Myles Allen has made an important contribution to our understanding of role of human activity on the global climate. He was interviewed on Radio 4’s ‘The Life Scientific’ last week. Well worth listening to the podcast on BBC Sounds.
Myles Allen has made an important contribution to our understanding of role of human activity on the global climate. He was interviewed on Radio 4’s ‘The Life Scientific’ last week. Well worth listening to the podcast on BBC Sounds.
UCU, NUS and other organisations have got together to produce themed resources on the climate crisis. The aim is to get as many schools, colleges and universities as possible using the resources in the week 10th – 14th February. The resources are relevant and useable at any time and we’ve added the link to the Resources page on this site. If you are a student or work in education do check them out and think about how they can be used in your institution.
The latest ScotE3 takes a critical look at BECCS – Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage. Like all the ScotE3 briefings it is designed as a short, and hopefully clear, introduction to the topic. We welcome feedback and ideas for improvement.
You can read the text of the briefing below and download the full pdf from the resources page.
What is BECCS?
When people talk about BECCS in relation to the climate emergency they are referring to ‘Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage’. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a range of technologies that can be used to extract Carbon Dioxide from other gases. The separated carbon dioxide is then stored under the surface of the earth in geological formations that trap the gas long-term. So carbon that would otherwise be adding to the earth’s atmosphere is locked away.
BECCS adds another stage to the CCS process. Fast growing woody plants, which take carbon from the atmosphere as they grow, are chopped down, the biomass is burnt in a power station to generate energy, and CCS is used to separate out and store the carbon. CCS and BECCS are often referred to as Negative Emissions Technology or NET.
Why is it important?
CCS and BECCS really matter because currently almost all the carbon reduction targets set by institutions and governments around the world assume that CCS and BECCS can be implemented at large scale. Typically targets talk about aiming for ‘net zero’ emissions. The net here is not to be confused with Negative Emissions Technology! The assumption is that carbon emissions will continue, but what’s pushed out into the atmosphere will be exactly balanced by carbon that’s sucked in through CCS and safely captured. It’s this assumption that allows the Scottish Government to talk about a climate emergency and set targets to reduce emissions while at the same time supporting continuing production of North Sea Oil and Gas and welcoming the development of new oil and gas fields.
The arguments against BECCS
So why should we be worried? Surely a technology that allows us to reach net zero is to be welcomed? Isn’t it a good thing that it’s the core component of the climate strategies advocated by the IPCC, the UK Committee on Climate Change and the Scottish Government? In fact there are a lot of reasons to think that BECCS is a dangerous diversion that cannot achieve the results that many of its advocates suggest and that would have knock on effects that would be disastrous.
Maintaining the status quo?
The big energy companies are interested in BECCS because it allows them to continue business as usual; license to continue exploiting fossil fuels and to maintain their power and profitability. The Scottish Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage takes a different view, arguing that there is a role for CCS in some specialised areas where it is hard to replace hydrocarbon fuels by electricity, but admitting that the technology is very expensive and should be one subsidiary strand of a transition to a sustainable economy. Technologies for CCS exist in theory and have been trialled in laboratories but there are hardly any examples of it working in real life applications. The UK Committee on Climate Change argues that Scotland is particularly suitable for growing biomass crops and that 32% of UK production could take place in Scotland. But globally something like three times all the land currently in cultivation would need to be turned over to biomass. Clearly this can’t happen, but even at much lower levels growing crops to be burned, as biomass would displace food crops and the prices of staple foods would increase forcing the poorest further into hunger and starvation.
Restoring ecosystems that capture carbon
Forests are a very important way in which carbon is removed from the atmosphere; about 25% of current emissions are taken up. However, worldwide forests are under threat and clear cutting of forests to grow soya and other crops for meat production causes around 10% of global carbon emissions. An end to deforestation and proactively working to re-establish natural forests could have a big impact on carbon reduction. Trees are important but not just any trees. When monoculture plantations replace trees – for example Palm Oil the same land area is much less efficient at absorbing carbon. BECCS often assumes clearance of existing forest for monoculture cultivation of biomass. And there are many other serious impacts: displacement of indigenous communities, destruction of ecosystems and of pesticides.
