Did you see the first part of Frozen Planet 2? Adorable scenes of penguin chicks making their way to the sea for the first time and amazing drama as killer whales show their intelligence and guile by creating waves to topple a seal from its iceberg. But the scenes of enormous skyscrapers of ice calving into the sea from Greenland were most horrifying. David Attenborough informs us that one-fifth of the planet’s surface is ice- yet this is melting fast due to climate change and the much higher temperatures now being experienced at the poles. This does not just threaten the survival of the amazing creatures featured in the show- it threatens everyone’s survival as sea levels rise, eventually engulfing islands and cities worldwide.
It beggars belief that tackling the climate crisis isn’t the top priority of every Government and isn’t making front page news in every newspaper. Our own Government are moving fast in the wrong direction by encouraging more exploitation of fossil fuels and even proposing to start fracking here in Yorkshire. We must not let them get away with it.
Last night I was privileged to attend the premiere of the new film Tree-sistance (a rough guide to Non Violent Direct Action) by Graeme Benson.
If you look very hard you will see me in the trailer marshalling a protest! But why do we need another tree film when we already have The Felling? They are very different. The Felling concentrates mainly on the action on the streets, but Tree-sistance tells the broader story of the debates and protests at the Town Hall and the various court cases and looks at the risks and sacrifices the campaigners made to save trees with revealing personal interviews. To their shame, none of the Labour Councillors took part in the film, despite various requests for interviews, but they appear in videos from Full Council meetings and in reconstructions with avatars. They may not be very impressed with the likeness these avatars presented! (does my bum look big in this?!) The film also includes excellent comments from celebrities such as Chris Packham and Jonathan Porritt.
Graeme writes in the programme: “I came to the following conclusion. People are permanently not available for comment for these reasons.
They have something to hide.
They feel bloody guilty about it.
3. They are in a process of denial.
4. If you have got nothing to hide, you’re not afraid to talk on camera at some point.
Tree protestors talked to me. The Council didn’t. QED!”
I enjoyed the use of dance to punctuate the film. The dancers Fred and Ginger suggest the campaigners were leading the Council a bit of a dance, but also satirise everything that’s gone on before.
One of my favourite parts of the film was when the Labour Lord Mayor expelled Councillor Alison Teal from a Full Council meeting because she had accused Councillor Bryan Lodge of misleading the public over the use of Flexipave. This led to a walkout of all the opposition Councillors! Of course, her comments have been shown to be true.
There were a few inaccuracies in the film, such as Cllr Rob Murphy being misnamed, but overall it is a brilliant record of the highlights of the campaign from November 2016 to 2022, presented in an entertaining and occasionally laugh-out-loud way.
The film is timely as next week sees the beginning of the Street Tree Inquiry. This is a result of Sheffield Green Parties’ negotiations with Labour to jointly form an administration when Labour lost overall control of the Counci in 2021. Chaired independently by Sir Mark Lowcock. The goals of the Inquiry are
a) To support the ongoing recovery in Sheffield from the dispute
b) To draw conclusions and make recommendations designed to help minimise the risk of the dispute re-emerging in future.
In establishing the Inquiry, the Council has referred to a need for “truth and reconciliation”. The process will be transparent, so you can watch live streams or videos of the evidence given later. I hope Sir Mark will be taking the time to watch Tree-sistance!
As of last week, in Pakistan, one-third of districts have had to declare flood emergencies, leaving at least 10% of Pakistan’s land area actually under water. That’s equivalent to one-third of all the land in the whole United Kingdom. And Pakistan is not alone in such devastating experiences, as climate change takes increasingly destructive effect around the world.
If that one-third of UK land was suddenly swamped by flood water, how much would it cost simply to reinstate all the destroyed homes, roads, shops, businesses, and all the other inevitable physical damage? And of course it’s not just about land and buildings. Already in Pakistan, over 1,000 people have lost their lives, and at least 33 million people have been displaced from their homes.
Estimates so far put the damage to Pakistan’s economy at around $10 billion. Pakistan’s total tax revenue for this year will be about $17.7 billion. But $12.5 billion of this will be swallowed up in repayments and interest on foreign debts. That leaves very little, even just for education, health, and generally keeping the country functioning.
On top of that, for the past twenty years, Pakistan has consistently ranked among the top ten most vulnerable countries in the Global Climate Risk Index. Yet Pakistan is responsible for less than 0.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions to date, whereas the UK is responsible for around 7.5%, and the rich countries together are responsible for more than two-thirds.
But as well as burning fossil fuels, the North’s two centuries of industrialisation needed huge amounts of materials and labour, and the cheaper the better. For example, how did Britain, a small island off the north-west coast of Europe, come to dominate so much of the world by the end of the nineteenth century?
It used its naval and military strength to invade and take control of dozens of countries in the Global South: the British Empire. It seized and sold their natural resources: from Africa even people, as slaves. It turned their agriculture over to cash crops, including food, for cheap imports back to Britain: even throughout The Great Famine of 1876–78 in India. And it even destroyed competing industries: such as India’s pre-colonial world-dominating textiles industry.
And since the official colonial era, the rich North has found a new method of keeping its colonial-style exploitation going – debt-relief packages… with conditions! Turn your economy over to prioritising debt repayments. Raise your taxes. Slash your public spending on schools, hospitals, infrastructure and industry-building, and your subsidies for affordable food.
Turn your farming and forestry over to cash crops for export in order to earn dollars or sterling, because nobody wants repayments in your local currency. And attract rich-country foreign investors by removing your tariffs on their exports and allowing them to take their profits home.
Result? Very many Global South countries now have, in effect, zero money even to repair destroyed roads, or to feed, heal and rehouse their suffering people, in the aftermath of hurricanes, floods, droughts or crop failures – let alone the money to invest in resilience measures against future climate-induced disasters.
In other words, the North now owes a huge unpaid and still growing debt to the South – economic debt, climate debt, and simple moral obligation.
Part of this obligation now has a name, “loss and damage”. Loss means what is destroyed for ever, damage means what can still be repaired. The principle was first formally recognised at the United Nations as long ago as 2007.
But for the people of the Global South, covering loss and damage is just one element of the North’s debts to the South, and does nothing to break the endless cycle of impoverishment and exploitation. That will require, for instance, an end to extractivism, the cancellation and ending of unaffordable debt, and patent-free transfers of energy-transition and other vital technologies.
Meanwhile, though, at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year, the countries of the Global South did put a proposal on the agenda to set up a financial facility for climate-related loss and damage, but instead of being addressed it was promptly kicked into the agenda for COP27 in Egypt later this year.
To their shame, the UK government is one of those still trying to block the proposal. This is unacceptable. So on Thursday 22nd September a Loss and Damage Action Day across the country is being held jointly by Global Justice Now, War On Want, Make Polluters Pay, a coalition of faith groups, and many others. All are inviting members of the public to show their support by joining in, and by signing the petition to the UK government.
Also in Sheffield meet at the Town Hall steps at 11.00 am, with banners and placards, primarily for a photoshoot and a speech and then concentrate on engaging with passers-by, focused on getting signatures for the petition and encouraging interest in the GJN leaflet, for as long as seems productive. Then move to the lower end of The Moor (the Sainsbury’s area), probably by 12.00, and continue collecting petition signatures until 2.00 pm.
The historically-exploited and increasingly climate-devastated countries like Pakistan now need our solidarity in demanding that, at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt this November, a sufficient loss and damage fund will finally be set up, as an emergency down-payment on the North’s enormous debt to the South.
Today I attended the Better Buses South Yorkshire Rally. It was encouraging to see political parties, campaigning groups and trade unions all coming together to demand a better bus service for South Yorkshire. We will need much more of this as we face up to the unacceptable plans of the new Prime Minister.
French corporation EDF wants to build two huge nuclear reactors on the fragile Suffolk Heritage Coast called Sizewell C. The new Prime Minister will have to decide if this goes ahead. EDF hopes to make a “final investment decision” by mid-2023.
One of Boris Johnson’s last acts as Prime Minister was to pledge £700m for Sizewell C. “Let’s think about the future, let’s think about our kids and our grandchildren, about the next generation,” he said.
“And so I say to you, with the prophetic candour and clarity of one who is about to hand over the torch of office, I say go nuclear and go large and go with Sizewell C.”
But is he really thinking about the future? This is a disaster on so many fronts. Building Sizewell C will damage RSPB Minsmere, home to reedbeds, wet grasslands and heathlands that are all carefully managed to make them ideal places for a huge variety of wildlife. Reedbeds are home to marsh harrier, otters and water voles. The heathlands, where nightjars whirr, natterjack toads croak and silver-studded blue butterflies flutter. We are in a nature emergency, yet the Government are happy to destroy nature for another nuclear power station. Consent was given by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in July against the advice of the Examining Authority, the Governments own advisors and the RSPB, so the RSPB have been left with no choice but to apply for a judicial review.
Richard Teasdale from Sheffield Greenpeace commented “Nuclear power is complex and hugely expensive to build. It creates huge amounts of hazardous waste. Renewable energy is cheaper and can be installed quickly. Together with battery storage, it can generate the power we need to slash our emissions.”
According to the campaign group Stop Sizewell C, it is the wrong project in the wrong place and will not help the UK achieve its objectives.
The wrong project:
Sizewell C is slow – it would take at least ten years to build, so will not generate any power until the mid-2030s. We need to increase our power production now. Renewable energy is much quicker to install.
