It takes a particular kind of weird right wing mind set to cast a need to drive long distances breathing in pollution from the exhaust pipes of the cars in front just to get to the shops, or a playground, or your kid’s school as a kind of “freedom”.
Cars have become the main form of travel in the UK in the last 60 years, which is now leading to serious problems.
Take London. London’s 2023 population is just over 9 million people, on a land area unchanged since it was 8.3 million back in 1950 and it is projected by the GLA to grow to 10.3 million by 2050 in a period in which London’s green space is due to expand from 40% to 50% of the metropolitan area. All those people have to live and work somewhere, and they have to get about, and they have to have ready access to all the things they need to make life bearable at least and enjoyable at best.
Unless London is to break through the greenbelt and sprawl across the Home Counties like a Northern European version of LA, that means higher density populations living closer to the amenities they need, cutting down on the need to make unnecessary journeys and public transport hubs so that longer distance travel is facilitated without car use. That does not imply, far right conspiracy theorists please note, people being walled into neighbourhoods or forbidden to travel out of them. it means facilitating it so they don’t have to: thereby reducing personal costs and stress as well as pollution amongst other things. If those extra million and a half people all had cars, as about half of Londoners currently do, there would be nowhere to put them and no prospect of them being able to get from A-B, let alone Z. We should note that LA itself, the model city for low density urban sprawl slung together by freeways – which, right wing conspiracy theorists please take note, acted as barriers slicing communities into fragments that were hard to get out of, especially without a car, leading to all sorts of other malign effects – had to start investing in its now very popular and extensive metro system because the morning gridlock in the early 1990s was beginning to merge with the evening gridlock.
There are a lot of examples of this in North West London. There has been a huge development of solid looking new flats on the site of the old Hendon Police College. Over 1600 of them with a school in the middle; which no one needs to drive to to drop their kids off. There are some parking bays, but this whole new town has not been built on the assumption that everyone will own a car or have to use one to get out to work. This is because there is one road alongside of the site – and no option for another – this would simply clog up if everyone tried to travel by car during rush hour. On the other hand, the Northern Line is within walking distance; as it is to a comparable number of new flats that have been built around Colindale Station, complete with amenities, shops, cafes, restaurants etc.
There are similar developments all alongside the Edgware Road. If everyone living in all these new flats owned and used a car, even the mighty A5 would just get clogged in a stationary stream of fuming metal. No one would be able to get anywhere in rush hour, and the already grim levels of pollution would be even more character building than they currently are.
One of the most striking of these is the local Sainsbury Megastore. Built about 20 years ago as a classic suburban big box supermarket with a car park for 462 vehicles – on the presumption that a lot of shoppers would drive in and load up for a big weekly shop – this is now being redeveloped so that the car park will shrink by over half, and most of its space will be occupied by flats. 1300 of them. Car parking space will only be available for around a quarter of these. The Hendon Thameslink station is within a five minute walk and the Northern Line within ten minutes by bus. About a quarter of residents are projected to use the tube, others may work locally or from home or use the bus or cycle. Improvements for pedestrian and cycle access to the Thameslink station are part of the planning with input from TFL The loss of car parking space for the supermarket will be more than compensated for by having 1300 homes alongside or, in some cases, literally on top of the store. It obviously won’t be compulsory for residents to use it, and other supermarkets are available for anyone who wants to head up the Edgware Road because they really like Asda or Morrisons, but most people will probably just pop down to the nearest.
One caveat we should note is that the initial plans by the developers had a somewhat higher number of car parking spaces both for residents and supermarket, on the presumption that the better off people who will buy the posher flats will assume they will be entitled to a car, so providing spaces is a way of maximising the returns they get on sales. This had to be pushed back by the GLA and Barnet Council as the level of traffic generated would be outside the limits set by the London Plan to allow what traffic there is to keep flowing. The usual conflict between private gain and social needs playing out here.
The annual figures produced by the IEA on the OECD countries are a useful gauge of shifting sources of power generation. The OECD is made up of all the world’s richest countries; all of North America plus Columbia and Chile in South America, most of Europe, Japan, Korea, Australia and Turkiye.
Overall, between November 2021 and November 2022, fossil fuels still accounted for over half of all power generated, with renewables now up to just over a third and nuclear down to a sixth.
But, between November 2021 and November 2022 there has been a growth in the use of renewable sources of energy and a decline in the use of fossil fuels and nuclear.
Within fossil fuels coal and natural gas have both declined by about the same amount.
Within renewables there has been a dramatic increase in solar and a smaller but steady increase in wind.
The International Energy Agency has projected that 90% of new energy generation will be renewable by 2025. With the IPCC warning that 1.5C is slipping beyond our grasp unless we accelerate this trend sharply there should be no holding back on getting to 100% and eating into those big residual fossil fuel slices.
These figures are just for the generation of electricity. This is a vital area, but fossil fuels are also in use for domestic heating and cooking (78% of homes in UK have gas central heating) transport and manufacturing. Energy generation has made faster progress towards sustainability than other sectors. Transport emissions in the UK, for example, have made no progress for over a decade.
These are figures from the OECD. OECD countries are primarily those with high per capita climate footprints and the huge legacy of having generated the overwhelming majority of the carbon emissions that have led to the temperature rises we have seen to date. This is therefore not a full picture of the Global sources of energy use as it misses out most of the Global South. China has a large legacy use of fossil fuels but is investing in renewables on a significantly greater scale than the OECD.
The OECD also has the capital and technical wherewithal to invest in renewable energy; but are denying this for the most part to the Global South, which is being impacted harder and deeper. On average African countries are already losing 5-15% of GDP a year due to adverse climate impacts, so having to run harder and harder to stand still. Global South countries are charged far higher rates of interest by banks if they want to borrow to invest in energy transition than Global North countries, which makes it hard for them to do so without being caught in a debt trap.
The Global South, for the most part, has a very high proportion of traditional renewable energy (Hydroelectric dams) so the transfer of capital and technical expertise is vital for them to develop without reliance on fossil fuels. The decision by China to stop all coal power funding as part of Belt and Road is a huge positive step. The decision by the EU to classify gas as a transition fuel and encourage a “dash for gas” in Africa (to make up for the loss of Russian supply) is a step backwards.
This is a slightly tweaked version of the talk I gave at the Socialist Solutions to the Climate Crisis meeting at the Marx Memorial Library alongside Dan Kovalic from the University of Pittsburg, Lauren Collins from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the Nicaraguan Ambassador Giselle Morales-Echaverry and chaired by Ben Chakko from the Morning Star. A film of the whole meeting can be viewed here.
What China does to tackle the climate crisis will have a huge impact on whether humanity succumbs to it or not.
This is partly because it
is already the world’s largest economy in Purchase Power Parity terms
has a population greater than that of Europe, North America, South America and Australasia combined; a four continent country
is a developing country that has developed very successfully
is now exceeding the US in the number of patents for new inventions filed every year
is a country run, not by the private sector interests that make the USA the best democracy money can buy, but by a Communist Party with 90 million members; whose project is to build Socialism with Chinese characteristics.
This is in a context in which the US – as the self proclaimed “indispensable nation” and “global leader” – the country for which the rules in the “rules based international order” are written – is failing spectacularly to lead the world in confronting its greatest existential challenge – the breakdown of the climactic conditions in which human society can continue to exist – and prioritising war instead.
On current government spending, the US is putting fourteen times as much into its military as it is into domestic green transmission, and is encouraging its allies to increase theirs too; which they are doing.
The economic context of this is that, because globalisation now favours China not the US, the US is “decoupling” from it and pressing its subordinate allies to do the same, while screwing them over at the same time.
China, by contrast, is spending more than twice as much on green transition as on its military. More precise look at these figures here.
China’s is the right priority for every country because of the scale of the problem. Reports that the 1.5C limit is fast getting beyond reach should be a klaxon going off in all our heads. Not an invitation to fatalism, which will be fatal, but to redouble efforts to accelerate the scale and speed of transition to limit the damage as much as possible.
The consequence of not doing so will be severe. In 2007 a joint report from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and the Centre for a New American Security entitled “The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy Implications of Global Climate Change” made this prediction for the impact of the kind of climate breakdown we could be heading into.
“Governments with resources will be forced to engage in long, nightmarish episodes of triage; deciding what and who can be salvaged from engulfment by a disordered environment. The choices will need to be made primarily among the poorest, not just abroad but at home.”
That’s what we have to avoid, and the Labour movement has to take a lead in making sure we do. Not least because if we don’t the widespread anxiety about the future will give rise to wilder and wilder versions of the tsunami of irrationality we are already seeing, with severe consequences as climate crises bite and people seek false solutions. We should note that the capitalist class, which emerged historically– in its own head at least – as champions of reason and enlightenment – are going down promoting collective insanity; Q Anon and on…The only question is whether they take us with down them.
Socialist solutions are needed because, as the FT noted recently “The Free Market will solve the Climate Crisis – but not in time”. This is even recognised in the Skidmore Review of the government’s Net Zero “Strategy” which notes that the state has to provide clear goals, legislative frameworks and sufficient investment for any transition to be viable. The US Inflation Reduction Act has taken the same approach, which has now prompted the EU to follow suit, streamlining investment procedures, resetting regulations and priming green pumps.
This is better than letting the market follow its financial nose while hoping for the best, but its still within a framework in which it is the job of the state to provide the conditions for private sector profitability – with that profitability being the determinant of whether a transition takes place or not.
This won’t be good enough – which brings us back to China.
In the context of the second phase of the Wars for the New American Century, and the great decoupling that goes with it, China will not get a good press in this country; and the dominance of a set of negative narratives relentlessly repeated means that relatively few people, even on the Left, will give it the benefit of the doubt.
This sometimes takes the form of extreme cognitive dissonance. A recent Labour Party Foreign Policy Group Report said that China’s success in poverty reduction for 850 million people in the last half century was “perhaps the single most significant contribution to human wellbeing in world history.” but then goes on to argue for technological, commercial and academic disengagement from, and military preparedness to confront, the country, people and Party that produced “perhaps the single most significant contribution to human wellbeing in world history.” A similar view is common in the climate movement.
So, on climate, does China get it? Beyond Xi Jinping’s speeches about the need to build an ecological society and for global cooperation to achieve it – a concern that predates him becoming General Secretary – there’s what China does domestically, how it acts internationally, and how the two intertwine. I want to look at two key areas.
China is still heavily dependent on coal to generate power, but we should note that since 2011 the quantity of coal used every year has levelled off, while the economy has been growing dramatically.
Overall, China’s investment in wind and solar has been on such a large scale that it has made them a cheaper source of energy than fossil fuels, which is a crucial global life line.
The current (14th) Five Year Plan envisages a better connected grid with renewables at its core and coal relegated to a back up role.
The International Energy Agency and others project that China’s 2030 target for renewable power installation could be met by 2025, which indicates the sort of exponential growth that will be needed for China’s overall emissions to start dropping before the end of the decade.
The IEA assessment is also that the speed and scale of this drop will, exceed Western precedents.
At the same time, the decision to cease any funding for coal fired power stations as part of the Belt and Road initiative is estimated by the IEA to have the same beneficial effect as the whole of the EU actually getting to Net Zero by 2050. So, a massive deal.
That means that the energy development paradigm for those parts of the Global South where China is hegemonic will be via renewables. The “dash for gas” in Africa being pushed by the EU, and Tony Blair Institute among others, at the last COP is depressing contrast. They are selling this as a “transition fuel” for the continent, but its actually for export to Europe.
The city of Shenzen in Southern China replaced its entire 16,000 strong bus fleet with electric vehicles in 2016. London, with 8,000 buses, is going to take until sometime in the 2030s, and TFL is very good by UK standards.
In 2021 China produced 57% of the world’s electric vehicles and 77% of the batteries needed to power them. We should note in passing that the only gigafactory making EV batteries in the UK is part owned by a Chinese company. The debacle of build it from scratch startup company BritishVolt illustrates the difficulties of the UK model; which can’t compete with the level of subsidy that continental scale economies like the US and EU can put up, while its increasingly Sinophobic Foreign Policy posture will inhibit any inward investment from China, where this technology is best established.
The rapid development of China’s High Speed Rail Network has saved it from dependence on internal medium haul flights – of the sort that the US relies on and which were largely responsible for US carbon emissions rising again last year.
This is also and essential paradigm for Global South transport development through the Belt and Road initiative, which runs on rails.
So, Socialists in the climate movement have a number of tasks
To challenge disinformation about China in the movement and, as the saying goes, “seek truth from facts”.
Oppose the war drive and military spending, campaigning for financial and technological transfer to the Global South instead.
Oppose economic decoupling as detrimental to climate progress (a very clear example of which is that the trade sanctions imposed on Chinese solar panel imports by the US this year has led to a 23% drop in domestic installations – which is bad for emissions and bad for jobs) and seek win win global solutions on the context of the most rapid possible green transition.
Faced with a collapsing climate, the most powerful country on the planet is spending colossal sums of money on keeping the war in Ukraine going rather than seeking a peace, while only committing to a tenth of its $11 billion pledge to the Global South for funding to avert climate breakdown.
These figures show a set of priorities that spell disaster for humanity unless reversed.
Just as Nigel Farage tries to diss Just Stop Oil demonstrators as out of touch and cossetted upper class “brats” with names like Indigo and Jocasta – this from a man called Nigel – a survey from Savanta Comres shows majority support for faster, deeper action to head off the climate emergency.
Overall, only one in four voters think the government is doing enough. Three in five say that it is not doing enough.
Majorities of all age groups think not enough is being done. The younger the age group, the more strongly this is felt. Just over half of over 65s rising to over 7 out of ten of 18-24 year olds.
Even among Conservative supporters, nearly half want more action and this becomes overwhelming among supporters of other Parties. Farage and his denialist head bangers are the unrepresentative minority.
As there are such strong majorities, and some of the actions needed, like stopping new oil and gas exploration, unblocking Onshore Wind farms and launching an immediate insulation programme are so easy and obvious, the question that has to be posed is; why isn’t this happening? Who is the government representing if it isn’t the majority? And, given that their failure to act on the scale and at the speed needed is causing widespread anxiety and fear, especially among young people who see the future approaching with a sense of menace and trepidation, doesn’t the term “eco-terrorist” apply more to them than to young people trying to jolt them out of their complacency?
Atlanticist Labour Shadow Foreign Secretaries have the difficult job of squaring the circle between the reality of UK subordination to US global dominance – with everything that flows from that – with the desire of the Party membership to be – and to be seen to be – “ethical”. This is usually covered by rhetorical devices that touch nerves and mobilise emotions, while obscuring awkward realities. A classic of its kind was Emily Thornberry’s speech in 2019 in which she included Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro in a list of “Trump inspired strongmen” that the Party had to oppose, sliding over the awkward fact that, far from being one of Trump’s acolytes, Maduro was one of his targets, and Venezuela to object of ruthless US sanctions that were responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 people. Details, details…
With the banishment of that awkward internationalist Jeremy Corbyn and the reassertion of a new era of unapologetic Atlanticism from the front bench, David Lammy has gone further.
He did not reflect, in his foreign policy speech to Labour conference this year, that the role of “Britain in the World” has historically been rather like that of the policemen he mentions who used to stop and search him when he was “a skinny kid in NHS glasseson the streets of Tottenham“; and for very similar reasons. At one time as dominant world cop and enforcer, latterly as the new world cop’s most eager henchman.
His speech provides a cover for it to continue to do so.
His list of challenges faced by the world is odd, and in a strange order.
Conference, the world faces more challenges today than at any other time in my 22 years in parliament. The rise of China. Conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Ethiopia and South Sudan. A global food crisis. And a climate crisis.
“And a climate crisis”. The climate crisis is the framework in which everything else takes place – or doesn’t. It’s not an item on a list. Least of all the last item. And the central problem is that the world’s most powerful state is prioritising military interventionism over dealing with it. The USA is spending more than 20 times as much on its military as it is on dealing with climate change, claims to “global leadership” notwithstanding.
China, by contrast, is spending one and a half times as much on climate change as on its military.
Who is doing the right thing?
The UK already spends more on its military than every other country in the world apart from the USA, China and India. It spends more than Russia. Through NATO and AUKUS it is in direct alliance with countries that account for two thirds of total global military spending. But the Truss government wants to increase spending by 50% by 2030 and the Labour front bench is going along with this. This is not a polict that tends to peace.
Lammy’s “green dimension” is subordinate to Cold War imperatives and inwardly oriented. The UK should not be dependent of “fossil fuel dictators” he says. Which ones does he mean? Will imports be stopping from Saudi Arabia any time soon?
And “we will seek to work with allies and partners to create a new international law of ecocide to criminalise the wanton and widespread destruction of the environment.” There’s that presumption of leadership from the Global North again, Britain’s “allies and partners” in setting and policing the ecological rule book for everyone else.
And note the weasel words – “we will seek to…” This will be rather tricky for the Global North because most of the fossil fuel companies seeking to develop the 350 carbon Bombs (projects which each have a carbon footprint of over a billion tonnes of CO2) that will bust us well beyond 1.5C on their own are companies that are based here; and so are most of the banks that finance them.
This also applies to the specific crisis that Lammy uses to frame his speech. The USA has for years explained to the Global South how hard it is to squeeze out a few billion dollars to help get to the 2020 target of $100 billion a year agreed at Copenhagen ten years earlier which has still not been met and that, with a bit of luck and a following wind (and a bit of redefinition of private sector loans) they might be good enough to get up to the target by 2024. Maybe. If the Global South is good. And nothing else comes along that is more urgent.
By contrast, they have magicked up $53 billion to fuel the Ukraine war in 6 months. Just like that. Easy. Whatever your view of the rights and wrongs of the war in Ukraine, and more on this later, it’s shocking how both the quantity and the speed are so dramatically different and provide such a clear demonstration of US priorities. Perhaps the way that a lot of this aid will go in orders for munitions and ammunition from US arms manufacturers may have something to do with that, but most of it reflects the war drive the USA is carrying out to try to shore up its economic decline relative to China.
In this framing, its odd that Lammy poses “the rise of China” as a challenge “for the world”. It is certainly a challenge for the US world order, Pax Americana, New American Century, Unipolar US domination; call it what you like. But that’s not the same as a challenge “for the world”.
For most of the world, benefitting from Chinese investment and trade, it looks more like an opportunity; and this is explicitly embraced by the Left in the Global South, Latin America particularly; where they are very clear about who runs the “Empire” and who has carried out coup after coup to install “dictatorships” across the continent.
It is peculiarly bizarre when considering that UK overseas aid is lauded for raising 3 million people a year out of poverty. This is not a figure I have seen anywhere else and have not been able to find online. It would be odd if true, because the impact of the COVID pandemic everywhere in the Global South outside China has been to throw back development and increase poverty. It would, of course, be a good thing if true, but pales into insignificance compared to China’s record as a developing country of raising 850 million people out of poverty in 40 years (21 million a year); seven times the rate. This was described in a Labour Foreign Policy Group document, generally rather hostile to China, as “perhaps the single most significant contribution to human wellbeing in world history”. But let’s not dwell on that. Let’s move swiftly on and not think about how this statistic is actual people whose lives have been immeasurably improved. It’s only the same number of people as the entire UK population thirteen times over. Just think of how many people that is. In forty years. And that includes everyone in Xinjiang, whose living standards are rising by 6% a year and whose labour is no more forced than that of anyone else who works in a factory.
It is also odd that Lammy does not mention that the “conflict in Yemen” is fueled by British made arms, of the sort that Conference sadly voted to boost, and the Saudi Air Force and Navy are trained to bomb and blockade ports by the RAF and Royal Navy – leading to famine and the world’s worst cholera epidemic. Nothing to see here. Let’s talk about Ukraine instead.
Lammy says “No act of imperialism is ever the same. But Vladimir Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine this year was just the latest front in an age-old war between democracy and dictatorship. Freedom and subjugation. Empire and independence.” From the country and allies that have – just since 1990 -brought us two wars each in Iraq and Yugoslavia, the invasion and twenty year occupation of Afghanistan and the reduction of Libya from the most prosperous country in North Africa to a war ravaged basket case, this might be considered a little ironic. Quite what kind of “act of imperialism” Lammy considers these to be is unclear, who was fighting for “freedom” and who for “subjugation”, who for “Empire” and who for “independence“, he doesn’t say. Possibly because it’s too obvious if you think about it for a moment. Does he have no self-awareness at all?
“Vladimir Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine” is an oft repeated mantra that conceals more than it explains. Deliberately. The war in Ukraine did not start with the Russian intervention this February. It started with the overthrow of a democratically elected President in 2014, aided and abetted by the considerable resources of the USA and EU, in cahoots with the local far right. This led to a rebellion on the Donbass region and an eight year civil war. As Sir Richard Sherriff, the former NATO Deputy Commander, remarked, a little off script, “this war started in 2014”.
The invasion this February followed attempts by the Russians to get an agreed mutual security arrangement that was spurned with complete contempt by NATO.
The Russian decision to recognise the Donbass Republics in February was not carried out by Putin alone but had the support of the overwhelming majority of the State Duma, including the main opposition Party, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, reflecting concerns at the failure to implement the Minsk Agreement, refusal of NATO to engage in any talks about mutual security, and a build up of 130,000 Ukrainian troops – whose pay was tripled in December – opposite Donetsk and Lugansk threatening their liquidation.
All war is barbaric, but it may seem odd to viewers of the atrocity porn produced by Feargal Keene and the like that by comparison with what the Americans do, the Russians have been relatively restrained. There have been a number of specific strikes on infrastructure like power stations or dams, but in US air campaigns they aim to smash the entire power and water treatment systems on day one to reduce the population to a state of rebellious despair. “Shock and Awe”*. In fact, the US dropped as much explosives on Iraq on the first day of the second Iraq war as it took the Russians a month and half to do in Ukraine. All relative? Up to a point. But not if you’re underneath it.
The term “Special Military Operation” incidentally, is not a weaselly euphemism to cover all out war, but an internationally accepted definition of a particular sort of limited war, and everyone who reports on this knows it. This is now escalating and will continue to do unless peace negotiations can get going.
Worse, Lammy’s way forward is both delusory and condemns Ukraine and its people to being a permanent proxy war zone for NATO. “Whether it takes six months, three years or ten, Ukraine will win.” Ten years of war? Seriously? “Ukraine will win“? With Russia incorporating the South and East into the Russian Federation and mobilising accordingly, I can’t see that. Lammy is calling for war without end.
At a point that even EU Foreign Representative Jose Barroso is calling for a negotiated peace acceptable to both sides – “we stand ready to assist the peace plan just launched and we urge all parties to seize this opportunity to de-escalate the crisis and end violence of this developing tragedy,” it is deeply depressing that Labour’s Foreign policy spokesperson striking the same sort of bellicose posture that Boris Johnson did when he intervened to sabotage the last serious attempts at peace talks back in April.
If he wants the “global food crisis”, not to mention the energy crisis that he, again oddly, didn’t mention, to end, we need to end the war. That starts with pushing for peace, not a ten year war.
Lammy envisages a war crimes tribunal for Putin. On the model of the sort we have seen for George W Bush and Tony Blair for the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq that their war led to? One like that? Or perhaps the one for Putin after the Chechen war, at a time he was considered a “strategic partner” by NATO? War crimes, it seems, are always committed by our enemies. Never by us, or anyone allied with us. The numbers don’t count. Especially if they are in the Global South.
Lammy is also right that the Tories tend to craft a Foreign Policy that is a wolf in wolf’s clothing and that the current government, delirious on Brexit Kool Aid is picking fights with everyone and thinking it can get away with it. It won’t. But his version of looking outward is simply to reassert traditional alliances with the rest of the Global North as it rearms on a colossal scale, while hoping a wee bit of extra aid will keep the Global South sweet enough not to start lining up with the Chinese model of development.
While Lammy is right to argue for restoring overseas aid to 0.7% of GDP, his argument is less that this is the right thing to do as partial reparations for the damage and exploitation done by the Empire and slave trade, more about enhancing the “soft power” of the UK as the beneficiary of it, even though, as he said his “ancestors knew what it was like to have their freedom taken away. They heard the twisted lies of imperialism as they were stolen from their homes in shackles and turned into slaves.” Quite so.
“A voice for peace, development and freedom across the globe” is sorely needed. A voice for expanded UK military expenditure, for an unquestioning alliance with the USA in its provocative militarist dotage as it pushes for wars it thinks it can win in Ukraine and the South China Sea, won’t provide any of that.
“Shock and awe” marries the two US bombing traditions of precision targeting with colossal force. But, unlike the initial advocates of precise targeting, who argued for overwhelming strikes on key targets of military significance, “choke points” like the Schweinfurt ball bearing factory in the case of Nazi Germany, these strikes combine taking out military HQs but also decisive civilian infrastructure. So, from day 1, there is no power, no clean water, no functioning sewage system. It seems odd that advocates of this approach are trying to argue that “the Russian way of making war” is more barbaric than that.
The idea that destroying civilian infrastructure makes a population less inclined to resist has never been vindicated in practice; unless it reaches the almost genocidal scale of the B29 raids on Japan in 1945 led by Curtis LeMay, who went on to bomb North Korea “back to the Stone Age” a few years later; in which the state of mind of the shattered survivors barely counts. In the initial argument in WW2 between the US Air Force, who thought they could “hit a pickle barrel from 6 miles up” using a precision bombsight in daylight (they couldn’t) and the RAF, which went into carpet bombing wide civilian areas at night, the British side disregarded its own experience during the Blitz, that the raids had made the civilian population hate the bombers harder and strengthened resistance to them, thinking this wouldn’t apply in Germany because the people were “a different sort”. No stiff upper…A racialised argument within white supremacy, indicating that the British took it for granted they were ubermensch, but that it was rather vulgar to proclaim it.
All quotes from “The Bomber Mafia” by Malcolm Gladwell.
This is a write up of my notes for the Teach the Future Teach In on 27th August. It misses out some ad libs and includes other notes that were skipped over, so doesn’t act as a precise script for the recording due out shortly.
Organising on climate in the trade union movement means we need to grasp that its vital for working class organisations not just to react to the crisis but to lead on resolving it.
Last year’s OXFAM report noted that the rapidly increasing carbon footprints of the top 10% of the global population will take us above 1.5C on their own, regardless of what the rest of us do.
The poorest 50% have a negligible carbon footprint. What might be called the “upper middle” 40% – which includes most of us here, working class people in the Global North and better off people in the Global South – have a carbon footprint that is shrinking.
The struggle for a sustainable climate is therefore a class struggle against the unsustainable overconsumption of the wealthy.
If you look at the organising core of climate denialism it combines the corporate interests of fossil fuel companies and an activist cadre of extremely wealthy men, like Lord Lawson.
The problem is that attempts to deal with climate breakdown have to go through the existing machinery of power, which maintain current economic relations.
This is very marked in the United States, which has been the world’s leading economic, political and military power since at least 1945. They are failing to lead.
This is not just because they are spending twenty times as much on their military as they are on climate investment, but because their whole model of society – all those sprawling gas hungry suburbs, short haul flights, lack of high speed rail or decent metro systems in most cities, the celebration of individualised alienated mass consumption to fill the holes in their souls – generates the third biggest per capita carbon footprint in the world. Only Saudi Arabia and Australia are worse. “The American Way of Life” is not a viable model of the future anymore – even for the US itself.
They are now also exporting record quantities of fracked LNG and Oil. The power of fossil fuel interests buying up votes in Congress means there is a see saw between outright Trumpish denialism and limited half measures like the Reduce Inflation Act – which combines both vital investment in green energy and lets further fossil fuel projects off the leash. The passage of this Act means that John Kerry will no longer be walking naked into the conference chamber at COP. He’ll be trying to maintain his dignity in his underpants.
There is a strongly held view in the Global South that climate breakdown is a problem for the Global North to fix, on the basis that the world’s richest countries – the USA, Canada, EU, UK, Japan, Australia etc – are responsible for 90% of historic carbon emissions. “You broke it. You fix it”. That is sometimes put vehemently in India and is a strongly held view in parts of China too.
But in China that is shifting.
A friend of mine who works for a Chinese University tells me that for the last few years there have been two to three conferences a week on aspects of climate change up and down the country. Xi Jinping talks a lot about the need to build an “Ecological Society”. They are currently investing one and a half times as much in green transition as they are in their military. It is currently expected that their 2030 target for renewables will be met by 2026 and coal – on which they are still heavily dependent – is being redefined as a support for a grid based on renewables not the other way round. The speed with which this can be achieved is vital for all of us (both in its direct effects but also in providing a developmental model for other Global South countries).
More negatively, the failure of the Global North countries to transfer the $100 billion needed as a bottom line for the Global South to cope with climate impacts and develop without recourse to fossil fuels has led to the African Union planning to demand at the COP that Africa’s reserves of oils and gas are developed to alleviate poverty. With Global North countries developing their own reserves, they don’t have a leg to stand on if they want to oppose this.
We are about to move from Boris Johnson’s inverted pyramids of patriotic piffle – pie in the sky “world leading” targets with no plans to meet them just to strike a pose – to Liz Truss – who will be worse.
While Truss formally supports the Net Zero 2050 target for the UK, she says she finds the sight of solar farms in the countryside “depressing” and her response to the energy price crunch is to use it to boost oil and gas production and exploration in the North Sea, while rejecting a windfall tax on energy producers, lift the ban on fracking while opposing onshore wind – none of which will reduce bills.
She is backed by Lord Frost – known to his friends as “Frosty the No Man” – who opined in the week of our 40C heatwave, during which the Fire Brigade had more call outs than at any time since the second World War, that he saw “no evidence” of a climate emergency in the UK and instead of the “medieval technology” of wind power, favours measures to “master our environment”, like fracking and nuclear. She is also backed by Steve Baker and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (a really bad name for a band) and is anticipated to put go slowers like Jacob Rees Mogg in the cabinet.*
The paradox here is that you could have such a dynamic Tory narrative in favour of Onshore Wind. They could say – “let’s cut the red tape and let the market work its magic!” Or, in the name of “energy security” they could paint them red, white and blue and call them “Freedom Farms”, stand in front of them for a poster with the slogan “Its Britain’s Wind!” Why don’t they do that? Perhaps because fossil fuels are more profitable than renewables and they want to maintain market share regardless of the cost (in all respects).
The good news here is that they are already so unpopular that just about everything they do will be discredited just because its them doing it. Liz Truss – a hard person to warm to – will not get a honeymoon period.
Who said this?
“The challenge of climate change is formidable. For children and young people to meet it with determination and not with despair we must offer them not just truth, but also hope. Learners need to know the truth about climate change…they must also be given the hope that they can be agents of change.”
Nadhim Zahawi said that at the launch of the DFE Net Zero Strategy in April. Of course, his pitch for Conservative leader a couple of months later was to cut 20% from all government budgets, so…
Four questions for us to think about.
In the context of increased economic pressure on schools, with energy costs up 93% on last year, leading to pressure for cuts down to bare bones provision (4 day weeks, cutting all staff not teaching core subjects have both been floated) will the positive initiatives from the Net Zero Strategy – like the National Nature Park, the requirement for all schools to appoint sustainability leads in 2023 – be dropped as “green crap” and the DFE Sustainability Unit with them?
In the context of a wholesale retreat from Net Zero targets by the Conservatives at national level, what milage is left in lobbying Conservative MPs (though we should never cease pointing out to them that dropping the 2050 targets would lose them 1.3 million votes) compared with getting opposition parties likely to form the next government on a sound policy? The point here is that a government visibly on the skids is leaching power even while still in office and the statement “We will undo this” by Shadow Ministers cuts the ground out from new initiatives and sets the agenda even before the old government falls.
In the context of denialists/go slowers “crisis, what crisis” types dominating the cabinet, how far is the current DFE “impartiality guidance” – which says that the science is set and denialism invalid, but the debate on what we do about it has to be done in a “non Partisan” way, that blocks support for particular campaigns or initiatives but allows debate to be had, so long as no one view is promoted, allows personal views to be stated, as long as they are identified as such and its made clear other views are available – be replaced with straight forward “war on woke” from the top? **
What scope is there for a campaign for school insulation on the TUC Report, to directly cut energy costs and act as community hubs?
Lastly, watch out for the NEU Guide to Decarbonising the Curriculum – due out in November.
Thank you for having me.
* And so she has. At Business and Energy for goodness sake.
** The appointment of Jonathan Gullis, who refers to the NEU as the “No Education Union” and does not seem an open minded sort of chap, does not bode well.
Both candidates for Conservative leader, and therefore Prime Minister, oppose onshore wind and favour new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. This is motivated by the current increase in costs for oil and gas – which makes them expensive for consumers and profitable for producers.
The TUC released figures showing excess profits for UK based fossil fuel producers of £170 billion in the next two years. We could do an awful lot with a windfall tax on that. A rate of 56%, as currently used in Norway, would raise £90 billion. The projected prospective Norwegian rate of 78% more like £132 billion. And these are excess profits; so, taxing the lot wouldn’t be unreasonable, even for opponents of public ownership.
Even the lowest amount would pay for Labour’s proposed £26 billion investment to insulate our housing stock by 2035 three times over, with £12 billion left over to do the schools and hospitals too.
It is now9 times more expensive to produce energy from gas than it is from renewables. But energy prices are set by the gas price. The EU is planning to cut that link so the cheaper energy from renewables can be reflected in prices. Keeping the link here in Brexit Britain would make energy here qualitatively more expensive than in the rest of Europe. The IMF reports that this is already the case.
Its hard to avoid the conclusion that the consensus resistance to insulation on the Right is because insulated homes reduce bills by reducing demand for an otherwise profitable product. And that would never do, would it?
It takes 28 years to bring new Oil and Gas fields on stream, compared to under two years for onshore wind and five for offshore.
Another way to put this is that we can have new onshore wind farms in operation by 2024.
Offshore wind projects starting now will come on stream in 2027.
New Oil and Gas fields given the go ahead now will take until 2050 – by which time we should have very little use for them if we want to survive.
Nuclear power plants take 7.5 years on average just to construct. Hinckley C is scheduled to take 9. The energy they produce is significantly more expensive than renewables. The government’s proposed Small Modular Reactors are even more expensive and not due to be rolled out until the 2030s.
Reports in the FT have indicated that new “agile” companies hoping to exploit North Seas fossil fuel reserves will bring them into production faster than has been the case hitherto. Which, presumably, is where the proposed scrapping of health, safety and environment regulations come in; so we can have a regime of deep sea oil drilling rigs as lightly regulated as the banks were before 2008.
We live in a distinctive but tutti putti flat; designed and built by a locally famous architect and builder called Ernest Trobridge in the late 1920s. Trobridge believed in using natural, local materials and had a real thing about compressed wood. His houses and flats are scattered around NW9, the earliest ones heavily thatched, and include the Castle Flats on the corner of our road; which appeared with Sir John Betjeman standing on top of them in his Metroland documentary in 1973 (and the Madness “Our House” video nine years later… from what feels like a very different time). His designs are part Tudor, part medieval, with imaginative twists – particularly tall, spirally chimneys – that make me wonder how many spoons of magic mushrooms he took in his tea. All the fireplaces in our row of flats are variations on a theme of decorative brick that look hefty and solid. But, the structure of interior walls (and some exterior walls) was described in our pre sale survey as “exceptionally flimsy”. So, though they don’t look just the same, they are, in parts, definitely made out of ticky tacky.
A while back, one of us knocked into one of the bedroom walls and a hole appeared. Pulling away a layer of wallpaper revealed a 6″ x 9″ rectangular cavity with an air brick at the end, that the previous owners had just papered over. Brushing out the dust and cobwebs revealed several rusted nails left over from 1927 and an air brick at a visibly wonky angle; implying that 1920s craftsmanship wasn’t all that it has been cracked up to be. Definite sense of “that’ll do” combined with an undue haste to get done. With the impending energy price rise putting a premium on closing off sources of drafts, I bought an air brick grille. This, like all good Christmas toys that arrive without batteries, arrived without screws; but with the instruction to use “Grade 6 round headed screws of appropriate length”. I needed four of them. The only packs they had in Wickes contained 50. So, having screwed them in, I am left with 46 spare. In the absence of another 11 and a half grilles to put in, I’ve just put them in the tin box that contains all the other packs of screws and nails; where they will stay unused, possibly forever.
When I was growing up in Grays, there was a tiny shop on the corner of Orsett Road and Derby Road that was run by Mr Flint. Flints was a bit like the shop in the 2 Ronnies “For…k…andles” sketch, but much smaller and qualitatively neater. In fact, it might be best described as a shrine to the most anally retentive possible kind of man cave. Presided over by Mr Flint: a small, bald, bird faced man in one of those brown coats that proclaimed that he was a tradesman and proud of it. He sold all sorts of DIY related bits and bobs, and a nice little side line in Airfix plastic models and armies in a box, and the dinky little tins of Humbrol paints needed to paint them. One line that seemed to sell quite well was models of the ships involved in the Battle of the River Plate – probably recalled in plastic because it was a moral boosting early victory for the Royal Navy at a time when everything else was bleak; or, given that it was on Dec 13th 1939, hadn’t properly kicked off yet. The German pocket battleship Graf Spee and the British and New Zealand light cruisers Ajax, Achilles and (rather more prosaically) Exeter; of the sort that were strikingly described as “eggshells armed with hammers”. I’ve known people like that. Me, sometimes. These were on display above the counter, as a sort of decorative flourish. But the main trade of the shop was tools, screws, nails, nuts and bolts and such. You could buy these in exactly the quantity you needed. If you wanted 4 Grade 6 Round headed screws, Mr Flint would sell you 4 Grade 6 round headed screws. And charge you a ha’penny for it. So, you got what you needed, no more, no less; no waste, no overconsumption, no pointless storage.
In the middle of the parade of shops in Kingsbury, there is a large store to let. That is the sort of space that we need for a Library of Things, one of the Repair Workshops the Council is planning and possibly a free book exchange. The main shopping drag is part of the Roe Green Green Zone, along with the Park, the Primary and Secondary Schools and the streets to the North, which will be the prototype for local transformation. Early days and the Council has limited resources, but we should be thinking big.
Lord Frost must have choked over his freshly ironed copy of the Daily Telegraph this morning. Spread across the wide open spaces of its front page – because, as long as there is an England, the Telegraph will forever be a broadsheet – was a map with the whole of Southern England coloured red.
This is to show the areas in which – in the current drought – wildfires are just a flicked match, barbecue ember, or suns rays concentrated through a thrown away bottle away. As the wildfire in Wennington showed at the end of last month, if vegetation and buildings are dry enough, and the winds are strong enough, a small fire can spread out of control and burn down whole streets. We should note that Wennington is on the edge of Rainham marshes, not an area we would normally expect to catch fire. In fact, we got lucky that time, because the winds were quite low. So, anyone who owns a property in that red zone, which stretches right across the Tory heartlands of the soft South, has real reason to be worried.; which would be why the Telegraph published it.
But, this is where ideological dissonance slips in. The Telegraph puts a lot of effort into bigging up all the forces on the Tory right, from Lords Lawson and Frost, to Steve Baker and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, who like to argue that Climate Breakdown is all a woke plot; that because dealing with it requires a fairer society that would be uncomfortable for people like them, not dealing with it, while hoping with Mr Micawber that “something will turn up”, is the better option.
Indeed, this is just two days after Frost opined in an essay on Public Exchange, that “there is no evidence” that the UK faces a climate emergency.
One can only conclude that he goes through life with his eyes. and ears firmly shut, and has not bothered to read very much. He could just look around him. Perhaps, like so many “non elite” Brexit supporting members of the House of Lords, he hasn’t been around to notice what’s going on here because he’s off on holiday somewhere continental. But, he can’t really miss it there either. If he is in Italy, perhaps he has noticed coverage of the drought that has cause the Po river to dry up on parts of its course. If he has passed through Germany, he might have noticed that the Rhine is now so low that shipping is being restricted. If he has gone to the United States, he can’t have missed the epic drought and wildfires there this Summer which have produced fire tornadoes in California; or the floods in Kentucky that washed whole houses down streets turned into torrents. Had he popped up to the Arctic for a bit of whale spotting, he might have been made aware that it is heating up four times faster than the rest of the planet and the permafrost is melting 43 times as fast as it was.
If he wants some written evidence, maybe he should just read the latest IPCC Report. Current policies, which he thinks are too fast, have us heading for a 2.7C average temperature rise by the end of the century. Crisis? What crisis?
But, of course, he is from a political current that dislikes “experts” and prefers its own prejudices whenever that’s more convenient.
Frost’s proposals are designed to make other people, in poorer parts of the world, pay the price for the over consumption of people like him.
He blathers complacently on – with that blithe self confidence that so many upper class people have, that if you state total bollocks with enough conviction you can disregard any evidence to the contrary – “the prevailing mood is one in which individuals are asked to restrict their use of energy and in which unsatisfactory renewables technology is touted as the best solution to our problems.Instead of focusing on technological solutions that enable us to master our environment and get more energy in a more carbon-efficient way — nuclear, CCS, fracking, one day fusion – we have focused on managing demand so we can use medieval technology like wind power.”
This is such flabby thinking that it beggars belief that he can be taken seriously by anyone with a fragment of critical intelligence. But, let’s look at them one at a time anyway.
“Individuals are asked to restrict their use of energy”. At the moment, the biggest pressure forcing people to reduce their use of energy is the rapid increase in fossil fuel prices (and the profits of the energy producing companies that flow from them). Frost does not favour taxing those profits to give people a break. He stands for the free market (in this context). Nor does he favour an insulation programme that would allow people to keep warm and cook food, using less energy and getting lower bills as a result. Using less energy means less demand for fossil fuels, therefore fewer profits for the producers. Can’t have that, can we? This is of a piece with his complaint in the Brexit campaign that the EU was introducing standards to force vacuum cleaners to become more efficient – on the grounds that a proper clean needs to burn lots of joules. Vacuum cleaning for petrolheads.
That “unsatisfactory renewables technology”, overtook fossil fuels in UK electricity generation in 2020. “Medieval” wind power produced 24% of UK energy demand in 2020, increased 715% from 2009 to 2020 and is now much cheaper per Kilowatt hour than fossil fuels or nuclear; and steadily getting even cheaper. That reduces bills. Once the turbines are up or the solar panels installed, the wind and the sunshine is free. “Unsatisfactory” for fossil fuel producers, no doubt. Very helpful for the rest of us. Oddly, Lord Frost does not seem so keen on “the market” here. He wants to restrict renewables as such. Perhaps not as suicidally keen as France’s Marine Le Pen, who wants to “tear down” turbines that are already up; but in the way that the Conservatives have restricted onshore wind with all sorts of planning “red tape”. You’d think, with onshore wind being among the cheapest energy sources, he’d want to cut the restrictions and “let the market work its magic”; but not a bit of it. You’d think, as a patriotic Brexiteer wedded to notions of “energy security”, he’d want to make the most of an energy source that doesn’t have to be imported. He could make a bit of a campaign of it, painting them red, white and blue and calling them “Freedom Farms”; with banner headlines in the Tory Press screaming “It’s Britain’s Wind!” But, no. If its low prices for energy users with fewer carbon emissions on the one hand, and sustained fossil fuel profits generating billowing clouds of carbon dioxide on the other, its no contest.
In full macho mode, Lord Frost prefers “technological solutions that enable us to master our environment” (my emphasis). So butch. 50 shades of Frost. Let’s see what he has in his special room. “Nuclear, CCS, fracking, one day fusion“. While its in the nature of denial for people to clutch at straws, this is a peculiarly old fashioned vision of modernity. Taking them backwards, which seems an oddly appropriate thing to do… “Fusion” has been the holy grail for nuclear power that has been full of promise for at least 50 years; but has never actually arrived. This year, next year, sometime, never. He might as well argue that “one day” we will power ourselves with Unicorn farts. “Fracking” for oil and gas. No one wants a fracking site in their backyard. Presumably Frost wants to enforce them on unwilling communities “in the national interest” of the profits made by the fracking companies. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed that oil and gas are fossil fuels. So, not a solution to a problem created by burning too many fossil fuels. And not a “carbon efficient” way to generated energy. “Carbon Capture and Storage.” The IPCC Report made it very clear that this is not a technology capable of economic deployment at the scale needed. Indeed, given that this would be such a “get out of jail free” card for carbon intensive industries, you’d think that it would have been developed by now. Instead, rather like fusion, it is the solution that’s just around the corner; and has been for decades. “Nuclear”. There is an argument about how “low carbon” nuclear energy generation is. What is in no doubt is that it is immensely costly. Costlier than fossil fuels. Costlier than renewables. And slow. By So, Frost’s “solutions” are a mix of unproven wishful thinking combined with a cavalier disregard for costs; both environmental and financial. And, that’s it.
With the whole of Southern England a tinder box, perhaps the threat of wildfires in the backyards of prosperous Tory speissburgers might make a few of them pay attention – especially if house price values start being affected. But, with Frost highly influential with Liz Truss, and medieval thinkers like John Redwood slated for cabinet posts in our new and unimproved Conservative government, we can expect a lurch even further to the right. Their problem is that its only possible to safely deny reality so long as that reality isn’t imposing itself on people’s lives, as climate breakdown is. It has been argued that climate is “above politics”. It isn’t, as Lord Frost and his ilk demonstrate. But the reality of it is foundational to any politics that is relevant from here on. We’re not in the Holocene any more Toto.