23 December 2006

Love for sale?

By Rupert Read

Prostitution - such as that that has recently attracted national notoriety in Ipswich, because of its extraordinarily tragic and appalling consequences - involves a woman selling herself to a man. It's a pretty ugly matter. Some (e.g. David Prior, in the EDP earlier this week) say that legalising prostitution outright will improve the situation. Maybe. I am rather more impressed by the following idea: that, while nobody should be criminalised for having to make desperate choices to survive and feed themselves and their family, the buying of another human being for sexual purposes should be a crime. This is now the law in Sweden: such that it is the 'johns' - and not the sex-workers - who are targeted by the law. The activities of prostitutes are decriminalised; the activities of their 'clients' are not.

Legalisation? Or the Sweden solution? Or perhaps an intermediate policy, making the activities of prostitutes' clients a civil but not a criminal offence?

This is an important debate; but it is not the debate that I want to engage in today. I want to look deeper into the roots of this problem, to see, if we see prostitution as what it is, a peculiarly-unattractive commercial transaction, what factors underlie its demand and supply. For, if we understand these factors better, mightn't we be able radically to reduce both, so that this ugly and dangerous trade might be drastically reduced in volume?

Start with supply. Why are women selling themselves? Cheaply, desperately, dangerously? The answer, in the overwhelming majority of cases, can be summed up in two words: illegal drugs. Women will continue to put themselves in harm's way, as long as they have an illegal habit that costs a bomb and that they cannot get help with ending without placing themselves in a legal no-man's-land. According to a Radio 4 investigation, up to 95% of prostitutes in East Anglia are addicted to illegal drugs. We need to start treating drug-addiction as a medical problem, not as a crime. We need to have walk-in centres where people can get treatment on the NHS; and, until they are clean, they should be entitled to buy clean, legal, regulated drugs, just as they can in a pub or at a tobacconist's.

If young women could get heroin without having to rely on dodgy gangland dealers - and could get methadone on demand - then there would be far less of them willing to sell themselves over and over, to get their fix.

But now we need to look at demand too. 'Love' is only for sale because there are some who want to buy. Prostitution is sometimes termed 'the oldest profession'. But the plain fact is that there has been a huge expansion of prostitution in Britain (up to an 80% increase, according to government research), since the early 90s. Why? Because of consumerism and globalisation.

Globalisation results in people traveling much further to work. Local ties to family, community and loved ones are put under severe pressure. The result: more men whose lives are empty of intimacy, and who are therefore willing 'to pay for it'. Our consumer society turns everything into a commodity - sex is no exception. Advertising runs rampant; everywhere, there are messages tempting us with sex, telling us that if we buy their product, we will increase our chances of getting some. These messages create a sense of frustration, among many of those who don’t get to live the sex-drenched life that is constantly dangled before them on TV and even in the pages of newspapers…

In the long run, if we are to radically reduce the number of women selling themselves, we need to radically reduce the number of men wanting to buy. That will not happen, until more men are living fulfilled lives of quality, rather than empty relationshipless lives. And that's perhaps the most important result of thinking of prostitution as a market transaction: a society that marketises sex, as ours does relentlessly, can hardly be surprised when men want to buy it. And a society that leads men to think that women can be bought and sold is likely to produce a pathological minority of men who think that they can do what they want with their property. Such as, for example, strangle it.

To sum up: We need to offer medical help to women dangerously hooked on drugs, and, in the longer term, to re-localise our society, and re-invest life and community and love with meaning. So that men are no longer even inclined to get hooked on 'hookers'.

17 December 2006

A peace dividend for 2007

By Marguerite Finn

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in a final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, from those who are cold and are not clothed. The world is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes if its children."

Dwight D Eisenhower, President of the United States, 16 April 1953.

President Eisenhower's prescient words in 1953 went unheeded as the world drifted into the Cold War. His farewell speech in 1961 was laced with words of wisdom which are as relevant now as then: "In meeting (crises) - great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties." (The words shock and awe spring to mind!). With extraordinary foresight, the President warned: "We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

There were hopes when the Cold War came to an end that reductions in arms expenditure would release large sums for investment in development and social programmes. This was to be the much-heralded and longed-for 'Peace Dividend'. It has still to happen.

The US military budget for 2006 was a massive $441 billion. The share of national income spent on US defence has risen steadily since President Bush took office – yet, in 2003, Pentagon officials admitted they couldn’t account for over a trillion dollars of past spending. Their inventory management was so weak it lost track of 56 airplanes, 32 tanks and 36 missile launchers! The head of the Washington Project on Government Oversight, said: "Another agency would have been closed down but the Pentagon is Teflon. Any challenge to the Pentagon is seen as unpatriotic." This regressive mind-set facilitated the disappearance of millions of dollars earmarked for the post-invasion 'reconstruction' of Iraq.

Things may be about to change. The Human Security Report (2005) listed a number of positive developments like the decline in international and civil wars since the end of the cold war. Greater global economic inter-dependence has increased the costs of cross-border aggression while reducing its benefits. The report highlighted a change in public attitudes to war. Prior to the 20th century, warfare was a normal part of human existence - for governments, it was an instrument of statecraft. Since 1990 there has been an upsurge in conflict management, conflict prevention and post-conflict peace building activities involving NGOs and the international community, spearheaded by the United Nations. The International Criminal Court was established to tackle the culture of impunity.

Today, the forcible acquisition of territory is universally seen as blatant transgression of international law, while resorting to force against another country is only permissible in self-defence or with the sanction of the UN Security Council. The 2003 Iraq invasion and the Israeli wall encircling Palestinian cities are just two deviations from this norm.

The end of the Cold War removed a major driver of ideological hostility from the international system. Rather than replacing one 'enemy' with another, to keep the military-industrial complex afloat (or submerged, in the case of our Trident nuclear submarine!), the challenge for governments is to change the concept of national security into one of human security.

Between now and March 2007, we have an unprecedented opportunity to highlight the benefits of a 21st century approach to security by cancelling any replacement for Trident. Every day we hear of hospitals, post offices and schools closing, inadequate old-age pension schemes, cash-less councils and climate-change horrors. Our way of life seems under threat – not from some evil 'enemy' abroad, but from the reckless mortgaging of billions of our hard-earned money on weapons of mass destruction we may never use and which breach every ethical imperative. Rather than providing 'insurance' against unspecified future threats, replacing Trident will increase the danger of nuclear proliferation and contribute to a new nuclear arms race – the logic being that all states need nuclear weapons to defend themselves, if we do.

The £25 billion needed to replace Trident could be better spent in providing 60,000 newly qualified nurses and 60,000 new secondary teachers for the next ten years and in tackling climate change – a far more realistic security threat.

There is time to make the right decision – having carefully considered the options in line with Britain's true security needs. Festina lente – hasten slowly – says the old Latin motto that I had to write out a hundred times, many years ago, as a punishment for racing down a school corridor!

10 December 2006

Peak Soil

By Rupert Read

On the last Tuesday night in November, I attended a Norwich City Council meeting with a difference: the evening began with a presentation on 'peak oil'. Norwich's Councillors were informed in detail about a problem which will have a huge impact on us all over the years ahead: the fact that the supply of oil is 'peaking', worldwide, and soon we will have less oil each year than we did the year before. The effects of peak oil will include less availability of oil for essentially frivolous uses such as cheap short-haul flights, and more expensive oil for more essential uses such as keeping our houses warm through the winter.

The One World Column has recently featured several articles on peak oil. The problem is becoming better known and understood, even though its impact is still less widely recognised than its 'twin': dangerous climate change (See Less oil - more climate chaos?).

My topic today is slightly different. It is a problem hardly anyone has heard of. In fact, I pretty much invented the name for it myself (although I then discovered that a few people out there on the internet had already thought of the idea). Peak soil. We may be at or already past the point where the supply of soil worldwide is at its peak or in decline.

Why? Why is the world at - or perhaps already - beyond 'peak soil'? The problem is intimately connected with the 'peak oil' problem...

Most agricultural production the world over today is highly intensive. It requires high energy inputs (e.g. oil to run tractors). Such agricultural systems are very vulnerable to the impending impact of peak oil. But the most crucial vulnerability of all is this: much of our soil, in such intensive farming systems, is oil. Because intensive farming uses lots of fertiliser. And many of the most widely-used fertilisers are made from oil.

If we are dependent upon oil for our fertilisers, which are maintaining the productivity of soils in ways and to levels which are not feasible using sustainable low-intensity agricultural systems, then what are we going to do once oil starts running out? The soil will start running out too... In other words: once oil supply has peaked, then our food supply will become vulnerable, too. Because our soil will suddenly start lacking an ingredient that our farmers have come to rely on.

