Wednesday, April 29, 2009

carbon capture. eventually. probably. a bit.

Ed Miliband, Climate Change and Energy Secretary, has already shown how deep he is in the pocket of the fossil-loving energy companies.

Mr Miliband is exploring options for persuading the industry to look again at coal. One option, still under discussion, is for a new levy on household energy bills that would raise money to support the new carbon capture technology.

Hang on, I pay to have a 100% renewable electricity supply, and you want to give me an extra tax on it to pay for new coal?

Last week he announced four plants will be built to demonstrate Carbon Capture and Storage on coal-fired power stations.

The plan says

Once the technology is commercially proven - a judgement Miliband suggested would be made by the Environment Agency - plants would be required to put CCS on 100% of output. He said that was expected to happen by 2020, and plants would have five years from then to install 100% CCS.

We're being asked to ignore the huge emissions released in the initial period (Miliband says only around 25% of emissions need to be captured, making it higher-carbon than any other source of power except unabated coal). Even after the technology is proven, we're being asked to ignore the further emissions in as inexplicably long a scale-up period as five years.

This, as is well established, far too late to start cutting back, as Danny Daisy points out

The Government have no plans to scale up the technology for 15 years - which is hardly surprising, as even the coal industry have admitted that it'll take at least that long to find out if carbon capture can work on a large scale.

Meanwhile, global emissions need to peak in 2015 (6 years away) and then start to fall if we have any chance of avoiding global disaster. Large-scale carbon capture will arrive far, far too late to help with that. The only technologies that can help us to avoid climate catastrophe are the ones that already exist.

Even after finding a carpet large enough to sweep all this under, there's still a major problem. This is all 'once the technology is proven'.

Miliband said

CCS is the only technology with the potential to reduce emissions from fossil fuels by up to 90 per cent

The weasel word there is 'potential'. If the government's so confident of that being possible, said the Royal Society, then it's obvious what to do. Build the new coal stations on the condition that if they can't cut their emissions by 90 percent in 2020, they get shut down. Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks says if those were the terms then nobody would build them.

That, then, is an admission that they don't think it's definite at all. And if we've built the stations but found CCS doesn't work, what are we going to do?

As George Monbiot reasons

If, say, the government decides that in 2020 one-fifth of our power will come from coal, and then discovers in 2020 that coal emissions cannot be abated by CCS, it will not be able to shut those power stations down without massive consequences for electricity supply.

The choice will be a stark one: either it will have to abandon its carbon targets or it will have to subject the country to electricity rationing and rolling black-outs. It's not hard to guess which way it would jump.

Additionally, their choice of the south-east of England as the location for the new power stations immediately present them with one of the main problems with Carbon Capture and Storage. Where is the storage going to be?

They'll have to build a pipeline hundreds of miles long to the North Sea, where it can be pumped into old oil and gas fields. The problem there is not only the expense and impact of the pipeline, but what comes back out of the ground. This is a huge issue that I've not seen mentioned in any of the coverage.

Pumping CO2 into old oil fields releases oil that would otherwise have stayed in the ground. The industry calls it Enhanced Oil Recovery. Much of this EOR oil will be burned in vehicles. You're unlikely to see a carbon capture pipeline out of the back of a car any time soon. The emissions from the released oil are likely to be at least half as much as the CO2 stored.

So this 25% cut becomes, at best, at 13% cut. Even their (pardon the pun) pipedream of 100% is only a 50% reduction. Fifty percent of way too much is still too much, especially when there are far lower carbon options on the table right now.

CCS - even if it works, even if we can deploy it in time - shouldn't be considered if it doesn't include full capture, which means prohibiting any 'enhanced recovery'.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

burn baby burn

Jeremy Hardy has argued that we need to stop using the military euphemisms. There is, he says, something obscuring about calling kidnap for torture 'rendition'. It's a word you used to hear on the Two Ronnies with Corbett saying 'and now here's Barbara Dickson with a lovely rendition of a song,' and it didn't then have her waterboarding Ronnie Barker.

