Sunday, 28 June 2015
Wednesday, 24 June 2015
Reject them and they face financial ruin.
No, not the dilemma facing Syriza's Alexis Tsipras in Greece, but that facing Lancashire County Council as they consider the application by Cuadrilla Resources for the first application to extract shale gas in the UK.
The Council has seen a mountain petitions, a deluge of letter and emails to councillors and a small army of protesters outside (including me) urging them to reject fracking. Those in favour of shale gas meanwhile have had to resort to 'astroturfing'; persuading a handful of students who want jobs in the industry to pose outside when it was quiet.
So why is it so hard to Just Say No?
The answer is because the system is rigged.
Partly we have my all-time favourite road protester to thank, Mr John Tyme.
Tyme, a polytechnic lecturer complete with jacket with elbow patches, who successfully opposed a number of road schemes in the 1970s. Tyme's modus operadi was to get into the Planning Meeting and hit the committee with a barrage of evidence that the car culture sucked.
The problem is he was so successful they changed the law to stop him. Today it is impossible for a planning inquiry to challenge government policy. If they say we need more roads we need more road, the only question for the planners to answer is where.
Mainly though we have the legacy of 'Mr Localism' himself to thank. Eric Pickles' effect on local government was toxic. He gave more power to allow them to oppose things he didn't like, such as wind turbines, and when they opposed things he did like he overruled them.
Councils also had to, by law, come up with a Core Strategy. This is usually a document of Byzantine complexity that only those with no life and infinite patience have the time or willpower to read, let alone comment on. The strategy has to by definition, be "consistent with national policy".
As I said, the game is rigged.
The sticking point in Lancashire appears to be CS5, the strategy for growth. Along with some warm words on Climate Change, this requires the council to "foster growth and investment". Cuadrilla offer investment, so job done, legally.
Lancashire County Council have the option of rejecting one sight in favour of another, but if they say no to all of them they risk an expensive legal action. A whip round outside County Hall today raised £250 for that, but when Tesco threatened to appeal against Machynlleth's rejection of their planned store a couple of years ago it was estimated it would cost each Council Tax payer in the town that much.
So money controls the planning process, just as it does Central Government and the major political parties.
Lancashire County Council may still be brave enough to reject Cuadrilla's plans. If they don't the protests that will take place will be massive, but the cost of policing them will fall on the Council Tax payers of Lancashire. Having rejected fracking, the voters of Lancashire will in effect be paying to police themselves as they try to stop something by direct action they couldn't stop through democracy.
Welcome to the world of the Twenty-first Century, where we are all Greece.
Tuesday, 23 June 2015
My speech on behalf of Greenpeace to the rally outside Lancashire County Hall, Preston as Lancashire County Council consider the first application to extract shale gas in the UK, 23 June 2015.
As someone who was born in Lancashire I am very pleased to be here today in Preston, the epicentre of the battle against fracking in this country.
Greenpeace is proud to stand with you, and we all stand alongside the people of Romania, Hungary, Pennsylvania, and Australia in this global insurgency against shale gas. The front line is here this week.
Eighteen months ago it was at Barton Moss in Greater Manchester. I was there, but whilst I was fighting that battle In was also engaged in another campaign, that was to gain the release from a Russian jail of the Arctic 30; the 28 Greenpeace activists and journalists imprisoned after the ship Arctic Sunrise was seized whilst trying to stop the rush for Arctic oil.
Arctic oil is an extreme fossil fuel which the oil and gas industry are trying exploit as conventional sources peak, despite the clear evidence that burning fossil fuels is causing climate meltdown. It is dangerous, it is unwanted and it is killing the climate. Shale gas is also dangerous, also unwanted and also killing the climate. These two battles as the same battle. Fracking is an extreme fossil fuel in your back yard.
It will industrialise our countryside. It will pollute our air. It could contaminate our water. It will not lower our energy bills. But it will contribute to climate change and how we fight climate change is the defining issue of our time. Will we let the oil and gas companies go to the ends of the earth or tunnel beneath under our homes, in search of more fossil fuels, or will we take a stand here?
We know the answer. We are seeing significant and sustained resistance to fracking across the country. 80% of fracking applications are turned down. 99% of respondents to a Department of Energy and Climate Change poll didn’t want fracking under their homes.
The alternatives are out there; more renewable energy, better insulated houses, cheaper public transport. These solutions are available right now. More are on the way. And as well as beating climate change, they will give us cleaner air, warmer homes and less traffic congestion.
We know from America that when the fracking industry comes to a community, what it leaves behind when it leaves is a toxic ghost town. But when the fracking industry tries to move in and community says no, what you get is something amazing. Barton Moss no longer has a drilling rig, but it does have Barton Moss Community Energy. Balcambe in Sussex does not have a fracking rig, but it is on its way to being Britain’s first solar village.
We can do this. The problems are not technical, it is a question of public will and political will, and I think the public are well ahead of the politicians on this one.
I’ll end by saying this. If Lancashire County Council vote to approve these applications then I have this message for all of you; we will continue to stand with you, at the gates of Preston New Road and Roseacre if necessary.
But if they decide to listen to the people and vote no I say this to Cuadrilla Resources; don’t you dare come back here with another legal challenge. Don’t you dare! And I say this to the government in London, who may be thinking of overturning the decision of this chamber; we may be a long way from the Palace of Westminster, but this is what real democracy looks like. Respect it.
Today I am proud to come from the ‘bleak and desolate north’.
Saturday, 13 June 2015
(And One It Didn't)
It is the story of the defence of Rorke's Drift, a minor skirmish in the history of British colonialism, made famous because it occurred the day after one of the Empire's greatest defeats. The Zulu nation, one of Africa's toughest tribes, had just been invaded from British Natal and in response they launched a surprise attack on a British camp at a place called Isandhlwana, wiping out the 1st Battalion of the 24th Regiment of Foot. A company of the 2nd battalion, guarding a supply depot just over the border in Natal, then found itself under attack.
The film is a convincing tale of British soldiers, far from home, fighting a brave and determined enemy for reasons most of them had little understanding of. It could be any number of minor battles of the Empire. However in some ways this universalism is one of its problems, as the battle of Rorke's Drift had a number of unusual features which, if the film makers had portrayed them accurately, would have made the film rather less believable, starting with the Zulus themselves.
1. The Zulus
Young, lean and fit these men look every inch the fierce African tribal warriors they are. The Zulus that won the Battle of Isandhlwana would have looked very much like these chaps. Unfortunately those who fought at Rorke's Drift didn't.
So rather than the 'celibate man-slaying gladiators' depicted we have a bunch of married, middle aged men having a mid-life crisis.
2. The British Soldiers
Although not as old as the Zulus they faced, the men of B Company, 2nd Battalion 24th Foot were no boy soldiers. The unit had been in South Africa for several years and hadn't recruited in that time. The men would have been grizzled veterans and no doubt their uniform and equipment reflected that.
Photographs of the Zulu War exist, but they are all posed and so the troops selected would have been looking their best. Contemporary sketches do exist though, and they show soldiers in patched uniforms wearing a variety of headgear. The regulation pith helmets still being worn worn would certainly not have been white either. The soldiers pretty quickly realised having a nice, bright target on the top of your head was not a good idea and so on campaign the brass badge was removed and the helmet staining brown with tea or cow dung.
Scruffy men with shit coloured headgear don't make great cinema, so we can see why this was changed.
3. The Missionary
In reality there was a lot about Zulu culture that would have scandalised the real Witt. Joining the army and being assigned a regiment was very important to a young Zulu, as it was the first step to getting laid. Once a regiment had proved itself in battle the men had the right to take wives, which is one of the reason the young men charged so bravely into the British bullets at Isandhlwana. However the young men weren't always willing to wait and a variety of sexual practises went on that I can't really describe in a family blog like this. As well as the sex, they also smoked cannabis regularly.
|'Ammunition Smith' in action|
There was a man of God present at the battle though, army Padre George Smith. He wasn't a pacifist either and earned himself the nickname 'Ammunition Smith'. As he dished out the bullets he encourage the men to keep shooting, but stop swearing.
Smith's morality, approving of shooting Africans, but not of calling them racist names, may seem hypocritical, but it has been rigorously followed by film makers ever since.
4. The Sergeant Major
Anyone who has served will recognise this type of no-nonsense senior NCO. Unfortunately, whilst 99% of the Colour Sergeants in the British Army at the time probably did resemble Green, Frank Bourne didn't.
Firstly he was only 5; 6", and secondly he was only 24 years old, the youngest Colour Sergeant in the Army at the time. Far from being solid and unimaginative, he was a bright fellow who today would have gone straight to officer training school. He did eventually become an officer, dying a Colonel in 1945 - the last survivor of Rorke's Drift - but only after he had saved up enough money to live in the snobbish world of the British Officer.
Class isn't really something that usually crops up in films like this, but maybe it should, for Bourne was clearly far more of an Officer and a Gentleman than many of the people who led him into battle.
5. The British Officers
In reality though there were reasons these two were left back at base whilst everyone else was off hunting the Zulus.
Chard was an engineer, there to build a bridge whilst Bromhead was the posh one. Both were rather old to still be junior officers. Chard served under Colonel Wood later in the war, who regarded him as a "useless officer...scarcely able to do his regular work" whilst Bromhead was a "capital fellow at everything except soldiering ... brave but hopelessly stupid".
Both men were overweight and General Wolseley, who was the model for the Very Model of a Modern Major General, and who met them both after the war, said "two duller, more stupid, more uninteresting even or less like gentlemen it has not been my luck to meet for a very long time."
So much for Victorian heroes.
6. The Commissary
The question then is how these two hopeless officers actually managed to organise the defence? The view of historians now is that they didn't, and the credit should really go to Acting Assistant Commissary James Dalton, a retired army sergeant living in South Africa at the time who had volunteered to help organise the supply wagons.
Dalton had served under Wolseley in Canada and some of the general's drive appears to have rubbed off on him. He won a Victoria Cross in the battle and has a barracks named after him, but never received the praise he deserved in his lifetime.
7. The Defences
The British started the war so overconfident that they never bothered to fortify any of their camps. The men at Isandhlwana paid the price for this, but under Dalton's direction the force at Rorke's Drift made no such mistake and built their own barricades from what they could find.
The remarkable thing about the battle is not so much that the Zulus lost, but that despite having neither eaten nor slept for 24 hours, and having waded a river to get to battle, the Zulu veterans kept up an attack on such a formidable position for ten hours.
8. The Zulu Tactics
This is the stereotypical image of a colonial battle. It's not too far from the reality either, as the British Army faced enemies using such medieval tactics in the Sudan and Afghanistan. The Zulus though were smarter, as they had been fighting enemies with guns for nearly half a century by the time of Rorke's Drift.
The film correctly talks about the Zulu 'horns of the buffalo' tactics, which they did indeed use at Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift. When they actually closed with the enemy they used an open formation, the men spaced out to avoid heavy casualties.
In the Sudan and Afghanistan the close formations of swordsmen took heavy casualties whilst charging in, and it would all be over one way or the other in a few minutes. But because of their loose formation the Zulus stuck around a lot longer than the Sudanese and Afghans. At Isandhlwana the main body pinned down the British line for nearly two hours until the horns could outflank it, whilst at Rorke's Drift successive waves of attacks continued for the best part of a day.
Zulu warriors weren't just brave, they were also smart.
9. The Captured Rifles
The Zulus really did take a thousand rifles from the fallen soldiers in the British camp at Isandhkwana, and they used them in subsequent battles of the war. The rifles were prized trophies and the Zulu king allowed the men who captured them to keep them. However as the regiments that attacked Rorke's Drift had not been engaged in that battle, none would have had any of Martini-Henries.
The Zulus did have guns though, and quiet a lot of them. Mostly they were old muskets sold to them by white traders. Several of the defenders of the Drift were indeed wounded by these guns. They were poor weapons, especially when compared to the Martini-Henry which could kill a man at half a mile. Most Zulus weren't very good shots, but at least one might have been though, as amongst the soldiers hit were NCOs leading the defence, exactly the people a sniper would be aiming for.
Hitting a target in cover from 300 yards with an old musket would actually be quite a feat, so maybe Bromhead should have been cursing the marksman rather than his weapon.
10. The Malingerer
These characters are standard cinema tropes, but they do exist in real life. I remember being told about someone his father had served with in the Second World War. This man was always on a charge, and as a punishment had to lug the platoon's anti-tank weapon around with him. One day the unit was attacked by a German tank and whilst everyone else hid in the hedge he went running across the field to destroy it. His explanation afterwards was that it was either them or him.
Unfortunately the real Private Hook was exactly the opposite, a model soldier who was there doing his job. He wasn't even sick, he was guarding the hospital. Hook's family walked out of the film premier in disgust, which is a pity as the cinema Hook, played by James Booth, seems a much more interesting, and believable, character.
Once again it seems the film is more realistic than reality.
because everyone knows real battles don't involve musical contests.
Except that sometimes they do.
In 1824 Britain embarked on the first of what would prove to be three wars against the Asante Kingdom of West Africa. When the two sides met the British General ordered the band to play God Save The King. The Asante replied with their war drums and the musical duelling continued for a while until the Asante got bored and attacked. They overwhelmed the British force and the General's head ended up as a drinking cup.
Nothing like this happened at Rorke's Drift though. The Zulus retired when a British relief force approached, allegedly too tired to even lift their shields, let alone their voices.
It's true the 24th Foot only became the South Wales Borderers after the battle, but it was a regiment with a reputation for being fairly Welsh. No ethnic monitoring records were kept of the Victorian Army, but we do know were most of the men were recruited from. However with Victorian cities containing men driven from the land by Enclosures, or escaping poverty and famine in their home countries, just because a man signed up in London doesn't mean he was English. Even more confusingly two score men of B Company were recruited in Monmouthshire, which is now in Wales, but was in England between 1545 and 1974.
All told it's certainly probable that less than half of the army as a whole was English, and that at least half of the 24th were Welsh. Certainly enough for a male voice choir. Would they have sung Men of Harlech? Well, the song wasn't adopted as the regimental march until 1881, when the regiment became the South Wales Borderers, and in 1879 the official tune was 'The Warwickshire Lads'. However historians can only pin down two actual 'Warwickshire lads' in the company at the time, so something Welsh would actually be more likely.
There are lots of books about the Zulus War, with many of the better ones being written by Ian Knight. However my favourite is Like Lions They Fought by the American author Robert B Edgerton.
Also worth visiting is The Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh in Brecon which has a lot about the 24th Foot and the Zulu War.
Saturday, 6 June 2015
What is campaigning?
What we want to make possible is the survival of life on earth as we know it. This means getting atmospheric carbon levels back down to 350 parts per million and keeping climate change to less than 1.5 degrees per century.
So perhaps I should describe climate change campaigning as the art of making the impossible possible.
Outrage is in
So getting going, what's the first thing you need to do? Create a scandal.
Climate Change is awful, that's very easy to show, but lots of things are awful; earthquakes, Monday mornings, the Eurovision Song Contest. To successfully campaign what we need to make is a scandal. A scandal is something awful that could have been prevented.
When the government invests in roads whilst neglecting the railways; or when it allows local communities to oppose wind farms, but overrules their objections to fracking; or when we subsidize the fossil fuels but neglect wave power, that is a scandal.
It is also a scandal when someone is profiting from the awfulness. The salary of Shell's CEO may not directly affect the climate (although what he spends it on may well do) but someone living well by selling a product that will kill millions when used is a scandal
It is also a scandal when the Science Museum takes money from Shell, or the Tate takes cash from BP, or when coal companies bribe politicians.
We must cultivate the outrage.
Frame the debate
The second thing we need to do is frame the debate.
Framing is like haggling. Anyone with children knows how this works. They say they want something outrageous, you say no, but you end up giving them something anyway, just not everything they want. Sometimes.
Climate Change denial is all about framing the debate. Scientists say Climate Change is almost certain and almost certainly bad. The deniers say it's not proved and the effects will be mild. The end result is that the public takes away the message is that Climate Change is possibly happening and possibly bad, but not something to worry about today.
Campaigners must re-frame the debate. We need to stick to the facts, but we can re-frame the debate without telling lies like the deniers. We can talk about the Arctic, warming faster than the rest of the planet. We can talk about the methane hydrate blowholes exploding across Siberia. We can say that palaeoclimatologists are showing that past warming didn't take place gradually. We can say that the error bars on the IPCC predictions go both ways; it might not be as bad as is predicted, but it could also be worse.
