Friday, 15 December 2006

Expanding airport would destroy efforts to fight climate change

It is my view that the proposed expansion of Bristol Airport, doubling passenger numbers by 2015 and then trebling them by 2030, along with the readiness of BIA (Bristol International Airport) to fund the building of new roads linking the airport to the motorway and the South Bristol ring road, will destroy any other efforts made by people in the region to reduce the use of fossil fuels and fight climate change. Currently the airport is responsible for much more fossil fuel use than all the traffic in Bristol according to their own figures.

Aviation is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions and it has now been acknowledged by the recent Stern Report that climate change is the gravest threat to global prosperity. The costs of UK aviation’s contribution to climate change has been estimated at well over £2 billion. The health costs of the UK aviation sector’s air pollution amount to over a billion pounds per year. We cannot expect to start tackling climate change and expand airports. Models of development strongly featuring road and air travel growth are increasingly discredited, not least by climate change, and are not genuine development ie change for the better.

BIA state that ‘climate change is a global issue and action is needed at national and international level’. It makes no mention of changes being needed at regional, local and personal levels. If we are to tackle climate change action is needed at all levels. If individuals, local councils, businesses and regions are not playing their part then achieving change and tackling the problem at national and international levels will be very difficult indeed. We cannot say that that the solution to climate change is only for national and international level action, since we all make decisions every day which impact on our climate.

It is my view that BIA are not fully and properly assessing the total impact of what they are proposing. I do not go along with BIA’s assumption that actual and projected trends in flying are a good thing. Such trends must be subject to change and shaping by debate in society and should not simply be accepted. In my view it is both desirable and necessary to change the trend of expanding airports and increasing flying. It will soon become inevitable to do so, if we are to have a lifestyle we are able to sustain. The coming decades, the very ones in which BIA are proposing to expand their operation, are critical ones if climate change is to be addressed at all levels.

Airport expansion as a means of employment generation, stressed in parts of the BIA expansion plan, is extremely inefficient, both in terms of per pound spent and per unit of carbon generated by the work. We need development that breaks the link between the growth of the economy and growth in carbon generation. The overall hidden economic costs of the EU’s aviation sector have been estimated at over £14 billion a year, with the UK accounting for £4billion. References to the business community making it clear that they see the development of BIA as vital to regional economic growth are somewhat sweeping in our view. There are many businesses, not least those in the region’s tourist industry, who will want people to spend their money here rather than flying abroad and spending it there. Most of the growth in flights are tourists taking their money with them. We know from Treasury figures that air passenger transport represents a drain on the UK balance of payments of billions each year, and this figure does not include the costs of importing fuel and aircraft.

I'm not convinced by BIA’s stated commitment to ‘continued investment in the sustainable development of the airport’. I cannot see how an airport can develop sustainably, given the science and economics of climate change. At best it can only continue to try to become less unsustainable. Continued growth in air travel will easily outweigh any gains due to transfer of airport use from outside the region to inside it, greater use of public transport to get to the airport and other relatively small scale and possibly token attempts at being more environmentally friendly in building design and operation. The proposed use of renewable energy and fuel sources, energy saving in buildings and services and improvements to aircraft operational procedures are welcome as far as they go but they are far from focussed on the main airport environmental impact – energy use from flying planes.

What is effective in serious moves towards a sustainable society is to correctly prioritise the significant and fastest growing impacts and then effectively tackle these first. This puts air travel very high up the list. Expanding airports takes us in the wrong direction since far from countering growth in carbon output it encourages it very efficiently and rapidly.

With current technology there is no such thing as sustainable aviation. Aviation’s contribution to climate change is far from small in absolute terms. Even a regional airport like Bristol International has environmental impacts at the level of a city. BIA’s own figures for percentage of total regional greenhouse gas emissions from their operation show an increase from 0.4% to 0.7% as a result of their plans, an increase in contribution of 75%.

The proposed rise in flight frequency from 11 take offs/landings per hour to 17 represents an increase of 55%, with a corresponding increase in the frequency of a noise event occurring. I take no comfort at all from BIA’s statement that ‘measures proposed to manage aircraft noise will ensure that the number of people affected will remain broadly as the present day’ to say the least, given the health costs to those affected The economic costs of UK aircraft noise is already over £300 million. Note that we are strongly sympathetic to those who want noise pollution assessed in a different way.

BIA has not been consistent with its pronouncements on roads in the airport area. MD Andrew Skipp said at the launch of the airport expansion plan that roads in the area could handle the extra passengers. Yet in the local press he also said ‘Clearly the current transport arrangements south of Bristol need improvement..’ and spoke of the need to address traffic flow and congestion through Barrow Gurney. This is most confusing and does not add to the confidence I have in BIA.

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Expensive nukes dont make us secure

It is wrong for the Government to spend £15 to £20 billion on new nuclear submarines to carry Trident nuclear missiles not least because the spending simply is not focussed on real threats to the security of our society. Securing sufficient, clean, green energy supplies, global terrorism and organised crime, climate change and a number of other issues all clearly represent security threats that we know will be ongoing for some time but investing in new nuclear submarines tackles none of these. Kingswood MP Roger Berry may not be my preferred political colour (Green) but he is right to say, 'Today's security threat is not one that can be met by nuclear weapons' ('Blair faces fight over new nukes', Bristol Evening Post, December 5).

This is not the only sense in which the £20 billion (more like £70 billion if one adds up the weapons and submarine lifetime expenditure) will be misused. At todays costs £20 billion would be enough to build 800 new schools, and who would say they aren't needed. It could pay for the protection of over 700 million acres of rainforest, or meet our UN Millenium Goal aid target of 0.7% of GDP every year for the next eight years, thus fighting global poverty which will add to our insecurity if not tackled ! There are many other life and security enhancing ways to spend the money.

Just think of what could be done to enhance state pensions or improve care for the elderly or improve aspects of the NHS with the billions to be spent on nuclear submarines armed with nuclear weapons. And lets not forget that the Germans, Italians, Spanish, Danish, Swedish and others in Europe and around the world do not feel they have to spend billions on nuclear weapons to make them more secure - so why do we?

Bristol North West MP Doug Naysmith is no Green but he is in tune with what will make us more secure when he said, 'We should be reducing nuclear arsenals, not increasing them.' ('Blair faces fight over new nukes', Bristol Evening Post, December 5). He is right because by not reducing nuclear weapons significantly, an aspiration of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed decades ago, we have sent out the message to countries who have since developed nuclear weapons, like India, Pakistan, North Korea and possibly others, that possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons is a necessary and acceptable part of being a secure state. The resulting higher risk of wider availability of nuclear material may well enhance the ability of terrorists to terrorise on a larger scale, with 'dirty' bombs containing such material.

I'm glad that a number of MPs will oppose the Government, though I note that former radical left-winger, now Bristol South MP, Dawn Primarolo wont be among them. Tony Blair is likely to win the vote on this, most likely with Conservative support too. The Government have not and wont now be leading the world in nuclear disarmament. The destructive capacity they have decided to retain is equivalent to 1000 Hiroshima nuclear bombs. Why on Earth is such a massive capacity to indiscriminately annihilate needed? How can the Labour Government, or the Conservative and Lib-Dem opposition who also want a large nuclear arsenal, ever be considered Green if they favour 'defence' by threatening to destroy life on a mass scale?

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Outdoors education is worth more...

It is very welcome that the Government is encouraging schools to expand
opportunities for learning outside the classroom ('Let's put school trips
back on the curriculum', Post, November 29). However, I have to ask
whether they have allocated it all the money it needs and deserves and
whether they have allowed schools to build in the time and flexibility
really needed to make the most of opportunities. The National Curriculum
needs to be trimmed down significantly or made more flexible in my view,
to make more time available for things like educational visits and
fieldwork, as well as perhaps giving students greater choice of what to
study so that they are more likely to feel a sense of ownership and having
a stake.

We should not forget that there is more to education than the school
classroom. This is particularly important not least for environmental
education, whose profile surely needs to be raised given that we all need
to live more sustainably. I'd like to see all Bristol’s schools working to
carry out environmental education: in and through the environment as a
resource; about the environment by imparting knowledge; and for the
environment by encouraging students to formulate caring values, attitudes
and practical actions in their environment; and by developing the skills
needed to study the environment in students.

I'd strongly encourage schools to use relevant first hand resources and
real life experiences. Activities outside the teaching room should be a
natural extension of the working environment. Skills of enquiry and
exploration within local areas could be contrasted with environments
elsewhere. Communication skills could be developed by reporting on
enquiries and research. Self reliance, responsibility and independence
would be encouraged by working out in the environment. An understanding of
place, time, change and relationships using actual environmental
phenonmena is surely a very good and much needed goal.

Being out in the environment is a great way to develop students
understanding and knowledge of: natural processes; the dependence of life
on the environment; human impact; environments past and present; the
effects of past and present decisions on the environment; how decisions
are made about the environment at local, national, European and global
levels; the role of individuals; the cross border nature of pollution; key
topical issues of the time like climate change; the pros and cons of the
whole range of views; and the importance of planning, design and effective
action.

I want schools to develop: interest in and appreciation of the
environment; care for living things and their habitats; respect for the
environment through
study and activity; ability to think clearly and seek solutions
creatively; ability to perceive conflicting interests. Encouraging this
through activity out in environment is worth much more than the £2.7
million package the Government announced to help widen access. Its a start
which will make some impact of course, but with 8 million students going
on trips each year that's only 34 pence per student extra !

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Save our open spaces !!

It is welcome news and a victory for all those involved in the campaigns to save Castle Park from inappropriate development that Bristol City Council have asked the developers to 'go back to the drawing board'. Contrary to Dave, who said that this news '...is just pathetically Bristol - the place where good ideas never come to fruition.' (Open On-line, Bristol Evening Post Nov 21) very large numbers of people felt that plans which reduced open, green space weren't a 'good idea'. He gives the impression that he would be happier if at least something, anything, was built over the park!

I hope that this move by Bristol City Council is a sign that they will stand up to developers more, though I'm not holding my breath. I'd like to see the laws relating to developing land changed, redressing the balance of power which currently all too often unfairly favours developers over councils. Ideally the law should: embrace the principle that we are guardians of the land for generations to come; ensure land is not simply a means to make quick, fat profits; favour making land available for those who will make a real go of using it sustainably to enhance the quality of life.

Alan said 'In Bristol nothing ever happens because some minority complains and the council listens and backs down.' (Open On-line, Bristol Evening Post 21 Nov). He is wrong on all counts here. Actually it is commonly acknowledged that a lot is happening in Bristol, for good and ill. The council is often and rightly accused of not listening, but had to in the case of Castle Park because of the obvious strength of feeling. It was not a minority that complained, as is evidenced for example by the relative ease and speed with which very large numbers of signatures were obtained on the petitions.

Despite the feeling one can get in some places, Bristol is relatively well off for open, green spaces compared to similar cities. However, there is a lot of pressure from one sort of development or another which is eating away at open space year on year. Its very important to a greener, better quality of life that we maximise efforts to protect them. Lets hope that what Castle Park's developers eventually put to the council once they have reconsidered, makes no reduction in open, green space at all.

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Climate - we all need to play our part

At long last a Climate Change Bill has been included in the Queen's Speech at todays state opening of Parliament. This is a very welcome development as the issue and actions upon it will be debated. The Bill as proposed by the Government is weakened by not including annual targets for carbon reduction however. Perhaps pressure to insert annual targets can be exerted during parliamentary debate on the Bill, if that institution is prepared to assert itself.

Annual targets are very important because they are an effective means of measuring progress and of constantly reminding the Government and the rest of us that we need to make continuing cuts in carbon emissions. This is particularly important for the current Government because, despite its words of concern about climate change it has allowed carbon emissions to increase by 2% during its time in power! We cannot allow this to continue if we are to really address the problem.

Annual targets are also important for individuals, households, businesses and communities who all need to play a part. Everyone has a degree of personal responsibility and a degree of influence - we are all carbon consumers and emitters after all.

The recent climate change demonstration in London, attended by thousands, shows that apathy on this issue is not so widespread. Growing numbers are willing to embrace and advocate greener lifestyles and have called on Government to act accordingly.

There is a lot we can all do ourselves. We can stop buying products from companies who refuse to respect our planet. We can refuse to buy overpackaged products, like the swede I saw wrapped in layers of unrequired plastic. We can refuse to buy food grown with vast amounts of chemicals and flown around the world. We can stop buying goods that we dont really need, whether a green product or not, and also save ourselves money.

When we do buy we can support the more environmentally friendly sources, like the local, the organic, the fair trade. When we invest our money we can try to ensure it does not go to corporations who pursue profit regardless of all social and environmental consequences.

We can all begin to cut the rate of climate change tomorrow through what we purchase and by changing how far and by what means we choose to travel. Government has a key role to play of course, and agreement is needed across the globe for a complete solution, but if we dont all play our part, including demanding more green actions from Government then they wont act.

Friday, 10 November 2006

Expanding air travel = bad economics

Andrew Skipp, Managing Director of Bristol International Airport is clearly wrong to suggest that expanding air travel is good for the economy ('Were ready for take off', Bristol Evening Post, November 9). The Bristol Evening Post's Comment of 9 November about 'the undoubted economic benefits a bigger airport will bring to the region' is also wrong. Figures on the economics of air travel clearly show that expansion is unfavourable.

The economic costs of aircraft noise in the UK are estimated at £313 million a year. The health costs of the UK aviation sector's air pollution amount to some £1.3 billion a year. Aviation is also the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, and it's now acknowledged by the Stern Report that climate change is the gravest threat to global prosperity.

The costs of UK aviation's contribution to climate change have been estimated at well over £2 billion. And unless the government radically changes its policy on the matter, aviation's CO2 emissions will have increased by 588% between 1992 and 2050. By 2050, aviation could be contributing up to 15% of the overall global warming effect produced by human activities - with staggering economic costs. The damage from climate change is rising at a faster rate than economic growth.

The overall hidden economic costs of the European Union's aviation sector have been estimated at £14.3 billion a year - of which the UK alone accounts for £3.782 billion, or 26%. This doesn't include the costs of aviation accidents and accident services.

One of the major justifications for airport expansion is that aviation boosts our economy through tourism. Yet we know that air passenger transport currently represents a drain on the UK balance of payments of £3.5 billion a year - not including the costs of importing fuel and aircraft. With 80% of the forecast growth being accounted for by leisure flights, we can only expect this to get worse.

Airline tickets, aircraft and aviation fuel are, despite all the words of concern about climate change, still zero-rated for VAT. This costs HM Treasury £1.8 billion a year in lost VAT alone, and in fact aviation fuel pays no tax at all. If aviation fuel were taxed at the same rate as unleaded petrol (and why shouldn't it be? - it's more of a luxury), this would raise some £5 billion a year. Effectively, Britain is subsidising its aviation industry through a colossal tax-break of £6.8 billion a year, as well as through £3.8 billion in external costs.

The effect of these tax-breaks and external costs is the equivalent of every man, woman and child in the UK donating an average of more than £180 a year to the aviation industry - not including accident costs, direct and indirect subsidies to supporting industries including the oil industry and the aircraft manufacturing industry (like the £500 million donated very kindly by the taxpayer to BAe to help pay for its new Airbus), or the costs of providing airports with ground transport infrastructure at public expense.

Any serious economist not in the pay of the aviation industry would surely tell you that consumers make choices according to what seems good value for money. Undoubtedly air travel seems like good value for money. But it only seems so because it gets away with externalising vast hidden costs, and because it receives tax-breaks beyond the wildest dreams of most sectors of the economy. This is the biggest duplicity of all in UK aviation policy: it convinces people that air travel is cheap, while in fact they're paying through the nose for it. Or, to be more explicit, people who don't fly (three out of every five Britons last year) are subsidising people who do, and people who fly occasionally are subsidising people who fly a lot.

We must stop building more airport capacity in the mistaken belief that this is an unequivocal good for the economy. Because there's £10.6 billion a year in hidden subsidies, and billions more in balance-of-payments deficit, that says it isn't.

Monday, 6 November 2006

Severn barrage - sustainable power?

It may seem odd, at first thought, that a green like me would be against a major renewable energy proposal such as the Severn Barrage, but I am. Dont get me wrong though, I am strongly in favour of making the best use of the renewable energy available due to the very large rise and fall of the tide in the Severn Estuary, just not by building a huge barrage across the whole estuary.

Why am I against the barrage idea? What method of extracting energy am I in favour of?

The barrage would be a vast civil engineering project, consuming vast resources. The financial costs alone would be enormous - more than £10 billion. A huge project means huge impacts, particularly environmental ones (the estuary is very rich in bird life and ecolgically speaking is very productive). There could also be huge economic and social costs because such projects are often plagued by huge cost rises due to delays and unforseen problems. Even if there were no delays it would take a long time to build it, but we need to become more efficient and renewable now!

The idea of building tidal lagoons in the estuary to extract tidal energy is a much better one. Tidal lagoons would not cut across the whole of the area. They may well have a postive impact on biodiversity and would not destroy bird habitats. Lagoons could be built a few at a time, each one having a much shorter construction time than a huge barrage. More lagoons could be added, over time, spreading the financial costs and risks.

The issue of being in favour of renewable energy in general terms does not mean being in favour of every single proposal. Its very important to back the project that has the best combination of social, economic and environmental benefits. In the case of tidal energy from the Severn I believe 'smaller is more beautiful' !

Monday, 30 October 2006

How green is Bristol?

I very much like the idea of Bristol leading the way and becoming model 'green city' as outlined by City Council Leader Barbara Janke ('Let's be the best eco city', Bristol Evening Post, 28 October) but what stands in the way of this genuinely becoming the case more than anything is the massive environmental impacts of the city itself ! Economic activity in Bristol is fighting against our environment, as is well illustrated by our traffic congestion and air pollution problems existing alongside a poor quality and expensive public transport system.

There are, as she points out, many excellent organisations based here working on making the world greener - she names the Soil Association, Sustrans, Bristol Zoo and environmental businesses, to which I would add the Schumacher Lectures, @Bristol, the city farms, the CREATE Centre and the BBC Natural History Unit and great organic and local food suppliers like the Better Food Company. I've no doubt that there are many others.

However, what is vital is to keep a sense of context and scale here. Take the city's carbon emissions as one indicator of green-ness. The council itself has estimated that Bristol emits nearly 6 tonnes of carbon per person each year. A sustainable carbon emissions level is more like 1 tonne per person each year!

The 'best eco city' would not be a factor of five or six times away from sustainable carbon emissions, to say the least. We continue to be a very long way from being green as a city because national and local government policies are either too little too late or lacking in coherence and consistency between social, economic and environmental policies.

To make real progress towards being a truly green city needs a thorough and radical approach, and so the 'green city' needs a strong group of Green councillors to help to take us there.

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Reduce, reuse, recycle, recover - in this order !!

As well as experiencing Bristol's fairly new recycling/composting system with its brown bins...I'm working on a waste management policy at the moment. Actually recycling is far from the top of the list as far as being environmentally friendly is concerned.

The different options for dealing with waste issues are considered as a waste management hierarchy. The first priority is waste reduction or minimisation. After reduction comes the reuse of objects so that they do not enter the waste stream: for example the refilling of bottles. It is not until one gets down to the third level in the hierarchy that one gets to recovery, which includes materials recycling, composting and the recovery of energy from waste by a whole range of methods (some more environmentally friendly than others). Waste disposal is at the bottom of the hierarchy and includes final disposal to landfill and the incineration of waste without recovering the energy.

Our society is upside down as far as what we do with our waste is concerned because the option we use most is at the bottom of the list of environmental priorities! Thus greens are campaigning hard to emphasise the need for reduction and for reuse as our top priorities. There does of course also need to be a shift to recycling and composting but there are certainly dangers in thinking that these alone are the complete solution to all our waste and environmental problems because they are not - as their position in the waste management hierarchy illustrates.

Without significant reductions in waste we will still have to deal with very large amounts of material in a fuel and money intensive way. For example, currently Bristol sends compostable material all the way to Dorset in large lorries because it has not yet developed a composting facility locally. In one sense moving to more recycling is a relatively 'easy' step to take, despite all the teething problems, inconvenience and costs of new systems. What would really tackle our waste and pollution problems is a very significant shift to producing minimal waste and designing for reuse, repair and long life products. This is a much more difficult step to take in the sense of the scale of change because it ultimately implies restructuring our economy so that instead of being geared to mass consumption it is geared to conserving our real wealth. Thus being green is as much about a new economics as it is about the environment.