Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Ecocide Trial - next steps

I first posted here about the Ecocide Trial back last September, and then in January this year Simon Hamilton, one of the leading lights in the project, wrote a guest post about what actually happened.

To catch you up: On September 30th 2011, the UK Supreme Court in London served as the venue for a mock Ecocide Trial. Simon Hamilton, Chairman of The Hamilton Group, organisers of the event, says:
The trial allowed a forensic examination of the implications of this proposed law to see how it would work in practice. Ecocide should be on the Agenda at the Earth Summit in Rio in June 2012. The mock Trial proved that the crime of Ecocide is valid. The ethical and moral case for the banning of ecocides must now be at the forefront of decision-makers in Government and business throughout the World. There is international interest in the passage of such a law and The Hamilton Group will continue to ensure that the implications are as widely debated and understood as possible.
The argument is that the proposed new Law against Ecocide is fundamental in addressing humanitarian and environmental issues on a global scale. Implementation of the Law has the potential to change inter-governmental policy and action on climate change, by providing the necessary legal framework to help stop the over-exploitation of natural resources and to pre-empt the impending energy crunch.

The CEOs who were role-played in the mock trial were found guilty, so the next step is sentencing. At the time, this was adjourned for a Restorative Justice hearing, which will take place at the Institute for Democracy & Conflict Resolution (IDCR) at the University of Essex on the 31st of March.

Both CEOs have agreed to attend, which will bring them face to face with individuals who speak on behalf of the inhabitants of the territory they have been convicted of extensively damaging. The Hearing will take place after representations by Prosecuting Barrister Michael Mansfield QC and Defence Barrister QC counsel to the Judge (TBC). The parties then have the option to adjourn to a room for a Restorative Justice mediation, which will be filmed and screened live as they wrestle with the issues that arise.

The event is open to the public and interested organisations; there will be breakout sessions, debates and speakers during the day to discuss the issues that arise during the Restorative Justice process. Lawrence Kershen QC, Chair of the Restorative Justice Council will facilitate. You can register (it's free) to attend the event or you can link to a live stream on the day. And you can check out the FAQs page.

A key person in both the trial and the sentencing is Polly Higgins, a barrister and international environmental lawyer who has proposed Ecocide, as the law to protect the Earth's Right to Life, to the United Nations. Her book, Eradicating Ecocide, Laws and Governance to Prevent the Destruction of our Planet, sets out the law of Ecocide and she is campaigning for Ecocide to be made the 5th Crime Against Peace (alongside the existing international crimes of genocide, ethnic cleansing, wars of aggression and crimes against humanity).

The definition of Ecocide submitted by Polly Higgins to the United Nations is:
the extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.
You can see The Ecocide Trial on YouTube in the normal short sections: start here with Part 1.

There will be a post here later, after the sentencing, to report on what happened. But meanwhile here's a trailer: below are links to YouTube clips showing some of the actors who took part n the mock trial ad-libbing in their trial roles. They're very good, very realistic!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Christian Census on Climate Change - update

I've previously posted some details of this interesting initiative. Here is the latest information about the event in York on 21st April - double click to view the image full screen, details repeated below:

Mission Earth . . . a Christian response to climate change
Saturday 21 April

Morning in York Minster, 10.00-11.30am:
- Archbishop John Sentamu
- Bishop Terence Drainey
- The Reverend Stephen Burgess
- speakers from leading scientific and development organisations

Lunch and afternoon at York St John University, 12 noon - 4.00pm:
- lunch
- workshops

Entry to all events is free, but please book for afternoon workshops.

Further information and booking: or 07879 372999

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The water shortage - it's serious

You may have seen the recent news that a number of water companies in the south and east are intoducing hosepipe bans from the beginning of next month. Seven companies are involved: Southern Water, South East Water, Thames Water, Anglian Water, Sutton and East Surrey, Veolia Central and Veolia South East.

River Kennet January 2012

Comparisons are being made with the drought of 1976, but the state of our water resources now is worse than it was in March 1976. We already have reservoirs at low level [see picture gallery here], groundwater depleted, and rivers running low, or even dry (see photo above). The reason is that, in southern and eastern England, we've had two dry winters in a row - the winter months are when we expect to replensish water supplies.

In a Guardian article, people with different interests in the situation give their viewpoints. Robert Coleman, the senior manager at the RSPB's Titchwell Marsh nature reserve (near the Wash in north Norfolk) reports that the three main springs have run dry, for the first time in at least 30 years. He says:
The cornerstone of the whole reserve is fresh water. So far, we have just about managed by letting less water out to sea, but if it does not rain heavily soon it will all start to go very wrong in April and May when evaporation starts. Then the water levels will reduce, impacting on fish and wildlife. If the drought continues to May, there will be fewer insects, and the breeding birds will have less to feed on. By June the water levels will have dropped further and the wet areas will have started to dry out. By then the water voles will find it hard to get round the ditches and the moths and insects will be suffering. That will impact on the fish that feed on them and the birds, like the bitterns, which eat the fish. If the drought goes through to July, then Titchwell and much of the natural environment of eastern and southern Britain will be in trouble. If the ditches dry out, the fish will die and the birds will migrate or not breed. A lot of these birds are already under threat. It's only February, and we've had two dry winters running. It could be catastrophic.
Then a borehole driller tells the readers that he's rushed off his feet - the drought is definitely good for business. He says:
Yes, there's a drought but there isn't a water shortage. I'd say 90% of the water is lost in runoff. The problem is that the water companies have not invested in infrastructure. There's plenty of water around but they are not good at catching it when it rains. They mainly want to keep their shareholders happy. If the government wants to save water it should make the companies reduce their leaks. Twenty per cent of the water is just wasted.
This problem was reported long ago, when the water companies were first privatised - dividends for the shareholders are prioritised over investment in water conservation. The lack of care means that the runoff fails to replenish groundwater, which is already lower than normal. . . . and of course, an increase in the use of private boreholes further decreases this vital shared resource.
In the same article, a farmer explains the threats to our home-grown food supply if fields can't be irrigated, and a brewer details the effects on our beer supply!

This is localised at the moment - there's plenty of water in the north and west of England, and in Wales and Scotland, but moving large anounts of water around over large distances is both difficult and expensive. The predictions of local weather variation in response to global climate change are notoriously difficult, but one of the likely outcomes is more extreme variation. So we might well be looking at repeated drought in the south east and flooding in the north west. East Anglia is Britain's 'bread basket' so this is serious in the long run.

What can we all do, to conserve water and help our own gardens?
- If you have a garden, fit a rain diverter and water butts to your downpipes, and water your garden with this rainwater, not with tapwater
- If you have external accessible piping, fit a greywater diverter system
- Take shorter showers (3 minutes should be enough - even though the 'official' recommendation is 4 minutes) and maybe get a timer to help
- Fix dripping taps
- Install a water saving device in your toilet
- Turn off taps while you brush your teeth
- Only run washing machines or dishwashers when they're full

More information:

Further reading:
When The Rivers Run Dry: What Happens When Our Water Runs Out?  by Fred Pearce

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Each one teach one

In the final chapter of Costing Not Less Than Everything (see right) I wrote:
Everyone needs to learn how to grow food, how make, mend and fix things. Between us, as extended families, networks of friends and local groups, we need to take back all the hand-skills that the modern world has ‘outsourced’ to mass production. Also, take care to develop your ‘soft skills’ – facilitation, leadership, conflict-handling, and learning how to build community around you, wherever you are in your life.
This week's gues post comes from Liz Perkins, who elaborates on this for us.

Liz was brought up by a dedicated make-do-and-mender, and enjoys passing on her skills to others. She spent most of her working life involved with research and practice in adult education, often concerned with practical skills; she has also run craft and spirituality workshops for women. She is an Appleseed tutor, and a member of Fritchley meeting in Derbyshire.
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Liz writes:

As climate change progresses, we're all going to have to learn new skills – and learn to share them.

Before organised education became easy to access, most people learnt skills by watching and practising under supervision, often from their parents or through formal or informal apprenticeships. Many Quakers today work in the education system and we are certainly disproportionate consumers of courses! But there are other ways to learn, and teach. If you’ve never taught, or even learnt, by 'sitting next to Nellie’, you may need to get your head around how to be Nellie (or Ned) yourself.

If you have a practical skill, and most of us have at least one, you could usefully start thinking about how you could hand it on. Those of us who are older had the advantage of growing up in a period where fewer things were automatically bought rather than made, and repair rather than replacement was the first option. Are you a reasonable cook? Do you enjoy gardening? Have you craft skills of some kind – woodwork, dressmaking, knitting? Do you have ‘brown fingers’ around the house – a DIY person? You could be really useful to others, and more so if you think a bit about how to pass on your skills informally.

Many adult beginners are nervous
They may think they ought to know already; they may have had a bad start with this skill, with an unsympathetic teacher; they may be very good at other things and have unreasonably high expectations of what they should produce. You need to make things easy for them.

They need to have some early successes to encourage them
This means it would help to have a mental list of useful but easy projects, and know what snags can be lurking in what someone might fancy trying. If you’re a gardener, you need to encourage beginners to pick plants that aren’t fussy, and are suitable for the space and soil they’ve got. If you’re a dressmaker, you can steer novices away from fiddly jobs like set-in sleeves. I doubt if any good cook started by learning how to make a white sauce.

They will need you to show them how – and do it slowly, and explain as you go.
Anyone who has watched in bafflement while a computerised seven year old fixes something will know what not to do.

You will need to give thought to what can go wrong, and warn them about it
Sometimes this is about preplanning, like thinking about seam allowances before you cut out fabric pieces for a garment. Sometimes it is about explaining the habits of the material you work with, like choosing the best glue for the job. You may do this automatically, but beginners won’t even know what questions to ask.

You will need bite-sized chunks
Break the task, and the learning process, down into small bite-sized chunks, and be available for help if needed. This is actually a lot easier if you are Ned, or Nellie – formal teachers on organised courses have much more complicated problems of being accessible.

Hand skills are not the only ones we may be needing to pass around.
Quakers often have ‘soft’ skills too – how to start a group, how to help people work together, how to help people keep an eye on the vulnerable. Those with less experience could benefit from working with you, but they will learn more if you can explain as you go. There are often several reasons why you might do something, and a beginner may only see one. An obvious example is the go-round for introductions in a new or newish group. A beginner may feel that people always forget names anyway, why bother? An experienced group worker knows that there is another reason for doing this – it makes sure that everyone has said something to the whole group, at the start. It makes it easier for hesitant people to say something else later.

We are all going to need each other more as the climate change process accelerates. It is important to take stock of the skills we can offer as well as those we need to learn. Whether we have practised in the workshop, the kitchen, the allotment or the boardroom, there will be skills we can transfer to new circumstances. Identifying them soon and thinking about how to hand them on will make it much easier when the need arises.
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Liz Perkins, Pam Lunn and Alice Yaxley are offering a skills-share summer school at Woodbrooke, 20-24 August this year. We're anticipating a week of fun and learning, a real skills-exchange of both practical and 'soft' skills. Some skills sessions will be pre-planned and offered, but we hope that everyone coming will bring and share a skill as well learning some new ones for themselves.