Separating out carbon dioxide from other gases or from the atmosphere is an energy intensive process so it’s expensive financially and in terms of our overall energy budget. Operating at large scale might reduce the cost per ton of carbon but it would still need very large amounts of clean energy.
Scotland has a number of locations where the underground rock formations are suitable for underground storage of carbon dioxide. Many parts of the world do not. Proponents of CCS suggest that carbon storage could be a profitable new industry – however, long distance transport of captured gas would also require a lot of clean energy.
Ultimately, however, the problem with BECCS and CCS is political. Governments and corporations favour it as a solution because it seems to allow existing infrastructure and power relationships to be preserved. It suggests that climate catastrophe can be averted by technical fixes.
Even if the technology works and can be introduced rapidly and at scale it seems highly unlikely that it can mitigate emissions sufficiently to avoid going well beyond a 1.5 degree rise. However, for as long as CCS remains the main plank of mainstream strategies it diverts action and investment away from sustainable strategies that we know could work. And it acts as a barrier to the systemic change that is required to save the planet.
All our material is published under a CC0 public domain license (unless otherwise stated. You are welcome to share, reuse and reversion. This briefing draws heavily on a FOE(S) and FOE(international) webinar.
An updated version is now available of our briefing on the dangers posed by the damaged Hunterston nuclear reactors and the reasons why nuclear power has no part to play in decarbonising the Scottish economy. We’ve reproduced the text here and you can download the briefing from our resources page.
The two remaining nuclear power stations in Scotland can generate about a third of our electricity when in operation. Hunterston B and Torness are ageing, in bad shape and well past their planned retirement dates. This briefing explains why they pose a serious risk to public safety and why nuclear has no place in a sustainable energy policy.
Problems with AGRs
The Scottish nuclear reactors at Hunterston and Torness are both examples of what are known as Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors or AGRs. Designed in the 1960’s, AGRs were built at seven sites around the UK between 1965 and 1988. Hunterston was connected to the grid in 1976 with a design life of 30 years. The reactors have had a consistently poor record. To achieve high-energy efficiency they were designed to operate with very high temperatures in the reactor core. This requires a very complicated reactor design. The thousands of graphite blocks that make up the reactor core are critical to reactor safety. However, the bolts that secure them are liable to corrode at the planned operating temperatures. As a result the reactors have always been run at lower than designed temperatures ensuring that efficiency is sub optimal.
The big selling point of AGRs was that they were designed for continuous operation. The idea was that the fuel rods and control rods that govern the rate of the nuclear reaction could be moved in and out of the reactor core while it remained in operation. Again this was never achieved. Expansion of the reactor core resulted in the channels for the fuel rods and control rods being distorted out of position. Consequently the necessary precision of fuel rod and control rod insertion/extraction was never achieved and after a series of serious fuel rod jamming incidents, on load refuelling was abandoned.
A disaster waiting to happen?
However, the story of AGRs is not just about failure to achieve design objectives. Graphite, which makes up the rector core, is a form of carbon. Subject to intense radiation it becomes brittle and prone to cracking. The longer the reactor is in operation the worse this becomes. Reactor 3 at Hunterston is currently offline because it’s estimated that there are 377 cracks in the reactor core. Reactor 4 has an estimated 209 cracks and has been allowed to run for 4 months up to December
To put this in context there are 3000 graphite blocks in each reactor. The latest report from the ONR (Office for Nuclear Regulation) warns that the cores are disintegrating with 58 fragments so far identified. This has huge implications for safety.
