By Nic Beuret (Plan C Essex)
The Tory government announced plans this week to usher in a ‘green industrial revolution’, off the back of their pledge last year to make the UK net carbon zero by 2050, spurred by the actions of the school climate strikers and Extinction Rebellion, and in preparation for next year’s delayed international climate change meeting, COP26, which the UK is hosting. This turn to green industrial revolutions echoes John McDonnell’s usage of the term in the lead up to the last election, and the Labour Party’s own green industrial revolution rhetoric, and is part of a longer-term trend where both main parties sign onto some form of ‘green’ commitment and legislation, dating back to Thatcher, that fudges the difficult question of a transition to a low carbon economy whilst retaining plenty of opportunities for profiteering from climate change.
The one that thing that I’ll say, and everyone else will say, is that this doesn’t go far enough. To be honest, a lot of it is just shit or won’t happen and some parts of it will make things worse. But we also have to ask ‘is this all there is now to environmental politics?’. Is criticizing government policy really our shared political horizon? Because if it is, let’s be honest: we’re fucked. What we actually need is an aggressive and combative form of degrowth, one built on solid social and environmental justice principles, one that is resolutely anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist, and one that can engage with government and party policy (by degrowing the green new deal for example [B]) but doesn’t depend on government or policy as our arena of action. We need plans and organisations whose work is focused on deconstructing the current global political economy and rebuilding convivial social economies from the ground up, region by region. So, what would criticizing the current government plans from this perspective look like? This article is a start, one that falls short, but it’s a step in the direction we need to go now, beyond just making counter-policy proposals.
This doesn’t get us to either the Paris Accord or below 2C of climate change.
A general comment, and one to keep banging on about, because this is the whole point of this stuff. We have to resist their framing of the debate. It’s not a question of green achievements, but solving the fucking problem. And the government plan doesn’t come close. There is a massive gap – one created because solving the problem requires a radical transformation of the UK’s political economy – between policy and targets [D]. No doubt when the accounting is done it will be clearer, but the whole plan is based on two things. The first is ‘net zero’, and that’s a dangerous neo-colonial farce [C], one made worse because it’s not even as though the UK is succeeding in nailing its lower, current targets. The UK is off track on its current 2C plans as enshrined in the Climate Change Act [D]. The second, and we’ll come to this later, is that the whole thing – in fact, most of the IPCC targets and government plans around the world – are based on deploying vast numbers of technological fixes that not only don’t really exist in viable numbers, but make climate change worse. That is, they all rely on carbon capture and storage technology, and it’s just a fucking lie [E]. Why does any of this politically matter? Because we need to maintain the struggle at the level of the imagination, at the level of the story and the horizon we organize towards. Climate change – all environmental struggles – involve both slow and fast violence, and slow violence calls for story-telling [F]. We need stories in our movement as its one of the few ways people can actually take hold of the problem politically. It’s through stories and the imagination that we organize ecologically. So the lies and obfuscations matter.
Onto the specific points in the plan.
As with electric cars, there is a massive issue with the processes of extraction involved which drives environmental destruction and produces climate change emissions generally, and in most cases also involves resource imperialism and the creation of new awesome forms of colonialism [A; G; H; J]. As with electric cars, a huge part of the struggle to come will involve finding ways to resist new forms of extractivism (yes, including in Cornwell [I]), and all the new infrastructure that will need to be built to facilitate it. For offshore wind this includes both the need to upgrade the existing electricity grid and the need to ‘disturb’ marine environments that are already at the point of collapse [K]. Another site of struggle will be work. The number of jobs involved that are well paid and skilled is likely to be small in number [A], while the majority will no doubt be ‘muck raking’ style jobs [L]. Again, as will ‘natural habitat’ restoration, and other so-called green jobs, these jobs will be low or semi-skilled, and likely to be low paid (without solid unionization efforts and militant campaigns). Oh, and yes while the government’s plans to produce half the UK’s energy from these windfarms seems amazing, there is – you guessed it – a massive gap between rhetoric and reality. Not only is 40GW of energy from offshore windfarms just 7% of current UK energy demand [S], but the effort required to build this level of new infrastructure is much more than the government is planning for [M].
Lol, this is not a real thing. It’s been a lie (or ‘promise’ from oil companies like BP who are investing big in it) for decades. The main source of hydrogen currently is as a waste product form natural gas exploration and production. Put this in the techno-fantastic lies basket.
