Boris Johnson: Ecosocialism or Extinction



Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is now Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, inheriting a nation of widespread poverty, indefinite detention, a looming recession, and a polluted environment. What are the prospects with Johnson and his cabinet for the UK’s environment? (They’re not good)


In parliament Johnson almost always voted against measures to prevent climate change. According to DeSmog UK he has frequently “rejected climate science” and maintains ties to climate denial groups. The former chief scientist of the UK has said that Johnson has previously misled the public and oversaw cuts in a team of climate experts as foreign secretary. The Prime Minister’s focus is squarely on protecting Britain’s economy during Brexit, despite the fact that 71% of Britons believe climate change is more important. In typical neoliberal fashion he has said he will put the private sector “in the driving seat” of efforts to address climate change.

His cabinet, dubbed the “most anti-climate action” ever, is a rogues gallery of climate deniers, fossil fuel investors, fracking advocates, and anti-renewable bureaucrats.

The UK government itself cheated on its emission figures by excluding figures from flights and shipping, and the Net Zero by 2050 legislation that Johnson has inherited from May is not as impressive as it sounds. The government is currently hopelessly unprepared for the impacts climate change will have on its citizens. Although the carbon intensity of electricity generation is consistently getting lower the UK will soon miss its carbon emissions targets regardless.


In the UK we’ve seen a 19% percent increase in food bank use, and there are an estimated 2.2 million people in the UK that are severely food insecure. This occurs at the same time as almost a third of UK vegetable crops are not harvested due to superficial supermarket standards and a spiralling crisis in health caused by a blinkered focus on producing cheap food regardless of the consequences.

Our soils are leaking carbon and will soon lose their ability to produce food. The UK agricultural system is still reliant on fossil fuels – machinery requires petroleum, fertilisers need natural gas, and our distribution system is based on motor trucks, and figures from 2008 claim that “95% of our food is oil dependent“. A fifth of all agricultural land “must shift to alternative uses that support emissions reduction” in order to reach Net Zero by 2050.

Our food system must undergo a revolution in order to be fit-for-purpose and future-proofed – all Boris can do is promise that UK farmers will “have the support they need“.


More and more people across the world will be forced from their homes and communities by extreme weather and will make their way across borders in search of sanctuary as climate refugees. The EU’s border externalisation is no solution to this, and neither is the UK’s hostile environment.

The wealthy nations are strengthening and militarising their borders to prepare for the predicted influx of climate refugees. Johnson’s promise to introduce an Australian-style points system will likely not change this – as Jamie Bartlett writes, “the lesson of history – real, long-lens human history – is that people move, and when they do, it’s hard to stop.”



A better world is possible!

A carbon-neutral society is easily achievable as outlined by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). A program like Labour’s Alternative Models of Ownership that emphasises cooperatives and municipal ownership would help to restore local control of energy and services. Over three-quarters of the UK population believe our electricity networks, as well as the UK’s railways and water infrastructure, should be in public ownership. Decentralised systems of offshore wind, solar power, and wave energy, alongside energy efficiency improvements will allow the UK to phase out fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy.

Converting large areas of inefficient animal farmland to forest would help sequester carbon whilst maintaining food production. The principle of subsidiarity – favouring local production for local consumption over long-distance production and transport of goods – will help the UK increase food self-sufficiency while minimising irrational trade. Our farms are more than capable of phasing out pesticides and maintaining yields through agroecology. The breaking-up of huge monocultures into a greater number of smaller farms organised on agroecological principles scattered across the countryside will help boost food production and reduce their environmental impact. Reforestation projects with mass public participation have huge potential to sequester carbon across the UK (the CCC calls for at least 30,000 hectares per year) alongside coastal ecosystem and peat restoration.

The stakes have never been higher. Limiting global warming to less than 2 °C warming by 2100 is becoming increasingly unlikely. Carbon markets, renewable subsidies, and hand-wringing over intervening in the market are absolutely meaningless. We need a Green New Deal for the UK to tackle climate change while guaranteeing a just transition for fossil fuel workers and ensuring energy democracy for the UK’s citizens. John Bellamy Foster outlines an appropriate ecosocialist platform that could be adopted for the UK, emphasising (among other things) accessible public transportation, the phasing out of fossil fuel infrastructure, and the prohibition of privatisation. A redistributive, democratic system is necessary for us to survive. We can degrow the economy whilst ensuring a good life for all within planetary boundaries.

We must reject lifeboat authoritarianism and let the refugees in. “This is not a refugee crisis,” as Omar Robert Hamilton writes, but “a public demonstration of an ideology.” We must reject the völkisch environmentalism of the right-wing and embrace ecosocialism, recognising that climate change is a class problem. Capitalism has ushered us into this planetary mess, a world-state we may call the capitalocene. Now we need to find a way to escape together.

“We can ask only one thing of the free men and women of the future: to forgive us that it took so long to get there and that it was such a hard pull.”


Repost: Avoiding Climate Imperialism: A Leftist Vision of Geoengineering

(This article was originally published in The Trouble)

We are all familiar with the ongoing climate chaos. Levels of carbon dioxide have exceeded 410 ppm, the probability of avoiding 2°C of global warming is getting smaller, and a Hothouse Earth seems more and more likely. We are approaching the point of no return.

Climate change now threatens the process of capital accumulation and business-as-usual. Geoengineering, the large-scale engineering of non-human nature, is now invoked by the IPCC as an emergency solution.

Truthfully, global warming is geoengineering; capitalism is geoengineering — a massive, centuries-long project that has modified nature, torn open metabolic rifts, and altered the composition of the atmosphere as part of a class war, pursuing capital accumulation and sources of cheap nature. It has been unintentional, mostly — climate modification as externality is what has brought us to this precipice — but like intentional geoengineering, it has affected the whole of the biosphere.

Is it sensible to try and steer this geoengineering in an attempt to rectify capitalism’s scars on the biosphere? In a word: yes.

Geoengineering could easily perpetuate existing power structures and exacerbate the injustices we face, but these technologies should not be rejected outright. They “mandate caution and prudence”, but steered towards leftist goals they can help to both mitigate climate change and create a more just economic, political and social order.

Ultimately we may have no choice. Some temperature increase is “locked in” due to built-in inertia, and a “large fraction of climate change is largely irreversible on human time scales” unless massive atmospheric carbon removal occurs. Some models of future climate change suggest global biodiversity would suffer more from climate change than geoengineering. The aerosol emissions from decades of industrial activity have been masking the “true” warming associated with greenhouse gas emissions for some time. Cleaning up this aerosol pollution (and thus improving air quality and reducing deaths associated with air pollution) will induce up to 1°C of global warming.

The capitalist class can easily adapt to a warming world up to a point: wealth buys underground bunkers and gated oases; power obtains border walls and land grabs. A shared atmosphere does not mean we are in this together. To not engage in some form of geoengineering is to take a privileged position and condemn the poorest and most vulnerable of us to despair and degradation — 0.1 degree Celsius can mean the difference between life and death for millions of people.

It will surprise no one that geoengineering carries risks. Modifying the climate or weather, even on small-scales such as cloud seeding, tugs at the tapestry of life — and we don’t always see what threads we pull. But not all geoengineering is equal. There are big differences between reflecting sunlight back into space and sequestering carbon dioxide.

Let’s take a look at some of the more problematic forms of geoengineering.

“Solar radiation management” involves modifying the amount of solar energy entering the atmosphere system by injecting aerosols into the air, enhancing the albedo of Earth’s surface, or space reflectors. It is best compared to nuclear power: it requires centralization and a technocratic system of management. Despite decades of research, it is still not well understood, and scientific understanding of the potential impacts “remains poor”, according to the American Geophysical Union. The idea of reflecting sunlight away from Earth with giant space mirrors or the “Pinatubo option”, reducing global temperatures while maintaining levels of fossil fuel consumption and emission levels, is an appealing solution to the capitalist class. Instead of economic transformation, it encourages a quick-fix mentality, endowing technological processes and entities with the power to solve hitherto intractable problems — a problem that David Harvey called techno-fetishism.

What impacts could we expect from a world employing solar radiation management? It wouldn’t reverse the agricultural damage caused by climate change, for a start. It wouldn’t prevent further ocean acidification, as it has no effect on carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. It would increase the frequency of hurricanes, and it would cause massive decreases in tropical rainfall and disrupt the summer monsoons, adversely affecting precipitation to the food supply for billions of people who have historically had little role in causing climate change. Earth’s temperature and precipitation cycles are so tightly bound that even if temperature increases are reversed, the water cycle will not react the same way: solar radiation management is unlikely to restore the planet’s original climate.

There is also the problem of the “termination effect”, a rebound effect where global temperatures will suddenly increase if solar radiation management is deployed and then stopped prematurely. This would lock us into a program of anthropogenic temperature regulation, as it would be too dangerous to stop — by some estimates, decades worth of temperature increase could be induced in just five years. This effect is by no means certain, however. Other research claims such geoengineering is more robust than thought, and could be phased out slowly without triggering a temperature rebound. This merely highlights the uncertainty surrounding such methods of climate modification.

The administrative challenges of such a project would be huge, and could easily create an anti-democratic bureaucracy of experts and engineers with a command-and-control structure. Solar radiation management risks reproducing a techno-science agenda reminiscent of the Cold War without guaranteeing any positive results.

Are there more reasonable forms of geoengineering?

“Carbon dioxide removal” is the other wing of geoengineering, drawing down and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere rather than reflecting sunlight away. Its methods range from afforestation, biochar (storing carbon in the soil), iron fertilization and ambient air capture, aiming to address the source of the climate crisis: greenhouse gas emissions.

As deforestation is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions (by some estimates the second largest source of carbon dioxide emissions after fossil fuels), the reforestation and afforestation of areas of Earth is an obvious method to reduce levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Described as the most efficient and environmentally benign method of geoengineering, it can have a “significant impact” on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on a long-term basis.

