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Age of Stupid

So, I saw the latest Climate Change campaigning film yesterday: The Age of Stupid. [Warning - I describe the film in some detail, click here to find out how to see it before reading]. The film is set in an apocalyptic future where climate destabilisation has destroyed most of the Earth’s ecosystems, and over 90% of the human population. We are given a harsh review of the signs we ignored and our future over the next fifty years in order to set the scene: famines, mass migrations, the burning of the amazon and nuclear strikes. The real focus of the film however is not in hypothesising about the details of this portentous future, but in looking back to today, and how we are failing to curb climate change to bring about a more positive future.
In the Arctic, Pete Postlethwaite has built a fortress in the ocean, protecting the artifacts of human civilizations and archiving our history. Postlethwaite is mining the digital archive for answers to the question that dogs his mind: “why did we not save ourselves when we had the chance?”. This sets the scene for the film, as he flicks between six (real) sub-documentaries which follow individuals’ experiences of and contributions to the climate problem. These include:

  • A determined young woman in Nigeria, trying to build a life and become a doctor in the face of poverty and the environmental destruction in her home town. In particular her opportunities are confounded by Shell’s intrusion to extract oil, not only polluting the environment, but also assisting the “resource curse” that oil has become in many developing countries. The images of her attempting to fish, with a typical poor African rural village on one bank, and an enormous steel Oil refinery belching gas flares and oil into the river were pretty incredible. This was topped off when she washed her meagre catch of fish with Omo (soap) in order to rid it of the spilt oil that coated the fish. Hers was a shocking tale but also one full of spirit and the ambition to positively overcome hardship, and it finished with her getting into a medical school - of course it seems unlikely she will ever read this, but I wish her the best of luck.
  • Piers - an entrepreneur who has worked in wind energy for many years, and attempts to build a wind farm in Bedfordshire, but is thwarted by local campaigners who block his planning permission on the basis of the view. Despite agreeing to downscale his project in response to local complaints at a hearing the local council turned down his application by ten to one. Whilst the size of the defeat was depressing, symbolising our inability to act quickly to move to a low-carbon economy, it was the interview with the leader of the campaign against the wind farm that really lingered in the mind. After being asked if the environment is an important issue she squirms at the idea she might be branded as an anti-environmentalist, and attempts to maintain that she is on the right side of the battle, but you can see she no longer really believes it.
  • Jeh - a member of a privileged and wealthy family, who is setting up India’s first budget airline Go. He believes he his helping lift India out of poverty by providing new opportunities through access to flights for even the poorest in India. Although in the context of the larger film he is unconvincing, you cannot help but recognise the pride in the air stewards as they go through their training and see what the company can offer individuals. Here the real message is how difficult it is to reconcile people’s wish to strive for improvement and a wealthier life against the need to scale back our climate impact. I found the moment at the end of the film when feel-good music is set against the frightening message of the rest of the film, and the celebration of the first flight of Go airlines surprisingly powerful.
  • Fernand Pareau - an extraordinary 82 year old guide in the French Alps, who has personally witnessed the local impacts of climate change, including the declining of a glacier by over 150 metres. I can’t really sum up this story, only that I left feeling that he was a truly inspirational individual.
  • Alvin - a man who stayed in New Orleans when Katrina hit, and rescued over one hundred members of his local community in the aftermath. Interestingly, he calls himself an environmentalist, whilst also having worked for Shell prospecting for oil
  • A young pair of siblings in Lebanon - perhaps aged eleven or twelve - who had fled Iraq during the war. Their father was killed by American soldiers, and their mother was conspicuously absent. We follow their story as they live and work together on a journey of survival, taking on a whole range of tasks including repairing and reselling items such as trainers which people in the West have prematurely cast away. Beyond the basic sadness we feel in simply witnessing the hardship of a pair of children trying to fend for themselves, the strongest message was in how the West’s actions are affecting people’s minds. The brother states quite starkly that if the Americans returned to his home he would kill them in vengeance for his father. I fear that just as capitalism fails to include the environmental costs of its transactions, so we fail to include the social costs of our actions, and the enemies we create.

These six documentaries* are weaved together not only by clever editing, but also by their inherent relationships which help convey how interconnected these stories are, even though they are from all corners of the globe. The images of flights over the melting Alps. Shell’s interventions in Nigeria, along with Alvin’s tale and the pumps that fuel Jeh’s plane. The search for improvement in Lebanon and India. The oil that helped incentivise war in Iraq with its consequences for Iraqi refugees. There were many more, and I felt the whole approach enabled a honest portrayal of the complexity and multiple faceted nature of Climate Change and the problems it brings.
I hadn’t really intended for this to become a film review/outline. Instead I had planned to write about how the film made me feel about my role and behaviour as both an individual and campaigner. Now however it seems I would be best to leave that to another post. In the mean time, please go and see it while it is still in the cinemas. I believe everyone should reflect on what the future might bring, and what roles we are serving to construct it - especially when the scientists are crying out to warn us of how bad the situation is. This is a vital review of where we are, which facilitates this reflection. The cinemas that are currently showing the film can be found here:

* The idea for this was taken from Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic.

Posted in Climate Change.

Stop the Massacre : Israel Out of Gaza

I haven’t written up an event list for quite some time, and intend to start doing some more events listings soon. However, for now, the priority has to be the crisis in Gaza. I don’t see that it is possible to overstate the horrific nature of the massacre on the Palestinians in Gaza - the events are described as a war, but there are no battles being fought because there is only one army involved. Israel is systematically destroying the minds and social fabric of these people, and I find it truly frightening.

Of course we all feel powerless to do anything, but we must at least be willing to stand up and say no, these actions are wrong and we will not simply watch without saying that we care. We must put what pressure we can on our governments to take some real action. If even we cannot find hope, what do we ask of those living in Gaza?

On Saturday there is going to be another march in London from Speakers Corner in Hyde Park to the Israeli embassy, starting at 12.30pm. Please come and join it if you can spare the time, if all we do is show that we care, then we have achieved something. I will be stewarding to help out, but would love to have some company - if anyone would like to help, please give me a call. There is a meeting tomorrow evening at the Friend’s Meeting House on Euston Road which starts at 6pm for people who are helping steward. This will be followed from 7:30pm by talks and a rally. More details can be found at

Also, I urge you to consider donating to Medical Aid For Palestinians, which are trying to deliver vital medical supplies to hospitals in Gaza. They need all the support they can get, so please donate at

I don’t think there is really a need to provide hundreds of links to information, there is more available than I have the heart to investigate. Perhaps a poem can offer an alternative to the images and videos?

“The Earth is closing on us
pushing us through the last passage
and we tear off our limbs to pass through
The Earth is squeezing us
I wish we were its wheat
so we could die and live again
I wish the Earth was our mother
so she’d be kind to us.”

(Mahmoud Darwish)

This one was actually written 26 years ago for an earlier Israeli siege on Beirut, but I nevertheless find it poignant.

Sorry to be so morbid, and hopefully see some of you on Saturday.


Posted in Uncategorized.

Interesting Events this January

By popular demand, I’ve put together another collection of events that have caught my eye. As always, lots are from OneWorld’s fantastic events list - but I have picked up a few from elsewhere too. I’ve added a few comments to a number of them on why I think they’re interesting, and also copied in the event summaries. Do add a comment or send me a mail if you plan to go to any of them, I haven’t got a hope of going to them all!

Friday 11 January

Close Guantánamo Bay demo - US Embassy, Grosvenor Square - assemble @ 9:30, start @ 10:30

Guantanamo continues to undermine the US and West in general’s position as countries with legitimate and responsible governments. It is a reminder that the West is perfectly capable of abusing its powers in horrific ways, and we must not be tired into acceptance. If you’re free on Friday morning, lend your voice to this human cause.

Population trends and their implications for human welfare - John Cleland - SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, WC1 @ 6pm

Population is known as the elephant in the room when it comes to discussing and responding to the environment and social pressures that are building in the world. We know beyond doubt that global resources are being used unsustainably, and that when resources run low it is the poor who suffer. The projected addition of another 2billion or more people over the next 40 years will only increase these pressures. Possibly depressing, but nevertheless a vital conversation to have.

Tuesday 15 January

Public Meeting on the Climate Change Bill - Joan Ruddock MP, Martyn Williams (Friends of the Earth) - Committee Room 10 in the House of Commons - @ 6.30pm

Hosted by the Big Ask, this will be a chance to directly hear from, and ask questions to Joan Ruddock - the minister for Climate Change. Coming along will also help pressure the government into recognising that the public takes the Climate Change issue seriously, and that effective policy is needed in order to bring about change.

Wednesday 16 January

Food and Climate Change: Food production, distribution and consumption in the context of climate change - Craig Sams, Jenny Jones, Tim Lang, Patrick Holden - Cecil Sharpe House, Regents Park Road, Camden - @ 6.30pm - £15

Food is becoming an increasingly important issue. We’ve been living in a fairyland for decades, with bountiful quantities of food available. Things are beginning to change - competition from biofuels, reduced crop yields due to increased night-time temperatures, decreasing availability of fresh water and other environmental pressures now mean that we no longer globally produce significantly more food than we consume. And even after years of excess 800 million do not have enough food, so what happens next? Perhaps this event will provide some foresight.

What Makes a Terrorist? - Sir David Omand GCB, Alan B. Krueger, Simon Israel - RSA London @ 19.00

With Professor Alan B. Krueger, author of What Makes a Terrorist? Economics and the Roots of Terrorism

Respondent: Sir David Omand GCB

Chair: Simon Israel Home Affairs Correspondent for Channel 4 News

“Many popular ideas about terrorists and why they seek to harm us are fuelled by falsehoods and misinformation. Leading politicians and scholars have argued that poverty and lack of education breed terrorism, despite the wealth of evidence showing that most terrorists come from middle-class, and often college-educated, backgrounds. In What Makes a Terrorist, Alan Krueger argues that if we are to correctly assess the root causes of terrorism, and successfully address the threat, we must think more like economists do.”

Thursday 17 January

Apocalypse Soon? Iran and the World in 2008 - Jon Snow, Ali Ansari, Kasra Naji, Ran Gidor - ICA, The Mall, - @ 7.45pm - £10/£9/£8,

“With the US funding arms to the Gulf Arab States and the rhetoric from both sides hardening, some see war with Iran as inevitable in 2008. But beneath the sound and the fury, what is really going on? Are America’s presidential frontrunners gearing themselves up for a historic shift in policy? What is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad planning in Iraq, and what will Israel do to stop Iran going nuclear?”

Thursday 17 January

Black Gold (film) - The Salmon and Compass, 58 Penton Street, N1 @

“Another bold documentary which asks us to think about what lies beneath, and beyond, our lives as prosperous Western consumers. The hilarious prices we pay for our skinny lattes in the coffee chains with the comfy sofas are a world away from the money that Ethopian coffee farmers actually get for their wares. Francis’s film is sober, discursive; it asks what can be done about these iniquities and talks about fair-trade initiatives. Its main achievement, however, is to ask us to recognize that coffee drinking is an unexamined domestic habit which is globally constituted and globally interconnected.”

17 January 2008

Combating corruption in post-war settings - Martin Tisné, Alina Rocha Menocal - ODI - must book

I’ve recently been reading Paul Collier’s “The Bottom Billion”, in which he argues that war is one of the most important poverty traps (no surprises there). He also refers to evidence that a large proportion of countries escaping civil war return to violence within 10 years, so it is vital support is provided to post-war nations. Combating corruption and rebuilding political structures is fundamental to avoiding the regress to war. Perhaps this session can offer some incites into this topic, here’s the official blurb…

Attention to corruption has not typically been a programming priority in post-war settings. Between the exigencies of securing peace, responding to humanitarian crises, large-scale public institution-building and economic development, fighting corruption has either been seen as secondary, or as an obstacle to peace. A growing body of national and international policy-makers is now debating how anti-corruption measures in these settings may be most effective. Corruption can be a major destabilising factor, but so can anti-corruption measures gone wrong.

“At this ODI event, Martin Tisné [Programme Director of Tiri] will review integrity reforms that have been undertaken in post-war settings, put forth some recommendations about those best placed to succeed in these environments, and present an analytical framework that can tip the balance in favour of positive recovery.

Over the past two years, Tiri, an independent non-governmental organisation that works with governments, business and civil society organisations to find practical solutions to making integrity work, has led a team of researchers from eight post-war countries to study factors that may improve the chances for and quality of post-war recovery.”

Saturday 19 January

Change the World, Fabian new year conference - Timothy Garton Ash, Shirley Williams, Polly Toynbee, Margot Wallstrom, Ed Miliband, Hilary Benn, Shami Chakrabarti - £35/£20.

This collection of speakers definitely demands some attention:

“Fabian NYC will bring together more than 700 delegates with 50 leading thinkers on foreign policy and global issues from the UK, Europe and beyond, to start a year of new ideas. Will Timothy Garton Ash agree with Shirley Williams about Europe’s strategy towards Iran? Do Will Hutton and Robert Cooper share the same vision of the rise of China? Could Polly Toynbee learn something about the Europe debate from Quentin Davies MP? What does Sir Christopher Meyer think America will be like after President Bush? Answers to these questions and many more at perhaps the biggest ever UK public conference on global politics.”

Tuesday 22 January

Perspectives on Trade and Poverty Reduction - Jonathan White, Chris Stevens - ODI, 111 Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 - @ 1pm

” The United States and Europe account for significant shares of global trade and foreign aid activities with developing countries, and can heavily influence economic opportunities for the world’s poorest. At the same time, their level of global economic engagement can be shaped by public perceptions of trade, jobs, foreign assistance, and security at home.

The annual Perspectives on Trade and Poverty Reduction survey, carried out by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, polls Americans and Europeans on these critical issues to gain a better understanding of the public perceptions influencing policy climates in the United States and Europe. It explores views on trade and aid, and their ability to provide shared prosperity, global stability, and democracy in developing countries. Do Americans and Europeans believe that lowering trade barriers with Africa could help with addressing modern threats like unstable states? How do they view the impact of trade on jobs at home and what can we do to help workers who may lose their job due to trade? Can a transatlantic marketplace with deeper trade and investment ties help our own economies?”

Turning the welfare state inside out, Simon Duffy and the story of in Control - Matthew Taylor, Dr Simon Duffy, Caroline Tomlinson - RSA, 8 John Adam Street, WC2N 6EZ - @7pm

Welfare State reform is a pressing topic - changes within the NHS are moving us towards privatisation, and away from treating everyone according to need rather than private financial interest. Duffy developed the individual budgets system for social care that is now being implemented by the government, this is your chance to hear the arguments from those who devised it, and responses from those who have been affected.

Thursday 24 January

Humanitarian Intervention: Who Does It Help? - Clare Short, Geoffrey Robertson, Jonathan Steele, David Chandler - ICA, The Mall, SW1 @ 7pm - £10/£9/£8

“After the war in Iraq and with pressure growing on Western governments to take action in Darfur, a panel of experts from across the political spectrum debate whether armed humanitarian intervention has ever really helped the vulnerable, and what agendas lie behind the much-vaunted “responsibility to protect” “

Tuesday 29 January

Perspectives on Global Health - Dr Tachi Yamada - South Kensington Campus, Imperial College @ 5.30pm

This is a fantastic chance to see how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world’s biggest philanthropic organisations sees Global Health. (Dr Tachi Yamada is the President of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations Global Health Program).

Posted in Events.

How do we turn sympathisers into activists?

A number of people have commented on the hierarchies of involvement diagram that I posted in my e-campaigning article. To clarify, the diagram is taken from the Participate Online research project done by the BBC, so I can’t claim credit for it. Still, the responses reinforce my belief that it is a useful model to use in thinking about campaigning and participation.

In response to my post, Priscilla of Solidariti reiterated the important question “how do we move supporters and activists from one point on the chart to the next?”. Participate Online attempted to tackle this by looking at the triggers and barriers that affect people’s involvement.

Barriers and Triggers to Involvement

Taken from slide 50 - Participate Online - User Motivation in Mass Participation

Priscilla found that asking people directly how best they might contribute was an effective way of engaging with people. She cites the “too many additional/personal commitments” barrier as being prevalent, although I wonder whether if it is the “perception” of this that is the true barrier. She also turns out to be a trigger/motivator herself - a figure who her readers respect - which was not included in Participate’s list.

The Participate research also encourages us to look at participation as a journey:

Participation as a Journey

Adapted from slide 54 - Participate Online - User Motivation in Mass Participation

I think this model is useful for evaluating how the offline and online interact. In general, the cause and event are offline activities, whilst the call to action and community are increasingly managed online. Our attempts to shift participation should respect the larger journeys that people are taking part in, and the most effective methods of engagement to use at each stage. To build communities that last and are effective, it is necessary to allow for both online and offline activities, and for the community to evolve, so that new goals and journeys for participants will form.

The question of how to build this community is a much larger one, which many in the e-campaigning community have been dealing with for some time. I don’t think my ideas on this are particularly new, but I thought I should share them anyway since I’m on the subject. One of the key features of the hierarchy of engagement was that it was easier to carry out activities at the bottom of the hierarchy of engagement on a mass scale online, and that more direct activities tended to involve fewer people, and be offline. An effective e-campaigning network should cater for both. The below diagram shows a possible flow between three different levels of a theoretical community that might do this. The top sector is the most digital and mass, employing crowdsourcing to highlight issues raised by the community (the issues chosen here are just examples). The second “intra-team” sector provides a route through to the third sector, where smaller teams of like-minded, local, connected and more active individuals are able to collaborate, focus on problems, and contribute back to the community. When a team has completed work on a problem, i.e. it has come to the end of its “journey”, then the new relationships formed on this journey, and issues raised, will help individuals to form new teams and communities to continue the cycle. I see the second sector as a tool to encourage people to shift along the hierarchy of engagement and form teams in the third sector, perhaps by automatically forming suggestions of teams to work on issues based on common interests, relationships and geography. We therefore manage to combine the strengths of small groups of committed individuals, with the mass movements that can carry actions through to fruition.

Building Networks on the Hierarchy of Engagement (small)

Posted in ecampaigning.

London Ethical Events Listings

I’ve made a habit of trying to take advantage of the excellent range of events on ethical issues that are run around London. Often I go to the ones run by local medsin branches, such as Imperial or UCL, but also other talks, rallies, films etc. run by groups from LSE to the Campaign Against Climate Change. I’ve built up quite a collection of useful links for events, and thought I should share them. I hope they’re useful!


OneWorld UK / Get involved / UK Events / Weekly events listing

Probably the most comprehensive listing of “ethical events” around. Don’t be put off by the fact that it isn’t exactly beautiful or Web 2.0!

The List, Prospect’s Guide to Lectures and Seminars

Another excellent events list, with a slightly broader remit than OneWorld’s. I recommend the magazine too..!

New Statesman - Events

The New Statesman has a slightly selective and left-wing collection of events..

LSE Public Lectures and Events - LSE

LSE is always a goldmine for finding topical, exciting and a little more controversial public lectures

Events Calendar: United Nations Association- UK

Another good general events list. It has a UN focus, but also lists events hosted by many other groups.

LSHTM Events

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s lectures.

The Lectures List (London)

This site lists loads of lectures, so is useful for publicising as well as finding events

RSA - Lectures

Public Lectures hosted by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. It hosts events and lectures on various things including “social change”. I discussed some of the issues on charity accountability in my recent post about Nyaya Health.

BOND - International Development Events

Provides a good picture of major events coming up in the NGO community

Overseas Development Institute - homepage

Events from the ODI, looking at the International Development community and its direction

War On Want : Events : Events Listing

Often some more direct and political events that you can take part in. And some less challenging ones, such as The World Fair, which is a good place to pick up some “ethical” presents before Christmas

NCVO - NCVO’s Campaigning Effectiveness Programme - Events

Hosts campaigning workshops

Global Health Forum

Medsin Imperial host a Global Health related talk every Tuesday


It’s also worth having a look at some of the more general events websites…


A great “Event Sharing” Web 2.0 site. At the moment a lot of the events are web related, but not exclusively so, and hopefully its use will broaden as it expands

Time Out London

You obviously can’t miss this one out!

All In London - What’s On Guide

What’s On When? - London Events

Greater London Authority - Events


Please feel free to post other good listings sites if you know them!

Posted in Uncategorized.