Monday, November 30, 2009

burying heads in the sandbag

The other week I was at Shared Planet, the annual chinwag for People And Planet people.

It's always a really effervescent occasion, with radical student politics there's very little of the overload factor that tarnishes gatherings of old 'uns. Greying anarchists have already read too much political literature, so somewhere in them is a mechanism trying to discount anything new to think about. With students like People and Planet, their political foundations are still setting, so there's a genuine curiosity, an enthusiasm for really getting to grips with ideas and thinking through them from all possible angles.

Anyway, there was one workshop that's really stuck with me. It was someone from environmental organisation Sandbag talking about how we can use carbon trading to make the necessary carbon cuts we need. The thrust of her argument was, essentially, that because carbon trading exists and is favoured by high-carbon industries, it's too powerful to defeat so we need to try to make them make it a bit more effective. Effective at all would be a start.

I came out with such a strong set of responses that the written splurge has become and article for U-Know. I'm starting to see a pattern; twice before a similar thing has happened. Seeing LibDem environment weasel Chris Huhne speaking led to a piece whose working title was 'Chris Huhne Fuck Off', followed at the beginning of this year by one with the working title 'Hilary Benn Fuck Off'.

This one, though, was never 'Sandbag Fuck Off'. Unlike Huhne and Benn, Sandbag are not devious liars. They are clearly nobly motivated people of integrity. Just like the advocates of carbon offsets and agrofuels were several years ago before we'd all joined the thinking up.

Sandbag's acceptance of emissions trading - a system designed to avoid serious cuts, in large part because it's designed by the industries who don't want to cut emissions - is a commitment to failure and injustice.

The article's just been published on U-Know, and it's called Burying Heads in the Sandbag: Helping the Market Bring Climate Catastrophe.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

increasing intensity

Three weeks ago I pointed out that accepting China's cuts in 'carbon intensity' rather than carbon emissions was useless.

It doesn't matter if you reduce the amount of carbon emitted per unit of activity if you then go and do a shitload more activity. It will still mean your total emissions will go up, and total emissions are all the climate's counting.

But a society predicated on infinite economic growth dare not cut its industrial activity. It would rather have - and with the move to 'carbon intensity' is actively choosing - a commitment to climate change, with all the long term death and destruction that will bring.

Having not called China out for this sleight of hand, we've made it an acceptable option. Today it's been reported that India is coming to the table talking of 'carbon intensity' cuts.

The growth economy will always choose the most profitable route, not the responsible one. Unless it happens to be the same, which, for fairly obvious reasons, it very rarely is. By allowing this shift to 'carbon intensity' we hand victory to the short-term profits of carbon emitters. It follows another rule of the profit-primary world, that the rich shall always take precedence over the poor.

it's the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit
Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC chairman

Thursday, November 26, 2009

carbon numbers and mind games

Big whoop over Obama promising carbon cuts of 17%. After all, it sounds quite close to the EU's 20% and Japan's 25%, right?

Except the question is, 17% of what?

The EU, Japan, and pretty much everyone else uses 1990 level of emissions, the benchmark set by the Kyoto treaty. Obama's using 2005 as his starting point.

That figure of 17 percent crops up elsewhere. US emissions rose by around 17 percent from 1990 to 2005. In other words, by the standard of the cuts everyone else is talking about, the US is offering no cuts at all. And certainly, it is far, far short of what the science demands of us if we're to avoid runaway climate change.

Everyone's so desperate to have the Americans on board that we'll allow all kinds of twists and exceptions, just as at Kyoto we allowed them to introduce the Clean Development Mechanism, a massive carbon offsetting scheme that castrated the treaty.

Weirdly, as the evidence overwhelms and the situation becomes more urgent, the number of Americans who accept the fact of climate change is decreasing. (It could well be true elsewhere too, and if anyone's got links to any polls I'd love to see them).

This is possibly because, as George Monbiot suggests, there is a deep flaw in the human psyche in response to what are perceived as extreme and unalterable bad events. The first part of grief is denial.

could it be that the rapid growth of climate change denial over the past two years is actually a response to the hardening of scientific evidence? If so, how the hell do we confront it?

It could also be that, as American legislation has loomed larger, the deniers have upped their game. The survey Monbiot cites shows a sharp decrease in American belief in climate change in the last 18 months.

In that time, the number of people who say that there is no evidence that the earth is warming rose from 21 to 33 percent. A new Washington Post poll puts the rise from 18 percent to 26.

Note, this isn't about carbon or any causes of the warming, merely that warming has happened. A simple, established, verified fact. Yet at least a quarter of Americans flatly deny it, and that number is on the rise.

Mind you, 27% of Americans believe in an actual, living Satan.
[35% of American Christians believe in Satan, 78.5% of Americans are Christians]

I say again, this isn't some kind of 'aren't Americans stupid and bad' thing (Obama's non-cut is still ahead of China and Australia's increases), it's just that that's the country we've got figures for, and if anyone's got the equivalents for elsewhere please put a link in the Comments below.


The University of East Anglia's leaked emails have been a great trapdoor for deniers. The same people who were happy for the Great Global Warming Swindle to make up graphs, use discredited and disproven ideas, and have deniers claim academic credentials that don't exist are up in arms about three or four scientists apparently suppressing data.

Not that such action is excusable, quite the opposite. If anybody doing anything important for the public is betraying the trust in their position then they should be exposed. In that respect, for what wrongdoing they did uncover, the hackers did a public service. The whole point of objective science is to find what's actually happening, to move closer to the real truth.

But on the scale of things, it's nothing to what the deniers do. Indeed, the way deniers have exaggerated the meaning and significance of this stuff, pretending that small things debunk the whole field and applying a false understanding of the science, uses a far greater level of crooked thinking than anything in the emails.

In fact, the rubbish response of the UEA can be explained by their scientific outlook as opposed to the deniers tabloid approach, as George Marshall noted

in typical scientist fashion, it seeks to argue the data rationally. The UEA website states that “the selective publication of some stolen emails and other papers taken out of context is mischievous and cannot be considered a genuine attempt to engage with this issue in a responsible way”. Mischievous? Irresponsible? What naughty pixies.

Then the CRU director, Professor Phil Jones focuses on one of quotes: “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline”

For the smear campaign it is only those key words trick and hide that count- the rest can be made into anything it wants. Jones ignores this and responds with a detailed technical explanation of the passage with reference to the original graphs. It’s like responding to someone calling you a bastard by showing them your birth certificate.

Marshall shows the notable similarities between the deniers email hack response and the American right's smear campaign against John Kerry when he was George Bush's presidential opponent in 2004, the whole Swift Boat Veterans For Truth thing.

Indeed, it's not that great a stretch to imagine the same people being behind the anti-Kerry and the anti-climate action smear campaigns. Here's Kerry absolutely dismembering a climate denier in a Senate hearing the other week.

It could well be that George Marshall's right, and the hack is part of an effort to emasculate the pending climate legislation. But with Obama's stated targets, they've not that much carbon reduction to worry about.

Friday, November 20, 2009

number ones

Danny Chivers' recent post on A Daisy Through Concrete says

It's getting so you can't type "ranting performance poetry video climate change bespectacled freak" into a search engine without my leering face popping up in front of your startled eyes.

The delicious irony is that, like a serpent eating its own tail or the first chicken coming from its own egg, he's self-fulfilled. If you type "ranting performance poetry video climate change bespectacled freak" into Google it comes up with one result - Danny's post.

A while ago commenters on a post over at Five Chinese Crackers mentioned being number one in Google for "pubs in leeds belgian beer", "Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks grapple fake hookers" and 5CC's own "Paul Dacre's robot arm".

It's something I've brought up in conversation with a couple of bloggers since, and I think it's time to start a meme.

Give me five great things that your blog or websites rank number one in Google searches, then tag five other blogs. Bonus points if you manage to have any sexual content in the phrase, as it's fairly easy to be top of the heap for 'post-marxist dialectics in contemporary radical discourse' than it is for summat like 'fisting shaven catholic teens'.

