Tag Archives: environment

Environment and the election

voteHere is a very simple, very quick, discourse analysis on the Labour and Conservative manifestos, with regards to their position on the environment and climate change. It is not in depth, because contrary to appearance, I do have a life and I don’t have time to do more!

Basically I searched for the word ‘environment’ and the phrase ‘climate change’ in each manifesto. This is a pretty crude measure and inevitably misses stuff. But you do get a flavour of the importance of this issue to each party relative to the other. It tells you more about principles and priorities than policy detail. But that in itself is insightful.

One more proviso. When you search for ‘environment’ you get other stuff like ‘the business environment’ or ‘the school environment’ so I discounted those. But that’s also way I haven’t done a word count on ‘environment’.

The first thing that appears in the Conservative manifesto when you search ‘environment’ is support for fracking, or shale gas extraction, as they call it. Then there is some discussion about the landscape and environment in the UK countryside, looking at agri-business and environment, hedges and dry stone walls. The Conservatives give their support for SDGs (sustainable development goals) with regard to sustainability and and preventing environmental degradation.

The phrase ‘climate change’ comes up 5 times. The Conservatives are leading the way in international action, though there’s no detail about how. There is discussion about what they have done in the past – the Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement but no detail plans for the future.

The first thing that appears in the Labour manifesto when you search ‘environment’ is its own chapter heading. It is a key point that the Labour manifesto has a whole section devoted to the environment, signifying its importance. Then the manifesto moves onto plans to incorporate environmental protections in business, introducing a duty to environment not just share holders. It talks about clean energy, securing environmental protection when we leave EU, investment in a low-carbon economy, getting people out of their cars, sustainable farming and fishing, a policy based on science, and support for the SDGs.

The phrase ‘climate change’ comes up 11 times. The first mention is to introduce a ban on fracking. The manifesto talks about how there needs to be a transition, to move to clean fuel and renewable fuel. There is still, however, a commitment to off shore oil/gas.

Finally a search on the phrase ‘low-carbon’ reveals 5 uses in the Labour manifesto and 0 in the Conservatives’. Likewise a search for ‘renewable’ has the same result. You can try your own searches on the issues important to you.

Download the Conservative Party Manifesto.

Download the Labour Party Manifesto.

Clean up our cash

I believe this is my 100th blog post! And to mark this momentous occasion, I’m hosting guest blogger, Hannah Seekings. She’s been volunteering in the Christian Aid office I work in, and was inspired by our campaigns training session on climate change.

big-shift-eve

On the first Wednesday in February we met together to hear about “The Big Shift Campaign” from Luke Harman who is part of Christian Aid campaigns team.

The evening started by discussing all the success that we have achieved together so far. Christian Aid is part of a movement which has been advocating for change to be made to help stop global warming getting worse and slow the effects of climate change. Together we have made an impact. The UK government announced that by 2025 it would phase out the use of coal-fired power stations. We also witnessed the historic signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 where countries from across the world came together and agreed to limit the global temperature rise to only 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Furthermore, Luke mentioned how the UK and its actions have been mentioned in the Washington Post, showing that the UK is a real influencer and leading the way for a change in how we approach the response to climate change. There is such a great momentum for this issue and therefore we should be encouraged and keep pursuing change.

The next section of the evening we talked about the effects of climate change and how we can prevent the financing of the fossil fuel industries. We watched an insightful short video, which I’d encourage you to watch.

As many of you know, the climate is changing and this is greatly influenced by the burning of fossil fuels in industrialised countries. We believe that we must act in order to protect our planet. There should be a shift from industires such as coal, oil and gas to renewable energy sources such as wind farms and solar panels and move towards a zero-carbon world. However, to achieve this we need a Big Shift in the way our economy works. Money is a key factor in influencing whether we lock ourselves into more fossil fuel dependence or build a better world that we know is possible. The UK is a global financial hub. Shifting finance in the UK can create a huge momentum for global change.

“We all want to save for a rainy day but what happens if we are fuelling the storm”

The money that we keep in our banks in the UK collectively is trillions of pounds and is invested into a wide range of things. This includes investing in coal plants and subsiding fossil fuels. Christian Aid has written a detailed report about this titled which you can read here. It summarises why Christian Aid feels that asking banks to take responsibility is a good idea. It looks at individual banks, their policies on the environment and their strategies to help phase out the funding of fossil fuels.

