APEC Fence - Sydney Indymedia

I keep thinking about the events this weekend here in Sydney as APEC takes hold. There are posters around the city proclaiming “21 world leaders, 1 great city”. Before last week I joked with friends saying it should read “21 world leaders, 1 police state”. After seeing the overkill of police presence in our fair city, it’s unfortunately no joke.

It kind of struck home when I saw a police bus in the city – they’re literally shipping in police – and then saw a bevy of about 30 police at railway square “protecting” us from about 30 odd peaceful protesters. It was ridiculous.

I thought to myself that with all this focus on “security”, there must be gaping holes there. I mean – we had fighter planes and helicopters circling the city, thousands of extra police. Streets closed, transport services canceled. Simply ridiculous.

So I cheered out loud when I saw what the Chasers pulled off. I was watching TV late on Thursday night when I saw it. Priceless.

As it turns out, the Chasers didn’t even know they were in the restricted zone and voluntarily gave themselves up. Puts lie to Alexander Downer’s smug comment that “they were caught weren’t they?”.

What was even more ridiculous is the media feigning indignity about the Chaser’s pranks. Makes me want to support them even more…

After the stunt, the Chinese president Hu Jintao has called for increased security, and Channel Ten then trotted out a line about protests by “the religious cult” Falun Dafa.

Wittingly or unwittingly, I’m not sure which, Channel Ten became party to the Chinese government’s propaganda machine. Falun Dafa is not a cult, but the government uses those terms as justification for imprisoning and torturing Falun Gong practitioners in China. If only it was as unexpected as it was disgusting to hear such rubbish in the mainstream press.

But as a friend pointed out the other day – what does Hu Jintao think they’re going to do – meditate him to death or something? This is a religion founded on the principles of “Truthfulness, Benevolence, Forbearance”. No wonder the Chinese government, which practices none of these, is scared.

The Australian government, and the media, have been painting the protesters as violent and unruly. Most protests in this country, unlike protests overseas, are peaceful. Where violence has occurred, it’s usually been at the hand of a small isolated group, easily contained. There was never any chance of protests turning as violent as those in say, Genoa or Seattle.

But, of course, the government has to demonstrate it’s “tough on terror” – has to assure world leaders that Australia is secure. What better way to demonstrate that than to not lock the city down, to let it operate as it usually does. It seems, we have to see an unprecedented turnout of police.

One argument that I’ve overheard is that security forces had intel on an attack – that it’s because of this security that something bigger didn’t occur. But with such lax security that the Chasers can make it to outside Bush’s hotel without being detected, I find it hard to believe that the emphasis on security this past week is what stopped an attack…

The (big) question that remains unasked in the coverage I’ve seen is what, exactly, are the protesters protesting? The media’s penchant for plainly painting them as “anti-globalisation” protesters masks a plethora of reasons behind the civil disobedience.

From human rights abuses in Russia and China, to the attacks on civil liberties here in Australia, to the devastating (for Iraqi civilians) and mishandled war on Iraq – there are reasons aplenty. But none of those issues made it to the headlines.

(As an aside, I heard at an Amnesty International event that the Chinese government displaced over 1,000 of its own people, without remuneration or repatriation, just to construct the Olympic swimming complex – and that’s just one of the many abuses that have taken place in the lead-up to the Games that were won on the back of a “human rights” message.)

No – it’s not the dangerous men behind closed doors making deals that we’re being warned about. It’s those dangerous, nasty, evil protesters. It’s those people with a conscience that are exercising their rights of free speech – they’re the ones we need to be afraid of.

If it wasn’t so ominous, it would be hilarious. If this is the future, I think we need to turn the car around…

Update: A fascinating Flickr slideshow of the protests to give some sense of the overkill. I also forgot to mention that police stopped anyone from leaving Hyde Park for over an hour – including families with kids – during the protests.

Update 2: NewMatilda.com also has another piece on APEC (from which I grabbed the photo).

Bring Hicks Home

Amnesty International have just launched a very clever site as part of their campaign to Bring David Hicks home.

They have a “cell” – the same as the one David Hicks has been held in for 5 years without trial – that they are touring around the country with. Visitors to the cell are presented with a “passport” explaining David’s situation, and once in the cell, they can leave a video message, which is then presented on the Bring David Hicks home website.

If you have visited the cell, you can find your video by using the search/filter options on the site.

I think the site is very good – helping to bring home the reality of Hicks’ situation and allowing people to connect in a more emotional way with what is often presented as a legal or political issue.

I also love the fact that the site uses YouTube for video hosting – a fantastic use of participant media.

The site was launched yesterday by Digital Eskimo – who also helped WWF build the Future is man made site. Nice work!

Update: GetUp have also just launched a new video as part of their campaign on the same issue.

Spinning in Iraq

The Australian: Saddam sentence sparks clashes.

Police were battling supporters of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad last night when clashes broke out in the Iraqi capital immediately after the ousted president was sentenced to death.

Police exchanged machinegun fire with insurgents in the capital’s rebellious northern Azamiyah district, an area dominated by hardliners from among Saddam’s fellow Sunnis.

Sometimes the spin is subtle… In the first para, the author says “supporters of Saddam Hussein”. Second para, they become “insurgents”. The inference – that the “insurgents” in Iraq, responsible for the violence and bombings, are the last of the “supporters of Saddam Hussein”. The logical extension: the death of Saddam will see the insurgents off.

The idea that the remaining insurgents are Saddam supporters has long been discredited – especially by journalists like Robert Fisk who have been on the ground in Iraq. The anti-US sentiment in Iraq, fuelled by the lack of a clear timetable for withdrawal, continues to build support for the insurgents – the resistance (possibly a more appropriate term?) is not going anywhere.

The Bush administration, and the press, will continue to push this idea for some time to come. The inferences will become more subtle, but no less problematic.

Climate fears “tempered”

You may have seen the news over the weekend that the peak scientific body studying climate change, the IPCC, has reduced it’s worst case scenarios for climate change.

After reading the piece, I think you could be excused for thinking that this is really good news and the pressure is off.

In 2001, the scientists predicted temperature rises of between 1.4C and 5.8C on current levels by 2100, but better science has led them to adjust this to a narrower band of between 2C and 4.5C.

The basic gist of the piece is that if we can contain the CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels in the atmosphere to the same that they are today, the minimum temperature rise will be 2°C.

Sounds ok, right? Actually, a 2°C rise is the generally accepted threshold before global warming becomes “really dangerous”. And even at 2°C, we will see significant impacts on our planet, affecting many, many people.

What is also important is that population growth (estimated at around 25 million by 2050) and growth in economic activity will place upward pressure on energy consumption – i.e. we will be using a lot more energy than we are now (50% growth by 2020 according to the government). This means that under a “no action” position our emissions are expected to grow significantly.

It is vital that we start to introduce renewable and lower-emissions technologies to generate our energy to keep the atmospheric CO2 levels at their current levels. As the ACF says in the Australian piece:

Australian Conservation Foundation energy program manager Erwin Jackson said the projections required an urgent and immediate response from the federal Government to drive accelerated investment in low-emissions technology in Australia.

“Every day we delay taking action, the problem gets worse,” Mr Jackson said.

“The Government keeps throwing up the costs of action but totally ignores the costs of inaction.

Later in the article:

A recent Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics report on the cost of cutting greenhouse gas emissions estimated Australians would incur a fall in real wages of about 20 per cent if the nation was to unilaterally cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050.

Note the “unilaterally cut”. I read that to mean ‘outside international mechanisms such as the Kyoto protocol’. If my reading is correct, I suspect that the high cost is a result of our inability to take advantage of the carbon trading mechanisms that Kyoto, and potentially other future international schemes, provide. In other words, by choosing not to sign Kyoto, as Howard has done, the Australian government is putting our economy at risk.

But even if my reading is incorrect, a recent report produced by AGL, Frontier Economics and WWF-Australia came to a quite different conclusion. From the media release related to the report (excuse the technical language):

The study shows that reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector could be limited to between $5.19 billion net present value (NPV) and $24.16 billion NPV, depending upon the reduction pathway chosen. This represents a one-off cost of between $250 NPV and $1,172 NPV per Australian today, or 43 cents – $2.00 per person per week to 2030.

Emphasis mine. What does that mean? Well – the report estimates that the total cost to the Australian economy would be a maximum of $2 per person per week. Or less than one coffee.

To be clear, the report doesn’t suggest that we each individually have to spend that money – just that the effect of change won’t cost the economy as much as some are suggesting.

But regardless of the scenarios, the longer we wait to act the more expensive reductions become. The environment minister goes on to say:

“It highlights the need for an effective global response to climate change as Australia alone cannot alter the pattern of world emissions,” Senator Campbell said.

“We are taking a leading role internationally to achieve effective engagement by all major greenhouse gas-emitting countries.”

It is true that a global response is required (e.g. the Kyoto Protocol). It’s also true that major emitters need to engage (e.g. Australia – the biggest per-capita emitters in the world – and the U.S. – with the biggest total emissions in the world – not signing the Kyoto Protocol).

But, for the government, “effective engagement” seems to mean doing very little at all. The AP6 agreement, which I can only assume is what the minister is referring to, will result in a doubling of Australia’s emissions by 2050. Does that sound like an “effective response” to you?

What does all this mean, then? It means that despite the apparent “good news” on the weekend, nothing has really changed – we still need serious action from the government, businesses and people to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. And we need to remain vigilant and continue working towards a sustainable future.

Update 2006-09-05: Via Andrew Bartlett I came across John Quiggen’s take on the same article.

In the comments “carbonsink” says:

Anyone who has actually read the ABARE report can tell you that ABARE examined six scenarios, most of which show significant reductions in GHG emissions with minimal impacts on the economy. The Oz has plucked the scariest number from most extreme ABARE scenarios and presented it as the likely impact of any attempt to reduce GHG emissions.

The fact is, ABARE’s modelling shows that significant reductions could be achieved with just a 0.07% percentage point reduction in the annual rate of GDP growth

Update 2006-09-07: Seems that the report doesn’t even say what the Australian article suggests. That’s the impression I get from reviewing some of the commentary in the links in another post by John Quiggen at Crooked Timber. Tim Lambert’s explanation is probably the most clear.

Texas to build 11 new coal-fired power stations

At work I’ve learnt beyond a shadow of a doubt that global warming is real and societally we need to change the way we generate electricity. Australia is the largest greenhouse gas emitter per-capita, but overall our impact is minimal on the global scale.

The U.S. is the biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. TXU, Texas’ largest electricity provider, is planning 11 new coal-fired power stations in the coming months, which will emit 78 million tons of carbon dioxide. (For comparison, Australia has around 32 coal-fired power stations – this map shows some of them.)

U.S. based Environmental Defense is running an email campaign urging the head of TXU to not build the coal-fired power stations.

This decision will impact all of us – not just Texans – so it’d be great if you could consider sending an email, as a concerned global citizen, to TXU.



Robert Fisk: From My Home, I Saw What the “War on Terror” Meant.

I was watching an ABC report the other night that stated how many people were killed in a Lebanese attack, but completely failed to state how many were killed in the Israeli response. And why is it the “Arab-Israeli conflict” when so much of the killing and conflict is caused by Israel – perhaps we should start calling it the “Israeli-Arab conflict” – say that out loud. Sounds weird doesn’t it.

We are subtly conditioned, and the order of those two words, which probably isn’t deliberate (probably just alphabetised), speaks volumes to how this conflict is and will be reported.

I’m ashamed to say I’m not 100% clear on what prompted this particular attack (a scan of news reports had me believing that it was in retaliation to the capture of two Israeli soldiers). But the hallmarks of the reportage of the attack are all too familiar, and particularly apparent to me having read Robert’s book. I wish I had more time at the moment to dig deeper into the news. (Perhaps I’m guilty of “Sunstein syndrome” too.)

Miguel posts a quote from tikkun.org which I will sub-quote from – I think it pretty much captures my feelings:

Meanwhile, the partisans on each side, content to ignore the humanity of “the Other,” rush to assure their constituencies that the enemy is always to blame. Each such effort is pointless. We have a struggle that has been going on for over a hundred years. Who tosses the latest match into the tinder box matters little. What matters is how to repair the situation. The blame game only succeeds in diverting attention from that central issue.

I said to Ang last night, I don’t want someone to attack Israel. Violence begets violence. America could pull the plug on this series of attacks immediately – first by calling on Israel to stop, and if that failed, threatening withdrawal of it’s military support for the country. It won’t happen, but if peace is truly what the U.S. wants (and I don’t think it does, though I fail to see any benefit to this conflict for the US), that’s all that’s required.