The energetic society

Sometimes we need to ask simpler questions. “What is the problem we’re trying to solve?

I like Maarten Hajer’s take [pdf]. We’re part of an energetic society. The world’s spinning fast. Our politicians and legislators can’t keep up. For government it’s time for new governance philosophy.

Examples: Unworkable and meaningless internet privacy laws. Unworkable and close to meaningless proposals for media regulation. A legitimacy gap, an inability to learn and policy implementation that leaves society behind. Or rather, out in front.

At the heart of the matter is the view from government of society as a static object; problems are caused by society therefore this (passive) society requires governance.

Societies are far from passive. Contemporary society is an energetic society. We’ve got ADHD. And the net result is that we have not only given up on our political institutions, we are bored of them. Totally. The institutional actors and the architecture of the state simply cannot keep up, and we are not willing to slow down. Citizens are articulate. And can articulate at increasing speed.

So, and I mean this in as technologically non-deterministic terms as possible, this is about how the flow of information is changing the relationship between the government and the public. For good.

Three deficits of state are proposed.

A legitimacy deficit
The government want to take action, but the citizens don’t have the information. The government fails to bring the citizens along with them. See the current energy debate in the UK for an example of this.

A learning deficit
Strong government orientation means there is little room for new learning within the government. In Ireland think of the cognitive dissonance of (relatively) moderate Fine Gael TDs caught in the abortion debate cross hairs. Society has moved forward, and through decentralised communication, a collective lightbulb has gone off. The politicians meanwhile are stuck looking at old dog-eared election manifestoes, wondering why they haven’t been kept in the loop. The old linear policy cycle of issue, solution proposal, definition, implementation has broken down and our politicians can’t cope.

An implementation deficit
Finally, in a society of articulate citizens, it is increasingly difficult to force policy implementation.

The implications of these deficits have profound effects on those who would change government policy. There is an AC/DC misalignment between those who would be heard, and those who don’t know even how to listen.

So Hajer poses the question: can the government tap into the energy of the energetic state? Government has a choice. It can attempt to get the energetic society on side, or it can oppose it, either purposefully – think the UK internet privacy bill – or by ignoring the tumult all around it and carrying on with business as usual.

Perhaps the more interesting choice lies with those who seek to change society and believe that that change lies on a path which winds through the institutions of government. For this group of lobbyists, unions, NGOs and CSOs, addressing these deficits must form part of any change strategies.

Their job isn’t to proscribe the best course of action to an energetic society, but rather to capture its energy.

As a dynamo borrows the kinetic power of a wheel and lights the path ahead, there is a role for CSOs to focus the force of the energetic society. The danger is that this focusing retards, slows and tries to match the pace of government. But get it right, and the benefits are clear.

Participation is a form of control, and 15 other things I learned in Trondheim

Norway Curling Pants

Three days with CenSES in Trondheim, Norway.
Here are some things I learned:

  1. Who’s got the gold? Norway’s got the gold. And it’s distributed. Every monetary transaction is thick with some variety of social glue. There’s an in-your-face distribution happening five times per day per person. And once I turned off my internal currency calculator it felt okay.
  2. All of which means everybody, every day, literally buys into Society. Maybe.
  3. But they don’t talk about the oil so much.
  4. 99% of Norway’s electricity comes from hydro. That must be nice.
  5. A smart grid switch-on has been legislated for 2017 (That’s going to be tough).
  6. But nobody knows why. End users don’t want it. Energy producers don’t get it. Grid operators don’t want to pay for it. Big plays on end-use energy in this energy-rich environment make no sense. There’s a study in there somewhere on how policy motivations form, are enacted, and then completely forgotten about.
  7. “We’re Norway, we don’t need renewables.” True quote. Only slightly paraphrased.
  8. Norwegian academics are beyond hospitable. Takk!!!
  9. The locals are *very* proud of Gro Brundtland and Norway’s international climate leadership. Okay, but guys, about that oil…
  10. Turns out Norway, and not Dame Street Dublin, is the home of Spar. The “Spar roll” however is definitely an evolutionary Irish innovation.
  11. There’s a tonne of interesting research to be done criss-crossing multiple levels of governance, innovation and a (sub?)politics that is increasingly distributed. Some of this is going on at CenSES.
  12. Rohracher’s work on civil society orgs gets this. So does Raven, Smith and Kern’s [pdf] work on the protective spaces of innovation niches. Though lots of work still to be done on empowerment.
  13. I’m sceptical of Sørensen’s reiteration of Jasanoff’s (2011) call for policy makers/advisors/actors to replace ‘truth’ with ‘relevance’ when going about their evidence-based policy making business. Not sceptical of its merit, but its execution.
  14. Bruno Latour can also write brief and to the point papers. His response and de Vries’ initial challenge ($) on sub politics worth checking out. So nice to have other people set reading once in a while.
  15. A week of -10 and sunny beats +5 and wet.
  16. Participation is a form of control.

And one question for further research maybe

  • Can civil society organisations provide oppositional forms from and integrated distributed centre, do they need to remain at, or partly at the edges, or none of the above? More to follow…

An Irish wedding: The case for growth

Someone else's wedding

Someone else's wedding

Two weeks ago I returned home to Ireland for the wedding of my cousin Stephen. I’m inclined to turn down more wedding invitations than accept, but this was family. And as with Irish family weddings it was large, loud, late and full of, well, family.  The O’Donovan family tree numbers 19 branches at grandchildren level and all but one were in town to welcome Stephen’s bride to our midst. But the gathering, like all the best in life, was a fleeting affair. As  hangovers receded the morning after, we checked out of the hotel and went our  ways,  journeying back to Canada, Spain, Scotland, London, Brighton and beyond. Sometime later this year 11 of 19 will be living abroad. Some won’t ever return to live. Some simply can’t. This is Ireland, 2012.

Two weeks from now Ireland votes on the  European Fiscal Compact. And what  started as a referendum pitched locally as a debate about whether Ireland should repay  boom time lending arrears to German banks, now carries with it political ramifications that stretch across the continent and will last a generation. The Fiscal Compact is not simply about unserviced debts on loans that should never have been made. It’s about our approach to society, jobs and decent living standards for all, and ultimately the relationship we have with our governement, both local and European.

But what’s most striking in this moment, is the incredible opportunity in front of  all of us  right now. If the eurozone is serious about growth, it can have it. That was the headline of my SPRU collegue Mariana Mazzucato’s comment piece in today’s Guardian. Growth, and thus increased prosperity for all of Europe, comes not from “structural reforms”, or cuts, but from investment:

“Companies invest to make profits and grow. Evidence shows those which invest more in new technology, human capital and research and development, and are located in countries where public spending in these areas is high, are able to produce more competitive and better value products.

“Italy has not grown for the last 10 years, mainly because its public and private sector did not make key investments in factors that increase productivity. Its debt-to-GDP ratio rose because its growth rate was so much lower than the interest it paid on its debt. And Greece grew in the 90s not because it was making smart investments but because badly directed European structural funds allowed it to get away with not making them. Once those funds expired, so did the false growth.

All the cuts in the world aren’t going to bring Italy or Greece back to growth they never really had. And if Greece presses the nuclear button and exits the Eurozone entirely, as Martin Wolf puts it in today’s FT, ”the belief that countries can starve themselves back to health, in the absence of economic expansion and probably higher inflation in the core, would have to be abandoned.”

A week ago I was put in touch with a small group of people in Ireland who had had enough of this austerity dogma. Having seen the tide starting to turn following the elections in Greece and France, Ireland is in danger of committing to a treaty which was the wrong medicine for the wrong patient. As Europe starts to turn, slowly, to growth, Ireland is in danger of locking the out of date policies of radical austerity into its constitution.

And yet, other than the extreme left and even extremer right, the political establishment in Ireland follows meekly this single austerity line. The media despite some exceptions is not far behind. Yet more than one third of voter haven’t committed to either side yet. Over 40% of Labour’s supporters are planning to break their party’s line. Clearly, despite coherent leadership, the Irish people are sensing that the time for austerity is gone.

So over the past week, I’ve done what I can to help get this growth message out, building a website at (with some very talented friends) and on it  a voter declaration, where people all over Ireland can give each other the encouragement to stand up against a prevailing orthodoxy and make a responsible decision on May 31st.  Our message is simple, let’s not miss this opportunity. A ‘no’ vote puts Ireland at the centre of the movement for a better Europe.

So if you’re of voting age and Irish, I urge you to sign, and pass the message on the friends and family. If you haven’t been graced with such good fortune as to have a harp on your passport, leave a message of support on the site and on our Facebook page. For the next two weeks the people of Ireland have the opportunity to play the lead in the call for new growth policies in Europe. Together, let’s make sure we get as many as possible out of the wings and onto the stage. And here’s hoping that next time the O’Donovan cousins meet up for a wedding, we don’t all have to travel quite so far.

Ireland’s chance to lead Europe: Can you help?

On May 31st every voter in Ireland has an opportunity few Europeans have been given. Ireland goes to the polls and gets to say yes or no to a referendum on accepting the Fiscal Treaty. In other words, Irish people get to decide whether the Austerity ideology that stretches from Osborne to Merkel to the IMF continues, or whether a line in the sand gets drawn by individual European citizens.

Most progressive Irish people are against this treaty and the austerity trap it would create. After four years of job losses, emigration and negative equitiy there’s a sense of dependence on Europe. No one likes it, but it’s hard to feel responsible opposing it.

BUT, unlike their governments, the people of France and Germany have shown the way. The recent elections there are a game-changer. It’s clear that there’s deep seated opposition to Austerity throughout Europe. That it’s time to put a Growth alternative back on the agenda.
An Irish rejection of the treaty could be an essential boost to this cause and its European allies.

Unfortunately in Ireland right now there’s a huge leadership vacuum. Mainstream progressives have reservations about aligning with Sinn Féin or the United Left Alliance. But if they saw a sensible, independent place to come together to show and build opposition to the treaty, they would jump at the chance.

A new surge of mainstream, independent, domestic opposition is essential to shift the government’s calculation. And if the vote goes ahead as scheduled, a new grassroots surge is the only hope of building enough opposition to defeat it.

Over the next few weeks I will be giving what time I have to try to bring some of these people together, to create the tools and resources needed to get the message out and help hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland give each other the confidence to vote No to the Austerity treaty and help create a Growth agenda which will benefit Europeans everywhere. Can you help? We need a simple website built, some design work, the word spread on social networks and plenty of encouragement. If you have any time over the next few weeks, please, get in touch cian -at- And those not lucky enough to be born of Ireland are all the more welcome!

10 ideal attributes of Alinsky’s activist

Typical Alinsky trainee activist
Pic (cc) Alyssa A Miller

Saul Alinsky’s list of ideal attributes of the organiser/activist

  • Curiosity
  • Irreverence
  • Imagination
  • A sense of humour
I’d look for these first four characteristics in just about anyone; campaigners, teachers, artists and especially friends. And then I’d place “sense of humour” at the top and “irreverence” absolutely at number two. That’s a healthy attitude to life. Here’s the rest of the list:
  • A bit of a blurred vision of a better world
  • An organised personality
  • A well-integrated political schizoid
  • Ego
  • A free and open mind, and political relativity
  • The ability to constantly reinvent the new from the old
Any others come to mind?

This is what “member driven” looks like

NHS Petition Hand-in: Nick Clegg

Earlier this month I started working with 38 Degrees, the member driven campaign organisation. Friday was my first day in the field. I travelled to Sheffield to meet some of our members themselves on their way to meet their MP, Nick Clegg. I was blown away. Whatever preconception I brought into job about who a typical 38 Degrees activist was firmly put in its place. I met 30 very different people with bound by a single goal, saving our NHS.  Hopefully I can bring something to the table, the people I met last week certainly did.


One Week, One Book. Repeat x52

bookshelf spectrum, revisited
Photo (cc) chotda

A book per week for a year. Yeah maybe I’ll give that a go some time, when I have some time maybe. I had a whole bundle of excuses at the start of 2010, most of them still valid, but none of them any longer convincing. So four months into the year I’m still just about on track. Here’s the listing.

  1. News from Nowehere, William Morris (1890). What if instead of turning right during the first half of the 20th century, the UK turned left. Rid itself of the monarchy and all forms of government and ascended into a communitarian utopia. Morris puts down the scissors and safety glue and answers just that question.
  2. The Third Policeman, Flann O’Brien (1940). Alice in Wonderland with whiskey, porter and bicycles. Genius.
  3. The European Union as a Leader in International Climate Change Politics, R. K. W. Wurzel and James Connelly (2011). Okay, back to reality with a bang. If the EU can be described as reality. This is a book I have wanted for the past year, the ultimate primer on what the governance institutions of the EU are doing about climate change, along with chapters on major nation state players such as Germany, the UK and France.
  4. Mao II, Don De Lillo (1991). If you’ve read nothing by De Lillo read Underworld. If you’ve read Underworld go get Mao II. Typically “Great American” in its vantage point, De Lillo takes two of that continent’s most enigmatic artists, J.D. Salinger and Andy Warhol, and uses them as inspiration for a contemplation on individualisation and the crowd at the end of the 20th century.
  5. The Story of a Hedgeschool Master. Eugene Watters (1971). Educating catholic children was illegal in 17th century Ireland. This didn’t stop the emergence an estimated 8,000 hedgeschools, which are exactly what they sound like. This is the story of such a school and its European trained teacher.
  6. How to Win Campaigns, 2nd ed, Chris Rose (2010). Chris did a lot of work with us at 10:10. You can take or leave his approach to value based campaigning, but there’s lots here of value to campaigners or indeed anyone working with public opinion.
  7. Chasing the Flame, Sergio Vieira de Mello, Samantha Power (2008). Speaking of change, Sergio was a guy who made a difference in a big way. Total hero who one suspects was not your typical UN aid worker.
  8. Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air. David McKay (2009). Solid numbers on where the UK’s energy demand is and where that demand could be met if we were to go all renewable.
  9. State of Fear, Michael Crichton (2004). A slightly less believable thriller than Jurassic Park.
  10. White Shroud. Poems 1980 – 1985. Allen Ginsberg (1986).
  11. Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (1913) James Joyce. “If only we knew”, the refrain repeated across Ireland as Catholic abuses were uncovered throughout the Eighties and Nineties. Seems like Joyce was well aware of the huge amount of power
  12. Poke the Box. Seth Godin (2011). Godin sold this e-book for $1 if you bought before the release date. Great model, great value and one important lesson; your idea is nothing until it ships.
  13. The Net Delusion. How not to Liberate the World. Evgeny Morozov (2010). Morozov urges his readers away from a reductionist viewpoint that would give Twitter and Facebook credit for Arab revolutions this Spring. But in doing so he’s guilty of employing plenty of technocratic reductionist arguments himself. Which is a shame, because this is one of those books that could truly be labeled “important”.
  14. Communication Power. Castells (2009). A great follow-up to Morozov and one which illustrates just how important a role our communications systems play in shaping and aggregating power in society. To change society we need to understand it, this book’s going to help.
  15. Memoirs of a Minor Public Figure. Des Wilson (2011). Three reasons to read: 1) Wilson was one of the originators of the single issue campaign in the mid-sixties. 2) Wilson created and saw success on a huge number of campaigns over four decades. 3) Oh, and he was also a key protagonist in the SDP, Liberal Party merger. He doesn’t often admit fault but provides interesting background nevertheless.
  16. The Golden Notebook. Doris Lessing (1962) currently reading…

I’ll update this as I go through the year. And I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on the books themselves. So if you have an opinion, or a suggested book, let me know.



Photo (c) TwestivalTunis on Flickr

When were you last inspired by something? I mean real inspiration, not just the hazy feeling of empathy towards some distant cause or impressive endevour. The way soundtracks are “inspired by” movies and shampoo scents “inspired by” forest fragrances .

I’m writing about  the type of inspiration that makes the hairs stand up on the back of our neck. No really, I mean actually stand up. That makes us not just sit up and think, but  that changes the outcome of those yes/no decisions that slowly add up to our lifetimes.

Doesn’t happen very often does it? So we should pay attention when it comes our way. Because inspiration that is not followed by action doesn’t inspire anyone, and perhaps real inspiration is the ultimate viral message.

So when was the last time you were inspired by something, really inspired? Got it in the front of your mind, good, now, go do something amazing about it.

Controlling the Energy Discourse: Round One – Big Nuclear

Looks like the first battle in the war to control the unfolding nuclear narrative has been won by the incumbents, the nuclear lobby. If CJR is to be believed they’ve set the table from which the media is now working, in the US at least.

The term “nuclear renaissance” has been used to characterize the current state of the industry in a number of stories this week concerning U.S. policy in the wake of Japan despite this lack of construction. The suggestion of a renaissance, though, stems from the idea that loan guarantees for nuclear in the Clean Energy Act, combined with a new preference for “greener” nuclear options over greenhouse-damaging coal energy, have put a number of new nuclear reactor projects in the pipeline. Thus, the “renaissance” of this sixties/seventies favorite technology. The press is now asking if events in Japan might have changed the course of that rebirth. But they’re not necessarily questioning the nature of the rebirth itself.

What does this mean?

via Japan’s Quake and Political Fallout : CJR.

Underestimating access to each other

Clay Shirky on the Middle East. He admits over-egging the social media influence omelette but more credit to him for it. Then he gets into it. Here’s the pay-off:

“Governments have systematically overestimated access to information,” Shirky said.

“They’ve also systematically underestimated access to each other. Access to conversations among amateurs is more politically inspiring than access to information. Governments are afraid of synhronised groups, not synchronised individuals.

via SXSW 2011: Clay Shirky on social media and revolution | Technology |

Joyce and paralysis, a national condition

James Joyce
Photo (cc) Laura Appleyard.

From  today’s Guardian. Some things don’t change.

“My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis.”

For Joyce, “paralysis” represents a moral failure resulting in the inability to live meaningfully. It appears on the first page of the first story, “Two Sisters”, in a sentence that offers a key to the whole book:

“Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word Simony in the Catechism.”

