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

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 production from the North Sea was stopped. This only makes any kind of sense if there is to be no transition to a renewable energy system to replace fossil fuel from the North Sea.

Despite government complacency, the oil industry will come under increasing pressure – financial and political – to reduce and eventually end hydrocarbon production, though perhaps not till it’s too late to avoid catastrophic climate change if the politicians and industry leaders have their way.

The past practice of both oil industry and government suggests that the workforce, offshore and onshore, will then be abandoned to their own devices, creating the sort of wilderness in the North East of Scotland that the UK coalfields became when there was no just transition from coal. Energy workers and

Police reverting to type on an XR protest. Photo: XR Scotland facebook page

their families from all over the UK would then be very badly affected. Though this time it looks as though they won’t suffer in isolation if climate science predictions are realised.

The unjust transition from coal wasn’t inevitable. The miners and their families were punished for standing up to Thatcher’s plans to cripple organised labour. Offshore employers wanted anyone but ex-miners with their tradition of struggle, on the North Sea, and the unions failed to step up to the mark.

This time it has to be different for everyone’s sake.

A just transition to renewable energy could be planned and enacted starting now. New oil and gas exploration could immediately be stopped and a planned rundown of hydrocarbon production and a massive development of renewable resources begun now.

Not a penny of the oil windfall has so far been saved for the peoples of the UK. Is it not now imperative that all (declining) oil profits must be immediately re-invested in developing the renewables energy sector?

Retraining of the oil industry workforce is a must where there is an expected skills gap in a much-expanded renewables sector. The current oil and gas workforce can and should be redeployed to replace the fossil fuel that we can no longer afford to produce. Without a just transition to renewable energy from sun, wind and wave, we are fucked.

Our children and grandchildren deserve more from us than business as usual. They and the rest of the remaining life on the planet need a chance of a future that does not include the misery of living through a global meltdown.


That appeal to oil workers and their communities was written by Neil Rothnie, who has been active in Extinction Rebellion Glasgow. He is now retired, having spent his working life on the North Sea, in the oil industry. He participated in trade union activity there and, in particular, founded the rank and file newspaper Blowout in 1988, after the Piper Alpha disaster.

After Neil circulated the appeal, another friend of ours asked him how confident he was of this approach. He answered:

Can XR achieve a shutdown of fossil fuel production and a “Just Transition”? Not with its current forces – not permanently anyway. Not without mass popular support, I suspect. Will the offshore workers play a role? I hope so!

Can we avoid this confrontation in the oil capital of Europe, rely on market forces, disinvestment in oil, the migration of the oil industry to the renewable energy industry, and all without conflict? I can’t see it.

If we allow the industry and the UK and Scottish Governments to pursue their “business as usual” agenda and produce every drop of the estimated 20 billion barrels that remain under the North Sea, then there are no grounds for suspecting that anything other than a similar policy will be pursued in every other oil nation on the planet. If the fight starts here, there is every reason to be optimistic that it will find a resonance in China, Russia, and who knows, even in Saudi Arabia.

It’s never been easier, in my opinion, to see what has to be done. And a force has emerged that would seem to be capable of igniting that struggle, whether we consider that force to be even part of the working class or not. Anyway! It’s the only rebellion in town. Maybe it will become more identifiable as part of the “working class” as the struggle develops and new forces enter that struggle.

What’s the alternative? I’m very afraid for my own granddaughters’ future negotiating a dying planet with all the misery that that’s going to entail.

The best hope here is that XR will give a sharper cutting edge to the demand for just transition. The issue has been taken up by the Scot.E3 group, which has issued a Climate Jobs Manifesto, and seeks to unite trade unions, community groups and political parties. They are holding a conference in Edinburgh on 16 November (details here). At national and international level, Trade Unions For Energy Democracy has long been putting these arguments to union organisations (see a report of their recent meeting in the UK here).

There’s nothing like some direct action to complement these efforts. GL, 5 September 2019.

More to read on North Sea oil

■ A report published earlier this year by Oil Change International, Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland, “Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction”, is worth reading. It shows how the UK government provides massive tax breaks to the multinational oil companies working on the North Sea, while doing nothing to prepare for a just transition in communities.

■ There are plenty of insights on the history of workers’ organisation on the North Sea in a big interview Neil Rothnie gave to People & Nature in 2013, and in the archive of Blowout, the rank-and-file workers’ newspaper.

XR protest in Glasgow. Photo from Neil Rothnie

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

  1. […] groups including ScotE3, and Extinction Rebellion Scotland, are urging a just transition away from oil production in the North Sea, to ensure that communities […]

  2. […] groups including ScotE3, and Extinction Rebellion Scotland, are urging a just transition away from oil production in the North Sea, to ensure that communities […]

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