Category Archives: Environment
Post-PMQs: surely the views of over 100 distinguished Jewish signatories outweigh those of 60 assorted Labour Lords
In an unsuccessful effort to deflect attention from Mr Corbyn’s questions about climate change during today’s PMQs, Theresa May forcefully – even maliciously – demanded an apology for his ‘failure to deal with anti-semitism within the Labour party’.
The following snapshots were taken as they spoke.
She referred to a full page advertisement in the Guardian paid for by 60 ‘distinguished’ Labour peers, attacking Jeremy Corbyn over anti-Semitism – as reported in the Murdoch Press.
Watch the exchange by clicking on this link (6 mins) and note the difference in demeanour as Jeremy Corbyn – impressively cool under fire – sets the record straight and tenaciously continues to challenge the government on the contrast between its rhetoric and its actions on climate change.
This welcome financial windfall for the Guardian, which occupies several inches of space after every online article asking for donations, recalls its withdrawal – after a communication from the Jewish Board of Deputies – of a previously published letter supporting Labour loyalist MP, Chris Williamson. It had over 100 Jewish signatories – many of whom evidently deserve to be described as distinguished.
The list of these signatories and their affiliations has, however, been saved by people who are beginning to expect this sort of mainstream skulduggery and may be seen here.
As the ‘censored’ Guardian letter said, such attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters aim to undermine the Labour party’s leadership, but – we add – they can rebound on the perpetrators.
Despite evidence from at least eight sources, the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency says “It’s wrong to suggest that the state of England’s rivers is poor”
The Financial Times recently reported that only 14% of rivers in England met the minimum “good status” standards as defined by the EU Water Framework directive according to an Environment Agency report in 2018. In 2009 almost 25% did so. Water quality has deteriorated since 2010 when the Environment Agency handed responsibility for pollution monitoring to the nine large water and sewage companies in England.
Evidence supporting their report comes from the World Wildlife Fund, Windrush rivers campaign, Fish Legal, Marine Conservancy, European Environment Agency, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Sewage Free Seas. It was quoted in England’s rivers: toxic cocktail of chemicals, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and untreated waste.
Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, replied in a letter to the FT, “It’s wrong to suggest that the state of England’s rivers is poor (“Blighted by pollution”, The Big Read, June 13)”. He continued:
Water quality is now better than at any time since the Industrial Revolution thanks to tougher regulation and years of hard work by the Environment Agency and others.
Rivers that were so polluted that they were severely biologically damaged two decades ago are now thriving with wildlife such as otters, dippers and mayflies returning.
Over the past 20 years EA teams have taken more than 50m samples to monitor water quality around the country. The EU’s water framework directive means that the failure of one test can prevent a river from achieving good ecological status overall but this often does not tell the whole story.
During the last round of testing, 76 per cent of the tests used to measure the health of rivers were rated as good, and last year 98 per cent of bathing waters at 420 locations passed tough quality standards, compared with less than a third in the 1990s.
The EA has also required water companies to install new monitoring systems on combined sewer overflows (CSOs). By March next year more than 11,500 CSOs will be monitored as the first phase of this work is completed
It is not true that the EA simply relies on the water companies to tell us what they are discharging into watercourses. We carry out our own monitoring of rivers to ensure we have independent evidence and we regularly inspect water treatment plants and sewage works. If companies are failing to abide by the law or the terms of their permits we will take action to ensure that they do, up to and including prosecution.
Since 1990, the water industry has invested almost £28bn in environmental improvement work, much of it to improve water quality. I agree that there are still too many serious pollution incidents and we have called for tougher penalties for water companies where they are shown to be at fault.
In the past three years we have brought 31 prosecutions against water companies, resulting in more than £30m in fines, and we will continue, alongside the other water regulators, to act to ensure that people, wildlife and the environment are protected.
The agencies quoted are unconvinced and the FT asked earlier this month: Can England’s water companies clean up its dirty rivers?
It noted that the concerns over river pollution come at a time when the water industry is under fire for paying executives and shareholders lucrative rewards while raising customer bills and failing to stem leakage and ended: “The failures mean that three decades after the regional state-run monopolies were handed to private companies free of debt, and with a £1.5bn grant to invest in environmental improvements, the Labour party is calling for renationalisation of the water companies that are now saddled with debt of £51bn”.
Since this article was written, Southern Water — supplier to Kent, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Sussex — has been required to pay what amounts to a £126m penalty over five years for letting untreated waste leak into rivers between 2010 and 2017, and trying to hide what happened.
The first big climate-friendly decision: Wales opts for “a high quality, multi-modal, integrated and low carbon transport system”
The Financial Times reports that plans to build an M4 bypass to reduce congestion on the M4 which links London with South Wales, were rejected yesterday by Wales’ first minister, Mark Drakeford.
He attached great weight to the “substantial adverse impact” on the environment, in particular the Gwent Levels’ Sites of Special Scientific Interest, their network of ancient waterways, wet grassland, reedbeds, saltmarsh and saline lagoons with endangered and rare species of wildlife, managed by Gwent Wildlife Trust and ‘an army of volunteers’.
Ian Rappel, chief executive of the Gwent Wildlife Trust, commended the decision to reject the UK’s most ecologically damaging motorway scheme.
The business community in Wales and the UK government had backed the project, although some economists had argued that increased road access to South Wales would have sucked investment out of the region to the more prosperous west of England. However, Mr Drakeford said the cost to the Welsh government and the project’s impact on other capital investments were not acceptable.
A point not mentioned in this article is that several studies (1994-2017) – including one accepted by the UK government – have found that the relief offered by such a bypass will be temporary, due to the ‘induced traffic’ phenomenon. When a new road is built it generates extra traffic because of the presence of the new road, many new trips are made and longer distances are travelled.
Wales passed the 2015 Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act, which was hailed by the UN as a model piece of legislation for sustainable development.
The Welsh government, which also declared a “climate emergency” in April, is to set up a commission with a mandate to develop “a high quality, multi-modal, integrated and low carbon transport system” and recommend alternatives to the 23-km dual three-lane motorway bypass.
He reports that a study by parliament’s international development committee, chaired by MP Stephen Twigg (left), concluded that the government needed more joined-up thinking when it came to climate change policy: “MPs have lambasted an “incoherent” aid policy in which Britain allocates billions to tackling climate change abroad while spending the same amount supporting fossil fuel projects”.
UKEF allocates billions to tackling climate change abroad but gives the same amount to fossil fuel projects.
Evidence had been presented that between 2010 and 2016 UK Export Finance (UKEF), which supports trade abroad, spent £4.8 billion on schemes that contributed to carbon emissions. These included financing for offshore oil and gas extraction in Ghana, Colombia and Brazil. A sum, almost identical to the £4.9 billion, was spent by different agencies from 2011-17 on supporting projects to tackle climate change in developing countries.
The committee said: “The only context in which it is acceptable for UK aid to be spent on fossil fuels is if this spend is ultimately in support of a transition away from fossil fuels and as part of a strategy to pursue net zero global emissions by 2050 . . . Currently, the support provided to the fossil fuel economy in developing countries by UK Export Finance is damaging the coherence of the government’s approach to combating climate change and this needs to be urgently rectified.”
UKEF, the much-criticised and renamed Export Credits Guarantee Department, is the UK’s export credit agency which underwrites loans and insurance for risky export deals as part of efforts to boost international trade.
The committee also found that other wings of the UK overseas development sector, including groups such as the Prosperity Fund, which supports economic growth, were backing carbon-intensive projects.
In October one such proposal was announced: the financing of an expansion of an oil refinery in Bahrain which would allow its total output to increase up to a maximum of 380,000 barrels per day
“Given the urgency and scale of the challenge, spending climate finance has to be more than a box-ticking exercise to meet a commitment,” the committee wrote. “Climate finance must be spent strategically, it needs to be spent with urgency and it has to be transformative.”
Representatives from the Grantham Research Institute (LSE) (a site well worth visiting) gave evidence to the committee. They were critical of the latest economic strategy from DFiD in which, they pointed out, climate change “only receives a brief mention under the sector priorities of ‘agriculture’ and ‘infrastructure, energy and urban development’, while ‘extractive industries’ including oil, gas and mining are highlighted as a priority sector for support with no mention of climate change considerations”.
Mr Twigg said that the UK policy of reaching “net zero emissions” should extend to the government’s work abroad, as well as at home. “It is welcome that in recent weeks climate change has taken its rightful place at the top of the news agenda,” he said. “The scale and seriousness of the challenge to be confronted must be reinforced and reflected upon daily if we are to take meaningful steps to combat it.
Rory Stewart, the international development secretary (left), said that the report “makes for sobering reading . . . Although we have done much already to tackle climate change, I feel strongly we can do more. I am going to make tackling climate change increasingly central to DFID’s work. As international development secretary I want to put climate and the environment at the heart of what this government does to protect our planet for future generations. As climate extremes worsen it is the world’s poorest countries and communities which will be most affected, but this is a global issue.”
Adam McGibbon, Climate Change Campaigner at Global Witness, said: “As the world reels from the news that we have twelve years to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown, today’s announcement by the government is staggering. The UK claims to be a climate leader, but it continues to spend billions pumping fossil fuels out of the ground abroad.
And in the Western Daily Press, 6 May 2019, Paul Halas from Stroud describes government policy-making as being, “hobbled by its vested interests and metaphorical flat-Earthers”. He ended:
“In times of war, research, development and manufacture increase exponentially. What faces us now is no less than a war against Climate Change, which will take an unprecedented effort and unanimity of purpose to win. It’s not one we can afford to lose”.
On Tuesday, the Institute for Public Policy Research launches its Environmental Justice Commission (EJC) and people are coming together across Conservative, Labour and Green parties to serve on it – leading figures from business, academia, civil society, trade unions, youth and climate activism.
Ed Miliband, Labour MP for Doncaster North and a former leader of the Labour party; Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion and Laura Sandys, a former Conservative MP for South Thanet, have written about this and many readers’ comments are well worth reading. Important points made are summarised below
Too often the issue of climate change seems marginal to the public’s concerns, when it is in fact central.
This will be done by committing to a Green New Deal (GND), with an unprecedented mobilisation and deployment of resources to tackle the accelerating climate crisis and transform our economy and society for all. Read more on the Green New Deal website.
Its aims are to:
- mobilise a carbon army of workers to retrofit and insulate homes, cutting bills, reducing emissions and making people’s lives better
- move to sustainable forms of transport and zero-carbon vehicles as quickly as possible, saving thousands of lives from air pollution
- end the opposition to onshore wind power and position ourselves as a global centre of excellence for renewable manufacturing
- protect and restore threatened habitats and
- secure major transitions in agriculture and diets that are essential if we are to meet our obligations.
People have been asking how we can revive communities that have been left out of prosperity. They ask whether they and their children will be able to get work and also what the quality of that work will be and what skills will be needed. ECJ believes GND has the potential to do this.
The areas of policy mentioned above answer the immediate economic concerns of people for jobs and hope. Green jobs must be secure and decently paid, with a central role for trade unions in a just transition for all workers and communities affected.
The commission will aim to help the UK to take a lead, believing that there is economic and societal advantage in doing so. An increasing number of people, young and old, see that the way we run our economy is damaging our climate, our environment and our society, but that, crucially, it is within our power to change it for the better. And change it we must.
Most of the inconvenienced – who snipe at those ‘ecowarriers’ who were not born in poverty and who travel to their meetings in cars (ha ha) – ask why they do not put their arguments in a civilised fashion. Politicians even ask why demonstrators do not stand for election – failing to realise the widespread loss of confidence in parliament and the political process.
Diana Schumacher and Mayer Hillman are just two of those worldwide who have indeed presented their findings in a civilised way
Mayer Hillman, architect and town planner, changed direction by completing a PhD on transport, planning and environmental issues, said recently: “We must stop using the fuels and learn very, very quickly that life must be lived very locally.”
After decades of researching, speaking and writing on climate change and other topics, he announced his withdrawal – scornful of individual action which he describes as being “as good as futile . . . even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’ve gone past the point of no return . . . national action is also irrelevant because Britain’s contribution is minute. Even if the government were to go to zero carbon it would make almost no difference.”
He advises the world’s population to move to zero emissions across agriculture, air travel, shipping, heating homes – every aspect of our economy – and to reduce our human population but is not optimistic, asking:
- “Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying?
- Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan?
- Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families?”
Hillman points out that “Wealthy people will be better able to adapt but the world’s population will head to regions of the planet such as northern Europe which will be temporarily spared the extreme effects of climate change. How are these regions going to respond? We see it now. Migrants will be prevented from arriving. We will let them drown.”
Diana Schumacher has contributed chapters to numerous international publications on ethics, ecology and the environment.
Her main interests are the 4 E’s – Energy, Environment, Education and Economics – connected basics of a holistic approach to sustainability.
The cover of one of her books, Energy: Crisis or Opportunity?, reviewed in the New Scientist, symbolically weighs nuclear power stations and wind-power in the balance. She continues to disseminate the teaching of the radical economist E.F Schumacher, author of “Small is Beautiful – economics as if people mattered” which called for economies to be decentralized, human-scaled, and based upon appropriate sustainable technologies.
Disruption appears to be the only way to break through the thick screen erected by powerful vested economic interests. If current action gets results and is able to mitigate and even halt climate instability leading to flood, famine, wildfires, storms and earthquake, some impeded travel and business is a price well worth paying.
And if ’business as usual’ continues and the scale and number of disasters in 2018 alone increases, Earth Strike warns of the threat of action by the millions who will be hardest hit by soaring food and healthcare costs and whose only homes will be destroyed by natural disasters and rising sea levels.
Millions of intelligent caring people all over the world have quietly presented their case and been sidelined; now the young – who see clear signs of global disaster looming -are fighting for their survival and that of future generations.
When Janice Turner (Times 20.04.19) reported from the campsite on Oxford Circus, a young woman told her she’s gone on “baby strike”. With oceans warming, Greenland melting, coral reefs dead, why would she bring a child into the world? Others are coming to the same conclusion. We summarise her message:
If there’s one thing to make Middle England care about the planet, it’s being denied their grandchildren.
Oxford Street will be returned to a choking hell-scape and these protesters will multiply and muster in the most inconvenient places. The government will have to decide whether to use extreme force creating martyrs and a mass movement — or listen . . .
A change generation
This is a change generation not seen since the 1960s. The chosen cause then was civil rights; now it is ecological disaster.
Today’s young are the first denied a sure route to stakeholder adulthood by student debt, gig economy contracts and unaffordable homes. Many twentysomethings, expecting their lives to be shorter and poorer than their parents’, are willing to lie on Waterloo Bridge to be decanted into a police van.
Climate warriors rev up our wrath faster than other campaigners – perhaps because hopeless, apocalyptic forecasts scare us. We don’t want to believe the facts, even if voiced by David Attenborough.
They demand we reform our behaviour in tiresome ways. “Look, I’ve bought a hybrid car, what more do you want,” . . . Yet change we can and must. Change never comes from politicians. It is generated by civil society, protests, discussions and campaigns pushing the status quo towards what was unthinkable a decade before.
More than ever our political system seems unresponsive – even broken
Extinction is unaffiliated to any party, not even the Greens, nor an established charity such as Greenpeace. It is fluid, fresh, leaderless, and growing . . .
Some of its aims, such as abandoning fossil fuels by 2025, may be— but why not try harder? . . .
There is a political movement here.
Why fight it?
Why not, for once, be open to new ideas, to make Britain a world-leader in opposing climate change.
God knows we need something to be proud of right now.
Any sane person and organisation should now listen to the ‘wakeup call’ being made by protestors – after thirty years of warnings using ‘civilised’ methods by people like Mayer Hillman have gone largely unheeded by decision-makers.
Not so the Times which – in a (hopefully) unwitting challenge to police which could provoke violent action and reaction – has published articles alleging a triumphalist ‘boast’ by climate activists who ’bragged’ that police do not have the resources to stop them and that “The hollowed-out British state is overwhelmed”
But its link – given above – leads only to an article by its environment editor and HIS headline that ‘Police (are) overwhelmed by Extinction Rebellion protesters plotting to clog up justice system’.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid (firmly allied with the status quo after a career as a senior banker) has said: “Let me be clear — I totally condemn any protesters who are stepping outside the boundaries of the law. They have no right to cause misery for the millions of people who are trying to lead their daily lives. Unlawful behaviour will not be tolerated.”
Does he really view impeding a holiday flight (targeting Heathrow airport) as being more serious than floods, drought, storms and wildfires, intensified by climate change, killing and displacing people and other life forms?
Protesters want the government to take climate change seriously, enact legislation to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and set up a citizens’ assembly to ensure action is taken.
Climate change deniers please note Joel Pett’s message: the actions proposed are in themselves socially, environmentally and – in the long term – economically beneficial.
If heeded, the activists will – at most – avert climate change and at least, as Pett points out, create a better world.
The cartoon by Joel Pett (above), Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Lexington Herald-Leader, states that whether global warming is real or not, the proposed measures are beneficial to everyone.
On the left of the cartoon a man asks, “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” On the right the question is answered in the form of a list on a screen, showing what would be gained:
- energy independence,
- preserve rainforest,
- green jobs,
- livable cities,
- clean water and air,
- healthy children, etc., etc.
When discussing how society should respond to climate change, consensus might well be achieved by presenting this cartoon’s message.
August, who lives in Moseley, sends a first-hand account of Birmingham students’ march against climate change.
More than five hundred Birmingham students bunked off school today to march against climate change.
All Birmingham-based photographs reproduced with permission: copyright August Goff
Youth Strike 4 Climate coordinated young people from various educational establishments across the city who met up in the city centre.
They marched from Victoria Square, down New Street, through Pigeon Park and back to Victoria Square to protest against the inaction of governments to tackle climate change.
The march was organised by Katie Riley, a Birmingham student. She spoke at the rally, saying:
“Educate the youth of tomorrow and the parliament of today because people who don’t know what climate change is about don’t know how dangerous it is. Some people think the topic is dull and boring because the curriculum makes it like that. So, we need to change how people view climate change in order to get the change we deserve.”
Councillors from local political parties attended, as did Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Yardley.
Similar events have taken place in 100 British towns and other cities including London, Edinburgh, Canterbury, Oxford and Cambridge, calling for urgent action to tackle climate change, cut emissions and switch to renewable energy.
A few hours later a message was received from Irish colleagues, sending a podcast with messages from two 11-year-olds, Eve O’Connor and Beth Malone, who are involved in the schools climate strikes movement. Thousands turned out in Dublin and demonstrations were held in many towns.