Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Eat All You Can

Food prices are rising across the world. Un-noticed in many northern hemisphere countries, 2010 has so far globally been the warmest on record and the prolonged drought in Russia especially has led the US Department of Agriculture to predict a 5.5% reduction in wheat production this year alone. At 642 million tonnes, it will fall around 25 million tonnes short of consumption, depressing grain reserves globally by just under 10%. These statistics of course mask the vast inequalities in global food distribution - western consumers will have to pay a little more for their breakfasts, but many in the poorest nations will go hungry, unable to afford the grains produced in the fields around them. Instead the food will be exported to rich nations by the supermarkets and multinationals, many of which have bought up vast tracts of agricultural land in the Third World. Britain imports nearly 40% of its food - much of it from poorer countries where the same people who harvest our pineapples and grains cannot afford the items they farm for us.

From http://www.farmlandgrab.org/
 This forecast has been preceded by widespread speculation on the world markets in buying food futures in anticipation of scarcities making the food industry more profitable. Ultimately, although millions may starve in poorer countries, lower food supply equals higher profits for the same investment, an attractive proposition for our commodity traders.

The futures trade in food has been growing apace. Just as other sectors of the financial markets have been facing a squeeze following the banking crisis and the global recession, the rising cost of food has offered a lifeline to the stockbroking fraternity. This is a trend likely to continue as a combination of population growth, global warming and resource scarcity make the historically low cost of food enjoyed by western countries over the last few decades a thing of the past.

But of course, with the Common Agricultural Policy keeping prices artificially low in Europe and supermarkets maintaining a stranglehold on both domestic and international production of food, western consumers are insulated from all this, for a time at any rate. In the UK, just 4 large supermarkets - Tesco, Asda (Walmart), Morrisons, and Sainsburys supply three quarters of Britain's food. With government rules on monopolies set aside for this sector, they are frequently accused of abuse of suppliers - the milk industry in particular complains about prices set below the cost of production, while smaller local shops are routinely undercut and put out of business by predatory marketing. For now, this conspires to provide consumers with food which, in real terms, is pretty much the cheapest it has ever been.

Although the current projections are that there will be a rise in overall food prices in the UK of 4% during the coming winter, this is trifling compared to the real cost of food around the world, in financial, human and environmental terms. And it is as nothing to the projected crisis of rising demand outpacing supply over the next two decades - the World Bank, for example, estimates an 85% rise in demand for meat and dairy products by 2030; while at the same time, the supply of phosphorus, a vital mineral in modern agriculture, is likely to become increasingly scarce. The rising price of oil, again a vital in both the production and transportation of food, will further hit the cost of food to the extent that consumers across the world will be affected, and of course those on lower incomes will suffer by far the worst.

For example, while Americans spend on average slightly less than 10% of their incomes on food, the average for people in middle income countries like Ukraine or Syria is 35%, while in poor states it is much more, around 55% A study in 2006 found that the average Tanzanian has to spend 71% of their income to purchase a diet of slightly less than 2,000 kcals per day compared to the gut-busting US average of over 3,750kcals (Britain comes in at 3,450 - nearly 1,000 more than the recommended amount for a man). It is plain to see who will be hardest hit, at least initially, in the scarcities ahead.

A bit of fun or an insult to humanity? - the 105lb burger
But it is a fool who thinks that western society will be able to insulate itself. Morally wrong, and utterly delusional, is any argument that the current state of affairs can continue for much longer. The truth is that many world systems of food and water supply are nearing exhaustion. For now, supermarkets like Sainsburys are able to provide supposedly ethically produced, environmentally friendly organic fruit and vegetables to their customers by buying up precious agricultural land in the Caribbean. Following the spike in food prices in 2008, many western food producers or their proxies, including rich states like Saudi Arabia, began to purchase land in Africa and South America in an attempt to guarantee their own food supplies.

Yet do we seriously think that this "global land grab" can continue? Will people in the host countries obligingly starve in order to respect foreign landowners property rights? Or will we end up with military intervention to guard our food supplies in a similar way to the intervention in Iraq for oil or Afghanistan for lithium?

In a world of plenty, one billion people
go to bed hungry each night.
And behind all this, the global food industry rips off producers and consumers alike, destroying small scale agriculture to create destructive behemoths like the 8,000 cow dairy unit, and crushing small, local food suppliers. They flood the market with cheap, addictive and unhealthy food, destroying individuals' self-esteem and damaging their health with calorific crap.

The existing systems of ownership, production and distribution are both unfair and inefficient - nearly a fifth of Britain's food is thrown away; water leaks out of pipes around the world to the tune of billions of gallons every day; one in five people go to bed hungry, while a similar number are substantially overweight with associated illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease at record levels.

This is what the average US family of four THROWS AWAY
 each month. source - NY Times
The world is at a crossroads. The banking crisis, the fuel crisis and the political crises associated with these will without any doubt be joined by other major and increasingly disruptive crises of supply over the coming decade - food, water and fuel, the staples of civilised life. One specialist, a former British government adviser, predicts a perfect storm by 2030  as global demand for food and energy jumps by 50% and for fresh water by 30%, as the population tops 8.3 billion.

The good news is that there is still time to do something about it: there are many alternatives to what we do now. Energy conservation, development of clean, renewable fuel sources such as solar and wave power, support for more local manufacturing and distribution of goods and services, the fostering of local food production especially small scale - even at the individual level of allotments - could start to make the difference. The Cuban example of learning to feed itself following the collapse of the Soviet bloc is one we should learn from. It has additionally done so using substantially organic production techniques - again a means to avoid the anticipated problem of scarcity of phosphates used in non-organic food production.

Trade needs massive reforms too, as does the international financial system - speculation in vital resources such as food supplies must end. We can no longer allow city traders the right to profit from the misery of the starving - it is a silent, invisible genocide, yet the men responsible are given bonuses rather than jail sentences.

The world that could emerge from such reforms would be safer, more sustainable and fairer by far than the one we have now. Our societies could be more at ease with themselves, more socially just, healthier and peaceful. It is a challenge, but it is infinitely more appealing than where we are headed now - to increasing scarcity and conflict over our dwindling supplies, and to the rapacious destruction of our habitat and perhaps ultimately ourselves.

The choice is ours.

Supermarkets - not always the bargain they seem to be...

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

"Why don't they start with the bankers?"

The British Government has announced its programme of cuts in public spending today. Carefully crafting a wide range of substantial reductions in spending so that the average cuts per Government department come in at 19% over four years rather than Labour's planned 20%, the Con Dems betray the essential unity of the three main parties around a monetarist, free market agenda. Their little school boyish prank may make waves in the Westminster Village, a bit like waving condoms about in a Prefects' Room, but the impact on a wide range of poor and vulnerable citizens will be even worse than feared, with £7 billions more than expected off disability payments - £50 per week taken from people on Incapacity Benefit for more than 12 months - and a 50% reduction in the social housing budget. At the same time, precisely nothing is done to tackle the massive tax evasion and corporate tax exemptions that plague Britain.

So amidst the gloom, it was good to see this video (below) of Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP railing passionately against the cuts as socially damaging and economically illiterate - worsening the crisis of the deficit rather than tackling it. Clearly angered by the Chancellor's approach, she calls for action on investment in sustainable jobs and action against tax evasion. Government led spending on a range of activities such as improving public transport and developing renewable energy would pay dividends in a multiplicity of ways - generating jobs and tax revenue, cutting the deficit, reducing our dependence on foreign energy and cutting our carbon emissions.

This type of Keynesian economic theory,on which the "Green New Deal" is based, used to be the economic orthodoxy that worked for a coherent society. By contrast, Monetarist theory adopted by right wingers in the 1970s onwards changed that - placing economic objectives above social ones and seeking to reduce government involvement in the economy and socirty as a whole. As Nigel Lawson, Thatcher's Chancellor, explained on BBC Radio 4 last night, "I wasn't much bothered about damaging solidarity and social cohesion." All he was bothered about was creating space for tax cuts for the wealthy and a chance to flog off the national assets.

As the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats contemplate the biggest sale of public assets ever, as well as cutting deep into the welfare state, the Con Dem regime is emerging as one of the most avowedly ideological governments in British history, rolling back the shrinking public sector further than Mrs Thatcher ever dared imagine.

At least, hearing Caroline Lucas' speech, there is clearly a voice in Parliament showing that there IS an alternative to an agenda that turns citizens into numbers and shuts its eyes to real human suffering. Let's hope it keeps getting louder. And heard.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

"Tolle divitem!" : why abolishing the rich would do us all a favour

"Mankind is divided into three classes - the rich, the poor, and those who have enough...Abolish the rich and you will have no more poor...for it is the few rich who are the cause of the many poor."

