Friday, May 29, 2009

euro elections 2: green party

Many years ago I sent a film off to be developed. I was repulsed and baffled by what came back. They were my photos, yes, but the wallet design was a big photo of a little girl with her face covered in ice cream. They might as well have used a picture of really gross surgery or a camel chewing slug-covered digestive biscuits.

It struck me then that, given this was a mass-production item from a large company, it must be me that's abnormal not them. Other people don't just find this image tolerable, they find it adorable. Their hearts go all soft at a picture of wasted food and poor hygiene, as long as it's done by children. Me, I have the same reaction as I would do to anyone else behaving like that.

I get told by parents that we must understand that children are just little people, yet when I voice any feelings based on that - such as having the same level of irritation with screeching that I would have if a big person did it - I get treated as if I've said I want their children to die.

But maybe it is just me, and everyone else thinks children are intrinsically better than adults. Why else all the fuss about Madeleine McCann when every week in the Big Issue you can read about an array of missing people?

As the venerable Harry Hutton said

That’s what life is like, my friends. You’re born, and everyone is pleased to see you. Then 52 years later no one is pleased to see you.

Or in the more assertive words of Bill Hicks

What does that mean? They reach a certain age and they're off your fucking love-list? Fuck your children, and if that's the way you think then fuck you too. You either love all people of all ages or you shut the fuck up.

But anyway, like I said, I get the very strong impression that there's a lot of people who don't think like me and Hicks. A great mass of people engage in child exaltation. Amongst that number are the entire team that put together the Green party leaflet for the European elections, and everyone they imagine might want to vote Green.

Green Party leaflet showing children with a 'Vote For Us' banner

This is even worse than the BNP leaflet. Not since Syprian Pitkin have I seen such a fucking awful election flyer.

Now I understand that slogans by their nature cannot do complexity. They are there to be more emotional than rational. But fucking hell, who devised the irredeemable pit of vacuousness that comprises the Green party's slogans?

Reaer of Green Party leaflet

'Green politicians work hard for their communities' is something that every party says on every election leaflet.

'They are your voice in Europe'
. Not if you're not in agreement with their policies they're not. This is basically restating the 'your community' thing with a twist. And this use of it is even more empty than the BNP's 'we say what you think'. With the BNP it taps into the mindset that feels you're not allowed to be English these days and schools are banning Christmas celebrations and it's all political correctness gone mad. The Greens don't tap into that or anything else here.

But worst of all on this leaflet are those two middle slogans. 'They care about the future' and 'they take the long view'. When you've got four short sentences to make four short points, you should make sure that two of them aren't the fucking same.

Furthermore, when you add these two synonymous slogans to:

- the dreadful cover asking you to vote for kids
- the cutesy kid inside
- the promise to 'focus on building a sound economy for our children's future'
- opening the candidate's personal message with 'as a father and teacher I worry about the future'
- and closing it with, 'our Green New Deal offers a new future for our children'

and remember that all of it comes in the space of under 300 words, there is one resounding message, probably written by Helen Lovejoy. The Greens are all about the long term.

In a time of recession, people's priorities shift. People aren't going to make themselves insecure today on the promise of the possibility of a better time for other people in some far off days.

This is not just about appealing to those like me who don't prostrate ourselves at the altar of child worship. Indeed, it's precisely those in the role as family breadwinners who'd be put off by such an approach. Like I said the other week, if you feel like the choice is between not providing for your family versus a few polar bears karking it, the guys in fur don't stand a chance. By the same token, people will choose family security today over being a tiny part of probably building a better society tomorrow.

Whilst it is not only laudable but essential we take decisions based on long-term thinking, when you've got ideas as good as the Greens for the short term, those things should surely be front and centre.

Their free insulation means lower energy bills for everyone and jobs for a lot of people. A crash programme of renewable power generation means a lot of jobs and a reduction in reliance on imported gas, so less volatility in fuel prices. Very few of us vote without taking our wallets into account at least partially. So sing this stuff from the rooftops.

Elsewhere their publicity material has been more balanced, they've done a tremendous amount of grassroots work, and they're the only serious party not awash with sleaze or based on xenophobia. This has got to count for a lot.

We can only hope that their beating the BNP isn't dependent on voters who've only seen their godawful leaflet.

That, or it's dependent on voters who've seen the only piece of Euro election propaganda that's even worse.

BNP billboard with the slogan 'What would Jesus do? Vote BNP'

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

save the children. actually, sod them.

Like many development charities, Save The Children see climate change as a major problem for their particular area of concern. The increased numbers of natural disasters it precipitates, and the slower changes too, will force huge migrations of people.

They're tripling their capacity to respond to emergencies and preparing for a proliferation of smaller emergencies that won't hit the headlines. Launching their Legacy of Disasters report in 2007, they said

Over the next decade, Save the Children estimates that up to 175 million children every year will be affected by climate-related natural disasters compared to 125 million a year between 1995 and 2005. Millions more children will be killed, forced to flee their homes and put at risk from hunger, disease and physical or sexual abuse...

