This last July saw the 34th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster, in which 167 people needlessly lost their lives. Workers on two nearby platforms, Claymore and Tartan which pumped to Piper Alpha, could see that the platform they were pumping to was alight. But they had been told never to shut off the oil and gas they were pumping, even to a burning platform. The oil bosses could see no circumstance in which it was appropriate to stop pumping – not even the risk this clearly posed to life.
This disaster led to a transformation of how the oil and gas industry treated the safety of its North Sea installations. But the fossil fuel industry continues to put us all at risk by fuelling the climate breakdown. This last July has also seen record temperatures across the UK, the heatwave causing destructive fires, destroying people’s livelihoods and homes. And, without decisive action, things are only going to get worse.
We need to move on from fossil fuels. For too long we have allowed the lies, dishonesty and fear tactics of big oil to set us on a path to destroying the climate. The industry that has powered Scotland has known for decades that burning oil and gas was changing the climate.
But, there is an alternative. There’s a saying that goes: the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.
Just as the safety measures which could have saved the workers on Piper Alpha were implemented too late, so we risk acting too late to transform our dependence on oil and gas. We need to plan for existing jobs to be replaced in new, clean industries, a just transition and a Green New Deal. In 1988 a minor fire turned into a major explosion because oil and gas bosses refused to put people’s safety ahead of their profits. We risk the same at a global scale.
The difference is that we now know how destructive this approach is. We can stop it. And that means no more extraction. It means taking a robust approach to those oil executives who care only for profit, and funding the new, clean economy based on the interests of us all. The oil bosses want to continue pumping into the fire. The time to avoid disaster is now.
But we need to do this in a way that includes workers and the communities that have relied on oil and gas for decades. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the last energy transition – away from coal in the 1980s – that saw workers unemployed, communities devastated and inequality increasing.
That is why the £500million Just Transition Fund is so important. A cornerstone of the agreement between the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Government, we must ensure that this money is spent wisely. We must see workers and communities at the heart of our next energy transition – one that sees us focus on sustainability not only of the climate, but on jobs, energy security, and the cost to consumers of that energy. Renewable energy sources are already much cheaper and more reliable than oil and gas. They are cleaner and they do not impose the massive costs that fossil fuels do on the health of people and nature.
I want the North East to be the powerhouse of Scotland’s new economy. But I also want our new economy to work for the people of Scotland, rather than the other way around, lining the pockets of big business and corporate elites. The Just Transition must be about people coming together and deciding how they want their communities and workplaces to thrive. Let’s make Scotland’s economy work for all the communities across the North East
Contact your local Yes group if you want to get involved.
Maggie Chapman – Scottish Green Party MSP