Phil England is producer of Climate Radio and co-founder of the award-winning community radio station Resonance FM. In 2012 he produced an alternative audio tour for the Tate Modern as part of the campaign to end oil sponsorship of the arts. His freelance writing has appeared in The Independent, The Herald, The Ecologist, Variant and The Wire.


Phil England is producer of Climate Radio and co-founder of the award-winning community radio station Resonance FM. In 2012 he produced an alternative audio tour for the Tate Modern as part of the campaign to end oil sponsorship of the arts. His freelance writing has appeared in The Independent, The Herald, The Ecologist, Variant and The Wire.

Contributor Image: 

Corporations at the very heart of power

Policy Exchange

Owen Jones’ latest book, The Establishment: And how they get away with it (Allen Lane), is a pithy retelling of recent political scandals, studded with dozens of revealing interviews with power brokers.

It has hugely important things to say about the state of our democracy, the shocking pace at which the gains of the post-war settlement (the National Health Service (NHS), the welfare state) are being rolled back, and the extent to which bankers and corporations are now sitting at the very heart of power. It concludes with a call for a democratic revolution and sets out proposals for reform.

One of the things I found most disturbing in your book was the extent to which those at the heart of government enjoy close personal friendships with the people they are supposed to be governing and regulating – this can’t be healthy for a democracy.

The most extreme example is Tony Blair, who ended up as godfather to Rupert Murdoch’s kids and turned up to the ceremony dressed in a white robe, next to the River Nile. You get these social relationships, whether it’s thinktank breakfasts or off-the-record dinners or going on holiday with each other.

Then there’s the revolving door where journalists, for example, end up working for politicians and politicians end up working in the media. If you take associate editor of The Times, Danny Finkelstein, he’s not only a friend of [Chancellor] George Osborne, he helps write his speeches. The Times was formerly the paper of record, yet one of its top members of staff is basically an adviser to the government that the paper is supposed to be scrutinizing. And that helps this sense of ‘we’re one coherent élite with similar interests who are bound together’ rather than having – in the case of the media – this independent scrutinizing of power.

Geoff Hoon, who was Secretary of State for Defence, gave a contract to a helicopter company, which he went on to work for after he stepped down; Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Health, ends up working for private healthcare firm BUPA; same with Alan Milburn, Secretary for Health, who now works for private healthcare companies.

And people are frequently ‘seconded’ into government from corporations or accountancy firms, doing what looks like almost writing government policy…

You have accountancy firms that work for government, helping draw up tax laws; they then tell their clients how to avoid the laws they themselves have written up. You have energy companies seconded to the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

People work for government and business at the same time. Of the 50 top publicly trading companies, 46 per cent have a member of parliament that is either a shareholder or director. A quarter of Conservative Party MPs are private landlords, which ensures that their interests align with landlords and tenants. That helps cement this sense of a corporate political élite, whose interests are very much aligned to those of big business; they know that it’s a springboard to lucrative contracts, jobs and posts. David Miliband made £1 million ($1.6 million) in his last year as an MP, for his work with private equity companies and the dictatorship of the United Arab Emirates.

I’m not sure we yet have the popular language for what’s going on. It’s cronyism, isn’t it?

Yes, it is, clearly. I think the idea that so many MPs work for private companies, so that rather than looking out for their constituents’ interests – the people who vote them in – they’re looking out for their rich friends, is quite an accessible idea, really.

What phrase do you think best describes the ruling élite we have now – corporatocracy, plutocracy, corporate oligarchy?

I think those terms go over most people’s heads, to be honest. I use the word ‘establishment’, because it’s a word most people understand. The challenge is reaching people who aren’t consciously political. The term ‘establishment’ was coined by a conservative journalist, Henry Fairlie, but there’s no reason why it can’t be reclaimed to mean what I regard as the people who have power in this country. I think it has more resonance than those other words.

So the current situation is that the majority of people no longer have a major political party that represents their interests. And that includes the Labour Party. Obviously, the Labour Party grew out of the trade union movement and used to represent the interests of working people – until Tony Blair.

You have Cameron’s Conservatives, Orange Book Liberal Democrats and Blairites. They could happily coexist in the same party. They’re all socially liberal neoliberals. By that I mean they’re generally accepting of LGBT rights and all the rest of it whilst believing very passionately in free markets, privatization and cutting taxes on the rich. The whole New Labour project played a big part in consolidating that, by branding ideas that were once mainstream and acceptable as defeated. ‘Go back to the 1970s where you belong, you old dinosaur’, sort of thing. And a lot of the things this government is doing, New Labour laid the foundations for, like the privatization of the NHS.

You have accountancy firms that work for government, helping draw up tax laws; they then tell their clients how to avoid the laws they themselves have written up.

Most MPs are drawn from relatively privileged backgrounds and there is the growing phenomenon of MPs who have only ever worked in the political world.

So there’s a sense that there’s a single political élite sharing all the key underlying assumptions, personally profiting from the order they helped create. That’s what we’ve got and that’s what we need to sweep away.

When it comes to the media, we have a disproportionately rightwing press that has immense power and reinforces the ideology of the ruling élite.

Yes, the media helps police the acceptable boundaries of debate. So most of the population – according to the polls – want renationalization of the railways, energy, utilities; they want higher taxes on the rich, they want rent controls, they want a programme of council-house building, accountable publicly owned banks. That’s all mainstream public opinion, but obviously the media regards that as ludicrous and that’s because we don’t have a free press: we have a press which is in the hands of a small group of politically motivated moguls who use their power to subvert democracy.

And what they do is keep the conversation constantly on the terms of the interests of those at the top. Even mild policies, such as [Labour Party leader] Ed Miliband’s policy of freezing energy bills, mean that the media swoops in and characterizes him as some reincarnation of Vladimir Lenin, who’s going to nationalize your grandmother.

Genuinely radical ideas are seen as completely beyond the pale. The biggest democratic movement in the country is the trade unions, representing over six million workers, who either don’t appear in the media, or if they do appear, they’re demonized. It’s as if they have no legitimate role.

The question is whether the hegemony of the mainstream media will be maintained. With social media, the position of the mainstream media is more open to challenge and that’s what we’ve got to hope for.

How do you think the media should be reformed?

I think you should ban any media owner from having any more than one national media outlet – that would mean breaking up any big media empire like the Murdoch empire. It would mean abolition of all unpaid internships, which help turn the media into a closed shop for the privileged people who can afford to get in in the first place, and instead have apprenticeships and scholarships for people with different backgrounds.

At the same time, it’s important what we all do in civil society; I think there’s the opportunity to create genuine alternative news sources online, which challenge the existing order and give voices to those who are otherwise ignored. Not just marginalized sources which only appeal to a few lefties, but appeal to lots of people and help challenge this establishment.

In the final chapter of your book you call for a democratic revolution. What are the six key proposals you would make to reform our democracy, so that it starts working for the 99 per cent?

It would take more than six! Take on the revolving door by banning those MPs from ending up in those sorts of jobs. Ban MPs from being directors or key shareholders of businesses. I would have a genuine crackdown on lobbying, rather than the gagging bill this government has introduced, which has a go at unions and NGOs. Cap donations from wealthy individuals and businesses. I would have a massive devolution of power over the nations and regions. Strengthen the trade unions in local government so that they can get more working-class people elected. And we need to look at proposals for taking on the City and its domination.

There’s a sense that there’s a single political élite personally profiting from the order they helped create. That’s what we’ve got and that’s what we need to sweep away.

But it’s about democracy everywhere. It’s about democratic social ownership of the economy. So with renationalization, I’d want workers and consumers helping to run those services and utilities. I want democracy in the workplace with a new charter of workers’ rights to shift the balance of power from employer to employee. I want a living wage, rather than corporate welfare, where we subsidize poverty-paying bosses. And instead of subsidizing landlords, let councils build houses.

So it’s about learning from our enemies, where you ratchet in a different direction and shift the terms of debate. The more you do that, [the] more radical proposals can come into play. It’s about how you build a society based on people’s needs and aspirations, rather than profit for a small group of people.

How do we make change happen?

