Archive for category Environment

Time to close Longannet

5037469308_0718473d8d_bThe most recent figures on Scotland’s energy mix are a small step in the right direction, with renewables accounting for 29.8% of 2012 generation (don’t be misled by the consumption figures at the beginning there).

The same data, however, shows that coal accounted for almost 25% of Scotland’s output. That figure will be significantly reduced for 2013, because Cockenzie closed in March of this year, a plant which amounted to about a third of Scotland’s coal-fired capacity.

The remainder is almost entirely Longannet. It’s Scotland’s number one source of carbon emissions, and it’s a killer: literally. Stuttgart University did the sums for the years by which coal shortens lives, and Longannet’s annual toll was substantial.

The third key figure in there was that 26% of the energy Scotland generated in 2012 was exported, almost exactly the same amount as was generated from coal. Essentially, we’re burning vast amounts of coal at Longannet and massively aggravating climate change not “to keep the lights on”, but just to keep Iberdrola’s profits up.

This isn’t just a failure of the market: it’s entirely consistent with the dirty little misdirection at the heart of the SNP’s energy policy in their last manifesto. As I put it in 2011: “On the environment, the 100% renewable pledge looks good, until you see that for the SNP it also means retaining all the climate-busting generating capacity for sale.”

The climate doesn’t care whether coal’s burnt for export or domestic consumption. And no amount of renewable generation does a damn thing for climate change unless we use it as an opportunity to close down coal, oil and gas plants at the same time. The figures are clear: Scotland can’t afford Longannet.  It needs to be shut down as soon as possible, and proper training and investment put in to support the hundreds of people who work there. And yes, coal plants must be shut before the nukes: their time will come.

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The Scottish Greens’ Nordic Future

Patrick Harvie's Swedish opposite number Gustav Fridolin. Notice the dissimilarities from Alex Salmond and Johann Lamont

Patrick Harvie’s Swedish opposite number Gustav Fridolin. Notice the dissimilarities to Alex Salmond and Johann Lamont

The Scottish Greens’ conference in Inverness last weekend was dominated by one theme, and one question. Why is Scotland not like its neighbouring Northern European countries in terms of living standards, life expectancy, wellbeing and sustainability?

Three of the plenary speakers chose variations on the theme and all of them spoke glowingly about the potential for moving away from the Anglo-Saxon obsession with big economics and moving toward a government and financial system more similar to Scotland’s Northern European peers.

The effervescent Lesley Riddoch has made it her mission in recent years to persuade Scotland of the advantages of decentralisation, localism, empowerment and Nordic levels of public service provision. In the Greens she has obviously found a receptive audience. She was joined by Mike Danson  from Heriot Watt University whose time seems to have finally come after years of proposing alternative economic models of Scotland, and Robin McAlpine of the Reid Foundation fronting the work done by a team of academics and researchers to develop a blueprint for an autonomous Scottish parliament.

The Reid Foundation’s Common Weal project is gaining momentum, and Robin McAlpine paid the Greens a compliment in saying that they already have the policies to make it work. The challenge lies in convincing the SNP and Labour of the validity of such an approach or making sure that the Greens gain enough seats at the next Holyrood election to at least begin to implement it in government with another party.

Talk of the Arc of Prosperity may have vanished from the lips of the First Minister, but over in the Green and Independent corner of the chamber the vision is very much alive, and it is hard to argue against Scotland pursuing such a course when all the evidence suggests it would lead to a decidedly better country for everybody.

The list of potential polices is almost endless, but the Greens are committed to increasing investment in strategic public transport infrastructure, re-regulation of bus services to give local authorities more say, increased basic wages to both help people and increase tax yields for investment in services, municipal energy companies and education reforms based on Finland’s proven globally leading example.

The Common Weal project is a welcome addition to the Scottish political scene with its stress on common consensus rather than socialist revolution, and its use of existing similar states to Scotland which clearly illustrate that it is possible to tackle some of Scotland’s endemic problems in an inclusive and democratic way.

The Greens now find themselves in the strange position of having a more cohesive and coherent vision for Scotland’s future than almost any other party in Holyrood, the SNP included. Next time you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the way to pick up your kids from an overpriced nursery and worrying about the 8.2 per cent price rise your energy company have just foisted upon you, take a moment to consider that Scotland has an alternative modern future ready and waiting.

Fracking is not just an issue for a small corner of England

As I write this Caroline Lucas MP is being detained in the back of a police van and likely making her way to a charge desk for her part in the anti-fracking protests in the sleepy English village of Balcombe. If you’re in any doubt as to the pros and cons of fracking, this piece by the Northern Irish green researcher Ross Brown should set you straight

Caroline will be the first MP arrested this year for reasons other than fraud, sexual assault and perjury. This alone is a feat to be applauded. What will be interesting is how the rest of the Commons reacts to one of their own being detained when they have previously shuffled uncomfortably in their shoes and looked the other way.

Caroline Lucas is no George Galloway, and bundling one of Britain’s more popular MPs into the back of a police van is unlikely to make the government’s support for fracking any less dubious than it already is.

The reason that Caroline was the only MP at the protest is that she is, at present, the only English Green MP. That may well change at the next election if people suddenly find gas wells popping up at the ends of their gardens and draw a blank when writing to their local parliamentarian. Rather shamefully, every single other English party has refused to properly assess the risks of the technology. The Lib Dems and Conservatives are all on board because their energy policy is such a woefully inept compromise of ill-informed dogma and private interest, and Labour have offered some typically non-committal assurances that they will look at the impact of fracking once it is underway. They tried the same with PFI ventures and we all know how that ended.

So it has been left to Westminster’s solitary Green to stand up for what any right-thinking MP should be and protect the energy bills, water supplies and integrity of the English public’s landscape.

How and where fracking might happen in Scotland is less clear cut. The Scottish Government currently exercises control over planning but not over energy. What’s more, the Scotland Act means that the Westminster government could feasibly overrule Holyrood if push came to shove. This might sound unlikely, but the dash for gas is so great that speculators will be looking longingly north. As we all know, there is pretty much nobody in Scotland to complain anyway. It was at least easier in the old days when you could just force people off of their land if you fancied using the natural resources.

Neither should we rely on the benevolence of the SNP in safeguarding Scotland’s communities and natural resources. As Trumpgate has shown, the modern-day SNP behemoth is no more a friend of the small man than Labour or the Conservatives when money is being waved about. The biggest challenge will be to appeal to Alex Salmond’s past as an oil economist – hopefully even black-eyed Alex will see that the sums don’t quite add up.

If the SNP or, in the future, Scottish Labour decide that fracking is a good idea they’ll be met with all sorts of opposition from Greens and non-Greens alike. As the German Green Party have shown in Stuttgart and elsewhere, riding roughshod over the rights of communities and public opinion does not make those pesky environmentalists go away. It instead leads to them having a workable majority in the local state parliament. MPs and MSPs all across the central belt would be wise to do a bit of research before they do as much as invite Dart Energy and the rest of Scotland’s fossil lobby around for a cup of tea and a slice of Dundee cake.

Caroline Lucas’ arrest is a sign of the seriousness with which we should be taking Britain’s worrying energy politics, but also a concrete illustration of the commitment which Greens across the board have to doing as much as talking. You can pass as many climate change acts as you like, but when push comes to shove there is apparently only one group of parties in the British Isles and across Europe that has the courage to stand up and be counted. Hopefully there’ll soon be a lot more of them to count.

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A Niceway To Die


The ’Niceway Code’ is not just about appeasing cyclists – it is typical of a government increasingly tokenistic and out touch with the challenges it faces.

The Scottish Government recently launched a campaign to improve Scotland’s road safety record called ‘The Niceway Code’. You may have missed this due to the fact that it only has a budget of 500,000 pounds and it is so appallingly lame that Transport Minister Keith Brown’s department seem faintly embarrassed about the whole thing.

The campaign aims to reduce the number of road deaths by asking road users to be nice to one another, which is surprising in that the law already compels people to be nice to and not kill one another on the roads.

The fact that the campaign does not even remind motorists or their legal obligations (and in some cases directly contradicts what road markings tell cyclists to do as shown in the picture below) has incensed active and sustainable transport groups. One Holyrood insider even talked of how an panel of interest groups were left dumbfounded when Keith Brown’s team revealed their grand strategy for preventing death and injury on the nation’s streets. The Scottish Government’s own statistics show that 1 in 14 road deaths each year are cyclists, and only in a tiny minority of cases have the cyclists committed even minor infringements to the highway code.

Don’t go left, even though that’s where the cycle lane is.

The SNP seem to want to keep everyone happy, which is why they seem to view cyclists and cycling as an interest group and not as a genuine means of tackling some of the endemic transport and urban problems of contemporary Scotland. They will happily commit three BILLION pounds to doubling the A9 from Perth to Inverness but cannot muster the couple of million pounds it would require to radically reshape Scotland’s urban and suburban spaces to make them more liveable.

Cycling is not just about lycra and weekend hobbyists – harnessed properly it can create safer streets for children and families in particular, cut air pollution and help meet Scotland’s climate goals. It can save the government and taxpayers money, cut health bills and reduce the strain on public transport networks without extra subsidies. If even a crumb of that three billion were spent on redesigning towns and cities to make them more people-friendly the SNP would be a world leader, but for the time being they’ve just got everyone sniggering into the back of their hand. And I’m being nice.


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Soylent Green is… not real.

As has been covered by the UK-wide Green blog Bright Green, there has been a bit of a stooshie amongst  some unreformed environmentalists after the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, Natalie Bennett, made a speech unashamedly embracing immigration.

The population control lobby are a stick which people use to beat Green movements the world over, accusing them of authoritarianism or, at worst, eugenics.

A simple-minded approach to environmental problems says that there are too many people, and that we should just have fewer of them to solve all problems. This is less noticeable in Scotland but to the casual observer might appear true in England where issues of sprawl consuming green space is far more prevalent.  England’s problem is more that it has an addiction to suburban housing estates instead of building high density sustainable urban housing and social space – one of the great ironies of the modern suburb is that they often have lower levels of access to the things they were designed to facilitate – namely a higher quality of life outside of urban centres. Such spread is what led to the expansion of the slip road and the motorway and much else besides, along with an associated decline in point to point urban travel such as buses and railways.

Even if Britain were overcrowded, keeping people out would not save the planet anyway. As science hurriedly maps the global ecosystem it is becoming increasingly apparent just how interdependent we all are in areas other than the global economy. Stopping people from entering the UK would do nothing to stop population growth and the associated environmental burdens whatsoever.

If the far right or the population lobby were serious about stopping immigration they would plough as much money as possible into the developing world to encourage the transition to the relatively gender-equal societies of Europe and North America, give countries help in moving on from the economic or social pressure to have large families, and push to reform international trade so that it did not put economic and population growth as the primary means by which countries advance.

The population lobby should direct its ire at half a century of misplaced architecture and planning or the bizarre injustices of the global economy, as contemporary Greens are, and lose the Soylent Green dystopian scaremongering.