Sunday, 25 January 2009

Boon - or Bobbins?

As the banking crisis continues, alternative or complementary currencies are back on the agenda, as evidenced by George Monbiot's last piece in the Guardian , and a feature on Lewes Pounds on BBC's radio 4 in the last couple of days.

The idea of an alternative currency is not new, and back around 15-20 years ago, LETS schems (Local Exchange Trading Systems)were seen as a key part of the move to a sustainable society and there were close links between Green party activists and LETS schemes in various places around the country. The scheme in Manchester used a currency called 'bobbins' after the cotton industry and for a while local Green Party membership could be paid for in bobbins, though hardly anybody ever did.

Unfortunately in recent years I have heard much less about them, and even their co-ordinating body, Letslink, reports a likely drop in membership since the early days. I can think of two reasons why this might be. Firstly, the kind of people attracted to such schemes in those days meant that there were too many aromatherapists and not enough plumbers. Secondly I have noticed a decline in co-operation amongst people outside Green circles since then; to give a couple of examples:

- when our children were young we belonged to a local baby-sitting circle by which people sat for each other using tokens as a currency; it worked well for a while, but nowadays couples with young children don't seem to have such a facility, and often struggle to find sitters to whom they have to pay hard British pounds.

- when I started at my current workplace there was a milk sharing scheme, each person in a team bought the milk on a different day, over time people 'forgot' and the system fell apart until everyone had to bring their individual half pints which cluttered the fridge and regularly went off before consumption. (The company resolved this by bulk buying milk and providing it as a perk, so we went from co-operation to individualism to corporate paternalism).

This probably all started with Thatcherism and 'no such thing as society' but has continued throughout the 11 years of so-called Labour. But with the banking crisis maybe things are changing again. Whilst LETS scheme are less visible, new ideas have arrived with a broadly similar philosophy, such as Timebank and Freecycle. A prolonged recession caused by failure in the conventional economic system may provide the seeds not just for a revival of alternative currencies but their extension out of the trendy middle-class ghetto. Internet developments, such as 'Web 2.0' technologies may also help.

The next couple of years are an opportunity to see if this type of trading will be a boon to hard-pressed citizens, or if it will just be 'bobbins'.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Call to Action???

Manchester has a stated aim of becoming Britain’s greenest city, and many moons back announced that it was introducing a climate change strategy. A ‘statement of principles’ was produced, which were actually not bad thanks to lots of input from environment groups in the City, and a relatively well-informed and forward-looking executive member for environment (Neil Swannick). It called for a reduction of a million tons of carbon dioxide annually from current levels of 3.3 million.

There then followed a long period of quiet; Neil Swannick took on the lead Greater Manchester Waste role and his place was taken by Councillor Richard Cowell. Meanwhile Manchester dropped 3 places in the Sustainable index from mid-table to a lowly 15th out of 20.

But as a new year dawns, fresh shoots of activity have appeared with the release of the Manchester Climate Change Call to Action. A summary was released on the 7th Jan and the report is to be debated on the 14th. A summary of the summary, plus comments, now follows:

The first bit of real substance is the timescale – the final action plan is not due to be published until late 2009. Given earlier delays as well any talk of the urgency of climate change in the document may raise eyebrows. But let’s be generous and say that this gives several months of good ‘consultation’ time for Manchester activists.

The summary then lists 5 elements. Unsurprisingly the first concerns business competitiveness. The document states that commitment to a low carbon economy will have a major influence in future investment decisions’ but there are no examples or indeed any substance in the rest of the paragraph.
The remaining 4 elements concern ‘Education and Employment’, ‘Neighbourhoods of Choice’ ‘a Fairer Manchester’, and ‘A higher quality of City Life’. Motherhood and Apple Pie could easily make up elements 6 and 7.

Moving on through the document the most detail is in the catalytic actions starting at the bottom of page 10 (of 13 pages). However it still varies from the totally vague to the slightly specific ‘green’ the Oxford Road corridor, to the surreal (the airport bit, which is effectively ‘air expansion isn’t sustainable but we won’t stop till everyone else does').

Frankly the only action I feel called to carry out by this document is to put it in the recycling bin. Even making constructive criticism is like nailing blancmange to the wall of a shed.

Maybe I am doing them an injustice and the full document will be wonderful but I doubt it. There is no conviction that they have any real plans, or sense of urgency. There is no joined up thinking with Manchester’s other strategies, e.g. the Local Development framework. And in the light of the economic crisis, which has hit since the Principles were issued a year ago, there is no vision for solving the combined economic, climate and resource crisis along the lines of the ‘Green New Deal’ advocated by the Green Party.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Doctor Who and the Parallels of Doom

Despite everything else going on in the world, BBC radio news yesterday teatime seemed most excited about who would be the new Who (another middle-class white male - surprise surprise). What with dodgy telephone polling, Brand-Ross-gate and the Strictly Come Dancing controversies, our poll-tax funded Beeb is now so far up its own a**e that it is no wonder it seems to struggle with balanced and informative reporting.

Anyway to celebrate the new Doctor’s arrival, let’s accompany him back in time in the Tardis, taking one or two historical liberties along the way.

Da-da-da-da, Da-da-da-da, Da-da-da-da, Daaaaaah, Da-da-da-da.

Title sequence “Doctor Who and the Parallels of Doom”

The battered London police box materialises on a street corner. The Doctor emerges from the Tardis to the deafening whistles of bombs falling nearby and the drone of aircraft overhead. He switches on his trusty sonic radio to find out what is going on and hears an American voice. ‘And now, as the German blitz enters its second week, a word on the situation from the President, Franklin Bushovelt.’ A second voice starts up..

‘We’ve gotta remember that the German Government is just defending its own people here. This all started when Churchillist militants sent their home-made Lancaster bombers deep into German territory. The Churchillists are a terrorist group who seized power in a coup against the legitimate government of Neville Chamberlain, and who use violent rhetoric about fighting on beaches and never surrendering. We are in regular talks with the German Government and Adolf Holster has assured us that the German defence force are only bombing military targets such as docks, defence installations and police stations. It’s unfortunate if the odd civilian gets killed, but you gotta remember that these militants have sited these police stations in or near civilian areas in total disregard for people’s safety.’

‘I’m getting out of here before I get killed after only one episode’ said the Doctor, rushing back into the Tardis with the blonde cockney assistant who just happened to be passing by. ‘Let’s find a different and more peaceful time and place’….

Da-da-da-da, Da-da-da-da, Da-da-da-da, Daaaaaah, Da-da-da-da.

Episode 2
The Doctor emerges from the Tardis. All around, there humans dressed in bizarre clothes and embarrassing hairstyles.
“Where are we? When are we?” says his stunned but beautifully made-up sidekick.
‘It’s Britain in the 70s’ says the Doctor. “Let's listen in to those people.”
They overhear a snippet of conversation,

‘Well I’m glad our Government is doing something at last’

‘Absolutely, I mean it’s a shame if any civilians get killed but it’s their own fault’

‘Oh I’d slaughter all of them if I was in charge – it’s the only way to get peace.’

Puzzled, the Doctor switches on his radio.
A BBC-intoning presenter drones on ‘British planes have hit military targets in Dublin for the seventh successive day, in response to the indiscriminate firing of rockets towards Crossmaglen and Newry by the IRA. Targets include police stations, Catholic churches (which the MOD states are being used as weapons dumps) and the Post Office (because that always gets blown up in Dublin). In response to concerns raised about civilian casualties, a Government spokesman pointed out that “All of these have been cynically placed in residential areas by the enemy- making some collateral damage inevitable.” Her Majesty's Government has also warned the United States that their tolerance of funding-raising activities by the IRA terrorists makes Boston, Massachusetts a legitimate target. British warplanes are already engaged in manoeuvres over the North Atlantic.’

The beautiful sidekick looks to the Doctor. “Can we go somewhere safer and saner, please?”

And with that the Doctor and pouting assistant returned to the Tardis and desperately sought sanctuary on a distant planet inhabited by Daleks and Cybermen

Da-da-da-da, Da-da-da-da, Da-da-da-da, Daaaaaah, Da-da-da-da.

Daft Comment of the Week: I have omitted to keep this up on my blog recently, but with this week's quote I can be safe in the knowledge of not offending anyone, since it comes from me, and concerns my wildly inaccurate forecast of yesterday's Manchester Palestine demonstration (see here); actual numbers were about three thousand.

I hope to get back to blogging on Mancunian and conventionally green topics soon, but injustice and biased media coverage are things which really get to me...