Children in developing countries, where there are few adequate warning systems or strategies to lower risk, will also be most affected by 'slow-moving' disasters, including temperature extremes, desertification, and a rise in sea level brought by climate change.

Small-scale disasters, which are typically overlooked by the international community - will also intensify, most affecting vulnerable communities living rurally, on flood plains or on steep slopes at risk of erosion.

Climate change may seem like a far-distant threat to those of us in temperate climes with a buffer zone of welfare and mitigation to deploy. To people elsewhere, it's already a disaster.

So, you'd think anyone who really believed in what Save The Children have to say would try to limit their carbon emissions. As opposed to playing a Save The Children benefit concert and then, without irony, flying by private jet (carbon emissions 25 times greater than a normal plane) to a tax haven for - oh double whammy - the carbon profligacy of Formula 1 motor racing.

Chris de Burgh, the internationally renowned pop star, having just flown in by private jet from a Save the Children Fund concert, threaded his way through the celebrity-packed paddock formed up alongside the quayside at the Monaco Grand Prix.

Unthinking hypocrite? Or first against the wall?

Monday, May 25, 2009

vote against the bnp

The recent furore over MPs expenses means many people will either abstain from voting in the European elections, or else will cast a protest vote against the mainstream parties.

The British National Party stands to benefit greatly. Unlike a general election, there is a system of proportional representation in place. A share of the vote of 8 percent could see the BNP get a seat. If they get seats, they get hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money.

Last time turnout was 38 percent, and the BNP scored between 6 and 8 percent in the four main constituencies they're targeting. So it's easy to see how they could break through 8 percent this time, but would probably fail to if everyone voted.

Under the voting system - explained in this short animation - it's important to vote for a party that will score higher than the BNP. That's going to be Labour, Conservative, LibDem, UKIP and Green.

Especially crucial is the playoff for the final seat awarded in each constituency, likely to be between the parties coming fifth and sixth; ie likely to be between Green and BNP. An extra 3 percent on the Labour vote will probably make no difference, whereas that 3 percent going to the Greens would probably be the difference between a seat going Green or BNP.

If it sounds fiddly, or like the Greens are trying to scam for votes, check it out yourself. Here's last time's results. Here's an online calculator that can translate any breakdown you type in into seats.

In the North West, BNP leader Nick Griffin is standing. Griffin has made an excellent job of changing public perception of the BNP. Like the party itself, he has his roots in the National Front. The party prohibits non-whites from membership.

'All black people will be repatriated, even if they were born here,' Griffin told Wales on Sunday in 1996.

In 1997 he produced a publication called Who Are The Mindbenders, alleging that the media is run by Jews. He proved the BBC was Jewish controlled by naming 17 Jewish employees from a total of over 23,000.

During his 1998 trial that saw him convicted of inciting racial hatred, he compared the belief that six million Jews died in the Holocaust to the belief that the earth is flat.

The BNP are not just a little bit right of UKIP. They are a party of extreme white supremacism and racism. Many of their officials, including Nick Griffin, have convictions for racially motivated crimes. A seat in the European Parliament will massively boost their funds and their platform.

A vote for a party likely to score more than the BNP is a vote against the BNP. Please - especially if you live in their target areas of North West, East Midlands, West Midlands or Yorkshire and the Humber - make sure everyone you know who's registered votes against them.

Nick Griffin's march needs to end here.

a young Nick Griffin in White Power T-shirt on a National Front march

Friday, May 22, 2009

british jobs for polish workers

Even though postal workers elsewhere have refused to deliver it, round here the British National Party leaflet has come through the door.

British Jobs For British Workers - Because We've Earned The Right
Trafalgar - The Somme - Dunkirk - D-Day - The Falklands

It's illustrated with the picture of a Spitfire in flight and the slogan Battle For Britain.

BNP leaflet showing Spitfire

The Spitfire was the key to defending Britain in the Battle of Britain, the time in 1940 when the Nazis, who had so readily rolled into countries across Europe, were poised to invade.

It was a peculiar moment in history. The coin was flipped and came down in its edge, teetering. After the Germans were repelled, Nazi expansionism lost its sense of unstoppability, followed by the Soviet Union and USA joining the war, Allied victory becoming all but inevitable, and onwards to the death of the militarist colonial worldview.

But in June 1940, it could so easily have gone the other way. It's a decisive moment and the victory came down to such a small number of key people that it's possible to read a list of their names. Churchill saw this at the time and declared it with the line 'never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few'.

Those bold men, the pilots now known as The Few, weren't all British. Around 20 percent were foreign, mostly from the British empire and Europe. Had the British truly stood alone it could well have meant defeat and Nazi invasion. We were bolstered and, in all likelihood, saved by our immigrants.

Very few pilots were more experienced, and none fought more doggedly, than the great number of Poles. The Spitfire on the BNP leaflet has a red and white check on the nose just behind the propeller. This denotes that it's from a Polish squadron. Those pilots fought and many died. So if you're going to use Spitfires and the Battle of Britain as your measure of entitlement, the slogan should be British Jobs For Polish Workers - Because They've Earned The Right.

I'm genuinely struggling to see the link between the five military events named, except that they involved some British forces.

Trafalgar and the Falklands were victories, but Dunkirk was a retreat from a failed campaign and the Somme was the hideous pointless massacre of men for nothing at all. The first day of the Battle of the Somme saw 20,000 British men killed, sent slowly walking in lines laden with rucksacks towards machine guns that mowed them down like hay. They were joined in slaughter by large numbers of empire men, notably Canadians and Irish.

Still, as the BNP want the Gurkhas to stay out (their battles don't earn them 'the right' even though they actually fought, which most of us didn't personally do at Trafalgar) , presumably all the others who fought on the British side on the Somme don't count either.

So the list isn't about British victories or even British fights. There was an all-in-it-together spirit of the scrabbling retreat from Dunkirk, but that doesn't apply to the small professional force fighting in the anachronistic colonial afterecho of Thatcher's vanity project, the Falklands. The list is as confused and misplaced as the use of the Polish pilot.

Racists being stupid and historically inaccurate, whatever next.

BNP leaflet quotation saying it's not racist to oppose immigration and political correctness

'It's not racist to oppose mass immigration and political correctness'. That's debatable. It certainly is racist to ban people from joining your party because they're not white, though.

It's always difficult to know what is meant by political correctness. It's always a perjorative, people accuse you of it (usually with the suffix 'gone mad' to reinforce the wrongness without having to explain it). I've never heard anyone claim it for themselves.

It seems only to be used to denigrate measures that aim to improve equality and respect, to reclaim some kind of superiority that the speaker feels is threatened. It's that sense of superiority, of white supremacy, that underpins the BNP.

BNP leaflet showing doctors and soldier with quotes supporting the party

The 'doctor' is fake, a stock image from an American site if you search on "caring health professional". Still, let's deal with the sentiment.

I see what immigration is doing to our NHS.

Yes, so do I. On the front line, the NHS would collapse without the foreign nurses, people trained at foreign expense then imported here do do our low-level jobs.

A huge proportion of our recent immigrants are here to work. They are, in other words, an influx of younger people paying taxes as the NHS has to care for the ageing British population. They are making up the difference to save us, just as immigrant pilots did 70 years ago.

The leaflet talks of the injustice of 'fighting foreign wars'. As opposed to, er, foreign wars we're supposed to worship like Trafalgar, The Somme, Dunkirk, D-Day and the Falklands.

The soldier in the picture - the one person on the leaflet we know is really British - didn't actually say the quote attributed to him. He said that the BNP

are scumbags and I'd never vote for them in a million years.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

on this deity

This is what I find most encouraging about the writing trades: they allow mediocre people who are patient and industrious to revise their stupidity, to edit themselves into something like intelligence.
- Kurt Vonnegut

It's a truth that all of us who write recognise.

Dorian Cope, however, is one of those people who can do it without so much of the revision and editing, she can just lay it out off the top of her head. Look what happens when she's interrupted on her way somewhere by a randomer who asks her about the MC5.

Dorian is the wife of the indefatigable Julian Cope. As he releases an album more than once a year and has written a swathe of effervescent groundbreaking scholarly books on history and music, it must take a mighty intellect and a bold character to keep up with him at close quarters, let alone to encourage, inspire and criticise as he creates. Dorian does all that and more, so it's long past time that she started publishing stuff herself.

She's now doing a blog called On This Deity, marking anniversaries of events in history. And not the history of kings and presidents but the other history, the history of dissent and rebellion. It's got the classic Cope mix of vision, fresh interpretation and an understanding of music as central cultural force and key part of radical history.

Each post is an illuminating piece, but there's a powerful composite message too. As we see that these events have gone on - every day, all around the world, year in year out for centuries - so we realise that the daring, imaginative, revolutionary perspective isn't a wacky sideshow or something reserved for mighty superheroes like Mandela, but that it's something that binds us in the millions and, most importantly, is as real and possible a force for change now as any time in the past.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

levelling the expenses playing field

It has been an astonishing week in British politics, with MPs lamely saying they're sorry now they've been caught filching public funds, and as long as they pay back the 'mistaken' money they took they shouldn't be punished.

To test the justice of this, visit a supermarket, stuff a bottle of vodka up your sleeve and walk out without paying. If you get away with it, go back and do it again. When you get caught, offer to pay for that one mistaken bottle and see if they let you go.

In trying any sort of defence of their position, MPs prove that they are too witless to understand how life is for most people. There is no way you can mention having a tennis court, a swimming pool, a helipad, a chandelier or - everyone's favourite, it seems - a moat without it having an air of flamboyant extravagance. It speaks of excessive wealth that ordinary people never have any part of, and anything to do with such items at public expense appears intolerable.

LibDem millionaire Chris Huhne - whose weaselness I've written about before - felt the public should pay £85 to for the mounting, framing and inscribing of a picture of himself.

We spent £2,145 to fix a pipe under millionaire banker Oliver Letwin's tennis court. This is the same Oliver Letwin who is in charge of planning the Conservatives cuts in public spending.

That's morally repugnant, arrogant, hypocritical and deeply unjust, but not actual theft. Unlike, as Jim Bliss notes, some others.

While we rightly hold Letwin in contempt for his sordid pilfering, we can at least assume that there really was a tennis court and a leaking pipe. Jack Straw, on the other hand, claimed £1,500 for Council Tax he never paid.

Like Letwin being in charge of spending cuts, Jack Straw has a punchline. That fraudulent tax claim was committed by the Justice Minister.

The Daily Telegraph praised David Cameron's integrity. This is the David Cameron who will repay the £640 bill for clearing wisteria from his chimney, but not the other £80,000 we've spent on his second home. Apparently it's fair enough he keeps that.

As Jim Bliss continued

Cameron IS one of the cheats. He's a millionaire who has claimed over eighty thousand pounds of public money, yet who drones on constantly about the need for public spending cuts and pay restraint in the public sector. He's talking about pay freezes for nurses and teachers, but claims 80 grand of public money on expenses.

Jim added

the second homes of millionaires (whether politicians, businessmen or rock stars) shouldn't be subsidised by the taxpayer. Not so long as there's a single person on a single hospital waiting list. Isn't that just obvious? How is there even an ethical grey area here?

And just because the rules allow the wealthy to claim public money doesn't mean that they should. I mean, isn't that exactly the kind of thing the tories say is wrong with the country? Taxes are too high because public money is being frittered away where it's not needed?

Indeed, there are those who see exactly Jim's point. Labour millionaire Geoffrey Robinson has multiple homes but doesn't claim for them. On Cameron's own benches, Philip Dunne refused to claim for his second home in London because it is 'not the right thing'. LibDem David Howarth represents a constituency further from London than Cameron, but has no second home as he, like Cameron could also do, commutes. Cameron is therefore, to use a technical political term, a sticky-fingered greedy arrogant scumpig.

There is a clear need for far-flung MPs to have second homes in London. But why on earth do we buy them a second home that they get to keep, then do the same with their successors?

There is a cheaper, fairer and more equitable way MPs could have London digs. Make them eligible for Housing Benefit. The government says Housing Benefit is enough to pay for somewhere decent to live. Let them prove it.

Let's extend that. People talk of the Lothian Question, how it is unfair that Scottish MPs sit at Westminster voting on issues that only affect England and Wales. Yet they all vote on state apparatus that they are opting out of. So, let's make it fair and ensure they use the systems they control. Ban them having private health care and sending their kids to private schools.

In trade unions it is common for reps and negotiators to have their wages linked to the average pay for their union. That helps to concentrate minds. By the same token, let's link MPs wages to the national average.

Indeed, why not set it at the national average? They talk of how people in 'comparable professions' get more money, but there are no comparable professions. What they mean is they're a bunch of ex-lawyers and their former colleagues/public school classmates are earning far more than them.

But they chose public service. The vocational aspect of the trade is used as an excuse to underpay teachers and nurses. Politicians say it was a choice those people made, and whilst it means they earn less than their friends they get a greater, less tangible reward. Let's extend that principle to MPs too.

At the start of the year so many of the ideas in common currency among activists and anarchists were dismissed as cynical fringe nonsense.

- Neoliberal capitalism is a house of cards based on greedy bluff, and it contains the seeds of its inevitable downfall.

- The police are a political tool of the ruling elite who use violence and lies to attack people whose protests are disliked by those in authority.

- Parliamentary politicians of all parties are a bunch of self-serving greedy fuckers who talk of justice and decency whilst feathering their own nests at our expense.

Yet the wider public has now seen these points to be true, illustrated not by one deed or story - no 'one bad apple' talk that leaves the structure intact - but by the revelation that these are how the entire institutions work.

March turned into Fuck The Bankers Month, April was Fuck The Police Month, and May is Fuck The Politicians Month.

Revolution and anarchist utopia by Guy Fawkes Night, I reckon.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

economists vs climate

Guardian and Observer columnist Will Hutton says 'the environment is too important to be left to the green movement'.

Right out of the blocks, it's like he wants his opinion to be shot down. The article is based around the new book by his friend, Labour peer and The Third Way author, Anthony Giddens.

Given the groundswell of climate activism in the teeth of state opposition compared to the runaway train of hopeless implosional incompetence and sleaze in the Labour party, you've got to admire his brass balls for starting with

The green movement as it stands should receive the last rites.

But anyway, allegiances aside, let's deal with what he actually says.

The best arguments to kill the "so-what" factor over climate change are not scary tales from a far-distant future. It is to argue for investment in energy efficiency because it saves cash and makes strategic sense.

This is right, to an extent. Given the choice between cutting back consumption - feeling like you're not providing for your family - versus a few polar bears karking it, the guys in fur don't stand a chance. As George Marshall has made clear, climate change is not a mere environmental issue and we have to stop talking about it in those terms.

So yes, let us emphasise the immediate and personal benefits of climate mitigation, where it is true. But what about where it's not? What about where it costs more?

As if to illustrate this, Hutton goes on

Cars powered by electricity or hydrogen are cheaper.

No they are not. Hydrogen car makers won't sell any, only lease out a handful of them as decoys. Three guesses as to why.

In December 2002 Yozo Kami, Honda’s engineer in charge of hydrogen fuel cells, said it would take at least ten years to get the price of a hydrogen car down to $100,000. This from the people making one of the cheapest prototypes.

Some of the changes we make will cost us more. Some of the changes are for the benefit of the others elsewhere, geographically or chronologically. But if the Conservatives can make such a splash with their frankly brilliant 'Gordon Brown's debt' campaign focus, we can presume people are amenable to the idea of not fucking over your immediate descendants. Providing for your family and protecting resources for your children amount to the same thing.

many mainstream environmental intellectuals drop rigour when it comes to the environment, climate change and risk. Under the precautionary principle, almost nothing should be done that endangers the climate, just in case the worst scientific warnings are right. The aim should be sustainable development - to grow economically in a way that passes the globe on to the next generation in the same condition in which we found it.

Giddens joins Lawson in dismissing this thinking as wretchedly woolly. Are we really going to risk nothing? This is a refutation of our very risk-taking humanity.

The precautionary principle is not about being a quivering timid fool, 'risking nothing'. It is about ensuring that if there's a risk of serious and irreversible harm then those advocating the action must prove that the risk is worth taking. In this case, they must show that those worst scientific warnings are highly unlikely.

The idea that we should discount the precautionary principle on climate issues because of some inherent primal 'risk taking humanity' is, in itself, the most wretchedly woolly thinking I've heard in quite some time.

As a tangent, since when do we have that? Humans are almost universally prey to a range of risk-averse activities such as paranoia, vertigo and nervously worrying about mutually exclusive possibilities, every bit as much as we are reckless.

But anyway,

sustainable and development should not be used together so loosely. Development is a dynamic concept that necessarily depletes resources. Poor countries such as China or India can only develop unsustainably. They must burn coal. To ask the entire world to commit to sustainable development is to damn the less developed world to poverty. Those countries will never agree.

To say they can ever catch up to western levels of consumption is an even crueller strategy than letting them try. It will turn out to be impossible and saddle future generations with a legacy of squandered resources and climate change (as well as inflict poverty through the effects of climate change).

Jared Diamond compared American consumption to that of other countries and calculated

China’s catching up alone would roughly double world consumption rates. Oil consumption would increase by 106 percent, for instance, and world metal consumption by 94 percent. If India as well as China were to catch up, world consumption rates would triple. If the whole developing world were suddenly to catch up, world rates would increase elevenfold. It would be as if the world population ballooned to 72 billion people (retaining present consumption rates).

Some optimists claim that we could support a world with nine billion people. But I haven’t met anyone crazy enough to claim that we could support 72 billion. Yet we often promise developing countries that if they will only adopt good policies — for example, institute honest government and a free-market economy — they, too, will be able to enjoy a first-world lifestyle. This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people.

This does not, though, mean 'damning them to poverty'. We can use our resources to feed, clothe, house and medicate everyone without the extraneous tat that - and let's get this message out - doesn't really contribute to western happiness anyway. Clean water, clean power sources? You got it. Ready availability of 134 different types of cheese from around the world? Gotta lose that.

Having some countries develop by inflicting climate change on the rest is not a matter of justice or poverty mitigation. It's about making a few rich at the expense of the many.

the G20 protesters interpret climate change as proof positive of the evils of capitalism and the capitalist state... Climate change cannot be a political game, to be played as and when it suits particular protesters - G20ers or middle-class nimbys

Ah yes, because the G20 protesters are clutching at anything to validate their randomly chosen position. It's not that they see climate change as a symptom of a wider problem, or as the inevitable result of a literally insane system that thinks we can consume an indefinitely increasing amount of finite resources. They're just 'playing it when it suits them'.

Still, a former stockbroker turned economics journalist is unlikely to be able to question the basics of our economic model, even if it can be explained in less than two sentences why it is completely delusional.

Capitalism is not the cause of climate change (anyone see what the Soviet Union did in terms of industrial facilities?), but it is a system predicated on perpetual economic growth, which means spiralling consumption of resources, notably energy. To get ever increasing amounts of energy as cheaply as possible, we will burn fossil fuels. Certainly, we would not leave lucrative fossil fuels in the ground. This makes consumer-capitalism and climate change inseparable.

As George Monbiot highlighted

In a lecture to the Royal Academy of Engineering in May, Professor Rod Smith of Imperial College explained that a growth rate of 3% means economic activity doubles in 23 years. At 10% it takes just 7 years. This we knew. But Smith takes it further. With a series of equations he shows that "each successive doubling period consumes as much resource as all the previous doubling periods combined."

In other words, if our economy grows at 3% between now and 2030, we will consume in that period economic resources equivalent to all those we have consumed since humans first stood on two legs. Then, between 2030 and 2053, we must double our total consumption again.

When we're at a point where even the stock of renewable resources are collapsing, it's time to use the word crisis, and past time to be an apologist for a system that wants us to accelerate into the abyss.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

god forbids climate change

On 25th March, Illinois Representative John Shimkus was on the panel considering climate change for the US House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.

Sounds quite a normal thing for an elected politician like him to do, and indeed it is. There, we part ways with normality. He opened with a quote from the Book of Genesis.

I want to start with Genesis 8, verse 21 and 22.

"Never again will I curse the ground because of man even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood, and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the Earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease".

I believe that's the infallible word of God and that's the way it's going to be for his creation... I do believe God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.

OK, even before he's tried to talk about climate change, he's cocked up. Because, even within the bizarre blinker-vision world of those who believe in the literal truth of the Bible, he's fucked. As I've said before, the Book of Genesis cannot be infallible and perfect.

Which creation story is true? There are two. Not in an interpretation-of-metaphor way but in that straightforward creationist-style literal obvious-meaning-of-the-words sense.

In chapter 1 of Genesis God makes light, water, land, plants, animals, and then lastly in verse 27 he makes man and woman at the same time. Less than a page later, at a time before the earth has plants, he makes the first man from dust who has 15 verses of mooching about getting lonely before God pulls out a rib and builds a woman.

Even on the real-world stuff Shimkus is something of a wobbly clown.

The cost of a cap-and-trade on the poor is now being discovered.

He illustrates this with a picture of some miners who lost their jobs.

Firstly, for every miner that loses their job you'll find a wind turbine builder of insulation installer who gains one. If we wanted to, we could even make it be the same people retrained.

Secondly, American miners are not poor. Not poor like subsistence farmers already dried off Eastern African lands or Bangladeshi farmers flooded off their only lands, anyway.


The Subcommittee inexplicably heard from fully qualified swivel-eyed loon Viscount Monckton. That he is a hereditary peer and former policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher are reasons to dislike him, but not discount him. The fact that he readily and unrepentantly admits to being a liar should ring some alarm bells, though.

They said, 'Don't you mind being made to look an absolute prat', and I said, 'No - I'm quite used to that'. History is full of stories that aren't actually true.

It's his complete lack of climate expertise is the thing that should have him kept away from such hearings. Like his brother-in-law Dominic Lawson, he's a climate denier, one who likes to use lots of impressive sounding but personally faked evidence to prove his position.

One interviewer said that

he suffers an extreme case of the patrician sense that good breeding and a decent classical education equip you for anything, even for outwitting the collective intelligence of the world's best scientific brains

Nonetheless, he's called by the Representatives as if he were some kind of expert.

He's had contact with the American government before. When Senators called on ExxonMobil to stop espousing climate-denying nonsense, Monckton wrote an open letter. Of course, he wasn't a climate scientist back then either, but he explained that he was writing in his capacity as 'a member of the Upper House of the United Kingdom legislature'. One problem there - he isn't any such thing. He simply lied to make himself sound more impressive than he really is. Again.

And so we see him there at the Subcommittee, his mouth is open and noise is coming out. That could never be a good thing.

Carbon dioxide is a plant food, it's necessary. Without it all plant life and therefore all life that depends on plantlife would disappear.

He's absolutely right. So everyone who is campaigning to remove all carbon dioxide from the atmosphere should stop right now. Go on, all none of you.

Shirkus likes Monckton's point and extrapolates. The problem with carbon emissions is that there aren't enough of them.

So if we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere?... So all our good intentions could be for vain. In fact, we could be doing just the opposite of what the people who want to save the world are saying.

Presumably, he thinks there were no plants around before we started emitting greenhouse gases.


Whatever Mr Shirkus or certain climate activists may think, averting climate change is not about 'saving the world'. Anyone who talks of 'saving the world' has delusions of grandeur. Humanity and the world are not synonymous. Algae, ants, rats, Keith Richards, all seem impervious to harm that would kill humans, and any of them may well come out on top after colossal habitat changes. Contrary to the opinion of those who think self-contradictory bronze age texts are perfect and infallible, the world is not here for human use.

The planet is incomprehensibly robust. Life is robust. Humanity is comparatively frail. Modern mass society, for all its many securities, sees much of our frailty multiplied. Earthquakes would have killed very few people five thousand years ago. What kills when they strike today is the collapsing buildings. It is humanity, especially modernised humanity, that is in peril. Not 'the planet'.


Texan Representative Joe Barton said

Adapting is a common natural way for people to adapt to their environment.

Hard to disagree with that one, isn't it?

I believe that the earth’s climate is changing, but I think it’s changing for natural variation reasons. And I think mankind has been adapting to climate as long as man has walked the earth. When it rains, we find shelter. When it’s hot, we get shade. When it’s cold, we find a warm place to stay'.

In prehistoric times we could readily migrate. To pick a point in comparitively recent history, when Britain's neolithic monuments were built there were about twenty million people on earth. Today the combined population of India's two biggest cities exceed that. Half the global population lives in places that would be affected by serious sea level increases. We all live in places built on certain climatic certainties of water supply and temperature.

We're also dependent on those same certainties for the places far away that supply our needs. The sheer numbers of us mean we are dependent on global food production being sustained. Mess with the heat and the rainfall and we're in trouble.

At the same time, we are dependent on others to do it for us. The basics of human life are mysterious to us modern humans. How many people you know could find their own clean water or make fire? Despite the deniers cliaming climate activists want us to go back to living in caves and foraging for grubs, it's drastic action on carbon emissions that will prevent us having to do that.

So, why would we risk catastrophe if it were easily averted? Because, says Joe Barton with a straight face, adapting to climate change is easier than adapting to the 'devastation' of a cap-and-trade policy (of the kind we've had in Europe for the last five years without most people noticing).


We expect there to be loons. No threat has been so great as to be universally recognised, no policy so self-evidently sensible that there haven't been those who'll confidently decry it. And people often want to do wacky things in the name of religion. Stick Mr Shirkus with the Heaven's Gate crew waiting for the flying saucer people to rescue us, I'm sure he'd be happy.

What is indefensible and dangerous is that those with such ludicrous beliefs - impervious to evidence, using one another as references to prove their absurd point - get taken seriously in places charged with making policy for the real world. Allowing them in to positions of power is an act as ill-informed and deranged as they are.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

poetry and motion

Well, the once mighty group blog The Sharpener dwindled substantially in the latter part of last year, and there's been nothing but tumbleweed there for several months now.

It's a great shame, as getting loads of differently motivated, intelligent, articulate people (and me) to post made for some great reading and, crucially, provided a ready way outside of the mutual appreciation closed circle we all tend to fall into.

It's no good having your ideas go unchallenged. How are you ever to refine them, to abandon the bits that are wrong, to get them out to people who don't agree yet but would do if they heard what you've got to say? The Sharpener's been an excellent forum for sorting that out.

I suppose it's inevitable that unpaid group blogs will diminish. In small part, it's precisely that challenge, having your treasured feelings ridiculed and politics lambasted, that will put people off. But also, lives move on, most bloggers seem to fade after a while and without a contrived effort to recruit new contributors, it'll tend to dry up.

Nonetheless, I've just done my bit and posted the first new thing on The Sharpener in ages. Having heard outgoing Poet Laureate Andrew Motion get sucked up to on Any Questions the other week, as if he wasn't just an adman for anti-democracy, I had to vent it somewhere.

The piece is called Poetry and Motion.

Monday, May 04, 2009

geordie & scouse national identity

Liverpool convincingly trounced Newcastle United yesterday, which set me thinking about the cultural similarities between the cities.

The recent appointment of Alan Shearer - who looks eerily like a cross between Robson and Jerome - as manager of the ailing Newcastle United caused great jubilation in the city.

This wasn't just about a club hero coming home, there was something in the delirious optimism of Toon fans that few others could ever deliver.

In Pies And Prejudice, Stuart Maconie speculates that Newcastle United's fans are so derangedly passionate about their team because the city is anomalous in being so large with only one club.

But why isn't this true of Leeds at three times the size (even if you allow for a little split of affection with the rugby team)? Why doesn't it apply to cities of similar size to Newcastle such as Leicester?

It's not to do with a unitary focus of club, but the passion with which a people focus on their culture. A serious proportion of Geordies regard themselves as Geordie first and foremost rather than English or British. It is, in many sense, a nationality. It shares much in this with Scousers. This may be to do with their geographical positions as ports facing the outside world, but whatever the cause they both have a very separate identity, and there is nothing else like it in Great Britain outside of Welsh and Scottish national feeling.

All four nationalities are prone to sweeping up their compatriots in huge swells of unshakable, ineffable pride, stuff dismissed by baffled outsiders - those more in thrall to English reserve - as sentimentalist claptrap.

Not even Cornwall, despite its historical distinction and linguistic heritage, can muster the strength of patriotic emotion that readily pours forth with little prompting from these other four.

For the cities with more than one club, there is usually a deep-seated rivalry that can never be overcome. Yet, as Maconie notes elsewhere in the same book, Scousers attending the Liverpool-Everton FA Cup final in 1986 sang in unison 'Merseyside Merseyside Merseyside'.

I guatrantee that you won't hear the whole crowd at Manchester United vs Wigan singing 'Greater Manchester, Greater Manchester, Greater Manchester'.

As Merseyside was one of those weird administrative regions put together in 1974, it seems scarcely credible that the unity of feeling was really about affinity to a recently contrived municipal district. They took to this new identity because it cut them away from the greater Lancashire with which they never identified and gave them an administrative body that recognised what they had felt for centuries, that they were a breed apart.

Map of Merseyside

(It should be noted that with the typical idiosyncratic twists of boundary makers, Merseyside has a long sliver only a couple of miles wide sticking all the way up to encapsulate the swanky seaside resort of Southport. Here, more than thirty years after it was deemed to be in Merseyside, you can still find car stickers huffily proclaiming that the town is really in Lancashire - they too see Scousers as a separate identity).

Friday, May 01, 2009

carbon labelling

It irritates me when people think that some actions are too insignificant to consider the energy cost. If we are to cut back on energy consumption and its attendant carbon emissions, we have to realise when we're doing it.

So while it's used as a piece of Corporate Social Responsibility bollocks from a deeply unsustainable company, nonetheless I find it useful that Walkers crisps manage to pin a real number on the carbon emissions for their product.

Walkers crisp packet showing carbon label of 75g per pack

Their subsequent calculations show it was actually 85g a packet. They've since cut that to 80g.

Walkers, to their credit, have used seemingly rigorous methods of calculation. But if that's done on a voluntary basis then other companies can make up numbers and the whole project remains pretty useless.

Also, if genuine action only applies to a small proportion of a company's product's then it's not a serious commitment and will not have major impact. Despite being launched two years ago, the carbon label is still only on certain packets of Walkers, which in turn are only a small part of the PepsiCo product range. Just enough prominence to make it noteworthy for the press, not enough to qualify as actually taking it seriously.

The PepsiCo person who did it here for Walkers went over the Atlantic and did it again, this time looking into the carbon emissions from orange juice. And, again, I know it's used as greenwash horseshit but am still glad someone's giving us a ballpark figure.

PepsiCo finally came up with a number: the equivalent of 3.75 pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted to the atmosphere for each half-gallon carton of orange juice.

If you want to get metric, that's 899 grammes per litre, roughly equivalent to driving the average UK car for four miles.

Tesco are ramping it up a teensy bit, piloting carbon labels on around 100 of their products. (By the way, for their orange juice they found it was 1040g for a litre from concentrate, 960g for the fresh stuff).

It's now being suggested by MPs that products should have to carry carbon labelling.

a report from the Environmental Audit Committee said a proliferation of different environmental labels are confusing for consumers and allow companies to appear more eco-friendly than they actually are in a method known as "greenwash"

No shit. Check out this one on an envelope from Lovefilm. The three arrows design is generally regarded as to do with recycling. It gets abused for things that are 'recyclable'. But this doesn't even claim that.

Lovefilm envelope saying 'we use paper from sustainable forests'

Whatever those three arrows can mean, 'we use paper from sustainable forests' doesn't fit it.

The committee wants a robustly monitored system of environmental labels to show the impact of each product, including labels showing the carbon emissions produced, so that consumers can make a more informed choice.

Even if they bring out across the board mandatory carbon labelling, it's only helpful to those of us who look for it and act on it. More (and this is one of the key tricks of 'corporate social responsibility'), it casts the manufacturers and retailers in an absolved neutral role.

Leo Hickman picked up on that one.

What I really don't like about carbon labelling, though, is that is neatly passes the buck on to the consumer.

Meanwhile, Tesco gets to look all smug by boasting that it is doing its bit by empowering the consumer with such information. I would be far more impressed if it committed itself to removing from its shelves any product that doesn't cut the mustard in terms of environmental integrity.

Just as the food labelling gave us ingredients, then a nutrient breakdown and now the traffic light system so we can understand what's in front of us on the shelves and make choices for our health, so a properly audited (and inclusive of all emissions) carbon labelling system will enable us to make equally informed choices on the health of the environment.

But this needs coupling to something that gives more than just telling us the footprint or some self-regulated 'commitment' to reduce emissions. As the financial crisis has proven, self-regulation is something of an oxymoron.