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FROM where I live in Leith, the light from the sudden flaring at the Mossmorran gas plant some 15km away has dominated the sky in the past week. The light pollution in Edinburgh has been alarming, but I can’t even imagine what it has been like living in the shadow of this fossil fuel relic.
Locals live in fear that the place will blow up. They say it’s like living near Mordor. One resident, Elaine Green, told reporters: “It was like a jumbo jet was hovering above me.” No-one should have to live with that.
As well as causing misery to whole communities, this ominous eye of Sauron is a terrifying harbinger of climate catastrophe, and a symptom of far too much short-term thinking from governments.
So beholden are the vast majority of politicians to the short-term fixes demanded of them by big business, they seem incapable of taking the bold choices urgently needed to secure our long-term future.
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For example, Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell brought a motion to Parliament calling for a just transition for the workers at Mossmorran, a long-term plan to invest in alternative and future-proofed jobs for this community. It got cross-party support, but the Scottish Government refused to act.
Vast sums of money are being spent extending the limited life of the Mossmorran plant, but it’s clear it cannot provide long-term jobs.
Scotland knows what it feels like when governments don’t plan for a community’s future. We’ve seen it at Ravenscraig, in our mining communities and when Longannet coal power station closed down. Instead of listening to ExxonMobil, who want to maximise their global profits, ministers should be listening to workers.
A report by Platform, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth revealed the vast majority of offshore oil and gas workers recognise the shift to renewables is inevitable and are prepared to shift to jobs with a future. But it’s clear they need government-funded retraining and be able to transfer their paperwork over.
And Scottish renewables companies need to be supported to get ready for the transition.
The Scottish Government may still be asking the fossil fuel industry for answers, but away from corporate lobbying, the evidence of climate breakdown is all around us. Deadly flash floods have claimed lives and homes in France and Italy. Corpses from cemeteries were swept down the mountain by violent rains in the Alps. California is still on fire, with it now becoming the first “gigafire”, a blaze spanning a million acres, in modern history.
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Closer to home, trains have been halted or derailed by landslips, canals have burst their banks and motorways have been closed due to standing water.
Thursday marked two years since governments signed the Paris Agreement to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees. Things have got worse, not better. Ice in Greenland and Antarctica is breaking up and melting at rates matching the “worst-case scenario” predictions from the UN climate report.
So while the Scottish and UK governments fail to provide a future for communities like those around Mossmorran, they pin all their climate hopes on technology that hasn’t been developed yet, like carbon capture and storage or electric planes.
This is asking for profit-driven solutions to an existential threat to our survival. It makes no sense whatsoever.
The Prime Minister has adopted the language of the green movement by saying Britain can “build back better”, but he promises to spend just £160m on it. Instead, he puts his faith in multinationals.
He stole Alex Salmond’s line that his country could be “the Saudi Arabia of renewables” but like the SNP, this is about the Tories allowing multinationals to take ownership of our resources without conditions that it comes with well-paid secure jobs.
Johnson declared: “There comes a moment where the state must stand back and let the private sector get on with it.” This is blind obedience to an ideology which has frequently failed him, even in the recent past.
The outsourcing of the response to the global pandemic has been a catastrophe. Sixteen thousand cases went unreported, contacts were not traced by Serco and Deloitte failed to deal with the capacity of testing.
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The private sector didn’t get on with it, they messed it up. The private sector exists to make money. That’s fine, but we shouldn’t then trust it to provide a secure future for people or cut emissions and save the planet.
Private capital won’t switch to renewables on its own. It won’t protect jobs. Only public investment in renewables firms, the supporting technology and the supply chain will do it. Targeted investment in new large composite manufacturers in Scotland, like powertrain or blade test facilities, like offshore cable manufacturers and casting houses. Existing fabrication and manufacturing facilities should be supported to expand so they can start winning contracts again.
We need governments to step up, rather than rely on a short-termism driven by an industry that has become the one thing to rule them all and in the darkness bind them. Except there’s not much darkness in Fife these days.