Wednesday, 29 June 2016


 ‘I don’t think Jeremy is going to stay he’s going to go’ - Gordon Brown
  ‘for heaven’s sake man go!’ - David Cameron
They are all at Jeremy Corbyns throat.
Ed Milliband and Harriet Harman have lined up alongside the miserable bunch of Labour MPs who have resigned from the Shadow Cabinet and the rest of the MP’s who supported a vote of no confidence motion proposed by Margaret Hodge and Anne Coffey

The fact that Cameron has joined them is telling. I think this right wing Labour cabal would rather see the Tories win the next election than see Labour win under Corbyn. This is clear because Labour have been winning against the Tories in practically all of the battles which have taken place since Jeremy was elected nine months ago. Jeremy Corbyn's Labour won the Oldham by-election with an increased majority; it won the Tooting by-election with an increased majority; Labour won the London Mayoral race this spring; and in the local elections this year Labour did well contrary to the forecasts.

In the Referendum won by the Brexit campaign , Corbyn delivered almost two thirds (63%) of the Labour vote. This is comparable to the SNP performance where 64% of SNP voters voted remain.

The Tories have had to climbdown on a whole raft of policies under Corbyn’s leadership –  on child tax credits; on personal independence payments; on their plan forcing all schools to become academies; the Saudi prison contract; on publishing child poverty statistics. And that is not an exhaustive list, but compared to the pitiful Miliband attempt at leadership it glows with success.  I don’t want to bring up Brown’s record as labour leader and Prime Minister - I would rather leave it and him in the dustbin of history, but from his ‘no return to Boom and Bust’ policies right before the biggest ever bust in recent history wiped off billions of pounds from the economy, put thousands out of work and forced  the British state to cough up and nationalise the Royal Bank of Scotland - leading to the inevitable clawing back of that money and the resultant Tory austerity policies, I think he needs to exhibit a little more humility. He was a useless indecisive ditherer of a leader.  

However Jeremy performed he would have been attacked by these so called Labour politicians. I think a lot of these MPs are going to bitterly regret what they have done. Because Jeremy stands up for ordinary working people, and by trying to destroy him, they have taken up the cudgels on the opposing side. They are now standing for something very different (even though they might deny it).

The plotters are saying Jeremy Corbyn is not a leader. I would like to ask them How do they measure leadership? If it is by winning elections - he is a leader, or referendums - ditto, if it is on forcing the Tories to back down on their nasty plans - he is a leader.
A leader must have followers or they are not a leader. Followers, Leaders - they go hand in hand you cannot have one without the other. As Jeremy has been democraticallyelected by the overwhelming number of Labour party members - more than any other previous leader - he is a leader.

The mob of MPs opposed to Corbyn are trying to force him to resign - something he has repeatedly said he will not do. Their appalling behaviour is personal abuse directed at their own democratically elected leader.
If their bullying is successful, they will have driven a bulldozer through Labour party internal democracy.
Thats why we need to use our every sinew to defend Corbyn and make the Blairites history. I have'nt mentioned Blair, but with the Chilcot report due out next week, I cant help thinking that the Iraq warmonger may have something to do with this poisoning of politics.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Electric Transport versus the Fossil Fuel deceivers

It is advantageous for a car manufacturer to be able to claim that their vehicle emissions are low. If auto makers can claim that their products are less polluting than the competition, they can sell more units and thus make more profit.
Actually, it is impossible to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of a diesel or a petrol engine. Internal combustion engines burn fuel and burned fuel results in carbon dioxide. It is however possible to reduce the amount of other of toxic by-products of the combustion process. Doing so, is not straightforward. Designing and making a vehicle that produces less nitrogen oxides than an unmodified vehicle, is expensive.
However, Volkswagen have admitted to reducing the apparent emissions of some of their vehicles without actually changing the engine or the exhaust system. They have cheated. They have deceived the public in order to make more profits.
All internal combustion engine manufacturers have a competitor technology which beats them hands down on the emissions front. This technology beats both petrol and diesel on clean air. This technology is electric power. Electric vehicles not only beat both diesel and petrol on climate damaging CO2 emissions, they also produce none of the other pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and hydrocarbon particulates etc produced by diesel engines which are so highly damaging to human health. 
30,000 deaths in the UK each year are thought to be caused by air pollution. 9,500 premature deaths in London alone each year have been linked to the NOx fumes produced by diesel engines.
Electric vehicles have zero in use emissions. On a level playing field, electric vehicles will be taken up more frequently than diesel by the public if diesel technology is seen to pollute the environment, damage health and add to the problem of climate change.
There have been suggestions in the media that other manufacturers, not just VW, may have been installing software in their diesel vehicles which misleads the public and regulators about the levels of pollutants produced by their engines. 
Why would they do it?
If all diesel engine manufacturers have been using a so called defeat device, they will not gain any advantage (or any increased profits) over their direct diesel competitors because they will all be showing the same reduced levels of toxic fumes and therefore there will be no significant difference in their published emissions data and no advantage over the competition.
So, If it is shown that other or all diesel vehicle manufacturers have been deceiving regulators by systematically installing software which masks the actual levels of toxic pollutants produced by their engines, the conclusion must be that they have not been doing it in order simply to achieve competitive advantage over other diesel engine manufacturers, but to diminish the advantage and prevent the uptake of a viable completely different, competing clean technology - electric cars, vans, buses and lorries.
The auto industry and its mutually dependent partner in crime the fossil fuel industry will do anything to keep their dirty show on the road and keep out upstart competitors like electric vehicles and wind power*. And they have been doing it with total disregard to the effect it has on our health and the damage it does to the planet.

* Wind power - because we need to decarbonise electricity to maximise the advantage of electric transport. Wind power (specifically offshore wind power) must replace coal oil, gas and nuclear derived electricity.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Pull the Plug

Jeremy Corbyn should say that, if elected, Labour will pull the plug on new nuclear.
This would make EDF and the Chinese government think again about the deal Osborne is offering is offering. They would pull out.
Nuclear makes no sense as a solution to climate change. We need an international solution to the climate crisis, and there is no question whether nuclear could provide all of the worlds electricity, let alone all of the worlds energy. It cannot get anywhere near either. There is not enough Uranium 235. And, anyway, politically, the West does not want to see nuclear being developed where it is not in control. Iran shows us this.

Investing in nuclear means that cheaper, more reliable and safer alternative technologies - like onshore and offshore wind and solar heat and pv along with efficiency measures like building insulation, are deprived of that investment.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party (Why I joined it, plus the meaning of RS21)

I’ve joined the Labour Party.
I gave some of my reasons for leaving the Socialist Workers Party in another post.
Since then I have left another outfit – I’m really going through them now! Perhaps I will also be expelled from the Labour Party for not believing in its values. I hope not – I’m hoping that logic will dictate that the values of Labour changed when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader and that I will now be considered fit to be a member.

So, why did I leave that other outfit, and have I learned any lessons?
When I left SW, it was really with a feeling of sadness. When I left RS21 it was one of relief mixed with anger.
Ill try to explain.

Having been in two revolutionary socialist organisations has enabled me to see both more clearly - what they have in common, and also what makes them different. The relationship between two positions becomes clear when there is a third with which to compare them.

When I was in SW I was very clear about what we were trying to do. We were trying to build the revolutionary party. You cannot get rid of capitalism through reforms; it cannot be reformed; a revolution is needed. And the working class needs a revolutionary socialist organisation to give the lead in the revolutionary struggle. It followed that the party organ, Socialist Worker, was an important tool for helping to shape and build the party – its' scaffolding.

We were told that it was a party of leaders. But nobody really believed that we were in a single tier organisation. There was an acceptance that some were better at being leaders than others. That didn’t matter. It was all done in the cause of ‘Building the Party’. You had to consciously subordinate yourself to the rule of the ‘centre’ to the industrial organiser; to the district organiser. But that was done willingly. We trusted those in the leadership to, on the whole, make good decisions. Sometimes mistakes were made, but again, and of course as in life elsewhere, people make mistakes. Even when things were not going too well, comrades were happy to keep heads down and keep pushing on with whatever party building project was under way.
For most of my time in the party – up until about 2008 – that way of working was good. You always had the sense (at least I did) that we were doing the right thing and things couldn’t really be done any better given the objective circumstances. The party was building for a lot of that time. It grew from around 4,500 when I joined in 1989 to about 10,000 in 2000. The ten thousand figure is disputed, but there really was actual growth – an almost doubling of the membership.
For me, things started to go wrong after the great crash of 2008. I can almost pin point it to an exact time of day  (you may laugh, but that’s what I think). I think it was September 14th 2008, when it was announced that Lehman Brothers had collapsed. At around that time the first statements that there was going to be a bailout of the biggest banks in the world were broadcast on the telly. When I heard that I immediately said to myself ‘and they will be clawing that back from us’ It would be like the Poll Tax on steroids. I went to a meeting at the University of London Union organised by SW (incidentally Delta* was the main speaker) and put my hand up wanting to speak about my take on the crisis. I wasn’t called. That wasn’t unusual. The trusted leaders usually got called to speak. You were lucky if you weren’t  a recognised leader member to be called to speak.
If I had been called, I would have said that this crash gives us a great opportunity. Like the poll tax, the clawback will affect everybody – every worker. And that could be the governments' and their capitalist friends their Achilles Heel. Governments do not ever take on the whole of the working class at the same time. They use divide and rule tactics.  The bailout with the inevitable clawback gave us the opportunity to attempt  to unite the working class against the austerity that will surely be coming down the tracks. I had a letter published in SW on the issue some months later.
But what did the party do in response to the crash? Zilch, Nada, Nothing.
Their mantra was ‘ you can not fight a recession’ and ‘you cannot suck a fightback out  of your thumb’
Of course you cannot fight a recession and nobody as far as I know was saying that. I found out a long time later that others had  reached the same conclusion as me, but (because of the way dissent in the party was handled) I did not hear that or get to talk to them.
In fact the Poll Tax campaign was sucked out of our thumb. It was built bottom up from the ground in a sustained eighteen month campaign which united as many strands of resistance as was possible. And it won. It was a major (and for me inexplicable) mistake of the party to not re-orientate - and attempt to build a campaign using lessons from the successful Anti Poll Tax campaign from the late eighties - after the banking crisis of 2008.
From then on, I started to trust less and less, the decisions of the leadership and became critical of the direction the party was going in. But I remained in the party, hopeful that better judgement would materialise in the future struggles.

A large proportion (not all, but a significant number) of the group that eventually emerged as RS21 were full timers in the SW – People who worked for the paper and worked on the admin of the party. This group backed to the hilt and argued for and carried out (they had to, it was their job), the decisions of the central committee.

Then came the traumatic crisis in the party caused by the (alleged and disputed admittedly**) actions of the leading member of the central committee of the Socialist Workers Party.

The trauma that overwhelmed the party in 2012 – 2014 was an accident waiting to happen.
In a sexist, racist, homophobic, society, everybody in that society has those backward ideas in their head -‘ The ruling ideas in any society are those of the ruling class’  - however under control they may be. Just because you are on the central committee of a revolutionary organisation, that in itself does not shield you, free you, exempt you, from holding those notions. And, always, there exists the possibility that you could act, however involuntarily, on them. You can recognise their backwardness and guard yourself against them and fight against people who are overtly racist  or sexist or homophobic (and that is not an exhaustive list) etc, but you cannot obliterate the notions themselves. This is not to excuse any racist, sexist, homophobic, behaviour, but to recognise the existence of  the ideas, and the danger they represent.
One of the first books I was read as a child was blatantly racist with racist stories and pictures and words; and for many years as I was growing up, homosexuality was an illegal practice; my mother was, as a great many women were (and still even now are) casually treated a bit like a modern slave. Racist, homophobic and sexist ideas are in peoples’ heads. How could they not be? We have been brought up with them. Young people have had a different experience, but the main point still applies.

