Liverpool: Stop the electronic war fair

August 13, 2021

RITCHIE HUNTER writes about Liverpool City Council and the electronic arms fair due to take place at the Exhibition Centre in Liverpool in October

Slave-branding in England, 1853. Photo from wikimedia commons / New York Public Library

During the slave trade, Liverpool Council spent thousands of pounds fighting the abolition movement and conferred the freedom of the borough on those who were the ‘spin doctors’ of the day. 

This was in a city where thumbscrews, branding irons, and fetters for use on slaves, with devices for opening their mouths when they refused to eat, could all be seen for sale in ships chandlers’ windows.

Fast forward to today and Liverpool City Council have decided not to cancel the arms fair planned for October, even though they own the venue.

This is the resolution passed by the Council on 21 July 2021:

Read the rest of this entry »

Luddism for the age of robotics

May 5, 2021

Review by Simon Pirani of Breaking Things At Work: the Luddites were right about why you hate your job, by Gavin Mueller (Verso, 2021)

Are the technologies developed by giant capitalist corporations – Walmart’s logistics or Elon Musk’s driverless cars – the foundation on which a post-capitalist society can be built? No way, argues Gavin Mueller.

He challenges “Marxist theoreticians” who see “the capitalist development of technology as the means for creating both abundance and leisure”, to be “realised once the masses finally [take] the reins of government and industry” (page 127).

Against these technocratic illusions, Mueller proposes “a decelerationist politics: of slowing down change, undermining technological progress, and limiting capital’s rapacity, while developing organisation and cultivating militancy”.

Alfa Romeo strikers march in January 1972. The placard reads “the Working Class Goes to Heaven”. From Libcom

Allowing Walmart or Amazon to “swallow the globe” would entrench “exploitative models of production and distribution”, and channel resources to reactionary billionaires, he writes:

Letting technology take its course will lead not to egalitarian outcomes, but authoritarian ones, as the ultra-wealthy expend their resources on shielding themselves from any accountability to the rest of us: postapocalyptic bunkers, militarised yachts, private islands and even escapes to outer space (page 128.)

Given the persistence – in trade union hierarchies and even among leftist writers – of technocratic dogma (fantasies about electric cars or geoengineering, for example), Mueller’s book is very welcome.

He grounds his “decelerationism” not only in texts, but in workers’ struggles to confront, confound or control technologies in the workplace – starting with the Luddites in early 19th century England, who smashed machines that were used by employers to cut pay and tighten labour discipline.   

Read the rest of this entry »

The hydrogen hoax

December 18, 2020

“Low carbon?” Its emissions are more than twice the UK economy’s

All of a sudden, hydrogen is (supposedly) a weapon to fight global warming. Governments are bigging it up in their “net zero” plans; oil companies say they are investing in it; union leaders say it will create jobs.

But no-one talks about the really existing hydrogen industry, that each year produces about 70 million tonnes of pure hydrogen, and another 45 million tonnes of hydrogen in other chemical products … and pours 830 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Yes, you read that right. 830 million tonnes of CO2 per year. 2% of total global total greenhouse gas emissions. Equal to about four-fifths of the emissions from aviation; more than twice the entire UK economy’s emissions. (See Endnote 1 about the numbers.)

Of that 115 million tonnes of hydrogen output, more than 99% is “grey” hydrogen – which means it is extracted from natural gas, coal or oil, and the carbon dioxide left over ends up in the air.

It’s fashionable to talk about “blue” hydrogen (made from fossil fuels, but with the carbon captured and stored, instead of being emitted) and “green” hydrogen (produced by electrolysis of water, using gigantic quantities of electricity). But these techniques are used only in a tiny handful of businesses. “Grey” hydrogen is completely dominant.

Companies and governments are promising to expand “blue” and “green” hydrogen production. They claim it will replace natural gas to heat people’s homes, and petrol for cars, and that it will cut carbon emissions.

But before expanding hydrogen production, what about decarbonising existing output?

That would be a big cut in the world’s carbon emissions. Nearly as big a cut as if aviation stopped. More than twice as big a cut as if the UK went to zero.

It would also mean a big shake-up of some of the world’s most polluting industries – oil refining and petrochemicals production – where the hydrogen is produced and used.

There is little mention of hydrogen’s gigantic carbon footprint in the glossy reports, press releases and “net zero” policies of the companies that produce it. But a report Read the rest of this entry »


Hydrogen for homes is a terrible idea. We should fight it

October 30, 2020

A plan to pipe hydrogen, instead of natural gas, to millions of UK households is being pushed hard by the fossil fuel industry. It sounds “green” – but could wreck efforts to make homes truly zero carbon, using insulation and electric heat pumps.

Oil and gas companies support switching the gas grid to hydrogen, as a survival option in case of decarbonisation, as hydrogen is usually fabricated from gas.

