Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Natalie Bennett: We need a Massive Transformation

September 24, 2014

natben2015Green Party leader Natalie Bennett writes that Ed Miliband’s speech did not signal a break with the past and that his focus on green technology is too narrow.

Increasingly, when you talk to people around Britain about the lives of their children and grandchildren, their outlook is negative. They might not always have worked out an explanation of what’s wrong, but they’re sensing, entirely correctly, that we’ve got a society headed in all of the wrong directions: economically, socially, and environmentally.

They’re reflecting the still enormous levels of youth under-employment: young people employed on zero-hours contracts, graduates working as bar-tenders and shelf-stackers. And that the 1% keep getting richer while more and more of the rest of us struggle; even the formerly comfortable are no longer certain that they won’t end up in the food bank queue. And, as tens of thousands showed in marches around the country last weekend, they understand that climate change – and other environmental damage, to our seas and rivers, our lost biodiversity, the degradation of our soils – is a clear and present danger.

We need a massive transformation.

But there’s no sign that the Labour Party, on the evidence of its conference so far, understands that. Real change isn’t on its agenda; a bit of tinkering is about as far as it stretches.

Take the example of the £8 an hour minimum wage by 2020 promise. That’s a 25 pence per year increase over the course of the next parliament, starting from the grossly inadequate base of our current minimum wage, the value of which the former Labour government allowed to slide, a trend the Tory-Lib Dem coalition has continued and enhanced.

Contrast that to the Green Party policy I announced a couple of weeks ago: making the minimum wage a Living Wage immediately and increasing it above inflation after that so that it reaches £10 an hour by 2020.

This isn’t a bidding war: it’s an argument about a principle that there’s strong evidence the British public supports – work should pay enough money to live on.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said yesterday: “when the economy grows, the wages of everyday working people should grow at the same rate”. That seems to mean he’s content to maintain the current deeply unequal, historically extreme, division between the few high-paid workers and the rest of us. Contrast that to the Green Party, which says the top paid worker in an organisation shouldn’t be paid more than 10 times the lowest paid.

There’s grave concern about our National Health Service – I saw that when I walked for a day on the People’s March for the NHS. We know we need more medical staff, more support staff, more resources in general for the NHS. The offer from Miliband of an extra £2.5 billion is therefore welcome.

But this is from the party that, when last in government, ran wild with the disastrous Private Finance Initiative that will over its lifetime cost you and I billions, that raced ahead with the disastrous Tory model of competition. The Green Party, by contrast, says that the profit motive has no place in healthcare, and backs the transformatory principles of proposed NHS Reinstatement Bill.

And that mansion tax that’s to raise some of the cash for the NHS under Labour’s plans? Well once again it’s a pale imitation of our far more broad-reaching wealth tax – which recognises that rich individuals gain their wealth from our society, benefit from its services, and should make a fair contribution to their maintenance.

Then look at the cut in child benefit. It was, observers generally considered, an attempt to demonstrate Labour’s “fiscal probity”. Or alternatively, you could consider it, as many did, as a continuation of the Tory-Lib Dem policy of making the poor and disadvantaged, particularly women and children, pay for the errors, the fraud and the recklessness of the financial sector. No real change here – in fact no change at all, but a further bowing to the Conservative narrative that blames government spending for the debt and the deficit, when in fact we should be blaming the bankers.

And where were the words from Miliband about reining in the still out-of-control banking system, of tackling what even insiders are calling the continuing extreme fragility of the financial sector?

There were some positives in Miliband’s speech, and the broader conference, in terms of somewhat more substantial environmental changes. The focus on energy conservation, particularly home insulation, is welcome – the Green Party has long been saying that reducing demand is central to resolving the energy conundrum. Although this isn’t “new” money – it’s been taken from other areas of infrastructure spending, where much is needed. The backing for the one million climate jobs agenda is also welcome.

But the focus remains narrow – on “green technology”. Focusing on conservation, on renewable energy and a smart grid are essential steps, but they are only a fraction of the environmental essentials. What is needed is a modal shift in transport towards walking and cycling that would improve our health, and clean up our air and cut congestion. We need a return of food production and manufacturing to Britain to create jobs and dramatically reduce supply lines. These are the kind of changes that have to be a key part of the mix.

That limited approach to the environment reflects the broader problem, identified by many observers, with the overall tone of this Labour conference. There’s been no break with the past, no signs of a search for a new model that takes us forward from our current economy that has clearly failed

Greens demonstrate support for fairer trade rules

March 5, 2014

Banana

As Green Party members agree a motion at their Spring conference to oppose a new Transatlantic Trade agreement, green campaigners have been out across the South West supporting fairer trade rules through their involvement in Fairtrade Fortnight.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is an agreement between the EU and the US, currently under negotiation in the European Parliament. Greens say, if passed, this agreement will weaken environmental protection, workers’ rights, health and animal-welfare rules. The Green Party passed a motion at their Spring conference in Liverpool to campaign against TTIP and Greens in the European Parliament are also actively opposing the agreement.

Meanwhile, across the South West Green, campaigners have been reiterating their support for Fairtrade above Free Trade. In Devon, Stephen Best, a Fairtrade banana producer from St Lucia, has been working with Exeter based Green Party member Andrew Bell to deliver conferences in schools highlighting the benefits of Fairtrade. Mr Bell said:

“Stephen’s passion for Fairtrade and what it has achieved for his community in St Lucia is highly evident to anyone who meets him. Fairtrade has literally been the saviour of banana production in the country. After the World Trade Organisation, backed by the US, changed trading rules giving American banana corporations’ greater power, small scale banana producers in the Winward Islands faced obliteration. However, Fairtrade came to the rescue offering a guaranteed minimum price for bananas and a ‘Fairtrade Premium’ – an extra sum of money which the wider community can choose how to spend. But corporate power never gives up, and now we see a new threat in the form of TTIP.”

Speaking at the Green Party conference in Liverpool, leader Natalie Bennet made clear to delegates the distinctive, principled stand Greens are making against TTIP:

“TTIP would blow apart the power of our democratic decision making. The deal provides corporations with new rights to sue the Government for legislating in the public interest – that’s definitely not acting for the common good. It’s not surprising, really, when we hear Lib Dems trumpeting the proposed US-EU free trade deal as some kind of economic saviour. The Lib Dems are the lapdogs of corporate Europe, while the Tories are its war horses.”

Now it’s Fracking Bribery

January 14, 2014

The cynicism of the Con Dem government is staggering. It has deliberately driven Councils and Communities to desperation by cutting their budgets, and now it is bribing those same struggling Authorities to give permission for fracking that local communities have clearly rejected. If they do as the Government demands, turn a blind eye to the hazards, and the opinion of the electorate, they will be rewarded with extra cash from the fracking companies. Like some medieval torturer who, having starved his victim allows the smell of a succulent meal to drift into the torture chamber, so the Government waves the promise of cash at these desperate Councils. Inevitably this action will weaken further the trust between Councils and their electorate, as the Tories intend – residents will never be sure if a permission was given in the best interest of the community and country, or for the cash.

Cameron is now just acting as the industries mouthpiece. On the very day Total, the French energy company who are unable to frack in their own country because the French Government has banned it, announced a £30 million stake in UK fracking, he turns up at a drilling depot in Gainsborough. It just happens that Total have taken a stake in the companies that have exploration licences in Gainsborough. Doing the job of a company PR spokesman, he dutifully reiterated the claim that fracking will produce much needed investment, create jobs and lead to energy security, and that our robust regulations make it completely safe. There is no justification for any of these claims. They come from, a report commissioned by the frack company Caudrilla, headed by his friend Lord John Browne, ex of BP, that suggests that Britain can benefit by £3.7 billion a year extra revenue and 74,000 new jobs. These figures are just guesses. The 74,000 job claim included the extra staff needed in local shops to serve the security guards buying sweets! One wonders just how many of these 74,000 people will be security guards, such has been his governments and the industries failure to convince the British public that we need fracking.

