Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Why I'm Flying to America

I suppose I better explain myself. I'm going to the USA tomorrow, which means I'm going to be flying. Yes, an environmental activist is going to be flying. Why? To visit my girlfriend in Boston and tie in a trip to New York, a city I've wanted to visit for as long as I can remember.

See, I'm a music fan - a big music fan - much of the music I listen to originates or has its roots in the USA. For many a year I've planned to visit the States, to take in the sights and sounds of Detroit, Chicago, New York and New Orleans. Consider it a personal pilgrimage to the heartland of an important part of my life. As far as I'm concerned this is a flight I was always going to make. Maybe not now, but definitely at some point in my lifetime.

Undoubtedly I believe flying needs to be stemmed before it snowballs beyond the 2% of emissions it's currently responsible for (and reduced beyond that). Whilst I don't believe anybody has the right to fly, nor do I believe it should be banned either. Many people have good reasons to, such as those who have close family in far flung places. Can we really deny them occasional flights to see loved ones? The flights we should be taking action against are those short haul and domestic flights, private jets and empty trans-atlantic flights. Bankers who cross the Atlantic ten times a year when they could do business via videolink. People who take three or four European city breaks a year. The 'planes bringing strawberries from Egypt to the UK in the middle of December.

Hand-in-hand with this though, of course, is the need to improve culture and infrastructure elsewhere. If we want to turn people away from flying between London and Edinburgh then we need better rail links while aviation stops avoiding the massive tax breaks that make it so cheap to fly. Similarly, attitudes need to change, so that we no longer consume out of season fruit from other continents or think it perfectly acceptable to rack up a massive annual carbon bill by flying to every corner of Europe. Perhaps we even need a carbon tax or rationing of airmiles, who knows..

This isn't going to be a frequent thing. I continue to make strides to reduce my carbon footprint elsewhere and when it comes to any future long distance travel I'll be more than happy to take the coach or train as I did to Copenhagen. I want (being the operative word, rather than need) to see much of the world and can do so by means other than flying should I decide to embark on these journies. But these very few trips that will almost certainly not be repeated nor regular unfortunately mean stepping on board that 'plane.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Reading w/e 17th January

Why we need a cultural revolution in consumption.
Hits the nail on the head. It's our rampant consumerism, the everlasting quest for further growth that is driving climate change. The inconvenient truth is we're all responsible but likewise we all have the power to stop it getting worse if we stop consuming as we do.

Environmental activists killed by mining companies in Latin America
Indymedia report on the death of an anti-mining protester in El Salvador. Activists in the Central American nation regularly receive death threats.

SMS Uprising: Mobile activism in Africa
Introductory chapter from a new book on the use of mobile phones by activists in Africa.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Move Your Money

As yet another raft of bankers' bonuses are due to be announced safe in the knowledge a doddering Chancellor will likely turn a blind eye it's time we the people had our way for a change.

Billy Bragg announced on twitter this morning his intention not to pay any tax until the disgrace is sorted by the government. On a facebook group called NoBonus4RBS, he writes:
"The estimated £1.5bn that RBS will pay to its investment bankers next month in the form of bonuses will ultimately be drawn from the taxes that you and I are due to pay on 31st January.

"Meanwhile, we are being softened up by the main political parties for painful cuts in public spending after the election.

"I have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, to inform him that I am no longer prepared to fund the excessive bonuses of RBS investment bankers. Unless he acts to limit them to £25,000, I shall be withholding my tax payment on 31st January."

Bragg is encouraging people to join the campaign by writing to the Chancellor to inform him of their intention not to pay tax at the end of the month. It's a good idea, and withholding tax is probably one of the few levers we have to influence government, but how many people will realistically be prepared or informed enough to do this in the next two weeks? (Not to mention many people pay tax as they earn).

But maybe it will gather some momentum and heap pressure on Darling who, you never know, may actually pull his finger out of his arse and clampdown on the banks.

Looking to the longer term, Arianna Huffington and friends have come up with a great idea for punishing the banks which are "too big to fail" - move your money to the banks on 'Main St'.

Taking inspiration from the film It's a Wonderful Life the idea revolves around moving money from the big Wall St banks who feed from the taxpayers' pot to small town banks instead. See the video above

Arianna writes:
We talked about the outrage of big, bailed-out banks turning around and spending millions of dollars on lobbying to gut or kill financial reform -- including "too big to fail" legislation and regulation of the derivatives that played such a huge part in the meltdown. And as we contrasted that with the efforts of local banks to show that you can both be profitable and have a positive impact on the community, an idea took hold: why don't we take our money out of these big banks and put them into community banks? And what, we asked ourselves, would happen if lots of people around America decided to do the same thing? Our money has been used to make the system worse -- what if we used it to make the system better?

"The idea is simple: If enough people who have money in one of the Big Six banks move it into smaller, more local, more traditional community banks, then collectively we, the people, will have taken a big step toward re-rigging the financial system so it becomes again the productive, stable engine for growth it's meant to be. It's neither Left nor Right -- it's populism at its best."

While I don't necessarily agree with the concept of growth, short of revolution we're unlikely to see much far reaching reform of the financial system anytime soon, so why not take things into our own hands and hurt the big banks? The idea only refers to the US but British taxpayers have also had to witness blatant acts of theft in the form of gargantuan bonuses - maybe we could move our money too?

For more information, see www.moveyourmoney.info

Friday, 15 January 2010

Riot police used on Spanish tourists at Gatwick

Photo by Dunechaser

Here's a story that hasn't got much attention in the UK press this week. Over one hundred Spanish tourists were forcibly evicted from Gatwick Airport by riot police after protesting about a last minute flight cancellation. Police were called to move the tourists when they refused to leave the building without the guarantee of being put on a new flight. (Their airline was Ryanair. Go figure.)

According to one of the tourists, they were even threatened with tear gas. How very nice of the British police?

As Juliette Lucie said on Twitter: "this is why all citizens should have worried when they started to clamp down on activists. They failed to see they were next."

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

A Message from Ecuador

"We don't want to continue dying of cancer."

The Ecuadorian communities fighting a lawsuit against oil giant Chevron have made this video especially for new CEO, John Watson. The video follows an open letter to Watson from campaigners Amazon Watch at the end of last year.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

On Section 44

Image by engineroomblog

The European Court on Human Rights has ruled the arbitrary use of stop and search powers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 illegal but for protesters who are regularly the victim of this law it may still be business as usual.

The judgement is indeed welcome and a blow to a government who have come under increasing pressure for their intrusion on civil liberties. Home Secretary Alan Johnson has expressed his disappointment and stated the government's intention to appeal. However, should the appeal fail and a law change occur this doesn't equate to an attitudinal change. For many police officers protesters are still considered a nuisance, despite protest being an essential part of democracy.

The Met in particular, who are the most frequent abusers of Section 44, are yet to issue any orders on curtailing searches. In a similar situation last summer the Met had to clarify for their troops a new law on photography in public places yet we continue to see photographers stopped and searched on an almost weekly basis. The European Court ruling is somewhat different, but the way photographers are treated despite advice from on high reveals the resentment from an increasingly authoritarian police force.

Beyond the use of stop and search laws is the issue of domestic extremism and a national database of protesters, which the Guardian highlighted in an investigation late last year. 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."

In a Dispatches documentary on the policing of protest Met Commander Bob Broadhurst showed his utter contempt for protesters in his unflinching support for such tactics as kettling peaceful demonstrations. In the words of blogger Copwatcher, Broadhurst displayed his "cluelessness and why he should never be left in charge of another public order situation".

The criminalisation and demonisation of protesters also creeps into government itself. Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, laughed off the branding of "domestic extremists", saying: "If the police want to use that as a term, I certainly wouldn't fall to the floor clutching my box of Kleenex."

This repugnant attitude even transcends law and into media relations that border on psychological warfare. In the approach to the G20 the media was awash with statements from the police about an impending "Summer of Rage", a police fabrication intended to deter peaceful protesters from taking to the streets. They even talked about the likelihood of rain to ward off the fair weather activists.

Let's not forget, this law is first and foremost about fighting terrorism (albeit an abstract and indefineable concept of terrorism). The climate of fear, perpetuated and amplified by those in power, is still tangible, even more so following the failed airline attack on Christmas Day. The likelihood of the government relaxing their stance on security is similar to that of a snowball passing through Dante's nine circles intact.

In this wider environment, while this attitude towards protest remains, the police and government will continue to stifle and intimidate through existing powers and who knows, even by creating new ones.