|I had no intention of actually dirtying my hands by buying The Times of London to read today, but I scanned its headline on the display. “Search for growth lifts estuary airport hopes”, it proudly announced.
And that’s when I realised, that, sadly, even after the lessons of decades of poorly planned infrastructure development, concrete still always seems to win over common sense.
Some people may be most concerned at the Chancellor or the Exchequer’s diktat on freezing public sector pay, just to “put the boot in” conveniently ahead of a national one day strike over worsening pensions management.
But I’m more concerned about his sudden conversion to Keynesianism. He seems to want to create lots of construction jobs, widening roads and motorways, laying foundations for nuclear power reactors, and perhaps throwing Portland cement over large parts of the Essex coast for a new “hub” airport.
Yes, this would create economic growth of a kind. Productivity would rise, employment would rise, income tax revenue would rise. But it would be the equivalent of sending a team of workpeople to dig a trench for no reason whatsoever, and sending another team to fill it in the next day.
What this country needs is assets, not liabilities. We need to build infrastructure that will enable economic productivity and social wellbeing and not place a long-term drain on society and the public purse. Roads, nuclear power plants and airports are all potential liabilities. Here’s just a few reasons why :-
I was in my local cafe diner, screening for neighbourhood gossip and genning up on the Daily Mail’s latest scandal and outrage. Several stories were told from different angles throughout the grubby pages of the well-thumbed copy I was sifting through. “You know”, I mused, “I think they might actually want their readers to become schizophrenic.”
On the front page the headline “RESTORE ELITISM TO OUR SCHOOLS“. The editorial line seemed to be aimed at persuading the readers to find Michael Gove’s speech just as “extraordinary” as the writer did – “extraordinary” as in “bad”. This, after all, is a newspaper that often seems to want to portray itself as succour for the common man.
On page 7, however, the same story took on a nanny-ish tone “We must demand more of our teachers… and our children : And here’s why it matters: for the first time 1m [million] youngsters are not in work or education.” So, presumably, the writer of this piece was having a dig at teachers and their performance. Plus it was also having a swipe at out-of-work out-of-the-classroom “scrounger” teenagers.
Where, I asked myself, was the analysis of why so many young people were without a role in life, without prospects ? Where are the jobs, work placements and apprenticeships for “youngsters” ? The statistics show that there are not enough openings for every NEET.
Yes, indeed they are. Everyone is entitled to hold their own particular opinion. In this democracy of ideas, every longshot, wingnut, bonehead, rogue, charlatan, conspiracy theorist, crank, crony and astroturfer should be permitted access to the microphone on the stage. If we hold a public meeting about immigration, we should, of course, invite a white supremicist, a member of the British National Party, and a Daily Mail journalist to offer us their wise words. If we hold a sociological symposium on the Second World War, we should of course invite a Holocaust-denier. If an engineering conference, a cold fusion-in-a-test-tube enthusiast. Of course we should provide balance, as much balance as possible, and offer wisdom, insight and rant from all ends of all spectra. It’s only reasonable.
It therefore goes without question that somebody from the Global Warming Policy Foundation “think tank”, so copiously and generously sponsored by a person or persons unknown, should be invited to speak on the platform, or in a panel, at a well-funded quasi-establishment meeting on Climate Change. Regardless of a complete lack of training in atmospheric physics, or even knowledge of the span of the last five years in the science of global warming, naturally, a GWPF man must be invited by GovToday to a presitigious conference to be held on 29th November 2011 in the City of London grandly entitled “2011 Carbon Reduction : The Transition to a Low Carbon Economy”.
People who know very little about renewable and sustainable energy continue to buzz like flies in the popular media. They don’t believe wind power economics can work. They don’t believe solar power can provide a genuine contribution to grid capacity. They don’t think marine power can achieve. They would rather have nuclear power. They would rather have environmentally-destructive new oil and gas drilling. They have friends and influence in Government. They have financial clout that enables them to keep disseminating their inaccuracies.
It’s time to ditch the pundits, innuendo artists and insinuators and consult the engineers.
Renewable Gas can stand in the gap – when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine and the grid is not sufficiently widespread and interconnected enough to be able to call on other wind or solar elsewhere.
Renewable Gas is the storing of biologically-derived and renewably-created gases, and the improving of the gases, so that they can be used on-demand in a number of applications.
This field of chemical engineering is so old, yet so new, it doesn’t have a fixed language yet.
However, the basic chemistry, apart from dealing with contaminants, is very straight-forward.
When demand for grid electricity is low, renewable electricity can be used to make renewable hydrogen, from water via electrolysis, and in other ways. Underused grid capacity can also be used to methanate carbon-rich biologically-derived gas feedstocks – raising its stored energy.
Then when demand for grid electricity is high, renewable gas can be used to generate power, to fill the gap. And the flue gases from this combustion can be fed back into the gas storage.
Renewable gas can also be biorefined into vehicle fuels and other useful chemicals. This application is likely to be the most important in the short term.
In the medium-term, the power generation balance that renewable gas can offer is likely to be the most important application.
Researchers are working on optimising all aspects of renewable gas and biorefinery, and businesses are already starting to push towards production.
We can have a fully renewable energy future, and we will.
|Sorry to say, but I think the people camping on the streets at @OccupyLSX and other places are not the real revolution. The real revolution is in energy. Democratisation of energy is the future – distributed, multi-level production systems, integrated pan-continental networks.
What ? Power to the people ? This is why the energy companies don’t like it so much, and why the corporate masters of the developed countries, and their shareholders, don’t want to have people believe in renewable and sustainable energy.
|This is why the newspapers are full of people disparaging renewable energy – journalists and commentators who know nothing about energy, who are not engineers and who don’t know who thought their ideas for them first. Wake up, media people, the future of energy will be zero carbon and fully of the people.
A little unauthrorised translation of what I could pick up from the trailer of a 2010 film (sorry, my German listening comprehension is very rusty) : “We are awash in energy. We are dependent on energy. How much energy is left for us ? Have we enough energy for a revolution ? How much must we pay for power ? Why must California nearly use as much electrical power as Africa ? (French) “We have this enormous potential – with the youth, the riches of Nature, the trees, the biomass, agriculture…but there is no progress…the catalyst is not there. And that’s electricity”. Do we need the big energy companies ? (German) “…energy concerns will become democratic…” The fourth revolution. Energy Autonomy.”
|So, after rumours and quashings of rumours, Giles Fraser has resigned as canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, “resigned in protest at plans to forcibly remove demonstrators from its steps, saying he could not support the possibility of “violence in the name of the church”…Fraser, a leading leftwing voice in the Church of England, would resign because he could not sanction the use of police or bailiffs against the hundreds of activists who have set up camp in the grounds of the cathedral in the last fortnight.”|
But just why did Giles Fraser resign ? What has it achieved ? What could it possibly achieve ? Now he’s no longer in the Cathedral organisation he cannot influence what happens. What pressures has he had to endure behind the scenes that gave him no option but to jump ?
Somebody I know has been praying that there would be heavy rain in London, just so the conditions would be impossible for the Occupyer camp to continue; that they would have to pack up and go home.
What on Earth is this @OccupyLSX protest for ? A camp of principle, to defend the right to protest ? A camp of demands, pursuing a just economics and a just society ? A camp of non-violence, when it deliberately provokes a stand-off between demonstrators and police forces ? How can the Occupyers claim to be peaceful when they know their actions have a fragmentation bomb-like effect on the society around them ? How can the Cathedral Campers evidence their intentions for a juster, saner, economic system, when the net effect of their actions is likely to be a huge law court struggle at taxpayer expense ? It’s not a revolution, it’s an irritation – or at least that is the way that it will continue to be viewed by the governing authorities.
Somebody on the inside track of campaigning in London has told me that the Occupy protest is destined to transmogrify into a Climate Refugee tent city in late November, early December. If it survives that long, then at least it can claim to be a piece of living art reflecting what is happening around the world because of climate change disasters.
Unless and until the Occupyers can take on relevance, everybody with even just a slightly-left-of-centre agenda will attempt to co-opt the Occupy London camp for their own purposes.
Remember, dear Occupyers, you are not “rising up” like the people in Libya – they were supplied with arms from around the world, forces overt and covert from Qatar, Europe and quite possibly America, and fed into a huge psychological operations narrative, ably supported by the media.
The Libyan conflict wasn’t about Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, may he rest in peace. The information management of the North African and Middle Eastern unrest shows that mass propaganda still works, and that media consumers continue to fall for the same fabrications, time after time.
|On Wednesday, I received a telephone call from an Information Technology recruitment consultancy. They wanted to know if I would be prepared to provide computer systems programming services for NATO.
Detecting that I was speaking with a native French-speaker, I slipped into my rather unpracticed second language to explain that I could not countenance working with the militaries, because I disagree with their strategy of repeated aggression.
|I explained I was critical of the possibility that the air strikes in Libya were being conducted in order to establish an occupation of North Africa by Western forces, to protect oil and gas interests in the region. The recruitment agent agreed with me that the Americans were the driving force behind NATO, and that they were being too warlike.
Whoops, there goes another great opportunity to make a huge pile of cash, contracting for warmongers ! Sometimes you just have to kiss a career goodbye. IT consultancy has many ethical pitfalls. Time to reinvent myself.
I’ve been “back to school” for the second university degree, and now I’m supposed to submit myself to the “third degree” – go out and get me a job. The paucity of available positions due to the poor economic climate notwithstanding, the possibility of ending up in an unsuitable role fills me with dread. One of these days I might try to write about my experiences of having to endure several kinds of abuse whilst engaged in paid employment : suffice it to say, workplace inhumanity can be unbearable, some people don’t know what ethical behaviour means, and Human Resources departments always take sides, especially with vindictive, manipulative, micro-managers. I know what it’s like to be powerless.
|I think it was seeing a twenty-metre-high Robert Waterman McChesney projected to the audience at the Rebellious Media Conference that persuaded me I was being subjected to intense propaganda. These Americans, I thought, they’re all the same. They all use the same communications techniques, whatever brand of ideology they are pushing. The iconified “talking head” of Professor McChesney, well, yes, he was talking a lot of sense, but the medium is the message, and that medium was a twenty-metre-high idolisation of Bob.|
|After the opening plenary session of the conference, Noam Chomsky held humble court by the bookstalls, gladhanding people, and generally making nice to lots of unkempt teenagers and twenty-somethings in black tee shirts with nasty slogans on them. And nose rings. I was several circles of adulation beyond the physical contact zone, and beside me was a young mum desperate to put her cute infected infant in Noam’s great grandpa arms and get a photo apperture-nity of a lifetime. “Baby coming through”, I said, using my best crowd control voice-of-authority technique, “baby coming through”.
Noam Chomsky is very, very smart. And yet he still suffers from what I call “cognitive dissociation”. He deconstructed the demands of the Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Boston, Occupy everywhere movement – he said their feasible demands were too palatable, and their radical demands too inaccessible. But Noam, too, his ideas of a new labour-owned world are a step beyond unworkable. Being a pragmatist, I have recognised that people don’t automatically work well together without some kind of structure that they can slot into. Families, churches, governments – all need definitions of roles and functions, despite the ideal of total democratic freedom.
|“Show solidarity !”, they tell me. “Support the evolution !” “Strength through unity !”, they cry.
Well, I can’t support a revolution, except in the mind. So my call is : occupy your mind.
Don’t let the rich buy your votes with false promises. Organise for political candidacy from the poor, the women, the marginalised of the country.
Don’t let the media suck out your soul. Stop buying television. Stop playing violent computer games, stop believing violent films. Stop supporting warfare.
|A mass demonstration, a street occupation, lasts a few weeks, a few months, then evaporates. How are you going to make long term change happen ? How are you going to form the communities of the political future ?
Stop with the “litany of complaints”. Don’t demand a cloud in the sky, demand a single stepping stone of change.
Don’t demand unfeasible goals. Think more clearly. More strategically.
|Some people may wonder why this YouTube starts halfway through a panel discussion from the Rebellious Media Conference at the weekend.
I certainly did. So I dug deep down in my appallingly scratchy notes and typed up a paraphrase of what Mark Curtis had said – the first speaker on the panel.
Warning – it’s not verbatim – it is interpolated from my illegible handwriting.
“War and the Media” : Panel Discussion : Rebellious Media Conference
[…Tests the audience’s general knowledge about the world’s longest serving dictators…] It’s “Our Man in Oman”, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said.
We don’t hear much about Oman. Why is that ? Let’s make two assumptions, first, that journalists can read, and second that they are following government sources.
For the UK Government, foreign policy is increasingly about oil. UK has been developing relationships with the Gulf States. There is a policy of deepening support for the most undemocratic states in the region.
Britain continues to project military power. You can see this in a hundred years of UK foreign policy – just read a few speeches.
This is not what we are being told in the media. Was this a war for oil ? Is the Pope a Catholic ?
In the media, the view [expressed] is that Britain is about supporting democracy in the Middle East.
This country has two special relationships. The special relationship with the United States [of America] is about consumerism and investment.
The other special relationship is much less [publicly] known [communicated]. Saudi Arabia since 1973 […]
A problem – Saudi Arabia is funding radical Islam.
And when Cameron […] in Bahrain…I wonder what they were talking about ?
When Britain provides arms, the media reports that it contradicts our policy of promoting democracy – to maintain them in power. We don’t have a policy of upholding democracy. They are our allies. We don’t want them to fall.
|In its editorial of 1st October 2011, The Times of London, in commenting on the Labour Party Conference, under the heading “Anti-Business, As Usual”, penned this warning, “…Ed Miliband boldly took his party in the wrong direction in its relations with people who create wealth and can foster growth in output and employment in this country.”
When I read those words, I was struck with the impression that the writer half-doubted what they wrote, judging by the attribution of courage to what was, in their view, such a wrongheaded course.
|Another reading of this phrase could be that the writer dared not offer an alternative analysis, and so the word “boldly” was self-referential critique.
What is expressed in this sentence is a repetition of a common right-wing political meme – the assertion that a nation’s wealth is only created by business enterprise. The rightwingers don’t seem to understand the foundational role that public health provision and welfare play; they don’t understand the value of public works in creating long-lasting genuinely common assets; and have been telling us for decades that state spending is an anathema, with no justification.
|Ed Miliband, leader of the British Labour Party, addressed the pre-party conference cameras in uncustomary casual attire, shelving his favourite suit, dazzlingly shiny tie and white shirt, you know, the one with the fat turned-over cuffs.
He sought to assure the nation that his one man mission is to relieve the financial pressure on the hardworking “squeezed middle” – fighting their corner against the profiteering railway companies and the moneygrabbing energy companies.
|The little snippet of BBC TV News 24 that I saw cut to the correspondent raising doubts about whether this cost-of-living protection strategy would have any impact on the wider economy – whether measures to control transport fares and energy bills would create economic growth.
What does this little word “growth” mean to the BBC TV reporter, I asked myself. Does he think it means increasing employment, increasing incomes ? And how could employment be increased ? By increasing the “consumption” of goods, energy, water, transportation and knowledge economy services ? And how can this “aggregate demand” consumption be increased, if unemployment remains high and incomes remain stagnant ?
Allowing the utility and transportation companies to raise their prices allows them to remain profitable and build their businesses, presumably creating employment as well as giving a return to investors – those who have their savings in pension funds – where the fund managers invest in energy and transport. Why not allow energy and transport prices to rise ? People can learn to spend more on these valuable services, surely ? Pensioners will have their funds protected, and energy and transport businesses will stay profitable, paying tax into the state.
Recently, pro-nuclear, anti-wind power climate change-sceptic and early publisher of Resurgence magazine, Hugh Sharman, announced to the Claverton Energy Research Group forum that he had been published in European Energy Review. “The clock is ticking”, reads the headline, “Energy policy has become a hotly debated topic in the UK. No country in Europe has more ambitious climate change goals. But the UK has taken few concrete steps yet. It is estimated that £200 billion is required until 2020 to start the UK on the its energy transformation. […] Energy Secretary Chris Huhne is expected to come out with a White Paper setting out the framework that should persuade utilities and investors to sign on to the government’s vision. Will it work? Energy consultant Hugh Sharman has grave doubts. With some like-minded specialists, he has started a website bringing together people who are alarmed at the UK’s energy situation. He […] sketches a sombre perspective…”
When people like Mark Lynas accuse Greenpeace and other green campaign organisations of failings, there is any underlying theme – accusations of manipulation – both of facts and people. The sub-text harks back to the combat against fascism and Nazism in Europe.
We’re never going to make any progress on climate change if those advocating for energy change are equated to early 20th Century dictators and totalitarians.
Energy is a Social Good
I recently wrote an essay called “Energy for Democracy” making a first attempt at connecting the dots on grassroots democratic mobilisation and energy change. The subject set was in the field of “Environmental Communication”, and so I went back and looked at the development of mass media, advertising and public persuasion. I then went on to think about how propaganda and governance are interrelated. And I also looked at philosophy, and politics. I looked at the early 20th Century ideological splits in Europe, and the part that industrial development played. I looked at how democratic and other forms of socialism dealt with the problem of energy.
I posited that, since energy is produced for the Common Good, it should be subject to democratic management. I found myself “channelling” the spirit of Ramsay Macdonald, and going back to the questions of society and the integration of new industries that were pervasive before the two so-called “World Wars”.
Energy Of A Similar Wavelength
And today I find this very theme picked up by Ulrich Beck in The Guardian newspaper, along with the expression “energy change”, which is a term I am using increasingly to encapsulate the pivotal and essential response to climate change :-
“Germany is right to opt out of nuclear”, he headlines, “The rejection of nuclear power is a result not of German angst but of economic thinking. We must invest in renewable energy”.
I was gladdened when he stepped from economics to democratics :-
“…Ultimately, the rejection of nuclear is not a result of German angst but of economic thinking. In the long run, nuclear power will become more expensive, while renewable energy will become cheaper. But the key point is that those who continue to leave all options open will not invest…People everywhere are proclaiming and mourning the death of politics. Paradoxically, the cultural perception of the danger may well usher in the very opposite: the end of the end of politics…what is denounced by many as a hysterical over-reaction to the “risks” of nuclear energy is in fact a vital step towards ensuring that a turning point in energy generation becomes a step towards greater democracy…The novel coalition between the state and social movements of the kind we currently see at work in Germany now has a historic opportunity. Even in terms of power politics, this change of policy makes sense…”
The British are stumbling towards democracy, too, but they keep tripping over old divisiveness, and create new divisions too, just to complicate matters.
People Power – Not Potty Nor Puny
The Climate Camp has just been a baby step on the pathway to democratic movement on energy. Camping in coal trucks and dropping banners from power station cooling stacks has been a sign that democracy has been ailing – if there were genuine engagement between the governments, private enterprises and “campaign” groups over the future scenarios for energy, then people wouldn’t need to camp outside banks and coal-fired power plants.
As a consumer of mainstream media, all you see is the blockade of a Biofuel refinery, or people gluing themselves to the entrance of the Royal Bank of Scotland, or the occupation of a plant nursery at the site of a proposed runway. If you think “what a ramshackle bunch of unwashed hippies, straining the last of their voices, railing at the State, in a vain attempt to roll back the tide of industry, progress and Thorium reactors”, then you haven’t understood the bigger picture.
People want to be engaged in the decisions made about energy in this country – properly engaged. People want to use their knowledge to influence decisions. If the only means they have of expressing their democratic will and their opposition to hydraulic fracturing is to D-lock themselves to Shale Gas drilling equipment, then perhaps they might just do that. This might happen in Poland too. The alternative would be a proper discussion between the people groups and the governments. Where’s the European Union environmental legislature while all of this is happening ? Shale Gas could destroy Poland.
Energy Collectives – Expressing Collective Democratic Will
Groups like Fair Pensions are building momentum between people groups and investing institutions – raising the flag for clean energy. This isn’t about fighting – let’s drop the battlefield language, including that word “campaign”, which is so often used in a derogatory, dismissive, belittling way. This is about getting people working together on a new, sustainable future, and it requires all the righteous anger rising up to be channelled into a positive, productive movement, fully expressing the will of the people.
Consultations and placard-waving demonstration protests are not the way forward – we need energy change, and that’s going to require a whole lot more democratic energy. People don’t want dirty energy, and they don’t want nuclear power. Dirty energy should be asked to leave the building, nicely, politely. Firm but fair.
Group Thinking – Democratic Intelligence
Investment in renewable and sustainable energy is creating long-lasting assets for the UK and other countries. We don’t need and we don’t want dirty, radioactive energy any more. A thousand cheers for German democracy !
I’m looking quizzical, rubbing my chin. Adam Curtis appears to have lost control of his mind, or at the very least, is showing signs of unhealthy self contradiction. Where are the checks and balances ?
At the start of Part 2 of “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”, he unpicks, and, I would suggest, stamps on, the idea that ecosystems are networks of feedback loops, tending to re-balance. And then at the end of the same presentation, he asserts that human revolutions fail, and society folds in on itself and returns to the state of power and control it was in before. Now which is it to be, Adam Curtis ? Self-correcting stability or non-correcting ebbs, flows and shifting sands ?
I was encouraged to take in the audiovisual presentation of “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”, wherein Adam Curtis demonstrates what appears to be a lack of understanding regarding failure in the financial markets. Most foundational year ecologists can tell you that systems are self-correcting, that virtual bubbles get popped, that hubris gets torn down, that over-population gets underfed. Rabbits and foxes. Owls and mice. George Monbiot’s “War On Slugs” because of missing hedgehogs and thrushes. It all depends on the natural resources available to feed the participants in the game. The global economy can only accelerate growth so much before it implodes. There are Limits to Growth. Curtis could be said to be expressing his suspicions that the fake “Knowledge Economy”, the Asian “Shock Doctrine” and the Property Crash were an artefact of a secret evil cabal formed from the vaguely impressed followers of Ayn Rand – but the rest of us all know that’s silly. She was a lovely, sensitive, principled woman, although she could have done with a little more kindness in her life to inspire altruism in her worldview.
[ UPDATE : Texas Governor proclaims three days of prayer for rain ]
“Fires rage through much of Texas; more than 1 million acres burned : April 20, 2011 : Several massive wildfires in North and West Texas continued to rage Tuesday, racing through parched fields and woods and adding to a sweeping acreage toll that has reached almost 1.2 million in less than two weeks. A wildfire spanning four counties west of Fort Worth near Possum Kingdom Lake has consumed nearly 150,000 acres, destroyed 150 homes and a church, and forced hundreds to flee since it began Friday, Texas Forest Service spokesman Marq Webb said. The fire, which nearly doubled in size in a day, is one of more than 20 active fires that the Forest Service is fighting statewide in an April that has been plagued by a fierce drought, high temperatures and gusting winds – conditions that have allowed wildfires to ignite and spread quickly in several parts of the state, including Austin…”
The situation is so bad, that the God Squad has been moved to participate, some in practical ways and some in the spiritual department. People are dying, but meanwhile, some in the Heavenward crowd are in denial about Climate Change. Seems that some tombstone-headed American Christians would rather crucify their country than admit that Global Warming Science is right.
State policy on fighting fire seems rather contrary to the trends – and that’s probably because “big government” social budgets needs to be cleansed of too much “red tape”.
They’ve never had it so cold. The British have just shivered through another long, centrally heated winter, and people are receiving enormous gas bills. Social campaigners and parliamentarians are rightly concerned that a clutch of harsher winters and rising energy costs could reverse gains made in tackling fuel poverty. The UK Government’s recent Budget announcement to reduce fuel poverty assistance payments is another blow to maintaining decent and warm homes for the vulnerable, the elderly and children. Proposals to cap the amount that energy companies can charge people in their bills is welcomed by some, but feared by others – as it could jeopardise energy company funding for the Green Deal – a free-to-the-consumer loan scheme for insulation and renewable energy installation. And there’s another problem waiting in the wings. Unlike the United States and Australia, the average British home doesn’t have air conditioning, and it costs real money to install it. If outsized summer heatwaves continue to pop up more frequently in Europe, UK households will face “cool poverty” in summer – a lack of cooling.
So, I’m sitting in my local cafe at lunchtime talking to my local property developer-landlord. So, I ask him, do you think there will be worsening economic conditions this year ? And will there be more unemployment ?
He takes a pretty dismal line – things are becoming more and more squeezed – landlords are finding that their properties are unoccupied, or the rents are being forced downwards, and there is no spare finance capacity to do renovations, the banks won’t lend, and there’s no certainty of being able to sell properties if the business becomes uneconomic. He’s had to sack people he was formerly able to employ.