From A brief survey of the short story part 32: James Joyce | Books |

Ireland’s Pepsi Challenge Election

Pepsi or Coca-Cola

Coke or Pepsi? Both will rot your teeth, the real choice of course is to choose another game, a point subtlety missed by the Irish electorate this week. Yes the Fianna Fáil incumbency has been well and truly kicked to the curb, but replaced by a solidly right of centre led coalition. The Pepsi challenge moment for the Irish electorate was presented thus; rightwing, homophobic neo-liberalists (Fine Gael) versus the post-Marxist political wing of an alleged terrorist cum-smuggling operation (Sinn Féin). Go on, you choose.  Yes there is an Irish Labour party and they did make gains. Yes there are plenty of independents from all sides. But Ireland has gone with the high fructose corn syrup option when she should have walked right out of the store. In changing one civil war party for another the country is left with a dominant political coalition that now very much resembles the one embodied by Cameron and Clegg on the Downing Street lawn almost a year ago. We may not like to admit it but there is a right wing to Irish politics and it is now in power.

So what next? Sticking out a tongue and taking the Fine Gael / IMF dispensed medicine is the easy option. Not a particularly rosy one, but it is the safe bet. Above all else the Irish are a nation of safe people. But some time over the next 18 months, it’s going to dawn on the population, particularly those on the margins already, that this government can not and is not going to be all things to all voters.  Option two, tougher, involving as it does a little more graft, guile and imagination, three qualities very absent from this election. On the ground Irish society is going to have to stop bemoaning a corrupt government (they’re gone) and start holding the current government to account. This Fine Gael government cannot be allowed make worse Fianna Fáil’s mistakes through either a) ideology or b) stupidity. With a government likely to form by the end of next week and a busy EU schedule over the next month, Ireland better be ready to move fast.

Protest movements don’t come naturally to the Irish, but two recent examples from the UK are worth noting and would seem to be shrink wrapped and ready for an Irish voice-over. UK Uncut’s ingenious creativity and the incredible speed and inclusivity of the Save our Forests campaign. UK Uncut’s triumph is its creative engagement of people who don’t normally do protest. And in Vodafone and the banks, they have picked targets beyond sympathy. SoF exemplified the power of the network, and how massively important it is to put together a coalition of common interest, even if membership is open to those with usually opposed views. And the story was bulletproof, there is nothing more noble than fighting for English heritage.

What are the Irish equivalents? What are the narratives that will spark conversations on Facebook, Twitter and and maybe ignite some action offline. As the bubble moment of ending 80 years of Fianna Fáil dominance implodes and Irish voters are reminded that they’re in negative equity and it’s still raining outside, it’s time for those who have not been listened to in the last month, and will be utterly sidelined by their new government to start a new dialogue. I’d love to hear some ideas how this can be done.

The Good Apple in a Rotten Barrel: Michael D. Higgins

Michael D. true European that he is, pops up in Brittany
Michael D. true European that he is, pops up in Brittany (cc) The Irish Labour Party

Today the 3oth Dáil Éireann was disolved, TDs will be elected to the 31st Dáil on February 25th. This Dáil has lasted since May of 2007. It is unlikely in this time that it has ever borne witness to as fine a speech as that delivered by Michael D. Higgens during the second reading of the Finance Bill last week. In fact, if anyone can point me to a better speech in the past 50 years I will be very grateful. Higgins is not seeking re-election as TD, he will however run for president later in the year, if the Labour Party do the right thing and make him their candidate. He has departed daily politics with one of the very few political speeches that I agree with entirely, he has rekindled my own faith in Irish politics, and has surely contributed 20 minutes of mandatory viewing for future students of politics in Ireland and beyond.

Higgins takes in the wide view. He traces Ireland’s current failings as a sovereign state to institutional and administrative failings of historic magnitude, from the founding of Saorstát Éireann in 1922 to the present international monetary fuck-up. And in this I think there are some important lessons at home and abroad.

Both proponents and opponents of David Cameron’s Big Society project would do well to study the history of a country in which legislation and society are ultimately divorced by an administration that either is not there or does not work. For this to me seems a central weakness of Cameron’s project, a proposition that would devolve power of legsislative carry-through from the polity to civil society. That this has occurred in Ireland is the  result of a century of localism and small-time political ambition. Cameron’s project is surely much more intellectually rigorous in its own way, but possibly all the more dangerous for that. Higgins’ view on this is as considered as it is straight-forward:

People imagined that when we had got the equality legislation we had arrived at a particular point, but the political science would have indicated that that political power was useless without administrative power. It was only when the equality legislation was followed through with the Equality Authority and Combat Poverty Agency that it was possible to administer the benefit that had been won politically. That is the meaning of administrative power and is why we lost Combat Poverty Agency and the Equality Agency to the right and had all the cuts. That is what citizens in a republic want; they want more political power and want administrative power. They want to communicate their vulnerability and want to be able to respond to each other’s independency. The very last thing they want is more of that terrible saying that has brought us to this point now. That is why I am proud to be president of the Labour Party. If we have failed from time to time, what was never in doubt is that we were speaking about a real republic that has yet to be built in this State.

Higgins echoes thoughts expressed here a few months ago on Ireland having never been sovereign. But Higgins is not content to moan about our lot, he takes the point to a level few Irish politicians have the ability to climb to, beyond parochialism into a vision that places Ireland in a European, even global context.

People wonder why poverty has to reproduce itself in the same family from one generation to another or from one area to another and wonder why there is a difference between the quality of schools in one place and the quality of those in another. God did not make it like that. Nature did not make it like that. The people in the so-called Irish republic made it like that and they maintained it like that…

…I hope the new Government realises that the model which is broken should not be repaired and that there is a discourse now which is wider and which is not only in Ireland but in Europe, where citizens are wondering what institutions might best express that which we wish to share with each other, where the concept of interdependency is accepted and where it would be regarded as obscene to state that radical individualism is what is important and what must drive us. All that radical individualism with its privileged view of professions and its side of the mouth politics with regard to benefit and privilege is what must be rejected….

…This has a practical expression in Europe. If we create here a radical inclusive republic we will place it in a social Europe which accepts the interdependency of peoples rather than the aspirations of the elite property owning classes and individual countries. We would then be able to be a region in the global sense that offered guarantees about labour, security and peace. It would be a powerful moral voice in the world with regard to having alternatives to war and allowing people their own paths to development which would be very attractive.

Intelligent political discourse in the Dáil, if it can happen once it can happen again. Life affirming stuff.

Who says the European Parliament is dull?

Looks like José Manuel Barroso was getting it from both sides yesterday. These quotes are great.

Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Higgins attacked the deal as a mechanism to turn Irish taxpayers into “vassals” for European banks.

“It is a mechanism to make working-class people throughout Europe pay for the crisis of a broken financial system and a crisis-ridden European capitalism.”

Barroso wasn’t going to take that lying down:

“To the distinguished member of this parliament that comes from Ireland, who asked a question suggesting that the problems of Ireland were created by Europe, let me tell you: the problems of Ireland were created by the irresponsible financial behaviour of some Irish institutions and by the lack of supervision in the Irish market,” he said.

“Europe is now part of the solution; it is trying to support Ireland. But it was not Europe that created this fiscally irresponsible situation and this financially irresponsible behaviour. Europe is trying to support Ireland. It is important to know where the responsibility lies. And this is why it is important that those of us, and this is clearly the majority, who believe in European ideals, that we are able as much as possible to have a common response.”

This lively two-way was then finished off by a somewhat bizzarre intervention from reknowned UK Euro-sceptic Nigel Farage:

At the conclusion of a debate in which Mr Farage said “I hope and pray the markets break you”, Mr Barroso said he was amazed at the tenor of some of the remarks made to him.

“To those who made those comments . . . against European solidarity . . . I ask them – where were you when Europe was financing your farmers after the war to feed your own people?”

Okay, these are fun and games, but this may (or may not) mark a significant change in attitude of the Irish to the EU and its institutions. A relationship that has since Ireland’s entry into the common market in 1973 been nothing but love. Watch this space.

Netroots UK 2011: Moving Online Offline

Root User
Photo cc jaxxon

Just back. Big improvement from 2010 if still a few too many dyed-in-the-wool tribal Labour flag wavers for my liking. But at least they had something to wave about this year. Amazing what a few months in opposition and cuts to services will do to raise morale.

Quality of the speakers was up considerably, couple of good contributions from Blue State Digital who have a mountain to climb over the next 22 months in the US one would think. Though they did have the good grace to admit as much. Sharing success, sharing setbacks and honest, intelligent, if very pointed, communication with one’s audience was the not exactly earth-shattering central message coming from them, but that’s okay. We need to be reminded sometimes.

Ari Rabin-Havt of was the clear standout presentation of the day, particular in light of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting which happened in the time it took me to get from central London, home (by way of an outrageously good potato and panzone pizza in Pizza East). MediaMatters was set up six of seven years ago to start righting the wrongs broadcast by Fox News. Big job. Rabin-Havt was on a mission to make sure we knew what we were in for if we let the Dirty Digger turn Sky News into Fox News East. He accused Glenn Beck and company of having blood on their hands already and insisted more was likely. Scary. And a good point well made.

