Climate protests are being criminalised, but we will not stop

January 6, 2023

By MARY ADAMS, writer and Just Stop Oil climate activist

I boarded a prison van along with five others and took my place in the locked metal box allocated to each prisoner. It was 27 September 2022, and we were headed for trial at the Birmingham High court. Our crime – climate protest.

A Just Stop Oil demonstration in London, 10 December. Photo by Steve Eason

As we pulled out of the gates of the notorious HMP Foston Hall – ranked lowest of women’s prisons in a government Inspectorate Report, September 2022 – I thought of the women left behind on the remand wing, languishing in cramped, drab cells for twenty-three and a half hours a day. No wonder Foston Hall has the highest rate of violence and self-harm amongst its inmate population.

We were locked in narrow single cells converted to double occupancy by way of bunk beds, and our meals were eaten in our cells. Requests for basic amenities such as repairing a blocked sink were dealt with slowly, if not ignored altogether. Hot water was hard to come by.

With broken, cheap shelving and scuffed, peeling paint, a sense of hopelessness was baked into those featureless grey walls.

It was in Foston Hall that I tasted the overwhelming darkness that loss of agency in prison can evoke.

Like everyone on the remand wing, I quickly adjusted to the continuous “beep” of expended smoke alarm batteries. But for two evenings the smoke alarm, itself, emitted a high-pitched shriek every fifteen minutes. After several attempts to get help from a surly prison guard, she terminated any further discussion on the subject.

Slamming shut the narrow aperture on our door, her parting words underscored the desolation of such institutions. “This is prison life…Get used to it!”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Appeal to Labour Party members: help turn back this tide of greenwash

December 21, 2022

Here is a letter that I sent yesterday to Maggie Ferncombe, the chair of the London Regional Labour party, Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for climate change, and friends in the Labour party in London. It urges them to do something about the tsunami of greenwash thrown over the Silvertown tunnel project by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, Labour’s most powerful elected official.

Over the last four years the Mayor and the few supporters of the project have – in defiance of reality, transport research and climate science – claimed that the tunnel project is compatible with policy objectives aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It obviously is not, as 70-odd researchers in relevant areas told the Mayor in April 2021, in a letter he did not acknowledge or respond to.

The Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition banner on a climate action march in London, 12 November. Photo by Steve Eason

More roads produce more traffic; more traffic produces more greenhouse gas emissions; decarbonising transport means sharply reducing the volume of traffic; and the resources spent on road-building projects work against that aim, and against the support for public transport, rail, cycling and other non-car modes of transport that can make decarbonisation possible.

Although the Silvertown tunnel project is a London policy issue, it has national implications. Labour’s stubborn denial of reality about the tunnel is on the same level as the Tory government’s fantasies that licencing coal mines, new oil and gas fields, or its own £27 billion road building programme, dovetails with combating global heating.

My letter – attached as a PDF – concerns a very specific set of issues, on which the greenwash spilled over into falsehoods, used by Heidi Alexander, then London’s deputy mayor for transport and now Labour candidate for Swindon South, to justify the unjustifiable tunnel project. If you are reading this and you are in the Labour party, please have a word. Simon Pirani, 21 December 2022.

Dear Maggie Ferncombe and Ed Miliband,

I write to ask you to take action within the Labour Party over the circulation of false information about the climate emergency by the Greater London Authority, and the Authority’s failure to deal with complaints about this false information, in breach of its own rules.

The false information was circulated in 2021 by Heidi Alexander, former deputy mayor of London, in response to people who protested to the Mayor of London about the Silvertown Tunnel project. In particular, Ms Alexander claimed:

(a) that the GLA has adopted plans to reach “zero carbon goals”;

(b) that the modelling of carbon emissions on which the GLA carbon reduction trajectory is based takes into account planned developments such as the Silvertown Tunnel; and

(c) that Arup has conducted an “independent assessment” of London’s 1.5 degree carbon reduction trajectory.

The note below explains the importance of the issues complained of for climate policy. 

Recipients of this false information contacted the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition, for which I had conducted research about the tunnel project. The coalition continued to press the Mayor to review the project and its compatibility with his climate policies, but he declined.

Read the rest of this entry »

Communities question hydrogen hype

December 16, 2022

The UK government’s climate-trashing plans to use hydrogen for home heating are starting to come up against resistance by communities.

Residents of Whitby on Merseyside – one of two sites the government is considering making an experimental “hydrogen village” – protested last week about the tide of greenwash from Cadent Gas in support of the plan.

Whitby residents’ protest last week. All photos from HyNOT twitter feed

The villagers demonstrated in the freezing cold at Cadent’s Hydrogen Experience Centre, against the proposal to turn their homes over to hydrogen heating without proper consultation.

Louise Gittins, leader of Cheshire West and Chester council, told the crowd: “I don’t want anyone forced into doing this. I’ll take what you’ve said on board.”

Cadent, which owns the local gas distribution network, plans to convert 2000 Whitby households to hydrogen for heating – despite opposition to such uses by engineers and energy researchers. They say that fitting electric heat pumps, and retrofitting insulation, is more energy-efficient, and contributes far more effectively and rapidly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The government supports hydrogen for home heating – in line with energy companies’ wishes, and against the advice of engineers and scientists in numerous reports. It will decide next year which residents to use as guinea pigs for its “hydrogen village” experiment; its two options are in Whitby and Redcar, north Yorkshire.

The government has also funded studies for Northern Gas Networks’ H21 project, which would convert more than 15 million homes from gas to hydrogen. And just this week it has launched a consultation about offering “hydrogen-ready” boilers to homes – which would damage more effective, electricity-based routes to decarbonisation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Oil companies, dictators and greenwashers captured COP27. Hope lies in movements outside the talks

November 21, 2022

This assessment of COP27 was published by Truthout on Friday, and the agreement struck yesterday doesn’t change the main points. Headlines yesterday welcomed the fund for loss and damage – but so far it is just an “empty bucket”, as Mohamed Adow of Power Shift Africa pointed out.

Demonstrators outside the talks in Egypt. Photo from Omar Elmawi’s twitter feed

In other ways the deal reached was ruinous. There was no clear commitment to phase out fossil fuels. “The fact that the outcome only talks about ‘phasedown of unabated coal power’ is a disaster for Africa and for the climate”, as Babawale Obayanju, of Friends of the Earth Africa, said. Oil and gas are not mentioned, and “one small word, ‘unabated’, creates a huge loophole, opening the door to new fossil-based hydrogen and carbon capture and storage projects, which will allow emissions to continue.” Simon Pirani, 21 November 2022.

The international climate talks in Egypt – the 27th Conference of  Parties to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP27 – have become a dystopian nightmare: oil companies, dictators and greenwashers captured the process more effectively than ever. 

But there is hope: alliances are taking shape – between civil society, scientists and labor – that aim to break the fossil fuel companies’ deathly grip on climate policy.

Corporate capture  

This year’s United Nations climate summit, which ends on Friday at the luxury Sharm el-Sheikh resort, is the first to which oil and gas companies were invited to participate in the official program of events. Rachel Rose Jackson of Corporate Accountability commented that “COP27 looks like a fossil fuel industry trade show.”  

Read the rest of this entry »

What cutting greenhouse gas emissions actually means in practice

October 24, 2022

“We have to do things very differently”, transport researcher Jillian Anable told the Royal Meteorological Society’s Climate Change Forum in London last week. “It’s not about celebrating electric vehicles.”

Cars are “getting bigger and heavier”, Anable warned, meaning that “it will take longer to decarbonise the system”. Of new car sales globally, 46% are SUVs.

Architects for Climate Action and Architects Declare joined Fridays for Future to march through London on 23 September. Photo from Architects Declare twitter feed

For every electric car sold, 10-15 large vehicles are sold: they “negate the effect of that electric vehicle many times over”. Moreover, half the electric cars sold are plug-in hybrids, which use “a great deal” of petrol and diesel.

No country has “achieved the speed and scale of reductions [in greenhouse gas emissions] that we now need”, Anable, professor of Transport and Energy at the University of Leeds, said. And no country has “achieved deep and long-term reductions [in transport emissions] without restricting car use.”

Anable was one of several researchers at the Forum who addressed the yawning gap between government declarations about climate change, and the snail’s pace of action – the gap that has infuriated, and motivated, the new generation of protesters from Greta Thunberg to Just Stop Oil.

Transport, the built environment and the food chain – three areas of gigantic fuel consumption – were covered in detail. Adaptation (coping with the effects of climate change) was considered along with mitigation (how to minimise the level of global heating).

Built environment researcher Alice Moncaster launched a broadside against the culture of demolish-and-build, as opposed to retrofitting existing buildings.

Read the rest of this entry »

Achieving climate justice is about solidarity across borders. Not charity

October 7, 2022

A conversation with Canadian socialist David Camfield about his new book, Future on Fire.

Simon Pirani: Congratulations on the publication of your book Future on Fire. It stands out, in my view, because you avoid pronouncing neat “solutions” to climate issues, you consider actually existing social movements and how they might address the climate emergency. You point to the limited scope of parliamentary politics and “green new deals”, and in chapter 3 argue that mass movements” are “our only hope”. I agree.

You argue that the point of these movements is “to develop the power to force governments to enact the climate justice measures that are needed”. That’s altogether different, you write, from seeking “governing power” (which anyway doesn’t have total control over the state, let alone capital). Movements shouldn’t limit themselves to “pushing the envelope” or holding governments accountable; it’s about applying “relentless and escalating pressure”. I agree.

“People in the global south are being hurt more by climate change”: a protest in Uganda against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline. See “About the photo” at the end

The question in my mind is: does it make sense to talk about a “mass movement” on climate issues at all? I am not sure that truly mass movements, in response to issues influenced by climate change, will look like “mass movements about climate”. You argue persuasively that the climate issue is always combined with the social issue: you give the example of Haitians being more vulnerable to death in storms than Cubans, because of the different societies they live in. And you quote Naomi Klein saying that “climate change acts as an accelerant to many of our social ills – inequality, war, racism – but it can also be an accelerant for the opposite, for the forces working for economic and social justice”.

Isn’t the reality that – rather than appearing as “mass movements on climate” – mass movements will actually develop in response to immediate, tangible issues, and that the task in hand is to find ways of taking these movements beyond the immediate, to address the larger issues of both climate and capitalism?

Take the “yellow vests” movement in France, which started in response to a tax on diesel fuel. You point out that far-right forces tried to divert the movement along anti-migrant lines, but were successfully confronted by left-wing forces who pushed against social inequality. All this gave rise to one of my favourite slogans, that you quote: “end of the world, end of the month, same struggle”. You write that the yellow vests “forged a powerful link” between climate issues and social issues. But wasn’t the reality actually more complex? Wasn’t that link only realised in a very small, fragile way, that still has to be built upon?

Read the rest of this entry »

Cut motor traffic. Live better lives. Tackle climate change

September 16, 2022

By Simon Pirani

The borough of Greenwich, south east London, plans to cut car traffic by 45% by 2030 – but even that will produce less than half the greenhouse gas emissions reductions that climate scientists say are needed.

The proposal to cut back traffic is a good start to a conversation about transforming urban transport, I argued this week in a response to the council’s draft Transport Strategy. But only a start. (Download the full response here.)

Copenhagen. But coming to south east London soon. Photo by heb@Wikimedia Commons

Better still would be to set carbon budgets – limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted during specific time periods – and use them as a framework for transport and other policies.

Such budgets can concentrate minds on policies to improve people’s lives, while contributing to tackling climate change at the same time. Better, cheaper public transport and support for non-car ways of travelling, e.g. bikes and walking, all help.

Transport is the second-biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Greenwich; heat, electricity and cooking fuel for homes and other buildings is the first. 

In 2019, Greenwich was one of many local authorities that declared a “climate emergency” in response to school pupils’ strikes demanding action on climate, and Extinction Rebellion’s direct action campaign. Even the UK parliament claimed to recognise this emergency.

Read the rest of this entry »

Climate adaptation: more sea walls will not be enough

August 26, 2022

The climate crisis is leading to massive social rifts. Politics-as-usual will tend to accentuate the problem rather than solve it – and effective adaptation calls for radical transformations that push beyond the existing system. By Ulrich Brand, Barbara Fried, Rhonda Koch, Hannah Schurian, and Markus Wissen

Imagine a summer heatwave in Berlin in 2050. For weeks on end, the temperature fails to dip below 20 degrees, even at night. The heat builds up in poorly renovated, heavily populated residential areas—while neighbourhoods with green areas and private gardens are up to ten degrees cooler.

This is a just a single glimpse of the kinds of inequality produced in a world shaped by climate change—and it is far from the most distressing one. By mid-century, far more serious environmental crises will interfere with living conditions in many regions of the world, or even render them unbearable.

A man walks along the giant sea wall being built along the coast of Jakarta, Indonesia, much of which is sinking below sea level. Photo by Irene Barlian / Climate Visuals Countdown : Creative Commons

Yet, even in Germany, heatwaves will claim lives. Preparing for the coming increases in extreme weather and environmental crises demands massive action—however, this need continues to be ignored. Even a rich country like Germany is failing to take the measures that are necessary to adapt.

The price is being paid primarily by those who have access to the fewest resources and bear the least responsibility for the climate crisis.

Climate adaptation is a social question, conceivably the social question of the coming age. But even on the left it is often pushed aside.

To speak of adaptation suggests a posture of defence and resignation, and fails to inspire assent. And anyway, wouldn’t we be better off directing all of our efforts toward mitigating climate change than already starting to reconcile ourselves to the consequences?

The opposite is true. If we take climate prognoses seriously and consider what, concretely, a two-degree rise in average global temperatures will mean, we will see all the more clearly that a radical fight against climate change is urgently necessary in order to prevent an even worse fate.

Read the rest of this entry »

Europe’s imperial plunder of African gas, masquerading as climate action

August 24, 2022

By Simon Pirani. Reposted, with thanks, from Truthout

Food and fuel prices are soaring globally, and the Russian oil and gas supply has been squeezed since the invasion of Ukraine. In response, European governments are paving the way to massive investments in fossil fuels from non-Russian sources that imperil efforts to tackle climate change.

Policies are being made to suit fossil fuel companies, who see Russia’s war in Ukraine as an opportunity to expand production elsewhere.

Protest against the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) by Hilda Flavia Nakabuye of Fridays for Future Uganda

Governments are missing opportunities to cut oil and gas use by managing demand — by insulating homes and shifting from car-based urban transport systems, for example — and speeding the shift to electricity generation from solar and wind power.

Governmental failures in the face of the climate crisis, exemplified by scorching summer temperatures and drought, are matched by inadequate responses to economic crises. Inflation and recession are combining to threaten hundreds of millions of people’s livelihoods. Resistance to these attacks is growing. Here in the UK, a wave of strikes seems likely to become the biggest in decades.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Silvertown tunnel reinforces deadly climate doublethink

August 16, 2022

London mayor Sadiq Khan has lashed out at opponents of the Silvertown tunnel project, who are calling on him to pause and review the major infrastructure project at the eleventh hour.

Khan has filed a complaint against Newham mayor Rokshana Fiaz, after she shared on social media a claim by the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition that City Hall had used “lies and half-truths” to justify the scheme.

The complaint has gone to Clyde Loakes, Labour chief whip for London Councils, which brings together the leaders of 21 Labour-led councils in the capital.

The “banshees” street theatre group protesting against the tunnel project, July 2020. Photo by Ben Darlington / SSTC web site

The tunnel project has no discernible local support. Greenwich, Lewisham and Hackney councils are opposed, along with Newham, as are climate scientists, transport researchers, trade unions, community groups and thousands of local residents who have turned out on protests.

Yet preparatory work is already underway, and contractors working for Transport for London (TfL) are lowering pieces of the biggest tunnel boring machine ever used in the UK into its chamber. So political pressure to rethink is peaking.

If the £2.2 billion scheme goes ahead, it will exacerbate dreadful air pollution problems locally, boost road transport, and undermine efforts to tackle dangerous climate breakdown.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: