Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Five Things That Changed in 2015

1. The Climate


Last year El Nino returned and the climate records began to tumble. The hottest year ever recorded record was pretty much clinched by autumn, even before winter Arctic temperatures reached 25 degrees above average and the north of England disappeared under record breaking rainfall. Nobody was talking about a 'pause' in global warming any more.

Climate change denial indeed seemed to be in retreat generally. This is good news, although really they have done their job. There were always very few actual deniers in the world, and they almost all spoke English, but they had the ear of the most powerful people in the world.

We've already got one degree of warming and may have blown the budget for two degrees by the time the Paris Agreement is first reviewed in 2025, but at least outright denial is now largely a thing of the past.

2. Naomi Klein joined the dots


Although it first came out in September 2014, the book everyone was talking about last year was Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything. Not only did the author of No Logo and Shock Doctrine push climate change into the mainstream, she highlighted two important concepts that usually get ignored in the ordinary coverage of the issue.

Firstly she talked about the Sacrifice Zone, the part of the world being destroyed to feed our fossil fuel addiction. As Naomi Klein points out, the Sacrifice Zone is growing as we chase even more extreme oil and gas, and so Indian villagers fighting open cast mining and American Indians opposing tar sands are now fighting the same battle as the Lancashire folk trying to stop fracking.

Secondly she linked this quite explicitly to our system of Neoliberal Capitalism. She showed how it corrupted the Big Green groups that emerged from the environmental activism of the seventies and how billionaire philanthropists are peddling snake oil non-solutions to climate change.

She also provided poignant warning of the people of Nauru, who sold themselves to the mining companies for a fortune they blew. The result was political corruption, a public health crisis of obesity and an island that had been transformed from tropical paradise to lunar landscape.

Above all she showed how blockades, with the support of local communities, are our most effective weapon in the battle against those who would destroy our world for profit. From the First Nations people of America to our own Barton Moss protest (which she gives a brief mention to) her message was above all inspiring.

3. We beat Shell and Keystone XL (and VW beat itself)


There were three big setbacks for corporate world last year

Greenpeace started it's campaign against Arctic oil after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. 28 activists and two journalists spent three months in a Russian prison after targeting Gazprom, but the main target had always been Shell. Greenpeace scored a big success when they persuaded Lego to abandon a long term, and very profitable, partnership with the company in 2014. Then, after five years of campaigning which saw activists hanging off bridges, paddling around in kayaks and singing songs outside its London HQ, Shell agreed to quit the Arctic.

It was a huge victory for the campaign against climate change, but it was equalled or perhaps
exceeded by the news that Obama would not be approving the Keystone XL pipeline. This had been the signature campaign of the US environment movement but this wasn't just a symbolic victory, it potentially left the Alberta drowning in tar sands oil with no way of getting it to all market.

The third setback wasn't a victory for the Greens as it was entirely self inflicted. The VW scandal showed that playing fast and loose with the regulations wasn't something the banks had a monopoly on. The resulting hit the company's profits took even led to some people talking about diesel cars as 'stranded assets'.

Add in the wobbly state of TTIP and the failure of the fossil fuel industry to get its way in Paris (they wanted a three degrees target and a commitment to geo-engineering) and the corporate world is as vulnerable as it's been since 2001.

4. China approaches Peak Coal


China continued to play a double game in 2015, as both the world's top polluter but also top manufacturer of solar panels. Within China itself the environment was a battlefield where campaigners faced a government crackdown and a film on air pollution was watched 5 million times in the 24 hours before it was taken down.

Peak Oil has been predicted for a while, often with hopes that it will spur the drive for renewables. However things could easily go the other way as we have coal reserved to last us hundreds of years and ever more efficient ways of getting the horrible stuff out of the ground. If China really is about to start demolishing coal fired power stations faster than they are building them it is not because of a lack of supply, but because they do not see the black rocks as the future.  

The implications for the world are significant. Not only is China the world's biggest emitter, but China's dependence on coal has long been used as an excuse by politicians in countries with higher per capita and historical emissions as an excuse for inaction.