Carbon farming” is another geoengineering technique.This involves changing agricultural practices, including the use of biochar and agroforestry to enhance carbon sequestration. This coupled with reforestation can incidentally also help to reverse the desolation of the world’s soils and mitigate the declining carbon sequestration ability of existing forests, and help to contribute to what Murray Bookchin called radical agriculture.

Moving from land to the sea, the “fertilization” of phytoplankton blooms with iron nutrients is another method of carbon drawdown that avoids land-use conflicts, although scientific uncertainty persists. The sequestering of carbon as organic detritus that fall to the ocean floor can remove carbon from the carbon cycle for thousands of years, but as the plankton decay they can create oxygen-deprived dead zones. Some phytoplankton species can produce dimethyl sulfide, which on a large enough scale can enhance cloud cover and increase cloud albedo, but like other forms of solar radiation management would negatively affect precipitation and water resources in Europe and parts of Africa and the Middle East. Plantations of algae is another method of drawing down carbon dioxide while avoiding competition for agricultural land or freshwater, and will prove extremely effective when integrated with bioenergy.

Another method is to utilize what the Royal Society called “carbon capture and storage infrastructure”. This involves extracting carbon dioxide from the air and using the captured gases for agriculture or synthetic fossil fuels. This machine-driven carbon capture may be necessary if biological limits are reached, but it is easy to see how such approaches can be absorbed into existing capitalist practices — in 2015 Bill Gates was the world’s top funder of geoengineering research.

All of these techniques are huge steps towards reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. But the necessity of scaling them up to be effective will have negative effects. Based on current estimates, the land requirements for forest carbon sequestration could be immense, affecting food security by competing for fertile soils in the same way biofuels did earlier this century. The researchers behind the Atlas for the End of the World are more direct: there will not be enough land “to utilize forestry as the single mechanism for carbon sequestration.” As Holly Jean Buck writes, Carbon Dioxide Removal is complex and possibly perilous — and it needs to be talked about.

All forms of geoengineering need to be reviewed and scrutinized, but some of these techniques will be more conducive to a leftist approach, whereas others are likely to entrench capitalist power structures. Whether geoengineering is a leftist project or a capitalist project depends on the extent to which it can be used to maximize democracy and accountability, broad participation, and produce a fair distribution of its consequences. If a technique would further entrench economic inequality, give power to a small ruling elite, and maintain an extractivist, ecocidal approach to the natural world, it must be jettisoned. A capitalist geoengineering is another way for capitalism to extend its tentacles into the web of life, maintaining its extractivist nature, wasteful levels of production, and providing a “lifeline” for the survival of business-as-usual. It is a geoengineering that is already taking place.

Dozens of countries currently maintain cloud seeding programs, with China’s weather modification over Tibet occupying the boundary between tweaking rainfall and full-blown geoengineering. In the future, individual countries — pursuing their own agendas and self-interest — will not hesitate to pursue geoengineering programs to save themselves in a warming world, reducing local negative impacts regardless of the impact on their neighbours. This would encourage the weaponization of the climate, ENMOD be damned — “one nation’s emergency can be another’s opportunity.”

This would be a world disciplined not just by capital but by a technocratic elite, profiting from climate inaction and patented geoengineering technologies while allowing climate-induced scarcity to ravage the rest of us: a world of green and gated oases of affluence surrounded by a population under siege.

But what would a leftist geoengineering look like?

Socialism is the democratization of production. This would involve democratically-organized, decentralized, coordinated control of the technologies that can modify the atmosphere, on small and large scales. It would involve collective control over energy technologies and industrial processes with the removal of the profit motive from all decision-making. It would be a high-tech planned economy, in which greenhouse gas levels are monitored via remote sensing technologies and local observatories via horizontal coordinating committees.

The science behind proposed geoengineering must be sound and transparent. Under capitalism there is a disincentive to communicate information — knowledge is patented, hidden, squirrelled away for short-term competitiveness, encouraging technocratic cultishness. We need “socially responsible science” in the interests of wider society, not for the interests of capitalism and the state. Something like the Durham Resolution, written by the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science, is a good starting point.

The infrastructure required for socially just geoengineering is in the hands of the capitalist class — like all means of production, it needs seizing and utilizing for the global good. It will cost trillions of dollars to sequester enough carbon dioxide to stave off climate catastrophe. This will be a Herculean feat, something never before achieved. It is imperative that the working class controls and steers these programs, or the biosphere will be the latest (and maybe last) victim sacrificed to the appetite of capital.

To paraphrase Albert Camus, geoengineering is a danger only in the way that it would be employed under capitalism. The benefits must be accepted even if its ravages are rejected.

Leftist or not, geoengineering is not a silver bullet. Technocratic solutions which reject popular participation or understanding will do nothing to rectify the climate crisis. As science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson emphasized, the best geoengineering technology is “a rapid shift to social justice and an end to capitalism.” And we have reasons to be hopeful — we already have the know-how to properly mitigate the climate crisis. It won’t be easy, but it is possible.

But geoengineering has a part in a broader leftist strategy to halt the biocrisis and evolve beyond capitalism. It has to work together with systems of degrowth, reducing economic growth and redistributing wealth. Geoengineering can easily mesh with the goal of full decarbonization and 100% renewable energy generation.

At the same time, it can help soften the blows of climate change impacts too late to stop, helping us to create socially-just adaptation infrastructures, promoting networks of mutual aid, resistance, and disaster communism.

The left must not be afraid to make demands for a progressive geoengineering. Reforestation projects with mass public participation, improving soil carbon stocks on local farms, calling for the public ownership of carbon removal infrastructure, demands for public investment and research into the risks and uncertainties of geoengineering — these are just some ways to integrate geoengineering into our climate demands and at the same time time educating the public on what a leftist geoengineering would look like.

To ignore the possibility of large-scale environmental modification leaves the battlefield of ideas open to exploitation by the forces of reaction, of distant technocrats and remorseless capitalists.

We cannot let the planet’s thermostat be controlled by the invisible hand. We’re stewards of this world, whether we want the role or not.

(This article was originally published in The Trouble)

Geoengineering: No Choice but Damocles?



Image: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

The planet continues to warm unabated.

The level of CO2 in the atmosphere surpassed the 410 ppm (parts per million) threshold in April last year (Kahn, 2017), a level not reached in millions of years in the history of Earth (and certainly not in the history of humankind). Keeping global warming to below 2°C, the goal of the UNFCCC in 2015, is now extremely unlikely (Raftery et al., 2017), and we may already be committed to a rise in temperatures of 1.5°C (King & Henley, 2016; Mauritsen & Pincus, 2017). This means more extreme precipitation events, droughts, the drowning of island communities, agricultural areas rendered useless, and mass migration (Shankman, 2016; Shurma & Oriwg, 2017; Lederman, 2018; Goodell, 2018).

We may even be faced with an increase of 3°C or 4°C. Millions of people live in areas that would be irreversibly flooded in such a world (Holder et al., 2017), food production would “significantly drop” (Lewis, 2015), and in some cases “developed human society would no longer be sustainable” (Lynas, 2008; Lelieveld et al., 2016).

The victory of the “carbon-industrial machine” is clear, according to Stephenson (2017), and we are approaching “geophysical and social tipping points unimagined by previous generations”. 77% of global warming since the 1980s is the responsibility of only a hundred corporations, largely in the business of extracting and marketing fossil fuels, and these corporations are inextricably tied to a warming future (Aronoff, 2017).

The governments and capitalists of the world are aware of the danger approaching, and they are making preparations to maintain the current status quo of inequality. From enforcing borders and restricting the movement of migrants to establishing private militias and hideouts, preparations for climate change “are based upon and aim to reinforce a systemic logic of competition and scarcity” (Buckland, 2017).

Geoengineering, thus, is a method for capitalism to maintain its extractivist, ecocidal nature and continue business-as-usual without the need for social, political, or economic change (Preston, 2013; Hamilton, 2013). A capitalist geoengineering would slow, manage, or maybe stop climate change, but would not be able to stop itself from the “totalising biocrisis” that capitalism represents for non-human nature (Institute for Experimental Freedom, 2009). But what of a geoengineering that was not aligned with capitalist interests?

Solar Radiation Management

A draft United Nations report on the feasibility of Solar Radiation Management (SRM) geoengineering via aerosols identified several problems despite its attractiveness as a “cheap fix” [for more on the fallacy of seeking simple techno-solutions to complex problems see Weinberg (1967) and Harvey (2003)]. SRM in the report was described as “economically, socially and institutionally infeasible” based on issues of testing, responsibility, and the lack of scientific study (Doyle, 2018a). This is corroborated by the revised position of the American Geophysical Union, who stressed that the scientific understanding of geoengineering and its impacts “remains poor” (Landau, 2018; see also Dunne, 2018).

The report also warns of the danger of the “termination effect”. This is one of the greatest dangers of SRM:

“All the models suggest that if, say, you were geoengineering from now into 2100, and then suddenly stopped in 2100 … you would get all of the global warming accumulated in the business as usual model, in about five years,” Haywood says. This rebound, known as the “termination effect,” means that if humans want to use any geoengineering scheme based on reflection (those that use aerosols or reflective surfaces), we would also have to dramatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the amount of emissions we produce.” (Geib, 2018)

Essentially, if the world governments together initiated a program of SRM to reduce global temperatures, it might be too dangerous to stop – we’d effectively be locked into a program of anthropogenic temperature regulation (Trisos et al., 2018). If anything interrupted this regular injection of aerosols into the atmosphere, such as a war or natural disaster, it would produce what the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute call a “double catastrophe scenario”, where

“it could precipitate a runaway greenhouse effect that turns Earth into an uninhabitable hellish cauldron like our planetary neighbor Venus … once a stratospheric geoengineering program has been established by anyone, anywhere, it must not be interrupted for any reason, especially not abruptly. But one or more interruptions cannot be ruled out, hence the existential danger.” (Torres, 2017)

There is however scientific literature that claims concerns regarding the termination have been “significantly overestimated” and that the idea of a being locked into geoengineering “is not accurate” (Parker & Irvine, 2018). This proves the point of the AGU that the science and impacts behind SRM are incomplete.

Other studies have found that SRM, combined with cloud modification, could recover “average” levels of temperature and precipitation, but regional differences would persist (Cao et al., 2017; Irvine et al., 2017). Who has the authority to decide which countries or populations win or lose in such a scenario? Such decision making would fall to the de-facto rulers, the wealthiest of the global North, where such authority would be used to entrench the interests of capital over people.

Other methods of SRM by altering the albedo of the earth via cloud modification or orbital sunshades produce mixed results. “Sunshade geoengineering” would improve global crop yields compared to a world of global warming according to Pongratz et al. (2012) but they admit there are unknown side effects and risks, and that “the most certain way to reduce climate risks to global food security is to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.” Likewise Parkes et al. (2015) find that “marine sky brightening” could improve agricultural yields and reduce crop failures in areas of the world, but “further work is required” regarding other agricultural impacts. Such geoengineering methods do nothing to prevent other environmental catastrophes such as ocean acidification (Williamson & Turley, 2012), nor does it address the global economy’s disastrous reliance on fossil fuels (Lim, 2018; Klein, 2016).

However, in a perverse state of affairs, our limited “geoengineering” of unintentional aerosol release due to industrial activity has been masking the true warming associated with rising greenhouse gas emissions for some time. Removing these aerosols from the atmosphere as part of efforts to reduce pollution and clean the air (especially in urban centres) would

“induce a global mean surface heating of 0.5–1.1°C, and precipitation increase of 2.0–4.6%. Extreme weather indices also increase.” (Samset et al., 2018)

Cleaning up our air would therefore produce a miniature termination effect, triggering increased temperature, rain, and extreme weather events as the cooling effect of aerosol pollution diminishes and our suppressed climate impacts rush up to meet us. Do we have no choice but to maintain an aerosol shield lest dangerous warming already occur? Or are there alternative geoengineering options?

Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR)

The direct removal of carbon dioxide, the most abundant of greenhouse gases emitted by industrial and agricultural activity, is the other geoengineering option.

The simplest and most obvious method is afforestation, or “carbon farming” (Biggers, 2015; Velasquez-Manoff, 2018). Plantations of fast-growing woody plants at the world’s dry coastal areas (Becker et al., 2013) and sequestering carbon as “biochar” (Lehmann, 2007; Matovic, 2011; Smith, 2016) are both proven methods of removing carbon dioxide that do not require fundamental scientific advancements, only scaling-up. This is a promising opportunity, especially with its agricultural benefits that could do much to reverse the desolation of the world’s soils (Laird, 2008; Tan et al., 2017), as well as to mitigate the troubling decline of forest carbon sinks globally (McSweeney, 2015; Nave et al., 2018).

However, there are limits. To be effective, land-based CDR would have to be scaled-up to a massive level. The “land requirements could be immense, affecting global food prices and food security” (Pasztor et al., 2017), and the water and other resource requirements would also be unsustainable (Heck et al., 2018). In saving one planetary boundary (Rockström et al. 2009), we could threaten others in the process (Harvey, 2018). In such a case “global mean temperature would no longer be a reasonable measure of the level of danger posed by climate change” (Irvine et al., 2017).

The “Atlas for the End of the World” is more direct:

“In short, as this century unfolds there will not be enough land to utilize forestry as the single mechanism for carbon sequestration.” (Weller et al., 2017)

carbon forest

Carbon Forest. Credit: Weller et al., 2017

As a result, it’s important to remember that “any sort of geo-engineering is not a substitute for emissions reductions” (Meyer, 2018).

One form of CDR that does not compete for land use involves stimulating blooms of phytoplankton in the ocean, often with iron nutrients (hence the term “iron fertilisation”) in order to increase photosynthesis rates and thus increase carbon dioxide drawdown (probablyasocialecologist, 2016). While promising, and potentially less problematic and more predictable then pumping aerosols in the atmosphere, there are still unknowns. Phytoplankton fertilisation on a large scale can release large quantities of dimethyl sulfide, increasing albedo and further cooling the earth alongside removing carbon dioxide, but at the cost of precipitation decreases across Europe, Africa, and parts of the Middle East (Grandey & Wang, 2015), or potential oceanic deadzones once the phytoplankton die (Geib, 2018). The use of algae plantations, which do not cause competition for agricultural land or freshwater resources, is another promising form of oceanic carbon capture that seems to avoid these issues (Sayre, 2010; Beal et al., 2018).

What of replacing the biologies of chlorophyll with machines? Already start-up businesses exist that are attempting to “decarbonise” the capitalist economy by extracting carbon dioxide from the air and subsequently utilising the gas for agriculture (Marshall, 2017) or hydrocarbon production (Vidal, 2018). Although promising these methods are in their early infancy – scaling them up will cost trillions (Temple, 2017). It’s no wonder that plutocrats like Bill Gates support such geoengineering approaches given their technocratic nature and the relative ease such technics can integrate into the world economy with minimum disruption (Malm, 2015).

An (Un)Natural Climate

In his latest work the philosopher Timothy Morton warns of the irreversibility of geoengineering, reminding us that it “affects the whole of the biosphere” and that there is no way to completely undo its unpredictable effects (Morton, 2018).

But what is climate change if not an (unintentional) geoengineering experiment let loose upon the biosphere? The trouble is not that we have modified nature – something that we cannot help but do as part of our existence on Earth (Li, 2009; Millar & Mitchell, 2015) – but that nature has been modified as part of a class project in pursuit of wealth, resource extraction, and cheap nature (Moore, 2016).

Anthropogenically-induced climate change is virtually indistinguishable from geoengineering – the only difference is intention, and speed. For over 10,000 years (Boivin et al, 2016) we have lived on a “cyborg planet” with “cyborg weather” (Wark, 2016). Popular conceptions of “pristine” nature and a human/nature dichotomy have attempted to mask this (Bookchin, 1995; Denevan, 2011), but we cannot “abandon” nature now – we have, as Frase (2016) explains,

“no choice but to become ever more involved in consciously changing nature. We have no choice but to love the monster we have made, lest it turn on us and destroy us.”

If geoengineering is unnatural, then so is climate change. The question is not whether we should intervene in biosphere (a moot point, since we already are) but to what extent, and what motivates us to do so, and how careful we are.

The problem of resolving the biocrisis in its climatic form is Herculean and cannot be underestimated. As Collings (2014) said:

“If we do manage to rise to this challenge, we will have accomplished a feat virtually unique in human history. If we do not, our failure will be understandable, even if it will make us uniquely horrific. Either way, our generation will be the only of its kind in the history of the species. No wonder this moment feels so strange.”

We will have to sacrifice the childish notions of a pristine, natural Earth despoiled by a homogenous humanity (Bookchin, 2005) if we have a hope of preventing the biocrisis.

No Choice?

Geoengineering our climate has been likened to the Sword of Damocles hanging over the collective head of humanity (Appell, 2012), and this analogy is far from imperfect. Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to “net zero” by 2090 at the latest according to the IPCC (Vidal, 2018).

UN simulations are themselves predicated upon negative emissions technology to reach emission reduction targets:

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its Fifth Assessment Report, presented more than 100 modeled scenarios that it said had a high likelihood of keeping global temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius of preindustrial levels. Nearly all of them assumed that negative emissions technology would be viable and widely used” (Harvey, 2018)

But what if we – a hypothetical, united, sustainable humanity – needed to geoengineer?

Not all geoengineering technics are made equal – as described above there is a world of difference between the technocratic, centralising propensities of SRM and the decentralised, “natural” methods of CDR.

Some climate simulations in fact suggest global biodiversity would suffer more from unchecked climate change than from a purposefully geoengineered climate (Trisos et al., 2018). A climate scientist from Stanford University emphasised that geoengineering is “the only known way to cause the planet to start cooling off within socially-relevant timescales” (Geib, 2018). The fossil fuels emitted by previous generations “weighs like a nightmare” on the lives of the living, to paraphrase Marx (Marx, 1852) – and time is running out (Malm, 2016). At the rate at which the capitalist economy is despoiling the biosphere (Carr & Gilblom, 2018) geoengineering may be the only method of preventing runaway climate change (Keith et al., 2017). As Bookchin (2005) warned,

“If we do not intervene in the world today for purposes of ecological restoration…neither we nor the wildlife we wish to conserve is likely to have any future at all. We have gone beyond a so-called “primeval” world, to a point where the possibility of returning to it is simply excluded.”

Although we may be forced to use intentional geoengineering it has to be noted that geoengineering is not an alternative to emissions reductions (Doyle, 2018a; Meyer, 2018; McSweeney, 2018; Keith et al., 2017). Kim Stanley Robinson sums it up well: “The most powerful geoengineering technology for reducing our carbon burn would be a rapid shift to social justice and an end to capitalism” (Canavan et al., 2010). What we need is a new, anti-capitalist economic model that allows us to pursue and implement energy and climate policies that benefit us all, not the needs of the wealthy few (Evans, 2018; Doyle, 2018b).

We have always intervened with non-human nature for our benefit. If we have to intentionally geoengineer, let it be as part of an anti-capitalist praxis that recognises the social construction of nature, the necessity of intervention to protect non-human nature from the previous ravages of capitalism, and that climate modification is but one tool in a plethora of mitigation and adaptation options in pursuit of a free, just, sustainable future.


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Becker, K., Wulfmeyer, V., Berger, T., Gebel, J., Münch, W. (2013). Carbon farming in hot, dry coastal areas: an option for climate change mitigation. Earth System Dynamics 4, 237-251.

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Hope Before the Ruins


Occupy Sandy

To paraphrase the anarchist revolutionary Buenaventura Durruti, we are not afraid of ruins because we know how to build a better world.

We have the technological capacity to abolish a fossil fuel powered global infrastructure and switch to renewable energy. Wind, water, and solar energy can “reliably supply the world’s needs” (Jacobson & Delucchi, 2009). We already have the “fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial know-how” to solve the climate crisis (Pacala & Socolow, 2004). Even under the global capitalist framework “market trends” are driving “new renewable energy deployment” (Anderson, 2017) and “investors” are increasingly divesting funds from fossil fuel developments (Johnston, 2016). We even have appropriate forms of geoengineering we can use to slow down and stabilise the biosphere while we put our global oikos in order (Lehmann, 2007; Becker et al., 2013; Biggers, 2015).

So what is stopping us?


Photo by Evergreen Energy Solutions

As Roberts (2017) warns “political and social barriers will do more to slow that growth than any technical limitation.” Clear leadership is needed to ensure clean technologies are promoted rather than the technologies of the entrenched fossil fuel industries (Jacobson & Delucchi, 2009). But this leadership must come from below, not above:

“The historical record shows very clearly that deep, enduring changes in energy industries require the mobilization of mass social movements. We cannot simply wait for visionary politicians to forge the way.” (Podobnik, 2010)

These social and political barriers will need overcoming if we are to ever properly confront the Biocrisis. Although we have the technology for a 100% renewable global system, the changes needed are monumental – “We can’t slap on a carbon tax and call it a day. We have to remake the world, and we have to talk about it” (Battistoni, 2012). To quote Chaudhary (2016), we must address the fact that “the crisis is not now, the crisis has already been for some time”. If we don’t, we risk facing a future with “the same winners, the similar losers, the crimes, the human degradation”.

A society powered by clean and renewable energy “is a necessity for a sustainable and equitable society, but not a guarantee of one” (McBay, 2011). But we do have an innate capacity for cooperation rather than competition, a capacity that is not encouraged in today’s capitalist society (Cott, 1980; Schwartzman, 2015; Taylor, 2016). Our future society will have to be modelled on values above and beyond commodification and profit if we are to survive. It will focus on democratic management of resources to prevent pollution and waste (Löwy, 2007), an “economically rational” society with needs guided by ecological standards (Bookchin, 1991). Whether we like it or not, we will have to transition to a situation where we accept and live within biophysical limits (Levy, 2012). As for green growth, it is a dangerous oxymoron if there ever was one.

Surviving and repairing the damage of the Biocrisis will

“require more ability to improvise together, stronger societies, more confidence in each other. It will require a world in which we are each other’s wealth and have each other’s trust.” (Solnit, 2009)

We should take hope in the rebellions already taking place. The story of the US National Park Service going “rogue”, at least on social media, presents a model of subversion within traditional institutions (Jacobin, 2017). Calls for the global science community to involve itself in protest and “rebellion” against climate change continue to mount (Klein, 2013; Johnston, 2017), a promising development in an otherwise detached and aloof institution. People everywhere are “turning to mutual aid, collectivity, cooperatives, communalist ventures and the commons for an alternative” to the status quo (Curl, 2016). A growing “climate insurgency” aims to use “activities the authorities claim to be illegal” in order to “create an irresistible momentum of escalating popular action for climate protection” (Brecher, 2017). Indeed, for multitudes of people across the world, these struggles are far from over – their resistance is just beginning (Bosworth, 2016).

From joining Blockadia to supporting divestment campaigns to standing in solidarity with refugees, there are many ways to fight climate chaos in the immediate future (Out of the Woods 2015; 2016). But to fully address and solve the host of problems that constitute the Biocrisis we will have to “raise long-range, transformative demands that the dominant economic and political systems may prove unable to accommodate” (Tokar, 2014).

Despite our optimism, it may well be that the transnational actors that control the global economy and enforce the world’s borders may be unwilling to adapt to or accommodate our demands for a better world. They may prefer to necrotise the entire planet (McBrien, 2016) rather than change their ways – after all, “one might more easily persuade a green plant to desist from photosynthesis than to ask the bourgeois economy to desist from capital accumulation” (Bookchin, 1980). We may inherit a world of irreversibly damaged ecosystems and little energy resources left to build our dreams (Keefer, 2009).

But as Gastón Gordillo and Andreas Malm agree, rubble is a gateway to the future. Malm (2017) prepares us for the fact that “we must accept that loss is a major predicament of our time”, but this loss, as Gordillo (2014) notes, represented by the rubble of the old world – a world of divisiveness, cruelty, and injustice – is “an invitation to remake the world differently”. A world of fairness, ecological balance, justice, and hope. A world where each contributes according to their ability, and each receives according to their need. Let us scoop the rubble into our hands and join together as “heroes in an army of construction” (Keller, 1916) to build our better world.


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Donald Trump, and the Slow Violence of Climate Change


Credit: National Wildlife Federation

While Donald Trump embraces the modern equivalent of playing the fiddle while Rome burns, the world is hurtling towards the Biocrisis.

In catastrophic times (Stengers, 2015) like these, apocalyptic scenarios have become the norm. We only have four years until our “carbon budget” is blown – according to McSweeney and Pearce (2016):

“Four years of current emissions would be enough to blow what’s left of the carbon budget for a good chance of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5C.”

1.5C being the target of the COP21 Paris climate conference that aims to “significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change” (Pearce, 2016; King & Henley, 2016) and thus avoid the threat of “runaway” climate change. Global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak within the decade before precipitously dropping for this target to ever be reached (Walsh et al., 2017).

Meanwhile the Antarctic ice shelves continue to crack and fragment (Mooney, 2017), potentially accelerating sea level rise, and a “massive global permafrost melt” is underway that will release huge amounts of carbon dioxide that were previously buried in the frozen soil (Knight, 2017; Kokelj et al., 2017).

As climate change accelerates the Trump administration embraces the largest driver of this death spiral – fossil fuels – by repealing climate change legislation and planting an ExxonMobil CEO as Secretary of State (Lavelle, 2017; Stokes & Bowman, 2017; Meyer, 2017). Trump will make “America Safe through Energy Independence” by decimating public lands with accelerated fossil fuel extraction (Streater, 2017).

Like a ghastly cannibal cult, in the words of Carl Sagan (1997), “we subsist on the dead bodies of our ancestors and distant relatives”.

While the greenhouse gas levels rise, so will the seas – and so will the number of refugees seeking safety and stable climates (Out of the Woods, 2016). Climate change will displace millions and “reshape” the coastal geography of countries (Hays, 2017; Hauer, 2017), a fact now admitted by conservative policymakers and security experts (although such concerns focus on the dangers of terrorism and the loss of coastal military bases) (Milman, 2016; Nett & Rüttinger, 2016; Goodman, 2017). Indeed the first ever grant for climate refugees was issued in the USA just last year, allocating $48 million for the residents of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana in what is “the first allocation of federal tax dollars to move an entire community of climate refugees” (Hunziker, 2016).


Scientists look down at a river of meltwater flowing from southern Greenland. Photo by Justine Evans/Alamy Stock Photo

As communities are forcibly relocated by the harsh realities of climate change, so too will others have their land stolen from them – except not by slow disaster, but by pipeline construction and fossil fuel extraction. Construction of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline was restarted by Trump recently (Brown, 2017), a week after a pipeline owned by pipeline equity co-owner Enbridge ruptured, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil in Texas (Horn, 2017). Sunoco, another player in the construction of the pipeline, has had hundreds of leaks (Hampton, 2016). The sheer number of pipeline spills, leaks, and failures in the USA is grotesquely astounding – thousands of incidents in the last thirty years, resulting in hundreds of deaths and billions in damages (Joseph, 2016).

Resistance and acts of sabotage against the Dakota Access pipeline continue to hamper its ability to reliably transport oil (Sexton, 2017; Nicholson & Karnowski, 2017).

Despite these struggles, pipelines are continuously being built in order to “unleash rich reserves of shale gas” so that the USA may “become one of the world’s top natural gas exporters” (DiSavino, 2017), despite problems concerning accurate shale gas reserve estimates and over hyped production forecasts (Rogers, 2013; Hughes, 2013). It is important to note at the forefront of these struggles, and those most affected by them, are indigenous populations (in the USA and the rest of the world), who still face an enduring legacy of colonialism and violence (Hall, 2017; Out of the Woods, 2017).

A Picture and Its Story: Documenting Standing Rock

“Water protectors” demonstrate against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

It is the poorest and most vulnerable who, just as under capitalism, will suffer the most with climate change. As Malm and Hornborg (2014) write,

“…witness Katrina in black and white neighborhoods of New Orleans, or Sandy in Haiti and Manhattan, or sea level rise in Bangladesh and the Netherlands, or practically any other impact, direct or indirect, of climate change. For the foreseeable future – indeed, as long as there are human societies on Earth – there will be lifeboats for the rich and privileged. If climate change represents a form of apocalypse, it is not universal, but uneven and combined.”

Similarly Stengers (2015) writes of “the possibility of a New Orleans on a global scale” where the wealthy survive and the fate of the poor is left uncertain – “but as for the others…”. Just because all humans share one planet and one atmosphere does not mean we are in this together (Purdy, 2016). To believe so depoliticises climate change – the apocalyptic imaginations so frequent in the headlines today “foreclose a proper political framing” by presenting global warming as a “humanitarian cause” that “is not articulated with specific political programs or socio-ecological project or revolutions” (Swyngedouw, 2010).

As the wealthy get wealthier, carbon emissions grow (Jorgenson et al., 2017). An average US citizen “emits more than 500 citizens of Ethiopia, Chad, Afghanistan, Mali, or Burundi” (Malm, 2015). A wealthy individual’s carbon emissions may be ten times higher than a poorer person (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010). But this is the exact economic and social class of people who, as Davis (2008) warns, are capable “of creating green and gated oases of permanent affluence on an otherwise stricken planet” as the rest of us suffer.

The world’s poorest countries have contributed less than 1% of the greenhouse gases that endanger our stable climate system (Steffen et al., 2011). So we should call climate change what it truly is – violence, genocide against the poor, and inaction equals annihilation (Solnit, 2014; Klare, 2017). Where can we draw our tales of resistance and hope to guide us into the future?

(As this is written the 410 ppm threshold for atmospheric carbon dioxide levels has been reached, the first time since millions of years ago (Kahn, 2017). We are in the Biocrisis, inundated in it. The Biocrisis is the Anthropocene.)


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Rogers, D. (2013). Shale and Wall Street: Was the Decline in Natural Gas Prices Orchestrated? Accessed 20th April 2017.

Sagan, C. (1997). Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium. Random House, Inc., New York.

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Solnit, R. (2014). Call climate change what it is: violence Accessed 20th April 2017.

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Stengers, I. (2015). In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism. Translated from French by Goffey, A. Open Humanities Press, Paris.

Stokes, E., Bowman, T. (2017).  Trump’s Pro-Coal Orders Are Doomed to Fail Accessed 17th April 2017.

Streater, S. (2017). BLM ‘priority’ list pushes drilling, wall — leaked docs Accessed 17th April 2017.

Swyngedouw, E. (2010). Apocalypse Forever? Post-political Populism and the Spectre of Climate Change. Theory, Culture & Society 27 (2-3), 213-232.

Walsh, B., Ciais, P., Janssens, I. A., Peñuelas, J., Riahi, K., Rydzak, F., van Vuuren, D. P., Obersteiner, M. (2017). Pathways for balancing CO2 emissions and sinks. Nature Communications 8, doi:10.1038/ncomms14856.

Wilkinson, R., Pickett, K. (2010). The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. Bloomsbury Press, New York.

Trump and the EPA



Donald Trump is now President, an unpalatable fact but unfortunately a reality we must learn to live with. Over the next few posts we will analyse what his presidency might mean for the environment, and the changes that have already come to pass in the few months since he has come to power. Among environmentalists Trump is known as a climate change denier and a person with scant regard for the ecosystem services provided by a healthy environment so it will certainly be interesting to look into. It won’t all be doom and gloom as we will also address ways we can all be hopeful and fight the changes he has enacted.

First up, the EPA:

What is the EPA?

For those living outside the US, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is an agency of the US government created with the aim of protecting human health and the environment. It writes and enforces regulations according to laws passed by Congress, and conducts environmental assessments, research and education.

Who is now in charge?

Scott Pruitt, a climate change doubter, who in the past has actually sued the EPA several times when he was Attorney General for Oklahoma, an oil-producing state.  Since coming to power Trump has already ordered the EPA to remove all references to climate change from the site, so it’s clear he has appointed a like-minded person in Pruitt. Despite Pruitt being confirmed by the US Senate, there has been resistance from former EPA staff, concerned that he has no interest in upholding environmental laws. Prior to Pruitt’s confirmation, senator Cory Booker had stated: “If you look at this individual, Scott Pruitt, if you look at his track record, you will see that his actual work has undermined the mission of the agency that he is now nominated to lead“, so the Republicans were aware of these concerns. 

The appointment of Scott Pruitt will also be closely followed by those in South Florida. Miami Beach is experiencing increased flooding in its streets at spring tides due to sea level rise and this will only get worse if no action is take to curb carbon emissions and greenhouse gases. California will also be keeping a close eye considering their struggle with drought and water shortages.


Scott Pruitt

Can the EPA just ignore climate change?

Well, it’s not that the EPA is ignoring climate change. I am sure the EPA is full of scientists who just want to get on with their work, but are being forced into silence by the Trump administration. As former EPA scientists stated: “Reasoned action and acknowledgment of scientific truth are fundamental to democracy, public health, and economic growth. Scientific evidence does not change when the administration changes.” However, the results of EPA studies must now all undergo political review before the information can be passed to the press. Politics should never interfere with the distribution of scientific findings and fact. The public face of the EPA can deny climate change as much as they want, but that doesn’t stop it from existing. It DOES exist and we need to do something about it. Even FOX news network, a normal ally and favourite of Donald Trump roasted Scott Pruitt in an interview over his beliefs.

Budget Cuts

Republican congressman, Matt Gaetz has recently released text of a proposed bill to abolish the EPA. Luckily, nothing seems to have come of that, but Trump has since released his budget proposals and it’s not good news for the EPA. The proposal would see the EPA have its funding cut by almost a third and roughly one in five EPA employees would lose their jobs. Funding reductions would mean the cancellation of all climate change research and even a reduction in the air and water quality work they do. In addition, the Clean Power Plan, along with 50 plus other initiatives would be scrapped.

Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan was one of the best things, at least in my mind, to come out of the Obama administration: a plan to try and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. As one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, the USA needs a plan like this to get on track with tackling climate change.  However, all Trump wants to do is increase jobs by bringing coal plants back on line and increase the use of oil and gas.  In a recent speech he continually talked about “clean coal”, a contradiction if ever I heard one. Even industry leaders in the fossil fuel sector believe that coal has had its day. There is a grain of hope as the proposal does still have to pass Congress, but that is controlled by Republicans so I am not sure how much resistance it will receive.

Clean Water

Trump is currently asking the EPA and Army Corp of Engineers to review the Waters of the US rule, which expanded the authority of regulators over waterways and wetlands. The rule is disputed by landowners and developers who think it has been too overreaching in its powers, but I think it is very sensible. It helps prevent people polluting drinking water and draining wetlands, effectively saving the environment in cases where development or farming methods are too intensive or not suitable to the land. In the UK we have a similar thing called the Environment Agency which has helped clean up our waterways immensely in conjunction with the relevant local water authorities and councils. It issues fines where rules have been flouted but I don’t see why the US think that is an overreaching power. If a regulation has been broken, there should be some penalty in place to discourage further flouting of the law. I think it’s clear from this that the Trump administration are more concerned about putting people in work than having clean air and water.


Overall, it’s clear that big changes are afoot for the EPA and the USA as a whole. It will take a while to see what the impact of the Trump administration is going to be, but initial signs indicate less protection for environmental resources, and a move away from curbing climate change to increased use of fossil fuels. Among all this doubt though there is certainly resistance. Most recently the Natonal Resources Defence Council and Pesticide Action Network have filed a case against the EPA over its move to ignore the results of a scientific study stating the pesticide chlorpyrifos has links to brain damage. I wish them the best of luck in taking on the EPA and am sure this will be the first of many challenges against the EPA if they continue on in this way.






Hilary Clinton and Ecological Survival


Hilary Clinton at the 2014 National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas. Photo: John Locher/AP

Although clearer and more progressive on climate policy and environmental issues than Donald Trump, presidential candidate Hilary Clinton is by no means a friend of the environmental movement. Her role in politics will now be a lesser one after the victory of Trump’s presidential campaign.

This was a politician who made clear that she supported fracking and fossil fuel pipelines in order to “fuel our economy”, supporting renewable energy alongside oil and gas extraction in a confused “all of the above” approach (Norton, 2016). As Secretary of State it was Clinton’s staff who cooperated with TransCanada on the Keystone XL pipeline and she had accepted the false dogma of using natural gas as a “bridge fuel”towards a renewable economy (Cousins, 2016 – see also McJeon et al., 2014 and Hausfather, 2016).

The International Energy Agency has predicted that the majority of the world’s energy will still come from fossil fuels in the next few decades (Tweed, 2016), and a politician who had received “more than $6.9 million from the fossil fuel industry” would have likely ensured that this pattern continued in the USA (Coleman, 2016). Clinton had, in fact, raised more money from the oil industry than her presidential rival (Harder & Mullins, 2016).

Her support for continued fossil fuel extraction occurred with a backdrop of climate chaos. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have recently surpassed the symbolic 400 parts per million (ppm) threshold (Kahn, 2016) with the fear that “today’s greenhouse gas levels may already commit Earth to an eventual total warming of 5 degrees Celsius” over the next millennia (Snyder, 2016). The devastation of Hurricane Matthew, according to CNN, “looks a lot like the future of climate change” (Sutter, 2016). Heedless of this devastation, like the rest of the US political system, Clinton continued to promote the orthodoxy that capitalism is compatible with a stable climate.

Ultimately Clinton shares the same hypocritical approach to climate change that her democrat predecessor Obama had – “tackling [climate change] aggressively on the consumption side but continuing to boost fossil fuel supplies” (Adler, 2015). This involved maintaining a “studied silence” when it came to the controversy of Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline (McKibben, 2016; Ortega, 2016).

The issue however, is now moot. Donald Trump has already begun planning his climate policy, which largely revolves abolishing the Clean Power Plan (Worland, 2016), wanting to “cancel” the Paris Agreement (Mufson & Dennis, 2016), and abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Plumer, 2016). This, despite the fact that climate change has been recognised as a “major national security risk” by the Climate Security Consensus Project (Papenfuss, 2016).

Indeed, to the rest of the world, “the U.S. citizens’ choice to elect Donald Trump seems like a death sentence” (Chemnick, 2016). We must now support the efforts of Blockadia (Martin & Fruhwirth, 2013) and stand in solidarity with indigenous nations and migrants in the fight against climate chaos (Out of the Woods, 2015; Bosworth, 2016). Climate change is not just a sociogenic process – it is violence:

“That’s a tired phrase, the destruction of the Earth, but translate it into the face of a starving child and a barren field – and then multiply that a few million times. Or just picture the tiny bivalves: scallops, oysters, Arctic sea snails that can’t form shells in acidifying oceans right now. Or another superstorm tearing apart another city. Climate change is global-scale violence, against places and species as well as against human beings. Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.” (Solnit, 2014)

With that in mind, we must contend with the fact that this is not just something “on a list of things to worry about” – in order to prevent climate chaos in the new right-wing political landscape “we have to remake the world, and we have to talk about it” (Battistoni, 2012).


Adler, B. (2015). 8 things you need to know about Hillary Clinton and climate change Accessed 8th November 2016

Battistoni, A. (2012). The Flood Next Time Accessed 9th November 2016

Bosworth, K. (2016). Voices Against the Pipeline — “Five Lessons from Pipeline Struggles” Accessed 9th November 2016

Chemnick, J. (2016). No Plan B at Climate Talks, Given Trump Win Accessed 9th November 2016

Coleman, J. (2016). Hillary Clinton’s Connections to the Oil and Gas Industry Accessed 8th November 2016

Cousins, F. (2016). Hillary Clinton Is Raking In Fossil Fuel Money At An Alarming Rate Accessed 8th November 2016

Harder, A., Mullins, B. (2016). Hillary Clinton Raises More Than Donald Trump From Oil Industry Accessed 8th November 2016.

Hausfather, Z. (2016). Is Natural Gas a Bridge Fuel? Accessed 8th November 2016

Kahn, B. (2016). The world passes 400ppm carbon dioxide threshold. Permanently Accessed 8th November 2016

Martin, M. J., Fruhwirth, J. (2013). Welcome to Blockadia! Accessed 9th November 2016

McJeon, H., Edmonds, J., Bauer, N. Clarke, L., Fisher, B., Flannery, B. P., Hilaire, J., Krey, V., Marangoni, G., Mi, R., Riahi, K., Rogner, H., Tavoni, M. (2014). Limited impact on decadal-scale climate change from increased use of natural gas. Nature 514, 482-485

McKibben, B. (2016). The Climate Movement Has to Elect Hillary Clinton—and Then Give Her Hell Accessed 9th November 2016

Mufson, S., Dennis. B. (2016). Trump victory reverses U.S. energy and environmental priorities Accessed 9th November 2016

Norton, B. (2016). Leaked email: Hillary Clinton told “radical environmentalists” to “get a life,” defended fracking and pipelines Accessed 8th November 2016

Ortega, O. (2016). Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline Accessed 9th November 2016

Out of the Woods (2015). 6 Ways to Fight Climate Chaos Accessed 9th November 2016

Papenfuss, M. (2016). Climate change poses major national security risk to US, warn military experts Accessed 9th November 2016

Plumer, B. (2016). There’s no way around it: Donald Trump is going to be a disaster for the planet Accessed 9th November 2016

Snyder, C. W. (2016). Evolution of global temperature over the past two million years. Nature 538, 226-228.

Solnit, R. (2014). Call climate change what it is: violence Accessed 9th November 2016

Sutter, J. D. (2016). Hurricane Matthew looks a lot like the future of climate change Accessed 8th November 2016

Tweed, K. (2016). Leaked Clinton Emails Mention Climate Change More Than Obamacare Accessed 8th November 2016

Worland, J. (2016). Donald Trump’s Victory Could Mean Disaster for the Planet Accessed 9th November 2016

Donald Trump and the Environment


Source: Huffington Post


So, it’s election day in the US and the world is waiting to see who will be their next president: Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton. In this article focus on Donald Trump  and what he has (or hasn’t) said regarding the environment if he ends up in office. Sources for all the information are listed at the end.

Denial of Climate Change

Firstly, Trump doesn’t outline any environmental policy on the issues section of his campaign site. To my mind this indicates he doesn’t think the environment is a worthwhile issue and there is information to back up this theory; he denies climate change. It is well known that back in 2012 he tweeted “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” He hasn’t deleted this tweet, so presumably he still believes this. In fact, if he were to be elected he would be the only leader of a country to deny climate change. Trump has also stated that he would remove the US from the Paris agreement which, as outlined on the European Commission’s website, is “the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal”. This deal is ever more important than the Kyoto agreement and would be a devastating blow for the planet if the US left.

Abolishment of the EPA

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) would be abolished under a Trump presidency. To put this into perspective this is the equivalent of the UK doing away with the Environment Agency. Trump believes the EPA has created too much red tape over the years limiting the ability of companies to operate. I admit that no environmental agency is perfect, but the red tape is usually there for good reason: to protect the environment from humans and their activities. The strange thing is, whilst he wishes to destroy the EPA, he wants to improve water and air quality, aims that are surely at odds with one another. At an oil conference in Bismarck, North Dakota he states:  “My priorities are simple: clean air and clean water.” He hasn’t deemed to outline how he aims to do that without the EPA, and I don’t think I need to point out the irony of him making this statement at an oil industry conference. He has also been accused of using the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, for self promotion and not out of real concern for the residents. 

Energy Policy

Trump supported the Keystone XL pipeline before it was rejected by Obama due to climate change concerns, and it has now emerged he owns stocks in two fossil fuel companies involved in the Dakota Access pipeline. One of his energy advisers is an oil billionaire and CEO of the largest US fracking company, Harold Hamm. It should therefore come as no surprise that he wishes to increase oil and gas production and he recently stated “We’re going to save the coal industry”.  This all sounds rather worrying in an age where we should be moving to renewables, but there have been warning signs that he isn’t a fan of renewable energy. For example, has been waging a battle for some years now against the proposed building of an offshore windfarm near his Aberdeenshire golf course. 

Trump has also stated he would relax the Clean Power Plan, which includes stricter fuel efficiency standards for vehicles in the US. How would he prioritise making the air cleaner whilst at the same time allowing vehicles to be more polluting?

Other Environmental Issues

Trump has proposed a wall is built along the entire Mexican/US border. Whilst the aim of this idea is clearly to prevent illegal immigration I don’t think anyone has considered the environmental impact this would have. Animals don’t keep to borders. Birds can fly over a wall, but what are others to do? Tunnels could be put in the wall for them to move through however that is no substitute for the freedom of populations to roam. Any species that is already low in numbers could be split in two, reducing the gene pool further and making extinction more likely. I imagine cougars and desert bighorn sheep wouldn’t be able to have tunnels built, as they would be large enough for humans to fit through, and therefore render the wall pointless.


Whether it be the denial of climate change, proposed abolition of the EPA or his energy policy it is clear that Donald Trump has scant regard for the environment. It can be hard to cover everything in one post, but I hope this at least makes you aware of the basics. I for one don’t think he is fit to be in charge of a country, but it is up to each of you to make up your minds. If you are an American citizen I hope you have gone out and voted, and remember, only if you vote do you have the right to criticise the outcome.

P.S. There was meant to be an article on Hilary Clinton to portray a balanced view on both of the Democratic and Republican candidates. Unfortunately, we have run out of time, but hope to bring you that one at a later date regardless of the outcome of the election.


Part 2: Hinkley Point C – Alternatives to Nuclear Ideology

paneles solares

Image: Jose Juan Castellano

As we saw in the last post plans for a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C, Somerset have been beset by troubles. This next post aims to detail further problems with a nuclear strategy for the UK, and highlight the alternatives to achieve a genuine low-carbon energy sector.

The Problems

Hinkley Point C (henceforth just Hinkley) is simply another example of the current UK government engaging with projects not for economic or environmental concerns, but for ideological reasons. For example, “taxpayers could end up paying more than £30bn through a range of subsidies” in order to support the new power station because it is not profitable by itself (Business Leader, 2016). Advisors in DECC (when it existed) also had links to EDF, which could explain the preferential treatment given to nuclear energy (Clarke, 2016) despite the fact that the current set price for electricity generated from the power station offered by the UK government is double average wholesale electricity prices (Elmes, 2016), representing another loss for the average UK citizen. As if that wasn’t enough,

“The predicted cost of Hinkley Point C has steadily risen from £14bn to £24.5bn and has steadily risen from earlier estimates of £16bn. The complexity of the project is enormous, due to what is believed to be by many to be an over-engineered design. There are also reported issues regarding the manufacture of the reactor pressure vessel for the EPR [European Pressurised Reactor] associated with anomalies in the composition of the steel.” (Freer, 2015)

These defects – enormously dangerous in a nuclear power station – are down to the French nuclear firm Areva, responsible for leading the construction of Hinkley, misreporting or failing to report key information in their quality control documents. As a result Hinkley – and other nuclear power plants around the world – may be using components that would be unable to “withstand sudden breakdown in certain conditions” (Boren, 2016).

On the bright side, we won’t have to worry about these manufacturing errors causing problems in the immediate future. Due to ongoing delays “Hinkley C is unlikely to produce electricity much before 2030” (Carrington, 2016a). By the time it is online it is likely to face ongoing problems due to extreme weather events caused by climate change (if global warming hasn’t been mitigated appropriately by then). Nuclear power stations are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather as these events

“could disrupt the functioning of critical equipment and processes that are indispensable to safe operation including reactor vessels, cooling equipment, control instruments and back-up generators.” (World Energy Council, 2014)

So at the moment we are looking forward to a nuclear power station billions over budget, not scaled to be completed until 2025 (Farrell, 2016), and subsequently vulnerable to storm damage and rising sea levels.

On top of this the justification that Hinkley will provide the UK with “baseload”power that is “vital to the UK” (EDF, 2016) is a myth. The importance of the new power station “has been repeatedly overplayed” (Gosden, 2016) and “the idea of large power stations [nuclear or not] for baseload is outdated” (Beckman, 2015). Practical experience, such as the German states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Schleswig-Holstein running on 100% renewable energy, and a host of studies and computer simulations of electricity markets and supply-demand systems prove that monolithic power stations providing baseload power are not required (Diesendorf, 2016). Other studies have shown that closing down nuclear power stations and transitioning to renewable energy provides a host of environmental and economic benefits without jeopardising energy security (, 2012; Gawel & Strunz, 2014).

Additionally, any employment supported by the construction of Hinkley will be temporary and filled by overseas workers, and less than a thousand jobs will be “created” for day-to-day operations (Fairlie, 2016). Jobs in the renewable energy sector far outweigh nuclear jobs. It is no surprise then that public support for Hinkley is very low (Chrisafis, 2016; Pagnamenta, 2016). There are even internal disputes within the board of EDF, with worker representatives filing “a challenge to overturn the company’s controversial decision to build the nuclear reactors” due to essential information about the power station not being shared with all board members (Chrisafis, 2016).

So we have seen that nuclear energy would be problematic for UK, and if Hinkley Point C were allowed to develop it would be a tacit endorsement for further nuclear development regardless of its practicality. So what are the alternatives?

