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

Saturday, 30 December 2017

My Review of the Year 2017


The year began with a visit to Jodrell Bank, on the clearest of winter days. The children got to some science-y stuff, and I got to see the spot where the Fourth Doctor regenerated into the Fifth.

The search for life elsewhere in the universe was something that I would come back to later in the year, but mostly in 2017 I was trying to trying to preserve life on earth.

Family and work kept getting in the way, so I ended up binge-protesting when I got the chance. For example, on 20th January I manage to attend three protests in one day.

It had all started kicking off up in Lancashire, as Cuadrilla planned to be the first company to commercially frack in the UK. They started to constructing their site on Preston New Road, just outside Blackpool, and a daily protest started straight away. Initially, at least, it was fairly lightly policed. There was even an agreement that the protestors could stand for exactly twenty minutes in front of each convoy before it drove in. Save to say that didn't last long, but it was still all very civilised when I paid my first visit.

A bit nearer home, A E Yates of Bolton, who were the main contractors for Cuadrilla, were the scene of another protest. I dropped in on my way back from Preston New Road to lend a bit of moral support.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Trump had been elected. This was bad news for everyone, and there were protests around the world, including in Manchester where a thousand or so people decided to turn out on a cold January evening. I turned up too, for the third protest of the day. A personal record.

However fracking isn't the only, or even the most serious, threat to the climate. January ended with my bi-annual trip to see the students of the Manchester Metropolitan Sustainable Aviation course. Yes, that really is what it is called. Sustainable aviation, like miliary intelligence and Microsoft Works is, of course, an oxymoron, and I told the students that. As usual, they were attentive, bright and informed, but after I showed them the 'graph of doom', and they discussed what to do about it, which was tinkering with holding patterns and straightening trans-Atlantic routes.

Alas that is how most business people think about climate change. There is a vast chasm between problem and solution.


It was back to PNR again this month, as Cuadrilla's fracking site is now known. It was now business-as-usual with lock-ons and lorry surfing.

There's not a lot to do at a fracking site when a bunch of crusties have handcuffed themselves together across the gates, so I didn't do a lot.

Back in Manchester, Earth First! had their Winter Moot at Bridge 5 Mill, so I ambled along on the wettest day of the year to hang out with the anarchists. Apart from the usual debates about theory and practise, it was a chance to meet international Earth First!ers from the USA and Germany, which is always great. I learnt that's possible to sail to America on the ship that brings the EF! journals over, and that the campaign in the Hambach Forest is about as full-on as it gets.

I wanted to go there.


Instead I found myself hanging around car dealers in Greater Manchester.

March had brought better weather, and also a new Greenpeace campaign, banning diesel cars. With that in mind we went round adding health warnings so that these toxic monsters were at least correctly advertised.

I must admit, when when told last year that the objective was the banning of diesel cars as a prelude to ending the age of the internal combustion engine, I thought it was a little optimistic. However over the year it became an issue you couldn't get away from. Stickering car dealers was only the first phase, but it was so much fun we did it twice.


April started with the Manchester Save the Greenbelt rally. A busy international Greenpeace campaigning schedule usually meant we couldn't do much about local problems like this, so it was good to be able to lend a hand and give our long-suffering banner another airing.

The better weather also meant the Porter boys were off camping. We went to mystical Savernake Forest, home to some of the oldest and most interesting trees in England. The trees were still bare, but that made the forest by starlight a magical place, with the barking deer sounded like a troop of demented werewolves. However my boys preferred it when we spent the evening in the pubs of Marlborough, which are pretty good too.

In April Manchester Greenpeace started a collaboration with the ethical tech company Thoughtworks. We were invited to their office, up in the gods at City Tower, and they put on beer and pizza for us. We showed the film Disruption, made before the 2014 climate rallies. Afterwards I say a few words about what happened since, which is Paris and Trump basically. The first promises great things, but probably won't deliver. The second promises terrible things and probably will. It was a mixture of Greenpeace people and computer people, and we had a good discussion afterwards. At least these people got the scale of the problem.

I wanted to attend the Manchester March for Science, and both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth were ready to help them out. Unfortunately the organisers decided we weren't welcome as they wanted a 'non-political' rally, so both groups did other things, and I went to see Robot Wars at Event City, which was science of a sort.

Also in April Manchester elected its first mayor. It was never in doubt that this would be ex-Labour Health Minister Andy Burnham, but what was heartening was that all four main candidates were against fracking, including the Tory. Despite this unanimity the environmental hustings was very interesting, as Burnham reiterated his opposition to fracking, and pledged a Green Summit in 2018.

I ended the month by camping in the woods under Kinder Downforce for Beltane with some of the Greenpeace team. One keen person decided to jog there over Kinder Scout from Glossop, and was guided down from the plateau to the campsite by torchlight. My camping gear consisted of a tent, a sleeping bag and a litre of Jack Daniels, which certainly made the night go with a swing. The weather was kind and a good time was had by all.


In May I mainly did nostalgia.

For the May Day Bank Holiday I had decided to organise a walk to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass, which my grandfather went on. We'd planned it as a social for our Greenpeace group, but soon dozens, and eventually hundreds, of people said they were interested.

In the end just short of a hundred people turned up, and I led the walk despite a fairly major Jack Daniels related hangover. I was able, with a little help, to climb onto Benny Rothman's rock to address the crowd. It was an attempt to win back the memory of the trespass for the radical end of the protest movement, so we did a bit of Greenpeace campaigning on the side.

And radical protesting we carried on doing. Some of our supporters were unable to make the walk, as they were training for Greenpeace's contribution to the PNR lock-ons. I wasn't part of the team, but decided to turn up anyway. The practise paid off, and they deployed their yellow boxes across the entrance to the site in less than 90 seconds, right under the noses of the police put there to prevent lock-ons.

By the time I get arrive there is a row of familiar faces, all in their red hats, waiting in the sun for the Lancashire plod Protester Removal Team. They duly arrived, and described themselves as "very impressed" by the lock-ons. Eventually the first pair were cut free, and the others unlocked after that. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, even the police, who told as that usually they have "Aldi protesters" but today they had "Marks and Spencers".

The only downside of the day was that there had not been time for the team to deploy the really big banner they'd brought with them. As it really needed to be shown off a group of us went back the next week to give it a proper airing.

There was more nostalgia in May as well, as it was twenty years since my days as a tunneller trying to stop Runway 2 of Manchester Airport. I decided to organise a little reunion of old eco-warriors, and managed to persuade the BBC to turn up. In the end the weather was as wet as it had been in 1997, but a dozen or so middle aged radicals turned up. I managed to find an old tape player so we could listen to the album we recorded under the flightpath.

The BBC seemed reasonably pleased with the result, and gave us a prime slot on the local news.


In June we had a General Election. Initially my reaction was similar to Brenda from Bristol's, but once it got going the campaign was actually a lot of fun. In the High Peak we had a Progressive Alliance between the Green Party and Labour. This took a bit of arranging. but it meant I was out campaigning for Labour for the first time since 1997.

The whole mood of the country appeared to be changing. London-based pundits laughed at the Yougov poll that showed young people intended to vote heavily for Corbyn, and instead predicted 'strong and stable' May would walk it. However that was not our experience out an about.

Knocking on doors, many older voters, even ones who claimed to be lifelong Labour supporters, recycled the Daily Mail line that Corbyn was a commie and a terrorist, but in the pubs and clubs we were meeting young people who got their information from other sources. Never before have I been mobbed by teenagers on Glossop High Street just because I was carrying a Labour Party bag.

The result was a 14% swing to Labour and the election of Ruth George as the new MP for the area. Suddenly the future changed.


In July Manchester got itself a statue of Engels whilst Manchester Greenpeace got Spongebobs Squarepants. He was part of our campaign to stop oil drilling off the newly discovered reef at the mouth of the River Amazon. We took him out and about in a number of places, including to Manchester Pride.

If people don't destroy it this reef, at least, has a chance of surviving climate change, it was an important campaign to win. As the year ends we still can't be sure we've done that, but the signs look hopeful.

Also in July we had our second film showing with Thoughtworks. We watched Black Ice, the film about the Arctic 30. Phil-of-the-Arctic comes along, with the rest of the Greenpeace climb team in tow, to tell us about his experience, or at least about the less grim bits.


It was now time for a holiday, so the family were packed up we all headed north to Northumberland for a week of Roman remains, historic castles and beautiful beaches.

Then it was the Cropredy Festival, and a special 50th anniversary of Fairport Convention one. Pretty much every ex-member who could make it did, and it was a very special occasion. Judy Dyble and Ian Matthews recreating the very early Fairport, including their cover version of Leonard Cohen's Suzanne was a highlight, but there were plenty more.


Having ousted a useless and Tory and replaced him with a Trade Union campaigner, our Red and Green 'progressive alliance' held a meeting at Glossop Labour Club to decide what to do next.

