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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Friday, August 31, 2007

Approaching singularity

I have just read two books [From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner and What the Dormouse Said by John Markoff] which trace the origins of the personal computer plus internet back to the intersection of acid (LSD) inspired countercultural visions of a New Age and military/industrial computing research projects in the sixties and seventies in California.

These ‘histories’ of the USA counterculture are very different from the ‘history’ of the UK counterculture I have been exploring for the past couple of years on greengalloway. Nothing similar happened here.

But how essential to the computer revolution was the countercultural influence? Would it not have happened anyway? Possibly. Probably. The development of capitalism, its hunger for technological innovation as a way to increase profitability, would have pushed computers from being military tools into the world of commerce even without input from the counterculture.

Where it looks as if the USA counterculture had an influence was in shifting the focus of computer research away from the quest for artificial intelligence - from computers as replacing human intelligence - to computers as augmenting human intelligence by facilitating human to human communications. Or more crudely, that there was a market for ‘basic’ computers which could be used by individuals as well as for big computers for big businesses. A market for computers which could be used for playing games and sending e-mails and which would be an alternative to television.

But that was then. What about now? Well it seems the idea which inspired the first creators of computers like Alan Turing and John von Neumann as well as science fiction writers - the idea of the computer as an ‘artificial brain’ is once more haunting the military/industrial research labs and hi-tech countercultures of California. A ‘Singularity Summit’ is due to take place in San Francisco on 8th September…


The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence presents the Singularity Summit 2007, a major two-day event bringing together 17 leading thinkers to address and debate a historical moment in humanity's history – a window of opportunity to shape how we develop advanced artificial intelligence.

The Singularity Summit 2007 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco

Theme: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity
When: September 8 - 9, 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Where: Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, San Francisco, CA
Cost: $50 per ticket (includes seating for both days, the reception, and free lunches)

In recent years, many scientists and authors have argued that there is a significant chance that advanced artificial intelligence will be developed within a few decades. Similar claims, however, have been made since the beginning of artificial intelligence research over 50 years ago. Is there anything different going on now that would make someone think that these claims deserve serious consideration?

The Singularity Summit will bring together 17 outstanding thinkers to examine and debate in detail whether we are nearing a turning point toward powerful intelligence, the desirability of this, the potential consequences, and what we can do to prepare if these possibilities are to be realized within our lifetimes.

The Singularity Summit at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre in San Francisco this September will be a critical exploration of what may become a historical moment in time – a window of opportunity to affect how the world moves forward with a powerful new technology.

Speakers include: Rodney Brooks (MIT AI Lab Director), Peter Norvig (Google Director of Research), Paul Saffo (Institute for the Future Roy Amara Fellow), Barney Pell (Powerset CEO), and more

Audience includes: Scientists, technologists, c-level execs, foundation heads, researchers, entrepreneurs, students, forecasters, programmers, philanthropists, venture capitalists, bloggers, geeks, press

But what is this ‘singularity’?

In futures studies, the singularity represents an "event horizon" in the predictability of human technological development past which present models of the future cease to give reliable or accurate answers, following the creation of strong AI or the enhancement of human intelligence. Many futurists predict that after the singularity, humans as they exist presently won't be the driving force in scientific and technological progress, eclipsed cognitively by posthumans, AI, or both, with all models of change based on past trends in human behavior becoming obsolete. In the 1950's, the legendary information theorist John von Neumann was paraphrased by mathematician Stanislaw Lem as saying that "the ever-accelerating progress of technology...gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue."

In 1965, statistician I.J. Good described a concept similar to today's meaning of the singularity, in "Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine":

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an 'intelligence explosion,' and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.

Typical techno-bullshit? Maybe. But if we are to believe Fred Turner and John Markoff the over-the-top rhetoric of Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests , the seemingly ridiculous visions of the USA’s countercultural pioneers eventually took practical form in a (personal) computer revolution which is still unfolding. Which permits me to write these words which you are reading.

And… what about Karl Marx? Although I am still struggling to grasp exactly what ‘commodity fetishism’ and other parts of Marx’s invention of revolutionary capitalism really mean, if I have understood what Michael Taussig was going on about in ‘The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America’, then the advent of industrial capitalism was itself a ‘singularity’ in which ‘feudal/ rural humanity’ was eclipsed by ‘capitalist/urban humanity’.

Maybe the AI singularity is a non-politically class conscious way of talking ‘bout the revolution?

Google is Turing's Cathedral

From www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dyson05/dyson05_index.html

For 30 years I have been wondering, what indication of its existence might we expect from a true AI[artificial intelligence]? Certainly not any explicit revelation, which might spark a movement to pull the plug. Anomalous accumulation or creation of wealth might be a sign, or an unquenchable thirst for raw information, storage space, and processing cycles, or a concerted attempt to secure an uninterrupted, autonomous power supply. But the real sign, I suspect, would be a circle of cheerful, contented, intellectually and physically well-nourished people surrounding the AI. There wouldn't be any need for True Believers, or the downloading of human brains or anything sinister like that: just a gradual, gentle, pervasive and mutually beneficial contact between us and a growing something else. This remains a non-testable hypothesis, for now. The best description comes from science fiction writer Simon Ings:

"When our machines overtook us, too complex and efficient for us to control, they did it so fast and so smoothly and so usefully, only a fool or a prophet would have dared complain."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

California uber alles

Blows Against the Empire?

And now for a review of Fred Turner‘s book “From Counterculture to Cyberculture’ by Jello Biafra

I am Governor Jerry Brown
My aura smiles
And never frowns
Soon I will be president...

Carter Power will soon go away
I will be Fuhrer one day
I will command all of you
Your kids will meditate in school
Your kids will meditate in school!

California Uber Alles
California Uber Alles
Uber Alles California
Uber Alles California

Zen fascists will control you
100% natural
You will jog for the master race
And always wear the happy face

Close your eyes, can't happen here
Big Bro' on white horse is near
The hippies won't come back you say
Mellow out or you will pay
Mellow out or you will pay!

Now it is 1984
Knock-knock at your front door
It's the suede/denim secret police
They have come for your uncool niece

Come quietly to the camp
You'd look nice as a drawstring lamp
Don't you worry, it's only a shower
For your clothes here's a pretty flower.

DIE on organic poison gas
Serpent's egg's already hatched
You will croak, you little clown
When you mess with President Brown
When you mess with President Brown

"California Uber Alles"/ Dead Kennedys/ 1979

For the Dead Kennedys today see http://www.deadkennedys.com/index.htm
Not quite punk as prophecy. The USA never did get President Jerry Brown. But if you read Fred Turner’s most excellent book and read/ hear ‘Stewart Brand’ for ‘ Jerry Brown’, Mr. Biafra almost predicted the future…

How so?

Professor Turner’s book shows, in thorough detail, how a key part of the USA counterculture first emerged in opposition to the USA‘s ‘military/industrial complex’ in the early sixties, tried (but failed) to build alternative communities in the late sixties/ early seventies, helped develop the personal computer in the eighties before merging with aspects of the ‘military/industrial complex’ in the early nineties to create the Wired world/ dot-com boom which went bust in the late nineties… leaving as its legacy the strange spectre /spectacle which still haunts us - that somehow military/industrial capitalism contains within itself the potential to liberate us from its materialist bonds.

That is a crude summary. Counterculture to Cyberculture is a lot more subtle than that. It is a book which you really have to read yourself - and read quite carefully to ‘get it’. For non-USA readers in particular, unless you know something about the USA counterculture background - have read Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, the Making of a Counterculture and the Greening of America or have listened to the 1970 album ‘Blows Against the Empire’ by Jefferson Starship - it will be more obscure.

Cyberculture had a gay father

Although a great book and an essential critique of the failure of the USA counterculture to stiffen its backbone with a political analysis of the military/industrial complex, the USA focus of Counterculture to Cyberculture does miss a trick by not mentioning Alan Turing, the gay dad of modern computing.

The starting point of Professor Fred’s analysis is that, of necessity, WW2 required the non-hierarchical collaboration across subject boundaries of hundreds of scientists and engineers. Out of these ‘military/ industrial networks’ emerged the nuclear bomb, computers, cybernetics and (later) the internet. During the Cold War, an unintended consequence of attempts to research ‘mind control’ [supposedly used by Communist regimes] via the use of LSD and other drugs helped trigger the counterculture. This happened when would be novelist Ken Kesey signed up as an MK Ultra [the CIA’s mind control project] volunteer as part of his research for ’One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ which is set in a mental hospital. Kesey was dosed up with LSD, but found the experience mind liberating rather than mind controlling. Kesey then tried to liberate LSD from its ‘military/industrial networks’ context to create a counterculture via the Merry Pranksters’ Acid Tests and a dayglo painted old school bus. [Tom Wolfe’s 1967 book Electric Kool Aid Acid Test documents this. The UK’s acid house /MDMA Ecstasy /dance music /rave culture has structural similarities ]

What Fred Turner’s book teases out is the way that -via Stewart Brand who was one of Kesey‘s Merry Pranksters and cybernetics/ computers - what began as a movement away from the military/industrial network eventually returned to it and that this process was (with the benefit of hindsight) already there/ implicit from its beginnings.

