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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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.