Wednesday, January 27, 2010

thought policing the blogosphere

Seismic Shock is a blog I'd not heard of before today. It concerns itself with anti-Zionist activity and suchlike. They've written some stuff about an Anglican vicar, Stephen Sizer, and apparently accused him of associating with Holocaust deniers.

Two months ago, Sizer reported this to his local police in Surrey. They passed it on to Seismic Shock's local police in West Yorkshire, who sent two officers round to 'have a word'.

Seismic Shock deleted the offending post

"I did it because I felt intimidated," he said. "I felt had to co-operate with the police."

The story has surfaced in numerous parts of the understandably rattled Jewish blogosphere, in one or two places elsewhere due to its implications for freedom of speech in general, and also in the mainstream on the BBC and - thanks to its alleged anti-Israeli content - from Melanie Phillips in The Spectator.

Phillips splutters

Under what legal authority did the police come and feel Seismic Shock’s collar like this? What was the criminal offence he was suspected of committing? Under what authority did they require him to delete his previous blog?

What has happened to the British police when they intimidate a writer for material which other people merely find objectionable?

It's very simple. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 says you commit an offence if you pursue a course of conduct that harasses someone or causes them alarm or distress.

Section 7 makes the low threshold clear:

(3) A “course of conduct” must involve conduct on at least two occasions.
(4) “Conduct” includes speech.

If that wasn't enough, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 amended the law. A course of conduct was already something done at least twice to one person; now it's a crime if done just once to a group of two or more people.

This part of the Act was specifically aimed at protesters. It specifies that it is an offence to harass someone - ie talk to more than two people - if the intention is to persuade them

(i) not to do something that he is entitled or required to do, or

(ii) to do something that he is not under any obligation to do.

The following section makes it an offence to just be outside someone's home if it is likely to alarm or distress them and you're there to try to persuade them not to do something they're entitled to do, or to do something they're under no obligation to do.

It makes trespass an arrestable and imprisonable offence if it's a 'designated site' - ie Crown land or a site that the Secretary of State has designated 'in the interests of national security'. Watch out for that one being applied at power station and airport protests.

The Protection From Harassment Act - which we were told in 1997 was about protecting vulnerable women from dangerous ex-partners - is frequently used to protect vast corporations from people with leaflets and loud hailers.

Judges grant the injunctions after being convinced that protesters are "alarming or distressing" employees, often at emergency legal hearings without the protesters being informed or represented. They can rely on hearsay evidence or statements from police.

Protesters are often unable to challenge the statements, which are sometimes made anonymously. Activists then have to return to court, often at their own cost, to argue for a lifting of the injunction. Protesters can be jailed for up to five years if they break the terms of the court order.

It was the basis of the injunctions granted against SHAC, Smash EDO, Heathrow Climate Camp and at Radley Lakes where Npower had an injunction to protect their alarmed and distressed balaclava-wearing security guards from press photographers. The police take an active role in pushing this solution. For Smash EDO they supplied names of arrestees, even those who'd not been prosecuted. At the Kingsnorth Climate Camp, the police pressurised the power station's owners, Eon, to get an injunction.

Two people complained to police about Seismic Shock's blogpost, so we only needed a single act to be 'a course of action'. It seems to me they have a good case under the Protection from Harassment Act.

Couple that law to our anti-terrorism legislation - if a cop alleges you have been thinking about supporting a group who'd commit serious criminal damage for political purposes, you have to prove your innocence - and anything that offends or obstructs anyone can be covered. All you need is the political will to pursue it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

the carbon footprint of beer

After that last post about 10:10, a comment was left from Dunc who said

I'm a craft brewer, and at least 10% of my domestic electricity use is for brewing. I could eliminate that overnight, but if I'm still drinking beer, I'm pretty sure that would actually increase my overall emissions (the bulk of the emissions from commercial beers being located in transport, packaging, and the retail environment, all of which I completely eliminate by brewing at home).

My gut feeling is that he's right about the bulk of emissions not being from the beer itself, but surely I could find some concrete evidence out there.

The Carbon Trust said

The carbon footprint of off-trade beer, the majority of sales, is dominated by its packaging (which for standard size units represents at least 50% of product-related emissions), with the overall footprint of a traditional disposable glass bottled beer generally higher than that of aluminium cans and PET bottles.

Coincidentally, in reading up about 10:10 I came across this article about Suffolk brewers Adnam's.

I've heard of numerous green initiatives they've undertaken in recent years, and my impression is of a company actually trying to cut things rather than just do a little greenwash. (But then, giving you such impressions is the mark of successful greenwash...)

Anyway, this caught my eye.

Adnams has reduced the energy used to produce each barrel of beer from 51.4kWh in 2007 to 46.3kWh in 2008.

The inclusion of an exact figure article set me off on a little arithmetic.

If we take 51.4kWh per barrel as average for beer, and presume that's a normal 72 pint barrel, we're looking at 0.714kWh per pint.

The UK electricity supply emits 460g of carbon dioxide per kWh of electricity.

This makes 328g/pint. That's the same as driving the average car about 2km, or eating four bags of crisps.

I then found the dependable Ask Umbra had covered alcoholic beverages.

Sapporo has started labeling beer cans with carbon footprints; their estimate is that a 350ml can of Black Label beer emits 161g of carbon.

That's about 261g/pint.

Umbra points us to a 2007 study for wine that showed that, in America, transportation accounts for about half of wine's carbon footprint, and the manufacture of bottles a further quarter. It's put numbers on something I've said before, that there's no excuse for Europeans drinking non-European wine.

In 2008 the New Belgium Brewing Company had a serious study done of a six pack of their beer (6x12floz bottles). They found it was a whopping 3,188.8g. By my calculations, that's 889g/pint*.

Perhaps there's something amiss in their having such a huge impact. Then again, it feels more likely that it's due to it being an exhaustive full life-cycle study. Emissions from the company’s own operations and the disposal of its waste accounts for only 5.4 percent of their emissions. They found the biggest single element was pre-chilling beer in those stupid open fridges in shops, accounting for more than a quarter of the carbon.

There are solutions to this, and not just by the obvious move of buying local, unrefrigerated beer (or brewing your own like Dunc). In San Francisco there's Carrotmob, who touted round local stores and had everyone go to the one that would give the greatest amount of the profits to energy efficiency improvements to the store, a total win-win.


The really alarming figure in the Adnam's article was this

It takes 8 pints of water on average to make one pint of beer.

(Adnam's have got it down to less than half of that, by the way).

There's so much cleaning of vessels and pipes to be done. But where does this figure come from? Does it include 'virtual water', the stuff used to make the ingredients and containers?

It's something that first hit me four years ago with the Independent's front page that said

The real cost of a bag of salad: You pay 99p. Africa pays 50 litres of fresh water

In soft drinks, made from crops grown in hot and artificially irrigated conditions, the figure can be astronomical.

Coca-Cola's Chief Executive E Neville Isdell said in 2007

it now only takes 2.54 liters of water to make one liter of Coke, compared with 3.14 liters five years ago

However other sources say that

there is as much as 250 litres of water used once growing the sugar cane used in the drink is factored in.

For many places, water is a pressing issue and will become all the more so as population increases and climate change intensifies. Even in well-watered parts of the world, treatment and pumping are large users of energy, so 'embodied water' in a product is part of its embodied energy and carbon emissions.

= = = = = = =

* 3188.8g divided by 2040ml (12floz), multiplied by 568 (number of ml in a UK pint)

Thursday, January 21, 2010


So it's 2010, the year of 10:10. The idea is simple - in the year 10 we cut our carbon emissions by 10 percent. Individuals, companies, institutions can all volunteer.

A ten percent cut in a year is drastic but if, as the IPCC warn us, global carbon emissions need to peak and be declining well within a decade then 10 percent this year is what we need to do.

The campaign was launched last September with much fanfare from The Guardian

The 10:10 project, which hopes to replicate the grassroots success of the Make Poverty History campaign, is led by Franny Armstrong, director of this year's eco-documentary The Age of Stupid.

Armstrong said: "After every screening of The Age of Stupid people came up to me and asked what they could do. I was saying very generic stuff and I thought we needed a better 'here's what you can do'. Hence 10:10."

As Corporate Watch noted, you could hardly call Make Poverty History either grassroots or successful. However, I think Corporate Watch are wrong in saying

we can all easily reduce our carbon footprints without it having to be a demand on or from government. Thus the campaign does not really add anything new. In fact, 10:10 diverts people from other tactics that are required, such as direct action at Copenhagen, by disseminating a false sense of security

Much of our carbon reduction has to be a demand on government if we are to make the cuts needed. Who is it who decides what new electricity generators get commissioned? Who is it who emits so much on our behalf in public services, and regulates the private sector? Without making our cuts also a call for government action we merely tinker at the edge of the problem.

By banding people's cuts together in a united front, 10:10 does actually add something new. It says a significant portion of society wants cuts to outstrip the government's paltry targets, and we are prepared to do what's needed. In doing this, we not only act for ourselves but we make it clear that making such cuts is not a vote-loser. We give the government license to be more stringent.

Furthermore, by reaching out and involving those outside the green and social justice movements, and even outside all political circles, it adds something else new. It not only normalises action on climate change but begins to make carbon profligacy socially unacceptable. This, in turn, creates a political landscape where direct action on the issue receives a warmer reception and becomes more likely to affect real change.

A couple of weeks ago The Guardian noted

Perhaps the most striking aspect of 10:10's rise has been the breadth of its appeal: Barnet Labour Group alongside the Cambridge University Conservative Association, the London Jewish Film festival alongside Islamic publishers MELS (as well as Quaker, Catholic and Hindu groups); comprehensives alongside the country's most famous public schools; Tottenham Hotspur next to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. As one NGO veteran put it: "10:10 is the first climate campaign to reach beyond the usual suspects."

But how can they all sign up so readily? And do so alongside some blatant climate criminals like Eon and EDF? Simple. Nobody involved really has to cut their emissions. All they do is self-certify.

Worse, corporate 10:10ers reportedly don't even claim a cut in carbon emissions but in carbon intensity, the new linguistic get out of jail free card used by high emitters to make increases sound like cuts.


The Guardian had a piece on what we can do. Lots of stuff about using your car less, flying less, going vegan a few days a week. It's all low-hanging fruit. Don't know about you, but when the Guardian tells me that 'we buy 20kg or so of new clothes every year', they're not talking about me.

That first ten percent cut that 10:10 calls for is necessary and bold. It is also easy for anyone to do. By the time we get to the third, fourth and fifth batch of ten percent then it's cutting where we really feel it. At this point we start to justify all manner of luxuries simply because we want them. We feel that in making the first cuts we did our bit and now we don't need to do as much.

10:10 has already let signatories off the hook, saying businesses needn't cut anything like 10 percent if they don't want to.

In practice, 10:10 for companies means cutting at least 3% of your carbon emissions in a single year. We hope you will manage to do more but we recognise that many progressive companies that have made significant cuts already will find it hard to achieve further deep cuts

The campaign also does nothing to address another key aspect of perpetual economic growth; the invention of new needs. It refuses to consider whether an activity is entirely superfluous: supplying water is assessed the same as making remote control toilet flushes or being an arms manufacturer. Surely there are some activities that a sustainable society would cut to zero.

The concept of perpetual economic growth is so deeply embedded in our culture that we feel it cannot be challenged. So, even though it is the engine of climate change, 10:10 doesn't even need to be asked before giving it all the loopholes it wants.

There is certainly a need for a concerted, unified public effort on carbon emissions. Necessarily, it must be easy to sign up to, and it must include industrial and institutional cuts as well as individuals. In this, 10:10 has done a remarkable job in creating a groundswell. But, as we saw in Kyoto and Copenhagen, it doesn't matter who's signing up but what they're signing up to. If you bend your actions to be acceptable to the desires of the high-emitters, you won't come out with a meaningful result.

Regarding corporations, the drop from the campaign's headline 10 percent to 3 percent, the use of carbon intensity - a device to mask emission increases - and a total lack of auditing makes the claims of cuts meaningless. Yet we can be sure the thousands of businesses who've signed up will be using it as greenwash PR. Which will lead to greater sales and greater emissions.

This leaves 10:10 as effectively just another exhortation to change our personal consumption patterns. We can hope it has some positive knock-on effects - and there are signs that we'd be right to do so - but as it stands it is so self-enfeebled that, in itself, it is actually aiming to make no real difference.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

subvertising for change

Politics is not about personalities, it's about policies. And when you've as little personality as David Cameron it says a lot that the team decides it carries more weight than your nebulous policy commitments.

The new billboard campaign has a scary stary David looking as airbrushed and alien as the singer out of Sonseed.

Conservative election poster: We can't go on like this, I'll cut the deficit not the NHS

Promising to preserve the NHS, where have we heard that before?

The National Health Service is safe in our hands.
- Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Party conference 1983

Saying you support the country's most treasured institution is a soft-soap. We know that it's a distraction from the ideas they've got keystered. Their attacks on Tax Credits and Incapacity Benefit, the upping of the threshold of Inheritance Tax. These things aren't separate Conservative plans, just facets of the same one. Impoverishing the poor and defending the rich. As ever.

Oh but surely they're different now. I mean, the bad old days are behind them, opposition has taught the Tories humility. How else could they have a leader who says with a staight face, 'our party is the party of equality and opportunity'?

Oh, er, hang on, that was Thatcher in 1975.

Anyway, back to the present day posters, what I find weird is the slogan they're rolling with, 'we can't go on like this'. These things are argued about, mulled over and focus-grouped, every nuance and connotation evaluated.

We know they're consciously thinking about Obama and trying to ride the last whiffs of his slipstream by using the 'change' motif. But the prime slogan of that campaign was 'Yes We Can'. Picking 'We Can't Go On Like This' might, in some coked-up ad-exec way, seem like an echo of the Obama slogan because it uses the same verb but, out here in normal language world, swapping 'can' for 'can't' makes it feel like it's the exact opposite of Obama's winning phrase.

Last election season there were people letting you put your own slogans on to the Conservative advert template. This time round they've done it again.

There are already some good ones.



And the sheer genius of


It's a nice little giggle, but you can give it a bit of real-world effect by making stickers out of the good ones and putting them up about the place. As I said last election time

It's very easy to do your own stickers. You can buy packets of blank stickers at any office supply shop, and Microsoft Word has built-in templates for many sizes of sticker-sheets. Go Tools / Envelopes and Labels... / Labels tab / Options... and there's a whole list. Avery J8165 are great, eight stickers to an A4 sheet, ideal for buses, trains, bus stops, etc.

And of course they're not just for these election things, but are a good swift and simple way to stop yourself feeling bombarded by advertising. It gives you a way to reply to ads, make it a dialogue and expose what they're really saying.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

off my facebook

I won’t be gagged, or tagged and numbered
Won’t have my genes and eyeballs plundered
At my own expense
For a defence
That won’t work
Against a threat
That couldn’t get
Much smaller.
They won’t get my photograph, my details, my age
(So long as they don’t log onto my Facebook page)
- Danny Chivers, Risk Assessment

Even before I read Jim Bliss' alarming background information about Facebook - stuff which anybody who ever knows anybody who uses Facebook should read - I was wary. It amazed me activists would sign up so readily to what is the greatest gift the security services have ever received. People who used to be meticulous about PGPing everything they sent now blithely trumpet the stuff they once encrypted.

For all their talk of nutters trying to blow up planes, MI5 and the semi-secret branches of the police watch a far greater number of unthreatening subversives. In the 1980s it was suburban CND groups and trade union officials, these days it's Climate Campers and the like.

Some people have said that the wealth of information involved in social networking sites makes it hard for the forces of darkness to sift through; there's so much noise it obscures the signal. But once they have a target named from whatever source, Facebook lets them be followed like nothing before. No amount of phone-taps or blokes waiting outside your house with notebooks could yield the volume and fine detail that can be readily culled from five minutes on Facebook with your password cracked.

Who knows who, how familiar are they with each other, the precise detail of their political persuasion (what sort of weblinks do they flag up, what links of other people's do they click 'like this' on), photos, times, dates, dates of birth, family background, employment details, the works. It's a cornucopia of data that the Stasi would have creamed their kecks at. And I'm starting to feel left out.

About five, maybe seven years ago it became a severe social impediment not to have a mobile phone. Social etiquette changed, plans were things that could change at the last minute, even made at the last minute, and everyone was up to speed. Except, that is, for the weird types who didn't have a phone, sat there like a lemon at the original agreed meeting point, feeling like the Amish kid who doesn't know what the other kids are raving about when they talk of TV shows.

Large numbers of the kind of switched-on political thinkers who'd have done blogs now just post their stuff on Facebook. Significant discussions that I'd have really liked to be part of have taken place between friends and their friends, all of them assuming that anyone with anything decent to say has heard about it. Last weekend's hilarious mass snowball fight between several hundred people on Leeds' Hyde Park was a Facebook thing. When the Christmas number one can be righteous and a Facebook meme, it's time for us non-users to feel locked out.

Some try to avoid exposure on Facebook by not using their real name and having some witty obscure avatar. It's certainly a tactic that protects bloggers from the ultimate nightmare. It's effective on Facebook too, until your friends use your real name, tag you in photos they upload or spot, and then you respond with all manner of identifying information.

I'm well aware that activist bloggers volunteer a lot about themselves to the security services, and I'm surely no exception. But there's still a sense of awareness, of control, of restriction. I choose which information goes up. I'm not giving every last detail of my life, and more to the point I'm not encouraging every one of my friends to do it either. Were that so, it'd feel very different and pretty wrong. But this is now to be weighed up against the exclusion that non-Facebooking enforces. It's starting to feel like refusing to use a phone or write anything down in case it's intercepted.

I'm already peeking over the shoulders of Facebook users and chipping in to their musings. I can feel myself slipping...