Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Politics: green rhetoric v's green action

How the UK Political Parties Stack Up

Which party is really delivering the goods when it comes to addressing environmental issues? Nine of the UK's leading environmental organisations (Green Alliance, Friends of the Earth, WWF, Campaign for Rural England, Greenpeace, Woodland Trust, The Wildlife Trusts, National Trust, RSPB) have subjected the three main political parties to an environmental audit.

How green are our parties? The Green Standard report, finds that none of the parties have yet implemented policy commitments and action on the scale required to meet the
range and urgency of the environmental threats we face.

The assessment sets out a set of six robust environmental leadership tests developed by the NGOs in February. The report
uses a ‘traffic light system’:
• Green to indicate support for both ambition and commitments
• Amber to indicate a mixed picture in relation to ambition and commitments
• Red to indicate where we are concerned by both the effect of a party’s approach and a lack of positive commitments.

The Green Standard tests are:
1. UK action on climate change - Achieve reductions in UK carbon dioxide emissions of at least three per cent year on year, en route to a low carbon economy based on energy efficiency, renewable sources of energy and
decentralised energy.
2. International action on climate change - Provide international leadership to restrict global temperature rises to 2°C and ensure worldwide emissions are falling by 2015.
3. Green living - Make it cheaper and easier for individuals to reduce their environmental impact through tax, regulation, information and other powers of government.
4. Natural environment - Protect and enhance the beauty, accessibility and wildlife of the environment in our countryside, towns and seas through incentives, regulation, investment and other powers of government.
5. Planning - Value, support and develop our planning system as a democratic tool for protecting and enhancing the natural and built environment of our countryside and towns.
6. Environmental tax and subsidies - Green the tax system by increasing the amount of revenue from taxes that reduce environmental damage, and eliminate environmentally perverse subsidies.

With no ‘green lights’, the gap between Conservative aspirations on the environment and their limited policy commitments is stark. The Labour government, despite having previously displayed international leadership on climate change, is failing on its renewables and emissions targets and has failed to commit to implementing a Marine Bill and receives just one green light. The Liberal Democrats get three green lights by offering the strongest set of policies on climate change, green taxation and green living. However, the gulf between words and action remains lamentably wide. The report concludes that all three parties have failed to give sufficient attention to policies that will protect and enhance our countryside and wildlife.

With the start of the party conference season just days away,The Climate Clinic (a coalition of 30+ of the UK’s leading environmental groups, trade bodies and professional societies representing over six million members) will, for the second year running, be at the three main political party conferences. Its aim is to push for real political action to tackle climate change by mobilising the UK’s most influential scientists, politicians, industry leaders and environmental campaigners.

The Climate Clinic
The Green Standard

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Anita Roddick

Tragically, she died yesterday aged just 64 from a brain hemorrhage. A truly remarkable activist, environmental campaigner and ethical entrepreneur, here are some of her own inspirational words...

  • I believe in businesses where you engage in creative thinking, and where you form some of your deepest relationships. If it isn't about the production of the human spirit, we are in big trouble.
  • I didn't go to business school, didn't care about financial stuff and the stock market.
  • I want to work for a company that contributes to and is part of the community. I want something not just to invest in. I want something to believe in.
  • If I can't do something for the public good, what the hell am I doing?
  • Consumers have not been told effectively enough that they have huge power and that purchasing and shopping involve a moral choice.
  • If I had learned more about business ahead of time, I would have been shaped into believing that it was only about finances and quality management.
  • If you are an activist, you bring the activism of your life into your business, or if you love creative art, you can bring that in.
  • If you do things well, do them better. Be daring, be first, be different, be just.
  • If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.
  • Look at the Quakers - they were excellent business people that never lied, never stole; they cared for their employees and the community which gave them the wealth. They never took more money out than they put back in.
  • Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival, but that's exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking.
  • One of the interesting things is once we started to get smarter and understand the issues more, and when we realized that we were going to be a real voice, then we ventured out with an extraordinary social justice agenda.
  • The Body Shop Foundation is run by our staff and supports social activism and environmental activism. We don't tend to support big agencies.
  • There is no scientific answer for success. You can't define it. You've simply got to live it and do it.
  • Vigilante consumers are working with human rights groups, environmental groups - the grassroots movement - and are definitely challenging corporations.
  • We have been creating a whole range of publications for developing the activist. All knowledge should be shaped into action and we have been proselytizing that for many years.
  • We turned all the shops into action stations to educate the public on certain issues such as human rights.
  • We were all social activists, and the activism sort of transferred itself into a new environmental movement.
  • When you run an entrepreneurial business, you have hurry sickness - you don't look back, you advance and consolidate. But it is such fun.
  • Years ago nobody was elected on the economic ticket. It was either the education platform, or it was health or it was other issues. It is only recently that economic values have superceded every other human value.
  • It's a bummer.
  • Friday, September 07, 2007

    Concentrating Solar Power

    Latest short (3 mins) video on Concentrating Solar Power - the remarkable global solution to our energy needs.

    Tuesday, September 04, 2007

    The Origins of Hydroelectricity

    In my pursuit to better understand energy systems, my journey has taken me to Cragside in Northumberland, the bizarre and remarkable home designed by Norman Shaw for the victorian industrialist, scientist, engineer and technical innovator, William George Armstrong (1810-1990). Perched on a crag amidst it's own micro-climate created by seven million trees of Armstrong's planting, it is the first house in the world to be powered by hydroelectricity.

    It was while observing a waterwheel in action supplying power to a marble quarry, it struck Armstrong that much of the available power was being wasted. And so, very much in the manner of the Victorians of that time, off he headed to invent, amongst other things, the hydraulic crane - a quayside crane powered by water pressure. So successful was this invention that he resigned from his legal practise, raised the necessary financial backing, built a factory to manufacture cranes and other hydraulic equipment which he went onto sell in enormous quantities throughout the world.

    And so there the might story end, but no...
    In the spirit of a true entrepreneur, Armstrong diversified, with yet more success, into guns and warships...but I was visiting Cragside to learn more about his interests in renewable energy systems. 150 years ago Armstrong foresaw the energy predicament that we face today. Coal, he opined, 'was used wastefully and extravagantly in all it's applications.' In 1863, he predicted that 'England will cease to be a coal producing country...within 200 years.'

    Armstrong believed the future lay in the harnessing the forces of water, wind and sun, but recognised that the uptake of the generation of electricity by renewable power was dependent on the end of the use of fossil fuels. He calculated that "the solar heat operating on one acre [4047m2] in the tropics would ...exert the amazing power of 4000 horses acting for nearly nine hours every day' speculating that the 'direct heating action of the sun's rays' might be used 'in complete substitution for a steam engine.' A man ahead of his time, if alive today he doubtlessly would have been a vocal proponent of CSP.

    In a speech to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1870 (of which he was then president), Armstrong predicted the widespread use of hydroelectricity, stating that 'whenever the time comes for harnessing the power of great waterfalls the transmission of power by electricity will become a system of great importance'.

    That same year Armstrong created Debdon Lake to use the water running through his estate to supply the world's first hydroelectric power station. This powered various labour-saving devices in his house including a roasting spit, a dishwasher and (a wonderful innovation) a servants lift. Turkish baths were installed as part of the innovative provision of central heating for the house, electricity facilitated the installation of an arc lamp in 1878 and the first of his friend Joseph Swan's incandescent light bulbs were installed in time for christmas 1880.

    Armstrong became Britain's largest industrialist and one of the richest men in Europe. He was the first engineer bestowed a Peerage in 1887, finally dying in 1900 at the age of 90. But just as he brought so much light into his life and for others (he was exceptionally happily married to Margaret, herself an accomplished gardener, and a popular and well loved man locally), so it was with his death that the lights began to dim. From such riches, sadly, over the decades, Cragside fell into decline and likewise hydroelectricity fell out of favour.

    Once more those lamps are filling Cragside with light. Now gifted to the National Trust, thanks to an extensive renovation programme the house has been completely rewired and reopened earlier this year. The aim is to reconnect the water supply from Nelly Moss Lakes to Armstrong's original Power House and to use a modern generator to provide hydroelectric heating and lighting to the building. Cragside would then be returned full circle to it's original state: a highly efficient self-contained decentralised electric infrastructure, independent and without reliance on our existing centralised electricity system with all it's attendant shortcomings of our current energy crisis.

    So too must we look to ways to keep the lights on. Armstrong with his characteristic prescience stated 'As in the vegetable kingdom fit conditions of soil and climate quickly cause the appearance of plants, so in the intellectual world fitness of time and circumstance promptly call forth appropriate devices. The seeds of invention exist, as it were, in the air, ready to germinate whenever suitable conditions arise, and no legislative interference is needed to ensure their growth in proper season.' Let us hope that our current legislation does not prove to be an insurmountable block to the promotion of such renewable energy and decentralised systems.

    Green Northumberland
    A week in Northumberland proved to be a haven for a spot of eco-holidaying and exploring. Late summer afternoon tea and the most delicious homemade rhubarb jam in Anne and Phil's orchard with chat about their plans to build an eco-extension overlooking their vibrant and fertile organic vegetable patch...London seems a world away...

  • Trains:
  • from London take only 3 1/2 hours to Berwick upon Tweed from London, where one can stock up on all and sundry at the comprehensive Green Shop on Bridge Street.
  • Getting around:
  • take your bike. There are fantastic bike routes throughout Northumberland's numerous lanes and byways, through pretty villages, past abbey ruins, grand castles and flowing waterways. The best cycling to be had is across the causeway to Lindisfarne with the tide receding - quite literally the waves part in front of you....
  • Eat:
  • Cafe Bean Goose, Lindisfarne. An eco-haven facing out onto the village square. Lesley has thought of everything - all homemade produce made from the finest of organic and fairtrade ingredients, from Montezuma's chocolate (my favourite) wheat free brownie with added cranberries, to Holy Island strawberry jam with carbon footprint of just a matter of a cycle ride away, to organic and fairtrade teas, tisanes, coffees, juices, locally sourced veg, dairy produce and meats including Piperfield Pork (so good that they are the favoured supplier of Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck Restaurant).
  • Stay:
  • Cafe Bean Goose B&B, Lindisfarne (above the cafe). Sheets are organic cotton, water is heated by solar thermal panels, all cleaning materials are environmentally friendly, the delightful garden has a compost heap to be proud of - and breakfast, well, as you can imagine, it will be the best for miles around. Oh, and the views are just marvellous: over the abbey down to the bay and the castle in the distance.

    The National Trust puts 3.5 million in front line against climate change