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 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

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.