Archive for the ‘fracking’ Category

Conning the public

August 9, 2017

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Iain Conn is the Chief Executive of Centrica, the parent company of British Gas. Before joining the company, he was the Chief Executive of British Petroleum. In 2017, his salary increased by 40% to just over £4m a year. He also received a £1.4m recruitment award when he was head-hunted from BP in 2015. British Gas recently announced they are putting electricity prices up by 12.5%.

The £4m Conn receives each year matches the number of households in Britain who are deemed to be in fuel poverty (where more than 10% of income is spent on fuel costs). Recently the government changed the official definition of fuel poverty, to include only families who have fuel costs that are above average, and whose fuel consumption would take them below the poverty line. However, in the real world, over 4m households (15% of the country) cannot afford to heat their homes. Whatever statistical method used, it is safe to assume that Iain Conn is not in fuel poverty.

The glaringly obvious message from all of this (well, to this blogger at least) is that the energy companies need to be taken back into public ownership. We have an illusion of choice – the idea that we can simply switch energy providers, when there is a cartel operating against our interests which hike up prices in response to each other. Better to have democratic control over energy, and for everyone to afford to heat their homes.

Nationalisation need not cost us anything. Why should fat cats like Iain Conn get any compensation – they have already robbed the British public of millions of pounds? Compensation should only be on the basis of need, not greed.

Nationalising energy companies would also allow the government to plan based on long-term needs, and to help save our environment. New Scientist recently estimated that the growth in renewables has, unfortunately stalled, as the ending of government subsidies is “strangling investment”. We may struggle to even meet 10% of energy consumption with renewables, under the so-called “free market”.

Capitalism is only interested in the bottom line, short-term profits at the expense of our futures. In order to prevent climate change going over 2°C, which could potentially be catastrophic, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground, stop fracking and invest all our energy and resources in making renewable energy work. To do this, the energy companies would need to forget about profits for shareholders. Under this grossly unfair and unequal economic system, that isn’t realistic. We need socialism.

I am a member of the Socialist Party in Britain, which is part of a growing, worldwide movement for socialist ideas, the Committee for a Workers’ International. If you agree, please join us. Together we can change the world.

 

Lines Written on the Occasion of the Queen’s Speech to Parliament

June 3, 2014

In the UK, the Queen’s speech is apolitical – she merely gives royal assent to Parliament’s wishes. This year, the Queen’s speech includes legislation removing the right of landowners to object to underground pipelines traversing their property. Should this right then not extend to fracking beneath Buckingham Palace, Balmoral Castle or across the Duchy of Cornwall?

Companies such as Cuadrilla have bullied and strong-armed our government, corrupt and spineless as it is, into allowing the spread of fracking and underground coal gasification, to the extent that local authorities are being given money to continue with these insane and inefficient practices. Large swathes of Britain, including National Parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest have been given over to exploration of underground reserves of shale oil.

Fracking and extreme energy present huge risks to underground aquifers. We are continuing to fuel the greenhouse effect by burning our remaining sources of fossil fuels, releasing CO2 and methane in the process. Moreover, each fracking well uses up millions of gallons of water, which requires thousands of lorry miles to transport it, in order to pump the shale oil from beneath the surface. The whole process is therefore an extremely inefficient way of obtaining energy.

The only sustainable solution is for massive investment in renewable energy and to take energy out of the hands of private companies, greedy for profit at the expense of our environment. We need a socialist solution to unfettered capitalism, and we need to move towards a sustainable economy.

Oil may bring wealth to a tiny elite, but we cannot drink the stuff!

 

The Queen’s Speech

 

Anachronistic, antagonistic. Angry activists

Bellow, “Bury beneath Balmoral, Buckingham Palace!”

Campaigners contend controversial

Decision. Delving deep,

Earthworks excavate energy.

The futile failure of fracking’s

Grip on government. Greenhouse gases given go-ahead.

Halliburton harvests heinous haul.

Idiotic, ill-conceived idea.

Judgement jettisoned, unjustified

Knackered, kaput.

Loot and lucre

Make maleficence mellifluous.

Nullify necessary, natural,

Overwhelming objections. Obeisance to oil,

Petrochemical pollutants proliferate.

Queen quells queries. Aquifers

Ruined. Removes right to refuse.

“Shovel under Sandringham. See how she suffers.

Transport tragic teratogens ‘twixt tubes

Underfoot, underground.”

Vehement, vociferous, vexatious, vengeful,

Wondrously wilful. We won’t wait to

Extinguish extreme exploitation.

Won’t yield to yellow-bellied, oily political yes-men.

Zero tolerance. Zero fracking. Zero royal assent.

 


You can read some more of my poetry in ‘Little Red Poetry’ (£4 pbk, £2.50 pdf e-book).

All proceeds go to build a new party for ordinary people, against cuts and privatisation. Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Copies are also available from Left Books

Energy crisis

April 19, 2014

The oil wells are running dry,

Companies are going fracking-

Water pollution, risks to health,

Earthquakes they are a-cracking.

 

Billions spent on holy grail

Of laser-powered fusion.

To recreate the Sun on Earth,

So expensive the delusion!

 

Nuclear’s the way to go,

All we need is fission.

Handy for bombs as well,

Absurd, deluded mission.

 

Our giant ball of hydrogen

Gives more energy than we need.

93 million miles away,

Solar power – at light speed.

 

All we need is lots of glass,

Heliostatic mirrors.

To concentrate the rays

From sun which always shimmers.

 

Salter had a bright idea,

He hit upon the duck.

But ‘cos of cuts to funding

It was never tried – worse luck.

 

Blades powering turbines

Can get energy from the wind.

Oil rigs will lie dormant

As off-shore windmills spin.

 

But where’s the profit  in that?

The chairman shrewdly asks

Selling wind, waves or the Sun,

It’s an impossible task.

 

So the PR operation starts;

Renewables won’t work.

Stick to oil, nuclear, coal or gas,

Much more bang for my buck.

 

Meanwhile the Earth is warming up,

CO2, it keeps the heat in.

Floods, tsunamis, tidal waves,

And hypocrites from Eton

 

All too eager to receive

Lobbyists from Cuadrilla.

They would happily do a deal

With Satan or Godzilla.

 

We need to rebuild anew,

End this corrupt, vicious farce.

Nationalise, strike, occupy

Get up off our collective arse!

 

 


You can read some more of my poetry in ‘Little Red Poetry’. All proceeds go to build a new party for ordinary people, against cuts and privatisation. Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Copies are also available from Left Books

 

What do we do as oil begins to run out?

March 16, 2014

When I was at school, I remember being told that the Earth only had about 30 years of oil and gas left. The question was what were we going to do when supplies began to run out. Well, now that is happening, a process dubbed “Peak Oil”, where supply can no longer meet demand.

In this post, I haven’t begun to consider the potential loss of the by-products of oil: plastics, fertilisers, drugs, etc. – that is a topic for another discussion. I am concentrating simply on where our energy will come from.

There is a question mark over peak oil, as countries and oil companies do not publish accurate figures. They argue that exploration is expensive and new fields may be found – however, it is in their interests not to panic the stock markets and investors. Strong signs are, however, that we have reached the peak of oil production, as we have had to put more and more resources into getting back the same amount of energy.

Energy companies are turning to what has been called “extreme energy” – fracking (hydraulic fracturing) or UCG (Underground Coal Gasification). In the UK, the government is also turning towards nuclear energy. There is still relatively little effort going into the development of renewable resources, and this tends to be relatively small scale and in private hands. “Extreme energy” is very inefficient, with a low energy yield. It involves tens of thousands of tanker trips, there is a risk of groundwater contamination with carcinogenic compounds, the process involves seismic shocks. It exacerbates the greenhouse effect – 1kg of methane (CH4) has the same effect as 21kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) on our climate.

Another extreme energy is Underground Coal Gasification (UCG), a process to extract energy from coal, where it cannot be conventionally mined. There is plenty of coal, enough to meet hundreds of years of the world’s energy needs – if we don’t mind the risks of catastrophic underground fires which cannot be extinguished The town of Centralia, for example, had to be deserted due to deadly carbon monoxide emissions after a fire in a rubbish heap set fire to a coal seam. This happened in 1963, and the fire is still raging.

