Category Archives: Environment

Is the HS2 project the most blatant example of UK/USA’s revolving door/vested interest ridden politics?

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“A gravy train for consultants, involving banks, lawyers and government officials” – and industry?

Many are shocked by the hugely damaging environmental and social impacts of demolition of properties in London and homes, farms and businesses and along the proposed HS” route.

Added to this reaction is horror at news of the emerging and all-too familiar reports of conflicts of interest – a polite expression for what is a form of apparently legal corruption.

A skeletal chronological summary of news about the nominated leadership of the HS2 project and some contract awards follows, based on reports in the Financial Times, 2015-2017.

Background 2015

The Institute of Directors suggested that it would be cheaper to knock down Birmingham and build a new city 20 minutes closer to the capital, while the Institute of Economic Affairs cast doubt on HS2’s regeneration benefits, pointing out that HS1 failed to regenerate Kent, with the average employment rate in the south east of Britain 5% lower than before the high speed service was introduced.

Portugal, Poland, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium have all cancelled planned or existing high-speed rail projects and some argue that Britain should follow suit. Martin Blaiklock, a consultant on infrastructure and energy project finance, said that extra capacity could be built more cheaply by adding to existing railways. “[HS2] is very high-risk,” he says. “It is a gravy train for consultants, involving banks, lawyers and government officials.”

Conflict of interest emerges in 2015-16 in favour of an American multinational 

revolving-door-peopleIt was reported that Roy Hill, managing director of the US-headquartered engineering company CH2M, has been seconded to HS2 acting chief executive on a temporary basis from November, after Simon Kirby, the former chief executive, elected to leave for Rolls-Royce. Mr Hill worked at HS2’s offices in Canary Wharf for CH2M between 2012 and 2014 after the company won the role of development partner carrying out preparatory work, in a contract worth about £70m.

CH2M entrenched?

In Gill Plimmer’s FT article yesterday, readers were reminded that Mark Thurston, an executive at CH2M, has now been appointed chief executive of HS2 Ltd, replacing the aforementioned Roy Hill.  He will take over in March.

David Higgins, HS2’s chairman, said he recognised the need to avoid any conflict of interest and that Mr Thurston would consequently cut all links with his previous employer. “They will be treated in the same way as any other supplier – no more or less favourably than that,” Mr Higgins said of CH2M.

CH2M has already been paid around £500m for working on the line as development partner and then the delivery partner on Phase 1 of the high-speed railway project, from London to Birmingham. Phase 2 covers Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.

Mace, a large consultancy and construction company, which worked on the London 2012 Olympics and plans for Hinkley Point C, has written to HS2 Ltd, set up by government in 2009, announcing that it intends to challenge the decision to award CH2M, the US engineer, a contract to design the second phase of the London to Manchester line. “As a British-owned company, we were naturally disappointed with HS2’s decision and are looking closely at our options,” Mace said.

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Ms Plimmer states that Mace is threatening to sue the state-owned company behind Britain’s planned £56bn high-speed railway line over alleged conflicts of interest..

She quotes a source close to the legal process who said it was “extremely likely” that Mace would file a claim in the High Court this week. “Mace is concerned over conflicts of interest. It is looking for an injustice to be corrected,” the source said. “CH2M has been awarded half a billion pounds worth of contracts even though nothing has been built yet.” CH2M declined to comment.

Legal action could delay the project, which is expected to get Royal Assent this week, paving the way for construction to start this year. Final amendments to the HS2 bill are being debated on Monday in the House of Commons.

Tony Berkeley, the Labour peer and a former engineer who worked on the Channel tunnel, said the situation “smells”. “There must be other companies in the UK who are capable of doing it. Is HS2 actually competent to do the procurement or are they just relying on CH2M to do the whole thing and procure themselves?”

 

 

 

 

There is so much well-written analysis but here are the questions which need answering

 From James Robertson: Newsletter No. 53 

Why is the world controlled by people who behave with less benign and positive motives?

Why and by whom are large numbers of people compelled to migrate from their own countries to others, with many of them and their children being drowned on the way?

Why does what we call ‘wealth’ create such wide inequalities and injustice between people,

why does ’wealth’ creation require and result in the destruction of the resources of the planet on which all of us depend for our survival?

Why is so much ‘wealth’ spent on competing to create ‘arms’ with which nations or individuals can damage or destroy one another?

Why do so few of our political and business leaders seem to recognise that our species is facing the possibility of suicide before of the end of the present century?  

 

What should we be doing to avoid that happening?

 

The whole newsletter – and others – can be read by visiting  www.jamesrobertson.com/newsletter.htm.

Three churches’ reflections on fracking, a caveat, and one clearcut decision

As yet no reference has been found in these reflections to the numerous studies about the adverse health impacts of this technology. Setting aside alarming accounts on campaigning sites, we reproduce the cover of just one of several reports published by America’s Environmental Health Perspectives (ISSN-L 0091-6765), a monthly peer-reviewed journal of research and news published with support from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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ConclusionsIn this large cohort, we observed an association between density and proximity of natural gas wells within a 10-mile radius of maternal residence and prevalence of CHDs (congenital heart defects) and possibly NTDs (neural tube defects, a common condition being spina bifida). Greater specificity in exposure estimates is needed to further explore these associations.

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In 2016, a Methodist Conference motion requested the Methodist Council to give consideration to the issue of fracking and the following briefing is to be considered by the Methodist Council in January 2017: Fracking – Proposed response to Notice of Motion 2016/207. Its list of church reports/resources is published at the end of this article.

Following a 2013 statement, the Church of England issued a December 2016 briefing paper, commissioned by the Mission and Public Affairs Council, and the Environment Working Group:

“Clearly all carbon based fuels contribute to global warming and are less than ideal in terms of climate change. However, it should also be recognised that gas is less damaging than coal and to preclude properly managed technical development is to risk denying ourselves more important, less polluting and less costly options than the energy sources on which we currently rely. Fuel poverty, the creation of jobs, energy self-sufficiency and the development of technology that may reduce the impact of more polluting fuels are just some of the factors which need to be taken into account in any debate alongside the concern we all have about the impact of fossil fuels upon climate change . . .

“The case for and against fracking depends first on conclusions about the role of shale gas in a transitional energy policy. Shale gas is a potentially useful element in achieving a transition to a much lower carbon economy . . . “

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Quakers are calling for an outright ban on new and intensive forms of fossil fuel extraction, including fracking for shale gas and oil, and underground coal gasification. Meeting in London this week, they said, “The UK needs to be investing in efficient and renewable energy, and reducing demand, not in additional fossil fuels. Fracked gas is not the low-carbon solution some suggest that it is and is incompatible with tackling the climate crisis. It is destructive of the environment, land and communities.”

On Saturday, 6th May, many will climb Lancashire’s Pendle Hill – at the centre of an area licensed for fracking – to protest against the effects of fracking, both locally and around the world. It is a significant place for Quakers; in 1652 George Fox climbed the hill and had a vision of creating a great movement of people. Weeks later, at Firbank Fell in Cumbria, he preached to one thousand for three hours”. Meeting for Sufferings, Quakers’ representative body, said:

“At this time we are particularly concerned about the expansion of fracking for shale gas. The UK needs to be investing in efficient and renewable energy, and reducing demand, not in additional fossil fuels. Fracked gas is not the low-carbon solution some suggest that it is and is incompatible with tackling the climate crisis. It is destructive of the environment, land and communities”. 

Anne van Staveren, Media Relations Officer, Quakers in Britain,020 7663 1048

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Reports/resources from Churches: http://www.methodist.org.uk/fracking

 

 

 

Seeking food supplies from Turkey and Morocco?  Time for change!

On BBC Radio 4 today it was reported that some supermarkets are limiting sales of fruit and vegetables.

veg-2shortage

A newspaper elaborates: “Morrisons and Tesco have limited the amount of lettuce and broccoli after flooding and snow hit farms in Spain. Shortages of other household favourites – including cauliflower, cucumbers, courgettes, oranges, peppers and tomatoes – are also expected. Prices of some veg has rocketed 40% due to the freak weather. Sainsburys admitted weather has also affected its stocks”.

HortiDaily reports on frost in Europe in detail (one of many pictures below) and the search for supplies from Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia.

A former Greenpeace Economist foresees these and more persistent problems in his latest book, Progressive Protectionism.

Read on: https://foodvitalpublicservice.wordpress.com/2017/02/03/seeking-food-supplies-from-turkey-time-for-change/

 

 

 

Robin Hoods cyber-rescue climate-change-related data disappearing from whitehouse.gov

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News in America and abroad but not in Britain – why?

Strange. The nearest to British reportage came from the Guardian who merely opened: “Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said”.

Read Quartz and others who have seen the American media reports and passed on an action-packed story which first broke in the Los Angeles Times.

As Donald Trump was sworn into office as the new president of the US on Jan. 20, a group of around 60 programmers and scientists were gathered in the Department of Information Studies building at the University of California-Los Angeles, harvesting government data.

Quartz continues:

“A spreadsheet detailed their targets: Webpages dedicated to the Department of Energy’s solar power initiative, Energy Information Administration data sets that compared fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and fuel cell research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, to name a few out of hundreds.

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“Many of the programmers who showed up at UCLA for the event had day jobs as IT consultants or data managers at startups; others were undergrad computer science majors. The scientists in attendance, including ecologists, lab managers, and oceanographers, came from universities all over Southern California. A motley crew of data enthusiasts who assemble for projects like this is becoming something of a trend at universities across the country: Volunteer “data rescue” events in Toronto, Philadelphia, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Michigan over the last few weeks have managed to scrape hundreds of thousands of pages off of EPA.gov, NASA.gov, DOE.gov, and whitehouse.gov, uploading them to the Internet Archive. Another is planned for early February at New York University.

“Hackers, librarians, scientists, and archivists had been working around the clock, at these events and in the days between, to download as much federal climate and environment data off government websites as possible before Trump took office. But suddenly, at exactly noon on Friday as Trump was sworn in, and just as the UCLA event kicked off, some of their fears began to come true: The climate change-related pages on whitehouse.gov disappeared. It’s typical of incoming administrations to take down some of their predecessor’s pages, but scrubbing all mentions of climate change is a clear indication of the Trump administration’s position on climate science . . .

“Over the first 100 days of the new administration, a volunteer team of programmers will be scanning government websites and comparing them to the archived, pre-Trump versions, to check for changes. to produce a weekly report on changes . . .  “

It is feared that large government data sets related to climate change and environmental health that scientists use for research will be lost next – for example, the Environmental Protection Agency database of air quality monitoring data might become a target of Trump-appointed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s office, based on Pruitt’s history of suing the EPA to roll back air pollution regulations.

Read more about the agencies involved in rescue and storage – one being Page Freezer which has three data centers, one in the US, one in Europe, and one in Canada – which will put the information out of reach of the US government.

 

 

 

Davos 3: energy, transport and industrial companies are forming a hydrogen council

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Bloomberg reports that thirteen energy, transport and industrial companies are forming a hydrogen council to consult policy makers and highlight its benefits to the public as the world seeks to switch from dirtier energy sources, according to a joint statement issued on January 17th from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Council members Toyota Motor Corporation, BMW AG, Daimler AG, Honda Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co., gas companies Air Liquide SA and Linde AG, miner Anglo American Plc, electric utility Engie SA, rail company Alstom SA and motorcycle and heavy equipment manufacturer Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd plan to invest a combined 10 billion euros ($10.7 billion) in hydrogen-related products within five years.

