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.






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.

Links that provided information for this post:


New posts coming soon

It has been a while since we last posted a series of posts as a team so we thought it was high time to get our act together.

In the coming months we shall be posting on a range of subjects all key to understanding how the environment will fair in the UK post-Brexit. We shall be spotlighting MPs, many newly appointed to the Cabinet by our new PM Theresa May, and definitely touching upon the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Their background prior to being assigned their new roles will be analysed as this if often a good indicator of what they will be like in office. We hope to cover topics including farming, fisheries, forestry, climate change and energy to name a few. In addition to these series of posts there may be reviews of TV programmes that focus on the environment. Personally, I am hoping to watch the latest installment of Hugh’s War on Waste (this evening at on BBC One at 9pm for those interested). Stay tuned!

The Failures of Atmospheric Commodification

Climate protesters: 'more future, less capitalism'

“The rush to make profits out of carbon-fixing engenders another kind of colonialism.” — Centre for Science and the Environment, 2000


Are carbon markets just another wave of capitalist accumulation, or is there an inkling of hope that in commodifying the atmospheric commons we will stave off catastrophic climate change?

By now we’re all familiar with the ongoing planetary biocrisis1 and anybody who isn’t is more than scientifically illiterate. Global temperatures are predicted to potentially rise by 4°C by 2100 (University of New South Wales, 2013), with recent research warning of a 6°C rise by 2100 (Connor, 2015), a far cry from the 2°C target deemed safe by many (Hope & Pearce, 2014). The warming of the atmosphere now poses risks to the integrity of our energy systems (World Energy Council, 2014) and agriculture (Challinor et al., 2014). The world’s oceans are increasingly acidifying due to the increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) (Mora et al., 2013), our forests are unable to absorb the excess CO2 we’re releasing (Philips & Brienen, 2015), and despite these warnings the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies continue to increase their fuel reserves, straying dangerously close to any safe emissions limit (Carrington, 2015). Even now research shows that the 1972 book Limits to Growth, previously characterised as doomsday fantasy, has recently been vindicated and that we should start to “expect the early stages of global collapse” (Turner & Alexander, 2014).

The answer to our problems seems deceptively simple: if global warming is such a danger to our (and the biosphere’s) wellbeing, then we just need to stop emitting all that carbon dioxide and other pesky greenhouse gases2. The solution is more complex when we realise the primary inducer of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels, which have become inextricably linked with the world’s capitalist economies as they have continued to grow over the centuries (Keefer, 2006; Leigh, 2008; Lohmann & Böhm, 2012).

One of the many solutions put forward by the establishment in addressing the prevention of dangerous climate change is the idea of a carbon market, or carbon trading. This is defined innocuously by the Financial Times as “a market that is created from the trading of carbon emission allowances to encourage or help countries and companies to limit their carbon dioxide emissions” (Financial Times, 2014), or quite simply subjecting climate change to market logic via allocating property rights to carbon emissions (Newell & Paterson, 2009). Is it possible that the trading of permissions to release CO2 could help pave our way to a low-carbon future? Could the pricing of carbon, as the World Bank asserts, help to “incentivize cleaner decisions and innovation” for the global economy (World Bank, 2015)? Or alternatively, is the concept of a carbon market simply another example of neoliberal hegemony, an attempt for capitalism to enclose yet another round of commons in its attempt to profit from disaster à la Naomi Klein’s “Disaster Capitalism” (Klein, 2007)?

This essay will attempt to investigate the concepts of the carbon market, focusing on its history and origins, contemporary examples of carbon markets in the world today, and whether they succeed or fail in their goal of slowing down/preventing climate change and instituting a low-carbon, renewable-powered future. Alternatives will be considered at the end of the essay, and the success and relevancy of carbon markets will be evaluated.

The Origins of Carbon Markets

“[T]he pollution rights scheme, it seems clear, would require far less policing than any of the others we have discussed.” — Dales, 1968, p. 97

The precursor to the idea of carbon markets, that of controlling emissions via market mechanisms, can be traced back to the 1960s where the idea of internalising the costs of pollution via taxes and property rights unsurprisingly first emerged from economists (MacKenzie, 2008; Tokar, 2014; Koch, 2014) as a supposedly cost-efficient alternative to government intervention. The first arguably successful pollution market was the sulphur dioxide (SO2) trading mechanism in the USA, established in the 1990s. This was introduced in a market-friendly attempt to reduce the SO2 emissions from coal-fired power stations in order to reduce the occurrences of acid rain (Likens & Bormann, 1974), after previous attempts to pass bills in the US congress to address the problem failed in the 1980s with “Reaganomics” and free market beliefs ascendant. The successful 10% reduction of SO2 emissions between 1995 and 2003 (Lohmann, 2010a) seemed to vindicate the idea of market environmentalism, and subsequently shaped the Clinton administration’s insistence of market mechanisms in international climate negotiations.

