The Silvertown tunnel reinforces deadly climate doublethink

August 16, 2022

London mayor Sadiq Khan has lashed out at opponents of the Silvertown tunnel project, who are calling on him to pause and review the major infrastructure project at the eleventh hour.

Khan has filed a complaint against Newham mayor Rokshana Fiaz, after she shared on social media a claim by the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition that City Hall had used “lies and half-truths” to justify the scheme.

The complaint has gone to Clyde Loakes, Labour chief whip for London Councils, which brings together the leaders of 21 Labour-led councils in the capital.

The “banshees” street theatre group protesting against the tunnel project, July 2020. Photo by Ben Darlington / SSTC web site

The tunnel project has no discernible local support. Greenwich, Lewisham and Hackney councils are opposed, along with Newham, as are climate scientists, transport researchers, trade unions, community groups and thousands of local residents who have turned out on protests.

Yet preparatory work is already underway, and contractors working for Transport for London (TfL) are lowering pieces of the biggest tunnel boring machine ever used in the UK into its chamber. So political pressure to rethink is peaking.

If the £2.2 billion scheme goes ahead, it will exacerbate dreadful air pollution problems locally, boost road transport, and undermine efforts to tackle dangerous climate breakdown.

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Europe’s hydrogen greenwash is the last thing Ukraine needs

August 12, 2022

The European Commission, cheered on by fossil fuel companies, is promoting a plan to put exporting hydrogen to Europe at the centre of Ukraine’s post-war recovery. The plan reeks of greenwash and neocolonialism, and should be scrapped, Simon Pirani writes.

Tripilska heat and power plant near Kyiv. Photo by Matvey Andreyev / Creative Commons

Hydrogen is extracted from fossil gas and is used in oil refining and industrial processes. It has a huge carbon footprint, as left-over carbon is released into the air.

Hydrogen lobbyists say that in future the gas will be “blue” (with the left-over carbon captured and stored) or “green” (made by electrolysis – passing an electric current through water). But even “green” hydrogen, the only carbon-free kind, gulps down huge quantities of renewable electricity. Plans to export it from Ukraine – which will need that clean electricity itself for decades to come – are little more than cynical profiteering in wartime.

Hydrogen may be used in future in industrial sectors that are hard to decarbonise, such as steelmaking, fertiliser production and long-distance transport. But the picture painted by lobbyists, of its widespread use for residential heating and urban transport, is dangerously counter-productive.

It undermines effective climate policies in the interests of fossil fuel companies – who see hydrogen as a survival strategy, because it can be made from gas, and uses similar infrastructure and technologies.

Where the plan came from

The European Commission’s Fit for 55 decarbonisation policy, published in 2021, featured a plan to generate “green” hydrogen from thousands of electrolytic cells in Ukraine and north Africa, and export it to European countries. This idea was lifted wholesale from a plan proposed by Hydrogen Europe, an industry lobbying group, the year before.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, far from offering pause for thought about plunging resources into a speculative technology, accelerated the hydrogen import plan.

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War and climate justice: a discussion

July 22, 2022

OpenDemocracy yesterday hosted a useful, and sobering, discussion about the war in Ukraine and the fight for climate justice, with Oleh Savitsky (Stand with Ukraine and Ukraine Climate Network), Angelina Davydova (a prominent commentator on Russian climate policy) and me.  

To open, I made three points about the policy response by the governments of rich western countries that consume most of those fossil fuels.

1. Political leaders are focusing on replacing Russian oil and gas with supplies from elsewhere. This undermines all the promises made at the international climate talks.

So the UK government, just after the Russian invasion of Ukraine this year, gave the go-ahead for a new oil field, Jackdaw, operated by Shell – when we know that tackling climate change means there can be no new oil fields in rich countries.

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Russia: nature reserve staff hit with savage jail terms

July 20, 2022

Russian environmentalists have reacted angrily to jail sentences of between three and five-and-a-half years imposed on four nature reserve workers in Kamchatka, in the Russian Far East.

The four protest their innocence of embezzling funds from the Kronotsky nature reserve, in a case where the prosecution’s motives are hard to discern.

The Uzon caldera in the Kronotsky Nature Reserve: Photo: Igor Shpilenok/Kronotsky Nature Reserve

Mediazona, a human rights defenders’ site, reported that charges were brought against the four in 2018, after the director of a firm contracted to work for the reserve, himself implicated in criminal corruption, pointed the finger at them. That version of events was supported by a video posted anonymously on Youtube.

Pyotr Shpilenok, director of the Kronotsky reserve, and Greenpeace, “also connected the harassment of the ecologists with the fact that they had spoken out against a lake being excluded from the reserve, to be used for commercial purposes”, Mediazona said.

In 2019, the Insider, an opposition media site, reported that the intimidation campaign may have been connected with plans, about which the staff had doubts, to turn over fishing rights on the Kronotsky river to Rockwell Capital, an investment firm.

Rockwell’s founder Gleb Frank is the son-in-law of Gennady Timchenko, an oil trader and close friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and son of former Russian transport minister Sergei Frank, the Insider noted.

No-one knows for sure why the staff of the nature reserve, who vehemently protest their innocence, have had their lives wrecked by these cruel sentences.

This statement by Greenpeace Russia is reproduced, with thanks, from the Russian Reader, where the English translation was published. SP.

Greenpeace Russia strongly disagrees with the charges against the nature reserve employees.

On 15 July, the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsk City Court found employees of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve guilty of embezzlement in the amount of [454] million rubles [approx. 7.9 million euros]. The money had been allocated from the federal budget to eliminate accumulated environmental damage.

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Belarusian ‘railway partisans’ face death penalty

July 18, 2022

The Belarusian regime is threatening “railway partisans”, arrested for sabotaging signalling equipment to disrupt the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the death sentence.

From left: Dzianis Dzikun, Aleh Malchanau and Dzmitry Ravich. From the Viasna site

Criminal investigators have passed a file on the first three cases – Dzmitry Ravich, Dzianis Dzikun and Aleh Malchanau of Svetlagorsk – to court prosecutors.

The state Investigations Committee says they could face the death penalty, although lawyers say there is no basis for that in Belarusian law.

On Saturday 23 July, Belarusians will protest at their country’s embassy in London, in support of the Svetlagorsk defendants and eight others arrested on terrorism charges.

Ravich, Dzikun and Malchanau were detained in Svetlagorsk on 4 March this year – a week after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine – along with Alisa Malchanau, Aleh’s daughter, and Natalia Ravich, Dzmitry’s wife, who were released a few days later. 

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Ukraine: the ‘Russian world’ is militarising children

July 12, 2022

Thousands of children, some as young as eight, are being recruited to “military-patriotic clubs” in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, a report published this month shows.

“The Kremlin intends to bring up a generation hostile to Ukraine and its people, making it always possible to provoke social-political conflicts, that can grown over into military ones”, concludes the report by the Eastern Human Rights Group.

Children at Yunarmia oath ceremony in Sevastopol, Crimea, 25 October 2019. Photo from sevzakon.ru

The report, “Militarisation of Children in Occupied Donbass”,[1] details the clubs’ activity in the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics”, in the year leading up to Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine in February.

The Young Guard Youth Army (Molodaya gvardiya Yunarmiya) is the largest such club, with 5000 members in Luhansk. The Donetsk Youth Army claims a membership of 2500, between the ages of 8 and 35, grouped in more than 100 local organisations.

The Youth Army’s activities include: survival training in extreme conditions; field exercises including orienteering; physical training; arms training; and military tactics.

In both Donetsk and Luhansk, the Youth Army and other clubs were set up on the authorities’ initiative. In Luhansk, they are supplemented by cadet classes and corps in schools, in which more than 1600 children were registered as of December last year. Their curriculum includes physical and military training.

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Durham and Ukraine miners: historic links of friendship

July 6, 2022

Republished, with permission, from the programme for the Durham Miners Gala on Saturday 9 July. By Simon Pirani

From the moment the Russian army pushed deeper into Ukraine on 24 February, Ukrainian and international trade unions started ferrying humanitarian aid to cities and towns under siege.

Mineworkers’ and railway workers’ unions, and others, organised deliveries of food and medical equipment. Bullet-proof vests, diesel and welding machines for use at the front soon followed.

Delegations from the Italian Labour Union and Progetto Sud, an Italian humanitarian aid charity, who delivered aid to Ukraine. Photo from the CFTUU

There was a general call-up to the army, and union organisations have reported the deaths of mineworkers in uniform at the front.

The Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine (ITUMU) is prominent among providers of humanitarian aid. The regional organisation in Western Donbass – which has a friendship with the Durham mineworkers going back to the 1990s – has been especially active.

In the first weeks of the war, the ITUMU in Western Donbass organised shelters at Pavlograd for people displaced by the fighting, and raised 100,000 hryvnia (about £2600) for volunteer territorial defence forces that fight alongside the Ukrainian army.

