Two enemies, one fight: climate disaster and frightful energy bills

May 16, 2022

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.

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White or Black Power? The choice before Extinction Rebellion

April 30, 2022

This article by ROB CALLENDER of Jubilee Climate has been discussed widely among Extinction Rebellion (XR) members. It starts with a message responding to a facebook post by Roger Hallam, one of the founders of XR. It is published here with Rob’s permission. Answers to the question at the end – “what do you think?” – are welcome.

Download this article as a PDF 

Dear Roger, Just stop using white power narratives and white power tactics with a white power vision of how to tackle a crisis that was made by white power. It will fail. Again. We can’t afford to keep failing. It is likely to make things worse for many many people, if not for you, and that is horrifying to have on your hands. Yes, your hands. We need to do the hard work. You’re distracting and dividing people. Hang up your ego and get involved. Love, Rob

WHITE POWER FORGETS

Many within environmental movements like Extinction Rebellion are unconscious of how white power has characterised these movements’ tactics and strategies. It is why we are failing, and why we will continue to fail unless we learn and evolve.

If oil is stopped, then what? The climate crisis will not have gone away. We are struggling against a monstrous hydra with many many vicious heads, all destroying ecosystems and the liveable climate. We need to strike at the root, the heart of the monster, not at one single element. Greenpeace has had many campaigns, some daring and with success. But Greenpeace is now 50 years old. We don’t have 50 more years. After oil, then what?

Demonstrators in London demanding reparations to the global south for ecocide and genocide (maangamizi) by rich countries. Photo by Andrea Domeniconi/Alamy Live News

After every action, movement and rebellion, some fill the pause with strategising. Every time a single conversation that dominates others has gone something like this: “we haven’t got the narrative right, it’s not appealing to ‘the people’, because we’re using leftist jargon and talking about ‘justice’. We need to have a vision of what the future will look like for ordinary people – a nation they can buy into and want to build – it needs a sense of let’s all come together now to fix the climate for our children and grandchildren”. Sound good?

This is white power. People shaped by white power live in a loop in which they believe that their vision, this time, must succeed, if only everyone got behind it. Their conviction comes from the privileged lived experience of whiteness which brings them closer to the establishment and a reformist mindset (despite what they say and the vehemence of the tactics they employ) and farther from communities outside of the establishment. The powerful conviction coming from the individual person creates obliviousness, forgetfulness – amnesia.

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Climate change: disruptive mass civil disobedience is our only hope

March 2, 2022

Sarah, a member of Extinction Rebellion Greenwich, was found guilty in court last week of offences under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. This came as a result of her arrest during XR’s rebellion in August last year. XR blocked a road junction in London with a big pink table, with an open invitation for all to “come to the table” for crisis talks on action to prevent climate breakdown. This is the mitigating statement Sarah read out in court.

In the statement of my arresting officer there is a hysterical-sounding quote from me about not wanting the world to burn. At the time of my arrest, there were huge wildfires burning out of control in Algeria, France, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Canada.

In the US there were over 100 fires burning simultaneously, including the Dixie fire – the second largest ever recorded in the notoriously fire-prone state of California. Firefighters and park rangers were battling to save giant redwoods that had stood for over 2000 years. The most extensive fires on record were sweeping across Siberia.

XR in London, 23 August 2021. Photo by Gareth Morris

The images of these fires were all I could think about, as the police walked alongst the protestors telling us we’d “made our point” and were being “too disruptive”.

People all over the world were losing their livelihoods, homes and lives. Wildlife was being decimated. Ecosystems were being destroyed. In central London, a few hundred protestors were blocking a junction to call on our government to take action to tackle climate breakdown – and this is the disruption we can’t accept.

I didn’t want to be arrested. I don’t want a criminal record. I’m worried about the my job, which is extremely important to me. I’ve worked in safeguarding for the last 16 years, trying to protect children at risk of harm in order to ensure take they have a future to look forward to.

But that will all be for nothing, because none of our children will have a future if we as a species don’t do something to change the trajectory we’re on. There has never been a bigger safeguarding risk than climate breakdown.

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The contested present, versus the populationists’ ‘ghastly future’

May 25, 2021

The false narrative that population growth is a key driver of ecological crisis “accus[es] and put[s] the onus on” people in the global south who bear the brunt of that crisis, Jevgeniy Bluwstein and others write in Frontiers in Conservation Science, an academic journal, this month.

They argue that, instead of drawing a straight line from rising population and affluence to ecological disaster, scientists “should help expose the structural causes and drivers of inequality, overproduction and overconsumption”.

Bluwstein and his colleagues are responding to an article that re-presents a populationist narrative, in a new version for the 2020s, “Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future”. Its authors include Corey Bradshaw, an Australian ecologist, and Paul Ehrlich, a leading advocate of “too many people” arguments since the 1970s.

Protests against a new mining project in Chile. Photo from No A La Mina web site

Bradshaw, Ehrlich et al outline three linked crises – biodiversity loss, the sixth mass extinction and climate disruption – and suggest that scientists’ social responsibility is to “tell it like it is”: to adopt “a good communication strategy” to undercut human “optimism bias” that ignores expert warnings.

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Strategies for the new climate war

April 6, 2021

Review of The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet, by Michael E. Mann (London: Scribe Publications, 2021). By Simon Pirani

Fossil fuel companies, right-wing plutocrats and oil-funded governments “can no longer insist, with a straight face, that nothing is happening”, Michael Mann writes. Outright denial of the physical evidence of climate change is no longer credible.

So they have shifted to a softer form of denialism while keeping the oil flowing and fossil fuels burning, engaging in a multipronged offensive based on deception, distraction and delay. This is the new climate war, and the planet is losing (page 3).

The enemy’s weapons in this new war, Mann argues, include greenwash, illusory technofixes such as capturing carbon from the air, and deflecting attention on to individual behaviour instead of what companies do.

The Climate Action Tracker thermometer

Mann, a climatologist at the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Penn State University in the US, was in the old climate war, too. He was lead author of a 1999 article featuring the now-famous “hockey stick” graph, showing that temperatures ramped sharply upwards in the late 20th century, out of the range of the previous 1000 years.

In 2001, after the graph appeared in the Third Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate science deniers orchestrated a public hate campaign against its authors, and others who worked with them.

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Global heating, droughts and storms fuel violence against women

March 1, 2021

By ORTHALIA KUNENE, a South African writer and grass roots activist in her community

The fight against climate change is not only a struggle to keep our planet liveable. For many women, rising temperatures can be a direct cause of violence.

Understanding connections between heat and violence is increasingly important as we witness the warming of our planet, and anticipate more intense and longer-lasting heatwaves.

In most parts of South Africa, temperatures already often exceed 40°C.

While violence in South Africa has often been attributed to its unique historical, social and

Photo by Extinction Rebellion, Nelson Mandela Bay

economic characteristics, the potential contribution of physical environmental factors, such as heat, has largely been ignored.

But a study using data from all 1158 police wards in South Africa documented higher levels of violence, including homicides, during periods of high temperature.

In Tshwane, Gauteng Province, a study assessed five years of temperature and crime data – and found that the number of violent crime incidents was about 50% higher on high-temperature days, compared with low-temperature days and with random days selected from the dataset after the warmest and coldest days had been extracted.

Another study in the same area noted seasonal patterns in crime, with violence most frequent in the summer months.

Francina Nkosi, national coordinator for Women Affected by Mining United in Action (WAMUA), says: “Around the world, climate change-induced crises have been shown to worsen violence Read the rest of this entry »


South Africa: communities remember anti-mining activist Mama Ntshangase, and organise

January 26, 2021

In South Africa, the state remains willing to sacrifice rural communities for its coal-fired development agenda, one that persists despite visible social and environmental devastation  and the growing threat of climate disaster. HALI HEALY writes in this guest post about the communities’ response

Vigils were held across South Africa last month for murdered anti-coal activist Mama Fikile Ntshangase, who was brutally gunned down in front of her teenage grandson on 22 October

The vigil outside the Minerals Council building in Johannesburg

2020. She had dared to oppose plans by coal mining company Petmin to expand operations in the Somkhele region of KwaZulu-Natal province.

Vigils serve multiple important social functions. Usually held at night, they are occasions for mourning that allow the bereaved to remember the significance of their loss. Vigils also can serve as protests, drawing public attention to travesties of justice. Or they can be understood as a collective response to tragedy, one that hopefully eases the visceral pain of grief, replacing it with a sense of peace, and in the process, offering some sort of societal lesson.

Despite being held in broad daylight, the vigil for Ntshangase in Johannesburg was all of these things.

Gathered under the searing mid-day sun, a small group of some 15-20 activists, most of them women, convened in front of the offices of the Minerals Council, a powerful industry association, in central Johannesburg.

Coordinated with the assistance of the Extinction Rebellion network, they came from Read the rest of this entry »


India climate crisis: this is about capitalism and inequality

October 6, 2020

Global warming is upsetting the monsoon, making droughts more likely, and changing the lives of hundreds of millions of Indians, writes NAGRAJ ADVE, in a guest post based on his pamphlet, Global Warming in the Indian Context.  

The average sea level rise worldwide over 2016-2020 was nearly half a centimetre per year, says the United in Science 2020 report, published last month by the World Meteorological

Photo: Fridays for Future Guwahati

Organisation (WMO), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific institutions.

The rate of sea level rise is now significantly higher than the 20th century average, largely due to the loss of ice from the great ice sheets on Antarctica and Greenland, besides warmer ocean waters expanding.

Reading the United in Science 2020 report made me think about sea level rise in terms of centimetres rather than millimetres – for the first time in the 15 years that I have been engaging with the climate crisis.

The impact of rising waters in the Indian sub-continent is one of the many issues covered in a new edition of my pamphlet, Global Warming in the Indian Context, published today by People & Nature.  I have updated the pamphlet – which was first published on People & Nature in June 2016 – to highlight many things about the climate crisis that have changed since then.

But the first thing to emphasise is that the social context in which climate change hits people in India is very different from that in the UK or mainland Europe.

■ In India, 650 million people rely on agriculture or related occupations; the average landholding per household is merely 2.5 acres, and half the area is under key crops such as rice and wheat;

■ Millions of small and marginal farmers have no access to irrigation, are entirely dependent on the rain, and hence more vulnerable to climatic changes; and

■ In the world’s most disastrous Covid-induced lockdown, 120 million people have lost their jobs or livelihoods – and there is no sign of economic recovery in sight.

Extreme climatic events have been getting more intense and frequent in India (and worldwide) in recent years – particularly extreme rainfall events. These result in floods, loss Read the rest of this entry »


North Sea workers ready to switch to renewables, survey shows

September 29, 2020

Most UK oil workers would consider switching to another industry – and, if given the option to retrain, more than half would choose to work on renewable energy, a survey published today shows.

The survey blasts a hole in the argument by trade union leaders that every last drop of oil must be produced, supposedly to preserve jobs. Actually, workers are

Let’s go! Wind turbines, with an electricity sub-station, in the North Sea (German sector). Photo: SteKrueBe / Creative Commons

ready to move away from fossil fuel production – as long as they can work and their families don’t suffer.

The 1383 offshore workers who responded to the survey crave job security, above all. Nearly half of them had been laid off or furloughed since oil prices crashed in March.

Many complained about precarious employment and the contract labour now rife on the North Sea.

The survey, Offshore: oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, was put together by Platform London, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace.

The survey’s authors seem to be the first people who have actually asked workers what they think.

The Scottish government has a comfortably-funded Just Transition Commission, including trade union chiefs, that recently ran a consultation on its interim report.

But it was campaign groups, working with activists on the ground, who bothered to talk to offshore workers.

The survey, distributed via social media and targeted advertising, garnered 1546 responses. The results excluded replies by 163 people who work in midstream or Read the rest of this entry »


South Africa: ‘climate change intensifies gender-based violence’

September 1, 2020

This guest post is by ORTHALIA KUNENE, a South African writer and grass-roots activist in her community with Extinction Rebellion (XR) South Africa. It is based on a talk she gave at a zoom session last month, organised by Extinction Rebellion Greenwich (UK).

Global warming isn’t simply going to destroy our communities – it is also going to be a serious intensifier of violence against women and girls.

I am a feminist, an African feminist to be exact. African feminism acknowledges Africa’s historical colonial realities. Hence, our battle is twofold: to dismantle patriarchal capitalism and to dismantle neoliberalism.

I grew up in an environment that normalised the oppression of women, and I only realised later in life that I, like so many black women in my country, fell into the demographic that

A climate policy protest in South Africa

unfortunately suffers the most – because the reality is that global capitalism has placed women, especially black women, at the bottom of the economic system.

Climate change is a direct product of the patriarchal capitalist economic model, which is built on the destruction and exploitation of human and natural resources. The oppression of women through control of women’s bodies, minds, and labour is part and parcel of this system.

As Africa still bears the horrifying scars of gender-based violence, alongside Covid-19, climate change has placed African women in the eye of the storm. Gender-based violence Read the rest of this entry »


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