Sunday, December 30, 2007

Please let me know if I spout gibberish and nonsense!

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Co-writer of the enormously funny and entertaining Yes, Minister TV series Anthony Jay, concluded an article he wote recently by saying:

Voters no longer believe anything they hear from our leaders and mass apathy is the result.

I think he certainly has a point. The whole article is well worth a read. Please comment often and with great vigour if I ever spout gibberish and nonsense on this site!! I've done my best to be clear and straightforward up to now and will endeavour to continue this in the future.

Poetry, poison and politics

I've been listening to some of William Blake's poetry on a CD over the holiday period. This one always brings politics at its worst into my mind (especially the 'soft deceitful wiles' part).

A Poison Tree by William Blake

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears
Night and morning with my tears,
And I sunned it with smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright,
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning, glad, I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jeremy Clarkson talks yet more tripe!! Not really news is it.

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That lovely man (!) Jeremy Clarkson features in my local paper's 'Quotes of the day' today as saying:

Please have a wonderful Christmas. Drink too much. Eat too much. Dont feel guilty about the presents you give or those that you receive. Care not about your carbon footprint or the impact of your naked consumerism. Be happy. And remember, you are having a much better time than Gordon Brown because he has no friends and you've lots.

The man is, in short, talking tripe (though I would admit he can often be entertaining, and the quote gives a useful summary of issues we should give a lot of thought to!). No wonder the Wikipedia entry on him has a quote saying that he is 'Not a man given to considered opinion.' !! Many of the posts on this blog point out the contradiction inherent in the above quote - our consumer society, well illustrated by what happens at Christmas, is certainly not making people happier, it is in fact making us more prone to depression, anxiety and addictions. We should be pursuing our needs rather than our wants if we are to secure our own wellbeing and that of the world. Clarkson should read clinical psychologist Oliver James' book Affluenza.

Who designed the designer? People made God not God people...

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I found this piece in the local paper quite interesting. It seems (shock, horror!) that much about Christmas is made up and of often disputed origin. For me religion itself is likewise. Yes, there is certainly a challenge to explain life. It looks like it was ‘designed’, thus implying the existence of a designer (God). But who or what designed the designer?

The occurrence of life on Earth is highly improbable but the existence of a designer (God) very much more so. Even so, people like US President George W Bush favour the teaching of ‘intelligent design’ as a scientific theory competing with evolutionary theories. As with climate science Bush and his administration again cant tell what is and what is not accepted science, despite what the scientific community tell him.

Evolution by natural selection (championed very vigorously by people like Richard Dawkins) is a pretty good explanation of how complex life with the appearance of design developed stepwise from basic building blocks. Human explanation of the rest of the universe continues to develop and we are further improving our understanding of evolution.

People created God not God people. So, why have religion (it does seem to be everywhere) ? Looking at the world it does not seem to be doing a very good job of consoling people! Or of getting them to live good lives!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

William Blake

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I love the work of William Blake. It reminds me of the enormous value of imagination, inspiration and individuality. Many will know about Jerusalem and The Tyger. I thought I'd include a few Blake poems that I really like but that are a bit less well known:


The countless gold of a merry heart,
The rubies and pearls of a loving eye,
The indolent can never bring to the mart,
Nor the secret hoard up in his treasury.

Auguries of Innocence (first four lines)

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

Nov 28th this year was the 250th anniversary of his birth, yet his exact grave is still not marked out properly - go to here to sign the petition in favour of erecting an appropriate monument on the exact burial spot. You can also find a lot of interesting information about Blake on this site. There is also a BBC poll about having a monument/memorial you can vote in and a useful article to read if interested.

Blake's words set to music here on this MySpace are great (I found The School Boy especially moving). More about his life and art here too (there loads out there to find - take a look!).

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Singing the praises of both Tesco and Julie Burchill - WHYYYY????

1 comment:
Yet again that Bristol Blogger has gone a step too far. He's sung the praises of Tesco before (he's addicted to the pesticide residue on the 'value' carrots I think) and this time he's also saying nice things about Julie Burchill, who shares his admiration for them it seems.

They are both dead wrong. Tesco and other big supermarkets represent a very large amount of power in the hands of a very few. They should be subject to at least the following to avoid the worst injustices and to provide a much more genuine choice to shoppers (see ).

*a legally binding code of practice

*an independent watchdog overseeing the grocery market

* a block on any new take-overs by Tesco or other major supermarkets.

*real support for local shops from local authorities and government

*internationally-recognized workers' rights throughout supermarket supply chains.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

To maximise or minimise, that is the question..

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Its surely a sign that we have not moved too far in a genuinely green direction to see that a proposal for mass incineration of household waste in the Bristol area is even being seriously considered. It seems we have yet to take fully on board low waste or even zero waste thinking, which is in the end the only sustainable solution. Any giant incinerator would demand to be fed with many thousands of tonnes of waste for decades - what would be the point of building one otherwise? This is the very waste we are supposed to be trying to minimise to make waste management cheaper and more environmentally friendly!! No to waste MAXIMISATION and no to any mass burn incinerator I say. My fellow green campaigner Peter Goodwin is doing a lot of good work on this - lets hope he is successful!

The price of food: all things are connected

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All things are connected is one rule of ecology and a principle behind Green policies. More concern about rising food prices, this time from the UN, illustrates the economy-environment connection very well. Droughts and floods caused by climate change are held partly to blame for the price increases. The rapidly growing consumer-society and rising affluence with consequent changing diets in China eg the rise in demand for (grain fed) beef, is also key. Also a significant factor in higher food prices is the use of food crops to manufacture so-called 'environmentally friendly' biofuels. In fact the use of food crops to make anything other than food itself has this effect, since food supplies are reduced, pushing prices up. And the local connection? Bristol City Council is of course dead keen on making biodegradable plastic bags available for people to use in their brown bin recycling - plastics made from....corn!! The ignorance and stupidity of the push for these bags, adding to the problem I've described, as well as having its own high environmental impact, from people like Knowle Lib Dem Councillor Gary Hopkins, is staggering.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Green Ideas film by Digital Fish Film Club

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Great piece of film called 'Green Ideas' produced by the young people at Digital Fish Film Club in Knowle West - go on, take a look, the humour is great:

Animation and artwork by the Digital Fish Film Club: Connor, Michael, Mike, Michael & Hayleigh. Music & Voices: Mike, Chip, Michael, Connor, Leighton, Emily. Some great work too by animator Joff Winterhart and Knowle West Media Centre's Environmental Officer Emily Nicholson.

When your political opponent pressurises you in a debate...just completely fabricate a situation (ie lie!)

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This blog entry is to record here the end part of one debate I've been involved in this month on the Bristol Blogger's site. After a large number of comments on the original Blogger posting, Lib Dem Councillor for Knowle Gary Hopkins ends up lying about me and then failing to withdraw his lie (he now has another chance to do so after this entry - so keep an eye on any comments posted if you are interested). I've copied relevant comments below (adding bold and italics of my own). Who do you think has gone over the top and become hysterical?

Gary Hopkins // December 13, 2007 at 12:49 am
Remind me and any others reading, Mr Vowles where is it you put yourself forward as a saviour of the people. I seem to remember that it was Knowle ward where you have managed to come a consistent 4th against My Colleage Chris Davies and myself. Prior to standing for the greens you were a ” helper” for the Brislington West” liberal democrats but they had to dump you because when any real work like delivering a few leaflets,as opposed to pontificating, was concerned you disapeared.Try not to get too hysterical about things, I am quite happy to trust the voters opinion are you?

VowlestheGreen // December 13, 2007 at 3:12 pm
No, Gary Hopkins. There are very few facts in what you say and you resort lying about my former link to the Lib Dems.