Radical words. An extract from Marx's "Das Kapital"? A trade union leader rallying their members against job losses? A motion passed by the last Green Party conference declaring its support for a maximum wage?

It could be any of the above, but in fact its none of them. The words were written by an author known as the "Sicilian Briton" in the first few years of the fifth century. As the Roman Empire was beset by barbarian invasions and usurper Emperors, the plebeian and slave classes began to agitate for a fairer share of the resources of the world's first superstate. While some openly rebelled and established their own states as the bacaudae, the western world's first social revolutionaries, others used parts of the newly established Christian church to demand change - the Sicilian Briton, a monk himself, was one of their spokespeople.

But what happened?

History tells us how the Roman State died, not with a bang but with a whimper - its once mighty body ebbing slowly over three generations or more before it simply faded from view and was lost to history. All through its long demise, its richest citizens clutched onto their possessions, hiding their wealth, claiming all manner of privileges (privi-legium: the law of the individual) to avoid paying taxes or contributing to the common cause. While demanding and receiving continued status as the Optimates, the "best citizens", they continuously connived to abrogate themselves of any obligation to serve their society. When Alaric the Goth stood with his army at the gates of Rome demanding gold to go away, the Senate refused him even although most of its members could have easily met the amount demanded from a modest portion of their own purse. While lamenting the darkness of their times, they willingly sacrificed their City to preserve their own wealth.

Yesterday Rome, tomorrow...?
I quote this passage from an obscure, 15 centuries old source for two reasons - one because of the old saying that if we do not learn from history we are bound to relive it; and second because the parallels between fifth century Rome and our modern world are so striking and relevant.

This week, in the UK, the Government is pledged to undertake massive spending cuts in public services. In spite of a few feints to fairness, the clear story is one of the unremitting gloom of an assault on education, welfare, transport and even aspects of the military. The reason is allegedly because of a national debt described by the Government as "record breaking" in peace time.

Except that this is far from true - indeed, it was higher than it is now every single year from 1916 until 1971. Its actual record high was in 1947, unsurprisingly just after the second world war, when it peaked at 238% of annual gross domestic product (GDP) - over four times its current level of 56%. However, that did not prevent the government in the following year launching the National Health Service. Nor did debt levels well in excess of 100% of GDP prevent the economic boom of the 1950s, with Tory Premier Macmillan boasting to a grateful electorate that "We've never had it so good!"

It was only with the Thatcherite revolution from 1979 onwards, with the Conservatives adopting the monetarist doctrine of American economist Milton Friedman (a doctrine taken up by Reagan's America as well) that it became the orthodoxy that low national debt was essential for prosperity, embraced even by pseudo-social democratic parties like New Labour and Clinton's Democrats. In Britain, public services were cut relentlessly and people thrown out of work until in 1991 national debt stood at just above 25% of GDP.

Parallel to this "tight money" policy, and the true reason for it then and now, Governments also reduced taxes for the better off, with more and more exemptions for the richest of all. Globally, off-shore tax havens have allowed an estimated $250,000,000,000 per annum of tax to be legally evaded by the very wealthiest. Britain is particularly culpable for this trend - 11 out of 40 havens identified by the OECD are British Overseas Territories; with the UK itself now an effective tax haven for "non-domestic" millionaires. Corporation tax is legally avoided by many large companies at a cost of nearly £7 billions per annum to the British Government - almost the same as the planned reduction in spending on social housing.

Even in the last recessionary year the wealth of the richest 100 people in the UK has risen by over 30% to over £355 billion. Internationally, as financial cuts bit hard across the planet, the Forbes Rich List found that 611 of the 1,011 billionaires on the Earth had increased their wealth - only 70 had seen an appreciable reduction. The richest man in the world - the ironically named Carlos Slim Herlu of Mexico weighed in with over £35.7 billion, his wealth greater than the annual GDP of over sixty nation states.

Of course, whichever country we live in, we are told we must indulge these people otherwise they might go somewhere else and we would lose their vital talents. Much better to waive their bill and hope they will stay, graciously permitting their wealth to trickle down to the rest of us in dibs and drabs. Meantime, the rest of us ingrates will need to accept increased taxes and massively reduced services to bailout these geniuses when their schemes collapse around them, as it is predicted will happen again with the British banks in 2011.

