East Midlands Green Party Blog


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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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Extreme Energy – Extreme Risk

water on fire - chemicals in fracking

water on fire – chemicals in fracking

 

Continuing as part of this month’s focus on energy policy, Derbyshire’s indomitable Mike Shipley has written this post:

 

Extreme Energy – Extreme Risk.

 

Even though Governments and the oil industry will not admit it, the world has passed peak oil production.  This is important information that we should be informed about in order for us to be involved in the decisions necessary about our energy supply in the years to come.  But with so much investment and share value tied to oil and fossil reserves, the industry, financial sector and the governments they control are keeping quiet, behaving as if it’s all ‘business as usual.’  The markets do not like change, confirmation of peak oil from ‘reliable sources’ would send jitters through the market and weaken investor confidence in the dominant fossil sector.  Very rich people would find their investments and therefore their wealth, devalued.

 

So we don’t hear about ‘Peak Oil’ except from scientists and Greens, and they aren’t seen as ‘reliable sources’ by the market.  But it’s what the industry is doing that gives the game away.  The easy so called conventional oil and gas on land or in shallow water,  is running out.  Why else is this conservative ultra cost conscious industry investing so heavily in hard to win reserves known as ‘extreme energy’?  They are investing in high cost, high risk exploration, trying to find fossil reserves that will reassure the markets that fossil carbon remains a good investment.  These explorations include the very deep water drilling, up to 3 kilometres down,  off the coast of Brazil and in the Gulf of Mexico, the mining  of Canadian tar sands, mountain top removal for coal in the Appalachians, fracking and underground coal gasification [UCG] that is about to be launched in the UK.

 

These sources of energy, to which we can add nuclear, because of the uninsurable risk associated with nuclear accidents – come with a high price tag.  The technology needed is either in an early stage of development or it is being stretched well beyond its design capacity, as happened with the Deep Water Horizon disaster in the gulf of Mexico. Because of this the risk associated with extreme energy is much greater than with either conventional energy sources or with renewables.  However the industry will do everything it can to transfer this risk from its balance sheet to the customer and then the taxpayer as the insurer of last resort.  One way or another we will pay a high pricer for extreme energy.

 

Even if risk costs are externalised, that is: passed on to the community and tax payer, the cost of  bringing extreme energy to market remains high and will increase as reserves become more difficult to find.  For this reason the price of energy from fossil fuels will continue to rise in to the future.  The big six energy companies will use their dominant market position to protect their profits and therefore share and dividend value.  The age of cheap fossil energy is over and the only way prices of fossil energy can be brought down is through Government subsidy.  This is what the ConDem Government is doing when it gives tax breaks and cuts regulatory costs.  But even with this support the costs of extraction and processing is high and will be reflected in market price.

 

Without doubt, we need a secure and sustainable source of energy that we can rely on well into the future.  Fossil fuel is not this energy.  By its very nature is is limited in supply and is getting more expensive to find and is damaging to the global environment.  The energy future that can deliver reliability is renewables, it has to be, by their very nature, renewables are limitless.  The wind will always blow, the sun will shine the tides rise and fall somewhere all the time.  The technical challenge is to connect up these various technologies in to energy grids that cover large areas so that energy can flow from high generating areas to the becalmed areas.  Developing this super-grid and building the appropriate generating plant will initially be expensive, but developing this system is an investment in the future and once mature, it will deliver reliable and affordable energy.  This has happened in Germany where because of its investment in renewable energy generation, the wholesale cost of electricity is falling.  True that the retail price remains high because of green tariffs that are designed to pay for the switch from fossil-nuclear to renewable.  But as the technology matures and the grid is developed, tariffs will fall and so will prices to the consumer.

 

This will not happen in the UK thanks to the policies of successive governments.  In the future we will be paying a premium global market price for gas, having been made reliant on gas power generation by Gideon Osbourn.  The fracking venture will prove to be an expensive flop and underground coal gasification will rack up a huge price tag in environmental damage that we will all have to pay for. Nuclear will deliver profits to French and Chinese state owned companies at our expense, but again it will fail to live up to the hype leaving us instead with a very costly clean up bill that will be greater than the value of the energy generated, plus the ever present risk of a major nuclear accident.

 

Green Party Energy policy aims to move energy generation from this high risk strategy that is based on extreme energy to a secure and sustainable energy supply system based on renewable sources of energy.  It can be done, Europe’s most successful economy is dong just this.  Japan in taking a close interest in German energy policy and for obvious reasons is interested in following this lead.  However, this strategy does not suit the big energy companies, and for that reason, the ConDem government is promoting a fossil-nuclear policy based on extreme energy and extreme risk.


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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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Child Poverty Rising – action not redefinition of poverty please!

A modern Oliver Twist

A modern Oliver Twist

Over one in four children in the UK are living in poverty according to Child Poverty Action Group UK. In 2010 the Child Poverty Act came into being in the UK. In 2013 child poverty is still set to rise under current government policies. Last year Save the Children and Shelter are among NGOs who have made appeals on behalf of children living in our neighbourhood.  Children are the future, but in a political system of short-term fixes, they are not prioritized. In some areas 50 to 70 % of children are in poverty and this includes areas of the East Midlands. This does not mean absence of the latest trainers or toy. Child poverty can mean hungry or malnourished, cold, or in insecure housing, deprived of the basics. Many are homeless. In November last year The Independent reported a 60 % increase within 12 months of children and pregnant women forced to live in B&Bs.  Even more have insufficient food, clothes or too little heating to thrive. Many are not financially able to socialize with other children or buy stationary for school. Some serious physical and mental illness in children has poverty as a factor.   As child poverty rises, rather than taking measures to prevent the poverty, the government are changing the way that poverty is measured.  Many children may not be counted under proposed changes. I believe every child counts.

The Child Poverty Action Group states well over half these children are in homes where at least one parent works.  The Government are removing the measurement of relative poverty; poverty defined as relative to the standards of living in a society at a specific time. As more and more people are in poverty our overall standards of  acceptable poverty may be changing. Yet the relative poverty measurement includes the poverty threshold or bread line, under which no one should fall. The bread-line measurement is one that protects by opening up help to those who fall below its threshold. In proposed changes instead emphasis will be placed on  how many children are in single parent households and how many have a parent with a mental health condition. These sorts of calculations will be the focus. Reality is more complex, with poverty spiraling from some individual error or illness and massive system failure. Causes and symptoms of poverty can be tangled together. However, under new measurements depression and broken families can be seen as the cause of poverty rather than poverty being a cause of  depression, broken families and a whole host of other entangled social problems. It will become even easier to shift blame onto single mums and dads or on perceived unfit parenting.  It will be easier to make much poverty invisible as children disappear from view. It will be another way of making the vulnerable into scapegoats and valuing profit more than we value people.

Poverty kills. It kills chances and choices too. It isolates. It hides. It divides. It comes in many forms and is magnified by overcrowded schools as well as the squeezing and stretching of the public sector and volunteer organisations. What is our government doing? It is in a process of reclassifying poverty to change the statistics instead of tackling the problem. As I write, the review of how poverty is measured in the UK nears its end. Many of the one in four or more children that now have too little to eat, dress or keep warm adequately may no longer be classified as poor. The blame and responsibility will be placed even more upon single parents for being single, to those with mental health issues or disabilities for being ill. If we allow this to govern our perception, shame and statistics may hide poverty deep and many children may vanish. They will vanish from possible bright futures and chosen careers, they will vanish into depression, abuse or drug misuse. They will vanish into illness caused or made worse by cold or malnutrition but we’ll be told it’s OK because they won’t be counted, they won’t be seen on revised statistics. In the work houses of previous centuries children who died of poverty were listed as suffering from ‘failure to thrive’. Will we use a different name for it now?

children with (mild) rickets

Before the NHS was founded children having diseases like rickets were common. A disease often caused by malnutrition which softens and deforms the bones. Rickets is on the rise again according to NHS, Guardian and other sources. Hardly a way to help children stand strong in the future. This happens as more children and their families are dependent on food parcels and, as Mike so eloquently wrote in our blog’s previous post, school dinners are being undermined too, as is the NHS. Social exclusion, financial limitations and lowered self-worth don’t help with healthful activity levels either.  I feel sometimes as if we were travelling back in time. More alarmingly, I see people’s sense of what is OK shifting as the working poor and those not able to work are pitted against one another. Unemployment is rising because both government and many businesses translate cost cutting and waste reduction as job cutting. More people are poor so we are taught to blame the poor.

Children are among the most vulnerable to the way economic, social and environmental crisis are being mismanaged. In so many ways children are developing and dependent. Public service cuts, we are told, are the only way.  The resultant rise in unemployment affecting family and home security. It also means loss of services for most in healthcare, education and safety and waste of skills is part of the price children are paying. Children are inheriting economic poverty, health poverty, food and soil poverty and all too often the poverty that breaks the spirit of a person; their self worth and future possibilities cracked. Yet billions spent on new roles of police commissioners in shrinking police forces, trillions spent on outmoded weapons or lost in unpaid taxes of the super-rich are seen as normal. Our lives and political priorities are most certainly mis-measured.  Yet these new measurements seem to be moving in the wrong direction; they seem to be the measurements of misdirection and not seeing.

Many believe in the notion of keeping your head down; that it will limit injury. Sometimes it just stops us protecting ourselves and others. If water rises those with their heads down will drown. It may be too late to change how this government counts children in poverty. It is not too late to see children are in real poverty, to demand proper action  and to challenge measurements as and where they do not work. The children on your street, in the school, in your home count. Their futures are entwined. Child poverty is real and needs to be prioritized as central indicator of the state of our nation, not re-classified and veiled. I believe Green Party anti-austerity policies, support of robin hood tax, NHS, schools, a living wage and localized sharing economies places focus back on what is vital and protects children from poverty. I believe strongly we must build on this.


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Dealing with Denial, some thoughts & ideas

climate-change better world for nothing cartoon

I felt drawn to writing something  about how to deal with climate change denialism  – with the help of cartoons from Joel Pett, Chris Maddon and others. This is also written to help address ‘there is no alternative’  and ‘green is a luxury’ ideas. I think the above cartoon says a huge amount about how central and beneficial green policies are and how unprogressive and self defeating the will to deny the problem is. The fact is that by addressing climate change in sensible ways you have a host of benefits. It makes me smile to see the idea of denial incapulated in the phrase ‘What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?’. Then, simply, we have a better world.  There is much evidence, like the Stern Report, for example, that counters denial of climate change. Desertification, more flooding, less habitable land – including London. Some may argue how habitable parts of London are, but allowing it to be underwater seems a little extreme. More locally much of Lincolnshire could also become sea.  Fear can turn for some into depression and apathy takes hold which can lead to sticking heads in the sands or thinking it is someone else’s problem. However, large and small everyday things we can do make real, positive change together. The evidence is in front of our own eyes already, as these cartoons illustrate:

flood-bridge climate change

We’re here in 2013 when many thought we would not be, so we can be hopeful as well as realistic. We have the capacity to make life better. So how do we move forward with hope and action and not get drowned in fear and apathy? Green policies, I believe strongly, form a vital part of this. Green is often seen as a luxury. It is not, and with rising food and fuel costs, increasing natural disasters and price wars over finite raw materials and food, we cannot see green choices limited to consumerism. A little green hedonism can be good and ethical business plays an important role but changes in the way we think are vital too. Better insulation in homes has economic, social and environmental benefit for example.

polar bear climate change

To the ‘there is no alternative’ brigade the only answers can be that present policies are not working and that, as Einstein said, ‘we cannot solve a problem using the same kind of thinking that created it’. There is no alternative is caveman thinking. There are those who say it is a choice, us or the trees and little furry creatures. However, without trees we have no life, no clean air, no shelter to keep soil fertile, no food, no thriving eco-system of which we are part. Personally, I make no excuse for valuing the majesty of life and that the balance of life matters. I also add a favourite contemporary quote from Jarred Diamond’s ‘Collapse: How societies choose to fail or survive’:

‘Elimination of lots of lousy little species regularly causes big harmful consequences for humans, just as does randomly knocking out many of the lousy little rivets holding together an airplane. (Diamond, J, 2005, P.489)

I also add that I am a proud tree hugger and I love many creatures, large and small, with and without fur, including humans. So I conclude that green people and life centred policies are the only way forward. Green policies that call for creation of green jobs and a fairer, more honest tax system, that call for better insulation, a living wage, decentralized, empowering, sustainable energy and food production and protection of our public services. There are, always of course, alternatives. Whatever the future is, our hands help form it. I leave you with these thought provoking cartoons:

climate-change-cartoon-IDS Noah's-Ark-climate-change

Written by Antonia Sara Zenkevitch for East Midlands Green Party