Stand on the banks of the Mahakam river in Kalimantan, Indonesia, and you can watch an unending procession of coal barges go by. Opencast mines pockmark this island, which is twice the size of Britain. Each year more than 200 million tonnes of coal passes through Samarinda, the region’s coal hub, on its way to coal-fired power stations around the world. It leaves behind a wrecked environment and few benefits for the local population. According to the Indonesian anti-mining network JATAM, in one area, East Kutai, only 37 out of 135 villages have electricity.
This visceral energy inequality is repeated time and again around the world. From the opencast coal mining near Merthyr Tydfil to the autocrat propped up by oil and gas extraction in Azerbaijan, it seems there’s an urgent need to keep fossil fuels in the ground even before we consider the climate change impact of burning them. But consider it we must. Atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in human history this spring. The earth is probably already committed to a surface temperature rise of between 3 and 5°C on pre-industrial levels. And though some of the extreme weather events could affect any one of us, in general those without power and resources will be hit much harder by the changing climate.
Our current energy system is an exercise not just in destroying our common environment, but in entrenching existing inequality. Understanding this, we can begin to see why, despite scientific evidence over decades, despite public opinion being mobilised on a huge scale and despite numerous high-profile global conferences, carbon dioxide levels have continued their inexorable rise.
In the UK, our energy system is a private oligopoly, dominated by the ‘Big Six’ energy companies. This has simultaneously retarded the development of renewables while inflating bills (and profits) to the extent that 7,000 people died from being unable to heat their homes adequately in the winter of 2011/12. As Aneaka Kellay argues George Osborne’s ‘dash for gas’, which will result in a whole new generation of gas-fired power stations, may be sold as a way of reducing the carbon intensity of our energy production – in fact it will not allow us to meet our carbon dioxide reduction targets and maintains an energy infrastructure built around corporate profits that is at the root of the problem.
So do we have to just cross our fingers and hope for a revolution before the planet fries? Not exactly. The Zero Carbon Britain report from the Centre for Alternative Technology details how exactly how we could reduce the UK’s net carbon emissions to zero by as soon as 2030. The just-published third iteration of the report deals with a common objection to a renewables-based energy system – that peak electricity demand and variable supply don’t match. Their solution involves smart appliances, energy conservation and energy storage using relatively small amounts of biogas and carbon neutral synthetic gas. Crucially, the overall scenario uses only technologies that are already proven and viable.
So it is possible for a large-scale, complex and modern society to be carbon neutral. But important questions remain. Given the corporate interest in maintaining the status quo, how might we bring about such a transition? Zero Carbon Britain references the Green New Deal concept of public investment in low-carbon infrastructure, which would simultaneously create jobs and rapidly decarbonise the economy. But it also matters what kinds of technologies we invest in and who owns them.
The ability to start small with renewable technologies such as solar PV, wind and micro-hydro means they lend themselves to a community ownership model. As Kim Bryan explores in this issue, the confluence of open source technology development, including hardware as well as software, and energy co-operatives could open up exciting possibilities for what we might call ‘energy democracy’. Mobilising around this ‘positive’ vision of reclaiming our ability, as communities, to produce our own energy is a real possibility – especially as some energy co-operatives already exist, covering places as large as Brighton and Bristol. Public investment could bolster energy democratisation, not just provide jobs.
August’s Reclaim the Power camp was conceived in opposition to the government’s ‘energy austerity’ – the phenomenon of making ordinary people pay while upholding big business interests in the energy sector. The initiative was clearly organised on the model of Climate Camp but in the context of the cuts it had a sharper focus on inequality, capitalism and the need to assert popular sovereignty over energy. We need both these noisy challenges to our current energy economy and practical democratic alternatives like energy co-ops in the process of rebuilding our energy economy from below and to the left.
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram