Mike Downham reflects on the impact of Covid, the aftermath of COP26 and what we might do differently in future.This article was first published inScottish Socialist Voice.
It’s nearly two long years since we began to become aware of the potential scale and danger of the new virus. At that point some prescient people suggested that how we reacted to the pandemic would be a rehearsal for our performance in the forthcoming big show of climate breakdown.
This wasn’t the first time ‘rehearsal’ had been used for how we organise on the left. John Berger described every act of resistance as a rehearsal. Colin Barker called his 1987 book about the uprisings in France, Chile, Portugal, Iran and Poland between 1968 and 1980 Revolutionary Rehearsals. And he used this title again in his subsequent book Revolutionary Rehearsals in the Neoliberal Age, written jointly with Gareth Dale and Neil Davidson published this year – posthumously for both Colin and Neil – which describes the uprisings in Eastern Europe, South Africa, Indonesia, Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt since 1989.
It’s reasonable I think to say that we’ve made a right mess of the Covid rehearsal. Had we known two years ago what we know today, we would have learnt our lines and our cues more thoroughly. What we know today is that 9,634 people in Scotland have died; that the majority of these snuffed-out lives have been among the poor, the disabled and the marginalised; that 99,000 people in Scotland are living with Long Covid; that about 10% of children who catch the virus go on to have disabling poor health for weeks or months; and that the NHS has broken down.
That the NHS has actually broken down, no longer something we just fear might happen, was brought home to me this week by hearing about a middle-aged woman in the Paisley area with an 18-month history of severe neck pain who waited so long for surgery that she’s been forced to give up her job as a care-worker, then lost her home because she couldn’t keep up with her mortgage repayments. Not that this is the only tragic story about NHS failure we could tell between us.
Now the omicron variant (whether or not it turns out to be as bad as feared – we’ll have to wait a week or so before we know) is shouting at us from the wings, telling us that if we allow the virus to spread, whether in Scotland’s communities, schools and workplaces in an incompletely vaccinated population, or in largely unvaccinated countries sent to the back of the queue because they can’t pay, sooner or later we’re going to get a variant which will evade current vaccines.
And yet the cues were there in the script from the beginning. If we’d read it and learned it we’d have known we couldn’t trust the governments of wealthy counties, including Scotland, to not rely so heavily on vaccines, or to prioritise supply and reduce the cost of vaccines for poor countries, because these governments are locked into a system where profit trumps health. Yesterday’s top news was about Pfizer rubbing its hands as it suggested that annual vaccination was likely to be necessary – without mention of the financial and logistical implications of vaccinating eight billion people annually. Pfizer is relishing not only the prospect of a limitless market but also that it has outcompeted AstraZeneca both technically and in its propaganda.
Just as profit trumps health, so that the ruling classes allow the Covid virus to spread, it also trumps the devastating impacts of global heating which are unfolding for all humanity. COP26 has finally made it clear that neither wealthy governments nor the oil and gas corporations are going to take effective action in relation to global heating, despite being fully aware of and no longer denying the scale of the impacts which will result from their inactivity.
How can it be that one small fraction of human beings can inflict such suffering on the rest of their species? Andreas Malm and colleagues, in their new book White Skin, Black Fuel try to explain:
They are not perturbed by the smell from the blazing trees. They do not worry at the site of islands sinking; they do not run from the roar of approaching hurricanes; their fingers never need to touch the stalks from withered harvests; their mouths do not become sticky and dry after a day with nothing to drink … After the past three decades, there can be no doubt that the ruling classes are constitutionally incapable of responding to the catastrophe in any other way than by expediting it; of their own accord, under their inner compulsion, they can do nothing but burn their way to the end.
As we get our last call to take the stage in the climate crisis, what have we learned from the Covid rehearsal? What are our lines and what are our most critical cues?
The best approach to these questions may be to ask first what mistakes we made in the rehearsal, to avoid making them again. We should perhaps beware of:
Knocking politely on town-hall and parliament doors asking the politicians to do things few of them can even contemplate doing
One-off marches and protests which aren’t part of a charted programme of resistance
Loosely knit coalitions, which dilute militancy with compromise
Hoping to build a social democratic party which could win at the ballot-box
Organising strictly within our political silos, whether parliamentary parties, or revolutionary groups, or single-issue institutions
Underestimating the extent to which the ruling classes have stifled trade union power so that collective withdrawal of labour is no longer the readily available weapon it used to be
How then can we organise, if not in these ways? First, the Covid pandemic is far from over – in fact it can be said to be at a critical point, with the prospect that vaccines may not protect us, and that relying on vaccines alone is not sustainable. We’ll only be able to overcome this pandemic through traditional public health measures, delivered through a greatly expanded and well-resourced public health service. This is what we can start turning our attention to and fighting for. Covid is offering us the experience of another rehearsal, the key changes needed to address both Covid and climate becoming more clearly the same – rolling out and investing heavily in existing technologies instead of switching to uncertain ones. Vaccination on its own becomes the equivalent of Carbon Capture and Storage, both of them profitable for the ruling classes but disastrous for the rest of us.
Second, COP26 has shown us that targeted and sustained direct action works. The Indian farmers, after a year’s disruptive presence in Delhi, during which 700 of them died at the hands of the police, have won a historic victory. The first thing Modi did when he returned from Glasgow was to announce that he was going to withdraw the three laws against which the farmers had been protesting. Two weeks later Shell announced that they are giving up their ten-year plan to extract oil and gas from the Cambo field. This is a huge victory for the Stop Cambo! campaign – a direct result of its persistent visibility in Westminster over the last year, then its strong performance at the COP in Glasgow.
But in the midst of our celebrations of these two wins, we can see that the farmers are continuing to swamp Delhi. They want to see the three laws actually withdrawn, not just hear a promise. It’s probable that even then they will continue their protest for further, more systemic changes. Stop Cambo! knows too that it must not relax. There’s still Siccar Point Energy to unseat (the majority partner in the development of the Cambo field), and there’s the UK Government to force into a decision that no extraction license will be granted. A win is the cue to increasing the strength of a protest, not to ending it.
Third, we would do well at this point to start discussing what so far we’ve shunned: how are we to oppose the state oppression which is bound to escalate in relation to increased direct action? Is XR right to remain adamant about non-violence? Or did Mandela have a point when he said “The attacks of the wild beast cannot be averted with only bare hands”?
Just over a month ago we welcomed the establishment of the Zero Covid campaign. Throughout 2020 we’ve published posts looking at the challenge of organising for a just and sustainable transition at a moment when we face continuing threat from Covid 19, the likelihood of more pandemics in the future.
With the permission of the author, Christian Zeller, we are pleased to republish an article that looks at the need to apply the principles that inform the Zero Covid campaign internationally. It originally appeared in German and has been kindly translated by the author with further editing by Terry Conway.
The authors of the appeal note that European governments have so far failed to formulate a common vision for dealing with the pandemic. However, in order to fight the pandemic effectively, a common European strategy is urgently needed. This is the only way to keep the borders open. The vaccines will take some time to get the pandemic under control, probably not before the end of 2021. The authors formulate a clear and immediate societal goal: every single SARS-CoV-2 infection in Europe must be traceable. To achieve this goal, the authors call for the implementation of a three-step strategy.
1. Firstly, reduce infections to a maximum of 10 Covid–19 cases per million people per day. This requires decisive action and in-depth interventions. To avoid a ping-pong effect between countries and regions, the measures to reduce the number of cases must be enforced in all European countries as quickly and as synchronised as possible.
2. Secondly, once this first step has been achieved, the restrictions can be gradually relaxed. The low case numbers must be maintained in the long term with a control strategy – at least 300 tests per million inhabitants per day. Local outbreaks must be contained immediately and vigorously, if necessary through regional lockdowns.
3. Thirdly, a common long-term vision must be developed. Context-specific regional and national action plans should be developed based on European targets. These include screening and vaccination strategies, protection of at-risk groups and support for people who are particularly affected by the pandemic.
This goal and the strategy of this appeal are to be fully supported from an ecosocialist and emancipatory perspective. Why does such a massive containment of the pandemic to only a very few infections make sense? Five arguments:
As the spread of a virus increases, so does the frequency of its mutation. Only with the lowest possible number of infections can mutations of the virus be kept so low that their unexpected consequences can be adequately controlled by society.
The ideology of herd immunity is inhuman and reactionary. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that such a strategy would lead to a social catastrophe with SARS-CoV-2. The vaccination campaigns will only achieve their effect after a significant delay towards the end of 2021. The vaccinations will take place very unevenly, geographically and socially, reflecting imperialist relations and the lack of social justice on a global scale.
The much-vaunted protection of at-risk groups is an illusion. In European countries, about a quarter of people belong to a high-risk group or are in close contact with people at risk (a high proportion of people over 65, workers in health and social care, family members, friends, etc.). So many people cannot be specially protected or even shielded. The course of the pandemic and the helplessness of the authorities reveal this very brutally. Moreover, it would be neither acting on the principles of solidarity nor socially appropriate, but rather extremely selective to simply isolate the sick and elderly for months or even years and exclude them from social life.
Only a containment of the pandemic to a very few cases would make it possible to prevent the burdens and consequential costs from being disproportionately borne by workers, the most exploited and the poor, and especially women. The radical containment of the pandemic must be a central concern of the organisations of the workers’, women’s and anti-racist movements. The pandemic is exposing class relations, gender relations and racism more starkly than ever.
Imperialist countries can contain the spread of the virus through technical and social means, with lockdowns, closures, and targeted restrictions. This requires social and political will. In the emerging and poor countries, especially in the huge urban agglomerations and megacities, such a radical containment strategy is almost impossible because of poverty, living conditions and lack of infrastructure. That is why imperialist countries also have a global responsibility.
It is obvious that the balance of power at this moment is not sufficient to enforce this orientation towards near eradication of the virus. Nevertheless, these arguments must be raised. An ecosocialist orientation consists precisely in overcoming the apparent economic constraints and making what seems socially unrealistic conceivable and realisable. Large sections of the left denounce the authoritarian tendencies of governments’ pandemic policies. This is of course correct. But this democratic argumentation only makes sense if one recognises the fundamental challenge of the pandemic for people’s health and at the same time defines and supports the goal of radically containing the spread of the SARS-Cov-2 virus. To insist only on individual liberties is tantamount to reactionary libertarianism.
With the above-mentioned appeal, numerous natural and medical scientists are actively intervening in a central social debate. They are thus acting more directly politically than many trade unions and left-wing parties, which, after almost a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, have still not managed to define a clear policy about the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In order to develop joint health policy initiatives, it is useful to start a dialogue with these researchers. In Germany, some of them have already spoken out, in April and September, with valuable opinions about how to combat the pandemic.
However, this appeal leaves out key social and economic concerns that need to be raised in order to make this strategy one based on solidarity and to convince working-class people of the necessary measures. Governments are expanding their repressive apparatus, forcing people to restrict their social life and at the same time doing everything to satisfy the interests of capital. The pandemic affects people extremely unequally, globally and in every society. The restrictive measures taken by governments are exacerbating social inequality and social discrimination.
The pandemic reveals the social misery of our societies.
The foremost aim of governments’ measures so far is to defend competitiveness and thus the profitability of companies in the sectors of the economy they consider important. Covertly, most European governments have in mind the hazy goal of a slowed down herd immunity. In doing so, governments are complicit in the deaths of several hundred thousand people in Europe. Economic interests come first. Some liberal representatives of capital openly express this “balancing of interests”.
Governments have allowed and continue to allow the spread of infection until the health system is on the verge of collapse. In doing so, they deliberately plan for the physical and psychological exhaustion of health workers. They are counting on a massive vaccination campaign to end the pandemic. But this will take time and many people are sceptical about the hasty vaccination campaign. Moreover, the vaccines currently being approved have only been tested for giving immunity. It is not yet known to what extent they also prevent someone from being a carrier.
Verena Kreilinger, Winfried Wolf and I have already described in detail in our book Corona, Krise, Kapital. Plädoyer für eine solidarische Alternative in den Zeiten der Pandemie (Corona, Crisis, Capital: A plea for an alternative based on solidarity in times of pandemic)  the failure of the EU in the fight against the pandemic and called for a joint response based on solidarity. There has never been a European pandemic strategy. This is logical because the EU is not a community of solidarity but an institution for intensifying competition. Therefore, no solidarity-based impulses can be expected from the EU in the future.
What is serious, however, is the failure of the trade unions and socialist parties, which have never even proposed the rudiments of a solidarity-based European pandemic strategy. Worse still, neither The Left Party in Germany nor any other socialist or left party in Europe of any weight have been able to set a clear goal for combating the pandemic in its own country. Why don’t the Left Party in Germany and similar political forces in other European countries demand clearly and simply that infections must immediately be reduced to a level so that every single infection can be traced?
This is necessary to ensure the health of the population. Why is the workers movement unable to stand up unconditionally for the health of wage earners? Is it because the trade unions subordinate themselves to the economic interests of big companies or certain sections of the economy and fear that they cannot effectively defend workers against corporate blackmail and layoffs?
The huge health disaster is now leading a growing number of people in England, Wales, and Scotland to bring a radical perspective to the social debate. Trade unionists, social health activists and activists from various movements, as well as ecosocialists, launched a campaign in November under the slogan Zero Covid to eradicate the spread of the virus as far as possible. Socialists in Ireland also support this position. Whether this will broaden into a mass campaign remains to be seen. In any case, it makes sense for socialist organisations in other countries to take up these issues. The pan-European call by academics now offers the chance to broaden this discussion.
Trade unions, liberation movements, and socialist organisations must unreservedly support the international initiative presented here and set out a socio-ecological programme of demands. These include:
Lockdowns, closures, and measures to contain the pandemic must involve all areas of society – production, transport, consumption, and leisure – based on the principles of solidarity. Areas of the economy that are not immediately necessary for society should be temporarily restricted or shut down if necessary if the restrictions help to quickly contain the spread of the virus. This is especially true for meat factories, large warehouses and all businesses where employees have to work in close proximity to each other.
The entire health and care sector must be expanded immediately and sustainably and strengthened with an expansion of the workforce. Wages must be raised significantly.
All privatisation in the health and care sector must be stopped immediately. Hospital financing based on the number of cases must be replaced by a system based on solidarity and needs.
There must be no rescue packages for companies that help to maintain sectors that are socially and ecologically nonsensical (e.g. the aviation and automotive industries). Instead, a socio-ecological restructuring fund should be set up to co-finance industrial conversion and decommissioning
Workers must be protected against unemployment. Unemployment benefits should be increased. Cultural workers and micro-enterprises must be directly supported.
The measures to contain the spread of the virus hit the already disadvantaged the hardest. This discrimination must be countered with appropriate measures (smaller groups in nurseries and schools, opening vacant hotels for families in overcrowded flats and for refugees, etc., see also Kreilinger, Wolf, Zeller 2020).
The measures to contain the pandemic must be financed by society through a solidarity levy on inheritances, large incomes and corporate profits and assets.
Vaccines must be a global public good for all humanity. Therefore, patents must be abolished. People in poor countries must have the same right to vaccination as people in imperialist countries.
The trade unions should immediately initiate an open discussion process with workers in workplaces in compliance with the pandemic precautionary measures to design and implement joint steps “from below” against the pandemic in workplaces, in public transport, and at home. In dialogue with the feminist movement, refugee solidarity groups, the tenants’ movement, and the climate movement, as well as the scientific community, an effective programme to fight the pandemic based on solidarity can be developed and realised. Governments will not protect the people; the people need to protect each other both against the pandemic and against the unjust measures of governments.
Christian Zeller is the author and co-author of two recently published books in German.
Kreilinger, Verena; Wolf, Winfried und Zeller, Christian (2020): Corona, Krise, Kapital. Plädoyer für eine solidarische Alternative in Zeiten der Pandemie. Köln: Papyrossa, 277 S.
Zeller, Christian (2020): Revolution für das Klima. Warum wir eine ökosozialistische Alternative brauchen. München: Oekom Verlag, 248 S.
 Contain COVID-19. A joint statement of scientists from all across Europe. Calling for Pan-European commitment for rapid and sustained reduction in SARS-CoV-2 infections. 19 Decembers 2020 https://www.containcovid-pan.eu/.
There’s a compelling case that we are living in an age of pandemics. It’s possible, although by no means certain, that successful vaccination programmes will have had a significant on UK population immunity in 12 – 18 months. Given the profit motivation of Big Pharma it’s likely to take much longer in the global south. However, the likelihood of a mutation from Covid 19, or one or more completely new viruses over the next 5 years is high. So, a longer-term strategy for the campaign ought to be to ensure that we live safely in the face of recurrent pandemic. This is not a new idea – the British government had plans for such contingencies at the start of the millennium, then failed to maintain and update them and trashed the public health infrastructure that was needed for effective pandemic control.
So, one demand that should be campaigned for is that we learn the lessons of Covid and establish a well-funded local based public health service as part of the NHS. No place for private companies. It would be a tragedy if we are as ill prepared for the next pandemic as we were for Covid 19.
But we need more, and this is where the link with climate comes in. To be prepared we need to reimagine and redesign public transport systems so that they are safe to use and carbon free. We need to build new zero carbon houses and retrofit existing housing stock to high insulation and good ventilation standards. New public buildings and retrofitted existing public buildings also need to be zero carbon and have good effective ventilation. All of this is technically possible and is good for health and the environment.
All the key things we need to do to address both virus epidemics and global warming are not only largely the same (it’s very important that we keep stressing this point, though it’s been made before) but also their technical solutions are linked. Pumped air recirculation in buildings reduces virus cross-infection and improves energy efficiency. New bus design, rolled out in quantity production, can incorporate low-carbon motility and virus infection safety in one design, especially if the buses are in the context of no fares (protecting drivers, and passengers too because of reduced queuing and shorter journey times). Workplaces for the construction and maintenance of renewables can be much safer in relation to the spread of virus infection than oil and gas rigs. More people working in non-intensive local food production, whether commercially or in voluntary organisations, will mean more people working outside.
There are some things, like deforestation and food production, with their linked impacts on global warming and the liberation of new viruses, which we have little chance of influencing until we’ve stopped competitive capitalists from exploiting everything and every person for their profit. But these things related to housing, transport, energy production and food production are technically (and politically) achievable now. And if we don’t achieve them now there will be untold additional human suffering.
Geraldine Clayton looks at the urgency of building a new green economy post pandemic and reviews the Absolute Zero report, which was published in November 2019.
Discussions are now underway on how best to restart our economy after the coronavirus crisis. There is much to play for, and many groups and organisations have taken the message they want from the present crisis. We all, however, want to build a more efficient and less fragile economy than that which came about after the banking crash. For this to happen we will need a skilled workforce spread across the country able to take on the challenges ahead. The answer is surely in the regional planning and industrial strategies we can use to revitalise communities across the country by working towards a real zero carbon future.
In the world of finance, investors are now looking towards green policies for economic recovery. Unless policy makers put these at the top of the agenda we will be jumping from the coronavirus frying pan into the climate change fire. We need to be making structural changes now; investing in the supply chain for a green economy, changing legislation and regulation, and implementing an environment-led stimulus package. Putting the energy sector into some form of public ownership would place workers and communities at the centre of the recovery through public enterprise strategies and regional planning. The Scottish government could take advantage of the fact that EU state aid rules have been largely suspended to take over strategic sectors of the economy such as clean energy production. This would provide badly needed revenue. Profits would not be going onto the balance sheets of companies owned in this country and subject to future takeover activity, or to overseas investors. By acting now will we be advancing progress on tackling the climate emergency. But there is no time to waste. The government must either lead from the front or it will become irrelevant to the changes taking place around it.
What better way to build the economy than around tasks such as retro-fitting insulation for energy saving, getting rid of old gas boilers, building district heating systems, smartening up the grid, and developing, manufacturing and installing the new technologies we will need to conform to our carbon reduction targets?
The UK FIRES ‘Absolute Zero’ report which came out last November, written across five universities in the UK, funded by the government and endorsed by the House of Lords, states that we need to be out of fossil fuels by 2029, including that used in shipping and aviation. The only exception to this will be for a limited amount of oil to be used in the making of some plastics.
Sad to say the oil majors and fossil fuel companies, while publicly endorsing the need to act on Climate Change, are at the same time massively increasing their investments in a huge expansion of oil and gas extraction. They are putting themselves forward as the solution, when they are a major part of the problem.
The industry spends a lot of money and effort on lobbying. They have set up a network of supposedly independent organisations around the world whose job it is to lobby policy makers with positions that run counter to a lot of the top line statements of the major companies. This practice is known as ‘astroturfing’. It’s a murky business, but thanks to a determined group of academics, journalists and investigators some of these activities have been exposed. Another strategy is to hide behind trade organisations. Cross sector industry bodies tend to adopt the positions of their most vocal members, often fossil fuel related companies. The other majority members tend to stay silent, so these stances prevail. Trades associations have been weaponized by the fossil fuel companies to allow them to outsource the ‘negative stuff’. These, along with other lobbying strategies, have hindered governments globally in their efforts to implement policies aimed at allowing us to reach our climate change targets. The industry says its position on climate change is transparent and clear, yet their lobbying activities tell another story. Added to that, years of suggested solutions based on breakthrough technologies, including projects such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), and on market driven fixes like carbon markets have held us back from dealing with the ecological tsunami which could soon overtake us. For years the industry has proposed these types of solutions, and has been asking governments for money for funding CCS and other projects. These solutions are expensive and up until now none of these schemes has been proven to work at scale.
The Absolute Zero report states “The target of zero emissions is absolute. There are no negative emissions options or meaningful carbon emissions offsets. The UK is responsible for all emissions, including imported goods and international flights and shipping.” “Breakthrough technologies cannot be deployed at the scale needed rapidly enough.” We are concerned that most plans for dealing with climate change depend on breakthrough technologies, so will not be delivered in time. Until we wake up to the fact that breakthrough technologies will not arrive fast enough we cannot even begin having the right discussion.”
The stark reality is that the carbon to CO2 ratio is 1:3.7, which means that to stick to absolute zero emissions, for every ton of carbon we burn, we would have to take 3.7 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere. (Professor Miles Allan , in ‘The Life Scientific’ on Radio 4).
The current crisis has exposed the cracks in our system, and we now have a clearer understanding of what an emergency is. Even the super-rich cannot escape in any meaningful sense. Our life support systems are under threat, and there is a danger we could soon reach the point where, in a world in which biodiversity loss is amplified by climate change, there will be no turning back. Coronavirus will be brought under control eventually, but environmental collapse will be permanent from a human perspective.
If the fossil fuel industry wants to sell its product it should demonstrate that it can be used safely, and that the industry can clean up its own mess. It cannot do either. The fact that the industry spends so much time and effort in lobbying demonstrates that its arguments are weak. These arguments include;
“We can’t get out of oil and gas because if we do, production will be taken up by the ‘bad’ producers, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia. Our oil is good oil.”
The Deep Water Horizon well was exploratory at the time of the disaster, but the oil destined for production would presumably have gone under the heading ‘good oil’. Would the people of the Niger Delta, who have lost much of their livelihoods to oil pollution think Shell’s oil is ‘good oil’? It takes nine times more land to produce a barrel of oil on the US mainland than it does in Russia or Saudi Arabia because of the amount that is recovered from fracking. That is neither environmentally nor financially sound. We have a moratorium in Scotland on onshore fracking, but companies such as INEOS are pushing hard to have the moratorium overturned. In any case, the ‘chemically enhanced’ treatments used in oil recovery to get that ‘extra bit’ of oil out of a well are now standard practice across the world, including in the North Sea.
Many people still believe we import much of our gas supply from Russia. In fact we weaned ourselves off Russian gas years ago, and now import only a tiny fraction from there. Most of our gas comes from Norway, while the Norwegians obtain their own domestic power from hyrdro-electricity.
We were fed a similar line regarding the ethics of supplying arms during the seventies and eighties by the arms industry, who told us that if British companies stopped selling weapons this would allow the ‘wicked’ arms sellers to take over. Decades later the world is still awash with arms, and we are entering into yet another arms race. Oil, and the rights of access to it have both stimulated and fueled conflicts for a very long time now. But natural resources for clean energy are spread across the planet. There is no point in fighting for the wind, the sun or underground and airborne heat sources.
“We need to produce more oil and gas to save on expensive importing.”
Oil and gas is bought and sold on the world’s markets, so the oil produced here will go to the highest bidder. A report in January 2019 from the UK’s National Audit Office estimated the costs of dismantling offshore oil and gas infrastructure in the North Sea over the next twenty-five years could exceed £240 billion, most of which will be funded by the taxpayer. When this, along with the tax handouts and generous benefits handed out to companies are taken into account, the product appears to be rather expensive.
“We have the skills and the technological know-how to solve the problem of climate change.”
They are right, but it’s time for the industry to put their money where their mouth is. Their biggest resource lies in their workforce, who have families, and like us are hoping to live in a world where the future will be safe for their children and grandchildren. This is a truly solvable problem, and the fossil fuel companies have the resources, capital, cash flow and engineering capability to make this happen. Together they account for 10% of the world’s economy. But it requires the whole industry to clean up its waste rather than hoping someone else will do it for them.
“We will still need a mix of fuels by 2050”
Just listen to the science.
The sharp drop in the price of oil allows us to see what will happen in the future. The value of these companies lies in the value of their oil, and they have tanks of it. The days of peak oil have gone, but still many of them continue to take on debt to enable them to carry on with exploration and drilling. Offshore drilling tends to be done at greater depths than previously, and in more hazardous conditions. Clean-up operations will become much more difficult and expensive in the future. Oil leaks have increased recently, including in the North Sea, and the oil companies have been told to clean up their act. Climate change means insurance firms will be hit with increasing claims related to extreme weather, and fossil fuel companies will lose their value as the world implements increasingly urgent climate targets.
The Arctic is now being viewed as one of the most lucrative places for fossil fuel investment, but oil production in the area is beset with environmental dangers. Protection treaties have not been agreed for oil and mineral extraction in the Arctic, and there are no safety protocols in place for the region. The detrimental effects of oil spills in such a cold climate will be many times longer lasting than in temperate areas (think how much longer things last when kept in your fridge or freezer). The Deepwater Horizon disaster was estimated to have cost $100 billion to clear up. Any such occurrences in the Arctic region could be much costlier and more damaging to the environment. Shell, to its credit, has said it will not explore in the region until regulatory measures are put in place, but many other companies are keen to get started.
For pension funds and other investors, oil dividends and investments have up until now been safe and lucrative, but this cannot continue. Shell has for the first time in decades cut its shareholder dividends, and BP has seen a sharp drop in profits. Over the past three to five years global stock indexes without fossil fuel holdings have held steady with, and even out-performed otherwise identical indexes that include fossil fuel companies. Fossil fuel companies once led the economy and the world stock markets. They now lag.
According to the Institute for Energy, Economics and Financial Analysis, trustees face growing fiduciary pressure to divest from fossil fuels due to volatile revenues, limited growth opportunities and a negative outlook. Scottish local government pension funds have been advised by the Scottish Local Government Fiduciary Duty Guidance Advisory Board that pension committees may take environmental social and governance considerations into account in relation to investments if the financial performance of that investment may be impacted as a result of any particular environmental, social and governance considerations. Legal & General has put climate change risk as its top concern in terms of profit warnings.
Oil tends to mirror the stock market’s rise and fall, so it’s not a particularly good investment in a properly diversified portfolio. The value of these companies is bound to crash. We don’t know when this will happen, but we know it will.
