30 July 2005

Pure and dirty

By Jacqui McCarney

"Pure and dirty" was how John Berger described the political artist, Peter Kennard's work. As I headed for Norwich Art School, where Kennard and Cat Picton Phillipps are resident artists (for the EAST international exhibition until 20th August), I recalled some of his iconic images and knew what Berger meant.

The first thing you notice on entering the basement room are the images themselves. Startlingly direct and at the same time oddly familiar. Familiar because many of the photographs come from the pages of newspapers and are juxtaposed in surprising but powerful ways. Familiar, also because Kennard has been making these photomontages for 30 years and they have seeped into our unconscious minds.

Peter Kennard, Broken Missile

Peter Kennard, Broken Missile (Photomontage)

Peter Kennard, Defended to DeathPeter Kennard, Defended to Death (Photomontage)

Then you notice the room and how these images are displayed. They are festooned informally amidst a busy clutter of magazines, newspapers, photocopied images and in the midst of all this the artists working, chatting informally, and helping visitors explore their creativity. This is not just about clean finished displays, but you see work in progress as the artists attempt to de-mystify art and reveal the route of exploration and struggle that goes into the finished item

One of the most uncompromising works is "Know your Enemy", a photomontage, shows the backs of George Bush and Tony Blair, shoulder to shoulder, entering Downing Street and behind them on the pavement is the image of an Iraqi prisoner, bound and enclosed in a net, lying helplessly on the ground as a soldier punches him. War is "dirty" says Kennard and the shocking honesty of these images give them a kind "purity". In a society where the reality of human suffering becomes "collateral damage", he says he is "ripping apart the veil" and "putting what is really happening". In that naked honesty, there is certainly a kind of purity. He is showing it "as it is", but his work is not voyeuristic, it is clearly begging the next question - what can we do?

This collection called "War on War" assumes that the majority of global opinion is not represented in the media or the visual arts. He says you get a largely "homogenous voice" in the media and that questioning voices are marginalized. While many have found a voice through the internet, we also need to see our expression in real physicality, actually out there in the environment. Kennard has achieved this by creating many of the iconic images of the anti-nuclear movement, most famously the broken missile caught in the CND symbol, used widely in the 80's in protests against the bomb. Another is his infamous "Haywain with Cruise Missiles", based on Constables original.

The V and A has bought a set of works called "Award", which shows a collection of military medals with the ribbon disintegrating. Another is a petrol nozzle becoming a gun, an amazingly economic expression of the relationship between our oil dependent lifestyles and war. Black humour surrounds the image of Tony Blair, a huge smoky explosion behind him, capturing himself on a camera phone, grinning widely, oblivious to the destruction in his wake.

He and Cat added their voices to those in the recent anti-war marches. These creative and vibrant events are largely ignored by the mainstream media, but Kennard says what is really dispiriting is how the politicians completely ignore them.

He asks, "What do people do with the frustration and despair?" There is a lot of anger about and he has witnessed this, especially since the London bombings. Cat explains that people are coming into the studio and saying "this is exactly what I am thinking". When she is in her private studio, she is often shocked to come out and "find much of the city carrying on as if there was nothing wrong". Her time as an artist in residence has been very affirming of people's real concerns about war and injustice.

Peter Kennard is doing much to democratise art by bringing it into the streets, and allowing it to act as a counter to the pervasive advertising in our public spaces. For the whole of his career, he has been a maverick, telling the truth in a way that few other artists have dared. His ambition is clearly to speak out against injustice and killing in all its guises. At this time when so many people want to see killing, in all its forms, war and terrorism, come to an end, it is hopeful to know that there are artists like Peter Kennard and young artists, like Cat Picton Phillipps, speaking out.

You can join Cat and Peter and members of CND "shadow painting" outside Peter Mancroft Church at 8 pm, 5th August, in remembrance of the 60th anniversary of dropping the Atomic bombs, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

23 July 2005

The policeman's tale

By Marguerite Finn

If Chaucer had met Inspector Robert George on one of his pilgrimages, he would surely have immortalised his tale after hearing how this Norfolk policeman became embroiled in the terrible problems the world was unable to prevent happening in Bosnia. On 11 July 1995, Bosnian Serb troops systematically slaughtered some 8000 unarmed Muslims who had taken refuge in the UN-designated 'safe area' of Srebrenica. This month, a decade on from the massacres, thousands converged on a muddy field in a remote corner of Bosnia to bury the dead and mark the 10th anniversary of Europe's worst post-second world war atrocity.

Leading up to the slaughter there had been a legacy of five centuries of Turkish oppression, of royal dictatorship, of fascist annexation by Italy and Germany, and of the civil war that went on at the same time as the communist partisans were fighting the Nazis. All this ensured that the cauldron of Yugoslavia, over which Tito came to preside, would contain a very potent brew. When Tito died, both cauldron and brew together melted down into mayhem.

Robert George recently retired from 37 years policing in London and Norfolk, and decided to tell the story of what became for him a life-affirming experience during a short spell in Bosnia near the end of his career. In November 1995, the "Dayton Accords" ended hostilities and a UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina was established to assist and restructure the local police and monitor the performance of all those involved in the maintenance of law and order.

Inspector Robert George joined the International Police Task Force (IPTF), which was one of the main components of the mission. Forty-six nations provided police officers for the IPTF, whose total strength was around 1600. Britain contributed 80 officers and their average tour of duty lasted one year. Before arriving in Bosnia no one knew where they would be posted to, or what jobs they would be expected to undertake. He was posted to Mostar, a divided town with a definitive border between the two ethnic populations - Bosnian Croat (Christian) and Bosniak (Muslim).

Not a single pre-war building was undamaged. A number were derelict or totally gutted.

Yet renovation continued quietly, every day bringing a little change for the better - a new roof completed or a shop re-opening.

One of Robert's first jobs was helping people recover their homes, which had been confiscated during the war. Returnees were not always welcome. In the town of Stolac, which had changed majority ethnicity from Bosniak to Bosnian Croat, a returning family whose house had been rebuilt with international aid might find that the day before they were due to move in, the house would be blown up.

Mostar had been split into six police administrations, each using separate channels - with the result that the three administrations on the east side did not communicate with the three administrations on the west side. Robert's team introduced a single working channel, which greatly improved communication and interaction between the different ethnic police forces and the communities they served. An even more delicate task was auditing and investigating police performance on human rights, which was central to the UN Mandate.

Recent events in London have heightened the sense of a widening gap and lack of mutual understanding and trust between Islamic and Western societies - an environment that can be exploited and a situation that can be exacerbated by extremists on both sides. This is why UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced an initiative this month to help bridge this gap. He called it an "Alliance of Civilizations" and it is intended "to respond to the need for a committed effort by the international community - both at institutional and civil society levels - to bridge divides and overcome prejudice, misperceptions and polarization which potentially threaten world peace."

Initiated by Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero and co-sponsored by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, the Alliance aims to advance mutual respect for religious beliefs and traditions and be a positive reaffirmation of humankind's increasing interdependence in all areas from the environment to health, from economic and social development to security. Inspector George and his multi-ethnic team can testify to the benefits of such an approach. The year's secondment enriched his life far more than he had imagined it would. He came to love the country and its people. He made some very special friends both within the local community and the UN International Police Task Force. Above all, although he could not undo the carnage and misery that had gone before, he felt that he, and the officers he worked with, had been involved in the implementation of significant and positive change.

My sincere thanks to Inspector Robert George for his help and inspiration for this column.

16 July 2005

Blue energy: sea snakes, stingrays and lagoons

By Andrew Boswell

I recently joined thousands marching for climate justice at Gleneagles. The G8 climate communiqué shows sadly, that our voices were not heard - it triply fails the future by not setting emissions targets, relying on long-term technological fixes, and downplaying the role of renewables now.

Yet, Britain is really well placed to exploit renewables along our 10,000 kilometre coastline with its large tidal range. Graham Sinden, from Oxford's Environmental Change Institute says wind, tidal and wave power could provide 40% of the UK's power needs. Whilst, the Open University's, Dr David Elliott, suggests that potentially as much as 68% of UK electricity could be generated using just tidal and wave:
  • Tidal current turbines - underwater 'wind' turbines on the sea bed (20%),
  • Wave energy (20%),
  • Tidal barrages (20%), and
  • Tidal basins and lagoons where water is trapped at high tide and released to drive turbines at low tide (8%)
With real investment and political will, 'blue energy' can make a huge contribution to UK energy security.

Why, then, is the Government's public stance on blue energy so 'low key'? Can one smell the carbon rich, whiff of the lobby power that the big power generators have with the DTI and Government? Or even the Caesium-137 whiff of nuclear industry lobbying that was recently exposed in the New Statesman?

To great media fanfare, new Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks, announced £40m funding for the "Carbon Abatement Technology Strategy" last month. This is to research capturing carbon dioxide output from coal fired power stations and storing it in depleted North Sea oil and gas fields - a technology which might possibly start delivering by 2015.

Compare that to the quiet DTI announcement last August of £42m funding to kickstart large scale tidal and wave schemes into the national grid within 3 years, even though then Energy Minister, Mike O'Brien, said "The sector is at a critical point in its development from pipe dream, through R&D, to commercial viability."

