Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The BBC - unbiased reporting on behalf of the powerful

After last week's protests, the BBC interviewed Jody McIntyre - a young political activist who's been pulled out of his wheelchair by the police. You can read Jody's own account of the protest here, and watch the interview below:

Sadly, this is representative of most of the mainstream media throughout the protests. Much respect is due to Jody McIntyre for holding his own very effectively against the awful interviewer, but this was such a perfect example of how bad the BBC can be at reporting this stuff that I've written a complaint. Other people have too. If you want to join in, go and fill in the form here.

Here's the text of my complaint:

The context: a man with cerebral palsy has been pulled out of his wheelchair and dragged across the concrete - twice - by police officers. These officers have given no good reason for doing this - both times, their actions appear to have been completely unprovoked.

So when the victim of these attacks - political activist and blogger Jody McIntyre - is interviewed on the BBC, you'd expect the interviewer to show a bit of respect, allow Mr McIntyre to tell his story and ask him his opinions about it. Instead, the interviewer Ben Brown launches into a bizarrely aggressive series of questions, suggesting that Mr McIntyre had somehow behaved in a threatening manner to provoke the police. From his wheelchair. Which he couldn't wheel himself. Mr McIntyre himself points out early on how ludicrous it is to suggest that he could in any way pose a physical threat to a line of armed and armoured riot police, but Brown returns to this ridiculous, accusatory line of questioning again and again.

Whenever Mr McIntyre starts talking about more useful and relevant issues such as police violence against other protesters such as Alfie Meadows; the damage that would be caused by education cuts; or the media's double standards in how they report injuries to protesters as compared to the police or the powers-that-be, Brown ignores him and keeps repeating the same offensive suggestion that McIntyre must have done something to deserve being attacked by the police. It was horribly biased reporting and completely disgusting to watch. The interviewee was not given a fair hearing and was treated as though he was the attacker rather than the victim.

On a wider note: is Mr Brown's memory really so short that he can't remember any incidents of unprovoked or unjustified police attacks on protesters (or passers-by)? Why is someone so clearly anti-protest and pro-police violence being employed as an "impartial" reporter, to report from the frontline of protests for the BBC? Does he really believe that a few youths chucking stones at riot cops' shields justifies the mass batoning of unarmed protesters, horse charges against terrified children and a twenty-year-old in hospital for brain surgery after being struck by a police officer from behind?

I would like Ben Brown to make a personal apology to Mr McIntyre for his disgraceful and unprofessional behaviour, and I would like assurances from the BBC that they will use less biased journalists than Ben Brown for their frontline protest reporting from now on.

Yours sincerely,

Danny Chivers, Oxford

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Shop a Scrounger

Here we go - slam poetry vs. tax dodging and spending cuts!

If you like it, please share the link or embed it on your own blog/webpage. Let's remind people these cuts aren't necessary, they're ideological - and there are plenty of alternatives. Plus, everyone needs to know that there really is a rhyme for "Guernsey".

Big thanks to Zoe Broughton and Pete Speller for very generously volunteering their filming and editing skills to make this happen!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Watching the watchers

Last Wednesday, during the anti-tuition fees march, hundreds of people occupied Millbank (the location of Tory Party HQ) while thousands more cheered them on, in an amazing piece of direct action protest. While this was going on, a few people broke windows, there was a small amount of push-and-shove with the cops (with some students getting nastily batoned) and one person stupidly dropped a fire extinguisher from the roof (for which he was angrily booed by the crowd).

Rather than report this for what it was - an inspiring, largely spontaneous mass occupation with a bit of (understandable) property damage - most of the media chose to describe it as "a descent into violence", and sadly a lot of people who should know better (including the NUS President) seem to be parroting that line. I wish the fire extinguisher thing hadn't happened, but to condemn thousands of protesters for the action of a single person is disgraceful.

Many people who were there will now feel worried about becoming victims of a high-profile witch-hunt simply for taking part in a bit of civil disobedience. More windows get smashed on an average Saturday night in London than at Millbank on Wednesday, but elements of the media are treating it like the crime of the century, and launching vendettas against the people involved. The Government are about to gut the education system, strip away legal aid, privatise huge swathes of our public services and hurl millions of people out of work, off benefits and into poverty - we need to get our priorities straight here, and go after the Government, not the people who are standing up against the cuts!

I personally would not have broken the windows at Millbank. Property damage has its place as an activist tactic - for example, the "decommissioning" of arms factories, weaponry or bulldozers - but I suspect this particular occupation would have been more effective without it [3pm update - I've been reminded that the broken windows did achieve something useful by making the protest far more hard-hitting and high-profile - see the comments below]. However, I still want to support the people who did it - they were young people watching their future being stolen from them, and so were understandably angry (and, as this video shows, several of the windows were broken simply to let more people in). All of us who oppose the cuts should be looking to stand together in solidarity. To be successful, this anti-cuts uprising is going to need everyone, from polite letter-writers to marchers to occupiers, and while it's fine for us to debate tactics amongst ourselves - and sometimes disagree - we can't allow ourselves to be divided and ruled. Everyone who cares about stopping the cuts should show their support to the Millbank invaders.

One group who've been doing just that are FitWatch. They were originally formed in 2007 to prevent on-the-ground harassment of protesters by police "Forward Intelligence Teams" (FITs) - those officers who photograph and film you just for attending a demonstration or going to a meeting, and gather vast reams of intrusive information on campaigners. After the Millbank protest, FitWatch posted some advice on their website for anyone who was at the occupation and was worried about police harassment. The police responded this Monday by closing the FitWatch site down.

At which point, the social networks kicked into action. Within hours, hordes of outraged people had reposted the offending advice on their own websites, blogs, and Facebook pages. After a flurry of media coverage - i.e. a load of free publicity - the FitWatch site came back online today, only to seemingly be suspended once again. [Update at 3pm - the new Fitwatch site is working fine, it was just a "DNS transfer issue", apprarently. Woop!]

I'm told this is just a temporary glitch, and that some browsers just can't see the site yet. Hopefully that's correct, and the site will be visible to everyone soon. In the meantime, you can check out their advice to the Millbank protesters here. As lots of people have already reposted that one, I'm going to put up another FitWatch article that the police would rather you didn't see - all about the police trying to use the student demo as an excuse to return to the heavy-handed tactics that led to the death of Ian Tomlinson at last year's G20 protests:

Police seek to capitalise on student demo to justify further repression and their own budgets
(from www.fitwatch.org.uk)

Although the actions of the students last week were inspiring and empowering, it should come as no surprise the media savvy police are using it as an ideal opportunity to both fight back against cuts to their budgets and to counter the recent bad press regarding protest policing.

The NCDE domestic extremist units are claiming they have suffered in the cuts. Former head of NCDE, Anton Setchell has retired, and head of NETCU, Steve Pearl has been given the boot, and both have been replaced by a cheaper, junior model - Detective Chief Supt Adrian Tudway. Steve seems particularly upset about getting sacked and has been whining to the Telegraph about how, if he was still running the units, their intelligence on the riots would have been better.

As usual, he is talking nonsense. The police didn’t predict the disorder because it wasn’t planned; the march wasn’t hijacked. I read the same websites as the cops, I know lots of activists, the intelligence we all had before the demo would have been similar. Yes, there were rumours of civil disobedience, and autonomous blocs, but this is true of every major demonstration. It would certainly have been true on the entirely peaceful February 15 Iraq demo, and there was no particular reason to believe this would be any different.

This is a desperate attempt by an unpopular unit to appear relevant and we must not be fooled. NCDE are bleating about cuts when only a few weeks ago they were squandering money sending Ian Caswell to Plymouth to monitor and photograph Trident Ploughshares pacifists.

The lack of police action at the protest had nothing to do with the cuts. Ever since the bad publicity surrounding G20 and Kingsnorth Climate Camp, the MET have taken a softly softly approach towards protest, and it was always obvious that eventually this would fail and it would be used as an excuse to continue repressing and harassing protesters. One senior police officer, speaking to The Guardian admitted the protests had done them “a favour”, stating “In the past we have been criticised for being too provocative. During the next demo no one can say a word.”

The students who occupied Millbank are not domestic extremists, they are angry, brave and passionate people who care about what this government is doing to the country. They have grown up witnessing the futility of being herded from A to B and listening to the platitudes of irrelevant politicians.

Ordinary people are angry, with even a Daily Star poll showing the majority in favour of the students rioting. The fight back is on, people will not be repressed, and no amount of intelligence on the usual suspects from a redundant unit is going to make a difference.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

New Poem!

As usual, it works better in performance than written down (some of the rhythms are particularly awkward in this one, heh) but you should get the general idea...

Shop a Scrounger

People of Britain!
If you’re not exactly smitten
By the huge chunks being bitten
From the nation’s welfare, health and education
If you’re not sure what to make
Of the public sector being wrecked or
Stretched until it breaks
In a scrambled right-wing fiscal gamble
With our future as the stake
Don’t worry! There’s a piece of simple action you can take.

While most people in this country are prepared to pay their way
There’s a minority of scroungers
Stashing heaps of cash away
Yes, it’s an interesting fact
That if we gathered all the tax
That’s owed by wealthy tax avoiders
Plus the stuff that they evade
Then we could raise twice as much money*
As the spending cuts would save.

But the Government
Seems strangely intent
On not pursuing this rich vein of wrongdoing
Which is why I’m bringing you in.

It’s your duty to try to keep an eye
– OK, to spy –
If you think your wealthy neighbours are tax-dodging on the sly.
It’s a vital civic task – all we ask is that you’re ready to grass up any dodgy-looking members of the wealthy ruling class.
It’s fine to call our hotline with anything suspicious: a secret collection of antique dishes? A breeding pond of rare oriental fishes? An offshore account in Mauritius?
If every million he earns he
Sends to a friend in Guernsey;
If her spouse runs the business from a house in the Seychelles
That should ring some alarm bells…

Have you spotted the boss of Marks and Sparks
Sneaking out after dark
To meet his accountant on a bench in the park?
Have you figured out the whereabouts
Of Richard Branson’s hidden ransoms,
Murdoch’s dirty stocks
or Lord Ashcroft’s cash loft?

If you spot a dodger, just lodge a complaint – unless of course you’re a sinister Government minister with a few million tucked away yourself on an Atlantic shelf and you’re using the deficit as an excuse to cut loose that pesky welfare state and flog off health, education and the assets of the nation to your corporate mates – in which case, best to lay off the tax divers and skivers coz if they paid their dues then your excuse to gut the state would suddenly…evaporate.

