Stop fossil fuel projects, African civil society groups demand

August 24, 2022

“There must be a halt to all new coal, oil, or gas exploration and extraction activities in Africa in line with the imperatives of the energy transition”, delegates representing more than 30 civil society organisations from across Africa urged this month.

“We specifically demand the stoppage of oil exploration and expansion plans in the Virunga basin of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Keta region of Ghana, the Okavango Delta of Botswana, the Orange River Basin in Namibia, and a halt on all plans for the West African Gas Pipeline Project, the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline Project, and the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project, among others.”

Delegates to Oilwatch Africa’s “Stop Gassing the Continent” conference this month

The delegates gathered in Accra, Ghana, for a conference entitled “Stop Gassing the Continent”, organised by Oilwatch Africa on 8-12 August.

The communique adopted by the gathering also called on African governments to “leverage the hosting of COP27 this year [in Egypt] to demand far-reaching measures on climate adaptation and finance, including emissions cut at the source.

“African governments should demand from polluting industrialised countries an annual climate debt of $2 trillion being the amount they currently spend on military hardware and warfare annually. This will pay for loss and damage and serve as partial reparations for historical harms.”

African states must “develop Africa-centred and just energy transition plans where such do not exist and, where they do, mainstream such plans into broader national development plans in ways that take cognizance of Africa’s huge renewable potential”.

The trend for multinational oil and gas companies, to sell stakes in onshore oil and gas assets and invest in offshore fields was highlighted. The companies were accused of abdicating responsibility for historical damage caused by their activities.

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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.

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Europe’s hydrogen greenwash is the last thing Ukraine needs

August 12, 2022

The European Commission, cheered on by fossil fuel companies, is promoting a plan to put exporting hydrogen to Europe at the centre of Ukraine’s post-war recovery. The plan reeks of greenwash and neocolonialism, and should be scrapped, Simon Pirani writes.

Tripilska heat and power plant near Kyiv. Photo by Matvey Andreyev / Creative Commons

Hydrogen is extracted from fossil gas and is used in oil refining and industrial processes. It has a huge carbon footprint, as left-over carbon is released into the air.

Hydrogen lobbyists say that in future the gas will be “blue” (with the left-over carbon captured and stored) or “green” (made by electrolysis – passing an electric current through water). But even “green” hydrogen, the only carbon-free kind, gulps down huge quantities of renewable electricity. Plans to export it from Ukraine – which will need that clean electricity itself for decades to come – are little more than cynical profiteering in wartime.

Hydrogen may be used in future in industrial sectors that are hard to decarbonise, such as steelmaking, fertiliser production and long-distance transport. But the picture painted by lobbyists, of its widespread use for residential heating and urban transport, is dangerously counter-productive.

It undermines effective climate policies in the interests of fossil fuel companies – who see hydrogen as a survival strategy, because it can be made from gas, and uses similar infrastructure and technologies.

Where the plan came from

The European Commission’s Fit for 55 decarbonisation policy, published in 2021, featured a plan to generate “green” hydrogen from thousands of electrolytic cells in Ukraine and north Africa, and export it to European countries. This idea was lifted wholesale from a plan proposed by Hydrogen Europe, an industry lobbying group, the year before.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, far from offering pause for thought about plunging resources into a speculative technology, accelerated the hydrogen import plan.

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War and climate justice: a discussion

July 22, 2022

OpenDemocracy yesterday hosted a useful, and sobering, discussion about the war in Ukraine and the fight for climate justice, with Oleh Savitsky (Stand with Ukraine and Ukraine Climate Network), Angelina Davydova (a prominent commentator on Russian climate policy) and me.  

To open, I made three points about the policy response by the governments of rich western countries that consume most of those fossil fuels.

1. Political leaders are focusing on replacing Russian oil and gas with supplies from elsewhere. This undermines all the promises made at the international climate talks.

So the UK government, just after the Russian invasion of Ukraine this year, gave the go-ahead for a new oil field, Jackdaw, operated by Shell – when we know that tackling climate change means there can be no new oil fields in rich countries.

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Greenwashed Silvertown tunnel pollutes, trashes the climate, and steamrollers democracy

June 13, 2022

London’s Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is pushing ahead with the Silvertown tunnel project despite evidence that it will worsen already chronic air pollution problems and undermine chances of meeting climate targets.

Campaigners opposed to the £2 billion-plus project, to build a new tunnel under the Thames between Newham and Greenwich in east London, gathered on Saturday at a Health Summit to hear researchers explain the project’s harmful health effects.

This article is based on a talk at the start of the meeting by SIMON PIRANI, about why, even at this late stage, the project can and should be stopped, and about some of the campaigners’ achievements.

The Silvertown tunnel, like all road-building projects, has to be considered in the context of transport policy as a whole.