But hang on- now started reading a supplementary text “What the Dormouse Said: how the sixties counterculture shaped the personal computer industry’ by John Markoff which blurs the picture. And if I go back to George Dyson’s 1997 ‘Darwin Amongst the Machines’…I get lost in an information fog. It may take me sometime to find a way out. Lost in cyberspace…

Maybe the fog will lift by morning. Until it does I will finish up with Alan Turing. In 1936 Alan Turing came up with the mathematical basis for modern computers. In 1940 Turing joined the team at Bletchley Park who were working to decode the German Enigma ciphers. Turing’s theoretical maths were used to design cipher code cracking devices called ‘bombes’. Although not directly involved, Turing helped inspire the development of ‘Colossus’ which was the first functional modern computer. Turing also crossed the Atlantic to share the Bletchley Park developments with scientist/engineers in USA. This aided the post-war development of computing and cybernetics in the USA, developments which the UK failed to progress.

What Andrew Hodge notes in his 1983 biography of Turing - ‘Alan Turing: The Enigma’ is that to make sense of the huge volumes of data which flowed from the decryption of German (and Japanese, Italian , but also Soviet) signals traffic, Bletchley Park had to create a model of the German war machine. That the Allied democracies had to virtually recreate the totalitarian system in order to defeat it.

The ultimate defeat involved the Manhattan Project to create a nuclear bomb…. which gave rise to the Cold War and… takes us to the starting point for Turner’s book.

But that’s all for now folks.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I can't get no sleep...

Thank you ‘silent punk’ for a very sleepless night. I was just about to shut down the computer when I spotted that ‘silent punk’ had left a comment on the ‘can you pass the acid test ‘ (blogged below) - which was a link to a piece on punk and autonomia / Italy 1977.

The article looked familiar so checked - it is also on the punk pages of John Eden’s website. But using Silent Punk’s link I found a whole wodge of other stuff - with a more contemporary slant, reports and discussions of anti-globalisation and other direct actions.

Link http://www.nadir.org.uk

What took me beyond the wall of sleep was reading bits like this:

In our lives we’ve all experienced moments of excess during which we feel that total connection with our fellow human beings, when everything becomes possible, when absolutely anything could happen. They might be small, almost personal moments like weddings or falling in love. They might take place around counter-summit mobilisations (like Gleneagles or Evian or Genoa). Or they might rise up over a few months (like the anti-war movement of 2003, the anti-roads movement of the late 1990s or the Argentina uprising of December 2001, or, from another time and space, punk). They are moments when our energy threatens – or rather promises – to spark a cascade of changes, which sweep through society, opening up a whole new range of possibilities. When we rupture capital’s fabric of domination: breaking time. Rapture!

But these events – these moments of excess – can’t last forever, at least not in that form. It’s simply not possible for our bodies and minds to survive that level of intensity indefinitely. Part of the dream-like unreality of those moments is that we are cut loose from our normal day-to-day life (home, kids, work). At Gleneagles, for example, we could really act fast and be open to all possibilities because we were stripped bare. That’s why counter-summit mobilisations are so attractive: they have the potential to catapult us into a different way of being far quicker than would be possible if we had to take all our ‘baggage’ with us. But it’s also why the high wears off: because (all other things being equal) it’s unsustainable in the face of ‘normality’. When we take part in these events we often leave behind lovers and/or loved-ones behind – whether physically or mentally. We feel the tug of our allotment or garden, or maybe there’s a favourite bike ride or view we need to enjoy again. ‘There is a rose that I want to live for… There is a town unlike any other.’

Or this :

In these events we feel a real rush of energy, a coming-together. But afterwards how can we sustain this movement in our ‘habitual lives’, and avoid recriminations and a general falling-apart? After the high point of autonomia in Italy in 1977, thousands turned to drugs or cracked up. Not just because of State repression, but because the forms of life they had been living were no longer sustainable. The expansive experiments broke down and the collective body was dismantled, and so attempts to live this life reverted to the level of the individual where contradictions were, for many, too intense to handle. How do we avoid this? How can we ‘do politics’ in the ‘real world’? How can we ‘live a life’? Not as a question of survival – hanging on in there until the next event, or our fortnight’s holiday in the sun, or our Friday-night bender, or our Sunday-afternoon walk in the park, or our ‘adventure weekend’ – none of which are any real escape from capitalism at all. How do we live a life despite, and against, capitalism?

There are no universal answers to these questions. But we believe that thinking about them can help us understand the potential of various issues and struggles – urban development and ‘regeneration’, climate change, precarity and so on – perhaps help us recognise our own power in a productive way, that is, in a way which allows it to resonate and become amplified. It can help us understand what we do in social centres, for example, and the way we conceive the borders between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, between what is ‘pure’ and what is not. And it involves recognising that we always live in the real world, that there are no ‘pure spaces’, there is no ‘pure politics’, and that we should welcome this. Because purity is also sterility. It’s the messiness of our ‘habitual’ lives which gives them their potential. This messiness, this ‘impurity’, the contaminations of different ideas, values and modes of being (and becoming) are the conditions which allow mutations, some of which will be productive. It’s from this primordial soup of the ‘real world’ that new life will spring. ‘Only in the real world do things happen like they do in my dreams.’

This great stuff… but rather than just quote more I need to try and cross-connect it with the ‘notes to self’ I jotted down in the middle of the night.

States of ecstasy - set me free

Its chaos magic, innit? Well, kind of. It’s the kind of anarcho-goth-punk - free festival-acid-trance energy which I thought chaos magic was all about. I was misinformed. Yet it is still a possibility which haunts me, there is a space , a place at the centre of the city where all roads meet, a crossroads between different ways of making sense of the world. A place (or places) where the potential for change exists - and from which it can and has happened.

The difficulty, as I think the above quotes are getting it, is that the intensity of such moments is at once liberating and frightening - they cannot be sustained , they are too ‘chaotic’-at least when viewed from the perspective of everyday life. Such revolutionary moments - which I reckon are timeless and eternal in so far as they exist outside of ‘everyday’ time- can inspire and enthuse, can change lives, but if prolonged lead to individual / collective psychosis , to the ‘Terror’ of the French Revolution , to civil war and then to counter-revolution and the restoration of ‘order’.

In less dramatic terms, you can see the process as it unfolded with punk and other countercultural movements. However the world that is restored is never quite the same one. Change does happen, the 1984 Orwellian re-writing of history is never fully achieved. Joe Hill never really died….

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
alive as you and me.
Says I "But Joe, you're ten years dead"
"I never died" said he,
"I never died" said he.

"The Copper Bosses killed you Joe,
they shot you Joe" says I.
"Takes more than guns to kill a man"
Says Joe "I didn't die"
Says Joe "I didn't die"

And standing there as big as life
and smiling with his eyes.
Says Joe "What they can never kill
went on to organize,
went on to organize"

All that is solid melts to air

The one possible exception to this persistence of old world features in the new world is the change created by industrial capitalism, by the globalisation of ‘the mechanical philosophy’. This revolution seems to have changed both our person to person social relationships and our collective relationship with nature/ the environment. This revolution seems to have changed us so profoundly that we take the new selves and the new world thus created to be ‘reality’, such that any and all alternative ways of being human people in the non-human world are fantasies.

This is closer to what Orwell described as ‘newspeak’, where the situation has moved beyond the need to suppress dissent (which is an inefficient use of resources) to making dissent unthinkable by making it unsayable. The Society of the Spectacle in its full extension would be like that. Every attempt to struggle against its bonds would simply tighten their constraints until only passivity remained.

And no one will know we lost, when the system becomes perfect, only enemy entropy it will continue until the sun slows and the nights last all day and the ice forms on the concrete and the power goes off and we just die gently. Don’t be told what you want. But who listens when you say “NO”? Silent commands run Euston station and the tubes and so many people - what do they all do, how do they live, what do they dream?

No one will remember what they were, not yet, not for awhile.

[Back page Kill Your Pet Puppy 2 Jan 1980]

Not thinking global warming back then, just despairing, doubting that punk’s refusal - don’t be told what you want - would be enough to halt the mechanical perfection of the system. I think they were my words - the ‘silent commands run Euston station’ from Cabaret Voltaire song ‘Silent Commands’ and so written before or just after I had met the KYPP crew and discovered that punk was not yet dead. That indeed there was a whole lot more yet to come - the anarchy centres and Stop the City for example- and that the process of refusal would continue beyond 1984 on through the eighties, into the nineties. That people not even born back then would in time find their own ways to say NO…

Beyond refusal

No is not enough. To repeat the theme:

we always live in the real world, that there are no ‘pure spaces’, there is no ‘pure politics’, and that we should welcome this. Because purity is also sterility. It’s the messiness of our ‘habitual’ lives which gives them their potential. This messiness, this ‘impurity’, the contaminations of different ideas, values and modes of being (and becoming) are the conditions which allow mutations, some of which will be productive. It’s from this primordial soup of the ‘real world’ that new life will spring. ‘Only in the real world do things happen like they do in my dreams.’

The intensity of the ecstasy ( however and where ever it is found) alone is not enough . We have to move down through the long dark night and still remember in the dawn and in the dayside. Have to find ways to realise the visions when the music, when the protest, when the ritual is over. Find ways to create other ‘social relationships’ , ones which are not those of ‘fetishised commodities’. And at the same time find other ways to experience and live our relationship with nature/ the environment.

I see this as an evolutionary imperative. Despite Marx, the tensions and contradictions which exist within industrial capitalism have not yet forced it to jump to a post-capitalist level of social structure. Every attempt to do so has been recuperated/ suppressed by the society of the spectacle. But what such a ‘perfected system’ cannot do is control its external ( ‘natural’) environment. Faced with an actual ecological crisis -global climate change- it fails to adapt. Indeed, it cannot adapt without embracing revolutionary structural changes. The logic fails. I am thinking Heathrow here, where ecological survival logic would dictate no third runway, but economic logic insists it must be built.

But to admit, to give in to, that demand would necessarily set in train a cascade of potentially revolutionary social changes.

Nearly up to 2000 words which is enough for now. Just hope I have jotted enough ideas down here to give me a good night’s sleep.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Can you pass the acid test?

Just found this original Merry Pranksters/ Acid Test poster on http://www.intrepidtrips.com/
There are pics of the bus too. The first hippy travellers? Except they came before the hippies...

It is a bit late to go into it. Another time.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Anarchy@ Heathrow Climate Change Camp

Anarchy at Heathrow Climate Change Camp

To read through reports and the comments on the reports of the Heathrow Climate Change Camp is to enter a groundhog day, a mindless time loop in which history has become frozen in the endlessly repeated spectacle of … of what? Perhaps this:

The great illusion of our epoch - that capitalistic society is a society consisting of free and self-determining individuals - can only be maintained by keeping the people unconscious of the real contents of those basic relations of the existing social order which by the fetishistic device of the economists had been disguised as objective and unchangeable conditions of all social life.

According to the police, - see below- the Heathrow Climate Change Camp has been infiltrated by anarchist
veterans of clashes at G8 protests, Reclaim the Streets demonstrations and anti-capitalist May Day marches.

I reckon it goes a little deeper than that. I spy 17th century Diggers at work:

The Diggers called themselves "True Levellers". They were associated with the political Levellers but Lilburne and other spokesmen were at pains to deny the connection. The Digger agenda of the "levelling of all estates" — i.e. the abandonment of private property rights — was too radical a step for the Levellers, who were attempting to negotiate a political settlement within the existing social order. The guiding light of the Digger movement was Gerard Winstanley, a former mercer whose business was ruined in the civil wars. Working as a cattle herdsman at Walton-on-Thames, Winstanley was inspired by a vision of communal cultivation of the land and an ending of property rights, which he outlined in his tract: The New Law of Righteousness. Similar ideas were arising spontaneously around the country. A Digger community in Buckinghamshire published a tract entitled Light Shining in Buckinghamshire in December 1648. Winstanley joined the community established by William Everard, a former soldier and lay preacher, who called upon the common people to support themselves by cultivating the waste and common land of England. The Diggers occupied St George's Hill in Surrey in April 1649. Winstanley attempted to put into practice his ideals for a utopian communistic society, but the Surrey Diggers were persecuted by local landowners and clergymen. The Council of State sent soldiers to break up the community and the Diggers were taken to court accused of trespassing. They were driven from St George's Hill to nearby Cobham Heath. Persecuted by landowners and lacking funds, the Cobham commune was dispersed by the summer of 1650. At least ten other Digger communities appeared in southern and central England around 1650, but all met with a similar fate to the Surrey group.

And don’t forget the 188th anniversary of the Peterloo (Manchester) massacre.

No more holidays in the sun!

Police: Heathrow camp 'infiltrated by anarchists'
Matthew Weaver and agencies Guardian Unlimited Thursday August 16 2007 Police today defended their tactics and large presence at the environmental protest camp outside Heathrow airport by claiming it had been infiltrated by anarchist troublemakers. Officers at the Camp for Climate Action outnumber the 600 protesters by two to one. Protesters have accused police of adopting a heavy-handed approach to control the demonstration and the unjustified use of anti-terrorist laws against protesters. However, commander Jo Kaye, of the Metropolitan police, today said some of the protesters were "anarchists" who wanted to use the cover of an environmental protest to confront officers.
He claimed veterans of clashes at G8 protests, Reclaim the Streets demonstrations and anti-capitalist May Day marches were among those who had joined the camp. "Some of these people have Reclaim the Streets heritage. Some of them will go back to the days of the Liverpool dockers march, not necessarily involved, but linked to it," Mr Kaye said.
"If we frustrate them, then they will go in for confrontation because their aim is anti-state. "The environment is part of that, but we are talking about anarchists, so the cause assists their overall cause."
Twenty-one people have so far been arrested in connection with Operation Hargood, the police response to the camp, officers said. Assistant commissioner Tarique Ghaffur said 1,200 officers were policing the protest every 24 hours, adding: "This is far more than we would like and we would want to.
"The only reason we have done that is because they have threatened direct action … we know the types of targets these people will go for, and there are many in Heathrow and the surrounding areas."
Mr Ghaffur said there had been "very little cooperation" from organisers during "limited dialogue" between them and police. He said police feared the extreme elements could "suck in" otherwise peaceful protesters, and said any attempt to disrupt the airport could be dangerous because of the high terror alert level in place.
Penny Eastwood, a spokeswoman for the camp, said: "Many of the people here have been on protests before. The police have labelled all those as dangerous extremists." Ms Eastwood, who was arrested when she Superglued herself to a gate at the camp earlier this week, said officers were "trying to smear us as irresponsible". "I don't think I'm irresponsible - I'm trying to save the planet from devastating climate change," she added. "There is a long tradition of civil disobedience in this country." Earlier today, 11 climate change protesters were arrested at Biggin Hill airport, in Kent, after they chained themselves to the entrance and blocked the road to the airport. A similar protest was mounted at Farnborough airport, but ended peacefully without any arrests.
Both demonstrations, aimed at highlighting the "obscenity" of private jets, were part of a week-long campaign against the aviation industry.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Windscale 1957 : Greenham 1981: Heathrow 2007

The summer is almost over. Not that there has been very much of it. Mostly grey and overcast here, with almost daily rain. Right now the sun is shining, but hardly blazing down. Callum is having an afternoon nap - which gives me a few minutes to write, but means he will be awake til midnight no doubt.

Pivture : Queen opening Windscale 1956

With the Heathrow Climate Change Camp making the headlines it would be nice to have some time to reflect on it a bit, but difficult to get too deeply into things when I am listening out for a shout of ’Dad, I need a pee/ Dad I have need a pooh’…. easy enough to deal with for a toddler, bit more difficult with an adult size 16 year old who needs to be lifted onto a Seahorse toilet chair rapidly. So it goes.

I have a Google News Alert running on the Climate Change Camp and from it I think I found a Daily Telegraph editorial comparing the camp to Greenham as an example of idiocy. Apparently it was because there were Cruise missiles at Greenham that the Cold War ended and communism collapsed… so logically we need to build a third runway at Heathrow and increase air travel in order to halt global climate change. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology this sensible [irony, irony, they all have it iron for me - carry on revolting quote] comment was followed up by lots of wonderful responses by Telegraph readers like Mrs Skull.

Mrs Skull was an 80ies Greenham Common / Newbury resident who used to lean out of her window and cheer on the police/ army/ bailiffs/ cruise Convoys . Or was she a figment of my late wife’s OTT imagination? Will need to fact check with my Greenham books.

Hang on, found Telegraph piece - 14 August plus comments -see [copy and paste]


The illegal encampment of climate change activists near the perimeter of Heathrow Airport carries echoes of another protest from a quarter of a century ago. The women's peace camp at Greenham Common airbase was set up to oppose the deployment of American Cruise missiles. It failed spectacularly.

