31 October 2008

New Institute Website

A few people have been wondering what the hell happened to this blog. It's badly maintained at best, but, I've been told, this long silence is really too much!

Sorry to have been out of the picture for so long, but I've felt it more important to focus limited time and resources on developing more meaningful and strategic responses to the unfolding of various crises. Apart from that I've also been intermittently ill - won't bore anyone with unnecessary details - but am slowly getting back into things.

First big development is the Institute for Policy Research & Development now has a proper home. Yes I know we had a new website launched last year at www.globalcrisis.org.uk.

Well we're still keeping the old url too, but we've been working hard on developing a more advanced website that will permit some scope for greater participation from people involved in important research and generally look and feel much more classy, readable and relevant than the usual think-tank appearance.

Well that's the idea anyway!

So please check out the new improved IPRD website at www.iprd.org.uk. It's taken us a year long to get this together. We're hoping to use the website as a vehicle not only to promote new research, but to find ways of making it accessible to the wider public, and linking it up with diverse forms of activism and campaigning.

Anyone big on both ideas and action who's willing to take the initiative on projects and is interested in getting involved, let me know.

Apart from struggling to finish revising my PhD thesis, my main current project has been a major interdisciplinary analysis of global crises, expanding in a way on the articles and talks I've been doing lately on the 'hidden holocaust' theme. This will be a critical review of most of the crucial evidence on climate change, peak oil, economic recession, and the food crisis, aimed at developing a very clear understanding of what's going on, where it's likely to go, and the kind of thinking and practice that will be needed in the coming post-industrial world.

17 June 2008

Exclusive: Ex-UK Army Chief in Iraq Confirms Peak Oil Motive for War; Praises Fraudulent Reconstruction Programmes

A former senior British Army official in Iraq, James Ellery, admits the link between peak oil and the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq. Currently director of British security firm and US defence contractor, AEGIS, Ellery also whitewashes the massive corruption in Iraqi reconstruction projects.

Brigadier-General James Ellery CBE, the Foreign Office’s Senior Adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad since 2003, confirmed the critical role of Iraqi oil reserves in potentially alleviating a “world shortage” of conventional oil. The Iraq War has helped to head off what Brigadier Ellery described as “the tide of Easternisation” – a shift in global political and economic power toward China and India, to whom goes “two thirds of the Middle East’s oil.”

After the 2004 transfer of authority to an interim Iraqi civilian administration, Brigadier Ellery set up and ran the 700-strong security framework operation in support of the US-funded Reconstruction of Iraq. His remarks were made as part of a presentation at the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London, sponsored by the Iraqi Youth Foundation, on 22nd April.

World Oil Shortage

“The reason that oil reached $117 a barrel last week”, he said, “was less to do with security of supply… than World shortage.” He went on to emphasise the strategic significance of Iraqi petroleum fields in relation to the danger of production peaks being breached in major oil reserves around the world. “Russia’s production has peaked at 10 million barrels per day; Africa has proved slow to yield affordable extra supplies – from Sudan and Angola for example. Thus the only near-term potential increase will be from Iraq,” he said. Whether Iraq began “favouring East or West” could therefore be “de-stabilizing” not only “within the region but to nations far beyond which have an interest.”

Last month geological surveys and seismic data compiled by several international oil companies exploring Iraqi oil reserves showed that Iraq has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, with as much as 350 billion barrels, significantly exceeding Saudi Arabia’s 264 billion barrels, according to a report in the London Times. Former Bush administration energy adviser Matthew Simmons, author of the book Twilight in the Desert, says that Saudi oil production has probably already peaked, with production rates declining consecutively each year. This month the UK Treasury Department warned of the danger of an oil supply crunch by 2015, due to rocketing demand from China and India.

The Threat of Easternisation

Brigadier Ellery’s career in the British Army has involved stints in the Middle East, Africa, Bosnia, Germany and Northern Ireland. “Iraq holds the key to stability in the region,” he said, “unless that is you believe the tide of ‘Easternisation’ is such that the USA and the West are in such decline, relative to the emerging China and India, that it is the East – not the West – which is more likely to guarantee stability. Incidentally, I do not.” Iraq’s pivotal importance in the Middle East, he explained, is because of its “relatively large, consuming population” at 24 million, its being home to “the second largest reserve of oil – under exploited”, and finally its geostrategic location “on the routes between Asia, Europe, Arabia and North Africa - hence the Silk Road.”

Oil production peaks when a given petroleum reserve is depleted by half, after which oil is geophysically increasingly difficult to extract, causing production to plateau, and then steadily decline. US oil production peaked by 1970, while British production in the North Sea peaked by 2000, converting both countries from exporters into net importers of oil and gas.

Oil industry experts and petroleum geologists increasingly believe that world oil production is precariously close to peaking. According to an October 2007 report by the German-based Energy Watch Group, run by an international network of European politicians and scientists, world oil production peaked in 2006. According to BP’s annual statistical review of world energy supply and demand for 2008, released on 11th June, world oil production fell last year for the first time since 2002, by 130,000 barrels per day last year to 81.53 million. Yet world consumption continued to rise by 1.1 per cent to 85.22 million barrels per day, outweighing production by nearly 5 per cent.

Iraqi Reconstruction Corruption Whitewash

Brigadier-General James Ellery is currently Director of Operations at AEGIS Defence Services Ltd., a private British security firm and US defence contractor since June 2004. In April this year, the same month as Ellery’s SOAS lecture, AEGIS won the renewal of its US defence department (DoD) contract for two more years, which at $475 million is the single largest security contract brokered by the DoD. The contract is to provide security services for reconstruction projects in Iraq conducted by mostly American companies.

A US government audit by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, released exactly two years before Brigadier Ellery’s SOAS presentation, concluded that AEGIS could not prove it had properly trained or vetted several armed Iraqi employees. For a random sample of 20 armed guards, no training documentation was found for 14 of them. For 125 other employees, AEGIS reportedly failed to document background checks. The auditors concluded that “there is no assurance that Aegis is providing the best possible safety and security for government and reconstruction contractor personnel and facilities.”

During his April presentation at SOAS, AEGIS director Ellery declared, “Iraq promises a degree of prosperity in the region as it embarks on massive Iraqi-funded reconstruction, a part of which will raise Iraqi’s oil production from 2.5 million bpd today to 3 million by next year and maybe ultimately 6 million barrels per day.” He added, “With a budget of $187 billion over 4 years, Iraq is poised to have a considerable impact on the economies of countries whose technologies can fill the skills gap left by the latter years of Saddam Hussein’s regime.”

During the UN sanctions regime imposed primarily by the US and Britain, Iraq was banned from importing thousands of household goods, including food, medicines, clothes and books, from 1991 to 2003, purportedly to prevent Saddam from developing weapons of mass destruction. It is now widely recognized that the sanctions led to massive socio-economic deprivation, the break-down of civilian infrastructure, large-scale unemployment, and de-industrialisation, resulting in the deaths of up to 1.8 million Iraqis, half of whom were children. The humanitarian crisis led United Nations officials such as Dennis Halliday, former UN Assistant Secretary-General, and Hans von Sponeck, former Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, to resign in protest.

Today, those profiting most from reconstruction projects in Iraq are not Iraqis, but private contractors based primarily in the United States and Britain, according to a new report out last month by Stuart Bowen Jr, incumbent Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The Bowen Report found that at least 855 contracts valued at billions of dollars were cancelled before completion. Another 112 agreements were cancelled because of poor performance, while still more projects recorded as completed never happened. In one case, a $50 million children’s hospital in Basra is listed as completed although the contract was stopped when only 35 percent of the work was finished.

During Brigadier Ellery’s tenure at the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad, under Paul Bremer’s leadership $8.8 billion of reconstruction funds were unaccounted for, and a further $3.4 billion was re-directed for “security” purposes. A UN body to audit the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI), by which the CPA Programme Review Board managed Iraqi oil revenues until June 2004, found “gross irregularities by CPA officials in their management of the DFI,” and condemned the United States for “lack of transparency” and providing the opportunity for “fraudulent acts.”

Under American- and British-administered Iraqi reconstruction programmes, Iraqi agriculture has been devastated. In 2004, the Coalition Provision Authority imposed a hundred economic orders designed to open Iraq’s economy to foreign investment, including Order 12 for tax- and tariff-free imports of foreign products. The Order allowed the giant American agribusiness conglomerate Cargill to flood Iraq with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of cheap wheat, undercutting local food prices, and wiping out the livelihoods of Iraqi farmers.

As an executive director of AEGIS, one of the most prominent US defence contractors in Iraq, Brigadier Ellery is a personal beneficiary of the privatisation of the Iraqi economy. In the conclusions of his April address, he said, “Iraq has resources aplenty: not just oil, of which there is a prodigious quantity”, but especially “the capacity to rebuild a balanced economy including agriculture - for which Iraq was a legend.”

13 June 2008

42 Days: Creeping Internment

The British state's attempt to push through detention without charge for 42 days is a precursor to a plan to impose indefinite internment, targeted disproportionately against Muslims and ethnic minorities.

The current controversy over 42 days is only a sign of things to come. The British state views the House of Commons victory as a stepping-stone on the way to obtaining the power to impose internment, that is, the power to label innocent people people as "terrorist suspects", and subsequently detain them indefinitely without charge. Yet just as the House of Lords is expected to reject the Bill for now, it is equally expected that unelected Prime Minister Gordon Brown will attempt to galvanise the Parliament Act to force the Bill through.

One of the most vocal voices in the state campaign for internment is that of Ken Jones, who as head of the Association of Police Chief Officers (APCO), and former chair of its counter-terrorism committee, insisted last year that there was a need to hold people without charge for "as long as it takes." This "judicially-supervised detention" is, we were told, essential to counter the increasingly complex, global nature of terror cells.

This was, however, only an official public admission of police planning that has clearly gone on far longer. The first hint that Scotland Yard was privately pushing for internment came on 8th October 2006. The conservative political commentator Iain Dale revealed that Sir Ian Blair as Metropolitan Police Commissioner told a Reform Club Media Group meeting under Chatham House rules that the British people should "brace themselves for a truly appalling act of terror", following which "people would be talking quite openly about internment".

Then on the 19th October 2006, Professor Anthony Glees, director of the Brunel Centre for Intelligence & Security Studies at Brunel University, wrote a piece in the Independent, 'Internment should be a policy option', arguing for the overturning of the European Convention on Human Rights, which he insisted is "inappropriate for a country at war." Advocating that "We need to think about how we should behave to people who consider us enemies", namely Muslim communities, he went on to argue:

"Internment in the second world war is called MI5's darkest hour, but internment was a very effective way of keeping the country safe from Nazi subversion. People say that the vast majority of those interned were Jews, and they would be the last people to act in a subversive way. In fact research shows that there were some Jews in Britain as agents of the Third Reich. Their families were in the hands of the Gestapo and they were blackmailed. And some say that internment in Northern Ireland made the situation better. Internment needs to be talked about. There shouldn't be things that shouldn't be considered - if they can help."

The increasing attempt to legitimise the concept and practice of internment against predominantly Muslim communities adds to the raft of anti-terror legislation which is already systematically discriminatory. It also feeds into the the rampant politicization of intelligence, in which - as investigative journalist and Spectator editor Peter Oborne has documented in a paper for the Centre for Policy Studies - the spectre of terrorism both before and after 7/7 has been deliberately exaggerrated, and even fabricated, by the British government and police to legitimize authoritarian measures of social control at home and abroad.

According to Harmit Atwal of the Institute of Race Relations in London:

"There are two criminal justice systems in Britain today. In the first, under the ordinary rule of law, there is a balance between the rights of the citizen and the rights of the state. But in the second, under the special provisions of anti-terror laws, you can be arrested, questioned and publicly accused of being a threat to civilisation on the thinnest of pretexts, detained without fair trial and go slowly mad in the cells of Belmarsh, Woodhill or the immigration detention centres. The first system applies to white Britons. The second system applies to foreign nationals and, increasingly, British Muslims too."

Hence, the impact of creeping internment will most likely be the further systematic erosion of British national security. According to Des Thomas, a former Senior Detective Superintendent, Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) and Deputy Head of Hampshire Constabulary CID, the 7/7 attacks served "to facilitate the introduction of repressive legislation and oppressive policing resulting in the frightening and alienation of the Muslim community." Thomas warned that the tightening of anti-terror powers is thus "conducive to allowing insurgents to establish an area from which they would be free to move, recruit and mount further attacks. Laws of this kind are often impossible to implement and the trying may itself act as a recruiting sergeant for extremist organisations." Increasingly harsh anti-terror laws make "it easier for Muslim extremists to convince potential recruits" exposing the "short-sighted and repressive nature of the state response." [p. 9]

Thomas' concerns are backed by the evidence - evidence that the British state, MPs and mainstream media continue to ignore. A study by the Democratic Audit at the University of Essex that:

"The key to successfully combating terrorism lies in winning the trust and cooperation of the Muslim communities in the UK. However, the government's counter terrorism legislation and rhetorical stance are between them creating serious losses in human rights and criminal justice protections; loosening the fabric of justice and civil liberties in the UK... harming community relations... having a disproportionate effect on the Muslim communities... prejudicing the ability of the government and security forces to gain the very trust and cooperation from individuals in those communities that they require to combat terrorism. The impact of the legislation and its implementation has been self-defeating as well as harmful."

Similarly, even Demos, a think-tank of which Brown's predecessor Blair has been particularly fond, backs up these findings in a study setting out a six-point strategy for countering extremism by working within and alongside Muslim communities. The report finds that the potential radicalisation of younger generations of British Muslims is precisely the danger that increasing indiscriminate arrests under new anti-terror powers will exacerbate.

Inevitably, casting the net so wide that innocent people are inevitably drawn into new police 42 day internment-regimes will culminate in increasing discontent, frustration, and anger at the injustice of the legal system. It will also generate a massive burden in manpower, cost and bureaucracy on a national security system which is already riddled with holes, to process thousands of cases the vast majority of which will be dead leads.

Given that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Kevin Macdonald, had already confirmed that an extension of detention time without charge is simply unnecessary ("Our experience has been that 28 days has suited us quite nicely"), the underlying state rationale behind creeping internment has neither been explained, nor justified.

10 June 2008

The Price of Business-as-Usual

Christian Aid is angry. The British government has just "eviscerated" the Climate Change Bill, claimed the agency.

The Guardian, in contrast, appears relatively delighted. They simply cut and pasted a news agency report from the Press Association, headlined "UK bill to set carbon targets clears first hurdle."

For some reason, they don't seem very bothered about analysing the details. Yes, they've got a nice little debate going, with critics like ex-environment minister Michael Meacher head-to-head against current minister Phil Woolas, plus some added criticisms from the Lib Dems, the Tories officially congratulating Labour, not to mention several Tory backbenchers opposing the whole idea of action to prevent dangerous climate change. But there's a very important point, mentioned, alluded to, but not really elaborated on, a point that at this time the public sorely needs to understand.

I haven't seen any other reporting on what the government has just done with this Bill, and would be interested to see how the Bill is portrayed (if it is portrayed beyond the above meagre pickings).

But Christian Aid puts it very clearly. What matters, is not so much what is being proposed, but what the govt is studiously avoiding:

"Christian Aid said it was deeply disappointed at the Government's refusal, revealed yesterday by Phil Woolas MP, Minister of State for the Environment at the start of the Bill's second reading in Parliament, to include a target for cutting UK carbon emissions of 80 percent over 1990 levels by 2050.

It said the removal from the Bill of an undertaking to ensure that UK emissions of greenhouse gases do not exceed the level necessary to limit global temperature rises to not more than 2C above pre industrial levels would fatally undermine the credibility of the UK's climate change policies.
...

'Only carbon emission cuts of 80% and above will keep global temperatures below 2oC. That target is essential as beyond 2C the effects of climate change such as drought, floods and disease will become rampant.' "

Decisions, decisions. So the govt has decided that there's no need to worry about the two degree limit (which is bad enough).

In fact, and we need to be very clear on this, at current rates of increase of emissions, where are we likely to be over the coming decades? Well, the Guardian isn't exactly unfamiliar with this, given their summary of Mark Lynas' book Six Degrees, which outlines the findings of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers:

"The impacts of two degrees warming are bad enough, but far worse is in store if emissions continue to rise. Most importantly, 3C may be the 'tipping point' where global warming could run out of control, leaving us powerless to intervene as planetary temperatures soar. The centre of this predicted disaster is the Amazon, where the tropical rainforest, which today extends over millions of square kilometres, would burn down in a firestorm of epic proportions.

"Computer model projections show worsening droughts making Amazonian trees, which have no evolved resistance to fire, much more susceptible to burning. Once this drying trend passes a critical threshold, any spark could light the firestorm which destroys almost the entire rainforest ecosystem. Once the trees have gone, desert will appear and the carbon released by the forests' burning will be joined by still more from the world's soils. This could boost global temperatures by a further 1.5ºC - tipping us straight into the four-degree world.

"Three degrees alone would see increasing areas of the planet being rendered essentially uninhabitable by drought and heat. In southern Africa, a huge expanse centred on Botswana could see a remobilisation of old sand dunes, much as is projected to happen earlier in the US west. This would wipe out agriculture and drive tens of millions of climate refugees out of the area. The same situation could also occur in Australia, where most of the continent will now fall outside the belts of regular rainfall.

"With extreme weather continuing to bite - hurricanes may increase in power by half a category above today's top-level Category Five - world food supplies will be critically endangered. This could mean hundreds of millions - or even billions - of refugees moving out from areas of famine and drought in the sub-tropics towards the mid-latitudes. In Pakistan, for example, food supplies will crash as the waters of the Indus decline to a trickle because of the melting of the Karakoram glaciers that form the river's source. Conflicts may erupt with neighbouring India over water use from dams on Indus tributaries that cross the border.

"In northern Europe and the UK, summer drought will alternate with extreme winter flooding as torrential rainstorms sweep in from the Atlantic - perhaps bringing storm surge flooding to vulnerable low-lying coastlines as sea levels continue to rise. Those areas still able to grow crops and feed themselves, however, may become some of the most valuable real estate on the planet, besieged by millions of climate refugees from the south."

Yet after all the fanfare and jumping around and big words and loud promises, when all the racket about being Green has died down, the govt reneges on its own promises. What a surprise. Not.

Given that Brown did the same last year when he "U-turned" on pledges to follow EU targets to generate 20 per cent of Europe's energy from renewable sources, as also noted by the Guardian, to its credit (and even the Telegraph).

Why?

Because, according to both papers, the Business Secretary John Hutton was worried about pissing off the Ministry of Defence, an "excessive" cost of about £4billion of investment (we won't worry about the jobs that could be created in the process, nor the £205 billion of taxpayers money the govt has poured unchecked and unaccounted for into Iraq up to 2007, probably subsidising corrupt defence contractors, that's £6.5 billion for this year alone), as well as conflicting with the petrol-friendly nuclear power lobby.

This Bill is a fraud.

9 June 2008

Iraq: Agreement to Allow US to Launch Wider Regional War

According to the Gulf News here.

And immediately denied by US officials, also here.

Makes you wonder though, doesn't it? Especially given the distance Israel is putting between itself and the ill-considered declaration from an Israeli minister that war with Iran is "inevitable."

My view?

Well, everyone knows the Hawks are eager for a war on Iran. But it's becoming more difficult to get their way.

Unfortunately, the war-mongers -- I'm not just talking about the Hawks in Washington and their imbecile lieutenants in Whitehall, I'm talking about the many servile unthinking media pundits, some of whom like to think of themselves as 'security' journalists, who've been parroting govt press releases for so long they've lost all ability to critically connect concepts together (yes, the process known as 'thinking' controlled by those obscure rules of 'logic' against the landscape of 'fact') -- the war-mongers don't really understand the potential ramifications of a war.

Neither are they capable of seeing the obvious disinformation that has been poured for the last 5 years or more into making the world believe that Iran really poses a threat to our security, disinformation which is without a shred of actual evidence, beyond the BS that passes for "intelligence."

But so what! Let's nuke the crap out of the place and trigger Armageddon. We'll all be safer then.

5 June 2008

Revealed: Secret plan to keep Iraq under US control

The Independent today reports on the continuing wonders of the drive for democratisation and civilisation in Iraq in a frontpage piece sub-headlined:

"Bush wants 50 military bases, control of Iraqi airspace and legal immunity for all American soldiers and contractors"

By Patrick Cockburn

Thursday, 5 June 2008

A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.

The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilise Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.

But the accord also threatens to provoke a political crisis in the US. President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. But by perpetuating the US presence in Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw US troops if he is elected president in November.

The timing of the agreement would also boost the Republican candidate, John McCain, who has claimed the United States is on the verge of victory in Iraq – a victory that he says Mr Obama would throw away by a premature military withdrawal.

America currently has 151,000 troops in Iraq and, even after projected withdrawals next month, troop levels will stand at more than 142,000 – 10 000 more than when the military "surge" began in January 2007. Under the terms of the new treaty, the Americans would retain the long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq. American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law for US troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad government.

The precise nature of the American demands has been kept secret until now. The leaks are certain to generate an angry backlash in Iraq. "It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty," said one Iraqi politician, adding that if the security deal was signed it would delegitimise the government in Baghdad which will be seen as an American pawn.

The US has repeatedly denied it wants permanent bases in Iraq but one Iraqi source said: "This is just a tactical subterfuge." Washington also wants control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000ft and the right to pursue its "war on terror" in Iraq, giving it the authority to arrest anybody it wants and to launch military campaigns without consultation.

Mr Bush is determined to force the Iraqi government to sign the so-called "strategic alliance" without modifications, by the end of next month. But it is already being condemned by the Iranians and many Arabs as a continuing American attempt to dominate the region. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful and usually moderate Iranian leader, said yesterday that such a deal would create "a permanent occupation". He added: "The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans."

Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is believed to be personally opposed to the terms of the new pact but feels his coalition government cannot stay in power without US backing.

The deal also risks exacerbating the proxy war being fought between Iran and the United States over who should be more influential in Iraq.

[...]

Hmm. Of course, nothing to do with oil.

Nothing to do with the fact that Saudi oil reserves have already peaked and are now in decline, with production declining year after year, according to former Bush administration energy adviser Matthew Simmons.

Certainly nothing to do with the finding last month, based on geological surveys and seismic data compiled by several international oil companies exploring Iraqi oil reserves, that Iraq "has the world's largest proven oil reserves, with as much as 350 billion barrels", significantly exceeding Saudi Arabia's 264 billion barrels.

If truth be told, the new figures were probably estimated by the oil majors, and the US State Department, several decades ago, but deliberately repressed from public understanding both in Iraq and beyond.

And certainly, none of this has anything to do with the Iraqi oil law that has been stalled for a year, which is set to privatise Iraqi oil reserves and dump them exclusively in the hands of Western corporate multinationals, despite objections from Iraqi trade unions which of course represent the demands of the majority of Iraq's labourers. "Iraqis will never accept this sellout to the oil corporations", says Kamil Mahdi, an Iraqi academic based at the University of Exeter. But who cares what the Iraqi people want anyway? It's not like these barbarians really understand anything about freedom and democracy anyway.

30 May 2008

Institutionalised Child Abuse In the Name of The Endless War for Civilization, Freedom and All That

"Despite their age these are very, very dangerous people."
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2003, justifying child abuse at Guantanamo Bay.

Info courtesy of Maryam Hassan from Cage Prisoners:

Mohammed el Gharani, a Chadian national born and brought up in Saudi Arabia, decided to move abroad because he faced discrimination as a non-national of African origin and felt his prospects of economic or educational advancement were poor.

He went to Pakistan, shortly before the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA, reportedly to study English and gain IT skills. In order to get a passport that would allow him to travel unaccompanied, he needed to be over 18, so he lied about his age.

In October 2001, when he was 15 years old, Mohamed was praying in a mosque in Karachi when it was raided by Pakistani police. So began years of incarceration as a result of the US-led "war on terror". Mohamed ended up in Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, where he remains to this day. His body is apparently covered in scars caused by the torture and beatings he has suffered. His teeth are said to be falling out because of neglect, and his tongue is apparently cracked as a result of dehydration. The psychological harm his ordeal has caused is harder to gauge.

After his arrest Mohamed was taken to a prison in Pakistan where he alleges:

He was hung by his wrists, naked apart from his shorts, with his feet barely touching the floor. If he moved his interrogators beat him. This continued for up to 16 hours a day for three weeks.

He was blindfolded for this entire period, apart from three to five minutes each day when he ate.

He was forced to drink lots of water before his interrogators tied his penis with string so that he could not urinate.

When his Pakistani captors told him that he would be transferred to US custody, Mohamed was overjoyed. He told his lawyer he thought that the USA was "all about democracy, and they were a fair and good people" and that his torture would end.

Mohamed's optimism was rapidly shattered. He says that when he was handed over to US custody, he was put in blue overalls, hooded, shackled, beaten and threatened with death. He was taken by helicopter to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he alleges:

He was stripped naked and repeatedly beaten.

He was doused in freezing water and left exposed to the elements for three or four nights.

A guard held his penis with a pair of scissors and told him he would cut it off.

He was repeatedly called "nigger" by US soldiers, a term of racist abuse he had never heard before.

In January 2002, Mohamed was one of the first "enemy combatants" to be transferred to Guantánamo Bay. Sedated, shackled and hooded for the flight, he was allegedly beaten severely on arrival and threatened with torture that "would be worse than anything he had been through in Pakistan". He says he has been subjected to constant racial abuse at Guantánamo Bay. He also alleges:

He was hung from hooks, with his feet not touching the ground, and then beaten. This happened around 30 times, for up to eight hours each time.

He was placed in extremely cold rooms and subjected to loud music.

He was moved between cells every 20 minutes so that he could not sleep.

He was burned with a cigarette during an interrogation.

He was forced to look at pornographic images.

On one occasion when guards were removing him from his cell, he was assaulted with particular brutality. He was pepper-sprayed and guards in full riot gear slammed his head into the floor causing him to lose a tooth.

"They did not ask me my age until I had been in Cuba for a year."

"We made this camp for people who would be here forever. You should never think about going home. You’ll be here all your life… Don’t worry. We’ll keep you alive so you can suffer more." A US interrogator speaking to Mohamed in Camp V.

Contrary to claims that juveniles in Guantánamo Bay have been held in conditions befitting their age, Mohamed has been held for over a year in Camp V, which is modelled on the harsh "super-maximum" security prisons on the US mainland. Mohamed is kept in a concrete isolation cell, in solitary confinement, for up to 24 hours a day. He is supposed to be allowed to exercise for an hour three times a week, but once a week or even once a fortnight is the norm. There is 24-hour lighting. Large, loud fans designed to prevent detainees from communicating between cells are kept on all the time.

In April 2003, the US authorities revealed that children as young as 13 were among those held at Guantánamo Bay. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2003 stated: "Despite their age these are very, very dangerous people… they may be juveniles, but they’re not on a little league team anywhere, they’re on a major league team, and it’s a terrorist team".

In 2004, the Department of Defense announced that it had released three juveniles from Guantánamo and said that "every effort" had been made to provide for the "special physical and emotional care" of juveniles held at Guantánamo. It stated that juveniles were held in a separate detention camp, Camp Iguana, that they were taught English and mathematics, could exercise daily and were even taken on trips to the beach.The Pentagon says that five juveniles have been released and that no others are held at Guantánamo. The Pentagon has defined child detainees as those aged under 16, contrary to international standards.

Mohammed el Gharani is not the only juvenile held at Guantánamo Bay. At least four and possibly nine of the current Guantánamo detainees were under 18 when detained. Some of them were as young as 13.

In addition to the allegations of torture, there have also been reports of attempted suicide by juvenile detainees. Their stories belie the rosy picture painted by the US administration.The detention, interrogation and alleged torture of unrepresented children at Guantánamo Bay contravene international laws that apply to both adults and children, as well as the special standards developed by the international community to protect children.

END

28 May 2008

US Gov Report Lifts Lid on Peak Oil Supply Shock

On March 29th, Congressmen Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and Tom Udall (D-NM), co-chairmen of the Congressional Peak Oil Caucus, convened a news conference with Mark E. Gaffigan of the US Government Accountability Office (GAO).

On the agenda was a new embargoed report by the US GAO confirming that the vulnerability of the United States to disruptions to oil supplies is due not only to political and economic factors, but especially due to the imminent reality of peak oil. The report is the first time a US government agency has officially admitted the inevitability of an imminent peak in world oil production, with consequent ramifications in the form of "irreversible declines for oil fields, regions, countries and eventually the world."

The report finds that the majority of expert projections expect the peak to occur without warning any time between now and 2040. Most disturbingly, the report emphasises that the US federal government has failed to explore any preventive or mitigating measures to tackle the problem and associated implications of peak oil, even though, as the report warns, "an imminent peak and sharp decline in oil production could have severe consequences, including a worldwide recession."

The publication of the GAO report, despite offering a grave warning of the necessity of immediate urgent action to prepare for the impact of the peak of world oil production, has received relatively little coverage in the press considering the import of its findings. Although most peak oil experts predict that the peak of world oil production is most likely to hit at around 2010, some evidence suggests it may already been breached.

According to David Strahan, a former BBC financial news correspondent and author of The Last Oil Shock, "There are currently 98 oil producing countries in the world, of which 64 are thought to have passed their geologically imposed production peak, and of those 60 are in terminal production decline."

24 May 2008

Breaking: Terrorism Laws Used to Gag Academic Freedom

This just in from The Muslim News (surprise, surprise, this story somehow isn't fit for the Free Press):

UK: Terrorism arrests provoke outrage on Nottingham campus
23-05-2008
By Elham Asaad Buaras
London, The Muslim News OnLine:

The arrest of an academic and a student from the University of Nottingham for the possession of extremist material has provoked outrage on the campus after it was revealed the apparent offence concerned downloading information for a PhD, The Muslim News has learnt.

Politics student Rizwaan Sabir was arrested on May 14 along with a 30-year-old member of staff under the Terrorism Act 2000. Both men were eventually released on May 20, although the staff member was re-arrested on unrelated immigration issues. Students and staff alike branded the arrest an exploitation of anti-terror laws and stifling of civil liberties. Co-ordinator of Dissertation and Sabir’s personal tutor, Dr Bettina Renz, said that the material in question, an edited version of an al-Qa’ida handbook, was “easily accessible” and available on government websites. “The information he downloaded was 100% related to his studies,” Dr Renz told The Muslim News. “The information he obtained is available on websites that are widely used on reading lists in the School of Politics,” she said.

[follow the link above for more]...

8 May 2008

Peak Food: Blaming the Victims

I've already written about this in previous posts under the 'hidden holocaust' theme, but am prompted to re-address this issue given the way it's been dealt with by mainstream media and associated 'experts'.

In today's Independent we see an eye-opening article revealing that amidst what is described as a series of "global food shortages", a new "government-backed report" shows that "the British public" annually throws away "4.4 million apples, 1.6 million bananas, 1.3 million yoghurt pots, 660,000 eggs, 550,000 chickens, 300,000 packs of crisps and 440,000 ready meals. And for the first time government researchers have established that most of the food waste is made up of completely untouched food products – whole chickens and chocolate gateaux that lie uneaten in cupboards and fridges before being discarded" -- adding up to "a record £10b" every year.

And that's just us Brits. Imagine what the totals are for the Western world combined: Scary and revealing stuff that makes the word "overconsumption" seem like a gross understatement.

But despite the shock value of such important revelations, I'm increasingly concerned at the way in which the food crisis is being portrayed. The Independent goes on to explain the causes of the food crisis as follows: "... millions of the world's poor face food shortages caused by rising populations, droughts and increased demand for land for biofuels, which have sparked riots and protests from Haiti to Mauritania, and from Yemen to the Philippines."

So the food crisis comes down to three things:

1) rising populations (presumably not us in the advanced West, but rather those Third World crazies breeding like rabbits despite being so poor)

2) droughts (which may be exacerbated by climate change but in any case often occur naturally and therefore we purportedly can't do much about)

3) and the drive from energy corporations for investment in biofuels.

Indeed, according to the British government's new chief scientific adviser, Professor John Beddington speaking at a government conference two months ago:


"price rises in staples such as rice, maize and wheat would continue because of increased demand caused by population growth and increasing wealth in developing nations. He also said that climate change would lead to pressure on food supplies because of decreased rainfall in many areas and crop failures related to climate. 'The agriculture industry needs to
double its food production, using less water than today.'
"


So again, population and economic growth in the 'developing nations', plus climate change, are to blame, and can only be addressed by doubling food production using less water (technologically impossible for all intents and purposes, but we'll come back to that). It's Them again -- too many of Them, wanting More.

As if to emphasise the point, we hear in the same piece that:


"Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, said at the conference that the world's population was expected to grow from 6.2bn today to 9.5bn in less than 50 years' time. 'How are we going to feed everybody?' he asked."


Only a rhetorical question of course. Sorry to break it t'ya folks, but 'feeding everybody' has never really been one of the state's major concerns. That's why "Each tonne of wheat and sugar from the UK is sold on international markets at an average price of 40% and 60% below the cost of production respectively (ie, it is dumped)", thus undercutting local farmers across the South, who thus lose any semblance of agricultural-independence they may have once had (i.e. the ability to feed their own people), thus becoming subject to the whims of the global food market, manipulated through speculation in the interests of Northern investors and consumers.

But the important point for now is that as far as Hilary Benn is concerned, it's clear that the cause of the problem is "their" population growth.

Later in the article, Professor Beddington is cited pointing out that global grain stores are currently at the lowest levels ever, just 40 days from running out. He again emphasises the question of food production: "I am only nine weeks into the job, so don't yet have all the answers, but it is clear that science and research to increase the efficiency of agricultural production per unit of land is critical."

According to Beddington, food security is the "elephant in the room" that politicians must face up to quickly. In reality, the "elephant in the room" goes far deeper than the surface issues scratched at lamely by the government, and sits in the heart of global food production. Some of Beddington's observations show that he is dimly aware of this problem. He understands that production needs to be increased drastically. But his solution is a technological one, "science and research" in order to maximise "efficiency" so we can produce faster and better to meet escalating global demand. This is unlikely to happen. Beddington knows it. Benn knows it. The supermarket chains know it.

From this conventional analysis of the food crisis, we are not left with many solutions. We may, however, pick among the following: 1) the proliferation and prolongation of droughts due to climate change means that we need to slow down our CO2 emissions by introducing 'market incentives' (i.e. big taxes) targeted largely at consumers, who are blamed for having no regard for the size of their individual carbon footprints. transfering to alternative renewable energies is, for some odd reason, irrelevant. 2) reducing population growth in developing countries to decrease demand for food (nothing at all to do with NSSM 200, of course). 3) go easy on the biofuels (but fail to propose investment in other viable alternative energy sources). 4) pray day and night that Science will somehow generate a technological miracle of agricultural production.

Obviously, none of these 'solutions' seems to really offer a way out for the food crisis -- and that's because the analysis is fundamentally flawed. It's not completely wrong, it just misses out half the picture, and so comes up with a false diagnosis of what's actually gone wrong. The result is that the institutions that require urgent re-structuring are being absolved. The government, the state, and the network of giant multinational corporations that govern global agribusiness, are excused of any culpability. The cause of the crisis, we keep hearing is, WE, THE PEOPLE! It's the developing nations, who just won't stop breeding, dammit. It's us Western consumers, who won't stop eating and throwing a third of our food away. It's everyone except the state-corporate complex that controls the food industry.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that you and I are NOT culpable. Of course we are. We do throw away tonnes, literally, of food. We do, each of us, have large carbon footprints that we should try to reduce in our own ways. Populations are increasing. But the question is this: are these factors the fundamental causes of the current global food crisis? Or are they exacerbating factors that are accentuating and intensifying the impact of the food crisis? Following mainstream news coverage of food shortages, one would be forgiven for believing that rising food prices are all because of you and me, the public, the general consumer. We have been thoroughly pathologised. And the British government, with its eye-opening study of how much food the British consumer chucks away without thinking, is complicit in this pathologisation.

Why is that the government-backed report discussed in today's Independent, says nothing about the institutions who are primarily responsible for food wastage, the supermarkets, the multinational food chains? If the government is genuinely concerned about food wastage in this country, why won't they do something about the fact reported by the same newspaper in February, that:


"Retailers generate 1.6 million tonnes of food waste each year... An influential watchdog, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), will condemn targets set by the Government's waste-reduction programme as 'unambitious and lacking urgency'. It will also say multi-buy promotions are helping to fuel waste and obesity in Britain. Speaking to The Independent on Sunday ahead of the report's publication on Saturday, Tim Lang, SDC commissioner, said it was 'ludicrous' that the Government had not pressured retailers into setting tougher targets to cut waste.

Three years ago, the government-funded Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) left it up to supermarkets to find voluntary 'solutions to food waste' in an agreement dubbed the Courtauld Commitment. 'The Government is frankly not using its leverage adequately. It really should toughen up on Courtauld, which must be enforced because this is ludicrous,' said Mr Lang, who is also professor of food policy at City University, London.

The 18-month study, which found that 'too many supermarket practices are still unhealthy, unjust and unsustainable', said Wrap should adopt a 'more aspirational approach to reducing waste in food retail by setting longer-term targets and [supporting] a culture of zero waste'...

A separate study by Imperial College for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, found that supermarkets preferred to throw away food that was approaching its sell-by date rather than mark it down in price."


So three months after being hit over the head by the Sustainable Development Commission, the government's waste reduction programme completely ignores the warnings that supermarket profit-maximisation policies are not only directly generating billions of pounds of waste by dumping good food, they are encouraging consumers through excessive advertising, multi-buy offers, and refusal to slash prices on older foods, to also buy excess food they don't need, a third of which they dump in turn.

Instead, the government simply blames consumers. Period. Don't penalise Profit, nor Power. Pathologise People.

The corporate-biased law doesn't help either, because: "The scale of the wastage from supermarkets, food processors, wholesalers and restaurants is not known, because many companies refuse to make their data public, citing commercial confidentiality." In other words, we don't even know the real scale of corporate food wastage. Worse, the government regularly does the same thing -- here's an example: "In the past 10 months, the government's food intervention board dumped almost 30,000 tonnes of fresh vegetables and fruit which had been withdrawn from the market to guarantee farm prices."

So the problem is far more complex, rooted in a consumerist culture that is tied to a political economy being deliberately sustained by those institutions with the most to gain from this entrenched structure. The government has no interest in transforming that political economy. So the result is an insistence on inspecting only half the picture, ignoring the role of the global corporate food industry.

Driven by capitalist imperatives for short-term profit maximisation and long-term cost-minimisation, global agribusiness has established an international food production system that is, basically, dying.

Most of the Earth's fertile land is already now being used for food production. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005 reported that "there is now little room for further agricultural expansion." One of the scientists, Dr Navin Ramankutty, points out: "The real question is, how can we continue to produce food from the land while preventing negative environmental consequences such as deforestation, water pollution and soil erosion?" Or, more bluntly, how are we going to keep producing food if our production-system continues to destroy the very means to produce food?

It's not that the Earth can't produce the food. Its that corporate agribusiness can't produce the food. In fact, as I've warned previously, it has been failing to produce the food since the 1990s, during which grain production has increasingly slowed. The frenzied application of fertilisers and other modern agricultural practices served to temporarily escalate production, but simultaneously have intensified soil erosion, destroying in years essential nutrients for crop-growth that take centuries to replace. The imminent peak of world oil production, oil being the chief underpinning for industrial agricultural methods, which is either just round the corner in 2010-ish (or worse, passed in 2005) means that the global corporate food production system is up against its own physical limits.

For us to keep eating, it's true, we have to put an end to our insane overconsumption and wastefulness. But there are real limits to what the consumer can do within the existing global corporate food system. So we need to turn our attention to that system, and demand that it changes fundamentally, which means, of course, a wholesale transformation of our political economies in ways which rely on renewable energy resources and localised less-intensive but no less successful traditional agricultural practices. We need some kind of grassroots action, which makes our voices impossible to ignore. It will take time to develop, to become strong, to gather momentum. But it needs to be done, and now. Because at current rates of declining food production and rising prices, fuelled by unscrupulous market speculation, many, many people are likely to die, not just in the South, but here too. And while this death escalates, a few at the helm of the global corporate food industry will reap unprecedented windfall profits from their deaths. That's why real solutions aren't being put on the table. Death is regrettable, but when it comes wrapped in £££$$$, it's not so bad...

Brian Haw Allegedly Assaulted by Police at Parliament Square

Received this from Brian Haw's Facebook pals few days ago. Sorry for late post, but worth noting:

On 6th May at around 1.30pm, a community support officer started hassling Aqil Shaerer who is a Palestinian protestor associated with Brian Haw and often around Parliament Square. It is unclear what grounds they had for this. Brian became involved and explained to them that Aqil was part of his authorised demonstration. Two more Pcso officers became involved, but then they all left.

A short while later a police van arrived and they immediately homed in on Brian, claiming that he was harassing them. Before anyone realised what was happening, one of the youngest of the cops kicked Brian’s legs from under him, wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him behind his back.

In years of dealings with the police, Brian has never ever been violent towards them, although he has suffered at their hands on many occasions, including a very violent and pre-meditated attack by a TSG officer, U1019, on the 12th January this year. Rear handcuffing is normally reserved for violent offenders, or is sometimes used where police have no knowledge of the person arrested and cannot guarantee their safety. Of course, neither situation relates to Brian haw. Brian was manhandled into the police van, and the police waved jauntily at protestors as they drove him away to Belgravia police station.

At first the custody officers told supporters Brian was being held for 'disorderly conduct' but when his solicitor, Maggie Peters from Bindmans, became involved, they said he was being held for a section 5 public order offence. They allege that he had shouted at a passing vehicle "get a job you fat bastard". This seems quite unlikely, and the only witness the police appear to be relying on is one of their own policemen.

They admit the passer-by has not made any complaint. Section 5 is not an imprisonable offence and can in fact be dealt with by a fixed penalty notice. Despite this, police have now held Brian for more than four hours.

There seems to be a sinister pattern emerging. Recently, the parliament square protestors have launched legal challenges against the police and courts, and these have taken the form of lodging judicial reviews at the high court, and adding "addendums" as new events occur. Each time something is lodged, within a matter of days, the police target one of the protestors at the square, violently arrest them and then hold them for a disproportionate time. Just this Friday Brian Haw and Barbara Tucker lodged a new addendum to their judicial review at the high court, detailing recent legal travesties for judicial consideration.

--

Yet another shining example of the state's ongoing war on our freedoms.

2 May 2008

What London's In For: A New Mayor and a Newish Fascism

Racism is insidious. It has a new face. The face of Anti-Racism.

Years ago, recognising the importance of Political Correctness and exploiting the anxiety generated by 9/11, the fascist BNP cunningly reinvented itself as entirely Non-Racist. In doing so, it focused its efforts less on the idea of carting off black communities and ethnic minorities “back home”, than on the supposedly rapidly inter-breeding alien Muslim communities invading “our country.”

Increasingly, these ideas have crept into the mainstream political spectrum. Although the failings and inadequacies of the British, European and global political economy are rooted in its structural inequalities, immigration takes the blame for the problem of unemployment. Although al-Qaeda terrorism is a marginal phenomenon relative to the global Muslim community, covertly financed even now by Britain’s own diplomatic and financial allies in the Middle East and Central Asia (e.g. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan), Muslim communities are increasingly criminalised wholesale as inherently backward, anti-modern, and excited by medieval anti-female violence. Thus, multiculturalism is recognised as a huge mistake. Difference should never have been tolerated – it needs now to be concertedly dissolved into a homogenous culture, the norms and values of which are defined by an implicit ideology of ‘blood and soil’ – ‘we are the white indigenous population, our skin evidencing our purity of bloodline, our pristine ancestry, tied to our native soil; and thus you aliens coming into our land need to conform to our ways.’

Suddenly, there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, irreconcilable, except by the latter’s absorption into the ‘us’. Cultures are viewed as discrete entities tied to biologically distinctive racial groups. Racism, and racial war fought as a clash of civilisations, is viewed as a natural, inevitable dynamic of the neo-Darwinian human condition – regrettable, perhaps marginally tameable, but nevertheless entirely natural, and thus understandable. The real signifier, then, of difference is no longer biology as such, but culture. Cultural difference implies bio-territorial incompability.

Social cohesion, then, can only be achieved through a process of purification. Cleansing the soil of alien additives by converting them into ‘good citizens’ who are no longer culturally different.

This is a new form of fascism, different from the old, blatant, Nazified manifestation, primarily due to its recognition that it cannot allow its face to be seen. While denouncing the piece of cloth a Muslim woman might wear on her head (yet strangely uninterested by the pieces of cloth sometimes worn by Jews and Sikhs), it hides beneath its own veil, the veil of ‘freedom’. It hides so well that it no longer even recognises its own reflection:

‘We want you to be free. Free to conform to our ways. For we are Modern, the New.’

Freedom is now defined not by the individuals right to be as they wish to be. It is defined by a bio-territorial mass, dissent against which is viewed as a dangerous form of subversion, a national security threat, justifying further sanctions against freedom, ridicule, humiliation, incarceration, until the source of subversion submits.

Boris Johnson is here to stay.

And here’s some of what he’s already had to say.

Of course, he denies that he is racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic. And he may well even believe this, genuinely.

But the new racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia is defined fundamentally by its new chameleon visage, its extraordinary ability to shape-shift at any moment and appear as its exact opposite. Here we have instances of Boris being an anti-colonialist, an anti-racist, and an anti-terrorist. Yet it is in these very instances that he reveals himself for what he is.

“What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies; and one can imagine that Blair, twice victor abroad but enmired at home, is similarly seduced by foreign politeness. They say [Tony Blair] is shortly off to the Congo . No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, and the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.” [Telegraph (10/01/2002)]

“Like much of western Europe, Britain faces a demographic quandary. In the words of a recent UN interview the populations of EU countries are ‘melting like snow in the sun’… No one knows whether this is caused by the fecklessness of the modern British male, or by women’s liberation; or whether it is because divorce has become too easy.” [Boris Johnson, Lend Me Your Ears (London: HarperPerrenial, June 2004) p. 395]

So is Boris worried about the White Race, the increasing ability of Browns and Blacks to reproduce themselves and perhaps outnumber Us?

“When I shamble round the park in my running gear late at night, and I come across that bunch of black kids, shrieking in the spooky corner by the disused gents, I would love to pretend that I don't turn a hair. Now you might tell me not to be such a wuss. You might say that I am at no more risk than if I had come across a bunch of winos. But somehow or other a little beeper goes off in my brain… You might tell me that when they shout their cheery catcalls, I should smile and wave. And, you know, maybe a big girl’s blouse like me would break into an equally rapid lollop if it were a gang of white kids. Quite possibly. The trouble is, I'm not sure. I cannot rule out that I have suffered from a tiny fit of prejudice. I have prejudged this group on the basis of press reports, possibly in right-wing newspapers, about the greater likelihood of being mugged by young black males than by any other group. And if that is racial prejudice, then I am guilty. And so are you, baby. So are we all. If there is anyone reading this who has never experienced the same disgraceful reflex, then - well, I just don't believe you. It is common ground among both right-wingers and left-wingers that racism is ‘natural’, in that it seems to arise organically, in all civilisations. It is as natural as sewage. We all agree that it is disgusting, a byproduct of humanity’s imperfect evolution. The question is, what to do with the effluent?” [Guardian (21/02/2000)]

Well thanks for the admission, but Boris, you're not absolving yourself by insinuating that everyone feels the same way you do, nor that how you feel is actually an unfortunate byproduct of 'nature'.

“... too many Britons have absolutely no sense of allegiance to this country or its institutions. It is a cultural calamity that will take decades to reverse, and we must begin now with what I call in this morning's Spectator the re-Britannification of Britain. That means insisting, in a way that is cheery and polite, on certain values that we identify as British. If that means the end of spouting hate in mosques, and treating women as second-class citizens, then so be it. We need to acculturate the second-generation Muslim communities to our way of life.” [Telegraph (14/06/2005)]

I’m a second generation Muslim. Come and acculturate me. Please. I had no idea that my kind spouts hate in mosques (yes, the Finsbury Park mosque is not "all mosques") or that we treat our wives, daughters, mother, sisters and generally any females we meet as second-class citizens. I'll ignore for now that marginalising a woman for wearing a cloth on her head puts her in second-class. I’d really like to understand what you mean Boris, whether, indeed, there is any meaning at all behind this notion, and any real research or understanding behind it. How many mosques have you visited Boris? Or are you still believing that fraudulent nonsense put out by the right-wingers at Policy Exchange exposed by the lefty liberals on BBC Newsnight? You say we should identify our British values. I agree. But can we try to get beyond the banal tautology that British values mean fighting those barbaric second-generation Muslims who hate our values?

We’ve all got to be as British as Carry On films and scotch eggs and falling over on the beach while trying to change into your swimming trunks with a towel on. We should all feel the same mysterious pang at the sight of the Queen. We do indeed need to inculcate this Britishness, especially into young Muslims.... We should teach British history. We should think again about the jilbab, with the signals of apartness that it sends out, and we should probably scrap faith schools. We should forbid the imams from preaching sermons in anything but English; because if you want to build a society where everyone feels included, and where everyone shares in the national story, we cannot continue with the multicultural apartheid.” [Telegraph (04/08/2005)]

Right. So if I’m not entirely impressed by the Carry On films, don’t eat pork, have a conception of modesty than doesn’t involve running naked on the beach, wonder what the big deal is about a monarchy that swallows taxpayer’s money due to dubious historical reasons, then I’m bordering on typically Islamist treason? I guess I’m just not sharing in “the national story” – or maybe the Etonian Boris version of it.

But perhaps it's too much to expect an educated Etonian to understand what really lies behind social exclusion, the segregation and marginalisation of both white and non-white communities in this country, the structural violence, institutional racism and class inequality that hits at the majority of the British people, Muslim and non-Muslim. Far easier to focus on the bogeyman of "multicultural apartheid", get Us to hate Them, so that the system itself can avoid uncomfortable scrutiny.

I’m sure an eager Boris fan will find many ways of interpreting such statements in the most angelically benign fashion possible. Thank our lucky stars we’ve got the BNP to remind us! For the BNP, Boris should be brought in as their preferred second candidate, because “a second choice vote for him gives you the chance to vote BNP as your first preference and still vote to get Livingstone out of office”. Boris Johnson as Mayor would “be an improvement for the majority of Londoners.” Oh yes, the majority of Londoners. You mean, "the White Race majority", don't you, my dear friendly fascists?

Boris clearly feels more comfortable airing his rather filthy laundry when it concerns Muslims, who aren’t recognised as an ethnic minority and thus receive less protection than other ethnic minorities. Thus, Boris feels on firmer ground, more confident, when dealing with us subversive brown folks with our medieval beards and scarves, psychotic penchant for honour killing, and rampant obsession with imposing Shariah Law-defined Caliphate dynasties on England, by which to generally repress, murder and subjugate. No need for him to mince words. He jumps right in to mincing Muslims.

To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia – fear of Islam – seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke. Judged purely on its scripture – to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques – it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers. As the killer of Theo Van Gogh told his victims mother this week in a Dutch courtroom, he could not care for her, could not sympathise, because she was not a Muslim. The trouble with this disgusting arrogance and condescension is that it is widely supported in Koranic texts, and we look in vain for the enlightened Islamic teachers and preachers who will begin the process of reform. What is going on in these mosques and madrasas? When is someone going to get 18th century on Islam’s mediaeval ass?”
[Spectator (16/07/2005)]

If you really feel like getting "18th century" on someone's ass, try your own, Boris, but please, I beg you, stay the hell away from mine.

And from the same piece: “The Islamicists last week horribly and irrefutably asserted the supreme importance of that faith, overriding all worldly considerations, and it will take a huge effort of courage and skill to win round the many thousands of British Muslims who are in a similar state of alienation, and to make them see that their faith must be compatible with British values and with loyalty to Britain. That means disposing of the first taboo, and accepting that the problem is Islam. Islam is the problem.”

“The proposed ban on incitement to ‘religious hatred’ makes no sense unless it involves a ban on the Koran itself.... Militant Islam has been shielded from proper discussion by cowardice, political correctness and a racist assumption that we should privilege the beliefs of a minority, even when they appear to be mediaeval." [Telegraph (21/07/2005)]

So Islam is the problem, the "Koran" should be banned, and the Muslim minority's beliefs are "mediaeval."

So let’s fast forward to the present. What are you telling voters now, Boris? Islam is a "religion of peace". Militants take stuff “out of context.” We don’t need to ban the “Koran”. It’s not the whole Muslim minority community who believe this dastardly evil stuff supporting terrorism. Hmm. Somewhat off-key from your previous statements, Boris. So here we have a case of lying as part of your political campaign. Shouldn’t this be illegal in a democracy? No, I guess, not when democracy is already half-dead. Rather like Boris' pathetic Etonian excuse for a brain.

Boris Johnson’s coming victory is a significant blow to our weakened democratic institutions in this country, and proves that those who wish to protect human and civil rights need to revitalise, somehow, their traditional defunct strategies. Those strategies are failing precisely because they issue forth from a serious failure to understand the interconnected systemic dynamic of the intensifying social, political, economic and ideological crises our societies are facing. We don’t understand the insidious nature of the new racism. We don’t even recognise it as racist. In fact, some of us think it’s a wonderful step toward what Boris calls “re-Britannification” - the first time I’ve seen a term used regularly by Hitler and Himmler (the idea of “Germanisation”) appropriated and re-applied in a modern European context.

This is a wake up to civil society, that it needs to re-think its modus operandi and in particular its entire sociological vision. Unless we do so, and fast, the post-Boris era will be even worse than the one round the corner.

1 May 2008

Boris Will Win

This is a ballpark prediction. I hope, deeply, that I'm wrong. We'll find out soon enough.

Why've I thrown this prediction out there in this way?

Because the outcome of Mayoral elections will tell us a great deal about the political direction of this country.

I predict that Boris will win on the basis of a number of observations. Boris represents the legitimisation of the politics of the Far Right in the mainstream political party system. His position is quite clear, and is becoming increasingly accepted as fact by mainstream political parties across the spectrum: immigration, asylum is now a serious problem that is undercutting British jobs and damaging the economy; Islam as a faith and Muslims as a community inherently tend to incite violence and terrorism; alienation and segregation of ethnic minorities from wider society is a symptom of an outmoded ideology of multiculturalism, which is weakening social cohesion and undermining national security.

These ideas are no longer simply the province of the BNP. The wholesale problematisation of the "Other" in Britain has now become a mantra voiced with varying conviction and persuasiveness by all the mainstream political parties, each offering their own differing levels of criticism and corresponding policy solutions.

Boris will win because the City (i.e. the UK's financial community) is backing him. In turn and in tandem with them, Boris is being backed by the corporate media. Headlines in the dailies, including front-page ones, for the past months have frequently focused on Red Ken's flaws: stories about extremists and terrorists amongst his campaigners and advisers; financial scandals at the heart of his administration.

Boris, whose racist, Islamophobic, and xenophobic track record, as well his utter political illiteracy and buffoonery, has received marginal coverage in comparison. Never once on the front-page, perhaps a few back stories, more likely, the odd pieces in the 'comment' sections of perhaps the Guardian and a few other more liberal outlets. Why is Boris being coddled, while Ken kicked, by the corporate media?

Because the political climate has shifted. Boris, with all his hateful, xenophobic baggage, has solicited the backing of powerful special interests who, having a very strong financial base, are prime political donors. The politics of the Far Right now finds pseudo-academic and mainstream support from the House of Commons, and even from recent investigative television documentaries. New Labour, furthermore, is in its death throes, having lost credibility not only with the powerful corporate lobbies which dominate our politico-economic landscape, but also with the wider public, repeatedly submerged in scandal after scandal. It is time for regime-rotation.

In will swing the Tories, though with nothing particularly new. Blair, admirable only for his ability to lie flagrantly while maintaining his trademark fixated cheshire grin, followed by the notoriously unelected and agonisingly uncharismatic Brown, have already together succeeded in pushing New Labour's domestic and foreign policy programmes further to the Right than Thatcher could have imagined in her wildest, wettest dreams. The Tories are now rightfully reclaiming the still-born heritage they had hatched more than 20 years ago, albeit renewed and revitalised in all its bloody, radicalised glory. A sign of how bad things are is the BNP's (qualified) endorsement of Boris as Mayoral candidate -- the first time that the fascists have actually come out in the open and found a mainstream political party candidate acceptable.

Why this sea-change in the political wind? It's a common thing, actually, historically. In times of social crisis and anxiety, the politics of 'Otherization' frequently becomes a strategy of political consolidation, and emotional consolation. It's always easy to find Others to blame. They steal our jobs, our bread, our women. Kill us and attack us all the time. They're so different from us. They hate us. Don't want to know us, or be like us. Can't speak our language. Want to change us. Control us. Enslave us. When the economy is teetering on the edge of the abyss (yes, it is an abyss), the climate is spiralling out of control (far faster than the IPCC would have us believe), peak oil well passed (the age of energy scarcity is here), food prices rocketing (yes, food production peaked about a decade ago and now we're feeling it [well imagine how they feel in the South?]), when systemic crises are converging but those who benefit from the system aren't willing to change it, then the avalanche of anxiety thus generated needs an outlet, a deflection point: the Other.

In other words, if Boris wins, it is an omen of things to come. It would mean that the problematisation of the 'Other' has become entrenched in popular consciousness in the heart of London, often viewed as one of the world's richest multicultural societies. It would mean that ethnic minority and Muslim voting blocs, despite having turned out in force, had been rendered obsolete. It would vindicate the extraordinary power of the military-corporate complex and its UK extension in the form of the City, to influence popular thinking through its structural influence over the mass media -- which is why Boris has been ahead in the polls this week.

Not only will Boris win, comfortably, his unlikely comrades in the BNP will come out with far more votes than hitherto expected. This will be treated as a surprise by mainstream media, if even acknowledged.

I hope that I'm wrong. But if Boris loses, he will lose by a margin. That he's gotten this far already, half-backed by the BNP, is a bad enough indication of the political climate in this country.

Maybe, by a long shot, he'll lose badly. Maybe I'm so wrong, it's almost hilarious. I really hope so. If this is the case, it means that my pessimism is unjustified, that the politics of the Far Right hasn't quite become as entrenched as I'd thought, that corporate and other special interests have been less successful than I'd anticipated in influencing public opinion in the favour of their favoured candidate.

This would be a good sign, a sign that people are still thinking, and not so easily susceptible to the fear-mongers.

But I still think I'm right.

Well, we'll find out soon enough...

2 March 2008

The Crisis of Perception

The Fragmentation of Health

According to Dr Deepak Chopra, a physician and philosopher of holistic health, the global crises we now face are evidence of a more deeply rooted crisis of perception. A former chief-of-staff at Boston Regional Medical Center specialising in endocrinology, in his mid-30s Chopra smoked excessively and drank too much coffee and alcohol to cope with the stresses of being a doctor. But a turning point came when he began to learn about transcendental meditation, which helped him to quit smoking and drinking. “So I decided to give up my endrocinology practice to focus on holistic health. I think it was just the fact that there is a lot of frustration when all you do is prescribe medication, you start to feel like a legalized drug pusher. That doesn’t mean that all prescriptions are useless, but it is true that 80 percent of all drugs prescribed today are of optional or marginal benefit.”

Chopra argues that for hundreds of years, science mistakenly set in stone distinctions between the biological organism and the environment which don’t really exist. “We are not ‘biological organisms contained in an environment’, that’s a fundamental misperception,” he points out. “The biological organism, whether it’s a sentient human being, or a sentient mosquito, a sentient bacterium, is not separate from the environment. Both the biological organism and what we call the environment are differentiated patterns of behaviour of a single reality, whether you call that reality ‘Gaia’, or ‘Planet Earth’, or even if you wish, the ‘sentient universe’.” Ok, I’m thinking, if that’s the case then what does this shift in perception imply in terms of action? “So you don’t look at that tree and say, ‘oh that tree’s the environment’, that tree’s your lungs, if it didn’t breathe, you wouldn’t breathe”, explained Chopra. “The Earth is your body. The rivers and waters of our planet are your circulation, if you pollute them, you pollute your circulation. The air is your breath. We need to start thinking of the world as our universal body. Because our survival as human beings is equally dependent on our personal bodies, as well as our universal body.”

Now this was a surprisingly refreshing way of thinking that hadn’t occurred to me before – and it seemed to tie in with the diverse calls from psychologists, philosophers and economists for a fundamental shift in our values. What excites me about Chopra is his groundbreaking suggestion that such a shift in values was not simply a case of social convenience, of what works best; but that it might actually reflect the reality of our embeddedness in nature. Intriguingly, although Chopra has faced hostility from the medical establishment in the United States for his views, his consistent work to expand the boundaries of traditional medicine led to the peer-reviewed Journal of American Medicine doing a special issue dedicated to alternative medicine in November 1998. Since then, holistic conceptions of health care have increasingly been researched and recognized. For several years now, Oxford University Press has published a quarterly international peer-reviewed journal, Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (eCAM). Dr. Edwin L. Cooper, who is founder and chief-editor of the journal, is also a Distinguished Professor at the Department of Neurobiology at the University of California in Los Angeles, where he heads up UCLA’s Collaborative Centers for Integrative Medicine. Dr Cooper remarks that the impact of cancer “reaches beyond the physical disease. It shapes a patient’s thoughts and emotions. Increasingly, physicians are recognizing that treating cancer often means more than just aggressively attacking the malignancy. It means considering the whole person—mind, body and soul—and adding complementary approaches that increase health and well-being, reduce stress, boost tolerance of conventional treatments, improve quality of life and help people to live as fully as possible.”

The new UCLA research programme in holistic health is host to the Center for East-West Medicine, housed in UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. The Center, which receives 13,000 patients a year, is working to develop “a model system of comprehensive care with emphasis on health promotion, disease prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation through the integrated practice of East-West medicine.” These developments in health and medicine back-up Chopra’s arguments by revealing that the fragmentation and separation at the heart of our normal way of making sense of the world are reflections of a fundamental crisis of perception, a mistaken way of understanding human nature and its relationship to Nature. Chopra is pointing to an inherent interconnectedness, not only between mind and body, but also between the organism and its environment.

The Interconnected Cosmos

This recognition of interconnectedness in the health sciences is paralleled by new breakthroughs in other sciences, particularly in physics, which suggest that old, mechanistic conceptions of nature and the world are relics of an outdated worldview that no longer fits what’s happening at subatomic levels, beneath the surface of everyday life. At first, I was rather sceptical of the relevance, to questions about social change and global crisis, of a field as seemingly obscure and technical as quantum mechanics. But my bemusement quickly turned to fascination, and then conviction, after discovering one of the pioneers of this revolutionary perspective, Dr. Fritjof Capra, a physicist who teaches and researches theoretical high-energy physics at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley. Capra has written widely on the philosophical implications of modern science, and his first book, The Tao of Physics, argued controversially that Western science was now confirming the same fundamental propositions about reality found in Eastern mysticism. When Capra first started work on the manuscript in the 1972, he was spurred on by the realisation that two of his colleagues, both senior physicists who had made paradigm-shifting breakthroughs in the field, agreed with his views. “I had several discussions with Heisenberg. I lived in England then, and I visited him several times in Munich and showed him the whole manuscript chapter by chapter.” The “Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle”, which refers to the impossibility of simultaneously measuring the position and momentum of a subatomic particle, was named after Werner Heisenberg, credited as the founder of the new quantum mechanics.

“He was very interested and very open, and he told me something that I think is not known publicly because he never published it. He said that he was well aware of these parallels between quantum physics and Eastern mysticism. While he was working on quantum theory he went to India to lecture and was a guest of Tagore. He talked a lot with Tagore about Indian philosophy. Heisenberg told me that these talks had helped him a lot with his work in physics, because they showed him that all these new ideas in quantum physics were in fact not all that crazy. He realized there was, in fact, a whole culture that subscribed to very similar ideas. Heisenberg said that this was a great help for him. Niels Bohr, who won the Nobel Prize for his contributions to quantum mechanisms, had a similar experience when he went to China.”

In a follow-up book, The Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising Culture, Capra went on to apply his philosophical explorations of the new physics to developments in other areas of science, coming to the conclusion that the crises currently afflicting industrial civilization are rooted in scientific beliefs which are now outmoded on the basis of new data and theories across the physical sciences. He later went on to found the Center for Eco-Literacy in Berkeley, a think-tank addressing the social and ecological implications of new developments across the physical sciences.

“What quantum physics has brought, indisputably, is a dissolution of the notion of hard and solid objects, and also a dissolution of the notion that there are fundamental building blocks of matter. When you study the smallest pieces of matter that we know, the subatomic particles, you find that you can only talk about probabilities. That's very well known. Since quantum mechanics we know that all these laws and regularities can only be formulated in terms of probabilities. But then you ask, what are these probabilities of? And you find they are probabilities of making a certain measurement, of these large-scale instruments interacting in a certain way. So whatever you say about the smallest pieces comes back to the large pieces -- can be expressed only in probabilities, in terms of the large pieces. It’s sort of a circular situation. In other words, everything is interconnected, interconnected in such a way that the properties of the smallest pieces depend on the properties of the whole.”

In words that sound uncannily similar to those of health-practitioner Deepak Chopra, Capra argued that “whereas before we believed that the dynamics of the whole can be explained in principle by breaking it down, and from the properties of the parts, now we see that the properties of the parts can only be defined in terms of the dynamics of the whole. So it’s a complete reversal. And that’s become one of the most fundamental scientific insights of our century. In fact, if you go even further and ask, ‘Well what are these parts?’ then you will find that there are no parts, that whatever we call a part is a pattern in an ongoing process.”

Capra believes that this insight, or rather the lack or it, lies at the core of global crises, which as we have argued here are all interconnected as manifestations of a defunct global system. For Capra, the interconnection of these crises is further evidence of a dysfunctional perspective of life underlying that system. “These systemic problems, all interlinked, are in fact reflections of the limitations of an outdated world view.” Given that all our social institutions -- the large corporations, the large academic institutions, the large political institutions -- all subscribe to this outdated worldview, it’s therefore not surprising that they are not able to solve the major problems that we have. “The old system shows us such a spectacular failure that the experts in various fields don’t understand their fields of expertise any longer”, Capra argues. “Researchers, for instance investigating cancer, don’t have a clue, in spite of spending millions of dollars, of the origins of cancer. The police are powerless in face of a rising wave of crime. The politicians or economists don’t know how to manage the economic problems. The doctors and hospitals don’t know how to manage the health problems and health costs. So everywhere it’s the very people who are supposed to be the experts in their fields who don’t have answers any longer, and they don’t have answers because they have a narrow view. They don’t see the whole problem.”

But a shift of perspective, of worldview and values, can only be meaningful if it incorporates a shift in our actual modes of social behaviour and organization, in politics, economics and energy. Such a transformation not only needs to be grounded in a more accurate understanding of nature and our relationship to it, but that understanding itself, if authentic, ought to imply certain key changes in our lives. The extent of the change required is, indeed, radical. But for perhaps the first time, the necessity of such change can be justified not merely by moral euphemisms, but by reality itself.

A Quantum Model of Social Harmony

Another physicist, Danah Zohar who graduated from MIT and Harvard, has followed the implications of Capra’s work on the philosophical implications of quantum physics in the realm of sociology, and even further into real-life problems of business management. Described by the Financial Times as “one of the world’s greatest management thinkers”, Zohar, who currently lectures at the Said Business School at Oxford University, in her book The Quantum Society fashions a concrete eightfold guideline for how social reality ought to be mobilized on the basis of the insights of quantum physics. The new social reality:

1) Must be holistic -- where it is recognized changes in any part will in some way affect another part.

2) Must transcend the individual/collective dichotomy -- where individualism and community goals merge.

3) Must be plural -- where we accept that “all meanings are true”, for the person who holds the meanings, and in that spirit attempt to truly not only “tolerate” other cultures, but to embrace and learn from them.

4) Must be responsive -- where society becomes a living machine “designed to cope with ambiguity and creative challenge”.

5) Must be bottom-up or emergent -- where front-line citizens make the decisions not top-level bureaucrats.

6) Must be ecological -- where humans are recognized as part of nature and treat nature as part of themselves.

7) Must be spiritual -- where we seek spiritual answers to basic questions of life and society.

8) Must be in dialogue with science -- where we replace the outmoded Newtonian mechanics billiard ball model of social interaction with the newer holistic all-at-once quantum mechanics understanding.

The last item, the dialogue with science, is the major theme of Zohar’s work, fundamentally because the new science is telling us surprising things about the world in which we live, that have direct implications for how we should live. “If we are to rediscover the moral and spiritual roots of our society”, she writes, “we must do so in a way which mirrors, which extends and develops rather than contradicts, the knowledge that science is giving us about the nature of the physical and living worlds of which we are a part.”

Evolution and Revolution

But all this needs to be translated into a specific programme of action. How do we start to shift our societies in such a new direction? The modes of behaviour that govern the global system, that underpin the conflictual and destructive nature of the international political economy, belong ultimately to what philosopher John McMurtry calls the tendency of “money self-maximization”, itself both rooted in and fuelling a culture of consumerism that defines human gratification by measures of material consumption. But we’ve seen that behind this tendency, this “infection of affluenza” as psychologist Oliver James put it, is a deeper problem of perception, a reductionistic worldview that views life and nature in competitive, mechanistic, materialistic terms in which organisms are pitted against one another in a hostile world. But this underlying way of looking at the world has been increasingly discredited, firstly because it is precisely this reductionistic and fragmentary worldview that is linked directly to the escalation of global crises; and secondly, because the new science increasingly confirms the accuracy of a more holistic and interconnected understanding of life and nature.

“It’s all to do with evolution”, observed John Peterson as we sat in the lobby of the hotel where he was staying in London late last year. Peterson, founding director of the Arlington Institute in Washington DC, had agreed to meet with me during his visit to the UK to discuss their work on global crises. The Institute, set up in 1989, specialises in assessing global trends to make strategic forecasts about the future. “Humanity is on the verge of a precipice. All the trends in energy depletion, global warming and the markets show that we have very little time left. Either we’ll all just drop off the edge of that precipice, a precipice created by our own activities, or we’ll evolve into something that can take flight.” Peterson is not just a run-of-the-mill academic. In fact, ironically, he has a very conservative background. His government and political experience includes stints at the National War College, the Institute for National Security Studies, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council staff at the White House. After founding the Arlington Institute in 1989, he focused his efforts on futurism -- developing new concepts, processes and tools for anticipating the future and translating that knowledge into better present-day decisions.

In Peterson’s view, if we take evolutionary theory seriously, if we take our science seriously, then we have no choice but to understand our current global condition in the context of our fate as a species. Right now, we are on the path to total self-destruction. What does this mean? It means that we are failing to adapt, in other words, our modes of existence are not in accord with our natural environment. So what can we do about it. Are we doomed to extinction? Are we actually talking seriously about the imminent demise of the human race?

Species that fail to adapt to the conditions of nature cannot survive. If we’re failing to adapt, and the evidence before our eyes -- the climate change, the economic crisis, the draining of natural resources – proves clearly that we’re failing to adapt, then this means that there’s something seriously wrong with our understanding of nature, and our fundamental modes of existence as a species. If we want to survive, then the theory of evolution needs to become more than a theory; it’s staring us point-blank in the face: We have to evolve.

For Peterson, maybe this is not just doom and gloom. As the only species that has ever been conscious of itself as a species, and therefore conscious of the possibility of extinction, if there is any species that might be able to save itself, it is us. “Humanity may well be at death’s door, but we are simultaneously facing an unprecedented opportunity to become something new, real, and perhaps even beautiful. Maybe this is nature’s way of letting us know it’s time for change? I’m not sure what that new human being might look like, but it will clearly have to involve a new set of ideas and values, a new way of looking at the world that respects life and nature, and a whole new way of life to go along with it.”

For the first time in human history, the imperative to move toward a social order based truly on popular participation, social justice as well as both material and spiritual well-being is not just a matter of choice; but a matter of the survival of the species.

So where do we start? If we’re talking about a programme of action, then such a programme can only begin at the source: our social relationship to nature. As communities, societies and nations, we relate to nature not simply through our ideas and perceptions of the world, but more pertinently in how those ideas and perceptions play out in the way we inhabit and make use of our environment. In other words, we need to ask, how does our understanding of nature link to the way we exploit nature? I use the term “exploit” here quite neutrally to simply mean how we extract materials and energy from the natural world in order to drive and develop our societies. Because underlying all our economic growth, industrial and informational technologies, and everyday commuter-consumer lifestyles is the point-blank fact of energy. The kinds of energy we depend on, and the manner in which we extract, distribute and utilize that energy, constitutes the life-blood of the financial circuits of exchange that are the substance of our economies.

We’ve already seen the extent to which our dependence on hydrocarbon energies, and our continuing neglect of viable renewable forms of energy and associated technologies, is self-defeating. Both global warming and peak oil are tied indelibly to our energy dependence. With all the data showing that both of these crises are set to spiral out of control within the next few decades, it’s clear that we need to go cold turkey on our oil addiction. The question, of course, is how do we do it? What are the alternative energy sources, and are they viable? And how would a post-carbon society look and function, politically and economically?

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