Monday, 30 November 2015
Since Jeremy Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party, let’s not forget, with a massive majority in the member’s ballot, there has been constant sniping from the Labour Right. Leaks to newspapers from shadow cabinet Ministers, ‘senior MPs’ and random Blairite ex spin doctors, have abounded.
Mutterings about how fit Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell are for office, poor opinion poll ratings for Labour and stories of splits over policy with shadow cabinet members all are meant to show a party in turmoil. It has all been part of a softening up process, readying the ground for a coup.
The current disagreement between Corbyn and his shadow cabinet has though taken this confrontation to a new level. Ironically, this, what now can only be called a civil war, has been triggered by a real war issue in Syria. As perhaps over a hundred Labour MPs contemplate voting with the government for extending airstrikes into Syria, this is the first full scale rebellion by the Labour Right since Corbyn’s election.
The strategy seems to be at this stage, to try and force Corbyn into resigning, ‘for the good of the party’. How can he be leader when more than half of the shadow cabinet are against him they ask? The damage that this split will do to the party, only goes to make a Tory win in 2020 inevitable, and look at all those working class folk who will suffer. If Labour polls badly in Thursday’s by-election in Oldham West, the pressure will increase even further.
The problem with all of this for the plotters is that Corbyn shows no sign of resigning and even if they can force another leadership election, all the indications are that Corbyn will win again amongst the membership. With Corbyn allowing a free vote for his MPs, and if they vote in large numbers against his position, he will look weakened, and that is a victory for the rebels. Then they will return to the drip, drip of damaging media leaks.
The Labour Left are probably not going to take this lying down though, and I was alerted to this by a blog by David Osland, a well-known figure on the Labour Left. Writing on the Left Futures blog, in a piece titled ‘Time for the Labour Left to debate reselection of MPs’, Osland says:
For the past three months, the very word ‘reselection’ has been unmentionable in Labour left circles, for fear that even talking about it would represent an unwarranted provocation of the Labour right. But as the events of the last 48 hours clearly underline, it’s time to break the taboo.
At the very least, Corbyn supporters now have to – how can I put this gently? – engage in measured debate on how we approach the next round of trigger ballots for sitting MPs.
He goes onto quote the ex-Labour arch Blairite Dan Hodges writing in the Telegraph saying ‘hey, let’s not kid anybody. This is ‘Game On’, right?’
A member of the Labour Party that I know tells me, that in his south London constituency, the new members are causing tension in the local party as the old guard resist their attempts to get the party behind Corbyn’s new old Labour platform. My friend describes himself as on the Labour Left and voted for Corbyn, but he doesn’t think Corbyn will be Labour leader at the next general election.
The problem for the Labour Left, is that it will take time to organise successfully, many years probably, and time doesn’t seem to be in Corbyn’s favour. The elections next May for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and London Assemblies will need to show an improvement in Labour’s electoral appeal, or things could get very bleak for Corbyn.
Labour’s warmongering foreign polices of recent years make this issue totemic for the changed party that Corbyn's leadership signals, many members and supporters left Labour over the Iraq war, me included, and to put behind them those years, Labour needs to oppose a further escalation of our military actions abroad. I think for the Labour Right, it is the best chance yet for them to topple Corbyn.
Labour has traditionally been rather sentimental over its leaders, and unlike the Tories, rarely force their leaders out. I think Corbyn is an exception, and it is just a matter of time before someone plunges the metaphorical dagger into his back (or front).
Sunday, 29 November 2015
Written by Daniel Mittler and first publish at Greenpeace International
The last few weeks have seen the best and the worst in terms of climate change.
Victories which pundits told us for years were "impossible" have been coming at a breathtaking pace. Coal demand is in terminal decline worldwide, after a dramatic – if not complete – change of course in China. Oil is also in trouble, with Shell and Statoil retreating from the Alaskan Arctic, President Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline and Alberta putting a cap on tar sands oil. Meanwhile, cities and companies are signing up for a 100% renewable future. Many communities hit by extreme weather are rebuilding sustainably and hundreds of thousands worldwide are building people power to push forward with climate action now – and in the future.
At the same time the news is getting worse. This year will be the hottest year in recorded history. And Indonesia´s forest fires were a massive blow for climate action, emitting more than the entire United States of America – a powerful reminder of just how fast hard-won emission reductions can be jeoparized by greed. Also, despite the climate movement´s recent victories, too often polluters are still dictating policy in North and South. The energy revolution, which is now inevitable, is not going as fast as it needs to, if we’re to keep our climate safe.
The meaning of this year´s climate negotiations has been changed by the recent attacks in Paris, the host city. In response to these terrible crimes, the climate marches around the world this weekend are not just a call to action, but an expression of our shared humanity. Governments must hear this call and make the climate negotiations demonstrate that human cooperation can solve our common problems.
In order to do that, the Paris climate conference must be a starting point for faster and more decisive climate action. As Greenpeace, we have three key criteria that governments must meet:
1. Does the Paris climate agreement send a signal that the age of fossil fuels is over?
The world of energy is changing quickly. Governments in Paris must solidify the direction towards renewables that the world is already on, and state clearly that fossil fuels must be completely phased out by 2050. We need a just transition to a world run on 100% renewable energy for all; a world where workers, our health and our children win. This signal must be clear. It must not be stymied by delays. Therefore, we will ask:
2. Does the Paris climate agreement agree to soon – and continuously – improve national climate action?
We already know that the pledges governments are coming to Paris with are not good enough and will still lead to a very dangerous and destructive world (between 2.7 and 3.7 degrees warmer than in preindustrial times – the estimates vary). Governments and companies need to increase their ambition immediately after Paris. We simply cannot afford to be stuck with insufficient targets for the next 10-15 decisive years. The targets must be ramped up before the Paris agreement enters into force in 2020. And governments need to review and enhance their actions every five years after the Paris agreement comes into force in 2020.
3. Does the Paris climate agreement deliver global solidarity and ensure that polluters pay for the damage they cause?
Some impacts of climate change are with us already and we need sufficient and reliable funding and support for those affected. Greenpeace, for example, supports anchoring the "loss and damage mechanism" under the Paris Agreement, to help support the vulnerable. We expect governments to meet the growing adaptation needs. We will also continue to hold polluters accountable, as we are doing with our call on the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR). We need the culpability of big fossil fuel companies for fuelling catastrophic climate change to be addressed.
If the three criteria above are met, we’ll take an important step towards a world in which energy is clean, cheap and accessible to all. A world where air and water will be cleaner and where global warming avoids truly hazardous temperatures.
But even if governments take us this one step forward in Paris, it is still only one step. We are the ones that have to keep marching to get us to where we need to go. We need to keep up the pressure in the months and years after the Paris summit. The race between renewables and climate change will only be won if we keep winning like we have been doing on Keystone, coal and the Arctic. We must continue to build our power as a climate movement worldwide in 2016. This is how we force politicians across the globe to end the fossil fuel era and deliver a decent environment for all.
- Daniel Mittler is the Political Director of Greenpeace International.
Friday, 27 November 2015
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, told the House of Commons yesterday, that the Royal Air Force bombing of Islamic State (IS) in Syria will make the British public safer from attack here at home. On what basis he makes this claim, is far from clear though, as all the real evidence suggests that taking this action will make it more likely that the UK is targeted by IS.
The recent history of Britain’s involvement in military action in the middle-east is not a happy one, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, our interventions have been an unmitigated disaster. IS didn’t even exist before the invasion of Iraq and were kept in check in Libya, until we bombed that country to facilitate the removal of Gaddafi’s regime. Now jihadists control parts of Libya as well as parts of Iraq and Syria.
Ten years ago, in the wake of the London transport system bombings by four British Muslim men, another group of four tried to repeat the atrocity, but their homemade bombs failed to detonate. At their trial the men said that they had watched video footage of Western airstrikes on Muslim countries to get themselves into the mood to carry out the retaliatory operation in London. There is no reason to think that if we bomb Syria, it will be anything but a further encouragement to would-be jihadists here in the UK.
The attacks on Paris and the Russian passenger plane in Egypt, came after these countries got involved in bombing Syria, which seems to confirm that their action prompted these terrorists reprisals.
Cameron made the all too familiar claim that our bombs are so accurate that there will be no chance of civilian casualties, which is not borne out by recent experience, and it is hard to see how aerial bombardment can dislodge IS from urban areas, without a ground force to clear and secure territory. The Refugee crisis in Europe will no doubt be made worse by more bombing.
Cameron’s other claim, that the Free Syrian Army has 70,000 soldiers in Syria, is disputed by almost everyone, the US military included, who say they are tiny in numbers. Indeed, they would have been defeated by now by Assad’s government forces if it wasn’t for the jihadi groups also taking on Assad.
The Kurdish fighters in Rojava have greater numbers, but still they are insufficient to conquer IS in the widespread areas under its control. Assad’s forces (and allies like Hezbollah) are the only effective fighting forces with the capability to be ranged against IS in Syria. But there is still a reluctance to aid Assad in Western countries.
It is very complicated situation in Syria because of regional rivalries, with Turkey more interested in fighting the Kurds than IS and Saudi Arabia and some of the smaller Gulf states are more concerned with fighting the Shia forces of Assad, Hezbollah and Iran. IS receives plenty of funding from Saudi individuals too. Russia of course is backing Assad to further complicate matters.
Cameron claims that bombing IS will degrade their capability to attack the UK, but this is another flimsy argument. The US and others have been bombing Syria for over a year now, and it didn’t stop the Paris attack. It must make it more difficult for IS to operate in Syria, but that is all. For the UK to add a few more bombers to the existing efforts, will not make any material difference to the restricting IS on the ground in Syria.
Corbyn, it seems, has failed to convince his shadow cabinet and many of his MPs to oppose this military action, and it is looking like the government will win a vote in Parliament, probably next week. The Labour leader will no doubt allow a free vote for Labour MPs on the issue, as the alternative is to have most of the shadow cabinet rebelling. This might solve the disagreement within the PLP, but it will also undermine Corbyn’s authority as leader.
Labour MPs appear to have been swayed by the emotional rhetoric that Cameron deployed in the debate yesterday. Have they learnt nothing from recent experience? It doesn’t look like they have.
Thursday, 26 November 2015
Written by John Queally and first published at Common Dreams
'We must not suspend democracy and freedom while proclaiming our commitment to democracy and freedom,' declares letter sent to French president.
Ahead of international climate talks which are about to begin in Paris, an international coalition of NGOs, political figures, and civil society groups on Thursday demanded French President François Hollande lift the ban on protests and marches and said officials, despite recent violence, cannot proclaim a "commitment to democracy and freedom" while simultaneously suspending "democracy and freedom."
In a letter addressed to Hollande, which has also taken the form of an online petition that anyone can sign, the climate justice leaders expressed understanding for how the recent violence in Paris—also mirrored in attacks in Beirut, Ankara, Bamako, and over the skies of Egypt—has made the security situation tense, but indicated the effort to shut down large scale protests is both short-sighted and counter-productive.
"People from all over the world are flocking to Paris to have their voices heard on one of the most urgent challenges of our lifetime – the threat of climate change," said Nick Dearden, head of the UK-based Global Justice Now, which is spearheading the effort to lift the imposed ban. "It is essential that there is robust participation from civil society during the climate talks and that world leaders are held accountable for how they engage with the issue."
As the letter to Hollande states plainly: "We urge you to reconsider the decision to prohibit the demonstrations in Paris. We understand the need to keep citizens safe, including those mobilising on climate change. It must be possible to find a way to do this short of banning our demonstrations. Many other mass events and gatherings continue to happen in Paris on a daily basis."
Dearden continued by saying that one of the clear aims of terrorists who "carrying out atrocities like we have seen in Paris is to attempt to disrupt and derail how ordinary people go about their lives." Given the absolute urgency of addressing the global climate crisis, the letter sent to Hollande suggests the stakes are simply too high to submit political space during these crucial international talks.
"The French authorities have said that 'life must go one' with regards to public occasions like football matches," continued Dearden, "and we call on President Hollande to use similar logic in standing strong against these attacks by allowing people the fundamental right to protest on crucially important issues like climate change during the UN talks."
Following the announcement that major protests would be significantly curbed or cancelled—including a large march and demonstration planned for Sunday, November 29— the largest environmental groups and event organizers have been scrambling to adjust their plans. Though almost all groups have expressed desire and willingness to incorporate changes to ensure the safety of all participants, it has been hard for many to shake the suspicion that officials in France have used the opportunity of the Paris attacks to squelch the participation of civil society during the UN Conference of the Parties (COP21) talks.
"The French authorities are using the shock of the 13 November killings to cancel demonstrations throughout the country, even in small cities where no terrorist threat is plausible," said Thomas Coutrot, a spokesperson for Attac France, one of the key organizinations planning the Paris demonstrations. "Do they want to keep us silent in the face of the results of COP 21, and its probable failure to tackle effectively climate change? Attac and its partners will be pushing hard to ensure our voices are not silenced."
In an op-ed last week by Naomi Klein, who also signed Thursday letter to Hollande, the Canadian author and activist explain the multiple reasons why the banning of protests in Paris is so disturbing. In addition to the overt silencing of the very people who are threatened most by climate change, namely the poor and the powerless of the global south, Klein argues that the symbolism of banning protest is also key:
Climate change is a moral crisis because every time governments of wealthy nations fail to act, it sends a message that we in the global north are putting our immediate comfort and economic security ahead of the suffering and survival of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on Earth. The decision to ban the most important spaces where the voices of climate-impacted people would have been heard is a dramatic expression of this profoundly unethical abuse of power: once again, a wealthy western country is putting security for elites ahead of the interests of those fighting for survival. Once again, the message is: our security is non-negotiable, yours is up for grabs.As many have argued in recent weeks, the effort to battle human-caused climate change is deeply linked with the violence and desperation that has become so pervasive in the world. And as the letter states, "A peaceful world can only be built on equality, solidarity and sustainability. We must be able to say this in Paris."
And its underlying message: The more the better. The louder the better.
The full letter sent to Hollande on Thursday as well as the original signatories follows:
Dear Mr President
We want to express our sympathy with the French people for the terrorist attacks that took place last weekend. The barbaric attacks on civilians in Paris, Ankara, Bamako and Beirut in recent weeks are the latest terrible symptoms of a world economy experiencing multiple crises.
One of those crises is climate change. As you will be aware, we have driven our planet to the verge of environmental catastrophe. The impacts are being felt everywhere to a greater or lesser degree. Indeed the conflict in Syria was partly fuelled by climatic events. And unless we start enacting very different policies, climate change will increasingly fuel war, migration, poverty and dispossession.
That's why many of us are coming to Paris in the next fortnight - to demand world leaders begin the radical transformation to a low carbon economy, with serious financing to assist less industrialised countries to build societies without resort to fossil fuels. We understand that the challenge is huge. It isn't possible for politicians to carry out the changes needed without massive movements and mobilisations creating political space and will.
For this reason we are deeply concerned by the decision of your government to prohibit the mobilisations in Paris during COP21. This will make it extremely difficult for ordinary citizens of the world to make their voices heard and to create the political space necessary to build a brighter future. We believe this strips the COP process of its legitimacy.
We urge you to reconsider the decision to prohibit the demonstrations in Paris. We understand the need to keep citizens safe, including those mobilising on climate change.
It must be possible to find a way to do this short of banning our demonstrations. Many other mass events and gatherings continue to happen in Paris on a daily basis. We would also like to ensure that the police treat us with dignity and that you send a clear message that our civil liberties be respected.
We must not suspend democracy and freedom while proclaiming our commitment to democracy and freedom. A peaceful world can only be built on equality, solidarity and sustainability. We must be able to say this in Paris.
Naomi Klein, writerThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Avi Lewis, filmmaker
Shalmali Guttal, researcher and writer
Susan George, writer
Global Justice Now, UK
Bolivian Platform on Climate Change
Focus on the Global South
Fondacion Solon, Bolivia
Friends of the Earth, Scotland
Ecologistas en Acción (Spain)
Ekoloji Kolektifi / Ecology Collective Association, Turkey
Iniciativa Construyendo Puentes - Redes de Latinoamerica frente al cambio climatico
Campaign against Climate Change, UK
Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha, India
Public & Commercial & Service Union, UK
Beyond Copenhagen collective, India
End Ecocide on Earth
Asian Peoples' Movement on Debt and Development
Our Rivers, Our Life (OROL) – Philippines
Corporate Europe Observatory
Philippine Movement for Climate Justice
Friends of the Earth Sweden
Public Advocacy Initiatives for Rights & Values in India (PAIRVI)
Energy and Climate Policy Institute for Just Transition, Korea
UK Tar Sands Network
Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO), Phillipines
Planet Defenders, Brazil
Labor/Community Strategy Center, USA
New Internationalist, UK
Institute for Policy Studies, Climate Policy Program, USA
York Climate Action, UK
Ecological Society of the Philippine
Tuesday, 24 November 2015
The government announced in the strategic and security review yesterday, that spending on defence will be increased by £12bn to £178bn over the next decade. The bulk of this money will be spent on four new Trident nuclear submarines, 28 new fighter bomber aeroplanes and 8 new frigate class warships. (Two new aircraft carriers have previously been announced).
The Trident system, which was estimated to cost £20bn to buy nine years ago, is now estimated at a cost of £31bn, and seeing the trend for this amount to rise further, the government will also keep £10bn as a contingency, in case the cost rises again, which seems probable. Maintenance and running costs over the lifetime of the Trident system, could run to an extra £100bn or more.
The 28 new Boeing F-35 aeroplanes will cost a combined total of nearly £3bn and the eight frigates will cost (although I can find no official cost estimates) around £1bn each.
There is more money for ground and special forces, for aerial drones and other reconnaissance type aircraft, which is at least more in keeping with the defence challenges that the nation faces today.
This is of course, from jihadist terror groups, mainly located in Iraq and Syria, and more importantly with cells in the UK and other Western countries.
The list of military hardware above only has a defensive capability in a nation against nation war, a relic of the cold war years, or as an offensive force with even older imperialist ambitions.
What use are warships and planes against a well dug in adversary on the ground, in civilian areas, or the domestic terrorists who reside within our own countries?
By this thinking, since the Paris attacks were launched from Belgium, the French should presumably nuke Brussels in retaliation? This is clearly ridiculous, but the whole strategy is ridiculous in itself.
The Trident system cannot be targeted without US satellite guidance assistance, so if the Americans don’t want us to use it, then we can’t. But it may be unusable anyway if it was cyber attacked, and we know that IS is trying to perfect hacking of Western military computer systems. Even if we are able to execute a submarine attack with nuclear missiles, who will we aim them at? Civilian areas in Syria that IS controls? That would be a war crime of massive proportions, and would no doubt lead to an increase in recruitment for IS or whatever grouping replaced it.
The government will no doubt say something like 'if we don’t fight them over there, we will have to fight them here at home’, but this just rhetoric. Attacking them ‘over there’ actually means we are more likely to be attacked at home.
So we have a useless nuclear system and an ineffective military which will cost a fortune, when financial belt tightening characterises the rest of our public realm. This is beyond stupid, it is a wilful act of negligence on the part of the British government, who surely know that this spending will not make the British public one bit safer, quite the reverse, it will increase the danger to our citizens. It is a cynical attempt to justify this spending at a time when the public are nervous and more open to extra military expenditure.
All of this at time when police forces are being cut to the bone, when the best defence we can have against home grown terrorism is by the police gaining the trust of Muslim communities and working with them to foil attacks before they can be launched. Reduced police numbers will inevitably make this more difficult to achieve. Senior police officers and community leaders are already making this point. They might as well be pissing in the wind though, as this government clearly wants to carry on with the failed policies of recent years, in spite of all reason.
Sunday, 22 November 2015
Written by Deirdre Fulton and first published at Common Dreams
Less than 800 of the world's wealthiest people could power half the world with 100 percent renewable energy within 15 years, says forthcoming report
The personal fortunes of just 782 of the world's wealthiest people could power half the world—Africa, Latin America, and "most of Asia"—with 100 percent renewable energy within 15 years, according to a new report to be published Monday.
Broken down by continent, it would take the wealth of just 53 rich people to power all of Africa, and a mere 32 prosperous people could plug in the vast majority of Latin America.
Though the analysis from Friends of the Earth International (FOEI), a copy of which was shared with Common Dreams ahead of its release next week, does not argue "that the wealth of these particular individuals can or should be directly used to drive the needed energy transformation," the figures do reveal "a gross injustice" when it comes to global inequality that should serve as "a shocking and stark reminder that the finance for an energy transformation is certainly available."
However, the report points out: "The political will to drive the transformation is, on the other hand, shockingly absent," as evidenced by "weak pledges of emission reductions" issued ahead of COP21 climate change negotiations scheduled to begin later this month.
"This report is a wake up call for policy makers and governments," said FOEI program coordinator Sam Cossar-Gilbert. "Our world faces two destructive and entwined crises—growing inequality and climate change. The time has come to address them together."
A recent UN assessment found that emissions pledges made by member nations for the upcoming COP21 climate talks in Paris represent just half of what they need to be to keep warming under the 2°C threshold.
But groups including Greenpeace and Oxfam, as well as individual governments , are trumpeting the power of renewables to help reach global targets. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency recently announced that renewable energy comprised nearly half of the world's power generation capacity in 2014, marking what it called a "clear sign that an energy transition is underway."
Yet the call from FOEI "involves not just changing the energy source from fossil fuels to renewable energy, but a deeper transformation including democratic ownership of renewable energy resources."
As Dipti Bhatnagar, FOEI climate justice and energy coordinator, declared: "Business as usual is now longer an option. We need an energy revolution."
For example, the report suggests that "many parts of the world can and should leapfrog large transmission grids altogether, opting for energy independence with local renewable generation and storage in micro-grids."
As John Farrell wrote for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance earlier this year, "[t]his approach works best not only because it marries authority and responsibility, leaving communities in charge of their own fate, but because it is a political strategy that builds a movement for more ambitious and rapid change in the energy economy."
And it's a way to combat both global warming and worldwide inequality, crises that FOEI sees as deeply intertwined.
"Climate change is a symptom of the dysfunction of the current system, especially the way that we produce, distribute, and consume energy," the report reads. "An energy system that fails to provide for billions of people now is clearly a major cause of catastrophic climate change and sky-high levels of inequality, all at the same time."
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Saturday, 21 November 2015
An 18 year old woman from north London has been sentenced to 21 months in a young offender institution for ‘intending to join’ a proscribed terrorist organisation, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), who are fighting Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Silhan Özçelik who is of Kurdish origin became a supporter of the PKK at age 13 and had tried join the party, but who was rejected as too young to join at 16.
She left home last year leaving letters and videos saying that she had gone to fight with the PKK in Syria against IS. She said at her trial that this was to make her parents feel less ashamed, when in fact she was travelling to Belgium to kindle a romantic liaison with a man. She was arrested in Germany.
There are many troubling issues raised by this case. It is accepted that she never actually joined, or even got very close to joining the PKK, but intention is enough under the law. Young people say all sorts of things which they really don’t mean to do, so to be convicted of this type of ‘thought crime’ seems to me to be overly draconian, and lacking in real evidence.
That the PKK is on the proscribed terrorist organisation list is mainly at the behest of Turkey who has fought a war with the PKK in Kurdish areas of Turkey for many years, after their lands were effectively swallowed up by the Ottoman Empire and later colonial occupation as in Iraq. The PKK is not a jihadist organisation and recently have altered their philosophy to one very close to ecosocialism. They have followed the writings of Murray Bookchin, the founder of Social Ecology, which is very similar to ecosocialism, in northern Syria especially. There they have formed three autonomous cantons, which are run by people’s councils, which have equal representation for all religions and both genders.
The organisation fighting to defend these cantons is actually separate from the PKK and known as the YPG (Kurdish People's Protection Unit) although they have been helped by PKK fighters, as far I know the YPG is not a proscribed terrorist organisation. Indeed, the Daily Mail, of all newspapers, reported in June this year, in heroic tribute, that eight ex British army soldiers (all male), were intending to join the YPG. Referring to them as the ‘ISIS Hunting Club’, the paper reported:
An eight strong volunteer unit of former British servicemen are preparing to travel to Syria to fight against militants from the Islamic State terrorist organisation, it has been claimed.
The ex-soldiers - some of whom have Special Forces training - call themselves the International Volunteer Force and will fight alongside the Kurdish resistance in the north of the country.
Images posted on social media purportedly show the men taking part in special training exercises in Europe ahead of their journey to Syria, where they join an estimated 100 other Western volunteers to have joined the Kurdish peshmerga and YPG armies in the fight against ISIS terrorists.
There was no attempt, as far as I can tell, to arrest these men on ‘intention’ to join the fight, despite the matter getting national media attention, on the contrary, they were lauded for their courage and moral standing. How is this any different from what Silhan Özçelik tried to do, if this was her true intention?
The YPG is clearly not the same type of organisation as IS, notice that the PKK refused to allow her to volunteer to fight when she was 16, would IS have done that? I very much doubt it. And here was a young woman, offering to put herself in grave danger, to fight an outfit that is public enemy number one in European countries, and being jailed for her trouble.
It may not have been the most sensible thing to do, but what crime has she committed with her intention to fight to those psychopaths? The law is an ass, she should be freed from custody immediately.
Thursday, 19 November 2015
As British government ministers start to make the case to MPs for the Royal Air Force to bomb Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria, opinion polls suggest that the British public are wary of the benefits of such action.
A poll by Survation, where 1546 people were surveyed (and on Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union), shows the public to be less than enthusiastic, to say the least, about extending air strikes on IS in Syria. The poll was conducted in the aftermath of the Paris atrocities on 16 and 17 November.
56% say that the bombing of IS so far has made the UK less safe, with only 18% saying that the action had made the country safer.
When asked which option the public believe would be the best way to combat the threat posed by IS, only 15% believe that the UK, like France should independently launch airstrikes on IS targets immediately, only slightly higher than those (13%) who say the UK should stay away from the situation completely. A majority (52%) would support a more measured, multilateral response, military or otherwise, backed by a UN resolution.
These figures indicate that if MPs do go along with the government’s desire to engage in air strikes in Syria, they will not be supported by a large section of the public. It could well be that the British people are understandably nervous in the wake of the Paris attacks, but they have also witnessed the counter productive nature of recent similar interventions in Iraq and Libya.
Another opinion poll by BMG Research for the London Evening Standard again after the Paris attacks found a significant shift in favour of bombing raids in Syria though, but still showed an even 50/50 split over the proposed action.
Half the public thought the bombing raids being carried out in Iraq should be extended to IS heartlands in Syria. The same proportion did not. Opposition was higher among women (56 per cent) and those aged 18 to 24 (64 per cent). The momentum though is towards backing the air strikes say BMG.
MPs are believed to be coming around as well, to authorising bombing raids in Syria, after failing to endorse the move in 2014 (when the Assad regime would have been the target).
The Labour leadership will probably oppose extending the campaign into Syria, but many Labour MPs are said to be supportive of the government and there are not many Tory MP dissenters. The Scottish National Party and Democratic Unionists Party MPs have also said they will consider exactly what the government puts forward in an open minded way.
What seems to have changed MP’s mind is not just the scale and horror of the Paris attacks but that because one of our closest allies has been attacked on its home soil, a response would be more like self defence from Britain’s point of view.
Air raids on IS are not going to bring about its demise, which will need ground forces to dislodge them from the land they hold at the moment. This I think, would not be popular at all with the public or MPs, if British forces were to be deployed in this way.
But even if IS was driven out of the parts of Syria and Iraq that it now controls, the problem of Islamic terrorism would not go away. It would rise in another form somewhere else in the world, and the problem of domestic support for Islamic terror in Britain and other western countries would remain.
Dropping a lot of bombs on Syria will not be solve our problems, even if it does allow people to think that ‘something is being done.’ The regional powers who are easily strong enough to deal with IS, need to take control of any ground operations in Syria and we need to develop our intelligence domestically as well as internationally to cope with any possible attacks on the UK.
Sunday, 15 November 2015
The shocking and horrific actions of Friday night in Paris, where people enjoying end of the working week entertainment in bars and restaurants or sporting and musical events, were slaughtered by terrorists, the ramifications are still sinking in. With 129 people killed and over 350 injured, many critically, the sheer scale of the attack is difficult to fully take in. Investigations are ongoing and information seeps out bit by bit, but it does appear certain that the Islamic State (IS) terror group had a role in the atrocity of some sort.
It has brought back memories for me of the London transport system bombings of ten years ago. There was a very strange feeling about in London in the days after the attack where 52 people and the 4 bombers were killed. Travelling on the London Underground was a scary experience, everyone was nervous, but there was also a kind of camaraderie present among the commuters. People with rucksacks and bags left them wide open so all could see what was inside of them.
There was also a highly visible police presence in central London. I took a bus along Oxford Street a few days after the attack and two police officers boarded the bus and started searching everyone’s bags, including mine. It did occur to me at the time, that if I was a suicide bomber, this would the moment I would detonate the device taking a couple of ‘bobbies’ with me. It was a public relations exercise of course from the police, and I guess it did reassure some people. It took quite few weeks to get back to a normal feeling in the city.
The Paris attack comes only ten months after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices and a Jewish supermarket, but from listening to the news reports it seems that the people of Paris have not by and large, taken Friday’s attack quite so stoically. The Charlie Hebdo incident was clearly an attack on one publication and a wider attack on the freedom of speech. Friday night was indiscriminate, anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time was caught up in it and it is clear that the terrorist’s intention was to kill as many as possible.
Two of the seven or eight perpetrators are said to have been French nationals and the French security forces believe that there are many sleeper cells in the country. But another report quickly surfaced in the media suggesting that one or maybe two of the assailants were Syrian, having entered Europe through Greece.
The worry now is that right wing politicians in France and elsewhere will want to bar further refugees from Syria and the surrounding countries from entering Europe. Indeed the new Polish governing party Law and Justice have already made this point. Will the Front National in France increase its support amongst the French people? Situations like this often lead to extreme politicians being listened to and the often simplistic solutions they make gaining popularity.
There will be renewed calls for stepping up military action from the West in Syria, which again will probably be received well by a nervous public. The fact that the Americans estimate that they have killed 20,000 members of IS since they started bombing Syria, but estimate that IS have recruited 50,000 over the same period is a sobering thought. The more IS is attacked, the stronger it gets.
There will also be calls in the UK particularly for increasing surveillance of internet users, with the so called ‘Snoopers Charter’ about to be debated in Parliament. Governments always use atrocities like Paris to force through draconian anti civil liberties legislation. That these type of freedoms are what we are supposed to be fighting to protect, often gets lost in the general paranoia.
It is a sad fact that before Western countries got involved in wars in Iraq and the region, IS did not exist, and we must accept that our foreign policy has had an impact on what happens in our own countries. If we are to defeat IS and similar groups we need to, as George Galloway has put it, (not someone I’m a huge fan of), ‘drain the swamp.’ We need to stop making IS an attractive organisation to our citizens so they do not want to join the group, and we need intelligence on the ground in Muslim communities, so events like Paris are foiled before they can be launched.
Saturday, 14 November 2015
Written by Steve Rushton and first published at Bella Caledonia
Rojava’s social revolution deserves more global attention and solidarity. The Kurdish autonomous region in Northern Syria is a working experiment creating a society based on direct democracy, with women’s empowerment central in that model. It is being organized beyond and outside a state-centric capitalist system; mutual aid and cooperation are challenging structural exploitation and inequality. Remarkably, all of this emerges out of the Syrian crisis where the predominantly Kurdish Rojava experiment continues despite an existential fight against ISIS, the fascist and genocidal caliphate.
