Singing in Parliament against Rosebank

Today, the Guardian’s environment section featured yesterday’s Climate Choir protest inside Parliament against government licences to take oil and gas from the Rosebank field in the North Sea. An Anti*Capitalist Resistance reporter participated in the action. Here is Dave Kellaway’s report.

 

I think all of us on the left can learn something from the Climate Choir’s actions. Having seen two now, I can attest to how well organised and effective they are. The collective leadership team leaves nothing to chance; every detail is covered. Songs are prepared, written, and practiced well in advance. The tune and words are selected so that any potential audience is pulled in and can understand the messages quickly. On the day, a proper briefing is given to all participants so they know exactly what they are going to do and how to react to any security or police response. So, for example, we were instructed to move away once the parliamentary authorities made that order. Even here, there was an organised, slow retreat with more singing. A decoy group of protestors were set up outside parliament to enable the hundred or so other protesters to discreetly enter as ‘visitors’ via the official queue. Small, lightweight banners were ingeniously smuggled in. 

I felt a little trepidation, shared by one or two others, while waiting for half an hour in the queue about how the police might react given Sunak’s offensive against protesters whom he considers ‘extremists’ or ‘mobs’. Certainly, we have to be extremely well organised these days to make it more difficult for provocations to occur. It is also irresponsible to put people in situations that are uncomfortable or involve risk. That eco protestor stopping the commuter train in Canning town and provoking a violent response from working-class commuters comes to mind.

“I felt a little trepidation, shared by one or two others, while waiting for half an hour in the queue about how the police might react given Sunak’s offensive against protesters whom he considers ‘extremists’ or ‘mobs’.

Once inside, we regrouped in St. Stephen’s Hall, pretending to be a tourist group and listening to an architectural expert. I noticed bizarrely at that moment how rubbish the murals were compared to someone like Giotto, who was working four centuries earlier. Our ‘expert guide’ then gave the pre-arranged signal for the singing to begin. And what singing it was! The choir was in the zone and performed beautifully, their voices soaring up to the wooden ceiling; the acoustics were perfect. Don’t take my word for it; just spend a minute or two listening to the videos embedded in this article:

https://www.thecanary.co/trending/2024/03/08/climate-choir-parliament-rosebank/

There was considerable surprise among the security personnel as senior officers scurried in. One or two were not happy that it was all being recorded on video or with cameras. Just as well, this is one positive advantage of our digital world. As we see in Gaza today, it is harder to cover up what is happening if we can all become video reporters. No doubt they are working to have some way of targeting mobile phones, although how you do that while maintaining your own communications is not obvious.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn must have a nose for righteous protest because he came out to see what was happening and later tweeted:

Well done for defending our future! A fantastic, creative protest—you have my full support.

Once outside, we merged with the static group of protesters and spent half an hour demonstrating around Westminster, targeting a building housing the right wing Centre for Policy Studies, with repeat performances. Then it was back for a debrief. You felt almost a visceral sense of a community giving their time and energy to help save our planet.

Many of them were probably doing it for their children and grandchildren. The average age was over fifty and mostly women (very relevant since it was the eve of International Women’s Day). Younger people were there and encouraged to go to the front for the photos. Younger people are studying or working during the day, so they are not so available for these actions. In the 1970s, in the USA, one group of senior citizens took on the name of the Grey Panthers. Why shouldn’t senior citizens play a big role in protests and demonstrations today? We can show we are not all Tory voters and that we reject the old cliché about getting more right-wing as you age. As Jacques Brel, the great Belgian troubadour, put it, – Il faut veillir sans etre adulte (we have to grow old without becoming adults). Apart from anything else, this sort of activity keeps you young and can ward off ill health like dementia.

The Climate Choir tries to use social media as much as possible to get its message out. Apart from the excellent coverage in the Guardian, most of the mainstream media has not picked up on the growth of this movement. There are now 12 local climate choirs and over 700 active members. The publicity from yesterday’s protest is sparking even more interest around the country.