Hunterston B is 42 years old. It was originally designed to operate for a maximum of 30 or 35 years and it is running beyond the original design safety limits. With the ongoing crumbling of the reactor core. A sudden outage, steam surge or earth tremor could result in a serious accident and a large release of radioactive gas. If other safety systems were to fail – and they are untested – there is a possibility of a catastrophic accident on the scale of Chernobyl. The direction of the prevailing wind would take the radioactive plume across Glasgow, Edinburgh and most of the central belt.
Torness started producing electricity in 1988 and was scheduled to close in 2023. Owners, EDF Energy recently extended this date to 2030. It shares problems of cracking in the graphite core with Hunterston and in addition has had to close down on several occasions in the last decade as a result of jellyfish and seaweed clogging the secondary seawater cooling systems.
We don’t need nuclear
In the past Scotland has generated an energy surplus. In 1989 primary energy capacity in Scotland was 45% more than the level of demand. The margins are now much narrower. Reliance on ageing nuclear capacity rather than planning for non-nuclear green alternatives could result in a shortfall in supply in the future. We can decarbonise through further development of wind, solar, wave and tidal energy. Nuclear is unnecessary, expensive, poses a high risk to health and wellbeing and only exists because it is essential to the nuclear arms programme. Retention of current nuclear capacity is not only high risk but also acts as a barrier to the development of a long-term sustainable system of energy production.
Urgent need for action
EDF want to keep operating both reactors at Hunterston. They have redefined the ‘safe’ limit for the number of permitted cracks in the cores. But the level of risk is just too high. The Westminster Government and EDF are desperate to get Hunterston back on line. Tory policy of building new reactors, rather than investing in renewables, is in tatters as first Toshiba and now Hitachi back out of new build in Cumbria and Wales. The projected cost of energy from the planned Hinckley C reactor far exceeds the cost of wind and solar.
We need to see the end of nuclear as part of a shift to a sustainable economy. The role of a national investment bank and a national energy company is crucial in making a rapid move to clean, safe energy. In the process more than 100,000 new climate jobs could be created in Scotland. While current discussion of these initiatives by the Scottish Government is welcome a much greater sense of urgency and a commitment to a climate jobs strategy is required. Closing Hunterston can be step one in building the campaign is that’s required.
Pete Cannell reviews a new book from Verso – ‘A planet to win: why we need a green new deal’.
A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal
Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen and Thea Riofrancos
A You Gov Blue poll of US voters in March 2019 found that 59% supported the idea of a Green New Deal. ‘A Planet to Win – Why We Need a Green New Deal’ is a highly readable explanation of what the Green New Deal represents and the challenges that have to be overcome to implement it. The book focuses on what needs to be done in the US over the next decade (a small quibble – some references to the UK are not entirely accurate) but it’s highly recommended for a UK audience. Not least because the authors are absolutely clear about the necessity for system change. They share the view expressed by Naomi Klein in the introduction that ‘The promise of the Green New Deal is that climate crisis is an opportunity to build a better world’.
The authors believe that radical change is essential and that such change ‘only happens when millions of people are organizing, striking and marching, shaping politics and the economy from below’. They argue that the transition to a sustainable economy has to be driven by mass action, contesting power and ending social inequality. They are also clear-eyed about the challenges that we face in building such a movement. They situate the Green New Deal in the context of more than 40 years of neo-liberalism when living standards for many Americans have been at best stagnant and during which inequality has grown. Moreover, they take on the issues of power in society. Understanding that big business will be as vicious in defence of the status quo as they have been in attacking the US Labour Movement. They argue that there are two essential tasks. Breaking down the divide between the labour and climate movements and at the same time rebuilding the strength, vitality and combativity of the former. Most of the book is devoted to providing arguments that will convince trade unionists of the necessity for action and more generally to win the movement to an understanding that collective action rather than individual sacrifice is what is required in the face of an existential crisis.
