Interview with Tim Barton of www.BlueGreenEarth.com
Interview by Louis P. Burns aka Lugh for Sensitize © / www.upstaterenegadeproductions.com All rights reserved.
I met Tim Barton through interacting with the Mark Thomas Info forum and website roughly 2 years ago. He seemed to appreciate where Sensitize was at even at the very beginning when there was very little available to view. My opinion is that if someone lends a helping hand to get things off the ground. Then they deserve recognition for their kindness and willingness to see others do well. So, about 2 weeks ago I arranged by email to interview Tim for our blossoming e-zine and I'm happy to report he agreed. Please find the interview with Tim Barton of BlueGreenEarth directly below:-
Q01 - Lugh: Hi Tim. Can you tell our readers about how BlueGreenEarth came about?
Tim: "My background was in History and Philosophy, which I studied at Bolton, 83-86. I became interested in anarchist and green philosophy, and, as my time in Lancashire coincided with the miners strike, a certain amount of activism on the anarchist and anti-fascist left. I was introduced to the work of Murray Bookchin by fellow anarchist Alan Brown, who has since been involved in various anarchist activities in the Bolton area, including co-op allotments and the provision of 5-a-day fruit and veg to the poorer parts of town (which led to employment with the NHS Trust there). Bookchin's ideas struck a chord with me, especially his essays in Post-Scarcity Anarchism and in Towards an Ecological Society (I was lucky enough to have come across his work before the sectarian rot set in). I had been an avid reader of SF as a teenager, especially liking Brunner's The Sheep Look Up and Stand on Zanzibar, and also read a lot of environmental science, cosmology, etc, so my dissertation for the Philosophy strand of my degree was influenced by ideas from David Bohm, Murray Bookchin, Rudy Rucker, Pytr Kropotkin, Ilya Prigogene, Fritjof Capra and critiques of deep ecology, as much as, say, Wittgenstein, Descartes or Marx.
In the early 1990's Robert Allen and some colleagues of his (some of whom became part of Grassroots Gathering), were activists on the green-left. At that time Robert was writing occasional anarchist and green community features for An Poblacht, and, as the material he wrote met with a mixed response, he set up the collective An Talamh Glas, which began an occasional Xeroxed newsletter, Blue.
I began to work with him after we met in Dublin (bizarrely, at a science-fiction convention, TrinCon400, at Trinity) in 1991 or 1992 (I forget which!). He was working in anti-incinerator campaigns, amongst others, mostly anti-corporate and community based. He had published Guests of the Nation: The people of Ireland vs the multinationals (1990), and was completing Waste Not Want Not: Production and Dumping of Toxic Waste (1992). We worked out very quickly that few of those there had the same concerns as us, from a futurological point of view, and found ourselves in the bar with SF author David Wingrove (who Rob had known through his misspent late-seventies/early-eighties days running an SF magazine out of Belfast and reporting on football matches for the Belfast Telegraph and the Irish Times), horror novelist and BBC script writer Stephen Gallagher, the then runner to TD Roger Garland, Patricia McKenna (who not long after became MEP for the greens in Dublin), and Tomas, an anarchist friend of Rob's.
After that I was increasingly involved in ventures on the fringes of An Talamh Glas and Blue. We wrote book reviews, and anti-incineration articles (published by ToxCat in Ellesmere Port as well as the Blue newsletter). Meanwhile, I had been involved in campaigns against incinerators and cement kilns in Kent, and Rob had been involved with anti-GM and anti-road campaigns around Europe. During this time new contacts were made around the globe – for example, Erik Valencic in Zagrab; CD Stelzer in St Louis, Missouri; and Cindy Milstein, of the then Social Ecology Institute in Vermont, as well as the Lancashire based Green Anarchist one-man splinter faction Steve Booth.
Rob and I co-founded the European Social Ecology Research Unit, now the European Social Ecology Institute, in the mid-90s. This was run as a second string to day jobs etc (I was in bookselling and Rob a sub on the London papers, between projects). It began as a joint project intended to formalise where we were coming from, and place it outside the circle of any other entrenched ideology – a major attraction of Bookchin's ideas around social ecology being the way in which he took a combination of left green and anarchist positions into a constellation less sullied by popular preconceptions.
In early 2001 I created a website on the US green movement (focussed on Jello Biafra and Judi Bari) and then one on incineration issues http://www.anamnesis.net/incineration/ both as part of an HNC Multimedia project.
In August 2001 I put up the first webpages for http://www.bluegreenearth.com, Rob and I having decided to take the now failing newsletter into cyberspace."
Q02 - Lugh: The BlueGreenEarth website aims to?
Tim: "We envisaged Blue's online presence as taking positive news stories and features on social ecology; the nexus of left and green and anarchist ideas; socialist and libertarian views of foreign policy and the anti-globalisation debate; permaculture; resource scarcity etc.
However, the writers that were attracted into the collective were sidelined into post-9/11 events very quickly after the WTC was attacked. So, the stories we ran were much more frequently 'negative' than we had initially intended. This, as the whole world will appreciate, has run on and on, what with the Afghan and Iraq misadventures, and, as resources deplete, will continue to run on and on.
Below is a short list of the features that were run in the very first issues, so that readers have a feel of how the project began in those first few months, pre and post 9/11. All pieces that were not commissioned, but re-run from other sources, were run with permission of authors and websites / publishers.
Features run in 2001 included The Politics Of Pollution, by Robert Allen; Cementing Deals All Over The World by C.D. Stelzer; Agrobusiness Aggression by Ronnie Cummins; Open Letter to Bjorn Lomborg by Robert Allen; Human Arrogance by Jackie Alan Giuliano; Food Sovereignty by Food First; Ghostlands by Robert Allen; Noam Chomsky on September 11th & After; Laurens van der Post & the Grail by Nancy Ryley; The SWP - State-Sponsored Dissent? by the ATG Collective; Bolivia: U.S.-Provoked Uprising? by Al Giordano / Narco Alert; 9/11: Addressed to the Antiglobalization Movement George Caffentzis; Coke, Canada, Colombia - Two pieces by Murray D. Lumley; The Air We Breathe by Robert Allen; The Great Crusade by Steve Booth and Crisis in Afghanistan by Waldrop, Lamb & Allen. I quite liked the 2002 article Philip K Dick & Homeland Security, by Paul Illich.
Book reviews run in 2001 (several of which were written by myself [TB]) covered The Great Food Gamble, by John Humphrys [TB]; The Captive State, by George Monbiot [TB]; Long Shadows, by Erna Paris [TB]; A Good Old-Fashioned Future, by Bruce Sterling [TB]; A World of Fine Difference, by Adrian Peace; Devolution in the UK, by Vernon Bogdanor [TB]; Running on Emptiness, by John Zerzan; A Guide to the End of the World, by Bill McGuire [TB]; How Much Risk?, by Inge F Goldstein & Martin Goldstein [TB]; The Tainted Source, by John Laughland; WHO PAID THE PIPER?: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, by Francis Stonor Saunders; A Small City in France by Francoise Gaspard; The Rotten Heart of Europe by Bernard Connolly; After The Guns Fall Silent by Jody Williams and Shawn Roberts; Contributions to the Critique of Commodity Society by KRISIS; Homage to Gaia by James Lovelock; AD: Green Anarchist magazine; From Here To Sustainability by Ian Christie and Diane Warburton; Europe Inc. by Balanya, Doherty, Hoedeman, Ma'anit and Wesselius; Iraq Under Seige edited by Anthony Arnove; MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations by Stephen Dorril; The Big Breach by Richard Tomlinson; Democratizing Globalization: The Leverage of the Tobin Tax by Heikki Patomaki; AD: Some Common Concerns: Imagining BP's Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey Pipelines System from PLATFORM; AD: The Global Political Economy of Israel by Nitzan & Bichler; AD: Ethics for a Small Planet from the Biodiversity Project.
Alongside this we ran news and events pages; and eyewitness reports, on issues such as anti-WTO actions from all over the world, Palestine/Israel (via Pennie Quinton's work with the International Solidarity Movement), the war in Iraq, anti-war marches worldwide, the social forums and grassroots gatherings, anarchist communities, Menwith Hill and Fylingdales (via CAAB); etc."
Q03 - Lugh: BlueGreenEarth are affiliated to?
Tim: "We also ran features under the banners of Opinion and Polemic, which included US writers such as John Kaminski (whose right-ward drift eventually separated him from us), William Stone III, and Jan Lundberg of Culture Change. The latter became a staple in our features sections, so that, from issue 7 of his Culture Change letters, we co-published most of his work: a relationship that has continued to the present. Jan also involved us in the PetroCollapse group, for whom I produced the logo and some posters http://www.petrocollapse.org/
More recently, as we have begun to move away from the post-9/11 fall-out, we have begun to regularly re-run blogs from organisations such as the Earth Policy Institute, and writers such as Amanda Kovattana http://www.amandakovattana.blogspot.com Glen Barry http://www.earthmeanders.blogspot.com and Larry Santoyo http://www.earthflow.com/
These loose affiliations signpost our interests, which centre around anarchism, localism, bioregions, permaculture, left-green critique, anti-capitalism, holistic ecology and social ecology.
Our more direct links are to the more recently begun (and already defunct) Island magazine (academic Irish leftists undermined it, as I understand it), Small World Publishing http://www.smallworldmedia.ie/ - who have published on Rossport, the anti-roads movement, travellers, plus some local history), and a launch for the European Social Ecology Institute website http://www.europeansocialecologyinstitute.org/ which we hope will allow a recalibration of our interests along more 'positive' lines.
I have been involved with:
KnowledgeLab https://knowledgelab.org.uk/FirstKnowledgeLab: and see our 2005 position paper "Local-Global Organising: A Philosophical Argument", delivered at Lab 01 - http://www.lancs.ac.uk/ug/pedersen/know ... land_1.pdf, or the fuller version at http://www.bluegreenearth.us/archive/ar ... _2005.html, plus other varied activities all of which have fed into Blue, the ESEI, our myspace http://www.myspace.com/socialecologyinstituteeu yahoogroup http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bluegreenearth/ sites."
Q04 - Lugh: Can you think of 5 small changes to our everyday lives that would make our planet a BlueGreenEarth?
Tim: 1) Consume less 2) Speak out more 3) Organise with 'think global, act local' in mind 4) Learn to think for yourself 5) Start an allotment
Q05 - Lugh: Do BlueGreenEarth believe more and more people should be exercising their minds and learning from the internet thus reducing the amount of trees destroyed to make paper for books, magazines, newspapers and other publications?
Tim: "Well, it wouldn't hurt to use less print media. The trade has reached a rapacious point where unit cost is so much lower if you massively over-produce that publishers print way too many units (super cheap) and flog off cheap (or pulp) any left over after a (too short) sales drive – in a typically capitalist manner, they are rewarded with more profit at the externalised price of more environmental damage. This cancerous cycle is representative of capitalist processes, no matter how many self-avowed 'capitalists' may or may not try and 'act green'.
The New Scientist ran an interesting (if scarifying) article a couple of years back, looking at costs and benefits in recycled paper plants. The main focus was the mega-plant in Aylesford, Kent, and it was an eye-opener on how sometimes trees grown for paper mills can in fact be greener than some methods of handling recycled paper waste.
Also, the internet as a media is more fluid and searchable than paper records. It has the capacity to link communities across the globe, to create McLuhan's global village on the fly (MySpace is a good representative of how this can work, flaws and all, ditto Second Life). I am cynical about some ideas floated in this field – such as the Singularity, real immersive VR (of the "can't tell it from real" variety), de Chardin's 'godhead' emergent from the 'Noosphere', etc, but overall see many positive aspects to the internet.
Of course, the real material world is still there, and using the links created for positive realworld action is important – indeed, for me, is the whole point. This is, of course, why I mention flaws and Second Life in the same breath, but it is ultimately up to all of us as individuals to decide where the balance is between real and virtual community."
Q06 - Lugh: If BlueGreenEarth had the power to stop anything that is a serious threat to the environment right now. What would it be?
Tim: "I would seek to stop global climate change that threatens life on the planet, whether the changes are down to us or whatever.
To do this implies the demolition of consumer capitalism and the demotion of Money to the status of a tool we use (unless we simply banish it completely) rather than having the status of a God where we are it's tools, and it's value is always greater than ours. After all, an aggressive cancer will often only die back once it has killed its host, and the capitalist meme's host is the biosphere. Ditto any anti-reality religious viewpoints."
Q07 - Lugh: Would BlueGreenEarth say that the wars being fought today are detrimental to the environment?
Tim: "War has always been detrimental to local and regional environments. From an environmental perspective the wars that matter are those that create irreparable damage to the biosphere and to biodiversity. Wars involving nuclear weapons are a clear example of that. Wars over resources, to feed the death throes of consumer capitalism, the attempts of developing countries to join the party, etc are a clear example of that. Wars use more fossil fuels etc themselves than many activities (which is a reason for their being perceived as the heart of the military-industrial complex – ie, whether free-market capitalist or state capitalist, a war economy is a resource intensive get rich quick scheme for a minority, unfortunately the minority with the power and control most of the time).
You could say that capitalist consumerism is a war against life on Earth. See my response to Q9 for more on our position on this."
Q08 - Lugh: Do BlueGreenEarth believe politicians should be penalised for not working effectively to lead-by-example when it comes to the environment's wellbeing?
Tim: "I cannot speak for all of the members of our 'collective', or for all contributors on such specific matters. However, I can elucidate my own views.
This is a tricky area. In a way, yes. If politicians are seen as democratic representatives of the people, in a fairly direct and representative way, and if the 'will of the people' is to support green measures, then I guess hypocrisy should be punished – if you accept the assumed superiority of such assumptions as the peoples will being useful or informed, etc, which is an ongoing dodgy debate with little honesty or sense spoken. If you see the UK version of democracy as a bit of an insult to 'democracy' as an ideal, as I do, then you will not see representation on policy, and certainly not proportionate representation, as being offered by our system – so whether those that choose to play this game by our establishments rules should or should not work for the benefit of the environment may be an open question.
So, in the "best of all possible worlds" (in democratic terms), sure politicians should be penalised, as in such a world it would be reasonable to expect "representative" to actually mean "represent and share the views (broadly at least) of their constituency members".
Personally, I think decision making at a local level, through libertarian municipal assemblies, would be the best forum for beginning representative governance, with, perhaps, representatives returned from these assemblies to regional, national and intra-national assemblies – the commune of communes, if you will. This, of course, still would be a compromise on the ideal of direct democracy, and a compromise too for individualist anarchism, but that is one of the reasons why I see the nexus of valid political debate to be where left and anarchist meet (and where they also converge with green consciousness, for the reasons that I hope are apparent elsewhere in my answers here) – negating the 'other' just means vicious swings from extreme to extreme, and the status quo as a balance point is currently about established entrenched power, not common sense and the future (which I think deserve more of a profile)."
Q09 - Lugh: Do BlueGreenEarth see planet Earth as a living, breathing organism and we (humanity) as its maintainance crew?
Tim: "Deep ecology types will conflate all humans with this disease, and advocate eradicating us all to save the cockroach (stereotype alert!). Usually this view is accompanied by a view of human nature as by definition deterministic and negative (even whilst those who cleave to such a view often see themselves as individuals apart from that, and/or embrace smug worthless lifestyle anarchism / activism where "yoga can cure the world"). Despite cynicism and 'pessimism' (the optimist's interpretation of realism?), I do not share this view of our 'nature', believing that we are more malleable and less determined than that. It is however a race against time.
The skills and traits we evolved to survive very different times have become our downfall – we need to take cognizance of that, as, I think, it is very clear that we have also evolved tools and intelligence that allow the real possibility of us not acting to that script: it is a choice.
But, as resources, especially fossil fuels, deplete, we will surely find most of our species stranded like fish on a beach when the tide goes out, but the tide will only return after sufficient time has passed for a whole new Carboniferous period to come and depart – we have sorely misused this fast conversion energy source, and it has financed our explosion from a billion or so population in the mid-nineteenth century, through 3 billion the year I was born (1964) to close to 7 billion today. Even a cursory look at population dynamics, whether for yeast, rabbits, or humans, reveals the 'limits to growth' all too vividly.
However, should we choose to use the knowledge accrued through centuries of struggle in the sciences and philosophy as good means for good ends, rather than allowing them to be the tool (and fall-guy) for capitalistic ideologues, then I think that we have the capacity to be stewards of the earth and to break the cycle. I give it long odds, but nonetheless do believe this to be so. In this sense, then, yes, we could be seen as the Earth's maintenance crew.
I read Lovelock's ideas, summarised possibly unhelpfully by Laurence Durrell as "Gaian" after a greek goddess, and am sympathetic to what he wrote. Vernadsky's The Biosphere is also a key text here. Neither thinker portrays the Earth as "a living breathing organism", though some that read them have done. These 'deep ecologist' thinkers are, I think, pushing the metaphor too far. However, I do see the biosphere as a holistic entity with an implicate order that renders the whole as more than merely the sum of it's parts – just as the parts of a motorcycle engine laid out on a garage floor are in sum a random pile of bits, yet when properly put together becoming by definition more than merely that pile (and the ID brigade's reading of this as requiring a designer is where the analogy breaks down, as succinctly explained by Richard Dawkins in his Blind Watchmaker). Reading a supernatural consciousness into it, or divinity, or even a mundane consciousness is too much.
As a species capable of stewardship, I believe that humans are unique. This doesn't mean that I believe that we are a peak of evolution in a hubristic sense, with no responsibility or care for 'lesser' lifeforms; or that no other species could ever feasibly gain such status, or that there may not be many links to the great chain of being above us. But I do believe that we are from, at least some perspectives, a 'higher' species. It is precisely because of our embeddedness in a web of life upon which we are ultimately wholly dependent, that I do not think this evolutionary hierarchy makes appropriate the lack of care that we have for our environment – in fact, those behaviours that imperil the wider ecology are exactly the things that may render us worthless and indeed extinct, unless we rethink our relationship with nature.
* A note on 'capitalistic ideology', as referred to throughout this interview – I see the traditional Left as being as mired in the same nineteenth century viewpoints as the conservatives: Newtonian determinism; Cartesian solipsism; scientistic positivism that naively equates science with a magic wand; support for, indeed a requirement for, industrial productivism and planet rape… And the difference? The Left will share the proceeds of planet rape more fairly than the right."
Q10 - Lugh: Do BlueGreenEarth have any opinions on the amount of new bacteria and virii affecting humanity? Or to put it another way. Do BlueGreenEarth believe nature is fighting back in a bid to save itself from humanity and remain a BlueGreenEarth?
Tim: "I believe that population cycles and resource over-use create strains on the global ecology. I believe that we as species are pushing limits that risk a complete crash of our ecological niches, and that we endanger the wider environment more than most previous species ever could have as we push the barriers and as we crash out. I believe the Earth may work systemically in a way akin to the homeostatic mechanism Lovelock suggests, but I believe that that is a mortal and limited mechanism, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we may imperil its diversity and resilience far more than many believe us capable of doing – whilst the world 'may' here is not a cop-out, I do think it a possibility (hopefully an outside chance) that we could trigger a flip from one stable state to another, feasibly resulting in a 'Venus effect' or similar). I believe that the system may be resilient enough to prosper in the aftermath of our demise (a demise I never thought inevitable, but which relied upon a window of opportunity – a sweet point where technics and ethics were coming together – that is slamming shut, so becoming harder to avert by the minute), but that the time required for recovery (if recovery is defined by species diversity, dynamism and possibly an evolution toward species sentience at some levels) may be so long that mankind should weep for the damage we wrought.
I do not believe that nature is fighting back in any supernatural or conscious way. Frankly if it were able to do so with any planning of efficiency we might have been eradicated long since. The Earth can't act to save itself, but the dynamical systems that make up the biosphere will inevitably curb us at some point and in some way. The longer we continue our amazingly fast encroachment upon resources that we depend upon to survive, the swifter and harder the fall, for our species at least. But as I say, the strange attractor our systems are in is not one that we can guarantee the planet will not be kicked out of by extreme events. The development of some type of noosphere, global mind etc as posited by some writers is a slow and contingent event, if even possible. The hints of it we have seen over the last decades are ambiguous at best. But if it is possible, it's time is now or never."
Q11 - Lugh: In the grand scale of things. How effective do BlueGreenEarth believe the 29th March, 2008 powering down of all lights around the world was?
Tim: "If the world had indeed powered down all the lights, then it would mean we had a will to act, even though in itself that would be a pretty minor event. But, as hardly anyone joined in, it was all a bit pointless… Though, if the marketing drive behind the idea gets up a greater head of steam year on year, it may become increasingly meaningful. I worry that these things are mere gesture politics, salving middle-class bleeding heart conscience but thus merely bankrolling profligate over-use of resources for the rest of the year, but I am a cynical git.
That's a long-winded guffaw, then!"
Q12 - Lugh: Finally. Are there any other groups or websites BlueGreenEarth would like to acknowledge in this interview with Sensitize ©?
Tim: "Obviously, our own direct affiliates (as above), especially the ESEI http://www.europeansocialecologyinstitute.org/ and the MySpace http://www.myspace.com/socialecologyinstituteeu
Social Ecology London - http://socialecologylondon.wordpress.com/
Institute of Anarchist Studies - http://www.anarchist-studies.org/
Anarchist Archives - http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/
Culture Change - http://www.culturechange.org
PowerSwitch – http://www.powerswitch.org.uk/
ASPO Ireland - http://aspo-ireland.org/
Resource Insights - http://resourceinsights.blogspot.com/
Amanda Kovattana - http://www.amandakovattana.blogspot.com
David Holmgren - www.holmgren.com.au
Glen Barry's Earth Meanders - http://earthmeanders.blogspot.com
Larry Santoyo - http://www.earthflow.com/
Earth Policy Institute - http://www.earth-policy.org
William Bowles - http://www.williambowles.info/
Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases - http://www.caab.org.uk
Center for International Policy - http://americas.irc-online.org
George Monbiot's An Activist Guide to Exploiting the Media - http://www.gn.apc.org/pmhp/gs/handbook/media.htm
Books – very short core list from very long list, would alter weekly!:
Murray Bookchin Post-Scarcity Anarchism
Murray Bookchin Towards an Ecological Society
Janet Biehl The Politics of Social Ecology / Libertarian Municipalism
Vernon Bogdanor Devolution in the UK
Jeremy Brecher & Tim Costello Global Village or Global Pilage: Economic Reconstruction From the Bottom Up
Michael Jacobs The Green Economy Environment, Sustainable Development & the Politics of the Future
Leopold Kohr The Breakdown of Nations
John Madeley Big Business, Poor Peoples: The Impact of Transnational Corporations on the World's Poor
George Monbiot Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain
Dennis Pirages Global Technopolitics: The International Politics of Technology and Resources
George Ritzer The McDonaldization of Society
William R. Catton Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change
Marshall McLuhan Understanding Media: Tools as the Extension of Man
Paul Omerod The Death of Economics
John Humphrys The Great Food Gamble
George Monbiot The Captive State
Andre Gorz Ecology as Politics"
Lugh: Tim Barton. It has been an honour and a privilege getting to know more about what you and your colleagues at BlueGreenEarth are aiming to bring around. Thank you for taking the time out to respond to my questions for Sensitize ©.
This interview was conducted by electronic mail (email) and is a 'copyleft' interview. You may copy and paste either the entire interview or sections of it into your own websites but it is the request of the authors that links back to here; http://upstaterenegadeproductions.com/m ... .php?t=656 and http://www.bluegreenearth.com/ are included and respected. All rights of the authors reserved © 2008...