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 »

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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 »


Getting lost on the road to communist utopia

September 3, 2019

A response to Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto by Aaron Bastani (Verso Books, 2019)

Communist utopias are the stuff of life. They have given hope, widened horizons and fired imaginations, from Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done (1863) and William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890) through to Woman On the Edge of Time (1985) by Marge Piercy.

So when my copy of Aaron Bastani’s Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto arrived, I had high hopes. They were not all realised.

There were things in Bastani’s book I really liked: his optimism, and his conviction that any communist society – that is, any society free of exploitation and hierarchy – will be based

From the front cover of Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (Gollancz edition)

on material abundance. But his ideas about how this might be achieved were unconvincing.

Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC), he writes in the concluding chapter, is

a map by which we escape the labyrinth of scarcity and a society built on jobs; the platform from which we can begin to answer the most difficult question of all, of what it means, as [the economist John Maynard] Keynes once put it, to live ‘wisely and agreeably and well’ (p. 243).

Bastani writes that FALC, unlike the world of actually existing neoliberalism,

will not demand constant sacrifices on the altar of profit and growth. Whether it’s ‘paying down the debt for future generations’, as our politicians are so keen to repeat, or growth and rising wages always coming ‘next year’ it’s becoming ever clearer that the good times aren’t coming back. What remains absent, however, is a language able to articulate that which is both accessible and emotionally resonant.

Bastani aspires to provide that language – by identifying political principles for a movement beyond capitalism; by returning abundance to a central place in socialist Read the rest of this entry »


“You shut down our parliament – we shut down the streets”

August 31, 2019

Thousands of people demonstrated today against Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament. On the London demonstration, the slogan that worked best, in my view, was: “You shut down our parliament – we shut down the streets.”

Several hundred people set off from Whitehall, where there was a much larger crowd, and shouted it as they blocked Westminster bridge. There was a similar action on Waterloo Bridge.

That slogan says: power is not something to be quarreled over by government, parliament and the judiciary. It is something that all of us need to fight for. It says: by taking action on

My favourite

the streets, people themselves can impact on this tug-of-war between different branches of the state. It says: democracy is something we all create. It is not something that John Major goes to remind a judge about, so that he can remind Boris Johnson.

Whatever happens next, we need to expand that democracy – on demonstrations, in communities, in workplaces, in our organisations – against the most right-wing government the UK has had for the best part of a century.

Whether or not the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 31 October, this government will continue to claim victims: the thousands of people who have lost their jobs due to Brexit Read the rest of this entry »


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