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London Calling

Commentary and Opinion
from The Guardian of London

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – George Monbiot is the author of The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order, published by Flamingo; Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain, and the investigative travel books Poisoned Arrows, Amazon Watershed and No Man’s Land. In 1995 Nelson Mandela presented him with a United Nations Global 500 Award for outstanding environmental achievement. He has also won the Lloyds National Screenwriting Prize for his screenplay The Norwegian, a Sony Award for radio production, the Sir Peter Kent Award and the OneWorld National Press Award. The columns reproduced here were first published in the British national newspaper, The Guardian.

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30. September 26, 2006
Who's paying the pundits?

In the letters page of the Guardian last week, a Dr Alan Kendall attacked the Royal Society for 'smearing' its opponents. The society had sent an official letter to Exxon, complaining about the oil company's 'inaccurate and misleading' portrayal of the science of climate change and about its funding of lobby groups that deny global warming is taking place. The letter, Kendall argued, was an attempt to 'stifle legitimate discussion'.

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29. September 19, 2006
The smoke behind the deniers' fires

It takes quite a lot to get Britain’s most august scientific body, the Royal Society, riled. But now it has had enough. It is trying to bring an end to a ten-year campaign of disinformation about the world’s most important scientific issue. Throughout that period, journalists who have no background in science, and who appear to know less about the subject than the average 12-year-old, have been filling the pages of the Mail, the Telegraph and the Times with articles claiming that manmade global warming is a fraud.

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28. September 12, 2006
A catalogue of idiocy

It is as far out of sight, and as far out of mind, as any place on the British mainland could be. From the point of view of our political leaders, this is just as well. If the perennial farce at the Dounreay nuclear site, on the north coast of Scotland, were any closer to the surface of public consciousness, we would be hounding and haranguing them wherever they go. A report in this week’s Sunday Times suggests that the agencies charged with cleaning the site up have, in effect, conceded defeat. Dounreay – or the area surrounding it – cannot be wholly decontaminated. Nuclear pollution from the site will last for as long as the fissile metals remain radioactive.

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27. September 7, 2006
A world without men

This story doesn’t reflect very well on me, or on anyone. But it is a small chapter in the history of the Greenham Common Peace camp, founded 25 years ago this week, which has not yet been related.

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26. September 5, 2006
Still the rich world's viceroy

The glacier has begun to creak. In the world’s most powerful dictatorship, we detect the merest hint of a thaw. I am not talking about China, or Uzbekistan, Burma or North Korea. This state runs no torture chambers or labour camps. No one is executed, though plenty starve to death as a result of its policies. The unhurried perestroika is taking place in Washington, in the offices of the International Monetary Fund.

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25. August 29, 2006
No quick fix

Challenging a Nobel laureate over a matter of science is not something you do lightly. I have hesitated and backed off, read and re-read his paper, but now I believe I can state with confidence that Paul Crutzen, winner of the 1995 prize for chemistry, has overlooked a critical scientific issue.

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24. August 22, 2006
Peace is for wimps

It's described by a senior official at the Ministry of Defence as “a dead duck … expensive and obsolete.” The editor of World Defence Systems calls it “10 years out of date.” A former defence minister remarked that it is “essentially flawed and out of date”. So how on earth did BAE Systems manage to sell 72 Eurofighters to Saudi Arabia on Friday?

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23. August 15, 2006
The generals' war

Last week I argued that Israel’s attack on Lebanon was premeditated. Hizbullah’s capture of two soldiers gave the government the excuse to launch an assault it had been planning since 2004. Both Bush and Blair knew that it would happen and gave it their approval. I was, of course, denounced by supporters of Israel’s government as an anti-semite and an apologist for terror.

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22. August 8, 2006
Israel's attack was premeditated

Whatever we think of Israel’s assault on Lebanon, all of us seem to agree about one fact: that it was a response, however disproportionate, to an unprovoked attack by Hizbullah. I repeated this “fact” in my last column, when I wrote that “Hizbullah fired the first shots”. This being so, the Israeli government’s supporters ask peaceniks like me, what would you have done? It’s an important question. But its premise, I have now discovered, is flawed.

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21. August 1, 2006
The king of fairyland

Of all the curious things which have been written about Israel’s assault on Lebanon, surely the oddest is contained in Paddy Ashdown’s article for the Guardian on Saturday. “There is only one solution to this crisis, and it is the same solution we have to find in Iraq: to go for a wider Middle East settlement and to do it urgently. The US cannot do this. But Europe can."

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20. July 4, 2006
Thanks, but we still don't need it

If someone had worked out how to cause a war within the environment movement, they could not have developed a better means than nuclear power. In public, we will line up to attack the energy review published by the government today. In private we will reserve some of our venom for each other, as we start to ask ourselves whether we have made the right decision.

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19. June 27, 2006
Wily Loman syndrome

If this were Iraq, or Somalia or Chechnya, the trend would not be difficult to understand. But this is Britain, during the longest period of domestic peace and prosperity in modern history. After 36 successive quarters of growth and low inflation, with high employment and a low chance of being murdered in your bed, we should be the happiest, calmest, least fearful people who have ever lived. But something has gone wrong.

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18. June 20, 2006
Not enough fish in the sea

The more it is tested, the more compelling the hypothesis becomes. Dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia and other neurological problems seem to be associated with a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids, especially in the womb. The evidence of a link with depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and dementia is less clear, but still suggestive. None of these conditions are caused exclusively by a lack of these chemicals, or can be entirely remedied by their application, but it’s becoming pretty obvious that some of our most persistent modern diseases are, at least in part, diseases of deficiency.

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17. June 13, 2006
Still drilling

For a company that claims to have moved “beyond petroleum”, BP has managed to spill an awful lot of it onto the tundra in Alaska. Last week, after the news was leaked to journalists, it admitted to investors that it is facing criminal charges for allowing 270,000 gallons of crude oil to seep across one of the world’s most sensitive habitats. The incident was so serious that some of its staff could be sent to prison.

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16. June 6, 2006
Inspectors who look the other way

That they have not seen his film is no impediment. That it has won the Palme d’Or at Cannes only quickens their desire for reprisals. Ken Loach has been placed in preventive detention and is having his fingernails pulled out. In the Times, Tim Luckhurst compares him – unfavourably – to Leni Riefenstahl. His new film is a “poisonously anti-British corruption of the history of the war of Irish independence ... The Wind That Shakes the Barley is not just wrong. It infantilises its subject matter and reawakens ancient feuds.” I checked with the production company. The film has not yet been released. They can find no record that Luckhurst has attended a screening – and last night he refused to discuss the matter.

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15. May 23, 2006
Inspectors who look the other way

For 21 years builders in this country have been legally bound to construct homes which conserve energy. The building regulations tell them how much insulation they must use, what kind of windows they must fit and how good their draught-proofing will be. Guess how many builders have been prosecuted in that period for non-compliance. I won’t keep you in suspense. The answer is none.

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14. May 16, 2006
Britain's most selfish people

What greater source of injustice could there be, than while some people have no home, others have two? Yet the vampire trade in second homes keeps growing – by 3% a year – uninhibited by government or by the conscience of the buyers. Every purchase of a second house deprives someone else of a first one. But to speak out against it is to identify yourself as a killjoy and a prig.

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13. May 9, 2006
A well of hypocrisy

Civilisation has a new enemy. He is a former coca grower called Evo Morales, who is currently the president of Bolivia. Yesterday he stood before the European parliament to explain why he had sent troops to regain control of his country’s gas and oil fields. Bolivia’s resources, he says, have been “looted by foreign companies”, and he is reclaiming them for the benefit of his people. Last week he told the summit of Latin American and European leaders in Vienna that the corporations which have been extracting the country’s fossil fuels would not be compensated for these seizures.

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12. May 2, 2006
An Easter egg hunt

Whenever a new scandal about the private finance initiative (PFI) emerges, the government and its friends in the financial press blame it on “teething problems”. When the first contracts permitting private companies to build and run our public services were signed, the argument goes, our civil servants didn’t understand that they were being fleeced. If only they had known then what they know today, they would have obtained better value for public money.

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11. May 2, 2006
Feeding crime

Does television cause crime? The idea that people copy the violence they watch is debated endlessly by criminologists. But this column concerns an odder and perhaps more interesting notion: if crime leaps out of the box, it is not the programmes that are responsible as much as the material in between. It proposes that violence emerges from those blissful images of family life, purged of all darkness, that we see in the advertisements.

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10. April 25, 2006
I've become a fossil fuel supporter

My timing could scarcely be worse. To announce, in this of all weeks, a Damascene conversion to natural gas is to invite ridicule from every quarter. The price of oil has hit $75 a barrel, and for reasons no energy company has yet been able to explain to me, it takes the gas price with it. Even before this new surge, the wholesale cost of gas had trebled in just three years.

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09. March 21, 2006
Who really belongs to another age?

I think I have discovered the clinching argument for closing the House of Lords. It is the presence in that chamber of a peer called Lady Tonge of Kew. Last week the baroness (formerly the Liberal Democrat MP Jenny Tonge) opened a debate about Botswana with an attack on the Gana and Gwi bushmen of the Kalahari. She suggested they were trying to “stay in the stone age”, described their technology as “primitive” and accused them of “holding the government of Botswana to ransom” by resisting eviction from their ancestral lands. How did she know? In 2002 she had spent half a day as part of a parliamentary delegation visiting one of the resettlement camps into which the bushmen have been forced. Her guides were officials in the Botswanan government.

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08. March 14, 2006
Taken over by the superstores

After wriggling its way through every possible excuse for inaction, last week the Office of Fair Trading decided to launch an inquiry into the behaviour of the big grocery chains. It’s about time. But alongside it we need another one: into whether the OFT, like almost everything else in this country, has itself been taken over by the superstores. The problem the competition authorities are investigating – the dominance of companies like Tesco and Wal-Mart – is the result of 25 years of regulatory failure.

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07. February 28, 2006
Keep the wealthy at home

At last the battlelines have been drawn, and the first major fight over climate change is about to begin. All over the country, a coalition of homeowners and anarchists, of Nimbys and internationalists, is mustering to fight the greatest future cause of global warming: the growth of aviation.

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06. February 21, 2006
It won’t need a tyranny to deprive us of our freedom

It received just a few column inches in a couple of papers, but the story I read last week looks to me like a glimpse of the future. A company in Ohio called City-Watcher has implanted radio transmitters into the arms of two of its workers. The implants ensure that only they can enter the strongroom. Apparently it is “the first known case in which US workers have been tagged electronically as a way of identifying them”.

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05. February 14, 2006
Greed of the highest order

From the hubbub surrounding the privatisation of the British government’s defence research service, Qinetiq, last week, one statement stopped me dead. Lord Drayson, the minister for defence procurement, asserted that it was a “good model for future privatisations”. Three things hit me. The first was that Lord Drayson is minister for defence procurement. This remarkable fact had until then passed me by. The second was that, if the government really is envisaging further privatisations, this is the first we’ve heard of it. What else did Drayson have in mind? Is there anything that hasn’t been sold already? The third was that, with the exception of the privatisation of the railways in 1996, it would be hard to think of a worse model for a government sell-off.

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04. February 7, 2006
Exposed: Secret funding behind health research

Three weeks ago, while looking for something else, I came across one of the most extraordinary documents I have ever read. It relates to an organisation called Arise (Associates for Research into the Science of Enjoyment). Though largely forgotten today, in the 1990s it was one of the world’s most influential public-health groups. First I should explain what it claimed to stand for.

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03. January 31, 2006
Enemy in the woods

A few days ago, after a furious argument, I was thrown out of a wood where I have walked for more than 20 years. I must admit that I did not behave very well. As I walked away I did something I haven't done for a long time: I gave the gamekeeper a one-fingered salute. In my defence, I would plead that I was overcome with unhappiness and anger.

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02. January 24, 2006
Bigger nuclear weapons will make us less secure

In nuclear politics, every action is justified by the response it provokes. The US explains its missile defence programme by claiming that other states are developing new weapons systems, which one day it might need to shoot down. In response, Russia has activated a new weapons system, the Topol-M, designed to “penetrate US anti-missile defences”.

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01. January 17, 2006
Paying others for our complacency

Sometimes I envy the self-belief of the Daily Mail’s columnist Melanie Phillips. When Andrew Wakefield, a researcher at the Royal Free Hospital, suggested that there might be a link between autism and the MMR injection, she decided he was right. Despite the failure of further studies to find any evidence, despite the fact that Wakefield’s co-researchers have dissociated themselves from his allegation, and though the medical profession, almost without exception, is persuaded that his claim has no merit, she persists. The epidemiologists are guilty of “category confusion”; the scientific reviewers are throwing up “clouds of obfuscation”; her critics are peddlers of “ignorance, misrepresentation and smear”.

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