24 December 2011

Eat, Drink and be Merry

By Mark Crutchley

Christmas is a great time for sitting back, spending time with friends and family, and doing nothing. Eat drink and be merry as the saying goes and who am I to disagree with that. But once the season is over doing nothing ceases to be a positive course, because the problems which we face in both the environment and financial system mean that doing nothing is the worst possible option.

In 2011 Time presented its award for person of the year to “The Protester” and we have to hope that the movements around the world which sprang to life this year can gather strength and achieve even more in 2012. They are desperately needed because as is gradually becoming clear to people, our existing system has failed on many different levels.

It has failed environmentally. Climate change is just one aspect of this failure and our inability to reach agreement on limiting CO2 emissions says much about the lack of commitment to the environment which governments have. There are rapidly increasing rates of environmental degradation in many parts of the world and a collapse in bio-diversity, particularly in the tropics, which mocks the agreement which nations made to halt its loss by 2010.

It has failed financially. The ongoing crisis in the Eurozone is just one aspect of this failure, and crucially one which is diverting attention away from the fact that we have exactly the same problems of excessive debt here in the UK. There is an excellent interview from the BBC Hard Talk series with an economist called Steve Keen which I would encourage people to take a few minutes over the Christmas period to take a listen to. He argues that we are already in a new depression and we must take radical action to prevent it continuing and deepening.

It has failed billions of people, who in nations around the world are struggling to cope without basic necessities like clean running water or adequate provision for sewerage. Many lack enough food for proper nutrition despite the fact that the world produces more than enough to feed everyone.

These problems are not going to be fixed by a bit of modest tinkering at the edge of the system. A bit of belt-tightening; a more expansionary fiscal policy; write off some of the debts; and all will be well again tomorrow. We have to face up to the fact that the system needs a radical overhaul.

I am not saying that I know what the answers are. Just that the questions have to be asked and asked again until society is prepared to address them and move forward. So we need the occupy movement, climate change activists, 38 Degrees, UK Uncut and all the other groups which are refusing to accept that power should reside solely with our elected politicians and the narrow economic elites which control financial markets around the world, to continue the fight.

When you have finished eating, drinking and being merry, why not make a New Year’s resolution to join them.

10 December 2011

A burning issue: ‘embodied emissions’

By Rupert Read

I recently submitted evidence to a key Parliamentary Select Committee on a key issue of our time: the huge increase in carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels relatively inefficiently in parts of the world which have low levels of state regulation (e.g. China). This ‘outsourcing’ or ‘offshoring’ of emissions completely undermines Britain’s supposed reduction in carbon emissions since 1990.

Go to this link to find out how to read all about it: http://rupertsread.blogspot.com/2011/12/embodied-emissions-my-evidence-to.html

We share one world. It doesn’t benefit us or our common world at all if we reduce carbon emissions in one place, only to increase them more in another…

3 December 2011

Occupying the Conversation

This week's column is cross-posted from the Transition Norwich blog, This Low Carbon Life and is an on-site report of a local march and rally for the public sector workers' strike on Wednesday, organised by Lowestoft Against the Cuts (for a video of the Norwich 'Fair Pensions for All' March and Rally by former teacher Ken Hunn see end of post)

Wednesday 30th November, Lowestoft I've just got back from the High Noon Rally and public sector workers' strike march up Lowestoft High Street and the meeting afterwards where I sat with Kate and Rita and Charlotte in the packed United Reform Church, listening to people speak about the effects of the government’s austerity measures on their lives, pensions, families and future prospects.

Teachers, therapists, cooks, retired gardeners and trade unions representatives all spoke about how the government (and the system) was ennabling more than ever the richest to rob the poorest, pushing mercilessly for privatisation, for fewer and fewer workers’ rights or job security and longer hours for less pay. For YEARS to come. How it considers ordinary people as being of no value whatsoever. Like the starlings Jon wrote about on Monday.

A woman who had worked as a public gardener for thirty years told how her annual pension of £2,500 was officially considered ‘gold-plated’. Another who had been a teacher for twenty years said she loved her work, it was all she had ever wanted to do, but the prospect of having to wait until she was 68 to retire made her feel like she was being squeezed of all her life force and there would be nothing left by then. And how that marred the love she felt for her job.

“It’s as if [the people running the system] want you to die so they don’t have to pay you any pension,” said someone from the floor. Everyone cheered.

One primary schoolteacher had left a well-paid media job in London to come and teach in Suffolk after he discovered that all the money he was paying into his private pension would bring him almost nothing when he retired.

“I keep hearing this one word,” he said. “It just keeps speaking to me - solidarity. Now more than ever we need to stick together. We can’t afford not to. Solidarity.”

The atmosphere of the march and the meeting in the church was alive, attentive and engaged. People were listening to each other. I wondered whether I should “stand up to speak” something about Transition or Occupy, mention fossil fuel depletion and energy constraints and the preparations we are making in our local initiatives in the face of these along with climate change and economic instability. After all, Transition is where most of my attention has been focussed for the past four years.

But I felt a bit tongue-tied (even though I hadn’t said anything), and there didn’t seem to be an opening. I thought, well I’ll write about the rally tomorrow and bring in the links with Transition and Occupy then. Better go and get on with that Transition Norwich bulletin. So I tapped fellow Sustainable Bungay transitioner Kate on the shoulder and mouthed “Got to go, see you soon…”

At that moment a woman stood up and brought Occupy into the meeting. I sat back down. She’d been to OccupyLSX and Occupy Norwich. It was really important to consider this movement, she said, because its presence in all these cities of the world brings constant attention to the vast economic and social inequality which exists and is exacerbated by the present gormengahst of the global financial system. Because of Occupy more and more people are seeing what they didn’t see before. And as Arundhati Roy once said talking about the social and environmental ravages of dambuilding in India, once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it.

And take care not to just side with the mainstream media when they talk about finding drug needles and the presence of alcohol at the London Occupy site, the speaker reminded us. This is the middle of London. Every day food is provided free and there are tents to sleep in. Of course you’re going to get homeless people, maybe even people on drugs. That’s what’s going on in our society. “I’ve been there a couple of times and I’ve noticed that the homeless are included. Maybe included for the first time in a long time. Not everybody here may agree with the protesters but it is a non-violent movement, with a lot of young people concerned about a future with few prospects. Just like we are here."

The people in the room cheered again and the retired gardener with the ‘gold-plated’ pension stood up and exhorted everyone to make sure their trades union leaders supported Occupy.

This was the cue for Kate and me. We put our hands up. Kate went first, introducing both of us and Sustainable Bungay and a few core Transition concepts around building community resilience. This is the woman who a few years ago at one of our core group meetings stood up and delivered a two minute talk on Peak Oil and Climate Change with no props and you just got it. It was also Kate who stood up at a climate conference in Bungay in 2007 and exhorted the people in the room to get together to come up with some solutions. That was the beginning of Sustainable Bungay. So she had to speak first! And it made me feel far less nervous about standing up to speak.

I said one of the most important things about Occupy was how it opened up and held a space for conversations to happen which aren’t normally granted any space at all, certainly not in the mainstream public discourse.

And what could be more mainstream than the vast and growing social inequality wrought by a small elite via an oppressive machine-like system that ultimately has no one’s best interests at heart? This is a time when our very humanity is at stake. We need to be talking with each other.

Pete then said how at OccupyLSX he had witnessed an intense conversation start up amongst a group of besuited city workers visiting the site. They were talking about it, too.

I‘ve visited OccupyNorwich a few times now and experienced this openness, both in listening to what other people have to say about our human situation and in being listened to myself. And I've encountered warmth and intelligence each time.

As I left the rally for the library yesterday a young woman at the door offered me a ticket for the Murphy's Lore gig later in the evening. I'd have loved to, I said, I really like Murphys Lore. But I have to write an article and help prepare a bulletin. Help keep the spaces open for those conversations... Mark Watson

Pics: High Noon Rally in Lowestoft; Marching up the High Street; Occupy Norwich general assembly; It's the private sector too; You don't have to be a Socialist Worker to read the Socialist Worker, Kate and I at the public sector strike meeting

Read the original article here

Video of Norwich March - November 30