How has all this happened? The book A Small Key Can Open A Large Door: The Rojava Revolution sheds light on the phenomenal story. Edited by a collective known as Strangers In A Tangled Wilderness, the book’s introduction gives a sharp, concise and thorough overview of Kurdish history before exploring Rojava through a series of essays, communiques, diary entries and other writings. Authored by those on the ground, including visitors to the region, the book is a fragmented composition whose different powerful voices thread tightly together.
At its core, A Small Key Can Open a Large Door puts in context why people in Rojava have rejected the nation state and Western capitalism after years of oppression from both. The Kurds come from autonomous roots. They lived mainly peacefully and autonomously as tribal clans inside the Ottoman Empire, from the 16th to the early 19th centuries. But from the 1800s onward, they experienced suppression at the hands of imperialist and capitalist forces. After World War I, the Kurdish diaspora spread across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The book details how a common story emerges of repression, ethnic cleansing and genocide – often ignored and regularly supported by the Western powers.
“Over and over again, foreign powers intervene for a brief period of time, encouraging Kurdish rebellion just to withdraw support at crucial points and sacrificing the Kurds when they are no longer needed,” state the anonymously authors of the book, who suggest that this history, which repeated itself throughout the 20th century, forced the Kurds to realize they needed to fight for their own freedom.
To understand Rojava today, one must return to the founding of the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, in Turkey in 1978 as a seminal moment in that story. The party began as a militant Marxist organization fighting against the Turkish state, replete with bombing campaigns and armed insurgency. From 1984 to 2013, the PKK fought a never-ending guerrilla war.
However, the PKK found itself in crisis in 1999, which became another turning point for the movement. Its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was captured by the Turkish military, and its tactics of suicide bombings and other attacks were no longer succeeding. People in the West were also confusing them with emerging Jihadist groups.
From prison, Ocalan led the PKK through a transformation, adopting the ideas of the Zapatistas in Chiapas and the work of Murray Bookchin, the anarchist thinker who advocates democratic confederalism; that is, a democratic system without a state. To commemorate Bookchin’s death, in 2006 the PKK council announced its aim to realize those ideas in practice.
In Syria’s ongoing civil war since 2011, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces steadily withdrew from controlling the north of the country. This gave the people of Rojava, who inhabit three geographically disconnected areas, a chance to reimagine their society. Inspired by the PKK’s shift to democratic confederalism, Rojava has turned what seemed to many to be political science fiction into reality.
A Small Key Can Open A Large Door explains the process by which Rojava created direct democracy governance without a state, built on local assemblies. Unlike other political systems, the popular base retains its power. People send representatives, who change on a revolving basis, to larger councils. But crucially, all decisions return back to the smaller councils for endorsement.
Also, instead of police, the Kurdish non-state keeps the peace with Asayish (security in Turkish). Both these forces and the militias fighting against ISIS are answerable to the local assemblies. In one fascinating segment, the book describes how the Kurdish region has used power-to-the-people principles to reimagine an economic system beyond capitalism. It also emphasizes that Rojava isn’t only a Kurdish non-state solution – that direct democracy is open to all religions and races, and the Rojava regions are showing this through their embrace of thousands of refugees displaced from Syria.
Feminism, too, is central within the Rojava revolution. All administrative duties are co-chaired by men and women; all councils must have over 40% of each sex represented. There are female-only Asayish-J, (non-statist police) to deal with crimes against females and children as well as hate crimes. There are also all-female safe houses in each town.
On the battlefield, women-only and co-ed fighting units are another feature of life in Rojava. As the book explains, the Kurdish women are fighting the embodiment of women’s oppression in the form of ISIS: a group that uses rape and sells women into sex slavery. But women in Rojava aren’t only assuming political, policing and military responsibilities; they’re also challenging sexism, fighting against forced marriage, domestic abuse and the oppression of women across all aspects of Rojava society. The Rojava Revolution is first and foremost a revolution for women by women.
The book offers a bridge for people in the West to understand and appreciate what democratic revolution actually means in the 21st century. Western media have been criticized for ignoring on the whole the social revolution that is sweeping Rojava, and instead focused on the glamour of the region’s fighting women. A Small Key Can Open A Large Door breaks down barriers and dispels myths as it paints an accurate, stirring portrait of the life Rojava’s people are actively imagining and creating. For anyone who wonders whether another world is possible, this book is essential reading.
Wednesday, 11 November 2015
As the Prime minister finally, formally sets out his demands to the European Council President, for the UK’s continued membership of the European Union (EU), we can at best see only the outlines of his negotiating position. There are four areas where Cameron is seeking changes to how the EU operates. They are:
Protection of the single market for Britain and other non-euro countries
What is behind this demand is protection for the City of London as the leading financial centre in the EU. Cameron doesn’t want the nineteen countries in the Eurozone to be able to out vote the other nine member states who have their own currencies, which on the face of it, seems to be a reasonable position. But the thinking is that if the EU votes to introduce tighter financial regulations or for example, a Tobin (or Robin Hood) Tax, then the UK could effectively exempt itself and the City of London from any provisions agreed amongst Eurozone states.
It has been pretty obvious for a while that Cameron would seek something like this, and the other member states were probably expecting something along these lines. It is probably achievable too, with the German government already having given some qualified broad approval to it.
Exempting Britain from "ever-closer union" and bolstering national parliaments
This is largely a cosmetic exercise. The UK (and other non Eurozone countries) could get an exemption from the aspiration of ever closer union, but the EU will carry on just as it has done. It will not undermine closer union in practice, especially within the Eurozone. It is only symbolic and the EU recognises that different member states will proceed at a different pace to closer union than others. Cameron also wants non Eurozone countries to be able veto future changes to closer union. This is more problematic, but this is probably solvable in the end.
Restricting EU migrants' access to in-work benefits such as tax credits
This is much more difficult to achieve, because it will be discriminatory to non British nationals moving to or already living in the UK. Cameron has given up on trying to restrict immigration from EU countries, but the Tories have been adept at conflating immigration with welfare benefits. They appear to think that restricting welfare in this way, will deter some immigrants from coming to the UK, which it probably will not, but at least they can say that these people can’t claim welfare payments, as consolation prize on the immigration issue.
Particularly eastern EU countries are not happy about this because it will mainly affect their people, but Cameron could make the same restrictions on British people too, which would then not be discriminatory. Given the problems that the government has at the moment with its tax credit proposals, this is a difficult area to resolve.
