Frozen Planet 2

Did you see the first part of Frozen Planet 2? Adorable scenes of penguin chicks making their way to the sea for the first time and amazing drama as killer whales show their intelligence and guile by creating waves to topple a seal from its iceberg. But the scenes of enormous skyscrapers of ice calving into the sea from Greenland were most horrifying. David Attenborough informs us that one-fifth of the planet’s surface is ice- yet this is melting fast due to climate change and the much higher temperatures now being experienced at the poles. This does not just threaten the survival of the amazing creatures featured in the show- it threatens everyone’s survival as sea levels rise, eventually engulfing islands and cities worldwide. 

Calving Ice Berg in Illulissat Icefjord
A calving iceberg in Greenland- not as spectacular as the images captured in Frozen Planet 2! https://www.flickr.com/photos/bortabra/3867360400

It beggars belief that tackling the climate crisis isn’t the top priority of every Government and isn’t making front page news in every newspaper. Our own Government are moving fast in the wrong direction by encouraging more exploitation of fossil fuels and even proposing to start fracking here in Yorkshire. We must not let them get away with it.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0cw0nb8

Better Buses South Yorkshire Rally

Today I attended the Better Buses South Yorkshire Rally. It was encouraging to see political parties, campaigning groups and trade unions all coming together to demand a better bus service for South Yorkshire. We will need much more of this as we face up to the unacceptable plans of the new Prime Minister.

Please sign the petition to save the 10/10a bus here.

Please sign here to support a Workplace Parking Levy to better fund public transport.

Sign here to ask the South Yorkshire Mayor to take the buses back into public control.

Here are some of the speeches-apologies to those speakers I didn’t manage to record.

Fran Postlethwaite, Better Buses South Yorkshire
Martin Mayer Sheffield TUC
Bex Whyman Sheffield Green Party
Rizwana Lala Medact Sheffield
George Arthur South Yorkshire Climate Alliance

Adoette Book Launch

Author, Lydia Monks
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better .It’s not.”The Lorax Cr. Seuss

I was privileged this evening to attend the book launch of Adoette by Lydia Monks. Lydia began the evening on a very sad note, informing us all that Queen Elizabeth had died.

The event was hosted by Marmadukes on Ecclesall Road a lovely venue.

The book tells the story of Adoette, which means “big tree”. Just like the Queen, she saw many changes and lived through happy and sad times.

But as Adoette grew older she was no longer welcome and there were some who wanted her to go….

It was great catching up with tree campaigners, many of whom can be spotted in the book!

You can get your copy at Sheffield Waterstones (there are still some signed copies left) or from Hive.

Sizewell C. Is the Government really thinking of the future?

French corporation EDF wants to build two huge nuclear reactors on the fragile Suffolk Heritage Coast called Sizewell C. The new Prime Minister will have to decide if this goes ahead. EDF hopes to make a  “final investment decision” by mid-2023.

One of Boris Johnson’s last acts as Prime Minister was to pledge £700m for Sizewell C. “Let’s think about the future, let’s think about our kids and our grandchildren, about the next generation,” he said.

“And so I say to you, with the prophetic candour and clarity of one who is about to hand over the torch of office, I say go nuclear and go large and go with Sizewell C.”

But is he really thinking about the future? This is a disaster on so many fronts. Building Sizewell C will damage RSPB Minsmere, home to reedbeds, wet grasslands and heathlands that are all carefully managed to make them ideal places for a huge variety of wildlife. Reedbeds are home to marsh harrier, otters and water voles. The heathlands, where nightjars whirr, natterjack toads croak and silver-studded blue butterflies flutter. We are in a nature emergency, yet the Government are happy to destroy nature for another nuclear power station. Consent was given by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in July against the advice of the Examining Authority, the Governments own advisors and the RSPB, so the RSPB have been left with no choice but to apply for a judicial review.

An Oystercather at RSPB Minsmere by Airwolfhound https://www.flickr.com/photos/24874528@N04/33568043144/in/photostream/

Richard Teasdale from Sheffield Greenpeace commented “Nuclear power is complex and hugely expensive to build. It creates huge amounts of hazardous waste. Renewable energy is cheaper and can be installed quickly. Together with battery storage, it can generate the power we need to slash our emissions.” 

According to the campaign group Stop Sizewell C, it is the wrong project in the wrong place and will not help the UK achieve its objectives. 

The wrong project:

Sizewell C is slow – it would take at least ten years to build, so will not generate any power until the mid-2030s. We need to increase our power production now. Renewable energy is much quicker to install.

Sizewell C is expensive, costing £20+ billion, which could be invested in renewables such as offshore wind or hydrogen storage.

Sizewell C takes a lot of carbon to build. Using EDF’s own estimates, it would take around 4 years to pay this back, meaning Sizewell C wouldn’t contribute to net zero until the late 2030s.  The government’s latest target is a 78% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2035.

European Pressurised Water reactors (EPR’s) have an appalling track record. The few EPRs under construction are all well over budget and (in France and Finland) a decade late.  One of the only two operating  EPRs in China has been closed with fuel failure after international attention.

EDF successfully lobbied the government to pass legislation to make consumers pay for the financing of Sizewell C through a nuclear tax on energy bills (called a RAB model), but nuclear projects are prone to cost and time overruns. This is going to be very expensive for taxpayers. 

The UK government wants to eject EDF’s controversial partner – China General Nuclear – but has not decided how.

Nuclear energy is not green energy. There is as yet no long-term solution for nuclear waste.

The wrong place:

EDF’s claims of thousands of jobs for locals and billions of pounds spent locally are unproven. Sizewell C would damage the local economy. Nuclear power generates far fewer jobs than investing in insulation (which would help the cost of living crisis now) or renewable energy. 

EDF wants to bring its Hinkley workers to Sizewell. EDF estimates almost 6,000 workers would come into the area; 2,400 of them would live in a “campus” near the tiny hamlet of Eastbridge.

Visitors would stay away, losing the tourism industry up to £40 million a year (independent research) and losing 400 jobs. EDF admits 725 ‘local’ staff would come from other businesses.

There would be around 12,000 extra vehicles a day on the A12, including 700 HGVs.

The Sizewell C site is on an eroding coastline and surrounded by protected wildlife habitats. As sea levels rise due to the melting ice caps the site will be threatened with flooding, which could possibly lead to an appalling accident like Fukushima.

Toxic nuclear waste would have to remain on site for well over 100 years.

The site is wholly within the Suffolk Coast & Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Construction will cut the AONB in half. The internationally famous RSPB Minsmere reserve will be damaged, and some of the Sizewell Marshes Site of Special Scientific Interest will be built on.

There is no assured long-term water supply for Sizewell C in an area currently experiencing drought. To obtain enough clean water for construction, EDF has been forced to propose a desalination plant.

Stop Sizewell C is a campaign group opposing the project after 9 years of EDF’s failed engagement and the destructive nature of its proposals.  It aims to raise awareness of the impacts of Sizewell C and put pressure on national and local governments to see that the impacts outweigh the benefits. 

What is driving the food crisis?

Mike Anthony asks “Why are all the rising prices and shortages blamed on the war in Ukraine? Why aren’t we importing more from America and Canada?” (Letters August 24th)

Unfortunately, we have a very unhealthy reliance on imports from Ukraine and Russia. Together, Russia and Ukraine export nearly a third of the world’s wheat and barley, more than 70 per cent of its sunflower oil and are big suppliers of corn. Russia is the top global fertiliser producer. The loss of these imports is increasing global prices.

What we urgently need to do is reduce our reliance on imports by growing more of our own food. We currently use 17.5m hectares of land in the UK for agriculture but still import roughly half of our food. Most of the land is used to grow food for livestock. George Monbiot has calculated that if we changed to a vegan diet we would only need 3m hectares. Any reduction in our meat usage will be a step in the right direction. 

But Mike is right. The war is not the only cause of rising food prices. In this country, the drought and extreme temperatures have damaged many crops. But other countries have had it far worse. “Heatflation” is increasing the price of food.

https://earth.org/half-of-europe-under-drought-warning/

Drought in the Horn of Africa has seen the driest conditions and hottest temperatures since satellite record-keeping began. In Chad, 95% of Lake Chad has disappeared. Around the world, major rivers such as the Loire, Danube, Rhine, Yangtze, and Colorado are drying up. Italy has declared a state of emergency. The current drought in China may end up as the worst in recorded history, but it barely gets a mention in the media. 

Politicians have ignored the warnings of climate scientists for four decades and continue to increase the production of fossil fuels. It is no surprise that our planet is suffering and we are now struggling to feed ourselves. We need an emergency worldwide plan to slash our emissions now. 

Mike Anthony’s letter

Sheffield Connect circular bus route

The Star printed this letter today but unfortunately failed to print the map again!

Having travelled on the very first Sheffield Connect bus service, I must write to agree with J Robin Hughes. We must use this new city centre circular route, or we may lose it. It is a free service if you have a tram or bus ticket for that day and only costs £1 if you don’t. The Star could help by publishing the map showing the route, which has so far had little press attention. 

Graham with Thomas Atkin, Cllr Brian Holmshaw and Cllr Douglas Johnson, the first passengers on the Sheffield Connect.

How a city can save the world

Graham Hogg / Sheffield’s theatreland / CC BY-SA 2.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Crucible_Theatre_at_night-geograph-4878258-by-Graham-Hogg.jpg

Last week I was privileged to see the Crucible Studio production “How a city can save the world”, directed by Tess Seddon and performed by the Sheffield People’s Theatre. We witnessed five ordinary Sheffielders transported into a dystopian future where only 24 people had survived the eco-apocalypse. I’m sure many of the audience will have been inspired by the play and be thinking about what they can do now to prevent the collapse of our society. 