My conclusion is that we have to build our party in a defensive way. In such a way that, if and when a leading member fails to live up to the highest revolutionary standards, that it doesn’t bring the whole project crashing down. We must not allow that kind of vulnerability to arise. 
We need a discussion on the best way forward – on how to build a more robust organisation or set of organisations. I think we need a looser structure. The ‘slate’ method of leadership is problematical.  We can only vote for the slate and the slate votes for itself.  This tends to perpetuate the vulnerability and increases the likelihood of further trouble in the future. There is a history of leadership worship leading to the collapse of left parties. We need to be wary of leadership worship. Leaders often let us down. And if they are the head of the single ‘vanguard’ party that is asking for trouble.

When I was in RS21 I suggested that we should have an open discussion –both within RS21 and then with Socialist Worker and within the working class as a whole about the kind of party that we need.
Unfortunately my suggestion was not taken seriously.

This leads me on to my thoughts on RS21.
What does it mean anyway. Nobody knows. It means arse to anyone.
(When I resigned from RS21, my anger had reached white heat, so, apologies if my use of that four letter word offends anyone).
The anger came from many things. 
There used to be an organisation in the eighties and early 90s called the RCP. They had a magazine called Living Marxism. They were not an organisation that tried to build.  Their name implied revolutionary communism, but I had no idea what they were trying to do. They were just there. They had this nice shiny magazine with the picture of their leader on it. I forget how they disappeared, but before they did they changed the name of their magazine to LM.   It meant nothing. They weren’t trying to build.  RS21 is like that.
In Socialist Worker,  I knew why I was selling the paper. We were trying to build a revolutionary party and use the paper to help us in that work.
I couldn’t bring myself to even try selling the RS21 magazine because I didn’t know what it was for. It had some good articles and looked nice and shiny, but that was it. We might just as well have tried selling the Daily Mirror or the New Scientist.
When I was in that outfit, only a core group would automatically get their writing published. I never felt it was my magazine. There was a hierarchy; it was a two tier organisation even though there had been no proper discussion of this.
From the outset, and actually from before I joined, when it was still a faction within SW, I sensed that the organisation was undemocratic. I hoped this would change, but I was to be disappointed.

There was what I called an ‘undeclared social faction’ in existence. At the first National meeting event in Brixton, a posse of members left the pub we were gathered in after the event, and, with no announcement, marched out en masse leaving us, the remainder, to socialise among ourselves. Nice.
There are a lot of very decent and lovely people in RS21, just as there were in SW. I do not have a beef really with any particular people. I do have a beef with how the organisation works. But that of course is tied up with those same people.

So this is how I characterise some of this group.
Some of the new RS21 group had been full timers with the party. On leaving, they now found themselves unemployed professional revolutionaries. Professional revolutionaries without a job. And, to boot, professional revolutionaries who were used to carrying out the ‘centralism’ part of the ‘democratic centralism’ organisational method that SW functions by. They carried out the dirty work of centralism – the bending of the stick – the persuasion of those who were deemed to be not helpful to toe the line. A lot of them were crap at it, but they tried to crack the centralist whip. (In a nutshell democratic centralism is an organisational concept meaning decisions are arrived at democratically by the whole organisation, and then, once the policy is decided on, that policy is implemented across the organisation by the central leadership)
Adding to that, the leadership tends to select its successors from the full timers – from those who proved themselves compliant to the leadership and who were trained and in the habit of giving out orders. The professional revolutionaries saw themselves as the leadership in waiting.
They had a little bit of power and it would not be surprising if they felt the loss of that little bit of power when they resigned after building the opposition faction.
It was as if hey felt a sense of entitlement, stemming from their habitual roles in the old organisation. 

Those habits were carried over the new organisation, RS21. It always felt to me like a two tier organisation, when it could and should have been flat. We needed a true party of leaders, not another party of leaders and followers.  Instead, we got, for one example, the appointment, with hardly any discussion on the pros and cons of it of a middle aged (for RS21!) white academic male  as a paid worker. For me, we’ve had enough of  posh academics running the show into the ground in SW. We don’t need a re run of that. It sends out the wrong message.  A lot of people I spoke to about that appointment over their heads were disappointed with that important policy change. This is because he who pays the piper calls the tune. The friends of the full timer control interventions and policy.

So the problem of RS21 is that it is a chip off the old block. All the problems of Socialist Worker are there in embryo in RS21.
But the strengths of Socialist Worker – its clear sense of direction and purpose for example, are just not there. There are good things about RS21. They have tried. That’s good. They have tried to come up with some new political analyses – not amounting to much for me though, and in fact, I have sensed, at least in one Youtube video I have seen, which was presented by one of the self appointed leaders -  a sense of despair – a questioning of whether the working class has the actual power or ability to change the world. Oh dear.  A general cannot prepare to go into battle discussing defeat.

I think we need a revolutionary socialist organisation. But we need one that is capable of  winning the hundreds of thousands of new people that are joining the Labour party. I think that party could well have been Socialist Worker if it had been able to make a change to its ossified leadership methodology. Alas that is too late right now. But they will still have a part to play.  That party is full of brilliant class fighters.  It needs to drop the thuggish centralism and remake itself.
Tony Cliff did point us in the right direction. Again alas, he died too soon.
Something he said sticks in my mind. Unusually, the analysis isn’t taken to its conclusion (or more probably, I missed it) so:

Cliff said the revolution will be led by a 19 year old black lesbian.