As well as hearing from Ruth George herself, we ran a couple of workshops. The transport one led to some lively debate about the proposed bypass, but my talk on fracking in the energy workshop went down well, as does Matthew Patterson from Manchester University, Jonathan Atkinson from the Carbon Coop and Richard Body who talked about the Torrs Hydro project.

We ended by visiting the camp at George Street Woods, although the rain out paid the the idea for a picnic.


The Tory's were in town again in 2017. I guess they'd been hoping to celebrate their election victory and boast about the Norther Powerhouse, but instead they found themselves besieged in hostile territory arguing about why they 'lost' the election. Inside it was empty seats and recriminations. Outside it was a party.

I was part of the anti-fracking feeder march that joined the main anti-austerity demonstration. This ended in Piccadilly Gardens, after some careful navigation to avoid crashing into the anti-Brexit march going in the other direction. We had the extra-large Greenpeace banner, and we found we'd been placed behind the communists. Extra police had been drafted in, including some from Lancashire, who recognised the PNR lock-on team.

Back in Glossop I had to dust off some brain cells I'd not used for a while to give a talk about space exploration to the Glossop Guild. Apart from forgetting what the atmosphere of Mars was made of, I think I managed all right.

The Greenpeace group managed another trip up to Preston New Road again in October. Cuadrilla's site was more-or-less finished, and they had even managed to sneak a rig in in the middle of the night. However they weren't fracking, and we weren't sure why. The highlight of the day was the redoubtable Anne Power taking a stand and getting in the papers.

Plastic pollution, especially in the oceans, was a major issue that many environment groups started to seriously tackle in 2017, and Greenpeace was one of them. In Manchester we did our bit by fishing several bags worth of crap out of the Bridgewater Canal. A surprisingly large number of people turned out to help, but not too surprisingly we all ended up in the pub afterwards. Not surprisingly many of the plastic bottles had been made by Coca Cola.

The end of the month saw me down in Canonbury Villa for the annual Networker Coordinator's meeting. On the Saturday evening the warehouse was the scene of annual Networker Coordinator's piss up. By staying to the end and helping tidy up I earned myself some free beer, which meant the people I shared a room with had to put up with my snoring. It was the weekend the hour went back, but rather than have an extra hour in bed I spent the time in Tavistock Square trying to sober up enough to take part in the second day. Despite my self-inflicted problems it was an informative and inspiring weekend. The Antarctic is going to big next year.


The Greenpeace PNR lock-on people were in court in November, and so I went up to provide moral support. Their main legal rep. was Mike Schwarz of Bindman's, who helped get me acquitted in 2000. They were in good hands, but we expected a guilty verdict. Almost everyone else who'd locked-on had been convicted, and one judge had even questioned whether impoverished defendants should be allowed legal aid, so we weren't optimistic.

But how wrong we were! Judge Jeff Brailsford decided that what Greenpeace had done had been fully fair and proportionate and let them all off. The party afterwards was quite good fun I believe. I'd not been officially on the action, and just gatecrashed the event, but apparently I appeared on all the police videos. That's not really the way to do these things.

As a Greenpeaker I get to go out and about telling people about Greenpeace. Schools aren't my favourite places to do this, but Altringcham College's Year 10 students were good. Some of the teachers didn't exactly encourage an open debate, but they showed some interest in the story of the Arctic 30. If only Greenpeace was supported by some celebrities teenagers had actually heard of!

#HolidaysAreComing and other mindless hashtags told us that Christmas was on its way. Coca Cola claims it invented Christmas. It also claims to be environmentally friendly, but as we were fishing its bottles out of the canal last month we had our doubts.

In order to try to make them better we took to the streets get people sending them messages. It helped that Blue Planet II was on the telly, and some people made the connection between the billions of bottles coke makes every years and what David Attenborough was talking about.


By now the season of colds and NHS crises was upon us, and the campaigning season came to an end.

It's difficult claim the world was a better place than it was twelve months ago, but at least the resistance seems to be alive and well. There were certainly signs of hope: young people are both as liberal as ever but more politically engaged than before. They also seem to be able to filter out the fake news and actually user the internet to both learn about the world and change it.

The twin enfolding disasters of Trump and Brexit show that right wing Popularism is a political dead end. Fracking appears to be going nowhere and the campaigns against diesel cars and plastic pollution made great progress. However none of these problems actually went away, so it looks like we're going to have to do it all over again in 2018.

So love and peace to everyone who campaigned with me this year. Apologies I couldn't do more to help you.

Enjoy the party season. Next year we change the world.

No comments: