Category Archives: Environment

“Desperate times call for desperate measures”: Peter Kalmus interview

“Desperate times call for desperate measures”: Peter Kalmus interview
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
7 June 2022

In April Dr Peter Kalmus, an American climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, was arrested after he chained himself to the door of the JP Morgan Chase building in Los Angeles in protest at the bank’s investments in new fossil fuel projects.

Speaking in a personal capacity to Ian Sinclair, Kalmus, who is currently the most followed climate scientist on Twitter, discussed his arrest, barriers to scientists speaking out and the importance of mass civil disobedience in the climate crisis.

Morning Star: Can you explain what led you to chaining yourself to the front door of the JP Morgan Chase building in Los Angeles?

Peter Kalmus: I’m feeling desperate, because the climate emergency is intensifying each year and yet government leaders aren’t doing anything about it. In fact, they’re doing the opposite of what needs to be done: they’re still expanding the fossil fuel industry. They should be leading an emergency-scale transformation away from fossil fuels instead. Everyone needs to know that the damage fossil fuels are doing to Earth’s life support systems are effectively irreversible.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change WG3 report was released just two days before our action at JP Morgan Chase. The report made it very clear that there can be no new fossil fuel infrastructure built from this point, and that human emissions globally need to peak now – not five years from now – in order to still have a 50/50 chance of staying under 1.5°C of mean global heating, a level that I think will be far more catastrophic than almost anyone realizes. Scientist Rebellion called for civil disobedience on April 6 to protest inaction in the context of this report, and I thought “it’s definitely time,” so I joined hundreds of other scientists around the world, risking our careers and our freedom, for the sake of the planet, our kids, and everyone. I chose the JP Morgan Chase as the location because they do more to fund fossil fuel infrastructure than any other institution on the planet. JP Morgan Chase is unabashedly funding the irreversible destruction of life on Earth. It’s crazy to have to say that – it’s a crazy time we live in – but it’s absolutely true.

MS: While 1,200 scientists in 26 countries were reported to have taken part in the Scientist Rebellion that your direct action was part of, you will know most scientists, indeed most climate scientists, don’t speak out publicly, or participate in activism. What are some of the barriers that stop scientists becoming publicly active? 

PK: It takes courage to break social norms, and it takes courage to risk your career. I think it’s worth it. Life on Earth is at stake. Our kids’ lives are at stake. That’s worth infinitely more than my career. It’s even worth risking my freedom for. At this point, we need to start thinking in terms of “deep time.” The action we take today, or the inaction, will reverberate for thousands of generations.

MS: UK climate scientist Professor Kevin Anderson stopped flying in around 2005, and has criticised other scientists who continue to use air travel. In his 2021 book The New Climate War Professor Michael Mann describes Anderson’s position as “buy[ing] heavily into the ‘personal action’ framing of climate solutions”, which deflects from the necessary systematic action needed. What’s your view on climate scientists making a public stand on flying?

PK: I don’t want to pick on any one person, and there are still a lot of climate advocates who are frequent flyers, but personally I do think it’s irresponsible to continue flying frequently when you know that this behaviour is irreversibly heating up the planet. Much of the CO2 we emit, whether from flying or any other activity, will stay in the atmosphere contributing to global heating for thousands of years. I haven’t flown since 2012 because I can’t handle the intense feeling of benefitting personally from flying at dire cost to my own kids, young people everywhere, future generations, and nonhuman life such as forests and coral reefs. It felt simultaneously horrific and selfish – horrifically selfish.

But the damage goes far beyond the CO2 emissions, precisely because frequent flying climate influencers are correct: it’s not about their “individual action.” The main problem with their flying isn’t the CO2 they’re emitting, it’s the message they’re communicating, and how this message delays systems change. We live in a political system whose decision makers have been financially captured by the fossil fuel industry. In order to get change in this captured system, we need grassroots pressure that’s stronger than the fossil fuel industry. To get this grassroots power, the public needs to understand that we’re genuinely in an emergency. But when our most influential climate messengers act like there’s no emergency, by engaging in status quo fossil fuel behaviour of the privileged global rich, and then vocally defending that behaviour in order to justify it, the public takes the top-line message that there’s no emergency. The sooner the public understands we’re in an emergency, the sooner humanity will start responding like we’re in an emergency, and the more we’ll save. We’ve already lost so much. Ecosystems are dying. People are dying. Losses are guaranteed to intensify from here, and to continue intensifying, until we end the fossil fuel industry. Frequent flying from top climate advocates is a significant block to systemic action. If they were to say, instead, “this is such a huge emergency that I can no longer fly, I know my decision to stop flying is not a solution, but, knowing what I know, it just feels too horrific and disgusting to keep doing it,” the public would get a very different message.

These are tough conversations to have. Obviously, we all live in a fossil-fuelled system of systems, and it’s impossible to fully reduce our fossil fuel use until those systems change. And of course we do need systems change; we won’t stop Earth breakdown through “individual action.” But we can at least avoid excessively using fossil-fuelled systems for perceived personal gain, or worse, defending them. In other words, fly if you still feel that you “need” to, but don’t fly frequently; and instead of defending the commercial aviation system, call for its end. Eventually, most people will recognize that the climate emergency is simply too deadly and irreversible to justify flying on fossil fuels.

MS: US President joe Biden has been in office for just over a year. What do you think about the Biden Administration’s record so far on the climate crisis?

PK: It has been terrible. With all the new drilling and calls for fossil fuel expansion, stopping climate breakdown is clearly not a priority for this administration. It would be great if this changes over the next few years – the first president who makes climate their top priority will go down in history as one of the best presidents of all time – but evidence so far indicates that it will not.

MS: You recently tweeted that “climate petitions, letters, and even marches are a waste of time”. In terms of strategy and tactics, where do you think the climate movement should put its energy in the next few years? 

PK: Civil disobedience. It’s time for the climate movement to shift into mass civil disobedience. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and in terms of Earth breakdown we’re now in desperate times. It’s not too late to act, because it will never be too late to act, but the sooner we really start to fight the more we’ll save. At this point, everyone should fight as hard as they can.

Peter Kalmus is the author of the 2017 book Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution, published by New Society Publishers. Follow Peter on Twitter @ClimateHuman.

We Need To Talk About The Politics Of Climate Experts

We Need To Talk About The Politics Of Climate Experts
By Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
16 May 2022

It is widely understood the very powerful forces of climate change denial have delayed action to address the climate crisis, and thus are responsible for a huge amount of suffering and deaths attributable to climate breakdown.

Less appreciated is the unintended impact these dark corporate interests have had on the popular perception of climate experts. For example, having only recently started to move beyond framing the debate as being between denialists and those who accept the scientific consensus, the media largely present climate experts as one big monolithic block. Rarely do they explore the different politics that exist amongst the climate community.

This is deeply unhelpful because the politics of individual climate specialists and research institutions have huge ramifications in terms of discussing the climate crisis, about who or what is to blame, and therefore what action needs to be taken, and when.

To explore this, it is worth comparing opposing voices on key climate issues: Professor Kevin Anderson, Chair of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester, and two key figures at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (GRI) at the London School of Economics – Co-Director Lord Nicholas Stern and Policy and Communications Director Bob Ward, both of whom regularly appear in the media.

First, how do they engage with Naomi Klein’s argument in her 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate that stopping the worst effects of climate change will involve “challenging the fundamental logic of deregulated capitalism”, and that systematic and radical change is required as soon as possible?

Stern, second permanent secretary at the Treasury under Prime Minister Gordon Brown and author of an influential 2006 report on the economics of climate change, does not generally frame the climate crisis like Klein. Instead, in 2015 he noted that “economic growth and climate responsibility can come together and, indeed” are “complementarity”. Indeed, in 2019 Julia Steinberger, Professor of Societal Challenges of Climate Change at the University of Lausanne, tweeted about “Lord Stern’s admonition to researchers in sustainable prosperity at the British Academy to maintain growth-at-all-costs back in 2014”. Six years later Stern was backing “green growth” as “essential for our future on this planet” (one of the five founding research programmes of the GRI, widely seen to be dominated by economists, was “green growth”).

In contrast, Anderson argued in 2013 “the remaining 2°C budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony.” In addition, he noted “continuing with economic growth over the coming two decades is incompatible with meeting our international obligations on climate change”, and therefore wealthy nations needed “temporarily, to adopt a de-growth strategy.” Anderson is dismissive of the concept of “green growth”, tweeting in 2019 a link to an interview with Johan Rockström, in which the internationally recognized scientist says “Green growth is wishful thinking”.

To be clear, in recent years Stern seems to have become increasingly aware of the scale of the change required, noting in October 2021 that achieving Net Zero emissions “will require the biggest economic transformation ever seen in peacetime” (though he still seems wedded to the ideology of economic growth).

When it comes to fracking, in 2014 Anderson told the New Scientist “The advent of shale gas is definitely incompatible with the UK’s stated pledge to help restrict global warming to 2 °C”. However, the article noted “Others say it could help reduce emissions overall, provided the shale gas replaces coal currently used to generate energy”, quoting Ward as saying “In principle, if it helps with displacement of coal it could be helpful”.

In May 2019 Theresa May’s Tory government announced the UK would aim for Net Zero emissions by 2050. Stern stated at the time “This is a historic move by the UK Government and an act of true international leadership for which the Prime Minister deserves great credit.” Since then Stern has led on the LSE itself also adopting a Net Zero target of 2050.

Anderson was less enamoured by the 2050 target, noting on his blog that “to meet its Paris [Agreement] obligations the UK must achieve zero-carbon energy by around 2035; that’s ‘real-zero’ not ‘net-zero’. This requires an immediate programme of deep cuts in energy emissions rising rapidly to over 10% p.a. [per annum]”

In October 2021 the UK government published its strategy for reaching Net Zero emissions by 2050. Anderson’s response recorded by the Science Media Centre? “The UK’s Net Zero strategy falls far short of both its Paris [Agreement] and G7 temperature and equity commitments. Scour the associated spread sheets and the numbers reveal a story of subterfuge, delusion, offsetting and piecemeal policies.” In contrast both Stern and Ward were broadly supportive, with the former telling the Science Media Centre “I welcome the publication of the strategy, which identifies the major steps we have to take to reach net zero.”

Finally, there is a consensus amongst many prominent activists and experts that strong grassroots social movements will be required to force the radical changes needed to address the climate crisis. Anderson seems to understand this. I’m aware he lent his expertise to anti-airport expansion group Plane Stupid in the 2000s and, more recently, he has explained he advised youth strike figurehead Greta Thunberg. In 2020 he gave a talk to an Extinction Rebellion group in Waltham Forest.

In contrast, Stern and Ward’s leading role in setting a 2050 Net Zero emissions target at LSE was undertaken in the face of grassroots opposition from LSE students and staff, with a petition signed by hundreds of people calling for LSE to adopt an earlier Net Zero target of 2030. As far as I am aware Stern and Ward refused to seriously engage with this grassroots activism (in 2019 a small group of staff met with Ward and argued there need to be more radical action on reducing emissions at LSE, including the declaration of a Climate Emergency, receiving a very frosty reception, to put it mildly). It seems telling that Channel 4 News decided to put Ward up against Extinction Rebellion’s Farhana Yamin during a 2019 studio discussion about the UK’s 2050 Net Zero target, while The Mail quoted Ward in a 2021 article to criticise a statement Thunberg made about the UK government’s response to the climate crisis.

From this very brief summary, it seems clear Stern and Ward are, broadly, conservative actors amongst climate experts when it comes to the climate crisis.

“The voice of experts on climate science is an important one, because citizens trust it. And some climate scientists have been using their voice powerfully and well, especially in recent years”, academic and environmental campaigner Professor Rupert Read tells me. “But it’s important to remember the limits of the expertise of most climate scientists: to their own discipline or even sub-discipline. Few are experts in systems theory, in risk analysis, in philosophy, or in political economy. For expertise in those areas, funnily enough, you are best off going to experts… in those areas.”

Read notes “economists – whose opinions are often over-valued in an economistic society such as ours – who weigh into debates originating in climate tend to lean towards technocracy, and tend to be biased in favour of growthism, which is even now, incredibly, an endemic assumption in Economics.”

“Thus degrowth, post-growth, deep green ecological economics – let alone approaches based in civil disobedience or coming from (say) indigenous or eco-spiritual perspectives – tend to get short shrift from climate economists. That is a problem. A big problem.”

All this shouldn’t be surprising when you consider Stern’s and Ward’s successful professional careers are tied up with elite networks, establishment politics and billionaire investor Jeremy Grantham.

Of course, a variety of voices is welcome but, to echo Read, it’s surely a serious problem worthy of serious discussion when the climate crisis demands radical action, and Stern and Ward have so much power within the climate community and cachet with journalists, and therefore an oversized impact on the national debate and research agenda. Indeed, their commanding positions likely have a chilling effect on the kind of robust debate scientific and political progress thrives upon. If you were a young climate researcher, would you risk access to funding, contacts and therefore your future career by criticising two of the most powerful people in your field, or the leading institution they run?

For the wellbeing of everyone and everything that lives on the planet today and in the future, we need to start talking about the politics of climate experts and climate-focussed research institutions.

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.


Book review: Burnt: Fighting for Climate Justice by Chris Saltmarsh

Book review: Burnt: Fighting for Climate Justice by Chris Saltmarsh
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
April-May 2022

Though he doesn’t mention it in this book, I imagine activist Chris Saltmarsh is a big fan of the Chico Mendes quote that often appears on Twitter: ‘Environmentalism Without Class Struggle is Just Gardening.’

For Saltmarsh, ‘the root cause of climate change is our system of organising the economy and our relationship to nature: capitalism.’ With the ruling class profiting most from the crisis, he notes the resistance of capital is ‘perhaps the biggest barrier to climate justice.’

Part of Pluto Press’s Outspoken series, Burnt is a challenging read, with lots of constructive criticism of various facets of the climate movement.

Too often the ‘environmental NGO industry’, like the United Nations COP climate talks, has played a depoliticising, limiting role in the struggle, Saltmarsh argues, working ‘to uphold capitalism and the interests of fossil fuel capital by deflecting blame away from them and lowering our collective ambitions.’

There is an interesting analysis of Extinction Rebellion, the youth strikes and direct action more broadly – Saltmarsh was active in Reclaim The Power (which used direct action to oppose the UK’s ‘dash for gas’). He describes the victories of similar campaigns such as Climate Camp in the UK, Ende Gelände in Germany and the Keystone XL pipeline protests in the US as generally limited (‘downscaling or delaying construction’) and precarious – and insufficient to force long-term change.

With top climate scientist James Hansen recently noting ‘the 1.5°C target certainly will be exceeded, and the world will almost certainly blow through the 2°C ceiling’, Saltmarsh maintains: ‘There is only one political form presently capable of dismantling the fossil fuel industry on the timescale that the climate crisis commands: the state.’

As a co-founder of Labour For a Green New Deal – which he passionately fleshes out in one chapter – Saltmarsh believes that addressing the climate crisis ‘will require a centrally managed plan of targets, budgets, resource allocation, and key initiatives spanning years.’ Therefore the task is to capture the state through democratic means – by mobilising and radicalising the Labour Party and trade unions (the Green Party is never mentioned as a viable option).

While Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership showed that a more humane Labour Party is possible, I’m not as hopeful as Saltmarsh is that there will be another opportunity to elect a radical Labour leader in the near future.

A thought-provoking primer about the most important and urgent issue facing humanity, Burnt is an inspiring call to action, directed in part at those who don’t identify as activists. ‘Because without you, we can’t win,’ he notes.

“The climate crisis is a crisis of capitalism”: Chris Saltmarsh interview

“The climate crisis is a crisis of capitalism”: Chris Saltmarsh interview
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
11 March 2022

Published at the end of last year, Burnt: Fighting for Climate Justice is the first book from Chris Saltmarsh, socialist climate campaigner and the co-founder of Labour for a Green New Deal.

With top climate scientist James Hansen recently noting ‘the 1.5°C target certainly will be exceeded, and the world will almost certainly blow through the 2°C ceiling” Ian Sinclair asked Saltmarsh about capitalism and the climate crisis, and the role played by established NGOS and new grassroots campaigns such as Extinction Rebellion and the youth strikes.

Ian Sinclair: Your analysis in the book is unashamedly anti-capitalist. Why? 

Chris Saltmarsh: It’s really clear to me that the climate crisis is a crisis of capitalism. We have an economic system that puts profit before all else. Fossil fuel companies have known since the 1970s or 1980s that their business model is driving global heating. Yet they continue to extract and burn oil, gas and coal because frankly there aren’t many other resources that generate such high returns. Most of these companies have invested millions in acquiring reserves and developing technologies. Even if there is money to be made in generating renewable energy, within capitalism it doesn’t make business sense for these companies to not extract every last drop of fossil fuels.

The book is anti-capitalist because, while there’s a lot of moralising that goes on in the climate movement, its not really any individuals’ fault. Not my fault, your grandma’s or even really fossil fuel company CEOs. We all play by the rules of the system and if Shell’s CEO suddenly became enlightened and wanted to put a stop to it he’d be replaced very quickly. Fundamentally, if we don’t have an anti-capitalist analysis of the climate crisis then we’ll remain stuck in partial solutions that won’t get to the heart of the problem.

IS: You are critical of what you call the “environmental NGO industry”. Surely green NGOs like World Wide Fund for Nature, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace do valuable work?  

I’m critical of these NGOs because although they are seen (by themselves and others) as the leadership of the climate movement, they operate within really significant constraints. Politically, there is a really strong ideology of liberalism which runs through these organisations. This means they’re generally unprepared to take an anti-capitalist – let alone socialist – analysis of climate change. It means they never support necessary measures like expanding public ownership and democracy in the economy. Organisationally, they are generally structured like corporations. They have an unaccountable and overpaid CEO or director, a bloated middle-management, and under-paid underlings who do most of the work with no say. These organisations aren’t democracies internally, and they certainly aren’t building a democratic mass climate movement.

We should understand this, though, as being a broadly structural problem. As charities they’re legally limited in what they can do by government. That they’re funded either by relatively conservative supporters or the philanthropic arm of capital (grants from trust and foundations) is a major source of political moderation. Sure, some of the work they do is useful, although a lot is actively harmful to our movement such as focusing on individual behaviour change. There is definitely a role for some of these organisations to play, but they need to understand their own limitations and contribute to the wider movement with more humility.

IS: 2019 saw an explosion of climate activism in the UK, and around the world, with Extinction Rebellion and the youth strikes. What is your assessment of the impact of these two movements in the UK? 

CS: My view is that these two movements, along with campaigns for a Green New Deal, emerged as responses to the same moment. In the summer of 2018, we saw really stark extreme weather like wildfires; an IPCC [United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report warning we only had 12 years left to save the planet; and another report warning of a ‘hothouse earth’. They effectively channelled a latent anxiety and strong desire for proper climate action among the public.

I think both were effective at mobilising previously inactivated constituencies of people. The youth strikes obviously did this with school children. I thought this was particularly powerful as one of my criticisms of the wider climate movement is that it doesn’t really understand what its base is. Is it workers? Is it urban climate-conscious liberals? Too often we try to mobilise everyone and end up with nobody. Others should learn from the youth strikes organising a defined group. XR [Extinction Rebellion] did similar with older people, I think. Overall, their major impact was to push climate further up the political agenda and keep it there. This is valuable, of course, but also limited. It was essentially enhanced awareness raising. The lack of politics and demands, particularly from XR, allowed for elite co-option and unfortunately a dissipation of what became relatively short-lived energy.

IS: You argue the state is the only political form presently capable of transforming the economy and society in the short timescale the climate crisis requires, devoting a chapter of the book to the concept of a Green New Deal, which the 2019 Labour Party conference endorsed. What would a Green New Deal entail? 

CS: A Green New Deal is broadly a state-programme of investment, regulation and economic transformation with the dual aims of rapid decarbonisation and achieving economic justice. There are different interpretations from different political positions. In the book, I make the case for a socialist Green New Deal which has expanding public ownership of the economy at the heart. Crucially, a Green New Deal must also be serious about a proper just transition to clean energy. This means guaranteeing jobs for all workers in polluting industries, repealing all anti-trade union laws, and spreading industrial economy across sectors.

In terms of what a Green New Deal would mean for everyday life, for me it’s about making the greenest option the cheapest and easiest in every corner of life. Transport, for example, would mean a shift from polluting private cars to low-carbon public transport that’s cheap or free, accessible and quick. Housing would mean warm homes for all alongside a massive expansion of council housing. Ultimately, its about a green transition that improves our lives at the same time. Perhaps most importantly, a socialist Green New Deal doesn’t just seek these transformations within the borders of one country, but internationally too.

IS: Where do you think the UK climate movement, and the broader left, should go from here?  

CS: I think the climate movement and the Left need to have a realistic assessment of where we are. The Tories are still in power and emissions are rising. We also need a realistic strategy for achieving a Green New Deal. There are a few pre-conditions for it. First, electing a socialist government and capturing state power more widely. Second, having a radical and militant trade union movement taking industrial action for climate and economic justice. Third, a radical mass democratic climate movement mobilising millions of people on the streets and to take direct-action.

On all counts, we’re not where we need to be. The climate-left needs to divide our energies between working to re-capture the Labour Party as the most viable vehicle for a socialist government in the UK and agitating for it to have ambitious Green New Deal policies. We also need to work to re-empower our trade unions by organising our workplaces and building confidence and militancy. We can connect fights over pay and conditions to climate where relevant, and otherwise work internally to create common-sense support for a Green New Deal and a just transition among union members. We also need dozens of offshoots of youth strikes and XR, mobilising new constituencies and cohering around demands for a socialist Green New Deal.

Burnt is published by Pluto Press, priced £9.99. Follow Chris on Twitter @Chris_Saltmarsh.

Shell’s U-turn on Cambo oil field: the importance of protest and public opinion

Shell’s U-turn on Cambo oil field: the importance of protest and public opinion
by Ian Sinclair
6 December 2021

After a number of high profile actions by the campaign to stop Cambo oil field against Shell, the Scottish government, at city financiers and at COP26, and no doubt a ton of other activism by a broad range of organisations, on 2 December 2021 Shell announced it was pulling out of the controversial oil field project off the Shetland Islands in Scotland.

The reporting of this decision by the BBC and Channel 4 News highlights the impact of protest and public opinion on that decision:

“The Cambo field is one of the largest unexploited oil fields left in the region. It was being touted by Shell as a 25 year investment but the oil giant now says the economics don’t justify going ahead… the project has certainly become very controversial. Greenpeace has vowed to take legal action to stop drilling and last month Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, came out against the project. So no doubt Shell will have also been worried about the rising reputational cost of Cambo.”  – Justin Rowlatt, BBC Climate Editor, 08:00 News, BBC Today Programme, BBC Radio 4, 3 December 2021

“So why walk away from a 30 percent share in an oil field that reportedly holds 170 million barrels of oil? Shell say the economic case for investing in this project just isn’t strong enough. [Directly to camera] There is more at play here than just economics and making money. Investors now care much more about how that money is made. Senior city financiers have told us the blowback they would get from shareholders, from pension funders, from the press, from the public, mean that pumping yet more money into firms with so-called dirty investments often just isn’t worth the hassle now. With Cambo oilfield there is a reputational liability for Shell, and ultimately it is one they’ve decided to walk away from.” – Paul McNamara, Channel 4 News, 3 December 2021.

Book review. Roads, Runways and Resistance: From The Newbury Bypass to Extinction Rebellion by Steve Melia

Book review. Roads, Runways and Resistance: From The Newbury Bypass to Extinction Rebellion by Steve Melia
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
October-November 2021

Steve Melia has taken a topic that could be dully technical and written a book that is both interesting and infused with a sense of urgency in terms of the climate crisis.

Underpinned with 50 original interviews with activists, policymakers and lobbyists, he surveys the key campaigns against government transport policy over the past 30 years, from the anti-roads protests of the 90s to the fight against airport expansion, and the Extinction Rebellion (XR) mass actions in 2019. His review includes the fuel protests of 2000, which nearly brought the country to a standstill.

As a Senior Lecturer in Transport and Planning at the University of the West of England, Melia’s writing leans toward the academic, though he has a journalist’s eye for detail and a good story. He relates how one of the first targets of the 1994 Criminal Justice Act, with its new offence of ‘aggravated trespass’, was ‘a pantomime cow called Buttercup’ at the Newbury Bypass protests: ‘The front half pleaded guilty to aggravated trespass while the rear half argued that his vision was obscured when they pranced across a security cordon’.

His analysis of the impact of protest will be of particular interest to activists – all the movements in the book ‘did have at least some influence on policy and practice’, he argues. For example, the anti-roads movement triggered a significant shift in public opinion and government policy, with most of the Tories’ planned road schemes dropped by the mid-90s. ‘Swampy had a lasting impact,’ notes a government advisor in the mid-2000s. ‘To build a road now is a lot of aggro.’

However, Melia notes government transport policy tends to change for three interconnected reasons: the strength of argument and evidence, the economic context, and public opinion – often driven by direct action. On the last point, he maintains ‘the main message of this book for XR or any other protest groups is that your actions will only work if you bring public opinion with you.’ This reference to XR – Melia was arrested during the April 2019 Rebellion – is, in part, about the controversial action to occupy a tube train at Canning Town in October 2019.

‘The need for disruptive protest action has never been greater’, he concludes. With the government attempting to push ahead with the expansion of Heathrow airport and a huge road building programme (sound familiar?), Roads, Runways and Resistance couldn’t be more timely.

Roads, Runways and Resistance: From The Newbury Bypass to Extinction Rebellion is published by Pluto Press, priced £16.99.


Book review. Parents For A Future: How Loving Our Children Can Prevent Climate Collapse by Rupert Read

Book review. Parents For A Future: How Loving Our Children Can Prevent Climate Collapse by Rupert Read
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
3 May 2021

RUPERT Read’s latest book on the climate crisis is underpinned by the realisation pretty much all of us are “in some form or another of climate denial” – about honestly facing up to the level of threat, and the speed and depth of change required to successfully deal with it.

On the former, Carbon Action Tracker estimates the current policies in place around the world will lead to 2.9oC of warming by 2100. Read believes it is “very likely” climate and ecological chaos will lead to civilisation disintegrating “within the lifetimes of some readers”.

For the latter, he argues the desperate situation we now find ourselves in cannot “be adequately addressed from within our current paradigm of politics and economics.” As the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s warned in 2018, limiting warming to 1.5oC will “require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

A call to arms for everyone to step up to the challenge, Read’s thesis is, in many ways, very simple: if you care about your children (or other people’s children), then you should also care about their children, and their children’s children – “the whole human future.” And this means you should also care about the future of the planet all these future generations will live on.

He presents three core proposals for embedding this transformational thinking. First, the setting up of citizen’s assemblies that would be empowered to make the long-term proposals and decisions our fatally compromised and short-termist political system is unable to do. Second, the introduction of what he calls Guardians For Future Generations – a permanent “super-jury” that would sit above parliament and consider the interests of future generations in policymaking. And, finally, adherence to the Precautionary Principle – “when you lack full evidence and potential consequences [of a path of action or inaction] are grave, you need to err on the side of taking care.”

The book’s logical, essay-length polemic points to Read’s academic position as an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia. Likewise, the clarity and urgency of his message also highlights the influence of his time as spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion in 2019.

Compelling and deeply challenging, it is often an uncomfortable argument (Read tells readers: “you… need, at a minimum, to devote either your time or the bulk of your financial resources to this cause”). Which, of course, is why it is such an essential read. Time to get busy.

Parents For A Future: How Loving Our Children Can Prevent Climate Collapse is published by UEA Publishing Project, priced £10.99

Book review. Twyford Rising: Land and Resistance

Book review. Twyford Rising: Land and Resistance by Helen Beynon with Chris Gillham
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
23 February 2021

IN 1989 the Thatcher government announced the “biggest road-building programme since the Romans”. One of the new schemes was the M3 extension past Winchester across Twyford Down.

With local groups having fought the planned road for decades with little success, in the early 1990s there was a shift to direct action. Concerned about the proposed road’s impact on the land, the so-called Dongas Tribe – named after the ancient trackways in the area – set up camp on the Down.

Skilfully using original interviews, letters, memoirs, photos and poems, the authors paint a vivid picture of outdoor living, with many people recalling a deep, spiritual connection to the land.

The Dongas were soon joined by members of radical environment network Earth First!, while local residents, such as ex-Tory Councillor David Croker, continued to lobby against the road through more conventional methods (some also participated in actions too).

There were tensions between the different groups, of course, but from summer 1992 onwards they were able to carry out regular nonviolent direct action, often forcing a stop to work on the site. In 1993 the Department of Transport claimed the protests were adding £20,000 a day to the costs of the road.

The crunch came on 9 December 1992 – known as “Yellow Wednesday” – when the camp was violently evicted by a small army of private security guards. The authors painfully highlight just how traumatic the clearance was for those who experienced it. Activist Becca records “Female protesters were sexually assaulted and had their clothes ripped off.”

With the camp forced off the Down, people continued organising, with large rallies and mass trespasses taking place at the work site in 1993 and 1994, including one in which Kinder Scout trespasser Benny Rothman spoke at.

The road was eventually built but not before the resistance at Twyford Down had lit the touch paper for the wider anti-roads movement. There were protests against the M11 Link Road in east London, Fairmile in Devon, Jesmond Dene in Newcastle and, most famously, the Newbury Bypass. Like Twyford, these hard fought battles ended in defeat for the protesters, though arguably they won the war.

“When we began campaigning there were 600 proposed schemes in the Government’s roads programme”, John Stewart, then chair of the anti-roads group ALARM UK, noted in 1998. “Now there are 150 and we expect that number to be cut further… we have done our job.”

More broadly, Twyford “begat a hundred campaigns”, activist Shane Collins notes, including Reclaim The Streets and the anti-GM movement of the late 90s. Key figures also assisted Plane Stupid with their campaign against airport expansion, and there is a clear link between the anti-roads movement and the climate camps of the 2000s and Extinction Rebellion.

Hugely inspiring, Twyford Rising is an engrossing account of one of the most important protests in recent British history. As the authors conclude: “Twyford richly deserves to be part of the legends of these Islands, for it is a lost land now, which once was filled with beauty and hope.”

To order Twyford Rising visit https://twyfordrising.org/.

Are governments doing enough on the climate crisis? Interview with Climate Action Tracker

Are governments doing enough on the climate crisis? Interview with Climate Action Tracker
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
23 December 2020

Set up in 2009 by Climate Analytics and New Climate Institute, Climate Action Tracker (CAT) conducts independent scientific analysis that tracks the response by governments across the world to the climate crisis.

In particular, CAT measures government action against the globally agreed 2016 United Nations (UN) Paris Agreement aim of “holding warming well below 2°C, and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.”

For context, in 2018 the Guardian’s environment correspondent Fiona Harvey noted “even 1.5˚C of warming would cause sea level rises, coral reef die-off, extinction of species and droughts, floods, storms and heatwaves that would threaten the world’s stability.” Worryingly, she explained “Levels of warming greater than that would devastate parts of the globe, wiping out agricultural productivity, melting the Arctic ice cap and rendering many areas uninhabitable.”

With the UK hosting the next major UN climate change conference, COP 26, in November 2021, Ian Sinclair asked Sofia Gonzales-Zuñiga and  Ryan Wilson from CAT about where the world stands today in terms of government policies and temperature rise, how recent events in the US and China will likely impact global temperature, and the UK’s own policy response.

Ian Sinclair: You work highlights the importance of differentiating between the pledges made by governments, and the policies they actually implement. What is the likely global temperature increase by 2100 that will result from the currently implemented policies of all the world’s governments? And if governments stick to their pledges made under the 2016 Paris Agreement what would this mean for temperature rise? 

Sofia Gonzales-Zuñiga: We estimate the temperature increase from current policies in 2100 will be 2.9˚C (a range of 2.1-3.9˚C). If they stick to their pledges made under the Paris Agreement this would come down to 2.6˚C. Note: we don’t analyse all countries, rather all the biggest emitters and a selection of smaller emitters, totally around 80% of global emissions.

IS: How many countries are currently on track to meet the pledged emissions reductions they signed up to in the Paris Agreement? And how many countries does CAT assess are acting consistently with the Paris Agreement’s goal of 1.5˚C

SG-Z: Who is on track? That’s an interesting question, because many countries don’t have very strong pledges. India and China, for example, are both set to overachieve their pledges, a strong indication they could increase them. Russia has always had a pledge that it will well overachieve.  

In terms of being on a 1.5˚C pathway, there are few countries on that track. We assess India to be nearly there, plus The Gambia and Morocco, and, if it achieves its Paris Agreement pledge, the UK.  We rate their pledges and not the policies currently in place to meet them, thus more work is required by all to get onto a Paris Agreement pathway.

IS: Two recent global events have increased hopes the world can address the climate crisis – China’s September 2020 announcement it will “aim to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060”, and Joe Biden from the Democratic Party being elected President of the United States. What effect are these two events likely to have on the climate crisis? 

SG-Z: These will make a huge difference. We estimate the China pledge would shave 0.2-0.3˚C off global warming, and the US around 0.1˚C. We have now modelled the warming estimate for the combined net zero pledges made by 127 countries, and this, if achieved, would bring warming in 2100 down to 2.1˚C.  

IS: The UK government presents itself as a “world leader” when it comes to addressing climate change. What is CAT’s assessment of the UK’s current policies? 

Ryan Wilson: The UK’s recent commitment to achieve at least a 68 per cent reduction in domestic GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions below 1990 levels by 2030 is a world leading target, and places the UK on a 1.5°C Paris Agreement compatible domestic emissions reduction pathway. To ensure it is contributing its fair share to global mitigation efforts though, the UK needs to ramp up its support for less wealthy nations to achieve emissions reductions through measures like climate finance or direct funding for sustainable development projects. A 1.5°C compatible fair share level of effort for the UK combining such measures with its domestic target would see the UK reaching net-zero emissions by around 2030.

Despite a number of significant recent policy announcements, the UK will require a considerable scaling up of climate action just to reach its new 2030 target. Recent announcements like a 2030 ban on the sale of fossil fuel vehicles and a drastic scaling up of offshore wind energy are positive steps in the right direction, but strong ongoing commitments will be needed to achieve deep emissions cuts across all sectors of the economy. Setting a strong emissions reduction target is just the first step, the UK government must now back it up with action.

IS: Due to the pandemic, COP26 in Glasgow, the next major UN climate change conference, has been postponed to November 2021. What should governments being doing to prepare for this? 

SG-Z: We expect governments to continue cutting emissions and, if they haven’t done so already, to submit a strengthened target to the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change], as they agreed to do every five years under the Paris Agreement.

Read more about the work of Climate Action Tracker at http://www.climateactiontracker.org

Why the government’s 2050 net zero carbon target is not fit for purpose

Why the government’s 2050 net zero carbon target is not fit for purpose
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
24 September 2020

2019 was an extraordinary year for UK activism on the climate crisis. Extinction Rebellion’s April 2019 rebellion, the school strikes and David Attenborough’s BBC documentary Climate Change: The Facts all helped to radically shift public opinion. June 2019 polling from YouGov found “the public is more concerned about the environment than ever before.”

“The sudden surge in concern is undoubtedly boosted by the publicity raised for the environmental cause by Extinction Rebellion… and activism from Greta Thunberg during the same period”, Matthew Smith, YouGov’s lead data journalist, explained.

More concretely, the House of Commons declared a climate emergency in May 2019. Introducing the motion, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the recent climate activism had been “a massive and necessary wake-up call. Today we have the opportunity to say ‘We hear you’”.

The motion – one of the first in the world – showed the will of parliament but didn’t legally compel the government to act.

Then, in June 2019, following a recommendation from the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the Tory government committed the country to reducing all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. This move made the UK the first major economy in the world to pass a law to end its contribution to global warming by 2050.

Be in no doubt: parliament declaring a climate emergency and the government implementing a 2050 net zero target are huge wins for the UK environmental movement. However, speaking to the Morning Star in June 2019, Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Rupert Read called the CCC report which recommended the 2050 net zero target, “essentially dead on arrival”. And in September 2019 Ed Miliband said “2050 isn’t the radical position and now it’s seen as a conservative ‘small c’ position.”

So what are the problems with the 2050 net zero target?

First, the CCC’s 2050 target is derived from the October 2018 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on 1.5C – the maximum increase in temperature the 189 signatories of the 2016 UN Paris climate agreement pledged to limit global warming to.

However, as many climate experts have noted, the IPCC tends to be conservative in its predictions. “This is simply due to its structure”, Dr Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam University noted in 2014. “The IPCC report will contain only things that a whole group of scientists have agreed upon on a kind of consensus process. This kind of agreement tends to be the lowest common denominator.” He noted that sea level rise in the last two decades “has overtaken the speed of the upper range of previous projections of sea level of the IPCC”. Writing in Business Green in May 2019, Will Dawson from Forum For The Future, explained the ramifications of this: “The CCC is therefore using scenarios that are likely far too optimistic. Emissions have to be cut much faster than they assumed to keep to 1.5C.”

Second, the CCC admits the 2050 target, “if replicated across the world”, would deliver only a greater than 50% chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C – reckless odds when you are talking about the fate of hundreds of millions of people.

Indeed, Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, recently stated “The problem is the framing the CCC has for net zero is already far removed from what is needed to meet our Paris commitments.” Anderson has co-authored new research, published in the peer-reviewed Climate Policy journal, highlighting this disconnect. The Guardian summarised the article’s key finding: “The UK’s planned reductions in emissions, even if it hits net zero by 2050, would be two or three times greater than its fair share of emissions under the landmark 2015 Paris agreement.”

Finally, the CCC report on 2050 is based on various questionable political assumptions. For example, the CCC admits the target date is partly informed by what is “feasible” and “politically acceptable” – and what is “credibly deliverable alongside other government objectives”.

The CCC also has a very conservative view about the possibility of large-scale behavioural change, with Chris Stark, the CCC’s Chief Executive, stating the 2050 target “is technically possible with known technologies and without major changes to consumer behaviours.” The report recommends a hardly radical “20% reduction in consumption of beef, lamb, and dairy” (to be “replaced by an increase in consumption of pork, poultry, and plant-based products”), and predicts a 60% growth in demand for air travel by 2050. They advise the government to curtail this surge rather than cut demand overall.

In short, the 2050 target date is not simply following the science but is underpinned by conservative assumptions about the likelihood of change, and intangible and changeable factors like public opinion and government priorities.

Worryingly, like a Russian doll the serious problems with the 2050 target sit within an even more concerning national and international policy context.

In its June 2020 progress report the CCC confirmed the steps the UK government has taken “do not yet measure up to meet the size of the Net Zero challenge and we are not making adequate progress in preparing for climate change.” A new report from the Institute for Government is similarly critical of the government’s lack of action. “There is… little evidence that the government, and the politicians who waved the new target through with little debate, have confronted the enormous scale of the task ahead”, it notes.

Internationally, one of the most frightening facts I have ever read was effectively hidden in paragraph 13 of 19 of a page 27 report in the Guardian in July. “According to the Climate Action Tracker, only Morocco [out of 189 signatories] is acting consistently with the [2016] Paris agreement’s goals, with the global temperature rise on course to exceed 3C by the end of the century even if the current pledges are met.”

Meanwhile the mercury keeps rising. Earlier this month the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation warned the world could exceed the key threshold of 1.5C by 2024, climate experts Pep Canadell and Rob Jackson noted on The Conversation website.

According to a leaked January 2020 report from US multinational investment bank JP Morgan, the earth is on track for a temperature increase of 3.5C by 2100. “Although precise predictions are not possible, it is clear that the Earth is on an unsustainable trajectory”, the paper notes. “Something will have to change at some point if the human race is going to survive”.

We need, then, to massively increase the level of ambition and action of the UK’s response to the climate crisis. Professor Anderson argues the scale and timeframe of the transformation required needs to be larger and faster than Roosevelt’s New Deal or the Marshall Plan to reconstruct Europe after World War Two.

A positive step would be the adoption of an earlier net zero target date. Both Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology at University College London, and Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, back a net zero target of 2030. Under Corbyn’s leadership a Green New Deal with a target date of 2030 was approved at the 2019 annual Labour Party conference (though didn’t fully make it into the party’s December 2019 general election manifesto). Impressively, in July Ed Miliband, now the Shadow Business and Energy Secretary, confirmed he backs the 2030 target date.

The Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill recently tabled by Green MP Caroline Lucas and co-sponsored by a group of 11 cross-party MPs is another ray of light, encapsulating many of the concerns about the UK’s lack of ambition set out above. Co-drafted by Professor Anderson and Professor Jackson – and already backed by 52 other MPs – the Bill pushes for a strengthening of the UK’s response the climate crisis, ensuring UK emissions are consistent with limiting average global temperatures to 1.5C.

Asked at Davos in January what she would like to see happen in the next year and a half, climate activist Greta Thunberg gave a typically wise answer: “That we start listening to the science and that we actually start treating the crisis as the crisis it is” because “without treating this as a real crisis we cannot solve it.”

Ian Sinclair tweets @IanSinclair.