For the record, since you dont deal in facts much: the Green vote in Knowle has risen rapidly in recent yrs: in 2003 we got just 5.46%, but in 2007 polled 15.62% (up 10 points). Your Lib Dems got 59.58% in 2003, and 45.41% in 2007 (down 14 points) - where is ‘your’ vote going (here and in fact in other parts of Bristol)?? Greens will continue to increase their vote in Knowle.

Also for the record: I’ve never been a ‘helper’ for the Lib Dems and in fact ended a very brief membership in the early 1990’s (over ten yrs ago!), attending just a few meetings, because I found them to be very disappointing and in fact unethical in their approach to politics . The Lib Dems did not ‘dump’ me, since this would indicate that they ended my membership by throwing me out. In fact I simply ceased being a member, disillusioned greatly by the ability of Liberal democracy to be truly green, having tried it out first hand. It is a lie to say ‘they had to dump you’ and Mr Hopkins you should withdraw this comment or you will be providing direct evidence of your personal lack of ethics in your political campaigning.

By the way whatever happened to the bloke who was my local Lib Dem councillor in the early 1990’s when I flirted with you, Barry Clarke??

I’ve has a few breaks from from Green Party membership since joining them 25 yrs ago and had very brief ‘flirtations’ with both Lib Dems and Labour. I found out through these two great mistakes just how bad they are and just how much both my head and heart are Green, as it always was and always will be.

VowlestheGreen // December 14, 2007 at 5:01 pm
Sorry to post again on this now old story but I think it should be noted that Lib Dem Cllr for Knowle Gary Hopkins has failed as yet to reply to withdraw his lie. Gary…..are you there??

Just one little indication of the unethical nature of this particular beast I suppose.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

It wont win me votes but...I dont like Christmas!!

1 comment:
This may not win me many votes if/when I stand in an election again but I have to admit that I dont like Christmas !! Perhaps I have just a touch of Oliver Cromwell in me.

For a start it seems to begin earlier every year, with adverts galore and reminders of how many days we all have left to overspend in the shops! Any 'specialness' in the brief period that even I might find is immediately devalued.

It does not help of course that not only am I not a Christian but being a very firm sceptic I dont have any substantial belief that there is any kind of god(s) at all, including pagan ones, (the existence of he/she/it is extremely unlikely). Anyhow, its clear that a case can be made that much about the way we currently celebrate Christmas is nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity !!

Food and alcohol consumption go through the roof. Energy useage for lighting likewise. Excessive spending on goods of many sorts from all over the world too. Far from being happier people's behaviour often deteriorates. Christmas just does not seem to be about loving and giving but is all about more, more, more.

Peak Oil Subvert

1 comment:
Have a look at this film about our addiction to oil, likening it to drug addiction:

Very creative work from 18 yr old director Luke Martin, working with producer Denzil Monk, reported in todays local paper. More on peak oil here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Greens vote for having a leader!!

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Jim Jepps, Cambridge Green Party and Electoral Returning Officer, has today announced: The leadership motion has been passed by more than the 2/3rd majority required. Votes against 27%. Votes for 73% !! This is excellent news, as I've previously said its long been my view that the Greens need a leader. All Greens now need to work together to elect the right leader and deputy leader (or co-leaders) and help them to set a fine leadership example: democratic, ethical, effective, participative, empowering, collegiate, inspirational and motivating in style, consistent with all green principles. The leader and deputy still, of course, need to be the right people, working on the right things in the right way. I'm confident that with people of the calibre of 'politician of the year' Caroline Lucas MEP likely to be in the frame for the role, the focus, direction, organisation and public profile of the Green Party will improve a good deal.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

When will we have real care for the elderly? Proper mandatory training for all people having contact with people who have dementia is vital.

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I very strongly support the call for mandatory dementia training for all home care staff made today by the Alzheimer's Society. In fact I'd like this training to cover all those who will have contact with those with dementia, including those in the NHS and elsewhere. The current situation of people with dementia is tragic, apalling and totally lacking in justice. In recent months I've had direct personal experience of how the NHS treats the elderly, with a death followed by a very significant illness in close family. Its been extremely upsetting to see first hand how the health and social systems (or lack of them) handle people with dementia, and elderly people in general. There just does not seem to be any real care for the affected people, except for a few notable individuals who stand out as unusual when you see and hear them at work. Its good to see the call for mandatory training widely reported.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Brown's 'green' policy = talk, talk, talk...

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Gordon Brown's recent speech on the environment is, for me, pretty well assessed by this article. The talk is there (as it was with Tony Blair) but the record of environmental achievements is poor eg UK carbon dioxide emissions higher now than ten yrs ago, eco targets missed or abandoned and as for real money and radical policies for key green developments like a mix renewable energies, energy efficiency, public transport in cities like Bristol...we have none!!

As for Brown apparently throwing his weight behind the campaign to get rid of plastic carrier bags doesn't the man realise he is the Prime Minister ? Why not just have them banned Gordon? Mind you I would not put the banning of these bags that high up my list of environmental action priorities would you? The media seemed to catch on to the idea, presumeably just what he wanted I suppose. Best to focus in the main on really tackling areas having the biggest impacts (thus the biggest potential for the large, rapid improvements we need in the next ten yrs according to best science) namely transport and energy.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Five words to sum up what makes us 'great'

I've just come from listening to Radio Five Live's very amusing discussion on five words that sum up what makes Britain/the UK 'great' (apparently PM Gordon Brown is looking for a five word motto). What caught my attention first was this suggestion: Dipso, Fatso, Bingo, Asbo, Tesco ! In the bit I listened to they weren't getting many positive suggestions from listeners, though I did like - We gave you The Beatles!

Just for a bit of fun I quickly came up with these ideas

*Conquered much of the world

*Oi! 1966 and all that

*Could have surrendered after Dunkirk

*The dirty man of Europe

*Our green and pleasant land

*Lets build Jerusalem here now

*Two rugby world cup finals

Some are more original than others obviously. Some are more positive and closer to the truth than others. Several are in fact more about England rather than Britain/UK of course. Some perhaps reveal the patriot/nationalist in me (dont know if I should I be worried about this).

I think the Dunkirk one is my best effort.

Comments and suggestions welcomed.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sustainability: reconciling the economy with our environment and shifting from a consumer to a conserver society. Necessary, desirable and inevitable.

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This blog site is now about a year old. If I had to pick out a single word that the site is all about I’d go for: sustainability. What do I mean by this though? I’ve always thought of sustainability as the reconciliation of our economy with our environment – because unless they are harmonised and made compatible problems, like climate change and global poverty, will build and ultimately we wont be able to keep human societies going. We need to change our consumer society into a conserver society, to deliver quality of life for all within nature’s means: protecting natural assets; keeping ecosystems healthy; maintaining nature’s capacity to deliver goods and services; keeping wastes and pollutants below environmental capacity; dealing with risks and costs now, not passing them on to people in the future; building social equality; seeking ever higher efficiencies; basing socio-economic activity substantially on renewable resources, managed so that use rate is less than the rate of replenishment.

Our economy clearly exists as a system within and dependent upon the natural environment, drawing its resources from it and emitting its wastes to it. As we’ve seen with
floods, hurricanes, droughts and forest fires, here and around the globe, the natural world can devastate human life and activity – human power is puny in comparison. It is desirable for us to achieve sustainability because human health, wellbeing and quality of life would be greatly improved and the stability and security of our world would be much enhanced. Science is clearly telling us that it is necessary to achieve sustainability, most notably with respect to climate change at the moment, and previously with respect to ozone layer depletion. Since many of the resources we currently rely on to sustain us and grow our economy are finite it seems pretty inevitable to me that we will at some stage have to achieve sustainability, if human life as we know it is to go on and improve, and the sooner we make progress the more successful we will be in our efforts.

People often use the terms sustainability and sustainable development interchangeably. I’m not that happy with this, at least not without spelling out what I mean by development.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, in her hugely important book ‘Our Common Future’, produced by the World Commission on Environment and Development following United Nations appeals, gives the most widely used definition of sustainable development:
‘… development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’. Its hard to disagree with this but it is a very broad, brief, ethically and not operationally focussed definition! Brundtland goes on to explain that by needs she meant particularly the needs of the poor, though the definition does not say how needs should be prioritised. Also the idea of
environmental limits is implied in the definition rather than explicitly spelt out – you cant meet human needs, especially of the poor, on into the future if environmental limits are exceeded on an ongoing basis.

Whilst the Brundtland definition certainly involves environmental concerns, it suggests that economic growth, the way we currently develop, is not incompatible with environmental protection, a very contentious idea for Greens though not for the bigger political parties. The pursuit of economic growth as the key goal of governments -
equating growth with progress - has certainly to date been a part of the problem. To become sustainable we need to achieve a set of economic and social goals that is not centred primarily on economic growth. Growth in the economy needs to meet conditions and be selective ie be of the right sort, in the right places, so that we attain and maintain economic stability and security.

Growing the economy in the way we have been, particularly its transport and energy intensive nature, is
reducing our capacity to live without undermining the systems that support life (another way of defining sustainability). Why? It is: decreasing the overall natural assets stock; damaging ecosystem regenerative capacity and their ability to supply goods and services; emitting wastes and pollutants into the environment at levels beyond its ability to safely process them; causing high levels of social inequality; leaving generations to come with a build up of risks and costs; consistently undervaluing both humans and non-human species; not switching resource use from finite, non-renewable to renewable types on anything like a sufficient scale or at a sufficient rate; not efficiency focussed; consuming renewable resources like forests, soil or fish…at a faster rate than they are replenished due to poor management practices.

There is a great deal more that could be discussed. Greens have built a whole
manifesto, covering all sorts of aspects of life, centred on building a sustainable society. If you are inclined to find out more the links below aren’t a bad start:

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Drive safely (unlike senior police officers and government ministers!)

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The 5-11 Nov is road safety week. I'd urge all drivers to sign up to the Brake pledge to drive safely.

Belt Up - front and back and ensure children are correctly restrained
Slow Up - abide by limits and only overtake if totally safe
Wake Up - never drive tired and take breaks every two hours on long journeys
Sober Up - 'just say no' to alcohol and drugs if driving
Look Up - look out for people on bikes, horses and foot
Wise Up - if it's night, bright, or bad weather, go slower
Buck Up - calm yourself before driving if stressed, angry or excited
Move Up - adjust head restraints so the top is level with the top of your head to help prevent whiplash
Sharpen Up - wear glasses or lenses if you need them
Shut Up - switch your phone to voicemail
Back Up - from the vehicle in front - it's your braking space in a crisis
Check Up - check brakes, tyres, lights mirrors and windows

Its shameful that recently both a government minister and a very senior police officer have not followed road safety charity Brake's advice. What hypocrites these individuals are. Remember these news items?

First, the speeding Chief Constable...

A senior police officer in charge of road policy for Britain's chief constables is facing prosecution for exceeding a 60mph speed limit.

Meredydd Hughes, chief constable of the South Yorkshire force, was allegedly clocked by cameras driving along the A5 near Chirk in north Wales.
He has been summoned to appear before Wrexham magistrates on 21 November.

And the Chief Constable has a history of speeding...

Mr Hughes has two previous speeding offences, but they were much less serious and, because they were committed more than three years ago, the six penalty points have been removed from his licence.

Plus the government minister who used his mobile phone whilst driving...

The Government's immigration minister, Liam Byrne, has been fined and had points put on his licence after admitting using his mobile phone while driving.Byrne, who has been a Home Office minister since 2006, was fined £100, ordered to pay £35 costs and given three points on his licence by Sutton Coldfield Magistrates' Court.

I dont think magistrates were tough enough on the government minister. I hope that the Chief Constable gets a ban if found guilty, because of his history of speeding and because he of all people should be setting an example and so has particularly badly let the side down. I'd like penalties for driving offences generally to be toughened because of numbers killed and seriously injured on a daily basis on the roads.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Green Party needs a leader....

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Received all the details of the Green Party referendum on whether the two current 'Principal Speakers' should be replaced with an elected Leader and Deputy Leader, or Co-leaders, today in the post. Green Party policies have to me always shown true realism and leadership. However, the party itself has certainly not had great direction, organisation and public image (all vital if you are to demonstrate leadership, win elections and run things like councils !). Its long been my view that the Green Party should have a leader and so I had no hesitation in voting yes in the referendum, to change the current situation, and supporting the case for a leader made by that most excellent Green Caroline Lucas MEP (and also Jean Lambert MEP and the current female Principal Speaker and candidate for London Mayor Sian Berry).

Surely more time studying = better performance at school ??

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My daughter's school had three staff development/training days added on to the recent school break, giving her a full two weeks off school in October. Towards the end of the recent school break I received a letter from the school stating that the next 'learning review day' is November 14 and reminding me that students dont attend school on that day. I dont need my twenty yrs experience of teaching 11-18 yr olds to conclude that my child would be far better off going to school for an extra four days this term ! The 'learning review' has never 'reviewed current performance and set targets for improvement' effectively and with real impact and should be completely integrated into day to day teaching and learning anyway. All staff developement should be organised in a way that allows children to continue attending school. Good sense tells me that, within reason, if students spend more time studying they will do better at school!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

No major issues from twenty yrs ago are currently forecast to get better: the evidence.

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Just in case you still dont think there is enough clear evidence of serious and urgent environmental problems interrelated with socio-economic (and therefore political) ones go to the major report: GEO-4. It says that no major issues raised twenty yrs ago are currently forecast to get any better!!

'... the latest in UNEP's series of flagship reports, assesses the current state of the global atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity, describes the changes since 1987, and identifies priorities for action. GEO-4 is the most comprehensive UN report on the environment, prepared by about 390 experts and reviewed by more than 1 000 others across the world.
It salutes the world's progress in tackling some relatively straightforward problems, with the environment now much closer to mainstream politics everywhere. But despite these advances, there remain the harder-to-manage issues, the "persistent" problems. Here, GEO-4 says: "There are no major issues raised in Our Common Future for which the foreseeable trends are favourable."...'

Great green building design in Knowle West

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Just back from a week's break in Cornwall and today had a go at playing the green building design game on the kwmc site. See if you can establish what all the environmentally friendly features of the Knowle West Media Centre's new building design are by playing this game:

Friday, October 19, 2007

Walking: a highly effective health, transport and environment policy all rolled into one!

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Today I stumbled upon a copy of a letter I'd written to the Bristol Evening Post back in June 2004. It could have been written yesterday! Where is a proper, effective and well funded strategy for walking?

10 June 2004, Bristol Evening Post Open Lines, Soapbox: Growing obesity problem demands a full strategy -

Obesity is a growing problem and the government must have proper strategy to address it, so I have a lot of sympathy for the views of C Gay and Mrs KM Borek concerning food and supermarkets ('Government must address obesity', Open Lines, June 4).

However, I would add that obesity is not just to do with the amount and types of food we put into our bodies. There is also the level and type of activity to consider.

Take the way we move around for example. About 100 yrs ago the average distance travelled per person in the UK was approximately 1,600 miles per year. Of these 1,300 miles were travelled on foot.

In contrast today we travel 10 times further, approximately 16,000 miles per year, but of this distance only 300 miles by foot.

The healthiest, most efficient and pollution-free way of travelling is on foot - but most car journeys made are less than five miles. More kids should be walking to school and more people should be walking to work.

Also, more goods and services should be available within easy walking distance.

A national walking strategy is needed to make this happen, though no political party, the Greens aside, has taken this remotely seriously, despite the fact that it would be a highly effective health, transport and environment policy rolled into one.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Restorative justice in South Bristol

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Restorative justice is something Greens are very keen on. Green Party policy on it currently says:

CJ114 We will introduce the principle of "restorative justice", which while denouncing the crime, deals constructively with both the victim and the offender. The primary aim will be to restore and, if necessary, improve the position of the victim and the community; the offender will be required to make amends. (Manifesto for a Sustainable Society)

I posted the question below about it on Chief Inspector Andy Bennett's blog in Sept.

What is your view on work being done by the community in Knowle West on restorative justice? Can you give us some background and rationale on it?

At the time he asked me to 'watch this space' because it would be the subject of a future blog. This blog has now been posted and responds fully to my question. The work being done and being planned on restorative justice in South Bristol, as described by Andy Bennett, sounds excellent. I'm keenly interested in justice and its adminstration and will follow this development closely - I hope money for the work is forthcoming so that next yr plans are put into practice.

Further background on restorative justice from the home office.

Vital, valuable work of the United Nations

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Wednesday 24 October is United Nations (UN) Day. If we are to solve global problems a strong and effective, well respected UN is vital. The UN Association UK will be lobbying on UN day , to 'promote dialogue between voters and MPs about the UK ’s contribution to the UN’s work in maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights and promoting sustainable development' - very valuable work indeed.

The focus of the lobby this year is:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Green society would be much healthier - our current lifestyle is damaging both people and the environment. But obesity is not like climate change!!

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Government Ministers do say some weird things at times. Labour's Health Secretary Alan Johnson has for instance said recently that obesity is a "potential crisis on the scale of climate change". Now, certainly obesity is a big and (literally) growing problem as recent reports show and its not just in the UK. I'm not underestimating the issue. However, I really dont get the comparison with climate change and have heard commentators on the radio today who share my sentiments. The two issues are so different as to make the comparison pretty meaningless. In both quantitative and qualitative term obesity and climate change are not in fact alike!!

There are links between the obesity and climate issues though. We drive too much, overeat and eat unbalanced, low fruit/veg, high meat diets. Its a feature of affluence it seems. Our current environmentally damaging approach to food and transport is also damaging people. A Green society would be healthier because the quality of food, air, water and the general environment would be much, much better. The opportunities for exercise would be better as open spaces would be protected properly. Walking and cycling would be much safer and far more extensively facilitated. So who says that going Green to tackle climate change involves only sacrifices??

Award winning climate change photo exhibition in Bristol soon - shows climate change happening here, now...

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Preview some fantastic photos (here) from the climate change communication award winning National Trust photo exhibition. Exposed: Climate Change in Britain's Backyard will be at the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, Nov 10th to Dec 9th 2007. Judging by the preview the exhibition of around 90 photos, showing climate change affecting us now, is well worth seeing.

The International Visual Communications Association, who gave the award this yr, said of the exhibition, produced by The National Trust, with Magnum Photos and True Design:

'Beauty, sophistication, innovation and impact are what make this well conceived and implemented initiative a worthy winner. By applying the fine art of photography to illustrate how a global challenge is having a damaging local impact, the National Trust not only brings climate change to life for its own visitors and members but also to a wider arts community.'

If you cant get to the exhibition of photos there is also a poster show in many National Trust properties.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Easy Jet; the law of supply and demand; and the real truth on carbon offsetting

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Yesterday my blog focus was on Ryanair's boss Michael O'Leary. Writing that blog entry reminded me of a poster I'd seen recently whilst walking to work to deliver a tutorial (ironically about climate change and ecological footprints). Near the junction of St Lukes Rd and York Rd I saw a large orange poster advertising an easy Jet offer 'Bristol to Madeira from only £24.99'. This sends out exactly the opposite message of the one I would want and I dont see it as ethical. Flying is not in fact even remotely like a low cost activity (see here for an excellent description of why by George Monbiot - who is speaking in Bristol soon) and therefore should not be priced as such or facilitated by expanding airports.

By the law of supply and demand offering flights at very low cost means that demand for them is likely to be very high (exactly what we are seeing), unless some other powerful factor is in operation to deter people. Easy Jet's website has an environment page detailing things like being efficient on the gound, efficient in the air, carbon offsetting, aircraft design and its Corportate Social Responsibility report. The trouble is that the factors they describe are, in terms of environmental effects, completely outweighed by the company's main aim of getting vast numbers of people to fly more and more often !

Easy Jet might respond by saying that people can offset their carbon emissions but planes emit more than carbon (eg water vapour, nitrogen oxides, particulates...) and there are many problems with offsetting, as I've discussed previously. According to the easy Jet carbon calculator flying Bristol to Madeira emits, per person, 195kg of carbon dioxide and that the
offsetting cost per person is £2.54. If only tackling carbon emissions was that straightforward!!

Government advice to business and individuals is 'that carbon offsetting is not a substitute for reducing emissions at source but is: the ‘next best’ solution for mitigating remaining emissions from essential activities after all practical steps have been taken to reduce them' I tried extremely hard to find comments like this on the easy Jet site , looking at all the pages, following links to other pages and documents, but could not find anything like them at all - no surprise really.

Easy Jet want to give the impression that carbon offsetting is a better, much more environmentlly friendly and effective option than it really is of course. They simply aren't going to tell people that they should take 'all practical steps' to cut emissions before considering offsetting the rest - because this would mean not flying at all or flying fewer miles or on fewer occasions!!

Monday, October 15, 2007

The good, the bad and the ugly - comparing and contrasting concerns about climate change

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That great advocate of the meeting needs not greeds, and the ethics of future generations, Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary (!!) flew into Bristol International Airport by private jet to front the announcement of new routes last week. In the process he told people campaigning against the expansion of Bristol Airport to 'get a life'. He went on to say, of campaigners against more flying, 'They badger us and bang on about how the end of the world is nigh because of global warming - but its not....' . Well, thanks for those highly responsible personal actions and warm words of informed and concerned social responsibility Mr O'leary. He is of course a person with no vested interest in airport expansion and the current very rapid increase in flying, much to the detriment of our climate. I'm genuinely sure Mr O'Leary's business degree and experience of amassing huge amounts of money qualify him very well for assessing climate change dismissively as no real problem. I wonder why the UN went to the trouble of assembling the world's foremost expertise on climate (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, this yr joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize) when they could instead, probably for a fee though, have gone to Ryanair's boss??

Contrast the views of Ryanair's Michael O'Leary, a man who has 'proudly declared that Ryanair intended to increase its emissions of carbon dioxide' with those of former US Vice President and joint winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize for his work on raising climate change awareness and concern, Al Gore, and with those of UK primary age children, who according to a recent report are said to be 'deeply anxious' about issues such as climate change, and you get my message.

Al Gore and the IPCC were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change".

The report describing children's anxieties says children themselves expressed a sense of "deep pessimism about the future", the study showed, with worries about climate change, the gap between rich and poor, and terrorism topping the list.
They were also anxious about issues closer to home such as traffic, graffiti, violence and gang culture. Some also said they were worried about 'what you hear on the news'.

The work of Al Gore and the IPCC in spreading the truth is good. The evidence says that unless we act decisively and soon the future looks bad (and our children, who obviously have a big interest in the future !, sense this). The views, behaviour and attitude of Ryanair's Michael O'Leary are rather ugly.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Twentieth anniversary of 'great storm' of 1987; science backs the Green case

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Oct 16th is the twentieth anniversary of the 'great storm' of 1987. I'm sure there will be some focus on this in the Bristol/regional media in the coming days- Countryfile reported on it today and has some interesting links on its website. This storm may have happened even if climate change was not happening at all of course, but it certainly fits the predicted pattern of more weather extremes caused by the climate change we have caused. Its an event particularly marked in my mind especially because I'd just stood for the first time (age 25 yrs !!) in a general election, campaigning to cut pollution levels harming our climate, amongst other things.

Ewen McCallum, Chief Meterologist at the Met Office has said that only “flat-Earthers” refused to believe that the world was in the grip of climate change and that global warming would mean more stormy weather. This is very interesting statement, indicating that science backs the Green case (which has always been my view), when in the past Greens have themselves been accused of being anti-science and technology. This accusation was always something I found both odd and not entirely fair, especially as a Green with science degrees and a higher degree, as well as a science teaching qualification, 20 yrs science teaching experience and 6yrs experience of working in laboratories in industry!

Green solutions: better for individuals, communities and the globe.

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Schumacher UK say it exists to challenge corporate power and economic globalisation to the detriment of local democratic self-determination, ecosystems, economies and communities. I agree with this aim - coporate power and economic globalisation have to be challenged successfully in order to improve to quality of individual lives, community wellbeing and global sustainability.

They describe the Bristol Schumacher Lectures as ‘Britain’s premier environmental gathering’. They have been taking place for some time here (29 yrs this yr) and do have a pretty impressive list of past speakers, including for example Jonathon Porritt, currently Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, advising the Government, and George Monbiot, Guardian journalist, author, academic and activist.

This weekend’s event saw lectures from: Mark Lynas; Dr Vala Ragnarsdottir; Nicky Gavron; and Herbert Giradet. The points made by Mark Lynas are particularly strong. I agree with him that ‘changing our carbon-addicted lifestyles would actually be better for ourselves, as well as the planet’.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Really enact the principles: needs; and future generations - for our children, and theirs...

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Yet more evidence that children are not being well served by the kind of society we have in the UK and the kind of world we live in. According to a major report children are deeply anxious about all sorts of things, from climate change, poverty and terrorism, to traffic, violence and gangs. The report gives even more weight to views I have previously commented on (a number of times in fact). All generations of children have their different problems of course, but many of the worries of children are well within our control to tackle if our priorities were different. The UK was found to be bottom of a Unicef league table for child well-being across 21 industrialised countries earlier this yr - its a position I hope we dont find ourselves in again in future.

Friday, October 12, 2007

C.diff and an NHS unresponsive to the people it serves: massive health issues. Lets address health, properly defined, in all its dimensions.

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C. difficile is a massive problem for the NHS. At the same time the culture of the NHS is such that it is not responsive to the people it serves. The facts show this very clearly - and I, like many others, have recent, direct, personal experience of both C. difficile in a family member resulting in death, and poor responsiveness from the service. Technical capabilities in the NHS are often fantastic (though technical matters have 'gone astray' in places - overuse/misuse/abuse of antibiotics being the root cause of superbugs like C. diff and MRSA). Some very caring and committed people work in the NHS - BUT the emphasis on CARE as well as on prevention is in my view poor, especially for the elderly.

I want an NHS that pays as much attention to social and mental needs as it does physical ones, and medical/technical capabilities (it wont actually be adressing health, properly defined, if it does not do this, since health is about having a good physical, mental, social balance). I want it to be much more focussed on prevention of health problems than it is. I want services to be available to people locally. I want funding to enable all these things to be of a high standard and am willing to pay more in taxes, as required, to get it as well as being willing to advocate this politically. My view is that if people see the tax as fair and necessary and see that the income is used well they are willing to pay it.

Schumacher Lectures in Bristol, this weekend.

The arguments put by Mark Lynas in a piece in the Evening Post yesterday are very strong indeed. We do need to stop rising global carbon emissions within a decade; we are into deep water, great uncertainty and much higher risk if we dont; pessimists are really those who talk about 'politically possible' solutions and not those who indicate how grave the situation truly is; meeting the climate challenge can improve our lives at the same time; technology alone wont solve our problems; biofuels aren't the solution due to needing land for other purposes, like food production; we do need to lower energy demand as well as go for renewable energy; we do need to develop a far less growth-centred approach to economics...

Mark is giving one of the Schumacher Lectures, this weekend in Bristol, so I may well post more on the topics raised and any related areas in the coming days. I've been to several Schumacher Lectures but dont really feel comfortable with some of the views and attitudes I've experienced - probably because of my strong rationalist leanings (and possibly my working class background). I dont go in for all the 'spiritual' stuff in the way some fans of the Schumacher Lectures do, though I do agree strongly with most of the economic and technological ideas and have read and been inspired by E F Schumacher's books, like 'Small is Beautiful'.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What?!?! Local councils praised for traffic plans by Minister. What is this person on?

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This has been reported today, 'Councils in the former Avon area have been praised by the Government for developing plans to beat jams and keep traffic flowing.Transport Minister Rosie Winterton gave Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset a 'good' rating for its Local Transport Plan, which aims to cut down congestion around the city.' My reaction: What?!?! How can this possibly be! Has this person ever seen traffic congestion in Bristol? Has she ever experienced the sheer quality and good value (NOT) of a Bristol bus or train journey? Or the accident risks, unhealthy air, noise... a cyclist, pedestrian or indeed car driver has to endure here?? Come and look properly around here Minister. Investment in local public transport and sustainable transport needs to triple to bring us up to scratch. Perhaps then people like Dave Hough from Henbury, writing today that something must be done about Bristol's buses, would feel that something had been done.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Shock poll find - people are commuting into Bristol in their cars in very large numbers!! Is the glass half empty of half full?

Shock (NOT!) - a major poll reported on today has found that nearly half of all commuters to Bristol come by car!! Well that was something we didn't know already just by looking around us at the congestion, sniffing the excessive, unhealthy pollution in the air, and listening to the rumble of unwanted sound that can often drown out a conversation, wasn't it !!?

OK we need the data, apparently to be collected annually, to establish the current situation and then track changes over time (we should in fact have been doing this before now), but the basic transport situation in Bristol has been painfully obvious for many yrs.

The Big Commuters Count poll of 9000 people found that: about 47% travel by car (40.9% driving, 5.9% as passengers); 9.8% go by bus; 10.6% cycle; 20.4% walk; 5.1% travel by train; with less than 2% for park and ride, work from home, motorbike, moped/scooter, taxi/minicab and ferry.

One interesting aspect to this story is that the Bristol Evening Post angle on it is based on the idea that the figures show 'people were still firmly stuck to using their cars', whereas Bristol City Council's website says of the same results '...that many employees in Bristol are prepared to leave the car at home when they can, and use more sustainable ways of travel'. So, is the glass half empty or is it half full??

Labour Party = Tory Party !! Where are the real political differences?

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I've previously made the point that there really is not that much difference between the three big political parties these days (see here and here). Doesn't the fact that the Labour Party steals Tory Party policies (and vice versa) strongly reinforce my view?? Of course it does!

I long ago came to the view that the real political differences are between those who are truly green (they dont necessarily have to be Green Party people or in fact political party members at all) and those who are not - the Greens vs what are sometimes called Greys (and I'm not referring to parties set up by pensioners etc here) .

It seems to me that the Labour, Lib Dem and Tory Parties offer voters pretty much the same unsustainable neo-liberal/consumer capitalist society and basically the same pretence at being green.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Support blog action day on the environment, Oct 15th !!

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The text below is copied from in order to help promote: Blog Action Day

You can also click to watch the first and second videos promoting the day.

On October 15th, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind. In 2007 the issue is the environment. Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future.

We’re looking for bloggers of all nationalities and backgrounds, writing about all topics to join in.

Here’s what you have to do:

Publish on October 15th

Publish a post on their blog which relates to an issue of their own choice pertaining to the environment.

For example: A blog about money might write about how to save around the home by using environmentally friendly ideas. Similarly a blog about politics might examine what weight environmental policy holds in the political arena.

Posts do not need to have any specific agenda, they simply need to relate to the larger issue in whatever way suits the blogger and readership. Our aim is not to promote one particular viewpoint, only to push the issue on the table for discussion. So write in whatever way suits your readers and your blog, just relate it back to the environment and make sure it goes up on October 15th.

Other things you can do

You can also participate in Blog Action Day by posting a banner on your site ( ) or by donating your day’s blog earnings to an environmental charity of your choice.

Register your blog

We are keeping track of all the blogs that have committed to participating on and it would be very helpful for you to register your blog at
At this time the form is only available in English, but the form fields are as follows:
1 - Blog Title
2 - Blog URL
3 - Approximate RSS Subscriber Number(This will not be published. It is used to generate an approximate ‘reach’ for Blog Action Day. Simply enter an average, recent feed count from Feedburner or similar service. If you don’t know the audience size, just enter ‘0′. )
4 - Your Email( You will ONLY receive two emails. The first will be two days prior to Blog Action Day 2007. And a second in August 2008 about next year’s day.)
5 - The final field is to test whether you are a human or spam robot. Simply type in the number written there

Thank you for participating in Blog Action Day 2007! In future years we hope to have the entire site translated in many languages

'So it goes' - is the environment dying to give us biodiesel for the Earthrace powerboat?

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So, the '...revolutionary biodiesel powerboat Earthrace arrived in Bristol Docks.As part of the Sound of Many Waters - Clifton Cathedral's year-long campaign of caring for the environment' recently (see the local story about the 'cross between a spaceship and a spider' here and more details on the boat and what its going to do here). Amazing design, technically very interesting, thrilling to be on, and so on....but is it really powered by truly green biodiesel fuel?? (I'll leave aside, for the present, whether spending all this effort trying to achieve a world record for circumnavigating the globe is the greenest thing to do with your time!!)

If the biodiesel put into the boat comes from large scale crop moncultures, which involves massive land, including forest, clearance and energy/chemical intensive production then its certainly not a green fuel. Far from being carbon neutral, the sums show that fuel from these origins is making climate change much worse, as well as taking land from food production and inflating food prices.

If the biodiesel comes from the recycling of used vegetable oil and fat, which some of it may do for this boat(??) (including some fat extracted from project founder Pete Bethune's own backside apparently), this is much greener.

Truly green biodiesel could be produced from all the waste veg oil and fat we produce in large amounts (its a waste disposal problem for goodness sake!!), but we aren't organising our society to do this at the moment - instead we seem to be going for the environmentally damaging production of biodiesel and other biofuels from large scale monocultures, with people wrongly still calling it green!! There are some very rich people out there getting a lot richer, making a lot of already poor people poorer, and over-exploiting the environment - and investing in bio-fuels produced by very un-green methods! So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut wrote (and the environment does seem to be dying to give us biofuel).

Monday, October 08, 2007

Conservative 'Conservationist' Con

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Mary Martin is right about climate change being a major concern but wrong to think that Conservative leader David Cameron has truly 'addressed this grim problem' (letter 'Global warming concerns justified', Bristol Evening Post's Open Lines, 8 October). David Cameron and the Conservatives have given us some green sounding words but up and down the country where in power have been a million miles away from implementing green policies.

All over the UK Conservatives have: supported new roads; supported aviation growth; opposed EU green schemes; advocated axing environmental regulations as "red tape"; opposed congestion charging; supported incineration of waste; supported tax cuts for super-consumers; supported low taxes for the most polluting multinational businesses; advocated unfettered global trading; supported nuclear power; supported Trident nuclear weapons over tackling climate change, even though climate change is now recognised as the biggest threat to our security.

Not really a list of green Conservative policies in action is it - but it is in reality what they are doing, so maybe its wiser to judge them not just on what they say but on what they do.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

My household and individual ecological footprint (more accurate).

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Why post details of my household/individual ecological footprint? Well: 1. I have the information and have been calculating it in reasonable detail and with fair accuracy by the same method for yrs now, for both work and personal purposes; 2. People are increasingly interested in their footprint and growing numbers do a calculation eg via a website; 3. I've said previously I would publish a more detailed footprint document, having done some estimates using websites (see Sept 9 '07 posting); 4. As someone who has for yrs been campaigning to get greener society with much lower footprints and environmental impacts, people may be interested to see if I try to practice what I preach; 5. The information is quite interesting; 6. The figures show that you can lead a pretty normal life and have a low footprint - I have a car, I eat meat, I have holidayed I dont live in a teepee eating only leaves or in the latest high-tech, ultra-expensive green get a low footprint, though I do aim to be very efficient and to prioritise.

My total 3 person household ecological footprint for 2007, was 1.04 hectares (10,400 square metres). This is 0.35 hectares (3500 square metres) per person. This amounts to approx 5 tonnes of carbon, or 1.7 tonnes per person per yr – about half the national average of 10.22 tonnes given on the website

The 2007 footprint compares to a 1999 household score of 1.47 hectares (14,700 square metres), which is 0.49 hectares (4,900 square metres) per person. The 2007 figure is 29% lower (meaning annual cuts, from an already low base, of 4% per yr on average).

According to the Ecocal model software ( ) a sustainable score for a UK household is 0.4 – 0.5 hectares per person.

A reasonably detailed breakdown of the score can be viewed here. I've placed a link just under About me and Biography in the right hand column of this blog site so that its conveniently available.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Biofuel plant approved for Avonmouth is not green.

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Biofuels are still commonly seen as green. Some may see the plans to build the UK's biggest biodiesel plant in Avonmouth, just agreed by 'green' Bristol City Council, as part of the green development of that area. Biofuels certainly dont qualify as green if they originate from large scale monocultures however, with very large areas cleared for the energy and chemical intensive cultivation of single crops. (The same sort of argument applies to biodegradable plastics like the corn starch ones Bristol City Council wants to make available to line our brown recycling bins with).

Most biofuels, sometimes called agrofuels, are made from large-scale monocultures of oil palms, sugar cane, soya, maize, sugar beet, oilseed rape and jatropha. They should not be considered green as they contribute substantially more to greenhouse gas emissions by nitrous oxide emissions from fertiliser use and by land conversion, than are saved by burning slightly less fossil fuels. They are set to significantly accelerate climate change, something academic and green campaigner George Monbiot has written about with some passion (also see

Its not just climate impact that makes biofuels from monocultures distinctly non-green: bio-diversity losses, water and soil degradation, human rights abuses (including the impoverishment and dispossession of local populations) and the loss of food sovereignty and food security. The impacts seen today result from a less than 1% market penetration of biofuels in Europe yet the EU target is 10% by 2020 and the UK are aiming for 5% by 2010.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has called on governments to cut their subsidies for the sector, saying biofuels may "offer a cure that is worse than the disease they seek to heal."

The European demand for biofuels is pushing up commodity prices and thus encouraging multi-billion dollar investment in infrastructure and refineries linked to large-scale deforestation. The impacts of this investment could be irreversible and will open up tens of millions of hectares of virgin forest to land conversion and logging.

Greens support an immediate moratorium on agrofuels from large-scale monocultures - a period for scientists and policy makers in the EU and western nations to gain a greater understanding of the total impact on social, human and land rights plus climate and biodiversity impacts. The Green Party supports the Agrofuels Moratorium Call launched in July 2007 in Brussels (supported by over 100 organisations in its first week).

There should be no public sector incentives for agrofuels and agroenergy from large-scale monocultures. We need a moratorium on EU imports of agrofuels. All targets, incentives such as tax breaks and subsidies which benefit agrofuels from large-scale monocultures, including financing through carbon trading mechanisms, international development aid or loans from international finance organisations such as the World Bank should be suspended now.

The moratorium called for by the signatories applies only to agrofuels from large-scale monocultures (and GM biofuels) and their trade. It does not include biofuels from waste, such as waste vegetable oil or biogas from manure or sewage, or biomass grown and harvested sustainably by and for the benefit of local communities, rather than on large-scale monocultures. Such sustainable biofuels development may well be valuable - where local sources of food production and biodiversity are not endangered, soil is protected from depletion, industrial scale chemical fertilizer regimes and the use of any GM technology are banned. This means small-scale production units, eg on farms, which benefit the local communities.