It was the US delegation that introduced the idea of market instruments in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (Searles, 1998; Koch, 2014) although the helpful role of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) which sent almost 1,500 lobbyists to encourage the use of these mechanisms cannot be discounted (Fernandes & Girard, 2011). It was in fact Al Gore, then the US Vice President, who advised that the US would only agree to the Protocol if the “trading of ‘rights to pollute’” was implemented (as well as mandated emission reductions to be much lower) (Tokar, 2010). This helped to consolidate the idea of using markets and property rights in attempts to prevent climate change, despite the fact that as negotiations came to a close the USA refused to adopt the Protocol. Since then the design and development of carbon markets has predominantly fallen into the hands of the theorists and architects of financial markets (Lohmann, 2010b; Koch, 2014). Once these financial groups realised the potentials of this market, emissions trading “became almost unstoppable” (Newell & Paterson, 2009, p. 8).

These ideas can be better placed in a historical view of capitalist accumulation. It is another case of the state (or states) enclosing the commons, this time the atmosphere, in order to forcefully create a new market. Capitalism has attempted to make something irreducibly complex (the climate) into something easily quantifiable (a carbon price). As David Harvey states, “Creating markets where there have been none before is one of the ways in which, historically, capital has expanded” (Derbyshire, 2014). Sullivan (2009) drives the point further when he says the modern era represents a “wave of enclosure and primitive accumulation to liberate natural capital for the global market” (p. 26). Capitalism’s requirements have always required either geographical expansion, technological/financial innovation, or both (Moore, 2011). Emissions trading and carbon markets are another example of this.

Fast forward to the present day and the previously fringe belief of pollution trading is now a key part of dominant capitalist logic. Scientists and researchers frequently endorse the idea of putting a market price on carbon to help tackle global warming (e.g. Nuccitelli, 2015). Corporations experiment with internal carbon pricing in attempts to save money and reduce emissions (e.g. Hepler, 2015). The World Bank now estimates that “40 national and over 20 sub-national jurisdictions are putting a price on carbon” which accordingly represent “about 12% of the annual GHG [GreenHouse Gas] emissions” emitted (World Bank, 2014, p. 14). Carbon markets now form an integral part of an “emerging global policy framework” that also includes renewable subsidies and carbon taxes (Office of News & Communications, 2015) in an attempt to halt GHG emissions.

Contemporary Developments

“We’re going to see a worldwide market, and carbon will unambiguously will be the largest non-financial commodity in the world.” — Richard Sandor (Carr, 2009)

Despite the now famous assertion of Nicholas Stern (2006) that climate change “is the greatest market failure the world has ever seen” (p. viii), it is not surprising to witness the size and scope of carbon markets in the modern era of neoliberalism, austerity, and the unassailable forces of markets. From Chile to New Zealand, California to Japan, South Africa to Kazakhstan, emissions trading or carbon pricing instruments are popular globally (World Bank, 2014), with eight new markets emerging in 2013 alone (Henbest, 2015). Leonardi (2012) references this proliferation as a sign of the “carbon trading dogma” (p. 13), the political assumption that only markets can provide a solution to climate change. Indeed, it would seem entirely logical to the capitalist hegemony that reducing carbon emissions can go hand-in-hand with economic growth, as Sweden’s Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson asserted recently (World Bank, 2015). To think otherwise would be tantamount to heresy and questions the ability of capitalism to solve hitherto intractable problems.

Carbon markets come in many forms, and it is beyond the scope of this work to go into full detail, but some brief information is required. The largest emissions trading system currently in existence is the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, commonly abbreviated as the EU ETS or ETS, and established in 2005 (Ellerman & Buchner, 2007). It is a prime example of a cap and trade system (an excellent summary of which can be found from Lohmann, 2010a). Additionally there are “project-based” carbon offsets, where “instead of cutting their emissions industries, nations or individuals finance “carbon-saving” projects elsewhere” which are cheaper to implement (again from Lohmann, 2010a, p. 10). Under the Kyoto Protocol there are also “flexibility mechanisms” such as the Clean Development Mechanism3 (UNFCCC, 2014a) and Joint Implementation (UNFCCC, 2014b), the former being similar to cap and trade and the latter being a form of offsetting.

