Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Additional car parking in Broadmead re-development plans

Here is copy of my objection to proposals for 580 new car parking spaces as part of plans being put forward to redevelop Broadmead. Planning application number 16/06594/P can still be commented on here Green Councillor Charlie Bolton's petition opposing the additional car parking can be signed here.

As a regular user of the Broadmead area I object to the plans  as they currently are.  In the main this is because of the inclusion of a very large number of additional car parking spaces in a central part of the city. Additional car parking like this acts as a magnet for traffic and is thus a significant negative.
The city is often traffic congested already and as a consequence air pollution frequently exceeds EU and WHO standards and is therefore unhealthy. The Mayor has only recently set up a group of councillors to look at the establishment of a clean air zone.
Decisions taken on planning applications should be consistent with all council policies and general direction of travel, if the city is to develop in a manner that makes overall sense. To approve hundreds of additional centrally located parking spaces runs against action needed to clean up city air. Bristol needs to harmonise planning policies, practices and decisions with sustainable transport so that one doesn't contradict the other as it so often does.
I urge the committee to make the required connections across a range of economic, planning, transport, health, environmental and other policy areas. We need to get a coordinated, coherent fully 21st century response to problems both planned and implemented, including properly planned access into and around the city via public transport, cycling and walking. Many cities across the world, Europe in particular, have moved and are moving away from allowing cars in their central area.
One of the reasons that Ljubljana turned itself into one of Europe's green capitals is because of the action it took against cars in its city centre. One of the reasons for the green capital initiative is that cities should learn from each others experiences.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Bristol's Cuts Consultations

Why do Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees consultations on the deep cuts in local services he and the Labour controlled Council propose only offer options that mean cuts? It's hardly fair and complete. It's hardly consistent with the Mayor's promotion of the Bristol People's Assembly rally against cuts (the Mayor has not explicitly and pointedly called for cuts in services to end and be reversed). Wouldn't a Mayor and Labour controlled Council that wanted to fight against cuts forced on local administrations by central government consult people earlier and more completely? Wouldn't they ask people completing the surveys if they were opposed to cuts and the austerity agenda so that full stats could be used to back any case made to government for proper local government funding?

There's a lot about the consultations that is disturbing. The language used is very revealing. Control of the agenda is retained by the Mayor and Labour controlled Council rather it than being offered to Bristol's people. In place of words like cuts in budgets/services the consultations use language such as 'difficult decisions', 'services needing to change', 'spending in the best ways', 'new services' and 'savings'. Participation at its best is all about: open exchange of ideas; mutual understanding; effective, timely information; promoting trust; highlighting decision-making processes; dealing with complex, controversial issues; unique insights; serving each other. Participation ideally develops a common view, a sense of purpose – and allows people and communities to take control and set agendas. The Mayor and Council have strictly limited the options in the surveys - despite saying repeatedly that they want to be open and that nothing is off the table!

Like me, many involved in local politics and community activity are concerned that a lot of people still don't even know about the Bristol City Council consultations on significant cuts in their local services. Only a tiny fraction of the public have taken part. The online surveys can still be completed up to the consultation end date of 5 September. Paper copies of the surveys are in local libraries (before the cuts close many of them!). I attended one eight local meetings held in various parts of Bristol on some of the proposed cuts, though the last of these meetings took place on 24 July, quite a way before the consultation ends - and no further meetings were scheduled. The timing of the consultations over the Summer is far from the best to maximise participation, with politics dialling down somewhat, kids home from school, people on holiday, and many students not now in the city.  

I urge people to contribute their views - and to make maximum use of the blank boxes asking for further or additional comments rather than just saying which local services to cut or how they should be cut which is what the options offered in the survey direct you towards. I urge people to seek out and support the people and organisations campaigning to save local services, such as through signing and sharing petitions. Local services whose budgets are being cut include: day services for adults with learning difficulties, dementia, physical and sensory impairment and social care needs; libraries; public toilets; school crossing patrols; neighbourhood partnerships; and supported living accommodation for people with mental health issues or a learning difficulty,  sheltered housing, advice services and floating support for people in their own homes. This is by no means a comprehensive list. To add insult to injury the Mayor and Labour run Council are also proposing cuts to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, imposing a tax rise on 25,000 of the very poorest people in Bristol (though Green and Lib Dem Councillors say the consultation on this may be illegal - see here and here).

I don't agree with the repeated use of the term 'saving's with respect to the cuts proposed as local services serve a multitude of community functions the loss of which is a cost not a saving. We need to be investing in services not cutting or removing the budget for them. The Mayor only offers a choice of which raft of libraries should close in the consultation. Several libraries are set to close in all the options offered.

It's a very, very limited and ultra-narrow consultation that only offers the one choice of a pifflingly small amount of money or zero money for public toilet provision. Bristol is a wealthy city that features a lot of leisure and recreational activity from those who live here. The city also attracts a lot of tourists from other parts of the UK and from abroad. It's reasonable to expect the city to have a decent number of public toilets available, especially in locations where other toilet facilities are not present such as away from shops, pubs and cafes.  Any true savings from cutting the budget for public toilets to virtually zero needs to be offset by costs to the image and reputation of the city and thus its appeal to its own citizens and tourists when they go out and spend their money here.

The consultations assume that a purely technical, data-based method of establishing whether it's ok for school safety/crossing patrols (lollipop persons) to be removed is an acceptable approach.  The PV squared method the consultation gives information on is a purely and narrowly utilitarian one. It says that additional road crossing risk in certain places can be acceptable after the removal of a lollipop person. Parents, grandparents, carers, children, school staff, road users and people in neighbourhoods around all schools, especially nursery and primary schools, want safe routes to all schools. They know that a lollipop person adds to safety and that therefore removing them reduces safety - and that is simply wrong and not something one can put an acceptability figure on via a technical calculation. Road users make mistakes, run through traffic lights and across zebra crossings. Children crossing roads make mistakes and can be unaware or careless. We should keep the safety for children and not make these cuts. There is no better provision than a lollipop person. All other options (which the consultation asks about) are second best, or worse, for children and that is not acceptable.

At the consultation meeting I attended and when filling in the consultation forms I proposed that the Mayor asks officers to prepare a total cost-benefit analysis for all proposed cuts compared with the current situation and also what could be achieved over time with further investment.  The three scenarios could/should then be used as part of any case put to central government for more money eg in the lobbying process this September and in the Green Paper the Mayor has referred to.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Bomb - and the Balance of Terror

After the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, 6 August 1945

America then demonstrated the ability and willingness to use nuclear weapons to kill on a scale and with a speed previously unmatched. 

We have 'progressed' to being able to kill on an even bigger scale now  -  and with even more countries able to do so.

The threatened or actual use of nuclear weapons cannot be consistent with justice. Why?

  • Nuclear weapons are indiscriminate, killing civilians and military alike 
  • They bring about mass destruction on the scale of cities, societies - potentially human civilisation itself - and all life present in very large land areas 

Using nuclear weapons would be committing mass suicide and so can't be legitimately considered a defence. We can't expect to be able to forever sustain a world that relies on the threat of mutual, indiscriminate mass destruction because at some point, by accident or design, nuclear weapons will again be used.    

The theory of mutually assured destruction (MAD) says using nuclear weapons causes the complete destruction of all sides. The claim is that there is a deterrent effect which stops all sides from using them.

With a balance of terror no side would want to start a nuclear conflict. However, no side would want to give up its nuclear weapons either. This leaves a sustainability issue, with current and future generations stuck with a nuclear balance of terror, spending billions updating the weaponry to maintain it.

