5 Jul 2011

Fracking - taking on Shell

A simply amazing speech

Shell want to mine for natural gas in an area called Karoo, South Africa. At a public meeting in Cape Town, Shell presented their environmental management plan. Lewis Pugh then gave his speech against fracking and against Shell - powerful stuff...

30 Jun 2011

We are the sons and daughters of Robin Hood

A new song and video from Damh the Bard (Dave the Bard)...

Quote of the day

"We've met the enemy. And he is us"

29 Jun 2011

You don't know what you've got till it's gone

I heard 'Big Yellow Taxi' by Joni Mitchell on the radio today. Seems fitting...
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

28 Jun 2011

Polluting Plastics - how we reach the furthest islands with our crap

You might think that what happens on an island in the middle of the pacific ocean has little bearing on the rest of the world. This particular island is around 2,400 miles from Alaska, 3,000 from the USA and around 4,500 from Australia, in fact, as stated in the video below, it's about as far away from 'civilisation' as you can get.

And yet, baby Albatrosses are dying there with their stomachs full of plastic. In the pacific ocean, there's a collection of waste plastic as large as the state of Texas, but it's not floating, it's beneath the water. Bottle caps, fishing net & line, plastic bags and so on. Some has been broken down to size of plankton, some is not. Analysis of the area reveals that plastic pieces outnumber plantkon by 6 to 1.

We're killing our planet, but the worst is happening thousands of miles away from 'civilisation', and if you can't see it with your own eyes and experience it, it's hard to understand and accept what is happening.

As Chris Jordan says in the video, "If there's a place on the earth where our plastic pollution shouldn't be, this (island) is it". "If it's there, by implication, it's everywhere".

This is an incredibly moving presentation by photographer Chris Jordan.

I also suggest you visit the 'Midway' gallery on his website.

Does it make you think about the waste you are responsible for? What effect does it have on you?

26 Jun 2011

Transition towns get radical - happy birthday Transition Heathrow

Transition towns are a great concept and are starting to provide a role model for a more sustainable future. There has been both applaud and criticism levelled at the TT concept, which I won't go into here.

However, Transition Heathrow, which was born out of the 'Plane Stupid' campaign against the 3rd runway at Heathrow, is perhaps a little more 'radical' than most Transition movements...

Transition Heathrow is facing eviction from the former plant nursery that are currently squatting on. Follow their actions:

Travel Advice for the Aspiring Student of Druidry

A beautiful poem by Daniel MacKenzie.
I can't find a website for Daniel, so I transcribed this from an OBOD podcast.

Step onto the path into the forest.
The path that is completely new, yet so familiar.

On the first clearing, you will meet an old druid and he will tell you a story.
Remember it well, it will guide you back.

When you meet the crooked old one, give her something.
Be compassionate towards the ugly one, he deserves it.
Be cautious towards the pretty one, she can be treacherous.
Listen to the experiences of the blind old man, but be prepared to make your own.

When you scold your finger, lick it.
The earthly confinements of your body will set you free.
Your watery tears, both of laughter and of loss will drown you if you hold them back.
Your airy thoughts are starved by others and nourished by their absence,
and the fires of transformation hurt, so good.

When you emerge from the dark, damp silence, 
stand in the morning light and let the sun shine on your brow.

Celebrate your birthday and create yourself a gift to share.
And then go on, go deeper into the forest if you dare.

Take heed of the songs of way worn weeds, for they are mostly unemployed and love your attention.
Some might clean for you, some might heal you, and some might bless you.
Recruit them as you wish, but don’t over tax them or they will unionise and bring you down.

Keep a journal. For all that’s worth, keep a journal because the clearer your dreams get, the more hazy your recollections of the waking world will be.

When a tree gives you a gift, keep it. But give something of yourself in return.
When you make a first approach, make an entrance, but a gentle one.
And know that most farewells need to be done three times before you can really set off again.

In a round clearing, the seasons sit in circle, having a feast. Join them as often as you can and learn their stories. Spring is secretly in love with autumn, but don’t tell summer, she will only gossip and worsen winters mood.

