Food Not Fuel

Halima

Yesterday I was invited along to the Action Aid blogger meetup to hear about their work as part of the IF campaign coalition. Having previously done a bit of work for an international development charity working in Africa, I was acutely aware about the issue of hunger. And being a climate change campaigner I have spent a lot of time reading about how climate change will worsen the global food crisis and the poorest people will suffer first, so I went along keen to learn more about the issue.

For those who don’t know already, Enough Food IF is a campaign in the style of ‘Make Poverty History’ and is asking the G8 (the worlds most wealthy countries) to implement a series of measures to help tackle world hunger. This year David Cameron is president of the G8 and therefore has the opportunity to drive real change if he so wishes.

The campaign has set out of big IF’s for world leaders to tackle:

Throughout the evening we heard from a number of speakers including the actress and cook Fay Ripley, Joy an inspirational young Action Aid campaigner from Kenya. And Rachel Beer, who I have known for several years and is a thought leader in charity fundraising and digital.

Fay spoke passionately about the extravagant culture of present giving at children’s parties and how she and her 6 year old decided to ask that parents just donated into a bucket and then with that money through Action Aid they sponsored children and saw what a wonderful difference that money made.

I asked Fay about food waste at the parties and she confirmed that it is terrible and that most parents in her North London circle care very little for it. Being a keen cook Fay assured me that isn’t the case with her parties but it was disheartening to hear that there was such blatant waste of good food. This at time when in the UK food banks are opening at the rate of 3 per week. Further afield the situation is much worse as Joy was about to tell us.

Joy is a 29 year old campaigner from Kenya, she spoke with such raw passion and gave us her first hand account of what it was like growing up when their was literally not enough food to go around. She spoke about how her bigger brothers would eat all of the food and how in her family if someone hesitated with their food another family member would take the food of their plate. She also talked about how people would “bump” round and if your family had food, you would share it with them, I liked that people were willing to share the very little they had with their neighbour.

Joy

She then went on to talk about Biofuels, one of the key focuses of the IF campaign and how this has impacted upon communities in Kenya. But first a little bit of background about biofuels:

  • Around 10 years ago biofuels were being touted as a renewable energy source.
  • Biofuels harvest crops which could be used to feed people, once these lands have been used for biofuels, it can take as long as 25 years to be able to grow food on this land again
  • Big oil companies like BP and Shell have invested heavily in Biofuels and lobbied governments to include biofuels as part of the renewable energy mix.
  • There is now scientific consensus that biofuels don’t reduce carbon emissions, in-fact they actually release higher carbon emissions than the fossil fuels they were created to replace.
  • The EU instated a target of having 5% of transport fuels come from Biofuels by 2010, this has helped drive the industry and land grabs.
  • In 2009, the oil company Shell stopped investing in wind and solar power choosing Biofuels as its “renewable” energy investment because it has the potential to generate profits.
  • BP are another big oil company who have invested heavily in biofuels, they are determined to see it succeed.

So in short biofuels a bit of a problem, big oil have invested in developing it and 10 years of intense lobbying has led to laws supporting its use. However in 2011, 10 of the world’s most powerful organisations, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank all recommended that G20 governments should  scrap biofuel policies.

Back to Joy, she told us about the extent of the hunger crisis in Kenya, currently 11 million people are going hungry everyday, this doesn’t include people who are partially hungry i.e. they may have one meal a day. She told us about biofuels and how recently a french company displaced 20,000 people through a land grab in order to start producing biofuels. If these people are offered jobs at the plants they are lowest possible roles, paying very poor wages.

Biofuels Infographic

The issue of land grabs is a frightening reality for the whole of Africa not just to fuel biofuels production but to feed the populations of the gulf region and China. Large corporations and governments have been buying up vast regions of land. The people in these areas are not consulted, compensated, simply displaced.

You maybe aware that recently we passed 400ppm of carbon in the atmosphere. Putting it very simply this is seriously bad news in the bid to tackle world hunger. Dr James Hansen one of the leading climate scientists said this in 2008: “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted … CO2 will need to be reduced … to at most 350ppm.”

The continued use of biofuels will see an increase in the carbon emitted into the atmosphere leading to an increase in extreme weather patterns. Floods, droughts, hurricanes will become more common and in arid regions of the world already struggling with poverty. The tougher climate will make water more scarce and farming in difficult conditions even more challenging. It is predicted in the next 50 years climate change will result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and millions of climate refugees.

Last year extreme weather events caused £170 billion in damages, this isn’t taken to into account the emotional trauma and death these ever increasing weather events caused.

Tackling world hunger isn’t easy, even if biofuels are scrapped and the IF campaigns demands are met there will be an unbelievable amount of work to do. But this is a good starting point, and as a country we shouldn’t be supporting an industry which has been found to be bad for the environment, displaces innocent and pulls communities into starvation. With the world population due to expand to 9 billion in by 2050, we need to use land for food no fuel, we need to invest in renewable energy sources and we need to eat less meat to reduce carbon emissions and ensure their is more food to go around.

For too long these corporations, BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil et al, have taken advantage of the people with no voice. They have taken their land, polluted their environment and made huge profits whilst in places like in Kenya 11 million people can will starve everyday. They should feel ashamed. And if the G8 don’t stop the use of biofuels they will be responsible for the continued misery of untold millions.

I will leave you with the words of Joy who I felt was channeling some of the energy of the Suffragette Emily Wilding Davision, 100 years to the day that she stepped in front of the Kings horse to demand votes for women.

Joy was pretty fierce through out and said: “Lets join hands and fight together for the hungry people”.  Well I couldn’t agree more, please share this blog and spread the word about the IF campaign. Or join Action Aid and other NGO’s in Hyde Park this Saturday for an IF campaign rally.

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The courage of Emily Wilding Davison

Emily Wilding Davison

Just over 3 years ago, David Cameron and Nick Clegg stood outside Downing Street smugly smiling in the May sunshine promising us a “new kind of politics”. Looking back it seems laughable that anyone even half contemplated this working given who we were hearing it from.

Today Nick Clegg, constantly looks as if someone has hollowed out his insides and force fed them to him, whilst David Cameron looks more ridiculously red every time he speaks. To be honest if I had to lie that much I would go pretty red as well.

Today, MP’s vote on the Energy Bill, an amendment has been re-introduced to the bill calling for the UK to decarbonisation our energy sector but 2030. Makes sense right?. We burn less fossil fuels, bring down our carbon emissions, reduce reliance of a finite resource, reduce bills and invest in green renewable technology one of the UK’s only growth sectors.

Well… Not in George Osborne and the Treasury’s eyes, our Georgie boy is addicted to fossil fuels and obsessed with fracking for shale gas and coal bed methane. It is no secret that 51% of Tory party funding comes from financial institutions in the city whose hedge funds are tied up in funds linked to the fossil fuel industry. The decision to delay a decarbonisation target until 2016 (after the election) is purely political and shows blatant cowardice from the Lib Dem’s and the Tories.

It is business as usual politics and it sucks…

The vote on the decarbonisation target is expected to be tight and the parliamentarians of 2013 would do well to remember an inspirational women in the Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who threw herself in front of the Kings horse on an race day 100 years ago today.

There is much conjecture about whether Emily Wilding Davison meant to die when she stepped in front of the Kings horse on that fateful race day. What is beyond doubt is that Ms Davison was ready for death it that should be her destiny. Her bravery and dedication in the fight for suffrage should be reflected upon by those MP’s wondering whether to rebel against the government and back the amendment.

Ms Davison died so that we all can participate in a democracy however in-perfect it may still be. Today when politicians go to place their vote they should ask themselves. What would Emily Wilding Davison said? Would she have voted for what to right or what was politically convenient?

I think they will know the answer…

Reactions

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After receiving an email from the wonderful Annie over at Mammasarus blog talking about linky initiatives, I decided I would join in with the Ranty Friday linky. So the following is a bit of a rant on a couple of issues I really have a bee in bonnet about at the moment.