The traditions of this country are such that the way we get change isn’t through the goodwill and generosity of those in power, it’s through the struggle and sacrifice of ordinary people from below. And that goes back to the Levellers and Diggers of the English Revolution, the Chartists – the world’s first working-class political movement – in the 19th century, the Tolpuddle Martyrs – the early trade unionists who fought for the rights and dignity of working people, the Suffragettes who were demonized and despised, force-fed in prison. So we have to learn from those traditions of ordinary people organizing from below. [Labour politician and MP] Tony Benn once said the way you get change is [by] burning [a] flame of anger at injustice and burning [a] flame of hope for a better world.

And there’s lots of anger at the moment, but the media is redirecting it from the people at the top with the power, to people’s neighbours, using the politics of envy. So they say to low-paid workers: ‘your wages are falling, your tax credits are being cut, so envy the unemployed person next door who’s living it up in luxury.’ Or to public-sector workers, whose pensions have been decimated: ‘don’t be angry at your boss, envy instead the nurse or the teacher because they’ve still got a pension intact.’

Frederick Douglas, the 19th-century African-American statesman, said: ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never has and it never will.’ And that means building a broad coalition of all those who want to change society – people in the Green Party, or in the Labour Party, but angry at the leadership, people in other parties, or in no parties. That’s not easy, but it’s the only chance of forcing change.

Occupy London is calling for an occupation of Parliament Square from 17-26 October to demand a democracy that works for the 99 per cent. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) national march, Britain Needs a Pay Rise, is on 18 October. Owen Jones’ The Establishment: And how they get away with it is published by Allen Lane.

See our October 2014 issue for a review of The Establishment: And how they get away with it.

PODCAST: Super Typhoon Yolanda versus Warsaw climate talks

Youth at UN climate talks

Young protesters draw attention to their lack of voice at climate talks. Adopt a Negotiator under a Creative Commons Licence

In the wake of Super Typhoon Yolanda (aka Haiyan) will negotiators at the UN climate talks finally wake up and agree an emergency action plan to save the planet? Or do citizens need to escalate their challenge to political elites captured by vested interests?

Listen to the podcast.

Climate Radio asks veteran delegate Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth about the prospects for a meaningful outcome. Lidy Nacpil of Jubilee South tells us about her experience of the Super Typhoon and how Yolanda graphically illustrates the need for a Loss and Damage fund to help poor countries deal with a crisis they did little to cause. Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid explains how we can divide up the remaining safe emissions budget using principles already agreed in the founding UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The programme also includes Philippines negotiator Yeb Saño‘s moving and historic speech on the opening day when he declared he will fast for the 12 days of the talks ‘until a meaningful outcome is in sight.’

Listen to the podcast.

Take action

Sign the Avaaz petition
Fast for Climate Justice
Attend a Vigil near You
Donate to the Friends of the Earth in the Philippines

PODCAST: Green solutions

Fracking protest

MEPs protest against Shale Gas outside the European Parliament. Politicans such as Caroline Lucas getting involved in direct action is great for campaigns, says Green Party leader Natalie Bennett. greensefa under a Creative Commons Licence

In October’s Climate Radio show, Phil England continues to look at climate change solutions but with renewed urgency in the light of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Listen to the podcast.

Joining Phil England on the programme is Colin Hines, founder of the Green New Deal Group to explain how we can finance the transition to a Zero Carbon Britain.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett outlines her programme for government.

Cat Hobbs, founder of the We Own It campaign tells us why Britain’s railways would be better under public ownership

Louise Hazan, campaigner for the Fossil Free UK campaign tells us how a new divestment campaign has the power to cut dirty energy companies down to size.

Listen to this month’s podcast.

The Fossil Free Tour arrives in Europe at the end of this month – you don’t have to be a student to get involved!

No time to listen or fancy reading more about these issues? Read Phil England's show notes.

PODCAST: Our renewable future

wind turbines

Do we stand together with communities around the world and head down a different path into a safer, fairer energy future? Emilian Robert Vicol under a Creative Commons Licence

Phil England and guests argue that we can power Britain and the world using renewable energy and with wise energy use in this month’s Climate Radio podcast.

Phil interviews Alice Hooker-Stroud, research co-ordinator for Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB)  at the Centre for Alternative Technology and Danny Chivers, lead author on Two Energy Futures (TEF) to explore alternative energy solutions.

Listen to the podcast.

