Greece to cancel referendum on bail-out package

After a dramatic day, the Greek PM indicates referendum will be dropped as national unity talks cont

After a day of tumultous political developments, the Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, has said he is ready to drop a proposed referendum on the latest bail-out package from the eurozone. Four ministers, including the Finance Minister, Evangelos Venizelo, opposed the referendum and pressured Papandreou to drop it on the basis that eurozone membership is too important.

The EU bailout, agreed last month, would give the heavily indebted Greek government a further 130bn euros (£111bn; $178bn) and a 50 per cent write-off of its debt. However, to receive this pay-out, the government would have to agree to even more deeply unpopular austerity measures.

Papandreou said the referendum was "never an end in itself". A key part of this decision appears to be opposition politician Antonis Samaras deciding to support the rescue package.

The prime minister's own future is still uncertain. While the BBC reported earlier that he was preparing to resign, Greek state TV said that he had ruled this out. However, the opposition New Democracy party has said it would only be part of a coalition government if Papandreou stood down. Since it looks increasingly likely that a national unity government might be necessary, this could be a problem.

A little closer to home, the UK has admitted that it may have to pay more into the IMF to support Greece's financial recovery. It means some back-pedalling for David Cameron, who has made much of his achievements in restricting Britain's donations to the eurozone bailouts. My colleague Rafael Behr explores this issue in more detail in an earlier Staggers post:

The government (or at least its Conservative side) think it is a terrible idea for sovereign nations to bind themselves into a single currency and yet supports the urgent acceleration of that process. It rejects the contribution of British taxpayers' money to a bailout that might explicitly support a euro stabilisation process but would be happy to contribute to one that helped eurozone countries independently, thereby supporting euro stabilisation indirectly. This is not a sustainable position.

In a public speech, Papandreou retained his trademark composure, but looked pale. He spoke of "wag[ing] a battle of Titanic proportions, our first duty being to fend off bankruptcy, to prevent the country collapsing". The challenge of balancing the contesting demands of foreign lenders and the Greek public appears to have been too much. Even if he survives the coming hours or weeks, it is difficult to see how Papandreou will reinvigorate his spent political capital for much longer.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.