East Midlands Green Party Blog


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Stop pretending we can’t afford the NHS: that’s the message of our march

GP NHS placard photoWe are living in a world in which the politics of the leaders of two of the world’s great nations – America and Britain – is built on broken promises. During Donald Trump’s election campaign he promised to “take on Wall Street”. So when just weeks later the president announced a cabinet full of banker billionaires, my brother, Senator Bernie Sanders, said: “With all due respect, Donald Trump is a fraud.

Meanwhile, here in the UK Theresa May took up her post as prime minister on the commitment to “work for all, not just the privileged few”. Well, it is just weeks since our NHS descended into a humanitarian crisis, and we are already looking at another round of privatisation and cuts. Which is why at midday today we will be marching on parliament in support of the NHS.

We don’t need reminding of the horrors we saw over the winter, with people dying on trolleys and turned away from hospitals, and the British Medical Association warning our most cherished institution has been pushed to breaking point. The NHS is facing a £22bn funding gap, with the demand for care set to rise 4% a year while the health service’s budget will go up by only 0.2% every year between now and 2020.

This crisis in healthcare has been exacerbated by the current Tory government – but its foundations were laid by New Labour and further strengthened by the coalition with the Health and Social Care Act of 2012. The creeping privatisation of the past quarter of a century has introduced vast fragmentation and inefficiency into our health service, and, combined with chronic underfunding, has left the NHS on the brink. Anyone who has visited a hospital recently knows how hard doctors, nurses and all the staff are working to make sure patients are cared for with dignity and compassion, despite the strain on the system. It is time we listened to their concerns.

Adding to the pressure facing hospitals across the country is the financial crisis in social care. We’re living longer, and that’s a great thing – last year, aged 81, I stood in the Witney byelection after David Cameron resigned. But while there are currently one-third more over-85s than 10 years ago, adult social care budgets have been cut by one third in the same time. And the care funded by local authorities accounts for just a small proportion of the care elderly people in the UK currently receive. Every year family, friends and neighbours provide £55bn of unpaid carefour in 10 people in care homes pay for themselves, and a staggering 1.2 million people over 65 with care needs receive no help at all.

We are simply not providing enough care and support for people in the community, at home and close to where they live. This means elderly people are more likely to end up in hospital, and when they get there it is more difficult to get them home again. People who are medically well are stuck in hospital because there is nowhere suitable for them to go and too little support for them at home. The system is failing these people who could be living at home or in supported accommodation instead of being isolated from their communities on a hospital ward. But it also fails those who desperately need the hospital beds these elderly people occupy.

The government’s response has been to engage in a cruel con where local councils were told there was “new” funding for social care, only to find much-needed funding cut from elsewhere. It is little wonder the system is on its knees – and the prime minister’s insistence on ending free movement as part of Brexit risks starving the NHS and care services of the staff they so desperately need.

Yesterday 250,000 people took to the streets of London to march in support of the NHS, unwilling to stand by and watch while this government dismantles public healthcare – and I’m proud to be among their number. The government tells us there isn’t enough money but this isn’t true. We are the fifth richest country in the world – we have the money to stop our health service turning into a humanitarian crisis, and to care for people when they grow old: in hospitals, the community and homes. We have the money for a fully funded public health service. If Theresa May is to keep her promise to “work for all, not just the privileged few”, she must not let the NHS and social care crumble on her watch.

 

Written by Larry Sanders, Green Party Health and Wellbeing Spokesperson, for the Guardian.


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Real Nappies

Considering the future of our planet – the home of our children and grandchildren, should be a must for us all. We are currently using up important resources, destroying our planet, creating far too much waste; all for our immediate and often selfish needs, as if there was no tomorrow. There are endless examples of what we are now take for granted, but which are simply unsustainable.
Getting involved in politics, meeting with business and very different people, I have learned a lot of things I otherwise would not know much about. For example, I have recently met with a company “Bambino Mio” who manufactures and distributes reusable or real nappies. So I learned about disposable nappies and the environmental impact of the production and disposal of nappies.
Disposable nappies use about 3.5 times more energy than real nappies to produce; using eight times more non-renewable materials. This is simply not sustainable.
Increasingly more parents are now buying reusable nappies for many reasons. Sometimes because of their environmental responsibility, but also as they can be cheaper (particularly if the parents have more than one child). By the way, they look very nice too.
Disposable nappies amount to around 5% of the UK’s waste, mainly ending up on landfills; each nappy can take up to 400 years to decompose, giving off methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas in the process. Currently councils, therefore the council tax payer, are carrying the full costs of disposal. The UK has agreed in principle to a EU Directive to adopt a zero-waste policy. Hence we must address unnecessary waste, and that means doing something about disposable nappies.
In some areas, councils have offered voucher schemes which make real nappies cheaper for parents. The costs saved from the waste disposal were basically covering the voucher scheme costs. Obviously everybody benefited from less waste, which otherwise will fill up our countryside with waste tips.
An alternative approach to this problem would be a Green Party policy where producers and distributors of any products would have to pay environmental levies that directly reflect the real costs of their products, including disposal. By real costs I mean the carbon footprint, the resources used and the environmental damage a product really causes to our shared environment. At the moment, these costs are carried by us and our future generations. We accept that such levies would partially be passed on to consumers and we want to ensure that family incomes are not damaged by such price hikes. But over time, these costs will level off leaving no long term problems for future generations to sort out. However, families as everybody else need to accept the need to change their consumer behaviour, since we otherwise will leave our future generations in difficulties. If all families switched to reusable nappies then they would become even cheaper. And finally, other Green Party economic policies would ensure a sound financial basis for families, to address the struggles that so many are finding under the rule of the free market ConDem Government.
I think I speak on behalf of most parents in saying that we want the best for our children both today and in to their future. Therefore, we owe it to them to live now within our means environmentally speaking, so we can leave them with an unspoiled world that offers them the resources they need.


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Complementary and Alternative Medicine

According to Medline Plus, ‘Complementary and Alternative Medicine’ (CAM) is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard care. ‘Standard Care’ is what medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, and allied health professionals, such as nurses and physical therapists, practice.
Complementary medicine is used together with standard medical care. An example is using acupuncture to help with side effects of cancer treatment.
Alternative medicine is used in place of standard medical care. An example is treating heart disease with chelation therapy (which seeks to remove excess metals from the blood) instead of using a standard approach.
So before I discuss further my views on complementary and alternative medicine, let’s look first at the framework and some relevant points including Green Party policies on improving health, treatment and a patient-centered care approach.
What is health? When I used to deliver training about mental health, I always stressed the point that physical as well as mental health is a state or a continuum; it does not mean “illness” or “being healthy”. According to the World Health Organisation “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
The Green Party has well-thought, detailed and sound health policies, for full details please see http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/he However, I will briefly outline some core concepts. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/he
Ideally we address health prior to any illness, which means we must identify and then address risk factors, some are already well known like poor diet, others have been poorly researched due to the lack of funding, or due to large corporations lobbying. For example, there has been some alleged correlations between an increased cancer risk when living close to a nuclear power station; however making such claims would risk being sued by the industry (which holds a lot of power and funds). Another problem is that we might be scientifically aware of a correlation, but nobody acts upon it. The government’s own statistics show that in the UK 29,000 people die every year from air pollution. But little is being done.
The Green Party wants to collect data, complete additional research and then ultimately address environmental factors that cause ill health. Furthermore various Green policies would anyway ultimately improve our health since we would address issues like air and water pollution; and encourage eating more local, organic food and less animal products. Basically a Greener living would not only help the planet but also all of us. Additionally we need to improve education for all so that individuals can make informed decisions about their lifestyle choices and potential health risks.
The Green Party promotes a holistic understanding of health; furthermore we cannot address a symptom of an illness without understanding the individuals general health, mental health and their environmental situation. For example, we are aware that people with mental health problems tend to smoke more than others. If a medic would want to encourage somebody in this position to stop smoking without understanding that smoking may be a coping strategy for their poor mental health, it is unlikely to be successful and may even leave the individual feel unsupported, and not understood which may worsen their mental health. Equally, treating someone for a respiratory disease like asthma with conventional medicines, whilst they live next to a power station, could be considered as short sighted and actually imposing additional risks of side effects whilst not addressing the cause. So we want a holistic and integrative approach to health.
Another important aspect of the Green Party’s policies on health is the focus on the individual being empowered and enabled to make choices. I am a psychotherapist and I feel passionately about the need for each person to be central in their treatment; without the individual’s participation and ability to make an informed choice, the treatment outcome is likely to be jeopardised.
The pharmaceutical industry holds a lot of power; and I do question their integrity. Their focus is on illness rather than on supporting health. It is well known that they use cartel methods to fix prices. I struggle to trust their research methods, their own evaluation of effectiveness and risk factors, since ultimately they want to make a profit. I also question the industry’s lobbying, which has caused for example patients with depression to be easily prescribed antidepressants without the opportunity to first seek counselling. I see regularly clients as a psychotherapist who have been on medication for many years, often with terrible side effects, whilst their GP has been reluctant to refer them on to counselling. If they then come to counselling, the NHS only offers six sessions, which is in cases of long term mental health problems just not enough. So it is my experience that drugs are prescribed too easily, and that patients have little say when it comes to their treatment options.
So that leads me finally to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). I have some personal experiences with homeopathy, which I used once for a minor problem. To be honest I was rather skeptical but gave in to the advice of a dear friend. I must admit I was astounded about the quick and apparent improvement of my problem. I am fully aware that this could have been caused by the placebo effect, but so what? It worked, and completely without side effects. Homeopathic remedies do not actually contain any real chemical content, but the “memory” of the original substance. I know it sounds strange, but it worked.
There are a number of different CAM, and I do believe we must be careful as some can be extremely controversial for very good reasons. For example I do not support Chinese medicine that contains substances or parts from animals (often endangered species). So I would always ensure that the medicines are produced and distributed with safe, sustainable and green methods.
It is also known that some CAM can cause side effects or interaction with other drugs, therefore one must be cautious and seek advice before taking any. I would recommend, as it is Green Party policy, that all drugs including CAM are appropriately labelled with clear outlines of risks, side effects and possible drug interactions.
Many people take vitamins and food supplements in the hope that any potential deficiencies from their poor diet are being addressed. I am very skeptical about this, and I have seen a German documentary of a meta study that clearly showed that these supplements, specifically for antioxidants, are not only ineffective but actually increase the fatality rate. Apparently the supplement industry has been fighting to have these claims withdrawn.
The Green Party promotes a healthy mixed and balanced diet from organic and locally grown produce, which would make this need for supplements void, and it tastes better too!
I visited Weleda in March, we discussed medical regulation here in the Uk and in the EU, we further agreed on the necessity of a sustainable, organic and Green approach which is central to their production of cosmetics and medicines. I have since read about their CAM, here in the UK Weleda produces their Anthroposophic Medicine that constitutes an international school of medical thought and practice developed as an extension of modern scientific medicine, practised exclusively by qualified medical professionals. They do appreciate conventional medicine but believe that a human being has additional dimensions and to treat someone we must take the holistic view of healing. For example, something I appreciate as a psychotherapist when someone has a medical issue, we need to take their psychological dimension into account. Furthermore counselling or some creative outlet may help an individual to deal with their psychosomatic issues that are manifested physically. I regularly see clients who are being treated for various medical illness like stomach problems, which are actually caused by some suppressed emotions. So treating them with conventional medicines are just addressing the symptom not the cause.
Weleda is compatible with my personal and professional view of an integrative treatment approach, and I believe it is also in line with Green Party policies. But it must be foremost a personal choice.
I also think we must distinguish between alternative and complementary; I personally would be reluctant to use alternative drugs alone ie: not using any conventional medicine if facing a serious health concern. But I know that these treatments, correctly dispensed have their place in a holistic health policy.
I would support research, sound regulation and clear labelling for CAM as well as all conventional medicines. The Green Party’s policies do provide a framework that is compatible with CAM. It is right that people are given a choice – an informed choice.


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Health Rationing

Health Rationing,  perverted ConDem logic.

By Mike Shipley

I was horrified to read a press report that stated that the Government was considering a new policy that could see the elderly denied treatment.  NICE, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence, has been asked by the Department of Health to look at the guidelines covering the availability of drugs and treatments within the NHS.  Their aim of course is to cut expenditure and to make the NHS a more attractive prospect to the private health providers that they want to see eventually take over health delivery in the UK.

The Government wants the decisions about making treatments available to take account of the ‘benefits the patient may have in society’, rather than to focus specifically on the welfare of the patient.  The purpose of this wider consideration is to target treatments on those patients who will return to work to the benefit of the economy.  If the patient is unlikely to return to work the treatment will not be considered to give value for money and may be denied.

Just what sort of society is this ConDem government trying to create? If they have their way it will be one where the majority of human beings are nothing but accounting units serving the impersonal economy.  For them, the welfare of the economy is more important than the welfare of people.  In their world, a person only has any value if he or she is contributing directly to wealth creation. Not, it must be noted, wealth for the general good, but wealth for the minority, who of course will have no problems buying what ever treatment they need.

This is yet another example of the nasty, mean attitude of the Conservative–Liberal Democrat Government.  It is also another example of bad policy from the Treasury, which now runs the Government at the behest of private financial interests.  Just who do these people think they are to judge us, the people who legitimise their power, as worthy or not worthy of life or health?  How have we, the people of the UK allowed this situation to develop in which a millionaire sect decides who can have  treatment and who should be left to suffer and die?

I looked at a few statistics and found that the number of knee and hip replacements and cataract operations is now at its lowest for five years.  These are principally treatments for the retired sector of society, that is, according to this Government, the economically non-beneficial who cost the state more than they contribute.  We can see that treatment rationing for the elderly is already happening, to help to make up the shortfall in the NHS budget caused by the Governments £20 billion of cuts.  Cuts we might remember that are needed to pay for the bail out of the banks who messed up the economy in the first place.  Not that bankers need worry, they are still on multi-million bonuses and can afford to buy any treatment they need.

I said that this is typical Treasury short sighted policy, it is also grossly unfair.  Unfair because retired people have made their contribution to the nation’s wealth in good faith, paying direct and indirect tax throughout their adult lives.  If those who manage our economy, including the Treasury and the financial industry have squandered all this wealth, we can hardly blame the pensioners.  Neither are we going to see a miraculous recovery in the economy if pensioners were denied treatment.  If that were to happen, the cost to society would almost certainly be higher.

This is where the Treasury is short sighted.  It only sees people as units of immediate economic production.  But people are far more than that, and, once able to leave the formal economy, very many people make considerable further contributions to society.  How many grandparents take on the role of unpaid childminders for their grandchildren?  How many support in a wide variety of ways their stressed working children?  Cameron still babbles on about ‘Big Society’ without ever thinking about who is making this work.  It is the volunteer sector, and it is heavily dependent on the ‘economically inactive’,  those who the Treasury wants to dismiss as a burden on society, and who in fact are doing far more that this wretched Government to hold society together.

NICE has voiced its concerns about this proposal, and it is likely to be withdrawn as unworkable.  But we should not forget that it shows the true face of this Government and their financial backers. Please remember this face when you enter the ballot box.  It is us, the electorate who returned them in 2010, it is us who have the power to remove them in 2015.


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Breathless – our right to breathe

Taken by Antonia Zenkevitch at The Blue Wave March against Climate Change.

Taken by Antonia Zenkevitch at The Blue Wave March against Climate Change.

Successive government policies are failing in safeguarding the rights of many to breathe. Fracking plans are part of a long line of health threats being created. The Green Party is different.

3 people a day die of asthma in the UK, 200 a day are rushed to emergency care. Although triggers are diverse, some of these deaths are warning signals that the air we breathe is not safe.  Exhaust fumes, for example, can trigger an attack that leaves the airways inflamed, constricted, obstructed, twisted.  Air pollutants, harsh chemicals in the home or work place and stress are some of the triggers, as are extremes of temperature.  Areas of the world where fracking is underway show rising  asthma and other health crisis. Texas, where drilling is heavy has a 25% asthma rate in young children compared to national average of 7%.  The government fracking plans could raise mortality rates in the UK. Asthma rates already rising with connections to climate change, air quality and poverty arguably triggers. Resistant virus strains and threats to basic well-being and immunity also factors.

You may ask how is this related to the Green Party? I would answer it is related in every way.  The Green Party policies are generally cleverly designed and focus on protecting the things that provide well-being.  A good public transport system, green industry and a safe and funded NHS for example are fundamental to general well-being. These are also things that could save lives and dignity.  The Green Party shows the way in these areas within the political arena. No other party does. Asthma rates are political because they spur us on to re-examine political priorities. The government on the other hand seems to be gaslighting – playing a game of smoke and mirrors. Under the new De-Regulation Bill the Con-Dem Government would remove any requirement for councils to produce assessments after designating air quality zones. As there are unsafe air zones it strikes me as vital that assessments should be made and protection put in place. The De-Regulation Bill is also designed to ‘remove burdens on business’ (to be ethical?) and ‘repeal legislation no longer of use’ (according to whose priorities?). This bill paves the way for fracking for example in a similar way to fracking being made exempt from The Clean Water Act in USA. It is one of the ways the Com-Dem government risks lives and Labour gives no opposition.

I am a wheezy Green. Ours is one of the one in five homes in the UK affected by asthma. A quarter of a million people have asthma so severe that medicine available does not work for them and even mild asthma can be fatal.  In 2011 alone asthma rates rose 12 %. Child asthma rates are rising most steeply (as is child poverty) with more young systems unable to deal with hazards in the air.  I have had a couple of nasty attacks recently, have pneumonia  and am trying to get my airways working properly. Many of us also contend with airborne, food and other allergies.   The body under duress sometimes mistakes friend for foe. As I work in the underfunded voluntary sector it cost me a large proportion of wages in prescriptions after my becoming ill just to make sure I can keep breathing. How many cannot afford to breathe?

The privatisation of our NHS by Labour, Conservatives and LibDems in successive governments also endangers lives. (It also takes jobs and so destablises society and the economy). It takes longer to be treated. We are inundated with consumer choice and lacking in patient care. A friend of mine from University days has worked some years in a hospital blood testing lab.  Her hours are long, her weekends rare, the staff were just 4 to one large hospital. She tells me a ‘Super Lab’ with the same number of people serving 4 hospitals is the new way of apparently ‘putting patients first’.  This for me illustrates the vampiric nature of commerce coming before care.  Even the term ‘superlab’ seems crass.

Social injustice costs lives. Of the deaths caused by asthma and many other diseases, rising healthcare costs and decreasing benefits to those who need them play their part. There is systematic dehumanisation of so many in and out of paid work who cannot afford to eat well or heat their homes. So many literally cannot afford the cost of living.  If you can’t afford to heat your home the cold air can be rejected by asthmatic lungs.  Fear or emotional trauma can also trigger an attack. With so many struggling to make ends meet in a prevailing political culture of divide and rule, this increases the health threats to many. Under extreme pressure many people are more likely to smoke more, less likely to look after themselves and more likely to put their own and other’s health at risk.  A struggling single parent said in Life’s A Drag: Women, Smoking and Disadvantage, Hilary Graham, 1993 “I smoke more if I’ve got bills coming in, I tend to get worried. Like Christmas is coming and I’m not able to afford the things I want.” Then there is the hunger for so many, with Foodbanks needed ever more.  Poverty and austerity – that poison masked as medicine – are killers.

Climate Chaos and poverty are closely related threats. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, includes in its research the effects of Climate Change on health threats rising and continuing to rise. Asthma is one disease on the rise, together with respiratory allergies, airborne diseases, heart-disease and stroke, cancer, foodborne and waterborne diseases, human development defects, neurological disorders, mental health and stress related ill-health, heat related morbidity and mortality … The list goes on. Our Governments answer is willful ignorance unchallenged by Labour. Plans for fracking, licences for dangerous pesticides, erosion of safety measures to protect clean air ‘zones’, new airport runways all carry threats. You do not have to look for the tsunamis, droughts and ash clouds to see climate change take life. It is there in the silence after a fatal asthma attack takes a child on a day you can taste pollution in the air. Behind closed doors, in homes, climate chaos costs lives. Those it often takes are those with problems accessing or affording care.

