Climate scientists are people too

November 19, 2019

Climate scientists understand potential climate disasters, but can not accurately predict the timescales or details of how they will unfold.

Some are more sceptical than others about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but all see it as an essential outlet for their research.

When pushed to question some of the IPCC’s ludicrous assumptions on negative emissions technologies, some are readier than others to criticise.

These were my impressions from an all day conference in London yesterday, where scientists presented the IPCC’s three recent reports – on limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, on oceans and ice sheets, and on land and agriculture.

All the scientists who spoke had felt a shot in the arm from the school climate strikes and

Earth, from space. No land is visible because that is the Pacific Ocean. Corinne Le Quere showed this photo at yesterday’s conference: a reminder that the oceans cover 70% of the earth’s surface

Extinction Rebellion. “People now feel the urgency in a more visceral way”, Andy Challinor of Leeds university said, opening the event.

Speakers repeatedly urged political and social action, which they are convinced can avert the worst impacts of global warming. But there was no mention of radical social change: the appeals were, rather, for “joined-up government policy”.

The event was organised by the Royal Meteorological Society of the UK. It was free to get in and open to all. There was a deluge of useful information, clearly and thoughtfully explained. (The presentations and other relevant stuff are on its web site here.)

To be honest, I could not understand why it wasn’t over-booked, and was disappointed that there were empty seats. One scientist I talked to in a coffee break saw it differently: he had Read the rest of this entry »


Geoengineering: let’s not get it back-to-front

November 1, 2019

A response to After Geoengineering by Holly Jean Buck (London: Verso Books, 2019)

We need to talk about geoengineering. Badly. To do so, I suggest two ground rules.

First, when we imagine futures with geoengineering, whether utopian or dystopian, let’s talk about the path from the present to those futures.

Second, if society is to protect itself from dangerous global warming, it will most likely combine a whole range of different methods; there is no silver bullet. So we need to discuss geoengineering together with other actions and technologies, not in isolation.

In After Geoengineering, Holly Buck urges social movements and climate justice militants to engage with geoengineering, rather than rejecting it. She questions campaigners’ focus on

Civil society groups protesting at the UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, in 2014, when fossil fuel companies organised sessions on carbon capture and storage. Photo by Carol Linnitt from the DeSmog Blog.

mitigation, i.e. on measures such as energy conservation and renewable electricity generation that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Buck offers a clear, jargon-free review of technologies, from afforestation and biochar that some climate campaigners embrace, to solar radiation management, the last word in technofixes that is broadly reviled. She intersperses her narrative with fictional passages, warning of the pitfalls of “mathematical pathways or scenarios, behind which are traditions of men gaming our possible futures” (p. 48).

But one of Buck’s key arguments – that we will reach a point where society will collectively “lose hope in the capacity of current emissions-reduction measures to avert climate upheaval”, and “decide that something else must be tried” (pp. 1-2) – cuts right across both my ground rules.

Buck asks: are we at the point […] where “the counterfactual scenario is extreme climate suffering” and therefore “it is worth talking about more radical or extreme measures [than mitigation]”, such as geoengineering? “Deciding where the shift – the moment of reckoning, the desperation point – lies is a difficult task” (p. 4).

This is a false premise, in my view, for three reasons.

First: we can not, and will not for the foreseeable future, perceive this “desperation point” as a moment in time. For island nations whose territory is being submerged, for indigenous peoples in the wildfire-ravaged Amazon, for victims of hurricanes and crop failures, the point Read the rest of this entry »


North Sea oil and gas: the elephant in the room

October 4, 2019

Next week Extinction Rebellion will start two weeks of protest in London, demanding government action to reach zero carbon emissions by 2025; to protect biodiversity; to tell the truth about climate change; and to set up “citizens’ assemblies” to address the climate and ecological emergency.

This post by NEIL ROTHNIE is addressed to the XR “rebels” and their supporters. Neil is active in Extinction Rebellion Glasgow. He is now retired, having spent his working life on the North Sea, in the oil industry

It’s not just Westminster! The Scottish government are also complicit in a strategy that will see the UK oil and gas industry continuing to explore and produce every single drop of the 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent (bbls) thought to be recoverable from North Sea oil and gas fields.

The plan, “business as usual”, comes from big oil and has been handed down to their clients in Government. And it drives a horse and carriage through government

Rigs operated by BP at the Clair Ridge oil field, west of Shetland in the North Sea, which started producing in November last year. Its peak output will be 120,000 barrels of oil per day, and BP reckons it has 640 million barrels of recoverable hydrocarbons

“climate emergency” declarations, and any chance of meeting our fair share of global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

It also sends out a clear message to other national governments collaborating with the very same oil corporations which operate globally.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Saudi Arabia, The Canadian Arctic, Nigeria, Sakhalin Island (Russia), everywhere else – industry and Governments will feel absolutely justified to exploit their reserves to the limit, just as UK Governments intend to do.  Produce every last drop until the planet burns or the people rebel.

Well, the rebellion starts here.

There must be non violent direct action aimed at big oil, and targeting oil production. There must be a Just Transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

That doesn’t just mean that oil workers in the global north get new jobs in a hugely expanded renewables sector.

It means that the global north takes the bulk of the responsibility for ending fossil Read the rest of this entry »


Battlegrounds of Labour’s Green New Deal

September 30, 2019

The Green New Deal policy passed by the Labour conference at Brighton last week was among the most far-reaching attempts by any big political party to face up to the climate and ecological emergency.

The conference urged a future Labour government to “work towards a path to net zero carbon emissions by 2030”, guaranteeing “an increase in good unionised jobs” and ensuring that the cost is “borne by the wealthiest, not the majority”.

It also called for “public ownership of energy, creating an integrated, democratic system”, including “public ownership of the Big Six [electricity generating companies]”.

The resolution (text here) was passed on 24 September by an overwhelming majority, with support from trade unions including Unite and Unison.

A separate resolution supported by the GMB union and urging decarbonisation as fast as possible –

green new deal banner

At the 20 September Climate Strike in London. Photo by Steve Eason

but without the 2030 target – was also passed. That amounts to a “challenge to the Labour party and its grassroots activists to come up with a concrete plan to meet the 2030 target”, the journalist Ellie Mae O’Hagan argued.

More than 128 Constituency Labour Parties sent in motions on the Green New Deal – more than on any other topic – after a whirlwind campaign by Labour For A Green New Deal (LGND).

This is an important shift, forced by the upsurge of radical climate protest. No coincidence that it came straight after the school students’ global “climate strike” on 20 September.

The aims of these resolutions will not be achieved without conflict – not only with energy companies, but also with senior Labour politicians and union bosses who talk green but support carbon-heavy policies.

The Labour leadership’s existing energy policy was crafted in part to avoid conflict with these powerful interests. In the electricity sector, it is committed to nationalise networks, but not generation (i.e. Read the rest of this entry »


Making decentralised electricity work for all of us

September 30, 2019

Decentralised electricity is on its way in, like it or not. Networks managed by “smart” technology, supplied by renewable sources and other small-scale power stations, can only expand.

Systems centred on ever-larger coal-, gas- or nuclear-fired power stations, completely dominant fifty years ago, will decline in many countries from now on – although they will not go quietly.

Social and labour movements had better take notice. If we don’t make this technological change work for people, energy corporations will make it work for profit.

And those corporations are paying close attention. “The centralised model of power production is dying”, Mark Boillot, a senior vice president of Électricité de France, one of Europe’s largest electricity

In the Akermanbogan estate in Munich, Germany, solar thermal roofs have been linked to a sealed (and landscaped) reservoir that supplies several apartment blocks, cutting heating bills in half. Surpluses are “pooled” within their district heating network. Photo from The Transformation Moment by Alan Simpson

companies, said recently. It will be “replaced by local solar and wind, supplemented by batteries and intelligent management of supply and demand”.

Labour Party policy

In the UK, the Labour party conference last week called for a Green New Deal; rapid expansion of renewables generation, and taking the “big six” energy companies into public ownership, would be key elements.

This cuts across current Labour electricity policy, set out in the Bringing Energy Home document published earlier this year: to extend public ownership only to the transmission (high-voltage) and distribution (low-voltage) electricity networks, plus networks that supply gas to homes for cooking and heating. Generation of electricity (power stations, wind farms, and so on), and supply (the marketing of the electricity to users) will stay in private hands.

The conference’s stance, if translated into policy, would potentially be much better suited to making electricity decentralisation work for us all.

In Bringing Energy Home, Labour acknowledged that decentralisation is “inevitable”, but warned: “decentralisation within a liberalised framework risks exacerbating inequalities”. It continued:

Though decentralisation may create some initial space for community-run cooperatives, it risks primarily expanding the private sector and strengthening the dominant market logic, creating the conditions to squeeze out community-owned companies.

Data-focused companies such as Amazon and Google are moving into energy, the document warned, and “a decentralisation process dominated by tech giants will leave both workers and communities disempowered”. This disempowerment is a very real threat, to which co-operatives and other Read the rest of this entry »


Climate strikers in solidarity with the global south

September 20, 2019

Solidarity with people in the global south was the big theme on the school students’ huge, sprawling demonstration against climate change in London today.

The message from the organisers, the UK Student Climate Network, was unequivocal: the damage done by global warming is not only something to be scared of in their own future, but is hitting millions of people in poor countries right now.

The demonstration was more like a rock concert, filling Millbank and spilling into Victoria Tower gardens next to parliament. A breakaway group of 200 or so staged a sit-down protest in Whitehall. The London event was part of a gigantic global protest in which millions participated. (See here and in all the news outlets.)

A constant stream of school students, carrying witty, home-crafted posters, joined in. I saw solidarity delegations of teachers, health workers, civil servants, art workers and plenty of other adult supporters.

Kamran from Global Justice Now told the crowd that the main cause of climate change is “not population, not unethical consumption: it’s the one per cent who loot resources from the global south”.

This exploitation of human beings by each other is “inseparable” from the exploitation of the planet, he added.

Kamran said that while sometimes he feels fearful for the future, he can also imagine a world in which, instead of dystopia, “energy is clean, benefits are evenly distributed and life is good”.

Anna Taylor of UKSCN said she is “sick of living in a system created by white capitalist men who try to satiate their addiction to power and control by exploiting people”.

Speakers from Brazil and Bolivia called for emergency measures to protect the Amazon.

Kieran, of the Wretched of the Earth, urged the crowd to support indigenous peoples battling to defend diversity, and to consider migrant justice and climate justice as one and the same.

“We are living at a time of great danger”, he said. But he asked those present to beware of “urgent Read the rest of this entry »


XR call for just transition from North Sea oil to renewable energy

September 5, 2019

Extinction Rebellion (XR) Scotland is appealing to North Sea oil workers to support a “just transition” away from oil and towards an energy system based on renewable electricity.

“The current oil and gas workforce can and should be redeployed to replace the fossil fuel that we can no longer afford to produce”, says XR Scotland’s appeal to communities in the north-east of the country that are dependent on oil. “Without a just transition to renewable energy from sun, wind and wave, we are fucked.”

There’s no better way forward for XR than seeking alliances of this kind, in my view. So here’s the whole text of the leaflet. (And if you want to print some off and distribute them yourself, here’s a PDF version.)

Do you think you have skills that could be transferred to the renewables energy industry? YES □ NO □

Do you think that the entirety of the estimated 20 billion barrels of fossil fuel under the North Sea should be produced? YES □ NO □

Do you believe the planet can survive global hydrocarbon reservoirs being drained? YES □ NO □

XR protest. Photo from XR Scotland facebook page

Do you have children and/or grandchildren? YES □ NO □

Did you think last year, that we would be experiencing a massive fire threat to the Amazon and the Arctic regions, and the loss of the Arctic Sea ice? YES □ NO □

Are you interested in getting involved in the campaign for a planned and just transition to the renewables?

contact neil.rothnie@gmail.com. I’ll put you in touch.

Demand a Just Transition to renewable energy

Both the UK oil industry and government seem to think that new licenses should be issued and oil and gas exploration on the North Sea stepped up. The industry estimates that 20 billion barrels of fossil fuel remain under the North Sea. No one in authority seems to think that these reserves should not be fully exploited.

This begs the questions:

► If a policy of business as usual is to be applied to the North Sea, why then should Saudi Arabian, Gulf of Mexico, Venezuelan, Sakhalin [Russia], Nigerian and other hydrocarbon reserves not also be fully exploited?

► What would the effect of producing all the world’s oil and gas be on global warming and climate change?

The Scottish Government seem to be prepared to try and lead us to an independent Scotland based on a carbon economy. According to the First Minister, Scotland’s carbon emissions would increase if oil Read the rest of this entry »


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