If we need a democratic revolution to properly deal with climate change, the small country of Iceland (population one third of a million) has a lot to teach us. Here’s a referenced version of the Big Read I wrote recently for The Independent on the country’s experiments in democracy after the ‘pots and pans revolution’.
“I stood in front of the parliament building every lunch-hour and asked people, ‘Can you tell me what has happened in this country? Do you have any idea what we can do?’”
Singer-songwriter, poet and gay rights activist Hordur Torfason turns 70 this year. He remembers how Iceland’s “pots and pans revolution” started from small beginnings just days after the government stepped in and nationalised the country’s three biggest banks in October 2008. As the stock market plummeted so did peoples’ trust in the government. The country’s banking bubble had burst, unemployment had tripled and Torfason recalls rumours that the supermarkets might run out of food.
What started out as daily conversations with ordinary people quickly turned into weekly demonstrations involving thousands. After five months of escalating demonstrations the protesters demands had been met: the government, the head of the Central Bank and the director of the Financial Supervisory Authority had all resigned.
Welcome to the Climate Radio archive!
This is the permanent archive of programmes made under the Climate Radio umbrella from 2003 to 2015 by independent journalist Phil England.
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Owen Jones’ latest book, The Establishment: And how they get away with it (Allen Lane), is a pithy retelling of recent political scandals, studded with dozens of revealing interviews with power brokers.
It has hugely important things to say about the state of our democracy, the shocking pace at which the gains of the post-war settlement (the National Health Service (NHS), the welfare state) are being rolled back, and the extent to which bankers and corporations are now sitting at the very heart of power. It concludes with a call for a democratic revolution and sets out proposals for reform.
I interviewed Owen for New Internationalist online and reviewed his book for the October issue of the magazine. Read the interview here. Climate Radio looked at the rotten state of our democracy and the need for radical reform in a panel discussion in April last year which you can listen to here. Meanwhile Occupy London are calling for an occupation of Parliament Square from 17-26 October. Here’s some advance information about that:
“The domain of art and culture presents us with a realm where we can explore issues we are hard-wired to avoid in a soft or mediated way or in a way that directly speaks to our unconscious. It was interesting then to see how a number of artists explored different ways of confronting extinction in an evening dedicated to performance programmed into the June Facing Extinction conference.”
“Facing the reality of our ecological crisis is one thing. Acting to stop it is another. To be effective, I would argue, requires having a political analysis that addresses the question of why governments are failing to respond adequately to the signals coming from the scientific community. It also requires artists to think about where to intervene in a complex system.”
Read the full piece at The Wire.
Legendary radical artist Gustav Metzger has become increasingly concerned the impact human activity is having on nature. In a rare interview, I spoke to Metzger about the two-day conference he initiated at UCA Farnham entitled Facing Extinction – which asks the profound question “What role can artists play in radically limiting the ongoing decimation of nature?” – as well as his formative experiences and a lifetime of radical artistic practice.
The interview took place on Saturday 31st May at Gustav’s studio in London Fields. Climate Radio also recorded the proceedings of the Facing Extinction conference (7 & 8 June) for a forthcoming series on Resonance FM which will be archived in due course. Update: The Facing Extinction series is being broadcast by Resonance FM on Wednesdays, 1pm-2pm.
A revamped alternative audio tour for Tate Modern explores why sponsor BP’s problems are deep and structural. By Phil England. Published by Platform London.
It was four years ago this week that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded while drilling into BP’s Macondo oil well, killing eleven people. In a report issued last week, the National Wildlife Federation records that over 900 bottlenose dolphins have been found dead or stranded in the area since the disaster. Amongst other key species they noted an abnormally high number of dead sea turtles – around 500 every year. Respiratory problems and skin diseases continue to affect the human population and last month 300 pounds of tar balls washed up on a beech in Mississippi.
Fisherman Bert Ducote who helped with the clean-up effort in 2010 and has suffered with skin boils said, “The little amount of money they’re trying to give us, it’s never going to replace our quality of life, our health.”
It’s a far cry from the “temporary difficulty” that Tate director Nicholas Serota described his “friend” BP as having back in July 2010, while millions of barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico for the third month in a row.
In 2012 sound artist Jim Welton and I produced an alternative audio tour for the Tate Modern as part of a triptych of audio artworks taking issue with BP’s controversial sponsorship of the Tate galleries. One critic described it as “A highly effective, unpreventable form of non-violent dissent – and also a sensual, personal work of art in its own right.”
This week we launch a new version of the guide to accommodate changes in the gallery displays so that it now incorporates works by Derek Jarman and Pino Pascali. You can download the MP3 onto your mobile phone and listen on headphones or earbuds as you are directed through the gallery. Alternatively you can listen to the piece online at home.
Nicholas Serota’s belittling of the Deepwater Horizon disaster was offensive to those thousands of people whose lives and livelihoods were ruined by the spill and the dispersant used in the “clean-up”. We used his quote in the title of our piece – Drilling The Dirt (“A Temporary Difficulty”) – to draw attention to this misunderstanding and because it resonated in so many different ways. Most importantly we wanted to show that the problem with BP was not temporary and minor but deep and structural. Its business model is rooted in colonialism, puts profits before safety and is predicated on our collective descent into a world of climate extremes.
BP began life as the Anglo Iranian Oil Company after the British and French carved up the Middle East between them at the end of the first world war. Iran’s riches were expropriated at little benefit to the country’s population. In 1953 the UK and US even organised a coup to oust the democratically elected president Mohammed Mossadeq in order to keep the oil flowing. This colonial model continues today with BP “developing” the oil resources of poor countries in unfair deals that are maintained by supporting repressive regimes. Azerbaijan and Egypt are two cases in point.
According to the US Department of Justice’s lawyers currently prosecuting BP under the Clean Water Act, BP’s activities are underpinned by a “culture of corporate recklessness.” It’s nothing new. The investigation into the explosion at BP’s Texas City oil refinery in 2005 that killed 15 workers and injured 180 concluded that “organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP Corporation” were responsible. They traced this managerial malaise back to two major cost-cutting drives – mandated by the then CEO Lord Browne – in 1999 and 2004.
This month the accident-prone company spilled over 1200 gallons into Lake Michigan from its refinery in Whiting potentially contaminating the drinking water of seven million Chicago residents. Oops.
And as if these concerns were not enough, it is the potential of fossil fuel companies like BP to influence our energy future that should concern us most.
BP’s projections assume we will not take sufficient action to tackle climate change as a global community. As a company they are essentially betting against your future and my future. We now know that 80% of fosil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. If BP wins, we lose.
The tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico four years ago caused the company’s share price to nose dive and brought BP to the brink of bankruptcy and there’s still a possibility the disaster could end up breaking the company. The current CEO Bob Dudley has overseen asset sales worth around $50 billion. That’s resulted in a 20% reduction in oil and gas output and a loss in profits of about $5 billion a year. If the US [Department of Justice] [courts] determines that BP was grossly negligent under the Clean Water Act the company’s liabilities could rise by an additional $18 billion.
The final reason we subtitled our work “A temporary difficulty” was because we believe it is only a matter of time before the Tate cedes to public pressure and ends its relationship with BP. The campaign was given high-level endorsement earlier this month when Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for an Apartheid-style boycott of fossil fuel companies to help drive forward action on climate change. “People of conscience,” he wrote, “need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.”
The Art Not Oil campaign has achieved some notable successes recently. A group called Reclaim Our Bard brought an end to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s relationship with BP using the power of their pop-up dramatic skits while choral campaigners Shell Out Sounds were successful in singing Shell out of the “Shell Classics” concert series at the Royal Festival Hall. The idea that fossil fuel companies are suitable sponsors for the arts and sport is coming to an end and the longer Tate clings on to its relationship with BP, the longer it will be on the wrong side of history.
Download the Tate Modern alternative audio tour from www.tateatate.org or listen online below.
Press release * 18th April 2014 * For immediate release
Fourth Anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Explosion marked with Refreshed Tate Modern Audio Tour
It was four years ago this Sunday (20th April) that the Deepwater Horizon exploded killing eleven workers. The subsequent spill and clean up operation devastated ecosystems, wrecked the health and livelihoods of communities and brought the company within days of bankruptcy.
To mark the anniversary and honour the victims Platform is releasing an updated version of the Tate Modern alternative audio guide which takes issue with BP’s controversial sponsorship of Tate galleries.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls for an Apartheid-style boycott movement against fossil fuel companies and their funders in order to tackle climate change, Tate’s relationship with BP is becoming increasingly untenable.
By Phil England for The Independent, 31 March 2014
The publication today of the latest IPCC report on the projected impacts of a warming world is the latest in a long line of wake-up calls. Last November’s report on the physical science of climate change made clear that we are currently following the scenario with the highest risk – and we need to make a break with business as usual if we are to avoid the worst impacts. So what would it look like if we took climate change seriously and acted to keep global warming below 2C?
Professor Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre – the UK’s leading climate policy research unit involving the collaboration of eight different universities – says that if we followed the science through and honoured the commitments we’ve made internationally, the EU would need to double its projected emissions cuts by 2030 – from 40 per cent to 80 per cent. This would mean revising the targets in the UK’s Climate Change Act and starting to make at least 10 per cent annual cuts in our greenhouse gas emissions immediately.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science launched a great piece of clear communication around climate change this week entitled What we Know. The website, report and collection of short films highlight the risks of climate change and how we can minimise them by taking action. Their key messages are:
1. Climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now.
2. We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.
3. The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do.
By making informed choices now, we can reduce risks for future generations and ourselves, and help communities adapt to climate change.
“We are in danger of losing sight of some glaringly obvious truths about this exceptionally wet and stormy winter.” - Phil Rothwell, Head of Flood Risk Policy at the UK Environment Agency until December 2013
In the last post we looked at the clear link between climate change and the UK flooding. Here we discuss what we know and what we don’t know about the extent to which you can blame (or attribute) the exceptional run of storms that led to the widespread flooding, on (or to) climate change.
All weather events have a climate contribution
As Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research argues in Climatic Change, asking whether a particular weather event was “caused” by climate change is the wrong question:
All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be (…) no events are ’caused by climate change’ or global warming, but all events have a contribution.