Why Just Stop Oil protestors are right and this government is very, very wrong

The Conservatives are now criminalising peaceful protesters for no more than demanding that we follow the science and stop drilling for new oil and gas. What are people supposed to do when their Government ignores the world’s scientific experts who say we are ‘firmly on track to an unlivable world’? Would you sit meekly on a plane whilst the pilot flew it towards a mountain?

Here’s why the Just Stop Oil protesters are right, and some reflections on what on earth the government might be thinking.

The Conservative government has issued over 100 licences for NEW oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. But the science is unambiguous that new fossil fuel development is not consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C, putting us at grave risk of crossing dangerous climatic tipping points, like the drying out & irreversible loss of the Amazon rainforest. 

In fact, to keep to 1.5°C, a whopping 60 per cent of existing oil and gas must stay in the ground. Those unburnable reserves will become valueless, and the associated infrastructure will be stranded assets, worth only their scrap value. Stranded assets are already estimated at over US $1 trillion globally. When the financial markets finally catch up, there will be an almighty crash. The Government is knowingly inflating this bubble, making its inevitable bursting even worse. This has grave consequences for all of us, particularly those with pensions or savings.

The excuse that it’s best to develop our ‘cleaner’ oil is laughable. Oil is sold on international markets, and ministers can’t be so naive as to expect other nations to shut down capacity as we expand ours. Anyway, new North Sea oil and gas won’t help our energy crisis either, because prices are set internationally, and because these projects have long lead times of up to 10 years. New renewables, on the other hand, are much faster to install, and far cheaper.

Armed with all this expert advice, it is reckless beyond words that the Conservative government is pushing ahead with expanding North Sea oil and gas. But it gets even worse.

Our government is making almost no effort to reduce energy waste. Scientists at Oxford & Leeds Universities have shown that in the UK, we can reduce energy use by over 50 per cent without impacting quality of life, or actually making it better, with the likes of warmer homes and cleaner air. 

Where are the scaffold-lined streets with homes being retrofitted with insulation and heat pumps, efficiently en-masse? Italy pays 110 per cent of the cost to retrofit your home, up to €100,000! Why do we allow SUV sales to soar, or cut tax on domestic flights when others are banning them? Where is the major expansion in public and active transport? Germany now has a €49 monthly travel pass covering all public transport except intercity trains. Where is the bold thinking from our government?

No-one is suggesting we go back to living in caves. We have more oil and gas in existing fields than we need to carry us through the transition. And there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that it is now feasible to reach a 100 per cent renewable energy system on or before 2050 globally – and that means much sooner in the UK. Multiple major studies show it will save a huge amount from our energy bills, and that the faster we go, there’s more we save. One landmark study, looking in detail at 145 countries suggests total energy savings will be over 60 per cent, and whilst the investment cost will of course be high, payback could be as little as 6 years.

People understandably question what happens at night time or during a windless period in winter. The answer is that natural variation is ironed out by using a diverse range of complementary sources (wind, solar, tidal, wave, hydro, geothermal). Fluctuations are further reduced by grouping nations into blocs with significantly upgraded power interconnectors. The UK would be grouped with Europe, sharing surpluses wherever they occur, from wind power in the Hebrides to solar in Spain. Power demand can be shifted to match availability with smart meters and smart charging of EVs. 

The remaining gaps between generation and demand can be met by storage in pumped hydro and grid batteries. There is now even a company selling gravity storage options, winching up heavy weights over disused mine shafts during times of surplus, and releasing them to produce power during peak demand. Seasonal storage can be provided by producing green hydrogen at times of surplus and running it back through converted gas power stations when needed. Detailed peer-reviewed modelling shows this works, and that it would give us energy independence from unsavoury oil dictators beyond Europe.

The Conservative party is brazenly blocking urgent action necessary not just to help avoid calamitous warming and the collapse of ecosystems, but action which will make our lives better. 

We will probably never know whether corruption is involved. There are many connections on record between the Conservative party and the fossil fuel industry, and the party has taken £4.8 million from wealthy Russians since 2012 (what for?). Or perhaps it is just blundering incompetence or blinkered careerism. I wonder whether there is a growing awareness in the party that getting to grips with the climate and nature crisis means tackling extreme wealth and inequality, a course that might lead to implosion for a party dependent on fabulously wealthy donors.

Whatever their reasons, changing our politics has never been more urgent. Two things are needed to drive change.

First, we need to change this bankrupt government. I have co-founded South Devon Primary with the aim of helping voters select a single progressive candidate to unite behind at the next general election. With 100 years of election wins in the Totnes constituency, it’s understandable that many people think this is a Conservative area. It really isn’t. Many more people yearn for change, but their votes are wasted because the opposition is split. We intend to change that, so please sign up for updates. If you live in a constituency with a similar voting profile, get in touch – we are happy to share what we’ve created.

Second, this country is crying out for a clear mission statement to drive the transformative changes needed to decarbonise and to restore nature – and to ensure that these interwoven crises are tackled together. The Climate & Ecology Bill will create a legally-binding obligation to reduce our emissions consistent with 1.5°C and to restore nature. Who could argue with either of those objectives? Read more about the CE Bill and what you can do to help.

We are at a critical point in human history. Self-centred and short term financial and political interests, coupled with inertia and distraction, have pushed us perilously close to a cliff edge. Only people-power can now avert catastrophe, and that means finding time in our busy lives to get involved. Together, we still can change our future for the better.