Posts Tagged climate change

Plane stupid

New research suggests that aircraft noise can raise your blood pressure as you sleep. That’s if you can sleep. Islington’s skies are getting noisier each year, and Lib Dem councillors have already launched an Islington Quiet Skies campaign.

The Government’s plans for expanding Heathrow are out for consultation until 25 February, when a major rally against the third runway proposal will take place in Westminster. If the government gets its way, and Heathrow its third runway, aircraft noise in Islington and all over north London will get much, much worse. An expanded Heathrow will be the equivalent of building another airport the size of Gatwick, with new flight paths over Islington, Hampstead, Ealing and Brent. It will produce as much CO2 emissions as Kenya.

Last week I spoke at a HACAN/Friends of the Earth meeting in Highbury, outlining why Lib Dems oppose the Government’s plans. We also had a “flying” visit from Labour MP Emily Thornberry, who was given a hard time over the Government’s decision to expand Heathrow and exempt aviation from the new Climate Change Bill. How can Labour claim they are serious about fighting climate change when they’re actually expanding air travel? It’s like ordering extra doughnuts with your diet Coke. So much for the government showing leadership on climate change.

British Airways and BAA want Heathrow to act as BA’s hub, able to maximise connections and compete for inter-continental passengers. Good for their business, but no good to London. We need regeneration of east London, sustainable transport links, more housing. Meanwhile, Heathrow’s plans will see a whole community flattened, with all the arrogance of an 18th lord moving the village to improve his view.

Ministers talk about the new localism, listening to local communities. London’s councils don’t support airport expansion. As the lead Lib Dem on the obscure ‘Inter-Regional Planning Forum’, I pressed for councils across London, South and East England to unite against airport expansion instead of trying to push it from one area to another.

Ken Livingstone initially supported increased airport capacity, but has now changed his mind. All the main mayoral candidates oppose the third runway. Millions of Londoners oppose it. Will the government listen? Or will the noise of the planes drown us out?

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QT and candi

I finished work at lunchtime today to go and take part in a Question Time panel at City & Islington College’s Centre for Lifelong Learning at Finsbury Park.

Part of the College’s sustainability week, the Question Time was on the theme of sustainability, with speakers from all the main parties plus Stephen Taylor from Islington Friends of the Earth. It was an extremely enjoyable event. Like the BBC version, it was filmed, which was fun. Unlike the TV version, the questioners were not political plants, but asked open-ended questions; as as one questioner said “I don’t already know the answer to this”. As panellists we explored the answers rather than made digs at each other. And because all the questions were on an environmental theme, we could develop lines of thought as we went. The students were from at least 4 continents, adding a suitably international feel to a global topic. No apathy here.

Questions ranged from should the UN limit family size (no) to can we sell the need for action on climate change to people with more pressing problems (yes). I think the answer has to be to make the connection between changes that help us and that also help fight climate change. Energy efficiency saves you money; leaving the car at home makes you fitter; shopping locally boosts your community. The UK is blessed with huge opportunities to harness renewable energy. And our current building boom is a fantastic chance to lead by example on sustainable development.

The Centre for Lifelong Learning is itself a good example of this. The original building was Finsbury Park School, one of those familar redbrick London schools. Similar ones, Ambler School and Gillespie School, still flourish nearby. Finsbury Park merged with Ambler and the site closed as a school in 1964. It later became part of Islington sixth form college. In 1993 it merged into City and Islington College (candi). Then around 2001, the college chose the site for the lifelong learning centre. They could have demolished the old building and started again. Instead they took the front off, extended it with a very good modern frontage – which makes it part of Blackstock Road rather than set back – and retained the brick arches and high ceilings of the old school as the framework of the building. It looks spectacular inside and works really well.

It’s a sustainable building too in that it includes shared use. As well as the college, the site includes Islington’s new N4 public library. Roll back to 1988, I was at library school further along Blackstock Road at Highbury Grove, in what was then North London Poly. Nearby was Islington Central Library on Holloway Road, well placed to serve the residents of Highbury. But no library at all for people down the hill in Finsbury Park – and this in a small borough which has ten libraries compared to just six in the whole of Kensington & Chelsea. It’s wonderful to see this bright and well-used library in what was a really neglected area. Fantastic though it is, the library had a controversial start; it replaced the small but well-loved Arthur Simpson library on Hanley Road, further along Stroud Green Road, much to the anger of its loyal users. The fact that the old library did not comply with disability access, and that its relocation enabled the fantastic new facility in one of Islington’s most neglected centres, was no comfort. Going for the N4 library was the right decision; but I do understand those who would have liked both.

The extent to which we can ‘have it all’ was a recurring theme in the QT debate. Jeanette Arnold (Labour) said we shouldn’t make people feel guilty about their gadgets; James Humphreys (Green) said we are consuming far too much stuff that we don’t really need, and it’s got to change. Yes things do have to change, but we should do so in a way that excites people about the fantastic opportunities we have; for renewable energy, for micro-generation, for tackling fuel poverty, getting fitter, supporting local shops, encouraging stronger communities – all the things people that matter to people who may not have the environment top of their agenda. Climate change is real; it’s happening now; and it’s man-made. We have not yet missed our chance to tackle it; and the solutions are man-made too.

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How green is Brown?

Today’s Guardian reports on

Labour’s plan to abandon renewable energy targets

Leaked documents detail strategy for climate change U-turn

It seems that John Hutton at the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform thinks the 20% target for renewables is too tough for the Armed Forces and big business to meet. And he is arguing that the UK should work with the enviro-sceptics in Europe to get EU-wide targets lowered. 

Bringing the MOD into the frame may be a smokescreen – Ministers can use national security to plead urgency, while being secretive on any details. But also John Hutton has a constituency interest in defence; his Barrow-in-Furness constituency is the home of BAE Systems (formerly Vickers) who make nuclear subs. My brother Phil and I marched against nuclear missiles in Barrow back in the 1980s. Now the cold war is over and the fight against climate change is on. It would be shameful if one minister’s special pleading weakened not only Government but European policy on climate change.

The Labour in Europe website claims “Labour has shown consistent leadership in the field of climate change, at home and abroad, by setting bold targets and pursuing ambitious policies”.  Well it’s certainly an ambitious policy to push a u-turn on climate change targets while expecting us to believe the Government takes the issue at all seriously.

As the Director of Greenpeace says,  “Gordon Brown is now in danger of surrendering any claim to international leadership on climate change and would rather support nuclear power and scupper the European renewable energy target.”

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Carbon footprint

I’ve ust re-calculated my carbon footprint – the first time since I switched to working at home. With dramatically less commuting and not having flown this year, it’s now down to 3 tonnes. The big issue is whether my electricity bill will shoot up in exchange – although I am with a green energy provider, Good Energy. Watch this space…

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