Saturday, March 28, 2015

What’s Climate Change got to do with Lincolnshire?

Involved in the general election campaign, working to get more Green Party candidates elected to Parliament and local government in Lincolnshire, I was asked "What's climate change got to do with Lincolnshire?".

I've given a written answer:

First, let’s just deal with the basic science, the stuff about which there is absolutely no controversy within the scientific community.  The physics was determined in the 19th century.  Add ‘greenhouse’ gases such as carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere and the global average temperature will rise. It’s as certain as gravity causing apples to fall to the ground.  More effort has been put into studying the climate than any other field of science and there are now no working climate scientists who dispute the basic understanding.  For sure there is still plenty that is uncertain; just how quickly a given amount of extra greenhouse gas will cause the temperature to rise by how much and just what that will mean for the climate in any particular place is not known quite exactly.  But then it’s also hard to be sure which way a falling apple will bounce and whether it lands on a daisy or a dandelion.

Global warming is real and most of it is caused by human action.  No question.

Second, let’s deal with confusion of language; why people sometimes say ‘global warming’ and sometimes ‘climate change’.  They are often muddled and used without careful thought.  Global warming refers to the increase in temperature of the whole of planet Earth.  It’s easiest to measure with thermometers in the air at the surface of planet but this method has limitations.  About 90% of all global warming takes place in the deep oceans.  The average rise in temperature of the atmosphere only accounts for about 3% of the extra heat retained by our greenhouse gasses.  Climate change refers to what happens at a particular location as a result of global warming.  Some places get drier, some wetter and with more water vapour in the atmosphere as a whole, rainfall patterns change, with sudden downpours producing floods while shifts in winds cause some areas to experience long droughts.  With global warming causing average temperatures to rise, some areas will experience a greater than average warming of their local climate, while other places will warm more slowly, or even experience a cooler climate, at least for a while.

The climate of the British Isles is dominated by the Atlantic Ocean, temperate with extreme events being rare.  It is likely that we will not experience such a rapid shift in climate as many parts of the world.  Places with continental climates or subject to monsoons or in the Arctic or the tropics, are likely to experience faster change. Nevertheless, even small changes in average temperature can have significant impacts on farming and wildlife. Changing distributions of insects and birds have already been noticed in Lincolnshire and species of fish once confined to southern waters are appearing off the Lincolnshire coast.

The most immediate threat is the increased probability of extreme events. Global warming makes weather events that have happened only rarely, happen more often.  So we should expect more periods of very dry weather and more periods of stormy weather.  Both droughts and floods will be more common in Lincolnshire in a warmer world.  A more long-term threat is the possibility that the ocean currents in the Atlantic will slow down.  This is far from being certain but there is some evidence emerging that such change is underway.  A reduced influence of Atlantic currents would make our climate more continental, with cooler winters and warmer summers.

The practical consequences for living and working in Lincolnshire involve slow, gradual but relentless adjustments.  Farming patterns will change to cope with the occasional but severe droughts, making investment in water conservation and supply imperative.  Flood defences and maintenance of the drainage system will also need prioritising.  The design of new buildings should take into account the likelihood of extended heat waves as well as being insulated to avoid energy costs for heating.  Our population needs to be prepared to cope with heat stress.

Lincolnshire will undoubtedly be affected by rising sea level. As the ocean waters warm they expand and this has been contributing a couple of millimetres to the sea level each year.  Melting glaciers, particularly the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets, are now contributing to more sea level rise than thermal expansion of the water.  Estimates of future sea level rise are uncertain but as evidence is gathered the indications are that it will be greater and faster than previously thought.  The Environment Agency, in planning future sea defence work, assumes a rise of about one metre by the end of the 21st century.  That’s within the lifetime of today’s small children.  There is more possibility that this is an underestimate than an overestimate. It is more likely that things turn out worse than expected as we are only just beginning to appreciate the way in which melting is occurring under the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets.

It costs money and effort but a one metre sea level rise can be coped with fairly easily; we only have to look to the Dutch to see how it’s done.  A continuous programme of improving the sea defences with higher walls and banks in some parts, managed retreat in others, will be a feature of Lincolnshire’s coast for the rest of the century.  But sea level rise will not stop in the year 2100.  It now seems likely that the great ice sheets are in an irreversible decline and no matter what we do in the future all of the ice will eventually melt.  Opinions differ as to how many centuries or even millennia it will take, but eventually much of Lincolnshire will be lost to the sea under a sixty metre rise. At 83m the Boston stump would have its top 20m above the waves.  With its 90 metre spire and standing on ground 20 metres above today’s sea level, St. James church in Louth fares better, but of course the church will be destroyed as soon as the waves crash at the base.  The spire celebrates it 500th anniversary this year but it won’t make it to 1000.

