31 January 2008

Upcoming Events/Media

- "Costing The Earth" is on BBC Radio 4 tonight, from 9pm to 930pm, repeated Friday 1st January, 3pm. Tom Heap looks at if Britain can deliver on generating 15% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020. In Europe, only Luxembourg and Malta currently have a worse record at increasing the percentage of energy that comes from renewable sources.

- Later tonight, from 10pm to 1040pm, BBC 4 (digital TV) will have a documentary called Children of Guernica. It tells the story of 4000 Spanish children, refugees from their Civil War, who arrived in the UK in May 1937.

- The next Coventry World Development Movement speaker meeting is on Saturday 2nd February, from 10am to 12pm. It will be at Queens Road Baptist Church (Grosvenor Road, between Central Six and the ring road). Ann Farr and Edenis Guilarte will be sharing stories from Palestine/Israel and Venezuela. For more information, you can contact Gianluca on 07810 424 081, or at gianlu_om@yahoo.com.

- Finally, Sunday 3rd February is Garden Organic Ryton's Potato Day. It's from 10am to 5pm, and you can choose from dozens of varieties of seed potatoes on sale, plus talks, advice, tasting sessions, a cookery demonstration, children’s activities and seed swap.

Shell Full Year Results

You can read their full Q4 and full year results here.

Despite spending billions on exploration, their total oil production was down 7%, excluding the tarsands.

"Production is getting more expensive as easily accessible resources become more difficult to find. The industry reckons that the cost of production has gone up from $5 a barrel in 2000 to $14 in 2006 and many analysts believe that oil company profits may have peaked."

"Shell and Solar Century were among the 150 companies that recently signed up to the hard-hitting Bali Declaration. It is vital that companies act consistently with the rhetoric in such declarations, and as I have told Shell senior management on several occasions, an all-out assault on the Canadian tar sands and extracting oil from coal is completely inconsistent with climate protection ... Unless fossil-fuel energy companies evolve their core activities meaningfully, we are in deep trouble." - Jeremy Leggett, chief executive of Solarcentury, December 2007

Obama And YouTube

Barack Obama's YouTube channel has had 11 million visits. Yes, you read that correctly.

By Tuesday afternoon, Barack Obama's response to Bush's final State of the Union was the most watched clip in the world, drawing over 300,000 views in under 20 hours. The public has shown overwhelming and sustained interest in hearing from Obama directly. This is the third Obama video to shoot into YouTube's top three in the past 10 days -- and the first video that was shot specifically for web viewers, rather than broadcasting documentary footage of a speech.
It's not just YouTube. The Washington Post reports that on Facebook, Obama has more three times the number of Clinton supporters -- 299,000 to 83,000. Obama counts 240,000 MySpace friends to Clinton's 171,000.

If he becomes the nominee, and it remains a big if, those YouTube figures will grow and grow. How many millions will be watching each of his video posts in the fortnight before the election? Will that be a good thing for him, or an incredibly volatile situation? It's uncharted presidential election territory!

30 January 2008

You Might Be A Green If ...

- You think about the wages and conditions of workers before you buy clothing

- You're in favour of having access to alternatives to mainstream healthcare

- You think charity shops are sexy, and agree that we need more adult education courses in make-do-and-mend

- You regard electric juicers and bread-making machines as just short of crazy

- You wonder why, with a record number of folks in prison, the government wants to bang up even more, rather than tough community sentences, getting reoffending down (drug treatment in prison, employment help on leaving prison), and stopping youth getting into crime in the first place

- You're not just worried about number one, and you wonder about your parents, or grandparents, and how they'll end up in retirement

- You've heard, even vaguely, about peak oil, and want to know more about the effects of it on society

- You think the first-past-the-post system of voting is a busted flush

- You have a sneaking suspicion that Labour's not as good on healthcare as they make out

28 January 2008

Green Collar Jobs

The Guardian today has a short article on "green collar jobs" -- manual-labour jobs in the new ecological economy, from mending bicycles to cladding buildings in solar panels.

Pat Thomas, the editor of the Ecologist, is quoted as saying that:

"A sustainable society won't be able to provide full employment because in a world where we don't produce more than we need, there is less to buy and there are fewer services required."
This is the elephant in the room that we need to talk more about.

If we buy less, and we do more ourselves (growing and cooking our food, making and repairing our clothes, building our own buildings, or creating healthcare that does not rely on petrochemical-based pills), we'll have less consumption. We equate a booming economy with vigorous consumption. If we have a decline in consumption, current common sense dictates that output will drop, jobs will be lost, and incomes will fall.

The existing economic structure (which the main three political parties accept) operates as a major disincentive to sustainable consumption.

So, we have a choice. Do we stick with putting endless growth in consumption at the heart of our society, or do we think about things in a different way?

If economic consumption can be decoupled from material consumption, if people purchased high-value services instead of resource-intensive artefacts, if consumer commodities become value heavy and materially light, then we could preserve economic stability and still meet environmental and social targets. If people accepted higher taxes and invested more in the future, we might even be able to preserve economic stability without a massive growth in private consumption. But these are all big ‘ifs’.

27 January 2008

"Mr. W"

"Maybe I was too intense. Maybe I came on too strong. It was lonely, really lonely. Now, since I got this job, life is completely different. I finally feel useful."

Fish And Chips

The Observer:

We're still used to paying a fiver, or less, for fish and chips: a sum that reflects not the plenty of our seas (our waters have not been truly bountiful for decades), nor the unfashionability of fish (eating fish is hip: just ask any supermodel of your acquaintance), but the many and monstrous industrial ways it is caught and brought to our tables.

The fish at Tom's Place will be mostly line-caught, because it is the nets of vast trawlers that have put stocks in such peril. It will also come from sustainable, Marine Stewardship Council-approved sources. He is using small, family boats in Newlyn, Plymouth, Hastings, Lowestoft and Peterhead, owned by fishermen with pride in what they do, expertise and morals. If a customer wants to know more, their questions will be answered. Will he able to persuade people to pay these prices? "I think so," he says, carefully. "It's a case of people realising what is going on."

26 January 2008

Network Rail Head Calls For High-Speed Lines

Iain Coucher, the chief executive of Network Rail, is proposing three new lines operating at up to 200mph: from London to Glasgow, via Birmingham and Manchester; London to Edinburgh, via Leeds and Newcastle upon Tyne; and London to Cardiff, via Bristol.

It's reassuring that someone has vision in the rail industry.

Network Rail has decided to take a lead after becoming frustrated by the Department for Transport’s lack of progress on the issue of high-speed rail ... [Coucher] said that High Speed 1, the 186mph (300km/h) line that opened in November between London St Pancras and the Channel Tunnel, should be viewed as the first part of a new network carrying faster intercity express trains.

He added: "Not just High Speed 2, but High Speed 3, maybe even High Speed 4 — that’s where we need to be by 2020. There is demand building up today. We’ll now sit down, working with the train-operating companies, to come up with ideas about where we think it should go and what it should look like."

Coventry City Centre Redevelopment

Clive Rosher, one of our local members, has a letter in this week's Coventry Observer, about the proposed redevelopment of the city centre of Coventry:

I am horrified by the proposal to demolish and rebuild the city centre.

Last year, the council published its Draft Climate Change Strategy in which it quite rightly sought to move to "One Planet Living" from our present unsustainable "Three Planet Living." This is an absolutely essential target which would be undermined by needlessly destroying existing buildings and rebuilding them twice as big to double the amount of shopping.

We are already pressed to shop 'til we drop. Instead, we should learn to be content with enough and remember that more than enough is too much. We must concentrate on minimising climate chaos and establishing a peaceful world in harmony with nature, where everyone the world over can enjoy neither poverty nor opulence, but a satisfactory degree of prosperity.

25 January 2008

Leafletting In Earlsdon

This week, we've been distributing our January leaflet throughout Earlsdon, as well as a few in neighbouring wards (Lower Stoke, Westwood, Whoberley).

The leaflet has some info on how to get involved in the local party, some info on this website (hopefully, we get some symbiosis going between door-to-door canvassing, leaflets, and this blog), and info on transport (congestion charging; youth discounts on public transit).

I'll be getting together with two others to do the north part of Styvechale tomorrow (all the streets running off Knoll Drive).

If you see us, don't be a stranger!

Second Border Wall Hole In Gaza

2nd verse, same as the first:

Palestinians have bulldozed down part of the Gaza-Egypt border wall again, hours after Egyptian troops blocked holes recently made by militants. The UN has estimated that as much as half of Gaza's 1.5 million population has crossed the border in defiance of the blockade. The latest incident is a humiliating setback for Cairo, which must now decide how to respond. Egypt may now have to consider talks with Hamas, which it has previously ruled out.

US Election - John Pilger

The New Statesman, 24th January 2008:

Travelling with Robert Kennedy in 1968 was eye-opening for me. To audiences of the poor, Kennedy would present himself as a saviour. The words "change" and "hope" were used relentlessly and cynically. For audiences of fearful whites, he would use racist codes, such as "law and order". With those opposed to the invasion of Vietnam, he would attack "putting American boys in the line of fire", but never say when he would withdraw them.

That year (after Kennedy was assassinated), Richard Nixon used a version of the same, malleable speech to win the presidency. Thereafter, it was used successfully by Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and the two Bushes. Carter promised a foreign policy based on "human rights" - and practised the very opposite. Reagan's "freedom agenda" was a bloodbath in central America. Clinton "solemnly pledged" universal health care and tore down the last safety net of the Depression.

Nothing has changed. Barack Obama is a glossy Uncle Tom who would bomb Pakistan. Hillary Clinton, another bomber, is anti-feminist. John McCain's one distinction is that he has personally bombed a country. They all believe the US is not subject to the rules of human behaviour, because it is "a city upon a hill", regardless that most of humanity sees it as a monumental bully which, since 1945, has overthrown 50 governments, many of them democracies, and bombed 30 nations, destroying millions of lives.

24 January 2008

"The Planet Is Getting Skinned"

“The estimate is that we are now losing about 1 percent of our topsoil every year to erosion, most of this caused by agriculture.” David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington describes modern agricultural practices as “soil mining” -- we are rapidly outstripping the Earth’s natural rate of restoring topsoil. True living topsoil cannot be made overnight. It grows back at a rate of an inch or two over hundreds of years. “Globally, it’s pretty clear we’re running out of dirt,” Montgomery said.

Five Stories To Read

- A peace pact has been signed in Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo by the government and armed groups. The death toll in the past decade in DR Congo has surpassed any conflict since World War II - 5.4 million people have died.

- B&Q will stop selling patio heaters -- propane patio heaters produce 35 kilos of carbon dioxide emissions every 13 hours

- The Commons Public Accounts Committee wants dementia to be given the same attention as heart disease and cancer. 500 000 people in England already suffer from dementia, and our population is aging.

- Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, has written a letter to the Guardian, picking up on Stuart Rose's words on the rich/poor divide, and urging M&S to act on conditions for workers (mainly migrant and agency) in the meat industry.

- Johann Hari, in the Independent, predicts a John McCain presidency might be more military and imperial than Dubya's.

23 January 2008

A Domestic Violence Registry

Domestic violence is 16% of all violent crime, and it has more repeat victims than any other crime (on average there will have been 35 assaults before a victim calls the police).

Brian Moore, chief constable of Wiltshire Police, has urged MPs to give "considerable extra thought" to the idea of creating a domestic violence abuse register.

Moore is concerned about the "thousands of protocols" around information sharing, and a register would help track abusive men and women who move from one relationship to another.

"Each agency may have part of the picture. But it is only when all these pieces of information come together from police, education, social services and from housing authorities that we have the clearest picture of those at risk. The law in this regard is inadequate. The law on information sharing is passive - there is no obligation to share when someone is at risk. We have to act now because year-on-year other people are losing their lives because of this gap in the law."
Here is a list of organisations providing domestic violence services in the West Midlands.

Border Fence Destroyed On Gaza-Egypt Border

After a months-long Israeli blockade of Gaza (tightened last Thursday to a full-scale lockdown, with Israel halting all fuel shipments and even the entry of humanitarian aid), militants have exploded holes in the border fence with Egypt. Two-thirds of the border fence (the BBC photo on the right) has been destroyed.

