Archive for May, 2008

Freecycle has been a great, and highly popular idea/group. Unfortunately, the way it is run, as an email list via a Yahoo group means it simply isn’t capable of managing the workload placed on the system. Having to scroll through several hundred emails for the one which advertises what I’m looking for is not a marker of a well designed system.

Consequently Bristol Indymedia have launched a similar system called Indycyle this month which allows users to search by item or by postcode, so as to mean that finding what you want isn’t a time consuming and frustrating task…


Recycle Your Unwanted Stuff!

Bristol Indymedia is please to announce the launch of our Indycycle service. Indycycle a website similar to the ideas of Freecycle. Indycycle is a way of people re-cycling things they no longer need to people who may have a user for it. For example if you had an old bike you did not need, rather then throw it out to landfill, why not offer it to somebody else who may need it. Indycycle is a great way of us consuming less resources, stopping things going to landfill and building stronger communities. This system is based on the ideas of the freecycle movement, we don’t aim to replace freecycle, but to use our website to build on the ideas and make it even easier to pass your items on.

All items must be offered for free – no exchanges or cash are allowed. Indycycle allows you to post an item you don’t want (or are looking for) to the site along with a description, photo of the item and your postcode. This means users can search for and see items they may want but also how far they need to travel to pick it up. A Bristol Indymedia volunteer said, “We are really excited about the addition to what Indymedia does, we hope it will further build on the many green projects, campaigns and initiatives in the region. We see this project as a natural evolution of what Indymedia does – trying to connect people using democratic forms of medi

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So last night was the UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester United and Chelsea. The neutral venue for these two English teams to play was not somewhere geographically sensible like Northampton, but Moscow. As in Moscow, Russia.

The distance from London to Moscow for Chelsea fans to travel was a mere 2498km each way, whereas the Manchester United fans had to travel 2551km, meaning that both sets of fans had about a 5000km round trip, almost exclusively achieved via commercial flights.

According to the BBC over 40,000 English football fans made this voyage to watch their team contest the final of Europe’s premier club tournament.

Flying from London to Moscow and back is estimated to emit around 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere[1]. The effect of releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at the height a plane travels at is believed to have a radiative forcing – or total effect on the climate – of 2.7 times higher than had the carbon dioxide been released at ground level[2]. This means that the effect that each passenger has is equivalent to 4.05 tonnes of carbon dioxide released at ground level.

Now if we multiply that figure by the 40,000 fans (which according to the BBC’s figures is a conservative estimate) we end up with 162 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent being emitted by a bunch of football fans going to watch one match. This is more than the annual carbon dioxide emission of the whole of Chad, a country with over 10 million citizens whose annual emissions of CO2 are a mere 125 000 tonnes [3].

Writing this, has been a massively immiserating experience for me as an activist. I don’t fly for personal reasons, well currently I don’t fly at all, but there are activist related causes for which I would fly, and I certainly don’t believe that aid workers shouldn’t be flown to Burma and China for fear of their environmental impact. However when events such as last night’s pass not with sadness and reflection, but with celebration throughout all sections of the media here I am left to wonder what effect I can possibly have that would even begin to counteract the actions of British football fans over the last week.

A second thought I had about the Champions League final was more about the kind of culture surrounding the sport. At full time the game was tied, one team had dominated the first half, the other dominated the second half. This led to extra time being played, again the teams were evenly matched, one team hit the crossbar, the other team had a shot cleared off the line by a defender. And so the tied game went to penalties. Chelsea were poised to win the game, when their captain unfortunately slipped and sliced his penalty wide. Moments later and another Chelsea penalty was saved and Manchester United had won.

It all seemed entirely ridiculous. The teams were so evenly matched that they could not be separated. Even after extending the duration of the game. They both played well. Yet the rules dictate that one must win and the other must lose, so after comprehensively drawing at football, an entirely arbitrary extra is added to decide which team is the winner. And right on cue, the winners cheered danced and sang, while the losers cried on the pitch distraught at… Having drawn? Having been equally good at the game they play? No they were distraught because they had ‘lost’. But what does that mean? Their name doesn’t get etched on a bit of silver. Big deal, millions of people all over the world had enjoyed watching them demonstrate their proficiency at their chosen game. Shouldn’t they be proud of how well they had done, of all they had achieved?