In 2009 Richard Sandor, the founder of the Chicago Climate Exchange, stated that “We’re going to see a worldwide market, and carbon will unambiguously will be the largest non-financial commodity in the world” (Carr, 2009). Those words are close to the truth given the growth and extent of carbon markets today. The global carbon market has doubled in size every year since 2005 with an estimated value of US$2 trillion in 2014 (Suppan, 2009) and an expected market value of US$3.1 trillion in 2020 (Friends of the Earth, 2009). In 2009 carbon markets traded over US$100 billion a year (Lohmann, 2009) and were worth €64 billion in 2014 (Smedley, 2015). The EU ETS alone had a turnover of €90 billion in 2010 (Gale, 2015), and a proposed national carbon market in China to be launched in 2016 will have an estimated annual turnover of 100 billion yuan, equivalent to roughly US$16.1 billion (Staff Reporter, 2015).

Carbon markets have widespread support amongst at least 1,000 companies and 84 governments (Marcacci, 2015a). Perhaps unsurprisingly as a locus of financial capitalism the City of London has become the focal point for carbon trading, with financial institutions opening their own trading desks exclusively for carbon markets (Bumpus & Liverman, 2008) or even acquiring their own “carbon companies” (Lohmann, 2010c, p. 6), although in recent years some banks have scaled back these efforts (Henbest, 2015). Recent efforts have focused on attempts to link up existing carbon markets. The EU and California are looking to connect their regional markets together (Zetterberg, 2012), and California has begun assisting China with carbon market design (Marcacci, 2015a). Canadian provinces are beginning preparations to join up existing cap and trade systems (McDiarmid, 2015), and carbon markets are now set to expand across the rest of North America (Marcacci, 2015b). Carbon markets are not advancing homogeneously however: efforts to reform and fix the issues inherent in the EU ETS continue (Neslen, 2015a; 2015b; Krukowska, 2015) and following Tony Abbott’s current track record of facilitating environmental degradation Australia has become the first country to repeal a carbon price (White, 2014; Henbest, 2015).

It seems then that carbon markets are here to stay. They are hegemonic both politically and economically. But as with most capitalist efforts to rectify problems, they are fraught with problems fatal for both humans and the biosphere.

The Failure of Atmospheric Commodification

“The oil price shocks of the 1970s didn’t wean us off oil, so why should we believe that a high carbon price will wean us off carbon?” — Jim Watson (Lovell, 2007)

First, let us consider the actual attempts of carbon markets to accurately price carbon in order to prevent climate change. The prevailing logic is that a high enough carbon price, controlled by laws of supply and demand, will provide an incentive for market actors to invest in cleaner, less carbon-intense methods of production, transport, and energy generation in order to save money. “In generating a price for carbon, it is argued, an incentive is created to reduce emissions as efficiently as possible” (Bumpus & Liverman, 2008, p. 131).

A recent economic study (Lontzek et al., 2015) found that, factoring in potentially irreversible climatic “tipping points” 4 the cost of carbon should be “200% higher” than it is today, with most institutions “seriously underpricing carbon dioxide” (Yeo, 2015). A “glut” of emission allowances in the EU ETS has continued to undermine any possibility of its effectiveness, with some fearing the oversupply of allowances “may grow to more than twice the size of the emissions the EU ETS covers by 2020” (Carbon Market Watch, 2015). For a country like Germany to have enough economic incentive to switch from coal power to using natural gas (not to renewables, just a “cleaner” fossil fuel) would require an EU ETS price of €43 per tonne of carbon – it is currently at €7 per tonne (Henbest, 2015). Other economic studies have proven that carbon pricing mechanisms are not enough to ensure climate change is averted and to encourage investment in renewable technologies (Waisman et al., 2014).

It is interesting to suppose that emissions trading systems have been designed badly on purpose to, as Lucia (2009) asserts, produce “an elaborate way to disguise a lack of action and transfer wealth to polluters” (p. 237). The relentless growth of carbon markets, as Chester & Rosewarne (2011) suggest, symbolises a “subterfuge for maintaining the commitment to the continued expansion of economic activity as well as creating new opportunities for wealth enhancement” (p. 27). Even a homogenous global carbon price, the same in all applications across all institutions, “cannot adequately reflect the true social costs of carbon emissions, because the market mechanism only recognizes preferences when these are backed up by purchasing power” (Storm, 2009, p. 1025). The idea of markets ushering us into a low carbon future thus seem hopeless and impossible. As market-based solutions continue to prevail, the control of our atmospheric commons will remain in “the hands of polluting corporations and big players in the financial markets” (Lohmann, 2010a, p. 2) and the countries backing the global neoliberal regime, as our faith in the “efficiency“ of markets continues to harm ourselves and the wider environment (Albritton, 1999).

Indeed, it is vital to remember that the overarching concept of carbon markets – a market mechanism being able to facilitate a desired change quicker and more efficiently than command-and-control policies via the state – is a gross misunderstanding. Neoliberalism, and markets in general, have always used violence in the form of state intervention in order to secure property rights and enforce stability, as well as quash dissent (Wall, 2005; Bumpus & Liverman, 2008), and carbon markets are no different. A non-scarce “non-value” like carbon requires active state intervention for it to be commodified (Koch, 2014, p. 54), enforcing an “overarching regulatory framework” within which market activities can take place (Fletcher, 2012). The end result of which is that now “an ever-increasing portion of the world’s energy and material resources now flows in networks of market-based connections” (Manno, 2011, p. 2075).

It is fitting that like the world of abstraction and derivatives from which it was birthed carbon markets and emissions trading have since their inception been wracked with corruption and criminality. A reliance on corporate self-regulation and difficulties in offset measurement have helped to draw in millions of dollars (or pounds, or euros) into “climate fraud” with corporations lying about emissions reductions or exaggerating offset projects to generate carbon credits (Bachram, 2004). Even INTERPOL felt it necessary to release a report in 2013, the “Guide to Carbon Trading Crime” as part of its Environmental Crime Programme (INTERPOL, 2013). It details the vulnerabilities of carbon markets to embezzlement, money laundering, insider trading, and cybercrime, and details how the capacity to cut corners, falsify information, or receive bribes has been found in institutions of all kinds including supposedly independent GHG accounting firms, national authorities, and companies. In recent years the full extent of “carbon crime” has become apparent, involving computer hacking, VAT fraud, bomb scares, and even funding for terrorism (Day & Bawden, 2014; Funk, 2015).

So what about emissions? Carbon markets are an attempt to quickly and efficiently allocate pollution rights in order to prevent climate change, so what evidence do we have for GHG reductions? As with setting a workable price for carbon, the carbon markets have failed in this regard. To start, many of the trading processes themselves have no inherent environmental benefits and do not actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Baldwin, 2008)! The growing expansion and coupling of carbon markets have done nothing to reduce emissions, and “evidence of the CDM to date suggests that offsetting increases rather than reduces” these emissions (Reyes, 2012, p. 28), or at the very least these CDM projects have done nothing to halt the rise in emissions (Fernandes & Girard, 2011). The billion (and potentially trillion) dollar market in carbon and offsets has now created an economic structure with “vested interests whose opportunities for making money rely on maintaining GHG emissions, not reducing them” (Spash, 2010), thus making any attempt to reduce GHG emissions impossible. There have been localised emissions reductions, such as those in the EU, but these have been a result of short-term fuel switching (e.g. coal to natural gas) and do not constitute a sustainable strategy (Calel & Dechezleprêtre, 2012). One can even see the unabated increase in emissions through the online measurements of the Mauna Loa Observatory (CO2Now, 2015)5.

This would seem to suggest that whether the carbon markets are designed well or not, it is impossible for them to reduce emissions in any significant way. Let alone the fact that the global carbon market is vulnerable to financial “shocks” (and that financial “firewalls” to enable resilience will never sit well with neoliberal orthodoxy (McKibbin et al, 2008, p. 13)) a safe carbon budget cannot actually enable carbon trading due to supply constraints. As Childs (2012) describes at length:

“The global carbon budget to avoid dangerous climate change is too small to allow trading. If a temperature target of 1.5 degrees is chosen with a reasonable to high chance of avoiding it, then the global carbon budget will be tiny. Carbon trading relies on countries having ‘spare’ carbon emissions that they can sell to others who do not have enough. Under a tiny carbon budget it is almost certain that no country will have any spare emissions to sell. Rich countries would need to make significant cuts very quickly and developing countries would have to develop predominantly through low carbon technologies.” (p. 15)

Again, this confirms the impossibility of carbon markets having any role to play in emissions reductions. To produce a workable carbon market, the climate will have to be endangered, and as Spash (2010) describes, GHGs are so well-embedded and pervasive in the global economy (via fossil fuels – see introduction) that their emission cannot be slowed down via simple market mechanisms. Further, this ignores the existence of huge fossil fuel consumers/GHG emitters that are not and cannot be subsumed under markets – the US military for example, “by some accounts the largest single consumer of petroleum in the world”, would hardly allow itself to be charged a carbon price as it released “56.6 million metric tons of CO2” in 2011 (Klein, 2014, p. 99).

What of the other element of our low carbon future – that of enabling the transition to a future society powered by renewable energy? Again this is an abject failure showcasing how carbon markets cannot justify their raison d’être. Lohmann (2010b) provides us with evidence that, in the case of the EU ETS, the flagship of carbon markets, renewable energy “gains no demonstrable benefits” and quotes other experts who are adamant that carbon prices cannot “deliver the escape velocity required to get investment in technological innovation into orbit” (p. 16). Indeed, the EU ETS has been criticised for being in “direct competition” with the development and subsidising of renewable technologies (Gale, 2015, p. 1), and at best it has had “a very limited impact on low-carbon technological change” (Calel & Dechezleprêtre, 2012, p. 24). Koch (2014) comes to the same conclusion, stating “carbon prices have at no point in time been high enough to trigger behavioural change and technology investments” (p. 60). Carbon markets are thus able to trigger short-term changes (e.g. fuel switching, see Calel & Dechezleprêtre, 2012) for immediate profit but are unable to undergo any “long term structural changes” to promote a renewable future (Lohmann, 2006; 2010a). Even the economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute and an “apostate of market theology” (Storm, 2009, p. 1019) said that the “hands-off approach” of economists setting prices and unleashing market forces “will not work in the case of a major overhaul of energy technology” (Sachs, 2008).

A Mistaken Enemy: Capitalism, not Carbon

“Climate change must be defined as an issue of capital not carbon…there is no equitable technological solution to climate change.” — Steven, 2012

A more fundamental critique is thus required, a need to address the heart of the capitalist system, of the “grow or die” imperative (Bookchin, 1993) that has created carbon markets. As has been seen it is clear that carbon markets have failed in their objectives of reducing GHG emissions to prevent anthropogenically-induced climatic change and enabling a transition to renewably powered economies. Instead they have enabled a subterfuge of environmental protection and progressivism whilst maintaining and furthering inequitable wealth distribution. Whilst there appears to be minor conflicts between advocates of uncontrolled economic growth at all costs and what could best be called a “climate bourgeoise“ that seeks to use the biocrisis to facilitate another round of “accumulation by dispossession” (Harvey, 2004) or “Accumulation by Decarbonization” (Bumpus & Liverman, 2008) capitalism is still unrelenting in its commodification of genes, species, ecosystems (Sullivan, 2009) and now the atmosphere, maintaining the nature-society binary for its own ecocidal purposes (Out of the Woods, 2014a).

Perhaps unsurprising given its capitalist and neoliberalist background, carbon markets and emissions trading have done an excellent job of maintaining inequalities and facilitating wealth transfer from rich to poor. As with all markets, “wealthier participants may secure allowances on more favourable terms than impoverished users solely due to the information and arbitrage opportunities that accompany their superior wealth” (Page, 2012, p. 944). Similarly Steven and Böhm et al reinforce the idea that “there is no equitable technological solution to climate change. A de-carbonised global economy will still be a capitalist economy with all the social and environmental damage this entails” (Steven, 2012) and that “even if a decarbonized capitalist ‘green economy’ were possible, such an economy would be characterized by uneven growth and disparities of income, and by the unequal distribution of economic, social and environmental risks that global markets produce” (Böhm et al., 2012). The anti-ecological character of capitalism, as Tokar (2014) asserts cannot be denied “however skilled we may become at measuring our ecological footprint.” Existing wealth inequalities are only exacerbated within emissions trading, and in fact carbon markets offer up “wealth creating opportunities” to the wealthiest, who happen to also be the most polluting (Baldwin, 2008, p. 22).

As they maintain and perpetuate the disparities between rich and poor, carbon markets preserve the capitalist imperialist divisions of North and South, of “developed” and “developing”. As Howard Zinn stated, “globalization is in fact imperialism” under a different name (Lockard & Schalit, 2001). Areas of land (or water) that maintain a net absorption of carbon (under climate discourse a “carbon sink”) are becoming commodified as part of carbon offset schemes under capitalism, enclosing the commons and empowering dominant countries and elites at the expense of the geographical South (Shiva, 2001; Böhm et al., 2012). In effect the South is becoming a “carbon dump” for the industrialised nations, as “assets” like old-growth rainforests are seized from indigenous communities for them to be officially “managed” per international climate agreements (Bachram, 2004; Rights and Resources Initiative, 2014). Just one example of this is the plight of the Sengwer and Ogiek indigenous peoples in Kenya, who have been attacked and forcibly evicted from their ancestral forest homes in order to clear the forests for conservation and carbon offsets at the behest of the World Bank (Ahmed, 2014), but other examples are frequent (see Böhm & Dabhi, 2009). In the North land speculation for carbon credits also causes conflicts, though of a different nature (Hume, 2015). It then should be of no surprise that many developing countries “suspect that the newfound ecological concern of industrialized countries is merely the latest chapter in a long history of imperialism” (Litfin, 1997, p. 187).

It is clear then that carbon markets are simply another weapon in capitalism’s toolkit of domination and assimilation. As part of the “carbon trading dogma” (Leonardi, 2012, p. 13) reflecting the need for “everything” to “have a price” (Lander, 2011, p. 8) capitalism helps to present the image that “climate change does not contradict finance-driven capitalism” and thus helps stifle resistance or alternatives (Koch, 2014, p. 63) as part of a greater trend of absorbing environmental concerns into market activities (Kingsnorth, 2009). Following Klein’s (2007) concept of disaster capitalism “the energy and desire to act on climate change” has been appropriated and redirected into global capital flows (Paterson, 2009, p. 250), using the biocrisis as “a marketing opportunity and justification to expand neoliberal markets and regulatory mechanisms” (Fletcher, 2012, p. 108). If anything capitalism has proven how quickly it can shift its strategies and approach to climate change from “reactionary and obstructionist” to seeing “a business opportunity” in potential climate disaster (Fernandes & Girard, 2011, p. 20).

“Ultimately,” as Know-Hayes (2010) states, “carbon markets are designed to continue capitalist development and expansion.” The ideas of protecting the environment, reducing emissions, and promoting societal sustainability are secondary to the profit motive, as can be seen in the evidence Lohmann (2010c) cites where the vast majority of carbon market transactions are in derivatives, or the large amount of carbon funds established for financial gain. Carbon markets can also be characterised as an example of “weak ecological modernisation” characterised by technological solutions, technocratic control, and narrow-minded frameworks, in order to act as a “lifeline for capitalist economies threatened by ecological crisis” and nothing else (Gibbs, 1998, p. 5). Indeed, carbon trading can be seen as a form of “proxy commodification” in order to facilitate “green” accumulation (Koch, 2014, p. 54), turning the very problem of environmental degradation into “an asset, a tradable commodity” (Abboud, 2013). Even if the global economy were to be successfully “de-carbonised” it would still be capitalist at heart and in nature, a “more austere form of capitalism in which increasing unrest will require disciplining by increasingly authoritarian forms of state power” (Steven, 2012). In essence capitalism wishes to maintain the status quo, to allow business as usual, and carbon markets certainly allow our consumption (especially those of us in the North) to continue unabated as we purchase “green credentials” and personal offsets to make up for the ecological damage our economies cause (Bachram, 2004; Beder, 2014).