Actually, Cliff, if writing today, would have said that the revolution will be led by a 19 year old black, disabled Moslem lesbian. Why? They have the most to win. But that isn’t my point.
Cliff was the leader of the party which, although this is not normally explicitly stated, sees itself as the vanguard party - the vanguard of the coming revolution when it happens. But this leaves us with a gaping hole. Because the party is not and (given the current stranglehold on leadership by the current CC, will never be)  led by that 19 year old. There is not a mechanism currently as the SWP is set up for, for any such person to emerge within the leadership of the SWP,
 A different structure, a more loose form of Democratic centralism is needed.

Why am I joining Labour then?
One of the things drummed in to me in my SW days is the maxim - you cannot be a socialist by yourself. In other words, you need to work with other socialists; you need to be in an organisation of some sort. I still agree with that. By yourself, you can maybe change some things, but you cannot change the world all by yourself.  The question then – what organisation, or what kind of organisation, do I need to be in - presents itself to anyone who concludes that - because of what they know is happening to billions of people and to the earth itself - that major political change is needed if we want a safe planet.
I think that the working class needs a revolutionary organisation  – one that argues for and builds towards a revolutionary change going beyond capitalism. However, in my opinion now, based on my experience in the two groups I have been a member of and which do argue for that kind of change, an organisation capable of building has yet to be formed.

In the absence of the existence of that organisation, right now seems to be a good time for a socialist without a party to join Labour. Why?  Because it has hundreds of thousands of new people joining and has a left wing MP beating the right wing, hands down, in the leadership contest. Although I have joined with an open mind and open heart it is also with no illusions. A leopard cannot change its spots. But I think its better to be in a party full of people that want to see change and to work together with them to try to achieve that change, than not to be in any group - even if you think that some of the basic political analysis of the party is wrong. Labour is now moving in the right direction – even if it does not have the fuel to carry us to the final destination.

* and ** This refers to the SW central committee member at the eye of the storm during the SWP crisis 2012/ 2013 I have a little bit to say about that crisis but am going to leave it to another post.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Not just ironic

This week, the FT reported that the National Grid was looking for emergency supplies of electricity for this winter ('Power shortage fears spur hunt for extra electricity', National News, FT September 03).
The emergency has come about it was said, because of shortages in output from the UKs coal gas and nuclear stations. In August, EDF, the main nuclear power generation company, had announced the closure, due to boiler faults, of four nuclear power stations and the resultant loss of a combined output of 2.3 GW ('Nuclear power plant warning puts spotlight on supply plans', National News, FT September 05).  In addition, fires at Ferrybridge and Ironbridge power stations, two key coal fired plants, have resulted in a further loss in electricity generation capacity. A gas fired station in Barking East London has also recently closed.

With the NG urgently looking for new sources of electricity, it seems ironic then, does it not, to find that several new electricity generating projects have recently been scrapped ('Offshore wind farms hit by new blow', National News FT August 01).  Centrica's project to develop the new 2.2GW Celtic Array, Europe's largest wind farm (which was to be sited off the North Wales coast near Anglesey) has been closed. To add to that, in recent months power companies have pulled out of a litany of offshore windfarm developments. The £4B Atlantic Array which was to have been built off the Devon coast by RWE has been scrapped. Scottish Power pulled out of it's Argyll Array project late last year and a second phase of Kent coast's London Array windfarm, run by a consortium of companies, has also ended up as more flotsam and jetsam.
The reasons given for the ditching of the Anglesey development are many and varied: Engineering difficulties, concerns about damage to shark and bird habitats, uncertainties about financial support, tightening of the Coalition government's subsidies regime, challenging ground conditions, the seabed of rock and sand leading to additional complexity and cost for the construction of footings for wind turbines. That’s a long list. The reasons given for the other project closures, as far as I can see, are similar - they cite, for example in the case of the Argyll project, problems with basking sharks and rocky seabeds.

UK based companies and others have amassed great skills in Offshore engineering from decades of marine oil and gas exploration projects and experience. Much is known about how to build footings for large structures on tricky seabeds. Energy companies enjoy a challenge it seems. BP and other companies mined seven miles! below the surface of the Mexican gulf to drill for oil. They have been and go to the most challenging parts of the world in an attempt to squeeze as much black gold from the earth as they are able. Environmental concerns - water table pollution, destruction of wildlife habitats, have always taken second place to the primary concern - profit. This last point has been rammed home more firmly today as BP has been found guilty of gross negligence and willful misconduct in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. If the energy companies were keen to go ahead with those offshore wind projects, all of the hurdles listed above would be straddled by using the means that have been used in the past to railroad through difficult schemes - with one sole proviso -providing there were returns to be had.

I don’t believe the reasons given for those project closures.

Renewable electricity generation, for example, windpower, produces electricity more cheaply than conventional generation, like coal, oil, gas and nuclear and brings the electricity price down for all forms of generation. This is because, once installed, a wind energy converter say, requires no fuel, and requires only a small amount of maintenance work. Electricity is produced continually (when the wind blows) at little (or no) extra marginal cost. Contrastingly, all other forms of electricity generation - nuclear, gas, coal and oil based power stations - require a constant supply of fuel and the associated labour required to deliver the fuel and to maintain the equipment.  