High Street banks and pension fund managers rely on our customers to make a profit. We need to make sure that they use our money in a way that which helps create and sustain a low carbon economy. We need to do this as soon as possible.

Many banks, corporations and companies signed up to the “Paris Pledge for Action”. This is an outward sign that they support the objectives of the Paris Agreement and will actively help to achieve this.

Christian Aid wants to know what steps the banks are taking to achieve their Paris Pledge. Many banks are still financing the building of coal power stations which lock countries into a high carbon infrastructure. Furthermore, they are still financing oil and gas companies much more than they are renewable sources. To add to all this, many banks are reluctant to set up measurable targets to phase out support for fossil fuels. Christian Aid has focused on 4 major banks; Barclays, HSBS, Lloyds Banking Group and RBS, who we have researched and don’t think are doing enough to commit to helping reduce global temperatures.

So. What next? What can we do about this?

Luke laid out 3 easy steps that we can do to campaign as a response to this knowledge:

Step 1: Spread the word – strike up a conversation with your friends, neighbours, colleagues, people in your church about what they think about climate change. Give them a campaigns pack and invite them to explore this issue some more. Explain to them why this issue it matters and why you want to do something about it.

Step 2: Ask people to take action – invite them to come to your next campaigns evening, ask them to join you in writing a letter to your MP, be bold and encourage them to get on board with you!

Step 3: Take it to the banks – go down into your local branch and ask to speak to the manager and ask questions about their environmental policies and how they plan to phase out investments in fossil fuels, alternatively go in with a letter in hand addressed to the manager with this information. Even better, ask a few people to come with you.

We have lots of resources to help you contact our banks and keep them accountable. Be that writing a letter, or going into your local branch. What these banks do with private finances is the public’s business. Are they helping to preserve God’s creation?! Are they doing enough to reduce climate change?

Find out more here. If you are inspired to campaign to help clean up our cash and help reduce climate change then email campaigns@christian-aid.org and they can send over relevant resources and information to help you help the world.

The story of the black stuff

img_1388_2The roots of the devastation that is climate change lie in the same roots as the industrial revolution – in the discovery and burning of coal. Leading to steam engines, capitalism, colonialism and the British Empire. Without coal, none of this would have been possible. And we have merely been postponing the consequences.

It has been clear to me for a while that in order to stop rampant global warming, we will need to consume much less. There may be some technological fixes, and it will help if we switch to renewables. But at the end of the day, the earth’s resources are finite, and we need to stop using them up at the current rate.

But this using up of resources is what our economy is based on. We depend on perpetual growth to make the world go round. If people stop buying so much stuff, then we won’t need to make as much stuff, so there won’t be as much work to go round. There will be less money being spent and less profit being made. I can see some easy solutions – shorter working hours, but with a decent minimum wage so everyone can manage, and capping of wages at the top. But all of this is a great departure from our current system of how we measure progress and success.

So far, this is challenging, but not too difficult to conceptualise and imagine how we might get there. What I’m struggling with today is not what the future might look like, but how we interpret our past. The coal that built the world we live in is the cause of its destruction. The rapacious appetites of capitalism and empire have created gross inequalities between people and countries north and south, and stored up in the atmosphere enough carbon to finish us off.

But coal built the world we live in. As I walk to work through Leeds city centre, I admire the beautiful buildings that coal built. And I live in Sheffield, a city built on steel. To regret the industrial revolution feels like betrayal. The wealth created by capitalism transformed our lives – warmth, comfort, health, leisure. There’s no way I want to go back to subsistence farming, or even working in a Lancashire cotton mill. I like the life that I lead, but how do I process it?

Does it even matter? Do we need to develop a new narrative to come to terms with our past in order to move on with our future? Is the reason that we seem to be failing to face up to climate change anything to do with the fact that it means owning up to our responsibility? That the life we lead has caused climate change. Not just our current lifestyles, but 300 years of history on which our country is based.

We are already facing up to the realisation that progress is no longer inevitable, that our children’s lives will not necessarily be better than our parents’. But now I think we have to face up to the idea that what we call progress is not all it seems, certainly not all progress is for the better. There is much about our past that we have cause to regret – slavery is but one example that springs to mind, and having lived in Liverpool I have admired the beautiful buildings there built on the back of slaves. But until now, I have never stared down the whole edifice of capitalism and wondered if it should ever have happened at all.

What story do we need to tell ourselves about who we are, what we have done, and where we are going? We need to acknowledge the good things that capitalism has brought. There is progress that we can celebrate. But we must also acknowledge the cost, not just the fact of it, but the enormity of the price. Was there a better way? Could we have transformed our lives to this extent without the same rape and pillage of the earth? We can never know, and we cannot change what we have done.

But we can learn from our mistakes. When we tell our stories, we must tell them with humility. We enjoy so much about what progress has brought, but this progress has come at great cost, and that cost is not being borne equally. Our history is not a history of learning to tame the earth, but thinking that we have learnt to tame the earth and now finding out that we haven’t. And now these lessons need to inform our future, and a new understanding of what progress looks like.

 

I’ve been reading Naomi Klein’s ‘This changes everything’ and this train of thought was set off by chapter 5, which I’m currently half way through!

Warp and Weft

weaving
This is my friend’s creation – check out her Facebook Page

As Diocesan Environmental Office for Sheffield Diocese, I went to my first DEO day yesterday, feeling very green. Green in the sense of feeling inexperienced, rather than in the environmental sense! I’ve had the role for a few months, but with only a day a week to devote to it and school summer holidays taken over by family illness (all better now) I feel I’ve hardly got started. It certainly showed up what I don’t know – do we even have a diocesan environmental policy? Any eco-congregations? Any churches or parsonages with solar panel? Lots to discover.

I was inspired too, by the stories other DEOs shared. Stories of Cathedrals with solar panels and winning eco-church awards, stories of schemes to help churches switch to green energy, stories of community environmental projects which build relationships as well as care for creation, stories of simple pledges people can make to reduce their carbon footprint. My mind is whirring. How can we bring these things to bear in Sheffield Diocese?

But most of all, the day seemed to keep coming back to one word – ‘embed’. How do we embed our creation care into our everyday church life – our liturgy, our spirituality, our mission, our social justice, our discipleship? How do we make sure it is the warp and weft of who we are, what we do?

We finished with the Rt Rev Richard Cheetham, Bishop of Kingston, and so I will too. Creation care and tackling climate change flow directly from the Gospel. Right now, creation is groaning (Romans 8:22), but through Christ, all things have been reconciled to God (Colossians 1:20). We have been given creation as a gift (Genesis 1:28-29), but it is not ours to exploit (Leviticus 19:9-10) much less to destroy. It is entrusted to us for future generations until creation is restored and renewed. As we live out our calling to be the body of Christ and to be Good News for the world, our commitment to the care of the world is central to our identity in Christ.

The Big Church Switch

the-big-shiftHow long has changing to a green energy supplier at home been on my to-do list? Too long! So having someone do all the hard work and find a good deal for me was too good an opportunity to miss. So at last I’ve made the switch.

But the trouble when you want to change the world is that it is all too much for one person. I can’t tackle global climate change on my own. So I was determined to do what I could to persuade our church to join in with Christian Aid’s campaign and make the Big Church Switch to clean energy.

As a family, we’ve only been going to our church for a couple of years and it still feels fairly new to us. It is a big, busy church, with lots of services, home groups and a myriad other weekly activities. Many, many things compete for attention, and Christian Aid is only one of them. I wouldn’t like to guess where climate change fits in!

I bided my time – I needed to find the right moment, when climate change would be recognised as a priority. And here was my chance. We held a series of lectures through Lent with theological reflections on contemporary issues, including one on the topic of climate change! It was a thought-provoking evening exploring how contemporary materialistic measures of success and what makes for a good life drive consumption and the exploitation of the Earth – our shared home.

How much impact could the church have if we truly valued a good life based on relationships and community? Our values are revealed in where we spend our time and money, so it’s time I thought to put our money where our prayers and hopes are; with our neighbours suffering the devastating impacts of climate change, both around the world and in recent times closer to home too.

Perfect! Immediately after the lecture I approached our vicar. Would the church review where it bought its energy from and consider switching to a renewable tariff? Thereby taking our money away from dirty fossil fuels driving climate change and towards something that builds a brighter future, something that can help all God’s people to flourish.

Apparently this would be a matter for the church’s Executive committee, which happened to be meeting the following Monday! “Write me a briefing paper,” the vicar said. I knew I wouldn’t need to do that, because the perfect thing was already in Christian Aid’s Church Contact Pack! I could put it in his hand on Sunday morning. I told him it was a joint initiative between Christian Aid and Tearfund (that helped as the church supports Tearfund too). At this stage, all we would need to do would be to register our interest, and when the quote came back it would be up to us to accept or decline. It might even be cheaper than our current bill, though our vicar was confident that the committee would be happy to pay a little more if it felt it was doing the right thing.

On the Sunday, I gave the briefing papers to the vicar and the treasurer. On the Monday, the matter was discussed by the Exec committee. By Tuesday I got an email asking me to register the church’s interest, copied to the Finance manager who deals with the bill. We’re nothing if not efficient once we’ve made up our mind! Unfortunately we’ve come to a bit of a standstill for now. I’ve registered our interest as a church, but I can’t complete all our details just yet as the Finance manager isn’t well.

Despite this minor delay, I’ve had a really positive response from everyone in the church who has been involved so far, summed up by the sentiment ‘thank you for taking this forward’. We believe that looking after the creation is a part of our faith and ministry, but it’s not always easy to express that as a church. And it’s not always easy for a church full of busy people to find someone who wants to make this a priority. It was great to be able to take a very practical step as an immediate response to our Lenten challenge. I hope we can hold up our corporate action as a church as an example for everyone to follow as we find ways to work out in practice our ministry to care for our creation.

Red Tape

It does appear right now that the only thing that is happening in the entire world is that the UK is having a referendum about its EU membership. I’m pretty sure this is not the case (that nothing else is happening, because we are having a referendum!), but it still feels remiss not to contribute to the debate. The topic is extensive and the EU deals with a massive range of issues, so I’ll stick to what I know and talk about woMrMessyrds.

The words I particularly want to talk about are ‘red’ and ‘tape’. How we love to sigh about bureaucracy and regulation and how everything is tied up with red tape. I always end up picturing that moment when you pull off too much sellotape and it ends up sticking to itself, and then getting worse when you try to pull it apart so you end up with a sticky useless ball of tape. And then my imagine runs on a bit until I see someone entirely wrapped in tape looking somewhat like Mr Messy.

gift-box-with-red-bowBut there are better images for red tape. My mum always used to get special sticky tape for wrapping Christmas presents, usually red with pictures of holly, to make our Christmas wrapping that bit more special. Or what about a big red bow on top of an exquisite box of chocolates or other expensive gift. Red tape doesn’t seem so bad now.

So what is all this terrible red tape from Europe that we are so desperate to free ourselves from? Perhaps we would like to rid ourselves of safety at work regulations which mean we can all have the ridiculous luxury of going to work in the morning confident that we will also come home safely and not be dead. Or perhaps we would like to abandon legislation about working hours, rests, breaks and holidays. Because we’d all like to spend more time at the office without getting properly remunerated, and we’re all keen to be treated by health professionals who haven’t slept properly, and we’d love to be driven long distances by or share the road with drivers who haven’t taken a break for hours. Maybe we’d like to reduce the safety standards attached to our food products, because it’s not that important to be confident that what we’re eating and drinking isn’t bad for us. Or perhaps it’s the environmental protections and safety standards that we’d like to dilute, because we don’t really care about having clean rivers or safe air to breath. Or finally, perhaps it’s those pesky human rights that we’re so fed up of, interfering with our right to live our life the way we want to.

First, a word about human rights. The stay/remain choice about the EU has nothing to do with human rights. The European Court of Human Rights is a wider organisation than the EU, and includes countries which are not members of the EU. We have signed up to ECHR independently of our membership of the EU. Whether we vote to stay or remain in the EU, we will still come under the ECHR. We have signed up to the highest standard of protection for our civil liberties and those of our fellow humans around us, and we will remain signed up to this whatever happens on June 23rd. So this is not red tape but a red herring.

But back to the other red tape. Or, as I prefer to see it, the red silk ribbon round the gifts of protection at work, protection of the environment, quality standards, safety standards and peace of mind. Whether we are in Europe of out of Europe, I am sure most of us would prefer to keep this kind of security, high standards for what we consume, and protection of our environment and wellbeing. And if we want to leave Europe but still trade with Europe, then everything we make to sell (both goods and services) will still have to conform to these kinds of standards, or they won’t be allowed on the European market. But instead of playing our part in setting these standards, they will, instead, be imposed on us with no say. Shall I tell you who would really like to see a watering down of the rigorous quality and safety imposed by Europe? The Americans. They’d love to be able to get at our market without having to meet our high standards. That’s what TTIP is all about – the Transatlantic Trade Partnership which the Americans are trying to negotiate with Europe, so they can impose themselves on our markets without having to comply to our standards.

