Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Exit Humanity: COP21 - Historic Agreement, or Homo Sapiens' Suicide Note?

Sandstorm from Syria hits south eastern Turkey, 2014 - global warming sparked the Syrian civil war and is set to multiply conflict worldwide

The UN climate change negotiations at COP21 in Paris culminated in the hailing of the resulting treaty as a great breakthrough in human history. As 195 nations signed up to the Paris Agreement, world leaders hailed their own deeds as planet-saving; Francois Hollande, the French President and host, wiped tears from his eyes as he declared "History is now!"

And yet, what has been signed up to at this, the end of the warmest year in recorded history? In the warmest December ever? And in a year when, yet again, human emissions of greenhouse gases have grown yet again to a new record?

Well, frankly, not much, if anything at all.

195 nations have signed a non-binding declaration to reduce their carbon emissions "as soon as possible" in order to keep global warming at no more than what is seen as a critical threshold of no more than 2 degrees centigrade abover pre-industrial levels. A secondary target is to try to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees, but as this year we have reached 1.2 degrees, this seems like a pie-in-the-sky objective at best; at worst, a shocking deception.

Each country will have a target to reduce emissions until at some point, far enough away for today's politicians to not worry a jot about, the world will be carbon-neutral with a big move away from carbon fuels to nuclear and renewable energy. However, the agreement is non-binding until 55 countries producing at leat 55% of the world's cabon emissions formally ratify it; and even then there is no enforcement mechanism and no sanctions against any non-adhering nation. £100 billions is earmarked to help developing nations to bypass the dirty fuel industrialisation that plagued western nations in their development, but again this is notional and non-binding. And no emission reductions at all are required for another five years.

And as with previous climate conferences, Paris did not include in its scope the airline and shipping industries, in spite of their substantial contribution to the problem, nor agriculture, which by some estimates produces as much as 55% of anthropogenic carbon emissions (largely down to the dairy and meat industries).

And of course, once the press conferences are over and the stage set for COP21 was dismantled, it seemed that the political leaders who had lauded themselves so loudly immediately suffered a bout of amnesia. Amber Rudd, the British Environment Secretary, returned to the UK and within a week had pulled the plug on the UK solar energy industry and approved fracking in British national parks. The only contribution Britain has offered for disinvestment in carbon fuels was the closure of the last deep coal mining pit in the UK, a product of global market forces rather than any phased switch to clean energy and a tragedy to a community now left without employment.

World leaders gathered for collective backslapping in Paris
Some Green leaders were surprisingly muted about their views, perhaps keen not to be seen as doom-mongers. England & Wales Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said it was useful albeit just as a set of first steps, while Green MP Caroline Lucas was more cautious with nuanced criticisms of its absence of detail, and former US Vice-President Al Gore declared it acceptable if in rather lukewarm terms.

Other environmentalists were somewhat more scathing - former NASA scientist Professor James Hansen, known as the "father of climate change awareness" in particular savaged the agreement as "bullshit" and "fraud", and far from enough to prevent runaway global warming. The Green Party of the US was overtly critical and The New Internationalist magazine meantime analysed the outcome on the basis of the four key steps required to halt global warming: (a) implement immediate and massive reductions in emissions; (b) provide effective support for transition to new forms of energy and economics; (c) deliver justice for communities impacted by global warming and (d) take genuine effective action rather than conjure up false solutions (such as the racketeering of carbon markets or the mirage of carbon capture techno-fixes).

It judged the agreement to have failed on all four counts. Completely.

Time, or lack of it, is as much an issue as lack of any concrete action - the bottom line is we cannot wait any longer to act. For while politicians have nosily signed us up to aspirations with decades-long timescales attached, we are already now in what many environmentalists call DECADE ZERO. In other words, given that many aspects of climate change have a lag of several decades between cause and effect, it is what we are doing right now that matters, not what we might get round to in 15, 25 or 35 years time. What we are experiencing now - record temperatures and more and more extreme weather events - are the products of what we did back in the 1980s. Since then global carbon emissions have grown exponentially at well over 3% per annum -and we will reap the product of that in the next 20 to 30 years regardless of what we do now.

The dangers are multiplied by what are called potential tipping points: events where human-caused global warming impacts on the planet in such a way that global warming jumps exponentially. One potential tipping point is the melting of the Arctic tundra to a point where there are mass emissions of subsurface methane gases. These are many times more thickening than carbon dioxide and would shunt warming into another level. There are already many instances of methane releases on a large scale in the northern hemisphere: another two or three decades beggars belief about what levels it will reach by then, making the pious, self-serving backslapping of the authors of the Paris Agreement utterly redundant.

And the consequences? Immense. We have already seen the first conflicts and mass migrations caused by global warming: according to a study by the University of California, the Syrian Civil War was largely prompted by the collapse of the agrarian economy in the Tirgis and Euphrates basin, driven by prolonged drought and exhaustion of water supplies. The result was mass movement to the cities by disaffected young people, who became hostile to the government, many were radicalised and the civil war began and, with it, the displacement of 12 million refugees. As the US Military has already gameplanned, as warming intensifies competition for water and decent land, conflicts will grow wider and deeper, and the current refugee crisis will look like a cakewalk by comparision to what is to come.

But beyond, if warming rises significantly over 2 degrees, as it almost certainly will now, the future is bleak indeed. Not for the planet - the planet does not need saving. It will endure. But in our global economy and interconnected world, with capitalism fighting to its and our last, what passes for civilised order will collapse in fits and starts and, as large swathes of our world become uninhabitable, our species itself will be at risk of extinction. Water sources and food supplies will come under ever-growing pressure and we will face constantly increasing dangers from extreme weather events, biohazards and new patterns of disease, and from each other. A four or five degree increase would see humanity more or less extinguished from the face of our world.

COP21 was a cop-out, not a breakthrough. And the people who stood and blithely pronounced it a historic occasion were right only in that it quite possibly marked the moment homo sapiens signed its suicide note. Greens cannot and must not soft-pedal or downplay the urgency of the emergency we face.

This is Decade Zero. We are not out of time just yet. But the clock is ticking and midnight is close.

Friday, 18 December 2015

The Focus of All Ignorance: The Final Republican Primary Debate

If you have time to kill and feel like being scared, why not tune into an online repeat of the final Republican Presidential debate for the primaries that start in Iowa and New Hampshire in a few weeks' time? Because, as you listen to the jostling cacophony of prejudice, pomposity and shallowness, it is a truly terrifying prospect that

(a) one of these people will be the Republican/GOP nominee
 and that
 (b) as things stand, barring a late swing to the insurgent Bernie Sanders for the Democrat nomination, only that pillar of the Establishment, Hillary Clinton, stands tenuously between them and the Presidency (and the US nuclear arsenal).

When race outsiders Jeb Bush and Senator Rand Paul end up sounding like the only sane voices on the stage, this is the reality - men (and one woman) to whom you wouldn't entrust the temporary care of your dog now stand on the threshold of the most powerful and dangerous office in the world. And this is not the narrow prejudice of a leftwing blogger - there are perfectly credible rightwing politicians we can debate with, however deep our differences - but rather a reflection of just how terrifyingly ill-informed and blind to reality most of these candidates are. 

The Ignorant Nine: Republican candidates at the Las Vegas debate
In the debate from Las Vegas, which focused on immigration and foreign policy, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush several times complained businessman Donald Trump could not be a serious candidate because of declarations that, for example, he would "build a Great Wall" along the border of Mexico to keep out Hispanic migrants he has previously denounced as predisposed to commit rape and murder. But it is Mr Trump who stands at 34% nationwide for the Republican nomination while Bush languishes at 7%. The only challenge to the artificially hirsute billionaire businessman is the equally odious Ted Cruz, who joked that he would build a wall too and make Trump pay for it.

Contemplating the nine candidates participating in the debate, it was difficult not to reflect that it must be rare that so much ignorance could be gathered in the one place at the one time. Consider a few gems:

- the repeated confusion of Saudi Arabia with Iran. Several times candidates, Senator Marco Rubio, Governor Chris Christie and Senator Ted Cruz especially, seemed to think that Iran somehow backs or at least is responsible for ISIS while Saudi  Arabia fights ISIS. The reality is the opposite: while Saudi finance founded and continues to support ISIS in its murderous activities, Iranian troops and volunteers have been taking to the field in Iraq for over a year to fight against ISIS. Rubio and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorino imagine a Sunni army taking on ISIS - from where? ISIS are Sunnis fighting Shias in Iraq and Syria. While many Sunnis live in fear of them as much as anyone else, they have no army.

- Ted Cruz implied that all terror attacks are carried out by Muslims. In truth, the FBI's own figures put the Islamist involvement in terrorist incidents within the USA at just 6% of the total and Europol puts the current rate in Europe at just 2% of terrorist incidents. The vast majority of terrorist acts have been committed by Hispanic groups in the USA and by separatist organisations in Europe.

