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

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Woodsmoke and Wild Garlic

This is my diary describing my arrival at the protests against Manchester Airport's Second Runway.

Sunday 23rd March 1997

Pack my tent into my rucksack, put on my combat jacket and head off to Manchester. Yesterday two van loads of riot police arrived whilst myself and half a dozen others were leafleting a BP station in Cosby so I'm in the mood for a bot of radical direct action. The police were actually very nice. The weekend traffic to Southport had backed up towards Liverpool and someone had seen us handing out our leaflets. The message had been passed on to the police as 'Greenpeace are blocking the road'.

Greenpeace's campaign is about stopping oil drilling in the wilderness of the Atlantic Frontier, a campaign set to run over the summer to build up to the Kyoto Conference on climate change at the end of the year. Greenpeace want an end to the supply of new oil in order to prevent global warming, at Manchester Airport we will be opposing the fastest growing users of fossil fuels - aeroplanes.

However Manchester Airport's PR department has been putting out the story that 50,000 jobs will be created by the project, and as I arrive at Piccadilly Station and make my way to the bus station I see why a line like that will sell here. Despite my own ragged appearance, I am approached by beggars as I walk, and some of the city's homeless can be seen sitting in the sun in Piccadilly Gardens, surrounded by the concrete buildings, noise and pollution of the city. By comparison with the life of this urban underclass, the prospect of living in a makeshift camp in the middle of the wilderness is highly desirable. Poverty isn't just a lack of money or housing, it is being cut off from the natural world that should be our common heritage.

I end up on the slow bus to the airport, which winds its way through grey suburbs to the main entrance to the current site, where I leap out. I am in a different world to the concrete and brick jungles I have passed through. This is a land of  verdant hedgerows, stone walls and black and white houses set in lush gardens. Away from the main road I walk along country lanes. Immediately I see the first red and white 'No Runway Two' signs. These people evidently are doing well for themselves and don't need the dubious employment prospects beign offered by the airport.

I meet my first eco-warriors on the lane just before I get  to the site. These are Adrian, a tall young man with a pronounced West Country accent, and a young woman who is very well spoken and truns out to be local. They lead me to the main entrance to the site, a gap in the hedge by the main road. A few years away is the main entrance for the contractor's vehicles. I can see the start of the fence that was started earlier in the week, and which caused the first confrontations with the security guards employed by the construction company.

Adrian leads me up the grass slope towards the woodland that crowns the heights. All the trees are bare of leaves, and the tree houses, 'twigloos', can be seen looking like overgrown birds nests of plastic and wood.From the two occupied trees up ahead a banner reading "No Runway Two' hangs defiantly. This is Flywood. A shallow ditch and barbed wire fence surrounds the camp as a defence against dawn raids. A more effective defence is the clinging mud that surrounds the entire camp. Two planks cross this and lead to a couple of rough benders and a central fire pit. A couple of crusty characters are sitting in a bender drinking cider. Other benders on the edge of the camp appear to service the tree houses and tunnels. One of the tunnellers emerges as I enter, caked in red clay, with his head torch like a third eye.

I am greeted cordially and I explain I'm here to stay and ask where people are needed. I an told that a camp called Wild Garlic has just been set up and needs people. I ask for directions and are given some meaningless stuff about avoiding Cliff Richard, going through Zion Tree and past Bollin Bay, and I'm pointed vaguely in the direction of the current runway.

I slither off over the muddy grass and eventually come across a sign saying "Sir Cliff Richard OBE Vegan Revolution" and what appears to be a well fortified camp. Following the directions I was given I follow the edge of the woods and eventually come to a cheerful sign saying "Welcome to Zion Tree" which is at the top of a slippery, muddy slope through the trees. Struggling under the weight of my rucksack I slowly work my way down the hill and come out into the Bollin valley itself. A broad water meadow completely hidden from the surrounding fields, where the river meanders through the wooded slopes. A small copse by the water's edge contains an empty bender. Multi coloured ribbons are tied to the leafless branches.

To reach Wild Garlic I have to cross the Bollin. It turns out there are two ways of doing this:by a bridge made of planks and scafolding poles, or a rope walkway. Choosing the easier route this time I cross and scramble up the slope towards the camp. Separated from the grass by a channel of water, the camp is a wooded hillside covered by, of course, wild garlic. The trees appear to be a mixtures od ash and birch, and several tree houses are in in the process of being constructed.

The camp itself is reached by a rickety wooden bridge over the stagnant and filthy water. On the other side is a large, communal bender and two smaller ones, for cooking and tool storage. Various eco-warrior types can be seen moving around and doing things ....

Alas it ends there. After that I was too busy tunnelling to write ...

Friday, 24 March 2017

Top Five Misunderstood Songs

What do songs mean?

That's a more difficult question than it sounds. The process of creation is complex, and the writer doesn't always know himself. Lou reed wrote Perfect Day after a walk in Central Park, and that's what he thought it was about. When other people heard it they thought he was writing about drug addiction, and he seemed to believe them. Mike Oldfield wrote Moonlight Shadow shortly after the death of John Lennon, but claimed that wasn't what the song was about. Was he right? Who knows.

However sometimes it is quite clear what the song is not about, and sometimes it's also quite clear the people requesting it really don't get it. So here are my top five misunderstood songs.

Imagine by John Lennon

Is Imagine misunderstood? Surely everyone gets that it's John Lennon's atheist hymn to a more humane world?

Well, yes, but you wonder if he actually got that when he made the video. That really is the ex-Beatle playing a $40,000 piano in his $2 million dollar mansion whilst singing "Imagine no possessions". I wonder if he could?

However Imagine gets on the list because it is our most requested song at funerals.

Now if you actually are a humanist that's all very well and good, although personally I'd go for Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life. However as they're about 2% of the population, it isn't humanists who are making Imagine popular. Instead it's people who are nominally Christian sending dear old Aunty Nora's coffin through the curtain to Lennon singing "Imagine there's no heaven."

Perhaps not a bad little thought experiment to carry out, but there's a time and a place for this, surely?

Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen

A patriotic American song, often sung by patriotic Americans, who only know the chorus. This is a pity because it's actually a pretty good song, if only you listen to the lyrics.

"Got in a little hometown jam, So they put a rifle in my hand, Sent me off to a foreign land, To go and kill the yellow man" goes the second verse, which should give you an indication this was no simple Redneck hymn.

However that doesn't stop it being your number one singalong classic for 'Make America Great Again' voters. Which, of course, leads to the age old discussion of whether this makes The Boss a hero or a zero. I mean, it's one thing to write an anti-war song that gets banned from the TV, becomes a smash hit and gets sung by half a million hippies at Woodstock (take a bow Country Joe). But to write to an anti-war song that gets sung by Trump voters??!?

As Spinal Tap said, there's a fine line between genius and stupid.

Puff the Magic Dragon by Pete, Paul and Mary

1963 and the sixties were just starting to light up. Everyone was either smoking pot or writing songs about it.

Everyone except Peter Yarrow. Instead Yarrow decided to use a poem, written by a friend of an old housemate, to tell the story of an ageless dragon, left behind when the boy he plays with grows up. It's sad, it's poignant, everyone knows the words, and it's not about drugs.

The problem was nobody believed it wasn't about weed. Within twelve months of the song appearing Newsweek were reporting as fact that the boy's name, 'Jackie Paper', was a reference to rizlas, 'puff' meant smoking, dragon really meant "draggin'", 'autumn mist' meant clouds of smoke, 'Hanah Lea' meant a place in Hawaii marijuana apparently grows really well etc

Yarrow has now spent more than half a century denying this, and not from any puritanical motives. If he wanted to write a song about drugs, he says, I bloomin' well would. Meanwhile, stop corrupting a perfectly innocent song that children love.

Indeed, he appears to be so unrelaxed about the issue that it pretty much proves he isn't on pot.


The One I Love by REM

Romantic songs probably deserve their own category, although usually the problem is lyrics being misheard rather than misinterpreted. Jimi Hendrix not singing "Excuse me while I kiss this guy" has inspired a website.

However this song does achieve a special status, owing to the number of people who request it for their girlfriends in clubs, without actually realising what it's really about.

You should always try to listen to REM lyrics, although that can be quite a challenge. Having spent a lifetime around cars, guns and heavy metal bands, I expect that by the time I retire I won't be able to understand even Brian Blessed without subtitles. And if I want to imagine what this will be like, I just try to make out the lyrics of Radio Free Europe.

The One I Love though, can just about be understood by anyone with normal ears, so there isn't really an excuse for dedicating a song to your True Love that refers to "A simple prop to occupy my time", and where the woman in the last verse is clearly not the same one as in the first.

However, unlike the other entries in this blog, I very much suspect that the lyrics of this song were written to be misinterpreted, and that's it's REM having the last laugh here.

Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams

There are lots of songs that are believed to be really dirty, but in fact aren't. Madonna's Like a Virgin being an example, which has been misunderstood ever since Pulp Fiction came out. However here we have a song that is in fact really dirty, but nobody realises.

Adams came up with a bit of catchy soft rock nostalgia here. Pretty much every thinks the '69' refers to 1969, the year of the moon landings, Woodstock and the end of the hippy dream. Who wouldn't want to remember 1969? The fact that Adams was ten when Country Joe was raggin' at Max Yasgur's farm is, presumably, considered a bit of artistic license.

However Adams has made clear that this is not so. It is about the band he put together at High School, and 'Jimmy' who 'quit' and 'Jody' who 'got married' were real people. The '69' was, and he has stated this on the record, a reference to the quantity and quality of sex they were all having at the time. For some reason though this interpretation hasn't really taken off. Maybe it's the lumberjack shirt?

So some people write clean songs that people think are dirty, some people write dirty songs that sound as if they're clean. Bryan Adams writes a dirty song that sounds dirty, and everyone thinks it's about the Beatles splitting up.

Once again, it's that fine line.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Language of Money

 Newspeak
The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meaning whatever.
This is how George Orwell described the new language that Big Brother was creating in 1984,  a language that would make it impossible for the citizens of Oceania to ever again discuss the old freedoms that they had once enjoyed.

In the world of 'Brexit means Brexit' and 'alternative facts' it certainly seems to be coming true. However in another realm of human existence it already has come true, and most of us never even noticed.

Monetarised

When Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister she ushered in a radical new economic doctrine,
monetarism. From now on the only interactions that mattered were financial ones. Profits were more important than people and money was to be set free to invade very part of our lives.

It was new theory, that had been gestating since just after the Second World War, and which had recently been trialed in Chile. That had required tanks and torture chambers, but the revolution in the UK, and in America the next year, was more peaceful.

So why didn't we resist? I think because we were lost for words.

"Moneydoesn't talk, it swears"*

Think about these words; value, wealth, debt. Do they have clear meanings?

Do you 'value' a friendship in the same way you 'value' your shares? Clearly not, but how do you tell which meaning is which? Do you 'value' your record collection like your friends, or your shares? How about your house, or your lover? Would you sell, or buy, either? Perhaps I'd better not ask.

Then what do we mean by 'wealth'? Is it just the collective monetary value of things, or does it have a broader meaning? When Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, he did not the mean the same thing as John Ruskin, when he wrote 'There is no wealth but life'? But that was then, what about now?

Finally there's 'debt'. We have a national debt, prisoners pay their debt to society, and we owe a debt to our parents. The national debt usually means what we owe the banks, not what we owe those who died fighting fascism. However it's not just in Monopoly that you can buy your way out of jail, and you can certainly end up in jail if you don't pay your debts, although we do generally try to pretend this isn't the case. But what about the debt to our parents, assuming they were good parents that is. If they were bad parents we'd be talking about their debt to you. Either way, can this ever be turned into money?

The parents of nature writer Ernest Thompson Seton appeared to think so. On his twentifirst birthday his father presented him with a bill for all the costs incurred in bringing him up, including the fee to the Doctor who delivered him. Seton paid up, and never spoke to his dad again. No birthday cards, Sunday visits or worrying about which care home to put him in, he had paid his debt and that was that.

Seton may well be the exception that proves the rule, but it still appears that, like those citizens of Oceania, we have completely lost the vocabulary to talk about interactions in anything other than monetary terms.

Oldspeak


This becomes a major problem when we talk about resources we hold in common, particularly Nature.  

When we value Nature, what do we mean? We may say you can't put a price on a beautiful view, or clean air, but it can certainly increase the value of your house. Both a Thatcherite and an environmentalist would no doubt consider The Lake District to be part of the wealth of the nation, although only one would consider selling it off. 

Our current model of economics considers natural resources a free gift from Nature. The only argument is whether their value should be measured by what it takes to get them out of the ground, or what someone is prepared to pay for them. That's like valuing your lover by how much you spent wooing her, or how much you can pimp her for after dark. 

But then if we lack words that allow us to distinguish the bonds that bind us through love and affection, from those of work and commerce, this debate become difficult, to say the least.

That's why when I write these blogs, I sometimes end up sounding like a mystical old hippy. If I say the land is not just valuable, but sacred, you know quite clearly that I will not exchange it for money. If I say my connection with nature is spiritual, you know it is different to my relationship with my bank balance.

Perhaps we need a new language, one that can't be mistaken for the language of money. Let's recognise this Newspeak for what it is, and talk about Nature in words our ancestors would recognise. 

Let's not speak the language of money, but of the trees.

* Bob Dylan It's All Right Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) 

Further Reading

David Graeber Debt The First 5000 Years 
J B Foster, B Clark, R York The Ecogical Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth

Friday, 3 March 2017

Communication Management Units: America's Political Prisons

He had sat silent against the wall, jostled by dirty bodies, too preoccupied by fear and the pain in his belly to take much interest in his surroundings, but still noticing the astonishing difference in demeanour between the Party prisoners and the others. The Party prisoners were always silent and terrified, but the ordinary criminals seemed to care nothing for anybody ... The positions of trust were given only to the common criminals, especially the gangsters and the murderers, who formed a sort of aristocracy. All the dirty jobs were done by the politicals.
George Orwell 1984
The history of prisons is not what most people think it is.

Until modern times they were for holding the accused before trial. Then they were for debtors, before finally becoming places where criminals could 'pay their debt to society'. Previously punishment had been public and painful, now it was private and, physically at least, painless. But as well as debtors and criminals, prisons were also used to house the politically undesirable.

One of the reason the use of the stocks fell out of favour in England was that Luddites and other radicals could use them as pulpits to preach their message, and the general populace were more likely to listen than throw things. Prisons kept the radicals away from the exploited masses. Orwell, a journalist as well as an author, knew this. He also knew full well how the political prisoners were treated differently to the ordinary lags.

What?

There is a prison system within a prison system in America called Communication Management
Units.

In CMUs the inmate's contact with the outside world is greatly restricted. Regular prisoners are allowed 56 hours a month of visits. In the high security Supermax prisons, where the most dangerous and violent prisoners are held, this is 35 hours a month. The CMUs allow just a single, one hour visit each week, and this is behind glass. Ordinary prisoners are allowed five hours of phone calls a month. In the CMUs it is just fifteen minutes a week, and these need to be in office hours and book more than a week ahead. Letters, usually unrestricted in prisons, are limited and read first by the authorities.

How?

These units are not for the most dangerous, or badly behaved criminals. They go to the Supermaxes. Nor are they for the people who murder abortion doctors or commit their crimes in pursuit of their sick, far right ideology. They stay in mainstream prisons, where their first First Amendment rights to free speech are respected. CMU are almost exclusively for Islamists, and those convicted of crimes in pursuit of environmental or animal rights campaigns.

In other words what decides who goes in a CMU is their religion or their political beliefs.

Why?

CMUs are not designed to rehabilitate the prisoners. How could they be when all experience says that prisoners benefit from contact with the outside world? Hugging your wife or holding your baby makes prisoners want get out and stay straight.

We can probably all guess why the Muslims are in CMUs. But what's with the environmentalists?
ELF activist and former CMU inmate Daniel McGown

One theory is that is is just to make the CMUs appear more ethnically mixed. In the same way that white dominated companies might employ a black bouncer on the door to appear diverse, the eco-warriors make the CMUs a bit whiter.

However that doesn't explain why it's only environmentalists and animal rights activists who get sent there. Anti-abortionists are just as white as environmentalists, and the far right tend not to have too many blacks or Muslims amongst their number.

The only conclusion is that a deliberate choice has been made to put the Greens in. Extreme racists and anti-abortionists are a challenge for law enforcement officers, but they are not a threat to the ruling political ideology. Or to corporate profits. We are.

Indeed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which many of those in CMUs have been convicted under, specifically defines 'terrorism' as an act causing "loss of any property", including profits.

So far these units are only on the other side of the pond, but what happend in the USA tends to happen here before too long. We should all of us be worried about CMUs.

References

Michel Foucalt Discipline and Punish
E P Thompson The Making of the English Working Class
Will Potter Green is the New Red


Tuesday, 28 February 2017

So Where Did It All Go Wrong?


This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.
Douglas Adams’ The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, Pan Books, London, 1979
So where did it all start to go wrong?

With the exception of the most wildly optimistic Bright Green, most environmentalists believe what passes for Western Civilisation made a disastrous wrong turn some time in the past. This has resulted in us facing, at the very least, a Sixth Great Extinction, and at the very worst our own extinction.

But when did we go wrong? Perhaps not as far back as Douglas Adams, writing at the end of the 'Decade of the Environment' suggests, but perhaps not.

So when exactly did we go wrong? When did we have alternatives?

The combination of Trump and Brexit looks set to see a bonfire of environmental legislation, but we were hardly heading for paradise in 2015. The War on Terror has provided a huge distraction from more pressing issues, whilst Dubya's decision to ditch the Kyoto Treaty set progress on climate change back by fifteen years. However for my first junction I will choose:

1989 The Fall of the Berlin Wall

The end of communism in Eastern Europe was a moment of optimism. A system that had promised paradise on earth, but which had delivered only poverty and oppression, had fallen. Democracy had triumphed, and with it capitalism, although rather fewer celebrated that.

The subsequent closure of polluting communist factories led to the only significant drop in European carbon dioxide emissions since industrialisation has begun. Things looked good, but it wasn't to be all good news.

Capitalism in the third quarter of the twentieth century had been different to the rest of its history. Now it wasn't enough to just make the rich richer, the poor had to also be kept happy enough not to want to vote in the dreaded communists. In the UK we got a National Health Service and in the US factor workers got complementary health insurance. Trade unions were tolerated, a labour policy tried to keep full employment, and when Rachel Carson and others revealed the extent of the damage to Nature caused by industrial pollution, a raft of government bodies were created to try to deal with the problem.

But with the red threat gone, capitalism had no need to compromise with anyone any more.

When George Bush Senior went to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 he basically said no to any steps to deal with any of the problems discussed.

At the same time intelligence agencies, with time on their hands now, turned their well honed skills on Green campaigners. So effective was this that when the War on Terror gave them a new threat to worry about, plenty of time was still found to deal with the 'terrorists' who targeted fossil fuels.

The men and women who broke the Berlin Wall in November 1989 had not wanted this. They had wanted the best of both worlds, socialism and democracy. However those brave pioneers were naive about what they were letting in. The world on the other side of the wall was not what they were expecting, and it has become increasingly clear that without communism to keep it honest, capitalism itself became the monlithic ideology prepared to do anything to defend itself.

The difference is that the 1%, unlike the geriatric rulers of communist eastern europe, look unlikely to go quietly.

1971 The Rise of Neoliberalism

On 15 August 1971 President Nixon broke the financial system that had run the capitalist world since the end of the Second World War.

France had sent a destroyer to New York to claim its share of the US Federal gold reserve. In response Nixon took the US dollar off the Gold Standard.

Nixon was responding to a growing crisis in the US economy, caused by the state living beyond its means whilst trying to keep the cost of the Vietnam War off the books. However the move was the first victory for a group that had been plotting the downfall of the western model of capitalism since 1945.

This group were radicals, but not left wing ones. The Mont Pelerin society, named after Swiss hotel they met in, were followers of the economic theories of Freidrich von Hayek. Hayek told them exactly what he thought of the sort of mixed economy, introduced by Roosevelt to deal with the Great Depression, with the title of his book The Road To Serfdom.

The doctrine he espoused was neoliberalism. At its simplest it said that the only transactions that matter are those involving money. Industry was not important, unless it was a way to make money. Family, society and the environment certainly didn't matter. The only role for the state was to maintain law and order, meaning to maintain the laws that allowed corporations to do what they want, and the order where the rich were protected from anyone who might object.
When the US launched a military coup in Chile to remove a democratically elected communist, it gave neoliberalism exactly the conditions it needed to thrive - total chaos. Whilst the army rounded up the leftists to be tortured or killed, the military regime imported Chicago school economists to rewrite the rules.

The election of Thatcher in the UK in 1979 and Reagan in the US the next year saw neoliberalsim rolled out across the western world. Trade unions were crushed, taxes were cut, and environmental laws slashed. The result was that when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the USSR fell apart in 1991, the chaos that followed was ruthlessly exploited by the neoliberals.

Flooding in New Orleans, the invasion of Iraq, the Credit Crunch. All these provided opportunities for the neoliberals to extend their grip. Green capitalists belive that government regulation, smart taxation and a controlled market can make us sustainable. Neoliberals believe regulations, taxes and controllign the market are all morally wrong.

We cannot save the world whilst the neoliberals run it.

1945 The Triumph of Consumerism

Having lived my entire adult life in the chaos of the post-Cold War neoliberal world, it's easy to be nostalgic about the world my parents inherited after the Second World War ended.

Unlike the other eras in this blog, this one was carefully planned in advance. In 1945, with the world in ruins, the memory of the Great Depression still fresh, and Stalin's tanks in Berlin, Prague and Budapest, the free world met at Mount Washington Hotel in Breton Woods, New Hampshire, to work out how the capitalist world's economy should work. The genius behind it all was Britain's Maynard Keynes, although he wouldn't get things entirely his own way.

Compared to wht followed, the Bretton Woods was very sensible, It provided the engine for social democracy which made the West somewhere that most people were actually happy to live.

But something had to power the machine, and that thing was consumerism. This was not a new idea, but one that accelerated after 1945. Things were no longer manufactured to meet needs, but desires. Unlike need desire, if the ad men did their job properly, was unlimited. From cars to washing machines industry produced a house full of new gadgets for people to want, and new forms of credit allowed them to buy it. 

The result is that we entered the exponential age, when everything, except the earth's capacity to sustain us, increased by a little more each year.

Since 1945 we have been always buying, but never happy, whilst the planet has been always dying, but we never noticed.

1771 The Industrial Revolution

In 1771 the modern world was created in Cromford, Derbyshire.

Visiting Arkwright's first mill now it's easy to be beguiled it. Resting in a picturesque valley, and powered only by the water, it seems a far cry from the Dark Satanic Mills of Blake. But that is to miss what the Industrial Revolution was. Later there would be a coal revolution, and a financial revolution, but the first revolution was a social one.

Previously human life had revolved around the family and the village. It had been human scale. Work had ended with the setting of the sun and followed the rhythms of the seasons. Life could be nasty, brutish and short, and the main source of wealth - land - was not evenly shared. But the system was sustainable, both in balance with the earth and relatively unchanging over time.

Cromford Mill changed all that. Women and children were dragooned into the factories. The worked, not at a pace set by themselves, but by a brutal overseer. The speed of the machines was set by the power they drew from the water. The people kept up, or perished.

Welcome to the modern world.

1620 The Scientific Revolution

In 1620 Sir Francis Bacon published his great work Novum Organum, which aimed tofinally move western science on from where Aristotle had left it two thousand years earlier.

To many Bacon was the man who demystified nature, who removed the wonder from the natural world and severed the sacred bond with the organic world that was carried over from pagan times.

This is going too far. Science has given us ecology as well as ecocide, the Gaia Hypothesis as well as the China Syndrome. It is a tool to be used wisely, and it is not the fault of Bacon that we have chosen to use this tool otherwise.

But the fact remains that if, like China in Bacon's time, we had chosen stability over enquiry, we would not be where we are now. The rulers of the world in the seventeenth century had the power to make human life hell on earth, but without the revolution Bacon started the earth itself would have been safe.

c. 10,000 BC The First Agricultural Revolution

But if Bacon started the process that would eventually lead us to be able to win a war on Nature, he was not the one who started the fight. Anyone who puts a plough into the earth knows that they are starting a battle. As soon as you clear and till an area of land you are in conflict with weeds, pests and
disease. You don't have to resort to chemical warfare, but fight you must.