The missiles were deployed and helped hasten the end of the Cold War.
The camp remained in existence for 19 years, long after the missiles were sent back to America, their mission accomplished. There is a similar flavour to the Heathrow protest.

Like Greenham, it will doubtless attract many earnest, well-meaning people who actually believe that air travel is destroying the planet. As at Greenham, this appears to be a largely emotional response to an inchoate threat that will allow the campers to say they are "doing their bit" against global warming. But are they? Air travel has proved a popular whipping boy for the climate change industry, yet its contribution to global warming is small. To counter-balance that, air travel has proved both a wonderful personal liberator and a crucial engine of economic growth. While BAA's responsibility for the shambles of Heathrow deserves criticism, holding it responsible for climate change is fatuous. If the protesters want a punch bag, they should try the Government.

It emerged yesterday that, for all its rhetoric about being in the vanguard on climate change, Labour is proving a laggard. It seems a demob-happy Tony Blair earlier this year signed up to stringent new EU emission targets that we haven't a hope of hitting. In best New Labour fashion, ministers are now being advised to fiddle the figures. The answer for protesters and ministers alike is technology - and specifically, an expansion in nuclear-generating capacity. It is the only realistic carbon-free option for keeping the lights on indefinitely. After a decade of dithering, the Government finally signalled in the energy White Paper that it is ready to go nuclear. Will the eco-campers endorse the move? Of course not. Their next camp, we predict, will be pitched outside a nuclear power station.

Some of the comments:

As a nation, we have (or should have) grown out of these childish protests. It was the stuff of pompous brats in the sixties, many of whom eventually grew up to become sensible people. If this encampment is illegal, why has it not been removed by the police? Given that this is the holiday season and hard-working families are wanting their break in the sun, any disruption by these pests should be treated with the utmost severity. The climate change scam is just the latest of 'causes' to engage the attention mischief-makers and intellectual invalids. And, as often as not, the police stand idly by - doubtless as instructed by some trendy, graduate Chief Constable flashing his PC credentials. Where are the water cannons and baton charges - bring 'em on! Posted by Graham King on August 14, 2007 7:36 AM

Although inconvenient in the short term, these protests will probably turn out to be a good thing. Just as digging up dead bodies completely killed the anti-vivisection argument, with more people than ever in favour, the more outlandish, violent and disruptive these protests are, the more chance there is of killing off the giant hoax that there is such a thing as man-made global warming.
Posted by Car Bon on August 14, 2007 8:45 AM

Air travel amounts for less than 10% of emissions. These protesters have jumped on an easy bandwagon when it is the internal combustion engine not the jets of aircraft which is the real issue of any scale. I weary of so called green protests. Frankly I don't see anything remotely green about square mile after mile of the environment plastered with windmills or ever tidal barrages. Let's just go nuclear big time in a second power generation build and join the real world. Guns into ploughshares could become warheads into reactors.
Posted by simon coulter on August 14, 2007 9:13 AM

Have you noticed videos of the protesters on TV? - the same hippyish style as those who protest on every modish subject imaginable or are to be found at Glastonbury or approve the gibberish of Robert Zimmerman.
Posted by John Holland on August 14, 2007 11:21 AM

Here we go again! I suppose it is about time the 'great unwashed' found another 'cause celebre' to disrupt people going about their lawful business. Mobile offices for benefit claimants will be arranged, medical facilities will be available on site, local authorities will arrange special collections of their large amounts of tin cans and locals will suffer because authorities refuse to ensure peace and cleanliness. These layabouts will receive privileges and services denied to people who have to work every day. My solution? Revert the land camped on to agriculture and initiate it with regular muck spreading.
Posted by Roy G on August 14, 2007 10:49 AM

Brilliant stuff… . Let's just go nuclear big time in a second power generation build and join the real world.

It is like punk never happened! It is like nothing ever happened. As if we are still living in that glad glorious morning back in 1956 when the civil Windscale nuclear reactor first went online.

From http://www.bnfleducation.com/sellafield/in_the_past.html

Sellafield started life during the Second World War (1939-45). At that time it was known as Windscale. The Ministry of Supply bought the Windscale site and a facility near the village of Drigg which is a few miles to the south. Windscale was developed into factories producing TNT explosives, and the facility near Drigg was used for testing and storing ammunition. After the war, the British Government decided that Britain should have its own nuclear weapons programme which would require the production of plutonium.

The government looked around for a suitable site for this and found that Windscale had a good supply of water for cooling purposes which are essential for running nuclear reactors. It was isolated which was good for safety and security reasons, and there were sufficient people in the area to provide a workforce.
Construction work began in 1947 on the Windscale piles. These were atomic piles, or in other words nuclear reactors.

The two Windscale Piles were built solely to produce plutonium for military purposes at that time. In October 1952, the first British Atom Bomb test took place in the Monte Bello Islands, off the North West Coast of Australia.

Five years later a fire broke out in the core of Windscale Pile 1. Emergency teams fought to bring the fire under control, eventually deciding to flood the reactor. As a result of the fire both Windscale 1 and 2 reactors were closed and have not operated since. They are now being decommissioned (dismantled).

The site is today known as Sellafield.
Back in 1952 scientists knew that the great amount of heat produced in a nuclear reactor could be used to make electricity. In 1953 work began at Sellafield to build Calder Hall, the world's first civil nuclear power station. Reactor 1 was officially opened by Her majesty the Queen in October 1956, and by 1959 there were four nuclear reactors up and running, producing electricity which fed into the National Grid for domestic and industrial use. Calder Hall ended operations in March 2003 after 50 years of continuous service.

The Windscale Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor was constructed at Sellafield, for research purposes. It was the prototype reactor from which the 14 other Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR) power stations were constructed to provide electricity for Britain. It closed in 1981 when all the experimental work had been carried out. It is now being decommissioned (dismantled).

From http://www.lakestay.co.uk/1957.htm

Personal note: according to this, the radition from the 1957 Windscale fire spread south-easterly. This was lucky for me. I was born in 30 September 1958 so would have been conceived January 1957 about 40 miles due north of Windscale/ Sellafield on Scottish side of the Solway Firth.

In October 1957 Britain spread a plume of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere from a nuclear reactor fire at Sellafield. Having helped the US Manhattan Project develop the atom bomb at the end of the Second World War, the British government felt it had to develop its own A bomb to be able to stay “at the Top Table” as a world power. The Americans had refused to allow Britain to have the weapons technology its own scientists had helped develop. Without any reference to Parliament great energy was poured into producing a British bomb. (The first time MP s were told officially was through a brief announcement in 1947) One key requirement were reactors to burn uranium and produce plutonium. It was decided to use an old ammunition factory at Windscale (now called Sellafield). The site had plenty of cooling water from Wastwater lake and was remote from population in case of any accidental nuclear incidents. At a time of post war austerity two huge heavily shielded reinforced concrete “piles” were built at break neck speed and by 1950 the piles were operating. Alongside the first nuclear reprocessing plant (B204) had also been built to extract the precious plutonium. It was in February 1952 that the first salmon tin sized billets of plutonium were ferried south in the boot of a taxi to the new Aldermaston weapons factory near Oxford. Britain’s first A bomb, code named Hurricane was detonated off the cost of Australia in October 1952. These early plutonium reactors were crude affairs with the main objective being to get the weapons material as quickly as possible. Each “pile” was a honeycomb of carved graphite blocks. Hundreds of horizontal channels ran from the front (charge face) of the reactor to the rear discharge face. Some 35,000 aluminium cans of uranium were pushed into these channels to assemble the critical mass for the chain reactions to burn away. As they generated the intense heat and neutron flux of a nuclear chain reaction some of the uranium converts into plutonium. The fuel cans which had undergone this fiery transformation were a few weeks later pushed through to drop out of the discharge side of the reactor. They then travelled by a mini boat along a water duct into the adjoining reprocessing plant. All this had to take place behind several feet of concrete shielding to cut down the intense penetrating radiation. Each reactor weighed a total of 57,000 tonnes. Because the graphite could release its own latent heat suddenly and unexpectedly the entire reactor had to be deliberately heated up to aneal the graphite. On October 8, 1957 a technician was heating up the reactor to release this so called Wigner energy. Because of the inadequacy of the temperature measuring instrumentation the control room staff mistakenly thought the reactor was cooling down too much and needed an extra boost of heating. Thus temperatures were actually abnormally high when at 11.05am the control rods were withdrawn for a routine start to the reactor's chain reaction. A canister of lithium and magnesium, also in the reactor to create tritium for a British H bomb, was probably the first can to burst and ignite in the soaring temperatures. This coupled with igniting uranium and graphite sent temperatures soaring to 1,300 degrees centigrade. These early plutonium "piles" were cooled by massive fans blowing air through them. The heat and some contamination was then carried up the famous concrete chimneys that are such a symbol of the Sellafield skyline. As the fire raged radioactivity was carried aloft. Blue flames shot out of the back face of the reactor and the filters on the top of the chimneys could only hold back a small proportion of the radioactivity. An estimated 20,000 curies of radioactive iodine escaped along with other isotopes such as plutonium, caesium and the highly toxic polonium. In the days that followed a dangerous cloud of 'fallout' was carried in a south easterly direction towards cities in the North of England. The scientists were unsure how to deal with the raging fire. Workers were sent in relays to use scaffolding poles to frantically push out hundreds of fuel cans to try and make a fire break around the fire. Then they tried to pump in carbon dioxide gas to try and smother the flames, but the heat was such that oxygen was produced from the gas and thus fed the flames higher. The scientists then had to gamble on flooding the reactor with cooling water. The risk they were aware of was that explosive hydrogen and or acetylene gas could be created and then flash over into an explosion. As this critical decision was being taken the temperatures were climbing by 20 degrees a minute. Luckily the gamble paid off and the water starved the fire of oxygen and the reactor was brought under control. Yet even today as the fateful chimneys are slowly taken down by shielded robots the centre of the fire crippled reactor of Pile one still contains molten uranium and still gives off a gentle heat. There is still unreleased Wigner energy in the graphite and water hoses are still left connected to the charge face as a final safety precaution. Despite reassurances given to the public at the time the official National Radiological Protection Board estimated in a 1987 study that at least 33 people are likely to die prematurely from cancers as a result of the accident.

So it goes. Goodness me, I am so naïve and stupid I really think that the ‘hippy’ protestors at the Heathrow Climate Change Protest Camp may just be a bit more sussed than the ‘lets go nuclear / cheap holidays on other people’s misery / global warming is a con ‘ readers of the Daily Telegraph.

Tom Vague has just suggested that me and him alone “still represent the true spirit of anarcho-punk. Albeit in the extended anarcho-pop-Situationist-pagan-magick-positive-goth-proto-rap and rave-punk form.”

I do hope Tom is wrong on this . I hope the spirit is with the Heathrow ‘hippies’ and even with you, dear reader.

Love and chaos ,
AL Puppy

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Heathrow - a carbon bootprint stamped on planet's face

We took the wrong step years ago…

The Heathrow Climate Change Camp is up and hitting the headlines. The naughty protestors seem to have caught everyone on the hop by setting up shop ahead of schedule.

I found a documentary about Hawkwind on BBC 4 a few days ago - good material on their early days as a part of the radical underground/ counterculture. Have dug out ‘In Search of Space’ from 1971 and listening to ‘We took the wrong step years ago‘:

Think about the things that we should have done before
The way things are going the end is about to fall.
We took the wrong step years ago
We took the wrong step years ago
We took the wrong step years ago
Take a look around and see the warnings close at hand
Already weeds are writing their scriptures in the sand
We took the wrong step years ago
We took the wrong step years ago
The morning sun is rising, casting rays across the land,
Already nature's calling, take heed of the warning,
We took the wrong step years ago
We took the wrong step years ago
We took the wrong step years ago

Although Hawkwind came out of the late sixties counterculture, they had a darker, more apocalyptic edge - dystopian rather than utopian .

From Stonehenge to Heathrow

Looking at photos of the Climate Change Camp, it resembles a free festival. And… do I need to spell out all the connections? All the continuities? Way back in the Greengalloway archives I scanned in a whole set of images of a magazine called Undercurrents which promoted ‘radical technology’ - solar power, wind power, wave power etc - from 1974 to 1981. The magazine also developed a political critique, especially of the nuclear state as it was realised that the UK/ other states preferred to develop nuclear power rather than the alternatives.

The political analysis was argued and debated passionately. Some contributors wanted the magazine to stick with ‘how to build your own wind turbine’ articles and couldn’t see the relevance of the political articles. Looking back, it seems obvious that no technology however alternative or radical was on its own enough to change the world without the political will to ‘make it so’.

But politics is about power and control not energy and knowledge. To misquote the Clash

Power and control - the only things we got today
An' if I close my eyes
They will not go away
You have to deal with it
It is the currency

According to the front page of today’s Guardian [ see http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/aug/13/renewableenergy.energy
Which has link to leaked document ]

the UK state has no chance of meeting its CO2 reduction targets and civil servants are now busily trying to find ways we can weasel out of them. Same old story. Yet again, thirty years on , rather than go for the radical technologies - sustainable/ renewable energy from sun, wind, water etc- we still want to go nuclear…
… and we still NEED a 3rd runway at Heathrow because without airplanes our whole economy will crash.

Ok, but if global warming continues, the economy will crash anyway. Look what almost happened in Gloucestershire last month when the floodwaters came within 2 inches of blacking out ½ million homes. And GCHQ at Cheltenham [yes, GCHQ will have emergency generators, but they will be designed to cover short power cuts. Not one lasting several days].

The climate change models predict an increase in ‘random’ extreme weather events. Our economic and infrastructure systems can cope with the occasional extreme situation, but not with lots of them. The cost of repairing the damage again and again and again , year after year combined with the loss of production , especially of food, is going to crash the system.

Go back to the food one. We (UK) have had a very wet summer. Even where there has not been massive flooding, the wetness has had a negative impact on food production (including dairy farming). Next year it could be a drought, with a similar impact on food production.

But it is ok. There is a global market for food. If we can’t produce enough, we can buy it. Yeah, but it is ‘global climate change’ - so all over the world there will be impacts on food production. So food costs will rise. They are anyway, thanks to the Chinese importing food as they develop away from a rice based diet.

As food costs rise, so ordinary (I.e. all but the super rich) people will have to spend more on food and so have less disposable income to spend on shopping for non-essentials. Panic in the global economy which depends on us buying lots of things we don’t really need. And for the very poor… starvation and death.

So it goes. I wonder, in a William Burroughs naked lunch way - when you see what’s really on the end of your fork- if the 21st century reality of politics is about being powerless in a situation which is out of control?

A reversal of reality in which the chaos that was the Stonehenge Free Festival - which had to be suppressed and to which the Heathrow Climate Change Camp bears a familial relationship - is revealed as an alternative form of low carbon footprint / low entropy order; whilst Heathrow airport becomes the high entropy/ mega carbon bootprint (Orwell/ 1984- future a boot stamping on a human face forever) source of real global chaos and disorder.

A carbon bootprint stamping on the face of the planet - yeah, that’s Heathrow airport.

Back to Nik Turner and Hawkwind for the final Brainstorming flourish:

Standing on the runway waiting for take off
I wanna fly, wanna watch me flake off
I can't move 'cos the man has a rake off
You've gotta help me, help me to shake off

This body of mine
I gotta get out of this void
This body of mine
Cos I don't wanna be destroyed
This body of mine
And I don't wanna turn android
This body of mine
You've gotta help me avoid that
Here I go
Flying low
I'm gonna miss it
You bet I'll kiss it

Can't get no peace till I get into motion
Sign my release from this planet's erosion
Paranoia police have sussed out my potion
You gotta help me or there'll be an explosion in

This body of mine

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Climate Change? No Future!

Found this sceptical take on politics of Climate Change at the Climate Change Camp website.

I liked this bit :
Over the last 50 years at least, the most interesting counter-cultural currents have always developed with a background assumption of desperation. When your world is shit then you learn to live for the moment, living immediately and creatively. The beat generation and the original hippies sprang up in a time when everyone knew that the world could be senselessly destroyed by some lunatics pressing nuclear buttons. Punk grew from the city streets where the acceptable options for urban youth were not worth following. Travellers, road protesters, squatters: all these potent movements share a common supposition of ‘no future’ - that we have no place in the society that is offered up, that nothing good can happen other than what we create for ourselves here and now, making islands of sanity in a world gone off course.

The End of the World Show: who needs another apocalypse

The end is nigh. No longer the sandwich-board slogan of the local eccentric, climate change has brought the apocalypse into the mainstream. It may not be directly impinging on our lives just yet, but don’t be fooled, it is just around the corner and it’s coming to get us. All of us.

But do we need an apocalypse to shock us into action? Is the world not in a bad enough state anyway? What if burning oil didn’t damage the climate? It would still pollute the oceans, provoke resource wars, create wealth and poverty, fuel automobiles, chainsaws and tanks, be the raw material for plastic bags and Barbie dolls. If cutting down forests didn’t reduce the planet’s ability to store carbon, it would still cause the extinction of species, the eviction of forest peoples and extinguish the pleasure that the rest of us have of being in a green and healthy environment. So why all the fuss about climate change? Yeah, OK it is a big deal.. But the world-view which fixates on climate change as the big issue is certainly incomplete, and at worst blatantly dishonest. If it is to be the basis for action, then the agenda of climate change should be critically examined, as fomenting panic of a coming apocalypse may not really be the most interesting direction in which to move.

