Can The Tories Lead a Green Revolution?

WHEN David Cameron became leader of the UK Conservative Party, he vowed that the Tories would lead a new green revolution in Britain. In the 2006 local elections he urged voters to “Vote Blue, Go Green”.

As Britain approaches a General Election, the environment policy of all political parties will come under scrutiny. What will the Tories need to do in order to achieve their promise of a green revolution in Britain?

Climate change poses the greatest environmental threat to the country. Action will therefore be required to address our contribution to the problem as well as ensuring we are able to cope with the impact of extreme weather events and a rise in temperature.

It has been claimed that most Tory MPs are sceptical about the party’s focus on climate change policy and at least six shadow cabinet ministers are sceptical about the economic consequences of a low-carbon policy.

Not only will David Cameron need to convince his colleagues that climate change poses a real threat to our way of life, he will need to reduce our dependency on coal and increase in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

About 27 per cent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions are the result of domestic energy use. Mr Cameron should follow the example of Kirklees Council’s award-winning Warm Zone scheme.

This home insulation scheme targeted at 170,000 homes has resulted in the average household saving £200 on fuel bills each year while reducing their carbon dioxide emissions by over one tonne. He should roll-out similar schemes across the region and provide cavity wall and loft insulation, energy efficient glazing, draught proofing, improved boilers and low energy light bulbs free to every home.

All new buildings should meet stringent energy performance standards. And we should move away from using energy and resource intensive materials such as steel and concrete to straw bale and timber. To see an example of sustainable construction in practice, Mr Cameron should take a look at York’s Eco-Depot – a timber framed building with straw bale cladding all sourced in regionally in Yorkshire.

There is great potential in the country to use renewable sources of energy. As the saying goes “Where there’s muck there’s brass” – Britain’s sewage could be used to produce biogas. Wind power could be harnessed by constructing Danish style offshore wind farms along the region’s coastline while water turbines in major rivers and streams could be used to provide hydropower.

These measures, together with the introduction of community-based low carbon technologies such as solar water heating, solar electricity, ground heat pumps, micro-wind turbines and combined heat and power, could allow regional “smart grids” to be developed and reduce the region’s dependency on energy from the National Grid.

Britain has already experienced its share of flooding due to torrential rain. This has resulted in serious disruption to roads, schools, offices and caravan parks and has caused great distress and millions of pounds in flood damage.

Mr Cameron should invest in flood and coastal defences to ensure all flood prone towns and villages are adequately protected. In addition, there should be a major tree-planting programme throughout the country to increase the uptake of rainfall and prevent future flooding.

The creation of new woodlands will also have the added benefit of providing fuel wood and wildlife habitats.

We also need to see a revolution in the way we grow our food. Greater incentives should be available to adopt sustainable agricultural practices such as permaculture – an ecologically harmonious efficient and productive approach that stresses the value of diverse crops.

Support should also be given to promote small-scale local food production, which not only increases food security, but also reduces food miles.

Mr Cameron should visit Todmorden’s Incredible Edible initiative to see how public attitudes to local food production have been revolutionised. The whole community – including businesses, schools and farmers – have been “growing their own”. Public flowerbeds have been transformed into community herb gardens and vegetable patches. The initiative has increased the amount of local food grown and eaten in the town.

Our urban environment desperately needs to be made safer, cleaner and more people friendly. Mr Cameron should promote car free cities, walking and cycling and convert car parks to green spaces.

In order to maintain local distinctiveness, he should limit the number of supermarkets and chain stores allowed to open on our high streets and promote local businesses instead. Reducing pollution, improving the character and feel of our local environment will result in happier and healthier residents.

A green revolution cannot take place without its foot troops. Mr Cameron should provide funding for a nation-wide “Green Home Front” to encourage residents, businesses, public bodies, community organisations and schools to work together to make their communities greener. Only by harnessing people power can we revolutionise the way we live and ensure a transition to a new greener age.

If Mr Cameron succeeds in becoming Prime Minister, he will need to deliver on his promise to put environmental policies at the heart of government. In doing so he should remember the words of his predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, who said: “No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy – with a full repairing lease.”

© Gary Haq 2010
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Extreme Weather in Two Lands

Big Snow in LondonAS the UK struggles with the worst snow for six years across large parts of England, down under the Australians are having to deal with the worst heatwave in decades, with temperatures in excess of 43C (109F) in the south-eastern part of the country. Health officials in South Australia are blaming the high temperatures for an increase in the number of sudden deaths among the elderly. While in the north near Queensland authorities are monitoring a low pressure system that could develop into the state’s second cyclone within a week. More than 60 per cent of Queensland is covered by floodwaters and more devastation is expected. Already there are almost 3,000 properties in the north of Townsville surrounded by floodwaters caused by ex-tropical cyclone Ellie.

Australian heatwaveThe snowfall in England resulted in schools being closed, public transport closures and airport delays. The heatwave in Victoria is the worst since 1908. Wildfires in the west of the state made worse by dry conditions and sweeping winds destroyed 2,000 hectares (4,900 acres) of forest and grassland, forcing residents to flee their homes, emergency workers. The high temperatures resulted in a massive increase the use of air conditioners which have claimed to have caused a breakdown in Melbourne’s electricity grid – leaving half a million homes without power. The economic cost of the heatwave in Melbourne is estimated to be 100,000 Australian dollars.

In the UK the big snow is estimated to have cost the country £1bn in lost productivity due to approximately 20 per cent of the country’s workforce is believed to have taken Monday off due to the extreme weather. Many businesses in London and the south-east were forced to operate on a limited basis with transport services in chaos after up to eight inches of snow. Nearly half of businesses in London were operating at only 50 per cent capacity.

These recent extreme weather events clearly demonstrate our vulnerability to the impacts of a sudden change in climate. The social, economic and environmental impact of such extreme weather should be a warning to us all about what we can expect in the future as the planet warms up and the climate changes. We need to act now to prevent the possibility of run away climate change. We need to make the necessary investment to ensure the infrastructure, social and emergency services can adequately cope with extremes change in the weather.

© Gary Haq 2009