Thursday, October 05, 2006

7/7: a very British bombing

John Reid's speech about 'extremist bullies' warping Muslim minds misses the point. Today's radical Islamists are made by mainstream society.

In his speech to the Labour Party conference in Manchester yesterday, home secretary John Reid won rapturous applause when he said Britain would not be `browbeaten' by radical Islamist `bullies'. `If we in this [Labour] movement are going to ask the decent, silent majority of Muslim men and women to have the courage to face down the extremist bullies, then we need to have the courage and character to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them doing it', he said. This follows a speech he made in London last week, in which he called on Muslim mums and dads to `look for the tell-tale signs' that their children might be turning radical, perhaps becoming `brainwashed by fanatics'.

It is a relief that the Labour government has finally begun to face up to the reality of what is referred to as `homegrown terrorism' - that Reid's Home Office seems to be taking more responsibility for rooting out terrorism, rather than leaving it all to the Foreign Office or, worse, the Ministry of Defence. In the years following 9/11, Western leaders and ministers deluded themselves into believing that contemporary Islamist terrorism was a foreign threat. Such violence, they claimed, was the work of weirdo Arabs or Asians raised on a diet of falafel and hatred for the West in some hot and dusty backwater of the Third World.

The bombings in London, however, executed by three men from Leeds and their friend from Huddersfield, blew British politicians back to reality. The atrocity opened their eyes to the fact that this violence is very often the work of Western-born or Western-educated bright young men who speak and think like us, and who live among us. The 7/7 bombers - like the 9/11 hijackers and Madrid bombers before them - were not poverty-stricken; nor were they aliens to the West. They lived here, benefited from Western education and jobs, and indulged in Western culture. Yet still they decided to kill themselves and others in a piece of nihilistic and bloody theatre.....

Reid continually talks about `radicalisation', which he sees as a kind of polluting of young minds by sinister Islamist individuals. The documentarist Peter Taylor, who has made films for the BBC about al-Qaeda, discusses `those who seek to radicalise' - presumably also referring to imams and other Islamists who exploit doubts about the war in Iraq, and also events such as the shooting of the innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes by anti-terrorist police officers in Stockwell, south London, two weeks after 7/7, in order to stir up the anger of Muslim youth.

So Taylor says that, after the killing of de Menezes, `those who seek to radicalise' presented his death in such a way that Muslims would believe `there was a shoot-to-kill policy and that any young Muslim is fair game'. Continuing with this theme of the radicalisers and the radicalised, who somehow stand apart from society, Taylor argues that the British authorities must `drain the water from the pond in which the alleged fish swim': `In other words, you have to get the communities on your side, the side of the state, if the so-called terrorists are to be identified and defeated.' He creates a powerful image of a `pond', an entity separate from mainstream British society, in which there is a polluted kind of water that poisons its inhabitants.

In fact, there is little evidence that the 7/7 bombers were radicalised by an imam, an al-Qaeda bigwig or any other foreign element. The government's report into 7/7, published in May, says of the 7/7 group: `Their indoctrination appears to have taken place away from places with known links to extremism.' (My emphasis.) In other words, not in Taylor's pond, but elsewhere. The report goes on to say that, yes, the bombers would have had the opportunity to attend lectures, watch videos and read material by extremists, `but it is not known if any did to any significant extent'. Rather, the four bombers seem to have `indoctrinated' themselves `through personal contact and group bonding'. This flies in the face of Reid's recent claims about Muslim kids being `brainwashed' by others. On the question of whether `those who radicalised' the four Brits may have been al-Qaeda leaders, the government report says there is still no evidence that any of them had `links to an al-Qaeda fixer': `There is no reliable intelligence or corroborative information to support [these claims].' Moreover, there is `as yet no firm evidence to corroborate.the nature of al-Qaeda support, if there was any'. In the case of 7/7, `those who radicalise' seem to have been the four young men themselves; they were self-radicalised.

Rachel Briggs of Demos has further pursued the theme of the 7/7 bombers' separation from mainstream British society. In a recent article, she favourably quoted a contributor to a recent Demos conference who talked about the `cocktail of ingredients' that have given rise to violent anger among some British Muslims: `foreign policy, perceived or real Islamophobia, poor attainment, lack of participation and representation..' Within `certain communities', this individual said, such ingredients can come together to create terroristic anger (note again the isolation of `certain communities').

Briggs writes of the `gulf between the state and Muslim communities' and of `the sense of alienation that [can] fuel violence'. Again, we are presented with a view of a distinct part of British society, which has been neglected by politicians and officials, and where, through a combination of factors, terrorism can fester and take root. Apparently such terrorism grows away from the mainstream, often unseen by officialdom.

In fact, the most striking thing about the 7/7 bombers' self-radicalisation is that it seems to have taken place, not in a privatised world created by radical Islam or governmental neglect, but in the public sphere and in the full view of mainstream society. The government's report says the bombers were not radicalised in mosques but in gyms, including a gym funded by local government money, and during outdoor sporting activities with other groups of individuals: `Camping, canoeing, white-water rafting, paintballing and other outward bound-type activities are of particular interest because they appear common factors for the 7 July bombers and other cells disrupted previously and since.' In other words, the bombers' radicalisation seems to have occurred during engagement with others, rather than stemming from a sense of alienation while sitting at home, and in a public space rather than in a private room in a mosque or anywhere else.

As Faisal Devji, author of Landscapes of the Jihad, argues: `These men [did not] cut themselves off from British society; instead their politics and their bonding are conducted in the full glare of public scrutiny.. Most of the London bombers' acts of bonding occurred in public - not in mosques but on rafting expeditions and at [paint-ball] shooting games, in clubs and gyms. There is nothing traditionally religious, or private, about that.'

There is something very new here. In the past, small violent sects or cults tended to separate themselves from the mainstream. For example, the People's Temple cult set up a bizarre commune in Jonestown, Guyana, in the mid-Seventies, where eventually 913 of them died in a mass suicide. David Koresh's cultish Branch Davidians also removed themselves from mainstream society; 76 of their members eventually died following an assault by armed FBI men. Or think of something like Charles Manson's murderous Family group which was formed in the late 1960s. Individuals involved in these kinds of groups tended to break off links with their families, refused to engage with society's institutions, and they often set up their own communities so that members could be exposed to sect-like thinking on an hourly and daily basis. This often had the effect of transforming individuals' thought patterns and behaviour, enabling them to carry out often horrendous acts of violence. For example, the Family's self-separation from the mainstream allowed them to transform into individuals capable of murdering a heavily pregnant woman (the actress Sharon Tate) and other civilians.

The 7/7 bombers, however, remained at the heart of the mainstream, living with their families, hanging out and playing cricket with their friends, attending anti-war marches, and using public outdoor sporting activities as an opportunity to bond. This suggests, very strongly, that they are a product of mainstream British society rather than of neglect or foreign radicalisation.

Getting their ideas from the mainstream

Even the bombers' political motivation - to the extent that we know about it - was a product of mainstream and contemporary trends, rather than being some strange, exotic religious duty or something `bullied' into them.

Both the 7/7 ringleader Mohammad Sidique Khan and his close friend and fellow bomber Shehzad Tanweer made `martyr videos', in which they expressed anger with Britain's foreign policy, especially, in Tanweer's words, with its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Peter Taylor argues that foreign policy failures, or at least perceptions of failures, were key to the `radicalisation' of the 7/7 group. He writes: `I have no doubt that Iraq is the single most important motivating, radicalising factor for young Muslims who are so disposed in this country, or the USA, or elsewhere.' Others argue that Western foreign policy actually nurtures al-Qaeda; it has `greatly helped al-Qaeda to achieve its goals by causing discussion, dissent, alienation and radicalisation in multi-ethnic communities in Western Europe'. Veteran left-wing commentator John Pilger went so far as to describe 7/7 as `Blair's bombs'.

Here, again, we have an idea that 7/7 was a largely foreign enterprise. The argument is that Britain and the West's foreign policy made some Muslims feel alienated and angry and led the 7/7 bombers to take violent action. It is argued that the bombers made an essentially political response to the war in Iraq: we are told they were `radicalised' by it, in a political and active sense. This misses the point about the terrorists' claims to have been motivated by foreign policy, which again is a mainstream response rather than any kind of peculiarly Muslim anger with wars overseas. The 7/7 bombers did not make an anti-imperialist strike against British foreign policy or Western imperialism more broadly; rather they were expressing a sense of disgruntlement with British life and politics through the issue of Iraq.

This is in no way unique. In the past three years, Iraq has become the issue through which many British citizens have experienced and expressed their sense of dislocation from public and political life, as evidenced in the gathering of one million citizens to protest against the war in Hyde Park, London, in February 2003. That was not a traditional anti-imperialist demonstration but a gathering of various strata of British society, from the young to the old, workers through to the middle classes, who claimed that they were `not being listened to' by the British government and felt increasingly distant from the Blairite project. The 7/7 bombers expressed this same, mainstream sense of angst with contemporary British life, only in a more violent form. There was nothing peculiar or original about their focus on foreign policy - that is the issue through which displeasure with or cynicism about the authorities is expressed in contemporary Britain. The bombers' violent outrage can be seen as a more bloody demand that government `listen to us and take our concerns seriously'.

In other ways, too, the 7/7 bombers, as well as other alleged radical Islamists, are products very much of mainstream British ideas. According to the government's report on 7/7, Sidique Khan, for example, was a strong believer in encouraging young people to stay fit and healthy. Apparently his talks to young Muslims, usually given in a gym, focused on `clean living, staying away from crime and drugs, and the value of sport and outdoor activity'. This script could have been written by any New Labour government apparatchik, who have made healthy living and sport into key planks of their interventionist policy to shape and mould our lifestyles.

For the government, promoting good health can very often turn into berating and even punishing those who are seen as unhealthy or obese or feckless. Could it be the same for radical Islamists? A group of British Muslim men from Crawley in West Sussex is currently on trial, accused of plotting a terrorist attack on British soil. It has been alleged that they discussed blowing up a nightclub or poisoning booze at football grounds. One of them allegedly said of nightclubs: `No one can put their hands up and say they are innocent... those slags dancing around.' A witness claims the gang also talked about `poisoning football fans by contaminating beer cans and burgers'. They also allegedly discussed blowing up the Bluewater shopping centre in north-east Kent, which, thanks to some pretty degraded media coverage and political attention has become famous (or perhaps infamous) as the haunt of `chavs'.

The truth of these allegations remains to be decided by a jury. But if anybody really did plot such things, then it seems to me they were more influenced by contemporary British culture than foreign Islamism. It has become de rigueur recently, particularly in political and media circles, to slate the working classes for their binge-drinking and generally bad behaviour. Officials fret over the sight of young girls in mini-skirts falling down drunk, while TV documentaries and newspaper articles expose the apparently seedy and violent life of `football hooligans'. It is also open season on chavs. One website, for example, refers to the Bluewater shopping centre as `the most chav-infested place on the face of the Earth', overrun by `the Burberry-clad hordes'. If a group of men did talk about attacking `slags', poisoning football fans and blowing up Bluewater chavs, they could very well have been taking their cue from mainstream fear and loathing of these sections of society rather than from some Pakistani `Mr Big'.

The politics of pity and identity

What of the 7/7 bombers' belief that they could speak and act on behalf of Muslims everywhere, the ummah? John Reid bemoans the attempts of certain radical Islamists to create `no-go areas' for British officials, where only Muslims will be welcome. Surely this shows that certain radical Islamists, and the 7/7 bombers themselves, were influenced by foreign al-Qaeda-style ideas about the need to stand up and fight for Muslims around the world?

Actually, even this aspect of the 7/7 bombers' actions was shaped much more by contemporary British and Western culture than it was by foreign radicalism. In Sidique Khan and his colleagues' belief that they, as Muslims, could represent all other Muslims, we can glimpse today's undemocratic politics of identity, which defines people by their origin and even skin colour rather than by their political convictions or allegiances.

Over the past 20 years, the politics of identity has superseded the old politics of left and right, replacing traditional collectivities with sectionalised communities which each apparently have their own needs and interests. The politics of identity plays down traditional democratic forms in favour of elevating personal experience as the defining factor of political action on the world. Thus, individuals can speak for others who share their identity, even if they were never elected by them, or have never even met them. As Munira Mirza has argued on spiked: `[I]n a world where any old hack can be called a "community leader", it is hardly surprising that [Khan and Tanweer] also thought they were qualified to speak [on behalf of all Muslims]. What Khan and Tanweer's terrible action shows is the price of endless, meaningless community consultation, where some people are rewarded political power for merely being the right skin colour or religion.'

Likewise, Khan and Co's decision to act on behalf of others, rather than for their own self-interest or for a democratic community, is a very mainstream form of political action. In our post-political, identity-directed era, a great number of groups claims to act in the interests of people they actually have few or no links with, and from whom they certainly have not won any kind of democratic mandate. So NGOs and charities claim to act on behalf of the people of Africa; Greenpeace and other environmentalist campaigners say they act to protect future generations, those who are not even born yet; anti-abortion campaigners act for the unborn; campaign groups like Fathers 4 Justice, despite being tiny in terms of membership and support, claim to act for all fathers; anti-poverty campaigners increasingly focus on the issue of child poverty, speaking, apparently, for those voiceless children neglected by society and possibly even their own parents.

Each of these groups presumes to represent great numbers of people even though they have never submitted their ideas or personnel to the rigour of any kind of mass elective process. At a time when political collectivities and solidarities are in decline, we can see the emergence of a new, profoundly anti-democratic politics of pity - a politics which vicariously, and often patronisingly, campaigns for others who are apparently less able to articulate their grievances, rather than for a self- or community interest. The 7/7 bombers did precisely the same: they acted for all oppressed Muslims, without first consulting them or even trying to win support for their actions within their local communities or families. They were a product of identity politics and victim culture more than radical foreign Islamism....

The 7/7 bombers were no foreign infiltration; nor were they necessarily the product of having been neglected by the mainstream. Rather, they were the mainstream: their political thought and their style of action were shaped by contemporary British ideas and values. From their bonding in public places to their adoption of Iraq as the issue through which to express their dislocation, from their narcissistic elevation of identity to their use of the body for transcendence, their terrorist act was made here at home. It was literally homegrown terrorism. The 7/7 bombers, like other radical Islamists, were moulded by the same politics of identity and angst, and the same suspicion of modern life, that is widespread in Western societies - and which expresses itself in less violent forms in anti-capitalist protests, green movements, new religious movements and other contemporary outfits. What distinguishes radical Islamists, of course, is their use of often horrendous violence. This can be seen as a consequence of the fact that radical Islamism, unlike other contemporary identities, provides its adherents with a distinct sense of being outsiders, and with readymade, off-the-peg identities that allow them to contextualise their very Western disgruntlement as being part of some seemingly grand war between Muslims and infidels.

John Reid and others need a second reality check on homegrown terrorism. They should stop looking for explanations overseas, and explore what the 7/7 bombings and the fashion for radical Islamism reveals about Britain and the West today. 7/7 was less an attack from without than a scream of rage from within, where the thought and action of contemporary society was turned against that very society; it was less evidence of any kind of `clash of civilisations' and more the consequence of the decline and fall of Western civilisation and its move into a new era of identity, narcissism and malaise. The 7/7 atrocity was a very British bombing

More here

Down with carbon colonialism

Did you know that the money you donate to carbon-offsetting schemes is often spent on programmes that stifle development in the Third World?

`When you drink one, Africa drinks one too.' So says the Onederful advertisement on hoardings around London, promoting a new soft drink for the caring executive classes. `All profits', it boasts, `go to build unique roundabout water pumps'. While you quench your thirst after a workout in the gym, children in Africa are getting a workout in order that they can have a drink. These water pumps, celebrated in Cameron Sinclair's latest book Design Like You Give A Damn, are designed to look like a children's roundabout. Ingeniously, each playful rotation raises water from a well, and so youngsters can now do something socially responsible instead of just playing selfishly for themselves.

But regardless of the paternalistic pretension of this scheme (this roundabout is nothing other than a hand pump), and its deception (this is child labour dressed up as doing children a favour), this is a way of acclimatising the Third World to their own lack of development and infrastructure. Children in developing countries want iPods like anyone else, but schemes such as this alter the existing situation just enough that their poverty doesn't look so bad to the Western eye.

Back in the Eighties, Bob Geldof's Live Aid threw down a conscious challenge to the public to `Give us your fucking money'. Not very diplomatic and more than a little contemptuous; but at least he was prepared to engage us and try to earn our money. More recently, charities and campaigns have been searching for more novel, reflexive or unconscious ways to be charitable. Tapping into Western consumer culture is the latest hassle-free method of charitable giving. This is charity without the inconvenience of inconvenience, without the annoyance of having to convince someone of the merits of the case. While this avoids the hassle of engaging in why the organisation's work is important, it also circumvents the possibility of more active engagement.

This model was best exemplified by Bono's RED designer Motorola mobile phone. Buying a phone anyway? Why not buy this trendy one for a little bit more and the proceeds will let a black baby live for another day or two. No skin off your nose (see Why the new Amex card makes me see RED, by Daniel Ben-Ami).

Subverting the everyday into a political act still needs some kind of acknowledgement - hence the need for some recognisable object that indicates what has been done: a wristband, a phone, or a credit card. `Brand Aid' provides a way to contribute without interrupting your daily life, while those in the know will be aware that you've done your bit.

Climate change: a feelgood crisis

The latest stage in this creeping process of unwitting charitable activity makes Bono's sanctimoniousness sound positively engaging. As Africa has slipped down the political agenda, climate change has moved centre stage as the ultimate feelgood crisis. This is a moral dilemma with no argument needed; there is general agreement, it seems, that global warming is potentially devastating and that `something has to be done'.

A quarter of a century ago, Geldof saw people as part of the solution - his beef at the time was with intransigent politicians. Today, aid agencies, especially those working on environmental projects, frequently see people as the problem. The more consumer-driven, modern or economically advanced we become, the more we are deemed to be harming the future of the planet. The consequences of seeing ordinary actions and lifestyles as inherently detrimental to the planet are paradoxical, reinforcing both a sense of self-loathing as well as a moral piety. The Guardian offers some assistance in that `if you really can't, or don't want to, change your lifestyle to reduce the damage you do to the planet, you could consider doing something to offset it'.

Eco-aid giving has now been turned into a contemporary form of absolution, saving you from the guilt of the modern world, best exemplified by `carbon offsets'. Whatever you do, from driving a car to taking a holiday to boiling a kettle of water, gives rise to carbon emissions. Having fewer cups of tea is one way of reducing your `carbon footprint' (the amount of carbon that you produce through your actions) and is seen as a positive objective. Having a zero-emissions (or even a positive feedback) effect is even better. Planting a tree, for example, will help produce oxygen and remove some CO2 from the atmosphere. Powering your home from your own wind turbine or solar cells can mean that surplus power can be fed back into the system resulting in a net positive carbon impact.

Ironically, these environmental organisations assume that we are so wrapped up in Western consumer culture that change has to be engineered through the subversion of that very consumer culture. Thus, environmental groups are now using consumerism - the traditional object of their ire - as a way of legitimating their programme of activities without the consumer necessarily knowing about it. This cynical approach to funders - or donors as they used to be called - is surely a new low in the long history of environmental contempt for consumers.

The real irony, of course, is that most of these campaigning organisations are large businesses themselves. ClimateCare, for example, `was the idea of eco-entrepreneur Mike Mason'. Brian Wilson, who was energy minister in Blair's government until 2003, recently became the chairman of the UK operations board of Airtricity, the Irish-based renewable energy company constructing windfarms all over Ireland and beyond. Both Land Rover and British Gas have bought into ClimateCare's programme of offsets.

The non-executive board members of CarbonNeutral comprise a venture capitalist, an investment banker and an ex-manager at Shell. These examples show that big business is content to do business with environmentalists - and why not? After all, these environmental companies are proper moneymaking concerns that are gratefully receiving your donations.

For some eco-businesses, instead of developing a profitable business plan to encourage shareholder investment (with the attendant awkwardness of accountability), or to manufacture and sell useful products to raise capital, they prefer to use donations to prop up their organisations. Others prefer to provide their more discerning clientele with a carbon-free environmental service as an added-value treat. Still others are diverting resources into lo-tech (carbon-free) technologies as a way of capturing a new market share. Carbon neutrality is, for all businesses, simply an exercise in corporate social responsibility.

Passive giving

So combining the worst elements of all the previous trends with a few new ones, environmental campaigners are now asking people to `donate' in the most passive way possible. Students at Linacre College, Oxford may not realise that Thabit Al-Murani, their student environmental representative, has pledged around 1,250 pounds of their funds to ClimateCare to make the college the first carbon neutral college in Oxbridge

The Carbon Footprint agency (motto: `It doesn't cost the Earth to save the planet') has done a number of deals with third parties to make saving the planet as painless as possible. For example, you can join WeightWatchers and Carbon Footprint will offset 1500kg of CO2; or 2500kg when you subscribe to dating agency. What does this mean? Well, in simple terms, will give a sum of money, via Carbon Footprint, to a carbon neutral campaigning group to do good works. The financial sum has been assessed as the cost of whatever is needed to absorb an equivalent amount of carbon that has been emitted as part of your everyday activities. In the past it might have been called a discount, whereas now it is disguised as an ethical trade-off.

The World Land Trust (WLT) is offering to offset 140kg of your despicable carbon usage if you simply send them a text message. What could this mean? Well, simply that the text nets WLT 1.50 pounds (after network charges have been deducted) and they will plant a tree to the equivalent amount (about a twigful). Call me cynical, but the WLT is a conservation organisation whose very raison d'etre is to plant trees around the world, so it all seems like a canny way to get more cash and a higher profile. And while they boast that `you can sleep soundly, safe in the knowledge that we have taken care of [your emissions] for you', it offers texters the chance to win `free carbon neutral flights to Tenerife'. Climate Relief, on the other hand, will send an unsuspecting friend a 20 pound gift voucher worth 100kg emissions. Ideal for the man who has everything.

The Observer claims that if you've done 120 school runs in a 4x4, then 1.50 pounds should be enough to clear your conscience and if you buy your 4x4 from then they'll offset 3 tonnes of carbon (5). (Before you get too excited, this salesman patter simply nets the equivalent of a 30 pound discount.) If you are planning on holding an event to explain all this, the WLT (not to be confused with the Woodland Trust) asks for a `contribution of 1,000 pounds or above [to] offset the CO2 travel and venue emissions [sic] from a business conference or training event.' But for the really guilty, they suggest that `an investment of o20,000 or above can offset at least 800 tonnes of carbon dioxide (close to the annual heating and lighting-related emissions of 140 households)' (6). Presumably, then, this is what used to be called a `subsidy' to shore up a company, but now it is an `investment' in the future of the planet. And it can be done from your home with the minimum of fuss or involvement.

It is reputed that each tree planted by one of these company's offsets about 730kg CO2 over its lifetime, whereas each person actually uses/ creates about 7,000kg per year (500 tonnes a lifetime). So model citizens should plant 10 trees per year for the rest of their lives. As it happens, temperate forests in developing countries such as the US, UK and Canada have actually been expanding over the past 40 years, so things aren't as black as they're painted, even in the terms of the debate. However, let not the facts get in the way of an ecological bandwagon.

You don't even have to be a charity or eco-company to do it. BP has launched a new non-profit initiative called TargetNeutral to counter the fact that `a typical motorist will generate around four tonnes of CO2 over 10,000 miles, which would cost o20 to offset'. Simply pull up at a service station, fill up and if you are using one of their loyalty cards, you can automatically pay the sum to TargetNeutral and BP will match it. You haven't got to do a thing; it's automatic. If you're not yet convinced, rest assured that Jonathan Porritt, chair of the UK Sustainable Development Forum will be part of `an independent panel' to oversee its actions. Mind you, BP isn't totally convinced, asking: `Is BP genuine in trying to tackle the problem of global warming, or is it simply a PR stunt that jumps on the green bandwagon? We'd like to hear from you.' If you buy into BP's selfless motives, your money goes to fund wind turbine projects in India and Mexico that BP are committed to building anyway. But any extra cash wouldn't go amiss.

Carbon colonialism

Carbon trading is everywhere, from estate agents to gifts, from insurance products to pension schemes. Take the figures with a pinch of salt though, because they are, effectively, made up. Lots of websites have set up basic software programmes to allow you to assess your impact on the planet, but there seems to be little consistency. CO2Balance also say that o9-worth of CO2 emissions (0.16 tonnes) are caused by travelling 600 miles in a 1.4L petrol-engine car, whereas ClimateCare says that the same car journey racks up 0.18 tonnes of CO2, costing 1.35 pounds. Then again, Carbon Footprint assess it as 0.149 tonnes, which can be offset `by planting 0 trees'. The Scotsman suggests that driving 12,000 miles in a family saloon releases 3.6 tonnes and costs just o20, whereas Newcastle Council states that one tonne of CO2 offset costs 13.65 pounds . So it seems that if you shop around, you can get some good deals. but maybe that'll just make you feel even more guilty.

Obviously, the basis of carbon trading schemes is that they can't offset carbon produced in the West, say, by investing in a technology that produces carbon emissions in the offset country. That would be `irresponsible'. Therefore all of these agencies that have sprung up over the past five or so years are engaged in low- or alternative-technology projects in the under-developed world.

ClimateCare, for instance, invests in low or zero-carbon emissions projects in Kazakhstan, among other places. Here, the silly Kazakhstanis use `traditional incandescent lights in buildings' but by donating to ClimateCare, you are investing in a project called `Education for Sustainability and Climate Change in Central Asia' which delivers `workshops to 98 schools to teach children about climate change. supported by posters, CDs and a teachers' handbook.' The project partners are `developing a monitoring and verification plan', implying that if the scheme doesn't meet target objectives then something'll have to give. Oh, and they can forget about real development using more carbon intensive and effective technology.

ClimateCare also funds projects in India, where it is encouraging villagers to stop using forest wood for fuel so that the indigenous tiger's habitat is preserved; or it employs 400 people in Uganda to clear grassland to plant trees to satisfy the needs of the indigenous primate population. Did you know that you were funding a scheme that promotes wildlife over people - even wildlife that eats people? And what's that got to do with climate change? Given that the carbon offset scheme is premised on the fact that human activity is endangering nature, I suppose that it is a small and logical step to put animals before people.

There are many such examples. United by the allusion to the nobility of the indigenous tribespeople, or the overseeing and monitoring of their performance in the carbon-offset programmes, these initiatives seem faintly colonial. In Mayer Hillman's book, How We Can Save The Planet, he argues that giving carbon credits on an equal individual basis across the globe would be a win-win situation for everyone. While we in the West, he argued, may not be so keen to give up our living standards, what does a person in the Third World want with all those carbon credits? After all, they have no car, phone or significant travel plans. This leaves them `free' to sell the credits off to salvage the conscience of the West. Unfortunately, the consequential maintenance of underdevelopment is the real truth behind carbon offset schemes, and one that, unsurprisingly, the marketing managers don't really want you to know about.

Carbon offsets are premised on the notion that modern lifestyles are inherently damaging to the planet: that you are part of the problem. If you agree, then the answer is simple: reduce your consumption, only travel locally (using muscle power), campaign against housebuilding and give generously to the Third World for schemes that treat the environment as sacrosanct. However, bear in mind that even the water-pump roundabout in Africa, paid for by the profits of a bottled water company in the West, can't really be argued to be zero carbon. After all, the collective CO2 exhalation of malnourished children forced to push a massive playground roundabout in order to extract water is bound to contribute in some small way to the melting of the polar icecaps.

If, however, you think that the under-developed world needs development, then the CO2 equation has to be put on the back burner. The chief priority is to encourage the liberation of millions of people from grinding poverty, not to make them guilty about wanting the material standards that the West has.

Once the under-developed world starts developing, we will encourage an enlightened view of humanity. Similarly, a more enlightened view of humanity can kickstart that development. Meeting this dialectical challenge requires a human-centred, rather than an eco-centric, view of the world. Once we reclaim this agenda for humanity, only then might there be scope for setting a positive agenda for change to deal with environmental factors. At the moment, sanctifying the environment, combined with an anti-humanist guilt, keeps half the world in penury while the other half ponders their purchasing decisions. Unfortunately, consumer choices and carbon offsets are designed to maintain the iniquitous status quo, and make you feel good about it.


"Dangerous" Information

We read:

"Sophisticated ultrasound scans that show foetuses as early as 12 weeks appearing to "walk" in the womb have had a dangerous impact on the public debate over abortion, leading doctors and scientists said yesterday.


Ireland no longer "British"

We read:

"It may be 57 years too late for many an Irish republican, but yesterday Folens, the publishers, said it was introducing a more "correct" version of its school atlas that would no longer include Ireland as part of the British Isles....

John O'Connor, managing director of Folens, said that no final decision had yet been taken as to what would replace the British Isles title in the relevant section, but it might be simply Ireland and England - although that would risk the wrath of the Scots and the Welsh.


Must not Call Political Opponents "Autistic"

Even if they do seem that way

We read:

"The Shadow Chancellor was accused of mocking hundreds of thousands of people with learning difficulties after he joked that Gordon Brown was autistic.


The journalist to whom the remark was made explains it here. The "incorrect" politician was of course a Conservative.

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