27 January 2007

True warriorhood

By Andrew Boswell

Next Tuesday, January 30th, is the fifty ninth anniversary of the day that Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in Delhi in 1948. Although revered in India as a great soul (Mahatma), he is also known there by the affectionate and respectful title Gandhiji.

He has inspired many in the non-violent direct action (NVDA) movement from Martin Luther King to those who currently are blockading the Faslane nuclear sub-marine base in Scotland every day for a year in opposition to the Trident nuclear weapons programme.

Such was Gandhi's greatness that Albert Einstein remarked: "Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."

I was fascinated when Gordon Brown said recently that he too is inspired by Gandhiji. Why when Brown has advocated globalisation, economic growth, free-market neo-liberalism and war, where Gandhiji promoted local village economies, simplicity of lifestyle and peace?

Brown admitted being inspired by something deeper – in his words Gandhiji's courage, strength of belief, and willpower for a more just and fair order.

But where can any sense of Gandhiji's truth and courage fit with replacing the Trident nuclear system that is a truly monstrous weapon of mass destruction and turning Britain into a war-fighting nation with expanded military spending. These look like being policies of a future Brown government and if Brown's comments about Gandhiji were anything more than crass, media talk, he needs to consider carefully what his truth is.

Such policies will create a New Labour legacy with a long half life – Trident would be with us beyond the mid-century and a War-fighting culture in vision of Mr Blair's recent speech could be with us for generations. Brown has already stated his support to Trident replacement estimated to cost £76 billion, and as Chancellor, he has provided additional funds for war fighting to the tune of at least £5 billion.

Brown should remember that Gandhiji said "Mankind only has to get out of violence through non-violence". For Gandhi's vision is deeper, and embodied in his philosophy of Satyagraha, literally Truth-Force. He sometimes also called it "Love-force" or "Soul-force" saying "… that pursuit of Truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one's opponent, but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy."

Although, a new term introduced by Gandhiji during his South African struggles almost 100 years ago in 1908, Satyagraha is grounded in older spiritual truths from India such as Ahimsa or non-violence. Although Gandhiji saw Satyagraha as a tool for political change his practice of it was based in deeper spiritual concerns, as when he says "All our activities should be centered in Truth. Truth should be the very breath of our life".

As people, we can search for the truth too, and ask "do we need massive militarisation and nuclear weapons?". Every other country in Europe, except one, does not believe that we face an enemy that requires weapons of mass destruction – why do we? Militarism fuels war, as when huge expenditures in military spending in Europe led to instability in the early part of the twentieth century, and the dreadful First World War.

In recent history, Mr Blair even fooled many MPs that we faced an enemy in Saddam with Weapons of Mass Destruction. His recent speech used enemy-obsessed arguments in calling for more defence spending, despite the fact that we already have the second largest military spend worldwide, £64 billion this year or 2.5% of GDP.

I joined the Faslane blockade with some 50 East Anglians in October for two days. Gandhiji's warriorhood was evident in each person who lay down to be arrested – for the truth, and in opposition to militarism and weapons of mass destruction. Over the year, many thousands of such warriors representing a wide range of civil society groups will have expressed their visions for a just and peaceful future.

The government has said that Climate Change is the greatest threat to our security, yet wants to increase the 2.5% GDP military budget, and spend a further £78 billion to be spent on Trident. The Stern review says preventing the worst of climate change will cost 1% GDP, and yet last year's spend on renewable energy research was only £37 million.

Gandhi's Satyagraya Truth Force and his vision of non-violence and sustainability is never needed more to solve our greatest security threat – climate change.

On January 17th 1948, Gandhiji finished his final hunger strike that stopped Hindu and Moslem violence in across Delhi. If he were with us today, fifty nine years later, I think he would be fasting until real climate action took precedence over militarism and military adventure.

20 January 2007

The dragon is not entirely to blame

By Marguerite Finn

On 9 January 2007, this paper reported the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, as saying "If we end our emissions tomorrow, the growth in China will make up the difference within two years". His remarks were made during a Sky News broadcast during which he argued that the fight against climate change did not require any "unreasonable sacrifices" such as cutting back on long or short-haul holiday flights.

The comments represent a disturbing departure from the statement he made at the launch of the Stern Review on Climate Change just ten weeks earlier: "Unless we act now, not some distant time but now, these consequences, disastrous as they are, will be irreversible. So there is nothing more serious, more urgent or more demanding of leadership." A bit too demanding, it seems.

For me, the most disturbing aspect of this change of heart was the subtle way he sought to place the blame for global warming squarely at China's door – thus absolving himself (and us) of the need to alter our profligate life-styles in the least, in order to cut back on our own carbon emissions. Rather than see China take the dragon's share of the blame, I did a bit of research and came up with surprising results. As far as energy production is concerned, China was always ahead of the pack: between 475 – 221 BC the Chinese began to use coal for heating and smelting. They organised production and consumption to such an extent that by 1000 AD, it had become an industry!

With a current growth rate of 9% China has achieved economic advances in 30 years that took more than a century in the West. In the current 5-year plan, China aims for a 45% increase in GDP by 2010, coupled with a 20% reduction in energy consumption.

Today, seventy per cent of China's energy needs are met by coal. Every ten days another coal-fired power plant opens up somewhere in the country. Since it has little in the way of oil or gas reserves, China's future depends on coal and there are sufficient reserves of good quality coal to sustain its economic growth for a century.

In the 1990s, Chinese leaders began exploring a range of advanced technologies. China's largest coal firm, Shenhua Group, plans to complete the country's first coal-to-oil plant by 2008, which will pump out 20,000 barrels of synthetic oil per day. Eight further plants are planned by 2020, producing more than 30 million tons of synthetic oil annually – enough to save over 10 percent of China’s projected oil imports. Some 'China Watchers' complain that China's quest for oil is responsible for the global price-hike in petrol but in February 2006, the BBC's Beijing correspondent, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, put China's oil consumption in perspective: "It is more than a slight exaggeration to say that China is to blame for $70 a barrel oil prices. In fact, China, with a fifth of the world's population, consumes only 4% of the world's daily oil output. A lot to be sure, but far below American consumption."

Although the International Energy Agency forecasts that China will become the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide by 2009, China is trying hard to make its coal cleaner, using the latest technology in new power plants. Where a supercritical boiler replaces an old boiler, carbon emissions are cut by 23%. China has 80% of the cleanest supercritical boiler stations available anywhere. Britain, where the technology was developed, has none.

Nor is China relying exclusively on coal. It is exploring other sources of energy including gas, nuclear, hydro-power and renewables, estimating that by 2020, fifteen percent of its energy will come from renewable sources. There are already 30 million solar households in China.

Mistakes are made - the world's most polluted cities are in China. A thousand new cars hit Beijing streets every day, yet local governments in one-third of Chinese cities have banned electric bikes and are trimming back bicycle lanes to make room for more cars! Nevertheless, the state-led enthusiasm with which China is pursuing environmentally-friendly energy is something we could learn from in Britain. Over half of all finished industrial goods in the world are made in China because Western companies take advantage of its cheap production costs. We are all responsible for the stress the planet is suffering.

Could we not lobby our government – despite Mr Blair's reluctance – to emulate China in her drive to cut carbon emissions and do it for its own sake?

As Edmund Burke said: "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little".

13 January 2007

It’s the environment stupid

By Jacqui McCarney

2006 is dead and gone and it feels symbolic to me that Milton Friedman died as the year was dying, in November. Mr Friedman, a renowned economist, was a big influence on President Reagan's and Mrs Thatcher's view of the world - a world where the economy came increasingly to determine the outcome of all decisions.

This convenient idea has been around for quite a while, but in the 1980s Mr Friedman's clever ideas on monetarism meant that capitalism gathered momentum and making money was sanctified.

Since then few politicians have dared question the omnipotence of the economy and while there has been a great deal of pious bleating about values from Tony Blair, Iraq has shown that all our values are subservient to the need to fuel the economy.

Yes we have known about climate change for more than 30 years but it was what Al Gore described as an Inconvenient Truth.

But 2007 should be the year when "It's the economy stupid" becomes "It's the environment stupid".

The dominant economic leaders of the late 20th century, including Mr Friedman, were seriously misguided. History will judge them to be men of myopic vision - men who gained prominence and almost lost us the world. While many of us got richer and fatter, climate change has already devastated many parts of the world – Africa has suffered continuous drought and famine, flooding and loss of lands has led to climate refugees in Bangladesh, species have been wiped out at an unprecedented rate with a million expected to be extinct by 2050. Not least is the polar bear, drowning as ice floes melt.

The 21st century, facing challenges that no civilisation has had to confront before, needs visionary environmental solutions not 20th century economic expediency. Yet none of our political leaders is prepared to risk the radical action needed. They are too busy jostling endlessly for what they see is the safety of the 'centre ground'; sending confusing, contradictory messages – "climate change is our greatest threat" while expanding airports will be "good for business".

Or Blair like, pre-occupied with their legacy, their place in the history, they are still looking back at 20th century projects like Trident on which to hang their hats. Replacing Trident will cost £76,000,000,000 of UK taxpayers' money for US controlled nuclear weapon. At the same time, Sir Nicholas Stern called for immediate, massive investments in renewable energy - the biggest spending in the first 10 years – to combat climate change. We can't afford both!

Stern's economic analysis of climate change shook not just this country but the rest of the world – we only have a very short period left in which to act - the effects of climate change are the biggest single threat to the economy, as well as millions of lives in the southern nations.

There are politicians who have not waited around for Stern to confirm what was obvious anyway. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as governor of California, has legally committed that state to 80pc emission cuts by 2050 that will be delivered by huge investments in renewable energy. Despite George Bush, states across the US are working on similar climate change initiatives.

There is a Catch 22 for leaders fearful of slowing down the economy and rocking the monetarist boat. Their refusal to take radical action now on climate change will lead to far worse economic meltdown. The EU showed just such lack of courage with its energy strategy announcements this week that did not attempt to slow down energy demand.

The problem for Britain was summed up by the Institute for Policy Research in its report High Stakes when it concluded that we need "action that starts sooner and moves more quickly than would be characterised as practical in today's political climate".

Our slumbering democracy needs to wake up and wake up fast. Without strong leadership to guide and inspire us through these complex times we must all become environmental leaders in our own homes, streets, communities and towns. And our strength? Yes you have guessed it. It is as economic units – consumers. This is where it all comes full circle. Because we are the ones who fuel the economy we can have a big say in what we want to consume and how businesses run.

Just a few questions you might like to start asking businesses. Why are shop doors left wide open with the heating blasting away? Why is the lighting excessive and left on 24/7? Why can't we buy locally grown produce and why can't it be fair trade too? Once you start asking you will think of lots more questions. WAKE UP - Its The Environment Stupid.

6 January 2007

We should be dealing with Saudi Arabians, but not by selling them arms

By Liam Carroll

Since the Arabian tribes helped the British and the French throw the Turks out of the Arabian Peninsula over ninety years ago, the UK has enjoyed strong relations with Saudi Arabia. The relationship has largely revolved around the Kingdom’s huge oil reserves which have allowed the House of Saud, it's ruling family, to indulge in excessive military spending.

The proportion of the country's wealth spent on weapons from the West though is a source of tension inside Saudi Arabia, and has long been used by radical Islamic militants in anti government preaching. Further dissatisfaction with the regime stems from the House of Saud’s resistance to constitutional reform and their failure to guarantee increased civil liberties.

While the UK Government may claim to be a partner in pushing for political reforms in Saudi Arabia, the recent intervention by the Government into the Serious Fraud Office investigation into a BAE/Saudi arms deal has raised serious questions about the UK's priorities.

The official line from the Foreign Office was "UK-Saudi relations are very strong. The UK and Saudi Arabia have intertwined and inseparable interests in our attempts to combat global terrorism and improving regional stability."

A serious scandal is now brewing around the Government's intervention; however the real scandal surrounds the fact that we sell weapons to Saudi Arabia at all. Saudi Arabia is an odious regime where political oppression, torture, executions and blatant denial of the rights of women are deeply entrenched. Further to this, most people live in poverty while the Royal Family squanders the countries vast oil wealth. Superficially, the UK economy benefits from such extravagance as British registered companies like BAE Systems fill their order books with billion dollar contracts. Yet on a deeper level our cosy relationship has been a disaster.

The failure of the West to encourage political reforms inside Saudi Arabia, combined with seemingly unrestricted arms sales has been one of the rallying cries of the radical Islamic militants who have massively increased the number of attacks against mostly UK and US targets inside the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is home to the most extreme form of Islam, the Wahhabi religion. The Taliban are Wahhabi's, Osama Bin Laden is a Wahhabi, and so are the Saudi Arabian Royal Family.

How does 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan and the wider War on Terror help balance the benefits derived from all those arms deals? Saudi Arabians formed the largest national contingent of those seized in Afghanistan and taken to Guantanamo. Fatwas have been issued by prominent Saudi clerics calling on muslims to support the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.

Is that what the Foreign Office means by "inseperable interests in our attempts to combat global terrorism and improving regional stability"? I think I know what they do mean. Militants that wish to bring down the Saudi Royal family are at work in what is the homeland to the two most sacred shrines of Islam, Mecca and Medina. These militants have a ready source of recruits amongst the discontented subjects of the regime, and the radical ideology to go with it. No one in Europe or across the Atlantic could tolerate such a situation and the message from the Foreign Office is clear; "we must stand shoulder to shoulder with the Saudi's as they attempt to keep a lid on the widespread discontent in their regime".

But where has this discontent come from? It stems from the utterly foolish way in which the Saudis have squandered the countries vast oil wealth on arms when they should have been investing in education, training facilities and hospitals and other institutions of social welfare.

We do the Saudi Arabian Royal Family no favours by indulging their taste for ever more expensive and advanced jet fighters. Instead of wilting in the face of billion dollar contracts the Government needs to use its good relations to insist on progressive democratic developments. If our interests really are inseparable then its about time we fought for genuine stability based on sound governance and respect for human rights, not the maintenance of the status quo.

No doubt British officials in the last century found it easier to appease the feelings of the Saudi Arabian rulers rather than push for meaningful political reforms. It may be tempting to continue to do the same today as large orders come rolling in for prominent British companies like BAE Systems. The real costs may be further down the line, and it maybe only then that we realise we have been conducting the wrong kind of deals.