggle, as is global warming. Once we’ve won that battle the Commonweal proposals will come into their own as contributions to the public debate about our collective strategy. To give them the respect they deserve, the Commonweal proposals were put together before the coronavirus pandemic, which has changed everything.
The climate movement in Scotland needs to make urgent demands, addressing them not only to the Scottish Government but also to workers, including the many who have lost their jobs, or will soon loose them as a result of the coronavirus epidemic and the simultaneous collapse of the North Sea oil and gas industry. Rapid change will only be achieved through the combined agency of the state and of workers. But we have to be clear first about what changes we are going to demand as part of a radical GND. As there’s been little discussion so far about demands in relation to food, here are some suggestions for starting that discussion. The suggestions are all about the production of food locally. Production and local democracy are fundamental to radical change.
In Part 3 to be published on 12th June Mike looks in more detail at different forms of local food production. If you’d rather read the full text of the article you can find it here.
Over the next four days we publish a series of articles by Mike Downham on local food production in the context of a just transition to a sustainable zero carbon economy
The local food story so far
Growing veg wasn’t in my family, and from what I can remember I never had any contact with anyone who grew veg when I was growing up in London. But from some instinct – perhaps because it’s not so long for most of us since there were farmers in our families – as soon as I had a garden, I wanted to try growing something I could eat. As I liked to eat purple sprouting broccoli and strawberries, I chose to concentrate on those – it was only a small patch in front of a terraced house in central Newcastle. Thinking I’d better do something about fertility, and with no farms nearby to beg or buy muck from, I collected some buckets of waste from the local slaughterhouse. This raised some eyebrows in the terrace, but my reputation was restored when the neighbours saw the size of the broccoli plants and the strawberries.
Having been overpaid by the NHS for 20 years I was privileged to be able to move on from that front garden to an allotment, then a subsistence smallholding, then a commercial farm with a Community Supported Agriculture scheme.
It’s not surprising that people, on their own or getting together with others, have been producing food in their urban neighbourhoods for a long time – it makes so much sense at so many levels. Theoretically the benefits embrace physical health, mental health, biodiversity, food security, food sovereignty, reduction of carbon emissions and political organisation. On top of theory, both the work of producing food and the eating of it are a lot of fun, especially if done collectively. Wherever working class people can get hold of land, in backyards, allotments, unused corner sites, reclaimed industrial sites, school grounds, or, if they can’t find land, in window-boxes and pots on doorsteps, they will grow vegetables and fruit, run hens for eggs, and when they have a bit more elbow room even raise a goat or a cow or two for milk, or animals for meat.
Historical surges in this activity, successfully driven by states because they were so popular, include the UK County Council smallholdings made available for servicemen returning from the first World War; the UK Dig for Victory campaign in the second World War; and urban food production in the Cuban Revolution. These surges did not last for long once war or the threat of war had subsided. In 2006 there was a resurgence of local food production driven by the Transition Towns movement across 43 Countries, mostly in the Global North. But this initiative soon petered out because it did not seriously challenge the powerlessness of communities, particularly in relation to land tenure, even when producers and consumers came together in cooperatives.
Across the Global South, and in the less industrialised parts of the Global North, small farmers producing for local markets are under increasing pressure from one set of capitalists who want to buy their land to farm it intensively or sell it on, and another set who want to sell them chemicals, seeds and machinery as must-haves for ‘modernisation’. Despite this, 70% of the world’s food supply still comes from small farms, and there’s a strong international movement of small farmers fighting to hang onto their land and achieve food sovereignty – the right to choose what food they produce, and how they produce it, in local partnership with the people who eat it. Via Campesina represents 200 million producers across 81 countries.
The new opportunity
The conjuncture of the coronavirus pandemic with the rising global movement for climate jobs as the basis of an effective strategy to limit global warming, and with the discreditation of capitalism by its evident inability to deal effectively with these two emergencies, has the potential to change the balance of power between labour and capital. Demands which were unrealistic a few months ago have become realistically achievable. As consciousness of new possibilities grows, organisations have started to formulate demands, or to push more urgently through coalitions for demands they had already formulated.
In Part 2 to be published on 11th June Mike looks at the extent to which food production is integrated into proposals for a Green New Deal. If you’d rather read the full text of the article you can find it here.