Austerity: the new excuse to discredit a green agenda

How long our green and pleasant land?

In just under two years, the long-promised “greenest-ever government” has metamorphosed into the biggest single obstacle to reducing carbon emissions, creating a green infrastructure and encouraging all of us to adopt a greener lifestyle.

The real truth is that this corrupt government is in bed to such an extent with its wealthy friends in the big, polluting, carbon-heavy industries, the energy providers and shareholders of utility companies, that to adopt a real green agenda would compromise its friends and paymasters.

And undermining its friends in high places would also mean jeopardising its vital sources of income. So, £4m will buy your ear time at one of Dodgy Dave’s Dinners, but this kind of wealth will also buy you influence to poison scientific fact about climate change.

Perhaps the most insidious fact to emerge from the Tory donor – or should that be diner? – scandal, was the revelation that the climate change sceptic mouthpiece, the Global Warming Climate Foundation fronted by the climate sceptics’ poster boy, Lord Lawson (well, OK, I accept that Nigel Lawson and poster boy could well be the oxymoron of the year), is bankrolled by a wealthy Tory donor, Michael Hihtze.

So, the future of the planet is threatened by the Tories’ greed and willingness to indulge their rich donors and incorporate their baseless dogmas into government policy. And, while we might regard Nigel Lawson as a has been, bad taste joke, now best known for fathering the infinitely more famous Nigella, it is a serious, and potentially tragic, matter.

Climate change denial has gained much undeserved credence in recent times and, combined with the pernicious effects of the economic slow down, is now, despite having no scientific basis, being taken seriously and used as an excuse to curtail and slow down the green agenda. The Tories here mirror their right-wing counterparts in the USA by being in hock to the big multi-national polluters, carbon emitters and energy providers, whose donations, in return for a platform for climate change denial, result in another, depressing, nail in the coffin for the planet.

But, despite the drip-drip of anti-environmental publicity, it appears that the ordinary public have, fortunately, not been taken in by this misinformation. Polling from YouGov   shows that people believe more should be spent on renewable power and  a survey conducted for Asda   found out that, despite economic hardship, people do continue to care and be worried about environmental catastrophe. Late last year, another survey, this time from the government’s own climate change advisers, found categorically that green measures do not lead to skyrocketing energy bills and placed the blame unequivocally where it belongs: on rising gas prices and from satisfying the demands of utility shareholders

Logically, austerity should lead to a more responsible attitude towards waste and reckless consumption: a timely reminder of how the desperate days of World War Two instigated the remarkable creativity of Utility design and the wonderful graphic art reminding us to Waste Not Want Not, or Dig For Victory would not go amiss. But today, other countries, particularly in Scandinavia and north west Europe also provide excellent role models as to how green initiatives can provide jobs and stimulate the economy. And at the other end of the world, in Australia, large run-off tanks are now de rigueur in homes to catch rainwater that is then used in washing machines and dishwashers – surely a sensible idea to adopt here as much of south east Britain begins a hosepipe ban?

George Osborne was, apparently, “shocked” to find out that many of his fellow millionaires paid little or no tax. Perhaps he will be just as shocked to hear that, despite negative propaganda from his Treasury, a majority of the electorate do worry about climate change, do support investment in renewable sources of power and do want affordable ways of insulating their homes. But, there again, as revealed very clearly from the Asda poll, these tend to be ordinary people who do pay tax, who struggle to heat their homes and find affordable transport options.

Are we still all in this together, George?

It is not a case of Britain not being able to afford to follow a green agenda: we, like the rest of the planet cannot afford not to.

Did you like this? Share it:

Re “Parking Troubles”

This is my reply to a letter published in the March issue of TGO magazine, in which the correspondent complained about a £10 parking charge levied in the Snowdonia National Park. I hope it might stimulate a debate on what measures we can use to reduce car usage in National Parks and how we can campaign for the preservation and improvement of public transport in rural areas. Any suggestions?

How can we reduce traffic and improve access to our beautiful National Parks?

RE: “PARKING TROUBLES” TGO MARCH 2012

John Morris’s complaint about high parking charges in Snowdonia raises some interesting wider questions about the entitlement of motorists to drive and park cheaply within our national parks.

If a high parking charge discourages one motorist from driving around a beautiful, but fragile, environment like Snowdonia, then I would support it, however spurious the reasoning behind the charge.

Has Mr Morris considered joining the National Trust (NT)? Membership would enable him to enjoy free parking in NT car parks.  Another answer could be to share his journey to North Wales with other walkers, especially if he usually travels on his own: four people in one fairly economic car not only reduces emissions, but lowers individual petrol costs and parking charges.

An even better solution would be for Mr Morris to “dump his car” at home and try to access most of our beautiful places by foot, bike or public transport. Then he might just appreciate the difficulties faced by those of us who don’t/can’t /won’t drive. Perhaps his experiences might also encourage him to join this neglected group in lobbying for the preservation and improvement of public transport in rural areas.

Mr Morris protests that high parking charges equate to “taxing our outdoor pursuits”. An alternative view would question how much entitlement motorists should have to pollute and obstruct our national parks without appropriate penalty.

Hopefully, the question of parking charges might lead to a general debate on how we can reduce traffic throughout all our national parks and other beautiful areas: yes, we may have been there before, and no, trying to reduce the number of cars in these areas does not represent a war on motorists. We need workable solutions before we ruin even more of our countryside.

Jill Phillip

For anyone seeking information about how to access walks in national parks (and other areas throughout the country) without a car, check out: www.carfreewalks.org while www.bootandbike showcases walking and cycling routes in UK and Europe, as well as giving advice on how to plan trips on foot, or by bike and how to get there without flying, or using a car. www.bettertransport.org.uk campaigns for sustainable transport options and www.livingstreets.org.uk lobbies for the rights of pedestrians in urban and rural areas.

Did you like this? Share it:

HS2: Good or Bad?

Rail: the future for sustainable travel?

HS2 has been a difficult issue for advocates of green, sustainable, travel. And, in the week when the government has finally given the signal to begin the project, the strange alliances on both sides of the argument are a good illustration of how divisive this issue has become.

Usually, it would be assumed that environmental groups would support the idea of encouraging more people to travel by train, but concerns about damage to the countryside and wildlife along the route, combined with arguments about just how high its emissions will be, have convinced many environmentalists to campaign against the line.

So, we now have some of the most bizarre and unlikely bedfellows lined up together on both sides. For the pros we have most of the government and opposition, the devolved government in Scotland, the majority of business leaders, particularly in the north, some environmental and green groups and most railway lovers. At the other end of the platform, we have many Tory backbench MPs, local councils and protest groups, the Countryside Alliance, some environmentalists, powerful conservation groups like The Woodland Trust, a few railway buffs, notably Christian Wolmar, Inner London action groups, and of course, Lord Astor.

The arguments are many and complicated, but the most powerful one, as far as the government is concerned, is the need to improve infrastructure and, thereby, stimulate business. This, to those of us on the green side, would usually be considered to be a weary and predictable response that should, but does not, take any account of the environment that is about to be damaged.

Equally, it is too easy to dismiss the concerns of wealthy home and landowners in the Chilterns as nimbyism. Everyone, whether they live in a mansion in Buckinghamshire, or a council flat in Camden, would be devastated should their home be threatened by demolition. And, while it is true that if the proposed line had been drawn through some less attractive and prosperous areas of the country the wails of protest would be less influential and less vocal, it cannot be denied that the route will have huge human and environmental impact.

Despite this, the case for HS2 still outweighs the arguments against it.  We in Britain, are already a laughing stock as far as fast, efficient railways are concerned, in comparison with the rest of Western Europe and, although this investment in infrastructure should have been made years ago, it’s still better late than never.

The most effective argument for HS2 is to look at how ineffectual the alternatives are:

  • upgrading the West Coast Main Line (WCML), the most quoted alternative, would be totally ineffectual, indeed futile. Over the last 10 years or so, this line has been in almost perpetual reconstruction: new bridges, longer platforms and four lanes of track now run through much of the Midlands. In addition to Virgin, there is now a slower and cheaper service from Crewe to Euston, operated by London Midland. But, the early-morning crowded platforms at every station from Crewe southwards tell their own story. Equally, it is well-nigh impossible to find a seat out of Euston from late afternoon onwards. Travelling north to to Glasgow, credit is due to Virgin as the line is now immeasurably better (possibly also to do with the demise of RailTrack), although horrendously expensive. Time wise – three hours from Crewe and four from Birmingham – it compares well with alternative methods of travel, but trains are invariably crowded and packed with both passengers and luggage.
  • abandoning HS2 would not lead to more people walking, cycling and using other trains, but to yet more motorways – and more single-occupancy vehicles – and air travel; both of which are considerably less green than HS2
  • support for HS2 does not mean opposing the improvement of existing railways, or the reduction in fares, or the re-opening of old/new stations and lines, or the extension of bus routes and making cities and the countryside more walking/cycling friendly

Living near the route, I will be affected by its construction, but this part of the Midlands is already defaced by overcrowded motorways, under-used toll roads and noisy, polluting airports.  Unfortunately, there will be an environmental cost for HS2, but the alternatives would be far worse.

Now that HS2 has been approved, all of us who care about the environment should work together to try to minimise its damaging impact.  But, we should also celebrate a decision that shows rail is the mode of land travel for the future and continue to lobby for improved and user-friendly public transport (including trains equipped to carry bikes and more luggage) and re-claim our roads, lanes and streets for safer cycling and walking.

Did you like this? Share it:

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 .co.uk would be nice too.

Did you like this? Share it:

Charity Challenge: harder test, lower impact

Ribblehead Viaduct

After becoming involved, against my better instincts, in an on-line forum on the subject earlier in the week, my thoughts returned to the pros and cons of charity challenges during a congenial weekend in North Yorkshire.

A captivating autumn day, engaging company, added to the  treat of starting and ending our ascent of  Whernside by the spectacular Ribblehead Viaduct; what wasn’t to like?

But while we took full advantage of our day, marvelling at the engineering skills of Victorian railway builders, taking our time on route to the summit – admittedly,  because of my catalogue of recent injuries – while admiring the autumnal panorama, the majority of our fellow hikers  appeared oblivious to the views and the location in their desperation to ascend and descend the hill within some set guideline for an organised charity event. And even on a November afternoon, there were still plenty of competitors about to ascend as late as 3pm.

But,so what?  Surely we should be celebrating that so many people are out enjoying the great outdoors; particularly if they are raising money for worthwhile charities at the same time? Well, yes, but it is certainly debatable if everyone was enjoying themselves: the majority of the expressions suggested it was more of an ordeal.

Ingleborough in the Clouds

And, of course, with so many people involved – competitors climbing, then descending, three or four abreast, outside the assigned path, the litter, the vehicle support – we also move into the thorny issue of environmental damage and whether the money raised justifies the harm to the habitat and rise in emissions.

I have mixed feelings about charity challenges. While, in principle, I support any activities that get people out in the fresh air, get them fit and enable them to raise valuable funds at the same time, I also believe that any associated environmental damage must not be simply disregarded as an unfortunate, but less important, side effect.

In addition, I see little point of holding these challenges in beautiful places if the majority of the competitors are unable to appreciate the unique setting of the event.  It the overriding objective is to complete a certain number of physical challenges within a specified time and, as a result, participants are too exhausted or too preoccupied to enjoy the locality, what’s the point of hosting it there? A physical challenge of this sort could just as easily be completed using cardio equipment in a gym.

Autumn in the Dales

Particularly culpable in this case is the Three Peaks Challenge where the three highest mountains on the British mainland have to be scaled within a strict time period, often 24 hours.  As a result, the challenge is as much about the logistics of getting to the mountains in time, as it is about climbing them and, consequently, convoys of vehicles tear along motorways with teams of drivers and support staff, often disrupting local communities by arriving and departing in the middle of the night.

But I do not advocate the abolition of the Three Peaks.  Instead, I suggest we make it a proper test where competitors would also be aware of, and able to enjoy, the beauty and challenges of the environment, with a much reduced carbon footprint.

Firstly, and most importantly, the 24 hour time limit would be abolished.
Secondly, participants would have to arrive at their first peak and travel between the subsequent ones on foot, by bike, or by using public transport (including ferry if the challenge is extended to include Ireland).
Thirdly, the time limits now imposed would be flexible and reflect the mode of travel and length of journey to the first mountain; days if travelling by public transport and an appropriate number of weeks if on foot, or by bike.

So, what do you think? Should charity challenges should be banned? Does the money raised for good causes outweigh any adverse effects? Any other suggestions?
Over to you…….

Did you like this? Share it:

What If: Britain had historically adopted a more rational policy towards its railways?

 

This is a question I’ve often considered, most recently on a day out in the Trossachs at the end of August.

One of the greatest assets of the Trossachs is that this unique, beautiful area is located so close to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Scotland’s urban belt.  Certainly, the adaptation of steam power to land and water transport in the nineteenth century, helped with some publicity from, amongst others, Sir Walter Scott and  Queen Victoria,  opened up this spectacular area for the first time so visitors, of all social classes, could experience the fresh air and marvel at the dramatic scenery.

Thunderstorm over Loch Lubnaig

By the beginning of the twentieth century the railway linked Dunblane with Callander, through Balquhidder and Crianlarich en route to Oban.  From Balloch it was possible to travel eastwards to Stirling, with a branch off to Aberfoyle, on a line that also linked Blanefield with the northern suburbs of Glasgow.

So, from then until the 1960s it was possible to travel by train from Glasgow, Edinburgh and the central belt right to the shores of the dazzling lochs Katrine, Voil and Lubnaig, the slopes of Ben Ledi or the heart of Rob Roy country and be able to complete a linear walk, or a cycle and enjoy a full day before a relaxing return in the evening:  similar to what you can still do today using, say, the mountain railways of Switzerland. http://www.railbrit.co.uk/_maps/index.htm  shows Scotland’s railway system at its zenith.

 Of course, you can still easily reach these places today, but only if you have a car.

On my recent trip to the Trossachs I had to curtail an ascent of Ben Ledi just short of the summit because I could not risk missing an early evening bus from Callander to Stirling that  linked  with the specific Glasgow train I had a ticket for. Because of confused information about whether buses stop at the bottom of the climb along the A84, I  had to walk the three miles or so  from and to Callander; a frustrating culmination to what should have been an enjoyable day out and one that could only be attempted in the first place after a time-consuming and often frustrating internet search to find compatible trains and buses.

Although the climb would have been easily accomplished with access to a car,  any personal convenience gained by driving would have been overwhelmingly offset by the negative environmental effects of pollution and congestion in an exquisite  but fragile area;  particularly when, as in this case, there was only one person travelling.  And, even for those unaware, or indifferent to their emissions, crawling along narrow, congested roads is hardly the best way to enjoy the stunning scenery and driving to a destination generally makes it difficult to complete a linear walk, unless two vehicles are used.

Although the railways in the Trossachs are long closed, plenty of evidence of them remains and Sustrans, in particular, has performed a valuable service in acquiring  and developing so many of these disused lines for cycle routes.

But, how much better if these tracks, and not just in the Trossachs, but in the Peak District, or Devon, or Galloway – think Ashbourne through to Buxton, all the way along the Tarka Trail, Dumfries to Stranraer along the glorious Galloway coast – still existed as railways? The benefits of enabling everyone, including those with limited mobility,  to enjoy the Tissington Trail, or Glen Ogle viaduct would be sufficient justification, to say nothing of the opportunity to travel right into the heart of these alluring areas without congestion and driving stress – even the most hardened petrol head would be hard pushed to dispute the superiority of the view over Loch Lubnaig from the viaduct, as opposed to that from the busy and dangerous A84.

But, this isn’t going to happen, particularly in a country like Britain that can’t even operate its main line railways efficiently and economically. Even when inventive and valuable initiatives have been introduced, like the Trossachs Trundler (an adapted bus that could transport people and their bikes between various points in the Trossachs), they have invariably failed to break even and have been  scrapped: in effect, the same short sighted, short term economic justifications that did for the railways.

What is needed is the opposite: long term, holistic, out of the box planning. Investment has to given to sustainable transport, combined with a workable system of rewards and penalties.  If this means levying charges on motorists for parking and congestion to raise capital, then so be it; it is  cars, after all, that cause congestion and pollution. And, if more restrictions and charges on cars lead to a more sensible attitude towards, say car sharing, so much the better.

Looking over Loch Lubnaig from the slopes of Ben Ledi

In the meantime, the best we can do is ensure we make the most of the routes that remain, by boot and bike, restrict and share car use as much as possible and continue to lobby for access for those who do not, or choose not to, drive.

 

 

Information:

The Trossachs Trundler was partially  replaced by the introduction of Demand Response Transport (DRT) by Stirling Council http://www.incallander.co.uk/drtleaflet.pdf  Taxis and minibuses, operated by www.aberfoylecoaches.com provide the transport in specific areas, arranged in advance, and passengers are charged the public transport rate for the journey. However, the vehicles (people carriers) are not adapted for carrying bikes and the requirement to book in advance clearly reduces spontaneity. Also, please note that the phone number used is an 0844 which will be charged at considerably more than standard rate, particularly from mobiles.

Did you like this? Share it: