20 Apr 2014

Euro-MPs agree to phase out plastic bags

We were of course ahead on this one here in Stroud, as last autumn saw the start of the council’s STOP campaign aiming to cut back on disposable bag use. There’s an article here.

Now we’re delighted to learn that plastic shopping bags could become a thing of the past after Euro-MPs agreed to Green proposals to end their use, which creates massive amounts of waste and litter – as well as posing a danger to wildlife and spoiling the environment.

MEPs agreed that new rules proposed by the European Commission didn't go far enough, and called for mandatory targets to reduce bag use by 50% in three years and 80% over five, as well as requiring that shoppers pay for their bags.

18 Apr 2014

Flowers and bees for Stroud District

Stroud District council have just announced a plan to seed road verges with wildflowers. (more here)

Green Party councillor Simon Pickering, chair of Stroud District Council's Environment Committee, said:
"The wildflower verges will make a cost-effective attractive addition to our district this summer. They are less expensive to create and manage than formal flowerbeds and much better for wildlife. We're hoping for a blooming good display!"

Like many Green policies, it’s a simple move that improves quality of life at a reduced cost, whilst also being good for nature. Looking after our wildlife, and providing corridors for our vitally important bees, is in all our interests.

Human efforts to manage and control the natural world tend to involve a lot of cost, effort and often risk, in order to force nature to do our will. This kind of approach can, for example, lock us into costly cycles of dredging rivers, because once you start dredging, you increase erosion and then have to keep dredging to keep ahead. Working with nature is often easier and more effective – wetlands are the most effective way of managing excess water.

Letting native plants grow on the road verges will encourage bees and butterflies, and provide a haven for other insects and small creatures. This in turn is good for the birds. A bright splash of colour on the roadsides should be cheering, and we could all use a bit of that!

The Stroud area already has some remarkable plant life – there are 25 sites of special scientific interest in the Stroud area (list here) and our local commons are home to a number of orchids.

15 Apr 2014

Voting and taxation

The latest deranged suggestion from UKIP members, doing the rounds online is that unemployed people should not be allowed to vote. It’s an idea that needs dismantling to show just how dangerous and idiotic it is. We need wiser and more inclusive politics.

Who counts as unemployed? Is it those who collect a benefit, or those who do not have a job? Many students of voting age are not yet employed. Is a woman on maternity leave employed? How about someone caring for a sick relative (they save the NHS a fortune every year)? Do we count retired people as working? What about those whose income involves no work – those who are independently wealthy or who have investments but no day job. Is a low paid self-employed person working, or not working? What about someone who does vital work, unpaid, for a charity? What about the ill and disabled? Do we want a system where someone could work twenty years, lose their job through no fault of their own, and then not be entitled to vote?

Then we can consider who pays tax, because anyone who is economically active pays VAT. Most of us pay National Insurance as well, and many people who are not employed are paying council tax. To say that one form of tax is a valid contribution but the others are not, is very suspect logic. Working immigrants do pay income tax and do not get to vote in all elections (EU citizens can vote in some). If UKIP want to link voting to income tax, what are they going to do with all the non-UK citizens who pay?

I’ve read a bit of history, and there are reasons some of our ancestors fought hard and long to get universal adult suffrage for citizens. If you do not have a vote, politicians generally won’t bother with you. Your needs and issues are irrelevant to them. Basic human rights are not upheld when the right to vote is taken away.
Taking votes away from people is about punishing those people someone with power does not like, and it is totally at odds with democracy. Once upon a time you had to have a certain amount of land in order to have a vote. Most people had no say and few rights. Go back to feudalism and you get the ’it’s your Count that votes’ system, and no rights for peasants.  Radical, working class ancestors fought long and hard to get a voice, and rights. One of the most important rights we have won is the right to have a value that is not based solely on economics. A person whose worth is purely economic, is little more than a slave, no matter how much you can sell them for.

Democracy has its flaws, and we certainly haven’t perfected it yet. That said, the spread of democracy is one of the great achievements of the last century. Democracy is our best defence against tyranny. Democracy is our best route to getting and keeping rights and basic dignity. Either we all have that, or none of us do. Any of us could lose our jobs tomorrow. A system that strips us of rights if we aren’t getting paid, threatens everyone in it. We all deserve better than that. We must have the security of knowing we are entitled to speak, no matter what. We must have the security of knowing that all politicians must consider all of our needs if they want a shot at being elected. Above all, we need politicians who genuinely care about democracy and who care about the common good.

12 Apr 2014

Community RePaint

Could we have one of these in Stroud?
Community RePaint is a network of schemes that collect unwanted, surplus and leftover paint from Paint Manufacturers, DIY Retailers, Painters & Decorators, Waste Contractors and Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRC), and re-distribute it to individuals, families, communities and charities in need, to improve the wellbeing of people and the appearance of places across the UK.

Decorating and personalising a home or community space can make a huge difference to the quality of life of the people who live there. The 70+ paint re-use schemes that make up the Community RePaint Network not only prevent perfectly usable paint from being wasted, but they also make it available at a price that means those least able to afford to decorate, have the opportunity to improve their surroundings.

Community RePaint schemes are run by a whole variety of organisations, from not-for-profit organisations that want to assist families on a low income and protect the environment, to local authorities wanting to reduce waste disposal costs whilst helping the local community. Operational for over 20 years, Community RePaint is continuing to grow, aiming to ensure that people can access a local Community RePaint scheme wherever they live in the UK.

If you are part of a community group, environmental organization, charity or local authority and would like to run a Community RePaint scheme, or if you are already collecting paint for re-use and would like to become part of the national network, then check out the website or contact repaint@resourcefutures.co.uk

10 Apr 2014

Let them eat cake

Air pollution in the UK has been bad enough that people in London were advised not to cycle. The government are keen to crack on with fracking – which will not improve air quality and is likely to poison our water. Climate change threatens our food supplies and collective long term health.

The dominant health story in the news this week has been eating 7 portions of fruit and veg a week, and cutting sugar intake to stay healthy. The week before that, we were talking about obesity. We get plenty of public information about smoking, alcohol consumption and exercise, as well. What these stories do, without exception, is to put the responsibility for health squarely on the shoulders of the individual.

We aren’t talking about the 38% of sick leave from work being caused by work stress. It was in the chief medical officer’s report, but didn’t make the news. We aren’t really talking about the implications of air pollution even though we know it’s a killer. We know that water pollution nearly rendered otters extinct in the UK – being predators at the top of a food chain, they are where the toxins collect. We don’t talk about what those pollutants in our rivers might have been doing to the human population in the same time frame.

Health and the environment are not different issues. What we eat, drink and breathe impacts on our bodies. What is in our clothes, in our buildings, in the plastic bottles we drink from? What’s in our soil?

If you care about your health, then you need more than the efforts you can make on your own behalf. You need political action to safeguard your food and water, and to tackle the smog. There’s not much point giving up cake if a sick work culture is undermining your mental health. An extra portion of fruit and veg might not be so good if the TTIP forces genetically modified plants on us.

There is nothing more precious than health. Our personal health, and the health of our eco-systems are one and the same. If we poison our air, then we poison ourselves. If you care about your health, you need to vote Green. We can have a better future.

8 Apr 2014

Access Bike!

This is a press release from Creative Sustainability, which we’re sharing because we think this work is really important. Cycling is good for health, independence, sustainability, and being able to engage socially. It’s about re-use, and opportunities for younger people, who have seen services aimed at them cut back to a shocking degree around the country.
Press release:
In 2012 Access Bike gave 50 young people around Stroud district a reconditioned bike, helmet and a lock for £20. With help from Creative Sustainability and bike shops Noah's and Cytek, Access Bike is doing it again in 2014.
Owning a bike means that young people can join in cycling related social, sport and community activities, giving them more independence to get to school and after school activities, increased social and recreational confidence and helping towards participation in activities such as cycling clubs and competitions. The project is focusing on young people who couldn't otherwise afford a bike and aims to work with Archway, Thomas Keble, Shrubberies, St. Rose's and Maidenhill Schools, plus The Door and Open House, to match bikes to young people who need one.
Elizabeth Bailey, aged 19 is the new project manager. She says "For some of these kids owning a bike would mean so much. It's easy to forget how, for many, a good bike is simply out of reach, particularly these days. I've always had a bike and it's given me the freedom to take part in things I could never have got to do without one." Elizabeth is working with the bike shops to find the right bikes for students and is looking for more bikes to be reconditioned.
Anna Bonallack, Director of Creative Sustainability says "I love this project, there is so much good that comes out of it for young people, including training for a group to become road safety and cycle maintenance trainers themselves so that they can do workshops with younger people. We also want to work with schools on a local cycling plan to help their students cycle safely to school -  let us know if you or your organisation can sponsor the project or lend expertise."
If you have a bike you don't use get in touch with Creative Sustainability. All bikes will be reconditioned by experts at Cytek, Tarmac and Trail and Noah's Ark, but the better nick they are in the more bikes they can get through. Call Elizabeth and Anna if you have a bike to donate and about the wider project -  01452 770177 or email anna@cscic.org 

For more information about Creative Sustainability CIC  visit our website www.cscic.org

CSCIC is a not for profit community interest company.

6 Apr 2014

Berlin 'borrowing shop' promotes the benefits of sharing

What would you borrow?
I loved this Guardian article and thought maybe it is time for Stroud to explore? Nikolai Wolfert started the Leila 'borrowing shop' in Berlin - apparently the most popular items in Berlin's first "borrowing shop" are the electric drill - it makes sense when the average electric drill is used for 13 minutes in its entire lifetime. Read it at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/17/berlin-borrowing-shop-benefits-share-leila

4 Apr 2014

Health of the nation

Recently, chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies has drawn attention to both rising obesity rates in adults and children, coupled with decreasing awareness in individuals of weight problems. More on details are on the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-26765078 which is typical of how the report has been discussed in the media.

The actual report is here - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/298297/cmo-report-2012.pdf and a lot of important points in it seem to have been ignored in favour of the obesity story.

Obeisty wasn’t the only issue Sally Davies comments on “A substantial portion of the burden of sickness absence is attributable to mental health” she notes ‘stress’ as a big issue. “38% of work-related illness is due to work-related mental health problems.” She says “the health status of the prison population is such that it has been suggested that, on average, prisoners aged over 50 have the same health status as those who are 10 years older in the general population.”

Unlike media responses, the original report is clear that “Increasingly sedentary lifestyles also play a part in the obesity picture.” “Adults watched an average of 1,648 minutes (27.5 hours) of television per week in 2013.” And, very importantly, she says, “Obesity is a complex multi-factorial problem which is not completely understood.” She does highlight the need for public education around sugar consumption.
We’ve taken food skills and cookery out of schools, and there’s nothing like the educational opportunities there could be around learning good nutrition, growing food, and learning to make our own food. Consequently we eat things out of packets with no real understanding of what we’re consuming, which makes it harder to manage a healthy balance. Without nutrition education, any other intervention is meaningless.

“People living in more deprived areas are, on average, disproportionately more exposed to avoidable risk factors for cancer.” We really need to be taking that onboard. “cigarette smoking, obesity, poor diet, and excessive alcohol consumption all are all significant risk factors for cancer, and are all more common in deprived areas”. We need to look at underlying factors here – education, resources, and poverty of opportunity all play a role. Again, the sedentary lifestyle dominated by screen-based entertainment is not helping.

There is a wider debate here which needs to happen, and isn’t. None of these health issues exist in a vacuum. Poverty diets can readily cause obesity with cheap carb and sugar based food being far more affordable than fresh fruit and vegetables. We need to be talking about access to affordable leisure and exercise opportunities, access to outdoor spaces being a critical part of this for those on low incomes who could never afford a gym membership. Mental health is also improved by access to green spaces. Stress is known to be alleviated through physical activity as well. We need to be talking about how current work culture is making people ill.

There is a known relationship between sleep deprivation and weight gain. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sleep/ Our noise polluted, stressful living environments, and the pressure to work long hours coupled with a lack of exercise makes for poor sleep, which in turn does not improve mental health. Visit a doctor when stressed and you’ll be told to get more exercise, more rest and more sleep (at least, that was my experience!).

There is a relationship between sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise – two sides of the same issue that are not being properly connected in discussions. We should be talking about car and commuter culture, about our increasing dependence on screen-based entertainment, our depleted social interactions, our lack of safe access to green spaces. We should be talking about the work-life imbalance that leaves people sick with stress but also too tired to get out and about. We should be talking about real food, and knowing how to source and prepare it. Issues of poor mental health, and obesity are connected within our culture, and the same issues underpin both. Until we start tackling those core issues, by creating a healthier and more sustainable society, we’ll be left with the empty noise, empty calorie solution of a ‘sugar tax’ and nothing at all will change.

Stroud events

Here’s the current list of things we know about that are happening in the near future.  Where relevant, we’re also listing events a bit further afield that you might be interested in, too.

If you are aware of other talks, events, workshops or other community activities in the coming week or so, please do mention them in the comments. If there’s an event you would like our support in promoting, please email the details to brynnethnimue (at) gmail (dot) com.

Storytelling for a Greener World with Jonathon Porritt and Alida Gersie: 11 April, 7.30pm; Stroud Subscription  Rooms. How can environmental organisations use storytelling to engage visitors, students, members, staff and the community with nature? And enable pro-environmental change?

Spring Gardening Event: Subscription Rooms forecourt in Stroud between 10am and 3pm on 12th April. As usual we've arranged it to coincide with National Beanpole Week and will have beanpoles for sale as well as veg and ornamental plants, fruit trees, a seed swap, willow baskets and crafts, home composting, information & advice and a raffle for a Quince tree!

We will also be launching our organically grown and/or heirloom plants range - most of the seeds we've saved ourselves, sown in home-made compost and looking great! On the day there will be a variety of peppers and tomatoes as well as some broad beans, with other veg plants available to order for the end of May.

The “Your Musical Memories” concert in Stroud Subscription Rooms at 2.30 pm on Thursday,  April 17th is delighted to welcome back two of “Your Musical Memories” favourite singers; Kay Finch and Christine Leeding. They will be singing solos and duets including “All in an April Evening”,  Mendelssohn’s beautiful “Greeting”, Gluck’s “What is Life to Me Without Thee” and the wonderful anthem “This Joyful Eastertide”. Bartholomew Mason will also be playing violin music by Elgar, Massenet, Kreisler and the enchanting Valse Sentimentale by Tchaikovsky. Bartholomew studied at the the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester leaving with an Honorary Degree in Music. While there he met his girl friend Emily Blogg, another fine violinist. Emily has often toured with the European Youth Orchestra and will be joining Bartholomew to play a sonata for two violins by the renowned French Baroque composer Leclair. The Singalong which concludes every “Your Musical Memories” concert will this month comprise of all the popular Spring songs that you remember. So if you feel Spring is at last in the air come and enjoy some enchanting Spring music at Stroud’s Subscription Rooms at 2.30 pm on Thursday,  April 17th. Tickets are only £5.00 (which includes refreshments) and can be booked at the Subscription Rooms’ Box Office, telephone number 01453 760900. (When booking, please mention if you use a wheelchair as the 

3 Apr 2014

Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles get fee waiver

Philip writes:

This evening I attended Licensing Committee - I am not a member but I was allowed to speak as I have been seeking ways to increase the number of wheelchair accessible taxis. The paper that came to Committee this evening was the result of those investigations. Well some little bit of good news re fees....but first some more back ground....

Last summer I had 3 people contact me from different organisations regarding the fact that we have only one wheelchair accessible taxi licensed in the Stroud area (now there are two!). A county-wide organisation of people with a learning disability based in Stroud highlighted a problem faced by one of their directors being unable to attend meetings due to the lack of availability of a wheelchair accessible taxi. Another individual from a carers group said the same and another organisation told me about a young woman wanting to go to a party just 3 miles away - she ended up paying £80 for a taxi from Gloucester.

Well I met with those organisations and the District Council - it is extraordinary how limited powers are and what little can really be done by local authorities - it is not the first time I have moaned that the UK is the most centralised democracy in the Western world with far, far too few powers to affect change.

In a report In September last year, the Transport Committee criticised various aspects of public transport. In the UK some 11.5 million people already live with a recognised disability and more than a fifth of them experience some difficulty when using transport networks. In regards to taxis and private hire vehicles, MPs called for financial incentives to encourage investment in fully accessible vehicles by operators. The Committee also recommended the Dept for Transport works with licensing authorities and indeed the taxi trade to develop a nationwide programme of disability awareness training for taxis and private hire vehicle drivers. However none of that has got very far yet....

Locally our Council investigated what our neighbouring authorities were doing - indeed officers were fantastic at trying to seek a way forward. Well as a start, while we wait for Government news, the Committee this evening discussed waivering 50% of the application and renewal fees for a year. I did make a bid for this to be 100% as it is only a matter of hundreds of pounds - that was rejected by councillors on the committee but my plea for a review in a year was accepted and there was general agreement that we need to do more.

I also made a plea for training for drivers - this is an issue that has also been raised with me by some transport users - although many also describe the wonderful support and help from many drivers.....apparently GCC is already doing some of this so I will investigate further as it is key that disabled people are involved in saying what that should be and possibly helping to deliver.

Anyway I am just off to Green Drinks in Stroud at the Ale House - a monthly gathering of greens to talk about anything - not just Green Party but a wider invite.....come along too!

See papers and details of report to licensing at: http://www.stroud.gov.uk/info/members/cms_documentation/Ag04_Taxis_-_WAVS_-_Waiver_Fees_April_2014.pdf

2 Apr 2014

Green inspiration

Are you building a better future and seeking a sustainable way of life? Worn down by the deniers, and naysayers? Feeling overwhelmed by social injustice and destructive, short-term political thinking? In need of some inspiration?

Storytelling for a Greener World is a book rich in inspiration. Practitioners discuss ways of using stories to engage people with landscapes, and each other, to create meaningful change. The book is peppered with stories which will encourage, challenge and inspire you. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a ‘story teller’ we humans are in essence story telling creatures. We tell each other stories all the time – little anecdotes, memories, aspirations and ideas. All of us can harness that storytelling to support, encourage and inspire each other. The sharing of stories about how we really can create a more sustainable future, is an important part of how we’re going to get there.

Several contributors to this book are Stroud based, while a number of others have Gloucestershire connections, and the launch will be at the Sub Rooms on the 11th of April.

More information about the book and the event here - http://www.anthonynanson.co.uk/Storytelling_for_a_Greener_World.html

A viable future

On March 11th, people all over the world remembered the victims of the Fukushima Nuclear disaster 3 years ago. In the Forest of Dean, STAND (Severnside Together Against Nuclear Development), organised a special commemorative meeting on the harbour wall of Lydney Docks to remember the people of Fukushima.

With nuclear development on the agenda for Oldbury, people in Gloucestershire are increasingly aware of our vulnerability.  Fukushima showed us all too plainly that flooding at the Oldbury site would put us all in danger – a real risk given rising sea levels and climate change bringing more torrential rain. We do not want to be the world’s next nuclear disaster. We do not want to be the tragic dead whose memory future protestors will gather to commemorate.  

Stroud’s Molly Scott-Cato, the Green Party MEP candidate for the South West, was one of the speakers and features in this film by Philip Booth.

We need a sane, sustainable future based on safe technology, not highly dangerous and destructive nuclear energy, which is far from clean once you take into account the process of sourcing and refining uranium.


30 Mar 2014

Useful Work versus Useless Toil

This is a  guest blog, because today we are sharing the words of William Morris. He may have been writing in the 19th century, but his words are still incredibly relevant. This is not the whole text, but you can read the original here.

The above title may strike some of my readers as strange. It is assumed by most people nowadays that all work is useful, and by most well-to-do people that all work is desirable. Most people, well-to-do or not, believe that, even when a man is doing work which appears to be useless, he is earning his livelihood by it - he is "employed," as the phrase goes; and most of those who are well-to-do cheer on the happy worker with congratulations and praises, if he is only "industrious" enough and deprives himself of all pleasure and holidays in the sacred cause of labour. In short, it has become an article of the creed of modern morality that all labour is good in itself - a convenient belief to those who live on the labour of others. But as to those on whom they live, I recommend them not to take it on trust, but to look into the matter a little deeper.

Here, you see, are two kinds of work - one good, the other bad; one not far removed from a blessing, a lightening of life; the other a mere curse, a burden to life. What is the difference between them, then? This: one has hope in it, the other has not. What is the nature of the hope which, when it is present in work, makes it worth doing?

It is threefold, I think - hope of rest, hope of product, hope of pleasure in the work itself; and hope of these also in some abundance and of good quality; rest enough and good enough to be worth having; product worth having by one who is neither a fool nor an ascetic; pleasure enough for all for us to be conscious of it while we are at work; not a mere habit, the loss of which we shall feel as a fidgety man feels the loss of the bit of string he fidgets with.

I have put the hope of rest first because it is the simplest and most natural part of our hope. Whatever pleasure there is in some work, there is certainly some pain in all work, the beast-like pain of stirring up our slumbering energies to action, the beast-like dread of change when things are pretty well with us; and the compensation for this animal pain is animal rest. We must feel while we are working that the time will come when we shall not have to work. Also the rest, when it comes, must be long enough to allow us to enjoy it; it must be longer than is merely necessary for us to recover the strength we have expended in working, and it must be animal rest also in this, that it must not be disturbed by anxiety, else we shall not be able to enjoy it. If we have this amount and kind of rest we shall, so far, be no worse off than the beasts.

All other work but this is worthless; it is slaves' work - mere toiling to live, that we may live to toil.
It is clear that this inequality presses heavily upon the "working" class, and must visibly tend to destroy their hope of rest at least, and so, in that particular, make them worse off than mere beasts of the field; but that is not the sum and end of our folly of turning useful work into useless toil, but only the beginning of it.

For first, as to the class of rich people doing no work, we all know that they consume a great deal while they produce nothing. Therefore, clearly, they have to be kept at the expense of those who do the work...

27 Mar 2014

Money is a story (and not the one the government are telling us)

image by Russ
The Bank of England have started admitting all the things about money and banking that we Greens have been saying for years. The Guardian has a really good article about it. Wealth is made when we imagine money and lend it. Green economist Molly ScottCato has been saying for ages that this should be in public hands, not undertaken for private benefit.

Money is simply a way to move things round and make things happen. Governments can, and should be able to invent money to solve problems. This makes a total nonsense of the logic underpinning austerity. Move money around, make things happen, and you have not only a thriving economy but also a strong, functional society with room for everyone and a decent standard of living for everyone. We could have that – it is doable and possible. It’s nice to see the Bank of England validating Green policies and perhaps people who couldn’t see how our maths would possibly work, will start to see that much of what we’re talking about around money is happening already, it’s just not happening for the common good. Money could and should work for everyone and we want to make it work that way.

Austerity is an expensive solution to what is really an imaginary problem. If your kids tell you a dragon has stolen all the money, you don’t move out of your house. Effectively that’s what we’re doing, using real resources and damaging real people’s lives to solve a pretend issue. We could have solved the financial crisis in essence by imagining a solution, rather than punishing the poor, which is solving nothing. Either this is utter stupidity in action, or it is a callous desire to punish the most vulnerable, or both. There is simply no excuse for it.

On the day that I’m writing this, Parliament will debate capping welfare. Apparently no one in government has read what the Bank of England are saying (a dereliction of duty), or they don’t care (which is madness), or it is too difficult for them to understand. What they’re doing running the country if they can’t read or comprehend statements from the Bank of England, might turn out to be a pertinent question. More shocking perhaps is that Labour seem to be onboard with the idea that the answer to financial crisis is to attack the most vulnerable. Clearly they have the same sets of issue around evidence, comprehension and caring as well.

We deserve political approaches based on the best evidence, the best thinking, the best insights and the most reasoned position we can develop from those. We deserve political solutions that work for ideally everyone, and failing that, the vast majority. We’re getting fantasy and an ideology designed to serve the few, and with Labour onboard, it looks increasingly like Greens are the only voice on the left speaking for the downtrodden majority.