Boosting competitiveness by setting a target for the reduction of the "burden" of red tape
As Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary said, the ‘devil may be in the detail' with this demand. Whenever I hear a Tory politician complaining about ‘red tape’ I immediately think important protections are at risk. Employment laws are usually targeted for abolition, as the Tories view these as an unnecessary intervention in the ‘free market’. Things like health and safety at work laws and other employment protections are considered to hold back businesses from making money. This is where we could end up losing much of the European ‘Social Chapter’, if Cameron gets his way.
Environmental protection laws could well come into the red tape category too, because it can place costs on business (quite reasonably). We will have to wait and see when the full extent of this demand is fleshed out.
The Tory Eurosceptics are lining up to denounce Cameron’s desired reforms, as they see them as well short of free trading agreement only version of the EU that they are prepared to endorse. But, if Cameron manages to ditch the social chapter provisions, the unions and elements of the left will not be happy.
The Prime Minister may end up upsetting both sides on the in/out referendum on our membership of the EU, which would surely be the end for Cameron as leader. He's employed a slippery strategy on the referendum, and he may be about to fall flat on his face.
Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Last Sunday had another remembrance, apart from the war dead, it was the 50th anniversary of the suspension of capital punishment (hanging) in the England, Scotland and Wales. It was abolished in Northern Ireland in 1973. The last executions were in 1964, when Peter Anthony Allen, at Walton Prison in Liverpool, and Gwynne Owen Evans, at Strangeways Prison in Manchester, were executed.
The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965 was passed in Parliament with a ‘sunset’ clause, meaning that the legislation would be reviewed in 1969, which it was, and the practice was formally abolished in that year (for murder). Capital punishment was still technically possible for treason and piracy until the introduction of The Human Rights Act in 1998, but was never used again.
The death penalty is outlawed in the European Union, but France held its last execution (by guillotine) in 1977 and finally ended the practice in 1981, which was the latest of any country in Western Europe. France's last held public execution was in 1939, in England it was 1868.
Amnesty International says that 22 nations still retain the death penalty, with China thought to hold the most executions, followed by Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The US still executes its citizens, although nineteen states and the District of Columbia do not have the death penalty.
Albert Pierrepoint is probably the best known British hangman, who executed over 400 people. He came to fame, as it were, for hanging many Nazi war criminals after World War 2, but it is thought he had doubts about capital punishment after retiring. In 1974 he wrote in his autobiography Executioner:
‘It is said to be a deterrent. I cannot agree. There have been murders since the beginning of time, and we shall go on looking for deterrents until the end of time. If death were a deterrent, I might be expected to know. It is I who have faced them last, young men and girls, working men, grandmothers. I have been amazed to see the courage with which they take that walk into the unknown. It did not deter them then, and it had not deterred them when they committed what they were convicted for. All the men and women whom I have faced at that final moment convince me that in what I have done I have not prevented a single murder.’
I heard an interview with a retired prison officer on BBC Radio the other day, he served at the time when capital punishment was still carried out. He was asked about how the condemned prisoners behaved in their final days. The officer said that there was always hope for them, up until the last day, first an appeal, and then a final appeal to the Home Secretary.
Public pressure to abolish the death penalty built throughout the late 1950s and the case of Ruth Ellis, the last women to be hanged in England, caused widespread controversy, in 1955. The case evoked exceptionally intense press and public interest to the point that it was discussed by the Cabinet.
On the day of her execution a Daily Mirror columnist wrote a column attacking the sentence, writing "The one thing that brings stature and dignity to mankind and raises us above the beasts will have been denied her – pity and the hope of ultimate redemption." The British Pathe newsreel reporting Ellis' execution openly questioned whether capital punishment - of a female or of anyone - had a place in the 20th century. The public though are said to have largely supported the execution.
Free votes were held in Parliament on reintroducing capital punishment right up until the 1990s, but were always lost.
Opinion polls on the subject of capital punishment regularly show a majority of the British public in favour reintroduction, but the gap gets narrower as time passes. An e-petition for Parliament to debate reintroduction in 2011 did not attract much support and had less support than a counter petition at the time.
It is strange to think, that in my lifetime, just, my country was still executing people. I’ve always felt it is abhorrent, the state taking away the life of its citizens. It feels like an ancient ritual, from a long ago barbaric past.
Sunday, 8 November 2015
First published at Commons Transition where you can read the full Charter.
Whatever happened to the 15-M Movement? Where did Occupy go? Four years after the groundbreaking revolutionary ruptures of 2011, violent repression and media invisibility have relegated these thriving movements to a grey area. The perception seems to shift between mainstream derision and niche-group interest. Occupy’s roots have spread out and sprouted a multitude of initiatives, though perhaps the source inspiration is not always publicly recognized. But in Spain, the popular experience of austerity – the murderous palliative prescribed as a cure for the crisis – and the resulting political movements in reaction have been giving the lie to the mainstream narrative that 15-M is a “has been”.
The movement undeniably lives. Its form has been mutated, re-imagined, distributed, and coalesced into a swarm of activity and hacks to the system. We live here, we see it every day. These initiatives are not as easily seen, defined – or, for that matter, targeted – as a physical occupation may be; yet they permeate the hegemony, creating new possibilities and spaces. You need only look at last year’s EU Parliamentary election results to see how Spanish voters have reacted to austerity and debt – and how that reaction contrasted strongly with that of some other European nations. One of the most important evolutions of 15-M is undoubtedly the “Movimiento por la Democracia” (Movement for Democracy).
Unsurprisingly, the Movement is hard to define. It clearly targets the political arena without desiring to become a political party itself. Their “Charter for Democracy” is an inspiring, thorough text on what politics should be. It proposes a politics for the people: squarely grounded in environmental realities and social justice, based on the Commons, defended from corporate interests and neo-liberal dictates. The Charter was written collectively through nearly 30 different workshops throughout Spain held over the span of a year, with the collaboration of some 200 individuals.
As Movimiento por la Democracia expresses, “It isn’t finished. We don’t want it to be finished; we want it to be a living document, in a constant state of discussion and production. We think it’s a good summary of the main demands the citizenry has put on the table over the last few years – our needs and desires. Now we need your help. The Charter can only make sense when shared widely, so it can stir extensive debate. If you find it interesting, we ask you to share it on Social Media, send it by email or get it into people’s hands in a thousand different ways. We ask you to comment on it, debate it, refute and if you like it, make it yours”.
