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

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Review of the Year 2018


Another year on planet Earth, and it really does appear that the lunatics are now running the asylum. 

Greenpeace's big campaign this year was trying to create the world's largest ocean sanctuary in the Weddell Sea. The grand plan is for a third of the world's oceans to eventually be protected, starting in the Antarctic. This will help the fight against Climate Change, but equally importantly it may help species survive Climate Change. Given what's going on in the world that might be very necesary.  

Greenpeace sent us some paper penguin masks, which Paul in Ashton assembled for us. Their first action was a photo shoot. We decided to use Castlefields, and so we assemble in the Science Museum cafe. Steve did a fantastic job on the photography and Nuria lent some genuine modelling skills to proceedings.

The combination of rain and industrial architecture gave the pictures an authentic 'Manchester' vibe.  The photo above ended up getting used a lot by Greenpeace in their own publicity, which was great. Greenpeace certainly came up trumps on the design, but unfortunately they didn't make them waterproof. RIP four penguin masks. 

Also in January the Manchester Metropolitan University Geography and Environment Society showed the Bruce Parry film Tawai. We took the penguins there too. For my money there was too much musing that 'we are all to blame' and not enough blaming of corporations for my money, but it was still a good film.

Finally we were out and about as once again London managed to breach it's air pollution limit for the year whilst it was still January. The metrics in Manchester are slightly different, but the problem is still the same, as are the main culprits: diesel cars and vans. Greenpeace Actions Team people had been around putting up coughing people on billboards during the week, but the torrential Manchester rain washed them all away. As a result it was up to Steve and I to go and put some back up again for the photos.


Being an old fashioned sort I count February as the start of spring, so every year the family goes to see the snowdrops at Hopton Hall, near Matlock. February, when the first flowers appear, was always the start of spring in pagan time, and why not?

It was cold, but there was no snow yet. However somewhere where there was snow, and where it was even colder, was Antarctica, where the Arctic Sunrise was exploring the Weddell Sea. Greenpeace sent Bond villain Javier Bardem down in a minisub to explore, making him one of only a handful of people to see the unique underwater eco-system. I'm not jealous. Honest. 

It's a long way from Manchester to the Antarctic, but it turns out there is a connection. I got in touch with Dr Max Jones of Manchester Univeristy and he told me about Manchester's role in the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. It was such a good story I decided to book him for a talk. 


Our own snow arrived in March, and almost put paid to any serious organising for the month. However we did eventually manage a meeting, in our new venue of the Lass O'Gowrie pub on Charles Street. 

We were back to saving the Antarctic again, and this time the target was Antarctic krill, which is increasingly appearing on the shelves of our health food shops as Omega III supplements.  

Greenpeace's first target was Holland and Barrett, but they threw in the towel after only four days. By the time Manchester got involved we were onto target number two: Boots. A team of secret squirrels visited four branches of Boots in Manchester city centre, adding warning labels to the Antarctic krill on the shelves. All the local groups were doing this, be we were the first groups to get a reply from the company on their Twitter feed. Some poor PR person clearly had a difficult weekend thanks to us. 

March was also Andy Burnham's Green Summit. The Greater Manchester Mayor had promised this when he was elected last year. The event was at Manchester Central, and was very well organised and presented. Burnham's talent is bringing people together and this is what he did, with speakers such as
Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Centre and Steve Mogford of United Utilities more or less singing from the same hymn sheet. We also had ex-Manchester United player Gary Neville to add a bit of celebrity glamour to proceedings. 

There were some eye opening stalls around and about though. Manchester Airport were there, and claiming they were carbon neutral. Apparently they don't count the planes.

Burnham himself made time to meet us at lunchtime. Restating his opposition to fracking was a bit of easy publicity for him as he doesn't really have much actual power or budget.

In the evening Frack Free Greater Manchester organised a fracking fringe event, and we had Maureen Mills come down from Lancashire and Eddie Thornton come over from Yorkshire to speak, along with our own Helena Coates. The battle goes on in Lancashire, but Eddie was able to tell us how it was won in Ryedale. An extremely well organised campaign caused the government to pause, and then the perilous state of Third Energy's finances gave them the excuse to pull the plug without looking like they were doing a U-turn. Protests work, but you've always got to give the opposition a way out. 


