Road Protests, Stories and Politics at Dark Mountain

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An installation of slate signs by Tom Hirons commemorates protest sites against UK government’s road building programme in the 90s. The commemorative plaques mark the 20-year anniversary of the start of the road protest movement at Twyford Down. It was one of a number of activities focusing on the road protests movement at Dark Mountain’s Uncivlisation 2012 festival this weekend.

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While many individual sites mentioned on these plaques where lost to roads, the protests did seriously damage the prospects for Thatcher’s road building programme, which was significantly reduced as a result of the forest occupations. The protests were, as described in the Uncivilisation 2012 programme; ‘a high-water mark in the history of the UK environmental movement’. Many of the people who were defending these forests, valleys and meadows were nothing short of heroic in their defense of the land. Living up in the trees and buried in the tunnels, winter and summer alike, these forest occupations worked to stop some of the proposed roads. Continue reading

The Green Economy (NOT!): The Final Frontier

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The UN’s Rio+20 declaration ‘The Future We Choose’ warns; ‘the scientific evidence is unequivocal…the time to act is now!’ With this document the UN calls for ‘a great transformation’ emerging from the recognition that business as usual is no longer sufficient. Humankind is now in the ‘Anthropocene’ wherein we must live within the ‘safe operating space of planetary boundaries’. Does this environmental rhetoric demonstrate that the UN is serious about addressing the biodiversity crisis? Or has the UN simply appropriated green language to sell its new project to the global public?

The so-called ‘Green Economy’ launched at Rio+20 reveals a new approach to sustainable development, based on creating new markets for nature’s processes. The basic provisions of the natural world are now ‘ecosystem services’ (water purification, plant pollination, carbon capture and maintenance of soil fertility, etc.). Presently free and commonly shared, the emerging programme will soon quantify, financialise and marketise them. The commodification of the natural world supposedly aims to protect nature by accounting for ‘externalities’ of environmental damage by industry. According to this logic, once nature’s processes are given a financial value, prices of goods and services will reflect ecological costs and it will no longer make economic sense to produce ecologically harmful products.

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Design vs. The Design Industry

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Five days ago I uploaded a new paper titled ‘Design vs. The Design Industry: Conflicts in Emergent Orders‘ to the EcoLabs website that has now been downloaded over 470+ times. I should include an explanation as the paper is a bit of an oddity. This paper was not written for design audiences (although it is highly relevant for them). I was invited to write the paper by the ‘Atlas Economic Research Foundation’ and it will be published on this journal on-line hereContinue reading

Rio+20 – Saving Biodiversity or Capitalism?

‘Among the issues: What does moving from sustainable development to green economy mean? What is hidden behind this new concept of green economy: green growth? Green capitalism? Something else? What conclusions should we draw from these twenty years, while environmental degradation has accelerated, inequalities have widened and that democracies are being undermined? Which alternatives?’  – from Rio+20: From sustainable development to green economy, what is at stake? Which alternatives? by Alter-Echos 

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 next week will address the crisis of biodiversity. Since the first UN conference at Rio in 1992 the UN has attempted to protect the natural world with policy initiatives based in a mistaken understanding of our relationship with the natural world. Even before the Rio 1992 critical environmentalists were aware of the short-comings of the ‘sustainable development’ as an approach for the conservation of nature. David Orton wrote;

Greens and environmentalists who today still use this concept [of sustainable development] display ecological illiteracy. There is a basic contradiction between the finiteness of the Earth, with natural self-regulating systems operating within limits, and the expansionary nature of industrial capitalist society. The language of sustainable development helps mask this fundamental contradiction, so that industrial expansion on a global scale can temporarily continue (Orton 1989).

In short, sustaining or increasing levels of consumption on the diminishing resource base with more people wanting ‘better’ lifestyles (i.e. more consumption) is not possible in the current context. It is not surprising that environmental problems continue to become more severe as policy makers continue to ignore material realities.

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Today we find ourselves at a situation where most of the proposals on the table at Rio+20 will only accelerate problems. Strategies promoting ‘the green economy’ create new markets within natural Continue reading

What Next? The Rise of Authoritarian Housing

In the UK the homeless have traditionally been allowed to legally occupy long-term empty property. These rights were critical at key moments in history (such as after the WW2 when Britain experienced a housing crisis and squatting was rife). Squatters’ rights came to an end on March 27th when the government criminalised squatting* in residential properties (the new law will come into effect in a matter of months).

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I sent a Freedom of Information request to Lambeth Council to investigate the costs of evicting a long term squatted building in Brixton last summer. In July last year Lambeth Council evicted Clifton Mansions, a council owned block of 22 Victorian flats that have been squatted for the past two decades. Clifton Mansions is typical of a property that had been left derelict because its owners have not bothered to make use of it. Instead, individuals took it upon themselves to make homes for themselves in the flats at no cost to the state. While squatting may be detestable to those who hold property rights as the bedrock of civilization, for many squatting is a pragmatic solution to the extraordinarily high costs of housing and the surplus of houses that stand empty, unused and wasted. Continue reading

Face Shields and Time2Act Exhibition

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On exhibition this week at London College of Communication is a series of eight iconic Face Shields and four panels from the Time2Act exhibition from Climate Camp 2007 at Heathrow Airport. Both bodies of work are important artefacts from the recent history of environmental activism in the UK.

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Capitalism in Context (Version No.1)

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While corporations are busy marketing themselves as environmentally responsible global citizens, scientists warn that global ecological systems are severely destabilized and three planetary boundaries are presently being crossed (biodiversity, climate change and the nitrogen cycle). The confusion created by the gap between frightening scientific reports and reassuring messaging from advertising and corporate media is a good enough excuse to continue shopping, TV watching and generally ignoring escalating social/ political/ economic crises (as long as you happen to be privileged enough to avoid the immediate impacts). Business as usual continues as both knowledge and reason are distorted by market forces. When markets determine what information is available in the public sphere ‘knowledge’ comes to reflect what is profitable for those with economic power. This distorted knowledge rarely takes the earth’s needs into account. While efforts are made by hopeful environmentalists and NGOs to create ecologically and socially beneficial projects and tweak the market to recognize the value of the natural processes, the overall dynamic of capitalism leads to greater ecological devastation.

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History of EcoSocial Movements

The ‘History of EcoSocial Movements 1840-1995’ by Charlene Spretnak illustrates the relationship between social movements which ‘profoundly resisted modernity’ versus those that ‘resisted certain aspects of modernity but created only new modernities’.  This graphic maps an array of discursive positions demonstrating interrelationships. The political neutralization of historical social movements demanding structural change informs contemporary analysis of threats to the occupy movement.

History of EcoSocial Movements (1840-1995)

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Movements that challenged modernity are above the broken line. Source: Charlene Spretnak, The Resurgence of the Real (Routledge paperback edition, 1999). Colourized and republished with permission from Charlene Spretnak.

Design History Society does Design Activism

I returned last night from four busy days at the Design History Society’s Design Activism and Social Change conference in Barcelona. Convenor Guy Julier has a more thorough conference blog here. The conference provided a space to debate emergent themes in design activism: politics and design, ecology and design, the role of agency, reflection vs. action, the importance of the language we use, peak oil and the capacity of design to address social and environmental problems within capitalism and current forms of democracy. The event started well with Henk Oosterling’s keynote describing a movement to a philosophy of relations. Attempts to repress ontological connectedness are destructive and a role of design is now to internalise what is currently externalised in order to better reflect the essential conditions of connectedness.

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