Yes, the King’s coronation has taken place and we’ll hear more about that a bit later. Well, not so much about the coronation itself as about what went on on the sidelines. If you can't stand the heat take it out of the kitchen with new technology which may not be quite as new as some reporters suggest. We hear from Naomi Klein on the hallucinations of artificial intelligence, and from Zoe Cohen, friend of the Sustainable Futures Report, addressing the annual general meeting of Barclays Bank. Nuclear fusion is the immense reaction which powers the sun. Now some Israeli scientists want to replicate it in a shipping container. And there’s advance notice of the Net Zero Festival which takes place in London next October.
How to blow up a pipeline.
But first, how to blow up a pipeline. As I told you last week I've received the book and now I've read it and I can tell you more about it in detail. Let me make it clear to start with, it isn't actually about how to blow up a pipeline. And a lot of pipelines have been blown up, some of them repeatedly. This book is more about why we should consider blowing up pipelines.
Author Andreas Malm has divided the book into three chapters: Learning from Past Struggles, Breaking the Spell and Fighting Despair. In the first part, he looks at the difference between passive protest and violent protest and compares the results of each approach. He looks at the suffragettes’ campaign for votes for women, at Irish independence, at the resistance to imperial rule in India, at the struggle in South Africa against apartheid, at civil rights in the United States, at the poll tax in the UK. Every one of these, he says, was won with violence.
He examines violence and makes it clear that violence should never be against people, but against those things which are inflicting violence on people. Oil company assets, coal-fired power stations and private planes and SUVs are all committing violence against nature and against humanity. He takes issue with Extinction Rebellion, which promotes non-violent civil disobedience, talking specifically about when it all went wrong - the notorious episode where activists attempted to stop a commuter train, kicking out at people who were trying to pull them off the roof of the carriages. These were people desperate to get to work, and who had no direct hand in the oil industry or the investment companies which facilitate them. Public transport, after all, is part of the solution. Unlike the SUV, and I'm sure you've heard a statistic before, but if you add up the emissions from SUVs across the world they equate to the emissions from the sixth or seventh largest country. And SUVs in many markets now make up 60% of new car sales.
Extinction Rebellion has now decided that its activities will no longer not only be nonviolent, but will not be disruptive and will not upset the lives of ordinary people. You heard my report a couple of weeks ago about the four-day demonstration outside Parliament and the ministries in Westminster. No one was inconvenienced, no one was arrested. The problem is that practically no one took any notice. Andreas Malm makes the point that with immense power and money locked up in the fossil fuel industries, those that manage them will be delighted that XR is sitting quietly on the sidelines attempting to influence their decisions by passive demonstrations. This is probably why Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain have a broken away. Malm's view is that the actions of these groups are still not appropriate. He describes his own activities in years before the pandemic when groups of people went round deflating the tyres of SUVs. They left notes on the windscreen explaining why they had done it. An SUV which requires vastly more fuel to run and more resources and materials to manufacture is committing violence on everyone else by poisoning the atmosphere and taking an unnecessarily large share of scarce resources. All too often such a vehicle is merely a statement of ego. Our planet is threatened by the obscenity of people searching for luxury.
(As a side note you might contrast the £100 million coronation of Charles III with hundreds of thousands of people in the UK relying on food banks to feed their children. And poverty is of course far, far worse in many countries of the world, although their leaders and their chums usually seem to do all right.)
Irony of ironies: those drivers of SUVs who moved to electric vehicles buy the equivalent prestige models, which are heavier than the petrol and diesel counterparts, because of the weight of the batteries and batteries get heavier and heavier in order to deliver an acceptable range. Worse still, these heavier vehicles will need more electricity which at the moment means more consumption of natural gas and coal to generate that electricity.As vehicles become heavier because of the weight of batteries there is news that many multi-storey car parks in the United Kingdom are not sufficiently structurally sound to cope with the added burden. Of course, if people used vehicles which were suited to their practical needs rather than their egos, or even used car clubs as and when they needed to make a journey, a lot of that problem would disappear. And unless we can change attitudes, pigs might fly.
It looks increasingly clear that violence is the only way to change the world and protect the world. By violence again I emphasise that that is not violence against people, but against property. A better word is “sabotage”. For example, fracking sites have been blockaded and fracking companies have withdrawn. We can only change the operations of fossil fuel companies if it is possible to make it impossible for them to operate. Hence people in parts of the world have been blowing up pipelines. According to Andreas Malm [also see Wikipedia, link below] that forced oil companies to cut back oil production in Nigeria by 33%, for a time.
If we blockade refineries and coal mines and maybe power stations and gas pumping stations perhaps we will convince the operators that their business model is not viable. It’s clearly not as simple as that. If blockading the fossil fuel infrastructure works, then it will impact the lives of everybody in the country. The coal miners’ strike, back in the 1970s, paralysed British industry, and if activists were able to cut off the supply of petrol and diesel, natural gas and electricity, then paralysis would return. It would be far, far worse than in the 1970s, when there were virtually no computers, no mobile phones and no internet. The government, no government can allow this to happen. Governments will take swift and decisive action to ensure that it does not. More about that in a moment.
I saw a cartoon this week. “Who wants change?” the speaker asks, and every hand goes up. “Who wants to change?” And everyone is looking at the floor.
This brings me to George Monbiot's commentary on How to Blow Up a Pipeline. He starts by saying that he's not going to blow up a pipeline, and he's not going to urge anybody else to do what he would not do himself. Malm characterises, CO2-emitting infrastructure as the enemy or target of potential violence. Is Monbiot going to ignore that as well? He admits that all the campaigns have so far achieved very little. He makes a very important point that the campaigns which are described in the book, things like women's suffrage, the fall of the British Raj, the poll-tax, and so on are all binary issues. In other words, women get the vote or don’t; the British Raj survives, or it doesn’t; there is a poll-tax or there isn't. The climate crisis is immensely more complicated.
“But the revolt against environmental collapse is a revolt against the entire system,” he says. “To prevent the destruction of the habitable planet, every aspect of our economic lives has to change.”
He warns, too, that simply concentrating on the fossil fuel industry is not enough. He claims that our present system of global food production produces sufficient CO2 on its own to bust our carbon budgets.
“My own belief,” says Monbiot, “is that our best hope is to precipitate a social tipping: widening the concentric circles of those committed to systemic change until a critical threshold is reached, that flips the status quo. Observational and experimental evidence suggests the threshold is roughly 25% of the population. I find it hard to see how this could happen if we simultaneously engage in violent conflict with those we seek to swing. But I concede that our chances are diminishing, regardless of strategy.”
He’s been talking about social tipping since the end of COP26 in 2021. His belief is that when understanding reaches 25% of the population, it will rapidly become the consensus of the whole population. He says he finds it hard to see how this could happen if we simultaneously engage in violent conflict with those we seek to swing, but surely it is not people with whom we conflict - unless of course we close down the whole energy infrastructure as described before. But I cannot see how social tipping will occur when the issues are so complex. This sort of thing might work with binary issues but we need a vast public education programme surely, before people can understand what systemic change amounts to. And they certainly won’t want to change if they don’t understand it.
In his piece Monbiot describes how public violence or sabotage will trigger state violence and possibly even vigilantism from those that refuse to abandon capital and capitalism. That brings us to the fringes of the coronation.
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022
Last year, becoming increasingly frustrated with protests, the government introduced the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. Some of its more draconian provisions were rejected by parliament, and did not make their way into law.
Public Order Act 2023
This year, a couple of days before the coronation, the Public Order Act 2023 was enacted to redress the balance. This law includes new offences such as locking on and conspiracy to lock on, which can lead to 6 months, imprisonment and an unlimited fine. Locking on is the act of chaining or gluing oneself to railings, lampposts, or other street furniture, but the terms of the Act imply that even linking arms with somebody else can be considered locking on, and therefore a criminal offence.
Even before the Act was in force, the Home Office wrote to protest groups, such as Republic, the anti-monarchists, Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil warning that the legislation would be in place and would be enforced. Some saw this as intimidation.
As has been widely reported, six members of Republic were arrested at 7:30 am on the morning of the coronation and charged with conspiring to lock on. They were unloading placards from a van and had some luggage straps to secure them on to trolleys as they took them down the street to the protest site. These luggage straps were claimed by the police to be evidence of conspiracy to lock on. Republic had been in touch with the police since early February about their plans for demonstrating at the time of the coronation. They had been assigned a liaison officer and had been repeatedly in touch to explain what they intended to do and where they intended to do it, and had been assured by the police that their plans were acceptable.
The leader of the group, Graham Smith, made it clear to the arresting officers that everything had been agreed with the police liaison officer, but he and the others were detained and imprisoned for 16 hours, and by then the coronation was long over and the reporters for late night news, bulletins had gone home. The police have since apologised for their action, but the fact remains that they took that action, and it may be seen as a warning of what they can do. It is widely reported that the Home Office encouraged them to take action. Commentators have suggested that this behaviour is what one would expect in Moscow or Beijing and Graham Smith is taking legal action against the Metropolitan police for unlawful imprisonment. As I've said before, we live in dangerous times. The role of the police is to protect the public and uphold the law. It is only in dictatorships where it becomes an arm of government.
I am not an enthusiastic monarchist, nor am I a card-carrying republican. I think the issue of the of the climate crisis is far more important, while I accept that the United Kingdom needs a fundamental constitutional reform from the Monarch right through the anachronistic House of Lords. I have, however, sent a donation to Republic, in solidarity with their stand against oppression.
Zoe at Barclays AGM
There is always a place for peaceful protest, but the following clip shows how difficult it is to have any effect. Zoe Cohen was one of the Barclays Seven arrested for causing damage to the banks headquarters in Canary Wharf and given suspended sentences. Last week she spoke at the Barclays AGM.
“With the greatest love and respect to all you and your families this isn't real.
“What’s real is record-breaking temperatures in the world’s oceans, crops failing around the world and a third of humanity in record-breaking heat in 12 countries in Asia - that’s real!
“I don't know if you feel that your privilege is going to protect you, but it isn’t.
“Children are desperate
“You told young people to shuffle off earlier - that shows so much arrogance and hubris.
“They are desperate, Nigel
“Our kids are desperate, and you're not listening.”
[The link to the YouTube video below gives a clearer picture as this transcript does not reflect the interruptions made from the chair of the meeting.]
AI is in the news again and people are talking about artificial intelligence, having hallucinations. According to Wikipedia,
“In artificial intelligence (AI), a hallucination or artificial hallucination (also occasionally called confabulation or delusion) is a confident response by an AI that does not seem to be justified by its training data."
Naomi Klein is Associate Professor, and Professor of Climate Justice at the University of British Columbia, co-directing a Centre for Climate Justice. You may have read her books, which include “This Changes Everything” and “The Shock Doctrine”. Last week she published an article headed “AI machines aren’t ‘hallucinating’. But their makers are”.
In this long and detailed article, she ascribes four hallucinations to the leaders of the major tech organisations. They are:
Hallucination #1: AI will solve the climate crisis
Hallucination #2: AI will deliver wise governance
Hallucination #3: tech giants can be trusted not to break the world
Hallucination #4: AI will liberate us from drudgery
Let's talk about how AI will solve the climate crisis. You'll find a link below to the full article where you can look at the other hallucinations. Naomi Klein quotes a former Google CEO, who says, “If you think about the biggest problems in the world, they are all really hard – climate change, human organisations, and so forth. And so, I always want people to be smarter.” So is the failure to tackle climate change due to a lack of smart people? In the face of legions of PhDs and other experts who have been shouting about the causes of the climate crisis and what to do about it for decades?
“No,” says Naomi Klein, “The reason this very smart counsel has been ignored is not due to a reading comprehension problem, or because we somehow need machines to do our thinking for us. It’s because doing what the climate crisis demands of us would strand trillions of dollars of fossil fuel assets, while challenging the consumption-based growth model at the heart of our interconnected economies. The climate crisis is not, in fact, a mystery or a riddle we haven’t yet solved due to insufficiently robust data sets. We know what it would take, but it’s not a quick fix – it’s a paradigm shift. Waiting for machines to spit out a more palatable and/or profitable answer is not a cure for this crisis, it’s one more symptom of it.”
Well said, Naomi, - but I can't help feeling a little helpless. She says, “Clear away the hallucinations and it looks far more likely that AI will be brought to market in ways that actively deepen the climate crisis.”
Well, apart from everything else, all those servers are already making a massive demand on global electricity production.
Where do we go from here?
Please share your ideas.
And in Other News
Heat in the Kitchen
The BBC recently headlined a report, “Why there is serious money in kitchen fumes.” It goes on breathlessly to explain how a big metal box installed above the kitchen of a restaurant in Sweden is recovering waste heat from the cooking process and using it to heat other parts of the restaurant.
I spoke to my man in the industry, because I thought this was something he should know about. His response?
“Yes, slightly surprising to see this receive mainstream news attention but it's welcome.
“The Dext solution is our third generation of heat recovery solution from kitchen extraction (so I'd question Enjay's "first...profitable extraction..." statement). Although it's only in a dozen of our restaurants, the previous generation is in several hundred and there'll only be a handful who have nothing. Each generation has brought a step improvement.”
That article is an example of spin, perhaps. But we won’t talk about spinning for reasons that I won't go into.
Fusion in a Box
The other story that caught my eye comes from Israel. There scientists plan to install a fusion reactor into a shipping container. As you know, nuclear fusion is the reaction which powers the sun and engineers and scientists have been working for decades to replicate it on Earth. They have only succeeded in extracting very small amounts of energy from the process, in relation to the vast amount of energy that is needed to start the reaction. Fusion, which in theory is much safer and cleaner than conventional nuclear fission, has been about 30 years off for about 30 years. Good luck if they manage to achieve a breakthrough and indeed miniaturise it so it can be installed in a container which will be shipped around on the back of a lorry. I just hope they don't park one in my street, until they’ve had many, many years of successful testing.
And that's it for this week.
No doubt there will be many more stories for next week’s edition and I have had to hold some stories over for reasons of space and time. You may notice that this week’s publication is slightly late. My apologies.
Let me close, by thanking once again, everybody who listens to this podcast, and particularly to people who publicise it and share it with others. I am really grateful for your support. And of course I'm infinitely grateful to the small but loyal band of patrons who pay a small monthly donation to keep the Sustainable Futures Report independent and ad-free. Find the details at patreon.com/sfr This is not a profit making enterprise by any means and I much appreciate your assistance with covering the costs of hosting and so on.
And now I shall very shortly be thinking about what to bring you next week. There will be some interviews coming up shortly and I'll let you know when to expect them when I've actually got them in the can. One will be with the director of the Net Zero Festival which takes place in London in October. Preliminary details are at netzerofestival.com . The link is below.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
I am Anthony Day.
Until next time.
Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta
EVs in Carparks
Monbiot’s Response HTBUAPipeline
Police crime sentencing and courts act
Public Order Act
Zoe Cohen at Barclays AGM
“I don't know if you feel that your privilege is going to protect you, but it isn’t.”
In Other News
Heat Recovery in Restaurants
Fusion in a container
Advance Notice - Net Zero Festival
Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/stevepb-282134/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=597495">Steve Buissinne</a> from <a href=“https://pixabay.com//?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=597495">Pixabay</a>