April started with the opening of the inquiry into Lancashire County Council's decision to stop Cuadrilla Resources from fracking in the village of Roseacre. When the government overturned the Preston New Road decision, Roseacre was left on the shelf. We had a rally outside and I gave a little speech. We still don't know the outcome of this, but my thoughts are still that it will be the test of whether the government is prepared to spend any more political capital on fracking. Hopefully they aren't, but we'll see.

We were back in the Antarctic again in April. Dr Max Jones' talk took us back to the end of the heroic age of exploration. Manchester, it turned out, both welcomed polar explorer Fridjtof Nansen as a both a hero and a bit of all right ("all the women swooned, and so did some men" the papers reported) and helped fund Scott's ill fated mission. It was an interesting evening.

As far as our own Antarctic campaigning went, we were once again targeting Boots, this time with our 'krill-o-meter'. Funnily enough nobody really thought it was a good idea wipe out whales and penguins for a few vitamins. Boots staff were pleasant enough, but their HQ was reportedly having kittens.

April also marked the start of campaigning on palm oil. This was to be our major local group campaign at the end of the year, but for the moment it was only taking place online. If deforestation was a country it would be the third largest contributor to climate change after the USA and China, and palm oil is one of the big four contributors, along with animal grazing, soya for animal feed and paper. 

Greenpeace had run a petition asking PZ Cussons to stop using destructive palm oil, and as their HQ was near Manchester airport Canonbury Villas gave the task of handing it in to them to the local group.

It was nice to be trusted with this. The company wasn't expecting us, but on hearing that Greenpeace were in the foyer they immediately sent down their sustainability guy to speak to us. He seemed a reasonable sort of fellow, and suitably contrite about what they had been doing, so we agreed to pose for a 'smiley' photo with him. All good fun, but you have to be careful not to be drawn into the 'sustainable company' myth. At the end of the day they are wiping out orang-utans, displacing indigenous people and causing climate change just to make shampoo, and making decent amounts of money doing so, and that's not right


In May we were visited by the anti-fracking Nanas from Lancashire. Aliki at Thoughtworks, an ethical tech firm, puts on occasional films for us and we were showing of the new Undercurrents film Power Trip. We'd invited one of the Nanas to speak, but an entire coach load actually turned up, plus honorary Nana Anne Power from Chorlton. It was a good evening.

Also in town, but not as welcome, were the people who brought us the Deepwater Horizon disaster, oil company BP. Greenpeace were gearing up for a big action on Total's AGM, and all the serious shareholder activists were in Holland for Shell's AGM, which was being held the day after to stop people who don't fly doing both. As a result it was down to Manchester activists - very much the B Team - to hold the company to account.

I asked a question about the Amazon Reef. This deep water reef, located below where the Amazon
River empties out in the Atlantic - which is exactly where you not expect to find one - was only announced to the world six years ago. A more recent scientific study, carried on the Greenpeace ship Esperanto, found the reef was much more extensive than first thought, and extended well into the area where BP planned to drill for oil. I had the scientific report in my bag, but despite this the BP board decided to lie to my face and claim that they were a long way from the reef, which they also said they'd known about for ages.

Speaking to the board afterwards they were clearly chuffed with themselves. They clearly weren't afraid of such well behaved protesters as us. However they did appear to be afraid of class action suits based around their climate change denial. It was frustrating, but at least I got to call them liars in the press release. 

Also in May I took part in something a bit different organised by Mend Our Mountains, a
conservation effort run by the British Mountaineering Federation that aims to, well, mend our mountains. The idea was to get 1000 people with head torches to stand on the Great Ridge, which runs from Mam Tor to Lose Hill, and lies just south of Kinder Scout. Mam clearly means mother, and Lose is almost certainly a local version of Lugh, a Celtic god of light, so the two hills are named after a goddess and a god. If the natural ridge running between them wasn't an ancient processional way, then I'm not a druid.

I'm not quite sure if they got a thousand, but there were certainly several hundred people up there. It got cold when the sun set, but the resulting pictures were amazing.

Out this month on the internet was a little video by WellRedFilms about the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932. Partly filmed during the Manchester Greenpeace Group's 85th anniversary walk last year, I got to say a few words too. We didn't manage a Kinder Scout walk this year, but we will for 2019.


