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The science of Edinburgh’s gloaming

Last night we had the most gorgeous velvet simmer dim in Leith.

I thought I would dip into the science of twilight because as it turns out, 1st June – 11th July is the gloaming time at 56˚ north!

For most of the year the night is bordered by different depths of twilight. “Astronomical Twilight” is when the sun is between 12 and 18 degrees below the horizon. At such times the presence of the sun is just about visible, but it has little effect, and is often unnoticed as the stars shine clearly. 1st June was the last day of the winter’s “Astronomical Twilight”: we have left this kind of night behind us. It is all lighter from here on out.

The darkest it will get in the coming weeks is something called “nautical twilight”, when the sun is between 6 and 12 degrees *below* the horizon. It is so named because it is just dark enough that one can read the brightest stars for navigation at sea, but if you have a good vantage point you’ll easily be able to see the sun’s glow beneath the horizon, waiting to rise to start the next day.

Either side of “nautical twilight” is the brighter “civil twilight”, bright enough to read by and certainly bright enough to drink and chat by. It’s when the sun has just set or is just about to rise, and is less than 6 degrees below the horizon. This time often barely feels like night at all.

Before us lie the brightest nights of the year. In Edinburgh they fall equally on 18-23th June. On each of these nights the sun is only below the horizon for 6 hours and 24 minutes and often it’s glow will be visible through all these hours. I once sat on the Mound with my sister all twilight, waiting for the first train from Waverley, watching the sun pass under the northern horizon towards the approaching dawn. It’s quite a special thing to witness.

“Dusk” is commonly defined as the darkest point of twilight, when twilight passes into dark night and the sun’s influence is lost. In this sense, it could be said that in our northern summer, since we have no dark night we have no dusk.

Edinburgh’s gloaming month will of course end. On 12th July the Astronomical Twilight will return, bringing back more of the stars, and the first real dusk belonging to the coming Autumn. “True night” will return on 9th August – for just a few minutes – a foreshadowing of its takeover of our sky across the Autumn so that by the winter more than half of our days are pitch black night with shining bright stars (when it’s not raining of course).

So for now stay up late. Sit about in the park. Find a pal and go on a night hike. Watch the dawn at the beach. Savour the light my northern friends!

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Fossil fuel industry spills money and power in year of tumult

Image by Petra Wessman

When a ship is plain sailing, it’s hard to knock it off course. That’s been the conundrum for us rubber-dinghied climate activists for decades now as we try our best to push the supertanker that is the global economy towards sustainability.

But in 2020 the ship hit the rocks – and hard. As the keel started to list most of us were preoccupied with more immediate concerns. But down below the waves the supposed engine room of our economy – the fossil fuel industry – was breached. 

The Coronavirus pandemic’s impact on fossil fuels was of historic proportions. The market value of giant companies like Shell and BP dropped by more than half in a matter of days. Demand for oil crashed so severely that oil commodity prices fell below zero: traders would effectively pay you to take oil off their hands. 

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Photo of rainbow drawing by Catherine Thackstone, Flickr
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Just & Green Recovery letter sent to the First Minister

As the peak of the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic passed I worked with colleagues at Friends of the Earth Scotland and elsewhere to draft a letter to the First Minister about what a just recovery should entail.

The letter was initially signed by 82 civil society organisations from across different sectors of Scottish life.

Signatories from charities, trade unions and community groups set out 5 steps for a recovery that enabled the building of a fairer, greener and more equal society.

The letter went on to provide the foundation for a coalition campaign through 2020 and 2021.


31st May 2020

The First Minister
The Scottish Government
St Andrew’s House
Regent Road
Edinburgh EH1 3DG

Dear First Minister,

Scotland’s Just and Green Recovery from COVID-19

Representing a broad range of Scotland’s civil society, our organisations wish to meet with you to discuss our emerging vision of how Scotland can lead a radical response to the double crises of climate change and Coronavirus.

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Photo of rainbow drawing by Catherine Thackstone, Flickr
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A Coronavirus reading list for UK Climate Activists

Published 13 April, minor updates 15 Apr

This is a reading list about Coronavirus, ecological breakdown, system change and justice. It’s aimed at UK climate but hopefully will be of wider use too.

I’m a slow reader and this all took me about 3hrs to read. If you don’t have this time I’d choose one or two of the longer reads.

Most of these articles do cite their sources so you could use this to inform your own writing and speaking. You could also use them to structure an online reading group!

Bear in mind this is ultra-topical, and I don’t plan to keep it updated.

If you’re looking for more detail about specific climate demands designed for this moment, I’m not aware of any available but would love to hear from you if you know about them. Otherwise expect more in the coming months.

Ric Lander

A short summary

  1. Friends of the Earth Europe summary (FoE Europe)

Great long reads

  1. Impacts on global south, government failure, and links between the ecological crisis and the pandemic (World at 1oC)
  2. A review of past crisis, and what they can tell us about what will happen (The Guardian)
  3. How to beat Coronavirus capitalism with Naomi Klein (Video) (Youtube)
  4. How our economic system makes pandemics more likely (Vox)
  5. What are the short-term environmental impacts? (The Guardian)
  6. Wellbeing, care and solidarity (Oxfam Blogs)

Impacts on fossil fuels

  1. This is the worst crisis ever faced by the oil industry (The Guardian)
  2. Financiers weigh up the future of oil and gas (The Independent)
  3. Oil lobbying during the pandemic (Influence Map)

Impacts on marginalised communities

  1. More people of colour are dying of Coronavirus in the UK (BBC News)
  2. Disabled people’s rights (Red Pepper)
  3. Rise in domestic abuse (The Guardian)
  4. Police repression and people of colour (The Independent)

Manifestos for recovery

  1. Just Recovery (350.org)
  2. Applying justice thinking to the Pandemic (Reuters Foundation)
  3. Protect people of colour (Charity So White)
  4. Public health (MedAct)
  5. Protect migrants (Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants)
  6. Green New Deal UK (GNDUK)

Actions to support

  1. Covid 19 mutual aid network (Covid 19 Mutual Aid)
  2. Debt cancellation (Jubilee Debt Campaign)
  3. Don’t bailout aviation bosses (Stay Grounded)
  4. Open up golf courses (Change.org petition)
  5. Rent and work during Coronavirus – a survey (Google Form survey)

Guidance for activists

  1. How to talk about Coronavirus (Uplift, Ireland)
  2. Some more thoughts on framing (Public Interest Research Centre)
  3. Taking action online (350.org)
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Fossil fuels are coming to the UN talks in Glasgow

This is a script for a workshop I wrote for the Fossil Free UK Gathering held in Yorkshire, October 2019.

In 1992 world leaders (mostly men) convened in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Earth Summit.

They signed the first major treaty on global warming, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC requires annual meetings of the countries that have signed the treaty. Each is known as a ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP).

In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was signed enshrining the first agreed legal cuts to greenhouse gas emissions under a principal of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ – rich countries agreed legal targets and poorer nations like China and India were exempt. The Kyoto Protocol was due to run until 2012.

World leaders tried and failed to negotiate a replacement for the protocol in Copenhagen in 2009. However in 2015 the ‘Paris Treaty’ was signed acknowledging that 1.5 degrees of warming, not 2 degrees, was the preferred limit of global warming, and inviting all countries to make emissions cuts pledges.

Some countries, most notably the USA, have sought to derail the UNFCCC. Historically the UK has negotiated as part of the EU. Due to Brexit this will change by 2020, when the UK hosts the COP for the first time, in Glasgow. Continue reading

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The Brexit Vote

In recent weeks it has been said ad nauseam that Labour’s main problem in this election is it’s Brexit policy.

I do not agree.

In fact I would go so far as to say the Labour Party has, by a country mile, the best Brexit policy of the main parties.

This is not glowingly self-evident, but in my view it this can be established by elimination all possible alternatives.

Whether or not you agree with the 2016 result, I believe it’s reasonable to expect politicians seek to abide by the results of referenda.

However, in order to proceed a mandate is needed for whatever is to be negotiated. Although the margin for ‘leave’ was narrow, I believe that if the nature of Brexit had been clear during the referendum debate proceeding with the project now would be quite reasonable. But it is arguable the leave vote did not even mandate leaving the common market – let alone cutting regulation, environmental and labour standards all the rest that the harder Brexiteers desire. The mandate is fuzzy at best.
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Diary: Making a safer world for trans people

Content warning: suicide, depression

Earlier this year my friend Danielle Myriam Fisher suicided.

Today is Trans Day of Remembrance, and so I wanted to say a few words to remember her, what her story means to me, and why I think we need to act.

Danielle was a deeply committed activist and contributed hugely to the people and the world around her. I knew her as a student member of People & Planet and her efforts fighting fossil fuels – but it’s become clear to me this was just one small part of the work she took on.
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Visualising UK oil and gas extraction

Oil and gas exploration began in UK waters in 1965. Since that time 44 billion barrels of oil and gas equivalent have been extracted, 7,800 wells have been drilled and the industry’s operations pepper vast regions of the North Sea.

Unlike coal or on-shore renewables, this major industrial activity goes far away from communities and most people’s daily lives. To most people it is invisible. Continue reading

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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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