A few weeks back, Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife, tweeted the chart underneath. It shows Platform apparently outstripping other UK environmental organisations in terms of our impact relative to our income. We were startled by this, and looked into the criteria and source.

[1]

The data was collected for the Environmental Funders Network’s  interesting 2017 report ‘What the Green Groups Said. Insights from the UK Environment Sector’[2]. Ninety-two CEOs of UK environmental organisations responded to a survey about effectiveness in the sector. It’s important to consider that these are CEOs, suggesting not grassroots organisations. The organisations that responded range from the National Trust, Carbon Tracker, Fresh Habitats Trust, Corporate Watch, Soil Association to Greenpeace. It’s also important think about those who didn’t (see p.28 for list of respondents and p.30 for the organisations surveyed in the report[3]).

We contacted Matt to ask how the calculation in the above chart was made. He responded “The calculations were based on the number of votes in the Environmental Funders group (92) divided by income in the most recently reported full year – derived from their websites or Charity Commission records”. Platform got only 3 votes on effectiveness out of a total of 92, but this low number still put us joint 9th in the total list.

Here’s the report’s chart below for the 92 CEO’s views on the overall most effective environmental civil society organisation, where Platform comes joint 9th.

[4]

I’ll try to unpick this. Firstly the report is limited by the number of votes/number of organisations/type of organisations who responded. This cannot claim to be representative of the whole UK sector in any way at all, but it is a measure in its own terms. We should therefore approach the statistics and methodology quite cautiously due to the low numbers, and the kinds of organisations.

Despite some wariness about the sample and methodology, it is interesting to consider the finances here. The turnovers of the top four above range from a whopper £137,400,000 (RSPB) to £7,311,514 (Client Earth). Platform’s turnover in 2015/16 was £450,250, and the next lowest turnover in joint 9th place is ShareAction at £1,031,043. The highest is the Soil Association with £12,576,698.  The calculation in the first chart therefore represents the impact that we have relative to our far lower income.

As stated, the data is influenced by who exactly responds, how many respond, who does not. The group of environmental organisations that did respond, or many those that were surveyed, aren’t necessarily those who we would see as natural close allies, although we were happy to see the hard work of UK Tar Sands Network, People and Planet, London Mining Network, Global Justice Now, and BP or Not BP, among other allies voted for their effectiveness. There are also many more grassroots groups whose work is not visible by respondents to this survey, from Wretched of the Earth[5] to Reclaim the Power[6].

This list also in effect promotes a white-dominated environmental sector. For example, the report features a 13-person list of “environmental heroes” – best public advocates for environmental issues as named by the respondents – and it is entirely white. This huge issue is not mentioned by the report. Time for some more caution with the data.

Matt also kindly shared a second chart with us, the one below, where this time the data was calculated by staff numbers.

[7]

Both Platform and Buglife still ‘do well’. Platform has 11 staff, all part-time. Buglife’s website shows 29 staff, and Carbon Tracker 25 staff (of whom we can assume some are part-time). The ‘top performer’ Carbon Tracker’s turnover in 2015/16 was £2,576,580, roughly five times Platform’s, and roughly a million more than Buglife’s. Where does this leave us?

Even with some misgivings over the data, what is useful to us is that it gives a measure of visibility over our effectiveness compared to our income.

So, yes, Platform is lean and mean, even cut-price, but you know what,

there’s so much more we could do.

We want to do more, and we want to do it better. We want to share what we have, learn more, spread resources and skills. We want to do better to ensure that marginalised voices are amplified at the centre of UK environmental movements. We want to carry on challenging power and revealing new futures.

And we are constantly seeking greater financial backing at our core to ensure our time is spent as effectively as possible making these changes happen.

So, a big thank you to those who voted for us. But also a very big hello to those of you who would like to help us do this work better, bigger, and more sustainably.

One commenter on Facebook wrote this when she saw the chart: “What great work, and consistently over so many years”. Join us by helping us do it better as we enter our 35th year.

You can donate here[8] as a one-off or join our group of Sustainers, or, email [email protected] if you want to get in touch.

And the other very useful thing about the report is it encourages us to ask:

how do we measure effectiveness?

Who should get to define whether an organisation or movement is effective? Who’s framing the question, in whose interests?

What criteria and methodology would you use?

Thank you to Matt Shardlow and EFN.

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://platformlondon.org/2017/10/09/how-would-you-measure-our-effectiveness/env_funders_chart_2017/
  2. ‘What the Green Groups Said. Insights from the UK Environment Sector’: http://www.greenfunders.org/what-the-green-groups-said/
  3. report: http://www.greenfunders.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/What-the-Green-Groups-Said-final.pdf
  4. [Image]: http://platformlondon.org/2017/10/09/how-would-you-measure-our-effectiveness/top-csos/
  5. Wretched of the Earth: https://www.facebook.com/wotearth/
  6. Reclaim the Power: http://reclaimthepower.org.uk
  7. [Image]: http://platformlondon.org/2017/10/09/how-would-you-measure-our-effectiveness/efn_chart_incomebystaffing/
  8. donate here: http://platformlondon.org/donate/

A worker led movement for climate justice came one step closer to reality yesterday as the UK trade union movement unanimously passed a motion calling for a just climate transition for workers, divestment from fossil fuels and putting energy under public, democratic control.

