Thursday, March 27, 2008

Great example of the impacts of a strong group of Green councillors on a city council - Bristol needs this!!

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The strong group of ten Green councillors in the city of Norwich have had quite an impact. See the video clip here briefly outlining their work. We need a group of Green councillors like this on Bristol City Council!! Interesting to see the similarity of the issues that are topical and that they have successfully opposed the building of a waste incinerator for instance (something currently on the agenda here).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

When is feeling for one's country genuine and valuable? How does it relate to happiness?

I'm afraid Bristol's Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Peter Abraham shows he is very seriously out of touch with both young people and the evidence by saying that getting children to swear allegiance to Crown and country could help combat unhappiness amongst them ('Children should swear allegiance', Bristol Evening Post, 12 May 2008). Yes there is clear evidence that children in our country are more unhappy than those in many other countries as the unicef table of childhood wellbeing demonstrates (see previous post here). The causes of this unhappiness seem to be many, varied and complex however and according to what children themselves say, relate to wide-ranging issues like climate change, terrorism, violence, poverty, traffic and gangs. The links to allegiance to Crown and country are tenuous at best and in any case unhappiness has roots that originate long before age 16 or 17, when Cllr Abraham wants allegiance sworn. So, does he know what he is talking about here??

There's also the issue of willingness to swear allegiance. What if people dont want to swear allegiance to the Crown because they are republicans?? Do people proposing this idea intend it to be compulsory? Those willing to swear allegiance are 'loyal' anyway, whilst those who are not willing but who are required to swear cannot be regarded as 'loyal' simply because they have said a few words or signed a piece of paper. And if those not willing to swear allegiance are given the choice to opt out should our society regard them as lesser citizens?? What is the value of feeling for one's country if its not one that has developed freely and naturally??

Strong view expressed on this issue in the comments following this newsblog. More on the issue here.

Friday, March 07, 2008

International Women's Day 2008

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I agree with Jean, who sent me the link , that this is just right for International Women's Day. Please click on the link and support the call for global action to end violence against women.

Making green food/shopping choices: not as straightforward as it may sometimes seem

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Whether or not crops grown further away are less green or not can be a pretty complex question (see the points made in the article ''Crops from far away may be greener', Bristol Evening Post, 4 March). I'd certainly err on the side of local generally being greener, though I'd agree that its often not just food miles that count. Its most often not possible to make a fully informed choice because the total carbon emissions involved are not currently marked on products. A lot of rough guessing on impacts is thus involved for anyone who takes an interest. There is also the question of whether its just carbon we should take into account (we are, understandably in these times of climate change, very carbon focussed these days). There are other significant resources (social and environmental) involved too. Take the example of growing roses in Kenya used in the article I cited above (seen as more carbon efficient than growing in Holland even after taking air transport into account) - this requires massive water use from a country whose people are often desperately short of it. When exporting flowers Kenya is effectively also exporting its water (see virtual, embedded, embodied, hidden water or water footprint information here and here). Growing roses also takes up land which it might be argued Kenya could better use to grow food for its people and for neighbouring countries - there has long been desperate need in that area of the globe.

You may be interested in the Fairtrade Foundation website.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Factors affecting the price of a bacon butty

Well done to the government's new chief scientific advisor Professor John Beddington for today pointing out that in the coming decades the evidence currently shows that demand for food will outstrip our ability to supply it (see here). This issue has been increasingly reported on of late (including the article 'Prices give food for thought' in the Bristol Evening Post, March 6) and I have blogged on it before. Rising world population, rapid consumption, problems of current patterns of economic growth, speculation by investors, growing world meat consumption, climate change cutting crop yields, use of land to grow plants for biofuels and bioplastics...instead of food...are all cited as key factors.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Chaos and instability in Bristol South secondary schools: is no-one being held to account??

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What utter chaos and instability we have in some secondary schools in Bristol South. First Hengrove axes GCSE courses after students started them (see here) and now they are closing the sixth form part way through the year ('Anger as sixth form is closed', Bristol Evening Post, 5 March 2008)!! Is no-one going to be held to account for this apalling organisation which is sure to significantly disrupt the education and lives of young people?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

We need 'wartime spirit' to fight climate change and build a greener society

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Interesting to see that Prince Charles has likened the fight against climate change to fighting a war, and not for the first time (see here and here). All the way back in 1989 I made a very similar point in a chapter of the book 'Something About Bristol' (Redcliffe Press), after taking part in a Bristol Evening Post writing competition to mark the publication locally of the fiftieth book about Bristol. I've copied my chapter 'Wartime Spirit, without war' below. I could write something very similar today. Problems of: rapid and inappropriate development; how to deal with history; apathy, cynicism and materialism; division and inequality; local community breakdown and lack of self-determination; industries shutting down and using people; poverty; housing everyone; pollution and traffic congestion; happiness and the quality of life, are still very much with us about 20 yrs on. And I'm still here arguing for reconciliation: between society and economy and our environment; between people within and across communities here and around the world. I'm sure you will spot the references to a few things that certainly have changed though...

Wartime spirit, without war (from 'Something About Bristol', 1989)

Bristol is a city steeped in history. There are many developments which are rapidly changing its face, like its fast growing influence as a financial centre, that also bring frustratingly difficult problems. So while historic achievements, people and events should not be dismissed, history should not bind us. To adapt to accelerating change we should all look forward, but learn from the past.

During wartime and deprivation great comradeship existed. Now apathy, cynicism and materialism are surely destroying more than all the bombs that have fallen on Bristol. Indeed we may be bound by history. Divisions between black and white, rich and poor, are evident. People are physically separated by a road system which ignores community life.

The community spirit and friendliness found in the St Philips Marsh area up to its break-up in the late 1950s gives us much to emulate. The closeness is needed, without the poverty, clannish suspicion of outsiders and the sexism of the times. Perhaps we need wartime spirit without war.

Elements found in the old St Philips Marsh – the shops in every street, local small businesses and self-employed chimney sweeps, blacksmiths, wet fish sellers – should be recreated. The principle of self-contained, but not isolated communities, with local people providing themselves with goods and services, is good.

Working and living environments have changed. We now have fairly clean, though not perfect, drinking water whereas in the 12th century when Bristol was a major wine port the poor quality of the water was cited as a reason for drinking wine! In St Philips developing industry brought jobs, housing and so people. Industry also brought its foul smells, river pollution and noise. Indeed, eventually the people were squeezed out, used then disposed, by growing industry.

The community there was crushed. Future Bristol must have industry to meet people’s needs not people that service industry, only to be moved ‘out of town’.

Housing in Bristol has moved from the contrast of huge, plush Victorian places with small, cramped and basic utility housing, to council estates and flats sadly lacking in open space. The plush housing is still there, the housing problems are different, if not worse, people now at the mercy of ‘mysterious’ market forces. Lack of self determination in local areas, or even lack of any say at all, needs putting right. This would avoid the breakdown of communities and shed light on the needs and problems of areas, like housing and open space needs.

To this day Bristol’s notorious but profitable role in the slave trade (white slavery since the time of the Norman conquest, then later black slavery up to the 1800s) influences the view many have of the present, even the future. People said that slavery was intimately entwined with the economy of Bristol. Indeed, much money was involved but slavery was abolished. Bristol’s present South African trade links via the port are profitable too. Will this last as slavery did?

Bristol’s economy has been served by people. Sherry, tobacco and chocolate firms run by God-fearing families employed thousands and still do. The wealth divisions evident from history still exist today. Compare house prices North and South of the river. Wealthy merchants had the legal advice and protection of Latchams, Montague and Niblett, Britain’s longest surviving law firm. They bought jewels from Bristol Bridge and sent for fresh meat from Temple Gate. Brooks dyed ostrich feathers for Bristol ladies. Exploitation today has some historic roots, even if different situations are involved.

Bristol’s future economy should be built on the theme of reconciliation. Small firms, with work self-contained and flexible, would reconcile material needs with creative needs if local people produced for their own needs. A strong element of worker and community control with local reinvestment and recirculation of resources is the more just and equal Bristol I want. Elements of this future can be found in the past but never all the required features.

Reconciliation of the need for economic activity and a clean and pleasant environment to live in is a must. Pollution from industry in St Philips Marsh in the past and at Avonmouth today shows that ecological concerns have still to be considered of primary importance.

Cars in today’s Bristol bring pollution, stress and disfigurement to historic buildings like St Mary Redcliffe Church. Who today wants this magnificent building encircled by crowded, hostile roads? Do we want to go on hearing of ‘lots of traffic chaos due to temporary lights at Whitchurch Lane. Wells Road and Bath Road very busy and flowing slowly’ on local radio every day.

Its not for reasons of nostalgia that I like the idea of trams, or something like them, returning to Bristol. The Metro idea is a good one. If properly planned with local people it will provide a great service. It should be integrated with a bus and rail system. Park-and-ride schemes, more cycle-ways and more pedestrian-only should prosper too. The car rules many lives, when we should rule the car.

Future Bristol will I hope reconcile people with each other and their surroundings. Its people will be aware of Bristol as a whole from within their own diverse self-reliant communities. Bristol’s interdependence within Britain and the World should be recognised. People will, I hope, be happier and use leisure wisely. Others, too, will enjoy the quality of Bristol, historic city.