The Solutions

The current situation seems dire. At the moment “the percentage of energy Britain now has to import has returned to the levels last seen in the early 1970s, before North Sea oil came on stream” (Elliott, 2016). This is a fear that the nuclear industry has exploited in order to appear as a solution. But as Elliott continues, “the cost of renewables are coming down all the time”. To develop a practical, secure energy supply requires the UK “to move away from large Hinkley-type projects” (Business Leader, 2016). This is not only an environmentally safer option but more economically secure – the thinktank Intergenerational Foundation found that “Britain would pay up to £40bn less for renewable alternatives that would generate the equivalent power to Hinkley over the plant’s planned lifetime” (Vaughan, 2016a). For the UK to pursue nuclear energy when “the world is finally producing renewable energy at an industrial scale” and with global installations of renewable energy projects surpassing “100,000 megawatts of capacity” in 2014 seems ludicrous (Steiner, 2015). As The Economist (2016) reports,

“Since Hinkley became a serious proposal less than a decade ago, the cost of nuclear power has increased, that of renewables has fallen and the price of battery storage—which could one day disrupt the entire power system—has plummeted. What is more, EDF’s nuclear technology has failed to get off the ground in the two projects in Finland and France that have sought to use it.”

So what are our options? Let us assess the evidence.


The world’s largest offshore windfarm was recently approved by the UK government, set to be constructed 100km off the Yorkshire coast (Anthony, 2016). It will provide power to almost two million homes when completed. As more of these windfarms are constructed (there are currently thirty offshore windfarms in UK territory) the energy generated will steadily become more reliable – as den Rooijen (2016) explains, “if the wind doesn’t blow in one [area], the wind blows in another, and the net effect is that the combined power output is less variable”. He continues

“At present, we have 2,200 wind turbines in operation and under construction, taking up less than 1% of our total seabed. National Grid estimates that nearly half of all power could be generated from our seabed by 2030 through offshore wind, combined with tidal power lagoons and strong electrical connections to our neighbouring countries.”

With 5GW (gigawatts) of offshore wind energy and 9GW of onshore wind currently online with new projects constantly in the pipeline (e.g. Hornsea Projects 1, 2, and 3) the 3.2GW that Hinkley will provide seems insignificant by comparison (Macalister, 2016a).

At the moment offshore windfarms are already being built at cheaper prices than Hinkley, and will meet 10% of the UK’s electricity demand by 2020 (Sauven, 2016; Macalister, 2016b) while Hinkley will only produce 7% when it is finally built in 2025 (ignoring delays common with the reactor design – see Stacey & Burgis, 2016). Looking to land, the UK government’s own calculations predict that “onshore wind power and large-scale solar [will] cost less per megawatt hour than new nuclear by 2025” (Vaughan, 2016b). Renewables will also be cheaper to build – the Intergenerational Foundation found that onshore wind power would be £31.2 billion cheaper than Hinkley whilst producing the same amount of energy over a thirty-five year period (Simms, 2016).

In reality the UK has exploited less than 1% of its offshore wind energy potential – a total of 675GW is economically feasible, which is more than six times the UK’s current electricity demand (Cavazzi & Dutton, 2016). The potential for wind energy alone dwarfs UK nuclear power.


Solar power is similar to wind power – it is cheap, efficient, and a far better alternative to nuclear projects like Hinkley. By 2025, large-scale solar is expected to cost between £50 and £75 per megawatt hour, according to the UK government’s energy department, whereas nuclear power is expected to cost “around £85-125/MWh, in line with the guaranteed price of £92.50/MWh that the government has offered Hinkley’s developer, EDF” (Vaughan, 2016b). The Intergenerational Foundation’s report consolidates the cheapness of solar compared to nuclear, citing evidence that solar power in the UK would be £40 billion cheaper compared to Hinkley over the thirty-five year contract period (Simms, 2016).

Solar power is now 50% cheaper than it was in 2011, and “more than 800,000 homes now have rooftop solar” (Sauven, 2016) proving its effectiveness. Solar power recently beat coal power in the UK for the first time some months ago, generating “1,273 gigawatt hours of power” in May, beating the 778 gigawatt hours generated by coal (Evans, 2016), showcasing its ability to outclass fossil fuels in power generation.

Looking past simple economic comparisons, solar power arrays can also enhance biodiversity as they take up only a small percentage of the land and often allow insect species “to thrive” compared to arable land (Solarcentury, 2014). A more recent study found that “solar farms can lead to an increase in the diversity and abundance of broad leaved plants, grasses, butterflies, bumblebees and birds” (Montag et al., 2016). Solar power on agricultural land is also a possibility – a 2013 study published in Agricultural and Forest Meteorology found that crops under a “half-density” array of solar panels “were just as productive as the ones in the unshaded control plots; in a few cases, they were even more productive”and that “shading irrigated vegetable crops with PVPs [photovoltaic panels] allowed a saving of 14 percent to 29 percent of evapotranspired water, depending on the level of shade created and the crop grown” (Marrou et al., 2013). Solar power is thus an effective energy delivery strategy without having to sacrifice grassland or arable land, compared to the large footprint required of nuclear power stations like Hinkley.

Other Possibilities

Solar and wind power are not the only alternatives to Hinkley available to us – there is a miscellany of other technologies available. Wave energy devices, for example, placed in the “most economic areas” around the UK’s coast could generate up to 10GW, which equates to “11% of the UK’s current power generation” (Carbon Trust, 2012).

Instead of producing additional power, increased energy efficiency measures in the UK would make projects like Hinkley obsolete. Improving efficiency could, according to various authors, reduce electricity demand by the equivalent of four to six Hinkley power stations (DECC, 2012; Blackman, 2016) and save billions of pounds a year. As Damian Carrington (2016b) writes,

“Energy efficiency could deliver six Hinkley’s worth of electricity by 2030, interconnector cables to Norway, Denmark and France could add another two or three Hinkleys to the grid by 2025 and four Hinkleys’ worth of electricity could be saved by 2030 by increasing the ability to store electricity and making the grid smarter, with the latter alone saving bill payers £8bn a year.”

These trends in efficiency, smart grids, and better energy storage won’t go away – “the National Grid predicts that in some scenarios by 2020, small-scale and distributed generation will represent a third of total capacity in the UK” (Sauven, 2016).  This is simply proof that the age of megaprojects like Hinkley is over – the UK needs to focus on connecting “consumption as well as supply and think more decentralised than central” (Elmes, 2016).

Is it Possible?

These technics are far from implausible – many of them rely on technology that exists today and trends that are already occurring. If Hinkley Point C is cancelled (and it should be) additional renewable energy projects can “plug significant gaps in capacity very quickly – much more quickly than long lead time and significantly delayed new nuclear” (Caldecott, 2016). The recent analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit using “ultra-conservative” estimates and considering “only mature technologies” succinctly surmised that “Hinkley is not essential” (ECIU, 2016), contrary to the assertions of the EDF chief executive (de Rivaz, 2016).

As Gawel and Strunz (2014) wrote in their case study of Germany’s nuclear phase-out, it is less about technology and more about providing a “a long-term transition perspective and a stable political consensus” that will encourage the development of renewable energy and not so-called “low-carbon” energy sources like nuclear or gas. This social and political shift will readily yield “measurable economic and environmental benefits” (, 2012).

Many studies and analyses looking at the possibility of a long-term, global shift to renewable energy have found that it is plausible and easily achievable. EDF’s claim that we shouldn’t “hope that a new technology will meet all our needs” is unfounded and false – we don’t need “new” technologies because existing ones are more than enough (de Rivaz, 2016). Such claims muddy the waters when it comes to discussing a sustainable future and betray the wants of large energy corporations like EDF who are threatened by the coming wave of renewable and decentralised energy technologies. In fact, pursuing the idea of nuclear power as part of the UK’s energy strategy would be harmful to genuine renewable energy uptake – a study by the University of Sussex found that countries like the UK who are “nuclear-committed” and plan to replace old nuclear power plants with newer models are slower to adopt renewable energy and reduce the carbon intensity of energy generation (Lawrence et al., 2016; Cuff, 2016). The study identified that

“progress in both carbon emissions reduction and in adoption of renewables appears to be inversely related to the strength of continuing nuclear commitments.”

Thus any and all assertions that nuclear power should be a component of the UK’s energy strategy are detrimental in the long-term.

Jacobson and Delucchi (2010) in a peer-reviewed study found that instituting a global infrastructure based on wind, water, and solar energy could not only meet the world’s energy needs but reduce “world power demand by 30%”. In a growing trend, they emphasise that “barriers to the plan are primarily social and political, not technological or economic”. Schwartzman and Schwartzman’s (2011) similar study, published via the Institute for Policy Research & Development, found that a global transition to (only) wind and solar power could

“occur in two or three decades and requires very little fossil fuel (on the order of one half of a year’s present global consumption) and no revolutionary technological innovations.”

As far back as 2004 one peer-reviewed study identified that “humanity already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial know-how to solve the carbon and climate problem for the next half-century” (Pacala and Socolow, 2004).

Importantly though, we cannot wait for these energy trends to unfold by themselves. Many political and economic actors will work and lobby to ensure that energy systems in the UK remain centralised and based on scarce supplies of fossil fuels, the better to control energy distribution in a country gripped by the worst inequality in decades (Williams-Grut, 2015; Reuben, 2015). But as Podobnik (2010) warned

“The historical record shows very clearly that deep, enduring changes in energy industries require the mobilization of mass social movements. We cannot simply wait for visionary politicians to forge the way.”

A mass social movement in the UK calling for fair, equitable, renewable energy generation (e.g. plasmatelly, 2014) is thus required to not only break the trend of monolithic, centralised energy projects being built, but also to protect and defend the environment from the biocrisis (Institute for Experimental Freedom, 2009). Projects like Hinkley Point C must be opposed whenever they emerge. Any form of society that hopes to survive in the coming decades can and must be powered by renewable energy.


Anthony, S. (2016). World’s largest offshore windfarm in Yorkshire approved by UK government. Accessed 22/08/16

Beckman, K. (2015). Steve Holliday, CEO National Grid: “The idea of large power stations for baseload is outdated”. Accessed 21/08/16

Blackman, J. (2016). The role for energy storage as an alternative to Hinkley Point C. Accessed 27/08/16

Boren, Z. D. (2016). Hinkley builder admits defective parts may be found in nuclear plants around the world. Accessed 21/08/16

Business Leader (2016). Security is not the only reason to cancel Hinkley. There are many others. Accessed 20/08/16

Caldecott, B. (2016). Keeping the lights on: security of supply after coal. Accessed 27/08/16

Carbon Trust (2012). Revealed: the UK’s wave power hot spots. Accessed 27/08/16.

