Monday, 15 December 2008

More "Popular Mobilisation"

*Coal Action Scotland media release*

For immediate use: 15/12/08

*Coal rail terminal shut down by local residents and Climate campaigners*

At 06:00am this morning thirty campaigners from Coal Action Scotland (1) together with local residents peacefully blockaded the entrance to the Scottish Coal-operated Ravenstruther coal rail terminal in South Lanarkshire (2). Having stopped its reopening after the weekend, this action is currently preventing the delivery of thousands of tonnes of coal to power stations across Scotland. Protestors intend to stay in place as long as possible.

Scotland's CO2 emissions are increasing significantly. Because of the burning of coal it will be impossible for Scotland to meet its 80% target reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 (3). Angus Mcloud said "The fact is that the government will not meet its own targets. This confirms what climate protestors have believed all along – that the Scottish government is paying lip service to the dangers of climate change."

This action is being taken to impact the operations of Scottish Coal and Scottish Power in the region, stopping coal being delivered from five local open cast mines (4). The protestors are acting to oppose the five open cast coal mines that deliver coal to the rail terminal and in resistance to the thirteen new open cast coal mines due to open in Scotland.

Protestors erected and scaled a 15ft scaffolding tripod, blocking trucks from entering the terminal. Others are locked by their necks to a conveyor belt and a bulldozer, preventing coal stockpiles from being loaded onto trains.

Tilly Gifford who is at the site said: "In the face of dangerous runaway climate change, increasing our dependence on coal – the most polluting of the fossil fuels – is simply unacceptable. We urgently need to make the transition to renewable energy and close existing mines. We shouldn't even be thinking about new ones."

Today's direct action builds on recent demonstrations that have taken place all over the UK in opposition to new coal (5).

The demonstration today is in support of communities opposing new open cast mines. Rebecca Mackenzie, a local resident said: "We're here today to send a clear message that we don't want parts of Scotland such as South Lanarkshire to become the most heavily mined areas in Europe, as they will be if permission is granted for all the new open cast coal mines currently being proposed. If sites such as Mainshill near Douglas can't be stopped through legal avenues, then action will have to be taken to make sure these last remaining areas of un-mined countryside aren't destroyed".

Beth Whelan, the campaigner perched on the scaffolding tripod, said: "Local authorities, the Scottish government and companies such as Scottish Coal and Scottish Power are ignoring the scientific evidence on climate change. We have to take responsibility for our climate and our future, and stop the coal industry and its expansion. This is what we doing today: acting responsibly".

It is estimated that 6,380 tonnes of coal were stopped from being transported from the coal mines to power stations, equivalent to 11,675,400 kg CO2 (11,675.4 tonnes) released into the atmosphere.

Coal Action Scotland apologizes to any workers affected by today's demonstration, but in recognizing the desperate need to stop burning coal sees no other choice but to target the companies responsible for mining it (6).



[1] Coal Action Scotland is part of the UK-wide Coal Action Network of individuals opposing the developments of a new generation of coal powered energy generation.

[2] The rail terminal is located off the A70 road. Trains leaving the terminal deliver coal to West Burton(EDF Energy), Drax (Drax Group plc.), Rugeley (International Power), Ironbridge (E.on), Cottam (EDF), Lynemouth (Alcan), the Scottish Power – operated Longannet power station.


[4] Poniel, Broken Cross, Glentaggart and Glenbuck

[5] Today's action builds on recent events such as the occupation of Lodge House at Shipley open cast in Derbyshire, the stopping of a coal train to Drax, the Camp for Climate Action at Kingsnorth in Kent and numerous other site occupations that have stopped work at open cast sites.

[6] Coal Action Scotland acknowledges that mining communities have a long history of neglect and deprivation. The dismantling of high-emission industries must occur through a process of just transition to ensure that these communities do not suffer additionally through redundancies. Lasting and significant change to these polluting industries can only come through campaigners and workers uniting to stop climate change and environmental degradation together.

Friday, 12 December 2008

The War On Error

One great thing about a blog is that when you get things wrong, it's easy to go back and correct them. So, for example, I was able to shove a few quick back-of-envelope calculations about activism-related carbon savings on my last post whilst it was still all topical and that, and then return later to refine them (I overestimated things a bit the first time round).