The motion was passed unanimously by the 5.7 million member TUC.

What a stunning win! We’re excited to work with unions and communities to make this vision a reality. Bring on the transition.

Full text of this historic motion is here:

Congress notes the irrefutable evidence that dangerous climate change is driving unprecedented changes to our environment such as the devastating flooding witnessed in the UK in 2004.

Congress further notes the risk to meeting the challenge of climate change with the announcement of Donald Trump to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement. Similarly, Brexit negotiations and incoherent UK government policy risk undermining measures to achieve the UK carbon reduction targets.

Congress welcomes the report by the Transnational Institute Reclaiming Public Service: how cities and citizens are turning back privatization, which details the global trend to remunicipalise public services including energy and supports efforts by unions internationally to raise issues such as public ownership and democratic control as part of solutions to climate change.

Congress notes that transport is responsible for a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and believes that a reduction in carbon dioxide levels must be the basis of the UK’s future transport policy in addition to building public transport capacity and moving more freight from road to rail.

Congress believes that to combat climate change effectively and move towards a low-carbon economy we cannot leave this to the markets and therefore need a strong role for the public sector in driving the measures needed to undertake this transition. Congress notes that pension schemes invest billions of pounds into fossil fuel corporations.

To this end, Congress calls on the TUC to:

i. work with the Labour Party and others that advocate for an end to the UK’s rigged energy system to bring it back into public ownership and democratic control

ii. advocate for a mass programme of retrofit and insulation of Britain’s homes and public buildings

iii. lobby to demand rights for workplace environmental reps

iv. lobby for the establishment of a Just Transition strategy for those workers affected by the industrial changes necessary to dvelop a more environmentally sustainable future for all, and develop practical steps needed to achieve this as integral to industrial strategy.

v. consult with all affiliates to seek input into the development of a cross-sector industrial strategy that works towards delivering internationally agreed carbon emission reduction targets

vi. investigate the long-term risks for pension funds investing in fossil fuels, promote divestment, and alternative reinvestment in the sustainable economy.

Mover: Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union
Seconder: Communication Workers Union
Supporters: Fire Brigades Union, ASLEF, TSSA

 

 

Joseph Beuys’ action – ‘I like America and America likes me’, (Coyote), photographed by Caroline Tisdall, New York, 1974

I’m sitting talking with Caroline Tisdall, a friend who has known Platform since 1986. We first came into contact with her via the producer and curator Richard Demarco: along with him, she was among the first to champion artist Joseph Beuys in the English-speaking world. Beuys’ art and politics were critical influences in Platform’s formation, as well as the insurgent green movement in Germany at that time in which Beuys was heavily involved.

It was Caroline’s photography that helped immortalise many of Beuys’ iconic actions including Coyote (above) in 1974 and it was she who curated Beuys’ seminal exhibition at the New York Guggenheim Museum in 1979. In 1977, she was pivotal in organising the Free International University at the Documenta VI art festival in Kassel, West Germany, where activists such as Mike Cooley spoke about the Lucas Aerospace ‘transition initiative’ and Barbara Steveni described the work of the UK-based ‘Artists Placement Group[1]‘. Far from being too busy to talk with us, from the first moment of telephoning Caroline in 1986, she was extremely supportive, putting us in touch with friends and allies in Germany and helping Platform set sail on a voyage of discovery.

My memory is that in the 1980s when Platform’s early members were in their twenties, we had very little sense of the events that had unfolded in the previous turbulent decade which so influenced our own. Now, over thirty years later, the conversation flows this way and that, and I am able to get new insights into the politics and art of that crucial decade.

Caroline was an art critic at The Guardian throughout the 1970s. She was in her 30s, strongly to the Left, and most significantly a committed supporter of a whole field of politically engaged art that was often formally challenging and conceptual. At the time, Caroline’s politics and position on art was considered provocative. Many voices were raised in opposition to her, yet she persisted in positive reviews of artists such as Judy Clarke, Mary Kelly and John Latham (who with Barbara Steveni formed the Artists Placement Group). Not only did she cover this field in her column, but she also wrote catalogue essays for the exhibitions of those that she supported – for example, Conrad Atkinson. Likewise she later encouraged artists who had been her students when lecturing at Reading University, such as Loraine Leeson and Peter Dunn, who went on to form ‘The Art of Change[2]’.

Free International University at Documenta 6 , Kassel, West Germany 1977 – photograph by Bobby Durini

In February 1972 Caroline covered Beuys’ first public action in England. She wrote in The Guardian:

‘Joseph Beuys’ marathon discussion at the Tate Gallery on Saturday was, to use his own title, a ‘Fat Transformation Piece’. The statement on the blackboard behind him read: ‘He who in 1972 can live care free and sleep peacefully despite knowing that two-thirds of humanity are hungry or dying of starvation while a large proportion of the well-fed must take slimming cures to stay alive, should ask himself what sort of man he is, and whether, moreover, he is a man at all.’