Carrington, D. (2016a). Five ways to power the UK that are far better than Hinkley Point. Accessed 21/08/16

Carrington, D. (2016b). Hinkley’s nuclear plant fails all tests – bar the politics. Accessed 27/08/16.

Cavazzi, S., Dutton, A. G. (2016). An Offshore Wind Energy Geographic Information System (OWE-GIS) for assessment of the UK’s offshore wind energy potential. Renewable Energy 87 (1), 212-228.

Chrisafis, A. (2016). EDF representatives file legal challenge in France over Hinkley Point. Accessed 01/09/16

Clarke, J. S. (2016). Hinkley C: government’s ‘revolving door’ to EDF execs. Accessed 21/08/16

Cuff, M. (2016). Study: Countries that support nuclear energy lag on climate targets. Accessed 28/08/16

DECC [Department of Energy and Climate Change] (2012). Capturing the full electricity efficiency potential of the UK.–2 Accessed 27/08/16.

Diesendorf, M. (2016). Dispelling the nuclear ‘baseload’ myth: nothing renewables can’t do better! Accessed 21/08/16

ECIU [Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit] (2016). Hinkley: What If? Can the UK solve its energy trilemma without Hinkley Point C? Accessed 28/08/16

EDF (2016). Why Hinkley Point C is vital to the UK. Accessed 21/08/16

Elliott, L. (2016). UK green energy sector needs nurturing over nuclear. Accessed 22/08/16

Elmes, D. (2016). As Hinkley Point C put on ice: the UK needs to get over energy megaprojects. Accessed 21/08/16

Evans, S. (2016). Analysis: Solar beats coal over a whole month in UK for first time. Accessed 27/08/16

Fairlie, I. (2016). If it’s jobs they want, Labour and the unions must back renewables, not Hinkley C! Accessed 01/09/16

Farrell, S. (2016). Hinkley Point C: what you need to know about the nuclear power project. Accessed 21/08/16

Freer, M. (2015). Simpler, smaller, cheaper? Alternatives to Britain’s new nuclear power plant. Accessed 21/08/16

Gawel, E., Strunz, S. (2014). Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear power is fundamentally sensible from an economic perspective. Accessed 22/08/16

Gosden, E. (2016). Hinkley Point not necessary to keep the lights on, says SSE chief. Accessed 21/08/16

Institute for Experimental Freedom (2009). Introduction to the Apocalypse. Accessed 28/08/16

Jacobson, M. Z. & Delucchi, M. A. (2010). Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power. Energy Policy 39 (3), 1154–1169.

Lawrence, A., Sovacool, B., Stirling, A. (2016). Nuclear energy and path dependence in Europe’s ‘Energy union’: coherence or continued divergence? Climate Policy 16 (5).

Macalister, T. (2016a). Hinkley Point C is not only new energy option, says windfarm developer. Accessed 23/08/16

Macalister, T. (2016b). Crown estate wades into Hinkley Point nuclear debate. Accessed 22/08/16

Marrou, H., Guilioni, L., Dufour, L., Dupraz, C., Wery, J. (2013). Microclimate under agrivoltaic systems: Is crop growth rate affected in the partial shade of solar panels? Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 177, 117-132.

Montag, H., Parker, G., Clarkson, T. (2016). The Effects of Solar Farms on Local Biodiversity: A Comparative Study. Accessed 25/08/16

Pacala, S., Socolow, R. (2004). Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies. Science 305, 968-972.

Pagnamenta, R. (2016). Hinkley nuclear support falls as majority oppose China role. Accessed 01/09/16 (2012). Bulletin: German nuclear exit delivers economic, environmental benefits. Accessed 22/08/16

plasmatelly (2014). Communising energy: power to the people! Accessed 28/08/16

Podobnik, B. (2010). Building the Clean Energy Movement: Future Possibilities in Historical Perspective. In: Abramsky, K.. ed. Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution: Social Struggles in the Transition to a Post-petrol World. AK Press, Oakland, 72-80.

Reuben, A. (2015). Gap between rich and poor ‘keeps growing’. Accessed 28/08/16

de Rivaz, V. (2016). ‘New nuclear’ has to be part of our low-carbon energy future. Accessed 28/08/16

den Rooijen, H. (2016). Hinkley C’s future is in doubt. Let’s turn our sights to offshore wind. Accessed 22/08/16

Sauven, J. (2016). For a secure energy future, there are far better investments than Hinkley. Accessed 23/08/16

Schwartzman, P. D. & Schwartzman, D. W. (2011). A Solar Transition is Possible. Institute for Policy Research & Development, London.

Simms, A. (2016). Toxic Time Capsule: Why nuclear energy is an intergenerational issue. Accessed 23/08/16.

Solarcentury (2014). Further evidence supports opportunity for creating bio-diverse solar farms. Accessed 25/08/16

Stacey, K., Burgis, T. (2016). EDF’s French nuclear plant faces years of further delay. Accessed 22/08/16

Steiner, A. (2015). ‘The world is finally producing renewable energy at an industrial scale’. Accessed 22/08/16

The Economist (2016). When the facts change… Accessed 01/09/16

Vaughan, A. (2016a). Scrapping Hinkley for renewable alternatives would save ‘tens of billions’. Accessed 22/08/16

Vaughan, A. (2016b). Solar and wind ‘cheaper than new nuclear’ by the time Hinkley is built. Accessed 23/08/16

Williams-Grut, O. (2015). Here’s just how wealthy the top 1% in Britain are. Accessed 28/08/16

World Energy Council (2014). Climate Change: Implications for the Energy Sector. Accessed 21/08/16

Part 1: Hinkley Point C – What is all the fuss about?


Image: Adrian Sherratt

You may have seen in the news recently much debate about the new nuclear reactor planned for Hinkley Point in Somerset. EDF had been wondering whether to finance it, Theresa May is delaying the decision, but what is really going on? This post aims to clear up the situation.

UK Government

The government gave the go ahead for new nuclear power stations back in 2006, stating they would make a “significant contribution” to energy generation, considering we are phasing out coal fired power stations. Before Hinkley C the last new nuclear station was Sizewell B which opened in 1995.

The new power plant at Hinkley C will purportedly provide just 7% of our electricity. For some silly reason we have also agreed to pay double the current market price for it over 35 years. To even a passing reader this seems rather expensive to fulfill not much of our energy needs. In comparison, gas power stations are £27.50 per MWh less expensive at generating energy. The executive director of Greenpeace, John Sauven, says it is “terrible value for money”.

Amber Rudd, the former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, emphasised “we have to secure baseload electricity”. However, more and more research is suggesting the idea of needing power stations to maintain baseload is a fallacy. Practical experience shows that renewable energy can easily cope alone. As an example, the states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Schleswig-Holstein in Germany already use 100% renewable energy. This is a net figure because they trade with each other and between other states to achieve this, but does show with a bit of effort it is possible.

As for construction, at least that will provide 25,000 jobs, although it remains to be seen how many of them come from the local area. Once construction has finished 900 people will be employed to operate the station itself. What will it cost taxpayers? The government has insisted consumers will only have to pay about £10 per year for Hinkley C’s construction, but has provided no figures or evidence to back this up.



EDF, the French power giant, has been tasked with building the power station. They have yet to complete building any reactors like those which will be used at Hinkley. The construction of their nuclear power plant at Flamanville in France has had many problems and is now years behind schedule and way over budget. I wonder if this is what we have to look forward to in the construction of Hinkley C? It certainly hints that the £10 per year cost to UK taxpayers is like rise and not just by a bit.

As EDF is 85% owned by the French government, any decision on this scale also effects them. They have been under strain to approve this project, even leading to EDF’s finance director, Thomas Piquemal, resigning reportedly amid fears the investment could damage EDF. In July the French Financial Markets Authority raided EDF’s offices, investigating claims they had misrepresented the cost of Hinkley. Some staff believe the project could sink the company, with the company warned its credit rating may be downgraded if it goes ahead. The French government have even offered to help bailout EDF to cover construction costs. Things are certainly not looking good for EDF as a company in its own right, and many are already calling Hinkley C a ‘white elephant’.

Assuming the plant gets built, what would happen should a future UK government decide to close it prior to 2060? Documents seen by The Guardian show that UK taxpayers could be left with a £22b bill if that were to happen. This gives EDF zero risk, but there could be numerous reasons why the UK may not want to continue for instance costs, loss of public confidence and a change in energy infrastructure (IS THIS THE RIGHT WORD?). Do we really want to be tied into such a contract?

Chinese Investment in Hinkley

Now EDF have finally made the decision to proceed with construction the Conservative PM Theresa May has decided to delay the start. May, as former home secretary, had apparently voiced concern about the attitude to Chinese investment in Hinkley, according to Vince Cable. The Chinese General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGNCP) are providing a third of the £18b cost. It has recently been alleged that the CGNCP had conspired to produce nuclear material without the USA’s permission and were involved in nuclear espionage. Hardly an ideal start to a relationship that will have to last the duration of construction. Wisely, May and her ministers now want to read through the contract and make a final decision this autumn. However at this rate it is projected Hinkley C might not be up and working until 2030 due to delay after delay! Barry Gardiner, the shadow energy secretary, has called the handling of the situation “absolute chaos” and I am inclined to agree.

I understand the need to look at the fine print, but China has now said the delay is putting strain on UK – China relations and warn we are at a “crucial historical juncture”. It isn’t good to rely on any country too much, but the Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming, says China have already “invested more in the UK than in Germany, France and Italy combined over the past five years”. China is such a super power and their decisions effect us on a day to day basis. Annoying them post-Brexit would not be a smart move and the UK would be wise to consider the current position they have put themselves in.


Hinkley C has been dogged by investment and costs issues from the start and its construction has barely started which is hardly a good omen. Why haven’t the UK decided to look into renewable energy instead of nuclear? Is the government determined to deny climate change is happening and avoid the fact renewables are the way forward? Or have they decided to proceed because it would be far to complicated to stop what is in motion already? These are questions which will be addressed in our next post.

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