But the hydrogen strategy cuts across the approach recommended for years by housing

The gas grid: better to replace it with heat pumps. Photo by Ran-Allen / Creative Commons

policy wonks and architects: to use insulation to slash the amount of heat needed, and install electric pumps (which work like fridges in reverse).

Leeds Trades Union Council (TUC) last month launched a campaign in favour of retrofitting homes with high-quality insulation and heat pumps.

It’s an issue many people can unite around – those fighting for better housing and tenants’ rights, campaigners against fuel poverty, trades unionists fighting building industry cuts, and all of us who want to tackle climate change.

And there’s a choice to be made we cannot avoid.

If the gas grid is switched to hydrogen, that will block for good the electrification-and insulation approach, that heats homes better, more cheaply, with technology that we know works, and is truly zero-carbon. We cannot have it both ways.

We will be locked into extra dependency on fossil fuels, instead of speeding the shift away from them.

That gas-to-hydrogen switch is being planned in north-east England by Northern Gas Networks (NGN): its H21 project would convert 3.7 million homes and businesses by Read the rest of this entry »


Leeds trades unionists: zero-carbon homes can help tackle climate change

September 2, 2020

Leeds Trades Union Council has issued a call for large-scale investment to insulate homes and install electric heat pumps, to cut carbon emissions and help tackle global warming.

Such a drive to retrofit and electrify homes would be an alternative to a multi-billion-pound scheme, supported by oil and gas companies, to turn the gas network over to hydrogen.

That scheme, Northern Gas Networks’ H21 project, could tie up billions of pounds of

Thermal imaging shows heat escaping from a house without insulation (right). From the Open Eco Homes web site

government money in risky carbon capture and storage technology, which is not proven to work at the scale required – but would help to prolong the oil and gas industry’s life by decades.

This is a test for social and labour movements all over the UK.

The demand for retrofitting and electrification should be taken up, and fossil-fuel-linked technofixes rejected. Otherwise, talk of “climate and ecological emergency” is empty words.

“Our most important and urgent action is to halt the flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere”, says a draft document that the Leeds TUC published last week. “This means radical changes to the way we use energy for work, travel and to heat our homes.”

In setting out a plan for Leeds, the TUC there hopes to “offer a model that will be taken up by other towns, cities and regions”, where it can form the basis for collaboration between local authorities, and a focus for trade unions and community campaigners.

The case for super-insulation and heat pumps

“There can be no realistic pathway to zero carbon which relies solely on changes in the way we produce energy”, says the TUC document. “Continuing to extract and burn carbon- Read the rest of this entry »


Public health: workers and communities organise, Tory ministers undermine

May 29, 2020

In Downing Street, the prime minister has trashed the UK public health strategy, with his repulsive defence of his senior adviser making up his own rules. Elsewhere, health workers, teachers and communities are organising to protect people from the coronavirus more effectively. Here PHIL EDWARDS, Joint Secretary of Newham Save Our NHS, writing in a personal capacity, reflects on how the virus is changing the politics of health.

The Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, has announced that along with the London boroughs of Camden, Barnet and Hackney, our borough will be part of a local test and track (or trace) initiative.

The government in turn announced that local areas were to submit plans for carrying out local test track initiatives across the country. The Newham initiative, on 22 May, was the result of

Newham Save Our NHS on a national demonstration against cuts, July 2018

weeks of pressure nationally from public health experts, local authorities, medical practitioners, and of campaigns like our own.

This came days after the release of evidence that the national test and track scheme launched by the health secretary Matt Hancock’s friends in Serco, the private contractor, and recruitment agencies sub-contracted to contact people using the government-approved mobile app, was collapsing in disarray.

As the Newham Health and Wellbeing Board met this week, to respond to questions on the local test trace scheme from local residents, it was pointed out that the government would finally launch its app this week after several false starts.

We have to approach this “victory” with some careful qualifications. It is not yet clear what the relationship is between these “local” tests and the national effort run by Serco. The scheme in Sheffield (see “Testing times” below) is run and operated by local health professionals. In Read the rest of this entry »


Coronavirus: Doctors advise. The government does not listen

March 17, 2020

The UK government yesterday announced stronger “social distancing” measures to combat coronavirus – but its overall strategy is still unclear to medical specialists.

They have called for more transparency, as well as speedier implementation of “social distancing” and testing.

Until the end of last week, officials were suggesting that the government’s strategy aimed to allow the virus to spread through healthy sections of the population in order to build up “herd

China: infection rates are now falling

immunity”. This was roundly denounced by epidemiologists – and on Sunday that produced some backpedalling by Matthew Hancock, the health secretary.

