This land was made for you and me

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Firstly I am not a fan of attacking others on the left, god knows there are enough right wing austerity nuts lining up to attack anyone who dares to dream of alternative ways living.

However after reading Suzanne Moore’s blog today in the Guardian ‘Food is now the ultimate class signifier’, I felt compelled to add my view. I agree that food stamps are damaging.  I have heard they can only be spent in approved government suppliers like Tesco, Sainsbury’s or other homogenous corporations, not your independent corner shop or local veg box scheme. And yes as a nation we’re becoming more interested in baking bread and cooking from scratch, especially in the aftermath of the horse food scandal people are starting to want accountability in the food chain and to develop a better understanding of where our food comes from.

However what is very clear is that with every passing year we are stuck with this government the gap between the rich and the poor becomes wider. And Suzanne is right food probably is the ultimate class signifier. I know this as I am sitting in a Hackney café drinking my £3.50 pear, apple, ginger, lemon fruit juice. No joke! And I am not kidding myself I know places like this are not the solution for people struggling to feed their family with healthy tasty food.

This government continues to strip away choice in almost all aspects of life and I can see why people struggling and feel like they have no food choice. You don’t see government funded adverts telling people to support local retailers or to head to a website which will direct you to your nearest co-operative food growing scheme. Instead we’re fed a diet of advertising that tells us to rush to our nearest Tesco’s and shove Pringles down our neck. ‘Once you pop, you can’t stop’.

In her article Suzanne points out that choice and eating seasonally costs. Sorry Suzanne but this is what the government want you say, they want us to think we have no choice and keep us at the mercy of big business, giving them our money in exchange for packaged junk.

Visibility costs and for businesses to gain that invariably they have to charge a certain price for their produce especially in London. This food visibility and access is the problem. I am lucky to live in Hackney and have access to lots of locally grown vegetables from veg schemes. For a veg box of £10 I can feed myself for 5 days. Yes I have to be a bit creative and yes sometimes I have to eat cabbage but it doesn’t break the bank.

If you’re unable to afford this some schemes offer free food in return for volunteering with the growing. Not only does this give people a hobby and new skills, it is also a great way to meet new friends and reconnect people with the food they eat.

Now for the big elephant in the room MEAT! I just searched the cheapest chicken fillets Tesco offer and they come up at £3.79. No wonder people can’t afford to eat if they are paying nearly £4.00 for the cheapest genetically modified product. Once you start adding Tesco’s packaging saturated vegetables and a sauce of some kind you’re staring at £10.00 just for dinner.

As Food Banks continue to open at an alarming rate we need to address food poverty in the UK. Food stamps are definitely not the solution they limit choice and must surely create a feeling of low morale in those who receive them.

What we need are for the government to really support the local food growing solutions that are happening all across the country.  Instead of sending the unemployed off to Pound land for a spell of slave labour, why not help train a new army of chefs that specialise in seasonal food? Or reclaim land and create community food growing co-ops? After all we live on a planet with finite resources, the solutions exist but the government just don’t want the majority to look in the right place.

Eating local food from scratch has been giving the marketing treatment and is viewed by many as something for the elite. But the actually this couldn’t be further from the truth, our great grandparents would be horrified to think that we are so deprived of basic food skills. I dream of everyone getting back to growing our own food, making bread, making chutneys and preserving food. These are skills passed on from generation to generation they don’t belong to Nigella or any of the celebrity chefs they belong to us all.

These are a few projects that give me hope for the future of food and more broadly the planet.

The Secret Seed Society) Teaching young children about food growing through story telling.

The New Dawn Traders) Inspiring a new generation of sail cargo ships to wean our shipping industry off fossil fuels

Foodcycle) Turning food waste into delicious affordable meals and creating volunteering and retraining opportunities for people in the community.

Growing Communities) A Hackney based local affordable food growing co-op

Made in Hackney) Workshops teaching Londoners a sustainable food future

Get Growing) Working with children and adults teaching them how to grow food using permaculture design and organic methods.

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Boris Johnson- no fracking clue

“Who’s bad?” in the British political scene of 2012 it has to be Boris Johnson. The publicity-loving Mayor has been showing his dangerous neo-liberal tendencies again; this time by using his column in the Telegraph to support of the pursuit of shale gas, better known as Fracking.

This article was lazy even by his slap dash standards, throughout he manages to ignore any empirical evidence about fracking and uses what I would describe as cold war style rhetoric to make his points. This little snippet used when talking about the Kyoto treaty stopping us building new coal stations sums the language used throughout the article perfectly: “We are therefore increasingly and humiliatingly dependent on Vladimir Putin’s gas or on the atomic power of the French state”.

We all know Boris isn’t one to follow rules, however it would appear this extends to following scientific reports. Although Boris did correctly identify that gas omits less CO2 than burning coal. Well-done Boris. Although studies commissioned by the EC have found Shale gas is likely to have higher emission levels than conventional gas extraction methods. So not much, much, cleaner Boris but still probably the second most destructive form of fossil fuel consumption available to us at the moment in Europe.

Boris also claims there hasn’t been one single complaint the Environmental Protection Agency in the US where fracking has been widespread. Sadly it appears Boris hasn’t heard of the infamous ‘Hallburton Loophole’. In 2005 Congress passed the Energy Policy Act. This act included a clause which exempted nearly everything used in fracking from being regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. So if you live in the United States and your drinking water now has shale gas mixed in with it because of leaking fracking wells, you can’t complain. If the fracking rigs cause poisonous air quality, you can’t complain about that either. Instead artists led by Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono have united against fracking to stop it happening in the New York area.

This kind of de-regulation and reckless pursuit of fossil fuels to benefit the already rich fossil fuel industry is ludicrous. Boris should really be careful as he is already responsible for over 4000 early deaths in London due to poor air quality. So yes Boris, I am a green campaigner and I take the further poisoning of our air, water and increased carbon emission’s very seriously.  And my next point is where I find him incredibly frustrating; whenever I see him on TV he endlessly talks about the need for investment. Renewable energy is an area where we have the expertise and the opportunity to be word leaders however Boris continues to call for investment in dangerous fossil fuel technology.

And I am not alone in calling for this urgent investment in green growth the CBI (The UK’s top business lobbying organisation) recently released figures showing that one third of British growth last year came from the green economy. The figures are stacking up in favour of investment in the ‘green ecomony’. The CBI believes if we get the right level of investment from the government and investors the ‘green economy’ could deliver £20 billion in 2014/2015. I certainly wouldn’t call that ‘chicken feed’.

Again in regards to employment he really misses the point. In sectors such as wind power and energy efficiency close to one million people are already employed in the UK. Expertise in energy efficency and renewable technologies are things we can export. We can’t sell the toxic carbon emissions created by fracking that is for sure.

Boris Johnson is now widely viewed to be the future leader of the Conservative party. Members of his party would do well to remember the bumbling backbencher that couldn’t punch his way out of a political paper bag. Essentially Boris hasn’t changed he still spouts the pro business, anti environment, de-regulation nonsense, which led to the financial crisis. His ideology of neo-liberalism has been discredited; it’s heroes, Thatcher, Bush, Cheney, Blair, are widely derided figures. This article reaffirmed Boris desire to destroy our countryside and ignore the climate change crisis in the favour of short-term profits for the fossil fuel companies.

This is the man who in the wake of the Libor scandal told us “Barclays is and remains a great British brand,” a “proud” and an “historic” one no less. And he remains a champion of Rupert Murdoch despite the phone hacking scandal. The question is; do you really trust Boris on the environment? I know I don’t.

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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.

Dangerous Times Call For Radical Green Solutions


Following last week’s Green Party conference, The Guardian released the first in a series of videos focusing on the politic party conferences. Our video was called; ‘The Greens are turning into a force on the radical left‘. If I were being a bit pedantic, I would argue the choice of this title, as I believe we are turning into a broader political force not just one confined to one side of the political spectrum.

This years Green conference saw the newly appointed Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, give a powerful maiden speech. In her speech she did something you certainly wouldn’t hear David Cameron or Ed Miliband doing; she asked Green Party members to hold her to account on her promises made for her first 100 days in office. She also spoke on how Labour hasn’t changed and the coalition has picked up from where Labour left off. And I was also personally delighted to see Natalie invite dialogue with the trade union movement.

For me the Greens and unions working hand in hand feels like a natural fit, as we share the same desire to create a fairer society and strong public sector. We both wish to see efficient and affordable public services run with the interests of the general public at heart. We both believe in a fairer society whereby those who caused the financial crisis bear the brunt not the poorest in society. We both wish to see proper wages paid to those who get up every day and work for the benefit of the people not multinational corporations. I am talking about nurses, teachers, bus drivers, care home workers. These are the people who make Britain tick and these are the people the governments misguided austerity drive is failing to support. The Greens and Unions have that common bond of wanting to create a fairer society and this is a relationship I hope we continue to strengthen.

In her speech Natalie importantly also touched on how our planet is under attack. I know I am not the only green who has despaired in recent weeks at the bizarre discussions in government surrounding environmental issues. Our government are obsessed with airport expansion, cutting renewable subsidies like they have done with wind farms and pursuing fracking despite the European Commission publishing a report saying ‘drilling for shale gas poses “high risks”, worse than those posed by other fossil fuels’. All of this at a time where we recorded the lowest Arctic ice levels ever and 80% of agricultural land in the US is facing drought. And those environmental shining beacons of responsibility, Shell, head off the Arctic to drill for oil with no credible plan on how to stop leaks.

I feel excited about the potential of The Green Party under the leadership of Bennett. She wasted no time in attacking the neoliberal shock doctrine politics which binds the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems together. Yes us Greens may be seen as radical by the mainstream media, however we live in the time of an environmental crisis and we need radical solutions to the challenges we face.  If we’re to tackle climate change and create a low carbon future filled with green jobs, low carbon travel and sustainable local food solutions, it will require a radical reshaping of our economy and the ending of our obsession with growth. Recognising we live on a planet with finite resources and ecological limits is the first step to doing this. The Greens and many leading economists have recognised our growth obsession isn’t a long term strategy. The question is when will the other parties wake up and do the same?

Tesco’s Green Package


On the few occasions that I wander into a Tesco store I feel agitated. There are a whole myriad of reasons for this; amongst them are the following:

1)      Self loathing because I am actually shopping there (rather than supporting small local businesses)

2)      The way they treat in store employees

3)      Poor quality vegetables from halfway across the world

4)      Greenwash (Tesco are main propagators of this)

5)      BUT most of all food PACKAGING!

Almost every item of food is caked in packaging in an attempt to try and entice us into purchasing the slightly more expensive product. You are encouraged to purchase bananas and courgettes in plastic bags and it seems that more packaging the more expensive the product. The main question this poses for me is why? I suppose the underpinning reason is profit.

Packaging itself has become a big business, with the global yearly food packaging industry  estimated to be worth around 100 billion dollars a year and growing at a rate of 10% a year.


Another reason for the amount of packing could be because as consumers we have become accustomed to excess packaging. Lack of packaging has become associated with cheap value brands in supermarkets. It appears we have become far removed from the food manufacturing process. If food is hidden in multiple levels of packaging it allows the consumer to detach themselves from buying inhumanely killed and processed food. Instead consumers go through the process of buying a package. Deep down we all know that to produce food on the grand scale that Tesco does and at the prices they can offer is going to mean some pretty unethical production.

Recently “Hugh’s Big Fish Fight” exposed Tesco’s reliance on unethically caught Tuna with the pressure leading to a switch to 100% pole and line caught fish for its own brand Tuna. This a prime example of unsustainable un-green practice Tesco specialise in.

However the even more disturbing fact is that Tesco promote themselves openly as an ethical and green organisation.  Recently they sponsored Climate Week alongside other organisations with a somewhat dubious green record, including RBS funding Tar Sands extraction  and EDF working towards a nuclear Britain.

Climate Rush again did an amazing job of highlighting Tesco’s un-green credentials with their TESCO2 stunt.

The inspirational founder of Climate Rush, Tamsin Omond summed it up perfectly after their Tesco greenwash expose saying “for all their talk about ‘Doing The Right Thing’, few companies are more committed to the status quo than Tesco. Rather than set itself ambitious short-term targets, matched with holistic, honest reporting, Tesco spends its energy on token gestures like sponsoring Climate Week and Green Clubcard points. Fighting climate change isn’t the responsibility of the PR department; it’s time Tesco committed to delivering real, long-term value for its shareholders and the communities on which it depends. You can’t make money on a dead planet.”

Tesco have an amazing opportunity if they wanted to be serious about being green as oppose to playing green. Packaging would be a great place to start, not just by reducing the amount of packaging on food items but using the packaging that does have to exist as a platform to warn people about the dangers of climate change.

I accept some packaging does have to exist on certain products (e.g. yoghurt, eggs etc). But in instances where it does exist three simple facts about tackling climate change on all packaging could make a massive difference in changing mainstream attitudes towards lowering carbon emissions.

3 carbon emission reduction tips:

1)      Only use as the exact amount of water you need when making tea

2)      Take shorter showers

3)      Walk or cycle when taking short journeys

These small actions are the starting points for many people in starting to live in a greener and more sustainable way. It wouldn’t cost Tesco much in the way of money to actually start raising awareness about a cause they claim to support. Of course the likely scenario is that they will continue to sponsor ‘climate awareness projects’ whilst continuing their whole array of unethical practices. They would do well to remember you can’t buy green, you need to be green.