Wednesday, December 30, 2009

souvenir of copenhagen

I said I'd do a deeper analysis on Copenhagen, but frankly I've had to get up to speed on the talks and deals retrospectively.

Once the new year shenanigans are out the way I'll write up the stuff I did and saw while there, although I know that's not the important stuff. Stories of frontline troops are interesting, but they're not to be mistaken for being a microcosm of the war, let alone an overview.

Thing is, all the stuff that needs to be said about the talks has been said well by others and I've not much really to add. So go check out a few of them.

If you only read one, read Jess Worth's piece for New Internationalist. She was inside the talks the whole time, and tells the story with characteristic clarity, incisiveness and succinctness.

George Marshall writes about how the strong NGO presence gives the talks a legitimacy that they don't deserve.

Picking through the aftermath and debunking the 'blame China' mantra, Martin Khor writes about the stitch-up by the rich nations that ensured the collapse of the talks.

The accord itself is weak mainly because it does not contain any commitments by the developed countries to cut their emissions in the medium term. Perhaps the reason for this most glaring omission is that the national pledges so far announced amount to only a 11-19% overall reduction by the developed countries by 2020 (compared to 1990), a far cry from the over 40% target demanded by the developing countries and recent science.

To deflect from this great failure on their part, the developed countries tried to inject long-term emission-reduction goals of 50% for the world and 80% for themselves, by 2050 compared to 1990. When this failed to get through the 26-country meeting, some countries, especially the UK, began to blame China for the failure of Copenhagen.

It's expanded upon by George Monbiot

The immediate reason for the failure of the talks can be summarised in two words: Barack Obama. The man elected to put aside childish things proved to be as susceptible to immediate self-interest as any other politician. Just as George Bush did in the approach to the Iraq war, Obama went behind the backs of the UN and most of its member states and assembled a coalition of the willing to strike a deal which outraged the rest of the world. This was then presented to poorer nations without negotiation; either they signed it or they lost the adaptation funds required to help them survive the first few decades of climate breakdown.

The British and American governments have blamed the Chinese government for the failure of the talks. It’s true that the Chinese worked hard to mess them up, but Obama also put Beijing in an impossible position. He demanded concessions while offering nothing. He must have known the importance of not losing face in Chinese politics: his unilateral diplomacy amounted to a demand for self-abasement. My guess is that this was a calculated manoeuvre guaranteed to produce instransigence, whereupon China could be blamed for the outcome he wanted.

And if we couldn't bring home a legally binding treaty commensurate with the science, what souvenirs were there to be had? My favourite was a freebie from Air France. They'd covered thousands of parked bikes with seat covers:

Air France bike seat cover

Good, you are cycling! Going further? Then fly green, fly with Air France - the greenest airline five years in a row.

This is a piece of plastic promoting aviation, pretending to be something that's helping us take climate change seriously. I think it'd have been more appropriate to print it with 'My ruling elite went to Copenhagen and all they got me was this lousy seat cover'.

Monday, December 28, 2009

cool yule

In the words of the bard; it's the season of love and understanding, merry Christmas everyone.

But was Joseph perhaps a little too understanding?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

copenhagen aftermath

Back from Copenhagen, two days of proper sleep and yes, I should do a write up of all I saw. I'll try to get round to that in the next few days, but you know what the festive season can do to your timings and workrate.

From where I was we didn't get much of a handle on the wranglings at the talks, we were out on the streets in demos and actions, for which the police were very well prepared.

The new Danish Police Act is extraordinary. It allows them to encircle a large group of people and cart them off to detain them in big cages for 12 hours. No evidence of anything needed, and it's not even a formal arrest so there's no paper trail that even proves you were arrested, which neatly prevents anyone suing the police after.

Doesn't the European Convention on Human Rights protect people from arbitrary detention? And when those detained are forced to sit in a stress position with their hands tied behind their backs on stone pavements in sub-zero temperatures for hours on end, doesn't this qualify as inhumane treatment?

Anyway, this new I Don't Like Your Face (Or That Of 800 People Near You) Act was used with as much aplomb as their pepper sprays. The batoning of delegates trying to leave the talks to come and join our Reclaim Power demo was another notable illustration of how well prepared and ungiving of a fuck they were.