I read back over these words and I find it comes as a shock to be reminded just how direct Beuys’ political challenge was to his audience (acknowledging 1970s unreconstructed use of ‘man’). The subsequent public discussion, which lasted 6 ½ hours, covered everything from the question of a radical economic programme to what was to be done about the ‘Special Powers Act’ in Northern Ireland. This one newspaper article reminds me just how deeply engaged many artists were with the political debate and activism in the 1970s.

As we talk Caroline explains how after the Guggenheim exhibition in 1979, she began to weary of the role that she had. The Palestinian struggle for survival gripped her and she took a year out to report from the Middle East and North Africa, during which time co-authored ‘Beirut: Frontline Story’, a ground breaking report about the fate of Palestinians in Lebanon. Once again her work earned her constant criticism and attacks, partly from within Fleet Street and partly from the Israeli government.

By the time our paths crossed in 1986, Beuys had died and the ‘artworld’ had taken a decisive turn. Italian and American male artists such as Jeff Koons, Julian Schnabel and Francisco Clemente typified the move towards an all-powerful Art Market: all attention was focused on the objects of high capital value, and on an artwork as a means of generating capital and storing capital. It was only a matter of time before the phenomenon of 1990s Brit Art, fostered by collector Charles Saatchi, gripped the British art scene and filled collectors’ pockets.

Platform had brushes with that world, but it held no allure for us. We’ve always looked to a river of politically engaged art that ran so strongly through the 1960s and 70s, but was pressured underground or into confrontation. We engaged deeply in the thinking behind Beuys’ work – linking with those he’d worked with, creating artworks in Kassel in parallel to Documenta VIII in 1987, and setting up the FIU England which ran in London for a few years.

‘Oil’ by Conrad Atkinson (2014) – created in response to the campaign to stop BP’s sponsorship of Tate and given to Platform

What Platform made in the 1980s was critiqued by some as deeply unfashionable (I remember one person commenting “You want to go back to the Seventies!”). However, over the past three decades, when capital has reigned supreme in the art world, we’ve sustained friendships and connections with those who fought back against the prevailing orthodoxy, including Barbara Steveni, Loraine Leeson[3], Peter Dunn[4], Conrad Atkinson[5], Margaret Harrison[6], Lucy Lippard,[7] Peter Kennard[8], Suzanne Lacy[9], Suzi Gablik[10], Shelley Sacks[11], Ian Hunter & Celia Larner[12]. We’ve taken courage and inspiration from their dedication and resilience.

‘Honey is flowing in all directions’ Beuys at work on his sculpture ‘Honigpump’ installed at the Documenta VI eluding to the necessity for ideas to remain constantly fluid

These days, I’m filled with the sense that the times are changing rapidly and radically. In the realm of politics and economics, Left ideas considered an anathema since 1979 are rising, against all odds. Caroline says of the 70s that there was a great sense of fluidity, that everything was being rethought, that boundaries between disciplines melted and radical ideas flowed. As Beuys said ‘Every idea must be seized’ and ‘Honey is flowing in all directions’. Perhaps now, that older river is resurfacing? Perhaps it never went away? Now is the time of movement, after the long winter of the intense capitalisation of art.

 

Endnotes:
  1. Artists Placement Group: http://www2.tate.org.uk/artistplacementgroup/
  2. The Art of Change: http://cspace.org.uk/category/archive/the-art-of-change/
  3. Loraine Leeson: http://cspace.org.uk/who/
  4. Peter Dunn: http://www.arte-ofchange.com/content/history-arte-art-change
  5. Conrad Atkinson: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/conrad-atkinson-671
  6. Margaret Harrison: http://margaret-harrison.com/
  7. Lucy Lippard,: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_R._Lippard
  8. Peter Kennard: http://www.peterkennard.com/
  9. Suzanne Lacy: http://www.suzannelacy.com/bqz4wr71ilm3bdskph4jwivkfbr6tj
  10. Suzi Gablik: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzi_Gablik
  11. Shelley Sacks: http://www.social-sculpture.org/
  12. Ian Hunter & Celia Larner: https://merzbarnlangdale.wordpress.com/extra-page-of-information/

Earlier this week, the Guardian’s Azerbaijani Laundromat[1] investigation uncovered thousands of covert payments totaling £2.2bn from Azerbaijan’s ruling elite to prominent Europeans through a network of opaque British companies. Today, Platform and other organisations had a letter published in the Guardian[2], filling in the blanks in the story.  Azerbaijan is particularly keen to present a positive image in Europe because it needs significant support for its flagship project – the Southern Gas Corridor – despite the regime’s serial human rights abuses, systemic corruption and election rigging.

Stop the pipeline – sign the petition and add your voice[3].

