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Juliet and Saamah’s letter to the Times today points some of the misconceptions in last Saturday’s leading article on well-being economics. And there’s plenty more that they could have said, given enough space. For example, the leader argues that
There is more to life than [happiness]. There are many forms of life — monastic devotion, public service, freedom fighter — in which the pursuit of happiness is a subsidiary value, if it appears at all.
As someone who counts among his friends several public servants, a handful of people who you might call freedom fighters and one monk, I find this suggestion rather strange. Why shouldn’t happiness figure as major part of their lives?
It depends, of course, how you define happiness. The Times seems to equate it with pleasant feelings and positive emotions, what the philosopher Owen Flanagan calls the ‘standard American’ or ‘joy-joy-click-your-heels’ understanding of happiness. But anyone working in the field of positive psychology or well-being economics knows that positive feelings are only one minor part of a much broader and well-established definition of happiness, which includes finding meaning in work and daily activities, good relationships with others, inner resilience, individual vitality and a feeling of autonomy and freedom. There’s no reason why this deeper understanding of happiness, or rather well-being, shouldn’t figure in the types of vocation mentioned in the article.
After all, nef fellow and psychologist Tim Kasser and his colleague Malte Klar recently published a paper outlining the well-being benefits of engaging in political activism and campaigning. They found that
in both college student and national samples, well-being was higher to the extent people self identified as an activist, expressed commitment to the activist role, and reported engaging or intending to engage in activist behaviors. Results were similar across measures of hedonic well-being (e.g., life satisfaction and positive affect), eudaimonic well-being (e.g., personal growth, purpose in life, vitality), and social well-being (e.g., social integration). The results of both studies also suggest that activists are more likely to experience the satisfaction of basic psychological needs, an indicator of more frequent experiences of intrinsic motivation. Both Studies 1 and 2 also showed that significantly larger percentages of activists met preexisting criteria for “human flourishing” (Keyes, 2002) than did those less engaged in activism.
It seems that freedom fighters can be happy after all.
Picture the scene. It’s the beginning of the second world war. Germany’s industrial war machine is in full production and Hitler is advancing across Europe. Back in England, the government decides that the cost and planning complications of building tanks and aircraft are just too great and lets the factories – who would be willing to build if there was a demand for them – close. In compensation, it offers the firms a grant from an already existing budget to carry out research and development.
As bizarre as it sounds, a rough equivalent of this otherwise unimaginable scenario is playing itself out at the Vesta wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight – the subject of a high-profile sit-in protest by some of its workforce. The company says that the government has failed to make the domestic market happen, and so plans to shut up shop. The government, for its part, braces to endure a crushing symbolic failure just as it publishes its strategy for a transition to a low-carbon economy, and it is reported that it has offered the firm a little compensatory R&D money (£6m).
Which brings us to the strategy itself. It arrived just weeks before the clock ticks down to 88 months left until global greenhouse gas emissions tip us into a new, more dangerous phase of risk of runaway warming.
Depending on which parts of the strategy you look at (actually having one is, of course, a good start), it seems to be characterised either by some good intent, but too few resources (renewable energy), severe blind spots (peak oil and the role of communities) or a lack of vision about real alternatives for our oil-addicted economy (transport, food and farming). Through the document you can almost feel the begrudging effort of a system coming to terms with external realities that can no longer be entirely ignored or simply “news managed”.
Symbolic events in politics can sweep away even the very best intentions. But is the Vesta case merely a symbolic blip, or something more interesting? On the one hand, it couldn’t be worse. If the UK were to specialise in any form of renewable energy, it is in wind that we are particularly wealthy. The UK has access to 40% of the total wind energy resources in Europe (pdf). And the government plans for another 10,000 wind turbines to be erected by 2020.
So for the nation’s only full turbine factory to close, and for its sit-in protesters, who were trying to keep it open, to be sacked by letters tucked in with a lunch box, it’s hard to imagine a worse message being sent to the public and the marketplace. Why bail out banks to the tune of billions, to keep profit-hungry, bonus-obsessed financiers in work, who then still fail to provide necessary capital to the productive economy, and allow the foundations of our future energy system to crumble? Anyone wishing to register their thoughts can sign a petition on the No 10 website.
One dim hope filtering from this dismal affair is the way in which the environmental and trade union movements have finally found common cause over the future direction of the economy.
It is just one incident, but the message is getting through that a low-carbon economy, and the transition to it, is going to generate a vast number of new jobs. With the vast range of skills that will be needed in a world in which we will almost inevitably do many more things for ourselves, it could also represent a rebirth of useful and interesting work. It’s not just about the number of jobs, but their quality. The reason that this won’t just happen is because the government is still in thrall to market mechanisms.
As Vesta’s business decision to move production to the US shows, markets aren’t there to solve your, the nation’s or the planets problems, they are there to make profits. That is why they need to be subservient to the social and environmental objectives that we choose. On this case, at least, if you want to know the future for employment and the environment in the UK, and whether or not we are likely to avert catastrophic climate change, the answer, my friend, really is blowing in the wind.
88 months and counting…
They’re still out there, the deniers, but they become increasingly exotic. And excuses for inaction on global warming become stranger. One I found would have us believe that spending on wind farms was responsible globally for “killing millions” through the misallocation of resources. That came from a panellist at a public debate at one of the UK’s leading scientific establishments. Oddly, he cited no learned journals to back the claim. The same voice went further. There are no limits on the human use of natural resources, we were told, because when things run out on earth, we can always mine … asteroids.
OK, so the audience did laugh spontaneously at that point. But what makes people cling so tenaciously to denial that they would entertain ludicrous feats just to preserve the status quo, rather than embrace relatively simple changes – like switching the energy system away from fossil fuels – and in the process create jobs and greater energy security and (even if they don’t accept its reality) tackle climate change?
To push that simple change, this month one man took a big leap away from the security of the science laboratory that was once his home and got himself arrested for challenging the coal industry in the US. To be fair, James Hansen of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies has a track record in standing up to authority, especially Republican administrations, but getting detained by men in uniform in the cause of climate change was a first. Soon after, a new climate bill was passed in the US.
It’s encouraging that people like Hansen are upping the ante, and it’s not difficult to see why they do it. On one hand, the month brings confirmation of how warming will drive a huge human upheaval through forced migration, and how the UK will see more flooding in winter and droughts in summer. On the other, there is news that the Met Office, responsible for much of the UK’s core work on modelling global warming, is to lose one quarter of its climate research budget, about £4.3m, after the Ministry of Defence withdrew funding, and that emissions from international shipping – not covered by international agreements for reduction – are rising.
Meanwhile, the policing of climate protests appears to grow increasingly political and repressive, in direct contradiction to exhortations to mobilise and campaign from figures like the secretary of state for energy and climate change, Ed Miliband. As the evidence on warming further hardens, any kind of coherent political response seems to flounder more elaborately.
And yet, in spite of everything and in a quite unplanned and unintentional way, the beginnings of a potentially positive and self-reinforcing spiral are dimly visible.
First, the environment comes riding in to save the economy, through various initiatives like support for wind power and home energy efficiency, that one day, added up, might look like a Green New Deal. Then the economy accidentally returns the gesture.
In 2008, a combination of high oil prices and the financial crisis saw the global economy slow down and the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions fall by half. They still went up, but slowed significantly.
Rich and poor countries experience such trends very differently. But the effect in some rich countries, where emissions cuts are needed first and deepest, has been interesting. Far from there being universal wailing and mortification, many have embraced the chance to work shorter weeks and take unpaid holiday. They’ve accepted cuts in disposable income because the gift of extra time has opened up new opportunities elsewhere.
In reclaiming part of their lives to do anything from spend more time with family, learn a new skill, volunteer, start a campaign or enterprise, take a walk in the woods or, indeed, study stars and asteroids, people are discovering that there is a big payback in added wellbeing. For some people at least, the recession has taught them that less really is more. As the clock ticks down to the point when, in 89 months’ time, it will no longer be “likely” that we’ll keep below the critical two-degree temperature rise, lets hope we are all quick learners.
Finally, its not just world-famous scientists who are putting themselves on the line legally or, indeed, literally. Last summer 29 people stopped a train containing 1,000 tonnes of coal on its way to Drax power station in Yorkshire. They stopped the train with a red flag, following standard railway safety rules, boarded it and began shovelling the coal on to the line. One was dressed as a canary – the traditional warning of dangerous pollution down a coal mine. They dropped a banner saying “Leave It in the ground”.
Like Hansen, they saw coal as the biggest danger when it came to climate change, and Drax is the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK. All 29 were arrested and are now standing trial. They’re charged with “obstructing the railway” and they face up to two years in prison. Their trial started on Monday, but what is really on trial is whether we have the wit as a society to save ourselves from death by carbon-addled inertia.
Once again, civil liberties and climate change are crossing paths in the news. This morning, the Guardian released footage showing two activists being brutally manhandled by police at last year’s climate camp at E.on’s coal-fired power station in Kingsnorth, Kent. The film shows two female protestors, Emily Apple and Val Swain, asking unmarked police officers why they aren’t wearing their numbers. When the pair start taking details and photos of these anonymous coppers, they find themselves wrestled to the floor, trodden on and even throttled. Apple and Swain, both single mothers with young children, were then arrested and held behind bars for four days, despite having made a perfectly legal request for police to identify themselves. Reports suggested the women were targeted because they are active members of Fit Watch, a group which attempts to monitor the activities of the Met’s Forward Intelligence Team (F.I.T.), a police unit whose sole job at demonstrations is to gather photographs and video of activists to contribute to a vast database which can later be used to drum up charges of conspiracy against arrestees.
The police don’t like protestors to hide their identities. If you turn up at demonstration wearing a hoodie and have a hankerchief tied over your face, you can be sure they’ll make you reveal yourself. Some activists have given up trying to hide their identities from the ubiquitous eyes of the FIT, and actively court the coppers’ lens. But when protestors ask police to reveal themselves, it’s a very different matter. Although it is illegal for police to go unnumbered, empty shoulders are an increasingly common sight at high-stakes demonstrations.
But intimidation, secrecy and even violence on the part of the police is rarely enough to deter the most stalwart of activists, as the following story shows. A good friend of mine locked herself onto a biofuel refinery during the week of the Kingsnorth camp. The police ripped her violently from her chains as quickly as they could, leaving her hands and wrists bleeding and her neck sore. She was promptly served an injunction and told not to go anywhere near a powerstation or the camp. I’d been shocked by the photos of what happened, but nothing surprised me more than finding her behind the counter at one of the camp’s kitchens, serving up soup with a smile only hours later. It takes extraordinary courage, passion and, dare I say it, love to keep on going like this.
But keep on going we must. That’s why it’s so fitting that, in the same day as the news of Apple and Swain’s Kingsnorth ordeal makes headlines, yet more activists are back at the plant, causing trouble for E.on. Greenpeace protestors have boarded a ship bringing coal to Kingsnorth and are preventing it from unloading its cargo.
Civil disobedience has achieved some extraordinary things in our history, and with climate change the stakes have never been higher. You can pledge to take direct action against climate change by signing up at beyondtalk.net or at Greenpeace’s Big If page. And if scaling chimneys or boarding boats isn’t your cup of tea, there’s still a fantastic way to show that you’re not going to let coal power wreck our climate by joining the “Mili-Band”, a huge human chain around Kingsnorth, with a village fete afterwards. It’s being organised by nef‘s friends and colleagues at the World Development Movement, Christian Aid, Oxfam, the RSPB, the Women’s Institute and a host of other groups. Book your place in the Mili-Band today!
It’s been a week now since protestors of a variety of stripes descended on London’s financial district to challenge the G20 leaders meeting on April 1st. As more details emerge about the aggressive policing – notably surrounding the death of passer-by Ian Tomlinson – it seems a good time to look back on our experience of the day.
nef was at the Climate Camp on Bishopsgate, which was, for the most part, a peaceful and celebratory affair: the streets were decked with bunting, the air was full of music and a phenomenal amount of homemade cake – including gingerbread bankers – was being shared amongst the crowd. And it wouldn’t be climate camp without a bit of education: nef‘s Policy Director Andrew Simms led a loud discussion about low-carbon living and positive policies to fix the climate.
I asked two of our researchers to share their reflections from the camp: Victoria Johnson – our resident climate expert – and Lucie Stephens, who heads up nef‘s work on Co-production.
AW: Why did you decide to go to the protest?
Victoria Johnson: I’m a climate scientist, and I’m increasingly worried by what the numbers are telling us. There has been a growing consensus in the scientific community that we have less than ten years – perhaps as little as four or five – in which to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. If we don’t managed to do that, we’ll cross a threshold which makes a 2°C rise in the average global temperature much more likely. And with a 2°C rise, the effects of climate change will almost certainly worsen.
AW: And presumably you don’t think the Government has taken this to heart?
VJ: No. Despite the massive sea-change in scientific understanding since the publication of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) there is little evidence that any government is really taking the situation seriously. Greenpeace recently commissioned nef to explore the how green the economic stimulus package outlined in the Pre-Budget Report was. We found that less than 1 per cent was ‘new’ spending. And the total figure of the green fiscal stimulus was 0.0083 per cent of GDP. That’s a long long way below what experts are recommending: Lord Stern has said we need £11 billion a year, while the Green New Deal Group say as much as £50 billion annually.
AW: Did you have any apprehensions about what the day would bring?
Lucie Stephens: I was initially pretty wary about joining the protest, given all the talk of trouble in the media. In fact as I was cycling to work on the Wednesday morning I went past a TV camera crew interviewing a man in a suit outside the London Development Agency on Blackfriars Road. In the spring sunshine he greeted the journalists with “Nice day for a riot!” which I found so completely offensive that I made up my mind to march. The fact is many, many people care deeply about the issues that the protestors were highlighting. The assumption of trouble, of riots, undermined people’s confidence in their ability to peacefully protest. As someone who cares deeply about the environment and also our legal right to free speech, I felt it was really important to attend and be counted as a peaceful protestor.
AW: What was the atmosphere like at the camp?
VJ: Walking from Liverpool Street to Bishopsgate at 3.30pm – several hours after the Climate Camp had started was a really strange experience. There was no traffic, and lots of people walking in the road.
LS: During the day there was a great atmosphere. The workshops were well-attended and people were keen to engage and learn from one another. As the sun started to set, there were business people and tourists walking through the camp, with lots of them stopping to take pictures on their phones, seeming to enjoy the spectacle of tents in the centre of the city. The roads were full of people and bikes, not taxis and cars, the immediate environment felt peaceful in the spring sunshine.
VJ: And we kept bumping into the environmental elite. Established journalists, chief executives from environmental pressure groups and so on. People were casually strolling in and out.
AW: Did any of that atmosphere change as evening set in?
VJ: Yeah, around about 5.30pm it definitely shifted. Police began to ‘kettle’ the protesters causing the mood to change in a flash. By 6 pm the police had blocked us in the camp and were refusing entry or exit. Climate Camp organisers tried to diffuse the situation by providing information. Leila Deen – the protestor famed for sliming Mandelson last month – calmly suggested that we sit peacefully on the pavement to prevent the police from encroaching further into the camp. We did, and sat chatting with other protesters around us. A three man band – acoustic guitar, tambourine and bongos – began to play music and the mood picked up again, but then we were sitting in the centre of the camp – in the distance, from both ends of the street we could hear people chanting ‘shame on you’ as the police started to push forward into the crowds.
LS: Even after as the kettle was going on, there was still a fair level of camaraderie. Protestors were incredibly dignified, sitting peacefully at the feet of the police, dressed in riot helmets, shields, balaclavas – hardly recognisable. In many cases the police and protestors struck up conversations and chatted amiably into the evening. At one point a protestor started being a bit bolshie and yelling at the police, but the rest of us held her to account. We were about peaceful protest, so while still sat on the pavement we managed the situation, encouraged the woman to move away, which she did.
In order to illustrate how calmly protestors behaved and therefore how safe the police felt in our presence at least one office removed his helmet and balaclava (he said his head was getting hot) in order to have a scratch and a stretch. Many put down their riot shields for long periods of time to stretch and some squatted down to rest their legs or slumped on the chained up bikes. None of them would have been prepared to make themselves vulnerable like this if they felt their safety was in anyway threatened.
The irony is, I would have gone home at about 7pm if they’d allowed me. I had wanted to be at the camp during the day, to be counted and have my voice heard, but I had no intention of staying until 11.45pm. And I’m not the only one, lots of people around us were keen to leave and would have drifted away peacefully had the kettle not been put in place.
AW: Did you feel the protesters were being treated unfairly?
LS: While we were sitting on the pavement we struck up a conversation with a couple, both of whom are still finishing their A-Levels in north London. This was their first Climate Camp and they were trapped in alongside us. It really saddens me to think that their expression of freedom of speech is being misrepresented in the press – who would lump all protestors together as thuggish louts – and violently corralled by the police for daring to try to draw attention to the havoc that our generation is creating for their future on this planet.
The sense was that we were being punished for protesting, kettled for caring, that this had always been the intention. Not once did I see any violence from a camper that would justify police intervention. In reality this policing approach curtails our freedom of speech and makes protesting something that only those prepared to challenge authority are willing to do. This creates a vicious cycle and robs the majority of us of the right to peacefully protest and make our voices heard.
It was interesting talking to those who had seen police brutality at earlier Climate Camps, such as Drax protests. They were very fearful of trouble and of being attacked again. The impact of these policing tactics will be to scare people off protesting peacefully.
After climbing Hong Kong’s Cheung Kong tower in order to publicise our One Hundred Months campaign, “French Spiderman” Alain Robert is at it again, this time scrambling up the Lloyds Building in London’s financial district. Robert’s motive was to encourage G20 leaders to take action on climate change which, according to nef research, we have at most 92 months to stop.
Great coverage from CNN here:
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And a piece from the BBC:
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Andy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster. He also draws cartoons for nef‘s newspaper.
Every month since our One Hundred Months campaign began, we’ve been asking supporters to take action to stop climate change and to raise awareness about the cause. But Alain Robert, a.k.a. “the French Spiderman”, has – quite literally – taken our campaign to new heights. A couple of weeks ago, Alain scaled the 73-storey Cheung Kong tower in Hong Kong – with no ropes – wearing a One Hundred Months t-shirt. You can watch his extraordinary ascent here:
There’s also a photo gallery of Alain’s climbing up at the Guardian.