Don’t believe the scientists!
The way climate change is sold to us is a myth, like so much of the modern world. At the very least, it is a concept that has been developed so entirely within the paradigm of capitalist science that outside of this it makes no sense. It is useful to remember this before getting too worked up about it.

Climate change starts life as a scientific theory, but is accepted by many who would in other moments be highly critical of science. Science is not ‘pure’ or ‘objective’. It is subjective and profit driven. It needs results and the more dramatic they are the more funding will become available to the research teams, the more prestige to the individual researchers. And the more urgent and imperative the climate change problem is made to seem, the more money flows in. Individual scientists are surely sincere in their desire to make a difference, that’s why they went into climate not biotech. But nevertheless they are subject to market pressure: they translate their findings into climatic apocalypse to persuade others to act but also to ensure the importance of their work is fully realised and remunerated.

These same arguments may be used by oil companies and others with an anti-ecological agenda, but they use them because they know they ring true in the popular consciousness.
It’s not just scientists: there must be millions of people making a tidy sum out of the climate change panic wave: politicians, consultants, carbon traders, ad execs, journalists, ‘green’ businesses and NGOs . Millenarian paranoia, like any other engineered fear, creates growth opportunities. Look how many billions were made out of persuading the world that their computers needed to be ‘millennium compliant’. All these people, professional, well-paid, defining for us what is climate change. Whether well-intentioned or not, they are all tied to their respective institutions, and must act according to the role of these institutions within capitalism.

NGOs, for example, market fear. It is their product. The more people worried and distressed by the threat of climate change, the more money flows into Greenpeace’s bank accounts. Their job is to hype the crisis, big up the apocalypse, and then reassure the public that our future is best left in their hands. As an antidote to fear they sell hope, the belief that a solution is possible. They choose words carefully when marketing climate change to us. “Last chance” sells better than “no chance at all”.

This is distinct from the role of the scientists who try to be impartial observers, unaffected by their research and not affecting it either. They write reports in the passive voice to remove themselves from the equation. Uncertainty is acknowledged, but veiled so as not to detract from the authority of the text. Emotions have no place and this warps the story somewhat. Maybe sometime a researcher cried over the destruction they witnessed through their work, maybe what they saw made them so angry they went out at night and put a spanner in the works. But none of this is written down in peer-reviewed journals; instead they construct a formal, passionless, dead theory of climate change. Even when researching the impacts on people’s lives there is nothing personal.

They’re all hard at work shaping and honing the climate change concept:
Politician: “my party has the policies to protect both the climate and the economy”
Car company: “with 40% lower carbon emissions than the average SUV, if you choose our car, you’re really doing your bit”
Hippy Capitalist: “holiday in a luxury yurt this summer, only £300 a week with free reiki session”
Journalist: “...which makes it the windiest November since records began. Tune in next time for another thrilling episode of freak weather fortnightly”
Oil company #1 “It’s all a lie. Global warming will not happen”
Oil company #2 “The crisis is upon us. But oil (sorry, energy) companies are the only players who can act quickly enough now. So you’re gonna have to trust us”
The oil burns, the forests burn, the sun shines, the world turns. People eke out a living, institutions consolidate their power. Climate change leaves the atmosphere, the forests and the icecaps behind and becomes twisted and mangled by capitalistic institutions and ends up a creation of their market needs. Our perceptions of it cannot be isolated from their manipulations, and if we use their concept then we run the risk of simply serving their agenda and reproducing their world.

But hang on a moment! I should point some things out for all those people reading this who can only remember snowfalls from when they were a kid, or whose home was washed away by floods such as have never been seen before. Please don’t stop reading. I have to be clear that I’m not trying to claim that the climate isn’t changing. I refer to climate change as a myth not because it is false or wrong, but because it is so mediated and modified as to be a fiction. If I point out that capitalistic societies need to create apocalyptic threats, then that is certainly not the same as saying that severe problems don’t exist.

If we understand ecology in the way that both academic scientists and traditional societies do, as a set of complex relationships between the components that make up ecological systems then the theory of climate change quickly strays from being an ecological concept... Some concept of ecology remains when trying to model the effects of a changing climate on particular ecosystems, but very soon the globalised nature of the concept requires that everything is made quantifiable: kwH, tons of CO2 emitted, price per ton, mean global temperature rise, $$. Suddenly we have moved from a concern for the unpredictable changes that may occur in ecological systems and their impacts on our societies towards an ethereal and highly alienated apocalyptic paranoia. We are reduced to simply counting the calories.

Take a quick glance at all the un-ecological actions that are being done in the name of climate change: forests are cut down and people evicted from their land to make way for carbon-sucking fast-growing monoculture plantations, nuclear power stations are being reconsidered, new efficient cars and aeroplanes are being produced, rivers are dammed, and plans are made for huge geo-engineering works to increase the planetary albedo (the amount of sunlight reflected by the earth) or the amount of ocean algae. All of this makes perfect sense in the number-logic of climate change, but actually makes no sense at all.
Eco-devastation cannot be reduced to a set of numbers ­ to do this has more to do with preparing climate change’s niche in the logic of capitalism than understanding how to minimise the stress our civilisation is placing on the planet’s ecosystems. If we accept this ecology-by-numbers then new oppressions such as the seizure of land for new plantations to store carbon begin to seem reasonable, even if only as necessary evils. If monoculture plantations score higher on the green scale than old-growth forests, then it seems that ‘thinking globally’, as the old slogan goes, is not going to get us out of this mess.
Can such an alienated concept lead to anything other than despair or disempowerment?
“The planet is dying and the only way to save it is if 6 billion people become conscious of what’s happening and co-operate, taking action for positive change”
Well maybe it’s what’s necessary, but it’s not a thought that leaves much to be optimistic about. As one individual amongst the six billion, what are you going to do? “I guess I’d better go and install those low energy lightbulbs then…”

Here’s a scare story: the Iberian peninsula may well dry up and become an uninhabitable desert due to climate change. How many years left before the apocalypse? Twenty? Fifty? The reality: we don’t need to wait so long. Already it is drying up because of intensive water use for intensive agriculture. Forest ecosystems may be changing due to changing climate, but they are also changing because every year property developers go and deliberately burn them down to build a new development of holiday flats or plant a eucalyptus plantation. These threats are far more tangible and immediate than climate change, and a parallel story could be told for any part of the world. Nothing is ever straightforward, but these real, concrete situations that directly affect our lives are much easier to get our heads around and effectively resist. When they are so omnipresent, why look to the distant spectre of climate change to motivate your anger?

Here's an even scarier story: Think for a moment about how and by whom the necessary drastic changes could be brought about to do away with the global oil economy. The easiest to imagine would be some sort of highly authoritarian state or institution, as the more control an organisation has over the population, the quicker it can implement changes. It could obtain popular legitimacy from the resigned belief that it was the only option to prevent crisis. In short ­ some sort of eco-fascism. States are already creating the global threat of terrorism to increase their stranglehold over us, and are quite prepared to do the same with the ecological crisis. It may be our last chance to stop climate change, but is this a future that anyone wants to see?

But come on - something must be done!!!!
How do you face up to the end of the world?
“Climate change is the biggest threat facing the world right now, so therefore should be the focus of all our action”

Such a statement could equally come from an official resolution of the G8 heads of state at one of their summits or from someone who has been outside that summit with the black bloc throwing rocks at cops. The difference is that the politicians who have seized some degree of control over billions of lives may actually be able to have some sort of (albeit superficial) influence in the matter. Those of us at the grassroots are really quite limited in what we can directly do, as challenging climate change from below would require the participation of all the world’s communities. So the “something must be done” attitude changes very quickly into “somebody must do something”, and people tend to look out of desperation to the greater leverage that those with power have. People who in their everyday lives choose to live in an uncompromising, disobedient and anti-authoritarian way, end up militantly calling for the implementation of the compromised, authoritarian Kyoto protocol or campaigning for some new global agreement even more controlling and far reaching, believing that only states and corporations are sufficiently organised to be able to react in the time-scale necessary.

It is meaningless for those at the grassroots to shout that “something must be done” because Al Gore will do it anyway, and people will always listen to Al Gore more than they will listen to any of us. The only thing it is good for is to make you feel that by shouting, you were actually doing something. “Something must be done” is a knee-jerk reaction to the prediction of global doom, which was anyway a manufactured threat. Lots of things should be done, but is it not better to just get on with doing them in places where the “something” can actually make a concrete difference?

From Climate Change to Climate Action.
Climate change has become very fashionable over the last few years, in north-western Europe at least, and especially in Britain. The newspapers carry stories about climate change every day, people talk about it when they talk about the weather, every heatwave, every heavy rain, is a sign of impending doom. It’s the case in grassroots movements as well, summer 2007 sees the second annual ‘climate camp’ in Britain, trying to build on the winning formula of the temporary-eco-village-cum-resistance-camp in the anti-G8 mobilisation in 2005, and a culture of ‘climate action’ has grown up.

I don’t know what to reply when people from other places ask me about this climate movement that has grown up on the island. Quite often they don’t really get why people would put so much effort into climate change when there are so many more immediate and tangible topics which could result in more effective struggles. But not having been part of it, what can I say? Usually I give the generous explanation that appeals to me: that emboldened by victories over the road-building and genetics industries, there are people around who have the utopian belief that it is possible to stop all carbon emissions at source. If this is the case then I certainly wouldn’t want to dismiss or condemn such a commitment out of hand: while idealistic beliefs may seem slightly naive, they also have the potential to keep us vital and rebellious, and without that what have we got? But having said this, the activist culture which surrounds this new movement is not without its problems.

Interesting also is the resourcefulness of certain struggles and communities when they appropriate climate change as an excuse for doing what they were doing anyway. An example of this in the UK is the idea of ‘transition towns’ where people take advantage of the widespread concerns about climate change and peak oil to give legitimacy at a mainstream level to initiatives which would otherwise be marginalised to the ‘alternative community’. The things they talk about ­ renewable energy projects, permaculture, local currencies, straw-bale homeopathy clinics would probably happen anyway, as there are many more good reasons to do them than just because of climate change. And people who want to make their towns sustainable are quite adept at jumping on any bandwagon that can increase the scope of their projects: look how much mileage was made out of Agenda 21, a fairly insipid document that came out of the UN greenwash summit in Rio in 1992. Good on them for their opportunism, taking advantage of the agenda set by institutional groups to promote their projects. There's nothing wrong with this at all, but it is clearly distinct from defining a radical agenda for ourselves.

But if we understand climate change as a global and multifaceted problem, does that not encourage us to think more holistically ­ everything’s connected to climate change, it’s not just a single issue? Well it does seem to encourage this to some extent, at least in terms of resource use, as the need to simultaneously challenge your lifestyle and resist growth of the oil machine. Campaigners against a new road may remind people that climate change is one good reason among many not to build more roads, people living in a low-impact community in the woods can use it as an argument to convince locals of the necessity of their existence, those fighting migration control can describe how ecological destruction is forcing many more people away from their lands. A lot can be linked to climate change, but not everything. The mess we’re in is more complicated and far far worse than the over-consumption of resources burning up the planet.

The climate justice movement also has some important points to make in its analysis of climate change: the rich are disproportionate in causing the problem, the poor are the first to suffer. This may inspire rage and fury, but the problem is the same: on a global scale, where is there room for those at the bottom of the pile to act? As the anger subsides into resignation we realise that climate change was no more than an instructive tool to explain injustice to those who don't have to deal with it on a daily basis....

A global problem of problems needs a
global movement of movements...or not.

Climate change appeals because it threatens global ecological collapse, and that’s something that the activists feel everybody should take an interest in. It’s made more interesting when it is combined with peak oil, the logical-extension-of-economic-theory which says that the rising cost of oil extraction will destroy the economy. So there’s huge scope for brooding conversations about the fate of the planet.

“Which will hit us first, economic or ecological collapse?”
Everyone has a stake in the apocalypse.
Such a grand threat can provoke a range of attitudes, the most common being the missionary position:
“we have one last chance”, “together we can save the world”
It seems there is something of this in the British Climate Camp organisation ­ their posters reassure us “you are not fucked” in big friendly letters, another flier backs it up: “we’re not toast yet”.

This really doesn’t seem to fit in with everyday experience, to such a degree as to be totally ridiculous. Clearly we are all totally fucked in so many ways ­ fucked in the head, living in a fucked up society that’s fucking up the planet for no hope of change. Apart from the nauseating language which evokes the gung-ho spirit of plucky brits in the blitz, the claims made are blatant deception. Why would someone write something like that? Even the numbers are made-up: the organisers of the climate camp 2006 claimed 600 participants, which is quite a lot, yet the publicity for 2007 says “thousands” participated in the previous camp.

What, they may argue, is wrong with creating a bit of optimism? In such a hopeless situation people won’t be inspired to act if they don’t have something to cling to. It’s just a little white lie between friends. The ‘last chance’ story is not entirely without foundation after all: if we believe the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change then we might be alright if emissions are cut by 60-80% over the next 30 years.

Greenpeace try to convince us that it’s the “last chance to save the earth” in order to bolster their corporate profits; when activists make similar claims it’s because they’re trying to build social movements. That’s why there’s so many glossy fliers hyping up the event, telling us it’s going to be really cool, inflating the number of participants and so on. The truth is not as important as the effect the words have.

The theory is that big problems need big movements: so the climate camp aims to attract as many people as possible. All are welcome, it’s all democratic, consensus decisions between hundreds of people, everyone has an equal voice. If the local MP says he supports the climate camp then that’s surely a good thing, isn’t it ­ the cops are less likely to evict, and it gives legitimacy to the camp so more people come.

One of the aims of the climate camp is popular education, and I guess it is interesting to provoke discussions between people from different backgrounds and with different presuppositions. On the streets and runways, however, the forms of action can only become more stage-managed and less interesting. Climate change is so global, so vague yet all-encompassing that the ‘broad church’ approach can only depoliticise, appealing to a lowest common denominator to the point of blandness.

It’s surely the dream of those who get off on being leaders of social movements ­ it alleviates the frustration of seeing your world collapse about you to see a friendly movement leader telling you that there is something you can do. So they lie to the masses, hoping that their movements grow.

There is a growing and disturbing trend that has been lingering around radical circles over the last few years, based on the theory that blind positivity can lead to interesting and unexpected successes. Michael Hardt and Toni Negri's books have provided some of the theoretical bases for this, and it has been taken up by some who want to unite the masses under the banner of precarity, organise migrants and mobilise for summits. For many coming from the left wing tradition, it has been the message of hope that they were wanting to hear at a time when their ideologies seemed more moribund then ever.
The theory goes that in an increasingly confusing post-modern world, reality is no longer a concept worth worrying about. Thus theoreticians who should understand capitalism well enough to know better, write that a global basic income or free movement for all is an achievable goal. They may not believe it themselves, but ostensibly want to inspire others to believe in it, claiming that the 'moments of excess' generated by such utopian dreams will give rise to potent movements for change.

Maybe that's the theoretical rationale for hyping climate change. It is certainly a suitable testing ground for the politics of manufactured hope, being so alienated from our actual everyday realities. But whilst the new movement politicians - facilitators not dictators - watch their movements grow, there is still a case for living in the real world. We are living through various crises - ecological collapse, social disintegration, technological control- and we need all our powers of observation and trying to understand in order to survive and resist this onslaught. Stressing about the coming apocalypse, and pretending that it can be solved by goodwill and wishful thinking is just a distraction from this.

No future
Sometimes being a little more honest, and acknowledging how desperate and hopeless the situation we are in actually is, can actually be more inspirational than convincing yourself of the possibility of salvation. It won’t attract the people with most to lose, those who don’t want to be any more than concerned citizens. But who needs them and their self-sacrifice anyway, we can build something more genuine.

Over the last 50 years at least, the most interesting counter-cultural currents have always developed with a background assumption of desperation. When your world is shit then you learn to live for the moment, living immediately and creatively. The beat generation and the original hippies sprang up in a time when everyone knew that the world could be senselessly destroyed by some lunatics pressing nuclear buttons. Punk grew from the city streets where the acceptable options for urban youth were not worth following. Travellers, road protesters, squatters: all these potent movements share a common supposition of ‘no future’ - that we have no place in the society that is offered up, that nothing good can happen other than what we create for ourselves here and now, making islands of sanity in a world gone off course.

No future is not just limited to subcultures, it exists throughout society. Many many people don’t see the point of the modern world any more and have no interest in worthy schemes to save it. The non-believers almost certainly outnumber the believers, just they don’t shout about it so much.

I've no wish to glamorise despair. But to realise our alienation and impotency at the planetary level can lead us in various different directions. Either we resign ourselves to apathy and inaction, or we take action where we can, empowering ourselves and giving ourselves hope at the level at which we can actually make a difference. We take control of our lives, building a present which we can live in. And when this comes under attack, we resist harder, knowing that it is something that we have created, and that if it is gone we have nothing to lose.