The way out of this conundrum is to switch now to low-intensity, sustainable, organic farming methods. There is very little time to spare, given that 'peak oil' may be with us within a few years at most.

In fact, we should make this switch anyway, regardless of the coming of peak oil. Because peak soil may already have beaten peak oil to it. Soil from the world's croplands is being swept and washed away 10 - 40 times faster than it is being replenished. Astonishingly, an agricultural area the size of Scotland is destroyed every year. Soil is deposited at a rate of 1cm per 1000 years - and is currently destroyed by careless farming methods at a rate of 1cm each 10 years!

This vital resource - our soil - is something we need to husband more carefully than ever, at this time of ecological crisis. For, after all, soils are a key factor in regulating the Earth's carbon cycle. The amount of carbon stored in soils dwarfs that in vegetation. Increased 'fluxes' of carbon to the atmosphere, such as occur when wetlands are drained, contribute to the buildup of key greenhouse gases, namely carbon dioxide and methane, in the atmosphere.

We cannot afford to allow 'peak soil' to threaten our food supplies, and that most vital of all renewable resources: the soil itself. We need to be protecting our soil, and treating it the natural way rather than being reliant on feeding it with the undependable 'drug' of oil. So that our food supply can remain reliable even when 'peak oil' kicks in. And we need to avoid our soil declining and releasing its stored carbon. So that we don't add further to dangerous climate change, by willfully letting our soil degrade and release its stored carbon into our atmosphere.

The challenge of gradually building up our soil in a sustainable way will be a key challenge of the 21st century. The good news is that, although crop yields fall when one removes the drip feed of high-input oil-based fertilisers, the soil 'recovers', and yields rise again, after a few years of carefully - managed organically - based food production. So let's get started: on turning organic food from a niche market to the mainstream.

3 December 2006

Radioactive poison – a lesson for our times

By Liam Carroll

So, the personalised radiological weapon, capable of killing just one person, has finally arrived. The death of Alexander Litvinenko by radiation poisoning is said to be the first attack of its kind.

It has made headlines. It has created a climate of fear in which more than a thousand people have called the NHS helpline to seek assurances that they have not been contaminated by being in the same place at the same time as the now dead Russian.

Radioactive contamination has a relatively short, but bleak history. Indeed radioactive contamination begins with the discovery of radioactivity itself – Marie Curie, the principle pioneer in the field of radioactivity died from aplastic anemia, almost certainly due to massive exposure to radiation—much of her work had been carried out in a shed with no safety measures being taken, as the damaging effects of hard radiation were not yet understood.

But, in truth, this tragedy is not new. The hospital picture we have all seen of a healthy young man transformed in days into a pale, weak shell of humanity, dying from something invisible in his blood, is an image of the after-effects of radioactive contamination.

More well known incidents – Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Chernobyl – are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Indeed, deaths attributable to the Chernobyl incident are still occurring, some twenty years later. Nearly 400 farms in the UK, not to mention those in other countries, remain contaminated and are prohibited from rearing livestock for the human food chain.

There are many other incidents; reactor fires at Windscale in 1957, and Three Mile Island in 1979 resulted in substantial releases of radioactive substances. Atomic-bomb testing by the United States more than half a century ago converted the Pacific island of Bikini from a tropical paradise to a radioactive wasteland. Today, Bikini and other islands in the Marshall Island chain remain hazardous for living organisms, and those who once lived on Bikini remain Pacific nomads, as do their children and grandchildren.

A serious question emerges from these grim facts; are these incidents relics of the past stemming from a lack of a proper understanding of the dangers that we were dealing with – as in the death of Marie Curie – or is our continued relationship with nuclear materials condemning us to a serious incident sooner or later?

As far as the UK is concerned the threat cannot be dismissed. Only a week before the Litvinenko incident, the Foreign Office was briefing journalists on the dangers of terrorists staging a nuclear, or more likely a radiological attack, in the UK. This, thankfully, appears to be based on purely circumstantial information; there has been an increase of 'chatter' about such incidents on so-called jihadist websites. In reality, although limited quantities of radioactive materials are known to exist on the black market, they remain relatively scarce, and remote from the UK.

A more worrying possibility exists in the form of an attack on a facility used for storing radioactive materials. The Office for Civil Nuclear Security has recently had to upgrade its presence at nuclear sites such as Sizewell where armed guards have are relatively new phenomena. More recently still, a reporter from the Mirror newspaper was able to place a package on an unguarded train carrying highly radioactive waste, prompting further consternation from the authorities who have been compelled to reconsider the vulnerability of these highly dangerous materials.

Now here lies the cause for concern, for at the heart of the security system for nuclear materials there lays a conflict of interest; the same Government department that is responsible for setting the standards for security – and thus the costs to the industry – is the same Government department that is relying on the nuclear industry to build the nuclear power stations that it believes we now must have, the Department of Trade and Industry.

Alexander LitvinenkoLicensing for new nuclear reactors is still at an extremely early stage and little has been set in stone as far as security is concerned. In my opinion, the security of nuclear materials and installations should not be left to the same people that are falling over themselves to bring down the costs and speed up the planning process for nuclear new build. Topics of this nature are not purely of an academic nature – the DTi is holding a number of workshops and consultations on nuclear new build over the coming years, and the public are able to attend (see Nuclear Free Local Authorities, publications, critical reactions for further info). The picture of Alexander Litvinenko dying in his hospital bed is a personal tragedy. But perhaps it is a timely reminder to us all.

26 November 2006

The new climate kid on the block?

By Andrew Boswell

Thousand of delegates have just met for the annual UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) international climate talks in Nairobi - held for the first time this year in sub-Sahara Africa.

There is a global awareness, post-Stern review, that urgent action is required to stabilise the planet's climate. Many hoped that negotiations to steady levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases (ghgs), by mandatory annual reductions in emissions, would start at Nairobi.

However, the result can be very different when delegations from 190 countries meet for a UN conference - and so it was in Nairobi. Mainstream discussions centred on tweaking the current UNFCCC convention and its Kyoto protocol. Many disappointed delegates were left wondering if an international institution like the UN can act fast enough on climate change, and if not, who will?

To be fair, Nairobi did result in a fairer deal for Africa with Kofi Annan's announcement of a 'Nairobi Framework' to enable greater participation by developing countries in Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects. This is the scheme under Kyoto in which developing countries develop projects to mitigate or adapt to climate change, gaining carbon credits that can be traded with rich nations. So far sub-Saharan Africa only has three CDM projects out of over 300 globally. The Nairobi Framework aims to correct current inequities in CDM project distribution and bring badly needed development investment to African countries. This was Africa’s prize for hosting the conference.

However, this is a fund largely for adapting to climate change and ignores the urgency of preventing a climate disaster in Africa in the first place. It is a classic case of treating the symptom rather than healing the underlying the cause of the disease. The Department of International Development (DfID) has estimated that 40% of such development projects are 'climate sensitive' – that is their benefits may be wiped out by climate change. This indicates the necessity of urgently treating the cause – massive fossil fuel burning and deforestation.

The second Nairobi announcement takes the prize for myopia. Whilst climate science, and Stern, indicate that we have less than 10 years to act, the 2007 UNFCCC talks are to "review" Kyoto. Yet, Kyoto is just a temporary stepping stone before a new 'with teeth' long term climate stabilisation regime. It is far more important to start discussions on what follows Kyoto than waste a whole UNFCCC year reviewing a treaty that needs to be radically altered or completely replaced anyway.

The result is there is no timetable for post-Kyoto negotiations and they are unlikely to start until late 2008. This is too late and will leave a gap between end of Kyoto in 2012 and the start of new treaties.

Countries like the UK, Germany and Japan were concerned, but should speak out stronger and demand that the UNFCCC start post-Kyoto talks in 2007. The urgency is very great. The new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon would make a great start to his term of office if he convened a special UNFCCC meeting on post-Kyoto before the one scheduled for next December.

Could salvation come from an unexpected quarter – also the source of one quarter of the world's fossil fuel emissions – the US, post mid-term elections? Things have been moving at the State level for some time: California recently introduced the first emissions reductions Bill, and a number of States cooperate with neighbours in regional Greenhouse Gas initiatives.

US environmentalists, I know, now hold high hopes since the recent mid-term elections. There are now no less than 5 climate change Bills in Senate including Senator Jim Jefford's Bill specifying 80% cuts by 2050. The bill's co-sponsor is the highly regarded Senator Barbara Boxer of California, the incoming Chair of the Senate's most influential environment committee.

Whilst nothing is likely to hit the statute book under the unilateralist Bush regime, all the legislative donkey work can be done now in Congress and Senate, for fast track approval post-Bush 2009.

It is politically incorrect in most circles that I move to even wonder this, but might a newly 'multilateralist US' then set the pace for the international climate negotiations? Climate bills in the US (and UK and EU) with mandatory and deep reductions move the right way towards a Contraction and Convergence framework that sets out a path for long-term stabilisation of the climate over several generations, and is based on a per-capita level of safe emission. Recent research from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) shows it is essential for survival - annual emissions must peak within the next few years and fall by 70-80% globally by 2050 to avoid devastating climate change.

19 November 2006

Venus ascending?

By Marguerite Finn

"You can't kill the spirit / She is like a mountain / Old and strong / She goes on and on …"

(Greenham Women's song)
Doing some research recently on the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), I came across some ancient photos of women campaigning for peace.

Back in 1922, this required courage and it shines out of the faces of the women as they stare at the camera from underneath a range of hats that would put Ladies Day at Ascot to shame. Heavy coats, long black skirts and the occasional fur collar didn’t stop these women posing for a picture, each holding up a poster proclaiming "No More War".

Yet war continues to dominate our culture. When we are not being treated to images of death and destruction on our televisions, we are told that the arms industry guarantees our economic growth and stability. What does that say about us – if our 'success' depends on developing ever more efficient ways to kill others? There must be another way.

Women are on the case. Reaching Critical Will (WILPF research and information project) is developing an alternative way of seeing the world, taking people as its point of reference, rather than focusing exclusively on the security of territory or governments, shifting the disarmament and security debate away from national security towards a framework predicated on human security.

Unlike traditional 'patriarchal' concepts of security, focussed on defending borders from external military threats, human security is concerned with the security of individuals.

A strategy for human security would start with an equitable distribution of resources, human rights, racial justice, decent working conditions, environmental sustainability and the infrastructure for the proper provision of healthcare, housing, education.

There is nothing new about women protesting against war. In 400 BC, Aristophanes wrote a play, Lysistrata, in which he imagined women of Sparta and Athens going on strike – refusing sex with their husbands – to bring an end to the 27 year war between the two city states that had become a way of life for the men.

In December 1982, approximately 35,000 women assembled at RAF Greenham Common to protest against the deployment of US nuclear missiles in Britain. They surrounded the nine-mile fence to 'Embrace the Base'.

On 10 December 2007, a new generation of women plan to recapture that energy and surround the US spy-base at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire – where international telecommunications are intercepted from all over the world.

Today, sixty years on from the dawn of the atomic age, the threat of nuclear devastation still hangs over us. Nuclear proliferation is not only a detriment to our health, our environment, our future, it also creates a dangerous lack of faith in multilateral processes. Negative nationalism, militarism, competitiveness and continual warfare are all key components of a patriarchal society - but look around the world: from Afghanistan to Iraq and Palestine to the Lebanon, war is not working. Militaristic societies like ours celebrate war, enjoy violence in films, sport and children's games, subsidize the international trade in arms, and fund our universities with military-industrial research. But violence sanctioned in conflict, becomes violence in the home and in the community.

Anti-militarist women want an alternative model that is inclusive, co-operative, consensual and non-confrontational which seeks to establish real human security.

This is no 'pipe dream'. The Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia has produced a report, part-paid for by the UK government, which charts the demise of wars between states and the rise of 'irregular warfare' - against which vast armies and sophisticated weaponry (e.g. Trident nuclear submarines) are ineffective. The report argues for the switch from the security of the state to that of the individual. This coincides with the success of several women's NGO's campaigning for a strong, new, independent women’s agency at the UN – which has now been agreed.

On 10 November, UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, acknowledged "the world is starting to grasp that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women and girls".

Setting up a new WILPF group in Norwich recently, we were asked, "Why women – why now?"

There was never better time for women's groups to urge their governments to agree a timetable for the establishment of the women's agency, to adopt a 21st century approach to security, to challenge current strategies grounded in the idea of military superiority and the threat of force.

Norwich WILPF meets on 10 January 2007 (Friend's Meeting House 7.30pm) to discuss campaigning priorities for 2007. Join us! (details:01603-722880). Meanwhile, I am going to buy myself a hat and a long black skirt – just in case!

12 November 2006

Less oil – more climate chaos?

By Rupert Read

Oil is running out. We've known this for a long time, only now, with the North Sea oil fields in sharp decline, and oil prices seemingly stuck at a 'high' level, are we really starting to face up to it.

Our lives are so deeply built on oil that we can barely imagine what things will be like when the oil running out starts to hit us in our daily lives as hard as it is already hitting our wallets. Our roads are made of oil. Our food supply is deeply dependent upon oil. Even our clothes are mostly made out of oil, nowadays.

We are probably almost exactly at that fateful moment in human history that is being called Peak Oil: the moment when the total worldwide production of oil reaches its maximum rate, and then starts slowly but irrevocably to decline.

This all sounds pretty gloomy; but is there a hidden reason here to be optimistic? Could it be that the peaking of oil production, followed inevitably by less use – less burning – of oil, whether in boilers, factories, cars, or aircraft, will at least help us to avoid climate catastrophe?

Sadly not. The fact is that Peak Oil is all set to make it even harder to prevent the degradation of human civilisation within a century that catastrophic climate change would mean - melting the ice-caps, flooding our coasts and cities, burning the Amazon, creating hundreds of millions of environmental refugees, rendering large parts of the Earth simply uninhabitable, bringing hurricanes and tsunamis even to England.

Why? Because, as oil starts running out, unless we are very well-prepared, the first effect will be massive economic downturns and instabilities. Remember the 'oil shocks' of the 1970s? You ain't seen nothin' yet, compared to the oil shocks that Peak Oil threatens us with. Major economic instability will make it far harder to find the absolutely essential political will to change our economy to a low-carbon economy.

Even more worrying: as the oil fields of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia go into decline, attention will shift to the lower-quality bitumen, tar and 'heavy oil' supplies buried in Canada, Venezuela etc. The problem with these is that they require far more energy to extract from the ground than do existing oil fields. How do you get that energy? Most likely, by burning lots of oil (or gas, or coal). You see the problem: as we scramble to find replacements for our dwindling oil supplies we will burn much more fossil fuel in order to get hold of new supplies. That means more carbon emissions

And some kinds of coal have CO2 emissions forty times as high as those from conventional oil. If we start burning that coal, we really are signing humanity's suicide note.

We must not do so. We must not kill the future. So: what we have to do is plan now to avoid jumping from the frying pan of Peak oil into the furnace of global over-heat. We have to move fast to transform our lives.

They are working on it in Sweden. They plan to end their dependency on oil by 2020! Here are some examples of how they're doing it:
  • Running a small city's bus fleet on very clean biogas made from the sludge that otherwise goes to waste in sewage treatment plants.

  • Using the tax system to incentivise power stations to switch from burning fossil fuels to burning local biomass.

  • Building 'passive' houses that don't need any external heating.

  • Renovating housing estates systematically along ecological principles, reducing crime and increasing the well-being of those living there.
The big challenge for Sweden will be trying to go zero-carbon without becoming dependent upon large-scale unsustainable biofuels projects. But at least they are really trying. It is time for renewable energy and a relocalised economy to see us all through this crisis. Roll on the day when East Anglia - and England - try to follow Sweden's example!

And d'you know what? If we did, we’d have happier lives in the process. For all the oil that we have burnt over the last generation has not made us any happier than we were in the 1970s. It has in fact made us more isolated, more stressed, more materialistic, iller, less contented.

So maybe Peak oil and even Climate Change are good news in the end. They may prompt us to make the changes in our society, that we need to make anyway: in order to live lives not with more stuff, but with a higher quality of life.

Thanks to Jack Guest, filmmaker ('A convenient truth'), for help with this column.

5 November 2006

Not Stern enough

By Andrew Boswell

The Stern report has got people talking about climate change like never before. In the 700 pages of Sir Nicholas report there is a simple message – it will ultimately cost far more to spend nothing on mitigating climate change than it will to start spending to try and prevent the worst of it.

Although Stern has got people thinking the right direction, the assumptions in his report still bind us to the globalised economic system that has brought us to the brink of catastrophe, and the ensuing political talk this week still largely lacks the teeth to really make the difference.

Simply the science and climate changes observed on the ground are moving much faster than the politicians. Government thinking is based on the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) data. This is about to be updated and the signs are that this year's IPCC reports will be much bleaker as to temperature rises and their impact.