Innocent until proven guilty

First off let me be clear; the allegations of child abuse by MP’s and media figures are disgusting. As someone who worked at the NSPCC I am fully aware of the horrors of abuse and the lasting impact the vile actions of abusers leave on survivors. But this week has seen the internet awash with the names of MP’s accused of abuse.  These people haven’t been found guilty yet and although I am really glad these allegations are being taken seriously and the people accused are being arrested or spoken to by the police. In this country we have a proud tradition of being innocent until proven guilty. The reputation of the accused will never recover even if they are found to be innocent. These accusations are of the most serious nature and I think we would be all better off if they were treated like the serious crime they are and not a tool to sell newspapers or grab TV ratings.

Disaster Politics 

Well thank god Obama got re-elected and we have been spared the crazy neo-liberal extremism and anti women policies of Romney. In his victory speech Obama said; One of his dreams is that the nation’s children would live in an America “that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

Sadly it has taken the devastating consequences of climate change in the form of Hurricane Sandy to come knocking on door of one of the richest and most powerful cities in the western world to put the issue back on the US political agenda. When hurricane Katrina destroyed the poor area of New Orleans barely a fingers was lifted, the poor were left destitute, whilst the rich rebuilt privatised towns with security guards to keep the deemed undesirable out.  The US should be leading on tackling climate change and investing in renewable technologies, such as wind, solar, carbon capture storage and introducing a carbon tax on business. Instead they continue to not commit to legally binding carbon targets and invest in the environmentally reckless practice of shale gas extraction better known as ‘fracking‘. If President Obama wants to create a future where our children don’t live with regular extreme weather events he better act fast.

Global Solutions, Local Choices

I believe tackling climate change to be the biggest crisis facing our generation. This announcement will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. But increasingly I feel the planet is sending us warning signals that we collectively as a society are failing to act fast enough upon. Recently we have seen record low ice levels in the Arctic and currently 80% of agricultural land in the US is facing drought. The Health Protection Agency reported this week that deaths in the UK from heat waves would rise from around 2000 a year currently to 11000 a year by 2080 as a result of climate change.

I recently met a very knowledgeable fellow campaigner, Kate Calvert from the Better Archway Forum. And during our group discussion she mentioned a quote by the renowned economist John Maynard Keynes, who once said; “Art and ideas should be global, everything else should be local”. Although personally I am strong supporter of a strong state and I would love to see the re-nationalisation of our transport and energy systems. However I do believe that if we’re to effectively tackle climate change, we will need people to create their own low carbon communities and people to stand up to local politicians and reclaim their environmental rights.

Over the past 30 years these rights have been slowly eroded; politicians have attempted justify this by pointing to increased GDP and shopping malls which apparently give us the freedom of choice.  Even a fortunate person living in London every day already faces the following environmental challenges:

  • Air pollution on London’s most congested roads regularly breaches EU legal limits on air quality. And over 4000 Londoner’s die prematurely every year in the London because of air pollution. This is more than from road accidents, obesity or passive smoking.
  • Our roads are dominated by cars despite the majority of people living in central London not owning cars. For example 60% of residents in the borough of Islington do not own cars.
  • Refusal by government to invest in fully electric buses and trains means many people are locked into fossil fuel dependent travel.
  • Constant noise and pollution due to excessive aviation, already we have 3 major airports serving London plus a number of satellite airports and the ludicrous City Airport serving only the richest in society.
  • Governments continue to burn fossil fuels locking future generations into a future devastated by climate change. Oxfam recently said; “Our planet is heading for average global warming of 2.5–5C this century. It is time to face up to what this means for hunger and malnutrition for millions of people on our planet.”

The fact that climate change is happening is a fact agreed upon by the majority of the world’s governments, leading scientists and increasingly the general population. It is agreed tackling climate change will require global collaboration on a scale we have never seen before. It will require business to de-carbonise their operations and find alternatives to their current fossil fuel existence. Governments will need to work closely together to create a renewable energy infrastructure built to serve the energy needs of whole continents not just individual nations. And as droughts across the world become a common occurrence, governments will have to make tough choices on how to feed a booming world population in the face of regular food famines.

This all sounds scary I know and it is easy to despair, however we can take the global solutions to tackling climate change and Keynes advice and apply them on a local level. Creating green spaces and de-carbonising our local communities should improve your health and general wellbeing as you develop a cohesive community around you.

Below are my tips for city dwellers looking to reduce their carbon footprint:

1)   Cycle/Walk: London is a fantastic city, why not soak up the views and get some exercise? Many tube journeys are actually quicker by foot and it costs nothing.

2)   Buy local food: Eating food from local farmers markets will mean you will be supporting local farmers and you food will have a lower carbon footprint.

3)   Cut back on meat: Cows and lambs are two of the main sources of methane a particular harmful gas contributing to global warming. This is without mentioning the soya and water used to raise these animals and the nitrous oxide admitted during the farming process. I’m not saying you have to become vegetarian but perhaps eat better quality meat and have it as a treat.

4)   Don’t buy bottled water: The profit margin on a bottle of water is about 99%. You may think that it is safer than tap water but you would be wrong, tap water has to be regulated much more strictly than bottled water. And in some cases bottled water comes from our main tap water system and is bottled up and sold back to us. Anyone remember Desani?

5)   Start a car pool: If you must have a car why not share a car with your friends, you could save a fortune on running costs.

6)   Train not plane: Most places in Europe are easily accessible by train and you get to soak up the beautiful scenery and relax.

7)   Food Waste: Only make what you can eat, if you think you will have too much food one evening, invite a friend around for dinner.

I hope this blog has made you consider whether your environmental rights are being infringed upon. And whether there is a way you can hold your local politicians to account and mobilise your friends and neighbours to create your own resilient low carbon community.

Note:

* I have been recently reading a book called; ‘How Bad are Bananas’, which is about making smart choices in all areas of life to reduce your carbon footprint, I have found it useful and would recommend it.

Cycle for London

Cycle For London (Toxic Fumes London)

If you are a Londoner it is more than likely at some point you have experienced the morning sardine run to work on the Tube, personally I am still scared by my 9 months of northern line hell whilst living in Chalk Farm.

This year I have started cycling to work and it is great, not only do I get to take some excerise keeping the doctor happy but  I am able to get around faster and carbon free, so lots of green karma points for me.

Most people I speak to like the idea of cycling but they feel intimidated by London’s frankly crazy traffic and lack of designated cycling lanes. Despite high profile media stunts around cycling TFL continue to allow our roads to be dominated by polluting vehicles, putting toxic fumes before cycling lanes.

Well we have a plan to tell TFL that our roads can’t take no more, next Thursday 22nd at 8 am, join me Climate Rush and other London cycling campaigns for an early-morning bike ride followed by a TFL roadblock.

Meet at 8am on the North side of Blackfriars Bridge before we make our way to TfL HQ..

Find out more by visiting the Climate Rush website

Bing, Bang, Wallop, activism is back

It is official activism is back, last year’s G20 and COP15 protests marked a new era of discontent further inflamed by a fragrant disregard for the environment and the future of young people in this country for examples see the Browne report and BP oil spill and backing for new nuclear power stations.

Environmental pressure group Climate Rush represent a new generation of people ready stand up for fairness in society. In their own words “Climate Rush is community of people who don’t want to sit back and do nothing, and who won’t let evil triumph”. Climate Rush have already brought the environment to the public attention in 2008 they rushed parliament, catapulting founder Tamsin Omond into the public limelight. Well educated, connected and tech savvy, she represents a new kind of activist not ready to take no for an answer as her recent attempts to get a meeting with the Express newspaper demonstrated.

In the week before the comprehensive spending review we are in the calm before the storm, undoubtedly there are going to be severe cuts to public services which threaten to effect the poorest in society and campaigns are already forming to protect our public services.

Ethics is becoming a increasingly prominent issue in business and for good reason just look at COP15 the “squeezed middle” came out in force to remind politicians that we care about our planet. For the new generation of young people our world has been changed by the actions of those bankers which caused the global financial meltdown.  Our lives have been affected and people undoubtedly will suffer.

I personally believe we will fight back, the web has given activists access to new networks and the ability to connect and share ideas quickly on the move. We are a new generation, we are from diverse backrounds, tech savvy, driven by fairness and desire to prevent reckless actions jeopardise our society and environment.

Interesting campaigns and groups to watch:

Climate Rush

Crude Awakening

We the 99%

Counterfire

Whatever the next few years hold it is clear that it won’t be a quiet ride.

Watch this trailor by Just do it.org on the new kind of activist.