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.”

At 2pm on 20th April 1916 he arrives at Boulogne: “as I stepped on the quay realised that this was the beginning of a new life; full of thrills and new interest.  There were thousands of khaki-clad soldiers about of all units; new drafts, officers and men returning from leave; red tabs and blue tabs; and brass hats by the score.” His division is set for the Battle of the Somme, where they would be a ‘flying column’, advancing 10km a day after the line was broken (this is not how it turned out of course, as you can read in my abridgement of his diaries of that battle).

Fortune and failure

His diary from start to end recalls tales of unfortunate errors and good fortune both.

For starters, he gets told-off a lot. On his first day in Company HQ he is shouted at by the Officer Commanding for meddling with a trench map: “I apologised and shrivelled up somewhat… I was scared of him for days afterwards”. He variously leads supply groups on “short-cuts” which turn out to take much longer, loses his way in the dark, and is severely reprimanded for giving up on laying a telephone cable half way through the job.

On training he tries horse riding. On first attempt the horse bolts: “I would have split my head on the stable door but for the fact that by this time I was hanging under the animal’s neck; and all this in view of stable men and crowds of infantry splitting with laughter.”

Soldiers having tea on the front at Messines, Belgium, 1917. Photo: National Library of Scotland.

Behind the line one evening he and another officer go for a stroll only to be “literally chased by a Boche plane dropping bombs.” Instead of dropping into a ditch, they run into a barn, attracting fire into the farm and “thereby increasing the target”, he scolds himself.

In the Somme he is approached by a gunner on horseback “a sorry mess, covered with blood from head to foot… the poor thing had stopped one in the neck and every time it took a step and moved its head the blood gushed out and smothered itself and its rider.” Charles is obviously shaken. The gunner pleads with Charles to put the horse out of its misery but he is worried about getting in trouble for killing a (valuable) horse and equally worried that he would mess up the job: “I was not very handy with a revolver and thought if I shot the poor beast it might take half a dozen shots as I didn’t want to get too near and get all bloody myself.” The poor gunner trudges on.

Despite his inadequacies and foibles, Charles pushes through every test. Some of his good fortune is almost monumental. In 1916 he misses the first day of the Battle of the Somme – the deadliest day of fighting in the history of the British Army – simply because he is in the 50% of officers kept back for the second day of fighting. In 1917 he is ordered to leave the front for a training course on the eve of the Battle of Passchendaele – he would later join the battle at the start of its third month.

Life away from the front

Time off was precious, and received gratefully. Leaving the front after the end of Passchendaele he is treated to “a good honest steak and chips with beer… What a meal… I never before appreciated a meal, or life, so much as I did that afternoon.”

Contrasts between life on the front and behind it, perhaps even just a few miles away, are poignant. On training in the Somme region he writes “…the only trees in the district seemed all gathered together in woods which stood out as landmarks. The few farms in the district were far between and the peasants houses usually clustered together as small villages, only made of beams with plaster or mud between, with floors of beaten earth.

“We had occasional bathing parades in the River Somme. The river district was very beautiful, the river here consisting of a number of deep and dark pools of icy cold water, with marshy ground covered with rushes and iris between; the river proper wending between with an almost imperceptible flow. There were at this time of the year myriad of highly coloured butterflies and dragonflies about.”

After the Somme he is stationed on the Messines Ridge during a quiet spell. He takes care to describe “…the most perfect communication trench, 6 to 19 ft deep, with duck boards in A-1 condition, sides revetted, sometimes with wire and sometimes with brushwood. Above us and overhanging the trench in places the vegetation was growing thick, and coloured with heaps of poppies and cornflowers. The trees were untouched by shell fire and the hedges grew thick.”

The Somme, circa 2000. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Lander.

He makes good friends in his battalion and his notes dip into and out of fun and adventure.

At one training he even has the opportunity to fly in a reconnaissance aeroplane. “It was thought necessary that signal officers should view the methods from the airman’s point of view. A splendid idea of course.” At the Somme his Division is visited by the King Albert of Belgium who “presented every man with a packet of cigarettes.” And he recalls with glee how his comrades managed to hide a gramophone from a senior officer despite his order that “all surplus kit and musical instruments were to be dumped… He had the officers kit weighed and inspected – but the gramophone still survived.”

Although frustrated at the enemy, he is frequently in awe of their efforts. He records how German prisoners of war did “good work” bearing stretchers from the battlefield “cheerfully giving a hand and chatting and smoking with our fellows as though they had always been the best of pals.” A friend is captured, but reveals after the war the good treatment he received. His most common remark about prisoners of war, noted time and time again, is the smirking faces of prisoners being led away from the front towards him and his fellow soldiers being sent into battle.

He seems intrigued by the French. They “make war look picturesque and almost romantic. When a shell bursts among them you hear a lot of jabber and shouts of ‘Vive la France’ as they poop off with renewed energy – so unlike our chaps who just curse and blast.” Near Ypres an older peasant woman comes to a farmhouse they are staying in asking if they had found her missing 200 Francs. When they were returned “the Madame in her joy kissed the Captain (or tried to) and was loud in her praises of ‘Les Soldets Anglaise’.” Even away from the fighting poverty is rife, and he notes with sadness how little he can do for struggling locals and the many moving refugees.

Making a fight of it

Back on the front, the story is well trodden.

Winter on the Western Front brings few battles: they must simply be endured. He spends many months of the winters of 1916 and 1917 in the trenches, variously cold and wet, or cold and frozen; so cold it is “impossible to sleep”, he notes around Christmas 1917.

When the snow melted things were worse. The Somme battlefield was “a vast sea of mud and slime, not a tree or a building of any form in sight, not a tree stump even a foot high, not a blade of grass.” Resting soldiers made the best of it, some even sleeping in a pig-sty: “it was dry, if not clean, and offered protection against bombs.” In late 2017 he is stationed in tunnels under the infamous Hill 60, Ypres, “the bowels of the earth”. Conditions are grim.

By early 1918 he reports that one third of his battalion has trench foot. “Everyone was lousy and spent most of their spare time scraping the fat louses from the backs of their shirts and from the seams of their uniform; some cracked the blighters between their thumbnails, others burnt them over a candle flame. The huts were very filthy and overcrowded, and the stink from the unwashed; the wet and steaming uniforms mingled with foul tobacco smoke will never be forgotten.”

Death is everywhere. The company has nine officers when he joins is in 1916, that year four are killed and three are injured. His best friend in the army, F. P. Smith, is badly injured by a gas attack in 1917, and he receives a number of minor wounds himself.

He sees hundred and hundreds of dead men, sometimes roughly buried, more often simply strewn about. In the Somme he tells of trenches “chock full of German and British dead”; at Ypres sump holes “infested with rats as big as rabbits waiting to devour the dead… or even the dying.”

Charles is not desensitised to these horrors. He records them with care, noting the names of fallen comrades and the scene before his eyes. In one incident he writes that Edward Briscoe, a 22 year-old Lieutenant from Canterbury, is shot dead after getting lost in no-man’s land at night. His body falls into a German trench and is never found.


Charles records the fate of Edward Briscoe, lost in action at Ypres and commemorated on the Menin Gate. Photo by Author.

Unsurprisingly Charles is haunted by these experiences. In a break from fighting on the Somme he recalls dreaming he was in a dug-out, waking “in a sweat” and running to the window being convinced that they were “coming down the steps to take us.” When he tells the story at breakfast he is laughed at.

Charles doesn’t attempt to weight the value of this suffering. Nor is it overwhelming; he takes his share of personal and military success.

At the Battle of Messines, the British detonate 19 mines under the German front (said to be some of the biggest man-made explosions before the atomic bomb) enabling the capture of crucial high ground around Ypres. During his final encounters on the Western Front in 1918 these positions are lost again, leaving a sour taste. In fact, on many occasions he sees allied troops sent to take small parcels of land, only to lose them days or even hours later. In the Somme he writes “there was a particularly hot spot which changed hands almost every night, sometimes twice nightly”, recalling gratefully that his battalion is stationed elsewhere.

He often apportions blame and credit to his seniors, and on occasion to his juniors.

In February 1918, with moral and temperatures at a low ebb, he recalls with how the front was quiet and untroubled on both sides: a case “live and let live”. The truce is broken when the visiting Brigadier tells them angrily “this isn’t a war”, and they are to start shooting at German positions. He then “popped off to his cushy billet and left us to take cover from the retaliation.”

Reflecting on the successful Battle of Messines Charles is glowing of his senior officers, but later disappointed to hear that it is a more senior commander who receives the Victoria Cross for the victory.

By 1918 Charles becomes a company commander himself. Although reeling at his “useless” servant, he makes little comment of his company at large. More often he expresses frustration that the “poor bloody infantry” are at the bottom of the pecking order, left in dangerous positions and pushed beyond breaking point.

Preparing for the end

Charles spends the last months of his war in desperate and often chaotic attempts to halt the German advances of early 1918.

Stationed at Albert in the Somme, his company is ordered to embark a train whose destination had suddenly fallen into German hands. Thousands of troops were stranded at the station, “a fine target for Jerry”, he writes, so they agree to disperse and take positions about the town. Panic must be contained when they realise they “hadn’t a round of ammunition between us”. They retreat to a nearby hill for some hours, then are led back through Albert in groups. “The town falling to pieces and lit up only by the bursting of bombs… it was most difficult picking one’s way between heaps of fallen masonry with telegraph lines down across the roads tripping one up, or cutting one across the face. Transport lay in heaps obstructing the endless stream of sweating cursing troops.” He continues: “mixed up with this mass of disorganised troops of all units were the remnants of the French civilian population… all pushing perambulators on which they had stacked their most important possessions… most had children with them.” Concluding: “not a murmur came from these people as they trudged on hour after hour.”

In the confusion he tracks circles around the town over the next few days, as the front is hastily reorganised to stem the German advance.

British casualties from a gas attack during the Spring advances of 1918. Photo: IWM.

His final battles would be fought South of Ypres, defending hills won only the previous summer.

On 10th April, following a gas attack, the line is breaking and Charles and a small group of soldiers are left stranded as the Germans advance on all sides. He has no orders. The ends of the trench are blocked up and they hope for the best: “we made a fairly defensive position and all stood-to with fixed bayonets and prepared for the end.” Suddenly a soldier jumps into their trench giving the order from the commanding officer to retreat to our new command post and incidentally, bring my trench coat which in haste I left behind. Papers are destroyed or bundled up, and they strafe across the battlefield “through a storm of rifle bullets” to the new position. Many do not make it.

Days and days of retreat eat away at moral. Retreating down one especially dangerous road at night his company is so tired that some soldiers simply lay down in a ditch and collapse into sleep. “I tried coaxing and I tried cursing and my own mouth was becoming dry from fright.” When they won’t move, Charles had no choice but to press on. They do not arrive back at camp.

Later his company is given their turn getting rest in a barn. At 3am on 7th May 1918 he is woken by shell fire and a hasty discussion breaks out about whether they should shelter in nearby trenches when “a heavy shell came through the roof and burst on the chaff-covered floor among the sleeping men. The confusion was terrible, most of us half asleep and in pitch darkness. The place was filled with fumes and thick with dust raised by the explosion. There was a scramble for the door and some shouted that it was gas, there were cries and groans from the wounded.”

While helping organise the soldiers to safety he notices blood streaming out his shirt sleeve and trousers. “I had been pretty badly hit… but in the excitement had not noticed it. Oh Joy – a blighty one!” Far from fearing for his life, Charles is joyous at the possibility that this injury might send him home.

He is patched up and ready to be taken away when a gas shell hits. “I knew that to lose consciousness now would have been to lose hope, so pulled myself together and managed to get on my gas bag… there I lay for what seemed hours striving to keep conscious and all the time fit to burst. The heat in a gas mask is terrific. I prayed and I cursed the Boche alternately.”

When the shelling stops he is taken away on a stretcher, getting severely agitated when his bearers pop him down to grab a cup of tea. When the cook appears, seeing the look on his face they ask if he would like a cup of tea himself. “To hell with the tea… I tried to thank him nicely but would rather get a move on.”

As it turned out, the shell that fell in that barn had killed two and wounded fourteen. Luck was still falling on Charles, and he knew it.

At a dressing station he is well looked after, and more concerned about embarrassing himself in front of the nurses. He recalls: the nurse “started to change the undersheet, I had a squint at it and found it was only blood, what a relief.”

The next day he is on a ship home to “dear old Blighty”.

Ma, Pop and the Twin's 21st

Charles (centre right, top), Dorothy (centre, bottom), and family on the occasion of their twin daughters Lizzie and Maggie’s 21st birthday, Birmingham. Photo: family collection.

The injury would decisively take him off the Western Front – he would not recuperate in time to fight again. That summer he made the most of his leave, marrying Doris D’Abreu and honeymooning in Stratford-upon-Avon and Llandudno.

Charles and Doris were married for sixty-six years, having six children and dying within two days of each other in 1984.

As a child I heard his stories through the voice of his eldest children, my Grandfather Charles, himself a veteran of the Second World War, and my Great Aunty Mary, a veteran of the Women’s Land Army. Now they are gone too it’s my generation’s job to share these memories. Like many stories of that appalling war, Charles’ diary is full of honesty, humanity and compassion. Values we surely need now more than ever.

  • Charles, known to the family as “Pop”, said little about his time on the Western Front during his lifetime. His diary was found by his daughter Mary after his death and transcribed by his grand-child Jeremy Lander and partner Sally Lander, to whom I am indebted. This article is based on extracts from that transcription, which was later published as: “Lander’s War: The War Diaries of Lt. Charles Herbert Lander 10th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment”. Jeremy and Sally thanked Cambridge University Library and Colonel Michael Payne, who proof read and advised on their text, so I pay that gratitude forward.

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.

However despite more funds “going ethical” such funds still only make up 1.3 per cent of investment. A complete sea change across the sector or top-down regulation by the UK Government would be needed before the financial industry can spearhead a green revolution for the UK. At the rate which our climate is deteriorating it often feels like we can’t wait for this change: we need campaigning tactics that are more urgent. But divestment campaigning is also spurring deep changes far outside of the City of London, subtle changes that most wouldn’t even notice are happening.

Reputational damage well deserved

When Glasgow students won Europe’s first University commitment to divest from all fossil fuels they spurred the reallocation of £18 million of the university’s investments. But they also got one of Scotland’s wealthiest and most influential institutions to make a strong statement against fossil fuel corporations. Glasgow told big oil ‘we don’t buy your version of the future: be gone’.

New research suggests that divestment can reshape ‘social norms’ by undermining the credibility of fossil fuel companies. That is a big deal, because it is the ‘soft power’ held by fossil fuel companies that gives them so much influence in our society. Wealthy and broadly popular companies like these wield huge power over political systems, ensuring that fossil fuels (instead of renewables) benefit from subsidies, low taxes and minimal regulation. By helping to break this power, divestment is making victory for the whole climate change movement possible.

Oil major Shell recently acknowledged this phenomenon. According to the website Desmog, their annual report states that divestment could cut the company’s value and make it harder for them to borrow money for new projects. In other words, Shell are worried that divestment will make it harder for them to get oil out of the ground.

Having difficult, necessary conversations

Four years after Glasgow’s victory campaigners at Edinburgh received the same level of commitment from their university – and a whole lot more. A relentless campaign that lasted more than a half decade made new connections with staff and researchers and influenced multiple generations of students. The continuation of oil and gas research and false solutions like carbon capture and storage in the University had been seriously
questioned, as was the presence of polluting companies at careers fairs.

In May the Church of Scotland General Assembly narrowly voted against divestment, to the dismay of just under half of the Church’s delegates. But thanks to the issue being raised 600 or so assembled commissioners spent over two hours discussing action on climate change and what the Church could do about it. They listened as ministers from as far afield as South India and Malta expressed alarm and dismay at the Kirk’s investments, speaking in blunt terms about the impacts of climate change on communities in poverty.

Others brought the problem home to Scotland sharing efforts local churches were making to use electric vehicles, go renewable and cut energy usage, and posing difficult but critical questions about how we ensure good employment and vibrant Scottish communities in a fossil free future.

Just as Edinburgh University found these are not all easy provocations to resolve.  But by exploring them honestly, and having the conviction to act on what is unearthed, is the only way our communities will truly rise to the challenge of climate change.

Climate change is pretty scary, and a rapid transition away from fossil fuels looks far off whilst oil companies are keeping their choke hold on our society. We need campaigning approaches which are both radical and immediate.

Fossil fuel divestment is giving oil companies the bad reputation they deserve, reclaiming our future from big finance, and provoking profoundly productive debates within institutions and communities.

This blog originally appeared on the Friends of the Earth Scotland blog.


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


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?

It began ten years ago when Trump had a series of meetings with the then First Minister, Labour’s Jack McConnell. Trump was making plans to build a vast new golf course on the Menie Estate just north of Aberdeen. The Scottish Government wanted to show the world the country was open for business, and making friends with Trump seemed a pretty canny way to do it.

The plans for Menie were unveiled in 2007 as the SNP took over the Scottish Goverment from Labour. Trump was on the offensive describing his plans with almost religious gusto: it would be “a source of pride for both Aberdeenshire and Scotland for many generations”.

He visited the Isle of Lewis to see the house his mother grew up in (spending a total of 97 seconds inside the house, according to an amused Guardian correspondent) and accepted a role as a “GlobalScot”, a Government funded club for business people connected with Scotland. Trump was in.

1. Aberdeenshire Councillors reject Trump’s plans

Labour and SNP Scottish Governments were openly enthusiatic about Trumps plans. But in Aberdeenshire the local council wasn’t so sure.

There was widespread evidence of severe environmental damage resulting from his proposed two golf courses, hotel and apartment complex, and his claim that the project would create “thousands of jobs” didn’t stack up to much scrutiny.

Small wonder then that Aberdeenshire Council’s planning committee rejected the tycoon’s proposal, albeit by a margin of 1 vote, in 2007.

A brave act in the face of aggressive lobbying by national government and Trump’s global business organisation.

If Aberdeenshire Council was brave, what happened next left a sour taste. The plans were ‘brought in’ by the Scottish Government, a procedure intended for major developments of national importance, and approved the Government in 2008. The Council had been overrulled.

The new First Minister, the SNP’s Alex Salmond said the destruction of the local environment was justified by the wide array of benefits Trump’s arrival would bring to the North East of Scotland.

Yet very shortly after construction began Trump put the brakes on. A wind farm development some miles offshore was announced. Trump said it would spoil the view from his golf course, and insisted he wouldn’t complete his plans if the renewable energy scheme went ahead. Scotland would have to choose between being pals with Donald Trump and developing clean energy.

2. Molly Forbes takes Trump to court


Michael and Molly Forbes at Menie. Photo copyright Aaron Sneddon, used with permission.

Enter the residents of Menie.

Quite a lot of people lived on the land adjacent to Trump’s planned new resort and Trump wanted rid of them. First he tried paying them off. Then he tried slandering them and appeared to encourage polic intimidation. Legal action was attempted. The final solution was to plant huge hedges and build mounds of earth around people’s houses to shield them from view.

Susan Munroe and David Milne saw their local area transformed by construction work. Trump threatened to take Milne to court claiming that, based on outdated maps, that his shed was on Trump’s land.

The residents did not take any of this lightly.

Molly Forbes, now 92, lost her water supply when Trump’s construction team showed up, and it hasn’t ever returned. She has attempted taking him to court on behalf of the local people but lost the case due to a technicality and in 2010 was asked to pay £50,000 in court fees.

3. Don’t mess with Michael Forbes

Trump repeatedly vilified local farmer Michael Forbes, calling him a “pig”. Forbes hit back by daubing the walls of him barns, which overlooked his new course, with slogans like “NO MORE TRUMP LIES” and hosting campaigning events and local art shows in on the farm.

4. Tripping Up Trump

Aberdeenshire residents got organised through the brilliant ‘Tripping Up Trump’ campaign targeting the local council and national government over the plans.

When the Aberdeen’s Press & Journal newspaper, long criticised for being in the pocket of business, refused to cover their efforts they launched their own news-sheet ‘Menie Voices’ in 2010.

5. University Principal tears up his degree

Another long-time best friend of Scottish big business was Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University. They saw Trump as a top notch publicity opportunity, and duly awarded him an honorary degree in 2010.

However the ceremony didn’t quite go to plan. In full view of the Scottish media and alongside Tripping Up Trump protesters gathered outside, former RGU Principal Dr. David Kennedy handed back his honorary degree marked NOT WANTED.

He told the BBC: “I don’t wish to have an honorary degree from a university which admires and promotes a person such as Donald Trump… [He] claims to be brutal and tough, he claims that one cannot be too greedy, he boasts about the number of people he has fired… These are not the qualities that I admire nor with which I wish to be associated and that is why I am returning my honorary degree.”

6. Environmental groups condemn Trump’s plans

Back in 2007 Scottish environmental organisations were pretty clear about their opposition to Trump’s development, which planned to tear up a Site of Special Scientific Interest at Menie.

Their opposition only got louder as his plans advanced. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, not known for their love for wind farms, sided with the renewable energy industry in 2012 when Trump took arms against the proposed wind-farm development nearbye.

7. The Wightman Report

Bemused at the total lack of any economic analysis of the plans for the Menie estate, land rights campaigner and now Green MSP Andy Wightman produced his own study about Trump’s project in 2011.

His conclusions were damning:

“Perhaps this vanity project will indeed end in tears on a rock of hubris and recrimination. If it does, at least the long suffering residents of the Menie Estate will be able to live in peace once more and those responsible for bringing about this saga can reflect on their role and consider whether this is in fact the kind of sustainable development we want in the new Scotland.”

8. The march on Trump’s golf course


Photo copyright Fiona Fraser, used with permission.

Aberdeenshire residents wanted to reclaim the site and show solidarity with local residents whose homes were being wrecked.

In 2011 the Tripping Up Trump campaign organised an iconic rally to the site: ‘The March of Menie’, concluding with tea and cake at Michael Forbes’ farm.

9. Michael Forbes voted man of the year


Photo copyright Fiona Fraser, used with permission.

In 2012 Scots trolled Trump by launching a campaign to see Michael Forbes granted the publicly-voted Glenfiddich ‘Spirit of Scotland award’. He won by some margin.

10. Queen rock legend joins the campaign: “Nothing really matters – but me”

When astronomer and rock legend Brian May expressed him sympathies for the campaign in 2012 Tripping Up Trump seized the opportunity and got permission to record their own version of Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s wonderful.

The video features a puppet of Donald Trump who has his own Twitter feed. Puppet Trump has vigilantly followed Trump on his many self-agrandising visits to Scotland.

11. A boring movie: “You’ve Been Trumped”


The battle fought at Menie and Aberdeen was recorded by local film-maker Anthony Baxter in ‘You’ve Been Trumped’.vThe movie was released in 2012 and is a damning indictment of national decision makers, the police, and Trump’s own organisation.

Arrested during the course of filming, Baxter’s movie brought local people’s side of the story to audiences outside the North East of Scotland. Trump said he heard it was “boring”. It’s not.

Baxter released a sequel: You’ve Been Trumped Too, broadcasting it live on Facebook for the first time on Thursday. Watch it here.

12. MSP gives Trump the finger in Parliament

As the SNP’s enthusiasm for Trumps plans began to receive long-overdue national scrutiny, the Conservative chair of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee of the Scottish Parliament invited the man himself to speak to Parliament in 2012.

Never one to pass up an opportunity for a show, Trump said yes.

At the Committee hearing, when asked what evidence he could provide to back his claim that ‘tourists didn’t like wind turbines’ Trump replied (to the sound of derisory laughter): “I am the evidence.”

After the meeting Green MSP Patrick Harvie gave trump a two fingered salute, which must have upset him as Trump then lodged a formal complaint with the Parliament standards body – not for his hand gesture – but over a tweet referencing Monty Python’s Life of Brian which Trump claimed was blasphemous.

Unsurprisingly, Harvie emerged unscathed.

13. Protester makes Trump’s hair stand on end

When Trump left the Parliament building to escape in his car he was greeted with a wall of anti- and pro- wind power protesters.

One of the later group was a supremely well prepared. Donning an anti-Trump t-shirt carrying the slogan “WIGS: Wind is Good Scotland” the activist held a staticly charged party balloon over Trump’s comb-over. You’ll have to click through to the Daily Mail to see the photos (sorry).

14. Pro-green energy protesters meet Trump with ‘near riot’

Photo by FOES and Maverick 2

Photo by FOES and Maverick
Photos by Friends of the Earth Scotland / Merick Photo Agency, used with permission.

The Guardian’s Severin Carrell described the scene outside the Parliament that day as a ‘near riot’. But for most of the morning the atmosphere was good natured with pro-green energy activists dressed as wind-turbines taking the opportunity to remind Trump that there was more at stake here than his hotel businesses.

15. Scottish government stands up for clean energy

The more publicity Trump received the less his plans seemed to stack up, and activists had been doing an exellent job of making sure he was getting lots of negative publicity.

Scotland was beginning to wake up to Trump’s reprehensible rhetoric and eventually the Scottish Government started sticking up for their renewable energy plans – and not Trump’s golf course.

Trump’s increasingly desperate fight against the wind scheme went as far as the UK’s supreme court, where he lost, and announced he was moving his money elsewhere.

Alex Salmond, former friend of trump and now former First Minister, branded Trump “three times a loser”, referring to Trump’s repeated defeats in the Scottish and Supreme courts.

One golf course was built, but a major apartment complex and second course were to be shelved. Campaigners had scored a hugely significant victory.

16. Golf turns against Trump

Frustrated that bullying had failed to deliver him a windmill-free skyline at Menie, Trump purchased the world famous Turnberry course in Ayshire in 2014, promising millions of dollars of investment.

The course had hosted golf’s most prestigous tournament, the Open Championship, on a number of occasions and was next expected to host it in 2020. Ownership of Turnberry should have allowed him an easy ticket to the top of golf.

But golf’s governing body, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (to give you an idea of how conservative they are, women have only been admitted as members since 2014) couldn’t stomach Trump’s racist and sexist comments. In December 2015 they quietly let it be known that the Open wouldn’t be coming to Trump’s patch whilst he owned it.

17. Sturgeon revokes Trump’s GlobalScot status

As Trump’s presidential campaign gathered steam his palatability to Scottish politicians took a dive. In late 2015 his proposed ban on muslims entering the United States led to widespread outcry in the UK.

When he first arrived in Scotland Scottish elites were fighting over each other to accommodate him in their institutions. No longer. Trump was now toxic.

Amid high-profile popular pressure First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revoked his Scottish business ambassador ‘GlobalScot’ status.

18. Trump is stripped of his RGU honary degree

Remember act number 5? Scotland did.

Begun by Suzanne Kelly from the blog Aberdeen Voice, a petition calling for called for Robert Gordon University to take the Scottish Government’s lead and strip him of their honours receieved 80,000 names.

The University responded in a matter of days, revoking his degree.

19. MPs debate banning Trump from the UK

Prompted by Trumps call to ban Muslims from entering the Unites States, the aforementioned Aberdeen Voice started a UK Parliament petition calling for Donald Trump to be banned from entering the UK.

The petition gained over half a million signatures requiring MPs to hold a debate on the issue which they duly did in January 2016.

20. Opulent occupation

In the new year of 2016 Trump was busy tallying up Republican party delegates, and Scots were busy ensuring opposition to him remained in the news at home.

Upstart Scottish socialists RISE did the only sensible thing anyone could do in the face of Trump’s accelerating bandwagon and occupied his hotel at Menie in Aberdeenshire.

21. Trump: visit our mosques

As the mayor of London invited Trump to visit the parts of London he said were ‘too dangerous to visit’, a petition gained 18,000 names inviting Trump to visit the Scottish capital and visit Edinburgh mosques to learn about Islam.

He didn’t accept.

22. Stand up to Racism

The day after the UK voted to leave the European Union Trump took a break from his presidential run to visit his golf courses and lecture us about European multinational cooperation.

In Aberdeenshire his course was invaded by protesters waving the flag of Mexico, taunting him over his incendiary remarks about the country.

Over in Ayrshire a huge ‘Stand up to Racism’ rally marched on his course at Turnberry.


Photo by Stand up to Racism.

23. New merchandise

At Turnberry, poised to began his speech to a gaggle of specially invited journalists, Trump was interrupted by comedian Lee Nelson who popped up in front of the podium and announced Trump Turnberry’s new official merchandise.

Nelson was gently removed from the site, not before he scatted a barrel of the balls around Trump’s feet. Trump was forced to deliver his speech surrounded by golf balls emblazened with tiny swastikas. His presence in Scotland had descended into farce.

24. Trump is a cunt


Photo courtesy of Jane Godley, used with permission.

Scottish comedian Jane Godley saw this visit as an excellent chance to have the last word on Donald Trump’s war on Scotland.

While Trump’s organisation entertained guests inside his Turnberry hotel Godley turned up outside wearing a wind-swept expression and a placard reading TRUMP IS A CUNT (this is, incidentally, the title of her current stand-up tour). Some beautiful t-shirts have also been designed to mark the occasion.

25. Flying the flag for Mexico

The last word must in fact go to the residents of Menie. Ten years ago they were the object of his wrath in rural Aberdeenshire. Today Trump’s vile language takes aim at whole nations and ethnic groups. Solidarity crosses these boundaries.

Screen Shot 2017-01-20 at 12.42.28

The next Donald Trump?

A lot of people in the UK have spent the last year asking “what kind of a people would allow such a man into power?”

You don’t have to look far to see how this could happen, because it happened in Scotland, and it is still happening. Trump’s brand is still emblazoned on the golf courses of Scotland, placed there with the warmly given support of two succesive First Ministers.

At that same BBC debate back in March Labour leader Kez Dugdale concluded:

“I’m sure Nicola [Sturgeon] regrets it now but all she was trying to do was bring investment and jobs to Scotland. It’s just a shame it had to be from a character like that.”

Dugdale and Sturgeon would have us believe that they were ‘duped’ by some con artist. In reality our leaders were cosying up to corporate power, gambling that it would pay off. And they haven’t learnt their lesson.

This wasn’t just a story about a reprehensible American tycoon and those who fought against him. It is also a story about those who let him have his way.

Scotland’s business and political elites must take responsibility for letting him destroy communities and lives in Aberdeenshire.

Our universities continue to give honours to dubious billionaires; golf courses are still owned by a wealthy, sexist elite; hate-filled, tory-owned newspapers fill control our media; and the language of big business still dominates the political agenda, with our Government in Edinburgh pledging to cut business rates, aviation tax, and lobbying for billions in subsidies for north sea oil.

Until we end our love affair with unfettered big business there will be many more Donald Trumps to come.


This article was updated on 20 Jan 2017. Many thanks to those who offered corrections and additional info, and a special thanks to the photographers for letting us use their excellent pictures.


Originally posted on Bright Green.


“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.

With a guide and a small group of soldiers he is required to carry rations to his battalion on the front. In the middle of the night, struggling with large sacks of provisions along trenches three foot deep in water, he came across “an unpleasant sight that made me feel very sick.”

“I slipped when wading through some water and my hand caught hold of something round and slimy, half submerged, which rolled over and showed itself to be the head of a dead British Tommy, whose lower portions were stuck in the slime. This was the first dead body I had ever seen.”

As they approached the front their guide leads them out from the trench, and over the top. The ground is shell-torn, criss-crossed with the remains of deep trenches, covered in broken barbed wire and machine gun fire surrounds them. Charles admits, “I began to feel a little bit shaky.”

Eventually they arrive at the command post where they are given further instructions: leave the provisions here, hand out the rum to the men on the front.

By now they are deep into German trenches captured in the previous days of fighting. Solider’s bodies, equipment and ammunition litter the ground. The front is reached. Charles is shocked to find his soldiers exposed, packed shoulder-to-shoulder, in a trench “no more than knee deep.”

A senior officer tells him they are by the church in the village of La Boiselle. He replies “I’ll have to take your word for it” – the entire village had been reduced to rubble.

Dawn breaks. It becomes clear that the battalion are desperately vulnerable, with Germans perhaps as near as 10m away. They cannot move, because the Germans hold higher ground and snipers are poised. “Our own dead lay pretty thick about: Lord knows what they would look like in a few days after the summer sun had got to them.” Shell fire is minimal, which is just as well given their position.

He would survive this encounter. Later in the morning they are relieved, returning to Allied territory along a new hastily dug trench.


British wounded returning from the Somme battle, July 1916 (Wikimedia)

For three weeks his company is kept behind the front to clean-up, rest and repair.

Then the order comes to return to fighting. His battalion are to offer support in reserve. Their destination is an area of thick woodland which is shaken by repeated shell fire, causing trees to explode and fall all around. He notes that the trenches in the wood are “full of German and British dead… still unburied and in a horrible state of decomposition and covered with flies, who were having a real good summer.” That night he is woken in the night to find his dugout is on fire, and badly injures his leg in the scramble to get out.

He mentions this little in his diary, perhaps because the following night the officers, of which he is one, are gathered and given orders for “an immediate attack.” Charles is frustrated at his orders. “What hope”, he asks, “for an attack which is to start within the hour, positions to be taken in the dark, without reconnaissance over unknown ground?”

The attack begins and is chaotic. The advance doesn’t move quickly enough and those behind are trapped, caught in the open – fatalities are high.

As the day draws on he hears news that a whole company has gone missing, and is sent to try and find them. He finds them “dead and dying sprawled across a road”, with terrified soldiers lying on the ground, “too scared even to dig in.”

When he seeks help the senior officer he finds is useless. Amidst the crashing sounds of the battle Charles shouts in his ear “pull yourself together and get your men dug in.” As the night draws on he manages to get enough support from other officers to halt their attack and find cover – just beating the advancing dawn.

He spends the early hours of the morning back at the command post. Wearing a gas helmet they are continually working to keep the dugout entrance open. “Deep down though we were, our candles were continually being put out by the concussion of heavy shell bursting on top, and time after time a shell would burst in one or other of the entrances and piles of earth and stinking fumes poured down the steps… We were fearful we would be buried alive.”

At 9am his commanding officer is killed while going to the toilet.

The battalion is given relief later that day, and Charles survives the Somme a second time.

One week later they return to fighting. He notes: “Today was my 23rd birthday. Was it to be my last?” Charles seems constantly aware of just how lucky he is to survive each day on the Western Front, and takes little for granted. His birthday is eventful: a number of men fall, one of whom, injured by shell fire, is carried away on a stretcher and “quite cheerfully smoking a fag” before passing away moments later.

When the mail arrives he remarks “there seemed to be an unusual number of parcels… it would have been a pity to get killed with a haversack still filled with good things.”

But relief comes again, and he disobeys orders to leave the front using what he thinks is a safer route, making him late back to his resting battalion. “We were so far behind that they had given us up as lost – and were too late for soup.”

“What a glorious sleep we had this night. It was a lovely summer night and news had got round that the division had finished with the Somme and were going back to a rest.”

Charles’ battalion would go on to fight in the area South of Ypres before returning to the Somme in October. His descriptions of the now four-month old battle-field are hauntingly familiar.

“A vast sea of mud and slime, not a tree or a building of any form in sight: not a tree stump even a foot high, not a blade of grass.”

“Should a man get wounded and fall in a hole, God help him if he had no pal near – he would surely die or suffocate.”

He passed the old front lines from July to witness hundreds of dead, buried where they fell, “marked sometimes by rough wooden crosses but mostly by rifles stuck bayonet-first into the ground”… “large numbers of these bodies were only just covered and feet and legs still protruded above the ground with just a boot or fragment of sock remaining on the bones.”

“They had expected in a few more days to win the war… none of the poor devils even got as far as the German wire.”

The 18th November is recorded as the last day of the Battle of the Somme.

The night before, Charles’ battalion was required to move into position ready to attack. The weather is poor and they have little knowledge of the terrain. “The water which filled the shell-holes was frozen and covered with snow.” The area near Grancourt is an intricate system of German trenches that they have never seen it in daylight. The night is bitterly cold. When there is a mix-up with one of his companies Charles’ is unnerved by the response from his commanding officer: “he was very cool and more polite than usual – a very bad sign.” Orders are given and the attack begins at 6am.


Charles Lander in 1915 (Family photo)

Against the odds they makes gains. Charles, waiting at their command post, comes across the dead body of a fellow officer. Soon after his hand is injured by a piece of shrapnel, and quietly, cautiously, he makes his excuses to leave the front. On the last day of the Battle of the Somme Charles Lander finally escapes.

Nearly home, arriving at Manchester station, there is some excitement to see troops returning from the front. “There was a cheering crowd at the station; we did feel foolish.”

Charles spent Christmas 1916 back with his family, returning to France to fight in the Battle of Messines and Passchendaele in 1917. Active on the front near Ypres during the German advances in 1918, his war would end there when a shell exploded in a barn where his company was sleeping, wounding 14 and killing 2. Suffering multiple injuries he would never return to the Western Front.

His diary paints pictures of five years of extraordinary landscapes, horror, despair, gas, trench-foot, fatigue, boredom, incompetence, luck (often) as well as joy and heart-felt relief.

One million people were wounded or killed in the Battle of the Somme. An almost incomprehensible catastrophe.

Charles Lander was one of those who escaped from hell. I count myself truly lucky to have the story of a survivor which I can hold so close to my heart.

