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.

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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?

Where is our clean energy future?

Last week it was announced that Tory led government are reducing onshore wind farm subsidies by 10%. Ed Davey the Energy Secretary reportedly lobbied hard to against the treasury who were pressing for a 25% reduction in subsidies. In the Guardian it was reported that if Mitt Romney is elected to the White House he will completely scrap all subsidies for the wind industry.

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All of this hostility against renewable energy is plainly bizarre and highlights the cosy relationship between the fossil fuel industry and leading politicians.

The real question has to be; what is driving this hostility towards renewable energy sources. In the UK it wasn’t so long ago that the Conservative party were changing their logo to a tree and telling voters; “vote blue, go green”. The Treasury continues to talk of up the green economy but actions like cutting wind subsidies contradict this rhetoric. The FT reported that George Osborne in a letter to Ed Davey revealed that the government would use “renewables trading” to hit its 2020 target for carbon emissions cuts rather than generating all the green power domestically.

It was recently revealed that Osborne’s father in law ‘Lord Howell’ a former Energy Secretary under Thatcher is the president of the British Institute of Energy Economics (BIEE), which is sponsored by Shell and BP. In an article by the Independent it was also revealed that Osborne hasn’t met with a single representative from the renewable energy industry, whilst he has found time to meet with 8 representatives from the oil and gas industry. Behind Osborne’s clear scorn for environmental concerns is the Tory obsession with the un-conventential gas extraction of Shale Gas better known as ‘fracking’.

Fracking has been widely explored in parts of America leading to wide spread environmental damage and latterly partly due to Josh Fox’s film Gasland wide spread protest. Fracking has been proven to contaminate rivers and drinking water so that people can set tap water on fire. It has also been found to  cause earthquakes and will scupper any attempts to meet our carbon emission reduction targets. And the extraction of shale gas is only the start of this dangerous dash for gas, almost more worrying is the plans to burn coal bed methane.

As a member of the Green Party, I’m proud we are opposed to fracking. Back in April Caroline Lucas perfectly summed up the danger posed by fracking. Caroline said; “If carbon capture and storage technology is not in place, burning just 20% of the gas which Cuadrilla claims to have found in its licence area in Lancashire would generate 15% of UK’s total CO2 budget to 2050”.

In the summer issue of the New Statesman, Michael Brooks has written an article called: We need to talk about fracking. One of the points he makes he raises is; Do we want to be part of a generation that doesn’t even bother trying to meet carbon reduction targets? Cuadrilla the main company carrying out fracking are expecting government permission to start extraction any day now.

Personally I’m scared by the short sighted approach to our energy future the government are adopting and fracking is a dangerous carbon intensive form of energy production. So what can you do to stop fracking happening in an area near you?

I recommend getting in touch with activist group Frack Off who have been organising opposition to fracking in communities across the UK and have a comprehensive website full of facts about fracking and plans for extraction. They are really great group of people and happy to come and speak to local groups about the dangers of extreme energy extraction.

With Osborne and the government firmly in bed with the oil and gas industry; we are going to have to unite in communities across the country to oppose fossil fuel energy extraction. Creating the low carbon future we desire will be difficult and will require, local campaigns, direct action and brave politicians prepared to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. Because one thing is for sure currently this government isn’t showing any signs of doing that.

Notes:

1) Watch a free online version of Gasland

2) Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono protest song ‘Don’t Frack my Mother’

Working Class Heroes

I was going to write about plastic bags and how there is no excuse for a 5% growth in plastic bag usage as reported by the Guardian today. However I just read an interesting blog by Gary Dunion of Bright Green titled; Greens can either pay their leader, or be led by the rich and I felt compelled to respond.

The blog talks about Peter Cranie’s bid to become the new leader of the Green Party and the rumours that have been circulating that he may have to withdraw from the race if their is no salary guaranteed for the new leader of the party. Although Cranie has since made it clear that he has no intention of pulling out of the race.

The blog cites a demand of the Chartists, Britain’s first modern workers’ movement. Including the below.

“PAYMENT OF MEMBERS, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country.”

It would be a good idea for us to pay attention to the demands of the Chartists. I think this is a real moment of truth for the Green Party; Caroline Lucas being elected as our first MP in Brighton has given us a chance to demonstrate we’re capable making a valuable contribution to parliament. In the 2015 election we should be looking to elect several more MP’s with a target of at least 10 elected MP’s by the 2020 election. As the climate change crisis worsens the first people to be affected will be the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Our policies have fairness woven throughout and these will serve to protect those in the most need when the time comes. With the Lib Dem’s in disarray, Labour not offering any real alternative to the Tories austerity measures. The Green Party should be viewing the next election as a golden opportunity to increase seats.

To have a chance of doing this we need the best leader possible.  I would hate to think we may not get the best candidate as leader because the party was scrimping on the salary. A figure of £28,000 is mentioned in Gary’s blog, which is slightly above the national average. I can say having earned a figure around this a couple of years ago living in London, money was pretty tight and that is as a single person in a shared flat, let alone with a family.

We pride ourselves on being the party of fairness, we need to live by these words and pay whoever is elected leader a salary worthy of the position of Green Party leader. I would suggest using a relatively high level civil servants salary as the benchmark.

I believe we have replaced Labour as the party truly representing workers. We have the knowledge and compassion to implement a green economy which will create jobs throughout society. And we’re committed to reversing the climate change disaster we’re currently on course for. But as someone originally from a working class background, I would be sad to see the party essentially exclude candidates who are not independently wealthy.

I hope whoever wins the leadership contest is paid a wage fitting of the great responsibility the next leader will have in building on the success of Caroline as leader.

Notes:

1) This blog is response to the blog by Gary Dunion for Bright Green and quotes his blog in parts. http://brightgreenscotland.org/index.php/2012/08/greens-can-either-pay-their-leader-or-be-led-by-the-rich/

2) I haven’t decided who I am voting for in the upcoming leadership contests.