But it wasn't always this way.

12,000 years ago we were all hunter-gatherers. This may not be
everyone's cup of tea, but the evidence is that the agricultural revolution actually made things worse. Early agriculturalists worker harder, died younger and lived in more socially fragmented societies.

What's more, it is probably only in the last century or so that average human health improved over what it was farming, and we still work harder than our 'caveman' ancestors.

What farming did though was allow a small elite of kings, priests, warriors and so on to be supported by everyone else. You can see what was in it for them, by why did the rest of us go along with it? They probably didn't, voluntarily.

Agriculture also allowed more people to live on the land, and in a fight 100 half starved farmers will usually beat a dozen well fed hunter-gatherers. The agricultural revolution did eventually allow what we call civilisation. Everything from art to science, dentistry to Doctor Who followed on eventually to make our lives more pleasant followed on.

But twelve millennia on not still everyone enjoys these things, whilst the earth has less than a hundred harvest left in her. Was it really worth it?

Conclusion

We can't turn back the clock even if we want to. We can no more rewrite Breton Woods than we can unthink the scientific revolution. We wouldn't want to rebuild the Berlin Wall even if we could, and we couldn't return to being hunter-gatherers even if we wanted to.

We must continue the fight from where we are, not where we'd like to be. However by looking back at our history, and seeing how how many times what looked right at the time has turned out wrong, should at least make us more modest about our achievements as a species.

As Douglas Adams also wrote:
For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

My Review of the Year 2016

January


In it was 2016 twenty years since the Newbury Bypass protests. A defeat that led to a famous victory, the snowy woods of Newbury were where it all began for me as an eco-warrior. The Guardian's John Vidal, who had been ignoring my press releases for the last three years, made amends by putting me in his Guardian article.

Back in the present day though I didn't feel much campaigning at all. 2015 had been about the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It had been signed, but we knew that was only the beginning of the fight, not the end. That was why the Red Lines action in Paris took place the day after the conference ended, not the day before it started. But a year of campaigning, then travelling to Paris for a demonstration that had been declared illegal due to the state of emergency, had taken it out of me.

The first stop was Wigan, the home of those early eco-warriors, The Diggers. I say a few words, drink a few beers, and chat to some interesting people.

Back in the real world the cull of music greats, that started with Lemmy before New Year, continues with David Bowie. Having released Blackstar three days earlier he goes out with style. I never knew the man, but the artist was amazing. He was soon joined by Glenn Fry, co-founder of The Eagles, and Dale Griffin, the drummer from Mott the Hoople, in what looked already like it was going to be a grim year for music fans. 

February

February though started with some good news. The Great Bear Rainforest in Canada, named by campaigners in the 1990s, finally received the protection it deserves. The home of the mysterious spirit bear, I had been part if the battle to save the forest in the late 1990s, when I was part of the British branch of the Forest Action Network.

The Paris Agreement was already looked like another lame treaty. In the USA the conservative dominated Supreme Court voted 5:4 to block Obama's, very modest, Clean Power Act whilst a series of fossil fuel funded legal actions against it were heard. Then right wing judge Antonin Scalia died, giving hope the deal wouldn't be killed before its first birthday.

This year's campaigning began properly with the start of Cuadrilla's appeal against Lancashire County Council's decision to reject fracking at two sites.

It was at Blackpool Football ground and getting there was the first challenge, as the Glossop to Manchester trains are off and there was a giant sinkhole in the road at Broadbottom. I do make it though, and there is a sizable turnout. There is also a rare appearance by the opposition, a dozen or so middle age men, who stayed for exactly an hour, before looking at their watches and leaving, presumably to fill in their time sheets and collect the £120 they were (allegedly) paid for attending.

All the usual suspects are there except Tina Louise Rothery, who turned up in Parliament Square with Greenpeace's fake fracking rig.

Inside the appeal all appears to go well for the anti-frackers. However, as we know the final decision will be made in London, not Blackpool, we weren't confident.

March

Meanwhile the revolt against fracking across the regions continued, with my friend Ed Kelly of the local Labour Party successfully getting an anti-fracking motion passed by High Peak Borough Council.

The next evening I headed off on the train across the snow covered landscape to meet the fledgling Warrington group. I don't think we got much organised, but we drank a lot of beer and had a very good time.

Meanwhile the next musicians to join the supergroup that was forming in rock's Valhalla was keyboard maestro Keith Emerson. It was promising to be quite a gig up there.


April

April started with a camping trip with my boys, and a chance to visit one of my favourite trees, the King of Limbs in Savernak Forest.

The Greenpeace group had a bit of busy month. First Sami was out in about in Manchester, as we collected postcards to send to the Norwegian ambassador. We were asking him to make the, increasingly ice-free Barents Sea, a protected area.  We also delivered anti-fracking cupcakes to Manchester City Council.

The world was certainly an interesting place in 1916, but a hundred years ago it was even more so. April marked the centenary of the Easter Uprising, which was the start of Irish independence. I decided to reflect on some of the historic places I'd visited whilst living there twenty years ago.

