Thursday, 24 December 2009

Open Letter to Chevron

An open letter from Amazon Watch to the incoming Chairman and CEO of Chevron, Mr. John S. Watson:

Dear Mr. Watson:

I write to you on behalf of Amazon Watch to express our hope that as Chief Executive of Chevron Corporation you will have the fortitude and vision to genuinely address the most painful and immediate challenge facing your company - the Ecuador disaster.

Our hope is that you will not miss this critical opportunity to resolve the human and environmental tragedy in Ecuador and transform Chevron into the responsible 21st century energy company professed in 'The Chevron Way' and in your 'Human Energy' advertising campaigns.

Your company is currently facing a $27.3 billion financial liability in Ecuador. We ask that you reflect on Chevron's handling of the Ecuador situation over the course of the last decade. You should remember Chevron's Annual General Shareholder Meeting in April 2001 - on the eve of the Texaco acquisition - when I delivered to your company a binder, titled "El Dorado," with more than 500 pages of comprehensive evidence documenting Texaco's massive environmental contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. At that meeting, I warned Chevron that by acquiring Texaco the company would not only take on the moral responsibility of rectifying the tragedy in the Amazon, but also assume a very costly financial liability.

Despite increasing shareholder and analyst concern, the growing public demand that Chevron take responsibility for its actions in Ecuador, and the resulting multi-billion liability they have spawned, Amazon Watch has witnessed your company pursue an expensive, ethically questionable, and counterproductive policy with regard to the Ecuador case.

Mr. Watson, as you surely know, the situation on the ground is dire. Thousands of acres of once pristine rainforest have been devastated by oil pollution. More than 30,000 indigenous peoples and campesinos have been left without clean water to drink. Children play beside toxic waste pits. Young women have been ravaged by stomach and uterine cancer due to poisoned water. As you are well aware, Texaco has admitted to having deliberately released 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the waterways of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and to having left hundreds of abandoned unlined pits filled with crude oil and poison sludge over the course of more than two decades of oil operations. And now, as a direct result, a devastating public health crisis has consumed the region.

We are keenly attuned to Chevron's public relations strategy with respect to this matter. The basic approach is to consistently blame the contamination of the Amazon on Petroecuador, Ecuador's National Oil Company. Petroecuador's poor record of environmental stewardship - largely because it has used an oil production system built by Texaco and designed to pollute - does not diminish Texaco's responsibility for catastrophic contamination from 1964 to 1990. Texaco's deliberate dumping dwarfs any subsequent pollution. Rather than continuing to shift the blame to Petruecuador, it is time for Chevron to assume the responsibility for Texaco's legacy in Ecuador.

To remind you of Texaco's unethical practices in the 1970's, we have attached here a confidential memorandum from the Chairman of the Texaco Board of Directors to the Acting Manager of Texaco in Ecuador in 1972. The memo instructs the staff only to report "major events as per Oil Spill Response Plan" if they attract "the attention of press and/or regulatory authorities" and goes on to instruct: "no reports are to be kept on a routine basis and all previous reports to be removed...and destroyed." We trust that as the incoming CEO of Chevron, you do not condone this kind of denial, neglect and obfuscation made plain in the 1972 Texaco memo. We are interested in hearing your position on the matter.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, it is our understanding that you have never been to Ecuador, Mr. Watson. It is of great concern to us, and should be to you, that the information and advice provided to Chevron senior management since the Texaco acquisition has lacked integrity and independence. We do not believe that a well-informed and responsible senior management team could reasonably pursue the current "blind fight" legal and public relations strategy if it indeed possessed accurate information. Consequently, and with the best intentions, we would like to invite you to visit the affected region of Ecuador in the sincere hope that seeing the abandoned toxic waste pits and poisoned waters and hearing the innumerable stories of human suffering will move you to do the right thing.

Until Chevron takes meaningful steps to resolve this case, it will continue to play out in the courts of Ecuador, as well as in the global court of public opinion. You have a choice between allowing the ongoing suffering and environmental devastation in Ecuador to tarnish your company's reputation, or providing a bold example of 'The Chevron Way,' which states "We respect the law, support universal human rights, protect the environment, and benefit the communities where we work."

Rather than continue to battle the communities that have already paid a heavy price to enrich Chevron, we believe you have an opportunity to help bring an end to their decades of needless suffering.

We don't make these suggestions lightly or symbolically; we appeal to you to resolve this human and environmental tragedy, and lead Chevron into a new era of meaningful corporate social responsibility.

We look forward to your response.


Atossa Soltani

Executive Director
Amazon Watch

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

"I'm here to represent my child"

An English activist who marched on the Reclaim Power action in Copenhagen on 16th Dec 2009 explains why he did it.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Cop Out Camp Out

Climate Campers swooped on the centre of Copenhagen to protest against the Hopenhagen campaign which activists claim is symbolic of the greenwash clouding talks at the climate summit.

Fifty odd demonstrators sprang the surprise protest at City Hall Square shortly after seven on Thursday evening. The Hopenhagen campaign has taken over the square to provide a space for people to call for a fair deal at the CoP15 talks.

However, one of the main sponsors of the event is Coca Cola who recently launched a PR campaign focusing on water use despite continuing to steal vast quantities of water from communities in India to feed their thirsty factories.

The protest was also an act of solidarity with activists who have been camped out in London for the duration of the talks in an effort to draw attention to the false solutions being discussed in the Bella Center.

The action began when a number of activists set up their pop up tents beneath the giant spherical video screen at the heart of the Hopenhagen arena.

Police initially asked questions before trying to stop more tents being erected but overwhelmed by the influx of further demonstrators retreated and called for support.

Activists formed a human chain around the few tents and sang chants such as "Our climate, not your business!".

Minutes later a senior officer arrived but somewhat surprisingly announced that campers were free to stay for up to an hour despite having no permission. A quick consensus decision was taken in the group and police agreed to let people stay until midnight and the tents stay until 2.00am.

Shortly after, activists walked over to the glass TV2 television studio and held up banners outside during a live broadcast.

By 11:30pm only a few activists remained alongside their tents and they were reportedly driven back to the crash space in Vestvolden by police after midnight.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Reclaim the Power - Inside the Bella Centre

Janneke Romijn of the Global Forest Coalition explains what happened inside the Bella Centre during the Reclaim the Power action on 16th Dec 2009.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Night in the cells

Music from the party, before the police raided/

Monday 14th December, 2009

Throughout the week, the autonomous community of Christiania has been host to a large marquee laying on food and providing entertainment and workshops for activists. On Monday night a party was thrown for activists after a massive participatory panel discussion (more on that later).

After Naomi Klein and the panel finished the tent was transformed into a mini-rave with musical equipment rolled out and a giant screen erected on stage. Hundreds of people stayed behind and the music started bouncing out of the soundsystem, accompanied by visuals of street protests, riots, cops and oil rigs. At first the crowd was quiet and thin but as the locally brewed beer started flowing and the musician started with the percussion the vibe picked up and the atmosphere was electric, with more people joining in as the night went on.

Close to 11pm, the music - some gypsy-ska-punk-beats crazy stuff - suddenly cut out and somebody appeared on stage with a mic. They announced that riots had broken out in the streets nearby and police were using tear gas but that people were safe in Christiania, which was a kind of sanctuary. People didn't seem too alarmed despite the unmistakeable smell of tear gas seeping into the tent. The guy on stage said we should carry on dancing and the DJ started the music again. If anything, people rallied around the fact shit was kicking off outside and partied harder.

The smell of tear gas kept creeping in and out, getting stronger each time. We could hear the police helicopter outside and occasional explosions. The DJ was giving us updates every so often, reminding us all of the after party which happened to be at a venue slap bang in the middle of the riots. It was like tuning in to some kind of fucked up pirate radio station in the belly of deepest, darkest London.

I ventured outside to the toilets, risking the tear gas which can really irritate contact lenses. As I headed back inside a red projectile fizzed over a wall spewing grey smoke and landed yards away from the tent. I looked around - all I could see was party goers. The only things they held in their hands were bottles of beer. Inside, the dancefloor was noticeably quieter and I suggested to Raph, one of the legal observers I was with and Alex, another camper, that we try and get out of dodge. It was obvious the police weren't content with tackling rioters, they wanted us too.

We dived through the fire exit on the other side of the tent and climbed up a tree covered dyke to get a view of the enclave. The helicopter was right above us now and its spotlight was sweeping across Christiania. On the other side of the dyke lay the water. Christiania is roughly in the middle of a triangular-shaped island, its only exits, the bridges, were to the south, in the direction of the riots. As we poured over a map and tried to figure an escape route another gas grenade exploded nearby and Italian voices on the path along the dyke screamed at us to move, that the police were coming in.

We ran along the top of the dyke and decided to go down, back into Christiania again. Wisps of tear gas were hanging in the air, stinging the back of the throat but not so strongly that it made breathing difficult. Crowds of people were walking in different directions but there was little sense of urgency or even panic. Then out of nowhere cries of "hak, hak, hak!" drifted through the darkness and the silhouettes of riot cops running towards us appeared in the dim light of the square to our right. All hell broke loose and people started running into the next little street, by the Woodstock bar. Somebody shouted "Don't run, don't panic" and people calmed down. The police ran straight past us and ignored us. We poked our heads around another corner and another squad of cops charged at us, but they too ignored us.

At this point we were in a kind of square. On two parallel sides were the ex-military barracks turned into accomodation. In the middle was the hut that comprised the Woodstock bar and on the third side was a line of shops. Along this little street was another square, where most of the drug pushers sell their goods. This is where the police were currently standing, flashing lights in our direction but apparently not bothered by our presence. The shadows filled with more police bodies and as we questioned why they may have raided the peaceful freetown the police charged at us again. This time they came from all directions, swarming around us. Faced with rushing cops brandishing batons Alex and I got close to the wall of the Woodstock bar, as did most others. The police forced us right up to the wall, threatening us with a beating if we didn't comply, which everybody did, bar one mouth from the door of the bar.

The time was now midnight and for nearly forty minutes we sat against the wall. To my left the police threw a couple of black clad Italians to the ground, shouting at them to get down before slapping on the plasticuffs. Not far away I could hear the piercing screams of a girl in distress, punctuated by the occasional "fuck you!". She was thrown to the ground next to me too and soon stopped screaming. Minutes later these people were hauled up and led away. Somebody inside the bar started blasting out "Fuck the Police" by NWA. All the time, photographers ambled around, flashes popping in the pitch black night. I was glad for their presence, especially as the cop in front of me kept stroking her pistol.

After one hench motherfucker of a copper shined a flashlight in each of our faces we picked up and lead to nearby picnic tables and searched individually. I asked why I was being searched:

"You will be told at the first available opportunity."

"But I want to know, now!"

"I can't tell you."

And with that, the cop told me to wear my backpack on my chest and then strapped the plasticuffs on me, pulling them tight so they dug into my skin. Then I was lead around the corner and dropped to the floor, where I had to sit with my legs apart so others could sit up tight to me. I felt somebody sit behind me, his back resting against mine. His fingers gripped mine and I turned my head. "Italiano?" he said. English, I replied. We both sighed. Cops walked up and down counting us in what sounded like German. We sat here, on the cold hard ground for about half an hour in three single file lines. I was losing track of time. Everybody around me was speaking Italian. I looked for a familiar face but couldn't see one. God knows where Raph had gone.

Eventually, we were picked up one by one and led away through Christiania towards the exit. As we were picked up a policewoman with a video camera filmed our faces. We were paraded by a dozen different photographes and cameramen, past a smoldering fire close to the entrance and onto the streets. Police vans were everywhere and foam was running through the gutters. I was manhandled past a waiting police coach and thrown to the ground again and put in another line. I spotted one cop with his helmet off taking photos of us with a little digital camera. Many more were gloating, smiling and laughing amongst themselves. This time mats were provided but minutes later we were picked up and put on the coach. All the girls were put at the back, the guys near the front. Again, everybody seemed to be Italian.

The coach set off down the deserted streets which were lined with meatwagons and at the intersection with the main road, two riot vans parted to let us through. I looked out of the window and people lined the streets, shouting at the bus and raising a fist of solidarity.

We were sped across to the other side of the city with the sirens wailing and lights flashing. At the detention centre the bus waited for nearly half an hour outside before we were taken off individually and led inside, onto benches in two marked areas set aside for males and females. Every now and then the Italians sang a little chant. The only ones I understood were "liberte", "Freedom" and "toilet".

It was now two hours since we were lined up against the wall and still we hadn't been told why we were detained. One by one the police picked us up, led us through a doorway and into a hallway with about fifteen desks, each staffed by a couple of cops wearing gloves. Behind these desks stood plain clothes officers, watching things carefully. My plasticuffs, much to my relief, were finally cut off and I was told to remove my bag, jacket, shoes and belt and everything was piled in to a plastic box by my feet. I was handed a piece of paper explaining why I was here, under what powers and what my rights were. Basically, I had none. I was here because I may have been involved in public disorder, that was it.

I was were guided through another doorway into the holding centre. This was a large room full of cages, in turn full of detainees. There is no other way to describe it then as it being like a dog rescue centre full of kennels. After being allowed to the toilet I was put in a cage with eight other guys - Italians and Danes - and given a blanket and rollmat. I was kept until just after 5am when they released nearly all of us, gave me back my stuff and put us back on a coach. Then we were driven to the nearest train station - they refused to tell us where we going - and dropped off, in the middle of nowhere as far I was concerned. But we were free, after five hours of detention for fuck knows why, I was free again. Now I just had to figure out how to get home...

Monday, 14 December 2009

Hit the Production, Close the Harbour

One of the main actions planned for Sunday 13th was the so called Hit the Production demo, which hoped to shut down Copenhagen harbour in a symbolic action against one of the symbols of capitalism - the global shipping trade. The demonstration would meet at the Trianglen in the north of the city and head towards the harbour but it hadn't been sanctioned by the police so arrests were likely.

At first the march was quiet. At the front stood people clutching a yellow and black banner that wouldn't have looked out of place at the Hacienda had it not included an anti-capitalist slogan. Those holding it looked quiet and determined. Many were dressed in black but few had covered their faces. Next to this banner was another, with the word Co2lonialism in white writing on a black background. At this point it was hard to tell how many protesters were there. The number seemed small, surely under a thousand, whilst scores of journalists and photographers scurried around getting images of the illegal assembly.

Further back a small truck with a soundsystem rolled up. Its sides had been dropped down and a number of protesters stood inside, clutching a microphone. Its arrival seemed to spur on the rest of the march and the vanguard set off. All this time, police in hi-vis jackets had stood at some distance from the demonstration which as far as we were aware still had no permission. As it moved off down Osterbrogade the police followed, keeping their distance but this time pulling their riot helmets on. At the rear, a number of blue police vans spread across the width of the road and followed the procession.

The activists in the back of the truck started chanting, something unintelligible, likely in Danish, but it sounded good. Osterbrogade turned into Dag Hammerskjolds Alle and ahead in the distance lay the US Embassy. One of the cops holding a megaphone pulled out some plastic coated sheets and the media swooped on him as he read something out in Danish, presumably the first warning to disperse. People shouted back to say it in English but the request was ignored.

As we neared the embassy more police vans came roaring up to meet the demonstration, lurching to a halt in front of the Embassy which almost looked abandoned. A guy on the mic in the truck began shouting in broken English that we were doing nothing wrong, that we had a right to demonstrate and that we shouldn't fear the police, in between politically charged hip hop tunes. More cops, suited and booted and ready for a riot, spilled out of the vans from the rear and trotted alongside the march which carried on regardless, past the the US Embassy and onwards to Osterport station.
Hundreds of people, probably over a thousand, walked down the street along the cycle lanes and pavement, avoiding getting embroiled in the main body of the march and ignoring pleas from the soundsystem to form one solid bloc. It was hard to tell how many of these were reluctant protesters eager to avoid the likely police response or curious passersby and pedestrians. The street here is really wide and almost dwarfed the march, probably making it appear smaller than it actually was.

At the station we began to turn left onto Folke Bernadottes Alle towards the harbour and this is where the police made their move. The march ground to a halt and before we realised what was happening police encircled us all. To my right was the Kastellat (on the other side is the Little Mermaid). Some people, sensing the imminent kettle and probable arrest, tried to head off along a path beside the junction but some cops hopped over the wall from the road and shoved people back into the kettle. Others dared to slide down the embankment leading to the castle moat, covered in trees and bushes. Some made their escape but most were picked up by police further along.

We began to squeeze together and journalists piled in as a scuffle broke out beside the truck. The police were trying to board it and were tugging at those on board. A missile was thrown at the police and I could hear dogs barking in front of me. Within minutes the activists on the truck were hauled off and it was driven away through the police line leaving a patch of broken glass which turned out to be the driver's window which had been smashed in by the cops.

We were getting crushed together on all sides by the police and I found myself stuck between the first police line and another, mainly of police vans lined bumper to bumper. One guy made a break for it but was picked off by a giant cop who slung him back into the crowd. Chants of "This is what democracy looks like!" rang out. Some people behind me started sliding between a gap in the wall and the first police van but the driver inched forward and squeezed them out. The vans behind did the same and cops in the immediate frontline began picking at people behind them and throwing them into the central crowd. We noticed the footplate on the back of one of the police vans meant there was a good foot or so of space between them and clambered over the plate to get out of the kettle. The driver in the van looked on helpless.

Outside the kettle it became apparent that the police had actually formed two kettles, having split the group in half. Police vans were dotted everywhere and the intersection was a mess of blue meatwagons, riot cops, protesters, pedestrians and press. Traffic was still moving through and a French guy with a peace flag wrapped around his body crawled into the lane to try and stop it. A burly cop stood on his trousers and pinned him to the ground to allow traffic through but undeterred the kid started crawling around in a circle.

Soon the traffic stopped and the cop let go of him, smiling. This was a signal for all his friends to join him and with a cry of "Everybody, die!" more flopped on top of each other in the street, stopping an oncoming bus. The police seemed disinterested at first but after a while they ordered them to get up or face arrest. Many sprang up immediately and began pleading with their friends but the original held out fastidiously until eventually he was manhandled out of the way.I noticed one of the French girls had bright red eyes and what looked like sores all over her face. I overheard her talking to a journalist saying that the cops used tear gas inside the kettle. I didn't see any so wondered if she meant pepper spray, but was later informed by somebody else that they heard it used at one point.

We bumped into more climate campers who had escaped the kettle and sensed another move by police to round up the stragglers and outliers so decided to get out of dodge. Police buses had already arrived to take away detainees. As we were heading away from the protest a radio journalist breathlessly asked us if we had a camera, telling us that two undercover cops had been spotted throwing missiles into the crowd. He pointed them out, two shady looking characters both dressed in the same black windcheaters and wearing gloves. Aware that people were growing suspicious the two agent provocateurs sidled off and started walking away from the protest. Fellow camper Alex and I followed them all the way back to the Trianglen, on the off chance they jumped in the back of a police van but we lost them. Realising that was our demonstration over we grabbed a coffee and took a breather.

Daniel Vockins (Age of Stupid) at Klima Forum

Daniel Vockins from the Age of Stupid team talks about The Stupid Show at Cop15.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

An Uneventful Bus Trip

The Bus Journey. 1600 Fri 11th Dec - 1500 Sat 12th Dec.

The Climate Campers were instantly recognisable, a rag tag bunch of bedraggled youths loitering beneath the bridge surrounded by backpacks and clanking camping equipment. One of the teachers - the campers charged with seeing each coach through the mammoth trip unscathed - patiently signed people in and appointed them to coaches depending on the degree of their personal aversion to the mainstream media. Some of these meeja folk were already milling around with their giant cameras, including, strangely enough, Chinese State TV. I wonder if they film dissent in their own country so keenly?

As it neared the departure time one camper commandeered a megaphone and marshalled us all across the road, bringing traffic to a halt and invoking the wrath of London cabbies and irate motorcyclists. Soon after we pulled away, a convoy of three coaches slipped into rush hour London traffic, the sort that pumps vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, all so the suit from Morgan Stanley can get home without having to mingle with the proles. To widespread delight we'd been blessed with a toilet. Despite countless warnings about drinking too much for risk of pissing ourselves because the ooaches would lack such basic amenities, we actually had a toilet on board. It's the little things in life, especially when you consider millions of people don't have access to such sanitation.

We waxed lyrical about corporations and the environment, laughed at photos of the Danish police detention cell (think Danish interior design meets Gitmo) and forged friendships with the many likeminded folk (200 odd) who had made the choice to venture to Copenhagen. Close to Dover our legal observer took the mic and gave us our briefing about getting out of the UK. Much had been made about the police and border agents' propensity to use schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act to hinder activists travelling abroad. The legislation gives authorities the right to detain people for up to nine hours to ascertain whether they may be taking part in terrorist activity, the definition of which is so broad it could include travelling to Copenhagen to put pressure on our leaders to reach a fair deal. Corporate lobbyists are exempt, natch.

A number of activists who tried travelling to Copenhagen weeks earlier had been questioned - it's a criminal offence not to answer quesitions, so forget about your right to remain silent - and some prevented from leaving the country. An email circulating around the campers warned we may be pulled aside and asked quesitions such as: "What do your parents do? What papers do they read? What papers do you read?". In the end, nobody asked anything. Immigration control didn't even ask to see our passports. We were waved through with all the attention a Daily Mail reader pays to a tramp in the street. The authorities must have been busy watching Hollyoaks in the comfort of their huts, or something.

On the ferry across the channel we sank pints, offered interviews to some of the 'embedded' media and wrestled on the deck in the freezing cold. Bonding, I assume. Then it was a swift drive through France and another stop in Belgium where some poor sod manning the service station shop alone was inundated with scores of hippies trying to determine which of the sandwiches in the chiller cabinet were vegetarian.

Coaches were not designed for sleeping in but we made a sterling effort nonetheless. Among the most interesting of positions were the dead bodies approach adopted by the couple in front of us, who collapsed in a pile on top of each other and didn't stir for hours. Or the "sleeping in the aisle" tactic as used by my travelling buddy Helen, which pleased me because it meant i could curl up across both our seats.

We woke up in Germany, where you have to spend a penny to spend a penny in the service stations. Or to be precise, 50 cents. Of course, few of us actually did pay 50 cents, opting to hop over the turnstile instead, as did I, quickly followed by the attendant who had glanced at the CCTV in time to see a lanky, hairy Yorkshireman vault the barrier. Despite having my penis in my hand he charged up to the urinal and demanded 50 cents from me. I played dumb and claimed I had no change (actually, I didn't) and exclaimed I'd pay after. I didn't travel all this way to get busted for ducking out of paying for the toilet.

We forged ahead, barreling down the autobahns towards the border with Denmark. Now that the sun had risen we could see the full extent of the German delectation for wind turbines. Clusters of them dotted the landscape, hundreds of them in fact. Whenever we looked out of the window there was another wind farm. It puts the UK to shame. Denmark is no different, albet on a smaller scale. At any one time, look out of the window and you will see a wind turbine, even if it's only one, somewhere in view.

The wires were telling us that our intended and long winded route by road into Denmark was subject to delays of up to five hours as border police searched coaches and passengers meticulously, so we opted to go for the ferry at Fehmarn. This turned out to be a canny decision as we were waved through on the German side without any hassle. We expected more on the Danish side and held our breaths as our coach was pulled over and our passports collected. Beside us, a car carrying a family of activists was being searched with the help of a little labrador. At one point, police removed a bag of what looked like boiler suits from the vehicle, but before we could dwell on it further our passports were returned and we were sent our way without so much as a single glance from the police. Only the open road lay between us and Copenhagen.

Monday, 7 December 2009

COP15: It begins

I've been a bit quiet on here lately, I do apologise, but I've been busy with mountains of university work (more on that later) and a bit of the sniffles. Nonetheless, the Copenhagen summit kicked off today and on Friday I'll be leaving merry old England on a coach with the Climate Camp crew for a week gallivanting around the Danish capital. I'll be blogging and updating via Twitter daily so keep an eye out.

For the time being, here's a few links of interest.

Whilst the attention is fixated on Copenhagen for the next couple of weeks, maybe some pressure can be put on the Danish government to cease the cruel slaughter of dolphins in the Danish territory of the Faroe Islands?
Link via @huwspanner

Take a brewery, throw in some Gitmo-inspired interior design and what do you get? Detention centres, Copenhagen style.

"Critics call the holding pens — and a variety of other security preparations made as thousands of government officials, heads of state, environmental groups and assorted anarchists descend on the Danish capital — over the top. The police say the reactions of the critics are overheated, if predictable."

The first issue of a newsletter (pdf) produced in Copenhagen, "giving the latest news from COP15 and climate struggles across the globe. It is produced collective by Institute for Security Studies, Carbon Trade Watch, and Earthlife Africa Jhb."

Includes articles on global trade from an environment perspective, the carbon lobby and a fact sheet exploring why the talks are on the wrong path. There's even a crossword.

Climate Camp have occupied part of Trafalgar Square and intend to stay there for the duration of the Copenhagen talks. Follow events on the Climate Camp website.

Monday, 23 November 2009

"We will come for you", police warned

There'll be less of this

Police officers across London are quaking in their steel toed boots following an ominous message from a senior member of the Met.

If they are hanging around with colleagues and one turns violent and someone else gets hurt, they too could be facing a criminal prosecution.

If someone dies, they too could be charged with murder, even if they did not so much as shove an innocent man in a protest on the capital's streets.

"Standing by is not a defence," said the Metropolitan Police's Detective Superintendent Simon Morgan on situations where a gang of anonymously clad riot cops leads to trouble.

Employing a centuries old custom called "Monopoly on Violence", police in London have been aggressively pursuing young and old alike who are present for protests and demonstrations in the beating heart of capitalism.

Now, this anachronistic romp in the concrete and steel-lined avenues of exploitation is in jeopardy following a surprising clampdown from upon high.

"Anybody and everybody that is involved in an incident of violence, we will look to identify them and if the evidence is there, we will look to prosecute them," Det Supt Morgan told BBC's Panorama.

A law based on the idea of 'Joint Enterprise' will finally be applied to the police who have faced stinging criticism for their brutal treatment of political protesters.

Joint Enterprise is about sharing the responsibility of a crime and it ensures that police officers who egg on a colleague to violence or who issue a rallying order to others face the same charges as the person who lands the fatal blow.

Ian Tomlinson was only in his forties when he was set upon and beaten in the City of London during the G20 protests in April.

Several police officers dressed in black and armed with batons and shields were present when Mr Tomlinson, a non-protester on his way home from work, was shoved violently to the ground in an unprovoked attack.

Mr Tomlinson died from an abdominal haemorrhage soon after the incident. The officer who delivered the possibly fatal shove has been questioned on suspicion of manslaughter.

The Met are keen to impress that it's not just individuals who could be held responsible for such attacks though.

It is a theme they are taking directly to London bobbies via a speaking tour and a video presentation at police stations across the city.

In the video, Det Supt Morgan says: "If you are involved in a murder in any way, shape or form, we will come to you. We will find you. We will come at a time when you don't expect us and we will enter your life.

"We will invade your home. Invariably your front door will be removed. We will enter, this will be in front of your parents and your family, possibly your friends, and we will change your life."

The application of the joint enterprise law has drawn criticism from some officers who worry that it is being too widely applied, a concern backed by some in legal circles.

Professor Jeremy Horder of the Law Commission said joint enterprise is being used as a blanket power to prosecute those simply present during a crime, not just those who are culpable.

"It may be that only some members of the gang endorsed or encouraged or helped the killing, others did nothing of the sort. But they're all being scooped up in with it."

This worries many in the force who have stood and continue to stand idly by whilst protesters face the frightening brutality of the strong arm of the state.

Despite Ian Tomlinson posing no threat to heavily armoured riot cops - he even had his back turned and his hands in his pockets - none of the officers present were inclined to stop the severe treatment meted out to him by the few bullies in the gang, a blatant contradiction of the police ethic "to serve and protect".

Time will only tell if the videos and lectures will have any effect on the behaviour of riot police on the streets of London or if more systematic changes are required to bring the police in line with basic human rights.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Case in point

Case in point: why does Mandy gets so much room to manoeuvre? This tweet was in response to accusations that Mandy is cutting funds for adult education.

Sorry to labour the point (groan...) but this is what I'm getting at regarding my earlier post about Labour, a seeming lack of criticism (at least publicly) within the party when it comes to New Labour lackeys who keep on pushing it.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

An incoherent ramble about Labour

It's going to take more than a loin stirring video to pull me over to Labour. See, this is the thing that has been annoying me about the Labour party for some time, that there seems to be a complete inability amongst the Labour government and Parliamentary party to admit that they've been a complete let down on many values.

It's all very well and good bleating on about how, historically, Labour have been the party of the working class and the underprivileged, but when you consider some of the things they've done in the past twelve years it grates, it really fucking grates. New Labour got into bed with big business and it seems few people in the party have the balls to stand up and say "Enough!", or to at least acknowledge that mistakes have been made.

How exactly does spiralling debt for students equate to the party for the underprivileged? Since when would a party of the working class continue to put up with an unelected second chamber based on inherited wealth and power? Where is the solidarity in actively promoting the sale of weapons to repressive regimes, and then pulling the plug on an inquiry into bribery and corruption? How do you reconcile fervent capitalism and weak trade union links with the left? What, exactly, is socialist about clinging to the coat tails of a bloody and imperialist adventure in the Middle East?

Seriously, how dare Labour claim any kind of moral high ground when they pursue ID cards, nuclear weapons, draconian internet policies, contradictory environmental policies and ever encroaching restrictions on civil liberties?

The past means nothing if the present and future looks bleak.

I'm not party political, I don't associate myself with any particular party, but as a staunch leftie I feel like I should have some kind of affinity with Labour. But how can I when they constantly pander to the interests of big business and show a lack of commitment to left principles?

And where is the bloody dissent?!

I know the grassroots and many backbenchers don't believe the New Labour hype, but why is there barely a murmur about it? Is there some kind of strange disease afflicting Labour whereby people are loyal to the party rather than the cause? As Cardiff Blogger once tweeted, you could put a red rosette on a cow and still some tweeps would vote Labour. Why has New Labour been able to continue unabated for so long? Why do people simply turn a blind eye and mutter "it'll be worse under the Tories"?


ADDITION: To be more succinct, I feel let down by Labour. Not by New Labour - to me they're so far removed they may as well be a completely different party, they've shown their true colours and I've come to accept that now. It's the old guard that have let me down, those who disagree with the New Labour project, who share my values, but who have kept quiet and let it continue.

Monday, 16 November 2009

You've Been Framed

Chevron Texaco's latest effort to evade a multi-billion dollar lawsuit for dumping toxic waste in Ecuador is collapsing like a house of cards. Secretly filmed videos which supposedly show Ecuadorian officials agreeing to a bribe as part of a remediation contract for the Amazon disaster suddenly have more plot holes than an episode of Lost.

The four edited videos were posted to YouTube by the oil company at the end of August, after having been recorded by American Wayne Hansen and Ecuadorian Diego Borja in an apparent display of civic duty to unearth wrongdoing. Or in an effort by Chevron to smear a trial which could cost them 20% of their market value?

The character of Wayne Hansen has been called into question in a report by a San Francisco investigator working for the Chevron Toxico campaign group. In the videos, Hansen claims to be an 'American businessman' specialising in environmental remediation, the perfect candidate to clean up Chevron’s mess.

They must have got him confused with somebody else however, because Hansen is unknown in the American environmental sector and the most notable business on his resume is drug trafficking, for which he spent 19 months in jail.

According to the Associated Press:
“Court records show that Hansen, 62, pleaded guilty to charges of facilitating the importation of marijuana in a 1987 case in Brownsville, Texas. A co-defendant said that Hansen was in charge of buying a DC-7 that prosecutors alleged would be used to fly 275,000 pounds (124,740 kilos) of marijuana to the United States from Colombia.

“Hansen, a U.S. citizen who served 19 months in federal prison in that case, also lost civil lawsuits charging him with unleashing two pitbulls on a neighbor and her golden retriever, and with tearing up the walls of another person's house with a jackhammer, according to California county court records and the plaintiffs.”

Chevron initially said their only connection with the second film maker, Borja, was through his previous work as a contractor for Chevron, and that they knew nothing of the meetings until after the tapes had been handed to them.

However, according to campaigners, Tim Cullen, a lawyer working for Chevron, recently admitted to the company meeting with Borja in San Francisco just days before the final 'incriminating' tape was filmed in Ecuador. It's only in this fourth and final recording that actual corrupt practices are discussed - with a supposed government official who is actually a car salesman from Quito.

The first tapes show little more than the judge presiding over the suit, Juan Nuñez, agreeing that a verdict will be reached, hardly a smoking gun to undermine a judicial system that Chevron years previously vaunted in a successful effort to shift the case away from an American court.

Questions about Chevron Role in Ecuador Bribery Scandal – Amazon Defense Coalition (pdf)

Cullen also admitted to Chevron assisting Borja in seeking employment in the US and paying the former contractor's legal fees, as well as other payments and expenses for transportation and housing.

Stephen Donziger, an American lawyer advising the 30,000 plaintiffs said: "Each additional communication by Chevron casts further doubt on the company's own credibility and suggests Chevron's own lawyers in both Quito and the U.S. played a role in orchestrating possible criminal misconduct to evade a judgment at trial.

"All of Chevron's lawyers and outside counsel at the June 18th meeting with Borja need to be questioned under oath to determine if an act of corruption was planned so an American company could evade a legal obligation to clean up pollution it caused in the rainforest – pollution that is killing people and destroying indigenous groups."

Chevron could be in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which allows for the prosecution of those who bribe officials outside the USA. This law is at the centre of allegations made against BAe Systems that are being investigated by the US Department of Justice.

Donziger also called for US authorities to force Chevron into cooperating with Ecuadorian authorities. The company have so far refused to hand over forensic analysis of the tapes they themselves commissioned, which would help identify those who edited the tapes, nor have they explained how Borja ended up in an office with Chevron lawyers in San Francisco. Completely unrelated is the revelation that Borja works from the same Quito office block as Chevron’s lawyers in Ecuador.

The lawsuit being brought against the multinational could cost them as much as $27 billion should the judge rule against them in a decision expected early next year. The oil giant have already said they will not pay up, prompting campaigners to declare the likelihood of the largest forced asset seizures in history. That Chevron have so publicly stated their intention to shirk any kind of monetary responsibility makes this whole video saga depressingly embarrassing.

You fucked up Chevron, now grow a pair and pay up.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Green not Greener

My own definition of green is something that does not create harmful waste for the environment and I doubt I'm alone in thinking that. This means that nuclear power for example is not 'green'. It still produces radioactive waste that is harmful to its immediate environment. Likewise, cars with internal combustion engines are not green because they still produce emissions, no matter how efficient they are.

The motor industry though seem to be particularly fond of propagating such myth and fantasy. In July, What Car? magazine announced the winners of their annual Green Awards. Winners included, in the Best Sports Car, the Mini Cooper S, with a fuel economy of 45.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 149g/km. The accompanying write-up said: “the Cooper S delivers scorching pace without sizzling the planet.”

According to the EU’s Environment Protection Agency, a passenger vehicle does an average of 12,000 miles a year. A Mini Cooper S doing that distance in a year would therefore produce 2.86 tonnes of carbon dioxide. What is green about that? If we all traded in our cars for a Cooper S, methinks the planet would still be sizzling.

It’s not just old tech that feels smug about its green credentials: new, hybrid tech can be just as guilty. Take the Prius hybrid-car for example, the darling of the enviro-conscious middle classes. Over short trips - which it must be fairly noted are the most common of all car journeys - its use of battery power marks it as green, but over longer distances the petrol engine is used which certainly isn't. In fact, some small cars now produce near enough the same CO2 levels as the Prius but don't need fancy technology to achieve this. Even the battery has a tenuous claim to being green. If the car has been ‘hacked’ it can be charged from the mains, but how is this electricity likely to have been generated? If it hasn’t been hacked, it is recharged by capturing kinetic energy lost through braking, some of which may come through burning fuel on long journeys. So the Prius isn't green, but greener, or more efficient.

I don’t want to sound too critical. If the whole world drove a Prius we’d have massive cuts in CO2. More efficient technology, not just in transport but elsewhere, is also important for reducing emissions in the meantime. However, shouldn’t we save “green” for those things that are actually green? Calling a product “green” when it could be responsible annually for nearly 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide is ludicrous.

I fear the green misnomer risks complacency, slowing down the transition to truly green life by kidding people into thinking they’re making a substantial difference. False green tech supports the notion that people can continue enjoying the same lifestyles when what we really need are major changes. (“I can keep driving This Gas Guzzling SUV around the city centre because it won the What Car? green award so it must be more environmentally friendly than The Other SUV.”) It can also narrow the concept of green, for example, focusing on the energy efficiency of a fridge, which is a good thing but if it’s still powered by electricity generated at Drax then what's the actual gain?

You may think that society en masse can only move as quickly as the technology most widely available, but at the same time we can surely determine the technology required if the issue wasn’t obscured by marketing and media that tries to eke out the profit of old tech for as long as possible.

Should we even use the term “green”? Adam Shake at Twilight Earth argues for abandoning the term altogether, instead calling out those things that aren’t green in order for truly green things to become the norm. It’s a compelling argument. On Newsnight last month, Solitaire Townsend of green PR firm Futerra said that changing people’s minds about the environment is the easy bit, getting them to change their behaviour is the hard part. Could Adam’s approach perhaps be the [albeit difficult] solution? Either way, the manner in which green is bandied around today needs addressing.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Alan Johnson's contempt for protest

The Guardian have done some sterling work in digging into the use, or rather misuse, of surveillance and intelligence gathering by the police into the activities of protesters and dissenting voices domestic extremists this week. This being work that is overseen by a body neither democratically accountable or bound by Freedom of Information law.

The comments from those in power seem to have been glossed over somewhat, but reveal the kind of contempt they hold for protest, something which - need I really say this? - is a fundamental human right.

First of all, Anton Setchell, national co-ordinator of domestic extremism operations for ACPO, said of innocent people having their data stored: "Everyone who has got a criminal record did not have one once."

So we're all potential criminals now, are we? Or potential domestic extremists? (A ludicrous moniker were it not such a horrible issue)

Then Alan Johnson, the home secretary, said: "The police know what they are doing, they know how to tackle these demonstrations, they do it very effectively."

As the Next Left blog has pointed out, the Inspectorate of Constabulary said in July "that the police did not have a correct understanding of the law in planning and carrying out their operations at the G20 protests", which kinds of contradicts the Home Secretary's belief in them doing a good job.

Secondly, Johnson says: "If the police want to use that [domestic extremism] as a term, I certainly wouldn't fall to the floor clutching my box of Kleenex."

So he thinks demonstrations are something to be "tackled", does he? Is that how much regard he holds for protesters and demonstrators? He also thinks they are tackled "effectively", does he? Has he actually paid any attention to any of the coverage of protests over the years? Did he not see thousands of people detained without access to food, water or toilets for hours on end at the G20 protests in April? Is this his idea of "effective" protest management? Because the only part of the current style of protest management that's effective is in minimising disruption to the lives of those not taking part. Sod the right to protest.

Furthermore, he then makes an offensive (to me at least) remark about falling to the floor clutching a box of Kleenex. Well listen up Alan. Have you ever been kettled for hours on end? Have you ever been denied access to food, water and toilets whilst taking part in a protest? Have you ever had your number plate scanned, simply for being present at a protest? Have you ever been stopped and searched, then forced to comply with having your photo taken by the pigs and threatened with arrest if you don't do so? Have you ever been baton charged by the police, or threatened with or suffered from physical violence by the brutes in blue, simply for making a statement of a cause you believe in?

Because many people have. I've personally suffered some of that behaviour and wouldn't be surprised if the mugshot taken of me outside a squat near Liverpool St Station has been added to the "domestic extremist" database, despite having done no more than obstruct a public highway.

Is it any wonder people take to the roof of Parliament or the chimneys of power stations when our politicians treat us with such sneering contempt as this prat Johnson, whenever we dare to diverge from the government's point of view from climate change to the arms trade, to hold our own opinion, express our dismay with and stand up to the big business love in of the New Labour regime?

It's no laughing matter fit for ridicule or mollification by scrotes like the Home Secretary effectively laugh away an attack on our civil liberties, an attack that is symbolic of their erosion under the New Labour state.

I'll leave you with two questions posed by the Next Left in their same post about Alan Johnson, which I'd love to see the smug arse answer too:

First question: Do you, Alan Johnson, agree with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary that the first duty of the police in engaging with demonstrators is to facilitate peaceful protest?

Second question: Do you, Alan Johnson, think it is compatible with this first duty for the police/ACPO to make it its business to collect data indiscriminately on people who choose to engage in peaceful protest?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Emissions data, mmm nice...

The DECC/Met Office visualisation of global temperature change

New data was released today showing the carbon emissions from consumption of energy for every country in the world, as well as the worldwide effects of a global temperature change.

The figures from the US Energy Information Administration show emissions up until 2007 and place China ahead of the US for the first time. The same agency made this claim last year, saying that China nudged ahead of the US in 2006, but explained that early figures are based on preliminary data that has since been revised, so I guess we can also expect future corrections to today's data.

The UK ranks eighth highest in the world for carbon emissions from energy consumption and are 3.8% down on 1990 levels, the benchmark for which cuts are measured against, as established at Kyoto.

The country with the largest reductions since 1990 is Bulgaria, with 33.8%. It would be interesting to see how this is accounted for, I'm guessing the collapse of the Eastern Bloc may have had some role to play in that. Interestingly, the countries with the greatest increase since 1990 all seem to be clustered in South and Central America.

These figures are all available via the Guardian's data blog, so hopefully somebody will do something fancy with it all and make it easier to digest whilst no doubt a lot more analysis will come out over the next few weeks.

Also, on the data visualisation tip, I came across this DECC/Met Office site today (see pic above) showing the impact of a global temperature rise of 4 degrees celsius, including info on crop, forest fire, marine, drought and permafrost impacts (among others).

The great thing about such graphics are they make complex information a lot more accessible and understandable, still, I need to sit down and pore over them without the distractions of a certain little fascist before I can make any worthwhile comment.

By the way, if anybody could tell me the legal position of taking a screen shot of the government data map and republishing it it'd be much appreciated. I'm probably in the wrong, if so I'll remove it.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Justicia, ya! Chevron in Ecuador

British based oil traders Trafigura were catapulted into the limelight when their legal minions Carter Ruck spectacularly mismanaged their reputation by trying to gag press coverage of their gross environmental crimes in western Africa. If it wasn't for Carter Ruck's ineptitude, few people would know who Trafigura are, let alone what they've been up to in the Ivory Coast.

What even fewer people will know, in the UK at least, is that Trafigura is far from an isolated incident. On the other side of the world, Chevron-Texaco are being hauled through an Ecuadorian court where they face a $27 billion damages lawsuit for dumping toxic waste in the Amazon rainforest.

The charges relate to the activity of the Texaco oil company which operated in the Oriente (the Ecuadorian Amazon) between 1964 and 1992. During its 28 year tenure, the American oil company dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic waste water into the local ecosystem as well as 17 million gallons of crude oil in cost cutting procedures outlawed in both the US and Ecuador. As if this wasn't enough, the landscape was also scarred by hundreds of open pits full of toxic waste which leached into the water table.

Deadly legacy

This should hardly come as a surprise. Larry Summers, director of President Obama's National Economic Council, once said: "the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable".

This economic logic, applied to Ecuador, brought with it an environmental catastrophe described as the "Rainforest Chernobyl" for polluting the fragile water system of the Oriente that thousands of people rely on daily for drinking, cooking, fishing and bathing. Stories abound of cancers, birth defects and miscarriages, with studies ascribing 1401 excess cancer deaths to the oil based pollutants.

One woman from Sacha describes the living conditions:
"We lived in a house about 20 yards away from an oil well. Another Texaco oil well was upstream from where we got our drinking water, and the water was usually oily with a yellowish foam. I had 11 children. I lost Pedro when he was 19.... He had three cancerous tumors: in his lungs, liver, and his leg.”

Another man, Manuel Salinas, has a home close to one of the open pits. He told the Chevron in Ecuador blog:
“I bought this land 25 years ago, without knowing what was beneath the surface. I started to clear away the trees and brush to grow coffee and fruit trees, because this was how I had planned to make a living. But then I discovered what I thought was a huge swamp and could only plant a few trees around it.

“We were unable to farm the land. We were unable to get clean water. We slid into poverty. But we had no choice but to continue drinking from the contaminated well. For a while, we had nothing, ni agua [not even water].”


Texaco began to cede control of the oil fields to Ecuador's state oil company, Petroecuador, in 1990 and finally ceased operations in the country in 1992. The following year the first lawsuit was filed against Texaco in New York, the state in which they're headquartered. For nine years Texaco petitioned to have the case heard in Ecuador, filing numerous affidavits praising the country's judicial system. (Remember this bit, it's important)

In 2001, Chevron bought Texaco and a year later the request for the case to be heard in Ecuador was granted, under the stipulation that any ruling against Chevron-Texaco would be enforceable in the US. In 2003, the current lawsuit was filed, with the support of some thirty thousand indigenous and campesino peoples and the arduous task of collating physical evidence and written testimony began as other multinationals watched with baited breath. Chevron could be the first US company to be ruled against by a foreign court, with implications for other unscrupulous big businesses around the world.

In 2008, an independent court-appointed expert estimated that Chevron could be liable for damages of up to $16.3 billion to pay for the clean up operation. Texaco had previously made a token effort to clean up their mess in the early 90’s, but this amounted to no more than $40 million. In November 2008, the reparations figure was revised to $27 billion in light of further scientific evidence. Chevron don't dispute the damage they have caused to the rainforest but still they try to squirm out of financial responsibility, which is hardly surprising when you consider the legal bill could cost them 20% of their market value.


As it became apparent they were going to get spanked in the courts, Chevron resorted to public relations campaigns to discredit and smear the litigators and judicial process and have asked for the case to be heard by a secret international tribunal closed to indigenous groups. This very same judiciary that received so much praise before is now painted as corrupt and under pressure from the executive branch of the government. PR firms employed to discredit the courts include Edelman, who were targeted by naked Climate Camp activists this summer for their role in E.on greenwash.

Chevron's latest defensive spasm was to reveal a secretly filmed video purportedly showing an Ecuadorian government official discussing a $3 million bribe to secure the sale of clean-up contracts to an American businessman and Ecuadorian contractor. Clearly, this questions Ecuador's credibility, however, major doubts have emerged over the video, including allegations by newspapers that the government official is actually a car salesman with no influence in authority. Also casting doubt over the veracity of the video is the accusation that the Ecuadorian contractor in the video previously worked for Chevron.

The oil giant's wretched wriggling goes on and their efforts are too numerous to list here. Perhaps most chilling was their lobbyists' efforts to get the US Trade Representative to restrict certain trade privileges for Ecuador. One lobbyist revealed some of the sentiment behind Chevron's case when he said: "The ultimate issue here is Ecuador has mistreated a US company. We can't let little countries screw around with big companies like this - companies that have made big investments around the world."

It's no wonder multinationals across the globe are interested in the outcome, due by next year, which could signal a shift in the accommodation of their thinly disguised and rampant colonialism that cares not one iota for the local people and their environment as long as a quick buck is to be made.

Chevron, in all their disgustingly brazen honesty, have said they won't pay should the Ecuadorian judge rule against them, an increasingly likely scenario. According to an American lawyer advising the plaintiffs: "This could end up being one of the biggest forced asset seizures in history and it could have a significant disruptive impact on the company’s operations." This would be a truly pathetic and pitiful end to a saga that has dragged on for years whilst thousands suffer from the devastation wrought by Chevron-Toxico, a company no less foul and venal than Trafigura.

For more information, visit the ChevronToxico and Amazon Watch campaign websites.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The "legitimacy" of the BNP

Watching BBC Question Time, yet again people opposed to giving the BNP a platform throw up the "legitimacy" argument. This is something I struggle to understand. Saying that giving them coverage grants the BNP legitimacy fails to realise that nearly one million people already DO think they're legitimate, as shown by the number of votes for the party in the European election.

By saying they're illegitimate you may as well say the voters' views themselves are illegitimate. We should be speaking to these voters, engaging with them and trying to understand their concerns, not fobbing them off. It's just another way of ignoring this part of the electorate and it must stop.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Dale on Greenpeace: "send the army in with a water cannon"

Tory blogger Iain Dale thinks the Greenpeace protesters occupying the roof of the Houses of Parliament should be brought down with water cannons.

"Legitimate protest is one thing. Invading the parliamentary estate like this is quite another. Just leaving them up there on the roof with no intervention by the Police sends a simple message to others who might have the same idea: come on in, we’re too worried about negative press reaction to do anything.

"I wish I had suggested to Bob Ainsworth that he send the army in with a water cannon. It’s the only language they understand".

I'm somewhat perplexed by this last sentence. Surely he means it's the only language the Army understand? Because Greenpeace are in fact dedicated to non-violent direct action. You know, the non-violent sort which poses no threat to life. That sort that doesn't require an army to put them down, like, say, in China?

Equally horrid was @Cardiff_Blogger's reply to me on twitter, in which he said they should be brought down with a rifle. Obviously, this wasn't meant truthfully but it was clearly highly amusing, I think you'll agree, coming in the same week that Iran sentenced to death Mohammad Reza Ali-Zaman for his involvement in the massive protests in Tehran this summer.

As Pickled Politics point out, Dale later tried to laugh it off by adding a disclaimer to the entry:

"UPDATE: For the humourless left, perhaps I should have added a smiley after that sentence. They really don’t do tongue in cheek humour do they? Po faced idiots."

I find it hard to see the water cannon comment as being tongue in cheek at all, considering the context of his other remarks:

"Legitimate protest" - what exactly is "legitimate" protest? We have a right to protest and although these protesters committed trespass, which is obviously illegal, they weren't harming anybody.

"Invading the Parliamentary estate like this..." - What, what! Bloody crusties scaled the battlements 'ey, can't be having that, ought to be toiling in the factories, snort! Let's just keep Parliament for the elite shall we?

Apparently, "Greenpeace should be ashamed of itself". No - Parliament should be ashamed of itself for failing to take seriously enough the issue of climate change. These protesters have taken to the roof because politicians have hitherto failed to address our concerns.

When I asked if whingers like Dale would sit on their hands and keep quiet about an issue they feel strongly about, a couple of people pointed out to me on Twitter that the protest was illegal. When the usual democratic processes fail then sometimes campaigners feel obliged to break the law in order that their voices are heard.

When writing to your MP illicits a response that amounts to no more than "go away you annoying little child" what else can we do? When Labour introduce absurd restrictions on protesting near Parliament, how else can we be heard? Disruption and agitation are necessary to wake people from their slumber. I sound like a stuck record, but where would the civil rights movement and the suffragettes have got without civil disobedience? As long as it remains non-violent and participants are ready to suffer the consequences, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with breaking the law in the name of protest.

With the likelihood of a Conservative government in power next year, I hope the attitudes of Iain Dale and Cardiff Blogger are not reflective of the wider party or protesters are in for more harassment than normal.

Friday, 9 October 2009

New open cast coal mine in Shropshire

On the same day E.on announced they would be putting on hold the construction of a new coal-fired power plant at Kingsnorth, news that an open cast coal mine will be created in Telford quietly slipped through the net.

Secretary of State John Denham granted UK Coal permission to extract 900,000 tonnes of coal near The Wrekin, a beauty spot in Shropshire, despite opposition from local councillors and MPs.

Telford and Wrekin Council have said they will appeal against the decision.

Much of the opposition seems to be based on aesthetical reasons - that the mine will scar the landscape - but the greater damage is this government's continued commitment to burning fossil fuels. Kingsnorth may now be all but cancelled but we still burn coal at existing power stations nationwide, accounting for about a third of energy generation in the UK. [Source]

One-third of these dirty power stations will close by 2015 in accordance with EU regulations on reducing emissions, but that still leaves a significant number pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The Kingsnorth decision is undoubtedly good news (provided it really has been cancelled), but the approval of the Telford mine is a visible indicator that our addiction to fossil fuels is far from cured.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

FBI arrest G20 protester for using Twitter

Remember when the people of Iran took to the streets to protest against the outcome of their Presidential election? Remember how social media, particularly twitter, were used to give coverage in the West to events and to some extent, aide protesters on the ground? Remember how the US State Department asked twitter to hold off routine maintenance in order to help the Iranians using the network?

Well, the FBI seemed to have forgotten all that when they arrested Elliot Madison for communicating with protesters at the G20 protests in Pittsburgh last month. Madison was one of two people found in front of laptops and police radio scanners in a motel in Pittsburgh during the leaders' summit, which was subject to numerous protests in which 200 were arrested.

According to police documents, Madison used Twitter "to inform the protesters and groups of the movements and actions of law enforcement".

A week later, the FBI raided Madison's New York home and conducted a sixteen hour search, confiscating such items as political literature, computers and children's toys, reminiscent of a British police raid of an environmental protester who took part in a Drax protest.

Elliot Madison and his lawyer appeared in an interview on Democracy Now (above, from 10m 28s). The charges sound flimsy and quite laughable when it seems Madison was merely passing on the police's own communications, but worse is the sheer hypocrisy of US authorities when the boot is on the foot giving them a good kicking instead.

Kingsnorth postponed, but hold your horses.

E.on have delayed building a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth, citing a lack of demand due to the recession. The energy firm don't think a new plant will be required until 2016.

It's a shame it's taken economics for them to put a hold on the project rather than science, but nonetheless this is still good news. Or is it?

I'm unsure how exactly this postponement constitutes an actual cancellation of the whole project, as the Guardian suggests. E.on themselves have said it's not been cancelled; do we believe them? Well it makes sense. They're a corporation acting in the interests of profit. If there really is little demand for electricity because of the recession, then they don't need to increase their supply of it. However, what is there to stop them picking up where they left off should the economic situation sufficiently improve in the next couple of years?

I'm also skeptical as to what role campaigners have played in this, who on twitter at least seem to be trying to take some credit for the decision. The fact that E.on are still committed to Carbon Capture and Storage hardly suggests they've been persuaded by environmentalists to go green.

I'm not trying to pour cold water on the news, but until we know more about E.on's reasoning we should treat it with a bit of caution. [Edit - as in, do we have any numbers on electricity demand?] Yes, it is fantastic that right now Kingsnorth is not going to be built and we're definitely much closer to it not being built at all, but we're not 100% there just yet.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

We need an Equal National Minimum Wage

Last week the National Minimum Wage rose again while Gordon Brown pledged to increase it every year for the next five years, much to the consternation of business.

However, the disparity between the adult and youth rates still exists. Despite the (slight) increases a 22 year old will now earn £5.80 per hour compared to £4.83 for 18 to 21 year olds, and just £3.57 for 16 and 17 year olds.

Undoubtedly the minimum wage is one of Labour's successes but this difference in pay for the young is downright shameful. Why should young people be paid any less for the same work than somebody a few years older when everybody has to pay the same rates for rent, bills, food, transport etc?

This is a rule I've never understood. I've been told the different tiers are to encourage young people to stay in education but this I find particularly galling with the introduction of top-up fees for university students.

As just one example of a section of youth society, many students work to pay their way through university and without part-time jobs, even some full-time jobs, many simply wouldn't be able to afford the living costs. For many students this entails working in bars, restaurants and in retail, the kind of work which pays no more than the minimum wage.

I was one of these working students (and still am). I worked in a bar, yet I was paid less per hour than some of my older colleagues who did exactly the same work as myself. Today that difference stands at 97 pence and much more for 16 and 17 year olds. For many students working a twenty-odd hour week that ~£1 difference could pay most of a shopping bill.

The nature of work is usually no different for younger people, nor is the cost of living. Everybody should be paid the same minimum wage, regardless of age. The British Youth Council has been running a campaign for an equal national minimum wage but their lobbying of the Low Pay Commission has been paid barely any attention.

With the recession ongoing, an equal minimum wage is unlikely to go down well with business leaders who will bleat about the usual rising costs and likely point out young people are lucky enough to have a job at all these days. But if the CBI will demand that young people are to pay more for an education the least they could do is lend us some support as we try to meet these extortionate demands. It's not just businesses that are suffering in the recession, it's the workers too and particularly the young. Time to stop shitting on us and throw us a bone for once.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Lack of scrutiny of childcare legislation

The case of two police officers being told by Ofsted they must stop their reciprocal childcare arrangements comes hot on the heels of another childcare story, that of the checks people must undergo as part of the Vetting and Barring Scheme.

Understandably, many people are up in arms about both stories which are considered an intrusion of the state on people's lives, but a more important point seems to have been missed. In both cases, these are not new laws, so why the outcry only now? The legislation covering the Vetting and Barring Scheme was passed in 2006. Likewise, the legislation applied zealously by Ofsted in the case of the two police officers was passed in the same year.

So why were these contentious and easily misinterpreted acts not questioned before they were passed? Who is to blame? Is it Parliament? The opposition? The media? Or we the people? Is this scrutiny something that can be improved with new media? The Guardian used crowdsourcing to pick apart MPs' expenses when the redacted claims were published earlier this year. Is there perhaps an appetite for other such collaborative work when it comes to legislation?

Friday, 25 September 2009

G20 Protests Pittsburgh

Unbeknownst to many people in the UK the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh has been a focal point for protests and demonstrations over the past few days, some of which have been met with some bizarre policing including the use of sonic cannons to dispel crowds.

These cannons have been accused of being capable of breaking eardrums and even causing fatal aneurysms. If that seems like something out of Robocop just take a look at this video from the Pittsburgh Indymedia Collective, who have been documenting the protests throughout the week.

I've always found the idea of "unlawful assembly" a perplexing one, but to apply it against students on their own university campus, many of whom aren't protesting, is completely nonsensical. Why were the police there in the first place?

Here's another video in which students are trapped on a stairwell while teargas is used against them.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Airlines Vow 50% Cuts

Airlines have vowed to halve their carbon emissions by 2050 in what seems like an obvious ploy to take the initiative before they get hit with a can of whoop ass at Copenhagen. Aviation and shipping were of course left out of the Kyoto Protocol but will be included in any new agreement at Copenhagen. I've seen varying figures on these industries' emissions contributions, from between 1.6% to around 4%, but it is widely held that this will increase significantly in the future, so any firm deal in December should strike the airlines hard.

Apart from the sheer folly of committing to cuts by way of carbon trading (in which the airlines effectively pay for other people to cut emissions so they don't have to), there's one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb - the baseline year.

It seems a bit obvious to me, so do correct me if I'm wrong, I have had a long day, but is it not common to use 1990 as a baseline year when talking about emissions targets, as was established at Kyoto? So when we say that we need an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, this is a reduction on 1990 levels.

But now the airlines want to use 2005 as their baseline. Would this be because their emissions between those two dates rose significantly? Such as in the EU, for example, where international aviation emissions rose 96% between 1990 and 2005.

So the actual proposed cuts by aviation, when talking about the bigger picture, is...?

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Tar sands protests hit Canada

Environmental activists have hung a 70ft banner from a bridge over the Niagara Falls in an effort to draw attention to the damage done by tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

Greenpeace activists also stopped operations at a tar sands mine in Alberta by chaining themselves to a dump truck and scaling a giant excavator.

The Niagara protesters were from Rainforest Action Network (RAN), an American-based group campaigning for responsible environmental policies in big business.

The protests coincide with a meeting tomorrow between Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

Nearly a fifth of US oil imports come from Canada, and of these, more than half come from the tar sands.

These sands are tracts of sandy, clay-like earth that are mixed in with bitumen and commonly found in Canada and Venezuela.

According to Greenpeace, who released a report on the Alberta tar sands today, the process required to turn the tar into crude oil has a massive environmental impact.

"Due to their extreme energy intensity, the tar sands have a higher carbon footprint than any other commercial oil product on the planet," says the report.

"Some projects are now 10 times dirtier than production of oil in the North Sea.

"Greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands could grow to between 127 and 140 million tonnes by 2020, exceeding the current emissions of Austria, Portugal, Ireland, Denmark and likely Belgium."

Strip mining is usually required to remove oil from the sands in Alberta, a process which requires heavy machinery and scars land in an area the size of England. You can see the extent of the damage on Google Maps.

The RAN activists took inspiration from their famous banner drop at the WTO negotiations in Seattle in 1999 to show how the current policy is the antithesis of a clean energy future.

At the same time, a couple of thousand kilometres away, 25 Greenpeace activists raided a Shell mine at Albian Sands, bringing operations to a halt.

Mike Hudema, Greenpeace Canada climate and energy campaigner, said: “Greenpeace has come here today, to the frontiers of climate destruction to block this giant mining operation and tell Harper and Obama meeting tomorrow that climate leaders don’t buy tar sands.

“The tar sands are a devastating example of how our future will look unless urgent action is taken to protect the climate.”

The sands struck by Greenpeace. Photo by Greenpeace.

Today's Greenpeace report also proclaims Canada "a global carbon bully" that has been influenced by industry lobbying and lucrative tar sands revenue.

"Canada has actively fought standards to lower the carbon content of fuels, lobbied against US legislation to lower emissions, muzzled federal scientists and obstructed international climate change negotiations."

Climate change campaigners want leaders to reject the dirty fuel taken from the tar sands in favour of green, renewable energy.

During the recent Climate Camp, the Shell building in the City of London was targeted by protesters angry at their involvement in the Alberta tar sands.

Prior to this, activists attended a packed Climate Camp workshop held by visiting Cree aboriginal people whose land and lives are being destroyed by the tar sand operations.

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, from Fort Chipewyan in Alberta, told the Guardian: "It is destroying the ancient boreal forest, spreading open-pit mining across our territories, contaminating our food and water with toxins, disrupting local wildlife and threatening our way of life."

As well as Shell, other companies taking part in the black gold rush include BP, ExxonMobil and Total. Royal Bank of Scotland, the partly state-owned bank, is a major funder of tar sand mining and was also targeted by Climate Camp activists.

Protester James Clarke told the Telegraph: "RBS is 70%-owned by the public but it is completely against the public interest for our money to be used to fund climate change. Yet again, the banks are putting profit over people."

The Greenpeace activists said on a livestream earlier today that they intend to stay at the mine until "the meeting", presumably the one between Obama and Harper, is finished. Shell have said they will cease operations to ensure the safety of the activists.

In a statement, Shell said: "Shell's No. 1 concern is their safety and our preference is for a negotiated end to this demonstration. We have invited the group into our administrative building to sit down with management to discuss their concerns."

The six RAN activists who dropped the banner were arrested when they returned to the bridge, but two have since been released.

For more information on the tar sands, read the Greenpeace report online.


Shell are also the subject of an ongoing social media campaign by Amnesty who want to highlight the damage done by Shell in the Niger Delta.