Audio recording of Toke and Edwards papers and discussion

David Toke

Reader in Energy Politics, U Aberdeen

Powerpoint slides


Oil price spikes are ruinous to world economy, as much as dodgy banking, and are caused in part by gradual rise over years in global oil consumption

Nuclear power not alternative

  • decline in cost never really materialises
  • not financeable, unless government provides blank cheque to underwrite

…leaving onshore and offshore wind and solar as most viable and financiable options

> possible to combine with fossil fuels, ensuring that global hydrocarbon consumption does not continue to rise, thus avoiding oil price spikes

+ also significant that price of wind and solar technology is declining

But is Scotland delivering on this?

  • Government last week surprised him by proposing strict limitations on onshore windfarms, allowing local councils to rule out windfarms… and should be no windfarms within 2.5 km of any city or town (but what is town?)
  • Even taking optimistic view, Scotland only likely to achieve 70% of renewables target if pursues current policies

Where will money for offshore wind come from?

Rob Edwards


Argues that substantial portion of fossil fuels should stay in ground, otherwise will court economic and environmental disaster

Refers to newspaper report this week celebrating 14 years of continued growth in Scotland’s oil goods and services exports, quoting Fergus Ewing on way to OTC and Malcolm Webb who spoke here this morning

  • similar to many other such stories that celebrate ‘success’ of oil production
  • this is self-destructing illusion

…and refers to Guardian article on “carbon bubble” quoting Nicholas Stern – risk of carbon bubble bursting is considerable

  • at least 2/3 must remain underground (as Helge Ryggvik argued in afternoon session) to stave off climate disaster, interpreted as global temperature rising by more than 2 degrees
  • Stern argues that if do burn all of reserves,  would return earth to pre-historic climate, leading to mass migrations and conflict
  • but Carbon Tracker report: suggests that investors do not believe in major change in hydrocarbon policy, instead gambling on nothing getting done by continuing to invest in hydrocarbons

Fundamental disconnect at level of global policy but also in Scottish policy

  • boasts of backing for renewable energy, but wedded to conventional view of oil & gas
  • export of hydrocarbons is not solution!

?? renewables in Denmark makes for most expensive energy in Europe – is it affordable?

> DT high cost of Danish energy is because of high taxes – just a myth that because of renewables

David Johnstone, retired judge: have speakers investigated methane hydrates under permafrost?

> RE agrees that this is worrying development

Mandy Meikle, Transition Towns (speaks later): given that poorer people are those who going to be most affected by climate change, what advice would give to ordinary people who see that oil companies will not stop drilling?

> RE right to encourage people to minimize carbon impact, as well as need to get politically active

> DT take advantage of schemes to buy fuel efficient cars etc. and write to MP asking that Councils refuse to declare their districts anti-windfarm areas, as contemplated in new policy proposal (see above)

Adam Boggin: DT asked where funding would come from for windfarms in Scotland after Independence  – why would international companies not invest?

> DT clarifies: when Scotland becomes independent, he doesn’t believe UK government will carry on subsidising offshore windfarms, therefore Scots would have to bear extra cost


  • how would RE explain why policy makers refuse to take account of findings of Nicholas Stern and others?

> RE hard to explain and thinks that will take global climate catastrophe to spur action; also notes that even suggesting possibility may cause investors to take fright and disinvest in oil & gas

  • for DT, what are possibilities for storing renewable energy?

> DT doesn’t think major problem with storing the energy

HR: Germany able to achieve 20% renewables which shows that could manage 100%… but then got  nervous about how affecting competitivity

John Macneish, conference co-organiser: Though true that renewables much less polluting, they often create similar problems to oil & gas, e.g. confrontation between owners of largest windpark in Latin America – in Oaxaca, Mexico – and local communities. So need something more than just renewables to build genuinely alternative model.

>DT: won’t get right sort of renewables built until have government structures to include participation etc. – working well in some countries including Germany and better in Scotland than England, but still not perfect

> RE agrees that need for smaller-scale, community-owned windfarms are the answer; majority of windfarm profits go to investors abroad, such as in Spain

Audio recording of Broderick and Meikle papers and discussion

John Broderick

ESPRC Research Fellow, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, U Manchester

Powerpoint slides


Malcolm Webb said in morning that gas was greener, but he will dispute this

Shows slide of increasing CO2 global emissions through Rio summits, Copehagen etc.: jokes that Rio +20 could mean 1992 emissions plus 20 billion tonnes more

+ current mitigation plans still by 2040 likely to mean 4-6 degrees temperature rise

If shale gas is a transition, what is it a transition to, and when?

There is no time before we reach the 2 degrees cap (anticipated by 2020s) to increase supply of non-CO2 fuels, therefore it is essential that we reduce demand

+ the longer we  postpone serious low/zero carbon policy, the more serious will be the economic consequences of such a policy

Mandy Meikle

Energy campaigner, Transition Town

Powerpoint slides


Charles Hendry said in afternoon that no one talks about peak oil any more, but we cannot prevent the move away from fossil fuels, only postpone it

> this is peak oil: we are already turning away from conventional fossil fuels

Scotland has ability to lead way in global energy revolution – question is why it isn’t

  • we all want services that energy makes possible; what matters is difference between what energy put in and energy we take out – Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI)

We have gone through a phase in which everywhere we look we  find more energy, but this is coming to end – taking energy out requires putting more and more energy in, e.g. less accessible oilfields – and this includes renewables: access to energy reserves is what counts, not size of reserves

  • biofuels are like for like replacement, very low ERoEI, therefore not possible to use to replace something as energy dense as fossil fuels
  • reducing demand includes reducing waste, not just by walking to shops but by much more drastic policies

Even in small place like Scotland, we lack political will: we have many targets but don’t mean anything (referring to David Toke’s argument earlier that Scottish renewable policy could only meet 70% of targets)

  • hardest challenge is political: decision making is dominated by elite groups who may benefit from existing situation and very unlikely to be persuaded, leaving rest of us with no voice


Notes are rather patchy here due to fatigue – apologies! Questions were posed to all 4 session speakers together (DT =David Toke, RE=Rob Edwards, JB=John Broderick, MM=Mandy Meikle)

Simon Pirani: “tragedy of commons” idea has been dismissed – shown that collective responses do exist in society, not just each for his or her own

> DT: agrees – we need to develop collective solutions

John Corall, Aberdeen City Council: no mention of hydrogen technologies that some of us see as future, as opposed to electric cars etc.

> MM: hydrogen is one of least efficient sources of energy… but if creating hydrogen from water, ERoI is minute: only way to create hydrogen efficiently is through natural gas, which takes us back to hydrocarbons… it does have a place but not what some people think

> JB:

  • essential not to confuse energy with electricity: glad that both Malcolm Webb and Mandy Meikle made this point
  • nuclear power has very low emissions, even if other issues with it

?? instead of trying to subsidize renewables, should be investing in R&D in green technologies: for example, in fracking – US now has lowest CO2 emissions in 20 years because of turn to fracking

Graeme Macdonald, U Warwick: many films being made of post-oil apocalypse, such as Avatar, but they present dramatic disaster at cost of slow economic damage which is much harder for us to grasp > seems difficult for us to imagine when happening slowly

Mike Martin, Aberdeen Latin America Solidarity Network: in Denmark there are many more cyclists because have greater legal protection, which blocked in this country by motor lobby… the problem is political process – how can we influence it?

> DT

  • cultural shift we need is for people to become more active politically; can lead to higher taxes on cars, as in Denmark, which encourages people to ride bicycles
  • we need social movements to increase market share of renewables, leading to more new low-energy houses etc.

> RE: believes that protest has real impact on politicians – for example, case of  driver who had knocked down and killed cyclists on 2 occasions, without getting custodial sentence > families got together to protest in media

> MM

  • essential to understand technology does not make energy but only uses it
  • culture is key: she never believed that smoking ban would work, but it did

> JB: although some truth that shale gas has brought drop in CO2 emissions in US, also coincides with rise in coal exports, leading to emissions elsewhere in world!

Researcher from U Bristol: JB talked about ‘impossible futures’ but what futures are possible?

> JB emissions targets need to be strengthened because current targets will not keep temperature rise under 2 degrees

Mike McCaig, RMT union: He is concerned about  people and jobs, even though shares concerns about carbon emissions, and there are many people working in oil industry who are not against renewable energy >but what going to do with people working in industry if stopping production?

> MM

  • her husband laid off last week and she works on checkout – she doesn’t have the answers, but we can’t not talk about it
  • as to what future could be (previous question) google “transition towns” to look at movement

> JB: suggests getting away from GDP as growth measure, inspired in Prosperity Without Growth? report, e.g. to include activities such as retrofitting households, which would lead to employment but also reduction in energy demand

David Johnstone-Butcher, retired judge: describes thorium reactors, new breed of nuclear reactors, being built by Chinese, that uses nuclear fuel

>MM: nothing to stop nuclear power being used as part of decentralised energy system… but it is 20th century technology, can’t really be part of future

> RE: suspects that thorium and salt reactors are just latest spin of nuclear lobby

?? asks panel to imagine that were Energy Minister – what 2 things would consider most important things to do?

> MM: upgrading of National Grid with decentralised supply system

> JB: would begin negotiations proposed by Helge around which hydrocarbons going to keep in ground, as well as introducing progressive tariffs on energy consumption

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