[4]

Pipeline construction in Greece, June 2017

Just over 3,500km in length, the Southern Gas Corridor is a gigantic piece of new fossil fuel infrastructure intended to bring gas from Azerbaijan across 6 countries to Europe. Earlier this year we traveled to North West Greece to speak to farmers resisting this pipeline.  Here, the Greek section of Southern Gas Corridor – known as the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP)-  crosses highly fertile agricultural land. Farmers fear they will lose their jobs, their land and their homes. For them, this is a life or death issue and they are putting themselves in front of the bulldozers to stop construction.

Our journey begins in Kavala. Many speak about intimidation tactics by the company, the lack of government oversight and the damaging economic model being pursued. Most of the jobs that will be created are temporary construction jobs, which will disappear once the pipeline is built. In Serres, a gas compressor station is also planned nearby on a floodplain and the communities’ safety concerns have been ignored. There is no emergency plan in place and protests have erupted.

We were born in Filippi and we are going to die in Filippi but we can also die for Fllippi. If the company wants the pipeline to pass through our region, it will first have to pass over our bodies.

Themis Kalpakdis – farmer, Kavala

The story is the same all along the pipeline route with communities pointing to the lack of consultation and repression. In Italy, local residents are standing up to the riot police violently attempting to enforce construction[5]. Threats of night time operations and militarisation of the area are becoming a reality. The pipeline threatens to bust through internationally agreed climate targets at a time when gas demand is declining in Europe and is projected to fall by all models. So why is this project being pushed through against the will of communities and at the expense of human rights and a safe climate?

For the Alivey regime, this pipeline will allow it to maintain its dictatorship – in the last 23 years the Alivey regime has siphoned $48 billion of $135 billion in state revenues from fossil fuel extraction to offshore tax havens[6]. For the fossil fuel industry and especially BP, this pipeline and other planned infrastructure  will allow them to lock in fossil fuel use for the next 40 years entrenching business as usual as the UK and Europe phase out coal. This is why the industry is pushing the myth [7]that gas is a clean fuel necessary for the transition to renewables despite gas’ dangerous methane emissions [8]indicating otherwise. Despite this, the EU has shown extraordinary support for the pipeline, designating it a “project of common interest” and waiving state aid rules[9].

[10]

TAP construction in Greece, June 2017

 

This autumn, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development are due to decide on ‘make or break’ billion dollar loans for the project. Turning it down should be a no-brainer. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights binds the European Investment Bank not to finance projects that would encourage or support human rights violations. In March this year, the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) suspended Azerbaijan’s membership [11]as a result of a crackdown on civil society organisations. Both banks say that they support transparency and good governance and are official stakeholder partners of the EITI.[12] But there are indications that the Banks may fund the pipeline anyway. After Azerbaijan’s suspension from the EITI, it appeared to do a u-turn [13]and weakened its support for EITI. This week, we learned that EBRD board member, Kalin Mitrev, received covert payments from the Azeri regime[14]. The bank needs an internal investigation to make sure that no other board members have received payments. Right now, it must suspend any decision on loans to its flagship South Gas Corridor project and force Mitrev to make the details of his consultancy work public.

Powerful interests from corrupt dictatorships to fossil fuel corporations such as BP are at play here and communities in Greece and other transit countries are caught in the crossfire. Governments, the EU and public banks need to decide whose interests they represent in this struggle for Europe’s energy future.

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Endnotes:
  1. the Guardian’s Azerbaijani Laundromat: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/04/uk-at-centre-of-secret-3bn-azerbaijani-money-laundering-and-lobbying-scheme
  2. had a letter published in the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/06/southern-gas-corridor-is-the-missing-piece-of-azerbaijani-laundromat-puzzle
  3. Stop the pipeline – sign the petition and add your voice: https://350.org/no-tap-letter/
  4. [Image]: http://platformlondon.org/2017/09/07/bribes-bulldozers-and-bp-what-makes-a-gas-mega-pipeline/screen-shot-2017-09-07-at-12-43-04/
  5. In Italy, local residents are standing up to the riot police violently attempting to enforce construction: https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/sarah-shoraka/south-italian-villages-fight-against-fossil-fuel-industry
  6. offshore tax havens: http://www.rai.it/dl/docs/1481650085978caviar_democracyOKOK.pdf
  7. pushing the myth : http://platformlondon.org/2017/05/17/bp-bob-dudley-gas-climate-change/
  8. dangerous methane emissions : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiRzukC6tpk
  9. state aid rules: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-541_en.htm
  10. [Image]: http://platformlondon.org/2017/09/07/bribes-bulldozers-and-bp-what-makes-a-gas-mega-pipeline/this-one/
  11. suspended Azerbaijan’s membership : http://platformlondon.org/2017/03/16/azerbaijan-suspended-by-extractive-industries-governance-watchdog/
  12. official stakeholder partners of the EITI.: https://eiti.org/supporters/partner-organisations
  13. do a u-turn : https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-04/ebrd-pushes-on-with-azerbaijan-gas-loan-after-transparency-rift
  14. received covert payments from the Azeri regime: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/04/uk-at-centre-of-secret-3bn-azerbaijani-money-laundering-and-lobbying-scheme

The UK government paid oil companies $312 million to drill in the North Sea during the fiscal year 2016-2017 according to a new report by the HMRC, The Times reports[1].