5. We became a mass movement

 

Two years ago I was feeling very proud of myself for being part of the team that gathered four thousand people together for a march against climate change in Manchester.

Last year I went on three marches each of which made our little gathering seem like a vicars tea party. The most recent one, in Paris, took place in a state of emergency with activist under house arrests and all such demonstrations made illegal. Ten thousand people still turned up.

Campaigning for the climate still remains largely outside of party politics, with campaigner's calls for less shopping and a complete rethinking of what we regard as a good life too outre even for the most unreconstructed old lefty, but mainstream politics cannot ignore a movement of this size forever. We may not go them, but they might well come to us.

The result may not be pretty, but it needs to happen. Like the insurgent anti-austerity parties springing up across Europe, anyone who challenges the status quo to this extent will be jumped on hard.

But every climate related 'natural' disaster is another referendum in favour of the scientists and against the economists, every blockade of a fossil fuel site is a political meeting on how to do things differently, every setback for a big corporation is a lesson on how to take back the power, every Chinese power station that shuts is a endorsement of renewable energy and every climate rally is a message that the future is not fixed and we have the power to make a better one.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Review of the Year 2015

January

The year began with us still waiting for the vote by Lancashire County Council on the first application for the commercial extraction of shale gas in the UK. It had been scheduled for New Years Eve, but was delayed until 28 January.

I was there, as was Mr Frackhead, but, under threat of legal action from Cuadrilla, Lancashire were forced to delay the vote again.

On the same day I made my début as a Further Education lecture, when I had a guest spot on Manchester Metropolitan Sustainable Aviation course. Basically I turned up for the afternoon to say "Sorry guys, it ain't".

Meanwhile in Greece patience with austerity came to an end and a gaggle of lefties and academics going by the name of Syriza swept into power. Things were going to get interesting down there.

February

We have a little time out from climate change to campaign against Santander, who were lending money to APRIL, a company trashing the Indonesian rainforest. After one of Greenpeace's shortest campaigns ever Santander threw in the towel.

With that one won we could spend more time on another project, campaigning for sustainable tuna. This had us sneaking around supermarkets trying to get people to take notice of the wildlife destruction and human slavery that was the true cost of their little tin of John West. This one was going to keep us busy for the rest of the year. 

March

In March the countdown to Paris really began, with the Time to Act Climate Change March. I was a
Steward, up at the front, so I had very little idea how many thousands of people were behind me, but there were a lot.

Star speaker was twelve year old Laurel. There is only one arrest of the day - Ben - who was only there because I'd given him a free ticket on the bus. He'd been sitting on Westminster Bridge with the Plane Stupid polar bears when the police had waded in and nicked him. Well, I guess you look a lot less daft cuffing a lippy punk rather than a polar bear.

Also in March the Bleak and Desolate north got its own polar bear as Sami came to visit us. He had a busy eight months ahead of him.

April

By April we were seriously into General Election campaigning. Usually environmentalist have a holiday whilst the country talks about less important issues, but this time both climate change and fracking featured heavily. I attended several hustings and chaired on in Cheadle on energy policy, which allowed me to talk about both Climate Change and fracking. All the candidates seemed very bright - except the one who eventually won.

We also lobbied hard to get candidates to sign the Greenpeace Frack Free Promise, having 100% success with Green hopefuls and some success with Labour. Greenpeace also had me out at night doing some other activities, so all told I worked bloody hard during this campaign. It was just a pity it all counted for so little in the end.

The highlight was Krishnan Guru-Murphy popping by to interview me at Barton Moss for a Channel Four News piece on fracking. Supposedly he came by bike, but in reality it was a van - with the bike in the back - but then this was a fake election in which the politicians never actually met real people and rarely debated the real issues.

May

May started with Sami out and about in Manchester for the TUC May Day March. He ended up being tweeted by Greater Manchester Police.  

There was a bit of welcome relief from electoral gloom as Glossop North End qualify for the final of the FA Vase and I went down to London with my boys to watch them. One person in six from Glossop was there, but as the entire town could fit in the stadium three times over we still don't fill Wembley. Glossop were ten minutes away from the cup, but in the end North Shields proved the stronger team. We stayed over in London though and got to see the VE Day celebrations, including a parade of very old veterans who fought for the Human Rights Act the government has now pledged to abolish.

