Dundee Conference 2015 – Beyond The Carbon Economy: The Oil Crisis, Fracking and Renewables

Beyond The Carbon Economy: The Oil Crisis, Fracking and Renewables

Facilitator: Maggie Chapman; Contributors: Peter McColl, Andy Myles

With around a dozen participants, we began with some introductions. The contributors started discussion around the ‘carbon bubble’ – essentially, the idea that from a climate perspective we cannot afford to burn most of the carbon / fossil fuel stocks that we have; therefore, the assets of the oil companies are worth much less than their valuation, and therefore, investors (the financial sector, pension funds, etc) should be divesting from these assets. The science is no longer in doubt – International Panel on Climate Change, UNDP etc all say we have to stop burning fossil fuels. The Scottish financial sector is very strong –

RBS is the single biggest investor in Canadian tar sands – but the smart money, like the Norwegian oil fund, is moving out of fossils. The fiduciary duty to shareholders means that boards take a short-term view of profit maximisation; longer-term social and environmental duties would be one way to tackle this.

Renewables were increasing in efficiency and solar cells especially were breaking through scale barriers; investment in renewables, unlike fossil fuels, tended to be investment in people, and local supply chains rather than international infrastructures and corporate profit. It was suggested that one reason for the collapse in the oil price was a deliberate tactic by the Gulf states to sell off their oil before the bubble became better appreciated by investors. It was also noted that public authorities in Scotland needed to be given the power to invest on the people’s behalf. The best wind sites had been given away, effectively, to private developers; but other renewables could be managed better.

The switch to renewables should also go along with decentralisation of the grid, which would have other benefits, especially for rural communities and would signal a move away from corporatist power. It was suggested that this is a 50-100 year shift in the predominant fuel base – and that we are not having an

energy crisis but an energy revolution.

On opening up the discussion to the group, with a number of educators amongst us there was some discussion of how to convey messages at different levels and to different groups. We discussed different renewable technologies eg hydro – hydro does have some environmental drawbacks and most sites in Scotland for large hydro have been developed, but there’s huge scope for small schemes. As with solar, these can be off grid, but in a grid-based system, feed-in tariffs are important to uptake. It was suggested that there are lots of good examples eg in Galloway; and that it needed a new approach to value-based economics, such as NEF promote. It was also suggested that there was an inherent ‘colonial’ bias amongst some civil servants that prevented change even where Parliament or ministers were supportive; but also that Parliament didn’t know enough. It was noted that Scotland has the least ‘local’ local government in Europe; local authorities could have a duty towards local generation and powers to invest to retain the benefits in communities – which could be communities of place, but also communities of interest. There was discussion of local and also individual empowerment, and again of the fundamental underlying political and economic constraints on any radical change. Some concluding thoughts on ways ahead included continuing to try and get the message across to decision-makers and investors, especially that current subsidies to oil and gas need redirected.

We then spent a little time trying to formulate our key points for the world café:

1. Divestment by funders to burst the carbon bubble

2. New fiduciary duties on corporations – financial sector – long-term

  1. Systemic institutional failings – where does power lie?

  2. Decentralise and cross-cutting – empowerment and education

World Café Follow-through:

Three different groups met at the carbon table in the afternoon. The first group started by talking about decentralisation; technologies including mini hydro, heat pumps and solar panels / cells. We also talked about energy efficiency; planning and building standards; short term government thinking; and electric cars (which still need generation).

The second group talked a lot about infrastructure; links between energy, housing and transport; ownership of infrastructure, and control of energy prices. This led on to more general discussion of decision-making and accountability; grassroots resistance / activism; and communities having responsibility for their own resources.

The third group talked about culture, ownership and land. The prevailing culture of giving landowners the benefits – of wind and also hydro. People were disenfranchised from land. Meantime wilderness needed protected, but Nimbyism wasn’t the way to do that. We had a couple of people with some specialist knowledge talking about the Aberdeen hydrogen project and the potential for tidal and wave power.

The third group finished by wondering what we had in RIC to take the issue forward and get policies out there – was there scope for a red-green alliance? Energy could provide common ground and linked to other fundamental policy areas.

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