This month I also got to hear Paul Mason speak, along with John McDonnell, who is now the Shadow Chancellor, but who I remember as being the only Labour MP willing to leave their fortified conference venue to speak to the People's Climate March we put on two years ago. As someone trying to make Marx relevant to the twentifirst century, Mason certainly got my grey matter working, leading to this blog on how we got into the mess we're in.

In April I met an Oscar winning actress, and she smelt of poo.

Greenpeace had sent Emma Thompson, and her sister, up to Blackpool for the Great Fracking Bake Off, to cakes which Tina Louise and the Lancashire Nanas judged. I popped up to join them. The farmer who'd sold his land to Cuadrilla was there too, and decided to cover Emma, and the cakes, in manure. The volunteers still ate the cakes though.

At the end of the month came some good news. Several months of stealing tins of tuna from the shelves of Tesco, and hiding them around the store, had paid off and the company agreed to drop John, unless they actually completed on their promise to become sustainable. 

This month's famous musician to join the great gig in the sky was Prince.

Also dying this month was Colin Gould, the husband of the Liz Gould, the stalwart coordinator of the Merseyside Greenpeace Group for many, many years. His funeral was one of those moments when you realise that Greenpeace is really just one big family.

May

May started with the Big Session in Buxton, and its accompanying beer festival. Seth Lakeman was fantastic as usual.

Going Backwards on Climate Change was a national campaign, and Manchester did its bit. I was there with Sami, and in May it was pretty hot work. Sami is out again a couple of weeks later as we have a token protest at the Etihad Stadium, as arch-frackers Eneos are sponsoring the Great North Run. The day started with Lori and I being greeted by armed police, but they are friendly enough.

The same day we start our new target for the tuna campaign, Sainsbury's. The big news on the oceans campaign though was that whilst we hadn't yet got the marine reserve we wanted, several major brands announced they would not be buying fish from the Barents Sea.

June

Not much campaigning this month, as I instead chose to spend my spare time enjoying the countryside as this was my favourite month of the year. The purple orchids were out in Cressbrook Dale, and the snow had finally melted on Kinder Scout.

Another distraction was that it was exactly 25 years since I graduated from Leicester University with a 'gentleman's pass' in astrophysics. To celebrate the Leicester physicists class of '91 returned to the city, and tried to find a bar that hadn't been gentrified since we left.

I did however get to run a stall for Greenpeace at this years Envirolution Festival in Manchester. It is bloomin' hot, and we have far too much gear, but at least we sell all our cupcakes.

There were more centenaries this month, including a hundred years since the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest 24 hours in the history of the British Army. This was my view of why that was so.

Then Brexit happened. A victory for the tabloid press and their campaign of scapegoating. Suddenly moving forwards was no longer an option. We would need to campaign to defend the limited victories we already have.

Just to add to the gloom, this month's late, great musician was Dave Swarbrick. His last gig had been a benefit for refugees, an example of the sort of tolerance and humanity that threatened to be interred with his body.

July

July saw a fracking industry meeting at the Manchester Conference Centre. In the grand scheme of things it was a minor gathering of minor players in the industry, but on the principle that we go after them wherever they are, we held a demo outside. Tina Louise actually turns up this time. I made a speech linking fracking with the Paris Agreement, which now seems a very distant memory. Rather bizarrely we appeared on Cuban television. 

In a break from fracking the Manchester Greenpeace Network played its part in a day of action against Siemens, as the company was contracted to build a series of huge damns in the Amazon. We paid an undercover visit to one of their 'IQ Centres' in Altringham to re-brand some of their white goods. All went according to plan and all the activists escaped unscathed.




The 2016 Olympics open in Rio, with an environment themed ceremony. Interesting, but lacking in the humour and generally zaniness of Danny Boyle's London 2012 show. I reflect here on how much meaner a society we seem compared to those happy days.

August

Holidays and family illness limit things a bit in August, but I still get to the Cropredy Festival.


It's a bit of a wake for Swarb, but still fun. The headliners are Madness, Steeleye Span, the Bootleg Beatles and, of course, Fairport, who are fifty next year and all live up to expectations, especially Madness, who are very much not just a band cranking out their old hits (although they do get played).

However it's the new discoveries that make the weekend. There was the very weird and infectious bluegrass/metal act Hayseed Dixie. Then Wille and the Bandits, who were a fantastic blues act that make up for me missing the Black Keys. Bet of all there was The Pierce Brothers, an Aussie band that turn up, weary from a long tour, and pining for home, but who play a stonking set, and end up having an even better time than us.

September

More interesting centenaries came and went, including 100 years since T.E. Lawrence left his desk in Cairo and went off to become 'of Arabia'.

I don't seem to have done much this month except climb a mountain in Cumbria (High Cup Nick, at the top of which is the best view in England).

