Archive for March, 2009

For coverage of tomorrow and Thursday’s G20 protests acrosss london be sure to check out London Indymedia and UK Indymedia who will be providing live updates on the day’s actions.

As the Police have been talking up the ‘summer of rage’ before any kind of protest/demonstrations have occured it seems likely that there is likely to be some very heavy handed actions initiated by the police, and keeping protestors abreast of events while letting the world know what is really going on in the streets seems like a hugely important job for grassroots independent media.

‘Help report what’s happening by sending your reports from the streets. There are two Indymedia reporting numbers running 28th March – 2nd April: 07588 479 039 : For calling in reports from events – remember the ‘who what when where why’ – and also for sending txt msg updates and MMS picture messages.
08444 870 157: For calling in to leave a short audio recording that can be uploaded to the website. (If you do send pictures or audio messages, include the location and time) Twitter: If you are using twitter and have a report or update for Indymedia, include the hashtag #imcg20 in your message’

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Last night I went to see the Age of Stupid at the Watershed followed by a brief talk by author and activist Mark Lynas.

During the Q+A session I asked Mark to clarify why he has recently come out in support of nuclear power on his blog in a piece entitled Why Greens must Learn to love Nuclear Power and whether the ensuing response from Greenpeace had changed his opinion. This led to slightly flustered looking Lynas claiming that decentralised renewable energy sources could not take over from fossil fuels rapidly enough to avoid risking climate destabilisation (a global temperature rise of over 2 degrees centigrade from preindustrial times which threatens to unleash various positive feedback loops which will amplify the anthropogenic forcing from fossil fuel usage and deforestation), and that the case against nuclear power is based on ‘flimsy evidence.’ This second claim in particular was met by a loud chorus of bollocks from several members of the audience, re-creating the polarised debate seen on Lynas’s blog where nuclear power is equally fiercely championed and opposed by different groups who selectively support contradictory evidence to support their claims, although all the participants undoubtedly have genuine concern over climate change and other environmental and social policy motivating their postions.

I don’t profess to be a nuclear physicist, or to fully understand the (currently largely hypothetical) claims made by Lynas and others surrounding fourth generation nuclear technologies. As someone who believes in nuclear disarmament I am sceptical of nuclear technologies because of their far from flimsy ties with nuclear weapons, along with the historical baggage the nuclear industries carry with regards to cost, efficiency (which is highly disputed, and both sides selective usage of supporting evidence makes it very difficult to make an informed decision here as elsewhere in this debate), waste disposal and safety, all of which have to be long term concerns when considering the long half life of some of the radioactive material utilised in nuclear power generation. Additionally I am sceptical, as are many environmental campaigners, of the quick and easy technological fixes to climate change offered up by capitalist industry. Biofuels, hydrogen fuel cells, nuclear power and other technologies have been trumpeted by sections of business (usually those with vested financial interests in the technologies) as the answer to climate change. Of course there is no single silver bullet which will suddenly make everything okay and allow overconsumption to become ethically acceptable again, however at the same time it is important to remember that our understanding of climate change largely arises from advances in technology, and that the many of the renewable technologies being developed are again viable only thanks to numerous advances in technology; while it may not provide us with the solution, technology does provide us with a range of useful measures with which to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

This doesn’t mean that I think we should exclude nuclear power tout court as a potential short term measure to aid a transition to renewable energy sources, if indeed it transpires as Lynas claims and we are faced with a short term option of fossil fuels or nuclear. However whether this really is the case ought to be the investigation of in depth and readily available analyses.

What I don’t think anyone in the room last night would have debated, much less hurled obscenities at, is the call for huge emission cuts to be generated through cutting consumption and massive investment in renewable technologies. Once we have calculated what we can collectively generate from renewable sources, including large scale international projects such as solar farming in deserts and vast offshore wind farms connected to a direct current grid which allows the long range transportation of electricity with minimal power loss
en route, then we can start to look at what other less appealing steps we need to take. Given a choice between consuming a bit less and not flying or building a new generation of nuclear power stations I would choose the former every time, but I don’t know if that truly is a realistic choice because there isn’t readily available data.

In the book Heat, George Monbiot’s thoughtful and honest analysis of the conflicting information available on nuclear power draws the conclusion that it’s impossible to get an entirely truthful or objective picture of nuclear’s possibilities, however the enduring risks regarding weapons proliferation, waste disposal, long term costs etc mean that nuclear should only be a last ditch resort to be used after all other avenues prove insufficient to provide humanity with power, and I would tend to agree there. However given the urgency of concerted action over climate change it may be that as Lynas, James Lovelock and others have argued, short term usage of nuclear power can be a large and valuable contributor to the necessary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the way the debate over nuclear ought to be approached, and it is a debate which needs to be happening at the moment, should be to encourages consensus and diversity of voices wherever possible, rather than the manichaen pro/anti dogma seen last night and elsewhere. We should start off by looking at what all of us – Mark Lynas and Greenpeace included – can agree upon as useful and necessary steps towards combating climate change and after that we can debate how (if at all) we need to start implementing less than ideal decisions such as turning to nuclear power based on a pragmatic perspective of how best to prevent climate chaos.

This begs the question as to how we can try and create debates which are inclusive and based on direct democracy and consensus rather than simply having two opposing sides trading insults, and given the antagonistic and hyper-competitive society we inhabit I don’t feel it’s an easy question to answer. When a group of concerned and intelligent people resort to dogmatic, polarised positions in place of consensual and informed debate on important issues, it’s fair to say that we really are living in the Age of Stupid. So how do we get out?

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As we all know, the scientific consensus on Anthropogenic Climate Change tells us that we urgently need to curb our greenhouse gas emissions, and in the 17 years since the Kyoto Protocol was established, this is what most of the world’s nation states have been attempting. This post is designed to look at how we’ve been doing in light of the imminent G20 meeting to be held in London on the 1st of April and the forthcoming UN climate meetings to be held at Copenhagen later this year.

Thanks to http://simondonner.blogspot.com for much of these graphs. Click on them to see them in detail.

For more detailed statistics on the subject have a look at http://unfccc.int/files/essential_background/background_publications_htmlpdf/application/pdf/ghg_booklet_06.pdf

What these figures show us is that despite all the hype, the greenwash and the rhetoric from politicians and buisness leaders about the green capitalism, the reality is far removed. These figures do not include emissions from international flights and shipping, whose inclusion would decimate the visible cuts in other areas made by nations such as the UK. The per capita figure is important as this shows the average impact of the average inhabitant of a nation, total figures can be skewed by factors such as migration; if a large number of new citizens move to an area then it would be fair to expect some rise in emissions due to the new population size.

Particularly worrying for us Brits ought to be the detailed yearly breakdown of emission trends on page 17 of the UN document. Of the total emissions reduction of 14.3% of 1990 levels, 60% of the total reduction occurred between 1992 and 1995. By contrast 2000-2004 (the most recent data on the UN paper) contained a mere 7% of the reduction in emissions. If we were to factor in increased international air and shipping travel over this period we would most likely be looking at a net emissions increase over the first hlaf decade of the 21st century.

The data also confirms that the large observed reductions in Eastern European emission have more to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s than any 21st century with countries such as the Ukraine looking at roughly a 10% per annum decline in emission from 1991-1998 before levelling off and remaining near constant in subsequent years.

If humans are to make the kind of cuts that climatologists have been urging as absolutely necessary, in the order of 80-90% of all ghg emissions within a few decades, then urgent political action is needed. The visit of the G20 to London on April 1st provides citizens gravely concerned with the parallax gap between the currently observed greenĀ  rhetoric espoused by politicians and businessmen alike and their business as usual environmentally destructive behaviour.

I’d love to say I’ll see you in the streets but I’m not up to going marching anywhere at the moment because of my health… But I will keep trying to find somewhere I can sit down and volunteer for the day doing something useful to support people out on the various anti-capitalist, anti-corporate alternative globalisation events.

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