Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Top Five Irish Rebellion Sites to Visit

Michael Collins (1996) Can you see me?
Easter 1916 marks one hundred years since the uprising in Ireland that led, via a very torturous route, to the creation of an independent Irish state. It also marked the start of the disintegration of the British Empire. Nationalism and modern weapons would make the great European empires untenable, although it would be a while before most people realised this.

My own connection to these events is to have been an uncredited (and unpaid) extra in Neil Jordan's 1996 film Michael Collins. Twenty years ago I stood with four thousand other people to cheer Liam Neeson as Michael Collins, the late Alan Rickman as Eamon De Valera and Julia Roberts as Kitty Kiernan as they arrived at a replica of Dublin Castle and gave a victory speech in front of the ruins of a fake GPO. It was almost like being there.

Michael Collins is a film that managed to annoy just about everyone, crediting British forces with atrocities they didn't commit and omitting ones they really did, whilst sanitising the very messy business of the Civil War that followed semi-independence. Still, if it had been a Mel Gibson movie it would have been a lot worse. 

During my time living in the Emerald Isle I also got to march behind The Plough and the Stars, which was the flag that James Connolly's Citizen's Militia flew over the GPO in 1916, and which the Irish TUC brings out every year for its May Day march. I also lived in the former house of Joe Murphy, the Republican Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike, which must look good on my police file.

I also got a chance to visit some of the other places around and about associated with the bloody struggle for Irish freedom.

Here are my top five.

1. The General Post Office, O'Connell Street, Dublin


It all started at Easter 1916. Or was that when it all ended?

W.B. Yeats wrote that "a terrible beauty is born", but a few years earlier though he'd written "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone. It's with O'Leary in the grave". Yeats jumped the gun by three years, but in essence he was right. The last stand at the GPO, in it's magnificent futility, represented the old tradition of previous failed uprisings. It was the moonlight charge of half-pike's that was a traditional subject of republican myth and song recreated with modern weaponry.

The real Michael Collins was there. But as he was led away into captivity he was not thinking about romantic poetry but of the futility of defending a vulnerable fixed position. On the prison ship that took him away he was already making plans for a very different kind of war next time.

There was fighting elsewhere in the city in 1916 including trench warfare in St Stephens Green, a spot well worth a vist, where the park warden still fed the ducks during lulls in the fighting.

The GPO building has been rebuilt and is still a post office. The only hint of its role in the fighting
one hundred years ago is the magnificent statue of the dying mythological hero Cuchulainn in the window, a wonderful symbol of courage and sacrifice.

O'Connell Street itself has changed in the last century. In 1916 it would have been dominated by a pillar with a statue of Nelson on top, the twin of the one in Trafalgar Square. That was removed in 1966, as IRA's contribution to the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, with a rather nifty bit of dynamiting that left the rest of the street untouched. Just to prove who the real professionals were in this regard, when the Irish Army came to blow up the remaining stump they took out every window on the street in the process.

The pillar was replaced first with a piece of modern art known to the Irish as "the floozy in the jacuzzi" and then by the Spire of Dublin, which was considered to be rather more in line with the new look of the street.

2. Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin


The battle at the GPO ended with the Republican prisoners being led from the building through jeering crowds. That was not the start of the uprising, but what happened next was. They were taken across the city to Kilmainham Gaol, and for fifteen of them it would be a one way trip.

The gaol was closed in the 1920s and is now a museum. It doesn't appear in many tourist guides to Dublin, but it's worth a visit. As well as being able to see where the Easters rebels were imprisoned, and where those fifteen were shot. You can also see the Asgard, the yacht that Eskine Childers used to bring the guns over for the uprising. Childers had made himself a British hero by writing a story about a different boat, the Dulcibella, which his square jawed hero uses to thwart a German invasion in his 1903 novel The Riddle of the Sands. Eleven years later it was from Germany that the Asgard brought the weapons.

Another former British hero who died in 1916, and who is often forgotten, is Roger Casement. He was hung for treason at the Pentonville Prison, three months after the executions in Dublin, for his part in trying to secure more German rifles. Casement had been instrumental in exposing the abuses in the Belgian Congo, and was the inspiration for the hero of Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Lord Roxton in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.

Another gaol associated with the War of Independence is Cork. Here Countess Markievicz, the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons, and others were interred. However the museum there focuses on the less famous inmates who passed through, but on the ordinary prisoners there. It is worth seeing if only to remind us that for ever person locked up for being Irish and a rebel, a hundred were imprisoned for being Irish and poor.

3. Kilmichael Ambush site, County Cork


The events of 1916 were the spark that lit the fires of which broke out in rebellion in 1919. The war started with attacks on isolated Royal Irish Constabulary barracks. Once these had been abandoned the authorities were blind as to what was happening in most of the country.

The film has Michael Collins leading these attacks. In reality he certainly helped organise them, but volunteers in County Tipperary carried out the first attack on their own initiative. Soon though roving guerrilla bands controlled most of the Irish countryside.

The most effective leader of these units was Tom Barry from County Kerry. An unlikely rebel he was the son of an RIC constable and Easter 1916 saw him fighting the Turks with the British Army in Iraq. When he did eventually join the IRA he ended up in command of the West Cork Brigade and on 28 November 1920 they fought one of the most significant, and controversial, battles of the war.

The British authorities had tried to regain control of the countryside using units of Auxiliaries made up of veterans of the Great War. These 'Black and Tans' ended up being responsible for most of the war crimes committed by British troops.

Barry decided to do something about this. His unit of 36 men ambushed a Black and Tan patrol of 18 men near their base in Macroom. The IRA lost three dead whilst all but one of the Auxiliaries died, several after trying to surrender, or pretending to surrender, and others allegedly being dispatched after being wounded. Whatever the exact circumstances most Irish thought they deserved what they got. The loss of a decent sized force of veteran soldiers was deeply shocking to the authorities and Cork and the surrouonding areas were placed under martial law and a fair part of the City burnt in retaliation.

The Irish being the Irish there is a song about the battle. A (very) slightly fictionalised version also appears in Ken Loach's film The Wind That Shakes The Barley. There is a memorial by the side of the road at the scene of the ambush, whilst Cork Museum has a detailed map and plan of the battle, as well as some memorabilia. 

The spot itself is pleasant enough, but more the sort of place you pass through after fishing in Macroom or on the way to Gougane Barra. West Cork though is wonderful, and as well as the Irish it is now home to a population of formerly English Travellers, who relocated to Ireland after their own ambush at the Battle of the Beanfield.

4. Michael Collin's Cork, County Cork


Meanwhile in Dublin and other cities a different kind of war was being fought, one were the victims were usually killed in their beds. As director of Intelligence for the IRA Collins was responsible for the creation of a special execution squad that killed British spies and informers, shooting no less than twenty MI5 officers in one night exactly a week before the Kilmichael Ambush.

Despite Neil Jordan's film Michael Collins' legacy in Ireland is still mixed. On the one hand is the revolutionary urban guerrilla leader who won the War of Independence, and on the other he's the man who signed the Treaty and settled for a divided Free State rather than a whole independent one. He's the founder of the unarmed police force that replaced the hated Royal Irish Constabulary, but a person who, unlike the heroes of 1916, killed his enemies in their beds rather than in pitched battle.

Michae Collins armoured car, Curragh
The controversy stems from one simple fact, unlike almost every other Irish revolutionary, he was successful.

A Michael Collins tour of Ireland would start in Dublin. It would include the Stag's Head pub in Dublin where he used to drink, which was round the corner from his intelligence office at no. 3 Crow Street. It would take in the Imperial Hotel in Cork where he spent his last night, but it would end at the obscure village of  Béal na Bláth in his native County Cork.

Here he died after a confused ambush by anti-Treaty forces. His convoy included an armoured car, but its machine gun had jammed. Collins was the only fatality in the battle. The film plays fast and lose with the facts of this, but you can't get over the poynancy of the version of She Moved Through The Fair by Sinead O'Connor and The Chieftains that Jordan commissioned for the movie.

Béal na Bláth is not the sort of place that usually gets mentioned in tourist guides. There is a small monument there to the Big Fella, but little else.

In his home town of Clonakilty though there is now the Michael Collins Centre, where you can learn some more about his life.There is also more about Collins in the barracks that bears his name in the City of Cork, whilst the armoured car that failed to save him is at the main Irish Army Museum at Curragh.

Collins himself lies in the Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, where there is a visitors centre and memorial to other Republicans. The cemetery is also home to another legacy of Ireland's past, one that isn't remembered as well as Easter 1916, but which has at least had its own film made about it. This is the site of the mass grave of the 'fallen women' of the Magdalene laundries.

5. The Falls and Shankill Roads, Belfast


So when did Ireland's struggle for independence finally end? That is a difficult question.

One answer is 1921, when the British Empire threw in the towel and the Free State was formed. Another answer is 1923 when the Free Staters won the civil war or 1932 when the bulk of the anti-Treaty people gave up the gun and adopted democratic politics.

Another answer is that it never did.

Twenty years ago a walk down the two main streets of West Belfast would have endorsed that view. Soldiers in armoured Land Rovers, helicopters, fortified pubs, paramilitary murals and the occasional gun or bomb attack or bus being petrol bombed were the sights in offer to the rare tourist. It was like walking round a slow motion civil war.

You can still experience some of that side of Belfast, especially if you can find a black taxi driver
Women for Peace, Belfast 1976 victorpatterson.photoshelter.com
prepared to give you an unofficial tour. Brits are certainly tolerated, unless (like me) they ask to view the Official IRA graveyard. However for the most part that Ireland has gone thanks to events of another Easter weekend, but this one only eighteen years ago.

The Good Friday Agreement is a good place to end the chain of events that started at Easter 1916. Tony Blair, David Trimble and Gerry Adams certainly deserve the praise they received for the agreement, but this was a peace created from the bottom as much as one imposed from the top. Countless community groups and peace campaigners of both communities had worked for twenty years to end the fighting. 

Unlike the rebels of Easter 1916, the heroes of the War of Independence and the fighters of The Troubles, these people have no memorials to their name, no museums about them and are not remembered in film or song or mural. But that Ireland today, north and south of the border, is at peace with both itself and it's former imperial master across the Irish Sea is thanks more to them than to the people with guns.

Lets remember that this weekend.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

An Activists Guide to Using Local Media

I am a media tart. I've been a media tart for nearly twenty years. It's nothing to be proud of. 

However I do try to use my egotism for good rather than evil, and so that we can share the guilt and you can be a media tart too I have written this guide.

It doesn't matter if your campaign is local, national or international in its scope, this is how you use the press. Mainly I'm thinking about local print media, but the same rules apply to local radio and online news.

Local papers have absolutely no interest in press releases sent to them by big, national campaigning groups. If it looks like it was written in London it will go straight in the bin. 

If you want to use local media properly you have to actually write the release yourself. This shouldn't be a problem, unless you've spent so long actually working for a big, London based NGO you've forgotten how to actually be you.

Why use local media?

To get your message across and help your campaign, obviously. But also because 97% of our national print media is owned by six billionaires who control the news agenda.

Another very practical because people need to see a story several times before they take notice. If people read about your campaign in the national media and then see you out and about on the streets, reading the local rag could be the magical third time that actually makes them take notice.

The Press Release

Okay, so here we go. What do you actually write.

Usually you will send the Press Release out as an email. Don't put it in an attachment, put the title in your subject line and the press release in the main text.

Aim something like this;

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Monday 1st January 2016


CONTACT Joe Bloggs 12345 67891011

ENVIRONMENTAL CAMPAIGNERS TO HAVE STREET STALL IN TOWN THIS SATURDAY

Your headline should simply be factual, identifying you group, the issue and/or type of event and clearly stating that it is a local event. If you are part of a well known national organisation then make sure you give them a name check, but also state you are the local branch, not a bunch of visiting chuggers. 

It's not your job here to make it into a witty headline, so you're best just sticking to the facts. 

Your press release itself should be in three parts.

Start with a one or two sentence paragraph in which you describe your event in a bit more detail, stating clearly where and when it will be and what it look like. Make sure anything that will make the event visually interesting is mentioned; will there be costumes, activities, the local MP attending etc? This is what the press want to know and if this paragraph doesn't catch their attention the odds are they won't even read the rest of the press release.

The next paragraph, or at most two paragraphs, describes why you are doing this. Keep this brief, very brief. What is the issue and what is the target. Give just enough information to link the target with the campaign but no more. The papers will generally speaking have almost no interest in the ins and outs of the issue. However if your local action links to a broader national campaign that has been in the news make sure you point this out if it is not immediately apparent.

Finally you come to the last bit: the quote by a local campaigner. This is the most important part of the press release as it is most likely the bit that will actually get printed. Forget the dry, legalistic language of a typical big NGOs press office, this is you speaking and you need to make it interesting.

Here's how you do that: 

The Golden Rules 



Outrage is in 

What's the first thing you need to do when campaiging? Create a scandal. 

What you are campaiging against is probably is awful, but lots of things are awful. What we need to do is create a scandal. A scandal is something awful that could and should have been prevented.

Don't just say fracking is bad, for example, say:

 "It is disappointing, but not surprising, to find that in the same week that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for a low carbon future, the government acts as a cheer leader for the fossil fuel dinosaurs of the oil and gas industry"

Punchy, poynant and personal

The three Ps of doing press.

Make your point as simply as you can but don't pull your punches and make it personal if possible. Something like:

"When the Arctic Sunrise set sail the campaign was about saving the Arctic, but very quickly it became about freeing our friends...(It is) now more vital than ever to save the Arctic from oil exploration and the earth from Climate Change.”

Only better, hopefully.

The fourth P is positive. 

Don't present a problem unless you can not only propose a solution, but a solution that is also something worth doing in itself. By demonstrating the gap between the world we have and the world we could have, you create more outrage.

How about Instead of a few hundred jobs in fracking, the north-west could have 100,000 in wind and solar power, in making our houses warmer and getting our public transport working.”

The Golden Rules of Local Media 

All the above apply to local media too, but there are three more rules you also need to remember.

This is a local story for local people

Your local paper will only print local stories, so your event absolutely must happen in the local area.

Also, you must also be a local person. If you're 'not from round here' find someone who is and name them in the quote instead.

If possible you also need to talk about issues that local people care about. That, unfortunately, doesn't usually include the end the Arctic ice cap or even the world. Instead they want to know about jobs, house prices and the safety of their children. Try to mention one of these in passing.

Finally you really need to try to make some connection between the big issue you're campaigning on and wherever it is you live. This could be tricky, but try. How will the problem affect your town? How will the solution benefit your town? Has anything like this ever happened there? It may end up sounding really corny, but do at least try. Terrible lines I've used in the past include:

"Whether it's floods in Woolley Bridge or famine in Afghanistan, you can't ignore the effects of a changing climate".

"Glossop was at the forefront of the first Industrial Revolution and we can be at the heart of the Green Industrial Revolution".  

It's all about you


Hopefully after reading about you people will take an interest in your campaign, but that is not where they are starting from. However they will be interested in why you are interested in the issue.

Remind them that you are an ordinary person just like them. You can mention where you live, where you work, whether you have children, what you like about the local area and so on, and then tell them why this issue important for you and how you found out about it. 

By doing it this way you are indirectly showing them why it is also important for them.

Get the Picture


A picture tells a thousand words, and more importantly it makes people read the article.

If you are publicising an event that has already happened then make sure you include a picture that will point well, preferably one with your happy, smiling faces front and centre and everyone posed in an aesthetically pleasing manner; handing out leaflets, waving placards or whatever.

If your event hasn't happened yet then try to describe it in a way that will make the local paper want to send someone out to photograph it. Tell them about your costumes, props etc. And if no snapper shows up don't worry, take your own picture and email it to the paper. 

That's a lot of things to remember, and to be honest you'll be hard pressed to do more than two of them in one press release, but if you manage it you'll have a great quote the press will want to use. 

Here's some of mine that worked.

Barton Moss is the latest skirmish in a global insurgency against what is the last stand of the fossil fuel dinosaurs. France and Bulgaria have already said no. Fracking is unnecessary, unwanted and unsafe and we call on the people of Britain to come to Manchester to say that we don’t want it here.”

The campaign at Barton Moss last winter appears to have driven the frackers out of Greater Manchester and there is no sign of them coming back soon. Now is the time to start looking for alternative ways of keeping the lights whilst getting the first city of the industrial revolution back to work."

Like so much of what is best about Glossop, these tunnels are the legacy of the forward thinking and sound engineering of our Victorian ancestors.Like so much of what is best about Glossop, these tunnels are the legacy of the forward thinking and sound engineering of our Victorian ancestors." 

After football, it is music that puts Manchester on the world map, and after the fantastic turnout for our march of Sunday, Manchester is also on the map for being at the heart of the global resistance against fracking."

Setting the Tone

You probably care a lot about the issue your campaigning on, but for the person writing the article about you it's just another day at the office. Don't take it personally if they don't run the story, or butcher your realease when they write it up. Try to find out what it is they really wanted and to help them out next time.
  
A bit of humour can also make the life of a jobbing hack a bit more tolerable, so don't be afraid of a little joke. We never got the press to print the line "The camp Cliff Richard has been penetrated by the Sheriff's men" but it gave the journalists a laugh reading it. They are people too. Try to make their jobs interesting for them.

Danger Areas

Athough not as in hoc to corporate interests as the big players, your local newspaper still needs advertisers to make it pay and contacts to give it good stories. As a result they will generally not want to publish stoires critical of local businesses, local government or the police.

You can get partly round this by following the advice about staying positive, but otherwise you'll just have to work around the problem and not tackle some issues head on

Journalists also don't like having to do extra work. Putting in facts they have to check or criticising people who they have to give a right of reply to makes it more likely they'll just take the easy way out and bin your story. 



Deadlines

Aim to get your Press Release to the paper at least a week before the deadline. If you don't know when this is ask, but usually papers go to the printers at least 36 hours before they appear on the shelves. 

If you miss the deadline you could try a phone call to get someone to turn up, but that's a long shot. Best not to miss it in the first place.

The Follow Up
 
Take a good photo at the event and send a follow up press release afterwards. This can be quite brief, but try to include some anecdotes about the people who attended and what they said to you.

If you don't get published don't worry. At least by contacting the press you told them that you exist and that you do stuff. Maybe next time the issue will have risen a bit more in the public consciousness and they'll take an interests. Maybe next time it will be a slow news day and you'll get covered. Don't give up.

If you are printed great. It's worth thanking the journalist concerned and asking what sort of story they'd like next. It can't do any harm. You also need to share the story on your own social media, linking to the report. It's your story, share it.

Another thing you can do though is get someone to write a letter to the paper about the story. With luck this will get printed next week and you'll have a second bite of the cherry so to speak. 

If you are really lucky some Outraged of Tunbridge Wells type will write in complainign about you, which means you can write back the week after complaining about them. Letters editors have one of the most thankless jobs in the press, usually dealing with people droning on about potholes and wheelie bins, so a decent spat over an interesting issue is what they pray for. Keep it polite, but in a letter you can let your true feelings show in the way you can't in a press release. 


And here's one I prepared earlier:

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Saturday 24th October 2015 13:30

CONTACT Martin Porter xxxxx xxxxxx

GREENPEACE CAMPAIGNERS CALL ON LOCAL MP TO SAVE NATIONAL PARK FROM FRACKING
 

Campaigners from Glossop called on their local MP to save the Peak District National Park from fracking. Fifteen campaigners gathered for a photograph this morning, in very wet weather, on the edge of the National Park in Glossop (picture).

Controversial plans which could allow fracking for shale gas under National Parks and Sights of Special Scientific Interest are to be discussed by a parliamentary committee on Tuesday 27th October. If enough MPs object there could be a vote in the House of Commons a few days later.

Greenpeace campaigners in Glossop, Derbyshire, are calling on their local MP Andrew Bingham to vote against the plans. Campaigners oppose fracking because of fears of water and air pollution, the dangers of increased lorry traffic on narrow country roads, the noise and visual impact and because shale gas is a fossil fuel which will contribute to Climate Change.

Spokesperson Martin Porter, who was part of the campaign against drilling at Barton Moss in Salford two years ago as well as this year’s successful campaign to get Lancashire County Council to oppose fracking, said:

It is unbelievable that less than six weeks before the most important conference on Climate Change ever, not only is the government pressing ahead with plans for a new fossil fuel, but they want to allow drilling under our most beautiful countryside.

“Fracking under the National Park would mean rigs in Glossop and Chapel-en-le-Frith to get at the shale gas. 83 years ago my grandfather, Claude Porter, took part in the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass which led to the creation of the National Park. If anyone tried to frack under the Peak District there could be a second mass trespass to save it.”


ENDS

Photograph by Daniel Porter. Free to use.



Monday, 15 February 2016

Justice Scalia may have saved the Paris Agreement - by dying

Photo by Stephen Masker - wikicommons
World leaders celebrated in Paris last December when 190 nations signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

That euphoria was not shared by the tens of thousand of us on the other side of the security cordon. To us there were several fairly fundamental problems with the agreement, the most serious of which was the lack of any sort of power to actually force changes.

The voluntary nature of the agreement is why the death last week of US Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia was such good news.

Scalia was a nasty piece of work. Appointed by Ronald "trees cause more pollution than automobiles do" Reagan, he believed the US constitution allowed gender discrimination and that there were "intelligent reasons to treat women differently". He claimed the type of anti-abortion campaigners picket clinics to call pregnant women murderers were only there to "comfort" them. He compared gay sex to incest or bestiality and believed homophobia was no different to disapproving of cruelty to animals. He believed black Americans should not go to university as they did better in "less advanced schools".

You can tell I'm going to miss him, can't you? But anyway, on to climate change.

Those of us who have been around a while remember the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the world's first attempt at a global agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. That failed when Bill Clinton, who signed it, failed to get it through Congress. If the world's biggest polluter, as the USA was then, was going to thumb its nose at reducing emissions, why should anyone else bother?

The Paris Agreement is currently heading the same way, but this time it's the courts, not the Congress, who are the problem.

Under Obama's administration, the Environmental Protection Agency introduced the Clean Power Plan lastv year, which tasked individual states to limit carbon dioxide emissions by increasing the efficiency of their power stations, replacing coal with gas and fossil fuels with renewables. It's not enough, but it's a start.

However the plan immediately ran into massive opposition from the well funded climate changed denial industry led, by arch producer Peabody Coal. On 9 February this year the challenge came to the Supreme Court, who ruled 5/4 to halt enforcing the plan until the lower courts hear the case against the EPA.

The Supreme Court split, as it always does, along conservative/liberal lines with Scalia voting against the EPA. If the world's biggest historical and per capita polluter was to once again refuse to act then the Paris Agreement would be as dead as Kyoto.

And then Scalia became only the second Supreme Court Judge in sixty years to die on the job.

Image by Arnold Paul wikicommons
The lower courts are expected to eventually support the government, as is the more liberal Appeals Court, and so ultimately it will be back to the Supreme Court that decides the fate of the plan. Scalia's death leaves the court split 4/4 on the issue.

It is the job of President Obama, a black American who never-the-less went to Harvard, to appoint Scalia's replacement and he has a year left to do it. There will be controversy, there will be bickering, but it would be almost unbelievable if Obama appoints judge who will torpedo his flagship climate change legislation.

Even that may not be enough to save the Clean Power Act, let alone the Paros Agreement, but at least the propect of the deal dying before the ink was dry has receded for now.

Antonio Scalia, you may have been of service to the human race after all.

References

http://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/feb/15/antonin-scalia-supreme-court-justice-women
http://grist.org/climate-energy/scalias-death-means-obamas-clean-power-plan-is-more-likely-to-succeed/

Friday, 1 January 2016

Five Things That Changed in 2015

1. The Climate


Last year El Nino returned and the climate records began to tumble. The hottest year ever recorded record was pretty much clinched by autumn, even before winter Arctic temperatures reached 25 degrees above average and the north of England disappeared under record breaking rainfall. Nobody was talking about a 'pause' in global warming any more.

Climate change denial indeed seemed to be in retreat generally. This is good news, although really they have done their job. There were always very few actual deniers in the world, and they almost all spoke English, but they had the ear of the most powerful people in the world.

We've already got one degree of warming and may have blown the budget for two degrees by the time the Paris Agreement is first reviewed in 2025, but at least outright denial is now largely a thing of the past.

2. Naomi Klein joined the dots


Although it first came out in September 2014, the book everyone was talking about last year was Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything. Not only did the author of No Logo and Shock Doctrine push climate change into the mainstream, she highlighted two important concepts that usually get ignored in the ordinary coverage of the issue.

Firstly she talked about the Sacrifice Zone, the part of the world being destroyed to feed our fossil fuel addiction. As Naomi Klein points out, the Sacrifice Zone is growing as we chase even more extreme oil and gas, and so Indian villagers fighting open cast mining and American Indians opposing tar sands are now fighting the same battle as the Lancashire folk trying to stop fracking.

Secondly she linked this quite explicitly to our system of Neoliberal Capitalism. She showed how it corrupted the Big Green groups that emerged from the environmental activism of the seventies and how billionaire philanthropists are peddling snake oil non-solutions to climate change.

She also provided poignant warning of the people of Nauru, who sold themselves to the mining companies for a fortune they blew. The result was political corruption, a public health crisis of obesity and an island that had been transformed from tropical paradise to lunar landscape.

Above all she showed how blockades, with the support of local communities, are our most effective weapon in the battle against those who would destroy our world for profit. From the First Nations people of America to our own Barton Moss protest (which she gives a brief mention to) her message was above all inspiring.

3. We beat Shell and Keystone XL (and VW beat itself)


There were three big setbacks for corporate world last year

Greenpeace started it's campaign against Arctic oil after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. 28 activists and two journalists spent three months in a Russian prison after targeting Gazprom, but the main target had always been Shell. Greenpeace scored a big success when they persuaded Lego to abandon a long term, and very profitable, partnership with the company in 2014. Then, after five years of campaigning which saw activists hanging off bridges, paddling around in kayaks and singing songs outside its London HQ, Shell agreed to quit the Arctic.

It was a huge victory for the campaign against climate change, but it was equalled or perhaps
exceeded by the news that Obama would not be approving the Keystone XL pipeline. This had been the signature campaign of the US environment movement but this wasn't just a symbolic victory, it potentially left the Alberta drowning in tar sands oil with no way of getting it to all market.

The third setback wasn't a victory for the Greens as it was entirely self inflicted. The VW scandal showed that playing fast and loose with the regulations wasn't something the banks had a monopoly on. The resulting hit the company's profits took even led to some people talking about diesel cars as 'stranded assets'.

Add in the wobbly state of TTIP and the failure of the fossil fuel industry to get its way in Paris (they wanted a three degrees target and a commitment to geo-engineering) and the corporate world is as vulnerable as it's been since 2001.

4. China approaches Peak Coal


China continued to play a double game in 2015, as both the world's top polluter but also top manufacturer of solar panels. Within China itself the environment was a battlefield where campaigners faced a government crackdown and a film on air pollution was watched 5 million times in the 24 hours before it was taken down.

Peak Oil has been predicted for a while, often with hopes that it will spur the drive for renewables. However things could easily go the other way as we have coal reserved to last us hundreds of years and ever more efficient ways of getting the horrible stuff out of the ground. If China really is about to start demolishing coal fired power stations faster than they are building them it is not because of a lack of supply, but because they do not see the black rocks as the future.  

The implications for the world are significant. Not only is China the world's biggest emitter, but China's dependence on coal has long been used as an excuse by politicians in countries with higher per capita and historical emissions as an excuse for inaction.

5. We became a mass movement

 

Two years ago I was feeling very proud of myself for being part of the team that gathered four thousand people together for a march against climate change in Manchester.

Last year I went on three marches each of which made our little gathering seem like a vicars tea party. The most recent one, in Paris, took place in a state of emergency with activist under house arrests and all such demonstrations made illegal. Ten thousand people still turned up.