Stern too inhabits the IPCC 2001 world when he suggests that we should stabilise emissions at 550ppm equivalents of CO2. This is expected to give a 3°C rise in temperatures, whilst most scientists think that we must stabilise the climate at 2°C above pre-industrial levels to avoid runaway climate change. Some scientists like pre-eminent NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen are saying 1.7°C.

We are already at about 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels and scientists know that there is a delay between gases being emitted into the atmosphere and resulting changes to the climate of around 30 years. So our current climate is a response to the gases already emitted by 1976, but since then greenhouse gases equivalent to another 0.6°C rise have been emitted, leaving only another 0.3°C equivalent of ghgs before hitting Hansen's figure.

However, three recent pieces of evidence that indicate runaway effects may already be occurring. We may not even have that 0.3°C buffer.

First, Arctic ice cap summer melt has been 40 times faster in 2005 and 2006 – this induces a 'positive' feedback as water absorbs heat that the ice would reflect so causing further warming. Second, methane emissions from Siberian tundra melt are found to be increasing rapidly – this region of the planet is warming faster and threatens to release huge amounts of methane - a potent greenhouse gas. Last week further data on a slow down of the Gulf Stream was published.

This week politicians who have persistently ignored the environment spluttered "urgent, urgent, urgent" but still would not set realistic targets to prevent runaway climate change. Despite the Stern warning, the Government was still talking about its target of a 60% reduction by 2050 – a target originally set in 1990.

The latest science as discussed in George Monbiot's new book Heat suggests that we actually need 90% cuts by 2030 in the UK. Urgent action should initiate these cuts immediately and 'front-load' them so the greatest cuts are made first. The positive feedback effects now being detected demand nothing less, and front-loading will create less total emissions over the period until 2030 leaving less a less damaging legacy beyond 2050. I have calculated such front-loading needs to be 7-9% annual reductions now leading to 3-4% reductions by the mid 2020s.

David Miliband must be challenged on his promise this week to legislate cuts by 30% by 2020, only 2% a year, in a Climate Change bill as being wholly inadequate. The biggest wake up call for the public and politicians alike is yet to come – that is that it is economic growth itself that underlies much of climate change. Stern lost the chance for real radical change as he built his report around the God of our times, continual economic growth, which is part of the problem not part of the solution.

Economic growth has been in lockstep with carbon emissions since 1960. It is absurd to build policy on a belief that growth can continue and decarbonisation will magically happen. It is common sense that growing takes a lot of energy. So with the economy, it is the growth part the 3% extra (or more in China) that produces most of the emissions. To make the 7-9% annual cuts needed now, we must restructure to zero-growth (see also The steady state economy).

Aubrey Meyer’s 'Contraction and Convergence' (C&C) model offers the best underlying principle for future international treaties as it provides equal rights of all people and nations to emit safe levels of carbon. The Nairobi talks next fortnight are the opportunity to negotiate a new post-Stern international agreement based on C&C and zero growth. It should supersede the wholly inadequate Kyoto without delay. People like you and me are marching around the world today including in London to demand this radical path to climate justice.

28 October 2006

Soft power or as dead as a dodo?

By Jacqui McCarney

Was Darwin right? Do the most intelligent, the most responsive to environmental change survive through thousands of years of painstaking adaptation and change? If you fail to adapt, then are you as dead as a dodo?

The human race has prided itself on being the species at the forefront of the race for survival – our bigger brains and superior intelligence have apparently placed us ahead of the pack. But when it comes to the knock-about world of politics, our biggest asset – brains - can be forgotten in favour of chest beating, tough talking brawn.

The overwhelming use of military force in Iraq and Afghanistan, the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people and now threats to Iran along with the so called war on terror have led to de-stabilisation and danger for all of us. North Korea is the latest country to flex its muscle but provocative as this is, it will benefit nobody to escalate tensions. Locking the world into a cycle of war and violence looks like a less-than-clever idea. While the Alpha males on all sides are puffing out their chests at one another, the horrific threat of runaway climate change that will threaten all life on the planet is largely being sidelined.

If Darwin was right, then humans, supposedly the most intelligent species on earth, might be realising in some hurry that current behaviour is not helping their survival chances and that something different is needed - perhaps as advocated by the political analyst Joseph Nye, who sees the use of 'Soft Power' as an alternative to the 'Hard Power' of US foreign policy.

Nye says Soft Power is "the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals". Although this is a move in the right direction, Nye seriously underestimates his enemies. How long would it be before we all see US 'soft' tactics as a cynical ploy to ensure the long-term goal of US imperialism?

Nevertheless, Nye's term 'Soft Power' is useful and it has been taken up in a more honest way by Lu Hsiu-lien, vice-president of Taiwan. She has travelled the world to talk about soft power with international leaders. In Taiwan she has demonstrated to the world the achievements in human rights, democracy, pacifism and humanitarism.

She has responded to the US-led war on terrorism by initiating the "Fight Global Terrorism - Provide Humanitarian Aid" campaign to bring aid to refugees in Afghanistan. She has launched numerous charities such as "Sending Love to India" and "Send Love To Tibet" to convey Taiwanese values to the rest of the world. A string of honours have come her way including the 2001 World Peace Prize.

Lu Hsiu-lien's ideas have not had a big impact in Washington and London; nevertheless there are plenty of similar ideas around just waiting to be taken up. One good example is a book by Scilla Elworthy and Gabrielle Rifkind, Making Terrorism History. They point to the overwhelming military power of the US, Britain, Russia and Israel alongside their persistent failure to subdue opponents and bring about peace.

Their book argues that such strategies will never be successful unless they address the full range of factors that fuel cycles of violence. The most important is the psychological and emotional effects of violence and humiliation – factors often missing from current approaches. This book offers numerous suggestions for breaking the cycle of violence but most important is the need to understand the roots of violence while avoiding actions that make violence worse. Soft power is not vague or escapist, it is not an opting out or appeasement, it is disciplined, insightful, and capable of considering our long term needs - "Preventing war works on the same principle as inoculation for small pox -it has to be done methodically, with proven vaccines, and a properly funded policy" - Scilla Elworthy.

'Soft Power' makes use of emotional intelligence, psychological intelligence and empathy, qualities often seen as more female than the mechanical, goal orientated qualities readily seen as male. Indeed Scilla Elworthy claims "tackling terrorism is women's work" and that the "future is female". We must not forget the men who have championed soft power - Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Kofi Annan and all those involved in diplomacy and conflict resolution. It is the quality of emotional intelligence and wisdom that should be valued and not gender.

One thing is certain, for the human race to survive we must change, these changes can’t evolve slowly; there simply isn't the time. We need Soft Power now and whether that comes from women or men is immaterial. 'Tough' talking politicians who favour force must be seen as the anachronisms they are.

21 October 2006

Speaking truth to power

By Marguerite Finn

"Forward the Light Brigade! / Was there a man dismay'd? / Not tho' the soldier knew / Someone had blunder'd:

Their's not to make reply, / Their's not to reason why, / Their's but to do and die: / Into the valley of Death / Rode the six hundred."

(Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1854)

With these familiar words, Tennyson immortalised the slaughter of British soldiers in the disastrous battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War (1854-1856).

Victorians reading the poem would have been well aware of Tennyson's implied criticism of the military command that had served the soldiers so ill. Yet for all that, they – and succeeding generations – did nothing to move away from a culture of war. For most of the 150 odd years since then, countries of the world – particularly the so called 'developed world' - have been locked into a mind-set of perpetual war.

Could it be that General Sir Richard Dannatt, UK Chief of the General Staff, has finally broken this mould? If so, this nation - and civil society as a whole - should be grateful to him. He spoke the unvarnished truth about the war in Iraq to a public sick of official lies and spin.

By speaking out, General Dannatt is ensuring that the British army will not suffer the same fate as Lord Cardigan’s men in the ill-advised Charge of the Light Brigade when, due to 'arrogant incompetence', the bulk of the brigade was lost in just 25 minutes – although in that case the arrogant incompetence was of a military rather than political variety. The situation in which the British Army finds itself today is a bit different: they are pinned down in a vicious, unnecessary and un-winnable war, entered into under false pretences at the behest of the US for their own political agenda. The point is: both now and at Balaclava, the fault was bad decision-making at the top.

Counterpunch has produced a horrifying review of the current situation in Iraq where some 655,000 people have died since the US/UK invasion in 2003; law and order does not exist and there are now so many bodies that their disposal has become a problem of waste management. Furthermore:

  • Eight million Iraqis live on less than $1 per day;
  • 96pc of Iraq's 28m people survive on basic food rations;
  • 500,000 residents of Baghdad only have water for a few hours a day;
  • 250,000 families in Basra have no homes and live with other families;
  • Iraq's electricity generating grid is in a state of collapse;
In October 2006, UN Under Secretary General, Jan Egeland, reported 1,000 Iraqis fleeing their homes every day.

$8.8bn given to the US-led provisional authority (CPA), headed by Paul Bremer, to rebuild Iraq disappeared without trace. Health services, once the most advanced in the Middle East, have effectively collapsed under the US/British occupation. More than 25pc of doctors have left the country or been killed since the invasion. Those remaining are shot at, threatened or kidnapped every day. Of the 180 health clinics the US pledged to build by December 2005, only four have been completed and none have opened. Hospitals are short of medicines, disinfectants, instruments, bed-sheets.

In one paediatric hospital in Baghdad, sick children are crammed three into a single bed; sewage leaks on to the floors of the operating rooms; flies hover around beds that smell of wet bandages. The Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) contains specific provisions about the delivery of healthcare services in occupied territories. Article 55 states that the occupying power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population. Article 56 states that the occupying power has the duty to maintain medical and hospital services and to combat the spread of disease. There has been an abject failure to carry out even minimal humanitarian duties.

Is it surprising that General Dannatt wants UK forces to leave Iraq sooner rather than later? An honourable man, rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition – and maybe even with Kipling’s words in mind – he prefers to withdraw his troops from this dishonourable adventure:

"By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your Gods and you."

(Rudyard Kipling, The White Man’s Burden 1899)

A radical change in thinking is now required. We cannot ourselves grow until we admit that by invading Iraq in 2003, we made a bad situation much worse. We now need to develop a just, ethical and independent foreign policy, seeking international co-operation, eschewing aggression and discarding the hypocrisy of nuclear deterrence.

14 October 2006

Our debt rating has run out

By Andrew Boswell

Renowned environmentalist Professor Paul Ehrlich spoke at the recent British Association Science Festival of how we are eroding our "natural capital" – in his analogy, humanity is like "a rich kid spending without looking at the bank balance".

Far from living sustainably - when we live from a stable income of natural resources, renewed annually by nature’s cycles - we are now living off "capital", eating away at our very sources of security – soil, water, forest, fisheries etc.

Every year mankind's "borrowing" from nature hits a new record. Last Monday - October 9 - was calculated to be the day when we moved from spending "income" to "capital" for this year. For the remainder of the year, we are eating into our "ecological capital". In releasing their research, the New Economics Foundation noted that this annual day creeps earlier as consumption grows. "Ecological debt day" was on December 19 in 1987 and November 21 in 1995.

Ecological debt day effectively communicates another inconvenient truth. We have come to think of climate change as our greatest problem, and it probably is, but we face other very great dangers from rapid depletion of vital natural resources.

The double whammy is that climate change is set to make these losses happen much faster.

Take fresh water - a vital agricultural resource. We are seeing falling water tables, rivers running dry, and disappearing lakes. Aquifers are being depleted in many countries including the big three grain producers - India, China and the US.

Fossil aquifers are ones that are not connected to ground based water supplies and can not replenished – often the water is hundreds or thousands of years old. Once depleted, farmers can no longer irrigate and have to depend on rainfall to grow low yield crops. Agriculture is lost forever in arid areas such as the south west US.

In the North China Plain, aquifers are dropping at three metres a year and wheat farmers have to pump from depths of more than 300m in some places. China's grain peaked at 392m tonnes in 1998 – a level difficult to regain as irrigation water supplies are depleted.

Last week, Met Office scientists published key new research predicting drought threatening the lives of millions will spread across half the Earth by 2100. As water resources become more depleted, a general "global drying" effect from climate change will reduce supply – a deadly combination.

Disappearing glaciers - reservoirs in the sky – reduce fresh water supplies for huge areas of agriculture and mega city populations eg Calcutta. The massive mountain ranges above the Indian sub-continent – including the Hindu Kush and Himalayas - supply water to half of humanity in Central Asia, South East Asia, India and China.

As the changing climate raises sea levels and lowers water tables, sea water can penetrate into freshwater aquifers causing salination. As water losses and drought increases, these areas have to be abandoned, as there is no supply of fresh water to pump in. And roughly half the world's population lives within 40 miles of the coast.

Or take soil – which another veteran environmentalist Lester Brown calls "the foundation of civilization". Over long stretches of geological time, soil accumulated faster than it eroded, enabling agriculture and the rapid human development of the last few thousand years.

Some time in the 20th century soil erosion started to exceed its formation and now centimeters of soil created over millenniums can be lost in a single decade.

Rich countries saw massive social disruption with the huge soil losses suffered by America and Russia in the dust bowls of the 1930s Great Plains and the 1960s Soviet Virgin lands. Yet few know of the huge dustbowls today that will affect the South much more drastically, although satellite images pick them up easily. In January 2005 NASA picked up a dust storm, 5300km wide, moving out of central Africa. A shocking 2-3bn tonnes of wind-borne soil is estimated to leave central and west Africa each year.

Across Africa and Asia, deserts are advancing, as protective trees and grass are destroyed, and land is overgrazed. Loss of soil and desertification are undermining the basis of civilization, agricultural productivity and food security.

Faced with these harsh realities, rich countries are challenged to learn another way to live. If we look just at our country, 3.1 planets would be required to sustain the world’s population at UK levels of consumption – that is, "UK ecological debt day" is reached around late April.

To start repaying the debt, alternatives to Plan A – business as usual – are needed. Lester Brown's excellent book Plan B 2.0 offers one.

7 October 2006

(Micro) power to the people!

By Liam Carroll

There has been plenty of debate in recent years about the virtues or otherwise of different forms of electricity generation. Faced with the prospect of cataclysmic climate change and dependency on foreign supplied fossil fuels, there has been general agreement that we have to move away from conventional gas and coal-fired power generation. Much of this argument has raged over whether we should have more giant off shore, or on-shore wind farms, new nuclear power stations or both.

Slightly over looked in this debate has been the role that micro-generation can play. Micro-generators are basically small scale methods of generating electricity that you can fit in, or on, your home or business premises. Small scale wind generators are a fairly familiar sight these days, but less well known methods of producing electricity from renewable resources include the wood chip-fired combined heat and power boilers that heat your water and your home and generate electricity at the same time. Pretty cool. The only problem of course is that they tend to be expensive. This means people don't buy them, which means that they never breakthrough into mass production, and therefore the price only comes down gradually. If they were cheap, we wouldn’t be having a debate about nuclear energy.

We are having a debate about nuclear energy though, however experts like Dr Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre on Climate Change Research has described the level of debate as 'abysmal'. Here are the reasons: by 2016 we are going to lose between 15 and 20GW of power which, out of a current capacity of 76GW, is quite a lot. Nearly all of our recently built generating capacity has been gas fired plant, which is still by far the most economic way to generate electricity. The Nuclear Industry Association has said, and these are the optimistic assumptions of the industry, that it would take 10-11 years to go through the regulatory process and construction phase before a new nuclear power station could start commercial operation. This is based on the assumption that the Government will be successful in 'fast tracking' the planning and consents process. It may well not be, and there are plenty of other resourcing problems for the industry – both in terms of available skills and vital components like reactor pressure vessel heads – that are likely to slow down the delivery of nuclear power. In short, low carbon generation from nuclear power is not going to arrive in a hurry, if at all.

This was pointed out by the Environmental Audit Committee in their report Keeping the Lights On: "over the next ten years, nuclear power cannot contribute either to the need for more generating capacity or to carbon reductions as it simply could not be built in time." And according to Tyndall Centre Director Kevin Anderson "With the UK's emissions of carbon dioxide continuing to rise, urgent action is necessary to curb the UK's contribution to climate change," and that "we simply do not have the luxury of waiting the decadal timeframe necessary to bring about such a supply transition (to low carbon generation from nuclear)." In other words we have to cut our emissions now and we have to bring in low carbon generation now, not in 11-16 years time. If nuclear can't be built on time we need renewables, and we need them in quantities.

Let us return to the world of micro-generation. The Micropower Council claims that micro-generation is on the verge of a mass market breakthrough. Photo-voltaics (solar panels), are in fact the fastest growing form of power generation in the world, showing an increase of 55% of installed capacity last year. This is mainly thanks to countries like Germany and Japan that lead the world in fitting solar panels. Germany installed 600MW last year – about half the capacity of Sizewell B. That represents a nuclear power station every two years.

Now the Micropower Council claims that Government needs to make its intentions clear on the desirability of mass market forms of generation. If they did so, by setting targets or supplying grants, then investors would quickly bring forward the money to set up mass production facilities. This is really quite an achievable task, and indeed a vital one if we are to seriously set about the task of producing electricity while only producing a small amount of CO2 (in production and shipping). The Government has not set targets for what proportion of the mix should come from micro-generation, but they could and there is still time to pressure them because the Energy White Paper is not due until March 2007. To find out more visit the Micropower Council website at http://www.micropower.co.uk/.

30 September 2006

The people are needed for democracy

By Jacqui McCarney

The Labour party conference has been a strange spectacle. Once the party of the people, it now seems to be a media circus at which cabinet ministers fight and jostle for position. We are left wondering what it has got to do with us – in truth not a lot.

At the start of the conference last weekend, thirty thousand people demonstrated outside the Manchester conference hall against Mr Blair's foreign policy and his determination to leave this country a legacy of another generation of nuclear weapons. Inside, there was no debate allowed on the renewal of Trident, nor on the position of our armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

People want democracy from their government, and activists want democracy from their party. That democracy would be a good thing. Yet, poll after poll bears witness to an electorate disillusioned and cynical about politics and politicians. So where's the problem?

Democracy requires the devolvement of power from centralised governments to the people - from its Greek origins, Democracy – "rule by the people" to Abraham Lincoln's – "government of the people, by the people, for the people". People power is where our elected politicians and the electorate part company.

The political economist Joseph Schumpeter defines the roles of people and leader: "Voters must understand that once they have elected an individual, political action is his business and not theirs. This means that they must refrain from instructing him about what he is to do". This well describes the mess of our current system and the erosion of democracy under the premiership of Tony Blair.

When elected dictator Tony has said "Trust Me", he's known that he will do what he wants anyway – sadly this is far from "rule of the people".

The hole left by voiceless people has been quickly filled by business interests. Large donations to political parties ensure that politicians are beholding to corporate interests.

In Labour's case, the immoral Iraq adventure left powerless party members tearing up their membership cards en masse, party democracy destroyed. The resulting financial crisis, and desperation to win a third term, whether your party is with you or not, lead to seeking out rich donors and the ensuing 'Peerages for Loans' scandal.

Jon Cruddas MP launched his bid on Wednesday for deputy leadership against this trend. He highlighted that "the lack of a Trident debate is symptomatic of a general malaise in the party about policy development, and the role of the party". And, of course, it was Blair's likely successor Gordon Brown who had so casually indicated his support for Trident. We can expect Brown will be little different from Blair. As Cruddas added, Brown's reckless statement preceding any debate was "emblematic" of the party's problem.

It is difficult, then, to believe that Brown's talk of "empowerment and strengthening of local councils and local communities" means much as this government plans to railroad new nuclear power stations through the planning system and commit the nation to further nuclear weapons. Brown may have thrown the dog a bone in saying that he would provide "local budgets for local community facilities [that] can be voted on by local people". But the dog is hungry for more – for real parliamentary debate on the big issues where our elected representatives can represent our view.

In fact local democracy is about all that's left. There are active, engaged and informed people saving our local schools, stopping Tesco's from destroying local high streets, or protecting our children from the incineration toxins.

The good news is that this democratic urge isn't going away - many still hold to the belief that they should have a say.

This obstinacy was demonstrated recently at Mildenhall when the peace camp showed people around the world – and it was widely reported - that ordinary people did not agree with our country being used as a refuelling point for planes shipping weapons to be used against the people of Lebanon.

It is apparent around the globe when poor local people stand up against corporate interest trammelling over their lives. It sweeps the globe when people refuse to eat GMs.

Before western governments attempt to export democracy abroad, they need to take another look at its true meaning, learn from real local democracy, understand that it is a choice made by an empowered people, and allow that empowerment to seep upwards.

The UK malaise could be turned around by senior politicians actually taking the risk to really listen to the people about the big issues. They need to learn how to do this at home rather than trying to bomb other nations into 'democracy'.

23 September 2006

Shall there be womanly times?

By Marguerite Finn

Shall there be womanly times or shall we die? / Are there men unafraid of gentleness? / Can we have strength without aggression, / Without disgust, / Strength to bring feeling to the intellect? / Shall we change or shall we die? (Ian Mc Ewan)
I recently watched a quiet revolution in progress in the leafy confines of Greenwich University. For five days in September the UK section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) hosted the WILPF International Executive Meeting (8-12 September 2006).

But this was no ordinary meeting – there were over a hundred women from 25 different countries, covering all five continents. Not the Rev John Knox's 'monstrous regiment of women' - but modern peace activists from across the globe, some of whom had personally encountered degrees of state oppression. The International Vice-President from Sri Lanka had even received death threats. Yet, undeterred, they had made their way to London in one great coming together of women power.

A vital part of the meeting was the International Seminar entitled - Women's Unfinished Agenda -where the keynote speaker was a WILPF International Vice President, Annelise Ebbe, from Denmark. Annelise spoke of the need to change the patriarchal nature of our society, to eliminate gender-based violence and to move from the militaristic culture of war to a culture of peace.

WILPF members from Lebanon, Palestine and Israel, who managed to overcome all manner of obstacles to get to the meeting in Greenwich, heartily endorsed these sentiments - they appeared together on the platform to tell their harrowing stories and to appeal to WILPF members and to the whole of civil society to do something to bring about peace in the Middle East - an appeal WILPF members and civil society at large cannot afford to ignore.

The audience heard at first hand about the situation in Lebanon, where more than 1,000 people were killed (more than 35pc of them innocent women and children) and where more will die from the unexploded cluster bombs that mercilessly rained down on their villages and fields.

The head of an Israeli Defence Force unit told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that Israel fired more than a million cluster bombs in Lebanon. He said: "What we did was insane and monstrous; we covered entire towns in cluster bombs". His admission is somewhat at odds with the statement of Israeli Ambassador, Arkady Milman, which "Reports of the Israeli army using cluster munitions is an obvious propaganda of Hezbollah and other organizations who do not know what is actually going on."

This remote continuation of the war after the 'ceasefire', means that the casualty figures will rise sharply next month as Lebanese villagers begin to gather in the harvest, picking olives from trees whose leaves and branches hide bombs that explode at the smallest movement – leaving the farmers on the horns of a deadly dilemma: whether to risk collecting the harvest, on which they depend, or leaving the olives to rot in the fields – a dilemma of which the military planners in Israel would have been well aware.

By inconceivably bad timing there has been a decrease in funding for land-mine clearance. This was revealed in a report recently published by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines – even though more land was de-mined in 2005 than ever before!

WILPF members also heard about the intolerable situation in Gaza and the increasingly harsh discriminatory legislation and conditions now being imposed on Arab citizens of Israel. One heartening thing was the report from the Israeli WILPF section outlining their work with other joint Palestinian-Israeli women's groups to highlight the injustices suffered by the Palestinian people. The meeting also heard about the on-going work of WILPF in Africa, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Scandinavia, Europe and elsewhere – and of new branches opening up, like the one in Norwich.

Greenwich University Campus fairly buzzed with the sound of women working together for peace, economic justice and human rights: decisions were taken, resolutions passed, future plans made - Neil Diamond would have called it A Beautiful Noise!

In 2000, WILPF – with other NGOs - pressed the UN Security Council to pass Resolution 1325: Women, Peace and Security. Today WILPF women continue to work for the participation of women in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution.

We cannot afford to fail, otherwise we will have failed as human beings and we will not be able to live with ourselves as a species; so, following Ian Mc Ewan’s words: "There will be womanly times – we will not die".

16 September 2006

The War on Error

By Liam Carroll

The last week or so has been notable for the number of reflections on the terrible attacks on the twin towers in New York on September 11th. It has also been notable for the number of attempts to assess the 'War on Terror'. It now appears that many of the views and statements that have issued forth from our leaders and commentators over the last few years have turned out to be grossly inaccurate, or just plain wrong. Here are a few examples of inaccuracies that should be remembered in what could be described, perhaps badly, as the War on Error.

One of the most enduring inaccuracies persists in the minds of those you would have hoped would be better informed: the soldiers on the front line in Iraq. Get this: when asked, in a recent survey, to explain their presence in Iraq, 85 per cent of American soldiers said that the "main mission" was "to retaliate for Saddam's role" in the September 11 attacks. Where did they get that idea from? Interestingly, a US Senate committee report has just been released, confirming the long understood belief that there was no evidence of formal links between Al Qaeda and the government of Iraq. Before the beginning of the war that is.

