CLICK HERE TO LISTEN. On one hand climate scientists point out that the use of methane gas must be phased out; on the other, millions of people are suffering from rising gas prices. How does Russia’s war on Ukraine, and Germany’s suspension of the NordStream 2 pipeline from Russia, change this terrain? And is it possible to transition away from gas without an explosion in energy poverty – or a planned decrease in energy use? Simon Pirani (who writes this blog) and Oliver Bugge Hunt, who is researching the politics of pipelines at the University of Copenhagen, talked about this on an Earthcare fieldcast. 25 May 2022. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN.
Three months into Russia’s assault on Ukraine, PAVEL LISYANSKY reports that anti-war protesters, pushed back in March by a fierce legal clampdown, are finding ways to make their voices heard
While the Russian media claims wholesale popular approval of the Kremlin’s military aggression, Russians are being arrested for protesting peacefully in the country’s urban centres.
Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine has now entered its third month. The level of protest among the local population in Russian regions is increasing, due to several factors.
Because of the sanctions policy, global brands are leaving Russia and, at the same time, large employers are closing production facilities, thereby reducing jobs in the regions and draining tax revenues to regional budgets.
The regions of Russia have already received Cargo 200 [military code for the transportation of soldiers’ dead bodies] from Ukraine, which increases local people’s urge to protest. But the main political point is that these events sharpen the confrontation between regional elites and the federal centre of the Russian Federation. [Note. The Russian Federation is made up of 85 administrative units (regions, republics and autonomous territories), which are constantly in battle with the central government over shares of budgets, degree of local autonomy, etc.]
Two clouds darken the sky. A close-up one: gas and electricity bills have shot up since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and millions of families are struggling to pay. And a bigger, darker, higher one: the climate disaster, and politicians’ refusal to tackle it.
Ultimately, both these threats have a single cause: fossil fuels and the systems of wealth and power that depend on them. We need social movements to link the fight to protect families from unaffordable bills with the fight to move beyond fossil fuels, and in that way turn back global warming.
Here I suggest ways to develop such a movement in the UK, starting by demanding action on home heating.
Two linked crises
Since the government lifted the price cap on energy bills on 1 April, the average energy bill for 18 million households on standard tariffs rose to £1971 per year, from £1277. Another 4.5 million households on pre-payment schemes are paying an average of £2017 per year. And in October, bills could well rise above £3000.
There are now 6.3 million UK households (including 2.5 million with children) in fuel poverty, meaning that they are unable to heat their home to an adequate temperature. The End Fuel Poverty Coalition says that could rise to 8.5 million by the end of this year.
The main fuels for UK homes are gas, and electricity produced from gas and nuclear power. Retail prices have been driven up by a rise in gas, oil and coal prices on world markets – which started rising last year, as economies recovered from the pandemic, but shot upwards faster from March, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The war, and sanctions on Russia by western powers, could keep fossil fuel prices high for years. They have also driven global food prices upwards. This is the biggest bout of inflation worldwide since the 1970s.
In this guest post, PETER SOMERVILLE examines the UK government’s “energy security strategy”
The UK government’s energy security strategy avoids bold measures to decarbonise the economy. Its claimed aims are to “build a British energy system that is much more self-sufficient” (page 6), and specifically to “reduce our dependence on imported oil and gas” (page 5) – but it will not even do that effectively, either.
Firstly, the strategy provides insufficient support for the development of renewable energy, given the urgency of the climate and energy crisis.
In comparison, its support for so-called “low carbon” development looks both disproportionate and less certain of achieving the immediate progress that is now required. Taken together with its support for new gas projects, this is difficult to explain except in terms of the power of the nuclear and fossil fuel lobbies, which effectively remains unchallenged. The strategy doesn’t even begin to get to grips with nature-based solutions.
Secondly, the strategy has very little to say about reducing energy demand, e.g. from retrofitting, by reducing car use, by stopping airport expansion, and so on. It doesn’t mention increasing carbon tax on industry as one means to encourage a shift towards using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels.
Even that would not be enough, however. More radical ways forward need to be considered, such as new forms of public and community ownership; rapid, binding targets for phasing down and phasing out fossil fuels, cap and share schemes, and much more.
Energy rationing may sound drastic but it would be a clear way forward and may well become necessary in time. In the meantime, a windfall tax on the big energy companies and a wealth tax would be useful for meeting people’s immediate needs.
Thirdly, the strategy has nothing to say about how the impending climate crisis will affect energy security, e.g. droughts and floods affecting energy generation and supply.