Montag, 17. Dezember 2007

Back home ...

Air travel makes one go from A to B without noticing all the Cs, Ds, Es and Ys in the middle. Within hours, one can jump continents - and cultural divides. The cultures and geographies of the 'in between' places are, if one is lucky, just a pretty view from a window seat.
So, after an exhausting two weeks in Bali (more on that here and auf Deutsch hier), I am home. Which feels remarkably normal, instantly. Here I am, trying to adjust to a temperature difference of some 30 degrees centrigrade. Here I am, trying to get into a christmas mood. Here I am, trying to get used to not working some 18 hours a day. Here I am trying to allow my body to just relax. - That christmas is coming up, I tried to keep in mind in Bali through taking along the "Advent calender" my mum sends me every year. You can see it having some cross-cultural fun in Bali on the picture. Air travel allows for that picture having been taken just some 24 hours ago. In a different world!

Sonntag, 9. Dezember 2007

Greenwash bikes

There has been a lot of talk about the carbon footprint of the Bali climate talks. Questioning the carbon footprint of big events like this is justified. And clearly not everybody who is on Bali needs to be here. Take the stuck in the rut climate sceptics, for example! But let's also keep in mind, that this conference emits only as much CO2 as running the planned new coal power plant at Neurath for a mere 20 hours or so. Neurath was one of the places where the global day of action took place yesterday. (To all of you who took part a big thank you!) IF governments get their act together and agree a credible action plan here, it will have been carbon well spent - unlike at Neurath! - The hosts have also done what they can to reduce the transport emissions locally. Free bikes are available everywhere. And though it seems to be getting more and more humid by the minute, lots of people can be seen rushing around on bikes. I once got lost with one, cycling around in circles for half an hour (the closest I have gotten to exercise this week. But also to swimming - I was that wet ...!). So the bikes are a good thing as well as a fast and convenient - if sweaty - alternative to taxis. That said, some of them are also a form of greenwash. Medco energi are sponsoring the free bikes that have "Stop global warming" written all over them (see picture). Sadly, stopping global warming is not Medco energi's core business, to put it mildly. Rather, they produce oil - and are also the company behind a planned nuclear power plant in Jepara, Central Java. Those nuclear power plans are not popular. The local muslim council has declared a very reasonable fatwa against the project. And last week, some 1200 people joined us for a protest on the proposed site of the nuclear power facility. I have to think of those communities every time I dash off - carbon-free - to another meeting on a Medco energi-sponsored bike.

Mittwoch, 5. Dezember 2007

Courageous, impressive - look at this Indonesian coal action

When police boats drove over Greenpeace boats at this year's G8 summit protest (see the video here) some people - including some friends - told me that they thought the action was "too dangerous". We should have known that the police would react strongly. We should not have done something so risky. My emotional response to this was incomprehension. For this was a principled and peaceful action. The police response was, shall we say, unhelpful. And in any case, it was nothing compared to the dangers my friends and comrades face in many places all over the world - every day. In recent weeks, angry loggers forced colleagues in the Amazon to take refuge in a local government office. And last Saturday, my friends from Greenpeace Southeast Asia faced heated opposition when they 'attacked' a coal plant. Have a look at the video - and bow at their courage! This one is for you, Yaya and Shai!

Dienstag, 4. Dezember 2007

Fröhliche Weihnacht?

Nusa Dua ist eine Enklave der Globalisierung. Westliche Marken bestimmen die Landschaft. Und doch war ich nicht darauf vorbereitet, ausgerechnet auf der Hindu-dominierten, multikulturellen Insel Bali einem klassischen Santa-Claus zu begegnen (siehe Bild). Schon 2005 beim WTO-Gipfel in Hong Kong fand ich die Komination von warmem Wetter, chinesischem Essen und britischen ‘jingle-bells’ bizarr. Aber Bali toppt das bei weitem (und war keine britische Kolonie!). Weihnachten ist sicher nicht gut fürs Klima. Gerade Elektronikschrott wird auch dieses Jahr sicher in Massen unter Weihnachtsbäumen liegen. Selbst ich lüste im Geheimen ein wenig nach einem iPhone. Und doch ist Weihnachten – trotz allem Kommerz – doch immer auch eine Zeit der Besinnung. Zumindest in meinem Freundeskreis. Es werden Plätzchen gebacken, Tee getrunken, geklönt und manchmal auch Glühwein getrunken. Ich mag diesen Teil der Adventszeit (auch wenn das einige sicher spiessig finden). Ich mag diese Kommerz-freie Zone wo Zeit ist - genommen wird - für persönliche Gespräche. Ich vermisse genau dies hier in der Hitze und Hektik von Bali. Wie sehr wurde mir erst klar als ich 'Santa' traf. Mitten in Bali. Auf dem Weg zu Verhandlungen darüber, ob über Technologietransfer hier ernsthaft verhandelt werden soll – oder eben nicht. In Gedanken bei den ärgerlichen Dingen, die Japan heute verbreitet hat – frei nach dem Motto: “wir wollen nach 2012 keine verbindlichen Reduktionsziele für unsere klimaschädlichen Emissionen akzeptieren”. Am liebsten hätte ich Ihnen Knecht Ruprecht auf den Hals geschickt ...

Montag, 3. Dezember 2007

Welcome to Paradise?

The hotel complex that the international climate negotiation are taking place in was built in the 1980s. It replaced local fishing villages but funders such as the World Bank insisted that it at least looks nice. So this is no high-rise concrete jungle. It is a lush tropical array of high level hotels - which seem to compete on how many pools they have... - One of the most difficult things about my life is that when I say that I do not like all the travel I do, nobody believes me (except for those who suffer the same life). When you say that you are going to Bali - this is, of course, especially true. And I do not blame them. There is a big industry out there that sells the kind of environment that is Nusa Dua, Bali as the place to be. If I didn't have to work from 7am to late at night, I would certainly enjoy the beaches - and even more the massages that seem to be on offer everywhere. But like all such places, this hotel paradise is built on exclusion. Exclusion of fisher communities to start with. But I am sure not just. With all the water being used for the pools here, I wonder how much water is available for the communities outside, for example. I should find out really. - Still, I had to smile when I passed this "Welcome to Paradise" sign today. I was running between two meetings (and running when it is 35 degrees celsius and over 80% humidity is not such a good idea, really). But I had to stop and take a photograph. If this is paradise, let it at least be the paradise that is remembered for preventing climate hell!

Sonntag, 2. Dezember 2007

Bali - again

It's hot, it's humid, I have a headache. I hate this kind of weather. My partner says that the temperature is just right when you step out of the shower and do not feel a drop in temperature. Well, when I step out of the shower here, I feel no drop in humidity. I stay just as wet. I sweat like hell - and I do not like it. - This is meant to be rainy season in Bali. The humidy is indeed hard to beat. But so far, it has not rained. The same happened last December apparently. It may be climate change. Which would be fitting as over 10,000 people, like me, are heading to Bali just now to attend the global climate negotiations. - The security is already here. Military boats are cruising along the beach (see picture). I do not remember it being like that 5 years ago, when the World Summit on Sustainable Development was prepared on Bali. But that was before the Bali bombs. I dread to think what the security will be like next week - when important people (not just me) arrive.... - I am here to help persuade governments to agree a Bali Mandate. Not sure how much time I will have to blog on this site. I am, however, blogging at the Greenpeace site - so have a look. P.S. December 3rd update: This had to happen, of course. Climate change and weather are two different things. I know that. But I was reminded today, as it has started to rain. A real downpour, I am told. I missed it, though, watching the opening of the official conference.

Mittwoch, 28. November 2007

On music changing lives and politics

Not so long ago, the media went wild on the question of whether Live Earth achieved anything (except for emissions - and offsets ...). I, too, am not sure. Unlike Live 8 two years ago, Live Earth at least tried to use the event to spread some political demands. These were very American - and mainly focused on personal action. But at least they were there. To me, the most significant moment of Live Earth was Police playing together again in New York - and sending a most beautiful SOS. That was historic. That was fun. That was my memorable moment (just as Pink Floyd coming together again for Live 8 made me - almost? - think that that event was worth it after all). But what I really wonder is what Live Earth sparked in people. Will any budding activist out there say in 20 years: "I am who I am now because of Live Earth." To me, that is the measure - as I would not be who I am today, if it had not been for bands such as BAP. It was them playing at anti-nuclear (power and weapons) demonstrations throughout the 1980s that politicized me. It was BAP and Herbert Groenemeyer lyrics, that first got me questioning the status quo. For that, I will always be grateful. I still like BAP and Groenemeyer - though sometimes more for their politics than their music. Groenemeyer at a press conference at the 2005 G8 summit, for example, was asked about people like Bono spending so much time with the likes of Bush. His reply (as my memory serves me): "I never understood the tendency by some rockers on these islands to start with punk and end as Sir". A wonderful way of distancing himself from the "I am important because I lunch with those in power" kind of "activists" that Bono typefies ... - The musician who is my daily companion in my (political) life is ani difranco, though. In fact, I find it surprising that she has not featured on this blog yet. Those who know me also know that I quote her regularly. Under my emails (from where one, at least, has gone straight into a PhD thesis ;-)); in a best man speech ... Anytime, really. Ani is my age, shares my politics - but has a skill I do not possess. Well, several. She can write music, she can sing - and she can put emotions - including political ones - into words much more poetically than me. Hence, I quote. Hence, scraps of wisdom such as: "we are made to bleed/ and scab and heal and bleed again/ and turn every scar into a joke" keep me going on a bad day. And "if you're not trying to make something better/ Then as far as I can tell, you are just in the way" remains my activist motto. Sometimes, Ani seems to put into words what I experience. Every time I am in the US, for example, I am truly appalled (outside Manhatten and a few other islands of urbanity, anyway) at the way in which rampant capitalism has destroyed any urban form. Appalled by the sprawl - by the looped streets to nowhere. But I could not express what has happened to urban America as well as Ani. So - listen to how America has been turned into a Subdivision. If Live Earth didn't change your life - this should!

Dienstag, 27. November 2007

Bye, bye McLeish (again)

I feared as much. Alex McLeish is once again choosing his career over working with young, promising players. He is leaving Scotland to join Birmingham in the Premier League. It's difficult to begrudge him the move on a personal level. But it is still sad for Scotland. After the great run in this year's qualification, those boys would have so deserved a vote of confidence from their manager. It was not to be.

Samstag, 24. November 2007

What a relief ...

Polls are often wrong. I still remember the shock when John Major won after all in 1992, for example. So I have learnt not to cheer until the results are in and I was a little nervous about the Australian election. What joy, therefore, that that bastard Howard now is truly gone! Australia will ratify Kyoto and leave Bush more isolated than ever at the international climate talks. Ha! - Labour won't be perfect, of course, and it will be a hard fight to, for example, get them to not back the dirtiest of energy chocies: coal. But today, it is time to celebrate; not least, because support for Kyoto was one of the reasons Labour won. Watch this space - Democrats!

Freitag, 23. November 2007

No cranberry, no bullshit ;-)

This site is not about advertising, least of all beer. But if I were to advertise beer it - obviously - would have to be organic. I would recommend some of my all time favourites, such as Neumarkter Lammsbraeu or Golden Promise. Nonetheless, I have to give credit where credit is due. And Pilsner's response to the yuppification of beer deserves a big cheer - not least because it made me laugh out loud (sorry to my fellow U-Bahn passengers). I am not against trying weird stuff with beer. Some North American micro-breweries, in particular, create some amazing tastes, that are a worthwhile challenge to human taste buds. But all that lager with sweet tastes added? The Beck's Lemon of this world? They are disgusting. They deserve derision. They deserve this add campaign: No lemon, no cranberry, no bullshit!

Dienstag, 20. November 2007

Lies exposed: Oil for climate protection?

Well done, Greenpeace Switzerland. The Swiss oil lobby had the cheek to claim in an advert that heating with oil is a contribution to climate protection. They now had their fingers slapped by the Swiss advertising board, which has prohibited the further use of these ads as they are - you guessed it - misleading. The oil lobby was proud that they had gotten a little more efficient in using the black stuff. That, they said, meant that modern oil heating systems are a contribution to climate protection. Sure. First, every use of energy has been getting more efficient - pretty much throughout history. Second, oil remains the most climate damaging way to heat your home. Oops. This Swiss example is a particularly crass one. But it is fascinating to watch how more and more dirty industries are claiming to be the solution to the climate problem that they, incidentally, caused in the first place. Emission free coal plants, anyone? Cars to save the planet? Climatewash is the new Greenwash. Everybody is a climate protector now. Strange, eh, that global emissions are rising ...

Sonntag, 18. November 2007

Italy's Hampden shame ...

I predicted Italy to win last year's World Cup. Against much criticism, I defended them as rightful winners when I was proven right. They had the best defense of the tournament, without question, and scored the goals when they mattered (most painfully, from where I sit, at least, against Germany in the semi-final). As you can see on the left, I supported Italy in the final and was rather happy when they won here in Berlin.
That said, tonight I am truly bitter: Italy did not deserve that free kick in stoppage time against Scotland. And Scotland, after beating France twice, would have so deserved qualifying for EURO 2008. It's a tragedy. It's a travesty. It's truly painful to see my dear Scots have to settle for the all too familiar "beautiful loser" role. I was very upset when Alex McLeish, Scotland's coach, left Hibs for arch-rivals Rangers. But he has done very well for Scotland. May he continue his work with this young and promising team. May Scotland play in the World Cup in South Africa. May justice, at last, be done.

Montag, 12. November 2007

North Coast Brewing not much to Berlin taste, sorry

The Fort Bragg where the North Coast Brewing company is located is no doubt a far cry from the Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where the U.S. military used to run a counterinsurgency school, training people in all sorts of evils. Their beers make a much better export, for sure, than torture. That said, I am not so sure these beers were worth dragging around New York all day after buying them in the Village in September. I have to confess, that I remembered how my back hurt that night with every sip I took. To be fair: It is not that they are badly produced. My criticism is more to do with snobbery, I guess. The Cru D'Or, for example, is the kind of heavy, strong (8%) beer, that I only really like when it is an original Chimay (of which I drank far too much when I had passed my Logic exam at university. But that's a different story ...). With this Cru, I never got over the label "Belgian style". Well, indeed. Belgian-style but, er, not Belgian. Not special, just heavy. Not exquisite, just ok. - The same can be said of the Old Plowshare stout. Again, I freely confess that stout is not my favourite kind of beer in the first place. I also confess that I had not had a good day when I drank it. But I also know that a good beer can lift my mood. A special taste on my tongue can make my eyes glint with joy. This time, it wasn't to be. The stout made me think of Scotland. A vague memory of a similar taste in some wee pub on the east coast came to mind. That was all pleasant enough. But nothing special - again.

Demonstrieren ist die erste Bürgerpflicht! – Klimaschutz jetzt!

AktivistInnen ohne Humor sind, mit Verlaub, etwas schlimmes. Altbacken. Langweilig. Unangenehm. Humor muss sein - auch und gerade wenn berechtigte Zweifel bestehen, ob genau dieser Planet mit genau dieser Menschheit noch zu retten ist. Auch wenn Leute, die Blut an den Händen haben, sich durch unsere Talkshows quatschen und im Adlon tanzen. Auch wenn der Mainstream, der so lustig und cool tut, nichts als der programmierte ökologische Pogrom ist. Schlechte Neuigkeiten sind keine Entschuldigung für schlechte Witze. Basta. Drum möge man mir verzeihen, wenn ich heute ganz preussisch daher komme. Aber zu einer viel zu langen Busfahrt mit dem Ziel durch die Berliner Kälte zu stapfen und dann dumm rum zu stehen und Reden zu lauschen, die man im Zweifel nicht versteht oder schon dreimal gehört hat. Dazu fallen (auch) mir keine guten Witze ein. Und doch ist es wichtig. Sehr wichtig sogar, dass am 8.12.2007 viele, ganz viele genau dies tun. Bus fahren, durch Berlin (oder Neurath) laufen. In der Kälte stehen - um unseren Politikern einzuheizen. Demokratie funktioniert durch so absurde Akte. Nur in dem sich Massen am 8. 12. auf die Strasse trauen können wir klar machen, dass es uns ernst ist: Sonntagsreden sind nicht genug. Klimaschutz erfordert wirkliche Taten. Eine Kanzlerin, die weltweit vom Klima redet ist unglaubhaft, solange sie zu Hause ein Tempolimit blockiert und neue Kohlekraftwerke akzeptiert. Wenn Deutschland es mit dem Klimaschutz ernst meint, dann muss ein Ruck durch das gemeine Fussvolk gehen. Wir alle müssen am 8.12. am internationalen Klimaaktionstag teilnehmen. Die Klima-Allianz kann mit der Anreise helfen. Aber Niemand – NIEMAND - kann von mir einen Witz erwarten, der mir nicht Bilder zeigen kann, wie er am 8. 12. demonstriert. Das ist die erste Bürgerpflicht. Erst die Zweite ist Humor ;-). P.S. Und hier noch ein prima Video zum Thema:

Freitag, 9. November 2007

The wall fell 18 years ago!

I still remember the moment. 18 years ago I came home to a very unusual sight. My dad was watching television! That never happened - and hence seemed odd. Being preoccupied with matters of the heart, I tried to head to my room anyway. Fat chance. I was - for the first and only time in my life, I believe - ordered to watch TV. Ordered to witness history. What I had ridiculed my dad for even dreaming of a year before - when we visited East Germany together - had in fact happened. The Wall was open. The Iron Curtain had fallen! - By now I know many stories of what people did or thought that day. From East and West (though many Eastern stories are laced with justified bitterness, that the day itself rather than the demonstrations that lead to it are the focus of our historic imaginations). From all walks fo life. Just like everybody who was conscious remembers where they were when they learned of JFK's assassination or 9/11 - everyone (in Germany at least) has a story to tell on how they experienced that 9th of November. In 2002, I was discussing the World Summit on Sustainable Development with business and government representatives at the German House in New York, for example. We could not agree on anything that night. But we all enjoyed sharing stories of that one historic moment. - Meanwhile, I admit that it made me feel old last year when I interviewed people who wanted to attend a United World College who had not been born when the wall came down. The vivid memories I have of that night make me feel that it surely can't be that long....

Dienstag, 6. November 2007

Stop tar sands!

Edmonton is the coldest place I have ever been to, I think. I remember getting off the Greyhound bus and my lips splitting instantly as the cold air hit. Not sure how the weather has been recently. But Edmonton is definetely a key place for the fight over global warming. For one of the absurdities of the currently high oil price - which should be a good thing, surely - is that ridiculous ways of producing oil have become profitable. Such as squeezing oil out of dirty sand - which is one of the most energy-consuming ways of getting at energy - and exactly what the development of the tar sands in Canada amounts to. It is stupid. It is criminal. It is pursuing disasterous climate change at all cost. It is a clear example of how "energy security", if (mis)understood as "getting fossil fuels any way we can from 'safe' countries rather than the Middle East" is a recipe for disaster. - I hence salute my Canadian colleagues who have decided to take on the tar sands fight. Yesterday, activists unfurled a banner over the North Saskatchewan River. I hope it wasn't as cold as when I was last in Edmonton. And I hope the Alberta legislature heard the message loud and clear. More info - and a chance to email the politicians responsible - here. - P.S. Picture from the Greenpeace Canada website. Thanks.

Samstag, 3. November 2007

Wir können alles – nur nix richtig

In Berlin muss man sich entscheiden. Entweder man liest Zitty – oder Tip. Seit 2000 bin ich in der zitty Fraktion. Auch wenn ich das dieses Jahr beinahe mal geändert hätte. Denn die zitty hat ein neues Design, das mir nicht gefällt – und hat sich auch einige plumpe und unqualifizierte Artikel geleistet. Wie z.B. den idiotischen Daueroptimisten “Ich schimpfe auf die Umweltschützer und behaupte ich war mal einer; das ist meine Marktlücke”-Maxeiner als Umweltexperten zu Wort kommen zu lassen. Banane! Aber als Fussballfan weiss ich, dass man auch Krisen mit seiner Mannschaft durchstehen muss. Und eine Kampagne der letzten Wochen hat mich wieder ein wenig versöhnt (genauso wie ein guter Artikel über meinen alten Kiez). Die zitty hat die Stadtmarketing-Kampagnen, die heute zunehmend den öffentlichen Raum einnehmen parodiert. Und der durch Sparmassnahmen und WM-Eile leider doch nicht symmetrisch geratene Hauptbahnhof mit einem “Wir können alles. Nur nix richtig”-Spruch. Nun, mein Humor ist nicht jedermanns Sache. Aber ich finds genial (und ja, ich komme aus Baden-Württemberg ;-))! Aber seht selbst - hier.

Freitag, 2. November 2007

Solar Waverley

There can be few more beautiful views. When you leave Waverley Station in Edinburgh the whole beauty of Edinburgh becomes visible at once. The Castle, the Mound, the gardens below. Often a gull will scream to remind you of the nearby sea. Even when it is raining, there is always a magic to the climb up from the Waverley dungeons - despite the traffic fumes. By 2014, Waverley may be magical in other ways, too. Yes, that is a little late. Yes, these plans have been around for years already. But still. By 2014 Waverley's decrepit roof is to be redone - and will become a solar factory (as well as a place where rain water will be collected). The solar energy will power the station. It will make Waverley truly green - and hopefully be an example that many public and private buildings will emulate. In fact, why not start a race now. Which buildings in Edinburgh will have solar roofs before Waverley? Just let me know!

Dienstag, 30. Oktober 2007

Vattenfalls Märchen

Ich mag Märchen. Ich kann sie nicht selber erfinden, schon gar nicht spontan; was mich mindestens genauso enttäuscht wie meine Neffen. Aber ich lese sie gerne. Und bin heute - als Erwachsener - fasziniert davon, wie vielschichtig und Moral-geladen viele Märchen, die auf den ersten Blick so arglos und simpel daher kommen, in Wirklichkeit sind. Dass aber ausgerechnet Vattenfall die Berliner Märchentage sponsort – das finde ich auf andere Weise faszinierend; und gleichermassen ekelhaft wie passend. Denn Vattenfall erzählt viele Märchen. Atomkraft ist sicher, sagt Vattenfall – obwohl unpraktischer Weise gerade eines ihrer AKWs brannte und mindestens einige Fragen zur Sicherheitskultur bei Vattenfall offen liess... Wie fasste schon ein altes BUNDjugend T-Shirt zusammen: “Atomkraft – so sicher wie unsere Rente” ....
Ausserdem behauptet Vattenfall es gäbe Kohlekraftwerke, die Teil der Lösung – und nicht des Problems – des globalen Klimawandels sind (siehe ). Als Märchen langweilig, aber vielleicht noch akzeptabel. Die Realität sieht anders aus. Gerade die Zukunft der Kohle entscheidet darüber, ob wir es mit dem Klimaschutz ernst meinen – oder eben nicht. Wenn wir jetzt weiter in Kohlekraftwerke investieren, dann legen wir uns auf Jahrzehnte auf einen Energiepfad fest, den der Planet nicht aushält. Und CO2-freie Kohlekraftwerke wird es nie geben. Selbst wenn man das CO2, dass durch die Verbrennung der Kohle entsteht sicher im Erdboden versenken kann (und das darf bezweifelt werden!), so erkauft man diesen ‘Fortschritt’ mit einem höheren Energieverbrauch. Und wer je eine Kohlegrube besichtigt hat oder mit Menschen sprach, die für den Kohleabbau umgesiedelt wurden, der weiss, dass es gute Gründe gegen die Nutzung von Kohle gibt, selbst wenn nach dem Abbau kein weitere Schaden angerichtet würde ... In Deutschland sind neue Kohlekraftwerke fast eine Garantie, dass wir das notwendige Klimaschutzziel (minus 40% CO2 bis 2020) nicht einhalten können. Vattenfall sollte übrigens aufpassen. Lügen haben kurze Beine. In den Niederlanden wurde Konkurrent NUON gerade das Geschwätz von der “sauberen Kohle” als irreführend untersagt .... Vielleicht sollten wir Berliner Vattenfall untersagen weiter Märchen zu erzählen? Den Stromanbieter wechseln kann man hier. Und einen Klimaappell an den Vattenfall-Chef,Josefsson, kann man hier unterzeichnen. Ich mag Märchen. Aber unser Klima hält Vattenfalls Märchen nicht länger aus!

Donnerstag, 25. Oktober 2007

Your vote goes here ...

Before 1990, Berlin could not directly elect Members to the German Parliament. So it was with much sympathy, that I observed the official (below) and grassroots struggle (left) to secure representation in the House and the Senate for the District of Columbia. As always when something seems odd, there are, of course, historical reasons for why DC does not have the vote. But, hm, those do seem a little outdated to me. May be the reason now is that DC votes overwhelmingly for Democrats? Either way. As I was walking through DC I could not but think of Billy Bragg's observation in Help Save the Youth of America, that "you can fight for democracy at home". Indeed.

Sonntag, 21. Oktober 2007

Solar Washington

Bush did his best. He saved me one flight to the US. But here I am again - in sleepy, muggy Washington. It somehow doesn't feel right that a city whose power is causing so much havoc around the globe is so serene, so leafy, so quiet.
This time, I am here with the money boys. I am at the World Bank trying to persuade them to foster investments that secure the planet and us a future ... It's not going too well, frankly. Even the German development minister somehow fails to see that saving the climate through investing in oil, as the World Bank does, may not be the best strategy ...
Last night, there was an avalanche of first impressions. I had been reading the Shock Doctrine again on the plane. And on the bus from the airport, I passed ITT and many other corporate headquarters about whose involvement in Latin American coups and other shenanigans I had just been reading. When I reached Metro Square metro station, I was hit by a solar blitz. BP had plastered the whole station with slogans such as "solar power to the people". I felt pretty cynical about this. BP, after all, famously spent more money on their "Beyond Petroleum" rebranding campaign than they had, at that time, spent on renewable energies. This preposterous 'marketing' earned them a 'Green Oscar' - the premier award for corporations acting green (while, in reality, cooking the planet).
However, the ads made me curious. They advertised a 'Solar Decathlon' -which meant nothing to me. So, this lunch time, I went to check it out. And - it was cool (and not just a BP show)!
Basically, the Solar Decathlon is a design competition for solar-powered homes that have to produce more energy than they use. There were 20 such homes on view at the Mall over the last week. Many were really neat (and one designed by the German University of Darmstadt won the prize). Even neater, though, were the long queques of people trying to see them - talking excitedly, asking about prices, sure to tell their neighbours when they get home. Let's hope there are some World Bank staff among the neighbours. A solar housing boom - globally. Funding that - now that would be public money well spent ...
P.S. On the flight home, I read the official document of the Decathlon. And some stuff in there made me angry. The students who built these great houses, it states, are "working towards the goals outlined in President Bush's Solar America Initiative" ... and "events such as this bring to life the President's American Competiteveness Initiative". Hardly. Events such as this show Bush to be out of touch and way behind. They show the true potential of solar, which is ready to rock - now. May the next Decathlon, 2009, have a better foreword by a better Secretary of State!

Freitag, 19. Oktober 2007

Congratulations Von!

It's not often that I wholeheartedly agree with the mainstream media. But when TIME calls my friend and colleague Von Hernandez an "environmental hero" it's very hard to disagree. Von, who is Campaign Director at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, richly deserves this recognition. So, read about him here.
P.S. A great tribute to Von by Shai - another friend - can also be found here.

Mittwoch, 17. Oktober 2007

In praise of 'useless' land ...

Berlin used to be full of empty spaces. Admittedly, many of them were pretty decrepit. But they were still kind of neat - and certainly, especially in the city centre, quite unique. In most other cities those spaces would have long ago been built on, given way to the profit motive.
'Brachen', as we call them in German, were of course a sign of Berlin's turbulent and divided history. These empty spaces were there for a reason, not for fun. But post 1989, in any case, they were also the outward sign of a city that allowed for quirkiness. Some empty spaces were places for cool beer gardens and bars; others attracted artists; others just were - including for homeless and junkies. - But now, a critical mass of empty space in central Berlin is and has been taken over by a corporate building boom. This boom has changed the character and feel of the city. "Die Friedrichstrasse wird ne Glitzermeile in Berlin", sang Wolf Biermann already a few years back ('Friedrichstrasse is becoming glitter street', a place for posh shops and posh people, would be a very loose translation). But it ain't just Friedrichstrasse. When you take the S-Bahn, say, from the main station to Alexanderplatz, you can see how key pieces of land are all being built upon. Inevitably, it is always hotels, offices and "luxury appartments" that replace the previous, messy clutter. Further afield, it is the same story. Along the river Spree, for example, a massive development is planned, that will obliterate clubs, squats and messy green space. It will further destroy what is special about Berlin. Sure, there is opposition, but will it succeed?
I love Berlin. But the corporate take over of Berlin makes me angry. And sad.
P.S. Can someone fund me to fight this please? Thanks ;-).

Dienstag, 16. Oktober 2007

Cheers - three more organic beers!

The first weekend in Berlin in ages, combined with a football match, finally gave me time to catch up with some organic beers I had recently hunted down. It was, as always, a pleasure. Though, frankly, the best thing about the Angel lager by Broughton Ales is its beautifully designed bottle label. The beer itself is pretty flat. As a German, I am demanding about lagers. And this one just didn't have the crisp freshness that makes you go "ah" with pleasure after the first sip. Broughton should stick to ales. Their Border Gold Organic Ale I remember to be quite satisfying. - As was the Wolfshoeher Bio Pilsner. It's all you want from a Pils. It's quite light but not without the slight bitter tinge that is a must in a good German lager. It is, in short, very drinkable. The kind of beer you can make your regular with a meal.
Wheat Bear (Weissbier, as they say in Bavaria) is rightly called the champagne among beers. And so, as Germany became the first team to qualify for EURO 2008, and Scotland managed to defend first place in its qualifying group, I finished off Saturday night with a treat: the Bayreuther Bio Weisse. This beer may be a niche product of brewing giant Maisel - but this is a fine niche. It produces a satisfying head, it pearls on your tongue and it sparkles down your throat to leave a warm, satisfied feeling in your stomach. I recommend it!

Montag, 15. Oktober 2007


I am no geek, and - for a male member of the human species, at any rate - I can't often get excited about technology. Yes, I played with toy cars in my (misspent) youth. But I am over it. I am.

That said, I do have to admit that I was drooling over the iPhone when my dear colleague Chris Miller from the US allowed me to play with his a few weeks back. It's so easy to use. It is so handy. It's design is so beautiful. It is phone and sound system and computer. It is so cool ...

I have to confess I was considering buying one when they hit the European market later this year. But for that to happen, Apple first has to clean up its act. Sadly, the iPhone, like other beautiful Mac's, is full of hazardous chemicals. You can read all about it here. Or watch the video below. If you are Mac fan, be prepared. This report does not include nudity. But a beautiful iPhone dies a terrible death. Just like those who live near electronic waste yards ...

P.S. This blog is my humble contribution to Blog Action Day

Freitag, 12. Oktober 2007

Feeling nobel

So climate change got the nobel prize. Good. I even feel pretty close emotionally to the nobel prize myself, somehow. Not because I have some mistaken sense of grandeur. No, simply because I know - and respect - quite a number of people who have spent a lot of time on the IPCC. Sometimes, in fact, they had a hard time justifying spending all that time on the science, when impatient activists were demanding action. But the prize today shows what remarkable role science is, in fact, playing in the politics of climate change. Even though the IPCC is probably too conservative in its assessments ...
Al Gore, meanwhile, recently said that he does not understand why (young) people aren't blocking coal plants. Well, I hope Gore has now noticed that they are. And may be he will become the first peace prize laureate to chain himself to a coal plant. That would be prize worthy. Go for it, Al!

I love organic beer, but not genetically modified Bud

Dienstag, 9. Oktober 2007

Time travel and hats off ...

It was an experience of a different kind to take the night train headed to Kiev last night (I only made it as far as Warsaw). It felt like being back in the 80s. The guard spoke nothing but Russian and was rude as you would imagine him to be. The heating went wild and was trying very hard to turn my feet into grilled sausage. And the border guards were reminding us all, that we are passing a real border when they woke us ... The design of the cabin was truly historical - but, on the plus side, there was plenty more space than on modern CityNightLines ... All in all, I was pretty spent by the time my fried feet and tired brain got to Warsaw. I had to survive a day of meetings nonetheless. That I did is testimony also to my colleagues in the UK and the US. The great action against coal in Kingsnorth warmed my heart ... - and the Global Warming Motors spoof made me chuckle. Which, believe me, was a harder thing than normal to get me to do today. So thanks, guys!

Montag, 8. Oktober 2007

Weird, I had fun in Geneva!

"When all passion has left life, that's when you move to Geneva". Thus spoke my friend Abiodun, eloquent as always, over dinner in New York. I couldn't agree more. Especially last Friday night, when, of course, Geneva's skies opened yet again and I got soaked, soaked, soaked, soaked, soaked. After drying my hair and changing all my clothes once back in the dry, I felt like I had been swimming ...
Still, this latest trip to Geneva was different. Not just because everyone was talking about climate change at the WTO, a place where reality does not normally disturb fancy economic models.
More importantly, I had fun. I was taken to a couple of bars I liked; I had a great time walking around in the vineyards nearby; and I took a lovely walk along the Rhone. Even the weather was pleasant, Friday night aside. So, here is to good times in Geneva. Begrudgingly.

Sonntag, 30. September 2007

Union Station - an Unamerican space?

I love Union Station in Washington. I am just not sure there isn't a mistake that this place is in the US. Such a grand building for a technolgy - the railway - that has mostly been done away with. Such a contrast to sit under this splendid ceiling in a bit of public space - and to then board a train that feels more like a historical experience than a travel choice of the 21st century (ok, my fault for being stingy and taking the regional train, I guess). Even the shops are hardly American - Belgian chocolates, speciality beers, and the posher end of clothing chain stores - it's much more like a railway station in Europe.

Donnerstag, 27. September 2007

Bush: wrong way

It was a dreadfully early start this morning to get to the US State Department. And then it was quite a long wait - some three hours - until some 50 Greenpeace activists were arrested. By being willing to get arrested they showed how determined they are to let the world know that Bush is not speaking for the majority of Americans when he continues to reject binding emission cuts. "This meeting is a farce. This President is not my President", Greenpeace USA Executive Director John Passacantando said before being hauled off...

"I thought it would work"

"I am Daniel Mittler and I lost the election for you in 2004 in Ohio". That's how I introduced myself to John Kerry at a reception tonight. For in 2004, I took time off to campaign with American friends for a Kerry victory. The placard I held on November 1st 2004 is still up in my flat: "1 more day to a fresh start". It was not to be. But when I last saw him at that last day of the campaign rally in Cleveland, I remember that Kerry was good. He had finally learned to give a decent speech. He had finally learned to show passion. And he was clearly moved, when the Boss, aber giving a moving speech, gave his guitar pick to Kerry saying: "Take it to the White House". I told Kerry about my 1st November 2004 tonight. He seemed lost in thought for a moment, thinking back to Cleveland. "I thought it would work", he said ...
It didn't. It was a sad day, that November 2nd 2004. But I also will never forget the uplifting days that preceded it. The determination by so many from so many different walks of life, to rid the US of George W.. Just 16 months to go, folks. Keep up the spirit.

Dienstag, 25. September 2007

The big climate show

It was a big Hollywood moment at the UN yesterday. The Terminator wanted "action, action, action"; Oscar-winning Gore wanted a moratorium on conventional coal plants (they are selling "Re-elect Gore 2008"buttons on the streets of New York; what do you think?); and Lo Sze-Ping gave the best speech of the day (and I don't just say that because I wrote good chunks of it ;-)). Yesterday's UN summit was the biggest gathering on the environment in years - and though it clearly confused the UN security guards - it was a good thing.
Condi Rice called for a "technological revolution". This superficailly sounds a lot like the "energy revolution" we call for - and confused Reuters. But, the visions behind the technological revolution and the energy revolution could not be more different. The energy revolution is about acting now and using the technology we already have -such as wind and solar power. The technological revolution Bush waffles on about is about hoping that technological advances will somehow, miraculously save us - and wasting time until then. To quote from Sze-Ping's speech: "
The world has all the technology we need to start the job of preventing dangerous climate change – now. We cannot afford talk of more research replacing real action. We cannot afford to be distracted by technology initiatives." But that, and more talk shops, is exactly what the US administration wants. That's what they will be talking about at the Major Emitters meeting starting on Thursday - and for which I leave beautiful New York today ...

Sonntag, 23. September 2007

You want to buy this place, Sir?

I don't think of myself as a gentrifier. But I clearly look like one. At least in East Harlem. -
Escaping work depression for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon, I indugled in my favourite activity: aimlessly wondering around cities. - It certainly was a different place to 1995, when I had first graced Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. I remember my friend Martin and I being the only white people on the street back then. I remember being fascinated by all the Black Power literature stalls. They are still there. As were people selling solidartity T-shirts for the Jenna 6. - In fact, the place hadn't changed as much as media reports and the Clintons' moving in had made me expect. I thought East Harlem would be similar to Prenzlauer Berg - a part of Berlin which, to my mind, has been gentrified to death. Or it is like Prenzlauer Berg - but some 10 years back, when it still had a vibe! A vibe that even partly resulted from the property-market driven 'winds of change'. (East) Harlem now is a neighbourhood of contrasts - run down building as well as new condos; a wonderful local fish restaurant as well as a Starbucks. People selling whatever they could get their hands on on the street, as well as independent boutiques. That the neighbourhood is changing you can see from the many "for sale" signs, especially on not yet done up properties. I took pictures of a few. And that is when a wonderful old man with a missing front tooth came up to me to enquire: "Do you want to buy this place, Sir?". I assured him that not. I am not sure he believed me. "All these whites coming here prospecting" he muttered to himself and wondered off .... "Sorry, sir.", I said.

Donnerstag, 20. September 2007

"The clock is ticking ..."

It's a nice view from the 38th floor of the United Nations building. It's a far cry from the gloomy basement of the UN that I know so well from many negotiations. It's also where Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General, has his office. However, he is not spending his time enjoying the spectacular Long Island vista. Instead, he is busy drumming up support for drastic and bold action on climate change.

As a political animal, I like to be right about things. I like to predict things accurately. But, quite honestly, I never predicted that Ban Ki-moon would make climate change his priority when he became Secretary General in January. In fact, I googled "Ban Ki-moon and climate change" when he was confirmed as Secretary General last year. There were no hits. Try it now - that has changed dramatically! Moon has called attention to the link between climate and security, controversially pointing out how climate impacts are contributing to the atrocious violence plaguing the Darfur region in Sudan. He has visited California and made a show of supporting Arnie's green shoots. And he has made it very clear that he wants a strengthened Kyoto agreement for after 2012. Yesterday, he met an international Greenpeace delegation - and he was very genuine and likeable - a rare feature in a diplomat or politician, I find. The picture shows him with one of the gifts we brought him - a photograph of receding glaciers in the Himalaya's, which put the water supply of no less than one third of the global population at risk. He liked another of our presents even better, though. We gave him a Swiss watch stating "Time is running out". He smiled and told us that that that very morning he had told his staff that "The clock is ticking". So, we hit a nerve. Let's hope it emboldens him to give a powerful speech at Monday's High Level Meeting on climate change, for which some 80 Heads of States will join me in New York ... ;-)

Mittwoch, 19. September 2007

Chance encounters are best

I last saw Naomi Klein at the Edinburgh International Book Festival a few years back. That year, Starbucks had a monopoly on selling coffee at the Book Festival, which left coffee addict Naomi in a bit of a lurch. Her wonderful husband, Avi, however, traipsed through Edinburgh’s new town to find appropriately non logo-ed coffee (a task which would be even more difficult now, as Starbucks have turned Edinburgh into a masterful example of the kind of ‘clustering’ that No Logo describes).

Last night, I wondered into Barnes and Noble in New York. I was just passing time, seeing what’s new and what America is reading. I ended up in the CD section listening to Suzanne Vega’s new album (which isn’t bad). When I took the headphones off, I heard a voice I recognized. I turned around and realized that there was a crowd gathered in the corner of the store. Seconds later, I was enthralled in Naomi Klein explaining her new book: ‘Shock doctrine’. It was a powerful talk, made all the more sweet by it being such luck for me to have hit on the right corner of Manhatten at the right time. That’s the power of chance. Stralsund, for example, to this day is one of my favourite cities in Germany. Not just because it is indeed a beautiful place, but also because I chanced upon Stralsund when I had a monthly rail network pass. I picked a place at random on the map – and hit a gem. Just like tonight.

P.S. Apparently, the German press is attacking Naomi's book. I shall read the book. Once I am done, I am ready to critique the critiques ...

Rebus retires, Word Power thrives ...

Unlike me, my favourite Detective Inspector, John Rebus, does not feel like retiring. But that's what he has to, in Exit Music, the latest and, God help us, hopefully not last of Ian Rankin's tales of Edinburgh's over- and underworld. I freely admit to being dreadfully biased. But I liked this book a hell of a lot - again. In true Rankin style, it features a complex plot; lots of subplots intertwine and, like is indeed the case in Edinburgh, everybody somehow seems to be connected to everybody else ...

But this time there is an unusual twist at the end. Stories fall apart, even if Rebus does not just - yet. Does Big Ger Cafferty?

Personally, I laughed out loud after a few pages. One reason I like the Rebus' novels is that Rankin describes a world I know well (I used to live across the street from where Rebus allegedly lives). This time the joy of recognition was more concrete than usual: he mentions one of my favourite Edinburgh institutions: Word Power. Word Power is one of the few alternative, independent book stores that has survived the spread of bigger and bigger bookstore chains - as well as Amazon. You can truly get everything that is radical at Word Power. And yet, you can also sense as you walk into the - recently expanded - store that this is a business on the up. Word Power incidentally also has an excellent website where you can order all books you would ever like. So, forget Amazon. Buy at Word Power!

I, indeed, have bought many of my Rebus novels there. I used to send emails to Elaine, who started the store, asking her to send the new Rebus to me as soon as it comes out. Elaine obliged for which I will forever be grateful ... But she, I got the distinct impression, did think I was a bit weird for getting so excited about, well, a mere mainstream crime novel.

So here I was, enjoying the latest of Rebus delights. And the very store that used to be so reluctant about selling me them was mentioned over and over again (no murder happens there, though!). I know I have a twisted sense of humour. But it did make me chuckle. I hope Elaine will forgive me my Rebus addiction now; now that Rankin's 'product placement' will hopefully lead even more in Edinburgh and on the web to the radical gems Word Power holds. Books to change the world!

Donnerstag, 13. September 2007

Das Wunder von Paris!

What a joy. Scotland beat France in Paris last night and now incredibly tops a EURO 08 qualifying group that includes France and World Champion Italy. Wish I had been there!

Dienstag, 11. September 2007

Remembering 9/11

I started the day offering an old friend, who happens to be American, coffee in my "I love New York" mug. For who could not but remember that day 6 years ago, that changed history. The images of 9/11 were in my mind all day, but I couldn't find words to express them.

Then I got a message from another old friend, Gabe Kramer, who also happens to be American. Gabe is a great union organizer and was one of the first people I contacted on 9/11. I found his words moving. So here they are as food for thought:

"After 9/11, SEIU put together a small book of photos and short biographies of the scores of our union members killed in those buildings. Workers from several different SEIU local organizations were included, especially from the New York building cleaners local and a public sector office workers local. What struck me about those people was how international they were. They came from Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Of course, that's how New York is.

It then made me think of the people who died in the 1998 al Qaeda bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. At the time, I did not really think very hard about it. When I looked through the images from the SEIU book and thought about the gruesome news 1998 photographs from Africa, I became totally enraged. These people were all just going to work, trying to make a decent life. That can be a hard thing to do in New York, and it's a very hard thing to do in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. None of them were crusaders, or agents of imperialism, or capitalism, or the conspiracy of International Jewry. These were people who went to work and then had the misfortune of being crushed or burned into dust for no good reason at all.

The idea in the jihadist way of thinking that these acts were somehow liberating or moral or just is vomitous.

The idea in the hard left way of thinking that these acts were somehow understandable in light of or comparable to the crimes of America and Israel at first made sense to me. But as the years have passed this more and more seems like an impoverished, misleading, and suspect view.

By all means, let's hold America and Israel and every other shitty democracy to account for its crimes. But this is besides the point of 9/11. Confusing this with the point of 9/11 is somehow morally degrading.

The point of 9/11 is... well, like the torture and killings in Chile, the main point of 9/11 is that humans are frail and weak, that good lives and mediocre lives should not be transformed into hell on earth, and that therefore we not be tortured and killed by other humans.

The minor point is those who want to build a perfect society on the bones of others are motherfuckers."
P.S. This post is dedicated to M.B. She knows why.

Montag, 10. September 2007

Don't they have enough paint?

In many ways, I still feel at home in Britain. I don't go as often as I used to - and I miss it. I miss reading the Sunday Herald and the Guardian. I miss Woman's Hour on Radio 4 (which I listened to while doing the dishes back in student days). I miss the self-depreciating humour and the casual, first-name social interaction with others (even if it is often a false informality). I miss the theatre scenes in Edinburgh and London. I only do not miss hobnobs and tea because I still import them ....
But there is also a lot I, hm, hate about Britain. Asked by an old university friend for a list over a beer on Saturday, here are some of the things that came to mind immediately:
- the privatized and completely dysfunctional railway system (and true to form, it took me 4 hours from Reading to Cambridge yesterday) as well as the sad state of public transport generally. When I lived in London, I found getting from one meeting to another often the most tiring bit of the day. In Berlin, you can actually relax while travelling, no matter whether you cycle or take public transport. I admit things are getting better (especially in London). But still ...
- the fact that you have to burn your hands first and then hold them under the cold tap to cool off, if you want to wash your hands properly
- the home-owning culture - and other 'me, me, me' effects of the Thatcher years (the same selfishness is spreading in Germany, unfortunately. Interestingly, everyone I know who has lived in the UK for a long time is fervently opposed to, for example, privatizing rail and more home ownership in Germany - I guess we know where it leads!)
- the infantile relationship to alcohol (where getting pissed is somehow seen as a real achievement that needs to be advertized to the world)
- the run down hospitals (and the inefficient PFI monsters that are starting to replace them)
- the inflated prices (especially for housing, drinks (especially decent wine) and meals out)
- the appalling insulation (to me double glazing was normal when I grew up thirty years ago; so I am quite amused when people proudly anounce to me now that they have just got it too!)
- Housing standards generally (apparently insulations standards in Scotland for new build homes are now what they used to be in Sweden in 1978)
And it is not just me who is appalled at the housing standards. Once I arrived in Cambridge yesterday, I met a wonderful Cuban family, who my partner had spent a lot of time with when she lived on Cuba. They were puzzled by the brick houses everywhere. They asked whether there were not enough "paint factories in Britain" to ensure that houses get "properly finished". I actually quite like brick houses. But it still made me laugh. And here was further proof for my long-held assertion that Britain truly is a developing country ;-) .

Samstag, 8. September 2007

The chocolate problem ...

I lobbied Hilary Benn earlier this year to stop spending taxpayers money on funding disasterous coal plants in Asia in the name of "development". He didn't budge, but he had his rhetoric justifying tying developing countries further into a carbon-dependent future down to a fine art.
Recently he got shifted to the environment portfolio. You can tell that he has not yet been there very long. At a speech to the local groups conference of Friends of the Earth last night, he was open and direct. But he was not as good in fielding difficult questions as he had become at DfID.
Particularly, he stumbled over the "chocolate problem". Asked whether the UK's government plans to set emission limits without including emissions from flying was like "going on a diet while continuing to eat chocolate", he suggested that that is indeed the government's plans. You can continue to eat chocolate, he claimed, as long as you make sure you do not eat other things so that you do not exceed your calories limit. Brilliant. Just do without all the fruit and potatoes and you can occasionally sneak into the sweets cupboard and gorge yourself. Sounds attractive. Only, this way to solve the "chocolate problem" would make you sick. Very sick. Nutrients and vitamins would be prominent only thourgh their basence in this special Hilary Benn diet ...
Now, I love chocolate and I plan to go on no diet in the forseeable future. But it is fairly obvious that Hilary Benn will have to think of a better excuse to not tackle run away emissions from flying. Let's hope it is better than his excuse for supporting dangerous, expensive and - as far as fighting climate change is concerned - outright useless nuclear power. For all he had to say on that is that "you have to look at all the arguments and then you need to look at the issue again". Sure. And then you need to realize that nuclear power is madness. - Come on, Hilary, you can do better than that!

Montag, 3. September 2007

Think of this next time you fill your tank ...

I took a day off on Saturday (ok, I guess most people take Saturday off anyway ... but hey). I went to the documenta, which I had last been to in 1997. I once again thought it was great. There were some fun and entertaining pieces. There was a nice buzz in a city that was over 90% destroyed after the second world war. There was a really good guide who with distance and irony, and yet,clearly felt commitment to art, explained even some of the less easily understood pieces really well. And there was a lot of unashamedly political art - which I have a soft spot for (if it isn't trite). One of the highlights for me were the pictures of George Osodi. He is documenting what oil consumption really means. He is showing the oil rich Niger Delta as you will not find it in a Shell PR brochure. He is showing the exploitation - of nature and people - that goes along with the production of oil.
I guess we all have moments and issues that grip us at some point and really move us. That change our life. That make us the kind of activists that we are. The death of Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1997 and the plight of the Ogoni that he died for was one such struggle and moment for me. It gripped me. It made me unable to not act, to turn away. To forget, what impacts our daily fossil-fueled lives have.
It makes me sad, that ten years on, the destruction in the Delta continues - and only gets noticed in the developed world, when western oil workers are abducted. All the better, though, that Osodi's pictures are on show at the documenta. They certainly inspired me. May they make the plight of the Delta better known once again; and may they shame those who still refuse to admit the real price of oil ...

Freitag, 31. August 2007

ECO therapy - with some effect?

It’s not easy to explain plainly what I and other civil society reps actually do for all the long hours we spend at international environmental negotiations. After a week in Vienna, I am not entirely sure where all the time has gone. All I know is that, yet again, I didn’t see Vienna - the metro and the street our hotel was on aside … The world of global climate talks is a world of rumour chasing, coffee drinking, constant huddles and meetings – with country delegations, with other NGOs, with the rest of the Greenpeace crowd. Press releases need to be discussed, drafted and then often enough redrafted as the negotiations have already moved on. People who are not at the talks but in national Greenpeace offices need to be kept informed of what’s going on – and motivated to do something, if it happens to be their government that is acting up. There is a fair amount of sitting in big windowless rooms listening to boring speeches (one country that shall remain nameless this week had the cheek to give the same presentation for the third time in the course of recent negotiations!). The challenge is to wake up again when something really outrageous happens – and to then react quickly. Like yesterday, when Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland and Russia suddenly suggested that increasing the globe’s mean temperature by, say, 4 degrees would be acceptable. Mistaking the climate negotiations for a “who can be the most cynical” contest, they insisted that the option of microwaving the world should be alive on the climate negotiating table. Silly me, and I thought these negotiations were about protecting the climate – not killing it.

4 degrees may sound abstract. But the impacts of such a temperature hike are not. A 4 degree warmer world would eliminate most of the glaciers in the Alpine region (Switzerland), virtually destroy the entire Alpine flora of hundreds of species (New Zealand), cause massive degradation of permafrost regions and a major increase in droughts in main agricultural regions (Russia), risk major dislocation and damage due to sea level rise (Japan) and deliver major water resource losses and destruction of the arctic ecosystem and species (Canada). All in all, it wouldn’t be pretty …

One way in which we react to the follies of our governments at these international negotiations is through producing our own newsletter – ECO. ECO has a proud tradition – ECO was first produced at the first Earth Summit in Stockholm in 1972. It is produced overnight for delegates to read in the morning – and a remarkable number of them can be seen doing just. As ECO is for delegates, the language is not that of the tabloids. It’s techy, policy wonkish -but it is always also tongue in cheek … Editing ECO is a licence to be sarcastic and indulge in black humour.

ECO is hard work. The two nights this week that I helped with editing it, I got to bed at 2am. But ECO is also therapy. ECO means sitting around with like-minded people from around the world, trying to find witty ways in which to put across our outrage and anger – and our hopes for what the negotiations could deliver. Editing ECO is a team effort and one that involves a lot of laughs as well as beer (as the above picture of fellow editor Red Constantino shows …). Who knows , may be reading ECO helped. For at least governments made a small step forward in Vienna today.

Montag, 27. August 2007

No time to waste - and see the sun

Vienna is beautiful, but the Austrian Centre Vienna - the conference centre where some 1000 delegates this week are negotiating on climate change - is not. For the rest of this week, I will be stuck inside, in non-descript rooms with no windows. At least this morning the sun was shining as we stood outside to welcome delegates with a balloon, a banner and a chocolate bar. The cholocate was a gift - but also a reminder that real progress on climate change commitments will need to be the result of this week in Vienna - if we are to avoid the Road to Hell. Climate delegates are used to being harassed (and indeed to being given gifts), of course; so the whole thing was a good-natured affair with people stopping for a chat and our 300 chocolates disappearing quickly. Let's hope the delegates remember what they need to do once they have finished their chocolates ...

Donnerstag, 23. August 2007

Space is a battleground ...

I am not feeling great today (fighting a cold) so I was relaxing over a nice slice of pizza on the beautiful street I live in tonight. It was wonderful. The street is lively, yet there is little car traffic, so little noise. The excitement comes from the diverse people passing by. Tonight, for example, there was a cute student couple, a tiny chocolate-coloured girl (proving that Nietzsche was right: mixing races creates the highest beauty). There were teachers discussing their students and tourists enthralled at having found this little gem of a neighbourhood (good on them, but I hope there won't be too many more ;-)). Trees line the street and give the street an 'Allee-character'. So, I was just about to forget my cough and idealize my neighbourhood when the waitress in one of my favourite bars (of all places!), chased away a couple eating pizza - from the new, quirky pizza place that opened recently - on "their bench". How petty. How stupdid. How crap.
But space, of course, is always contested - and increasinly privatized. Whenever I walk through cities I know well, I bore my companions by recounting the mass killings of beautiful spaces that the last few years of rampant urban capitalism have sprung upon us. On Edinburgh, I could write a whole book of obituaries for cafes and pubs that I once loved and that have since been shut down or, perhaps worse, been turned into theme pubs and/or bought up by chains. In Berlin - as a visiting American colleague remarked over lunch yesterday - there are now Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks bloody everywhere. They didn't used to exit 5-10 years ago. (Worse, some of my friends even love them!)
Berlin is also getting more and more malls built. Most people now visiting Potsdamer Platz - including myself, often enough - are not their to marvel at Enzo Piano's architecture or at an urban space created (if in a corporate image) on the most famous 'no man's land' the Cold War era knew. No, they - we - are there to shop at the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden with piped in music and rents that ensure that only big chain stores can offer "choice" to us hapless consumers ...
But space - especially high quality public space - is a good worth fighting for. I was most recently reminded of this in Calgary - where non-corporate space is hard to find (and when you find it, usually run down). I missed it. The lack of places to sit, observe and linger quite simply depressed me!
Democracy needs places where democratic interaction can take place. Democracy - no matter how many lively debates and exchanges happen on the web - needs public space. Let's fight for it. Let's make creating livable, human spaces - our 'war'.
P.S. The picture is a detail of a funky bus at the Edinburgh Festival. The people running it were quite possibly spaced out, but the slogan is still cool.

Mittwoch, 22. August 2007

Come on, murder a pint ...

I love the Caledonian Brewery of Edinburgh. They produce a fine organic ale, called Golden Promise, which is drinkable like a lager but has a pleasant bitter tinge. I love their '80' - probably the beer I drank most 'out on the town' when I was living in Edinburgh. And now, on the occasion of the Inspector Rebus novels turning 20, they have done me and all Rebus fans a favour and produced a special Rebus ale. What a fun idea. If you know Rebus, you will know he loves his pint. So this is a fitting tribute. Even better: After sampling it I can confirm that it is a very nice, fruity ale. I suspect, though, Rebus may find it a little too posh (he would add some whisky!). It's got a gingerly flavour to it - and certainly deserves to not just be an anniversary gimmick, but a long term addition to Caledonian's brewing range!