26 December 2006

Public Transit and Coventry

2007 needs a co-ordinated strategy to get us out of our cars.

More and more car use means more and more congestion, pollution and noise.

Year-on-year, we need to use our cars less. If we still need to use cars (rural communities, etc), we need viable alternatives to petrol to receive governmental and industry support.

- I've recently written about lobbying for a Walking/Cycling strategy from the city council in 2007.

- For 2007, the city council is also moving to a system of "salary sacrifice" where employees can support independent bike shops and purchase bicycles. Other employers could join in with this type of scheme. Warwick University already has an arrangement with Albany Cycles in Earlsdon for its staff and students.

- 2007 should see a revival of Coventry celebrating Without My Car day. In 2004, Broadgate was closed off to vehicles.

- There will be more development on the Sprint rapid bus transit project (dedicated vehicles halfway between buses and trams running between Warwick University and Nuneaton via the city centre and Foleshill Road).

- In 2007, Virgin Trains, serving Coventry mainline station, may switch over part/all of its rolling stock to run on biofuel.

- As you can see from the Energy Saving Trust database, there are no filling stations for electricity or biodiesel or hydrogen or bioethanol within 20 miles of Coventry. The nearest is in Coalville (Crossroads Garage, 99 Midland Road, LE67 1EH) for biodiesel. If the city council was serious about environmental affairs, they'd call a summit of the leading filling stations in or near to Coventry and encourage them to provide such facilities. Either we remain reliant on petrol, or we try to diversify as an interim step whilst truly sustainable technology (renewably-powered hydrogen, far-more efficient electric car technology) is developed.

24 December 2006

Coventry and the Labour Party

John Mutton and the Coventry Labour Party haven’t presented a vigorous and sustained opposition to Conservative control. For a city like ours, Coventry Labour is too new Labour.

When you see councillors opposing PFI shenanigans, city academies, NHS cuts, or proposing concrete actions to oppose industrial job losses, it’s been left to the Socialists.

That's not a bad thing, we agree with the Socialists on a wide variety of policies, but it's not healthy for democracy for the 2nd largest party on the council to behave this way.

The more Labour isn’t active between elections, the more the city will slip away to ourselves, to the Conservatives, to the Socialists, or far more ominously, to BNP candidates in working-class white areas that Labour continues to ignore.

For their own sake, Labour has to run an 18-ward race in May.

23 December 2006

Crisis - The Green Party and the BNP

The Guardian has had two key articles on the activities of the BNP in its Thursday and Friday editions:

part 1

part 2

Mainstream politics (Cameron Conservatives, Blairite Labour) is discredited. Both have had a decade each in the last 20 years in national government. We’re left with high youth unemployment, privatised trains running 30 minutes late, and a pro-PFI and pro-war consensus between the two parties.

The three mainstream parties are competing for middle-class swing votes (Mondeo Man, Worcester Woman, Morrisons Voter, etc) across relatively few national constituencies. Internal membership in the top three parties is withering away. Entire party platforms are being focused on this chase of marginal constituencies.

Thus, electoral openings for non-mainstream parties (Respect in Tower Hamlets and Birmingham; the Green Party nationally, especially Norwich, Lewisham, Lancaster, Oxford and Brighton; the BNP nationally, especially in Barking) are created.

Climate change, as well as peak oil, will severely disrupt industrial society. Such a crisis will further discredit mainstream politics (why didn’t they warn us, why haven’t they prepared).

In our own ways, the Green Party and the BNP are preparing for this crisis.

The BNP wants society to go to hell-in-a-handbasket. It’s covertly preparing for crisis, with encrypted membership lists and secret meeting rendez-vous points. It wants to position itself to take advantage of chaos and turn society towards strong-leader, White-England-first solutions.

In contrast, the Green Party is openly preparing by trying to localise the economy. We want to put in place ways of providing local food and decentralised public services. We’re advocating pro-peace, pro-women and anti-racist policies. We can see the chaos that is coming, and we want to provide a bridge towards a sustainable society.

21 December 2006

Electrical/Electronic Items and Leckie Use

It's one thing to read on BBC news that British consumers will buy about 30 million electrical and electronic items over the coming six months.

It's another to try to wrap my head around the fact that:

Britons are increasingly regarding electrical and electronic items as indispensable. Two-thirds of people planning to purchase a cordless phone said it was an "essential item", while a half of those intending to buy an electric toothbrush said the same. Over the past 10 years, electricity use by electrical and electronic gadgets has risen by 47%; but the next five years will see an increase of 82%. The efficiency of refrigerators has increased markedly, however, so many houses now have two fridges that the total energy consumed by home refrigeration has gone down by only 2% over the last 8 years.
How did people get by with rotary dial phones and using "manual" toothbrushes? Life must have been so difficult (rolling my eyes).

It wasn' the stone age. It was only a decade ago.

It's this idea that growth of everything is good, that a certain form of consumer behaviour gets seen as normal, when taking the long view, the planet's been around for 4.6 billion years, and the Industrial Revolution is only 180 years old.

20 December 2006

EU Aviation Emissions Scheme

Radio 4's Today Programme had interviews this morning with both Caroline Lucas, MEP for the Green Party, and David Miliband, Sec of State for the Environment, on the subject of the proposed EU aviation carbon trading scheme.

George Monbiot pointed out yesterday that it's very odd to have "bold plans" to make new homes more energy efficient whilst Labour allow airports to keep growing:

The only certain means by which the growth of flights can be curtailed is by restricting the capacity of our airports. Aviation expands to fill the available landing space. Unless the government’s decision to double the size of the UK’s airports is reversed, the rest of its climate change programme is a waste of time.
Finally, the New Statesman had a recent article that profiled the people involved with Plane Stupid, a direct action protest group against the short-haul flight, cheap flights, budget flights industry.

Ellen Rickford, one of the group's youngest members, spent her early teenage years campaigning against the war in Iraq. "The big anti-war march was one of my first political experiences. I saw all those people take to the streets against the war and they were ignored," she says. "This is a bigger, more important issue, and I'm not going to allow that to happen again. The only thing left to do is take direct action."

"I was never interested in party politics or adopting an ideology," says Theo Middleton, a 20-year-old student and Plane Stupid activist. "I realised that the only thing that matters, in the final analysis, is the destruction of the earth. The environmental movement is a complete cross-section of people from different backgrounds and political perspectives, and that is how it should be."

19 December 2006

Walking and Cycling in Coventry

I've stood, a few times now, counting cars in morning rush hour at the roundabout where Earlsdon Library is. Consistently, you have about 1.2 people per car, that is, you sample 20 cars, and there are 20 drivers and 4 passengers.

What if some of the 24 cycled to work? Or walked, or car-shared? Or rode on an extra double-decker bus each hour?

We wouldn't have as much congestion. The air would be cleaner. Each of those former drivers would save on petrol and parking costs.

They would be getting to work on time (that's the thing with cycling and walking, you're in control, and you know it takes exactly 30 min once you leave your door walking, or 15 min if you cycle).

I've sent a letter to the City Services directorate at Coventry City Council, and copied it to Kevin Foster (Con - Cheylesmore), the cabinet member for City Services. I expect I'll have to wait until January for a few answers, but it'll make for interesting reading:

People in Coventry need to be able to make direct,attractive, safe and comfortable journeys by bicycle.More cycle journeys would relieve traffic congestionand reduce emissions. As well, cycling is anaffordable transport option for those most in need,amongst whom car ownership is less common.

I have some questions on cycling policy in Coventry:

- What has been the city council’s spend on cyclepaths/cycling infrastructure, as compared to spending on roadworks/road-related infrastructure? Can you provide me with figures for the years 2004/05, 2005/06, 2006/07, and for projected 2007/08 and 2008/09?
- What percentage of city council employees cycle regularly to work (say, at least twice per week) … and what targets do you have for staff cycling to work inthe future?
- What actions have been taken, if any, to encourage cycling use amongst private-sector employers with more than 20 employees?
- Will Coventry put some effort into the September 2007 European Without My Car Day?

David Cameron and Women

The Fawcett Society, in conjunction with IpsosMORI, have published some interesting findings on David Cameron's appeal:

Just 9% of women say Cameron is more honest than most politicians, compared to 16% of men. 38% of women have yet to make up their mind about the new Conservative leader. Women put the NHS at the top of their political agendas with 40% of women ranking it as one of the two most important issues facing Britain compared to just 26% of men.

Dr Katherine Rake, Director of the Fawcett Society said,

“Today’s analysis knocks on the head the notion that women are more likely than men to be influenced by politicians’ personal appearance and style. It shows that women take a considered, and rather sceptical, approach to politics. Women’s levels of disenchantment with the Government are at an all time high, but this is not translating into a strong move towards Cameron and the Conservatives. Rather, women are currently assessing their options and now is the time that all political parties need to set out a bold vision that captures women’s interest, and ultimately their votes."

14 December 2006

For Stelios, Denial Isn't Just A River In Egypt

Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of Easyjet, is interviewed in the Guardian today. He doesn't seem to have a care in the world about rising emissions from aviation:

Q: Could it be that in another couple of years, taking short-haul flights could be as socially unacceptable as drink driving?
Stelios: No, I think that's unlikely.

Q: How will people travel in 10 years' time?
Stelios: More or less in the same way they travel now.
Stelios also insists that for "90% plus of our routes, there is no railway alternative."

Out of all the flights from Luton on the Easyjet website, I'll admit that that Luton to Belfast, Istanbul, Krakow, Riga and Warsaw are far voyages by train. Everything else is a train to Brussels or Paris, and then a night train where you save hotel costs for the night and wake up refreshed. So, where is the 90% of his network that he's talking about?

If emissions continue to rise in the aviation sector, the cuts needed in the remainder of the economy will be even more drastic.

Speaking of denial, Tony Blair is very good at the rhetoric of the need to do something about climate change. The problem is that when it comes to a pre-Budget report, it's timid. When it comes to codes for encouraging sustainble planning initiatives, it's voluntary. And, when it comes to rethinking the Aviation White Paper in light of the Stern Report, he just plain chickens out.

Sex Workers in Coventry

Lyn Matthews has a letter in the Guardian today. She set up one of the first outreach projects in Britain aimed at reducing drug-related harm and preventing the spread of HIV infection among Liverpool's street sex workers. She writes:

Draconian policing of the problem of street sex work only drives women further into the shadows. Yes, the law is the law; but when laws endanger some of the most vulnerable women in our society, then they are clearly at odds with humanity and wrong. Making women work longer hours to pay fines, hide in the shadows while trying to work undetected or serving ASBOs on them to prevent them from working make the laws and society complicit in the murders of these women [in Suffolk].
In November 2006, the Terrence Higgins Trust released a year-long study of Coventry women sex workers by their SWISH project (Sex Workers Into Sexual Health).

It found that drug use and housing conditions affect the risks sex workers take with their sexual health. Economic need was the main factor in starting sex work. Crack and heroin were a major problem for street-based sex workers, and more than half of respondents (51%) and all street based workers, had been homeless at some point in their lives. Finally, more than a third of women had been in prison at some point in their lives. Nearly half had received no support while in prison, and less than a quarter had been supported when they left prison.

The study recommended that:

- education and skills training was needed
- particular care should be given to supporting women leaving prison
- women who are homeless are more likely to take sexual risks which place a higher burden on public health
- women working in-doors are more likely to be in control of their personal and working lives.

Chloe, an ex-sex worker from Coventry said:

"Women who start work in the sex industry are often in a very desperate situation, either because of drug addiction or because they are in abusive and unhealthy relationships. Having the right support from projects like SWISH can really help them to regain control over their lives."
The SWISH study seems to mirror what has been adopted as official Green Party policy:

- All aspects of sex work involving consenting adults should be decriminalised. Workers in the sex industry should enjoy the same rights as other workers such as the right to join unions ... Legal discrimination against sex workers should be ended (for example, in child custody cases, where evidence of sex work is often taken to mean that a person is an unfit parent).

- Although people should be free to engage in sex work if they wish, this is an industry which can be more exploitative than others, and those who work in it should be adequately protected against such exploitation. There should be zero tolerance of coercion, violence, or sexual abuse (including child abuse). Those who have been trafficked into the country and forced to work in the sex industry against their will should receive protection under the law. There should be legal support for sex workers who want to sue those who exploit their labour unfairly, and access to re-training for those sex workers who want to leave the industry. As far as possible, public services, the Government and legal system should aim to end those social attitudes which stigmatise those who are, or have been, sex workers.

- The use of commercial premises as brothels should be legalised, and such brothels should be subject to licensing by local authorities to ensure protection of those working there and clients from abuse, and protection of the local community from nuisance and abuse ... Particular areas should be designated where street prostitutes can work in safety without upsetting local residents and traders. Such areas should be decided by negotiation between the police, prostitutes and/or their representatives, and the residents and/or their representatives.

- Local authorities and the health service should ensure that such street workers have ready access to health facilities and advice about the health risks of their work. Regular health checks should be available to all sex workers, free of charge, to protect both them and their clients.

12 December 2006

Local Authorities May Regain Control Over Buses

Labour's transport secretary, Douglas Alexander, is proposing that local authorities regain a say in timetables, frequencies and fares.

Local authorities could introduce their own local schemes, as well as permitting charities and community groups to provide services.

Stephen Joseph, director of Transport 2000, said: "We will also want to see more action to put the passenger at the centre of bus policy. While we welcome stronger powers for the traffic commissioners on punctuality, other passenger concerns like driver training, information, personal security and bus design are mentioned but no action is proposed."

John Whitelegg, a local Green Party councillor in Lancaster, and deputy chairman of the Local Government Association's transport and regeneration board, said:

"These proposals are a victory for common sense. The only way we can get more passengers on the buses is to give local people more say over services where they live. English councils outside London have been hamstrung by a system that has not allowed them to respond to local need. There is clear public support for giving local people more say over bus services. Councils want to change services people use for the better and create places where they can thrive."

David Cameron and Image

Until he went all pro-war, I used to read Nick Cohen every week. He's still worth checking out, though.

This week, he examines Frank Luntz, an American polling/focus group expert. It was Luntz's analysis, for Newsnight, of David Davis vs David Cameron that gave Cameron momentum, that gave him the mantle of "I can win back undecided voters." Now, even Conservatives are getting impatient with the lack of policy and the emphasis on husky dog spin and webcameron image.

The desperation of the Tories in 2005 produced an election without precedent. The findings of a focus group drove a hitherto obscure politician to the leadership of a major political party. Not a focus group hired by party managers anxious to uphold the best interests of their cause, but by a broadcaster as interested in entertainment as reputable market research.

British pollsters tell me that Luntz's work for Newsnight shouldn't have been allowed to influence a parish council election, never mind the future of a great party. Standard focus groups have six to eight members ... Newsnight had Luntz meet 28 voters ... focus groups are also meant to be focused ... Newsnight mixed up people who had always voted Tory with people who had once voted Tory and people who had never voted Tory. The danger of a large and diverse group is that the loudest voices will dominate and a herd mentality will take over.

Maybe it shouldn't be such a surprise that Mori reported in The Observer last week that Cameron's personal ratings had collapsed after his honeymoon period because voters didn't know what he believed in.

If you are created by the entertainment industry, you must expect the public to treat what you say as mere showbiz.
Jean Calder is a freelance journalist who writes a column for the Argus, in Brighton:

Cameron's ‘spin’ machine rivals anything Labour could have produced, and, of recent weeks he has been rewarded by a media love affair. He’s photogenic and highly skilled and has worked journalists like a trooper, carefully constructing an image of himself as a man of the people, essentially middle class, who cycles, shops at ASDA and looks after his disabled son. The newspapers have swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

His Eton education could have posed a problem for Cameron, but he managed to represent it as a school to which hard working middle class people send their children, rather than as the centuries old institution which has prepared generations of this country’s aristocracy for leadership. Cameron, as well as being the son of a well to do old Etonian stockbroker, is also, on his mother’s side, a descendant of King William 4th. He is married to the daughter of another old Etonian whose estate has been in the family since 1590.

This is no ‘ordinary’ couple. And he is no man of the people.

Cameron spent seven years with ITV television company Carlton, as head of corporate communications. Jeff Randall, ex BBC business editor writing in The Daily Telegraph where he is a senior executive, had dealings with him at that time. He said: “In my experience, Cameron never gave a straight answer when dissemblance was a plausible alternative, which probably makes him perfectly suited for the role he now seeks: the next Tony Blair.” He added that he would not trust Cameron “with my daughter’s pocket money”.

Sun business editor Ian King, recalling the same era, was even more cutting, describing Cameron as a “poisonous, slippery individual”.

Freedland wrote: “Again and again, Cameron may talk left, but he remains a man of the right. The work-life balance is a favoured theme, constantly advertising his own hands-on involvement in family duties, yet in 2002 he voted against a battery of measures that would have extended maternity leave to 26 weeks, raised maternity pay to and introduced 2 weeks paid leave for fathers as well as leave for adoptive parents. Most strikingly, given his own circumstances, he voted against giving parents of young or disabled children the right to request flexible working.”

11 December 2006

Al Gore Calls For "Carbon Freeze" Movement

Al Gore is calling for a mass movement in the US to freeze carbon emissions.

It would begin in 2007, and it would be similiar to the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980's.

Gore plans to enlist groups ranging from entrepreneurs and activists to political leaders to push for stronger policies to limit the growth of greenhouse gases.
Gore said the grass-roots campaign would put heat on leaders in Washington to come up with more sophisticated policies to address global climate change. Gore said the power of the freeze demand is that it can operate at every level of society -- individuals can take steps to cut their use of nonrenewable energies, and so can businesses and local and state governments.

As a senator and arms control specialist, Gore had opposed the nuclear freeze movement two decades ago because he thought it was "naive and simplistic." He said he has since recognized its impact on political leaders.

Upcoming Events in Coventry

- 12th December, 6pm to 10pm, full Coventry City Council Meeting, the Council House

- 12th December, 730pm, Coventry Green Party Meeting, The Grapevine Centre, Doe Bank Lane, Spon End

- 14th December, 730pm, Coventry Friends of the Earth, speaker meeting, a representative from Practical Action, speaking on "Appropriate Technology for Developing Countries," The Foyer, Lower Holyhead Road

- 14th December, 8pm onwards, an informal Xmas drink with Coventry Stop The War, at the Liquid Bar in the city arcade (formerly Virgin Records)

- 17th December, 12pm to 2pm, a meeting of Coventry Faslane 365, Coventry Peace House, a social lunch, with musicians and soup and the opportunity to get to know each other more, plus a plans update.

09 December 2006

Being Arrested For Trident

Hilary Wainwright, co-editor of Red Pepper, writes in the Guardian about her arrest during a protest at the Faslane nuclear base against the Trident nuclear deterrent.

Within the police force, there is respect for the nonviolent actions of people such as Angie Zelter, a past saboteur of Hawk jets bound for East Timor, and now one of the organisers of Faslane 365 ... A CID officer asked to be let into her cell to shake her hand to show his respect for the Hawk action.

Angie is midwife to a movement to stop up to £40bn being spent on weapons whose threatened use (the basis of nuclear deterrence) has been declared illegal by the international court of justice ... It was as clear as the glaring light of my police cell that nothing within the political system was going to change the government's decision. Democracy in the Labour party has all but been destroyed by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and sickening opportunism from many who should know better. The response of the Lib Dems has been pathetic.

Civil disobedience is the only way to give voice to the majority of people who want the UK to champion, not undermine, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and who want the billions being sunk in the Clyde to be spent on ending the poverty that feeds violent conflict.

08 December 2006

Christmas -- New Internationalist Website

A great place to browse about, if you're starting a frantic dash towards 25th December, is the "shop" section of the New Internationalist website.

The obvious gift is a subscription to the magazine itself, which is exceptionally strong on international and development issues.

But, they also have a range of books, t-shirts, music, stationery and food, notably:

- "Don't Shoot The Clowns" by Jo Wilding -- Wilding gave a reading from this at this year's Green Party conference in Hove. The blurb from NI reads: "This amazing book is one woman's account of living with Iraqi people during the war and its aftermath. She tells what daily life is really like in a country coping with invasion and occupation, and how she and a hastily recruited troupe of circus performers brought clowns, laughter and some moments of respite to the children of Iraq.

"Jo was the only one of us foreigners in Iraq who I was absolutely sure was doing something useful. She made thousands of children happy." - Naomi Klein

- "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter" A t-shirt based on a quotation from Martin Luther King, -- it comes in 100% unbleached organic cotton

Sir Nicholas Stern Quits Treasury Post

An interesting story from The Times. It casts more doubt on how environmental Gordon Brown would be as a PM.

Sir Nicholas Stern, the author of the Government’s report on climate change is to quit the Treasury, after friends said that he was frozen out of Gordon Brown’s inner circle. With embarrassing timing, Sir Nicholas' departure was announced a day after the Chancellor confounded expectations of a big shift towards a new environmental agenda in his Pre-Budget Report.

One well-placed government source told The Times that Mr Brown had to be persuaded within the Treasury even to take the steps he did, such was his lack of enthusiasm for green taxes.

Several Whitehall sources told The Times that Mr Brown did not like some of the advice he received from Sir Nicholas, including some “home truths” about long-term trends in the economy, and he never broke into the Chancellor’s tight-knit inner circle.

His doom-laden report on the risks of failing to address climate change, published in October, caused tensions within the Government by triggering a debate on environmental taxes and leading to calls for big policy changes ... Sir Nicholas’s stark warnings of overwhelming evidence of global warming highlighted differences between Mr Brown — who wanted to avoid unpopular tax rises — and David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, who pressed for green taxes, including a big rise in tax on gas-guzzling vehicles.

Next Green Party Meeting - 12th December

Our next monthly meeting will take place at 730pm on Tues 12th December.

It will be at the Grapevine centre in Spon End (on Doe Bank Lane).

On our agenda:

- ongoing opposition to the incinerator in Coventry, and plans for a super-incinerator for all of Warwickshire
- weekends in Jan/Feb/March for tables in the city centre, and on Earlsdon High Street
- a winter 2007 newsletter similar to the one we did in November
- topics for press releases in the lead-up to the May elections

If you're curious, come along, bring a few friends.

If you have any questions about the Coventry Green Party, feel free to contact me (sgredding2003@yahoo.co.uk, 07906 316 726).

07 December 2006

Gardening Allotments in Coventry

Some good publicity for allotments in today's Evening Telegraph.

Allotments cost £10 to £35 a year, depending on location and facilities, with reduced rates for those in receipt of benefit. For information about vacant plots contact Len Parnell on 024 7671 5290.

There are nearly 400 vacant allotment plots in the city, and allotment holders are encouraging others to grow their own vegetables and reap healthy benefits. Allotment holders in Holyhead Road, Coundon, celebrated a bumper crop this year and people are being encouraged to follow suit by taking on their own patch at other sites across the city.

Len Parnell, secretary of the Coventry and district allotments and gardens council, believes the new year is the perfect time for people to sign up for an allotment: "People tend to overindulge over Christmas and one of the best ways to get back into shape is by growing your own vegetables in the fresh air which is far better than being in a sweaty gym ... In the past 18 months a lot of younger women are taking them on and bringing their children along, which is probably to do with the current emphasis on healthy eating ... People can take it on for the following season and it's a marvellous social and community thing ... It really is an economical thing to do as well."

06 December 2006

Gordon Brown's Profoundly Unambitious Vision

You can read the entire pre-budget report here (it's 1.4MB and you'll need Adobe Acrobat reader).

- if all new homes will be zero carbon by 2016, that's too far in the future. FOE point out that "a far greater priority is the existing stock - each year new houses contribute just 1% to the overall stock. The overwhelming priority is measures for 99% of houses now, not 1% of houses in 10 years time."

- there was no increase in funding for the Low Carbon Buildings Programme (LCBP); what is desperately needed is assistance with the up-front capital costs of homeowners who want to do their bit and invest in microgeneration

- doubling Air Passenger Duty won't deter flying; research by the Civil Aviation Authority has revealed the average income of passengers passing through Stansted Airport last year topped £50,000 per annum. As Green MEP Caroline Lucas has said: "If this government is serious about tackling greenhouse gas emissions from transport - their fastest growing source - it could halt all aviation expansion and road-building schemes tomorrow."

on non-environmental matters:

- the new economics foundation is calling for "the decision to withdraw the Post Office Card Account to be reviewed in the light of new findings of the potentially devastating impact its withdrawal will have for post offices in urban deprived areas." Over the past two years, more than eight urban post offices have closed for every rural post office closed, with more than one in six of the urban post office closures taking place in deprived areas. Brown talks a good game on encouraging enterprise, but each post office saves small businesses in their direct vicinity in the region of £270,000 each year. As well, for every £10 earned in income, a post office generates £16.20 for its local economy.

- 1.5p on petrol won't get people out of their cars and onto trains, when the government remains committed to a privitised oligopolistic rail network (hmm, which train company should I use from Coventry to London, from Coventry to Manchester, from Coventry to Reading ... Virgin, Virgin or Virgin?)

- an honest Chancellor would outline the long-term costs of PFI projects across the country (paying on the never-never instead of from up-front taxation).

- the pre-budget report calls for every government department to examine each of their assets and consider the case for sale. A register of possible assets to be sold is to be published in January. Sounds like a mass part-privitisation of government for 2007.

- finally, it's funny how the report didn't mention the crisis over VAT on construction of Olympic sites, or the cost overruns that will inevitably come from a national ID card project, or our huge levels of personal debt.

05 December 2006

Pre-Budget Report by Gordon Brown

What should be in the pre-budget report?

Example one: the Irish wind power firm, Airtricity, is proposing a 10GW demonstration project -- enough power for over 8 million homes -- located offshore between the UK, the Netherlands and Germany. Has Blair heard about it? Yes. Supposedly, Blair has even discussed it with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Example two: The Guardian reported a few days ago that covering just 0.5% of the world's hot deserts with a technology called concentrated solar power (CSP) could provide the world's entire electricity needs. Europe would build a new high-voltage direct current electricity grid to allow the easy, efficient transport of electricity from a variety of alternative sources. The region could provide all its electricity needs by 2050 with barely any fossil fuels and no nuclear power. This would allow a 70% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from electricity production over the period.

Example three: Reuters reports that Brown is expected to raise some "green taxes" such as doubling air passenger duty which would raise an extra 1 billion pounds. He might also consider going back to the future and resuming the fuel duty escalator. But, if he does either one, let's see if he ringfences it. Any monies raised in such a way should go directly towards climate change projects (£100 worth of insulation in 10 million homes).

If climate change is an emergency, it needs to be reflected (get it, CSP, reflected) in the pre-budget report. It's time to think big.

Archbishop of Canterbury and Trident

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has said that many people would never accept the morality even of threatening destruction by "intrinsically indiscriminate" weapons, such as the Trident nuclear deterrent.

In July, a group of bishops (including the Bishop of Coventry) warned Mr Blair that the possession of Trident weapons was "evil" and "profoundly anti-God".

In September, the leader of the Anglican Church in Wales, Archbishop Barry Morgan, insisted that the money spent on it could instead save 16,000 children from dying from preventable diseases every day.

BBC News says that Williams is determined that a national debate on Trident should take place and that the Church of England's voice should be heard.

04 December 2006

Electoral Funding and Labour

Here are two handy links from the Electoral Commission:

Loans reported/credit facilities reported for political parties

A searchable register of all donations to political parties

Play around with it. You can search by party, by type of donation, by period (e.g. Q1 2005 to Q3 2005). It's fun for ages 9 to 99.

From Q1 2004 to the present, the Green Party has had 116 donations with an overall total of £353,736.69. Most of this is a bequest from the will of the late David Gillet (£132 000). Only 9 donations were for more than £5000. The Green Party is not hostage to any one interest. We want to be independent. That way, we can represent you without keeping one eye on our bank balance.

In comparison, from Q1 2004 to the present, the main parties reported the following:

- Labour: 3599 donations with an overall total of £ 47,279,666
- Lib Dems: 1368 donations with an overall total of £ 13,413,929
- Conservatives: 2769 donations with an overall total of £ 53,546,463.02

A number of loans to the Labour Party, the ones that all the political who-hah is being made about, are coming due.

It represents a big cash flow problem. In fact, it looks so constraining that any new Labour leader, elected by the party before or after the local elections in 2007, won't be able to go to the electorate to renew their mandate. They simply won't be able to afford to.

A 20 Mph Speed Limit For Coventry

10 people are killed, and 100 injured, every day on Britain's roads. 20mph speed limits, when properly enforced, have been shown to reduce casualties by 70% amongst child pedestrians.

A pedestrian struck at 20mph has a 95% chance of survival. This is reduced to a 50% chance of survival at 30mph.

Drivers, are the extra few minutes that you might save per week by gunning it between red lights, when driving through residential areas, worth this kind of risk?

01 December 2006

World AIDS Day

The Terrence Higgins Trust will be holding a candlelit vigil under the canopy at Broadgate at 6pm this afternoon to mark World AIDS Day.

The vigil will include a reading of names of those who have died. It will be followed by an interfaith service in Coventry Cathedral which starts at 7pm.

As well, on Saturday, there will be a fundraising night at Rainbows (Short Street), and an evening of awareness-raising cabaret at Dogme next Wed night. The Dogme event is a fundraiser for THT, and it starts at 8pm (£5 each or £8 for two). Tickets can be bought from George at THT in Coventry 024 7622 9292 or directly from Dogma.

You can download a poster to promote the events from this link at Coventry Unison's webpage.

30 November 2006

Coventry Coach for RAF Brize Norton Demo

A coach will leave this Saturday at 10am for the Stop the War Coalition demonstration at RAF Brize Norton.

The protest has been called by Bristol Stop the War Coalition, Oxford Stop the War Coalition, Oxford CND, Swindon Stop the War Coalition and CND, and Faringdon Peace Group. It's being supported by the national Stop the War Coalition, CND and the Green Party.

Brize Norton is Britain's biggest military base. It's the transport hub for all British troops going in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. It's also where soldiers killed or injured on active service are returned to the UK.

The coach from Coventry will leave the Swimming baths at 10am. Tickets will be £7/£4 unwaged. To reserve seats, please email Andy Pettit (apettit@macunlimited.net), or call him on 07732 030231.

For more info, go to: http://www.stopwar.org.uk/BrizeNorton.htm.

As well, George Monbiot had an interesting column this week about the UK's military industrial complex:

In the white paper that the MoD published at the end of 2003, it admits that "there are currently no major conventional military threats to the UK or Nato ... it is now clear that we no longer need to retain a capability against the re-emergence of a direct conventional strategic threat ... [the purpose of the armed forces is to meet] a wider range of expeditionary tasks, at greater range from the UK and with ever-increasing strategic, operational and tactical tempo". It wants to be able to fight either three small foreign wars at the same time or one large one, which "could only conceivably be undertaken alongside the US". In other words, our "defence" capability is now retained for the purpose of offence. Our armed forces no longer exist to protect us. They exist to go abroad and cause trouble.

A report published by the Oxford Research Group this summer argues that our defence policies are self-defeating. They concentrate on the wrong threats and respond to them in a manner which is more likely to exacerbate than to defuse them. The real challenges, it contends, are presented by climate change, competition over resources, the marginalisation of the poor and our own military deployments.

Christmas - Organic Cotton

Keep an eye out for organic cotton products this Christmas.

Cotton crops in India, America and China demand thousands of tonnes of pesticides, which are sprayed on fields from the air. Just one t-shirt takes an estimated 150g of pesticide to cultivate.

Cotton is extremely prone to insect attack and, with over-use of pesticides, it means that insects are building immunity. Growers then need to increase their use of pesticides simply to ensure crop survival.

We can break that cycle if we support growers of organic cotton.

Another option are shirts that are a blend of organic hemp and organic cotton. Using 55% hemp in a t-shirt, instead of 100% cotton, saves more than 100 gallons of water.

29 November 2006

David Cameron and Wind Turbines

In a Nov/Dec 2006 issue of the magazine "Green Futures," David Cameron expressed enthusiastic support for decentralised energy:

"We need local generation, with people selling energy back to the grid, and a massive increase in combined heat and power ... the technology is there, the materials are there, prices are coming down ... this really is a whole new exciting world! ... I want every opportunity for green sources of energy to come through."
It's a stark contrast to the delays and bureaucracy referred to in the Coventry Telegraph on Monday.

Which are the real Conservatives ... the ones who have the luxury of rhetoric due to being in Opposition at Westminster ... or the ones in control in local councils who keep barriers in the way of decentralised energy?

27 November 2006

Wind Turbines in Coventry

The Telegraph has a two-part story today on wind turbines in Coventry:

part one:

part two:

Keith Baughan ordered a £1500 wind turbine for his house, and to help out, he received a £500 grant from the Low Carbon Buildings Energy Trust. However, he has had to pay £135 for the planning application, then have drawings done of his house, and when a neighbour put in an objection, he was asked to carry out a "full acoustic assessment."

Baughan says:
"That's something I can't do on a wind turbine that I don't actually have. The company themselves are doing an assessment but that will take up to six months. By that time the deadline for the grant (of £500) will have run out."

"I find it ironic that they are more worried about noise pollution than they are about global warming. Every politician shakes their green credentials at you. I can get a grant from the DTI, I can buy a turbine - I just can't put it up! It's been made so difficult and expensive that it's no longer really viable. I'm on the verge of giving up."
David Cameron’s rhetoric will only be credible if Conservative-controlled councils put it into action. Otherwise, people will see through them, and up and down the land, they'll vote for the Green Party.

Citizens like Keith Baughan should be empowered, not deterred. The council should encourage ways of putting wind turbines, combined heat and power units, solar panels or ground-source heat pumps on every 3rd building in Coventry.

A good start would be to make planning applications for renewable energy free of charge.

Anti-Racism Events in Coventry

Warwick University is having its Rise Against Racism week from 27th November until 1st December.

It will include films, talks and workshops, notably:

Wed 29th November -- a talk by David Michael, retired chief superintendent, about his experiences in the police force and the speakers will also draw on the problems within the police force and what needs to be done so that it can change

Thu 30th November -- a workshop on refugee identity, with Laurence Chester, Chair of the National Refugee Integration Forum, and Penny Walker, Coventry Peace House

Fri 1st December -- a talk on fighting the BNP and why they are a threat to society.

There was also the recent "Coventry Love Music Hate Racism" launch party, on the 20th of November:

Caron McKenna, spokesperson for Coventry Love Music Hate Racism said, ‘Far right groups like the BNP are actively trying to undermine the reputation of our city as a place where people from many different backgrounds and cultures work, live and enjoy ourselves together. Two Tone music represented the idea that music can bring black and white people together to enjoy and energise ourselves, and learn that we best solve our problems by working together rather than blaming the first scapegoat that the racists suggest. The Love Music Hate Racism campaign will counter the distortions being spread by some sections of the media, opportunist politicians and the hatemongers of the British National Party. We aim to continue the tradition of Coventry as a city that unites people and that shows the racists the door’.

24 November 2006

Table in Bull Yard - Sat Nov 25th

We're going to have an information table tomorrow at Bull Yard from 10am to 1pm. We'll have copies of our autumn newsletter, a petition, and other information about the Green Party and our policies. I think that 300 000 people live in our city, and only 11 000 have had the choice over the last year to vote Green, and we need to have a more public presence to ensure that people are aware that we even exist! Our monthly meetings are the 2nd Tues of the month, so give us a call on 07906 316 726 if you want more information.

Peak Oil and Coventry

I recently wrote to Paul Jennings (Manager, Financial Strategy, Coventry City Council) on a number of matters:

- will the ward forum structure be used for financial/environmental consultation, e.g. if there was a design for a new Whoberley library that was more environmental (costing more now, saving more in the long-term), would that be put to consulation at the community level?
- does the council have an "take it off the shelf" plan to deal with a drastic rise in energy prices, i.e. the onset of peak oil disruption to the global economy
- do they reimburse council staff who use their bike for doing council business?
- would they consider putting department by department, building by building, reports on energy use to the council's relevant scrutiny committee? (scrutiny is where councillors grill other councillors, council staff, over performance/targets)

In a letter dated 17 November, Jennings provided 2 pages of answers, some nuggets:

- "given the very recent introduction of the ward forum structure, it is probably too early for any forthcoming projects to have been considered by such meetings ... I have forwarded a copy of your letter to the office responsible for co-ordinating ward forums"

- "it is fair to say that the council has no off-the-shelf plan specifically designed to tackle a drastic rise in energy costs ... this risk is not one that is currently included within our Risk Register ... we keep the risk register under regular review to ensure that it accurately reflects the risks that we face"

- "the Council's travel reimbursement scheme already allows staff who cycle on Council business to be reimbursed at 20p per mile ... we also have a car pool of 4 cars, two electric, two hybrid, administered through our sustainable transport team ... we are about to commence a pilot car-sharing scheme for staff who operate out of Whitley Depot"

- "feedback from our energy efficiency motivational campaign will be delivered through an officer forum, rather than through our scrutiny process"

I'm shocked at the lack of plan to deal with the possibility of peak oil.

The largest oil field in the world, Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, is now declining by 8% in output year on year. Burgan, in Kuwait, is the 2nd largest, and it had its peak of production in 2004. With increasing demand worldwide, something's gotta give, and the idea that global energy prices will be benign for the next 5 years is foolhardy.

Christmas -- Fair Trade Spices

There is a growing market for fair trade products like chocolate, bananas, and coffee. But, there are so many other products where the fair trade principle applies.

Steenbergs is one way that you can obtain fairtrade vanilla, white and black pepper, cloves and nutmeg for all of your Xmas cooking.

Pepper In India is traditionally grown in smallholdings of 5 hectares. Many growers grow pepper intercropped with coconut, coffee and other spices, so annual production is around 1 tonne of black pepper per family. These small producers face fluctuating pepper prices which have been on a downward trend in recent years – black pepper now is worth less than in 1990. This is a result of pricing pressure, coupled with increased exports from countries like Vietnam, which has grown its share of global trade from 0% to 37% since 1990. Low prices have resulted in lack of investment as growers sell their crop below production cost. We estimate that the cost of sustainable production for black pepper is £1,645 where the market price is £1,115 per tonne. Constant pricing pressure is destroying these fragile rural economies, reducing environmental standards, health and education in parts of Kerala and elsewhere.

23 November 2006

Nick Clarke -- Host of WATO -- Dies

I used to work, for 25 months, as a media monitor.

That's fancy language for being poorly paid and getting up at 5am to go to work for 630am to listen to radio and watch TV and type up live news summaries.

Every third week, the rota called for me to listen to Radio 4 (630am to 9am, 12pm to 130pm) and bits and bobs of other Radio 4 programmes (including Farming Today, probably the most underrated news programme in the country).

It was great listening to The World At One. The pips would go off, and Nick Clarke would just jump in, give a perfect 20 second synopsis of the next half-hour, there'd be a news summary for a few minutes, and then it would be the tightest 27 minutes in radio.

He passed away yesterday, cancer. The link is a 45 minute audio diary he kept, beginning with the news that he would have to have his leg amputated.

The Top 100 Green Blogs

Jim Jay (and his Daily Maybe blog) have compiled a list of the top 100 green blogs in the UK.

We should all thank Jim Jay. It was the most important list I'll ever read. It has changed the way I feel; it will change the way I act. It has given me courage that I didn't know I had inside me. I'm one of hundreds of thousands whose life has changed for the better.

We're number 56 ... "number 56 ... with a bullet" doesn't have the same ring to it, but after looking at some in the top 15, notably Transition Culture, it's clear that there is far more ways that I can develop the blog.

21 November 2006

Debate on Replacing Trident

An interesting series of letters in the Guardian this morning on replacing/abandoning the Trident nuclear deterrant:

Your article doesn't mention the fifth option the government must consider: to abandon plans for Trident replacement, to take Trident off patrol and confine warheads to an internationally monitored site in the UK. The UK could then credibly lead efforts to strengthen international disarmament negotiations. This would make us all safer, and provide reassurance to those who believe the UK should not be entirely without a nuclear option while other nations have the bomb.
Dr Dominick Jenkins
Greenpeace disarmament campaigner

The real time for a decision on Trident's scrapping or replacement will be under the government's fresh leadership. It can't be rushed through before the Downing Street removal vans arrive.
David Partridge
Co-chair, Clergy Against Nuclear Arms

When, exactly, are we going to have the full and open public debate that the Labour party policy has promised us? If the decision is taken quickly, in parliament and debate stifled by party whips, where is the democracy in that? Or are democratic ideals for export only?
Joy Hurcombe
Worthing, West Sussex

20 November 2006

Budget Flights vs The Train - Part III

The House of Commons environmental audit committee has called for an increase in air travel tax to factor in the environmental cost of flying, with the number of aircraft in the world set to double to 25,000 by 2025.

The majority of flights in Europe cover a distance of 310 miles or less. (It's also interesting that half of UK car journeys are 3 miles or less). Trains offer competitive travel times across the continent at a fraction of the cost in emissions caused by aviation. If you're going to the continent for a week, just allow an extra half-day. It's fun to play with the daddy of train websites -- the Deutsche Bahn website. The 1320 departure from Coventry, after a few changes, ends up arriving in Vienna at 0906 the next morning.

Hadley Freeman, in the Guardian, describes going by train from London to Ibiza (train-train-catamaran).
Flying has long lost its veneer of time-saving efficiency in my eyes … [Flying] does not take into account the amount of time you spend schlepping out to the airport on the hilariously named Stansted Express, queuing to check in, hanging around, watching your flight get cancelled, getting to the other end, waiting for your luggage and then getting into town. When I went to Ibiza last summer with some friends for a holiday, I left my flat at 10:30am and did not get to the villa at the other end until 7pm Spanish time.

There is something both literally and metaphorically grounding about travelling down at land level as opposed to being up in the air. You somehow feel more in control of your journey. You keep all your goods on you, giving you a sense of control, and the staff at least make a pretence of giving individual attention. And you know that if anything terrible happens, well, there isn't far to fall.

Knock-knock. "Miss Freeman? Will you come to dinner now?" Oh, well, if you insist. So off we all head to the dining car, which really does have white tablecloths - prompting another squeal. I eat an impressively delicious dinner while watching the French countryside whoosh past and the moon rise.

Climate Change and Mobile Species

Migratory species (e.g. birds and turtles) develop their patterns patterns over thousands of years. Our changes to the global environment through carbon emissions are leading to changes in temperature over an extremely short timescale -- the next 25 to 50 years.

- For turtles, higher temperatures affect the ratio of female to male eggs. Some turtles also become more prone to cancer as the waters warm.
- One-fifth of bird species are threatened by climate-related impacts including rising sea levels, coastal erosion and more vigorous storms that literally blow them off course
- The North Atlantic right whale's food -- plankton -- is disturbed by shifting ocean currents

We're changing the global ecosystem, and it will lead to many species not being able to adapt in time.

We'd be pretty pissed off if whales were making humans extinct. Bush would declare a war on whale terror. You're either with the belugas or against the belugas.

Instead, we just blunder on as a species, convincing ourselves that we have "dominion over the earth", and ruining the globe for everything else.

19 November 2006

A Call for a Zero Waste Society

Prof Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser, along with the left-centre think-tank, the IPPR, are both calling for a "zero waste" society.

Taxes would be applied to disposable products such as razors and cameras. People would be encouraged buy more lasting products. The study argues that consumers should learn to repair and reuse items rather than throwing them out, as well as recycling more. The think-tank report wants manufacturers to be compelled to design durable products that can be reused rather than throwaway plastic that will need regular, and profitable, replacement. More controversially, it recommends that councils should charge householders for taking away non-recyclable rubbish: Britons throw away more than 300 million tonnes of rubbish every year and recycle less than half of it.

'We have become an increasingly throwaway society, reliant on cheap, disposable and hard to recycle goods,' said Nick Pearce, the think-tank's director. 'Business needs to take greater responsibility for the whole life of a product.'
Everything we buy is, ultimately, made from materials which can be repaired, reused or recycled. In those cases where they cannot, products should be redesigned to fit into such a system.

As of 2001, 40% of local authorities in New Zealand have signed up to zero-waste policies. New Zealand is predicting the creation of 40,000 jobs over 10 years through converting local transfer stations to resource recovery centers, and through the resulting proliferation of reuse and recycling businesses.

Read up on this "citizen's agenda" for zero waste policies.

We need to have widespread distribution of these kinds of lists (of appliance repair, shoe repair, computer donations, lighting repair, places to exchange used furniture, etc).

Films on Cuban Heath Care in Birmingham

On the 15th of December, the Midlands Arts Centre (in Cannon Hill Park, opposite Edgbaston Cricket Ground) will have two documentaries on Cuban health care.

Cuba has the highest life-expectancy in Latin America. In 2002, Cuba had the lowest infant mortality rate in the Americas along with Canada. Preventative medical care, medication for hospitalised patients and diagnostic tests are free. Cuba provides a doctor for every 170 residents and has the second highest doctor to patient ratio in the world after Italy.

This kind of healthcare can be achieved if government makes it a priority.

In 1976, healthcare was enshrined in article 50 of the Cuban constitution: "Everyone has the right to health protection and care. The state guarantees this right by providing free medical and hospital care by means of the installations of the rural medical service network, polyclinics, hospitals, preventative and specialized treatment centers; by providing free dental care; by promoting the health publicity campaigns, health education, regular medical examinations, general vaccinations and other measures to prevent the outbreak of disease. All the population cooperates in these activities and plans through the social and mass organizations."

The two films that MAC will show are:

"Let There Be Light" -- a look at the 200 000 people from Latin America and the Caribbean who hae received free eye operations in a joint Cuban-Venezuelan initiative.

"On the Hillside of the Himalayas," -- a look at Cuba's sending of 2,465 health workers to Pakistan in the wake of the October 2005 earthquake.
Cuba's contribution of 32 new, state-of-the-art hospitals will greatly improve Pakistan’s healthcare system. The departing staff will train local health workers before they leave, and the Cuban government has generously offered 1,000 seats in its universities to Pakistani medical students.

"It is a tremendous effort and incredible story," said Maj-Gen Farooq Ahmed Khan, head of Pakistan’s earthquake emergency unit. "The fact is that they have been here for over five months, day and night with no real relief. They left their loved ones and the work in Cuba, and they have really created a very good impression in Pakistan."

Usmani Ramos, a general practitioner specialising in family healthcare, is part of the Cuban team. He said he is motivated by a basic belief in humanity: "If you help people during natural disasters, in the future, they will help you," he said. "Solidarity is important, because you can help people, you can make friends. And friendship is better than weapons."

17 November 2006

The Problem With GDP

A major difference between the mainstream "grey" political parties (the Lib Dems, Labour, the Tories) and the Green Party is our attitude towards the economy.

Our economic system only counts certain things. It doesn't recognise the value of unpaid labour, and it doesn't recognise the value of environmental resources.

When the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred, the clean-up costs, media activity, legal expenses and salvage operations made a huge contribution to Alaska's economic "growth" -- on paper, the spill contributed to economic prosperity.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) doesn't account for qualitative changes, in the mix of economic activity, or in the quality of our goods and services. Pollution, crime, sickness, accidents, and natural disasters can register as contributing to prosperity. Bottled water, rather than free and clean tap water, is literally “better for the economy”, simply because more money is spent on the former.

Part of our uphill struggle is to convince the public that spending more for ethically-sourced goods makes sense, since their value (not the monetary, but their societal value) is greater than non-ethical goods.

Similarly, the hundreds of millions of pounds spent each month on new automobiles, on petrol, on road building -- these show up as "adding value" to the GDP, to how we keep track, quantitatively, of the economy's progress. We now realise that carbon emissions are slowly cooking the planet, and car use is part of the problem. If it's part of the problem, it shouldn't be seen as adding value to the economy.

Everytime you see an "economic" decision, ask yourself, is it adding value to the real economy -- the economy that you know and I know exists -- an economy where people matter and the environment matters and quality of life matters.

Margaret Hodge, Tony Blair and Iraq

So, Margaret Hodge, minister for industry, has been quoted as saying that Iraq was Tony Blair's "big mistake," and that she had doubts in 1998 about Blair's attitude to foreign affairs because he had espoused "moral imperialism" -- trying to impose British values and ideas on other countries.

The comments were noted by The Islington Tribune, a north London local newspaper. Hodge made the comments at a private dinner with The Fabian Society think-tank, attended by the newspaper's editor.

Memorably, Hodge added: "I hope this isn't going to be reported."

16 November 2006

Building Towards the May 2007 Elections

Coventry will have elections in 2007 and 2008, then an off year in 2009. We ran in Earlsdon in May 2006 and gained 16% of the vote.

We'd like to run in a number of wards in 2007, to give even more people the opportunity to vote Green.

Recently, we leafletted half of Earlsdon (Winnifred, Spencer, Broadway,Newcombe, Poplar, Westwood, Huntingdon, Stanway, Mickleton, Mayfield, Berkeley N and S, Moor, Arden, Avondale, Osborne, Providence, Styvechale, Stanley, Palmerston, Warwick, Clarendon, Myrtle, Rochester, Beechwood, Bates, Innis and half of the Riddings).

What we need are people who want to keep this process going.

If you can put up 10 A4 posters in your local shops that advertise our next monthly meeting (2nd Tues in December), that would be great. If you would like to help with door-to-door canvassing in Earlsdon to follow up this leaflet, that would be helpful.

We also need people with skills like: events organising, letter writing, media outreach or fundraising.

You can reach me on 07906 316 726, or on, sgredding2003@yahoo.co.uk.

Network Rail and Small Schemes Budget

Each year, Network Rail has a budget of £50 million to spend on small schemes (costing up to £5 million each).

Such schemes could include extra platforms at cramped stations, a second track on single-track sections of line and new junctions to allow trains to cross at higher speeds.

Last year, it only spent £4m of its £50m budget. This year, it only plans to spend £26 million of its £50m.

From a list of 171 urgent projects, Network Rail could name only five where work had begun.

When more than a billion rail journeys are made each year, you have to wonder what's going on.

15 November 2006

"One Friday" -- Muslims in Britain

In early November, the Guardian asked Muslims from around the country -- "from a rear admiral to an organic farmer, a rapper to a gay rights campaigner, an accountant to a niqab-wearing teacher" -- to talk about what they had done on a given Friday.

Part one can be found here.

Part two can be found here.

The BBC also has an archived set of interviews with young British Muslims that can be found here.

Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, 40
Imam, Leicester

I began with early-morning prayers at the mosque. It was half-term so the kids were at home. I have four boys. The youngest two have chickenpox so I bought medicine for them. I fed the fish, made breakfast and filled the car up. I went to Mothercare with my wife. I went through my emails. I get lots - many from people I don't know - asking for guidance on all kinds of matters. I also dealt with media requests. I went to mosque for Friday prayer, where I had discussions with people about the veil and Iraq. I act as a point of contact in a community. Muslims are worried that their lives will become harder. Some have removed the visible signs of their faith, which is not good. It is important for me to be visible and accessible so people can approach me. I try to attend mosque five times a day. If I have engagements I plan it so I pray within the allocated time. A meeting in London took up nine hours, so I didn't get home until midnight.
Sima Ajam, 25
Solicitor, London

When the media make programmes about Muslims, they invariably go to socially deprived areas. A new generation came here in the mid-1980s and early 1990s to seek education and go into respected professions. However, we are portrayed solely as unemployed, working class poor. People need to see that a new generation of teachers, doctors and lawyers is contributing to British society.

Education is the most important thing. Our community leaders need to be more encouraging to Muslim youth. At the moment they just make them hard-hearted, when the imams should teach them to know about the importance of achieving.

14 November 2006

"Gay Abandon" at Coventry Libraries

The Coventry Central Library has a new display, "Gay Abandon," that focuses on fiction and non-fiction books, as well as DVDs, by gay, lesbian and bisexual people. It's front and centre, between the enquiry desk and the racks with the DVDs.

I was told by library staff that, eventually, it will tour regional libraries. The council's website on the display also mentions that there will be upcoming events linked to the initiative.

I was taken aback by the Coventry Telegraph's stance with their "gay sex in the woods" expose over the summer. Ok, it was sex in the woods, but it was consensual gay sex between adults in the woods, and the Telegraph kept referring to it as sordid, disgusting, depraved and frightening. I spotted "Palimpsest" by Gore Vidal on the display's shelf. I found it a rivetting read when I was on vacation in San Francisco in 1997, and it brought back memories of living for 6 weeks in a very queer-positive, sex-positive, city.

There are postcards to send off with feedback on the exhibit, or you can email the Library's officer in charge of the exhibit at: Marc.Williams@coventry.gov.uk. Let him know that it's the kind of exhibit we need more of in Coventry.

Leave Excess Food Packaging At Checkout

It's ok. A government minister is telling you to do it.

Environment minister Ben Bradshaw is telling shoppers to leave excessive wrapping at the tills and report stores to trading standards in an attempt to cut the amount of unnecessary plastic sent to landfill sites.

Packaging has increased by 12% between 1999 and 2005, and now accounts for one-third of an average household's total waste.

But, why should supermarkets make changes? The maximum fine that can be levied under existing laws on "essential packaging requirements" is £5,000, and Bradshaw is giving supermarkets until 2010 to make voluntary changes.

Packaging has increased by 12% over 6 years, so he'll give them 4 more years to make changes. And the Guardian describes this as a "hardline" approach. Incredible.

What is needed, when we go for a shop, is to adopt a zero waste approach:

- Bring a rucksack. Bring a canvass bag. Save up plastic bags from previous shops.
- Avoid over-packaged goods. If enough of us avoid them, the market signal will be to stock tomatoes loose in a bin, not in some sort of black plastic tray.
- When you're comparing goods, think about how you could recycle what you buy ... i.e. buy products in glass, rather than plastic.

Blair Faces Revolt over Carbon Cuts

The Queen's Speech is tomorrow, Tony Blair's final kick at the can, legislation-wise.

Unfortunately, Blair is still refusing to implement annual legally-binding targets for carbon emissions. It could lead to a heavy Commons revolt on the issue.

The opposition parties and more than 200 Labour MPs have demanded that the Climate Change Bill include a promise to reduce C02 emissions by 3 per cent each year. Without a compromise, the Government looks certain to trigger a rebellion on a scale that could wipe out its majority.

Michael Meacher, the former environment minister, who tabled the motion demanding yearly reductions, said Mr Blair's preference for targets over a longer period such as 10 years was a mistake. It could mean action being delayed until the seventh or eighth year and then the target being abandoned as impossible.
It makes little sense: his rhetoric about global warming and climate change doesn't match the actions, the minimum actions needed, to deal with it.

13 November 2006

Green Podcasts

The New Oxford defines a podcast as "a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player," and I haven't found a better definition.

You can find a number of Christian Aid podcasts archived here, with special focuses on Haiti, Africa and world agriculture.

Greenpeace has archived Clare Short at the Hay Festival speaking on opposition to Trident.

The Soil Association has a few here, on organic farming, youth, their 60th anniversary, and GM.

Health Professionals and Climate Change

The British Medical Journal has set up a "carbon council" with the objective of harnessing the intelligence and imagination of health professionals to expedite the transition to a low carbon world.

The four aims of the council are:

- to recruit as many health professional as possible to act and act now
- to identify the most effective low carbon policies that when implemented will reduce greenhouse gas emissions
- to establish a coalition of health professionals to act as policy advocates nationally and internationally
- to encourage individual lifestyle change among health professionals around the world

Climate change related rises in sea level and changing food growing patterns will lead to massive social disruption, with the increased likelihood of resource wars, the spread of many "tropical" diseases, and a greatly increased burden of ill health. The BMJ's contribution will be to present the evidence for the health damaging impacts of climate change, both in the developed and developing world, and the health benefits of moving towards low carbon living.

Public Meeting on Islamophobia in Coventry

It'll take place on Thursday, 16th November, 730pm, at the Friends Meeting House. That's on Hill Street, leading off Corporation Street towards the ring road, behind Bonds Hospital.

There was a recent attack on Fairfax Street in the centre of town upon a woman wearing the hijab, and many of the reader reactions in the Evening Telegraph to the "wear your veil in court" series of articles could be summarised as "do as Jack Straw tells you or go back where you came from." It'll be important to attend, if only to hear a variety of opinions on the issue.

Speakers will include: Zubada Akhtar (Birmingham Unison), Ashad Ali (Stop the War Coalition), Dawud Bone (Coventry Circle), Rev. Viv Gasteen (Methodist Central Hall), Paul McGowan (Churches Together in Earlsdon & Chapelfields), Cllr. Andy Matchet (Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, Health and Equalities), and Balbir Sohal (Advisory Teacher Citizenship, PSHE & Equalities).

11 November 2006

Budget Flights vs The Train - Part II

An interesting series of letters in the Guardian this morning, on the positive aspects to taking sleeper trains to Europe, versus Michael O'Leary's (the CEO of Ryanair) scorn for the environmental damage of short-haul flights.

The seat61.com website shows how it is possible, via Eurostar, to travel in a single night to many European cities, such as Zurich, Berlin and Vienna. French and German railways also run an excellent network of sleeper-motor-rail services during the summer, serving resorts in southern France, Italy, Austria, Germany and Croatia. It is an ideal way for a family to travel long-distance and a huge adventure for children, who are not confined to their seats but have the freedom of an individual cabin and the whole length of the train.
Steve Travis

How right you are. My wife and I recently visited Marrakech and the Atlas mountains, taking sleeper trains through France, Spain and Morocco. We visited fascinating cities en route and were responsible for fewer carbon emissions than any flight. So, no thank you, Mr O'Leary of Ryanair, we don't need your "most environmentally friendly" flights (Report, November 2).
Alan Dean
Stansted Mountfitchet

EasyJet's claim that only 8% of its flights are "in any competition with railways" is incorrect (Environmental activists target easyGroup, November 7). The figure is about 80%. The only destinations not also served by uninterrupted rail routes are: Belfast, Calgari, Casablanca, Ibiza, Mahon, Olbia and Palma.
Owen King

10 November 2006

The Lottery vs Public Funding

How have we come to a point when public services, needed public services, truly innovative public services, are funded this way?

Eco-gardening? Look to the Lottery. Healthy, affordable food at a cyber-cafe? Look to the Lottery.

These are the kinds of projects that should be funded out of general taxation, not some sort of spin-the-wheel, X-factor-showdown, on ITV local news.
On Monday 13 November, The Barracks Lane Ecological Community Garden project in Oxford will go head to head with The Podsmead Neighbourhood Y-Pod Cafe project in Gloucestershire.

The Barracks Lane Ecological Community Garden project would use the award to build an ecological horticultural workshop space in a community garden. Project staff would teach local community members the skills they need to help build and maintain the eco-building workshop. The building would include compost toilets facilities and use solar electricity.

In Gloucestershire, the Podsmead Neighbourhood project would use the award to transform their former offices into a contemporary cyber-cafe. The Y-Pod Cafe would provide free internet access and serve healthy, affordable food. The project would also refurbish the current kitchen area into a wet art room.

Jon Snow and Remembrance Poppies

Poppies really bother me.

Don't get me wrong. My grandfather fought in WWII (Irish Guards), my uncle fought in Korea (Canadian Air Force). I took a tour of WWI battlefields in Belgium in 1998 and stood at the frontline in the 1st Battle of Ypres, when mustard gas was used to liquefy Canadian lungs. I hate war, and I hope we all mean it when we say, "never again."

But, that's the problem, you see, the utter hypocrisy of the weeks leading up to Remembrance Sunday.

The PM and his cabinet, and hundreds of other MPs and city councillors, up and down the land, who support the war in Iraq, who voted for arms sales, who don't say boo to countries that make war upon their citizens (like Russia), all wearing poppies. Business leaders who sell arms wearing poppies. People whose pension funds invest in defence industry and arms sales wearing poppies.

If we say "never again," we should really mean "never again" ... not never again except for Iraq ... or never again except for selling arms to both India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

On a related note, I really appreciate Jon Snow having the guts to break with other newsreaders/presenters and refuse to wear a poppy on-air.

He said that "I am begged to wear an AIDS ribbon, a breast cancer ribbon, a Marie Curie flower ... You name it, from the Red Cross to the RNIB, they send me stuff to wear to raise awareness, and I don't. And in those terms, and those terms alone, I do not and will not wear a poppy. Additionally there is a rather unpleasant breed of poppy fascism out there - 'He damned well must wear a poppy!'. Well I do, in my private life, but I am not going to wear it or any other symbol on air."

A Super-Incinerator For Coventry?

The Telegraph reported on the 8th of November about secret negotiations for a "super-incinerator" to service waste from Coventry, Warwickshire and Solihull.

Follow the logic: the Whitley "waste to energy" plant will reach the end of its "useful life" in 10 to 15 years, so they want to make a decision now on its replacement. They're assuming that they'll do so little to encourage recycling, that 10-15 years from now, we still won't be recycling enough, and we'll still need an incinerator.

It's such a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Part of the justification for the incinerator is that it generates electricity for Coventry homes. Well, we should be working towards having a greater and greater percentage of homes in the city powered by "green" energy from renewable sources, not burning plastic.

Keith Kondrakor, a Green Party member in Nuneaton, has done a great deal of research and lobbying, and generally being a busy bee, on the issue of incineration in the county.

Friends of the Earth thinks they're taking the wrong approach and should be looking to recycle more than two-thirds of rubbish.
Senior waste and resources campaigner Michael Warhurst said: "In Flanders in Belgium they're already recycling 71 per cent of waste, which is a demonstration of what you can do."

He said a better way was to recycle out all glass, plastics, metals, paper, then use a special process to treat biological waste, including food, so it doesn't emit the green house gas methane.

Then the resulting residue could safely go to landfill.

Autumn Newsletter / November Meeting

We've printed our Autumn Newsletter, two sides of A4, and we're beginning to distribute it throughout Coventry, mainly in the ward of Earlsdon, where we ran in May 2006. We've covered (or are about to) 13 streets so far, and we aim to distribute more this coming weekend and next week.

If you haven't received a copy yet, and want one, drop me an email at sgredding2003@yahoo.co.uk, or give me a call on 07906 316 726.

Our next monthly meeting will happen on Tuesday, the 14th of November, at The Grapevine, Doe Bank Lane, Spon End, at 730pm.

09 November 2006

Shortage of Flu Jabs in Coventry

Some GP surgeries in Coventry are struggling to get a steady supply of flu jabs.

Maxine Simmons, practice manager at Kenyon Medical Centre in Chace Avenue, Willenhall, says the surgery is struggling to get supplies for the vaccine and some lower priority patients are being forced to wait. She said: "I do think it's a problem in Coventry as well as nationally ... At the moment we have run out but we have two deliveries this month ... We have arranged for staggered deliveries but it's difficult in that the majority of people want it in October ... We are being advised to prioritise people aged over 65 and people with chronic diseases. It's not available for everybody."

US Election Aftermath

A few interesting things from the US elections, both for state governor races and for the House of Representatives:

- First female Speaker of the House (leader of the majority party) in history, Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker is 3rd in line to the presidency, so you can make an argument that she's the most powerful woman in American politics in years.
- Bernie Sanders was elected as a senator from Vermont. Sanders was a long-standing Congressman, but he identifies as a democratic socialist, and he called in his campaign for universal health care.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger was re-elected as the govern-a-tor of California by distancing himself from George Bush and by embracing environmental policies over the last year
- 6 states passed ballot measures (state wide votes to bring in binding laws) on raising the minimum wage. The national minimum wage ($5.15, that's £2.70) hasn't risen in the US since 1997.
- The Democrats, with control of the House, are now pledging to implement all the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, raise the minimum wage, cut the interest rate on student loans by half, negotiate for lower prescription drug prices, end subsidies for Big Oil, and allow federal support of embryonic stem-cell research.

06 November 2006

Budget Flights vs The Train

Today was a national day of action against short-haul flights, led by a group called Plane Stupid.

18 from the group (12 on the roof, 6 at the front entrance) targeted EasyJet's headquarters in London.

Aviation may only account for 3% of UK global warming emissions, but it's a sector that is expanding. The government's Aviation White Paper from 2003 predicted that air travel would treble by 2030 (from 180 million annual journeys to 501 million). Runway additions or extensions are planned around the country.

If the air travel sector of the economy keeps expanding, we'll need to make far deeper cuts in emissions across all other sectors of the economy. Trains are over 10 times less polluting, and besides, trains are more fun. I've taken trains from Hong Kong to Helsinki, from Chicago to LA, from San Francisco to Detroit, and what would I have seen if I had flown ... the inside of a plane.

Even farther destinations, say, Venice, aren't really far. Train to London, Eurostar to Paris, TGV to Geneva, and if you time it right, sleeper train to Venice, so that you wake up beside gondolas.

UNISON Blog on Single-Status Campaign

The UNISON campaign against the single-status decisions by Coventry City Council has been maintaining a blog. BBC Coventry had a live debate on the issue last Friday at 10am. Here is some background info on the single status debate.

Spending Money on Trident or Climate Change?

The government allocates less than £1 billion per year to directly tackle climate change ... this despite the rhetoric of Tony Blair. To put that into perspective, the Ministry of Defence estimates that the cost of operations in Iraq between 2002 and 2006 has been £4.17 billion.

Why should we spend £76 billion to renew the Trident nuclear deterrant (buying missiles, replacing submarines, over a 30-year period) when we know that we need to spend roughly the same amount to drastically cut emissions?
Analysts were unanimous that it would make most sense to begin by investing public money to conserve energy. The Energy Savings Trust calculates that a one-off investment by government of about £4bn could insulate nearly 6m cavity walls, saving almost £2bn per year in reduced energy bills and nearly 12m tonnes of carbon - almost 28% of Britain's domestic emissions.

Oxford University's environmental change institute calculates that to reduce emissions across the domestic sector by 60% could require £420bn, but for about £5bn the government could kickstart a low carbon UK economy by overhauling every British home. Director Brenda Bordsman said government subsidy for home improvements would then be enhanced by private borrowing. As well as refurbishing housing stock, government money could help promote the redesign of appliances, and the development of solar and and other micro generation technologies. "It would, as a bonus, create thousands of jobs and it reduce overall emissions by around 60%."

05 November 2006

Climate Change March

Strangely, I posted something yesterday about this, and it's disappeared into the ether. No matter. There was a great deal of media coverage about the more than 25000 people who converged on Trafalgar Square for the Stop Climate Chaos events. This is a good collection of photos from the demo. Stop Climate Chaos is a coalition of environment and development groups, faith groups, humanitarian organisations, women’s groups, and trade unions pushing for three key demands:

- Action internationally: ensure that global greenhouse gas emissions are irreversibly declining by 2015.
- Action for justice: deliver assistance to developing countries to adapt to climate change and give access to clean energy to meet their developmental needs.
- Action in the UK: introduce a Climate Bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 3% per year.

Ethical Buying and Green Energy

The Observer has a poll today on ethical buying.

While only a small minority of people in Britain have switched over to green energy suppliers (electricity sourced from renewable resources), 64% of those polled said yes to the question, "Would you consider switching your gas and electricity services over to 'green' companies which provide the same service?"

03 November 2006

"A Crude Awakening" - Peak Oil

It's a film being screened this week at the Sheffield Int'l Documentary Film Festival. A Guardian blog writes about it here.

World demand for oil is rising, and we will reach a point when oil supply will peak, and oil demand outstrips the annual supply. Whether that peak occurs in 2007, 2008, 2014, or the optimists version, 2020, it will happen. And our society is dependent upon oil (petrol, plastic gloves in hospitals, oil-based paint, oil-based fertiliser for agriculture).

Conventional oil reserves are now declining about 4-6% a year worldwide.
18 large oil-producing countries, including Britain, and 32 smaller ones, have declining production; Denmark, Malaysia, Brunei, China, Mexico and India will all reach their peak in the next few years. World oil demand is surging. Oil demand rose faster in 2004 than in any year since 1976. If world demand continues to grow at 2% a year, then almost 160m barrels a day will need to be extracted in 2035, twice as much as today.

According to industry consultants IHS Energy, 90% of all known reserves are now in production, suggesting that few major discoveries remain to be made. Oil supply is increasingly limited to a few giant fields, with 10% of all production coming from just four fields and 80% from fields discovered before 1970. Even finding a field the size of Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, by far the world's largest, would only meet world demand for about 10 years.

02 November 2006

Greenpeace and Didcot Power Plant

In advance of the 4th November national Climate Change march in London, Thirty Greenpeace volunteers halted the conveyor belts at the coal-fired Didcot power station today.

Most British power stations waste two-thirds of the energy they generate in the form of heat escaping up their cooling towers. By locating smaller generators close to where energy is used, the heat created in power stations can be captured and used to heat our homes. Woking Council has reduced its carbon footprint by 77% by employing decentralised technologies.

Greenpeace campaigns director Blake Lee-Harwood, who is part of the team that shut Didcot's conveyor belt, said: "Power stations like this are energy dinosaurs. This one power station emits over six millions tonnes of CO2 a year, that's more than the 29 lowest polluting countries put together. And, shockingly, Didcot could halve its emissions overnight if it switched from burning coal to gas."

Under Tony Blair: The use of coal for electricity generation has gone up from 47.3 to 52.5 million tonnes a year; Between the second quarters of 2005 and 2006 coal-burn for electricity rose by 10.5%.

CCTV in Coventry

Britain now has 4.2 million CCTV cameras , one for every 14 people. Dr David Murakami-Wood, the co-author of a report to be presented on Thursday to a data protection conference in London, said to the BBC that Britain has "more CCTV cameras and looser laws on privacy and data protection" than any other industrialised Western state. Murakami-Wood continued: "We really do have a society which is premised both on state secrecy and the state not giving up its supposed right to keep information under control while, at the same time, wanting to know as much as it can about us."

The Green Party is against the idea of a further scheme to undermine civil liberties and increase state monitoring (the national ID card system). We're also in favour of far more community based, visible, policing to avoid this kind of drenching in CCTV.

Upcoming Radio and TV

- 4th November, 1030am, Radio 4 - "Living with AIDS: Britain's Battle" - twenty-five years after the first recorded case in Britain, a look at the social impact of AIDS
- 5th November, 1015pm, BBC 1 - Panorama looks at soaring gas prices and gas supplies through pipelines
- 6th November, 8pm, Channel 4 - Dispatches has a documentary on how the invasion and occupation of Iraq has affected young people in the country
- 6th November until 10th November, 930pm, Radio 3 - highlights of the "Free Thinking: Festival of Ideas for the Future," a conference held in Liverpool, Thursday looks especially interesting, as Doreen Massey "challenges globalisation gurus who insist local places are all becoming homogenous and lays out a manifesto for an alternative global vision"

01 November 2006

New Documentary On 2-Tone

It's called "Ghost Town" and it was put together by members of Godiva Young Gays and Lesbians (GYGL). GYGL is a youth group for young gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgendered people under the age of 25. Richard Wood, a director from Leofric Films who worked with the group, told the Telegraph that: "It was great training the group on camera and sound. We ran workshops at the BBC Open Centre and also went out on the streets to interview people. I was surprised at how much the group grew through the process and how much confidence they have built up from the filming."

You can contact Leofric Films here.

You can find out more about GYGL and their activities here.