Faced with something like climate change, we don't accept how it is defined for us from above; we learn to understand it in terms of what we already know. We've seen ecological destruction by now, we understand the imperative of defending what we still have. We live in a society of domination and control and so can recognise the potential for authoritarianism disguised as ecology and so brace ourselves to resist it. We notice that the many fronts of capital's war force people into movement and so accept that our communities will have to change. We watch the world becoming ever more unpredictable and realise the need to be able to react quickly to new threats, which requires strong relationships between us and a continual desire to understand ourselves and the world around us.

Truth is not attainable: objectivity will always be an illusion. Reality, on the other hand, understood as what we see when we stop deliberately blinding ourselves to what is going on around us, is an option. In a society where so many people around us choose to leave the blinkers on, this kind of reality is maybe the first vital step to freedom.

We don't lack information, it's just hard to accept. In the same way that it becomes easy to pretend that sexual abuse is not taking place in your immediate surroundings, it is also easy to believe that activism can save us from climate change. But in neither of these situations does the purposeful ignorance actually take us forward. Only engaging with what we know is there, including our own fears and inadequacies, could really lead to a practical and honest vision of possible ways out.

There is no future: whether due to climate change and peak oil or the general social and ecological disintegration that is so clearly happening all around us. Smash things up and burn them down because we know we need to eliminate them from our world ­ not because it’s some democratically agreed campaign objective. Learn new skills for sustainable living because we thirst for knowledge to reclaim our lives, not as a demonstration project photo-op to show the journalists.

It’s a totally serious proposition: leave climate change to the people who invented it - scientists and businessmen, politicians and NGOs. It’s not for us. Let’s instead take control of our lives, resist the new roads and airports when we can, but also recognise that whatever happens to the climate, the world is changing for the worse faster and faster and we are always going to be facing new attacks. To survive them we need to be strong in ourselves and in our communities. We need to live out our anger and act out our desires in the present and not let ourselves be controlled by someone else's apocalyptic vision of the future.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Heathrow voodoo

Thinking about Pinki/ Tanith. If she had still been alive she would have been getting organised to go to the Heathrow Camp for Climate Change next week. What would have made the Camp most interesting for her is the archaeology of Heathrow:
The largest single archaeological excavation in the UK [ 2002] , at the planned Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, has yielded an unprecedented insight into the way mankind has used the landscape over the last 8000 years. The excavation includes the Stanwell Cursus, a four-kilometre pathway about 20 metres wide and flanked by ditches, which was built as early as 3,800BC and cuts across the Terminal 5 site [and will of course, be obliterated by it in the name of more air pollution - Ed]. A team of around 80 archaeologists has been working at the 100-hectare (250-acre) site of Terminal 5 for over a year and has found evidence of human activity going back to hunter-gatherers in the Stone Age, around 6,000BC, as well as Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, Saxon, Medieval and later remains. In all, 80,000 objects were found, including 18,000 pieces of pottery, 40,000 pieces of worked flint and the only wooden bowl found dating to the Middle Bronze Age (1,500BC-1,100BC). Archaeologists have also been able to piece together a fascinating insight into changes in the way that people expressed their religious feeling towards the land as farming developed. They found field boundaries laid down as early as 2,000BC continued into the 20th century. Ken Welsh, the project manager, said: “The excavation revealed that the change from transient, mobile communities, where farming was carried out in short-lived clearings, to that of a settled agricultural economy with individually owned fields took place as early as 2,000BC. This is five hundred years before the accepted date. “It also showed how the religious system changed under pressure from the new farming method. Land was needed so much that the cursus lost its significance and was used for growing crops. Instead, water for livestock became more difficult to get and waterholes were dug and became venerated sites - we find many valuable objects placed in them as a sign of their importance.”


That Heathrow has a history stretching back 5800 years is unlikely to be a theme of the climate change camp, but it should be. In June 1983 Pinki and some other women from Greenham were invited to what was then the CND Glastonbury festival. En route they stopped off at Silbury Hill , West Kennet long barrow and Avebury. For Pinki this was a really important experience. She was pregnant with Sky and when she lay on top of Silbury Hill - which is like a huge pregnant goddess mound - she felt connected with the past. And with the future. She felt and experienced at a primal level the continuity of existence over thousands of years. This spiritual experience reinforced her commitment to the political struggle at Greenham, at Stop the City a few months later and - ten years later- to the road protest movement.

Most political activists shy away from making such links. Their concern is with the immediate situation. Anything which might be a distraction from the immediate situation is dismissed. This is understandable. It takes a huge effort to struggle against the status quo, against popular inertia. Each generation of activists must believe that they are more effective and dynamic than their predecessors. To believe otherwise is to admit defeat even before the struggle has begun.

Take the road protests of the 90ies. They did seem to win. The massive road building projects planned by the Conservative government were put on hold after Labour won in 1997. But gradually they are creeping back, with plans to widen the M6 and M1 at a cost of £1000 an inch. At the same time -hence the Heathrow campaign - there are plans to expand airports and thus add to greenhouse gas emissions, even though the government are in theory committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As with the intensification of the Cold War implicit in the Greenham/ Molesworth Cruise missile plans ( or the belief that invading Iraq was a good idea) it is a kind of insane rationality. As if we live in a world where decisions are made by people possessed , obsessed, by a destructive ideology called ‘progress through development’.

So possessed are they - are we - that it is if there really are no alternatives. But there are alternatives. The problem is that the alternatives are either sidelined or forcibly suppressed. Go back to 1974 and the shock to the system delivered by the massive increase in oil prices which followed the 1973 Yom Kippur Arab- Israel war. A whole host of ‘alternative’ low-energy technologies - wind, wave and solar power- were proposed, but none were taken forward. They were sidelined, dismissed as ‘impractical’. Instead (in the UK at least) a whole set of nuclear power stations were constructed.

In parallel with the alternative/ radical technologies, an alternative ( low- energy) culture came into being. This was a social phenomenon and so less easy to institutionally sideline. Therefore it was physically suppressed the eighties, most violently in 1985 at the Battle of the Beanfield. At the same time through, for example the sale of council houses and attacks on trade unions, there was shift to the right politically and socially. This shift was reinforced rather than challenged by ‘new Labour’.

Was chaos magic part of this process? At the time (1986) I encountered chaos magic would have said No. At the time the ‘yuppy’ magic of Pete Carroll seemed to be only one strand of an exciting and diverse current emerging out of the ‘chaos’ of the time. A magic which challenged the orthodoxies of Thelema , Wicca and Druidry - a magic of Stonehenge Free Festival and punk, of Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp and Stop the City… but it was not to be. Instead - perhaps as an artefact of the early internet - chaos magic became nothing but Pete Carroll’s yuppy magic and its creative potential vanished. So it goes. So it went.

And now? Ever the eternal optimist, I imagine the surreal conjunction of the magical and social themes expressed so powerfully by Stephen Grasso in his ‘Live and Let Die’ Treadwell’s talk of 7th August and the political and environmental themes embodied so passionately in the Heathrow Climate Change Camp of the 14th to 21st August.

I can’t explain what you ought to know. But go back to the top and re-read the quote about the archaeology of Heathrow. Think about it. Feel it. This too was a sacred site, a place where if anywhere, our ancestors exist; are objectively, physically, actually ‘real’. We’ who are no less objectively, physically and actually their descendants, may lack the continuity of tradition which is found in the African/ voodoo traditions Stephen works with , but, as Pinki and her fellow Greenham Women found at Silbury Hill/ West Kennet/ Avebury in 1983, connections can still be made. Back then, the fear of immediate destruction bridged the gulf (abyss) between past/ present/future. Now other connections must be made.

Cheap holiday in other peoples misery!

I don't wanna holiday in the sun
I wanna go to new Belsen
I wanna see some history
'Cause now I got a reasonable economy

Now I got a reason, now I got a reason
Now I got a reason and I'm still waiting
Now I got a reason
Now I got reason to be waiting
The Berlin Wall

Sensurround sound in a two inch wall
Well I was waiting for the communist call
I didn't ask for sunshine and I got World War three
I'm looking over the wall and they're looking at me

Now I got a reason, Now I got a reason
Now I got a reason and I'm still waiting
Now I got a reason,
Now I got a reason to be waiting
The Berlin Wall

Well they're staring all night and
They're staring all day
I had no reason to be here at all
But now I gotta reason it's no real reason
And I'm waiting at the Berlin Wall

Gotta go over the Berlin Wall
I don't understand it....
I gotta go over the wall
I don't understand this bit at all....

Claustrophobia there's too much paranoia
There's too many closets so when will we fall
And now I gotta reason,
It's no real reason to be waiting
The Berlin Wall

Gotta go over the Berlin Wall
I don't understand it....
I gotta go over the wall
I don't understand this bit at all...

Please don't be waiting for me