Written by Helen Spring, Birmingham People & Planet member It is difficult to understand how the University of Birmingham can perceive Tony Hayward as a ‘Distinguished Leader’. As the Iraq war approaches its 10-year anniversary, Tony Hayward, the former CEO … Continue reading
Blog post written by Isobel Edwards, Environment & Ethics officer, University of York With most UK universities linked with fossil-fuel investing banks, putting pressure on Student Unions and Universities themselves to switch to ethical banking sends a powerful message to … Continue reading
By Laura Clayson from Lancaster People & Planet “Ecocide”: “heedless or deliberate destruction of the natural environment, as by pollutants or an act of war.” ‘Unconventional Fossil Fuels’ certainly fit this framework well. As Dan Sweeney explains them, these are … Continue reading
Reclaim Energy! Day, hosted by OneWorld Society, People & Planet and supported by Friends of the Earth Scotland, brought together passionate campaigners from across the UK, some from as far as Oxford and Brighton, to share ideas and motivation about campaigning on climate change in St Andrews Students Association last Sunday. The issues of Arctic drilling, Tar Sands and Fracking may seem a bit of a random focus for an event – but it is clear these unconventional fossil fuels are the new challenge to environmentalists – releasing huge amounts of carbon and gases into the atmosphere, damaging the local environment and impacting communities – not just locally but globally.
The day began with a powerful plenary from Villo Lelkes on ‘Ecocide’ – large scale environmental destruction that campaigners hope to make the fifth crime against peace. Philippa de Boissiere and Louise Hazan from People & Planet support office, the largest student campaigning network in the UK, introduced the problem of unconventional fuels.
There were five workshops throughout the day – The Arctic Oil Rush & Scotland hosted by Paul Daly from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace St Andrews; Taking on the Tar Sands by Ruthi Brandt from UK Tar Sands Network; Challenging Fracking in Scotland; Taking action against New Coal by Coal Action Scotland; Tar Sands Free Europe by People & Planet climate campaign coordinators.
“I decided to organise this event because I feel there needs to be more communication between the different campaigning groups working on unconventional fuels and climate change issues. There are lots of us, but we can sometimes get caught up in our own campaigns that we forget the bigger picture – we forget that damaging resource extraction is happening all over the world, and even more locally than we may imagine. It was also a chance for some people to engage with these issues for the first time, which is really promising. It was really great to see people engaging with new campaigns, learning from each other and meeting new people with similar passions.” said Lauren King, an organiser of the day’s event, who has been working on the Tar Sands-Free campaign nationally.
The day ended with an open space, in which anyone could bring ideas and set up a discussion group. People were able to move freely between different topics. Issues that were covered including: coal bed methane in Scotland, starting an unconventional fuels group in St Andrews, green economy and the ecocide campaign, among others. Organisers hope that these discussions will continue and evolve throughout the year, ready for the People and Planet unconventional fuels campaign to take off in 2013.
“It was inspiring to meet young activists from across Scotland” said Philippa de Boissiere, People & Planet tar sands campaign coordinator, “and to explore the potential for action in the face of increasingly extreme forms of energy extraction. From Canadian Tar Sands and the arctic to local coal bed methane projects, the event provided the space to engage with complex underlying issues and consequences. It was great to strategize with young people in this way”.
I will be blogging from Rio de Janeiro next week, reporting on issues raised at and around the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (otherwise known as Rio+20), which will be taking place between June 22nd and 24th around 30 minutes outside the city (30 minutes that is if you have a VIP pass, for the exclusive traffic lanes and heightened security are similar to the plans currently being rolled out here for the London Olympics). The gathering of world leaders is to focus upon two main strands: firstly, the need to build a so-called ‘green economy’ in a context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; secondly, upon what an institutional framework for sustainable development might look like. However, for reasons alluded to below, the focus of this blog will be less upon Rio+20 itself (and its related UN organised cultural events), and more about the discussion and action that will take place in the centre of Rio, during the Cúpula dos Povos (People’s Summit) that will run concurrently alongside the conference.
The Future We Want
Many activists are sceptical about the agenda and therefore the outcomes of Rio+20, for two key interrelated reasons. Firstly, because whilst ideas of a green economy sounds great in theory, there is legitimate concern that this may produce yet more ‘greenwash’ market solutions, that don’t address the root of the problems, but merely find sometimes quite ingenious new ways to commodify nature. The second concern is that politicians may well be even more resistant than usual towards implementing the progressive change needed, using austerity as an excuse and citing the continuing reverberations that still follow the financial collapse of 2008.
This widely held pessimism about outcomes is interesting by comparison to the optimism that accompanied the first Earth Summit in Rio, 20 years ago this June. As Mikhail Gorbachev(former President of the Soviet Union) wrote earlier this week, ‘during and just after the Rio Earth Summit, there was an overwhelming air of enthusiasm and hope for the future…20 years later we are instead surrounded by cynicism and, for many, despair’. The reasons for this apparent decline in trust and indeed hope for the future are of course both myriad and complex. However, let us wait and see what happens. This cynicism is conceivably misplaced and the conference may yet deliver upon its promise of a ‘Future We Want’, as their strap line promises. Of course though, we do remain concerned. This is not about a future that is distant, but one which affects all of us here and now. As Sha Zukang, the Secretary-General of the UN Conference himself remarked on Wednesday, ‘Time is precious. We have little of it left to ensure we deliver. We need ambitious and historic outcomes.’
Come Reinvent the World
Of course he is right, we do need real ambition. But we also need a new vision. Surely, we can’t continue to fall back upon the failed current economic model based upon hyper-profits and hyper-consumption? Despite what some politicians may tell us, there are alternatives. These alternatives will be discussed next week by the people themselves at their own Summit in Rio’s Flamengo Park, where our Brazilian host organisers have asked civil society to ‘come reinvent the world’. And amongst our friends, despite it all we remain optimistic. Indeed, I am reminded of the earlier optimism of the French psychoanalyst and activist Félix Guattari, who on his trip to Brazil in 1982, 10 years before the first Earth Summit, said ‘I can see it…perhaps i’m raving, but I think that we’re in a period of …creation, utterly fabulous revolutions from the viewpoint of this emergence of a people. That’s molecular revolution: it isn’t a slogan or a program, it’s something that i feel, that i live, in meetings, in institutions, in affects’. (see Guattari and Rolnak’s ‘Molecular Revolution in Brazil’).
Is it really too much to hope for to look forward to ‘utterly fabulous revolutions’ through an ‘emergence of a people’? If we don’t do something soon, it may well become too late.
Dave will be blogging again next week direct from the People’s Summit in Rio, with pictures and hopefully video to complement the text. Your comments, concerns or questions would be very much appreciated.
Written by Joanna Wilson, Aberdeen People & Planet
The waiting is over, the eagerly anticipated Green League results are out! And with a shock result for the University of Aberdeen. As somebody who spends most of my time, not studying, but lobbying the University on Green and Environmental issues, imagine my disappointment to find that the university has fallen a whopping 49 places. This takes Aberdeen from a First Class degree to an Upper-Second Class, and makes them one of the biggest fallers this year! When last year’s results were published I remember feeling proud that my beloved university held the same beliefs as I did, that environmental issues should be a top priority. However, this time around I can feel no such feelings. In fact all I can feel is a distinct disappointment.
Looking back over the year it is, perhaps, easy to see how the University has fallen in the ranks so badly. With the (surprise) rise in tuition fees for overseas students, lecturer strikes, job losses and occupations demanding the Principle speaks out against pension reforms and even that he return his unbelievably huge bonus, perhaps it easy to see why environmental issues have been put to one side. This, however, is not an excuse! In today’s climate, the only realistic way forward is in a green economy and the university should not only be promoting this in their environmental endeavours but also setting an example to its students who will be the future of this country.
Let’s end on a high shall we? As the Environment and Ethics Officer for the next academic year I say that students at Aberdeen should band together and lobby our university to aim to climb back up to a respectable First Class degree! We, as students, are expected to after all! We know now that the university has the capabilities for this, we have been there before, let’s hold them to account and Green up our Uni!
May 5 2012 was the date for international mobilisations against the tar sands as well as 350′s visual ‘Connect the Dots’ campaign on the effects of climate change.
From record breaking heat in the US to freezing snaps in Europe that have been linked to decreasing Arctic ice mass and now the UK’s the ‘wettest drought‘ on record; 2012 is still young and yet we’re seeing some worrying weather patterns emerging.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of anthropogenic climate change we seem to be steering towards further climate chaos, ramping up production of extreme energy resources such as the Canadian tar sands when we need to rapidly decarbonize.
The May 5 day of climate action in London consisted of a climate twister game, a tour of the climate criminals who reside in the local vicinity as well a poignant and moving talk on the devastating effects of the Pakistan floods by Sabiha Teladia of Muslim Hands. I spoke about the destruction of the Canadian tar sands, Danny Chivers talked of important campaigns to engage with and Pete the Temp provided thought provoking poetry.
On a global level, the images that have been streaming in to 350.org over the weekend highlight the pressures that people from all over the world are feeling as climate change starts to bite. They also reveal a defiant community who are making a stand against the polluting industries that are undermining their rights, and the rights of their children, to a safe climate.
At this time of drought and flash flooding across much of the UK, London has its own climate story to share. However, what made the City of London specifically so befitting a setting for both International Stop the Tar Sands Day and Connect the Dots is the way in which the capital’s financial centre actively drives the destruction of the planet.
James Leaton, who blogs for the LSE, reveals the extent of the City’s complicity:
The coal, oil and gas reserves sitting on the London stock exchange are equivalent to ten times the UK’s domestic carbon budget to 2050…A decade ago, the FTSE100 was around 10% natural resources companies. By May 2011, one third of the FTSE100 was mining, oil and gas companies by market capitalisation.
The UK’s active role in the tar sands through loans and extractive projects through corporations such as BP, Natwest and the Royal Bank of Scotland further strengthen our imperative for action.
So too does the fact that our ministers will have yet another opportunity to vote on the European Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) early next year – legislation that could effectively ban tar sands oil from Europe. We must not let Big Oil’s aggressive lobby shout louder than us. We must make it clear that we want EU climate legislation upheld; that the polluting nature of tar sands oil must be recognized; that Ministers must say YES to the Fuel Quality Directive.
An inspiring day came to a close with the Occupy London crew attempting a daring guerilla screening of ‘Taking on Tarmageddon‘ from right within the Tate Modern museum. Unfortunately, we were forcibly denied on this occasion; the gallery clearly siding with their corporate sponsors, BP.
We will not be silenced
Despite Saturday’s run in with Tate Modern security, neither BP nor its beneficiaries will not be there to shut down every screening of this new film. Details on how you can put on an event, with a speaker, within your own university or community are available through the People & Planet website.
Taking on Tarmageddon captures why UK activists must not ease off from the struggle against the tar sands despite the continuous delays within the EU on the FQD vote. This year’s Summer Gathering on June 24-28 provides an amazing opportunity to regroup and strategize on actions to take against the tar sands over the coming months. I’ll be there. I hope you will too.
This blog was posted by Philippa DeBoissiere – one of the students who visited the tar sands in Alberta last summer as part of People & Planet’s tar sands solidarity youth exchange project.
Who would’ve thought that EU transport legislation would be getting so many of us so worked-up this week?
As the EU prepares to vote on the Fuel Qualirty Directive (FQD) on Thursday, environmentalists around the UK are kicking up a fuss in support of a piece of legislation that has the potential to effectively ban tar sands oil imports from Europe, by classifying them as 23% more polluting than most conventional crudes.
Since People & Planet launched a letter-writing action last week, over 500 of you have let Under Secretary of State for Transport, Norman Baker, and his boss, Nick Clegg, know what you think of the UK’s plans to vote against the FQD.
We (and most of you who have written) have received a generic response from Clegg’s office. Like Baker’s replies (which we went on to debunk) when we launched an action to him last November, Clegg’s letter goes to great lengths to focus on technicalities. But first and foremost, Clegg’s reply avoids the bigger picture, which we want to make sure is not lost in the bickering.
- Tar sands are the dirtiest form of transport fuel in commercial production today. The oil industry is pushing hard to create markets for a product that will only ensure an unmanageable level of new carbon is released into the atmosphere, at a time when we must be drastically cutting back. If the EU doesn’t enact legislation that reflects this, Canada and its partners will exploit any loophole that will help lock us into a carbon intensive future, at a time where investment in renewable energy sources is desperately needed. Each day without EU legislation is a day that plans can continue to be made to create a new European market for dirty oil. Canada recently left the Kyoto Protocol, with its relatively modest targets for emissions reductions. In case we needed any clearer indications, this is not a regime that the ‘greenest government ever’ should be allying itself with, as we fight for the planet’s survival.
- The tar sands industry in Canada, beyond its immense environmental costs, is having devastating impacts on local indigenous peoples, wildlife, air and water in Northern Alberta. Keeping the EU’s doors open to tar sands is exactly the kind of market signal that will help justify the quadrupling of existing tar sands operations (which have been thrown into significant limbo since Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline, with the US as the biggest beneficiary of current tar sands oil production). Indigenous peoples, like those from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, with whom we have worked closely in the struggle against this devastating industry, are going to bear the brunt of the impact if expansion is deemed economically justified. Baker and Clegg have the potential to be a part of stopping this, if they choose to…
These are the kinds of questions that are being shied away from – the big issues that the government is pretending are either not their concern, or well outside of their powers.
Instead, they focus on:
- A counter-proposal which they haven’t filed any of the necessary paperwork for, so is not actually an option for Thursday’s vote, and would thus take considerably longer to put into action as a result (even if it was a stronger alternative).
- Current EU fuel usage being primarily conventional crudes, while ignoring the fact that these sources are becoming scarce and that much higher polluting unconventional fuels (like tar sands and shale gas) are the waiting in the wings to fill the quickly emerging gap, if not urgently legislated against.
- The most polluting fuels the EU currently uses, which, even at their very worst, are barely on par with the most carbon efficient tar sands oil.
- Canadian tar sands apparently being ‘singled out’ by the FQD, though the rules would apply to currently unexploited tar sands in Venezuela, Russia, Madagascar and elsewhere, as well. Further, shale gas is also included in the FQD, as carbon values associated with a range of the worst polluting ‘conventional’ fuels will be added by 2015. There is nothing in the phantom counter-proposal that indicates how not labelling tar sands now, would assist in labelling other high-pollutant fuels sooner.
So the response has been a typically big ‘P’ political combination of misplaced emphasis, denial of responsibility and deflection of the core questions at stake. And this criticism has been echoed by politicians across the political spectrum – from Labour’s Shadow Transpor Secretary, Maria Eagle, to Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, and fellow LibDem Chris Davies MEP – all seeing the government’s position as out of step with current realities and the seriousness of the issues at stake.
We would like to ask for more from our elected representatives on this critical issue.
Tar Sands-Free Campaign Manager, People & Planet