However I did find time to medicate on why so many Working Class people (although certainly not all, or even the majority) continue to shaft us all, and themselves, by supporting Trump, or the insane Brexit crowd, and the remarkable degree to which those three pillars of the establishment; the City, the aristocracy and the Tory Party, continued to support peace with Hitler even after the Second World War had started and Churchill was PM. Then, I should point out for balance the Working Class were 100% behind the war effort.

Having failed to sign up for fully fledged Corbyn-mania (I remain a fully paid up Green) I also had some wry amusement about how a bewildered old Trot like Jeremy managed to beat of the 'Blairite opponents' and remain leader of Labour.

October

October starts with me getting drunk in the Greenpeace warehouse, something I haven't done for a while. At least this time I didn't then have to get on a coach for a twenty hour journey to eastern Germany.

On 4th October the European Union ratified the Paris Agreement. The next day the government announced it was overturning Lancashire's decision to reject Cuadrilla's plans for fracking at Little Plumpton. It was game on again.

As bands of activists had been turning up outside fracking conferences on a regular basis, Shale Gas World decided to hold its at a secret venue when they met in Manchester. Fortunately we were able to find out where it was and stage a little demonstration of our own.

Uniformed plod met us met us at Piccadilly station and plain clothes officers escorted us on the train, but we managed to find the Radisson Blu Hotel without the. A recommendation by the Police Liaison Officer that we hold our demo at the station - where nobody would be able to see us - was politely rejected and we plonked yourselves down outside for a morning of making noise.

On 25 October the government announced that they were going ahead with the Third Runway at Heathrow. By chance I was in London that day visiting the Royal Astronomical Society (not for any particularly clever reason, but because a friend from university works there) so I got the news of Zac Goldsmith's resignation live.


November 

The month begins with the election of Trump as President of the AS of U. A man who makes George W Bush look principled and Dan Quail as talented, the only possible positive thing you can say is that at least the world's only superpower no longer wants us to even pretend we take them seriously.

Campaigning continued despite this calamity. The 'Secret Shale' event was the starter, but the main course was the United Against Fracking rally in Manchester on 12th November, which Frack Free Greater Manchester has organised, at very short notice, for Frack Free Lancashire.

For once, I did my job as Press Officer right and we had TV, radio and print media. Of course, it helped that Frack Free Lancs had persuaded Bianca Jagger to lead it, as well as John Ashton, former climate change diplomat and founder of Third Generation Environmentalism. It was good to meet him again, and he didn't bear any ill feeling towards us for knackering his lungs by taking him to Davyhulme last time he was in Manchester.

The rally started in Piccadilly Gardens, where I do a brief comedy turn on the microphone. there appear to be almost as many people as attended the Barton Moss event we held two years ago, which allows us to claim we've achieved our objective of being the biggest anti-fracking gathering ever in the UK.  I then take my place at the very back and follow every to Castlefields.

There we have some rather more serious speeches, including by Andy Burnham, the man set to be Manchester's first mayor. Hacienda legend Dave Haslem does the DJing, and Bez turns up too. We are the lead regional news story, but don't even get a mention on the national news, which is about par for the course I'm afraid. Next year we'll have to up the ante with a bit of direct action, but for now it's a fun day out in town. The show ends with Peaceful Dan leading everyone in singing 'the people have the power', whilst I order a taxi for Bianca.

During November I also play my part in Salford TUC's Environment Day event. It's a low key affair, but a sign of the links we have between eco-activists and trade unionists that we have in Manchester, but not many other places.

However whilst the TUC seems to like us, Merseyside police decided that we were all 'domestic extremists', and listed anti-fracking groups amongst those people should be worried about as part if its Prevent anti-terrorism strategy.

This months dead musical great was Leonard Cohen, who was at least pretty old. This was my vaguely relevant blog.

December

To round the year off I was asked by the Glossop Guild for Enquiring Minds, our local, independent spin-off from the Workers Education Association, to be one half of a talk entitled the Case For And Against Fracking. It could have been a very ill-tempered event, but in the end m and my opposite number, Peter Webb got along fine, and agreed on most of the actual facts. My side of the argument is here. 

The year's events weren't over yet for Tina Louise Rothery though. After a busy year she had the minor matter of Contempt of Court charges to face after refusing to pay a fine levied against her by Cuadrilla Resources. She was up in court and facing two weeks in Styal Prison. She is invited into the back room of the court with opposing barrister, whilst the judge 'disrobed' (hopefully he at least kept his pants on). Cuadrilla blink first and Tina doesn't get sent down, which is a pity in some ways as the Manchester Greenpeace Group had baked her a cake.

Conclusion

So that was my 2016. We held the line and kept the country frack free, kept the issue of climate change in the news, and made some progress on Oceans and the Amazon.

Meanwhile, though, the rest of the world went mad. War and refugees, fake news and fake politicians, extremists and authortiarians; that was the story of 2016, and my prediction for 2017 as well. If I ended 2016 not recognising my own country, we may all end 2017 not recognising our own world.

Still, we'd be bored with nothing to fight, wouldn't we? Yes, we lost on most of the big issues, but then we lost the battle at Newbury too. But we weren't wrong, and in the end we won the war.

See you on the blockades in 2017.