John Lippert, the author of the report, quotes Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden: “The world of energy is transforming very, very fast. Hydrogen has massive potential.”

Rather than using batteries to reduce pollution from cars, homes and utilities that are contributing to climate change, fuel cell vehicles are a cornerstone of Toyota’s plan to rid 90% of carbon dioxide emissions from its vehicles by 2050. It believes that it’s easier to convince consumers to use gasoline-electric hybrids and fuel cell vehicles rather than battery-electric autos, which tend to have less driving range and take longer to recharge than filling up with gasoline or hydrogen.

Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota’s chairman and a council co-chair, said “In addition to transportation, hydrogen has the potential to support our transition to a low-carbon society across multiple industries and the entire value chain”.

There are also pilot projects in hydrail and hydrogen-fuelled boats and barges – see in March 2016: Birmingham planners and engineers focus on clean transport.

 

 

 

 

Housing minister: executive homes built in the countryside are profitable but don’t keep villages alive

Alice Thomson reports that more than 1,300 villages have disappeared in the first decade of this century, according to figures recently released by the Office for National Statistics: “Their greens, meadows, churches, war memorials and pubs have been subsumed into towns and cities, their identities eroded”. This land was used predominantly for more concrete jungle of warehouses, car parks, offices and supermarkets.

saltaireShe reminds us that the Victorians campaigned to save their countryside, backed by artists, poets, architects, writers, businessmen like George Cadbury and Titus Salt (Saltaire, left).

By the 1920s twentytwo organisations were lobbying parliament over our landscape and together they formed what is now the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which championed green belts. Alice calls for us to devote as much of our imagination to preserving our villages and countryside as did those Victorian artists, poets, architects, writers and businessmen, commenting: “If organisations such as the CPRE hadn’t been set up and we had followed the relaxed planning laws of the US, London could now look like Los Angeles and would reach Brighton”.

Urban councils receive 40% more funding than those in rural areas, but seaside, market and country towns need to be rejuvenated, with more bus routes, better broadband and more sensitive, innovative building projects.

Under the National Planning Policy Framework, councils must have a “local plan” limiting housing developments to land specifically allocated for it. But 40% of councils haven’t completed their plans, mostly because of legal objections from developers and, despite the increasing population, fewer houses were built in the last decade than in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. Ms Thomson and many others agree that urban housebuilding should predominantly once more be on brownfield sites. High streets and out-of-town shopping centres can be turned back into housing as we increasingly buy goods online.

One commentator added: “Villages need affordable rented housing, once called council housing, to give people a stable home life where children can go to the local school and use local services. Executive homes built in the countryside are very profitable but don’t enhance a stable community. Let’s build in villages and keep them alive. It used to be like that until council houses were sold off”.

Alice continues: After Brexit there is a chance to redefine our relationship with the countryside.

 

 

 

It’s good to be able to say “Hats off to DEFRA”!

. . . if they continue to ‘reboot’ farm policy in favour of small family farms

“Not only do small family farms (defined as covering less than 250 acres and requiring the labour of one or two people) employ more people per acre and provide a wider variety of locally produced food than larger farms, but there is increasing evidence that they are less damaging to the environment.”

private-eye-logoThis passage in the latest Private Eye (1429) mentioned research findings published in a new state funded study carried out in the Netherlands and an online search added detail from the FT.

lidwien_smitDr Lidwien Smit, an environmental epidemiologist at Utrecht University, found that the biggest contribution to deaths linked with air pollution in Europe comes from agriculture, as risky to breathe as that in a traffic congested city.

She recommends that intensive farms in particular should be subjected to the same strict pollution rules as other industries. 

In September, the study was presented to the European Respiratory Society’s international congress in London. Professor Stephen Holgate, the society’s science council chair said that the findings underline the need for governments to take tougher action on farm pollution: “It raises a very important issue; there needs to be much better monitoring of intensive farming’s pollution plumes that spread out across the neighbourhood”.

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Private Eye reports that DEFRA is to use part of a £16m EU emergency dairy aid fund to help farmers ‘hit’ by very low milk prices to encourage grass-based farming systems.

The NFU, whose ‘lobby’ is often said to be dominated by large farmers that pay the biggest subscriptions) has, however, made ‘counter proposals’.

defra-logoThe farmer who writes for Private Eye, hopes – as we do – that DEFRA will ‘stick to its guns’ and also that all the UK’s regional governments and national assemblies will go on to make discrimination in favour of small-scale family farms central to farm policy in post-Brexit Britain.

First published on another site: https://foodvitalpublicservice.wordpress.com/2016/10/13/hats-off-to-defra-if-they-continue-to-reboot-farm-policy-in-favour-of-small-family-farms/

 

 

 

Will players in the global casino make rich pickings from Brexit?

paul marshallWorthy souls produce food, some produce goods, some help to build or repair, some produce energy and some speculate on commodities. Others gamble on the markets, taking a loan to borrow shares and selling them in the hope that the price will fall, then buying the shares at a lower price, repaying the loan and pocketing the difference.

Paul Marshall is chairman and chief investment officer of Marshall Wace, a London hedge fund which is said to have made an immense profit in this way.

He rejoiced in the outcome of the referendum: “British business has broken free from Little Europe” seeing a future “punctuated by the exciting agreements that Britain forges as it becomes a beacon of free trade” and recreates a Commonwealth “Anglosphere”.

dr falknerDr Robert Falkner (LSE), whose research focuses on global political economy, global environmental politics, and the role of business in international relations, points out that these hedge funds have no room for such constructive sentiments when profit-making is possible, however, as this sector has already “moved aggressively to bet against the pound and British stocks”, expecting “a sharp deterioration in the UK economy” (“World’s biggest hedge funds pounce on pound after lying in wait for days”).

Andrew Mitchell, a Newcastle commentator, does not agree with Marshall’s contention that the Brexit vote was due to ”a commitment to freedom, democracy, open markets and an enterprise economy”. He points out that the evidence is that the Leave campaign triumphed only through enlisting millions with very different ambitions:

“(O)pen markets and an enterprise economy represent the very opposite of what they voted for. They wish to see protected markets and jobs, aggressive restrictions on immigration and an end to bankers and hedge fund millionaires living high on the hog”. 

 

On that subject, see the forthcoming book ‘Progressive Protectionism’ by Colin Hines, which details why and how groups of regional nation states and their communities could and should join together to reintroduce border controls to protect and diversify their economies, providing a sense of security for their people and preventing further deterioration of the environment

 

 

 

Secret State 17: will the unjustly exiled return to Diego Garcia?

A reader sends this link for the latest news of the islanders’ claim to be allowed to return to their homes.

chagos Deep Space Surveillance facility

Over forty years ago the Chagos islanders were removed to make way for a military base by the United States in 1971 (above). Under a secret deal with the British government, the US agreed to contribute to the costs of establishing a base on one of the islands, Diego Garcia and to provide support for the UK’s nuclear missile programme.

In 2000, the high court ruled that the Chagossians could return to 65 of the islands, but not to the main island of Diego Garcia, a coral atoll in the Indian Ocean,

The government won an appeal in the House of Lords, which ruled, in 2008, that the exiles could not return. Lawyers acting for the islanders claim that the law lords’decision relied heavily on a flawed 2002 feasibility study into resettlement. Read more here.

We learn that the supreme court will deliver a decision on Wednesday as to whether an earlier ruling by the House of Lords banning the Chagossians from living in their homeland was legal. If the decision is overturned it will pave the way for their return.

Will the British decision at last be consistent with natural law and public opinion or will the political-military alliance once again sideline morality with impunity?