Category Archives: Uncategorized

Trouble With Palm Oil

Appropriating natural habitats for agricultural use is a leading cause of thousands of species going extinct every year. Orangutans are unwitting ambassadors for those species that are, or soon will be, sent into oblivion.

Expanding and new palm oil plantations, probably the most important vegetable oil of all, is the main driver of deforestation in Borneo. (1) 

A staggering statistic is that, in Indonesia alone, 146 football pitches of rainforests are lost every hour. (2)

And by 2050, scientists reckon we’ll have tripled our current use of palm oil, which yields over five times most of its rival vegetable fats (except coconut). It is incredibly versatile, found in 60% – 80% of all products on our supermarket shelves, and is even used in what seems like a green energy source, biofuel. (3)

When you study the stories of producers, pressure for expansion seems inexorable. Many palm oil growers are small co-ops or individual families, who must survive, which means maximising income. Others are big corporations, whose reason for being is to maximise profits. (4)

It might seem the march of deforestation for palm oil production cannot be stopped. Some suggest we take a pragmatic course if we want to save some of the wildlife we are losing and abandon attempts at wildlife-friendly farming in favour of setting up nature reserves? (5)

A glimmer of hope may be in increased productivity through research such as that being undertaken by Orion Biosains. But it is a slow process and we may run out of rainforest before increased yields can save them. (6)

The use of palm oil is a result of “push demand”, where producers anticipate consumers’ requirements. It seems to alter this, we need to alter producers’ behaviour by reducing demand/ educe demand. Iceland are taking a bold step as the first supermarket pledging to directly eliminate use of palm oil from its own brand products. (7)

It’s a grim conundrum. Consumers want cheap food. Palm oil is used as a cheap ingredient for a number of reasons, amongst them responding to the public’s calls to reducing reliance on unhealthy trans fats. (8)

If we stop the use of palm oil, demand would switch to another vegetable oil, such as soy, rapeseed or sunflower. As oil yields are lower, these alternative oils would have to be grown in even greater quantities, causing serious environmental problems, including deforestation.

I don’t believe there is one easy solution, life is not that simple. We need to keep knocking down problems as we encounter them, and don’t have the luxury of time. If reducing demand threatens profits, this will help make producers take seriously our demand to address the problems unfettered palm oil is creating. With them on side, deforestation can be halted in favour of improving efficiency, and illegal production can be halted.

Greenpeace summed it up:  “Iceland may be small, but it’s created a huge media storm. If companies want to avoid being shunned by their customers in favour of palm oil-free alternatives, and the industry wants to shield itself from more blanket bans, it’s time to reform.” (9)


Fish feel fear and pain, just like us

Fish feel fear and pain, the clear scientific evidence is shows this is the  same as for mammals and birds, yet they are treated as insentient beings and made to suffer in a way we would call torture and find totally unacceptable on land.

It is staggering that a so-called civilised and rational society still sees the oceans as a big larder. Globally, an estimated one to three trillion wild-caught fishes and 37 – 120 billion farmed fishes are killed commercially for food each year. Hundreds of millions more are killed for “sport” each year, and so it goes on.

If this completely unsustainable and cruel exploitation concerns you, please read this:

I find it hard to understand how we can still collectively accept the staggeringly huge waste of marine life and the extraordinarily cruel way sea creatures are killed (the lucky ones are suffocated).

The definition of “sustainability” should be extended to include the suffering caused by our choices to other creatures and to more honestly assess the waste of lives and habitats.

Your holiday snaps could soon breach copyright!

Copyright law changes could mean tens of thousands of images of public places in Europe could have to be deleted from sites like Wikipedia, and your holiday snaps could land you in bother!

Oh, dear, the EU doing itself no favours, again.

In the UK, and most of the EU, you can take photos of public or private buildings and public monuments. I bet it never occurred to you that you couldn’t. It even has a name, “Freedom of Panorama”.

A new EU law would have made this a right across the whole EU, as it is in the UK and most of Europe. But a committee voted to restrict this to “non-commercial” only.

Sounds OK, but the difference between “commercial” and “non-commercial” is really hard to legally define and the distinction on the internet can be impossible to make. For instance, commercial and state schools making uses of the same pictures, your holiday snaps being shared on websites that make money, like Facebook .

If you think this is stupid, contact your MEP and tell them:

For the record, it was  on 16 June 2015 that the Legal Affairs Committee voted for amendment 421, which would restrict Freedom of Panorama to non-commercial use only.

More background here:


Labour’s Policy Process needs to be subject to binding votes

Labour’s National Policy Forum elections are due soon. That’s good, we need to be getting on with policy reformulation, so we can offer a real alternative to government by and for the rich.

But if all we do is start the same process again, we will lose again and let down the British people again. As Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Only one change is needed: to make the policy process subject to binding votes amongst members. We cannot again obediently receive meandering documents on subjects chosen for us behind closed doors, then submit comments that we all know are largely ignored, resulting in a programme bearing little resemblance to the wishes of Labour Party members.

Wanting to subject the Party’s policy process to binding votes will be condemned by the Right as risking showing damaging discord and disunity in public. That is a lie that the Right has successfully employed for decades to allow them to run the Party as a personal fiefdom. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being seen to work out policies by frank and open debate. Making policies in secret and acting as if we need the media’s permission to be elected clearly and emphatically failed.

Blairites, Progress will argue we need to move to the right to capture more Tory voters. That is clearly nonsense, acting like neo-Tories was a big part of our failure in the General Election. We should not again allow our leaders to treat the electorate as if they are fools.

I believe socialists in the Labour Party need to voice a collective demand that the policy process be democratised, so we can get on with the business of forming policies and a programme relevant to the people of Britain.

Socialists shouldn’t shy away from dealing with IS

I hope my comrades on the Left do not argue Britain should not act against IS.
IS is clearly a danger to us, here, and it is morally right to tackle them anyway. If you don’t think so, you haven’t been paying attention!

Ultra Lefties who would rather use British involvement as an opportunity for cynicism should reflect upon how the British public saw the Left’s attitude towards crime in the 1980s and 1990s. We were perceived as more anxious to look after the interests of criminals and give them an understanding hug rather than look after our people as a whole.

We should stand up for minorities wrongly victimised, explain differences and argue for tolerance. But in the case of the indefensible, our duty is to protect the majority. We are socialists, not anarchists!

Russia playing a blinder over Ukraine

Russia is playing a blinder over the Ukraine and will get just what it wants.

I don’t believe they have – or ever had – any intention of full scale invasion and/or annexation in the way they took the Crimea. The Ukrainian economy is in crisis and the ethnic mix will always make the country toxic to attempts at external control. Putin’s goals will be to make the EU and NATO look like chumps and keep the Ukraine destabilised.

Putin knows that the EU will drag its heels over helping the Ukraine. Having cut the Ukraine’s fuel supply, he just needs to wait another six weeks for winter to arrive and the tenuous political consensus in the country will break down in the face of the practical problem of survival. And NATO will not admit a new member who has not got a stable government!

Russia will then still have a big customer right next door (population 45 million), but if kept unstable, perhaps with a bubbling civil conflict – certainly without any single, credible government – the Ukraine will pose no threat to Russia, and will not be a drain on Russia’s economy.

Looks like Putin has again outwitted the West.

Marius killed to prevent "in-breeding"


Chopping down 150 year old Holmes Oak trees in North Wales because they are not native (whatever that means) may seem the harmless actions of some purists of mind in Natural Resources Wales (the environmental “regulator”).

But it is a step on a very dangerous road.

 It led, a few days ago, to the killing (in a cynical and theatrical way) of Marius the baby giraffe, because Copenhagen Zoo say the EU don’t allow “in breeding”.

 And a decade ago it led to the slaughter of Ruddy Ducks being endorsed by – of all people – the RSPB, as they breed with White Headed Ducks and spoil their genetic purity.

 Sweden was caught having practiced eugenics on humans for decades – between 1935 and 1976 over 60,000 young Swedish women were forcibly sterilised, to improve the human gene pool.

We all know what happened in the 1930s, with the Nazis seeking to protect and improve the “blood purity” of the human species.

Weeding out some old trees may seem innocent enough, but who is to say who will end up being “weeded out” when this way of thinking is pursued to its logical end?

Mercy for the Utterly Helpless Seems Too Much to Ask

During the summer I had to have a plaster cast on a leg and went to hospital several times for it to be changed.

The Plaster Room is usually a fairly subdued place, but on one occasion it was quite distressingly different. There was the general bustle of activity, the noise of harmless circular saws and – on this unusual day – several very young children being treated for arm or leg injuries.

It was not so much the children’s screaming as their terrified pleading for their mothers’ protection – seemingly unsuccessfully – that was so upsetting.

The children were being hurt and scared without anything they could do about it. The adults all knew they would come to no harm, but young children could not understand that. The terror of their utter helplessness would move anyone to tears.

And my thoughts have since turned to others, like lambs or calves in abattoirs. They, too, are hurt, terrified and utterly helpless. And, as we know, for them there is no happy ending.

I do not know why decent people will not stop inflicting pain and appalling distress upon other sentient creatures just because they like to eat them.

Mercy for the helpless seems too much to ask, despite British people having full knowledge of what they do and the dire consequences for other beings.

So that day in the hospital Plaster Room made my mind up for me: we need to grow as much meat in labs as soon as we can, so we will stop inflicting terror and pain on the utterly helpless.