Friday, 24 July 2009

As little renewable energy as possible?

As renewable energy expands as an energy source, we are being forced to make some uncomfortable choices. We absolutely need renewable energy - for the climate, for the atmosphere, for energy security and freedom from fossil fuels. At the same time, some of the projects, like the Severn Barrage or the huge onshore wind farms being debated for Shetland and the Isle of Lewis, are hardly ideal, with far-reaching consequences for some of the most ecologically important and wild parts of the UK.

In my mind these problems make several things clear. First of all we want as little large-scale energy generation as possible. Of any kind. Wind turbines are better than coal plants, but they are still not ideal. This to me seems one the strongest arguments for small-scale and decentralised energy, and for more efficiency. If you don't want windmills on the hills, support measures to get solar panels on roofs.

Secondly, a revolution in clean energy to combat climate change needs to be part of a wider environmental shift, a catalyst for changing the way we view the environment in Britain. There can be no business as usual, with renewable energy simply adding to the industrialization of our landscape alongside everything else.

Finally we must be prepared to return things to 'wild' - however flawed a phrase that may be. As the industrial patterns change to cope with new technologies and new energy sources, we cannot simply gobble up more land and return nothing. Naturally we should try to use brownfield land over new greenfield, but if it cannot be sensibly re-used we should not be afraid of returning it to its natural state. Trees are more fun to play in than car parks in any case.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

What are the police doing?

Just a couple of quick thoughts.. first we have just seen a report by the South Yorkshire Constabulary into the policing of the 2008 climate camp at Kingsnorth Power Station – the facility E.ON hope will become the first new coal fired power station in the UK. For those who don’t know the policing of this protest was a disgrace. The police were intimidating, violent, rude, arrogant and political (see the camp account here). They mislead the press, they mislead parliament (and were forced to admit as much). An enquiry was launched, and the cause of this misbehaviour was………….(drumroll)……. ‘lack of communication’. Right, perhaps what they meant was that they have failed to communicate that it was exactly their strategy to engage in intimidating political policing. Job done.

On a similar but smaller-scale note, the Times is reporting that the police have been threatening to arrest people trying to get food to those protesting at the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight. This is the UK’s only factory making wind turbine blades. Whatever about the rights and wrongs of the protest, the police are reported to have arrested at least one person delivering food because it might prolong the protest, and hence increase the chance of a breach of the peace. What?????? With that sort of logic you simply can’t win. Since when was it the police’s job to try and shorten a protest or strike. Isn’t that normally what the mafia do in 1930s films?

As a rule I don't like to criticise the police too much.. they do have a difficult job and are frequently manipulated by all sides... but for some time they have been getting more and more repressive in their dealings with political protests, and things are now out of hand..

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Is Miliband stealing my words?

I just saw this in the Guardian.

"If Martin Luther King had come along and said 'I have a nightmare' people would not have followed him," Miliband said, quoting someone he met at the Guardian's recent Manchester climate change summit. "You have to persuade people that, yes, there are costs of not acting but also there is a vision of society at the end of this: more secure, more prosperous, fairer better quality of life. All those things are crucial to persuade people to take the leap.

Okay, either Miliband is stealing my words (see New thinking in the city?, below), or this phrase now is part of the New Labour communication strategies…There was probably a memo.. While I do agree with the general sentiment, I am slightly miffed with the fact that it is being used in an article in which Miliband explains why they will not tax aviation. I also feel that perhaps I have been cleverly and unconciously tricked into spouting the party line! I don’t feel any raybeams controlling me… maybe the Labour Party are employing a form of subtle hypnosis…?

Monday, 13 July 2009

Feeling fly? - Not in Camden

An entry on Craig Murray's blog got me thinking today.. it seems that his posters in the Norwich by-election have been taken down under anti-fly posting regulation. Leaving aside the main issue that only his were taken down amongst all the candidates it got me thinking once again about fly-posting. I encountered this issue about four or five months ago when trying to put up posters for an environmental protest. Living in Camden I kind of assumed that there were posters everywhere - it's that kind of place. But I was wrong. As I wandered the streets I realised that there weren't just few posters, there were none. A quick check on the council website told me it was illegal, and that they would be removed within 24 hrs.. (astonishing efficiency for Camden)..

So what's the problem? Well, for a start it makes it difficult to disseminate information in the area. Only those who can pay for expensive billboards have the right to get their propaganda heard. The rest of us must use the internet, which as a rule only gets those already interested. This undermines freedom of speech, stifles dissent and by extension democracy. It is also unfair, why should we be bombarded with images of cosmetics and mobile phones, but not allowed to enjoy concert listings and political controversy. Politicians constantly moan about young people being turned off to politics, but perhaps a bit of local excitement might get them thinking.  

Okay, okay there are probably many people who are glad not to have tatty mouldy posters on every surface. Personally, I used to live in Edinburgh which was covered in posters, and I loved it, but I can understand that would be a concern for some. There must be a happy medium though - perhaps certain areas can be set aside for commercial and non-commercial posters as a compromise....  just a thought.. 

On a related note, this is one of my main concerns with having shopping malls or large integrated shopping areas run by private companies. These companies are then are well within their rights to not only stop you putting up posters, but also handing out flyers, giving speeches, or anything they don't like. Imagine if all our open spaces where clean, commercially run and free from campaigners and crazies.. pretty sad I think, and in the long run, damaging. 

Thursday, 9 July 2009

New green thinking in the City?

‘There is no environmental quantitative easing’. These were the words of a senior UK-government figure today, as he addressed a select gathering on the eighth floor of a City bank in London.

He’s right. In fact, his statement is simply a diplomatic version of ‘Nature doesn’t do bail-outs’, the slogan which adorned banners during Climate Camp’s occupation of the City in April this year.

He went on – talking of over-fishing, biodiversity loss and climate change. ‘This’, he said, referring to the environment, ‘has to be part of your day job’. It was impassioned stuff and the room of eminent financiers and UN-types nodded sagely.

The trouble is that despite the fine words from the assembled dignitaries we are still a very long way from this situation.

I should explain. The purpose of the meeting was to raise awareness of a programme seeking to quantify the economic value of the environment and the ‘services’ it provides (water purification, soil production, carbon storage, recreation, health etc.). As such it is part of an admirable effort to do for ecosystems and biodiversity what the Stern report has done for climate change by explaining them in financial language which economists and politicians can understand, and providing some hard numbers.

That a programme like this can get taken up, funded and promoted at the highest levels is in itself a sign of real progress. Not too long ago people who put cash values on trees and clean air were called hippies and kept out of the room. I suppose we should be happy.

The thing is that a lot of the meeting focussed on how to communicate the value of ecosystems and biodiversity ‘services’ to the public. While this is essential, I couldn’t help put feel that a large part of the reason for public apathy was down to those very people in the room. For all their fine words, these banks sill invest in dirty energy, illegal mining, motorway construction and the rest. They also finance the advertisers and PR companies which have done such an outstanding job of denigrating the environmental movement and all those who stand in the way of ever greater consumption. They talk of the need to educate the public, yet it seems that the public will take poorly to being lectured by companies which on the one hand claim green credentials and expect the same of their consumers, while at the same time generating colossal profits from highly polluting industries.

Yet we cannot totally blame business, since they largely function within the rules set for them. Government too must take responsibility and show some leadership. In their defence, politicians and civil servants sometimes bemoan the public’s lack of interest in environmental issues – yet the politicians have not really made the case and have been content to sit back and let business continue as usual. Efforts to educate on climate change have been slow to start, patchy and self-conscious. Think of the bumbling Dad in those TV adverts who believes that green is the colour of his car, or that carbon footprint has something to do with shoes. And that’s just climate change – efforts to educate on other environmental issues simply don’t exist.

Finally, NGOs and activists must also take responsibility. Someone said that Martin Luther King did not start his speech by saying ‘I have a nightmare’, sadly, and for fully understandable reasons this is what the green movement was forced to do. We need to be better at offering a positive image of the future. This has begun to happen, but there are years of adverse messaging to overcome. We must make it clear that it is not about the hair-shirt, or the medieval lifestyle, but about trying to find a better, happier way to live. Perhaps if we can all work together to put that message across then in the future it won’t be about how the banks can educate the public, but about how the governments we elect set the rules for the banks.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Hey, this blog is not really live yet, I am still developing it, but I thought I would mention the release of 67 of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar 114. This is the case of 114 climate protesters who were pre-emptively arrested for alledgedly planning a protest at a power station. This case was outrageous on several grounds. First the idea of pre-emptive arrest for non-violent crimes is a very worrying development. Surely if the police were so worried they could just protect the site? Secondly, the injunctions placed on some of the protesters forbid them being involved in any other protest activities, which is a sinister and insidious attempt to stifle dissent. Finally, coming so soon after the behaviour of the Metropolitan Police at the Climate Camp and G20 demonstrations in London, this was once again an attempt to smear the climate movement (one of the police officers alledgedly asked the protesters if they were proud of being terrorists).

The fact that 67 protesters have had their charges dropped is to be welcomed. I will be very interested to know what is happening to the rest. The pre-emptive arrest of peaceful protesters is a disgrace, and something which the people of Britain should be very concerned about.