Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lib Dem position on Bristol's green spaces is not green!! And the council's position is even less green!!

No, no to Lib Dem Councillors Tim Kent and Neil Harrison (‘The future of Bristol’s park’s’, Bristol Evening Post Open Lines, 31 Jan 2008). Their position on green spaces is far from green! The Lib Dems were clearly in favour of flogging off a big chunk of Castle Park’s green space when they ran the city just last year, until public opinion stopped them via a huge petition (see previous post here)! They seem to have conveniently short memories. If they were running the city they would now be selling off a significant portion of Bristol’s green spaces too. In fact Knowle Lib Dem Councillor Gary Hopkins fails to outright condemn and oppose the loss of 90 acres, 2.4%, which now seems to be agreed with the Parks Forum, whilst trying to give the impression he would be happier with losing 40 acres, 1.1% (‘Parks saved by council U -turn’, Post, 31 Jan 2008) – either represents a significant loss (note that the Evening Post story title should say Some Parks saved... to be considered accurate)!! Far from losing green space, any ‘UK green capital’ should be greening up our city! Everyone will appreciate that it is not news the Greens like me want more green space in our city!!

All the big parties are out of tune with what Bristol’s public wants and what our city needs. Just take a look at the comments on the petition opposing the sell off of acre after acre of green space on the city council website . You will find comment after comment from people saying that green spaces are extremely valuable, for our health, wellbeing, climate, wildlife, and security from floods, and they don’t want to lose any, let alone 90 acres (2.4%) or indeed 40 acres (1.1%). Allowing such a loss would simply continue the pattern of previous year on year eating away at what is often impossible to replace once its gone. This is an ongoing pattern - when will it end?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Which land would be flogged off - city council should come clean

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Great post by the Bristol Blogger on the fact that green space and parkland worth £200 million will indeed be flogged off for development if they get their way. The council should come clean on which land would be sold. I've commented on the Blogger post as below:

You’ll be interested to know that the council’s website would not accept my e-petition (see below) with the the figures ‘200 acres’ and ‘poss 400 acres’ of land to be flogged. Neither would they allow me to use the phrase ‘flog green space on a mass scale’. They said these were factually incorrect and misleading, so I had to redraft slightly before gaining approval…
Please sign up and spread the word to others to sign.

What a great local and e-democracy we have (NOT!). My view is that I had not used any insulting or illegal language in my original e-petition draft, which was clearly written and presented, and that what constitutes 'mass scale' is a matter of opinion. Is it not up to people to decide on the value and accuracy of a petition when they are considering signing?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sign my new petition: Protect and enhance green spaces instead of flogging them to developers

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Well said Geoff Collard, writing in todays Bristol Evening Post (Feedback: 'The Threat to Bristol's Green Spaces') !! We should be protecting and enhancing green spaces not flogging them off for development. You can sign my e-petition against the plans on the city council website (approved today), here: (see details below).

The Petitioner....wants Bristol City Council to be genuine about its 'UK green capital' ambition and abandon any plans to sell off hundreds of acres of green space and parkland, instead adopting a policy of protecting and enhancing them.

Background Information
Its recently been very widely reported in the local media and elsewhere (see )that there are plans to sell off acre after acre of green space and parkland to developers. It is the view of some that the figure could end up being even more than the reports in local papers suggest!! This intention to flog off green space acre after acre is completely inconsistent with the ambition to be the 'UK green capital' and many pronouncements on tackling climate change, enhancing human health and wellbeing, protecting wildlife and biodiversity, and making the city better able to cope with heavy rainfall causing serious flood risk. The plans are also at odds with what Bristol's people want, and expected, from the council following recent consultations.

Cycling needs a lot more investment - this pot is very small in comparison to other transport spending

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We certainly need a lot more investment in cycling - a lot more than is in this particular pot ('City chance to share in £140m bike boost', Bristol Evening Post, 28 Jan 08) if we are to have genuinely sustainable travel. The possibility of being able to share in £140 million over three yrs with others in the South West is very small relative to spending on cars, lorries and roads. At the moment however the best way to promote cycling would be for all the local council reps involved in the West of England Partnership plans to turn the Bristol to Bath cyclepath (the most popular cyclepath in the country, with 2.4 million journeys per yr) into a bus route, to come to their senses and put the bus route on the roads instead. Putting the bus route on the roads would displace cars, which are far less green, rather than bikes, which are far more green than buses.

See the vigorous reaction to the plans from Bristol East Green Party, Sustrans and the Bristol Cycling Campaign - all raise excellent and extremely challenging questions. Just consider these points from Sustrans for starters:

1. Has there been an evaluation of alternative on-road options to the current proposed route to Emersons Green? If so did this take into account net carbon benefits, economic cost benefit ratios, health impacts, impact on congestion and impacts on air pollution?

2. Why has the option of running the bus route along the A432 identified just a couple of years ago in the Greater Bristol Strategic Transport Study been discarded?

3. Has there been an evaluation of the loss of the very high levels of walking and cycling on the route, taking into account the already existing net carbon, health, congestion and air pollution benefits and how does this impact on the economic cost benefit ratio?

4. Have you modelled the benefits in terms of reduced car use if you invested the funding proposed for the BRT in improved walking and cycling infrastructure Bristol-wide, onroad provision of buses, and other smarter choices which, in combination, may bring about greater benefits. Attached, by way of example, is a proposal showing just how a small amount of the money currently proposed for the BRT wisely invested in improvements to the Bristol and Bath Path would significantly improve access for local people to the benefit of their health and our environment.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Councils tree (stump?) policy

Yet more evidence that Bristol City Council just doesn't care about and prioritise our environment (as if flogging off allotments and parklands, considering plans to mass incinerate waste, atrocious air quality, tremendous congestion and a very poor public transport system... aren't already enough)! Bristol Street Trees campaigners show how the council is cutting down large numbers of big trees and is often not then planting replacements - see the 'stumps' slideshow/photos on their website and you may recognise a stump near you! We know from past actions that they have not got their act together:

Adult learning services well worth the money: dont cut funding!

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Concerns about loss of funding for the Bristol Adult Learning Service are certainly justified. I see that Green Cllr Charlie Bolton has received an appeal to oppose loss of funding and is minded to put in a budget amendment:

I certainly hope he can and does do this. Services in Knowle will be one the big losers if there is loss of money. The activities undertaken are really important for personal development and family and neighbourhood life.

Gamblers and 'market forces'

I make no apologies for reproducing below the whole of Tony Probert's letter 'Our economic future in the hands of gamblers' from the Bristol Evening Post, Friday 25 Jan. I've done it because I share his view exactly and have considered posting on it several times. What is going on in Davos (and in particular in France at bank Societe Generale) at present provides ample evidence to back what he says.

What a bizarre economic system we live under. Our very livelihoods depend upon the reactions of "the market", as though it were a supernatural entity hovering somewhere in an ethereal vacuum untouched or influenced by mankind.Let's get it straight - "the market" consists of "human" gamblers who wager vast amounts of money in their quest to make a quick buck.When they get cold feet, they withdraw their money by selling their holdings back to "the market" - very much like a poker player throwing in his hand.Their withdrawals are rapidly matched by their fellow gamblers, and very quickly panic sets in and the bottom falls out of "the market".This has been happening over the past month or two, and the effects are now being felt around the world. with the word "recession" being repeatedly heard.The media have been talking up a recession since the sub-prime mortgage problems emerged in America last September, and now their prophesies have borne fruit with the world's stock markets plummeting as more and more "gamblers" pull out.The upshot of all this is that millions and millions of people who have never gambled in this way are subjected to what is euphemistically called "market forces", and lose their jobs as the share price of their companies falls to such an extent as to make trading impossible.Meanwhile, until a warm feeling seeps back into the gamblers' bones and they start gambling again, the taxpayer gets stung to the tune of billions of pounds as governments use their money to subsidise the gamblers' losses in an attempt to lure them back to gamble their money once more.Margaret Thatcher once said, "you can't buck the markets", and this situation will continue until governments acknowledge that they have been elected to look after the interests of all of the people, and not just those who - through their reckless urge for riches - dictate economic policy across the world.

Tony Probert,Locking,near Weston-super-Mare.

Attenborough: broadcaster who has done more to encourage respect for the natural world than anyone

Great respect, even reverence, for the natural world is of course a cornerstone of being green and no broadcaster has done more to encourage this in people than David Attenborough. The interview with him conducted by Jeremy Paxman in this week's Radio Times is fascinating. What a life and career he's having - certainly an inspiration to me (and I'm sure to very many others), especially when I was 17 yrs old and avidly watching Life on Earth in 1979. The interview of course covered his new series Life in Cold Blood, which I shall certainly watch regularly. He was also asked about life, death, consciousness and a Creator - and responded powerfully, supporting naturalism and not supernaturalism:

You wonder what a life spent marvelling at the world about us has taught him about life. Is there - the only big question - a purpose? "None whatsoever!" he exclaims, leaning forward and banging the table.

On not crediting a Creator when commenting on wonderful pictures of hummingbirds:

He has drafted a standard reply [to letters], which asks why it is that people who suggest he should give credit to a Creator Lord always cite hummingbirds, butterflies or roses.

"On the other hand, I tend to think of an innocent little child sitting on the bank of a river in Africa, who's got a worm boring through his eye that can render him blind before he is eight. Now, presumably you think this Lord created this worm, just as he created the hummingbird. I find that rather tricky."

On death:

But what does he imagine will happen to him when he dies? "Oh nothing." So he's with Bertrand Russell, who said 'I believe that when I die my body will rot'? "Absolutely." Does that trouble him? "Not at all."

On whether consciousness distinguishes humans from other species (and on vegetarianism):

...he doesn't even accept the distinction, asking how we can prove that monkeys dont have it. In that case, why isn't he a vegetarian? "Because I'm designed to be an omnivore. I have teeth for chewing and the length of my gut is quite clearly not that of a vegetarian. But as a sentient human I ought to make sure that what I eat has been raised in a 'humane' way." Why? "Because its unfitting that you should dictate the living conditions of another sentient organism."

Well said David!! Certainly couldn't have put it better myself!!

Dont displace bikes and walkers with buses, displace cars

No comments:
Turning the Bristol to Bath cyclepath into a major bus route is basically a proposal to build a road (see BB). Bikes, like walking are very easily above buses in the hierarchy of sustainable transport. So, if buses are to displace anything they should displace modes of transport lower in the hierarchy, like cars. Will they be planning to displace those nasty pedestrians, walking on all those pavements all over the city, with buses next?

Good posting on the Bristol Greengage site on this topic.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Targets in the Climate Change Bill are too low and dont match with the best scientific evidence

No comments:
Just sent this request:

Dear Kerry McCarthy MP

Please add your name to a new Early Day Motion (EDM 736) that has been tabled by Nigel Griffiths MP on the Climate Change Bill.

The introduction of a legal framework for tackling climate change is a step in the right direction. The current targets in the Bill mean it will not lead to the cuts in carbon emissions scientists say are needed, which is a great worry though. We need to cut emissions by a factor of ten to adequately tackle climate change according to best science.

A United Nations report mentioned in EDM 736 says much the same thing. Recently leading scientists, including current and former heads of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, have signed a letter making it clear they agree too. This was published in newspapers. Even Gordon Brown has implied that the evidence is now that we need larger cuts than the targets in the Bill.

In opposition to the evidence the Bill as currently drafted has targets that are too low. Worse still a loophole in the Bill means emissions from international aviation and shipping will not be included – clearly its not that these don’t cause climate change is it?

I urge you to sign EDM 736. Press for changes to be made to the Bill, so that it is consistent with the evidence provided by the best available science. This would then be a Bill to be much admired.

Robert Burns and today's debate on materialism

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Many will be celebrating ‘Burns Night’ tonight. The anti-materialist poet and lyricist Robert Burns was born on this day in 1759. This years celebrations coincide neatly with live discussion on the issue of materialism (see yesterday’s blog entry on which sorts of economic growth are good for example). Also, Green MEP Caroline Lucas has said that ‘Happiness does not derive from infinite economic growth and material wealth, but from contented families, strong communities and meaningful work’ in a new book of collected essays written by very wide range of people. The book edited by Andrew Simms from the New Economics Foundation and Joe Smith of the Open University, asks ‘Do Good Lives Have To Cost The Earth?’.

I find the poetry and songs of Burns inspirational as I’ve said in a previous post (see another sample of his work below). We have a good deal to learn from what he expresses. A new book on the man, written by my fellow Open University lecturer Alan Jackson, ‘Robert Burns – Icon or Challenger’, discusses how Burns might view today’s Scotland, compared with how Scotland today sees him. Burns vigorously opposed materialism, yet much of the modern world, Scotland included, persists in the belief that material progress equals the good life. We gear our economy and society to the aim of material progress, while scientific evidence, not least on climate change and human wellbeing, amasses showing the huge problems this is bringing.

"Is There For Honest Poverty", by Robert Burns, more commonly known as "A Man's A Man For A' That", (standard English translation):

Is there for honest poverty
That hangs his head, and all that?
The coward slave, we pass him by -
We dare be poor for all that!
For all that, and all that,
Our toils obscure, and all that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The man's the gold for all that.

What though on homely fare we dine,
Wear course grey woolen, and all that?
Give fools their silks, and knaves their wine -
A man is a man for all that.
For all that, and all that,
Their tinsel show, and all that,
The honest man, though ever so poor,
Is king of men for all that.

You see yonder fellow called 'a lord,'
Who struts, and stares, and all that?
Though hundreds worship at his word,
He is but a dolt for all that.
For all that, and all that,
His ribboned, star, and all that,
The man of independent mind,
He looks and laughs at all that.

A prince can make a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, and all that!
But an honest man is above his might -
Good faith, he must not fault that
For all that, and all that,
Their dignities, and all that,
The pith of sense and pride of worth
Are higher rank than all that.

Then let us pray that come it may
(As come it will for a' that)
That Sense and Worth over all the earth
Shall have the first place and all that!
For all that, and all that,
It is coming yet for all that,
That man to man the world over
Shall brothers be for all that.

For more on Robert Burns, you could do worse than read this Guardian piece.,,2242983,00.html

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What sorts of economic growth are good??

At long last some discussion of whether we can continue to have the usual economic growth patterns and still tackle climate change, on a major news and current affairs program. Its pretty clear that we need a stable climate in order to conduct economic activity effectively. Newsnight has this on its website after last night's program:


The European Commission has announced plans to make Europe the first "economy for a low carbon age". The measures will add around £10 a month to household and include a new emissions trading scheme and targets for producing energy from renewables. But how damaging will these measures be for European competitiveness against emerging markets in India and China - especially in a period of global economic uncertainty, when already many are expecting growth to slow, or halt altogether? A number of economists and scientists are questioning whether it is possible to tackle climate change while continuing to pursue a go-for-growth economic strategy. So do we need to give up on growth?

I posted my response to the story on their site:

Good to see the economic growth issue covered in a program. We definitely need more on this issue though. There wasn't enough depth in the treatment to do this very big issue and all that it relates to justice.

The kinds of economic growth we've had in the past have caused the climate problems science now details. They have been and are carbon-intensive.

What, if any, kinds of economic growth are consistent with fighting climate change? And indeed building general wellbeing?

Those economic growth patterns with the most promise of being consistent with wellbeing are presumeably likely to be much more controlled and selective than in the past: how?

It now seems clearer than ever that the achievement of a growing economy as the primary aim of governments of all political colours has been misguided - we've been seeing growth as equivalent to progress and improved wellbeing when the evidence shows a much more complex picture.

Can we beat Robert F Kennedy's words on growth as measured by GNP:

"The Gross National Product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. GNP includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm, missiles and nuclear warheads.

And if GNP includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. GNP measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country…"

Part of the solution is to measure the right factors in our society and economy, as long as we dont at the same time get obsessed with and tied in by a rigid approach to measurement.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Barrage: more reports needed after has been completed

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This story is a great illustration of why huge civil engineering projects like the Severn Barrage can probably never be an effective and efficient way to tackle climate change or our energy security needs (Barrage - 'we need yet more research', Bristol Evening Post, 23 Jan 08). They are extremely expensive, complex, and time-consuming - and the expenditure of money and time begins with the compilation of report after report, after report...which in the end may lead us, at great expense, nowhere, as it has in the past. Why aren't we focussing in big-time on the most cost-effective and prompt option - energy efficiency and conservation - since the waste of energy is currently even worse than the waste of water through leaks and poor habits!!

Cadbury's blatant 'greenwash' and 'greenspeak'

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Blatant 'greenwash' and 'greenspeak' from Cadbury's by signing up to find where the carbon emissions are in their supply chain (see 'Cadbury is not green - its ghastly, says union', Bristol Evening Post, 23 Jan 08). WE ALL KNOW what's about to happen to their emissions and where! They are about to hugely increase them by closing the Keynsham factory and shifting production to Poland, only to ship chocolate back here to be sold to our large market. Dont buy the stuff!!

Sadly for us all, business and political leaders 'greenspeak' and 'greenwash' is about par for the course these days (and has been for yrs) - give the impression of concern and action but in reality its mostly business as usual.

Developers and their political friends are living in the past by favouring carbon-intensive plans

No comments:
Developers and their political friends are still living in the past (see: Green belt plan will 'help airport grow', Bristol Evening Post, 23 Jan). Best science tells us that it is very bad for our society and economy to continue with carbon-intensive developments like airport expansion. Developing greenbelt and expanding the Bristol Airport is a double whammy because it both cuts the land's ability to absorb pollution as well as emitting more pollution into the air. Have they not seen the cuts basics like power and safe water supplies in the region caused by recent floods, made more frequent by climate change? And all the associated loss of business and family/community distress?

The police deserve a fair pay deal and a fair mechanism for deciding on future pay

No comments:
Just heard on The Daily Politics show that 18,000 police are marching in London today for a fair pay deal (and that they have been joined by former Bristol MP Tony Benn - he loves his marches!!!). Very impressive numbers, with feelings obviously being very strong indeed. The government has treated the police grossly unfairly this time and they deserve much better (the issue is outlined very clearly by local Chief Inspector Andy Bennett's Police Blog). Just compare the very small amount of money 'saved' by not backdating the police pay rise to the tens of billions being poured into the Northern Rock bank !! If the police in Scotland could be given the pay backdated then why not here??

More details on the police march here and here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bikes are 50 times more energy efficient than buses - so why displace bikes with buses??

Copy of a letter sent to the Bristol Evening Post's letters page tonight (all figures in it come from the Open University course 'Working with our Environment: Technology for a Sustainable Future'):

Dear Open Lines

Given the recently announced plans to turn the most popular cycle route in the UK (from Bristol to Bath), with 2.4 million journeys per yr, into a major bus route, its well worth reminding ourselves of just how ultra-efficient, healthy and green that great piece of technology - the bicycle - is.

Primary energy use in cycling amounts to just 0.03 megajoules per kilometre, nearly 50 times less than a single decker bus! Even walking, which consumes 0.14 megajoules, is not this efficient. The average for a car with average occupancy is 2.1 megajoules per passenger kilometre whilst domestic air travel is also 2.1 due to its higher occupancy rates.

Public transport fares better with figures of 1.1 per passenger kilometre for the average rail (about the same as a double decker bus) and 1.4 for a single decker bus, depending on occupancy rates. The most efficient forms of public transport, such as London Underground trains or certain forms of tram might achieve figures as low as 0.2 megajoules when fully occupied - still no match for the bicycle.

This makes the bicycle 70 times more energy efficient than the average car and 6 or 7 times more efficient than even the very best forms of public transport running under the most efficient conditions. So, in terms of efficiency its vital to invest much more in cycling and try much harder to create a cycling culture.

More is also needed for public transport but not at the expense of cycling - the plans to turn the Bristol to Bath cyclepath into a bus route simultaneously cut the capacity for cycling and walking there as well as destroying a large amount of pleasant, quiet and wildlife-rich green space.

We need a cycling culture for our health as well as our environment - a 10% increase in the number of people riding a bike regularly would lead to a 4% reduction in people with heart disease, saving hundreds of millions a year in healthcare. And it would create a more pleasant, greener environment.

Yours sincerely

Glenn Vowles

Gloomy days for building a greener society

I'm feeling particularly gloomy about the prospects for building a greener society at the moment. There are so many reports around that clearly demonstrate that we dont have the right plans and we are not moving in the right direction (mind you there are times where you only have to look out of your window or walk down the road to realise this!).

Here are some examples, all taken from one single copy of the Bristol Evening Post on Friday 18 Jan :

*plans to turn the Bristol to Bath cyclepath into a major bus route - even though cycling is arguably even greener than walking as a transport mode, it is the most popular cyclepath in the UK and has 2.4 million journeys per yr (see the Bristol Cycling Campaign site to sign a petition opposing this)...

*political factors (ie different councils unable to work together in the common interest) still stand in the way of the establishment of a transport authority for the Greater Bristol area - a vital step if we are to have proper integrated and sustainable transport...

*yet more flood warnings given by the Environment Agency, especially to the South West and the Midlands, though the sw regional masterplan felt unable to comment on future flooding impacts here (!!!) from rivers or on the coast beyond appreciating local authority and Environment Agency work...

*waste to energy firm Compact Power, based in Avonmouth, called in administrators due to a cash crisis (buyers have since moved in though I believe)...

*the South Bristol ring road moved a step closer, with the regional masterplan approving the idea...

*over a hundred thousand more houses are planned in the Greater Bristol area...

*Bristol International Airport expansion plans moved a step closer due to regional masterplan approval...

*the region is highly likely to miss its 2010 target for renewable energy generation (35 to 52 MW of generating capacity in Greater Bristol)...

*the prospect of a Severn Barrage (or other methods of generating energy from the tides in the estuary) is not even mentioned in the regional development masterplan...

*a letter clearly contradicts the governments two main reasons for favouring more nuclear power stations, showing that nuclear does not help us fight climate change...

*locals express their views in letters opposing the confirmed decision to close Cadbury's at Keynsham, meaning that chocolate for the very large local market wont be produced locally (instead it will be produced in Poland and transported back here for sale, at great carbon and thus climate change cost)...

*Bristol Parks Forum express the belief that Bristol City Council have plans to sell off double the amount of parkland originally reported (ie more like 400 acres than 200 acres)...

*traffic levels in the Greater Bristol area have risen by 15% in the last ten yrs (higher than the 12% national average)...

*PM Gordon Brown said no to government funding for the proposal to reopen the Portisheaad railway line...

*my green friend and colleague Stephen Petter illustrates how the 'improvements' in education standards as shown by school test results is illusory (there is plenty of academic research to back up his good sense and reasoning, and I argued this point myself at length back in Nov 07 on the Bristol Blogger site,VowlestheGreen // November 28, 2007 at 7:00 pm)...

*an Ofsted report concluded that many pupils drop Geography (a subject that deals with many of today's vital issues and is very important in delivering environmental education) at age 14...

Yet this was only one newspaper, in one city, on one day. As for compensating 'good green news' - there wasn't any on this occasion.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ongoing inspiration from Martin Luther King Jr

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Today is Martin Luther King Jr day in the US, marking his birthday on 15 Jan.. King, imperfections and all, continues to inspire action on justice, civil rights, civil disobedience and non-violence, not least in the Greens ,with non-violence being one of our core values...

We look for non-violent solutions to conflict situations, which take into account the interests of minorities and future generations in order to achieve lasting settlements.

And also:

Electoral politics is not the only way to achieve change in society, and we will use a variety of methods to help effect change, providing those methods do not conflict with our other core principles.

I would be considerably challenged in attempting to live up to some aspects of the pledge below (and it does have a distinctly religious feel to it in places that I'm not comfortable with) and so I'm sure does American society as a whole - its a pretty violent place.



I pledge to do everything that I can to make America and the world a place where equality and justice, freedom and peace will grow and flourish.

I PLEDGE TO MAKE NONVIOLENCE A WAY OF LIFE in my dealings with all people.

I WILL REJECT all forms of hatred, bigotry and prejudice, and I will embrace the values of unconditional, universal love, truthfulness, courage, compassion, and dedication that empowered Dr. King.

I WILL DEDICATE my life to creating the Beloved Community of Dr. King’s dream, where all people can live together as sisters and brothers. - this U2 song about King is one I've played a good deal for some time now.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Support the Planning and Energy Bill - for efficient and renewable local developments

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Today sent the letter below to my MP (with a similar version sent to Housing Minister Yvette Cooper). Its really important that local decisions on the nature of developments can be taken to boost energy efficiency and small scale use of green and renewable technologies.

Dear Kerry McCarthy MP

I'm writing to ask you to support the Planning and Energy Bill being promoted by Michael Fallon MP. To do so you would need to be present in Parliament on Friday 25 January. If you cannot be present then I hope you will agree to support the Bill at other opportunities.

The Planning and Energy Bill is important because, in the spirit of the Sustainable Communities Bill which is now law, it enables local decision-making for new developments to:

* set high energy efficiency standards

* require local, on-site energy generation by green methods such as solar and photovoltaic panels, heat pumps and small-scale combined heat and power plants

This would be a great move for cutting carbon dioxide emissions, cutting fuel bills, creating jobs in neighbourhoods and building local sustainability.

I hope you will agree to support the Bill, am very interested in your views on it and look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely

Glenn Vowles

Further information from the Association for the Conservation of Energy (though today on their website they wrongly call Michael Fallon a Labour MP!!) and also the Micropower Council.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

On knowledge, known and unknown!

No comments:
I love the Woody Allen quote '...some drink deeply from the river of knowledge, but others only gargle...' in the article 'Ignorance is not blissful' in todays Bristol Evening Post. Woody's quote brings to mind many of Bristol's barely gargling City Councillors!!

The article was a very entertaining read, and the end - 'Knowledge is a strange thing. You now know what I know, and what we know is that much of what everyone thinks they know isn't worth knowing.' - was reminiscent of former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Remember when Rumsfeld said 'There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.'

Interesting thing is that the Evening Post article was written by the Reverend Henry Thomas, whose work is based on faith not knowledge.

Ban those with power from using jargon to blind us !!

No comments:
We'd all be a bit more empowered if people in power at all levels were required not to try to blind us with jargon. Recent reports therefore give an interesting and very important angle on the Heathrow Airport expansion consultations. They are indeed using excessive and unrequired jargon such as "periodic emissions cost assessment", "net present value terms", "mixed mode operations" and "external climate change costs".

Use of jargon in this way is a well known unfair technique of presentation and argument. It is commonplace in politics, local and central government operations and elsewhere in our society (not least advertising/marketing attempts at persuading us to consume more than we need). Its no surprise that the Plain English Campaign are up in arms about the consultation documents.

Great to see Lib Dem MP Susan Kramer putting a very good question on this to Gordon Brown at this week's Prime Minister's Questions. Brown's response was patronising instead of plain however, much to his discredit.

Sustainable Communities Bill now law - excellent!!

Great news that the Sustainable Communities Bill has finally become law!! Councils now have a legal duty to set up citizens panels made up from all sections of the community and try to reach agreement with them on community suggestions about improving local quality of life. Central Government then has a legal duty to try to reach agreement with councils on action it will take on locally agreed suggestions. Suggestions for change come from communities and go to central Government instead of the usual other way around. I'd like more radical decentralisation but this movement is certainly in the right direction! The Unlock Democracy organisation are now putting money and staff into getting the new law used at local level (go to their website for guidance, link below).

Its excellent work by Local Works campaigners like Ron Bailey and Stephen Shaw (Local works now based at Unlock Democracy). They were assisted by the very many people who have persistently lobbied Government and their MP (see my previous postings supporting the Bill). The Government and some of its 'loyal' MPs dragged their feet on supporting the Bill, including my MP Kerry McCarthy. Campaigning achieved very large cross-party support however, and with some concessions (reducing the radical nature of the original Bill somewhat) it gained Government support.

Most coucillors just dont cut the mustard: The real state of the city

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Remember Chooseday? The campaign to encourage the 'smart choice' of
leaving the car at home on a Tuesday, and walking, cycling, or taking the
bus instead. It was launched just a few weeks ago, with the enthusiastic
support of Bristol City Council.

Fast forward to the City Council's much hyped 'State of the City' debate
this last Tuesday. Lots of talk about transport, of course. Then
Councillor Barbara Lewis dared to talk about 'smart choices', asking all
those members who'd come to this 2pm weekday meeting in the centre of
town on foot, by bike, or by bus to identify themselves.

A smattering of hands went up, but most councillors just looked

That probably said more about the real state of the city than any of the
fine words in hours of debate.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

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Interesting and useful climate change website for all concerned and wanting to do something: Take a look!!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Why am I against nuclear power??

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So, Gordon Brown's Labour Government have given the final go ahead for more nuclear power. Apparently '... Britain must build new nuclear plants to help meet its climate change goals and to avoid overdependence on imported energy amid dwindling North Sea oil and gas supplies.' (Guardian). Both these main points are easily contradicted, making the government's decision a very bad one.

For a start the uranium oxide from which nuclear fuel for power stations is made comes from abroad. 'In 2005, seventeen countries produced concentrated uranium oxides, with Canada (27.9% of world production) and Australia (22.8%) being the largest producers and Kazakhstan (10.5%), Russia (8.0%), Namibia (7.5%), Niger (7.4%), Uzbekistan (5.5%), the United States (2.5%), Ukraine (1.9%) and China (1.7%) also producing significant amounts.' (wikipedia) which means we would be dependent on imports from other countries for our nuclear fuel - so much for reducing energy imports.

As for more nuclear power to help fight climate change, in short its very slow and ineffective, with the Government's own advisors at the Sustainable Development Commission producing figures to show that even 10 new reactors would cut the UK's carbon emissions by only about 4% some time after 2025. This low figure makes great deal of sense because it takes quite some time to approve, build and get nuclear stations into full operation. In the meantime there is a high carbon cost in construction and also in the whole nuclear fuel cycle (in particular mining the ore, transporting it thousands of miles across the world and then manufacturing the fuel...). Plus of course the nuclear electricity generated cant directly replace most of the fossil fuel used eg in gas central heating systems and petrol/diesel from oil used in cars. So much for fighting climate change. And there are many more arguments against nuclear power and for much better energy options.

It is several times cheaper to save energy through efficiency and conservation than it is to generate it by any means. This is also the most rapid and effective way to cut carbon emissions, fight climate change, and reduce our dependence on imported fuels. Even though the Government claims to be green (who doesn't make this claim these days!) they are still thinking in terms of generating more and more energy - yet a sustainable society requires the establishment of a low energy culture. Government needs to be determined to help shape this future but currently is still stuck in the past.

There has always been a lot of talk from Gordon Brown about an enterprise economy, built by entrepreneurs. But is nuclear technology the kind that can be tinkered with, adapted and developed by small and medium-sized businesses and individuals? Self-evidently its not. Yet energy efficiency, energy conservation and renewable energy technologies are amenable and are rapidly developing - the future is clearly with these and we should be ensuring billions are invested in them.

Nuclear power does not fit well with the basic engineering criterion of economy of means, that is doing tasks with the minimum of energy supplied in the most effective way. In short, why go to the trouble of splitting the atom to boil a kettle of water?? In any case for how long will the source of the atoms split in the nuclear fuel be economically available? Goldsmith et al, in their 1990 book 5000 Days to Save the Planet say ' As more uranium ore is mined and the quality of the ore falls, so the energy cost goes up. A mass nuclear power program would exhaust high quality ores so quickly that, within a generation, the uranium being mined would provide no more energy for each tonne of rock than would mined coal.'.

Everyone acknowledges the very high capital costs of nuclear power (and nobody yet knows for sure what decommissioning costs will finally be). Several billion is needed to build each station. This is a very large drain on resources that we should be investing in renewable energy generation methods, which as the only sustainable option we must develop at some point anyway. There's no time like the present to do this.

We dont assess our technological options properly. Nuclear does not come out well if technical capabilities and limitations, total cost-effectiveness, socio-economic effects such as efficiency of job creation and the ability to keep safe and accurate records of nuclear waste disposal for thousands of yrs, and environmental impacts are all fairly considered. Yet this would not be where assessment of the technology should end, since we should progressively widen the domain of issues to be considered, introducing more factors and interactions - like the ripple effect of throwing a stone into a still lake. Nuclear certainly does not fit in with building a sustainable society (though all the big political parties claim to be green these days) because no-one disputes that it leaves ongoing problems for future generations (and of course the uranium fuel is finite and depletable - it will run down in supply and run out at some point).

Plutonium, with a natural occurence on the planet of virtually zero, is lethal (highly toxic as well as radioactive). An evenly distributed 500 kg could kill the Earth's human population approx 90 times (at one microgram per person). Yet when I visited Sellafield, the site of the UK's first nuclear station and where nuclear waste is reprocessed, some yrs ago, the tour guide said that approx 500kg of plutonium had been emitted to the Irish Sea over the sites lifetime. There are huge nuclear waste handling, storage and disposal problems and there is no scientific consensus on the best way to do it, for existing waste let alone the extra produced from more nuclear stations. In a report of the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment on radioactive waste Sir Hugh Rossi said 'With waste that can be active for thousands of yrs, guaranteeing that the institutions would be stable beyond periods which have so far proved to be whole lifetimes of civilisations would be impossible.'

There are also a whole range of safety and security issues for nuclear stations: learning lessons from major accidents like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Windscale; attempting to predict and 'eliminate' (!) human error in the design, construction, operation and decommissioning; establishing 'safe' (!) levels of radioactivity; 'safely' transporting nuclear waste by road and rail (eg as happens frequently through Bristol) for 'safe' disposal for thousands of yrs; planning what it is best to do in the event of a serious incident/accident; whether we can effectively prevent terrorist attacks eg by flying planes into stations, driving cars/lorries loaded to be bombs etc... .

Then there are the major ethical issues involved in reprocessing some nuclear waste and providing material for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction....

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bristol City Council are having us on with their 'green capital' nonsense

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This story 'Threat to City Parks' in today's Bristol Evening Post shows just how little Bristol City Council really cares about the environment here. Green space is one of the main assets we have and one of the key reasons why there is any credibility at all in any 'green city' claims. Clearly the plans to flog off hundreds of acres of green space show that the City Council is having us on with its 'UK's green capital' ambition.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

If I'd beaten Obama and Clinton and won the Democrat nomination for US President...

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I’m finding the US electoral process really interesting. It seems to have some real life in it these days. I’m a fairly regular listener to Simon Mayo’s program on Radio Five Live. The show’s session today on religion and US politics was fascinating. It revealed of course that it plays a significant role.

Assuming I'd won the Democrat nomination for US President against the likes of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and others (!!) and was generally as well qualified as my Republican opponent, 5 in 10 voters, according to polls, would then not vote for me because I don’t believe in god. Many more US voters would desert me than would desert a candidate because they were a woman, or black, a Mormon, Catholic, Jew or homosexual. No real surprise to me but it says a great deal about US people and politics.

Bristol 'UK green capital' would plan to sustain the total amount of open, green space not flog off millions of square metres

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Great comment on loss of Bristol's green spaces by Bluebaldee on the Bristol Blogger site - I agree with every word. The figures he quotes in this passage are very striking:

Bristolians are lucky enough to enjoy 38 square meters per capita of green space. The Bristol Quantity Standard proposes that Bristolians could get by with 27.8 sq m of green space - which allows a collossal 10 sq m per capita to be disposed of. My maths makes this: Population 400,000 x 10 sq m = 4 million sq m of land that could be sold for development.

I remember running wild in ‘low quality’ green space eg where Callington Rd and the Brislington Tesco now is, when I was a kid. There are a few other places within a few miles of me that were open/green but are now built over.

It seems that the council does not see sustaining the total amount of open, green space available as one key indicator of progress towards their ambition of being the ‘UK’s green capital’. So what does this ambition mean??

More praise for Pete Goodwin, Stockwood's excellent Green Campaigner

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I believe people of all political colours who really got to know Pete would agree with this posting made by the Bristol Blogger. Stockwood’s Pete Goodwin is indeed an excellent campaigner by any standard.

He has been asking questions of excellent quality on a wide range of extremely important topics for some time now and I have learned a lot from working with him. He deserves to be elected to the council where he would be in an even better position to keep this rotten, hypocritical council under pressure to do a better job.

He stood in Stockwood in 2007 and substantially raised the green vote to 20.49%, gaining second place ahead of the Lab and Lib candidates. This is a remarkable achievement given that before 2006 the Stockwood green vote was just 2.6%!!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Good work from Kerry McCarthy MP but Govt policies on rail are inadquate

Good work from my MP Kerry McCarthy putting the spotlight on the need for much better rail services. We need more of this more often from all our MPs.

I'm afraid the current Labour Govt are not likely to adopt the policies or make the investments needed to achieve the vast improvement I'd like to see however. The last ten yrs have seen significant real terms increases in the cost of rail travel just when we need it to become cheaper, to help get people out of their cars much more.

Monday, January 07, 2008

History homework help: lessons to learn from Native American experiences...

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Yesterday I was looking over what my daughter had been set for History GCSE homework. She has just started the American West and had homework on Native Americans (or call them American Indians, Indians, Amerindians, Amerinds, or Indigenous, Aboriginal or Original Americans if you wish, since there is quite a debate on the name to use). Very interesting stuff. It reminded me of what I'd read in Clive Ponting's excellent book A Green History of the World on this topic eg how in 1500 an indigenous population of around a million, with widely varied cultures and ways of life had been virtually wiped out within four hundred years, including many forced removals costing thousands of lives (see Trail of Tears for instance). It also brought to mind the words, reputedly of Chief Seathl, that have long been an inspiration to me (great words, whether actually Chief Seathl's or not, that say a lot about Native American beliefs and attitudes). We'd today call such forced displacement 'ethnic cleansing' or genocide. Some would of course argue that the US Govt isn't that much better today.

Friday, January 04, 2008

We should protect life in all its diversity - here's my description of why

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This story outlining the discovery of three new species of amphibian in a Costa Rican forest reserve caught my eye today (both on the BBC News and Natural History Museum websites and also on p65 of today's Bristol Evening Post). No doubt there are still very large numbers of undiscovered species of many types all over the world, especially in the enormously diverse rainforest and coral reef ecosystems. Given the very rapid rate of destruction of these ecosystems (eg millions of hectares of net loss of forest every yr, an area equal in size to a country like Panama, or approx 2% net loss every ten yrs) undiscovered species are likely to be made extinct or threatened with extinction before we even know about them!

Why protect biodiversity? Its worth reminding ourselves of the reasons, which are not often enough clearly and fully stated - even if you search around a bit you dont find that much that is reasonably plain. So here's my effort... Forms of life are beautiful and diversity itself is beautiful. It is morally right to protect species. The complex web of interactions in nature is harmed if we dont conserve species and we need the interactions. Nature is the source of the resources and services we use to build our economy and so biodiversity is needed to meet our needs, trade, do business and make a profit (depending on how you want to define economics). The variety of life is of very important educational value and is a source of leisure and recreation. It is very important for both our physical, social and mental health and wellbeing - a diminishing gene pool is for instance damaging, dangerous and impoverishing.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Expand, expand, expand = policy on airports

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News from Greens in the South West further illustrating the hypocrisy of warm words on fighting climate change not matched by action. With proposals to expand many airports here (Bristol, Staverton (Glos), Hurn (Bournemouth), Exeter, Plymouth, and Newquay - not that many then !!) region-wide campaign events may well be the order of the day for 2008. All the expansions proposed have campaigns against them. Those interested should look over the South West Air Action Group website which has just started up (opportunities to information share, discuss issues, coordinate and plan actions).

Those who've caused most should do most to sort it out

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This is a great On the level posting. The per capita cumulative emissions graph is a very, very telling. Those who indusrialised earliest, fastest and most heavily have the biggest share of the responsibility for causing climate change and should do most to help sort it out.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

On the Bible as a work of literature and as a source of and guide to morality

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We should all gain knowledge of the Bible in 2008 advocates Richard Benson in a letter today. He says '...atheist Richard Dawkins believes that children should grow up with a knowledge of the Bible.'

For a more complete and accurate picture it should be noted that Dawkins view on the Bible, as expressed in his book The God Delusion, is that '...the main reason the English Bible needs to be part of our education is that it is a major source book for literary culture. The same applies to the legends of the Greek and Roman gods and we learn about them without being asked to believe in them.'

As for the Bible and what Richard Benson's letter refers to as 'the beliefs and values that underpin much of our history and culture', Richard Dawkins says in The God Delusion that '...the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unkown to each other, spanning nine centuries...unfortunately it is this same weird volume that religious zealots hold up to us as the inerrant source of our morals and rules for living.'

Its clear that whilst Dawkins does feel that some parts of the King James Bible of 1611 (Authorized Version) have considerable literary merit and should thus be studied so that people can better appreciate English literature, he is certainly not holding it up as a source of or guide to morality!!