In the words of a friend who was sat on the floor
Of a Vodafone store
Tax demand in her hand
Banners blocking the door:
We just can’t ignore all this stuff anymore.
Let’s cash in our passion, not hold it offshore
Drag them out of their loopholes, lay their assets bare
And calmly demand that they pay their fair share
Till the case for the cuts melts away in the air.

Has your future been nicked by some comfortable craven
Relaxed on his back in a sunny tax haven
On a luxury, tax-free plush sun lounger?
Don’t take this lying down:
Shop a corporate scrounger.

Danny Chivers, November 2010

* The proposed spending cuts are £80bn, phased in over four years. Spread evenly, this means the Government would save £20bn the first year, £40bn the second year, £60bn the third year and £80bn the fourth year. So £200bn over four years. Meanwhile, tax avoidance, evasion and late payments totals an estimated £120bn per year, or £480 over four years - more than twice as much between now and 2014.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

No-Nonsense Teaser

So I'm in the final stages of writing the new, updated version of the No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change, due to be published by the New Internationalist early next year. The book is already being promoted on the NI website so, you know, there's no pressure or anything. I am completely calm and it's all under control. Yes.

Anyway, this is why I've been absent from this blog for a while, and will be for a bit longer; in the meantime, here's a little teaser from the upcoming book. It's my take on everyone's favourite climate wonder technology, Carbon Capture and Storage!


Wouldn’t it be great if we could just make all those pesky fossil fuel emissions disappear? If we could just suck the CO2 out of the power stations, steel works and tar sands refineries, bury it underground somewhere, and just keep on burning coal, gas and oil into the future? Wouldn’t that be a brilliant solution to all our problems?

Well, if you happen to live next to an opencast coal mine, tar sands extraction project, oil well or gas pipeline, probably not. But if we forget about all the people who are being negatively impacted by fossil fuel extraction and just concentrate on stopping climate change, wouldn’t it be a great idea?

Governments and energy companies certainly think so – they’ve been pouring time and money into “Carbon Capture and Storage” (CCS) research, and talking it up at every opportunity. Listening to pronouncements from energy and environment ministers in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia or China, you’d be forgiven for believing that this technology is just on the horizon and is about to solve all our climate change problems. Sadly, the reality isn’t quite so promising.

The technology does exist to capture CO2 from fossil-fuel burning on a small scale and then either store it in a tank or pump it underground, but scaling it up to the point where we can start sucking the carbon out of entire power plants is a whole other matter. Firstly, we’re talking about a lot of carbon dioxide. A typical coal-fired power station could easily emit around 8 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Capturing, liquefying, piping and storing that much gas would be a huge operation, and no-one yet knows if it could be made to work at all at that scale. Globally, humanity produces nearly 13 billion tonnes of CO2 per year from coal alone – are we really sure we can store all of that safely underground somewhere, for ever? It’s five times the volume of oil that we currently suck out of the ground , so just capturing 20% of our coal emissions would need new infrastructure roughly the same size as the entire global oil industry. Ouch.

Secondly, carbon capture looks set to be hugely expensive – all that extra infrastructure will takes lots of money and energy to build and maintain, and is likely to make the coal plants too expensive to run (this is why energy corporations have been trying to persuade governments to foot the bill for carbon capture). Thirdly, it could only ever be a partial solution, capturing 80-90% of the emissions from each power station, at best – and it would be no help at all with vehicles, home heating, deforestation, and all the other emissions sources.

All of this uncertainty means that working CCS – scaled-up, tried and tested carbon capture that could be safely fitted to a large power station - is still a long way off (if it’s ever going to happen at all). The most optimistic industry experts reckon it’ll arrive in 2030; others make it ten or twenty years later. In other words: way too late for avoiding runaway climate change. It looks like we need to stick to our original targets and keep the fossil fuels in the ground.

Despite this, governments and business keep talking about carbon capture as though it’s an imminent solution to everything. Cynical people like me can’t help noticing that this is a brilliant distraction tactic, allowing them to fob off public concern while continuing to burn coal and dig up the tar sands. Good old business-as-usual.

It’s a bit like: You’re driving towards a cliff edge, faster and faster. The people in the back seats are shouting at you to turn the car. You shout back, “It’s just not politically possible to change direction at this point! But don’t worry, I’m pretty sure these untested home-made bolt-on wings will be ready in time.”


PS To the mysterious "Sensibleman" who submitted a comment on my last blog post: I didn't publish it because it was just a collection of personal insults. I'm very happy to be challenged and criticised, but for goodness sake have a bit of imagination about it and don't just fling boring old ad hominen attacks around. Go on, have another go. I know you can do better.

- Brought to you by the Campaign To Make Internet Commenting A Bit Less Nasty and Pointless

Friday, 27 August 2010


I'm hammering away at the third and final part of my Climate Camp report-back, but in the meantime here's a video of me performing "Consumed" this week in Edinburgh, from the fine folks at Climate Camp TV:

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Five things you probably didn't know about the Edinburgh Climate Camp: Part 2

OK, so Part 1 turned into a bit of a rant about media coverage. Sorry about that. I feel much better now.

Let’s get on with some more interesting stuff:

2) 150 protesters came within a whisker of occupying RBS’s headquarters

On Sunday, around 150 people from the camp, wearing white hazard suits and face masks and accompanied by a thumping sound system, strode across the small bridge separating the Camp from RBS. The police weren’t expecting any large demonstrations until Monday, and so were caught largely off-guard, with only a dozen or so officers in the immediate area. The protesters pushed through the police line and, whooping and cheering, made their way right up to the windows of the bank’s headquarters.

From my vantage point on the other side of the stream, I couldn’t make out all the details of what was happening at the front of the crowd, but I heard the crash of breaking glass and quickly realised what was going on. They were trying to get into the building!

RBS headquarters is a fortress. There’s no conceivable way in except through one of the large plate windows, and someone had obviously prepared for this moment and brought the necessary tools for the job. It seems that they did manage to create a large enough hole to get people inside, but police reinforcements arrived and just managed to push the activists back, and back over the bridge.

Just imagine what would have happened if they’d got inside. If hundreds of activists had occupied the bank’s headquarters, it would have had incredible symbolic power: bringing the message about RBS’s destructive investments right into the belly of the beast. Sadly, the media mostly reported the incident as though it was an act of vandalism rather than an almost-successful invasion attempt. All the same, it was probably the most full-on and confrontational action I’ve ever seen at a Climate Camp, and when everyone gathered to discuss it in the main marquee later that night, you could taste the energy and excitement in the air. As we lurch deeper into the climate crisis, and as governments and corporations still fail to act with the necessary urgency, we need more stuff going on across the whole of society – including increasingly bold direct action.

This kind of action can seem extreme, or frightening. I used to feel that way about this sort of thing myself, not so long ago. But the more I learn about the urgency of this crisis and our failure to address it, the more I accept the need for increasingly loud wake-up calls, so long as they are non-violent and targeting the real culprits. If this was the only kind of action that was going on, then yes, I think there’d be a risk of alienating people. But so long as we are also engaging, connecting with and inspiring people in many other ways, then confrontational actions like this one can play a vital role in pushing the debate forward, showing governments, corporations and the public that climate justice is such a serious and urgent issue that people are prepared to break the law in order to stop it.

3) The Camp was a calm, friendly, safe and inspiring place

It’s hard to express in words the sense of community that the Climate Camp can create. Unlike the Blackheath camp in 2009, this camp consisted mainly of people who were there to actively participate, not to just pass through. This meant that everyone got stuck into setting up and running the site, cooking, cleaning, putting on workshops and planning actions. I’ve never experienced anything like it outside the Camps: 1,000 people all living and working together, making decisions by consensus, from varied backgrounds but united by a powerful common cause. Not everyone is there to break the law, but there's an underlying agreement about "diversity of tactics" - that everyone at the Camp is taking action for climate justice in a way that works for them, and that we're happy to work together under the same umbrella even though some people want to hand out leaflets and others want to chain themselves to bulldozers.

As I said in my last post, it’s not perfect yet – some accidental hierarchies inevitably emerge, based on who has the most knowledge, experience, or eloquence; old hands can forget how alien the camp can seem to new arrivals, especially those not familiar with similar events (or those from very different cultures, as in the case of the Indigenous Canadian tar sands activists who visited the camp); the consensus process is very much a work in progress and there are always communication failures and things that fall through the cracks. Despite all this, it’s an incredibly inspiring thing to be a part of – a tiny glimpse of an alternative world where we all look out for each other, share out tasks equally and have loads of fun together. I’d urge anyone with an interest in climate change to get along to a Climate Camp (if it happens again) – it’s an unforgettable experience.

The fact that the policing was much more low-key than past camps also helped, of course. How much this is to do with differing policing strategies between England and Scotland, and how much it was to do with the hammering that we gave the cops in the media and the courts last year over their oppressive policing of protest, is very hard to say (but that won't stop me from saying it: I reckon it's mainly because of the media and legal hammering).

I left the Camp feeling energised (well, physically knackered but mentally energised), optimistic, and part of a powerful and exciting community of climate activists. Reading other people's words on the subject (such as here and here) it seems as though I'm not alone...

Part 3 to follow soon - which will, confusingly, contain points 4) and 5). Hurrah for forward planning!

Five things you probably didn’t know about the Edinburgh Climate Camp (Part 1)

It was always going to be too good to last. After a gradual trend over the last few years towards the half-decent reporting of climate protest, we've slipped back to media-as-usual.

The Camp for Climate Action pounced cheekily onto RBS’s back garden last Wednesday night, setting up tents, marquees, wind turbines and compost toilets in the very grounds of the bank’s global headquarters. Their mission: to highlight the links between finance and climate change, to expose the fact that RBS is the UK bank with the bigge
st investment in fossil fuels (including the disastrous Tar Sands extraction projects in Canada), and to challenge the bonkers notion that endless economic growth is possible on a finite planet. All of this stuff was laid out in a rather good newspaper-style pamphlet that the protesters have been dishing out around the country for the last couple of months – there’s an online copy here.

This aerial photo shows the section of the Camp nearest to RBS HQ - there's more of the camp behind the trees (photo by kriptick, from the Climate Camp photo pool)

You'd know little of this from reading the new
spapers, especially the Scottish press (I’ve not seen or heard any TV or radio coverage, but I don’t suspect that they’re wildly different). It pains me to link to any of it, but there are some pretty typical (and terrible) examples here and here. I’ve attended all five Climate Camps (six if you include the G20 camp), and while there have been plenty of examples of bad media along the way I think this one's had the greatest disconnect between what actually happened on the ground and the way it was reported. To spend five days in the company of such gentle, compassionate, and inspiring people, and then see them described across the media with such a weird mixture of bile and ridicule (strangely, climate activists seem to be dangerous radicals and spoilt student wannabes at the same time) – even though I know I shouldn't be surprised, I still find it pretty upsetting.

Scary, dangerous threats to society, setting up a campsite in a particularly terrifying fashion (photo by Amelia Gregory, from the Climate Camp photo pool)

The Climate Camp wasn’t perfect. There are still plenty of things that need improving in this energetic and slightly chaotic action network – but the Camp and its participants bear little resemblance to the caricatures presented by large chunks of media this week.

Here are five things that you may not have picked up
from the mainstream coverage:

1) The “oil spill” was nothing to do with the Climate Camp

In 2007 it was “hoax bombs” (invented by an Evening Standard journalist). In 2008 it was “a weapons stash” (a bag of cooking and camping equipment, discovered by the Kent Police) and “70 injuries to police officers” (about a dozen cases of heatstroke, backache and bee stings). In 2009, we were told that the police were just trying to help Ian Tomlinson and the protesters got in the way (the video footage, of course, told a very different story, with protesters among the first people to try to help Mr Tomlinson after the vicious police attack). This year, we’ve got an “oil spill”.

According to a police press release, they found “a substance similar to diesel or vegetable oil” spilled onto two major roads in Edinburgh. No evidence of any kind has been presented to link this to the Camp, and no-one from the Camp has claimed any knowledge about the event. The police have provided little information on what exactly the substance was or the quantity involved, and have released no pictures of the “spill”.

Compare this with every other piece of direct action that the Climate Camp has ever been involved in (I’ve documented many of them on this blog in the past). In every case, the target of the action was a corporation or government, never the general public; no-one’s safety was ever purposefully put at risk; and each action was cheerfully claimed by the Camp and usually put into a press release.

I’ve been in enough Climate Camp meetings to know that there is no way that an “oil spill” action like this, if it existed, would be condoned or supported by the Camp. There is a good understanding between everyone involved as to what kind of actions are beyond the pale, and anything that puts the public at risk would definitely fall into that category.

So what actually happened? Giving the police the benefit of the doubt and assuming there really was some sort of spill, there are several possibilities:

Possibility a) It wasn’t an oil slick at all. Considering how many groups of people were carrying large amounts of molasses and treacle around Edinburgh that weekend (see below), it’s not hard to imagine that some could get accidentally spilt while crossing a road. "Climate activists accidentally spill cake ingredients"
isn't quite so exciting a headline though.

A protest outside Cairn Energy on Monday. Note to police: this is not real oil. (photo by Amelia Gregory, from the Climate Camp photo pool)

Possibility b) It is incredibly unlikely – but just within the bounds of possibility - that some unknown person or persons purposefully poured something on
to the road. Even if this happened (and I don’t think it did), and even if it was meant to be something to do with climate change (in some incredibly tenuous way) I think it would be incredibly unfair to blame the Camp for this. The network has spent the last five years training and supporting people to hold sit-ins, lock-ons and non-violent occupations, but has never done anything to encourage people to take actions that would endanger the public. On the rare occasions that I’ve heard anything along those lines suggested in a meeting (usually by an undercover journalist), it would be instantly and unequivocally rejected by the other participants. Action training sessions at the Camp stress safety above all else - the safety of both the participants and the public. If anyone had come up with an inappropriate or dangerous plan at the Edinburgh camp, the “Action Support” team would have gently but firmly steered them away from the idea. In fact, the training, education, and action support provided by the Camp over the past five years (along with other action networks such as Plane Stupid, Rising Tide and Climate Rush) has probably made UK climate protest far safer, and greatly lowered the risk of unsafe actions.

Possibility c) Whatever it was, it was spilt by someone else. All sorts of stuff gets accidentally spilt on busy roads all the time – and just think how many tens of thousands of vehicles must have passed along those roads during the Camp. This is the most overwhelmingly likely explanation.

So how the hell did this unrelated event become the focal point for all the mainstream media this week, an oily stick for beating Climate Camp? Sadly, all the usual explanations apply. The police decided to link the “spill” to the Camp and put it in a press release, where it was seized upon by a sensationalist media looking for a thrilling angle. This plays neatly into the police’s hands – all of the negative press coverage and legal cases last year after their G20 behaviour was exposed has forced them to police the Camps more lightly in 2009 and 2010, but the more that protesters are demonised in the media, the easier it will be for the police to get a free (heavy) hand again in the future. This doesn't necessarily mean that the "spill" rumour was invented by the police – it was probably just part of their usual ongoing PR assualt, of unscrupulously seizing any opportunity to portray activists in a bad light, and they just happened to score a direct hit with this one. Sadly, the media have gone back to their pre-G20 habit of automatically believing everything the police say, and treating the protesters’ side of the story with suspicion or dismissal.

Other circumstances didn’t help – the fact that the Camp’s media team were more used to dealing with the London-based media, and so had few friendly contacts in the Scottish press; the fact that quite a few of the protesters were not Scottish, but were targeting a financial institution with “Scotland” in its name; the fact that, unlike Heathrow or Kingsnorth, the climate activists were not standing together with a directly affected local community. Overstretched Camp volunteers may have got a few things wrong too, such as putting a "guide to dealing with the media" - that casts journalists in a rather unfavourable light - online where journalists were bound to read it. Plus, of course, the corporate media are rarely going to report fairly on an action movement that attempts to directly challenge the power of corporations and wealthy elites.

All of these things have added up to a largely undeserved couple of bad media days for the Camp for Climate Action - w
hich is a shame, because back in the real world the Camp was, overall, a positive experience and some pretty important things happened. I’ll detail some of them in a separate post, because the first of my “five things” has turned out rather longer than expected! Stay tuned for points 2 to 5, which I promise will be a bit more upbeat...

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Radio Silence

Sorry for being off air for a while - interesting occurences in my private life (in a good way!) have been taking up a lot of my time, and now I'm busy writing a book (just a small one mind), so probably won't be posting much in the next month or so.

In the meantime, you should probably figure out how you're going to get to this year's Climate Camp - it's happening THIS MONTH and it's gonna be ace.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Now THIS is a political party

On Saturday, 150 people invaded a Shell petrol station in Islington to protest about the company's destructive activities in Canada, Ireland and Nigeria. Watch this wonderful film to get a sense of what it what like:

Inspiring protests like this one are happening all the time, but are often ignored or downplayed by the mainstream media. We're very fortunate to have video activists like Felix of You & I Films, who made this little gem - now it's up to us to get it out there, far and wide!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Chickening out of the climate challenge

Hi folks,

I've got a new post up on my "serious" blog - Chickening out of the Climate Challenge.

It was originally written for the Guardian website, but then they never posted it in the end. I might bug them about it and see if they'll let me do an updated version after tonight's "leadership" "debate".

Should be something by Monbiot up in Guardiansville tomorrow about our national carbon calculator though. Hopefully that'll give us a wave of new users, nicely timed coz we're just ironing out a few bugs. Wheeeeeee.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

An alternative election message...

Help me to shove a video spanner into the General Election!

As the election hype builds to a frenzy, it's important to remind ourselves that we're each far more than just a vote:

I would love your help in getting this out there before the General Election - please plaster it all over your blogs and facebooks and twitters and whatnots, and don't forget good old-fashioned email too.

Huge thanks to Jamie at pheme.org and Cameron Hills for all their help with this one.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Yanking the levers of power

Right. It's here at last. The project I've spent nearly two years working on - a carbon calculator for the entire UK economy.

The idea was to create an interactive tool to show where all the UK's emissions were really coming from, and how different policies or behaviour changes would affect them. After slogging away at this on my own for a year, I decided to approach the Guardian to see if I could get it on their website - you'll be shocked to learn that, huge as my readership is, more people would be likely to see it over there than on this blog. I managed to catch their interest, they got their web team on the case, and we've been working to pull it together for the last six months or so.

And now, finally, it's arrived. Go and have a play, take control of the UK economy, and try to reduce our emissions to a safe level. Some particularly interesting things that stand out for me:

* Consumption is absolutely key. It's not possible to get down to a safe level without a reduction in the amount of stuff we consume as a nation.
* Ten new nuclear plants would make a pifflingly small difference to overall emissions, in relation to the massive cost and risk they would involve.
* None of the major political parties are offering policies that come near what the model tells us we need - the Guardian has got the energy/environment spokespeople for each party to have a go on the tool, and post their results online. The Conservative Greg Clark's response is particularly hilarious - he manages to totally evade the issue and talks about watermelons instead. Brilliant.

I'd love to know what you think...the model isn't perfect, and I'm hoping to be able to work on improving it as we go along. Your suggestions would be very welcome.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Being serious for a moment...

I've just "launched" (i.e. hastily hammered together and shoved online) a new blog, focusing more on my professional work. That'll be the place for info about my carbon footprinting, schools workshops, and climate change speaker stuff. I won't post on it very often - it's more of an info hub for plugging the various bits of paid work I do in order to pay the bills - but if anything interesting happens over there, I'll let you know. In the meantime, you can expect the sporadic, eccentric updates on this blog that you've grown to know and vaguely register.

The reason for setting up my pro blog now is that there's an exciting project I've been working on for a while that's about to go live...watch this space.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Beyond Petulant

On Thursday, I went along with some other folk to BP's Annual General Meeting, to help remind them that launching into a filthy, destructive, and poisonous Canadian tar sands project might not be their best idea ever.

I didn't go into the meeting itself, but a number of critical shareholders did, along with two representatives from the Indigenous communities on the front line of tar sands extraction. Jess Worth describes what happened on her blog:

...most people in the room were listening hard when Niall O’Shea from Co-operative Asset Management got up to make his case.

He talked about how extremely carbon-intensive tar sands extraction is, with significant impacts on water, the local environment and indigenous communities. He argued that BP’s business case didn’t stand up to scrutiny, that the figures presented were way too optimistic, in part because they are based on the assumption that we will continue to pay ever higher prices for oil, whereas in reality high oil prices tend to put the brakes on economies and bring the price back down. Furthermore, as and when they drift higher, this is likely to create demand for alternative sources of energy.

But most importantly, he concluded, there is an ethical question here about the large-scale exploitation of carbon-intensive resources when we as a society need to be going in the opposite direction.

He was swiftly followed by a powerful speech from George Poitras, the former chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation which is 240 km downstream from the tar sands region where BP's planned project will be situated. ‘Many characterise tar sands as ‘dirty oil’. But to me, it’s ‘bloody oil’,’ he began, as the row of board members sitting up on the platform feverishly scribbled notes, ‘because we are observing many rare types of cancer in my community. The governments are not coming to our assistance, the Canadian government even charged my physician when he was just doing his job.'
BP's response to all this criticism? They essentially stuck their fingers in their ears and went "la la la", by reading out a prepared statement that didn't address any of the questions they'd been asked.

But my "favourite" fact about BP's tar sands project is that the company's chosen projections for oil demand - the numbers that make the project look economically viable - are based on the "business as usual" energy use scenario in a recent International Energy Agency report - a scenario where no significant climate policies are put into place and global fossil fuel use continues to climb. The selfsame report points out that such a scenario would almost inevitably lead to "the global average temperature rising by up to 6 degrees C" and "massive climatic change and irreparable damage to the planet".

In other words, BP's proposed tar sands project only makes financial sense in a doomsday scenario. They're planning for the end of the world. This was pointed out to them in the AGM by Louise Rouse of FairPensions - and, sure enough, they completely ignored the question.

This is denial on a whole new level - the wilful ignoring of certain undesirable facts from the very report that they're relying on for their whole business strategy. The best comparison I can make is a 5-year-old child responding to facts they don't like:

"Come on now Tommy, we need to head home - it's 5 o'clock."
"No it isn't"
"We need to go - your Grandma's coming round for tea tonight."
"She's not she's not she's not."

This week, BP proudly told its shareholders that it was leading them boldly into the apocalypse - and 85% of them cheerfully voted for it. But hey, when we're all scrabbling together for tasty rats amidst the ruins of civilisation, at least those BP shares will be generating a nice return.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010


Another new poem. This one's most definitely a performance piece - the chorus is sung, and I generally attempt to get the audience to join in.

I was trying to write something a bit more light-hearted and fun than my usual stuff, but it went a bit...wrong.


You know it’s wrong, but still
You get a guilty little thrill
Every time there’s an explosion on the news.
And if the world is going to hell
You tell yourself you might as well
Just party hard because there’s nothing left to lose
And though you know it isn’t right you start to feel an odd delight
With each new piece of doom and gloom that’s beamed into your room tonight
Does war now thrill you to the core? Does global warming get you hot?
Does swine flu make you grunt and snort with satisfaction?
While the recession is caressing you upon your sweetest spot?
Disaster makes your heart beat faster, there’s a name for this reaction
It’s called

Woah! Disasterbation!
It’s a solution for a panic-stricken nation
Woah! Disasterbation!
It’s all too late, come celebrate, disasterbate.

So the oil is running out, while war reports keep flooding in
And politicians just keep dishing on more rhetoric and spin
If we can’t save society then, well, we might as well destroy it
And if it’s gonna happen anyway we might as well enjoy it
Let’s Armageddon it on! Fuel up, we’re driving to destruction!
Let’s light a global climate pyre using these fire safety instructions!
If billions die in floods and flames, well hey, you’ll probably be saved
And get to madly max it out in some apocalyptic rave
While singing

Woah! Disasterbation!
It’s a solution for a panic-stricken nation
Woah! Disasterbation!
It’s all too late, come celebrate, disasterbate.

But then occasionally you find in the recesses of your mind
A tiny niggling doubt that’s somewhere struggling to get out
Could there be something bad or mean in all these manic dreams you’ve dreamed
Of roller coasting into chaos toasting turmoil with a beam
While other’s lives are going to waste – could this perhaps be in bad taste?
And your own wild wasteful ways are hastening the final days
Of folks who never hear your jokes or get to join your latest craze
Those wars and famines that are happening to people far away
And leaving you – mostly - alone
Could they be real people’s lives with equal value to your own?
Meanwhile, around you is the sound of people muttering “enough”
They aren’t just loafers on the sofa; no, they’re trying to fix this stuff
And they’re delighting in the fight, they’re strangely happy just to try
It’s a whole different kind of party and you’re letting them pass by
And they’re giving you the eye…

But then the nightly news comes on and you immerse yourself once more
In your financial meltdown money shots and climate crisis porn
While singing

Woah! Disasterbation!
It’s a reactionary distraction for the nation
Woah! Disasterbation!
It’s all too late, come celebrate, disasterbate
It’s all too late, come celebrate, disasterbate
It’s all too late, come celebrate…


The first time I performed it, my mum was in the audience. I possibly should have thought that one through a bit more carefully.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Right. Time for a new poem. I wrote this after reading Merrick's piece about climate denial. As usual, it's written for performance rather than the page, so doesn't work as well written down. It's also deliberately educational - I'm thinking of using it for the A-Z of Climate Change. All feedback welcome!


Say it ain’t so
Don’t give me the facts coz I don’t want to know
I said no
Say it ain’t so
Don’t give me the facts coz I don’t want to know

It’s the sun
It’s the clouds
It’s volcanoes
It’s shrouded
In mystery and doubt
And we’ll never find out
No, it’s China -
America’s fault -
Watch your backs, it’s
A global conspiracy to raise your taxes
It’s not warming at all!
Well it is, but not much
Well, OK, quite a lot but not our fault as such
And we’ll grow grapes in London
Except, if you’re wondering,
It’s all made up by scientists to increase their funding
It’s a scam
It’s too late
It’s a natural thing
Please, just tell me I don’t have to do anything.

Say it ain’t so
Don’t give me the facts coz I don’t want to know
I said no
Say it ain’t so
Don’t give me the facts coz I don’t want to know

Why would you believe it?
It’s too hard to bear
The fearful idea
That seemingly innocent things we do here
Turn on the gas, or drive down to Ikea
Could flood out into droughts, storms, to death and despair
Who cares if the science is clear?
Why would we comfortable few want to face
The fact that the future we’ve chosen to chase
Based on the assumption of growing consumption
Of ever more energy, mining and waste
Demands more fossil fuels than the climate can take?
Is it any surprise that we’re willing to cling
To half-baked answers from internet chancers
‘Bout gaps in the science or blizzards in Spring
Or fire-breathing giants from the Lizard King
As the floodwaters rise from Dhaka to Beijing
Please, just tell me I don’t have to do anything.

Say it ain’t so
Don’t give me the facts coz I don’t want to know
I said no
Say it ain’t so
Don’t give me the facts coz I don’t want to know

There are three simple things that we need to show
In order to know
Global warming is real and a thing we should slow
First is the fact that
CO2 warms the atmosphere
Trapping more of the Sun’s rays down here
Now, despite all the online bitching
You can show this yourself in your own kitchen
With a bottle, lamp, vinegar and baking powder
I can point you to a video that shows you how to
Try it yourself, and see how hot all
The air gets in a CO2–filled bottle
It’s basic stuff that we’ve known since 1832*
And no-one seriously says it isn’t true.
Next we need to show that we, down here,
Have been pumping CO2 into the atmosphere
For the last 150 years.
At an unprecedentedly rapid rate
This is well measured, not a matter of debate
We’ve been churning out the stuff like it’s the only thing we knew
And no-one seriously says it isn’t true.
Add these two facts together, we’d expect to see
Our planet getting hotter as the carbon levels shot up
Over the last century
With increased rapidity
Which leads us neatly and sweetly onto fact number three
Where thousands of measurements all over the world
Have been showing the average temperature growing
In a way that’s aligned with the CO2 climb
While the heat from the Sun remained roughly the same
So there’s no other natural cycle to blame
And this is the bit where a few people do
Begin to exclaim that it just can’t be true
Find some minor detail in a stolen email
And start excitedly bleating
That this means that the world isn’t really heating
It’s an evil secret scheme
A conspiracy between
Thousands of temperature measurement stations, altered patterns of bird migration, the Arctic melting into pieces, hundreds of vanishing animal species, the thawing of Siberian tundra, Pacific islands going under, African farmers’ failing crops, trillions of individual raindrops, Indigenous people’s vanishing lands, the way the warming sea expands, the Californian wildfires, the 99% of all climate scientists who are liars, prehistoric ice cores, eroding shores, Al Gore…
They’re all in it together
Hijacking the weather
It sounds far-fetched but I’ll take it all in
If it means that I don’t have to do anything.

Say it ain’t so
Don’t give me the facts coz I don’t want to know
I said no
Say it ain’t so
Don’t give me the facts coz I don’t want to know

But the bit that’s really twisted
Is that - after decades of resisting -
Government and business
Are finally admitting
That the problem does exist
But are doing nowhere near enough to really deal with it
Instead they’re looking for new ways
To make climate peril pay
Setting up complex carbon markets to trade the sky away
Doing naff all for the climate but lots for the bottom line
Which leaves a disillusioned public understandably inclined
To think the whole damn thing’s a scam
And not deserving of their time
But here’s the thing:
It’s our own power we deny
When we say there’s nothing we can do it means we needn’t try
But as soon as we admit
That yes, humans are causing it
That gives us back the chance to act
Against the main culprits:
The banks and corporations chasing endless fossil profits.
For a better world let’s put our crazed economy on trial
And take a stand against the people who would keep us in denial

So I’ll say no
I won’t let it be so
Gonna act on the facts and let a better world flow
I won’t let it be so
Gonna act on the facts and let a better world flow

*Actually 1824 (it was discovered by the French scientist Joseph Fourier), but that didn’t rhyme. It’s true that we knew about it in 1832, though, so I figure this is OK. Poetic license, baby.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Climate Denier "Proves" Climate Change

This is good for a wry, bitter laugh...

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Is it our turn yet?

OK, so I was writing up my thoughts following the Copenhagen debacle and it kind of turned into an article - which the New Internationalist then agreed to publish on their website. It's called "Rising Faster Than The Oceans", and is all about finding a positive way forward now that the world's politicians have screwed everything up so spectacularly. Have a look and let me know what you think (I'd suggest reading it as a companion piece to the article by Jess I mentioned last time).

If you think it's useful, please do spread the link around!