Like preventative medicine, it is surely better not to create the (carbon) disease in the first place, than fix it afterwards. I am hugely concerned that renewables were marginalised by the G8, and that only a paltry £42m. has been made available to the innovative UK tidal/wave industry, now on the brink of producing carbon free Mega Watts.

This sunrise industry needs funding far more that the wealthy carbon based energy industries, who can afford their own research. Research, which might, only might, develop mechanisms, of dubious safety, to hide their dirty waste on a timescale of decades.

Exemplar UK blue energy demonstrators are already turning into real commercial enterprises. Take the June 16th announcement of the first phase of a 20MW wave farm to power 15,000 Portuguese homes using Pelamis 'Sea Snake', which flexs and bends with the waves, and is developed by Edinburgh based Ocean Power Delivery Ltd.

When twenty such farms could power a city such as Edinburgh, one has to ask Mr Wicks, why the first large scale use of this UK developed technology is not in the UK itself?

In our region, Essex based Trident Energy Limited has received initial Government and private funding and are now seeking major backing for its first full scale sea trial of systems which may scale to 100MW.

Meanwhile 1MW underwater turbines are being developed by Bristol based Marine Current Turbines Limited and East Yorkshire-based Lunar Energy Ltd, off North Devon and Orkney.

A novel oscillating hydrofoil tidal device, the Stringray, sits on the seabed. Succesfully tested in a 150kW prototype, the project is now stalled, seeking funding for a 5MW version.

On a larger scale, a 60MW lagoon scheme is proposed for Swansea Bay which would, according to WS Atkins Engineering, generate electricity competitively at an estimate 3.4 pence/kWhour.

Tidal fences or barrages offer exciting, large scale developments. A proposed fence between islands in the Philippines is expected to generate up to 2200 MW (peak), equivalent of two nuclear power plants. The President of the Vancouver company behind this scheme, travelled to London early this year for key meetings with the UK's emerging tidal energy sector and the DTI - is it possible the UK could have the foresight to invest in such a large scale scheme here?

A last thought, as the EU and G8 try to convince Iran to give up their nuclear program, why don't they offer the Iranians the latest renewable technologies and the engineering expertise? Their nuclear skills came from the West. Why not help them now build a renewables industry to meet their energy demands? Surely Lagoons, Sea Snakes, and Stingrays in the Persian Gulf are better than nuclear reactors?

9 July 2005

Making history

By Rupert Read

The G8 summit, which finished yesterday, takes place in this country only once every 8 years. That's why, last Saturday, I travelled up to Edinburgh, to play my part in trying to make poverty history.

The atmosphere on the march through Edinburgh – which may well have been the largest march in Scottish history, rivalled only by the enormous anti-war march in Glasgow on 15 February 2003 – was really tremendous. Despite having to wait for hours queuing in the sun – we were queuing to get onto the march route, because there were so many of us! – we remained entirely good-natured. (It felt like, right there and then, we were building some of the sense of community that the world needs, if those who are poor are really to be helped by the richer countries.)

G8 March, EdinburghAnd the thing which really surprised me was just how diverse 'we' were. I had expected that, like me, most of those who turned out to march through Edinburgh would be wearing white, as the march organisers had asked. And so it proved. But I had not expected the banners that we were carrying to be so incredibly varied.

Besides the more obvious participants, like the Tearfund, War on Want, and Save the Children, I saw banners from numerous environmental groups (there was a particularly large Friends of the Earth presence). I walked beside protesters from Campaign Against the Arms Trade, and from CND. The Scottish Greens were there, and the Scottish Socialists. And trades unions; and community groups; and so many more…

One World columnists Rupert Read and Andrew Boswell at the G8 March in EdinburghThis made me stop and think. Why, for instance, were Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace taking part in a 'Make Poverty History' march? Were they just jumping on a bandwagon? Or was there more to it than that?

The answer came, in one of the speeches that I heard in Edinburgh Meadows, on that amazing long afternoon. Poverty can't be separated from environmental issues, such as climate change, because it is the world's poor who are bearing the brunt of climate change. While in Britain we can cope relatively easily with the heatwaves and droughts which are growing in frequency as a result of human interference with the climate, very poor countries such as Chad or low-lying Third World countries such as the Maldives find it far harder to do so.

And the anti-war groups? Did they have a good reason to be there? Or were they trying to hijack the Make Poverty History event?

One stark fact makes the answer clear. Last year, for the first time ever, British arms exports to Africa topped £1 billion pounds. How can we hope to make poverty history, while African nations are being encouraged by our government and our corporations to spend such vast quantities of money on weapons?