Mind your manners when you meet with the deceased. Know that long-dead relatives can be as loving as live ones, but also, sometimes, as much a pest.
When a skeleton turns up, lay it gently to peace in a nice place or it will bite you and the wound will fester.

Be prepared to get hurt with scratches and bruises on the way.
Some will ease away smoothly and some will leave scars.
Some will never heal, but in time you might learn to see in the cut, fates way of making a punchline.

Remember who you are. Remember where you came from. Remember your name.
And then forget it all for a time. Be like a wild beast and live freely and without care in the forest.
It will all come back to you at the right moment.

When the trees are stripped bare, prepare.
When the sap rises, sing praises.
When the trees are green, be serene.

The stars will tell you stories, but beware, then tend to exaggerate and their morals are sometimes quite patronising.
Feel free to set them right.

You may pause here now and enjoying the gifts you have received, the stories you have heard, and change your shoes.
The way from her on leads onwards and upwards as you start to climb towards the sacred summit.
Keep your eyes on your goal, even if it’s shrouded in mist.
But do enjoy the view whilst heading for it.

If you find a good stick on your way, use it as a support.
You don’t need to go alone, have some travelling companions instead.
The wise wizard will give you power but it comes at a cost.
The lady will give you visions. Hope that you can forget some.
The king will give you insights. You might feel compelled to act upon.
The champion will test your honour. Know what it is you defend.
The queen will give you her heart. Give it back.
The innocent will play with you a merry game. Take it very seriously.
The hermit will slap you, either on your back or on your face. Be grateful for both.

If you find the holy grail on your way, keep it. It will look nice on your mantelpiece.

Allow yourself to shine. And then free the two dragons, the red and the white, and ride them.
You will not burn, you will not fall, and you never needed that tower anyway.

When you come back to where you started, you will find a community there.
Serve them well. And then go back to your family, or found a family, or start all over again.

25 Jun 2011

Nuclear Power - splitting the green atoms

I've mentioned 'The Land' magazine in a previous article 'Three Cheers for the Recession'. Well, one of the founders of 'The Land is Ours' is George Monbiot - a highly respected (in some circles anyway) environmental commentator and reporter.

George has never been one for shying away from confronting difficult and taboo subjects head-on, and I think the world, well journalism at least, is a better place because of him. I like the subjects he tackles, I like the fact the he appears to exhaust every avenue of research on the subject he's writing/talking about, I like the fact that he provides references to the quotes and statistics he uses, and I like the fact that he's not afraid to talk face to face with his critics (something his critics seem less enthusiastic to do).

As a vegan, George's support for my food and lifestyle choice has waxed and wained. At one time, he backed veganism for it's environmental credentials, only later to make comments along the lines of he's never seen a 'healthy-looking vegan'. Recently, he whole heartedly backed Simon Fairlie's book, "Meat - A Benign Extravgance" and took a swipe at vegans and vegetarians. In fairness, Fairlie's book actually does advocate a drastic reduction in meat consumption for the average person.

I suppose one could say that he is at least open to have his mind changed, and changed, and changed. Not that there is anything wrong with that, quite the opposite in fact - too often in politics, green or animal movements/organisations, people have their beliefs set in stone because that's the party line.

One of his ideas though has set him on a collision course with many of the people who previously supported him - he now agrees with nuclear power!

In March 2011, the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan caused major problems at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The scale of the problem has subsequently been classed as level 7 (major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures) on the International Nuclear Event Scale, which in turn has led many countries to halt and re-examine their nuclear power programmes.

As the disaster at Fukushima unfolded, George wrote "How the Fukushima disaster taught me to stop worrying and embrace nuclear power". As you'd expect, this caused many 'greens' to lash back at George for his sudden change of heart. In my mind, and the minds of many others, nuclear power and environmentalism are mutually exclusive, so why has George said this?

The very condensed form of George's argument seems to be this - he doesn't like nuclear, but even with the 'odd' disaster, the number of people who will die as a result of it are far, far fewer than the number who will die as a result of global warming. If we abandon nuclear as a power source, initially, the gap would be filled with carbon-based fuels, which add to global warming. Even if we get renewables on side, the infrastructure is not in place to support them - it would cost a lot, it would look ugly and it may not be as reliable as we hope, which means we'll fall back on fossil fuels, which means global warming, which means more deaths.

I can see George's point, to a degree. If humans carry on the current trend - our desire for (clean) energy ever increasing, our targets for carbon emissions ever lower, it's hard to see where the power is going to come from. I'd really like to think that renewables could be the key player here, but in the back of my mind I wonder if more nuclear power will become an inevitability.

But, and this is the big but... George bases his whole argument on the fact that we will/must continue to consume electricity at our current rate, if not increasing our consumption. In other words, business as usual, and the technofix that George often throws as something climate change deniers fall back on is nuclear.

I don't believe that there can be business as usual. Our current approach is to rape the world of resources and exploit the poor and voiceless people in order to provide for the privileged few. I think that the 3rd option has to be to force people to reduce what they use.

I'm finding it hard to verbalise what I actually believe, so I was happy to find an article by Simon Fairlie (yes, the co-founder with George Monbiot of 'The Land is Ours' and author of 'Meat, a benign extravagance'). Here's what Simon Fairlie says in 'The Land' magazine...

Thanks George, but No Thanks

TLIO's founder is wrong about nuclear power.

"More People Died at Chappaquiddick than at Three Mile Island" was a bumper sticker favoured by supporters of nuclear power in the early 1980s. Chappaquiddick, you may recall, was the site of a car accident in which one person, Mary Jo Kopechne, died, while Teddy Kennedy emerged unscathed. Since then the facile Chappaquiddick argument has become more sophisticated and successful. James Lovelock was the first well known environmentalist to argue that the dangers of nuclear power had been exaggerated, and that it offered a relatively safe alternative to fossil fuels. More recently Stewart Brand (formerly one of the Whole Earth Catalogue crew) and Mark Lynas (author of Rising Tide) have defected with considerable fanfare to the nuclear camp.

For some time observers of the green movement have been wondering when George Monbiot would join them, as he has been sitting on the fence for several years. His 2006 book on global warming, Heat, did not (as some of us feared) plump for nuclear, but he wasn't exactly forthright in his rejection of it either. In March 2011, he finally held his nose and jumped into the nuclear pit, nudged in that direction by the disaster at Fukushima, which he described in these terms:

"A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami... yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation."

In this and in a second article in the Guardian two weeks later, George endorsed Lovelock and company's view that the dangers of nuclear radioactivity have been grossly exaggerated by the green movement, and that nuclear energy is a lot safer than fossil fuels. Antinuclear campaigners cite a New York Academy of Sciences publication which (from an overview of several thousand scientific papers) estimates that 985,000 deaths have resulted from the Chernobyl disaster. George finds more convincing the peer-reviewed United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, which, (from an overview of several thousand scientific papers), concludes that casualties amounted to no more than 134 cases of acute radiation, and 6,848 cases of thyroid cancer.

This wide discrepancy will come as no surprise to anyone whose business it is to analyse the statistical outpourings of various camps in the environmental debate. As George remarks in Heat, after noting the wide range of figures supplied by different bodies for the cost of a kilowatt hour of nuclear energy, "I conclude that the price of nuclear power is a function of your political position." So, apparently, is its safety. The fact that George and several other respected commentators question the 985,000 statistic casts doubt over its accuracy. But the sceptical reader will be aware that the lower figure, however rigorously peer-reviewed, will nonetheless be the outcome of value-laden computer models and data selection criteria.

Even if the lower figure is the more correct it still represents a considerable risk if the global community opts to build the 12,000 nuclear plants that the OECD considers will be necessary to make a significant contribution towards preventing climate change. Fukushima may have been "crappy, old and un-safe" but it was also built and maintained by one of the richest and most technologically sophisticated countries in the world in the full knowledge that the area was susceptible to earthquakes and tsunamis — and it is being rescued, only just, by a fully functioning state-of-the-art technocracy. What's going to happen in 40 years' time, if every failing state from Ireland to Indochina has been encouraged by so-called environmentalists to plant a string of nuclear power stations on its seaboard? What happens if the capitalist empire collapses and we enter into a new barbarian ascendancy? A load of mangled and rusting wind generators will do no harm, but a necklace of 12,000 derelict nuclear reactors around the globe doesn't bear thinking about. Nuclear power is only safe as long as it remains in the hands of a clique of paramilitary technocrats — and as such it is inherently undemocratic.

In any case George's conversion to nuclear does not really hinge on the Chappaquiddick argument, but on his underlying dismissal of the central tenet of green philosophy — that we need to reduce consumption. This is not a stance that George considers in either of his pro-nuclear articles. Instead of providing (as he should if he wants to convince his green readership) an evidence-based assessment of the risks of nuclear energy compared to the risks of reducing energy consumption, he launches into a tendentious analysis of the inability of off-grid renewable energy to meet current demand:

"How do we drive our textile mills, brick kilns, blast furnaces and electric railways — not to mention advanced industrial processes? Rooftop solar panels? The moment you consider the demands of the whole economy is the moment that you fall out of love with local energy production."

Speak for yourself, George. The moment a genuine green thinker, or indeed anyone with an ounce of spiritual insight, considers the demands of the whole economy is the moment that they start to wonder why we are producing all this crap. Why do we spend our lives driving to and fro on a daily basis, buying new clothes that we don't need, shunting food around the planet when it grows next door, eating disproportionate amounts of meat, wasting staggering amounts of food, discarding an endless stream of packaging, heating up entire houses to tee-shirt temperature when a warm room would do, warming up the firmament with patio heaters, and purchasing roomfuls of gewgaws and gizmos — the pursuit of Mammon, as it used to be called — when there is no evidence that this makes us any more fulfilled than we would be if we contented ourselves with a sufficiency of food, shelter, medicine and the cultural technology that was available in the days of Bach, Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci. The green ethic rejects economic growth in the industrialized countries because it imposes excessive demand on the world's resources, and it rejects nuclear power because that would only encourage economic growth.

Finally, what's this about needing textile mills? Has George not read his Blake and Cobbett? Has he forgotten that that was where the ghastly dehumanizing programme of fossil-fuel powered industrialisation began, and is still, to a large extent, where it is maintained? Perhaps he views textile mills as a necessity and handlooms as an anachronism? If so where would he himself rather work: in a third world sweat shop producing crappy plastic garments for export to people who don't need them, or in a hand-powered co-op producing tweed that lasts 30 years?

These are matters of more importance than the issue of whether one unpleasant technology harms more people than another. George may (or may not) be right in maintaining that the anti-nuclear lobby is scaremongering, but either way he is wasting his talents. There are already plenty of people, including the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem parties, the Confederation of British Industry, representatives of Imperial College and Cambridge University and so on putting the case for nuclear power; we do not need anyone else to convince us. What we need is people eloquent enough to secure a niche in the main- stream press who will argue the case for reducing consumption, rejecting economic growth and living lightly on the land. It is a great shame that George Monbiot appears to have stepped down from that role.

Get the article here:

1 Jun 2011

Three Cheers for the Recession!

Is it wrong to think like this or do we, as a culture, have to go through suffering to get to the other side? I say suffering, but of course, many people throughout the world, typically in non-western countries, might be living the suffering that we fear every day...

From an article in 'The Land Magazine', "Three Cheers for the Recession":
Those whose lifestyle has been over dependent upon illusionary wealth will have to readjust, but collectively we have lost nothing more than a foolish mirage. House prices may tumble, but houses don't: there are as many as before (indeed more, thanks to all those empty office blocks ripe for conversion). Businesses may collapse, but the means of production don't evaporate. People may lose their jobs, but they still have their limbs and their brains. The land that provides our food doesn't disappear beneath the waves just because the pound sterling or the Dow Jones Industrial Index dives into the sea. We have nothing to lose but our illusions.

31 May 2011

Climate Camp, south coast 2011

People doing something rather than sitting and waiting for others to tell them what to do...

Fracking - coming to the UK with David Cameron's blessing

Johann Hari podcast:

Just Do It!

Just Do It - get off your arse and change the world!