Sizewell C is expensive, costing £20+ billion, which could be invested in renewables such as offshore wind or hydrogen storage.
Sizewell C takes a lot of carbon to build. Using EDF’s own estimates, it would take around 4 years to pay this back, meaning Sizewell C wouldn’t contribute to net zero until the late 2030s. The government’s latest target is a 78% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2035.
European Pressurised Water reactors (EPR’s) have an appalling track record. The few EPRs under construction are all well over budget and (in France and Finland) a decade late. One of the only two operating EPRs in China has been closed with fuel failure after international attention.
EDF successfully lobbied the government to pass legislation to make consumers pay for the financing of Sizewell C through a nuclear tax on energy bills (called a RAB model), but nuclear projects are prone to cost and time overruns. This is going to be very expensive for taxpayers.
The UK government wants to eject EDF’s controversial partner – China General Nuclear – but has not decided how.
Nuclear energy is not green energy. There is as yet no long-term solution for nuclear waste.
The wrong place:
EDF’s claims of thousands of jobs for locals and billions of pounds spent locally are unproven. Sizewell C would damage the local economy. Nuclear power generates far fewer jobs than investing in insulation (which would help the cost of living crisis now) or renewable energy.
EDF wants to bring its Hinkley workers to Sizewell. EDF estimates almost 6,000 workers would come into the area; 2,400 of them would live in a “campus” near the tiny hamlet of Eastbridge.
Visitors would stay away, losing the tourism industry up to £40 million a year (independent research) and losing 400 jobs. EDF admits 725 ‘local’ staff would come from other businesses.
There would be around 12,000 extra vehicles a day on the A12, including 700 HGVs.
The Sizewell C site is on an eroding coastline and surrounded by protected wildlife habitats. As sea levels rise due to the melting ice caps the site will be threatened with flooding, which could possibly lead to an appalling accident like Fukushima.
Toxic nuclear waste would have to remain on site for well over 100 years.
The site is wholly within the Suffolk Coast & Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Construction will cut the AONB in half. The internationally famous RSPB Minsmere reserve will be damaged, and some of the Sizewell Marshes Site of Special Scientific Interest will be built on.
There is no assured long-term water supply for Sizewell C in an area currently experiencing drought. To obtain enough clean water for construction, EDF has been forced to propose a desalination plant.
Stop Sizewell C is a campaign group opposing the project after 9 years of EDF’s failed engagement and the destructive nature of its proposals. It aims to raise awareness of the impacts of Sizewell C and put pressure on national and local governments to see that the impacts outweigh the benefits.
Mike Anthony asks “Why are all the rising prices and shortages blamed on the war in Ukraine? Why aren’t we importing more from America and Canada?” (Letters August 24th)
Unfortunately, we have a very unhealthy reliance on imports from Ukraine and Russia. Together, Russia and Ukraine export nearly a third of the world’s wheat and barley, more than 70 per cent of its sunflower oil and are big suppliers of corn. Russia is the top global fertiliser producer. The loss of these imports is increasing global prices.
What we urgently need to do is reduce our reliance on imports by growing more of our own food. We currently use 17.5m hectares of land in the UK for agriculture but still import roughly half of our food. Most of the land is used to grow food for livestock. George Monbiot has calculated that if we changed to a vegan diet we would only need 3m hectares. Any reduction in our meat usage will be a step in the right direction.
But Mike is right. The war is not the only cause of rising food prices. In this country, the drought and extreme temperatures have damaged many crops. But other countries have had it far worse. “Heatflation” is increasing the price of food.
Drought in the Horn of Africa has seen the driest conditions and hottest temperatures since satellite record-keeping began. In Chad, 95% of Lake Chad has disappeared. Around the world, major rivers such as the Loire, Danube, Rhine, Yangtze, and Colorado are drying up. Italy has declared a state of emergency. The current drought in China may end up as the worst in recorded history, but it barely gets a mention in the media.
Politicians have ignored the warnings of climate scientists for four decades and continue to increase the production of fossil fuels. It is no surprise that our planet is suffering and we are now struggling to feed ourselves. We need an emergency worldwide plan to slash our emissions now.
The Star printed this letter today but unfortunately failed to print the map again!
Having travelled on the very first Sheffield Connect bus service, I must write to agree with J Robin Hughes. We must use this new city centre circular route, or we may lose it. It is a free service if you have a tram or bus ticket for that day and only costs £1 if you don’t. The Star could help by publishing the map showing the route, which has so far had little press attention.
Last week I was privileged to see the Crucible Studio production “How a city can save the world”, directed by Tess Seddon and performed by the Sheffield People’s Theatre. We witnessed five ordinary Sheffielders transported into a dystopian future where only 24 people had survived the eco-apocalypse. I’m sure many of the audience will have been inspired by the play and be thinking about what they can do now to prevent the collapse of our society.
A friend wrote, “It seemed like the actors believed that this was more than a play-that we really are in a climate crisis and that they weren’t just taking character parts and going by the script.”
As the show has now finished I hope it is not too much of a spoiler to reveal that the play had a happy ending, with the adventurers returning to 2022, determined to do things differently. The young influencer was going to tell his followers all about the crisis and the grandmother with life experience was going to help him do it. The cynical business executive was going to become a whistleblower, informing on corporate crimes against humanity. The activist was going to stand for Council and the writer was going to use her gift to educate people.
As someone who has been doing most of these things for several decades, you will have to forgive my cynicism for thinking the well-meaning characters probably wouldn’t be successful in saving the world. (I haven’t tried whistleblowing as I never worked for a company involved in destroying the planet). It is hard to imagine what ordinary people can do that will provoke the change we need from Government and Corporations that can completely turn around our civilisation so that we prioritise survival over greed and profit.
It is rarely reported in the press, but more climate protestors have now been arrested than those campaigning for votes for women. Many activists are in prison and around the world, many have died trying to protect their community from so-called developers. Yet still, carbon emissions are increasing and decision makers fail to take notice of the scientists pleading that we have to stop drilling for oil.
The death toll from climate change is increasing quickly, and the people who have contributed least to the problem are the most badly affected. According to Jason Hickel, data from 2010 suggests that around 400,000 people died that year due to crises related to climate breakdown. These were mainly hunger and communicable disease. 98% of these deaths occurred in the global south. By 2030 climate-related deaths are predicted to reach 530,000 a year. Again the vast majority of these will be in the south.
Drought is increasing, devastating agriculture in many countries of the south. Crops are failing and hunger is increasing. Rising temperatures mean tropical diseases like malaria and dengue fever are spreading to new regions. After a long history of colonisation, the poor countries of the south are less able to adapt to climate breakdown. The poorest are unable to survive on marginal land vulnerable to droughts and floods, don’t have the means to see themselves through disasters and can’t easily relocate or defend their human rights.
The emissions of a few rich nations are harming billions of people in poorer countries and this is a crime against humanity. As Philip Alston put it, “Climate change is, among other things, an unconscionable assault on the poor.”
We recently experienced temperatures close to 40 degrees. Imagine what it would be like to cope with this day after day.
In Somaliland, in the Horn of Africa, droughts have killed 70% of the livestock, devastating rural communities and forcing tens of thousands to flee. Shukri Ismail Bandare, the Minister for the Environment, said “We used to have droughts before. They would be 10 or 15 years apart. Now it is so frequent that people can not cope with it. You can touch it in Somaliland, the climate change. It is real, it is here.”
So far average world temperatures have increased by 1.2 degrees Centigrade. With emissions still rising there is little hope of meeting the target to hold this increase at 1.5 degrees. Climate negotiators from the United States and other powerful countries have pushed for a 2 degrees target. When this was announced at the Copenhagen summit in 2009, Lumumba Di-Aping the Sudanese negotiator for the G77, said “We have been asked to sign a suicide pact. It is unfortunate that after 500 years of interaction with the West we are still considered disposables.”
So if I could make some edits to the play I would change two things. Firstly I would emphasise that climate change is already killing people in 2022. Secondly, for the five time travellers to succeed in saving the world, they will need to inspire all of us to come together in peaceful direct action to demand an end to fossil fuels.
As many more trade unions consider strike action it is worth stepping back and thinking about our economy. Inflation is already at 9% and the Bank of England are expecting it to rise to 13%. This is probably an underestimate. For the poorest, who spend a much greater proportion of their income on fuel and food and who are already struggling to pay their bills, these price increases will be unaffordable and will result in incredible hardship.
Meanwhile, fuel companies are making massive profits. For instance, in the second quarter of this year Exxon made $17.9 billion, compared to $4.7 billion in the first quarter, so their profits have multiplied by 3!
An internet meme proclaims “We are not witnessing a recession, we are witnessing a robbery!”
Consider this: the richest 1% of the world’s population captures some $19 trillion in income every year, which represents nearly a quarter of global Gross Domestic Product. This is astonishing when you think about it. It means that a quarter of all our work, all the resources we extract, and all the CO2 we emit is done to make extremely rich people even richer.
For many years most workers have had to accept below-inflation pay rises while the richest tour the world in private jets and avoid paying taxes. It is time for change. We need higher windfall taxes on fuel companies’ profits and increases in pay and benefits that at least keep up with inflation. If you are a worker but not in a Union, now is the time to join!
This letter was published in the Sheffield Star on 9th August 2022