Also in May I made my debut as a Glossop Guild Tutor, although as the Glossop North End team were touring the town in an open topped bus that evening my thunder was well and truly stolen.

We showed the film Black Ice in Manchester and had a visitation from the one and only Phil-of-the-Arctic, who told us of his time as a guest of Mr Putin.

But of course the big news this months was that country went mad an voted for five more years of austerity, mostly it seems to annoy the Scots. With five more years of austerity in view I got an email from Greece which said "Welcome to our nightmare".

June

I was back in London again for the Mass Lobby of Parliament on climate change, another part of the build up to Paris. We waited outside and a succession of MPs were brought out in rickshaws, but mine wouldn't play that game so I had to go into Portcullis House. Unfortunately he had little to say on the subject.

However the big story this month was the Lancashire vote on granting Cuadrilla Resources permission to frack finally happend. There was a great turnout on the day. As well as the Lancashire anti-frackers there were Greenpeace activists from across the Bleak and Desolate North, Frack Free Greater Manchester people and veterans of Barton Moss. At the end of the day there are speeches, and I got to speak on the same platform as Vivienne Westwood and the awesome Asad Rehman.

Proceedings went into a second day and some seriously dodgy legal advice from Lancashire's house lawyer put the whole decision in doubt. Everything it was postponed until the following Monday, so I had to go up there again. Greenpeace sent Daisy and Richard up from the office and we wait for the news. I had to go back to work, stopping off for a quick interview with Key 103, so I was on the M62 when the new broke that we'd actually won. It was an amazing result, the payback for four years of village meetings and hard work by Frack Free Lancashire.

July

Whilst we were celebrating in Lancashire, things were coming to a head in Greece. After two weeks of having to queue daily for money (something the jovial Greeks made into a social occasion) the country voted on whether or not to accept austerity. I did my bit and spoke at the Manchester Greek Solidarity day in Piccadilly Gardens.

Despite some pretty amazing attempts by big employers to bribe their workers into voting Nai, and despite a significant block of pro-austerity pensioners, Greece unambiguously rejected austerity. It turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory, but a victory in no doubt it was on that day. In the long run it didn't do much for Greece, but it inspired us.

Also in July it was back to Lancashire for Pagacon in Preston. Apart from the speakers we had the one and only Damh the Bard performing a set and leading us in an anti-fracking ritual, as well as the massively underrated George Nicholas and Cernunnos Rising, who performed their song The Folly of Fracking. There was a bit of a theme here I think.

August

In August I took a holiday, or two, in Cumbria and East Anglia. Wonderful places.

September

But in September it was back to campaigning, and straight away we scored out biggest success of the year. After five years of actions around the world, Greenpeace forced Shell to abandon its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. It was a massive victory, one of the biggest in Greenpeace's history.

Also that month it was the premier of the film How To Change The World, about the origins of Greenpeace. The Manchester Network dressed up for the occasion and we enjoyed it. I'd met Paul Watson, and campaigned against Patrick Moore over The Great Bear Rainforest (we won), but Bob Hunter's words were new to me. It introduced a few quotes I intend to use more often, including "our goal wasn't to make ourselves famous, it was to make nature famous".

October

Sami was out and about again - although this time Lori had the pleasure -  as the Tory Party are in town. 100,000 peaceful people walked through Manchester, the largest demonstration the city has ever seen, although according to the press we were a howling mob. Not for the first time I this year I seemed to be living in a parallel world to one depicted in the mainstream media.

I was inside Sami again for the end of the conference, as we reminded the 'greenest government ever' that they're a complete disaster for the planet.

November

Tuna work continued, with more clandestine visits to supermarkets across Manchester.

We also spend the month waiting for the government vote on fracking under National Parks, which got me some local press coverage.

But the big news this month was that the countdown to Paris finally came to an end as the entire world - except France - marching for climate justice.

I was in London with Emma Thompson and the Greenpeace team. Thom Yorke was DJ so Sami become a dancing bear. It was a remarkable day and a terrific turnout, far and away the biggest environmental rally I've ever been to. This really was a mass movement now.

December

And so it was December and my trip to Paris. A state of emergency, public gatherings of more than three people banned and activists under house arrest were what was waiting for me. I travelled down with Friends of the Earth and decided to play it by ear. It turned out I wasn't the only one and, as well as a very well attended international gathering the Climate Action Zone, there was a decent turnout for the 'illegal' Red Lines action.

I got to see the Arch de Triumph and Eiffel Tower, meet activists from around the world, including Greenpeace International boss Kumi Naidoo, see the French riot police and get hit by a giant inflatable cobblestone. Pity the deal itself was so toothless.

Back home in England though it was as if I'd never been away, as in the following week the government government slashed solar subsidies, allowed fracking under National Parks and licensed a considerable chunk of the north of England for fracking. Still, it gave me a chance to get my face on the TV, my name in the papers and my voice on the radio, where I had an interesting one-to-one with the director of Ineos.

So that was my year. I've been to Preston and Paris. I helped stop Cuadrilla fracking in Lancashire, but failed to stop the Tories being re-elected. I've spoken to rallies against fracking and in support of Greece. I've lectured to the Glossop Guild and the Manchester Sustainable Aviation students. I've marched for the climate, against the Tories and both for a hoped for deal in Paris and against the actual deal in Paris. I've been inside a polar bear. I've been to an illegal demo. I've helped beat Santander. I've helped beat Shell. I've met Vivienne Westwood. I've met Kumi Naidoo.

It's been good, it's been bad, but it's not over.

Thanks for everyone who's been there with me. In 2016 we do it again, but we do it better.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Twenty Years On: The Help Album

There have been a lot of anniversaries this year: two hundred years since Waterloo, seventy years since the end of World War Two, and thirty years since the Battle of the Beanfield, the end of the miners strike and the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior. (Busy year 1985).

But here's an anniversary nobody else has bothered with - twenty years since the release of my favourite charity album. On 4 September 1995 twenty groups went into Abbey Road studios to each record a track. The result is a day-in-the-life of a musical genre at its peak. 

1995 was also the year I returned to England after a two year sabbatical in Ireland. Politically the country was just as moribund as when I'd left, with an unpopular right wing government that by then nobody would actually admit they voted for, but culturally the place was finally coming alive.

I was after the underground protest movement that was springing up, especially the Road Protest Movement, which by then had parted company with the ground completely and was occupying Stanworth Valley, in my home county of Lancashire, to stop the extension of the M65 motorway.

However mainstream culture was also finding its vibe. Madchester had died a little while earlier, but
Britpop was very much alive and well. Guitars had been creeping back into the charts for a while thanks to Grunge, but US misery and fake poverty wasn't everyone's up tea. Instead but now guitar based pop was as much in vogue as it had been twenty or thirty years earlier.

And October 1995 was to be a huge month for British music. First Blur released The Great Escape, then Oasis retaliated with (What's the Story) Morning Glory before finally the relatively unknown Pulp blew them both out of the water with Different Class. All  three albums are pop rock at their very best.

In due course the whole Cool Britannia thing would become just a small Metropolitan elite and Britpop would be just another unreconstructed aspect of male lad culture, but in the mid-nineties it was about Working Class bands from across the country writing music that meant something to them. It was a reaction against both US imported Grunge and locally produced plastic pop. And it rocked.

The government  may have been hated, but the country as a whole was doing better. Since dropping out of the European Exchange Rate mechanism (the precursor to the Euro) the British economy had been recovering steadily. But there were clouds on the horizon. War in the east had led to failed military intervention and a refugee crisis. This time though it was Bosnia and not Syria.

The War Child charity intended to do something about this though and so it persuaded some of the
best and brightest stars of Britpop to enter the most famous studio in England to record an album that would be released five days later. So quick was the process that there wasn't even time to put a track listing together. The result is varied, but very interesting.

Ticking off the stand-out tracks could take a while.