Final thought, remarkable by its absense from a 600 person conference of online activist types was the coupling of the words ‘climate’ and ‘change’. I heard it said only once from the lectern, and then merely as part of a list which included health cuts, education cuts and lots more. These are pressing, and the time to strike against them is now, but let’s hope that debate on climate change action, not to mind action itself has not become taboo as the likes of Netroots and the new left blogosphere in the UK find their voice.

4 Links: Cheerios, mad scientists and the new local socialism

Cheerio Maps (c) Stamen Design
Pic: Cheerio Maps (c) Stamen Design

Fun things and not so fun things from the past few days.


Cheerio Maps. Let’s start with breakfast. Real estate in the San Francisco Bay area generally doesn’t do it for me, but pretty map overlays do. Some amazing data mapping here from Stamen Design. My friend Tomás does pretty things with circles. I bet he’d like this. Real estate is boring but there are lots of useful applications for this approach I bet.


Cancún wrap: IPCC scientists still stuck in the same dumb groove. This is super frustrating. Mildly optimistic reports came out of COP16. That’s fine, well done all. Kate Sheppard wraps up the fortnight with an interview with IPCC vice-chair Jean-Pascal van Ypersele who displays a sense of naivete not seen since the Milky Bar kid last rode into town.

[KS]: What is the role of scientists in pushing back against this skepticism and the ongoing anti-science campaign?
JV: The results of all the scientific analysis are almost all going in the same direction. I think if scientists remain calm, stick with science, and explain, and re-explain, if needed, the basis for their conclusions, at some point their honesty will go through any cloud of other arguments that some are trying to put in between them and the public. (my italics)

Seriously. W! T! F! If scientists keeps explaining the truth to all of those not so bright sceptics they’ll see the light and change their minds? Yeah, and X-Factor is a meritocratic talent show where if you try hard enough, dreams really do come true. Van Ypersele is the vice-chair of an organisation which has been put through the cheese grater over the last year by a well funded and extremely well strategised campaign to protect Big Energy and other interests. And right now those interests are presenting a far more palatable truth than the IPCC can muster. Let’s hope 2011 is wakey-wakey year and the IPCC gets a clue.


Localism and renewables – opportunities and challenges. Speaking of 2011, the localism bill was released this week with a promise to cede more power to (ostensibly local) people. I suspect people in the main do not want power, they want schools, libraries and services that just work, but I’ll save the next chapter of my social contract lecture for another day. One area the bill will impact is the UK’s slowly growing renewables and community energy sector. So check out the link above for a very brief rundown of where the issue may emerge.


Finally, a thought piece from a man who since sometime before the last election all of a sudden became the UK’s smartest political commentator, John Harris, writing with Neal Lawson. It’s from a few weeks ago but I forgot to mention it. So, who’s up for a New Socialism, and is it any different from the last one.

Ireland: We Have Never Been Sovereign

Irish donkeys
Photo (cc) jmulot.

On June 11th 2004 a referendum was held in Ireland. Should a child born on the island have an automatic right to citizenship the nation was asked. A constitutional right that had existed since the foundation of the state in 1922  was overturned by an incredible 79% of the voting public. Children now born in Ireland’s hospitals to non-national parents had a fight on their hands if they wanted a harp emblazoned passport.

At this juncture it is fair to ask if any child now born in Ireland would want citizenship of that sorry republic, but that’s a cheap shot and beside the point. Which is this, at a moment when national hubris, property speculation, and all-round back slapping were reaching their apex, Ireland turned her gaze inward and essentially told the world “right lads, we’ve finally made it, and we’re sharing the spoils with no one“. I think that was the first time I’ve really been embarrassed and ashamed to be admit to being Irish. Funny how some things change and some things don’t.

A week of prevaricating and straightforward lies by those that would claim to be Ireland’s leaders ended last night with Cowen and Lenihan admitting that yes, a bail out is coming, yes the IMF and EU are involved, and yes, this is going to hurt. I want to focus on one theme that has been running through the press coverage all week and perhaps applies not only to Ireland, but to the every other EU member state, both those inside and outside the Eurozone (and btw, am I the only person who thinks there’s a Crystal Maze comeback in here somewhere?). The issue, the misconstruction and misconception of sovereignty.

The notion of sovereignty as we understand it hinges almost entirely on the autonomy of the nation state. Of course the nation state itself is a construct devised by Germans at Westphalia in 1648 and improved upon at various junctures ever since. And the simple fact is, I contend here, the notion of the nation state is well past its sell-by date. Reasons being:

  • Globalisation – Aspects of the social contract now being fulfilled by private corporations and civil society organisations, particularly in least developed countries (Ireland circa 2011). Add to that the super-politics of transnational institutions such as the IMF and EU.
  • Information society – linked but distinct from globalisation. Technology and information society frees us from a top-down knowlege/power hierarchy, and this knowledge/power recognises national borders in extreme cases (e.g. the great firewall of China). To boot, the Marxist relationship between production and capital is arguably severed irreparably in places, not altogether a bad thing.
  • Risk society – Pervasive global risks (climate change, GM etc.) have led to the cosmopolitization of global society. Risk has been democratised across borders and time and negated the global ‘other’. At least that’s the theory. In other words, be it in Belfast, Berlin or Belize, the same big planet ending issues are faced by all.
  • Reflexive modernity – the very forces in society that unleashed modernity have undermined it. An example, our economic ingenuity has in theory allowed wealth creation and ownership through multiple layers of society, but really, quants in Goldman Sachs have led us on a merry dance, and at times its debatable if even they knew the havoc their credit default swaps and other assorted financial devices would cause.

So it looks like the nation state has more than a few chinks. Let’s take a looks so at the issue of Ireland in particular.

A genuine challenge that can be played with you and yours this holiday season, stick the sovereignty tail on the Irish nation state donkey below. And then just for kicks, stick another tail on the poor beleaguered beast to represent the moment sovereignty left town. Do let me know how you get on.

  • Dublin’s largest post office trashed in failed rebellion (1916)
  • Irish state formed (1922)
  • Oath of allegiance to Westminster/Windsors dropped (1937)
  • Irish republic declared (1949)
  • Entry into the EEC/EU (1973)
  • One to one link between Irish punt and sterling broken (1979)
  • Belfast Agreement (1998)
  • Euro becomes currency (1999)
  • Maastricht/Nice/Lisbon treaties (various)
  • Irish government commits over €50bn to banking/property sector (2008)
  • IMF assumes control of state budget (2010)

All well and good you say, so what, we have never been sovereign and Ireland in particular is in some sort of national state, or not. I make the points above to illustrate some of the reasons Ireland, and plenty of other Europeans states, are in this mess. And perhaps to being to explore ways out. It may actually suit the Irish government and indeed the populace of that country to suggest some sovereignty has been devolved to the IMF/ECB/EC/EU/KLF/whoever. Why? Well let us examine the social contract as it exists in Ireland. Around the same time the Germans, Spanish and Dutch were roasting hog in Westphalia, Hobbes was attempting to defined the duty of care a state owed to her citizens, a concept Rousseau later nailed. The citizen gives the sovereign (lawmakers) legitimacy and in return, the citizen is given protection from a life “nasty, brutish and short“. And here is where it gets interesting in relation to Ireland.

The social contract in Ireland, like those contracts for ghost hotels and bogland housing developments signed over the past 15 years, was never a document fully validated by the state. Yes the constitution asserted independence from non-state power-institutions, but even to this day the church in the republic is the legal owner of the majority of schools and hospitals. And make no mistake, this was complicit. Ireland could in the 1950s have taken the UK’s example and followed leading theories on the practise of health and social science (leading to the NHS in Britain) but instead allowed those institutions to remain in the hands of the clerics.

So we see there is a history of the Irish government reneging on its side of the the deal. This is likely to continue. During the last 20 years Ireland has not saved for a rainy days and its social services are at breaking point. If ever in the history of the state Fianna Fail have been aware of a social contract between the polity and the people, then that’s a piece of paper that has been lost down the back of the couch some time ago. It was found last week but I fear it has been dusted off and given to Oli Rehn of the EC, Ajai Chopra of the IMF and the “Others” to which Ireland is now in hock.

“Now the old system of industrialized society is breaking down in the course of its own success. Are not new social contracts waiting to be born?”
-Ulrich Beck, Reflexive Modernization

And yet in all of this Ireland has perhaps the greatest opportunity since the inception of the state in 1922 to redefine itself. To shape a society that is not a hangover from stale civil war politics, led not by “Soldiers of Destiny” or “the Tribe of Irish“. A society whose most important assets are not in the hands of a morally bankrupt church. A country whose leaders have a vision, some sort of vision.

Institutional reform is a must. There will be an election in January, the incoming Taoiseach must be elected with a mandate to tear down and rebuild the institutions of state. Whether the Dáil works or not is irrelevant, its legitimacy as a parliament has, like a bloodied sponge, been slowly wrung dry. Only total reform of the upper and lower houses, as well as the electoral system will do.