This can be confirmed to some extent, by taking a look at what is happening to electricity prices in Germany.
Europe's second largest electricity producer by capacity, RWE, has moaned that power prices are too low. The price of electricity has dropped there, it is said (The LEX Column, FT August 15), because of the excess capacity on the German electricity market, partly caused by the nationwide switch to renewables. The price of electricity in Germany has reached a seven year low at Euro 34 per MWh. That is significantly below the current electricity price in the UK. To compare this with the UK, the forecast UK baseload electricity price for October rose to £46.55 per MWh today according to the above quoted FT article (September 05).  
'Excess' renewables capacity is forcing RWE, as an operator of both renewables and also of conventional power generation, to close its (more expensive) conventional capacity when it has to choose as a result of dropping electricity demand (or lots of excess electricity due to high winds). The result is that the electricity price drops at these times when generation of electricity exceeds demand.

I believe that this underlines the primary reason for those closures listed above. Renewable generation brings the price of electricity down. Not just down for renewable electricity, but for all electricity, whether generated by nuclear, coal, oil, gas or wind turbines. Having more and more renewables generating electricity is not good for companies heavily invested in fossil and nuclear. If their prices have to drop, so do their profits from huge investments in conventional power.
In the UK, a contrasting phenomenon shines a little more light on the nature of renewable electricity and the politics surrounding it.
Rather than an energy company, as in Germany, moaning about low energy prices, a national newspaper bleats here about how 'A windfarm has been paid £11 million not to produce electricity'  (Sunday Telegraph August 24).
The National Grid has to constantly balance electricity supply with demand. Electricity cannot simply be thrown away once produced. Something must be done with it - heat an oven, light a room, power a fridge etc. If there is an excess of electricity being generated, then either some generation must be shut down, or some demand switched on. In Germany currently, it seems conventional plant is being switched off when necessary while in the UK, the choice, currently is to ask windfarm operators to temporarily stop their rotor blades from turning. That payment of £11 million would be arising from a pre agreed contract between National Grid and the generation company, that stated that amounts of cash would be handed over if a request was made to not generate. That kind of contract is drawn up between National Grid and every type of electricity generation organisation.  The choices behind the different approaches in the UK and Germany are political and commercially determined. In Germany (although how long this will last is unclear), the Government is favouring some renewable generation, while in the UK the Government is fully behind conventional fossil and nuclear generation (and of course is also behind the new kid on the block, fracking) as is evidenced by its removal of subsidies from onshore wind, and the recent announcement by the Department for Energy and Climate Change that rival technologies- implying offshore wind and fracking etc- would now have to compete for funding.

If we are to tackle effectively the most serious challenge affecting us regarding energy production - climate change - we should be building and installing more windfarms, not closing projects down.
The reason they are not being built fast enough and why sensible projects are in fact being closed down is because of the investment by the those multinational energy companies, those behind the projects mentioned above - some of the worlds most profitable firms - in oil and gas and their desire to keep making profits in the same old way from these investments with support in this from the UK government and governments in many countries worldwide.    

That the National Grid balances the electricity grid by  paying large amounts of money to windfarm companies to not produce electricity, while at the same time it is saying it is searching for emergency supplies of electricity elsewhere is one irony. Another is that while new, safe, clean and potentially reliable renewable electricity projects are shut down, massive amounts of investment continues to be spent on dirty dangerous unreliable old nuclear and fossil stations which frequently break down and require constant maintenance and safety inspections.
These ironies arise because of the irrational unpredictable outcomes that follow production for profit.

Much more investment should be made in energy storage and in building more electricity links (like the £1billion Western Link which will link Scottish renewable generation to the rest of the UK)
With more links and more electricity storage, windfarms would not have to be paid to shutdown, any excess would simply be used to satisfy demand further afield, or would be stored for use later when demand had risen or for when the wind did not blow. But this investment is not happening, or is not happening quickly enough and this is because of the profit motive. Renewables can produce clean cheap electricity, but its development threatens the profits of the most worlds most profitable and powerful companies.

 My new book, Safe Planet will be published on 26th September 

Friday, 13 June 2014

Double Speak on Energy Prices

The 'big six' energy companies this week blamed rising costs due to the 'governments environmental policies', and excused tariff rises, blaming them on 'green levies' [FT Wednesday].
On the same day, an article in The Times told us that National Grid proposes to increase the number of interconnectors from Britain to Europe where 'an excess of harnessed wind and solar energy is depressing prices '
So does solar and wind 'green' technology raise prices or does it depress energy prices?
According to the FT article you would deduce that green technology is responsible for price increases.
According to the Times article, the wind and solar technology had depressed prices.

The reality can be seen in Germany, where the price of electricity dropped to zero earlier this year when windy conditions coincided with a lot of sun and a drop in demand. The energy capitalists do not like their energy price to drop to zero - neither the British ones nor the German ones. Zero price, zero profit. I suppose the new interconnectors will help both manage their prices.
Meanwhile, energy companies will scramble to try to frack the earth for shale gas and continue to resist, with help from governments, the only rational solution - building a renewable energy infrastructure. Why don't the energy companies want to do this? Because prices will fall.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Ecosocialism: Fracking, Climate and Revolution

I was asked to do a workshop on Marx's Ecology at the Ecosocialism Conference
This is the gist of what I wanted to say:

Marx's Ecology
We've had report after report, haven’t we, from the IPCC, from the UN, from leading scientists, about the fact that human activity is causing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to rise year on year and that this is causing the average temperature of the planet to rise and that this, in turn, is causing the climate to change. And we have witnessed many unprecedented weather events over recent months and years - those floods, storms and droughts seen on our TV screens. The scientists had predicted that more extreme weather will be the result of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And it seems they were right. Many scientists have now linked the recent unusual weather to the burning of fossil fuels.
For more than a decade we had leading members of governments, making a lot of noise about the danger of climate change.  Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair said , in 2002. 'Climate change is the greatest challenge facing humanity'. In 2006, David Cameron then the Conservative opposition leader was photographed posing with huskies in the Arctic to highlight climate change. In the lead up to the 2009 Copenhagen governmental conference on Climate Change, Gordon Brown the then Prime Minister stated  'Copenhagen is our last chance to get international agreement on climate change to reduce emissions'.
We have to hope Brown wasn't right about the timing because they didn't get it.

But what is happening 12 years 8 years, and 5 years after those prime ministerial statements?
Carbon dioxide emissions are going up at an ever increasing pace.
Far from saying that we must cut back (eliminate) CO2 emissions by cutting fossil fuel burning, companies around the globe are scouring the earth for oil miles under the surface of the oceans, in the pristine wilderness of the arctic, out of the dirty tar sands of Canada and are prospecting for fossil gas under the earth everywhere - even fracking mother earth in leafy stockbroker belt Surrey. And the Prime Minister, ministers and departments are fully behind the fracking of Britain.
In this years Queen's speech, Prime Minister Cameron announced that the law would be changed to make it possible to allow fracking companies to drill for oil and gas wherever they want and the pledge, given previously to ensure all post 2016 building must comply with zero carbon rules, was abandoned. Both of those measures will result in more CO2 emissions and consequently, more  global warming.  The British Government are fully behind the burning of more and more fossil fuel, despite the warnings.

If we can force a change in these kinds of policies, there is time to set a course towards a safer planet, but time is running out rapidly.
One reason time is running out is because of the danger of reaching the tipping points identified by many scientists - the albedo affect in the Arctic; the possible release of trapped methane in Permafrost regions as the temperature rises; the reducing carbon dioxide buffer of the sea; loss of biodiversity and its effect on the ecosystem.
If we burn all the oil, all glaciers will melt and the planet will enter the ice free state with sea levels hundreds of feet higher than they are at at present. Future generations will be confronted with a situation that is out of their control. It will not be us that is affected.  It will be our children's children and our children's children's children that will be confronted with an unsurmountable problem.
But, almost unbelievably, the oil companies do plan to burn all of their known reserves and any more that they discover.

Climate change is not the only ecological problem. It is just, perhaps, the greatest life destroyer that capitalism has unleashed upon humanity. Other massive problems - diffusion of toxins into the environment, destruction of the soil by agribusiness, deforestation to list just some also must be dealt with.
So why are governments and companies acting recklessly, and what can we do about it?

Capitalism has always treated the environment as a dustbin and as a source of free resources. 
Karl Marx, a long time ago identified capitalism as an unsustainable system.
This comes about partly from the necessity of capital to continually expand, to break all barriers to the self expansion of capital. Nothing must stand in the way of the drive for profit. That’s why the government has introduced the new infrastructure bill in favour of fracking and of changing laws to allow it despite the absurdity and the destructiveness of fracking. That it destroys the environment is of no matter.
And partly it comes about from the way capitalists have been able to treat on the one hand, unpaid labour, and on the other, nature, the environment, as a free gifts (both being important sources of its profits). So alongside labour, Capital has always treated the environment as if it is free for it to do what it wants with it, whether as a dump or as the scene of the crime for its robbery of nature. Fracking, and all the other combined efforts of the carbon capitalists are an extension of this agenda.  
One of the first historic acts of capital was to drive peasants and farm labourers off the land. The enclosures of the commons. 'The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, is the basis of the whole process'  [Capital Vol 1, pp 503,4] This created a rift ,or rupture, in what Marx called, the human-earth metabolism. 'Capitalist production, by collecting the population in great centres, and causing an ever-increasing preponderance of town population,... disturbs the circulation of matter between man and the soil, i.e., prevents the return to the soil of its elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; it therefore violates the conditions necessary to the lasting fertility of the soil' [Capital Vol 1 pp 352/3 ]
This act destroys the health of the town worker and the intellectual life of the rural worker - it depletes the land, and pollutes the city.
This pillage continues to this day in underdeveloped parts of the world.

And to this day, essential minerals and micro-nutrients are pissed down the tubes, while the land has to be artificially fortified with industrially produced fertilisers. Modern agricultural techniques (pesticides, insecticides, GM crops) damage the soil further.

Its clear from its works that capitalism is incapable of solving the climate problem. There have been many lost lives, lost livelihoods and communities displaced already as a result of climate disruption. It is incapable of solving this ecological problem because it, capitalism, is the source, the very heart of the problem.

Why can't capitalism solve climate change?
In short, the capitalists think they have too much to lose by converting to clean energy like wind or solar power. The energy companies that make profits from oil, coal and gas are central to capitalism. According to the Fortune 500 report, of the ten most profitable companies worldwide in 2007, six were fossil fuel companies, one was an auto manufacturer, and two were banks. The odd one out was Apple at number 7. At the top was Russia's Gazprom ($44.5B profits), followed closely by the US company Exxon-Mobil ($41B); then comes a bank, The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China ($32B). These concerns are linked by a web of mutual interests. Banks make loans to oil companies for infrastructure like oil refineries, drilling technology etc. Car companies rely on oil and refinery companies to produce the fuel on which their products run. And the oil companies benefit from the constant demand for oil products from the automobile industry.
A wholesale switch to renewable energy would mean a massive amount of stranded investment (equivalent to lost profits) for these fossil and fossil related organisations. And so, renewable energy is seen as a threat to these profit hungry  businesses. This is why they attempt to block or stall the growth of the industry and technologies that can save the planet. To do this they enlist the help of governments. In this country we heard in April this year (2014) the Tory/Condem (and Labour is not different in this) Minister in charge of the department of energy and climate change (DECC) saying 'we will be finishing all subsidies to onshore windpower and no more will be installed because we now have enough onshore windpower', and the compliant BBC Radio 4 Today presenter asking whether we should now be ripping up the existing wind turbines!

We must demand a complete change! and we should, unapologetically, use the phrase that the apologists for capitalism use a lot. It’s the right thing to do!
We need a systematic restoration of the human-earth metabolism. We need an ecological revolution. But this cannot happen without ridding ourselves of the cause of the problem - the capitalist system. We need a social revolution. We need this, not only because of the horror and humiliation inflicted on billions of people worldwide as a result of the way capitalism treats them as an expendable free resource for profiteering, but because only through a revolution can we restore the relationship humans must have with the planet.
But isn't capitalism needed to provide all the stuff that we need in order to live? How can we produce, for example, the energy we need without burning more fossil fuel? Are we not caught in an oily trap we cannot get out of?
No. We can provide all the energy needed from renewable resources.
In all places where people have settled there is many more times than enough ambient energy than is needed. Energy from the sun. And there is also harvestable energy in the tides and in geothermal rocks.

Taking the UK as an example.

If mention of numbers and arithmetic makes your eyes glaze over, relax and don’t worry, you don't need to follow these figures too closely; I just want to demonstrate the power in the wind, and the scale of the task.

The power you can get from a wind turbine depends on a number of factors. Not surprisingly, the windier it is, the more power you can get; and the larger the wind turbine, the more power you can get. The power varies according to the square of the blade length.
Doubling the blade length quadruples the power. The power output is also proportional the cube of the windspeed. If a wind turbine produces 8 units of power at a wind speed of 2 m/sec, at 3 m/sec it will produce 27 units of power and at 4 m/sec, it can produce 64 units of power and so on.
So makes sense, if power is wanted, to install lots of very big wind turbines out at sea where the windspeeds are typically high and are stable.
Could windpower produce all we need?
Take a typical windspeed out in the North Sea of 9 metres per second say.
A 10 MW wind turbine (with a rotor blade length of about 67 metres) at the same location in the North Sea would produce, at that wind speed, about 7MW.
How many of these would we need installed to supply all of the UKs energy and power?
That’s quite an easy calculation to do.

In 2007, the total UK energy consumption was 1856TWh (DUKES 2008).
This includes all forms of energy - solid and liquid fuels like coal and oil and also electricity.
Very roughly, if this energy was consumed at a constant rate (its not, but this is just an illustration) then the continuous power demand would be 211GW (the equivalent of 211 nuclear power stations on at full power) We don’t want nuclear because its dirty, expensive, dangerous has a limited stockpile of fuel and it is very unreliable (most of them are down for maintenance at any one time according to ENDS). So lets replace them with windpower.
Calculations show that, making reasonable assumptions about power losses in the grid cables and equipment, around 23,000 wind turbines will deliver 211GW from a wind speed of 8.7 metres per second.
This number of wind turbines at optimal spacing will take up an area of about 10,000 square kilometres (about half the size of Wales!). This windfarm would be out at sea!
Of course, if the wind speed were to drop to zero, then precisely zero energy would be produced. Zilch, nada, nothing.
 It will be necessary to spread the turbines over a wide area to minimise the chances of them all being becalmed at the same time. And, I believe, it is important (essential) to have a good energy storage system in place if we want to power everything with renewables (which we do!). 
When the wind drops, when the windfarms are becalmed - All the lights will go out!
With a very large internationally interconnected geographically dispersed electricity grid, this problem will disappear, but initially, there will be a requirement for substantial energy storage facilities. 

Energy storage removes the problem of intermittency.
Some modelling I did indicates that, with enough electrical storage, about 45,000 10 MW turbines (taking up a sea-area approximately the size of Wales!) could have satisfied the total UK energy demand in 2007.
We will need the existing energy storage - such as the pumped hydro power station at Dinorwig in Wales and those at other locations around the globe. And more of this type of facility must be built. This is expensive technology however, and, crucially, takes a long time to build so, in the transition period an alternative could be provided by a transport system that becomes increasingly electrified as the renewable generators come on line. 
All electric transport, be it trains, trams, trolley buses, buses, vans, lorries etc must, at least in an interim transitional period, be equipped with electrical storage. This storage will support renewable generators as well as holding the power to run the vehicles.

Transitional Demands.
What are our demands?
We demand that all the oil gas and coal is left in the ground. We demand that all governments and states plan a route to a fossil free energy system. For that we have to use the fossil fuel we have. We have to phase out fossil fuel and phase in renewable generators like wind, wave, solar and tidal. Insulate all buildings so that they require less input energy to keep them warm or cool.
We demand no new coal, no fracking and no new nuclear (nuclear will suck away investment from safe renewables,and it's dangerous etc etc).
We demand that states/governments invest in renewable technology and in all the new training that it requires. So the UK we demand the Government builds and installs, together with the necessary grid strengthening and ancillary equipment eighteen hundred 10MW wind turbines each and every year for the next 20 years. (Six a day) (This is the scale of what is required). Intermittent renewables require energy storage. That must be built in tandem. (this can be done by equipping all electric transport with battery storage - and there are other storage infrastructure projects that can be developed). 
We demand an annually reducing cap on the number of internal combustion engined vehicles that are registered on the road. The reducing fossil transport fleet must be replaced by electric trains, trams, buses, trolleybuses and electric vehicles.
The Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group pamphlet - One MillionClimate Jobs Now argues sets out to some extent, the detail (excluding the storage argument) of what needs to be done in the UK