The festival season begins and still the sun shines.

Envirolution once again proved it was Manchester's best free day out. Matt's small people helped us out and we had such a good response to our stall we ran out of petitions for people to sign.

The festival is also a bit of an AGM of all the Green and social justice groups in Manchester, so it was a chance to meet some familiar people and try to get one over on Friends of the Earth.

Next it was a new venture for Greenpeace: running the an eco-camp field at Download, Heavy Metal's biggest party. The regular Greenpeace festival team are a little apprehensive, but Jeff and I are in our element.

Download is basically 70,000 people getting very, very drunk, with a bit of music on the side. Greenpeace were running a camp site on the edge of the main field. It was part of the Castle Donnington deer park and so can only be used if it was looked after. People who camped with us signed up to recycle and not litter, and they did. We also had a vegan cafe and a yurt for the obligatory yoga session. Doing yoga and then going to watch death metal is probably the equivalent of coming out of a sauna and jumping into a frozen lake, so I hope nobody was permanently injured by the experience.

Metal fans tend to be oddballs and loners, which is why Jeff and I fit into the scene, and the Greenpeace field attracted both types, some of which were at their first festival. Download is such a friendly place though they all fitted right in.

It wasn't all work though and I got to see some bands and do some serious drinking. The one and only Damh the Bard was there. Guns and Roses were the big name, a band I felt like I'd grown up with. Mara pointed out that Axel Rose now looks like Donald trump in a hat, and it seems he can sing other people's songs better than his own now. Slash though made it a really amazing show. Other highlights were Avenged Sevenfold who are now a true headline act, and Thunder, a band I saw at university but who've still got it. Highlight of the weekend though was watching 'Jesus' crowd-surfing to Cradle of Filth whilst an aeroplane flew over trailing a 'God Loves You' banner. Surreal.

Back home our campaigning consists of taking to task Barclays for their financing of a tar sands
pipeline in Canada. This means getting the train into Manchester whilst carrying a large cardboard ATM machine, which was interesting.

Tar sands make fracking look clean and safe and although it's a pretty obscure campaign for Manchester, but people are supportive and sign messages of support. We also had a really angry branch manager when we handed our ATM into the bank, which was reassuring. It always makes me suspicious when they're nice.


This month we received news that all our krill campaigning had paid off: a huge group of companies that control most of the krill fishing announce they were pulling out of the Antarctic and would not be opposing Greenpeace's plans for an ocean sanctuary. A big success for our campaign.

Climate Change also came a bit nearer to home, as Saddleworth Moor caught fire, with the flames visible from my bedroom window. Fortunately the wind was blowing away from Glossop, so it was Tameside Social Services rather than us that had to evacuate people. At night the peat continued to burn and the red glow could be seen after it was too dark to see the hills themselves. It was like looking out over Mordor. I decide to link this with our Barclays campaigning and write a blog for the Greenpeace UK website.

This also made me doubly determined to do something when arch Climate Change denier Donald Trump was in London. I went down on the Manchester coach with Rachel and Hannah from work. It was one of those huge demonstrations where you don't move for two hours, but the atmosphere was great. The banners and costumes are amazing too, if not very polite.

Even though it was a Friday, there were more people in London campaigning against Trump than there had been in Washington celebrating his inauguration the previous year. There were a lot of people around I knew, as I'd expect, but the only one I met up with was Mara who, being American, had even more reason to be there than I had.

We also did some plastic campaigning, and decided to pay a visit to Sainsbury's flagship store at Cheadle Royal. We never know what we're going to get when we go here. Last time the only person who spoke to us was parking warden, who was pleased to meet people who didn't look down their noses at him.

Plastic seemed to be an issue that the SUV driving mums of Wilmslow wanted to engage with though, and many of them take our replacement paper bags to salve their consciences as they drive home.


The start of August found me on holiday in the one part of the UK not suffering a drought. However the wildlife in Dumphries and Galloway didn't seem to mind, and a pair of friendly badgers visited our cottage ever evening.

