The End of the Line. The ocean is our shared heritage.

Last night Matt and I went to an RSA screening of The End of the Line, an independently-financed documentary about over-fishing.

Fish wonks have had a recent shock. Although it’s long been observed that many fish species are in drastic decline, some reassurance had been derived from statistics about catches year on year: they appeared to be going up. But it turns out that Chinese bureaucrats had been massaging the data for reasons of self-preferment. The catch has been in decline since 1989. We reached ‘peak fish’ 20 years ago.

We are enormously ingenious at netting fish, so much so that we have beaten a number of species to the point of extinction. However, when a predator – tuna or cod, for example – dwindles in numbers its prey burgeons, humans turn their gastronomic attentions to the newly burgeoning species and nobody really notices the loss (I find this very weird, that you could eat something so enthusiastically that it becomes extinct but then miss it so little when it’s gone).

There were many scenes of gasping, struggling, violent deaths which were very upsetting. I wasn’t sure about the function of these scenes, given that the aim of the film was not to provoke outrage against fishermen, nor empathy with fish. I had the slight sense that the film makers were contrasting the cottage fishing against the technical/industrial fishing as if the form of death was important to the fish. But thankfully this wasn’t pushed – the contrast was developed in the direction of illustrating the difference in devastation between the different modes of fishing. And anyway, it’s good to feel disturbed about the death of an animal, if you accepted it before.

The US came out looking like the most responsible and responsive of the developed states, and the most constitutionally equipped to avert the crisis. However, fish move. They migrate from reserves and without a stringently policed international treaty, the US’s restraint is some other state’s economic gain. Without an international treaty, the fish lose either way. In case it needs re-stating, the fish are part of our ecosystem. If we kill them off, there’ll be negative repercussions of an unpredictable nature.

There’s a high degree of consensus that fish are in crisis. There’s some peripheral disagreement over the severity of the crisis, but no expert thinks that it’s OK to allow things to carry on as they are.

The campaign has its poster pin-up: the blue fin tuna. The blue fin tuna is analogous to the white rhino in terms of danger of extinction.

I thought it was a very good film. First rule of thumb with activism is, if you are going to confront somebody – in this case, a viewer – with news of an unfolding disaster, to avoid the onset of fatalistic paralysis you have to give them the information they need to make the change required. As somebody who feels like they are searching in vain for an effective middle ground between cold rage and cold pragmatism, I found this film, and the discussion afterwards with two of its creators offered substantial options to people who eat fish and people, like me, who don’t. Here are some, relating to consumers and governments:

  • Consider the oceans as everybody’s responsibility
  • Buy from Waitrose, because (at time of writing) they care more than other supermarkets about overfishing.
  • Failing that, buy Marine Stewardship Council certified fish. Check regularly because fish populations fluctuate – in fact, I’d say get a web phone so you can check at the point of placing your order or making your purchase.
  • Campaign for a network of policed ocean reserves
  • Campaign for NGOs to have status as litigants in the EU, as they do in the US (have I got that right? I need more info).
  • Contact your MP and MEP to ask them to campaign for lower quotas and an end to subsidised fishing by industrialised fleets in countries like Senegal, depriving the citizens there of livelihood because they can’t compete.
  • In restaurants, always ask about provenance and if you are not completely satisfied with the response (and basically the question to ask is whether it has some kind of certification of sustainability), avoid the fish

Afterwards there were some drinks. As usual, this vegan gulped the wine, but this time with a shifty feeling.  Usually I’m very protective of my booze. It’s the next step in being vegan, just like vegan was the step after becoming vegetarian. It’s on the horizon but I’m not there yet.  Did the wine contain isinglass, the clarifying agent made from the swimbladders of fish? They wouldn’t have served us wine with isinglass of dubious provenance after a film campaigning against fish of dubious provenance. Would they? And I drank it down, a living instantiation of the blind eye.

Matt and I were lucky enough to collar Jeffrey Hutchings, professor of biology at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, who had featured in the film (I thought I’d be too busy to blog or I would have mentioned it before I started talking with him). I had the impression that he had thought long and hard about the messages he wanted to communicate. The fish and the wider ocean ecosystem, were at the centre of his concern. He was no misanthrope; he wasn’t fire and brimstone; there was no bitterness. He simply cared deeply about cod. He also cared about the people whose livelihood in in fishing; his position is that it should not be left to them to shoulder the burden of reviving ocean life but that ocean life is our common heritage and that we have a collective responsibility. He told us that they choose their mates, that they are far more deliberate in the way they live their lives than we have assumed, that they are not commodities, that they have lives.

Reflecting on the evening on the way home I thought about how I’m naturally inclined towards more whole-system causes, and how I find the practice of single issue campaigning very interesting. Given that fish have lives, why would I – a human who values life – think it was in any way acceptable to kill and eat them? Why draw the line at unsustainable fishing? Why draw the line at fish, above all other animals?  I bristle when somebody talks about fish in commodifying terms of ‘stocks’ and ‘seafood’.  But I was very impressed with Jeffrey Hutching’s focus and restraint. As somebody else we spoke to from Greenpeace said while making a more general point, my kind of opinions are felt to be hostile, bring out the worst in people, make the problem too big to address, are disempowering, are counterproductive. Consumers need to be made aware, persuaded, appealed to, and perhaps the quietly denied the opportunity to buy, say, cod, or blue fin tuna.

I take my hat off to the people who made this film, and the people who are looking out for the fish populations. Also to Jamie Oliver, who seems to eat literally anything, for withdrawing references to blue fin from his programmes and books.

At the end of the film, we learn that Nobu, restaurant frequented by the rich and celebrated, famous for sushi, and for kobi beef from cows which have eaten better than many of the world’s less affluent humans, is still serving up blue fin with the nonsensical caveat: “Bluefin tuna is an environmentally threatened species, please ask your server for an alternative.”

Left Foot Forward

I’d begun to feel like a fuddy duddy rationalist banging on all the time about facts and their lack in mainstream news reporting; like some kind of Martian digging my heels in and refusing to support Vestas until I knew what were good questions to ask about whether it was viable – even sustainable.

Pure rationalism is, of course, a mental illness. Pure lack of it is, too.

I’ve also begun to ask myself questions about why I’m so interested in Lubna Hussein when I don’t even understand the democratic processes of my own country. There are things I want to defend here, like the BBC, women’s rights to control their fertility, animals rights not to be eaten by people who aren’t hungry.

So I am so relieved and pleased to see Left Foot Forward, an evidence-based blog for progressives. Hopefully they will restore to us the facts – the foundations and keystones of any argument – that the mainstream media have largely discarded in favour of opinion.

Going on my blogroll.

Nigel Slater’s collective guilt

Let me begin rancorously, progress mildy, introduced a bitter note about competing agendas against the eating of animal, then end with optimism in the face of Jay Rayner. First the rancour.

I took in Nigel Slater accusing his readers of collective guilt in today’s Observer Food Monthly. Many cows eat better than many people do. I frequently wonder what urbane animal-eaters will say when the penny drops and they realise that their barely-disguised primal, mind-blowingly violent, table habit is to stop.

And I take myself by the scruff of my neck and order myself, be nice, encouraging, welcome the positives, ignore the lateness, the herd-following, the whiff of modishness, be tolerant of bad reasons. Whatever the reason, Nigel Slater’s proposal means the death, agony and environmental wreckage lessens, even only partially. Of course a celebrity meat, fish and dairy eater is not going to abandon these things overnight. Welcome the positives.

In just that ill-fitting but determined frame of mind I read Nigel Slater’s piece.

It commences with a panegyric to vegetables. In it he lays the groundwork for what is to come, an opposition between vegetables and meat. “Vegetables beckon and intrigue in a way no fish or piece of meat possibly could” is a statement that diverted me for quite some time, and which is followed by what might aptly be described as veg porn (though not of the sexist PETA variety) replete with references to “beauty and tactile qualities” and “even greater sensual pleasure”, a “deeper connection”. So far, so good – Nigel Slater doesn’t want to fuck bits of flesh. More interestingly, he wants us to know he is sidling away from eating them too. Let us tread carefully though – he is not renouncing meat – he’s just more interested in his own (though not animals’) “well-being”. And then comes the crunch:

“…those implications that go beyond me and those for whom I cook.

Every little helps

We have damaged this planet. We have plundered its natural resources, emptied its seas, scorched its earth, turned its beating heart into a toxic rubbish tip. There have been decades, if not centuries, of take rather than give. I do not wish to relinquish entirely the deep sense of fulfilment I get from eating meat and fish, but I now place less importance on them in my diet than I did. It is the meat and the crackling rather than the vegetables that are now on the side. When you lift the lid of my casseroles, peer into my pots or read my plate, it is the veggies that play the starring role.

And yes, it is worth “reading” our plate before we tuck in. Where did that food come from? Does it sit comfortably with our conscience and what we believe good food to be? What, other than our immediate appetite, does it benefit, and crucially, what damage is that plate of food doing?”

Food as sensual pleasure; food as “damage”. (But not damage in the form of an animal life violently ended – who are the brutes, again?)

Possibly the strangest part is this:

“If digging up our gardens, getting an allotment, shopping at farmers’ markets, growing organically and eating sustainably is seen as a sign of our collective guilt for what we have done to the planet, then so be it.”

I don’t understand this defiance. Was he browbeaten and nobbled by the environmentalists, rather than reaching this conclusion off his own bat? If so, good for them.

Anyway, Nigel Slater is right. Not wholly right – growing our own is not the pinnacle of ethical eating, and ethical eating is not the pinnacle of ethical living. He’s right, with some more right stuff omitted. But basically right. Eat more greens. I am going to grow more, as part of my commitment to 10:10 (which is only a brandname for an earlier commitment to reducing waste / emissions). But it’s going to take a lot of my time. Definitely not for everybody. Economies of scale shouldn’t be sniffed at.

And on a final optimistic note, a quick sketch of vegan London today. This afternoon I met a woman from overseas, an acquaintance of a friend who thought we should meet (isn’t it lovely when people do this for each other?). We lunched at Tidbits in Heddon St off Regents Street, a vegetarian, largely vegan buffet where you pay by weight I’d not heard of but highly recommend, before chatting our way through a few errands. In Soho there was a street market and Manna had a stall. Vegan cupcakes? But Manna’s a vegetarian restaurant, not a vegan restaurant. Well, now it’s vegan, give or take some butter and cheese in the kitchen in case of diner requests. You don’t know how odd and welcome it was to hear that – dairy eaters accommodated rather than assumed. Manna doesn’t make too big a deal of it though because, like the fantastically creative ShoHo restaurant Saf, they probably realise it currently doesn’t pay to big up being vegan. There’s a lot of prejudice out there inspired, among others, by Jay Rayner, The Observer’s meat champion. But times are changing. And then to Lush for new shampoo. Not only is the shampoo I buy from Lush solid and unpackaged, it is also vegan and made in this country – even, one sales assistant told me, down to the shelling and processing of the coconuts. Then I went and got some of that filthy Cheatin’ pepperoni by Redwood. Man, it is good. My new acquaintance said the afternoon was turning into the secret life of a vegan. We parted and I made a rogue purchase of some sunflower margarine from the last M&S before Chancery Lane tube. For some reason my phone’s barcode scanner couldn’t make sense of the QR code, but I couldn’t see any problem ingredients. It is lovely.

I think London is moving veganwards.

I said final, but one last thing – I wonder what Jay Rayner will say when he gives up meat? I think he’ll say he did it at the very earliest opportunity without doing violence to his palate, his wallet or his health, and I predict he’ll attribute his foot-dragging to the tardiness of restaurateurs, farmers, buyers and wholesalers to get their shit together. He’ll stand firm on behalf of ordinary people without as much time for thinking or money in their pocket as I have. And just as he has grudging respect for vegans while despising our food, I have more respect for him and his talk of flavour, cost and nutrition than I have for Slater’s collective guilt and leisured DIY.

Jay Rayner’s position looks like it will lead to a settled commitment. Nigel Slater’s is particular, modish, and superficial.

Veena’s makes Barkingside even tastier

This post is for My Favourite Shop. (Yes, me again – Barkingside’s most famous shopper and consumer of high street services.)

Food shops tend to change my life more than I expect. When I moved to Barkingside with no particular enthusiasm in 2004, the kosher food I found on sale here allowed me to finally commit to a vegan diet. Strictly observant Jews isolate dairy from meat, so Jewish food manufacturers put a lot of creativity into the so-called ‘parev’ foods which are neither, and therefore can be eaten with either. The kosher shops and supermarket sections of Barkingside brought about this positive change for me.

So it has been with Veena’s. Some time ago I attracted the attention of Barkingside 21 by complaining that the entire High Street would soon be edible. Veena’s is exempt from this complaint; it is simply excellent and I’m delighted it’s here.

Veena’s opened on July 2nd 2009 in our former Woolworths. Its large glossy sign is  burgundy with a yellow ‘Veena’s’ in a stylish font. When I first saw it, I thought to myself “Barkingside is getting an enormous Sri Lankan supermarket. Now I can eat”.

But although owner Brahmma Raj is Sri Lankan, it wouldn’t be accurate to call Veena’s just a Sri Lankan supermarket, or even just a South Asian supermarket. Turkish, British, Italian, Thai, Chinese, African and other regions are represented on the shelves – there’s even a dinky Jewish section. As one of the assistants on checkout (perhaps Brahmma Raj himself – he had a certain proprietorial air) told me, they aim to have everything under one roof. This is pretty much the actuality – at least with the things I want to buy – and Veenas has taken a big share of my food money from Sainsbury’s and Somerfield. The simple fact is, I tend to shop on foot at the end of my working day, and Veena’s sells food and ingredients I want but haven’t been able to get elsewhere in Barkingside.

As soon as I saw Veena’s I decided to get out my New Internationalist ‘Vegetarian Main Dishes From Around the World‘ cookbook which had been lying dormant on the shelf because I couldn’t get the ingredients. Now Veena’s is here I can finally use it, so I’m going through taking every tenth recipe in turn. The first meal was maharagwe, an East African dish requiring rosecoco beans. I found them at Veena’s along with every other bean I have ever heard of, tinned and dried.

There was a choice of 5 or 6 coconut milks (although none were low fat – coconut fat is saturated so you have to watch out). Today I decided to skip aprapansa, the Ghanaian palm nut stew, in favour of yemesirkik, an Ethiopian lentil stew, but I feel confident I could have found palm butter. Veena’s didn’t have berbere paste for the yemesirkik, but there was a choice of 4 other chilli pastes. We ate it tonight with chapatis I made out of Veena’s own-brand chapati flour and it was good.

I have a few days before labra (spicy mixed vegetables from Bangladesh) on page 40 but I had it in mind when I last shopped there. Yes, they had panch phoron (5 mixed spices – fennel, fenugreek, onion seed, cumin and bayleaf) and all of its individual ingredients, separately.

On page 70, we have tamarind dal. Well, you can get dry tamarind, wet tamarind, sweet tamarind, salt tamarind, black tamarind. Cadju (cashew) curry, a dish from Sri Lanka, is on page 90. Veena’s sells lemon grass in jars and cashew nuts in volumes from the packet to the sack.

On special, resisted with difficulty, a platter of small sweet pastries made with vegetable ghee.

From a well-being point of view and from an excitement point of view, I feel extremely fortunate to live close to Veena’s. There’s so much there. For example, I put black sesame seeds and white poppy seeds in my bread these days. I’d prefer to see a better mix of shops here than we currently have, but what with the marvellous Ushan’s (Sri Lankan fruit and vegetable shop), Yossi’s (kosher baker), La Boucherie (kosher butchers and grocers), Rossi’s (the ice cream, coffee and chocolate institution), not one but two beautifully-kept Polish delicatessens, the eel and pie shop, the couple of unpretentious, high quality coffee, cake and brunch places, BK’s which is distinctively Turkish, Onur’s kebabs, the excellent North London Chinese take-away chain Oriental Chef, and the (“More than a”) farm shop selling local horseradish and Havering honey, we should now think of Barkingside as a cosmopolitan food-lover’s mecca.

Yes, there is meat, fish, dairy and other animal products here, and these things should never be eaten. Whenever I give money to vendors who trade in these things, I compromise something. And certainly, Sainsbury’s is far superior to anywhere else here for good booze, vegan dairy alternatives (although still poor), fair trade produce, organic produce, and environmentally-conscious produce – this is why they’ll continue to get my custom. But Barkingside has become a modern cosmopolitan food-lover’s mecca and Veena’s is central to this happy development.

(And not for the first time I ask myself, who wouldn’t live here?)

The Sudanese regime is on trial, not Lubna Hussein

In Sudan I would be facing a whipping for what I wore today. My hair was everywhere, I was wearing baggy jeans and a light-weight v-neck cotton jumper. You could see the contours of my muffin top through the jumper. In Sudan this kind of thing is prosecuted as a criminal act.

Article 152 of the Sudanese Penal Code 1991 states that:

“Whoever does in a public place an indecent act… or wears an obscene outfit…shall be punished with flogging which may not exceed forty lashes or with fine or with both….”

Amnesty:

“The law is crafted in a way that makes it impossible to know what is decent or indecent,” said Tawanda Hondora. “In practice, women are routinely arrested, detained, tried and then, on conviction, flogged simply because a police officer disapproves of their clothing. The law is also discriminatory, in that it is used disproportionately against women.”

In 2003, the African Commission ordered Sudan to amend Article 152 on the grounds that flogging amounted to state-sanctioned torture, after eight women brought a case against the government when they were arrested for publicly picnicking with male friends. The eight were flogged in public using a wire and plastic whip, which reportedly left permanent scars on the women. The government has made no moves to amend the law since the Commission’s decision.”

The Sudanese judge spared Lubna Hussein a whipping for the crime of wearing trousers by commuting it to a fine. Lubna Hussein, who had refused the authorities’ face-saving Presidential pardon, refused to recognise the his decision or to pay, refused the diplomatic immunity which her UN job could have conferred, so she’s going to prison. Ten women have been flogged so far further to this case, including some girls.

The courageous “dozens” of protesters who demonstrated outside the court were beaten by the Sudanese police, and if they were women and wearing trousers (most of them were) they were arrested.

“The women were later joined by dozens of men in traditional Islamic dress who shouted religious slogans and denounced Hussein and her supporters, describing them as prostitutes and demanding a harsh punishment for Hussein.”

More from the Arabic Network of Human Rights Information:

Hussein’s lawyer is arguing that she didn’t break the law because the law can’t be pinned down on trousers. A vox-popped demonstrator on the 6 o’clock news also defended trousers by with reference to a higher authority, here the Koran. This is certainly the safest approach in Sudan, but Lubna Hussein is resigned: “I’m not looking to be found innocent”. Personally I think this aspect of Sudanese law is a pile of trash, as I must unless I also believe that my country hasn’t progressed miles since the authorities back in the not too distant past were flogging people perceived as menaces to society, and unless I’m not grateful to be living in a state that as far as I know never sanctioned women for showing their form. Lubna Hussein also thinks such a law is garbage:

“And if the constitutional court says the law is constitutional, I’m ready to be whipped not 40 but 40,000 times,”

I for one am not about to take my happy circumstances for granted when Sudanese women are being flogged – whipped, beaten, assaulted, tortured – for the way they’ve chosen to dress.

In Malaysia, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno was beaten for having a beer. She thought it appropriate to repent and publicly welcome the beating:

“Authorities have insisted Kartika will not feel much physical pain because the rattan cane will be smaller and lighter than the one for men, and its purpose was to “educate” rather than punish.”

Behavioural conditioning, as cruel disciplinarians might attempt to educate an animal.

One thing you can do via Amnesty is send a message to Sudan’s Minister of Justice, Mr Abdel Bassit Sabdara, to abolish the cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment of flogging and to repeal laws discriminating against the rights women and girls.

Remember too Lubna Hussein’s outspoken supporter Amal Habbani, also a progressive journalist writing for an opposition newspaper, prosecuted for defamation.

Bonus link: Farah on freeing Angela Merkel’s cleavage

10:10 is a mass movement

Many people*** are joining the campaign to cut their emissions.

It seems important to talk about this in advance of the Copenhagen summit, so here goes. Scroll to the bottom for what I plan to do to cut my own emissions.

Received by email.

<<<< STOP PRESS – The whole cabinet has apparently just signed up…. We cannot believe it…. Hang on, here comes a text from Ed himself… Yes, it’s true… STOP PRESS >>>>
Thanks to everyone who made it down to the solar launch at Tate Modern on Monday. We’re all still hallucinating from lack of sleep, but pretty sure it was a triumph. My favourite line was the very last of the evening, from Kevin McCloud’s brilliantly impromptu wrap-up. “If you all go out and get 10 people to sign up to 10:10 and get them to sign up another 10 people on Friday, then by next Tuesday the whole planet will have signed up and we will have won.” I reckon Kevin’s suggestion – if not his maths – is brilliant. Keep reading…
But first, we’ve got to hand it to the Guardian: the whole front page, the whole G2, more than 30 articles on the website, plus podcasts, photo galleries, video interviews… we all felt a little cheated on Day 2, when we only had seven full pages in the paper. All their stuff is here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/1010 Great coverage, too, in The Sun, Telegraph, Reuters, PA, Treehugger..Here’s all the latest news coverage.
Sure you heard the big news from yesterday, when  all the Tory frontbench signed up. As did Nick Clegg…. How much longer till Gordon cracks do you reckon?!? [See - that really is a stop press above - this was accurate 10 mins ago]. Other big names since launch are Stella McCartney (have you asked Dad yet?), Mark Ronson and Alan Rickman. Plus we have two seriously iconic British companies almost ready to cross the finishing line (it’s actually the starting line, but no need to emphasise that at this point.) All these sign-ups are fantastic, but they are not enough on their own… We’ve got to get from 0 to 60 very very quickly or we will lose momentum.
So – and with apologies to Kevin McC – here’s the plan: every single person who has signed up so far (that’s 9,182 of us – but we’ll round that up to 10,000 in recognition of the fact that it’s been 15 years since the last maths lesson) goes out and persuades 10 more people to join by the end of tomorrow (Friday). Except anyone who lives in solitary confinement in a prison or in a hermit’s cave. As you are speaking to your ten – probably shortly after they’ve agreed and think they’ve got rid of you – casually drop in that they also need to persuade another ten people…. by the end of the weekend. 10,000 x 10 x 10 is, correct me if I’m wrong, 1,000,000. One million. Ahem. One million.
So: how to get 10 people signed-up by the end of Friday… Call round all your family and friends tonight? Make an announcement before choir practise? Stick up the poster at work? Speak during school assembly tomorrow? Send an email to all your colleagues? Put out a shout on your company/campaign/choir/church/cat-lovers mailing list?  Use our online email-invite tool?
Add a note to your Facebook/Twitter/MySpace page?
As Daniel so eloquently described at our team meeting this morning, the 10:10 ship has most definitely set sail and she’s a thing of beauty with great potential to sail far seas. But, right now, she is springing quite a few leeks which are in need of lots of hands on deck (do ships spring leeks on the deck? sorry, this analogy is falling down) to plug before she starts floundering.
Repeating the above paragraph in English, we urgently need help with:
  • Money – we were very skint last week, but then had to spend quite a few thousand on the launch so now we are very very skint. In fact, some of us are personally quite seriously in debt as we couldn’t resist buying the plane once we’d thought of it. If everybody could please donate ten pounds today, we’d have 100,000 pounds, which coincidentally (and genuinely) is exactly how much we need to pay off the debts and run the campaign as far as the Copenhagen climate summit in December. Please give ten pounds or more here: http://www.1010uk.org/donate
  • Web People – Many apologies for all the technical problems with the website. Rest assured we have received your 400 emails and are looking at them lovingly. But here’s the problem: the Age of Stupid lent us their 3-strong web team for two weeks, but have now had to take them back. So we are in desperate need of web programmers or all types (including social networkers). Please contact mal@1010uk.org if you can help.
  • A designer – Ditto a graphic designer who can take our designs and turn them into all the free adverts we are being offered. Contact mal@1010uk.org
  • Sorry for so many requests so soon. But hopefully you’ve had a couple of days admiring your tag (oh, if you didn’t get one, email tags@1010uk.org – we’re setting up the distribution asap) and are now rested and ready for round 2. As everyone who has ever run a campaign before has said to us: this idea is ridiculously ambitious. You’d need two years, 100 staff and five million pounds…
Onwards and upwards
Franny, Dan, Leo, Mal, Harriet, James, Robin, Ian & many others
Team 10:10

10:10 Sign-Ups, as of midday Thurs 3rd Sept
Individuals: 9,182
Businesses: 352
Schools: 53
Organisations: 157
Politicians: All the cabinet, all the Tory frontbench, Ed Miliband (Climate Change Minister), Nick Clegg (leader of Lib Dems)
Actors: Samantha Morton, Jason Isaacs, Pete Postlethwaite, Colin Firth, Tamsin Greig, James Purefoy, Alan Rickman
Fashion Designers: Vivienne Westwood, Nicole Farhi, Stella McCartney
Artists: Anish Kapoor, Anthony Gormley, Gillian Wearing
Footballers: Graeme Le Soux
Chefs: Delia Smith, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall*
Authors: Ian McEwan, Sarah Waters, Irvine Welsh, Anthony Horowitz, Antony Beevor, Ali Smith, Carol Ann Duffy, Andrew Motion
Lords: Lord Giddens, Lord Stern (author of Stern Review)
Film Directors: Mike Figgis, Richard Curtis
Impressionists: Rory Bremner
Musicians: Stornoway, Reverend & The Makers, Bloc Party (Russell only), Mark Ronson
Energy Companies: Eon, British Gas, EDF, Scottish & Southern
Football Teams: Spurs FC
Organisations: Science Museum, Tate, Spurs Football Club, Royal Society of Arts (RSA), Women’s Institute (NFWI), British Fashion Council, Business in the Community, Mumsnet, Sage Gateshead, Julies Bicycle, Arcola Theatre
Universities/ Colleges: Edinburgh Uni, Westminster Uni, King’s College, Liverpool Uni, South Thames College, Newcastle Students Union, National Union of Students (NUS) nationally,  Birmingham Students Union, UEA Students Union, Leicester Students Union
Councils: Hackney, Islington, Richmond, Oxford, Slough, West Sussex, Stroud, Eastleigh, Kirklees
Schools: Fox Primary, St Martin Primary, Petchey Academy, Crispin School, Ashley Primary, Rosemary Musker High, Ambler Primar, Kings College School, Whitby Community, Winton Primary
Charities: Comic Relief, ActionAid, ), Global Action Plan, Women’s Environmental Network, Campaign for Greener Healthcare, Operation Noah, Envision, OneClimate, Fauna & Flora Intl, Green Thing
Back to me. Well, in order to assess this I’m going to have to benchmark my emissions now, but somehow I seem to have missed the point again… Just to recap, cars, planes and eating animal I’ve already cut out, but there is a hell of a lot I could do** – and more than I list below. For me personally cutbacks will mean:
  • Shunning over-packaged products, and letting companies and vendors know
  • Resuming local fruit and veg delivery, but one which doesn’t lead to so much waste
  • Avoiding food waste
  • Not leaving chargers plugged in or on overnight
  • Draft exclusion for skirting boards and interior doors
  • Only planned purchases of clothes and shoes
  • Investigate fibres and materials
  • Consult Ethical Consumer (a more than slightly imperfect source of information on this kind of thing, because it doesn’t review quality)  for other purchases
  • Recycling or, if this is more trouble that I think anybody can be expected to take, writing letters of protest
  • Sorting out the greenhouse in time for next year (new soil, mend windows, clean, keep cats out).
  • Investigating micro-generation and solar water heating
  • Quicker showers (not the place for reveries)
  • Replace TV (huge and already 2nd hand)

I refuse to cycle until the death rate comes down.

*Does the presence of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Delia Smith mean they’re following the advice to become vegan?

** The lack of evidence base for their advice is so infuriating

*** With my favourite commentators on the British Left notably absent – why is this?

10:10 – buy good quality stuff

Dear Breville,

I have just signed up to 10:10, the climate change campaign to reduce my emissions by one tenth. Item 6 of their advice (at http://www.1010uk.org/people#how_can_we) is ‘Buy Good Stuff’. It reads:

“Less stuff made = less emissions = less climate damage. So buy high-quality things that last, repair broken stuff rather than chucking, buy & sell second-hand and borrow your neighbour’s mower.”

In recent years since we have been able to afford it, my partner and I have made purchases with this in mind. Approximately two years ago we paid an above-average amount for one of your kettles – a stainless steel model I can’t find on your website so I reckon it must have been discontinued.

Yesterday, the handle fell off. How the screw which attached it to the kettle came loose in the first place is a mystery.

I set about trying to re-attach the handle but the screw was housed internally in the handle in such a way that I couldn’t even see the head, much less reach it.

It seems that my otherwise-working kettle is unmendable.

I would be interested in your response.

Best wishes,

Update: the Good Shopping Guide is helpful for making these kinds of purchases – but what do you know, it doesn’t include robustness, durability, longevity etc in its ethical rating.

Update 2: I also subscribe to Ethical Consumer mag and can use their ethiscores. Like the Good Shopping Guide, they fall down on 10:10 point number 6. What we need is some kind of amalgamation of Which, Ethical Consumer and Good Shopping.

Update 3: The Guardian spotted this post. Currently no reply from Breville. Meanwhile I’m using a stove-top kettle (oddball but very stylish gift from a friend) which takes 10 minutes to boil on a gas hob. I have only evidence-free hunches about what to do for the best in this small but symbolic matter.

Update 4: Sep 14th and still no reply from Breville. My father-in-sin says we have to drill through the handle and replace the old screw with a new one. If the thread’s gone (in the screwed-into part) we may need to create a new thread. Power tools make my imagination whirr but sometimes you just have to get on with it.

Update 5: I heard from Breville. My response:

Thanks for this response. It was slightly tangential to my question though.

I thought it was clear that my emphasis was on the environmental consequences of appliances which break after such a short time, and in ways which should be repairable easily, quickly and locally, and I’m not satisfied with your response in this respect. Basically, I’d argue that the handle should be the very last part of a kettle to break, and if through some freak circumstance it does, it should be straightforward for me to fix myself. And while you have given a lot of consideration to my finances, with mention of “warranty”, “uneconomical”, “cost” and “incur postage”, for which I am grateful, you haven’t mentioned the environment impact of this kind of breakage (which I think I explained adequately) at all.

My hunch is that the environmentally responsible thing to do is for companies to design repairable appliances, and sell parts and instructions so that owners can either repair them themselves or can take them to a hardware store which offers this kind of paid service. Sending the kettle back to Oldham on the off-chance, and incurring costs to boot, is unsatisfactory on all kinds of levels, not least use of fuel and packaging.

I’m going to drill through the handle, take out the old screw and attempt to replace it with a longer new one. If that doesn’t work, I’ll get back to you.

I realise that all this implies a big rethink for companies like Breville, in terms of warranties and business models. That’s what I’m calling for. If companies like Breville can commit to meeting their consumers at least half way in responding to our shared waste, materials and emissions crises, we may come out the other side relatively unscathed. And this issue of my kettle handle, while relatively piddling, is I think representative of Breville’s challenge.

Update 6 27 Sep: The kettle is mended. I had shown it to everybody who crossed my threshold. Eventually my cousin, a lateral thinker, suggested pushing from the other side, rather than prising, the (for want of a better term) ‘plug’ which fitted over the place where the screw goes. This worked. Out came the plug, we could get to the screw-head, reattach the handle (the threads were fine) and put the plug back in. But it took a long time, many people’s consideration, and our determination not to throw the kettle away or replace it. And we can’t get to the screw now to make sure the handle doesn’t drop off while we’re pouring boiling water. Unsatisfactory.

Defend ESOL staff at Tower Hamlets College

It’s a testament to the way politically active citizens run this country (and by country, I mean state) that despite the foul weather much of the world would prefer to live here. Those of us who were born here should consider ourselves fortunate. It’s down to good luck.

This is Tower Hamlets – or at least, the aspect of Tower Hamlets which relates to this post. Many people from far-off places make that London borough their home.

It’s not all rosy. The British National Party and other white supremacist organisations I won’t link to but which you can easily find by searching the web use language as a wedge between their cherished “native Brits” and relative newcomers. And some newcomers prefer to maintain division, a sentiment voiced by some interviewees on the documentary Divided Britain (BBC Radio 4, Tue 2nd Sep, 20:00).  Language is and has always been a cultural bridge.

The UK Border Agency imposes a Life in the UK Test on would-be citizens. It’s a good test, although looking at what you need to know, it becomes clear that immigrants who pass the test will be more knowledgeable than most native British people. I would love to link to the materials but – and this is terrible – they are not freely available. You actually have to pay. But English language is a pre-requisite:

“You should take the test if you are applying for naturalisation as a British citizen or indefinite leave to remain (settlement) and your level of English is ESOL Entry 3 or above. If your level of English is lower than ESOL Entry 3 and you wish to apply for naturalisation or indefinite leave to remain, you will need to attend combined English language (ESOL) and citizenship classes instead. Most local further education or community colleges run these courses.”

Unsurprisingly a report by the (renamed) Department for Children, Schools and Families concluded:

“There can be no doubt that a lack of English language skills causes second language speakers to be one of the most excluded groups in society and the labour market.”

The rationale for ESOL includes matters of citizenship, economic success, social inclusion, integration, and national identity. And yet the principal of Tower Hamlets is cutting ESOL, triggering a strike by teaching staff there.

More:

Cutting ESOL in Tower Hamlets is a wholly bad idea.

10:10 project to cut emissions / where are the science educators?

The initiatives are coming thick and fast in the run-up to Copenhagen. I mentioned Ed’s Pledge in a previous post – 10:10, which launched today at Tate Modern, is something else to sign up to. 10:10 is concerned with individual measures – something which should not cause us to divert attention from the Estates and IT departments at our workplaces, or agriculture, or Royal Dutch Shell. But still – I’m in.

But I’m also disappointed and saddened by the quality of the information.

Turn off radiators in the hallways? If your thermostat’s* in the hallway, then it’s going to think your home is colder than it actually is. And doesn’t a cold room in the house chill the adjacent rooms?

What about when hardly anything nutritious is in season here except stuff even paleoethnobotanist George Hillman, in field-based experiments with Ray Mears, finds either unpleasant or more trouble to harvest and process than it’s worth? Is it better to go for hothouse local fruit and vegetables or import it from warmer places? Is air freight better overall than refrigerated sea freight?

How do I know what “high-quality stuff” is? After guarding a badly made but superbly light and comfortable aluminium beach chair throughout the Green Man Festival I let it out of my sight it this weekend at our party and in the meantime it was flattened – literally flattened – by a six-foot bear of a drunk guest. All he tried to do was sit down hard in it. I got it from the web. I guess one thing I can do is review it there.

I’m not an environmental saint by any stretch but I am a socially-conscious vegan who holidays by train and foot, shuns the car and spends winter evenings in a sleeping bag rather than turning up the heating. I expend a lot of my most precious resource – time – trying to live a responsible life with respect to my fellow beings. My boyfriend is pretty much the same. We feel we make a lot of sacrifices – certainly, we would prefer to take overseas holidays and install a power shower. We watch people we know carrying on as normal and we think about how we have only one life and wonder if we’re mugs. We think not – but we want to be treated like adults who can handle complexity and deserve to be dignified with some empirical findings which empower us to make our own decisions.

Will somebody tell me what my maximum emissions, waste and energy allowances are projected at for the next 10 years, based on equitable distribution irrespective of borders? OK, so we don’t know yet? Well, on what does it depend? How might it fluctuate? What happens if I exceed this maximum? How can I calculate what I’m expending?

Because there are some things I want to do before I die, and I want to know how many times I can do them without ripping off everybody else, not least some poor fucker who has never even seen the inside of a car.

I think behaviour change is necessary, and would love to see this kind of approach work. I take my hat off to The Guardian for setting up the initiative. But the superficial way things are going with this run-up to Copenhagen, we’ll be reaping only cynicism.

Update: Climate Camp workshop titles are a case in point. The ratio of reflection on the movement itself to actual climate education is not good (unless you are a child, in which case it appears to be very good).

  • What drives our activism: an exploration
  • Art or Protest or Both? Can we combine creative means with politics?
  • Composting the Capitalist State – how we can, why we must
  • Lessons from the Animal Rights Movement (NETCU)

It saddens me to think this, but the reason direct action looks so appealing to Climate Campers is because they have failed to articulate a set of needs and formulate these into a set of demands which could work in our representative democracy. If we don’t know what we need, we won’t be able to defend it and we’ll continue to be outmanoeuvred by corporations. So, basically, are there economic or social climatologists at Climate Camp? It’s not clear, because the workshop facilitators aren’t named. If not, I wish them well, as an inspiration, but I’m not very interested in hearing from amateurs with instincts, or professional activists. I’d prefer to hear from authorities in their field – at least, where that authority is conferred by and limited to expertise. I want to know the credentials of the speakers I attend and I’d like an explicit acknowledgement of the dangers of prejudice and misinformation at climate camp. Because there’s a lot of greenwash around.

Update 2: thank goodness for CAT.

Update 3: A vid or two on the launch of 10:10 on the Arts and Ecology blog. Reminds me, I need to figure out what I’m going to do to cut my emissions. Many of the pledges mentioned in that video involve stuff I’ve already cut out but what I can do is grow more food this year, resume my local fruit and veg box deliveries but get a smaller box to avoid waste, buy only very high quality things calculated to last a lifetime or beyond, and look into microgeneration.

*Yes of course we have thermostatic controls on each radiator. But the point is, 10:10 doesn’t do contingent advice.

Update: surprise surprise, in 2007 the installation of micro wind turbines often increased emissions. Is the same true today? How to avoid this?

Update: on the subject of fighting one’s corner, Left Foot Forward does a good job debunking scaremongering about intermittency of power with renewable generation.

Art or Protest or Both? Can we combine creative means with politics?

The last weekend of summer: a treasure hunt, Claybury Park, the New River, and a sponsored walk

It was a cracking weekend.

We held a modest but well-attended get-together. The afternoon began with a barbecued lunch. We had a gazebo in case of rain or too much sun on the babies, but the darned thing kept casting its shadow in the wrong direction, and it was a perfect day anyway.

I tried out a pictorial treasure hunt for the young children which seemed to go pretty well. First you plan the hunt – work out where you’re going to hide the clues. Then you go round your home taking pictures of those locations. If you can, you make the pictures a wee bit cryptic so you can ask them “Where is there a wall like that?” or “If the sofa is there, then which table is that one? or “Where is there a piece of furniture with feet like that resting on a floor like that?” Then you put the pictures into a table in your wordprocessor and do simple captions in case anybody can read. Print, cut out, and you may like me decide to use your workplace laminator if, like ours, it has been dormant for years. Then you hide the clues, reserving the first one to start them off. In the event they needed a little assistance – for example, under-fives don’t necessarily know about pillowcases – but not all that much assistance; I hid 9 clues and they didn’t get bored. Turns out that treasure hunts are a good way to acquaint children with the ins and outs of a home. The final clue led to a key in Matt’s pocket and anticipation was at its peak. Just one caveat – the word “treasure” creates certain expectations which, no matter how polite the child, cannot be fulfilled by board games linked to the government’s numeracy strategy.

Then the parents and children departed, the booze flowed and strange and funny things occurred. We pushed on until 4 and (because it was Barkingside and you don’t get to pop home) had a sojourner in every room. Some were more comfortable than others, I fear – a selkbag doesn’t make the floor any softer, even with a yoga matt and a bedroll underneath. Then our friends’ dogs, whom we’d initially worried might be a problem for the babies, spent the small hours understandably going berserk whenever a cat came through the garden, so at about 5 I visited the guestrooms distributing earplugs. But in the end they were allowed upstairs. I had kind of expected the neighbours to understand, given that you could make a strong argument that the cause of the noise was their cats, but our more-considerate dog-owning guests didn’t want to test that understanding.

The next morning the place looked like a festival site. After cooked breakfast under the gazebo we took our friends and their dogs for a walk to Claybury Park, a peerless local beauty spot. After soaking up views of the city from Hospital Hill, we started picking and returned home with sloes for gin, incredibly sweet and perfumed blackberries and several varieties of apples. I made a crumble for afters and for once correctly judged the water content so that the topping didn’t suffer from too much steam.

Bank Holiday Monday fell on the last day of August. Matt and I are walking 32 miles in 10 hours with my dad and brother for a charity which helped my dad when he had cancer last year. Yesterday we took the train to Ware which is a couple of miles south of Hertford in Hertfordshire, and set off on foot for home in Redbridge, London along the New River path (see Google map).

The New River was created by goldsmith and merchant Hugh Myddleton in the early C17th to bring clean water from Hertford to Londoners. It runs in dug channel and aqueduct, following the contour lines to drop only 8cm per kilometre and eventually ending in Islington. I enjoyed reading about the C17th nimbies – they had a sure-fire antidote back then: get the king’s approval. If I permit myself a short digression, of course nimbies today are not local landowners, but ordinary inhabitants who feel that they are being disregarded and their interests sacrificed for some lofty and unproven idea of the greater good – this is why I was so pleased to hear last night’s edition of Costing The Earth on BBC Radio 4, Turbines or Tearooms?, which I heartily recommend to any environmentalist. The message: involve local people in decision-making to generate their renewable energy for their own community, organising a scheme for contributing back to the grid so that they can cover their costs. The way things are now, with attempted pariah-isation of the objectors, is very strange. New Labour embraced choice, market, profit and property in this country, and here is Ed Miliband (somebody I like, by the way) asking rural communities to make what many perceive as huge sacrifices for the good of the many in a way which is breathtakingly out of keeping with the other political currents of the time. I think that what we need is cooperative energy generation, devolved to a community level and coordinated and supported at a central level.

Back to the New River – even now it supplies 8% of our drinking water and it was nice to think about that as we watched various dogs plunging around in it. Peak water is never far from my thoughts in recent years. You might perhaps think it was a canal but the give-away is the bridges which only just skim it. Because nothing travels along it except water fowl, it’s a wildlife haven and we ate our sandwiches with our feet dangling above minnows, weed and crayfish (even English crayfish, I think – at any rate, it was pink. And, sorry to say, dead). The walk was slightly marred by dogshit, but there were many high points, not least the diversity of housing backing onto the river, from vast estates, through modest 1970s boxes, to beautiful big old houses with velvet lawns. My favourite part was crossing the M25 on a massive footbridge with the New River slung underneath. Then we were in Enfield, and soon after that we turned left onto the London loop to take us closer to home. At Enfield Wash I had a passion fruit off the vine overhanging the footpath! Epping Forest was gorgeous. Update: in fact perhaps my favourite part was climbing up Barn Hill to the edge of Epping Forest and turning back to see the tawny evening sun smashing into the KGV and William Girling reservoirs and turning them into lava pools. Round Sewardstone and Chingford we encountered the most glamorous horse rider we’d ever seen, golden-haired, hatless and sporting a splendid décolletage.

Matt and I had our poles and I lost count of how many times we were told “No slopes round ere luv”. This is one of the most unoriginal things you can say to a walker.

At Woodford Bridge, about 4 miles from home, it was 7pm and we figured we should stop. The 275 took us the final distance. We’d managed 20.5 miles and I reckon we had another 12 in us no problem. If you want to sponsor the walk, contact fleshisgrass@gmail.com and I’ll tell you how.