Wednesday, December 10, 2008

60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - lets celebrate and look to the future

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights –and as many of you know I am now campaigning for Planetary Rights. We have chosen today’s auspicious date as the official date of our launch of the campaign’s website Trees Have Rights Too, and it's getting a good bit of coverage too, in particular online - Treehugger et all thankyou - with some national and international news. Help us get the word out and spread the news.

Help us ping it off out into the ether and get the debate rolling - we want to hear what you have to say. Some think it mad, some think it dangerously restrictive - but others understand that we have to put in place useful tools to ensure we can help restore harmony and balance with nature. It is after all but a formal recognition of rights that are inherently there.

Remember how suddenly the Berlin Wall came down? Many thought it impossible, but a culmination of events, a window of opportunity, a shift in understanding - and whoosh, everyone was there knocking it down, celebrating the German reunification. Maybe we need the same dramatic seismic shift in consciousness, a knocking down of our mental boundaries that have become erected between us and our relationship with nature and the planet. One that clears the path for us to reconnect with all of earth's communities, not just human, and to provide for the greater freedom and recognition of the planet's rights.

Come join us knock down the barriers of outmoded beliefs and pave the way for a better world.
Trees Have Rights Too

"At first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win"
Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The United Nations, Women and Climate Change

Yesterday I went in to talk with Phil Thorhill of Campaign Against Climate Change to discuss the existing gender imbalance witnessed at Campaign Against Climate Change meetings and the forthcoming speaker line-up for the Climate Change March to be held here in London on the 6th December.

It is an issue that numerous Wise Women have brought repeatedly to my attention and want addressed. Time and again I am receiving emails decrying the lack of women at the front face of the environmental movement. Many tell me they only go to hear the women now as they no longer want to hear the same old male bods banging on bleakly about doom and gloom, but that they want to hear women speak, and about solutions and progress as to how we can move forward, as well as addressing the larger implications of gender imbalance and climate change for women in developing nations.

Whether or not it is a valid complaint, it is one that should not be dismissed out of hand. The very fact that we now have three active women organisations, Wise Women, Climate Rush and WeCAN, growing daily here in the UK as well as globally is testimony to the fact that women are wanting to address this perceived discrimination. It is an issue that we here in the UK are now seeking to rectify.

The United Nations recognise this gender imbalance as well. For the last two days they held a conference in New York, organised by the Global Climate Change Gender Alliance to discuss this very issue. One of the issues The Alliance is focused on is capacity-building to ensure integration of gender into climate talks. My Wise Women at the conference have assured me that support is building fast to ensure the integration of gender issues within the national and international climate change negotiations.

We here in the UK are also capacity-building. If you are interested in being part of a growing women's coalition working together to engender great balance within the environmental field here in the UK, come and join us. The next Wise Woman Speaker Event is addressing this very issue: Women and Climate Change, on the 9th December 2008.
UN press conference on Gender Imbalance and Climate Change
Wise Women
Climate Rush

About the GGCA: the IUCN, UNDP, UNEP and the Women's Environment Development Organization (WEDO) have come together to create the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA). The goal of the GGCA is to ensure that climate change policies, decision-making, initiatives at the global, regional and national levels are gender responsive.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wise Women victories in the London courts

It's been a fantastic week for Wise Women environmental campaigners in the London courts. Georgina Downs, founder of UK Pesticides Campaign, scored gold with her landmark victory against the government in her long-running legal battle over the use of pesticides and Tamsin Ormond, founder of Climate Rush, received a conditional discharge for scaling the roof of Parliament (charge: criminal trespass of a protected site).

Both important rulings and both examples of the tide of change towards recognition of the importance of fighting against pollution. For Georgina it is her fight against the use of pesticides and crop spraying, for Tamsin her fight against airport expansion and escalation of aviation emissions. Whilst Georgina took the government to court, Tamsin was taken to court - but the net result was the same: both had taken direct action to prevent environmental injustice.
The high court ruled on Friday that Georgina Downs had produced "solid evidence" that people exposed to chemicals used to spray crops had suffered harm. Defra's (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) argument that the use and control of pesticides was "reasonable, logical and lawful" was rejected. The court said the government had failed to comply with a European directive designed to protect rural communities from exposure to the toxins. It said Defra must reassess its policy and investigate the risks to people who are exposed.

For Georgina, who this is the culmination of a 7 year campaign. Living on the edge of farmland near Chichester, West Sussex, Georgina was first exposed to pesticide spraying at the age of 11, as a result suffering extensive and long-term injury to her health. Mr Justice Collins upheld her evidence as compelling.

Georgina successfully argued that the government had failed to address the concerns of people living in the countryside "who are repeatedly exposed to mixtures of pesticides and other chemicals throughout every year, and in many cases, like mine, for decades". People are not given prior notification about what was to be sprayed near their homes and gardens (and yet those who are spraying must wear protective clothes and masks).

In his ruling, Mr Justice Collins highlighted that the 1986 Control of Pesticides Regulations states that beekeepers must be given 48 hours notice if pesticides harmful to bees are to be used. The judge said: "It is difficult to see why residents should be in a worse position."

Georgina called for more recognition of what she rightly terms as "one of the biggest public health scandals of our time". She called on Gordon Brown to block any Defra appeal. "The government "should now just admit that it got it wrong, apologise and actually get on with protecting the health and citizens of this country".

The case centred on the way the government assesses the risk posed by pesticides. The current method is based on occasional, short-term exposure to a "bystander" and assumes that individuals would be exposed to an individual pesticide during a single pass.

Mr Justice Collins agreed with Georgina's long-standing charge that "this bystander model does not and cannot address residents who are repeatedly exposed". The model does not account for rural residents exposed to mixtures of pesticides and other chemicals "throughout every year and, in many cases like my own, for decades".

As Georgina pointed out on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice, "The fact that there has never been any assessment of the risk to health for the long-term exposure for those who live, work or go to school near pesticide-sprayed fields is an absolute scandal, considering that crop-spraying has been a predominant feature of agriculture for over 50 years."

Menawhile, just 24 hours earlier Tamsin had walked away from court with the nominal sentence of a conditional discharge for her part in scaling the rooftops of the Palace of Westminster to fight against the building a third runway. Their defence: they had protested in order to prevent a greater crime.

With nitrogen oxides near the two existing runways already exceeding those permitted under the rules, documentary evidence established BAA's efforts to evade liability by suggesting the receptors measuring pollution be moved away from the source - "which is tantamount to removing the thermometer from the patient and declaring them well". Whilst Tamsin and the others were not acquitted, her sentence (which carried a maximum of 6 months imprisonment) of a conditional discharge is a very clear indication that, where good reason exists, direct action to protect the planet is likely to be well received in the hallowed halls of the judiciary.

Well done girls - a collective cheer has been raised by all Wise Women. Wise law indeed.

UK Pesticides Campaign
Climate Rush

Monday, November 10, 2008

My call for a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights

On the 6th November in Belfast at the United Nations (UK and Northern Ireland) Climate Change Conference, I called upon the United Nations to implement a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights.

Our planet is in crisis, and the United Nations are uniquely placed to implement the necessary foundations to create a new world where prevention and protection stand hand in hand.


This planet we call Earth is no longer a place of honour. For too many years we have abused and despoiled it, taken wilfully without regard to the consequences. We have depleted fossil fuel reserves, we have created escalating emissions, we have polluted, poisoned, damaged, destroyed and caused the extinction of numerous species.

We now know that it is because of human activity that we have a planet out of balance. The evidence is conclusive: Climate Change, with it’s escalating greenhouse gases, is a symptom of our greedy consumption of planet Earth. It threatens the very life of all remaining species, plant forms, oceans and waterways as well as human life. James Hansen of NASA has called for us to reduce our emissions to 350 ppm - that is an amount that is now less than current levels (which stand at 385ppm). It is not merely a matter of reducing our emissions by 50%, 80%, 100% as soon as possible, but to evolve and encourage a benign world where we no longer cause damage, pollution and loss.

Climate Change is a symptom of the damage we, humans, have caused by our excessive consumption of the Earth’s resources. We now know that such actions carry destructive consequences – indeed all actions carry consequences - some far more damaging than others. Equipped with the knowledge that the planet’s imbalance is caused by humankind’s actions, comes the duty to act now.


Our planet is however not beyond rescue. What is required is a seismic shift in our consciousness, not a mere reduction of our emissions. The seismic shift should give full recognition that we now owe a duty of care to our beautiful planet. No other planet in our solar system has such variety of species, species that we are losing at an unprecedented rate. Now it is time to provide protection to our planet.

Just as the humanitarian crisis of the Second World War gave birth to the swift implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 60 years ago in 1948, so now we have a planetary crisis that needs to be addressed with equal urgency. Now is the time to call for a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights.

This is my call to the United Nations to protect our world. My plea is for co-operation, not confrontation. It is your support that will provide the voice to make this happen. Please help us in our call to protect our one beautiful and fragile planet.


This is the beginning of a the campaign for global recognition that Trees Have Rights Too.

I shall give my speech again in London on the 18th November 2008 at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, WC1, 6.30pm - 8.30pm.

The event is free, but RSVP is required: please email
For further details of the event, see: Events

The power for action lies in all our hands. If you support the call to the United Nations to act, please help spread the word and forward this to all you think may want to support it - and even those whom you think may not!

Trees Have Rights Too

5 Green Obama Dreams

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Is Mr Brown for Turning?

Yesterday Gordon Brown espoused a new world vision, proposing that society's values of "fairness, stewardship and co-operation" must be upheld in business, markets, public policy and across the whole public arena. These are welcome words, but are they just that? They come from the very man who at the 11th hour kicked out the very mechanism that would have ensured the incorporation of such values into the boardroom just two years ago.

The Operation and Financial Review, if it were still operational, would have mandated the 1,300 or so publicly listed companies in the UK to produce narrative statements assessing their performance for the next financial year, including the reporting of social and environmental risks and opportunities. The OFR was set to be included in companies' annual reports, and the first batch were to be published in April 2006. Yes, the new Companies Act was subsequently rolled out, but the included amendments (the limply termed "expanded business review") had successfully watered down any level of increased corporate accountability.

So I am greatly intrigued to hear Gordon's rhetoric. He is right of course, we do need these three values embodied within business practise. But of course, it all depends on how you define and act on these terms (I hear the chant of the Suffragettes echoing ever louder inside my head: Deeds Not Words). Could this mean a reinstatement of mandatory reporting by boards on environmental and social issues? Could it mean the bottom line not being just one of profit but also people and planet? Businesses built on partnerships, support, co-operation, equality, protection of their communities (not just human communities), gender balanced - and dare I say it, love? A place where communication and creativity thrives, where flexibility and decentralisation become the norm rather than the top-down dominator hierarchy that most corporations adhere to (and are now beginning to fail). This would indeed be the business world of the future.

Mr Brown, I hold you to your words.

If you want to know more about how to restructure corporations for the 21st century, read these two:
Ori Brafman and Rod A Beckstrom The Starfish and the Spider
David C. KortenThe Great Turning: from Empire to Earth Communities

[with thanks to John for nudging me to ping this up]

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sarkozy's Council of Wise Men

It is with some concern that I found myself reading Sarkozy’s latest proposal – the creation of a Council of Wise Men to ponder the future of Europe. The man who is touted as being in favour of women’s equality, who has half a cabinet of women (his so-called 'babes') and has traded in one intelligent lady for a younger, leggier but dumber model (she is the one who gained extensive column coverage after claiming on her recent state visit as newly married Mrs Sarkozy that she would like to have a bath with Tony Blair).

So, here we have it, 80 years on since women won the right to vote on equal terms with men, and the start of democratic representation as we know it today - 100 years after the suffragettes fought in this country for those equal rights (and a mantle in their honour I was carrying, just the previous night in Parliament Square), one of the highest profile men in the world (the EU presidency is currently vested in France) has determined that his Council for such weighty matters would be manned by well, men! The implication being that there are no women up to the job, that Sarkozy's women are for the pleasure of the eye, but little more. Certainly this is the case when it comes to weighty matters of the EU. But maybe he allows a little lassitude of the non-political persuasion when at home. How very French.

I put this very issue to a panel of women in the House of Commons last night, who were discussing why so few women are in politics (No Politics Please...We're Women!). I asked them to comment on this decision. One response came back that made me sit up, from fellow celt Lee Chalmers of the The Downing Street Project. She suggested that a corresponding Council of Wise Women be appointed - and see what issues they thought important to ponder upon - and then bring the two together.

This make a lot of sense on numerous levels. Firstly, women do approach politics in a different manner. As Helen Goodman MP pointed out last night, we think differently, we have a different agenda, we have a different style. This is not mere observation, but is fact. Investigations have established that from the age of seven, males and females develop differing approaches to the concept of reason. Males, it was discovered, are more linear in their thinking - issues tend to be either right or wrong. Whereas females diverge and become more holistic, and therefore find it difficult to answer a moral question immediately. Look how this plays out in politics, even today, with the cut and thrust and subsequent reportage on politics. One of our broadsheets presents a boxing scoring on politicians on the issue of the day.

But this is not to say that women are not suited to our masculine, male dominated political world. Decisions are at the end of the day taken in multi-lateral institutions. It's about coalition building, and women are very good at doing that. Look at Angela Merkel, she is exceptionally effective in this arena. Women network on multi and numerous levels, cross referencing and supporting.

Secondly, can a man ever properly represent a woman? Is it practical, do they have the drive to represent women's interests? To really understand and be in a woman's shoes - you really have to be a woman.

I agree with Lee, it is not simply a matter of either/or, but a matter of balance - of both male and female - if we are to benefit for all and our future, tackle trans-boundary issues such as global warming, food, poverty. That's why I set up Wise Women, my network of women who care about creating a more sustainable and environmentally benign world - to start to redress that imbalance, and facilitate more women in becoming comfortable with their voice in what is still predominantly a man's world (in this case with regard to the environment). This is not to say we need less men, but rather that we need more women stepping into leadership roles, now more than ever. It has been statistically proven that countries that have higher participation by women in politics do better and correspondingly encourage more balanced decision making.

If Sarkozy was setting up his team within a company context, he would quite rightly be accused of bias and discrimination. I am if nothing but a lawyer with years of experience in the employment courts. Discriminatory behaviour is something I understand well. Yet for some reason, when it comes to the larger stage, such rights which have been hard-fought for are so easily disregarded. Not one country has taken issue with this anomaly. Why is Sarkozy allowed to do this? The EU, that so prides itself in being transparent and accountable after the debacle of the corruption they swept out in the late 90's, has just demonstrated - that when it comes to the crunch - once again it is jobs for the boys.

I have set up my own Council of Wise Women, and I invite Mr Sarkozy to join us. Maybe that way we can find a way forward for us all.

Women's Resource Centre
The Downing Street Project
Women's Environmental Network
Women and the Vote

Climate Rush: The Aftermath

So, news. What a night! All dressed up in our Edwardian bloomers, piled hair, high collars and red sashes, 2000+ of us took to Climate Rush in Parliament Square. Just as the suffragettes of a century ago had fought for Women's Rights so here we were fighting for the Planet's Rights. The feminine energy was palpable, as was the spirit of our female ancestors.

Two of my Wise Women had made me a wonderful banner, Trees Have Rights Too, appliqued with the clothes of their mother, full of references to times past, present and future, imbued with such spirit - there were even buttons that had been worn at suffragette rallies of the previous century (thank you Tabitha and Lucy). Thus, so the wisdom of our sisters a hundred years back came pouring through - those of the past helping those in the present to move forward into the future. It was a cause they would be fully in accord with, for sure. And so we rushed (ladylike of course) at Parliament's doors.

One rather surly interviewer questioned me at length on whether the potential breach of security was justified. Yes, I replied. If it takes the storming of Parliament to get Gordon Brown to take action on climate change, then yes, the end certainly justifies the means. What of our democratic right to protest? Time now for action - that's why we were chanting the very chant of the Suffragettes - Deeds Not Words. Going by the heightened activity of my inbox and texts the following morning, all and sundry who couldn't make it supported my sentiment after hearing me speak on the 10 o'clock BBC news that night. A collective cheer, I am told, reverberated across the country.

It seems District Judge Michael Snow at City & Westminster Magistrates (an old haunt of mine) also agreed. There had been arrests - five brave ladies in pursuit of direct action were handcuffed and removed. Tamsin, who had organised the event, was up on breach of her bail conditions after having scaled the Houses of Parliament's roof in November of last year in protest against the planned expansion of Heathrow Airport. Sage DJ Snow said he recognised "the need for proportionality and one should hesitate from taking away bail from someone exercising their right to protest."

So it had been a remarkable and joyous event, with some fine cakes, tea and something far stronger to keep off the chill. Be warned Mr Brown, this is but a taster - the beginning of something far bigger. Women are fighting for the Planet (with a little help from the chaps too). We shan't stop until you and your government do so too.

For more wonderful pics, see Amelia's Blog.
video of protestand shots of friends being arrested.
Indymedia pics

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Climate Rush

Monday 13th is the 100th anniversary of the Suffragettes rush on Parliament. Climate Rush (organised by Wise Woman Tamsin Ormond) ask all Wise Women - and men - to a rally and celebration in Parliament Square to call on politicians to take immediate action on climate change. Just as the Suffragettes fought for Women's Rights; now it's time that we fight for our Planet's Rights.

Speakers include wise women Caroline Lucas MEP, Rosie Boycott, and many more.

What to wear: Dress in white or wear period costume (just like our ladies on their bikes!). You will be given a Climate Rush sash. For inspiration & photos see here.
What to bring: flask of tea and cakes
Where: Parliament Square outside the Houses of Parliament, London.
WISE WOMEN rendezvous: under the Churchill statue for WW flyers and stickers. Watch out for the WW banner Trees Have Rights Too (appliqued by WW Tabitha Neal in honour of the Tree Lady and fellow Wise Woman Wangari Maathai) - there you will find a cluster of WW!
When: 5.30 pm, Monday 13th October 2008

WISE WOMEN - Women In Sustainability and the Environment

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Climate Change & Me

Lots happening in my neck of the woods these days. This weekend there's a free family festival to empower you to save cash and have fun tackling climate change. It's on Saturday the 11th October 2008 11am - 6pm at Highbury Fields Secondary School.

I shall be time and space travelling with Dr Who in his tardis to look at the effects of climate change and what positive solutions we can put in place. In the afternoon I will be giving workshops on how to be an effective eco-activist (with a few newly learned tricks up my sleeve, thanks to all at Kingsnorth Climate Camp).

Fellow Wise Woman Penney Poyzer will be there too, to answer questions on how to green your home; authors Pete May (of the deliciously funny There's a Hippo in my Cistern) and Wise Woman Nicola Baird (of the fantastically practical Save Cash and Save the Planet) will be joining other writers to sign copies of top eco-must-reads. There will be clothes swaps ('swishing', for those in the know, so my 8 year old neighbour proudly tells me), there will be local grown and home-cooked fayre, there will be workshops on how to make your Victorian home more energy efficient, and how to have fun on your street. This and much more can be found at Climate Change and Me

See you there!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ecuador Referendum upholds Rights of Nature

It's been a life affirming week for me - a week of intense study of Earth Jurisprudence at Shumacher College, followed by a UKELA weekend workshop in Derbyshire. Earth jurisprudence is aimed at ensuring that legal and governance systems support, rather than undermine, the integrity and health of the Earth through the development of an ecocentric approach to law and governance. While most of the world’s legal systems advance the interests and concerns of the human community and provide no real protection to other species, or to the planet itself, Earth jurisprudence proposes a radical overhaul of approaches to law making, to ensure that the planet and all species have rights, by virtue of their existence as members of a single Earth community.

But most life-affirming of all, after a week of concentrated examination of theory and application (and some unforgettable wild moments to boot) came wonderful news from Ecuador. Sunday 28th September brought a historic moment in the evolution of protection of our planet.

By an overwhelming margin, the people of Ecuador voted for a new Constitution that is the first in the world to recognize legally enforceable Rights of Nature, or ecosystem rights. In a country rich with ecological treasures, including the Galapagos Islands and part of the Amazon rain forest, the constitution also calls on government to avoid measures that would destroy ecosystems or drive species to extinction. Ecuador is now the first country in the world to codify a new system of environmental protection based on rights.

With this vote, the people of Ecuador are leading the way for countries around the world to fundamentally change how we protect nature.

Article 1 of the new "Rights for Nature" chapter of the Ecuador constitution reads: "Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution. Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public bodies."

Ecuador's constitution recognizes that ecosystems possess the inalienable and fundamental right to exist and flourish, and that people possess the legal authority to enforce those rights on behalf of ecosystems, and the requirement of the government to remedy the violations of those ecosystem rights.

What is so interesting is that this Constitution has been borne out of crisis and driven at local municipal government level. Because there have been so many abuses, pollution, violence and corruption by foreign mining companies, the people revolted against this so-called development by central government. Thus, this remarkable piece of legislation was borne of the people taking responsibility for their land.

But all is not yet perfect. Whilst the Constitution is a vast bridge in the right direction, it does at the same time incorporate sweeping powers bestowed upon the President. Pressure from US and Canadian governments remains to allow mining in particular in the south of the country where there has been less local opposition. Time will tell whether the weight of US destruction continues or is prevented.

Nevertheless this is cause for huge celebration. The world’s environmental and social crisis will only get worse, unless humans are compelled by law to respect the laws of nature and the rights of other members of the Earth community. Ecuador's Rights of Nature Constitution is Wild Law in the making - and a vitally crucial precedent that other nations must follow.

Wild Law by Cormac Cullinan
Enact International
Centre For Earth Jurisprudence
Earth Jurisprudence
The Legal Defense Fund
The Pachamama Alliance

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Transition Towns Comes to London

Just a reminder of tonights event - a few places remain, so do come along if you have not already replied, we will squeeze you in.
Concerned about escalating oil prices and Peak Oil?
Frustrated at the lack of governmental support?
Wondering what to do to survive the post-petroleum world?

Mike Grenville of Changing Worlds will be discussing Peak Oil and the urgency of action required.

Rob Hopkins, author of The Transition Handbook, will be speaking on how communities can respond effectively to climate chaos and the end of cheap oil - and how to start to build local resilient networks.

Some Transition communities and other like-minded organisations are already in existence in London. Come hear what they have to say, discover what is going on in your area, learn what pitfalls to avoid when starting a group and much more.

Panel Discussion speakers: Suzy Edwards of Camden Climate Action Network, Duncan Law of Transition Town Brixton, Mary Fee of LETSLink, Lucy Neal of Transition Town Tooting and Hilary Gander of Transition Town Kingston.

With music from members of the Brass Volcanoes, a carbon-neutral jazz band

What: Transition Towns Comes to London
Who: Rob Hopkins and Others
Where: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1
When: Tues 16th Sept, 6.30pm - 8.30pm
Cost: £5 on the door (includes refreshments)

(photo: Rob Hopkins, Mike Grenville, Suzy Edwards, Duncan Law, Mary Fee, Hilary Gander)

* To buy the book, The Transition Handbook, visit the Wise Women Books page

Not Guilty - The Kingsnorth Six

At a time when banks and mortgage lenders are either going belly-up or being bailed-out, hurricanes are taking their toll over Asia and India, stock markets are crashing and estate agents are going out of fashion at the rate of one a day (just how many are there?), there are indications of the beginning of a shifting consciousness - in the UK at least. People are beginning to demonstrate their concerns in unusual ways, and are beginning to vote with their conscience.

Just last week at Maidstone Crown Court an unusual and important jury verdict was declared which favoured the planet and the natural world. Six Greenpeace activists were cleared of causing criminal damage around £35,000 worth of damage to a coal-fired power station. Their defence was that their occupation of the power station prevented property damage (caused by climate change). It is a pioneering case in which preventing such property damage has been used as part of a "lawful excuse" in legal defence.

This is a vitally important step in recognising potential legal 'rights' of the planet. It also gives strength to future actions by environmental activists in advocating for the rights of species and planet. The allegation hurled at the jury after the return of a Not Guilty was that it was a "sympathy vote" for Greenpeace. But sympathy is just what is required - it is a direct manifestation of a jury recognising the need to protect our planet, and they supported Greenpeace's actions in trying to do so, deeming thier actions reasonable and urgent. As Ben Stewart stated outside court: "When 12 normal people say that it legitimate to shut down a coal fire station because of the harm to the planet, then one has to ask where does that leave government energy policy?"

(Five of the 'Kingsnorth Six' at the top of the 200m chimney)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Yurtling Energy at Embercome

I've never been to an event such as the one I have just experienced this weekend. It wasn't a corporate event, it wasn't a conference, no workshops were advertised, in fact the remit was incredibly loose. Alongside 30 or so others working to tackle climate change, I had been invited to spend the weekend in Devon to share, plan and plot - and to sleep in a yurt.

Didn't take me long to say yes. I love geodesic domes, so yurts with woodfire stoves do it for me too. And the subject matter - well obviously that's my kinda thing too. I had no real understanding of what was to come of it, so I merrily pitched up with no preconceptions, just left myself open to the experience.

And it was inspirational. A bunch of equally committed individuals who are in so many varied ways making a difference; academically, politically, in business, with communities; by shaping, creating, facilitating, inspiring. All in a glorious environment, fuelled by the most delicious organic food from the gardens (all thanks to Andy, Alistair and team). Shaped by the lightest of touches by Mac, we discovered easily enough how to self-select on discussing various topics. This opened up new understanding, new connections, new inspiration. So many discussions bore so much fruit in such a short period of time, be it over wine in the evening, whilst walking in the herb garden, or sheltering together in the poly-tunnel whilst the rain poured off the sides. So much to hear, to say and to do.

It struck me that the core reason why this weekend proved so successful - why such strong bonds were established - was because we were all reciprocating. Giving and receiving experiences, sharing wisdom, offering assistance and skills. It's the stuff of true friendship, not just for us as humans, but for our interaction with the planet. Reciprocity is equally important just as it is for us human to human, but also for our interaction with our planet. It is not for us to merely take it's resources. We need to extend that reciprocity to our world as well. And that was something I learned more about this weekend when discussing how to create a sustainable world. That reciprocity applies both internally and externally if true sustainability is to be understood and created.

I left energised and revitalised, feeling the growth of not only the plants and trees in the woods that surrounded us, but also of us - individually and collectively. What comes out of this, well, that remains to be seen. But I know one thing - it will all be good for the planet.

Thankyou all.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

New Leader of the Green Party: Caroline Lucas

Great news: Caroline Lucas has won the Green Party's first ever leadership election by a remarkable landslide of over 90%.

The UK Green party has never had a leader, leaving it faceless in a world where personality politics steals the lead regardless of values. Now it has - and what a great person to drive the Green Party forward at such a crucial juncture.

Caroline comes with gleaming green credentials: she is an acknowledged expert on climate change, international trade and peace issues and recently co-authored the Green New Deal Report.

She is a Vice President of the RSPCA, the Stop the War Coalition, Campaign Against Climate Change and Environmental Protection UK, as well as a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament National Council and a Director of the International Forum on Globalization. The think-tanks Protect the Local, Globally and Centre for a Social Europe have Caroline as an Advisory Board Member, as does the Radiation Research Trust, the Transitions Towns Network and she is also a matron of the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN).

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Environmentalist's Nuclear Debate: (3) My response

My response to Mark Lynas:

Why is it that you support 4th generation nuclear when Concentrating Solar Power can provide such an enormous slice of the baseload generation required, without any of the political, environmental and social detriment of nuclear?

CSP is mature technology, overnight storage is not a problem, it will be fully commercialised by 2011 - 2012, when (going by current known contracts) 9GW will be online globally, and it is anticipated if expansion continues at a conservative rate of 29% per annum, then 200GW will be online by 2020 (compare with 100GW online for wind as of this year, after 25 years). It's environmentally benign - even positive when you combine it with desalination, fast build (2 - 3 years from granting of licence to grid connection), no high insurance costs, no decommissioning and waste headaches, no trans-border devastation when bombed by an irate terrorist - only 7 years bad luck (and why bother to bomb a bunch of mirrors where each fresnel mirror can now be built and replaced in 3 minutes in any event) ...and even the political will is cranking into action now with the Med Solar Plan (20GW in North Africa by 2020) under the recently endorsed Union for the Mediterranean, the removal of the Feed-in Tariff cap in Spain due later this year (20GW by 2020), another 16GW is expected in other southern sunbelt EU countries, the generous state credits in South West America esp in California (30-50GW by 2020 thanks mainly to Arnie's ambitious targets), the Masdar Project (500MW by 2013), India (generous FIT's for solar put in place earlier this year), China (test plant outside Beijing) etc etc. CSP does not pose an energy security risk; it is not a finite resource that is being threatened (and therefore one that we go to war over). It is dependent on the heat from the sun in the deserts - an abundant resource and, moreover, less than 1% of the world's deserts can give us all our global electricity requirements - so no worries on that front either. We can therefore switch all land-based transport over to clean electricity as well. As for transporting the stuff - easy: High Voltage Direct Current lines (which have been in use since the 1950's), such as the HVDC links that run from the 3 Gorges Dam in China to Guangdong - 2,000 kilometers away - with just 3% losses per 1000 km.

So, why do we not hear more from you guys - the heroes of the environmental world - supporting, lobbying, promoting, fighting, shouting for CSP, rather than announcing your qualified support of nuclear? Shame on you.

If you would like to know more about CSP, check out TREC-UK and for an easy intro:

[table reproduced from CSP v Nuclear, Carbon2Share, Colin Challen's interparliamentary newsletter, July 2008]

The Environmentalist's Nuclear Debate: (2) Mark Lynas

The nuclear debate continues, with that other environmentalist and climate change author of note - Mark Lynas - proffering his position. Last week in the New Statesman he took, as he himself admitted, a rather stronger position than Monbiot: "that increased use of nuclear (an outright competitor to coal as a deliverer of baseload power) is essential to combat climate change." He too qualified his position, but from the point of view of the need for technological advancement. He gave as an example of potential improvement the Integral Fast Reactor (a design of fast breeder plant).

This is what he had to say about the IFR:
1. "It could generate power by burning up nuclear waste leaving only short lived by-products unfit for nuclear bombs (thus could cancel out concerns about nuclear proliferation);
2. the reactor design, is close to “fail-safe”, automatically shutting down if things begin to go wrong, because the safety mechanisms are inherent, and do not depend on human or mechanical intervention.
3. Lynas admits that such “4th generation” nuclear power stations are still a dream, but believes that they are potentially much more realistic than CCS.
4. Lynas proposes that 4th Gen plus renewable energy could provide complete decarbonisation of the worlds electricity supply and on a timetable that Dr Hansen and fellow climatologists demand."

Although I cannot respond on the technological potential of 4th generation nuclear plants such as the IFR that Lynas proposes, I know a man that can: Paul Brown, the venerable ex-Guardian environment correspondent, expert on all thing nuclear, author of the heavyweight tome Global Warning (a copy of which was sent by the President of the Republic of Maldives - a man uncomfortably close to the effects of global warming - to all 193 Heads of State, so they really have no excuse) and more recently of Voodoo Economics and the Doomed Nuclear Renaissance.
So, I wrote to him asking the following:

1. Is it true, as Lynas asserts, that 4th gen nuclear would prevent nuclear proliferation?
2. Is the design indeed close to fail-safe?
3. Is it accurate to say that 4th Generation nuclear is more realistic than Carbon Capture and Storage?

This is the response I received from Paul Brown:

"There are no grounds for saying that a fourth generation of nuclear power would prevent proliferation. There are three generations at present, the third generation is the one being constructed in Finland and another in France. It is the type the government wants to build in England.

Many "new" designs for new nuclear power stations exist, all of them called fourth generation reactors. What this means is they could be the new form of reactors adopted after this present third generation. For all of them it is claimed they will be cheaper, safer, and better in every way than the present generation. All this is unproved hype. None has been built so it all theory - like so much else about the nuclear industry. The reason they have not been built is essentially because the first one (of every design) would be very expensive to build and might not work. No government is prepared to fund them so far.

The fourth generation that Lynas is talking about is a design that will burn existing stocks of plutonium and uranium thereby reducing stocks of these bomb making materials, therefore reducing proliferation dangers. The UK government was asked by British Nuclear Fuels to sanction research and development into building one of these at Sellafield but was refused on the grounds of cost.

So the answer to your first question is no - Lynas is not correct - and no one knows whether an "integral fast reactor breeder plant" would really work. Fast breeders only worked on small scale dustbin size projects and broke every time France, Japan, and Russia tried to scale them up.

Second question: Note the "close to" fail-safe. Could have said in theory the design is fail safe. In other words it has not been tried, so how can you know? Nuclear fission is a controlled nuclear explosion. It is virtually impossible to make it fail-safe.

CCS? There are lots of problems with it. Carbon capture and storage is an unproven technology unless you count pumping carbon dioxide directly back down under the sea as they do in Norway. Carbon dioxide has no use so everything you do with it has a cost. Transporting it, pumping it etc is all expensive. Even if you worked out how to do it efficiently there are very few places in which it is possible to pump it and expect it to stay there. Old oil and gas wells have to be near the carbon dioxide capture sites and leak proof to have any chance of being viable. In my view it has limited application even if we could make it work, simply because there is nowhere to put the carbon dioxide. If you could convert it into something like else like a fuel by growing algae to make biofuels it might be a runner. It would at least reduce the impact. My view is that CCS is a red herring in the real debate. CCS and fourth generation nuclear are diversions and will never deliver on the scale we need in the timetable we need it by.

My view is that concentrated solar power, tidal turbines, wind power, solar PV, wave power, geothermal and massive improvements in energy efficiency, combined heat and power, insulation and the like, could deliver faster and enough to solve the problem. Anything else is putting off the reality and hoping technology will provide a fix. We have the technology, what we do not have is the political will. Only political will brought about by campaigners like you is going to save the planet".


Global Warning

The Environmentalist's Nuclear Debate: (1) George Monbiot

Things seem to stirring up the debate over nuclear and it's making quite a few greenies hot and steamy, to say the least. So, in order to unravel the issue at hand here is a lazy environmentalist's dummies guide to the issue in hand (part 1):

Earlier this month, George Monbiot posited his thoughts on nuclear. What he stated was that “I no longer care whether the answer (to our future electricity supplies) is nuclear or not” providing all new build meets the following stringent conditions:
1. the government sets a maximum level for carbon pollution per MW hr of electricity production, eg 80kg of CO2 – then leave the rest to the market;
2. so, total emission are taken into account;
3. the public are informed as to where and how waste is to be buried;
4. how much this will cost;
5. who will pay;
6. a legal guarantee put in place that no civil nuclear materials will be used by the military.

His qualified support is predicated on the belief that "we can no longer afford any rigid principle but one: that the harm done to people living now and in the future must be minimised by the most effective means, whatever they might be.”

Interestingly Monbiot, no slouch when it comes to reading pertinent reports (including the TRANS-CSP report), suggests that the likely outcome will progress towards the majority of our electricity being generated by a wide range of renewable energy systems interconnected by transnational supergrid networks, and with the use of storage no subsequent loss in the reliability of power supplies. "Unlike Carbon Capture and Storage," he says, "wind, wave, tidal, solar, hydro and geothermal power are proven technologies. Unlike nuclear power, they can be safely decommissioned as soon as they become redundant." So, a powerful argument in support of renewable energy, Mr Monbiot.

Here's my take on this: Monbiot's position on nuclear is one cushioned with conditionality. In essence he qualifies his view on this basis: nuclear is potentially fine to have in the equation providing certain stringent conditions are met. And, if Monbiot’s conditions are followed to their logical conclusion, the market is more than likely to dictate that other renewable technologies will fill the gap in any event.

Monbiot: Coal Scuttled

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Climate Camp, Kingsnorth

It was an early dash through Smithfield, with cheeky Bummarees calling out at me as I ignored the anti-cycling signs (what signs?) and whizzed through the tail-end of the morning's meat market. Down to St Pauls, swooped round and along then over London Bridge to meet my fellow eco-warrior Vicki (Director of the Kingsnorth No New Coal film, and fellow Wise Woman) before hopping on the train down to Strood in Kent. So off we headed to support the protest against the proposed new-build coal station at Kingsnorth.
[Vicki, part of the radical wing of WW in action]

The boys in blue were out in force, (which I can only presume for them is a bit of a holiday from any serious work as this is a peaceful demo), taking inordinate care and time to stop, search and video us all. Very polite, proud and patient in explaining their PACE powers. One gets the impression they've all just passed their Advanced Activist Management Skills course. They had a super new toy parked up that was later put to much use - an all singing and dancing yellow and black helicopter which buzzed like an oversized busy bee away above the camp for most of the day. (Do plod-squabbles break out over whose turn it is to play with the machine? Ooh to be a fly on the wall of their conversations)

Into the camp, eventually, and it's glorious - a haven of peace and commonality of purpose, with hundreds of tents smattered around clustered in geographical areas (Londonium I am told has the best facilities, naturally. They have sofas in their feeding tent), composting loos to rival those at CAT, the odd freestanding turbine and PV panels. Bunting billows in the early morning breeze as the sun starts to warm the early morning haze and the clouds begin to disappear, opening up to a warm blue-skied summer day.

I am speaking on Concentrating Solar Power in the main space - the one with electricity, so I am informed. I am offered a bike to power my presentation, but sadly it seems to only give power to either the laptop or the projector, not both at the same time. How great that would have been to have had it generating clean energy to give my talk on the ultimate clean energy solution, courtesy of a fast pedlar.

By 10.30 the camp has woken up, and tent A fills. There are workshops running throughout the day and all week, which is a marvellous way to tap into some excellent speakers on all matters climate change related. It's a good turnout, and later as I survey the site I reckon there are in around 1500 folk there and some kids. One pretty eight year old tells me he will make me a paper fan for anything(!). So we seal the deal for half a choccie bar, but only once he has been assured on the contents - that it is indeed vegan and is made of raw chocolate and agave syrup. He seems very pleased. I am equally pleased with my fan.

I bump into chums old and new, catch up with more radical WW's - and Oliver Tickell, author of Kyoto 2: How to Manage the Global Greenhouse, which delights me greatly. I've been itching to read it, as my gut instinct had been telling me that it will be an important one. In a nutshell, Tickell is advocating upstream control of greenhouse gases at point of production, not of emission (ie nail the oil companies, not the consumer).

Lunch at Londonium is delicious before scooting off to the site media tent for a bit of an interview, then off to hear a few workshops: Shaun Chamberlain on TEQ's (who argues from the other end of the spectrum - downstream control: carbon rationing of the consumer), David Flemming (the originator of TEQ's) on Anarchy (whom, upon arrival at the site, was reputedly chased by eager journos wanting to know if he was an elderly Tory MP. What anarchy he could have had there!).

It's hard to leave. The evening light is long, the banter fun (Meyer Hillman is stomping around furiously, indignant about some comment made by George Monbiot), fresh garlic wafts across from Wales (no sofas here; they have hay-bales from Machynlleth), and I had promised to pop in to commune with my fellow Scottish countrymen and women (bet they do great porridge first thing). But no time, we have to go (having hitched a lift back - thank you Oliver, much appreciated). We head of into the sunset as more people are pitching up in preparation for the day of mass action and march to Kingsnorth Coal Station on Saturday. I wish I could be there - the preparations sound fantastic. The only blot spied on the landscape is the batallion of 22 police trucks filled to the gills moving in with yet more troops. What kind of world do we live in when the state deems it neccessary to lavish £7 million on policing such a well-organised, peaceful but vitally important (and legal) protest?

Climate Camp
No New Coal
Monbiot: Coal Scuttled
Kyoto 2

Friday, August 01, 2008

100 months

We have a hundred months to save the planet. When the clock stops ticking we could be beyond the climate's 'tipping point', the point of no return, so says the Green New Deal report just published today by the New Economics Foundation. has just launched today - I'm supporting it, Wise Women are supporting it, and I hope you will too.


75 years since President Roosevelt launched a New Deal to rescue the US from financial crisis, a new group of experts in finance, energy and the environment have come together to propose a ‘Green New Deal’ for the UK.

And, as the Green New Deal Group launch their proposals, new analysis suggests that from the end of July 2008 there is only 100 months, or less, to stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere before we hit a potential point of no return.

Proposal’s set out in the Group’s report include:

* Executing a bold new vision for a low-carbon energy system that will include making ‘every building a power station’.
* Creating and training a ‘carbon army’ of workers to provide the human resources for a vast environmental reconstruction programme.
* Establishing an Oil Legacy Fund, paid for by a windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies as part of a wide-ranging package of financial innovations and incentives to assemble the tens of billions of pounds that need to be spent. These would also include Local Authority green bonds, green gilts and green family savings bonds. The monies raised would help deal with the effects of climate change and smooth the transition to a low-carbon economy.
* Ensuring more realistic fossil fuel prices that include the cost to the environment, and that are high enough to tackle climate change by creating economic incentives to drive efficiency and bring alternative fuels to market. This will provide funding for the Green New Deal and safety nets to those vulnerable to higher prices via rapidly rising carbon taxes and revenue from carbon trading.
* Minimising corporate tax evasion by clamping down on tax havens and corporate financial reporting. A range of measures including deducting tax at source for all income paid to financial institutions in tax havens would provide much-needed sources of public finance at a time when economic contraction is reducing conventional tax receipts.
* Re-regulating the domestic financial system. Inspired by reforms implemented in the 1930s, this would imply cutting interest rates across the board– including the reduction of the Bank of England’s interest rate - and changes in debt-management policy to enable reductions in interest rates across all government borrowing. This is designed to help those borrowing to build a new energy and transport infrastructure. In parallel, to prevent inflation, we want to see much tighter regulation of the wider financial environment.
* Breaking up the discredited financial institutions that have needed so much public money to prop them up in the latest credit crunch. Large banking and finance groups should be forcibly demerged. Retail banking should be split from both corporate finance (merchant banking) and from securities dealing. The demerged units should then be split into smaller banks. Mega banks make mega mistakes that affect us all. Instead of institutions that are ‘too big to fail’, we need institutions that are small enough to fail without creating problems for depositors and the wider public.

The Green New Deal Group urges the UK Government to take action at the international level to help build the orderly, well-regulated and supportive policy and financial environment that is required to restore economic stability and nurture environmental sustainability, including:

* Allowing all nations far greater autonomy over domestic monetary policy (interest rates and money supply) and fiscal policy (government spending and taxation).
* Setting a formal international target for atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations that keeps future temperature rises as far below 2°C as possible.
* Giving poorer countries the opportunity to escape poverty without fuelling global warming by helping to finance massive investment in climate-change adaptation and renewable energy.

For further details and full report: NEF
The Final Countdown

Wise Women

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Age of Stupid

It's a humbling thing to see two children surviving the death of their father in the midst of the rubble of Iraq, in the full knowledge that his death was a direct result of the developed world's (read UK & USA) grab for oil. It's deeply moving to see the loss of a french glacier to climate change, and to hear the narrative of an 81 year old mountain guide who has lived there all his life. It's maddeningly frustrating to see the loss of a Devon wind farm application to local aesthetic fears (hey, what are motorways but a scar on our landscape? A scar that is creating part of the problem by carrying the very vehicles that are pumping damaging emissions. What an irony that we accept motorway expansion with so little fight, unlike the wind farm applications). It's challenging to view the contradictions of the oil worker who believed himself to be an environmentalist. These and other stories are the stuff of The Age of Stupid, the new movie from 'McLibel' Director Franny Armstrong and the Producer of the Oscar-winning 'One Day In September', John Battsek. Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite (In The Name of the Father, Brassed Off, Usual Suspects) stars as an old man living in the devastated world of 2055. He watches 'archive' footage from 2008 and asks: Why didn't we stop climate change when we had the chance?

There were few dry eyes at the end of the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group sceening at Portcullis House yesterday afternoon. Such was the impact on an audience consisting of hardened environmentalists, seasoned campaigners and (a smattering of) concerned MP's. The Q&A session afterwards elicited some insightful responses. Colin Challen MP called for everyone to join the "Militant Green Tendency and go agitate your party of choice at every meeting you can until Climate Change is top of the political agenda". Franny Armstrong, the director, asserted that the only way forward is for there to be strong international laws put in place (a timely reminder just as the crucial Climate Bill, the world-first climate change law, is making its way through parliament). Roger Higman of Friends of the Earth, when asked whether we had enough time to turn things around, stated that he was optimistic it could be done. On a scale of 1 - 10, he put his personal belief at a 9 - 10. And Peter Postlethwaite (who forsook his normal actor's fee and stayed with chums rather than incur additional costs during filming)? Good news there: he's finally got the go-ahead for his own turbine to be installed at his eco-home in Shropshire.

Later in conversation with Mark Lynas over a pint, we nattered on the rapid evolution of knowledge on climate change. Even with a film that flags up best understanding on climate change at the beginning of 2008 (with Mark filmed in his garden shed - clearly the hub of much activity - succinctly explaining why 2 degrees is such an important figure), scientific understanding has already moved forward and the framing of the issues has shifted (see the controversial Kyoto 2 book by Oliver Tickell, due to land in book stores next week). The concept of 60 - 80% reductions of greenhouse gases has now been superceded by the general scientific acceptance that, as Mark put it, to ensure we get within spitting distance of getting no further than a 2% degree increase of temperature (and all the attendant climactic conditions that will bring) will mean that we must bring our emissions to 350 parts per million. Our emissions already stand at about 385 parts per million. Thus, we have in effect already overshot. Quite simply we need to progress to a zero-carbon world as soon as possible. That's not to knock the important message that The Age of Stupid is presenting, as Mark was quick to point out. It's valid, vital and very very good.