Two Degrees (17-22 June) is a biennial arts festival taking a wide-framed and forward thinking look at climate change and possible futures. Live studio discussion between the programmers Mark Godber & Sam Trotman (Arts Admin) and artists Mel Evans & Sam Rowe (Platform), Andrea Francke and Lewis Bassett. More info & tickets: Two Degrees festival.
Climate Radio takes a look at the battle for the UK’s energy future: on the one side we have Chancellor George Osborne and the gas lobby whose key star is former CEO of BP, Lord “cost-cutting” Browne, now chair of the UK’s leading gas fracking company Cuadrilla Resources and who sits at the heart of government inside the Cabinet Office; on the other side are the communities resisting the threat of fracking on their land, the government’s own Committee on Climate Change, 21 people who occupied a gas-fired power station – and everyone else interested in maintaining a habitable planet.
- David Kennedy, CEO,Committee on Climate Change
- Dr John Broderick, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
- Vanessa Vine, co-ordinator, Britain & Ireland Frack Free (BIFF!) and Frack Free Sussex
- Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, Senior Advisor to the National Toxics Network, Australia
Chancellor George Osborne is planning to build up to 40 new gas-fired power stations even though the government’s own independent advisors warn that this would be illegal, expensive and crash our climate commitments. The Chancellor is also encouraging the polluting and landscape-despoiling process of gas fracking in the UK, while the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has been promoting this controversial technology internationally.
From a climate change perspective we already have more carbon in fossil fuel company reserves than we can safely burn before we add yet another source of unconventional fuel into the mix. Unless there is an effective global cap on carbon emissions or a global carbon tax, developing shale gas reserves by fracking will increase global greenhouse gas emissions.
The good news is that communities from the US to Egypt and from Australia to Algeria are fighting back against the threat of fracking in their area, and the Chancellor’s entire gas policy will be challenged by climate protestors in the UK when they return en masse to the site of the West Burton gas-fired power station for the Reclaim The Power camp 17-20 August this year.
Do we need to reform democracy in order to start getting the right response to the climate crisis? If corporate capture of government is the underlying problem confronting all progressive change, should we be switching from fighting single issue campaigns, to uniting behind a single campaign focussing on democratic reform?
In the studio we were joined by:Are we facing a democratic crisis in the UK?
Why do scientists and civil society struggle to get government to respond to the climate crisis while the government’s default position is to side with powerful vested interests?
Why are millionaires getting tax cuts and bankers still getting obscene bonuses while ordinary people are facing cuts to jobs, wages, benefits and public services?
Are we effectively living in a corporate oligarchy or “corporatocracy” where power is exercised by the few in the interests of the corporations and financiers?
Do we, as former World Bank economist Joesph Stiglitz put it, have a government “of the 1%, by the 1% and for the 1%”?
In this month’s show we look at why it’s imperative that Barack Obama says no to the Keystone XL pipeline if he is serious about acting on climate change, and if he doesn’t want to be implicated in the cultural genocide of First Nations in Canada. The pipeline would help drive Canada’s proposed expansion of its already devastatingly destructive tar sands industry and we talk to the people who are fighting the project through direct action, a nationwide divestment campaign, legal challenges and a range of imaginative interventions. We also look at how Canada and the UK have been secretly meddling in Europe’s attempts to say no to dirty tar sands oil. But we start the show by looking at the way the actual climate and perhaps the political climate is changing in the US as President Barack Obama starts his second term of office. Featuring:
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) would not provide a representative for interview for our February programme, but they did agree to answer a few questions in writing. These responses were received on 18th February.
In short, the government says that meeting predicted oil demand is more important than climate security; and that current policies are sufficient. Both these positions are untenable. As to why the government has been working to water down EU legislation to make Arctic drilling safer, the government avoids the question.
Here’s the February programme – our second consecutive show focussing on the Arctic. Our guests this week are:
- Joan Walley MP, Chair Environmental Audit Committee
- Charlie Kronick, Greenpeace UK
- Louise Rouse, Fair Pensions
- James Marriott, Platform
In January’s Climate Radio we explored how the observed rate of change in the polar north is surprising scientists into revising their projections for the speed at which global warming will unfold – unless we take urgent action. But where scientists see warning signs and a wake up call, oil companies and their friends in government see only economic opportunity. So this month we take a look at where some of the battle lines lie in the fight to stop the Arctic being drilled for oil and gas and how concerned citizens can get involved and help win the war.
Last September a cross-party parliamentary committee of MPs in the UK called for a moratorium on drilling in the Arctic – concerned about the potential impact on climate change and about the lax safety regime surrounding this high-risk activity. In January this year, the UK government responded by rejecting the committee’s key recommendations and using old science to suggest that Arctic drilling could be compatible with avoiding dangerous climate change. At the same time a Freedom of Information Act request discovered they the government had been lobbying against EU legislation designed to make Arcitc drilling safer.
Over the course of 2012 Shell’s claims that they were “Arctic Ready” collapsed after a succession of calamities and oil companies and investors started getting cold feet. In this programme we also look at how Shell’s Arctic drilling plans poses a risk to your pension and what you can do about it.
It’s been a bit of a tradition to start a new Climate Radio series with a programme about the science. The idea is simply to give a foundation to everything that follows. It’s not always easy to look the science straight in the face and see what it’s telling us. The scale of the challenge can lead to denial and a sense of disempowerment. But unless we correctly assess the problem we face, we will continue to come up with inadequate solutions.
Our two guides to what’s happening in the Arctic are Professor Peter Wadhams, Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University and Professor Timothy Lenton, the award-winning Chair in Climate Change and Earth Systems Science at University of Exeter.
The Arctic: The Canary in the Climate Coal Mine
In the absence of urgent action on climate change, there may be a number of tipping points in climate-driven systems in the Arctic, which threaten to rapidly escalate the danger for the whole planet. A collapse of summer sea-ice, increased methane emissions from thawing permafrost, runaway melting of the Greenland ice-sheet, and a collapse of the thermo-haline circulation, may all be approaching in the Arctic and will have disastrous consequences for global climate and sea levels. These together comprise a wake-up call to reinvigorate efforts to tackle climate change. A lack of consensus on precisely how fast any tipping points are approaching in the Arctic should not be used as an argument for inaction. (Environment Audit Committee, Protecting The Arctic, September 2012, p.21).
My review of The Oil Road has been finally printed in today’s Independent, but has been heavily cut due to space restrictions. Here’s the original 600 word version that I submitted:
The Oil Road by James Marriott and Mika Minio-Paluello (Verso Books, £16.99)
In the same way our culture has become largely ignorant of the journey our food takes to get to our table, we are also ignorant of the route fossil fuels take to power our high-consumption, energy-intensive lifestyles. It’s the way both agribusiness and the energy companies like it – the less we know about the far-flung impacts of their enterprises the better.
Marriott and Minio-Paluello are two campaigners with the London-based oil watchdog Platform – an organisation that has bred a kind of activism that, while based in hard research, experiments with creative ways of communicating its findings. In The Oil Road the pair take one continuous trip along the route by which oil from the Caspian Sea arrives at the rate of a million barrels a day at the refineries of Western Europe.
The project is reminiscent of last year’s Extreme Rambling – Walking Israel’s Barrier for Fun by comedian-activist Mark Thomas, but comes after 12 years of visits along the route as part of an ongoing exploration of the impacts of BP’s controversial $25 billion investment in drilling platforms and pipelines. Here too we get to meet vicariously the people shaping and shaped by the route in question and reconstruct a more accurate picture of what is otherwise a hotly politicised, and therefore deliberately obfuscated, reality.
The journey starts at the Caspian oil wells in Baku, Azerbaijan where the familiar rusting landscapes of Soviet era ‘nodding donkey’ oil derricks are being overshadowed by the shiny steel and glass of a corrupt construction boom. The authors meet Sabit Bagirov, who led the state oil company during the negotiations that culminated in the signing of the ‘Contract of the Century’ in 1994, with a consortium of oil companies headed by BP.
Bagirov argues that the oil companies used the backdrop of the Azeri-Armenian conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory (1988-1994) to argue for a greater share because they would be operating in an environment of high-risk. Indeed over the course of the negotiations from 1989 to 1993, the proposed Azeri share dropped from 50% to 20%. Bagirov shows them the unpublished contract that includes a $90 million sweetener payment to the Azeri government, $30 million of which was delivered personally by Baroness Thatcher.
Once on the road we meet refugees from the now “frozen” conflict as well as householders under whose properties the pipeline runs and farmers still awaiting compensation for loss of income during the laying of the pipe. The ubiquitous BP public relations representatives are generally diverting and evasive but occasionally unwittingly frank. “The ultimate goal of community investment is to have good relations with communities – ultimately to secure BP’s assets,” says one about the corporation’s token social projects.
“We closed it down to the media,” says another when asked about the Russian bombing of the pipeline that BP had dismissed as “fanciful”. Our narrators had been able to confirm the reports of the attack by locating the site and standing in the surviving craters which ran up to four metres deep.
It’s a personable and lovingly-crafted narrative, a rich tapestry of first-hand anecdote and historical reconstruction with a political and social excavation of the geography that weaves in the region’s changing fortunes, from the Tsarist through the Soviet to the current pro-western repressive regimes.
Along the way there are important lessons for investors about how oil companies manage and disguise risk; for policy makers about the real meaning of “energy security” in the 21st century; and for activists thinking about where and when to intervene in a complex system.