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

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!

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!

Paul Brown needs to get his facts right on climate change.

A letter to the Sheffield Star

Firstly he seems to believe we have stopped burning coal. There are still three coal power stations in the UK. Globally we are consuming more coal than ever, despite the urgent need to reduce it. Coal is the single largest source of carbon emissions and consumption increased by 9% from 2020 to 2021 with the biggest increases in the European Union and India. 

West Burton Coal fired power station, Nottinghamshire. By Richard Croft, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Secondly, he thinks our atmosphere has “dried up and cleaned up”.  The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased every year of my life. When I was born back in 1959 there were less than 320 parts per million of CO2 in the air. Now it is more than 410 and it is still steadily increasing! Other greenhouse gases like methane have also increased. 

Graph showing increase of CO2 in the atmosphere from 1958 to 2022

Paul is confused about the effects of soot in the atmosphere. Breathing it in has serious health effects such as heart attacks, strokes, bronchitis and aggravated asthma. 

Soot actually has a cooling effect on the earth as it prevents some of the sun’s radiation from reaching us. So if all the coal-powered stations were shut down tomorrow, the earth would actually warm up slightly as a result. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t shut down the coal power stations though as stopping their emissions is vital for our survival. 

Soot from forest fires near the arctic is causing a problematic feedback loop. The white ice in the arctic reflects the sun’s rays back to space. But if the ice is covered in soot, the dark surface absorbs the heat and increases ice melt. When the ice has melted, that surface is also darker, so more heat is absorbed and melting continues to speed up. This is just one of many feedback loops which will all interact with each other and will send our climate out of control if we don’t act now to reduce emissions.    

Attempts to suggest that climate change is not a massive problem are dangerous. The record temperatures we are expecting this week are just a foretaste of the extreme weather we can expect in the future. 

Yours faithfully

Graham Wroe

Norfolk Park

What are the Green credentials of the Tory leader candidates? 

All the candidates have backed the Conservative Government over the last twelve years so all are responsible for the horrendous record on Green issues which have encouraged more oil, gas and coal exploitation and failed to properly insulate our housing or implement a Green New Deal to transform our economy.

All the candidates promote economic growth, which leads to more consumption and further damage to the planet. Most of the candidates advocate big cuts in taxation, but none are explaining that this means deep cuts to public expenditure and loss of vital services.

The Conservative Environment Network (CEN), which includes 130 MPs, wrote to the candidates urging them to clarify their stance on environmental issues, emphasising energy and food security. Chris Skidmore, the founder of the Net Zero Support Group of Conservative MPs, has not been impressed by candidate responses. It is clear the UK’s climate goals, which are already far too weak, are under threat.

Fewer than 70 MPs attended a climate briefing from Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance in Parliament last week. None of the leadership hopefuls attended. The briefing was the result of a 37-day hunger strike outside parliament by Angus Rose. He wanted MP’s to understand the scientific presentation that convinced Boris Johnson about climate change. Angus said it was “surprising” those vying to be prime minister did not want to make sure they were up-to-date on “the most pressing issue humanity faces” with leading scientists on hand to distil the key information.

Angus Rose

“Hopefully they would do it for their country, for their community … or at least consider their own children, their own grandchildren,” Mr Rose added.

So what have the candidates said so far?

 Kemi Badenoch has criticised the government’s already feeble net-zero strategy, arguing in a speech to mark the launch of her campaign that there are “too many policies, like the net zero target, set up with no thought to the effect on industries in the poorer parts of this country. The consequence is simply to displace emissions to other countries,” she added, accusing the government in which she is a Minister of engaging in “unilateral economic disarmament”. She seems oblivious to the fact that green investment is the best way to create jobs and level up the economy. 136 countries have already signed up to net zero by 2050. Badenoch speaks as if we’re alone in the world by working towards net zero when in reality, we’d be alone in the world if we didn’t. 