UCG involves heating coal in a controlled manner underground, harvesting the gases produced, and the vacant space is intended to capture CO2 emissions underground. However this is inherently extremely dangerous. It is likely to cause collapse of rocks above the coal seam, there is the risk of earthquakes, and what happens if – through the natural movements of rock, the man-made reservoirs of underground carbon emissions are suddenly released? The technology required is completely untested.

So is the alternative to turn to nuclear power?

Nuclear power stations tend to be sited near the coast, due to their demand for water as a coolant. With global warming and more extremes of weather – this is inherently risky, with the potential for more Fukushimas. There is also the problem of nuclear waste. At present, there is no safe way to dispose of high-level radioactive waste with half-lives in the order of tens, hundreds or millions of thousands of years. You can bury this underground, but at some stage it will resurface, due to plate tectonics, seismic effects or vulcanism.

It is also questionable how much nuclear power would contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, once CO2 emissions from mining and processing yellowcake (Uranium ore) are taken into consideration. Thorium is more common than Uranium  and produces less waste, with no risk of a meltdown (it needs to be bombarded with neutrons to work as a nuclear fuel, and the design of a thorium reactor is inherently much safer). However, apart from a few pilot plants in India, this technology is again untried and untested.

Why? Thorium is of no use in making bombs! However, it is still energy-intensive to mine, there are technical difficulties which still need to be overcome and there remains the problem of nuclear waste.

So why don’t we change our reliance on oil or nuclear and move to renewables?

Goverments across the world are corrupt. The neo-liberal concerns of David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Barack Obama, et al are driven by demands from lobbyists of big business. There is no voice of ordinary people in Parliament. We are not properly informed of the dangers. In the US, landowners were simply bought out to release land for fracking. However, when farm animals’ fur starts falling out, they find that they can now set fire to their tap water and they begin to become ill, people soon start to think again . . .

But nuclear fusion could solve the world’s energy crisis, couldn’t it?

In theory, yes. However, there are still many technical obstacles to overcome and the technology remains decades away.

So what happens next?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (representing an international consensus of the scientific community) project a rise in temperature by 2100 of  4°C. However, this heating is worst at the North Pole – where the temperature is increasing twice as fast, partly due to the albedo effect. Already there has been a massive decline in sea ice (observed by satellites over last 40 years).

The best computer model we have is provided by the Met Office – see a video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h88WF4wOqwI

According to the IPCC, it is possible, in the best-case scenario, to limit global warming to 2°C. However, this would depend on an unprecedented, multinational effort to switch to renewable energy, very quickly. I would argue that this is impossible under capitalism. We have had 120 years to solve the problem since the principle behind global warming was discovered and 40 years of satellite data showing the effects of burning petrochemicals. International summits so far have been useless. Countries have sought to blame each other and minimise their own responsibility. US and China (the biggest greenhouse emitters) opted out of the Kyoto Treaty altogether.

So what can we do?

We urgently need to move away from an economy in which the need to make a profit over-rides all other concerns. We need democratic input from the bottom, with a real say by ordinary people in how things should be run and where resources should go. This would allow long-term, environmental consequences to be taken into account, whereas at the moment the need for short-term profit is the only consideration for companies as they seek to exploit the last of our oil.

We must urgently invest in renewable energy – tried and tested, simple technology, which is far safer than nuclear or oil. Of course, this will require the production of greenhouse gases in the meantime, as solar panels don’t build themselves – but there is the idea of a “solar breeder”, a factory powered by solar energy, which produces solar panels. There is the potential for wind power, hydrothermal, tidal power and wave power. The technology behind the latter, Salter’s duck, a pendulum driven by the waves which powers a generator was invented in the 1970s and could be highly efficient.

Why hasn’t this been done before?

Simply put, the vested interests of multinational companies in making a profit. Where legislation got in the way, governments were simply bought off – George Bush and Dick Cheney introduced the “Halliburton loophole”, for example, making fracking exempt from legislation that protected groundwater.

So we need to get rid of the government?

Yes. We need a socialist, planned economy. However, there is the potential for a mass movement of people, angry at what is being done to the environment, angry at growing inequality and falling living standards for the vast majority of the world’s population, angry at the exploitation of workers and governments’ repression of our democratic right to protest, in order to build that alternative model.

