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Fossil fuel industry spills money and power in year of tumult

Image by Petra Wessman

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

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

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

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Photo of rainbow drawing by Catherine Thackstone, Flickr
Reposts

Just & Green Recovery letter sent to the First Minister

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

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

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

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


31st May 2020

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

Dear First Minister,

Scotland’s Just and Green Recovery from COVID-19

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

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

Published 13 April, minor updates 15 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

Ric Lander

A short summary

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

Great long reads

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

Impacts on fossil fuels

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

Impacts on marginalised communities

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

Manifestos for recovery

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

Actions to support

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

Guidance for activists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Brexit Vote

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

I do not agree.

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

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

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

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

Content warning: suicide, depression

Earlier this year my friend Danielle Myriam Fisher suicided.

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

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

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

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

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How to divest a nation from fossil fuels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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