Questions over ‘secret’ trade talks

TTIP protest in ManchesterSaturday 11 October is a busy day. As well as the Global Frack Down for a ban on fracking, there will be an international day of action, including many events in the UK, in protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade agreement currently being negotiated by Europe and the US. Campaigners say the planned deal will put more power into the hands of corporations, taking it away from citizens. In the Autumn issue of Transition Free Press, Joseph Blake explains the controversy. 

The TTIP aims to create the largest free trade zone in the world. But there are fears that an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism within the agreement would give corporations the power to sue governments through secret courts, if legislation is implemented which negatively impacts profits.

“Through this provision, [corporations’] legal status is effectively made equivalent to that of the nation state itself – making states accountable to corporations,” says Adam Parsons of the Share the World’s Resources group.

ISDS rules are already being used elsewhere: under provisions in the the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), Canadian mining company Pacific Rim has filed a $300m lawsuit against El Salvador over a moratorium on metal mining because of water contamination.

“TTIP is part of a massive trade offensive that’s going to hand over massive amounts of power to corporations to rule over our society,” says Nick Dearden, director of the World Development Movement. “It’s the worst corporate offensive we’ve seen for 20 years.”

Over 120 European NGOs and charitable organisations oppose TTIP (also called the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement in the US). A European Commission public consultation on the ISDS provisions received over 100,000 submissions.

The National Health Service is a big focus of the anti-TTIP campaign. “If this goes through it will mean that any Clinical Commissioning Group anywhere in England could be challenged – sued – by a US private healthcare company,” warns Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow Health Secretary.

Food standards could also be lowered. For example, in the US, 90% of chicken carcasses are washed with chlorine to get rid of the bacteria and 68% of food on the shelves contains GM. Such processes are banned across most of Europe but under the TTIP this might no longer be the case and a whole range of regulation on food, the environment, cosmetics and labour rights could disappear.

It could become harder for countries to refuse developments, such as fracking, on environmental grounds. There are also fears that the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive could be undermined to make it easier to export oil from the Canadian tar sands to Europe.

Joe Nixon is from REPOWERBalcombe, a project attempting to generate all power needs of the community of Balcombe in Sussex from clean, renewable sources following fracking protests in the area last summer. “This is just another example of governments trying to force us to use forms of energy that people don’t want,” he says. “The choices we are making in Balcombe are the same choices Britain faces as a nation – and if we could choose for ourselves instead of our government forcing decisions on us, we would choose renewables.”

Joseph Blake is a freelance journalist, co-founder of Transition Heathrow and campaigner with Plane Stupid, People’s Parliament, SQUASH (Squatters Action For Secure Homes) & Edge Fund.

Photo: TTIP protest in Manchester, July 2014. World Development Movement, under a CC License

Read the whole edition online here or subscribe for the print or online edition here

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Seeding change

small Over Winter Seed Salad Brotherhood Church Greenhouse73% of seed crops are now ‘owned’ by 10 corporations – while community and grassroots initiatives are working to keep global diversity alive. This weekend The Great Seed Festival in London celebrates the people and places that hold the future of many of our crops in their hands. In our Autumn issue we look at seed swaps, seed banks, and open source pollination (by bees and humans). Here Warren Draper reports on the radical acts of exchange happening…online

It is hard to comprehend how patent examiners can grant patents on seeds for plants which have been commonly used, exchanged and cross-bred worldwide for thousands of years: surely it’s like granting a large car manufacturer a patent for the wheel? But large corporations get their own way regarding patents in exactly the same way they control everything else – through powerful lobbying and relentless bullying.

As VQR Online reported recently in their excellent article ‘Linux for Lettuce’ one patent application by Monsanto – for easy harvesting broccoli which they acquired through a corporate takeover in 2005 – was refused because it was too generic and could lead to Monsanto claiming ‘ownership’ of all exserted head broccoli strains. This sounds like a win for common sense, but Jim Myers, professor of genetics for Oregon State University warns that the decision is “not necessarily final.” Monsanto have appealed and Myers writes that after years of legal wrangling patent examiners are tempted to “cave and grant the broader claims as they get worn down by the attorneys’ arguments.”

seed-swapThe hard truth is that seed patents benefit nobody in the end. Peasant farmers, smallholders and organic growers worldwide are suffering due to international laws which seek to prohibit access to heritage seeds. But in the face of climate change and economic uncertainty a large and diverse gene pool is crucial for every breeder – even those working for the corporations who are currently too blind or too greedy to see the long-term damage they are inflicting upon their own industry. Luckily there’s a newly emerging alternative to proprietary seed patents in the form of the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI).

The Open Source Seed Initiative seeks to guarantee the right to exchange seeds in much the same way that an open source software license like the GPL guarantees the freedom to share and alter a software program, so long as it remains open source. The OSSI pledge is printed on seed packets and describes how the seeds can be freely used, sold, bred and shared, but not legally restricted. On April 17th (La Via Campesina’s ‘International Day of Farmer’s Struggles’) OSSI breeders released the seeds of 36 varieties of 14 different crops under the OSSI license. The relevance of this should not be underestimated; before OSSI, farmers in many countries routinely faced legal intimidation:

531499_414679435286488_1865570027_n“As a small farmer, I’m constantly worried that I might get ticketed, fined, or even arrested for keeping my own seeds or participating in local seed-banks and seed-sharing programs.” (Thomas Luce, Washington State Farmer).

This is why it is vital for as many breeders as possible to start licensing their own strains under the OSSI pledge. The greater the genetic diversity of open source seeds available, the less likely it is that companies such as Monsanto are able to seize sweeping control of crop types. If you haven’t tried breeding crops yourself then maybe it’s time to start. Even if you have no intention of developing your own strain, letting plants go to seed does have other benefits.

My good friends at the Brotherhood Church, a 90 year old Tolstoy-inspired anarchist commune in North Yorkshire, routinely open-pollinate salad crops in their greenhouse over winter. This not only provides seeds for the following season, it also gives them a source of fresh leaves during leaner times. These leaves are perfectly palatable and the 6ft plus plants are a joy to behold.

seed-truckAs individuals and small-scale growers we can also do our bit to guarantee universal seed sovereignty by supporting seed-banks and participating in seed exchanges. We could also create a UK wide network for the exchange of heirloom seeds and the development of open source varieties… Transition Seed Express anyone?

The Great Seed Festival – Celebrating the Seeds That Feed Us, 10th-12th October is at Garden Museum, Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7LB

Warren Draper is a contributor to The Idler magazine and the Dark Mountain journals. He is involved with a number of resilience and rewilding projects in Doncaster.

Images: Gone to seed: Salad crops at The Brotherhood Church, a seven acre paradise which shows exactly what can be achieved ecologically in a single lifetime; Seed swap at Brighton, the oldest seed exchange in the UK; Fife Diet’s Seed Truck on the road in Scotland

Read the whole of Transition Free Press 6 on line here, including Lucy Purdy on Heritage Seeds in the food pages (p19)

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Washing oil off creative hands

By Anna Branthwaite/LNPAs London prepared to host the People’s Climate March on the morning of 21st September, a group of ‘BP or not BP?’ activists recreated the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster at the British Museum. Their surprise theatre performance, entitled “Gross Negligence”, was to challenge BP’s sponsorship of the Museum and highlight the comments of a US judge who recently decided that BP bore 67% of responsibility for the disaster.

BP or not BP are part of the Art Not Oil Coalition, along with groups like Platform London, Shell Out Sounds and Liberate Tate. In the current issue of Transition Free Press, Tara Clarke outlines their call for cultural organisations to reject funding from fossil fuel companies:

To mark the publication of Platform London’s recent report, Picture This – A Portrait of 25 Years of BP Sponsorship, 25 performers smeared oil on their faces and stood as exhibits around the National Portrait Gallery to represent 25 environmental catastrophes associated with the company since the BP Portrait Award began in 1989.

“How bad does a company have to be before an arts organisation refuses to be associated with it or take its money?” Platform London’s June publication asked as it detailed BP’s relationship with the National Portrait Award. “The association with BP is deeply problematic and unethical, and in effect endorses climate change,” says Jane Trowell from the arts activist group.

The discontent around the Portrait Award is part of a wider movement to delegitimise the fossil fuel industry. In June, 200 ‘Vikings’ from the performance group BP or not BP? invaded London’s British Museum to protest at BP’s sponsorship of an exhibition about the Scandinavian warriors. BP or not BP? are also targeting the oil giant’s relationship with the Tate galleries and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Gross Negligence from rikki on Vimeo.

Radical choir Shell Out Sounds, who’ve conducted numerous choral ‘flashmobs’ during concert intervals at the Southbank Centre, have been celebrating the venue’s announcement that its sponsorship relationship with Shell is to end.

“It’s clear that our actions, as part of a long-running campaign, had created the ethical shift we had long been hoping for, where Shell no longer gains respectability by nestling its name next to concerts with some of the world’s best musicians,” says Chris Garrard from the group. “Music and art are incredibly powerful tools for challenging greenwash and the fossil fuel industry.”

These creative activist groups, along with others such as Liberate Tate and the UK Tar Sands Network, are part of the Art Not Oil Coalition who have been mobilising against oil company sponsorship of cultural institutions since 2004. One of the most recent members, Science Unstained, has been highlighting the fact that Shell have sponsored the Science Museum’s permanent climate change exhibition since 2010.

The Art Not Oil Coalition argues that public museums are acting as a public relations vehicle for oil companies. According to research by Platform London, fossil fuel sponsorship constitutes a minimal proportion of cultural institutions’ total budgets, compared to the social value companies such as BP and Shell extract from having their logo associated with Britain’s top artists and performers. In the case of the National Portrait Gallery, BP’s sponsorship money represents 2.9% of the Gallery’s total income – for the British Museum it is under 1%.

The National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, Tate Britain and the Royal Opera House have a five year sponsorship deal with BP, which is due for renewal in 2016. The stage seems set for more artistic activism.

Tara Clarke is a climate change activist and member of Science Unstained. She is Programme Delivery Officer at Science Oxford and is studying for an MA in Science Communication at Imperial College.

Read the whole edition online here.

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Tide turns on fossil fuels

By John MinchilloOver the past week, hundreds of thousands of people have taken action for climate justice in 160 countries around the world, joining People’s Climate Marches ahead of the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23rd September.

Just before the Summit started, the heirs to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which made much of its fortune in oil and holds investments of almost £550m, announced that they were going to take their money out of fossil fuels.

The fossil fuel divestment movement has been one of the major mobilisers of climate change activists over the past year. While for many socially-minded institutions, investing in tobacco or arms companies would be taboo, the funding of fossil fuels now looks more ethically indefensible – and less financially viable, as Amy Hall reported in this article from our Autumn issue:

When the World Council of Churches, representing over half a billion Christians, announced in July that it was removing its investments from fossil fuel companies, it sent a shockwave around the world of business as usual.

“We can’t bankrupt these companies – they’re too rich – but we can start to politically bankrupt them,” says high profile environmentalist Bill McKibben. In 2012, the campaign group he leads,, kickstarted Fossil Free, inspired by movements like the campaign against apartheid in South Africa, which also used the divestment tactic.

The anti-fossil fuels movement has become the fastest growing divestment campaign ever, according to a recent University of Oxford study, one which poses a “far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies and the vast energy value chain”.

By Paavan BuddhdevIn its 2013 Unburnable Carbon report the Carbon Tracker Initiative calculated that between 60% and 80% of coal, oil and gas reserves of publicly listed companies are unburnable if the world is to have a chance of keeping global warming below 2°C. This could result in ‘stranded assets’ as regulation forces companies to leave fossil fuels underground. The UK still  gets 86% of its energy from fossil fuels.

Universities have seen some of the most sustained activism against fossil fuels. In May 2014, the UK’s National Union of Students passed a motion committing to divest.

Stanford University has joined 11 other US colleges and announced that its $18.7 bn endowment would no longer make investments in publicly traded companies whose primary business is coal mining.

“When I was first learning about global warming I thought that by the time I was graduating from college the problem would have been taken care of already,” says Stanford student Yari Greaney. She remains optimistic however. “This is the movement that will be remembered as the one that helped put an end to the fossil fuel industry,” she says.

The British Medical Association voted in June to end its investment in fossil fuel companies, making it the first health organisation in the world to do so. “If the health community took their money out of the fossil fuel industry it would send a really important message to both politicians and the public,” says Christopher Venables of health professionals’ organisation MedAct.

Brighthelm Church and Community Centre in Brighton was the first Church in the UK to divest, removing their investments from Shell. “We want to support and invest in a better world; that’s what we’re here for,” explains Brighthelm’s minister Alex Mabbs. “It wasn’t a difficult decision.”

By Steve EasonFollowing on from the World Council of Churches’ divestment decision, a Church of England internal committee, set up to look at climate change and investment, is expected to report next year.

Local authorities are also coming under pressure. Al Chisholm of Fossil Free Oxfordshire says the county council has £42m invested directly in fossil fuel companies through its pension fund. “For many years I felt hopeless and scared about climate change,” says Chisholm, “but then I came across the idea of divestment. I think it could really be a game changer.”

From 19th until 21st September, divestment campaigners in the UK will up the pressure in a weekend of action, part of the global People’s Climate mobilisation to coincide with the New York climate summit.

Divest-Invest is a coalition of 17 philanthropic foundations who have agreed to pull out of fossil fuels, but who also work with those who are willing to move their money. “We have this invest message which is take your money out of the old economy into the new economy – out of the dinosaurs and into the future,” explains Chuck Collins from the campaign. “We’re really promoting innovative investment in local communities. It’s about putting your money where your heart is.”

By Steve EasonLocal renewable energy projects are starting to attract significant investment sums. Bath & West Community Energy (BWCE), which was started by Transition groups from Bath and Corsham, have raised more than £2.5m from community share launches, including from people moving their self-invested pensions into the social enterprise.

Surplus funds from projects like this are often reinvested into the community, according to BWCE Chair, Pete Capener. “We are giving people an opportunity to put their money into projects that they can see, run by people they can contact,” he stresses. “That’s very different from the experience offered by traditional investments, particularly in the energy sector.”

“The choices that we make actually create the kind of economy that we want to see happening around us,” says Rob Hopkins, co-founder of Transition Network. “As communities we can divest every day.”

Amy Hall is News Editor of Transition Free Press.

Images from top to bottom: New York’s People’s Climate March by John Minchillo, under a CC License. Oxford students call for divestment by Paavan Buddhdev. Two images from the London People’s Climate March by Steve Eason, under a CC License.

Read the whole of this Transition Free Press edition on line here, including an article on how students have led the way in the campaign for divestment.

Subscribe to Transition Free Press and keep grassroots media flourishing here.

Keep an eye on the website tomorrow when we will publish Tara Clarke’s article about another movement to stigmatise oil companies by campaigning creatively for public institutions not to receive its sponsorship.

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People’s climate march happening now – Sunday 21st September


Wishing everyone out there a great convergence today! Read our fossil fuel divestment and climate action stories in the latest Autumn edition:

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The dawn of a new Scotland

yes posterAs everyone’s eyes look North for UK’s perhaps most debated and exciting political event this century, we are publishing our current front page story on Scottish independence. The result of the referendum will go to the wire next Thursday, but the Yes campaign has already changed the nature of Scottish democracy. Justin Kenrick reports from Edinburgh:

A year before the referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country, the average lead for No was 22%. By mid-July 2014 the No lead had halved. Why was there such a swing away from support for the status quo, and what might it mean for politics?

People like Jonathan Shafi of the Radical Independence Campaign think Scots are seeing a chance to move away from a Westminster system that seems only to benefit the rich. Shafi writes: “If Britain was not carrying out the austerity that’s leading to a long-term socio-economic crisis, there simply wouldn’t be the same thirst for independence as there is now.”

Some argue that Scotland has always been distinct from England. The respected commentator Iain Macwhirter says “Our political cultures are worlds apart”. Others, like Adam Ramsay,  Co-Editor of openDemocracy’s OurKingdom website, point out that in the context of other social democracies in Europe, “Scotland isn’t different, it’s Britain that’s bizarre.”

The conclusion that Scottish voters appear to be reaching is that if you can’t effect change within the system, then you have got to change the system. The two year referendum process has seen an extraordinary resurgence of democracy as people engage in intense and energetic debate on how to make a fairer, healthier, more caring society in town hall discussions the length and breadth of the country, which are amplified in online forums.

There are also many ‘working groups’ that people join to follow their passion, including the Common Weal project, which is designing a social democratic system for a society that “puts all of us first”, welcomes immigrants and persists with free education and health care.

The Radical Independence Campaign has been going door to door in the poorest parts of the country, encouraging those who have lost hope to register to vote. Opinion polls show that the rich are voting No, while those suffering under austerity are more likely to place their hopes in an alternative future.

“There has been an extraordinary resurgence of democracy”

Robin McAlpine of the radical political thinktank the Jimmy Reid Foundation points out that though the No side is fond of claiming that pursuing a social democratic path like Norway’s means paying far higher tax, they do not point out that Norway’s higher taxes are used to create a high wage economy which means that even after higher tax and higher prices, the average Norwegian is still roughly 43% better off than the average UK resident, while enjoying far higher social provision, and living in a much more equal society.

All but one of the 37 newspapers read in Scotland are against independence, many vociferously so. This is where the No campaign’s ‘air war’ takes hold, making far more media noise than the Yes campaigners’ engagement on the ground. Radio and television, especially the BBC, take their cue from the newspapers, amplifying their anti-independence stories.

With media projects like Newsnet Scotland’s citizen reporting and Wings over Scotland’s sharp exposures of media deception, with National Collective and Bella Caledonia’s online space to contribute to imagining a better society, and writers like Wee Ginger Dug bringing intense and poignant humour, whichever way the referendum goes something has changed in Scotland. The real challenge now is how the transformation can spread to England and Wales. Even if we become autonomous countries, we can be better together by declaring ourselves independent of a paralysing status quo.

Justin Kenrick is a founder member of PEDAL, Edinburgh Portobello’s Transition Town Initiative, and works supporting forest peoples in Africa to retain or regain self-determination.

Image: Bella Caledonia ran a competition asking entrants to design a poster that “inspires a nation.” Design by Ciaran Murphy

Read the whole edition on line here.

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We’re out! New Autumn issue is now published and on sale

TFP06_2014-09_CoverWe’re here! In paper and on-line, our new action-packed edition no 6 can be now found in shops, cafes and at Transition events across the UK. If you can’t put your hands on a copy, or have not had one through the door, you can also find it here:


(though there is nothing quite like the real thing!)

What’s our latest news?

In this sixth issue you can find our signature mix of the practical, political and the philosophical. In line with a renewed push towards climate action this autumn, we’re focusing on fossil fuel divestment and climate activism. We are also showing how the humble acts of fermenting cabbage and saving seeds are also radical acts of liberation, why in the face of increased corporate control we are out digging fields, brewing beer, helping our neighbour, telling our own story, doing art in whatever place we find ourselves (Editorial)

Bv5LwwiIUAAdk4bTuning into the zeigeist, practising for the future means many things. In Transition media, it means setting out the culture we are forging together and showing it in all its colourful, smart and finely detailed aspects. It means listening to Tom Crompton on intrinsic values,’s Danielle Paffard on being radicalised, standing alongside indigenous peoples, foraging for scarlet mushrooms, getting to the roots of plant medicine, sharing our houses, making stuff together, getting in a seakayak and most of all getting a handle on the big ecological and social drivers that are challenging the world and ourselves in every action we take. And then doing all of this in a very different spirit. Why? Because climate change and carbon reduction frames everything that happens in this paper. Because this changes everything…

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (Allen Lane) will be published on 16th September.

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