Don’t forget about Heathrow

On Monday 13th July, thirteen Plane Stupid activists staged a protest on London Heathrow’s northern runway. The message was simple: there is a choice between preventing climate change and building new runways – we cannot do both. Aviation is incredibly damaging to the climate and its unfettered growth will jeopardise the UK’s chance of meeting its ambitious and legally binding climate targets. The 2008 Climate Change Act stipulates that an emissions reduction of 80% from 1990 levels must be made by 2050. This will not be possible if airports are actively expanded. Together with many other groups, Plane Stupid has been part of the movement campaigning against the third runway at Heathrow since it was first proposed. We have prevented the third runway from being built before, and we will do it again. What is more, we will oppose the expansion of airports everywhere, not just at Heathrow. Put simply, we’re in it for the long haul. And finally: this is about the affluent frequent fliers who fly multiple times a year for short leisure trips. There is sufficient existing capacity to support business flights and family holidays; we just do not need another runway to facilitate the very wealthy jetting off every other weekend to holiday homes and on shopping trips. We have a choice to make, and we want to make sure that that choice is the right one.

credit: Plane Stupid

credit: Plane Stupid

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RCPs vs. SRES scenarios

If you know anything about climate change, you’ve probably heard of the IPCC. And not the IPCC that investigates police failures laughably poorly, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC synthesises the most current peer-reviewed scientific literature from an array of disciplines to come to conclusions about the ‘state of knowledge’ on many different facets of climate change. Its nature, and focus on consensus, makes it inherently conservative, but also a pillar of scientific reliability and methodological solidity. It is famously described as neutral, and policy relevant, rather than policy prescriptive, which further exemplifies this.

The most recent IPCC assessment report (AR5) was released at the end of 2013/beginning of 2014, and included a methodological change that reflects the current trends in the climate literature. Since the last report in 2007, many scientists have drifted towards the consideration of cumulative emissions in climate targets rather than annual emissions. A study in 2011 by Bowerman et al. found that the relationship between cumulative emissions and temperature change was nearly linear, meaning that temperature and cumulative emissions increase proportionally to each other (Figure 1). What that means scientifically is that cumulative emissions are the most important factor in explaining temperature change, and that they are therefore the best way to conceptualise possible futures. This sort of sentiment has been echoed in important work by people like Meinshausen and colleagues (their paper in 2009 has been cited 409 times now, according to Reuters’ scientific journal search engine) and Oxford University’s Myles Allen & co. in the same year. You’d be hard pressed now to find reputable papers that don’t mention cumulative emissions, so great has been the sea change in the literature.

Figure 1 - the rate of warming (y axis, on the left) as a result of emissions (x axis, on the bottom).  Each graph, a-f, shows a different factor which can explain temperature change. The relationship is closest and approximately linear in a), suggesting that as one increases, the other increases. From Bowerman et al. (2011)

Figure 1 – the rate of warming (y axis, on the left) as a result of emissions (x axis, on the bottom). Each graph, a-f, shows a different factor which can explain temperature change. The relationship is closest and approximately linear in a), suggesting that as one increases, the other increases. From Bowerman et al. (2011)

This paradigm shift (if you can call it that) happened around the same time that the IPCC decided to introduce Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) to replace the previous generation of scenarios, SRES. Previously, the IPCC had used SRES emissions scenarios that explicitly considered the effects of prescribed levels of emissions into the atmosphere. However, there was (and still is) enormous uncertainty regarding contributing factors such as population growth, economic development and technological advances, hence the move towards RCPs. Whereas SRES scenarios describe ‘what if’ situations if a given amount of carbon dioxide equivalent was emitted, RCPs relate to concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and are essentially cumulative emissions budgets. As such, this means that they are end-points that can be reached via multiple pathways, and are less pre-determined than the original scenarios, which generally ordained when emissions would have to peak, at what levels, who by, etc. This made them complicated, and bitterly contested, especially by the actors who stood to lose out most under the scenarios, such as heavy industry and fossil fuel giants. However, the IPCC does not embroil itself in all the political wrangling that surrounds climate policy, and instead synthesises a ‘Summary for Policymakers’ and leaves it at that.

