Saturday, 21 February 2009

The New North American Villain

For years now, Canada has been seen as the enlightened one of the two huge North American countries. Whilst Bush was busy invading the middle east, locking people up without trial and trashing the planet, Canada was this fluffier, liberal, almost European haven across the USA's northern border.

Times change. Now we have that nice Mr Obama in the White House (well relatively nice, I notice today he still refuses to grant Bagram Airbase inmates proper human rights for instance), but his attitude to climate change seems a welcome world away from that of his predecessor. Meanwhile Canada under the Conservative Prime Minister Harper is pressing ahead with what is arguably the dirtiest and most damaging single project on the planet - the huge scale extraction of oil from the Athabasca Tar Sands in Alberta.

Last night (Friday) I attended a well attended and inspring meeting organised by Manchester Friends of the Earth and the Co-operative. It featured Jack Woodward, Canada's top aboriginal lawyer and legal council to the Beaver Lake Cree Nation; Jack spoke eloquently about the massive damage being done to the boreal forest there and to the lives of these First Nation people. And from a planetary point of view the exploitation of these tar sands could alone add 64 ppm to global CO2 - the single largest carbon emitter in the world; further information here on the lawsuit where the Beaver Lake Cree are taking on Albertan and Canadian Govts., and the multinational oil giants.
The Co-operative Society, based of course up here in Manchester are running a toxic fuels campaign on tar sands and oil shales.
Attendance at the meeting was about 70-80 and it is good to see Friends of the Earth in Manchester in such good health; they had seemed a bit quiet recently.

Finally, returning to the North American climate villain charts, of course the USA isn't off the hook: where do you think all this oil is heading?...

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Another Busy Week

With Christmas and New Year long gone, the campaigning season is well under way. This has been a busy and varied week:

On Tuesday, I attended the latest in a series of Manchester Climate Forum events. This covered both the global (Dr. Victoria Johnson described her experiences at the Poznan Climate Change talks late last year) and the local (current Manchester City Council Executive member for the Environment Richard Cowell giving his defence of the City Council's 'Call to Action' (more on this later)), to a bemused and disappointed audience.

Wind forward a day and the focus shifts to the Manchester University student sit-in on Gaza, one of a whole series of sit-ins by students around the country. I have to say this is music to my ears, as someone who remembers the summer of 68; for too long most students have come across as Thatcher's children, without a radical bone in their body. Maybe now the economy has collapsed, they have nothing to lose. As well as support for Gaza students are calling for disinvestment from the arms trade and Manchester Green Party have written to the Vice-Chancellor expressing our support for the students (letter here). However The Uni have a lot of interests connected with armaments and are proving more stubborn than many universities.

On to Thursday and a meeting of Manchester Green Party was treated to a summary of a short book written by local member Michael Prior ('Beyond Feelbad Britain' about the current financial crisis and possible solutions. More on this topic in a future blog I suspect.

Friday saw a return to Palestinian matters, as the convoy for Gaza drives through the streets of Manchester in the late afternoon, near the start of its long journey through Europe and North Africa. I and many others cheer it on its way as it passes the BBC.

Saturday saw the launch of a response to the City Council's vacuous 'Call to Action'. This is a 'Call to Real Action' by a collection of green activists (a number of whom I am proud to say are Green Party members), who are determined to produce an alternative set of proposals for the City which far exceed those of the City Council and their multi-thousand pound consultants from The South who go by the name of 'Beyond Green'. A lively and focused meeting promises much over the coming weeks. Website launched - here

Finally today (Sunday) - A fitting climax to the last few days in the shape of two hours on the BBC Radio Manchester midday 'What the Papers say' slot with Andy Crane. As someone who never buys a Sunday paper, not even the Observer or Indie on Sunday, my exposure to the horrors of the gutter press live on air gave me some trepidation. Expecting a formal studio I was surprised to see the programme recorded in the foyer of the Lowry Centre with Joe and Jane Public walking by. Two hours passed surprisingly quickly with half the programme taken up with music (including the live and entertaining Louis Barabbas , who stepped in at short notice so I'm giving him a plug). It emphasised the gap between the news as seen by Greens (climate change, war, resource depletion) and that seen by much of the country's population (celebrities, teenage pregnancy etc). It was the first time a Green had been on the show in the politician slot; hopefully given our 8.5 - 9% vote in City Council elections over the last four years it will not be the last.