Big Oil
The big oil companies, coal, gas and nuclear are the problem
But those workers who currently work for big oil, coal, gas and nuclear and for the ICE auto industry are part of the solution. The expertise amongst the car, oil, coal, gas and nuclear workers, their skill set, fits pretty much exactly what is needed in a new renewable energy industry. Where their skills are redundant, they must be retrained.
Jobs and (Energy price)
There will be many millions of new jobs in our new renewable generation era.
Renewable energy will be (unlike claims made for that by nuclear apologists in the fifties) too cheap to meter. It will be cheap, and eventually, virtually free.
At first, building a renewables industry will require millions of jobs (good!). The capitalists 'industrial reserve army' that they like in place because it keeps wages down, will be taken out of their state of humiliation will learn essential skills, and will have good useful jobs. Once the renewable generators have been installed though, they require only a small amount of maintenance. At this point workers will be able retrain to work in other essential areas (and I would like to think, will get more leisure time!) 'From each according to their needs, from each according to their ability' [ Marx, Engels, Selected Works,  p 321] Critique of the Gotha program,  (NB We must critique the Obama/Cameron/Putin program)  
The price of energy will come down once the initial investment has been made. This is because the sun (and the earth in the case of tidal) sends no bills. Once the wind turbines, solar panels, wave machines or tidal stream generators are up and running, the cost of the electricity they produce will plummet (because there will be more than enough for everyone and, under the current system, because of the law of supply and demand) and this is why, of course, that the oil companies do not want wind. The price of oil, gas coal and nuclear energy will come down and profits will tumble. It will make the old energy  technology and fuel sources totally redundant. Capitalists do know this and wrote about it in a CBI report called 'Decision Time' about 5 years ago. They worried about 'negative marginal costs' of wind. They worried about the cost of wind electricity falling to zero and below!
In Germany in April this year, the validity of this worry for them was confirmed when the price of electricity fell to zero momentarily when there was an exceptionally windy and sunny day, and demand for electricity had dipped.
The 'green' levies we are paying for in our electricity bills are actually 'fossil' levies as the oil coal and gas companies attempt to resist what they see as interference in their profiteering and they attempt protect their massive investments in dirty coal, oil, tar and fracking gas. Internationally the corporations and governments are planning in a totally undemocratic way, to push through, to push down our throats, more business as usual fossil fuel burning via the fracking industry. They hope the EU-US trade deal (TTIP) currently being negotiated by the US and EU will allow them to do what they like.

What can we do?
Spread the word by any and all means necessary.
Join groups. Join your local residents association; Join your Trade Union; get them to affiliate to CCC. Agitate in your workplace for action on climate change. Solidarity and Unity in action is where our strength lies. Build links everywhere. Hold demonstrations, vigils, marches. Above all, use the power of our side in the workplace - strikes occupations, picket lines.
Link the struggles. Against austerity, the struggle against low pay and precarious work, the struggle against a debt ridden society, the humiliation of pay day loans - link those struggles with all the other resistance - the resistance to fracking, public service cuts; the list is goes on and on. That we have all these fights, we can turn to our advantage - if we successfully link them. Capitalism is the root cause of all these problems. A successful fight against this system of profit for the few, will be the solution. 
There are many groups concerned about the fracking of mother earth, Groups like Grandmothers against fracking, Frack Off, Youth for climate justice, CCC etc. Get involved, Act.
Oppose big oil ideologically and physically whenever and wherever we can.
Our job could not be more important. We have a closing window of opportunity to change the course of human history. Capitalism is a sinking ship. What interests it is profit only, not what humanity needs. The never ending drive to make more and more profit from the free 'gift' of nature; and the free gift of unpaid labour has taken us to this perilous predicament. The earth has been and continues to be treated like a dustbin and workers have been and continue to be treated as dirt, as a necessary inconvenience. Its interesting to note that, if capital could replace all workers with robots, the capitalists would do that. But they cannot do that; workers are needed by the capitalists so profits can be made from them - from our unpaid labour - at work and in the home and in the community. They need us! - and - and this is the key - we don't need them!
We can build a totally clean and safe planet if our demands are carried out.

7)  Agency for change - us!
A world uprising is required. We will be part of that. We don't know exactly how this can happen; what things might cause the spark. And it's not entirely clear where the epicentre of resistance is likely to be. Therefore we must build wherever we are. We must build here.
We still have time to act.
 TIME to ACT is a CCC  campaign helping to give a timely lead - first to the September 20th 2014 Peoples march for the climate centered in New York and mirrored everywhere - and secondly to the Paris COP 21 next year. We have the chance now to bring together campaigns - from where people are suffering the most - in the global south and in the resistance in the developed world -  against the global corporate fossil fuel profiteers and the whole web of capitalist interests from banks and arms companies with the governments that support these profiteers - against these parasites on what Marx called the human metabolism with nature.
The struggle against austerity and the struggle for a safe planet are part of the same struggle.
We must work together internationally to build a truly sustainable system.
Capitalism has to go, because sustainability under capitalism is an impossibility.

Marx talked of man's inorganic body - by that he meant the environment on which we all depend - the land, the air, the sea, the fresh water, the birds, flowers, plants, animals, bees, and fishes, etc; all life. And although not explicitly stated in Marx, this would also include sunlight and all the essential energy we receive through the atmosphere from the sun. Capitalism is destroying that inorganic body. It has already cut deep into its heart - the heart of us all. It will leave a scar (loss of bio-diversity, extinct species etc) forever. We must stop its incessant advance before the damage is completely irreversible.
Capitalism is doing precisely the opposite of what a rationally run society would do.
Marx wrote  'Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeathe it in an improved state to succeeding generations, as boni patres familias (good heads of household)' [Capital Vol 3, p911]  
 It will not be us that suffer the most damaging consequences of inaction, it will be our children and grandchildren in the generation to come who may find they live in a climate chaos they are unable to control. There is an open window, but the window is now closing. It is time to act.   

Karl Marx Capital (Vol 1), Wordsworth, Hertfordshire, 2013
Marx Capital Vol 3 Penguin, London 1981 
Marx Engels, Selected Works, Lawrence and Wishart Ltd, 1968 
Bellamy Foster, Marx's Ecology, Monthly Review Press, 2000