27 June 2007

EU-US Agreement on Data Sharing

Under an interim agreement after the 11th September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, European airlines have been required to pass on up to 34 items of passenger data (your address, your credit card details, etc) before airlines could land at U.S. airports.

The data was only to be held for 3 1/2 to 11 1/2 years.

Now, after talks between the EU Justice and Security Commissioner, the German Interior Minister, and the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, the EU has agreed that the US will have access to passenger data from flights into the US for 15 years, but "the number of pieces of information would be reduced."

Whew, that's a relief, only, say, 15 items retained for 15 years if I fly into the US.

Oh, and under a deal backed by EU ambassadors on Wednesday, the US can use SWIFT data for counter-terrorism purposes for 5 years.

26 June 2007

Swedish Sustainability

In Vaxjo, Sweden, residents emit 3.5 tonnes of CO2 each, the lowest urban level in Europe.

- In Vaxjo and elsewhere there has been a relentless effort to get people out of cars and onto bikes and buses, to redesign housing, to encourage high-density living and to start teaching environmental awareness from preschool.

- The city imposes parking charges on petrol-run vehicles, for example, but it is free for low-emissions vehicles. For Swedish car buyers there’s a new €1000 ($1600) government rebate on every “green” car.

- In 1991 Sweden introduced the world’s first carbon tax, slugging carbon emissions at $US100 a tonne, double the rate economists now suggest would sharply accelerate the development of renewable energy worldwide. Environmental economist, Professor Tomas Kaberger. “Suddenly we had thousands of entrepreneurs looking for low-cost, biological waste products that could be used for producing electricity and heat more cheaply than fossil fuels. They found residues in the forestry industry, waste in the food industry and agriculture and even wet, putrid garbage.”

Supermarkets and Local Production

A pretty damning profile of why supermarket-centred distribution networks are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Patrick Holden was forced to send his carrots to a Sainsbury's superpacker in East Anglia, trucking them 230 miles. The superpacker in Peterborough was not geared to dealing with small consignments. Holden's carrots had to be tipped into larger containers for washing, damaging up to 15% of the crop. After grading for cosmetic standards, Holden's carrots were suffering further losses, with up to half the total crop being graded out. Because they could only be packed once large enough batches had accumulated after washing, the carrots were also becoming prone to small patches of rot.

Organic carrots bought recently at Waitrose carry a picture of Peter Cornish, one of its "carefully selected growers", on the back of the pack, but in small print on the front the carrots' country of origin is listed as Italy. The story of watercress grown by the sparkling chalk streams of Hampshire accompanies a product imported from Portugal.

24 June 2007

Zac Goldsmith and the Conservatives

An interesting profile of Zac Goldsmith -- it highlights the contradictions of a man who is critical of globalisation, and how "supermarkets screw farmers every day," lending his support, ideas, energy, and credibility to the Tories.

Let's hope they don't let him down. For one thing, what he's trying to achieve is too important. From their point of view, he could make Cameron and co look very stupid indeed if they betray him. I don't think he'll put up with being a bauble on their (sustainable) Christmas tree for ever. Beneath the charm and the other-worldliness - 'I'm reading a book called Shogun ... is it well known?' - beats the heart of man who knows how much biofuel we could make out of the nation's leftover gravy. A windmill on a Notting Hill roof is not going to impress him for very long.

Gay Pride Celebrations

The Observer today has a collection of first-person recollections of the 40 years since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. As Peter Tatchell highlights in an article from 1997, the Act didn't legalise homosexuality. The 1967 "exempted gay sex from criminal prosecution if it took place between two consenting males aged 21 or over in private." London's Pride celebrations are next weekend, but internationally, Christopher Street Day was yesterday in Berlin (marking the anniversary of the Stonewall Tavern riots in New York, the tavern was on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village). Toronto's Gay Pride parade, 800 000 strong, is today, as is New York's.

Stella Duffy, author, 44
I don't see that the same thing has happened for lesbians as it has for gay men. We didn't really get the feminist revolution we hoped for. I'm happy for Elton and David, but we don't have a lesbian couple of a similar status and people often forget that gay includes women.

Rhona Cameron, comedian/author, 41
Gay men are a good commodity and fit in with today's celebrity obsessed culture, but lesbians have not. It's more of a taboo. People don't know how to market lesbians or deal with their diversity and there are a lot of famous lesbians who never say they are gay. Equalising the age of consent was right and the civil rights work done by Labour has been phenomenal. A couple of months ago a woman called me a lesbian cunt in a road rage incident and it's fantastic to know that if I had wanted to I could have reported that as a hate crime. For someone who has put up with abuse like that my whole life, that's brilliant.

Russell T Davies, writer/producer, 44
The internet has been the most phenomenal thing for young gay people and more empowering and liberating than any law. You used to feel completely alone, and now you can go online and meet thousands of people like yourself. The day a 12-year-old can watch telly with his dad and go 'Cor, look at him' when a sexy man appears on screen, and for the dad to laugh like he would if it were Pamela Anderson, we will be getting somewhere.

Simon Callow, actor, 58
Four Weddings and a Funeral was a landmark because it showed a gay man who died of something other than Aids. When the character that I played died, and John Hannah made that beautiful speech quoting Auden, I think an awful lot of people who might in their minds have disapproved of homosexuality found that they were very moved by the death of this gay man.

23 June 2007

Patio Heaters And The Smoking Ban

With the smoking ban in England coming up on 1st July, Greens on the London Assembly are pointing out that extra patio heaters installed for the smoking ban are going to significantly contribute to climate change.

Each patio heater generates 2.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide on average per year, the equivalent to driving a car for over 6,000 miles.

Keep this in mind when you're choosing where to go out on the town, on the warm summer nights.

Public Bike Rentals - Paris

Paris is governed by a Socialist-Green city council (with a Green in charge of transport), and this 15th July, the city will introduce a system of public bike rentals called VĂ©lib. There will be 750 self-service (chip card) stations with over 10 000 bicycles for rent. Each bike will have a basket, a light, a lock, and three speeds:

Customers will release a bike from the station by means of a chip card, which then lets them deposit the bike at any other station at the end of the journey. Payment occurs electronically. A customer has to load up the card by buying a subscription to the service, which can be purchased online, in town halls or at post offices. Using a metro ticket as a subscription will also be possible at some stations.

22 June 2007

50th Anniversary Of Pugwash Conferences

In July 1957, the first conference of scientists concerned at atomic weapons, from East and West, was held in Pugwash, a fishing village near Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Canada.

Subsequent Pugwash conferences have been held all over the world, and the conferences, and their main organiser, Prof Joseph Rotblat, were honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In a few weeks, nuclear scientists and disarmament experts will mark the 50th anniversary of the inaugural Pugwash conference by again meeting in its birthplace where they will discuss "Revitalising Nuclear Disarmament".

The Canadian Pugwash Group is calling on Canada to lead Nato countries toward denuclearisation, arguing that the alliance's policies are outdated and dangerous, as well as in breach of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

For a bit more reading, you could take a look at the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, issued in London on 9 July, 1955, which inspired the first Pugwash conference.

As human beings, we have to remember that, if the issues between East and West are to be decided in any manner that can give any possible satisfaction to anybody, whether Communist or anti-Communist, whether Asian or European or American, whether White or Black, then these issues must not be decided by war. Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.

Stop The War - Manchester Labour Conference

The Stop the War coalition has organised a demonstration at the special Labour conference to choose their leader and deputy leader, this Sunday, June 24, in Manchester.

Speakers at the demo will include: Walter Wolfgang (Labour NEC), Moazzam Begg, Peter Hook (from the group New Order), Rose Gentle, George Galloway MP, Sajjad Karim MEP, members of the cast of Coronation Street, Lindsey German and Andrew Murray (Stop the War Coalition).

Coventry Stop the War have organised transport to the demo from outside Fairfax Street baths on Sunday morning at 9.00 am, cost £12/£5 unwaged. The coach will return to Coventry by 7.30pm.

If you would like to book seats on the coach, please email Andy Pettit, or call him on 07732 030231.

21 June 2007

No Impact Man

Pound for pound, one of the more interesting blogs I've read in the last year:

For one year, my wife, my 2-year-old daughter, my dog and I, while living in the middle of New York City, are attempting to live without making any net impact on the environment. In other words, no trash, no carbon emissions, no toxins in the water, no elevators, no subway, no products in packaging, no plastics, no air conditioning, no TV, no toilets ...

20 June 2007

Binklow and Coventry Incinerator Ash

Keith Kondakor, from Nuneaton Friends of the Earth, was on BBC Coventry this morning about plans to recycle the bottom ash taken from the Coventry incinerator. A plant to process the bottom ash is proposed for 1 mile southwest of Brinklow.

The link to the planning application is here.

Keith's the expert on things like this, but from what I've read from him, the ash comes out of the incinerator very wet (cooled by water). It will be dried out in Brinklow in towering 8 metre tall piles. If we had better recycling, a zero waste policy like many councils in New Zealand, we'd reduce the glass, aluminium and steel that make up half of the ash. The ash, whilst less deadly than from the incinerator's pollution control filters, contains heavy metals and some dioxins. In such huge piles, it's liable to blow away in the wind, towards Brinklow. At the very least, as Keith was saying on BBC Coventry, the piles should be only a few metres tall, to prevent the ash blowing every which way.

It's a good example of how the idea of "let's incinerate as much as we can" looks dangerously simplistic.

19 June 2007

Child Poverty

Save The Children has used a new measure -- that combines household incomes with adult and child deprivation -- to find that 10.2 percent of children -- or 1.3 million -- are living in "severe poverty." Predictably, a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions is rolled out to say that hundreds of thousands of children have been raised out of poverty since 1997, ignoring the stickiness of "real" unemployment, especially in the 2nd half of Blair's time in government.

84 percent of families in severe poverty cannot make regular savings of 10 pounds or more a month. Three-quarters cannot afford to replace worn out furniture. Official data in March showed that child poverty had returned to the rising trend Labour inherited and that poverty across the population as a whole had risen for the first time since Labour won office in 1997.

18 June 2007

Media - Mon and Tues

- I finally watched "Lie of the Land" by Molly Dineen tonight. It's probably the first time that I've been grateful for digital TV repeats. Apart from Dr Who. Usually, having the extra digital channels is more like Springsteen's "57 channels and nothing's on." I'm a very urban guy. I think the last time I spent two days in a row on a farm was 1988. So, it was good, albeit shocking at times, to see another side of British life.

- I'm off to see "Black Gold" at the Warwick Arts Centre tomorrow night, about fair trade and the global price of coffee.

- If you're not off to see it with me, Radio 4 at 8pm tomorrow, has an interesting sounding episode of File on 4: "As the death toll in Afghanistan continues to rise, Kate Clark reveals how corruption and mismanagement is threatening Hamid Karzai's government and boosting the Taleban."

16 June 2007

Greens News - Here and Abroad

- the obvious news is that the Green Party has entered government in Ireland, in coalition with Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats. God knows how it will work, i.e. the Progressive Democrats are right-wing, and the Irish Greens failed to shift the government on issues such as halting the construction of a motorway through the historic Tara area of Co Meath. This is part of the ongoing realo-fundi debate within each Green Party, everywhere, about how accomodating you are to power, can you achieve more from outside pushing, or from the inside getting 1/3 or 1/2 of what you want.

- protesters have alerted German Green MP Hans-Christian Stroebele that reconnaissance jets conducted flyovers of a G8 protest camp in Reddelich near Heiligendamm. One of the planes flew over the camp at the lowest permitted altitude of 150 meters (492 feet) on June 5, one day before the summit kicked off. Stroebele claims the flyover had violated the German constitution. "It crosses all limits of acceptable technical help for the police, if reconnaissance fighter jets are used like in Afghanistan to spy on protesters," he told Spiegel Online.

- Finally, in Brighton, there seems to be a contest for the nomination for the Green candidate in Brighton Pavillion, our best chance for a MP in the next election. It would be between Caroline Lucas, MEP for the Southeast, and Keith Taylor, local councillor in Brighton. Both are former principal speakers of the party.

14 June 2007

BMA Ethics Committee - Abortion

The BMA's medical ethics committee has said it supports revising the Abortion Act 1967 so that, during the first three months of pregnancy:

- Women are not required to meet medical criteria for abortion, such as proving that going ahead with the pregnancy would damage their physical or mental health.
- The requirement that two doctors approve the abortion is removed.
- Suitably trained and experienced nurses and midwives may carry out both medical and surgical abortions.
- As long as safety is ensured, premises do not need to be approved to carry out first-trimester abortions.

Thanks to Natalie at Philobiblon for pointing this out. As she says:

"Whatever your personal stance on the issue, such a change in the law would not mean more abortions - just safer, less stressful ones, i.e. we would stop penalising, punishing women for getting pregnant."

The Prisons Crisis - Suicide and Overcrowding

Our prisons are in a mess.

- 43 prisoners in British jails have committed suicide so far this year (that's in 22 weeks, as opposed to 67 for all of 2006); if 43 people died in a train crash, or in a Buncefield-style explosion, we'd hear about it, with pages and pages of colour photos and coverage. It might even push "The Apprentice" final off the front pages ... but since it's affecting a group in society, prisoners, that it's fashionable to bash, there is no outrage.

The linked story in the Guardian on Wednesday goes on to say:

- a record 550 new inmates were "locked out" of prisons in England and Wales last Monday night after a weekend "surge" beyond the officially declared figure of 80,778 forced jails to declare they had run out of space. More than 400 prisoners were held in cells at police stations around England and Wales and a further 120 were in cells at six separate crown and magistrates courts.

- one young offender held on remand in Feltham youth jail in west London went to court and found himself moved between Ashfield in Derbyshire and Huntercombe in Oxfordshire before a space could be found for him again in Feltham.

We need to find more solutions that are centred on preventing people getting to prison in the first place (community sentencing, restorative justice), we need to gradually release about 20 000 inmates, and make sure that the remaining prisoners aren't in such overcrowded conditions.

Leamington Peace Festival Lecture

The annual Leamington Peace Festival Lecture is tomorrow night at 7pm.

It will be given by George Marshall, founder of COIN, the Climate Outreach Information Network.

Through education and innovative approaches to learning, COIN aims "to achieve permanent reductions in household greenhouse gas emissions; reducing them to levels which can be sustained, and which result in no further degradation of ecological systems and human livelihood ... We educate and inform people on the impacts and challenges of climate change, and demonstrate the practical steps that people can take to reduce these impacts."

The lecture will be at Bath Place Community Venture, Bath Place, Leamington.

11 June 2007

Commuting By Bicycle In Coventry

A bit of playing around with online maps shows that, based on cycling at 9 mph, you can commute in the following times, in to the Council House, in Coventry:

Wyken Community Centre – Council House, 3.1 miles (20.6 min)
Finham Park School – Council House, 3.1 miles (20.6)
Bell Green Library – Council House, 3.3 miles (22)
Tile Hill Lane/Beech Tree Avenue – Council House, 3.3 miles (22)
Holbrook Primary – Council House, 3.5 miles (23.3)
Remembrance Road – Council House, 3.6 miles (24)
Birmingham Road, Allesley – Council House, 3.8 miles (25.3).

And of course, you don't have to spend time parking, you aren't stop-starting as much as cars/buses, and you get a healthy amount of physical exercise each workday.

London For The Weekend

I was in London over the weekend, mainly for a friend's 40th birthday dinner (Greek food, near the British Museum).

But, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign had a protest of 12 000 people strong (as far as my friend Andrew could guestimate), there was the six-mile London-version of the worldwide Naked Bicycle Ride, and I also noticed a number of things that I hadn't before in London:

- a purpose-built cycle parking facility at the Finsbury Park tube/overland station

- Wedge Card (a card to support local businesses in Stoke Newington)

- the anti-airport expansion lobby group, Plane Stupid, sponsoring a stage at a music festival, StokeFest, which itself had pretty fine music and Thai/Caribbean food.

Oh, and I watched hurling for the first time, on satellite RTE at the Auld Shillelagh (again, in Stoke Newington).

08 June 2007

No2ID - ID in the News

A good page to take a frequent look at is the "ID in the News" page maintained by the campaign group, No2ID.

Two recent items that they highlight:

- The Public Accounts Committee is annoyed by the "stupefying level of neglect" by government ministers. In 20% of "mission critical and high risk" IT schemes, senior officials in charge had not held a single meeting with ministers to discuss progress. In a further 28% of projects, ministers held meetings with officials fewer than four times a year.

- The Treasury is launching a High Court appeal against a decision instructing it to release information about the cost of ID cards (so much for Gordon Brown saying "Government must be more open and more accountable to Parliament."

Next Monthly Meeting

The next monthly meeting of the Coventry Green Party is this coming Tuesday, 730pm, at the Grapevine Centre, Doe Bank Lane, Spon End. Come along, bring a friend! We'll be talking about outreach ( the Postive Images Festival; the Godiva Festival), canvassing over the summer (reaching those who didn't vote in our strongest wards), and our recent burst of media activity.

07 June 2007

Responses -- Government's Climate Change Bill

June 12th is the cut off date for responses to the Government's Climate Change bill.

What do you think about the key proposals in the Bill, i.e. CO2 emission reduction targets of 26-32% by 2020 and 60% by 2050; should the bill focus only on CO2; should the bill have year-on-year targets (The Big Ask) or five year targets?

You can use this link to email your response, with help from the World Development Movement, or you can write your own.

Sustainable Transport in Coventry

Late Tuesday afternoon, we put out a press release entitled, "Coventry Needs Sustainable Transport," to the local and regional press (mainly radio and print).

So far, I've been interviewed on Touch FM and Mercia (it led this morning's newscasts on Touch, at 7am and 8am, at least).

Transport contributes 25% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. It's something we all use – to get to work or school or the shops. We need to focus on getting people out of their cars ("four wheels to two wheels or two feet"), sharing their cars, or have their cars be more energy-efficient.

In Coventry, we'd like to see:

- A city-wide database to match up people for car-sharing to work (The 14th of June is National Liftshare Day); a typical carsharer will save themselves around £1,000, and 1 tonne of CO2 per year, by sharing their daily journey.

- 20 mph zones on residential streets throughout the city -- for safer roads, but also to encourage more commuting by on-road cycling (Portsmouth is introducing 20mph on residential streets in phases; Hull has been a pioneer in localised 20 mph zones)

- Match-day and concert tickets at the Ricoh need to be valid for free public transport

- A commitment to tendering for any new council vehicles to come from electric vehicle companies like Modec

- A network of electric vehicle recharge points (Camden and Westminster councils are beginning to establish such networks); Camden is promoting "Park and Charge" locations, where you can leave your electric bike or scooter for the day, and let it charge up (a 5-hour charge, for a few pence, is all you need for a 30 mile journey; that works out to about 1000 miles to the petrol gallon)

- Working with London Taxis International to develop an electric black cab for the 21st century

Apart from what we said in the press release, it's interesting that one of the prominent petitions on the Downing Street website is this one:

For reasons of health and in order to reduce carbon emissions from transport, the Government should take a bold and tangible step to support the view that cycling is good for those who do it and good for everyone else as well. Cyclists should be rewarded for their contribution to reducing carbon emissions by not having to pay VAT for their bicycles, tricycles and human powered vehicles, nor for the spares and parts required to keep them running.

02 June 2007

Rape in Britain

The Guardian had an interesting profile this week of Alice Vachss, a US sex crimes prosecutor (she ran the special victims bureau of the Queens district attorney's office in New York, and brought the sex crimes conviction rate up to an astonishing 80%).

She now educates those within the criminal justice system on how best to investigate and prosecute sex crimes.

In Britain, there are an estimated 47,000 rapes each year, but our conviction rate is 5.6%.

Vachss highlighted the obstacles in bringing successful rape prosecutions:

- female jurors can be judgemental of the complainant -- in order to convince themselves that it could never happen to them. In 2005, a survey for Amnesty International found that 5% of women (compared with 3% of men) believed that a woman was "totally responsible" for being raped if she was drunk.
- the reluctance, both here and in the US, to bring "difficult" cases to court, such as those involving prostitutes, drug and alcohol users, and teenage girls
- the absence, in the UK, for special victims units that work exclusively on sex crimes and receive intensive and ongoing training from experts

Vachss: "What I want is for people to feel horror about what rape really is," she says, "to feel indignation that we tolerate it".

Continuing US Chill Towards Spain

Naughty, naughty Spain. You aren't allowed to have a different foreign policy than the US.

Condoleezza Rice is the highest-level U.S. official to come to Spain since the withdrawal of troops from Iraq following its 2004 elections, which put a chill on relations between Washington and Madrid. Officials on both sides had viewed her visit as a potential opportunity for fence-mending, but Rice was quick to stir controversy over Cuba.

"I do have reservations about how much can be achieved within the context of discussions with a regime (Cuba) that is not committed to (democratic) principles," Rice said at a news conference with Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos. Moratinos defended his country's policy towards Cuba. He urged Rice to move away from isolating it and adopt Spain's approach of dealing directly with the communist island and its ailing President Fidel Castro.

Rice also targeted Spain for not doing more in Afghanistan, where it has up to 690 troops at any one time. "I would like to see all of the allies do more, and Spain is included in that list," she told reporters travelling with her.

Rice's visit was set to be noticeably brief -- just six hours without the symbolic overnight stay reserved for close allies.