The best track for me is Sinead O'Connor's version of Ode to Billy Joe is a brilliant version of a great song. Having started out as a pop star then turned into a media personality, Sinead O'Connor the performer had almost been forgotten along the way, but she really can sing.

Then we had the founder of Britpop, Suede, with their version of Elvis Costello's Shipbuilding, the Manic Street Preachers with their cover of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, and a nod to the alternative scene with The Leveller's still very relevant song about fortress Europe Searchlights. Searchlights. Paul McCartney and friends, who included Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher, recorded another version of Come Together whilst Gallagher and his brother and their friends, which included Kate Moss and her boyfriend Jonny Depp, re-recorded Fade Away.

There was also Radiohead, Orbital, the Boo Radley's (who I always thought a better live act than Oasis), Portishead, Massive Attack (I usually skip this one), and plenty more including the other half the Battle of Britpop, Blur.

Finally we had the return of the enigmatic KLF foundation, this time under the name of One World Orchestra. Their track The Magnificent was a drum and bass version of the Magnificent Seven theme,  with the haunting sampled vocals of Serbian DJ Fleka "Humans against killing: that sounds like a junkie against dope".

KLF, who had just burnt a million quid to show their contempt for money, realised the irony of their
contribution to a charity album. They said they regretted getting involved and that the track was "shit". However the next year protests erupted in Belgrade against the dictatorship of Slobodan Milošević, the chief architect of the Bosnian disaster, the track became the anthem of the resistance, making the track the most relevant on the album.

Britpop carried on for two more wonderful years, before Oasis peaked, Blur reinvented themselves, Pulp became disillusioned, New Labour got elected and The Verve told us The Drugs Don't Work any more. The world moved on, but the Help album remains a slice of life an the heart of a musical movement at its best, and is still worth a listen.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

New UK Fracking Licenses Explained In Three Maps

Fracking in Greater Manchester came a bit closer today as new licenses were announced by the government. They take a little bit of explaining so here goes.

Here is a map of the known to have shale gas reserves in the UK. Note the vast swath of red across the Midlands and the Home Counties.


Now here is a political map of the UK after the last General Election. Note the vast swaths of blue across the Midlands and the Home Counties.


And finally here’s a map of the areas licensed from today. Now take a look at the Midlands and the Home Counties. Notice anything?


So now we know who’s being fracked and why.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Road From Paris

I remember the day the deal was signed.

For the first time the nations of the world had come together and signed one document which showed that they understood the danger of Climate Change, and that they were committed to doing something about it.

This day would change the world we though: 11th December 1997.

The Road To Paris


Well, it didn't.

I wasn't in Kyoto when the Protocol was signed, I was in Northampton doing my first job as a qualified Social Worker, but I felt I'd done my bit. I'd been part of a disparate team that had towed a bright yellow survival pod around the country for Greenpeace. Tales of our adventures have become taller over the many years of telling them (I'm sure the native inhabitants of Wisbech didn't really mistake the pod for a massive potato and chase us out of town with a giant masher) but what is true is that we collected over a quarter of a million signatures on a petition that was handed to the new Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair.

It was fun, but ultimately pretty pointless. In theory Kyoto was supposed to ensure that by 2012
greenhouse gas emissions would 5% below what they had been in 1990. In practise they were 40% higher.

The reasons for the failure are easy enough to find. Of 2012's two biggest polluters, China and the USA, the first was not covered by the treaty and the other refused to ratify it.

State of Emergency


Eighteen years later and the world's politicians are making a heroic effort to do it all again in Paris.

This time I really am there. Or rather, I really am in Paris, whilst the politicians are six miles away in Le Bourget, clustered round their own airport and surrounded by hundreds of armed police.

A year of actions, including two big marches in London, have built up to this moment so I always intended to go. However the terrorist attacks of 13 November changed the situation. We'd never been welcomed by the French authorities, but now a state of emergency had been declared and gatherings of more than three people were illegal.

I had originally volunteered with Greenpeace France, but after a series of "deny everything Baldrick" style emails I realised they weren't going to be organising anything for wandering British activists. So instead I tagged along with Friends of the Earth, who helpfully sorted me out with Eurostar tickets and a place in a Youth Hostel, and decided to play it by ear when I got there.

