Friday, 30 March 2007

Bristol still not annually calculating its ecological footprint

Graeme Bell makes a great comparison between his personal experience of the low litter levels in other European countries and how litter-strewn and grubby much of Bristol has become ('Litter', Bristol Evening Post letters, March 28). He uses European cities as a benchmark against which to assess Bristol's aim to be the UK's 'green capital'.

This is one perfectly legitimate way of judging progress and it currently finds that Bristol is sorely lacking (which is no surprise). When one looks at the details of the city council-led 'green city' initiative its hard to find concrete details of how everyone is supposed to be judging how 'green' we are, or more likely aren't, on an overall basis.

The city collects all sorts of data, including a set of quality of life indicators, but the yawning gap is that it has not annually assessed its ecological footprint, perhaps the best overall single indicator of how green or not we are. There is currently only limited footprint data available for Bristol and the council it seems still has no plans to publish a yearly figure so that we can all clearly see any progress made.

If this initiative is to be credible the city must sort this situation out and publish the city footprint, as measured by an agreed standard process, at regular intervals. It could also research a list of Eurpean cities that we could compare ourselves with.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Extra pollution from cars if Jubilee is closed

I've been doing some calculations on additional carbon emissions that would occur from a rise in car use if the Jubilee Swiming Pool closed.

What I've done is to compare the carbon emissions from walking a short distance, say 1km, to the local pool, with driving say 5km to a new pool when constructed at Hengrove Park, in a medium sized petrol engined car (some will drive further of course). It is reasonable to assume that this shift from walking to driving will happen a lot should Jubilee close, if people want to continue to swim, especially if elderly people or kids are involved .

Basically I've found that walking is between 15 to 30 times more energy efficient per km. Walking to Jubilee would mean carbon emissions of approx 15 grams per visit, which is easily environmentally sustainable. Driving to a new pool at Hengrove would emit 2kg (2000 grams) of carbon ie an environmentally unsustainable 133 times more (due to the longer distance and the much lower efficiency of car travel combined; photo represents the carbon increase to scale).

Carbon emissions from travel of 2kg per visit amounts to approximately a mans own weight in carbon each year if he drives 5km to a pool about once a week! In contrast walking to Jubilee the same number of times produces just 0.75 kg - less than a bag of sugar.

The point of all this is to show that taking a purely financial decision to close the pool is very narrow minded. The preliminary calculations I've done show that locally available services and facilities like swimming pools have a value to our community and wider society beyond money. If we are to become a low carbon 'green city' for instance (and the City Council is currently blowing this particular trumpet loudly!) we need to measure the value of local facilities not only in financial terms but also in social and environmental terms terms. We dont know what the total impact of the loss of Jubilee would be because we aren't measuring everything, yet despite this the council has already decided that the pool will close - not a green decision or a green approach to the issue at all.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Apalling decision by Hengrove Community Arts College to axe GCSE courses already started months ago!

Hengrove Community Arts College has seriously let down its students. To axe GCSE courses started several months ago by students is totally unacceptable and I'd like to see it reversed.

The school is rushing, or is being rushed, to get a balanced budget so that it can become an academy later this year and needs to cut its losses by £150,000. Surely before they gave firm course places to their students they could and should have anticipated their situation? Offering a course and then beginning it with classes of students means they are obliged to continue it for my money!

What does this situation say about the education policy of creating academies? The drive to turn Hengrove Community Arts College into an academy is causing deliberate damage to the education of children now studying there. The just and fair course would in my view be to either abandon plans for an academy or at least delay it to give students time to finish their GCSE courses. Academies are not the solution to todays education issues, as is well illustrated by this situation, as schools should be set up and run in the interests of parents and pupils and not private individuals, religions, or businesses.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

My petition on the Prime Minister's website - new measure of progress needed

I was really pleased yesterday to receive the email below from 10 Downing Street.

I urge anyone who reads this blog to click the link below and sign my petition (it will be there to gather signatures for the next 12 months or so). If you can pass on my petition details to others that might also sign, this would be great!

Your petition has been approved by the Number 10 web team, and
is now available on the Number 10 website at the following

Your petition reads:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to replace
GDP/GNP as the key indicator of progress in society with a
measure, such as the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, or
similar, to help take us in a much greener direction.

Continued use of GDP/GNP (economic growth) as the major
indicator of progress in our society is seriously flawed.
Accounts which produce GDP/GNP do not subtract the costs of
producing economic growth such as climate change and resource
depletion, and so are most unlike normal balance sheet
accounts. Any greener government would use a much broader and
more balanced indicator of progress or wellbeing, such as the
Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare or similar.

Thanks for submitting your petition.
-- the ePetitions team

Loss of local services, shops, pubs...makes us less green

My MP, Labour's Kerry McCarthy, has recently confirmed to me in writing that she does not support the Sustainable Communities Bill currently going through Parliament. She said,
'I do not support the Sustainable Communities Bill because I do not think there is any need for a separate piece of legislation on this issue.'

This is a great shame and a mistake. All around the UK local shops, post offices, pubs, services and facilities like local swimming pools, have declined rapidly under the current government, which she supports. This means that any action they have taken on this issue has been far from effective. The Sustainable Communities Bill would on the other hand give real power to local people to take action to protect and enhance their communities. Locally available facilities cut travel, boost quality of life and make us greener.

One would think from what PM Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have said that they strongly favour giving more power to local communities and that therefore they should support the Sustainable Communities Bill. After all in his speech to the Labour Party conference in 2006 Tony Blair said, 'People want power in their own hands...they wont accept a service handed down from on high. They want to shape it to their needs and the reality of their lives.' In addition Gordon Brown said at the same conference, 'People and communities should now take power from the state and that means...a reinvention of the way we govern.'

However, despite what they have said, far from giving power to local communities the Blair/Brown government has centralised power and presided over local community decline, making us a far less green society.

US and UK hypocrisy on Iran and its nuclear program

I've just wriiten to my MP Labour's Kerry McCarthy on the issue of Iran and its nuclear program. I've copied the letter below:

Dear Kerry McCarthy MP,
I feel that the UK must pledge itself to ensuring that what has happened in Iraq doesn't repeat itself with Iran and would like to know what your view is on this issue. Do you feel, as I do, that we must look hard for non-violent solutions to conflict situations, which take into account the interests of all parties as well as future generations in order to achieve lasting settlements?

Amidst the escalating rhetoric on Iran, its nuclear program in particular, there are some key facts:
Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and hasn't yet violated it. There are unresolved issues around full transparency of course but Iran's nuclear programme, including uranium enrichment, is perfectly legal under NPT requirements for non-nuclear states.

I believe along with fellow Greens that this encouragement of the spread of nuclear technology and nuclear power is a huge weakness of the NPT, but the fact remains that it is the operative legal framework.

Its my view that we are seeing extraordinary hypocrisy and double standards on the Iran issue. While the US accepts Israel's unacknowledged nuclear arsenal, and even rewards India's nuclear weapons status, it threatens war against Iran and fails in its own obligations to disarm under the NPT Treaty.

Our government is also guilty, apparently fighting wars to stop others gaining nuclear weapons while continuing to upgrade and refine our own. What moral authority can we possibly have to lecture Iran or anyone else about not developing nuclear weapons when we refuse to begin the process of disarmament ourselves, and indeed have decided to replace our own nuclear weapons arsenal even as the process of consultation on Trident is underway?

Have we forgotten the very real nuclear weapons are right here on our own doorstep, in Aldermaston, Fairford and Faslane. Will you please let me know how you view these facts and arguments?

The replacement of Trident is illegal, immoral, and hugely costly. It is dangerous, counterproductive, and places Britain at even greater risk of attack. Plans to replace Trident, together with the threat of first use of nuclear weapons, made by a Labour defence minister, risks making Britain itself a rogue state. The best policy on Iran is not to threaten attack but to engage with its people and its range of leaders to demonstrate the benefits to all of building positive relationships throughout the region and the globe. I hope you agree and look forward to receiving your views on this.