Monthly Archives: September 2013


Gaia and all that

I have been trying for the last few days to discover a coherent logic towards my feelings on man’s relationship with his environment.  This is proving not to be simple.

The process started when I heard on World Service radio a gentleman from the International Panel on Climate Change discussing their latest report.  As you know, I tend to accept the established opinion on climate change, and rather take the view that if all our industrial activity were not affecting the atmosphere, that would be strange.

But what struck me was that the gentleman said that a pause in warming for the last fifteen years was not significant, as fifteen years was a blip in processes that last over millennia.

Well, that would certainly be very true if you are considering natural climate change.  But we are not – we are considering man-made climate change.  In terms of the period in which the scale of man’s industrial activity has been having a significant impact on the environment, surely fifteen years is a pretty important percentage of that period?  Especially as you might naturally imagine the process to be cumulative – fifteen years at the start when nothing much happened would be more explicable.

Having tucked away that doubt, I started to try to think deeper.  Man is, of course, himself a part of nature.  Anything man does on this planet is natural to this planet.  I do not take the view man should not change his environment – otherwise I should not be sitting in a house.  The question is rather, are we inadvertently making changes to the environment to our own long term detriment?

That rejection of what you might call the Gaia principle – that the environmental status quo is an end in itself – has ramifications.  It is hard to conceptualise our relationship with gases or soil, but easier in terms of animals.  I am not a vegetarian – I am quite happy that we farm and eat cattle, for example – and you might argue that the cattle are pretty successful themselves, symbiotic survivors of a kind.  Do I think other species have a value in themselves?  Is there any harm in killing off a species of insect, other than the fact that biodiversity may be reduced in ways that remove potential future advantages to man, or there may be knock on consequences we know not of that damage man somehow?  I am not quite sure, but in general I seem in practice to take the view that exploitation of other species and substantial distortion of prior ecological balance to suit men’s needs is fine, so presumably the odd extinction is fine too, unless it damages man long term.

I strongly disapprove of hurting animals for sport, and want to see them have the best quality of life possible, preferably wild.  But I like to eat and wear them.  I am not quite sure why it is OK to wear animal skin on our feet or carry it as a bag, but not to wear “fur”.  What is the difference, other than that leather has had the hair systematically rubbed off as part of the process of making it?  A trivial issue, but one that obviously relates to the deeper questions.

Yes I draw a distinction between animals which are intelligent and those which are not.  I would not eat whale or dolphin.  But this does not seem entirely logical – animal intelligence and sensibility is evidently a continuum.  Many animals mourn, for example.  The BBC World Service radio (my main contact with the outside world at present – I have just today found my very, very weak internet connection just about works if I try it  at 5am) informed me a couple of days ago that orang-utans have the ability to think forward and tell others where they will be the next day.  Why cattle and fish are daft enough to eat is hard to justify.

I quite appreciate the disbenefits to man of radically changing his environment, even if it could be done without long term risk to his existence – the loss of beauty, of connection to seasons and forms of behaviour with which we evolved.  But I regard those as important only as losses to man, not because nature is important intrinsically.  In short, if I thought higher seas, no polar bears and no glaciers would not hurt man particularly, I don’t suppose I would have much to say against it.  I fear the potential repercussions are too dangerous to man.  At base, I don’t actually care about a polar bear.

 

 

 

 

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Russia versus Greenpeace

Russia is casting around for legal measures it can use against Greenpeace.  To any reasonable person the accusation of piracy is ludicrous.  Russia has come to it because there is no other charge over which it can claim jurisdiction.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which Russia has ratified and is in force, the criminal jurisdiction of a coastal state operates only within its territorial sea of up to twelve miles.  Beyond that it may have an exclusive economic zone of up to two hundred miles, and a continental shelf may extend even beyond that; but within those zones the rights of coastal states are limited to jurisdiction over economic activity and mineral exploitation.

The Russians appear very aware of the legal position.  When the Greenpeace activists were first arrested, I heard on BBC World Service radio here in Accra a Russian government spokesman say the vessel appeared to be towing a seismic buoy.  Greenpeace explained it was a survival pod.  But the point is, if it had been a seismic buoy, that would have been an economic activity which the Russian government is indeed entitled to regulate, so it was s thought out pretext (though I have no doubt a dishonest one).

Obviously the argument that they were engaged in unlawful economic activity may have justified the original arrest but quickly falls.  What else is left?  The seas above the exclusive economic zone are part of the High Seas – a fact often misunderstood.  The only criminal activity on the High Seas over which a state other than the flag state of the vessel can claim jurisdiction is piracy.  So if the Russians want to bring charges, it is piracy or nothing.

Of course any sensible government would opt for nothing, and accept that demonstrations happen.  The Russian government is not sensible in that sense, and would far rather throw away the international kudos gained over Syria, than admit for one second that Putin is not in complete macho control of absolutely everything.

The stupid thing about all this is that Russia has every legal right to be drilling for oil in the Arctic, a great deal of which is rightly within Russia’s exclusive economic zone.  The Russians have the right to drill, and Greenpeace have the right to protest about it.

What this is not, is piracy.  Greenpeace were not intending to steal or damage any rig, vessel or cargo, or to commit violence.  They were just protesting.  The definition of piracy in UNCLOS is quite clear:

Article 101

Piracy consists of any of the following acts:

(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:

(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;

(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

(b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

(c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).

 Plainly this is not piracy.

 

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Gordon Brown

I have a guilty political secret.  I do not detest Gordon Brown.  That is such an unfashionable opinion that I don’t really expect any comments at all to agree with it.  And yes, I do realise that he went along with the Iraq War and all the other horrors of the Blair era. Interestingly, I don’t remember the question of what Gordon Brown really thought about Iraq ever being discussed; he deserves condemnation for having not tried to stop it, and perhaps he was indeed an enthusiast.  And I am well aware that the Private Finance Initiative is a terrible disaster, and that he oversaw creeping privatisation in the health services, and – worst of all – the introduction of tuition fees.

And yet I cannot dislike him.  Probably because I just know too many people who have  known him through decades, who are themselves good people, and who like him.  Around Edinburgh and Fife you will find it hard to find people who actually know him who share the hatred and contempt he seems to arouse among the political and media classes of London.

As a general rule I do not like or dislike people according to their politics, but rather according to the sincerity of their political beliefs and the goodwill with which they hold them.  I am sure Anders Breivik is sincere in his political beliefs, but those are lacking in goodwill. Sincerity is not enough – humanity and inclusiveness are also important.

There are one nation Tories who seem to me perfectly decent people, genuinely trying to do good.  I don’t hate them because their political conclusions on the best way to do good are different to mine.  Gordon Brown I put rather in the same category – I feel he was trying to do good for ordinary people, he just got it wrong.

Blair is in a whole different category again – insincere, absolutely focused on attaining personal power, and with a Messianic belief that what is good for him must be good for the World.  The Guardian is publishing some emails around the Blair Brown rivalry this week.  I don’t care and won’t read them.  But while I see Blair as quite properly damned for eternity to the seventh pit of hell, I don’t think Brown deserves anything worse than North Queensferry.

I have been in Ghana the last 20 days living in a house with no internet connection and working (extremely hard) in an office with virtually no internet connection – not enough to load WordPress.  I hope to get more chance to blog shortly.

 

 

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Blair and Kanye West are Prostitutes

blairnaza

The Tony Blair House Journal (editor Alan Rusbridger) reports on Kanye West’s disgusting private performance for the Kazakh dictator and his family, and takes a sideswipe at David Cameron for visiting that country.

But peculiarly they fail to mention that Tony Blair receives US $4 million a year as a consultant to the worker murdering Kazakh dictator, and that Alistair Campbell and Jonathon Powell as well as Blair visit to give this support – which has included a behind the scenes campaign to help Nazarbaev win the Nobel Peace Prize, fortunately with no result to date.

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We Can Rule the World – Err, No We Can’t

Alistair Darling has warned Scots that they will lose diplomatic influence if they leave the United Kingdom.  He gives Syria as an example.  Syria having been such a resounding diplomatic success for the UK, and the UK having contributed hugely to the successful resolution of the conflict – or presumably his reasoning is something like that.

An Independent Scotland would almost certainly not have invaded Iraq and would be most unlikely to have occupied Afghanistan for ten years.  It would thus not have squandered vast sums of money, not contributed to the continued political disaster of both countries.  An independent Scotland would not be a permanent member of the Security Council.  This would impact terribly on the population, who would be benighted like the peoples of Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Australia, in all of which  the lives of ordinary people are absolutely intolerable because of their non membership of the Security Council, and all of which have been repeatedly invaded and wiped out in nuclear attacks continually throughout the last six decades.

I worked in multilateral negotiations in both the UN and EU and found colleagues from countries like Ireland, the Netherlands and Canada to be professional competent and influential.  The Scots certainly can be all of those.  Small countries contribute to policy, to peacekeeping and to humanitarian effort.  This latest bit of unionist nonsense is contemptible.

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