Cumbrian Mine – a mistaken decision

Cumbrian mine – an ecological response

The arguments for the opening of a new mine in Cumbria revolve around the quality of the coal that is to be mined and many other benefits are proposed.

The stated assumptions are that it will produce high-quality coking coal vital for steel making, not to be confused with fossil fuel to be used for heating and general energy production. Therefore the “reduce fossil-fuel” argument for NOT mining in Cumbria is not scientifically sound according to the pro-mine faction. However, this argument falls at a number of hurdles.

Also, the claim is that mining coking coal in the UK will save the environmental costs associated with transporting such material from other geographical sources. There are additional socio-economic reasons for establishing such a mine in the UK, especially in a high-unemployment area of the NW.

Arguments used by the `Environmental Lobby` against the opening of the mine are primarily based on the fact that fossil fuels should be left in the ground because we are facing a global over-heating threat which is already causing a major climate crisis and has the potential to become an existential threat if greenhouse gas (GHG) production takes the average global temperature beyond 1.5o above pre-industrial global temperatures.

The problem with the UK`s potential opening of the Cumbrian mine is that the two sides of the argument seem to be missing each other’s main points – the arguments may be at cross-purposes. There are clearly several interdependent factors that need to be unravelled if a scientifically acceptable decision can be justified to both sides of the argument.

Steel Production

Steel Production has been increasing worldwide from 1,670 million metric tons (Mt) in 2014 to 1,870 Mt in 2019. In the same time period, however, UK steel production has gone down from 12.1 Mt to 7.2Mt a decrease of 40%. The UK also imports (net) around 3.1Mt of steel. More recent production or demand figures are not available, but the likelihood is that the economic lock-down has reduced the overall figures dramatically, so what will happen from now on?

It is important to realise that the iron and steel industry, worldwide, accounts for about 5% of global CO2 emissions, so we need to do everything we can to reduce emissions, particularly for this sector. The pro-mine argument rests heavily on the fact that the coal is strategically important for the UK.

Steel demand

As economies develop, the use of steel generally diminishes, so predicting future steel demand (and, therefore, the carbon footprint of steel usage and production) depends on a number of factors and may be disrupted in different ways.

There are three likely areas of disruption:-

  1. Reduction in demand for a sector’s product
  2. Increase in useful life of the steel
  3. Change in steel intensity in a sector

And six key sectors:

  1. Automotive
  2. Capital Equipment and Machinery
  3. Residential Construction
  4. Commercial Construction
  5. Consumer & Durable Goods
  6. Infrastructure

Global overheating imperative

If we are to truly tackle Global overheating, all of these sectors are going to require reduction of steel use. Just to take one example, it would be possible to reduce steel use significantly in Residential Construction by moving to engineered wood, which is currently possible in a number of ways. It is no part of this article, however, to force the market choices by which this could happen, simply to point out that political pressure to solve the Climate Crisis makes such disruption more likely to be needed rather than less likely.

The OECD uses the Automotive industry as its example of how demand may be reduced

Factor Industry-specific disruptors

Baseline use

Sharing, transportation-as-service and consumer preference will decrease per capita passenger vehicle intensity (fewer vehicles per capita)

Increase in useful life

Longer-lasting/reusable vehicle structural and exterior components as a result of better design and materials will reduce annual demand for new vehicles

Change in steel intensity

Continued vehicle light weighting for both steel (same surface area – less mass) and impact of substitutes

So, the Global overheating imperative is likely to reduce steel demand and use worldwide over time. Essentially the point is, it is going to have to change otherwise we are screwed anyway.

The implication, therefore, for demand of steel in the UK, is that it is more likely to go down rather than go up. And this does not take into account any economic factors associated either with economic change as a result of the coronavirus, or economic changes resulting from Brexit down-turns, both of which are likely to add downward pressure rather than upward pressure in the UK.

OECD guidelines for reduction of steel`s carbon footprint

“Innovation for Climate Change Mitigation in the Steel Sector

The world steel industry is an important CO2 emitter and is therefore being called on to play a major role in mitigating climate change, not only by reducing the CO2 emissions of its production processes, but also by contributing to the infrastructure of a low-carbon economy. In the long run, significantly reducing the industry’s emissions will require a shift away from current production methods towards new methods of production. The industrial application of already existing technologies could contribute significantly to mitigating climate change. As an example, wider diffusion of the use of more energy-efficient production practices could significantly reduce CO2 emissions. In the longer-term breakthrough technologies will be required to reduce the impacts still further. In particular, the adoption of Carbon Capture and Storage technologies would reduce CO2 emissions from the sector drastically. Public policy has an important role to play in encouraging such developments (OECD, 2011, 2012). A better understanding of how to incentivise and induce both incremental and radical innovations in steel that can help mitigate climate change is needed.”

The overall conclusion here is that we are likely to see a reduction in the UK (and worldwide) market for steel rather than an increase. This calls into question the primary argument for a UK mine.

The market for Cumbrian coal

The company claims its intention is to “…become a leading European producer of strategic, high-quality metallurgical coal (also known as Coking Coal) for steel making. The Project will deliver a significant financial boost at local, regional and national levels.” In other words, it is not simply claiming to replace the importation of coking coal to the UK, it is intent on exporting the product, primarily into the European market. This claim is notwithstanding the fact that we are now outside the EU`s single market, so there is no guarantee there will not be punitive tariffs or regulations facing those exports. Given the EU priority for reduction of CO2 emissions regulation may be a significant market depressant.

The company Project update from November 2019 clearly indicates that “WCM intends to export most of the coal produced to Europe whilst also selling into the UK steel industry.” The quantities projected indicate 3.1 Mt per year for a 40 year life of the mine. (around 124 Mt in total)

The company also makes a big play for the environmental benefits of its coal output “…WCM believe that renewable energy sources are the way forward to protect the environment. All of these forms of green energy production require steel, with coal being an essential element in the steel making process.”

Need for coal

The argument here is twofold. One is that steel is needed and the other is that coal is needed to make the steel. The company states that “…our modern way of life and economic growth would not be possible as it is the most important engineering and construction material in the world“. This at a time when very large question marks hover over the notion of `economic growth` as currently measured. It is also at a time when our current `way of life` is being seriously challenged as unsustainable and unjust in terms of both intragenerational and intergenerational terms across the world, global north versus global south, and across the age versus youth divide.

As well as this general concern, we have already examined the potential downward pressures on the need for steel generally. But let us look at the need for coal, whatever the future demand for steel.

Coal – Essential element?

We therefore need to examine the argument that coal is actually an “essential element” in steel production, as the company suggests. Their pamphlet indicates that “Around 74% of total global steel production relies directly on inputs of coking coal”. So, by its own definition around a quarter of the world`s steel does NOT use coking coal as such an `Essential element`.

So, what is coal used for and are there realistic alternatives. “Front Line Action on Coal” has examined this issue… https://leard.frontlineaction.org/coking-coal-steel-production-alternatives/

Coal is needed as a reducing agent. “Reduction” is a chemical reaction that turns iron ore (Fe2O3) into pig iron (Fe). Carbon monoxide (CO) is the crucial ingredient (Fe2O3 + 3CO → 2Fe + 3CO2) and is produced in blast furnaces by burning coal. This also produces carbon dioxide as a waste product.”

Alternatives to `coking coal`

An alternative reducing agent is hydrogen, whose `waste product` is water rather than CO2. The `pro-mining` lobby argues that the production of hydrogen creates CO2 emissions – but that is only the case if the energy used to separate the hydrogen from its source is created from fossil fuels. Recent technological advances mean that it is now very likely that clean production of hydrogen can be successfully scaled up to the point where it is effective in steel manufacture, using renewable energy sources rather than fossil fuels. The newer methane pyrolysis process of hydrogen production means that no GHG carbon dioxide is produced.

(By the way, using hydrogen would also cut emissions of air-polluting particulates, an additional benefit outside the Climate Crisis argument being primarily addressed here.)

There has been a significant increase in research over recent years into alternate reducing agents for the Steel industry. The use of recycled rubber tyres and plastics is now becoming mainstream in Electric Arc furnaces. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/srin.201100047

Brand new research, to be presented in February 2021, suggests a combination of recycled tyres and coffee grounds may be the `thing`, so here again the demand for coking coal is likely to be dramatically downwards if this technology is proven. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/coffee-may-be-the-secret-to-making-eco-friendly-steel-3lq7r3hlc

Biochar and other forms of vegetal carbon may also be used as a reducing agent, either as a complete replacement (as in Brazil ,where relatively small scale steel production using eucalyptus and pinewood account for upwards of one quarter of local steel production) or in combination with other materials, reducing the use of coking coal. It should be noted this may not be environmentally sustainable at scale… https://www.researchgate.net/publication/288237577_Biomass_use_in_the_steel_industry_Back_to_the_future

Recycling, rather than making new steel

Currently just less than one third of steel (<30%) is manufactured from recycled steel in electric arc furnaces which typically use around 16kg of coal per ton of steel produced. This is a clear reduction relative to blast furnaces, for making new steel, which uses 800kg of coal for each ton of steel made.

Clearly, the limitation here is in availability of steel to be recycled. Using the reference to the automotive industry above, however, it may well be the case that as alternate transportation systems are adopted (or, better still, transport needs generally are reduced by more home-working) the tonnages of steel to be recycled from scrapped cars will increase, thus reducing the need to manufacture new steel for the auto industry. Again, this would represent a downward pressure on coal use.

Over-all assessment

A considerable proportion of the argument pushed by the pro-mine lobby is that Cumbrian coal acts as a strategic replacement of imports for the UK, but the company involved sees most of its sales as coming from exports. When you combine this information with the additional information about reducing demand for UK steel, the justification for UK mined coal is seriously weakened. In any case there is an overwhelming requirement, relating to the Climate Crisis, that the world as a whole MUST reduce its emissions of CO2, substantially. And the steel sector is therefore a strong target for disruption.

Furthermore, as the country which started the industrial revolution which has led to the massive growth of GHG emissions over the last three hundred years, we cannot now claim any special entitlement to being an exception to the requirement to reduce emissions here in the UK, whatever may be the supposedly sound socio-economic reasons for mining coal in Cumbria.

Thus, as a society, we in the UK must accelerate all of our emissions reduction capability, much more rapidly than less-developed countries which have righteous claims to `catch-up` in terms of quality-of-life measurements of a thriving economy. (See Kate Raworth`s doughnut economy paradigm for further just transition arguments to thriving economies. https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/ )

Decision to allow mine to go ahead challenged

Many people, including Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee, have challenged the Government`s decision NOT to `call in` the decision to go ahead with the mine. It should be a UK government decision to find ways to reduce CO2 emissions to almost zero before 2050 and yet the relevant minister, Robert Jenryck (MP for Newark), chose not to consider the decision.

The Government`s Chief Planning Officer defended that decision “The Secretary of State has to make a judgement based on whether the impacts of the scheme are more than local. “And in this case, the decision was that this was a decision for local determination, and the application was approved by the local authority… a decision for local democracy.”

However, the worldwide implications of increased emissions from the coal that is to be mined over the next 40 years at least, represent a disaster for future generations. Hardly something a Government Minister should refuse to look at!

It has been claimed that all the arguments FOR a new mine in Cumbria are environmentally and economically sound. Sadly, in the planetary context, this is simply NOT true, and wider existential threats of global overheating and the Climate Crisis argue very strongly against the Cumbrian Coal mine, despite strong local support in terms of potential increases in employment opportunities.

This is a difficult case for those of a Liberal persuasion who believe in the strength of local democracy. However, Liberal values also recognise that the freedom for individuals and communities to make such local decisions have to be constrained when it can be shown that such freedom is plainly harmful to others. In this case the harm to the planet outweighs the freedom for local decision making, however strongly held and supported.

For an additional Local view see >>> https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/opendemocracyuk/of-course-cumbrias-proposed-coal-mine-is-popular-locally-the-government-offers-no-green-alternative/?link_id=4&can_id=c9550acebe03eac25172cb874f4ee8f7&source=email-news-from-nef-template-6&email_referrer=email_1090060&email_subject=news-from-nef-driven-into-poverty-uber-victory-coal-controversy


Posted in Environment & Sustainable Development, Liberal Democrat and Green Primaries, Politics, Radical Liberal, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Brazilian Funeral…

ZeZé `s funeral

Funerals – and especially funerals in Brazil have had a passing mention before in my blog, but we have had a funeral closer to home this last week. Fatima`s mum, who was 84, died early on Thursday morning. She had been a bed-ridden invalid for quite some time now, suffering the great indignities associated with that state, so, in truth, her passing released her from a life with little quality to it on a day to day basis.

Her name was José-Maria and, whether it is a female José or a male José, the commonly accepted appellation was always ZeZé (pronounced zare-zare as in bare-bare).

So, ZeZé had had a stroke about four years ago and because she had been in the house alone at the time, she had suffered a lot of damage before being discovered, collapsed on the floor. She had lost her ability to speak, most of which unfortunately stayed lost, despite speech therapy, and she had lost most of her right-side mobility too, which had improved slightly with physiotherapy.

Then two years ago she had had a slight fall and, though she appeared to land lightly, she nevertheless broke her femur. At first, the health system in Brazil more or less wrote her off and it was only after some fairly robust complaining by Fatima that they managed to find her a hospital that would mend her broken leg, having to boost her anaemic state first. Since then she has needed a wheelchair to be moved around.

I may have mentioned this before, but the health service rules as they apply here in Brazil, mean that if you are over 65 and in hospital you have to have a relative (or it can be a friend) stay with you ALL THE TIME. This, of course, saves the health service a huge cost of what I think we would call auxiliary services because the feeding and other hygiene requirements are catered for by the family member(s). At the time Fatima was still working, so this added to the stresses of family life here.

When she could come out of hospital, we found a place in an old folks` home for ZeZé. Then, when Fatima was going to be in the UK for a longer period last year, one of her cousins agreed to take on the burden of looking after ZeZé for a modest consideration. And, finally when Fatima came back to Brazil before Christmas, we took back the task of looking after her – but ZeZé`s health had been gradually declining over this long period, with senility setting in as well. And, for the last few weeks, it had become a challenge as she was now hardly eating or drinking. Clearly “not drinking” in the heat of Brazil`s summer is not conducive to good health and so we had had to take her to hospital a few times where they boosted her up with glucose drips and the like.

What they did not pick up, just over a week ago on the last hospital visit (and they should have done, but the final outcome may only have been delayed a very short while even if they had!) was the fact that she had, by this time, started to suffer with pneumonia. So, on Wednesday evening, after a relatively quiet day for her, we took her into the local small hospital again in the early evening.

Sadly, despite everyone else there being as sweet as you like, the doctor who dealt with us looked at ZeZé, then at Fatima and said, “Hm. You again! Nothing much I can do here, she should be in an old folk`s home, where they can deal with her properly”. Fatima was, as you may expect, rather disturbed by this response and answered rather sharply – “You think if we could afford that on a full-time basis we would be here!?” “Well the hospital at Bacaxá is full,” he said, “so we`ll see what we can do”.

“If that`s the case,” said Fatima, “you had better give me a note to that effect and I will go and report it to the Minister of Health!” At which point Fatima came out to let me know that they were going to give her some glucose, as before, and I might as well go home for an hour and come back to pick them up when they had finished and she phoned me. So, that`s what I did, calling to fill the car`s tank up on the way home.

No sooner had I got home, three-minute`s-drive away, than Fatima phoned to say that as soon as she returned into the hospital it became clear that they had decided to transfer her to the larger hospital in Bacaxá, about an hour away, after all! The power of forthright speech and an underlying threat! The trip was interrupted about halfway with an unscheduled stop at the equally small hospital in Saquerama, apparently due to the fact that Zezé’s heart had stopped. She was resuscitated, intubated and supplied with oxygen and then the ambulance continued onwards to Bacaxá.

We then stayed there, while she was in intensive care, hoping for improvement, but not truly expecting such. And around 2a.m., as we were making the decision to come back home again and return to the hospital early on Thursday morning, the Bacaxá Doc came out with the news that she had died moments before. This Doc, by contrast, was a lovely man, with an excellent bedside manner, too, and very helpful with the necessary paper-work process. This took little more than half an hour – after which we did come home to prepare for the next stage. The funeral itself.

That part of the episode, by the way, reminded me of Spike Milligan, notably a hypochondriac, who apparently had these words inscribed on his headstone – “I told you I wasn`t well!” – a story I was able to relate to Fatima, for one of those sad, smiling, moments associated with death.

The Funeral

As you may know, in common with many other countries which are hot, the law here is that the funeral must take place within 24 hours of death. As pointed out by my cousin Pat, who has spent a lot of time in Paraguay, this is something of a double-edged sword, providing a sense of rapid ‘closure’, but also piling on the pressure of making the arrangements at extremely short notice.

Fatima has a ‘family plot’ at a delightful, well-run cemetery in São Gonçalo, and they have a multitude of “chapels” available to cater for multiple funerals if necessary. The health insurance covered all the associated costs and organisation details so very few phone calls were required to set the process in motion. And because everyone is aware of the legal requirements for speed, I guess most families have pretty efficient “telephone trees” to spread the news.

So, before 8a.m. on Thursday, we already knew the funeral would take place at 4p.m. at the Parque de Paz and, by the time we arrived there around 1p.m., ZeZé was already in the allotted chapel, in her coffin with the lid leant up against the wall. A major contrast to UK culture is that the deceased is presented to mourners to give their last respects, surrounded by flowers in the coffin, under a lacy cover. Of course, in UK, it is possible to visit a funeral home to see the deceased, but I think relatively few people choose to go for a “viewing” these days.

The phone tree worked well enough that a couple of carloads of ZeZé`s nephews, nieces and great-nephews and nieces had time to come from at least four hours` drive away from Fatima`s home-town of Macuco. And considerable family numbers were made up from more local relations and friends.

Dress code

The `dress code` for funerals is pretty informal here – it can be summed up by `smart-casual` I think. Jeans and a neat summer shirt seemed to be the majority expression for both male and female and muted colours were preponderant, plus some muted skirts and tops, or dresses for the ladies. For our particular funeral I don`t think there was one black tie present and I only saw two ties all afternoon in the whole area.

The chapels are in two rows of five and on Thursday there were four of our row of five in use, with funerals timed at quarter of an hour intervals. Each chapel is about 8 metres square, glass-fronted with partially frosted glass, and air conditioned. Outside the row of five, there is a three-metre-wide covered area with granite-covered seating all along the length of the row. So, as people are gathering, there is quite an assemblage building up. We were in Chapel B at 4 o`clock and Chapel A was due for 3.45 – so by 2.30 the overall noise level was building by several decibels per minute as relatives and friends greeted each other outside Chapels A & B – and to a lesser extent, Chapels C & D.

As you might anticipate there were tears and hugs as well as gossip and (mostly-controlled) laughter. I recall that many, many years ago my father made the comment that if you wanted a lot of people at your funeral it was “…best to die young.” On this basis, it seemed that the occupant of Chapel A was a much younger person than ZeZé, as there were perhaps nearly twice as many mourners there, of which the average age was considerably younger than for our Chapel B.

The strangest outlier from the dress-code was also associated with the Chapel A gathering and was represented by a young man with a dark grey, `Trump-style`, peaked cap, displaying the message “WHO THE F**K THIS?” Apart from the poor grammatical structure of the question, I must say it seemed somewhat out of place at a funeral, not least because, in the actual embroidered inscription, there were no asterisks.

Otherwise, ZeZé`s funeral was conducted with dignity. The coffin was then placed on the funeral version of an electric milk delivery float, or golf cart, and trundled around to the actual grave at walking pace. A light rain was falling so there were a few umbrellas keeping at least some of the mourners dry, and, of course, not everyone took part in the procession to the graveside. As the actual interment was taking place a group of four very noisy Brazilian lapwings were having a disagreement across the hillside of the Parque de Paz, untroubled by the human intrusion in their space.

Then we all made our way back home. Altogether, it was a pretty exhausting 48 hours, but we were left with the sensation that at least ZeZé was now at peace, her long, slow suffering curtailed.

RIP ZeZé.

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Once upon a time in a land as dark as night…

Once upon a time in a land as dark as night…

Maybe you have heard of Marielle Franco, assassinated in March of 2018 in Rio de Janeiro?

Marielle Francisco da Silva, was born in July 1979, the same year I joined the Liberal Ecology Group and the same year Mrs Thatcher was elected Prime Minister. Marielle was a feminist Brazilian politician and human rights activist, elected to the Municipal chamber of Rio de Janeiro as a councillor for the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL)

She had been an outspoken critic of police brutality and extrajudicial killings. She was also highly critical of the federal intervention by Brazilian president, Michel Temer, in the state of Rio de Janeiro which resulted in the deployment of the army in police operations. After a long period when it seemed likely that her killers would “never be found” and were somehow being protected by the system, two former police officers were arrested, charged and convicted of her murder.

Brazil has an unenviable record for killings by its police force. Human Rights Watch, reporting in 2019 put the figure for 2017 (their latest data) at over 5000 – averaging 14 per day. If these numbers are anywhere near correct, that is around five times as many as are killed by police action in the USA. Worse, the Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, not only sanctions brutal police action but made his way into power with a slogan “30 bullets for each bandit” and looks fondly back to his days as a military Captain during the Dictatorship years in Brazil.

That any beauty can come out of such brutality, shows a fascinating “other side” to the human spirit – but this poem came into my purview recently and I pass it on to you with no further comment. It is spoken alongside a video of some delightful sculpturing skill which you can see here… well worth your time to see and listen. Enjoy and then read the poem again for yourself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VUl9DCh8AI

 

Once upon a time in a land as dark as night

Where nothing would grow

In despite of every woe

There was an unusually happy girl

And, since she loved life and, since she loved beauty

She decided that it was her duty

To plant sunflowers on dry hard sand

And perhaps her heads would help to mend

Through the soil and turmoil of that land

The people there, seeing her endeavour,

Smiled again and thought they would forever,

As they noticed flowers strong and bright

And thought they were tired of the night

The evil forces however frowned

And opening a hole up in the ground…

… [sound of shot fired]…

Watched her being swallowed deep

Until she could no longer speak

Or see, or dream, or sigh, or resist

But what they could not predict was this

Her love was such that it spread across the mud,

And thousands of flowers grew nourished by her blood

And now every time a flower`s pluck`d

Many more will grow at present speed

And the girl will always, for her deed,

Be remembered by the name – of “Seed”

 

Poem by Renato Campello

 

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Green Resolutions for the New Year and New Decade

Green Resolution

As an antidote to my, perhaps rather downbeat, posting yesterday, I thought I would write a more optimistic upbeat post today. It is about setting “Green” resolutions for the New Year (New Decade, even!) – so you can add one or more of these resolutions to your own list of how you will seek to be better in 2020 and going forward.

2020 – even the number of the year invites clarity and visual resolutions!

Resolution #1 Seeking Clarity on the status of our websites

This was prompted by a thread on FaceBook earlier on the new Environmental Smart web group – https://www.environmental-smart.co.uk/  – which was talking about the massive use of fossil fuels to run the internet and the fact that we can choose to ensure we are using internet hosts which are consciously as green as possible. The article pointed out that the Internet as a whole was one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide – and if it were a “country” it would not be far behind China and India as a greenhouse gas emitter.

If you want to check on a website YOU have an interest in, you can go to the https://www.thegreenwebfoundation.org/green-web-check/ , put the URL of your chosen site in the check box and find out. So I did exactly that for my blog post host WordPress and, sadly it turns out that it is a “Grey” site.

Equally sadly, the hosts for the Green Liberal Democrats site, in which I have an interest of course, as well as the Liberal Democrat main site and the company that manages these sites, Prater Raines all turn out to be “Grey” sites.

So, it looks as though we have some work to do on the GLD Exec committee next time we meet! GLD`s Green New Decade Resolution is sorted!

I am, however, pleased to report that the site hosting Environmental Smart, gets a clean bill of health

If you want to pursue this action further, the Green Web Foundation provides a list of 25 hosting organisations in the UK who can prove they are reliant on renewable energy for their site support. Here`s the list….

Green Hosting (Partner)

Wholegrain Digital (Certified Gold Partner);  34SP.com;  Athaneum;  Core IX;  Dsgnone

Easynet;  erjjio studios;  Fasthosts;  GreenNet;  GreneIT

GURU Cloud Hosting;  HostPapa UK;  Krystal Hosting;  Kualo;  Lightbeing Creations

Memset Hosting;  Netcetera;  NetWeaver;  Nimbus Hosting Ltd.;  Rackspace UK

Solar Web Host;  The Positive Internet Company Ltd.;  Uni Link Solution;  VI

Resolution #2 – Plant more trees

This was a major feature in the manifestoes of the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the Labour Party – but the Tory target was much lower, so I think we need to add our own efforts into the mix as a Green New Decade resolution.

The Woodland Trust – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/ – during 2019 had a major campaign aimed at schools and communities in November 2019 with a view to planting around 700,000 trees. Mostly they were “whips” – i.e. a short stick with a root on! – so if you are patient, these are the easiest to deal with, but it is likely that a fair proportion of these will not survive unless they are watered during their first year in the ground, especially if there is an extended dry period in the weather. Certainly, their chances of survival are probably higher where there is a good community motivation to look after them well.

If you have a garden of your own, even if it is only a modest size you can order and “Bee-friendly pack” of four small trees from the Woodland Trust for just £12.95. Alternatively, if you have a bit more room and can envisage a small copse in your garden or community area you can get a selection of 30 trees for just under £50.

I consider myself to have been fortunate enough to be able to buy a couple of fields around 12 years ago, which were sheep pasture at the time, but which are beginning to look like woodland these days. The very first silver birch trees we planted are now towering above me at 25-30 feet when I wander around my haven. Even the slower growing oak trees which had been lovingly cared for in plantpots for a few years, before acquiring the fields, are now resplendent at fifteen to twenty feet.

And, this last couple of years in particular the huge ash trees along the field edges, which must be over 100 years old, are now finding spaces to spread their genes. I have not been able to count the number of ash seedlings that are coming into their own, but I have been moving quite a few of them to “better” positions for my own aesthetic preference! Fortunately, our ash trees seem to have so far avoided the ash “die-back” problems around the country.

My Green Resolution for 2020 certainly includes another large batch of new trees for my woodland area. And please get in touch with me if you don`t have room for your own trees – I would love to plant some on your behalf.

Resolution #3 – Change your electricity supplier to a Renewable Energy Company

I changed my supplier only fairly recently, from SSE – which promised a proportion of renewable energy in its mix, but which was also responsible (and still is) for paying me the Feed-in Tariff for my rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) renewable energy.

I changed to https://bulb.co.uk/ and have, so far at least, been very happy with their management of my account and the costs associated therewith, representing a considerable saving on my previous costs. If you would like to change and quote this link, www.bulb.me/keithm4966   we`ll both benefit by £50.

There are, of course, a number of other companies out there that sell “only” renewable energy, although the last couple of years have been somewhat unkind to a number of smaller companies which have collapsed. Apparently, something like 28 companies have disappeared from the market since January 2018. Ofgem does provide protection for consumers unlucky enough to have chosen a supplier that goes under – see here – https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/

Resolution #4 – Continue to reduce meat eating

I am by no means a vegan, nor, indeed, a vegetarian, but I have cut back considerably over the last few years on the total amount of meat consumed and propose to continue to try and do so to a greater extent. There is a distinct tension between the greenhouse gas contribution of animal husbandry and the need to maintain soil quality (and quantity) over the long term. Equally there is a tension between agricultural and other possible land-use and land-management scenarios, not least with regard to hilly areas and the potential food-production capacity of different quality of land.

Climate Change pressures certainly require lower quantities of meat-eating, but this is a difficult area for small-l “liberals” who prefer individuals to have the greatest latitude to make up their own minds about as much of their lives as possible. There now seems to be strong pressure for the need to legislate some form of “encouragement” to behave in a more responsible way as far as food is concerned. If this does not happen in a reasoned and politically acceptable way in the short term it seems almost inevitable that there will be strong pressures for a much more centrally controlled set of changes in the medium or longer term as the climate change pressures grow.

The recent political experiences in the UK, as well as in the USA and Brazil and, indeed, some other European countries towards a more “conservative” set of cultural norms does not augur particularly well for the success of voluntary change going in the right direction.

“Militant” vegans will tell you that the only answer is to go vegan, but, as well as requiring dietary supplements to avoid long-term health problems of purely vegan diets, there are often hidden environmental downsides to replacement products. So, milk-production using dairy cows certainly has climate change consequences, but soya milk sourced from soya grown on farms created by clearing Amazon rainforest, or almond milk, which requires large inputs of sometimes scarce water supplies also creates environmental problems.

Clearly it is one of the areas where the idea of a New Year resolution has an impacts shown by the graph shown in a BBC article earlier this year. The figures were sourced from Google Trends. All we can do is to try and minimise our Climate Change footprint in ways we know we can sustain in behavioural terms as individuals.

Resolutions

Good luck with setting your Green New Decade Resolutions and let me wish you all my personal greeting for a greener 2020.  Happy New Year

Posted in Environment & Sustainable Development | Tagged | Leave a comment

View from my hammock…

You may guess from the title that I am in Brazil again at the moment!? And you would be correct!

As I may have said already in a recent blog post, we had booked to come for a seasonal visit to Fatima`s homeland before the General Election date was decided, so we actually missed the election itself. Probably something of a relief, given the nature of the result – however we were not able to gather with friends to commiserate.

Anyway, facebook chats fairly quickly subsided after the election so it seems as though everyone has, to some extent at least, put the election behind them and hidden away with family and friends concentrating on Christmas.

So, to the thoughts in that hammock…

Darwin`s View

Our “summer” place in Brazil is in the small seaside town of Jacone, near Saquarema in the Lake District of Rio State. And the hammock is between two wooden pillars on our terrace, overlooking the Lagoa de Saquarema. This lake features in Darwin`s record of his journey to the Galapagos islands (I have certainly mentioned this story before but I hope it is worth retelling now, for readers new to my blogging.)

On his travels to the Galapagos Islands back in the early 1830s, The Beagle stopped off in Rio de Janeiro for a little R&R and re-stocking and the young Darwin, just turned 23, had organised a horseback excursion from Rio which brought him along the coast to the region lagoa. He is very critical of the general level of hospitality they met with on this and other journeys through the Brazilian hinterland but on the 9th April 1832, the day ended better than it had started and they happened to stay in a better quality Vanda – or Inn – if it may be described thus. Let me quote his own words as he describes the visit:-

April 9th, 1832.-We left our miserable sleeping-place before sunrise. The road passed through a narrow sandy plain, lying between the sea and the interior salt lagoons. The number of beautiful fishing birds, such as egrets and cranes, and the succulent plants assuming most fantastical forms, gave to the scene an interest which it would not otherwise have possessed. The few stunted trees were loaded with parasitical plants, among which the beauty and delicious fragrance of some of the orchid were most to be admired. As the sun rose, the day became extremely hot, and the reflection of the light and heat from the white sand was very distressing.

We dined at Mandetiba; the thermometer in the shade being 84°. The beautiful view of the distant wooded hills, reflected in the perfectly calm water of an extensive lagoon, quite refreshed us. … the vanda here was a very good one and I have the pleasant, but rare remembrance, of an excellent dinner …  

No longer called Mandetiba, it turns out that the delightful inn and the refreshing view were literally just around the corner from our Jacone house and my view over the lake was Darwin`s view nearly 200 years ago. It is no further away from our house than one hedge of my English fields is from the opposite hedge!

Saquarema Lake

So, there I was in my hammock on the terrace – sipping on a glass of cold beer – the temperature almost exactly the same as it was for Charles Darwin all those years ago. There were, and still are, a few clouds about, so the lake is reflecting a cloudy sky and is ruffled by a modest breeze, so I am not getting the reflection of the “distant wooded hills”, but at least the beer was “refreshing”.

Reflections on Politics.

No wooded hills, but my mind was reflecting on recent politics. And very disappointing reflections they are. Regular readers and long-time friends will already know that it was the dire result of the referendum that brought me back into politics in 2017, after `retiring` from Party politics back in 1998.

These same readers and friends will also know that my retirement then was partly triggered by a frustration that environmental issues – although reasonably well represented in Lib Dem policy papers was never presented “front and centre” during elections. Also my long-term Liberal view that nuclear weapons were immoral, dangerous and wasteful, had been superseded by the Lib Dem acceptance that they were somehow justified as a deterrence.

Frankly what they are now deterring for us – as a small gaggle of islands off the north-west coast of Europe – is rather moot!

The optimist`s view

As a glass-half-full person (and, no, I am no longer talking about the beer – that glass is now well and truly empty!) I was anticipating a thumpingly good general election for us this year. The party had won a huge number of local council seats in the May elections and then 16 MEPs in the Euro elections that followed.

We were (apparently!?) on the right side of history, being so clearly a Remain party, after a couple of hugely attended marches through London. And, for me, the party manifesto featured very clearly a critically good response to the Climate catastrophe, which should have captured the hearts and minds of the young generation of eXtinction Rebellion protesters. I had even had a hand in helping to write the policy paper that was central to the Climate change section of the manifesto.

We had a whole slew of environmental activists in winnable seats who would have been capable of changing the nature of the debate in Parliament about the climate catastrophe and many other environmental issues. And, along with a few colleagues in the Green Liberal Democrats, I spent many an hour writing up profiles of these “Green Heroes” to help them along in their elections. Many of those hours were spent in our first week here in Brazil too – my politics did not just stop after the journey from London.

“Bollocks to Politics?”

So, What`s next? A very tempting scenario from the lofty view of my hammock, glass of beer in one hand, was the “bollocks to politics” option. I first got involved in politics during a mock election at school in 1964 when the Liberal Party had just six MPs. During much of my adult lifetime I have had to try and keep explaining why Liberalism should bother to continue – and here again, there have been journalists and others wondering out loud why we bother. We struggled and fought to achieve a position, where, despite the huge bias of the FPTP electoral system there were over 60 MPs gracing the Liberal Democrat seats in the Commons.

Then Clegg`s “bromance” with Cameron with a neo-liberal and libertarian approach to economics made the party toxic among many left-leaning voters. The Environmental inheritance showed through in our Green Investment Bank and the huge increase in renewable energy, but the Tories sold the bank off and claimed the renewable energy growth as theirs when they had the place to themselves. And we were relegated to a very minor party status with just eight MPs in 2015 – back to the Party in a taxi jokes!

I am now comfortably in my eighth decade on this planet and there are people in my life who now and again ask – “Why do you bother?” It was a question I was asking myself in the hammock earlier – and I was not getting any very positive answers springing to mind.

The answer is a Question!

It turns out that the answer to my question “Why should I bother?”  turns out to be another question. That question is this – “Can I actually influence the nature of the Party, as it struggles with its own sense of purpose with just 11 MPs and a huge uphill task of justifying its existence?”

Well, as I said above, I am an optimist, so despite many years experience of feeling that my influence has often been overlooked, there are instances where one feels perhaps that it is not all doom and gloom. The sentence that best sums this up is that sentence, to which I have referred before, which I managed to write and get inserted into the Liberal Democrat Preamble to the Constitution in 1988 – “We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms.”

So, I shall keep trying (at least for the moment!!) Perhaps we shall get a radical realignment of the left leaning, Green focussing, Climate change conscious environmentalists. Perhaps we will get a Party Leader who does not say “Yes” enthusiastically when asked a question about pressing the Nuclear weapon button as Prime Minister. Perhaps we will even get to change the name of our Party to what is currently the name of a significant and growing pressure group – perhaps the “Green Liberal Democrats” can change the political narrative for us all.

If not, then perhaps I shall get to write that autobiographical memoire I have tentatively entitled “Failing with Gusto!” during my less optimistic moments!

Posted in Elections, Environment & Sustainable Development, Lib Dem Leadership | Tagged | Leave a comment

Let`s not RUSH the Leadership Election!

Ed Davey – Interim leader for how long?

My view on this is that we should not rush into an early leadership election for the Liberal Democrats for a number of good reasons…

A Bruising Election

First, we have been through a very bruising general election and despite adding more than 55% of our last vote share two years ago, the failed electoral system has rewarded us with one fewer MP than then and ten fewer MPs than we notionally had just before the election. Of the new team, four are first timers who will require some time to establish themselves in their roles. Two more are relative newbies, leaving five experienced parliamentarians, one of whom has already been leader and resigned.

Second, Johnson has a significant majority in parliament so there will be no general election for at least three years, more likely four (unless there is a complete crash – though I suppose that cannot be entirely ruled out!) Therefore we have time to take a very considered view of how we go about this.

Safe Pair of Hands

Third, if we elect a new leader too soon s/he will have to hit the ground running in the midst of Brexit chaos, since, despite Johnson`s simplistic “Get Brexit Done” mantra, we all know that ain`t gonna happen! Ed Davey, we KNOW will provide us with a safe pair of hands during the next few months at least. This is, for me a very powerful point for not going too soon.

Fourth, whether Ed decides to stand for leader or not, there will inevitably be much hand-wringing about the recent general election strategy. Some, at least, of the overall responsibility for what went wrong will inevitably be laid at Ed`s door, whether deserved or not. Frankly all those discussions about what went wrong (as well as what went right, of course) need to take place BEFORE the leadership election and not during the leadership election. That will inevitably take a few months and take us past the spring conference at least.

As part of that discussion there will have to be equally long discussions about the nature of strategic decision making within the party. There seems to be a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction about that, including general party governance issues which need to be signed off before a new leader takes over. Vince Cable was effectively an interim leader for about a year at least whilst such discussions took place, some of which may  well need to be revisited.

What about our competitors?

Fifth, we also need time to see what happens regarding other parties after the failure of the remain alliance to pay any real dividends. This includes a view of how the Labour party works its own pain out. I have already written about the potential for there to be a radical realignment of the environmental left of centre political activists (NOT including socialists by the way! See my previous blog post.). I have made the point that the probable lack of action by the Conservative government relating to reducing carbon emissions will mean that the next government will have to react VERY quickly to make up for lost time.

Frankly, we may already be too late to stop some of the environmental tipping points scientists have been concerned about for a while. Five more years of relative inaction could be five years too much!  (Especially in the light of the recent failure of the COP 25 event in Madrid to reach any satisfactory conclusions.) Therefore, realignment needs to happen quickly if it is going to mean anything – a safe pair of hands with ENVIRONMENTAL credentials will be important. Ed Davey has these, despite the Labour trolls giving him grief about his record as a Cabinet Minister.

Sixth, it is apparent that Ed is going to have to consider very carefully whether it is right that he stands for the leadership. Both Jo and Ed were targeted by journalists about their responsibility, in coalition, for all the austerity decisions so derided by those Labour trolls. Both apologised for mistakes, explained that Labour were proposing to be just as austere if not more so, but that argument was damaging to the Lib Dem narrative. Various FaceBook threads have already given vent to these issues and at least one commentator made the point that the Liberal Party suffered 35 years of battering for supporting the Conservatives pre-WWll before coming out of that trough of “hatred” by Labour.

Only Ed knows whether he has the internal strength to withstand several more years of nasty Labour trolling but there is little doubt that much will be made of that in a subsequent leadership battle, even from colleagues within the Lib Dems.

Strategy debate and (more?) changes to Lib Dem Constitution?

Seventh, for at least some of the reasons above, I would not be surprised if we did not end up having a re-run of the debate about whether there should be a change in the constitution to allow a leader from outside the Parliamentary coterie of MPs. Strictly speaking the rules should not allow that debate to take place again so soon after the constitutional decision was made last year – but these are unusual circumstances. However, it will be Spring Conference before that discussion gets to the conference floor and if there is overwhelming feeling for change, such a decision can only be made by Autumn conference (or, possibly, a special conference) In either case that discussion must be finalised before the new leadership election is held, otherwise the party will be accused rightly of navel gazing for too long.

Of course, if there IS a radical realignment, there will probably be new contenders for leadership, not currently in the party (I have already seen suggestions that Caroline Lucas would be favoured by some as a new Leader – and THAT is before any realignment has taken place!) and some may argue for such an eventuality to be welcomed, but that will inevitably slow the process down.

Finally, for the moment, I take the view that Ed`s experience of being a Cabinet Minister will give him far greater leverage in the first months of the new parliament than any new leader could muster, however good s/he may be. Whether or not Ed decides to stand again and whether or not he wins, these first few months of the Johnson Government will be vital in setting the tone for the future.

Jeremy Corbyn is a busted flush (and frankly has been for a long time, but that`s a discussion for another day) so a strong performance by the Lib Dem party leader will be a very visible challenge to the new government. Ed has the forensic skills AND the ministerial experience allowing for a strong challenge in the House of Commons. This should not be disregarded – we need every advantage we can muster in current circumstances.

Also, Corbyn has indicated he is not resigning straight away so it is likely to be late Spring before the Labour leadership debate is started. One of last year`s disappointments was that our leadership debate was crowded out of the media by the Tory version. And, frankly we need all the publicity we can get.

Conclusion

So, my conclusion is that we should extend Ed Davey the courtesy of some months at least as interim leader. We should not be shrill in calling for an urgent leadership contest because there are sound reasons for allowing the 2019 electoral dust to settle. I want to see some real progress towards a “radical realignment of the environmental left” – let us give it time to happen whilst we have a safe pair of hands at the tiller.

Also, we should be spending a lot of time this year working  on how we target COP 26 at the year end. There is no Planet `B` if we get this wrong.

 

 

Posted in Elections, Environment & Sustainable Development, Lib Dem Leadership, Politics, Radical Liberal | Leave a comment

Reviewing the Election

So, I am back in Brazil for Fatima`s family Xmas (we had our trip booked before they announced the General election date) That meant I was hearing the election results from several thousand miles away – and that does give some perspective. It doesn`t make the results any less unpleasant – but there is a certain detachment possible – and, at least the sun is shining.

What is the correct word? Disappointing? Devastating? Disaster?

Well, I think I have seen all three used on FaceBook threads. Certainly, there has been an outpouring of grief from some FB contacts and no wonder, really. Life is going to get a lot worse before it gets better and, indeed, there is little reason to believe it will get better any time soon.

The only consolation I can offer from my lifetime involvement in the political sphere is that it WILL pass. The “Winter of discontent” passed; Thatcherism passed; even the Iraq war passed. The problem is that some people will not live through it, either because they die of old age or disease or accident before said period passes. Or, worse, they die BECAUSE of whatever difficulties we are facing. And THAT is the most troubling aspect of this current situation – the government`s own figures show there will be a lower economic performance in ANY form of Brexit – and that means some people will suffer setbacks at least, maybe worse, as a consequence.

I am not about to rerun the election campaign, however. You may rest assured of that and carry on reading. My thought processes are more concerned with the question “What do we do next?”

No more petitions

One of the first things that struck me this morning was someone on FaceBook suggesting a petition about something – honestly, I forget quite what, but it was something I would normally relate with and, probably, sign.

NOPE! No more bloody petitions – we had several really big ones relating to Europe/Brexit – didn`t do a scrap of good! No more marches – went on several, wearying, marches with lots and lots of nice people, cost a lot of money for train fares – didn`t do a scrap of good!

I have to say that I have never been a great believer in “demonstrations”, “manifestations” or even “civil disobedience”. There is possibly some evidence that the suffragette movement changed hearts and minds. But what is the point of universal suffrage if the voting system is corrupt and not fit for purpose; or if the media ownership is monopolised by the ultra-rich; or if ordinary people don`t bother to vote…

Canvasser…knocks on door. “I am here to ask which way you might vote on Thursday…”

Resident… answers door. “No, you`re alright thanks!” Closes door – what does that even mean!?

…or Resident, sees you are there at the door… doesn`t answer, carries on watching TV.

Let`s stop being “Tribal”

There was an attempt to build a form of remain alliance, which meant moving away from tribalism a bit and a small core of seats had one or more parties stepping down to give the others a better chance of winning against the Tories. At the time of writing I have not yet seen an analysis of how that panned out (but clearly not well enough to alter the result!) But that failed overall because the Labour Party chose not to opt in – arrogance or ignorance, I am not yet sure. But then Momentum trolls, having accused many, (most? All?) Lib Dems of being “Yellow Tories”, wanted these same Lib Dems to stand aside for their tribal representatives. Without any quid pro quo either.

Aside from the inherent nastiness in this scenario, it reflects a wrong analysis of current politics. Economic changes, technical changes, industrial changes and, of course, political changes mean that the overtly class-based labouring class versus capitalist-class model is now much more complex. Sure, it still has relevance, but the concentration of economic power into the hands of the tax avoiding, tax-evading mega-rich at the expense of virtually everyone else has changed the narrative.

It has allowed the story to thrive that xenophobic British (perhaps just English?) less-well-off voters need to “take back control” from grubby forriners who come over here, take jobs from us all and clog up the NHS and social services at our expense. The fact that it is not actually true has become immaterial. The populist story-tellers have simply made it believable by large swathes of naïve ill-informed voters. They are ill-informed, of course, because the media barons have deliberately mis-informed so many people with myths, pedalled not least by the opportunist liar now inhabiting Downing Street.

So, the attempt by Corbynist, socialist strategists, to appeal to their former tribal base has been thwarted by the populism and proto-fascism of the Johnson government. Fed-up with the never-ending soap-saga of Brexit a large, previously Labour-leaning cohort of northern voters fell under the spell of the simple (and simply untrue) message “Get Brexit done”.

So, being tribal is now a hindrance, not a vote-winning strategy.

The Climate election

There was some hope at the beginning of the election campaign that a major feature of the election might well be a realistic reaction to the very obvious rapidity with which the Climate Catastrophe is bearing down on us. Not least, the fact that even the Tory Party notionally set a date for achieving zero carbon emissions as 2050, suggested that the issue may be seriously debated. No such luck!

Neither the Tory leader, nor the Brexit Party leader turned up for the Channel 4 “Leaders` Debate” and they were both empty-chaired and represented by melting blocks of ice. Perhaps it was inevitable that they ducked out, given that the Tories at least scored only a paltry 5.5 for their environmental manifesto against 30, 31 and 33 for the Lib Dems, the Green Party and the Labour Party, respectively. (We`ll set aside the probably under-marking of the Lib Dem manifesto by Friends of the Earth relative to this essay – perhaps taking that up another time!)

Realignment

So, now I have got to the heart of my reason for writing this blog today. The large degree of overlap in potential solutions to the Climate Crisis between the Lib Dems, the Green Party and the Labour party (at least as far as the manifestoes are concerned) was something we need to build upon. Some of you, at least, will know that I have long argued for a closer working relationship with the Green Party. It is now also apparent that there is a seriously green strand within the Labour Party too – although that did not appear to include any Members of Parliament, since none of their front people were at all convincing talking about it.

It was clear from the Channel 4 debate that Jeremy Corbyn had been well-schooled by somebody since he did speak the correct words in most cases, according to the questions asked, but, for me, he did not show a real belief in many of the things he was saying. But, yes, well schooled.

What REALLY disappointed me was the very lacklustre performance of our Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, who showed the same sort of schooled `functionality` as Jeremy Corbyn, but it really did NOT come from the heart. There were several questions where Jo Swinson`s responses could and should have shown real leadership by the party, since our policy was well thought out and should have emphasised the urgent nature of starting the decarbonisation process NOW. Sadly, that did not come across at all. And she was put on the back foot immediately by the unambitious 2045 end-date for zero-carbon neutrality.

The Channel 4 debate was, as far as I was concerned the start of the unravelling of the Liberal Democrat position. I will say no more just now about that, since Jo Swinson has paid a heavy price for not getting things right. But before I leave the topic of our leader I do have to say, that after one of the other leaders`  debates I put her in clear third place to Nicola Sturgeon and Caroline Lucas, where one of the questions was about whether each of them would “press the nuclear button” if they were prime minister.

Jo Swinson`s pathetically easy “Yes”, with a side-swipe at Corbyn, was sad to hear. If we are being truly environmentally responsible with our planet, saving it from the Climate Catastrophe, how on earth can you also say you would press a button that would kill millions, potentially billions and may make the planet uninhabitable for aeons. Coming from the lips of a young woman aspiring to lead the mother of democracies and hoping to enthuse new generations of young political activists, that “Yes” was anathema to me and, no doubt, to many others.

What next?

As I said earlier my thought processes with this article are more concerned with the question “What do we do next?”

My answer is that we should seek a real realignment of the radical left of centre, joining with the Green Party and green (primarily non-socialist) environmentalists from the Labour Party. We must lose the `us & them` attitudes associated with former party tribalism, in order to force through Proportional Representation, without which this country, and maybe the planet we live on, are screwed.

There is no Planet B – and if we want real change, let me pinch the Green Party election slogan and say, “If not now, When?”

Posted in Elections, electoral reform, Environment & Sustainable Development, Labour reform, Lib Dem Leadership, Politics, Radical Liberal | 1 Comment

Europe, Energy, Transport and the Environment (& our internal Party elections)

Europe, Energy and the Environment (& our Party Elections!)

I think I have mentioned, recently, my status as an English Rugby fan and the crisis of conscience that caused me to sell back my hard-won tickets for the matches in Japan to avoid over-burdening my Carbon footprint ( read my last blog post for details – Pushing the Green Liberal Imperative – at https://keithmelton10.wordpress.com/ )

This week I have a more immediate crisis since I may miss seeing some of the England Quarter final match through having to travel to London for the Bollox to Brexit march.

Fatima and I are going to have to catch a train from Newark which may entail leaving home before the final whistle has blown. The alternative may be to leave home during half-time and watch the second half streamed on my phone, but that may risk me not having a good connection, thereby having to wait for the recorded version later in the day. But if that happens, I know there is no way I shall get home without hearing the result first – I hate that!

This potentially troubling scenario, however, has made me reflect on the way the world has changed since the first referendum on Europe back in 1975. I was a spokesperson for the European Movement back then, full of optimism about the role a newly united Europe could play (and, indeed HAS played) in bringing peace and great economic benefits to our peoples, following the devastating war that was over before I was born.

An avid reader of science fiction in my youth, I was still optimistic about the possibilities of nuclear fusion as a clean source of energy, although I had already decided nuclear fission was not to be trusted. And economic wind energy was not yet in sight, nor was solar energy a realistic possibility, apart from passive solar heating of water on the roof (possible but still expensive!)

Nearly 50 years later

And yet, here we are nearly 50 years later, reading headlines about renewable power overtaking fossil fuel power as the primary energy source for the UK in the last twelve months. Not as much as it might have because successive Tory Governments, left to their own devices after the Coalition, have backtracked on renewable energy generation, as they have on so many other things where we Liberal Democrats had pushed for rapid advances. Nevertheless, progress of a sort!

The last three years and more of bickering about Brexit has prevented any real debate on issues that, at the end of the day, will have more impact upon our existence than our involvement or otherwise in the European Union. We should be pushing hard for MORE renewable energy provision and talking with our European neighbours and colleagues about collaborating much more closely on getting rid of fossil fuels altogether.

This is what the march on the 19th October is all about for me. Let us, for goodness` sake, kill Brexit off once and for all and get on with saving the world. For there is no Planet “B”!!

Our European holiday – a fresh view of Public Transport

Some of you, at least, may have seen photographs on FaceBook from our very recent three-week holiday – our (not-so) Grand Tour of Europe. The weather has been a bit mixed and it can get a wee bit cold at three in the morning in a caravan, but we have seen a fair bit of Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland as well as motorway dashes through parts of France.

As keen readers of my blog may recall, I first became involved in environmental issues way back in 1971 as a returning Master`s Degree student at UMIST. It was entirely serendipitous (for the full story see my post from way-back…. https://keithmelton10.wordpress.com/2018/08/18/update-keith-a-green-liberal-democrat/ ) but the essence was that I became persuaded of the case for better and cheaper public transport – a belief I have cherished ever since.

Indeed, I was struck by the better state of public transport in many of the places we visited – none more so than the centre of Freiburg in Germany. It was a delightful place, the centre of which was pedestrianised apart from the many trams available for moving around. I just felt “at home” there as we walked around at leisure. The picture here shows the tramlines in a quiet city-centre street with a tram in the distance…

A little earlier in Luxembourg we had remarked on the plethora of buses there (indeed, I added a quick pic of one to my last blog – but since they were so colourful I thought you might not mind seeing another bendy bus in this post!) And they were also very inexpensive to ride on – so they were mostly either electric or, at least, hybrid, comfortable, large and colourful.  Also, when we were in Luxembourg it was a Friday, so we were treated to a Climate Strike demonstration on the bridge, too, as you may have seen on my FaceBook post. So, although it was a holiday, I kept getting reminders of my political life, too.

There is no doubt that for very many reasons we will be much better off remaining in the European Union (there is no Brexit Deal that can match the current deal we have as members of the EU) but the motivation for me to march on 19th October is almost all related to the need to tackle the overwhelming environmental threats of Climate Change and biodiversity loss, in partnership with our fellow members of the EU. It has been very clear from the hints and indications that we see in the media, that the current horrendous, so-called, Government is set on stripping away many of the great environmental protections the EU has put in place over the last 40 plus years.

Liberal Democrats are the distinctive REMAIN party, but one of the key reasons we are is that we have `care for the Environment` set in our DNA. As I have said elsewhere, I regard it as one my life`s most significant moments that I managed to get the following sentence embedded in the Preamble to the Liberal Democrat Constitution back in 1988. The fact that it is still there and still relevant is a considerable source of pride and the underlying reason I am putting myself forward for the Federal Policy Committee and/or the Federal Conference Committee in this year`s Party elections.

“We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long-term continuity of life in all its forms.”

I know our current Chair of the Green Lib Dems, Graham Neale, feels similarly motivated, and he has his name in the hat for Federal Board and/or Federal Policy Committee. Between us then, we would greatly appreciate your consideration of first and second preferences for these elections if you are eligible to vote therein…

So, if you are Green at heart and want the Party to put environmental issues front and centre in our General Election Manifesto…

please VOTE FIRST PREFERENCE for Graham Neale for Federal Board

please VOTE FIRST PREFERENCE for Keith Melton for Federal Conference Committee and

please VOTE FIRST and SECOND PREFERENCEs for Keith and Graham for Federal Policy Committee (whichever way round you choose!)

Posted in Article 50, Environment & Sustainable Development, Politics, Rugby World Cup | Leave a comment

Pushing the Green Liberal Imperative

Pushing the Green Liberal Imperative

I am writing this in my caravan on holiday in Europe. It is not clear as I write what will happen next in the saga that is the UK`s political narrative. But what is reasonably clear is that we really are not very far from a General Election.

What is concerning is that whenever the election occurs our political system will end up compromised because it is just so unrepresentative of the views of the electorate. For example, it is really clear that a large majority of people are now worrying about the consequences of Climate Change, but politicians generally are just unable to respond.

Why? Because they have been unable to unravel the mess that is Brexit – and the Government is now in the hands of an unelected charlatan and fraud, with a number of “advisers” that seem to be in the pay of either our “enemies” or a small cabal of ultra-rich tax avoiders who run our domestic media. Or BOTH, of course!

The Prime Minister is SO untrustworthy that no-one even dares to try and remove him with a Vote of No confidence (VONC) in case he manages to run roughshod over conventions and causes us to fall off the cliff of Brexit in a “No-Deal” debacle on 31st October. However, I shall say no more on this matter as it is being `done to death` on FaceBook anyway.

My point, however, is that the things WE, the Green Liberal Democrats, care passionately about, along with a large chunk of the electorate – and most of the next couple of generations of voters, as yet unable to cast their votes – are being left to the margins of political discourse in the Mother of Parliaments, while the Government fiddles with the positioning of the deck chairs.

World Cup Rugby

Sshh, don`t say a word, but I should not be writing this blog by rights anyway, as it happens. I should be watching recorded matches of the games in today`s Rugby World Cup. However, my access to UK TV recordings now appears to be blocked because I am not actually In the UK. So, I have some time on my hands – and trying to sneak in a quiet Blog….

Indeed, by rights I should actually be IN JAPAN, watching some of the matches on TV, having watched the England matches in the stadiums. I had actually bought tickets for all the England matches and the likely quarter final matches in which England should be appearing if they win or come second in their group.

I am a rugby fan and have been all my life, having played for school and university many, many moons ago. I was lucky enough to get tickets for all the group games in France in 2007 and the quarters and semis and the final in that year. And after I married Fatima in 2011, we honeymooned in New Zealand and saw the England group matches and the final between New Zealand and France in Auckland. I was also lucky enough to get tickets to the group matches and quarter finals in 2015 when we had the Rugby World Cup in the UK. Sadly, our esteemed team failed to make it out of the group stage in our Home World Cup!

So – “Why haven`t we gone to Japan?” Having bought the tickets, I had a terrible crisis of conscience about actually flying to Japan in the context of the Climate Crisis! In one sense it really has not made any real difference that I sold my tickets back into the system, as it is pretty likely that they will have been bought  – at least in part – by England supporters who will also fly to Japan on the same aircraft as I might have flown on anyway!

GLD Chair & other party offices

However, I made the decision I wanted to stand for Chair of the Green Liberal Democrats again, having been the founding Chair back in 1988. Since we are now at a crucial stage of political activity in the face of Global Warming (Global Roasting is probably a better phrase, in reality!!) we need to be pushing the Green Liberal Imperative. And I believe I have the right political credentials to do just that within the party. I am also putting myself forward for either Federal Conference Committee or Federal Policy Committee to push the Green Liberal Imperative there too.

With all this in mind, however, it seems just too far along the hypocrisy scale to fly to Japan for ephemeral pleasure and then seek to sit in the Chair of an organisation dedicated to getting society to change its ways. My attention was caught the other day on FaceBook by a picture of the leader of the Green Party in Canada which had been “doctored” to show her holding a reusable cup with a metal straw, instead of the “actualité” – which was that she was using a single use cup for her coffee! If you CAN be caught out in politics, you WILL be caught out for sure and I do not want to create a hostage to fortune.

We have an uphill task, anyway, getting even our Liberal Democrat party to behave in appropriate ways (think of all the single use plastic bottles bought and sold at the LD Conference just recently and the trees chopped down for all the communications aspects of the conference, not to mention the lack of recycling facilities at the Conference Centre!!)

Having moved the GLD amendment, in Bournemouth, to tackle UK emissions of methane and CO2 so urgently and bring forward the end-date for net-zero emission to 2040, I could not in good conscience fly over 6000 miles to Japan and back and then feel at ease addressing audiences around the country about “Changing our ways” as Chair of GLD. I just could not do it, so I decided to sell my precious tickets for the Rugby games. And my conscience felt much the better for it!

I have already made dietary changes to eat much less red meat – I now class myself as a Flexitarian – perhaps not the “green purist” position as being a vegetarian or vegan, but progress of a sort. I have also made other changes to my life in terms of addressing my carbon footprint. I am very lucky to own around three hectares of land in Nottinghamshire where I am planting trees in great quantity (well over 200 at the last count and many more to go over the next couple of years, whilst I am still fit enough to dig the holes to plant them in!) I say “lucky”, but it was a conscious decision on my part, more than twelve years ago, to offset as much as I could of my carbon footprint with personal carbon sequestration.

I also fitted solar panels a few years ago and more recently I have added batteries to the system to be able to store my solar energy as much as possible. I now have a hybrid vehicle (I would have gone all-electric but for the need to pull the caravan, thus avoiding short-haul holiday flights!) It is, however, only the third vehicle I have owned in over 24 years – I have consciously kept my vehicles as long as practicable to avoid the carbon cost embedded in their manufacture.

Let me be clear, however, that I am a long way from claiming an ideal low-carbon lifestyle – I know full-well that there are many others out there making a much better fist of it than myself. It is nevertheless very important that we make strenuous efforts to change our ways if we are preaching societal changes of the magnitude needed to tackle the scale of the problems we face. Ideally, we must become a “Do what we DO” Party, rather than a “Do what we SAY” Party.

We must push the Green Liberal Imperative as hard as we can – in our own lives as well as in the lives of others. OK – I need to go back to being on holiday, otherwise I shall get into trouble with Mrs Melton!

A passing Green bus in Luxembourg! Bus fares are very cheap there and all school age kids appear to travel completely free on public transport, which is comfortable and frequent. potential lessons to be learnt here…

 

Posted in English rugby, Environment & Sustainable Development, European referendum, Politics | 2 Comments

Heatwave at the political crossroads…!

Political crossroads

By Keith Melton, Vice Chair – Campaigns – GLD

We are at a political crossroads – the like of which I have not seen in all of my lifetime.

We have a new Prime Minister who is a buffoon and a charlatan, promising the impossible. We have a parliament which has been tied up in knots for more than three years trying to resolve an intractable problem, unable or unwilling to find a reasonable basis for agreement. So much so, that everything other than Brexit has been virtually ignored or left in the hands of a civil service whose best brains have been poached by those trying to resolve the intractable problem!

Perhaps the most worrying thing is that `sorting out Brexit` has actually become a distraction from the much more dangerous, existential issues of the Climate Crisis and Biodiversity Loss. Either one of these problems could (and probably will!) bring about catastrophic consequences. The fact that both are happening at the same time brings to mind the famous Oscar Wilde line from `The Importance of being Earnest` – “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose both looks like carelessness”.

Our political classes are being careless!

Record Temperatures

The current European heatwave is bringing record temperatures (hottest UK day ever this week!) and the likelihood is that we will face five times as many heatwaves now because of changes in climate patterns brought about by human induced Global heating.

According to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service there were, in June, more than 100 intense and long-lived wildfires raging in areas north of the Arctic Circle. North Siberia and Alaska were worst hit. In June alone, these fires emitted 50 megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to Sweden’s total annual emissions, the monitoring service says. That is more than was released by Arctic fires in the same month between 2010 and 2018 combined.” – extract from … https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/arktika/2019/07/worlds-warmest-june-ever-heatwave-raged-across-parts-arctic

Do something

WE need to `do something`. But what is it that we need to do exactly? (..and by `we`, let`s be clear that I mean `we Liberal Democrats`…) You may have noticed we also acquired a new leader very recently. And in the leadership campaigning around the country both Jo and Ed signalled that as well as wanting to “Stop Brexit”, they both wanted to put the Climate Crisis much higher up the political agenda. Just saying it will not make it happen, however, – it is a necessary, but not a sufficient requirement on its own.

Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party before them have a respectable history of being environmentally aware and proactive and we have a clear public profile in this regard. BUT, in my view, the environment has never, ever, been front and centre in our campaigning and that must change.

Don`t get me wrong, of course we have campaigned on environmental issues, getting rid of lead in petrol, banning ozone-depleting hydrofluorocarbons, reducing plastic waste, developing renewable energy, and so on and so on. All good environmental causes.

But it is not enough. Not by a long shot.

It is big help that we have recently elected another 700 plus councillors and taken control of a couple of handfuls of local councils and they are now busy persuading their local communities to declare a Climate Emergency, raising the profile of the issue.

But it is not enough. Not by a long shot.

It is a big help that we have also elected sixteen MEPs, half of whom are, or have been, actual members of the Green Liberal Democrats. Clearly demonstrating that they actively support green issues in their portfolio of interests – and we must support them in their environmental roles too.

But it is not enough. Not by a long shot.

Professionalise

As a party we must professionalise our green base. In the same way that many years ago we began to professionalise our electioneering capability, starting with ALDC (even before the `D` was added) we must develop a robust full-time capability on the environment.

It is not enough to rely on “working groups” of volunteers, who may be able to bring to bear their `day-job` expertise, briefly, on specific problems to create a report which will get interpreted into a motion for conference to pass into our worthy pantheon of policy.

It is necessary and important, but not sufficient.

It is not enough to organise a GLD Conference once a year to educate and inform our campaigning and provide sustenance for the green `soul` of the party.

It is necessary and important, but not sufficient.

We need the continuous presence of an environmental “Think Tank” concentrating on bringing answers to our Councillors, our MPs and our MEPs for the issues they raise in their political forums.

We need to lead the way in creating and helping to sustain the Citizens` Assemblies and Citizens` representative who can keep our politicians` feet to the flames in the face of our dual existential threats of Climate Catastrophe and Biodiversity Loss.

Green Liberal Democrats

An obvious starting point for this process is to develop our volunteer platform through the Green Liberal Democrats, with a view to adding professional support as time goes on. It helps, of course, that the group has grown rapidly over the last couple of years. It may be that we are reaching a useful tipping point where the increasing membership, and the increased availability of funds that flows from those numbers, enables the group to at least partially fund additional administrative support.

Indeed, in my view, it should be a task to be tackled by the incoming new GLD executive committee in September to explore funding opportunities. We might look at potential subventions from various party bodies, whether it be the much larger group of councillors seeking environmental advice, or our excellent group of MEPs seeking regional campaigning support or maybe even our new Leader`s Office wanting to develop our green remit!

We also need to look again at possible bids for supporting funds from charitable sources. We did make some tentative approaches a couple of years ago in relation to the GLD conferencing development. Some interest was shown but sadly no funds materialised, so we had to knuckle down and do it ourselves. With the rapidly developing research data on the extent of climate change and biodiversity loss threats, it may be an opportune time to try again.

Campaigning and Political leadership

I started this article with the claim that we are at a political crossroads. For the country at the moment, that political crossroads looks like a Brexit decision one way or another – and it is to be expected that Jo Swinson and the Party leadership will concentrate their initial efforts on stopping Brexit if possible.

However, once that is achieved (or denied?!), the party must concentrate on providing the same clarity of vision and the same vim and vigour in campaigning on the environment. We must make it OUR issue – we must own it and flaunt it and that will require dedication and political leadership commensurate with the task.

Assuming you are a GLD member reading this may I suggest there are at least three things you (we!) might do…

1 Help set up a Regional GLD Group in your region. Let me know if you can help.

2 Get your local authority; trade union; professional body or, your employer to declare a Climate Emergency. If you are already onto this, please let me know, we need to track progress.

3 Help to generate local support for the Climate Strike on 20th September, we need to be involved at all levels.

For more on the Climate Strike see this link… >>> https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=427395381195077

Green Liberal Democrats should not shy away from this responsibility. We should grasp it with both hands and make it our own. And, by the way, if you are NOT a GLD member reading this, the first thing you should do is to JOIN US!

Click here to join – https://greenlibdems.org.uk/en/page/join-now

Keith Melton, Vice Chair – Campaigns – GLD

July 2019

Posted in Boris, Environment & Sustainable Development, Lib Dem Leadership, Politics, Radical Liberal | Tagged | Leave a comment