Successive UK governments insist “there is no magic money tree” to fund public hospitals and schools, or to insulate cold homes. But apparently the magic money tree exists to fund the profits of BP, Shell, and Exxon.

According to The Times,

Taxes paid by oil and gas companies fell in 2016-17 because of lower oil prices, continuing investment and cuts in tax rates. … Tax rebates issued to companies as relief on the costs of decommissioning and other expenditure outweighed the tax paid.

Analysis by Carbon Brief[2] suggests that North Sea oil companies have actually been draining the UK’s public purse for three years running already. The Office for Budget Responsibility expects the taxpayer to make even bigger net payments[3] to North Sea oil corporations of  £1.2 billion in 2017/18.

The top five recipients of public handouts to oil corporations got away with a whopping £1.1bn across 2014 and 2015 – split between BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Talisman Sinopec and Hess. BP alone reports receiving a net transfer of $309.8 million[4] from the British public in 2015.

 

BP’s 95 tonne oil leak from into the Clair Field at the North Sea in 2016. Credit: Maritime & Coastguard Agency

And the handouts are getting bigger and bigger. Is this because of a drop in the oil price, as suggested by The Times? Not really. The oil price has been continuously low (below $60/barrel) since early 2015, but there isn’t a significant difference between the fiscal years 2016-2017 and 2015-2016, as seen on the graph below.

Oil Price dynamics 2010-2016. Credit: EIA

What’s the difference then? In 2016, George Osborne slashed North Sea taxes. Supplementary tax on oil and gas profits was cut from 20% to 10% and petroleum revenue tax was effectively abolished.

The growing handouts to oil corporations are not just down to the low oil price. They are an intentional decision to hand public money over to oil corporations.

The UK could invest in other things. We could invest in creating twenty-first century jobs and a just transition for workers. Invest into turning the energy sector towards smart, efficient, renewable technologies. Invest into health and education. But instead the taxpayers’ money is lining the pockets of BP, Shell, and Exxon managers.

Endnotes:
  1. The Times reports: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/north-sea-becomes-burden-on-taxpayers-lm29gmgzz
  2. Analysis by Carbon Brief: https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-north-sea-industry-cost-uk-taxpayers-396m-2016
  3. even bigger net payments: http://cdn.budgetresponsibility.org.uk/March2016EFO.pdf
  4. receiving a net transfer of $309.8 million: http://platformlondon.org/2016/10/07/bp-north-sea-spill-subsidy/

After two years of impressive mobilisation by UNISON grassroots members across England, Scotland and Wales, the trade union has officially taken on fossil fuel divestment policy[1].

Yesterday the union’s National Delegate Conference voted unanimously to

seek divestment of Local Government Pension Schemes from fossil fuels over five years giving due regard to fiduciary duty

UNISON is one of the two largest trade unions in the UK, with over 1.3 million members, and the first to adopt formal divest policy. It is the primary representative for local government workers – whose pension funds are collectively worth over £200 billion – and UNISON representatives sit on boards of local government pension funds.[2]

The divest motion clearly had widespread support – but it was a knife-edge whether it would make it onto a packed agenda of over 100 motions. Branches from across the country lobbied to give it priority – making it the last item debated on Thursday’s agenda.

Stephen Smellie, Deputy Convenor in UNISON Scotland, who brought the motion to conference, said

Our priority always needs to be to ensure our member’s pensions are protected. We are increasingly aware that investments in fossil fuels are not only harmful to the environment but put the sustainable future of our pensions at risk. Unison will now extend our campaigns to develop alternative investment strategies to enable pension funds to divest from fossil fuels over a number of years.

Local trade union branches across the UK have been promoting divestment. This specific motion was proposed by UNISON Scotland, Norfolk County, Camden and Southwark branches, with amendments from Hastings and Eastbourne Healthcare branches as well as the union’s National Executive Council.

Local government pensions in the UK are worth over £200 billion and are heavily exposed to fossil fuel companies. Our investigation in 2015 showed £14 billion invested in fossil fuels[3] across local government pensions, with Greater Manchester’s pensions the most exposed with £1.3 billion invested (9.8% of its holdings).

Image credit: Fossil Free Scotland[4]

We at Platform are thrilled to see UNISON joining the divestment movement. UNISON’s decision to divest shows that Exxon and Shell have no place in our future. Stranded fossil fuel assets threaten our pensions. And investing instead into clean energy, public transport, and social housing can kickstart our economy.

Local government pension funds have already started moving towards divestment from oil, coal, and gas. In 2016 Waltham Forest passed divestment policy[5], quickly followed by Southwark. Full and partial divest commitments already total £10 billion worth of local government pensions. Global divestment commitments total over $5 trillion.

Jonathan Dunning from Norfolk County Branch, who chaired a fringe meeting on Tuesday, also said

This issue was raised by a UNISON member as a matter of concern, so it’s great to see that individual concern debated and then agreed by the national union. Much work will now be needed to turn the fine words of the motion into real change.