For the big stuff, well, in essence, the talks were the disaster everyone says. But even the best things suggested before they began weren't enough. We need a deal that matches what the science demands, and a deal that is just, and that was never anywhere near the table.

We are being made the victims of something that has nothing to do with us at all. The industrialised countries caused the problem, but we are suffering the consequences. We are on the front line of climate change through no fault of their own, and it is only fair that people in industrialised nations and industries take responsibility for the actions they are causing. It’s the polluter pays principle – you pollute, you pay

Panapase Nelisoni, Secretary to the Government of Tuvalu, in 'High Tide: News from a Warming World', Mark Lynas, Flamingo, 2004, p97

Thursday, December 10, 2009

a reflexive suspicion of america

The sense of betrayal about Barack Obama's presidency mystifies me. The talk is as if he's somehow not fulfilled the promise, when in fact that's precisely what he's done.

His election campaign included explicit commitments to escalate the war in Afghanistan. And there he stood today, in the week he committed a further 30,000 troops to Afghanistan on top of the 20,000 extra he sent earlier in the year, using his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to justify war.

America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide

...said the leader of a country that refuses to be a member of the International Criminal Court that prosecutes individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes

The ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced

The Pakistani parliament passed a motion condemning the USA's use of drone attacks in their country - extrajudicial killings that may well constitute a war crime - and the Americans have ignored it and carried on with the attacks.

On Hillary Clinton's recent visit to Pakistan parliamentarians brought it up again, pointing out that it is hard to tell people that America isn't acting as an anti-democratic unilateral bully.

Faisal Saleh Hayat and others were of the opinion US on one side lends support to sustaining democratic order and on the other side it does not respect the resolution adopted by symbol of democracy, Pakistani parliament against drone attacks. That is why concerns prevailing among the people against US were proving correct, they added.

Can you imagine American public feeling if there were Pakistani drone attacks on US soil? But it's different in Pakistan, it's just what Obama calls

a reflexive suspicion of America

How could anyone doubt America's nobility, he wondered.

The United States of America has helped underwrite global security

...said the leader of the world's largest arms exporter.

His wars are different, he explained. They are waging 'just war'. Such a war is marked by a number of distinguishing characteristics. For instance,

whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

Cluster bombs are small 'bomblets' scattered from a single bomb. They have a high non-detonation rate, and can lie around for years until disturbed, frequently by children picking up such a peculiar object. The USA, though, refuses to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

He singled out the need for those with high moral fibre and a commitment to equality to stand up for right in a world where there are

failed states like Somalia

Somalia is the one of the two countries on earth that have not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The other is the United States of America.

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight.

...said the leader of a country that - in the minority again - hasn't signed the treaty banning another great killer of post-conflict civilians, anti-personnel landmines.

At the other end of the weapons scale, he spoke of the most terrifying military hardware yet invented.

In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: All will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work towards disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I'm working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russia's nuclear stockpiles.

But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.

One country in the Middle East has already got nuclear weapons: Israel. What sanctions does the Obama administration impose? None, it stands idly by, and indeed rewards them with billions of dollars a year in military aid.

His deafening silence echoes through his response to the UK breaking the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by promising to replace Trident.

Deciding to give him a prize for achievement less than a fortnight into his presidency was a little ahead of itself, but it was simply stupid to dish out a prize for peace to someone who, even then at the outset, was pledged to expand and intensify war, whose office inevitably involves waging war and who, were the standards of the Nuremburg Trials applied, would be hanged.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

coping with copenhagen

The Copenhagen climate talks are underway, and there's going to be a hell of lot going on to keep track of. Not only the twists and turns of the inevitably bad deal discussed among delegates, but what's happening outside too.

I'll be there, but even if I can find interweb access I may well have other priorities than blogging, so here's a few pointers to keep you tuned in.

At the start of this year Danny Chivers wrote a round-up of what's on the table at Copenhagen that covers the basics.

The BBC's Richard Black is already several posts in to his series covering the details of what's going on inside the negotiations.

As if the process weren't already slanted by the disproportionate power of the high-emitter countries and the vast armies of corporate lobbyists, it turns out there's been a behind-closed-doors deal that would leave citizens of wealthy nations with double the 2050 carbon allowance of poor people.

So let's be clear. We owe a carbon debt. Our wealth has largely been accrued by activities that are unjust and/or high carbon. This is not just about cutting emissions. This is about justice.

There's an array of action going off during the talks under the umbrella of Climate Justice Action whose declaration explains:

On the 16th of December, at the start of the high-level ‘ministerial’ phase of the two-week summit, we, the movements for global justice, will take over the conference for one day and transform it into a People’s Summit for Climate Justice.

Using only the force of our bodies to achieve our goal, our Reclaim Power! march will push into the conference area and enter the building, disrupt the sessions and use the space to talk about our agenda, an agenda from below, an agenda of climate justice, of real solutions against their false ones.

Our action is one of civil disobedience: we will overcome any physical barriers that stand in our way – but we will not respond with violence if the police try to escalate the situation.

Our goal is not to shut down the entire summit. But this day will be ours, it will be the day we speak for ourselves and set the agenda: climate justice now! We cannot trust the market with our future, nor put our faith in unsafe, unproven and unsustainable technologies. We know that on a finite planet, it is impossible to have infinite growth – ‘green’ or otherwise.

Instead of trying to fix a destructive system, we are advancing alternatives that provide real and just solutions to the climate crisis: leaving fossil fuels in the ground; reasserting peoples’ and community control over resources; relocalising food production; reducing overconsumption, particularly in the North; recognising the ecological and climate debt owed to the peoples of the South and making reparations; and respecting indigenous and forest peoples’ rights.

The Climate Justice Chronicle is being published every other day during the Copenhagen climate talks. The first issue has an editorial on what's at stake, something from Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, an article on the problems of the population and climate discourse, a piece from one of the Bolivian delegates to the talks and a short summary of recent climate activism in the UK and South Africa. Download it from here.

New Internationalist's editor Jess Worth will be blogging from Copenhagen too. The current issue of NI focuses on Copenhagen, and the article In Our Hands talks of the real promise of the talks; the meeting and binding of those of us outside into a coherent force.

The governments have known what's going on better than us for longer than us, yet still they refuse to bend to the demands of the science, let alone of justice. Copenhagen is where they prove once more their utter ineptitude, their complete inability to act as the situation requires.

As the urgency intensifies, we need a stronger network of grassroots action to create change. Copenhagen will be host to thousands of activists from around the world; it promises to be the birth of the truly global climate movement.

Friday, December 04, 2009

elementary canals


I recently spent time on a narrowboat and, as a relative newcomer, was captivated by every aspect of the experience.


Although artificial waterways have been with us for millennia - there's still a navigable part of the English canal system that was dug by the Romans - it was the industrial revolution that saw the great boom in their construction.

Actually, it was more of a symbiosis. Canals came early in the revolution, mostly in the century starting in 1750, and the ability to move huge amounts of goods reliably allowed many industries to take off. A horse pulling a narrowboat can pull up to fifty times as much as a horse pulling a cart.

Additionally, it allowed stability. How could Staffordshire potteries ship their goods by bumpy cart on rocky roads? They were, unsurprisingly, among the first to invest in the new waterways.

One of the first big canals, the Bridgewater, connected coalfields with a town of 25,000 called Manchester. It halved the price of coal there at a stroke. Where would you have chosen to build your new mill then? Imagine if, say, Southport suddenly had half price gas and electricity today. It is no coincidence that Manchester became the world's first industrial city.

Incidentally, the standard size of today's narrowboats is due to a system built for the Duke of Bridgewater, 70 feet by 6 feet 10 inches, designed for the system in his mines three hundred years ago.

The railways knocked canals out of favour being markedly faster (the five hours it took me to go on the canal from Sowerby Bridge to Brighouse is covered by a train in less than ten minutes). The railways not only work at speed, they don't freeze over either.

