Monday, 19 November 2012

Making BP history

I was honoured to be one of 200 people who took part in an anti-BP version of Macbeth, in yesterday's flashmob outside the BP-sponsored Shakespeare Exhibition at the British Museum:

Chorus: "Double, double, oil is trouble / tar sands burn as greenwash bubbles"

First BP Executive: "When shall BP meet again? / In oil spills, tar sands, toxic rain?"

Second BP Executive: "When the sponsorship is done / PR battle fought and won."

Here's a rather delightful little film of the action, featuring me with a beard I grew especially for the occasion...

This comes at the end of seven months of pop-up theatrical protests at BP-sponsored Shakespeare plays. The campaign seems to have been successful: the Royal Shakespeare Company last week stated that: “We have no further sponsorship [with BP] confirmed”. Next year’s programme of plays has been announced, and none are sponsored by BP.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Poem up a power station chimney

So while we were occupying the West Burton power station chimney, while the rest of the crew put their amazing climbing, filming, solar-panel-building, daredevil rope-dangling and media skills to work, I sat down and wrote a poem. Hmmm. Here's a video of me performing it under our windswept tarpaulins, 80 metres up a chimney, in front of my action companions - possibly the most captive audience I've ever had...

For more info on why we were up there and what happened next, see the No Dash For Gas website, Twitter feed or Facebook page...

Friday, 26 October 2012

Why we don’t need to leave the gas on

This week, we learned from an ICM poll on energy sources that two-thirds of people would rather have a wind turbine near their house than a shale gas well. Overall, 64% of people would prefer their energy to come from renewable sources, with only 7% preferring fossil fuels.

That’s all very well, say the fossil fuel proponents, and of course we all want clean energy eventually, but for now we need coal, oil and gas because renewables just can’t fill the energy gap. Burning carbon is just a necessary evil, right? Right?

Wrong. The “necessary evil” argument is, in fact, a bucket of pure distilled cobblertosh. Here is my attempt to debunk a few myths about gas power vs. renewable energy.

1) There is enough renewable energy to power the world. This can be demonstrated by a simple calculation. According to figures from the Centre for Alternative Technology's Zero Carbon Britain report, it’s perfectly possible to power a good, “Northern-style” quality of life with around 16,800 KWh per person per year[1]. This assumes that we live less wastefully – with good public transport and car-sharing schemes, efficient and comfortable homes, more local food and manufacturing, less throwaway consumerism, less frequent flying, and so on – but that we also continue to have stuff like fridges, TVs, good public services, hospitals, sports stadiums, cinemas etc.

Meanwhile, according to Government energy advisor Professor David Mackay, there is enough wind, solar, tidal, wave, hydro and geothermal energy out there to provide 22,000 KWh/person/year, even on a world of 9 billion people. This assumes that we use existing generation technology only, on a realistic scale, and is still more than enough to give everyone on the planet a good quality of life.

2) We already know how to solve the variability problem. The wind doesn’t always blow, the sun doesn’t always shine (well, it does, but you know what I mean). Renewables don’t always give us power exactly when we want them. There are at least five solutions to this: energy storage, demand management (e.g. using smart appliances that only draw power when energy is abundant), a good source mix (sun plus wind plus hydro plus tidal), energy sharing between countries/regions, and using wood, grass or waste gas in back-up generators. According to the Zero Carbon Britain Report, the combination of these five options is already good enough to allow us a zero-carbon electricity grid. The best of the five options is probably storage, and so as this technology improves we’ll be able to rely less on the others (especially wood/grass/biogas-burning generators, which come with sustainability risks of their own).
3) There are perfectly good heating alternatives. Buildings and/or water can be heated by solar power, ground and air source heat pumps, and a limited amount of sustainable wood fuel, with electric heating to fill the gaps.

4) The technologies will improve as we go along. We need to get to zero carbon as fast as possible, to have a decent chance of avoiding runaway climate change. For example, leading climate scientist James Hansen states in his recent book Storms of my Grandchildren that we can only afford to burn the conventional oil and gas we have already found, and should immediately stop drilling for any more; we must also immediately pull out of "unconventional" fuel sources like shale gas and tar sands, and halt global coal use by 2030. The technologies we have are already good enough for this transition, but will almost certainly improve as we go along – allowing us to minimise the riskier options like bioenergy. The important thing is to get started, and begin moving in the right direction by shutting down fossil fuel extraction and consumption infrastructure, and replacing them with efficiency and renewables.

