Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Will It Take A Ban On Flying To Stop Climate Change

Stopping global warming means cutting air travel. As part of the debate within RESPECT and the movement, Jonathan Neale looks at how this could be done without targeting the poor.

Tackling climate change means cutting carbon emissions drastically. We have to start now – that’s clear. But there’s confusion over what to do about air travel.

Half of global carbon emissions come from seven sources – heating buildings, air conditioning, cars, trucks, petroleum refineries, cement plants and steel plants.

Air travel may seem less important right now. Planes are responsible for 3 percent of carbon emissions globally and 6 percent in Britain.
But air travel puts other, more powerful and rarer greenhouse gases directly into the stratosphere. It’s the fastest growing carbon source.

It’s true that planes now use 70 percent less fuel per mile than they did 40 years ago, and further design changes are possible. But that alone won’t be enough.

One common answer starts by saying cheap flights are the problem – so tax them heavily, and fewer people will fly.

Sounds good. But then only the rich would fly. This is the problem with all green taxes.

There is always another solution that is fairer and cuts more emissions.

For instance, you can tax cars and roads heavily. Then only the rich will drive, and ordinary workers will hate environmentalists.

A better solution is to ban cars in cities and provide excellent public transport. Then you have beautiful cities where parks replace most roads.

Again, if you tax energy and make it expensive to heat houses, the poor and the elderly will freeze. And most people will hate environmentalists every time they open their bill.

But if the government gives grants to insulate every house, we can cut energy use from heating by more than half.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s California is building one million solar roofs. We could build ten million in Britain.

The way to stop global warming is almost always not to cut what we have, but to do things differently. So it is with air travel. Here are some social justice solutions that will work:

First, ban all flights in Europe. But don’t make people give up their holidays. Instead have subsidised trains that prebook until they’re full, like cheap flights.

We would need new train lines. Very fast trains emit too much carbon. But ordinary 125 mph trains as we have in Britain now could go from London to Istanbul in 24 hours and to Delhi in 48.

Those trains will have to be publicly owned. Privately owned railways invest less, cut the number of trains and raise the ticket prices.

What about longer flights? One answer is to ban expensive flights, not cheap ones. Luxury transatlantic seats create four to five times as much carbon.

But much more important, much long haul travel is done by business people. There are not so many of them, but each makes many flights.

The solution is rationing. Let people have one long flight a year. But don’t let them sell that ration – they use it or lose it. The business people can teleconference.

With new railways, that means more travel, more holidays, and less carbon emissions. And if we cover the world with wind farms and solar power, we can run the railways on almost carbon free electricity.

These kinds of massive public works that create jobs and improve people’s standard of living is what will stop climate change.

Otherwise, activists lay themselves open to the right. Look what Tony Blair said about air travel.

He claimed his hands were tied because ordinary people wanted their holidays, and would never stand for airport cuts.

Blair was lying. New Labour builds new airports because the City of London wants business travellers.

Blair posed as the working people’s champion because he could smell the weakness in green taxes – they’re unfair.
We have to build a global mass movement to stop climate change. Time is short, and nothing less will work.
We can’t build that movement by asking ordinary people to sacrifice when the rich don’t.

In almost every area where we have to act on climate change, there is a choice. The conservative answer is to keep the economy the same. Then we have to cut living standards.

The radical answer is to change the way the economy is organised, so we can have both growth and fairness.

None of this means we wait for the new railways before we shut down runways.
We have to fight for both, now.

Cardiff RESPECT will be supporting the UK demonstration for action on climate change on December 6th in London. For transport from Cardiff, e-mail:

More info here

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Let Us Respect Our Mother Earth

"The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change, and the disease is the capitalist development model." - Evo Morales

Nowhere is neoliberalism rejected as powerfully as on the continent of Latin America where the word "people power" really has a meaning. What is tremendously exciting about these democratic socialist movements is that some of them are putting ecology and sustainability at the heart of their revolutions

This is the text of an extraordinary letter sent by Evo Morales, President of Bolivia to the United Nations.

Sister and brother Presidents and Heads of States of the United Nations:

The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change, and the disease is the capitalist development model. Whilst over 10,000 years the variation in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels on the planet was approximately 10%, during the last 200 years of industrial development, carbon emissions have increased by 30%. Since 1860, Europe and North America have contributed 70% of the emissions of CO2. 2005 was the hottest year in the last one thousand years on this planet.

Different investigations have demonstrated that out of the 40,170 living species that have been studied, 16,119 are in danger of extinction. One out of eight birds could disappear forever. One out of four mammals is under threat. One out of every three reptiles could cease to exist. Eight out of ten crustaceans and three out of four insects are at risk of extinction. We are living through the sixth crisis of the extinction of living species in the history of the planet and, on this occasion, the rate of extinction is 100 times more accelerated than in geological times.

Faced with this bleak future, transnational interests are proposing to continue as before, and paint the machine green, which is to say, continue with growth and irrational consumerism and inequality, generating more and more profits, without realising that we are currently consuming in one year what the planet produces in one year and three months. Faced with this reality, the solution can not be an environmental make over.

I read in the World Bank report that in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change we need to end subsidies on hydrocarbons, put a price on water and promote private investment in the clean energy sector. Once again they want to apply market recipes and privatisation in order to carry out business as usual, and with it, the same illnesses that these policies produce. The same occurs in the case of biofuels, given that to produce one litre of ethanol you require 12 litres of water. In the same way, to process one ton of agrifuels you need, on average, one hectare of land.

Faced with this situation, we – the indigenous peoples and humble and honest inhabitants of this planet – believe that the time has come to put a stop to this, in order to rediscover our roots, with respect for Mother Earth; with the Pachamama as we call it in the Andes. Today, the indigenous peoples of Latin America and the world have been called upon by history to convert ourselves into the vanguard of the struggle to defend nature and life.

I am convinced that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, recently approved after so many years of struggle, needs to pass from paper to reality so that our knowledge and our participation can help to construct a new future of hope for all. Who else but the indigenous people, can point out the path for humanity in order to preserve nature, natural resources and the territories that we have inhabited from ancient times.

We need a profound change of direction, at the world wide level, so as to stop being the condemned of the earth. The countries of the north need to reduce their carbon emissions by between 60% and 80% if we want to avoid a temperature rise of more than 2ยบ in what is left of this century, which would provoke global warming of catastrophic proportions for life and nature.

We need to create a World Environment Organisation which is binding, and which can discipline the World Trade Organisation, which is propelling us towards barbarism. We can no longer continue to talk of growth in Gross National Product without taking into consideration the destruction and wastage of natural resources. We need to adopt an indicator that allows us to consider, in a combined way, the Human Development Index and the Ecological Footprint in order to measure our environmental situation.

We need to apply harsh taxes on the super concentration of wealth, and adopt effective mechanisms for its equitable redistribution. It is not possible that three families can have an income superior to the combined GDP of the 48 poorest countries. We can not talk of equity and social justice whilst this situation continues.

The United States and Europe consume, on average, 8.4 times more that the world average. It is necessary for them to reduce their level of consumption and recognise that all of us are guests on this same land; of the same Pachamama.

I know that change is not easy when an extremely powerful sector has to renounce their extraordinary profits for the planet to survive. In my own country I suffer, with my head held high, this permanent sabotage because we are ending privileges so that everyone can “Live Well” and not better than our counterparts. I know that change in the world is much more difficult than in my country, but I have absolute confidence in human beings, in their capacity to reason, to learn from mistakes, to recuperate their roots, and to change in order to forge a just, diverse, inclusive, equilibrated world in harmony with nature.

Evo Morales Ayma
President of the Republic of Bolivia
September 24, 2007

Translated by Federico Fuentes, Bolivia Rising

Monday, 8 October 2007

Know Thy Enemy

Christopher Logue

Know thy enemy:
he does not care what colour you are
provided you work for him
and yet you do!

he does not care how much you earn
provided you earn more for him
and yet you do!

he does not care who lives in the room at the top
provided he owns the building
and yet you strive!

he will let you write against him
provided you do not act against him
and yet you write!

he sings the praises of humanity
but knows machines cost more than men.
Bargain with him, he laughs,
and beats you at it;
challenge him, and he kills.
Sooner than loose the things he owns
he will destroy the world.

But as you hasten to be free
And build your commonwealth
Do not forget the enemy
Who lies within yourself.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

The Real Struggle Takes Place On The Streets of Burma

Revolt from below, not intervention from the West, is the key to overthrowing Burma's military junta, writes Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The mainstream media concentrates on the pronouncements of foreign governments and the supposed role of the United Nations in stopping the bloodshed perpetrated by the Burmese military junta.

But the real struggle is on the streets and in the cities across Burma. The idea that the Chinese government, responsible for the Tiananmen Square massacre, will somehow restrain the Burmese ­military is laughable.

As for the West, it has a long history of supporting military juntas in South East Asia and never lifted a finger to stop massacres in Indonesia or the Philippines.

In fact the recent demonstrations in Burma arise out of a realisation by the country's democracy activists that they cannot rely on Western powers or anyone else to bring about a change – they have to act themselves.

The last great uprising in Burma was the so called 8888 movement that started on 8 August 1988. It was initiated by student protests over economic issues but soon developed into demands for democracy (see below).

For years after the defeat of that uprising, demoralised activists had hoped the US would pressurise the Burmese junta into releasing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and negotiating a road map to democracy.

But lessons have since been learnt. Earlier this year a loose network of activists decided to start open protests in the form of "prayer marches" at temples. This was followed by the large demonstrations of monks after fuel price rises of 500 percent.

Thousands of ordinary people gained confidence and joined the monks' protests. Hundreds of politicised young men have become monks in recent years, partly due to the fact that the junta closed down or restricted entry to colleges and universities.

The temples were safer places for people to gather and talk, much like the mosques during Iran's 1979 revolution or the Catholic church in Communist Poland before the uprising there.

The pro-democracy movement today has more experience than in 1988. Twenty years ago it was prepared to allow Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to lead the movement.

Today there are more debates about the way forward. While everyone agrees that Suu Kyi and all political prisoners should be freed immediately, the radicals are wary of leaving the leadership of the movement in the hands of the NLD.

While many of the current activists trace their roots back to 1988, thousands of young people on the protests are too young to have taken part back then. This means that a whole new generation of people have become radicalised.

There are signs that they are prepared to resist the army with great courage and sacrifices. And democracy can only be achieved by overthrowing the junta.

This will involve fighting back – and also winning over ordinary soldiers to the side of the people.

The movement needs to deal with the long running ethnic conflict in Burma. Non-Burmese make up more than half the population and have never been happy with a unified state.

Many groups have been in a state of constant armed struggle against the central government since independence in 1948.

It is encouraging to see that the Karen National Union, one of the key national minority groups, has come out very clearly on the side of the pro-democracy movement, urging Burmese soldiers to turn their guns on their officers.

The democracy movement should respond to this act of solidarity by backing self-determination for Burma's ethnic minorities.

In the past Burma's independence leaders were less than enthusiastic about granting autonomy to different ethnic groups. Suu Kyi herself has been unclear on this issue and is not fully trusted by non-Burmese.

Burma's working class will also play a crucial role. We know very little about how well organised workers in Burma are – obviously there are no open trade unions – but in 1988 they managed to pull off a general strike.

The country has significant concentrations of workers in textiles and oil. There are also large concentrations of Burmese workers just over the border in towns like Mae Sot in Thailand. These refugee workers are organised and have links to workers inside Burma.

It is possible for a mass movement to take on a repressive military dictatorship and win – it happened in the Philippines against Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, in Thailand against General Suchinda Kraprayoon in May 1992 and in Indonesia against President Suharto in 1998.

The movement can use tactics such as strikes, cat-and-mouse demonstrations, or fraternising with lower ranking soldiers to encourage them to break from their officers. These are all dangerous – but ultimately only the Burmese people have the power to bring down the regime.

The defeated revolt of 1988

On the morning of 8 August 1988 a general strike started in the Rangoon docks and spread to government offices across the city.

All sections of society, including monks, marched to demand the end to military rule.

Despite the brutality of the regime – which opened fire on demonstrators killing around 3,000 of them – the movement showed signs of winning. Ne Win, the old military dictator, was forced to resign and the junta promised elections.

But instead of pushing forward with the struggle and toppling the military completely, the movement was deflated. Aung San Suu Kyi told demonstrators to disperse, arguing that they should trust the army and not push it too far.

The energies of the democracy movement were channelled into electoral politics. In 1990 Suu Kyi's NLD party won 392 seats out of a total 485, but the junta refused to accept the result.

A new dictatorship was installed and Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest – but the Burmese movement had already been weakened and could not intervene to help.