Saturday, 7 February 2009


...Is a word that often crops up in the Gaza situation, indeed the Israeli government seems to regard disproportionality as good and legitimate. In this blog post, however I am referring to a different example of disproportionality, and one which risks offending some fellow campaigns. This example is the difference in energy devoted to anti-war campaigning between Gaza and the Congo, particularly given the vastly greater death and suffering in the Congo.

In the midst of messages urging me to support the Gaza sit in at the University of Manchester, I attended a demonstration concerned with the Congo. Attendance was around 150 people, small in comparison to the thousands mobilised for Gaza. Whilst there is a small but thriving Congo support movement in Manchester, it is not just the BBC who have paid little attention to this conflict, which has claimed some 5 million lives over the last 10 years. This is far more than Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine put together. One problem is there are no obvious good and bad guys, - certainly no obvious good guys. Placards at today’s demo attacked both President Kabila and rebel militia leader Laurent Nkunda.

There are however two areas where Western countries have an impact here. Firstly, the Government, in an astonishing denial of the situation in Congo, regards it as a safe place to return refugees. For more information, see here . There are various campaigns against deportations, and readers are urged to write to MPs and the Government to support these campaigns.

For the other reason, look at your mobile phone, or laptop (with which you may be reading this blog). Eastern Congo is the number one source of Coltan, which is an ore of the metal tantalum vital in creating capacitors. Rebel Groups and neighbouring countries have exploited used this to finance their military involvement, with western-based corporations willing to turn a blind eye in the pursuit of profit. See futher information here

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Manchester - Guinea-Pig City

In case anyone here thinks I have going to talk about furry animals, in line with one of the usual green stereotypes, I'll make it clear that this is guinea pig which (to quote Wikipedia) is 'a metaphor in English for a subject of experimentation'. In the old days, Scotland could be relied on for this role (remember the poll tax?), but they've got a bit of independence now, so step forward a new victim, Manchester.

To give 3 recent examples.

- A couple of years back our government got very keen on casinos, and one lucky borough was earmarked for the biggest casino of all. East Manchester was formerly a hive of industry, but is now a serious area of deprivation. This was deemed to be a perfect site for a huge gambling den, unprecedented in British social history. Manchester's Labour Council, lacking the imagination or ability to come up with a beetr solution for the area, were enthusiastic despite the warnings of many groups regarding crime and gambling addiction, and the consequent further impoverishment of many people in the area. It was subsequently pulled by Son-of-the-Manse Gordon Brown (without any alternative strategy) so we'll move on.

- The great transport bid / congestion charge debate roused many strong views, but a significant argument of the anti- campaigners was that Manchester was being used as a guinea pig for a particular form of road-pricing, with a scheme proposed which was unlike anywhere else on the planet. No other city was subjected to this, London has its congestion charge, true, but it also gets far more than its share of major transport spending. Greater Manchester, despite its considerable size has long been treated as a poor provincial relation. Maybe Manchester doesn't have enough marginal Labour seats?

- The third example hit the news a couple of days ago. The Government's stubborn and perverse determination to foist ID cards on us has already led to Manchester Airport employees being amongst the first to have to carry them, now Jacqui Smith wants Manchester to be one of the first places these are rolled out (see here), shamelessly promoting them in a school. Despite massive opposition, including from the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green Parties, the Government claims people can't wait to have these cards, indeed as I go about my business on the streets of Manchester I often come across huge mobs impatient to pay money to be fingerprinted and scanned - err not. For information on ID cards see NoID and for a less partisan view from an IT perspective Computer Weekly often provides some lowdown on this and other Government IT c**kups.

Daft Comment of the Week:
I haven't kept this feature up very well, so 2 for the price of one this week.
Firstly: the BNP's Simon Darby has let slip that 'Party''s true nature, by describing it as 'technically an ethnic group' - clearly an admission that the BNP is a completely race-based group, unlike any legitimate UK political party. Thanks to Lancaster UAF for that info. The BNP are claiming to be the victims of racism by the way - sheesh!

Secondly here's a quote about climate change from a Councillor Barton, a Tory on Birmingham Council, admittedly from last year but brought to my attention this morning by Spencer Fitzgibbon “We can’t even predict the weather three days ahead...It’s said that we are going to turn into a desert, but there’s not much sign of that happening yet.” Councillor Barton is tipped to become a Tory MP at the next general election, and this is in a city whose Conservative-LibDem coalition recently announced its intention of making Birmingham the UK’s first “sustainable global city”. (Actually some people who have been to Birmingham might debate the desert comment).
It's hard to do a daft Tory quote from a Manchester City Councillor as there's only one of them, but he is trying to get into the Daft Comment spot and will probably succeed before long.