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Why the Prime Minister is going to the New York climate summit  


Hmmm, this optimism before the climate change meeting does not sound promising. My prediction is that the groups who have formulated this report will be disappointed at the “unambitiousness” of the resulting agreement rather than be thankful that 196 different countries are able to talk and find some sort of agreement on anything.

Originally posted on green alliance blog:

Global deal_CoverA version of this post was first published by the New Statesman.

A new joint report from Green Alliance, WWF, Christian Aid, RSPB and Greenpeace believes we will have a global agreement on tackling climate change by the end of next year. If we do, it will be an exceptional event. Nations working together is no longer the fashionable way to deal with  problems. The UN is looked upon as indecisive, the EU is seen as technocratic and even the United Kingdom is barely living up to its name. And yet the Prime Minister has just announced he will be heading to New York later this month to meet with other world leaders to discuss getting a global. Why would he bother?

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Reading the Riots: An Environmental Problem


Clearing away the waste

The UK riots during the summer were the result of people who perpetually felt outside the law, according the research by The Guardian and London School of Economics and contrary to the government’s assertion that it was solely down to criminals.

One of the starker statistics of the newspaper’s ‘Reading the Riot’ series is that 85% of 270 people who took part in the riots attributed policing as a “significant cause”. Indeed, 75% said that they had been repeatedly stopped and searched but there was also a less tangible general anger towards the lack of respect shown by the police. In other words, for the vast majority of rioters  – and perhaps they represent an even larger silent group – law and the state were not about their protection but about their oppression and alienation.

If we take the riots as a series of crimes, then the first instinct is to condemn them. But, in his reading of Hegel, The end of human rights: Critical Legal Thought at the Turn of the Century, Costas Douzinas suggests that crime is in fact a cry for help by the offender. ‘The essence of crime is the criminal’s demand to be recognised and to be respected as a concrete and unique individual against the uniform coercion of the legal system.’ (p277). It is the failure to recognise people as beings who deserve respect and dignity that ultimately pushes them  into alienation and then to trangress the law. (I don’t want to say this true of all criminals but certainly this could be said for many of them.) Of course, a thief often steals to meet unfulfilled needs but the law has a tendency to force people to fit into a certain mould. Crime then becomes a way for the individual to have a voice. Given the link between identity and property, it is surely not surprising that many of the crimes were acquisitive in nature (even if they did verge on the bizarre in some cases).

This lack of recognition or respect by the law can be seen clearly in the way that stop and search powers are applied disproportionately to black people and how the whole ‘War on Terror’ discourse has targetted Muslims (and arguably people who look as if they are Muslim). But the Guardian/LSE research shows that race was just one of a number of contributing factors, including poverty, unemployment and lack of education. What they all shared was a general sense of alienation and of not being a ‘part of British society’.

What happened is that whole swathes of the population have been pushed out into the environment (so to speak) of British society. There are a core group of decision-makers and direct beneficiaries at the centre and everyone else around the edges. Perhaps the Occupy movement captures this thought best with the distinction between the 99% and the 1%. (I think it’s probably more than 1% who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo but as a slogan it’s pretty catchy.)

It was interesting that phase 1 of the ‘Reading the Riots’ research was published in the same week as the end of the climate change conference in Durban. One could argue that when the riots happened, like climate change, the environment came back to bite society on the arse. And, like climate change, it wasn’t those in power who were the victims but other parts of the environment.

In the battle against climate change, recycling and renewable energy are seen as the solutions and creating waste the problem. Perhaps the problem that led up to the riots (and other forms of alienation) is that people are treated as waste and not valued as a ‘part of British Society’. When we throw things away, the state (in the form of the local authority) collects it and disposes of it at landfills or buries it. Out of sight, out of mind, so to speak. The problem with waste is that it is never cut off from society. Pollutants will still get into the soil and the air and affect us. That’s why the law imposes an obligation on local authorities to provide recycling services. Whilst the analogy isn’t perfect, perhaps this is how the 1% sees the 99%: resources and waste of their money and power.

It was interesting that the David Cameron claimed he used his veto against the plan amend the Lisbon Treaty to solidify closer fiscal union in the Eurozone in the interests of Britain. What he considered British interests was in fact the interests of (not even the whole of) the Conservative Party and its backers and, more debatabely, the City. He even told Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarchozy that the EU and the ECJ do not belong to them, suggesting possible legal action. So, once again, the power elite in Britain sees law as a way to maintain the status quo. The irony, according to many commentators and politicians,  is that maybe Britain itself got pushed into the environment.

Being 99% Vegetarian

One of the great things about Christianity is that no food or drink is forbidden by God, because he created it all for our sustenance and enjoyment. We can eat pork, beef, genetically-modified corn and products containing palm oil. However, this freedom that God has given us is to be used responsibly. After all, as anyone in the capitalist West knows, there is such a thing as too much freedom of choice.

So, I became 99% vegetarian six years ago this month. Writing out the last sentence, I’ve just realised how long that’s been. I was a voracious meat eater. My nickname at home was ‘Mr Mutton’. I didn’t hate vegetarian food; after all, coming from Hindu background, I was accustomed to having to refrain from meat on occasion. But, in my experience, vegetables, for the most part, just weren’t that tasty.

Then I interned for the Environmental Law Foundation, both to build up some legal experience and contribute to the protection of the environment, something that I have always been passionate about. For once, I was working with people who had even more passion than I did and I think one or two of the members of staff was vegetarian. I was also taking phone calls from people looking for legal redress for environmental problems and being exposed to a lot of environmental literature.

Clearly, it all rubbed off on me because one Saturday I woke up and decided that I should be vegetarian – somehow I had absorbed the idea that the meat industry, through the chopping down of forests for grazing land and the process in general, released a large amount of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. So, it looked like one massive boil on my ecological foot(print) that needed lancing.

After a lifetime of eating meat, I found it surprisingly easy to give it up (more or less). There was no gradual weaning off, I just went ‘cold turkey’ (pun intended), indeed a lot easier than other things I have tried to give up.  On the one hand, this was because I not only believed that it was the right thing to do but also that I could clearly rationalise it. But there was more to it than that. I loved meat and I do still miss it, especially when I smell it. The rational belief was enough to make me give it up but the existence of decent vegetarian alternatives – soya, quorn, tofu, mushroom – minimised the cost of doing so. Interestingly, I found that vegetables were tastier than I remembered. But again, coming from an Asian background, vegetable dishes were always an essential part of every meal. Even without the meat-free alternatives, being vegetarian  was not that much of a difference to my diet.

Unfortunately, being 100% Vegetarian isn’t possible. There are a number of times where I have found myself the only vegetarian among a group of people. In the context of a dinner party, it is perhaps not always convenient to cook especially for just one person. Even in Asian cooking, stock can be meat-based. And, of course, I don’t believe it is morally wrong to kill animals, just that we should eat less meat to protect the environment. So, for the sake of not causing too much inconvenience to others’, there have been times where I have been prepared to eat meat. A meat intake of zero offers a more room for maneuvre than a near-maximum meat intake.

Walking in someone else’s shoes…

This week, Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech on immigration policy and was attacked by Vince Cable, Business Secretary for being inflammatory – wrongly, in my view. Personally, I think that it is something that should be discussed because – like it or not – it is something that does concern people.

However, having just watched (for the second time) “The Day after Tomorrow”, I think that the film provides an interesting, alternative take on whole immigration issue. The film is fundamentally about what could happen if we don’t deal with global warming. However, it highlighted one possible consequence. Billions of refugees flooding from the West to the southern equatorial and southern hemisphere countries. It was shown in the film as Americans trying to get into Mexico, who at first closed their border, and Americans then crossing illegally into Mexico across the Rio Grande – in other words, a reversal of the current situation. The American refugees were only allowed across the border when the US President agreed to cancel all Latin American debt.

This could be summarised in the President’s speech at the end of the film – that what we call the Third World showed hospitality.

Here’s one reason why we in the West should be a lot more welcoming to people who come to our respective countries from what we call the Third World – why we should generally be a lot nicer. One day, most likely thanks climate change, we could need their help. And, of course, we will think it outrageous when they turn us away.

Remaking the world

Given the times that he wrote in (late 18th to early 19th centuries), it is not surprising that Hegel does not have much to say about the environment. Not too mention frustrating if one is doing research in environmental law. But, there are hints of a connection between humanity and the environment. At the beginning of The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate, he says that the hostility of the environment (represented by the Flood of the Bible) was a result of man’s hostility to it and each other. As part of my phd thesis, I am using a psychoanalytic feminist reading of Hegel to develop a dialectical account of the relationships between society, law and the environment.

It is a lot easier to see that the environment affects the way we live than the effect we have on the environment. Of course, the most obvious manifestation of this effect is in pollution. But, apparently, scientists are saying that we are moving into a new geological epoch, the Antropocene, where we are literally making the world in our image (i.e. rotten to the core).

In a sense, geoengineering isn’t something we do to solve the problem of climate change. It is the cause of climate change. Instead of being radiated back into space, the carbon dioxide remains trapped near the planet. That’s a hell a lot of energy, and it is expressed as ice melting, water heating, increased cloudcover, etc. Reinsurer Munich Re said that “the only plausible explanation” for 2010’s catastrophes, the drought, heatwave and fires across Russia and the mega-floods in Pakistan, Australia, Brazil and elsewhere was partly global warming.


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