UK readers may be less familiar with the original New Deal. The Great Depression had a devastating impact on the US economy with many millions thrown out of work. The New Deal was a programme of public works, reforms and regulations that aimed to put people back to work. It was implemented on a mass scale. “Workers hired under the Works Progress Administration constructed 651,000 miles of highway … 125,000 public buildings including 41,300 schools, and 469 airports. They built 8,000 parks and 18,000 playgrounds and athletics fields.” And it was popular. The authors of ‘A Planet to Win’ understand that the New Deal was designed to save capitalism not to bury it. However, they make use of it to illustrate how rapid action on a massive scale is possible. The history of the New Deal also informs their emphasis on job creation and job guarantees that extend far beyond workers in the carbon based industries. Indeed they stress that it was about social reproduction as well as production and argue that in the 21stcentury jobs in care, health and education are critical to a just transition.
Perhaps the best thing about this book is its relentless focus on the politics of climate action and the need for climate justice. It rejects strategies that ignore the need to address social inequality and simply rely on technical fixes. It argues that we need systemic change. The technology exists, what’s needed is the political will to push change through in a short period of time. Here the book is at its’ weakest. I think this reflects a more general weakness of the socialist left. Recognising the need for radical democracy and rebuilding collective organisation and the collective power of the working class is necessary. The book is good on this. Recognising that big business and the giant energy corporations have to be brought to book is also critical and again the authors are clear about this. What’s less clearly articulated is the role of the state in relation to capital. The US Green New Deal is radical and takes on board race and gender in a way that the original New Deal did not. In considering options for sustainability it recognises the impact on the global of additional demand for natural resources but it as primarily a national strategy. It has little to say on the military industrial complex. The US military has a huge carbon footprint. If the Pentagon were a country it would be number 55 in the world for carbon emissions. But even more critical to a strategy for system change the giant military corporations dominate the industrial economy, exert a stranglehold on research and development and monopolise skills and knowledge essential for transition. Just like the energy companies their hold must be broken.
Quite rightly the authors of ‘A planet to win’ are critical of those who would like to cherry pick some elements of the Green New Deal while trying to maintain the status quo. They argue that the real fantasy is that half measures, preserving business as usual, can work. An effective strategy implies a radical Green New Deal.
Whether we like it or not the global climate crisis is coincident with a global crisis of organisation on the left. The nature of both crises is deeply influenced by the last four decades of neo-liberalism. The urgency of the climate crisis presents unique challenges and opportunities. So for example, in the US, at the same time as public policy is set on a path of rapidly increasing fossil fuel production, the movement for a Green New Deal is growing rapidly. For the first time in decades ‘socialism’ is back on the agenda. This book is a valuable contribution to the first faltering steps to build out of the marginalisation of the left. A different kind of economy is not only necessary it is possible.
This article was first posted on http://www.rs21.org.uk
Another speaker at the conference will be Clara Paillard – a member of the PCS union. Here’s Clara being interviewed in 2015 at the Paris meeting of the COP.
On Wednesday 16th October, 7.30pm we have a public meeting/discussion as part of the Edinburgh World Justice Festival
We plan to explore what is meant by justice transition and reflect on the need to develop the definition. There’ll also be some film clips on struggles for just transition around the world.
We’ll finish with discussion on making just transition core to the politics and practice of the movement. Who we need to reach, how we can reach them and what are the priorities for action.
Climate Justice is the theme of this year’s Edinburgh World Justice Festival held at various venues in Edinburgh between 28th September and 19th October. Among the speakers at the conference held on Saturday 12th October was Asad Rehman from War in Want. The video is just over 20 minutes and is highly recommended.
Elsewhere on this blog and in Briefing number 9 we have made the case for the permanent closure of Hunterston B – arguing that nuclear power has no place in a sustainable energy future. We are pleased to be able to share this video of Rob Edwards talking at an Edinburgh CND meeting as part of the 2019 Edinburgh World Justice Festival. Rob’s talk provides up to date information on the current status of the two nuclear reactors at Hunterston.
The second contributor to the discussion at the Glasgow Scot.E3 meeting on phasing out North Sea Oil and Gas was Mike Downham on behalf of Scot.E3. You can watch the video or read the text of Mike’s talk below. (See the first contribution from Ryan Morrison here).
STOPPING NORTH SEA OIL AND GAS EXTRACTION 24.9.19
Thank you, Ryan, for giving us such a clear explanation of the Sea Change report. If some of you haven’t had a chance to read the report, I recommend that you do. It’s quite something. Not only is this new research a vital contribution to the Climate Crisis, but the report is unusually well-argued, well-written and well-illustrated. What’s more, it offers the reader three choices within the same download – a half-page outline, a seven-page summary, and a 62-page full version.
Fundamentally the report says four things:
We chose the first word of the title of tonight’s meeting because ‘Stopping’ has two meanings. It can mean beginning to stop doing something, and Sea Change tells us exactly why and how this has to be done in the North Sea. But it can also mean stopping someone else from doing something. In the case of stopping North Sea oil and gas extraction the someone else we have to stop is the extraction corporations. These are giants – giants in terms of financial turnover, and in terms of profit. And because of the huge profitability they can see ahead, as reserves of oil and gas run down and demand gets stronger, they are literally hell-bent to get ahead of their competitors and extract every last drop.
These are the people we have to overcome. And we have no choice except to overcome them because they are responsible for a large proportion of the world’s carbon emissions. What they extract inevitably gets burned. ExxonMobil for example, just one of the giants, is responsible for carbon emissions equivalent to those produced by the whole of Germany. (And, as an aside, to park for another meeting, these are one and the same people as those driving the case for the jargon-wrapped Bio-Energy-with-Carbon-Capture-and-Storage idea, which is nothing more than a huge scam and primarily an excuse to carry on extracting fossil fuels.)
It’s critical I think that we understand exactly what we’re up against. In a market economy based on the assumption that economic growth can continue indefinitely, money is power. Power flows from money in many ways, but the biggest of these is the stranglehold big companies have over national governments. All governments need capital for investment and economic development. When capital is privately owned, and once capital controls had been removed, as they were first in the US in 1974, then in the UK in 1979, and across the rest of Europe and Japan in the 80s, there has been nothing to stop companies moving out of one country into another where labour is cheaper, for example, or government subsidies bigger, or environmental regulation weaker. Large companies have been given the power to sanction government policy. No government can dare to challenge them for fear that they’ll take their money out of the country.
ScotE3 recognises the scale of the challenge to stop extraction, at the same time seeing it as an absolute necessity if we’re to limit global warming to a 1.5 degree rise. We see ourselves as a component of a movement which focusses on social justice and working class action, and we have a special interest in a just and rapid transition from North Sea oil and gas to renewables as Scotland’s exclusive source of energy. We gather and share information, hold public meetings and conferences, and support climate protests and campaigns wherever they emerge, most recently the student strikers and their worker and trade union supporters, Extinction Rebellion, Fife Ready for Renewal, and Friends of the Earth Scotland. You can see all this, as well as a draft manifesto, on the ScotE3 website – there should be a card on your seat giving the website address. Have a look if you can at the blog, and at some of the Briefings – for example Briefing 7 on fuel poverty in Scotland. If you’d like to join the ScotE3 mailing list, we’ll pass a sheet round later.
Interest in ScotE3’s contribution to the movement is growing fast this year, judging by numbers attending meetings and supporting protests, and by website hits. But for the movement to be able to stand up to and defeat the extraction corporations, it has to become very large – a mass movement across Scotland – and it has to be fronted by all those workers who are at risk of losing their North Sea jobs, standing in solidarity with the even larger number of workers who have already been pushed to the bottom of society with jobs that are underpaid, insecure and monotonous, and who struggle on a daily basis to keep their families housed, fed and warm. The power of this mass of workers lies in their ability to withdraw their labour and to bring Scotland’s economy to a stop. This power is even greater than the power of the extraction corporations. The giants can’t be stopped by appeals to reason and morality. Reason and morality have long-since ceased to have any part in their thinking. They can’t be stopped by the heroism of a small number of people – the truly heroic Greta Thunberg has always made this point. They can only be stopped by a vey large number of workers who are prepared to withdraw their labour. In the face of that, the corporations are powerless. And as we witnessed on Friday, when the school strikers mobilised an estimated four million people, the global mass movement, now crucially involving workers and unions, is growing fast.
