Sunday, 29 June 2008

Are govt green energy plans bunkum??

Big renewables and big nuclear are incompatible; we aren't doing anything like enough to solve climate change; Stern needs to go much further; we have to solve the problem of climate change because the costs of failure are without limit - these are the messages in three excellent letters relating to govt green energy plans in Saturday's Guardian . Funnily enough I dont read the Guardian and would have missed them normally (my partner passed the letters on to me). I've reproduced them below in full because they are a powerful and practical criticism of govt plans. They are also powerful backing for what I've said about renewables, nuclear power, climate change, the Stern Report into the economics of climate change and govt leadership/direction/consistency...(Good to see the Open University connection too!)


It is good to see bold targets being set for renewable energy (Cost of tackling global climate change has doubled, warns Stern, June 26). But it appears that there could be a conflict with the government's parallel commitment to greatly expanded nuclear power. UK "baseload" is about 20 gigawatts (GW), nearly a quarter of total UK generating capacity - this is kept available at all times and supplies all the electricity required at periods of low demand, like at night.

It is currently proposed that we build perhaps 20GW of new nuclear plant. In addition it is proposed that by 2020 we should have up to 30GW of offshore wind capacity and perhaps an 8.6GW tidal barrage on the Severn Estuary. Nuclear plants can't easily vary their power output to follow changing consumer demand patterns and are, in any case, usually kept running at full power in order to pay for their significant capital costs. At periods of low demand it would seem therefore that, in the absence of major electricity storage facilities, if wind or tidal energy inputs to the grid are available, the electricity from these, or any other renewables sources, could not actually be used.

Put simply, for much of the time, big renewables and big nuclear would be incompatible.

Professor David Elliott
Energy and environment research unit, Open University, Milton Keynes



Nicholas Stern's doubling from 1% to 2% of GDP the amount he thinks needs spending on mitigating climate change is welcome, but why hasn't he gone the whole hog and trebled it to the 3% identified in his original report, which may give us an evens chance of keeping within a two degrees temperature increase?

The answer I suspect is that which has vexed many non-politicians, namely how to make their analysis acceptable to politicians. The fact is, we haven't even spent anything like 1%, or £14bn per annum, since Stern's report was published, and every pound we don't spend in one year is carried forward to the next. Like an unmanageable credit card bill, we will eventually be drowned in interest payments, except in this case the "interest" is the carbon budget which we're spending like there's no tomorrow. Well before 2050, that budget will be exhausted.

The only rational response is to recognise that we cannot manage climate change with the old tools of government. We need a climate change cabinet, modelled on similar lines to Churchill's war cabinet; we need a climate change department which ends the absurd dichotomy in government between energy supply and demand; we need to emulate and surpass Germany's renewables energy investment strategy which recognises future global markets in green technologies and is somehow supporting R&D without breaking EU state aid rules; we need to stop believing that technologies like nuclear, which will not deliver a single extra watt of "green" electricity until around 2030, are part of the solution; and most urgently we need to recognise that early carbon reductions are the most important step, and that will only happen with rapid behavioural change, which means some form of carbon rationing.

In this last respect, for any minister or potential minister to say the time for personal carbon allowances has not yet come illustrates either deep cynicism, defeatism or complacency, or perhaps a combination of all three.

Colin Challen MP
Chair, all-party parliamentary climate change group



Stern joins UNDP's "emerging consensus" of halving global emissions by 2050, also stressing the "pragmatism" of the equalisation of per capita emissions globally by then. This is the global principle of contraction and convergence. It is now widely supported and with early day motion 1795, many of our MPs are urging the government to support the principle openly. They point out that contraction and convergence was clearly advocated to government in the royal commission on environmental pollution report on which the UK climate bill is based.

Doubling the spend of GDP to achieve this is neither here nor there. As the costs of failure are without limit, the only cost-benefit ratio relevant to this whole process results from understanding that we have to solve the problem of climate change faster than we are causing it.


Aubrey Meyer, London

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Green car: a contradiction in terms

Apparently the Environmental Transport Association has just voted the Toyota Yaris as 'Green Car of the Year' ('Transport Group picks Yaris as 'Green Car of the Year'', Bristol Evening Post, 26 June). I'm obviously all in favour of any cars that are used being cleaner and more efficient and so on, as I guess the Toyota Yaris is, given the award, but to call any car green is for me a clear contradiction in terms. Technically advanced the Yaris may be but green it's not. It continues to add to problems but just more slowly than other cars. The (diesel fuelled) Yaris still uses non-renewable, finite fossil fuels (as even hybrid cars which combine electric motor with petrol engine do) and any car mass production means heavy impacts from several massive, global industries (mining, shipping etc...). This means they still generate the gases causing climate change in significant amounts, as well as adding to other social and environmental problems. In addition problems like congestion and parking are nothing to do with efficiency, fuel type or emissions level - they are just about numbers of vehicles and a fast increasing shortage of space. This is something which could get even worse if people feel its even more acceptable to own and drive a car because its cleaner, more fuel-efficient and 'greener'. Such cars might even be driven further or more often!

Use of technical means alone, such as using cleaner cars, will not solve our problems and cant be seen as green. History shows that massive growth in car use, encouraged by the technical advance and socio-economic/political context, has easily outstripped any efficiency gains. Technical advance has so far primarily brought cars with improved performance rather than maximising efficiency because people aren't yet prioritising it enough, though this may now begin to change with soaring oil prices. To solve our problems we need to combine technical advance with changes in culture, attitudes and behaviour, which means a whole range of social, economic and political changes, as I try to describe and explain throughout this site.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Irrational, emotive vitriol against money for cycling

I remember being accused of basing my views on emotion not reason, science and fact when I first began green campaigning 25 years ago. I always thought the opposite was true. Its now more evident than ever that the emotional reaction is actually from those denying the problems we face and resisting change for the better. Just take a look at this extraordinary and extremely unreasonable letter in todays local paper about Bristol winning money for investing in cycling. I've reproduced it here in full (with further reaction to it from me below it) because I think it makes the case for cycling very well indeed. After all, irrational, emotive vitriol is not going to solve our transport problems is it - though that is what Jamie Caddick's letter is full of:

As if any further proof were needed that the Government and local council have well and truly lost the plot, the announcement that those evil-doing two-wheeled terrorists of the modern world - cyclists - are to get a big fat government grant finally seals the deal ("£11.4 million to create first Cycling City", Post, June 19.In a world where it's commonplace and de rigueur to shower the unworthy and pitiful with handouts, benefits, rewards and incentives in a vain and futile attempt to appease and silence the minorities, this barmy cycling scheme is a step too far.And it's one that will further create division, resentment and anger among those of us whose lives are already blighted by this wannabe- superior, duplicitous, irritating, dangerous, sanctimonious and arrogant crowd.£22 million is a lot of cash - cash that could be pumped into schools (already struggling for funds and under the threat of closure), hospitals (already struggling for funds and under the threat of closure), local post offices, community schemes and elderly care homes (already struggling for ... see the pattern here?).And yet a gaggle of self-serving, do-gooder politicians have the temerity, conceitedness and ignorance to pile cash on one of the greatest scourges of contemporary Britain like it's going out of fashion.What's becoming more and more clear is that the more bothersome, annoying and unsavoury you are (individual or group), the greater your rights and the more important and unquestionable your demand to fleece the taxpayer.So, we'll get more cycle lanes (read as more road works and disruption), more initiatives and more cycle training to get us out of our cars and on to our bikes.The council is even planning "Bikeability" schemes in schools - which sounds more like indoctrination to me, soiling children's innocent brains to cultivate its own cycling clone army.I can see the training itinerary now: day one - Lycra and helmet awareness; day two - rudeness and inconsiderateness made a fine art.(And how it could ever be considered a good idea to encourage these mealy-mouthed morons is another topic altogether.)The whole scheme is a farce - a naive, over-simplistic, ludicrously out of touch and inconceivably unrealistic gimmick.We'll have councillors waxing lyrical about how fantastic it all is and how it's another step towards becoming more eco-friendly, sustainable and green and how their long-dreamt, misty-eyed fantasy of every Bristolian donning fluorescent Lycra, wearing silly helmets, ringing stupid bells and knocking innocent pedestrians off their feet may now become a reality.And make no mistake, cyclists are criminals.Let me remind you, it's still illegal to cycle on pavements, run red lights, ride the wrong way down a one way street, whizz through pedestrian crossings (when pedestrians are actually crossing them) and hop from road to pavement with reckless abandon and the attention span of an amoeba.And yet they're not treated as criminals - rather, they're elevated as warriors fighting against an irresponsible and polluted world, two-wheeled titans of a healthy and eco-conscious crusade and martyrs of an ethical and planet- saving battle that will one day have us all reading The Guardian and recycling our potato peelings.Rubbish. They're law-breaking lunatics masking their own inconsiderate egos under the pretence of doing something right-on and commendable.And I only need witness the number of people hit, nearly hit, inconvenienced and harassed by these cycling psychopaths on my daily walk to work to know this as fact.That's no inconvenient truth.It won't ease congestion, it won't reduce pollution, it won't make the city a safer place to live ("cyclists" and "safety" being something of a mind-bending contradiction) and it certainly won't boost Bristol's profile on the global stage as a tough, robust and competitive city.We'll be seen as a bunch of wimps on two wheels and be laughed off the stage to the holler of boos and hisses.So cyclists will carry on being annoying ("don't tar us all with the same brush ???", "I'm not damaging the ozone layer ???", "I'm having lentils and tofu for tea ???"), councillors on the board of Fatuous and Phoney Statistics in the Cuckoo-land of Sustainable Stupidity will carry on being deluded and pedestrians and motorists will carry on hating their guts.I feel the disapproving public's full wrath has yet to hit its critical meltdown.In the meantime - and from a pedestrian's point of view - let me remind you there's nothing attractive (especially after a full English breakfast) about seeing an elephantine derriere zooming past you at 8.30 on a Monday morning.And that's more than enough to put me off ever becoming a cyclist.


Your letter ('Not all Bristolians want to become a cycling city', Bristol Evening Post Soapbox, 24 June) is very far from a genuine argument Jamie Caddick, to say the least. There is extraordinary accusation, name-calling, stereotyping, vitriol, cynicism, insult, exaggeration and ignorance aplenty. I wonder if your letter is more likely to be persuade people that actually the money for cycling is pretty reasonable such is your ranting onslaught. Its surely hard to argue that investment in non-motorised transport is wasted in these times of soaring petrol/diesel prices, severely congested roads, massive parking problems and obesity-related ill-health? Dont the most vulnerable in our society, the very young, those with health problems and the elderly, suffer most from the air pollution caused by cars and lorries? OK, contrary to council claims this investment wont be a magic bullet that solves all our transport problems - they too are exaggerating about what this money can achieve (see here for further comments) and have yet to do the hard work of using the money in the most appropriate ways in practice. However, it is a step in the right direction and I think most people prepared to look at transport issues and budgeting in the round agree.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Neither Stalin nor Mr Bean is good for green plans!!

Apparently our government has big green energy plans (see here). This is great, provided they are in fact big, by which I mean sufficient to genuinely and promptly build energy security, cut oil dependence and tackle climate change. This is great, provided they are in fact green, by which I mean efficient, renewable, respectful of environmental limits, meeting needs by fair means, not passing problems to future generations. This is great if they are part of an overall strategy that is coherent and consistent, by which I mean that attention is paid to both what we should and should not be doing, such as building new coal-fired power stations, expanding airports, expanding nuclear power, building hundreds of miles of new roads, fuelling national and global consumerism.

At first sight the green energy headlines this weekend looked quite good. But there are many problems with the scale, pace, details, green credentials and perhaps most of all with the consistency of the plans within overall government policy. A key problem is that our PM, Gordon Brown sends out incompatible signals all the time: he wants his Saudi friends to raise oil production to try to lower prices but says he wants reduced oil consumption; he previously thought calling a general election was a good idea and then thought it wasn't; he introduced a ten pence tax band and praised it, then got rid of it, then said the consequences of getting rid of it were bad but only planned partial compensation; he was thought of as first Stalin and then Mr Bean (to borrow a phrase).

Ctrl.Alt.Shift

Great new campaign/site for young people who are concerned about justice and want to get take action. Have a look around http://www.ctrlaltshift.co.uk/#/Home/ , which is about co-creation, empowerment, outrage, passion, connecting, doing something...about the state of our world. I was very interested, having been aware of this new campaigning initiative for a few days, that my daughter came home yesterday with ctrl alt shift information which she read cover to cover and talked keenly about. My partner today read the same material and did the same thing.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Petitions submitted and followed up on today

Today submitted my e-petitions: on enhancing environmental education (to Bristol City Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member covering education Peter Hammond, and Heather Tomlinson, Director of Children's and Young People's Services); and on saving Bristol's green spaces from being flogged (to the next Bristol City Council Cabinet meeting, which I was told is 26 June). I asked for the statement below to accompany the green spaces petition submission:

_____________________________________________________

Council policy should be driven by what's best for Bristol - green spaces policy is driven instead by a shortage of cash, and an apparent need to provide for the development growth prescribed by Westminster. Continued growth according to this pattern deteriorates quality of life for Bristolians and should be resisted.

Selling off green space is selling off what the public say is one of the best aspects of Bristol. It's not sustainable - consider our climate, health and wildlife needs. It's bad policy and is inconsistent with council statements on fighting climate change, improving biodiversity and working for healthier lifestyles.

Can we all see the evidence that the land to be sold will be 'marginal, surplus, or of low recreational value'? No lists, no maps, no debate, has made this clear to the public. This land classification is highly subjective and so should be subject to open debate. Where are the 90 acres?

Small scale selling off land may well sometimes make sense - if it really is surplus, and could be put to better use. That should be considered on a case-by-case basis with full debate about what is surplus and what is better use. Change of land use should be that which makes the city more not less sustainable. We should not be trying to meet a sales target, whether 90 acres or some other figure, with respect to Bristols's land. I call on the council to abandon any figure for the number of acres to be sold off and adopt this case-by-case approach instead.

______________________________________________________

I've received no ackowledgement of receipt as yet but assume things are ok.

Also followed up on my petition on the PM's website about measuring wellbeing instead of money flow as our main indicator of progress. I've previously emailed the PMs office by got no reply and so today asked my MP to respond herself as well as forwarding the petition to a minister to respond. I dont expect to get agreement from either MP or government but feel they should respond, not least because an MEP and several councillors signed the petition as well as well over 100 other people.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Good green news for Bristol!!

Some good green news for Bristol today (3 pieces in fact)!! Bristol will be the first UK Cycling City, after winning £11.4 million of government cash with plans that intend to:

Create the UK's first on-street bike rental network
Establish a 're-cycling' scheme that repairs bikes and provides them free of charge to deprived communities
Build state-of-the-art facilities for cyclists commuting to the city centre
Create a dedicated cycleway to link the suburbs with the city centre
More than double the number of children receiving cycling training
Develop a Personalised Travel Plan programme, focusing on changing the way people conduct short journeys to work (see here and here for more)


Well done to all involved in winning this cash!! (Would have been even better if the pot of money had been bigger of course!).

Plus the local press reports that rail links to Portishead could feasibly be updated and up and running by 2014 ('Rail link 'could be running by 2014'', Bristol Evening Post, 19 June). Plus Bristol's compostable food waste will no longer be sent hundreds of miles by lorry to Dorset for processing after 2010 as a new composting facility just outside the city should be operating by then ('New 20 yr contract to compost food waste', Bristol Evening Post, 19 June).

Most of the work is still to be done, of course, in all three areas above, to make plans reality in an appropriate way. And then there are areas where there are no adequate plans for: efficiency; renewability; environmental limits; meeting needs; strengthening community; fairness...but more on these aspects of sustainability on other days.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

UK Govt seeks delay in meeting tougher air quality standards

I'm a sceptic on EU issues generally but the new EU Directive on Air Quality, which came into force on June 11, is to be very strongly welcomed. Air pollution kills tens of thousands of people every year in the UK (equating to over 100 Bristolians per yr) and seriously reduces quality of life (see here and here for more). Shame on our government for seeking a delay in meeting the new, tougher regulations. How green is that?? Green MEP Jean Lambert is applying pressure and doing good work on this issue.

Get real time information on air pollution in your area of Bristol here. Todays air pollution index for both Wells Rd in Knowle and Bath Rd in Brislington, between which my house is sandwiched, was low by current standards, though it obviously fluctuates and I note that the British Lung Foundation report that even low levels of air pollution increase death risk (see here) !!

Full council wont debate Bristol primary school closures and mergers: what sort of local democracy is that!!

Its outrageous that the issue of reorganising Bristol's primary schools, to create fewer and bigger institutions, is not going before the full council ('We will fight plan to merge Bristol schools', Bristol Evening Post, 17 June). There is plenty of concern (its a really big issue to close some schools and merge others...) and so more discussion and more democratic involvement is fully justified. The debate has for me always been about the council and government putting money before the quality of educational experience - its now an issue of local democracy too.

Sign the online petition to save St George's Primary from closure here:
http://epetitions.bristol.gov.uk/petition.php?id=192

Visit the St Georges Primary School website: http://www.stgeorgeprimary.ik.org/p_Home.ikml

Sign the online petition to save Stockwood Green Primary here:

http://epetitions.bristol.gov.uk/petition.php?id=195

Visit the Stockwood Green Primary School website: http://www.stockwoodgreen.ik.org/

Monday, 16 June 2008

Wildlife-rich Malago Greenway


Just one piece of evidence (below) showing just how rich in wildlife the Malago Greenway is (its biodiversity is threatened by a possible Bus Rapid Transit route - see 'Bristol Green Route Under Threat', Bristol Evening Post, 6 June). This was posted on malago@yahoogroups.co.uk by Kingfisher Group campaigner Nixie James-Scott (send an email to: malago-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk to join the group and get updates):

I have found and copied the information about the sightings of
the extremely rare Firecrests earlier this year down by the Malago
Greenway behind Cotswold Road. This was on the Rare Bird Alert
website. I myself sat with a pair of them in the garden not more than
a metre away from me watching them dart about in our grape vine.
Others from the Kingfisher group have seen them too. I am going to put
a message on the RBA website to see if any of the birdwatchers who
came to see the Firecrests could send us any of their 'photos. They
also spotted Lesser Redpolls. We have an amazing plethora of birdlife
here including blackcaps, goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches, long
tailed tits, blue and great tits also coal tits. We have blackbirds,
wrens, occasional thrushes, house and hedge sparrows, wood pigeons,
collar doves, magpies and crows. Also Mallards and coots nesting on
the banks of the Malago. I'm sure to have missed some out. Then there
are the bats, pipistrelles I think, an amazing variety of moths and
butterflies. Holly Blues and a hawk moth a couple of years ago.
occasionally spotted Kingfishers too of course!
Just thought I'd mention the amazing range of wildlife which would be
made homeless if the area is paved over!
Please let us know of any other (animal!) wildlife you have seen in
the area, ah yes then the foxes...........


Lets hope any BRT route can avoid this rich green space. Previous post on this issue here. New campaign website is http://www.malagogreenway.org.uk/



Sunday, 15 June 2008

History of petrol prices

I've been looking into how the real terms cost of petrol has changed over time. The figures in the extract below come from EK Williams, accountants and business advisors. They make interesting reading: £1.85/litre in 1916; £1.16/litre in 1957; £1.02/litre in both 1973 and 1979, (figures indexed to 2007's £...). Comments on the figures and EK Williams view/interpretation most welcome. These things spring out of their comments for me: fuel prices could go even higher; we've been desperate for affordable, high quality public transport for many decades, for transporting people and goods (not news for many people I know!); its vital to our future stability and security of life that we localise our development, supporting local jobs and services in local economies, to minimise the transport costs involved in supplying food and other essentials...



'To take one [admittedly extreme] date: indexed to 2007’s value of the £ sterling, in 1916 a gallon of petrol in the UK cost approximately £8.40 which works out at around £1.85 a litre, and that was before governments had really discovered how much duty and tax they could start putting on the stuff. If that’s too far back, take 1957; ‘only’ fifty years ago, just after the Suez crisis, the UK gallon retailed for £5.26 in today’s money – that’s £1.16 a litre. If that’s still too far back, let’s take a “Life on Mars” trip back to late 1973, around the time of the first modern ‘oil crisis’ following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war; at that point the UK gallon was selling at £4.65 in today’s money, which is equivalent to £1.02 per litre, with a similar figure in 1979 around the time of the US/Iranian Hostage Crisis.'


'Enough history. The fact that today’s fuel prices aren’t uniquely high in real terms doesn’t mean that they won’t bring their own problems. Firstly there’s the general economic impact of fuel pricing; transport costs are an unavoidable necessity for most people, not optional spending. Hence when transport costs go up, and before disposable income has had a chance to follow [i.e. wage inflation..] something has to give. Usually that’ll be retail sales. Some of the big High Street names had already announced their ‘Pre-Christmas Sales’ season in mid-November. A further impact of fuel pricing is due to the fact that virtually all of the goods we buy and sell are transported by road [not that rail or air transport will be immune to oil price rises anyway] and so the cost will go up. Look at that again: customers with less money to spend, suppliers with rising costs; there’s a squeeze somewhere in the middle there – looks like it’s the wholesaler and retailer who’ll be taking the pressure from both directions.'

Friday, 13 June 2008

UK Census 2011: Alert - a liberty issue for all (and one for David Davies??)


Received this today (thanks to Jean for this) and thought it well worth passing on. Wonder if the newly resigned former Shadow Home Secretary David Davies would take up this issue of liberty? Email sent to my MP and local councillors today.

The next UK Census (in 2011), in which participation is compulsory, might be run by an arms company with close links to the United States government, and which also focuses on intelligence and surveillance work. See below for more info.

The decision is now imminent. Sign the petition today: (Deadline to sign up by: 15 June 2008)
Petition on the Downing Street website -


http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/census-alert/

What's the problem?
The process of running the 2011 Census will be contracted out by the Office of National Statistics to a private company.


One of the two contractors in the final round of selection is the arms company Lockheed Martin, 80% of whose business is with the US Department of Defence and other Federal Government agencies.

This might concern you because:
The Census rules mean that every household will be legally obliged to provide a wide range of personal information that will be handled by the chosen contractor.


Lockheed Martin produces missiles and land mines which are being used in Afghanistan and Iraq and which are illegal in many countries. They also focus on intelligence and surveillance work and boast of their ability to provide `integrated threat information´ that combines information from many different sources.

New questions in the 2011 Census will include information about income and place of birth, as well as existing questions about languages spoken in the household and many other personal details. This information would be very useful to Lockheed Martin´s intelligence work, and fears that the data might not be safe could lead to many people not filling in their Census forms.

Census Alert is therefore campaigning to stop Lockheed Martin from being given the contract.
The campaign is supported by the Green Party, politicians from Plaid Cymru, Labour and the Scottish National Party, and others opposed to the arms trade and concerned about personal privacy.


We are not opposed to the Census itself. Aggregated, the information collected is important in allocating resources to local authorities and public services. But personal privacy is important too, and we are concerned that Lockheed Martin's involvement could undermine public confidence in the process and lead to inaccurate data being collected. There is still time to stop this happening and we are not calling for a boycott of the Census at this stage.

Before the final decisions on the contract are made, we are asking you to do the following:
*Sign our petition opposing arms company involvement in the Census.Contact your MP and ask them to raise the issue in Parliament.
*Contact your local Councillor and ask them to highlight their concerns about the allocation of local authority resources.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

So-called 'major shake-up' of senior Bristol City Council Officers appoints same people to three key posts - shake-up it ain't!

Well said Chris from Stoke Bishop, commenting online on the Bristol Evening Post story 'Senior Brsitol City Council Officers Weather Storm', 12 June. I have considerable sympathy for his general thrust.

The story that 'Three of Bristol City Council's most senior officers have held on to their own or new positions in a major shake-up.' (yes the local paper did say major shake-up!) prompted Chris to say:

'The whole history of this council over the last 40 yrs has been one of incompetence and wastefulness. To reappoint present post-holders who have had nil impact on the general shambles that represents local govnt. in this area is astounding. You only have to look at cities like Leeds and Manchester that have had integrated transport systems in place for years to realise just how porly we are served. They seem more concerned in apologising for our history (not that one is needed) rather than planning for our future. Lets have a publicly elected Chief executive whose ideas and plans would be up for public scrutiny first.'

My own view is that these people are overpaid underachievers who are not looked upon with confidence by Bristol's public (correct me if I'm wrong by commenting on this post). Council leader Helen Holland talks of 'further excellent appointments' which shows how out of touch she is - with regard to these three key appointments the so-called 'major shake-up' has resulted in the same people being employed, so its not a shake-up at all!! A shake-up is definitely needed but this ain't it!!

Severn barrage: not cost-effective (now there's a surprise - NOT!)

The Frontier Economics report into the Severn Barrage is damning ('Severn barrage is the costly option', Bristol Evening Post, 12 June). Statements like 'the barrage is one of the most expensive options for clean energy generation there is' and 'Considerable new evidence would be needed to make a large barrage in the Severn estuary an attractive option' mean that its simply not cost-effective when compared to the range of clean, green energy sources that can be used, including some that could be deployed to harness the tidal energy from the estuary. This should be no great surprise considering the massive, resource intensive and time consuming civil engineering exercise needed to get the barrage, in contrast with the rapidly developing field of new renewable energy technologies. Yes to renewable energy, including tidal energy, but lets have the most appropriate technologies deployed according to a properly planned, cost-effective energy strategy.

I've been plugging away with this message on the barrage for some time now! (see here for a whole string of postings with this very message about the dodgy economics of the barrage in them).

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Sustainable living: an essential not a luxury add-on

‘Sustainable living is all very well, but people also have to get on with living their lives’ concluded Bristol Evening Post feature writer Suzanne Savill’s piece about alternatives to petrol and diesel (‘Think about it’, Bristol Evening Post's Seven Magazine p3, June 7 2008). This is an illogical, contradictory statement since if we don’t live our lives sustainably we will not be able to ‘get on with living’ them. The ‘alternative’ to sustainable living is one that by definition cannot be continued ie its unsustainable.

Her statement sounds to me like a denial of problems that are real, serious, and urgent, like peak oil production and climate change, which are inseparable from soaring food and fuel prices. Best science and economics tells us we have to adjust and adapt our lives, which means fully embracing sustainability’s key concepts: efficiency; renewability; environmental limits; meeting needs; fairness here and around the globe, for both present and future generations.

Sustainability is not an add-on luxury, its an essential – though our government has failed to lead on this, get this message across and make it easier for people to make practical, sustainable choices.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Craziness of axing bus routes - how does this encourage bus use??

Axing bus routes seems a crazy idea (some have been 'saved' but others axed, 'Bristol bus routes saved from closure', Bristol Evening Post, 10 June). Aren't we supposed to be encouraging people to get out of their cars and on to buses etc ? Axing routes will make it less convenient for people to get on the bus. My goodness, all this comes at a time when its been proposed that new bus routes are built over or next to green spaces like the Malago Greenway (and before that the most popular cycle path in the UK!!). First are a million miles away from running the bus 'service' as a proper public service in the public interest. Lets take buses out of private company hands.

Make the green switch




Some useful green tips, tools and links here:

http://www.biggreenswitch.co.uk/

Monday, 9 June 2008

Price of diesel reaches £1.30/litre in Bristol....

I've been giving my reaction online to the news that the price of diesel in the Bristol area has reached £1.30 per litre ('Dismay as diesel rockets to £1.30', Bristol Evening Post, 9 June). We should have been weaning ourselves off all oil products for decades now via very large scale investment in: energy efficiency; public transport, walking, cycling; support for local economic development; renewable energy; research into alternative fuels... Given that previous Tory and Labour Governments have made green claims one would have thought this would have been done but it hasn't. Now the security, stability and affordability of our lives has not been assured as a result of this inaction. It does not look to me like fossil fuel (and food) prices can have anything but an upward trend over time as the scarcity of this finite resource can only grow.

Those who for example react to describe not living close to work and being poorly serviced by buses/trains correctly highlight two aspects of the issue that need to be addressed very urgently (and that we should have begun addressing at least two/three decades ago when greens were, as now, advocating localised development etc). Having said that, whilst I appreciate the individual circumstances some people are in, there are many who could choose a greener alternative (nearly half of all car journeys are less than 2 miles long).

Government has completely failed to make it easier and more convenient for people to make green choices however and so they need to take the lion's share of the blame here. Re-allocate just a quarter of the road budget and in ten years we could build light rail systems in eight cities, create 10,000 people-friendly home zones, put £4 billion into cutting train and bus fares, £1 billion into rural transport and another billion into transport for disabled people. Add to that safe routes to all our schools and colleges and tens of thousands of new jobs and it's money well spent (see here for more detail of green transport policies).

Friday, 6 June 2008

Another green route threatened by bus rapid transit proposals

Here we go again, its just like the nonsense and now dead proposal to run buses down the Bristol to Bath Cyclepath/Railway Path - green space, wildlife, cyclists, walkers, along the Malago Greenway ie all that's ecological, could lose out due to a proposed Bus Rapid Transit route ruining it ('Bristol green route under threat', Bristol Evening Post, 6 June). Find more rational routes, consider modes of tranport, like Ultra Light Rail, much more fully, consider turning existing road space over to public transport. Its irrational to diminish what is greenest in this way.

The fight to save Bristol primary schools...

Another campaign to save a Bristol primary school (in addition to the Stockwood Green campaign publicised recently), this time at St Georges C of E ('Campaign to save Bristol School is launched', Bristol Evening Post, 6 June, 2008). Very good luck to them. For the council to shut some primary schools and merge others to create fewer and bigger schools is shortsighted and driven primarily by financial considerations. It should be the quality of education that comes first - and its a case of small is beautiful on that score because each child gets more individualised attention and teacher-pupil-parent relationships are likely to be closer. Where is the council taking account of the ecology of the interrelationships ?

Biofuels, food prices, biodiversity, Spiderman, meat - or the connection between them all??


I've wondered, should I decide to post today, world environment day, just what I would write about.

Perhaps the latest warnings about biofuels causing higher world food prices as discussed at the UN food summit in Rome, featuring strongly on the BBC news this evening?

Or the recent report 'The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)', described as the first major report to outline the economic impact of cutting the variety of life (severe impacts on the worlds poorest and costs of up to £40 billion every year, 7% global GDP decline by 2050 if ecosystem damage is not tackled...) ?

How about saying that Alain Robert, the French Spiderman, has today been in New York City climbing a huge skyscraper to promote the message that we need real leadership on climate change from the G8 countries meeting next month (According to him "The Solution Is Simple":
1 – Stop Cutting Down Trees. Plant More Trees. 2 – Make Everything Energy Efficient. 3 – Only Make Clean Energy.).

I'm conscious that I've not posted much on the subject of diet and environmental impacts, in particular the amount and type of meat eaten, so perhaps something on this topic, reasonably well discussed on Newsnight a few days ago following comments from the head of the UN climate agency, Yvo de Boer, who is attending UN-led climate talks in Germany this week that we should all become vegetarians. After all in times of high food prices should we, at great environmental cost, be feeding grain to cows and pigs instead of people?? I really like meat but its a highly inefficient food to produce and consume and I acknowledge the very strong ethical, ecological, economic and health case for vegetarianism and veganism (I try to keep my meat consumption right down - I'm not a veggie).

Interesting how intimately intertwined issues of environment, energy, economics, food, climate and personal choices/behaviour are isn't it.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Knowle sustainability and quality of life group: success!

As you may have noticed in the right hand column my pledge to start a group called the Campaign for the Achievement of a Sustainable Knowle (CASK) has succeeded in reaching its target of 10 people, though of course more can still sign up! We will continue to spread the word (any locals interested in helping or finding out more please email me!), meet up as a group asap and make some initial plans. Many thanks to the people who have signed up in support, to work on areas like: lobbying for far better, cheaper public transport; much better cycling and pedestrian provision; protecting, enhancing and if possible increasing Knowle's open, green, natural spaces; pushing for the retention and improvement of locally available facilities, services, and jobs; education for sustainable living; promoting local energy saving and the micro-generation of energy; arguing for more local, ethical and organic food availability; encouraging home and allotment grown food; people taking personal responsibility to be more environmentally-friendly; and promoting broad based public participation in community life.

http://www.pledgebank.com/

http://www.pledgebank.com/yesCASK

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The story of stuff

http://www.storyofstuff.org/ really worth going here (watch the short film below).
Ok the examples are often American but the message is universal. So, just where does stuff come from, where does it go, and what effects does the coming and going have??

Sustrans' annual 'Change Your World' campaign

Received the message below from Sustrans and signed up to support the campaign (although my travel by car and in general is already pretty low).

Sustrans' annual ‘Change Your World’ campaign kicks off today with the launch of www.changeyourworld.org.uk . To join in, tell us you'll swap a car trip during the first week of July and walk, cycle or use public transport instead.

Please consider doing you bit by supporting this campaign, perhaps committing to cut your car use even more if you can (the rising price of fuel and the spiralling of climate change impacts gives plenty of incentive for this!). What I really want from the government is concerted, significant and sustained action and investment into walking cycling, public transport (trains generally, light rail, buses...) and car clubs, to make minimising car use easier - let your PM, MP and local councillors know if you agree!!

The Green Party website says 'Re-allocate just a quarter of the road budget and in ten years we could build light rail systems in eight cities, create 10,000 people-friendly home zones, put £4 billion into cutting train and bus fares, £1 billion into rural transport and another billion into transport for disabled people. Add to that safe routes to all our schools and colleges and tens of thousands of new jobs and it's money well spent.' Eminent good sense given the twin problems of peak oil and climate change.

Money before quality of education for Bristol's primary schools??

So, 'Bristol City Council says that small schools do not give the best value for money for council tax payers.' ('Parents in school closures protest', Bristol Evening Post, 3 June 2008). Many, many teachers, parents and pupils will disagree with this very strongly indeed and may well say that it is financial considerations rather than childrens education that seems to be uppermost in the council's mind.

In a smaller school community all teachers, pupils and parents can get to know each other better and stronger, more educationally beneficial relationships can be established. This clearly adds to the quality of education for every individual child, as testified to by the parents protesting and indeed by Ofsted when they said last year that at Stockwood Green Primary 'everyone feels involved, trusted and valued'. I hope the council rethinks their plan to have fewer, bigger primary schools (see previous posts on this here and here).

Monday, 2 June 2008

Happiness: no laughing matter

Given the incessant drive for material gain, as expressed by the fact that the overwhelming priority of government is to achieve more and more economic growth, one could be forgiven for thinking that you can somehow buy happiness. On the contrary however, there is a wealth of evidence, as discussed at the Bristol Happiness Lectures held on May 17 2008, to show that this is not the case. Despite being much wealthier than in the 1950’s one survey for the BBC series The Happiness Formula showed that in 1957 57% of British people said they were very happy compared with just 36% in 2006. In most economically developed countries those saying that they are happy has been static or falling for 50 yrs.

So, what is going on here? Does wealth not count towards happiness at all? Happiness research shows that once people reach a certain wealth level, some say £10,000/yr, others the national average income of about £23,000, more money does not on average make people or the country happier.

Why this is so has been explored by people like psychologist Oliver James, one of the key speakers at the Bristol Happiness Lectures along with Dr Chris Johnstone from the University of Bristol, in his books Affluenza (derived from the terms affluence and influenza) and The Selfish Capitalist. An affluenza suffering society is where people are overloaded and stressed due to fast, urban lifestyles and long hours of work. They are often in debt, anxious, depressed and wasteful/polluting because of their dogged pursuit of more and more. People try to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ but gain no fulfillment from this as they go around the viscious circle of consumption.

Buying does not generally make people happy – apparently walking through a shopping mall increases stress and lowers self-esteem (whereas walking in the park or countryside relieves stress). Our society clearly does assign a high value to money, possessions and appearance, making affluenza and associated emotional distress more likely. It may also promote the banishment of negative thoughts in place of realism, even though people like James and Johnstone say this is not always advisable. Those banishing negative thoughts may well play down threats in place of facing them and may go further, taking riskier decisions than is wise. It strikes me that this could be a part of climate change denial for instance.

Enough of the negative! What can be done to make us happier? Dr Chris Johnstone says that its meaning, purpose and facing up to world problems that builds happiness. He sees very strong connections between sustainability and happiness issues – tackling one helps tackle the other. Contented families, strong local communities, meaningful work and building a future that is cleaner, safer and more efficient is what is needed then. Economically it mean addressing inequalities and emphasising stability, security and localisation in place of growth and globalisation ie different goals and adopting a different world-view. This means transforming politics, which is what Greens are about.

Green Bristol Blog

Bristol has gained another green blog: http://greenbristolblog.blogspot.com/. Welcome to the blogosphere Chris Hutt !! For strong, well argued views on a greener Bristol, particularly with respect to transport matters, Chris is your man.!!

Bristol's other green blogs apart from this one:

Green Councillor Charlie Bolton

Bristol Greengage

Any other local bloggers who regards themselves as green - feel free to get in touch if you want!!

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Rational debate on city's waste issue??

Looks like a case of the pot calling the kettle black for Councillor Judith Price Labour's Bristol City Cabinet member for Homes and Streetscene. In her letter ('Clarifying the 'clarification' on waste debate', Post 31 May) she called for '...a practical, non-political approach tempered with cold reason and logic to come up with the best solution...' for dealing with Bristol's waste mountain.

However, elsewhere in her letter she offers up very personal criticism of Lib Dem Councillor Gary Hopkins, to whom she was replying, by stating 'he always knows best' and later that 'he sneers' and that 'his side of the debate is fuelled by emotional hot air'. These observations may or may not be true but they are certainly not the kind of debate her own letter calls for!

Much of the rest of her letter is in fact very party political - who did what and when stuff, intent on laying blame with the opposition and deflecting it from Labour. So much for the rational approach that 'is needed'! Little wonder that debates on key issues often become poor when such insult and naked party-politics are brought into play.

I note that no-one from the council has chosen to reply to my, rational, contribution to the waste debate published in the Post recently (adapted from this blog post). In it I made a, rational, case for opposing mass incineration, pointing out that incineration with energy recovery is a mere fourth out of five in the waste management hierarchy. I asked why in these so-called green times government and council have not worked more effectively together on the top three priorities: waste avoidance/reduction; reuse; and recycling. If we dont address the waste issue correctly, focussing on the top priorities first, we will not build a green city and country. Will Councillor Price oblige me with a reply??