A Weekend on the Way to COP26
In 1985 – so thirty-six years ago – the French secret service blew up Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior in Aukland harbour. The Rainbow Warrior was moored ready to confront French nuclear testing in the Moruroa Atoll. At first the French government tried to deny all knowledge of the operation, but it soon became obvious that they were involved. In an attempt to “neutralise” the ship ahead of its planned protest, French secret service agents in diving gear had attached two packets of plastic-wrapped explosives to it, one by the propeller, one to the outer wall of the engine room. Thirty-five year-old photographer Fernando Pereira was killed.
Eventually, prime minister Laurent Fabius appeared on television and told a shocked public: “Agents of the DGSE (Secret Service) sank this boat. They acted on orders.”
Today a new Rainbow Warrior is in Leith Docks. Greenpeace wasn’t defeated.
Greenpeace has evolved from the seventies and eighties from “Save the Whale” to a much more nuanced position that embraces environmental justice – and ‘just transition’. The progression has been from ‘environmental’ and ‘conservation’ to a socio-ecological analysis and its much more powerful and holistic for it.
On Friday Greenpeace showed a screening of its mini-documentary, Rigged: A Workers’ Story, which features interviews with current and former oil workers about the ups and downs they’ve experienced in the industry and the challenges they face in the energy transition, as well as conversations with union representatives and people whose family members have worked in the sector.
After the film screening the Lorna Slater the Scottish Greens co-leader, said: “In Scotland we still have the skills and the talent to do heavy fabrication, to do heavy industries, we have that here. One turbine kept over 100 workers busy for 18 months – that’s just one turbine. Imagine if we were building 10, or 50, or 200 of those.”
“We could keep Bifab busy, Ferguson Marine busy, Port of Dundee busy. We can do all of that. Scotland has enormous potential to invest in its renewable energy.
“Not only do we have to phase out oil and gas in order to save the planet, to keep ourselves below 1.5 degrees of warming – we don’t need it. Because we have these amazing renewable resources in Scotland”.
Slater was joined on the panel by Tess Humble of the COP26 Coalition, Rona Hardy from Young Friends of the Earth Scotland, Matthew Crighton of the Just Transition Partnership, Willie Black, of Scot E3, Des Loughney of Edinburgh Trade Union Council, and SNP MSP Paul McLennan.
Special guests included climate activist Mikaela Loach; Labour MSPs Carol Mochan and Mercedes Villalba; SNP MSP Jenni Minto and former oil worker Graeme Barton.
Why the focus here? Why Scotland? Why Leith? Why now?
It’s part of the build up to COP26 and the word’s eyes are beginning to turn on Scotland.
Mikaela Loach is part of a group (including Kairin van Sweeden and former oil worker Jeremy Cox) who are taking the UK government to court. The Guardian reports: “The high court agreed on Wednesday to allow a judicial review against the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), which set out a strategy earlier this year to continue to encourage the production of North Sea oil and gas while moving to a net zero carbon future.
The strategy also fails to take into account the billions of pounds of public money required to support the industry, according to the coalition of green campaigners behind the legal challenge.
The groups, which including Greenpeace UK, Friends of the Earth Scotland and 350.org, hope the judicial review could spell the end for production that relies on generous public subsidies.
The OGA and the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, will need to submit the grounds of their defence by the end of August, a little over two months before the UK hosts the Cop26 UN climate talks in Glasgow. The case is expected to be heard before the end of the year, with a decision in early 2022.”
This is a perfect storm for the environmental justice movement and the independence movement to define a future-focused vision of a viable Scotland.
As the UK government’s COP spokesperson Allegra Stratton – who incidentally is is married to James Forsyth, political editor of The Spectator magazine and is Rishi Sunak’s children’s God Mother – messages that people should “freeze left-over bread” as part of other “micro-steps” to stop climate change – we learn that a 2019 investigation found 20 fossil fuel companies, including Chevron and ExxonMobil, were responsible for more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1965 – the point at which experts say fossil fuel companies were aware of the link between their products and climate change. We further find out that the products of just 100 private and state-owned fossil fuel companies were linked to 71% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, according to a 2017 report.
We are not individually responsible for climate breakdown, nor will it be solved by us recycling our bottles or switching our wash to 40 degrees. This is a con.
The WMO’s State of the Climate report found that in 2020:
- 80% of the oceans experienced at least one marine heatwave, while record heat accumulated in the seas, which absorb 90% of heat resulting from human activities.
- Sea ice in the Arctic reached its second lowest minimum on record, while hundreds of billions of tonnes of ice were lost in Greenland and Antarctica, helping to push up sea level.
- Severe flooding hit large parts of Africa and Asia, helping trigger a locust plague in the Horn of Africa.
- Extreme drought affected many parts of South America in 2020, with the estimated farming losses near $3bn in Brazil alone, with further losses in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
- The largest wildfires ever recorded burned in the US, while Australia broke heat records, including a temperature of 48.9°C in western Sydney.
- The north Atlantic hurricane season had its largest number of named storms on record with 30, and a record 12 made landfall in the US.
- Cyclone Amphan hit India and Bangladesh and was the costliest tropical cyclone on record for the north Indian Ocean, while Typhoon Goni which crossed the Philippines was one of the most intense cyclones ever to hit land.
As the crisis accelerates so too does the clarity from which we can view it.
As well as the Rainbow Warrior sailing from Leith docks for the North Sea this weekend also saw the first Scottish ‘Climate Camp’ in a decade planned at Exxon Mobil’s Mossmorran Chemical Plant by Cowdenbeath.
DeSmog reported: “The two-day camp in Fife follows years of community campaigns against flaring and pollution at the plants, which are operated by oil giants ExxonMobil and Shell. The plants released a combined 930,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019, according to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). Climate Camp Scotland are calling for the government to shut down the plant and begin a “Just Transition” to create green jobs for workers in the fossil fuel industry.
Spokesperson Benji Brown said: “We believe that the time is right for transitioning to a different type of economy which prioritises people’s health and wellbeing over corporate profits, which is what Shell and Exxon care about most.”
“We’re calling for the establishment of a Just Transition Board, which would have representation from both workers and communities to establish a plan for moving the regional economy away from reliance on oil and gas,” he said.
Both the solutions and the culprits of our ecological catastrophe are in plain sight and as the disastrous consequence of decades of denialism and disinformation are coming home to roost the supporters of the oil and gas industry have nowhere to hide. If the environmental movement used to be derided for “NIMBYISM” and an understanding of the environment as being somehow separate to social justice, it’s now clearer than ever that these are intertwined issues that can’t be disentangled. Our future is dependent on creating pathways out of chaos and extractivism, endless growth and corporate greed and towards the viable Scotland we desperately need.
But it’s no use just condemning the British government. As we hurtle towards COP in Glasgow in November the Scottish Government needs desperately to step up to the plate. Making ‘just transition’ a meaningful phrase by supporting BiFab and closing Mossmorran would be the first steps in the journey we are all already underway with would be the perfect start to what’s becoming a perfect storm.
As Kairin van Sweeden says in the Greenpeace film “Rigged”: “If you understand the toxicities that come from long term unemployment you can understand how that’s going to create huge societal problems that trickle down over generations …”
Scotland has already witnessed other fossil fuel industries being broken up and the social devastation it wrought. Thirty six years ago was not only the date the French secret service murdered a peaceful environmental activist it was also the year Margaret Thatcher destroyed the coal industry and broke the Miner’s Strike. We now have the possibility of a different path – one that is right for people and planet and sets a toxic legacy into a prospect for the future.