Kev Allsop is UNISON representative to Greater Manchester Pension Fund – largest local government pension fund in the UK. He brought a motion to last year’s 2016 conference, when it wasn’t debated. He said,

UNISON’s National Delegate Conference, the trade union’s sovereign body, has today accepted that we should be making our pension funds carbon neutral. We have  a very real opportunity to move £ billions out of Fossil Fuel extraction. UNISON now has the foresight to support investment into Sustainable Energy and Council Housing, creating jobs and much needed homes benefitting generations to come whilst reducing the cost of pensions to the taxpayer.

[6]

Stephen Smellie speaking about the motion at UNISON’s National Delegate Conference.

Endnotes:
  1. divestment policy: http://platformlondon.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Divest_motion_UNISON_2017-National-Delegate-Conference_Composite_Booklet_Final4-1.pdf
  2. [Image]: http://platformlondon.org/?attachment_id=32844
  3. Our investigation in 2015 showed £14 billion invested in fossil fuels: https://gofossilfree.org/uk/pensions/
  4. Fossil Free Scotland: http://fossilfree.scot/move-the-money/
  5. Waltham Forest passed divestment policy: http://platformlondon.org/2016/09/28/32504/
  6. [Image]: http://platformlondon.org/p-pressreleases/council-workers-largest-union-commits-to-divesting-pensions-from-fossil-fuels/stephen_smellie_ndc17/

Gas will solve the climate crisis. This was the main message that BP’s CEO Bob Dudley wanted to get across at today’s annual general shareholder meeting. And it’s dangerous…

Coal is the heaviest polluter of the fossil fuels, gas the lightest, and on Carbon Brief’s data[2], coal is the biggest difference between where we are going now and the path to 2 degrees’ warming. If we replaced all the coal being burnt for electricity with gas, sounds like we’d make a massive saving. So why wouldn’t we want to swap coal power plants for gas ones ASAP?

The thing is. If gas were really a transition fuel, BP wouldn’t be promoting it. That is, when BP talks of replacing demand for coal with demand for gas, this does not mean just using gas for enough time to transition to renewable energy sources.

What it has in mind is projects like the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline[3] that would secure gas extraction not for the next five, ten, twenty years – but 40 or 50. This pipeline alone would secure pumping 2 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, and lock us into using fossil fuels for 40 to 50 years. Now that doesn’t fit into any 2-degree scenario carbon budget.

[4]

BP’s CEO Bob Dudley speaking at the AGM today.

Moreover, recent data shows that greenhouse gas emissions of gas extraction are vastly underestimated[5]. The main component of gas is methane – a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 – and its leakage into the atmosphere while pumping gas out of the ground is hard to measure and harder to stop.

And we’re not just talking about one pipeline. From massive gas fields in the Caspian Sea to the huge Vaca Muerta deposit in Argentina[6], BP is pushing for opening new gas deposits and constructing new infrastructure.

To make these plays pay off, BP needs decades and decades more of burning more and more gas, instead of a rapid shift to renewables. And that’s why we can’t let Bob Dudley get away with his soundbite.

 

 

PS. Here’s my personal favourite moment of the AGM. You may remember Mitt Romney’s ‘Binders Full Of Women’[7]? Well, BP has claimed it has pipelines. Pipelines full of women.

 

 

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. May 17, 2017: https://twitter.com/emilygosden/status/864828417954516992
  2. on Carbon Brief’s data: https://twitter.com/DrSimEvans/status/864833193177907202
  3. Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline: http://platformlondon.org/p-publications/europes-gas-grab-the-euro-caspian-mega-pipeline/
  4. [Image]: http://platformlondon.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/DACrCKFXsAAndex.jpg-large-1.jpeg
  5. vastly underestimated: https://phys.org/news/2015-02-methane-emissions-natural-gas-industry.html
  6. Argentina: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2016-09-13/bp-ceo-argentina-s-vaca-muerta-has-enormous-potential
  7. ‘Binders Full Of Women’: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/mitt-romney-republican-binders-full-of-women-were-real-boston-globe-massachusetts-a7679241.html
  8. #BPAGM: https://twitter.com/hashtag/BPAGM?src=hash
  9. May 17, 2017: https://twitter.com/ShareActionUK/status/864805176523325440

 

[1]I’ve recently returned from a visit to my friend and mentor, Suzi Gablik, in Virginia, USA.

She has been an inspiration to so many over the past 33 years since the publication of ‘Has Modernism Failed’[2], and later her book ‘Conversations Before The End of Time[3]‘. Her work harnessed an ecological sensibility in the arts and culture, and has been key for Platform and numerous others. Into her eighty-second year, her sight is failing now, but her mind is crystal clear and her soul is as bold as ever.

We spent eight days discussing the nature of these times, the conversation twisting this way and that as we delved deeper into the bleakness of the American political scene and the possibilities of hope. Again and again we came back to the sense that we are at a paradigm shift, in the manner that Thomas Kuhn[4] proposed.