There are clearly problems with the mutual destruction, nuclear deterrence theory which illustrate the need for nuclear disarmament:

  • decision makers will come along who are not entirely rational: rogue commanders; extremists; people with a fervour for mass destruction; those with the bunker mentality of Hitler
  • at some point a decision maker will decide irrationally not to avoid mutual destruction
  • the complete and error-free information and interpretation required for fully rational action is not possible
  • a side might gain the upper hand technologically, gaining greater speed, stealth or scale in its attack or ability to defend itself  - therefore they may be tempted into striking first
  • errors or accidents in the equipment and procedures will at some point result in the firing of nuclear weapons, so their continued possession passes the threat from generation to generation 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Public funding of public parks as a public good

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees is pictured in today's Bristol Post promoting the city as European City of Sport

At the same time he plans to withdraw ALL council funding for public parks where a lot of sporting activity takes place (more on this issue here; sign the petition opposing the plans here). 

I urge him to change his incoherent and unacceptable plans to abandon all funding for our parks and instead support public funding of public parks as a public good.

See the case for the idea of public provision of services here. Also see here on how and why city green spaces are of great value. 

Saturday, 22 July 2017

21st Century Transport Plan?

Building the M32 right into the city beginning in the 1960s was 20th century transport practice. Cabot Circus shopping centre with a large, centrally located car park to act as a magnet for vehicles and the South Bristol Link (Road) were built in the 21st century but show 20th century transport thinking and practice. 

The latest West of England transport report 'leaked' to the local media' includes some, though not sufficient, good ideas on public transport, parking cost and provision in the most built up places, walking and cycling and - up to a point - new transport technologies, as well as a sizeable investment figure of £8.9 billion. The figure is the sort of size needed to establish a much more sustainable transport system in Bristol and the surrounding area but unfortunately significant parts of the plans assessed in the report would take us away from what we can sustain economically, socially and environmentally. 

An underground network for Bristol is technically difficult but possible, though prohibitively expensive, if the scale involved is large. In any case it doesn't address the cause of our transport unsustainability: transport intensive lifestyles. A major civil engineering project would have massive opportunity costs. Money spent on a large scale underground would be much better spent elsewhere eg subsidising bus and train fares. Large cost increases and delays in underground completion are quite likely - just look at the history of major building projects. If we can't get an Arena built to time and cost in Bristol how can we get an underground network? There is no pure technofix for our transport problems - we need proper technology assessment and a whole range of social, political, economic and technical changes to get to sustainable transport.

Including more motorway and road developments and other ways in which the capacity for travel would be further stimulated - as the leaked report does - means more traffic, greater resource consumption and higher not lower environmental impacts. New traffic is diverted onto new roads. New trips are made. Longer distances are travelled. All caused by the availability of new roads and linkages. Building more roads is a highly discredited idea but clearly it hasn't stopped them from being proposed. The evidence on induced traffic is not being acted on.

Taken overall the latest West of England transport report show that key features of conventional 20th century transport thinking is still with very much us. Little wonder that transport problems like congestion and air pollution persist. 

To properly address transport problems local and central government need to be working together with local people: first and foremost to reduce the need and demand for all transport to begin with, such as through the provision of local services, facilities and jobs. The priorities then should be:
  • shifting from high impact means of transport such as cars and lorries to lower impact means such as light rail, trams, walking and cycling - transferring parts of the existing transport infrastructure to more sustainable methods
  • reducing the impact severity of all the most polluting means of travel in all the most polluted places, tackling diesel fuelled vehicles especially - and implementing clean air zones which restrict and charge the most polluting vehicles from entry (reinvesting the money raised into public transport, walking and cycling)
  • harmonising planning policies and practices with sustainable transport so that one doesn't contradict the other as it so often does
  • establishing a truly strategic, integrated approach across the West Country area
  • bringing back the public service ethos of public transport
  • making the price of methods of travel fairly reflect their actual total costs (buses, trains, trams should be made a lower cost option relative to cars and lorries, in part using money raised from clean air zone charging - plus parking revenue)

A lot of the above is developed in the Good Transport Plan for Bristol.

