Citizen’s Assemblies

Citizen’s Assemblies are in the news. Boris Johnson has set the wheels in motion for a Citizen’s Assembly on the Climate Emergency. Sheffield City Council have also promised to instigate one to help advise the Council on the difficult decisions they will have to make to meet their goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. This is a result of the campaigning of Extinction Rebellion who are demanding Citizen’s Assemblies to find sensible ways to tackle the climate emergency. When I first heard about them, I was sceptical. But the more I have read about them the more convinced I am that they are an important tool to help Governments make difficult decisions. Maybe if they had been used in the Brexit debate it could have avoided so much of the strife, we have experienced over the last 3 years.

So, what is a Citizen’s Assembly?

Citizens’ assemblies are a form of participative democracy – a process in which ordinary people make political decisions. They have been used in Australia, Belgium, Canada, India, Ireland, Poland and the UK. In a citizens’ assembly, a group of randomly selected members of the public reflect on an issue of public concern. The aim is to bring together a cross-section of society. Participants hear from experts and stakeholders, ask questions, deliberate on policy options and make recommendations that shape government policy.

The process of selecting an assembly is a bit like selecting a jury. The assembly organisers use quotas to ensure that it is inclusive in terms of, for example, gender, age, ethno-cultural heritage, education level, sexual orientation, disability and geography. Once members have been selected, the process includes four key phases: listening, learning, deliberating and deciding.

Successive UK governments have failed to respond to the growing crisis of climate change since it became a matter of public concern over 30 years ago.  The electoral cycle discourages governments from tackling long-term issues like climate breakdown. MP’s are lobbied by oil corporations, need good media coverage and choose their policies based on opinion polls. Politicians feel unable to propose the bold changes necessary to address the emergency.

A citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice will inform politicians of decisions that have been reached in a fair and informed way. This will help politicians commit to a transformative programme of action justified by the mandate they receive from the citizens’ assembly, reducing the potential public backlash at the ballot-box.  Citizens’ assemblies are fair and transparent. Assembly members have an equal chance of being heard due to careful facilitation. All the information and materials given to the assembly members is shared publicly. This produces informed and democratically legitimate judgements. 

Citizen’s Assemblies have worked well in Ireland. They have been used to break political deadlock on hot potatoes such as abortion, same-sex marriage and climate change. The assembly was a key factor in emboldening politicians to step up their response to the climate emergency. In 2018, an all-party parliamentary committee was established to consider the assembly’s recommendations. The committee’s report then influenced the Irish Government’s Climate Action Plan, published in June 2019, which incorporated many of the assembly’s recommendations and undertook to quadruple carbon tax and accelerate the transition to electric vehicles.

On November 2nd the UK Government announced a Citizen’s Assembly on the Climate Emergency. However, there are many problems with the proposal. It will only be addressing how to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Waiting 30 years to reach zero net carbon emissions is a death sentence to people around the world and in the UK – it gives us a higher chance of hitting irreversible tipping points as the climate breaks down. The members of the Citizens’ Assembly must be presented with evidence as to why 2050 is inadequate. Currently, we’re on track for 4-6 degrees of warming, possibly within this century. Last time the planet warmed by 5 degrees, 96% of sea life died.

This Citizens’ Assembly is only advisory, so the Government is free to ignore the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly. It needs more teeth!

The Citizens Assembly must be based on climate and ecological justice. Poorer countries and people who are not well off in the UK must not be made to bear the costs of change.

It is ridiculous that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is not involved, apparently, they were not interested in participating.

Will there be a debate on the Assembly’s decisions? Will the new Government commit to implementing the Citizens’ Assemblies recommendations? There are so many unanswered questions.

Meanwhile in Sheffield we are still waiting for an announcement on a local Citizen’s Assembly from the Council.

What is clear is that the nonviolent direct action of Extinction Rebellion is forcing politicians of all parties to bring the climate crisis higher up the political agenda.

Download a Guide to Citizen’s Assemblies here.

Telegraph column

Flood prevention before flood defence

As Sheffield breathes a collective sigh of relief that the new flood defences along the Don mainly held back the torrents, communities further along the river are not so lucky.  The barriers pushed the problem further downstream, so now the unfortunate residents of Fishlake and others around Doncaster and Rotherham have been forced to leave their flooded homes.

Flood at Fishlake near Doncaster, November 2019

Climate scientists have long been predicting more extreme weather at more frequent intervals. South Yorkshire is now acutely aware of what it means to be in a climate emergency. The science is simple.  As the atmosphere gets warmer it holds more moisture. The intensity of downpours depends in part on how much water the air can hold. The rate of evaporation from the ocean is increasing as the world warms. Think about heating a pan of water on your cooker – the higher you turn the dial, the faster the water evaporates. The same thing happens with the planet, and globally, this higher rate of evaporation contributes to more extreme rain.

The planet is continuing to heat up at frightening speed. Here are some recent records.

