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Greenpeace activists occupy Finnish nuclear site May 31, 2007

Posted by Andreas in activism, Environment, News, Nuclear Power.
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Found out about this on the Greenpeace website today:

Six Greenpeace activists continue[d] their two-day occupation of a 100-meter-high construction crane at the heart of the reactor Olkiluoto 3 construction site in Finland. The activists have positioned themselves 80 meter up in the crane. The occupation is a protest against the 1500 safety problems that have been revealed during construction of the plant.

[…]On Monday, activists blockaded the entrance to the Olkiluoto nuclear plant construction site – temporarily shutting down a project already massively over budget and plagued by more than one thousand reported breaches of safety standards.

Police arrested the activist in the blockade, but six activists went into the site and climbed 80 metres up the highest construction crane. They stayed there over night, through the next day and through a second chilly night with temperatures dropping into the low teens (Centigrade).

Today, three of the activist (2 from the UK, 1 from France) made the long climb down, leaving their supplies for the three Finnish activists remaining on the crane. These last activists try to hold out at least until Friday when the EU Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, is scheduled to visit.

“Safety rules are being bent to save time and money, said Lauri Myllyvirta”, one of the activists occupying the crane. “This is completely unacceptable for a nuclear power project. An evaluation is urgently needed so that the myth of cheap and safe nuclear energy is dispersed. Nuclear is and cannot be a solution to the threat of climate change”, he continued.

Police are keeping journalists out of what is supposedly a “secure” area – preventing them from taking photos of the activists on the crane. But two other activists walked in and wandered around the construction site for hours.

What’s wrong at Olkiluto

  • It’s massively behind schedule. Construction that was supposed to take four years will now take at least six.
  • It’s massively over budget. The original cost estimate was 2.5 billion euros. Now it’s expected to top 4 billion euros.
  • The project was supposed to require no public subsidies. In reality it is reliant on an export guarantee financed by French taxpayers and a dirt-cheap loan from public banks.
  • The original quality requirements weren’t being met – so they were relaxed. The consequences of a faulty reactor being put into service could be disastrous.

And besides all that, nuclear power is a nightmare of problems in general. There’s no proven solution to the piles of waste, encouraging more people to use nuclear power leads to nuclear weapons proliferation, the plants are ready made terrorist targets… It’s a costly and dangerous distraction from real solutions to climate change like saving energy and renewable power. In Finland, for example, energy consumption by new buildings can be cut by more than 70 percent.

That’s why construction should stop now – before any more money and time is wasted. The responsible company, Teollisuuden Voima Oy, should also publish all 1,000+ quality problems, and repay the state aid it has received for the reactors.

Facebooking across the universe? May 30, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Facebook, Life, Society.

Ok, after a considerable amount of peer-group pressure from my friends, IT and media geeks that they are, I have finally joined Facebook – together with all the rest of South Africa it would seem.

I’m still not 100% sure why I did (Walton wrote a good blog entry on some of the issues here), but I’m sure something good will come of it. I’ve kind of always thought of myself as a bad friend, so maybe it will help a bit with that, haha…

I have to admit that I’m feeling the generation gap gaping behind me with all of this social networking stuff, but I’ll give it a try. So now I’m out there making “friends” with actual friends, people I’ve met before and folks I don’t know from a bar of soap.

Is this the end of face-to-face in-the-flesh social interaction? Actually I’m hoping facebooking will enhance my real-word social life. We’ll see…

Documentary about Cuba to be screened in Cape Town May 28, 2007

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", activism, Cape Town, Environment, Film screening, History, Politics, Press Release, renewable energy, Society, Sustainable Living.
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While You Were Sleeping the non-profit collective I’m a member of is organising another documentary screening (see press release below for details). If you’re interested in Cuba, organic and urban agriculture, sustainable societies and Peak Oil and if you’re in Cape Town, then why not come and check it out.

The film is just under an hour long and the screenings will be followed by a facilitated audience discussion. Would be really lekker to see you there!

How Cuba survived Peak Oil – documentary screening in Cape Town

The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil will be shown at the Labia on Orange cinema in Cape Town on Sunday 3 June at 6.15pm, on Monday 4 June at 8:30pm and on Tuesday 5 June at 8:30pm.

The film documents Cuba’s emergency transition to local organic agriculture, renewable energy, and large-scale mass transit. The transition occurred following the Soviet collapse in 1990, when their massive subsidies of imported oil and food to Cuba were halted.

In The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, ordinary Cubans talk about the immediate hardships they faced. Their GDP dropped by more than one third, transportation nearly stopped and food became scarce – the average Cuban lost 20 pounds during the first years of this economic crisis.

The documentary visits urban gardens and organic farms, explains the relationship between food and fossil fuels, and shows how a society can change from an industrialized, global focus to a local, community-based one. It provides us with a rare view into this island’s culture, using firsthand reporting that focuses on what Cubans have learned about adapting to living with less.

Cuba’s experience represents a living model for how the rest of the world can respond to the coming peak in global oil production that some experts say will occur this decade. “Everyone who is concerned about Peak Oil needs to see this film,” said Richard Heinberg, author of The Party’s Over and Powerdown. “It is a story not just of individual achievement, but of the collective mobilization of an entire society to meet an enormous challenge.”

The Community Solution, executive producer of the film, is a non-profit organization in Yellow Springs, Ohio dedicated to seeking viable, low-energy options to the coming Peak Oil crisis. It hosts the annual “U.S. Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions,” and offers other programs to increase public awareness about peak oil.

The screenings on June 3, 4 and 5 will be followed by a facilitated audience discussion. Tickets are R20 and can be reserved by calling The Labia at (021) 424 5927. Reserving tickets is strongly recommended to avoid disappointment.

This event is presented by The Labia and While You Were Sleeping, a Cape Town-based non-profit film collective committed to bringing progressive, non-mainstream documentaries with important social and environmental messages to South African audiences.


The Labia: (021) 424 5927

While You Were Sleeping:

Andreas Späth

084 772 1056



March against Alcan abd Coega in Port Elizabeth May 25, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Uncategorized.
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I know this is incredibly late in the day (literally), but if you’re in PE this afternoon, please try to support this (I just found it on urban sprout myself). And those of you in the Eastern Cape looking for an environmental home, try NiMBLE.


Protesters that include parents, community members, farmers and environmentalists will hold a peaceful demonstration against the Alcan/Coega development. They will meet behind the Paxton Hotel in Humerail, Port Elizabeth tomorrow – Friday 25 May between 4-5pm to march and hand out informative pamphlets to the public.

What is their aim? They believe that Alcan represents the first of a new wave of industrial development in the PE Metro. Alcan has had a hugely negative global impact and they protest against them setting up in the PE Metro. The whole deal has been made with little gain for local people and much harm. Protesters hope that public pressure will highlight objections to the development and force local and national leaders to rethink their national strategy.

The combined protesters of Alcan want a national strategy for sustainable development as well as a local strategy for healthy, prosperous local livelihoods.

For further information contact:
Greg Smith

Quote de jeur #6 May 25, 2007

Posted by Andreas in History, Politics, Quotes, Society.

I came across this quote in a book called Escaping the Matrix by Richard Moore and thought it was quite scary and uncomfortably pertinent to our current situation, especially considering the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the future imperialist wars that are surely in the pipeline.

Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship… [V]oice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

– Hermann Goering, interviewed during the Nuremberg Trials, April 18, 1946.

Nuclear spin part II May 23, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, Nuclear Power, South Africa, Sustainable Living.

I sent an email to Arlene Cameron, the editor of Greenprint asking her some questions with regards to the pro-nuclear power article and educational posters in their current issue.

I thought it would only be fair to put up her reply here:

Dear Andreas,

This is indeed the first time I have seen your email. I have no idea who Mike Freedman’s clients are, and he had nothing at all to do with the creation of the posters. They were my idea, in fact.

I was introduced to Mike by a mutual friend, had a brief meeting, and mentioned the educational resources I was putting together, as I believe that if we continue to burn fossil fuels we will destroy the earth in a very short space of time. It seems that nuclear is the only viable, clean option that we currently possess in order to generate energy in the quantities needed by the human race for the next century.

Perhaps it will buy us time until we find a way to master the way the universe itself generates energy – fusion. We can’t continue to burn old plants, and other options are limited in their respective applications.

The article was most definitely not “advertorial” and was not paid for by anyone except me, in that I have to find the financial resources to publish Greenprint. I have no idea who Mike’s clients are, but I got the impression that he was representing the same client as I do – The Earth.

I am prepared to re-address any pre-conceived, outdated ideas in the light of new technologies and risk management. After all, what good is money if there’s no air or water?

But I welcome your response, and your objections, and if you would refrain from being personal I would be delighted to publish your viewpoint in the next edition.

Yours sincerely,

Arlene Cameron

Hmm, tempting offer. Maybe I should stop looking for industry sponsored PR spin (South African editors and publishers seem to be quite happy to do plenty of pro-nuclear spinning without being prompted, it would seem!) and try to get a counter-argument into Greenprint. Will let you know if I do…

Nuclear spin South African style May 21, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, Nuclear Power, South Africa, Sustainable Living.

I recently came across two really good articles (here and here) about how the nuclear power industry in the United States is conducting a massive public relations campaign to make atomic energy palatable.

The industry spends millions of dollars on “media outreach”, lobbying federal officials and in helping to establish and fund pro-nuclear groups such as the Vermont Energy Partnership, the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, the Massachusetts Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance and the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition.

The Clean and Safe Energy Coalition employs Patrick Moore as one of its co-chairs. As a co-founder of Greenpeace (he left the organisation in 1986), Moore is frequently quoted in the press and by pro-nuclear pundits as an environmentalist who has come to his senses and now supports nuclear energy as a green solution to global warming. The fact that his salary is paid by the atomic energy industry is less commonly mentioned.

All of this is interesting in itself and moreover relevant to South Africans, since in this global media village any big-bucks American spin will certainly have an impact in this country as well, but I didn’t really think that we had our very own, home-grown pro-nuclear PR spinsters.

Then I found an article touting the virtues of nuclear power in general and the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor in particular, in Edition 3 (January-June 2007) of Greenprint, an impressive-looking, SA glossy produced by Greenprint Environmental Publications, “the original publishers of Earthyear Magazine, winner of fifteen awards”. You can download it as a pdf here, or, more tellingly straight off the PBMR website here.

The article was written by Mike Freedman, the founding partner of a local public relations outfit called Freedthinkers. “Ahh, greenwash on the cheap, SA-style”, was my first reaction, feeling a little cheated. “At least the Americans are getting an ex-greenie with some sort of credentials. All we get is an actual, undiluted PR dude with a background in copy writing and advertising. Booh!”

The Freedthinkers website list the SA government and its Department of Trade and Industry (dti) among its clientèle. Now, the SA government, Eskom and the dti (through its Industrial Development Corporation) also happen to be the main investors in Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (Pty) Ltd. and all of these taken together basically represent the biggest part of this countries nuclear industry. This didn’t look like a particularly well-disguised PR paper trail…

The article itself is standard pro-nuclear fare, quoting extensively from James Lovelock, another greenie who’s come to see the absolute necessity of nuclear power, and from Patrick Moore himself.

The argument basically goes as follows: renewable energy sources are great but flawed and can not do the job on their own. Nuclear power is the only alternative and is primarily plagued by unfounded myths and public misconceptions. All that is required is a massive PR effort by people like Mike Freedman himself to convince the public: “It will take the most skilled in the communications industry plus a few billion dollars in the war-chest”.

Almost more interesting than the article itself, are two large glossy posters included with the magazine. They bear no branding other than the Greenprint logo and are “designed to assist secondary school students, particularly at matric level, to understand the facts about energy generation in the 21st century.”

The first poster is entitled “Energy – Bright Ideas for South Africa” and compares the various energy options (coal, hydro, wind, solar, ocean, biofuels and nuclear/PBMR). Tellingly, the nuclear section includes by far the longest list of advantages, while the only disadvantage is “Negative public perception, based on inaccurate, outdated information.”

Similarly, a comparison table consistently gives nuclear the best possible score (5 out of 5) for every aspect (cost, safety, electrical reliability, future fuel supply, siting restrictions, greenhouse gases, waste) with the exception of “Public Perception” for which it scores a 1 out of 5 (lower than all of the other energy sources). Pro-nuclear freelance writer Andrew Kenny is acknowledged as the source of the information in the table.

The second poster focuses specifically on PBMR technology.

The entire effort (the article plus the two posters) appears to present an unbiased look at our future energy options. In reality it is heavily slanted towards nuclear power.

I wrote an email to Mr Freedman and he send a prompt and very friendly reply:

Dear Andreas,

I write in my private capacity.  I am not a representative of government, neither do I inform them of what I write.

I/we are not involved in the educational posters you refer to – the first time I saw them was in Greenprint.

The work we did for the dti had nothing to do with Eskom & PBMR.

I am not in love with nuclear energy – I simply do not see, in the time we have available, any other way to save the world from imminent catastrophe.

I assume you have read ‘Revenge of Gaia’ by James Lovelock.  It has profoundly influenced me – not you?

George Monbiot’s ‘Heat’ does give a non-nuclear way to avoid global warming – too much of it is untested tho, and I do not want to play Russian roulette with the fate of humanity.

I appreciate you asking the questions – my own belief is that outside hard news, over 50% of what we see in newspapers has come from one pr company or another.

However, this piece came from my own quest for the least harmful way forward.

go well,


Hmm. I guess I’ll just have to take his word for it, for now…

Eskom Begins to Crack over Alcan’s Secret Deal May 18, 2007

Posted by Andreas in activism, Coega, Environment, News, Press Release, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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OK, I admit it, I’ve blatantly copied this from Tristen’s blog, but hey, it’s a press release after all, so let’s spread the news.

Press Release: Eskom Begins to Crack over Alcan’s Secret Deal
Earthlife Africa Jhb
16th of May 2007

After weeks of legal pressure and citizens’ protests, Eskom has partially relented and disclosed more details about its deal with Alcan over the long-term selling of electricity. While Eskom’s disclosure is not sufficient for an adequate accounting of the deal with Alcan (and the undisclosed subsidies of that deal), it represents a step in the right direction.

In its response to an internal PAIA appeal from Earthlife Africa Jhb, Eskom noted the following:

1) Alcan will not have the right to sell on electricity
2) Alcan will be subject to a “take-or-pay” arrangement
3) There will be no linkages between the aluminium price and the price that Alcan will pay for electricity.

On the matter of price, Eskom is still refusing to disclose the actual price (cents per kilowatt hour), citing that it would violate confidentiality agreements with Alcan. It seems that Eskom would rather talk to a Canadian multinational corporation than with the South African people.

What Eskom has stated, in regards to the price of electricity, is that the price will be no lower than the cost of supply (as far as possible, according to Eskom), not be subsidised by other users, and linked to Eskom’s Forward Pricing Curve. All of this information is not exactly helpful.

Eskom’s costs of supply (and “at the gate cost”) and forward pricing curve are something of a mystery. While interesting to note that the price of electricity is linked to the forward pricing curve, that it essentially meaningless without detailed knowledge of the forward pricing curve. Likewise, what is Eskom’s current cost of supply, and what is meant by the notion that Eskom will not charge below the cost of supply as far as possible?

According to a confidential document from Eskom (Confidential Briefing Note: New Build Programme: Revised Capital Expenditure for the Period 2007/8 to 2011/12), a new coal-fired power station will have at supply cost of 25c/kwh. Is this future cost the basis of cost of supply or would it be from the much cheaper current cost of supply?

Further, the issue of subsidisation is also unclear, given the massive R150 billion capitalisation period over the next five years. In order to finance this, R100 billion will be raised through debt. Eskom will have to borrow heavily, and the question is, will Alcan, as one of the largest, single users of electricity in the country, pay towards that debt? That question can only be answered by the disclosure of the actual price.

Already the Coega IDZ has had a variety of subsidies thrown at it, to the tune of R7.5 billion. In addition, Eskom is spending R6 billion on transmission lines to Coega (to service Alcan’s smelter). Will Alcan pay a part of those costs, especially cost of the transmission lines? It is highly doubtful that Alcan will pay back Eskom (via a high cost of electricity) for the transmission lines; somebody else may have to that, namely consumers and taxpayers. Effectively, this is a handout to the very wealthy.

The issue of subsidisation runs even deeper when the externalised costs of electricity are taken into account. Coal-fired power stations produce local and global pollution. The SOx and NOx emissions from these stations cause damage to people’s health, agriculture and nature. Dealing with these negative effects (acid rain and respiratory problems), costs money in health care costs and losses to business. Globally, the CO2 emissions from coal-fired power stations are a major contributor to global warming, which is set to cause extreme drought, famine and migration throughout sub-Saharan Africa. These externalised costs of coal-fired power stations have been estimated to be at least twice the current cost of electricity. Will Alcan be contributing towards these externalised costs or will it be the South African taxpayer? That can only be determined through the disclosure of the actual price.

Earthlife Africa Jhb calls upon Eskom and Alcan to fully disclose all the details of their deal, including the actual price of electricity. Confidentiality clauses can easily be dealt with if both parties decide to reveal the information and become the kind of honest and accountable public institutions and private investors that our country requires.

In flagrante delicto May 17, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Life, Parenting, sex.

I just found this on my computer. It’s several years old, but still quite funny, I think.

It’s about two o’clock on a weekday night. We’re having our own brand of make-up sex after a lengthy argument-fight-discussion. It’s late and we’re not worried about disturbing anyone, so we’re being relatively loud. Moaning, talking, heavy breathing.

We’re both about to summit that last steep incline, about to plunge off the other side in an exhilarating rush of sensory overload just to ramp off the end of that roller coaster, the edge of the world, and float weightlessly in frothy clouds of orgasm when she exclaims “Fuck baby !”

My first thought is “Yeah…you got that right !”, but then I look at her face and see her freaked eyes pointing towards the hallway. (Picture the scene if you must: missionary position sex, her head gently drooping over the edge of the mattress at a slight angle, me still with no eyes in the back of mine.)

My second thought sends eerie shivers down the length of my spine: “It’s a burglar. We’re dead!” I turn my head and see his silhouette against the backlit doorway…our four-and-a-half year old son.

For a split-second all activity seizes. He seems to take in the tableau in front of him, and then he shuffles on past our bed and into the en-suite. A moment later I hear the tingle of boy-wee against porcelain. I’m off. Visions of a mentally scarred teenager in ten years from now flash through my mind. In the half-light of the bathroom, I kneel down next to him. “Did mommy and daddy wake you up ? We were talking and…hugging.” Part of me wants to talk straight. I hate the hypocritical lies and half-truths parents disseminate amongst their children, but then the image of him telling his pre-school buddies that he caught his parents fucking the other night just jars a little too much.

I take him back to his bed, and after getting him a bottle of chocolate milk, continue my interrogation just a little longer: “Did you feel funny when you walked into mummy and daddy’s bedroom just now ?” “Yes. I felt funny, because I had to make a wee.” Grmph ! “Is there anything you want to ask me about ?” After a short pause: “Yes, next time we go to the beach, can we…ramble, ramble, ramble.” Either he really doesn’t have a clue, or his little mind has already pulled a serious con-job of suppressing the evidence. We might never find out, but his therapist may, one day. In the meantime we’ll be getting a lock for the bedroom door.

Swaziland = Zimbabwe? May 15, 2007

Posted by Andreas in History, News, Politics, Society, Southern Africa, Swaziland.

Most South Africans, myself included, know very little about Swaziland. Our very liberal press keeps us well informed about the latest civil rights abuses in Zimbabwe, but we hear next to nothing from Swaziland even though many people in that country habitually compare their own situation to that of Zim.

A Swazi friend has been complaining bitterly about life in Swaziland for months and I’ve been asking him to write down his experiences for me. The other day he sent a few press clippings from The Times of Swaziland and the Swazi News and I thought I’d write a bit about their contents – month old news is better than no news, right!?

Let me first set the scene, though, by reminding you of the fact that Swaziland is an absolute monarchy. Yup, the King is pretty much, well… the king of the place. According to Swazi law and custom, the monarch holds supreme executive, judicial and legislative powers and is also the Commander-in-Chief of all of the country’s armed forces.

The country does have a two-chamber parliament with a House of Assembly and a Senate, but the trappings of democracy are very thin: the king effectively controls the parliament and political parties and large political gatherings are outlawed.

King Mswati III and his numerous wives enjoy a lavish lifestyle of luxury mansions and expensive cars, while the country is crippled by poverty, unemployment and very high HIV infection rates. If that all sounds very medieval and feudal, that’s because it is!

The newspaper articles speak of widespread greed and corruption among the country’s elite, harassment of unions and police brutality.

In early April, two members of the fledgling Police Union of Swaziland, one of them its president, Buhle Dlamini, were fired by Commissioner of Police, Edgar Hillary, and some twenty of the union’s members were suspended or transferred.

Swazi News columnist Thulani Thwala wants to welcome visitors by erecting billboards at all of the country’s border posts that read “ZIMBABWE TO BE… IF NOT ALREADY” and fumes:

What we are condemning in Zimbabwe right now, most recently the assault of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, is exactly what has been happening in Swaziland in the recent past.

He describes the new constitution that was adopted in early 2006 as “cosmetic”:

Currently, the constitution gives hope where there is virtually none. It appears it is more brutal than the devil we know.

On the 12th of April, the People’s United Democratic Movement, PUDEMO, called for pickets and blockades of all major border posts with South Africa to commemorate the “1973 Decree”, which banned political parties in the kingdom and to protest about the constitution.

The protests, supported on the South African side of the border by COSATU, the Swaziland Solidarity Network, SACP, YCL, ANCYL, SA Police Union, COSAS and SASCO, were met by large police contingents and blatant police brutality. The newspapers carried photographs of a plain-clothes police officer virtually strangling a protester, which led to an outcry among civil society. Several people were arrested and six charged with sedition because their placards contained “derogatory information”.

All of this is happening right on our doorstep in a neighbouring country and most of us don’t know, let alone do, anything about it.