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.
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
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
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
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
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