As Bookchin (1985) said thirty years ago, capitalism is not “decaying” by any means. It is an “ever-expanding order that grows beyond the capacity of any society” to contain it. Any attempt to “green” capitalism is destined to fail (Müller & Passadakis, 2009; Tokar, 2014; probablyasocialecologist, 2015). As Bookchin quipped “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, p. 66). Capitalism and the environment “are antagonistic in their very essence” (Amin, 2010) and as described its economic growth is both facilitated by and encourages the consumption of fossil fuels (Foster, 2008; Spash, 2010). A prime example brings us back to the World Bank who, despite its rhetoric of facilitating and financing the transition to a low carbon future, still paradoxically desires economic growth and a stable biosphere as it “continues to subsidise and support fossil fuel extraction on a scale 17 times larger than it supports clean energy initiatives” (Carton, 2009, p. 22). And as Keefer (2006) maintains it was fossil fuels that were responsible for “industrial capitalism and its astonishing conquest and transformation of the world”.

So not only are carbon markets failures at their own objectives but they, as a symbol of capitalism’s desire to co opt and commodify, are inherently anti-ecological. The widespread belief that market mechanisms can facilitate a prevention of climate change or transport us to a sustainable future is extremely dangerous. A new approach is required.

Are Markets Necessary?

“There are better ways of tackling climate change than by privatising the Earth’s carbon-cycling capacity.” — Lohmann (2006)

Capitalism, then, is a dead end. It can not solve the problem it helped to create and accelerate. “Capitalism is the origin of the biocrisis, the last and final crisis of capitalism” (Institute for Experimental Freedom, 2009, p. 12). Thankfully there are glimmers of hope we can aim towards. The global economy has recently begun “producing renewable energy at an industrial scale” (Steiner, 2015) and it has been estimated the entire world energy infrastructure could easily be replaced with renewables within twenty to forty years (Jacobson & Delucchi, 2010; Schwartzman Schwartzman, 2011). These developments leapfrog any need for carbon markets or other market mechanisms, and it is only political will that is required to realise them, a political will that we must spearhead quickly if we are to avoid conflict as fossil fuel reserves run dry (Hughes, 2008). As Podobnik (2010) states, “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” (p. 76-77).

But a solution cannot be a simple product of technics. Our society, and its view of the wider environment, has to change also. “Renewable energy is a necessity for a sustainable and equitable society, but not a guarantee of one” McBay (2011, p. 260) says, citing the US military and its renewable energy projects. We must remember that “The way we position ourselves in our view of the natural world is deeply entangled with the way we view the social world […] Every society extends its own perception of itself into nature” (Bookchin, 1986). A renewably powered capitalist economy would still view the natural world as nothing more than a resource to be managed and plundered, assigned market values and traded, the “terminology of contracts” poisoning our view of ourselves both as humans and as part of wider nature (Bookchin, 1998, p. 79).

The transition to a low-carbon, anti-capitalist social order will be a “transition to the unknown” (Levy, 2012). We will need to struggle against the “carbon trading dogma” and the overriding logic of markets, informing others of the alternatives we aim for. As the bourgeoisie ruin not just our world but “the Earth systems which sustain human civilisation” we have to steel ourselves for the struggles ahead and ask ourselves – who’s afraid of ruins? (Out of the Woods, 2014b)

1 I borrow the term “biocrisis” from the Institute for Experimental Freedom (2009), referring to “the real wave of extinctions caused by extreme ecological degradation.”

Often defined as the “Kyoto Basket”, the greenhouse gases most responsible for anthropogenic climate change are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs) (Eurostat, 2015).

3 “The CDM can be seen as a good example of what Peck and Tickell (2002) called rollout neoliberalism, in which the state intervenes to allocate and secure private property rights, provide scientific knowledge, or create stable market institutions.” (Bumpus & Liverman, 2008)

4 “These tipping points are the irreversible melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the dieback of the Amazon Rainforest, the reorganisation of circulation in the Atlantic ocean and the increase in the amplitude of the El Niño Southern Oscillation.” (Yeo, 2015).

5 There is even a Twitter feed run by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography that documents global CO2 concentrations – they can be followed at @Keeling_curve.

The author apologises for any references that can’t be accessed due to paywalls.


The Problem of Green Growth

The very concept of “green growth”, or of a green economy, is fraught with ambiguity. A collection of different, sometimes contradictory strategies and policies (Bullard & Müller, 2012; Ulrich, 2012), it seeks to reduce environmental degradation while failing to address the underlying causes, namely market structures and the capitalism accumulation imperative (Hoffmann, 2011). Indeed, the very concept of “saving the planet” is limited by the need to follow “the sacred rights of the free market” (Lander, 2011: 7), and ignores the fact that environmental protection goes against modern economic interests (Spash, 2012).

