Freitag, 25. Juli 2008

Obama (and me) in Berlin ...

The last time this many people had this much fun on the Strasse des 17. Juni was during the World Cup Final, I think. Yes, Obama got a popstar welcome. Yes, loads of people who came could utter the word "change" - and said that's what he stood for - but, really, had no clue about Obama's policies. They would have come to watch Madonna as well. Still, Obama was impressive. He was forced to speak at the Siegessaeule, not the Brandenburg Gate. And he even made that symbol count for his message of unity. "Here, at the base of a column built to mark victory in war, we meet in the center of a Europe at peace.", he said. And it is a good line. There was much in his speech, that I did disagree with, for sure. His praise for an outdated NATO as "the greatest alliance ever formed to defend our common security" made me shudder. His take on history that sees the spread of freedom going hand in hand with open markets is not my view of the world, but rather that of his Chicago Boys. His balancing words of comfort for labor and the environment were comparatively vague: "Together, we must forge trade that truly rewards the work that creates wealth, with meaningful protections for our people and our planet." Sure. When he spoke of the war in Afghanistan and the need for Germany to help, the crowd was silent - some booed. I am not opposed to Germany's involvement in Afghanistan in principle. But that Obama spent so much time on the need for excerting force in the world, well, it sounded like old-fashioned American foreign policy to me. The US will exert force. But it will do so a bit more multilaterally. It sounds like Kissinger and Clinton, not like a new dawn. - All that said - it was still a powerful speech. And - for a US presidential candidate, in any case - it was progressive. Obama should really get a prize for the most even-handed - and beautifully worded - 'China-bashing' ever when it comes to the issue of climate change: "As we speak, cars in Boston and factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic, shrinking coastlines in the Atlantic, and bringing drought to farms from Kansas to Kenya.". That's powerful stuff. By mentioning Detroit he very cleverly suggests that China and the US are equally to blame for climate change - and yet he makes that claim look even-handed. Reality, of course, is different. It is the US, more than any country that needs to act - as no country on this planet has put more emissions in the atmosphere than the US of A. His commitment: "Let us resolve that all nations - including my own - will act with the same seriousness of purpose as has your nation, and reduce the carbon we send into our atmosphere." is a significant step. If taken literally, it commits America to reduce its emissions by 40% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels - as Germany has pledged to do .... Well, good! - Obama was at his most powerful when he stood up against discrimination and for common humanity. On a street that the Nazi's had used for their shameful propaganda, it did send a shudder down my spine to hear him say: "Will we give meaning to the words "never again" in Darfur?". The words: "The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down." are truly evocative - and couldn't be less like Bush. And his call for a nuclear weapon free world - which has not got much mention in the media coverage I have seen - was heartening. "This is the moment to begin the work of seeking the peace of a world without nuclear weapons." Indeed! - So, all in all, this was a speech of promise. This was a speech signifying "change" - even if most people who listened could not spell out what that means .... You missed the speech? Watch it here:

Donnerstag, 24. Juli 2008

Lies, 2% lies and easyjet ...

They should really start a '2% polluters club'. Members can be all companies, governments and people who try to shift the blame for climate change onto others by claiming: "But we only contribute two percent". Tony Blair has been one of the pioneers of this approach. Ignoring that the vast majority of emissions historically comes from the G8 countries, he is fond of saying: "Britain is more than playing its part. But it is 2 percent of worldwide emissions. Close down all, all of Britain's emissions and in less than two years just the growth in China's emissions would wipe out the difference". So much for leadership, historical responsibility or, quite pragmatically, the need for the developed world to show countries like China that development and climate protection can go together. Right wing columnist have taken up Blair's 'two percent campaign'. But the aviation industry is this club's leader (and cheerleader). Ignoring the fact that emissions from planes occur so high in the atmosphere that they contribute to global warming at two to four times the rate of emissions closer to Earth (such as those from cars), they, too, scream at every opportunity: "Climate change can't be our fault, we emit only two percent". That already today means at least 4-8% of climate impacts (if you want to be conservative about it) - and airline emissions are rising fast. - Indeed, I wonder if they will form a three percent club, when the relentless and shocking growth in global air travel means that the 2% lie cannot even statistically be maintained anymore. - Always a market leader, easyjet has taken the 2% argument to new propaganda extremes. They are currently running an advertisement campaign on the back of their airlines seats spreading the "it ain't our fault" myth (see picture; aviation is the tiny column on the very left). I nearly fell off my chair when I saw it. It looks reassuring. It looks like, really, it's eveybody else's problem. But it is just as false as other claims easyjet makes, such as being more fuel efficient than other airlines, or that UK passengers pay more than the environmental impacts of their flights in taxes. The opposite is the case; aviation is subsidized to the tune of 9 billion pounds in the UK alone. - Whether or not we will be able to constrain aviation emissions will - much like the question of coal use - decide whether we can make the emission cuts necessary to prevent climate chaos or not. So it's time to call the bluff of the 2% club. Anyone can lie with statistics, but aviation is a problem - and easyjet is too. There is no way around this inconvenient truth - even when sitting back on an easyjet chair looking at those colourful ads ...

Bush's legacy ...

Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency
Thanks to the Onion for this one.

Mittwoch, 23. Juli 2008

Decent organic beer from Spain to Switzerland!

You know that you have too much on your plate when you do not find the time to write about organic beer. Or at least that is the case for me. Thankfully, I have been drinking plenty - and sampling some new ones over the last few months as well. The most delightful beer experience was in Madrid (of all places), but Red has written all about that far more eloquently than I ever could. If you are ever in Madrid, do find the Naturbier brewery (nice German name ;-) ...) Red is standing outside of. It is well worth it! - If Spain can produce decent organic beer, it should come as no surprise that in German speaking lands, good organic beers are spreading a plenty. On a trip to Switzerland in March, I tried Naturperle, a beer from Appenzell, and found it delightful and refreshing. It is a light beer, so it should taste even better now in summer, slouched on a bench in a beer garden. It's the kind of beer that after a hot and sweaty day means instant relief and relaxation. - If you know me, you will know that I used to scream "Viva Chris Hani, Viva" (and the like) ... but that me uttering "Viva!" in relation to Bavaria is somewhat far fetched. But I have always admitted that Bavaria does have the best beers in the world (especially wheat beers). The "Viva Bavaria" brew by Riedenburger is no exception. In fact, it is exceptionally good and does deserve the 'Best of Bio' prize it won last year. Again, it is on the light, drinkable side, but with a strength of taste and falvour that the Naturperle can't quite muster. - This piece has lightness as its guiding thread ... and I am glad to report that, after the rye-wheat beer, I have managed to locate the new organic Pilsner by Stoertebeker breweries called 1402. It doesn't taste that old ;-). Rather, it tastes fresh and crisp. Of the beers presented here, though, it is my least favourite. For my taste, it is a little too light (or at least it was in spring when I tried it.) For the summer now, all three beers are highly recommended. And while the North Pole ice melts and climate change accelerates, there is at least one bit of good news to report: Organic beers are on the rise. And, by and large, they are pretty fine brews. I drink to that!

Dienstag, 22. Juli 2008

The Global Warming Swindle Swindle

The moment has been haunting me. A few weeks back, I saw the Global Warming Swindle DVD prominently displayed at my local video store. And I failed to say anything! I like the people behind the counter. They are poor wage slaves, anyway. They don't make the decisions about what gets displayed where. Rationalizations I can come up with a plenty. But: they are toss. There can be no excuse. It's moments of civic cowardice, like my silence, that make totalitarian regimes rise and thrive. It's silences, such as mine, that make rational people still believe that there is a debate to be had about climate change's existence. In reality, denying climate change today is like denying the Holocaust. It is just as false -and almost certainly more murderous. Climate change models do have uncertainties, for sure. But everything does! To not listen to climate science - and act on it! - is like not looking when crossing the road. You may overlook a car when you do. But to not do so, is simply madness. Even though, yes, of course, you can never be certain you will see all cars coming your way. (And I do realize that this analogy is, of course, completey inadequate: This example only kills you, if you are mad. But the madness of the climate deniers kills millions, and, worse, not usually them, but the poorest of the poor, especially in the developing world. Their irrationality is not just suicide, but, er, murder!) - I have to admit, when the Global Warming Swindle came out, I dismissed it. It was clearly the self-interested work of a man specializing in controversy at all cost. We had been there before with Against Nature. But when even friends started to ask me casually over lunch what I thought of "these prominent scientists who say that global warming is a hoax", I realized that I was wrong. Dangerously wrong. The real scientists, who had launched complaints against the Swindle's swindle, were right. And facts such as that 10 of the 16 interviewees for this Swindle film are associated with no less than 26 Exxon-funded groups to the tune of more than $11 million since 1998 do need to be heard at lunch tables around the world. - I identify, of course, with a desire, especially among middle-class intellectuals, to not give up debate. When based on a sceptical impulse, a determination not take anything for granted, that openness for debate is essential to democracy. But in the case of climate change, the democratic impulse gets turned on its head. It leads to a perception, even among those not denying climate change, that there is an "excessive consensus" in the media, when, in fact, the opposite is the case. The real, scary facts of climate change still, if anything, get underreported. Instead, the lunatics get a great deal of airtime. Just imagine that anytime someone claimed that cocain is dangerous, for example, the media felt obliged to also "put the other point of view" ... George Monbiot, I fear, is probably right when he argues that the scepticism - when it comes to climate change - is based on a much less laudible human desire: a psychological wish that all may not be as bad as it seems. "Faced with the overwhelming realities of climate change, people clutch at any reassurance. We want someone to tell us that everything will be alright, that we can carry on enjoying this marvellous feast of fossil fuels without adverse effects.". It is us, the (relatively) wealthy, educated middle-class, that will have to change most. It's us who have to give up holidays in far off places and invest our money in renewable energies rather than hand bags. We may not like that. Even I, clearly, do not always want to face up to the facts of climate change (but rather just quietly get a DVD on a Friday night). But unless we want to be knowingly complicit in murder, we have to act. Today, I will start by writing to my local video store about the Warming Swindle's Swindle. What about you? P.S. Great piece by the New Scientist on this issue here.

Freitag, 18. Juli 2008

Happy birthday, Nelson Mandela - the struggle continues!

Even if you have just spent a day there as a tourist: You do not forget Robben Island. Especially not, if you have had the privilege to tour the place with one of the ex-prisoners. I feel bad for having forgotten the name of the comrade who showed me around in 2002. But I do remember his detailed descriptions of torture - including electric shocks to his genitals. Harrowing descriptions, which left me speechless, angry, and awed all at the same time. He recounted the dehumanizing daily life in the prison calmly and without exaggeration. He admitted how hard it was, still, to live with those memories, burned into his body through physical pains he still feels today. - I am not at all sure, I could have forgiven the torturers and racists who presided over Robben Island prison. For having been able to do that - and inspire many others, like my guide, to do the same - for that fact alone, Nelson Mandela deserves all the praise that will be heaped upon him on his 90th birthday today. He is an exceptional human being, no doubt. He is an inspiration for all political activists, as he combines a firmness in principles and beliefs, with a thorough assessment of tactics, and a true humanity. - That said, the hypocrisy of everybody, including, say, Merkel and Bush, now falling over themselves to praise a man like Mandela, does sicken me. Merkel's party backed Apartheid. Much of the equipment, that was used to prolong Apartheid's unjust reign, was Made in Germany. In the eyes of the US, Mandela throughout the 80s and early 90s, was really just another bin Laden - another evil terrorist. Now, nobody wants to be reminded of this history, of course. Now, western leaders like to pretend that Mandela was a pacifist, like Gandhi, all his life. But that is not so. Aside from being a boxer, Mandela was leading an army when he was arrested. His study of tactics had convinced him, that there was no other way to bring liberation to his people. I personally think he was right. The ANC's armed struggle was an essential part of the successful decades-long struggle against Apartheid. It may make western leaders (and bleeding heart liberals) wince, but the violence before the healing and forgiving, that violence is also part of Mandela's legacy. On his 90th birthday we owe it to him, to remember all of his life, not just an edited version (as if made up by Hollywood). - Another part of the full story, of course, is the continued economic injustice (and xenophobia) in South Africa. Mandela, in the process of healing the nation's psychological wounds in the 1990s, was unable to shift the economic power structures in South Africa. In the pursuit of personal freedom for all, economic justice for all was sacrificed, delayed or, even worse, injustice cemented into the new era. The struggle for a just and free South Africa, therefore, continues. I like to think that Mandela recognizes that today. I like to think, also, that it will not be another 90 years before that struggle, too, is won. Happy Bithday, Mandela. P.S. And thank you for being Honorary President of the United World Colleges - as well!

Donnerstag, 17. Juli 2008

Wir scheissen Kreuzberg zu ...

Ich bin ein grosser Hundenarr. Aber Berlin leidet - mehr noch als andere Staedte - unter einer Lawine von Hundekacke. Mein Nachbar, der Restaurantbesitzer, bringt das Problem auf den Punkt:

Mittwoch, 16. Juli 2008

Activists released; time to investigate whaling fleet corruption - Greenpeace

They are out - for now. But the real scandal still needs to be investigated. For once, as I have been working hard on this in recent days, I take the liberty to just post a Greenpeace press release in full:

The two Greenpeace Japan activists, arrested and charged for intercepting a box of whale meat illegally smuggled off the Japanese whaling fleet, have been released on bail, after 26 days in custody. Late last evening, a panel of three judges in Aomori, Japan, granted the release of Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, after an attempt by the local prosecutor to appeal the same decision made earlier in the day. Only 10% of bail applications are successful in Japan. The two will be reunited with their families later today. Their trial date has not yet been set.

“We are extremely relieved that our two activists have finally been released. However, our biggest question remains unanswered: why did the Japanese Prosecutor drop his investigation into the compelling evidence of whale meat embezzlement by whaling crew members brought to him by Greenpeace?” said Frode Pleym of Greenpeace.

Earlier this year, working from information given by former and current employees of whaling fleet operator Kyodo Senpaku, Greenpeace tracked the offloading of smuggled whale meat from the factory ship Nisshin Maru destined for crew members' homes. One of four boxes destined for the same private address was intercepted and the contents checked. This box, containing up to US$3000 worth of prime meat, but labelled as containing “cardboard”, was displayed at a press conference on May 15th, before being turned over to the Tokyo District public prosecutor, who suddenly dropped his investigation on June 10, the day the two activists were arrested. “We call on the Government to reinstate its investigation into the corruption in the whaling fleet,” said Pleym. “What Greenpeace has exposed points clearly to a very big scandal at Japanese taxpayers’ expense and in clear breach of international rules concerning Japans so-called scientific whaling programme.” Since the two activists were arrested, there has been a growing outcry over their detention. More than 30 non-Governmental organisations have signed up to a statement of concern. On Monday, Amnesty International sent a strongly worded letter to the Japanese Prime Minister demanding the release of Junichi and Toru. Nearly a quarter of a million people have sent a message to the Japanese Government calling for the two to be released and for a renewed investigation into the whale meat embezzlement scandal, this was backed by 35 protests at Japanese embassies and consulates in 31 countries.

For the full dossier on the whale embezzlement scandal click here.

Samstag, 12. Juli 2008

Mediaspree versenken!

Tomorrow, there will be a vote on the future of Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain. One vision is that of the investors: Expensive offices and lofts and a sterile walk way along the river Spree. The other is a more messy, creative one. Loads of groups - from the far left to artsy, liberal architects - have come together to say: Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain is special. Especially due to its open spaces and diverse group of inhabitants. They say: We need change, but change that preserves that diversity. What we do not need is more O2 World's - and a bland, corporate landscape, as we can already witness, say, at Friedrichstrasse or Alexanderplatz. - I salute the great work that 'Mediaspree versenken', the local activist group, has done. Their 'boat protest' - as investors were visiting - is an instant classic. And this youtube video is also really good. Tomorrow, if you live in Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain: Ja zu A. Nein zu B. Und A bei C. Danke.

P.S. We won! This is first time Berlin stood up publicly and on mass against the corporate take over of its urban landscape. Brilliant! May there be many more such moments. Almost 90% voted against Mediaspree. That's a clear and unmistakeable signal to the local Greens and Left Party (who sadly backed the developers): Enough is enough!

Montag, 7. Juli 2008

G8 mermaid

The first crazy day at the G8 is coming to an end. It has been raining all day. But that's not the only reason why I wish I was in Thailand instead of this stuffy media centre. This year's summit is spread over several huge buildings (some of them with Disney-style restaurants. This is a ski resort after all!). Unlike at previous G8s, there is no real buzz. We NGOs are being kept far away from the media. Which is annoying: the media building 'proper' has all the free coffee, after all. And we can't overhear journalists saying "I need a comment on x" as easily as at last year's G8, for example. Mainly I would have loved to be in Thailand to meet the mermaid on the picture. Climate change will likely inundate it. If governments don't come to a decent agreement at another city famous for its mermaid. At Copenhagen in 2009! Thanks to Greenpeace Southeast Asia for this mermaid warning - on the road to Copenhagen! P.S. You can find more of my blogging from the G8 here.

G8 or bottled water - neither will save the world...

I hope my doctor doesn't read this blog. She ordered me to stay at home on Friday when I went to see her sneezing a lot and feeling that my head was going to burst. Yet here I am, in a strange ski resort in Hokkaido, Japan, trying to make sense of the weasle words with which the powerful try to hide that they have no answer to the problems we face. It's the G8. There was no way we were going to get someone else into the highly guarded media centre here. So here I am, wanting the world to at least know that, no, the G8 will not save the planet (unless they do all we demand here). My doctor will be pleased to hear, though, that I do try and look after myself. So, I try and drink a lot (and not beer this time). The first thing I did when I arrived at Sapporo airport yesterday was buy water. Which made me laugh. Here it was: The special G8 summit water (see picture). In a (non-returnable, obviously ...) plastic bottle. And yet, ready to save the world. You couldn't sum up the hyporcisy of the G8 summit much better, I thought!