A friend wrote, “It seemed like the actors believed that this was more than a play-that we really are in a climate crisis and that they weren’t just taking character parts and going by the script.”

As the show has now finished I hope it is not too much of a spoiler to reveal that the play had a happy ending, with the adventurers returning to 2022, determined to do things differently. The young influencer was going to tell his followers all about the crisis and the grandmother with life experience was going to help him do it. The cynical business executive was going to become a whistleblower, informing on corporate crimes against humanity. The activist was going to stand for Council and the writer was going to use her gift to educate people.

As someone who has been doing most of these things for several decades, you will have to forgive my cynicism for thinking the well-meaning characters probably wouldn’t be successful in saving the world.  (I haven’t tried whistleblowing as I never worked for a company involved in destroying the planet). It is hard to imagine what ordinary people can do that will provoke the change we need from Government and Corporations that can completely turn around our civilisation so that we prioritise survival over greed and profit. 

It is rarely reported in the press, but more climate protestors have now been arrested than those campaigning for votes for women. Many activists are in prison and around the world, many have died trying to protect their community from so-called developers. Yet still, carbon emissions are increasing and decision makers fail to take notice of the scientists pleading that we have to stop drilling for oil. 

The death toll from climate change is increasing quickly, and the people who have contributed least to the problem are the most badly affected. According to Jason Hickel, data from 2010 suggests that around 400,000 people died that year due to crises related to climate breakdown. These were mainly hunger and communicable disease. 98% of these deaths occurred in the global south. By 2030 climate-related deaths are predicted to reach 530,000 a year. Again the vast majority of these will be in the south. 

Drought is increasing, devastating agriculture in many countries of the south. Crops are failing and hunger is increasing. Rising temperatures mean tropical diseases like malaria and dengue fever are spreading to new regions. After a long history of colonisation, the poor countries of the south are less able to adapt to climate breakdown. The poorest are unable to survive on marginal land vulnerable to droughts and floods, don’t have the means to see themselves through disasters and can’t easily relocate or defend their human rights. 

The emissions of a few rich nations are harming billions of people in poorer countries and this is a crime against humanity. As Philip Alston put it, “Climate change is, among other things, an unconscionable assault on the poor.”

We recently experienced temperatures close to 40 degrees. Imagine what it would be like to cope with this day after day.

In Somaliland, in the Horn of Africa,  droughts have killed 70% of the livestock, devastating rural communities and forcing tens of thousands to flee. Shukri Ismail Bandare, the Minister for the Environment, said “We used to have droughts before. They would be 10 or 15 years apart. Now it is so frequent that people can not cope with it. You can touch it in Somaliland, the climate change. It is real, it is here.” 

So far average world temperatures have increased by 1.2 degrees Centigrade. With emissions still rising there is little hope of meeting the target to hold this increase at 1.5 degrees. Climate negotiators from the United States and other powerful countries have pushed for a 2 degrees target. When this was announced at the Copenhagen summit in 2009, Lumumba Di-Aping the Sudanese negotiator for the G77, said “We have been asked to sign a suicide pact. It is unfortunate that after 500 years of interaction with the West we are still considered disposables.” 

So if I could make some edits to the play I would change two things. Firstly I would emphasise that climate change is already killing people in 2022. Secondly, for the five time travellers to succeed in saving the world,  they will need to inspire all of us to come together in peaceful direct action to demand an end to fossil fuels.

A quarter of all the work we do is to make extremely rich people even richer.

As many more trade unions consider strike action it is worth stepping back and thinking about our economy. Inflation is already at 9% and the Bank of England are expecting it to rise to 13%. This is probably an underestimate. For the poorest, who spend a much greater proportion of their income on fuel and food and who are already struggling to pay their bills, these price increases will be unaffordable and will result in incredible hardship.

Meanwhile, fuel companies are making massive profits. For instance, in the second quarter of this year Exxon made $17.9 billion, compared to $4.7 billion in the first quarter, so their profits have multiplied by 3! 

https://www.statista.com/chart/27887/big-oil-sees-profits-increase/

An internet meme proclaims “We are not witnessing a recession, we are witnessing a robbery!”

Consider this: the richest 1% of the world’s population captures some $19 trillion in income every year, which represents nearly a quarter of global Gross Domestic Product. This is astonishing when you think about it. It means that a quarter of all our work, all the resources we extract, and all the CO2 we emit is done to make extremely rich people even richer. 

For many years most workers have had to accept below-inflation pay rises while the richest tour the world in private jets and avoid paying taxes. It is time for change. We need higher windfall taxes on fuel companies’ profits and increases in pay and benefits that at least keep up with inflation. If you are a worker but not in a Union, now is the time to join! 

Graham Wroe

This letter was published in the Sheffield Star on 9th August 2022

Flying is damaging our climate

A letter to the Sheffield Star

I can’t let B Heaton get away with the comment “modern planes are being made ever more green”. Flying remains the most damaging form of transport to our climate. If you want to reduce your personal impact the first two things to do are to fly less and eat less meat.

Robin Hood Airport
Robin Hood Airport. Photo by Victor on Flickr

The Mayor should not be encouraged to spend our taxes on a failing airport. This money should be spent on creating a sustainable transport system in South Yorkshire, improving trams, trains and buses.

A tour of London Docklands

In a week where temperature records were smashed, I spent some time visiting family in London.  On Friday I  toured  London Docklands with my brother.

The first point of note was the travel cost. An all-day off-peak travel card cost me £9.50, not much more than two return trips by bus from my home to the Hallamshire Hospital! The trains were all frequent and we never had to wait for more than about 4 minutes. If only South Yorkshire were blessed with such an excellent transport system. The biggest difference is, in London, nearly everybody uses public transport. In South Yorkshire most people choose a car to get around very slowly on our congested roads, leaving those that can’t afford a car struggling on poor public transport. It is obvious that we need a publicly controlled transport system that works for both people and planet. 

A visit to the Docklands Museum reveals much about the history of the area. One exhibition was on slavery. The trade of enslaved Africans and sugar was nicknamed the Triangular Trade. Slave ships travelled across the Atlantic in a triangle between Britain, West Africa, and sugar plantations in the Americas. One wall in the museum is devoted to the names of all the captains, destinations and ships that sailed from London to trade in enslaved Africans, whose names weren’t even recorded.

Between about 1500 and 1900, Europeans kidnapped millions of Africans and shipped them across the Atlantic in conditions of extreme cruelty. To refer to the Africans who were enslaved only as ‘slaves’ strips them of their identity. They were valuable members of their community and family, farmers, merchants, priests, goldsmiths and musicians. They could be Yoruba, Igbo, Akan, Kongolese or many other ethnic groups.

European slavers dispersed them across the Americas to lead lives of forced labour, degradation and brutality. Millions died in the process. As a result, people of African descent are spread throughout the Americas and Western Europe. This is called the African Diaspora.

I remember teaching this to a class of secondary school students in Dronfield. One of the young girls, incensed by the cruelty and injustice,  asked me “Why didn’t people do something to stop it before?” I explained that most white people then accepted slavery and those that did speak out against it were thought of as dangerous radicals who would bring down the whole economy.  

Today the docklands is the centre of another evil trade. The massive skyscrapers around Canary Wharf house the offices of banks such as Barclays, Citic, JP Morgan Chase and HSBC. JP Morgan Chase is the biggest offender having invested $382 billion in fossil fuels since 2016. Earlier in the week Doctors from XR had cracked windows here leaving the message “In case of medical emergency, break glass.”  If this investment was directed to renewable energy projects we would be much closer to ensuring a livable planet in the future. Instead, the banks keep pouring more investment into fossil fuels, ensuring our emissions continue to climb and our climate becomes increasingly unstable. If we manage to prevent the collapse of society, tomorrow’s young people will be asking us why we didn’t do more to stop it. But climate activists are treated just like the abolitionists of the past. We are ignored, ridiculed and mocked. Many people can’t imagine our society being free of its addiction to fossil fuels and don’t want change even though they understand that without change we face extinction.

The next stop on the tour was the Thames Barrage. This amazing engineering achievement prevents London from flooding. The Thames Barrier has been closed 205 times since it became operational in 1982 (correct as of February 2022). The barrier was originally expected to be raised just once or twice a year, but recently it has been needed 6 or 7 times a year. It was raised 10 times in its first decade, 57 times in its second decade, 52 times in its third decade and 87 times in the last 10 years. As sea levels continue to rise and storms increase in both frequency and ferocity, new solutions will have to be found to keep London safe. 

Next stop was London City Airport, where, if you have the money, you can charter a plane to anywhere in the world. The impact of private air travel is huge because a private jet emits roughly 10 times the amount of carbon dioxide per passenger compared to a commercial flight. Only the extremely rich can afford a private jet, yet they use them with impunity to travel wherever they want. Aviation fuel is exempt from taxes almost everywhere on the planet, in stark contrast to the price paid for fuel at UK pumps. How do we stop the richest members of society from having such an enormous impact on our climate? Is it time to ban private jets? 

We returned to the south bank by cable car and finished at the O2, which as well as being a giant music venue is also a shopping centre where consumers are persuaded to buy more and more things they probably don’t need!

An enjoyable day out, but plenty of food for thought!