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How to divest a nation from fossil fuels

Scotland as a nation is still heavily invested in the companies most responsible for climate change. To get a glimpse of how we might turn this situation around we need only look across the Irish Sea. The Republic of Ireland’s world-beating divestment policy provides a fantastic example for Scotland to follow as it moves to establish its new public bank, the Scottish National Investment Bank.

Ireland’s parliament, the Oireachtas, passed the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill in July 2018. It’s a very simple piece of law that instructs Ireland’s Strategic Investment Fund not to invest in new fossil fuel supply companies, and to wind down its current investments within five years. Continue reading

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Boredom, bungles and dodging death: Charles Lander on the Western Front

A destroyed German trench on the Messines Ridge, 1917. More people died in the battlefields around Ypres than were killed by the atomic bomb. Photo: National Library of Scotland.

What was is like to fight in the First World War? It is a question no living person can answer, but we have inherited many stories from the dead.

My Great Grandfather, Charles Lander, kept a diary of his active service. It is a glimpse of the life of a fairly junior officer in a most extraordinary war. There are heroics and horrors – but he also chose to record some of the boredom, the bungles, the friends he made and lost, and perhaps most strikingly, vivid personal reflections on his own mistakes.

Initially rejected from the army because he was too skinny, Charles, a member of the Officers Training Corps at university, left Birmingham for the Army in 1914. He received a year of training before leaving for France in April 1916 where he was to fight in ‘Kitchener’s Army’, the masses of young men of largely ordinary professions who ‘answered the call’. He was proud, yes. But also nervous.

He is courting his fiancee Doris when he is given his orders. At home one weekend on leave he recalls feeling “very peaceful and very much in love” when “a telegram arrived giving us orders to proceed overseas. I must confess that rather a lump developed in my throat and all sorts of fears ran through my mind of what the future had in store for me; whether this was to be my last afternoon in the old house. Fortunately H. Allenby dropped in for tea and sentimentalities were forgotten. The morning came and I said goodbye.” Continue reading

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Royal Bank of Scotland: 10 years of climate campaigning

Creativity and crises over the last 10 years of the publicly-owned polluter.

“Make It Happen” was an RBS slogan that meant far more than they intended. In the mid-2000s activists had spent years of fighting oil spills, pipelines and mega coal mines and the damage they cause. When they began to look deeper into how these projects came about they found that, more often than not, it was banks like RBS who provided the money to make it happen.

Back in 2007 RBS boasted “Whether your oil and gas finance requirements are straightforward or complex, RBS will bring its broad and deep experience of the hydrocarbon sector to bear on them”, and “the thing that makes us different is that we are a truly oil and gas bank.” In case you missed the point, they promoted their services on the website www.TheOilAndGasBank.com.

London-based group Platform started the charge on RBS in a report entitled ‘The Oil & Gas Bank‘ by Mika Minio-Paluello published with the support of Friends of the Earth Scotland, People & Planet, NEF and Banktrack.

Minio-Paluello set it out: “the bank is intimately involved in transforming the carbon locked in oil and gas reservoirs thousands of metres underground into atmospheric carbon dioxide – the main cause of climate change. If carbon dioxide molecules had corporate tags of responsibility, the atmosphere would be filled with RBS logos.” Continue reading

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Breaking the power of fossil fuels: divestment at work

It’s not right, but money talks and money makes the world go round. Despite years of scandal, failure and chaos, financiers in the City of London continue to make the big calls on how to invest, and in doing so, hold our common future in their hands. Almost 10 years since the financial crash this is a frightening and precarious state of affairs.

The City doesn’t know best

Campaigners are challenging the power of big finance by insisting that investors commit to divest from fossil fuel companies. By demanding divestment we are saying that we know better than the financial industry and in many cases, we are forcing them to act.

And it’s working. Funds worth $6.15 trillion have made some sort of policy commitment to withdraw from fossil fuels. On 24th May the Financial Times reported that UK investment in green funds had “shot to a record high” with a 500 per cent increase over the last 10 years. Continue reading

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Campaign stories: Edinburgh University goes fossil free (finally!)

The successful five year campaign to divest Edinburgh University from fossil fuels should give heart to people everywhere who are campaigning for climate justice in their communities.

By Ruby Kelman and People & Planet Society, with additional text by Ric Lander.

Edinburgh University People & Planet with supporters in the Old College quad, March 2016. Credit: Ed P&P.

After six years of campaigning led by student group People & Planet, and drawing in the efforts of staff, alumni and numerous University bodies and departments and Scottish civil society, the University of Edinburgh has finally agreed to fully divest from fossil fuels.

Continue reading

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What we’re saying Yes to: Public investment for the people

The UK is in dire need of new investment for housing. Credit: GWN2008

There are a lot of problems we face that we need our government to tackle. Some demand the time of effort of policy makers, like the forging of new relationshops within and outwith our borders, the provision of new rights, and changes in regulations. Others demand cash, for example to increase spending on public services.

Economic investment is different again. Like service provision it costs money, but it in each case it should be a one off. You spend money to do a project – be it public or private – and society is better off afterwards whether or not further investment is provided. Continue reading

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No time to waste: to fight climate change we need a Labour Government

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Jeremy Corbyn speaking with Naomi Klein and others in Paris during the 2015 climate summit. Image by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

It’s 2017. You live in a dystopian future where tiny drone aircraft deliver pizzas, oil companies create earthquakes to get the last drops of fuel out of the earth, our fields are tilled by solar-powered robots, people wear video-recording sunglasses and have conversations with their wrist watches, dead rappers perform at concerts via hologram, and a weak international agreement to try and stop the skies from destroying natural life is being torn up by a fascist businessman who has taken over the USA.

Now is a time of great technological change and grave danger, and we need public investment, and lots of it, to get us though it.

Climate change, and the far-right’s rejection of it as a priority, should give us a special reason to panic because every time political leaders fail to act deepens the crisis, every moment we waste makes the task harder.

The (albeit inadequate) Paris deal gave the impression there was a direction of travel, too slow, but at least steady movement. The rise of the right has changed all this.

Whilst many work to show our political leaders and the wider world that climate change matters, Trump’s message of defiance works the opposite way. His actions do matter and will have a real effect. Markets will respond by making fossil fuels cheaper and renewable energy more expensive. Emissions will rise. And many, many more people will die – from extreme weather, heat stress, starvation, respiratory diseases and violent conflicts.

Some extol technological innovation and the power of the market, maintaining that these make political efforts on climate change essentially a side show. In fact the opposite is true; markets, only capable of delivering short-term profit, are unfit for unlocking the scale of capital required for the length of time over which it’s needed to tackle climate change. And in the modern era technological innovation almost always begins with the support of publicly-funded institutions (take silicon valley, digital TV or the web). Only big political support will bring about the fast economic transformation we need to tackle climate change, and we don’t have it. Continue reading

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21 acts of defiance: Scottish people’s 10 year war against Trump and the politicans who backed him

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Protestors march on Donald Trump’s half-built golf course at Menie, Aberdeenshire, 2010. Photo copyright Aaron Sneddon, used with permission.

Scotland’s fight against Trump wasn’t about his bulging personality, but corporate power.

Earlier this year Scotland was engaged, if not enthralled, in one of the more progressive parliamentary election campaigns in the wee Parliament’s short history.

At a BBC debate held in March the chair filled out the last few minutes with the apparently obligatory ‘funny question’. The topic: Donald Trump; specifically, what would you do if he phoned you as First Minister?

The speakers, from UKIP to the Greens and everyone in between, were falling over each other to point out just how much they hated Trump.

“Get off my phone”, barked Willie Rennie (Liberal). “Can I have fries with that”, smirked Ruth Cameron (Conservative). “I’m on the other line sorry” retorted Nicola Sturgeon (SNP). Patrick Harvie of the Greens said he’d be speechless and even UKIP’s candidate was scornful. Adopting a somewhat more serious tone Labour’s Kezia Dugdale said she’d get straight to the point: “I’d tell him to stop preaching hate.”

Their chorus was perfectly in tune. The message: Scotland hates bigots and bullies. Scotland hates bigots and bullies so much most of them didn’t event think it was worth taking the question seriously.

The Scottish people do indeed have a strong record of calling out this “racist, xenophobic, misoginistic, odous man”, to quote Patrick Harvie, and we should celebrate this. But it’s high time we also reminded ourselves of how we got here: Scots had to stand up to Trump because Scottish leaders courted him, invited him over, rolled out the red carpet, surrounded him with sycophantic journalists and cut out people and due process to let him have his way.

We had to do something.

So what exactly did Trump do to fall so far out of favour with Scotland? Continue reading

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“I began to feel a little bit shaky”: Charles Lander in the Somme, 100 years ago

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Paul Nash: ‘We Are Making a New World’ (IWM)

100 years ago today began the Battle of the Somme. Few episodes in human history are remembered with such a grand sense of supreme awfulness. But with this grandeur comes distance and incomprehension. As time passes the gulf widens: we need personal stories to bridge it.

My Great Grandfather, Charles Lander, fought in the Somme and recorded his memories in a diary which spanned the whole of the First World War.

A member of the Officer Training Corps when war was declared, Charles would spend 20 months in training before leaving for the Western Front as a junior officer in the British Army.

When he finally did arrive in France in the Spring of 1916 his diary entries are brimming with a sense of fascination and adventure. But as the days go by these stories are increasingly peppered with references to “the coming offensive”. Lengthly preparations are made. He writes, “we handed to the quartermaster letter for home: last letters, which he understood were only to be posted if we were killed.”

It’s 9.30pm on 4th July 1916, and after what must have been an agonising four days in waiting, Charles was given his first order to enter battle. Continue reading

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