1.         hottest June ever: 2019 

2.         hottest July ever: 2019

3.         hottest August ever: 2016

4.         hottest September ever: 2019

5.         hottest October ever: 2019

6.         hottest summer ever: 2019

7.         world record hottest month: July 2019

It will be no comfort to the people of Fishlake that people all over the worldhave been suffering from extreme weather.

In Australia they are experiencing their worst ever bushfires.

Fourteen Southern US states are in a “flash drought” that’s cracking farm soil, drying up ponds and increasing the risk of wildfires. A flash drought is the rapid onset of drought driven by abnormally high temperatures and winds as opposed to conventional drought, which is mainly driven by lack of rain.

In North and North East India floods forced more than three million people from their homes in July. In Nepal and low-lying Bangladesh 76 people died after days of heavy monsoon rains. Worst affected was the northern Indian state of Bihar, where some 1.9 million people fled their homes due to rising waters.

But things will get worse. A terrifying interactive map4 is doing the rounds on Twitter showing how the seas will rise as the climate continues to heat. The map reproduced here shows the areas with a 20% annual chance of flooding by 2050 if we continue to pollute our planet. This is not scare-mongering, but a scientific paper published in October 2019 by Climate Central. The authors state that “As a result of heat-trapping pollution from human activities, by 2100, areas now home to 200 million people could fall permanently below the high tide line”

Map of Humberside and South Yorkshire showing areas with a 20% chance of annual flooding by 2050 if we continue with business as usual.

So what are we to do? We need to treat this as an emergency and implement rapid ways to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to zero.  We need to start mopping up some of the excess carbon in our atmosphere by planting trillions of trees.

To reduce the threat of flooding in Sheffield, the first thing we need to consider is what happens to rainfall when it falls on the moors? We can learn from the town of Pickering, where people have worked with nature and not against it. Pickering is at the bottom of a deep gorge and was flooded four times between 1999 and 2007. Experts advised them to build a £20m concrete wall through the centre of town to keep the water in the river. But this wasn’t allowed as a cost benefit analysis showed that too few people would be protected. But then a local environmentalist explained how the moors had traditionally released rainwater much more slowly, and that centuries ago, monks at nearby Byland Abbey had built a bund (embankment) to hold it back. Eventually academics, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission got behind the scheme.

In the streams above the town they built 167 leaky dams of logs and branches which let normal flows through but restrict and slow down high ones. They also used bales of heather to slow the flow in smaller drains and gullies and planted 29 hectares of woodland. They built an embankment, to store floodwater, releasing it slowly through a culvert. 

The scheme appears to be working well.  The total cost was around £2m, a 10th that of the proposed wall. It may not cope with future massive storms, but it is a good first defence.

Currently the moors around Sheffield are managed for grouse shooting. They are burnt and drained to maintain the heather, the ideal habitat for grouse, who are then shot for sport. Instead we should be managing the landscape to maximise flood prevention, carbon absorption and biodiversity. Flood prevention should be considered before flood defences (though these may be needed too). The need for flood prevention should trump landowner’s requirement for shooting profits.

Graham Wroe

The Truth about Coral Reefs

Once again, the Star prints a letter full of completely unscientific nonsense from Neville Martin. It is the environmental equivalent of someone claiming the holocaust didn’t happen. I really don’t know why you print such drivel.

The truth about coral reefs is as follows.

Half the world’s coral reefs have already been killed by climate change.   The water is getting hotter so the algae that the coral feeds on can’t survive. The coral then starves to death.

We are making it happen.

The threats to coral reefs are caused by humans. Around a quarter of all the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere since the 1980s—from driving cars, running factories and producing electricity with fossil fuels—has been absorbed by the oceans, making them more acidic. As the planet warmed, the oceans warmed more quickly, absorbing 90% of the excess heat. A report released this year by the UN-based Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warned that damage to the oceans is accelerating and maybe at the point of irreversibility.

As well as climate change, overfishing and destructive fishing practices such as the use of explosives and cyanide poison are damaging, as are pesticide and fertiliser run-off and pollution from the land. The Great Barrier Reef is already more than 90% bleached. The death of coral reefs is not just an environmental disaster, it is also a human disaster. The loss of fishing leads to food shortages and poverty. The loss of tourism further impoverishes a country. The coast becomes more vulnerable to violent storms and flooding. To save the coral reefs the world needs to stop burning oil, coal and gas now. We have the technology to do that, but not yet the political will from Governments, who tend to be friends with the fossil fuel barons. But as Greta Thunberg says “Change is coming whether you like it or not.”

Yours faithfully

Graham Wroe

References

https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2019-coral-reefs-at-risk/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/08/explore-atlas-great-barrier-reef-coral-bleaching-map-climate-change/

https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/whats-killing-coral-reefs-and-how-can-we-stop-it/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cyanide-fishing/

dav

The “expert” Mr Martin quotes, Peter Ridd has very strong connections with the coal industry and marine dredging. You can find a full debunking of him here.

Are the criticisms of Extinction Rebellion justified?

Since my last article 30,000 people went to London to rebel and 1500 were arrested for peacefully protesting about the climate and ecological crisis. About 20 arrestees were from Sheffield. Co-leader of the Green Party Jonathan Bartley and author George Monbiot were also arrested. People rebelled in many different and dramatic ways. Grandparents marched and mothers sat in the street and fed their babies to protest about Google. A Rabbi was arrested while praying at the Bank of England, a couple got married on Westminster Bridge, a pink octopus was kettled by the police and the children sang a moving SOS song. Farmers brought a pink tractor and a man climbed on top of a plane. Mr. Broccoli, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daisy Lowe and 100 other celebrities declared themselves as hypocrites. A thousand scientists educated the public and Massive Attack turned up with their mobile sound system. More than 400 MPs picked up a tree to plant, a man climbed up Big Ben, and more than 20,000 people came together for a grief march to mourn lives already lost to climate change.

There were similar actions in cities all over the world. Although most of the protests received little media coverage the activists have received much criticism. Is that criticism justified?

You’re uncooperative crusties” said the Prime Minister! When someone resorts to name calling you know they have lost the argument. He has nothing sensible to contribute to the debate and has made no attempt to act on the crisis. He tried to slur the rebels by saying they live in “hemp-smelling bivouacs”, even though there is a strict no drugs or alcohol policy at XR protests.

“Go and protest in China!” said the anonymous comment on Facebook. “They are causing all the emissions”. It is true that carbon emissions have grown faster in China, they now produce roughly 30% of the world’s emissions. But much of this pollution is created to manufacture goods that we import: £45.4 billion worth last year. All the emissions associated with these goods are blamed on China, but it is us who enjoy consuming them! Meanwhile President Xi has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into renewable energy. As someone who hasn’t flown for 30 years, I’m not going to ruin my carbon footprint to go and protest there! Many XR protestors did risk their liberty in countries without good human rights records, including Russia where there were 3 arrests.

If XR did protest in China, they would face severe penalties. People don’t realise that in many countries where people are standing up to big business or Government to protect their environment this results in murder. Earth protectors are being killed at a rate of 4 every week.  1,558 people in 50 countries were killed between 2002 and 2017 trying to protect their land, water or local wildlife. At XR’s moving event in Tudor Square the names of eco-martyrs were read as volunteers representing them fell in the fake blood that had been poured on the ground.

Tell the Truth
Tell the Truth

We are fortunate to live in a democracy where protest is allowed but even this is now threatened.  Last week XR protests were banned all over London in a worrying attack on human rights.

“You’re all hypocrites!” says the tweet. “You are always using your phones and I bet you drove to the demo!” Well I’ve never seen an XR supporter drive to a demo, but yes of course we are all hypocrites. It is impossible to live a perfectly green lifestyle. It is too late for the blame game. We must acknowledge that to save us from the totally catastrophic outcomes of the “hot house earth” scenario, we need complete system change, led by Governments. They have the power to change the laws and make the investments necessary so that everyone chooses to do the right thing for the environment. Unfortunately, our Government are more interested in expanding airports, widening roads, building HS2 and blindly encouraging economic growth no matter what damage this is doing to our life support systems.

“You’re right, but your methods are wrong!” says Mr Angry Passer-by. In one case I agree.  XR should not be disrupting the tube system. The events at Canning Town were foolhardy and not supported by most XR supporters. I hope lessons have been learnt so similar actions won’t be repeated.

“Your claims are exaggerated; 6 billion people won’t die!”  says the BBC’s More or Less programme. This refers to a quote from Roger Hallam who was talking about the existential threat we could face by 2100. But John Schellnhuber, leading climate scientist and advisor to the Pope, Angela Merkel and the EU, thinks we have a less than 50% chance of avoiding an existential crisis and that could come quite quickly. In other words, a planet where crops have failed, cities are underwater, law and order has broken down and civilisation has collapsed is a real possibility if we don’t act globally now to stop it.

No one in XR wants to be disruptive, but for everyone’s sake Governments must be persuaded to act now.  For 30 years I have tried petitions, lobbies, marches, boycotts and even standing in elections but they have not worked. XR must be peaceful, as this is the moral thing to do, and research shows it is more successful than using violence. XR’s disruptive methods have pushed the climate crisis to the top of the agenda. They are winning debates on tv and getting coverage in the press. People now must choose, either extinction, or rebellion!

Graham Wroe October 20th 2019

Full Council Meeting October 2019

Council Webcast. Scroll to 1.29 for the relevant section

In the video you will see questions being posed to Sheffield City Council concerning the climate and ecological emergency and biodiversity. The questions were answered by Cllr Mark Jones who is the cabinet member responsible for the environment. He later sent a much more detailed response, which follows. It is a long read so I have summarised it here, with my comments in bold.

  1. Council policy is to become Carbon Neutral by 2030. Good! But XR demands 2025 to allow for equity for poorer nations.
  2. There are currently 4.4m trees in Sheffield. Some estimates say this needs to be doubled in order to sequester Carbon. Council are looking for tree planting sites. No actual commitment here yet.
  • Admission that far more work is needed on energy production/industry.
  • Housing important. Desire for all homes to be energy efficient and produce their own power.(no real commitment)
  • Carbon emissions to be measured using Govt data on energy use and reported annually on website.
  • Since the Climate Emergency was announced in Feb the council has
  • Produced a Carbon Budget (but it does not explain what policies are needed to achieve it)
  • Had a Full Council meeting to debate this
  • Experimented with dimming street lights in 3 areas
  • Introduced electric bin lorries
  • Held a consultation on the Clean Air Zone (which is controversial as it does nothing to persuade private car drivers not to enter the city centre) The Climate Alliance are broadly in favour of it but the Green Party have said it should include private cars.
  • Purchased electricity that is 100% renewable. Good
  • Explored opportunities to reduce Council emissions and generate own electricity (no real commitments)
  • Committed not to widen roads unless this improves active/public transport (this is their claim for widening the ring road which was not necessary)
  • Committed to holding a Citizen’s Assembly on how to further reduce emissions. (no date committed to yet)
  • Considering expanding district heating network. (which is powered by burning rubbish producing lots of CO2)
  • Proposing Carbon Literacy training for Council Staff (Good- but no commitment as to when this will start.)
  • Proposing Carbon Impact Assessment scheme to accompany all new policy. (Good, but how much influence will the CIA have on the decisions of Councillors?)
  • An investment proposal has been made to secure resources to implement policies.
  • Currently working on Citizens Assembly with plans to launch this “soon”. (when?)
  • Considering mass mailing to public to communicate about Citizen’s Assembly.
  • Some roadside verges are being left to grow to encourage biodiversity. This could expand. (when?)
  • Denial that Glyphosate is dangerous-but workers should wear safety equipment.(you have not read the science!)
  • No plans to reduce Glyphosate usage. Trials of alternatives have not been successful. (where is the evidence for this?)Labour Green New Deal could eventually produce conditions to make hand removal of weeds affordable. (Good, but biodiversity loss isn’t waiting for a Labour Govt!)

So the Council have made limited progress, but they are certainly not yet acting “as if their house is on fire!” This is an emergency and we need rapid solutions and commitments.

Here is the response in full

Dear Graham, Geoff, Rachel and Nathan,

Thank you for your questions at Full Council. Please accept my apologies for not getting these responses to you sooner. I’m not at all sure that my answers are quite all they should be, but I didn’t want to delay in sending them any longer. It goes without saying that the answers are not a ‘final’ word or position on these many matters. I am always happy to consider what we can do next and would be more than happy to discuss any alternate answers/views that you may have.

I’ve broken the answers up to address the many questions directly. I hope that is okay?

Answers to Geoff’s questions:

  1. Please, can you confirm that the City Council’s target is to become zero carbon by 2030?

To help set the scene, I’ve included the following note regarding June 2019 Full Council statement from Cllr Dagnall, my predecessor:

Following Full Council in June, Cllr Dagnall (then Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change) issued the following press statement;

‘As a city we came together in February to declare a climate emergency and we have been working with the Green City Partnership to work out our next steps. I am delighted to be able to announce today that we will be committing the city to a minimum of 2030 as our carbon neutral target.’

I am mindful that ‘zero carbon’ and ‘carbon neutral’ are not one and the same thing. If ‘zero carbon’ means that Sheffield would emit no carbon by 2030 then I do not feel that this is an achievable goal. I do however feel that we can become ‘carbon neutral’, that is I believe that we can through our collective efforts, both physical and intellectual achieve a position where Sheffield can off-set/sequester and carbon emissions that we produce.

We would have to look to increase the number of trees we have in Sheffield. I think that currently we have c4.4 million trees in Sheffield. Some estimates suggest that we would need to double this number of trees to sequester enough carbon. I am already exploring how and where we can plant significantly more trees across Sheffield.

With regards the capturing and recycling carbon from energy production and other industrial activities we will need to significantly expand our technological capacity. I have held brief conversations with others. Unfortunately, I do not feel that we are anywhere near where we need to be yet.

We will also need to push forward significantly on new house building standards and retrofitting of existing housing stock. Plans were in place for a significant shift in building standards. Unfortunately, the collision government and minority Conservative government delayed, delayed and the binned those proposals.

I will be looking for increased build standards and sustainability measures to be included in the any local plan that will come forward. We must make all homes as efficient as possible, and I feel we should be looking to make all homes power stations, producing energy to fuel our city, not just power our homes.

  1. How do you plan to measure the reduction in carbon emissions each year?

The Council expects that it will use energy consumption and carbon emissions data which is collected annually by the Government.  This was the source of the data for the Sheffield Carbon budget report, produced by the Tyndall Centre for the City early this year. However, the Council will be considering the most appropriate and suitable approach for Sheffield as part of its work to develop a carbon neutral plan for the city.

We are exploring who else we can work with to identify carbon emission measures, either by direct measure of energy consumed or possibly proxy/correlative measures such as air quality and particulate density which could help in inferring carbon consumption through waste product production.

  1. How will this be reported to the public?

The Council are exploring a number of options in order to enable the city’s carbon emissions to be reported on an annual basis. I would have expected that we would publish our data on our website as an early step. However, I expect more responsive and accessible reporting systems to come forward over time. I feel that this would be one of several issues that a citizens assemble could be tasked with addressing.

Answers to Nathan’s questions:

  1. What progress has been made since you announced the Climate Emergency in February to reduce carbon emissions?

Since February 2019 and the declaration of a climate emergency, the Council has progressed a number of initiatives which will contribute to reduce carbon emissions;

  • Engaged the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change to produce a carbon budget for the city.
  • Held a special Full Council meeting in July to discuss the Tyndall Centre’s report ‘A Carbon budget for Sheffield’.
  • Light dimming trial – Over the last month the Council has been trialling dimming of streetlights in three parts of the city. During the period, lighting levels were reduced by up to 14%, which will help to reduce the amount of energy consumed and carbon dioxide emitted. I am currently exploring the feedback from the consultation on these streetlight-dimming trials and anticipate being able to announce additional measures in relation to streetlighting shortly.
  • Electric bin lorries – Sheffield is one of the first UK cities to trail the use of electric bin lorries. The vehicles have been retrofitted with electric drive systems designed and manufactured in Sheffield and use electricity that is generated by the waste they collect. The re-powered lorries produce zero carbon emissions and no air pollution.
  • Clean air – Held a substantial consultation on the proposals to implement a Clean Air Zone in the city.  As well as delivering cleaner air, the CAZ and associated programme will increase the number electric vehicles in the city significantly, with a resultant decrease in vehicle carbon emissions.
  • Purchase electricity from 100% renewable sources for all Council buildings
  • The Council is continuing to explore the opportunities to reduce its own direct carbon emissions, as well as generate low or zero carbon energy.
  • We have committed to undertake no road-widening schemes that are not aimed at improving active transport/mass transport capacity.
  • It will be using the Climate Citizens Assembly to work with people from across the city to develop approaches to reduce city-wide emissions, as the Tyndall Centre report noted that reductions are required from across all sectors of our city in order to achieve our 2030 zero carbon city goal.

I can assure you that there are additional measures currently being explored from increasing heat storage and expansion of the district heating network. A network that remains an extremely efficient way of heating homes.

I am currently establishing a Carbon Impact Assessment scheme that will go with all council decisions. This is intended to focus minds not just on how we do business, but how we can do it better. And always in terms of carbon expenditure. This will be a stepped process which will initially focus on Carbon Literacy training throughout the council. In the medium term we will need to increase capability within the council so that we can better evaluate and predict the ‘carbon cost’ of all future council activities.

  1. What financial resources have been allocated to reduce the carbon budget by the 14% required by the Tyndall Report this financial year?  Given the likely target reduction shortfall this year what additional financial resources will be made available to catch up next financial year?

An investment proposal (mandate) has been produced and is awaiting approval to secure resources. This is a significant spending commitment, which given the austerity that the council has faced is one not taken lightly. However, I wholly accept that we must invest now if we are have any chance of delivering carbon neutrality by 2030.

  1. When will the first Citizen’s Assembly take place to advise the Council on how to reduce emissions?

The Council is considering the most effective approach and is exploring how other Local Authorities are progressed assemblies which is helping inform the development of our approach.  A start date for the first assembly has not been confirmed, but this is expected in due course.  The Council wants to ensure that the process is fair and equitable and considers the evidence in a full and comprehensive manner.

I am determined that letters will soon be going our to invite citizens to participate in the Citizens Assemblies. Establishing a panel will take some time but we can use this lead/lag period to further establish the parameters for the citizens assembly to ensure we can be up and running as soon as it practically possible.

  •  Getting the public on board is crucial – rapid and significant changes to our society cannot be done by stealth. Why has the council produced no publicly visible (ie beyond a page buried in SCC website) information on the climate emergency, or communicated the danger to life facing people around the world and in Sheffield? What plans does it have to do so?

The Council is considering the most effective approach as part of our wider climate communications strategy.  This will be closely linked to the citizens assembly, and full consideration will need to be given to how we engage with all of our residents and communities, as well as our businesses and other city institutions.

We have received a proposal for a mass mailing to all households outlining what we are hoping that the citizens assembly will deliver, and explaining why we feel that climate change is such an emergency.

Answer to Rachel’s question:

  1. Why aren’t roadsides and verges in our city being left alone wherever possible to allow wildflowers to grow? We have less than a fifth of our winged insects and pollinators left – without them, humans will die. In Amsterdam, an effort to leave verges untouched resulted in a 43% increase in bees. Why are we not taking this strikingly simple and costless action to preserve life?

This already happens – as part of the changes to the Streets Ahead contract implemented in April 2018, around 712,000m2 of rural verges and a further 442,000m2 of grass verges along main roads and arterial routes were all moved onto to a single annual cut programme in the autumn (with the exception of sight lines at junctions) to allow wild flora and fauna to thrive on roadside verges. This project was undertaken in conjunction with Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust and Sheffield University.

I would like to see if we can expand the number of vergers that can be seeded to increase biodiversity and allow for a comprehensive network to be established that can support wild-life movement into and throughout our city. By increasing connectivity of existing ‘bio-reserves’ I would hope that we can engineer a system that builds resilience into the existence of these wild-life friendly environments.

Answer to Graham’s questions:

  1. Why don’t the workers spraying our streets with dangerous Glyphosate wear protective gear?

All staff are issued with the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment as detailed on the label requirements and COSHH assessments for the use of glyphosate. However, if workers are not wearing this equipment then we must address this issue. Any help in identifying abuses of the wearing of protective equipment needs to be address.

  • A court case against Monsanto in the States was won by a man who developed cancer after using Roundup. He was awarded $289 million in damages. What preparations have Sheffield Council/Amey made to be able to pay out damages to workers who get cancer as a result of their use of Glyphosate?

The cancer risk from the use of Glyphosate is categorised by the World Health Organisation as being in the Group 2A classification – the same level of risk presented by activities such as eating Red Meat, Working Night Shifts or operating a food fryer.

The scientific evidence regarding Glyphosate is unclear and it may be that there are other elements within Roundup that could be responsible for adverse health reports. Also, it is equally important to understand the nature and scale of exposure to chemicals/compounds and the impact these exposure dose rates may have had on those exposed to the given chemical/compound.

This is not to say that the council are taking exposure to roundup lightly. We will continue to monitor the advice regarding Roundup and any such herbicide used.

  • Last year Sheffield Council/Amey used 1750 litres of Glyphosate. It has been proved to cause mortality of species including bees, predatory mites, lacewings, ladybirds and beetles. Argentinian studies suggest that glyphosate use leads to a decline in honeybee activity. The demise of the monarch butterfly population in New York has been blamed on glyphosate. Glyphosate in soil takes 140 days to break down to half its toxicity and will continue to be taken up by plants from the soil for 2 years and longer. It’s toxic to earthworms and inhibits fungi essential for tree health, collecting nutrients and water to feed their host plant and protecting tree roots from harmful fungi and root rot diseases. Despite this, it is sprayed around trees in Sheffield. When is the Council/Amey going to stop using Glyphosate?


Our network is 1180 miles long. In using 1750 litres of Glyphosate last year this equates to spraying approximately 1.5 litres per mile, if it was applied uniformly and indiscriminately across Sheffield. This is not the case. Roundup is used in a more targeted way.

In regard to biological half-life of Glyphosate in soil there remains a lack of clarity or consensus. Many studies suggest that the half-life may be as little as 1-day post application. Similarly, there may be less than 2% of applied chemical lost to run off into the soil.

In terms of the insect impacts, although Glyphosate is proven to affect the bacteria in the guts of honeybees, the main impact is removal of their primary food source – wildflowers through the efficacy of the product in killing ‘weeds’. This does however open the question as to what are ‘weeds’ and what is a ‘desirable flower’.

  • The Council advised us in an article in Now Then magazine that they have been trialling alternatives to Glyphosate such as steam, hot water and foam spraying, mulching and not treating perimeters of open spaces such as parks. Have the trials which used alternatives to Glyphosate been successful? 

The trials have shown relatively poor efficacy in comparison to the use of glyphosate, resulting in a significant amount of hand and mechanical weeding and sweeping being required to achieve a similar standard. This level of physical activity is not currently sustainable.

Allowing weeds to grow unchecked will quickly result in deterioration of the highway network due to them pushing through the surface and will cause trip hazards and a significant increase in complaints due to the visual impact on the streetscene.

We will continue to explore how we can reduce the impact of damaging ‘weed’ growth. I would anticipate that as road and pavement replacement decreases throughout the remaining part of the highways maintenance contract then weeds growing through the pavements etc. will decrease as there will be less opportunity for seeds to get underneath the pavements.

5. How successful have these measures been in reducing the amount of Glyphosate used? 

As highlighted above the measures undertaken to reduce Roundup usage proved far from positive. Any reduction in glyphosate use has been offset by the significant additional resource of having to mechanically remove weeds. However, we will continue to explore how we can reduce the use of herbicides.

Labour have committed to pursuing the Green New Deal (GND). Should Labour be elected to run the country the principles of the GND would result in system change and re-evaluation of public service and public good. As part of that process we would look to move our economy towards an expanded service sector where ‘human’ energy will replace fossil fuel derived energy.

Under such circumstances, and once the debilitating impact of austerity has been overturned, we may then be able to effectively and efficiently keep our highways clear of weeds without the use of petrochemicals and products derived thereof.

We are not yet at that stage. But we are looking to see how we can get there as quickly as possible.

  • Why aren’t residents warned when Glyphosate is going to be sprayed on their street?

All weed spraying operations are undertaken in accordance with the EU Sustainable Use Directive, EU Water Framework Directive, HSE Guidance and Label Requirements, this is not a requirement of these pieces of legislation.

I would expect however that all use of Roundup or similar herbicides would be undertaken in a save and appropriate method. We will continue to review the practise and look to minimise the use of Roundup wherever appropriate.

I know that these answers are not all that you would hope that they be, but I have attempted to be as clear an open as to the issues we currently face in delivering the environment that I think we would all like to see.

I do hope that you can see the direction and ambition that the council has adopted. I am sure that these ambitions will evolve as we move forward. I also hope that you will be able to challenge us at every stage to do the best possible at that particular time.

Best wishes,

Mark

The eve of the Rebellion

I am writing this article as many of my friends prepare to travel to London to join the Extinction Rebellion protest which aims to disrupt Westminster, forcing the Government to bring the Climate and Ecological Emergency to the top of its agenda. Many are prepared to face arrest for their non violent direct action, inspired by such great campaigners as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parkes.

But why are they prepared to go to such lengths?

Over the last 30 years I have been campaigning on these issues. I have written petitions, been on marches, taken part in boycotts and stood in elections to try to do something about it, but all these methods have failed. Greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise and now we have got the stage where it really is an emergency.

The 2018 State of the Climate report says that the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the 2015-2018 making up the top four. The warming is more extreme at the poles. In July and August last year there were numerous record high temperatures north of the Arctic Circle. Helsinki saw 25 consecutive days with temperatures above 25C.

The UN told us that we have until 2030 to halve our carbon emissions or the planet will heat beyond 1.5 degrees C. By that time my 4-year-old granddaughter will still not be able to vote, but the future of the planet may have been determined as uninhabitable.

As the world gets hotter feedback loops kick in, which are predicted to lead to ever increasing temperatures, the “hothouse earth” scenario.

Massive forest fires have been spreading not just in the Amazon but in Tasmania, California and Central Africa. Drought has increased, making fires more likely. The burning forests release a massive store of carbon into the atmosphere, further adding to the greenhouse effect, leading to further warming. The destroyed forest no longer acts as a carbon sink, so even more CO2 escapes to the atmosphere. As this process continues it is likely that whole forests will collapse and become savannah or even desert.

In the arctic the ice reflects the sun’s rays. But warming has been melting the ice revealing the dark water. This absorbs the energy from the sunlight, warming the water and speeding ice melt.

Around the arctic the permafrost is melting releasing large amounts of methane, which is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. Phil Camill described this as “unplugging the refrigerator in the far north. Everything that is preserved there is going to start to rot”. As more methane is released, the climate becomes even more unstable.

These feedback loops mean that climate change will not increase gradually, but exponentially. Once it really gets going there will be no stopping it.

But this is not just a climate emergency. It is also an ecological emergency.  

Michael Gove has warned that the UK is 30 to 40 years away from “the fundamental eradication of soil fertility”. Many countries have already reached that point. This is worsened by climate change caused droughts causing people to migrate.

Between 2006-11, 60% of Syria had its worst long-term drought and crop failures since civilisation in this region began millennia ago. This put 2-3m people into poverty and amplified the political factors that led to war in Syria.

As natural habitat decreases and the use of pesticides increases, we see a massive reduction in biodiversity

In the last 25 years, three quarters of all flying insects have disappeared in Germany. These insects are essential for most food chains and for the sustainability of vegetation. Bees are vital for pollination and without them we would starve.

This list could continue, I haven’t mentioned pollution, ocean acidification, plastics in our food and so many other extremely disturbing events.

The climate is interlinked with our ecosystems. Even if we reduced our carbon emissions to zero by tomorrow, we’d still have a massive problem.

We can expect food shortages, starvation, far more extreme weather, wars over resources and massive movements of migrants around the world fleeing uninhabitable countries.

This is an emergency. We need rapid action to reduce our emissions. This won’t come from individual changes in lifestyle, though these are important. We need systemic changes from Government, including local Government, to help us all do the right thing for the planet. That is why my friends are going to London, risking their liberty, in order to make the Government start to listen.

In future articles I will be looking in more detail at what is happening to our planet, and what we should be doing about it.

Printed in the Sheffield Telegraph October 10th 2019

Poison on our streets


I met this guy on our street recently who I presume works for Amey. I asked him what he was spraying on the pavement and he replied: “It’s only Round-Up”.

Glyphosate sprayer

When I told him this was not just dangerous to his health but to the whole ecology of our planet, he said he knew, but he was only “spot spraying”. I asked him why he was not wearing protective clothing (he had no face mask or gloves) and he told me that he had these but had been advised not to wear them as this scared the general public. I told him the public was quite right to be scared as we don’t want poison sprayed on our pavements!  In the States, a court case against Monsanto was won by a man who developed cancer after using Roundup. He was awarded $289 million in damages.
Pesticides and herbicides are contributing to what is now being called the 6th mass extinction of species. When was the last time you had to scrape insects from your windscreen? When I first started driving back in the 1970s every summer journey resulted in the windscreen being covered in insects. Now we rarely need to do this. Scientists have found In the last 25 years, three-quarters of all flying insects have disappeared in Germany. This has a knock-on effect on birds, amphibians and other species. 
We have known about the dangers of herbicides and pesticides since 1962 when Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. Glyphosate has been banned in Holland, Denmark, Sweden and France and some Councils around the UK such as Trafford, Brighton, Bristol and Croydon. But last year Sheffield City Council sprayed 1750 litres of Glyphosate on our pavements, verges and parks. Please sign the petition to stop this at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/sheffield-city-council-to-stop-using-glyphosate. More than 3200 people have already signed. 5000 signatures will force a debate in the Town Hall.

Find out more about the Glyphosate campaign here

Our politicians are failing us but the people are rising up!

It is now more than 7 months since Sheffield City Council declared a Climate Emergency. Some progress has been made. The Tyndall Report was commissioned and has shown that the Council need to reduce its emissions by 14% every year to reach the target of zero by 2030. They are working on a Citizens Assembly where ordinary people will have a say on how these reductions can be made. We have seen plans to reduce the intensity of street lights and to introduce a Clean Air Zone. On the other hand, work is still progressing on expanding the inner ring road, which will lead to more traffic and more emissions. I think Sheffield Council may have begun to understand the horrendous scale of the problem but are yet to act as if it is an emergency. This may be partly because the general public does not yet understand that if we do not manage to halve global carbon emissions by 2030 (with fairness requiring we achieve this much sooner, as a wealthy industrialised economy), we are likely to face unimaginable consequences including eventually the extinction of our own species. As Greta Thunberg says” I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire  because it is.”

Other local authorities do not even recognise we are in a climate emergency. Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster, Chesterfield and Bolsover Councils continue to bury their heads in the sand hoping the crisis will go away while they continue with business as usual. This is not good enough. Science can’t be ignored, and ignorance is no longer an excuse. These authorities must start acting responsibly or resign and hand over to others that will.

Our regional Mayor and Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis also appears to be ignoring the emergency. He has the powers to transform our transport system but has yet to make the deep change of direction we need. Appointing an active travel commissioner and bidding for Transforming Cities funding is welcome, but any emissions reductions from these are likely to be far eclipsed by his support for the disastrous road and airport expansion ambitions of Transport for the North

Our politicians are failing us, but the people are rising up.  We can not sit back and watch the destruction of our life support system.

Yours

Graham Wroe

dav

Star missed a golden opportunity to educate readers about our overheating planet.

31st July 2019

Dear Editor

Your front page on 26th July celebrated the hottest temperature recorded in Sheffield since 1882. It was treated as if 35.1 degrees C was to be warmly welcomed. It is in fact a dire warning of what is to come. The Star missed a golden opportunity to educate readers about our overheating planet. It was not just Sheffield where temperature records were being broken. Europe was suffering an extraordinary heatwave. In Siberia forests the size of Portugal are burning out of control. As few people live there, they have been given little attention, but they are an alarming symptom of climate breakdown. Siberia is over 10 degrees Centigrade warmer than the average for the last 30 years. The forests have become a tinderbox and are burning at a rate unseen in the last 10,000 years. The permafrost is melting, exposing the peat which ignites and burns down into the soil. This is releasing enormous amounts of Carbon Dioxide, roughly equivalent to the total emissions for Belgium for a whole year. This, in turn, will further heat the planet, producing a dangerous feedback loop resulting in ever-increasing temperatures.

Climate scientists have made it clear that more and more extreme weather is expected. When this happens please remind your readers that to avert the collapse of our civilisation, we need a complete transformation in our society. We must stop burning fossil fuels as soon as possible and start living in harmony with nature. We have all the solutions already, we just need the political will to do it. There is no time to waste. This is a climate emergency.

Yours

Graham Wroe
Referencehttps://www.newstatesman.com/politics/environment/2019/07/our-biggest-political-crisis-isn-t-boris-johnson-it-s-warming-planet?fbclid=IwAR3LgLsUtNQ4hh9XISAQEYnNaYm3fRJj7HTijQi_C_KWIghK24_8W8u4FWs