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Archive for August, 2008

This is kind of inspired by a short animation a friend showed me, where the author had commented on his ‘utopian’ youth, in which he thought he could change the world, and so became involved in activism for a while before becoming increasingly frustrated and eventually giving up, coming to the conclusion that he could not change the world.

This seemed somewhat at odds with my understanding of the world, as the ontology (the understanding of being) at work in this piece posited an inside/outside dualism. On the one hand the author posited himself as inside, and distinct and separate from the outside world which he sought to change. Rather than viewing himself as part of the world, as a dynamic process which is part of the world and constantly changing along with it, the author saw himself as a fixed self which was acting on an external and foreign world.

My understanding of the world and my place in it is radically different from such a construction. The universe, the earth, society and me are all made of the same physical stuff. I am very much a part of the world. And like the world I am constantly changing. I am a nonlinear, dynamic system which requires flows of energy and matter (primarily food and water) to sustain myself. The cells which compose my physical form are constantly rebuilding and replacing themselves, the matter which existed as my brain and body last year has been replaced by new material, although the pattern that connects them remains largely the same. Similarly the social and environmental ecosystems which we inhabit are dynamic systems, which are constantly being created by their constituent components, society is being created and changed each moment by the collective sum of our actions and interactions, and the ecosystems which we inhabit are likewise being constantly created and altered by the collective interactions of all the physical systems which compose them.

Such a monistic view, whereby I am not outside of society, where humans are not outside of the environment and whereby systems are not static, fixed and unchanging, but dynamic, fluid and constantly evolving is consistent with the precepts of ecology and poststructuralism (particularly the neo-materialism of Deleuze and Guattari) and is an understanding of the world which is far more empowering than the dualistic methods commonly found and exemplified for me by the notion of an individual trying to change a world that is external to them.

We are the world, we are made from the same stardust that formed planets and will continue to circulate and long long after we are all dead. Like us the world is constantly changing, however the forms that that change takes, especially on a societal level is dependent on the various actions and interactions of all the constituent parts of the social assemblage. Each node within the social network effects changes at a local level with the other nodes, both social and environmental.

Understanding and effecting change then, becomes a case of making interventions into the networks (or ecologies) in which we find ourselves. Expectations that any one node can single-handedly transform the network are unrealistic, but one of the advantages of such an ecological understanding of change is that we are never alone, as we are always socialised creatures, indeed the reason why the US army uses total sensory deprivation as a torture technique is that severing a human from its social and environmental systems results in a psychological collapse.

As citizens of consumer capitalism we understand economies of scale which underpins globalised industry. What we tend to grasp less successfully is the politics of scale which accompanies the inequalities of capital and power present under neoliberalism. To combat the power currently held by big business and a small global elite, a new democratising movement which respects local and cultural diversity, while allowing for international and local cooperation is required.

The diverse global movement seen over the last 10 ten years which have manifested themselves at the protests against corporate globalisation at Seattle, Genoa and elsewhere, at the World Social Forum and Climate camp begin to suggest ways in which we can form democratic alternatives to McExxonWorld. Equally at a local level there are a multitude of organisation which act to improve society, off the top of my head in Bristol I can think of; Bristol Stop the War Coalition, Bristol No Borders, The Stop Bristol Airport Expansion Campaign, Bristol Indymedia, Bristol Wireless, Transition Town Bristol, Artspace Lifespace, Bristol Greenpeace, The Cube Microplex, Bristol Rising Tide, the Kebele Social Centre, St Werburghs City Farm, all the local residents associations and many other diverse organisations where on a daily basis people are actively working to improve the society they live in.

All the people involved with these projects are changing the world and making it a better place. They may not be celebrating the victory of ‘the revolution’ (as if changing society was as simple as one singular revolutionary moment or struggle) but they are making a difference to people’s lives and encouraging positive change to society. Hopefully their influence will grow and attract increasing numbers of people who are interested in ensuring that the changes they make to the world are the kinds of changes they would like to see happening around them.

You are changing the world. The question is what kind of changes will we continue to make to the world we are co-constructing.

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We are constantly being reminded by environmentalists that we only have one planet on which to live, a single set of resources which are being depleted at an ever increasing rate…

But our biosphere is not a static pool of resources. The world is constantly changing. All around us life is growing, evolving, renewing itself, becoming a new world in every passing instant… The earth is a dynamic system capable of replenishing itself, as life on this planet recovered and evolved following the Permian extinction where 250 million years ago most life was wiped off the planet.

So what then is the worry over natural resource depletion? Is the logic of ecology a new conservatism aiming to ensure that the world’s poorest people remain impoverished, unable to undergo industrial development due to the alleged environmental costs and leaving the already industrialised nations in a permanent state of technological and military hegemony?

The answer is no. Resource depletion is a very real problem which human civilisation must begin to address. While the earth has the potential to recover from the ecological damage industrialization has wrought – if humanity disappeared then more oil would form, rainforests would regrow, and the unsustainable monocultures of industrial agriculture and urban development would be enveloped by sustainable and varied ecosystems – such ecological renewal would take millenia, a timescale which is of no help to those who wish to reduce human suffering here and now.

At present, humanity is using the Earth’s resources faster than they can replenish themselves. This is the definition of an unsustainable society. The consequences of such a society will be increased poverty and immiseration for many of the world’s poorest people, alongside a decline in the quality of life for many who today enjoy affluent lifestyles, as vital resources become increasingly scarce and therefore expensive if left to the market, essentially pricing the world’s poor out of life.

The current average ecological footprint of a UK citizen is 5.4 hectares of productive land. This means that if everyone were to consume as many natural resources as a Brit, then we would need over three times the resources that the Earth provides, and that would be using all of the world’s resources for humans as a baseline level, which in itself is highly dubious.

Expecting to be able to maintain such an unsustainable level of consumption is insanity. Capitalist economics are predicated on unlimited year on year growth, however the reality of our collective situation is that growth is limited and dependent on the ecological situations within which our social context is embedded. While we should unquestionably allow the poorest nations and peoples on Earth to develop and increase their standard of living, this has to be offset by first world consumers taking a cut to their material consumption.

That 20% of the world’s population currently use 80% of its resources is a telling fact which highlights the massive inequalities which exist between people. A sustainable society requires these inequalities to be phased out, so that every human has access to clean water, food, shelter and health care, while no humans hoard wealth in such a manner that either others must go without, or that future generations suffer for their greed.

Yet in the world today, as the world’s largest conventional oil fields begin to run dry and the rainforests continue to be cut down to grow meat for first world consumers, as global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise and the world’s poorest humans cannot afford food or water, shelter, education, health care, the zombie like acolytes of globalised capitalism continue to consume at ever greater levels.

Can we count on the structures which continue to report record profits from the current system be entrusted to revolutionize our current way of living?

Or has the time come for a more democratic, more sustainable society. Another world is possible. Let’s start building that world today.

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anarchist bookfair flyer

anarchist bookfair flyer

On 13th Spetember 2008 between 10am and 5pm the St Werburghs Centre, on Horley Rd in St Werburghs Bristol will host Bristol’s first anarchist bookfair for 15 years.

According to the events organisers

‘An Anarchist Bookfair is a day of anarchist books, ideas, pamphlets, discussions, merchandise, networking, free info, help & solidarity, games, bike workshops, tools, history, planning, speakers, resistance, and an all day vegan cafe. All the resources you need to reclaim your future.

It is our intention that the Bookfair will be:

  • - A perfect introduction to anarchist ideas & practice for those seeking an alternative to the chaos & greed of capital, the boredom of party politics, the abject failure of centrally controlled state communism, and the unsustainability of present energy consumption.
  • - An excellent opportunity for anarchists old and new to recharge their batteries and reading lists, to catch up with old friends, to sharpen their ideas, and to re-energise their enthusiasm for the struggle for a free world.
  • - And for those who are critical, you are welcome to come along to join the discussions, to air your reservations, and to cut through the myths of anarchism to the reality.’

The event should be a great opportunity for people to get in touch with some of the vibrant activism going on in Bristol and the South West, with a plethora of mouthwatering workshops and discussions throughout the day.

Bristol Indymedia will be one of the many organisations taking part in the day, running a stall, and chairing a discussion about media democarcy.

Entry is free… Come along if you can… It promises to be a great day.

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Debates over Anthropogenic Climate Change deal with probability in complex nonlinear dynamical systems. The issues are difficult for lay people to understand at the best of times due to their complexity, however any understanding of ACC is likely to be undermined by poor quality journalism.

In debates over media democracy stemming from Internet based telecommunications, professional journalists have consistently argued that their value lies in providing reputable, well sourced analysis, which they hold in contrast to the often heavily biased, unsourced, amatuerish blogosphere and independent media.

Imagine my surprise then, when browsing the BBC’s website I found this article

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7551125.stm

In what is currently the third most popular news story on the BBC website, this rather odd text appears…

‘Switching from beef to kangaroo burgers could significantly help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says an Australian scientist.

The gas produced by sheep and cows through belching and flatulence is a huge contributor to global warming – much more than carbon dioxide.’

According to the IPCC’s 4th report, carbon dioxide emissions currently have a far greater radiative forcing  (contribution to global warming) than methane. In fact, no one, anywhere currently claims that methane from animal belching and flatulence has a greater radiative forcing than global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. Except for a blundering BBC journalist that is.

What then was this professional journalist trying to say? He may have meant to communicate the fact that an amount of methane will have a greater radiative forcing than an equal amount of carbon dioxide. However as carbon dioxide emissions dwarf methane emissions this cannot be extrapolated to give the conclusion the BBC journalist draws.

Such inaccurate, unsourced nonsense coming from a public service broadcaster will simply confuse people who look to professional journalists to communicate complex scientific issues in a clear and accurate way. If professional journalists want to maintain their place in the 21st century their standards have to improve significantly.

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This is a response to some heated debate currently occurring on Bristol Indymedia…

http://bristol.indymedia.org/article/688696

Some thoughts on the Proff’s

‘Climate change is happening. We, and the generations before us, have caused it. It should not matter whether we believe it or not.”‘

And Art’s reply

‘Just read that last sentence again – “It should not matter whether we believe it or not”.

AH YES IT S*DDING WELL DOES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’

I think both positions here can be understood as being right in very different ways. While you appear to have diametrically opposed positions, this is mainly because you are looking at the same question in different ways.

While the first part of the Proff’s sentence is very dubiously if painstakingly analyzed; while the climate on Earth is obviously changing as it’s a nonlinear dynamical system, it is not certain that ‘we’ have caused it. The best available evidence (IPCC) suggests that it is very likely (90-95% chance) that we are responsible for changes in the global climate. Very likely and certain are very different… However if it is very likely that we are doing something which is going to create an immense amount of suffering for humans and a huge number of extinctions among other life forms on Earth, then taking action on the issue seems the only logical outcome from a systemic perspective. While some individuals may benefit short term from continuing with our current systems (for example the oil industries who once again are reporting record profits), the social and environmental ecologies as a whole would benefit from changing structures so that operate in a ecologically sustainable way.

The proff is right however insofar as his statement sits within the philosophical tradition of realism – the commonsense contention that the world exists outside of our belief structures (as with many things in life, this is not a certainty – I could be a dream, a brain in a jar or innumerable other things which could not be empirically verified, however the probability of such scenarios seems incredibly small). If I decide not to believe the the moon exists few people would argue that my belief structure will mean the moon would no longer exist. If I decide not to believe in cancer, malaria and aids then those illnesses will not stop killing people. Similarly deciding to believe that ACC is not happening and that expecting that this belief means that my ecological footprint does not have material consequences is clearly ludicrous. Until advances in science which evolved during the last century people did not believe in quarks or quantum mechanics. This did not mean that they did not exist. Until recently people did not believe that their radiative forcing was likely to impact on the global climate in ways which are detrimental to other humans and animals. That people did not understand the ramifications of their actions did not mean that those consequences failed to occur, although the scale to which the human population and mechanized industrialization have grown has made these consequences at a global scale more apparent..

By contrast Art is right in that for action to be taken on a variety of social and environmental issues it helps for people to believe in those causes. Only through such socially held belief and desire is beneficial action likely to be taken to remedy problems. During the 20th Century a sustained campaign by feminists saw the democratic right to vote extended to women, alongside other changes to patriarchal society such as (more) equal pay for different sexes and equal rights for women. These changes to the fabric of society occurred precisely because people believed in the justice of the feminist cause. Had no one believed that women deserved the right to vote, then they would have remained without it. This example highlights the importance of what people believe. While the beliefs themselves do not effect material reality, the actions of those people who hold the beliefs can and does effect change.

Consequently while I would argue that while the scientific reality of whether or not anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and land usage change (particularly deforestation) is not dependent on whether or not people believe in them, the potential capacity we have to act on the scientific evidence available to us – which currently suggests that it is very likely that we are altering the global climate in a way that will cause suffering for billions of humans and extinction for many other species of life – does depend on whether people that science, and also on whether or not people exist in social systems whereby they believe that they have the capacity to collectively effect changes to minimise the suffering of other people and animals.

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