System Change Not Climate Change

by A.A. French

After being in Copenhagen for five days now, there are some thoughts running through my head that I’d like to express and share with y’all. This is going to be short, and probably not all that eloquent, but it will help me get some points across that I think are really important at this critical moment in the fight for our climate. I do want to say that while this post is critical of the way things are happening at COP15, I still deeply respect the youth of all delegations who are inside this conference, trying to scrap out a decent deal for the world. I thank them for all their efforts, but am coming from a different perspective here.

I came to Copenhagen hesitant and nervous….not wanting to place too much hope into the talks that had effectively been castrated by the UNFCCC leadership and Yvo de Boer. But I still wanted to be here all the same; after all, it’s supposedly the climate party of the century! So I hooked up with some French activists and an amazing organization called Climate Justice Action and planned on doing all that I could during the two weeks of the conference. I wanted to rally, protest, take part in negotiations, have my voice heard and above all- help bring a fair, ambitious and binding treaty out of Copenhagen. But upon arriving in Denmark, I entered a catatonic state of dumbfoundedness… having finally come to the realization, like so many others (James Hansen, Breakthrough Institute etc), that these talks were doomed to fail and there was nothing anyone could do about it. As quickly as it had come, my dream of that fair, ambitious and binding treaty that we’ve all been working towards disappeared in a smoggy cloud of yen, dollars, euros and political and moral weakness.

Since 2006, I’ve been a part of the youth climate movement and I always believed that it was possible to achieve the sort of change we needed through the United States Congress, the United Nations Conference of Parties or other governmental bodies. To put it short and use that worn out term, I believed in “the system”. I believed that governments did have the power to stop climate change and did in fact want to stop climate change. I thought COP 15 would be a conference of folks dedicated to doing whatever was necessary to solve the climate crisis, regardless of money, corporate influence or politics.

I was wrong.

The first five days of the conference have been full of back door dealings by Annex 1 countries, oppression of “developing” countries like Tuvalu by official delegations and a lack of desire for a legitimate deal in Copenhagen by members of the US delegation. So, even with tens of thousands of people working on a global climate treaty for the past fifteen years, we have yet to reach any sort of legitimate, legally binding treaty that addresses climate change and climate justice while refusing to give into corporate and big business pressure. You would think that when you put the world’s top negotiators, scientists, governmental representatives and UN hot shots together for 15 years, they’d at least be able to figure something out right? Continue reading

Corruption Goes Right To The Heart Of The System

There is a range of different ways of making money out of parliamentary expenses – and our politicians have milked them all.

Many of the recent revelations in the expenses scandal are centred around claims relating to housing.

Shahid Malik, the justice minister, resigned last week pending an inquiry into the unusually low level of rent he was paying to a landlord in his constituency in West Yorkshire while claiming £66,000 in allowances for his London home.

Elliot Morley, a senior backbencher, was stripped of the Labour whip after “forgetting” that he had paid off his mortgage and improperly claimed more than £16,000.

David Chaytor, a backbencher, was suspended from the parliamentary Labour party after admitting an “unforgivable error” in claiming £13,000 for a mortgage he had already repaid.

Plasma TV

Most people are outraged at the extravagance of many of the claims – such as those of Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman who claimed £1,851 for a rug imported from a New York antiques centre and had tried to claim £8,865 for a plasma TV.

But to claim expenses for mortgages that don’t exist takes corruption to a new low. Continue reading

MPs’ Expenses – Kick Them All Out. A Look At True Democracy.

As the Commons’ standing falls to a historic low, with news of MPs claiming expenses for everything from piles of manure to tennis court maintenance, from cleaning moats to pruning  wisterias, there are now legitimate calls from all sections of the public for drastic action and change. Is it time to dissolve parliament, kick out all the MPs and for the public to brick by brick to build a new democracy? Let us look at democracy and what it really means:

Democracy: The Idea

Deriving from the Greek, Demos Kratos – People Power – Literally, direct self government and decision making by the people.

Today this idea is widely interpretated as indirect or representative democracy, where voters elect representatives to make decisions on their behalf.

Democracy implies varying degrees of people power, participation, representation, responsible government and consent. Democratic participation may take many forms, from voting and standing for political office to meetings, marches, demonstrations, peaceful lawbreaking and violent political opposition. Even riots and terrorist attacks have democratic claims, since they are ‘people power’ in the literal sense – although all states and governments will deny those democratic claims when such activities are directed against them.

Democracy: The Reality Continue reading

Jose Antonio Abreu – In His Own Words

Jose Antonio Abreu is the charismatic founder of a youth orchestra system that has transformed thousands of kids’ lives in Venezuela. Here he shares his amazing story.

See http://www.ted.com for more information on TED

See also The Sound of El Sistema

The Future of Classical Music lies in Venezuela

Related: Free Instruments for Poor Children in the UK

The Sound of El Sistema

The Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra contains the best high school musicians from Venezuela’s life-changing music program, El Sistema. Led here by Gustavo Dudamel, they play Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, 2nd movement, and Arturo Márquez’ Danzón No. 2.

The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra will be in residency at the Southbank Centre, London in April 2009.

For tickets go to http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk. Tickets are limited and dates are virtually all sold out.

‘Music-making this joyous is in a class of its own. If you hear of the orchestra coming within 500 miles of you, book straight away’ (Telegraph).

For more on El Sistema click here

A System Out Of Control

The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers–with more financial institutions to follow, no one knows how quickly–is the product of greed and deregulation embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike.

A Wall Street trader watches as the stock market crashes in reaction to the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers (Zuma)

A Wall Street trader watches as the stock market crashes in reaction to the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers (Zuma)

THE LATEST chaos on Wall Street–the worst financial upheaval in the U.S. since the Great Depression of the 1930s–highlights not just the scale of the world financial crisis, but the needless destruction caused by the blind competition at the core of capitalism.

The Wall Street crisis will almost certainly make the current economic slump worse. A shadow banking system beyond the reach of regulators in the U.S. or any other country is crashing down, destabilizing the world financial system. Even before the latest crisis, Bill Gross of Pimco, a big money-management firm, warned that an uncontrolled liquidation of debt by financial institutions “can turn a campfire into a forest fire, a mild asset bear market into a destructive financial tsunami.”

The risk of such a catastrophe is growing. As hundreds of billions of dollars in financial assets vaporize, banks will be forced to raise interest rates to increase the amount of money they have in their reserves. This, in turn, will cut off credit to business and consumers alike, further choking an anemic economy. Continue reading

Every Child In School Numbered For Life

All 14-year-old children and future generations in England will have their personal details and exam results placed on a compulsory electronic database for life under a plan announced in February by government officials.

Colleges and prospective employers will be able to access students’ records online to check on their qualifications. Under the terms of the scheme all children will keep their individual number throughout their adult lives. The database will include details of exclusions and expulsions.

Officials claim that the introduction of the unique learner number (ULN) is not a step towards a national identity card. But it will be seen as the latest step in the Government’s broader efforts to computerise personal records.

Teachers’ leaders, parents’ organisations, opposition MPs and human rights campaigners have questioned whether this Big Brother approach is necessary and have said that it could compromise the personal security of millions of teenagers.

The new database — which will store a “tamper-proof CV” — will be known as MIAP (managing Information Across Partners). To be registered on the new database every 14-year-old will be issued with a unique learner number. Unlike the current unique pupil number now given to children in school but destroyed when they leave, the ULN will be used by government agencies to track individuals until they retire. Ultimately, it will create a numbered database for every citizen aged 14-plus in the UK. Continue reading