'We’re standing at a crossroads. It’s time for humanity to make a choice. Do we sit back and allow fossil fuel companies and oil-friendly governments to dig, drill and frack us into a dark and dirty future? Or do we stand together with communities around the world to stop these extreme energy projects, and head down a different path into a safer, fairer energy future?' Two Energy Futures

A new report by Zero Carbon Britain features two new pieces of research. The first addresses the variability of supply and demand and what we need to do to keep the lights on in a 100 per cent renewable energy scenario. The second is about how we feed ourselves well, using the land available to us in Britain.

Two Energy Futures takes the Zero Carbon Britain blueprint as its starting point along with mainstream figures for the amount of harvestable renewable energy that is available globally. It contrasts this cleaner, fairer energy future with the best scenario that governments and corporations are currently offering us – a world full of extreme energy and catastrophic climate change.

'Utopias aren’t chimeras, they are the most noble dreams that people have. Dreams that through struggle can and must be turned into reality'. Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, Mayor of Marinaleda (quoted in The Village Against the World by Dan Hancox).

Listen to this month's podcast.

PODCAST: Big biomass


Deforestation is already a huge global problem; biomass just adds to it Moyan Brenn under a Creative Commons Licence

The industrial burning of trees to meet energy needs will harm the climate more than burning coal. Phil England and guests explain why support for biomass needs to end, now.

European consumption patterns are already responsible for over a third of global deforestation which is bad news for the climate, biodiversity and forest-dependent communities. And yet Britain and Europe have now decided to burn trees to create electricity. Why are policy makers ignoring the advice of their own scientists which says that this will be worse for climate change than burning coal? Where might millions of tonnes of trees come from and what implications might this have for exacerbating land grabs and land conflicts?

Listen to the podcast here.

For this episode of Climate Radio, Phil England is joined by:

•    Harry Huyton from RSPB
•    Rachel Smolker from Biofuelwatch US and Energy Justice Network
•    Almuth Ernsting from Biofuelwatch UK
•    Giuseppe Nastasi from Client Earth

Carbon-neutral or worse than coal?

European and UK policy on biomass assumes that using biomass to produce electricity is carbon-neutral. But when trees are burnt in power stations they instantly release the carbon that they have been absorbing and storing for decades. The CO2 that is added to the atmosphere increases global warming now and it will take decades if not centuries, for an equivalent amount of CO2 to be reabsorbed by any new trees planted.

An authoritative review for the European Commission confirmed that the assumption of biomass’s 'carbon neutrality' is false and that, under most applicable scenarios, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with biomass are worse than coal.

Where would all these trees come from?

Government and industry used to claim that biomass for electricity plants would come from waste sources, and locally-grown sustainable crops. However, the scale of the government’s bioenergy plans mean that there would never be enough supply from these sources alone. Data obtained by Biofuelwatch shows that the coal stations in Britain that have applied to convert to biomass can only burn slow growing trees from the Northern hemisphere that are low in bark content. North America will be the main source of European biomass in the short term after which demand is projected to be met from South America and Africa.

Implications for the Global South: land conflicts, food insecurity

There has already been a real-world experiment with biofuels which has had a devastating impact on the global poor. Biofuels have made global food prices rise and become more volatile, contributing to food riots and global unrest. There have been 293 land grabs – a total of 17 million hectares – specifically for biofuel crops over the last ten years.

Southern organizations such as World Rainforest Movement are worried that biomass will simply add to existing pressures and the European Parliament’s own assessment concluded that EU biomass policy would be likely to impact on poor countries by putting pressure on forests and other ecosystems, driving land-use conflicts and impacting on local food and energy security.

The tide turns?

The British government has limited its support for biomass. However current policy could still mean burning up to 20 million tonnes of trees every year for several decades. The EU is reducing its support for biofuels after the European Commission’s science body found that biodiesel made from rapeseed was worse for the climate than conventional diesel.

End subsidies now!

With the publication of the European Parliament’s report on the impacts of biomass energy on climate change, there is no longer any intellectual justification for treating large-scale biomass as ‘renewable energy’ and making it extremely profitable by giving it subsidies. Britain is finalizing its subsidy regime for different types of electricity production as the Energy Bill passes through parliament – so we have an important opportunity to fix this now.