Fossil fuel and aviation companies are currently asking the government for yet more handouts and tax breaks. The UK already has some of the lowest oil tax rates in the world. Last year Shell paid no tax at all on its UK operations. They already receive handsome tax breaks on investments and decommissioning, but the taxpayer can no longer keep on funding private businesses only to see them create more costs in the future in the form of climate impacts. The UK should remove all incentives and tax breaks from oil and gas extraction and redirect them to funding a just transition. Money spent on green initiatives will provide decent training and employment opportunities and help small and start-up businesses which are well placed to deploy new technologies. Given the right policies, job creation in clean energy industries will exceed affected oil and gas jobs more than three times over. These opportunities will be spread across the UK.
Our situation regarding climate change and loss of biodiversity is very serious indeed. We are closer to a real tipping point than we think. The stimulus packages released now hold the key as to whether this coronavirus crisis delays or advances progress on tackling the climate emergency. As the saying goes, why not make an opportunity out of a crisis? After all, I don’t think we will get another chance.
Scot E3 (Scotland), Campaign against Climate Change (UK), Climaximo (Portugal), Bridge to the Future (Norway) and One Million Climate Jobs (South Africa)
We are asking organisations and individuals to add their names and to share with friends and networks. If you are happy to add your name to the statement please email firstname.lastname@example.org and copy to email@example.com. Please make it clear whether you are supporting as an individual or on behalf of an organisation. We will forward your details to the coalition of Climate Jobs campaigns who have produced the statement.
The covid pandemic has also shown what happens when governments ignore scientific warnings. Terrible as that has been, the effects of climate change will be far worse. We need to act now.
Humanity faces an environmental crisis and an economic crisis. Unemployment is rising at dizzying speed. We will need Green New Deals to put very large numbers of people back to work, fix our health and care systems, and meet human needs. Climate jobs must be a central part of this.
On the one hand, we need to do a thousand things to halt climate change. But by far the most important is to stop burning coal, oil and gas. These fossil fuels are now used for electricity, transport, heating and industry. We can, and must, cut those emissions by at least 95%.
However, humans will still need heat, energy, shelter, transport and material goods. So as we close down the old, we must build new alternatives. That’s where climate jobs come in.
On the other hand, the world is entering into recession and financial crisis at a dizzying pace. It is clear that governments in many countries will now offer hundreds of billions, and probably trillions of dollars, to rescue troubled banks, oil companies, aviation companies, and other corporations. The workers in those industries will be laid off. We need to spend that money on climate jobs for workers – a stimulus that can help human beings who need jobs, instead of bankers and share prices.
When we say “climate jobs”, we don’t just mean any worthwhile green job. We mean jobs that lead directly to cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases. The main jobs in most countries will be in renewable energy, building smart grids, public transport, new housing, converting old buildings, conversion of industry, forestry, helping farmers, and waste.
There is no reason for delay. We already have all the technology we need. Promises today of action in ten or thirty years are either pious hopes or lies. We need deep cuts in emissions next year, and every year after. That means massive numbers of climate jobs next year too.
Corporations and the market have had decades to solve the problem. They have not done so. We could argue about whether they can eventually do it. But it is clear that they will not act in time. Only governments can raise the amounts of money needed for climate jobs to replace almost all the fossil fuels we burn now. And only governments will do the many essential things which make no profit. So most of the jobs will have to be in the public sector.
Climate jobs, and wider Green New Deals, are a necessity. They are also a strategy for mobilising a mass climate movement. For too long the enemies of climate action have said we have to choose between jobs and the environment. Climate jobs projects cut through all that – we will have more jobs and save the climate.
Public sector climate jobs will also mean we can promise retraining and new jobs to miners, oil workers and other carbon workers. That is morally right. It is also politically important.
Humanity will never halt climate change without the organised and enthusiastic support of small farmers and workers in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The majority of people killed and ruined by climate change will also come from those continents. Most of them will be poor. But they will not fight to stay poor. Climate jobs means they can fight for a low carbon world with an alternative path to development. Climate jobs, and wider Green New Deals, can make poverty history.
The idea of climate jobs first came naturally from trade unionists. But we need a far wider and stronger movement than that. That means climate strikers, climate activists, trade unionists, scientists, engineers, voters and Earthlings campaigning together, in many different ways. Each country is different, and there is much to debate everywhere about how climate jobs projects could work. But we need a global campaign, in every country, growing until we reach a tipping point where humanity can rescue the future of life on Earth.
Scot.E3 has added it’s name to this statement from the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice
A New Normal
The COVID-19 pandemic exposes an economic system unable to meet the needs of people and planet. Our only solution to address this global crisis, occurring amid a devastating climate crisis, is to join together and build a more just, resilient, and sustainable world. As members and allies of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice we are making an initial set of demands of governments as they respond to the pandemic.
The word apocalypse comes from the word for revelation. The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing what the global majority has known all along: that the dominant economic system prioritises profits over people and planet.
With each new day of infections, deaths and destroyed livelihoods, the pandemic is exposing the gross injustices of our existing systems. Years of neoliberalism, ‘structural adjustment’ and austerity have dismantled the social welfare state, specifically underfunding and hollowing out health systems across the globe. We are left with deficits of life-saving equipment, and surpluses of polluting industries.
The dimensions of the collective suffering and individual trauma unfolding are too vast to contemplate. Families confronting loss or lockdown in abusive relationships; bodies facing devastating illness; communities facing hunger and isolation.
But the pandemic has also shown our enormous collective strength, and the possibilities that emerge when a crisis is taken seriously, and people join together.