- Governor John Kasich complained about the Europeans "holding a climate conference in Paris when they should have been talking about destroying ISIS". Where do you even start?

- Donald Trump, backing away from his previous call to close the internet, just wants to ban ISIS from using it (perhaps a strong word with their internet provider in downtown Raqqa and slapping on some family control filters?). At the same time, Donald thinks it would be a good idea for western intelligence agencies to hack into ISIS websites to watch what the terrorists are doing; something that presumably he believes they haven't been doing for some time already.

- Trump also wants to set out to kill the families of ISIS members. Suicide bombers while not bothered about their own lives are apparently family guys who will think twice if the US military are instructed to seek out and kill their non-combatant wives and children. Great American values, although he later seemed to contradict himself by complaining about the futility of past US interventions in the Middle East (and, for fairness sake, he did oppose the Iraq War back in 2003).

Dr Ben Carson, a neuro-surgeon and Christian leader, talked bizarrely of his willingness to blow up Muslim children as "an act of love" via a tortuous analogy with his operations on sick kids. Better to get it over with, he seemed to be saying, than death by a thousand cuts. He also started his presentation by calling for a moment of silence for the people killed at San Bernardino, leading one critic on social media to blast him "we can hardly hear you already, why turn up the volume with a moment's silence?"

- Meanwhile, Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, boldly vowed to win back the trust of King Hussein of Jordan. Unquestionably, it will be an amazing achievement of historical proportions if he fulfils this promise as Hussein has been dead for over sixteen years now - but perhaps I am just a pessimistic leftist. Christie also said he wants to shoot down Russian planes in Syria rather than be seen as a "weakling" like Barak Obama. ("The candidate for World War Three", Rand Paul wryly observed).

So, depressingly but unsurprisingly, the Republican field is about as narrow-minded and foreboding as ever, and the narrative darkly extreme. We saw nearly all candidates bantering over how much carpet-bombing is enough, relaxed about deliberately killing innocents, openly advocating a war with Iran and military confrontation with Russia and China, joking about the efficacy of building a wall thousands of miles long ("Just like the folks in Israel", quipped Trump) and purposefully tarring all migrants and refugees with the same brush of terrorism. Perhaps back in 1941 they would have applauded the decision to bar Ann Frank's family's desperate claim for asylum in the USA for pretty much the same reasons of possible latent sympathy for the enemy.

We might like to comfort ourselves with the thought that the two lead candidates - Trump and Cruz - are so divisive and maverick that they will alienate so many Americans that they won't win. Except that the evidence stands to the contrary: tracking polls for RealClearPolitics show a close race indeed between them and either Clinton or Sanders for the General Election itself. The mainstream of American politics has become so dumbed down, so hysterically uninformed and quick to knee-jerk violence, that one poll this week found that 30% of Republican voters would support bombing the city of Agrabah, with only 13% opposed.

Agrabah is an entirely fictional place, the setting for the fairytale story of Aladdin.

All this, of course, is perhaps a symptom of America's long, slow decline, an empire in gradual retreat. Abroad it is reduced to an ever-increasing reliance on projection of military power and violence to shore up its fading influence; at home, to a dependence on raising up scapegoat after scapegoat to neutralise a dislocated and restive citzenry. And with this in mind, the final word must go to Trump. He highlighted perhaps the greatest fear of all when candidates were asked about nuclear weapons. His incisive analysis is about as articulate a summary as anyone could possibly provide:

"The biggest problem we have today is nuclear...nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. In my opinion, that is the single biggest problem our country faces."

Who could possibly disagree?

(Learn more about all the candidates - including the Green Party's Dr Jill Stein - in the US elections HERE)

Biased, unfair socialist commentary? Watch the whole debate here and see what you think ...

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Greens on the Rojavan Revolution

Last week saw the British Government get its way in proposing that UK jets should join in aerial bombing in Syria. Since then, the litany of bad news from the area has continued - ISIS continue to murder and oppress; Russian bombers attack Syrian rebels but not ISIS; Turkey continues to weave a devious path through the maelstrom, allegedly buying cheap oil that finances ISIS and blocking Kurdish attempts to seal off the self-styled Caliphate's trade routes; British planes attack the Assad regime, which was not part of the debate in Parliament; millions of people continue to flee, thousands are killed and whole affluent cities are brought to dust.

But in one part of Syria, there is good news. In the three Kurdish cantons of the northeast, collectively known as Rojava, not only has ISIS been pushed dramatically back, but the inhabitants have embraced an incredible, egalitarian revolution that is transforming their society and offering a model for sustainability and social justice to the whole region and beyond.

In the UK, perhaps because endorsing Rojava in the battle with ISIS would mean endorsing social revolutionaries, the Cameron Government has largely ignored what some refer to as the "stateless state". But on the Left, many have come to see it as an entity needing our backing and none more so than many in the Green Party, which some months ago formally voted in favour of calling for British and international support for Rojava's struggle.

Here are links to three pieces by Green Party members on Rojava and the hope it provides in winning hearts and minds as well as battlefields from the pernicious fascism of ISIS, but without yielding to the twisted agendas of self-styled Great Powers which have to date caused so much deep seated and lasting harm to the entire region of the Levant.


- Derek Wall, Green Party International Co-ordinator in "The Morning Star" (published 2/12/15)

THE media and political class pre-frame debates so we are left with limited choices. Often a simple analysis of the situation shows that the positions advanced are nonsense.The current debate over how to fight Islamic State (Isis) in Syria is a typical example. The debate is framed as bombing Isis versus a pacifist position. We are set up to agonise over intervention. 

On the one hand Western intervention in Iraq and Libya has created the chaos which led to the birth and growth of the so-called Islamic State. On the other, after the bloodshed in Paris, to do nothing is not an option, so many of us reluctantly are tempted to support British bombing of Raqqa and other areas controlled by Isis.

However even a cursory examination of the facts on the ground suggest that, far from opposing Isis, the British government is actually campaigning against the most successful of its opponents — the revolutionary Kurds led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and organised in the Peoples Protection Units (YPG).

Also see a comment piece for the Green Party of England & Wales by Derek Wall in October 2014 on "Western Blindspot: the Kurds' Forgotten War in Syria."


- Martin O'Beirne, Ecosocialist blogger  (published 28/11/15)

Contrary to what I think I should probably think - I don't agree that there should be no bombing/air campaign at all in the fight against Da'esh ever by anyone.

I disagree with Cameron's crude strategy of UK airstrikes and heavy bombing of Raqqa. What I do agree with is the following 1. Political intervention (in particular pressuring Turkey to reconsider its increasingly blatant support for ISIS) 2. A complete reassessment of our arms trade with Saudi & Israel 3. The left doing several things that broadly come under the rubric of 'defending the greyzone' including, supporting Corbyn and attacking the media and messages it is portraying. The Sun and Daily Mail have by any standards been vile. The Caliph the conductor and we the conducted and finally 4. Being very mindful indeed with the use of the Prevent program. Administered in any other way could be counterproductive and there are reports that this is so.

I strongly disagree with the drive for militarization over the next decade, billions planned for new aircraft and trident renewal. A pillar of neoliberalism that has inevitably created this situation. This money could pay for a million climate jobs several times over, amongst other things. But I do agree with one thing. Despite playing a major role in birthing ISIS in to this world, they, ISIS, should be stopped. If the left acknowledges this, a strategy is lacking in much of the discourse, and the above mentioned strategies are only mitigation.



- Adrian Cruden, former Green Party Parliamentary candidate in "The Point" (published 6/12/15)

Political delusion reached some sort of tragic apogee last week with the British Parliamentary debate on bombing the Islamist ISIS/Daesh “Caliphate” straddling eastern Syria and north-western Iraq. Responding to the complaints that bombing alone would do little, Prime Minister David Cameron summoned up 70,000 “moderate” Syrian fighters who, although currently invisible, were apparently ready to take on the 30,000 soldiers of the Caliphate and battle their way to the Daesh stronghold of Raqqa, there to bring the conflict to a dramatic conclusion.

The Government has admitted the figure is a totalling of small groups of rebels primarily focussed on fighting the Assad regime (and each other) and the provenance of many is questionable: a good number have links with both al Qaeda and Daesh. Reportedly, officials warned Cameron not to use the figure, but he ignored them, a decision he may come to regret.

The Prime Minister’s wishful thinking, however, excluded one real source of potential military power which other pro-interventionists have been quick to point to as his Army of Moderates has sunk into the desert sands. Maajid Nawaaz of the Quilliam Foundation, speaking on BBC’s Question Time, referred to them portentously as “The Kurdish Warriors” and seemed to suggest they could be Cameron’s troop against Daesh. However, his assumption that the Syrian Kurds might be co-opted into Cameron’s military strategy demonstrates a misunderstanding of both the Kurds and Cameron but, for those of us on the non-pacifist Left, the issue does raise some serious questions about what robust alternative we can offer to the aerial bombing campaign.


Below: Rojavans in Efrin go to the ballot box as democracy wins through...

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

On The Eve of Destruction?

The hours are going by as our MPs debate whether or not to approve Prime Minister David Cameron's plan to join a number of other countries such as the USA and France in bombing the so called Islamic State in Syria - UK jets have been attacking IS in Iraq for some time already. After the appalling terrorist attacks in Paris (though with little mention of similar ones in Beirut a few days before), Cameron insists that the only way Britain can defend itself against IS/Daesh is to join in an aerial campaign in the Syrian parts of the would-be Caliphate.

How this will achieve anything is a puzzle. The UK is likely to contribute at most 8 bombers from bases in Cyprus - a third of the current French force and tiny compared to the US input. It is highly unlikely to lead to any significant change in the balance of the fighting but, in the crowded skies over Syria now that Russia is also mounting a bombing campaign, who knows what scope there is for another international incident between the West and Putin, quite apart from Daesh? What possible calamity could develop out of that given all the recent sabre-rattling against Russia over the seemingly forgotten Ukraine crisis?

And as for bombing making us safer in the UK - is this the same David Cameron who warned that Russia's bombing campaign would make it more likely to suffer an Islamist terror attack? And in that, wasn't he for once correct as we saw with the subsequent downing of the Russian airliner above Sinai? And how did the aerial bombing by France, now going on for some months, make the poor people slaughtered by jihadi butchers on the streets of Paris a couple of weeks ago in any way safer?

But on Cameron goes, ludicrously but chillingly denouncing anyone who does not toe his line as "terrorist sympathisers", a tactic that assaults the right of Parliament to have free debate, of citizens to have freedom of speech and calls into serious question whether Cameron is actually fit for office. For if anyone is doing Daesh's work for them, it is Cameron, ignorantly failing to see that by his words he is both destroying the values he claims to defend and forcing the very polarisation that the jihadis seek: Daesh want this reaction, they want to be bombed. Given their death-cult beliefs, the more bombs that fall, the better - each piece of ordinance will blast away a bit more of what Daesh deride as the "grey zone", the places where Muslims and non-Muslims coexist peacefully.

But when our bombs fall on Raqqa, ISIS's capital city, however well targeted, they will fall not only on the 30,000 or so ISIS troops and their supporters. They will also fall on the 300,000 civilians who were captured in the city when it fell to Daesh. They will fall on schoolchildren, and on ordinary families with nothing to do with Daesh other than have the misfortune to be their prisoners. They will fall on the Yazidi women Daesh keeps as sex slaves, on the prisoners they have seized from among Shia, Allowite and Christian communities and on the western hostages they continue to hold.

Tory MPs, most of whom have only pointed guns at defenceless animals, fantasize about precision weapons that somehow won't explode on the wrong people. Similarly, their leader has seemingly assumed the magical powers of Gandalf to summon up an Army of Moderates - 70,000 currently invisible soldiers who will appear from the mountains and deserts of Mesopotamia to sweep the Islamists away after British bombing allegedly clears a path for them.

So much is at stake tonight. For once, in speeches by Labour's Jeremy Corbyn, the SNP's Angus Robertson and the Greens' Caroline Lucas, we have heard strong arguments against the Government's plans. Several Tories, including David Davis, have also made clear their opposition and it may be that if Cameron carries the day it will only be with the help of the extremist DUP and the tattered and pathetic remnants of the Lib Dems, whose Christian leader seemingly feels "reluctantly" drawn to dropping bombs.

But beyond this, what?

As David Davis has said, any bombing, whatever damage or casualties it inflicts, will be largely "symbolic" in the wider scheme of things. It will not destroy ISIS - it may in fact make it stronger. And meantime, Cameron plans to continue to trade and sell and work with the Saudi regime whose scions have planted and carefully nurtured the seeds of Daesh. He has repeatedly rebutted any complaints or calls for him to act, for example, on the young democracy activist the Saudis plan to crucify for daring to question their absolute monarchy. This is because they apparently give us "valuable intelligence" about threats to our national security - yes Dave, that's the very same threats they have themselves helped to create, so they probably do indeed have valuable information.

There is no strategy, no forward plan, no collaboration with effective local forces like the Rojavans. And while apparently £1 billion is earmarked for post-conflict reconstruction, who is going to do the reconstruction? Have we learned nothing from Libya, where UK-US-French bombing caused over £20 billions of damage and left the country in anarchy with the Black Flags of ISIS and al Qaeda fluttering over half the land?

What will we do when this doesn't work?