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In other news...

For obvious reasons, non-COVID-19-related news has been side-lined since mid-March. So in case you missed them, here are a few of the other things that have been happening as the world scrambled to tackle the pandemic.

‘A new stasi system’

 A leaked internal Labour Party report has revealed that in 2016 members of the party’s Governance and Legal Unit created what they themselves termed ‘a new stasi system’ to ‘vet’ members and supporters in an effort to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. A web app was produced that could scrape Twitter and Facebook for tweets, retweets, shares and comments matching various search criteria, and then match them to profiles of members and supporters’ and a list of ‘banned phrases’ was created that could trigger action. The latter included the term ‘war criminal’ (because of Tony Blair).

 ‘Something is very wrong’

A recent analysis of 166 long-term studies of insect abundance (ie. the number of individuals and/or the absolute mass of insects in a particular area) found an average decline of terrestrial insect abundance by ~9% per decade and an increase of freshwater insect abundance by ~11% per decade. Commenting on the paper, the former President of the Royal Entomological Society noted that: ‘It’s a complicated picture, but the sheer number of records collected under different conditions from diverse sources in this new study gives grim confirmation that something is very wrong.’

More alarm signals

Meanwhile, in climate news:

  • The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has calculated that there is a 75% chance that 2020 will be the hottest year since records began (in terms of average global surface air temperatures over both land and sea).

Image

Dead oryx on a farm in the South of Namibia. Photo credit: Dumbassman / CC BY-SA 
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

  • Using modern weather observations, 1,200 years of tree-ring data and dozens of climate models, a paper in Science magazine has concluded that ‘a megadrought as bad or worse than anything even from known prehistory is very likely in progress, and [that global warming] is playing a key role.’

  • New research has found that the dramatic melting of Greenland’s ice sheet in the summer of 2019 – which saw near-record rates - was largely down to a persistent zone of high pressure over the region. The fate of the ice sheet will be a crucial determinant in sea level rise. One of the paper’s authors told the Guardian: ‘This melt event is a good alarm signal that we urgently need to change our way of living to hold [back] global warming because it is likely that the [UN climate body’s] projections could be too optimistic for [the] Arctic’.

War in a time of coronavirus

While on the war and peace front:

  • The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported that global military expenditure rose by 3.6% to reach $1.917 trillion in 2019, compared with 2018.
  • On 23 April Democracy Now! reported that, even as coronavirus continued to spread in both countries, the US military had carried out 39 air strikes in Somalia since January 1, more than during all eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency.
  • Jane's Defence Weekly reported that RAF planes had resumed bombing Iraq on 10 April after a lull of nearly seven months, while the Declassified website reported that the RAF and Britain’s largest arms company, BAE Systems, have continued to support Saudi Arabia’s attacks in Yemen, despite calls from the UN for a ceasefire over fears of “untold human suffering”. According to the latter report, BAE Systems appears to have been making weekly cargo plane flights from its Typhoon fighter jet factory at Warton Aerodrome to Ta’if in Saudi Arabia, where its staff help to service the fleet of Typhoon fighter jets that the Saudi air force to bomb Yemen. BAE BAE employs about 6,500 people across Saudi Arabia, where it is also supported by about 100 serving UK military personnel, mostly drawn from the RAF.
  • On 27 March the Republic of North Macedonia’s joined the nuclear-armed NATO alliance. A brief report on the move on the CND website stated that: ‘The encircling of Russia and China with NATO and US bases and military facilities has created the conditions for a new Cold War, tearing up international legal norms’. 
7 to be sentenced

Image

After a six-month wait, the dates have finally been set for the sentencing of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, who were found guilty last October for a nonviolent symbolic disarmament action at Kings Bay Naval Base.  The seven will be sentenced on 29 May. More info at https://kingsbayplowshares7.org

Kings Bay Ploughshares 7 (left–right): Clare Grady, Patrick O’Neill, Liz McAlister, Steve Kelly SJ, Martha Hennessy, Mark Colville and Carmen Trotta. Photo credit: Kings Bay Ploughshares

 

Not yet

Climate change campaigners thought they had something to celebrate after a 20 April article in the Oxford Student reported that ‘Oxford University ha[d] passed a motion requiring its endowment fund to divest from all direct investments in fossil fuel companies, and end future investment in funds that primarily hold stock in fossil fuel companies.’ However student campaign organisation People & Planet quickly clarified that the university had ‘previously committed to a partial divestment’ and that the new resolution marked only a ‘slight expansion on that commitment’, and failed to take the step of committing to full divestment, as 67 other UK universities already have.

BDS legal victory

On 29 April the UK’s Supreme Court ruled that government ‘guidance’ banning local government pension schemes from ‘using pension policies to pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions [BDS] against foreign nations and UK defence industries’ (where no formal embargo was in place) was unlawful. The ruling – the result of an appeal brought by Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) - overturned a previous decision of the Court of Appeal. The Government has said that it now plans to bring in a new legislation to prevent such boycotts.

The PSC will be holding an online Nakba Day Rally with Palestinian speakers, performers and artists on 15 May: https://www.facebook.com/events/225147268934915.

Barclays AGM: storm & spin

Campaigners organised a social media storm on 7 May to coincide with the AGM of Barclays bank. The action was in support of a ShareAction resolution that called on the bank ‘to set and disclose targets to phase out the provision of financial services to energy and utilities companies that are not Paris aligned’ and for both the timelines and the phase out to ‘be aligned with the Paris climate goals.’ Barclays is the largest European provider of fossil fuel financing: providing some $85.2bn in such finance during 2016 – 2018. The resolution secured just under 25% of the vote. Commenting on shareholders’ failure to adopt the resolution (which secured just 24% of the vote), Angus Satow, Campaign Coordinator at People & Planet, said: ‘It’s clear Barclays’ commitment to climate action doesn’t extend beyond rhetoric and spin. If it did, they wouldn’t be blocking modest motions calling for real energy targets in place of vague and distant “ambitions”.’

Webinars!

Loads of activist webinars are taking place as campaigners adapt to the pandemic. For example, the New Economics Foundation will be holding one on 14 May on ‘Organising During the Crisis’: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUode-sqTsrHNdGKAVPoV_CZAAh7wstM9yr; and Climate Outreach are holding one on 21 May about ‘Communicating climate change during the COVID-19 crisis: What the evidence says’: https://climateoutreach.org/resources/communicating-climate-change-during-covid-19-crisis-evidence

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