Campaigning for the climate still remains largely outside of party politics, with campaigner's calls for less shopping and a complete rethinking of what we regard as a good life too outre even for the most unreconstructed old lefty, but mainstream politics cannot ignore a movement of this size forever. We may not go them, but they might well come to us.

The result may not be pretty, but it needs to happen. Like the insurgent anti-austerity parties springing up across Europe, anyone who challenges the status quo to this extent will be jumped on hard.

But every climate related 'natural' disaster is another referendum in favour of the scientists and against the economists, every blockade of a fossil fuel site is a political meeting on how to do things differently, every setback for a big corporation is a lesson on how to take back the power, every Chinese power station that shuts is a endorsement of renewable energy and every climate rally is a message that the future is not fixed and we have the power to make a better one.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Review of the Year 2015

January

The year began with us still waiting for the vote by Lancashire County Council on the first application for the commercial extraction of shale gas in the UK. It had been scheduled for New Years Eve, but was delayed until 28 January.

I was there, as was Mr Frackhead, but, under threat of legal action from Cuadrilla, Lancashire were forced to delay the vote again.

On the same day I made my début as a Further Education lecture, when I had a guest spot on Manchester Metropolitan Sustainable Aviation course. Basically I turned up for the afternoon to say "Sorry guys, it ain't".

Meanwhile in Greece patience with austerity came to an end and a gaggle of lefties and academics going by the name of Syriza swept into power. Things were going to get interesting down there.

February

We have a little time out from climate change to campaign against Santander, who were lending money to APRIL, a company trashing the Indonesian rainforest. After one of Greenpeace's shortest campaigns ever Santander threw in the towel.

With that one won we could spend more time on another project, campaigning for sustainable tuna. This had us sneaking around supermarkets trying to get people to take notice of the wildlife destruction and human slavery that was the true cost of their little tin of John West. This one was going to keep us busy for the rest of the year. 

March

In March the countdown to Paris really began, with the Time to Act Climate Change March. I was a
Steward, up at the front, so I had very little idea how many thousands of people were behind me, but there were a lot.

Star speaker was twelve year old Laurel. There is only one arrest of the day - Ben - who was only there because I'd given him a free ticket on the bus. He'd been sitting on Westminster Bridge with the Plane Stupid polar bears when the police had waded in and nicked him. Well, I guess you look a lot less daft cuffing a lippy punk rather than a polar bear.

Also in March the Bleak and Desolate north got its own polar bear as Sami came to visit us. He had a busy eight months ahead of him.

April

By April we were seriously into General Election campaigning. Usually environmentalist have a holiday whilst the country talks about less important issues, but this time both climate change and fracking featured heavily. I attended several hustings and chaired on in Cheadle on energy policy, which allowed me to talk about both Climate Change and fracking. All the candidates seemed very bright - except the one who eventually won.

We also lobbied hard to get candidates to sign the Greenpeace Frack Free Promise, having 100% success with Green hopefuls and some success with Labour. Greenpeace also had me out at night doing some other activities, so all told I worked bloody hard during this campaign. It was just a pity it all counted for so little in the end.

The highlight was Krishnan Guru-Murphy popping by to interview me at Barton Moss for a Channel Four News piece on fracking. Supposedly he came by bike, but in reality it was a van - with the bike in the back - but then this was a fake election in which the politicians never actually met real people and rarely debated the real issues.

May

May started with Sami out and about in Manchester for the TUC May Day March. He ended up being tweeted by Greater Manchester Police.  

There was a bit of welcome relief from electoral gloom as Glossop North End qualify for the final of the FA Vase and I went down to London with my boys to watch them. One person in six from Glossop was there, but as the entire town could fit in the stadium three times over we still don't fill Wembley. Glossop were ten minutes away from the cup, but in the end North Shields proved the stronger team. We stayed over in London though and got to see the VE Day celebrations, including a parade of very old veterans who fought for the Human Rights Act the government has now pledged to abolish.

Also in May I made my debut as a Glossop Guild Tutor, although as the Glossop North End team were touring the town in an open topped bus that evening my thunder was well and truly stolen.

We showed the film Black Ice in Manchester and had a visitation from the one and only Phil-of-the-Arctic, who told us of his time as a guest of Mr Putin.

But of course the big news this months was that country went mad an voted for five more years of austerity, mostly it seems to annoy the Scots. With five more years of austerity in view I got an email from Greece which said "Welcome to our nightmare".

June

I was back in London again for the Mass Lobby of Parliament on climate change, another part of the build up to Paris. We waited outside and a succession of MPs were brought out in rickshaws, but mine wouldn't play that game so I had to go into Portcullis House. Unfortunately he had little to say on the subject.

However the big story this month was the Lancashire vote on granting Cuadrilla Resources permission to frack finally happend. There was a great turnout on the day. As well as the Lancashire anti-frackers there were Greenpeace activists from across the Bleak and Desolate North, Frack Free Greater Manchester people and veterans of Barton Moss. At the end of the day there are speeches, and I got to speak on the same platform as Vivienne Westwood and the awesome Asad Rehman.

Proceedings went into a second day and some seriously dodgy legal advice from Lancashire's house lawyer put the whole decision in doubt. Everything it was postponed until the following Monday, so I had to go up there again. Greenpeace sent Daisy and Richard up from the office and we wait for the news. I had to go back to work, stopping off for a quick interview with Key 103, so I was on the M62 when the new broke that we'd actually won. It was an amazing result, the payback for four years of village meetings and hard work by Frack Free Lancashire.

July

Whilst we were celebrating in Lancashire, things were coming to a head in Greece. After two weeks of having to queue daily for money (something the jovial Greeks made into a social occasion) the country voted on whether or not to accept austerity. I did my bit and spoke at the Manchester Greek Solidarity day in Piccadilly Gardens.

Despite some pretty amazing attempts by big employers to bribe their workers into voting Nai, and despite a significant block of pro-austerity pensioners, Greece unambiguously rejected austerity. It turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory, but a victory in no doubt it was on that day. In the long run it didn't do much for Greece, but it inspired us.

Also in July it was back to Lancashire for Pagacon in Preston. Apart from the speakers we had the one and only Damh the Bard performing a set and leading us in an anti-fracking ritual, as well as the massively underrated George Nicholas and Cernunnos Rising, who performed their song The Folly of Fracking. There was a bit of a theme here I think.

August

In August I took a holiday, or two, in Cumbria and East Anglia. Wonderful places.

September

But in September it was back to campaigning, and straight away we scored out biggest success of the year. After five years of actions around the world, Greenpeace forced Shell to abandon its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. It was a massive victory, one of the biggest in Greenpeace's history.

Also that month it was the premier of the film How To Change The World, about the origins of Greenpeace. The Manchester Network dressed up for the occasion and we enjoyed it. I'd met Paul Watson, and campaigned against Patrick Moore over The Great Bear Rainforest (we won), but Bob Hunter's words were new to me. It introduced a few quotes I intend to use more often, including "our goal wasn't to make ourselves famous, it was to make nature famous".

October

Sami was out and about again - although this time Lori had the pleasure -  as the Tory Party are in town. 100,000 peaceful people walked through Manchester, the largest demonstration the city has ever seen, although according to the press we were a howling mob. Not for the first time I this year I seemed to be living in a parallel world to one depicted in the mainstream media.

I was inside Sami again for the end of the conference, as we reminded the 'greenest government ever' that they're a complete disaster for the planet.

November

Tuna work continued, with more clandestine visits to supermarkets across Manchester.

We also spend the month waiting for the government vote on fracking under National Parks, which got me some local press coverage.

But the big news this month was that the countdown to Paris finally came to an end as the entire world - except France - marching for climate justice.

I was in London with Emma Thompson and the Greenpeace team. Thom Yorke was DJ so Sami become a dancing bear. It was a remarkable day and a terrific turnout, far and away the biggest environmental rally I've ever been to. This really was a mass movement now.

December

And so it was December and my trip to Paris. A state of emergency, public gatherings of more than three people banned and activists under house arrest were what was waiting for me. I travelled down with Friends of the Earth and decided to play it by ear. It turned out I wasn't the only one and, as well as a very well attended international gathering the Climate Action Zone, there was a decent turnout for the 'illegal' Red Lines action.

I got to see the Arch de Triumph and Eiffel Tower, meet activists from around the world, including Greenpeace International boss Kumi Naidoo, see the French riot police and get hit by a giant inflatable cobblestone. Pity the deal itself was so toothless.

Back home in England though it was as if I'd never been away, as in the following week the government government slashed solar subsidies, allowed fracking under National Parks and licensed a considerable chunk of the north of England for fracking. Still, it gave me a chance to get my face on the TV, my name in the papers and my voice on the radio, where I had an interesting one-to-one with the director of Ineos.

So that was my year. I've been to Preston and Paris. I helped stop Cuadrilla fracking in Lancashire, but failed to stop the Tories being re-elected. I've spoken to rallies against fracking and in support of Greece. I've lectured to the Glossop Guild and the Manchester Sustainable Aviation students. I've marched for the climate, against the Tories and both for a hoped for deal in Paris and against the actual deal in Paris. I've been inside a polar bear. I've been to an illegal demo. I've helped beat Santander. I've helped beat Shell. I've met Vivienne Westwood. I've met Kumi Naidoo.

It's been good, it's been bad, but it's not over.

Thanks for everyone who's been there with me. In 2016 we do it again, but we do it better.

Happy New Year!