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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.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going