In spite of initiatives such as introducing national minimum wages these have not stopped the rise in inequality - one report found Britain to be the fourth most unequal society out of 25 affluent nations studied. Instead, in the absence of any cap on individual or corporate wealth, fantastic fortunes have been amassed by a tiny elite of super-rich people, whose lifestyles and power are ruining the lives of billions and relentlessly driving the planet to resource depletion and environmental disaster.

Professor Greg Philo of the Glasgow University Media Group has recently proposed a one-off tax on the richest 10% of Britons - taxing just 20% of their assets would raise over £800 billions. That would be enough to pay off the entire national debt and massively reduce the deficit. Unfair? Hardly, given that much of that wealth is unearned and in many cases will have been obtained by avoiding tax in the first place. Moreover, as the salaries (as well as the untaxed share options) of top executives have burgeoned to ridiculous levels in recent years, isn't it time to claw back some of that unfairly paid money?

In the years ahead, as our resources become scarcer and billions more mouths have to be fed, we need to share our wealth more equitably - between countries and within them as well. There is still enough to go round to feed and support people fairly and sustainably, but only if it is shared fairly. The capitalist system, with its focus on individuals seeking to maximise their material gain and a theoretical basis of limitless supply, is not fit for purpose for the challenges to come. Rather, left unchecked, it will simply hurry us over the precipice towards not only its own collapse, but of society and human civilisation itself. With a "perfect storm" of competing demands for food, water and fuel predicted to come as early as 2030, time is short.

We may be fifteen centuries late, but we are not too late. Not just yet. But we need a new, radical will and the sense to do us all a favour. Change the politics. As the Romans used to say: "Tolle divitem!" Abolish the rich!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Pay Up or Burn Up!

Two incidents today, separated by thousands of miles and the Atlantic Ocean, and on the face of it totally unconnected.

In Britain, Lord Browne, former CEO of the BP oil company, where he enjoyed a remuneration package of over £5 million per year latterly, delivered a report on funding support for students in Higher Education. In summary, he recommended a reduction in public support to students from £3.5 billion per annum to just £0.7 billion. On top of that, university fees will be uncapped and the average fee will need to at least double to £7,000 p.a. with some universities already indicating a likely charge of £10,000 p.a., and Oxbridge touting the idea of three times that amount. Given that the additional income earned by graduates is now estimated at around £100,000 in their entire working life, other than among those with wealthy and willing parents, or confident of high earning employment, University education will become simply unaffordable.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary claimed this afternoon that the Browne proposals would be driven forward by economic necessity. This although the UK's national debt was almost double what it currently is back in the 1960s when the Robbins report advocated free, universal higher education.

In the United States, there was this bizarre and sad story - in rural, bible-belt, God-fearing Tennessee, firefighters stood and watched a house to burn to the ground because the homeowner hadn’t paid a $75 fee. Even when Gene Cranick pleaded with the 911 operator to let him pay the fee, they refused him, turning up only to protect neighbours who had coughed up previously.
Last year, when the health proposals put forward by President Obama in America were being characterised as "Nazi Communism" (!), I was one of 23,000 people who joined the ironically titled Facebook group "One Million Strong Against our SOCIALIST fire departments". Starting from the premise that universal public provision of a fire service for was taken as read by everyone, the group sought to show that extending such protection to health was eminently proportionate. A number of neoCons posted to criticise the group as ludicrous on the grounds that of course fire brigades are a public service! Not even they would argue against that - at that time.

History first recorded a fire service being established in ancient Rome around 90BC by Marcus Licinius Crassus. As the Eternal City grew in size as its empire burgeoned, it's cramped space, filled with wooden buildings, was repeatedly plagued by devastating fires. Crassus bought himself some 500 slaves and gave them the  reassuring brand name of the "Familia Publica" (The Public Family). When fires started, the FP rushed to the scene and immediately set about negotiating a fee with the property owner. If a deal was struck, they would put the fire out; if not, the buildings burned.

The Romans established the first
public fire service.
Eventually, the Emperor Augustus recognised that this set up was inefficient, abolished private fire brigades and in their place set up the "Vigiles urbani" (The City Watchmen), hundreds of public servants on permanent patrol, complete with pumps, ladders, buckets and a public water system ready to extinguish fires. With the exception of the devastating conflagration of 64AD, this worked well for five centuries until the collapse of the Empire. Nothing comparable was to emerge in Europe until the 19th century.