A paradigm shift is a point where the entire culture goes through a pivot, and all that was once certain becomes uncertain. A point that calls into question every level of life, from the economic sphere to the political sphere, from the ecological sphere to the personal sphere. We asked: how should we ‘be’ in days like these? What does a ‘good life’ mean? What does ‘virtue’, mean in days like these?

Suzi rails against Trump and all that he represents. The actions of his Administration are volatile and unpredictable, at times even contradictory and self-defeating. They have the common thread of sowing chaos at every turn. They seem to echo the much-reported views of Trump’s Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, who embraces disruption and the threat of war. (He may have been demoted, but his presence surely remains.)

We discuss how the chaos in the political realm echoes the chaos in the realm of the climate. The ever-escalating reports of climatic change, from Arctic ice melt to East African famine and floods in Chile, illustrate that the weather systems are out of balance. We know that this energetic unpredictability is the product of the atmosphere being supercharged by carbon dioxide emissions. The more fossil fuels burnt, the greater the climate chaos. Yet these fossil fuels are the foundation of the current economy, the current order of industrial society. This contradiction brings to mind the line by the ruthless French revolutionary, Saint-Just:

‘The present order is the disorder of the future’.

Suzi and I speculate that perhaps the current chaos could be seen as a midwife to something new? That out of the social and political turmoil, maybe a new balance will arise? Indeed if the old balance, the order in which we’ve lived our lives, has created the chaos in the climate, then maybe the only chance of finding a way of being that ceases to destroy the atmosphere is to go through this current turmoil?

The thought of recognising the necessity of the political chaos, of embracing it, can fill us with anxiety. But does it make us any less anxious than remaining on board a ship that is being steadily broken up by the storm?

Andrew Breitbart, Stephen Bannon’s collaborator in right-wing tabloid journalism and the founder of Breitbart News, summed up his position in his 2011 memoir: “The Left wins because it controls the narrative. The narrative is controlled by the media… I am at war to gain back control of the American narrative”.

His lines stand out as a concise summary of the intentions of much of the US Right. They are at war, and they have been so for a long time. Some say it started under the Reagan Administration, some under Clinton, some after 9/11, some under Obama, but nowhere is there any doubt that it is happening. Time and again, as we sat talking, I was struck by the sense that the USA is in a civil war.

The battalions of police at Standing Rock

On the back of our conversations I found myself later heading towards a number of observations.

It seems that a curious aspect of this war is that until recently a whole sector of the public had been blind to the realisation that it too was the target of the Right-wing movement centered on ‘Guns, god and gynaecology’.  This largely falls out along race lines, the US’s oldest struggle, over which the official Civil War was ostensibly fought. From 2012, the Black Lives Matter[5] movement rose up to confront once more the enduring and deathly racism at the heart of the US body politic, at the time under President Obama. It seems that however outraged and active White allies have been, it was possible that some couldn’t imagine that the onslaught from the Right was being waged not just on Black and Brown ‘others’  but also upon them. The ‘Liberal press’ – The New Yorker, the New York Times, The Washington Post and others – seemed only truly to have understood that they too were ‘at war’ in the months leading up to the Presidential Election last November. After the election they awoke to find their house was being shelled. The guns of the Right were up on the ridge, positioned on the Washington heights, aiming at the Liberal centre ground.

The Right has also campaigned on the C Words[6] of ‘Carbon, climate and capital’. This too has been bound up with race.  For decades many in the dominantly White environmental movement responded by saying the forces who promote fossil fuels and attack climate science could be persuaded by rational dialogue, by data, and by expertise. So many of us have worked on the assumption that corporate executives and politicians could be argued out of their ways, that they would see that accepting the science was good for international politics, that there could be a seamless switch to solar and wind with a return on capital guaranteed.

One of of a number of adverts utilised in BP’s ‘Beyond Petroleum’ campaign in 2000

At times it has looked as though this was correct: in 2000, BP announced it was going ‘Beyond Petroleum’ and, like Shell and others, invested in renewables. But since the mid 2000s that phase has faded away. Meanwhile, for over three decades, activists of colour have been consistently organising for just transition in places of oil extraction and refining, such as Movement Generation[7] based in Richmond, California. In parallel, indigenous activists and communities such as those at Standing Rock[8] have put their bodies on the line under the harshest of circumstances, against new oil pipelines that cross sacred land. They have endured freezing weather, violence and abuse from security forces in defence of water, land, spiritual integrity and our climate.

The current US Administration has a fundamental belief in the rightness of its views on White privilege, immigration, abortion and guns. And it holds a similar belief in the sanctity of oil, gas and coal. Behind this article of faith stands the fossil fuels industry. We are well acquainted with the role of the Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil – illustrated by the appointment of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State – but no less powerful, despite being further into the shadows, is the presence of others like BP and Shell. The CEOs of a number of corporations, particularly in the Tech industries, have spoken out against the Trump Administration, whereas Bob Dudley, CEO of BP, and Ben van Beurden, CEO of Shell, have been conspicuous in their silence. Shell and BP have much to gain from an Administration that has shown that it is at war with the ecological justice movement, and that dismisses anthropogenic climate change. Trump has fired the first salvos in that battle with the granting of permission for the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines; with the attack on US climate science research and the UN process; and with the steps to reopen the Alaskan Arctic ocean for oil drilling.