How much can we expect from governments? This has always been a key question for movements aiming to bring about radical change, and it’s a key question now for the climate movement. Even governments seen at the time as left-wing have failed large movements in the past, most notoriously in Germany, when in 1914 the Social Democratic Government, despite massive popular protest, compromised and failed to take its opportunity to prevent the first world war. And the story of Allende’s government in Chile in1973 carries much the same general message. But could this Scottish Government be different? Could it come behind the things the Sea Change report recommends it should do? And could that Government act quickly enough in the context of the climate emergency?
On the same day the UK Prime Minister announced that parliament would be prorogued, it wasn’t much noticed that the Scottish Greens announced their radical proposals for a Green New Deal. They gave this summary of their proposals:
But to do this we have to ditch neoliberal economics for good.
At the heart of a Scottish Green New Deal is a belief that the Scottish Government can and must take a direct role, working in partnership with citizens, communities, and companies to deliver the change Scotland and the planet so urgently needs
It would be nice to think that tomorrow, when the Scottish Parliament debates the final version of the Climate Bill, it will take notice of the Greens’ recommendations, take notice of the Sea Change report, and insert into the Bill a commitment to phase out North Sea oil and gas extraction, to do that rapidly and to start now.
But it’s highly unlikely the Government will do any such thing tomorrow, and highly likely that we’ll be left looking at a weak and ambiguous Bill based on long-term targets. Governments like long-term targets – they can get away with missing them.
There are three reasons that the Scottish Government is unlikely to commit to rapid phase-out of North Sea extraction. First, remember that business, particularly large business like the oil and gas extraction corporations, has a stranglehold on governments. If the Scottish Government committed to phasing out North Sea extraction quickly, the corporations would immediately withdraw their support for the Government and for the SNP – support which the Government can’t do without. The second reason, a reflexion of the first, is that the SNP remains committed to continuing economic growth, as made clear by their so-called Sustainable Growth Commission. The third reason is that only the UK Government has the power to stop North Sea extraction, because it issues the licenses for exploration and the permits for extraction. And it would be about as sound a bet as you could make that this UK Government won’t stop issuing the licences and permits in the foreseeable future.
So what are we to do? The Sea Change report is clear about this when it says: “We need a new approach to economic development, industrial policy and ownership, which emphasises local democracy and workforce participation.” Exactly. But I submit that we need also to get real and realise that we aren’t going to get this radical approach from the Scottish Government, nor the UK Government, nor from any government across the globe by reasoning with them, appealing to their morality, or being polite. After all, how long have governments been meeting at international COPS to reach agreement about actions against global warming, and what impact have those meetings had so far? The answers are 27 years and none. In fact, global carbon emissions have risen by an eyewatering 60% since those meetings began, and are still rising.
Does this mean we should turn our backs on the Scottish Government at this point? I suggest not. History shows us that making specific and feasible demands on governments, even if they take no notice, is a good strategy for growing the mass movement to the point where it realises it has to take power into its own hands. In Scotland at this particular point I suggest we could make three demands on the Government, if their Climate Bill turns out this week to be as inadequate as we expect. These demands are firmly based on the climate movement’s in-depth work over recent years. As well as being focussed and feasible, they directly address the current most desperate issues for millions of working people – fuel poverty, poverty in general, and jobs which are badly paid, insecure and unsatisfying.
We can demand:
We will make it clear to the Scottish Government that we won’t take no for an answer, confident in the new-found strength and breadth of the global movement for democracy, as more and more people, after 40 miserable neoliberal years, seek to break with the Economy of Madness and with the Politics of Division. That movement has been boosted today by the UK Supreme Court ruling.
I want to end by arguing that Scotland has exceptional opportunities to make an immediate and significant contribution to the global climate crisis.
Scotland’s exceptional opportunities are technical, geographical and political.
Technically, the skills of North Sea extraction workers are largely those needed for the expansion and further development of renewables, and in the work to make all buildings across Scotland more energy efficient. The Sea Change report is strong on this point, providing a lot of new detail, effectively illustrated with diagrams, about how the various skills of North Sea workers overlap with the new skills needed. The report estimates that there is a significant skills-overlap for at least 68% of North Sea workers, probably more. This isn’t only about just transition for existing workers and their communities. The skills and experience of these workers are vitally necessary for rapid transition. If we had to recruit and train a whole new generation of workers, we’d miss the only window of opportunity to reduce emissions in time to limit global warming to a 1.5 degree rise.
Geographically, Scotland’s opportunities are huge. Its long, windy coastline, large tides, strong currents, Atlantic rollers and mountains favour between them off-shore wind, tidal, wave and hydro development.
Politically, Scotland has several characteristics which make radical change more possible. It’s a small country. It has an independence movement with a long history. And it has a very long history of protest against its exploitative southern neighbour – going back 800 years, from William Wallace to Robert the Bruce, to the Jacobite rising, to resisters of the Highland Clearances for agrarian capitalists, to the Clydeside Rising against grinding poverty under the heel of industrial capitalism in 1919 – a centenary celebrated vigorously this year by thousands. Under the heel of neoliberalism protest, especially strike, has been made more difficult, but how much longer will the people of Scotland put up with the dismissive disrespect of this UK Government?
You may be thinking that Scotland on its own can hardly have much impact on global emissions, and of course you’d be right. But another exceptional thing about Scotland is that internationalism is embedded in its culture. This goes back a long way too, but you only have to look at the EU referendum result to see that internationalism is still alive and well in Scotland. It can no longer be denied that Scotland has scandalously racist elements. But one of the most frequently brandished placards by the School Climate Strikers on Saturday in both Glasgow and Edinburgh proclaimed “Climate Refugees Are Welcome”. And last year Green MSP Ross Greer made a well-argued pitch for devolution of immigration and asylum powers, received well in Scotland, but not of course in Westminster.
In the context of its international reputation and relationships, if Scotland can stop North Sea oil and gas extraction, it could have a significant influence on governments and anti-fossil-fuel movements across the world as an example of what can be done
The 20th century Gallic poet Sorley MacLean predicted that Scotland would eventually rise in response to its centuries of oppression. In his poem The Cuillin, written in 1943, but not widely available in translation until the 70’s, he says:
Beyond the lochs
of the blood of the children
Beyond the frailty of the plain
and the labour of the mountain
consumption, fever, agony
Beyond hardship, wrong
Beyond misery, despair,
Beyond guilt and
the Cuillin is seen
rising on the other side of
Sorley MacLean’s life spanned most of the 20th century. In that century, we learned many things about how to change human society and about how not to change it. The biggest thing we learned was that only a mass democratic movement is capable of forcing radical change, and that because of their numbers, their ability to withdraw their labour collectively, and their commitment driven by daily hardship, the organised working-class majority plays the decisive role. With 540,000 members the Scottish Trade Unions Congress has embarked on work to chart a route to a carbon-free society while advancing workers’ interests. Can the Scottish TUC act as a meeting point for the forces of workers, students, greens, socialists and the Extinction Rebellion?
As we all know we have no time to lose. Naomi Klein gave a new twist to the urgency in her recent book On Fire. She says: “It just so happens that we are all alive at the last possible moment when changing course can mean saving lives on a truly unimaginable scale.”