Decision makers need to get up to date. They need to make the required connections across a range of economic, planning, transport, health, environmental and other policy areas. We need to get a coordinated, coherent fully 21st century response to problems both planned and implemented. 

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Leaders need to take responsibility for their actions and inactions

An edited version of the first part of my recent blog post 'Opposing cuts in services' was published as a letter in the Bristol Post. It has sparked a reply, which is great because the more we discuss austerity and cuts and the need to oppose them, reverse them, and invest in our future wellbeing instead, the better. 

Below is a copy of my response:

I'm glad that there is some common ground between myself and Bob Farmer, who replied (Post 19 July) to my letter of 12 July about the deep cuts in local public services being made by Bristol's Labour Mayor Marvin Rees. Bob and I agree that central government are the primary cause of the cuts.

The Conservative Lib-Dem Coalition followed by the David Cameron and Theresa May Conservative Government's austerity policies have cut budgets for most government departments, cut funding that goes to local government, cut public-sector wages, cut benefits, cut spending by government - and increased the overall tax burden at the same time. This is very poor economics with very bad social, economic and environmental consequences.

Bob says that it's not helpful to blame Bristol's Mayor for the local cuts. I disagree because the Mayor has done too little, too late to make the case for more money for Bristol from the Government. He has to take some responsibility for his actions as the elected leader of Bristol. 

Instead of it being his first and urgent action when elected in 2016 it has taken him a year to get together with the other core cities - all Labour run - to begin to make a case. Green Councillors urged him to take this action a year ago. As Bob himself points out, the Government can and has found money, doing a £1.5 billion deal with the DUP to keep itself in power. It is vulnerable to pressure - but pressure from Bristol and the other core cities is lacking at present.

Bob refers to the situation Mayor Rees has inherited as 'untenable to most of us'. I agree but untenable means it cannot be maintained or defended, which means it should be changed and opposed. Mayor Rees is enabling the untenable situation to continue by setting budgets that go along with it, rather than fighting tooth and nail for more local government funding.

Reflections on leadership and how cities should be lead 

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Serious efforts at tackling air pollution: long overdue

Following the success of the Let Bristol Breathe campaign Bristol City Council will be debating its petition next Tuesday. I've submitted this statement of support: Clean air zones, within a proper joined up strategy to tackle air pollution, are long overdue in Bristol. Self-evidently we all need clean, healthy air and it's always felt very strange to have to argue the case for this to brought about. What we take into our bodies, especially as children, affects our growth and development for good or ill. It’s a reminder that people are an integral part of the environment and that their health and wellbeing are dependent upon it.

Bristol has made much of its aspiration to be a sustainable, green place to live but its dirty, unhealthy air is one very clear sign that we are a long way from this objective. Government figures show that tens of thousands of people die prematurely across our nation because of air pollution, including hundreds of Bristolians, each and every year. The main cause is our heavy road traffic - thus the need for clean air zone implementation now.

Air pollution is a major public health issue - especially for children and those already vulnerable, with existing health problems such as asthma, bronchitis, heart problems or obesity. Air pollution causes coughing, chest pains and lung irritation in everyone but children are particularly vulnerable as their lungs are still developing and they get a bigger dose of pollution per unit of body mass, as well as being at a height much closer to exhaust pipe emissions than adults.

I've been a green campaigner in Bristol for 35 yrs. In 1989, with friends Graham Davey and Gundula Dorey, I held up the traffic at Three Lamps Junction in a protest to highlight the health problems due to air pollution. Despite progress which has taken lead out of fuels and lowered carbon monoxide pollution a good deal we are sadly still a very long way from having healthy air  on the site where we protested, at the junction of Bath Rd and Wells Rd, as well as many other places right across the city. I spoke in the media in 1989 about tens of thousands of premature deaths nationally and hundreds within Bristol - and I can still use this exact phrase today, 28 yrs later. This is a very clear indication of insufficient action. Pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, particulates and ground level ozone frequently exceed the annual World Health Organisation and EU limits.

One place whose air pollution levels I've looked into is St John's lane, a road with two primary schools on or near it that has become choked with traffic such that you can taste it. I've taken data from the Parson Street pollution monitoring station on nitrogen dioxide and found that in both 2015 and 2016 annual pollution levels were around twice the EU and WHO annual limits ie fluctuating on or around 80 micrograms per cubic metre when the limit is 40. I've no doubt that in many other years pollution levels have been like this. Parents and staff at Parson St School and Victoria Park School have contacted me to express their concerns - and they have taken their own action to obtain more data and to find out what solutions might be available.   

Every day too many vehicles are trying to use Bristol's roads. Each weekday many thousands of vehicles cross into and out of Bristol’s city centre. Bristol’s resulting traffic congestion generates serious, health damaging air pollution. In Old Market the annual mean concentration of nitrogen dioxide breaks the EU annual limit. In St Pauls ground level ozone concentrations break the EU annual limit.

We need clean air zones as a clear step in the right direction, to both

  • define areas of the city as a particular focus for action to improve air quality
  • and in certain places to require drivers to pay a charge to enter or move within them if they are not driving a vehicle that meets the emissions standard needed, thus raising money that should be invested in low pollution transport options

We need to keep all the most polluting vehicles from all the most polluted places, as a step towards the whole city having healthy air quality that is below the annual pollution limits instead of regularly breaking them.

Clean air zones are most effective within a well thought out, joined up strategy. A properly joined up strategy to tackle air pollution in cities should include local and central government working together - and with local people - to address:
  • the need/demand for all transport to begin with (provision of local services, facilities and jobs lowering the need for transport)
  • shifting from high impact means of transport such as cars and lorries to lower impact means such as light rail, trams, walking and cycling
  • reducing the impact severity of all the most polluting means of travel, tackling diesel fuelled vehicles especially
  • harmonising planning policies and practices with sustainable transport so that one doesn't contradict the other
  • establishing a truly strategic, integrated approach across the West Country area
  • bringing back the public service ethos of public transport
  • making the price of methods of travel fairly reflect their actual total costs (buses, trains, trams should be made a lower cost option relative to cars and lorries)
That there is a serious health problem should not be in dispute. It is longstanding, at a serious level and deserves urgent action. Air pollutants cause us all harm due to loss of health, comfort, stability and amenity - and they poison us because of their toxicity. Pollutants harm species growth and damage the living and built environments too. The UK Supreme Court decided against the Government and ruled that an immediate air pollution plan was needed as the UK consistently breached EU limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution. Environmental law firm Client Earth took the case to court and are continuing the pressure for proper action, in particular in the UK's cities. Bristol needs to play its part by implementing clean air zones, within a joined up strategy to tackle air pollution.

Air pollutants originate from sources such as Bristol's heavy traffic, follow certain routes, and pathways and spend extended periods in locations, sinks, such as when particulate matter from vehicle exhausts penetrate deep into all our lungs. Some air pollutants are carcinogens ie cause uncontrolled cell division (cancer), for instance some of the hydrocarbons such as those present on particulate pollution. There is no carcinogenic air pollution level at which there is no effect. This is because cancer development results from an accumulation of irreversible cell damage.

The combined effect or two or more air pollutants is often greater than the sum of the separate effects, due to synergism. Particulate matter with hydrocarbons, are an example where the pairing causes much more harm than each individual substance. Carcinogenic hydrocarbons on microscopic particulates are delivered to the exact place they can do most harm, deep in human lungs. 

Air pollution factors compound problems caused by the fact that cities are warmer than the surrounding countryside, with urban areas producing and holding in heat. Urban air pollution is often associated with dry, hot sunny days in spring and summer. Ground-level ozone is produced when pollutant mixtures react in sunlight and warm weather over several hours. This can then be blown across large areas. The most damaging pollution episodes often occur during hot, dry, sunny weather and often accompany heatwaves (occurring more frequently due to climate change). Pollution health impacts make heatwave health impacts much worse – and the biggest impacts are on children, on the elderly and those with existing heart, lung and other health problems.

Bristol allowed the building of the M32, which penetrates right into the city, between 1965 and 1975, adding to air pollution. Conventional transport planning is still far too much in evidence here, such as enabling the South Bristol Link (Road) and before that Cabot Circus shopping centre with a large, centrally located car park to act as a magnet for vehicles. Little wonder that air pollution problems are still very much with us.  We need all decision makers - the Mayor, Councillors, MPs, MEPs, Ministers and Secretaries of State - to really understand and be concerned about this problem, to make the connections needed across a range of policy areas and to act in accordance with the seriousness, scale and persistence of the problem. Implementing clean air zones in Bristol would be a good clear, positive step forward. 

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Opposing cuts in services

It's important that elected councillors - and Bristol's elected Mayor - oppose cuts and work to keep all vital local public services. 

Instead, whilst Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at anti-austerity rallies, Bristol Labour's Mayor Marvin Rees has set a budget that:

  • halves the school crossing patrols that improve road safety for kids
  • closes most Bristol libraries
  • removes all funding from Bristol's parks
  • closes the majority of public toilets
  • cuts sheltered housing advice and help
  • removes funds supporting local swimming pools like Jubilee
  • cuts neighbourhood partnerships

This is not an exhaustive list. The Mayor says it's the responsible thing to do to set this budget. He is consulting Bristol's public on which local services should go but not on whether any should be any cuts at all. There is nothing responsible about Marvin Rees setting a budget that devastates local services, with some left totally unfunded

A year ago Bristol Green Councillors called for Bristol's then new Mayor to act together with all the core cities, all run by Labour, to  make representations against austerity to the government.  These cities carry a lot of weight, with the largest economies and populations in the country. Why has it taken Marvin a year to make a case, of sorts, to the Government?

He should have been doing much more than sign a letter a year ago. He should have given voice to the growing numbers of people who see the complete folly of cuts and austerity economics. Truth is the Marvin is from the part of the Labour Party that wants to continue austerity but just a little slower and on a slightly smaller scale, as all of Corbyn's opponents in the first Labour leadership election did. Does he really fully support the public provision of local services and facilities?

I'm totally opposed to cuts, austerity economics and austerity ideology at national and local level. Cuts are unfair, unjust, are not working, are counter-productive, are building up year on year and biting into essential local services - and are certainly not the way to invest in and build a fairer, healthier more lively and sustainable city.

We need to invest, not cut, to build strong, informed, involved, empowered, lively and resilient local communities with all the facilities and services to meet their needs.

The Con-Lib Coalition  followed by Conservative Government's austerity policies have cut budgets for most government departments, cut funding that goes to local government, cut public-sector wages, cut spending by government - and increased the overall tax burden.

Austerity cuts our health and wellbeing. It has triggered up to 10,000 additional suicides across Europe and the USA - and 30,000 deaths in England and Wales in 2015 due to austerity measures in healthcare according to the Royal Society of Medicine.

Many economists advocate economic investment in place of cuts, as a better way of tackling a deficit and debt burden. With interest rates low borrowing for investment by governments makes a lot sense - the cost of borrowing is low and the development stimulated pays off the deficit and brings down debt over time.

Smart encouragement of the right kinds of development eg in high energy efficiency, insulated, warm homes; in walking and cycling infrastructure for active, low impact lifestyles; in light rail trains and trams; in low and zero waste systems and creating a circular economy; and in renewable energy, enhances genuine prosperity and wellbeing, as well as establishing economic security and stability.

Austerity measures can have the effect of depressing the tax base when demand is depressed. Government debt is often compared with household debt but this is incorrect. The UK has a currency of its own, unlike most countries in the EU, who adopted the Euro and gave up their own currency. Our system of governance can create credit and the Bank of England can set interest rates appropriately to lower economic risks. Austerity can and should be abandoned now.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Roundly assessing the value of local services & facilities

There has been commendable campaigning once again in Knowle, by the local community and its councillors, to save the local swimming pool (Jubilee). This includes a petition with thousands of signatures, shortly to be debated by the council. Apparently the pool is safe for the next five years as a contract for that period has been negotiated (see here).
Taking a decision to close the pool on narrow, purely financial grounds would not be an acceptable approach. 

Locally available services and facilities like Jubilee Pool have a value to our community and wider society well beyond money.

If we are to become a...
  • low carbon city
  • a more equal city
  • a more resilient and liveable city
  • and a healthier city... 
...for instance we need to be roundly assessing the value of local facilities not only in financial terms but also in broader social and environmental terms terms.

We dont know what the total impact of the loss of Jubilee would be because we aren't assessing everything properly. Despite this there is a clear possibility that the pool could close in the future - this would not be a fair decision or a sustainable approach to the issue at all.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Reason why I'm voting Green (3): for the best policies

Successive governments, whether Labour, Con/Lib Dem Coalition or Conservative, have consistently failed to put in place the essentials needed to build a sustainable society. They've all spoken warm words about the concept of sustainable development - which came to prominence 30 yrs ago this year (see here). Despite their words they have essentially carried on with business as usual. 

The policies needed to build a sustainable society are amongst the most popular with the public when blind surveys are done (https://voteforpolicies.org.uk/), as you can see from the size of the Green wedge in the image. Take the survey yourself and see which policies you favour. I want to see such policies implemented because they are: 

  • Policies to ensure a decent future for generations to come - not more and more wealth, for the few, for the short term, but an ongoing availability and decent supply of wealth, fairly shared.
  • Policies to ensure efficiency replaces wastefulness.
  • Policies to ensure careful, sensitive management of resources, so that they remain available. 
  • Polices to ensure that renewable resource use replaces squandering.
  • Policies for assessing progress through the health and wellbeing of people and their environment. 
  • Polices to ensure we live within environmental and social limits and set new social and economic goals.
  • Policies to build strong, resilient, informed and empowered local communities.
  • Policies to help make us all safer and more secure.
  • Policies which recognise that fairness is inseparable from sustainable development.
  • Policies which recognise that solving problems and taking opportunities requires joined up thinking.

These popular policies are what we need to achieve changes on the required scale and at the required pace, at all levels of society, in the face of entrenched vested interests. 

Those advocating them offer the leadership society needs and which successive Labour, Conservative, and Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition Governments have failed to provide.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Reason why I'm voting Green (2): for a safe, secure, non-nuclear future

Many Conservative and Labour politicians say we would be 'defenceless' without nuclear weapons and have used phrases like 'keep our guard up' and 'insurance policy' about them. As if keeping the country secure with indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction like Trident is just the same as a boxing match. As if getting rid of our nuclear weapons would lead to us immediately being attacked (even though the hundreds of countries that have never had them are not being nuked!). It's surely a very strange principle indeed - if it's worth calling a principle - that peace can be maintained by arranging to 'defend' ourselves with weapons we could not possibly use without committing suicide? Is it possible we can continue into the future like this, with confidence that nuclear weapons will never again be used?? No, a nuclear armed world is not sustainable and its one of the main reasons why I joined the Greens 35 yrs ago and am still with them (more on Trident here). 

The thinking behind nuclear weapons strategy is mutually assured destruction, which appropriately shortens to MAD. It says large use (!) of nuclear weapons by opponents causes the complete destruction of both sides. Nuclear weapons are thus, so the thinking goes, a deterrentthreatened use of nuclear weapons by both sides stops both sides from actually using them. Neither side has a motive to start a conflict - but neither side has motive to disarm either, which leaves us stuck with spending billions updating the weaponry when we really need the money for many other things.