The biggest effects of global warming will be felt, indeed are already being felt, far from Lincolnshire.  We see the devastating effects of floods around the world with increasing frequency and new records are being set for tropical storms. The ongoing drought in the south-west of the USA has had a devastating effect on California’s fruit production.  The cost of almonds and marzipan has shot up in our shops.  It is now widely accepted that one of the key triggers for the civil war in Syria was the worst drought in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ since agriculture was invented in the Neolithic, driving a million farmers from their land to the cities in search of help.  They found none so turned to religion and guns.  The political instability across many parts of sub-Saharan Africa can also be related to the spread of deserts.

But we’ve seen nothing yet.  Many of the world’s greatest cities and much of the world’s best agricultural land lies within a couple of metres of sea level.  The squeeze is already well under way in Bangladesh and several of the small island states of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  Many millions, perhaps billions, of people will become climate refugees through the coming decades.  Lincolnshire is part of the global economy and cannot remain detached from global financial and political change, rises in food prices and pressure from migration.

The issue of global warming and the consequent climate changes have to be tackled at all levels from international agreements between governments, through planning and spending policies of local government, to the individual actions that each one of us make.  We are all responsible; we all have both a duty and an opportunity to act.  The first priority has to be mitigation, doing what we can to reduce the harm.  That means stopping burning fossil carbon fuels, coal, oil and gas, as soon as we possibly can.  Secondly we must learn to adapt, changing our homes, our lifestyles, our work and our farming so that we can enjoy a zero-carbon future.  We must embrace the new energy technologies of wind and sun.  Almost all of the fossil carbon that has already been discovered needs to be left in the ground.  To explore for more is folly.

And we must be mindful of the debt we owe to many other part of the world. Britain started the coal-based industrial revolution and our historical contribution to global warming has been second to none, yet the first to suffer and those who suffer the most are often among the poorest in the world and in no way to blame for the unravelling tragedy.

The tragedy of British politics is that it is largely concerned with the next election. With the scramble for power over the next few years, the long term future is given little attention, and the interests of generations not yet born have no voice. The Conservative Party has shifted from a promise before the last General Election to be the ‘greenest government ever’ to ‘cut the green crap’.  The LibDems have made ineffectual efforts to counter the climate-deniers in the Treasury and DEfRA.  Labour, once responsible for the 2008 Climate Change Act, has done little to promote global warming as a significant issue in the political debate.  None of these parties has given the greatest threat to our future, to the world’s civilisation’s future, the attention required. UKIP is in complete, and absurd, denial.

Only the Green Party has consistently argued that global warming and climate change are the most important issues for politics.  Only the Green Party takes seriously our long-term obligation and responsibility.  The voiceless future generations must be given voice, not sacrificed for our present convenience. And it is in our own interests.  We cannot be truly happy, to live satisfying lives, while we know that our grandchildren’s lives will be nasty, brutish and short, because we have been too selfish, to party on while the future goes hang. 

It is time to act for the common good.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Victoria Atkins Lied

It's a serious allegation, so please allow me to present the case.  Last night at a hustings in the Lincolnshire village of Ludford, the parliamentary candidates for the Louth and Horncastle constituency faced questions from the public. The candidates present were:
  • Romy Rayner, Green Party
  • Peter Hill, Monster Raving Looney Party
  • Matthew Brown, Labour
  • Victoria Atkins, Conservative
  • Colin Mair, UKIP
The candidates were asked whether they were in favour of Trident renewal and whether they would be prepared to 'press the button'. The questions were asked by two small children, the son and daughter of the Green Party candidate for Boston and Skegness, Victoria Percival. The ensuing discussion included consideration of the threats facing the UK and, in particular, the Russian threat. Victoria Atkins, the Tory candidate, seemed particularly keen to emphasise the need for Trident in the light of what she alleged were recent Russian military aircraft incursions into UK airspace.

I pointed out that the Russian planes had kept to international space and had not entered UK sovereign airspace.  Victoria rounded on me, telling me that the fact was the Russians had entered our airspace and that it was important that everyone knew the facts and stuck to the facts.  She seemed to emphasise the word 'facts' with such enthusiasm that I did, for a few seconds, doubt my own recollection of the news stories.  The discussion moved on with a UKIP supporter in the audience pointing out that RAF planes had in the past 'strayed' into Russian sovereign airspace.  Victoria doubted this but the man responded by saying that he, personally, had been close to the border in eastern Europe and witnessed such incidents.