The economist Kenneth Boulding made the point succinctly when he said that “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” (Heinberg, 2005). Yet continuous economic growth and profit for its own sake remains a basic element of today’s global society (Niccolucci et al., 2007; Dale, 2012), requiring further increases in resource extraction and commodity consumption, as mainstream economists maintain that technological innovation will surpass any and all biophysical limits (Brown et al., 2011). Faced with massive environmental degradation and upcoming resource limits the capitalist system creates a façade of “green growth” to mask the true crisis – that capitalism itself is unsustainable, and a new economic paradigm is required.

It is important to remember it is the very internal mechanisms of capitalism that produce resource depletion and environmental degradation in the quest for growth and profit (Macdonald, 2004). “Green growth” ignores the nonnegotiable “grow or die” imperative in modern capitalism that is the root cause of environmental problems (Bookchin, 1993). Additionally, advocates of a pro-market environmentalism stance will find it hard to explain how a system that has produced such environmental damage will reduce consumption and redistribute income, notions that are anathema to capitalism yet form the basis of sustainability itself (Nichols, 1999). Indeed, to reduce our impact on the planet and improve the sustainability of civilisation, the very tenets of capitalism – competition, greed and consumerism – will have to be replaced by sufficiency, mutual aid, and community connectedness (Rees, 2010; Manno, 2011). Ultimately, a new ecological-economic system is required to ensure a stable global economy and living space for humanity (Ehrlich, 1989) – what form it will take is unknown, but it will be very different from the present.

It must be admitted that a global transition to an economy shaped by “green growth” would produce tangible benefits, reducing humanity’s environmental footprint and enabling technological and social change (Hoffmann, 2011) as well as providing millions of “green jobs” worldwide (UNEP, 2008). Additionally, green growth has positive aspects that are much needed. It encourages collective action (Bowen & Fankhauser, 2011), something sorely needed in an era of international globalisation and competition, and allows for proactive measures without restraining entrepreneurship (Martinelli & Midttun, 2012). As mentioned earlier, it would also bring positive changes to society as well as providing “green employment” (Jackson & Victor, 2011). However, the detrimental effects outweigh the benefits.

The very concept of “growth” is unviable for an era of degradation and resource limits. We are already sacrificing natural capital for manufactured capital at an unsustainable rate (Daly, 2005). Importantly, economic growth eventually becomes a blight rather than a blessing for human wellbeing (Beddoe et al., 2009) and contributing to our modern economies becoming energetically unsustainable (Smil, 2008). Even if desired, it is unlikely that further economic growth is possible (Hall & Klitgaard, 2006; Murphy & Hall, 2011; Johnson et al., 2012).

What is needed is a fundamental restructuring of global economics. Modern economics is incapable of integrating environmental degradation and resource depletion (Gintis, 2000; Ayres, 2008; Farley, 2011), and carrying on as we are risks further ecological damage (Raskin et al., 2010). The “expand or perish” force in modern capitalism must be removed, along with the current consumption patterns and lifestyles of the industrial north (Haberl et al., 2011; Hoffmann, 2011). What to do? Should we aim for a “steady-state” economy (Daly, 1991)? Or is “degrowth” the answer, like in Cuba (Borowy, 2013)? Although economic fears regarding the consequences of degrowth are prudent, proof that a non-growing economy could maintain or increase levels of employment whilst reducing resource use and carbon emissions should reduce such fears (Simms et al., 2010; Jackson & Victor, 2011).

Some have emphasised poverty as a cause of environmental degradation (Duraiappah, 1996) and that growth is needed to lift these people out of poverty, but this is a harmful myth (Satterthwaite, 2002). It has to be remembered though that conventional methods of growth have thus far done nothing to aid the two billion people still surviving on less than $2 daily (Jackson, 2009). Concepts of green growth continue to fall short of what is needed to address both the environmental and poverty crisis (Bina & Camera, 2011), and despite the hopes of reduced energy use, economic growth of any kind is frequently correlated with increases in energy use (Hall & Klitgaard, 2006; Sterner & Damon, 2011). And as recounted at length previously, markets and capitalist structures are utterly unsuited for any form of transition to an environmentally sustainable form of economic governance (Martínez-Alier et al., 2010; Smith, 2011). Conventional economics brought us to the cliff’s edge; something new is required to bring us back.

The author would like to apologise for those references which are unfortunately behind paywalls at the time of writing.