But still, today, the logic is opaque. Scientists’ requests to see the government’s data have fallen on deaf ears. And the UK’s “social distancing” measures are still far behind the Scottish and Irish governments, sports governing bodies and most of Europe.

Here I will try to summarise the way the rift between doctors and the government has deepened since I posted about it on Friday. I have no medical training; I am just trying to clarify what is going on.

Along with many thousands of others, I have joined a local Coronavirus mutual aid group – and to take matters into our own hands effectively, we need accurate information. If you think I have got something wrong, please say so in the comments.

■ The government is not sharing information with the country’s epidemiologists and other specialists.

This was the main point made in a letter to the Times on Saturday by six senior epidemiologists and public health specialists, and supported by 630 others and counting. The UK’s response to Read the rest of this entry »


Coronavirus: scientists versus the government

March 13, 2020

With the coronavirus now spreading more rapidly in the UK, a huge gulf has opened up between epidemiologists and public health researchers on one side and the government on the other.

And in the absence of clear directions from government, others – from managers of universities and workplaces to families – are making their own decisions.

The fact that the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has grabbed the headlines this morning, urging stronger measures, shows just how lost Boris Johnson’s government is.

But the most damaging criticism of the government I have seen is from medical and scientific experts polled by the Guardian yesterday for their reaction to Johnson’s announcement.

Their language was measured, even understated. They were extremely careful not to exaggerate.

An illustration by Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing the structure of a coronavirus

(Senior climate scientists do the same: these highly privileged, clever people who have spent decades working their way to the top of their professions – and for whom dealing with politicians is part of the job – chose their words carefully.)

If we read their comments with all that in mind, they are devastating.

Professor Paul Hunter at the Norwich Medical School: “I was expecting there to be something a bit more rigorous. […] Just telling elderly people to not go on cruises isn’t enough to protect them. I would’ve hoped we’d be seeing more targeted advice for elderly and vulnerable citizens […]. I think they’ve been left out on a limb. [My emphasis, GL.]

Hunter’s most damning point was about the government’s lack of transparency: “I would like to see a bit more about why they’re not closing schools and banning large events. We do know, in Read the rest of this entry »


People and Nature greatest hits of the 2010s

December 23, 2019

I hope, dear readers, you get time for reflection, rejuvenation and relaxation in the midwinter holidays. If you find yourself reaching for your phone for something to read – then, rather than winding yourself up with news of Boris Johnson’s vileness, go a level more thoughtful: look at those People & Nature articles you missed out on first time round. Here is some stuff that has stood the test of time. Thanks for your interest, and see you all (virtually or really) in the 2020s. GL, 23 December 2019.

Climate and ecological emergency

Disaster environmentalism: looking the future in the face (5 December 2019). A critique of Rupert Read, Jem Bendell and other writers linked to Extinction Rebellion

Climate grief, climate anger (25 June 2019). How different global warming looks to young people

What does “climate emergency” mean? Let’s define that OUTSIDE parliament (2 May 2019)

Still bigger mountains of plastic on the way (March 2018). The petrochemicals companies are driving it

Global warming in the Indian context (June 2016). A pamphlet by Indian climate campaigner Nagraj Adve

Let’s face it. Melting ice has passed point of no return (23 November 2015)

The Paris climate talks and the failure of states (February 2015)

Stop tailoring global warming scenarios to make them “politically palatable” (July 2013). An interview with Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research Read the rest of this entry »


Climate scientists are people too

November 19, 2019

Climate scientists understand potential climate disasters, but can not accurately predict the timescales or details of how they will unfold.

Some are more sceptical than others about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but all see it as an essential outlet for their research.

When pushed to question some of the IPCC’s ludicrous assumptions on negative emissions technologies, some are readier than others to criticise.

These were my impressions from an all day conference in London yesterday, where scientists presented the IPCC’s three recent reports – on limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, on oceans and ice sheets, and on land and agriculture.

All the scientists who spoke had felt a shot in the arm from the school climate strikes and

Earth, from space. No land is visible because that is the Pacific Ocean. Corinne Le Quere showed this photo at yesterday’s conference: a reminder that the oceans cover 70% of the earth’s surface

Extinction Rebellion. “People now feel the urgency in a more visceral way”, Andy Challinor of Leeds university said, opening the event.

Speakers repeatedly urged political and social action, which they are convinced can avert the worst impacts of global warming. But there was no mention of radical social change: the appeals were, rather, for “joined-up government policy”.

The event was organised by the Royal Meteorological Society of the UK. It was free to get in and open to all. There was a deluge of useful information, clearly and thoughtfully explained. (The presentations and other relevant stuff are on its web site here.)

To be honest, I could not understand why it wasn’t over-booked, and was disappointed that there were empty seats. One scientist I talked to in a coffee break saw it differently: he had Read the rest of this entry »


%d bloggers like this: