Tuesday, 24 May 2011

BFOE Goes to Holland – Day 3

Day 3 was the day for the big ideas and the involvement of some of the heads of FoE Europe. From the UK, Andy Adkins (the executive director of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) was there, as were Mike Childs (Head of Climate), Sarah Jane Clifton (International Climate Campaigner) and Helen Wolfson (International Coordinator).

The event was labelled as a pre-conference before the FoE Europe AGM the following day and explored the theme "North and South: how do we connect in a united struggle for a sustainable world?".

First of all, there was a recorded presentation from Duncan McClaren (described as a man with a big brain and head of FoE Scotland at the moment) on the need for urgent transformation and presenting some of the things that FoE needs to think about in achieving this transformation. This was really thought-provoking and set the tone for the day very well, although we all recognised the need to go from this theoretical framework to more practical applications. I will provide a link to the presentation when I get it.

After that we heard evidence from Eric Doo on the impact of what Shell is doing in Nigeria and the need to tackle this internationally. FoE Europe produced an excellent “erratum” to the Shell annual report highlighting what need to be done. There was also information on what the legal and financial teams have been doing to combat the power of corporations in Europe.

Corporate Power and the link to people's daily lives was the theme of the next part and we heard some fascinating stories from Holland on ensuring that their council was keeping their promises on using FSC timber. We also heard the story from Croatia of how they mobilised thousands of people to try and fight off the council destroying a pedestrianised public square to build a car park for a new shopping access – they lost, but the campaigning was remarkable and the precedent has changed the political landscape there now.

Finally, there were workshops on working together locally, across Europe and internationally. I was part of the team explaining what we'd done with the food chain campaign in the UK, giving the lowdown on how that has encouraged us to take more local action, such as our Meat Free Mondays campaign and work on grow-sites.

Over in Europe there seems to be a lot more concentration on fighting bad corporate practices than we have here in the UK, which is a shame, but we realise that resources are stretched at the moment and we are fighting some really important campaigns to change the legislative framework in the UK as well as doing things locally. Hopefully, we will keep up contacts better with what we can do to fight corporations who really are putting back the fight against environmental degradation.

Monday, 23 May 2011

BFOE Goes to Holland – Day 2

It was a beautiful sunny day In Wijk aan Zee as this gathering of 25 activists from Holland, the UK, Croatia and Spain gathered to share stories, ideas and expertise. Some were feeling the effects of long journeys to get there, but we were eased into the day with some lunch and then an introductory session to get to know each other.

After that we each did a presentation on how our groups are organised, what we work on and the things we're most proud of. It was fascinating to see how many different things all the groups worked on, but also how many of the same things. For example, we've just launched the close the door campaign in Birmingham, but there was a group from Holland who've already run this campaign successfully so it was good to learn about their experiences with it. Likewise, there were other groups who've done Buy Nothing Day and Car Free Day events.

What shone through was the passion that all these people have, whether working on local transport campaigns, getting FSC timber products into local building projects, campaigning against big corporations, or protecting local spaces for people against development.

After that there was an open space session when anyone could propose topics they wanted to talk about and people could go and talk about whichever one interested them most. The sessions were on the following topics; fundraising, recruiting and keeping members, campaigns ideas, online-activism and developing better international links. The discussions were all held outside in the beautiful sunshine to compensate for the fact that, although the discussions were fascinating and the learning possibilities great, the beach would have been the perfect place for many people to be.

A feedback session at the end allowed us all to focus on what we'd learnt through the day and then it was time to continue the discussions over a delicious vegetarian meal, drinks and walks over the dunes to the beach (finally).

We hope to keep up the contacts that we made through this event and keep learning from all the incredibly knowledgable and devoted people in the European network of Friends of the Earth.

BFoE goes to Holland – day 1

Last month I got a very exciting invitation; to go to a Friends of the Earth Holland (Mileudefensie) conference for the weekend and meet activists from all over the Europe. I asked a few of our other more experienced campaigners to see if they wanted to go, but when nobody else was available Hil (my partner) and I were delighted to accept the offer.

So, on Friday, four of us set off from Birmingham New Street (the others being our 6-month old baby, Fred and Tim Atkinson, the network developer for FoE in the Midlands). Being Friends of the Earth, there was no question of us flying, so it was train down the Euston, Eurostar to Brussels, train to Amsterdam, another local train to Beverwijk and then a short bus ride to Wijk aan Zee where the conference is being held.

The journey was pretty easy, if rather long with all the connections working (although 2 of the lifts didn't – at New Street to get onto the platform and at Beverwijk to get off the platform, making it a little difficult with Fred's buggy). Luckily for us, little Fred likes train travel, as he's already had experience of going on a 5-hour trip to Wales by train, so his first trip abroad was taken in his stride and even though we arrived long after his bed time (it was nearly 10.30pm) he remained good natured throughout.

Tim went off to set up his tent with Job from Mileudefensie (who joined us on the train in Haarlem), but we opted for comfort staying in a lovely B&B where they even offered us a beer when we arrived - most welcome.

We had a comfortable night's sleep and now feel fresh and ready for the first day of this gathering of European activists. The only disturbance being that we seem to be under the flight path to Schiphol. I wonder if that is just unavoidable around this area, as in many parts of Europe which are blighted by aviation noise.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Sunflower seeds - help yourselves and brighten the city!

Sunflowers add a dash of colour and vibrancy, so we've been out planting seeds around Digbeth, but we've still got quite a few left.

If anyone else would like to take some and plant them in public places, we have a bowl of them in our reception, which are free for anyone to take and do exactly that. Please help yourselves and if you're popping in to use our meeting room, the Warehouse cafe, or the One Earth Shop.

After a bit of rain it should be quite easy to get them into the ground, so let's brighten up the city with sunflowers!


Weekly compilation 06.05

I'm afraid I didn't get round to posting this last week, but here's the round up of tweets from Friday:

RT @rail_media: Weekly poll results: Has the Government done enough to consult the public over #HS2? http://goo.gl/fb/3bYld #rail

There's a new article on our website about the perils of developing an Enterprise Belt along the M42: http://bit.ly/lfZCit

Good write-up by @joelycett of his meeting with @nxbus to try and get them to improve bus services and give change:http://bit.ly/ioLq3x

High speed rail link protesters challenge noise level claims:http://bit.ly/lMs0fD #HS2

@SWMtweet Notes from our public #HS2 debate in partnership with @Bham_FOE are now available. http://ow.ly/4Ov3R

RT @AirportWatch: FT- hard-pressed airlines moving to cut capacity to stay profitable - jet fuel more than $3.30/gallonhttp://bit.ly/lOkiOp

I see this consultation on #HS2 for Old Oak Common is as balanced and fair as the Birmingham one: http://bit.ly/jDD72t

On Saturday, we'll be at a walking event at Sarehole Mill. See this new blog post for details: http://bit.ly/mj9cHG

RT @philiploy: I repeat, cycling should be funded by NHShttp://bit.ly/kmfcGl Good publicity but such initiatives have been around for years

This is exactly why we don't want it in its present form - #HS2should not make Birmingham London's 3rd airport: http://bit.ly/lTQnJi

Tricky - what have they done? RT @RichardHebditch: Blog from me on what coalition has done for transport over past yearhttp://bit.ly/jXs7AF

Local Shops, Food and Waste
Good email action to do before the weekend from WDM - Stop banks betting on food: email the Treasury: http://bit.ly/mpuKxL

Spring Food & Crafts Fair – 22nd May at Court Lane Allotments in Erdington: http://bit.ly/gqckqY

RT @grist: Girl Scouts censor Facebook criticism of palm oil in cookies: http://ow.ly/4OoBo

Let's have some here: RT @the_ecologist: What is a community orchard? pioneers of Apple Day answer with top tipshttp://tinyurl.com/3hq5adg

We had no idea it was compost awareness week, did you?http://bit.ly/mSjBOb

For lots of tips on composting and the reasons why you should compost, look here: http://bit.ly/jpEVaT

There's a new post on our blog "Beyond Rubbish" with an example of a place where they've achieved 80% recycling: http://bit.ly/kTYCLd

RT @birminghammail: Birmingham news: Birmingham safe from water crisis - but food bills could rise http://bit.ly/mc8evm

RT @AlysFowler: In case anyone still needs persuading GMOs, Monsanto and glyphosate are harmful to our well-being- Dr. Huber's letter http://bit.ly/lZmobl

Energy and Climate Change
RT @campaigncc: Call for a 0% biofuel target for petrol and diesel in the UK, e-mail the DfT here: http://bit.ly/l8QBdk

There's a facebook event for #energybill Big Climate Reconnection meeting with MP Steve McCabe at Uni of Bham June 2:http://on.fb.me/jFi5ZB

Guess it's a good sign that people are becoming more aware: RT @birminghammail: Pedal power for Birmingham eco-funeralshttp://bit.ly/jBxNxP

The incompatibility of tackling #climate change with consumption &#economicgrowth. http://bit.ly/bW552W -need sustainable development model

RT @wwwfoecouk: Blog: Photography in Paraguay: One of the last great wildernesses under threat http://goo.gl/fb/B9zEg

RT @warehousecafeuk: we're looking for a new addition to our kitchen team --- please RT far and wide http://bit.ly/gP1LVe

RT @Magpiemoth: Friends of the Earth Regional Gathering 2 July in Birmingham - come for a Big Energy Conversationhttp://bit.ly/kEDKU2

One of the more unusual things we're getting involved with this summer: http://bit.ly/igVl9X

RT @digbeth: Reclaim The Spaces guerilla picnic #1 on 15th May now has a Facebook event page: http://on.fb.me/l26FUq

Thanks for coming everyone: RT @digbeth: Some pics of guerilla gardening with @Bham_FOE http://yfrog.com/h2z4bncjhttp://yfrog.com/h799ywcj

Hopefully that gives something for everyone to keep interested in.


Thursday, 5 May 2011

Beyond Rubbish?

I spent Easter weekend with some residents of South Cambridgeshire District Council, which includes the city of Cambridge. Their district has ‘Beacon status’ being one of the top 3 for recycling – it recycles 80% of domestic waste, compared to Birmingham’s 32%. They told me how it all works.

The council has invested in 3 bins for each household. All waste is in bins. I didn’t notice any rubbish or litter in Cambridge.

1. All cooked and uncooked food, along with garden waste and other compostables goes in the green bin, which is collected fortnightly. It is all composted outdoors in huge boxes, sieved and sold to residents as garden compost. The high temperatures 90 C, inside the heaps kills all the bugs that might make smells or disease. No bin bags are produced or left around. The Council has found that the rats and vermin problem has declined hugely since they did this, reports my friend who is a vet.

2. All dry paper, plastic, glass, metal etc goes into the blue bin. There is a compartment within to keep paper separate for recycling. A company called Donarbon Ltd has a plant that mechanically sorts all of this for recycling. There is an education centre where you can visit, watch and learn.

3. The black bin is for residual waste i.e. the remaining 20% by weight. This is only collected fortnightly, but my friends say they actually only need to put it out every few weeks, as it is inert and non smelly.

There is no incineration of waste. Carbon is being locked up in the composting process, so the carbon footprint must be really low. The residual waste goes to landfill, As they are successful in persuading people not to put food in the black bin, methane emissions will reduce.

Their website states: “The Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) MBT plant, which cost just over £41Million to build and equip, is the centrepiece of the 28-year PFI waste management contract between Cambridgeshire County Council and Donarbon, whereby Donarbon will be responsible for treating the majority of household waste from Cambridgeshire and ensuring that councils meet their recycling and landfill diversion targets.”

Imagine if Birmingham had an 80% recycling rate and a hugely reduced rat population, how much nicer would the city be? There would be no more sights like these:

Websites for further information;



John Newson

Free 'Get Walking Day' Event to be held on Saturday to Promote Healthy Living

Get Walking, Keep Walking Birmingham are holding a free event on Saturday 7th May 2011 for the Ramblers' Get Walking Day to promote everyday walking for everyday people. The event will take place at Sarehole Mill and Recreation grounds from 12-4pm. Everyone is welcome to come along and enjoy this beautiful site. There will be stalls with a variety of activities, and healthy lifestyle information. Birmingham Friends of the Earth will at the event, holding a stall and discussing our campaigns.

Walking is a brilliant way to get and stay healthy, and is easy to fit into everyday life. Walking is a 'lifestyle exercise' - which means you can make time for it without much change to your daily routine. Walking is the easiest, most accessible, cost effective, and enjoyable way for most people to increase their physical activity. It requires no special expertise, and no equipment other than a reasonable pair of shoes. It is generally safe for individuals with medical conditions and those who have never exercised because it is possible to start gently and increase capacity over time. Walking needs little preparation; it can happen at any time by stepping out of your front door. It can be fitted into lifestyles, such as using stairs rather than lifts and getting off the train a stop earlier. It is one of the forms of exercise that will be most appealing to women — as well as being social rather than competitive, it fits into a busy day.

Regular walking can also improve your health. Walking can burn 500-1000 calories a week by walking 6-12 miles for an average weight person, which can reduce the risk of premature death by 20-30%. Other health benefits of walking include reducing: cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease and stroke), as well as ‘risk factors’ such as high blood pressure and cholesterol; cancer (particularly bowel cancer, and breast cancer in post-menopausal women); type 2 diabetes; and obesity. Walking also improves musculoskeletal health (for example osteoarthritis and lower back pain); and mental health, happiness and well-being.

The UK’s Department of Health guidelines state: For general health, adults should do 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity physical activity, on five or more days of the week. Children and young people need to exercise for at least an hour each day.

Not only does walking improve people’s health, but as a sustainable way of travelling short journeys it also helps the environment. It is integral to a large range of policies, such as social inclusion, community engagement, sustainable transport, safe routes to school, climate change, biodiversity and tackling obesity.

So now that you know what you need to do, why not find your walking shoes, come to the 'Get Walking Day' on Saturday and start walking your way to a longer, happier and healthier life?

Also, come and talk to us about our campaigns to make the streets safer for everyone who wants to walk, cycle or just enjoy their local area. As we said in our response to the Birmingham core strategy, "We agree completely that pedestrians should be “at the top of the road user hierarchy and ensure that in centres and residential areas, the public realm environment reflects this priority” . Levels of public funding should reflect this above providing extra capacity for cars, air travel or High Speed Rail."