environment & politics


Environmental Linkage

Europeans are wary of GMO foods:

Despite efforts from biotechnology companies such as Monsanto to promote GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods, a new poll announced November 12 shows that as many as 95 percent of European respondents rate GMO foods as potentially unsafe and lacking real benefits.

(I’ve written previously about the propaganda behind GM foods.) And remember the GM Salmon that was in the news recently? Even in the States, where biotech companies’ influence runs deep into government, the GM Salmon might be banned.

Big biotech companies that develop genetically modified (GM) organisms have spent more than half a billion dollars on campaign contributions and lobbying in the past decade, raising concerns about an upcoming Federal Drug Administration (FDA) decision that could approve GM salmon for human consumption, according to consumer group Food and Water Watch (FWW).

But the biotech industry has not wooed everyone in Washington. On Thursday, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) introduced legislation that would ban the GM salmon – sometimes called “frankenfish” – if the FDA approves it.

Carbon-capture and storage is the much-dreamed-about solution to reducing carbon emissions for coal-fired power stations (and therefore government targets) only so far it remains an act of faith. It requires removing the carbon dioxide from the industrial process and burying it in geological formations underground. Here, the Guardian reports on one of the last throws of the dice for this technology in the UK:

“The plant proposed for Longannet is the last and best candidate we have for building a device that could be fitted to existing power stations to extract and isolate their carbon emissions,” said CCS expert Professor Stuart Haszeldine of Edinburgh University. “All other carbon-capture schemes being considered by the government have either been rejected or withdrawn by their backers. This is all we have left. The government has yet to make its final commitment. It looks good, however.”

Finally, planners are beginning to realise that one of the reasons towns in the UK flood each year is because of the deforestation of the headlands. So, in Cumbria, the Woodland Trust plans to reforest “vulnerable land around the Derwent and Greta rivers” to form natural flood protection.


Hunt Ban Intact

It’s not a recent news article (two weeks old), and certainly not a hot topic right now; but I’m glad to see some sense is drifting into the odd Tory MP:

The election of a new generation of Conservative MPs opposed to bloodsports is likely to block attempts to repeal the ban on foxhunting with hounds, according to members of the latest Commons intake.

A full vote to legalise the pursuit of wild mammals with dogs is therefore unlikely to be held during this parliament because there is insufficient support, animal rights campaigners maintain. Figures on the parliamentary arithmetic collected by the League Against Cruel Sports are supported by soundings taken by some anti-hunting Tory MPs.

I think what annoys me the most about people who argue in favour of fox hunting is when they claim, as David Cameron did earlier this year:

The point is the fox population has to be controlled.

It is – as any ecologist would tell you – utter nonsense to think that hunting foxes in this way will have any impact.

Rather than distort reality, I would have more time for hunt supporters if they at least have the decency to say that they love trawling across the countryside killing things simply because they enjoy seeing animals in pain.

In that particular article, David Cameron implied that all farmers were on his side, but perhaps he neglected those farmers who disagree (they don’t have the ban in Ireland):

[Farmers Against Foxhunting and Trespass] maintain that foxhunters seek to keep themselves in business… and land… at someone else’s expense – namely the farmer,” the group said. “The hunts demand and expect that farmers should supply free of charge to them the most expensive part of their destructive pastime.”

It said the “so-called hunting fraternity” was composed of “vandals, law-breakers, and serial trespassers”.

“Foxhunters have no respect for farmers… for their land, crops, or livelihoods. They have trampled on our rights, land, and on the dignity of farmers, for decades.”

Ironically, it is quite often the hunting lobbies who claim to represent the views of rural people, when in fact the views of rural people are quite the opposite.

Is it simply about wealthy landowners trying to assert dominance? A note on historical context: the structure of the countryside has historically been about the dominance of needs the wealthy against the poor. The guilty secret of many large estates is that of the brutal clearance of the poor in order to make way for the likes of Capability Brown to craft his beautiful landscape gardens.

In Liberty Against the Law, Christopher Hill tells the story of the redistribution of land and wealth from rural labourers to the landed classes between the 16th and 18th centuries, and the rack-renting, eviction and persecution of the poor. For landless labourers, he says, the termination of rights to common land “meant the difference between a viable life and starvation”. Many died in the famines of the 1590s, 1620s and 1640s. Many more – 80,000 in the early 17th century, according to the historian Peter Clark – became vagabonds whose wandering put them on the wrong side of the law. They were branded, flogged back to their parishes, press-ganged by the navy and the merchant marine, or forced into industries whose conditions and wage rates were “little better than slavery”.

You won’t find that on a National Trust plaque.


The Big Society Decide To Hold A Meeting

Do you think this is what David Cameron meant when he talked about the Big Society?

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmudJafnQh0 500]

Here’s a report from the scene:

Screams and the smash of trodden glass cram the foyer as the ceiling-high windows, entirely broken through, fill with some of the 52,000 angry students and schoolchildren who have marched through the heart of London today to voice their dissent to the government’s savage attack on public education and public services. Cabinet ministers are cowering on the third floor, and through the smoke and shouting, a young man in a college hoodie crouches on top of the rubble that was once the front desk of the building, his red hair tumbling into his flushed, frightened face.

Edit: Interesting that the students are now endorsing nationwide direct action and are not distancing themselves from those who occupied Tory HQ.


The Fiction Of Neal Asher’s Science (Part One)

Neal Asher wishes to discredit Global Warming, a phenomena backed up by nearly 200 years of science and the laws of physics. Neal has been a science fiction writer for several years, and the quality of his books are not in dispute here; he seems a fine fellow, and a deservedly popular writer. But it is his science, or rather his lack of scientific knowledge, that I wish to dispute, and I do this because I believe posts such as his are damaging. At no point does he back up his statements with evidence, so I want to address what he says, because this is not the first time he has made such claims.

Let’s look at what he says.

The Global Warming faithful have been telling some very pig porkies for a long time and have been getting away with it. However, with Green taxes biting, revelations of bald-faced lies like the Mann Hockey Stick and the stream of bullshit that’s been coming out of East Anglia University, with a steady drop in seasonal temperatures over the last ten years and the last severely cold winter that the idealogically correct Met Office computer failed to predict, people are starting to wake up.

Where to begin… First of all, Neal makes the classic example of citing the Mann Hockey Stick as incorrect. This graph is the famous line graph that shows the shocking upward trend in average global temperatures recently when compared with the past 1000 years. The first mistake here is that there is one hockey stick (whereas there are in fact several). What Neal believes to be true is that the hockey stick was proven wrong. It was originally challenged by Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick (an economist and a mathematician), who have themsleves been thoroughly debunked. The case was investigated by U.S. Congress, and subsequently more than a dozen scientific papers (there are over a dozen hockey sticks) comprehensively backed up the original graph; moreover, the measurements taken from all over the world, in a variety of different ways, showed more than ever that the average global trend over the past 2000 years now and with the last 150 years revealing a severe increase.

Reconstructions of Northern Hemisphere temperatures for the last 1,000 years according to various older articles (bluish lines), newer articles (reddish lines), and instrumental record (black line). (Source.)

Neal’s second big error is the classic denier technique of cherry-picking data. He states: “with a steady drop in seasonal temperatures over the last ten years and the last severely cold winter”. What usually happens is that he, like many deniers, would pick a year like 1998, which was an unusually hot year – El Niño – and states that the preceding few years are cooler. He doesn’t look at global averages, which are what we should concern ourselves with. (Let’s not forget, we’re talking global climate and not local weather.) You can read more here.

Temperature measurements from satellites, land, sea and air across the globe, from NASA to the Met Office, all point to a global average increase. To state otherwise, with no evidence, you would have to be wilfully blind.

Asher then states that there is “bullshit that’s been coming out of East Anglia University”. He is referring to the hacked emails of climate scientists which, at best, showed that scientists are human beings and can be grumpy. There have been several inquires into the matter, all of which show that yes, the scientists were wrong to suppress access to their data in 1990, but that the science itself is sound. This was bad practice (science should be made free to all) but to make such claims – again, based on no evidence – should cause concern. I should repeat: the scientists at the centre of the row have been cleared. And repeatedly so.

Why does this matter? This is no global conspiracy, no dreaded left wing movement to tax us to death; one that even includes George Bush, admittedly a latecomer to the communist movement, and which dates back to 1824. People are dying, and will continue to die, unless something happens. For such untruths to spread across the internet is deeply, deeply immoral, and only serves to stop lives being saved.

And Neal Asher does this without referencing any peer-reviewed data whatsoever.

I’m afraid I’m heading out so I’ll have to leave it there. I’ll hopefully continue later this weekend.


Some Essential Questions

The UN warns of threat to human progress from climate change:

The United Nations warned today that a continued failure to tackle climate change was putting at risk decades of progress in improving the lives of the world’s poorest people.

In its annual flagship report on the state of the world, the UN said unsustainable patterns of consumption and production posed the biggest challenge to the anti-poverty drive.

“For human development to become truly sustainable, the close link between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions needs to be severed,” the UN said in its annual human development report.

How many more articles, daily scientific reports and lines of hard evidence connecting man’s activities to climate change do we need before we do something about it? How many more national and global scientific organisations do we need to add to the immense list of those who warn us about the dangers of relying upon fossil fuels? When the decades of science that proves man-made climate change is a reality is as tight as the science that connects HIV to aids and that smoking causes cancer, how much longer do people have to stand back being ambivalent about it, tittering about it being good for the UK wine industry, or it being nice to have hot weather up north? How many more millionaires are going to actively prevent society doing something about one of the largest disasters our generation will ever face? When the global average temperature creeps up and positive feedback mechanisms kick in, precisely what will the death toll need to be, from the exacerbated weather events or sky-high food prices and famine, before our conscience kicks in?

Several leading journalists have suggested climate change denial is as severe as Holocaust denial, and warnings such as this by the UN make me think that those accusers may well be on to something.

Carbon emissions need to be reduced on a national level, by an immense amount and very quickly. You know who to talk to… Go and talk to them about it.


The Great Forest Sell-Off

The Conservative government wishes to privatise the Forestry Commission and sell off much of our natural heritage:

Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, is expected to announce plans within days to dispose of about half of the 748,000 hectares of woodland overseen by the Forestry Commission by 2020. The controversial decision will pave the way for a huge expansion in the number of Center Parcs-style holiday villages, golf courses, adventure sites and commercial logging operations throughout Britain as land is sold to private companies. Legislation which currently governs the treatment of “ancient forests” such as the Forest of Dean and Sherwood Forest is likely to be changed giving private firms the right to cut down trees. Laws governing Britain’s forests were included in the Magna Carta of 1215, and some date back even earlier.

If you think this is a good way saving money, you would do well to look at the numbers and see that the commission makes £63million income per year against the £30million subsidy. This is not about saving money, it’s about the putting the interests of private business owners over the vast majority of the population who enjoy these forests.

Now the Forestry Commission looks after vast amounts of estates, and many of these are indeed for generating sustainable timber etc, but it exists for the “protection and expansion” of Britain’s woodlands. What privatising it would mean is that large chunks of forest would end up in ownership of a few seriously wealthy people looking to set up some business proposition (land is expensive – it will go to the very rich, and the very rich are very good at telling the government what to do). It will take public land out of our hands. It will see the destruction of something that has taken decades to develop. It is a natural heritage; a haven for biodiversity and sustaining rich ecosystems; environmental protection against flooding. Once it’s gone – it really is gone.

You could of course sign this online petition, and you should. But if you genuinely care about woodlands, what would be much more beneficial is if you wrote to your MP. In fact, write with the clear intention of getting him or her to do something about this – be it sign an Early Day Motion, or to write to ask him or her to write to Caroline Spelman about the matter. Be clear about what the negative effects are (environmental damage, biodiversity, risks of flooding, and a potential reduction in public access rights). Do not write an email – write an actual letter, because MPs often use the amount of physical mail they receive as a barometer of public opinion.

You can find your local MP here. I’m afraid a vote in a ballot box only goes so far in the UK.


“Nothing Is Real Anymore. Nothing Is As It Seems.”

An Astroturf campaign:

… is a fake grassroots movement: it purports to be a spontaneous uprising of concerned citizens, but in reality it is founded and funded by elite interests. Some Astroturf campaigns have no grassroots component at all. Others catalyse and direct real mobilisations. The Tea Party belongs in the second category. It is mostly composed of passionate, well-meaning people who think they are fighting elite power, unaware that they have been organised by the very interests they believe they are confronting. We now have powerful evidence that the movement was established and has been guided with the help of money from billionaires and big business. Much of this money, as well as much of the strategy and staffing, were provided by two brothers who run what they call “the biggest company you’ve never heard of”.

Charles and David Koch own 84% of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the United States. It runs oil refineries, coal suppliers, chemical plants and logging firms, and turns over roughly $100bn a year; the brothers are each worth $21bn…

Americans for Prosperity is one of several groups set up by the Kochs to promote their politics. We know their foundations have given it at least $5m, but few such records are in the public domain and the total could be much higher. It has toured the country organising rallies against healthcare reform and the Democrats’ attempts to tackle climate change. It provided the key organising tools that set the Tea Party running…

Astroturfing is now taking off in the United Kingdom. Earlier this month Spinwatch showed how a fake grassroots group set up by health insurers helped shape the Tories’ NHS reforms. Billionaires and corporations are capturing the political process everywhere; anyone with an interest in democracy should be thinking about how to resist them. Nothing is real any more. Nothing is as it seems.

The real world is a far more frightening place than could be created by the combined minds of the freakiest SFF writers. What’s more concerning is how few people know, and that fewer even care. It’s as if by closing our eyes to this that we’re all narrating our own apocalyptic futures.


The Slasher Strikes

It turns out – as we all suspected – that the poor must pay massively for the blundering mistakes of libertarian dreamers:

The Treasury graph below shows that, as a percentage of net income, the poorest 10 per cent pay more than every other group, with the exception of the richest 10 per cent. Osborne deliberately avoided this fact by noting that the richest pay more in cash terms (a less progressive measure). If you strip out the pre-announced measures from the Budget (the black line), the graph shows that the poorest 10 per cent have actually lost the most from the Spending Review. The overall effect of the measures announced today is therefore clearly regressive.

Perhaps for many it comes as no surprise. It is evidence of the Shock Doctrine in action:

Can you see the pattern yet? Public bodies whose purpose is to hold corporations to account are being swept away. Public bodies whose purpose is to help boost corporate profits, regardless of the consequences for people and the environment, have sailed through unharmed. What the two lists suggest is that the economic crisis is the disaster the Conservatives have been praying for. The government’s programme of cuts looks like a classic example of disaster capitalism: using a crisis to re-shape the economy in the interests of business.

Not even in the Witch’s wildest dreams was so much stolen from so many by so few, but this was, after all, the party of Pinochet – and we can all see that the same plan is still being followed.

Across the water, one can’t help but admire the ability of the French to say, “Non!” to their own reforms.