East Midlands Green Party Blog


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Vote for a Green New Deal

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Amidst all the froth that is 24 hour news, and away from the unhealthy warmongering on both sides that is happening in Ukraine, two recent publications have received some warranted attention in the last couple of weeks.

Firstly, the recent report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a call for action by governments to address potentially calamitous global warming. The third in a series (the first report focussed on emphasising the scientific consensus that global warming is happening and has been caused primarily by human activity and the second outlined the catastrophic consequences of failing to take action) the report concentrates on the actions that can and must be taken to address global warming, and stresses that is entirely possible to take these necessary actions providing there is the political will to do so.

The authoritative report, the cumulative work of over 1200 international experts, concludes that the cheapest and least risky route to dealing with global climate change is to abandon all dirty fossil fuels in coming decades, and to invest instead in renewable energy, with the aim of quadrupling renewable electricity generation by 2050. Whilst lamenting the failure by governments to provide an adequate response up to now, it says that it is still not too late to act, providing governments, cooperating on an international basis, step up to the mark.

Secondly a new book, called ‘Capital in the Twenty First Century’ by the increasingly renowned French economist Thomas Piketty provides concrete proof of what many of us have suspected for years, namely that capitalism, far from promoting the economic well-being of all, entrenches inequality and privilege, which it tends to increase over time. The study, based on a more detailed analysis of wealth and income data than has ever been previously carried out, concludes that:

“Capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based”

Piketty argues that the structural inequality which capitalism creates must be countered by high levels of taxation of both income and wealth, an initiative which will require international cooperation between governments with a common determination to take on wealth and privilege.

These two important publications are well timed for the Green Party’s European Election Campaign. We have recognised that the world’s ecological and economic crises must be addressed together. Moreover, we have developed a programme which aims to do just that. Under our Green New Deal, increased taxation of rich individuals and large companies, and a much tighter control of banks and other financial institutions, will provide the resources for increasing the incomes of the poorest, and for defending and improving the public services on which we all rely. It will also involve the greening of our infrastructure, creating well paid employment insulating homes and other buildings, promoting energy-efficient public transport and transforming our energy production so that it is primarily based on renewables. Together with Green parties across Europe we are offering a real programme for change, based on sustainable economics and social justice.

Of course Greens in the UK, and across Europe, don’t think that the election of a few more Green MEPs will be enough in itself to solve the world’s problems. Indeed we recognise that real change is not the sole responsibility of elected politicians. Greens support and get involved in trade union and community campaigns in defence of jobs and services, and against so called ‘welfare reform’. Greens have been at the forefront of direct action campaigns against fracking and other forms of dangerous energy. Nevertheless, we do think that success in the forthcoming Euro elections will represent an important step in building the movement that is needed to secure a sustainable and socially just future for ourselves, our children and our children’s children.

Green Party members in the East Midlands will be working hard in the next few weeks promoting our message of Hope. Our hope is that our candidates, including myself, will be elected to the European Parliament on May 22nd. With your help, that is possible.

Vote Green. For the Common Good.


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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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The Wrong and the Right in Energy Policy

The following is the voice of our indomitable Mike Shipley in which he presents a Green Party vision of vital, workable, sustainable energy policy in alternative to the wasteful and socially and environmentally reckless government energy agenda which subsidizes and gives tax breaks to trillion pound Big Oil companies and under-funds renewable alternatives:

The Wrong and the Right in Energy Policy

The International Energy Agency has warned the world that by 2017, we will have a better than even chance of being locked in to a 2C rise in temperature.  This is a result of the investment decisions now being taken that will determine global energy infrastructure for the next 30 years or more. Unless someone, somewhere starts to make a serious commitment to the decarbonisation of  energy production, we will experience at least 2C of global warming by mid century and be on track for at least double this by century’s end.

Who will take that lead?  The International community, bought off by oil interests, have shelved any decision on cutting carbon emissions until 2020. This is too late to stop a 2C rise without truly massive emergency investment.  The British Government has also signalled that it has abandoned any pretence of showing leadership, with a policy portfolio dominated by private interests.  In his last budget statement George Osborne handed tax breaks to oil and gas companies to encourage a new round of exploration in the North Sea and to open the door to gas fracking.  Coupled with his slashing of feed in tariffs for renewables, his energy policy is to lock the UK into high carbon and increasingly expensive fuels for the next generation.  Even the pilot CCS project at Long Gannet in Scotland has been abandoned through lack of support by the private sector.

Osborne is always quick to point out that there isn’t the money available to radically change the UK energy infrastructure.  Oh yes there is.  The trouble it is in the hands of the big oil and gas companies and they won’t pay their taxes or even invest in the next generation of renewable fuels.  As a result of Osborne’s ill timed policy of giving tax breaks to the worlds richest companies, nearly £26 Billion will be invested in North Sea exploration 2011 – 2013.  This is the money that was desperately needed to invest in our sustainable energy future.  Of course the industry and Osborne herald this as good investment, generating jobs and tax revenue.  Except that the investment comes as a result of promise of taking less tax and the industry is globally shedding jobs.  This investment is about private wealth. The Scottish Government estimates that there is £1.5 trillion of oil to be won from the UK Continental Shelf, these companies are investing to get that wealth quickly, and they can only earn it if they burn the oil and release the carbon dioxide.  Osborne has slammed the door on 2C and opened the one marked 4+.  Thank you Gideon!

The oil companies have become untouchable, they sit on mountains of cash and are using it to enrich their shareholders and senior executives, they give vast sums to politicians and organisations that will look after their interests and promote climate change denial.  The top 5 oil companies, which include BP and Shell, made $1trillion in profits in the decade 2001-11.  In addition they receive public money as subsidies and tax breaks,  the richest of them all, Exxon-Mobil, pays a mere 18% tax rate.  If any finance minister has the nerve to demand a higher share of that profit to help a struggling local economy or to build national infrastructure, they pull out and go elsewhere.  This happened in the UK when Gordon Brown increased taxation on the oil sector, in response oil companies reduced output to reduce their tax liability until they got an oil friendly Chancellor.

All this new investment sends a clear signal to the financial markets that the safe place for money is in the fossil sector, Government support for renewables is lukewarm and hedged with uncertainty, therefore it is unattractive to investors, so it is starved of cash.  Investors want maximum and quick profits. The oil that will flow as a result of these tax breaks will be burned adding to the still rising levels of carbon dioxide. Yet as we know that 80% of existing oil reserves needs to remain unburned if we are to limit temperature rise to a level we can reasonably hope to afford to live with. With men like Osborne in control, delivering the policy demanded by Big Oil, that is not going to happen.

 But it doesn’t have to be like this.

At our Spring Conference, a draft policy paper for Energy was presented.  This policy shows how it would be possible to implement an energy strategy that addressed the real issues that are ignored by the Liberal Democrat Conservative Government.  It presents a strategy that enables the full decarbonisation of both energy and transport by mid centuryA strategy that will end fuel poverty, that will create sustainable business opportunities and skilled jobs, that will invest in research and the development of new technologies so creating significant export opportunities.  A strategy that will give the UK a long term affordable, reliable, sustainable and largely indigenous energy supply.  The Green Energy Strategy would turn the UK into a global showcase, demonstrating how a technology based civilised society can operate within the carbon budget required to cut carbon dioxide to a safe level of 350ppm.  Now wouldn’t that be a better policy option than making the richest companies and people in the world even richer while consigning us all to a very unstable and hazardous future?


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Getting ‘There’

Green Train                   Transport_Lower_Fares           green bike co2 footprint

“I can’t take my chauffeur everywhere” past Conservative candidate for Tottenham stated when he was caught for drunk driving. That comment by Derek Laud could be argued to sum up government attitudes to public transport; that it is simply not on their radar even when it is irresponsible not to consider it.  Successive governments have lacked the will to prioritize public transport and invest the time and money needed to update services and improve access. Labour’s John Prescot promised in 1993 that “any privatisation of the railway system which there is, on the arrival of a Labour government will be quickly and effectively returned to public ownership”.  Promises broken. The Luis tram in Dublin connects the city efficiently and safely. We can shoot across Sweden, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, France and yet for us progress crawls and is often derailed by indifference.  The Green Party understands that an integrated, affordable, reliable green public transport system is part of the structure that can help build resilient, healthy economies and communities. Public transport is a tool for people and planet. It also plays an important role in supporting enterprise. Businesses large and small rely to some extent on public transport systems. It is needed by local food networks, producers and shops. This month our regional website recorded Green Councillor Richard Mallender, of Rushcliffe Borough Council and Green MEP candidate Katarina Boettge’s reactions to uneven public transport  expenditure: eastmidlands.greenparty.org.uk/news.html/2013/02/01/greens-slam-hs2-proposal. This post is an opening up of that debate.

While an increasing amount can be dealt with in the virtual world, via internet and satellite, there are times when human to human contact is the missing link. Meetings and conferences like the  Green Party Spring Conference and 40th birthday celebration this week rely on public transport beyond one high speed link. Local and regional services should not suffer for one high speed line.

Mobility for many is limited by inadequate public transport, often coupled with economic injustice, with isolation posing threat to the physical and mental well-being of many. Those reliant on public transport include the elderly, those with disabilities, students, young people and parents with young children. Buses and trains form vital life-lines to shops, post offices, places of work and study, play and social groups. These services are often unreliable, infrequent, expensive, vanishing. Instead of such retraction of service we need to broaden access and appeal. Air quality, public and planet health are adversely affected by congestion and over reliance on cars. Fuel poverty increases with over use of fossil fuels and energy security is threatened. Cycle lanes, walk-ways and better rail and bus networks with lower fares offer a healthful, sane and regenerative system in place of the predominant congesting crawl of cars squabbling over parking space. People are travelling ever further from home to work as local communities, economies and eco-systems are undermined.

If we are to support the strengthening of our communities and the building of a sustainable and durable economy we need efficient, affordable public transport. We need it to connect people; to empower ethical enterprise and those at risk of isolation, poverty and social exclusion. Improving services such as bus and trains creates and secures more jobs. This is needed in these times of economic insecurity. Improved air quality protects our health. Good public transport, efficient, green, safe, affordable, accessible is win-win. We are told it is not a priority. Frankly, what of importance does seem a priority in much of mainstream political rhetoric at the moment? The NHS, schools and other public services are struggling through cuts while we spend billions on weapons and millions on creating new roles in management. It is not a matter of lack of money as much as irresponsible lack of vision. Let us not allow those who rely on chauffeurs to dictate our direction and those who break their word to define our reality.

Happy travels and blue skies in this season of no leaves on the line 🙂