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A Different Approach – A Green Transition (Part 2)

By Jonathan Essex - Greener Jobs Alliance, March 19, 2024

This is the second part of Jonathan’s discussion of a new approach to a Green Transition, as presented at the GJA AGM on 13 February.

We need a green transition, that is labour- not material- or technology-intensive, increasing how the economy flows locally rather than how big it is nationally or globally. The new jobs will not be in production in the UK but reproduction. It would depend upon new skills and jobs that reimagine, repurpose and reuse what already exists, and thus on activities that retain embodied carbon. Instead of using ever more energy to make more stuff that economy of scale and comparative advantage turn into fossil fuel powered global supply chains: a revolution of upskilling is needed to reconnect communities. Instead of Do-it-yourself, think: Re-inspire Your Community.

The shift to this new economy could be energised through local green jobs plans that ratchet down our level of resource supply and demand, making better use of what the economy already has, including repurposing resources like steel regionally and locally, reinsulating homes, renewables and less overall energy use. This would be a clear alternative to continuing to exploit more North Sea oil and gas, and also to end the massive predicted increase in the use of lithium and rare earth metals to power the transition to electric vehicles – reducing the scale of consumption of these, and our propensity to travel and consume ever more. 

Such green jobs plans need to be set in an economics of redistribution that turns politics into something we all participate in, something that provides the glue and grease that links the climate science and emergency declarations and policies into real plans, everywhere that can deliver sufficient collective transformation. That would be a great upskilling in contrast to the present absence of any government requirement on business to provide pathways to new skills and jobs beyond that company. That requires a government to go beyond doing litmus tests and tinkering in the market and instead to drive forward with a clear public-led plan. 

So how might this start in the absence of such a plan? I am involved in a local community enterprise – I am part of Energy Action Redhill and Reigate. Our leaky home surveys use infrared cameras to show residents where heat leaks, and we distribute free and half price insulation to households in need. But not just that! We are NVQ-ing up to levels 3 and 4 a group of energy champions. Initiatives like this are already getting skills in place, in readiness for government to finally mainstream investment in retrofitting the UK’s poorly insulated and leaky housing stock. 

Consider how this might look if the economy behaved like the national electricity grid. If we opt for a scaling up of renewables alongside the rethinking of demand explored above, the national grid will not need to expand exponentially to cope with the electrification of heating, transport and all else. Instead, more energy will be generated and consumed locally, and the grid will have a greater role in rebalancing and redistributing power, alongside new storage and demand management. Similarly, instead of continuing to increase the scale of energy generation and consumption, and the ‘economy’ distributing product from where it is centrally produced to consumers, it might serve to redistribute between far more self-reliant local economies, that retain more of their own work, and have a greater sense of place as the local vernacular of architecture, the seasonal variations of diet, and sports and pastimes more dependent on where you live.

Why do green jobs plans need a different politics and economics? (Part 1)

By Jonathan Essex - Greener Jobs Alliance, March 19, 2024

The Greener Jobs Alliance was very pleased to invite Jonathan Essex to speak at our AGM on 13 February. Here Jonathan expands on the ideas in that presentation in a two-part blog posting, focusing, in this first part, on the urgent need for a different approach to transition in several specific sectors.

Green jobs plans are an important part of the transition to a zero-carbon economy. But they need wider political commitments to make this happen. This piece explores the need for a stronger position by the UK government on phasing out fossil fuels, for a transition for heavy industry such as steel, for reducing overall demand for energy and materials, and for this to be set within an economics of redistribution. 

No more oil, coal and gas

First, we need to stop extracting ever more coal, oil and gas. We can’t afford to extract and burn current reserves, let alone new reserves. That Rosebank, the large new oilfield in the North Sea, should not be exploited, is a litmus test of political commitment to sufficient climate action. It has long been known that we must leave at least 80% of coal, oil and gas as unburnable to stay within 2°C of global warming. In 2021, the International Energy Agency said that no more oil, gas or coal reserves should be developed to stay within the limit of 1.5°C. In 2023 researchers have estimated that 60% of existing oil, gas and coal fields and mines already open or under construction need to be shut down. 

The implication for the UK is clear. No more offshore or onshore fossil fuel extraction should start, and existing North Sea oil and gas fields should be phased out. 

But to constrain fossil fuel burning within global limits we need more global restraint of supply and demand than has been envisaged, let alone agreed, at global climate conferences.

Firstly, a non-fossil fuel proliferation treaty is needed to keep large amounts of existing reserves, including that already being exploited, in the ground in a fair manner. This needs a global transition fund and clear agreed plans for its implementation. 

The UK and other historic emitters should lead by example. For the UK this means not just no to Rosebank but no new coal mine in Cumbria, no fracking or other onshore extraction. 

But that is only half of the story. Research by Fergus Green on climate policy highlights that to be effective, policies to limit fossil fuel extraction and constrain demand for oil, coal and gas need to work together. They use the analogy of a pair of scissors. Unless pressure is put on both sides, to reduce supply and demand together, then policies to cut carbon will not work. 

So, alongside limiting extraction, real efforts to curtail demand are needed. Such demand reduction must start with key sectors of the economy that have to date largely defied efforts to decarbonise. Three are explored here: transport (particularly aviation, shipping and road freight), heavy industry and the overall demand for high carbon ways of living. To explore this the fastest growing form of transport emissions – aviation – and perhaps the cornerstone of heavy industry – the steel industry – are considered, before exploring how society as a whole might make sufficient changes.

Beating the Climate Clock: Workers, citizens and state action in the UK

By Hillary Wainright - Transnational Institute, February 21, 2024

It’s April 2020. In the UK, the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height. Ventilators were running out. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was calling for ‘Our Great British Companies’ to come to the rescue and manufacture emergency supplies. Apart from existing producers of ventilators, there was little response. But at the Airbus factory in North Wales, the well-organised Unite branch representing over 4,000 workers, took matters into their own hands and, in a matter of weeks, led the conversion of the factory’s research and development facility into an assembly line producing components for up to 15,000 ventilators for the National Health Service (NHS).

‘Without the union’, commented the Unite convenor, Darren Reynolds, ‘it would have been chaos, lots of problems without any procedure to resolve them. We’ve built up a tried and tested organisation and established procedures for solving them’. He cites the all-important role of workers’ elected health and safety representatives in turning the Welsh government-funded Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (part of the Airbus site) into an adapted sterile environment. ‘Our 60 health and safety reps have been able to pre-empt the problems and solve them in advance’, he explains.

In this way, 500 Airbus workers, previously producing aircraft wings, turned their skills to producing ventilator parts, meeting social needs, securing jobs, and strengthening their union organisation in the process.

The organisation of the conversion process, the speed at which it was achieved, and the capacity of the workforce to collaborate to meet the challenge, were impressive. This was largely due to the role of the union branch and its shop stewards who organised the aircraft-turned-ventilator workers and their determination to extend collective bargaining beyond wages and conditions to change the product on which they worked. 

Moreover, in the context of a crisis in the supply of ventilators to meet the needs of COVID patients, and a call from a Conservative Prime Minister for companies to make them, management could hardly resist the union’s public-spirited efforts to find a solution. Finally, and especially significant for today’s climate emergency, this worker-led experience of successful industrial conversion also offers a glimpse of the potential role of workplace trade unions in moving from a high-carbon to low-carbon economy without job losses. At the very least, the experience points to the importance of a well-unionised workplace for the achieving such a transition.

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Renewable Energy is (Mostly) Green and Not Inherently Capitalist, Volume 1: Wind Power (REVISED)

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Eco Union Caucus, Revised January 16, 2024

Is renewable energy actually green? Are wind, solar, and storage infrastructure projects a climate and/or envi­ronmental solution or are they just feel-good, greenwashing, false "solutions" that either perpetuate the deep­ening climate and environmental crisis or just represent further extractivism by the capitalist class and the privileged Global North at the expense of front-line communities and the Global South? 

This document argues that, while there is no guarantee that renewable energy projects will ultimately be truly "green", there is nothing inherent in the technology itself that precludes them from being so. Ultimately the "green"-ness of the project depends on the level of rank-and-file, democratic, front-line community and working-class grassroots power with the orga­nized leverage to counter the forces that would use renewable energy to perpetuate the capitalist, colonialist, extractivist system that created the cli­mate and environmental crisis in which we find ourselves.

In‌ order to do that, we mustn't fall prey to the misconceptions and inaccuracies that paint renewable energy infrastructure projects as inherently anti-green. This series attempts to do just that. This first Volume, on utility scale wind power addresses several arguments made against it, including (but not limited to) the following misconceptions:

  • Humanity must abandon electricity completely;
  • Degrowth is the only solution;
  • New wind developments only expand overall consumption;
  • Wind power is unreliable and intermittent;
  • Wind power is just another form of "green" capitalism;
  • The extraction of resources necessary to build wind power negates any of their alleged green benefits;
  • Wind power is an extinction-level event threat to birds, bats, whales, and other wildlife (and possibly humans);
  • Only locally distributed renewable energy arrayed in microgrids should be built without any--even a small percentage--of utility scale wind developments;
  • Only nationalized and/or state-owned utility scale renewable energy developments should be built;
  • No wind power developments will be green unless we first organize a socialist revolution, because eve­rything else represents misplaced faith in capitalist market forces.

In fact, none of the above arguments are automatically true (and the majority are almost completely untrue). However, they're often repeated, sometimes ignorantly, but not too infrequently in bad faith. This document is offered as an inoculation and antidote to these misconceptions and misinformation.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

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COP28: what is at stake?

By Alan Thornett - Ecosocialist Discussion, November 29, 2023

COP28 (along with planet Earth itself) is faced with “an absolutely gobsmackingly bananas increase in the global temperature”

COP28 – the annual UN global summit on global warming – is taking place from November 30th until December 12 – under the auspices of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that was launched in 1992 to protect the planet against “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”, which now takes place annually. It is the 28th UN climate change summit since 1992, and will take place in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

COP28, along with other recent such summits faces a deadly, and indeed existential, contradiction between the relentless acceleration of global warming ­ i.e. of the average global surface temperature of the planet – and the inability of the COP process to bring it under control, or even hold it to a maximum increase of 1.5°C in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

It became clear in August that 2023 would be of a different order of magnitude in terms of temperature when July turned out to be the world’s hottest month ever recorded.

The UN Secretary General António Guterres – the most radicle the UN has had on climate change – responded rightly by declaring that this meant that “the era of global warming had ended, and the era of global boiling has arrived”. It meant, he said, that: “Climate change is here, it is terrifying, and it is just the beginning. It is still possible to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C (above pre-industrial levels), and avoid the very worst of climate change, he said, but only with dramatic, immediate climate action.”

The September figure, however, was a whole lot worse. It was a staggering 0.5°C above the previous such record. The Guardian’s environmental editor Damian Carrington quoted climate scientist Zeke Hausfather who had tweeted that: “This month was, in my professional opinion as a climate scientist – absolutely gobsmackingly bananas. It beat the prior monthly temperature record by over 0.5°C, and was around 1.8°C warmer than preindustrial levels.” He noted that datasets from European and Japanese scientists confirmed the leap.

It’s worth noting that the difference in the average global temperature between now and the depths of the last ice age when these islands were under a kilometre of ice is around 5.0°C.

In mid-November Guterres went further warning that. “Present trends are racing our planet down a dead-end 3C temperature rise. This is a failure of leadership, a betrayal of the vulnerable, and a massive missed opportunity. Renewables have never been cheaper or more accessible. We know it is still possible to make the 1.5 degree limit a reality. It requires tearing out the poisoned root of the climate crisis: fossil fuels.”

He added: “Leaders must drastically up their game, now, with record ambition, record action, and record emissions reductions. No more greenwashing. No more foot-dragging.”

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