human activity and the destruction of the planet

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News from the Marshall islands: possible leak of American nuclear waste from a concrete dome, caused by sea level rise

This story by Debra Killalea, has been published in the New Zealand Herald on 27th November 2017.  See:

It relates to the legacy of nuclear tests carried out by the United States in the 1940s and 1950s.  Bikini Atoll, where 23 atomic bomb tests were carried out, is part of the Marshall Islands group. And another 40 tests were carried out at other islands in this group.  Mark Willacy, foreign correspondent, during a visit there, discovered that a giant concrete dome was built on Runit Atoll, in which tonnes of nuclear waste, including 400 lumps of plutonium, were disposed of.

Now rising sea levels and climate change threaten to unleash highly radioactive plutonium into the Pacific Ocean in a nightmare scenario for those who live in the Marshall Islands, where dozens of nuclear blasts took place, as well as further afield in the Pacific Ocean.  According to Willacy, rising sea levels have meant that water has begun to penetrate the dome, which contains the toxic waste, with radioactive material leaking out.

A 2013 report commissioned by the US Department of Energy confirmed that the dome was leaking. Whilst the US paid for the clean-up, Willacy said initial plans to line the bottom of the dome with concrete didn’t go ahead and the soil was permeable, which means that seawater gets inside.  He said,

“The dome was only meant to be a temporary solution until the US came up with a permanent plan. Instead it was a shoddy cost cutting exercise.”

He said cracks are visible in the dome’s surface but said, even if the structure failed, the US government didn’t necessarily believe it would lead to a change in the contamination levels in the waters surrounding it.  The concrete dome can be seen right beside a crater, presumably from a nuclear detonation, – and is best seen from aerial photographs.  It can also be seen from Google Earth images.

Image result for bikini atoll crater

Image from:

More than 50,000 people live in the Marshall Islands and climate change is happening for these people now.  Their views are very different to those of the complacent US authorities, who do not have to live there. Marshallese community leader Alson Kelen told Willacy the dome was the connection between the nuclear age and the climate change age.

“We’re not talking just the Marshall Islands, we’re talking the whole Pacific Ocean” he said.

John Hallam, a nuclear disarmament campaigner, has said,

“When the dome was constructed, the US DoD (Department of Defense) almost contemptuously reassured the RMI (Republic of Marshall Islands) government that it would last for the next 200,000 years. This is of course nonsense, and it’s now breaking apart.”

He said the Marshall Islands story is part of the wider one of nuclear testing in the pacific, carried out by the US, France, and the UK.

Further information about the nuclear tests carried out in the Marshall Islands can be found at:

Related image

Map of the Marshall Islands showing Bikini Atoll

In a further report about the situation in the Marshall Islands, entitled “A tiny island used as a nuclear dumpsite is about to be submerged by water”, Joe McCarthy provides further information. See:

Some of his report is copied below:

The Enewetak Atoll is all but invisible on Google Maps. Halfway between Australia and Hawaii, the ribbon of land is home to a small indigenous population that has seen their way of life eroded by decisions far outside of their control.

For more than half a century, the atoll, which is part of the Marshall Islands, has been contaminated by nuclear explosions and waste, according to ABC Australia. The decades ahead could leave it submerged by rising sea levels.

In this way, Enewetak “is at the intersection of two of the biggest problems of the last century and this century, nuclear weapons and sea level rise,” Michael Gerrard, the chair of Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York who has studied the atoll, told Global Citizen.

Both of these problems are at risk of converging, ABC Australia reports, because the main holding container for the atoll’s nuclear waste is being compromised by rising waters.

The atoll’s problems began in the 1940s and 1950s when the US began using it for nuclear bomb tests. The people of Enewetak were evacuated and 67 nuclear bombs were dropped, devastating wildlife, spreading nuclear toxins far and wide, and creating massive craters.

One of those craters was on Runit Island. In the late 1970s, the US began to partially clean the nuclear waste from the island. Some of the radioactive chemicals had relatively short half-lives, Michael Gerrard wrote in an op-ed, and were left to naturally decay despite their risks. Another toxin, plutonium-239, has a half-life of 24,000 years and had to be dealt with.

The 100-meter wide crater on Runit Island was deemed a good place to dump as much soil contaminated with plutonium as possible. Chunks of unexploded plutonium-239 were also disposed of in the hole.

When the cleanup was finished — far below standards that would be deemed sufficient in the US, according to Gerrard — a massive concrete shell was built to cover the hole.

No reinforcements were made to the bottom and sides of the hole, meaning the waste directly interacts with the soil and a dumpsite for radioactive waste fails to meet standards for normal trash landfills, Gerrard said.

The displaced people of Enewetak Atoll were finally allowed to return in 1980, despite the widespread contamination of their home. Traditional forms of fishing, farming, and gathering had to be abandoned because the wildlife became too contaminated, ABC Australia reports.

And despite the ongoing threat posed by the non-reinforced radioactive dumpsite, no adjustments have been made to it, ABC notes. That’s because the radiation outside the dome exceeds the radiation inside of it, according to the US Department of Energy report, so the release of the waste wouldn’t make a major environmental difference.