For those of us in the global climate justice movement, the unravelling of the pandemic comes as no surprise. For decades, as movements we have denounced the violent impacts of an unequal global economic system, the devastation of an accelerating climate crisis, and the shockingly cruel ways in which those least responsible bear its heaviest burdens. For decades, we have demanded an end to a status quo that was and continues to be a death sentence for the world’s poorest. The coronavirus crisis is a stark reminder of a prolonged past, and our response to it a dress rehearsal for the present and future.
As with the climate crisis, the COVID-19 crisis loads the heaviest burdens on those most vulnerable. The poorest are affected first and worst. It inflames the disparities carved by wealth, gender, class, race, (dis)ability and other intersectional factors. The highest costs are being borne by those least able to pay them, who were always condemned to bear such costs.
Most clearly, those most at risk of infection are those least able to isolate themselves.
A lockdown means confinement in our homes. But some of us are entirely without a home, or live with multiple family members and relatives in one house. Some of us are internally displaced people’s or refugee camps, or in detention centres, or go without access to running water and sanitation. For some of us, home is the site of violence and abuse, and staying home means an end to public activity we rely on for our day-to-day subsistence. Some of us can’t stay home because we are working in the most crucial and life-sustaining sectors, such as agriculture, without protection, including many of the subsistence and family farmers who feed over two-thirds of the world.
Women and girls bear the brunt of care work in our current system, in the home, in our communities and also in the economy, as they are the majority of health care workers. This pandemic has shown us the importance of care work, the work needed to raise families, to cook and clean and take care of the sick and elderly. It has shown us the profound impact of the lack of public services and social institutions for care work . We must use this moment to understand the importance of care work, share it among all peoples and build a society and economy that takes on care work based on feminist, care-affirming principles.
In many countries, health, food and basic services sectors are supported by migrant labour, many of whom do not have a voice, recourse to public funds and most often serving with the least protection. Migrant voices are also most often ignored in climate discussions. In times of crises, whether health or natural calamities, they are one of the most vulnerable, discriminated against, and ignored.
Those most affected by the climate crisis – people in the Global South who have faced the violence of environmental degradation, extended drought, and forced displacement – have now become one of most vulnerable populations to contagion and its effects. In areas where the health of communities has been debilitated by polluting industries, leading to an array of respiratory and immunological conditions, people are particularly at risk to COVID-19.
The pandemic is already opening the door to a major economic crisis, with an upcoming recession that will render the vast majority of the global population – who live day-to-day with precarious livelihoods – in a condition of even more chronic poverty. The risk of famine and deep disruptions to food sovereignty is significant. Southern countries are burdened with illegitimate and unsustainable debt – accumulated through decades of exploitative and predatory lending by Northern governments, international financial institutions and big banks in collaboration with southern elites and those Southern governments with authoritarian and corrupt practices. The prioritization of payments of these debts have taken a heavy toll on public services and continue to take up a huge part of public spending that should be allocated instead to public health responses to the pandemic.
We are at a crossroads. For years, we have demanded ‘system change not climate change’. System change now seems more necessary than ever, and more possible. The rules of the game are changing swiftly. Upheaval is unavoidable.
The question is: what kind of change is unfolding? What kind of system is emerging? What direction will change take?
The powerful are taking advantage of the crisis to advance disaster capitalism and a new authoritarianism, handing themselves expanding police and military powers, and rushing through extractive projects. Many governments are seizing the chance to push through draconian measures, police the population, undermine workers’ rights, repress the rights of Indigenous peoples, restrict public participation in decision-making, restrict access to sexual and reproductive health services, and institute widespread surveillance. In the worst situations, repressive actors are using the moment of political instability to violently quash dissent, legitimise racism, religious fundamentalism and advance predatory mining frontiers, and execute land defenders.
But the crisis they are making use of, also offers an opportunity for our movements to shape the emergent future. Our movements know the way forward, the type of world we need to build. Across the world, people are realising that our dominant economic system does not meet peoples’ needs. They are clearly seeing that corporations and the market will not save us. They are noticing that when a crisis is taken seriously, governments are capable of taking bold action and mobilise enormous resources to confront it. The limits of the possible can be radically shaken and rewritten. Within weeks, policy proposals long-campaigned for in many contexts (an end to evictions, liberating prisoners, bold economic redistribution to name but a few) have become common-sense and mainstream responses.
We are living through a convulsive but very fertile political moment. Our world has been forced into solidarity by a virus which ignores all borders; our deep interdependence has never been more undeniable.
In such a crisis rethinking and reimagining our economic model is inescapable. Resilient and justice-based solutions are not only possible, but the only real solution.
It is clear now that we need a response of solidarity, equity and care, with massive public investment that puts people and planet first, not polluting industries and profiteers. Just recoveries, and global and national new deals to build a regenerative, distributive and resilient economy is both necessary, and increasingly politically feasible.
The Fight for A New Normal
We will not return to a normal in which the suffering of the many underwrote the luxuries of the few. While politicians will push for a rapid resumption of the status quo, we can’t go back to normal, as social movements have affirmed, when that normal was killing people and the planet.
Our climate justice movements are in both a perilous and promising situation. The urgency of climate breakdown has dropped under the radar, even as climate violence is relentless, expressed most recently in devastating storms across the Pacific, forest fires in China, and torrential rains in Colombia. Unless we take this political moment, climate action will be on the backburner, and economies in the rich North will be turbocharged and revived with dirty investments that deepen the climate crisis. We must be vigilant and persevering to ensure that addressing the climate crisis must be front and center of bailouts, and programmes to ensure the resilience of society and all peoples.