Some extra research has now thrown my "1,000 tonnes saved by the sneaky Kingsnorth shutdown" figure into doubt, because it seems that the extra inefficiency involved in starting up and shutting down other generators at a few hours notice might well cancel out those savings in the short term. To be honest though, the on-the-spot emissions reductions from this sort of action are only part of the picture. The surreptitious Kingsnorth switch-off also achieved at least four other vital things:

* Damage to E.ON's finances and reputation, making it even more difficult for them (and companies like them) to build new coal plants in the future;
* Yet more media coverage of the link between coal and climate change
* Inspiration and hope to millions of climate change campaigners
* Another illustration of how ridiculous the over-policing was at this year's Camp for Climate Action.

I think this last point is particularly interesting. One of the supposed reasons for the massive police presence was that if activists succeeded in shutting down Kingsnorth, it would jeopardise the UK's energy supply and threaten public safety.

We said this was complete rubbish at the time, and now everyone knows it's true: on November 28th, an activist shut down a quarter of Kingsnorth and the public (at the time) didn't even notice. The slack was taken up elsewhere on the grid, and everything went on as normal. The only damage was to E.ON's profits and reputation. Exactly the same thing would have happened if the Climate Campers had got into Kingsnorth in August.

So those thousands of police officers and 5.9 million pounds of taxpayer's money weren't protecting the public at all. They were protecting E.ON.

Worth bearing in mind, that.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For

[Note: Calculations updated 11/12/08]

On the day that Environment Secretary Ed Miliband calls for a "popular mobilisation" on climate change...

...57 activists break into Stansted Airport and build a small fort on one of the taxi runways:

Local Councils initially refused to allow Stansted to expand but - in a fine example of democracy in action - this was overruled by the Government, who are now conducting another dodgy "public enquiry" that will shock no-one when it comes out in favour of a second runway. It now falls to brave activists like these to take action to stop the expansion of Stansted - which would produce an extra 7 million tonnes of CO2 per year, according to the British Airports Authority - and to make the wider point about aviation and climate change.

Stansted are now saying that 56 flights have been cancelled, all from Ryanair. Assuming that half of these were inbound flights (which will have been redirected to other airports), that's 28 flights that didn't happen. Let's do a rough calculation (I'll try to do a better one if I find some better data). The average Stansted flight generates 15.4 tonnes of CO2, according to the Aviation Environment Federation. To get the full climate change impact of burning jet fuel in the upper atmosphere, we need to multiply this by 1.3, meaning that today's protest directly prevented approximately 28 x 15.4 x 1.3 = 561 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. That's the same as the annual greenhouse gas emissions from about 93 UK homes (in terms of electricity and gas use).

That's clearly completely awesome in and of itself. But the protest has also been headline news on all the TV, radio and online news outlets all morning. These 57 people have not only saved more carbon in 5 hours than a typical local authority home insulation scheme would achieve in a year, they also got far more media coverage for climate issues than the thousands of people who marched through London on Saturday.

But of course, illegal direct action doesn't work and those 57 people would have achieved far more by writing stern letters to their MPs.

Meanwhile, news is also breaking that Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent was invaded by mystery intruders last Friday, who got into a control room and shut down one of the turbines for four hours. E.ON, the owners of Kingsnorth, haven't released any more details as yet but it's interesting to note that this took place during the Climate Camp's 48 hours of action against E.ON and new coal. Let's have some more fun with the numbers: according to the Times, 500 MW of generating capacity was lost for four hours. That's 2000 MWh of electricity. Coal-powered electricity generates about 1 tonne of CO2e per MWh, so that's a saving of 2,000 tonnes from shutting down a quarter of Kingsnorth for four hours. Of course, that capacity will have been replaced by firing up a back-up generator elsewhere on the National Grid, but even an inefficient oil generator will only have produced about 1,000 tonnes of CO2e, leaving a clear 1,000 tonne saving. That's the equivalent of 5,000 households switching to energy-saving light bulbs for a year. (Let me know if you want references for all these figures and I'll happily fish them out). Equally importantly, it's kept the spotlight on E.ON and their disgraceful coal expansion plans.

These are the kinds of peaceful direct actions that, as Ed Miliband notes, have been successful at creating social change in "all the big historic movements, from the suffragettes, to anti-apartheid, to sexual equality in the 1960s". If we want a meaningful deal at Copenhagen next year, we're going to need a lot more of this sort of thing, to urgently shove the whole political debate away from the current disastrous "growth at all costs" model and towards climate sanity. So presumably Mr Miliband will now declare his support for today's direct actions, and call for more of the same?

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Someone's Been Naughty This Year

E.ON's UK headquarters yesterday morning:

Check out the full, festive story of E.ON's seasonal surprise at Amelia's magazine.

Monday, 1 December 2008

My First Haiku

Yeah, I finally got tempted by the old 5-7-5 formula. Following a chat with a friend on Friday (hi Jo), I couldn't resist writing this:

One real live case of
Carbon capture and storage:
Somali pirates.

Friday, 14 November 2008


Power company E.ON is hoping to build the first new coal-fired power station in the UK for a generation on the site of its present station at Kingsnorth in Kent. At a time of climate crisis, it's an obscenity.

They've been the targets of all kinds of action, from last summer's Camp for Climate Action, to a series of smaller action on April 1st (Fossil Fools Day), to a wave of recruitment fair actions, with more action coming up at the end of this month.

One easy, comfy action can happen from this computer you're looking at. The tactic is called google-bombing.

The more links to a site, the higher it climbs in Google rankings. So, if enough people make the word 'Eon' link to the No New Coal site, pretty soon it'll top the list of anyone searching for Eon. (This tactic was successfully used a few years ago to make 'swivel-eyed loons' link to UKIP).

Two weeks ago wasn't in the top 50 sites when searching for Eon. As I write this it's already number 13.

So a simple online action can help us get our electronic placards in their face without getting out on the cold winter streets.

If you have a website, blog, myspace, bebo, forum account, etc then please place a link to

Ideally you write 'eon' and place a hyperlink to from that text.

Anyone can do this! Blog comments/forums are easiest. Good websites are most effective.

If you're wondering what else to write, you could copy or edit this.

To get a top 10 google ranking probably won't be to hard, but to pip E.ON to the top will require a lot of effort so tell your friends, consider putting this simple action in your newsletters, spread the word online...


* 1. It works best if you mention Eon several times in an article. The correct poncy spelling is E.ON so include that a few times too, but most people will probably just search for Eon.

* 2. If you are posting the link in a blog post then put Eon in the title and the tags.

* 3.The more important the site the more kick gets from the link.

* 4. If you are really determined then consider setting up a fake site like the EON Corporate Social Responsibility blog that way you can link loads of times to from a site that is very relevent!

* 5. Why not take this is seriously as a real world action and forward it to people with green blogs/campaign groups etc?

Thursday, 13 November 2008

This Might Actually Work

Time for a short personal update.

Looking ahead at the looming recession, with uncertain and turbulent financial times ahead, there was clearly only one sensible thing to do.

I've quit my job.

This is because those uncertain and turbulent financial times will be as nothing to the disastrous and terrifying climatic times ahead if we don't all get our act together and sort out climate change. So I've decided to leave my job and spend more time campaigning. Also, I was getting a little tired of spreadsheets and wanted to give the performance poetry a proper go.

This was pretty nerve-wracking at first - I can live very happily on little disposable income but there are still bills to pay. It all seems to be working out OK so far though. In fact, I'm as busy as ever, even if I'm only being paid for a small amount of all that busyness...

I've written a piece for the January issue of New Internationalist about what the Copenhagen talks mean for climate justice - if anyone wants the lowdown on what's being discussed at the international climate talks, drop me a line coz I've been up to my eyeballs in it for weeks. Then on Monday I ran a series of workshops and did a presentation and a poem at a schools climate change conference in Hampshire, which was brilliant - loads of enthusiastic young people up for taking action. I'm definitely going to do more of this kind of thing.

