The Women’s Institute and the Bolshevik tendency

If there are climate talks, then we must be marching. I’ve been coming to the big, annual <a href="h

If there are climate talks, then we must be marching. I’ve been coming to the big, annual Campaign Against Climate Change march for years, and it has been exponentially bigger every time. This year’s event on Saturday was no exception.

The focus of CACC is to press for international agreement on effective carbon dioxide emissions cuts. So, with the US holding this up ever since George Bush took power, the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square is always the focus of activities, either starting or ending the march.

This year, we began with a rally in the square. Seize the Day provided music between speeches from, among others, CACC vice presidents Norman Baker MP, Green MEP Caroline Lucas and writer George Monbiot. George’s speech was the most startling – he warned activists sternly against too much ‘doom and gloom’ in our campaigning.

He pointed out the disturbing fact that erstwhile climate deniers are changing their strategy and attempting to switch from blocking action by pretending there isn’t any problem into blocking action by painting climate change as too far gone to bother. With most sane people now in a mid-position where we recognise the problem at the same time as recognising a lot of really obvious solutions, he argued that we should tone down our rhetoric, be positive and get some action going at last - or we’d be just as culpable for the consequences. Harsh stuff, but it was something fresh we needed to hear.

On the more political side of things, Caroline Lucas warned Tony Blair that the time for delay and fudge was over. She said that failure to negotiate a fair and effective international treaty is morally negligent and called for real UK leadership in negotiations this week at climate talks in Nairobi.

Setting off for Trafalgar Square, I was struck by the vast range of different groups marching together. Along with the familiar CACC greenhouse, Friends of the Earth flags, a big Green Party contingent and of course our own Alliance Against Urban 4×4s' lollipop man, people dedicated to campaigning on individual issues were everywhere.

I tried to emulate John Reed, author of revolutionary epic ‘Ten Days that Shook the World,’ by collecting as many leaflets and postcards as possible and I now have a fine collection of literature from the likes of Plane Stupid, RoadBlock, Group Against Motorway Expansion, Airportwatch, World Naked Bike Ride, Rising Tide, the Vegan Society, Christian Ecology Link, Stop Stansted Expansion, Come Off It, and the DOVE campaign against the Newhaven incinerator (if I missed your group – sorry!)

Also notable was the rising number of political parties in the mix. I saw placards by the Greens, LibDems, Respect, Socialist Workers and even the Bolshevik Tendency being carried, and speakers from the platform at the Embassy also included Zac Goldsmith for the Tories and Labour MPs.

Arriving at Trafalgar Square, all thoughts of party politics were banished, however, as the CACC march joined thousands of people filling the square as part of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition’s ‘I-count’ rally. Groups supporting the coalition are an even more diverse collection than the activists on the march and include the Women’s Institute.

Instinctively piqued at the lack of real political fire coming from the actors, comedians and pop stars on the stage (no politicians were allowed on the bill), I tried to put my feelings aside at the sight of the huge crowd they had brought along to the day’s set of actions, many of whom wouldn’t have felt comfortable with the radical types outside the US Embassy.

Phil Thornhill, the founder of CACC, started this traditional day of action single-handed in 2001 after the USA pulled out of the Kyoto agreement, and it is the sign of a great achievement that this day is now both a mainstream and an international event, adopted by such a wide range of groups and nations.

Forty-eight countries around the world saw demonstrations on Saturday, including 90,000 in Australia and an inaugural event in Taiwan. Maybe soon we’ll see some results.

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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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.