Tuesday, December 30, 2008

dirty pop

Here comes New Year's Eve, traditionally a night of going on a hell of a bender.

If, like me, you periodically find yourself having been up all night with friends, there is one essential consideration; how to keep going.

A key thing - if alcohol has been involved - is to avoid sobering up. However, it’s easy to take the path of least resistance and end up nursing a half empty can of hand-temperature flat cornershop lager. In your psychologically vulnerable state this makes you feel fundamentally tragic.

Instead, with a bit of forethought you can make that impressionability work for you. Firstly, get drinks that feel like pop. A gin and tonic is a good place to start.

Next, grasp the fact that you’re not going to eat properly any time soon, so it’s essential to have something that feels like nutriment. To this end, neck a pint of stout. People will tell you that women on labour wards used to be given stout after childbirth to replace lost iron. The fact is that it’d take gallons of the stuff to get your RDA, but that’s not the point. To you in your mentally pliable state – and, in all likelihood, to those women – it feels true, and that's what counts.

But as well as avoiding sobering up, you need to have a novelty factor to keep your psyche buoyant. I present you with the simple, elegant solution.

The Breakfast of Champions

Pour a can of stout into a pint glass, and drop in a depth charge of ruby port.

For those unfamiliar, a depth charge is a shot glass of a different drink dropped into a pint. When you down the pint, the last gulp has the extra woof of the different drink.

Pour out your measure of port, gently drop it into the pint, when you hear it clink on the bottom neck it in one. Your stomach will feel nicely sorted and you can get on with the day.

Incidentally, for those who need to give sobriety a wider berth there are stronger versions of all these Day Two drinks. They all sacrifice some taste in order to gain some potency.

A Breakfast of Champions can be amended to a Full Irish Breakfast. Simply replace the normal stout with Guinness Foreign Extra.

For some reason best known to themselves, Guinness is brewed at a mighty 7.5% in Nigeria. They make it like that in Dublin now too, and both are found in offies in areas with large African and Afro-Caribbean populations. Go for the Dublin stuff, it tastes smoother than the Nigerian as well as cutting down on your beer miles.

As an optional twist, you can change the depth charge to the deity of Day Two drinking, Buckfast. There are etymologists who believe that the words ‘buckfast’ and ‘breakfast’ share a common root.

Alcoholic Dr Pepper

Pour a measure of amaretto into a pint glass, fill it with half cola and half premium lager. No need to be a stickler for brands. Your tastebuds are shot and you’re mixing it with a soft drink that tastes like cold battery acid, thus it's pointless to splash out on Stella or Kronenbourg. That said, as you’re about to dilute the beer, don’t settle for non-premium lager. None of your pissy Carling here. As long as it says 5% on the can, you’re in.

Because this one involves a lot of cola it’s not only cheap but also scores caffeine points, its doubly good for the sleep deprived.

If you’re going to down it in one, have a depth charge of more amaretto.

Downing in one makes a good group-bonding exercise, essential for keeping everyone’s brain up on the level. Also, as this drink is so easy on the wallet, you can afford to get them in for everyone, which bestows additional group bonds and keeps that team-on-the-mission/we-are-the-Famous-Five element to the fore.

For the strong version, try the malty tang of a super strength lager. As with the premium lager, don’t be seduced by brands or any objective standards of taste. Forego this once the classic panache of Special Brew or the glitz and glamour of Tennent’s Super. Skol, Kestrel, Lynx; as long as clocks in at 9% or thereabouts you’ll be fine.

Cheeky vimto

One of the most popular dirty pops is the blue WKD and port cocktail known as cheeky vimto. Indeed, this one’s so mainstream that you can get it at Wetherspoons. The question comes in the ratio. Wetherspoons give 50ml of port to two bottles of WKD, which seems blatantly stingy to me. I favour putting 100ml of port in a pint glass and dropping one WKD on top of it.

To make it a 'dirty vimto' follow replace the port with Buckfast.

Made by monks and drunk by punks, Bucky actually contains less alcohol – 15% compared to port’s 20%ish – but that’s not the point. As anyone who’s ever drunk it (or been in the blast radius of a consumer) it’s not about the ABV. They import cheap French wine and then do something to it. Nobody’s sure what but it’s an ancient monastery, it’s got to be some Latin incantations with some weird creepy relic and the kind of wrongness that Buffy puts a stop to.

If you can’t get blue WKD, just pick something at random from the cleaning products aisle of the supermarket. I mean, what the fuck is the stuff made out of anyway? Toilet Duck and vodka if you ask me.

Bucky and blue WKD – pure filth in a glass. As marvellously tasty and fearlessly intrepid as it is utterly utterly wrong. Just what you need when your awakeness outstrips your judgement and you want to keep it that way.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

UPDATE 5 Feb 09 : Don't miss out on more alcoholic alchemy with the boozy ginger punch that turns white cider into something fit for drinking!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

fine words butter no parsnips

As you will, in all likelihood, have buttered your own parsnips for your festive roast dinner, the non-buttering facility of fine words is neither here nor there and we can enjoy them for what they are.

I didn't think I could surpass the delight of contriving a reason to use 'ovibovine' ('having qualities pertaining to both goats and cattle') and 'defenestrate' ('to throw through a window'; best used figuratively, eg 'he completely defenestrated that idea').

Then the esteemed Danny supplied me with these three:

Cuniculous ('full of rabbits')
Percoarcted ('manouevred an object into a narrow room')
Boanthropy ('the delusion that one is an ox')

Let your vocabujoy be unconfined.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

christmas sucks

Right, no serious posts until the new year.

In the meantime, get your ears around this merry festive tune.

Monday, December 15, 2008

eco-terrorist death toll

That tosh in the Observer the other week about 'eco-terrorists' mentioned the 'stash of knives and weapons' the police magically found near last August's Climate Camp at Kingsnorth.

Even at the time it wasn't up to much.

The weapons, which included an adapted knife, a replica throwing star, a knife block with knives and a large chain with a padlock, were found in a wooded area near the Camp for Climate Action

Take one set of kitchen knives, one padlock with chain, describe something else as a 'replica throwing star' (what the fuck does that actually mean? I'm imagining some sort of hippy pendant) and hey presto, you have your very own cache of 'weapons'. Ideal for many purposes, especially if you want to give the media a sexy story to detract from the criticism coppers had come in for the previous day.

At the Camp, police in riot gear forced their way on site and batoned people. Unfortunately journalists and politicians were there, so the bullshit about provocation from Campers didn't get believed.

Still gagging to get a rise out of the Camp, anything to justify their huge budget and discredit the protest, for the following few days they deployed cops in riot gear around the perimeter at 5am.

In a parliamentary debate in which David Drew MP reported a constituent being arrested at Kingsnorth for 'aggressively picking up litter', Norman Baker MP said

I witnessed unnecessarily aggressive policing, unprovoked violence against peaceful protestors, an extraordinary number of police on site and tactics such as confiscating toilet rolls, board games and clown costumes from what I saw to be peaceful demonstrators.

Home Office minister Vernon Coaker replied that 'police have acted appropriately and proportionately', pointing out that '70 police officers were also hurt- although none seriously- at that protest'.

What were they hurt by? Rampaging rabid eco-terrorists hurling replica throwing stars?

The LibDems subsequently made an application under the Freedom of Information Act for details on police injuries sustained at the Camp.

It turns out none - that's none at all, folks - of the injuries were caused by the protesters.

Only four of the 12 reportable injuries involved any contact with protesters at all and all were at the lowest level of seriousness with no further action taken.

The other injuries reported included "stung on finger by possible wasp"; "officer injured sitting in car"; and "officer succumbed to sun and heat". One officer cut his arm on a fence when climbing over it, another cut his finger while mending a car, and one "used leg to open door and next day had pain in lower back".

A separate breakdown of the 33 patients treated by the police tactical medicine unit at the climate camp shows that three officers had succumbed to heat exhaustion, three had toothache, six were bitten by insects, and others had diarrhoea, had cut their finger or had headaches.

It's funny, until you get it clear that the coppers knew all this at the time and were using it to lie - again - about the violent intent of the Camp. Vernon Coaker either knew it too or was deliberately misled to by his civil service numpties.

Either way, it shows how desperate the state is to smear, discredit and outright fucking lie about this movement. It's what you do when you know you've lost the argument.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

change you can't believe in

I'm really not enjoying this you know. Again and again I'm finding that Obama is not living up to the hopes people have ladelled onto him. Finding that, even before he gets through the door of the Oval Office, he's firmly placed himself as a continuance of all the important things that are wrong with the American government.

It's not just the war or Israel/Palestine. The big shiny hope - his position on climate change - is terrifying.

As president, I will tap our natural-gas reserves, invest in clean-coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power.

Oh, a safe way to use nuclear power you say? Why has nobody thought of looking for that before? And will you refrain from building any nukes and close down existing ones until this safe way is found? Yeah right.

Burning more gas, emitting more carbon. Great.

Then there's clean coal. What exactly is 'clean coal'?

As the esteemed Jim Bliss observes, it's what the people who make money from burning coal are calling coal these days.

How is it clean? Well, they've a theory that they could develop some technology to capture some of the emissions.

They conveniently ignore the fact that mining releases huge quantities of uncapturable methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times a potent as CO2.

They discount the way their plan to pump carbon dioxide down old oil wells would release huge amounts of oil that would otherwise have stayed in the ground.

They ignore the fact that these capture and storage systems don't exist anywhere on earth, let alone have they been tested to see if they work and how we'd discover any leaks and what we might do to plug them. Or how much it would cost to monitor for the millennia that we want it safely stored.

No, they advise we just plough on and build new coal stations that will be 'capture ready'.

Bliss says

It makes me wonder whether bioterrorists could escape prosecution by insisting in court that they’d filled the envelopes with “Clean Anthrax”.

- Do you deny sending packages filled with anthrax to politicians?
- No your honour, we do not deny this, however we’d like to point out that we used Clean Anthrax.
- But did the politicians not die?
- They did, your honour, but you must understand that our anthrax was “Antidote Ready”.
- Antidote Ready? Please explain this…
- Well, we sent the anthrax secure in the knowledge that at some unspecified future date we would be able to develop an antidote.

America's programme of building coal power stations barely gets mentioned, yet there's hundreds scheduled. Will Obama halt it all until genuine clean coal technology exists? If he doesn't, his talk of 'clean coal' is an active part of the coal industry's lies.

Obama hangs his big reductions on an emissions 'cap and trade' system. Like the one we have in Europe that's seen our emissions actually increase, like the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism that delivers social injustice but no substantive carbon cuts.

Companies keep on emitting and when they go over their limit, they buy someone else's. Carbon credits are basically carbon offsets on a grand scale. It is in the interests of both those buying and selling the credits to exaggerate the amount of carbon involved. It's fraudulent and a deliberate delay to tackling the overconsumption that drives climate change.

Carbon trading is not just too little too late. Like clean coal it is the promise of doing something elsewhere and in future, it is actually a decoy, a distraction so the high-emitting industries can continue. It is Obama's commitment to runaway climate change.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

peaceful terrorism

Having mentioned the high-level yet scarcely reported intruder who switched off a turbine at Kingsnorth power station, there's another big bold action that seems to have slipped under the radar.

Last month France's high speed train, the TGV, hit chaos when its power lines were sabotaged.

People had reportedly made a device from iron bars that a train would drag along, taking out the power lines for all following trains.

At the time, the French railway system was being used to transport the Castor nuclear waste trains. There were other actions along the way, but nowhere else saw anything on quite this scale.

The police have raided the suspects' houses and nine people were detained under terrorism charges. They were living in a rural community where, in true nihilistic terrorist style, they were growing their own food and had re-opened the village store.

Rather like the sinister way the British government has a definition of terrorism that includes non-violent action, so the French authorities are calling these people terrorists despite the fact that what they did - even by the admission of the French government and train operator - could not have harmed anyone.

As Giorgio Agamben said in Liberation on November 19th [English translation here],

one might expect that investigators found weapons, explosives and Molotov cocktails on the farm in Millevaches. Far from it.

SDAT [French anti-terrorist police] officers discovered "documents containing detailed information on railway transportation, including exact arrival and departure times of trains." In plain French: an SNCF [French railway] train schedule.

But they also confiscated "climbing gear." In simple French: a ladder, such as one might find in any country house.

Much of the French media is not being so careful in sifting the details. The activists are being portrayed as terrorists because of the anarchist views they hold and literature they read. They have been under state surveillance for months, simply for being political activists.

In an open letter, the parents of five of them speak of the hope and courage they get from their children's actions, from the way 'they naively think that life, intelligence and decisions are more joyous when they are collective'.

This is another attempt to demonise direct action. One of them, Julien Coupat, has been unironically branded the leader of the anarchists.

As the Tarnac 9's case comes to court we should keep a close watch. From our standpoint, we can't do that much, although a demo outside an embassy never did anyone any harm. But if these people get the touted 20 year sentences, or indeed any convictions at all, they deserve the greatest prisoner support that can be provided.

In the meantime, letters of solidarity can be sent to them at:

Comite de Southien aux Inculpes de Tarnac,
Le Bourg,

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

climate justice cometh

Climate action moves on apace this week.

On Monday protesters blockaded the runway at Stansted airport, Britain's big place for short-haul flights. There were 57 protesters. Ryanair cancelled 56 flights.

As organisers Plane Stupid pointed out, that's one flight per person, and as the average flight out of Stansted has a climate impact equivalent to about four years of the average Briton's emissions, that's a fucking good morning's work.

The fact that such a large group can organise and pull off this action without getting rumbled is pretty darn cool too.

In a less publicised but even more audacious action, during 48 hours of direct action against E-On someone got into the Kingsnorth power station - site of last summer's Camp for Climate Action - and switched off one of the turbines.

June's stopping of the coal train going into Drax and shovelling the payload on to the tracks was quite possibly the coolest action I'd ever heard of, but this Kingsnorth one is now the front runner for the title.

The protester scaled the electric fence (which wasn't working), knew the layout and the equipment, switched off 500 megawatts of coal-fired generation and then left through a staff entrance. The cops and Kingsnorth's owners E-on are clueless. How fuckin James Bond is that?

UPDATE: More info on that action here.

When the Climate Camp decided to go to Kingsnorth it was thought possible that, by the time they arrived last August, they'd have been facing the construction of the new coal station planned for the site. Yet the decision has been delayed and delayed, and has still not been taken.

Last week the decision on Heathrow's third runway was delayed so that Transport Secretary Geoff 'Buff' Hoon would have, ahem, 'more time to weigh the evidence'.

Whilst time is running out to avoid dangerous climate change, the scale of action is on the up and the crucial governmental decisions are getting later and wobblier.

And the payback starts to stack up too. An Oxford University climate physicist is saying that the effects of human-made climate change are so quantifiable that people impacted will be able to sue for the damage.

Myles Allen talks about countries hit by things like worsening storms, heatwaves and floods. But it's not only those who caused the problem but those who enable them too.

Owen Lomas, head of environmental law at City firm Allen & Overy, said: "If you look at the extent to which certain major companies in the US are accused of having funded disinformation to cast doubt on the link between man-made emissions and global warming, that could open the way to litigation."

Imagine if we were to actually get it together and achieve what's necessary; the first few years of the process could well look like this.

Friday, December 05, 2008

from the jam

The biggest regret of my life is that I never saw The Jam. They were the first band I loved, the first band that were really mine.

Living in homogeneous suburbia it was stunning to discover these kinetic, driven, muscular songs that knew the feeling of restless dislocation, that promised a life away from there where things would be more real, more exciting, where you could be who you wanted to be and nobody would push you into a stupid soulless job.

The politics, the passion, the swirl of righteous anger, the romanticising of the city, they all called me onward, protecting me against the forces of mediocrity, galvanising my spirit and empowering me.

It's a pat little shorthand phrase I use, but essentially a true one, that most of me can be explained by an adolescence spent reading Vonnegut and listening to The Jam.

On their final tour I was old enough to love all that about them and to be reading the music press but still a little too young to travel for gigs. Janet Barrington's big sister went to see them and I saw her next day in school. I knew then I'd never quite get over it.

I stuck by Weller in the Style Council.

Style Council ticket, Empire Theatre Liverpool, 15 June 1985

There was a ripe rich wit that railed against and rose above the preening attitude of the times, and there was an increasing militancy and focus in his politics. There are some great tracks on the first two albums and a lot of gems on the B-sides too. But fuck me, they ran off a cliff with that cack third album.

I even bought all the Bruce Foxton solo stuff and went to see him live. Jesus friggin wept.

I mean, imagine pretty much any decent band. Say The Cure or The Stones. Now imagine going to the bass player's solo gig.

Bruce Foxton ticket, Royal Court Theatre Liverpool, 17 May 1984

I still remember being profoundly unsettled, having a sort of anti-gig feeling, a sense of total alienation from the two thousand people around me when, between the set and the encore, there was a chant of 'we all agree - Brucie is better than Weller'.

I even rejoined Weller in his darkest time, after the Style Council and before the solo stuff when he was without a record deal and he toured as The Paul Weller Movement.

Paul Weller Movement ticket, Manchester Academy, 25 November 1990

Whilst it was a joy to see him play a mix of Jam and Style Council songs there was a clear sense that the Movement was, ahem, going through the motions.

I never really got much out of his solo stuff, though live - at the Glastonbury sets I saw and whenever he's on summat like Later - he's been great value, a prowling snarling firebrand that shows up all the contemporary indie guitar landfill as so much tickle-your-guitar damp nothingness.

I never wanted The Jam to reform. Weller has so clearly moved on, it wouldn't have the power and the passion. And that's what it's really about. It isn't in the songs.

I saw Billy Bragg last week and he said that you can't capture the meaning of The Clash in the records. The real value was in that sense that they were out to change the world and that somehow by them being The Clash and you fighting the good fight you would, together, make it all happen. That was a lot of what The Jam were about too.

A couple of years ago something odd happened. In Oxford I saw a poster in the window of one of those tribute band pubs. There was a forthcoming gig by people called Rick Buckler's The Gift. It was a Jam tribute band featuring the actual drummer.

I missed the gig but it played on my mind. I mean, it could be really sad. Then again, if someone said 'gis a tenner and you can watch Rick Buckler play the drum part to Funeral Pyre' my wallet would be open before their mouth was closed.

One time, Bruce Foxton got up to play with The Gift. They loved it so he joined permanently. They're now called From The Jam and they play pretty big gigs, that 1500-2000 seater circuit.

We need a new name for these bands that are half reunion, half tribute. The Jam aren't the only ones. Queen just reformed with Brian May, Roger Taylor, some bloke and then macho tosser Paul Rodgers from Free on vocals. A tribunion? Tribune? Re-tribution?

Whatever, I've dithered about seeing From The Jam, but tomorrow night I'm going to go.

From The Jam ticket, Leeds Academy, 6 December 2008

I'm nervous. It could be the most depressing pathetic thing I've ever seen in my life. In their eye-wateringly dull and axe-grindingly bitter autobiography Our Story, Buckler and Foxton concluded, 'there were three people in the Jam, and two of them weren't Paul Weller'.

Yeah, but, guys. It's not a numbers game. The one who was Paul Weller wrote all the songs, played the guitar, sang, and was generally your meal ticket for years on end.

Indeed, as your present set list is over 95% comprised of his compositions, Weller is still being something of a benefactor. The Jam without him? Will it be like seeing Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke perform as From The Smiths?

I have an inkling it'll be more. There is nobody else on earth who can sing Smiths songs properly, whereas there is a punch and fury in Jam songs that lets them stand on their own; there is a life that those two breathed into them. Buckler was my big hero in the time when I was a drummer. The guy is a cymbal-smashing nutter, all over his metalwork all the time, fuckin great.

They've said they've a love for the harsher songs - Eton Rifles, Funeral Pyre - that implies it'll be fuckin loud as opposed to a delicate tinkle or polite facsimile.

It could, though, be the the worst gig in the world. Imagine the most depressing point-missing elements of a tribute band combined with the post-shelf-lifeness of a 30 years on reunion applying both kinds of desecration to a supreme body of work.

But I can readily imagine it being most other places on the spectrum too, from sad and lame, to bouncy and boisterous fun to a blistering affirmation of the immortality of this magnificent canon.

There is something beyond that though, something about the fact of it happening at all. I have such mixed feelings about reunions. It's so great that Joe Strummer's last gig was a political benefit in London with Mick Jones rather than a corporate sponsored reunion nostalgiafest in an American enormodome.

Despite my eternal and visceral love of the seminal Never Mind The Bollocks and their lack of any crap later albums to ruin a set list with, I actively avoided the Sex Pistols reunions. It was just too opposed to all that they stood for.

But in the week when the original Specials line-up have announced a tour next May I find there are one or two bands who can make my excited self be stronger than my purist.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

the same as the old boss

How depressing it must be for Americans to have that two months between a presidential election and them actually taking office. Two months in which Obama is obliterating all those high hopes of change by appointing Bush and Clinton's war criminals and backtracking on major policies like withdrawal from Iraq.

At least in 1997 we had a couple of months of seeing the Conservatives actually out of office and thinking change was really beginning to happen. Lest we forget, at the end of May 1997 Tony Blair had an approval rating of 93%, the highest for any leader anywhere ever.

Only 7% didn't believe he was doing a bang-up job! I bet more people believe in leprechauns!

But once in office you have to serve the powers that got you there. As the Daily Mash reported Obama saying

"I promised you change you can believe in, I did not promise you change you can actually see."

He added: "You believe in Jesus don't you? Right, but have you ever seen Jesus? Exactly."

Having started out by appointing a Zionist freemarket fundamentalist as his Chief of Staff, Barack Obama goes on to get in more rabid old-guard fuckheads on his team.

Obama's claims to be solidly against the Iraq war and planning a withdrawal are already unravelling.

The uncertainties facing the incoming administration may have prompted Obama, in introducing his national security team Monday, to signal greater flexibility in his plans to withdraw combat troops from Iraq within 16 months.


Exactly what 'uncertainties' are there in Iraq that weren't there when withdrawal was being talked about a month ago?

Obama reaffirmed that goal, but also emphasized his willingness to consider options put forth by the military.

"I will listen to the recommendations of my commanders," he said

His commanders like, say, his choice of Defense Secretary, Robert Gates. You might already know him because he's Bush's Defense Secretary. The man who's been overseeing the surge of troops and running the fucking war for the last two years.

This is not responding to any new 'uncertainties'. During the election campaign Obama left himself a loophole, talking about how

"We'll keep a residual force" for "targeting any remnants of al-Qaeda; protecting remaining U.S. troops and officials; and training Iraq's security forces" provided they "make political progress."

How big would this more or less permanent "residual" force be? Obama did not say, but advisers leaked that it could reach 50,000.

That's about a third of what's there today. That's not a withdrawal.

It doesn't matter what was promised or implied, what you think you voted for;

"We are not going to be hampered by ideology in trying to get this country back on track"

His Secretary of State is Hillary Clinton. When she was last an adjunct of presidential power it was her husband Bill who was, like all American presidents in living memory, a war criminal on several continents. Whether littering residential areas of Belgrade with cluster bombs or firing cruise missiles at Baghdad, Hillary was by his side.

These, though did little damage compared to the sanctions the US imposed against Iraq that denied supplies of basic medicines, a tactic that disproportionately punished the sick, the very old and the very young.

When Madeleine Albright, Bill's Secretary of State, was asked about the half a million Iraqi children who died as a result of this, she said 'we think it's a price worth paying'.

There can be little doubt that the 'we' included the person new appointee to Albright's job, Hillary Clinton.

I'll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here.
'I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.'
'I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking.'
'Hey, wait a minute, there's one guy holding out both puppets!'