Attendees at the Health Summit on Saturday. Photo by Clive Carter

The only arguments in favour of the tunnel are that it will reduce traffic jams at the Blackwall tunnel. These arguments isolate the problem of these jams from all other problems in the world.

Supporters of the tunnel ask us: “What will you do about traffic jams?”

We say: reduce the total number of cars on the road. Which we need to do anyway, to address the appalling levels of air pollution and the danger of global warming.

If you read the London mayor’s transport policy of 2018, it looks as though this is the plan. It has big headlines about non-car transport modes. But the small print, the reality, is very different. The reality is that road transport in private cars is subsidised and supported, and support for other modes is being eaten away.

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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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The ‘energy security’ strategy that promises more oil and gas

May 16, 2022

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.

Broadly, the strategy, published last month, fails in four ways:

Firstly, the strategy provides insufficient support for the development of renewable energy, given the urgency of the climate and energy crisis.

XR Scientists demonstrate at the Shell headquarters in London, 6 April

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,[1] 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.

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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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Russia sacrifices economic goals for military aggression

February 28, 2022

I wrote this last week, and this morning it already looks out of date. Very broad sanctions are being imposed on Russia; Germany and the EU are rushing arms to Ukraine; and Belarus appears to be joining the attack on Ukraine. Nevertheless, the comments about Putinism may be of interest. SP.

Russia’s war in Ukraine will capsize its relations with Europe now, and for the long term. Its valuable trading partnership with Germany has been disrupted; by freezing certification for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Germany has opened a rift that could widen further.

Whatever the Kremlin’s war aims are – and at time of writing they are unclear – it has decided they are worth the sacrifice of Russian capital’s short-term economic interests.

Young Russians demonstrating in London on Sunday. The poster on the left quotes the Ukrainian sailors who told a Russian warship “fuck you” before being killed

Nord Stream 2, a 1,200-kilometre pipeline running from north-west Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany, alongside the existing Nord Stream 1 line, is completed, but will perhaps never be used. Both pipelines are owned and operated by Gazprom, Russia’s state-backed energy giant.

For years, German politicians defended the new pipeline in the face of calls from Ukraine to sanction it. Indeed, the chair of Nord Stream’s shareholder committee is the former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. In July last year, towards the end of Angela Merkel’s term as chancellor, Germany struck a deal with the US – which had previously imposed some sanctions on the project – that allowed it to go ahead.

But on Tuesday, within hours of Russian president Vladimir Putin recognising the separatist self-proclaimed ‘republics’ of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, and approving open military support for them, the new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, announced that his government had withdrawn an impact report on the pipeline, meaning that the German regulatory authority cannot approve it.

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The class struggle inside energy

February 17, 2022

LARRY LOHMANN continues a discussion about energy and social justice, responding to earlier contributions on People & Nature by Simon Pirani and David Schwartzman, both published on 5 January. You can read the whole discussion, which started on People & Nature last year, in a free pamphlet, Roads to an Energy Commons, downloadable here 

Reply to Simon (Disentangling capitalism and physics, energy and electricity, 5 January)

I don’t want to overemphasize any differences Simon and I may turn out to have. From the perspective of capital, the two of us probably look like the same person. On the other hand, developing our mutual (mis)understandings as they play off each other is surely at least one tiny part of our own common project of helping organize for the future.

A Carnot landscape of energy conversion devices. A more complete map of this landscape would have to display the network of borders through which the entropy gradients needed by such devices are maintained, including colonial structures of waste expulsion as well as patriarchal, racial, and class structures of exploitation and appropriation – not to mention other entropy landscapes that this landscape overlays and overlaps

I don’t think that Simon and I differ on the place of the modern energy concept developed during 19th-century industrialism[i] in understanding history. Simon suspects that the concept would not “cover water wheels, windmills, dams and coal-fuelled metalworking in precapitalist societies.” But actually it would and it does. More than that: it’s commonly used even in popular depictions of prehistory (as in the declaration “since humans were humans, we’ve used energy”, from a graphic novel detailing possible low-carbon futures).

There’s nothing wrong with this use of latter-day concepts in examining the past. That’s how the art of history-writing goes forward. Nobody in their right mind would want to talk about another time using only the concepts current among the people who lived in that time. Including, I would argue, those people themselves – if only they had the chance to enter into dialogue with us. My suspicion is that the more curious, open-minded denizens of the 18th century would be challenged, fascinated and perhaps delighted to hear of our (to them) bizarre view that a “horse pulling a treadmill and a coal fire heating a lime kiln [a]re in some sense doing the same thing.” They would want to discuss this more, to find out what the hell we – seemingly reasonable people – were talking about.

The question is the class politics of such translational encounters, hypothetical or actual.

When we in industrialized societies face the 18th-century person, it is not just as people for whom the First Law of Thermodynamics became common sense because we learned it in the science classroom. It is also as inhabitants of a world in which, as a result of two centuries of class struggle, that law is bodied forth in countless ways in which it was not in those earlier times.

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