Take action

•    Follow Biofuelwatch and Biomass Monitor for updates
•    Tell the Green Investment Bank to stop supporting biomass projects.
•    Ask your MEP to change the rules on biofuels
•    Campaign for the Energy Bill to stop supporting biomass

Listen to the podcast.

PODCAST: No Dash for Fracking Gas

2013-06-26 frack ny 590.jpg

Protesting against fracking in New York CREDO.fracking under a Creative Commons Licence

Climate Radio takes a look at the battle for the UK’s energy future: on the one side we have Chancellor George Osborne and the gas lobby; on the other side are the communities resisting the threat of fracking, the government’s own Committee on Climate Change, 21 people who occupied a gas-fired power station – and everyone else interested in maintaining a habitable planet.

Phil England is joined for this episode of climate radio by:
David Kennedy, CEO, Committee on Climate Change
John Broderick, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
Vanessa Vine, co-ordinator of Britain & Ireland Frack Free (BIFF!) and Frack Free Sussex
Mariann Lloyd-Smith, Senior Advisor to the National Toxics Network, Australia

With special appearances by: New York Youth Against Fracking, Pieter Tans (NOAA), Peter Lilley MP, Dr Theo Colborn (c/o Gasland) and Danny Chivers of No Dash for Gas.

Listen to the podcast here.

Chancellor George Osborne is planning to build up to 40 new gas-fired power stations even though the government’s own independent advisers warn that this would be illegal, expensive and crash our climate commitments. The Chancellor is also encouraging the polluting and landscape-despoiling process of gas fracking in the UK, while the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has been promoting this controversial technology internationally. From a climate change perspective we already have more carbon in fossil fuel company reserves than we can safely burn before adding yet another source of unconventional fuel into the mix. Unless there is an effective global cap on carbon emissions or a global carbon tax, developing shale gas reserves by fracking will increase global greenhouse gas emissions.

Communities from the US to Egypt and from Australia to Algeria are fighting back against the threat of fracking and the Chancellor’s entire gas policy will be challenged by climate protestors in Britain when they return en-masse to  West Burton gas-fired power station for the Reclaim The Power camp from 17 to 20 August 2013.

The Dash for Gas would increase fuel poverty

Britain’s fuel bills have risen dramatically over the last five years, 60 per cent of this is down to the rising price of gas, while less than 10 per cent was because of the cost of investment in renewable energy. The cost of gas is likely to continue to rise (as global demand continues to grow) while the cost of renewable energy is predicted to fall (as the technologies become mature and achieve economies of scale). Investing in low-carbon technology could save consumers between £25 and £100 billion ($38.6 and $154 billion) by 2030.

Britain has the worst rates of fuel poverty in Western Europe with nearly 20 per cent of all households in fuel poverty. Fuel poverty was likely to be a significant contributor to the 2,700 ‘excess winter deaths’ that occurred in Britain in 2010-2011 according to a government commissioned report. While the poorest customers of British Gas face the choice between heating and eating, the company paid £16 million ($25 million) to its senior executives.

The Gas Mafia vs democracy

Why is the Chancellor being allowed to dictate British energy policy? Why is test drilling going ahead in the West Sussex village of Balcombe when 82 per cent of residents oppose it? Why is the Foreign & Commonwealth Office providing support to British companies wishing to exploit shale gas in countries such as the US, China, Mexico, Bulgaria and Lithuania? Campaigning group Frack Off revealed that the gas lobby has key allies in every government department that has a bearing on gas policy.

The health impacts of fracking

Fracking results in pollution of both water and air causing significant health impacts. The Oscar-nominated film Gasland collects the testimonies of people affected by fracking across the US while the List of the Harmed compiles details of nearly 1,400 affected residents. Fracking companies have been buying people’s silence by including gagging clauses in legal settlements for damage claims. The fracking boom in the US only took off after Dick Cheney secured an exemption for the industry from the Safe Drinking Water Act and the toxic impacts of fracking have been suppressed by industry interests. Already in the UK, fracking company Cuadrilla has been found making misleading, exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Take action
Email your MP and ask them to support carbon-free electricity in the Energy Bill
Ask your MP to sign Early Day Motion 2292 for a moratorium on fracking
Find out if fracking is coming your way and join your local group
Come to Reclaim the Power at West Burton gas power station, 17 to 20 August 2013.

Listen to the podcast here.

This post is extracted from a longer article which can be found here at the Climate Radio website.

Climate Radio is broadcast by Resonance FM on the third Monday of every month and archived at the Climate Radio website.

PODCAST: Democracy and the climate

This month’s Climate Radio show is a special discussion on the theme of democracy and climate change. Phil England is joined by:

Alex Scrivener from World Development Movement
Ewa Jasiewicz from No Dash for Gas
Emma Hughes from Platform
Jamie Kelsey-Fry from New Internationalist and Occupy London

Listen to the podcast here.

Are we facing a democratic crisis in Britain?

Why do scientists and civil society struggle to get government to respond to the climate crisis while its default position is to side with powerful vested interests?

Why are millionaires getting tax cuts and bankers still getting obscene bonuses while ordinary people are facing cuts to jobs, wages, benefits and public services?

Are we effectively living in a corporate oligarchy or ‘corporatocracy,’ where power is exercised by the few in the interests of the corporations and financiers?

Do we, as former World Bank economist Joesph Stiglitz has put it, have a government ‘of the 1 per cent, by the 1 per cent and for the 1 per cent’?

The Web of Power

man and woman holding placards
Is there a democratic crisis over the climate? Climate Watch, under a CC License

The World Development Movement’s Web of Power report found that in Britain, ‘up to a third of all coalition ministers may have past or present links with fossil fuel companies, or with financial and services companies supporting oil or gas projects.’ Their cool infographic shows how directors of banks and fossil fuel companies sit on each other’s boards and the links they have with members of the cabinet.

Action: Put pressure on Vince Cable to make sure banks are required to disclose the carbon footprint of their investments.

Why is the government mortgaging our future to gas?

The British government’s own independent advisers, The Committee on Climate Change, have said that relying on gas to produce our electricity in the future would be illegal, crash our carbon reduction commitments and be more expensive. Yet Chancellor George Osborne is planning to build 30 new gas fired power stations and has  announced subsidies and bribes for gas produced by the dangerous process of ‘hydraulic fracturing,’ also known as ‘fracking’. It’s easy to see why the government is going down this road when you see to what extent the gas mafia has penetrated the heart of government.

Actions: Find out if your MP is supporting a de-carbonization target in the Energy Bill. This would rule out new gas-fired power stations. If not, email them. Follow @nodashforgas and @frack_off to find out about future actions you can be involved in.

How oil and gas companies dictate our foreign policy

British foreign policy has had strong links with oil and gas company interests since we carved up the Middle East between ourselves and the French at the end of World War One. This has led to Britain supporting a range of undemocratic rulers and has made us complicit in their human rights abuses. It is also now means that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is supporting Arctic drilling despite the fact that opening up Arctic oil and gas reserves is inconsistent with maintaining a hospitable climate.

Corporate capture across government

The disproportionate and corrupting influence of business and finance seems to be a consistent pattern across government in areas such as health care, arms sales and press regulation.

A lesson from history

It was only a reform of democracy that finally enabled legislation abolishing the slave trade to pass in Britain. After centuries of slave rebellions and decades of campaigning, the 1832 Reform Act made Parliament somewhat more representative – meaning the number of pro-slavery representatives fell – and a year later The Abolition of Slavery Act was passed.

So what?

If corporate capture of government really is the single underlying thing holding progressive politics back, should we be switching from fighting single issue campaigns, to uniting behind a single campaign focusing on reforming government by kicking out the vested interests of the corporations and banks?

For a longer version of these notes visit the Climate Radio website.

Listen to the podcast here.

Climate Radio is broadcast by Resonance FM on the third Monday of every month and archived at the Climate Radio website.

PODCAST: Dirty oil

In this month’s show Climate Radio explores why it’s imperative that Barack Obama says no to the Keystone XL pipeline if he is serious about acting on climate change. The pipeline would help drive Canada’s proposed expansion of its already devastatingly destructive tar sands industry and we talk to the people who are fighting the project through direct action, a nationwide divestment campaign, legal challenges and a range of imaginative interventions. We also look at how Europe is drafting legislation to keep dirty tar sands oil out of Europe.

Jamie Henn,
Eriel Deranger, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation
Ramsey Sprague, Tar Sands Blockade
Emily Coats, UK Tar Sands Network
Patrick Sullivan,Centre for Biological Diversity

Listen to the podcast here.

Keystone XL Pipeline Protest at the White House
Keystone XL pipeline protest at the White House tarsandsaction, under a CC License

Keystone what?

The Keystone XL pipeline has become an iconic fight for the climate movement because it would facilitate the expansion of tar sands oil production in Canada which top NASA scientist James Hansen has said would mean ‘game over’ for the climate. Campaigners are increasingly turning to civil disobedience in this fight to improve the odds in a country where politicians have been corrupted by oil dollars. In Oklahoma and Texas, landowners have joined environmentalists in a rolling campaign of direct action against the construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline which Obama has already approved. The campaign has included tree sits, hunger strikes, people locking themselves inside pipes and occupations of TransCanada’s offices.

Cultural genocide

Tar sands development also carries the threat of cultural genocide for First Nations in Canada. The pollution of ground water by the massive lakes of toxic tailings produced as a waste product by tar sands extraction is entering the food chain and increasing the incidence of cancer in First Nations communities The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation are fighting two new proposed Shell projects close to their territory through ongoing legal challenges. The community has also taken part in direct action after Canada rewrote its environmental laws in accordance with the wishes of oil lobbyists in order to expedite expansion of tar sands. This rewriting of Canadian law helped spark the nationwide uprising Idle No More and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation are threatening an escalation of direct action unless the government retracts this legislation.

Keep tar sands out of Europe!

In Europe we are engaged in our own struggle to say no to tar sands oil. We can be tar sands free if legislation designed to reduce emissions from transport fuels (the Fuel Quality Directive or FQD) goes ahead. Studies have shown tar sands oil to be 23 per cent more polluting than conventional oil. The Canadian government unleashed a multi-million dollar PR and lobbying campaign against the legislation, enlisting the British government as a key ally. These conspirators have been successful in postponing a vote on the legislation, raising the spectre of tar sands oil coming into Europe by the back door via Pembrokeshire in Wales. The UK Tar Sands Network has been working to expose this unwelcome meddling with some viral interventions.

If you want to take action on this issue visit the Climate Radio website for some ideas.

Listen to the podcast here

Climate Radio is broadcast by Resonance FM on the third Monday of every month and archived at the Climate Radio website.

PODCAST: Protecting the Arctic

At the end of February 2013, Shell suspended its Arctic oil drilling operation for 2013 citing safety concerns. Over the course of 2012, the company’s claims that they were ‘Arctic Ready’ collapsed after a succession of calamities, while investors and other oil companies started getting cold feet. Shell’s announcement pre-empted the results of a review and potential criminal investigation by the US Department of the Interior.

This episode of Climate Radio looks at how the British government has so far rejected a parliamentary call for a moratorium on Arctic drilling, how Shell's Arctic drilling plans pose a risk to your pension and what you can do about it.

Joan Walley MP (Chair Environmental Audit Committee), Charlie Kronick (Greenpeace UK), Louise Rouse (Fair Pensions) and James Marriott (Platform) join Phil England.

Listen to the podcast here.

Issues discussed in this episode include:

Arctic drilling and ‘dangerous’ climate change: There is enough carbon in known fossil fuel reserves already to fry the planet, yet the British government is attempting to show that Arctic drilling could be compatible with avoiding dangerous climate change (See point 5 of PDF). The highly rigorous Carbon Budget study, suggests that we can only release 20 per cent of the carbon that is already contained in fossil fuel companies reserves if we want to give ourselves an 80 per cent chance of staying below 2C and that’s before we add in new resources from the Arctic which are currently classified as ‘undiscovered’.

Polar bear
Arctic drilling plans are too riskyCaption goes here NOAA's National Ocean Service, under a CC License

Calls for a moratorium grow stronger: In September 2012, when the British parliament's Environmental Audit Select Committee recommended a moratorium on Arctic drilling and establishing a sanctuary in the Arctic, it was adding its voice to a growing global demand.