So, personally, I’d rather keep my gift wrapped regulations than decide which part of our society’s health, wellbeing and safety I’m prepared to give away.

The foreigner, the fatherless and the widow

Communion service at Greenbelt 2015
Communion service at Greenbelt 2015

Some 3,000 year old words have been bugging me for a while. I was reminded of them during the Communion service at Greenbelt, so I’ll remind you of them now.

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.  Deuteronomy 24:19-22

One of the themes running through Greenbelt this year was our relationship to the environment and our response to climate change. The relationship to the earth described in these words seems striking compared to our modern approach. The land was not exploited for every last drop of goodness it could produce. Those who farmed the land did not have the right to extract everything they could possibly get from their fields, or trees or vines. One step away from the mind-set that “it’s mine so I shall have it”, the earth can be recognised as a resource which we share, and its fruit as a gift freely given, not a right of ownership.

It seems to me that moving away from our exploitative, extractive relationship with the earth, to a more equal, interdependent relationship would be a much more helpful approach as we consider the problem of rising global temperatures causing devastating climate change. The earth holds many valuable resources. But just because they are there, doesn’t mean we have to take them, or even that we have the right to take them. We are not masters of the earth, but dependent on it. Its resources must be shared for the benefit of all, not exploited for the gains of the few.

But if I thought that was all these words had to say to me, I was wrong! Immediately after Greenbelt, the refugee crisis, which had already been going on for months, finally broke through into people’s consciousness. The need and the numbers were finally recognised, and we started to ask what on earth we were going to do.

Blackberry harvest
Blackberry harvest

Again, 3,000 year old words seemed to have something striking to say now. The harvest was not to be gathered in and clung to tightly so that no-one else could get it. This idea is much easier to grasp when the harvest is considered a gift freely given and not a right which is earned. There is plenty, we do not need to keep it all to ourselves. There is enough to share with those in need, with the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, those who cannot provide for themselves, rather like refugees, in fact.

And now it is the time of Harvest Festivals in churches up and down the country, which has reminded me of another old harvest story. This story also involves refugees, though you could call them economic migrants. (Does leaving a place because you don’t have enough money to buy food to eat make you a migrant seeking a better life or a refugee fleeing from starvation?) Naomi was a refugee in Moab because of a famine in Israel. She has made a life in Moab, getting married and having a family. But when her husband and sons die, she hears that the famine in Israel is over. So she decides to return to Israel, bringing Ruth, one of her daughters-in-law from Moab, with her. They have no means of financial support, so foreigner and economic migrant Ruth takes advantage of the law in Deuteronomy and gleans in the fields belonging to Boaz during the barley harvest.

How would we respond to this situation today? Naomi might be allowed to return home, but Ruth could not come to this country, with her lack of skills or earning potential. Even if they were refugees fleeing starvation, would we welcome Ruth to the UK? And if she came here, would she survive? Do we set aside enough of our plenty so that those with nothing can provide for themselves, or do we begrudge every benefit payment that is scrounged from the state?

I’m struck by the mirror this story holds up to the UK at the moment, and the attitudes I see reflected back. What do we really think of those in need travelling across Europe, encamped in Calais, drowning in the Mediterranean? Who will we welcome into the UK? And when they come, will we really care for them, treat them as humans, value and respect them? Do we truly believe that immigrants contribute to our society or not? Because there is one final twist in this tale. Ruth goes on to marry Boaz and have a family of her own. She becomes great-grandmother to David, the great King of Israel, and ancestor of Jesus, the son of God.

For the love of

cromer storm
Almost unprecedented winter storms damage the sea front and pier in Cromer, December 2013. Picture: Duncan Abel

It’s hard to be bothered too much about global warming when I’m sitting in my chilly kitchen in the middle of June wondering when summer will finally arrive. But I am bothered, and it figures on this blog, which is mainly concerned with poverty, equality and justice, because climate change is a justice issue.

Global warming, caused by the activity of people, is happening now. The 10 hottest years across the world have all occurred since 1998. Global warming is causing catastrophic climate change through systematic changes to global climate and weather patterns. This includes extreme cold, drought, flooding and the increasing strength and frequency of winds and storms.

The impact of climate change is not something we can leave to worry about in the future. Its impact is being felt already around the world. Glaciers, which provide vital water supplies, are retreating in South America. Drought leading to food scarcity is leading to hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, from Mali to Ethiopia. Rising sea levels are inundating low-lying countries like Bangladesh, where villages become uninhabitable and land uncultivable and people flee to the cities. The current refugee crisis in Southeast Asia will only worsen and spread as more land succumbs to the sea.

The one theme running throughout all these examples is that the impact of climate change is hitting hardest amongst the poorest. That’s why climate change is not just an environmental issue, or a health issue, or an economic issue, but a justice issue. The poorest are least able to cope with the devastating impact of drought or flood or storm because they are already living on the edge with limited resources to adapt. Not only this, but poor communities have also contributed the least to the carbon in the atmosphere which is causing the temperature to rise in the first place. In the UK, plenty people are outraged that the pain resulting from bankers’ folly and greed is being felt by the poor, sick and disabled when income and services are cut. We should feel this anger and outrage multiplied exponentially when it comes to the injustice caused by climate change.

In the dying days of the last parliament, a law was passed committing the UK to giving 0.7% of our national income to other countries as international aid. We should be rightly proud of this achievement. Britain may have many faults, but a generous spirit towards those in need has long been part of our identity. We do care what happens to our global neighbours, we are moved by their plight and our giving has transformed many lives. But all this is at risk of being undone if we do not roll back the tide of devastation wreaked by climate change.

So, let’s not negate our hard work in ensuring we are committed to generosity. Let’s take responsibility for our impact on this planet, being caused by the wealthy but being felt by the poor. Let’s recognise that climate change is a matter of justice, and a matter which needs to be addressed now, not in some dim and distant future.

Our government is committed to cutting carbon emissions (and we know how good they are at cuts!) by 80% by 2050. This will mean better energy efficiency at home and in businesses, and investment in renewable energy. But more than this, these kinds of carbon cuts need to be implemented around the world, and Britain needs to lead the way in talks being held in Paris at the end of the year. We also need to stand in solidarity with those poor communities whose lives are already being devastated by climate change. Britain must continue to support the International Climate Fund, which helps developing countries adapt to climate change. We also need to see climate change as a thread running through all the new Sustainable Development Goals as well as a specific goal to tackle climate change. Our government must take the lead to bring about these goals at the SDG summit in September.

So there is plenty that we can do as a nation. But what about as individuals? I’m sure there are many changes you have already made in your lifestyle in an attempt to be more environmentally friendly, and there’s lots more ideas all over the internet. But we can also bridge the gap between individual and national action. Government, after all, is made up of individuals, and each one represents a whole constituency full of individuals. We have a responsibility to hold them to account for the commitments they have already made, and to encourage them to take further steps to tackle climate change now. Governments don’t operate in a vacuum. A movement of people can create an environment which allows politicians to take bold action, knowing they are supported by their citizens.

ftlo heart

So I’m calling you to take action. I’ve talked about communities round the world whose lives and livelihoods are imperilled by climate change. I’m sure there are people and places close to your heart which are under threat, far away or close to home. So come and join me in London on June 17 to tell your elected representative about the people and places you love and why they must act to tackle climate change. Lots more information here. And if you can’t make it, you can write or arrange to meet your MP back at home.

Psst! Do you want to know a secret?

It’s been quiet on these pages over the summer holidays. Not that stuff doesn’t happen, but getting up late and being out of the country means I’ve missed most of it. The terrible distressing stories from Iraq, Syria and Gaza haven’t gone unnoticed, but I haven’t felt able to make an informed, helpful comment on these issues.

Something else has been slipping by unnoticed, though. I expect it has slipped by most people, without them ever realising it was happening. I’m talking about TTIP. See – you’ve still no idea what that is! And if I tell you it stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, are you any the wiser?

It is a deal being negotiated between the US and the EU to removed barriers to trade between the two regions. So you’d expect this blog to have something to say in criticism of an unfettered free market. And I do have a problem with the elevation of “the market” as the solution to all our problems, economic at any rate. But my problem with TTIP runs deeper than this.

For a start, there’s the fact that most people have never heard of it. Negotiations are being carried out in secret, and most of our MPs don’t have any idea about the details of the deal. Its remit is wide ranging, and it needs to be subject to scrutiny. In the interests of democracy, the general public should know what is being discussed, understand its likely impact on our society, and have a say in whether they agree with this or not.

I have more concerns because most of the “barriers” to trade between the EU and the US are in the form of the higher levels of safety standards, environmental protection and workers rights which we have in the EU. Clearly it is better for business if standards are regularised, so that products are compliant across both regions. But lets guess which way standards are likely to change in areas where they differ.

Another aspect of the deal would be to force public services to open themselves up to private companies bidding for contracts, removing any option for governments to choose to keep them in public ownership. Maybe you think private ownership is a good thing, maybe you don’t. Right now, that’s a debate that is raging in the UK with regard to the NHS. If this deal is agreed, there will be no debate, and the NHS could soon be in the hands of American private healthcare companies.

TTIP could prevent better laws to protect our environment and combat climate change
TTIP could prevent better laws to protect our environment and combat climate change

But most insidious of all is the erosion of government power to introduce legislation to protect workers, consumers and the environment. If governments want to implement a living wage, or raise standards for air and water pollution, for example, and a business feels this will impact on their profits, they will be able to sue that government. Not through the usual channels of the national court, but by taking them to an ad hoc secretive arbitration panel, overseen by corporate lawyers. Businesses already hold way to much sway over government policy. This further diminishes government’s ability to make policies for the public good, where people’s taxes will end up paying for corporations to keep the law.

I don’t think you need to be against free trade to recognise that this deal, as it stands, is bad news. Large multinational corporations don’t need more power. It is difficult enough to make sure they pay proper taxes, don’t exploit their workers and take responsibility for tackling climate change and taking care of the environment. And we certainly don’t want to be handing over power to big business in secret without knowing what is being negotiated and given up on our behalf. The secrecy and the strait-jacketing of our elected governments make this deal an attack on democracy.

If you’d like to raise your voice in opposition, you can join the campaign on the 38 degrees website. If you’d like to read more, try George Monbiot or this blog.

Sprouts are for life, not just for Christmas

sproutsMy blog has been rather neglected during our relocation, not much time for deep thinking. So, something simple to start off again.

I try to find ways to tread more lightly on this planet, with an eye on the future inheritance of our children, and as a matter of justice for those who don’t have the option to consume as many of the earth’s resources as those of us who are wealthy. (And we are wealthy, check here to find out!) I have to say I achieve variable degrees of success, and making time is usually a significant factor. But I tried two of them today, which has led me to this post.

Firstly, although we’re not vegetarians, I try to cook meat-free for our family main meal at least once a week. Animal protein takes up much more energy and resources to produce than vegetable protein. Secondly, I try to buy vegetables from a greengrocer rather than a supermarket. I hope this means I am purchasing food closer to the supplier in terms of cutting out middle men and food miles. So today, I walked to my new local greengrocer on my way to collect my youngest from school to buy fresh veggies for dinner. But – shock horror! – they didn’t have any sprouts! And when I asked why they didn’t have any sprouts, I was told that no-one really buys them after Christmas!

So I am hereby starting a new campaign. Sprouts are for life, and not just for Christmas. Although, more correctly, sprouts are for Autumn and Winter when they are in season, and not just for Christmas. How can it be possible that most people only eat fairy cabbages once a year? They are much too nice to be restricted in this way.

And to help the campaign, here is my favourite sprout-containing meat-free meal, adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Veg Everyday. There’s four of us, this filled us up nicely today:

  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • chopped chilli to taste
  • 2 carrots, chopped into thin batons
  • 10 or 12 sprouts, finely sliced
  • mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • bag of beansprouts
  • (or you can use whatever vegetables you have lurking in your fridge or veg rack)
  • enough noodles to feed your family
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp dry sherry (Hugh says rice wine but I never have any)
  • ½ tsp chinese five spice
  • salt and pepper

cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet

stir fry the veg in oil, adding them in the order above (ie onions need a bit longer than the carrots and so on) – I use a wok for this

remove the veg from the wok and drain the noodles

put the soy sauce, sherry and five spice in the wok over a low heat, add the noodles and stir to coat

put the veg back in the wok over the heat, mix thoroughly together, season and serve