The Climate Action Zone in Le Centquarter provided a chance to meet activists from around the world, and indeed from just up the road, as I met up with the rest of the Manchester Campaign Against Climate Change there. A party on the Friday night put on by FOE provided a chance to meet some even more interesting people: Friends of the Earth boss Craig Bennett and - another Greenpeace gatecrasher - International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo.

Actually it was a bit of a weekend for name dropping as I also met Caroline Lucas, Natalie Bennett was around and about and, if you count nodding to someone as they rush past you in the check in queue at Gare du Nord, I also 'met' Naomi Klein.

The mood amongst the activists in the Climate Action Zone was upbeat, but amongst those shuttling in and out of Le Bourget it was far grimmer. We already knew there would be no binding agreement, no 'loss and damages' clause allowing the victims of climate change to sue the polluters who caused it and International Human Rights Day in Paris was marked by all references to human rights being removed from the draft text. There was some aspirational words, but nothing to force anyone to act. Comparing the draft text of the climate deal to that of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, which will allow companies to sue countries that stop them making money, and you soon see which will one will win out.

However we always knew this would be the case. That's way the big action was planned for the 12th December, the day after the conference was due to finish. We were not going to let them Greenwash this.

Red Lines


Rainforest Action Network
As it happened they were still putting the finishing touches to the agreement when people started to gather by the Arch de Triumph.

Eight key organisers had been put under house arrest by the French authorities, but this made little difference as Paris was awash with people experienced in organising big demonstrations, including many from the UK.

The French police had sealed off the road and there were riot police front and centre with tear gas dispensers locked and loaded on the flanks.

There were rather more than three protesters, making this officially an illegal demonstration. There wasn't the million people we'd have hoped for if it hadn't been for the state of emergency, but there are ten thousand people here, at least. About half of them seem to be from outside France, the other half are mainly clowns. The front back and sides are marked by symbolic red lines, and down at the front bob a dozen or so giant inflatable cobblestones.

We have real cobbles under our feet, but although it's traditional round here, nobody seems minded to lob any at the authorities. Instead the blow up ones bounce up and down over the crowd. About the size of large hay bales, being underneath this barrage was like being in a bad episode of Doctor Who and getting attacked by rather unconvincing space aliens.

The mood of the police was difficult to discern. None were smiling, but none were making any threatening moves either. Between the two lines of police though a party is going on. The Manchester climate change activists have gravitated together, and we stand a discrete distance away from the Manchester Socialist Workers, whilst all the world dances around us.

 Grand Finale


We were to be here for an hour and then, we were informed the night before, there was to be a legally sanctioned gathering under the Eiffel Tower. How do ten thousand people get from an illegal demonstration to a legal one? By an illegal march of course. It may not have been planned, but it's what happened, and so with the wobbly cobbles bouncing along on top of us we marched across Paris until its most famous monument came into view. Somewhere down the end there were speakers, but half a mile of people separated us from them.

And then it was over. The sun begins to set on a grey, but unseasonably warm, Paris day and we all drifted away. Friends of the Earth show us Naomi Klein's new film, but with our job done we volunteers are just a hassle for the hard pressed organisers, so a group of us go to explore the sights of Belleville. I end up in a pub with two anti-fracking counsellors from West Lancashire Borough Council, a Friends of the Earth Energy Campaigner and a Frenchman called Claude who spent twenty five years in the London office of Air France and wants to tell us how much he missed Allo Allo and Are You Being Served.

It's a good night, and the next morning a I have what the French call a guelle de bois ('wooden head'). I really could have done with being on a later train, but after a little while 'examining' the waters of a canal with my name on it I am fit enough to travel home.

The Road Beyond Paris

I have breakfast of coffee and a croissant at 300kph as a mix of renewable, nuclear and fossil fuel generated electricity propels my train across the French countryside. The Paris agreement it seems is a similar mixture of the good, the not-so-good and the outright bad. Time will tell if the moral force of what has been described as the greatest bit of diplomacy ever achieved can save the world, but most of us on the train suspect it won't.

Back in Le Bourget the politicians, civil servants and corporate lobbyists have all left Paris, probably hoping not to have to ever see each other again, and not to have to talk about climate change again for a while.

However those of us who met on the streets and in the fringe groups are planning to get together again as soon as possible. These are the links that will forge a year of action in 2016. We be further away from a binding agreement to limit greenhouse gases today than we were in 1997, but what we have now which we didn't have then is a global campaign for climate action and climate justice.

We have a movement that can put that can put ten thousand people on the streets even in a state of emergency - hundreds of thousands of people in better circumstances - and which is also prepared to take direct action to obstruct fossil fuel infrastructure anywhere on the planet.

Next year there will be marches and demonstrations, blockades and pickets from from Paris to Peru, from London to Lancashire, until we finally get some action to match the words of the Paris agreement.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Volunteers

"Right, I'll take the the anti-fracking sign, Rachel and Stella are on the banner, so that means Lori is in the bear."

The Manchester Greenpeace Group is ready to roll, off to be part of the anti-fracking feeder march to the largest demonstration Manchester has ever seen. We're there, as are lots of people in pig masks, but funnily enough we're the only people with a bear.

That's one day as a Greenpeace volunteer.  Not a typical day perhaps, but then again there aren't many typical days.

A little over a year ago, for example, I was on the border of Poland and the old East Germany, swimming in cool waters with tall pines silhouetted against the evening sky. Never mind the air force of mosquitoes attacking any exposed flesh, this was one of the most beautiful places I had ever been to. That was Deulowitzer See in Lusatia, and I really was there with 8000 other volunteers trying to stop this wonderful place disappearing into a giant, opencast lignite mine. 

In between these two events volunteering has seen me on the streets asking Santander to ditch deforestation, outside toy shops calling on Lego to ditch Shell, waving placards outside Lancashire County Council as they debate fracking, stalking the tinned fish aisles of local supermarkets to find dodgy tuna and climbing lampposts in the middle of the night to...well let's no go there. The Manchester Group has also been up to Todmorden to meet broadminded folk trying to help us build a better world, and down to Westminster to meet narrow minded ones trying to stop us.

Why do I do it? It's my rent for living on this beautiful but fragile planet. It's the alternative to throwing a brick at the television. It's a way to be in this world and not feel guilty about how we treat it.

I sort of drifted into Greenpeace some time in the early nineties. As an under-employed graduate with a growing collection of Levellers albums, it sort of came with the image. But once you're in, it's hard to get out. Helping out at a stall every now and again just about paid my planetary rent, but I soon wanted more. I didn't just want to take part in Greenpeace campaigns, I wanted to win them.

And winning is what Greenpeace do. Santander caved in, as did Lego, Shell pulled the plug on it's $7 billion Arctic adventure, Lancashire rejected fracking and we drank the bar dry in Germany. Result.

Of course, it's not all been fun.Twenty hours on a coach to Germany isn't great. Cuardrilla Resources giving two fingers to democracy and appealing the fracking decision is worse. But the highs more than make up for the lows. Being a Greenpeace volunteer has given me memories that are up there as the best that life can offer. It has made me great friends. It has introduced me to strangers to who I would trust my life.

So volunteer for Greenpeace. Meet interesting people, go to interesting places, drink the bar dry and climb inside a bear. What more do you want from life?

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

COP21: When Optimism Is Dangerous

So it begins, COP21 in Paris. And there is reason to be optimistic.

We might get a deal, it might ward off the worst of Climate Change. We might be able to build on it to keep global warming to acceptable levels. Well, it's possible, but it's not certain, and in no small part this is because the great and the good appear to have contracted the dangerous disease of optimism.

Is optimism a failing? Not usually. On the contrary it's a great trait to have in an employee. Who wouldn't want someone working for them who believes they can do better than you think they can. However when the people at the top leave uncertain reality behind for rose tinted certainties, you've got problems.