To talk up the robust environmental regulations in the UK is to ignore the fact that the Conservative Party is doing all it can to abolish these regulations as ‘red tape’. It also conveniently ignores the fact that if the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations with the USA that they are so keen on, does get the go ahead from Europe, then all such regulations will prove to be useless. Governments will do all they can to minimise green regulations for fear of being sued by corporations for loss of profit.

The dash for gas is a high risk strategy, not one that can lead to energy security. It is not known how much gas can be won or at what price. The demand for water will be colossal and will lead to escalating domestic water bills and water shortages. The cost of the disposal of trillions of gallons of polluted waste water is unknown and we can’t be sure that we, the tax payer won’t be left with the disposal bill. The same applies to the costs of the pollution incidents that will inevitably occur. And the gas will run out but we will be tied to a gas energy infrastructure, then what?

The one claim, that Cameron didn’t make and that has been quietly dropped by the industry is that fracking will lead to cheap energy. It will do nothing for energy costs since the gas, if it is ever produced will be sold on the open market just as the North Sea oil was, and we British consumers will have to pay a premium price, as we did for North Sea oil, so that the big energy companies can maintain their bloated profits.

In all, this is a thoroughly bad deal for the British energy consumer and tax payer. The only beneficiaries are the big energy companies and their shareholders who will send their profits off shore. It is an even worse deal because there is a real deal available that would give us affordable and secure energy. This is to use the free energy that blows over our heads, laps on our shores and shines in our faces. Yes, the wind, the sun and the tides are free energy, all we needed to do was invest in the infrastructure to capture them, store the energy as necessary and distribute it. No big deal any of that, just use the technology that’s already there. But, no one can take a monopoly on the wind, the waves or the sun, no one can threaten to divert it or switch it off if they don’t get their own way. No one can put it in a barrel or down a pipeline and sell it back to us at a profit. So this Government of millionaires, for millionaires isn’t interested.

There is only one Party seriously opposing fracking and that is the Green Party. We also have a clear and workable alternative energy strategy that would end fuel poverty and our reliance on fossil fuels. The only thing that will make the main parties rethink their fossil/nuclear energy [policies is a big green vote. Work with us to make this happen.

January 14, 2014 by 

‘Bribe’ anger as PM backs fracking

January 13, 2014

ImageThe Government has renewed its push to promote controversial “fracking” for shale gas, as French energy giant Total confirmed it was investing in the industry in the UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced that local authorities in England would receive 100% of the business rates collected from shale gas schemes, rather than the usual 50%.

It is the latest move by the Government to promote the exploitation of unconventional gas in the UK, which the Prime Minister claimed could bring the UK 74,000 jobs, more than £3 billion of investment and cheaper and more secure energy.

But environmentalists criticised the business rates incentive as a “bribe” to reluctant local authorities.

And they warned that it raised serious concerns over conflicts of interest if the councils benefiting from the money were the ones deciding on planning applications.

Opponents fear fracking, a process in which liquid is pumped deep underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release the gas in it, for shale gas will lead to the development of industrial sites and disturbance in the countryside.

Fears have also been raised over the potential for small-scale earthquakes and water pollution, and that a drive to exploit new gas reserves will turn the focus away from efforts to develop a low-carbon economy to tackle climate change.

Protests against a proposed fracking site at Barton Moss in Salford, Greater Manchester, have continued for almost seven weeks, with campaigners claiming hundreds of people turned out over the weekend to voice their opposition to the development.

On a visit to Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, in the area Total will be looking to develop shale gas wells, Mr Cameron defended the plans to push ahead with fracking, saying environmental concerns would be assuaged once people saw the benefits.

He said: “We have the strongest environmental controls in this country. Nothing would go ahead if there were environmental dangers. I think people can be reassured by that.

“But I actually believe it’s when these wells go ahead, when people start to see the benefit, when people see there aren’t environmental concerns, they will see that it is quite right that this is part of our long-term economic plan.”

Kathryn McWhirter, from Balcombe, West Sussex, where protesters took direct action while energy company Cuadrilla conducted exploratory drilling at a site on the outskirts of the village last year, claimed Mr Cameron was giving out more misinformation on fracking to the British public.

She said: “First, he said shale gas would lower prices and create vast numbers of jobs.

“Both claims have been shot down by his own advisers, yet he continues to repeat them.

“Now he wants to bribe local people and council planners – what a conflict of interest, what desperation.

“After two years’ sober research, we in Balcombe are all too aware of the hazards of modern fracking and our message to him is this: Our health and our environment are not for sale.”

Officials said the commitment on business rates would mean councils hanging on to up to £1.7 million extra a year from each fracking site.

The industry has already pledged to give local communities £100,000 for each test drilling – and a further 1% of the revenues if shale gas is discovered.

And today it was announced that the industry would further consult on how to deliver the money to communities, with options including direct cash payments to people living near the site or setting up of local funds directly managed by local communities.

The Local Government Association’s Mike Jones said that given the tax breaks proposed for shale gas and the impact it would have on local companies, payments should be higher at between 5% and 10%, in line with other parts of the world.

The community benefits of fracking should be enshrined in law, so they could not be withdrawn, and community payments should go into a charitable sovereign fund to be spent on local priorities, he argued.

But Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said that encouraging fracking by offering “bribes” to councils, and handing tax breaks to fracking companies, was ” beyond irresponsible”.

“It’s outrageous that councils are being put under financial pressure to accept this at a time when they’re being forced to make cuts to vital services.”

Friends of the Earth’s Jane Thomas said: “This latest Government move highlights the depth of local opposition to fracking and the desperate lengths ministers are prepared to go to overcome it.

“People are right to be concerned about the impact of shale gas extraction on their communities – especially as experts say it won’t lead to cheaper fuel bills.

“This move raises potentially serious concerns about conflicts of interest, if councils that benefit from this money are also the ones who decide on planning applications from fracking firms in the first place.

“The Government should be encouraging the development of Britain’s huge renewable power potential, instead of coming up with new incentives that keep the nation hooked on climate-changing fossil fuels.”

Energy Minister Michael Fallon said the 100% business rates incentive on offer was the same as for renewable technologies, such as wind farms and solar energy.

But Anna Jones, climate campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “Comparing the incentives for renewable energy to the naked bribery of the Government’s business rate bung simply isn’t comparing like with like.

“Renewable energy is a proven energy source that will not damage the environment. Compare this to the environmental damage and disruption that fracking for a dirty fossil fuel would cause, and which may be too costly to extract.

“It’s an obvious no-brainer that renewables are the energy of the future, not shale gas.”

Opposition to fracking has not stopped interest from oil and gas companies in exploiting potential shale gas reserves across swathes of the UK, with Total announcing its investment today.

The company has taken a 40% share in two gas exploration licences for drilling in the Gainsborough Trough, in an area between Doncaster and Lincoln.

Total, which is already involved in shale gas projects in the US, China, Australia, Argentina, Poland and Denmark, described the move as an important milestone for the company in the UK.

The initial exploration will be conducted by partner IGas, and Total will take over operations as the project develops.

The project is part of £1.2 billion annual investments in oil and gas production by Total E&P, which is set to make it the largest oil and gas producer in this country by 2015.

Source – Press Association – ‎13th‎ ‎January‎ ‎2014

Bees Need Urgent Help

March 14, 2013

beeSome insecticide products have been increasingly implicated in the decline of honeybees over the past decade, and there is serious concern that they pose unacceptable risk to wild bees and pollinators.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 are pollinated by bees.

Pippa Bartolotti, Leader of the Green Party in Wales said, “Bee-keepers and petitioners are anxious to hear how the Secretary of State has not failed in his duty of care to bee protection. By failing to act swiftly, he has allowed the seed crop for this spring to be impregnated with pesticides linked to the weakening of bee colonies, thus prolonging the harm being done. This is beginning to look like negligence.”

Today, the Wales Green Party wrote a strongly worded letter on behalf of petitioners and bee-keepers to David Jones MP, Secretary of State for Wales asking that he urgently carries out his duty under provision of the 1980 Bees Act to protect bees, as well as ensure the UK does not fall foul of European law.

Pippa Bartolotti said, “There are more than 40,000 concerned people who urgently need to know what the position of the Secretary of State is on this matter, for the sake of bees and other pollinators, Ministers should have no qualms in making bee survival their top priority. We do not understand why the Minister is dragging his feet.

“The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales, are responsible for ensuring bees are not at risk from insecticides. The law requires that insecticides are robustly tested prior to authorisation being granted, and where risk assessment has not been finalised, we believe products should be immediately withdrawn from the market.”

Research at the University of Sterling found that colonies of Buff-tailed bumblebees exposed to the neonicotinoid Imidacloprid, produced 85% fewer queens than control colonies. The success and survival of new bumblebee queens is essential to ensure the viability of future bumblebee populations.

Pesticide risk assessment requires tests on very few species including the honey bee, which are meant to be representative for invertebrates as a whole. Neonicotinoids are systemic insecticides that permeate the whole plant, and residues of some neonicointoids may remain in the soil for at least 2 years.

Last year, EFSA, the European Food Standards Agency, had identified significant flaws in regulatory risk assessment guidelines for testing pesticides on honey bees, and highlighted a need for consideration of wild bees within the regulatory system. Upon further investigation of three neonicotinoids, EFSA scientists identified areas of high risk to bees from flowering crops, as well as a number of data gaps that would have to be filled to allow further evaluation of the potential risks to bees from clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.

On Thursday 21st February, Pippa Bartolotti, Leader of the Wales Green Party handed in a petition of 40,440 signatures to John Griffiths, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, asking him to outlaw the use and sale of neonicotinoid insecticides in Wales.

Why all progressives should support a land value tax

February 19, 2013

get_involved_festivalCaroline Lucas, Brighton’s Green MP, has submitted a private member’s bill promoting a land value tax. After some delay, it should have its second reading on 1 March. Every progressive politician in Westminster should support this bill.

David Cameron considers it part of his job as Prime Minister to provide moral leadership. It’s worth recalling a few of his words: “we need to reconnect the principles of risk, hard work, and success with reward.” According to him, markets are moral: “open markets and free enterprise can actually promote morality” because “they create a direct link between contribution and reward; between effort and outcome”.

Connect effort with outcome, and markets will flourish, entrepreneurs will create jobs, work will get done and society will prosper. Woe betide those who cleave them apart. Karl Marx tried to separate effort and outcome with the words: “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”. When this was tried in the Soviet Union the powerful made sure their own needs were well catered for while the economy collapsed and the powerless starved in their millions.

Back home, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is assiduous in disconnecting effort and reward. Every year, the people of Britain are rewarded with £600bn for their efforts at work. HMRC takes one quarter of this reward away as income tax: £150bn.

There is an alternative. Taxes on windfall gains arising through no effort are popular and just. The tax system should target windfalls, not work, whenever possible. This is the aim of the land value tax proposed by Lucas. It targets a £100bn annual windfall that at present is hardly taxed at all. The lion’s share of this goes to powerful and privileged freeloaders who fight tooth and nail to keep every penny. In doing so they harm the economy and, as we shall see, damage the environment.

Who are these freeloaders? Nobody has explained this better than Winston Churchill in a speech in 1909: “Roads are made, streets are made, railway services are improved, electric light turns night into day, electric trams glide swiftly to and fro, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains – and all the while the landlord sits still… To not one of these improvements does the land monopolist as a land monopolist contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is sensibly enhanced.”

Churchill knew that landowners cannot change the value of a plot of land. Its value depends only on location and size. Is it near a station? A park? Good schooling? All of these factors are determined by the community, not the landowner. The landowner can increase the value of the property, by building on it, or extending existing structures. But any increase in the value per square foot of the plot on which the buildings stand is a free ride, and any profit made from this is pure freeloading on the efforts of the community.