Score 0/10

Penny Mordaunt has defended the net zero policy in an article in the Telegraph. She wants lower taxes and “a huge boost for our plans to achieve net zero, where we believe that up to three million green jobs could be generated by 2030, creating the apprenticeships, new jobs, and training opportunities right across the UK”. However, she is a big supporter of both fracking and nuclear power, has generally voted against measures to protect us from climate change and doesn’t like the time pressure on the net zero policy! 

Score 0/10 

Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor, has been at war with No 10, preventing policies – from insulation to renewable energy – that could boost the UK’s climate fight.  Sunak vetoed moves that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions because of their cost. He allowed the green homes grant but its administration was botched and ended in disaster. Since then, no significant new green policies requiring public funding have been allowed. At COP26 he promised to meet the target to provide $100bn of climate finance to developing countries but as Chancellor, he has presided over massive cuts to Overseas aid. He offered tax cuts to encourage energy firms to invest in oil drilling in the North Sea.

Score: 0/10

 Liz Truss, despite being the foreign secretary, played almost no role at the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow last November and failed to mention the climate in speeches and meetings with her foreign counterparts. She has not yet spoken out against net zero. She formerly worked for oil giant Shell.

Score: 0/10

Former soldier Tom Tugendhat says “We need a growing economy and to deliver on the opportunities of Brexit.” He has a 10-year plan for growth and promises low taxes. His so-called “Clean Start” includes more nuclear energy and carbon capture technology so we can continue exploiting more fossil fuels-even though this is not yet shown to work at the scale required. He voted against a CO2 reduction requirement for new homes.

Score 0/10

A recent report from the Climate Change Committee found ‘shocking gaps’ in Government climate policy and ‘glacial’ progress towards net zero in some areas. But what so many of the Tory candidates are offering in this leadership election fails to reach even Johnson’s minimum standard of talking the right talk. All we’re hearing is either a deathly silence or worse, an outright denial of the challenges we face and the solutions on offer. 

So which candidate should be supported? If you have a vote in the Conservative leadership and are concerned about our planet, it is clear you are in the wrong party!

Could this be the solution to the world food crisis?

Last week the Government announced its new food strategy but was immediately criticised by its advisor, Henry Dimbleby, for omitting most of his suggestions.

“It’s not a strategy,” said the founder of the Leon food chain.  “It doesn’t set out a clear vision as to why we have the problems we have now and it doesn’t set out what needs to be done.”

Dimbleby had proposed a significant expansion to free school meals, greater environment and welfare standards in farming, taxing sugar and salt, a 30% reduction in meat and dairy consumption and much more.

Instead, the few specific policies chosen by the government include an increase in domestic tomato production, and making it easier for deer stalkers to sell wild venison!

But why do we need a new food strategy?

The dawn of the £2 litre of petrol has shocked the nation. This is impacting food prices as everything needs to be transported. As the war continues in Ukraine we are missing the exports that Ukraine usually provides such as wheat, sunflower oil and fertiliser. Basic economics teaches us that such shortages lead to price increases.

But it is not just the war that has decreased the global supply of food. Due to the over-heating climate, heatwaves and floods have been damaging crops all around the world. Severe drought In Canada last year prompted a 38% drop in the country’s wheat production. In France, the heatwave has damaged wheat production and in the  Central Plains of the USA, it has led some growers to write off parched hard red winter wheat, used by millers and bakers for bread flour. Harvests are underway in top producer Kansas, but the output is expected to fall “well below” the five-year average.

Blistering heat scorched wheat fields in the world’s second-biggest grower, India, damping expectations for exports to alleviate a global shortage. March temperatures soared to the highest ever for the month in records going back to 1901, parching the crop during a crucial period. Yields are predicted to slump 10% to 50% this season.

Policymakers at all levels of government should be concerned about this and be working on how we can increase our food production. As a country, we import roughly half the food we eat. It is desperately foolish to continue to rely on these imports. 

During the second world war “Dig for Victory” posters encouraged people with access to land to use it to grow crops.  So whether you’ve got a balcony big enough for a window box or a huge garden currently used for lawn and flowers, why not consider what you can grow to eat? There is help available from groups like Regather if you don’t know where to start. Government should be promoting food growing today.

But this won’t be enough to solve the food crisis. To ensure we all have enough to eat in the future we need to reduce our consumption of meat.  Currently, 85% of farmed UK land is used to either grow food for livestock or to rear meat. We could feed ourselves with a much smaller proportion of this land if we reduced the meat in our diet. This would enable us to rewild much of the countryside, providing a chance for nature and biodiversity to recover in what is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. 

George Monbiot recently launched his excellent new book, Regenesis. I am looking forward to hearing him speak about it at the Festival of Debate on 23rd June. He tweeted “The government commissioned an excellent thinker, HenryDimbleby, to write an excellent Food Strategy. Then, clearly in response to corporate lobbying, it systematically junked his proposals. Yet again, it has wasted everyone’s time and done nothing to address our urgent crises.”

George Monbiot

George believes he has discovered the solution to the food crisis. He wants us to eat PFCA, which stands for Precision Fermentation and Cellular Agriculture. This may be the first time you’ve heard of this but I think we will be hearing a lot more of it in the future. Using renewable energy, microbial protein production can be vastly more efficient than current agricultural methods and does not involve killing animals. 

George believes that it could produce 5 times more soya beans per hectare than plants and up to ten times in better conditions.

Microbial proteins are produced by micro-organisms via fermentation. Precision fermentation allows these micro-organisms to be programmed to produce complex organic molecules such as proteins, with cellular agriculture permitting the production of specific animal proteins.

A study published in Nature found that, if only 20% of beef production was displaced by microbial protein, it would slash annual deforestation and related carbon dioxide emissions by half, while also lowering methane emissions. If half of the beef production were replaced, this would cut deforestation by 82%. But the study only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

What does it taste like? I gather just like meat, but I am yet to experience it. I’m certainly willing to give it a try!  Boris Johnson and his cabinet should read “Regenesis” and come up with a new food strategy that acknowledges the crisis and offers real solutions. 


The Felling Premiere was a huge success

The premiere of The Felling at a packed City Hall was a huge success. The film captures the amazing spirit of the tree campaigners who had no choice but to take radical action. They put their bodies on the line risking huge fines and even imprisonment to prevent the needless destruction of our street trees. They stood up to the bullying tactics of the Council who were determined to meet the target of cutting down 17500 trees, despite the huge reputational damage this was doing to our city.

How wonderful it is that the Council have now moved on from the dark days of dawn raids to destroy our trees. We now have an excellent Tree Strategy that ensures our urban forest is managed sustainably. It has been heartening to see new street trees planted in Nether Edge recently, paid for by crowdfunding from local residents. Thanks to the co-operative agreement between the Green and Labour Parties on the Council an inquiry will soon begin under the chairmanship of Sir Mark Lowcock. Hopefully, this will reveal the truths behind the dispute and lead to some reconciliation.

If we are going to protect humanity from the increasing threat of global heating we can learn much from the tactics used by the protestors in the film. Non-violent direct action has once again proved to be successful. These are the tactics that will be necessary to force corporations and governments to act now to reduce our carbon emissions. Do go and watch the film for a masterclass in non-violent direct action. Catch it at the Showroom from April 1st.

Graham Wroe and Natalie Bennett campaining for Save Norfolk Park Trees

The Knife Angel should come to Sheffield

The Knife Angel
The Knife Angel by Domersr

The consultation on whether or not the Knife Angel sculpture comes to Sheffield is a good opportunity to have conversations about carrying knives. As a young teacher, I had to remove a knife from a teenager at a school disco. Fortunately, the incident ended without injury, but it could have been so different. Knife Angel is one of several movements teaching about the harmful effects of violent behaviour. We know that every one of these crimes leaves a trail of broken lives and communities needing to heal.

Every person we can turn away from carrying a knife is one less tragedy waiting to happen. If you’re worried that someone you know is carrying or thinking about carrying knives, try to make space for having a talk with them, ask them why, tell them how you feel about it, and try to find alternatives. We all need to think about how we can stop young people from being in situations where carrying weapons is any kind of answer. To have your say on the Knife Angel sculpture coming to Sheffield, see the South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit page.