Our movements have an expertise which is invaluable at this time. While COVID-19 and the climate crisis may have different direct causes, their root causes are the same: a reliance on the market, a failure of the state to address long-term threats, the absence of social protection, and an overarching economic model that protects investments over lives and the planet. The same extractivist system that extracts, burns and destroys ecosystems, is the same system which enables dangerous pathogens to spread. The solutions to the COVID-19 and climate crises are the same: solidarity, redistribution, collaboration, equity, and social protection. It is our opportunity and responsibility to join the dots, and use this political moment to confront corporate power, and build a more just and sustainable society.
The Horizons We Can Claim
The pandemic has changed the game. We have the resources to build an economic model that doesn’t trash the planet and provides for all. We have the momentum to recover from this crisis in a way that builds our resilience and fortifies our dignity as societies. Now is our time to claim it.
As members of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, we demand a bold response to the COVID-19 pandemic that simultaneously helps address the wider climate crisis, and transform the unequal economic system that has led to both.
We demand that governments:
Prioritise the health and wellbeing of people. People must always be valued over profit, for an economy is worthless without its people. No one is disposable. Fully fund and resource health services and systems, ensuring care for all, without exception. Governments must also prioritise robust investment in other essential public services, such as safe shelter, water, food and sanitation. These services are not only essential in stemming the spread of disease in the long-term, but are core to governments’ obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights for all. Therefore, they must not be privatised and instead be managed in an equitable, publicly-accountable manner.
Guarantee the protection of marginalised populations. Provide aid, social protection, and relief to rural populations and the families that compose them, who are at the forefront of feeding our world. Special protection must also be guaranteed for the social and human rights of all peoples put in vulnerable and precarious circumstances, such as those in situations of homelessness, people in prison, refugees and migrants, elders in home care, orphans, and especially environmental defenders who are now being murdered with even greater frequency under the cover of the COVID-19 emergency.
Issue immediate economic and social measures to provide relief and security to all, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in our societies. Protect labour rights and guarantee protections for all workers, from the formal to the informal economy, and guarantee a universal basic income. Recognise, visibilise and value all care work, the real labour that is sustaining us during this crisis.
Governments must stop subsidies for fossil fuels and reorient public funds away from the military-industrial complex, and private corporations, and use them instead to ensure access to clean energy, water, and important utilities and public services for the well-being of communities.
We call for an immediatecancelation of debt payments by Southern countries due in 2020 and 2021 with no accrual of interest nor penalties, so that funds can be used for health services to combat COVID19 and for economic assistance for communities and people who are facing greater hardships in the face of the pandemic and responses to it. A mere suspension of payments is not enough, and will simply delay the pain of debt servicing. We also demand an immediate start to an independent international process to address illegitimate and unsustainable debt and debt crises to pave the way for unconditional debt cancelation for all Southern countries.
Governments must also transform tax systems, abolishing fiscal holidays for multinational corporations which undermine revenues, and abolish value-added tax and goods and services taxes for basic goods. Take immediate steps towards stopping illicit financial flows and shutting down tax havens.
Support a long-term just transition and recoveryout of this crisis, and take the crisis as an opportunity to shift to equitable, socially just, climate-resilient and zero-carbon economies. We cannot afford bailouts that simply fill corporate pockets or rescue polluting industries incompatible with a living planet. Rather, we need an economic recovery that builds resilience, dissolves injustices, restores our ecosystems, and leads a managed decline of fossil fuels and a justice-oriented transition towards a fair & sustainable economy. Governments should pursue economic programmes including just trade relations that prioritize domestic needs, dignified and decent jobs across the entire economy, including in the care economy, ecological restoration and agro-ecology, essential services and decentralised renewable energy — all necessary for an equitable and climate-just world.
Reject efforts to push so-called “structural reforms” that only serve to deepen oppression, inequality and impoverishment , including by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, who may use the pandemic to push schemes in the Global South under the guise of “shortening the time to recovery.” The neoliberal pillars of austerity, deregulation, and privatisation — especially of essential services such as water, health, education etc — have devastated people across the world and are incompatible with a just recovery.
Bolster international cooperation and people to people solidarity. Global problems that respect no borders, whether they be the climate or COVID-19 crisis, can only have cooperative and equitable solutions. In a deeply unequal world, transferring technology and finance from the richest to the poorest countries is crucial. Governments should facilitate instead of hindering the efforts of people’s movements, citizens groups, Indigenous peoples and civil society organizations to link up across borders and countries for mutual support. We also call on governments to honor their historical responsibility and stop using tactics that dismiss that responsibility and delay a strong international response, such as withholding funding from the WHO and other institutions in a time of crisis.
Collaborate on the development of and unrestricted accessto vaccines and any medical breakthroughs of experimental therapy drugs, led by principles of international cooperation and free distribution. We need to ensure that any COVID-19 vaccine will reach all and that no country will be able to become a monopoly buyer, and no entity a monopoly producer.
Immediately cease extractive projects, from mining to fossil fuels to industrial agriculture, including extraterritorial projects undertaken by corporations headquartered in your country, which are accelerating ecological crises, encroaching on Indigenous territories, and putting communities at risk.
Reject any and all attempts to waive liability ofcorporations and industries. The actors that are responsible, in so many ways, for this multifaceted crisis and the broken system absolutely cannot be granted loopholes that allow them to escape responsibility for their abuses at home and across the world.
Governments must not take advantage of the crisis to push through draconian measures including the expansion of police and military powers that undermine workers’ rights, repress the rights of Indigenous peoples, restrict public participation in decision-making, restrict access to sexual and reproductive health services, or institute widespread surveillance under cover of the crisis.