Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The Wave: Wondering At The Wave.

On the 5th of December 2009, a coach-nearly full- set off from The Warehouse. For some it was far too early in the morning, but there was a buzz of anticipation none the less. How many people would show up? Would the police be heavy handed? Would the placards survive the duration of the march without falling to pieces? Finally the question always asked in Great Britain, would it rain? (It didn't rain until the very end, and only lightly.)

After nearly losing one passenger at Oxford services, and then getting stuck in a seemingly inpenetrable one way traffic system we eventually arrived at our drop off point in London.

We grabbed our banners and started following the masses of living blue material trudging, dancing and shouting it's way to Grosvenor Square where the march began. Estimates vary between the Police's conservative 20,000 and the organiser's 50,000 estimated people in attendance. What ever the true number it filled up the square and overflowed down various roads. After half an hour or so the march began.

Far too much happened in the hours of walking to be recounted, but overall the atmosphere was one of both hope and wondering, with a little bit of fun mixed in. Hoping the collective effort would have some effect on the then upcoming Copenhagen Climate talks and wondering what the use was if nations bigger than out the UK took no action.

To see the fun aspect of the march, watch the video below.






Although in retrospect The Wave march seems to have had little effect on the decisions and emissions cut pledges (or lack of) made at the Copenhagen Climate Talks, I think it still served a very valuable purpose.

It brought people together from all over the United Kingdom and Europe. The optimist in me hopes it showed those attending, and especially the British government, that people want action to be taken quickly on climate change. What struck me was the great mixture of people from all walks of life and of all ages in attendance.

Even if the governments of the world seem hopelessly lost in a maze of negotiations, at least we know we can get organised as individuals and organisations to take action together. I look forward to a new year and decade, and wonder if we can avert runaway climate change?

Thanks must go to Mark who helped organise and sell tickets for the BFOE coach, as well as everyone else who helped sell tickets and prepare for the march.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Green Christmas Fair 2009

The Birmingham Friends of the Earth Christmas Fair is being held on 19 December at Moseley CDT. It will be open to the public from 10am to 4pm and promises a great mix of festive activities. Come along for some excellent ethical present ideas and a chance to escape the horror of the shops the last Saturday before Christmas. There will be hand-crafted, recycled items on sale that show Christmas doesn't have to be about excessive waste and rampant consumerism. Warm up from the cold with delicious home-made soups, cakes and hot drinks and relax amongst like-minded people. Bring along any unwanted bits and bobs to leave at our freecycle table and help yourself to things other people have donated - absolutely free! You might also have the pleasure of running into our legendary Green Santa...

If you are involved with an ethical business or a charity and you are interested in hosting a stall on the day get in touch for further details.

HO HO HO and a Merry Green Christmas!

Roxanne Green

Contact us on 0121 632 6909 or write to campaigns@birminghamfoe.org.uk for more details.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Airmiles Allowance : time for some blue skies thinking?

‘Airmiles’ is still taken by most people to refer to be a good thing : vouchers for extra ‘free’ air travel, as a reward for having paid for previous flights. With growing awareness of global warming, however, some individuals have begun to restrict their personal air travel, to limit the damage they do.
The airline industry plays down its greenhouse impact, of course – but as far as it does recognise a need to limit, for example, CO2 emissions, it directs attention overwhelmingly to improvements in the fuel efficiency of planes, per mile flown, rather than reduce the number of miles flown. And indeed, if a ‘zero carbon airline’ could exist, then “the sky’s the limit” might ring truer!


As we’re nowhere near fuel efficient flight, however, perhaps we do have to ask ourselves : How many miles per year can we sustainably travel by air?

We can arrive at a figure, but this will be based on certain assumptions, as well as firmer information.
First, let’s for the sake of argument suppose that each mile travelled by air will continue to have the same greenhouse impact as now. Then, let’s remind ourselves that global greenhouse emissions must be reduced by 80% by the year 2050 after the Climate Change Act was passed last year. Let’s therefore assume that the contribution from airmiles must reduce by that amount too.

So, what is our current air mileage? According to IATA (2009), a global total of 2.218 trillion miles (3.578 trillion kilometres) were flown on scheduled flights in 2008. They only have figures for scheduled flights, but estimate that this accounts for 95% of commercial air traffic (for the purpose of this discussion, let’s ignore military and private mileage). So, 100% of these current flights would be about 2.335 trillion miles.


Most of the world’s 7 billion population have never flown, of course, and our current airmiles are flown by perhaps just the richest 10%. So, ‘rich world’ citizens seem to be averaging about 3340 miles each per year (with most intensive use being made by people such as frequent business fliers).

In keeping with the principle of ‘Contraction & Convergence’, however, whatever amount of fossil fuels etc that we use in future, we can only do so sustainably if it is shared out equally amongst all the world’s citizens (greenhouse pollution to date has, of course, come overwhelmingly from the ‘rich minority’).
So, an equal allocation of our airmiles would mean that on average each global citizen’s share would currently be 334 miles per year (something that most of the world might dream of).
Furthermore, if we give an extra allowance to members of migrant diaspora communities (in order that they can occasionally visit their family/heritage home overseas), and people living in isolated areas, this would reduce most citizens’ allowance further, to maybe 300 miles.

Finally, recalling that we must also make allowance for essential (hopefully greatly reduced) military & other state use, this would further reduce most citizens’ allowance to perhaps 280 miles in 2009. By 2050, this would reduce to just 56 miles per year per person (2% per year on average over these next 40 years).

In the meantime, what does this mean for us in the ‘rich minority’? Anybody currently exceeding 280 airmiles per year might be accused of ‘carbon theft’, ie. taking more than our fair share. In reality, most of the world’s citizen’s are not going to make use of their share in the next 40 years – this might be taken to mean we have some ‘elbow room’, to steadily and drastically reduce our consumption, without eliminating it overnight. The financial cost of air travel will clearly have to increase drastically, however, partly to compensate the majority who don’t fly, but require investment in other areas of their social development.

So, perhaps we could start by saying that :

Most individuals in the ‘rich minority’ should at least not exceed the current average of 3340 miles in the next year.