Aid from international trade union organisations, including the Italian Labour Union (UIL) and the US-based Solidarity Centre – who have worked with the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine – has also reached working-class communities that are under attack.

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Ukrainians face forcible deportation and conscription by Russian forces

June 27, 2022

Ukrainian activists in the Eastern Human Rights Group are using social media to build up a register of people forcibly deported from Russian-occupied areas.

A bot has been launched on Telegram (see @come_back_to_ukraine_bot) to contact citizens removed to Russia.

Men awaiting mobilisation by the Donbass “republics”. Photo from Eastern Human Rights Group

Deporting people against their will is a war crime. International and local human rights organisations, and the Ukrainian government, say there is mounting evidence that Russia is doing so on a large scale.

The Russian defence ministry said on 18 June that more than 1.9 million people, including 307,000 children, had been evacuated from Ukraine to Russia since the full-scale invasion on 24 February. Ukrainian activists deny Russian claims that all evacuees have left Ukraine voluntarily.

“If we don’t find how to help them, Russia will erase the Ukrainian identity of these children”, Oleksandra Matviichuk of the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties responded.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group in April protested against a scheme to resettle residents of Mariupol in the most inhospitable and distant areas of Russia.

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Why is Ukrainian resistance invisible to you?

June 27, 2022

An appeal to supporters of the Stop the War Coalition

Here are notes I made for a talk at an on-line meeting of the Stop the War Coalition’s Brent (north-west London) branch tomorrow (28 June). I was due to speak alongside Lindsey German, national convenor of the STWC. But last week it turned out that she had an unavoidable clash, no-one else was available, and the event was cancelled.

Ambulance workers who rescued civilians from Mariupol. See “About the photo”, below

I wrote to Brent STWC to say that I thought the cancellation was “a shame, politically speaking”, because there have been “precious few meaningful exchanges of views between those in the UK labour movement who have a broadly ‘plague-on-both-your-houses’ view, such as Lindsey German, and those who believe support should be given to the Ukrainian resistance, such as myself”.

An opportunity for discussion has been missed – while the biggest war in Europe since the middle of the last century rages.

I sent these notes to Brent STWC last week (as a pdf, downloadable here), and suggested discussion in spoken or written form. Obviously I don’t care if that’s in Brent or elsewhere. Please, engage with the arguments. Simon Pirani.

=

Hello, thank you for inviting me.

I will start with a confession. When approached about this meeting, I was asked, as someone who has been travelling to both Russia and Ukraine for a long time, whether I could put Brent Stop the War in touch with a suitable Ukrainian speaker. I said I could not think of anyone, but that I could do it. In fact, I would have felt embarassed, even ashamed, to ask a Ukrainian friend to speak here.

I imagined Ukrainian friends, who daily witness the most horrendous violence against their country, looking at the coalition’s web site. I thought that they would feel that here was an organisation utterly removed from Ukrainian reality. An organisation that – unlike some significant Russian anti-war organisations – is interested neither in Ukrainian communities’ suffering, nor in those communities’ response to that suffering. An organisation that seems uncritically to accept, and even repeat, Russian government propaganda.  

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Lower Thames Crossing? No. Stop this road-building madness

June 16, 2022

The UK government is planning a gigantic new road project – a six-lane, 22-kilometre motorway with a tunnel under the river Thames near Gravesend, Kent – while, laughably, claiming to be acting on climate change.

The Lower Thames Crossing would be the UK’s largest road project since the M25 motorway ring around London was completed in 1986. Cost: an estimated £8.2 billion.

It is the largest project envisaged in part 2 of the government’s Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) that covers the period 2020-25.

The Kent Downs area of outstanding natural beauty would suffer a “large adverse” impact from the Lower Thames Crossing, according to National Highways. Photo from the Kent Downs site

And it would blast another hole in attempts to meet the UK’s own inadequate greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, let alone meaningful targets set by climate scientists.

The Thames Crossing Action Group, which coordinates local opposition to the Lower Thames Crossing monstrosity, is asking people to write in to a consultation about the project (see below). Of course more direct forms of action may be needed, too.

The Silvertown tunnel project, which has faced opposition in east and south east London, is further ahead than the Lower Thames Crossing. Contracts have been signed with developers, and within weeks the tunnel boring machine could get going.

The Lower Thames Crossing is one more reason to stop the Silvertown tunnel. If one alien abomination is created, the other even bigger monster could follow.

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