Now I would be happy to let a little straying off the truth in an off the cuff remark to pass by un-remarked in most instances.  But in this case, the vehemence with which Victoria Atkins contradicted my statement and the way she used my alleged false testimony as an example of why the facts are crucial, has led me to investigate further.

I've looked up recent press reports.  Now it maybe the case that Victoria is privy to information not released to the media, but which she feels can be shared with the good citizens of Ludford.  So we must keep an open mind before calling her a liar.  However, it's either her, her party's leader or the Wall Street Journal that is lying.
 “At no time did the Russian military aircraft cross into U.K. sovereign airspace,” Prime Minister David Cameron said. 

Here are my press cuttings:

The RAF has intercepted Russian military aircraft as they neared UK airspace for the second time this week, the Ministry of Defence has said. Guardian

Two UK Royal Air Force jets intercepted a pair of Russian aircraft flying near British airspace this week, the British Defence Ministry said Thursday CNN

Britain deployed fighter jets to escort two Russian bombers away from the Cornish coast, the second time in three weeks the U.K. has warned off Kremlin warplanes near its airspace. “At no time did the Russian military aircraft cross into U.K. sovereign airspace,” Prime Minister David Cameron said. WSJ

Two Russian bombers last week skirted British airspace off the coast of Cornwall, where they were intercepted and escorted by the two RAF Typhoon fighters. Daily Mail

Russian military planes flying near UK airspace caused "disruption to civil aviation" on Wednesday, the Foreign Office has said.  BBC News 

The RAF has intercepted Russian military aircraft as they neared UK airspace for the second time this week, the UK ministry of defence has said. Irish Times 

One plane was diverted and another delayed to avoid two Russian bombers that flew through Irish-controlled airspace without warning in February, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) said on Tuesday. The disruption is believed to have occurred during the same February 18 incident in which British RAF Typhoon fighters were scrambled to escort two Russian bear bombers identified flying close to British airspace….However, the IAA sad there had been "no safety impact to civilian traffic in Irish controlled airspace". The aircraft did not enter Irish sovereign airspace, but flew in Irish controlled airspace within 25 nautical miles (46.3 km) of the Irish coast between 1500 GMT and 1900 GMT, according to the authority. Daily Telegraph 

The question the child asked, "Would you press the button?" was avoided by all except Romy Rayner, whose clear position was for renouncing nuclear weapons.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Some Questions about Migration

The local newspaper rang up to say they were doing a piece about migration into Boston and Skegness and could I forward some questions to our Green Party candidate, who is currently at the Spring Conference in Liverpool, and could they have the answers by tomorrow morning, please.

So I thought I'd jot down a few notes.  Here are the questions:

1.What is your response to the figures [from the Oxford Migration Observatory]? Do they paint an accurate picture of migration in Boston and Skegness?
2.How big an election issue is migration in Boston and Skegness? Could it decide the outcome for the area?
3.What are your party’s policies on migration, and how could they apply to this new picture of migration to Boston and Skegness?
4.What actions would you call for to deal with a growing migrant population in Boston and Skegness, if any? 
5.What do you believe needs to happen next to make sure migration isn’t again a major issue for Boston and Skegness in the next election?

Last question first:

5. What do you believe needs to happen next to make sure migration isn’t again a major issue for Boston and Skegness in the next election?

Stop flagging migration up as a big issue by writing newspaper articles about it! But hey, we support a free press and the press’s right to write what they like, so on with the rest of the questions.

1. What is your response to the figures? Do they paint an accurate picture of migration in Boston and Skegness?

Let us accept that the Oxford Migration Observatory has produced data as accurate as is available, but the ‘picture’ is only seen when the numbers are set in the context of the wider Uk.  From the 2011 census figures the proportion of people not born in the UK was about 15% for Boston and less than 4% for East Lindsey.  Now compare that with a few other towns in the east Midlands: Peterborough 20%, Nottingham 20% Cambridge 29%, Leicester 34%, and if we go to the wealthiest parts of the nation we find these figures: Kensington and Chelsea 52%, Westminster 53%.  So we see that Boston and Skegness do not have an unusually large proportion of non-UK born residents.

2. How big an election issue is migration in Boston and Skegness? Could it decide the outcome for the area?

Not a very big issue and no, it will not decide the outcome of the election. Boston and Skegness has always been a safe Conservative seat with the Tory candidate gaining 49% of the vote at the last general election.  Labour gained 21% the Liberal Democrats 15% and the other 15% being split between two far-right parties.  In the 2015 election we expect the anti-EU and anti-immigration vote to be split again between the two far-right candidates, one from UKIP and the other a former UKIP candidate.  That vote will be further split by a candidate from the British National Party and an ex-Conservative party member who failed to be selected and is now standing as a Lincolnshire Independent on an aggressively anti-immigration ticket.

The Green Party, which did not contest the 2010 election, expects to gain votes from disaffected LibDems, Labour and Conservative voters but is unlikely to have any impact on the 15% of the voters who support one of the smaller right wing parties.

3. What are your party’s policies on migration, and how could they apply to this new picture of migration to Boston and Skegness?

Green Party policy is set out at length here

It is important to understand the Background and Principles involved.  Unlike the other parties, the Green Party has a long-term vision and looks to the interests of the youngest children who hope to see in the 22nd century and develop a sustainable world order beyond that.  But we also have to deal with the practicalities of the short term.

MG100 The Green Party's long-term global vision is of an international economic order where the relationship between regions is non-exploitative, each region is as self-reliant and economically self- sufficient as practicable and the quality of life (social, political, environmental, cultural and economic) is such that there is less urge to migrate. Logically, in order to move away from the current level of immigration controls, we must create a fairer world.

MG101 The existing economic order and colonialism have both been major causes of migration through direct and indirect violence, disruption of traditional economies, the use of migrants as cheap labour, uneven patterns of development and global division of labour.

MG102 We are aware that, in the 21st century, there is likely to be mass migration of people escaping from the consequences of global warming, environmental degradation, resource shortage and population increase.

MG103 The Green Party recognises the contributions made by many migrants to their recipient area or community. We value the cultural diversity and intercultural awareness resulting from both temporary residence and migration.

MG200 The Green Party's highest priority is the creation of a just and ecological world order in which environmental devastation is minimised and needs can be met without recourse to migration.

MG201 We believe that the world's people have an individual and collective responsibility to ensure ecological sustainability, human rights and social justice. Within this, they have the right to self determination.

MG202 International action and a willingness to share resources will be required to meet the needs of environmental migrants.

MG203 Richer regions and communities do not have the right to use migration controls to protect their privileges from others in the long term.

MG204 Communities and regions should have the right to restrict inward migration when one or more of the following conditions are satisfied:

a)The ecology of the recipient area would be significantly adversely affected by in-comers to the detriment of the wider community (eg. National Parks, Antarctica);

b)The recipient area is owned or controlled by indigenous peoples (eg Australian aboriginal people) whose traditional lifestyle would be adversely affected by in-comers;

c)The prospective migrants have, on average, equal or greater economic power than the residents of the recipient area and they or their families were not forced to leave the area in the recent past.

MG205 Migration policies should not discriminate directly on grounds of race, colour, religion, political belief, disability, sex or sexual orientation. Preference should not be given to those with resources or desirable skills.

MG206 The Green Party is opposed to forced migration and forced repatriation.

MG207 Regions or communities must have the right to reject specific individuals on grounds of public safety.

MG208 The interests of both prospective migrants and the recipient area or community must be recognised and, hence, the appropriate resolution of a particular situation (unless covered above) must depend on negotiation between the parties affected.

We support the free movement of people within the EU and acknowledge the positive contribution that East Europeans are making to the economy of Lincolnshire and to the enrichment of our culture.  Boston has a long tradition of trade with the Baltic going back many centuries and it is our relationship with other lands that has been central to the town’s history, remembered in the 14th century Baltic oak roof timbers of the Guildhall and the emigration of the Separatists, or Pilgrim fathers in 1607.  Migration is not all one way and in modern times many Lincolnshire folk have found employment or retirement overseas.

It is with great concern that we view the desperate migration of people from war-torn or drought-stricken parts of North Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean to seek sanctuary in Italy.  As global warming proceeds throughout the coming century we must be prepared to come to the aid of the displaced environmental migrants.  It is not actions of the Pacific Small Island States that cause sea level rise but our shared humanity calls us to act positively when whole nations sink beneath the waves.

4. What actions would you call for to deal with a growing migrant population in Boston and Skegness, if any?

As population grows national and local government has an obligation to see that the infrastructure of public services, health and welfare, education, transport, housing and so on, are provided to meet changing demand.  It is always thus, with increased expenditure being matched by revenues from the increased economic activity.  Some folk may shout ‘They’ are taking ‘our’ jobs!  But this is to misunderstand the economy.  There is not a fixed number of jobs; rather, new jobs are created out of new economic activity.  It is well documented that our recently arrived migrants make a positive contribution to the UK’s wealth. When we have migrants for whom adjustment to a new culture is a challenge, then translation and advice services are needed to make the new-comers feel welcome and allow them to quickly and constructively assimilate into their new home.

5. What do you believe needs to happen next to make sure migration isn’t again a major issue for Boston and Skegness in the next election?

Returning to this question again, migration just isn’t a major issue for the next election, though a small minority make much noise to try and make it so.  The main issue is whether we continue with the Tories’ neo-liberal economic agenda of austerity, a shift of spending from the public to the private sector, a shrinking of the state, a transfer of wealth from the great majority into the hands of a select few and a denial of the urgency of addressing global warming.  Or are we ready for a real change, for hope and security, for the common good?

Saturday, March 07, 2015

A Question about Wind Farms.

Wind farms are a blot on the landscape and can never generate enough power to replace conventional power stations. What do you say to that?

The science is clear: to avoid catastrophic climate change we have to stop burning all fossil carbon fuels.  The sooner we manage this the safer we will be.  Many governments now accept that economies need to be zero carbon by 2050 but the science tells us that even that timescale, and leaving 80% of the already discovered fossil carbon underground and unburnt, gives us only a two thirds chance of avoiding warming by 2°C.  Even such a modest warming spells disaster for many regions and peoples around the world.

Wind farms will not on their own generate enough power to supply our wants, but the important point to note is that each and every unit of electricity that is generated by a wind turbine is a unit that does not need to be generated by gas or coal.  Every turn of a turbine’s blades is a win for the environment, however small.

Of course wind power’s contribution is far from small, is growing rapidly and has the potential for much further expansion. The UK is one of the best locations for wind power in the world, and certainly the best in Europe. At the beginning of January 2015, wind power in the United Kingdom consisted of 5,958 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of just under 12 gigawatts: 7,950 megawatts of onshore capacity and 4,049 megawatts of offshore capacity. The United Kingdom is ranked as the world's sixth largest producer of wind power.

In 2014, 28.1 TWh of electricity was generated by wind power, 9.3% of the UK's generation.  There have been certain critical times, such as Easter 2013, when a gas pipeline from the Netherlands failed during a cold, though windy spell of weather, when electricity supplies would have been cut to some consumers had it not been for the available wind generated supply.  For several periods during the autumn of 2014 wind contributed more than nuclear.  Though June, July and September were quiet months last year, from October to March 2015 wind has typically been producing over 3GW, sometimes over 5 and rarely down to 1GW.  It has been a substantial contribution to the nation’s supply, equivalent to a very large coal-fired plant or more.

Wind is variable so can never be relied upon to contribute all our generating capacity, and nobody suggests it should, but with current grid management there will be little difficulty until it contributes at least a third of the total.  The wider the dispersal of windfarms the better as regards variability is concerned.  We already regularly import 1GW via the Dutch interconnector and much of this is wind generated.  As off-shore windfarms are developed in the North Sea and north-west Scotland, the variability will be further diminished.  It should be noted that no generation source lacks variability, sometimes planned and sometimes unplanned.  The overall performance of our ageing nuclear fleet has been lamentable recently.

On-shore wind farms are currently the cheapest new source of generating capacity, even using the normal accounting methods.  But a proper economic comparison includes those costs that are usually regarded as ‘externalities’ and so disregarded.  With nuclear power, the insurance costs are removed since nuclear power stations are exempt from the need to carry more than a minimal insurance. Ultimate decommissioning and long term waste disposal are also externalities, not accounted for in the price of nuclear generated electricity.  With coal and gas fired power stations, the costs of climate change resulting from their greenhouse gas emissions are similarly disregarded.  Thus in any accounting system that is fair to future generations, wind (and other renewables) is a far cheaper source of electricity than either gas, coal or nuclear.

The potential generating capacity for windfarms in the North Sea, on for instance the Dogger Bank, is vast.  It will take time and capital resources to build the turbines and high voltage direct current (HVDC) grid to gather and bring the power ashore but we can realistically envision a zero-carbon Britain by mid century in which all public and private transport is electric, with batteries playing a large role.  There will be a mix of generating capacity, solar, tidal lagoons, tidal stream, and geothermal, but the largest single component will be wind.

Are windfarms a blot on the landscape? Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but the beholder's aesthetic feelings are moderated by her compassion for her grandchildren.