So Long 2011: Heroes and Villains of the last 12 Months

So, on this Hogmanay as 2011 ends and 2012 fast approaches, how was 2011 – a year when austerity, natural disasters, revolutions and mass movements of all kinds dominated the headlines –  for you? Who were the heroes, and who were the baddies in 2011?

Sunset on 2011

HEROES and good things:

  • John Prescott, for his commitment to dealing with climate change and keeping Britain at the centre of discussions on this vital issue (unlike some other politicians on other vital issues) and for being one of the few genuinely entertaining “celebrities” on Twitter
  • Caroline Lucas, our solitary Green MP, for continuing to fight the Green case in Parliament
  • Grass routes campaigning groups, such as 38 Degrees and UK Uncut who taught us all how to effectively channel public anger in novel, entertaining and persuasive ways against outrageous governmental decisions – like the proposed sell-off of public forests and tax exemptions for multi-national corporations
  • An unexpected four-day window of lovely weather at the end of July that enabled me to climb two Munros in three days and enjoy stupendous views over the Trossachs and Southern Highlands
  • The return of Sarah and her Book Barge to enhance the cultural life of the Barton area
  • Skinny Kitten Cafe in Barton Main Street, with its sumptuous sausage sandwiches.
  • John, James and Mark at the Glasgow Guest House for their warm hospitality, unfailing good humour, Glasgow wit and style
  • The always-wonderful West Highland Railway closely followed by Cruise Loch Lomond for taking me through wondrous places, to the other spectacular places I want to get to, without having drive there
  • Damian Carrington and his excellent team at Guardian Environment including the fabulous Bike Blog and the brilliant new Environment App.
  • Dan Lepard and his mouth-watering recipes – by far my favourite baker
  • Ian Jack for simply being the best newspaper columnist around and for continually illustrating to all would-be scribblers just how to write
  • Finally, at long last, being able to give up the day job!

VILLAINS and bad things:

  • This supposedly “greenest-ever government: it actually would be very funny, if it wasn’t so sad and potentially disastrous
  • And, in a very close competition for the most outrageous example of its hypocritical approach to the environment – Spelman? Hammond? Paice? –  no, by a few stomachs it just has to be that arch-priest of over-consumption, Eric Pickles; the Secretary for Communities who believes the best way to improve our communities is to encourage everyone to eat more take aways and then throw the remnants and packaging into the landfill
  • This misguided acceptance by Caroline Spelman and Defra that bovine TB can be combated by a barbarous cull of badgers
  • The murmurings among the country set and Agriculture Minister James Paice, urging the Government to bring back hunting, despite poll after poll showing that at least 75 per cent of the population back the ban
  • The steady withdrawal of subsidies from public transport in rural areas
  • The constant publicity afforded to the bile spouted by some gross examples of white, middle-aged, middle-class males; eg, Clarkson, Littlejohn, Letts et al who believe they are entitled to ridicule anything they fear, or don’t understand, like women, safety and environmental legislation, the disabled, the disadvantaged and certain ethnic minorities

Sadly, this list could go on and on but, let’s end 2012 on a high note with more good things than bad. Happy New Year to everyone and here’s to a happy, healthy and green 2012.

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Grisly Crime, Woolly Sweaters and Bikes, Bikes, Bikes: The Only Way is Denmark this Christmas

So in Durban last week, representatives from around the world finally managed, at the last minute, to secure a deal, of sorts, on emissions targets.

Yes, it’s too little and yes, it’s probably far too late, given that the deal aspires to secure in 2015 what was deemed necessary in 2007, but failed to be agreed in 2009. But, although celebrate is probably too optimistic a term to use, we should at least acknowledge that the outcome does have some positive aspects.

“What is positive in Durban is that governments have reopened the door to a legally binding global agreement involving the world’s major emitters, a door which many thought had been shut at the Copenhagen conference in 2009,” said Bill Hare, director at Climate Action Tracker.

Certainly, compared to the other big summit of last week, at least an agreement was reached and, unlike in Brussels, Chris Huhne did not replicate the wrecking tactics of his coalition leader that left Britain isolated and withdrawn.  Indeed, Huhne deserves considerable credit for keeping up Britain’s profile and showing what a united EU can achieve.

But it is also interesting to compare the media coverage of both summits: even on a generous estimate, it would be at least 80:20 in favour of Brussels, and this, as much as any other factor, illustrates the huge obstacles that the whole concept of climate change has to face in order for it to be taken as seriously as the issue demands.

Yes, the economic situation is dire and indebtedness has to be addressed, but it seems totally bizarre that while economic debt is now considered unacceptable, climate debt is still, as the Guardian’s Damian Carrington describes it, “Put on the never-never.”

And, when this is combined with the government’s prevailing attitude that it is simply too expensive at present to introduce, or indeed continue with, green initiatives, like solar power subsidies, then the environment continues to be pushed further down the agenda: something we might get round to looking at when things get better.

But, to misquote Professor Brian Cox and his former band, things are not likely to get better: certainly not for our environment if we continue to live the way we do. And alarmingly, according to recent polls, an increasing number of people appear to believe that the environment is either less important than the economy now, or, even worse, climate change is a myth and we don’t need to change our livestyles.

As well as being heartbreaking and potentially catastrophic, this attitude is also crazy.  Investing in a greener economy is not just less expensive, but is also one of the few current areas of economic growth that can also attract investment from lenders now too nervous to put money into the “old economy”.

On an individual level, going green, far from being more expensive, can be the ideal strategy to adopt in times of ecomomic hardship. Just today, a pioneering study shows that Europe could cut its greenhouse emissions by more than 25 per cent if we all cycled as regularly as they do in Denmark. A report by the European Cycling Federation (ECF) revealed that the average Dane cycles almost 600 miles each year and if this was replicated throughout the EU, it would have far more effect than the introduction of expensive technological solutions, like electric cars.

In Britain we cycle, on average, a meagre 46 miles per year. So, as well as being mesmerised by Danish crime dramas and their penchant for woolly jumpers, we should also be copying their use of the bicycle as a major means of transportation: not only is it greener, it is also far cheaper to pedal from A to B than it is to take the car.

Far from being an oxymoron, going green in economic austerity is one of the few positive ways we can save money, get fitter, cut emissions and preserve our environment.

So, by all means go Danish this Christmas, but alongside the box set and Fair Isle sweater, make sure there’s a couple of panniers, or helmet, or even a new bike under the Christmas tree – oh and a link to http://www.bootandbike would be nice too.

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