Greenpeace renewed its campaign to ban diesel cars, and went after old enemy VW again. As a result the pixies were out in Manchester, Altrincham and Stockport decorating VW diesels in the night. As usual, Canonbury Villas don't tell us why we're doing this, but it turns out to be the prelude to a re-branding of the VW offices in Milton Keynes.

I managed a bit more plastic campaigning in August too, firstly in Manchester itself, and then at my second festival of the year. This was RiZe in Chelmsford, which is what has replaced V. We were running the deposit return scheme, where we give people 10p back on their plastic skiffs and bottles.

The Greenpeace team were a fun bunch, and mostly half my age. As we didn't have our own field we were in crew catering, which meant three course meals twice a day. I also found the back stage artists toilets - which actually flushed - and once I'm on friendly terms with the security man I also don't get searched as I came and went, meaning I could bring in my own beer. This was good as they only sold lager on site, this being Essex and all that. The main act was Liam Gallagher, who was excellent when doing Oasis numbers. I saw Oasis before they were famous at a free festival in Preston. This felt like seeing them after they're famous. However the find of the festival for me were Brighton indie outfit Black Honey.

At the end of the month though came the sad news that Lord Peter Melchett, former director of Greenpeace UK, and the only peer of the realm I've ever shared a police cell with, had died. I first met him on the 'Lyng job' of 1999. He had led a fascinating life that took him from his father's farm in Norfolk, through politics in Jim Callaghan's government, to activism with Greenpeace, the Soil Association and other organisations. He was arrested twice, but only ever in Norfolk. My memories of him are here.

There was better news too, as we found out that our tar sands campaign had been successful. A Canadian court squashed the Trans Mountain Pipeline. Canada had planned three pipelines to get the tar sands oil for Alberta to the USA. They were all controversial, but this was the first one to be stopped. Two to go.


After baking in the sunshine at Envirolution, we were looking forward to the Wigan Diggers Festival, and thought it would be a good idea to sell water bottles to raise money for Greenpeace. However come the day we all got a drenching. Fortunately we had our own gazebo, and even more fortunately the people next to us didn't turn up so we could use theirs as well. Preston Greenpeace joined us, but their face painting wasn't too popular due to the weather. Evey and Helen had made cakes and wraps though and these sold well, even though the water bottles didn't. Once we'd finished we got to enjoy the music. Merry Hell were great. Alice had driven there in her new car, and we made it safely there and back again, despite my navigating.

Fortunately it's a bit drier when we return to plastic campaigning. Greenpeace promised a shoppers
revolt against pointless plastic and I was a bit cynical, thinking we'd be lucky to get one mildly dis-chuffed shopper. However they were right and I was wrong.

We had more volunteers than we could actually use - I don't know how many but it was double figures - and a really great response from the public. Even the manager of Chorlton Morrison's seemed pleased to see us. Getting shoppers in Manchester to use less plastic bags is a very long way from cleaning up the world's oceans, but it's a start. Hopefully next year we'll be setting people some more challenging targets.


We were back in the Antarctic in October, with one final push before the Antarctic Commission met in Hobart, Tasmania to decide if the Antarctic ocean sanctuary was going to happen. We showed some film of the Arctic Sunrise expedition and I talked about Greenpeace's 'Million Dollar Missions' in the 1980s. But best of all we had River talk about what it was like to actually be there. He'd served two tours with the British Antarctic Survey at a time when British Antarctica was all white and all male. Things have changed a bit since then thankfully.

Whilst all of the above was going on, the campaign against fracking in Blackpool had been going on.

Scores of people had been arrested for blockading the gates, locking-on and lorry surfing. Three people who'd done the latter last year had found out that Lancashire police had no way of getting them down, and so had ended up on the trucks for several days. The Crown Prosecution service hadn't liked that and so Simon, Richard and Rich had found themselves convicted of Public Nuisance and sent to prison. They weren't the first peaceful eco-warriors to end up behind bars, but they were probably the first since the Mass Trespass in 1932 to go straight to jail without first breaching bail or refusing to pay a fine.

They were released on appeal, and by coincidence a big rally was planned at Preston New Road the week after. Attending meant missing the big anti-Brexit demo in London, but it was worth it. This was the largest gathering there'd been at PNR. Former LibDem leader Tim Farron was there, along with John Ashton, Tina Louise and others, but there was no doubt who the stars of the show were: Simon, Richard and Rich.

Also October I invited the one and only Anne Power to Glossop for another showing of the film Power Trip. The 2014 Observer Ethical Award winner was the film's cover girl, so we had to invite her along.

Glossop isn't an area licensed to frack, which is why Frack Free Glossop is just Rod and I, but it was good too see that even here there is strong opposition to shale gas.

Anne told us about watching the Blitz on Liverpool in the Second World War, and the campaigns against fracking at Barton Moss and Lancashire. She is still going strong as a campaigner at 87, so she has a way of making us all feel inadequate.


Barclays was visited again in November. The Trans Mountain Pipeline may be history, but they still had plenty of money invested in dirty fossil fuels, so using the contacts we'd made earlier in the year we encouraged people to get in touch with them and tell them to stop. Ben from Hebden Bridge was one who did.

November was also the month of Rang Tan. This short film, narrated by Emma Thompson, was originally produced by Greenpeace to use with schoolchildren. Iceland supermarket tried to use it as their Christmas TV advert, but fell foul of an obscure clause in the regulator's rules. However the result was an internet sensation that led to 60 million people watching the film, and a good number of Mumsnet shoppers ditching Waitrose for the frozen food retailer.

Our own contribution to the battle against destructive palm oil was to take to the streets of Manchester to get people to be photographed sending a message to Oreo. Once again we had a good turnout of volunteers, including new photographer Moe, and a lot of support from Manchester folk.

At the end of the month Matt, Helen and I are down in Canonbury Villas for the annual Greenpeace Local Groups Conference. Our privatised railways did their bit to try to stop me, with both my trains out and back being very late. However when I got there it was great to meet old friends again. Greenpeace appeared to have learnt their lesson from last year and just ordered bottles of beer, rather than a whole barrel, and so I still felt vaguely human on Sunday morning. Before I went down though I'd quickly edited a first rush of a 'Best of 2018' video. I got it on Greenwire and it was noticed by the ED, which was a Brownie point for Manchester.

I had to sing for my supper though by giving a presentation on how we ran the Manchester Group, which caused a little bit of a problem as we weren't entirely sure ourselves how we did run it. At the start of the month we'd got the bad news that Russia, China and Norway had all vetoed the Antarctic sanctuary, but we got the hint that there would be some good news on our other campaigns soon.


Greenpeace local group campaigning pretty much came to an end in December. However that didn't stop it being our most successful month of the year.

Firstly, VW appeared to have shifted their position significantly. After refusing to meet Greenpeace all year they relented after the action in Milton Keynes. The main news their ED wanted to pass on to ours was that he was resigning! However shortly afterwards came a more important announcement: VW were ditching the internal combustion engine and going electric. Not quick enough for us, but still significant news.

Then came the news that our Oreo campaigning had been effective. Mondelez International, the parent company that owns Oreo, as well as a load of familiar British brand names like Cadbury's, Terry's and Fry's, had got together with other palm oil users and put pressure on Wilmar International, their palm oil supplier in Indonesia. This pressure led to Wilmar announcing a raft of measures, including satellite surveillance of their suppliers, to try to stop deforestation. They will need to be kept an eye on to ensure they keep their promises, but it was a great victory.

The next bit of good news came from Brazil, where a court stopped Total's effort to drill off the Amazon Reef. This wasn't necessarily the end of BPs bid, but it made it extremely unlikely to succeed.

The final bit of good news had very little to do with either myself or Greenpeace, but was still very welcome. Fracking at Preston New Road had been repeatedly halted over the previous few weeks due to minor earthquakes. Cuadrilla had previously agreed a low threshold for stopping operations, but now they were asking the government to raise the limit. We don't know what the government's reply was, but just before Yule Cuadrilla took away all their compressors and started to dismantle the rig. We don't know if this really is it, but it was certainly not part of the plan.

So that was 2018. We failed in the Antarctic and the tangerine fascist is still in the White House. However on VW, on palm oil, on the Amazon Reef and finally on fracking in the UK we were making progress. Minor victories, in the grand scheme of things, but it's minor victories that keep us going.

And so it's on to 2019. This year we change the world, as I said last year.

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