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 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

Ideally you write 'eon' and place a hyperlink to 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 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, 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 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.