In 2012 573 scientists, 60 members of Congress and 400,000 sent letters to the White House demanding a halt to offshore drilling. As of March 2013, nearly three million people have signed Greenpeace’s petition.

In August 2012, indigenous representatives issued a Joint Satement Of Indigenous Solidarity For Arctic Protection which was subsequently endorsed by the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council.

Oil companies and finance get cold feet: Throughout 2012 both oil companies and the financial sector became increasingly chilly towards the idea of Arctic drilling due to both cost and safety concerns. BP suspended its Arctic Liberty project, Total’s chief executive warned against Arctic drilling and Statoil said it was postponing its Arctic drilling plans. Investment Bankers Credit Agricole CIB introduced a policy which prohibits the funding of new offshore drilling projects. German bank West LB said it would not be funding Arctic drilling while insurers Lloyds of London described Arctic drilling ‘a unique and hard to manage risk.’

Is Your Pension at Risk? The risk of an oil spill in the Arctic poses significant risks to investors in Shell and the company is generally one of the largest holdings in every British pension fund. As Fair Pensions note, BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill showed how a single incident could have a sever impact on the financial performance of a company.

Listen to the podcast here

Take action:
Sign the Greenpeace petition on declaring a global sanctuary
Write to your MP
Start a conversation with your pension fund

Climate Radio is broadcast by Resonance FM on the third Monday of every month and archived at the Climate Radio website.

PODCAST: The canary in the climate coal mine

There are a number of tipping points in the Arctic which threaten to rapidly escalate the threat of climate change for the whole planet. These should serve as a wake-up call in the fight against climate change.

In this episode of Climate Radio Phil England speaks to Professor Peter Wadhams, Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University and Professor Timothy Lenton, the award-winning Chair in Climate Change and Earth Systems Science at University of Exeter.

Listen to the podcast here.

The podcast explores the science behind Arctic tipping points including:

Arctic Sea Ice
Arctic Sea Ice NASA/Kathryn Hansen, under a CC License

Arctic Sea Ice: New data from the CryoSat 2 satellite confirms that Arctic sea ice is declining faster than most climate models predicted. Is the trend in volume decline turning exponential or are recent observations just anomalies waiting to be explained?

Greenland Ice Sheet: Work published in 2012 indicates we are now within the estimated range for tipping the Greenland ice sheet into irreversible meltdown – although a 2008 assessment suggested this process itself could take hundreds of years to complete.

Atlantic Thermohaline Circulation: Recent observations appear to suggest that freshwater from Greenland ice melt may be weakening the Atlantic thermohaline circulation – the ocean current which includes the Gulf Stream and brings warm water to the Arctic (EAC, p.20).

Arctic Methane: There are several potential sources of methane in the arctic: on-shore permafrost (which turns into wetland as it melts); subsea permafrost on coastal shelves; and methane hydrates which are locked up on the deep ocean floor.

New evidence is emerging of the possible link between Arctic warming and extreme weather in the mid Northern latitudes such the heat waves, drought, flooding and cold spells.

According to the Arctic Council, the effects on marine animals and birds of a warming Arctic are likely to be ‘profound’. This two-part Climate Radio special from 2009 explores how Arctic First Nations peoples are finding their traditional lifestyles increasingly difficult to follow, and have been at the forefront in the struggle to stop oil and gas development in their territories, winning many important victories.

But what is the answer? If we are already at a level of average global warming that is dangerous, and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere commits us to a further 0.5C or more – even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow – is it time to consider geoengineering?

Two days after this programme was originally broadcast, Professor Wadhams and the Arctic Methane Emergency Group submitted further written evidence to the EAC urging the government to ‘adopt a precautionary approach.’

Lenton is unconvinced that geo-engineering is an appropriate solution at this point, instead he is arguing for removal of CO2 from the atmosphere by planting trees or by chemical means, and for taking action on reducing soot pollution (also known as black carbon).

Listen to the podcast here.

This post is adapted from a more in-depth summary of this episode which can be read at the Climate Radio website.

Climate Radio is broadcast by Resonance FM on the third Monday of every month and archived at the Climate Radio website.

This show is dedicated to the late Professor Seymour Laxon who died tragically on New Year’s Eve 2012. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.


Subscribe   Ethical Shop