I'm waiting to hear back from a couple of funding bids that might set some other projects in motion, working on a long-overdue poetry CD, mucking in with various bits of campaigning and planning a possible fundraising tour for People & Planet - I'll post details here if it comes together.

It's bloody hard work, this not-having-a-job thing.

In other news, researching a company's environmental credentials apparently makes you an eco-terrorist, and coal-burning climate-wreckers E.ON have been scared away from careers fairs by student protesters. Excellent.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Turbulence Ahead? The Latest Aviation Emissions Science and What It Means for Climate Campaigners

Note: the diagrams in this post have been shamelessly swiped from an excellent presentation by Dr Chris Jardine of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University (you can see more of his work here). The words and opinions, however, are all my own fault.

Update - 8.30pm 26/08/08. I've corrected the figure for the percentage of the UK's domestic emissions that the Government estimates come from aviation, and added a reference - thanks to Joss for that one!

Update - 6.15pm 27/08/08. Stupid analogy added at the bottom of the post in case it helps.

Aeroplanes, eh? How can a technology be so utterly awe-inspiring and yet so hideously polluting at the same time? It really isn’t fair.

The roaring, jet-fuelled argument over the building of new runways at major airports has – quite rightly – dominated the aviation debate over the last year. However, a related issue that’s been quietly simmering away in the background is now coming to the boil, and pro-aviation lobbyists may be tempted to use a piece of new research to try to shift the debate in their direction.

The issue at stake may seem rather obscure at first. Aircraft don't just produce CO2, they also produce other gases that warm the planet. In order to calculate this extra impact, should the amount of CO2 produced by a flight be multiplied by 2.7, or 1.9, or something else entirely, in order to capture the total warming effect of burning aviation fuel in the upper atmosphere?

Although this sounds like something of interest to only the most hardcore eco-geeks and carbon obsessives, it is actually quite important for this simple reason: the lower the number used, the less polluting aviation seems to be. For an industry that’s been dragged over the coals (or the vat of burning jet fuel) for its disastrous environmental impact, anything that can make it appear less polluting is likely to be seized upon by industry apologists and milked for all its worth.

New and credible research suggests that the CO2 from aviation should in fact be multiplied by the relatively low figure of 1.3 in order to gauge its full climate impact. So far the big flight operators haven’t made too much of a public song and dance about this, but rest assured that they are very interested. The topic is being discussed intensely at industry conferences and in environmental consultancy circles, and it’s only a matter of time before it creeps out into the public sphere. When it does, climate campaigners need to be ready for it.

The rest of this blog post is therefore split into two sections:

A) The sciencey bit: Why the correct number to use for calculating aviation’s full climate impact is probably about 1.3, and why this is less to do with science than with (woo-hoo!) accounting.

B) The policy-y bit: Why using this number doesn’t actually change things that much in a practical sense, why mass aviation is still completely unsustainable, and how climate campaigners should respond to this latest potential distraction.

A) The Science Bit – Why 1.3?

Anyone who cares about climate change (which, honestly, should include anyone who likes living on a reasonably habitable planet) will know by now that mass aviation is a major barrier between us and a saner, safer future. Back in 2007, the Government admitted that flights from UK airports accounted for about 6.3% of the country’s domestic CO2 emissions. However, climate campaigners were quick to point out that the aviation figure was still an under-estimate, as it didn’t include the extra warming – or “radiative forcing” – caused by gases other than CO2 being released from planes into the upper atmosphere.

The best estimate at the moment is that aviation emissions cause about 1.3 times as much warming as the CO2 from aviation would alone. This differs noticeably from earlier estimates of 2.7 times and 1.9 times. Let me try to explain why…

The diagram below shows the chemical reaction that takes place when an aeroplane engine burns fuel in the upper atmosphere. The fuel, which is made up of carbon, hydrogen, and sulphur atoms, reacts with nitrogen and oxygen in the air to produce a shedload of motor energy and an exciting cocktail of exhaust gases (click on the picture for a bigger version):

The gases in red rectangles produce a warming effect when released at high altitude. The ones in blue rectangles have a cooling effect. NOx is rather special because although it has no direct global warming effect, it reacts with other gases in the upper atmosphere to create ozone (O3) which has a warming effect, and to destroy the greenhouse gas methane (CH4), creating a cooling effect.

As if this wasn’t complex enough already, all of these gases vary both in terms of the amount produced per kg of fuel burnt, and in the amount of warming (or cooling) they cause per kg released. In addition, the contrails produced by planes have a short-lived but powerful heat-trapping effect, and aircraft also have a not-yet-fully-understood impact on cirrus clouds. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) did an initial assessment of the comparative effect of all of these factors based on total aviation up to 1992 (the blue bars in the chart below); this was later scaled up to include data up to the year 2000 (the white bars below); the IPCC concluded that, up to this date, the warming impact of aviation had been 2.7 times the warming effect of its CO2 alone (not including the effect on cirrus clouds, which has still not been fully quantified). A more up-to-date study with improved methods (called TRADE-OFF, and summarised in the red bars below) in 2003 updated this figure to 1.9.

In the chart above, RF stands for “Radiative Forcing”, and is measured in milliWatts of warming per square metre of atmosphere - click on the picture for a bigger version

So historically speaking, aviation has been responsible for almost twice (1.9 times) the global warming that would have been caused if the planes had only been emitting CO2.

However – and this is the new bit – this doesn’t take into account the fact that CO2 remains in the atmosphere for 200 years (on average), whilst contrails and nitrous oxide have much shorter-lived effects. Therefore, much of the CO2 released by planes in the past is still warming the planet today, whilst most of the contrails and other gases from historical aviation have had their impact already and have now dissipated. This means that the 1.9 figure underestimates the long-term warming impact of CO2, and makes the other warming effects seem more severe in comparison.

A well-argued research paper by Forster, Shine and Stuber takes all of this into account and suggests that, when we consider what impact a flight taken today will have over the next 100 years (which is the standard method for measuring climate effects), a typical flight will have a warming effect of about 1.3 times the effect of its CO2 emissions alone.

This doesn’t mean that the earlier 1.9 figure was wrong. It’s just that the two numbers are measuring different things – one refers to the total warming caused by aviation up to the year 2000, while the other represents the impact that flights taken today will have over the next 100 years. We should use this latter figure in our climate calculations because that’s how all other carbon footprints are measured.

If you’re still not sure what I’m on about (and fair enough if so), there are a couple more graphs at the bottom of this post that may (or may not) help. Do also feel free to drop a question into the comments box and I’ll do my best to answer it (or to point you to someone who might be able to explain it better than I can).

Of course, this all still leaves one crucial question: who cares?

B) What All This Means For Campaigners

First and foremost, it should be seen as a victory for campaigners that this stuff is being discussed by the aviation industry at all. The “new” research I’ve been referring to was in fact carried out back in 2006, and has only now come to the fore because of the increased pressure on flight operators to properly account for their greenhouse gas emissions. Because Kyoto doesn’t include aviation, there has been no statutory requirement up until now for the emissions from flights to be properly measured. The only real pressure on the aviation industry to own up to its full impact has come from climate campaigners, and (ironically) from the recent inclusion of aviation emissions in ineffective and corporate-friendly carbon trading schemes as an attempted response to those campaigns.

The discovery that the 1.3 multiplier is a more appropriate measure than the IPCC’s original 2.7 might seem like a boost to the aviation industry – but it isn’t really. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the 2.7 multiplier (and the 1.9 multiplier after it) came with all sorts of caveats and uncertainties (which were freely admitted by the researchers involved) and were recognised as being a rather crude measure of aviation’s extra greenhouse gas emissions; as a result neither figure was universally applied. The 1.3 figure is based on more solid methods, and stands a far better chance of being widely adopted. This would bulldoze though the aviation industry’s claims that “the science is unclear so we should only count the CO2 and not the extra stuff”, and is probably a reason why they’re not endorsing this new research too loudly just yet.

The second reason is that, even if you don’t count the extra emissions and only look at CO2, aviation growth is still hopelessly unsustainable. The graph below takes the amount of CO2 that would be produced by a range of global aviation growth scenarios (from high growth to low growth), and superimposes it on top of the IPCC’s graph of the global CO2 emissions cuts we need to make to have any chance of preserving a habitable climate (in gigatonnes of carbon, click on the picture for a bigger version):

The five thinner lines at the bottom represent the CO2 from five different aviation growth scenarios, and show that – if the number of flights taken continues to grow – then aviation will take up between 20 and 75% of our global CO2 emissions budget by 2050! This would clearly not only be ridiculous (do we really believe that flying is several times more important than heating, lighting, food production etc.?) but also utterly unjust (flying is and always will be the preserve of a wealthy minority). Note that these figures include generous assumptions about improved aircraft technology and flight efficiency, thus laying the huge concrete runway of physical reality over the aviation industry’s happy little village of technofix fantasies.

The above graph shows that aviation growth is unsustainable based on its CO2 emissions alone, even without taking other greenhouse gases into account.

It’s probably time to wrap up this stupidly long post. Below, in one of those numbered lists that I love so well, is my advice to climate campaigners on how to respond to all of this:

1) Start using the 1.3 figure. It’ll probably be refined by further research over the next few years, but for the moment it’s the best we’ve got and is definitely more defensible than the 1.9 and 2.7 figures. It has another important attribute: if the aviation companies do suddenly start trumpeting the 1.3 multiplier around, with cries of “Look! We’re only half as polluting as the IPCC made out!” we’ll be ready to say, nonchalantly, “Yeah we know, we’ve been using the lower figure for ages now. Oh, by the way, you’re still utterly unsustainable and we still need to massively reduce the number of flights we take, not increase them, to have a decent shot at avoiding catastrophe”.

2) Stand firm on those extra emissions. There’s a real possibility that the industry are going to say “Look, it’s 1.3 – but we shouldn’t really include that extra 30% at all, because those gases aren’t included in the Kyoto Protocol. In order to be consistent with international carbon accounting methods, we should only count CO2. So nerr.” This is a beautifully circular argument. The extra warming effects of aviation are specific to aviation – no other human activity creates contrails, fiddles with cirrus clouds or releases gases like NOx or SOx straight into the upper atmosphere (at least, not yet). Kyoto didn’t include aviation, and so it didn’t need to include these extra warming effects. In other words, the only reason that the extra impacts of aviation aren’t currently included in international climate agreements is because aviation itself isn’t yet included in these agreements – and as soon as aviation is taken into account, those extra impacts should logically be brought in as well. They may not exist under Kyoto, but they certainly exist up in the atmosphere, and are cooking us as surely as the “official” greenhouse gases.

3) Don’t get distracted. This is definitely one of those “acknowledge it and then move on, don’t waste time dwelling on it” issues. My main purpose in writing such a detailed post about this topic was to minimise the time and effort other campaigners might spend fretting about the issue. Don’t! Be aware of it if it comes up, check back here if you need the references, but remember that climate change is far more than a numbers game. We need to get our figures right, but we also need to remember what’s really at stake here, and keep focused on the bigger picture. Aviation growth is incompatible with any effective and fair solution to climate change. It’s a luxury activity that benefits a tiny minority whilst spewing out a disproportionate amount of climate-trashing pollution, devastating the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people. It’s one of the starkest examples of climate injustice in existence. A few figures may have changed, but the basic facts haven’t. So get involved!

Putting It Another Way: Further Explanation of the Science Bit (With Extra Graphs and a Daft Analogy)

If you add up all of the global warming caused by aviation so far in history, then about half of it is from CO2 and half of it is from other gases (i.e. the total impact is about 1.9 times the CO2 alone). This is shown in the graph below - click on the picture to enlarge it (note that this shows the amount of warming caused over time by the three different effects, not the amount of greenhouse gas produced in that time):

However, if you take the emissions from a single flight today, and look at the warming effect it will have over the next 100 years, you'll find that most of the warming will come from CO2 and only a minority from other gases, because of the short-lived nature of the contrails and the NOx effects, as shown in the (not to scale) graph below (again, click to enlarge):

This may seem counter-intuitive, but think about it this way: much of the CO2 released since aviation began is still in the atmosphere, and still warming the planet. This present and future warming effect from past CO2 emissions (right up to emissions released in the year 2000) isn't counted in the historical warming graph, and so the 1.9 figure underestimates the full effect of the CO2 over its lifetime. The 1.3 figure, by comparing the effects of all the different aviation gases over 100 years, captures more of the CO2's warming effect.