The primary reason for the IPCC’s switch to RCPs in AR5 was rather banal: functionality. Previously, all three working groups had relied on each other’s outputs to carry out research, meaning the final working group ended up waiting around for the first two to do their bit of the science (don’t even let me begin on the lack of integration and inter-disciplinarity in science). Rather than relying on a linear research process, where the scientists working on emissions scenarios (working group 2) generated the concentrations, converted into radiative forcings, to force the climate models (working group 1), the outputs of which were used by impact modellers (working group 3) to determine the effects of change, working groups 2 and 3 could work simultaneously. From the concentrations in the RCPs, they could figure out a) the likely pathways and situations to achieve the concentrations shown, and b) their likely effects. It also introduced some common units, which made the report more coherent between working groups – rather than the physical scientists talking about radiative forcing potential, the emissions modellers thinking about emissions in parts per million (ppm), and the impacts modellers discussing the effects of 4°C warming, all 3 could use a consistent metric that made their conclusions more comparable.

So although the principal cause for the IPCC was to improve the practicalities of the research process, the other reason why it’s good that they’ve moved towards RCPs of course is because emissions don’t directly cause climate change. Emissions cause concentrations of greenhouse gases to increase, and greenhouse gases cause climate change by changing the energy balance of the Earth. All the energy we get in should be balanced by what goes out, and gases like CO2 selfishly cling on to some of that escaping energy, thereby warming the atmosphere – you’re probably familiar with the greenhouse effect; and this is essentially it. Greenhouse gases have what’s called a radiative forcing effect (that’s the way we measure that perturbation to the energy – or radiation – balance), and each RCP is named, very imaginatively, after the level of radiative forcing that would result from the concentrations stipulated in that scenario (i.e. RCP 6.0, RCP 8.5 etc.). In that way, RCPs are more directly related to the issue at hand, and remind us that climate changes as a result of atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.

However, while this is scientifically pleasing, and arguably more correct, this introduces problems for the general public, and for communicating climate science. Science communication is notoriously difficult anyway, particularly with the mainstream media seemingly conspiring to take things out of context and misreport at every opportunity. RCPs are another thing to be confused and manipulated, and act as another barrier to action by individuals and governments. Emissions scenarios, initially developed in 2000 in the seminal Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES, for which mitigation scenarios in the third and fourth IPCC reports are named), are explicitly about human activity – it’s in the name. It’s hard to ignore the effect of driving your car, flying to Australia for a conference or leaving the heating on while you’re out if you frame scenarios in terms of emissions. Emissions scenarios relate to emissions, and although they are notoriously difficult to quantify (due to the economic and political incentives to misreport, as well as the sheer size of the feat required to collate all the data) and predict, they are more in-your-face about the effects of all that fossil fuel burning. RCPs step out of the debate about normative (‘to reach this target you should do x/y/z’) vs. descriptive (‘if x happened, y and z might result’) scenarios – they can be anything because they aren’t about emissions. The multiplicity of possible trajectories that could result in the concentrations demonstrated in each RCP means they essentially don’t need to think about how these concentrations arise.

In essence, that’s my point: from a scientific standpoint, and an educational one, RCPs represent serious progress in scientific thinking. But from a communication and policy perspective, I think they are regressive, and will distract people from what they need to do to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Allowing the Daily Mail to suggest that emissions are nothing to do with the concentrations observed in the atmosphere will result in a lot of “your cows fart more than ours, you should cut your emissions first” and not a lot of “oh shit, we’re screwing up the planet, let’s do something about this” from policy makers at big meetings like the upcoming Paris COP summit, heralded as the “last chance saloon” by many commentators. To get policy makers to do something, you need to shake them up a bit, and then present them with realistic methods to achieve what they need to achieve. Oh, and give them as little ammunition for geopolitical bitching as possible. The end.

Musings motivated by madness

I originally posted this on tumblr.
Working a 15 year old’s birthday. It’s reminded me of everything that’s wrong with capitalist society and the UK education system. The mainstream media and music perpetuates structural gender inequality: girls are sexualised and taught they must behave promiscuously to gain male attention, while simultaneously being labeled ‘slags’. Where is there education about consent? Where is the alternative to easily accessible porn, which teaches boys that they can treat women like objects and dismiss them as sluts if they don’t resist their advances, and as frigid if they do? It’s a perpetuation of patriarchy and rape culture that entrenches power inequality. We caught a girl giving a guy head in the toilets. That’s whatever you make of it, but the response of the rest of them was what got me. This (14 year old) boy with hickies all over his neck gets applauded as a hero sexual crusader (he’d brought in 6 condoms in his bag so god knows what he thought was gonna happen), but when they both got kicked out, the rest of em made light of the fact that the girl was gone, saying “it doesn’t matter, she’s a slag anyway”. Fucking symptomatic of a society that impresses on young people the idea that women don’t matter, are there to be used, and men need to be an unrealistic and strait jacketed version of “masculine” that conforms to totally unrealistic stereotypes portrayed in the media and the seedier corners of the internet.

Geldof neo-colonialism

Band Aid is shit. Find the original article here.

It’s that time of year again, and in the festive spirit of giving, the aging Bob Geldof has rallied together another juvenile band of celebrities to raise their sagging profiles and profit from another crisis. Band Aid 30’s re-release of the patronising “Do they know it’s Christmas” reportedly raised more than £1mn in the first five minutes since its release to help tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Although this is an important campaign, and a problem that requires a concerted effort to solve, there are serious issues surrounding Band Aid. Primarily, the song is patronising and offensive (yes, I’m fairly certain many people in Africa are aware that it is Christmas, especially those that celebrate it as a religious holiday) and cultivates the archaic image of Africa as ‘backwards’, and of Africans as ‘savages’; unable to fend for themselves and requiring the intervention of ‘white saviours’ to rescue the situation. This neo-colonialist attitude entrenches negative assumptions about Africa, and encourages broad and largely incorrect generalisations about Africans.Ebola-no-Ebola1

Emeli Sande, one of the artists who sang on the record, has criticised the lyrics, acknowledging that they could be perceived as offensive and disrespectful, but highlighting that the intention of the single is to raise money where governments have responded woefully slowly. Rapper Fuse ODG pulled out of the single at the last minute, claiming he felt “awkward” about some of the lyrics, adding that that the track “is quite detrimental to the continent [Africa]” and is a “quick fix” solution to a wider problem. Others have gone further in their criticism. Solome Lemma, who co-founded Africans in the Diaspora as well as the Africa Responds initiative on Ebola, emphasised the lack of inclusiveness of the Band Aid modus operandi, which propagates a “white saviour” narrative. She said: “the song is patronising and negative and it is sad that they haven’t worked with and included African musicians, especially from the countries affected. You have very well-known, mainstream singers, talking about Africa with very little inclusion of Africans.”

Indeed, many African artists have heaped criticism on the song for its negative portrayal of Africa to the rest of the world. Carlos Chirinos, producer of an alternative charity single, “Africa Stop Ebola”, which has been written by African artists in response to the Ebola outbreak, juxtaposed the need for funding to prevent the spread of the disease with the negative outcomes of the Geldof model: “it’s worth doing it for the money and the money is needed, however it comes at a cost and the cost is the way in which Africa is being portrayed to the rest of the world.” Many of these criticisms have been around since the first release of the song in the 1980s – some of these have been humorously conveyed, such as the spoof charity song by ‘Radi-Aid’ to provide Norwegians dying of frostbite with radiators. Methods like this stress the ignorance of many people in developed countries about the inspiring and progressive things going on in Africa following years of negative propaganda, and, even, the most under-emphasised point – that Ebola has afflicted a small number of communities in a small number of countries, and that the majority of Africa is unaffected by the disease.
The notion that a bunch of celebrities devoting their precious time to help ‘poor, needy Africans’ plays up to the ridiculous caricature of starving Ethiopians that the original single spread. Further, it is offensive to the vast number of ordinary people who have donated money to charities like Medicins sans Frontieres, who are on the front line assisting with health care, and the medical professionals who have dropped everything to help looking after Ebola patients, often putting themselves at risk. Those in the UK who donate the largest proportion of their incomes to charity are in fact the poorest, yet Bob, Bono and chums can’t even summon the courage to pay their taxes. Rather than donating some of the $150mn and $600mn they are respectively worth, they would rather guilt trip people into forking out their hard-earned cash on some tuneless drivel that purports to solve all of Africa’s problems. It’s ironic (and not even in an Alanis Morrisette way), given that it’s people like them that are the root of such problems – pompous wealthy white men from developed countries extoling a destructive image of people from developing countries, while contributing to an oppressive, IMF-driven humanitarian aid system that undermines developing countries’ sovereignty, autonomy and dignity.

Radical Housing

Originally written for Concrete: attempting to dumb down the issues and package them in a digestible studenty way was actually pretty hard.

So you live in the Golden Triangle, your bathroom is covered in black mould, you can see your breath while you’re lying in bed – your bedroom happens to have the front door in it – and the landlord doesn’t give a toss. Welcome to student living, right? Well, yes, but there is another way – you don’t have to deal with the torment of numb fingers and toes, unscrupulous landlords or useless estate agents. For those who are committed to communal living as a life choice rather than a forced fact of life, radical housing solutions can make shared living a pleasant and productive experience, rather than the grimy, beer can-strewn chaos student living can occasionally become. Here are just some of the alternatives.

Although housing co-ops are now few and far between, with waiting lists as long as your arm, there are a few springing up. There’s good reason why everyone wants to live in one: in addition to the cheap rent, you can throw yourself in to communal living and benefit from collective productivity – many co-ops feature vegetable gardens, beautiful DIY interiors, political activism and bangin’ house parties.
Living with lots of people committed to the same sort of ideals means you can share ideas, inspiration and skills – there is always someone who can teach you how to fix the plumbing, or cook a damn fine curry. Co-ops are on the up: from our very own UEA food co-op to the (not so) Co-operative Bank, the idea is relatively prevalent and increasingly important in times of austerity.
Students at the Universities of Edinburgh and Birmingham have set up their very own housing co-ops to create an alternative to the extortionate rents charged by private landlords, and poor conditions in many student properties. Next step: Norwich…

Squatters have a terrible name, thanks to publications like the Daily Mail and propaganda espoused by conservative outlets. However, for many people working low-paid jobs, recent graduates, current students, the unemployed and the homeless, squatting is one of few realistic choices. Of course you get a smattering of middle-class political types dedicated to the ‘cause’ but generally, squatting is a housing choice for people with few options. There are more empty homes in the UK than there are homeless people. That is a disgusting statistic.
Developers frequently buy up property and leave it standing empty until market conditions mean they can get top dollar for it – meanwhile the number of homeless households has risen to 50,000, according to homelessness charity Shelter. When people are desperate, squatting becomes an alternative to living in temporary accommodation, hostels, or even on the street.
This may not seem relevant to many students, but with spiralling costs of living, creeping rents, and huge student debt; particularly for postgraduates, squatting is a real alternative to student squalor. Besides, the connotations of squats as horrible, dirty, cold places full of hippies and drug addicts is pretty misplaced – squatters are often more hard-working, dedicated and politically motivated than your average Joe, and if you can deal with the transience and the instability, it can be an interesting way to spend a few months or years.
Living rent-free can be a good alternative to moving back home, and can allow you to save up for a deposit in the ‘traditional’ housing market, or spend time and money doing things other than work, such as building a portfolio, working internships or volunteering.
Unfortunately however, in 2013, the government criminalised squatting in residential properties despite 95% of respondents to its consultation opposing the action, so empty office blocks and commercial buildings are the only properties that can now legally be occupied. This makes the situation more difficult, especially if you’re not experienced with housing law, and the requirement to have at least one person on the premises at any one time makes the exercise somewhat exhausting.

Originally introduced in the Netherlands in the 1990s as a ‘win-win’ market solution to squatting, guardianship essentially means you pay exceedingly low rent to live in, and protect property from potential vandals. This translates into keeping squatters out, pitting desperate people against even more desperate people. Despite the obvious moral challenges this throws up, guardianship can be an affordable alternative to renting, without the potential legal quagmire of squatting.

Why the NBHU is the best

This has been published on the Norwich Radical, and was written by myself and the Comms Officer for the NBHU, Fab.

Bartenders, waiters, baristas and other hospitality workers have one thing above all else in common: we are over-worked, under-paid and misrepresented. We are both bartenders, and we deal with drunken idiots, entitled twats, and aggressive yobs on a daily basis. Woman bartenders also have to deal with unwanted sexual advances and harassment, comments about our clothing choice, and implicit assertions about who we are and what we’re doing there. Despite all of this, we value our work, and we want to do it well – for those that actually appreciate what we’re doing, and for those that are well-behaved and fun to spend time with.

All of these things were important at the inception of the Norwich Bartenders’ and Hospitality Union. Norwich has a pub for every night of the year, as well as its fair share of cafés, restaurants, hotels and other service industry employers. We are committed to a multi-faceted approach to the hospitality industry: we want to improve our members’ skills and create a pool of people who are committed to, and good at, their jobs. We also want to challenge the daily issues faced by workers in the sector – discrimination, low pay, difficult customers, demanding management and limited employment rights. On top of that, we want to educate people in the sector on their rights and represent them in any employment disputes or grievances that arise with their employers. In that regard, we’re committed to forming positive relationships with management, rather than antagonising them, and demonstrating that the NBHU is a collection of workers who really care, and are the kind of employees you want, and need, to run a business in Norwich.

(Norwich Bartenders’ and Hospitality Union)

The NBHU is an industrial union branch of the IWW, one of the oldest and most radical unions in the UK, if not the world. The IWW is committed to true democracy – it is run by its members, and does not have paid officials like nearly every other union. It does not have its equivalent Len McLuskey or Dave Prentis, and it is run by the rank-and-file, for the rank-and-file. At the heart of the IWW’s principles is the belief that workers should be organised within their industry – that means that rather than having a separate union for teachers, admin workers, caretakers, Teaching Assistants and cleaners in a school, for example, all of those workers organise together and are classed as ‘education workers’. Similarly for us, hospitality workers have shared struggles across workplaces regardless of whether those workplaces are restaurants, hotels, bars or anything else, and we feel that we should all organise together to improve our working conditions and the industry for everyone working in it.

As a union, we believe we can produce positive change through collective action. The success of BECTU Union Ritzy Cinema workers in Brixton has shown how this might happen – they recently celebrated a famous victory in their dispute by picketing outside the cinema and winning a 26% pay rise to match the London living wage, backdated from last October. Despite the recent upheaval and job losses, their struggle demonstrates the importance, and power of collective action. This is a huge victory for small workplaces and the Living Wage is arguably another tick on a long list of landmark rights won for workers by trades unions.

The NBHU aims to have representation in as many venues across the city as possible. At present, we represent workers in many pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes, and are labouring to extend our work further. We are particularly keen to represent those who are frequently distant from trade union politics, such as students. Contrary to some of the larger unions, we are industry-specific, and can therefore offer tailored advice and representation based on our own experience and skills. Of course the lack of bureaucracy in the IWW also helps us get things done quickly and democratically, without having to rely on a hierarchical model of decision-making. We value all of our members equally, and consider all of their views on all decisions we make. That’s important to us as a nascent union branch because we’ve got relatively broad-based support.

In our union we have a broad demographic: some of our members are committed hospitality workers, in it for the long haul, whereas others work in pubs and restaurants to finance other things in their lives, such as higher education. We have a wider range of ages, two of three of the rotating committee member seats are currently filled by women, and we aim to be as inclusive as possible in everything that we do. We want all of our members to be involved in what we do – participation can be the best way to build skills and confidence at work, as well as take back control for the workers. For far too long the workplace has been a “bosses’ market”, able to dictate terms to employees arbitrarily, knowing an army of desperate jobseekers will gladly take their place following dispute. Now, in our industry, we are waking up to the possibility of reclaiming workplaces for ourselves, and running hospitality and bar workplaces for the benefit of all, not just the bosses.

Currently we are campaigning on issues that particularly affect our members, such as the living wage and zero hours contracts. More and more large employers are becoming living wage employers, such as the student union at UEA, Norwich City Council and City College, but very few small and medium-sized businesses (including many pubs, cafes and restaurants) are able to offer their employees an amount considered sufficient to survive on: £7.65. In addition to low pay, hospitality workers are frequently denied the security of a contract – while zero hours work may be good for those who require flexibility (such as students or carers), the lack of job security can be a constant source of worry for many. The NBHU is actively trying to campaign on these issues, and other things that are important to our members. Of course, it is about taking baby steps – we’re a young but growing union and things are slowly picking up. We’re committed to changing things for the better in this city. Check us out on Facebook or online


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