Personally, I'd add 'waterboarding' to the list. It sounds like a daring adventure sport rather than a terrifying method of torture.

Local government in Leeds seems to be following the American government's example, though. Leeds City Council are pushing this through doors in the city.

Leeds Recycling and Waste Update newsletter.

It's full of positive reports of Leeds' recycling, a visit to the sorting plant in the city (no more sending it to China for recycling that was actually sly landfill), encouragement to compost at home and other worthy things.

Turn to the back page and you find this.

article headed 'Update on the City's Waste Solution'

A 'solution'. That sounds practical and good doesn't it? Who wouldn't want a solution?

It explains that they are going

to build a facility to deal with Leeds' waste and stop us having to rely on landfill sites.

Less landfill, great.

The council are currently working hard to appoint a successful contractor to build this facility.

Working hard, that's good to hear too, isn't it? And a successful contractor will be appointed? Great. Lovely lovely reassuring soothing positive words. Verbal Horlicks.

And, like pretty much any leaflet that uses that sort of language, it's a load of PR waffle. Given that the contractor's appointment is the definition of their success, 'appoint a successful contractor' is somewhat tautological.

But what's missing from this picture? There's the word 'solution' and three uses of 'facility'. No further information given.

What they're actually talking about is a PFI rubbish incinerator to be built in the city. But if they said 'incinerator at several times the cost of construction and operation with a chimney near thousands of your houses' it wouldn't sound as nice.

With this 'solution', the people of Leeds will pay over the odds to burn rubbish, with a serious risk of high pollution emissions in the city and a disincentive to ever reduce the amount of rubbish they produce or recycle.

Until recently, Leeds was governed by an unlikely coalition of LibDems, Conservatives and Greens. After some hesitancy, the Greens came out against the incinerator, and were put in the peculiar position of arguing against their own administration's policy.

With the Council pushing ahead with the plan regardless, in May 2007 the Greens acted with integrity and resigned from the coalition, saying 'the solution is not incineration or recycling, but waste reduction'.

But just as Windscale is Sellafield, as the War on Terror is the 'overseas contingency operation', as charcoal is biochar, so incinerators are now Energy From Waste facilities. So there's not only no need to reduce waste, but a reason to actively increase it.

Accelerates unsustainable consumption, hits all the targets, misses all the point.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

sod what works, i want my jetpack

Conservative Party Chairman Eric Pickles was on this week's Any Questions, Radio 4's political panel discussion programme.

Asked about the government plan to subsidise the purchase of electric cars, Pickles said

There’s hydrogen just around the corner. That’s possible. I was looking at a hydrogen Ford Transit the other day. The problem with electric cars is there’s no real infrastructure out there in order to deal with them.

That's just soooo right. I mean, whoever heard of a place to get electricity?

Whilst we can speculate about the possibility of a network of electricity cables crossing every country and outlets being available in almost every building, we can't say when such a thing would be available. Whereas we can't move for tripping over hydrogen pipelines can we?

By far the cheapest way to make hydrogen is from natural gas. It's a carbon emitting fossil fuel. Hydrogen can be made from renewable electricity, but at much worse efficiency than batteries. The cars are far more expensive to make than electric or oil fuelled ones. On every front, it's a load of arse.

Except one, that is. It sounds so much sexier doesn't it? Very futuristic, a new fuel we've not used ourselves but has been putting rockets into space. Woof woof. How 21st century, much more than the milkfloat image we get when talking about electric cars.

If we want to base our transport policy on how it would appeal to little boys in the 1960s daydreaming about jetpacks, let's go with hydrogen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

climate thoughtcrime

Last December government minister Ed Miliband said that 'popular mobilisation' was needed to create the pressure to reduce carbon emissions. He linked it to previous campaigns that had involved direct action.

When you think about all the big historic movements, from the suffragettes, to anti-apartheid, to sexual equality in the 1960s, all the big political movements had popular mobilisation

It sounds great doesn't it? And, when climate activists are essentially only asking for what science demands and what the government claims to want too, what could be the problem?

Someone should pass that thought on to other branches of government and state apparatus, as they appear to think differently on the issue.

The Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (formerly the Department of Trade and Industry) got police information about the climate camp activists last summer and gave it to Eon, owners of the Kingsnorth power station that was the target of the protest.

Once again we see the murky political role of the police come to the surface.

When people stopped a coal train going into Drax power station last June, they were arrested and their homes were raided. Video of one of the raids shows the police seizing copies of New Statesman and publicity material from War On Want. That isn't relevant to the case, it's just fishing to build up an idea of the activist's political beliefs.

Last week 114 people were mass arrested in Nottingham under 'suspicion of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass', widely reported as a climate change action to invade the site of Ratcliffe on Soar coal power station.

'Suspicion' and 'conspiracy' give us two steps before we reach any actual deed of any kind. If this were a bomb plot there's a case for such jumpy pre-emptive action, but aggravated trespass is a minor offence with no risking of anyone's safety, let alone life.

Even if they shut down the power station, it would not cause blackouts as the power supply is on a grid system. Indeed, when an activist did shut down Kingsnorth, there was no problem.

Nobody can show climate activists as likely to beat up security guards or take technicians hostage. If their plan was the one reported by police (and evidence of anything worse would surely have been mentioned) then there was no serious threat to property, and no threat to people whatsoever.

Arresting such a huge number of people smacks of a wide trawler-net strategy, too. And lo, despite the need to deploy 200 officers and arrest people before they've done anything, none of them were charged with anything at all. Not one.

However, it was reported that many were given onerous bail conditions to stay away from sites that climate activists would want to protest at.

What a smart move. Breach of bail is a crime in itself, and those who break it tend to get remanded in prison. As the summer's climate camps and similar events appear on the horizon, what better way to take the wind out of their sails than making over a hundred activists stay away on pain of indefinite imprisonment?

Then, when the protests are over at the end of the year, the police can just drop the bail conditions. No charges required, let alone a crime.

Just like the attacks on peaceful protests, this is a way for the police to make people back off. Reports say many of the Nottingham 114 had their houses raided and possessions taken away. Just like a baton to the head, this will discourage people from joining in. It is political policing. It cannot be justified to smash down your door (and bill you for the board-up), search your house and seize your computer because they suspect you of planning a crime that - even if they secure a conviction - would be unlikely to incur a prison sentence.

If you have ever discussed standing in front of a bulldozer or similar action, you too are guilty of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass. Better go and hand yourself in before they come and smash your door down.

Friday, April 17, 2009

another one bad apple

Another day, another film of police attacking peaceful G20 protesters.

It's notable that the film starts a long while before the assault. There is no riot. There is one man persistently talking to an officer, who then gets heavily shoved. This causes a bit of an uproar. In this, the officer - identification number hidden, just like the police promised wouldn't happen - smacks the woman across the face with the back of his armoured hand and shouts 'go away'.

What other context would see someone behave in that way? An unfit owner smacking a dog?

When she remonstrates, he takes out his telescopic baton, flicks it open and hits her on the back of the legs making her fall to the ground.

As with the footage of Ian Tomlinson, note the casual nature of the assault. Note the reaction - or more accurately, non-reaction - of the colleagues. They would be shocked if it were anything unusual.

Can even the most deep-rooted establishment twonk believe this was the only such assault the officer committed that day? Given the total lack of reaction from colleagues and the readiness of the attack, can anyone believe they hadn't all seen and done similar things countless times that day?

Yet it's normalised and shouldn't warrant our attention. As Chicken Yoghurt picked up, the officer at 4.30 actually says to people with cameras 'there's nothing to see'.

All of them have a duty to report any such conduct by themselves or any colleagues. Where are the queues round the corner outside London police stations as officers hand over their testimony and guilty ones turn themselves in?

But this, of course, is not how it works. Their role is, therefore, quite clearly not about doing their sworn duty, about upholding the law, let alone justice. It's about maintaining authority no matter what. Anyone who disobeys them for whatever reason is fair game for whatever retribution they feel like dishing out.

The thing is, since the film of Ian Tomlinson came out there's been furore about police behaviour. But on the day and the morning after, there was none of it. Those same journalists were there, the same films were on Youtube, but it was depicted as having, if anything, something of a peaceful outcome.

And I have to say I, and most people I was with at the climate camp protest, generally agreed. Compared to previous occasions, the cops were relatively restrained. I've seen much worse than this, and seen it filmed by news teams yet never get shown. It's not about one bad apple, or two, or even the policing of this event. It's what they do.

- - - - - - - -

The officer who assaulted the woman has been acquitted. In court he said he thought her drink carton was a weapon and she was deliberately targeting her from a blindspot, and that the force he used was reasonable because it could have been greater.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

dependent police complaints commission

The last post talked of why faith in the independence of the Independent Police Complaints Commission is misplaced.

They're people who took the police's word for it that Ian Tomlinson hadn't had contact with them, who believed the rush-job autopsy, who believed the cops that there weren't any CCTV cameras in the area of Tomlinson's assault. In case we need any more convincing, though...

You can tell who an organisation believes it is there to serve by who it asks about its service. Most retail businesses will buttonhole some customers as they leave the checkout and ask about their shopping experience.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is, you'd have thought, there to serve people with complaints against the police. But Afua Hirsch tells us

the IPCC - whose task is to independently investigate the police - was able to show that organisations including the Police Superintendents' Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Federation were "satisfied" with the IPCC's performance; but it had no idea how the people making the complaints found its service.

The IPCC concedes this is a "weakness", but it is much more: it reveals an organisation that has failed completely to be outward-facing and customer-serving. It is culturally tilted towards the police forces it is supposed to monitor, and financially incentivised to rely on their resources.

A former IPCC Commissioner resigned last year, saying

Even allegations of serious criminal assault are now routinely left for investigation by the police, although just 1% of such complaints are upheld by the police.

It's not just the bias in the investigations, but the bias in choosing not to investigate at all.

Only around 100 IPCC investigations, plus 150 police investigations "managed" by the IPCC, are undertaken each year, compared to 29,000 complaints. The majority of those 100 are not even complaints about day-to-day policing, but concern incidents where Article 2 of the Human Rights Act - the police's duty to safeguard life - may be involved, and by law require IPCC investigation.

Some, such as the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube in 2005 and possibly the death last week of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in London, rightly attract great public concern.

But the question, "Do you have to be dead before the IPCC takes an interest in your case?", is too near the truth.

Friday, April 10, 2009

looking the other way

I really tried, you know.

I tried not to be cynical about the 'Independent' Police Complaints Commission in my last post, but they received witness statements saying Ian Tomlinson had been assaulted by police yet took five days to decide the police shouldn't investigate the case themselves, and their reaction to the Guardian footage was to go with police (which one of them instigated it, I wonder?) to the paper's offices and demand the footage be taken down.

So I couldn't help it. But I was hopeful that the publicity meant the case would have to be taken seriously and force them to do a proper investigation, not the kind of cover-up that they did for De Menezes.

In the De Menezes case, crucial CCTV cameras on the station platform and the train 'weren't working'. The company operating the cameras and London Underground staff were reported to contradict this, but didn't have chance to check the tapes before police took them away, and certainly blank tapes were all that was returned to them.

But still, it was possible. When you consider the millions of CCTV cameras installed in the UK, it's a good bet that lots of them aren't working at any given time.

This excuse surely couldn't apply for the G20. More than 100 officers were deployed to monitor over 3,000 CCTV cameras. Unlike Stockwell tube, the area concerned was well known weeks in advance. There is simply no way that they didn't ensure the system was in full working order. So then, there must be footage of Ian Tomlinson's assault.

Last night the chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission said

There is no CCTV footage, there were no cameras in the location where he was assaulted.

Here we go.

Curiouser, Channel 4 say this was amended by the IPCC in a later bulletin to say that the CCTV cameras overlooking the incident were not working.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

a conviction can be a cover-up

The death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests was initially passed off by police as being from natural causes. He collapsed and they gallantly went to his aid, despite being pelted with bottles by protesters.

Rather like the way that Jean Charles de Menezes was supposedly wearing a big bulky jacket on a hot day, running away from officers who shouted to stop, jumped over the barriers and ran on to the train before they shot him, it is so far from the truth that it can only credibly be seen as deliberate cover-up.

The police had attacked Tomlinson, with witnesses saying he hit his head hard on the pavement. Three minutes later he collapsed and died. This was all going to pass by unmarked.

The laughably named Independent Police Complaints Commission was set to issue a statement agreeing with the police that Tomlinson merely had a heart attack whilst walking past the protest, citing a post mortem without any mention of whether there were injuries on the body. They had agreed to have an inquiry, performed by the City of London police. In other news, Alex Ferguson was appointed as referee for Manchester United’s FA Cup semi-final against Everton.

But in the light of the damning footage on the Guardian site showing police assaulting Tomlinson, the IPCC were compelled to make to make it an independent investigation.

With all the CCTV camera covering the area and the plethora of police video operations, no official footage has come out. It fell to a passing member of the public to expose it. This is a triumph for citizen journalism and the tenacity of the Guardian’s reporters. We should be glad that the cameras in question weren’t searched by police so they could delete images showing officers, as happened at the climate camp protest. This case, so nearly brushed under the carpet, has only just begun.

This, though, is far from a guarantee of justice. That is, in part, because the Independent Police Complaints Commission is a misnomer. When the man who helped Tomlinson after the assault contacted the IPCC, he was asked what happened after Tomlinson 'fell' over. The IPCC didn't just parrot the police version of events to the media. When The Guardian published the video footage on their website, the IPCC came to the newspaper's offices witha police officer to demand it be removed. This all speaks of a will to cover up rather than expose unpalatable truths about the police.

But the major risk of injustice comes from the focus on this one incident, of treating it like some aberration.

Look at the video of Ian Tomlinson. Look at the casualness of the officer who attacks him. Look how the colleagues are completely unsurprised.

Do you think this is the only time that officer behaved like that? Do you think the colleagues didn't do the same thing elsewhere? When these officers reached the crowd, what do you think they did?

Already, the officer has come forward and is being set up to take the full blame for this. The chief of the Metropolitan police says how terrible it was and how there needs to be a full investigation. As if his own officers didn't do exactly the same thing to people thousands of times that day, and many many other days.

This was not an officer losing his head in the fury of a riot. It’s calm, slow and premeditated.

This was not one bad officer taking the law into his own hands. This sort of assault was endemic that day. I saw it hundreds of times with my own eyes, and I was at the more peaceful climate camp protest, and left before it got kettled then attacked with dogs and batons in the evening.

This sort of assault is what the police do when they’re deployed on this provocative political mission. The difference here is that it was caught on camera and the victim died.

From the one-on-one incident with Ian Tomlinson, look at the climate camp film. Just as Tomlinson was not threatening and had his hands in his pockets, the crowd here hold their hands in the air to show they're unarmed and chant 'this is not a riot'.

What sort of orders do you think are being given to the group of officers being briefed at the start of the film?

Every single officer is behaving like the one who attacked Ian Tomlinson. It is not them acting on private motivations, they have clearly had orders to do it.

The vast majority of protests pass off without incident. The question is, what's different about these other ones? At the ones that turn nasty that I've been on, without exception, there's been the deployment of riot officers into peaceful protest and an attack on the protesters.

Usually, some of the protesters have responded by chucking stuff. But then, if the police did that anywhere with a large group of people, penned them in with riot police, refused to let anyone leave and attacked those at the edge, then wherever it was - railway station, shopping centre, you name it - they'd get the same response.

It is a strategy. Certain protests get deemed as politically unacceptable and treated like this.

If this were a few bad officers, where are the indictments from their colleagues? How many officers refused to follow these illegal orders to assault people? How many – as is their duty - have turned themselves in or reported their senior officers? The answers tell us that it’s not just the odd officer losing their cool, it's how they work as a body, it's institutional.

As I said elsewhere recently, these tactics will inevitably kill. The officer who pushed Tomlinson was simply the one who drew the short straw. They certainly should be prosecuted for it, but if it leads to anything short of an admission that these assaults are a widespread police tactic against peaceful protesters then the investigation will count as a cover-up.

Monday, April 06, 2009

police kettling: the shadow of death

The G20 protests brought a predictable response from the media, with the homing in on any rowdiness from the demonstrators and ignoring the frequent unprovoked and often savage outbursts of violence from the police.

After being at the October 1994 demonstration against the Criminal Justice Bill that turned into a riot, I bought all the newspapers the next day.

What surprised me was not that they showed bias (a 'lively crowd' or a 'baying mob'?), or that they all told different stories from one another, but that they even varied in their reports of verifiable hard facts. For example, The Sun said there were 11 arrests, The Telegraph said 26, The Guardian 39 and the Evening Standard 48.

I did a pamphlet comparing the different reports, analysing their bias and variations. The G20 presented another great opportunity to spell out this stuff, and I wish I'd had the presence of mind to do another pamphlet.

It also reminded me of a backburner project that maybe I'll do for next time, a 'tomorrows news' pamphlet to give out on the day. Do a page for each front page of the main papers, using their respective keywords, biases and stock images. The Daily Mail's 'Return of Rent-a-Mob', the Guardian's almost equally fetishistic front-page report augmented by their story on page 6 that has some hang-wringing and saying that the protesters might well have a point.

Anyway, one thing that was new in the G20 coverage was the considerable focus on the police tactic of 'kettling' - surrounding a protest and not letting anyone in or out for hours on end.

It stems from a view of protests remarkably similar to the the 1980s vision of football crowds as a security threat rather than a crowd of people to be facilitated. And, as with football in the 80s, it is compounded by the media's love of violence, confrontation and scapegoating.

Just as that attitude inevitably led to death in the form of the Hillsborough disaster, so kettling will lead to deaths of protesters.

I've written an article about it all called Police Kettling: The Shadow of Death

Saturday, April 04, 2009

kill neo-liberal capitalism

"Our job is to kill neo-liberal capitalism. That is our task."

- Mark Thomas speaking at the Put People First rally, London, 28 March 2009

Thursday, April 02, 2009

grow your own missed point

One of the most depressing recent additions to modern urban life are the free daily papers. Most big cities have the Metro. Additionally, Manchester has a light version of the Manchester Evening News, and London gets The London Paper and London Lite.

They contain little real news between them and as they are mostly left on public transport or dropped in the street, I'll readily wager that the majority of copies end up in landfill.

Just as we know charging for carrier bags reduces their disposable use, so we should end the profligacy of the free newspaper. It is a flabbergasting amount of waste for no real benefit.

On the bus recently I was reading the Metro and saw they'd devoted half a page to the story of someone who wants to 'encourage readers to do something useful with their old newspapers'.

She takes Metro stories, embeds them with flower seeds and uses them as a base in compost-filled flower pots.

Article headlined 'Grow your own Metro'

Quite why she can't just plant the seeds and miss out the Metro isn't explained, but hey, at least she's composting the paper instead of seeing it landfilled. Except she's not.

The 21-year-old makes the displays by pasting selected stories - printed from Metro's e-edition using vegetable-based inks - on to special paper made by Creative Paper Wales.

With all those millions of copies a day left on public transport and pavements destined for landfill, she's actually adding to paper demand. And this is something good?

I fucking give up.