Remember, these two numbers are measuring different things – one refers to the historical impact of aviation, while the other represents the impact that flights taken today will have over the next 100 years. We should use this latter figure in our climate calculations because that’s the standard method of doing it, and allows us to compare the climate impacts of flying with the impacts of everything else.

Of course, if all else fails, there's always the "bad analogy" option:

Imagine a huge, pristine, white wall, somewhere near you, probably built and maintained using Our Bloody Council Tax. Unfortunately, the local Youth, probably wearing Hoodies and listening to Rap Music, have realised that it’s an ideal spot to ruin with their filthy, filthy, graffiti.

One day, ten youths arrive at the wall. Each youth carries a blue spray can, a small pot of red paint with a large brush, and a large pot of black paint with a small brush.

You can see where this is going.

Each young ruffian starts painting, using the can and both brushes at once (they’re surprisingly talented, these kids), and keeps painting until all of their paint runs out. The blue spray can produces large amounts of paint, but runs out after an hour. The red paint gets slapped on quickly and covers a decent area, but runs out after a day. The black paint with the small brush lasts 20 days – it goes on slowly, but there’s a lot of it.

The next day, twelve more kids arrive and start painting.

The following day, fifteen more join in.

The day after that, twenty more young rapscallions start painting. The next day, twenty-five turn up.

Now, we obviously want to control this disgraceful vandalism. One thing we want to know is – what colour of paint is the biggest problem, blue, red or black? And how do they compare to each other?

The first youths arrived at the wall five days ago. Looking at the wall, what do we see?

Firstly, we see that all eighty-two of the kids are still there, but that fifty-seven of them are now only applying black paint with a small brush. Twenty-five are using both red and black, but their red has nearly run out.

By the end of day five, the wall will have been daubed with the contents of eighty-two blue spray cans, eighty-two small pots of red paint, and about 13% of the contents of eighty-two large pots of black paint (yes, I worked it out, I am that sad). The wall is half black, a quarter red, and
a quarter blue.

“Aha!” we cry. “The black paint is only half of the problem. The red and blue paints make up the other half!” And in terms of all the painting that’s happened so far, we’d be right.

However, what we need to know today is: how much of a graffiti menace is one of these youths compared to, say, a professional street artist or an activist with a pack of marker pens? To work this out, we need to compare these different vandals fairly, so let’s say: how much graffiti would each of them produce in ten days?

In ten days, one youth would produce graffiti equal to one blue spray can, one small red paint pot, and half a large black paint pot. This ratio turns out to be about 77% black and 23% other colours – or to put it another way, multiply the amount of black by 1.3 to get the total amount
of paint used.

How's that?

(To be totally clear: each youth is one flight, the paint pots and cans are the different gases, and the paint on the wall is the amount of warming caused. Also, I have very little shame.)

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Climate Camp – How was It For You?

Stand-out memories for me:

  • Watching the site transformed from a few tents in a field to a full-on sustainable community, education centre and action hub in a matter of days, despite the police confiscating half of the infrastructure.
  • Giving visitors tours of the camp and watching their preconceptions crumble.
  • Watching campers gently but firmly removing the police from the site on Sunday night using straw bales, wheelie bins, and bad karaoke.
  • Watching E.ON and Government officials squirming in the media as they attempted to defend their bonkers plan to build a new, dirty, coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth.
  • Chasing a BBC camera crew across a field towards a line of invading riot cops, and shouting “Wait! You can’t film them yet, it goes against the media policy, we need to have a meeting and reach consensus first!”. Strangely enough, they didn’t stop filming.
  • The resulting BBC interview with a riot cop who clearly had no clue why he was on the site. “We had intelligence received that said we needed to come onto the site”. A few riot police got into the camp at one point and stood there, bemused, with nothing to do: children were playing, toilets were being built, people were in workshops…five minutes later these cops were posing for photographs with campers. Meanwhile, some of their colleagues were beating unarmed campers round the head at a nearby gate in order to get onto this “dangerous” site. Utterly, horribly surreal.
  • Suddenly having to arrange transport for Arthur Scargill.
  • Performing poetry in the main marquee, around the campsite, and to the people on the barricades before the day of action. This is one of the main reasons why I write this stuff.
  • Not knowing whether to laugh or cry at this headline in the local paper. The picture shows a children’s play area that campers had built in the shape of a pirate ship; surprisingly, we had no plans to launch this onto the Medway. On the day, of course, everyone on the boats was completely safe and many got close to the power station before being nabbed by the water police.
  • Discovering that the camp was a major news story, despite the Olympics and Russia/Georgia; we even got an episode of Newsnight about coal vs. nuclear. It was also pretty much the only story in the local media all week, with the ITV Meridian reporter getting especially excited – his breathless, war-zone style reporting from above the scene on Saturday is particularly recommended. Watch it and tell me he’s not thinking “My big break at last – next stop Basra!”.
  • Realising that this was the biggest Climate Camp yet, despite everything the police were doing; feeling buoyed up and more powerful than I’ve felt in a long time, as part of this amazing and growing community of resistance.

One fact that I currently love is that despite the extraordinary provocation, all of the 2,500+ people who came to the camp and on the action remained non-violent throughout. You can guarantee that if there was a single bit of evidence of anyone fighting back against the police, the cops would have plastered it all over the media by now – but no. The only “violent clashes” (how the media love those words) that we’ve seen anywhere have been police trying to break (unlawfully) into a peaceful, legal camp, and attacking unarmed people with batons and pepper spray. There were a few “scuffles” (another favoured media term) on Saturday, as people were whacked by the cops as they did dangerous things like walking towards a power station carrying a banner, or trying to climb over a fence, but again there was only peaceful resistance from the campers. The term the police use for this is “obstruction”, and it’s no surprise that this was the most common thing that people were arrested and charged with – 25 arrests out of 132, and 21 charges out of the 50 charges we know about (I’m thinking about publishing a summary arrest list here if I can get hold of the relevant information).

That’s right – the supposed “hardcore, violent minority” that the police love to talk about didn’t show up. Again. For the third year in a row. Instead, we had thousands of peaceful and committed people taking meaningful action for climate sanity and global justice.

The Camp for Climate Action is holding a “What Next?” meeting in Manchester on the 26th – 28th September. It’s open to all, and it should be great. I’ll post more details here when I have them.

(All photos taken from the Climate Camp website - loads more can be seen here.)

Blog Resuscitation

Right – it’s time to kick this blog back into life. Let’s start with the following, which I've cribbed from the front page of the Camp for Climate Action website (and updated a little bit), and which pretty well sums up my feelings about the whole, extraordinary, glorious event:

We Really Did It – And We’ll Be Back

It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of huge institutions such as energy corporations and governments. But the Climate Camp has shown that we don’t have to feel that way. On that August weekend, we proved our power.

We have now learned that - despite E.ON’s bluster that the power station had been running normally all weekend – we most definitely succeeded in disrupting its operations. We learned this from a most unlikely source: the police.

Friday, 28 March 2008

More Poetry Shenanigans

Right. Sorry for the infrequent posts - since January, I've been mixed up in this as well as this and this which have absorbed a lot of my time and energy...

I am working on something rather interesting that I will post here soon. Honest.

In the meantime, it's all kicking off poetry-wise: I'm performing tomorrow at a Gappy Tooth Industries gig (poetry before and between the bands - it'll either be great or a disaster, I can't wait to discover which). Then on Wednesday 2nd April I'm doing two gigs in one night - "Re:Versing The Damage" with Hammer & Tongue and Climate Xchange, and then "Ha Ha From The Madding Crowd" as part of Oxfringe, which will be my first attempt to perform at a comedy night. Again, glory or failure awaits - why not come along and find out which?

Also, rather awesomely, Radio New Internationalist are using one of my poems in their current show - it's broadcast from loads of different stations all around the world, and is also available online right here. Radio NI is always fascinating and informative listening and I totally recommend it (with or without the inclusion of my own cheesy verses).

A regular post with the more usual ranting in will follow soon.