  • Charles Lander, known to the family as “Pop”, said little about his time on the Western Front during his lifetime. His diary was found by his daughter, Mary Lander, after his death in 1984 and transcribed by his grand-child Jeremy Lander and partner Sally Lander. This article is based on extracts from this transcription, which was later published as: “Lander’s War: The War Diaries of Lt. Charles Herbert Lander 10th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment”. Click here to for more information.
  • The original version of this article implied that the Battle of Passchendaele (3rd Battle of Ypres) took place in 2016, not 2017. It was corrected on 8 Nov 2018.
  • The remainder of Charles’ diaries from the War are abridged in my 2018 article ‘Boredom, bungles and dodging death‘.

7 things on Brexit

7 things on Brexit: chinks of light through a constitutional clusterfuck

Good morning readers. Time to eat your brexit: the UK has voted to leave the European Union.

There is a lot to come to terms with, a lot to think about, and a lot to do. Some things we know, and they might help crystallise a vision for how we can go forward.

1. This is a constitutional cluster-fuck

The muddle and mess that is the British constitution will be fully exposed, and may begin to completely unravel in the coming days.

The SNP leadership have indicated an interest in retaining EU membership if the rest of the UK intends to leave. With such a high remain vote in Scotland they have a very strong mandate to do this.

Alternatively if Scotland is ‘dragged out by England’ another referendum on Scottish Independence seems highly likely.

Northern Ireland voted clearly for EU membership and is faced with deep uncertainty about its relationship with the Republic. Northern Ireland will now have to live with an EU border. Nationalists will propose an alternative: a referendum on unification.

The whole tone of the official leave campaign has been about independence for the English. This will surely bolster calls for English Votes for English Laws and other measures to strengthen the political power of England.

Finally and by no means least of all the UK is entering unprecedented series of negotiations with the EU and global trading partners. It seems very likely it will be offered a tough deal, and if so, we may be faced with another referendum on our deal with Europe.

How all of these issues may be resolved is utterly unclear. We should start talking about them right away to offer our solutions: more, not less democracy.

2. The right has been tearing itself apart

This referendum was an accident. The Conservative leadership, outmanoeuvred by its own back bench MPs, and given an unexpected majority in Parliament, set the date of the vote. The already divided tories split their own cabinet over this issue, and senior figures have flown insults left and right at one another. UKIPers have been at each others’ throats, and whilst they have won many arguments on a national level in England and Wales many of their members may now feel the party has lost their raison d’etre.

Meanwhile the left, in Labour, Greens, and nationalists in Scotland and Wales, have been united. This is a huge advantage.

It matters for public perception, but perhaps more importantly for cooperation. We’re still friends with one another, and should build up our alliances to defend human rights, the environment and people who’ve migrated to the UK.

3. We need to steal the initiative

Post election analysis has considered some populist themes of the remain campaign which aren’t inherently regressive.

Many leave campaigners talked angrily about George Osborne’s post-leave-vote ‘punishment budget’ and how they won’t accept further austerity. Osborne’s welfare cuts being removed from the 2016 budget was a key political event of the Spring. We must keep this sentiment alive.

A key theme throughout has been the idea of people being ‘fed up with the establishment and elites telling them what to do’. This can spiral into conspiracy theorydom – but it can also be taken as an anti-corporate, anti-centralisation, and anti-autocracy – very much in tune with Bernie Sanders’ inspiring campaign for US President. They are all strong anti-capitalist, green, progressive themes, and we should adopt them.

4. The fight is on to save the European Court of Human Rights

We will need to grab all of these opportunities to win a future General Election (including if one happens before 2020 – a real possibility now that Cameron has resigned) and to defend worker, migrant and environmental rights as our relationship with our neighbours is redrawn.

Long before it was clear that an EU referendum would take place, the Conservative Party had indicated its intention to leave the European Court of Human Rights and replace it with a ‘British Human Rights Act’. This seems unstoppable now – their story is that this is exactly the kind of ‘red tape’ that the EU forces upon us. We’ve got a fight on our hands to retain basic fundamental rights.

5. Bankers will be crying, fascists will be smiling

The 1% didn’t want this, and they will be somewhat astray for the next weeks and months. This does present an opportunity.

On the other hand, the result is exactly what the far right wanted. They will be gearing up to take to the streets to call for the UK to kick out anyone they don’t like the look of. A wider political movement against Islam and workers who aren’t UK nationals will gain momentum. We will have a job to do to stop it.

We shouldn’t forget that before last week it was some time since a sitting MP had been murdered. This will get worse before it gets better.

6. We will still need our friends in Europe

This vote is a blow for Syriza, Podemos, and other progressive forces in the EU who have been asking for our solidarity in democratising Europe. Their fight remains intrinsically linked with our fight for a Europe that protects human rights and upholds democracy.

7. Referenda aren’t all bad

This campaign, and the fallout of it, have had some appallingly regressive outcomes for the UK. But referenda are not in principle bad.

In Scotland the independence referendum had an incredibly positive impact on political engagement. When people have the chance to vote for something better, progressive change is always possible.


Note: this article, originally posted at 5am, was updated to accommodate Cameron’s resignation


The Paris deal did not fix climate change. But we will (and here’s how)


People from Norway marching in Paris on Saturday as part of “Red Lines”, organised by 350.org. Photo: Ric Lander.

Let’s recap.

Climate change is predicted to kill 250,000 people per year from malnutrition, malaria and other effects from 2010 onwards. These people will predominantly be the poorest.

Rising temperatures and changing weather patterns threaten the life support systems of vulnerable people and will cause an unprecedented global mass extinction of species.

Conflicts inflamed by lack of food and water will destabilise nation states and uproot millions of people, causing mass migrations (sound familiar?).

These changes are mainly caused the the burning of fossil fuels by the worlds’ rich. These fuels are extracted, refined and sold at great profit by private and public companies.

250,000 people every year: a threat so great that world leaders have spent over 20 years deliberating over a solution.

Must politics move so slowly? 130 people are killed in Paris in November, and the UK Government is willing to commit to avenge their deaths in a bombing campaign approved so quickly that the payloads were falling inside of 3 weeks.

Clearly we have a problem, and it’s not just to do with our climate.

Did the deal cut on Saturday solve this problem? Not on your nelly.

The words missing from the Paris Pact: fossil fuels

World leaders signed the Paris Pact, pledging to make “efforts” to limit a global temperature rise to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels.

This number, 1.5oC is both the boldest part of the pact and its deepest betrayal. The very basic aim of the pact – to keep greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a safe level – is totally incommensurate with promised national emissions cuts. The pledged cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and lets remember how rarely such pledges are kept, add up to a catastrophic 2.7-3.7°C of warming.


Protesters call for an end to fossil fuel use at the Eiffel Tower. Image: Ric Lander.

The deal makes no mention of any fossil fuels.  Instead the solutions preferred by the UN would have us perpetuate more false solutions:

  • Carbon trading schemes have totally failed to curb emissions in Europe, but are now being introduced in China among other places. They are part of a wider set of policies which privatise natural commons (in this case the air) leaving them to be self-regulated in the custody of markets.
  • Carbon capture and storage schemes aim to allow fossil fuels to burnt as the pollution is removed from the air. Unfortunately they have proved wildly expensive and cannot account for the vast quantities of emissions from the extraction of fossil fuels.
  • ‘Internationally transferred mitigation outcomes’ feature in the deal. These are basically mechanisms whereby rich countries can pay poor countries to do their carbon cuts for them. For the rich it’s a neat solution: developing countries have been offered no-where near the cash they need to face this problem. By using trading schemes the rich keep milking fossils fuels whilst paying the poor to use less.
  • Carbon sinks are explicitly mentioned in the pact, inviting in proposals for potentially dangerous geo-engineering schemes to “suck” greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, as well as ploughing on with the UN’s REDD++ scheme, which encourages poor countries to sell their forests to the rich to enable them to carry on polluting (the people that live in these forests don’t much like this idea).

None of these proposals get to the root of the problem: leaving fossil fuels in the ground. This may be a surprise to those of you who heard the Guardian proclaim the deal marked “the end of the fossil fuel age”.

The deal could have been worse – but that doesn’t make it a victory.

The summit has swelled the egos of politicians and a few NGOs: but the gulf between the stated ambitions of the Paris Pact and its effect is vast, and its the difference between millions of lives. It is a gulf that the media have largely ignored.

A momentous year in the fight for climate justice

We can no longer pretend that fixing climate change is a simple question of putting legal limits in carbon emissions and trusting that everything else will follow.

It must be about taking on vested interests and taking down the companies profiting from this crisis, about standing in solidarity with those affected by opening our borders to those who seek refuge and a home, about getting politicians to put some money up for a just transition which can re-engineer our economies in a way that eases the shut-down for those who work in our dirty industries, and it’s about doing this as a broad social movement, not a science obsessed clique, but a broad a movement with workers and the global poor at its heart.

We are beginning to put these lessons into practice, as 2015 has been a landmark year for the fight for climate justice.

The mass movement of people from Syria throughout Europe as awakened people to the reality of a world with an altering climate, with more and more people fleeing wars fuelled by drought and the ensuing lack of food and water.

The UK Government has been quick to respond by dropping bombs on the problem. This has called for climate activists to become advocates of open borders and migrant rights – and refugee and ant-war activists to join up with environmentalists.

After a shocking victory in May another wake up call came when the new Conservative UK Government binned the remaining renewable energy subsidises, wrecking years of hard won progress to decarbonise Britain’s electricity and heat generation. The more liberal and conservative of the conscientious could no longer pretend “we’re all in this together”. The environment has gotten political again.

At the start of the year the fight against fracking made huge strides as Scotland and Wales joined others globally in putting a moratorium on fracking for gas. This is a social movement doing something virtually unprecedented: stopping fossil fuels from being taken out of the ground. A victory hard won by mass community mobilisation and a dedicated alliances of community groups and NGOs.

In August 1,500 people trespassed onto, and shut down, one of Europe’s most polluting coal mines. 800 people were arrested at “Ende Gelende” (Here and no further), Germany, in an inspiring show of strength by climate activists (watch the video).

In September 350 announced that funds worth $2.6 trillion have now gone “fossil free” with UK student group People & Planet announcing later that 17 British Universities have in some form divested from fossil fuels, driven to move their money by students, staff, petitions and numerous occupations.

The whole year was a torrid time for coal companies in particular. Deprived of customers and investment they held a conference called “Mines and Money” to discuss how the industry could get out of its financial troubles.

In November the Keystone XL oil pipeline, planned to carry ultra-dirty tar sands oil from Canada, was finally scrapped: the first time a major international piece of fossil fuel infrastructure has been beaten by climate campaigners.

Drawing our red lines


Paris, Saturday: flowers are left for the victims of climate change and red lines mark the limits the climate movement won’t allow politicians to cross. Photo: Ric Lander.

Then at the end of the year people gathered in a historic mobilisation in which 800,000 people took part in towns and cities in 175 countries around the world, marking the start of the UN talks in Paris.

At the end of the talks, determined to have the last word, 15,000 of those people converged on the streets of Paris to reclaim the city from the UN talks and draw red lines – a warning to world leaders that the climate justice movement would not let politicians negotiate away our planet.

Ordinarily this would be unremarkable, but it is just a few weeks after the deadly terrorist attacks and a state of emergency remains in place prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people. That anything happened on the streets at all in such a highly tense and uneasy atmosphere, on streets thronged with armed police, at all is a small miracle.

The Paris Pact may be a miserable failure.

But it was a victory that we took the streets.

It was a victory that when we did, and when thousands of others marched and took direct action and got in the way this year they did so not to ask politely for world leaders to do something, but to dictate their terms.

We are the ones who will stop climate change.

We are learning how to stop fossil fuels in their tracks, to build a just transition, and to get climate justice. But perhaps the biggest victory of the year is that we’re not asking politely for the politicians do to it for us.


A thriving, sustainable society needs democratic and accountable banks

By Gemma Bone and Ric Lander


Bailout protests on Wall Street, New York, 2008. Image credit: Eyewash, Flickr.


If we want social change we need to think about finance. To create a society that lives within natural limits we need to fit together some proposals about how we can sustain people and their communities, what infrastructure we need to reform, remove or rebuild, and how we’ll supply the resources we need. We also need to have some pretty bright ideas about how we instigate this change.

Banking and finance should provide the mechanism by which we move around resources in society to instigate such changes. However neoliberal reforms have created a “financial industry” which serves itself and capital – not society. This industry is now the most significant barrier in the way of our efforts to create a sustainable society.

Divestment, the campaign for public investments to be withdrawn from fossil fuel companies, is a first step in challenging this system. It is a shock tactic. The finance and fossil fuel economy, defended by global financiers headquartered in the City of London, a creaking but towering political consensus at Holyrood and Westminster, and its arms and legs: oil, gas and coal companies, will not and cannot be redeployed to invest for the future by gentle persuasion and reasonable argument. So it must be undermined. Divestment allows our institutions and communities – places which are by their scale and nature more human, more responsive – to mark out their territory as moving apart from the fossil fuel power block and part of something new. In doing so they create political and cultural pressure for new thinking.

However this really is only a first step, or rather, one side of the coin. If divestment is the withdrawal of vast sums of money from businesses and organisations which are destroying our collective futures, then we are left with the problem of reinvestment, i.e. where can we channel divested funds to kickstart the radical change that we really need. In other words, if we want a future where society thrives within ecological limits we need a massive redeployment of resources, not just from small public pots, but from big finance too. Our self-serving “financial industry” as it currently stands, is not capable of thinking sustainably over the long term. So banking and finance must be reimagined, redesigned, and rebuilt as democratic and accountable services.

But where do we start with what seems like a colossal challenge, finding alternatives to the neoliberalised finance system? Firstly, we must remind ourselves that even in the UK, which has one of the most concentrated banking sectors in the world, there are some already existing alternatives which are, in some way, ‘better’ than the mainstream. There are the ‘disruptive innovators’ seeking to create new business models which place environmental and social justice at the heart of their practice. The relatively new crowdfunding industry for example, has the potential to circumvent some of the power relations of finance, enabling projects, businesses and renewable technologies to be funded by the ‘crowd’, crucial when bank loans are hard to come by.

Secondly, we can look to other business models for inspiration including the quiet strengths of those local mutual and savings banks who have managed to hang on throughout the ‘big bang’ of 1980’s regulatory reforms, and newer, more ethically focused financial businesses such as Triodos and Abundance who focus specifically on channelling resource to renewable energy production. We can also look to other countries banking structures which put diversity and locality at the (regulated) heart of what they do, such as the Sparkassen in Germany, a network of publically owned and regionally accountable local banks.

What these brief examples show, coupled with the successes of the movement towards divestment, is that there is a cultural push for a systemic change in finance. We no longer expect or accept that the only duty of finance is to create profit no matter what. Divestment campaigners, disruptive innovators and mutual and co-operative supporters are showing that other motivations and values are not secondary, they can and should be at the heart of the purpose of banking and finance. They are challenging the sovereignty of the profit maximisation principle and show that finance is not free from the demands and responsibilities of social and environmental justice, but that instead it can play a crucial role in creating a better society for us all.

This is a huge challenge, but the more we make finance accountable and democratically controlled, the more opportunities we create to invest for the long-term in a thriving sustainable future. We can start this journey by reforming the investment practices of public investors, and setting up community banks and other institutions which can take over and attract investment whilst creating and enabling the fulfilment of social and environmental needs. We need to stand against irresponsible and short-termist finance, take back our collective power and continue to take action on multiple fronts, as pension-holders, voters, consumers, opinion formers and most importantly, citizens.

This article was originally posted in Issue 89 of the Scottish Left Review.


Going on the offensive – A picture of Scotland’s anti-fracking movement

By Ellen Young and Ric Lander


“The People’s Voice” anti-fracking rally at Grangemouth, Sunday 7 December 2014. For more info see here.

Community groups have led the way on the path to the moratorium on unconventional fossil-fuels in Scotland, and continue to do so in the ongoing struggle for a full ban. The effective grassroots campaigning of these communities, who have fought the Scottish government and unconventional gas companies, is an inspiring story for those across the UK and the rest of Europe.

Policy shift: independence and persistence

It is not in the nature of national governments to give much thought to the views of communities when planning energy infrastructure. Little of Scotland’s current renewables bounty goes to communities and in the energy boom before that, Scotland’s 20th century North Sea oil bonanza, communities looked on as local councils vied with each to host incoming oil multinationals.

Scotland’s anti-fracking movement has changed all that. People are demanding, not just to be consulted, but to take decisions themselves. How did this happen?

Concerted campaigning by communities has been gradually ramping up the formal political debate on unconventional gas for some years. The ground was laid by groups such as Concerned Communities of Falkirk and Friends of the Earth Scotland who developed considerable technical knowledge and local support focused not around fracking, but a ruling over coal-bed methane drilling. The Falkirk community secured thousands of objections to the proposals and when the local government dithered on the case, a public inquiry was called: a tense and costly legal battle which pitched big industry against local people. Unconventional gas stayed in the news as new shale drilling licences were issued, raising the spectre of fracking in central Scotland.

Throughout 2014 Scotland was getting wise to the clever tricks of industry barons and politicians who would say one thing to business and another to the voters. The story of what was going on in Falkirk was passed around from doorsteps to public meetings to TV debates and back. In Scotland’s independence referendum debate, people were angry about having policies imposed upon them from London, but they were also getting angry about having policies imposed upon them from anywhere. Scotland’s independence debate created new local political spaces, and fracking and Falkirk’s fight were just the kind of injustices that people wanted to talk about.

A true social movement

Scotland’s flourishing town hall democratic spirit did not end with the “No” vote on Scottish independence. Instead newly created groups like the Radical Independence were chomping at the bit for a new way to exert their power. They almost brought down a 300 year-old union of nations – surely they could do away with fracking. The fight of a few plucky campaigners was turning into a true social movement.

At the same time, immediately after the referendum, political parties negotiated new powers for the Scottish Parliament to approve on-shore oil and gas licences. No longer could any excuse be made that fracking was being “imposed” on Scotland by the UK Government. There was no ambiguity: fracking could now be stopped at home.

Into this fray Scotland’s two biggest political parties installed new populist leaders: Jim Murphy for Labour and Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP, Sturgeon with a new focus on inequality and Murphy seemingly hell-bent on supporting any policy that sounded popular (his first policy announcement was to remove the ban on alcohol at football matches). More than ever both parties were keen to put as much distance between themselves and that of the Conservative-led, pro-fracking, UK Government.

Thousands of letters were signed to SNP and Labour leaders. Local MPs and MSPs were lobbied. Events and conferences were organised. Demonstrations were held at oil refineries. Communities were being very noisy, and their voices were being amplified by a newly attentive Scottish media.

The pieces moved at the end of January.

Scottish Labour announced a new policy to give local referendums on fracking proposals, the SNP immediately moved to support a UK-wide moratorium, and three days later the Energy Minister Fergus Ewing told the Scottish Parliament: “from today there will be a moratorium on all unconventional oil and gas extraction.”

Two years ago the message local communities heard was “don’t worry about fracking, the government is taking care of it.” Now Scottish politicians are outdoing each other to see who can claim to respond best to the community’s views.

Falkirk: a large scale mobilisation

The campaign in Scotland has been built around local groups of people coming together to protect where they live. Initially fighting the industry planning application by planning application, the movement has grown until it has been able to go on the offensive.

Leading the way have been the Concerned Communities of Falkirk. In 2012 they co-created an objection letter to a coal-bed methane drilling proposal through large democratically-run public meetings. The letter was signed by over 2,500 residents and contributed to the largest response to a planning application the local council had ever seen. The resulting escalation led to a public inquiry: when the Government Minister told them “communities are capable of representing themselves” they raised £70,000 for a lawyer to oppose the gas company’s top legal team. They also co-created a community charter setting out “all the things in our local area which residents have agreed are fundamental to the present and future health of our communities” and are working on creating a community chartering network, where the ‘cultural heritage’ they define can be defended under European law to help ensure sustainable development in other communities.

Falkirk’s lead has been taken up by communities at risk from across the country.  The mobilisation of large numbers of people is now a clear characteristic of the movement in Scotland.

Anti-fracking community

As stated, the referendum on Scottish independence was critical: with awareness spread through new media and public debate, and new groups and spaces for debate and action born.  Frack Off UK, a resource and contact point for activists across the UK, reported ‘in the weeks following the referendum there were new anti-fracking community groups forming daily in Scotland.”

There are now over 50 community groups across the central belt of Scotland, some formed proactively over shale gas fields, others as issue-based campaign groups in cities and elsewhere. As well as helping achieve huge national policy shifts, new groups and activists have taken forward local fights from longer-active campaigners to tackle the industry on individual planning applications.

Although highly decentralised, community groups have also come together to collectively articulate their shared concerns at crucial points in the campaign. The Broad Alliance, which is a coalition of 30 community groups, published a number of influential open letters in the national press demanding a moratorium. They have also successfully demanded to be part of the stakeholder consultation process of the moratorium, originally reserved for industry and established NGOs.

Right now communities are making their impact on the ‘engagement’ efforts of the companies.

Ineos, the biggest player in the Scottish unconventional gas industry, is carrying out a ‘community engagement’ tour meeting residents in libraries and at one-to-one meetings, and promising to share £ 2.5 billion of its profits with communities who accept drilling in their vicinity.  As well as previously dismissing concerns about fracking, Ineos are deeply unpopular following a recent union battle in which billionaire company-owner Jim Ratcliffe threatened to shut Scotland’s largest oil refinery.

The new narrative of engagement is nothing more than a thinly disguised PR exercise, and offers nothing in the way of meaningful engagement with communities. The result: it has been followed at every stop by activists and residents asking detailed technical questions, holding protests, and staging walk-outs.

The road ahead: inquiries, consultations, social change?

Engagement from companies and weak promises of a regulated fracking industry have been rejected in Scotland. People now expect communities to have their say. How does the Government see this happening?

When announcing the moratorium, the Scottish Government also all announced an inquiry on potential public health impacts and a public consultation. There are initial concerns that the health inquiry may be seriously rushed, and there are troubling questions over how long-term impacts like cancer rates can be honestly assessed. Public consultations are often tokenistic affairs, and communities will need to mobilise strong support to make an irrefutable case.  In an aborted consultative effort in 2013 the Scottish Government tried to placate initial concerns about drilling by proposing loose “buffer zones”, but opted not to engage community groups on their size, instead delegating the decision the drilling companies themselves.  Much of this campaign has been bitterly hard-fought, and communities are well aware that the moratorium could disappear very quickly if it the debate cools down.

There is much to be done to achieve a complete ban on all forms of unconventional fossil-fuels in Scotland.  The moratorium is a huge achievement, and so is the level of mobilisation on this issue.  The people have become powerful, but the industry, and their government insiders, have not yet been beaten.

Resistance beyond the border

If Scotland completes its journey to a ban on fracking and unconventional oil and gas, will the rest of the UK follow?

There has already been a significant spillover effect to the debate in Wales, with restrictions on fracking promised shortly after Scotland’s policy shift.

Experience in England is more sobering. A local moratorium in Blackpool, which followed earthquakes caused by fracking, lasted less than a year. Opposition is widespread and angry, but is largely focused on local fights. The UK’s biggest political parties were broadly pro-fracking going into May’s General Election, and bolstered by an unexpectedly strong election victory, the Conservatives are likely to run one of the most pro-fracking governments in Europe. The SNP’s landslide victory in the General Election, winning all but three seats in Scotland, provides hope for some, yet despite imposing the moratorium in Scotland their stance on fracking still remains ambiguous and the impact they could have on a Conservative majority government remains uncertain.  Scottish communities can, and will, inspire battles in the rest of the UK, but they cannot lead them.

In Europe, despite moratoriums in France and Germany, the level of mobilisation in Scotland is still seen as something to aspire to.  This hard working and highly effective Scottish community movement can clearly be a leading light to many others globally.

Activists who began fighting drilling proposals were shocked into action by stories of acute health and environmental impacts in America and Australia.  The movement those campaigners build is now as much about sovereignty and democracy.  What other victories can this inspire?


Your kindness could kill

By Amie Robertson and Ric Lander


A poster in a Sainsburys in Ipswich, Suffolk, reads “could you spare 20p for a cup of tea? How about £10 for a bag of heroin? £12 for a rock of crack?”

The poster asks people to donate to a local homeless fund and gives a contact for Streetlink, who offer services to homeless people.

Demonising people who are begging under the guise of helping homeless people is not a new tactic for the police, but for homeless charities the emphasis of this campaign is part of a new, worrying trend.

Flyers designed to accompany the poster campaign read “in a recent radio programme one person claimed he could earn up to £150 per day.” No further evidence is offered.

Getting the facts straight

The campaign seems to rely on two core assertions: that “most people sleeping rough do not beg” and secondly that “most people begging do not sleep rough.”

We are invited to infer from these statements that homeless people are the deserving poor, people begging are drug addicts, and these are two different groups of people. Or to put it another way, people begging on the street are drug addicts pretending to be homeless.

Is it true that “most people sleeping rough do not beg”?

On the face of it, the 2011 Complex Lives study, coordinated by the UK Government Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), appears to agree with this statement. Its comprehensive study in seven UK cities found that 32% of homeless people reported having begged.

However, the study also found that begging was typically something that people engaged in “in the middle-late phase of homelessness.” This is vital because it suggest that people are only likely to resort to begging if they have been homeless for some time. The study also suggests that people in such situations are more likely to be cut off from society in other ways, more in need of help.

What about the second claim, that “most people begging do not sleep rough”?

Homeless charity Thames Reach takes this claim further saying that “the link is between begging and drug and alcohol misuse, not homelessness and begging, nor even homelessness and drugs.”

Again the ESRC study suggests this is misleading. It found that over time there was a close relationship between homelessness and begging: “there is a strong overlap between experiences of more extreme forms of homelessness and other support needs, with nearly half of service users reporting experience of institutional care, substance misuse, and street activities (such as begging), as well as homelessness.”

To be clear, it is not that there is no relationship between substance abuse and begging, or substance abuse and homelessness. It would not be fair to say that people begging on the street aren’t going to spend any of their money on drugs. It probably is safer to offer food, blankets or a hot drink, instead of money.

What is important here is that these posters imply that people begging are “frauds” and “not real homeless people” without offering clear evidence for this idea and with little apparent concern about the impact of pasting these false claims all over the streets.

Those involved appear to have thought little of the demonising effect of their campaign. For the sake of raising a few pennies these charities are selling the dignity of the very people they exist to help.

Surely we can help those suffering on the streets without erecting media campaigns further stereotyping an already extremely vulnerable group and stopping one of their few options for generating their own income.

We’ve all heard the stereotyping, that friend you have that tells you the supposed “Romanians” you see on the street “aren’t actually homeless”. These posters purposefully support the image of people on the streets as criminals and liars. Surely this is what we must collectively fight against?

A poster copied across England

How did it come to this? How did homeless charities hit on the idea of asking for people to donate by text, and turn away from people begging.

The poster seems to have originated from London-based Thames Reach. Their “your kindness can kill” campaign has been running since 2003, and they have extensive web-pages explaining it.

Thames Reach’s original design has since been remodelled and reworked by many councils in England, including Manchester, York, Liverpool, Cheshire, Kent, Bournemouth, and Exeter. Although Suffolk is a notable exception, most councils seem to have used less aggressive language than Thames Reach’s original design.

lydia_james_manchester-1A version of the posters in Manchester. Image: Lydia James/caption]

Why are these campaigns supported?

One can’t escape the feeling that these campaigns continue to be successful primarily because they make “the rest of us” feel more comfortable doing what most people are already doing: ignoring people on the street.

One Oxford University student told a student paper: “I feel ashamed when I see tourists who come to Oxford having to walk past beggars and homeless people on the streets. What sort of impression does this give of our city and our society as a whole?”

Jeremy Swain, Chief Executive of the London charity who invented the posters, Thames Reach, told The Guardian in 2013 that he wants to stop begging because “because of the incontrovertible evidence that the vast majority of people begging on the streets are doing so in order to purchase hard drugs.” But he goes on “I have stopped giving to beggars for another reason too. It is, I’m afraid, because I’m sick of them. One of the regulars round my way, a bit clever, fag in hand, became so persistent, so intrusive, that I got quite hostile, dismissing him with the same curt tone I find myself using with cold callers who plague my phone.”

Concern that the posters exacerbate negative images of people on the street made the campaign controversial when it launched in the City of Oxford. City Councillor Sam Hollick told us: “These posters seem more focussed on preventing people asking for money in the street than addressing the problems that cause people to do it. The message of the posters reinforces the idea in people’s minds that any interaction with someone in the street asking for money is with an addict, and is somehow dangerous. This only increases the gulf between people who are homeless and those who aren’t, which can cause a hardening of attitudes against people worst hit by societies problems.”

A City Council run review of the Oxford campaign highlighted other problems. The evaluation found concern, from people begging themselves and service providers, that the campaign would “affect trust-based relationships with the beggars”, have an unfair impact on the minority of people begging who did so for necessities, and encourage people to turn to crime for income. There is also some evidence that these campaigns don’t have a significant effect on giving to homeless charities.

Kindness doesn’t kill

There is compounding evidence that homelessness is linked to volatile life circumstances which would often already cause high levels of social stigmatisation. These can lead to a variation of homeless experience where form of income has to be navigated outside safety of permanent or even regular residence.

Homogenising homeless experiences into one stereotypical understanding is not only patronising but ignorant.

Further categorising those self identifying as homeless into ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ only propels the stigmatisation of those in the most vulnerable positions, often without the connections to such caring organisations, and indeed pushes them further away from any kind of inclusion into society.

There is not enough social housing in Britain; cutbacks to public sector spending is closing some of the most critical care and rehabilitation centres; we are becoming the imprisonment capital of Europe; and the welfare state is being violently eroded whilst at the same time wages have never been so low and insecure.

This is a way of constructing society that WILL make people homeless, and yet charities on the front line of care provision for those within this traumatic experience are concerning themselves with making money by demonising those they seek to represent.

If this is the true face of austerity then God help us.

Or better yet, let’s help each other. Suspicious and dividing narratives like these only serve to enforce a more individualistic society where governments can further enforce draconian policies in the knowledge that our communities are fractured and in judgement of each other.

Giving your pound to those begging on the street will not solve anything. In fact the best that money will do is absolve your guilt for the next ten minutes until you see that someone else that has been forced into the street within this system which you remain economically privileged within.

However, as a man begging outside Haymarket Station, Edinburgh, so rightly put it, “it’s no about wanting all your money, but at least see me as a person.” Stopping to give someone the time of day on the street is a radical act of change in a society that demands we see each other as competition for the recourses those in authority refuse to give us. When we acknowledge that specific people on the street will often have experienced violent circumstances and stigmatisation within their daily life, it’s not just a radical act, but a way of resisting their further subjugation.

They are not just ‘beggars’, they are our brothers, our uncles, our aunties and our mothers, and their lives did not begin when they sat down and asked you for a spare bit of change.

I do not believe our kindness could kill, but rather that it could be transformative. Let our daily conversations become the building blocks for community organising where those affected by such issues are brought to the front line of grass-roots resistance against discrimination, and we work together to create an alternative society that puts the resources available in the public hands.

Oh, and what happened to that poster in the Sainsbury’s in Ipswich?

After the picture was shared widely on Facebook, Wesley Hall, a volunteer for Help the Homeless called up the shop asking for it to be removed. Although only put up that morning, the manager agreed to take the poster down.


The fight against fossils: are we beginning to win?

Tomorrow is the world’s first ever Global Divestment Day. I’m quite excited.

The environmental movement used to be all about changing light bulbs and taking shorter showers. It is now getting organised around defeating the fossil fuel industry.  How did this happen?  And more importantly, how can it win?

For years environmental groups had been encouraging people to cut their own emissions.  In the late 2000s we got organised to get our governments to take a lead.  There was Climate Camp, “The Big Ask”, I Count, Plane Stupid, and a lot more.

We won. In 2008-9, shortly after the world economy crashed, the UK and its devolved parliaments passed world leading climate legislation.

So we asked the UN to join in. We lost.

Some people went back to the beginning and focused their efforts on local resilience, building low-carbon community projects. For a while this was the mode. It didn’t last. People weren’t just optimistic, they were angry. How could we push for the world-wide change we needed?

Sitting in the background, never quite top of the agenda, were a colourful bundle of campaigning ideas that hit climate change at the source: keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

In the early 2000s a campaign called Stop ESSO channeled the fury of environmentalists at a fossil fuel company that was worse that the worst: they funded massive climate denying PR, they were responsible for spills galore, they were even named as complicit in the Iraq war. The campaign was huge, but did not appear to have had much impact. It suffered from two fundamental problems. Firstly it asked people to boycott ESSO, but where do you then go – There is no “ethical petrol”. Secondly, even if you do have an impact on the company – what then? You can’t tell an oil company not to be an oil company. At the same time BP was trying to convince us an oil company could not be an oil company. It didn’t last.

When students started to focus on fossil fuels again in 2007 with the ‘Ditch Dirty Development‘ campaign, they didn’t make these mistakes. Their campaign wasn’t about the symptom (people putting fuel in their cars) but the cause: people getting it out of the ground. And it was cleverer than that still: it followed the money. First to UK banks, then to universities, cities and government.

Targeting the fossil-fuel brand, as Stop ESSO attempted, is not futile, but the target needs to be directed to the right outcome. We won’t get far telling people to get fuel from a different petrol garage, but we can do a lot depriving the industry of staff recruits, severing their ties with Governments, and stopping their PR machine. Fossil-fuels, not just one company, not even just one fuel, but fossil-fuels must be the target.

All other things being equal this effort could just have the effect of slowing production.  Great news for the climate in the short-run, but it’d also make fossil-fuels more expensive: terrible for the poor and furthermore, higher prices will rekindle production.

The opportunity created by this movement needs to be used to redirect that capital, all the subsidies, all the patronage, all the bright people, into the emerging renewable economy. We don’t necessarily need to work out how to do that now, but we do need to understand the plan.

We need a movement against fossil-fuels that has an industry-wide aim and a long term plan. Well we’re in luck, because we do, and tomorrow it goes big.

Map of planned actions for Global Divestment Day, 13-14 February 2015.

An amazing movement is coming together to get to tackle the heart of capitalism’s biggest catastrophe:

  • Fighting fossil-fuels at home: local community groups, anarchist networks and NGOs are making amazing strides to block onshore oil and gas, galvanised by real public outrage at the threat of fracking in the UK. Just last month fracking bans were tabled in Scotland and Wales, and these campaigns have brought in traditionally pro-fossil-fuel groups like trade unions.
  • On campuses: student groups are campaigning for “Fossil-Free” universities, not just in the UK, but around the world – first seeking to divest endowment funds from fossil fuels, then pensions and then perhaps cutting research links.  This is the lead guard of global divestment day.
  • Church groups are organising to divest parishes, diocese and faith organisations from fossil-fuels. Their part in the hugely successful apartheid divestment campaign was vital.
  • A growing group of organisations is supporting divestment of local government, bank and pensions funds.
  • Anti-poverty NGOs like the recently relaunched Global Justice Now(1) are calling for “Energy Justice” in solidarity with communities affected by fossil fuels. This builds on the work of organisations like Platform London and the London Mining Network who detail about how fossil fuel exploitation affects communities in the Global South, like Ogoniland in the Niger Delta.
  • Fossil-free politics: big NGOs like Friends of the Earth and Oxfam are drawing eyes on the fossil-fuel industries’ access to the 2015 UN climate conference. This forms part of a wider need to stop the lobbying and embarrass politicians for their oil, coal and gas connections.
  • Fighting fossil-fuels offshore: until it goes violently wrong there are no residents around to much care about deep-sea drilling. That’s part of why Greenpeace’s campaign against Arctic oil is such an important piece of this movement: we cannot just rely on people to stop what’s in their backyards.
  • Spilling the greenwash: Art Not Oil have kept the pressure on the Tate and National Galleries in London to counter their sponsorship by BP. Fossil fuel companies get credit for sponsoring all manor of events in the UK. Art Not Oil’s lead could be taken up in many other places.

With this much going on there has been much speculation about the political and financial implications of what’s being demanded.

Much of this has coalesced around the carbon bubble – the stock market value of fossil fuels which would be rendered “unburnable” by action on climate change.

Some financial pundits have suggested this bubble poses real present risk to financial systems and as such action must be taken to invest in green alternatives.

We need to understand these arguments – and then to avoid them.

The carbon bubble does not yet exist. When Shell and BP claim that none of their carbon reserves are “unburnable” they are right. The current plan, implicitly supported by their directors and investors, is to burn it all and live in a 6oC warmed world.  No, this carbon will only become unburnable if we start winning, and we have a long way to go yet.

Financiers may sell their fossil-fuel shares because they think we pose a present risk to the value of fossil-fuel stocks. They may be right, but they will buy them back up when the industry rebounds, and in the process we will have sent out a very bad message: listen to the money men.

We don’t need clever financial arguments to burst the carbon bubble. If we tackle the fossil fuel industry effectively and achieve a just transition it will deflate of its own accord.

The current financial turmoil of the fossil-fuel industry does provide us, though, with a great opportunity to question its future.

This effort is more timely still. There is widespread anger about onshore fossil-fuels and fracking. The future of the North Sea is in question. The UN is poised to meet to sign a treaty made worthless by the gentle whispers of lobbyists’ in negotiators ears. Divestment Day is coming.

Now is the time for us to draw these campaigns together to make a truly global movement against dirty energy.

It has run the world for almost 100 years. In fact it made the modern world and now stands on the brink of destroying it. The fossil fuel industry has been winning for an awful long time. Let’s make 2015 the year we started winning.

*Formerly the World Development Movement.