See also:

Barrage might hinder 'green port' development

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A powerful contribution to the public debate on the severn barrage/tidal energy from the Bristol Port Company today. They are concerned that barrage plans are not commercially viable, would cause real environmental problems and would hinder their plans for a deep water dock .

They claim that a deep water dock would cut lorry journeys (and thus carbon emissions) by allowing goods to be delivered closer to towns/cities.

I see their point about a barrage hindering the potentially 'green development' of the port.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Incredible biodiversity...including in common fruit & veg.

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Isn't all that biodiversity incredible? From the genes in a species, the differences within a species, to the number of species making up a community and the variety of communities making up ecosystems (which are themselves of many types)...

Just look at some of the variation in one common vegetable:

B ertan
I nfinity
O nward
D anvers
I mperator
V alery (or St Valery)
E mperor
R edchild
S inclair's
I ngot
T humbelina
Y ellowstone

All the above are varieties of carrot. Carrots are not all orange either - they can be white, yellow, red, purple or black too!

Its a great shame that the 'choice' offered in supermarkets does not reflect such variety and indeed all edible biodiversity more, where appropriate. Take apples for instance - there are 2300 varieties of apple in the National Fruit Collection, but on sale in many supermarkets are perhaps 6 varieties (though some are working on improving the number offered).

There are over 20,000 edible plant species but fewer than 20 species currently provide 90% of our food. We rely on a very narrow range of varieties within species too, including wheat. This is fundamentally bad from a food security point of view.

Government Energy Review not serious consultation and designed to get the result they want

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The view of Greenpeace on the government's Energy Review is absolutely spot on. Greenpeace work on this issue is highly valuable. I couldn't put it any better than they do - its worth five minutes taking a look at their video:

I will be writing to my MP about energy policy shortly.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Petition opposing cuts in higher education grants

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Its wrong to cut higher education grants in the way Gordon Brown's government is planning. They want to phase out funding for students studying for qualifications equivalent to, or at a lower level than, a qualification that they already hold. It's clearly anti-lifelong learning. Please consider signing this petition.

Well done to the Knowle West Food Festival!!

The Knowle West Food Festival, well covered in the local media, did great job of promoting healthier and more environmentally friendly attitudes to food. A great example of the sort of community-based event we need more of.

I think the City Council should appoint a Local Food Officer to help to make these community-based events happen more often, in more parts of Bristol - and on a bigger scale and with more, related, follow-up developments too. There are few ways to become greener better than changing attitudes towards food, so much of our footprint is food-related - grow your own, cook your own, go local, go fresh and unprocessed, go organic, go high fruit and veg!!

Energy policy: go 'sexy' or go sensible??

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A lot of very good points on the tidal energy debate are made here by Roger Crudge. I would add that we also must not forget that energy efficiency and energy conservation are the greenest, most cost-effective and most rapid way to fight climate change and build energy security because it lowers demand.

Many elected politicians seem to prefer to associate themselves with a big, sexy civil engineering project, probably linked to an awful lot of profitable (possibly unsustainable) ancilliary development, than with the most sensible energy option.

Support the Burmese people - sign the petition to urge China/UN to pressure Burma's rulers

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Just signed another online petition to support the people demonstrating in Burma and the site produced the message below to pass on to people:

Burma is ruled by one of the worst military dictatorships in the world. This week Buddhist monks and nuns began marching and chanting prayers to call for democracy. The protests spread and hundreds of thousands of Burmese people joined in -- they've been brutally attacked by the military regime, but still the protests are spreading.

I just signed a petition calling on Burma's powerful ally China and the UN security council to step in and pressure Burma's rulers to stop the killing. The petition has exploded to over 200,000 signatures in a few days and is being advertised in newspapers around the world, delivered to the UN secretary general, and broadcast to the Burmese people by radio. We're trying to get to 1 million signatures this week, please sign below and tell everyone!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Tories have rapidly backed away from a green policy on airport expansion

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I see that 'green' David Cameron's Conservative Party have rapidly backed away from a green policy on airport expansion. They've abandoned the idea of stopping all airport expansion, even though their advisors thought it a positive policy. So much for their words of concern about climate change. Under a Tory government Bristol Airport could still expand if it got through the local planning process.

Inaccurate, unbalanced Evening Post story on major tidal energy report by the Sustainable Development Commission: Why??

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Todays Bristol Evening Post story about the Sustainable Development Commission’s report into the barrage and tidal energy, released yesterday, is inaccurate and unbalanced. It chooses to focus in on one small part of the major report, tidal lagoons - just one alternative to the barrage - omits several key points emphasised by the Commission, and doesn’t even get the number of pages right (it actually has more than ten times the pages stated in the story). Accuracy and balance are obviously valued qualities in a good news story, doubly so for a major and complex issue like the barrage.

For the record:

1. The Commission emphasise that the barrage would have to meet tough tests to be considered a sustainable, green project. Not mentioned in the story.

2. The report states that the barrage would have to comply with environmental legislation protecting the estuary. Not written about by the Post.

3. The report emphasises that very large scale compensatory habitat creation should be seen as an opportunity. Not a dicky bird in the story on this though.

4. The report says that going for tidal power should not result in ignoring the dramatic reductions in our energy consumption, increased energy efficiency and decarbonisation of our energy supplies, that are needed. No coverage of this vital point though.

The Post’s story does cover the Commissions view, challenging the government position, that any barrage project should be publicly led and owned – perhaps the key economic issue – but does not put this in what should be its proper place, at the head of the piece, instead putting it in the middle.

What’s more, the story’s main line, that tidal lagoons are considered no better than a barrage by the Commission, is not based on an accurate reading of their report. Their report in fact says that not enough is currently known about the practicalities of tidal lagoons to make firm decisions, so pilot work should be done on them to find out more.

Informed readers following this issue may be wondering why comments from barrage sceptics, like the RSPB and Green Party, accurately included in the story, broadly welcome a report apparently criticising one of their more favoured tidal energy options! This is because the RSPB and Green comments reflect the report accurately and the Post’s story does not.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Dose of realism from the Sustainable Development Commission in its tidal energy report brings us back down to earth

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The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) report released today represents a good dose of realism for the government on the tidal energy issue, after it decided to announce an investigation into 'the Severn Barrage' in the middle of a party conference where it would gain maximum publicity and green 'kudos' - not the most balanced start for a major project.

The SDC says that the barrage must pass tough tests to be considered sustainable. Quite right.

SDC comments should be very broadly welcomed because they bring us back to properly weighing up the alternatives, in the context of energy strategy as a whole, which should have energy efficiency as its leading concept.

Dawn Primarolo has been 'morphing' into Michael Cocks rapidly for years

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The Bristol Blogger is having a go at Bristol South MP Dawn Primarolo today. Gosh what a great socialist she is...and I'm sure teaming up with Nestle and Boots will help her in 'building Jerusalem'!!

‘Red Dawn’ Primarolo has pretty rapidly ‘morphed’ into her Labour predecessor in Bristol South Michael Cocks since he was controversially deselected in the 1980’s . This article documents only part of her transformation - she's moved even further to the right since 1999.

Whatever happened to her being against nuclear weapons and nuclear power for instance?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Getting the assessment of technology right: Severn Barrage or other tidal energy extraction methods for instance

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Its now emerged that alternatives to the 10 mile long Severn Barrage proposal will also be examined as part of the 'barrage' feasibility study. This is good news, though its a concern that the big barrage, and all the profit-loaded development that comes with it, is what is obviously being favoured - boosting renewable energy supply and energy security, with minimal impacts should surely be the uppermost consideration. Interesting that Labour's Cabinet Minister for Business...John Hutton chose to announce the barrage study in the middle of a party conference, getting lots of media coverage and 'green' kudos, instead of waiting for the Sustainable Development Commission to report (which it will this Monday!!).

Its vital that we get the technology assessment right, to establishment the proposal with the best combination of benefits, especially renewability, security and low impact (they could do a lot worse than seeking OU advice !). The assessment should, for all alternatives, look at: cost-effectiveness now and on into the future; technical capabilities and limitations; impact on the economy and working lives now and on into the future; impact on the natural environment and other system environments now and into the future.

I'm strongly of the opinion that we are far too 'energy generation obsessed' and are seriously under-investing in far less sexy but much more sensible energy efficiency and conservation. This, as the cheapest, quickest and most effective way to fight climate change, by orders of magnitude, should really be the basis of energy policy.

Disease spread - a not so widely discussed aspect of climate change, until now...

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Climate change has a wide range of serious health implications both for people and other animals, including enabling diseases to spread more easily.

A worrying story about African Horse Sickness in todays Bristol Evening Post (in a section where I dont usually find that much to read). This sickness is related to Bluetongue disease which has just arrived in the UK for the first time, and which we so far have seen 11 confirmed cases of. Horse owners are understandably concerned that we should be prepared for the imminent arrival of African Horse Sickness, which is spread by midges as Bluetongue is.

Climate change is certainly in the picture as one reason why Bluetongue has spread northwards across the globe, through Europe to the UK. The virus is transmitted by midges more effectively in warm, moist conditions. (A cold winter might drastically reduce the virus but we dont have many these days).

Its also possible that globalisation is a contributory factor, helping virus-carrying midges to spread as people and goods travel more and more across the globe more and more frequently.

The consequences for animal welfare are significant, as are the costs and stresses on farmers, particularly as we still have foot and mouth problems. The appearance and spread of African Horse Sickness could be devastating to the equine industry.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

EU Reform ('Constitutional') Treaty - let the people decide on it!!

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Not really that big on direct democracy in todays Labour Party are they - Labour MP for Bristol East Kerry McCarthy has backed the EU Reform (or 'Constitutional') Treaty and backed PM Gordon Brown's policy of denying the people a referendum on it. This is despite the fact that this month the TUC voted for having a referendum.

Politicians from EU member states have given public statements that the Reform Treaty would have substantially the same effects on the EU as the EU Constitution (which the EUs people rejected after referenda). Since the government previously promised a referendum on the constitution (in its manifesto at the last election) it follows that we should have a referendum on the treaty that replaced it. Greens passed a motion to this effect this month.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Massive potential for overspend building a 10 mile barrage

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We cant build the Redland Green local secondary school to budget. Bath's spa project was three times over budget and six yrs late. Wembley Stadium was massively delayed and cost nothing like original estimates. Ok, each project had their own particular problems, but even so who thinks that we can build a 10 mile long Severn Barrage on time and within its estimated £15 billion (£15,000,000,000) budget? As with many big projects it wont just be private money that's involved - there will have to be local and national government involvement.

We really should ask whether investing in a huge barrage is the most effective and efficient way to spend money becoming greener. How many millions of houses could be made ultra energy efficient within months with spending on this scale, massively cutting carbon emissions? Private and public money going into the barrage isn't available to spend elsewhere, on what could be better projects.

Take major steps to fight climate change very soon - poll result.

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A major survey of 22,000 people in 21 countries on climate change has been conducted. The key results? 4 out of 5 people say human activity is a significant cause of climate change; 9 out of 10 people say action is needed, with nearly 7 out of 10 saying its necessary to take major steps very soon. People have caught on to the message from best science - will we see action of the type and scale needed from conventional politicians now?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The 'Gordon Brown Party' Conference and the difference between saying and doing

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The crucial thing about Gordon Brown’s conference speech was the massive difference between what he seemed to say and what has been achieved in the last 10 yrs, during which he’s been a crucial, central figure of the Labour Government. For example Gordon Brown spoke warmly of action on climate change but UK emissions of carbon dioxide are higher now than ten yrs ago, income inequality is high and rising, childhood wellbeing is in a poor state according to UN figures. He spoke warmly about supporting our armed forces but they often lack protective equipment and vehicles, and are housed in often sub-standard accommodation. He stressed a commitment to the NHS but tens of thousands still die prematurely due to un-tackled hospital-acquired infections like C-difficile.

In the end what counts is not what politicians say but the action they have taken and the outcomes they have achieved. Lets assess Gordon Brown based on his record, which includes attaining a very tight grip on his party.

The Labour Party conference should be renamed the Gordon Brown Conference because it has been so very leader dominated (and at times election obsessed). I ask - where has the Labour Party gone? Presumably it is happy to be dominated and controlled by its leader, going along with what the leader wants, like the retention of Trident, or no referendum on the EU constitutional treaty, whether it really wants it or not, because it feels this is its best hope of retaining power. Is it not better to have a more broad-based leadership though?

Gordon Brown’s conference speech to some extent imitated fellow ‘conviction politician’ Margaret Thatcher, (or even Winston Churchill). It worked at pressing the right buttons with people. He scattered key words like Britain and British tens of times throughout his speech because he wanted to create a certain sort of appeal. Opinion poll figures after the speech seem to indicate that it has upped support for the Brown government. Are we really going to be fooled like this?

Yr on yr loss of green spaces

Great letter on loss of Bristol's green spaces from Chris Miller today. I've commented twice this month alone on the flogging off of allotment land for house building so there's a few clear exmples for a start! Pigs can fly, the Earth is flat, and Bristol City Council's 'green capital' plans really will make us a sustainable city!!

On: 'green' Tories, Cameron & Thatcher (and other jokes) ; Mining impacts; Environmentalism; and Our Common Future's 20th anniversary

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The Bristol Blogger used my name in one of his headlines yesterday. The story raised some issues that I have commented on via his site (copied, and expanded on a bit, below). Responding to his post (and one commenter) I said...

I'll do my best to stay calm and not rant on at great length about Tories merely talking green when it suits them, to get votes...(not that its working for them at the moment). Or in fact rant on about how there's a lot more to being green than environmentalism. Mind you my 'mate' Dave Cameron does wear a green tie a lot....

Interesting choice of film on mining those 'green' Tories have chosen to show, to say the least!! (Did you know that as well as apallingly dangerous working conditions and pittance pay: to make a single gold wedding ring takes 5-6 tonness of rock, leaving huge holes, tunnels, eroding canyons, leaving 20 tonnes of mine waste; traces of cynanide allowing miners to extract as little as half a gram of mercury from a tonne of rock; mercury used in extraction bioaccumulating in humans and the environment; huge piles of tailings laced with toxic substances; acid mine drainage polluting waterways....all thanks to major transnational companies).

Read the Newsweek article Blogger linked to with interest - not a bad piece really.

SHOCK! Mrs Thatcher and I do have something in common - no we are not both greens - we are both chemistry graduates (my specialism - rubber, Thatcher's - ice cream!!). She did understand and did pick up on climate change as an issue before quite a few other political figures, as far as I can gather. Despite having the scientific knowledge Thatcher cared not one jot about the environment though and took us not one iota in the direction of laying the foundations of a sustainable society - quite the opposite in fact. As an ardent capitalist she was even further from being green than being an environmentalist. Suffice to say I'm not about to 'do a Gordon Brown' and invite her for a photo opportunity outside my house wearing a suitably coloured dress - not that I'd want to or that she'd be the slightest bit interested!!!

There are certainly earlier, better and more lasting contributions to the climate debate from politicians, not least former Norwegian PM Gro Harlem Brundtland, a key figure, active still, in the highly influential report 'Our Common Future' - which is 20yrs old this yr, something which seems to have gone relatively unmarked! See