Landowners, including homeowners, are freeloaders on a gigantic scale. The total value of the housing stock in the UK was £1.3trn in 1990. With only inflation it would now be worth £2trn, but instead its current value is over £4trn. This £2trn increase above inflation has come through a rise in the value of land itself, not through new buildings; comparatively few houses have been built in the last two decades. Landowners have gained £100bn yearly on average from a rise in land values. As Churchill might have said, never in the field of human endeavour has so great a reward been given for so little effort.

Lucas wants to reclaim this windfall via a land value tax; a tax which is levied on the value of the plot of land, without taking into account any building on it. A vacant plot in a row of houses would be taxed the same as a similar built-on plot. Buildings are the result of effort and enterprise by the landowner who should be rewarded with their use or profit. The value of the plot is not the result of any effort on the part of the landowner and any increase is a windfall.

The Green MP realizes our current tax regime harms the environment. Throughout our towns and cities, vacant sites are left derelict. Developers sit on vast land banks, create an artificial housing shortage, and blame the planning system for resulting problems. The tax system encourages land hoarding. Keeping a property empty and unused makes excellent sense to speculators, since minimal tax is payable on an empty plot. They cover our green fields with concrete and create urban sprawl, whilebrownfield siteslie abandoned.

This is the strange politics of today’s Britain. The Conservatives profess to be the party of enterprise, but are actually beholden to entitled freeloaders; Cameron’s fine words are so much empty rhetoric. Vince Cable champions a mansion tax but is slapped down by his coalition partners. Labour half-heartedly copies Cable’s best policies. It is Caroline Lucas, our only Green MP, who shows the way towards a moral capitalism and an enterprising economy. All progressives should wish her bill well and rally around her bold initiative on 1 March.

Keith Taylor helps launch the European ‘Year of Air’.

January 7, 2013

People_Keith_TaylorKeith Taylor MEP has joined campaigners and other politicians in launching the European Year of Air for 2013. With key European legislation up for review this year, and an estimated half a million premature deaths in Europe caused by air pollution, Mr Taylor is calling for the UK government to halt its efforts to weaken existing EU air quality standards..

EU air quality safe levels were set in the 90´s and there have been mixed results since then. While air quality has generally improved the levels of some dangerous pollutants has increased. Currently 95% of city residents in the European Union breathe ozone at levels exceeding World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended levels.

In the UK air pollution causes 29,000 deaths and contributes to over 200,000 premature deaths per year. In Mr Taylor’s constituency, the South East of England, the problem of air pollution particularly affects both city dwellers and the thousands of people who commute into London.

Mr Taylor said:

“With children and the elderly being hit hardest by poor air quality, and the levels of some noxious pollutants on the rise, we badly need to see strong legislation from the European Union in 2013.”

The UK government has been accused by campaigners of attempting to weaken air pollution legislation. The UK department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs proposed “Working in partnership with other Member States, we will … amendments to the Air Quality Directive which reduce the infraction risk faced by most Member States, especially in relation to nitrogen dioxide provisions’. 

Responding to this Mr Taylor said:

“It beggars belief that the UK Government is trying to water down European Legislation that will protect the lives of British citizens. I urge them to back strong laws on air pollution and to improve people’s health.”

Keith recently published a public information leaflet, ‘Air Pollution: The Invisible Killer’, to raise awareness of air pollution and its damaging health impacts. The leaflet explains how air pollution is created, how widespread the problem is, how it affects our health and how pollution can be reduced.

Notes 

1) A guide to Air Pollution and the ‘Year of Air’ can be found here: http://cleanairinlondon.org/news/quick-guide-to-air-pollution/ 

2) Keith’s Guide ‘Air Pollution: The Invisible Killer’ can be found here: http://www.keithtaylormep.org.uk/air-pollution/

Matthew Butcher Media Officer
Office of Keith Taylor,
Green MEP for South East England
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If you would like to receive Keith’s bimonthly e-newsletter please e-mail keithtaylor@greenmeps.org.uk putting INFO as the subject header

Three easy environmental resolutions to aim for in 2013

January 4, 2013

plasticbags_276It’s new year’s resolution time – the mince pies are sitting heavy on the stomach, the Christmas tat is spewing from every bin and it’s time for a fresh start.

For Britain’s environment, clearly the most important resolution is to restructure the government’s energy bill to put energy conservation at its heart, to restore the target of decarbonising electricity by 2030 and to follow most of the developed world in drawing a final line underneath the failed decades of expensive nuclear power.

But that’s a tough one to face this early in the year. So for now, let’s start with the small, the easily delivered, the no-brainers, the cheap and the free.

First, the simplest. Ireland did it yonks ago, Wales has done it, and Scotland is doing it: let’s put a levy on single-use plastic bags in English shops. (It’s even party policy for one party in the coalition government.) It’s surprising it’s not Conservative policy really, given the Daily Mail has made it a flagship campaign.

Bag use rose by around 5% to 6.75bn in the past year, despite claimed voluntary efforts by stores to cut back. How many times do you have to say “no bag please” in your local chain stores? The London assembly has backed action, there’s lots of excellent local campaigns. So now is the time for England to catch up with the rest of the UK.

No, it’s not going to save the planet, but as a small step towards cutting pointless resource use, and cleaning up our towns, cities, countryside rivers and seas, this truly is an easy win. Let’s get back to parity with China on this one please.

Next, let’s cut down on unnecessary night time lighting of shops in cities and towns. The French are leading the way, having banned neon shop lighting in the early hours last year, and they’re now looking at insisting the lights inside shops go off for similar hours.

Yes, I admit that those people who love to window shop between 1am and 6am might be slightly discommoded – not that I know anyone who does that. But I know that a lot of people would enjoy a reduction in light pollution – both those who like to gaze up at the stars and those trying to sleep in glare-ridden bedrooms around the shops. And even the Daily Mail might like the fact that we could build a few less wind turbines if we cut demand for electricity instead. There would be a saving on shop electricity bills and so perhaps even a saving on our shopping bills.

And this would be a small step towards the bigger range of energy reduction measures that we need, as with insulating and draft-proofing our dreadful quality housing stock and making sure that all new build homes meet the highest energy standards. It costs us all to provide extra energy capacity – we can all save cash, and improve our lives.

Finally, an environmental measure that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and make our towns and cities far more pleasing places – let’s introduce 20mph speed limits everywhere people live, work and shop: make it the default urban limit. No need for lots of expensive signage – in fact you could probably clear a lot of street clutter. And motorists would see a saving in fuel costs and wear and tear, at the “cost” of an average of 90 seconds being added to their journeys.

We’re seeing big progress around the country on 20mph limits – the London borough of Islington is likely to soon be followed by others – but we could make a big national leap and save a lot of campaigners’ time and energy, and a significant number of lives, if we took an immediate step across England and Wales.

The cost of all of these three measures would be tiny, and the benefits – to our finances and quality of life – significant. They’re perfect easy resolutions to start with – then we can get more ambitious.

Source – The Guardian Natalie Bennett

Is the government planning a further U-turn on selling our forests?

March 7, 2012

There are many battles still to be won to protect our forest heritage and public pressure remains crucial

When I challenged the government in January over its incoherent plans for the forestry estate, I was dismissed as “hysterical” by the Defra minister for forests, Jim Paice.

A little discourteous, to say the least. But far more worrying was the fact that the minister, in answering my question, then appeared to try to conceal the government’s original intentions on the hugely controversial forest sell-off.

Let me place two statements on selling public forests by the honorable member in front of you, and you can be the judge.

The first is from 24 November 2010:

“Part of our policy is clearly established: we wish to proceed with, to correctly use your word, very substantial disposal of public forest estate, which could go to the extent of all of it.”

The second is from 19 January 2012:

“In fact, there never was any intention to dispose of the whole public forest estate.”

Now you may think this is the kind of thing that gives politicians a bad name. I couldn’t possibly comment.