Another interesting error, now rapidly being repackaged, is that 'Operation Iraqi Freedom', was part of the War on Terror. Not many people now hold the view that the invasion actually struck much of a blow against terrorism. Indeed the US National Intelligence Council early last year said that Iraq provides terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills". One month before the invasion George Bush had said; "Instead of threatening its neighbours and harbouring terrorists, Iraq can be an example of progress and prosperity in a region that needs both."

Tony Blair, having finally shrugged off the debate about the never found weapons of mass destruction, is now also trying to move on from the War on Terror. In a speech in Los Angeles recently he said, "We are fighting a war, but not just against terrorism, but about how the world should govern itself, in the 21st century, about global values". Instead of mentioning the War on Terror, he used a new phrase to describe the threat to "our values" and it came in the form of "the arc of extremism". This recalls George Bush’s 'axis of evil' which was made up of Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Iran is of course still part of the arc/axis, but North Korea, once a worthy member of the 'axis of evil' doesn't make the 'arc of extremism'. To make the arc of extremism, you have to be Islamic.

The "arc of extremism", Tony Blair explains "is what I call reactionary Islam", and the way to fight it, apparently, is "to empower moderate, mainstream Islam to defeat reactionary Islam". One wonders though if it really is up to 'moderate Islam' to win this struggle, and whether or not it isn't actually 'moderate Anglo-Saxons' that have a larger role to play. Assessing the nature of reality is not, after all, so easy and can of course be disastrously wrong, as Christopher Hitchen's early appraisal, in 2001 demonstrates: when talking of the capture of Kabul in Afghanistan, the first stage in the War on Terror he wrote, "It was also obvious that defeat was impossible. The Taliban will soon be history". That was five years ago.

The real world is surely more complex than the sound bites about global struggles and recipes to defeat them suggest. One of the main architects of the War on Terror, Donald Rumsfeld, was once widely ridiculed for one of his statements about the nature of the struggle. Personally I think it was one of the more sensible and truly honest moments in a long list of appalling predictions and gross inaccuracies: "We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know". If the statements of our leaders and commentators are anything to go by, there are indeed many more unknowns than they appear to have known about. A little less 'knowing' and a little more understanding, might represent a step forward in what could be called, probably inaccurately, The War on Error.

9 September 2006

Vicious weapons should be banned

By Andrew Boswell

The UN estimates that around 120,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance litter southern Lebanon - the vast majority cluster bomblets. These are one of the most vicious weapons ever to come out of man’s imagination.

As Kate Gilmore, executive deputy secretary general of Amnesty, said last week: "The use of cluster bombs in the heart of where people live clearly violates the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks and is therefore a grave violation of international humanitarian law."

Cluster bombs been dropped in large areas of Lebanon: close to homes and on farmland, where they will remain for many months, possibly years. Every day, these crude weapons kill and maim people. Since the ceasefire, they have already killed 13 people and wounded almost 50. They also affect people's livelihoods by killing and wounding animals - hundreds of Lebanese sheep have already been killed - and preventing farmers from working their fields.

Israeli has not provided maps of the cluster bombed areas, causing severe danger to civilians, particularly children. Jan Egeland, UN Humanitarian Affairs chief, said last week "What's shocking and completely immoral is 90 percent of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution".

Israel agreed in 1976, when US cluster-bomb sales to Israel started, to only use the munitions against organised Arab armies and clearly defined military targets. After the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the US Congress found it guilty of using cluster bombs in civilian areas and Washington halted cluster-bomb sales to Israel for six months. Now, the US State Department is investigating, once again, whether Israel’s use of these weapons breaks agreements Israel made with the US when buying the weapons.

The losers of the Israel - Hezbollah conflict are civilians on both sides. The war, following Israeli's disproportionate attack, has no winners. Now there is a fragile ceasefire, the disproportionate suffering and legacy in Lebanon goes largely unreported, as the 5-second concentration span media has turned its attention elsewhere. In Lebanon, there are over 1300 people dead, a third of them children, more than 4,000 wounded, and over a million citizens displaced.

This is the human cost of the 'War on Terror' rhetoric, supported by the UK and US, that allowed Israel to proceed without international restraint. This crude strategy is leading to ever greater conflict and terrorism worldwide, as it destroys innocent civilians, through indiscriminate destruction including cluster bombs.

We have rules of War, like the Geneva conventions that are meant to protect civilian lives – yet these are now flagrantly broken, and broken more often, in the 'War on Terror'. Breaking these rules constitutes war crimes, yet, in recent years governments and their military have mostly avoided any legal retribution.

Now momentum is building for Israeli ministers and military to face trials for war crimes against civilians in this summer’s mad rampage.

In Lebanon itself, parliament member Ghassan Moukheiber, an attorney and a member of the parliament’s human rights committee has recently spoken of how Lebanese and international civil society organisations, are collecting data and establishing a network of lawyers, to do this (See website tinyurl.com/q3sld).

Action will be taken in several ways. Dual nationality Lebanese can sue the Israeli authorities within national domestic laws of their countries. Lebanese from Canada, America, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Brazil and Kuwait who have suffered injury or loss are planning this.

And not only Lebanese citizens – remember the appalling day of attacks on a UN post in Southern Lebanon that killed 4 peacemaker soldiers? Now the wife of a Canadian United Nations peacekeeper is suing Israel in Canada.

As many lawsuits are prepared, the Israeli foreign ministry has been forced to issue a memorandum warning public officials to watch what they say in public for fear of being prosecuted for war crimes. The ministry is also has establishing a legal team to fight such cases.

Another possible course of action being considered by the Lebanese government is the international criminal court, ICC. Is it possible that we will see high ranking Israelis such as the foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, or even the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, appear in The Hague where Milosevic went before? These people may find it difficult to travel in the future - Danish politician, Frank Aaen, tried to have Livni detained and prosecuted when she recently visited Copenhagen.

The Green MEP Caroline Lucas called for an international ban on cluster bombs during a European parliament debate on Wednesday. I support this – outlawing cluster bombs is long overdue. It is essential too to prosecute those inflicting war on civilians and children – without this justice, the future looks bleak.

2 September 2006

Deadly gas emissions must be reduced

By Andrew Boswell

A recent Christian Aid report describes how climate change is threatening development goals for billions of the world's poorest people, and that a staggering 182 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone could die of disease directly attributable to climate change this century. Many millions more throughout the world face death and devastation due to climate-induced floods, famine, drought and conflict.

"What can you do to make a difference?". An exhibition currently on at Norwich Anglican Cathedral asks this, and "What exactly is climate change?" and "How will it affect us?".

Two recent news stories show there is much we can do from conscientious behaviour to high finance.

28-year-old Barbara Hadrill will take a 7-week over land adventure from Wales to Australia to be a bridesmaid. To fulfil her best friend's request, she will travel to Brisbane by coach, trains and large cargo vessels: that is, she will travel without using extremely polluting air travel. Instead of creating 5.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide from flying - equivalent to that generated heating five modern houses for a year - her intrepid, eco-journey is estimated to create just 1.4 tonnes of the deadly climate gas.

At the other extreme, the World Bank announced earlier this week that European and Asian companies will pay two Chinese chemical companies $1.02 billion to reduce about 19 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. This 'carbon trading' will help China expand its renewable energy – it does, however, have a major downside that the rich Western companies can go on polluting.

In both case, carbon emissions are not completely eliminated – this is the dilemma, it is difficult to reduce them completely. Cracking this nut is the issue that the 'Changing our climate, changing ourselves' exhibition addresses – how to reduce these deadly climate gases to avoid runaway and catastrophic climate change.

Norfolk is well represented. Local company, LSI Architects, have a display on integrating renewable energy into local buildings, such as schools, and there is a display about low carbon buildings that already exist in Norfolk from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). There are photographs of Norfolk's weather beaten coastline from Pat Gowen and paintings of the devastating aftermath of coastal erosion by his wife Norma.

Local artists Peter Offord and Juliet Wimhurst explore the human and spiritual dimensions of the climate crisis through art.

Peter's apocalyptic 'Spirit of Free Enterprise' expresses the consequences of twenty-first century global power and materialism. In his words "war, energy, achievement and the exploited… who are the victims, who are the heroes and heroines, what are the hidden agendas, what does global power entail and what are its consequences?"

Juliet's 'Choose' shows our dualistic relationship with nature. In her words "either we can inhabit that side of ourselves which, having decided nature has no rights nor soul, ruthlessly pushes it aside so as to pursue our own separate path; or we can strengthen the links we have with the planet to which we belong, relish its diversity and beauty, and try to nurture and care for it as best we can."

Norfolk and Norwich Campaign against Climate Change highlight the damaging effect of cheap flights, the aviation industry, road transport, and large scale production of biofuels on the climate. These campaigners ask that we all lobby the Government to prevent the potential human catastrophe highlighted by Christian Aid.

First, the Government should enact a law legally binding the UK to cut CO2 emissions by 3% per year with progress being monitored via an annual carbon budget. The proposal is already backed by over half of MPs who have signed an early day motion, EDM 178. Now Government itself must be lobbied to include a Climate Change Bill in the 2006 Queen's Speech in November.

Second, the Government must urgently review its 2003 Aviation White Paper that announced a massive programme of airport expansion. These plans will produce huge increases in our carbon emissions just when we are trying to reduce them. The Government must deal with CO2 emissions from aviation urgently if it is serious about tackling climate change.

Both these are urgently needed steps to start putting UK emissions, which have risen in recent years, back on the crucial reduction track. As individuals, we can all take inspiration from Barbara Hadrill, a heroine of our times, and take whatever steps we can to reduce our emissions. Do visit the exhibition to find out more.

The 'Changing our climate, changing ourselves' exhibition is at Norwich Anglican Cathedral until September 16th, admission free.

26 August 2006

Let’s hear it for the tree-huggers!

By Marguerite Finn

How does one make the sudden transition from being a retired civil servant to a tree-hugging hippy? Quite simple really. I was walking along a footpath near the RAF air base at Mildenhall the other day, with a placard protesting against flights carrying arms to the Middle East, when a passing female jogger accosted me with the words; "You god-damn tree-huggin' hippy". This was a change from the usual empty-headed shouts of "Get a job" or "Get a Life" and it set me thinking about the very different perceptions people can have of the same issue. To the jogger, my calling for the cessation of arms shipments that fuel the conflict in the Middle East, was worthy only of derision.

Protest at the Mildenhall RAF base To me, her reaction was as incomprehensible as her chosen insult – because I believe we should all be working for a peaceful world and, as far as I am aware, tree-hugging hippies everywhere share that aim and are usually gentle and sensitive souls. Being compared to one is quite a compliment! We are, after all, still just over half-way through the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010) – although the young victims of the recent slaughter in Lebanon may not have known it.

There has been much Prime-ministerial rhetoric in recent months about "values" but the international community had already signed up to a set of values: "that reject violence and prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation" (UN Resolutions A/RES/52/13) when signing up to the Culture of Peace. Ironically, the UN General Assembly reaffirmed the Culture of Peace on 20 November 2003 – notwithstanding the US/UK attack on Iraq without a UN mandate the previous March.

No one said then – or since - "We can not go to war because this is the Decade for the Culture of Peace".

Protest at the Mildenhall RAF baseWars are fuelled by the arms trade. In 2003, world military spending soared to a staggering $956 billion – nearly half of that spent by the USA on the 'war on terror'. Yet it is now being suggested by some military analysts that there is no longer any point in seeking a quick bold military solution by finding The 'Big Enemy' and bashing him to bits. Strategic victory requires the changing of hearts and minds because of the 'communal' nature of modern warfare – where the enemy's structure and support comes not from the state but from the community.

Are we, perhaps, at the first of the three stages that Schopenhauer identified as happening to many truths, namely: "First it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed, third it is accepted as self-evident?" If so, we can be cautiously optimistic that even the most intractable barriers can be overcome. One way to move on from the notion of 'perpetual war' is to stop shipping arms to the combatants. There are guidelines in place to help – but double standards are being applied. For example, Britain is currently selling arms and technology to 19 of the 20 nations the UK's own Foreign and Commonwealth Office lists as "countries of major concern". Israel is on that list – yet from January 2005 to March 2006, the UK sold Tel Aviv weapons worth £27.25 million. In the same period, more than £1 million of UK weaponry was sold to Lebanon.

Protest at the Mildenhall RAF baseEarlier this month a cross-party committee of Westminster MPs criticised the government for breaking its own guidelines on the sale of arms to Israel. The guidelines say that export licenses should not be given if there is a "clear risk" that the military products would be used to "provoke or prolong armed conflict or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts."

MPs are doing exactly what they were elected for, asking awkward questions about what the government's policy actually means and how is it implemented. If the sale of arms to Israel is unlawful, is Britain complicit in breaches of international law by Israel? A spirit of optimism was never more needed than now. Our Peacekeeping forces come under increasing pressure to perform miracles. I say our Peacekeeping forces because we are the UN. Political commentators frequently refer to the United Nations as though it were a disconnected colossus floating in outer space. Instead, there is an increasing emphasis on the role that civil society can play in the United Nations. Globalisation makes us all 'global citizens' who can play an active, informed role in civil events. That is why I was at Mildenhall with my 'tree-hugging' placard: to object to the carnage taking place in the Middle East.

19 August 2006

Spirit of the blitz revisited

By Rupert Read

There is a new trend in travel, a new ethical fashion afoot. It is called 'carbon offsetting'. Many of the big rock bands are doing it, for example Pearl Jam, Coldplay, and the Rolling Stones.

Carbon offsetting means taking actions such as planting trees in order to compensate for the damage that one does by burning fossil fuels; for instance, by flying. The coming of carbon offsetting is surely a welcome development, inasmuch as it shows that an increasing number of people are trying to 'offset' the damage that they do to our planetary life-support system when they fly. But how effective is carbon offsetting actually likely to be?

The first point to make is that even in the best case scenario, carbon offsetting only neutralises damage that I am actually doing. It is not a positively good thing; it is not like giving to a worthwhile charitable or political cause, for instance, that will actually change the world for the better. It is only making up for real harm that one has done, by (say) dumping several tons of carbon in the atmosphere, through taking a flight.

Furthermore, if the money that one spends on carbon offsetting is money that one would otherwise have spent on other worthwhile activities that would reduce one's carbon footprint, for instance, then it may be no good at all. If I can only afford to offset my carbon emissions by reducing the amount that I spend on local organic produce, for instance, then there is no genuine carbon offset effect.

Carbon offsetting can only work at all to neutralise harm if it results in real reductions in carbon emissions, to compensate for the emissions one wants to offset. And those reductions need to be of the same amount as the amounts of carbon one wants to offset, for the thing to be scientifically valid.

The only way that this can be done in a way which will actually make the needed difference in stabilising the climate is if one has a total 'budget' of carbon that one can choose to use in one way or another – and if one chooses to use more in one part of one's life, one must use less elsewhere.

This means that, to be effective, offsetting must be compulsory; and it must be scientifically measured; each measured increase must be compensated for by a measured decrease.

Real carbon offsetting is therefore equivalent to carbon rationing. Each person should have a carbon ration that is worked out in such a way that the total of all the rations adds up to an amount that the climate can cope with. And if more carbon is spent in one place, less must be spent in another.

Let's revisit the spirit of the Blitz!If we are to avert climate catastrophe, then we will need to recapture something of the spirit of the Blitz. All of us pulling together, even when it involves sacrifices such as those that were involved in food rationing. People grumbled about food rationing during the Second World War sometimes; but by and large it worked, and was adhered to. The long emergency that we are now entering requires similar sacrifices: it requires carbon rationing. But with the difference that this time we will not create a 'black market', but rather will enable those who live a lower-carbon life-style to sell part of their carbon ration to those still making the transition to that lifestyle. This will preserve personal freedom, while allowing us all to pull together in a way that can stop our children from having to wrestle with a disastrously chaotic climate.

Surely it's worth it. And voluntary carbon offsetting just won't get us there. Only compulsory carbon offsetting will do the trick. That is, carbon rationing, which forces one to reduce one's carbon consumption elsewhere in one's life, if one takes a flight, or else to pay a fair price on the 'white market' for the right to use some of someone else's ration.

Let's revisit the spirit of the Blitz!I believe that the human race is up to the task of preventing climate catastrophe, preventing the climate Blitz that will otherwise overwhelm most of the world outside Antarctica before the 21st century is out. I believe that carbon rationing will be the essential tool in this essential task. Let's revisit the spirit of the Blitz: let's pull together, to save the future.

The One World columnists are sponsoring the Norfolk and Norwich Campaign against Climate Change (N2C3) exhibit in the 'Changing the climate, changing ourselves' exhibition at Norwich Anglican Cathedral from 19 August 16 September 2006. Do visit and see for yourself.