Thursday, July 31, 2008

Green gold

The algal biofuels story sounds too good to be true, so it probably is.

I have an alarm in my head which goes off whenever I hear the phrase "carbon neutral". My right eyebrow involuntarily raises in a Spock-like fashion and I look for the catch. The term itself sits uncomfortably with me, along with 'carbon offset'. Anyhow, the concept goes like this: when the fuel is burned it releases only the amount of CO2 the biological fuel source absorbed during growth. So far so green. The cynical devil on my shoulder argues that under the same rules fossil fuels could be classified as carbon neutral as they only emit the amount of CO2 that was sequestered millions of years ago by dead vegetation.

To be truly carbon neutral, the process of growing, gathering, processing and transportation should not result in a net increase in emissions. That means that before the fuel gets to the tank in your car each step in the process must either be powered by renewable energy and/or more carbon neutral energy sources.

In an economic culture where growth rules, successful carbon neutral fuels would ensure that we become a victim of that success. The algae fuel would be subject to usual market forces (assuming we avoid daft minimum biofuel use rules like the EU is trying to push), so as demand raises, so will production. Whilst the algae sucks up CO2, when it burns it will put it back. There is no growth, but there also is no net reduction in emissions. The most that can be hoped for is that the rate of CO2 emissions growth may be reduced.

Whilst such initiatives may sound impressive, they don't meet the key challenge - we need to reduce our carbon emissions. Even if every car in the world could sustainably run on biofuels, we would still need to make drastic cuts in the carbon budget if we want a hope of staving off runaway climate change.

With this post I'm afraid I'm calling shenanigans somewhat on many greens who see a future in algal biofuels and a way of weaning our economy off fossil fuel. Don't get me wrong, I can see a limited opportunity for such a product, but only one which fits into a diverse energy source model, with the focus on net reductions in CO2 rather than mere neutrality.

So I'm not so cynical that I can't see the investment possibilities, and I'd much prefer to see more investment in such initiatives than drilling for more oil, but a lot of people will get rich on what is essentially a status quo technology, a 'less worse' solution.

To see these biofuels as some great rescue from growing emissions could be dangerous wishful thinking.

Easy now

A 50mph speed limit? Sensible, rational and forward thinking? (well, apart from the biofuels thing that is)

The road fundamentalists will hate it. The libertarians will fume against a reduction in their right to fuck up the planet.

The sooner some brave PM brings lower road speeds here the better.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

David's soul

In what's been tagged as an opening move for the top job in Britain, South Shields MP David Miliband wrote this missive in the Guardian, positioning himself and the Labour Party. It could be summarised as "We're Not Tories". It's more of the same oldskool NuLab tosh. I loved this bit:
"Every member of the Labour party carries with them a simple guiding mission on the membership card: to put power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few."
Labour have privatised and off-balance sheeted beyond even the most ardent Thatcherite's free market wet dreams. Much of our public services are being run now for private profit at a higher cost than if it had been run by the public sector. More is being prepped to go into private hands. Those membership cards must be so buried behind wads of cash that the "guiding mission" has been suffocated.

Anyhow, it's already been covered by Curly, but what has really interested me is the local angle.

First is the Gazette's coverage of the story. A massive front page splash reporting the article written for, hold on, it doesn't say where! Even the Gazette editorial could only just manage to strain itself so far to describe the source of the piece as "a national newspaper". If you're going to lift whole blocks of text from another newspaper then you should at least have the courtesy to give it credit. It's really bad show chaps.

Also in the Gazette, Alliance newbie councillor and former chairman of the South Shields Labour Party and former Labour councillor Geraldine White was quoted as saying:
"He doesn't promise anything unless he can deliver."
Whoa! Way to be opposition there Geraldine! But that's not all. On the Gazette website there's a fuller account, getting positively all moist over our own 'I'm David'. She swooned:
"David is a man of honour, and that is a quality which is highly prized in politics. He doesn't promise anything unless he can deliver. I endorsed him when he came to South Shields as MP in 2001, because he was open, honest and frank. On a personal level, he's very funny, he was [sic] a great sense of humour, and he adores his family."
It's kind of her to remind us that she endorsed the guy: friend and confidant of Tony Blair, who was parachuted into a safe Labour seat, and so close to former MP and waste of space David Clark's mysteriously timely ennoblement. Yay cronyism! And now she endorses DM for PM. Awww. It makes yer feel all warm don't it?

With enemies like Geraldine, Labour don't need too many friends. I think that's how it goes. Surely it can't be long before she's welcomed back into the Labour fold?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Burning money

Hot on the heels of Eddie Mac's silly statement on waste is the announcement that Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland councils have been successful in their bid for £73.5m cash to fund their waste strategy.

I say 'their waste strategy', because the consultation was manipulated to favour incineration, and the councils' Waste Partnership doesn't want us oiks to know the details of what's really going on behind the scenes. Meetings are held in camera and Freedom of Information requests hit the bureaucratic buffers.

Expect the council and it's mouthpiece Fiona Brown to crow over the funding announcement. Similarly, expect the council and DEFRA to keep their yaps shut about DEFRA’s assessment of the Expression of Interest (the bid document referred to DEFRA) being kept from public view.

The councils don't want it released under the excuse of commercial confidentiality (for the councils that is, not private companies) and DEFRA is only too happy to oblige.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Over on planet EddieMac, the councillor believes that rubbish incinerators produce "absolutely no emissions". That's quite a claim. The Hebburn councillor and cabinet member for U Turns And Sucking Up To Tesco must have missed the bits in the council's own reports that clearly say that incinerators produce shit loads of nasty stuff.

Watt for watt, incinerators produce about three times more CO2 than a gas-fired power station, spew nasty cancer causing dioxins in airborne particulates over the surrounding area and leaves a waste slag at the end of the process that's so toxic that its got to go to specialist landfill sites.

Minor pollution is monitored by local authorities, but major pollution emissions is within the remit of the Environment Agency. Domestic waste incinerators have to operate under the Integrated Pollution and Prevent Control (IPPC) system, which is evaluated and monitored by the Environment Agency. That means the EA certainly thinks that incinerators have a major emissions problem and they should keep an eye on them.

You would have thought a cabinet member would be clued up enough to know about that before talking shite.

If his reported statement is true, Eddie and Labour seriously suck donkey balls on this issue, and clearly shouldn't be let anywhere near anything as dangerous as a decision, never mind an unquestioning and pliant print media. He's a liability.

Let's hope he makes another u-turn.

Carbon campaign

A 10 minute film by Ecologist Films documenting how the government and its corporate whoremasters use propaganda, dirty tricks and rallies a police force with carte blanche powers against climate change protestors. The chilling use of anti terrorism laws by the police, and made up ones to stop people filming their actions suggest that the government is using the police in a secret war against protest.

In August there will be a demonstration at Kingsnorth power station in Kent against the plans to allow a new coal fired station. It will be interesting to see how the government, police and a willing right wing media will spin it.

Monday, July 21, 2008


George Monbiot says it all.
The Great Global Warming Swindle, like Against Nature, had a huge impact, persuading many people that man-made climate change is not taking place. I attended a presentation by a pollster from Ipsos Mori who showed that there had been a decline last year in the number of people who believed that global warming was a real phenomenon — primarily, she said, as a result of Durkin's film.
Sound familiar?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cheeky blighter 2: behind the boss' back

The government is battling to keep to its CO2 reduction target to 60% (of 1990 CO2 levels) by 2050, whilst campaign groups like Friends of the Earth responded to the science and moved on from the 60% figure and are pushing for a more realistic 80% reduction by 2050 through their Big Ask campaign. When the Climate Change Bill eventually hits the books, we may be looking at something more like 100%.

The Climate Bill was taken up by South Shields MP David Miliband during his tenure as Secretary of State for the Environment, and could possibly be the only concrete contribution this government has made towards battling with climate change. Since the Bill started discussions, the government has dragged its feet over key issues, including the 2050 target, annual targets, ministerial accountability and 'carbon budget' reporting.

But in South Africa, David Miliband agreed to a target "in the range of 80% to 95% by 2050". He definitely played a blinder.

I find it hard to say this.

I like it.

Cheeky blighter 1: the cost of democracy

You've got to hand it to Ahmed Khan. Not many folk have the cojones to write a letter to the Gazette moaning about local election candidates using the letters page of the Gazette to offer their thanks to voters, and then himself use the letters page to offer those very same thanks.

But not only did he do this, he also took the opportunity to big himself up about his newsletters.

Talk about political opportunism.

It's an odd move which whilst mildly amusing to many will alienate some, particularly when some of his Alliance colleagues have used the 'letter in the Gazette' method of communication in the past. It's as if he's intentionally trying to bait his opponents into the open, daring them to publicly respond.

If you took his PR bullying seriously, you may interpret a suggestion that he thinks that every electoral candidate should have the cash resources that he so obviously enjoys. The implication is that if you can't afford to print thousands of thank you letters, you don't care.

Such a view is not unexpected, or inconsistent. Khan has already tried to claim the moral high ground from those who would receive reasonable recompense for their responsibilities as a councillor. His 2007 election material employed innuendo and untruth about the financial motivations of his electoral opponents for the Beacon and Bents ward.

Khan is no stranger to Gazette publicity. When the Pier's 'Dolly Plaque' was stolen, Khan offered a cash reward, "no questions asked", for its return. He may not have bought the plaque back, but I'm sure it didn't hurt his electoral chances. Add to this the legal bill for his failed legal challenge to last year's election result and it starts to look like Khan's road to election success was a very expensive business.

Since the Branleys have also publicly forgone councillors' expenses, there's a feeling that the leadership of the Alliance party has a rather paternalistic attitude that implies that only those rich enough to stand as councillor should do so.

The suggestion that democracy is the plaything of the well off is extremely disquieting.

However, I agree with Khan on the need to stay involved in local issues, whether you're standing for election or not. If you're interested in what happens in your town or local area you've got to stay connected. His "they suddenly reappear as if by magic" high horse surely applies to his Alliance colleagues as much as any other council hopeful.

Only last year, two unpaid volunteers from South Tyneside Friends of the Earth were putting the last nails into the coffin of the Fellgate business park plan at the Local Development Framework inquiry. Lined up against them for South Tyneside Council was a barrister and a host of council planning professionals. It was a very empty hall, with only two people turning up to offer encouragement for the FOE Fellgate challengers. George Waddle, Steve Harrison and Geraldine White were nowhere to be seen.

I'm sure that Alliance councillors provide a great service to their wards, and given such a rousing letter from Mr Khan, I really do hope that the Alliance will stop sleeping and missing things like the LDF, and see the bigger picture and start to really get involved.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sats static

After last week's announcement that the Key Stage 2 SATS results would be delayed due to poor management, parents all over the country have been waiting for their childrens' results. South Tyneside has been no different. However...

Some South Tyneside junior schools in the borough have used their initiative and introduced their own ways to tackle this, some having already released their Sats results. Others haven't.

For example, Boldon and Ridgeway junior schools already have passed the Sats results to parents, presumably by going through the returned papers and collating the information for themselves. But Harton junior school is holding off until they receive the electronic results and will be releasing them on Tuesday 15th July, a matter of just three days before the end of term. One day if the Unison strike goes ahead.

For children who are moving from schools like Harton Juniors to senior schools in the next term, this means that some parents will be attending parent's evenings next week without knowing what their child's results are.

Good on Ridgeway and Boldon, but it's unfortunate that this issue couldn't have been grasped at an executive level in the council to ensure a consistent approach. True, the Sats problem isn't the making of the schools or the council, but some schools have found a way round the difficulties.

The more I'm exposed to how South Tyneside administers it's education, the more convinced I become that the structure is riddled with incompetence and ambivalence.

Note: South Shields MP David Miliband's chum Scott 'Duffers' Duffy is at the helm of Harton Juniors governor's board.

Slip of the tongue

No, not the mediocre Whitesnake album, but Councillor Jane Branley's description of her faux pas in the describing the Alliance. She said:
"I'll say once again that we are are not a party."
Well, it's not the first time the Branley tongue has slipped. During the election, Branley presented an election statement for the Gazette on behalf of the Alliance where she referred to herself as:
"leader of the largest minority party which are the independents on South Tyneside Council"
It's a pity the Gazette missed this and failed to call her on it. But of course,
"I'll say once again that we are are not a party."
But really, what is the Alliance so scared of? As local bloggers and David Potts have pointed out, the Alliance is to all intents and purposes a political party. The key difference is that in their current non-status, their funding, advertising and spending slips into a grey area of regulatory scrutiny, when real parties (which includes the Progressives) are fully exposed to electoral checks. That should give any voter some cause for concern.

David Potts makes a fair comment - why don't they register as a party? But instead of a clear explanation of why they shy away from registering, the Alliance goes straight on the attack. And not just one, but two Alliance councillors sick em. Hardly being open and honest with the electorate are they?

Perhaps the Alliance should register themselves with the Electoral Commission before someone else does. It shouldn't be too difficult for a former Alliance member to register himself as such under Electoral Commission regulations.

But let's not forget that another independent grouping who enjoyed the Gazette party political broadcast, the 'Real Independents'. They've been left out of this debate. Perhaps they should show a fine example and their moral superiority and register themselves? I hope Cllr Potts does the right thing and calls them to task too.

In the article, I also found Mrs Branley's description of the Alliance party rather interesting:
"like-minded individuals who've come together to organise politically against the Labour group that has dominated local politics for decades"
Hold on, if I remember correctly, Mrs Branley and her husband Allan are both former Labour councillors. Also, Geraldine White, the new councillor for Fellgate who cruised in on an anti-Labour ticket, was herself a Labour councillor. She also enjoyed the dizzy height of Chairman of South Shields Labour Party at the same time the council was devising the plans to concrete over the Fellgate green belt.

So they, and their supporters and families, helped Labour dominate local politics. Funny old world, isn't it?

Ironic quote of the day goes to opportunist politician Ahmed Khan for this beauty:
"This is typical of an opportunist politician like David Potts."
It's the way he tells 'em!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The forests of Easter Island

A timely piece from George Monbiot, on the fishermen fighting for their own extinction. Despite their technology, the last of the hunter gatherers of our society are dying out, an industry eating itself, gorging on rapacious fishing. This is a failure to live sustainably, and a visible manifestation in our time of what happens when ecological and resource limits are ignored.

We've seen the impact of this kind of behaviour already destroy the Grand Banks cod fishing.

There is no shortage of solutions: protect spawning grounds from fishing, create reserves, stop beam and reef net trawling and even perhaps paying fisherman not to fish to allow fishing grounds and stocks to recover.

And say goodbye to cheap fish.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Poshes for Porsches

Well, BoJo had his chance, but as promised he's indicated who he's really representing as Mayor of London - the toffs.

Okay, it's cheap class shot. But if you want a real indication of where the Tories are over climate change then here you have it. They're all over the place.

I had some hopes for Boris. Despite being a professional buffoon and a Tory, he ticked some green boxes. A cyclist; against Heathrow expansion. It looked quite promising.

Personally, I was in two minds about the CO2 levy. On the one hand it would help London reduce it's transport CO2 emissions by encouraging some people to move over to lower emissions vehicles, whilst at the same time raising money for the authority to adapt to climate change. Those new flood plans will have to be paid from somewhere.

On the other hand though, the congestion charge was about congestion, not emissions, and it seems unfair to target one sector of society (albeit one which is rich enough to afford to run fuel guzzlers) when any initiative to reduce emissions should be equitable.

But the real issue at stake, in which Boris rolled over, is a matter of real principle and democracy: the concept of who decides how London (and by extension our society) should be run. Porsche said they knew what was right for London, and took the Mayor to court. It should be beholden on any mayor to challenge Porche's arrogant presumption of superiority. But once in Ken's office, Boris couldn't wait to let the German toff-mobile makers win and sign them a cheque for £400k. He didn't even negotiate a suitable compromise.

Boris' unconditional surrender to Porsche's legal blitzkrieg couldn't be much clearer - the rights of a luxury car manufacturer and its customers come before action on climate change and the concept of the primacy of the office of the state to run state affairs.

It should keep the CBI happy for a nanosecond though.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Bush and irony

GW Bush praises his fight for freedom and free speech, as hecklers are escorted away by goons.


Friday, July 04, 2008

Desert power

An Early Day Motion has been raised to urge the government to support the DESERTEC concept. A low carbon technology that is here and now, not like the imagined fancies of nuclear and carbon capture. What TREC needs is investment, not just in power generation technology, but in a new super-grid, which we will need anyway if we want a balanced and diverse power supply system.

The government has been banging on about disconnecting from fossil fuels, and here is one of the renewable energies that can form a valuable part of a diverse renewable energy solution.

The details of the EDM are here. Go on, bang off a quick email or letter to your MP.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

150 years ago today

Papers by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace on Natural Selection where presented publicly for the first time. The low-key event was a precursor to the release of Darwin's The Origin of Species 18 months later, which had been 20 years in the making.

It's probably the single most important theory in biology, but also had the unintended consequence of putting a very big nail in the coffin of religion by erasing the credibility of pretty much any creation story.

I raise a glass to them.

Okay then, two.