Bristling Badger's number one for:

"An old man wanking into a sock"
"Caviar enemas"
"Fuck you liberal democrats"
"Baboon in a bucket"

and - a matter of considerable personal pride - I also get number one for Strawberry Switchblade.

What about you;

A Daisy Through Concrete
Chicken Yoghurt
The Quiet Road
Alice In Blogland

Monday, November 16, 2009

bullshit detectors

You may not know anything about the issue, but I bet you *reckon* something. So why not tell us what you reckon? Let us enjoy the full majesty of your uniformed, ad-hoc reckon.

Having open-access comments on websites is technically very democratic, except that it allows the quickiest to be heard loudest, and discourages people who don't like being insulted.

George Monbiot lamented the way this fouls discussion, saying that the Guardian environment site is especially bad. I beg to differ. On reading that I went to a random Guardian news article - it was about Michael Jackson's funeral - and found the same level of brazen ignorance and vitriolic venom there. I think perhaps we think comments are worst at the place we read them most.

But the prevalence of climate deniers at the Guardian site made me realise why, conversely, the Daily Mail site often has surprisingly good comments. People go to where they can beat their chests. It is far easier and more pleasing to talk at length about things you dislike than things you like. So, pick the newspaper or columnist most opposed to your perspective and you'll likely be welcomed into the warm bosom of sympathetic commenters there.

Nicholson Baker's fascinating article about Wikipedia talks about vandalism on the site, which is surprisingly low compared to other high-volume open-access sites. Partly it's due to the fact that lots of people are patrolling Wikipedia, but there's something else at work.

Wikipedia's a reference tool, the Guardian is a news site. If you manage to skew the first wave of comments on a news article, you've effectively neutered the ability to debate. Who goes back to a four month old news article to start a discussion? Thus, it's worth the climate deniers while setting up Google news alerts and then rushing to blather loud and long and unintelligibly when something in their sphere of interest is published.

There's no such rush to read a Wikipedia article. Your stupid comment will probably be wiped before many people have seen it, and certainly it won't stand there attracting responses and making you feel important. So, even though Wikipedia is such a popular site, the news services are the main focus for the hard of thinking.

As seekers of knowledge we have a relatively new task. Before the 20th century - arguably up until the internet age - the problem with getting good information was finding where it was. These days, it's right there in front of you, but getting it is about filtering it out from the bullshit.

So, whilst it may appear a bit of an obvious fish/barrel/firearms jamboree to have a blog devoted to stupid things said on the BBC's Have Your Say pages, there's a very profound point being made. It keeps your mind sharp, it reminds you that just because lots of people say something online doesn't mean many people actually think it at all. The blog - newly added to my sidebar - is called Speak You're Branes, named after the segment in the priceless Day Today where a member of the public gives an idiotic vox-pop.

I'm finding that blogs like Speak You're Branes, and the ones like Enemies of Reason and Five Chinese Crackers that take apart newspaper bias and made-upness, are forming a key component of my reading these days. It's almost as if I've got to get some of that attitude on as armour before wading into the news media.

Being able to discern between the various calibres of information presented is the only way we'll make sense of the world. A finely-tuned bullshit detector is the most essential tool of the 21st century.

Friday, November 13, 2009

mootopia is nigh

Bovine terrorism continues. As I mentioned at the time, in June David Blunkett was nearly killed by a cow. The cow chose to do it on his birthday for extra symbolic and media value.

This week, Question Time chairperson David Dimbleby missed the programme for the first time ever after being attacked by a bullock, possibly in retribution for having Nick Griffin on his show.

According to the Health and Safety Executive figures cited in a report about the Blunkett attack, cattle kill about four people a year and injure a further 75. This is far more than any other terrorist group in the UK. Furthermore, they've proven they are better at targeted attacks on prominent political figures than any other terrorists.

I reckon this is just the warm-up, there'll be a mass stampede on parliament just before the Christmas recess, ushering in a great cow revolution and new year mootopia.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

fluidity of language, dilution of meaning

For any global climate deal to be meaningful, China has to be on board. This straining, gagging desire makes people praise anything that looks like them signing up. Even when it's meaningless.

The world inched closer to an elusive deal to combat climate change yesterday, when China, the world's biggest polluter, made its most substantial commitment yet to curb its carbon emissions and invest in clean energy.

It was not a commitment in the sense of having any measurable element. More importantly, nor was it about reducing carbon emissions.

It was actually

the promise of a "notable" decrease in the carbon intensity of China's economy

Not even any ballpark numbers there, just 'notable'. As slip-through-the-fingers as Gordon Brown's assurance that the EU will - sting me with your numbers, Captain Prudence - pay its 'fair share' of funds to poorer countries suffering on the climate front line.

But the real bad boy is not the lack of solid figures, it's the phrase 'carbon intensity'. Just as industry uses 'emissions reduction' to mean not 'reduction' but 'a smaller increase than we might otherwise have had', so China and India are shifting our language from 'carbon emissions' to 'carbon intensity'.

'Carbon emissions' is the amount of carbon emitted. 'Carbon intensity' is the amount emitted per item manufactured or unit of economic activity.

Producing 10% less CO2 per thneed manufactured is fine until you ramp up production. Make twice as many thneeds and, even though emissions per thneed might have come down, total emissions go up.

The climate isn't looking at emissions per unit of GDP, it only looks at total emissions, so that's the only number that counts.

But we so desperately want China to be on side that we're accepting this bollocksy redefinition. In the same way, we're accept the American shift of language, talking of an agreement that will be 'politically binding' instead of 'legally binding' (as if there had been any agreement on what 'legally binding' was going to mean anyway).

It's rather like the way George Monbiot unpicked India's announcement that it will rapidly build 20GW of solar power cpapcity, equivalent to about a quarter of the UK's electricity production. It got praised as India taking climate change seriously, but, Monbiot noted,

India is also in the middle of a programme to increase coal capacity by 79GW – equivalent to the entire UK power sector – by 2012. The new solar plant will supplement, not substitute, its other forms of power generation.

An economy based on growth will increase total consumption and so rapidly eat up any carbon savings from reducing 'carbon intensity'. Basing any agreements on carbon intensity is a guarantee that we will not reduce carbon emissions.

It means we're more likely to get a deal everyone can sign up to, but when it's effectively designed to fail, what's the point? Making our deals palatable to the people who wish to exacerbate the problem we're trying to rein in is utterly insane.

Friday, November 06, 2009

simon mann: the toff gets off

Simon Mann - a person who'd fit any decent working definition of 'international terrorist' - has been pardoned and released from jail in Equatorial Guinea, 16 months into a 34 year sentence for his attempted coup in the oil-rich nation.

To recap,

Neo-colonialist mercenary leader Mann was caught with a planeload of weapons and ex-apartheid South African special forces on their way to stage a coup in Equatorial Guinea...

Mann certainly wasn't going there on any humanitarian mission. As with his previous campaigns, it was about clearing out one group so a grateful government - irrespective of its attitude to human rights - would bestow lucrative mineral rights upon him.

For a more detailed account of the activities of Mann and his friends around the world, check out my article Simon Mann: A Very English Killer.

During his trial in Equatorial Guinea, Mann sang like the proverbial canary and implicated 'Sir' Mark Thatcher (who pleaded guilty to involvement in a South African court) and plot-chief Ely Calil.

On his release, Mann said

I am very anxious that Calil, Thatcher and one or two of the others, should face justice.

I'm relishing the thought of it happening - oh please let plot-funder Jeffrey Archer have another spell in jail - but I cannot muster any faith that it'll come to pass. The establishment insulates its members well.

Indeed, this was shown in Mann's favour by Guernsey courts' refusal to allow the Equatorial Guinea government access to Mann's account records and safe deposit boxes, despite strong evidence that these contain hard and damning evidence of the plot.

Meanwhile, a vicious mercenary is now free to enjoy his millionaire's lifestyle and work on his book deal and film options.

= = = = = = = = =

UPDATE 11 NOV 09: Over at The Quiet Road, Jim's post on Simon Mann (and the comments) include specific discussion of my post here.