MAD is seriously flawed. It assumes all decision makers will always be rational and decide rationally to avoid mutual destruction. This assumes no rogue commanders, no extremists, no irrational fervour for Armageddon. It assumes all those in command will always care about the survival of their citizens - and no-one with the bunker mentality of Hitler. Perfectly rational action also requires complete and error-free information and interpretation - not something that is possible.

CND Demonstration Oct 22 1983, London
Mutually assured destruction is assumed but by no means can it be forever guaranteed. One side might gain the upper hand technologically, perhaps in the speed, stealth or scale of its ability to attack and/or its ability to defend itself via shelters or via anti-missile systems. It might therefore be tempted into striking first.

We cannot expect to go on forever with no errors or accidents in the equipment and procedures. If there was an error or an accident that resulted in the firing of nuclear weapons - or indeed if there was a deliberate launch - it cannot be guaranteed that we could establish who was responsible. 

So, given all these things, mutual destruction breaks down.

Spending on nuclear weapons is not focused on real threats to our security. Obtaining sufficient, clean, green energy supplies on our finite planet, global terrorism, organised crime including cyber crime, absolute poverty and virtually ungoverned countries in some parts of the globe, climate change and a number of other issues all clearly represent huge ongoing security threats - spending on new nuclear submarines not only tackles none of these but takes away money that could be invested in tackling them (see this issue explored here).

The tens, perhaps hundreds, of billions involved is enough to build hundreds of new schools or protect hundreds of million acres of rainforest or meet our UN's aid figure of 0.7% of GDP every year for around a decade thus fighting global poverty which adds to our insecurity as it goes un-tackled. Just think of what could be done to enhance state pensions or improve social care or improve aspects of the NHS with the billions to be spent on nuclear submarines armed with nuclear weapons.

The vast majority of countries around the world do not feel they have to spend billions on nuclear weapons to make them more secure - so why do we?

By not reducing nuclear weapons significantly, an aspiration of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed decades ago, we have sent out the message to countries who have since developed nuclear weapons, like India, Pakistan, North Korea and possibly others, that the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons is a necessary and acceptable part of being a secure state. There is a resulting higher risk from the wider availability of nuclear material, which could be obtained by terrorists.

Successive Conservative, Labour and Conservative/Liberal Coalition governments have failed to lead the world in nuclear disarmament. The destructive capacity they have decided to retain is equivalent hundreds of the nuclear bombs used twice by the USA on Japan in August 1945. It's the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this summer. The USA then demonstrated the capability and willingness to deploy nuclear weapons of mass destruction in a war situation, mass killing non-combatants on a scale and with a speed previously unmatched. We can kill on an even bigger scale now. There's 'progress' for you. UK Government's continue to regard the threat of mass destruction as acceptable and worth spending many billions on to update systems.

Hiroshima devastated by a nuclear bomb in 1945
Why on Earth is such a massive capacity to indiscriminately annihilate needed? How can any Government or Opposition who want a large nuclear arsenal, ever be considered Green if they favour 'defence' by threatening to destroy life on a mass scale?

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. What moral authority can we possibly have to lecture other countries, such as Iran, about not developing nuclear weapons when we refuse to begin the process of disarmament ourselves - and indeed are in the process of upgrading our own nuclear weapons arsenal?

The replacement of Trident is 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 both Labour and Conservative politicians during this 2017 general election - reduce our moral standing.

Greens unambiguously oppose the replacement of Trident and seek binding global agreements against all weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons. They oppose nuclear power and any associated technologies that produce the material for nuclear weapons. 

Defence should mean self-defence and UN-led policing where need is established. We need to improve the military to promote human security, by focusing on defence not aggression and specialising in crisis prevention, emergency relief and conflict resolution. We should end all export subsidies and increase controls on UK arms sales, especially to Governments who violate human rights (see the 2017 Green manifesto here).