Our health security relies on a great number of things; saving the NHS, tackling true causes of poverty, protecting land and water, investing renewable energy and clean air targets. These are all things central to Green Party policy and for the most part fundamentally lacking in the other parties. I choose to focus this post on asthma because, if you pardon the pun, I had something to get off my chest and the issue is literally close to my own heart. It is one issue that shows how politics based on the common good can change lives.  The idiocy and arrogance of successive governments literally leaves millions breathless.   The Green Party is challenging itself and the UK to be the very best it can be. Now, that to me is a breath of fresh air! For me personally being ill was a reminder that fighting for The Green Party and its policies is in so many uncountable ways a fight for life.

Antonia Zenkevitch 2014

References and Further Reading include:

http://greenparty.org.uk/policies.html

http://www.catskillmountainkeeper.org/our-programs/fracking/whats-wrong-with-fracking-2/air-pollution

http://www.asthma.org.uk/knowledge-bank-smog

http://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/about.htm 


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Peace and Goodwill to all Life?

candles in the dark

The East Midland’s Green Party Blog has been going for a year. This year, as last year, we take a seasonal look at how we can each make a difference. This month’s theme is ‘life-style’ and I wanted to include a look at a seasonal theme of peace and good will to all people (and all life).

There is the song called ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’, in which some pretty odd gifts are presented. The image of 12 marauding lords a-leaping uninvited around a home bought to my mind some of the inappropriate gifts this government has offered to us in the last 12 months. Each one has drastic effects on lives. Simply to name 12 ills the government has been party to or failed in its duty to protect us from, I would include homelessness increasing, child poverty increasing, increased domestic violence with decreased prosecution, increasing debt to pay national (bank) debts, the promise of more water and land pollution with fracking, climate chaos remaining unchallenged despite renewed warnings from government’s chief scientist, the escalation of school privatisation, the escalation of NHS privatisation, increasing fuel poverty and shortages, alienation and dehumanization of emerging communities, disabled people’s rights and ability to thrive taken away. You could add much more. So where is the hope? Look in the mirror, it is you!

Many of these ‘gifts’ were also given by the Labour government, such as privitisation of public services like schools and the NHS.  Edd Milliband forgot to mention the environment at all in his spring conference speech this year. So it is left to us to protect community values in the face of threats posed by reckless and ruthless policies. For many it is a season of festivity,  giving and tradition. When we consider what we wish to share with loved ones this season and beyond let’s look at alternative gifts and ways of giving.

As the first day of Advent arrived and as many prepare for Christmas I am in the midst of Channukah celebrations. I’m an Interfaith Women’s Worker and on Sunday members of the women’s group were at my home sharing cake and hope. Zahra, a Muslim from Gaza and I speak of being cousins, while our friend from Malawi sits by our side. This friend who has been active in our local community for 14 years, trained as a nurse, has done much church, interfaith and women’s empowerment voluntary work, while staying within the law and not doing paid work until she has permission to stay. She  recently spent two and a half months incarcerated in a detention centre without adequate medicine for her high blood pressure and under constant threat of deportation.  When she was let out on bail she was rushed into hospital to deal with the damage her detention and inadequate medicine caused. That was in this country, this year. Another woman around my kitchen table, originally from Ireland,  has told her stories of a persecuted childhood on these shores where shops and homes were closed to her. The original, now retired, matriarch of the group who gathered these women, sits on my right. Across cultures, faiths, generations and politics we speak of our hopes for peace between peoples and peaceful and equal relationships between men and women. The Green Party is the only party that does not use newcomers to our nation as scapegoats for economic uncertainty and almost every other social ill, though our membership diversity in terms of faith or ethnicity is limited so far.  Many call this the season of goodwill but I would ask if goodwill should need a season? It is a good place to start and stretch ourselves from.

Here is a puzzle. Peace and social justice are cornerstones of The Green Party. Peace is a universal concept talked of much, acted on less. While there are many things we would like to see reformed in the EU, one reason to stay is Peace. In the last few decades since the second War to End All Wars there have been armed conflicts all across the globe. We take it for granted that we would not go to war with Germany, with France and with other EU countries. We may like to believe history has taught us lessons, but the trade and political relationships built up by the EU are a great safeguard. It would be politically and economically self-defeating for an EU nation to declare war on another.

Here is a question and each one of us will have a different answer. What are the gifts we are going to offer the world in the upcoming year?  In the year to come I would like to see The Green Party stretch further to welcome a more diverse membership. There will be those who will be offended at the suggestion we have further to go to be inclusive.  I will risk that in the pursuit of a greater gift we could all share; that of a broader more effective party, building on the generations of sterling work given so far. Within the limits of finance and facilities we should open the party to a membership that reflects the inclusiveness of its policies. Religiously neutral and non-pub venues mean more Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and others  feel welcomed. Venues with good access for people with mobility problems would increase membership, active engagement and comfort. Social media, Skype and phone trees could help where this is not possible. Ensuring conferences do not fall on the major festivals of any one faith too many times, if ever, would ensure against bad feeling. Ensuring that any and all allegations of prejudice are dealt with speedily and justly, not with punishment but as a chance to build greater understanding, awareness and tolerance would build us up, together. We cannot afford complacency with regard to diversifying our membership and ensuring welcome is an absolute, not an adjustment of structure. Our practices must live up to the promise of our policies.  We cannot be naive and fail to see where there are barriers to inclusion or that, however unlikely or uncomfortable it seems, even Green Party members may occasionally need to build tolerance and understanding of different cultures and beliefs.  We are in this Earth Ship together and most, if not all, cultures, faiths and creeds have notions of social justice and the importance / sacredness of the earth at their core.  The time has passed when we can afford to accidentally (or purposefully) leave any one out. So, if this is a season of goodwill to all humanity and all life let us expand our borders of what is possible if we dared to think, to dream, we could all work together. Once we were called ‘People Party’. It is a massive ask but it may be only we could do it, let us try to live up to that.

Wishing you peace, joy and sustenance now and in the future. It is a gift that rests in all our hands, unwrapped when we give to one another.

Antonia Sara Zenkevitch


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A Light on Energy

No to Fracking

This month East Midlands Green Party are focusing on the theme of energy. When I started writing this post, the street to which I’ve just moved went into blackout twice in one night. We stumbled over boxes to light candles. Being greenies, we had solar lights and a windup torch. I later found out that on the 13th of October the BBC reported the risk of blackouts this winter is higher than at any time over the past six years, according to the National Grid. Sitting in the dark we discussed, (along with things like how great one of our neighbours is and if he needs candles), the probability of power outages becoming more frequent and the effects on homes, businesses and public services. We don’t know our other neighbours yet, or those who might have troubles. We do know that the price of basic fuel often exceeds our own budget, along with an increasing number of others. We are lucky enough to be in paid employment, though my paid hours are few. Yet I know we are going to be cold and that this will effect my own physical capacity to work and live well, together with affecting my mood. Being constantly cold is not regularly associated with well-being. It does not help that there are so many others in similar or worse situations.

Under the present  insane system the priority is the pursuit of (short-term) profit rather than the meeting of human need or long-term solutions to the energy crisis. With Fuel Poverty on the rise and the cold winter  coming, charities such as Age UK are warning of associated fatal illness bought on by the cold which can and does result in the death of tens of thousands each year. Flu, asthma , chest infections, strokes, depression are some of the killers in the cold affecting low income households, including struggling families, infants, the elderly and those with disabilities. It affects us all as a society and as individuals. Within my circle of family and friends are those at risk. I am personally a high risk of complications  in cold spells due to my own health.

There is inefficiency and greed within an energy system based on polluting, wasteful extraction of resources that are becoming ever more scarce, or those which leave life-killing, cancer causing radioactive waste. Fracking manages both to be wasteful and polluting, destroying land and water. It is also radioactve.  One report citing some of the compelling research on this was by Douglas Main on October 3rd, for NBC News USA, where fracking is already in operation. Geochemistry and Water Quality Proffessor Avner Vengosh of Duke University stated levels of radium in fracking wastewater let out into rivers in Pennsylvania were ‘higher than those found in some radioactive waste dumps, and exceed the minimum threshold the federal government uses to qualify a disposal site as a radioactive dump site’ and that this will get into the food system on every level. The report by Main can be found at http://www.nbcnews.com/science/fracking-wastewater-contaminated-likely-radioactive-8C11323012. There is no promise to meet the energy needs of our communities. The industry is heavily subsidised by us through tax but comes with no health or environmental security.  It is no accident that fracking is banned in France, which will protect public safety and environment. It is also no accident that it is exempt from the clean water act in the USA, which is the only way it could be pushed forward.

Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent, BBC News, reported on August 13th this year that ‘researchers from the University of Texas in Arlington found increased levels of arsenic in groundwater near fracking sites in the Barnett Shale, an area with around 16,000 active gas wells.’ A component in rat poison and famous in the classic film ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’, arsenic is one of the worlds most effective and vile poisons. In fracking the outmoded, wasteful, centralised energy production industry has come up with something that is more deathly and desperate than anything we have so far seen. It leaves water undrinkable, carrying cancer causing and other poisonous chemicals and radioactivity.

Humanity has become dependent on wasteful, polluting, inefficient and heavily subsidised fuel instead of investing in renewables which are infinite , the relevant technologies are largely clean and increasingly efficient.  Green Party policy states the immediate objective: To promote full use of currently available renewable energy sources for heat, electricity and transport and provide the necessary support for the relevant markets and industries to grow. Meanwhile our Green Energy Policy also states the aim: To reduce demand for fossil fuels as rapidly as possible by inducing industry, householders and the public sector to invest in energy conservation. Under the present coalition, with no real opposition from Labour, subsidies of millions are going into £Billion Oil Companies while investment in renewables has been pulled. The Big Oil industry has limited accountability and little interest in communities becoming more self-sufficient through localised energy production.

The efficiency of renewables is increased with localised energy generation, open to community co-ownership. Green Party Policy has long-term aims for a Green Economy with energy generation focused on combined renewables locally.  Our policy states: Energy would be generated, stored and distributed as close to the point of use as practicable, with maximum local control. Our policy has at its core a commitment to make energy production ‘fully accountable to the public sector‘. The fossil fuel industry, which itself should be fossilised, works on nationalised, centralised power structures and is becoming increasingly unfit for purpose. Much fuel is needed in the transportation of fuel in these systems, meaning more pollution, less power.

Increasing fuel poverty and power outages (blackouts) and the health and safety implications are the tip of a large iceberg we are being taken towards by those with the blinkered arrogance to believe we are somehow unsinkable.  Jarred Diamond,  in  ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive’ tracks the ancient societies that have fallen because humankind has misused, mismanaged and devalued water and soil and other natural, vital resources. He then links it to what we are doing in the post industrial ‘civilised’ world. Let’s not watch the titanic failure of inadequate energy policies destroy lives, futures, economies. The Green Party is the only political party in the UK with sustainable, workable energy policies.

There is something soulful in the scientific understanding that energy does not die, it chances to change. This is a holistic wisdom in the purest sense,  touching on the poetry of a ‘council of all beings’ and remaining true to both science of sustainable energy production and the lives and economies that rely on energy production being sustainable in every sense of the word.

I will end with this, the introduction to The Green Party’s comprehensive Energy Policy. To me, after the power cut, it is a light in the dark:

‘Our world is bathed in energy radiated from the sun, but is also provided with stocks of fossil fuels in which energy is locked up. Our economic development has taken us away from using sun, wind and water power to a technology dependent on dwindling supplies of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels represent natural capital. Industrialism has been committing the fundamental economic error of using capital as income. As E.F. Schumacher has pointed out, the wealth generated from the use of capital energy resources must be directed towards making ourselves independent of that type of resource.http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/en

Soundrack to changing energy policy:

Radioactive – Imagine Dragons

Boys on the Balcony – Seize the Day

If you Tolerate this – Manic Street Preachers

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4qledBpbig

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHqFqSkHBqc

http://www.thenation.com/blog/160166/top-ten-antinuclear-songs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkCFronBCqs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wg2gAbb0NuE

by Antonia Zenkevitch for The Green Party