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' !