Sheffield’s Green Influencers

Who should you be following on Social Media this year? Which Sheffielders are the big environmental influencers?

I’ve put together a couple of league tables to see who has the most followers on Facebook and Twitter.  The clear winner on both is the Baroness of Manor Castle, Natalie Bennett who is one of the two Green Party peers in the House of Lords. She led the Green Party from 2012 to 2016 and is a Sheffield Green Party member. Her forthcoming book is called  “Change Everything”. She works tirelessly in the Lords trying to amend and/or defeat acts of parliament.

In a recent New Year’s video, she described three bills she is currently working on. 

  1. The Australia and New Zealand Trade Bill, where she will be addressing problems for our farmers, workers’ rights and the lack of parliamentary scrutiny.
  2. The Financial Services Bill where she is concerned that the Government’s  competitiveness agenda means letting the Financial Sector run riot. We know how that ended up in 2007/8!
  3. The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, which is allowing the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment. Here Natalie claims the government science is completely out of date.

To follow Natalie go to @natalieben on Twitter, NatalieBennettGreen on Instagram or Natalie Bennett, Green Party Member of the House of Lords on Facebook.

Foodworks come second on the Facebook table (15093 followers) and fifth on Twitter (@TheFoodWorksSHF 6352). Foodworks are a social enterprise, established in 2015 to raise awareness and reduce the scandal of food waste. They save over 500 tonnes of food per year and are working on building a fair and sustainable food system for Sheffield. They work with 100s of committed volunteers whose time, passion and skill drive their ability to feed thousands of people each month. 

Second on Twitter and third on Facebook are the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust. A video filmed in Wyming Brook featuring Chris Packham urges us to get involved at two levels. He wants us to do things at a personal level, greening our lifestyles and building greener local communities. But he also wants us to communicate our demands to those in power and hold them to account because time is running out. This he says, “is the time for changing minds, changing practices and making meaningful differences”. Also featured in the video is Smithy Wood which was saved from “development” as an M1 Service Station and Owlthorpe Fields which was finally designated as a local wildlife site in 2022. If you want to help protect nature @WildSheffield is a must-follow. 

Third on Twitter (@SheffieldGreens) and 7th on Facebook is Sheffield Green Party . With 14 Councillors, the party holds the balance of power on the Council and with the new Committee system they have considerable influence in the Town Hall. A quick scroll through their Twitter account reveals pictures from the nurse’s picket lines,  new cycle parking facilities and news of roads to be resurfaced, without the need to cut down any trees. Sheffield Greens are definitely worth a follow to understand more about what happens at Sheffield Town Hall. 

4th on Facebook are Sheffield Tree Action Groups, a victorious campaign now featured in two films, The Felling and Tree-sistance. The campaign is still active, keeping an eye on the Council to ensure that they are now properly managing our street trees, but many of the Facebook posts are interesting reminiscences from the height of the dispute when protesters stood under healthy trees to stop them being felled. The group has spawned many other groups, such as It’s Our City which successfully campaigned to improve our local democracy by ditching the “Strong Leader” model of governance and bring in the Committee System, and Nether Edge and Sharrow Sustainable Transformation which has among other things been raising money to plant new street trees.  

5th on Facebook and 8th on Twitter is the Regather Coop. This amazing group run a veg box scheme, a small farm where they grow fruit and veg and cut flowers and run a community hub at Club Garden Road. 

Other organisations deserving a mention include @CycleSheffield which are organising the Sheffield Active Travel Summit on February 18th, @ShefEnvironment, which organises Sheffield Hen Harrier Day and @ParkinginSheff on Twitter, full name “Parking like a twat in Sheffield” which catalogues idiotic parking from all over the city. If you are a bad parker you better check to see if you are featured!  Sheffield Litterpickers highlight the magnificent work of volunteers from all over the city keeping our streets clean.  Extinction Rebellion Sheffield, having quit their tactics that disrupt the public, is busy building the biggest climate rally this country has ever seen, which is happening on April 21st at Parliament. South Yorkshire Climate Alliance are marking the 4th Anniversary of Sheffield Council declaring a Climate Emergency by petitioning the Council to start treating it like the Emergency it is.  Sheffield Vegans offer help in transitioning to a healthy plant-based diet.

Here is the top 30! Sincere apologies if I have missed anyone who deserves to appear in it. Please let me know! 

  • 1.  @natalieben (Natalie Bennett, Green Member of the House of Lords) 183500
  • 2. @Wild Sheffield (Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust) 10700
  • 3. @SheffieldGreens Sheffield Green Party 6669
  • 4. @TheFoodWorksSHF  6352
  • 5. @alisonclareteal Alison Teal 5760
  • 6. @PeterG4NES2019 Cllr Peter Garbutt (Nether Edge and Sharrow)5756
  • 7. @CycleSheffield Cycle Sheffield 5391
  • 8. @RegatherCoop 3900
  • 9. @ShefEnvironment 3741
  • 10. @ParkinginSheff Parking like a twat in Sheffield 3586
  • 11. @sheffieldrenew Sheffield Renewables 2926
  • 12. @XRShef Extinction Rebellion Sheffield 2611
  • 13. @carolbinks 2567 
  • 14. @LoganRobin96 2559
  • 15. @DouglasJSheff (Green Party Group Leader) 2537
  • 16. @Graham21 Founder cleanairsheff 2383
  • 17. @msalilla Angela Argenzio (Cllr Broomhill and SharrowVale Ward )2182
  • 18. @UAlbarella 2168
  • 19. @MartinPhipps13  2078
  • 20. @CleanAirSheff 1982
  • 21. @CycleSad 1853
  • 22. @AshRouth 1768
  • 23. @ShefClimateNews South Yorkshire Climate Alliance 1668
  • 24. @PaulTurnips Paul Turpin (Cllr Gleadless Valley and Heeley) 1649
  • 25. @IanDavidMcHugh 1533
  • 26. @BarnardSteve 1518
  • 27. @rivelin_valley Rivelin Valley Conservation Group 1426
  • 28. @samwake Sam Wakeling 1420
  • 29. @RuthMersereau (City Ward Councillor) 1365
  • 30. @kingfisherand Kingfisher and Owl, Save Birley Spa 1321
  • 1. Natalie Bennett, Green Member of the House of Lords 45000
  • 2. Foodworks 15093
  • 3. Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust 10,000
  • 4. Sheffield Tree Action Groups 9000
  • 5. Regather Cooperative 5900
  • 6. Extinction Rebellion Sheffield 4900
  • 7. Sheffield Green Party 4700 
  • 8. Sheffield Litterpickers 4233
  • 9. Sheffield Vegans 2700
  • 10. Cycle Sheffield 2166
  • 11. South Yorkshire Climate Alliance 1400
  • 12. Sheffield Renewables 1008
  • 13. Nether Edge and Sharrow Green Party 760
  • 14. City Ward Green Party 678
  • 15. Better buses for South Yorkshire 632
  • 16. Gleadless Valley and Heeley Green Party 614
  • 17. Hillsborough Green Party 576
  • 18. Broomhill and Sharrowvale Green Party 548
  • 19. Sheffield Greenpeace 514
  • 20. Walkley and Crookes Swifts 391
  • 21. Reyt Repair 388
  • 22. Graham Wroe 383
  • 23. Sheffield Green Parents 351
  • 24. Penistone People and Planet 339
  • 25. Greener Greenhill 291
  • 26. Nether Edge and Sharrow Sustainable Transformation 270
  • 27, Douglas Johnson 263
  • 28. Walkley Green Party 203
  • 29. Green New Deal South Yorkshire 140
  • 30. Sheffield Friends of the Earth 109

Climate Review of the Year

I hope 2022 will go down as the year the world woke up to the climate emergency. Extreme weather events have hit every part of the globe, including Sheffield. So far the planet has heated 1.2C. We are on track for 1.5C by 2030, 2C by 2050, and over 3C by 2100. 2022 was the hottest year in the UK since records began, and will probably be the hottest year globally. 96% of oil and gas companies are still expanding operations, further accelerating the climate emergency.

I am indebted to Climate Vanguard for compiling this list of climate events which I have summarised below.

In February, 13 million people in the Horn of Africa faced severe hunger due to the worst drought in 40 years.

April saw 341 deaths and over 40,000 affected due to unprecedented flooding in Durban, South Africa.

In April and May, there was a heatwave in South Asia. Temperatures soared to reach 49C in India and 51C in Pakistan, leading to crop failure and water shortages.

In June in Italy, the River Po experienced its worst drought in 70 years, damaging agriculture. Tokyo had the worst heatwave since records began. 

In July Sydney flooded, which was the third extreme flooding event in 18 months in New South Wales. A “Heat apocalypse” in Western France, forced 25,000 to flee their homes.

On July 19th, we experienced 40.3C in the UK, the hottest day on record. This beat the previous record of 38.7C set only 3 years ago in 2019.

In August wildfires covered 3 million acres of the Arctic. More than 100 municipalities in France ran out of drinking water due to the heatwave and the River Rhine almost ran dry. Water levels became so low in the Elbe River in the Czech Republic that a “hunger stone” from 1616 was revealed with the message  “If you see me, then weep”. Torrential downpours in New Zealand displaced 1,200 people, a summer heatwave in China was the most severe ever recorded in the world, with peak temperatures of 45C.  66 rivers dried up resulting in mass crop failure. 937 people were dead, and 30 million were displaced, due to horrific flooding in Pakistan.

Between June and November flooding in Nigeria, Niger and Chad killed hundreds, with 1.5 million people displaced.

The extreme cold in the USA is currently causing chaos. Did you know that a hotter climate can bring bigger snowstorms? Here in the UK, we will face extremely cold winters if the Jet Stream, which usually keeps us warm, is diverted due to the melting arctic. 

What developments have there been locally to change this trend to more extreme weather? We have seen the partial development of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in Nether Edge and Crookes and more investment to improve cycle routes. This year we will see the implementation of the long-awaited Clean Air Zone in the city centre. But what good these do will be undone by the cuts to our bus services and the unreliability and expense of our train services which encourage more and more people to drive. 

Geoff Cox, Chair of South Yorkshire Climate Alliance, recently went to the Sheffield Council meeting to demand that they bring forward the plans to reduce Sheffield’s emissions. We are supposed to be aiming to be a carbon-neutral city by 2030, but as yet we don’t even have the plans to show how we are going to get there, let alone implement them. 

Nationally we have seen a Government implementing legislation to attack climate protestors rather than legislation to tackle the real problems, the climate and nature emergencies.

The Conservatives are binning many EU laws that have previously protected nature and are encouraging so-called “Investment Zones” which wildlife organisations call an attack on nature. They have destroyed any credibility in the myth that the UK is leading in tackling climate change by giving the go-ahead for a new coal mine.

Internationally we have seen two major conferences, COP27 and COP15. The breakthrough of COP27 was the establishment of a Loss and Damage Fund to help vulnerable countries cope with the destructive impacts of climate change. COP15 focused on biodiversity. The agreement they reached aims to address species loss, restore ecosystems and protect indigenous rights. The stakes could not be higher: the planet is experiencing its largest loss of life since the dinosaurs. One million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades.
Neither of the agreements from COP27 or COP15 were legally binding so I am not confident nations will follow through and implement them. In 2023 we need many more people to actively challenge their Governments to do the right thing for the planet. Make it your New Years’ resolution to get involved and campaign for change. You could do something practical like joining a litter-picking group or getting involved in wildlife protection, you could join a pressure group and get involved in campaigning or you could join a political party and make sure they put climate at the top of their agenda. But do something! Ignoring it won’t make it go away! For inspiration see the long list of campaigning groups on South Yorkshire Climate Alliance’s website. (https://www.southyorkshireclimatealliance.org.uk/groups)

Graham Wroe

Mayhem at Barclays. But Sheffield Council continue to bank with them.

There was mayhem at the Barclays Sheffield branch last Monday (14th November).

Dressed as cleaners, many in drag, complete with mops, buckets sponges and brushes the “Dirty Scrubbers” from Extinction Rebellion arrived to give the bank a spring clean. As tunes such as “Carwash” by Rose Royce, “Stayin Alive” by the Bee Gees and “I want to break free” by Queen blared out from the pa, the Dirty Scrubbers strutted their stuff using mops and brushes as air guitars while cleaning the windows and dusting the furniture. Large crowds gathered in amazement and took away leaflets about the bank’s dirty dealing and some even joined in the dancing!   

Why target Barclays? Extinction Rebellion says that their investments are speeding us down the road to climate catastrophe. And the Palestine Solidarity Group say their investments support the repression of the Palestinian people.

Barclays are the UK’s and Europe’s largest financier of fossil fuels. Since 2021, when the International Energy Agency concluded there could be no new oil, gas or coal development if the world was to reach net zero by 2050, Barclays has invested $19.583 billion in fossil fuels.  Since the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, their total investment in fossil fuels is  $144.897 billion. 

Extinction Rebellion co-founder Gail Bradbrook said: “Today hundreds of people staged an intervention on Barclays, sending a message to the high street bank that with protests taking place at over 100 of their branches they are rapidly losing the social licence to do business in towns and cities of the UK. 

“It’s high time that Barclays recognised the destructive role they are playing as Europe’s largest financier of fossil fuels and changed course.” 

“We want Barclays to stop funding nature-destroying projects and more than that we want them to show leadership. We ask them to publicly denounce an economic system geared towards the destruction of the planet, we want them to admit in public what bankers tell us in private – that they aren’t changing fast enough because the current system incentivises harmful behaviour.”

Photo by Fran Haddock

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, recently warned, “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.” This summer the UK recorded its hottest-ever temperature, and there were three times the usual number of wildfires. In April Guterres indicated for the first time those he considers responsible for the worsening climate saying, “some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another. Simply put, they are lying.” 

Extinction Rebellion, along with other groups, is calling for Barclays to end all investment in fossil fuel expansion. In March 2020 Greenpeace activists shut down nearly 100 Barclays branches in protest against the bank’s continued multi-billion dollar support for fossil fuels.

But that’s not the only reason why people are upset with Barclays. They are also investing in Israel’s violent repression of the Palestinian people.

Armed violence is at the heart of Israel’s apartheid regime. Palestinians live under the threat of lethal violence and detention, home demolitions and forcible transfer, and intrusive surveillance of all areas of their lives.

Countries like the UK trade in arms with Israel, whilst corporations like Barclays invest in these weapons. Barclays provides billions of pounds worth of investment and loans to arms companies selling weapons and military technology to Israel. 

Barclays owns shares worth over £1.3 billion in companies supplying Israel with weapons used against the Palestinians. In addition, Barclays provides these companies with over £4 billion worth of loans and other financial services.

Elbit Systems is Israel’s largest private arms company. It supplies 85% of the drones used by the Israeli army. These have been used in Israel’s deadly bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip. Elbit has also been associated with the production of cluster munitions which are banned under international law. 

Sheffield’s Tadhamon Singers (which is Arabic for Solidarity)  recently went to Palestine and saw at first-hand how repressive the Israeli regime is. They sang their songs at cultural centres, in the shadow of the infamous apartheid wall, in refugee camps and at checkpoints.

Steph Howlett, a member of the group said “The impact of the illegal occupation on children was particularly distressing. The Israeli army regularly invades the refugee camps, and we saw video footage of soldiers arresting terrified children as young as 8 or 9, throwing teargas into a children’s playground with the children running in panic in all directions, and pouring into people’s houses shouting in the middle of the night, shining lights into the faces of children who are deeply traumatised by these experiences. Two members of the group witnessed an Israeli sniper shooting at children in the Aida refugee camp.

It is abhorrent to know that Barclays’ finance supports the companies making this repression possible” 

Meanwhile, Sheffield City Council has decided to continue banking with Barclays for another five years. Officers put the contract out to tender and three applications were received. Barclays won the contract by scoring highest on price and quality, despite the Council’s so-called “Ethical Procurement Policy”. This demands that suppliers committing acts of “Grave Misconduct” should be excluded. Surely fueling climate breakdown and arming the repressive regime in Israel should count as “Grave Misconduct”?

Barclays action day in Sheffield

Extinction Rebellion targeted branches of Barclays all over the country today to draw attention to the fact that they are the biggest funders of fossil fuels in Europe.

Act Now performed this sketch several times around the city. WARNING! Contains frightening graphs and language some may find offensive.

A team of “dirty scrubbers” then arrived to clean up the bank!

Climate Justice March in Sheffield for COP27

The beginning of the march.

Extinction Rebellion made plenty of noise with the Samba Band. Freya made a moving speech with her 8 year old son and Jean explained what is happening in the DRC.

Youth Strike for Climate

Chile Solidarity

Schools Climate Education South Yorkshire

Migrants Organise

Stop Burning Trees

Unison

South Yorkshire Iranian Society

Sheffield Stand up to Racism

Stop the war

Sheffield Street Band

The Green Party didn’t get to make a speech at the rally but here are their 7 demands for COP27

Destroying Ancient Forests is not renewable.

Much of the electricity you use in your house originates from Drax Power Station at Selby. It produces 6% of the country’s electricity. You’ve probably seen the six boilers, each as high as a 15-storey office block, and the main chimney which is taller than the London Eye.

Drax claims to produce renewable energy by burning wood pellets. But a recent Panorama programme found that they were actually destroying ancient forests to produce the pellets.

Panorama reporter Joe Crowley went to British Columbia in Canada, which is home to many ‘primary forests’ which are areas of the most ancient, dense woodland that stores the most carbon.

Drax’s sustainability policy says it should avoid cutting down primary forests, however, the BBC found that Drax had bid for licences to log in areas that contained primary forests.

The BBC headed to areas that meet the UN definition for primary forests and followed logs being transported from the site to Drax pellet mills to make wood pellets. The BBC said in the documentary that Drax had told them the species of trees being used wouldn’t have been wanted by the timber industry so would have been burned anyway.

Trees are replanted to offset the impact of deforestation supposedly, but ecologists said it is unlikely replanted trees could ever store as much carbon as the older trees, even when replanted.

Ecologist Michelle Connolly, who appeared in the Panorama programme, said the deforestation was “devastating” and “deeply upsetting”. She also said that British taxpayers were “funding this destruction”.

Drax Director of Sustainability Alan Knight says its pellets are made from leftover material from local sawmills and logs that are “twisted and bent” or “diseased and rotten” – wood that can’t be used for timber.

The BBC investigated the quality of the logs they found at Drax’s Canadian sites by checking Canadian log databases. There they found that many of the logs were graded as good enough for woodworking.

A protest against Drax at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Drax is the UK’s single biggest carbon emitter and receives billions of renewable subsidies to burn millions of tonnes of trees a year. It is now clear there is nothing renewable about the process, so it shouldn’t be classified as renewable energy and they shouldn’t be eligible for these subsidies. Various groups are campaigning against it, notably Biofuelwatch, Axe Drax and Stop Burning Trees.

Drax is applying for planning permission to add carbon capture infrastructure to two of its wood-burning units. 

There is little evidence that Drax has the technical ability to successfully capture large amounts of CO2, suggesting that Drax wants to obtain this planning permission in order to attract new subsidies and investments to replace their current renewable subsidies of £2.68 million per day when they expire in 2027. Ember, an energy think tank using data-driven insights to shift the world to clean energy, estimates that Drax’s Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)  will cost £31.7 billion

If the planning application is approved, Drax will continue burning trees from some of the world’s most biodiverse forests for decades to come, harming the climate and polluting communities in the process. 

The project will have serious impacts on wildlife and communities near Drax with increased traffic, constant noise and the degradation and destruction of important habitats of rare and protected species. The chemicals (amines) Drax will use in BECCS can release by-products into the atmosphere such as nitrosamines and nitramines which are probable carcinogens which can cause cancer. 

Drax claims it can become “carbon negative” by using Carbon Capture and Storage to absorb more emissions than it produces. However, this is based on the false assumption that burning wood is “carbon neutral”. In reality, it will take decades for new trees to absorb the emissions produced by burning trees. 

Drax’s planning application is reliant upon a pipeline to transport and store the carbon dioxide under the North Sea. This pipeline is not included in their current application, yet is reliant upon it. The National Grid is expected to apply for planning consent for a huge new CO2 pipeline in the North Sea near Hull, which would be connected not just with Drax but with sites operated by some of the world’s biggest fossil fuel polluters.

Nearly 300 people objected in the first stage of the planning application process.

Michael Tranter writes in an objection “The lack of knowledge in the documents provided is frightening. They’ve even avoided telling the public in any detail how they intend to put the CO2 under the sea, they’ve created a memorandum of understanding with a sub-limited company to do the transportation of the CO2 to the ocean. This avoids them having to describe in detail how they intend to transport the CO2 in these documents. Surely a large power station producing 9.6 million tons of CO2 should at least say how they intend to store it. They show us in these documents how they will use even more energy to capture the gas and then what? Nothing is said about permanent capture. It’s all pie in the sky thinking.”

Please take action! You can email your MP using the template here.(thanks to Cut Carbon Not Forests)

Community Climate Talks in Sheffield hear scientist claim that business as usual will cause 3 billion people to move over the next 50 years.

Fergus, Dr John Grant. Hazel Bober and Steph Howlett. Photo by Peter Gilbert

A guest blog by Finn Davison

On October 11th, Dr John Grant and the Sheffield branch of Extinction Rebellion held a free, open-to-all, community climate talk at Hallam University. He urged attendees to take action and get involved with activism groups such as XR.

In the wake of a never-before-seen 40 °C British summer, it is natural that many people turned up to the talk curious and concerned about what is increasingly recognised as a climate emergency.

Dr Grant, a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam on climate change, autonomous housing and urban food production, was not one to shy away from the stark realities of said emergency.

“And if you think 40 °C was brutal – and it was, people died, fires started – spare a thought for what happened in Pakistan this year, and what happened in northern Canada last year, which recorded 49 °C.”

Regardless of the recent climate-caused events, the road to Dr Grant’s involvement with XR and community-based outreach has been a matter of decades for him. 

This is where Extinction Rebellion came in, and the government didn’t. 

“I started my scientific journey on this back in 1986. In 1988, Jim Hansen, the head of NASA, was 100% confident that climate change was happening, and that we need to do something about it. From my point of view, that was it. When a top scientist at NASA says that, you don’t debate the science anymore, you just pursue the solution. So, that’s what I did.”

However, expecting to compete against the sort of resources oil and gas companies have, who spend “$100 million dollars a day on their activities” has left him feeling somewhat dejected, having “foolishly for 20 years believed that all I needed to do was to get the science right, tell people the science, people would understand, and then they’d go ‘alright what do we do?’”

“So, here I am, 30 years along my journey of starting to study this. And I remember in 1992 when everyone agreed that greenhouse gasses were serious, and we should do something about it. But since that time, the amount of carbon humans have put in the atmosphere has doubled. That is not taking this seriously.”

“Our governments are confused, distracted, and quite honestly, in many cases paid for by these large corporations … I honestly think many people within our political system want to do something about this, they just can’t see because the system is created to maintain stability. It is created to not allow change.”

“Extinction Rebellion showed me that direct action can break those chains around government, so they can blame us for having to change to make things better.”

And blaming them they are. Recent moves by Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, to limit protesting rights and harsher penalties for activism groups such as Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion could hinder pressure on the government to make changes or take it seriously. Such as in 2019 when Extinction Rebellion and other groups amassed 10,000 people in London for protests that eventually resulted in Parliament declaring a climate emergency. 

Dr Grant, who was present at the 2019 march in London, remembers: “I was for the first time in my life on the wrong side of a police line. It was the most terrifying and uplifting experience of my life, without a doubt.”

The next ambitious plan is to repeat this, but with a much larger number of people. More people will equal more action. Hopefully. But it is difficult to be heard through a cacophony of crises in the face of adversity, a cost of living crisis, an energy crisis, and a war. 

Being heard looks like one of the biggest challenges yet. But if successful can make people realise that “we are not extreme, we want to give people that voice, we want to protect this planet and the residents of it.” 

Part of their plan is “mobilising this project called ‘3.5’. Because it turns out when you reach 3.5% of a population that is looking for a change, you have a very good chance.”

These figures can be alluring to someone like Dr Grant, who describes himself as: “still a scientist, I still work to the solutions for this. I also believe now, we have to show people around us that it is an emergency and as such we must act like it’s an emergency. So, writing papers at my university that imply business as usual isn’t acceptable. And it isn’t.”

“Business as usual”, as described by Dr Grant, will result in “3 billion people moving over the next 50 years” – a grim reality.

But he’s begrudgingly hopeful that “we have a window to secure this future, but this window is shutting fast. So, we have to go for the big win now, we have to get the government to get their act together somehow. We need ambitious strategies that include renewable energy and reducing the amount of energy we consume as a society. We do have the solutions – this is not a technical problem, this is a problem of action.”

If you would like to take action, contact the local Extinction Rebellion group online.

Angry conservation groups accuse Government of “War on Nature”

Liz Truss’ Government has not started well. Not only have they deepened the cost of living crisis, uniting campaigners from Trade Unions and pressure groups in the Enough is Enough movement, but they have also upset much more conservative, conservation and wildlife groups who have got together to fight what they have called the War on Nature. 

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds protect habitats and saves species. But the Governments’ new policies have made them angry. They have 1.2 million members. That’s more than all the political parties put together.

They say “The new UK Government has launched an unprecedented attack on nature and the laws that protect it. We need to defend our vulnerable and vital wild places, now.” Already over 104,000 supporters have contacted their MP. 

This September, the Government launched a three-pronged attack on nature.  

First, they set out details of plans to amend or scrap crucial environmental laws. These include the Habitat Regulations which protect some of our most vulnerable wildlife and green places. They also defend our clean water, clean air, clean beaches and rivers.

Then the Government announced further plans to create at least 38 ‘Investment Zones’ in England which will trash planning rules – meaning housing and commercial developments could be incentivised to damage nature with little or no restriction. The Government also wants to deliver these Investment Zones across Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 

Thirdly the Government is set to scrap a vital scheme that would have supported our farmers and landowners to enhance nature, create space for rare species and habitats, and use the land to absorb carbon. This is vital for preserving the ecosystems that support life, fundamental to our long-term food security. Many farmers want to protect nature but they aren’t paid for the work they do for it. We won’t recover threatened species without them.

One of these actions would be a disaster. Taken together, in quick succession, with no debate or scrutiny, is an attack on nature. 

 The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries on the planet. Our remaining wildlife is struggling – with over 40% of our species in decline. Globally, we’re about to commit to 30% of the world being looked after for nature by 2030. But actions speak louder than words. These plans will be a huge step in the wrong direction.

The environment isn’t an optional extra we can think about later – it is what our lives, our very survival, depend on.

RSPB Old Moor light festival. Photo Graham Wroe

The government have responded to the RSPB’s concerns by calling them a “marketing strategy”. Derek Thomas, the Conservative MP for St Ives, accused the bird charity of spreading “untrue allegations” in order to boost its mailing lists.

But it is not just the RSPB that is upset. The National Trust, one of the most conservative (with a little c) organisations in the country, is also fuming! They have nearly 6 million members! 

They write “Speaking up for nature is particularly important at a time when the Government is moving towards an expansion of fossil fuel extraction, instead of prioritising a rapid shift to renewables and a drive towards energy efficiency. And over the last week, the National Trust, like many other conservation charities, has been speaking out against the UK Government’s growth plans which could threaten vital protections for nature – our very life support system – just when we need it most.”

In a joint statement, Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust, Beccy Speight, Chief Executive Officer at RSPB and Tanya Steele, Chief Executive of WWF UK, said: ‘This government, elected on their greenest ever manifesto, is now contemplating breaking its promises on vital protections for the UK’s nature, risking catastrophic consequences. From abandoning fundamental legal protections for wildlife to failing farmers committed to sustainable agriculture, this would be an attack on nature at the worst possible time.

But that’s not all! The Wildlife Trusts are also speaking out against the war on nature. They say we “have significant concerns about the impact these Investment Zone sites will have.”  

These zones could see the loss of nationally and internationally protected wildlife sites. Applicants may be able to develop on National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and Green Belt.  

 Pursuing unsustainable development on some of our most important sites for nature must not be tolerated. We must not allow the wilful devastation of our natural world.

Government should be focused on restoring and expanding wild places for nature, climate and future generations – but instead, it appears intent on destruction. 

We should also consider the lifting of the ban on fracking, the failure of the water companies to stop sewage polluting our rivers and seas and illegal levels of air pollution in our cities. The Tories are increasing drilling for gas in the North Sea, increasing our impact on climate breakdown. 

The RSPB, National Trust and Wildlife Trusts are urging members to contact their MPs to insist they protect nature. Please visit their websites and support their campaigns. As well as U turning on the 45p tax rate, Liz Truss must see sense and reverse the war on nature. Otherwise, she faces the wrath of middle England!

Tree-sistance (a rough guide to NVDA)

Last night I was privileged to attend the premiere of the new film Tree-sistance (a rough guide to Non Violent Direct Action) by Graeme Benson.

If you look very hard you will see me in the trailer marshalling a protest! But why do we need another tree film when we already have The Felling? They are very different.  The Felling concentrates mainly on the action on the streets, but Tree-sistance tells the broader story of the debates and protests at the Town Hall and the various court cases and looks at the risks and sacrifices the campaigners made to save trees with revealing personal interviews. To their shame, none of the Labour Councillors took part in the film, despite various requests for interviews, but they appear in videos from Full Council meetings and in reconstructions with avatars. They may not be very impressed with the likeness these avatars presented! (does my bum look big in this?!) The film also includes excellent comments from celebrities such as Chris Packham and Jonathan Porritt.

The front cover of the Tree-sistance programme

Graeme writes in the programme: “I came to the following conclusion. People are permanently not available for comment for these reasons.

  1. They have something to hide.
  2. They feel bloody guilty about it.

   3. They are in a process of denial.

   4. If you have got nothing to hide, you’re not afraid to talk on camera at some point.

Tree protestors talked to me. The Council didn’t. QED!”

I enjoyed the use of dance to punctuate the film. The dancers Fred and Ginger suggest the campaigners were leading the Council a bit of a dance, but also satirise everything that’s gone on before.

One of my favourite parts of the film was when the Labour Lord Mayor expelled Councillor Alison Teal from a Full Council meeting because she had accused Councillor Bryan Lodge of misleading the public over the use of Flexipave. This led to a walkout of all the opposition Councillors! Of course, her comments have been shown to be true.   

There were a few inaccuracies in the film, such as Cllr Rob Murphy being misnamed, but overall it is a brilliant record of the highlights of the campaign from November 2016 to 2022, presented in an entertaining and occasionally laugh-out-loud way. 

The film is timely as next week sees the beginning of the Street Tree Inquiry.  This is a result of Sheffield Green Parties’ negotiations with Labour to jointly form an administration when Labour lost overall control of the Counci in 2021. Chaired independently by Sir Mark Lowcock. The goals of the Inquiry are  

a) To support the ongoing recovery in Sheffield from the dispute 

b) To draw conclusions and make recommendations designed to help minimise the risk of the dispute re-emerging in future. 

In establishing the Inquiry, the Council has referred to a need for “truth and reconciliation”. The process will be transparent, so you can watch live streams or videos of the evidence given later.  I hope Sir Mark will be taking the time to watch Tree-sistance!

 Righting Climate Wrongs

A guest blog by Oliver Blensdorf

Photo: Heinrich Böll Stiftung Washington, DC (CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0)

As of last week, in Pakistan, one-third of districts have had to declare flood emergencies, leaving at least 10% of Pakistan’s land area actually under water.  That’s equivalent to one-third of all the land in the whole United Kingdom.  And Pakistan is not alone in such devastating experiences, as climate change takes increasingly destructive effect around the world.

If that one-third of UK land was suddenly swamped by flood water, how much would it cost simply to reinstate all the destroyed homes, roads, shops,  businesses, and all the other inevitable physical damage?  And of course it’s not just about land and buildings.  Already in Pakistan, over 1,000 people have lost their lives, and at least 33 million people have been displaced from their homes. 

Estimates so far put the damage to Pakistan’s economy at around $10 billion.   Pakistan’s total tax revenue for this year will be about $17.7 billion.  But  $12.5 billion of this will be swallowed up in repayments and interest on foreign debts.  That leaves very little, even just for education, health, and generally keeping the country functioning. 

On top of that, for the past twenty years, Pakistan has consistently ranked among the top ten most vulnerable countries in the Global Climate Risk Index.  Yet Pakistan is responsible for less than 0.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions to date, whereas the UK is responsible for around 7.5%, and the rich countries together are responsible for more than two-thirds.

But as well as burning fossil fuels, the North’s two centuries of industrialisation needed huge amounts of materials and labour, and the cheaper the better.  For example, how did Britain, a small island off the north-west coast of Europe, come to dominate so much of the world by the end of the nineteenth century? 

It used its naval and military strength to invade and take control of dozens of countries in the Global South:  the British Empire.  It seized and sold their natural resources:  from Africa even people, as slaves.  It turned their agriculture over to cash crops, including food, for cheap imports back to Britain:  even throughout The Great Famine of 1876–78 in India.  And it even destroyed competing industries:  such as India’s pre-colonial world-dominating textiles industry.

And since the official colonial era, the rich North has found a new method of keeping its colonial-style exploitation going – debt-relief packages… with conditions!   Turn your economy over to prioritising debt repayments. Raise your taxes.  Slash your public spending on schools, hospitals, infrastructure and industry-building, and your subsidies for affordable food. 

Turn your farming and forestry over to cash crops for export in order to earn dollars or sterling, because nobody wants repayments in your local currency.  And attract rich-country foreign investors by removing your tariffs on their exports and allowing them to take their profits home.

Result?   Very many Global South countries now have, in effect, zero money even to repair destroyed roads, or to feed, heal and rehouse their suffering people, in the aftermath of hurricanes, floods, droughts or crop failures – let alone the money to invest in resilience measures against future climate-induced disasters.

In other words, the North now owes a huge unpaid and still growing debt to the South – economic debt, climate debt, and simple moral obligation.

Part of this obligation now has a name, “loss and damage”.  Loss means what is destroyed for ever, damage means what can still be repaired.  The principle was first formally recognised at the United Nations as long ago as 2007. 

But for the people of the Global South, covering loss and damage is just one element of the North’s debts to the South, and does nothing to break the endless cycle of impoverishment and exploitation.  That will require, for instance, an end to extractivism, the cancellation and ending of unaffordable debt, and patent-free transfers of energy-transition and other vital technologies.

Meanwhile, though, at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year, the countries of the Global South did put a proposal on the agenda to set up a financial facility for climate-related loss and damage, but instead of being addressed it was promptly kicked into the agenda for COP27 in Egypt later this year. 

To their shame, the UK government is one of those still trying to block the proposal.  This is unacceptable.  So on Thursday 22nd September a Loss and Damage Action Day across the country is being held jointly by Global Justice Now, War On Want, Make Polluters Pay, a coalition of faith groups, and many others.  All are inviting members of the public to show their support by joining in, and by signing the petition to the UK government. 

One local example is Rotherham for Global Justice, whose members will be holding a banner outside the West window of the Minster, on Corporation Street, from noon.  And wherever you live, please sign the petition on the Global Justice Now website. https://act.globaljustice.org.uk/tell-rich-countries-pay-their-climate-damages.

Also in Sheffield meet at the Town Hall steps at 11.00 am, with banners and placards, primarily for a photoshoot and a speech  and then concentrate on engaging with passers-by, focused on getting signatures for the petition and encouraging interest in the GJN leaflet, for as long as seems productive. Then move to the lower end of The Moor (the Sainsbury’s area), probably by 12.00, and continue collecting petition signatures until 2.00 pm.

The historically-exploited and increasingly climate-devastated countries like Pakistan now need our solidarity in demanding that, at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt this November, a sufficient loss and damage fund will finally be set up, as an emergency down-payment on the North’s enormous debt to the South.

Please watch this excellent video on Loss and Damage from Stamp out Poverty.