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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.