Now, the story from Tennessee is not one of privatisation - but fees are charged separately from other local taxes and this hypothecation extends to the provision of the service. If you want the service, you pay, regardless of the consequences of non-payment. It is, quite seriously, called "pay to spray". That is disturbing in itself - but even more disturbing is the willingness of firefighters and public officials to stand idly by while the Cranicks' house burned to the ground; and the enthusiasm of right wingers to subsequently praise their inaction. Although the $75 fee was not part of an insurance scheme, but a flat charge, they refused to let Mr Cranick pay on the spot - something that not even old Marcus Licinius Crassus would have done!

So what's the connection here between British students and a house-fire in Tennessee?

It is the decline in the concept of universal public services, provided to all citizens. Although in material terms both countries, even in these recessionary times, are richer than they were 30 years ago, services that were taken then as a given are in real jeopardy. From Thatcher and Reagan onwards, it has become an implicit assumption that the private sector is inherently more effective than the public. Motivated by profit, it is argued, people in the private field will deliver a better service. The notion that you might want to work in the public services because you want to deliver a decent service to the public without trying to maximise your return from their wallets is scornfully dismissed as the delusions of idealists or the excuses of lazy folk unable to hack it in the world of free market competition.

Is there any proof of this being anywhere near a correct approach to what society needs?

Never mind the poor Cranicks' torched home. What about those other collapsing houses - houses of cards like Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, Northern Rock and RBS, private companies whose unlimited pursuit of greed presaged the economic collapse that only record public spending prevented from turning into financial chaos?

Or the hundreds of millions of pounds ripped from the pockets of the British public by huge "service organisations" like Serco and Crapita, who have taken on government contracts in almost any sector you care to mention - schools, cleaning, construction, hospitals, railways - at utterly massive profit margins in return for pisspoor services? Or with the grossly misnamed "public-private partnerships" that have mortgaged public assets for decades into the future? Or the "regeneration" of Iraq, where billions of dollars of American and Iraqi citizens' money was sequestrated by a wide range of grasping private contractors?

Western politics are build on a dangerous lie.  Denying all the evidence of the recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, or the continuing devastation of the Indonesian rainforest - the "lungs of the world" - by private logging firms, or the successful lobbying by the nuclear industry in the UK for £1.7 billion a year of tax money to clean up its radioactive mess; we are told repeatedly that this is the best, indeed the only, way to do things. There is no alternative.

Really? Tell that to the young people in Britain now facing either decades of debt or lives denied the opportunities and fulfillment of higher education - things enjoyed in the past by the Cabinet of Millionaires who now say such luxuries can no longer be afforded.

And tell that to the Cranick family as they search the ruins of their destroyed home for the charred remains of their three dogs and cat.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Curse of Bono

'Every time I clap, a child dies in Africa,' Bono intoned. 'So stop clapping,' yelled a voice. (Sunday Telegraph, 19 November 2006).

Ever since Live Aid back in the 1980s during the Ethiopian famine, there has been more and more involvement by celebrities in charity campaigns and non-party political campaigning, especially around third world issues and the green movement. Although it rises and falls in the "cool" ratings, the environment remains a favourite for many of these characters.

Yet their relationship with those genuinely engaged long term in their campaigns of choice is often, to say the least, uncomfortable and often counter-productive.

Bob Geldof, washed up on the far shores of has-been pop stardom, was an undoubted power in conceiving and driving Band Aid forward to what was a generally successful programme (though not without some qualification - but it is too easy to snipe sometimes). Band Aid and Live Aid saved lives and at least temporarily raised awareness of the issues around Third World poverty. That was the good side.

The down side was that it presented an easy solution.
"Never mind the address, just send the f***ing money!" Saint Bob urged BBC viewers at one stage of Live Aid. And many did, including myself. And that was both the success and the problem. It was nice and easy. A simple solution to a huge problem.

So when famine again raised its head in the Horn of Africa, some people talked about "where did the money go?". As appeal followed appeal for famines there and elsewhere, some talked of the phenomenon of "compassion fatigue". Helping your fellow humans has its limits, it seems, especially if it means thinking about more than tossing a few quid in a bucket at a pop concert.

In the last few years, Saint Bob has been far eclipsed by Bono, or Bono H. Christ, as some know him. Bono, lead singer with Irish rock group U2, is often to be seen lecturing audiences about how appalling the world is, how they all have to change, and then jets off in his plane to the next harangue, sorry, concert.

Not only have Bono and his mates in the band gone offshore to avoid paying their taxes, his "save the planet" concerts come at a high price to poor old Mother Earth - last year's tour produced enough carbon to have sent the boys all the way to Mars (unfortunately on a return-journey!). One reviewer did suggest all this damage was worth the "spiritual uplift" to be had a U2 gathering, perhaps adding to Bono's evidently messianic worldview, but maybe of little comfort to unbelievers.

The curse of celebrities' adoption of just causes goes beyond the hypocrisy and fakery of their narcissistic self-promotion. With many political leaders, Blair being the most obvious, slipping away from ideological politics into the numb consensus of market capitalism, some celebs have been granted wisdom and influence far beyond their abilities or right.

Everybody wants to rule the world
 Back in 2005, the "Make Poverty History" campaign launched a major effort to achieve debt relief for the poorest states in the Third World ahead of the Gleneagles G8 summit of international leaders. Their demands were for radical write-offs of debts which had long paid massive amounts of interest to western financial institutions and seriously impaired development and life chances for hundreds of millions of people. It was a much bolder, deep-seated change than anything the by then knighted "Sir" Bob Geldof had ever called for but he duly rushed out of retirement to hijack the campaign with the "Live 8" concerts (Live 8/Live Aid, geddit?). Although few had bought any of his music in decades, the saintly knight naturally had to sing at the concert (totally spontaneously, of course) and then with Oxfam, Make Poverty History and other development campaigners (and Bono, of course), he called on the G8 leaders to take real action to cancel debt.

The summit agreed some action - adopting barely half the recommendations of Tony Blair's Commission for Africa - and most in the development movement were sorely disappointed.

That didn't stop Sir Bob from rushing in front of the cameras to rather chillingly echo the words of someone else in relation to exaggerated achievements: "A great justice has been done. On aid, 10 out of 10; on debt, eight out of 10 ... mission accomplished, frankly."

And of course in the world of our celebrity-obsessed right-wing media, it was his easy message that was taken up. The concerns of the development movement were largely ignored, even though now, five years on, it is the case that even the partial decisions of the G8 have gone by substantially unimplemented. The campaigners recognised their mistake in letting him get involved, but too late.

More recently, Bono has been criticised for hobnobbing with President Medvedev, who proclaimed himself a fan of U2, ignoring the suppression of several human rights activists with whose cause he had initially linked his concert tour of Russia. And Sir Bob meantime has been charging up to $100,000 per speech on world suffering - it's a hard topic, but it seems he is ready to rise to it if his palms are sufficiently well-greased.
"Sir" Bob - send the money

Now this weekend, in the UK, the 10:10 climate change campaign has been hit by charges of eco-facism following the disastrous decision to release a video written by Richard Curtis (of Blackadder and Four Funerals fame) which shows schoolchildren being exploded into a graphically bloody mess for the crime of not being committed to reducing their carbon emissions. 10:10 have now withdrawn the green movement's first ever video nasty, but not before the right wing media have been able to seize on what is being portrayed as proof of an inherently anti-human strain among environmentalists. It is quite an achievement that he has in a ten minute film been able to leave the movement charged with Nazism, sadism and pure bad taste. And it is another clear example of the curse of celebrity involvement in causes which the celebs often know little about and, one suspects, may care even less.

Curtis' video is not just unpleasant. It also shows his ignorance of what the green movement is ultimately about. We are NOT concerned about "saving the planet". The planet is resilient and will endure whatever we throw at it. What the green cause is about is saving our species, saving humanity (along with many other species), from extinguishing our own ability to survive by polluting our planet or exhausting the resources we need to exist and thrive on the Earth. None of that involves the intolerance and violence displayed in his pathetic little effort, which we are now told was an attempt to inject humour and passion into the debate.

Richard Curtis' counter-productive contribution to 10:10
With friends like these, who needs enemies? The message to the environmental movement, the development campaigns and indeed anyone on the Left should be to treat these self-regarding dilettantes with real caution. It might seem glamorous to have them around, it might garner some well-needed publicity, but not all publicity is good.

Whilst there are sincere and effective celebrities who can and do help, all too often these people adopt development and green campaigns as "worthy causes" for their own promotion, depoliticising them and misleading the public into believing in simple, unchallenging answers to complex issues requiring radical solutions. The threats we face of resource scarcity and planetary crisis are too great to let them indulge themselves any longer. Paris Hilton is promising yet more charitable redemption when she completes her latest criminal sentence. Thanks, but no thanks.