In a zero sum culture, we are taught that what is important is winning; defeating and vanquishing the ‘other’ is what is necessary. What is not important is having an enjoyable game, working together with all sides for any greater good. The idea that if we work together then everyone can be a winner is refused as an unfortunate leftover from the bygone era of socialist ideology. The black and white winners and losers scenario however fits perfectly with a culture dedicated to competitive individualism, to a society where we are brought up told to do what we can to get ahead in the rat race, and for us to be ‘winners’, we need to accept that others will be ‘losers’.

One of the consequences of living in such a culture is that the long term effects of our competitive individualism and consumer excesses are that resource depletion and climate change will multiply the woes of the hundreds of millions of humans who have already been impoverished by the legacy of colonialism and industrial capitalism. But in a world where we are told to look after number one, it shouldn’t be surprising that rich football fans have more of an environmental impact in a few days than 10 million people will in a year.


[2] http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc/aviation/064.htm

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions

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Today the purposes of consciousness are implemented by more and more effective machinery, transportation systems, airplanes, weaponry, medicine, pesticides and so forth. Conscious purpose is now empowered to upset the balances of the body, of society, and of the biological world around us. A pathology – a loss of balance – is threatened.

On the one hand we have the systemic nature of the individual human being, the systemic nature of the culture in which he lives, and the systemic nature of the biological ecological system around him; and on the other hand, the curious twist in the systemic nature of the individual man whereby consciousness is almost by necessity, blinded to the systemic nature of the man himself. Purposive consciousness, pulls out from the total mind, sequences which do not have the loop structure which is characteristic of the whole systemic structure. If you follow the common-sense dictates of consciousness you become, effectively, greedy and unwise.

Lack of systemic wisdom is always punished… Systems are punishing of any species unwise enough to quarrel with its ecology. Call the systemic forces God if you will.

Bateson, 1972:440

Gregory Bateson serves as a wonderful introduction to some of the central concepts of ecology. The son of William Bateson, the scientist who popularised Mendelian inheritance and introduced the term genetics into scientific discourse, Gregory was a disciplinary wanderer, with a career in academia which saw him drift through departments as diverse as anthropology, biology, psychology and cybernetics.

Bateson understood that the academic system he inhabited excelled at the process of analysis (meaning to take apart), which had yielded many of the advances of industrial capitalism. However it lacked a similar system of synthesis, or putting knowledge together. Students gained detailed understanding of subjects which remained isolated from each other, a problem still rife within academic education today. How are students expected to understand the ways in which economics, science, politics, history and cultural geography intersect when they are always partitioned into separate areas?

Bateson excelled at making connections between these areas, in seeing the patterns that connected seemingly disparate areas, a theme which underlay much of the work conducted by cyberneticists who were interested in understanding the processes of feedback which allowed control of systems, but also allowed insight into the way that learning occurs.

Bateson’s gift for connectivity made him one of the godfathers of modern ecology – etymologically meaning the science of (connections between) the household. A key concept introduced by Bateson is that of three ecologies; mind, society and environment. Each of these interconnected complex systems can be understood as a dynamic ecology of subsystems, which together display emergent qualities which cannot be reduced to the activity of the parts.

Forgoing the dualistic ontology which has in many ways dominated western culture Bateson instead preached an understanding of being based on immanence. Whereas Descartes saw the body and mind/soul as two distinct entities, for Bateson consciousness is an emergent phenomena which occurs due to the complex interplay of the human brain, body and external physical environment. Consequently, Bateson is one of the founders of the concept of distributed consciousness. When answering the question as to whether or not a computer could think, Bateson claimed that the thinking system is always the man and the technology and the environment in which they are situated. The knowledge cannot reside in any single component if somehow abstracted from the larger system.

Bateson also campaigned politically, arguing that the competitive ethos of capitalism which saw man try to control nature rather than understand the ways in which society is always dependent on ecological circuity, was leading to a loss of balance within the environmental systems on which humans are ultimately dependent.

The unit of survival is organism plus environment. We are learning by bitter experience that the organism which destroys its environment destroys itself.

Formerly we thought of a hierarchy of taxa – individual, family line, subspecies, species etc – as the unit of survival. We now see a different hierarchy of units – gene-in-organism, organism-in-environment, ecosystem, etc. Ecology in the widest sense turns out to be the study of the interaction and survival of ideas and programs (ie differences, complexes of differences) in circuits.

Bateson 1972:491

With the current global understandings of climate change and resource depletion, Bateson’s predictions from over 35 years ago appear ominously accurate. In understanding his ecological methods to approaching these systemic problems, perhaps we can begin to find solutions beyond the technological quick fixes which have thus far failed, searching instead for genuine sustainability allied to social action which will address the material inequalities which plague our global village.

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