Tuesday, 19 August 2008

What was Climate Camp all about?

For some, it was merely another summer festival. Music, booze and other gregarious activities.
For others, a learning experience, an extension to the academic year, a crash course in climate science so to speak.
And for a radical few this was a good chance for a run in with the police and possibly cause a little mayhem.
But what was the point? Did anyone actually believe that the activists were going to shut down the power station on the saturday as the organisers had wanted to do? Very unlikely. What wold be more plausible is that a peaceful demonstration would help to highlight the concerns of many people that climate change is a very frightening prospect. And when the Government says it is committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and then gives i support to new coal-fired power stations, the dirtiest fuel available, a few alarm bells must have been ringing. Public opinion has now shifted towards emissions reduction even if it means at a greater expense to the tax payer and consumer. However, like so many important issues it can easily fade into insignificance if not in the public's domain. Which is why Climate Camp was so important - it showed that the public want continued action on the matter and no measures that would reverse any gains made towards a low carbon economy. Even the bad publicity was beneficial because the spotlight was on this on issue for the week that climate camp went on. And many of the activists will be back to stop the building if E-On is allowed to build a new coal-fired power station.
The decision now rests with John Hutton, the Secretary of State for Business. Does he prioritise emissions reductions or does he does he give the green light for power companies to keep producing the emissions that the government says it wants to reduce, but isn't prepared to do anything about?

Monday, 14 July 2008

Why everyone should know more about the EAC

If the title of most green organisation were to be discussed the usual names would come up, Greenpeace, FOE, WWF, CPRE etc. But there is one contender whose work is often quoted but whose praises are rarely sung. I am, of course, taking about the Environmental Audit Committee (parliament.uk/eacom). Although they technically are part of Parliament they rarely spout the same sort of greenspeak that is expected from DEFRA or DBER and often are outright critical of our government's claims to environmental awareness. The importance of this is that this is a committee from inside parliament that consistently rubbishes the government's claim to cutting our greenhouse gas emissions.
An article in todays Guardian shows just how little our government has done. (guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jul/14/carbonemissions.climatechange) The most interesting thing is how small a contribution from renewables government buildings have. Couple this with the issue of ministerial cars being kept as petrol-guzzling Jaguars rather than more efficient models (also a criticism from the EAC) then what we hear from the government is 'do as I say not as I do'. Many people get confused by parliamentary language and protocol yet the message is quite clear. This government is unable to tell the truth when it comes to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and this is there own committee telling us this not someone outside the political world or anyone who happens to dislike the Brown administration.
The history of the EAC as a thorn in the side of the government is getting quite long now. There are several important things which it has reported on which help undermine a failed policy. Firstly, there is the matter of our Kyoto target (10% less emissions than our 1990 rate by 2012). The myth that we had miraculously reduced our emissions having consumed more fossil fuels and invested in less carbon neutral sources slipped under the radar till the EAC stepped in. Accessing the government's own materials they found out how this miracle had occurred. In the early 90's a lot of dirty coal-fired power stations were replaced with slightly cleaner gas ones. Problem solved, Kyoto Protocol assignment complete. Secondly, the EAC has helped us to realise that we should no longer be following the conservative estimate on the impacts of change and the increases in GHG emissions. Having drawn up report after report that stated that temperatures and emissions were rising on a median level between the conservative and radical estimate, the EAC kept plugging at it, hoping that the government and the opposition would start to take the issue seriously now rather than promise to be serious about it in the future (when they would conveniently not be around to have to deal with it).
So, i doff my cap to the fine members of the EAC, a job well done.

Monday, 7 July 2008

What's the deal with Eco-towns?

Most people don't want new towns to be built next to them, eco or non-eco, and this is something the government has to accept. Yet we face crisis of affordable housing and often the houses of the poorest parts of society are the most energy inefficient, leaking heat and electricity. The government wants to build these new towns to cut down on energy use and to fill the housing crisis, two birds with one stone. However, many of these new proposed towns happen to be on the same sites that applications for non-eco communities were turned down. Is this new proposal a crafty way to get around planning laws? I do applaud the governments plan to tighten the environmental standards for new builds( although they are far too slow to come into affect) but are eco new builds the way forward? What about eco-renovations? They may be less glamorous and a lesser PR stunt than brand new towns but shouldn't we be worried about own existing houses before getting into arguments about the houses of the future? With spiraling fuel prices and greenhouse gas emissions, it makes sense to insulate our homes and to fit double glazing or heat pumps? The money due to be spent on new builds could go even further with helping people to cut their carbon footprint and their fuel bills in one go. So, why isn't it happening? Back we go to the so called housing shortage. But this is a myth. In fact we have more houses built than any time before in our history jut less people to live in them. In 1950 the average was about 5 per household now it is closer to 2. More people have second or even third homes, perhaps this is the problem? An ecological solution to the housing crisis is to make more habitable the houses we already have, in terms of affordability and carbon emissions. Eco-towns? Wishful thinking and an unnecessary deflection from our major housing issue.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Glastonbury - Eco-Festival?

Glastonbury has long presented itself as the greenest festival on offer and it was under this assumption that I made the trip down for a weekend of fun as well as learning.
Surely 160,000 people camping in fields would damage both the local environment and emit thousands of tons of carbon dioxide (and other gases) into the atmosphere? Or does the fact that these people have stopped using their homes, cars and most electrical appliances for a few days signal a notable drop in personal emissions? A closer look into the workings of the festival should give me an answer.
Accomodation - everyone (bar a few posh campers) sleeps in tents so no little need for lights or heaters. People do bring butane stoves and portable heaters but the warm weather renders these obselete.
Toilets - the ammonia and methane released into the atmosphere by the almost open communal toilets will precipitate a big rise in emissions from the festival goers. However, minimal toilet paper was used thus saving trees and decent toilets were available for the price of a small contribution to Water Aid, who provided the service.
Showers - all the shower units provided hot water that was from solar power (Solar Century provided this service) and therefore required no gas to be burnt. Also, the units were self contained meaning that the water used by purified and reused.
Electricity - I found out that the generators were run on biodiesel and not the sort that uses crops which could be food but the sort that is made from leftover oils and plants.
Food and drink - I was impressed by the range of vegetarian food on offer as this is the most ecological way to eat, and I was equally surprised by the popularity of these food stands. Even the stands which did serve meat also had a good range of vegetarian options. However, on meeting my fellow campers I found the highest percentage of veggies to carnies outside of posh London wholefoods shops which was unsurprising given the nature of Glastonbury. As for the drinks, they were all served in biodegradable cups and the ciders and ales were all locally produced and much of the wine was fair trade. There were still the usual options but also lots of organic drinks were available.
Transport - many people did choose to drive but the number of buses going on the road was huge, even casuing a large traffic jam as I left on monday morning. The people I did ask about driving said that they were offering lifts to people and had cars full of people and equipment. So, not exactly one person per car.
Recycling - this was a big issue given the amount of rubbish that was generated. Glastonbury had three recycling bins available and these were places all around the site. One was for plastics, one for food waste (including the cups and plates) and one for all other waste. Most items would have gone into the first two but such was the extent of it that these bins constantly overflowed and due to the difficluty fo moving trucks through the crowd they were only emptied when people went to sleep. The issue of littering was a major one and the cleanup at some of the main stages would need several days to be complete. I hope that all the rubbish pressed into the mud would have ended up in the recycling bins.
The festival was both a great success and a green success both in its message and in its mechanisms. My only conern was that this might be a case of preaching to the converted.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Icy Art

Check this out!

Interesting view of global warming and the terrifying speed at which the Ice Caps are melting.

Stick with it, i know i know the song is that annoying song from Donnie Darko, but that film rocked so give this a try.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Is the 'Big Ask' too big an ask?

Most of you should now be familiar with the 'Big Ask' campaign launched by Friends of the Earth (http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/climate/news/big_ask.html).

The gist is to strengthen the Climate Change Bill (this week being debated in the Commons) to include an 80% cut in emissions and ensure that Aviation and Shipping are included in the Bill. This may sound easy but its not going done too well with the powers that be. On a personal level flights can constitute most of a person's carbon allowance for the year with ships being a much more carbon efficient, though limited, form of travel. The problem arises from where flights and shipping is used for trade and business. Winter strawberries may be the ultiate luxury in the upermarket as are fresh flowers from any season all year round. But they have their downsides which is that they use up huge amounts of fuel to fly them hearing rather than the conventional way of trade which is to ship goods from country to country.

So, what is the government doing about it? Nothing. Why? Because too much of our modern consumer society rests on having what we want when we want. Asking people not to fly or sail is difficult, as we are an island nation, but rather than punitively taxing these forms of travel they should be included with all other emitting sources. A balanced price of carbon (plus incentives for carbon-neutral products like no VAT or tax rebates) will solve the issue quicker and with less aggravation than heavy handed tax raising. Also, with green taxes they go straight back to the treasury to pay for non-environmental issues such as schools, hospitals or the many wars we are currently involved.
So, we have to ask for a carbon trading scheme that includes every emitter, right down to the individual, in order for it to be workable and fair. It also has to be part of a European carbon trading scheme in order for companies not re-registering themsleves in somewhere that is not taking part in the scehme (although the flow of businesses into Switzerland, Iceland and Norway will probably occur).
At the moment the government is hesitant to include aviation and shipping which is why the 'Big Ask' is so important. If there is enough popular pressure for these measures to be included then the government will find it difficult to ignore the matter, although popular opinion hasn't stopped them in the past.
We'll keep you posted.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Why don't we care?

How has it come to this? Daily, almost hourly updates from defined scientific sources detailing the devastating effects that will come. This planet is facing atrocities beyond our comprehension. These are not predictions of a mad scientist in the attic, these are facts that we simply cannot keep ignoring.

However we do.

“So what? We will all be dead”, “It’s my children I feel sorry for”, or “It’s going to take hundreds of years before we see any change” and of course “there’s no proof”, these are some of the generic gems we as a people keep telling each other. We keep lying to ourselves, endlessly justifying our excessive consumerist existence, but why exactly?

Why do we keep ignoring the facts? What feasible theory is there for people not doing anything? We all fear death, we can say we don’t but we do, regularly people site the ‘fear of the unknown’ being their main hang up when considering meeting our maker but surely the fear of the unknown of what will happen to our planet if we continue to turn a blind eye, is as terrifying?

It’s already too late, the damage is done and every day gets that little bit worse, Australia is drying up, Greenland is melting, tropical storms, the strongest seen for decades ravage the southern oceans with alarming regularity and no one seems that bothered.

I know they say “what can we do?” but there is so, so much you can do. Any little effort on mass suddenly is a global effort. I know you have all heard this before but what more can be said. We must all make an effort to save our planet; there really is no excuse!

Anyway what is so damn important that you can stand by and watch it just fall apart, last time I checked we don’t have anywhere else to go. Our little emerald and sapphire coloured planet that so lovingly allows 6 billion of us to reside upon its chest, until proven other wise, is a one off phenomenon involved in something far larger and indeed greater than we can ever, even hope to understand.

Dreamers fantasize about colonies on the moon, but I’m sorry that sounds like galactic quitting talk to me. I know I’d prefer the all the intricate beauties and subtle yet astounding differences nature and indeed our planet offers so selflessly to us, over the moon any day. Inhabiting a lump of rock orbiting what our planet once was seems far too heart breaking, too disloyal.

Is the majesty, the magic and indeed the miracle of life on earth that worthless that we dismiss its cry for help along with the daily tabloid exploits of the celebrities we idolize? Something has gone horribly awry in our minds, and I know you know this!

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