On returning to England, my experience in the States helps me understand more how the war is taking place here. Even with the culture-shock of Brexit, it is easy for some of us to feel that we are set apart from the excessive measures of the Trump Administration. But we’ve been in the American sphere of influence for over a century now, and when that ship of state changes course, we are caught in its wake. What happens there matters here. We should remember that the third largest UK corporation, BP, has more US shareholders than British ones, its CEO is American, and it takes its bearings from Washington far more than from London. Meanwhile, the British Right takes inspiration from its US counterparts, as it does from the Right across Europe. John Redwood MP has described the battle over Brexit as ‘the English Civil War without muskets.’ Aaron Banks, until recently the financier behind UKIP, declared “We won the war”.

If part of the civil war in the USA is over the future of fossil fuels then the same is true for the UK. The struggle that many of us have been involved in since the 1990s is becoming more intense, the battle lines more visible. The war is naked.

With deep thanks to Suzi Gablik and Jane Trowell.

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://platformlondon.org/2017/04/29/conversations-with-suzi-gablik-living-in-wartime/suzi_gablik/
  2. ‘Has Modernism Failed’: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1121319.Has_Modernism_Failed_
  3. Conversations Before The End of Time: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1058783.Conversations_Before_the_End_of_Time
  4. Thomas Kuhn: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Kuhn
  5. Black Lives Matter: http://blacklivesmatter.com/about/
  6. C Words: http://www.arnolfini.org.uk/whatson/platform-c-words-carbon-climate-capital-culture-how-did-you-get-here-and-where-are-we-going
  7. Movement Generation: http://movementgeneration.org
  8. Standing Rock: http://sacredstonecamp.org

The Argentinian municipality of Vista Alegre is fighting to keep in place a fracking ban on top of some of the biggest tight oil and gas fields in the country.

The municipal council of Vista Alegre banned fracking by a unanimous decision in January. But right after the ban was officially published, the state attorney of the province of Neuquen Raul Gaitán lodged an appeal with the provincial High Court to stop the ban coming into effect.

Earlier this month Vista Alegre residents blocked the local highway to protest this attack, to defend their farms and livelihoods, saying in their statement[1]:

Caring for the river is of great importance for us. Water is vital to our life, and threatened by [fracking]. This is why we passed the ban: to care for our community, and the others who live downstream.

[2]

Image credit: Vista alegre libre de fracking y en defensa de la vida

The ban affects two oilfields: firstly, Río Neuquen, where the Argentinian state oil company YPF (with Petrobras and Pampa) have already drilled some conventional wells. According to a statement from Pampa, there is “high potential” for gas drilling in this field. Secondly, the municipality also covers a corner of the Lindero Atravesado gas field, operated by Pan American Energy, a 60% subsidiary of BP.

If Neuquen province successfully overturns the ban, this may mean not only contamination on Vista Alegre’s pear farms, but also bad news for other Argentinian communities that have tried, or will try, to use municipal powers to ban dangerous gas infrastructure.

How Europe promotes fracking in Argentina

Two years ago, the governor of Neuquen Jorge Sapag was invited to dinner with members of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly (EuroLat) – the “parliamentary arm” of European – Latin American bi-regional collaboration. The topic: a draft EuroLat report on fracking. The discussion was later summarised by another attendee, a Colombian parliamentarian, in the following way:

the chemicals used in fracking can be found on any family dinner table; that fracking is safe; and that fracking would take place in a desert region.

In this way, EuroLat has been promoting the idea that the fruit farms of Vista Alegre are “a desert region” to be fracked – not unlike the infamous “desolate North East” of England according to Lord Howell of Guildford[3]. But EuroLat’s report also attracted opposition[4] from EU parliamentarians as well as movements across Latin America.

What EuroLat lobbied for has now become the official position of the Neuquen provincial government, and Vista Alegre residents are fighting to keep their river and farms safe.

You can follow their campaign and send a message of solidarity on Facebook[5].

[6]

Image credit: Vista alegre libre de fracking y en defensa de la vida

 

Endnotes:
  1. in their statement: http://www.opsur.org.ar/blog/2017/03/14/vista-alegre-en-defensa-de-la-ordenanza-que-prohibe-el-fracking/
  2. [Image]: http://platformlondon.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/IMG_4018-768x432.jpg
  3. according to Lord Howell of Guildford: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/07/top-10-most-desolate-places-north-east
  4. attracted opposition: http://nacla.org/news/2015/10/28/how-europe-promotes-fracking-latin-america
  5. follow their campaign and send a message of solidarity on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Vista-alegre-libre-de-fracking-y-en-defensa-de-la-vida-1049234681788784/
  6. [Image]: http://platformlondon.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/IMG_4015-768x432.jpg