Since its original publication in 2014, many of the individuals involved in the writing of the Charter went on to develop its premises within a municipal, commons-oriented context. The result? Newly formed democratic, bottom-up citizen coalitions were successfully elected in various cities, including Barcelona and Madrid.
The Charter for Democracy is not only an inspiring document, but an inspiring cross-sector strategy that works. To that end, we’re proud to present Guerrilla Translation‘s English translation of the Charter, complete with its beautiful original illustrations by Clismón, as a Commons Transition Special Report. It’s serious reading, and essential reading for anyone passionate about true democracy and commons-based governance. As they say, please read it and, if you want to, make it yours.
For easy reference, we’ve indexed the report by sections. You can read it sequentially or jump to the any of the sections below. Alternatively, you may download the report in PDF here or consult and comment on it in our wiki.
A CHARTER FOR DEMOCRACY
RIGHTS AND GUARANTEES
•1. Democratization of public authorities
•2. Recognition and extension of the ways of participation and direct democracy
•3. Recognition of popular constituent power as the ultimate source of the constitution and the powers of the State
•1. Financial democracy
•2. Tax reform
•3. Common and public goods
•4. Promotion of the Social Economy and Democracy in Economic Relations
•5. The expansion of social protection, the recognition of common resources, and the right to a dignified life
•1. Deepening of political democracy: self-government
•2. Acknowledgement of the different scales and territorial realities and solidarity among them•3. The European scale of the process
Saturday, 7 November 2015
Written by Vandana Shiva and first published at The Asian Age
In 2008, before the climate summit in Copenhagen, I wrote the book Soil Not Oil. It was a time when the intimate connections between climate and agriculture, air and soil were not being recognised in any forum, neither in the negotiations on climate change nor in the climate movement. As we head into the Conference of the Parties (COP) 21 in Paris, agri-corporations are attempting to hijack climate talks once again.
Today we are faced with two crises on a planetary scale — climate change and species extinction. Our current modes of production and consumption are contributing to what climate change scientists term anthropogenic emissions — originating from human activity. If no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gases, we could experience a catastrophic 4°C increase in temperature by the end of the century.
In addition to global warming, climate change is leading to the intensification of droughts, floods, cyclones and other extreme weather events that are costing lives. What can we do to mitigate this? Like the problem, the solution must be anthropogenic.
Three years after Rio (1992), the United Nations Leipzig Conference on Plant Genetic Resources assessed that 75 per cent of the world’s biodiversity had disappeared in agriculture because of the Green Revolution and industrial farming. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that 70-90 per cent of global deforestation is due to industrial agriculture pushing its monocultures further and further into forests to grow commodities for export — not for food.
As I wrote in Soil Not Oil, chemical agriculture and a globalised food system are responsible for 40 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. A grain.org report concluded that “the current global food system, propelled by an increasingly powerful transnational food industry, is responsible for about half of all human produced greenhouse gas emissions: anywhere between a low of 44 per cent to a high of 57 per cent”.
This is also where the Gates Foundation, along with the other biotech evangelists of our times, has it completely wrong. Climate-smart agriculture and “One Agriculture”, packaged in a PR bubble, will starve the world and worsen the refugee crisis. The Gates Foundation, pretending to feed the world, is propagating the very source of half the climate problem.
“One Agriculture”, for the profit of one company, is hardly a mitigation strategy. The Gates Foundation is pushing industrial agriculture, instead of agroecology which is already helping check climate change by converting fossilised carbon to green carbon. The accurate word for Bill Gates’ faux philanthropy would be “fail anthropy”.
As country after country bans the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), India has turned into the last battleground for GMO patent profits. Bt technology, the star of Monsanto’s multi-million dollar R&D (fully paid for by Indian cotton farmers), has been known to be a failure in terms of yield and pest control since its beginning in India, illegally, in 1999. In addition to the historic failure of Bt cotton at raising farmers’ incomes, or producing more yield, the ancillary chemicals required by GMO varieties are also, quite clearly, failing. Bayer CropSciences’ oberon, a pesticide that supposedly targets whitefly, has failed at its one purpose, causing a 60 per cent crop failure in Punjab’s cotton crop this year. The chemicals have failed the GMO. The GMO has failed in itself. Our government has failed our farmers by backing failed technologies that have only been successful in driving India’s farmers to suicide.
Biodiverse systems are more resilient to climate change and are more productive in terms of nutrition per acre. Feeding the world is more about providing nourishment than about harvesting commodities to be traded and shipped globally, adding to emissions. Decentralised, diverse systems have more flexibility to respond to uncertainty as well.
Science and democracy are the forces that will protect the planet and our lives. Since 1992, the big polluters — the fossil fuel industry and the agrochemical industry (now also the biotechnology industry) — have done everything to subvert the legally binding, science-based, international environmental treaties on climate change and biodiversity.
What needs to be done is clear. In the case of climate change, the key strategy should be reduction of emissions and strategies for adaptation. We must move away from industrial, chemical-intensive agriculture, away from a centralised, global commodity-based food system that exacerbates emissions. Biodiversity conservation will be central to adaptation. In place of the biodiversity-destroying industrial monocultures, including those based on GMO seeds, we need a shift to agroecological practices that conserve biodiversity and ensure biosafety.
This transition will address both, the climate and biodiversity crisis simultaneously, as well as the food crisis. Even though industrial agriculture is a major contributor to climate change and more vulnerable to it, there is an attempt by the biotechnology industry to use the climate crisis as an opportunity to further push GMOs and to deepen their monopoly on global seed supply through biopiracy-based patents on climate resilient seeds, that were bred by farmers over generations. Climate resilient traits will become increasingly important in times of climate instability and, in the current system, will allow corporations to exploit farmers and consumers by owning the rights to these plants.
As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. Centralised, monoculture-based, fossil fuel intensive systems, including GMO agriculture, are not flexible. They cannot adapt and evolve. We need flexibility, resilience and the ability to adapt to a changed reality. This resilience comes from diversity. This diversity of knowledge, economics and politics is what I call earth democracy.
As we head into the COP 21 negotiations, not only do we have to beat our fossil fuel addiction, but also our addiction to failure. Failure is no longer an option. We cannot fail the Earth, or each other.
Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist, and eco feminist. Shiva, currently based in Delhi, has authored more than 20 books and over 500 papers in leading scientific and technical journals.She was trained as a physicist and received her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Western Ontario, Canada. She was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1993. She is the founder of Navdanya.