Friday, February 29, 2008

seeing the media wizard

The almost interesting hoo-hah about the Speaker of the House of Commons allegedly falsifying his expenses has brought up something more worthy of our attention. As he entered the House of Commons on Monday he was enthusiastically greeted by MPs from all parties. Normally any knock is a chance for the other team to throw a punch. So what's different here?

This cross-party support is understandable when you see it from the MPs perspective; they all enjoy the opulence of their position, and it's a fair bet that even if they're not outright crooks then most, if not all, have had personal benefit from some dubious gratuity.

But more than that, as Simon Hoggart observed, 'there is something queasy-making about journalists complaining about other people fiddling their expenses'.

Because we all know that reporters are in the main liars by trade, uninterested in truth or integrity, only in making their story please their even more snidey editor.

When Heather Mills-McCartney made a pro-vegan speech saying drinking cows' milk was as unnatural as drinking rat or dog milk, she was clearly implying we should drink none of these things. However, it was reported as 'Drink rats' milk, says Heather Mills'.

Juliet Gellatley, founder & director of veggie pressure group Viva! explained

The reporters who filed this story about Heather advocating rats’ milk knew it was untrue because I amplified on what Heather had said. One actually admitted that he understood precisely what she meant but the ‘drink rats’ milk’ claim made a damned good story. What this reveals is an utter lack of any integrity in most of the Press – sadly not just the tabloids but the so-called quality papers, too.

Every event I have attended with Heather has been grossly misreported by the Press and has involved spiteful and vicious personal attacks on her integrity and her sanity. The irony is that one of the most common accusations about Heather is that she is a fantasist and a liar – by people whose stock in trade is fantasy and lies.

That this was part of a wider campaign against Mills, (the media never forgives anyone who marries a Beatle and speaks), in itself highlights the deliberate twisting or ignoring of facts.

This week saw Greenpeace activists do a banner-drop on top of a plane at Heathrow, followed the next day by people from Plane Stupid on top of the House of Commons labelling the hallowed building as 'BAA HQ'. The actions were timed with the government's consultation on whether to expand Heathrow.

Underneath the activists, Gordon Brown told MPs decisions had to be made 'in the chamber of this House and not on the roof of this House'.

Yet the point the protesters were making was that the decisions were not being made in either place.

They threw down paper planes they'd made of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act proving that airport operator BAA wrote parts of the consultation document. This should surely be a big story.

The reporters mostly concentrated on the security at parliament aspect, but the corruption is a clearly story for a proper political reporter to get their teeth into. Especially if, as with the Daily Mail's Political Editor Benedict Brogan, it falls literally at your feet. Yet he said

I picked up one of their 'planes': it's a photocopy of an email from someone at BA to a Dept of Transport official about something complicated that I can't be bothered to read.

It's a real dilemma for climate change activists. The issue is so urgent that there isn't time for the whole world to find its information from SchNews. There has to be a large element of spectacle and engaging with the mainstream media. Yet they invariably write the story to fit their idea, rather than report what you say or what happens.

It's even worse when our glimmers of hope, such as The Guardian and The Independent, take hours of your time and really understand it all then, as we saw at the Camp for Climate Action last summer, just go and file some shit about Swampy (Independent) or about how it's OK because you can offset your flight's emissions (Guardian). Even ignoring the depressing element of such deliberate misreporting, as a simple cost/benefit sum it can feel like there's more useful things to be doing.

The one true spark of hope is that people are increasingly media-savvy and know how to read through the lies and get to the core of truth.

My first real political awakening was seeing Greenham Common women on the news. The story was all about what a bunch of irresponsible de-domesticated feral mothers and/or deranged lesbians they were. (These days I count several irresponsible de-domesticated feral mothers and deranged lesbians as personal friends, but that's another matter).

It was plain that the Greenham women were making an informed intelligent choice and were heroes, and that the media were just lying. They're so cynical and self-interested that anyone who takes an idealistic stand or makes a personal sacrifice for a political cause freaks them the fuck out and they respond with ridicule.

As we live under an ever increasing weight of mass media information it can feel like we're being taken over by their perspectives, but maybe it's teaching us how they work so we can see through it. We're so close in we can see that the daunting Wizard of Oz is in fact a deceiving charlatan behind a curtain.


UPDATE: How weird, Jim Bliss posted a really similar post less than half an hour before this!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

drax: still the destroyer

The target for the first Camp for Climate Action was Drax, a coal-fired power station in Yorkshire that’s the UK’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide.

Drax responded that they weren’t all that bad, as not only were they the most efficient coal-fired power station (which is like bragging about the least murderous serial killer), but also they were green because they ‘co-fired with biomass’, ie they burn some plants in with the coal.

They reinforced these eco-credentials, proudly declaring, ‘Drax Power has already made much progress in promoting local supply partnerships for future forestry and energy crops’.

A quick bit of maths, then.

Drax said they’re aiming to produce 10% of their output from biomass by the end of next year. Drax reportedly burns 10 million tonnes of coal a year.

In this article we're told

Drax engineers estimate that it will take 1.5m tonnes of biomass a year to replace the energy that comes from 1m tonnes of coal.

This more or less tallies with figures from Drax's initial use of biomass, where it was reported that 14,100 tonnes of willow would replace 10,000 tonnes of coal.

So, ten percent of their output was 1 million tonnes of coal, and would be replaced by 1.5 million tonnes of biomass.

That willow they trialled got just under than 10 tonnes per hectare. So, to get 1.5 million tonnes you'd need 150,000 hectares. Except that you only harvest once every three or four years, so you need to treble or quadruple that number to 450,000-600,000 hectares. There's 100 hectares to the square kilometre, so that’s 4,500-6,000 square kilometres.

Put another way, to supply Drax with 10% of its fuel from willow, we'd need to plant about 2% of the entire land area of the UK. In a very real sense, there isn't enough local land to supply Drax.

Were Drax capable of burning 100% willow, we'd need 20% of the entire UK - equivalent to all our arable land - planted to supply it.

And that would just be for one power station that supplies about one-fifteenth of our electricity.

There are those who claim that newer varieties of willow are higher yielding, up to 18 tonnnes per hectare. This still means planting 1% of the UK to supply Drax with its planned biomass, or if they were to burn entirely biomass, planting 10% of the UK.

Even if they were to do their 10% willow thing, it would reduce emissions by a mere 10%. This still means it is way, way higher emitting than anything else except burning straight coal.

But surely they can keep upping the biomass until it's a large amount? Even if the land existed, the technology doesn’t. Drax conceded

The engineers think it is technically feasible to go to 20% [biomass content]. We are targeting 10% and probably between 10% and 15% there is a window that needs to be explored.

So, with the very best imaginable result, it would still be 150% of the emissions from burning gas.

All this ignores the emissions from planting, pruning and harvesting the willow, the emissions from fertilisers (nitrates give off nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas several hundred times more potent than CO2), the oven-drying of the fuel and the transportation to Drax.

And those transportation issues can kick right in.

Earlier this month the Telegraph reported that ‘Drax power station recently replaced some of its elephant grass with a shipment of olive pips from Italy.’ (The Telegraph’s Earth section is well worth bookmarking, it frequently picks up on stuff you won’t find elsewhere).

But of course just as there isn’t enough local land to grow willow, there aren’t enough olive pips to supply that 10%. The bulk of it will have to come from much further afield. The cheapest source will be palm oil, which has a climate impact 10-30 times that of burning fossils.

The move to imported biomass isn’t driven by a lack of local land, but by the sacrosanct principle of profit. That same Telegraph piece interviews a Norfolk farmer who grew 11 hectares of miscanthus for a local biomass power station. They cancelled the order without giving a reason, leaving him seriously out of pocket and with bales of useless grass on his land.

Of course we can bet that, in the same way that BP don't count the emissions from oil they’d have got in their ‘carbon free’ hydrogen power plant, Drax’s calculations won’t find them liable for the emissions from the farming and transportation of their olive pips.

They mightn't appear in their published figures, but the climate is noticing them. What is actually happening is what should count. Any energy project should have a full-project emissions total. But corporations, committed to profit above all other concerns, will deploy all low-carbon technology in as high-carbon, dodgy accounting, loophole-stretching way as possible.

If we want to see how they’ll deal with carbon legislation, look at how they presently deal with tax legislation.

Friday, February 22, 2008

if i kill them without seeing then it doesn't count

In February 2003 there were two parliamentary votes to hold back on going to war in Iraq. Labour's Ruth Kelly voted against them, and for pushing ahead to war.

In March 2003 there was a move to amend the Declaration of War to say the case for war had not yet been established. Ruth Kelly voted against it. Less than an hour later there was a vote on going to war, and she voted in favour.

That declaration, let us remind ourselves, was due to the threat from 'Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles'.

As the weapons didn't exist, surely we should be asking why politicians thought they did. Anyone of integrity who'd been duped into voting for war under false pretences should be outraged. They sanctioned mass killing for no reason.

Yet in the eight times that Kelly's been in Parliament to vote on any inquiry into the war, she's voted against it every time.

Add this to her solid voting for war in the first place, and you understand why I was shouting at the TV tonight. The BBC's Question Time had Ruth Kelly on the panel, and the subject of the death penalty came up.

Personally, if asked the question 'could I ever inject someone or, you know, trigger the death of someone?' - absolutely not.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

whaling: science is commerce

The Japanese Antarctic whaling mission takes another blow. The Japanese claim they only kill whales for 'scientific' research. Any report that goes into this explains that in order to tell how old a whale is, you've got to kill it and cut into its head.

So, to find out about their ages and breeding cycles, they're killing quite a few adult whales. This is all scientific and not to do with doing commercial whaling by the back door, honest guv.

Which means there's no need to be killing juvenile whales. So the pictures the Australian government released showing a mother and calf shouldn't exist.

However, there's a point that never seems to get mentioned. If there is some sort of legitimate important scientific whaling to be done, why would it be just the Japanese doing it?

It's because the science is all about ascertaining populations so they can assess the viability of commercial whaling. No other reason.

So anyone who opposes commercial whaling has to oppose the scientific whaling too, as they are two parts of the same whole. So the media should drop the use of the word 'scientific' as a justification.

The other thing that isn't picked up on enough is here

Australian environment minister Peter Garrett said he hoped the "distressing" images would boost international opposition to the whale hunt

That's Peter Garrett, the baldy singer out of Midnight Oil!

They're best remembered in the UK for the anthemic 80s single Beds Are Burning which, typically, addressed Aboriginal rights

The time has come
To say fair's fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share

The time has come
A fact's a fact
It belongs to them
Let's give it back

I don't know enough about Australian politics to know if this means the new government is comparitively cool or if Garrett's been co-opted by the forces of darkness.

But still, it's mad enough whatever, it's like finding out Morrissey or Theo and Shannon have been given Cabinet posts.

Monday, February 04, 2008

death by badger

I believe I have found the best line ever to appear in a news story.

UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said: "We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area"