Save the banks or the world?

26 11 2008


The Institute for Policy Studies has produced a report that contrasts the levels of spending on the economic collapse with those directed to climate change and international development. Obviously, the financial sector received trillions more. It is completely stupid, climate change has the potential to seriously threaten the lives of many people and the existence of species across the world, including developed countries. Priorities need to change now and fast.

“The world is facing multiple crises. In the United States and Europe, the financial crisis has now spread to the “real economy,” causing mass layoffs and dire predictions of more to come. In the developing world, many countries were already reeling from a food crisis — even before the financial crisis went global. Increased grain prices cost poorer economies $324 billion last year. And this food crisis is not yet over. While world prices for some products have declined in recent months, declines in the values of most developing world currencies have kept the cost of food in the stratosphere for the world’s poorest. And on top of the financial and food crises, the world faces a climate crisis that threatens the very future of the planet.”

Financial Sector

“The key components of the U.S. financial sector bailout amount to $1.3 trillion, while the European financial sector bailouts amount to $2.8 trillion. Combined, they add up to approximately $4.1 trillion in commitments. And while officials have attempted to assure taxpayers that they will recoup some of these funds eventually, the ultimate cost to federal budget is entirely unknown.”


“The $4.1 trillion that U.S. and European governments have committed to support struggling banks and other financial institutions is more than 45 times the $90.7 billion they spent on development aid last year.”

“Many advocates for the poor have justifiably criticized current aid policies. ActionAid, for example, reports that some 86 percent of U.S. foreign assistance is so ineffective in fighting poverty that they call it “phantom aid.” This international development group charges that much of U.S. aid supports geostrategic interests (e.g., Pakistan and Colombia), rather than poverty reduction. The U.S. government also continues to tie some aid to purchases of U.S. goods and services, which benefits U.S. corporations but lengthens delivery time and raises costs.”

Climate change

“The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the international body that negotiates global climate deals, has put the incremental price tag of moving to a low carbon economy at $200 billion to $210 billion above today’s investments in greenhouse gas mitigation per year. It estimates that about half of that will be needed in developing countries. In addition, the United Nations Development Program calls for another $86 billion each year to help communities in the developing world deal with the impacts of global warming that is already “locked-in”…U.S. and European governments appear to be a penny wise but a pound foolish when it comes to climate finance. Total European new and additional funding commitments for a variety of climate-related bilateral and multilateral efforts over the next several years add up to only $13.1 billion, and very little of this has been disbursed. The U.S. government has not yet approved a single dollar for these initiatives.”

Check the report out at


How biology explains war.

22 11 2008

Malcom Potts and Thomas Hayden have wirtten a book called ‘Sex and War’, it seems to present an interesting exploration into the evolution of humatiy’s violent tendencies for war. They also cover the issue of how population growth, resource use and violence intersect. This point relates well to my previous post on military expenditure and ecological footprints. I would like not to think of a barbarized future in which millions of people try to migrate to northern latitudes.sexandwar_5inch_bright_op_400_600

“Today’s most brutal wars are also the most primal. They are fought with machetes in West Africa, with fire and rape and fear in Darfur, and with suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices in Israel, Iraq, and elsewhere. But as horrifying as these conflicts are, they are not the greatest threat to our survival as a species. We humans are a frightening animal. Throughout our species’s existence, we have used each new technology we have developed to boost the destructive power of our ancient predisposition for killing members of our own species. From hands and teeth tearing at isolated individuals, to coordinated raids with clubs and bows and arrows, to pitched battles, prolonged sieges, and on into the age of firearms, the impulse has remained the same but as the efficiency of our weapons has increased, the consequences have grown ever more extreme…The evidence of history is that no advance which can be applied to the killing of other human beings goes unused. As scientific knowledge continues to explode, it would be naïve, to expect any different. As if we needed any more reasons to confront the role of warfare in our lives, the present supply and future potential of WMDs should convince us that the time has come once and for all to bring our long, violent history of warring against each other to an end.”

“…all team aggression, all raiding, and all wars are ultimately about resources, even if the combatants aren’t consciously aware of it. All life, in fact, at its most fundamental level is about competition for resources. Evolution has been driven by this competition for billions of years, and today’s animals, plants, bacteria, protozoa, and fungi all exist because they competed successfully with their rivals in the past. If we are to have any chance of avoiding the wars of tomorrow, as the destructive power of today’s weapons tells us we must, then we have to address this most basic of biological problems: The fact that as the population of any species grows, the pressure on its natural resources increases and competition becomes more severe…Biology has invented a million ways for plants and animals to compete with each other. A tree may compete for light by growing taller; early mammals competed with dinosaurs by only coming out at night; humans and chimpanzees—especially the males—compete for food, space, and reproductive opportunities by fighting with each other. Human wars may come wrapped in a veneer of religion or political philosophy, but the battle for resources is usually just below the surface…In World War II, the need for land and resources was expressed as Hitler’s concept of lebensraum, or “living space.” “The aim [of] the efforts and sacrifices of the German people in this war,” he wrote, “must be to win territory in the East for the German people.” The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor because they knew they had to destroy the American Pacific fleet if they were to access the Indonesian oil they needed to supply their industries.”

“The population of Rwanda was two million people in 1950, and on average each woman had almost 8 children. By 1994, average family size had fallen slightly to 6.2, but the population had quadrupled to almost eight million, resulting in a population density of 292 people per square kilometer, the highest in all of Africa. James Fairhead, an anthropologist from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, adds an economic dimension to the analysis. Preceding the Rwanda genocide, Fairhead points out, agricultural land prices had reached an astronomical $4,000 per hectare in a country where many people lived on less than $500 a year. “Land,” Fairhead concludes, “is worth fighting for and defending.” Tragically, the fighting which took place in 1994 left between 500,000 and one million dead. It was cast as an ethnic conflict, and senseless. Once its roots in resource competition are laid bare, however, the violent extermination of an identifiable outgroup takes on the all-too familiar logic of team aggression.”

“For billions of years, evolution has been driven by competition caused by the simple fact that, left unchecked, all living things can reproduce faster than their environment can sustain. Our population growth today is largely unchecked by hunger, disease, or predators, and it is highly likely that our numbers and industrial demands have already exceeded the environment’s capacity to support them. Mathias Wackernagel in California, Norman Myers in England, and others calculate that we may have exceeded Earth’s carrying capacity as long ago as 1975. According to these calculations, we already need a planet 20 percent larger than the one we have. Such estimates are difficult to make and open to criticism. But it doesn’t take much more than an open set of eyes to realize that current human population growth and economic expansion are going to be impossible to sustain in the long term. competition for resources is about to increase markedly.”

Check for more.

Planetary Impacts

21 11 2008

The website SHOWworld allows us to visualise national ecological impacts and military spending for proportional comparison using cartograms. Per capita, the western world dwarfs most of the rest of the world especially Latin America and Africa in both cases. Despite this military power, we are told to fear the threat of terrorist attack and nuclear strike. Check the site for more.


“After dropping following the Cold War, worldwide military spending has grown sharply, driven by U.S. and European reaction to terrorist attacks. The U.S. accounted for nearly half the world total in 2007, while the second largest, the U.K., spent a tenth of the U.S. tally. In some countries, armed forces are more police force or employment program than machines of war.”


“Ecological footprint combines over 4,000 kinds of data to quantify the demand a country puts on the Earth’s resources, measured as a share of the planet’s surface. Worldwide, the average footprint per person is 2.2 hectares – 25% more than the Earth can sustain in the long run. High income regions have a footprint eight times larger than low income regions.”

In their environment.

13 11 2008


“I spotted this newborn lemon shark pup on the coast of Bimini in the Bahamas. It was enjoying the safety and sustenance of its mangrove nursery lagoon. I like this picture because I believe it shows a different perspective of sharks, that they are simply one important part of a bigger ecosystem.’ Lemon shark pups are only about 60 centimetres long, shorter than a human adult’s arm. They are born live, along with up to 17 littermates, and spend a couple of years in the nursery before moving into open sea. Mangroves are critical nurseries for many fish – especially lemon sharks – and protect the coast from storm surges. But the development of new holiday resorts means the mangroves are starting to be cleared.”


“Lighting the picture was tricky, as I wanted to show the total environment – the rainforest outside the trunk as well as the inside of the bat’s home and the bat itself. It took many months of hot, sweaty and mosquito-ridden days and nights.’ Seventy-four species of bat live together on the tropical island of Barro Colorado in Panama. The island can support this diversity because each species of bat has different feeding and roosting habits. The common big-eared bat eats insects such as caterpillars, but carefully discards their intestines so that it doesn’t end up eating half-digested leaves.”


“There were thousands of jellyfish pulsing through the water off Badalona, Spain, and they stretched for more than a kilometre. I focussed on this 30-centimetre shiff-arms jellyfish, shooting in black-and-white to emphasise the sensual form and the contrasting textures.’ Shiff-arms, or football, jellyfish look dangerous, but are harmless – unless you are plankton. The ball-sized jellyfish feed on the tiny animals, plants and bacteria that drift in the ocean currents by sucking in sea water. They take the water in through their mouth arms, what look like tentacles hanging around their head and which are covered in many tiny pores. So they don’t need stinging tentacles to attack prey.”

All received awards in the Wildlife Photography of the Year Competition 2008.

Radical Geographies

13 11 2008

Vodpod videos no longer available.

What the man is about

Paul Chatterton teaches in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds where he and researches and teaches on: international protest movements mainly looking at the popular uprising in Argentina since 2001 and the Zapatistas autonomous communities of Mexico; the ways in which city centres are increasingly becoming privatised and corporatised; and alternative models of development focusing on self-management.

At the university, he is co-managing a grant funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (see which explores the ways in which social activists and community groups are developing self-managed models for organising social and economic life beyond the welfare state. He is also working on a collaborative research project entitled ‘Who runs Cities?’ (see which promotes citizen engagement in urban governance.

His recent publications include: a guide to the autonomous Argentinian social movements ( and an activist handbook collaboratively written with the popular education collective Trapese published by Pluto Press called ‘Do It Yourself: A handbook for changing our world’ (see ).

Paul is also course director of a new Masters Programme at the University of Leeds called ‘Activism and Social Change’ (see He is one of the founders of the Common Place social centre in Leeds (, and is currently helping to start up an eco-village in Leeds.

What the lecture is about

Everyday, everywhere, through spontaneous and planned actions, people are changing the world, together. These everyday actions come from the growing desire to do it ourselves – planting vegetables, organising a community day to get people involved in improving where we live, exposing exploitative firms, taking responsibility for our health, making cups of tea in a social centre, figuring out how to install a shower powered by the sun, making a banner, supporting strikers, pulling a prank to make someone laugh, as well as think.

A whole range of groups from the Camp for Climate Action to No Borders and Social Centres are showing how people can take back control and organise to create a more just and sustainable world.

This talk is about this kind of DIY politics: a call to get involved in practical action and reflection to create more sustainable and fairer ways of living. It is based on the recent book called ‘DIY: a handbook for changing our world’ which I co-wrote with the Trapese Popular Education Collective.

The book is part handbook, part critique, and is designed to inform, inspire and enable people to take part in a growing movement for social change – which means you, the person sitting next to you on the train, your neighbour, your mother, your children. It is us that can make these changes and it is us that are going to have to. This book explores nine different themes where people are struggling to wrestle back control and build more equitable and just societies – sustainable living, decision making, health, education, food, cultural activism, free spaces, media and direct action.

The talk will present the main ideas in the book, offer some concrete advice for how you can get involved in the growing grassroots movement for change, and look at some of the pitfalls, critiques and ways forward.

While one black man becomes Prez, 1 million are in jail

5 11 2008