29 September 2006

Ethical Investing

Red Pepper has a good article this month on ethical investing. The idea of ethical investing has been around for centuries (Quakers haven't invested in slaves or alcohol since the 1500s). The UK market in ethical investment has grown by 600 percent in 10 years. The estimated value is now £6 billion a year, equivalent to a million people ethically investing £6000 each. The article cites EIRIS as a source of information about ethical investing. The EIRIS website has a directory of ethical financial advisers (you can search by postal code) that lists how long they've been in business, what percentage of their overall business is ethical, and if they raise the option of ethical investment to each client. There are none listed in Coventry, with the closest being in Warwick or Solihull, as well as "B" postal codes.

The True Cost of Trident

Most cost estimates for replacing Trident have been between £15bn and £25bn, but these have not take into account the annual maintenance costs. The true cost of replacing and operating the Trident nuclear missile system would be at least £76bn, according to estimates revealed today, assuming a 30-year lifespan.

A website, bigtridentdebate, has been set up, calling for a "full and informed" debate about the future of the UK's nuclear deterrent. It is promoted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but has support from a wider circle of people, including church leaders, who say their motive is to ensure there is an open debate on the issue.

In his presidential address to the governing body of the Church in Wales, the Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, said money spent on Trident could be better used fighting child disease: "With that money we could prevent 16,000 children dying every day from diseases caused by impure water and malnutrition."
£2.5 billion a year for 30 years. That works out to £12.5 million each year for a city the size of Coventry. £2.5 billion a year for Trident warheads that are eight times more powerful, each of them, than the bomb that devastated Hiroshima (killing over 140 000 people).

Kofi Annan (at the UN Association, London, 31 Jan 2006) admits that:

"The more those States that already have nuclear or biological weapons increase their arsenals, or insist that such weapons are essential to their national security, the more other States feel that they too must have them, for their security."

28 September 2006

Mandatory Sex Ed in Schools?

The Family Planning Association held a fringe meeting yesterday at the Labour Party conference in Manchester.

Back in 2004, Independent Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy called for all schools to be required teach their pupils about sex and relationships.

Anne Weyman, the FPA's chief executive, said about the fringe meeting: "High quality sex and relationships education should be the norm, but too many young people are still missing out. At the fringe we will be scrutinising the current programme of SRE and asking how it can be improved."

Back in May 2006, the Trust for the Study of Adolescence released a study with some disturbing figures:

The trust's report, carried out for the Naz sexual health project in west London, reveals for the first time how sexual attitudes and experiences vary between ethnic groups. While 80 per cent of all the teenagers surveyed were 'not sexually competent' the first time they had sex, that figure rose to 93 per cent for boys of black-Caribbean origin, for example. And 32 per cent of boys of black African origin did not use contraception when they first had sex, compared to 10 per cent of white British pupils and 18 per cent of interviewees overall.

Many of those from ethnic minority backgrounds knew little about about how to prevent and identify the symptoms of STIs, and black Caribbean young men were more likely than others to have risky sex.

Bryan Teixeira, chief executive of the Naz project, said many young people from ethnic minority backgrounds ended up confused about sex because, while their parents often have traditional views, sex was discussed openly at school. Boys and young men were a particular problem, said Teixeira, as they were more likely to indulge in risky sexual behaviour and to have more partners than girls.
Sex education provision varies widely across the country. I think that it is essential that young people have the skills and knowledge to negotiate relationships in the real world, alongside accessible and non-judgemental services. There'd be fewer teenage pregnancies, fewer sexually transmitted infections and less infertility caused by people leaving an STI untreated.

Urban Farming

The Independent has an interesting article today on urban farming in London. In contrast to England, Berlin has 80,000 community gardeners on municipal land. And thousands of volunteer urban growers in Havana raise crops everywhere from plots to balconies and rooftops.

London's voracious food demands draw upon a land area 120 times its size to satisfy it, according to the Soil Association. Yet this localised food network, with the city making much use of urban fringe market gardens and farms, was common practice until well into the last century.
If you're interested in setting up a similar project in Coventry or Warwickshire, The Federaration of Farms and City Gardens would be a good website to check out.

25 September 2006

Gordon Brown's Speech to Labour Conference

Here's the text of Gordon Brown's speech to the Labour conference today. Judge for yourself what it reads like:

Building new Labour and winning three elections, he recognised what we must never forget that we must always be in tune with the aspirations, at all times on the side of the British people.
At all times? Well, except for the spring of 2003 and Iraq, except on Lebanon, on being too close to George Bush's foreign policy, except on city academies, tuition fees and on the increasing privatisation of the NHS.

And let me say that the renewal of New Labour must and will be built upon these essential truths: a flexible economy, reformed and personalised public services, public and private sectors not at odds but working together so that we can truly deliver opportunity and security not just for some but for all.
PFI's continuing, as long as Gordon has any say.

that we - Britain - have new international responsibilities to discharge.

Overseas military adventures will continue.

And we must support Tony Blair and Margaret Beckett - and their proposals for a political and economic plan to underpin a lasting Middle East peace.
Blair and Beckett's policies are part of the problem, not the solution, in the Middle East.

With 2.4m new jobs - instead of the highest unemployment in Europe - we are closer to full employment than ever before.
Honestly, what kind of jobs are they? Rover workers are finding out that the available jobs just don't pay a living wage.

And let me say: as we support the police, the armed forces and security services with the resources they need, we will not hesitate as on Identity Cards and if the evidence shows it necessary, moving beyond 28 days detention to ask for the necessary powers.
Yet another signal that, on the war on terror, on civil liberties, not much will change.

The disappointing thing about the speech was that it was couched in "let's work together" rhetoric, with exactly 5.2 mentions of "I've talked with ordinary people" case studies, 4.6 citings of other cabinet ministers. In branding himself anti-spin, he's used the dark arts of spin.

Ramadan Begins

Ramadan began yesterday. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, having a meal before sunrise, and breaking the fast at sunset, usually with dates. I work with a number of Muslims at work, and a few people were forgetting late in the day, offering them Mingles.

However, in Palestine:

Gaza's children used to light colorful lanterns to celebrate Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. But this year, many parents can't afford even the small $1 toys, as Gaza sinks deeper into poverty and readies for the bleakest Ramadan yet. Umm Emad, 45, said her husband beat their 10-year-old daughter after she pleaded for a Ramadan lantern. The mother of six, who would not give her real name because she said she is ashamed of being poor, works part-time selling clothes in a relative's shop, for 15 shekels ($3.5 dollars) a day. Her husband sells clothes at a stand outside a U.N. office. On a good day, makes a profit of 20 shekels ($5). Before Hamas came to power, he earned about 90 shekels ($22 dollars) a day as the owner of a small clothing factory. "In the good days, my husband used to buy lanterns for all the children, and the neighbour's children, because their father died, so they wouldn't feel left out," she said. Like many Gazan families, Umm Emad has not yet bought any food for the household, although traditionally this is done a day before Ramadan begins. In Gaza City's Shati refugee camp, grocer Adel Mudalal said he is not stocking ingredients for Ramadan desserts, such as dried apricot paste. "I have no stock to sell , and the neighborhood has no money to buy," he said.
It always impressed me that Hakeem Olajuwon, arguably the best centre ever in NBA basketball in the US, strictly observed Ramadan:

Olajuwon believes that his religious faith supported his drive to a great career. During an NBA season he observed Islam's Ramadan, which includes periods of fasting. He would awaken before dawn to eat precisely seven dates -- the traditional Muslim fast-breaking food -- and to drink a gallon of water. He would follow with a prayer for strength and have no food or liquid until sunset.

When he played an afternoon game, he would pant for water -- but did not drink a drop. Still, he would say, “I find myself full of energy, explosive. And when I break the fast at sunset, the taste of water is so precious.”

23 September 2006

Coming Up To Speed -- Green Party Conference

I think that I've nearly learnt how to conference.

It really is a verb, since I needed to quickly work out what acronyms mean: SOC was the standing orders committee (the quasi-judicial body that is constantly called upon to rule on, well, the rules), RON, re-open nominations (a kind of none of the above when the Green Party is electing its committee members and executive for the coming year).

I've participated in workshops to discuss and work out motions that will be voted on later in conference. I've gone to fringe meetings, raised voting cards umpteen times (yellow on Friday, blue for Saturday) and am now standing for membership on the editorial board of Green World, the quarterly magazine for the party. I suppose my only regret so far is being very quiet. I keep thinking, it's my first conference, I'll keep two ears open and one mouth closed, but then I see other people who are at their first conference speaking, or I see people who just talk and talk and talk without saying much at all.

The most valuable fringe meetings have been the sessions where we've discussed how to try to win over voters from the Tories and from Labour. Blogging about the tactics we discussed would kind of defeat the point. Suffice to say that it will be political jujitsu, we'll be using what they think are their strongest points against them.

The other two sessions that were interesting were on:

- prostitution (is it a human right to sell your body if you choose, or a human right to prevent women from doing so ... do you have a policy of straight legalisation, brothels in residential areas with four prostitutes banding together, having a receptionist, having a buzzer and a lockable front door ... or a policy that allows that but sets a moral tone and urges programmes to get women out of prostitution as a long-term goal?), and on,

- the party policy on culture, media and sport (gender discrimination in sport; how can we set a media policy in stone when media is changing so fast, i.e. how advanced will online TV be in a year; how do you support local bands and live music venues as a Green councillor; how do you achieve the democratisation of art).

The other thing that I'm discovering is Brighton itself. I'd been here twice before (the last time being in Feb 2004). There are some amazing places to eat and shop (Taz, Planet Janet) that support fair trade goods and organic vegan lifestyles, and there's public transport everywhere, from taxis to buses to cycles to tuk-tuks, and on the buses, there are slogans, Shop Local, This Bus Reduces Emissions, etc.

22 September 2006

The Conservatives and Green Taxes

No green taxes, no council tax reform proposals. Sounds like Cycling Dave doesn't have a very unified party.

In contrast, the Green Party is unified on the need for taxation that makes us carbon-thrifty. We are strongly in favour of social justice, not this left-right Lib Dem split. We're in favour of public services remaining public services, not the creeping privatisation led by Gordon Brown ... do you remember who was the driving force behind the PPP of the London Underground?


In 1997, the government lowered the age children were presumed to know the difference between right and wrong from 14 to 10. A report for the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies says too many children are prosecuted and criminalised. The report recommends a new sentencing framework, including a residential training order of up to two years - or five years in the case of grave crimes. It calls for the phasing out of prison custody for 15 and 16-year-olds and new facilities for 17-year-olds. Nearly 1.4 million children played truant from school last year. One in five of all pupils in England missed days without permission, with truants in secondary schools absent foran average of seven days. In 1996-97, 965,400 pupils truanted. Last autumn and spring, 1,399,167 did so. Just 1% of secondary school pupils accounted for more than a third of all unauthorised absence in their schools.

Do you think they're linked?

Is this the joined-up thinking we were promised in 1997? Has Labour met your expectations?

We constantly hear that "yob anti-social behaviour" tops lists of safety concerns.What, however, are its root causes?

Teaching students about resolving issues in a non-violent way should be more widespread. Leadership has to come from the highest level. If Tony Blair solves problems throughwar, why should youth on Friday night act anydifferent? Alcohol lies at the heart of this issue. As a nation, we can’t keep drinking to get drunk with the aid of cheap drinks and expect non-violent citycentres. Finally, we have to stop defining young people as a problem. All this "hoodie" rhetoric obscures the fact that youth are our future, notsomething to be scared of. We should invest in them.Whether it's more all-ages music events or more recreation facilities for evenings and weekends, we need to engage young people when planning youth projects, asking them what they want.

21 September 2006

Arrival in Brighton for Conference

I've arrived in Brighton for the Green conference. Luckily, I've got the use of a friend's flat in the centre of the city, he's away in China. Brighton's hills are steep! Watched "Newsnight" ... first half was about NHS privatisation and the next segment was about the Green conference. Caroline Lucas, our Green MEP for the Southeast, was interviewed by Martha Kearney. Kearney's line was that: you don't have a unique selling point anymore now that other party leaders (Cycling Dave, Ming and Gordon) are mumbling about the environment. Lucas was pretty robust in pointing out Lib Dem failures on aviation, and she got off a good frame, that the other parties are "moving our way" but that it's not enough in a time of environmental crisis. You have to wonder about Newsnight. They have this recurring segment of "Ethical Man" where a fellow is trying to live as low-impact, as carbon-thrifty, as possible, which must be very educational for a lot of people, but then, when they cover the Green Party's conference, they portray the only environmental political party as horribly procedure-oriented and boring.

Tour an Organic Farm

My wife and I went to Down To Earth on Earlsdon High Street for their autumn barbeque last Saturday. The organic sausages on sale were from Elmhurst Farms, which happens to be a one of the farms that the Soil Association recommends that you can visit. They were pretty tasty. It's important to support local suppliers. You can search on a website called Big Barn for everything within x many miles of Coventry.

Just a short drive from Coventry is Elmhurst Organic Farm, a haven of tranquillity near the Fosseway. Rod and Ann Pattison's 83 hectare farm produces beef, sheep, pigs, poultry, eggs and cereals. Elmhurst’s careful organic management of its old pastures preserves the wild flora for us and future generations to enjoy. Cowslip, lady’s smock and bugle abound in the hay meadows in spring and summer. As well as the wild flower meadows, Elmhurst Organic Farm is proud of its woodland belts, ponds and well-managed hedges. The farm won the 1998 Loraine Award for nature conservation and organic farming. The farm trail and shop are open Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from 9-4. If you would like a guided group tour, please call the office to arrange a suitable date. Please always contact the farm to check opening times before you set off.

20 September 2006

Autumn Green Party Conference in Hove

The Green Party's autumn conference begins tomorrow (21st to 24th in Hove). We'll be having in-depth discussions on social enterprise and education, as well as fringe meetings on topics as diverse as gay and lesbian rights in Poland, incineration, and targeting wards to win.

Let's look at what is happening recently with the other three parties.

Patricia Hewitt (Health Secretary) said that there are, in theory, no limits on private involvement in the NHS ... and that it will be up to local NHS primary care trusts to decide on the level of private involvement, not elected politicians in Westminister. For less and less public control over public services, vote Labour.

John Reid (Home Secretary) went for his first visit to a Muslim audience since becoming Home Secretary (3 1/2 months). All this rhetoric about engaging the Muslim community, and it's his first visit. Incredible. Don't rush it, John.

David Cameron has suffered a drop in party membership since becoming leader of the Tories (253,689 when he won the leadership in December ... to 247,394), and only 27% of his party recently participated in his vote to endorse his policy document. It's a lack of internal democracy, and we should trust them to deepen democracy in the country?

Meanwhile, Ming Campbell and the Liberal Democrats can't decide whether they oppose the renewal of nuclear weapons in Britain. I guess it'll depend on polls or focus groups.

People are looking for big ideas and action and decisions on principle, politics that resonates with their values (public services, peace, sustainability, safety, civil liberties, health, supporting local economies), and they can only get that with the Green Party.

Environmental News Today

Three interesting stories this morning:

Al Gore, the former VP of the US and now a campaigner with his film, An Inconvenient Truth, is calling for a new US laws to limit carbon emissions. While Gore and Clinton did not do nearly enough in office on the issue, this is a case of better late than never.

George Monbiot has a 2nd excerpt of 3 in the Guardian of his new book, with this one being on homes and carbon emissions.

Finally, the British Antarctic Survey has found that the melting of ice is causing sea level rises far faster than predicted.

Last week, two American studies showed that the melting of the winter sea ice in the Arctic had accelerated enormously in the past two years, with a section the size of Turkey disappearing in just 12 months.

Electric Car documentary film at Warwick Uni

The documentary, "Who Killed The Electric Car?", will be shown at the Warwick Arts Centre on the 13th and 14th October.

Chris Paine, the director, speaking to the US network, PBS:

What was it like to drive? Fantastically fun. I'd zip around, plug it into the charger at night, which would take a couple of hours, and worked out to a couple of dollars for the charge. The car was super-efficient and had massive acceleration. It would take any car off the line. And when you step on the brakes the power went back into the car. You became very aware of energy usage when driving the car. You'd say, 'Okay, do I want to burn some energy now or take it easy? Do I want to go 100 miles on this charge or 40 miles on the charge?'

18 September 2006

Henley College's Sustainable Development Week

It will occur from Monday 30th October to Friday 3rd November, encouraging both students and staff to be more sustainable. Computers, printers and heating have been put on timed controllers, they've introduced recycled toilet paper, and they've set a target of 20% reduction in water, gas and leckie usage over the next 4 years.

PeaceJam and Coventry

An article in Friday's Evening Telegraph: three 13-yr olds from Coventry have attended a peace conference in the USA; PeaceJam was founded 10 years ago to promote peace among young people, and the weekend conference included 3000 delegates from 11 countries. Sophie Pelser, Ellen Cooke and Libbi Newlove (from Barr's Hill School, Radford) went with their teacher, Jane Manton.

13 September 2006

A Nuclear-Free Central Asia

An interesting story on the web tonight:

Under a treaty signed Friday, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan committed themselves not to produce, buy, or allow the deployment of nuclear weapons on their soil.

But the United States, along with Britain and France, refused to attend the signing ceremony. "The reason that many of us suspect the U.S. is opposed to this is more fundamental," the independent Arms Control Association's Daryl G. Kimball told OneWorld. "This is a very strategic region. The U.S. is reticent to give up the option of deploying nuclear weapons in this region in the future."

In May, the journal Foreign Policy named Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan one of the six most important U.S. military bases in the world. "In addition to its proximity to Afghanistan," the Foreign Policy article stated, "Manas is located near the immense energy reserves of the Caspian Basin, as well as the Russian and Chinese frontiers."

According to Jackie Cabasso, who heads up the Western States Legal Foundation in Oakland, California, "the United states had drawn up a battle plan for the potential use of nuclear weapons in Iraq and the Untied States has been involved in planning potential nuclear use scenarios for Iran."

Everyday Activism in Coventry

Just sitting in the Central Library and reading through August issues of the Evening Telegraph shows that an incredible amount of social justice and green activity is going on in Coventry every month.

Examples include:

- Holy Family Catholic Primary School (on Penny Park Lane) receiving £1000 from Powergen for an energy efficiency project
- the King Henry VIII school's Parents Association receiving £500 towards a cycling proficiency day
- Jody Gordon (at Whitefriars) being recognised for a project to raise awareness of the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers in Coventry
- the ongoing work that links Nyogbare Primary in Kenya with Southfields Primary School (most recently, teacher training, and the digging of a well)

In many ways, green and social justice activism is now the mainstream.

11 September 2006

Sept meeting of Coventry Green Party

The monthly meeting of the Coventry Green Party is tomorrow night (2nd Tuesday of the month) at the Grapevine Centre in Spon End (CV1 3AR) at 730pm. We'll be discussing the autumn conference of the Green Party (21st to 24th Sept in Hove), university information tables, and the upcoming series of ward forums.

The guest speaker will be Penny Walker of the Coventry Peace House (on their work with refugee communities and co-op living). Tentatively, we'll be having Elise Smithson of Coventry Universitiy as the speaker for our October meeting (on energy use).

03 September 2006

Wind Turbines on HSBC in Birmingham

On my way back from a wedding in Shropshire this weekend, I spotted 6 wind turbines atop the HSBC branch in Birmingham city centre. The wind turbine industry is having a great deal of trouble keeping up with demand for new turbines.

This month, the United States passed the 10,000-megawatt mark in installed wind turbine capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association, which projects that by the end of next year, that number will reach 15,000 megawatts -- enough to power 3.8 million typical American homes. That's left major wind turbine manufacturers, including Vestas Wind Systems AS, General Electric Co. and Siemens AG, scrambling to meet demand.

"This is a global industry and there is a global shortage of wind turbines," said Randall Swisher, executive director of the Washington-based Wind Energy trade group.

Half Marathon on 22nd October

The Lady Godiva Half Marathon will take place on 22nd October.

The closing date for the receipt of normal entries is Friday 6th October 2006. Any entries received between Saturday 7th October and Monday 16th October will be accepted subject to a late entry fee of £5 being included with the application and spaces still being available.

Last year, there were 1900 entrants!

It's important for Coventry to have events like this, to encourage more physical exercise in an age of, if not obesity, above-average weight among many.

01 September 2006

Top-Up Tuition Fees Come Into Force Today

Just in time for a Royal Bank of Scotland survey showing that one in five students works for more than 20 hours a week. Poorer students do the longest hours (over two hours more per week on average by students from lower socioeconomic groups) and for less than their middle-class counterparts (£1.27 less on average).

And Tony Blair wonders why people want him to go as Prime Minister?

Reminder -- Tony Benn tomorrow night

He'll be speaking at Methodist Central Hall at 7pm on Saturday night against the war in Iraq.

Admission is free.

Benn will share his platform with Yvonne Ridley, political editor of the Islam Channel, TUC regional secretary Roger McKenzie, and Linda Holmes, of Military Families against the War, whose son is a serving Guardsman in Iraq.