Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Knowle West people start their own smallholding with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall...

I've blogged before on how 'There are few ways to become greener better than changing attitudes towards food, so much of our footprint is food-related - grow your own, cook your own, go local, go fresh and unprocessed, go organic, go high fruit and veg'. No surprise then that I'll be tuning in to watch River Cottage Spring, the new series with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall tonight at 9pm, Channel 4. I've generally enjoyed his programs in the past and generally agree with a lot of what he's had to say about food and knowing where it comes from (see RiverCottage.net for more). There is added interest for me tonight because, according to the Radio Times website Hugh '...challenges five Bristol families to turn an acre of derelict city land into their very own smallholding - and food doesn't get much more local.'

It turns out that the people concerned live in Knowle West, not far from me, and like me are part of the Knowle West Carbon Makeover Project (which I will blog more about in the coming months - its an award-winning project). Perhaps I'll try to have a chat with the local people involved in the program to find out exactly what the whole experience has been like so far (the food production and involvement with tv production and personalities...). One thing I'm fascinated by is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's statement in his Radio Times magazine interview that 'We've found an obscure law that suggests that if six or more households from an area request land to grow food, their local council has to respond.'. Will more be revealed in tonight's program?

Monday, 26 May 2008

More green talk but little/no green action on renewable energy

I recently wrote to my MP, Kerry McCarthy about renewable energy, especially generating on a small scale in many local situations (see here and take a look at EfficienCity for a great vision of a greener city whilst you're at it). I received a letter of reply a few days ago in which she states,

'I...support an expansion in our renewable energy generating capacity. I believe lessons can be learned from Europe in introducing the feed-in tariff and think that this is an area that should be further investigated to assess its suitability for the UK.'

Frankly, talking about further investigation is just not good enough because we've needed significant action for some time now - Germany has 200 times more solar power than the UK and we are very near the bottom of the EU renewable energy league along with places like Luxembourg and Malta !!

Why have successive governments not done much more? They have been more than willing to talk green whilst the consequences of dependence on coal, oil and gas have grown, with ever-rising fuel and food prices biting hard for instance. The long term stability, security and affordability of our economy depends a great deal on us breaking our oil addiction but governments have not made this happen.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Environment - essential for everyone, everywhere.

This blog is about '...our real wealth - the natural world, the source of our resources and the basis of our lives...' as the top of the page asserts. It was great to see the Chief Executive of the government advisory body Natural England, Dr Helen Phillips strongly supporting this position last week in The Independent following the publication of the major report State of the Natural Environment 2008. The truth is that the environment is absolutely essential for everyone, everywhere.

As I have throughout many blog entries (a few examples here, here, and here), Dr Phillips describes how nature is a necessity not a luxury because it: provides vital public services; gives us the basic necessities of clean air, clean water and productive soils; provides the raw materials for energy production and construction; makes a major contribution to health and wellbeing; provides the foundations of our cultural identity; gives us pleasure and underpins tourism and recreation; and has the capacity to take in and store the the carbon causing climate change, as well as soaking up the excess water that causes serious flooding. Natural England's report shows massive decline in nature, despite the fact that straightforward solutions exist.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Teach pupils/students to think freely and develop their character rather than processing them by testing!!

Thought it was worth reproducing in full (below) a story ('Exam system is fatally flawed') from the Bristol Evening Post, 24 May 2008. Head teacher Peter Fraser makes makes some great points that I agree strongly with, having previously opposed what I call 'education factories'. There is far too much emphasis on testing and targets and not enough emphasis of the development of thinking, creativity and character in the education system, largely due to the stranglehold of central government who have imposed a system that has been narrow and inflexible. I want an education system that emphasises quality of experience and quality of relationships.

A Bristol head teacher has pointed out a "fatal flaw" with exams that dominate the lives of young people.

Peter Fraser, of Colston's School in Stapleton, said continuing to train children to "jump through the hoops" to meet exam targets risked creating a generation who could not think for themselves.

"Children in England remain the most tested in the world," he said at the school's annual prize-giving day.

"They are out of lessons for at least 46 weeks of their secondary schooling to sit exams."

The annual cost of exams is in excess of £200 million, a 50 per cent rise since Labour came to power in 1997, and educational progress is defined and directed by a target-driven culture.

"In simple terms, better test results equate to a better education, and central Government looks to exam outcomes rather than pupil experience as their measure.

"If pupils do better in tests, then they must be better educated and standards must therefore be higher.

"But there is, I believe, a fatal flaw. Every test becomes another hoop, and we can dutifully train young people to jump through without questioning whether the process has any lasting or meaningful educational benefit.

"Eventually we will prevent pupils from thinking critically, evaluating, analysing or even questioning what is presented to them.

"They will, of course, be very good at jumping through hoops."He said pupils faced ongoing and increasing tests of their honesty, reliability, sincerity, generosity, tolerance, humility, resilience, determination and compassion.

He said: "Should they fail these, they fail as a person regardless of their paper qualifications.'

He wants young people to:

* do new things, not simply repeat what others have done;
* be creative and imaginative;
* be critical of, not simply accepting, everything they are offered;
* seek to be the best they can be;
* take pride in what they are as people;
* be defined by their personal qualities, values and conviction;
* go into the world and make a difference.

He said: "I am concerned that they should experience an education, rather than be processed by testing.

"Mr Fraser reported that 96 pupils would join year seven at Colston's in September.

He said last year had seen exam success with 49 per cent of all GCSE grades secured at A* and A. At A-level, 66 per cent of grades were A/B.

Refurbishment of laboratories, upgrading of sixth-form facilities and expansion of boarding facilities would shortly begin, adding up to one of the most ambitious periods of development in the school's 298-year history.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Bigger is not better if we want a quality education for our children.

Wrote to the local paper today (text below) re-emphasising a point I've previously made about the plans to have fewer and thus bigger primary schools in Bristol. I certainly would not plan primary education in this way.

We need 'human-scale' approaches to life, especially in education and thus I'm very concerned about these plans for fewer, bigger primary schools ('Schools to close in shake-up', Bristol Evening Post, 23 May 2008). In bigger schools there is a danger of pupil-adult relationships, vital to learning, suffering in a more impersonal, less individualised environment. And what about the role played by schools in local community life? And what of the environmental impacts and the road safety aspects of having to travel further? It seems to me that there are very dubious motives behind wanting to have fewer, bigger schools - saving money at the expense of better quality education for children

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

50 ways to green your...school/college/university

Lots of interesting, creative ways to make your college/school/university greener here:

http://www.collegeathome.com/blog/2008/05/20/50-ways-to-greenify-your-classroom-and-campus/

Take a look! You may also be interested in the idea of adopting an environmental charter, as I've discussed before.

The following may also be useful:

http://eco-schools.org.uk/

http://www.ecocampus.co.uk/ (note the awards to institutions in this region of the UK: silver to Bath Spa University and bronze to the University of Bristol).

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Green talents seeking to be MEPs for the South West

Whilst the Greens are a smaller party than Labour, the Lib Dems or the Conservatives my experience is that there has always been a pretty concentrated wealth of talent and experience present in it. This is certainly reflected in the Green list of candidates for the South West European elections 2009. There are people: working as councillors; who are teachers, lecturers, GPs and in business; who have studied, researched and written extensively in fields such as Economics, European Studies, and Health; with considerable leadership experience and skills (two of the candidates being former national party Principal Speakers for instance). I could easily go on to describe more. Full details from here.

As number one on the list Councillor Ricky Knight has a good chance of being elected next year - at the last European elections the highest % of green votes outside London and the South East (where Green MEPs Jean Lambert and CarolineLucas were re-elected) was obtained in the South West region. Greens do invaluable work in the European Parliament, have a good history of success in Euro elections across countries and have been able to work very well together as a group (Greens/European Free Alliance).

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Reuse before recycling: praise the local milkman

Its great to recycle bottles in this way ('23 million bottles recycled in a year', Bristol Evening Post, 15 May 2008) - but even better and more environmentally friendly if we were reusing bottles instead. Unfortuneately we are not gearing up our society to take this better option. Lets sing the praises of the local milkman, who provides us with at least one clear way of reusing bottles over and over again!!

The argument for reuse is put very well here (summarised in the extract below):

Reuse keeps goods and materials out of the waste stream
Reuse advances source reduction
Reuse preserves the “embodied energy” that was originally used to manufacture an item
Reuse reduces the strain on valuable resources, such as fuel, forests and water supplies, and helps safeguard wildlife habitats
Reuse creates less air and water pollution than making a new item or recycling
Reuse results in less hazardous waste
Reuse saves money in purchases and disposal costs
Reuse generates new business and employment opportunities for both small entrepreneurs and large enterprises
Reuse creates an affordable supply of goods that are often of excellent quality.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

None of them really want to run Bristol: so why do they stand for election??

Just take a look at the report in todays local paper ('Labour shocked to be in power', Bristol Evening Post, 14 May 2008) if you want confirmation (which you probably dont) of the pathetic group behaviour of Tory, Liberal and Labour Councillors on Bristol City Council:

Liberal Democrats on Bristol City Council have been accused of "bottling it" after passing up the opportunity of taking power, leaving a clearly stunned Labour Party still in charge.Labour council leader Helen Holland had every reason to expect she would be replaced by the Lib Dems' Barbara Janke after the council's Conservative group announced it would no longer back Labour in crucial votes. Instead, she held on to her £29,000-a-year job and announced afterwards that it would be "business as usual" over the next 12 months.
The drama unfolded at the Council House, on College Green, during the annual meeting of the 70-member "hung" council......


What an absolute fiasco! Sounds to me like none of them actually want to run the city at all!! So then, on what basis did they stand for election? Why did they bother??

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Bristol Indymedia Launches Indycycle – Recycle Your Unwanted Stuff!


I've been asked to give a plug to the press release below, which I'm
happy to do!!


Bristol Indymedia is please to announce the launch of our Indycycle
service. Indycycle a website similar to the ideas of Freecycle.
Indycycle is a way of people re-cycling things they no longer need
to people who may have a user for it. For example if you had an
old bike you did not need, rather then throw it out to landfill,
why not offer it to somebody else who may need it. Indycycle is a
great way of us consuming less resources, stopping things going to
landfill and building stronger communities. This system is based
on the ideas of the freecycle movement, we don't aim to replace
freecycle, but to use our website to build on the ideas and make it
even easier to pass your items on.



All items must be offered for free – no exchanges or cash are
allowed. For the person offering an item, they get to clear space
without needing to make a journey to the tip and for the person
taking the item, they get something they need for free.



Indycycle allows you to post an item you don't want (or are looking
for) to the site along with a description, photo of the item and
your postcode. This means users can search for and see items they
may want but also how far they need to travel to pick it up.



A Bristol Indymedia volunteer said, "We are really excited about
the addition to what Indymedia does, we hope it will further build
on the many green projects, campaigns and initiatives in the
region. We see this project as a natural evolution of what
Indymedia does – trying to connect people using democratic forms of
media."



To use the Indycycle system please go to:
http://bristol.indymedia.org/indycycle/index.php


Image:
http://bristol.indymedia.org/graphics/indycycle/trash_logo_front.gif
Contacts: please email imc-bristol at lists dot indymedia dot org
and bristolindymedia at googlemail dot com

Notes for Editors;
1.Bristol Indymedia is a volunteer-run open-access news website
composed of the news, views, images and videos of its
readers/contributors. It is part of the global Indymedia movement,
a project focused on grassroots non-commercial news written by
ordinary people. For more on Bristol Indymedia see:
http://bristol.indymedia.org/about_us


2.The Indymedia movement is a global phenomena with its roots in
the global protest movement of 1998/1999. Using the emergent power
of the Internet and unhappy with the coverage of protests and the
issues that created them, the Indymedia (or IMC) movement has
expanded to over 100 sites in Europe, the Americas, Asia, the
Middle East and Australia and specific projects on global issues
such a climate change. For more information see:
http://docs.indymedia.org/view/Global/FrequentlyAskedQuestionEn

Friday, 9 May 2008

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and the danger, yes he said danger, of reason

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor's standard of argument on Radio 4's Today progam this morning was apalling (he obviously sticks more to faith than thinking). His view is that societies would degrade into totalitarian dictatorships such as those under Hitler or Stalin if based on reason alone. Yes, this is an accurate summary of one of his main points, such as there were, when questioned by John Humphrey's about why we should believe in god and why religion should have the very prominent place it has in our secular society (you can listen to the interview again here, as well as an earlier one with Prof Richard Dawkins giving the atheist view).

He sees reason as dangerous!! Does the Cardinal not see that rule under Hitler and Stalin was certainly not based upon reason? Does the Cardinal not see that in fact faith (in a leader and in a single ideology like Nazism or Communism...) played an enormous role in the dictatorships of Hitler and Stalin? I think the reverse of what the Cardinal said is in fact true - we are much more likely to be ruled over by a dictator, including (or perhaps especially) a religious dictator, if we dont see and use the full value of doubt, questioning and reason.

The Cardinal wants '...improved dialogue between believers and non-believers to establish the shared values that sustain Britain’s plural society.' The dialogue in the interview was a very, very poor start at this 'improvement'. Science and reason cannot and will not ever explain everything fully. It should not be regarded as the be all and end all of knowledge types. However, the answer to questions like: who designed the designer that, apparently, created us? (what designer ?) ; and what is a good explanation of how life came about? (evolution by natural selection), means that I will remain of the view that the existence of god is extremely unlikely until much better evidence and arguments surface !! It is indeed convenient for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor to describe god as 'mysterious' !!

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

We shop therefore we are ??

We shop therefore we are ?? How many more shops do we need ??

I was very struck by the local paper’s recent double page celebration (‘You will remember to shop, wont you?’, Bristol Evening Post, May 5 2008) of something it says was ‘built using…cutting-edge design and technology’. Maybe it was, and my original training and first six years of work experience was as a technologist, but I’m afraid I still cant share in the enthusiasm the article tries to generate and sustain about a …giant car park! Ok, it’s the big, new car park at Cabot Circus featuring ‘eight floors’, ‘nine decks’ and ‘2600 spaces’ but we have built ‘one of the largest multi-storey car parks in Europe’ at a time when we are all supposed to be going green !!

Amongst the many hundreds of words accompanying some pretty good photos that had obviously taken some thought and effort were ‘…every element has been designed with the motorist – and shopper – firmly in mind.’ Which confirms, if indeed confirmation is needed, that high consumption is still very much the order of the day and the basis (can it really be this?) of our society.

Perhaps we’d all like to think that we are moving in a green direction, as recent publicity for BETS Expo 08 and Tesco’s labelling of a number of products with their carbon footprint illustrate (see here and here), but by any reasonable, accepted measure we have made precious little, if any, general green progress. If the Cabot Circus development, supported by all political colours on Bristol City Council except Green, is anything to go by – and it is the number one development in Bristol at present – we are continuing to take major backward steps. We cant drive and shop ourselves green now can we !

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

How noisy are the different parts of Bristol??

Really interesting article in today's local paper on noise mapping in Bristol ('Map shows the way to peace and quiet', Bristol Evening Post, 6 May, 2008). Some great work has been done by Steve Crawshaw and colleagues in the council's Environmental Sustainability Unit. I look forward to further work that may follow, such as on a noise strategy and a noise action plan - we really would have a much better quality of life with a less noisy environment and lets not forget that very often work to tackle noise (eg lowering speed limits in key places) will help to tackle other problems like air pollution. To find out more about noise issues you could do worse than look here and here to get you started.

Pressure for development in South Bristol is intense - how often will it be appropriate??

Good on John Button, Elmtree Residents Association and all who are supporting them in their campaign to protect open, green space in Whitchurch ('Hundreds Back Town Green Bid', Bristol Evening Post, 6 May 2008). There's no doubt that as Bristol City Council and their developer friends scrutinise South Bristol's parks and green spaces locals will need to get involved and make their voices heard if the true value of such land to the quality of our lives is to be fully respected. After all Bristol City Council has already taken the decision to flog off 90 acres, establishing the principle of flogging off green space without specifying which areas - there is intense pressure for development but how often will it be appropriate??