Wednesday, 30 May 2007

UN World Environment Day - 5 June; Bristol Festival of Nature - 2 and 3 June

On 5th June each year its United Nations World Environment Day. This year the focus is on melting polar ice (due to our pollution changing the climate) and all its ramifications for people and wildlife. Find out more at: http://www.unep.org/wed/2007/english/

"We will not solve this problem if we do not each take our share of the responsibility for tackling it. Nobody can protect themselves from climate change unless we protect each other by building a global basis for climate security. To put it starkly, if we all try to free ride, we will all end up in free fall, with accelerating climate change the result of our collective failure to respond in time to this shared threat."
Margaret Becket Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Pity her words are not matched by actions - the Govt she speaks for has allowed a situation where UK carbon dioxide emissions are higher now than they were 10 yrs ago when they first came to power!

A very good way to get informed and involved in all sorts of environmental matters is to go to the Bristol Festival of Nature, taking place this Saturday and Sunday:
http://www.festivalofnature.org/

Friday, 25 May 2007

Try out OpenLearn

I know I'm biased because they employ me but much about the Open University is brilliant. I love its aim to be open as to people, places, methods....in their work

Take the project making a wide range of high quality learning materials available free of charge on the internet for instance - go to www.open.ac.uk/openlearn and sample some material to find out more.

With the environment currently a very hot topic eg the Severn Barrage/NuclearPower issues in our region, you could go to:

http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=1223

and find some very useful stuff on sustainable/renewable energy issues for example.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Tidal Energy from the Severn - Small is Beautiful

Its good to see the Severn Barrage issue covered in the Bristol Evening Post (‘Barrage Fans in Severn Heaven Now’, May 22) but why is the debate currently so narrowly focussed? I was disappointed to read about ‘the scheme’ discussed as if the only way to extract the energy is by going for the well publicised ten mile barrage.

Many agree that we have a fantastic natural, renewable resource here that we can and should harness energy from. However, its seems that we still have not acknowledged that the scale of a development is often a key feature of whether it is green or not. Have we forgotten that famous green book ‘Small is Beautiful’ by EF Schumacher?

The huge scale of the ten mile barrage means huge costs and significant potential for costs to spiral due to the unforeseen technical problems and time delays that so often arise on such projects. If we in the UK cant build Wembley Stadium on time and within budget can we expect to build a £14 billion, ten mile long barrage as originally intended?

Yes, a feasibility study into tidal energy from the Severn is a very good idea but it would be very short-sighted not to study other energy extraction methods such as tidal lagoons and tidal stream turbines (already being researched off the Devon Coast) at the same time. If we don’t get the technological assessment method right we could be missing out on the scheme that best combines effective and efficient energy generation with minimal environmental impacts.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

All parties on the council should form an executive together

In breach of the law, the first meeting of the newly elected Bristol City Council on 15 May failed to select a council leader and appoint an executive.

The electorate in Bristol have voted such that there is no one party in overall control, requiring a cooperative approach from councillors instead of the squabbling and posturing that we've got instead.

Squabbling and posturing has long been a feature of Bristol City Council's members so what's happened so far is no surprise - last year we had no group running the council for seven weeks!
It is, sadly, a key characteristic of current mainstream politics.

Unless voters switch to parties who favour a different, more cooperative approach and/or the electoral system is changed it looks like we are stuck with a politics that brings itself into disrepute. This is not the best way to get problems solved, which is for me what politics should be about.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

New measure of progress needed

My petition on the Prime Minister's website
(http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/ISEW-not-GDP/) quickly gained 34 of the 100 signatures needed to guarantee a reply when first posted there but signing has since slowed up. I've today sent a letter to the Bristol Evening Post based on the text below, to try to get more people to sign.

Back in 1968 Robert F Kennedy said this about the way we measure progress in our industrialised societies ie assessing the size of our economy (GNP, or GDP) :

"The Gross National Product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. GNP includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm, missiles and nuclear warheads.

And if GNP includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. GNP measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country…"

Like Robert F Kennedy my view is that 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. They are most unlike normal balance sheet accounts, which add income and subtract costs, in that they only add! 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, which more closely reflect the real quality of life.

If you agree with me then please sign my petition on the Prime Minister's website (http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/ISEW-not-GDP/), which states:

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.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Unfair and unrepresentative electoral system, especially to Bristol's Greens

I've just had another look at Bristol's local election results from last week, which took place under our 'first past the post' voting system.

The Lib Dems obtained 27% of the vote but now have 44% of the councillors (31 of them).

Labour got 29% of the vote but have 36% of councillors (25 people).

The Conservatives gained 25% of the vote but have just 19% of councillors (13 individuals).

The Green Party gained 15% of the vote but have a mere 1.4% of councillors ( ie 1 Charlie Bolton).

The 'winner takes all' electoral system doesn't seem to be a fair one to me!! In Bristol this is especially true for the Greens, though other small parties and even the Conservatives lose out due to the system too.

With a strictly proportional voting system the council would look something like this (assuming an unlikely no change in voting habits and range of candidate choice of course): Labour 20 councillors; Lib Dems 19; Conservatives 18; Greens 11; others 2. Most alternative voting systems are not strictly proportional of course but this does give you some idea how different our local council could be but for our voting system.