Will Labour’s climate policy rely on monstrous techno-fixes like BECCS?

March 12, 2018

Will a future Labour government perpetuate myths about monstrous techno-fixes for climate change? Or advocate radical policies to deal with global warming that don’t heap the pain on the global south, and industrial strategies to hasten the transition away from a fossil-fuel-centred economy?

This question was raised – by implication, anyway – at the Campaign Against Climate Change conference in London on Saturday. The 200 people present heard essentially opposing answers from

Photo by Garry Knight under a Creative Commons Licence

Barry Gardiner, Labour’s front-bench spokesman on climate change, and Asad Rehman, chief executive of War on Want.

The contrasting approaches were starkly evident when a question was asked from the floor about Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) – an untried technology on which the world’s most powerful governments are relying heavily to claim they are on course to meet their climate targets.

Basically, BECCS would involve growing plants, burning them in power stations, and then capturing the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted and storing it somewhere. (See also “Quick technological catch-up” below).

Despite the fact that BECCS has never been used anywhere yet, the latest (fifth) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has included huge amounts of it in its scenarios that plot how the world economy could move away from dangerous global warming. To make the numbers add up, Read the rest of this entry »

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The Earth and us: ways of seeing

February 13, 2018

Review of: Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene: the Earth, history and us (London: Verso, 2017)

Think again, and differently, about the relationship between human society and the natural world. That is the challenge offered by Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz.

They question accepted ideas about “environmental crisis” and “sustainable development”, and urge

A visual representation of geological time. From the Smithsonian Institution.

us to subvert the “unifying grand narrative of the errant human species and its redemption by science alone”.

But this is not an iconoclastic rant. It is a scholarly discussion of the science behind the Anthropocene concept, and its implications for history, for the study of society, and for our ideas about the world in the broadest sense.

A central theme is the reflection of the terrifying accumulation of damage to the natural world by human activity over the past two centuries in the history of ideas. The dominant trends, to divide natural history from human history and to push the natural world out of economics, have been resisted.

The fact of the Anthropocene, Bonneuil and Fressoz argue, requires a new synthesis of forms of knowledge. They avoid offering any simplistic, pat “solution” to the disastrous rift between human society and the natural world. Instead, they point to new ways of looking at it that, collectively, may help us to change it.

This review summarises the authors’ explanation of the Anthropocene concept; considers their points Read the rest of this entry »


Moving the trade unions past fossil fuels

August 9, 2017

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has launched a pamphlet, Just Transition and Energy Democracy: a civil service trade union perspective, urging trade union support for the transition away from fossil fuels and restructuring the energy system under public ownership. In this interview SAMANTHA MASON, PCS policy officer and main author of the pamphlet, published in May, talks about combating the pro-fossil-fuel lobby in the unions and the Labour Party, and how to unite social and environmental movements.

Gabriel Levy (GL). Could you describe the PCS’s long engagement with energy and climate policy, which has culminated in the Just Transition pamphlet?

Samantha Mason (SM). We have been engaged with climate change issues, and increasingly with the whole energy debate, for about ten years. This has in large part been due to motions coming to conference from the grassroots membership, and an assistant general secretary, Chris Baugh, leading on

Anti-fracking protesters in Lancashire: the PCS is working with them. Photo from Reclaim the Power

this, which has enabled us to develop our policy and campaigning agenda.We participate in meetings with other industrial and energy unions, mainly through the Trade Unions Sustainable Development Advisory Committee. [Note. This committee was set up as a joint government-union forum after the 1997 Kyoto climate talks, but government participation dried up under the Tories. It is now a meeting place for union policy officers, and latterly, industrial officers.]

Some of the unions there represent workers in the fossil fuel and nuclear sectors, so while we’re supposed to look at sustainable development issues, Read the rest of this entry »


We need to talk about the Anthropocene

January 16, 2017

Working out the time-scale of the Anthropocene epoch can not be left to natural scientists, a group of researchers argued in Nature journal last month. Historians, anthropologists and others who study human society need to be brought in to the discussion, they said.

“The Anthropocene” is a now widely-used term, signifying that human welcomeactivity is changing the natural environment so profoundly that it has brought a new geological era into existence.

Among scientists, it is accepted that any precise definition would best be
rubber-stamped by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, an organisation of geologists that has overseen definitions of all geological eras.

It has an Anthropocene Working Group that has since 2009 coordinated discussions of the issue among scientists. In August last year, the group reported to the 35th International Geological Congress that it collectively Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s take Corbyn’s climate proposals seriously

September 9, 2016

Climate change is “the single most important issue facing humanity”, and politicians need to propose “real solutions” to it, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Wednesday as he launched a policy document on energy and the environment.

The document (downloadable here) proposes to produce 65% of the UK’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030. It aims to make the UK a world

Anti-fracking protesters at parliament, 2012. Creative Commons licence.

Anti-fracking protesters at parliament, 2012. Creative Commons licence.

leader in renewable technology, and create jobs in renewables equipment manufacture, with a £500 billion investment programme. Labour would set up 1000 local cooperative energy producers with a “right to supply” their local communities.

A Corbyn-led Labour government would ban “fracking” (the controversial natural gas production technique the Tories love), and restore the Department for Energy and Climate Change (which Theresa May axed the moment she got to no. 10 Downing Street).

I can think of reasons not to take Corbyn seriously on this. His team has taken a year to come up with seven pages of policy proposals … which is slow, for “the single most important issue facing humanity”. There are gaps in the proposals – such as a stance on the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, into which May’s government is currently considering sinking several tens of billions of pounds. And with Corbyn fighting off a challenge from Owen Smith for the Labour leadership, cynics may see the document’s shortcomings as evidence that it has been thrown together for the election campaign.

But I think the proposals should be discussed widely.

It may have taken a year to come up with them, but then many political leaders in Read the rest of this entry »


Global warming in the Indian context

June 1, 2016

People and Nature is today publishing Global Warming in the Indian Context, a pamphlet by Nagraj Adve. The pamphlet’s detailed description of the effects of global warming in India should be of interest to readers not only in India but elsewhere too. It also includes a straightforward presentation of the causes of global warming, and proposals for collective action to combat it by communities and social and labour movements. Read the pamphlet here. 1 June 2016.

A huge statue of the god Shiva being washed away during the floods in Uttarakhand in 2013

A huge statue of the god Shiva being washed away during the floods in Uttarakhand in 2013


Let’s face it. Melting ice has passed point of no return

November 23, 2015

Leaders of many of the world’s states gather in Paris next month for climate talks, having promised in advance that any agreement will fall well short of the 2 degrees target for avoiding dangerous global warming.

An army of politicians, PR people and diplomats are working to create the impression that, nevertheless, something positive is being done. This balloon of

thwaites glacier

The Thwaites glacier in West Antarctica. Photo from NASA web site

hype needs to be popped. The precondition for serious action is honesty about the scale, and difficulty, of the problem, and acknowledgement of how far away we are from a solution.

Rising sea levels is a key part of the problem, and recent research on it – that I attempt to summarise and discuss in this article – helps explain the scale of the problem.  The bottom line is this: while governments’ promises lag further and further behind targets for climate action set out by the Read the rest of this entry »