31 March 2008

Clinton Vs Obama

I find Hillary Clinton staying in the Democratic race totally unbelievable.

1) She's behind in states won, in the popular vote won, and in delegates won. She has next-to-no mathematical chance of making up the delegate gap (even if she wins the 10 remaining states 60% to 40%, and Michigan/Florida are re-run, she'll only be ahead by 20 delegates. If Michigan is re-run, Obama is neck-and-neck with her there, and Obama will probably win North Carolina and Oregon). Tellingly, Clinton won California at the start of February, and polls now show that Obama would win California in a walk if it was held today.

2) She was wrong about Iraq, and Obama was right.

3) Due to the polarisation of politics under her husband's presidency, there are people who will walk across broken glass in a general election to vote against anyone named Clinton.

4) She's telling porkies about being key to Northern Irish peace, and being under sniper fire in Bosnia when she wasn't, and about opening borders with Macedonia when she didn't.

5) She was wrong about Iraq, and Obama was right.

6) Clinton has said very odd things about Barack Obama.

7) She didn't disown Geraldine Ferraro ... sure, a guy named Barack Hussein Obama, who's African-American, with internet rumours saying, falsely, that he's Muslim, has it easy.

8) If all that wasn't enough, her campaign is a managerial shambles:
Businessmen who provided Clinton services in Iowa, New Hampshire, and New York have come forward lamenting her campaign's failure to pay debts on time. Two Ohio event producers told Politico.com they are urging other companies to insist on cash payment up front before working with Clinton. At the beginning of this month, Clinton – who often promises to fight the insurance industry over the rising cost of health care in America – also owed more than $225,000 in unpaid health bills for campaign employees.

Putting Our Economy On A War Footing

"If military policy has long been based on the dictum that we should be prepared for the worst case, should it be so different when the security is that of the planet and our long term future?"

30 March 2008

Preparation For The Local Elections

We look to be set to run in 14 wards (everywhere by Henley, Holbrook, St Michael's, and Wyken). The deadline for getting nomination papers/forms into the council is Friday at noon. The trick is not to get them in on Friday morning, but to get them in on Wednesday morning. Then, if we've messed up/need clarification, we've got time to run around with our heads cut off to make things right.

We have two sets entirely completed, and we have 12 others in the process of getting done. Hopefully, through a delightfully chaotic process of people dropping by my house to get them certified, we'll have everything in by Wednesday.

Our election leaflet is well on its way to being designed. We only need a few photos, and then it'll be off to the printers. In 2006, we had an A5 leaflet. In 2007, we had an A4 leaflet. In 2008, we've got a double-sided A3 leaflet. Fingers crossed, we've finally struck a balance between bold and clear pledges, and enough detail for people to know what they're voting for.

News Round-Up -- 30th March 2008

- 19 school fields were approved to be sold by the Labour government last year ... Labour's 1997 general election manifesto stated: "We will bring the government's policy of forcing schools to sell off playing fields to an end"

- The 3rd of April will be the 8th anniversary of Labour bringing in vouchers for asylum seekers. Refugees didn't even get change if the value of the vouchers exceeded the cost of what they were buying. This was in place for 2 years, including during the 2001 election.

- Fellow blogger Guido Fawkes is looking for a set of Jacqui Smith's fingerprints

- Wetherspoons seems to be abandoning any hope that its pubs will go green around the country, including in Earlsdon at the City Arms

- Labour is finally trying to do something about fuel poverty that involves challenging the energy companies

Government Urged to Ratify Disability Convention

The disability charity, Scope, is urging the government to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The convention sets out the rights of disabled people, covering civil and political rights, accessibility, participation and inclusion, education, health, employment and social protection.

Scope's executive cirector, Andy Rickell, said he was concerned that the UK would opt out of several sections - including the right to attend a mainstream school, the right not to live in a residential home, and the right to be treated as someone with the capacity to make decisions on their own behalf.

"We are seriously concerned that the government will not ratify this treaty in its entirety ... There cannot be a 'pick and mix' approach on this. It will weaken the value of the convention and also undermine the government's record on promoting disabled people's human rights."

29 March 2008

Young People's Theatre At The Belgrade

The Belgrade Theatre, here in Coventry, have an ongoing programme called "In Our Own Words" -- work by young people for young people.

One of their upcoming works, 9th to 12th April, sounds very intriguing:

The history of Coventry's industry seems harmless enough . . . but for one teenager it becomes something far more sinister as she starts to get too close to the city's involvement in the arms trade for safety. Soon she’s involved in a war of her own - with her college, with activists, with history, and with a creepy corporation who seem to know more about her family than she does.

Green Campaign For Mayor Of London

Sian Berry's campaign for Mayor of London is using some interesting tactics.

They have downloadable posters in PDF format (not much new there), but they also have HTML code so you can put the posters into "your favourite social networks ... within people's comments, as messages, in bulletins or use them as graphics on your own profile page, blog or website."

Oh, and she's been endorsed by a teddy bear.

Labour Wants To Avoid EU Energy Targets

Labour is making clear that it wants to dodge EU targets and avoid installing widespread renewable energy within Britain:

At a closed session of the energy council of EU ministers this month, the business minister, Lady Vadera, proposed that British investments in renewable energy anywhere in the world should count as part of UK's effort.

In a speech that astonished European renewable energy companies, environment groups and other EU energy ministers, she ... also appealed to Europe to allow all EU countries to count carbon "saved" from coal-fired stations fitted with equipment that captures harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The electricity generated by this "clean coal" would then count as renewable energy and go towards UK national targets.

Last night, renewable energy companies and environment groups reacted with alarm.

"This would kill renewable energy in Britain," said Dale Vince, chief executive of Ecotricity, Britain's biggest windfarm company. "It makes a mockery of any attempts to address climate change. The idea that we can build wind farms or other renewable energy projects [abroad] and then offset them against the UK target is outrageous. If it were possible to build projects anywhere in the world where planning is lax, nothing would be done in the UK."

28 March 2008

Mental Health And Prison

Juliet Lyon, Director, Prison Reform Trust:

Jack Straw needs to get his cabinet colleagues to accept prisons cannot and should not continue to pick up the tab for a range of social and health needs.

Our prisons today contain an estimated 5,000 people with severe and enduring mental illness who should not be there but in treatment, [it's] a national disgrace. Not to mention the thousands more with lower-level mental health problems currently in custody who could be treated effectively and safely in the community.

A national network of diversion centres in courts and police stations to identify and help people whose offending is driven by mental illness not criminality would do much to relieve pressure on prison places, cut re-offending and help some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Many of the solutions to prison overcrowding and re-offending lie outside of prison walls.

Titanic's Shipyard Builds Tidal Power Generator

"I don't know about you, but I intend to write a strongly worded letter to the White Star Line about global warming."

"Jack! Jack! It's the world's biggest tidal electricity generation system, Jack!"

Vast Iceberg Breaks Off Wilkins Ice Shelf

All together now, it's only a natural warming cycle.

"It's farther south than any ice shelf we've seen retreating before, it's bigger than any ice shelf we've seen retreating before, and in the long term it could be a taste of other things to come. It is another indication of the impact that climate change is having on the region."

US Arms Shipments To Afghanistan

I need to file this under "you couldn't make it up" ...

The Pentagon entrusted a 22-year-old previously arrested for domestic violence and having a forged driving licence to be the main supplier of ammunition to Afghan forces at the height of the battle against the Taliban.

27 March 2008

Independent Asylum Commission

The Independent Asylum Commission is coming out with an interim report today. It spent a year speaking to policy makers, former home secretaries, and asylum seekers, and it held meetings around the UK.

Sir John Waite, co-chair of the commission and a former Appeal Court judge: "We heard worrying stories about the conditions being experienced by some asylum seekers, in particular the scale of the destitution ... The picture that emerged was one of people struggling to live."

The Refugee Council has a handy myth-busting part of its website:

- Asylum seekers are not economic migrants. The top ten refugee producing countries in 2006 all have poor human rights records or are places where war or conflict is ongoing.

- The UK is home to less than 3% of the world’s refugees – around 290,000 out of 8.4 million worldwide.

- We're not even in the top 15 of industrialised countries for asylum applications per capita (we were 16th in 2006).

- Asylum seekers do not jump the queue for council housing and they cannot choose where they live. The accommodation allocated to them is not paid for by the local council. It is nearly always "hard to let" properties, which other people do not want to live in.

26 March 2008

Urban Planning And Climate Change

The Guardian, 26th March 2008:

The signs of Lerner's urban revolution are everywhere: in the once-abandoned quarries and landfill sites that have become parks and recreation areas; in the Lighthouses of Knowledge, educational centres where the city's youth can study and socialise free of charge; in the cultural centres and theatres; and even in the signs hanging from car garages, proudly proclaiming how many tyres they have recycled since the year began.

"Mayors that I talk to say, 'This can't be done in my city; it's very big; it has 10, 12 or 15 million people.' Or they say, 'Oh, our country is very poor, our city doesn't have the resources.' And I always say it is not a question of scale or of resources - any city in the world can improve, and improve a lot, in less than three years."

Lerner also believes that urban planning can be a key weapon against global warming and climate change. "As I'm a descendent of Jews, I have some commandments that we need to follow," he says. "First commandment: use your car less. Second commandment: separate your rubbish. Third: live near to your work, or work near your home. It needs to be about life, work and movement being all together."

Labour's Environmental Record

Some Tory MPs have sponsored an interesting Early Day Motion (a straw poll, where MPs can show where they stand on this issue or that issue). It's on "Government Carbon Pollution" ...

This House notes that the Sustainable Development Commission report, "Sustainable Development in Government 2007," found that nearly two-thirds of government departments are not on track to meet their carbon emissions reduction targets; further notes that when the Ministry of Defence is discounted, all performance improvements are negated, and that carbon emissions from Civil Service estate offices have increased by 22 per cent, and energy efficiency has worsened by 3.3 per cent.

25 March 2008

The Coventry Deputy Lord Mayor's Car

The Toyota Prius (a petrol-electric hybrid) emits 115 grams of carbon dioxide a kilometre. The Peugeot 607 2.2 HDi (diesel) emits 170 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.

Which one did the council choose for the deputy Lord Mayor? Three guesses, first two don't count. It's like a Brucie game show ... they could have chosen a Prius, but we're not going to give you that! The Prius looks good, and it has very low emissions.

Alternatively, they could have approached Modec, and commissioned some sort of Lord Mayor's Office Popemobile, Andy Matchet and his deputy gliding through the streets of Coventry.

The council needs to get its head around choosing the lowest carbon option, with all of its procurement decisions, from now on, not just a lower carbon option.

Did Peugeot have a "Coventry Connection" when they closed production down in April 2006?

Councillors felt [the Prius] fell down by not having any local links and failing to comfortably carry four passengers as well as the chauffeur. Coventry's climate change cabinet member Gary Ridley said: "Coventry historically has a connection with Peugeot ... What we are now getting is better than what we had before. It's a step in the right direction."

Cllr Johnson brushed off suggestions from Scott Redding, of the Coventry Green Party, that they should use an environmentally-friendly van built by city firm Modec. She said: "I don't think that's the right image for the deputy lord mayor."

24 March 2008

Gathering Signatures -- Local Elections

Right now, we're going around, ward by ward, around Coventry to ask for signatures to nominate our Green Party candidates onto the ballot for 1st of May. Our deadline is a week this Wednesday, at noon.

Nine wards are well in hand, with two entirely completed (Lower Stoke and Whoberley). Wainbody, Cheylesmore and Upper Stoke will be next.

The reactions at the door, when we're asking for signatures for nomination forms (we need to get 10 people to sign for each candidate) are, well, interesting.

A number have said, "no, we don't want any thanks," as though we're selling aluminium siding!

I usually go out of my way to say a bit about the candidate's background ("she's a student at the University of Warwick" ... "he's a researcher in globalisation"), but very few people ask.

Only one person has asked so far about our "programme" ... she was German, so a bit atypical.

Ask us about our programme! Ask other candidates looking for signatures about their background, and their policies. Don't just sign our forms. Ask us what we're going to do for your area of Coventry.

Tidal Power Vs Nuclear Power

Why is New Labour so obsessed with nuclear power, rather than, for example, tidal power?

Britain has about half of Europe's tidal power potential and between 10 and 15% of what has been identified worldwide.

Professor Stephen Salter of Edinburgh University, one of Britain's leading marine energy experts, estimates that the Pentland Firth alone could generate up to a quarter of Britain's electricity – more than is now being provided by all the country's nuclear power stations – making the channel between Orkney and the north Scottish mainland "the Saudi Arabia of marine energy."

Martin Wright, managing director of Marine Current Turbines, calls the firth, the "Mount Everest" of the industry, and describes its tidal currents as "the equivalent of an underwater hurricane". Every second, about 2.5 million cubic metres of water – enough to fill 1,000 Olympic swimming pools – passes at a speed of up to 12 knots across a line traced across the Firth.

23 March 2008

Observer Magazine On Climate Change

It's this Sunday, and it's edited by Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead, who has been involved with Friends of the Earth's Big Ask campaign.

I like the magazine's weekly "This Much I Know" feature. Today, it interviews Amory Lovins, who has been campaigning for decades for "soft energy paths."

Lovins defines "hard energy paths" as involving inefficient liquid-fuel automotive transport and centralized electricity-generating facilities, that are greatly complicated by electricity wastage and loss.

"Soft energy paths" involve efficient use of energy, diversity of energy production methods (matched in scale and quality to end uses), and are based on solar, wind, or geothermal power.

Some of the things he says in his Observer interview are:

"I'm not an environmentalist. I'm a cultural repairman. It's all about efficient and restorative use of resources to make the world secure, prosperous and life-sustaining."

"There's no reason that energy policy need be a multiple-choice test asking: Would you prefer to die from a) climate change, b) oil wars, or c) a nuclear holocaust? I choose d) none of the above."

"The US's electric bill could be halved through energy-efficiency measures and renewables that would mostly pay for themselves in a year. That's not a free lunch. It's a lunch you're paid to eat."

"Every investment in nuclear expansion will worsen climate change by buying less solution per dollar. That's as dumb as a possum."

"'Eat more lamb - 50,000 coyotes can't be wrong.' That's the bumper sticker on my Honda Insight. The meat in our freezer is from 20km up the road and made only from organic grass."

22 March 2008

UN World Water Day

"Two buckets of safe water a day is the minimum a child needs to live. Yet, 4000 children die every day, because they don't even have that ... 2.5 billion people don't have access to basic sanitation services and hygeine."

Labour's Environmental Record

Two damning studies out this weekend:

- In 1998, the proportion of GDP raised by environmental taxes was in 3.6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Next year, the Treasury is to raise 2.8% of GDP from environmental taxes, such as fuel, vehicle excise and air passenger duties.

- The National Audit Office says that Britain's greenhouse gas emissions are 12% higher than claimed by Labour. Labour’s figures exclude aviation, shipping, British businesses operating abroad and emissions caused by Britons holidaying overseas.

On the first point, they're just not using green taxes to encourage the right sort of behaviour. Instead, they're cutting back on the impact of green tax upon the economy.

On the second point, well, that's just Enron-esque, isn't it?

21 March 2008

10 000 Visits And Counting ...

At 7:37pm last night, we received our 10 000th visitor (since July 2006).

Whomever they were, they were at the University of Maryland, and found a story that I posted back in October 2006, about a new brewery distribution centre for Adnams in Suffolk. The building used lime, hemp and chalk blocks, had a green roof 1/3 the size of a football pitch, and used solar panels which heat 80% of the hot water on the site.

Until October 2007, we were receiving about 400 visitors a month, but it's shot up since then.

November and December saw 1100 visitors a month. In January, February and March of 2008, we've averaged 1900 visitors a month.

It's going the right way.

20 March 2008

Post Office Closures In Coventry

19 Labour MPs voted with the Tories to try and suspend nationwide post office closures, in a vote in Parliament last night. Neither Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) or Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North-West) were among the rebels.

Labour MP John McDonnell said: "The government has always underestimated the strength of anger on Labour benches against the privatisation and cuts in this essential public service ... Tonight's vote is a huge embarrassment to the government and shows that a large number of Labour MPs are even prepared to support a Tory motion to demonstrate their concern ... The government is the sole shareholder in Royal Mail and could stop this closure programme in its tracks."

My Next Few Days

- Last night, I went to the vigil, to mark the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war, outside Earlsdon Methodist Church. It had been organised by Churches Together in Earlsdon & Chapelfields. There were about 30 of us. A few passersby joined in during the vigil. People craned their necks on the top floor of the 12 as it passed by us, through the roundabout.

- I'll be going later today to the Council House to pick up nomination forms, and electoral rolls, for the wards we want to run in for the election. Hopefully, we can use the early Easter weekend and get a number of wards done and dusted by end of play on Monday.

- We need to find 10 people, per ward, who are on the electoral roll, to sign our nomination papers. If you're willing to do this for the Green Party, to perhaps see a Green candidate in your ward for the first time, get in touch. I can be reached on sgredding2003@yahoo.co.uk, or at 07906 316726.

18 March 2008

The World We're Leaving To Our Children

Cambridge university professor of education Robin Alexander, leader of the Primary Review, the biggest review of primary education in 40 years:

"It's adults who, via the media and advertising, daily ram celebrity down children's throats; it's adult commercial values which create the junk food which contributes to obesity, and the alcohol ocean which fuels teenage binge drinking; it's adults who vote into power governments whose policies exacerbate rather than reduce inequality; it's adults who take nations into wars in which children are among the most prominent and tragic victims; and I guess - though I've not seen any analysis along these lines - that the carbon footprint of adults is far greater than that of children."

"On this basis, adults may well feel not just anxiety about the society and world in which today's children are growing up, but also a degree of guilt about the social and environmental legacy which today's children have no choice but to inherit."

Iraq Vigil In Earlsdon - 19th March

The churches of Earlsdon and Chapelfields will be holding a vigil to mark the fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq.

It will take place on Wednesday, March 19th from 5.30 to 6pm, outside the Methodist church (opposite the City Arms). The organisers are hoping to be joined by Muslims from the local mosque, as well as any other group or individual who wishes to do so.

Jim Cunningham and Geoffrey Robinson (the MPs for Coventry South and Coventry North-West) have also been invited.

The UK alone has spent £5 billion on military operations in Iraq, but five years onwards, 10 million Iraqis live on food rations. OXFAM says 70% of the population has no access to safe drinking water. Unemployment is above 60%.

Prayers at the vigil will be offered for the military dead, for the refugees from the war (2.3 million people have fled to neighbouring countries; 2 million more displaced within Iraq), and for these wider costs of the war.

Listening CCTV In Coventry

CVOne will be installing listening CCTV cameras, to be used on the High Street.

The cameras will be able to detect conversations 100 yards away. The technology comes from Holland, but Holland has stricter privacy laws than the UK – there, they can only record voices in short bursts. Last year, the UK’s Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, spoke out against the use of listening CCTV in public spaces.

The rhetoric is that we're in a slow slide into a surveillance society.

It's not that slow.

We already have video monitoring of classrooms, fingerprinting in schools, and plans for a national ID card database. GPs doubt the security of the new "spine" of the NHS IT network, fearing it will be vulnerable to hackers and unauthorised access by public officials from outside the NHS and social care. We have the monitoring of our buying habits (supermarket cards), and the monitoring of our travel habits (Oyster, in London).

Privacy is being given away, bit by bit, and there has been a lack of public consultation over the introduction of listening CCTV in Coventry.

17 March 2008

The "Family-Friendly" Conservatives

I always get a bit confused when David Cameron starts talking about being family-friendly.

Cameron wants to take the UK out of the EU's Social Chapter ... which would remove legal protection for part-time workers and end the rights of women to extend maternity leave.

With the EU Social Chapter, 7 million part-time workers have gained protection against discrimination. 4 million parents have gained the right to take unpaid parental leave. Everyone with a caring responsibility has the right to take unpaid emergency leave.
So, er, not families that have caring responsibilities for older parents, or families that depend on part-time work, or, basically, families with women in them?

David Cameron doesn't want you to pay attention to what he was saying in March 2007, that withdrawal from the EU Social Chapter would be a "top priority."

He wants to keep up the marketing job, the spin exercise, and expose his young family to TV camera attention, and build an image of being family-friendly, when he's preparing anti-family policies as soon as he's elected.

Coventry University And See-Saw Electricity

I've been reading recently, on the Cov Uni website, and in the Telegraph, about a see-saw to generate electricity at schools in sub-Saharan Africa.

It's been designed by Dan Sheridan, a master's student in Consumer Product Design at the university (the photo is from the Cov Uni website).

As I said to him over email today, it's interesting for a few reasons:

- it's a way to get people thinking about development issues and entrepreneurship/innovation being linked

- Dan came up with the idea after travelling and doing volunteer work in Africa last year. He wanted to "focus his final year project on the types of people in the world who need the most help and support, and where my skills in product design could come in to that." Perhaps we would have many more innovations coming out of the "developed" world that could serve the needs of the "developing" world, if an overseas component was built into the degree itself.

Dan is off to Uganda to test out his prototype on the 26th of March.

If people have any ideas, or contacts, for people who might like to invest in this type of product, you can contact Dan directly at danielsheridan@yahoo.co.uk.

16 March 2008

Door To Door Canvassing In Styvechale

Over the last three weeks, we've been going door to door, raising awareness around long-term plans for the incinerator on London Road. It's the same sort of thing we were doing in November and December, raising awareness around the draft climate change strategy for the council, and the deadline for public input.

We've covered streets in Styvechale (The Chesils, Watercall, Arnold, Frankton and Ridgeway), and our key message this time around is that we would rather have a Coventry where we recycle 75% of our waste, rather than burn 75% of our waste.

In emails to Street Services at the council, we've also followed up local concerns about the speed of car traffic (the Chesils being a rat-run from Baginton Road towards Cheylesmore) and unsafe intersections (Knoll Drive and The Chesils).

We need safer streets. Some cities, Portsmouth for example, have tried a blanket 20mph zone across the city. This leads to more on-street cycling (replacing short 1 and 2 mile journeys by car) and fewer child fatalities from car accidents.

13 March 2008

The "Carrier Bag Budget"

John Rentoul, in The Independent had a good quote:

"One Tory MP – Jacqui Lait, since you ask – called it 'the Carrier Bag Budget.' Which was a good description. It was a flimsy, disposable but long-lastingly irritating political event. It was an unrecyclable chain of missed opportunities."
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace:

"Suspending the promised increase in fuel duty has fatally undermined his boast that this is a green budget, and tinkering with taxes on planes and cars isn't going to stop new runways and roads being built ... The Chancellor should have channelled cash into clean technologies, energy efficiency projects and support for the renewables industry. On all these counts, his measures have failed to match the scale of the challenge."
Andrew Simms, policy director, new economics foundation:

"To get a feel for the scale of the transition required, Darling should be thinking in terms of an environmental war budget."

"It would be better to force fossil fuel companies like BP and Shell to introduce a new category for their reserves of ‘unburnable.’ The new category would reveal what should be left in the ground to prevent dangerous climate change."

"The UK could learn from Norway’s experience, and set up an Oil Legacy Fund, paid for primarily by a Windfall Tax on oil and gas company profits. Darling could then re-commit to the fuel duty escalator which would help progressively change behaviour, whilst having the resources to invest in a range of measures: expanding the use of school buses to tackle both congestion and energy-inefficient private-vehicle use on the school run, lowering the age for free public transport, and allowing adults with children to go free on public transport, to help for local authorities with the complexities of managing new, decentralised renewable energy services and technologies, and the rapid roll-out of micro, small and medium-scale renewable energy technologies that would create countless thousands of ‘green collar’ jobs."

12 March 2008

The Budget - Fuel Poverty And Renewable Heat

Alistair Darling failed to respond to the three main measures that National Energy Action called for, in the run-up to the Budget statement which included:

- extra resources for the Government’s Warm Front scheme which provides grants for energy efficiency and heating measures

- an extension of the winter fuel payment to include not just pensioners over 60, but also many low-income families with children under five, or household members who are disabled or chronically ill

- a mechanism to provide cheaper energy to low-income households through a statutory duty on energy suppliers to offer a genuine social tariff to be included in the Energy Bill currently before Parliament
A one-off increase in the Winter Fuel Payment for pensioners will not insulate them (see what I've done there) from the rising cost of fossil fuels over the next two decades.

We need to broaden the debate from solely renewable energy, to renewable forms of heat.

Year-on-year, we need to have more heating fuel sold in the UK that is sourced from renewable resources, so that less fossil fuels, such as coal, are used for heat.

The government is aware of renewable heat, it's just not investing enough in it.

The Budget - Transport

The green measures introduced by Alistair Darling today will be swamped by government policy on roads and aviation.

Labour supports a third runway at Heathrow, runway extensions at Stansted, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and expansion plans at twelve other airports.

£11.5 billion has been spent on new roads since 1997, but only £1.16 billion on new rail lines.

Instead of roads and aviation, Labour needs to begin to seriously fund green forms of transport.

The Coventry Green Party supports:

- a focus on walking and cycling projects within cities (aided by 20 mph zones to make walking and cycling safer)
- making public transport easier to use (buses that run on time, buses which are low-floor to aid elderly users)
- making public transport more affordable (we support the UK Youth Parliament’s campaign for all under 18s in full-time education to be allocated a national concession card)
- renationalisation and expansion of the rail network
- a moratorium on new motorways
- a moratorium on airport expansion

Aviation might employ 50 000 people at Heathrow, but we can generate hundreds of thousands of jobs if we pursue a new range of activities -- energy conservation, organic agriculture, renewable energy, and producing socially useful products from waste.

09 March 2008

Nick Broomfield On Iraq

"One of the problems with the coverage of the Iraq war is that it's been mainly done by journalists who have stayed in the Green Zone. There's been very little time spent with Iraqi people. So, although we've been in the war now for five years, we know very little about Iraqi culture. This is the place where the first letters were written. It's the cradle of civilisation, but we wouldn't know it ... Everything is told from the American point of view. I thought it essential to understand who the insurgency are. Iraqis regard themselves not as insurgents, but patriots and freedom fighters."

npower And Fuel Poverty

npower spends just 0.07% of its turnover on tackling fuel poverty.

The Observer, today, highlights that npower, in a letter to Ofgem in September 2007, said:

"We believe that the interest of the fuel poor is best served by a mandatory social tariff and this is the only means by which the government's 2010 and 2016 [fuel poverty] objectives can be achieved. There is no obvious reason why these targets will be delivered within a competitive retail market."
760,000 children are living in fuel poverty in England. If the government is serious about its legally binding target to end fuel poverty in England by 2010, Alistair Darling should listen to npower, and put something in his budget this week.

Edited (9th March, 1655): The Sunday Times has an interesting story about how npower, and other energy companies, are raising the rates for people who use less power: that is, the ones who are conserving energy far more than the average household.

Alistair Nicoll, 55, a research manager at Sheffield University, is among those whose bills have increased dramatically. In January, npower raised its gas bills by an average of 17% a year. But Nicoll, who prides himself on saving energy by putting the gas heating on for just 20 minutes a day to heat his water, saw his gas bill rise by 31%. "The house is very well insulated," he said. "Because I am a careful user of energy I feel I have been penalised."

07 March 2008

Doing More Than Recycling - Compacting

"Basically, you set up a contract with yourself to buy only essential items. I decided, for example, that for me essential items would include gifts for friends and family at Christmas and for birthdays, but I do buy only green or ethical presents and I actually make a lot of gifts as well."

"As a youth worker, I have talked to a lot of young people about compacting. At first they think I'm a bit weird or wacky but then they start talking about it and they find it an interesting idea. Young people are our future and I feel that if they are at least thinking about these issues, it's a good thing."

Doing More Than Recycling - Ethical Shoes

Everything is a choice. We can choose to buy shoes made from animals, or we can choose alternatives. In parts of Africa, car tyres are recycled into soles for shoes. Here in Britain, for vegetarians/vegans who don't want to buy shoes made of animal skin, Vegetarian Shoes (in Brighton) uses a variety of materials, including that used for yachting upholstery (it looks and feels like leather, but is "breathable," unlike plastic).

06 March 2008

Doing More Than Recycling - Aviation

The Commons Environmental Audit Committee says there is little sign that ministers have acted on the recommendations of the Stern Review.

In advance of the Budget, the committee is calling for a rise in air taxes, especially on long-haul flights. Green taxes, as a proportion of all taxes, have declined from its peak of 9.7% in 1999 to 7.6% in 2006.

We can't have a sustainable society without more of the environmental cost of our activities being reflected in short, medium and long-haul airfare. Maybe the carbon cost of each journey should be reflected when we're booking tickets online, so we can compare.

"It is vital that tax on aviation is not just reformed but significantly increased, so as to stabilise demand and resulting emissions. The Treasury should closely examine the merits and practicalities of varying rates by classifying journeys into three bands - short-haul, long-haul, and very long-haul - in order to reflect better the differing magnitude of emissions."

05 March 2008

Doing More Than Recycling - Buying Less

With six billion people on the planet, the richest 20% (who consume 80% of the world's resources) need to begin setting the example.

If everyone lived like an average Briton, we'd need 3 planet Earths to live on.

Kalle Lasn, co-founder of the Adbusters Media Foundation, and responsible for turning Buy Nothing Day into an international annual event: "Our headlong plunge into ecological collapse requires a profound shift in the way we see things. Driving hybrid cars and limiting industrial emissions is great, but they are band-aid solutions if we don’t address the core problem: we have to consume less."

Doing More Than Recycling - Water

Which washing machines are the most efficient at reducing water wastage in the UK? The lead one even has "fuzzy logic" to detect if too much detergent has been added. Next thing you know, they'll be hunting down Morpheus and Neo.

Which dishwashers conserve the most water?

You can even follow the adventures of Waterwise The Fish ... and see how he washes and dries his socks.

Hemcrete Is The Future

The Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales is using hemp concrete as part of a new training/conference venue. It produces less carbon emissions than conventional concrete.

It's also natural, breathable, fire resistant and highly insulative.

Hemp, like flax and lambswool, is carbon neutral and able to significantly reduce a building’s embodied energy. Lime is an ideal binding agent for hemp. It sets hard, but remains porous enough to allow water vapour to pass through the insulation. The mix is also supremely versatile: it can be compressed into blocks using a mixture of limestone quarry waste, hydrated lime and blast furnace slag, or it can be fabricated into batts for fitting between studwork. Hemp can also be mixed with lime on site and sprayed directly on to a building frame before final rendering.

Coventry, PFI And A New Incinerator

If we're recycling 25% of our waste now, and burning 75% of it in the incinerator on London Road, it would be ideal to flip those two percentages. However, a long-term policy that favours incineration will lock Coventry into burning our waste for decades.

Coventry City Council is pursuing an "expression of interest" in PFI money for a new incinerator. This needs to be in by 30th March. One of the council's scrutiny boards has a hearing today on it. The full "outline business case" has to be in 6 months later and will cost a further £2m in consultant fees.

PFI is closing down, as far as waste goes, so despite the incinerator being due to be replaced in 2020/21, they're now rushing to meet this bid deadline of end of March.

Keith Kondakor (the Green Party up in Nuneaton; the FOE West Midlands spokesperson on waste) was on BBC Coventry yesterday, debating with Hazel Noonan, the city council cabinet member on incineration.

The Coventry Telegraph (page 5, yesterday) has an article on a FoE press release, and they're asking for people to contact them with their views, i.e. letters to the editor. The email would be letters@coventry-telegraph.co.uk

Instead of paying through the nose for consultant advice and planning to replace an incinerator with an incinerator, the council could be exploring alternatives.

Norwich, for example, is looking at a biomass energy plant: http://nail2.org/alte.html

You have parts of Flanders in Belgium recycling at 75-80%. How do they do it? You have entire countries (http://www.zerowaste.co.nz/) pursuing zero waste policies. How do they do it?

The council doesn't seem very curious.

The answer is that these places have made policy choices, for the long-term, choices oriented around educating people to reduce their waste.

We need to reduce the amount of waste produced, re-using, repairing and recycling materials, and environmentally-friendly treatment of residual waste to recover usable materials and compost organic matter.

02 March 2008

"Welfare To Work" And Labour

The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson:

I wonder how those on the left who yearned for Gordon Brown to replace Tony Blair would have felt if they'd known that he would adopt a policy recommended by a former investment banker which would invite multi-national companies to bid for a share of a £1bn market to help get the unemployed back to work?

That was what James Purnell, Brown's new work and pensions secretary, confirmed today was his policy.

On a visit to a job placement centre in Newham, I asked Purnell whether he was happy for people to get rich helping the unemployed. "Yes" he answered without so much as a blink.

01 March 2008

Prince Harry And Afghanistan

The press in Britain should not have agreed to any gentlemen's agreement (codename: self-censorship) over Harry Wales being deployed to Afghanistan.

"We did a lot of agonising over whether to enter into it," said Fran Unsworth, head of BBC news gathering . "We made our decision on the basis of safety, not on the basis of whether we were supporting the war effort or not."
Ah, but if had never gone to Afghanistan, there wouldn't be any endangerment of his fellow soldiers.

The BBC's 10 O'Clock news led with 14 minutes of Harry coverage when his cover was rumbled. How many times in the last 6 years of occupation have they focused on Afghanistan like that to lead their bulletin?

Harry is one man. That's all he is. That's all the royals are. They put their trousers on one leg at a time.

He's not a symbol. He's not an everyman. Why is one man's desire to be deployed to Afghanistan more important than freedom of the press for a country of 60 million people?

It would of course have been beastly for Harry to have had his hopes of seeing action dashed, but perhaps he could have seen that as a life lesson in itself, given that coping with disappointment is something that "normal" people do every day.