Go back to bed, America! Your government is in control!
- Bill Hicks

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

popular capitalism vs popular revolution

Use of language in the media guides our thoughts and make us pick sides without us realising.

In industrial disputes why do employers always 'offer' settlements while employees 'demand' them? Why are there only 'hardliners' in unions, never bosses? why are Hamas an 'extremist group' while Likud are the 'governing political party'?

Compare the tales of two November elections.

When Barack Obama wins 53% of the popular vote and 58% of the states, the headlines call it a landslide.

When Hugo Chavez has 57% popularity and wins 77% of the states, the headlines call it a setback.

Friday, November 21, 2008

climate technofixes

Corporate Watch have published their new report, Techno-fixes: A Critical Guide to Climate Change Technologies. I've had a bit of a hand in doing it, but it's a small enough contribution that I don't feel immodest in praising it.

Whether runaway climate change is avoided is largely down to the policy decisions taken now and in the next few years. We cannot afford to wait for miraculous technological breakthroughs but must work with what we’ve got.

The debate on climate change is surrounded by hype and vested interests. Technologies are being considered not for their effectiveness but for their profitability. Some proposed solutions would actually lead to an increase in emissions. Many would bring about great social injustice.

Beyond that, the promise of a future technofix is being used as a stalling tactic by those who want to keep on burning fossil fuels.

Technofixes are very appealing. They appeal to leaders who want huge projects to put their name to. They appeal to governments in short electoral cycles who don’t want to have to face hard choices of changing the direction of development from economic growth to social change. They appeal to corporations which expect to capture new markets with intellectual property rights and emissions trading. They appeal to advertising-led media obsessed with the next big thing, but too shallow to follow the science. They appeal to a rich-world population trained as consumers of hi-tech gadgets. They appeal to (carbon) accountants: technological emissions reductions are neatly quantifiable, if you write the sum properly.

Technofixes appeal, in short, to the powerful, because they offer an opportunity to maintain power and privilege.

The report investigates the large scale technologies that corporations and governments are putting on the table, including hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, agrofuels, electricity from nuclear, solar, water and wind, as well as a range of ideas to reflect the sun’s energy or remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

It finds what works, what doesn’t, the present state of these industries and where they’re heading. It explains why, even though many of the technologies do work, the corporate-capitalist model cannot deploy them effectively, and it goes in search of more realistic and socially just solutions.

It’s extensively researched, as we wanted something that was properly referenced and scientifically rigorous as well as politically focused. We were sick of seeing things that only talk about the carbon emissions and the financial cost without mentioning the social justice aspects or the problems with a wholly techno-fixated approach.

It’s big and hefty enough to be comprehensive, yet short enough that people will actually get round to reading the whole thing.

You can order a hard copy for a fiver or download it for free from Corporate Watch

Technofixes report cover

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

wood you believe it?

Turning waste into fuel. It's so appealing that we always want to believe it can solve everything. But we should let the lessons of biofuel for cars be a warning.

Craig White of wood industry lobby body Wood For Gold cites the government's target of generating 20% of our electricity from renewables by 2020 and says

the government is assuming that 50% of that 20% target will be provided by biomass.

So, that means biomass will provide 10% of our electricity.

White further reckons

the UK needs only about 2.7m tonnes a year of wood to meet the biomass 2020 target.


Drax in North Yorkshire is the UK's largest coal-fired power station, supplying 7% of our electricity. They've been 10% 'co-firing'- replacing 10% of their coal with wood in order to reduce carbon emissions - for several years.

Whatever the cyber equivalent of the back of an envelope is, let's get one for a quick calculation.

Drax burns around 10 million tonnes of coal a year(1).

Drax estimate that it takes 1.5 times the amount of biomass to replace a given weight of coal(2), so 1.5 million tonnes of biomass is required to generate 10% of their output.

As they're 7% of the UK's electricity, the biomass accounts for 0.7%.

By this calculation, Craig White's 2.7m tonnes wouldn't generate 10% of our electricity, it would actually be 1.26%.

This could be improved. Drax is an old fashioned, big, cooling-towers power station. The design is hugely inefficient, wasting about 62% of the energy as heat up the chimneys. In other words - and this is something to bear in mind as the government leans towards building a new generation of these things - around two thirds of the coal we dig and the emissions it releases are for nothing.

We could build small localised power stations, Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems that capture and use the heat. Even this threefold increase in power production wouldn't yield anything like the 10% White talks about.

Also, as CHP would be heating water and space, it would be much more likely to be replacing gas than electricity. That's clearly a very a good thing, but has nothing to do with the renewable electricity target.

To meet White's aim of 10% of the UK's electricity from biomass, by the figures from Drax's real-world test we'd need over 21 million tonnes a year.

White says

Of an estimated 7.5m tonnes of domestic wood waste, much from construction and demolition, some 80% goes to landfill.

So if we were to take the 20% that's being usefully reused (which may have the knock on effect of causing more virgin wood to be bought) and commit all our waste wood to biomass in co-firing with coal, we could generate 3.5% of the UK's electricity.

This is well worth doing (it's very easy for coal-fired power stations to burn wood, although Drax required a consistency of size of wood that waste couldn't provide). But if we are to move to a sustainable society we cannot install systems that are dependent on us generating a high volume of waste.

Even with present levels of waste, to hit White's aim of 10%, we'd need to be growing wood specially. This means that virgin land becomes plantation, or else existing farmland is taken over (with a knock-on effect that people still need to get the food that would have been grown there, so somewhere else virgin land becomes farmland).

How much land are we talking about? Pass me that envelope again, would you?

The willow grown for Drax’s trial yielded just under 10 tonnes per hectare(3), meaning 150,000 hectares was needed.

Grown on three year rotation (the fastest possible) means 450,000 hectares is required to supply Drax with the biomass to generate 0.7% of the UK's electricity.

So to supply 10% would require around 6.5m hectares, or 65,000 square kilometres. The UK's land mass is 241,590 sq km.

On this basis, we'd need over a quarter of the UK planted with willow to supply 10% of our electricity. As we're somewhat unlikely to do that, we'd be importing it.

What is happening on the land we'll be turning into plantations? What wildlife is lost? What people and crops are displaced? What water supplies are diverted? What are the carbon emissions from fertilising, harvesting and transporting all that timber?

In a world of the market, biomass will not be bought from where is most sustainable but from where it's cheapest. Biomass grows quicker where it's warmer. For all Drax's big play to the media about using local willow, they're now importing biomass from Italy. And I'm willing to bet the transportation emissions don't figure in their carbon calculations.

The use of waste wood for power is as worthy as turning waste food oil into biodiesel. That, though, can only supply 3 out of every 1,000 vehicles on the road. The move to biofuels for cars is causing devastating new plantations and food prices to rise.

New biomass plantations for power stations will do exactly the same thing.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =


1. Annual Report and Accounts 2006, Drax Group plc, March 2007, p21

2. Alstom to build £50m biomass plant for Drax The Guardian, 20 May 2008

3. Drax Goes Green with Willow, The Guardian, 19 March 2004

Saturday, November 15, 2008

civil disobedience is a terrorist threat

My post about the Observer's eco-terrorist article was a hasty on-the-day response.

On reflection, there are other things in it that should be examined, and some really interesting new information about the British military commander who appears to have really written the piece.

I've just posted a new thing that covers all that over at UK Watch called Civil Disobedience Is A Terrorist Threat.

[No comments on this post - the place to leave them is over at UK Watch]


UPDATE 2 APRIL 09: As UK Watch is offline, I'm republishing the posts from there on their poInter-posts here.



We’re used to the right wing media lying about activists. But last Sunday the lefty Observer ran an article titled ‘Police warn of growing threat from eco-terrorists: Fear of deadly attack by lone maverick as officers alert major firms to danger of green extremism’.

Officers from a specialist unit dedicated to tackling domestic terrorism are monitoring an eco-movement called Earth First! which has advocates who state that cutting the Earth’s population by 80 per cent will ease pressure on other species.

Firstly, just to be clear, the unit is not about terrorism. The unit themselves say

NETCU provides the police service of England and Wales and other enforcement agencies with tactical advice and guidance on policing domestic extremism and associated criminality.

And what is ‘extremism’?

The term ‘domestic extremism’ applies to unlawful action that is part of a protest or campaign. It is most often associated with ‘single-issue’ protests, such as animal rights, anti-war, anti-globalisation and anti-GM (genetically modified) crops.

The front page of the NETCU site shows some cops standing around in front of a demonstration of people dressed as clowns.

So it’s not terrorist stuff in any real sense, it’s just protests. Already there’s exaggeration of the threat.

But what about the extremists who say ‘cutting the Earth’s population by 80 per cent will ease pressure on other species’? Given this one allegation is what the Observer hang their whole article on, it’s peculiar that there is not verbatim quote. Surely, if such a statement existed on a blog or in a newsletter somewhere, they’d be quoting it and naming the source.

But whatever, it is not an extremist position. It’s an irrefutable fact. Whether you think there should be such a reduction is another thing, but the statement itself is incontrovertible.

Even if you do think there should be population reduction, it doesn’t mean you believe there should be some sort of random cull, which – by linking it with the word terrorism and all the images that conjures in your mind – is what they’re trying to imply.


By the same token, when the Conservatives say there are too many obese people it doesn’t mean they’re wanting to cull the 20% or so of Britons who are overweight.

But can we rule out that a ‘lone maverick’ in the Conservative party is not planning to carry out an act of lardo-terrorism? Should NETCU be outside Conservative party meetings taking photos and notes (as they are at Climate Camp ones)? The Conservative party is clearly a lardo-terrorist hotbed, and even though – like Earth First! – there’s no policy or any indication they want to do anything terrorist, they certainly have the ability and might be planning it at this very moment.

We’re told that Earth First!

has links to US environmental extremists which have waged a campaign of violence in America, including the firebombing of a string of 4×4 car dealerships in California in 2003 and alleged arson attacks on other property

and that

green extremists have yet to embark on an orchestrated campaign of violence in the UK

Yet the only ‘violence’ they can list from US environmentalists is damage to property. In the UK, Earth First! has been involved with similar damage to property across the country for nearly 20 years.

But if that were pointed out – a campaign of property damage that hasn’t hurt anyone – it wouldn’t seem like a new and terrorist threat.

This malleability of definitions, fudgy thinking and ignorance of fact run through the whole article. That’s because it’s not there to inform in a real sense but to establish an undefined unease, to sow in the public mind a feeling that there are terrorists in the green movement so that reasonable people who share green concerns are discouraged from joining in. Then when, at some time in future, greens are treated as terrorists nobody will complain.

In the meantime, it serves to defuse this burgeoning movement. If you make the radical end seem scary and liable to imprisonment then the more moderate activists will seek to distance themselves.


Incidentally, if you want a campaign of genuine violence in the USA, try anti-abortionists. They too do major property damage, but also have a long history of murdering doctors, nurses and receptionists.

There are also anti-abortion groups in the UK, they also intimidate people and blockade places, therefore they also counts as ‘domestic extremists’. They too could harbour a ‘lone maverick’ who wants to kill. So why aren’t they a NETCU target?

Because action on ecological issues, especially climate change, has such huge public support and scientific backing that is rapidly growing and so represents a threat to government policy and corporate profit, whereas anti-abortionists do not. This repression is a measure of the environmental movement’s success and power.


It’s not the first piece of terror-threat tosh Mark Townsend has written. Last week he did a piece which opened by telling us that

suspected terrorists have attempted to infiltrate Britain’s top laboratories in order to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Yet his own second paragraph say that’s not true, only that MI5 and MI6 ‘believe’ their suspects were attempting it.

It turns out that there’s a stringent MI5 vetting scheme for students that has turned away 100 people. People the article describes as ‘potential terrorists posing as postgraduate students’.

You, dear reader, are a potential terrorist. And anything you declare yourself to be is something you are posing as. So, for example, the driver of the train I was on yesterday could be described as a potential terrorist posing as a train driver.

What is all this guff about? Surely nobody would lie about WMD to create false impression of threat and thereby have an excuse to commit extreme acts that the public wouldn’t otherwise allow, would they?

It seems as though Townsend has a hot new contact in the security services who’s taking advantage of his gullibility and feeding him this cack.

Where is he getting it from? Well, the co-author of the eco-terrorist piece is Nick Denning. Flash back a year and, as Ian Bone spotted, Townsend was an embedded reporter in Afghanistan. The British military commander showing him round was a man by the name of Nick Denning.

Two weeks running Townsend’s written vacuous scare stories of threats, plants that are seemingly straight from the spooks, taken at face value, without checking sources. He clearly hasn’t looked into EF!, or even talked to coppers who’ve actually dealt with EF!.


Earth First! is not a shady new organisation. In fact, it is none of those three things.

It is, as is said on pretty much every publication and website under the name,

not a cohesive group or campaign, but a convenient banner for people who share similar philosophies to work under.

Earth First! has been going since the early 90s. The anti-roads and anti-GM direct action campaigns were aligned with Earth First!.

Earth First!‘s public presence in the UK is a couple of websites, a newsletter and an annual conference in the summer, open to all and attended by about 200 people. All of this is well known to the police and not news. This year’s summer gathering only got police attention in the form of a perusal to see that it was complying with its events license. Which it was.

The general principles behind Earth First! are non-hierarchical organisation and the use of direct action to confront, stop and eventually reverse the forces that are responsible for the destruction of the Earth and its inhabitants.

At a time when government and corporations have proven themselves utterly incapable of responding as science and nature so urgently demand, when figures as mainstream as Al Gore are calling for civil disobedience (which makes him, by NETCU’s definition, an extremist) such action is not only justified but essential.

Conflating terrorism, extremism and anything criminal would be risible if it didn’t raise the spectre of the state meting out the same treatment to all three activities.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Power company E-On is hoping to build the first new coal-fired power station in the UK for a generation on the site of its present station at Kingsnorth in Kent. At a time of climate crisis, it's an obscenity.

They've been the targets of all kinds of action, from last summer's Camp for Climate Action, to a series of smaller action on April 1st (Fossil Fools Day), to their graduate recruitment stalls being so heavily targeted that they just gave up, with more action coming up at the end of this month.

One easy, comfy action can happen from this computer you're looking at. The tactic is called google-bombing.

The more links to a site, the higher it climbs in Google rankings. So, if enough people make the word 'Eon' link to the No New Coal site, pretty soon it'll top the list of anyone searching for Eon. (This tactic was successfully used a few years ago to make 'swivel-eyed loons' link to UKIP).

Two weeks ago www.nonewcoal.org.uk wasn't in the top 50 sites when searching for Eon. As I write this it's already number 13.

So a simple online action can help us get our electronic placards in their face without getting out on the cold winter streets.

If you have a website, blog, myspace, bebo, forum account, etc then please place a link to http://www.nonewcoal.org.uk.

Ideally you write 'eon' and place a hyperlink to http://www.nonewcoal.org.uk from that text.

Anyone can do this! Blog comments/forums are easiest. Good websites are most effective.

If you're wondering what else to write, you could copy or edit this.

To get a top 10 google ranking probably won't be to hard, but to pip Eon to the top will require a lot of effort so tell your friends, consider putting this simple action in your newsletters, spread the word online...


* 1. It works best if you mention Eon several times in an article.

* 2. If you are posting the link in a blog post then put Eon in the title and the tags.

* 3. The more important the site the more kick nonewcoal.org.uk gets from the link.

* 4. If you leave comments on blogs or other sites, they usually ask for a name and have an optional web address. If you make your name Eon and your address nonewcoal.org.uk, it doesn't matter if the comment itself is coal-relevant or not.

* 5. If you are really determined then consider setting up a fake site like the EON Corporate Social Responsibility blog that way you can link loads of times to nonewcoal.org.uk from a site that is very relevent!

* 6. Why not take this is seriously as a real world action and forward it to people with green blogs/campaign groups etc?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

eco-terrorists will kill us all. or not.

NETCU - the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit - is a division of the police that was set up in a flurry of terrorism fears. But although you'd think they had better things to do (such as monitoring people who might actually be terrorists) they spend their time focusing on environmental activists.

That, and feeding stories to gullible journalists. Today's Observer runs the headline 'Police warn of growing threat from eco-terrorists'.

Although green extremists have yet to embark on an orchestrated campaign of violence in the UK, officers warn that they may be about to launch a campaign of intimidation and fear aimed at disrupting businesses.

You've gotta love the way that 'disrupting businesses' is aligned with 'an orchestrated campaign of violence' and, thanks to the headline, being a terrorist.

"For some people, if they can justify it in their minds, then it's a noble cause even if it's a criminal action. They haven't started yet, but we believe they will come up with a strategy and tactics," said the source at the unit

For most people, activists or otherwise, there are activities that are criminal yet justifiable. But if we use vague terms like 'action' we can conflate all criminal activities, be they blockading a factory or detonating a fuckoff terrorist bomb designed to, ahem, help reduce the human population by 80%.

By saying 'they haven't started yet' we get the impression of some impending threat of deeds we haven't seen before. Yet the only thing they can talk of is disrupting businesses or damage to property, both of which have been going on since time immemorial.

I could say that you haven't publicly buggered puppies 'yet'.

Among the network of groups under the Earth First! umbrella are various climate camps.

No, there aren't any groups under the Earth First! umbrella. But anyway,

Last August police found a stash of knives and weapons beside one such camp in Kent.

Conveniently 'discovered' the day after the police had been roundly criticised in the media for their violence against the entirely peaceful people at the Climate Camp.

Still, the police were right and there a day later riots with weapons used by the Climate Campers including petrol bombs, knuckle-dusters and grenade launchers. Oh, no, hang on a minute...

My favourite line of all, though, is

"they could research an airline and see how many of its aircraft are not environmentally friendly," said the NETCU source.

Where do you start? As if there's such a thing as a quantity of environmentally friendly planes! As if researching an airline means you want to be a terrorist!

These sinister people are researching companies, finding out where they are so they can go there. This used to be known as protesting. But then, as George Monbiot notes

No act has been passed over the last 20 years with the aim of preventing anti-social behaviour, disorderly conduct, trespass, harrassment and terrorism which has not also been deployed to criminalise a peaceful public engagement in politics.

Maybe being an environmental activist does make you a terrorist after all.

What, exactly, is terrorism? Off the top of my head, my definition would have to include the threat of serious injury to members of the public. The government, though, cast it a hell of a lot wider than that.

Thanks to New Labour's Terrorism Act 2000, terrorism is action that 'involves serious damage to property' or 'is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system', and 'the use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public' and is 'for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause'.

I'm surprised Greenpeace aren't on the list of proscribed organisations, then.

As if such a broad definition wasn't enough, they strengthen their hand by getting articles in a lefty paper. You'd think a journalist who's won British Environmental Journalist of the Year would side with the activists rather than those who want to imprison them.

With all the police monitoring and infiltration the best they can do is say there might be a lone nutter thinking about committing an atrocity and the strategy isn't worked out 'yet'. This tells you all you need to know about how widespread such ideas are within eco-activist circles.

= = = = = =

UPDATE: After numerous strong complaints, the Observer have retracted the article saying, 'it's perfectly legitimate to report police security concerns, but none of the statements were substantiated'. NETCU's website came down shortly after, and two months later is still little more than a holding page. However, there is a new police unit - the Confidential
Intelligence Unit - said to be in formation, doing the same job.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

meet the new boss

The election of Barack Obama ushers in a new era of racial harmony. It shows that anyone who goes to the right university and complies with the will of the right vested interests can rise up all the way to representing those vested interests.

Just as the elevation of Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell to the previously white enclave of US war criminals eradicated racism in government, so Obama's election opens up new realms of opportunity for people of colour.

Will his position as head of state bring forth an American apology for slavery and the African holocaust, paving the way to reparations from the great American wealth accrued from the free labour and plundered resources?

Or will he be continuing it?

These days it's considered ugly to have your slaves chained up in your back yard. It's far more tasteful - and even less responsibility - to squirrel them away in an Asian sweatshop, an African plantation or a South American mine, and just sit back and watch that wealth flow to you. The job of American President is to maximise that flow.

As Timothy Garton Ash notes of Obama

His proclaimed purpose is "to make this century the next American century". If George W Bush said that, we from the rest of the world might regard it as rank nationalist arrogance. Because it's Obama, we somehow accept it.

His first major appointment is his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. The guy who strongarmed support to get Clinton's sign-up to the North American Free Trade Agreement into law, a major pillar of America's entrenching of globalisation, concentrating the labour and resources of the world in the hands of its richest nations and, within those nations, in the hands of its richest citizens.

= = = = = = =

I have this feeling that whoever is elected president, like Clinton was, no matter what you promise on the campaign trail - blahblahblah - when you win, you go into this smoke-filled room with the twelve industrialist capitalist scum-fucks who got you in there.

And you're in this smoky room, and this little film screen comes down and a big guy with a cigar goes, "Roll the film."

And it's a shot of the Kennedy assassination from an angle you've never seen before, that looks suspiciously like it's from the grassy knoll.

And then the screen goes up and the lights come up, and they go to the new president, "Any questions?"

"Er, just what my agenda is"

- Bill Hicks

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

banishing the green-eyed monster

Having published two pamphlets on non-mongamous ideas, I'm surprised how long it's taken me to get round to reading The Ethical Slut. Astonishingly clear, bold, warm and compassionate, I highly recommend it.

It unsurprisingly spends a fair amount of time talking about jealousy. Specifically, it tackles the idea that jealousy is not inevitable. Nor is it something 'done to' you; rather it is something triggered in you. And just because somebody does something you presently find difficult to deal with, it doesn't mean they shouldn't be doing it.

In serendipitous fashion, my good friend Kirk just sent me a link to an American article by Richard Dawkins:

Why are we so obsessed with monogamous fidelity in the first place? Agony Aunt columns ring with the cries of those who have detected - or fear - that their man/woman (who may or may not be married to them) is "cheating on them".

“Cheating” really is the word that occurs most readily to these people. The underlying presumption - that a human being has some kind of property rights over another human being’s body - is unspoken because it is assumed to be obvious. But with what justification?...
Sexual jealousy may in some Darwinian sense accord with nature, but "Nature, Mr. Allnutt, is what we are put in this world to rise above."

Just as we rise above nature when we spend time writing a book or a symphony rather than devoting our time to sowing our selfish genes and fighting our rivals, so mightn't we rise above nature when tempted by the vice of sexual jealousy?

I, for one, feel drawn to the idea that there is something noble and virtuous in rising above nature in this way. I admit that I have, at times in my life, been jealous, but it is one of the things I now regret.

Assuming that such practical matters as sexually transmitted diseases and the paternity of children can be sorted out (and nowadays DNA testing will clinch that for you if you are sufficiently suspicious, which I am not), what, actually, is wrong with loving more than one person? Why should you deny your loved one the pleasure of sexual encounters with others, if he or she is that way inclined?

The British writer Julie Burchill is not somebody I usually quote but I was struck by one of her remarks. I can't find the exact quote, but it was to the effect that, however much you love your mate (of either sex in the case of the bisexual Burchill) sex with a stranger is almost always more exciting, purely because it is a stranger. An exaggeration, no doubt, but the same grain of truth lurks in Woody Allen's "Sex without love is an empty experience, but as empty experiences go it's one of the best."

Even sticking to the higher plane of love, is it so very obvious that you can't love more than one person? We seem to manage it with parental love (parents are reproached if they don't at least pretend to love all their children equally), love of books, of food, of wine (love of Chateau Margaux does not preclude love of a fine Hock, and we don’t feel unfaithful to the red when we dally with the white), love of composers, poets, holiday beaches, friends... why is erotic love the one exception that everybody instantly acknowledges without even thinking about it? Why can a woman not love two men at the same time, in their different ways? And why should the two – or their wives - begrudge her this?

If we are being Darwinian, it might be easier to make the case the other way, for a man sincerely and deeply loving more than one woman. But I don't want to pursue the details here.

I'm not denying the power of sexual jealousy. It is ubiquitous if not universal. I’m just wondering aloud why we all accept it so readily, without even thinking about it. And why don't we all admire – as I increasingly do - those rare free spirits confident enough to rise above jealousy, stop fretting about who is “cheating on” whom, and tell the green-eyed monster to go jump in the lake?

Monday, November 03, 2008

nuclear power - not the climate solution

The nuclear power industry has rebranded itself as our climate saviour.

Looking into it (ignoring the issue of nuclear waste), it would only deliver relatively small carbon cuts, only in the long-term, but at huge cost.

Meanwhile, things that are more effective and cheaper can be on-stream sooner.

I've done an article on it all that's just gone live at U-Know called Nuclear Is Not the Climate Solution.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

green party hydrogen response 4: boris johnson

To recap: I did an analysis showing that London's prototype hydrogen buses cause considerably greater carbon emissions than diesel buses.

As the Green Party support this technology yet obviously shouldn't, I've been having correspondence with them about it. First up was MEP Caroline Lucas.

London's about to have a new larger hydrogen vehicle trial, so I've had exchanges with Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones, the Green members of the London Assembly, as they are supporting this high-carbon technology. So the second exchange was with London Assembly member Darren Johnson

After that, the other Green London AM Jenny Jones, who table some questions to the Mayor, Boris Johnson.

Darren Johnson (no relation, you've gotta hope) has forwarded the answers.

Please find below the response from Boris Johnson, The Mayor of London to the questions that Darren Johnson, Green Party Member of the London Assembly raised on your behalf at the September 2008 London Assembly’s Mayors Question Time.

Hydrogen Buses, Question No: 1694/2008

Darren Johnson’s questions:

Will the mayor respond to the following questions from a member of the public:

- With the planned expansion of the trial of hydrogen buses going ahead this year, will you ensure the hydrogen is from renewable sources?

- What is the target for improving on the well to wheel calculation of CO2 emissions obtained from the previous CUTE [Clean Urban Transport for Europe, the pilot project that ended in 2006] trial?

- With the expansion of the existing scheme to encourage local authorities to install charge points for electric vehicles, what efforts are being made to ensure that this energy is from renewable sources?

- Will you carry out an assessment on the full potential for sewage in London to be used as a fuel for Combined Heat and Power generation, or for the bus fleet?

Boris Johnson’s response:

The new hydrogen buses will be on London’s roads by 2010. The hydrogen used will be produced by steam methane reforming. TfL [Transport for London] and Air Products (the refuelling supplier) are committed to putting in place measures that minimise the emissions from this method over the life of the projects as further advancements in abatement technology become available. In the future, TfL will look to procure hydrogen from the greenest sources and harness renewable technologies when they become available and are viable.

No well-to-wheel statistics were produced for the CUTE trial. TfL expects the new generation of buses to produce significantly lower emissions with the fuel-cell buses estimated to produce 50% less CO2 than a diesel bus on a well-to-wheel basis. These figures can be improved further when greener sources of hydrogen are developed.

TfL and GLA officers are in discussions with local authorities and energy suppliers to investigate the possibility of obtaining electricity from renewable sources.

In terms of building facilities, TfL have introduced combined heat-power generation to their newest building. This technology can be adapted to run on gases other than mains natural gas, should potential alternatives such as sewage become available. In terms of buses, current hybrid technology being trialled in the bus fleet offers immediately realisable CO2 benefits in London.

'No well-to-wheel statistics were produced for the CUTE trial'? Come with me to page 79 of CUTE's own report on their trial, where we find this chart.

Graph from CUTE report

The baseline is the impact of a normal diesel Mercedes Citaro bus, the same model that the hydrogen bus trial adapted.

To decode, the three groups are:
FC H2 St.ref. - fuel cell bus, powered by hydrogen from steam reforming (ie natural gas)
FC NEBUS, H2 St.ref. - the NEBUS, the hydrogen Citaro's predecssor, powered by a fuel cell with hydrogen from natural gas.
FC, H2 Hydro - fuel cell bus powered by hydrogen made from electricity from hydroelectric dams.

The four bars on the graph are:
PE (n.ren) - Primary energy from non-renewable resources
GWP100 - global warming potential (taking all climate impacts into account, not just CO2)
POCP - Summer smog formation potential
AP - Acidification potential

It clearly shows that the energy and climate impacts are substantially worse with the hydrogen bus when powered from natural gas.

Incidentally, as I said in my original piece, the hydroelectric thing is a red herring. Firstly, there's the way that hydroelectricity is seen a climate-neutral whereas it emits huge quantities of methane (a greenhouse gas 25 times as potent as CO2).

Beyond that, there is - as with all the 'hydrogen from renewable sources' stuff - the fact that it displaces electricity from fossil sources. I know I've said it before, but it seems that either I'm missing summat or else people are refusing to hear me.

If we earmark our renewables for this new electricity demand, they no longer feed the grid. So more fossils get burnt to make up the shortfall. It only works if the grid is entirely powered by renewables with capacity for all our present uses and our vehicles too.

Full marks to the Greens for their tenacity and responsiveness, it really does set them apart from the lower fob-off threshold of politicians in other parties. But they clearly haven't grasped the point of my writing to them, despite reiterations, citing sources and a couple of simple handy metaphors.

Answers that miss the point of questions that, in turn, missed the point are not really going to mean much, are they?

I'm following it up but, as with all the exchanges in this, I'm letting it run until the exchange has ended before I publish so that it's fairer and clearer for all concerned.

Monday, October 27, 2008

green party hydrogen response 3: jenny jones

A while ago I did some maths about London's hydrogen bus trials and found that the hydrogen buses are responsible for far greater carbon emissions than the diesel buses they seek to replace.

The Green Party support this technology, which is all the more worrying as there's to be a new and larger trial in London next year. As so many wild and inaccurate claims have been made about the ecological benefits of using hydrogen as a vehicle fuel, I'm presuming they've just never looked into it properly.

Because the London buses were part of a wider European trail, I had an exchange with Green MEP Caroline Lucas.

Then there was Green member of the London Assembly Darren Johnson. He said that he'd be 'doing more work in this area in the Autumn'.

I think we've got more detail on what that meant in a subsequent email from the office of the other Green London AM, Jenny Jones.

I am responding on behalf of Jenny Jones at the London Assembly, and I apologise for taking so long to get back to you.

We will put the following questions to the Mayor at next month's Mayor's Question Time, in the hope of finding a solution to some of the issues you raise:

- With the planned expansion of the trial of hydrogen buses going ahead this year, will you ensure that the hydrogen is from renewable sources?

- What is the target for improving on the well to wheel calculation of CO2 emissions obtained from the previous CUTE trial?

- With the expansion of the existing scheme to encourage local authorities to install charge points for electric vehicles, what efforts are being made to ensure that this energy is from renewable sources?

- Will you carry out an assessment on the full potential for sewage in London to be used as a fuel for Combine Heat and Power generation, or for the bus fleet?

I will let you know the response received.

To which I replied

Thanks for getting back to me. I'm glad to see you will be raising the issue. However, one element seems to miss the point

"With the planned expansion of the trial of hydrogen buses going ahead this year, will you ensure that the hydrogen is from renewable sources?"

Making hydrogen from a green electricity tariff causes the same emissions as if it were made from grid electricity.
If we start powering our vehicles from the electricity grid, it adds to overall demand for electricity; taking the renewable electricity for hydrogen production means the same amount of electricity being generated from fossils generation elsewhere, so the extra emissions should be attributed to the new demand from hydrogen.

As an analogy, imagine if you went home tonight to find there were a hundred new cars parked on your street. The drivers of the new cars got there first and took the spaces, making the usual cars have to overcrowd other places and park illegally. The new drivers could claim that they were taking the sensible legal spaces, but we would all know it is they who are creating the problem.

Hydrogen only becomes effectively renewable if the whole grid is powered by renewables. Until then, it causes more fossils to be burned and should be counted as such. Not to do so is as disingenuous as the hydrogen manufacturers who claim it has no climate impact because the CO2 was released at the production plant.

Making hydrogen from electrolysis from the grid, as the analysis I previously sent to you showed, has around ten times the carbon emissions of a diesel bus. If someone came to the GLA with a proposal for a low exhaust-emission, tenfold carbon-emission bus that has twice the resource impact to manufacture than a normal bus, what would you say?

The other option is to make it using new dedicated renewable infrastructure. Even then, hydrogen makes no sense. We take electricity, convert it to hydrogen, then convert that back into electricity to power the bus. The hydrogen is, in effect, just a very inefficient battery.

Making hydrogen by electrolysis takes colossal amounts of electricity. It’s only 30% efficient, less than half the rating of any other method(1). It’s such a wasteful process that powering the UK’s vehicles with electrolysis hydrogen would take more electricity than we presently use for everything else combined(2). There are far more efficient batteries available.

Fuel cell vehicles that operate on hydrogen made with electrolysis consume four times as much electricity per mile as similarly-sized battery electric vehicles(3).

Using electric vehicles would mean only a quarter of that dedicated renewable generation infrastructure would be required.
That would mean it would be 100% renewable a lot sooner, and a lot less money and resources to invest in the meantime, and it could not be used as an excuse for the fossil fuel companies to promote their present high-carbon hydrogen. It’s hard to see how electrolysis hydrogen is anything other than an extravagance.

"With the expansion of the existing scheme to encourage local authorities to install charge points for electric vehicles, what efforts are being made to ensure that this energy is from renewable sources?"

This has the same problems as described above regarding adding to electricity demand as so merely displacing emissions, but at least it's several times more efficient - and therefore a fraction of the emissions - of using hydrogen.

Thankyou for taking the time to write, and I look forward to seeing what response you get from the Mayor.

Please forgive the academic overtones of using footnotes, it's just that with any statistical or scientific assertion there should be a source to check, and in my experience green issues especially lend themselves to wild claims.

1-US National Academy of Engineering, Board on Energy and Environmental Systems, 'The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs', 2004, p39


2-'Decarbonising the UK – Energy for a Climate Conscious Future', Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, 2005, p74


3-Alec Brooks, 'CARB's Fuel Cell Detour on the Road to Zero Emission Vehicles', Electric Vehicle World, 7 May 2004

Some time later I got a copy of Boris Johnson's response (I'll publish that in a couple of days). The questions were tabled as set out above, with no amendments in the light of my reply pointing out that they don't actually address the 'issues I raise'.

Kudos to them for sticking at it, but if they miss the point, ignore the corrections and then ask the wrong questions, what they say is not going to be worth much.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

fuck off fatso, says fat tory

In the same way that the last Conservative government had them preaching about family values whilst fucking prostitutes, their secretaries and even each other, so the fuckers who'll form the next Conservative government are limbering up to be hypocritical arsewipes.

There is "no excuse" for people to be too fat, the Conservatives will declare today


Check out the guy who said it, Conservative health spokesperson Andrew Lansley. Note the way his second chin has more than double the mass of his first and its line of definition extends up to level with his eyes.

Andrew Lansley

Mr Lansley acknowledged he could do more to improve his own fitness. He said: "I have a body mass index of 28 which means I'm classified as slightly overweight. I make no secret about the fact that I could be fitter, but following fitness training with Men's Health last year I use a running machine"

Nice plug for the magazine there. But anyway, this is him after a load of effort to reduce his weight?

Quite what the poor - those who can't afford fitness training with Men's Health or a running machine, or indeed any time or energy after they come in from spending all day at a shitty job that exhausts them - are meant to do isn't clear.

Lansley goes on to tell us that

a future Tory government would not "nanny" people, pledging to scrap support for "traffic light" food labelling

I'm not quite sure how traffic light labelling is nannying people. I'd have thought giving people the information so they can see through the packaging and marketing bullshit and letting them know if their food is genuinely fatty would be pretty useful to people trying to reduce obesity.

But then, it affects the profits of the supermarkets who make their money selling the fatty foods. Far better to blame the consumer even if they are deliberately misinformed by advertising and a lack of honest labelling.

And this is where we get into the darker side of all this. Rather like the way they've been blaming unemployment on the unemployed as a way to shift money from the poor to the rich, now they're rounding on other members of the underclass.

The health spokesman's comments on obesity echo David Cameron's speech last month when he said the poor, the obese and people with drug and alcohol problems are partly to blame for their own plight.

This is all about expanding what's chillingly and euphemistically called 'Conservative demands for greater personal responsibility across social policy'.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

what do worms attack?

I get the strong impression that the kid is familiar with the cycle of birth and death, and how, essentially, the world is one big cannibalistic restaurant.

Still, I can't help finding something ominous in the adult's last line. If I were that age, staring down at a worm practically the size of a python and wondering what it attacks, it would be material enough for a month of nightmares to be told 'it could eat you'.

Friday, October 03, 2008

integrity, why hast thou foresaken us?

I know that in a world where Pictures Of You by the Cure sells printers, Atmosphere by Joy Division sells bank accounts and Town Called Malice, In Between Days and pretty much every other song ever written sell cars I shouldn't be shocked by great music and its makers bending over to be violated by the engorged scaly phallus of the consumerism.

But I can't switch off this thing that expects people who create something of worth to honour what they have achieved instead of soiling it.

Only a couple of weeks after Antony and The Johnsons gave a new track to Prada in London Fashion Week come two TV adverts with John Lydon selling butter.

Lydon tries to justify it not with one of his his usual 'I make loads of money hahaha' statements but a claim that he's done it because this specific butter is just so great.

I for one am proud to be British and I’m proud to get behind a proper British brand. That’s why I’m supporting Country Life butter.

People know I only do things that I want to or that I believe in and I have to do it my way.

I think we can safely assume he got a fat cheque for his services.

Can we really believe he would have done it for free? If not, then his comment about believing in a particular brand of butter is a load of bollocks. He's a millionaire pretending to like stuff for more money.

Here's the deal, folks. You do a commercial, you're off the artistic roll-call forever. End of story. You're another corporate shill, you're another whore at the capitalist gang-bang. And if you do a commercial, there's a price on your head, everything you say is suspect and every word that comes out of your mouth is like a turd falling into my drink.
- Bill Hicks

Thursday, October 02, 2008

cooking with gas

A further thought on that home electrolyser.

I dissed its stupidity for turning electricity into hydrogen into electricity. However, they tell us some of it can be used directly for cooking.

At present, when we cook with gas we are actually cooking with hydrogen. Natural gas is essentially methane; CH4, carbon and hydrogen. In burning it we combust the hydrogen and the carbon reacts with atmospheric oxygen to form CO2.

Manufacturing hydrogen from natural gas emits 9.1kg CO2 per kilo of hydrogen(1). So if cooking with gas is a way of splitting hydrogen from carbon, it seems reasonable to presume that we emit about the same when we cook with gas.

It takes 39kWh of electricity to make 1kg of hydrogen(2).

UK grid emissions are 480g of carbon dioxide per kWh(3).

480gx39 = 18,720g.

By this calculation, if the cooking hydrogen is made from grid electricity, it releases 18.72kg of carbon dioxide per kilo of hydrogen - more than twice the amount of someone cooking with gas.

= = = = = = = =

1. IPCC, Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p131.

2. J. Levene, B. Kroposki, and G. Sverdrup, Wind Energy and Production of Hydrogen and Electricity — Opportunities for Renewable Hydrogen, US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, March 2006, p2.

3. Table 3, Fuel Mix Disclosure Data Table, DBERR 2006-07,

Friday, September 26, 2008

'ave some of that-a!

When Ian Dury found out he was dying, he didn't go down easily. He recorded a new album and toured and toured, belting it out.

He also got to do this short film. Yes, it's an ad for a newspaper, but they gave him the space to say anything he wanted. And as he was dying and wanted the cash to take care of his young kids, you can't begrudge him it at all.