If you want an example of the perils of optimism look no further than the Iraq War. Why an oil funded ignoramus like George W Bush blundered into Iraq is not that much of a mystery. However why the US army, whose Top Brass boast almost as many M.As and medals, continued to believe it could rescue his failed venture when all the evidence was they couldn't can only be explained by the Army's institutional 'can do' optimism. The result is a failed state, the rise of Daesh and the atrocities in Paris and elsewhere.

The Iraq disaster though pails into insignificance compared to the dangers of getting Climate Change wrong.

Many of my fellow environmental campaigners though fail to understand the way business leaders think about the problem. The perception is that they are all fossil fools, believing climate change denial conspiracy theories and desperately trying to avoid the problem. There are certainly a few like that - far too many in fact - but for most business leaders if you ask them about Climate Change they will say it's a problem and here's how we're going to solve it: we do this, this and this. Easy

The problem is that their beliefs are usually wildly optimistic at best, and actually delusional at worst.

During my brief career as a gatecrasher to corporate shindigs I've heard C-Suite optimists from construction companies tell me in all seriousness how sustainable their companies will be even as they are covering the countryside with tarmac and I've had smiley faced board members from BP tell me how they will move into solar power and make a killing in Renewables. Instead they moved into tar sands and they did their killing in the Gulf of Mexico.

However the deluded optimist-in-chief of this army of faux climate warriors is bearded wonder Richard Branson. In 2006, after Al Gore converted him to the cause, he pledged $3 billion to the fight against Climate Change. In 2009 he launched the Carbon War Room to teach business how to make money by cutting emissions and in 2010 he announced the Virgin Earth Challenge.

All of which sounds wonderful until you realise that Virgin airlines now emits 40% more Greenhouse gases than it did when Al Gore gave Branson that personal PowerPoint, whilst the $25 million prize for inventing something to suck them out of the atmosphere again has still not been awarded. Only 10% of his promised money has appeared, although as Branson's personal wealth increase by over $2 billion, the Carbon War Room has achieved 50% success.

It's an inconvenient truth that straight after meeting Gore, Branson launched a new air route to Dubai and before Carbon War Room opened its doors Virgin America took to the air. He's also bought a Formula One team, tried to launch an exploding space plane and increased his own personal carbon footprint to the size of a small island by relocating to a tax haven in the Caribbean.

So like the War on Terror, Branson's pre-emptive strike on Climate Change only seems to have made the problem worse.

But back to Paris, and those business leaders hoping to lead the way to a low carbon future. As I blogged the other week, even the IPCCs own plans have been hijacked by the optimists, with the scenarios in its Synthesis Report being based on either time travel or imaginary technologies. However it isn't just the IPCC that has problems with reality.

Most industries have a plan of sorts on how to move to a low carbon economy and, as I said, most
CEOs you meet are wildly optimistic about theirs. Individually they are mostly pretty. Unfortunately taken together, they are a disaster.

The shipping industry, for example, is going to run on biofuels. So is the car industry, and the aviation industry. The US Navy has already tried biomass. Do you see the problem here?

A back-of-a-postcard calculation suggests that for everyone to do this would require 50% of the world's agricultural land to be converted to biofuels. Even if half the world would agree to stop eating in order to allow the other half to carry on consuming, there is no way we could build the infrastructure required in realistic time frame.

It's a similar story with nuclear power, which Bill Gates is gambling on despite the eye watering costs, or Carbon Capture and Storage, which has never been tried on an industrial scale but which features in almost everyone's plans, and so on.

So am I advocating pessimism then? No, I'm certainly not. Climate Change is not an insoluble problem. We can beat it, but we need to change. Forget flying. A Virgin train produces 90% less emissions than a Virgin plane. Forget biofuels. One wind turbine incidentally creates as much power as 2000 hectares of biomass. Above all forget endless economic growth. Lets redistribute what we have and all live happier lives. There are people in Paris advocating just that, but they are mostly on the other side of the barricades to the optimists, if they are not under house arrest. Meanwhile inside the security cordon the lobbyists are telling the politicians that we can beat Climate Change and make money.

Maybe pessimism from world's business would be infinitely worse, but then people tend to ignore sourpusses. The deluded optimist though has the power, like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, to lead us all to our doom.