Rising sea levels have compromised the dome in the years since its construction, a problem that has only grown worse in recent years, and a powerful typhoon could destroy it, according to the report.

The Marshall Islands are around six feet above sea level, and large parts of Enewetak are at risk of being submerged in the years ahead. Current flooding rates are already making the islands uninhabitable once again, according to ABC Australia.

“It’s important to recognize that the Marshall Islands are doubly screwed,” Gerrard said. “They were the site of nuclear explosions by the US, and one of the things that they left behind was this nuclear dome and the other thing is the country is going underwater because of greenhouse gas emissions for which the US is major contributor.”


Map of US nuclear test sites (acknowledgements to National Cancer Institute)

Between 1946 and 1958, the US tested 66 nuclear weapons near Bikini atoll. Populations living nearby in the Marshall Islands were exposed to measurable levels of radioactive fallout from these tests.


Another report received in January 2019

Nuclear weapons tests: rising sea levels add to the toxic legacy

 The Enewetak Atoll, in the Marshall Islands, is about halfway between Australia and Hawaii. After WWII, the atoll came under control of the US, and in 1948 the first nuclear test was carried out. For 10 years, as part of the Cold War, 43 nuclear bombs were detonated on Enewetak – twice as many tests as its neighbour, Bikini Atoll.

 The US sent around 4000 personnel to the area in 1977 to clean the site. During the three-year process, they mixed contaminated soil and debris with cement and buried it in one of the blast craters on the beach. The concrete dome was added and in 1980 the atoll was said to be safe for habitation. Local residents returned the same year. But the effect of rising sea levels due to climate change had not been anticipated.

In 2013, Lawrence Livermore Laboratories issued a disturbing report commissioned by the US Department of Energy which examined the ‘Cactus’ dome on Runit Island, one of 40 islands of the Enewetak Atoll, recorded the cracks and ordered repairs.

atoll cover.JPG


Double standards?

 It noted (p2) that “If the Cactus crater concrete containment structure on Runit Island were located in the United States proper (or subjected to U.S. regulatory authority), it would be formally classified as a Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Site and be subject to stringent site management and monitoring practices”.

 A reader sent a link to an article by Australian journalist Phoebe Loomes, who reports that rising sea levels have added to the degradation of the large, concrete-dome holding the toxic materials which are leaking into the Pacific Ocean.

Mike Willacy, an investigative journalist, travelled to the Marshall Islands for the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program in 2017. He said that the dome was only meant to be a temporary solution until the US came up with a permanent plan – a cost-cutting exercise.

He saw the cracks in the concrete dome and was told that residents feared for their lives if the structure collapsed. They warned of the fallout that could arise from the water flowing into the Pacific Ocean.

Enewetak-Atoll (2).jpg

“Seawater is penetrating the underside of the dome, because when they threw all this material into the old bomb crater, they didn’t line it with anything. They were supposed to line it with concrete, but that never happened because of cost considerations. So, as the sea level has risen, the groundwater level has risen and therefore you have groundwater penetrating inside the dome, because a lot of this atoll is obviously sand (and) coral. It’s permeable material.”

In the Marshall Islands, the most common cause of death is diabetes, which is related to a thyroid disorder – the second is cancer. There are high levels of birth defects, cancer and thyroid problems, which locals attribute to continued fallout from the radioactive bombing of the area.  Studies have shown that there is a higher level of cancer in residents of the Marshall Islands, who were alive during the years of the US nuclear tests, especially amongst those people living in the northern islands (closer to the test sites), when compared with those living further south:

The population of the Marshall Islands is around 70,000 and local people are allowed to live and work in the US without a visa as part of the reparations for the nuclear testing that took place. Over a third have already moved to the US. Ms Loomes adds, “It is said that when you leave the Marshall Islands, you buy a one-way ticket”.

As sea levels continue to rise and the climate becomes more unstable, residents of the Marshall Islands are faced with the harsh reality that their island homes are becoming uninhabitable. Willacy writes: “The children who live there refer to themselves as ‘the last generation’ “.


May 2019: See also

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‘An Existential Threat To Our Civilisation’ by David Cromwell

This well-written article can be found on the Media Lens website, as follows:

and has been circulated widely. David Cromwell is an oceanographer at Southampton University.

“Undoubtedly, what will appal future historians most is that the urgent calamitous risks of human-induced climate change were well known, but that nothing was done to stop the looming chaos. Worse than that: powerful private business, financial and economic elites, and the governments they had essentially co-opted, forged ahead with policies that accelerated the climate crisis.

The evidence has already been unequivocal for many years. In November 2017, a comprehensive review of climate science by thirteen US federal agencies concluded in a 477-page report that evidence of global warming was ‘stronger than ever’. They said that it was ‘extremely likely’ – meaning with 95 to 100% certainty – that global warming is human-induced, mostly from carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.

One climate scientist said:

‘A lot of what we’ve been learning over the last four years suggests the possibility that things may have been more serious than we think.’

The language was couched in typical scientific caution. But the horror at what was unfolding was surely not far from the surface of academics’ minds.

And yet, in a further sign of the short-term insanity that drives state and corporate policy, governments continued to channel huge sums of public money into planet-killing industries. European states, including the UK government, gave more than €112bn (£99bn) every year in subsidies to support fossil fuel production and consumption.

In 2016, gas companies spent €104m in intensive lobbying campaigns to try to encourage European policymakers to accept the myth that natural gas is a ‘clean fuel’ in an attempt to ‘lock in’ fossil fuels for decades to come. Moreover, fossil fuel companies lobbied hard behind the scenes of the Paris climate talks, as well as follow-up negotiations, to manipulate outcomes in their private favour. After all, cynical corporate madness has no boundaries when profits are the overriding concern. Absurdly, the text of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change did not even include the words ‘fossil fuels’. Scientists warned that fossil fuel burning is set to hit a record high in 2017.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that 2017 is set to be one of the top three hottest years on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The WMO also noted that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have ‘surged at unprecedented speed’ to the highest level in 800,000 years.

The signs of ecological breakdown are all around us. Last month, a new study revealed that the abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years. The results had ‘shocked scientists’. This matters hugely because flying insects are, of course, a vital component of a healthy ecosystem upon which we are crucially dependent for food, water and oxygen. Robert Hunziker observes succinctly that this ecosystem, ‘the quintessential essence of life on our planet’, is breaking down. Our life support system is being destroyed.

One of the many symptoms of this breakdown that is likely to overwhelm human society is mass migration as a result of climate change. Tens of millions of people will be forced to move because of climate disruption in the next decade alone. This flood of human refugees will make the numbers of those who fled the Syrian conflict into Europe look like a trickle.

Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, said:

‘What we are talking about here is an existential threat to our civilisation in the longer term. In the short term, it carries all sorts of risks as well and it requires a human response on a scale that has never been achieved before.’

However, if governments really were motivated to protect the public, as they always claim when amplifying the threat of terrorism, they would have already announced a halt to fossil fuels and a massive conversion to renewable energy. A landmark study recently showed that global pollution kills nine million people a year and threatens the ‘survival of human societies’. If terrorism was killing nine million people every year, and the very survival of human society was threatened, the corporate media and politicians would be reacting very differently. But because it’s global pollution, merely an economic ‘externality’, private power can continue on its quest for dominance and profits.

The situation now is truly desperate. We are literally talking about the survival of the human species. There will be those who declare, either with black humour or a morally-suspect flippancy, that ‘the planet would be better off without us’. But we surely cannot so casually dismiss the lives and prospects of literally billions of people alive today and their descendants too.

Government policies are driven primarily by short-term political gain and corporate power, so there needs to be a massive public demand for control of the economy towards sustainability. The alternative is no human future. But just at a time when public resistance and radical action are most needed, social media networks owned and controlled by huge corporations are suppressing dissent. A major part of the struggle for human survival, then, will be to overcome the unaccountable media corporations and tech giants that are attempting to define what is deemed ‘acceptable’ news and commentary.”


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Brexit could kill the precautionary principle – here’s why it matters so much for our environment by Rupert Read

This article appeared on 22nd November 2017 in The Conversation:

Rupert Read is Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia and is affiliated with the Green Party.  In his article, he defines the ‘precautionary principle’ as follows:

The precautionary principle is present in UK law mainly by way of its presence in EU law. It says that if the potential downside of some action or technology is huge, then the normal burden of proof should be reversed. In other words, rather than scientists having to prove that something is dangerous before it’s regulated or prohibited, those wishing to do the potentially dangerous thing should have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that it is safe before they are allowed to do it. Better safe than sorry.”

And he also adds a short piece of youtube video which further explains it:

It is important that this is understood fully so that, any lobbying of politicians to ensure that the precautionary principle is enshrined in British law after Brexit.  Read argues that this is of particular significance in terms of environmental issues:

“The world is witnessing an increase in the number and severity of hurricanes, droughts, floods and famines. A significant part of this is attributable to the temperature rises and disruption to the weather systems that human industrial activity has triggered.

Yet at this very moment, when the world needs new protections to mitigate dangerous climate change more than ever, Britain faces a struggle to maintain its current levels of environmental protection. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has set in place a process that, if it continues, jeopardises the future of many of the country’s most important environmental protections.”

And with the EU Withdrawal Bill currently making its way through parliament, it is important that the precautionary principle is contained in it, as it is a piece of EU legislation, not British.  At present, it is not in the EU Withdrawal Bill.  Read’s concerns about this are as follows:

Perhaps most worrying is the possibility that one of the lynchpins of European Union environmental law may be downgraded or abandoned by Britain without real public scrutiny in order to make the country more “competitive” for markets and attractive to overseas trade deals. This is especially the case with potential deals with the US, which does not accept the precautionary principle as being a basis for law.”


