Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The Blair Witch/ Goodgym Project

I was definitely lost. My headtorch lit up various parts of the woodland but I couldn't hear or see the headtorches of the others I had been with 15 minutes earlier. Then I saw the eyes gleaming back at me. The fact they were a foot off the floor and the faint silhouette made me think dog but definitely not a chihuahua. Then I saw another pair of gleaming eyes about the same height but this time with a shadowy person shaped figure. He called the dogs to him and I felt a bit more secure as he put their leads on. I thanked him continued along the woodland path and emerged from the woods at Manor Estate in my shorts, fluorescent coat with my bulging bin bag and litter picker in hand. I was somewhat relieved to know where I was and worked my way back down Kings Mill Lane to meet the others at the other entrance to the woods.

So what was I up to in the woods late at night? "Well Officer it's like this......." Actually I wasn't doing a reinactment of 'The Blair Witch Project' or anything untoward I was in fact doing good things with Goodgym Huddersfield. The Goodgym concept is you run with a group to a place where you do a good thing for around 45 minutes such as a clean up or cutting back vegetation and then run back again. So last night it was about 2km to Longley Woods to clean up bottles and crisp packets and prune back branches and twigs on the path and avoid treading in the unfortunate dead badger, then run back again. For me a good bit of exercise to supplement my parkruns but doing some practical hands on stuff at the same time.Have you a mission for the Goodgymers in your area? Get in touch

Here's the trailer for the Blair Witch Project which seriously freaked me out when I firsyt watched it

Monday, 8 October 2018

Statement on IPCC call for urgent action on Climate Change - A plan for local action on Climate Change

Today's report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should be a wake up call for the UK Government. It is quite clear that current action to reduce emissions is inadequate and that a 3 degree C global temperature rise or worse is on the cards with catastrophic effects for people in the UK and around the world.

We need a response from Government and we need it now. I am incredulous as a Local Councillor that Local Councils around the country have had no significant contact from UK Government asking for our help and assistance in achieving the Paris Climate goals. There are things we can do without direction from Government but a lot more could be achieved if there was a genuine partnership to encourage positive action on climate change quickly. Here are some key asks that Government could do tomorrow but preferably today.

  • establish a National Climate Taskforce including Ministry of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Ministry of Communities, Housing & Local Government and the Local Government Association to drive action on climate change at the local level, addressing barriers to action and making good practice examples the mainstream 
  • require Councils to produce  Climate Action Plans on how they can cut emissions quickly and what actions they could take with greater support from central Government.
  • get Councils to lead local Climate Action Partnerships to drive deeper action on carbon emission reductions. This would draw in support from business, the wider public sector, the voluntary sector and the wider community
  • give  a clear steer to local Councils that they are expected to insist on higher energy efficiency standards in new buildings up to (and preferably) the Passivhaus Standard.
  • Ask Councils to produce a plan (with a timetable) for a complete electrification of their vehicle fleets and to work with other large fleet operators on similar plans.
  • Revive the Home Energy Conservation Act powers of Local Government and ask for new plans to be established within a year for costed plans to improve the energy efficiency of homes in line with the emissions savings we need to achieve the Paris Climate goals within a ten year timeframe.
These are all initiatives that the UK Government and BEIS in particular could start work on or set in motion today. We clearly need more action than this to acheive the Paris Climate goals but this would be a significant start and I'm requesting a meeting with the BEIS Minister of State Claire Perry and the Local Government Association to see what progress we can make together to address the Climate Emergency we are facing.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Barcelona!


Blah! Blah! Blahcelona!
I've just been to a conference in Barcelona in my role as a Rapporteur on Climate Change with the EU Committee of the Regions and a fascinating few days it was. People had told me I'd like Barcelona for the architecture and general vibe and I wasn't disappointed. The Sagrida Familia (not Barcelona Cathedral!) probably the most individual and striking building I've ever seen. the Hospital Sant Pau constructed at the beginning of the 20th Century and just the general feel of the place.

Sagrida Familia

One of the things I wanted to get out of the trip was an understanding  of was views on Catalonian Independence. It's just over a year ago since Catalonia
voted to cede from Spain and become an independent nation within the European Union. Supporters of Independence point to the overwhelming majority in support of independence and those opposing it say that it is not valid because people opposing independence didn't vote saying the Poll was not valid under Spanish law. What is beyond dispute is that the response of the Spanish Government was heavy handed at best and brutal at worst. Spanish Police blocked and beat people trying to vote and Catalonian Politicians have been imprisoned and are effectively political prisoners. Very worrying within the EU but then we do have the Frack Free Three in the UK. I spoke to as many Catalonians about it as I could and it seems support for independence is still strong. Catalonian flags still fly from balconies. Many Catalonians and their buildings are sporting a yellow ribbon (not unlike the SNP logo) showing their support for those political prisoners.

There was a time when I worried about Nationalist movements being Right Wing and possibly Xenophobic. I think that was to a certain extent true but has become less so in recent times. Certainly the SNP and Plaid Cymru are generally on the progressive side of the political spectrum. The politics seems less about Nationalism as such and more about Independence and Self Determination. "Taking control" if you will!

So now what else other than Freddie Mercury singing 'Barcelona'






Thursday, 20 September 2018

The 'Tomorrow' people

NO NOT THEM!
Today was interesting. I reacquainted myself with the Transition Network. You remember it don't you?

 "Totnes?".

 Yes that's it.

 "Rob Hopkins?" 

Yep we're on the same page. 

"Oh yes I've got a copy of the "Transition Town Handbook...somewhere. Whatever happened to them?" 

Well to be honest that was my thought and the answer seems to be that they became a global success and spawned lots of community based resilience activity all over the world being particularly successful in France, Belgium and Japan to name but a few but sadly they need to re-imagine themselves back in the UK I feel and it would be good if they could. 

In a nutshell the Transition Network is all about resilience. Resilience to a world less reliant on dwindling fossil fuels and where more goods and resources can be sourced sustainably locally. Where a thriving community becomes even more important and a vital part of the solution.

One of the reasons for the 'Rest of the World' success of the Transition Network is the smash hit film 'Tomorrow'.

 "What? You mean Tomorrow Never Dies with Pierce Brosnan as Bond?" 

No 'Tomorrow' a film about the Transition Movement. It's won stackloads of film awards and scores 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Its success is attributed to the fact that it spends the first 5 minutes on environmental doom and gloom 'get me out of this room' stuff and the rest of the movie on solutions, optimism and hope. Its been inspirational to people around the world and I'm ashamed to say that until today I'd never heard of it. I wonder if its on Netflix.

The reason I know all this is because today I was one of the speakers at the European Day of Sustainable Communities event in Brussels hosted by the EU Committee of the Regions and EESC which was full of people from around Europe who have been inspired by the resilience message of the Transition Movement. Their Umbrella body is ECOLISE or 'the European network for community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability'  It was great to be among like minded people to whom the ethos of 'Think Global Act Local' is intrinsic to their very being. They think small scale and value community, incremental change and recognise that as I put it today "That we don't just want to save the world but create a better world". It was a very positive event and full of articulate, bright and many young people. So when we were asked for a word to sum up our thoughts of the day I chose 'hope'.

I wonder what can be done to revitalise the fortunes of the Transition Network in the UK? It warrants serious thought. We have a group near us Holmfirth Transition Town which continues to do some excellent work but I get the feeling across the UK they are not as active as they were five or six years ago. Maybe one of the reasons is that they came out of  'The End of Oil' debate that seemed to place the crisis with the lack of fossil fuels as opposed to the fact that we'll burn them and ourselves to oblivion before we have to worry about them running out. This doesn't make the Transition Network any less relevant at all in fact the 'Hothouse Report' and ongoing extreme weather events mean that we must find ways of making the approach they take relevant to many more communities. 

My resolution from today? To watch the film 'Tomorrow' and if I like it to get many more people to watch it probably at Huddersfield Green Drinks at the Media Centre. Here's the trailer




Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Reaping the wild wind


I've always admired the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. They are one of the largest membership organisations in the country. Over the years they will have had plenty of pressure on them to oppose planning applications for wind turbine and wind farm developments but they have taken a pretty robust line saying from the start that, 

"Climate Change poses the single greatest threat to birds and other wildlife and the RSPB recognises the essential role of renewable energy in addressing this problem"

Its a bold opening statement but they do follow through and only object to about 6% of wind applications and that was when the UK Government hadn't to all intents and purposes practically outlawed onshore wind farms and turbines. They are still strong defenders of avians and are not shy to say where there are inappropriate wind developments but not as many as misinformed Mail readers and retired Colonels would like I'm more than sure. They speak of the need for wind farms to be sited away from major migration routes and breeding/roosting areas and point to examples of poor sitings of wind farms but generally not in the UK.

So why this interest? Well tomorrow I'm speaking at an event in Brussels looking at the impact on biodiversity of renewable energy and how to minimise it. What I've been encouraged by through reading the literature is the desire from both perspectives to seek common ground and a real expectation that it can be found.

Kent Wildlife Trust have produced some good principles by which sustainable (as opposed to just renewable energy) can be measured. These 6 principles are good ones to assess any renewable energy development. They are to :-

  1. Commit to ensuring overall positive outcomes for wildlife from the outset, aiming for a ‘net biodiversity gain’.
  2. Avoid sites that are designated for nature conservation.
  3. Identify potential negative impacts on wildlife and avoid these impacts wherever possible.
  4. When all possible options have negative impacts, seek the least environmentally damaging option. 
  5. Recognise that there may be unknown impacts on wildlife that development needs to consider and mitigate, employing the ‘precautionary principle’.
  6. Achieve this by consulting experts and relevant stakeholders early on ecological aspects of sites and routes.
Now my role in this debate is to assess from a UK perspective how renewable energy developments interact and match EU Nature Legislation. To be fair the EU legislation is pretty good in this regard and has at its heart a desire to balance the needs of humanity with the natural world. The question I have is will that same balanced approach be one that we will realise with our current government? As they have made it practically impossible to install wind technology on our island I think balance is the last thing they are seeking. They don't seek to harness the wind but to simply bend in the wind to a vocal minority most likely from their own potential supporters. Far from 'taking back control' from the EU we will be passing it on to narrow perspectives with no appreciation of the real issues. A triumph for the ill informed opinions of the guy in the pub over anyone who actually knows what they're talking about.

So here's 'Reap the wild wind' by Ultravox



Saturday, 11 August 2018

Last of the Sparkling Wine starring Michael 'Foggy' Gove


The 'Hothouse Earth' Report makes grim reading and questions whether we can 'safely park' global temperature rises at 2 degrees C and indicates that we may have set in train a series of carbon releasing events that will be difficult to stop and that we may end up with global temperatures around 4 to 5 degrees C higher than the pr- industrial era. This really is a nightmare scenario with a significant rise in sea levels, highly disrupted weather threatening food supplies and much more frequent extreme and violent weather events. It is a respected summation of current peer reviewed climate science and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A number of things have concerned me over the last few weeks. One is the cheery assertion by Conservative Government Minister Michael Gove that Climate Change and higher temperatures in the UK is a great opportunity for British Farmers to produce good quality sparkling wine. Now of course there may be some truth in this but it indicates a lack of perception of the grim reality of climate change. You could argue that what he said was taken out of context and that really he really does 'get it'. I'd like to believe that but you see the vote on the 3rd runway at Heathrow, the permission to commence Fracking at Preston New Road and the 4 new gas turbines at Drax that are on the cards and you can only conclude they don't believe and don't care about climate change. Sadly that goes for a lot of Labour politicians as well.

Michael Gove gave the impression when he was first elected that he had hugged plenty of huskies in the fashion of David Cameron when he was in his 'vote blue go green' phase. With his positive comments on neonicitinoids and their impact on the bee population I thought well this is a little bit different from before. Now it seems that this is yet another attempt to detoxify the Tory Party using 'green issues'. Actually it is difficult to work out which needs the most detoxification Gove or the Conservative Party. So yes maybe there will be a brief mini-sparkling Wine Age before the very worst impacts of Climate Change hit us but we desperately need to be acting NOW to reduce emissions for the sake of civilization and human sentience on this planet. Even if they had the time away from their headlong pursuit of Brexit I doubt it would make them act any more responsibly.

Thanks to Ros for the picture.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

The heat is on - Climate Change kills.


In my role as a local Councillor I got a call the other week from a local resident who said they had seen hundreds of dead fish in Newsome Mill Ponds in Huddersfield. I went out to investigate and there they were lying on the surface being watched over by a heron who looked like he had already had his fill of this unexpected bounty. The theories from local people came thick and fast. Poisoning and pollution were what people initially thought but following investigations it turned out it was none of these. The long hot dry spell had de-oxygenated the water and the fish had simply suffocated. The had been killed by the weather. 

In the past, as a Green, who wants to be taken seriously on climate change I've been reticent to link single weather events to climate change, but this is different. The phenomenon we are experiencing is a global one. We have had huge moorland fires on Saddleworth Moor, wildfires in Greece that have killed many, even wild fires within the Arctic Circle due to the heat and record temperatures in Japan. Comparisons with the summer of 76 are not really valid as that was very much a UK experience. This is global one and we know that extreme events such as these are going to become more common as climate change begins to have a greater impact.

Two events happened today of note. One was a new report titled 'Planning for Climate Change - a guide for Local Authorities' by the independent Local Government Information Unit. It referenced a report by the Royal Town Planning Institute from last year stating,

 "that a lack of integration of climate change into local plans was partly a result of a skills shortage related to budget cuts, and partly due to changes in national government policy that appear to de-prioritise climate change action."

Sadly this comes as no surprise. The actions of our Government appear to be those of Climate Change deniers not that of an enthusiastic signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement. The evidence is there for all to see not least of which being a huge drop in renewable energy and energy efficiency installations. 

The other event today was the Government decision to allow Fracking at Preston New Road in Lancashire against the wishes of the Lancashire County Council. Nationally the Government is pushing through permitted development rights for fracking exploration drilling overriding any local democratic objections. There is a sad lack of politicians in Westminster who 'get it' who understand that promoting these policies threatens us all.

Promoting action on climate change is so positive in terms of skilled jobs, putting money back into local economies, increasing energy security not to mention actually ensuring our survival and that of many other species that it beggars belief that any Government can turn its back on it. The disconnect between the impact of climate change on our weather and the decisions Governments and some opposition MPs make is truly worrying. These MPs must be made accountable and challenged for the stances they take. It has to be us and it has to be now. It is that urgent.