While protests and concern about climate change are growing, Labour is retreating. Even its limited £28 billion plan has been more or less dumped. Starmer said in September 2023 that they would ‘honour’ the government’s grant of licences to exploit Rosebank.

Here below are the key political messages that Climate Choir wanted the public to hear about the fresh exploitation of the Rosebank oil and gas field.

Rosebank is a planned new oil field in the North Atlantic. It will be developed by oil and gas giant Equinor, which is majority-owned by the Norwegian government. Equinor holds an 80% stake in the field, and Ithaca Energy holds the remaining 20% stake. Equinor is Britain’s biggest gas supplier, providing more than a quarter of the UK’s gas demand.

In September 2023, the UK government granted Rosebank’s operator, Equinor, permission to develop the field1. At nearly 500 million barrels2, Rosebank is the UK’s biggest undeveloped oil and gas field, dwarfing the nearby Cambo oil field, which drew huge protests in 2021. The project would seek to extract almost three times the oil and gas of Cambo3.


Key messages 

Rosebank will do nothing to lower energy bills or improve the UK’s energy security. Like 80% of all North Sea oil4, the majority of Rosebank’s oil is expected to be put in tankers and exported for refining overseas, with only some sold back to the UK at market price. Rosebank’s oil, therefore, will not lower UK energy bills or improve energy security.

Rosebank will make Equinor and Norway richer and the UK poorer. Norway already has a national wealth fund worth trillions built from its oil and gas assets. Now, its state-owned oil company, Equinor, is set to receive around £3 billion in tax breaks from the UK government to develop Rosebank.5 This means UK taxpayers will effectively cover over 90% of the costs of drilling Rosebank, while Equinor takes the profit. Overall, the public purse could lose more than £750 million on its ‘investment’ if Rosebank goes ahead.6 

Rosebank is a disaster for the planet. Burning Rosebank’s oil and gas reserves would produce over 200 million metric tonnes of CO27 which is more than the combined annual CO2 emissions of all 28 low-income countries in the world.8 In other words, emissions from this one UK field would be more than those created by the 700 million people in the world’s poorest countries in a year.9 

The Solutions

For a safe climate and affordable energy, we need to stop expanding oil and gas production. Our over-reliance on expensive and polluting fossil fuels is the cause of both the climate and energy crises.We urgently need the government to stop approving new oil and gas fields and start investing in a rapid transition to renewable energy. The only way we can protect the planet and bring down energy bills in the UK is by scaling up renewables and insulating millions of leaky homes.

The biggest field deserves the biggest fight. Thousands of people across the world came together and forced Shell to pull out of the development of the Cambo oil field in the North Sea. This is proof that we can win. A field that’s three times bigger means it’s time to get bigger and bolder than ever before. By pushing back on every front against this field, together we can delay, block, and eventually stop this field.

You can find more information and all the music and lyrics at the Climate Choir Movement website: https://climatechoirmovement.org/

All photos and videos by Dave Kellaway except one video from Canary

References 

  1. Rosebank Field Development. Project Summary (2023). ↩︎
  2. Rystad Energy Resource Estimates. ↩︎
  3. Equinor is seeking approval for phase 1 and 2 of the Rosebank project (estimated reserves nearly 500 mmboe), while approvals sought for the Cambo field only cover phase 1 of that project (estimated reserves of 170 mmboe). ↩︎
  4. National Statistics. Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES): petroleum. (2022). ↩︎
  5. Wood Mackenzie & Voar Energy. Rosebank: Investing in energy security and powering a just transition. (2022). ↩︎
  6. Vivid Economics. Opportunities for a Green Recovery: UK. (2021). ↩︎
  7. This estimate takes resources from Rystad Energy for Rosebank phase 1 and 2. Emissions calculated against conversion factors from OCI and Statistics Norway. ↩︎
  8. World Bank. CO2 emissions. (2020). ↩︎
  9. Equinor. Rosebank Environmental Statement. (2022). ↩︎

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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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