“At its heart, precaution represents a challenge to purely “evidence-based” risk-management practices. Instead, the precautionary principle points out that when full evidence is lacking we should err on the side of caution and regulate potential threats, if those could cause serious or irreversible damage. This is more important than ever as we create new synthetic products, including even synthetic life, and as we meddle, at our existential risk, with our climate.

The precautionary principle tends to be out of favour with those who are focused on promoting growth, trade and investment at all costs. Consequently, it was of no surprise that Greenpeace’s 2015 leaks of the UK-US trade negotiations over the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade deal revealed that the US – even under Obama’s presidency – was keen to push for its abandonment as part of that deal.”

He concludes with the words:

If the precautionary principle is to survive the current political and legal process in Britain, it needs wider understanding and wider support. The government needs to understand that ordinary citizens understand what is at stake here, and care. It’s now up to UK citizens to ensure that this matter reverberates up to local MPs, to the top tiers of all parties’ leadership teams, and beyond. This will not be an easy task, but, either for ill or for good, the consequences are potentially huge for ourselves, our environment, and our descendants.”

Important then, that we lobby MPs to ensure that they act to ensure that the precautionary principle becomes enshrined in UK law.

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Outcomes of the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, November 2017, including plans for the Talanoa dialogue

An excellent summary of the conference can be found on the Carbon Brief website:

A rather wordy official document from the UNFCCC can be found at:

Click to access l13.pdf

It includes as Annex II, an informal note on the plans to implement the Talanoa Dialogue, which is copied below:

Talanoa dialogue

The Presidencies of COP 22 and COP 23 conducted extensive consultations on the Talanoa
dialogue throughout 2017, which continued during the twenty-third session of the COP. This informal note has been prepared by the Presidencies of COP 22 and COP 23 on this basis.
The COP by its decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 20, decided to “convene a facilitative dialogue
among Parties in 2018 to take stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the long-term goal referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1, of the Agreement and to inform the preparation of nationally determined contributions pursuant to Article 4, paragraph 8, of the Agreement”.
Features of the Talanoa dialogue
Based on input received by Parties, the main features of the dialogue are as follows:
− The dialogue should be constructive, facilitative and solutions oriented;
− The dialogue should not lead to discussions of a confrontational nature in which
individual Parties or groups of Parties are singled out;
− The dialogue will be conducted in the spirit of the Pacific tradition of Talanoa:
o Talanoa is a traditional approach used in Fiji and the Pacific to engage in
an inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue;
o The purpose of Talanoa is to share stories, build empathy and trust;
o During the process, participants advance their knowledge through common
o It creates a platform of dialogue, which results in better decision-making
for the collective good;
o By focusing on the benefits of collective action, this process will inform
decision-making and move the global climate agenda forward;
− The dialogue should be conducted in a manner that promotes cooperation;

* Reproduced as received from the Presidents of the twenty-second and twenty-third sessions of the Conference of
the Parties.
− The dialogue will be structured around three general topics:
o Where are we?
o Where do we want to go?
o How do we get there?
− The dialogue will be conducted in a manner that promotes enhanced ambition. The
dialogue will consider, as one of its elements, the efforts of Parties on action and
support, as appropriate, in the pre-2020 period;
− The dialogue will fulfil its mandate, in a comprehensive and non-restrictive
− The dialogue will consist of a preparatory and a political phase;
− The Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24 will jointly lead both phases of the
dialogue and co-chair the political phase at COP 24;
− A dedicated space will be provided in the dialogue, both during the preparatory and
the political phase to facilitate the understanding of the implications of the Special
Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Global Warming of
− As regards inputs to the dialogue:
o The Special Report by the IPCC on global warming of 1.5°C requested by
the COP will inform the dialogue;
o Parties, stakeholders and expert institutions are encouraged to prepare
analytical and policy relevant inputs to inform the dialogue and submit
these and other proposed inputs, including those from intergovernmental
organisations and UNFCCC bodies, by 2 April 2018 for discussions in
conjunction with the May session, and by 29 October 2018 for discussions
in conjunction with COP 24;
o The Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24 will also provide inputs to inform
the dialogue;
o An online platform will facilitate access to all inputs to the dialogue, which
will be overseen by the Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24;
o The secretariat will be requested to prepare relevant inputs and to develop
and manage the online platform under the guidance of the Presidencies of
COP 23 and COP 24;
− The preparatory phase will seek to build a strong evidence-based foundation for the
political phase:
o The preparatory phase will start after the dialogue is launched at COP 23,
in January 2018, and will end at COP 24;
o Parties and non-Party stakeholders are invited to cooperate in convening
local, national, regional or global events in support of the dialogue and to
prepare and make available relevant inputs;
o The May discussions will be used to explore the three central topics
informed by inputs by various actors and institutions, including from the
Technical Examination Process and Global Climate Action, with the
support of the high-level champions;
o Summaries from all discussions will be prepared under the authority of the
Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24;

o The information and insights gained during the preparatory phase will be
synthesised by the Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24 to provide a
foundation for the political phase;

Figure 1 – Preparatory phase (the figure can be found in the original document)
− The political phase will bring high-level representatives of Parties together to take
stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the long-term
goal referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1, of the Agreement and to inform the
preparation of nationally determined contributions pursuant to Article 4, paragraph
8, of the Agreement:
o The political phase will take place at COP 24 with the participation of
o This phase will build on the preparatory phase and focus on the objectives
of the dialogue;
o Political discussions will include roundtables to ensure focussed and
interactive discussions among Ministers;
o At the closing meeting of the dialogue, the Presidencies of COP 23 and
COP 24 will provide a summary of key messages from the roundtables;

(Fig. 2 – the political phase – can be found in the original document)

− It will be important to send clear forward looking signals to ensure that the outcome
of the dialogue is greater confidence, courage and enhanced ambition;
− The outcome of the dialogue is expected to capture the political momentum, and
help Parties to inform the preparation of nationally determined contributions;
− The outputs of the dialogue will include reports and summaries of the discussions.

The Carbon Brief website also includes a section on what needs to happen before next year’s COP24 meeting in Poland:

including a video which gives comments on this from people from around the world:

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Developing a new, participatory economy by George Monbiot

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 11th October 2017.  It was entitled “Labouratory” and also appears on George Monbiot’s website

We are still living in the long 20th Century. We are stuck with its redundant technologies: the internal combustion engine; thermal power plants; factory farms. We are stuck with its redundant politics: unfair electoral systems; their capture by funders and lobbyists; the failure to temper representation with real participation.

And we are stuck with its redundant economics: neoliberalism, and the Keynesianism still proposed by its opponents. While the latter system worked very well for 30 years or more, it is hard to see how it can take us through this century, not least because the growth it seeks to sustain smacks headlong into the environmental crisis.

Sustained economic growth on a planet that is not growing means crashing through environmental limits: this is what we are witnessing, worldwide, today. A recent paper in Nature puts our current chances of keeping global heating to less than 1.5°C of at just 1%, and less than 2° at only 5%. Why? Because while the carbon intensity of economic activity is expected to decline by 1.9% a year, global per capita GDP is expected to grow by 1.8%. Almost all investment in renewables and efficiency is cancelled out. GDP, the index that was supposed to measure our prosperity, instead measures our progress towards ruin.

But the great rupture that began in 2008 offers a chance to change all this. The challenge now is to ensure that the new political movements threatening established power in Britain and elsewhere create the space not for old ideas (such as 20th Century Keynesianism) but for a new politics, built on new economic and social foundations.

There may be a case for one last hurrah for the old model: a technological shift that resembles the Second World War’s military Keynesianism. In 1941, the US turned the entire civilian economy around on a dime: within months, car manufacturers were producing planes, tanks and ammunition. A determined government could do something similar in response to climate breakdown: a sudden transformation, replacing our fossil economy. But having effected such a conversion, it should, I believe, then begin the switch to a different economic model.

The new approach could start with the idea of private sufficiency and public luxury. There is not enough physical or environmental space for everyone to enjoy private luxury: if everyone in London acquired a tennis court, a swimming pool, a garden and a private art collection, the city would cover England. Private luxury shuts down space, creating deprivation. But magnificent public amenities – wonderful parks and playgrounds, public sports centres and swimming pools, galleries, allotments and public transport networks – create more space for everyone, at a fraction of the cost.

Wherever possible, I believe such assets should be owned and managed by neither state nor market, but by communities, in the form of commons. A commons in its true form is a non-capitalist system, in which a resource is controlled in perpetuity by a community, for the shared and equal benefit of its members. A possible model is the commons transition plan commissioned by the Flemish city of Ghent.

Land value taxation also has transformative potential. It can keep the income currently siphoned out of our pockets in the form of rent – then out of the country and into tax havens – within our hands. It can reduce land values, bringing down house prices. While local and national government should use some of the money to fund public services, the residue can be returned to communities.

Couple this with a community right to buy, enabling communities to use this money to acquire their own land, with local commons trusts that possess powers to assemble building sites, and with a new right for prospective buyers and tenants to plan their own estates, and exciting things begin to happen. This could be a formula for meeting housing need, delivering public luxury and greatly enhancing the sense of community, self-reliance and taking back control. It helps to create what I call the Politics of Belonging.

But it doesn’t stop there. The rents accruing to commons trusts could be used to create a local version of the citizens’ wealth funds (modelled on the sovereign wealth funds in Alaska and Norway) proposed by Angela Cummine and Stewart Lansley. The gain from such funds could be distributed in the form of a local basic income.

And the money the government still invests? To the greatest extent possible, I believe it should be controlled by participatory budgeting. In the Brazilian city of Porto Allegre, the infrastructure budget is allocated by the people: around 50,000 citizens typically participate. The results – better water, sanitation, health, schools and nurseries – have been so spectacular that large numbers of people now lobby the city council to raise their taxes. When you control the budget, you can see the point of public investment.

In countries like the UK, we could not only adopt this model, but extend it beyond the local infrastructure budget to other forms of local and even national spending. The principle of subsidiarity – devolving powers to the smallest political unit that can reasonably discharge them – makes such wider democratic control more feasible.

