Thursday, October 29, 2009

Telling it like it is about meat

Lord Stern, author of the most comprehensive economic analysis of the impacts of climate change and former chief economist of the World Bank has told The Times that people need to become vegetarian to combat climate change.

Some people have been saying this for years. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation published a report in 2006 called 'Livestock's Long Shadow', which states that the meat industry is “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems" and that "urgent action is required to remedy the situation". Pastoral farming contributes around 18% of global GHG emissions - more than transport, and is probably the biggest sectoral contributor to water pollution. In NZ, of course, pastoral farming contributes around 50% of our GHG emissions.

To put that into perspective, Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin of the University of Chicago have calculated that a vegan driving an SUV has a smaller carbon footprint than a meat eater on a bicycle.

Seen in this light, the claim that NZ farmers 'feed the world' is really a bunch of disingenuous crap. Intensively growing animal protein is enormously profitable, but is ecologically destablising and destructive. It also produces a fraction of the food that growing plants would produce. In my view New Zealand needs start planning how to move to a more plant based economy rather than continue to argue that we can't cut GHG emissions (or improve water quality) because there are very limited ways to reduce emissions from livestock. I have a very effective method: reduce their numbers.

This is heresy in this country, and in the UK too, it seems. The meat industry has reacted with outrage and disbelief to Sterns suggestions. Kind of like the way the British arms industry reacted to the campaign to ban land mines.

Good on Stern - I admire his willingness to speak up on this very sensitive issue. Interestingly he didn't go so far as to suggest veganism. I don't know about the UK, but here in Aotearoa the dairy industry is a lot more of an environmental problem than meat. Still, its a very good start.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Unified African delegation at Copenhagen to demand reparations

From The African Executive:

The 12th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia adopted a historic decision on climate change the key elements of which include:

a) That the global carbon trading mechanisms that are expected to emerge from international negotiations on climate change should give Africa an opportunity to demand and get compensation for the damage to its economy caused by global warming and underlines the fact that despite contributing virtually nothing to global warming Africa has been one of the primary victims of its consequences.

b) That Africa needs to be represented by one delegation, which is empowered to negotiate on behalf of all Member States, with the mandate to ensure that resource flow to Africa is not reduced.

Fantastic. A single African delegation whose mission its to hold to account all those nations that continue to spew CO2 into the atmosphere with virtually no regard for the enormous number of deaths this is causing and will cause in the poorest of countries. GO AFRICA!

Article on Sue Bradford in todays Herald on Sunday

Matt Nippert has written an article about Sue Bradford in todays Herald on Sunday that is rather predictable. The only interesting element from my point of view is the possibility of Sue running for the Auckland council. I had heard the rumour before, but thought it unlikely because of her comments about returning to grassroots politics. In the article Sue appears careful to say positive but non committal things about the possibility, so it looks like I may have been wrong. She would certainly be a great person to have on there and I sincerely hope she does get elected if she decides to stand.

I also make a brief appearance, when Matt has me commenting that the Greens internal structure and semantic peculiarities (calling the party whip a 'musterer') have led to a lack of cohesion. This is not actually what I said. In fact I do think that the Greens message has been somewhat incoherent for a number of years, but as a result of the inability (or unwillingness) to operate as a team not because of its structure. It has been more a question of leadership style IMO.

The section 59 campaign was a good example. Matt quotes an ex Green staffer calling it a propaganda disaster, and I agree. Sue won the legislative battle, but at significant cost to the Greens and Labour. Some may say that Green voters don't support baby bashing anyway but this misses the point - I met many people at the time who were potential Green voters who were confused and unsure about the legislation. Some of them were fiercely anti-smacking, but they were unsure about how the law would affect ordinary parents. Leaving it to police discretion was not a satisfactory answer - especially if they had personal experience of police prejudice or racism - and to make that answer just sounded reckless to them.

If the Greens had taken a collective approach to both strategising and delivering on that strategy, I think it would have been a far superiour campaign. Instead I recall being brushed off when I asked how to respond to some of the concerns that had been expressed to me - what might have been an opportunity to collectively think about messaging was seen, I suspect, as irksome negativity. MPs usually campaigned in isolation and Sue is particularly hard to shift once her mind is decided - this, of course, is part of her strength.

Matt is a good journalist, but I felt that he avoided getting into a deeper layer of Green politics and a more substantial discussion of where the tensions are in favour of reiterating the same superficial dualisms of Sue the radical and the Green drift rightwards. I for one am uncomfortable with purported media quotes from Russel saying that the role of the Greens is to save capitalism from itself, but rightwards is not the inevitable trajectory of the Greens. The green alternative to the materialism of socialism is not the materialism of capitalism, but something much more profound.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Speech on the State Terror Raids - 2 years on

From my speech to open the 'Explosive Expression' art auction to raise funds for the defendants, Thistle Hall, Wellington 17 October 2009

I don't think it is necessary to recite the events of 15th October 2007. The details are well covered on the 'October 15th solidarity' website. But what I would like to do is reflect for a moment on the implications for us today, two years later. These are well illustrated by the main story in todays Dominion Post. The cover has a huge article with photo, based on a “rare interview with a serving member of the Armed Offenders Squad”. In case you missed it, there is also the whole of D1 and D2 - the front page and second pages of the Insight section. This coverage highlights the increasingly difficult objective that the police now have in relation to these charges, which is to come out at the end of these trials without more serious embarrassment.

You will recall that the case began with a triumphant trumpeting of how police has busted a major terror ring. That has now been reduced to some illegal firearms charges, although there has been a late attempt to construct some flimsy 'criminal gang' charges. We are yet to see what evidence the police will even be able to bring to court. And now, just as the country seemed to be forgetting all about this embarrassing case, the October 15th solidarity committee has pu tit all back on national TV! So clearly, these article in the DomPost are not a coincidence. They are a police fluff piece, a propaganda fight back.

The other police objective is to drain as much of the resources as they can from the activist community. Every activist in the room has seen this tactic before. Police have unlimited funds to take prosecutions – not just for the legal team but for police appearances in court, transport and all of the machinery of the legal system. The defendants, on the other hand, appear in court at a huge personal cost, both financial and otherwise. They have to get to hearings, they have to accommodate themselves and feed themselves while they stay in Auckland, they have to transport themselves to and from court, plus there is the time and the enormous amount of emotional energy burned up in these cases. The depositions hearings recently concluded took about 5 weeks, and the trials will take much longer. That is why is event is so crucial, both in terms of demonstrating solidarity and support for the defendants and in helping in a practical, financial way. The money raised tonight will not go to pay lawyers, but will be spent on meeting those basic needs.

The second thing todays paper illustrates is the continued collusion between the police and the mainstream media, particularly Fairfax. When the arrests were first made public, I clearly recall the general public mood being one of suspended disbelief. It all seemed a bit unlikely and people were waiting to see what the evidence looked like. Even the general accusations of guns, napalm and terror training manuals being flung around by Helen Clarke and others did not really convince people. The illegal publication by the Dominion Post and other Fairfax media outlets of highly selective, misleading and sensationalist extracts of surveillance transcripts changed all that. Even some people with a history of supporting activism were moved to make public comments hostile to the defendants. That those extracts were unattributed only served to tar all the defendants with those allegations.

When the Solicitor General prosecuted them for contempt of court over those extracts the High Court decided in favour of Fairfax. The Court said that Fairfax should have instead been charged by the police for breaching both court suppression orders and those provisions of the Crime Act against disclosure of intercepted communications, stating that “we are at a loss to understand why these breaches were not prosecuted”. I'm not at a loss. They were not prosecuted because those leaks benefited the police. I do not have any evidence to prove that the police actually gave Fairfax the nod, but it seems likely to me. Today's articles are simply an extension of that cosy symbiotic relationship.

We can take these articles as proof of a successful week! The State terror raids have been put back on top of the public's mind. The initiative has been seized and regained. A creative and imaginative response to attempted State intimidation has been effected. Solidarity and trust have been enhanced. In supporting this auction tonight you are supporting the defendants and their communities. You are also supporting the right to do activism. You are defending the space to do activism. We need that space now more than ever before, so please bid generously tonight. Bid extravagantly. Bid irresponsibly. It is your civic duty!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Is Keith's republican bill avoiding the real issue?

I would love us to become a republic. Watching some historical films about the English monarchy and the parasites that surround them has re-inspired a powerful republican sentiment in me. It is not that I dislike the Windsors, but they are the result of more than a thousand years of inbreeding and (sometimes fatally) hostile family dynamics. Who on earth would want them as our Heads of State?

If Green MP Keith Locke gets his way, we will all get a chance to vote on it. His private members bill – the Head of State Referendum Bill – is set to be debated in Parliament and, if it passes, would force a public referendum to decide between three options for our Head of State: keeping the Queen; someone elected by the people; or someone selected by 75% of Parliament. If no option gets more than 50% of the vote, a second (run-off) referendum will be held featuring only the two most popular options.

I don't want the bill to pass. I do very much want it to pass a first reading and go to select committee. The people of New Zealand deserve an opportunity to have a say on whether we want royals or not, and the select committee public process would be a good start. In addition, it will spark a national debate in a constitutionally illiterate nation. That status is not surprising since most school don't teach civics education or even much New Zealand history, but it is shameful.

For all that, New Zealand will not, and should not, make such an important constitutional change by way of a private members bill. Keith is well intentioned but his bill is deeply flawed. It is a hasty fix – like slapping a plaster on an acid burn. What we need is slower and more considered debate, because the issue goes well beyond whose face is on the coins. The Queen (acting through the Governor General) can dissolve Parliament or refuse to assent to legislation for example, but she does not act because to do so would put her position in jeopardy. An elected President may feel that they have a democratic mandate to use those powers, causing a huge shift in our careful constitutional balancing act.

More importantly it is the constitutional thinking that underpins the monarchy that needs challenging – the peculiar British notion of the indivisibility of sovereignty. Many nations recognise that different functions of sovereignty can be exercised in different places – hence the sovereign status of various Indian nations as Indigenous people, and of individual States in the USA, or the very localised decision-making in Swiss Cantons. This is also what the Treaty of Waitangi promises in article 2 – the tino rangatiratanga (autonomy) of hapu. Keith's bill says that Treaty obligations would remain unchanged, but this ignores the bigger possibility to develop a constitution that truly reflects the partnership foreseen in the Treaty and our place in the Pacific Triangle. The highly centralised notions of power that dominate New Zealand political thinking are great for the rich and powerful but act against the interests of both Maori and Pakeha communities striving to maintain social and ecological stability in the face of the corporate steamroller. Just ask the people trying to stop iron sand mining or electricity transmission lines.

David Nielsen, in the 'Radical Rethink' lecture series run by Continuing Education at Waikato University spoke about possible responses to our environmental and social problems, and referred to the need for a 'cosmopolitan democracy' that recognises and empowers different levels of governance at a global, regional, national and local level, but whose fundamental principle was based on supporting and encouraging local autonomy. That is where we need to take the republican debate, in my view. Swapping the Queen for some other toff means nothing to me.

(from my Waikato Times column 16 October 2009)

NB I am speaking at the 'Radical Rethink' lecture series on 27th October at 6.30pm, AG.30, Gate 8