I am a member of the Socialist Party in the UK, which is building movements in 50 countries around the world to make real change happen and overthrow the rotten system of capitalism, which can no longer meet our needs. Join us here – http://www.socialistworld.net

Lies, damn lies, greenwash and statistics

January 28, 2014

David Cameron commented on the recent British floods by saying that “he thought they were probably due to global warming”. While a single incidence of flooding is not in itself evidence of climate change, extreme weather events are becoming more and more common – the flooding in the UK has been linked to a cold snap across the Atlantic and a shift in the jet-stream, which has brought the stormiest month to Britain since 1969. It seems that meteorological records are being broken routinely, and there is evidence that the planet’s climate is changing.

While Cameron’s remarks are infinitely more helpful than the homophobia and ignorance of the UKIP councillor David Silvester, who blamed the floods on homosexuality, this rhetoric is not matched in terms of Conservative party policy. Why are the Tories pursuing fracking and nuclear power so aggressively? Why can’t the money being used to buy more nuclear power stations and give tax breaks to companies pursuing fracking instead be invested in developing renewable energy?

Of course, the reason is lobbying of politicians by energy companies with vested interests in keeping the status quo, of making as much profit as possible from the remaining fossil fuel resources, without regard for the long-term necessity to stop global warming. We need to get rid of career politicians and elect people who will stand up for our interests. In Britain, Labour, Lib Dems and Tories are all wedded to the system of capitalism. New Labour are no different; papers have been released showing collusion between Blair and Thatcher to keep the Conservative’s neo-liberal, privatisation agenda alive and well throughout Blair’s tenure. There is no sign that Milliband offers anything different.

The evidence for human-induced global warming is overwhelming. We have known of the principle behind global warming since 1896, when the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius first put forward the science behind the theory. The warning from our own solar system, of the danger of runaway global warming is stark – look at the uninhabitable surface of Venus. Capitalism has had 100 years to do something about this, yet in the face of the over-riding desire to create profit for a few, the result has been over-exploitation of the world’s natural resources. What little is being done, is far too late to make any difference now. The best case scenario, if we managed to convert to a 100% carbon neutral economy, is a 2°C rise in global temperatures by 2100. This would still be catastrophic, displacing millions of people and destroying ecosystems.

A more likely scenario, put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which represents the scientific consensus, is that our world will warm by 4°C by the turn of the next century. However, this still entails a sea-change in policy and a willingness for global co-operation which is unprecedented. With every international conference – Kyoto, Copenhagen, Rio – the result has been a fudge, with countries seeking to shift the blame onto others and mitigate their own responsibility, rather then looking to actually address the problem.

So what is the solution? We need co-operation on an international scale. We need to put the control of the economy in the hands of workers, not politicians. We need to end the rule of profit, and replace this with democratic decision making worldwide, so that decisions can be made in the interests of the many, not the few. We need to elect leaders who are accountable to us, not big business.

The CWI (Committee for a Workers International) has organisations in around 50 countries worldwide. We have just recently elected representatives in the Canary Islands, Spain, as part of the United Left, and Kshama Sawant as Socialist Alternative in Seattle. We are standing Donal O’Cofaigh as a candidate on an anti-fracking position in Ireland. We are offering an alternative to corruption, sleaze and politicians squabbling and dithering over vital issues like the environment. We are growing as a political force and around the world, protesters are calling for change. However, leadership from traditional parties and right-wing trade unions is woefully lacking and time is short – we must build the socialist alternative.

In Britain, we are looking to stand as TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) in as many seats across the country in the forthcoming local elections to offer voters a democratic, socialist alternative to this market-driven madness. If you agree with us, please support our campaign, and consider standing yourself as a candidate.

Water is more precious than oil

October 29, 2013

We need water for our survival. At first glance, it may appear to be hugely abundant. After all, seven- tenths of our planet is covered in the stuff! However, 97.5% of this is sea-water. Of the 2.5% of our water which is left, two-thirds of that is locked in polar ice and of the remainder, only 1% is accessible and suitable for drinking. Much of the rest is locked up in soil, or in deep, underground aquifers.

A few months ago, I went to a showing of the film Gasland. This is a shocking and highly personal account of the impact of ‘fracking’ in the US. Fracking and associated technologies such as tar sand exploitation and Underground Coal Gasification are termed “extreme energy”. As oil begins to run short of demand, energy companies are turning to less viable sources of fossil fuels in an effort to extract every last drop of the Earth’s resources. In many cases, precious water supplies are being contaminated in the process. Both fracking and underground coal gasification can pollute nearby water aquifers, with devastating effects on nearby farms, and localised increases in the risk of cancer.

Extreme energy sources are of poor quality and generally they are a grossly inefficient and dirty way of solving our energy needs. The only benefit is to large, multinational corporation. This will not deliver ‘cheap energy’ as our politicians claim. Moreover, this exacerbates emissions of greenhouse gases. It wreaks environmental devastation, involving the wholesale destruction of ecosystems.

Fracking involves the detonation of charges underground in order to release shale gas, which was previously locked away underground. As well as being a potential source of seismic activity, the process uses huge amounts of water, involves thousands of tanker trips and is an inefficient source of energy. ‘Fracking fluid’ contains many known carcinogens, which can find their way into water supplies.

Underground Coal Gasification uses heat, steam and pressure to convert coal to gas underground. The technology of Underground Coal Gasification cannot be tested in the laboratory. Therefore trials need to take place in situ, making us guinea pigs for a technology which is inherently risky. What happens if something goes wrong? Underground, fires can burn uncontrollably and they can last for centuries. In the former coal-mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania an underground coal fire has been burning since 1962; the town is now almost abandoned, due to the very real risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. http://www.offroaders.com/album/centralia/centralia.htm

One idea put forward to combat global warming is carbon sequestration. However, this is highly speculative – while it may be possible to remove impurities in the gasification stage, no-one has been able to capture and store greenhouse gases post-combustion, despite huge amounts of money being invested in Norway. Surely, it would be more sensible to put the money into developing alternative, renewable energy sources? http://blogs.nature.com/news/2013/09/norway-scraps-large-scale-carbon-capture-plan.html

The counter-argument, that however distasteful these projects may be, it is still necessary to keep the lights on – we need to invest in oil, gas and nuclear power, because alternative energy is unreliable and untested on a large enough scale. However, why are we going into extreme energy sources which are inherently extremely dangerous and untested? Likewise for nuclear power, there is no safe way of storing nuclear waste in the long-term. Surely the money, the energy and the expertise going into extreme energy could be much better deployed in utilising sources of renewable energy? Taken together – tidal, wind, solar, wave, geothermal, hydroelectric power – could safely and renewably meet our energy needs

However, under the present system, companies are only interested in pursuing profit. Objectors to fracking in America have simply been bought off. Politicians of all main parties have been corrupted by energy companies. Dick Cheney, President of Halliburton, signed off the “Halliburton loophole”, exempting fracking from the need to safeguard water supplies. We need to build a party run democratically, in the interests of ordinary people, to break with capitalism and to fight for socialist ideas.

We also need to realise that water is more precious than oil. We need to nationalise our utilities, so that we commonly own our natural resources – they are not there to be exploited for the benefit of a few, but should be used for the benefit of all.

Medley

September 3, 2013

We’re fracking, we’re fracking – I’m gonna frack it with you.
Going underground, going underground,
I’m goin’ deeper underground.
Underground, overground, wombling free,
Like an atom bomb, about to oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, explode.

Two minutes to midnight – the hands that threaten doom.
One, two, three o’ clock, four o’clock, rock!
You – shook me all night long!
Sharia don’t like it – rockin’ the Casbah, rock the Casbah.
What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!

And I’m a heatseeker, gonna burn up your town.
I’ve got a fever of 103,
Ooooh, I’m on fire.
Frack, baby, frack, show me you’re real.
Dirty deeds, and they’re done dirt cheap.

Get up, stand up! Stand up for your rights.
Excuse me Mr Officer, murderer,
Don’t stop me now! I’m having such a good time.
Come and do the jailhouse rock with me. Let’s rock!
I stand in front of you, I’ll take the force of the blow.
Protection.

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You can help support the Socialist Party by buying a short book of my poems, ‘Little Red Poetry’: Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.