The last major stretch of canal was built in the early 1900s, and within a couple of decades numerous canals were falling into disrepair.

In the mid-20th century the end of commercial boats (some, even that late, still drawn by horses after 150 years) overlapped with the abandoning of many stretches, but also the fledgling pleasure boaters as documented in LTC Rolt's 1944 book Narrow Boat. He was a founder of the Inland Waterways Association who, to this day, do an energetic job of preserving and restoring canals.

The network was nationalised by the great socialist postwar government, which made non-commercial concerns get a look-in, but also allowed sweeping detrimental policy to be applied. Today, there's over 2,000 miles of navigable waterways in the UK and more boats using them than at the height of their industrial past.

That's all well and good, but why would you do that? What's the attraction?


From a purely practical perspective, I'm sure the freedom in simplicity and safety are some small part of the allure. The buoyancy of the water that made it so easy for horses also means that minor prangs aren't a big deal as you bounce off. Additionally, that slow speed means it's hard to do any real damage. This adds up to a mode of transport so easy and safe that complete novices are allowed to hire and drive one away.

But the real appeal is in what's outside the boat and what's inside you.

The canal and navigable waterways network doesn't show you a manicured version of the land, but instead shows you what's really there. You get to see all that makes up England as it really is. The towns, cities, farms, hills, suburbs, visible to you up close from an angle that isn't trying to show off.

It's something that LTC Rolt noted in his somewhat harsh depiction of Leicester.

The River Soar is Leicester's back door and, as back doors are apt to do, it reveals 'domestic offices' which usually remain discreetly hidden from the eyes of visitors.

Broad squares and pretentious public buildings proclaim the city's prosperity to the traveller by road, but the water-borne traveller sees a very different picture. This is no less than the ugliness and squalor which underlie the superficial pomp and circumstance of all great cities.

We saw the reeking gas works, mountainous refuse dumps, the power-station with its gigantic steam-capped cooling towers, great mills pulsating with machinery rising sheer from the water's edge and, above all, the countless mean streets where dwelt the servants of these monsters.

Whilst the system certainly does wriggle peculiar routes through some of the mingiest parts of the country - I'm looking at you, Stoke on Trent - it mostly moves through glorious rural places. The Macclesfield canal's soft fecund contours, the epic expanse around the navigable Trent, the imposing Pennine grandeur of great stretches of the Rochdale canal.

Nearer than the surrounding landscape, the constant close proximity to wildlife places you amidst the outside world instead of looking at it from a removed position as one does in other modes of transport or places to stay.

You can go for weeks at a time away from much that blights modern life. I don't just mean the obvious assault of billboards, sirens and smoothflow beers. There's something subtler. There are only two types of people you see. Firstly, there are the other boaters, with whom - as with hillwalkers seeing each other upon the fells - there's considerable cameraderie.

The second group are on land, using the towpath as a linear park. These are all dog-walkers, runners and cyclists, meaning it's quite possible for weeks to go by and you forget obesity exists. The towpath folks greet you as readily as any fellow boater.

You are actively acknowledged by the vast majority of people you see, breaking down the armoured alienation that mass society imposes.

Being acknowledged by your fellow humans isn't the only return to a life that your primal self recognises. Pootling at 4mph under stone arch bridges dappled with water reflection like the video for True, you realise that it's not just what you see, it's the way that you see it.

You develop a sense of wonder at the detail of life. You begin to realise just how important detail is... 4mph is walking pace, and that walking pace is the speed at which the human brain can absorb and analyse the myriad of minute details around it. On a canal boat, wandering somewhat aimlessly around the countryside, you soon begin to realise that it's the sum of these details that compose the nature of the place you are in.

- Steve Haywood, Narrowboat Dreams

LTC Rolt notes this element connecting with a place so deep that his description reads in a romantic swoon.

No-one who has not experienced it can fully appreciate the unfading fascination of this tranquil voyaging. The movement of the narrow-boat is like nothing else in the world; as Temple Thurston wrote, 'it is no motion, or it is motion asleep'.

Small wonder that everyone who spends even half a day aboard a narrowboat feels, as I've become, eternally smitten.

Narrowboat moored