And Ireland, like most other western nations, must address those that walk the corridors of these institutions. It is time to call out the soothsayers of our time, the economists, and recognise their nakedness. These are the most powerful policy gatekeeprs of the modern age, all political decisions run through them. Yet, in a sense, economists are no different from the other discrete experts of modernity, the chemists, the physicists, the engineers. Experts in their fields yes, but capable of proscribing wide solutions for a better, fairer, happier society? Capable of the imagination needed to knock down and rebuild? Absolutely not. So why should all political decision run through them.

But perhaps in reforming the levers of the nation state we are looking for solutions and looking for “the political in the wrong place, on the wrong floors and on the wrong pages of the newspapers” to quote Beck (Reflexive Modernization). We have seen the great European and Bretton Woods institutions wrest power from above the nation state. It is time to create the sub politics that will also attack it from below. How might this look like? Well Hermann Scheer, in one of the last interviews given before he died this year painted a quite astonishing picture of how community energy projects in Germany were finally taking hold and transforming communities.

It is a fight. This is a structural fight. It is a fight between centralization and decentralization, between energy dictatorship and energy participation in the energy democracy. And because nothing works without energy, it’s a fight between democratic value and technocratical values. And therefore, the mobilization of the society is the most important thing. And as soon as the society, most people, have recognized that the alternative are renewable energies and we must not wait for others, we can do it by our own, in our own sphere, together in cooperatives or in the cities or individually. As soon as they recognize this, they will become supporters. Other—this is the reason why we have now a 90 percent support against all the disinformation campaigns. They have much more money and possibilities to influence the public opinion, but they lost this. They lost this conflict. In the eyes of the people, they lost the conflict. They are the losers already.

Energy is just one example, albeit an important one, where Ireland needs to look not at a Big Society model espoused by its neighbour, but a small society, one in which there is a common currency of values between those at the top and bottom, and one in which those values are illustrated and made real by projects such as Scheer’s in every community. Is this pie in the sky? No, there are tens of thousands of half finished developments, roads and houses dotted around the country, waiting to be used for something far more worthy than property speculation. Surely in these lies the infrastructure for a better society. And far better to spend resources on this sustainable (economically, socially and environmentally) endeavour than keep alive the banking institutions that have so utterly failed the country.

For the first time since 2004 I’m tempted, just a little, to go home.

The Network Grenade: Policy, Values and Behaviour

Grenade pieces

Image (cc) Profound Whatever.

Three things to cover. First off Andrew Jamison’s essay in the latest issue of WIREs Climate Change, which has just dropped. Second, values versus behavious and a little bit of Common Cause versus Chris Rose. Third up, networked society yo. From policy nudges to policy change through network effects.


Andrew Jamison, where were you and your history paper on the history of climate change in the context of social movements six months ago? No really, I spent the summer trying to connect the dots between della Porta, Touraine and Beck. Jamison’s done the job in a manner more elegant and readable than I could ever manage. And something that immediately that tallies with my own experience is Jamison’s contention that there is a serious dearth of academic study out there on climate change and social movements. Jamison does a good job rounding up what is available and bringing in some relevant literature from the more general social movement field. It’s invaluable for anyone working in this area right now right now. We’re an an impasse between the social sciences (read Mike Hulme in yesterday’s Guardian) and the ongoing and seemingly hardening stance of the natural sciences (great round-up of important papers in Climate Progress).

Jamison outlines three waves of social movement. The traditional 19th and 20th century movement that worked on big ticket issues, such as women’s rights or the labour movement. Then post ’68 there were the New Social Movements (NSMs), in the North these were “lifestyle” movements, you choose feminism, I choose the environment etc. Emerging at the turn of the millennium are a new wave of movement focussed on the negatives of globalisation and perhaps even technology. Environmental justice fits in here too, as do anti-GMO, airports and roads.

Jamison identifies some important issues:

  1. The intellectual tensions between the traditional social movements (such as labour movements) and the New Social Movements of the seventies and eighties. Despite some progress, environmental NSMs still regard climate change primarily as an environmental issue. Ee-k-er!!!
  2. Progressives have misread some of the skeptics concerns. People like Al Gore, essentially neo-liberals, are commodifying science/academia. They are taking techno-social solutions to climate change and attempting to make a buck out of them and they are dragging universities along with them. Jamison’s point: let’s admit this and understand why skeptics get wound up by it. I know I get wound up by it.
  3. To not only “solve” (ha!) climate change, but to start tackling fairness in society, we need to not only cross pollinate scientific disciplines (particularly as Hulme suggests between the social and natural), but we need also to cross fertilise activist and academic knowledge. To create a commonly shared theoretical and conceptual framework.

Sounds great right? Of course, there’s a catch, the reason suggests Jamison is cash money. There simply is not the funding in universities, or more to the point, into universities, to get this done (Jamison would have it that this is because of expedient commercial demands).

But all of this begs the question more generally of progressive movements and institutions. Are we cooperating as best we can? Do we have a common cause. Funny you should ask, onto part two.


Beliefs versus values. Y-fronts versus boxers. Chickens versus eggs. Tom versus Chris. Right yeah, boring. The point is, both are important. Obvs.

Tom Crompton and the merry band of NGOs behind Common Cause would have it, (after George Lakoff mostly), that the way to take on societies BIG problems is through value interventions. Emotion trumps fact in judgements runs the arguement, so change the emotional levers, through framing, and you change the outcome. Deep frames define one’s overall common sense and if we can redefine common sense, then we have a powerful underlying tool for change on our side. QED.

Chris in his lengthy smack down of Common Cause almost takes offence that a campaign would attempt to “alter” an individual’s value system. As if a person was normatively outside of a social network (of the original kind), in which value altering vectors were not assailing her every waking minute. My contention is this. As mostly rational beings we feel our (capital ‘v’) Values are important. We feel these Values will lead to a happier, more productive life for the majority. Well you know what, if that’s the case I’m going to try and share (note Chris, not “force”) my values with my friends down the pub on a Friday night. Hopefully they’ll pick up a few of them. And maybe buy me a drink. Chris in fairness to him sees this argument coming way down the track.

“And most obviously but apparently ignored by Common Cause , no decent campaign strategy should set out simply to convert an entire population, one by one, as in the manner of government social marketing schemes.” Why? Because who amongst us has the resources to possibly succeed at this.”

Now Chris is right, of course we don’t have the time or resources to stop people one by one in the street and . It’s taken the neocons 40 years, from Goldwater to Fox News, to establish their platform (Lakoff lays this out nicely). Maybe if we get our act together it takes us a decade or two. That’s no good for climate change though right. But pleaase, hold that thought for one minute, I will come back to why that may be changing presently.

For the most part I agree with Chris, show people change, show them success, and they will follow. And dealing with climate change, we know that we need to get results now. But to move on and not learn the lessons that Lakoff through Common Cause can teach us would be folly. For connected to climate change are issues of fairness and social justice have have always been with us. Crompton et al. offer a caveat ignored by Chris that allows us to examine each campaign opportunity and assign a weighting to the value intervention / behaviour adjustment ratio intinsic within. That surely offers us a place to start. And whilst we are doing this, surely creating a common progressive epistemological and resource infrastructure á la Jamison 3 makes total sense.


Last night I saw Paul Ormerod talk at the RSA. Policy change by increments is over claims Ormerod. David Cameron’s Nudge-based initiative is its last hurrah. Offering incentives (e.g. tax breaks to encourage low-carbon behaviour) to society’s actors has only so much road left. The future is much more uncertain affair, where networked society takes over and has the potential to create social interventions in big steps. Ormerod’s bottom line: society is now more networked than it has ever been. Using network effects, we just may be able to instigate cascading change through networks, thus society, at a faster and more ambitious scale than ever before. And to do this we need to spend far more time identifying those most likely to adopt change (whether that’s value or behavioural change is not important according to Ormerod).

Okay, that’s the very very condensed version. As an example, Ormerod said that if he was IDS right now looking to alter the welfare state, he’d be trying to throw policy grenades into networks. Sure, the hit rate is going to be low (lots of these grenades come without fuses) but when it does blow, it’s going to be a whopper. Right now policy drives in general are big and risk averse, Whitehall policy wonks don’t like taking chances. And these initiatives cost a lot for only marginal gains. Ormerod’s suggestions are the opposite on all counts.

Why is this important? Well look at one of Rose’s main points I’ve highlighted. Given limited resources, we cannot hope to create widespread value interventions. Well not by traditonal means no. But working to a network paradigm, and working with those with access to these networks (IDS?!?!) maybe we see before us the beginning of a new strategy.

I would contend the level of influence bouncing around online networks has taken a marked step up over the past month with the launch of Facebook’s new messaging system and Path, the highly-influential-friends-only network. As such the ability to measure and track influence through networks of all types is perhaps growing and opens up opportunities unimaginable to the likes of Greenpeace and WWF 10, 15, 20 years ago. Opportunities to impact values faster whilst simultaneously showing as real behaviour changes. Surely this approach, and not a tired black and white debate over values versus behaviour should be central to our common cause.


My friend Shilpa just sent me this link to a rebuttal of Rose’s newsletter by Martin Kirk, Oxfam’s Head of Campaigns, UK. Shame it’s the same tedious pdf style that Chris uses, but maybe that’s the point. Anyway, Martin rightly takes issue with the fact that Chris could find no common ground in Common Cause. Real shame. Go read it.

Four Links: Montreal, Fairness and Orange Juice


Both the New York Times and Nature carried stories on the Montreal Protocol being used for some climate change mitigation action. Not breaking news admittedly but Nature in particular covered some of the deficiencies of the CDM well in their report. Check them out.

That got me thinking some more about Montreal. Which in turn made me reread some of Karen Litfin’s Ozone Discourses. Litfin comes from the political science school, something I hadn’t quite appreciated until this week. OD was written in 1994 but even then Litfin had the prescience to understand how Montreal could and indeed would be used as a template for future global governance agreements. Hello climate change and hello Kyoto. ‘Cept, and Litfin gets this even before these mistakes were made, the wrong lessons were taken from Montreal. Science as an independent and objective epistemological community was not what won the day in Montreal. No, Litfin paints a much more interesting picture of the interplay between power and knowledge.

  1. Power in this case was not reducible to material resources (think weath, gold, beer).
  2. Nation’s longterm interests were unclear regarding the big hole in the Antarctic. This meant knowledge becomes a significant source of power.
  3. Therefore the determination of state interest invoked all sorts of subnational processes in which science wove a complex patchwork quilt of knowledge/power.

Interesting stuff indeed. And lots of lessons for those who would have us “listen to science” in the hope of that providing some sort of medicine for what ails us.

Speaking of Political Science (caps intended), I saw Robert Keohane deliver a tidy lecture on regime complexes and climate change at the LSE Monday  night. Keohane is one of those very old school US academics who has taught at more Ivy League schools than he hasn’t. So very serious big thinking post-hegemonic thoughts. Bottom line: The UNFCCC doesn’t work (no shit!) as a hegemonic institution, so the answer here is stop trying to solve all of climate change with one big deal and go after what we can where we can. A regime complex see! Regimes mentioned included the G8/20, theMEF and Montreal (oh hello!) and the UNFCCC in some sort of parallel dimension type role.

Also at LSE recently was Will Hutton talking about ‘fairness‘, a subject on which he has recently written. I wasn’t there but I listened to the podcast at lunch. Some interesting thoughts, particularly around the concept of luck. Some people are simply born into less opportune circumstances, bad luck according to Hutton. Should these folk be punished by society as a result and what are the ethical arguments for accessing this quandary. Go listen.

Speaking of fairness in society (and just about every politician and social scientist can’t seem to stop right now), my friend Niel drew my attention to the fact the UN Human Development Index will for the first time include a ranking of inequality. That’s good!

This week I’ve been listening to Orange Juice. Check them!

Turning Off the Spotlight on the Staging of Global Terror

Childhood memories: The beard that rocked the cradle
Photo (cc) infomatique

Growing up a couple of hundred miles south of “The Troubles” in Ireland during the 80’s had its vagaries, which at this now twenty year vantage point, can hardly be believed, if recalled at all.

Whilst the closest we ever came to their tanks and their bombs and their bombs and their guns was the deplorable Dolores (who incidentally didn’t get much closer herself), we were of course witness to the media battle front. A battle conducted using the deadly weapons of voiceover. In their wisdom, the British government declared that like errant Victorian children, Gerry, Martin and the rest of their Sinn Féin/IRA cohort could be seen but not heard. Picture the scene, it’s the morning after the night before. Another tit-for-tat nationalist/loyalist killing (translation: straight-up murder) and UTV or BBC Northern Ireland is looking for a quote of either condemnation or abhorrence from Gerry or Martin. Well, they weren’t going to get it. No, Gerry would wag his beard up and down with some animated affectation, but all we in TV land would hear was a passionless fob-off and some gibberish about  Ian Paisley being neither a real doctor nor authentic reverend. Whatever.

[One suspects all of this may in fact have been a result of intense Westminster lobbying by the Ulster Voiceover Artists union (commonly referred to as the UVAu), but we have no proof of this whatsoever. ]

We are remided of this over the festive period whilst reading some more World at Risk
. Beck proposes a simple thought experiment relating to “global terror” [yes cringe, cringe]. What, asks the German sociolagist, would be the result of a worldwide media boycott of the flash points of global terror. You know, a total worldwide ban on reporting the latest antics of underpants arsonists (do you see what we’ve done there) or shoe bombers. We’ll leave you alone to answer that one.

For Beck argues that it is the now ever present anticipation of terror incident, rather than the incident itself that is the goal of this 21st century terrorism. And it is the “glamour of terror staged in the West which transform terrorism into a power drug.” Beck goes on, when dealing with the discources of global subpolitics, to suggest this power drug is now the developing world’s best narrative in which to fight economic globalization. Certainly the only one in which the media industrial complex of the West will pay constant attention to. Take away that attention and perhaps we’ll get some interesting results.

Change Congress and Keep Climate Where it’s At

One of the strands of thought coming from Copenhagen lays the blame of a lack of fair and binding deal at the feet of the internal US political system, namely the US Senate.

This has brought keepfakingit right back to March and a speech we saw one of our academic heroes, Larry Lessig, deliver to the SXSW interactive festival in Austin, Texas. Lessig, who has worked for a decade on copyright law in the US, speaks of classic tobacco science as it now applies to climate change and in particular the health industries in the US. His thesis is that money poisons trust. But that the cesspool of corruption is not the same as it ever was. The dynamics of money and access have changed dramatically in the past 15 years.

He believes legislators’ integrity is actually higher today than any time in the Senate’s history. The corruption he speaks of is a ‘good souls’ corruption that has come from systemic faults . Senators are spending 30-70% of their time on raising money for their own, or their party’s re-election. And this opens up the cracks for the lobby industry.

Some stats. Since Bill Clinton left office the number of lobbyists has doubled and their daily rate has doubled. Using the laws of simple economics, Lessig notes that if the number and value of lobbyists is rising, they must be becoming more effective. He also notes how nobody, on the right or the left, has any interest in changing this system.

Whether you want to blame the EU, China, Obama or indeed the Senate on the failure of Copenhagen, Lessig’s points here are eminently valid. To keepfakingit’s mind this is the biggest, most important political issue in the US today. Lessig does a simple cost benefit analysis on the lobbying industry and the cost here is trust. Ultimately Lessig calls for a ‘Declaration for Independence’. How? Through citizens funding.

Pascal’s Wager is ofter referred to by climate change activists; if we’re right we save the planet, if we’re wrong, we change society for the good anyway, win-win. The situation is exactly the same in the US Senate. To take on big coal, big oil and all the other big lobby groups funding tobacco science we need institutional change. And if we get it there are a lot more benefits, for both the right and left of the political spectrum, than simply a chance to ‘meaningfully’ tackle climate change.

I can’t find a video but here’s some audio that turned up on

If you have 45 minutes at all this Christmas, listen to this.

Here’s the audio of the Q&A:

There’s more info on Lessig’s campaign at

COP15: José Bové – ‘Pas de Planet B’

Our French here at keepfakingit isn’t nuanced enough to give you a full word for word translation of the end of his Klimaforum speech. But we don’t think it’s needed. José Bové (MEP!) clearly leaves nothing on the table during a typically fiery delivery. And we have no doubts he had a tractor load of cow shit in the green room just in case he needed to illustrate his point a little further.

COP15: If you’re not in, forget the win.

After arguements over the text of any potential agreement itself, physical access to the Bella Centre is becoming a key issue on the ground here in Copenhagen. As they say, if you’re not in, you can’t win. And it’s not the big guns who aren’t in, it’s you and me, civil society. More to the point, the NGOs whom the UN have deigned to represent us.

At this point you may be saying to yourself, ‘ah, but why do all these civil society orgs need to be there anyway, just let the political delegates get on with it.’ The answer to that is enshrined in the text of the Rio Declaration. Go check Principle 10:

Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings,
including redress and remedy, shall be provided.

The role civil society has to play here is immense. And we’re being cynically and structurally locked out. Yvo de Boer has today taken responsibility here (trying to track down reference), but that’s not a lot of good to the scores of people who have traveled around the world to take part in proceedings.

Here’s a YouTube clip of yesterday’s queue. It took four minutes to shoot, walking the full length of the queue. We had members of the Stupid Show team wait seven hours in temperatures that fell to zero degrees.

The most galling part of this situation is that it’s going to get worse as the week progresses.

Here’s an overview from @ApolloGonzales:

1) Number of passes
– Tuesday and Wednesday 7000 observers will be allowed in the building as per the current allocation of secondary passes
– On Thursday the allocation will be reduced to 1000 observers only.
It is not yet decided whether this will be done on a tertiary pass system, or by stopping anyone else coming in once 1/7 of any
organizational accreditation has been reached
– On Friday the allocation will be 90 in total

2) Access to the plenary room
– On Tuesday 450 people will be allowed access to the plenary room
– On Wednesday and Thursday it will be 300
– On Friday it will be the 90 accredited people The allocations will be decided by the constituency focal points. [keepfakingit: 90 people! This is going beyond a joke]

3) Booths
At some point all booths in the NGO area will have to come down. It is not yet decided when that will be but likely Wednesday or Thursday [keepfakingit: What the fuck!!! The UNFCCC has had years to plan this. How can they not have this figured out yet]

4) Other space
– The secretariat is speaking to Danish Radio which has big offices nearby the Bella Centre about possible use of their space to transmit what is happening in the meetings

Helm: Stern warning, choppy climate change waters ahead.

Wow. Just out of a Prof Dieter Helm lecture at LSE. “Climate Change Policy, and why has so little been achieved”. To paraphrase Ted Theodore Logan, Dude laid down the smacketh in a most bodacious way. I didn’t see Nick Stern in the audience. He must have had advance warning of what was coming. Helm started with a growing tribute to his Lordship, how could he not, he was on enemy territory after all. But after calling him the most important economist in the UK right now, alongside Mervyn King, he proceeded to calmly, and very eloquently dismember Nick’s very own Stern Report.
This was no Hallowe’en slasher. Helm is more expert a surgeon. He took aim only at crucial organs and arteries. He chose his spots and cut with the finest of Japanese steel.

For the second time in a week I listed as a speaker told his audience that we are now in the post-science phase of dealing with climate change. The science they have argued is good. Beyond repute in fact. Helm made the point that practically every university on the planet is currently contributing to climate change discourse, and there is remarkable consensus. We’ve passed 350ppm CO2 and are approaching 400 and 500. We all know what comes next. His point here was that the ‘we’ includes our politicians. A politician who now rejects the science of climate change finds himself on the lunatic fringe.

“So why the fuck has there been NO major policy advances in the past 20 years” Helm didn’t say. But that’s what he meant. If we can answer that question maybe we can start to chart a policy course through Copenhagen and beyond.

This begs the question from the Oxford prof, “what bits of economics are painful to policy process”. He spent the rest of the lecture laying some of these out.

Now for a word from standard economic orthodoxy.

GDP, given a growth rate of 3% per annum, will be 4x today’s GDP by 2100.
=> We’ll all be 4x “wealthier”
=> 2100 consumption will be 4x today’s consumption
Coal as a % of our energy source goes something like
25% today
30% 2100


And now back to our scheduled programming.

Paraphrasing Prof Helm:
We’re not running out of coal. Gas is ok. Oil will continue to be found, as the Arctic melts this gets even easier. Certainly we’re good for at least a century.

Ok, let’s fly through some more points.

Economists mix up manmade vs. natural capital.
There’s a one:one replacement value put on them
Sure there might be no more swallows flying north for the summer, but hey, I’ve got my iPod.

There’s a political truism. Tell your electorate a policy can be achieved cheaply. Fail. When the electorate realise the ruse you’re in trouble Mr. Politician. This is about to happen. Example: the argument that mitigation can be achieved for ~1% GDP.

The utility of tomorrow.
Is the utility of a person in 2100 equal to that of a person living today?
Sure about that?
How about people in 3100?

Fuck that. How about people today?
Does, for a politician/economist, a person in their own constituency have the same utility as some dude hanging in Jo’berg?

Stern argues yes to the above and uses those assumptions in his Economic Review. Bad Economist says Helm. You’re changing the game. While nobody would argue with the virtue of the model, around here, “shit ain’t like that. It’s all fucked up” (Ice-T). Modern society simply does not value us as equal. So why should modern economics.

Onwards. All our leaders are quoting the 1% GDP cost of climate change mitigation. Guys. GET REAL. It cannot be done for that low low price. Pay peanuts, get monkeys. Get me?

[Sidenote here for the RHUL massive: Sustainable development is still playing this GDP/Policy game. It’s not the rules of the game that need to change. It’s the game itself.]

Helm at this juncture takes us on a history lesson, and in the process flattens the Kyoto framework. Framework?!?, what he meant to say was house of cards. An EU joint in the biggest of ways. The whole deal was setup to make the EU look good, and the “cuts” already achieved by Euroland are a mere sleight of hand. This analysis merely backs up postings made right here on earlier this month.

Helm doesn’t leave it at that though. He contends that by signing up to Kyoto, the EU may have made matters worse than doing anything at all! The logic being that by offshoring CO2 to the dev world via dubious CDM deals, more hot air has actually been created than would have been in existence if, for example, all our coal was still made in Wales. As opposed to making it in China, where coal fired electricity is of a higher CO2 intensity, and it then has to be shipped all the way back to Llandudno for that great new PPP housing deal. To make a point here, and he was up front in saying he has no numbers to back it up, Helm puts it out there that G.W. Bush may have done more good than harm by keeping the US of A out of Kyoto. Big statement.

So where is Helm going with this? Well he’s about to flatten the EU ETS calling it a lobbyists dream and rent capture and rent seeking of the highest, or is that lowest order. The volatile prices produced are good for the traders (here that Clark?) but bad for long term investors as there is no long view on carbon price produced. The simple fact is the incentive to cheat here is Massive.

After offloading on his audience about ETS, 2020-20-20 is never going to get the time of day. And it doesn’t. Easy target for an economics prof though so no points there.

So finally to where we all want to get to. Copenhagen. Zero optimism here. Bottom line forecast:
US do nothing on 1990 levels
EU keep on keeping on. That is dress up dubious cuts as real progress.
India gets 4x emissions permissions.
China sets its stall out for 40% US, 40% EU and 1% GDP acquisition from each of the EU and the US. Think they’re going to get it? No. But that’s not really the point.

The only solution’s another revolution
I’m not sure how much of the above makes sense out of context but my notes look good to me. In summary, here’s what went down:

If Helm were at the helm…

  • COAL is the BIG ISSUE – Need to start cutting it NOW.
  • Energy demand is going up with GDP. This has to stop.
  • We need Nukes and we need CCS and we need them now.
  • Sorry guys, 1% GDP is not going to take our problems all away.
  • Biodiversity is bigger than climate change. We might solve climate change, but by then 50% of all species on the planet will be KIA.
  • Why the fuck are politicians BORROWING money to support unsustainable GDP growth. Stop N.O.W.
  • Carbon taxes, all EU countries will have them within five years.
  • And while they’re at it they’ll be taxing carbon on the borders too. Take that China-import-export market.

Now, if you’re still interested, go read the good professor’s book.

The evolution of the biodiversity fight

Image: some rights reserved by Dom Dada

Nature magazine continued their Darwin season of talks in London tonight with a panel discussion entitled What Price Biodiverstity?.

The top caliber speakers were Professor James Lovelock, independent scientist, author of “Revenge of Gaia”. Michael Meacher, MP (Labour) & former Minister of State for the Environment and Sir Crispin Tickell, Director of the Policy Foresight Programme at the James Martin 21st Century School at Oxford University. Not a joker amongst them. I’d also add the the quality of questioning from the floor was second to none, quite refreshing at these sorts of things where one can usually expect some variety of rogue element to attempt a hijacking of proceedings.

I only found out only this morning about the talk via @zzgavin on Twitter, and have time but for some brief notes here before getting on with the rest of my evening. The entire discussion took place in the context of one larger and one (debatable) less significant event. Climate change and the recession. But doesn’t (shouldn’t?) every conversation right now take place in that light.

So in no particular order:

Tiskell on the state of the biodiversity conversation: Talking about climate change is [relatively] easy, about biodiversity is much harder. We don’t even have the value system to measure it and the common man on the street simply can’t understand it. They won’t understand what we are losing until there is a cataclismic biodiversity event.

There was general agreement that the global conversation on protecting biodiversity was at least five years behind that of climate change. An example of this, in the UK we have the Stern Report on Climate Change and even a Climate Change Office. We have nothing similar to start combating the threat to biodiversity.

Meacher on our current value systems: These current systems have led to a belief that “only nature that can be made profitable should be preserved”. That’s the dangerous result of putting economic value on biodiversity

Lovelock on carbon trading schemes: Totally disastrous. As a result of carbon trading, less efficient coal stations in east Germany are producing MORE co2. These permits have been either given away of sold too cheap. Why didn’t we charge polluters, not give them credits. Carrots instead of sticks.

Tickell on industry: [they] wants to do the right thing and they will if they are given clear limits in which to operate in. Heads of industry aren’t oblivious, they know there are serious problems in the world but they want to know where they stand. [Political] leadership has to show the way here and TRUST that they can do it and we wasn’t this change.

Tickell on biodiversity in agriculture: Agriculture shouldn’t be a market activity. The market is set up to measure short term gain. It does that but does not record the long term damage industrial agriculture in particular does to land resource. Agreculture should be a community activity, enriching all around it.

Meacher on the subject of biodiversity value: even if we can come up with a bio-diversity index instead of GDP to give us a quantitive measurement of human activity, how do we make this measurement operative. How do we make companies change their business plans to fit this. How do we tie it into government budgets.

He mentioned in fact a sustainability index he had presided over in the Department of the Environment that never got anywhere because nobody had any . Meacher verged between accute peceimism and optimism at times, which struck me as sounding odd coming from a career politician. He was convincing when explaining his belief that we are now on the brink of a new world economic, environmental and cultural order.

Lovelock being the oldest and at times sounding the wisest got to round off the evening. He did so clearly, directly and without hesitation when asked if it were possible for a biodiverse Earth to survive.

Time, he said, is the biggest barrier to halting biodiversity decline and climate change. We are so far down the path that the goals of 2040 and 2050 that our institutions have set will be far too little too late.

Digital Britain – Liberty in Britain

There’s two massively important movements taking place right now in Britain, here are some important connections between them. I’ve already written a little about the Digital Britain interim report but more importantly Charles Leadbeater has written a lot and put it all together in a handy portable pdf. Download it here.

The original report either isn’t aware of, or Lord Carter, it’s author, didn’t have the balls to ask some big questions. Leadbeater does. There’s far to many to list here, go read the document, however I will highlight one important conclusion.

It strikes me, as it has done Leadbeater, that the government on the one hand is proposing what they think is an ambitious drive to take the UK’s new media industry and infrastruture forward into the next quarter century. Yet they don’t want to involve us, the public. Moreover, they patently don’t trust us.

Reading Digital Britain one cannot help but feel the government finds the opportunities for people to self-organise through the web all too unsettling for its more technocratic, controlling tendencies. Digital Britain conveys none of the excitement that many young people feel about the world of semi-structured free association that mutual media is creating. This interim report, written behind closed doors in an era of open communications, is little more than piece of space filling to persuade us the government has a vision for the future when in reality it seems to have none, at least not yet. (A model of what can be done, even in government, is the parallel The Power of Information report, which is fully of exciting recommendations for how government can open up its information for citizens to use in novel ways. )

The government say that the UK must be allowed compete with the most advanced nations on Earth and to do this we must have an advanced IT infrastructure. But to use an advanced infrastructure, to create an advanced infrastructure, we must have entrepreneurs, thinkers, dreamers and digital literates. And they must be given tools and those tools imparted with trust.

— —

This basic mistrust of us the people is the reason the Convention on Modern Liberty not only happend this weekend, but was much needed. What could have been another umbrella demo by the SWP and their ilk has the potential to be a real political movement. Here’s why.

Henry Porter quotes David Cameron in today’s Observer. Scarily I agree with him:

“When academics look back on Labour’s time in power,” he said, “the erosion of our historic liberties will surely be one of its most defining, and damning, aspects. Things we have long thought were part of the fabric of liberty in this country – such as trial by jury, habeas corpus with strict limits on the time that people can be held without charge, the protection of parliament against intrusion by the executive – have been whittled away.”

And Nick Clegg from the same article is a little less dramatic but a little more on point:

“We are the most spied-upon country in the developed world, with a million innocent people’s DNA on a criminal database, more surveillance cameras than anywhere in the world, parents snooped on by council officials checking up on where children spend the night, and ceaseless attempts by government to limit our freedom of expression. That’s why the work of the Convention on Modern Liberty is so important in highlighting the liberties we have lost and inspiring a new alliance in Britain to take our freedoms back.”

Both of these quotes go back to the trust issue. Nobody highlighted this issue better than Philip Pullman in his address to the convention. If Clegg highlighted the problems above, Pullman took the higher road and asked us what sort of society we WANT to live in. For if we don’t know the answer to that what have we got to complain about and what have we to aim at.
Courage, virtue, intellectual curiousity, modesty and honour are five big optimistic virtues that are pulled out and analyzed. You won’t find me arguing.

Just imagine for a moment a nation with the courage, with the modesty, with a simple wakeful clarity of mind that are so
near at hand, so easy to find, if only we knew. Imagine a government that trusted the people who elected it. Imagine agencies of the state that regarded the people’s privacy as something it was the state’s duty to guard, rather like the value of their money and the historic individuality of their town centres and their freedom to speak and write as they like. Imagine a nation that cherished these things as a kind of natural blessing, something obviously good that needed no justification, something like sunshine or kindness or clean water. Or honour.

Now what have these things to do with freedom and the threats to freedom we have been hearing about today? What has the virtue of delight to do with virtue of liberty. Everything. A nation whose laws express fear and suspicion cannot sustain delight for very long; joy does not flourish in the garden of anxiety. The society these laws seem to be designed to bring about is one of institutionalised paranoia of furtive hatred and low-level panic, every scrap of delight and gladness we can find is a blow against that fear; every instance of civility and kindness we come across is a clean wind dispersing a foul vapour. Every example we cherish of imaginative play, of the energy of creation and of the enchantment of art and the wonder of science is a weapon in the arsenal and I say weapon, advisedly: we have a fight on
our hands. “I will not cease from mental fight”, said William Blake, and this is the fight he meant. The fight to defend, to restore, and to sustain the virtue which is not now but could so easily be, the natural behaviour of the state.

We are a better people than our government believes we are; we are a better nation.

That really is a big concept yet one that you won’t find on the manisfesto for government of any of the major parties. At least not yet you won’t. That could change.

Politically motivated change: No hope

[Sweeping away the old (by flashbak)]
Sweeping away the old (by flashbak)

Nine times out of ten if I was asked to pick between an parliamentary and presidential democracy as an ideal way to govern a country I’d chose the former. From what I can see it establishes a closer bond between the electorate/community and the parliamentarian who represents them. It allows for a more representative government and cabinet. And the party in power acts as a natural ego check for the prime minister. In theory.

But yesterday was a great example of how a presidential style system can and should work. Out with the old and in with the new. The breath and breadth of fresh air rolling down the Mall was absolutely tangible. In one fell swoop America gets the clean start it is crying out for. And so does the world.

Looking at the parliamentary systems in the UK and Ireland leaves me with little hope for a clean out or clean up. Labour lose the next election and we get the Tories. Hardly something that will bring the spring clean fresh smell to Westminster and the country. And there’s no hope now I think of reviving New Labour, with or without Brown.

And in Ireland the situation is even more depressing. The Fine Gael as the main opposition offer no alternative vision for the country. Fintan O’Toole in yesterday’s Irish Times suggests they simply merge and get on with it leaving Labour as a proper opposition.

On the anniversary of the first Dáil, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, who share an analysis of the crisis, need to form a unified government, leaving Labour, which does not share that analysis, to lead a coherent opposition.

That’s as sensible a suggestion as any other I suppose but not like likely to happen leaving voters in the British Isles with no hope of Obama-like change being led by our politicians. We’ll just have to implement the change we need without them.

Political Abstraction in 2008: Sarah Palin

Sarahs Law. Image: Schlomo Rabinowitz
Sarah's Law. Image: Schlomo Rabinowitz

I’ve been thinking about levels of abstraction in contemporary life a lot lately. Financial abstraction in the markets, production and distribution abstraction in the world of consumer goods and energy supply.
Here’s Andew Sullivan talking essentially about political abstraction in the form of our favourite Alaskan gal:

I’m doing this because Sarah Palin’s contribution is to introduce a new level of detachment from reality to our politics. After Bush-Cheney, this would be hard for anyone. But youbetcha she can.

This has been the pattern from the start of her career: a denial of reality combined with an almost unhinged and unlimited ambition. Since the press is barred from questioning her thoroughly, since we will never know how she responds to the long list of untruths she has told – from the smallest biographical detail to the biggest policy – all I can do is remind my readers of the record one more time before November.

Twitter as a mass review tool

Jeff Jarvis and Dave Winer have put together an interesting collaborative media review tool over the past few days. It’s worth checking out at

The technology is simple. Get a Twitter account, track down and start following @twitcrit, then message @twitcrit with any media review that takes your fancy. So far so easy if you can script and rummage around an api. But let’s step back from Jarvis’ critique of the latest Democratic prez debate (hey Jeff, why all the hating on you boy Barack?) and look at what this approach does to media interaction.

The wonderful thing about Twitter is that it is a nice simple lightweight medium for one to many broadcasting. Using a browser, a desktop app or a normal SMS from a phone, anyone can send 160 characters of  love, hate or debate to those that “follow” their tweets. There’s no walled gardens (Facebook etc.) which means the user can get information in and and out of Twitter with the minimum of fuss.

Up until now Twitter has been great in situations such as conferences, where, for a short period of time only, people need a one-to-many communication structure.  It also did a job during recent Californian fires. But all of these uses have been somewhat simplistic. There’s not a lot done with the data on either side of the transport. Message is entered into Twitter, Twitter sends it on it’s merry way, tweet is read at the other end. Bosh!

But how about we start some smart aggregation as Jarvis is suggesting. How about instead of treating each tweet as an isolated many-to-one message, we aggregate it with other likeminded tweets so that we have many many-to-one tweets all sorted and bunched on the receive side. We then start building a picture of what the crowd is thinking on any particular subject, and importantly (as this really comes into its own in live situations) we get a picture of how the crowd’s collective mind is changing as the debate/show/movie/game is progressing.

So how’s this different from those calls to action for standard text messages during X-Factor and the like? Twitter is the difference here. All of this messaging takes place within a defined (but relatively open) infrastructure. We can follow our tweets. We can reply to others and we can interact on a plethora of devices in different ways.

Two applications immediately jump to mind. Elections. Live sport. Howard Dean and the rise of the A-List blogger made blogging the big story of 2004. Can Twitter have an impact this time around?

As for sport, we have a bit longer to think about that, but at the very least a live play-by-play of the Super Bowl, or the multimillion dollar 30 second spots that surround it is a goer in a few weeks.

Now, one final issue. What and how does big media get a piece of this action?