But an interested observer might speculate that it was precisely this lack of coherence from the minister that has since resulted in the forests brief being taken from him and handed to a junior colleague.

What I will say is that there is a glimmer of hope in these two contradictory statements. It looks as if the government is planning a further U-turn on selling off our forests, and in preparation for this, is trying to rewrite history.

After their initial proposals were announced in 2011 – designed to raise money for the Treasury, rather than benefit our forests – there was uproar. Hundreds of thousands of people protested and signed petitions, with everyone from 38 Degrees to the Woodland Trust voicing criticism of the government’s approach.

Eventually the coalition climbed down by announcing a review of the whole future of forestry in England and Wales by an independent panel – so delaying the problem for a year or more.

The panel’s interim report has ruled out flogging off the Forestry Commission to raise cash.

With luck, the panel may even come up with a positive vision, including boosting employment in forestry and forest crafts, protecting and restoring ancient woodlands, and planting more native and broadleaf woods. This is what the public wants, and if the government accepts this agenda, then something good will have come from this mess.

But this “memory lapse” is not a change of heart: the government would still sell the forests if they could. It’s more an acceptance that they’ve gone too far.

And let’s not forget that the fate of 15% of public forest estate – that’s 40,000 hectares – still hangs in the balance. Defra has refused to give any assurances that this land will be protected, leading to fears that the department remains wedded to the privatisation ideology which drove the pre U-turn proposals.

Add to that the incredibly short-sighted decision by the government – taken before the forest panel has even reported – to impose big cuts on the Forestry Commission, resulting in 400 job losses.

With so many battles still to be won, public pressure remains crucial. And when the forestry panel report eventually comes out this year, we’ll need another big public effort to show the government we still care and make sure our forest heritage is not put at risk.

Fracking could make drought worse

February 21, 2012

The technique involves pumping vast quantities of water and chemicals under high-pressure deep underground to fracture rocks and force out gas and oil resources.  With drought officially declared in the South East yesterday and with the prospect of hosepipe bans looming, campaigners say any prospect of fracking should be halted.  To highlight their opposition, anti-fracking campaigners gathered today at Ardingly reservoir in West Sussex, one of the region’s worst affected reservoirs, with its water levels at around two-fifths of what it should be.

Keith Taylor, the Green MEP for the South East, said: ”Given yesterday’s announcement of drought in the region, it’s vital that we do not put our limited water supplies at risk.  In America, the commercial use of fracking to extract shale gas has led to concerns about water contamination and some people have needed to boil their water before drinking.  With water at such a premium in the South East region, we can’t afford to gamble with what little we have. Taking any decision to proceed with fracking without a full understanding of its possible effects is reckless.  That’s why I’m calling for an immediate moratorium on fracking until we understand more fully the environmental impact it can have.”

Vanessa Vine, a school secretary who started the No Fracking in Sussex Facebook campaign, said: ”Hydrofracking not only threatens to contaminate with neurotoxins both our wild water courses and our reservoir and aquifer system, it places huge, utterly unsustainable demand on water supplies, involving extensive countrywide tanker traffic which would further drain resources and impact our emissions.”

The energy company Cuadrilla Resources has permission from West Sussex County Council to conduct exploratory drilling at a site near Balcombe, near Haywards Heath.  The firm has said there were no plans ”at this stage”, or existing regulatory approval, for fracking to take place and any activity would follow consultation with the local community.  However villagers in West Sussex are deeply opposed to any future plans to conduct hydraulic fracturing at the existing well which was drilled unsuccessfully for oil by another energy firm in the 1980s.

Campaigners point to potential risks linked to fracking, including minor earthquakes, the use of chemicals and possible contamination of drinking water.  However, this month a team of Texas scientists reviewed evidence and concluded that fracking cannot be linked directly to reports of groundwater contamination.  The scientists found that many problems attributed to hydraulic fracturing are common to all oil and gas drilling systems.  Many reports of contamination could be traced to above-ground spills or mishandling of wastewater rather than the fracking technique itself, they said.

Source – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/9095723/Fracking-could-make-drought-worse-warn-campaigners.html