Most interesting of all, perhaps, were the slogans of groups such as War on Want and Christian Aid. These 'mainstream', anti-Third-World-poverty organisations were not just calling for more aid to go to Third World countries, nor even merely for the cancellation of debt. They were calling for the brakes to be put on economic globalisation. This Christian Aid slogan, on a banner that I picked up myself and carried for an hour or so, made the point very nicely: Trade justice, NOT free trade.

Putting these three things together – the environmental groups calling for serious action to stop climate change, the anti-war groups calling for an end to First World sponsoring of wars in the Third World; and the aid organisations for Third World countries themselves calling not for free trade nor for charity but for trade justice – for allowing African countries to protect their own economies, just as we do – makes up a powerful message.

And so I realised that there was a good reason, after all, for that great diversity of groups and slogans, last Saturday. It was the wisdom of the people that was speaking, on the streets of Edinburgh, in this multi-tongued way.

And after all, it is the people and not their so-called 'leaders' who usually really make history, in the end. It is up to us to keep working so that the goals of the 'make poverty history' campaign are really achieved, long after the posturings of the leaders at the Gleneagles G8 summit are forgotten.

The fact that a week ago today hundreds of thousands, myself among them, marched in Edinburgh to 'make poverty history', and that we did so intelligently - under the banners of stopping climate change, war and unchecked globalisation - gives me hope for our world.

2 July 2005

The people must lead on climate

By Jacqui McCarney

All discussions on Climate Change have become very focussed on next week's G8 summit.

And by now, most people are fully awake and aware of the severity of the threat posed by climate change. The extensive media coverage has meant that only the eccentric, the mad or the very young can still be in ignorance of the imminent threat to our planet and way of life. The deniers are either wholly irrational, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, or very cynically protecting the oil industry.

A Guardian poll last month showed that 83% of us are worried enough to believe that Tony Blair needs to challenge George Bush on his refusal to help combat climate change, and 73% believe that consumers need to take action. Yet, only a committed minority 26% have made a substantial personal step to help counter the effects of climate change. Why the difference between aspiration and action?

Well we are waiting. We are waiting for leadership and to be told what to do. There are hopes from the G8, not just on the plight of Africa, but on the plight of the planet. Tony Blair, has made clear his determination, but before discussions even begin we learn that proposals on climate change have been watered down by the White House. The extreme US administration has objected to the statement "Our World is warming" and "in large part to human action", and thereby deny the basic science of climate change.

Politicians actually have the least power in this situation. They are too hampered by playing political games to be able to take the necessary action. So while they can be in no doubt of the seriousness of global warming, they are extremely anxious not to upset business interests and are under huge pressure from big business. For them, the immediate political risks are as terrifying as the imminent Armageddon of catastrophic climate change.

In the mean time, the planet burns, and despite endless talk of meeting targets, carbon emissions from the UK have actually increased in the last couple of years.

Locally too, we see little if any evidence of climate change been taken seriously. Lacking nerve to take decisive action, the local Councils are waiting for their queue from "the adults" in Whitehall. Meanwhile, it's business as usual. For example, County and district Councils, and the new Visit Norwich Ltd, are encouraging cheap flights, road building and massive development and expansion of our region, with little thought given to the effects on the environment. These local politicians, myopic, in their singular focus on business interests, are doing nothing real about mitigating climate change.

History has shown that when radical change is needed, it comes from the people themselves. It was ordinary people taking to the streets, demanding and campaigning, who led to the ending of slavery, the emancipation of women, the end of Apartheid in South Africa.

Where is the movement to save the planet? Like Make Poverty History, we need a global Save the Planet people movement.

But we must not wait for this, before taking action. When our children or our grandchildren ask, what did we do when there was still time it will be shameful to say we did nothing. We are all citizens of the earth and are individually responsible for climate change.

Here are five actions, we can all do:
  1. Switch off electrical appliances at the wall. Appliances on standby pump one million tons of carbon into the air per year.
  2. Buy local goods - foods flown in from all over the world create huge levels of emissions. Make sure imported food has come in by ship.
  3. Stop using plastic bags and return unnecessary packaging to the supermarkets. In Austria female shoppers changed legislation by dumping packages at supermarket check outs and forced supermarkets to operate a packaging take back service.
  4. Stop using cheap flights - the largest growing source of CO2 emissions. Cheap now, the real cost will be catastrophic.
  5. Use cars less - cycle or walk instead. Two thirds of all car journeys are less than two miles and could be easily covered by cycling or walking with huge health benefits. Change to a small car with low petrol consumption and share your car by offering lifts to others in your village or town.
What will come out of the G8 for the climate? We have been warned by the politicians not to expect much. The planet can not wait while the politicians dither. History is calling us to act now.