All this would be framed within a system such as Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics which, instead of seeking to maximise growth, sets a lower bound of wellbeing below which no one should fall, and an upper bound of environmental limits, that economic life should not transgress. A participatory economics could be accompanied by participatory politics, involving radical devolution and a fine-grained democratic control over the decisions affecting our lives – but I will leave that for another column.

Who could lead this global shift? It could be the UK Labour Party. It is actively seeking new ideas. It knows that the bigger the change it offers, the greater the commitment of the volunteers on which its insurgency relies: the Big Organising model that transformed Labour’s fortunes at the last election requires a big political offer. (This is why Ed Miliband’s attempts to create a grassroots uprising failed).

Could Labour be the party that brings the long 20th Century to an end? I believe, despite its Keynesian heritage, it could. Now, more than at any other time in the past few decades, it has a chance to change the world.

November 2019

George Monbiot has been active in supporting the Extinction Rebellion movement, speaking at their various demonstration in London.  This photograph shows him being arrested for his actions in October 2019.



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Communities to decide how to spend shale cash windfall

The following appeared on the UK government website on a Saturday morning. It came from the HM Treasury and Andrew Jones MP. The person who brought it to my attention, entitled it Shale Bribery.  It states the following:

“Communities near sites, approved for the safe and clean extraction of shale gas, will benefit from a share of the proceeds through a new ‘Shale Wealth Fund’.

Local communities across the country will choose how they spend up to £1 billion of additional funding on local projects, under proposals unveiled today(11 November 2017).

The Treasury’s Exchequer Secretary, Andrew Jones has announced that people living near sites, approved for the safe and clean extraction of shale gas, will benefit from a share of the proceeds through a new ‘Shale Wealth Fund’.

Those living in the North and the Midlands – where there are significant shale gas reserves – are set to benefit first.

The fund, which will provide up to £10 million for each local community, will empower local decision making. Communities will be able to decide how to spend the money locally, but projects could include:

  • new play parks, community sports facilities and libraries
  • improvements to transport links
  • restoration of local heritage sites

The development of a British shale gas industry is set to bring substantial and far-reaching benefits. Not only will safe and sustainable exploration of shale boost the UK economy, create close to 65,000 new jobs and attract up to £33 billion in investment*, but it could also generate greater energy security.

The UK currently imports nearly half of its gas from abroad, and by 2030 this is set to rise to three quarters. Using UK supplies of shale gas will reduce the need for this, making Britain more self-sufficient.

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Andrew Jones, MP, said:

Shale production could play an important part in the UK’s future energy security, creating jobs and boosting our economy.

The economic benefits must be shared with those living alongside these sites and this funding will ensure local people reap the rewards too.

Andrew Jones MP

Andrew Jones, MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough

Further information

Following consultation, the government has developed a clear set of principles that will be at the heart of the development of the Shale Wealth Fund.

These are:

  • a commitment to real local decision-making, by allowing local communities to determine how the Shale Wealth Fund is spent in their area. This includes the potential for household level payments
  • prioritising the needs of local people first and foremost. Where local communities decide that they wish to spend some funding on regional projects, this should benefit communities hosting shale sites in those regions, and be subject to a clear instruction from communities
  • providing additional benefits to local communities, in addition to existing local government funding, and not as a replacement for existing local spending
  • ensuring that decision-making is locally representative and those who make these decisions are held accountable to local communities. The process will be fully transparent

The government has confirmed that it will be up to communities to decide where the money should go. This could include being paid directly to local residents in host areas.

The fund will initially consist of up to 10% of tax revenues arising from shale gas production, to be used for the benefit of communities which host shale sites.

The government’s response to its consultation on the development of a Shale Wealth Fund was published today (11 November).

More details on how communities will receive the money will be published in due course.”

*EY, Getting Ready for UK Shale Gas, April 2014


Is it bribery?  Yes, sounds like bribery to me – a way of getting local citizens to stop protesting about the extraction of shale gas, which nobody wants.  The contact who sent me the link described it as blatant, put out on a weekend when nobody would see it and when people were involved in Remembrance activities.

Though, I daresay that the people who dreamed it up think of it as some kind of compensation for the disruption of their lives.  This, in itself, is an admission that the extraction of shale gas is likely to affect local communities substantially.

Comments please…


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Oxford is set to become the world’s first zero emissions zone

Plans set out by Oxford city council and Oxfordshire county council show it will phase out petrol and diesel cars in six streets in the city centre from 2020.

The zero-emissions zone will cover all non-electric vehicles across the entire city centre by 2035, cutting harmful levels of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide by up to 75%.

The scheme to replace the city’s fossil fuel powered cars will cost £7 million, with an additional £7 million for administration costs and CCTV cameras to enforce the ban. Those who break the rules will likely receive a fine, according to the Independent.

“Toxic and illegal air pollution in the city centre is damaging the health of Oxford’s residents,” said John Tanner, a councillor from Oxford city council. “A step change is urgently needed; the zero emissions zone is that step change.”

