Category Archives: Environment
In March 2018, the Military Times reported another of Trump’s apparently casual observations that ‘space is becoming a “war-fighting domain”, adding later that at first he wasn’t serious when he floated the concept, but “then I said what a great idea, maybe we’ll have to do that.”
Five months later the Department of Defense released a report explaining how it intends to create the Space Force and Trump repeatedly stressed the need for American dominance in space.
In a January 2019 White House government briefing announcing his vision, though liberally using terms like protection and defense, President Trump said “we will recognize that space is a new warfighting domain, with the Space Force leading the way.” This ‘Unified Combatant Command’ will ‘protect US interests’ in space.
The voice of sanity:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology astronautics professor and former NASA deputy administrator Dava Newman said she prefers space to be as peaceful as possible: “Space is for exploration and lifting up humanity. We should learn from our mistakes on Earth and keep space peaceful.”
Good for business – developing a new arsenal, Star Wars 2 ?
On October 6th, in The Spectator’s inaugural US edition, James Adams comments: “In the new space race, victory won’t mean landing on the moon or sending a rocket to Mars, but developing a new arsenal to wage and win war in space”. This would include extending the range of orbital surveillance networks and producing weapons to attack space systems in orbit (anti-satellite weapons), to attack targets on the earth from space or to disable missiles travelling through space. Read more here.
Space Force’s stated mission is to protect American space assets and, in the first stages of a new war, destroy enemy satellites. All US military communications are dependent on satellites, as are 90% of communications intercepts and other forms of intelligence gathering. If they were knocked out, it would be almost impossible for the Pentagon to wage war.
Mr Adams reminds us that the militarization of space is regulated, in theory, by the Outer Space Treaty, created in 1967 by the United States, Russia and Britain, and signed subsequently by another 106 countries. He adds: “It governs the peaceful exploration of space and bans the placing of nuclear weapons there. But it didn’t ban the placement of conventional weapons in orbit, and it could not foresee all of the technological changes that, by altering the balance of power in space, threaten to alter the geopolitical balance on earth”.
Since 2013, Russia has launched three satellites that US intelligence believes may carry Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapons and Adams reports that ‘sources’ have told him that the US intelligence community is certain that Russia, China and India already have ASAT capabilities, and that North Korea and Iran have programs in development.
The most recent official announcement:(29.8.19): “Department of Defense Establishes U.S. Space Command says: “At the direction of the President of the United States, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper established U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) today as the eleventh Unified Combatant Command”. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. said, “This step puts us on a path to maintain a competitive advantage in this critical war fighting domain.”
USSPACECOM standup ceremony at Petersen Air Force base
The United States Space Command website reports that ‘Joint and coalition’ space officials from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States attended a ceremony to recognize the establishment of Combined Force Space Component Command (CFSCC) at Vandenberg on Oct. 1, 2019
Only Peter Lazenby, in the Morning Star, in two recent articles, appears to think that this news is of any significance. He writes, “The British government is complicit in the US military’s plans, partly by its association with the NATO military alliance and partly by the presence of US military bases within the country, which will be involved in the space militarisation project.”.
He reported that a nationwide week of action to “Keep Space for Peace” was launched last Saturday as part of worldwide protests against extra-planetary militarisation. Oxfordshire Peace Campaign targeted the US intelligence-gathering base at RAF Croughton, on the Oxfordshire-Northamptonshire border.
Today, Lazenby reports, campaigners will hold a peace vigil outside RAF Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, a US base run by the US National Security Agency, which gathers military, political and financial information communicated by spy satellites circling the Earth and feeds it to the Pentagon. (Right: meticulous report by Steven Schofield)
The Spectator’s James Adams’ sardonic comment: “Down here on the ground, it’s a good idea to buy a wind-up radio and keep that landline phone connection. And get a road atlas, just in case”.
Many will fear far more extensive repercussions from President Trump’s latest inspiration
Money Supermarket reports that more than half of fatal accidents on British roads involve HGVs, though lorries make up only 10% of the traffic. HGVs are involved in one in five fatal crashes on A-roads and an HGV is five times as likely to be involved in a fatal accident on a minor road than other traffic.
Department for Transport figures are quoted, showing that 82% of articulated heavy goods vehicles exceeded the 50-mph speed limit on dual carriageways and 73% broke the 40-mph limit on single carriageways in 2013. Despite this, in 2015 government raised the speed limit for HGVs travelling on single and dual carriageways in England and Wales. An HGV over 7.5 tonnes can now travel along a single carriageway at 50 mph, up from 40mph. The speed limit for HGVs over 7.5 tonnes travelling on dual carriageways increased from 50mph to 60mph.
The arrival of even bigger HGVs (double articulated mega-trucks) and ‘platooning’ trials pending with a driver in the first cab, controlling the following vehicles has raised further safety concerns. Last year, the Government announced that trials of partially self-driving platoons of lorries were set to take place on roads in the UK by the end of 2018.
Edmund King, president of the AA pointed out that we have some of the busiest motorways in Europe with many more exits and entries – and that platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America.
A few recent accidents:
The northbound carriageway between junctions 38 (Huddersfield) and 39 (Wakefield) was closed after an HGV overturned following an earlier collision with a car. The HGV was fully laden with glass bottles that had to be unloaded and diesel that had spilled across all three carriageway lanes had to be cleared.
M6 was shut after lorry crash between J12 and J13, near Cannock. The HGV hit the central reservation and later caught fire. Three lanes reopened southbound just after 12:30. Northbound remained closed most of day.
The M6 northbound between J14 (Stafford) and J16 (Stoke-on-Trent) was closed following an HGV fire.
The A38 was closed in both directions, between the A513 near Fradley and B5016 near Burton on Trent due to a crash and an overturned HGV. Around 40 tonnes of grain were spilled in the carriageway.
Police officers investigate the collision involving an HGV, between J25 and J24 near Taunton.
An HGV driver died following a collision on the M6 when his lorry burst into flames after colliding with a safety barrier.
There were severe delays on the M6 southbound between Junction 16 and Junction 15 due to two lanes being closed following an HGV fire. There was approximately seven miles congestion back to J16.
There is an alternative:
A Route One article reviewed reports by continental researchers who believe that their findings offer some support to policies being developed at Pan-European level to promote new multimodal transport corridors. These involve rail, inland waterways, short-sea (coastal) shipping. The researchers concluded that shifting a greater proportion of freight from roads to rail, boat and/or ship for part of its journey would be a sustainable way of meeting continuing rises in freight demand and reducing numbers of road accidents.
The Freight by Water 2018 conference, part of the Inland Waterways Transport Solutions project, highlighted how switching freight from road and rail to water can compete on cost and cut emissions. Inland waterways across the world have proved to be effective and efficient channels for moving everything from beer to building materials.
The conference highlighted several success stories and discussed several opportunities for freight by water, including the Leeds Inland Port at Stourton, which could take at least 200,000 tonnes of freight traffic off the roads. Its conclusion:
The time is right to increase freight using inland waterways throughout the UK and across Europe as an alternative to road and rail freight.
DSEI arms exhibition protestors call for government spending on peace, adequate public services and addressing climate change
Extinction Rebellion demonstrators, who used a signature XR boat to block access to the DSEI arms fair to be held in the Excel Centre in Royal Albert Way said that war creates devastating environmental damage and with a warming climate leading to more extreme weather and causing more failed harvests and droughts, as food and water runs out, we can expect more conflict and a much bigger refugee crisis. They added:
“The UK has to own up to its part in creating these global problems, take real leadership in reducing warming and conflict, and create deliberative democracies which can solve this emergency.”
West Ham MP Lyn Brown said: “The DSEI arms fair causes a massive inconvenience for local residents every two years, from the added traffic and security it always requires. Added to the inconvenience to local people, the arms fair also piles an unwanted and unneeded burden on our local public services, like our police, ambulances, hospitals and transport, all already massively overstretched due to nine long years of Tory austerity cuts. Despite asking questions in Parliament for months, the Government haven’t been able to reassure me that we won’t be seeking to sell weapons to regimes that abuse human rights or are killing innocents in places like Yemen. I’m proud to stand with the Newham residents who are raising their voices against the arms fair this year, and I hope that together we can stop the DSEI from returning to our borough in 2021.”
Demonstrators advocated that instead of helping to promote and subsidise the sales of armaments, government should be creating an emergency budget:
- to bring down emissions and increase biodiversity,
- to transfer jobs from the arms industry into the sustainable economy now
- to stop fuelling conflict around the world
- and instead support ‘peace diplomacy’.
Extinction Rebellion’s Liam Geary Baulch said: “We envision a world where people have a right to a future and a right to live in peace with a home, food, and water – all things that are put at risk by fuelling conflict and the climate and ecological emergency around the world.
(Ed) Is Jim Pickard’s language in this article – seize, confiscate, state raid, expropriate – actually adding to Project Fear, which is becoming Project Cold Hard Reality according to the Scotsman – no doubt thinking of the number of jobs and assets moving to continental Europe?
In a letter today signed by over eighty economists, including Richard Wilkinson, Guy Standing, Prem Sikka, Kate Raworth, Richard Murphy, Steve Keen, Joseph Huber, John Christensen, Dani Rodrik, Thomas Piketty and lead signatory, David Blanchflower, the FT is charged with failing to appreciate the severity of the UK’s current economic condition. The indications include:
- the country’s ‘meagre recovery’ from the 2008 banking crisis, fuelled by rising household debt,
- stagnating earnings,
- a housing market crisis,
- the wealthiest disproportionately benefiting from growth since the 1980s and
- a failure to take adequate action to prevent climate and environmental breakdown and prepare for their effects.
They point out that all political parties in the UK are proposing increases in public spending to meet these challenges – and charge the FT with reproducing a number of misconceptions:
Labour’s proposals are affordable: the FT’s source, an Office for Budget Responsibility analysis, “ignored the impact of public spending on growth, and thus on tax receipts” – a critical relationship noted by senior IMF economists in their critique of austerity.
The economists pointed out that government can borrow at negative real interest rates to fund pressing infrastructure, education and environment projects, many of which offer returns well above zero, generating higher future tax receipts to spend on social and environmental needs such as those listed above. At present, they observe, taxation levels in the UK remain lower than in most well-provided European countries.
They corrected the implication that a mechanism such as an Inclusive Ownership Fund (p.42) would require companies to pay out cash out; companies would issue new shares to be placed in a mutual fund – just as shares are now issued for executive compensation.
After being reminded that in the 1940s and 1980s, major policy changes were made in response to a failed economic model – at first seen as overly radical but later accepted across the political spectrum – the FT editor might heed the advice of the critical reader whom he invited to write a letter:
“There needs to be a revolution in the FT — not the communist type of revolution, but a revolution that turns the mindset to see the world beyond a white middle-class neo-liberal tinted lens.”
He said that a particular threat to farming came from the Agriculture Bill which plans to abandon the Single Farm Payment system as used under the CAP, with nothing to replace it. “There are no ifs and buts, the basic payments scheme will be phased out. Michael Gove’s idea was to replace it with extra environmental schemes but he clearly had not read WTO rules. It is very clear that under WTO rules environmental schemes need to compensate for direct costs only, they cannot provide any income.
“If we have no income support. which this draft bill says. while the Americans are getting it, the Europeans are getting it, pretty well all our competitors are getting it, there is absolutely no way we can make farming pay.
“Emergency funding is within WTO rules – but under the rules you can’t carry on giving emergency funding forever. The Americans are doing this at the moment. Our (Lib Dem) policy keeps a basic payment scheme whether we leave the EU or not. A basic payment scheme is one of the only ways of supporting farm incomes within WTO rules.”
“There is likely to be a lot of land abandonment. Most of the farmland round here, the field sizes are not suitable for agribusiness arable farming and unless the regulations on clearing hedges and cutting trees down are scrapped, I can’t see that changing.”
Former NFU chief economist Sean Rickards, also a panellist at the event, gave a bleak assessment of the effect of the post Brexit trading environment on UK farming: “The government has already made it clear that (after Brexit) they are going to let the rest of the world in without tariffs and large sections of British agriculture couldn’t compete. Beef and sheep sectors will shrink quite severely, horticulture will struggle with labour issues and therefore the only sectors that will continue will be arable farms on an increasing scale to compete.
“The character will change, the size will change and the structure will change. It will be a smaller industry operating on an industrial scale and the remoter parts of the country will see farming almost wiped out.”
The panellists predicted that No Deal due to happen on October 31st would lead to the collapse of the sheep and beef sectors in particular, with prairie style arable agribusiness likely to be the only sector to survive, providing fields were huge without hedgerows. Phil Bennion said: “We export nearly 40% of the lamb we produce, and up to 96% of that goes to the EU. The tariffs under no deal would render this trade non-viable.
“Our lamb, Welsh lamb and English lamb is a premium product eaten fresh over a season, so there has not been a need to cold store it. It is eaten not just here but in France and all over Europe. New Zealand lamb fills our close season. With our lambs coming to market in the autumn it is inevitable that prices will crash if the EU market is closed off. There is nowhere to cold store it to stop this from happening. I believe the trade will collapse, yes, to a fraction of its current size. There will be a lot of mutton around and domestic prices will slump. Farmers won’t be able to get rid of enough of it to stop a price crash.”
After the meeting Phil said it was important to debunk the claims made by the Brexit Party and many Tory MPs that under GATT Article 24 we could just carry on trading with the EU as before.
“This myth keeps being repeated without being challenged. The fact is that the EU cannot choose under WTO rules whether or not to impose tariffs on our exports to ‘punish’ the UK, it has to impose them. It would also be illegal under WTO rules for the UK government to pay the tariffs to bail the farmers out.
“It is a disaster. If Boris does what he is threatening and refuses to go if he loses a vote of no confidence then I think we should walk into Parliament and tell him to go.”
A streamed recording of the whole meeting can be found (temporarily 90 degrees on its side!) here: https://www.facebook.com/stratford4europe/videos/1054525424743135?s=644926487&v=e&sfns=xmo
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”.