Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Climate change action and costs

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Government policies on climate change do not go far enough or fast
enough, just as past 'actions' have
been insufficient, slow or non-existent. UK carbon emissions are 2% higher
now than when Tony Blair came to power in 1997 (Govt's own figures!), despite the apparent
concern !

Successive govts have neglected real action on climate, and now
look where we are, with the Stern Report stating with authority that
climate change could cost trillions of pounds. The upward carbon pollution
trend needs to peak within ten to fifteen years if we are to keep temperature
rise to 2 degrees in the next 50 or 100 years, according to the climate

Taking action in the early 80's or 90's when Greens (including me) were calling for it
would have been both easier and cheaper than it now will be, though acting
now is much cheaper and easier than taking no
action and suffering even more climate change! The chances of success for
any action on climate would also have been higher if we had acted earlier.

The Stern Report has underestimated the extent of economic change needed
to really tackle climate change. We are a factor of ten away from being
sustainable in resource and energy terms and need to establish a new
approach to socio-economics which seems to me to say that we need to gear
much more than 1% of GDP to the task!

Action needs to range across all areas involving the consumption of fossil
fuels at some point in the chain of economic events - these days this
means.....just about everything! Globalisation of trade is of course
rapidly raising carbon emissions levels....Also whilst the Stern Report's
primary focus is the economic impacts of climate change - I think it is
worth remembering the huge social and environmental impacts indicated in his report too! Frankly
its not so much the cost of climate change as the impacts on people and
the natural world that have always concerned me, though you cant of course
separate these off from economics as they are interdependent.

Without an economy which is reconciled with the environment we wont and
cant tackle climate change effectively. Stern and the Government are wrong
if they are saying that we can grow as in the past, but just pay a climate
change bill and carry on.

Monday, October 30, 2006

How green is Bristol?

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I very much like the idea of Bristol leading the way and becoming model 'green city' as outlined by City Council Leader Barbara Janke ('Let's be the best eco city', Bristol Evening Post, 28 October) but what stands in the way of this genuinely becoming the case more than anything is the massive environmental impacts of the city itself ! Economic activity in Bristol is fighting against our environment, as is well illustrated by our traffic congestion and air pollution problems existing alongside a poor quality and expensive public transport system.

There are, as she points out, many excellent organisations based here working on making the world greener - she names the Soil Association, Sustrans, Bristol Zoo and environmental businesses, to which I would add the Schumacher Lectures, @Bristol, the city farms, the CREATE Centre and the BBC Natural History Unit and great organic and local food suppliers like the Better Food Company. I've no doubt that there are many others.

However, what is vital is to keep a sense of context and scale here. Take the city's carbon emissions as one indicator of green-ness. The council itself has estimated that Bristol emits nearly 6 tonnes of carbon per person each year. A sustainable carbon emissions level is more like 1 tonne per person each year!

The 'best eco city' would not be a factor of five or six times away from sustainable carbon emissions, to say the least. We continue to be a very long way from being green as a city because national and local government policies are either too little too late or lacking in coherence and consistency between social, economic and environmental policies.

To make real progress towards being a truly green city needs a thorough and radical approach, and so the 'green city' needs a strong group of Green councillors to help to take us there.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Reduce, reuse, recycle, recover - in this order !!

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As well as experiencing Bristol's fairly new recycling/composting system with its brown bins...I'm working on a waste management policy at the moment. Actually recycling is far from the top of the list as far as being environmentally friendly is concerned.

The different options for dealing with waste issues are considered as a waste management hierarchy. The first priority is waste reduction or minimisation. After reduction comes the reuse of objects so that they do not enter the waste stream: for example the refilling of bottles. It is not until one gets down to the third level in the hierarchy that one gets to recovery, which includes materials recycling, composting and the recovery of energy from waste by a whole range of methods (some more environmentally friendly than others). Waste disposal is at the bottom of the hierarchy and includes final disposal to landfill and the incineration of waste without recovering the energy.

Our society is upside down as far as what we do with our waste is concerned because the option we use most is at the bottom of the list of environmental priorities! Thus greens are campaigning hard to emphasise the need for reduction and for reuse as our top priorities. There does of course also need to be a shift to recycling and composting but there are certainly dangers in thinking that these alone are the complete solution to all our waste and environmental problems because they are not - as their position in the waste management hierarchy illustrates.

Without significant reductions in waste we will still have to deal with very large amounts of material in a fuel and money intensive way. For example, currently Bristol sends compostable material all the way to Dorset in large lorries because it has not yet developed a composting facility locally. In one sense moving to more recycling is a relatively 'easy' step to take, despite all the teething problems, inconvenience and costs of new systems. What would really tackle our waste and pollution problems is a very significant shift to producing minimal waste and designing for reuse, repair and long life products. This is a much more difficult step to take in the sense of the scale of change because it ultimately implies restructuring our economy so that instead of being geared to mass consumption it is geared to conserving our real wealth. Thus being green is as much about a new economics as it is about the environment.

Conservatives - truly Green????

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The Conservatives launched a document about tax policy today and all I've seen about it on the news tells me that they are still the same old party - and they have massively long way to go before they are green to say the least!

Conservative Party leader David Cameron has some real problems with his party. Comments from Conservative Candidate for NE Somerset Jacob Rees-Mogg, who seems to think that people who have been to Oxford or Cambridge have an inherent, natural right to run the country unlike us "potted plants" as he called us, illustrate this perfectly (Bristol Evening Post front page report, 'Which would you rather run the country', October 5th). Mr Moggs education at Eton and Oxford did not give him the sense to stop him putting his foot in it did it!

Cameron's warm words about being green and wanting to tackle climate change for instance are nothing but hot air until he backs them up with a wide range of good, detailed, coherent and consistent policies on the matter. Furthermore, even if David Cameron himself turns out be be genuine in his support for green policies (and that is still a very big if) he has a very, very long way to go before his party genuinely goes with him. My experience of Conservative candidates over twenty years of contesting elections at various levels is that they regard environmental policies as inherently bad for business, an unjustified burden on taxpayers or even some sort of radical left wing, or even worse European Union, conspiracy, instead of the good sense and care for the future that they really are!

Beware of David Cameron's attempts to rebrand his party. It surely takes more than a new oak tree logo, pictures of leaves and blue sky liberally spread around your conference - and a green tie - to make you green! This particular leopard has not changed its spots and so if people want green politics they should look to the real thing - the Green Party itself.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Priorities should be health, education and environment!

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The government just doesn't seem to have its spending priorities right. One day I read about the future of wardens looking after the elderly in sheltered flats across Bristol being threatened by govt funding cuts of up to £9 million (Care Wardens Job Axe Fears, Bristol Evening Post, 10 October). The next day I read about Bristol facing a GP crisis in five years if we continue to train doctors at the same rate (Family Doctors in Crisis, Bristol Evening Post, 11 October) and also the denial of drugs costing as little as £2.50 per day to those suffering from Alzheimar's (How can they deny people this drug?, Bristol Evening Post, 11 October). These are all areas where one would think caring people would prioritise spending, along with education.

Given spending priorities like these I just dont understand why the government has committed itself to spending, not millions, but billions on a replacement for Trident nuclear missiles by saying it will retain Britain's nuclear so-called deterrent. What is more we have always been told that nuclear weapons work because they will never be used (the mutually assured destruction argument)!!

Tony Blair stood outside 10 Downing Street the other day and made a statement rightly criticising North Korea for exploding a test nuclear weapon, saying that they had spent vast sums whilst their people were poor and sometimes starving. Why doesn't he then follow the same logic, get his spending priorities right and direct money to where it is needed, such as the examples I have given or perhaps additional flood defences for Weston-Super-Mare or for investing in a creating a green future for todays young people and their children?

It seems to me a double immorality to spend money on threatening mass destruction with new nuclear weapons and at the same time denying people decent health, education, environmental and social care spending.