31 July 2007

CO2 Rankings For Cars

When you see a billboard advertising a certain car, does it prominently feature the grams/km of CO2 emissions? When you see used car ads in the back of the Coventry Telegraph, do they mention the grams/km of CO2 emissions?

When we start seeing these indicators, that's when the tide will be turning.

You can check which models of cars have what levels of grams/km here.

The leading petrol model remains the Toyota Prius (104 g/km), followed by a chasing group of the following models: the Peugeot 107, the Toyota Aygo, the Citroen C1, and the Honda Civic hybrid (all at 109 g/km).

Technically, the Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion has 99 g/km, but it's diesel (diesel particulates and nitrogen oxide increase lung cancer and cardiac diseases, and make existing conditions, like asthma, worse).

In contrast, large 4x4s (petrol) start with the Lexus RX (192 g/km), then the Hyundai New Santa Fe (252 g/km ... where do they get these names).

Kreuzberg Is Not McLoving It

"Kreuzberg is a very alternative neighbourhood with a lot of small businesses, there is no Burger King, and no Ikea. This is what distinguishes the area. Instead of going to their own cafeterias, we fear that school pupils will end up eating at McDonald's which sizes them up as the fat children of tomorrow. The residents simply don't want to have a McDonald's here."

29 July 2007

Floods Update - 4

The Sunday Express has pointed out something obvious in retrospect: there needs to be £10 billion in flood damage repairs, and the Treasury is going to get a lot of VAT from that. Indeed, it will dwarf the £43 million in extra funding announced by Brown, in much the same way that the amount of international aid to developing countries was always overwhelmed by the demands of debt repayment.

The Observer provides a good overview of how the floods will lead to higher food prices.

Economists are harking back to the autumn of 2000, when some parts of Britain experienced the heaviest rains in 270 years, to project the likely effects on the rest of the country. Within six months, seasonal food prices had shot up 9 per cent. Higher living standards in China and India have increased global demand for meat and milk, and while consumer price inflation fell back to 2.4 per cent in June, food price inflation was double that. This has been exacerbated by severe drought in Australia and the US and a growing trend for farmers to grow crops for fuel instead of food. Consumers have enjoyed a period of relatively cheap food, with the share of household expenditure on food less than half what it was 40 years ago. Now, experts are suggesting the cost of some vegetables could rise by as much as 10 per cent.

25 July 2007

Two New Aircraft Carriers For 2014 And 2016

Long-term planning to create new weapons of war ... lack of long-term planning during 10 years of Labour government to create viable flood defences.

Drought In South-East Europe

Whilst we deal with the flood-of-the-century, other parts of Europe are dealing with extremes of heat.

We should abandon the phrase "global warming" and embrace "climate change" -- certain countries will become wetter, and certain countries will suffer extreme drought.

In both, agriculture will be mightily affected, with from crops washed out in England, and drought increasing during the past 30 years, costing the European economy at least €100 billion, according to EU data.

Record temperatures in June have already ensured that this is the hottest summer in Greece for a century. Around 500 people have died in Hungary in the past week alone - caused by heatstroke, cardiovascular problems and other illnesses aggravated by the heat – mainly among the older population. The heat wave has also hit Austria, Romania - where at least 30 people have died – and has also been blamed for widespread forest fires in Greece, Italy, Macedonia and Serbia. Temperatures hit a historic 43C in Belgrade, 44C in Bulgaria and 45C in Bosnia and Macedonia.

Biometrics In Schools

I didn't realise that schools already had fingerprinting programmes in place, for things like school catering, automated attendance, and library borrowing.

It's the thin edge of the wedge, since in the future, it will move on to retina and iris patterns, voice, facial shape, hand measurements and behavioural characteristics such as handwriting and typing patterns.

It's a scandal that, under this guidance from BECTA, schools are not required to seek parental consent.

The guidance states that schools should not store biometric data after pupils have left - and that any information can only be used for the specific purpose for which it was given. When children leave school, or the original purpose no longer applies, schools will be expected to destroy this personal information. Schools are also barred from handing over such information to any other organisation. There is also a requirement for schools to have sufficient security to protect this data.
That last point is interesting, since there must be student hackers hard at work to break into school computer networks to get this sort of info, the 2007 equivalent of Matthew Broderick changing his grades.

24 July 2007

Paint Recycling Ends In Norwich

It's the kind of groundbreaking scheme that central government should mainstream across the country.

Instead, it's reliant upon the lottery for funding, and now, it's being left to die a death.

Community RePaint, which has branches all over the country, aims to redistribute tins of people's paint rather than them being sent to landfill. Scores of community projects, schools and people on income support or low wages have benefited from the 30,000 litres of second-hand paint which have been redistributed over the years. The main aims of the project were to at least double the amount of paint reused in Norfolk and to raise awareness of reducing hazardous paint waste going to landfill.

23 July 2007

Floods Update - 3

The Times can reveal this morning that:

The Ministry of Defence was unwilling to supply lorries and drivers [for the floods] without being guaranteed payment for their services. As a result there appear to have been delays in securing the use of high-sided vehicles that could deliver sleeping bags and flood parcels to the stricken communities.

An estimated 90,000 gallons of water a second was surging down the swollen River Thames last night towards Oxford, Reading and Windsor. The Environment Agency fears that the Thames Valley area will now suffer a similar fate to Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire.

In the area worst affected by the floodwater from the Severn and the Avon over the weekend, some homes were left without running water and supermarkets reported panic buying of bottled water and food, which is expected to create serious shortages for several days.

22 July 2007

Floods Update - 2

BBC News is reporting that:

- The Association of British Insurers has said the total bill for the June and July floods could reach £2bn.
- In Upton-on-Severn, the Army is bringing food and water into the town, which is virtually cut off. Fire crews are also taking food parcels into Worcestershire towns.
- Severn Trent Water says 150,000 homes are without water in Gloucestershire after a treatment works was flooded.
- Another 200,000 people could eventually be cut off in Gloucester, Tewkesbury and Cheltenham.
- The RAF has been drafted in to protect a substation at risk of flooding, and power supplies to 500,000 people in Gloucestershire are also threatened

Floods Update - 1

The Observer has found that earlier this year:

The Met Office and risk planners in Whitehall told ministers that because of El Nino, this summer would have much wetter weather than usual. However, at the same time, the government was planning to cut jobs at the Environment Agency, which deals with flood defences. Water companies had also been prevented from building larger storm water drains and sewage systems because of the risk of rising water bills.
Furthermore, the Sunday Telegraph says that:

The RAF said it was its largest deployment of rescue helicopters in peacetime. Gordon Brown claimed that the flooding was an "emergency that no one could have predicted". But forecasters had warned officials at the Environment Agency, which is responsible for co-ordinating flood response, about the risk on Wednesday - two days before the first downpour. A National Audit Office report found that 63 per cent of flood defences were not properly maintained and more than £1 billion of flood defence spending did not reach areas most at risk.
What seems clear is that there needs to be one minister in charge of flood policy, preferably the Environment Secretary. Right now, it is split between four departments (the Environment Secretary, the Cabinet Office, the Communities Secretary, the Home Secretary).

20 July 2007

Biodynamic Garden at Ryton

The Elysia Biodynamic Garden will be opened on Saturday 21st July from 10am to 5pm at Garden Organic Ryton.

It will be the first garden, anywhere, to be created under biodynamic principles that is accessible to the public. Tours will be starting at 11.30am and 2.30pm. There will also be a demonstration of water stirring used to energise the garden as well as lunar-themed children's activities.

Biodynamics is the belief that the healthiest growing system can only develop when all the forces of nature are working in harmony. Sowing, planting and harvesting are carried out to coincide with lunar cycles, and the soil and compost used in the garden are energised using special plant extracts following biodynamic preparations.

Bob Sherman, director of Gardens and Gardening at Garden Organic, said: "As we approach our 50th year of developing and promoting organic growing, we are absolutely thrilled to host the world's first public biodynamic garden, which introduces these exciting principles to the UK. It confirms us as the centre of excellence for cutting edge organic research and techniques."

18 July 2007

Conservatives and Gay/Lesbian "Lifestyles"

Sayeeda Warsi ran for the Tories in Dewsbury in the 2005 general election.

Her campaign literature for Muslim voters in the constituency included phrases like:

"Labour has scrapped Section 28, which was introduced by the Conservatives to stop schools promoting alternative sexual lifestyles such as homosexuality to children as young as seven years old"

"Labour reduced the age of consent for homosexuality from 18 to 16, allowing schoolchildren to be propositioned for homosexual relationships."

Other pieces of campaign literature, targeted at white areas, had a strong anti-immigration theme.

Naturally, with this background, she became a vice-chair of the party.

Now, David Cameron has parachuted her into the House of Lords to be a front bench spokesperson for, of all things, social cohesion. Social cohesion, as long as you aren't gay, lesbian or bi.

Warsi, confronted with the leaflets from 2005, has said that people can be gay and lesbian in their private lives, and referred to being gay and lesbian as "lifestyles", and that she would want sex education to be "out of the school system, initially."

This is what lies behind the spin and surface appeal of David Cameron.

Facebook and Coventry Green Party

Facebook is an evil postmodern construct relegating life to a video game, but it's another venue to promote our work in!

17 July 2007

The Air War in Iraq

You don't hear much about it, but there's an "air surge" going on. And they're preparing to be, air-wise, in Iraq for the long haul.

US Air Force and Navy aircraft dropped 437 bombs and missiles in Iraq in the first six months of 2007, a fivefold increase over the 86 used in the first half of 2006. Iraq Body Count, a London-based, anti-war research group that monitors Iraqi war deaths, says the step-up in air attacks appears to have been accompanied by an increase in Iraqi civilian casualties from air strikes. Based on media reports, it counts a recent average of 50 such deaths per month.

Air Force engineers, meanwhile, are improving this centrally located home base, which supports some 10,000 air operations per week. [One of] Balad’s two 11,000-foot runways was reinforced - for five to seven years’ more hard use. The engineers next will build concrete “overruns” at the runways’ ends. Balad’s strategic ramp, the concrete parking lot for its biggest planes, was expanded last fall. The air traffic control system is to be upgraded again with the latest technology.

"We'd like to get it to be a field like Langley, if you will," said mission support chief Reynolds, referring to the Air Force showcase base in Virginia.

Cycle Training In Coventry

Coventry City Council cycle training instructors are running another course of basic cycling skills at Manor Park Primary School, in Ulverscroft Road, Cheylesmore.

It will be next Tuesday, the 24th, from 10am to 3pm, for children aged eight and over.

They will need a roadworthy bicycle, a cycle helmet and a packed lunch. The course costs £10 and booking is essential on 024 7683 1371.

13 July 2007

Wimbledon and Big Oil

I was paying more attention to Federer's fifth title, but there was more going on.

In the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (it's new nickname is Chris, say the acronym aloud, de-berr), there exists the Energy Development Unit. Jim Campbell is the civil servant in charge of regulating Britain's oil and gas industry.

The giant oil company Chevron provided an all-expenses-paid day out at Wimbledon for Jim Campbell ... In the course of a single year, officials were given, among other things, a racing day at Glorious Goodwood. They also got private art views, a trip to the ballet, a golf outing, a party visiting the crown jewels at the Tower of London, tickets to balls, dinner in a Michelin-starred restaurant, and a case of champagne from Shell for Christmas. Officials were also invited to a more conventional round of company banquets, presentations, lunches and dinners, at hotels such as the Savoy and Claridge's. From May 4 2006 to April 26 2007, EDU staff received a total of 170 gifts and invitations from companies including Shell, Total, Exxon Mobil, Amerada Hess and Chevron. Mr Campbell, the head of the energy unit, recorded receiving a benefit of some kind more than once a month.

11 July 2007

Gordon Brown's Casino Policy

I was off ill today, so I was actually watching PMQs when Brown dropped his semi-bombshell about reconsidering the entire super/mega casino project.

Mr Brown was told by Labour MP Andy Reed that most people thought super-casinos would make gambling addiction worse. The prime minister replied the issue would be "subject to reflection over the next few months."

"In September we will have a report that will look at gambling in our country - the incidence and prevalence of it and the social effects of it," Mr Brown said.

"I hope that during these summer months we can look at whether regeneration in the areas for the super-casinos maybe a better way of meeting their economic and social needs than the creation of super-casinos."

Whitehall sources told the BBC the idea of using a super-casino to regenerate run-down areas was "dead in the water".
As I've said before in this space, the Metropolitan Police's Gaming Unit has significant concerns about mega-casinos (anti-social behaviour, the diversion of police resources, the potential for increased organised crime and money laundering, and increased access to gambling for children and vulnerable groups).

That, plus the fact that Britain already has 300 000 problem gamblers.

10 July 2007

Two Recent Letters on Transport

A letter that I sent on Monday, to the Coventry Telegraph:

"It was a catchy photo for a Monday paper, but the launch of the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” isn’t a green victory. Parts from 100 locations around the world go into the 787 -- carbon emissions in getting them to the factory. The 787’s factory is the size of 50football pitches. It’s is the largest building in the world by volume -- carbon emissions to heat and run it. Boeing estimates that, between now and 2025, airlines and shipping companies will need another 27,200 planes - a doubling of today's fleet. Any savings of 20% less fuel per passenger will be swamped by growth. Government has to start making tough decisions about curbing airport capacity, and fares need to show the true environmental cost of flying."

A letter sent on Tuesday to the Coventry Times:

"Arriva is taking over the Cross Country rail franchise from Virgin for the next 8 years. Behind cheery promises (more trains, more staff) lies the fact that Arriva Wales hiked their off-peak fares by over 30% in June 2007. They should be hauled before the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission, not rewarded with a rail franchise! Between 1998 and 2006, train fares rose by an average of 46.2%, whilst motoring for a small family has risen from 41.5 pence a mile in 1997 to 56.2 pence in 2005, a rise of only 26%. We need to reverse this and have an 8-year fares policy from Arriva that encourages people out of cars and onto trains."

01 July 2007

Brown's New Cabinet

Gordon Brown's first cabinet signals (hopefully) that we're at the end of Labour's period of running around and re-announcing everything three times over. Brown realises (putting Ed Miliband at the Cabinet Office, putting Professor Sir Ara Darzi as a junior minister in Health) that it needs to be about delivery.

Of course, I disagree about the solutions being pushed through. Gordon Brown is the man behind the PFI boondoggle, and he forced through the part-privatisation of the London Underground and air traffic control.

Just this morning with Andrew Marr, he squashed any idea of a change in policy on Guantanamo (after Harman's comments during the deputy leadership election campaign).

And it's unclear how much delivery you can deliver in a year leading up to a general election. But it's a welcome change. And it's a change, post-Blair, that shouldn't be underestimated.

John Rentoul, in the Indie on Sunday, points out:

The car bombs vindicate John Reid's decision to split the Home Office, so Jacqui Smith can concentrate on terrorism while leaving the crisis of prison overcrowding to Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice.

The big disappointment of the new Government is Hilary Benn's move to Environment. The grey man of the Labour deputy leadership contest has been given the green department, which has not been transformed into a super-ministry. Responsibility for energy policy, which is critical to climate change, remains with what used to be the DTI. Of course, David Miliband can do the negotiations that are critical at the global level, but the Government risks losing the edge in mobilising domestic opinion, once again, to David Cameron.

Smoking Ban Begins Today

A survey by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) found that:

- 6.2 million people (17% of all adults in England and Wales) who visit pubs regularly are likely to visit pubs more often ... of that group, 97% were non-smokers.
- 840,000 people who currently never go to a pub said they will after the smoking ban
- Only 3% said they would not visit pubs at all as a result of the ban.

The "people will drink in their back gardens and not come out to the pub" argument might hold true for a few warm weeks of summer, but I think that we'll find a year from now that more people will be going out to pubs, and it'll be a healthier environment.

One other thing from that CAMRA survey, smokers tend to drink lager. So, we might also see a boost to small real ale breweries around the country.