Wednesday, 28 July 2010
Wednesday, 21 July 2010
The vision is a good one as far as we're concerned, with really good aspirations for Birmingham to become a greener, more sustainable city. Birmingham also has a Climate Change Action Plan, which begins to show how the council is going to achieve the ambitious target it has for cutting CO2 emissions by 60% by 2026. Yesterday I went along to the first ever cabinet committee meeting on Climate Change and sustainability, where they talked about this plan and the progress that has been made in moving towards the goals it contains.
All of this sounds very positive and should be cause for celebration, but at the moment, with so many public sector jobs under threat and funding cuts for many really good projects already starting to bite or in the pipeline, it is quite hard to be quite that positive about delivery. Birmingham is a city with many talented and dedicated people who really want to make a difference, but the concern is that if all the regional agencies and support mechanisms for local authorities are removed, a large vacuum will be left and all the energy will disappear into it.
Total Place is potentially a good concept, but most of the talk amongst the participants on the course has been about how many people are losing their jobs. There are inspiring ideas and there is a real desire amongst most of the people there to be recognised as public servants who really are serving the public, not being bashed for doing "non-jobs" by politicians (who probably want public attention deflected away from them after their expenses scandals last year).
The most important thing is that the leadership at the council take on real responsibility for the actions happening and I was encouraged by at least one councillor at the meeting yesterday saying that he would do exactly that. It is also up to all of us to show leadership and to remind the politicians of what we've told them when consulted in the preparation of all these visions.
Policy on the ground has to match up to the visions, meaning local business is supported (while large supermarkets and chainstores aren't given planning permission) and people are given the employment opportunities, independent retail outlets and leisure facilities they need locally to reduce the need to travel. If developments such as Tesco in Yardley Wood or Moseley and Asda in Weoley Castle are granted permission, this sets the city on the wrong course, as does the refusal of planning permission to put solar panels on St Mary's church.
Let's get everything joined up and make sure a vision of a sustainable city does come to life. Cuts are on the way, so are massive challenges to stop the big society becoming hugely disappointed with promises not materialising into action.
Tuesday, 20 July 2010
Monday, 19 July 2010
Thursday, 15 July 2010
Teachers encourage students to switch off lights when they are not needed, in particular during day light. Small things like this save an enormous amount of energy and help cut Hamstead Hall Community Learning Centre’s carbon footprint.
Hamstead Hall provides the local Handsworth Wood community with fantastic facilities, such as weekend sport clubs. These extra clubs allow community members to use the sports hall and astroturf out of school hours. Therefore, keeping up a good image is vital for such a neighbourhood-based school.
Recycling is also considered to be something important within the school. In every classroom there are large paper bags where students are required to recycle paper and plastic bottles.
As part of Personal, Social Health Education days students participate in workshops within the geography department where they learn about the environment and their carbon emissions by calculating their carbon footprint. The head of geography says “the pupils were amazed to see how much energy they use, by going on the internet and playing on their X-box’s!”.
The ICT department of the school ensures that all computers are switched off after use, in fact there are posters on the walls of the classroom that directly inform students to save energy and stop climate change.
How does our school compare to others in Birmingham? I'd be interested to hear.
Rupi Chandla (Hamstead Hall sixth-form student).
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Teenagers are often associated by some small-minded people with insatiable consumerism and ruthless disregard for the environment in their shopping habits. If I had wanted to become one of these teenagers, I would never have stood much of a chance.
My mother is a ruthless shopper at the opposite end of the scale. She has been known to scare away door-to-door fishmongers with her declarations that “we don’t eat meat, our freezer is full of Quorn and lentils, and we’ve decided not to buy cod or haddock as they are endangered species.” At the time she was wearing a stripy, overtly Fairtrade T-shirt, and holding a canvas bag with ‘ONE LESS PLASTIC BAG’ printed across it.
I think I was about 13 when I decided to give up non-Fairtrade chocolate. A few months later I was joined by my little sister. It is not as hard as it sounds. I’m happy to say that a lot seems to have changed on the Fairtrade front over the last three years, and Cadbury’s and I are now best friends once more. Even before that, there were plenty of Fairtrade options open to us which are just as good as Cadbury’s.
My sister favours the Comic Relief Dubble Bars; my after-exam cravings tend to lean towards Traidcraft chocolate buttons, or else Fair Break (shameless plagiarism from Kit Kat, but Nestle deserve what they get!). It is also helpful to know that the Co-operative, the Rainforest Alliance and Green and Blacks have their own ethical policies concerning treatment of workers (ie they count as Fairtrade!)
Even if you really can’t bear to be parted from that Twix bar, it’s equally important to write to companies and let them know you care. It’s become a family joke that it was my very moody and hormonal letter that got Cadbury’s into the Fairtrade thing. Joking aside, I’m fairly sure those letters are counted up- enough of them will make a difference.
Then there are the clothes. Unfortunately, the phrase ‘parrot fashion’ takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Fairtrade vestments. If you don’t find yourself flapping with gratuitous bits of fabric which resemble wings, you will almost certainly be transformed into a stripy zebra, usually of the pink and orange variety.
I don’t have an infallible answer to this problem (if you do, email FoE NOW!). There are some good websites: I recently bought my prom dress from Fashion Conscience.com, and I also have some awesome converses from Ethletic. Natural Collection have some nice clothes, but they aren’t the most reliable at delivering orders. Traidcraft T-shirts can be cool, but most of their clothes are not really teen-friendly .
I realise that if your views on shopping are not analogous to mine (hate it!) there is an inherent problem with buying clothes online. Well, M&S has the occasional Fairtrade range, as does Store 21 on Kings Heath High Street. In town there is Shared Earth, if you don’t mind a rainbow of crazy colours ending in a pot of gold to pay. That’s about it really.
I don’t know if it’s possible to dress Fairtrade all the time- I normally aim for one ethical item per outfit. Really it’s about supporting Fairtrade when you can, and likewise trying to avoid sweatshops. While one pair of converses is all very well, the quickest way to promote Fairtrade is to show the companies at the top what we insatiable consumers really want.
Thursday, 8 July 2010
Wednesday 7 July I went to park my bike at the usual spot I use next to Birmingham Central Library only to find the racks had suddenly disappeared! Replaced by a pair of bollards. Maybe someone at the council wants to really encourage all possible alternative modes of transport and figures these can be used to tether horses. I got chatting with a passerby who had also noticed this and he was as puzzled as I was.
I called Graham Lennard at Birmingham City Council 's Travelwise team who is as much in the dark as I am. He's endeavouring to find out why the racks have been removed and more to the point where and when they will be reinstated.
I will update this blog as soon as I have some news.
Monday, 5 July 2010
The Heart of Birmingham Primary Care Trust has pioneered GEML, which stands for Grow It, Eat It, Move It, Live It. This is a cross sector partnership operating in Ladywood, Soho, Aston and Nechells with four aspects: growing food, encouraging interest in cooking and healthy eating, active living and reclaiming open spaces. The site in Lozells is now developing this in other parts of the city.
It's remarkable what happens when you get agencies, third sector organisations and individuals working together. I was recently at an environmental forum meeting at which, in the space of fifteen minutes, a decision was taken to transform a piece of land into a grow site. Birmingham Council now has a worker on board who is able to cut through the jungle of red tape and make things happen.
I'm unsure what the exact difference is between a grow site and allotments, I think the essential one being allotments have a permanent status, whereas a grow site implies something more temporary.
I'm finding the research interesting. The site in Lozells is going to use raised containers and I've decided the quickest, easiest and most cost effective to be the builders bags which deliver aggregates. These are cheap, they are a good size for growing a few things, if someone wants to grow more they can have several bags. I'm successfully growing lettuces in one in my garden as an experiment.
I filled one a third full with polystyrene granules to bulk it out and provide drainage, then topped this with a layer of compost. I've found firms on the internet specialising in recycling plastics, and we'll use chips made from post consumer waste for this project.
These are exciting times. There's growing realisation the UK faces food shortages when oil runs out, because we have become so dependent on importing and transporting food. More and more projects are springing up in urban areas. Hackney, in London for example, has Growing Communities, which produces food in the middle of one of Europe's most densely populated cities.
I look around Birmingham and see huge potential. There's land all over the place. Last week I was in Marseille in the South of France. Couchsurfing in an apartment on a suburban housing estate on the city's south side, the grounds of which planted out with all sorts of trees such as fig, plum and olive.
We could do the same here, have a proper garden city, with apples, plums, pears...