August 29, 2008

Former MI6 agent ran Nestlé spy operation

Swiss campaigners posted the following message on my Baby Milk Action blog and will be adding updates to the 'Nestlé's Actions' website. Nestlé's actions speak louder than its words. See:

For more on the spy story and how this impacted on Baby Milk Action see:

---Posted comment begins


On 12 June 2008, the very serious Swiss investigative reporters tv revealed that Nestlé paid Securitas,one of Switzerland's largest security firms, to plant a woman in a group of attac switzerland (my group) from the summer of 2003 until the summer of 2004. We were making conference and editing a book about Nestlé.

As a co-author she had complete access to the group's documentation and to all Attac's email contacts around the world, including information on union members in Colombia fighting for workers-rights in Nestle plants. Such information is potentially dangerous in the wrong hands; in the past people have been killed just for being active organizers especially in Colombia. Her regular reports and memos (physical descriptions, (political orientations, job.) about us and our activities, contacts were handed over to Nestlé, especially to the head of security of Nestle. The infiltrator met him at least one time. The name of the head of security of Nestlé is John Hedley, who in the past was working in the British secret services, the MI6.

We had a first audience in tribunal last week.

More of 150 newspapers (in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France) have been writing papers on the matter.

August 25, 2008

Too many people drawing on the Earth's resources

I wrote recently of how Brazil's population growth has fallen to the point that it will shortly stabilize at a level that is sustainable, even if the amount of land required to sustain each person increases to Swiss levels. See:

In a subsequent conversation on the George Monbiot email list, someone commented that such land-use calculations are based on using non-renewable resources such as petrochemicals (for fertilizers and transporting food). We can perhaps add to this the tapping of ancient ground water, so-called fossil aquifers, where the water is not replenished by fresh rainfall. An example is comes from the North China Plain as described here:

---extract begins
Falling water tables are already adversely affecting harvests in some countries, including China, the world’s largest grain producer. A groundwater survey released in Beijing in August 2001 revealed that the water table under the North China Plain, which produces over half of that country’s wheat and a third of its corn, is falling faster than earlier reported. Overpumping has largely depleted the shallow aquifer, forcing well drillers to turn to the region’s deep fossil aquifer, which is not replenishable.
---extract ends

Which means the problem of increasing food production to meet the world's growing population has not been solved, it has been deferred.

In 1968 Paul Ehrlich, now Bing Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University, wrote the book 'The Population Bomb'. He was interviewed recently by Public Radio International, and reminded that forty years ago he wrote that the battle to feed all of humanity is already lost.

He responded: "Forty years ago and perfectly correct. We still have about a billion people who don't get enough food to function properly."

Asked about whether a population that is predicted to grow by 2.5 billion by 2050 can be sustained, he replied:

---extract begins
First of all, 2.5 billion is 500 million people more than were on the planet when I was born in 1932. So we're adding more than existed when I was born.

Second, the next two and a half billion are going to be a lot more expensive to take care of environmentally than the previous 2.5 billion because people are smart, they farm the best lands first. You know you can't get oil by sticking a pointed stick in the ground in Pennsylvania anymore. You got to drill down a couple of miles. And water has to be transported long distances.

And I think anybody who reads the newspapers and can count, can see that we're in deep trouble just from the numbers of people versus the resources that are available. Ask them in Atlanta, where they're running out of water. Ask them in Southern California, where climate change is helping huge fires to devastate areas. I was just in Brazil, and the Pantanal swamp area was burning and the Cerrado, the savannah areas south of the Amazon, were burning in record bouts. So, you know, you just have to look around to see what's happening.
---extract ends

He suggested the predicted population of 9.7 billion would overstretch the world's carrying capacity unless we drastically change the way we live:

"Certainly in anything like today's lifestyle. You know if you try to move to a battery—what my colleague calls a battery-chicken type of world, in which everyone has the absolute minimum to keep them alive—it might be possible."

However, we are certainly not moving in this rather bleak direction. A new report from the United Nations Environment Programme, called Global Environmental Outlook, tries to be optimistic and praise some action that has been taken, but overall, it suggests, the indicators are all moving in the wrong direction.

The report suggests that the human population has needed more than one Earth to sustain it for more than twenty years.

The green line on the graph below represents living on the limit of what is available on the Earth. Unfortunately, the real demands of the population are the climbing pink line.

Click on the image to see it larger. The full report can be downloaded from:

As everyone knows, living beyond your means is storing up problems. Here's how the UN report puts it:

---extract begins
The unsustainability of the way the Earth’s natural resources are being used is increasingly evident.

As a result of the growing competition and demand for global resources, the world’s population has reached a stage where the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available.

An example of ecological overshoot is seen in attempts to increase food production that result in increased levels of environmental degradation, such as deforestation of marginal lands, including wetlands, upper watersheds and protected areas that have been converted to farmlands.

According to the 2005 Footprint of Nations report, humanity’s footprint is 21.9 ha/person, while the Earth’s biological capacity is, on average, only 15.7 ha/person, with the ultimate result
that there is net environmental degradation and loss.
---extract ends

Remember, this is with the Earth's current population and current consumption patterns.

Ehrlich suggests the crisis - or rather crises from which we do not recover - may not be far away:

"We're facing a crisis in which the way in which many of us live will not be possible for the vast majority of people—sometime in the relatively near future. Hopefully after I'm dead, but maybe not."

Some people, for example some posters on the Monbiot group, suggest that the best we can do as individuals and local communities, is to prepare for a coming collapse that will result in billions being wiped from the Earth's population.

I see pursuing the Simultaneous Policy approach - and doing whatever else we can to transform our relationship with the world - as being a worthwhile parallel strategy to even this survivalist view.

As Ehrlich concludes:

---extract begins
What other choice do we have but to try and change so that if we haven't reached the tipping point, we don't reach it, because the tipping point is going to be miserable and an awful lot of people will die and lifestyles will change very, very dramatically, and so we don't want to do that so you know, I can't be incredibly optimistic about what we're going to do.

What we can say is that societies can change very rapidly when the time is ripe. Look for instance how rapidly the Soviet Union disappeared when none of us expected it to. When I was a kid, lynchings were common in the south of the United States. They aren't any more. In other words, things can change very rapidly.

We don't fully understand why but when the time is ripe, they change and I think that your chore and mine is to try to ripen the time.
---extract ends

It seems to me the time could be not riper. If you haven't signed up in support of the Simultaneous Policy campaign, why not do so right now at:

Take a look at proposals others have put forward for the transformation to a sustainable, cooperative world in the discussion forum and feel free to put forward you own at:

It is a reality of life on this planet that any successful species fills its niche and its population overshoots before falling back to a sustainable level, perhaps with modified behaviour.

We can look on the overuse of the world's resources and the resulting degradation as a sign that we are heading for a very nasty end. Or we could take the view that we are in the amazingly fortunate position of being provided with an overdraft by the Earth which can see us through a short period of living beyond our means. Like any sensible family, instead of burning through the overdraft with no thought for the future, we should be using it as an investment to transform the way we live so no further loan is necessary and we can repay that we have taken.

Certainly not easy. Certainly urgent.

August 11, 2008

The Amazon Fund could be incorporated into an emissions taxation scheme

An idea I've floated here a few times in postings on climate change is that instead of putting faith in emissions trading schemes, which do not provide sufficient incentive for development of technologies such as carbon capture, emissions could simply be taxed. They are an external cost borne by the rest of the planet, when the cost should be borne by the polluter.

Taxes could be ring-fenced (or hypothecated, to use the jargon) for spending on measures to address climate change. One contender could be the Amazon fund created at the end of July by Brazil. See The Economist:

Countries can certainly gain kudos from contributing to the fund even now, as Norway is doing, but not as a way to excuse further pollution. That seems to be the motivation for a recent fund in support of the Congo Basin Forest. See:

As Aubrey Meyer, of the Global Commons Institute, explained at one of Simpol's policy fora, without action to contract greenhouse gas emissions pretty quickly, carbon sinks such as the Amazon could become carbon sources, as a drier forest experiences fires that release carbon. His proposal for a 'contraction and convergence' approach to emissions is on of the best supported in annual voting amongst Simultaneous Policy Adopters, so far. See:

August 7, 2008

Sustainable populations and joined-up thinking

What I like about the Simultaneous Policy approach is that it promotes up joined-up thinking, in a way that current global policy making does not, as evidenced by our leaders efforts to tackle climate change, while increasing oil production or refusing to listen to the concerns of farmers in developing countries at the World Trade Organisation, while there is evidence that forcing open developing country markets has impoverished farmers and increased food insecurity in some countries (see past blogs).

Since starting this blog and thinking in a little more depth of the possibilities of the Simultaneous policy, there seem to be a multiplicity of ways that different global problems can be tackled in a coherent way.

Sustainability, population growth and protecting the right to food came together for me this week, re-reading Michael Latham's chapter in Global Obligations for the Right to Food about tackling the curse of worms, measles and malaria. Professor Latham recommends governments to take a Resolution to the World Health Assembly calling for a strategic program for tackling these three illnesses. This could be worth proposing for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy.

Here's how some issues were joining up for me this week. I read that in Brazil, the birth rate has fallen to 1.8 children per woman, a level similar to that in industrialized countries. This level was not anticipated by the Brazilian National Institute of Geography and Statistics until 2043. The rapid drop is attributed to urbanization, where more children cost more money, in contrast to the countryside where historically more children have been seen as more hands to tend the land. But the rate has fallen in rural areas as quickly as in cities, attributed to the success in promoting family planning and the rising living standards experienced, or aspired to.

The expectation is that Brazilian's population will stabilise around 290 million inhabitants in 2050. The population if growth was at the rate of 1991, would be 377 million. With the rate of 1970, it would be 623 million.

If the average Brazilian was to increase their demand on the land to 4.1 hectares per person (the same as in Switzerland), then a population of 220 million could be supported. With present consumption levels, Brazil could support 384 millions. This is based on a study by the World Wide Fund for nature. All the above statistics are drawn from Brazil's news weekly, Veja, whose 30 July issue led with the cover story: "Where are all the babies?"

So achieving a sustainable population is within easy reach for Brazil, somewhere around the 220 - 290 million mark.

Sometimes in my work campaigning against the aggressive marketing of baby foods, practices which contribute to the unnecessary death and suffering of babies in conditions of poverty and compromises development elsewhere, I come across people who suggest that it is better that babies are dying in poor countries to limit population growth. Really. That's how some people think.

But the fact is that populations stabilise when parents have the expectation their babies will survive and outlive them. It is in conditions with high infant and young child mortality that birth rates tend to be higher. Rising standards of living also reduce birth rates as people are both more educated and raising children is more expensive. Parents choose to focus resources on a fewer number.

In the interests of sustainability for the global human population - and our lives on this planet are inextricably linked - reducing childhood mortality rates and raising standards of living benefits us all.

Michael Latham, like the rest of us who contributed chapters to Global Obligations for the Right to Food, makes the case that governments have obligations under existing human rights conventions to take collective action to deliver and protect the right to food. Promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding is part of the measures he highlights for improving child short and long-term health.

He also argues that relieving hunger encompasses relieving malnutrition and that is achieved not only by providing more food, but ending endemic parasites and illnesses that compromise nutrition.

I don't want to reiterate everything that is in his chapter - you really should buy the book - but the three principal concerns (worms, measles and malaria) are embarrassingly cheap to address. Embarrassing, because governments with the resources are failing to do so. They are not only failing in their human rights and moral obligations, they are, in some respects, costing themselves unnecessary expenditure.

Worms, parasites in the intestines that may affect organs such as the lungs, infect probably 2 billion people. Cambodia's de-worming programme cost US$ 0.06 per child.

There are about 50 million cases of measles every year, with about 1 million deaths. Immunization can have significant impact. "Six southern African countries that recorded 60,000 measles cases in 1996 reduced this to 117 cases in 2000". While national governments should be taking this action, where they cannot, the support of the international community is vital, argues Professor Latham, and will save them money if a concerted global campaign wipes out measles.

He writes: "It cost the United States US$ 124 million a year to keep itself free of smallpox for the twenty-five years prior to when smallpox was eradicated in 1978. Thus the US$32 million that the United States invested in the global Smallpox Eradication Program was recouped in about three months once smallpox vaccinations could be discontinued."

It is estimated that there are 1200 million cases of malaria every year, resulting in 1.5 million deaths annually. Impregnated bed nets are seen as an effective way to greatly reduce this toll. A net costs typically just US$ 3, but many people in poor countries cannot afford them. Malaria is so widespread that its impact is far greater than that counted in deaths. Lost schools days, days off work and unmet potential are also a blight.

Governments have signed up to the human rights instruments, that include the right to health as well as the right to food, and the Millenium Development Goals, but are failing to meet the obligations that arise from these.

A joined up approach would suggest serious and concerted effort to tackle worms, measles and malaria is a worthy candidate for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy as it will not only address the injustice of people on our planet suffering from preventable illness, but will help reduce costs for all people and lead to lower mortality rates and smaller families and towards sustainable populations.

Join the discussion in the Simpol Forum at:

Sign up as a Simultaneous Policy Adopter to vote on suggestions and put forward your own. Call on your political representatives to pledge to implement the Simultaneous Policy alongside other governments.

August 5, 2008

Clean coal may not exist in reality, but it is being used to divert climate change action all the same

It is a contradiction in terms to speak of 'clean coal' argue campaigners gathering to try to shut down one of the UK's largest coal-fired power stations, at Kingsnorth in Kent. The aim is to highlight plans to re-build the plant as part of the government's energy strategy.

One of those joining the 'climate camp' protest is George Monbiot, who writing in The Guardian today recalls:

'Last year Al Gore remarked: "I can't understand why there aren't rings of young people blocking bulldozers and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants."'

Well, in the UK young and old are doing just that at Kingsnorth.

Also in The Guardian, is an article by David Porter, Chief Executive of the Association of Electricity Producers. He defends 'clean coal' in his article:

---extract begins
Some campaigners criticise the use of the word "clean" in relation to coal. It might be very confident, but it indicates the direction of travel. It stands for highly efficient technologies, so less coal has to be burnt for the same electricity output, causing fewer emissions. In the long term, the industry wants to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) – a technology which would allow 90% of emissions or more to be captured and stored underground. However, CCS is expensive and unproven, and we need the government to support the development and demonstration of CCS.
---extract ends

The industry's claim is that 90% of emissions would be prevented from entering the atmosphere using this unproven technology, that has not yet been developed nor demonstrated. The industry expects the government (ie taxpayers) to foot the bill.

The government, however, is relying on the European Emissions Trading Scheme to solve the problem by making it more attractive to industry to pay for the technology than to have to buy carbon credits. Back to George Monbiot, who looks at the sums:

---extract begins
Last month the House of Commons environmental audit committee examined this proposition and found that it was nonsense. It cited studies by the UK Energy Research Centre and Climate Change Capital which estimate that capturing carbon from existing coal plants will cost €90-155 (£71-£122) per tonne of CO2. Yet the government predicts that the likely price of carbon between 2013 to 2020 will be around €39 (£31) per tonne. Even E.ON believes that it won't rise above €50. "The gap between the carbon price and the cost of CCS," the committee finds, "is enormous." The energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, confessed to MPs: "I hope that the strengthening of carbon markets ... will bring forward a sufficiently good price for carbon that it will provide some of the financial incentive for CCS. Will it be enough? I do not know."
---extract ends

It will be cheaper for companies to pay someone else to cut their emissions than to stop polluting themselves. Indeed, if they paid for people in the Congo to not cut down trees, they would make massive savings, as the offsets are costing just £3 per tonne of CO2:

The industry is being a little disingenuous when it talks of 'clean coal' therefore. Carbon capture does not yet exist, no-one is wanting to pay to develop, let alone install, the technology and the economic mechanism intended to prompt investment actually discourages it. The Cornerhouse has produced a series of briefings and papers looking in depth at emissions trading:

Taxing emissions or otherwise limiting them would actually incentivise cutting output. Taxes could be applied to funds for protecting the great forests all the same, if joined up thinking was demonstrated:

There are different ways to focus the debate. Joining the carbon camp is one way. Sending a message to the Prime Minister calling for an end to coal powered fire stations is another. The iCount website makes this easy. The One Hundred Months campaign has tried to inject urgency with its claim that we are that far from the climate change tipping point when it will be too late. See:

Supporting alternatives to emissions trading (or defending that system if you really think it will work) with the Simultaneous Policy campaign is another approach. You can see the ideas under discussion and find out how to put forward your own in the policy forum. An increasing number of politicians around the world have pledged to implement the Simultaneous Policy alongside other countries. Why not sign up as an Adopter and ask your elected representatives to make the pledge if you have not done so already?

While it is certain time is running out (even if not exactly one hundred months), it is also certain that the industry will use all the arguments, influence and resources it can muster to protect profits. We, the people, need to take the lead, whether through protest or through withdrawing support from politicians who refuse to back the Simultaneous Policy. Or both.

August 4, 2008

US Presidential candidates converge as the economy becomes the lead issue

As the two lead candidates in the US Presidential election campaign struggle to forge a decisive lead (Obama is slightly in front at present), the reality of the compromises to get elected start to show themselves, just as the Simultaneous Policy campaign analysis suggests.

It is the economy, stupid. Regardless of climate change and dependence on the finite resource of oil (which many say is now past its peak), Obama has joined John McCain in suggesting that high oil prices be tackled with increased oil availability, from selling strategic reserves onto the market to contemplating drilling of reserves off the coast of California, previously thought to be too environmentally risky. See:

The problem is that an opinion poll "released on Thursday showed that petrol prices were the main election issue."

Obama is tempering his support for increased oil flows as a necessary evil to get support for a broader package built on renewables, but the change in his rhetoric is being seen as a reversal of policy, canny footwork to get elected.

Tough decisions are difficult to sell in the heated environment of an election campaign. Particularly when the US economy is stalling and the 7-year-long attempt to lever open developing country markets has just failed at the World Trade Organisation.

Politicians - and voters - operate in the real world of competition between nations and the threat of jobs and investment moving overseas.

The Simultaneous Policy offers a parallel market in ideas for tackling global problems, wherein US voters can reclaim their sovereignty from business and financial markets in deciding how their country is governed and how to make a transition to a more cooperative world.

Ideas being debated can be found in Simpol's discssion forum. Anyone can put forward their own proposals by signing up as an Simultaneous Policy Adopters on Simpol's website.

Voters can call on the candidates to pledge to implement the Simultaneous Policy alongside other governments, using this form:

While the lead candidates may inevitably converge on policies dictated by competition between nations for the shorter term, they can also demonstrate, by making the Simultaneous Policy pledge, that they will respect the sovereign right of the people to decide the policies necessary to ensure our survival on this planet and its long-term, sustainable future.

August 1, 2008

Will the world end with a whimper? You decide.

The clock is ticking. There are 100 months left from today until the Earth's climate reaches a tipping point where the greenhouse gases we humans have put into the atmosphere will provoke changes that will be beyond our power to undo, even if we stopped polluting. The only solution is to scale back emissions to sustainable levels before the tipping point is reached.

If you think this is the scaremongering strategy of a campaign group, then you are correct. One hundred months is a shocking and precise deadline to wake people up. But the calculation is a conservative one and is based on the very deep understanding of feedback systems influencing the climate built up over decades. Andrew Simms, of the alliance behind the campaign, explains more in today's Guardian at:

Here is an extract:

---extract from the Andrew Simms article
For once it seems justified to repeat TS Eliot's famous lines: "This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper."

But does it have to be this way? Must we curdle in our complacency and allow our cynicism about politicians to give them an easy ride as they fail to act in our, the national and the planet's best interest? There is now a different clock to watch than the one on the office wall. Contrary to being a counsel of despair, it tells us that everything we do from now matters. And, possibly more so than at any other time in recent history.

---extract ends

Grasping at bogus claims that temperature increases are due to the sun and all planets are getting hotter (they are not) or seeing climate change as an Illuminati plot for introducing a fascist global state are some of the obstacles to action I've written about here recently.

A more mainstream obstacle is the fear that action will harm the economy. Hence instead of taking the type of action proposed in the Guardian article, the UK Prime Minister has been advocating increased oil production to try to bring down fuel prices.

This is how the world ends.

There are clear, thought through, evidence-based actions we can take as individuals, governments and the global community. We need to press ahead and support campaigns like One Hundred Months. Visit their site to sign up for monthly updates:

Also check out the iCount website, which has a current action against the building of coal-fired power stations in the UK. We need investment in renewables. We need changes in lifestyle. In the longer term there are proposals for solar power stations in North African deserts that could meet all of Europe's energy needs.

The solutions exist - all that is missing is the will to act.

In parallel to these campaign actions, you can sign up as a Simultaneous Policy Adopter and use your vote and voice in the development of a coherent set of policies for addressing climate change, trade injustice, unsustainablity and other problems requiring a global response. Call on your politicians to sign the pledge to implement the Simultaneous Policy alongside other governments. You can send a message to the US Presidential candidates using this form:

Will the world end with a whimper? You decide.