Mittwoch, 30. Januar 2008

Please endorse Obama, John

So, Edwards apparently took my advice ;-). He will quit the race for the White House. Fingers crossed that he will do so smartly. Fingers crossed he is busy doing a deal and will be endorsing Obama. Fingers crossed he will make sure that his spot on agenda of social justice and environmental protection is strengthened as the Obama-Hillary match continues. Watch this space.
P.S. Look how both Obama and Hillary are clearly trying to get John's support. And at this eloquent argument for why Edwards supporters should back Obama not Hillary.

Hell and High Water - Bush's climate "strategy"

I didn't sleep much last night. I was too excited to see if what my US colleagues had planned would work. And it did. Beautifully. They turned the Washington Monument into a monument to Bush's criminal do nothing legacy on climate change. They sent a clear message to the Major Emitters Meeting (MEM) happening today and tomorrow in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Bush administration hosting the first major climate meeting in 2008 is a bit of joke, really. It puts the fox in charge of the chickens. While Bush pretends to care about the climate he works hard to have useless voluntary pledges replace binding targets and real action - which we happen to need. It was 4.30am by the time the web story was done and I snuggled back into bed. But I did go to bed satisfied and pleased. And with wonderful images of an American icon turned into a Greenpeace billboard in my head. Have a look at more pictures here.

YES: Shell Ditched As Sponsor Of Wildlife Photographer of the Year

It's rainy and grey this winter in Berlin. Not at all like it should be, which is dry and really cold. The weather feels more like a November in Edinburgh right now. Which is why I was reminded of the many afternoons spent outside Shell petrol stations in Edinburgh back in 1995 when I heard the good news that Shell has been dropped as the main sponsor of the Wildlife Photography competition at the Natural History Museum in London. The campaign that made that happen is small but creative. It's the gang of Art Not Oil that has been hammering home the point that a main contributor to climate change and destroyer of biodiversity may not be the ideal sponsor for a competition celebrating the beauty and diversity of natural life. I certainly wish we had as many creative types around back in 1995 when we were protesting Shell's involvement in the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa out on the wet streets of Scotland's capital. Then it was just plackards and leaflets. And one memorable moment when a woman passed by and said. "I love what you guys are doing. I work for Exxon." Lets hope Exxon will not replace Shell at the Natural History Museum. Let's hope, say, a renewable energy giant such as Vestas seizes this opportunity. They should offer to sponsor the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. By doing so, they should make it clear to all that only if we fight climate change now, will we be able to stop the accelerating destruction of wildlife biodiversity. Meanwhile, heartened by this campaign success, I am off back into the rainy streets of Berlin ...
P.S. Picture from George Osodi.

Sonntag, 27. Januar 2008

Bow out, Edwards

Ok, I said I would not get involved. But truth be told, my sympathies, Kucinich aside, were with John Edwards in this presidential race. In terms of policy, they still are. Read this powerful letter by Martin Luther King's oldest son, King, and you can see why. Edwards is the candidate who is most clearly fighting economic injustice in this race. He is the one standing up for the proverbial 'man on the street'. Edwards also clearly opposes nuclear power and the coal industry, in marked contrast to Obama and Hillary. His greenery has rightly earned him the backing of Friends of the Earth US. Still, its time to cut your losses, John. I was impressed with your speech in Iowa. I have not been impressed with your speeches since. Coming third in your home state, South Carolina - which you won in 2004 - should make you think twice about keeping going. Ever since New Hampshire, you have insisted, that you will stay in the race until the Convention to ensure those without a voice are heard. That sounds principled. But really, it is defeatist. You have chosen to retreat to your core (left-wing) base. You are no longer fighting to win over the hearts and minds of the majority of Americans. You are no longer fighting to win the majority needed to finally end economic apartheid in the US. - Of course, standing up for a clearly defined constituency is great if you are a pressure group. But you are not in the race to run Public Citizen, John. You are in the race to be President of the United States! As it is now clear that you will not win that race, please quit. Cut a deal with Obama, who is now the best bet for an 'anti-establishment' candidate to reach the White House. Offer Obama your support in return for some clear commitments on economic justice and the environment (these do not have to be public at this stage ...). Get Obama to drop his support for the 'coal to liquids' lunacy, for example. Get him to commit to (part of) your health care plan. Whatever you do, do not help Hillary win by default. Politics is about the art of the possible. Ensuring Obama is elected in 2008 with (what in the US counts as) a credible progressive agenda is now the only possible result worth seeking. Me thinks, anyway.
P.S. Image from unitedagainsthillary

Freitag, 18. Januar 2008

Schwarzer Rabe - I will miss you!

When I was writing for product. magazine, I once suggested an obituary column for pubs and tea houses that were being killed off by Starbucks and chain pubs in Edinburgh. The column never happened - but Berlin, especially Berlin Mitte, is another place that provides fertile ground for such a writing endeavour. I was certainly shocked today to find one of the very, very few places near Hackescher Markt that I still liked to hang out in to be shut. History. A friend and I had met there often to discuss climate policy, life and more. The Schwarze Rabe was our local, our lunch and coffee refuge. Whenever I was there, the Schwarze Rabe was full. Except for once. When my partner Kathrin and I had only been together for a few days, we headed to the Schwarze Rabe for dinner after a lovely day out in Potsdam. And, somehow, everything went wrong that night. They only had a buffet option, which was not really worth it for a vegetarian like me (though it was wonderful food). Worse, Kathrin was very silent. So silent, in fact, that I was wondering whether we were really going to be an item for much longer. As it turned out ... Kathrin felt that I was not behaving elegantly enough (I guess I shouldn't have loudly speculated about whether the buffet was value for money. I guess I could have sat up and lifted my head rather than let it lie on the table ... ;-)). But she didn't dare tell me. It took me hours to figure out what was wrong. In retrospect, that night was quite significant. We made a giant leap forward in our relationship. But still, it was the only night when I did not experience sitting in the Schwarze Rabe as fun. - The Schwarze Rabe was different than your normal Mitte bar. It was architecturally a wide open, yes, a grand place. It was busy, in the positive sense of being lively. In fact, it had a bit of the flair of a Vienna coffee house. Furthermore, the lunch food was cheap and wonderful (and Italian, like most good German food ...). Ah, the place was great ...
At the moment, the site lies empty. So we do not know yet, what will replace it and whether indeed a chain will colonize the space. Still, it's very likely to be some dreadful yuppy bar or a fancy clothes store. Whatever it will be, the Schwarze Rabe will be lost. A beautiful, social, charming bit of Berlin restaurant life is gone. All I am left to do is to cry into my beer. Somewhere else.

Montag, 14. Januar 2008

New Year, New Beer ...

I don't believe in Nature - in some primordial Other, that is 'out there' and needs to be kept untouched. The idea of Nature as the opposite of human civilization is a silly one. It is itself a result of industrial civilization. Historically, the idea of Nature as Other has done much harm. 'Protecting Nature' was used as a prime argument by colonial plunderers to clear indigenous peoples off land, for example. Sadly, this even continues today.... - When nature reserves and parks are used as places where a more sustainable way of living on planet earth is tried out and 'showcased', though, I rejoice. When a good beer results, you can certainly see me smile. So I was smiling all the way to the bar when I came across the Rother Braeu brewery, which is located in the Naturpark Rhoen. Rother Braeu is that rare beast of a brewery that practices what it preaches. It sources locally as well as organically. It mainly sells regionally as well, which is why it took me ages to get hold of their Ur-Pils - a fine, crisp brew that can only be described as refreshing. Ur-Pils is a true lager, as the name suggests. As such, it is as brilliant a thirst cruncher as you will ever find on planet earth. - Rother Braeu is the kind of (small) business I love. But I have to say, that I am also excited by more and more mainstream breweries getting into the organic market. Stoertebeker, brewed in beautiful Stralsund, is a major beer in northern Germany, for example. In one go, they have added four organic beers to their range. I only got hold of the Roggen-Weizen (a rye wheat beer) so far. And I was sceptical. I am not really into dark wheat beers (as I like the sparkling, champagne-like character of wheat beers above all else). But this one stays delicate despite its darkness. It is creamy more than sparkling, but it goes down very well. - Flensburger - or 'Flens' as it is known to the German beer drinker - is one of the very big brands of German beer (and it's better than some of the other big names, such as Beck's). Opening a Flens is always fun; it makes 'plop' as you remove the ceramic bottle cap. With their organic Kellerbier, the fun does not end there. It's an easy to drink (also slightly darker) beer. It is not light enough to drink for a whole evening at a party, but it goes well with a nice meal. Flens Organic will never become my favourite. But I hope it will get more mainsteam beer drinkers into organic mode! Indeed: May 2008 bring many more new organic beers to the market. My taste buds are ready to sample them all.

Dienstag, 8. Januar 2008

The power of Animal's People

I have never been to Bhopal, but, let's be honest, I have used Bhopal. Bhopal's suffering is so huge and so outragous that it is self-explanatory. Whatever justice may be, what happened in Bhopal in 1984 is injustice. It is the unequivocal nature of Union Carbide's crime in 1984, that make Bhopal an example - an icon. Bhopal is the best reason there is to continue the fight I still feel most passionate about: To end corporate crimes; to deliver a decent environment for all. - I helped with Greenpeace's work on the 20th anniversary of "that night" back in 2004. More recently, I would have joined the Dow Accountability Network (Dow bought Union Carbide) if my partner had ended up moving to Washington, DC for a job. Life didn't work out that way. Professionally, I have been dealing with other things. Recently, therefore, I have not been one of those "who come to suck our stories from us, so strangers in far off countries can marvel there's so much pain in the world", as the main protagonist, Animal, puts it in Indra Sinha's powerful novel: "Animal's People". I have not been sucking, not even in the name of getting people and politicians to act against injustice. But Animal's People, which was supposed to be my relaxing holiday novel, hit me in the heart. The novel made me think about the nature of campaigning. About the way in which we campaigners use the suffering of others to call for political change. Does the end justify those means? My answer, ultimately, is yes. Injustice unspoken is even worse than tales of human suffering being used strategically to advance a (progressive) cause. But we must always beware of our true motivations; we must always reflect on our interaction with those whose suffering fuels our moral fire. 'Animal's People' made me do just that - as well as smile at the general human folly, that political struggles, too, are never immune from. The book, in fact, wonderfully relfects the diversities of stories and interests that permeate all struggles against injustice, as, indeed, any social group. For example, the book reflects how naivity often drives many who want to help "the sick" or "the poor". Animal's People shows how being principled, while being a good thing, can sometimes mean that one can become too dogmatic. Much of the book, for example, is about locals boycotting a free clinic - in the fear that the clinic is yet another hoax by "the Kampani". I identify with that cautiousness. And yet, and yet, it does turn out to be wrong (even if the doctress ain't no saint). The book shows how self-interest, desire, lust, shame, and more, all conspire to make the complicated, irrational and - ultimately - wonderful story that is human struggles; that is us. The book, in this way, shows Bhopal as human - all too human. To me, that is its true force. So: buy it - and join the fight for justice for Bhopal! Animal's People deserve nothing less.

Freitag, 4. Januar 2008

Watching the (Democratic) candidates ...

I leave it up to my American friends to argue over who is best suited to win back the White House for sanity. But as a campaigner, I was struck by how the speeches by Obama, Edwards and Hillary after the Iowa vote summed up their campaigns. As a lesson on campaigning - on choosing messages and repeating them over and over - all candidates scored high marks. So, Hillary focussed on the long haul, on experience (a message which was reinforced by her being surrounded by Clinton "old timers" - including Bill but also Madleine Albright, who I had not really pictured to be the campaign trail kind a girl, but hey ...). Hillary kept her smile firmly in place and tried to exude confidence. Given how gutted she probably felt I would give her full marks for composure. Edwards, meanwhile, was surrounded by a very different bunch of people (than the Ex Secretary of State). He was surrounded by the working poor and people without health care. He made a lot of how Iowa had voted against the status quo. In that status quo he tried to include Hillary, making the most of being the underdog who had beaten her despite having been hugely outspent. Almost immediately, he moved back to the message he is running for: the need for universal health care, the needs of working families, the values of a "working America" that he tries to evoke and represent. I personally liked how he contrasted those values with "corporate greed"... Obama, finally, stuck to his message of unity and hope. His speech was probably the cleverest. On a night when the Republicans backed an evangelical christian, he somehow managed to make plausible, that Iowa had voted for national unity. He evoked the civil rights movement and stressed his background as a grassroots social worker. He eloquently talked of the power of ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. All this will have gone down well with the Democratic activist base, I imagine. But the overall message was one of unity and patriotism. Of history being in the making - and him being the vessel of America's new, united, strong, moral age. As a self-confessed lefty, this unity talk worries me. Reality is: people have different interests - and they do clash. But as a political observer, you got to be impressed with how Obama pulls off sounding the most resoundingly American of all candidates - even though he is untypical - even for African-Americans! He got the votes of Independents and has attracted sympthies even of Republicans. So this unity message, more than anything, makes him the man to watch! P.S. A very interesting blog piece on Edwards and Obama here.

Donnerstag, 3. Januar 2008

Everybody needs a carbon cap!

My new year's resolutions are the same as last year (and in case that's still true next year, I will not advertise them here ;-)).
But the world's new year resolution surely is simple. The world should take the advice from my friend Kenny Bruno (see picture) and agree on a carbon cap! 2008 needs to see the beginning of the big emissions turn around, that we all (Exxon aside) know needs to happen. 2008, therefore, needs to see an end to perverse subsidies to fossil fuel industries - an outrage Kenny travelled all the way to Bali to expose in this excellent new report. 2008 needs to be a year of change. I have no idea what change is in store for me. But I do know, that I want a carbon cap to be added to my wardrobe!