In keeping with the ’10:10’ campaign (run by Franny Armstrong, the director of Age of Stupid and aiming for people to cut their cO2 emissions by 10% in 2010), our personal allowance should be reduced to no more than 3000 miles by the end of next year.
The personal allowance should further reduce by at least 70 miles per year for the next 40 years, to bring us down to the global average allowance.

… Unless by some miracle (don’t hold your breath!) air travel becomes carbon-neutral, or following other less unlikely changes, in which case we recalculate again.

Comments are invited, eg on the assumptions I’ve made, or alternative figures we might use.

A workshop activity could be run on this, part of which could include participants working out their own actual airmile total for last 12 months, and what the 10:10 reduction would mean for their immediate future.

Please reply directly by email to aldomussi@hotmail.com

Aldo Mussi December 2009

HS2, you won’t like the railway route

The Real HS2 route is due to be published shortly by the company charged by the Government to look into it. Others have pranced about waving maps, current railway owner Network Rail (a private company that managed to fund a speculative report), being the latest.

Chartered Civil Engineer Andrew McNaugton is a well travelled authority on railways and is the (real) High Speed 2 engineer, so his words as reported by fortnightly magazine RAIL, carry some weight.


The McNaugton vision is a railway that links other cities through London St Pancras to other centres such as Cologne and not just a drain for Midlanders to slide down to jobs in London.

The route, soon to be published, would see Manchester, Newcastle, and London, connected to Birmingham. The curves, however, to have a radius of 7.2 kilometres, would mean the new railway would not suit chasing existing motorway alignments. The rationale of the route, favouring a minimum of stops and junctions, anyway lines it up as an open country enterprise.

For trains to stop, and others to pass, any junction will have to extend back a huge distance, again to achieve that radius of 7.2 kilometres, in the same way as a slip road on a motorway runs parallel over a great length.

Putting all of these criteria together, a Birmingham station might well be in the motorway corridor near the ‘National Exhibition Centre’ with one route going somewhere near theM6 Toll Road to the North West, the other aiming to the North East. A station nearer Birmingham’s City Centre might be possible but finding and exit to the North and finding land without major demolition, presents a challenge. The station location is, of course, speculative, but maybe word will be out very soon.

Less open to debate is the shortage of money that might mean that the high speed railway is never built. If HS2 is not built, our existing railways will have to be botched about to carry ever more traffic.

There is an art to botching and the earlier custodians of our current centre to centre railway, have tried their best. Botching, sadly, is an expensive way of doing things. Network Rail (NR), constantly chided for having expensive projects, is trying to do projects whilst there is a railway there. In this way, NR is trying to replaster and redecorate with the house fully occupied. NR is trying their best, but the task is impossible: plans to bypass slow lengths of railway (such as through Stafford) and to run non-stop through many stations, are to suit fairly high speed trains but ruin the railway for door to door journeys.


NR is a private company and do what they want, but make an elegant pretence of consulting with the public. It may be fun to watch the publication of the real High Speed 2 railway route, but the decisions in the real world lie with NR and their route Utilisation Strategy (RUS). The RUS for the West Midlands is now being written with no plans for better local train services for the West Midlands, and that, surely, is worth asking Network Rail about.

It could be that Network Rail’s efforts will be the nearest we will see to high speed rail and that they need to be supported in their efforts, with direction and guidance.

Contact them at Network Rail, Kings Place, 90 York Way London N1 9AG

John Hall

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Buy Nothing Day 2009

On Saturday, the Birmingham Friends of the Earth Santa Parade took to the streets for the 8th time. This time we were joined by a polar bear for the first time ever and also took part in a Mexican Guitar Wave. Buy Nothing Day has never seen the like before!
The usual messages about over-consumption were on display with our placards, as well as the more general Climate Change one in supporting The Wave. We were all filmed playing air guitar with our placards along with a few people who had real gu8itars and many others with pretend ones. After that, Andy and I were interviewed by a journalist from Birmingham Recycled before starting the Parade from St Phillips Square.

We stopped outside various shops to be photographed as we made our way down towards New Street. The public were happy to see us as always and several people were asked for photos and/or hugs by passers-by. We were happy to oblige, of course, as that is entirely in the spirit of the event and costs nothing.

We had a few eventful encounters with people of rather extreme views about Christmas and a short and easily resolved encounter with the police and council officials. Mostly, though, it was another successful and fun Santa Parade with the message of buying more not being what makes you happy well understood by those who took the time to talk to us.
Please see the report on our discussion about consumerism from Birmingham Recycled for more on the issues surrounding Buy Nothing Day. They should also have a video up on there soon with the interviews. To end this short report on the day's activities, though, here's a picture of a load of Santas at a bus stop.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Its a wrap: Knot just for Christmas

Another fun night was had at our second It’s a wrap crafting night on the 23rd November. We were a little squashed in the front resourses room at the Warehouse, but managed to move around the tables to make everyone comfortable.

We had less sewing machines than we had at our last group so some made bags on the machines, whilst others made reusable gift tags made with recycled felt made from plastic bottles. Roger, our token man, but willing crafter made bottle bags out of the sleeves of donated shirts.


A lot of chat and discussion was shared over the sewing, with Denise from COW (Creative Open workshops) talking about how she finger crochets with plarn, yarn made out of plastic bags, while Beth showed us a bag she had crocheted out of plastic barrier tape she collected together.

I also mentioned what I had spotted that week when walking past Lush I was surprised to discover this window display. Had they heard about Its a wrap and taken, but no, after looking in their promotional paper its a national Lush offering: Knot just for Christmas, Go Lush!

Knot for Christmas is a gift wrap service using vintage scarves to wrap their products in, more info is on their web page about this knot wrapping service. I have also seen this furoshiki wrapping and have got some lovely furoshiki Christmas and other wraps from my favourite folksy seller myfuroshiki which will be for sale at our Friends of the Earth Green Christmas Fair in Moseley on the 19th December, so come along and see what we have on offer.

Its a wrap had another productive night and here are some of the great bags and recycled gift tags that were made on the night. All of these will be available at the Green Fair in Moseley on the 19th December. If you want to come along and join in the fun, the next session is on the 14th December, hopefully see you there.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Buy Nothing Day - Santa Parade Take 8!

This Saturday, 28th November, we'll be doing our 8th annual Santa Parade for Buy Nothing Day in Birmingham. The pictures below are from last year's event, which as ever was a light-hearted affair with a serious message.


This year, as well as the parade for Buy Nothing Day, the Santas will also be taking part in a special Guitar Wave at midday on St Phillips Square along with members of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition to raise awareness of The Wave which is taking place in London the following Saturday and should be the biggest Climate Change march ever seen in this country with coaches galore going down there from Birmingham and other parts of the country. Ours is sold out, but look here for details of others.

Buy Nothing Day is all about thinking about your consumer behaviour and the planet as a whole. The following questions should be ones you consider before making purchases:

  • Do I need it?
  • How many do I already have?
  • How much will I use it?
  • How long will it last?
  • Could I borrow it from a friend or family member?
  • Am I able to clean and/or maintain it myself?
  • Will I be able to repair it?
  • Am I willing to?
  • Have I researched it to get the best quality for the best price?
  • How will I dispose of it when I'm done using it?
  • Are the resources that went into it renewable or nonrenewable?
  • Is it made from recycled materials, and is it recyclable?

If at the end of that list, you still think you're doing the right thing, then go ahead and make your purchase. If not, think of a better way of spending your hard-earned cash or not don't spend it until you can think of something that satisfies the criteria for doing so.

Spending time with the ones you love is far more valuable than any material object and there are certainly plenty of things you can do together without spending money. Follow @buynothingday on twitter for suggestions on that, or just use your imagination - that doesn't cost anything or have a carbon footprint.

Join us on Saturday for a day of spending nothing and having fun!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Does The 11 Go There?


On the 11th November a group of BFoE people went for an evening out on the annual no. 11 bus 11-11-11, run by Jon Bounds of BiNS fame. Those unfamiliar with the 11-11-11 event should take a look at the 11 Bus website, but essentially it consists of riding a full circuit of Birmingham's famous no. 11 bus sometime on the 11th of November (although some have taken it to extremes and ridden it for a full 11 hours).

So, a bunch of us from BFoE met up in King's Heath by the superloo, where we also hooked up with some Birmingham bloggers doing the same thing. All in all a 15 strong band, to document the 26 mile round trip through photographs, video and twitterings. Before proceedings could get underway however, there was the decision about whether we would be riding an A or C - in other words would we ride Anti-clockwise or Clockwise? Eventually after a little debate the 11C won out, and so off we went, clockwise!

Along the route various points of historical, bizzare or humorous interest were pointed out by various 11ers, each it seemed with their own area of geographic knowledge, which worked out rather well in letting us know all about the variations of the outer reaches of the city. Inevitably we received a few funny looks and questions as to what we were up to (just as one of the 11ers gaffer taped a video camera to a handrail), and even after an explanation they still seemed perplexed. The passing round of the sweets probably only compounded their confusion! Given that we had taken up most of the back half of the top deck, it seems we also confused quite a few seasoned back seat dwellers by occupying their preferred spot, and hence forcing them to sit in unfamiliar territory further towards the front.

Our route took us through Cotteridge (which bizzarely has a high proportion of party shops), Bournville (with the Cadbury chocolate factory - obviously), Selly Oak, Harborne, Bearwood, North Edgbaston, Rotton Park & Summerfield, City Hospital, Winson Green (home of HM Prison Birmingham), Handsworth (with the ever lively & colourful Soho Road), Handsworth Wood, Perry Barr, Witton (just near Villa Park), Stockland Green, Erdington (and the infamous 6 Ways island) and Ward End, where the BFoE bunch of 11ers disembarked for a well earned pit stop, whilst the Birmingham bloggers held out for a full uninterrupted circuit.

So after a quick drink in that famous North-East Birmingham drinking spot, The Fox & Goose, we reboarded the next 11 bus for the final leg through Stechford, Yardley (and the rather sad looking vacant Swan Centre), Acocks Green, past Sarehole Mill, and through Billesley back to our starting point in King's Heath. With the wonders of Twitter we managed to track down the location of the Birmingham bloggers we'd left on the bus at Ward End, and join them for a celebratory drink in the Hare & Hounds to chat about the journey.

So that was the end of an alternative but curiously fun night out, in which we saw some previously unexplored parts of Brum, dredged up some old memories, and discovered that if you're having a party, then Cotteridge is the place for all your party supply needs! Remember to check out the 11 Bus website.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Its a wrap, 9th November

Thanks for all the people that came along to the first It's a wrap crafting group, here is a selection of what was created:

Lots of people turned up with their sewing machines, including the C.O.W. Girls. I brought along a few items we could make including wine bag, draw string bags, a CD/DVD wrap and a furoshiki wraps.

My friend had donated some fascinators, which distracted the everyone at first, as you can see!

I then demonstrated the different wraps (did feel a bit like a person on QVC or one of those stalls at the market that demonstrate the veg cutting devices and someone did shout out "Do we get a free knife if we watch it all the way through!)

And then we all dived in to chose our material and get going.



We also had some lovely cakes and flapjacks to help us along the way.

So please come along to our next It's a wrap group, which will be a drop in from 6.00 pm onwards:
  • 23rd November
  • 14th December
And at the Christmas Market in Moseley CDT on 19th December all you lovely peeps will be able to buy the "It's a wrap" produce.

Hopefully see you soon!

Friday, 6 November 2009

20's Plenty for Birmingham - Help our Campaign


Birmingham FoE has been campaigning for a default speed limit of 20mph on all residential areas across Birmingham and recently I have been helping to organise the campaign locally.

The recent successes in other UK cities, such as Portsmouth and Oxford, have been very encouraging and research has showed that the public is definitely in favour of a lower speed limit.

The example of Birmingham as the second biggest city in the UK would send a positive message all over the country and really help in creating a greener and cleaner city. But more importantly it would help make Birmingham a safer city and encourage its inhabitants to walk or cycle more on roads where they do not feel secure at the moment. The change in attitude fostered by drivers associating residential areas with safer speeds would reduce road casualties and improve the quality of life.

To raise awareness in the heart of communities and get people involved to spread the word around where they live, we are looking for Community Champions following the successful example of Bristol's campaign.

If you are interested in becoming a community champion for your neighbourhood or knows somebody who might be, please contact us at campaigns@birminghamfoe.org.uk. There is a lot of work to do to persuade the people in charge of roads at Birmingham City Council that this is the way to go, but we really feel this is an important campaign and we need your help.

It's time to get together and make Birmingham a safer place to live!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Its a wrap: Birmingham Friends of the Earth get stitched up

Lets be honest, wrapping gifts in paper, it’s all about the eye candy and not much about the environment. In the UK, we waste stacks of trees and resources with glitzy paper for a 20 second fix. It is estimated by Waste online that over Christmas as much as 83 square km of wrapping paper will end up in UK rubbish bins, enough to cover an area larger than Guernsey and the total waste wrapping paper the UK produces over Christmas could stretch to the moon if each sheet was laid end to end.

And part of the problem is the most popular wrapping paper cannot be recycled and ends up in landfill is often dyed, laminated and contains non-paper additives such as gold and silver coloured shapes or glitter which cannot be recycled. This means paper is either dumped in the bin or, worse, put in the recycling bin, which will mean the whole lot is contaminated and has to go to landfill.

So whats this got to do with Birmingham Friends of the Earth?
We want to promote the alternative wrapping that is available, and on the 9th of November will be having its first group of crafters coming together to make creative wrappings to get people to think differently about wrapping paper and also make items that will be showcased and available for sale at our Christmas fare on the 19th December and hopefully will raise some money to get allow great campaigning around the city. Contact Joe Peacock on 0121 632 6909 or email http://www.blogger.com/campaigns@birminghamfoe.org.uk.

So here are some of the things the crafters will be making for alternative wrapping paper, (if you have other ideas, please share them as comments):

Furoshiki, which is a Eastern tradition of wrapping using material, which I discovered after watching recycle now. See myfuroshiki for the real thing, photographed is one of her great prints and will have some of their great products available on the stall on the 19th December. Also I square scarves from charity shops can do the job as well.

Material gift bags that can be used and used again, which can be made over from left over material.


CD/DVD material present bags. This one is from Thailand and can be used again and again.

Use newspaper or magazines for wrapping. Recently I have had lots of success with using adverts in womens magazines, they spend so much on the creative, such as the perfume adverts, its always nice to show them off. Use string or ribbon to wrap them up and you can use them again.

If you cant make it on the 9th November, you can still help out by contributing:
  • Any scrap, Christmassy, material we can use. Anything from old curtains, to off cuts, nice duvet covers or pillow cases picked up at a charity shop.
  • Scarves that are square shape or can be altered to fit.
  • Thread, ribbon and sew on decorations.
Please drop these off at the Warehouse and we will see what our creative people can do.

And start thinking about how you can reduce, reuse and recycle at Christmas!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Meat Free Mondays: Join the herd

Come along to the Warehouse Café in Digbeth and enjoy their Meat Free Monday, where on a Monday you can buy one meal and get one free throughout November, just ring the cafe 0121 633 0261 to reserve your table*, and mention the Birmingham Friends of the Earth blog (reservation essential).

Meat Free Mondays is not about going vegetarian, it's about revolutionising meat and dairy farming and reducing our consumption. It’s about fixing the food chain, as it’s a far from perfect world out there. However, we do not want to attack the farmers, but help them to move to planet friendly farming.

Friends of the Earth have found that the meat and dairy industry produces more climate-changing emissions than all the planes, cars and lorries on the planet. Rainforests play a vital role in reducing the impact of our CO2 emissions but they are currently being destroyed in order to grow soy to feed UK livestock. Plus increasing demand for meat and dairy has led to unsustainable farming practices that threaten our planet.

So how can we help? By getting the government to enable our farmers to grow their own feed for their animals. There is 700 million EU subsidies going into intensive farming and this could be invested with our farmers to help them grow and feed their own animals. This would be better for the farmers and better for our food security.

Plus eating more vegetables is not only great for your health but also good for the planet too! UN’s top climate scientist Rajendra Pachauri states that “People should consider eating less meat as a way of combating global warming. UN figures suggest that meat production puts more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than transport.” In the UK we eat 3 ½ times more meat the World Health Organisation recommends, putting us at risk of cancer, diabetes and obesity.

The point of having Meat Free Monday (or just a meat free day or meal) is it will take the pressure off the food chain and get people thinking about caring about what they eat and the impacts it has on the world around us. It is more realistic to get the whole world to alter their diet and reduce their consumption than get a few to convert to vegetarianism or veganism.

There is a lot more possibilities opened by having a meat free meal or day, for example a school changed to have one day a week meat free. Then for the other days of the weeks they were able to invest in organic meat or fish. Meat Free Monday is all about making smarter choices and it’s not about having a go at the UK farmers, which quite frankly have enough to worry about.

So by not eating meat for one day a week we are saving ourselves as well as the planet.

For November the Warehouse Café is offering the chance to ‘buy one get one free’ on all main meals bought on Mondays*.

* Offer equivalent to one free main meal to same or lower value of meal purchased. Maximum 4 vouchers used together. Limited spaces available, so booking essential and early booking recommended. Offer valid Monday until Monday 30 November.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

CLIMATE JUSTICE NOW! SPEAKER TOUR

Here are the details of our speaker event at the University of Birmingham Avon Room, University Centre on 19th November at 7pm.


CLIMATE JUSTICE NOW!- UK SPEAKER TOUR
The climate crisis has been caused by rich industrialised countries, but it is the world’s poorer majority who are paying the highest price, as extreme weather events become more common, freshwater glaciers melt, and droughts increase. We believe that this means rich countries owe a ‘climate debt’ to the global south.

The Climate Justice UK speaker tour this autumn will see public meetings held around the country. Join us to hear why we need a global climate agreement which is both effective and delivers justice for the global south, and how you can make this happen.
Speakers are:
* Mohammed Shamsuddoha (Equity Bangladesh)
* Andy Atkins (Friends of the Earth)
* Hilary Thorndike (Refugee Council)

Spread the word: Invite your friends to this event!

Full details of the tour can be found at: http://www.climatejusticenow.org.uk

Organised by: World Development Movement, People & Planet, Jubilee Debt Campaign, and Friends of the Earth.

More information about the Shared Planet conference is at: http://peopleandplanet.org/shared-planet-09

********************************************************

WHAT IS CLIMATE JUSTICE?
The climate crisis has been caused by the rich industrialised countries, but it is the world’s poorer majority who are paying the highest price, as extreme weather events become more common, freshwater glaciers melt, and droughts increase.

We believe that rich countries owe a ‘climate debt’ to the global south. Not only do we need to reduce our emissions drastically, but we also need to provide new money so that poor countries can develop in a sustainable way and cope with the climate crisis which is already putting millions of lives at risk. This should not be seen as overseas aid, given out of charity, but compensation for our overuse of the earth’s resources.

In the run up to the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December, rich countries are trying to bully developing countries into accept unreasonably large emissions cuts, whilst shirking making the necessary cuts themselves. At the same time, they are seeking to channel climate change funding for poor countries through the World Bank, the largest multilateral lender for fossil fuel projects in the world! What’s more, this will mostly be in the form of loans which will only add to the unjust debts which developing countries owe the rich world.

Come and hear our speakers explain why we need a global climate agreement which is both effective and delivers justice for the global south, and how you can make this happen.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

SOB - Save Our Buses?

There are worrying signs that all is not well with bus provision in Birmingham. Instead of improving the services, anecdotal evidence suggests that they are becoming even more infrequent in places where people need them. Only today there was an article in the Birmingham Mail about prices being too high and we have been campaigning for months for better bus services to be driven by a Statuatory Partnership which would be responsible for driving improvements. There is an e-petition for this and we have been collecting signed letters from discontented bus users.

It seems that National Express, which runs TWM (the company responsible for buses such as the one in the picture) is in financial difficulty and may not be able to survive. This means that a new company could soon be running the buses here and we need to be ready to engage with them and explain what it is we expect from the bus service in this city.
At the transport action group meeting on Monday evening it was decided that we need to hold a special meeting to draw up our demands or "bus manifesto" to be prepared for such a situation and use in our campaigning. Next Monday we have a general campaigns meeting at 7.30, but we'll also be holding a special bus meeting before it at 6.30. So, if you feel strongly about this come along then, or email your comments to campaigns@birminghamfoe.org.uk and we'll use them to guide the discussion.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Our Food Chain Parade

Last Saturday, members of our campaigns group were out in Birmingham City Centre on a Food Chain Parade to end our Food Chain fortnight of action.

As you can see from the picture below we were drawing people's attention to the issues surrounding factoring farming in this country leading to deforestation of some of the world's most valuable pristine habitat in South America. Arrows go from the animals to the bags of soy feed which they eat to the man with the chainsaw who cuts down the trees to grow the crops.


The parade went from in front of Tesco on New Street, up to Victoria Square, along Colmore Row, down Church Street, across to Ludgate Hill, up to St Pauls Square, along Brook Street, along Graham Street up Frederick St and along Warstone Lane where we finished at the 24 carrot farmers market in the Jewellery quarter.

Shaking our maracas we made our way along the route giving out badges and stickers to people along the way and singing our own version of "Old MacDonald Had A Farm".

It was a really fun event. Thanks to everyone who helped make the props and who joined in on the day. Let's hope that all the MPs get behind this now and the bill goes through parliament to make our food planet-friendly.

Click here to see how you can help online.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Bees - the new canaries

Over the years a few different animals and plants have been termed the new canaries in the coal mine for climate change and the ecological problems facing the world. Amphibians are at terrible risk of being wiped out, which could lead to huge increases in the numbers of insects and other problems. Coral-bleaching shows how much the oceans are warming and there is also evidence of how acidic they are becoming, with the real possibility that they could lose their ability to store carbon. Now though, it is the turn of the bees to become the symbol of environmental problems with a new film vanishing bees looking at the reasons for colony collapse disorder and warning of the consequences if nothing is done to save them.

On Wednesday a few of us from Birmingham Friends of the Earth went along to see the film at The Electric cinema and all of us certainly did come out thinking we wanted to do something - maybe put a hive on the roof of the Warehouse? Well, no that's probably not feasible, but definitely plant some bee-friendly stuff in the garden and maybe chuck a few seed bombs into the disused bulldozed sites of Digbeth.

While not as bleak as the Age of Stupid, the picture given in this film in the no-action-being-taken scenario, is also pretty worrying. The arguments for the importance of bees for all of us are pretty stark and cannot be ignored. The trouble is that neither this film nor any scientific study has provided conclusive proof of what is causing the bees to disappear. If you go expecting to get that, you'll be disappointed.

As a film, the vanishing of the bees has been described as "earnest", so I wasn't expecting it to be much more than informative, but there certainly were some interesting characters in the film and a few shocking facts - for example, the USA is now flying in bees from Australia to pollinate certain crops!!! It was also nice that there was a woman called Bee and a man called Dr Pollan in there who obviously belonged in their field.

The culprits are gradually revealed in the course of the documentary through interviews with bee-keepers, scientists and farmers. As an environmentalist they are pretty much what you'd expect; the use of certain pesticides, the use of intensive farming methods that have created huge monocultures rather than the biodiversity of mixed organic farming systems, loss of habitat and probably some of it is due to the industrialisation of bee-keeping itself. Many of these are also drivers of climate change and other problems associated with the ecology of our planet, so although the fate of bees is not necessarily directly linked to climate change, if we deal with one we will be helping to deal with the other, too.


I hadn't realised quite how much The Vanishing of the Bees would be about the USA, but that was primarily the focus, with only a minor mention of the UK. The fact is that we are the two countries mentioned who have not banned a certain Bayer pesticide with nicotinoids, which has been banned all over Europe where bee-keepers showed conclusive proof of what it was doing to bees (even Germany has banned it and Bayer is a German company!). I very much liked the French bee-keepers who took on the industrial giant and won, describing themselves as hippies who had been underestimated.

The American bee-keepers were interesting characters, but most of them work on such a massive industrial scale, taking their bees back and forth across the USA on lorries, that I kind of want that way of working to fail. There were a few small-scale bee-keepers and the ones who work locally with crops that flower at different times of the year seem to be doing much better.

Overall, it was certainly worth going to see, but the film was a bit over-long and could have been a bit bolder. For someone who didn't know about the topic at all, it would be very revealing, but for those with a reasonable amount of knowledge already, it did sometimes come over as a little patronising.

What is clear after seeing The Vanishing of the Bees, is that we must do something to change the destructive farming practices and have a new green revolution. This will help with food security both in terms of contributing fewer of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change and in helping to protect bees who are vital for so much of the food we eat. This all ties in very well with our Fix the Food Chain campaign, so look here to see how you can help with that in Birmingham this weekend.

Joe Peacock

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

This Saturday - Fix the Food Chain Parade

Do you want to support a thriving yet planet-friendly farming industry? Then come and join us this Saturday 17th of October.

To finish off our summer of action when we have been out and about campaigning at festivals farmers markets and other events across Birmingham to build support for our campaign we will be having a parade through the city centre on Saturday.



The Parade will consist of a chain of people including:
  • Chicken and cow sandwich-boards (see above)
  • Soy-bean sacks and maracas
  • Farmers with placards calling for planet-friendly farming
  • A lumberjack with a chainsaw

The parade will start at 10:30 in front of Tesco on New Street, up to Victoria Square, along Colmore Row, down Church Street, across to Ludgate Hill, up to St Pauls Square, along Brook Street, along Graham Street up Frederick St and along Warstone Lane where we'll finish at the 24 carrot farmers market in the Jewellery quarter.

What's wrong with the current food chain?

Animals in British factory farms are pumped full of protein to speed up their growth. Soy is a major source of protein but to produce enough, precious habitats like rainforests are cleared in South America to make way for vast soy plantations.

Destroying these forests increases climate-changing gases in the atmosphere. In addition, small-scale farmers are forced off their land by soy plantations and can sink into poverty because they are unable to grow food for their families and/or cash crops.

But the global chain doesn't only affect remote locations and people. UK farmers and ultimately the public also pay the price because we are all more vulnerable to fluctuating commodity prices.

So how do we fix the Food Chain?

The Food Chain campaign isn't about getting rid of meat and dairy farming - it's about getting Government to revolutionise it.

We want to see them change the deal behind our meals. This means:

  • Shifting subsidies away from factory farming.
  • Supporting farmers to grow their own animal feed.
  • Supermarkets offering fairer deals for everyone.

What can I do?

That depends on how much time you have and whether you want to get more involved.

You could

  • Parade with us on Saturday
  • If you have limited time but are in the vicinity you could sign a Fix the Food Chain postcard which will be sent to your local MP
  • E-mail your MP here
  • Come to the once a month Food Chain campaign meeting and get more involved - for more information e-mail Joe Peacock at
The sun is predicted to come out on Saturday so what a better day for helping the environment, UK farmers and stocking up on some local food at the farmers market all in one go!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Digbeth: Past, Present & Future

I went along to the Digbeth: Past, Present & Future discussion at Ikon Eastside on 6 October, as BFoE has long been involved in the area both from a campaigning front and the fact that BFoE's building 'The Warehouse' has been located there for 32 years (well the building has been there much longer, but BFoE have been in there for 32 years).

The event was very well attended, with only a handful of seats left. The event started off with the showing of a short film made up of old archive film footage of Digbeth through the years, which included:
Holiday crowds leaving the bus station and Moor Street station (1956)
The opening of Midland Red Bus Station (now Digbeth Coach Station) (1958)
An escaped bull from the slaughterhouse running through the streets of Digbeth (1963)
Deritend flats due for demolition (1965)
Birds Ltd leaving the Custard Factory (1965)
The Irish Protest march (1969)
National Front Rally and rival protests by the anti-fascists (1978)
Closure of the Typhoo Tea factory (1978)

It was very interesting, and sometimes amusing, to see the old Digbeth and how it has gradually transformed over the decades.

Following on from this was an open discussion with the panel made up of Nicky Getgood (of the Digbeth is Good blog) who was chairing the discussion, Adam Crossley (of Digbeth Residents Association), Joe Holyoak (architect, urban designer and vocal supporter of Digbeth's heritage and future), Jonathan Watkin (Director of Ikon Gallery), Dave Harte (Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications at Birmingham City University), and James Hall (Architect for BCU's BIAD building from Associated Architects). Philip Singleton (Assistant Director Planning & Regeneration at Birmingham City Council) was also due to be in attendance, but cancelled at the last minute due to a double booking.

The debate flowed quite seamlessly between issues of urban planning policy, creative industries, Digbeth as a digital district, art, education, communities, music, entertainment, voluntary and social groups, and generally back through and around all of these subjects and the issues surrounding them on multiple occasions. Personally, I thought this highlighted the complex interconnected web of people and uses that makes up Digbeth, and that each subject can't be considered on its own when it comes to the area's future. As well as the discussion amongst the panel, the audience also contributed a great deal, both vocally and through Twitter, with a projector and screen rigged up to show a live feed of people in the audience tweeting their questions, comments, facts and associated links. I thought this was a very innovative approach to engaging the audience, and seemed to work well, allowing the less physically vocal members to contribute to the debate, or simply to add links to facts and points of interest elsewhere on the web that were mentioned in the debate. Many of these items were brought into the discussion, I think these will be added to the Ikon website along with the film footage at some point soon.

As I said, a great number of issues were covered in the discussion, but there was a great deal of debate around the physical form of Digbeth. The lack of a coherent planning policy for the area was brought up, and the absurdity of the conservation area guidelines (which include the banning of trees and greenery, as well as resistance to opening up the canals and River Rea to the wider urban environment), and the fact that planning policy was tossed aside when the 'vanity' scheme that is The Beorma Tower turned up. A great deal of concern was also raised about the wholesale levelling of buildings to make way for new large monolithic developments which lost the character and plot history of the area, some of which had gone ahead, and some of which have now stalled, leaving a barren wasteland of rubble in their wake with seemingly no redevelopment in sight. Especially highlighted for critisism were the Bradford Street area and the Eastside/City Park area, the latter also attracting comments about the forcing out of local businesses and residents such as Rosa's Cafe, Los Canarios and Fred Grove in order to make way for new architecturally annonymous large scale development that has still yet to happen. This despite the showing of a flashy computer generated fly-through of the Eastside redevlopment and city park set to suitably upbeat marketing music and regularly pointing out large sums of money that are to be spent - I got the impression the audience was distinctly unimpressed with this, and it also received a few derogatory comments from the panel too!

There seemed to be a lot more support for the incremental organic development of Digbeth, more in line with Professor Michael Parkinson's report (rather than Big City Plan), with a greater emphasis on keeping the historic grain, concentrating on smaller developments and reusing buildings. On the last point, ideas were also forthcoming on putting artists and other creative and small businesses in touch with landlords of vacant buildings to see about leasing these on a short term basis for affordable rents. Such an initiative could help prevent the sorry story that comes from the government's ending of tax relief on empty buildings, which results in it being cheaper to demolish a vacant building than to pay the business rates on it (but that's another issue I won't get started on right now!).

We were also given a presentation from James Hall of Associated Architects on the new Birmingham City University BIAD (Birmingham Institute of Art & Design) building. Comments were made that this should help to connect the wider Digbeth area with the Eastside/City Park area (which is currently severed by the railway line) in both a physical sense and as a means of fostering links with Digbeth's vibrant creative scene.

Talk also turned to the creative sector, and with the council seemingly wanting to make Digbeth the 'creative district'. Whilst there are a great number of creative industries and organisations now resident in Digbeth (I for one was certainly surprised to hear that Digbeth now has more art galleries than any other area outside of London), it seems that people were generally happier to be to amongst the current melting pot rather than be pushed into a prescribed 'creative quarter'. To me the council's approach is again tied to it's often two dimensional planning use zoning, which lacks the dynamism of a place like Digbeth that ebbs and flows at a far greater rhythm than planning policy ever does.

Tying into the whole creative sector was the council's efforts to enable 'Digital Digbeth' through the provision of a very high speed data connection. The council seems to be making big moves with this plan, and people seemed broadly supportive, although they thought it should be accessible to all areas of the city rather than a specific area, and should be about providing the infrastructure rather than prescribing a use for it. However, it does sound like Digbeth will be just the first trial area.

Topping off the discussion were the ongoing issues of the lack of life's basic necessities, such as a grocery store and a cash machine, as well as noise complaints about live music venues from a seemingly vocal minority, and the risk that this may put the brakes on Digbeth's reputation for live entertainment and nightlife which is an integral part of it's vibrancy.

Overall I thought it was an excellent evening, with a great panel, well attended, with an innovative use of Twitter, and resulted in a very wide reaching, but focused discussion that I feel contributed a wealth of information to the debate about Digbeth's future. It was just a pity Philip Singleton of Birmingham City Council wasn't in attendance, he missed a great opportunity to engage with a talented and passionate group of people who had a Typhoo Tea Factory full of great ideas to progress Digbeth in a way that respects it's past and nurtures it's future. Perhaps those passionate Digbethites should make their own plan, if we can have 'BCC-DIY', a community version the Birmingham City Council website, why can't we have a community plan for the future of Digbeth?
'Digbeth-DIY' anyone?

A Good Egg


MP Dr Lynne Jones took time to come to the Warehouse cafe last Monday to show her support for our Fix the Food Chain campaign.

The campaign which promotes the use of planet-friendly agricultural practices over intensive factory farming (currently a very large source of greenhouse gas emissions) has gained widespread public support and now the Early Day Motion which is sponsored by Dr Jones will hopefully become a private members bill next year.

As well as cracking open an enormous egg, Dr Jones had a Meat Free Monday meal in the vegetarian cafe and spoke to campaigners about the issue.

“I am committed to ‘fixing the food chain’ and helping small farmers and I am joining the campaign by Friends of the Earth which calls for planet-friendly farming.

Our excessive consumption of meat and dairy, especially from intensive farming is contributing to climate change and harming wildlife. It’s great that so many of my constituents have got in touch with me over this important issue.”

This Saturday we will be following this up with a parade through Birmingham city centre ending up at the farmers market in the Jewellery quarter to bring more attention to the cause. If you're around, come and cheer along the farmers, cows, chickens and others coming to a square near you on Saturday to call for a new green revolution which is fair, sustainable and does not cause harm to our planet.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Response of Birmingham Friends of the Earth to the West Midlands Rail Development Plan

As those who follow our activities will know, recently we ran a very successful public campaign to get as many people as possible to respond to the consultation on the WM Rail Development Plan. We got over a thousand letters from local people asking for the re-opening of stations on the Camp Hill line stopping at Balsall Heath, Moseley, Kings Heath and Stirchley, as well as being part of the wider rail network.

In addition to that, we did also submit a very detailed response of our own, running to over 20 pages. If anyone would like to see a copy of that, I am very happy to email it to them - contact me at campaigns@birminghamfoe.org.uk and I'll send it to you, but here for everyone is the summary of what we want without all the detail.

What should a Regional Rail Network Achieve?
The Network should be one that is consistent with other policies such as Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS), West Midlands Regional Economic Strategy, Local Transport Plans, National policies (such as those relating to Climate Change), demographic changes (accommodating different groups). To work, the Network has to be structured support passenger journeys of those not using the private car (rather than assuming that all have access to a car), and must address the following:

  • Movement of goods and materials (so it is not solely about passengers)
  • Reliability in all seasons
  • Low energy demand
  • Improved quality of life
  • Incorporation of innovation to design, maintenance of the railway
  • Changes in the type of rail vehicles including those for freight
  • Upcoming challenges such as Peak Oil, Volatile energy prices, reduction in long distance commuting, localisation
  • Railway as a workplace
  • Accommodating tourism, coping with other languages

Trends in demand
The market for rail is large and being fixed infrastructure, customers and users have confidence that it will remain in place.
Access to the railways for potential freight in Birmingham is currently very limited as the provision is for large volumes to a limited number of destinations. To achieve the Climate Change mitigation targets, the current arrangements whereby goods are moved principally by road and over long distances, has to change. Rail has to play a part in such change and to suit such change, current short termism (such as eliminating the freight potential of Longbridge and (outside Birmingham) Longbridge, has to be reversed.
Department for Transport statistics on bus travel indicates that of non bus users, half would be willing to use buses. This indicates that there is potential for growth in bus as collector for the rail network (and for journeys wholly undertaken by bus). Currently residents of Birmingham communities suffer the severance resulting from high volumes of car traffic; reduction in traffic levels and transfer to bus and train can improve road conditions for other travellers (including pedestrians and cyclists) and enhance journey time reliability.
Contact with the public by Birmingham Friends of the Earth has clearly established that there is strong support for available rail transport within walking distance of homes and workplaces at such places as Balsall Heath and Kings Heath. The case for reviewing past studies such as the Multi Modal Study for the West Midlands (that advocated Benson Road Curve, Bordesley Chord and other passenger train enhancements including stations), should be undertaken but with a fresh perspective.
The market for rail to serve journeys for recreation has barely been explored: many attractions that target Birmingham residents are genuinely (or are perceived to be) not easily accessible by rail or bus. This applies also to some towns that are not served by a rail station such as Market Drayton, Alcester, Newport (Shropshire). Need for a comprehensive Network Transport planners have a hierarchy of passenger flows and the type of public transport provision that is justified. Generally, however, each settlement in the West Midlands Region should be setting out to improve its degree of sustainability. This means that shared use developments (i.e. employment and residential and services) and increased attractiveness of each settlement should be the policy around which transport is based. The current policy of accommodating long distance commuting is not consistent with meeting carbon targets.
Taken in this context, all settlements should be connected by public transport feeding into the railways. The current layout of the railways and the way that they are used, directs many passenger train services to or through central Birmingham even if that is not on the way. In future, connections between substantial or expanded settlements shall be required to be by rail and this will require some railway reinstatement or new provision: the rail strategy should state this. Settlements that currently have a station (such as the town of Polesworth) should retain that station, and if patronage is low, measures to promote the usage instigated. Passenger growth has been substantially developed in the past at various places including Lichfield, Cannock, Pershore, Redditch and Bromsgrove.

Door to door journey
Overall journey time is generally dictated by time spent waiting for a connection rather than by the speed of the bus or train. In Birmingham, particularly if the pressures imposed by peak journey to work usage can be reduced, a frequent service to all Birmingham local stations (including the new ones on the Kings Heath /Camp Hill route), will attract more passengers to the West Midlands Rail Network. To benefit the greatest number of people at the lowest cost, provision has to be concentrated on those arriving at their station without wishing to store a vehicle (i.e.on foot, cycle, bus, taxi, dropped-off).

Journey information
The occasional user of the railways can feel daunted by uncertainty of frequency, time of last train etc. The railway in Greater London addressed this by its underground map and successors showing conventional lines. The key to building confidence is continuity, if this is not there patronage will suffer. Close to Birmingham, interchange at Smethwick Galton Bridge varies year by year whilst uncertainty hung over the link between Walsall and Wolverhampton for so long that passengers all but gave up on it.
Generally, access to information needs to be a portable and affordable version of the Traveline website (with fixed versions at stations). For the motorist, navigation is simplicity itself with the talking map ‘sat nav’.
Visitors to Birmingham are deterred from arriving by train because the local rail network is geographically incomplete. The Rail Strategy has to acknowledge that businesses operate in parts of the city served by a railway but with no local station or with an infrequent service. For the city to exploit its rail infrastructure, this needs to be addressed. There are opportunities for businesses to locate to Birmingham if local rail services are available. Local rail provided by the Docklands Light Railway was a major factor in East London regeneration.

Effect of Climate Change
The effect of climate change has been variously interpreted. For the rail network, having a human presence is probably prudent. For this reason, removing such on the spot monitoring such as that from permanent way inspectors and gangs and staff at stations, should be undertaken with caution.
Previous episodes of extreme weather have already caused disruption, for example the storms during the summer of 2005 which flooded a number of routes around the West Midlands. Predictions of more occurence of extreme weather conditions such as intense rain that overwhelms drainage and damages signalling, intensely hot summers that result in rail expansion, and extreme storms bringing down trees, signal trouble ahead. We are surprised that there is no identification of the issue in the draft strategy.
If there is unavoidable disruption to the West Midlands Rail network, on an increasingly frequent cycle, contingency measures need to be in place.

The Business Case
For interventions on the rail network that are seen as enhancements, a Business Case has to be prepared. Unfortunately, enhancements that are required as part of a regeneration or for other external benefit, are unlikely to emonstrate the required rate of return. This has to change. This has long be n the case when construction of an access road has to be justified, those circu stances using a Cost BenefitAnalysis model; an equivalent model for rail is needed. For Birmingham, funding for rail improvements other than through Network Rail and Central Government may have to be sought.

The Role of the RUS
The Railways Act 2005 envisaged that the railway infrastructure owner, Network Rail, would be given instructions when it came to strategic planning decisions. Network Rail’s role is a ‘steady state’ one and it is therefore envisaged that the Regional Rail Strategy would be imposed and its direction reflected in the Route Utilisation Strategies. The RUS (Route Utilisation Strategy) is a mechanism set up under the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to plan maximum return from the existing rail network. In the days of the SRA, there was a degree of involvement in RUS preparation from transport planners and some consideration of the Local Transport Plan (LTP). Abolition of the SRA has meant that the RUS preparation has passed to Network Rail who do not have a duty to consider strategic rail planning.
It is evident from the content of recent Network Rail Route Plans that they are the output of train planners. Whilst done with the best intentions, the approach has harmed the Birmingham local train services. The services have been reshaped (for instance to accommodate additional long distance trains whilst avoiding addition of new track), examples including the skip stop service and irregular intervals on the Coventry route. The old fashioned hierarchy of displacement of local train services to suit long distance trains (rather than building capacity and signalling that copes), is at variance with the Department for Transport DaSTS policies. This Regional strategy needs to make a stand on this issue.
Currently the RUS and Network Rail’s business plan submissions for funding are separate and sometimes opposed to the Local Transport Plan process. It would be progressive for the railway expenditure process to be directed by a Regional Planning body.