We can also re-frame the debate by our actions. Doing things like not leaving the TV on standby and eating less meat are noble actions in themselves, and essential if you're not going to be called a complete hypocrite, but in terms of re-framing the debate they aren't very effective. If all it takes to beat Climate Change is getting off your bottom to press a button before you go to bed it appears to be a small problem. If all you're prepared to do to fight it is eat a vegeburger every now and again then it appears you don't care all that much.
However if people are prepared to put their lives and their liberty on the line by boarding a Russian oil rig, or to get up at a stupid time in the morning to spend half the day on a bus to London with a bunch of hippies, then it shows this is a big problem that, some people at least, really do care a lot about.
The last line of the film Battle of Seattle, about protests against the 1998 World Trade Organisation meeting, shows another way this can work. One of the character says “A week ago, nobody knew what the WTO was. Now…well, they still don’t know what it is, but they think it’s bad.”
Bite sized chunks
So how do you do that with a problem as large, complicated and multifaceted as Climate Change? Few people can get their head around the whole problem, and no organisation, even an international one like Greenpeace, can campaign on all the issues at once. The trick is to break the problem down into bite sized chunks. Tackle single issues that can be explained clearly, and then set yourself realistic short term goals.
This is important practically but also psychologically. For all the successes of the environment movement over the last four decades we have been fighting no more than a rear guard action. All our victories are temporary. All our defeats are final. You need the small successes to keep yourself going.
You can have 'output goals', such as stopping something you don't like, or sometimes you have to make do with 'input goals', simply organising a protest that works. Sometimes the goals can be global, such as getting a deal in Paris this December But they can also be very personal, maybe just getting the courage to talk to your MP, or to go along to your first demonstration.
Bigger organisation can take bigger bites, but examples of 'bite sized chunk' are getting a local council to oppose a fracking application, or getting an institution to divest from fossil fuels.
A successful campaign is often made up of a series of bite sized chunks. Greenpeace successfully opposed ocean dumping of first of radioactive waste, then solid wastes and then hazardous chemicals. Eventually all that was left was a loophole allowing the dumping of redundant oil installations. Greenpeace then occupied the Brent Spar and it was job done.
Upstream or downstream?
You can look at the problem of Climate Change from many different angles, but two approached stand out.
Firstly you can campaign on how we use fossil fuels; our patio heaters, our short haul flights and our gas-guzzling cars. You can campaign on these issues individually, or you can campaign for some sort of carbon rationing either individually, or on a nation by nation basis. This has been the foundation of every attempt to make an international treaty on limiting Climate Change and our own Climate Change Act.
Most of the Climate Change related campaigns I've been involved in to date have been 'downstream' ones, such as opposing new roads and airports. (Although if your goal is to get people to stop driving or flying then opposing new roads and airports is actually an 'upstream' approach).
However if you look at the campaigns that are currently making headway, such as against fracking, or Arctic oil, or fossil fuel divestment, or tar sands, the focus now is 'upstream'; on Keeping It In The Ground.
One reason for this is that it's easier to stop one oil rig than a million SUVs, or to get one university to go and divest from a company than a thousand people to stop buying its products.
But another reason is that this is an indirect way of achieving the 'downstream' changes that you want. If we shut off the supply of cheap oil, we will need to make what we have last longer and use it in smarter ways. Perhaps it might even make the free market do what it is supposed to do, and actually innovate.
The indirect approach
When you have picked your issue and identified your target, then you need to go for it and start campaigning. Fight on the terrain you know best, use the weapons to have to hand and you attack your opponent where they are weakest.
Or maybe you don't even attack your opponent at all. Maybe you campaign to get another organisation to do something that you can't do yourself.
The motley bunch of campaigners known as Save Swallows Wood managed to stop the Peak Park Motorway, alias the Mottram and Tintwistle Bypass, primarily by getting the Peak District National Park authority to forget about the shabby little deal they had done with the Highways Agency, and join the campaign against the road. That meant that when the Public Inquiry opened the Highways Agency were then faced with, not a bunch of enthusiastic but legally untrained campaigners, but a medium sized government department on the warpath. The road did not get approval.
Divestment is a good example of the indirect approach, as is Greenpeace's successful campaign to get Lego to ditch Shell. Universities and big charities, like Danish toy companies, are far more likely to listen to arguments about the threat of climate change to the poor of the Global South than the oil companies themselves. Persuading your MP to take stand is another way. They have power and influence you don't.
"We have nothing to fear but fear itself" and that is true of all campaigning, especially on the climate.
This is a campaign in which, if we are to win, we must do so by making people care more about other people's future than about their own present. We must make people realise that we are all on this earth together and that we are all one race, the human race.
The problem with fear is that it does exactly the opposite. When people are afraid they go for self preservation. Terrify people too much about waves of climate refugees crossing the Mediterranean and they may go for the Katie Holmes approach and call for helicopter gunships. If instead you tell them how solar panels can help African children who are off-grid to study after dark, or how biochar can lock CO2 in the ground and provide much needed employment in the Global South, then you might make them care.
Because there are positive messages here. To beat climate change we need renewable energy, better insulated houses and more public transport. As well as reducing our CO2 emissions, doing those things will give us cleaner air and water, warmer homes and less traffic congestion, plus a million more jobs making the changes and running the new infrastructure.
That's why the situation isn't just awful, it's a scandal.
Meet people where they are
So how do you persuade people?
The science of changing minds is complicated, but in essence you need three things.
The first is the stick, you need to tell them that something very bad will happen if they don't change. That's easy enough with Climate Change, it's going to be pretty bad for everyone.
Secondly you need the carrot, the reward for changing. As I said, if you keep your message optimistic there are some small carrots there.
But those things alone are not enough. People are have principles and they can stick to them even when it is not in their own best interests. Here is retired General Frank Kitson, with a practical military take on the problem:
"Some people consider the carrot and the stick provide all that is necessary, but I am sure that many people will refuse the one and face the other, if by doing otherwise they lose their self respect. On the other hand few people will choose the harder course if they think that both are equally consistent with their ideals.”For proof of the General's words consider that polls regularly show that there are more Texans who don't have health insurance than support Obama's free health care. In other words they would literally rather die than support something they consider 'communist'.
This is an aspect of campaigning that the Right, with their appeals to tradition and patriotism, does much better than the Left, which usually expects people to be logical, or worse altruistic. But it doesn't have to be this way. Our history is not dominated by selfishness and the rise of the free market and the City. We have a radical, collective and industrious past as well.
You can tell people that Britain led the world in the first industrial revolution and we can lead the world in the new green industrial revolution. You can say that collective action won us the Second World War. If you are talking to Trade Unionists you can mention those one million climate jobs, or if, God help you, you are talking to free market libertarians you can discuss ending subsidies to fossil fuel companies and making them pay for the mess they've made.
The important point to remember is that your audience is not you. They will have their own motivation, and you need to figure out what it is.
But perhaps the most valuable weapon in the activists tool kit is imagination. You need to believe there is an alternative.
Our society appears to have lost the ability to imagine that we can do things differently. If you look at the science fiction films at the moment you can see the world being destroyed by Climate Change, alien invasion, dinosaurs or killer robots, but always it is the same world of big corporations and corrupt politicians. It seems we can imagine the end of our world but not the nature of it changing. We must rekindle the utopian vision.
Because things can change, sometimes very quickly.
When I was young half of Europe was controlled by a totalitarian regime that would not admit there was any other way of doing things, that used an economic system that failed to take into account the value of the resources it used or the pollution it caused, which served a few people very well but most people rather badly, that was supported by a compliant press and ruled by a small and out-of-touch elite who were mostly in it for personal gain. Then, almost overnight, the Berlin Wall came down and the whole rotten edifice collapsed.
As the writer and activist Arundhati Roy says:
"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."
So why campaign? For the sake or your children and other people's, because once you
Here's George Monbiot:
"But while a global revolution offers little by way of material self-advancement to activists in the rich world, there is, in collective revolutionary action, something which appears to be missing from almost every other enterprise in modern secular life. It arises from the intensity of the relationships forged in a collective purpose concentrated by adversity. It is the exultation which Christians call Joy', but which, in the dry discourse of secular politics, has no recognised equivalent. It is the drug for which, once sampled, you will pay any price."That is activism for me.
Please join the resistance.
Campaignstrategy.org by Chris Rose (where I nicked half this stuff from)