Jesus fucking Christ on a unicycle. This is also not a viable option. Putting aside the time involved in bringing it online, and the impact of the mining involved, the shit economics of it and the persistent problem of nuclear waste (notice how the constant leakages from existing UK nuclear power plants is not a constant news item?)… actually, why put them aside? We can’t build enough, fast enough, safely enough to make this a useful contribution [N]. Not that the government’s plan is to make it a useful contribution. Nuclear currently provides 3% of the UK’s energy consumption, and the government’s plan is to barely increase this, so what’s the fucking point? Oh, I get it. It’s another massive infrastructure pork barrel. This should just be resisted everywhere constantly.
Electric vehicles (and walking more, public transport and cycling, etc)
Right – so as with offshore wind, the big political questions here involve mining and infrastructure [A; G; H; R]. We clearly need to decarbonize transport, and again it’s worth noting that while the government’s plans are ‘ambitious’, they aren’t enough to meet the Paris targets [T], but the main task here isn’t to swap fossil fueled cars for electric cars, but massive investments and campaigns around (1) public transport and (2) the working conditions in and environmental impacts of the logistics industry, whose social and environmental costs are usually massively under-appreciated.
Taking on Amazon’s fulfillment centers is an environmental struggle. Tackling the working conditions of Royal Mail workers, RMT members and delivery works is an environmental question. Campaigning alongside and with all of these works could lead to both working conditions improvements and finding some of those emissions reductions the government currently can’t. Bottom line is we need fewer cars, more public transport, and a militant and well-organised transport sector.
It’s worth saying that as always the plans for more cycling and walking, etc, are lovely but until there are bike ‘highways’ and dedicated car-free spaces – both of which we can fight for – then it’s just pushing the responsibility for reducing emissions onto us without any commensurate resources.
Aviation and maritime emissions
There’s a deal been quietly made where the UN will allow shipping emissions to rise until 2030 [P]. Add that to the fact the UK is set to try to increase airport capacity and doesn’t ‘count’ shipping or aviation emissions in its targets and this is all shit. We need to both reduce flights (with 1% of the UK population responsible for 50% of aviation emissions, and something like 3/4s of all fights being business fights [O]), and create pathways out of aviation sector employment for 500,000 people in the UK [A]. A just transition here is hard, and we can’t be under any illusions there is actually a pathway from here to full employment if employment means 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. Really, without Universal Basic Services, access to land and rent-free housing, and a basic income, we’re probably stuck. Lucky with militant organization and probably rioting we can get them.
Heat pumps and homes
The idea here is to use sustainable technology – insulation and heat pumps – to heat our homes cheaply and without the need for fossil fuels. Haven’t we been here already? Yes, insulation and heat pumps, and a lot more besides… The current rate of installation for heat pumps in the UK is 26,000, but we need 1.5 million by 2030… (the target is 600,000 by 2030), so we’re a bit short on that, both in real numbers and in terms of targets (again). But what can I say. Where is the money? Where is the renters campaign to force landlords to install them? Is this the total sum of our vision for housing? Is the green future just a cheaply and greenly heated nuclear family unit? Where is the revolution in our domestic lives, in the architecture of where we live and how? Social reproduction, especially ecologically minded social reproduction, is a material revolution, where architecture and structure shape how our politics and lives unfold.
Carbon capture and storage
Lmao, THIS ISN’T A FUCKING THING.
And what does exist makes climate change worse [E].
It does open up a massive gap though, one where we need to engage, because without this magic fucking button we need degrowth as a viable political strategy. There is no green growth [Q]. This is more of a note to say the left in general needs to have this conversation, and have it fast. We all need to get with the degrowth program, and quickly.
Ah, nature. Birds, trees, and grouse shooting. Lovely. Where is the plan to open up access to land for small farmers (and the Small Farm Future)? Where is the detail on how to transform industrial agriculture to agroecological food production, combined with rewilding efforts in the margins? Where is the detail on stopping soy imports, or other damaging food and material imports? This could have been so much more, but that would rely on taking back the fucking land from the aristos. This, comrades, is where we need to get all Mao and seize the countryside. Seriously.
Finance and banking
Ok, we just need to resist pretty much all of the financialization of disaster stuff. Think old-school anti-globalisation movement stuff here.
All in all, not only is it not enough, it sets up the space for profiting from climate change while kicking the can further down the road on actual action. Good times all round. What is needed though, and what there is so much potential for, is our collective action. There are so many fronts, so many possible spaces and sites to take action, that the question is not ‘how can we do this’ but ‘where do we want to begin’. So comrades, where do we want to begin?
[F] – see ‘Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor’ by Rob Nixon
[Q] – https://www.jasonhickel.org/blog/2018/9/14/why-growth-cant-be-green and his book ‘Less is more’.