Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

My Review of the Year 2016

January

In it was 2016 twenty years since the Newbury Bypass protests. A defeat that led to a famous victory, the snowy woods of Newbury were where it all began for me as an eco-warrior. The Guardian's John Vidal, who had been ignoring my press releases for the last three years, made amends by putting me in his Guardian article.

Back in the present day though I didn't feel much campaigning at all. 2015 had been about the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It had been signed, but we knew that was only the beginning of the fight, not the end. That was why the Red Lines action in Paris took place the day after the conference ended, not the day before it started. But a year of campaigning, then travelling to Paris for a demonstration that had been declared illegal due to the state of emergency, had taken it out of me.

The first stop was Wigan, the home of those early eco-warriors, The Diggers. I say a few words, drink a few beers, and chat to some interesting people.

Back in the real world the cull of music greats, that started with Lemmy before New Year, continues with David Bowie. Having released Blackstar three days earlier he goes out with style. I never knew the man, but the artist was amazing. He was soon joined by Glenn Fry, co-founder of The Eagles, and Dale Griffin, the drummer from Mott the Hoople, in what looked already like it was going to be a grim year for music fans. 

February

February though started with some good news. The Great Bear Rainforest in Canada, named by campaigners in the 1990s, finally received the protection it deserves. The home of the mysterious spirit bear, I had been part if the battle to save the forest in the late 1990s, when I was part of the British branch of the Forest Action Network.

The Paris Agreement was already looked like another lame treaty. In the USA the conservative dominated Supreme Court voted 5:4 to block Obama's, very modest, Clean Power Act whilst a series of fossil fuel funded legal actions against it were heard. Then right wing judge Antonin Scalia died, giving hope the deal wouldn't be killed before its first birthday.

This year's campaigning began properly with the start of Cuadrilla's appeal against Lancashire County Council's decision to reject fracking at two sites.

It was at Blackpool Football ground and getting there was the first challenge, as the Glossop to Manchester trains are off and there was a giant sinkhole in the road at Broadbottom. I do make it though, and there is a sizable turnout. There is also a rare appearance by the opposition, a dozen or so middle age men, who stayed for exactly an hour, before looking at their watches and leaving, presumably to fill in their time sheets and collect the £120 they were (allegedly) paid for attending.

All the usual suspects are there except Tina Louise Rothery, who turned up in Parliament Square with Greenpeace's fake fracking rig.

Inside the appeal all appears to go well for the anti-frackers. However, as we know the final decision will be made in London, not Blackpool, we weren't confident.

March

Meanwhile the revolt against fracking across the regions continued, with my friend Ed Kelly of the local Labour Party successfully getting an anti-fracking motion passed by High Peak Borough Council.

The next evening I headed off on the train across the snow covered landscape to meet the fledgling Warrington group. I don't think we got much organised, but we drank a lot of beer and had a very good time.

Meanwhile the next musicians to join the supergroup that was forming in rock's Valhalla was keyboard maestro Keith Emerson. It was promising to be quite a gig up there.


April

April started with a camping trip with my boys, and a chance to visit one of my favourite trees, the King of Limbs in Savernak Forest.

The Greenpeace group had a bit of busy month. First Sami was out in about in Manchester, as we collected postcards to send to the Norwegian ambassador. We were asking him to make the, increasingly ice-free Barents Sea, a protected area.  We also delivered anti-fracking cupcakes to Manchester City Council.

The world was certainly an interesting place in 1916, but a hundred years ago it was even more so. April marked the centenary of the Easter Uprising, which was the start of Irish independence. I decided to reflect on some of the historic places I'd visited whilst living there twenty years ago.

This month I also got to hear Paul Mason speak, along with John McDonnell, who is now the Shadow Chancellor, but who I remember as being the only Labour MP willing to leave their fortified conference venue to speak to the People's Climate March we put on two years ago. As someone trying to make Marx relevant to the twentifirst century, Mason certainly got my grey matter working, leading to this blog on how we got into the mess we're in.

In April I met an Oscar winning actress, and she smelt of poo.

Greenpeace had sent Emma Thompson, and her sister, up to Blackpool for the Great Fracking Bake Off, to cakes which Tina Louise and the Lancashire Nanas judged. I popped up to join them. The farmer who'd sold his land to Cuadrilla was there too, and decided to cover Emma, and the cakes, in manure. The volunteers still ate the cakes though.

At the end of the month came some good news. Several months of stealing tins of tuna from the shelves of Tesco, and hiding them around the store, had paid off and the company agreed to drop John, unless they actually completed on their promise to become sustainable. 

This month's famous musician to join the great gig in the sky was Prince.

Also dying this month was Colin Gould, the husband of the Liz Gould, the stalwart coordinator of the Merseyside Greenpeace Group for many, many years. His funeral was one of those moments when you realise that Greenpeace is really just one big family.

May

May started with the Big Session in Buxton, and its accompanying beer festival. Seth Lakeman was fantastic as usual.

Going Backwards on Climate Change was a national campaign, and Manchester did its bit. I was there with Sami, and in May it was pretty hot work. Sami is out again a couple of weeks later as we have a token protest at the Etihad Stadium, as arch-frackers Eneos are sponsoring the Great North Run. The day started with Lori and I being greeted by armed police, but they are friendly enough.

The same day we start our new target for the tuna campaign, Sainsbury's. The big news on the oceans campaign though was that whilst we hadn't yet got the marine reserve we wanted, several major brands announced they would not be buying fish from the Barents Sea.

June

Not much campaigning this month, as I instead chose to spend my spare time enjoying the countryside as this was my favourite month of the year. The purple orchids were out in Cressbrook Dale, and the snow had finally melted on Kinder Scout.

Another distraction was that it was exactly 25 years since I graduated from Leicester University with a 'gentleman's pass' in astrophysics. To celebrate the Leicester physicists class of '91 returned to the city, and tried to find a bar that hadn't been gentrified since we left.

I did however get to run a stall for Greenpeace at this years Envirolution Festival in Manchester. It is bloomin' hot, and we have far too much gear, but at least we sell all our cupcakes.

There were more centenaries this month, including a hundred years since the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest 24 hours in the history of the British Army. This was my view of why that was so.

Then Brexit happened. A victory for the tabloid press and their campaign of scapegoating. Suddenly moving forwards was no longer an option. We would need to campaign to defend the limited victories we already have.

Just to add to the gloom, this month's late, great musician was Dave Swarbrick. His last gig had been a benefit for refugees, an example of the sort of tolerance and humanity that threatened to be interred with his body.

July

July saw a fracking industry meeting at the Manchester Conference Centre. In the grand scheme of things it was a minor gathering of minor players in the industry, but on the principle that we go after them wherever they are, we held a demo outside. Tina Louise actually turns up this time. I made a speech linking fracking with the Paris Agreement, which now seems a very distant memory. Rather bizarrely we appeared on Cuban television. 

In a break from fracking the Manchester Greenpeace Network played its part in a day of action against Siemens, as the company was contracted to build a series of huge damns in the Amazon. We paid an undercover visit to one of their 'IQ Centres' in Altringham to re-brand some of their white goods. All went according to plan and all the activists escaped unscathed.


The 2016 Olympics open in Rio, with an environment themed ceremony. Interesting, but lacking in the humour and generally zaniness of Danny Boyle's London 2012 show. I reflect here on how much meaner a society we seem compared to those happy days.

August

Holidays and family illness limit things a bit in August, but I still get to the Cropredy Festival.


It's a bit of a wake for Swarb, but still fun. The headliners are Madness, Steeleye Span, the Bootleg Beatles and, of course, Fairport, who are fifty next year and all live up to expectations, especially Madness, who are very much not just a band cranking out their old hits (although they do get played).

However it's the new discoveries that make the weekend. There was the very weird and infectious bluegrass/metal act Hayseed Dixie. Then Wille and the Bandits, who were a fantastic blues act that make up for me missing the Black Keys. Bet of all there was The Pierce Brothers, an Aussie band that turn up, weary from a long tour, and pining for home, but who play a stonking set, and end up having an even better time than us.

September

More interesting centenaries came and went, including 100 years since T.E. Lawrence left his desk in Cairo and went off to become 'of Arabia'.

I don't seem to have done much this month except climb a mountain in Cumbria (High Cup Nick, at the top of which is the best view in England).

However I did find time to medicate on why so many Working Class people (although certainly not all, or even the majority) continue to shaft us all, and themselves, by supporting Trump, or the insane Brexit crowd, and the remarkable degree to which those three pillars of the establishment; the City, the aristocracy and the Tory Party, continued to support peace with Hitler even after the Second World War had started and Churchill was PM. Then, I should point out for balance the Working Class were 100% behind the war effort.

Having failed to sign up for fully fledged Corbyn-mania (I remain a fully paid up Green) I also had some wry amusement about how a bewildered old Trot like Jeremy managed to beat of the 'Blairite opponents' and remain leader of Labour.

October

October starts with me getting drunk in the Greenpeace warehouse, something I haven't done for a while. At least this time I didn't then have to get on a coach for a twenty hour journey to eastern Germany.

On 4th October the European Union ratified the Paris Agreement. The next day the government announced it was overturning Lancashire's decision to reject Cuadrilla's plans for fracking at Little Plumpton. It was game on again.

As bands of activists had been turning up outside fracking conferences on a regular basis, Shale Gas World decided to hold its at a secret venue when they met in Manchester. Fortunately we were able to find out where it was and stage a little demonstration of our own.

Uniformed plod met us met us at Piccadilly station and plain clothes officers escorted us on the train, but we managed to find the Radisson Blu Hotel without the. A recommendation by the Police Liaison Officer that we hold our demo at the station - where nobody would be able to see us - was politely rejected and we plonked yourselves down outside for a morning of making noise.

On 25 October the government announced that they were going ahead with the Third Runway at Heathrow. By chance I was in London that day visiting the Royal Astronomical Society (not for any particularly clever reason, but because a friend from university works there) so I got the news of Zac Goldsmith's resignation live.


November 

The month begins with the election of Trump as President of the AS of U. A man who makes George W Bush look principled and Dan Quail as talented, the only possible positive thing you can say is that at least the world's only superpower no longer wants us to even pretend we take them seriously.

Campaigning continued despite this calamity. The 'Secret Shale' event was the starter, but the main course was the United Against Fracking rally in Manchester on 12th November, which Frack Free Greater Manchester has organised, at very short notice, for Frack Free Lancashire.

For once, I did my job as Press Officer right and we had TV, radio and print media. Of course, it helped that Frack Free Lancs had persuaded Bianca Jagger to lead it, as well as John Ashton, former climate change diplomat and founder of Third Generation Environmentalism. It was good to meet him again, and he didn't bear any ill feeling towards us for knackering his lungs by taking him to Davyhulme last time he was in Manchester.

The rally started in Piccadilly Gardens, where I do a brief comedy turn on the microphone. there appear to be almost as many people as attended the Barton Moss event we held two years ago, which allows us to claim we've achieved our objective of being the biggest anti-fracking gathering ever in the UK.  I then take my place at the very back and follow every to Castlefields.

There we have some rather more serious speeches, including by Andy Burnham, the man set to be Manchester's first mayor. Hacienda legend Dave Haslem does the DJing, and Bez turns up too. We are the lead regional news story, but don't even get a mention on the national news, which is about par for the course I'm afraid. Next year we'll have to up the ante with a bit of direct action, but for now it's a fun day out in town. The show ends with Peaceful Dan leading everyone in singing 'the people have the power', whilst I order a taxi for Bianca.

During November I also play my part in Salford TUC's Environment Day event. It's a low key affair, but a sign of the links we have between eco-activists and trade unionists that we have in Manchester, but not many other places.

However whilst the TUC seems to like us, Merseyside police decided that we were all 'domestic extremists', and listed anti-fracking groups amongst those people should be worried about as part if its Prevent anti-terrorism strategy.

This months dead musical great was Leonard Cohen, who was at least pretty old. This was my vaguely relevant blog.

December

To round the year off I was asked by the Glossop Guild for Enquiring Minds, our local, independent spin-off from the Workers Education Association, to be one half of a talk entitled the Case For And Against Fracking. It could have been a very ill-tempered event, but in the end m and my opposite number, Peter Webb got along fine, and agreed on most of the actual facts. My side of the argument is here. 

The year's events weren't over yet for Tina Louise Rothery though. After a busy year she had the minor matter of Contempt of Court charges to face after refusing to pay a fine levied against her by Cuadrilla Resources. She was up in court and facing two weeks in Styal Prison. She is invited into the back room of the court with opposing barrister, whilst the judge 'disrobed' (hopefully he at least kept his pants on). Cuadrilla blink first and Tina doesn't get sent down, which is a pity in some ways as the Manchester Greenpeace Group had baked her a cake.

Conclusion

So that was my 2016. We held the line and kept the country frack free, kept the issue of climate change in the news, and made some progress on Oceans and the Amazon.

Meanwhile, though, the rest of the world went mad. War and refugees, fake news and fake politicians, extremists and authortiarians; that was the story of 2016, and my prediction for 2017 as well. If I ended 2016 not recognising my own country, we may all end 2017 not recognising our own world.

Still, we'd be bored with nothing to fight, wouldn't we? Yes, we lost on most of the big issues, but then we lost the battle at Newbury too. But we weren't wrong, and in the end we won the war.

See you on the blockades in 2017.