Friends of Earth is working with young people in Shetland to collect their views on what an energy transition underpinned by justice and worker’s rights can look like for their unique community. That same week, over 1,000 oil and gas workers joined with trade unions and climate campaigners to oppose Rosebank’s development and call for a just transition instead.
Reflecting on a recent trip to the Shetland Islands, I’ve been weighing up how to approach global environmental justice and energy transition whilst ensuring an individual community’s survival.
I’ve been involved in environmental activism for almost 10 years. One of the experiences I’ve carried with me the most was a summer spent with the anti-fracking Nanas in Lancashire, a group of local elderly women who locked themselves to the gate of the Cuadrilla fracking plant and knitted. This caused massive disruption to the Lancashire police service, who had a £25,000 government backing and huge physical power. The Nanas’ movement was radical, direct, and yet also caring and creative. It had transformed a historically Conservative local area into a non-hierarchical collective. The 5-year occupation was supported by local people from all walks of life. They had come together to say no to the local dangers of fracking ( Don’t frack with us: meet the victorious activist ‘Nanas’ of Lancashire) but had ended up connecting in a variety of ways with climate justice, anarchist (non-hierarchical) and anti-capitalist movements.
It feels like we are faced with extremely difficult choices.
Intensified by the recent cost-of living-crisis, geopolitics (the study of Earth’s geography (human and physical) and its effect on politics) becomes a major influencer on shifting the UK’s reliance on Russian oil and gas. In part, this pivotal change has influencedEquinor, a Norwegian oil and gas giant, to propose the development of Rosebank, one of Europe’s largest oil fields off the coast of the Shetland Islands. It seems shocking that the UK government would approve a new extraction project as we know that we must reduce fossil fuel emissions by 43% by 2023 at least while Equinor doubles its annual profits, reaching $74.9 billion in 2022.
My trip to Shetland was initially to explore children and young people’s service provision on the islands as part of my work, but I was quickly captivated by these same tensions of short- and long-term costs and benefits. Throughout my trip I was shown some amazing community spaces, including a youth centre’s collection of artworks made by care-experienced young people on Shetland. They told me they wanted me to see how much Shetland values the voices of its children and young people.
A 14-hour ferry from mainland Aberdeen, it is remote, and its dialect, Norn, is not spoken in mainland Scotland. It has an incredibly rich tradition of folk music and art, influenced both by its remoteness and its changes through time moving between industries, landscapes, and visiting cultures. I can’t quite describe its uniqueness, but its position between fishing and farming cultures in the North Atlantic, moving between Norway, Denmark and Scottish influence have shaped an ancient cultural landscape. It’s a special place.
What’s the catch? These community spaces are often funded by oil reserve money.
So, how can climate activists from the mainland encourage a transition away from the oil industry – supporting what some young Shetlanders themselves are calling for to protect their climate futures – which might compromise the funding of these spaces, but ultimately could protect their survival during increasing sea level rise and extreme weather events? We cannot place individual blame on those faced with these two forms of loss and risk. There is a risk of loss of their futures if the climate crisis isn’t mitigated by a transition away from oil, but there is also the risk of loss of community if the services that make life, language, and culture on the island possible are not funded. This includes the protection of young people’s mental health services. Retaining these services, and the young people needed to work in them, is critical for Shetland’s cultural survival.
The disjuncture between individual choice and the decisions of government and corporations to continue to extract fossil fuels is an emotional issue. Shell and British Petroleum have systematically greenwashed their extractive activities and hidden the magnitude of climate change impacts from the public since the 1970s. They are responsible for the difficult decisions individuals and community governments make in the face of rising cost of living, austerity pressures, and the accelerating impacts of climate change.
I don’t have answers, but a recent event in Shetland held by Friends of Earth Scotland gave me a needed note of hope. Friends of Earth is working with young people in Shetland to collect their views on what an energy transition underpinned by justice and worker’s rights can look like for their unique community. That same week, over 1,000 oil and gas workers joined with trade unions and climate campaigners to oppose Rosebank’s development and call for a just transition instead.
I can only urge the rest of us on the mainland to match this, and pressure the decision makers and oil and gas executives who are responsible for misinformation and profit in the face of crisis. We can’t ask individuals who live in a community made dependent on a greenwashing industry to carry the weight of transition alone.
Climate activism needs to value culture, art, and community too.
Read about the #StopRosebank campaign here: