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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Look North: The Green Way Forward

Scotland has been in the news rather a lot recently – what with the growing possibility of outright independence, the shameful Neil Lennon saga and the final(?) demise of Taggart – although it’s interesting to speculate if the drastically-reduced Scottish influence on this Westminster government (compare Fox and Gove to Brown, Darling, Reid, Cook, Dewar, Smith et al of old)  is, perhaps, an interesting pointer to the divergent path now being taken, on many key issues, by the Holyrood administration.

Tuition fees, prescription and hospital parking charges immediately come to mind, but for those of us intent on preserving the environment and enjoying the great outdoors, the contrasting ideology in Scotland is just as clear. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 allowed virtually unrestricted access to the outdoors. To date, with a few exceptions, it has been a success and, along with the Scottish tradition of wild camping, provides far more positive opportunities for more people to enjoy the outdoors.

South of Hadrian’s Wall, we may have stopped the government from privatising Forestry  Commission (FC) land, but this was only round one of the fight for greater access, given that the FC owns only a fraction of our forests and woodlands and that proportion falls still further in lowland areas.  We have to increase the pressure to gain access to the 60%  (figures from Woods for People, the Woodland Trust’s dataset of accessible woodlands) of forests and woodlands currently barred to walkers, cyclists, horse riders, wheelchairs users and others.

In view of this, the formation of the new Forest Access User Group, composed of organisations ranging from the Ramblers to the Kennel Club and British Horse Society, is cheering news, particularly as the raison d’être of this rather diverse alliance is to campaign to put public access at the heart of the government’s policy on forests.

February’s climbdown on the forests was caused by outrage from an astonishingly eclectic range of organisations and individuals – many of whom were traditional Tory supporters.  It is vital that we sustain this pressure on the Independent Panel for Forestry, set up after the U turn, to show that access to our forests and countryside is an issue that unites vast numbers of people, from whatever walk of life, or political persuasion.

From a purely political angle, Cameron desperately needs to score positively on some kind of green issue if he is not to become more of an environmental joke. From hugging huskies and promising the “greenest-ever government” when in opposition, to classifying almost every piece of environmental legislation as “red tape”, within his first year of government, the metamorphosis has been as swift as it has been shocking: indeed, if it wasn’t so potentially tragic, it would be hilarious.

So far, the blue and yellow mix certainly hasn’t equalled  green and some of  Cameron’s Lib Dem allies have proved to be equally environmentally reprehensible.  Justifying its decision to include virtually every piece of environmental legislation on the bonfire of the bureaucracy, the Department for Business headed by the saintly Vince Cable, believes: “it takes a lot to grow a business.” Clearly it doesn’t take nearly as much to destroy the environment.

David Cameron is not a stupid politician. He knows environmental issues galvanise a wide range of individuals and groups, many of whom are Conservative-leaning and whom he cannot afford to alienate. Everyone who cares about green issues, whether access to the countryside, protection of wildlife, reduction of carbon emissions, sustainability or preservation of  public transport, needs to work together to keep the environment at the top of the agenda. By definition, this will be a broad church, with some not normally-compatible bedfellows. But the preservation of our planet and our responsible access to it are sufficiently important to rise above traditional political and social differences.

Cameron could set an example by, for once, looking beyond the Home Counties and, instead focusing on a green path up the A1 to Edinburgh. By overlooking his political differences with Alex Salmond, he could learn about how unrestricted access to the outdoors has proved to be so effective in Scotland.

If the news on carbon targets is correct, it’s a welcome first step and an impressive victory for the energy secretary, Chris Huhne. We now have to build on this and work together to preserve our environment and ensure as many people as possible can enjoy responsible access to it.

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