Thousands of Palestinians are crossing through the breach to stock up on rice, sugar, milk, wheat, petrol and cigarettes.

AP reports that police from Hamas are directing traffic. So far, Egyptian border guards are taking no action.

Under the border closure, medical treatment of Palestinians has suffered:

Medication has been in short supply. Hospitals are paralysed by power failures and the shortage of fuel for generators. Essential hospital equipment is breaking down, with limited possibility of repair or maintenance as spare parts are not available. The permit regime for medical referrals has become more stringent. Many have had their treatment delayed or denied, worsening their medical conditions and causing preventable deaths. Concrete is in such short supply that people are unable to make graves for their dead. Hospitals are handing out sheets as funeral shrouds.

There has never been a more urgent need for the international community to act to restore normality in Gaza. Hungry, unhealthy, angry communities do not make good partners for peace.

22 January 2008

THT - Young Leaders Grants

The Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) is inviting groups of teenagers to apply for a grant to start projects that will teach your peers about safe sex, sexually-transmitted diseases, and how to deal with difficult relationships.

- The grants are for up to £1000
- Some of the suggestions that they have already had include: improv theatre on sex and relationships education, projects to address sexual or homophobic bullying, youth training youth on contraception, or podcasts.
- You will need to work in partnership with a youth work professional, from a school/organisation who agrees to support your project
- The organisation needs to agree to account for the funding your project receives.
- The project must benefit young people aged between 13 and 19 years old, with the exception of projects that support young people with a physical or learning disability.

The deadline is the 29th of February 2008.

For more information, you can find links to the application forms and guidance here.

The local contact for more information on this is Mick Mason, at THT-Coventry, on Manor Road, near the rail station, 02476 229 292, mick.mason@tht.org.uk


If you see footballers forming an "A" with their fingers after scoring a goal, this is what it's about.

Jacqui Smith On Walking At Night

Libby Purves, The Times

The Home Secretary was droning peacefully on about how “people are safer in terms of crime than ten years ago” (ignoring, as they always do, the fact that much street crime goes unreported because there's no point, and that the drop in crime figures has more to do with car alarms than policing).

Then the canny reporter asked whether she personally, would feel safe walking alone in Hackney at night? And the minister said “No. Why would I do that? ... I just don't think it's a thing that people do. I wouldn't walk around at midnight. I'm fortunate that I don't have to ... You don't walk in areas you don't know, in any circumstances”; and that her task is to “persuade” people that they are safe.

No. The task is to make them safe. On any street, any time. We do not ask for the right to walk around naked with bags of gold, just to be more confident that men like Garry Newlove will not be kicked to death by lads on bail, that a stabbing will be a nine-day wonder not a routine shrug, and that shift workers, women, partygoers, insomniacs, eccentrics and teenagers themselves should walk in safety.

21 January 2008

The True Cost Of The Iraq War

The Iraq war has already cost the US £500 billion to conduct. When you add indirect expenses that Americans will be paying long after troops come home (medical care for the injured, higher oil prices and replenishing the military), the war will cost America upwards of $2 trillion.

Plus the cost to "coalition" partners, like Britain.

Plus the cost to Iraq.

With $135 billion a year, we could eliminate extreme poverty around the world.

Making sure developing countries have enough money to fight the AIDS epidemic "only" costs $15 billion per year. For $5 billion a year, we could achieve universal literacy.

Immunising every child in the world against deadly disease is even cheaper -- $1.3 billion a year.

We only have to shift our priorities from waging war to waging peace to do so.

Floods Across England

15 severe flood warnings and 124 flood warnings are in place across England and Wales.

- Families in Gloucestershire have been living in fear of a repeat of the summer flooding for more than a week, with warnings in place along the River Severn since the 12th of January.

- Flooding closed rail lines today between Sheffield and Barnsley, as well as from Leeds to either York, Harrogate, Bradford, Manchester Victoria, Sheffield or Blackpool North.

- The Environment Agency says there could be "extreme danger" to life and property in parts of Huddersfield, where the River Colne was expected to burst its banks.

Naturally, today's the day that more than 700 businesses have called on Alistair Darling to scrap a planned rise in fuel duty. In a letter to Darling, the companies said: "We are alarmed by the signals that the government appears to be sending to such a crucial industry at a time when the economy appears to be stalling."

I'm more alarmed at the rising flood waters. We have to start recognising that there is a link between driving more and more and carbon emissions that will contribute to a century of unpredictable climate change.

Coventry's Sustainable Communities Strategy

The Coventry Partnership currently has a consultation on their "Sustainable Communities Strategy."

You can give your views on eight different areas of work, from community safety, to housing, to transport.

Their website states that: "'Coventry – the next 20 years' will become the overarching strategy for promoting and improving the well-being of the city and will be based firmly on Coventry’s needs. As well as setting out a long-term vision, the new strategy will also identify the short-term priorities for the city."

20 January 2008

Electric Van - The Coventry Peace House

The Coventry Peace House runs a social enterprise, Delicious and Nutritious.

It was set up to provide vegetarian buffets for meetings and parties. It also provides volunteer opportunities for people who don’t have the right to work. Their chef has 12 years experience as a restaurant chef - you might have tasted his food at the Herbert CafĂ©.

They celebrated their 1st anniversary this weekend.

For the coming year, they have devised a programme of cookery classes.

They also want to buy an electric van for deliveries. They can buy one second hand for £5,000. They are looking for people who will can offer a loan which will be paid back, with interest at a rate of 2%, by the end of 2008. A £1000 loan would sponsor the van's motor, £100 would sponsor a seat, or a £50 loan would sponsor a wheel.

Please contact Penny Walker for more information on 02476 664616 or food@covpeacehouse.org.uk.

The End Of Cheap Food?

"The food system is entering a period of very significant restructuring, the first since the years after the Second World War. We may look back at the second half of the last century as an era of cheap food. It'll be like the Hundred Years' War, as we were taught it in school: a seminal moment in human history that's gone and will not return."

18 January 2008

How You Can Get Involved

- We did door-to-door canvassing in December about the city’s consultation on its climate change strategy. We will continue twice-weekly canvassing (Wednesday nights; Saturday or Sunday afternoons) between now and the local elections.

- We're currently distributing a 7000 copy leaflet in Coventry (mainly in Earlsdon, but also in areas where we want to run candidates for the May elections). If you could help out, 300 leaflets for your street and the next one over would take 3 hours to do.

- You could attend our spring conference. It will be held this year in Reading (from 14th to 17th February (Reading Town Hall, Blagrave St, RG1 1QH). All non-members can attend as observers. You can drop by for a day, with rates on a sliding scale by income (£11-£30), or pay for a four-day pass.

- Donating to the Coventry Green Party would be a big help in putting our first Green onto the city council. £5 means we can print 125 A4 posters. 20 people donating £14 each means we can print 10 000 leaflets for the council election in May. We are also raising money to run in Coventry South when Gordon Brown calls the next general election.

Five Articles On "The War On Terror"

- Pakistan has banned hundreds of anti-Musharraf blogsites, and Musharraf has passed a new law that makes cyber terrorism, among other online crimes, punishable with death.

- A training course for Canadian diplomats has described the US as a country where prisoners are at risk of torture, and classifies some US interrogation techniques (forced nudity, isolation, sleep deprivation) as torture.

- Michael Massing writes about the actions of US soldiers in Iraq

- Opium fields are spreading in parts of Iraq.

- An emerging Sunni-Shiite nationalist bloc in Iraq has signed a groundbreaking agreement aimed at ending Iraq's civil war, blocking the privatization of Iraq's oil industry, and wants the Nuri al-Maliki government to meet various reconciliation "benchmarks" or be swept out of office.

17 January 2008

The Peter Hain Saga

The best coverage, by far, has been from Guido Fawkes. He was on the case back in early December. It's a mystery why Gordon Brown is standing four-square behind Jon Mendolsohn, Wendy Alexander, Harriet Harman and Hain. Maybe his political antennae have broken off.

"Buy Less, Live More" Credit Card

I think I've found my 2nd question for "Question Time" tonight.

The Methodist Church has introduced a credit card for Lent:

The new Methodist campaign is encouraging people to consume less and live more this Lent, the traditional time of Christian reflection and life review, which remembers the Gospel story of Jesus' sojourn in the desert - when he was tempted, and rejected, various offers of wealth and power. The alternative credit card is designed to be placed in a wallet in front of other credit and debit cards to remind people to think twice before they spend. It will also be seen as relevant to current concerns about the consumer credit boom, which has been leaving an increasing number of people in debt.

One World Week 2008

One World Week is taking place from the 18th to the 26th of January at the University of Warwick. It is billed as the world's "largest student-run global event."

Things that stand out from the programme's first few days include:

- a theatre workshop by Graeae, a disabled-led theatre company that profiles the skills of actors, writers and directors with physical and sensory impairments
- "Darfur in Focus" - a forum focusing on the treatment and rehabilitation of the 2.5 million people driven out of their homes and 200,000 living in refugee camps, Saturday 19th January, 330pm to 430pm, Warwick Arts Centre
- "A Crude Awakening" - a film on peak oil, Saturday 19th January, 5pm to 730pm, Warwick Arts Centre

16 January 2008

Question Time

I've received a call, out of the blue, inviting me to be a member of the audience on "Question Time" on BBC 1 this Thursday night (1030pm).

You pre-register through their website, indicating how you would vote if an election was held tomorrow, and which cities/towns you'd attend if the programme visited your area.

They ask you to send one question in advance, and bring along another question to the taping.

My first question will be on prison overcrowding (since Jacqui Smith is on the panel), and I'll have to think up a 2nd one for tomorrow.

15 January 2008

US Election - Obama And Race

- Tim Reid (The Times) describes the tension between Obama and Clinton over Clinton's comments on Martin Luther King in New Hampshire.

- Ishmael Reed (Counterpunch) continues on from Clinton's comments to critique Gloria Steinem's defence of Clinton and the wider impact of race on the nomination race.

- Edward McClelland (Salon) thinks that Chicago black politics were key to Obama's rise.

- The New York Times wonders if Obama, as an African-American, can win over Hispanic voters.

- Rosa Brooks (LA Times) writes about sex, race and "Generation Y" voters:

In the context of the 2008 election, the question, “Would you vote for a black man for president?” takes for granted certain assumptions: that there is a clearly defined category we can label “black men,” that Obama fits into that category and that belonging to that category matters.

Iincreasingly, there’s evidence that younger Americans just don’t think about race in the same simplistic ways. They’re more likely than older Americans to be minorities themselves, for one thing. In 2006, only 19.8% of Americans over 60 were minorities, compared with about 40% of Americans under the age of 40. And younger minorities come from a far wider range of racial and ethnic backgrounds than their older counterparts. Once, “minority” largely meant “black,” which in turn meant “descendant of the Africans brought to the U.S. as slaves.” Some of today’s young minorities fit that profile, but others are descended from Filipino farmers, Chinese schoolteachers, Iranian engineers, Mexican construction workers, Congolese doctors, or Haitian shopkeepers.

Sustainable Construction In Public Buildings

The Commons Public Accounts Committee has a new report out on sustainability and government building projects.

It's a depressing read.

Mandatory environmental assessments were carried out in only 35% of new builds and 18% of major refurbishment projects in 2005–06, and only 9% of projects could be shown to meet the required environmental standards ... Departments did not undertake post-occupancy evaluations, which can be an effective way of identifying improvements, and did not carry out whole life costing which is necessary if the most sustainable option is to be chosen.
Labour's environmental rhetoric is bankrupt if this is the situation after 10 years in power.

The questioning of senior civil servants, Helen Ghosh among them, is welcomingly abrasive, further into the report (page 16 onwards).

The target for the government office estate (9000 buildings nationwide) to be carbon-neutral by 2012 is in jeoprady. If the government cannot achieve it within its buildings, civil servants, under questioning from MPs, said that they will "achieve" it by buying carbon offset. However, no extra money seems to have been put aside for this.

Kale Recipes

We are receiving kale each week in our veg box.

Kale has been cultivated for over 2,000 years. It was the most widely eaten green vegetable until the Middle Ages when cabbage became popular. It's rich in vitamin A, C and E, folic acid, manganese, iron, calcium, beta carotene, and potassium, as well as sulphoraphane (linked to cancer prevention).

You can drop the chorizo from this caldo verde recipe, and find a dozen good kale recipes here, and a few more here too.

Your Carbon Footprint

A great book to pick up would be "Carbon Calculator -- easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint" by Mark Lynas.

We need to become more carbon-literate to be more carbon-thrifty.

He lays out how you can take your gas bills, leckie bills, mileage/model of your car, holidays, commuting, and your pattern of consumption (love shopping/packaged food vs grow your own/shop locally), and figure our your current footprint.

Once you know your footprint, it's clearer which area to cut down to make a significant impact, and you'll know when you're 10% down on last year, when you're 25% down on 2 1/2 years ago, etc.

Personally, I shop locally/ethically, I don't drive, and I haven't flown since late August 2006 (Iceland, for a wedding). Where I need to cut down on is in areas like heating bills and insulation.

14 January 2008

Letters On Nuclear Power

The Guardian, 14th January:

The government's own figures show that there is the potential to save more than 30% of all energy used in the UK solely through energy-efficiency measures which would also save more money than they cost to implement. Moreover, about two-thirds of the energy used in electricity generation from large, centralised power stations is wasted before it ever reaches our homes, and by itself accounts for a full 20% of UK CO2 emissions. That's why combined heat-and-power stations, which capture and use-waste heat, must have a crucial role to play, alongside investment in renewables. Nuclear power, by contrast, would lock us into a centralised distribution system at precisely the time when local distribution networks offer more potential than ever.
Dr Caroline Lucas
MEP, Green Party

Most of the gas we use is for heating and hot water, or for industrial purposes. Nuclear power, which only supplies electricity, cannot replace that energy. Meanwhile almost all oil is used for transport - nuclear power can't take its place either. In fact, 86% of our oil and gas consumption is for purposes other than producing electricity, so nuclear power is an almost irrelevant response to our fuel dependency. What will work is energy efficiency, cleaner and more efficient use of fossil fuels, renewables and decentralised energy. Together they can deliver reliable low-carbon energy quicker and cheaper. They are also safer and globally applicable, unlike nuclear.
John Sauven
Executive director, Greenpeace UK

13 January 2008

A Wind Turbine Visit

"We thought it was worth the 300 step climb just to get closer to the inner workings of this machine. We can hardly hear it from the driveway, but coming up here closer, it sounds a bit like a faraway motorway, and it's going at full blast. It's actually very windy."

Labour's Inability To Govern

- Geoffrey Norris, Gordon Brown's energy adviser, held at least nine unminuted secret meetings with the bosses of EDF, British Nuclear Fuels, E.ON and British Energy, between September 2005 and June 2006. Why the secrecy? Why the privelaged access for the nuclear industry, rather than renewable power head honchos?

- At a time when millions of birds, and over 200 people, have died worldwide from H5N1, the number of wild birds tested by the Government for avian flu has fallen by 17 per cent over the last year.

- Stephen Carter, appointed by Gordon Brown to improve the running of Labour's government, allegedly 'misled' the media and 'issued false statements' that helped to inflate artificially the share price of a massively indebted telecoms company.

- A cabinet minister runs for the deputy leadership of his party. He doesn't declare over 60% of his donations. A think-tank, which has never published any work or held any meetings, acts as a funnel for donations to pay off his outstanding debts. He refuses to resign. There is no sign he will be fired.

- Finally, ministers plan to implant microchips under the skin of thousands of offenders.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "If the Home Office doesn't understand why implanting a chip in someone is worse than an ankle bracelet, they don't need a human-rights lawyer; they need a common-sense bypass." ... Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said the proposal would not make his members' lives easier and would degrade their clients. He added: "Treating people like pieces of meat does not seem to represent an improvement in the system to me."

12 January 2008

Labour Plans For "Superprisons"

Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, in The Times today:

"If you build more, you fill more." The prisons budget is being squeezed, which means "for the first time in most people’s memory" prisoners have less time out of cells – in effect locked in for the entire weekend – "and that's only the beginning of a series of cuts."

Our vast numbers of prisoners "certainly says something about our mental health services," she says, along with the way we deal with drug addicts, people in care and educational failings.

"My fear is twofold. My fear is that, first of all, [the building programme] will suck money away from the things that can prevent prison. We know that prisons have revolving doors and the reason is because the problems that people had before they went to prison are the same problems they encounter after they leave prison. If you don't deal with the before and the after, then all you create is a circle," she said.

11 January 2008

Media - 11th January

- Transition Culture points out that Transition Town Totnes will be profiled on "The One Show" on BBC1, at 7pm.

[edited to add -- for their own reasons, the BBC didn't include the TTT piece ... I presume it will be on Monday instead]

- Malcolm Wicks, the Energy Minister, will be one of the four panelists on "Any Questions" on BBC Radio 4, at 8pm. Presumably, there'll be at least one nuclear-related question for him.

- Jamie Oliver has a programme on battery chickens on Channel 4, at 9pm.

The problem with this one is Jamie Oliver's credibility.

Justin King, the chief executive of Sainsbury's, had a "tense" conversation with Oliver, after the chef criticised the company for not appearing in an on-air debate on the show:

Oliver: "It is shocking that the people that I work for did not turn up on the day. I do not know why. The fact that your PR department has not even got the confidence to turn up and talk about what you do ... how dare they not? I was really upset."

Now, Oliver has written a letter of apology to the 150 000 staff of Saino's. He receives £1.2 million a year from Sainsbury's, and it's up for renewal in April.

Nuclear Debate - Day 2

Labour links to nuclear:

- Ian McCartney, the former chairman of the Labour Party and former Trade Minister, is paid at least £110,000 to be a senior adviser at Fluor, which is bidding for a £5 billion contract to run Sellafield.

- Richard Caborn, former Sports Minister and former chairman of the Trade and Industry Select Committee, was appointed in November as an adviser to a consortium which is bidding for, you guessed it, the £5 billion contract to run Sellafield.

- Yvette Cooper (Min for Housing and Planning) and Ed Balls (Sec of State for Children, Families and Schools) are married. Cooper's father, Tony Cooper, is a board member of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and a former chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association.

Where any uranium might be mined:

Would consumers really want nuclear power if the reality of the uranium mines was brought home to them? Would the cabinet, in fact, like to work in one? Greedy companies like the French Areva and the Australian Paladin are striking deals to plunder uranium with a haste not seen since the 1950s, and similar disregard for consequences. This is creating conflict between locals and governments, who are rushing to do deals with scant regard for the wellbeing of the people affected in the mines' locality.
Polly Toynbee wonders:

Will the companies pay the uninsurable full cost of a serious accident? Who pays for further flood defences, since all the sites are by the rising sea? Here's one clause in yesterday's white paper: "In extreme circumstances the government may be called upon to meet the costs of ensuring the protection of the public and the environment." Everyone knows that. The government has baled out every reactor built so far.
Jeremy Warner, of the Independent, is skeptical:

As long as the price of carbon remains a market-driven variable, investors will be reluctant to join the present enthusiasm for new nuclear build. Some go so far as to insist that they wouldn't invest at all in the absence of a "nuclear obligation", similar in nature to the existing "renewables obligation", which would force suppliers to source a set proportion of their generating needs from nuclear.
Finally, 26th April is the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, and a anti-nuclear march, from London to Geneva will begin.

6th Anniversary Of Guantanamo Bay

"The first of hundreds of al-Qaida prisoners are due to arrive at the US military base in Cuba today after a high-security airlift from Afghanistan which has aroused the concern of human rights groups ... The detainees would be manacled and chained to each other and possibly hooded and sedated. They would not be allowed to leave their seats for any reason, it added."

10 January 2008

Gordon Brown Goes Nuclear

Myself and John Verdult (Coventry FoE) have jointly sent a letter to the Coventry Telegraph on nuclear power:

We condemn government plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations. Nuclear energy is only carbon neutral when you use high-grade uranium. With countries (such as India, China, Russia and Japan) building dozens of reactors, the world’s high-grade uranium may last only 12 years. Carbon emissions also happen when you mine, process and transport uranium. The UK already has a stockpile of 100 000 tonnes of nuclear waste. We will need to spend £75 billion to build huge underground concrete storage bunkers for our current waste and maintain them for ten thousand years. Gordon Brown repeatedly frames his policy choices as "the difficult long-term decisions, even if at times it may be easier to do simpler or less difficult things." On nuclear power, the hard thing to do would be to oppose the nuclear power lobby, as well as the oil, gas and coal lobbies, and do what Germany has done and stand behind a policy to support renewable power on a nationwide level.
Peter Tatchell has a good column in the Guardian today:

If nuclear power is so economic, why have no nuclear plants been built in the UK in the last two decades? The truth is that no nuclear generators have ever been built without public subsidy.

When the prime minister says expanded nuclear power is essential to meet an expected energy deficit, and cut carbon emissions and global warming, he is badly misinformed and seriously mistaken. There are other - cheaper, faster and safer - ways to remedy these problems, such as energy conservation and renewable sources like wind, wave, tidal, hydro, geo-thermal and solar power.

Even if the green light is given to nuclear this year, the earliest the new reactors will be completed and start delivering electricity is 2021 to 2025 - well beyond 2015 when the government says the UK will be hit by the energy shortages that it claims nuclear is necessary to remedy. The truth is this: even if you love nuclear, it is too little, too late.

Youth And Environmental Radicalism

The Future Foundation, commissioned by the National Lottery, has come out with a study on young people and environmental issues. Here is the link to the report (PDF, 214KB).

Take note of charts 5, 6 and 10:

- 56% of women would buy environmentally-friendly cosmetics/toileteries, even if the cost was higher
- 33% would take direct action against polluters
- 13% would ban the use of planes for leisure flights
- 10% would completely ban cars
- 9% were willing to "take part in guerrilla activies carried out by environmental protest groups"

On the last bulletpoint, the report labels the most radical 20% of youth surveyed (who were three times as likely to support guerrilla activity) as "hardcore greens" -- and says that:
they may represent the early adopter wave of environmentalism and hold attitudes now that will be thought of as mainstream in the future ... even if this does not take place, and attitudes actually polarise, then we can assume that these young people are likely to be vocal supporters and will, therefore, have an effect on those around them and possibly upon the views of the country as a whole.

09 January 2008

US Elections - After New Hampshire

A more than surprising Democratic result.

8 of 8 polls were predicting an Obama win. It could be voters telling porkies, it could be a reaction against Obamamania. In any case, each primary or caucus gives Democrat and Republican candidates delegates to the nominating convention later in 2008. In the New Hampshire vote last night, despite edging the popular vote, 9 delegates went to Clinton and 9 for Obama, with 4 going to Edwards. So, it's one win (Iowa) and one draw (NH) for Obama. Nevada and South Carolina are next, and both are leaning Obama. The Democrat race will be decided by who can attract youth and independent voters on a consistent state-by-state basis, and if Obama can start appealing to the people who are voting for Edwards and Clinton (i.e. older, unionised, working class voters).

The Republicans are all over the place, though it's significant that Huckabee finished 3rd, and Giuliani was 4th or worse yet again. Time magazine on South Carolina's role in Republican primaries:

Lee Atwater, the party's one-time strategic wizard, designed the thing to give conservative southerners a say in the presidential process and offer churchgoers a power line to the White House. Then he put it on the calendar right after Iowa and New Hampshire, the ideal spot for the party establishment to kill an insurgent candidate's momentum. So it was that South Carolina stopped Bob Dole in 1988, handing the nomination to the establishment candidate, George Bush, the father. Then again in 2000, John McCain lost his cool and his lead in the face of a revolt from the party base, which chose another establishment candidate, George Bush, the son.

The Big Green Challenge

Applications can now be submitted for "The Big Green Challenge."

It is being run by NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and Arts), and it is open to community groups and charities who can come up with a way of reducing carbon emissions by 60 per cent or more.

Applications must be in by the 29th February, and it's only open to not-for profit groups. 100 groups will be then asked for more detailed plans, then judges will decide on 10 finalists.

The finalists will receive £20 000 to put their ideas into practice from Oct 2008 to Oct 2009. Nov 2009 will see the majority of the £1 million prize fund go to an overall winner. The remaining prize money will distributed to runners-up at the discretion of the judges.

If you enter, you'll also get support and advice from "Green Angels" -- the founders of Ecotricity and Good Energy, and that Dick Strawbridge fellow off "It's Not Easy Being Green."

Upcoming Ward Forums

Coventry City Council's series of ward forums will continue throughout January and February.

Here are the next five, with times and locations:

Wainbody -- Tuesday 22 January 2008, 7pm to 9pm
Finham Park School, Green Lane, Coventry, CV3 6EA

Radford -- Wednesday 23 January 2008, 7pm to 9pm
Coventry Coachmakers Club, 72 Radford Road, Coventry, CV1 4BY

Sherbourne -- Tuesday 29 January 2008, 7pm to 9pm
United Reformed Church, Holyhead Road, Coventry, CV1 3AE

St Michael’s -- Wednesday 30 January 2008, 7pm to 9pm
Hope Centre, Sparkbrook Street, Hillfields, Coventry, CV1 5LB

Holbrook -- Thursday 31st January 2008 (Joint Police Meeting), 7pm to 9pm
Unicorn Club, Holbrook Lane, Coventry, CV6 4DE

08 January 2008

Nick Clegg's New Ad Man

Nick Clegg, in one of his first actions to reorganise the Liberal Democrats, has hired John Sharkey. Sharkey helped run the ad campaign for Saatchi and Saatchi for Thatcher's re-election in 1987. This comes only a few months after Labour hired Saatchi and Saatchi itself for their advertising at the next election.

Clegg's message is that politics is something that's sold, that's marketed. You can hire someone who was integral to selling the Tory party and keeping the SDP-Liberals out of power in 1987, and instead, they can now sell you, just like selling beer or washing powder.

Expansion Of Bagram Prison

Bagram is an American-controlled military base, 40 miles north of Kabul in Afghanistan. It remains a key site in the US military's international network of secret prisons where "combatants" are held without charge.

The "Bagram Theater Internment Facility" now holds 2 1/2 times as many prisoners as Guantanamo Bay -- 630 prisoners, up from barely 100 in early 2004.

The New York Times:

Military personnel who know both Bagram and Guantánamo describe the Afghan site as far more spartan. Bagram prisoners have fewer privileges, less ability to contest their detention and no access to lawyers. Some detainees have been held without charge for more than five years, officials said.
The Red Cross has said that prisoners have been kept from its inspectors and sometimes subjected to cruel treatment in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

This is a link to an interview with Tina Wilson, the executive director of the New York-based International Justice Network, which has filed the first habeas corpus petition for people detained at Bagram.

07 January 2008

US Election Coverage - New Hampshire

It would be wise to keep tabs on "Democracy Now", on the Boston Globe as the lead newspaper in the region, and James Forsyth at the Spectator's Coffee House blog.

110 000 Children In Asylum System

"Contrary to what some say, Britain does not take more than its fair share of asylum-seeking families. This means we should be able to treat more humanely the relatively small number of children and families who seek asylum here."

Youth Recruiting And The Military

A new report is out today, by David Gee (formerly of the Quakers' peace and disarmament programme), and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

It's about the glamourisation of the armed forces to youth by the UK military. £2 billion is spent each year on recruitment and training, mainly targeted at adolescents and youth.

Military roles are promoted as exciting. Warfare is portrayed as game-like and enjoyable. There is ample free time and freedom in the Army. Their literature hardly mentions risk, the risk of being killed, seriously injured or chronically traumatised.

A brochure, called "One Army," which promises to “tell it like it is”, asks a soldier: “What’s the toughest test you’ve faced?” The answer is: “Being taught to ride a horse.”

Colonel David Allfrey, head of the army's recruitment strategy, told the New Statesman: "It starts with a seven-year-old boy seeing a parachutist at an air show and thinking, 'That looks great ... From then the army is trying to build interest by drip, drip, drip."

Marketing to children below the recruitment age commonly "glamorises warfare", today's report says. It refers to an army website, Camouflage, aimed at 12- to 17-year-olds, which encourages youngsters to participate in games.
Not part of Gee's report, but something I noticed a few days ago, the BETT 2008 conference is happening from the 9th to 12th January at Olympia in London. It's on educational technology, and what do you know, the MOD has created various modules for English, Geography, Maths and Science classes. Students get to learn about how the Navy protects fishies, or health and nutrition.

I'd be interested if people know if these modules are in use in schools in Coventry.

06 January 2008

Gordon Brown And 2008

Gordon Brown looks set to continue the Blair tradition of endlessly confronting his own backbenchers.

- He's going ahead with a "new generation" of nuclear power stations. Britain does not have a repository for high-level nuclear waste, and there is a limited amount of high-grade uranium in the world, which will be drained by nuclear expansion elsewhere.

- Brown plans to greenlight the expansion of Heathrow. This despite a poll, released by HACAN on 30th December, that 19% of Britons want airport capacity reduced, and 52% favour a standstill on new capacity.

- Brown feels that "nobody should fear ID cards," despite his government's lack of caution in handling our personal data.

- Brown wants to find a "compromise" on extending detention to 42 days without charge.

Brown repeatedly frames his policy choices as "the difficult long-term decisions, even if at times it may be easier to do simpler or less difficult things."

The hard thing to do would be to oppose the nuclear power lobby, as well as the oil, gas and coal lobbies, and do what Germany has done and stand behind a policy to support renewable power on a nationwide level.

The hard thing to do would be to tell Britons taking short-haul trips that they can't go from flying twice a year to flying eight times a year and think it has no impact on carbon emissions. The hard thing to do would be for Gordon Brown to take the train when it's feasible to take a train to Paris/Brussels and then a night train to a morning meeting.

The hard thing to do would be to avoid the creeping installation of a surveillance society and reject ID cards, or to stand up for civil liberties and stick with 28-day detention.

In short, Brown is taking a series of centralising decisions, that remove control over our energy production, over our information, our civil liberties. He's taking the easy options, not the hard ones of his propaganda.

Our January 2007 Meeting

It will take place on Tuesday evening, the 8th of January, at the Coventry Peace House, at 730pm. The Peace House is on Stoney Stanton Road, just north of the canal.

We're currently drafting a newsletter to be distributed in Earlsdon and surrounding wards, so we'll be talking about its distribution, as well as our AGM in February, the Green Party's policy on population, and candidates for the elections in Coventry in May.

If you have any questions, you can reach me on 07906 316726, or at sgreddding2003@yahoo.co.uk.

04 January 2008

Interview With Derek Wall

The Socialist Unity Blog has an interview with Derek Wall, one of the two principal speakers for the Green Party:

Derek Wall: Ecosocialism is by no means a losing ticket, a socialism that respects the planet and has a libertarian edge, gets a lot of support ... EP Thompson was the leading figure in the peace movement in the 1980s, and I would see Hugo Chavez as an ecosocialist, albeit one glued at present to the contradictions of a petroeconomy ... The creation of an Ecosocialist International Network seems a good institutional basis for making European Green Parties more radical ... we agreed in Paris to work to ‘make greens redder and reds greener’ ... For example, the Fourth International will be holding a weekend meeting in Amsterdam in February on climate change which will be addressed by Joel Kovel and Michael Lowy.

US Elections - Iowa

When the US spends $623 billion a year on defence, and the rest of the world spends $500 billion, and when we need the US to sign up to the successor treaty to Kyoto, we're forced to pay attention to the minutiae of US primaries and caucauses.

On the Democrats side, it remains a three-way race, though John Edwards needed a win in Iowa for true momentum.

Barack Obama won with 37.6% of the vote, a clear lead over Edwards (29.8%) and Hilary Clinton (29.5%). On a cold night, the Democrats had a huge rise in turnout over 2004 (over 230 000 participating, compared with 125 000 in 2004, when Kerry won Iowa, and Edwards was 2nd).

Obama outpolled Clinton among women, and he benefited from independent voters and a surge in first-time caucus-goers. The Boston Globe commented that: "Obama's big victory is precisely what Clinton's campaign had feared, and it shattered the notion - one eagerly cultivated by her campaign - that she would be the inevitable winner of the Democratic nomination."

The thing to remember about US elections is that it's a real state-by-state race.
A second straight loss to Obama in New Hampshire could put Clinton in a very difficult situation. She was to fly to New Hampshire Thursday night so that she could make her first post-Iowa appearance at 7 a.m. today in Nashua. Historically, the results in Iowa haven't had much effect on New Hampshire, said Karlyn Bowman, a polling expert at the American Enterprise Institute. That could help Clinton recover next week.
On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee, a former governor in Arkansas, won with 34% of the vote, over Mitt Romney (25%), former governor of Massachusetts, and CEO of the Salt Lake Olympic bid. A factor which the media have played up is Huckabee being a Baptist minister, and Romney being a Mormon. The Washington Post points out that "Huckabee's religious conservatism will find far fewer receptive Republicans in socially moderate New Hampshire, and he will be battling not only Romney but also a resurgent John McCain -- and a struggling Rudy Giuliani and an unpredictable Ron Paul -- there on Tuesday."

It's a very odd election year for the US. Usually, you have a vice-president or former vice-president (Mondale in 1984, the first Bush in 1988, Gore in 2000), or a president running for re-election (Reagan in 1984, Bush in 1992, Clinton in 1996, Bush in 2004) in the race. However, the lead candidates on both sides are either former governors, senators or former senators.

Beyond this, folks like Ron Paul and Mike Bloomberg could upset the apple-cart.

Paul has raised $19 million over the last quarter, had over 10% of the Republican vote in Iowa, and will be a factor in the next few primaries. Even if his Republican campaign falters, he might have the capacity to mount an insurgent anti-war right-wing independent run for the Presidency.

Bloomberg, should the mayor of NYC decide to run, is a billionaire, so he could self-finance his campaign. CBS reports that: "someone on the Bloomberg campaign has even researched how many states have elected Jews to statewide offices, and concluded that equals about 300 Electoral College votes. That's kosher for Bloomberg, as a candidate only needs 270 to be elected president."

03 January 2008

Training, Crime And Youth

A letter in the Guardian today:

We need to offer vulnerable young people alternatives to crime.

More than half (63%) of the young people arrested on our streets are unemployed at the point of apprehension. Research has proven that services offering education, guidance, rehabilitation and training in key skills are the best antidotes to crime and recidivism.

Locking young people up doesn't work.

Sukhvinder Kaur Stubbs
Chief executive
Barrow Cadbury Trust

Milan And Rome Introduce Pollution Charges

Hard on the heels of Berlin, Hanover and Koeln ...

The Italian city of Milan introduced a "pollution charge" for drivers on Wednesday in an effort to cut smog levels, with light traffic ensuring the system suffered only a few teething troubles.

Launched as a one-year trial, the innovative "EcoPass" system will charge up to 10 euros per day, based on the amount of pollution a car's engine produces.

Northern cities Turin and Genoa are considering the introduction of a pollution fee for their city centres, while Rome will extend curbs on most-polluting vehicles from Jan. 10.

02 January 2008

01 January 2008

German Cities And Low Emission Stickers

Berlin, Koeln and Hanover have introduced "environmental zones" to reduce fine particle emissions from traffic.

Drivers now have to display a coloured sticker on their vehicle to enter the inner city zones. The colour depends on the pollutants the vehicle emits. The cities are gradually phasing in fines of 40 euros (£29) for anyone caught driving without a sticker.
It's another in a series of examples of how the urban level can use carrots and sticks to shift behaviour.

Restorative Justice -- Radio 4 on 2nd Jan

Tomorrow, from 8pm to 845pm, BBC Radio 4 has an interesting sounding programme called "Reality Check" that will look at restorative justice. Their lead guest will be Prof Lawrence Sherman, speaking in favour.

What is restorative justice?

It gives victims the chance to tell offenders the real impact of their crime, to get answers to their questions and to receive an apology. It gives the offenders the chance to understand the real impact of what they’ve done and to do something to repair the harm. Restorative justice holds offenders to account for what they have done, personally and directly, and helps victims to get on with their lives.
Sherman: "Victims do generally feel more empowered if they meet their offender face to face, and there is a great deal of evidence to suggest they recover more quickly from post-traumatic stress disorder"