The main problem with the Government’s proposed new “dash for gas” is that it takes us in exactly the wrong direction. Yes, we probably want to shut down the coal plants and coal mines first, and leave existing gas-fired power stations running for a little longer; but building new ones would lock us into decades of new carbon-burning infrastructure and shut out the clean solutions that we desperately need. These solutions already exist, and – if fairly shared - are already good enough to give everyone on the planet a good quality of life. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Much of the research in this article is based on a not-yet-released project I’ve been working on with the UK Tar Sands Network and a graphic design team. This will show how the world can be powered without fossil fuels, in the form of an infographic and accompanying briefing. Watch this space for updates...

[1] The final page of the Zero Carbon Britain report shows a total consumption of 804 Tera-Watt hours (TWh) per year plus exports of 174.4 TWh per year. When this total of 978.4 TWh/year is divided by the predicted 2035 UK population of 71 million, it comes to just under 13,800 KWh/person/year. However, according to a recent study, the UK’s CO2 emissions (and therefore energy use) should be counted at about a third higher than is usually reported, because of all the energy used to manufacture goods overseas that are then imported into the UK. In Zero Carbon Britain 2030, this “overseas factories” figure should be significantly lower, as many more things are produced locally and more efficiently; however, to ensure that I am being absolutely fair and as cautious as possible, I’ve added 25% to the amount of energy needed for a good quality of life, to make sure it definitely includes all the manufacturing required. This brings the total to around 16,800 KWh per person per year.

Monday, 27 August 2012

New poetry video!

One year on from the UK riots, and the looting continues. I mean, of course, the looting of our public services by the Conservative government and their corporate allies.

Here's my new poetry video all about it, featuring me prancing about on the streets of London, fighting back with the power of dubious rhymes. If you like it, please share and help me get this message out there!

smash and grab from rikki indymedia on Vimeo.

Thanks so much to the wonderful Rikki for filming and editing this.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Performance video round-up

I've got a new poetry video on the way - it'll be here very soon, but in the meantime here's something I've been meaning to do for a while: a round-up of my performance videos.

Quite a few people have pointed cameras at my wild prancey rantings over the last few years. Here are some of the ones I can bear to show you. If you've been vaguely following my adventures you'll probably have seen some of these before, but probably not all of them. Unless you're stalking me. In which case: thanks! I did wonder where all those YouTube hits were coming from.

This is the first of my videos that anyone actually watched: it's "Lifestyle Choice", live at the April 2009 Climate Camp at Bishopsgate, London during the G20:

A few months later, there was a longer Climate Camp at Blackheath, and I performed "Risk Assessment" there in a rather noisy marquee:

Continuing the theme, here I am at another Climate Camp - this time in Edinburgh in 2010, with "Consumed", a poem about consumerism and greenhouse gas emissions (oh yeah):

Stepping back to 2009, I worked together with Vicki at Tenner Films to make "A Modest Proposal", on location at Dungeness nuclear power station.  It went on to win a Limelight Short Film Award in 2011:

In Spring 2010, I made this video of "Election Day" with the excellent Jamie from Pheme Films and the sound tech skills of Cameron Hills. Despite being a bit out of date it's still my most popular video, with over 5,300 views:

As a contrast to that, here's a video from April 2011, of me performing "No!" - a poem about climate change denial - in the RISC bookshop in Reading. Even though it's a wobbly handheld camera and it's split over two videos, I'm still very fond of it because the audience participation is flipping great:

Of course, we mustn't forget the poem that led to my being arrested and hit with a £1,500 fine! Well, sort of. Here's "Shop a Scrounger", filmed by Zoe Broughton and edited by Pete Speller:

Shop a Scrounger from Pete Speller on Vimeo.

Here's something a bit different. As well as performing my own poems, I've recently been part of an activist troupe called the Reclaim Shakespeare Company. We've been invading the stage before BP-sponsored plays with our own short "guerrilla" performances about oil and the arts. Here's a performance from the Roundhouse in June 2012, involving me in a giant BP-logo-shaped ruff:

...and here we are again in July 2012, this time at a BP-sponsored Shakespeare Exhibition at the British Museum:

RSC at the British Museum from rikki indymedia on Vimeo.

Finally - for now - this is me at Lushfest in July 2012, performing one of my oldest poems, "Don't Buy It". Happily, I think more people have woken up to this message since I first performed it in 2006, but I was at a festival run by an ethical soap company so I couldn't resist (I should note that Lush do in fact fund a lot of great activist stuff, including - ahem - the Reclaim Shakespeare Company, so this poem is probably aimed more at their customers than at their staff):

Thanks everyone for all your support over the years. If you like any of this stuff, please do feel free to share it around. And, of course, there's more on the way soon...

Friday, 27 April 2012

BP or not BP? That is the question...

This is probably my favourite campaign of the moment, and something I'm proud to have played a small part in. In protest at BP sponsorship, members of the "Reclaim Shakespeare Company" have been getting on stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and performing anti-oil interventions before the start of the play. You can watch the debut performance here:

Check out the awesome website at, and follow @ReclaimOurBard on Twitter to stay updated on the latest shenanigans as they unfold. Oh, and if you fancy taking to the stage yourself sometime, email and let them know...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Why I told BP to come clean about its interplanetary escape pod

Last week, I went along to BP's Annual General Meeting with some friends. My story of what happened has now been published by the New Internationalist, here:

BP, tar sands, exploding drilling stations and secret spaceship schemes

Friday, 17 February 2012

An Open Letter to the Olympics

This has been sent off today, as reported in the Guardian.

It was initiated by the UK Tar Sands Network and I was very happy to be one of the signatories. Let's see if the Olympics organisers respond...


An open letter to the organisers of the London 2012 Olympics

Dear International Olympic Committee, London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and Commission for a Sustainable London 2012,

Given the recent controversy about the Dow contract, and following the resignation of Meredith Alexander from the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, we are pleased to see that the CSL’s Chair has acknowledged that this has ‘raised wider questions about corporate behaviour, past and present, and how ethical issues are effectively factored into decision making,’ and that the Commission is going to address the challenge of considering ‘new approaches that incorporate a broader range of ethical issues into decision making’ in its forthcoming Annual Review, to be published in May.

The IOC’s Code of Ethics states that ‘The Olympic parties recognise the significant contribution that… sponsors… make to the development and prestige of the Olympic Games throughout the world. However, such support must be in a form consistent with the rules of sport and the principles defined in the Olympic Charter and the present Code.’ The present Code of Ethics includes protecting the environment, and the Olympic Charter states: ‘Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles’.

Bearing all this in mind, we feel that neither the CSL, LOCOG nor IOC have lived up to these standards and effectively responded to the challenges posed by the choice of sponsors for London 2012. This is made clear by the scant attention to sponsors other than Dow, and the lack of an ethical sponsorship policy addressing the broader ethical and environmental impacts of a potential sponsor that could prevent such problems in the future. We are heartened that the CSL is now looking into this, but are concerned about the lack of similar action on the part of the IOC and LOCOG.

So as part of the process of addressing these issues, we would like to bring to your attention the question of BP’s sponsorship.

While BP may have won its bid with an impressive list of proposals, the company’s ethics and history seem to have evaded scrutiny. BP has long used its sponsorship of the arts as a method of building a positive reputation amongst the elite and in influential cultural circles, especially in London. This has effectively acted as a buffer to soften the reputational damage it suffered in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and will help divert attention from the imminent court case against the company over its responsibility for the catastrophe, which begins in New Orleans at the end of February.

Sponsorship acts as a smokescreen, obscuring embarrassing political and human rights slip-ups such as its formerly close relationships with the Mubarak regime in Egypt and the Gaddafi regime in Libya. BP’s positive reputation also allows its investments in controversial new ‘frontier oil’ projects to go virtually unquestioned by the media, the government and the public. Examples include the recent decision to go into Alberta’s highly carbon-intensive and locally destructive tar sands, despite the calls by local Indigenous communities for no new tar sands extraction projects; and the announcement this month that BP’s Russian partner organisation TNK-BP will accelerate development of five giant oil fields in the pristine and vulnerable Russian Arctic, in a deal said to be worth $12 billion. BP’s business model involves continuing to extract fossil fuels long into the future, playing a central role in ushering in irreversible climate change. In other words, it is one of the least sustainable companies on earth.

In order to distract us from this fact, BP’s multi-faceted sponsorship of London 2012 provides a number of new opportunities for the company to associate itself with the excitement of the Olympics shared by millions. Yet in virtually every element of BP’s involvement in London 2012 there is cause for alarm as to how it got LOCOG’s blessing and slipped past the Commission’s watchful eye.

1. Sustainability Partner
As well as furthering BP’s projection of a trusted, well-loved, ‘British’ company, this aspect of Olympic sponsorship provides a unique opportunity for this environmentally unsustainable company to promulgate its own highly dubious interpretation of sustainability.

As London 2012 Sustainability Partner, BP is promoting biofuels and carbon offsets as the main solutions offered to the public, ignoring what many see as genuinely sustainable solutions: political and social reform, major shifts in energy and transport infrastructure, an end to the myth of infinite economic growth and large-scale reductions in consumption. Arguably, putting a corporation like BP – which recently closed down its solar division because it felt it wasn’t profitable enough – at the helm of the sustainability agenda does not just slow progress towards environmental goals, it reverses it. Environmentalists have long worried that the co-option of the term ‘sustainable development’ has meant that companies can both continue to exploit the environment while appearing green, and also dictate how governments and society will envisage solutions to environmental problems.

2. Oil and Gas Partner
As Official Oil and Gas Partner, BP has the responsibility of providing fuel for more than 5,000 official Olympic vehicles. Yet an ENDS Report analysis discovered that over 99% of the fleet would be using conventional fuel, and that of BP’s three listed ‘advanced’ biofuel projects, two can realistically be considered ‘first generation’ (and thus much less sustainable) rather than ‘advanced’. In any case, extensive research has concluded that ‘advanced’ biofuels could not be produced on a large enough scale to meet the world’s current level of oil consumption – we need to start reducing our liquid fuel dependence.

3. Carbon Offset Partner
As Official Carbon Offset Partner, BP promotes the seductive idea that barely any behavioural change is needed to combat climate change because offsetting effectively eliminates carbon emissions. Yet not only is carbon offsetting considered notoriously unsuccessful as a tactic for reducing carbon emissions, it is known to create many more problems than it solves, by disrupting communities on the sites of these projects. To date, carbon offsetting has allowed companies to rake in substantial profits, while overall emissions remain relatively unchanged, and local communities suffer devastating impacts – both from badly-conceived offset projects and from the fossil fuel extraction that is thereby allowed to continue unabated.

4. Cultural Olympiad
As Premier Partner of the Cultural Olympiad, BP is able not only to strengthen its existing relationships with the Tate, Royal Opera House, British Museum and other London venues, but also host events all around the UK, including at the Aberdeen Art Gallery, Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and Newcastle Theatre Royal. Within the context of Olympic hype, BP is able to maximise its exposure as a supporter of the oft under-funded arts. However, this is taking place against a backdrop of increasing numbers of people from within the arts speaking out against BP’s long-standing involvement in arts sponsorship. This further entrenchment goes against the tide of those in the worlds of arts and the environment who are coming together to prevent cherished cultural institutions being used as a vehicle for greenwashing some of the most destructive and controversial companies on the planet.

Ultimately, to address the twin problems of peak oil and climate change, overall use of liquid fuel must be diminished. This would devastate BP’s business model, not to mention the politically influential oil industry. By allowing BP the opportunity to continue to shape the debate on sustainability, alternative and more effective visions remain largely obscured to the public.

For these reasons it is disconcerting to see that LOCOG, the IOC and even an independent Commission has so far let BP’s sponsorship deal go unchallenged. We request that you reconsider the terms of the partnership with BP, and put in place a more stringent ethical sponsorship policy that is in line with Olympic principles and the Code of Ethics, that will prevent BP and similar companies basking in such undeserved glory in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Antebi, Counter Olympics Network
Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians
Liam Barrington-Bush, People & Planet
Craig Bennett, Director of Policy & Campaigns, Friends of the Earth
Carbon Trade Watch
Sam Chase, Art Not Oil
Julian Cheyne, Games Monitor
Danny Chivers, author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change
Tony Clarke, Director, Polaris Institute
Mark Gee, criminology consultant and writer
Tom B. K. Goldtooth, Executive Director, Indigenous Environmental Network
Hannah Griffiths, Head of Policy and Campaigns, World Development Movement
Siobhan Grimes, Climate Rush
Jenny Jones, London Assembly Member
Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Greenpeace Canada
The Liberate Tate collective
Michael Marx, Beyond Oil Director, Sierra Club US
Winnie Overbeek, World Rainforest Movement
Occupy LSX Energy, Equity & Environment Working Group
Robert Palgrave, Biofuelwatch
Nick Reeves OBE, Executive Director, The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)
John Sauven, Director, Greenpeace UK
Dr Debra Benita Shaw, Senior Lecturer, Cultural Studies, University of East London
Andrew Simms, author of Eminent Corporations and Fellow of New Economics Foundation
Kevin Smith, Platform
Richard Solly, London Mining Network
Jasmine Thomas, member of Saik’uz First Nation (affiliated with the Yinka Dene Alliance)
Steve Tombs, Professor of Sociology, John Moores University
Dr Julie Uldam, Postdoctoral Researcher, London School of Economics and Political Science
Stewart Wallis, Director, New Economics Foundation
Diane Wilson, shrimper from the Gulf Coast and member of Calhoun County Resource Watch
Jess Worth, co-founder, UK Tar Sands Network
Murray Worthy, War on Want
Kenny Young, founder, Artists Project Earth

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Something's going on out there...

Will 2012 see a return of high-profile climate action here in the UK? I rather believe it will, and plan to write about exactly why that is (and why it's so important) rather soon. In the meantime, I've written a short "hey everyone - climate change is still, like, happening, you know" piece for the Global Herald; I've spent quite a bit of time running climate action workshops with the good folks down at Occupy London; and am looking forward to hearing the latest news from the Climate Justice Collective (the network that formed out of the last Climate Camp meetings) about the action they are planning for the Spring - there's a meeting about this in Oxford on February 18th which interested people should go along to.

Stay tuned everyone, more updates to come soon!