“All of us who drive or use petrol or diesel vehicles through Oxford are contributing to the city’s toxic air,” he added. “Everyone needs to do their bit, from national government and local authorities, to businesses and residents, to end this public health emergency.”

Oxford has already been awarded two grants of £500,000 and £800,000 to install charging points for electric taxis and residents’ electric cars respectively, according to the Guardian. Other schemes up for consideration include reduced parking fees for electric vehicles, electric taxi-only ranks, and electric delivery vehicle-only loading areas.

With acknowledgements to Global Citizen.

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Anglican Clergy, including 5 bishops, call on the church to divest from Exxon Mobil

An open letter was published in The Guardian on 7th November 2017.

Damian Carrington also published an article in the same issue to draw attention to the issue:

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also sent a personal message to Fijian prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, who is overseeing the COP23 talks. Welby said the 85 million people in the worldwide Anglican communion that he leads “support your work to ensure that issues of climate change are recognised as an urgent priority requiring immediate attention”.

However, the Church of England argues it should remain an ExxonMobil shareholder so it can continue to engage with the company and influence it to change.

Image result for exxonmobil logo

Much of the letter to The Guardian is copied below:

As Church of England clergy, we have a strong interest in the ethics of investments made by the Church Commissioners and the Church of England Pensions Board on our behalf.

This week, governments from around the world will meet in Bonn for the next round of UN climate talks. The Paris climate change agreement, which was signed by 195 countries in December 2015, included a commitment to hold the increase in the global average temperature to “well below 2C … and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels”.

A lot has happened since then. We have witnessed the shameful decision of the president of the United States to withdraw from the Paris agreement. Average global temperatures have risen to more than 1C above pre-industrial levels. Extreme weather events, which are becoming more frequent as a result of climate change, have had devastating impacts, leading to loss of life and severe destruction in the US and the Caribbean, Africa, South Asia and as close to home as Ireland.

While many of us believe that the church should divest from all fossil fuel companies for ethical reasons, we are especially concerned about its continued investment in the US oil and gas company ExxonMobil.

A recent Harvard academic study shows that Exxon knew about the risks of climate change in the 1970s, yet misled the public for decades. It says that the company sought to cast doubt on the climate science, taking out paid editorials in major US newspapers questioning whether global warming was real and caused by humans. Exxon’s board of directors has advised shareholders to vote against all resolutions on climate change since 1990.

Time is running out to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. While some governments and companies pursue policies that are leading us in the wrong direction, the Church of England is uniquely placed to show moral leadership through its investment policies.

Now is the time for decisive action. We call on Church of England investors to take the lead and immediately divest from ExxonMobil.

Bishop David Atkinson 
Bishop Michael Doe 
Bishop Maurice Sinclair
Bishop Graham Cray
Bishop James Jones

Richard Coles Peterborough 
Olivia Graham Oxford
Sam Wells London
Tom Ambrose Ely
Christine Bainbridge Oxford
Richard Bainbridge Oxford
Michael Bayley Sheffield
Chris Brice London
Elizabeth Bussman Europe
Francis Buxton Wales
Ben Chase Winchester
Alan Crawley Guildford
Lesley Crawley Guildford
Barbara Doubtfire Oxford
Christopher Evans Oxford
John Flitcroft Birmingham
David Garner Birmingham
Giles Goddard Southwark
Chris Halliwell Blackburn
Keith Hebden Leicester
Margot Hodson Oxford
John Hughes Manchester
Francis Jakeman Oxford
Ian James Carlisle
Christine Latham Southwark
Andrew Lenox-Conyngham Birmingham
Jonathan Nicholas Birmingham
John Nightingale Birmingham
Bertrand Olivier London
Mike Perry Salisbury
Debby Plummer Leeds
Alan Race Southwark
Liz Radcliffe Oxford
Gordon Randall Winchester
Alex Randle-Bissell Winchester
Matthew Rhodes Birmingham
Ed Saville Blackburn
Rosemary Shaw Southwark
Tim Stead Oxford
Anne Stevens London
Val Thorne Gloucester
Julian Williams Winchester
Sonya Wratten St Albans
Andrew Yates Truro”

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UK Universities Sustainability League

People & planet University League logo with image of earth

People & Planet is the UK’s largest student network and it compiles an annual league table of all UK universities in terms of their environmental and ethical performance. The data they collect is from university websites and other published sources.  From this they compile a league table divided into: First Class; 2:1 class; 2.1 class; third class and failed.  Their methodology is described on their own website:

Universities can challenge their listing and the data initially published on the above site is therefore subject to change, if the challenge is successful.  In the top five are:

Manchester Metropolitan University; University of Gloucestershire; Nottingham Trent University; University of Worcester and Aston University.

There are 26 universities which failed in the scoring system and this list includes some well-known names, such as the Open University, Durham University, Heriot-Watt University, Wolverhampton University and the Royal Academy of Music.

Chris Foote of STV has also covered the topic in terms of the 15 Scottish universities and ranks Edinburgh Napier University at the top. On their site they also congratulate Glasgow Caledonian University for becoming the 5th Scottish university to disinvest from fossil fuels.  The full text can be found at:

Friends of the Earth Scotland put out the following Press Release today (15th Nov 17)




Student network People & Planet (1) have revealed that Glasgow Caledonian University has divested from fossil fuels and commited to have no further investments in the industry. The information was revealed as part of the publication of the People & Planet University League which rates university environmental performance.

GCU is now the 10th organisation in Scotland to begin divestment from fossil fuels, following in the footsteps of their city counterparts at The University of Glasgow who were the first organisation in Europe to divest. This reflects growing support for tough action on fossil fuels, the industry most responsible for climate change. (2)

Dr. Keith Baker, Researcher in Sustainable Urban Environments at Glasgow Caledonian University (3) said,

“As an energy policy researcher at GCU I’m delighted to see recognition for the University’s policy of divesting from the fossil fuel industry.

“This is an industry that must now undergo a managed decline towards 2025-2030 if we are to meet our emissions reduction targets, so as well as demonstrating GCU’s commitment to its motto of The Common Good, it also makes sense financially. With students becoming increasingly aware of the links between universities and the fossil fuel industry, it is an important differentiator between those who have responded to the need to practice what we preach, and those who might promote renewable energy but still maintain investments in fossil fuels.”

In 2012, GCU were the only Scottish university to sign the Green Education Declaration, a commitment to reduce carbon emissions and integrate sustainability into teaching and learning across all subjects. (4)

This year’s league table also ranked Scottish universities for their overall environmental performance scoring Edinburgh Napier University top, followed by University of Edinburgh. (5)

Hannah Smith, Co-Director for Research and Campaigns at People & Planet, said,

“Since the People & Planet University league began the number of universities employing environment staff has doubled and now all universities have a set policy on their environmental impacts. The league table has consistently and unashamedly held universities to account over the last decade and today we’re excited to celebrate yet another Scottish university taking the decision to break ties with the fossil fuel industry”.

Ric Lander, Friends of the Earth Scotland Divestment Campaigner said,

“Congratulations to Glasgow Caledonian University: by divesting they are showing that we can make a world without fossil fuels, and that starts now.

“This year the world has seen devastating floods, violent hurricanes, and communities lost to rising seas. This climate crisis is being driven by fossil fuel use and GCU’s decision to end their relationship with the companies responsible is a really significant step.

“People power in Scotland has so far seen ten organisations begin divesting from fossil fuels. This sends a clear message to our Governments that fighting the climate crisis is urgent.”

Elsewhere in Glasgow the council-run Strathclyde Pension Fund is under pressure to divest following a recent report, showing the fund had £802 million invested in fossil fuels. (6)


For interviews, data, further analysis on the People & Planet University League please contact Hannah Smith:

0186 540 322 ”



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India: new contract for 500 megawatt Bhadla solar park in Rajasthan

The Financial Times has outlined details of this project, which went up for auction in May.  The companies which won the bid have said that they can build the project for 2.44 rupees ($0.04) for every unit of electricity eventually generated. The article was written by Kiran Stacey from New Delhi and published on 1st November 2017.  See:

This detailed and interesting article provides a number of facts about India’s place in the renewable energy field.

  1.  India’s solar power tariffs have reduced from over 8Rs/Kwh to 2.44Rs in the last six years.
  2. Solar power in India has grown at double digit rates over the last six years.
  3. There are plans to increase India’s solar capacity by 76% more in 2017 than in 2016, which will make India the third largest solar market globally. An interesting graph is included in the FT article, which shows that China is by far the leading solar industry around the world.  In second place is the USA, though their additional capacity has dropped in the last year.  The capacity of Japan and Germany is also dropping, which has enabled India to soar into third place.
  4. The price of Chinese-made solar panels has tumbled in recent years, due to over-production.
  5. At present, 60% of India’s energy is coal-powered, so there is still a long way to go, though the reducing price of solar panels makes the solar industry much more competitive.

The FT article mainly focuses on the economical effects of these changes and the risks associated with them.

However, it makes sense for this to happen, in view of the rising temperatures experienced in India in the last few years.


Map of India showing high temperature areas during recent heat wave

And now, further details of the new solar development in Rajasthan have come to me, as follows:

The winning bid for the third and fourth phase development at Bhadla solar park in Rajasthan – a500-megawatt solar farm – was one of the lowest prices for solar power ever seen anywhere in the world. The companies — Acme Solar, an Indian developer, and SBG Cleantech, a joint venture whose shareholders include SoftBank of Japan — said they would build the project for a guaranteed price of just Rs2.44 ($0.04) for every unit of electricity they eventually sold – substantially cheaper than coal

The Bhadla auction confirmed that the country is undergoing a generational shift from coal-fuelled power to solar and wind and placed India at the centre of a global renewables revolution that is driving down the cost of green energy and which represents one of the biggest threats to fossil fuels.

As India is already the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter and plans to electrify even its most remote villages within two years, a rapid expansion in the country’s renewables sector would prove a huge boost for attempts to keep global temperature rises below 2C — the target set by the 2015 Paris climate accords. 

Further details can be found at: