How green was Glastonbury?

Sian assesses the environmental impact of the famous festival

Along with about 200,000 others, I’m in recovery from the Glastonbury festival at the moment. I was there to help promote the 4x4 campaign, sharing a marquee in the Greenfields with a wide range of groups taking direct action to help make our transport more sustainable.

Along with ‘antis’ like the brilliant Plane Stupid and activists fighting to stop the pointless and expensive widening projects for the M1 and M6 motorways, we had groups promoting positive alternatives, including Liftshare, who help people reduce their transport emissions by sharing car journeys, and City Car Club, who provide handy roadside vehicles for instant hire, reducing unnecessary journeys and helping to puncture our culture of car ownership.

I left a day early (just in time it turned out) to get back for a Debate London event at the Tate and caught a train back on Sunday afternoon, my every possession damp, muddy and twice as heavy as when I arrived. As I sat down and watched the smell of evaporating filth wafting up the nostrils of my fellow passengers, I wondered – just how green was Glastonbury 2007?

It’s easy to be cynical about big events like this, especially if you have been reading endless articles in magazines about how to do ‘festival chic’, and I expect co-sponsor Greenpeace will be publishing some kind of audit in due course, but I predict the answer will be ‘quite green actually’, and here’s my back-of-the-envelope guide to prove it.

On ecology first then. Admittedly, we had turned a few hundred acres of glorious rolling farmland into an epic quagmire in a matter of hours but, given time to recover, the Eavis’ farm should be back to normal fairly quickly. I did worry a bit when they started putting straw on the paths to give us a bit more traction. If the weather gets hot it will be interesting to see how they clear it up, seeing as the clay soil means much of the farm will essentially be paved with brick. I know at least a few hundred mobile phones are mixed up in there too, which will be fun for future archaeologists to uncover.

Food is a more clear-cut positive. I’m no longer being a real vegetarian about my diet, but I was practically vegan for most of the time at Glastonbury. Even if you want meat it can be a bit of an effort to seek it out, particularly around the network of Greenfields at the south end of the site. Much of the food was also local (fresh milk was brought round every day), and the many caterers included staff from a nearby school who produced an endless stream of fantastic cakes, and a wide range of organic and fair trade caffs, most of which gave out coffee in real mugs that they washed up.

There were no ready-meals or polystyrene packaging that I could see, and the disposable plates and beer cups were made of paper, which meant they could go into the many compost bins. The organisers made a real effort to provide separate bins for recycling too, and the categories were fairly well respected by the punters. All good stuff, and almost certainly better than we’d have managed at home.

Green education initiatives were absolutely everywhere, with large areas of space given over to the three charities benefiting from the event – Greenpeace, Oxfam and Water Aid, as well as the iCount climate campaign. Videos promoting these causes were shown between bands on the main stages and of course there were the acres of Greenfields with everything from yoga and various flavours of healing to radicals like CND and Schnews.

Transport is a tricky one. The big bands do tend to fly in specially, and there are constant helicopters hovering overhead. And yes, the festival is responsible for a lot of people travelling around the country, but in our campaign tent we didn’t meet any festival-goers who had driven there on their own, let alone flown to Somerset.

The most interesting thing about the chart we used in our marquee to help people work out their transport footprint in colour-coded duplo bricks (yes it did help to bring the kids in too) was that carrying several people in a reasonably efficient car can bring the per-person carbon emissions down below even a train. Congestion of course is a separate issue, and the most efficient mode of all is a full coach, which again was a bit of a surprise for most people.

And then there’s the displacement effect. Similar to my tactic of persuading my family to join me for a holiday in the Lake District this year, it’s highly likely that, for many of the people there, the festival was taking the place of a weekend in Prague, Dublin or something worse in their annual holiday routine. So, overall, I don’t think the transport impact of Glastonbury is all that bad.

Now, water – not the stuff that kept falling out of the sky but those dreaded loos. It’s not something I’d want to do forever, but whether we were using the portaloos or the infamous ‘long drops’ (basically – very basically – a row of toilet cubicles perched above a pit of sewage) I don’t think any of us will have flushed a toilet all week. Combine the fact that each flush avoided saves up to nine litres of water with the fact that almost no-one showered at all, and you have a considerable water conservation effort going on. The irony of the fact that it rained so heavily I managed to wash my hair in it does not escape me.

So, overall, my verdict is a thumbs up for Glastonbury 2007. We need more of these things, ideally on weekends less blighted by the weather. See you at the Big Green Gathering in August!

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.