More rainforest protected, followed up with Gauke and injured my hand

I’m typing this one-handed after injuring my hand yesterday – should all be OK, but I have now seen my own knuckle bone and tendons.  Looked like a bit of chicken thigh until the blood arrived.  Was scoping out a potential solar farm, then learned an important lesson – don’t help out re-cradling a cattle fence when you’re a bit tired.  I’ll leave it there!

I’ve just has a message from World Land Trust – please use my code to swap to Ecotricity to increase the pot:

“I am writing to let you know that we have received a further £300 donation from Ecotricity and they have confirmed that this is due to your recommendations to friends.

This donation will be placed in the WLT Action Fund to be used where most urgently needed to support the Trust’s land purchase and protection projects.

Since the WLT was established in 1989 we have been able to help purchase and protection of over 500,000 acres of tropical forest and other threatened habitats which would otherwise have been lost. 

Thank you again for your support which is greatly appreciated.”

Karen Gothard (Lowe), Donations Manager, World Land Trust

And I sent the following email to David Gauke from Stoke Mandeville hospital while waiting to be seen by the plastics team – will follow up with an in-person meeting.  The Climate Coalition are thinking about the idea – I have to be honest and don’t think it will go anywhere, other than to make the point:

Dear Mr David Gauke MP

Thank you for your letter regarding community energy and the government position on climate change.

I’m writing to follow up the other action you took when we met on 26 June: to speak to Amber Rudd about taking leadership alongside BP, Shell, health organisations, Church of England and scientists to persuade the UK public of the need to tackle climate change.  The letter does not refer to this action.

I read today of the moves to push local councils to expedite planning decisions on fracking applications.  Given your government is willing to move against public opinion on this controversial technology to increase fossil fuel extraction, surely you can do similar or more on climate change, and other sources of cleaner energy such as solar farms?

Please can you let me know of progress on the action described above, plus the lapsed action on Positive Money, with the additional context above.


John Bell


The official views of the UK government on climate change

Following up from my meeting with my MP David Gauke, I did get a letter back from him just a month later.  Not bad going given previous form.

It was a short letter forwarding on a more detailed letter from Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth.

It doesn’t seem to address the first of the two actions Gauke took from our surgery directly – about them taking leadership on the issue of climate change.

I’m now left wondering whether to follow that up with Gauke, or to start a Freedom of Information request to see whether he followed up on both points, or just the second.  What do you think?

Here is the letter below – at least a useful piece of paper to brandish:

Letter from Bourne July 2015-page-001 Letter from Bourne July 2015-page-002

Insights from the UK minister for tax

I met our MP David Gauke on 26 June.  All I can say is that he is an expert at the brush-off.  I have to admit that it is a strong feature of our democracy that I was able to meet the UK government minister for taxation one day after phoning his office, but that doesn’t mean the system is working.

I shook his hand, and congratulated him on the election result.  I was brought up to be polite.  He thinks it was the late actions by Miliband that gifted the Conservatives a majority – sticking by spending priorities before the 2008 crash in the TV question time for the leaders; the pre-election promises etched in a fake stone; and meeting Russell Brand.  He’s probably right – how depressingly shallow.david-gauke-on-bbc

He was overrunning, and I was the last to meet him, so he did cut our conversation shorter than it should have been, so I was unable to do all of my points justice.

To cut a long story a little shorter, he did take a couple of actions from our meeting – which I’m glad to say I think he may have followed through, at least to some degree.  They were both to talk to Amber Rudd – the new Minister for Energy and Climate Change.  One was to raise with her the idea of David Cameron standing alongside BP, Shell, churches, science and health organisations and addressing those people who are still misinformed about the realities of climate change, to let them know that climate change is real, the temperature increases over the past few decades are human-caused, and because the consequences of ineffective action would be dire that the public need to get behind climate policy.  The second action was to ensure that community-driven energy projects get particular support in such policies.

I have to say though that Gauke himself, while toeing the party line that climate change is a serious issue, still does prioritise a lot above it – he listed Russia, Isis and growing the economy as more important during our meeting.  He even went as far as quiting Bjorn Lomborg, the infamous climate policy sceptic, saying that for the money needed to address climate change you could instead purify all of the water in Africa.  I should have come back with something about that being all very well, but useless in the face of a massive drought, but my wits didn’t play ball.  And of course he wasn’t for a moment suggesting that we should invest in improving Africa’s water, it was just an absurd argument.

On why they are curbing support for wind farms, he said they’d just run out of money.  Again, I accepted this during the meeting, but realise now that it is just a policy stance – the conservatives don’t believe in raising money in taxes to rebalance the economy or raise funds.  Missed opportunity on my part given I was talking to the minister of tax.

I’ll follow-up in a few days with how the actions Gauke took panned out, but you’ll have to wait.

I gave him my notes at the end of the meeting – here they are for your perusal:

  • Missed Gauke at the Speak Up lobby – too many people outside for everyone to be able to get in to meet their MP, and at the BDCC BBQ
  • People often assume I must vote Green or label me an “eco-warrior” because I’m concerned about climate change – it’s ludicrous that being concerned about arguably the most serious long-term issue affecting human society and economic prospects means you must vote for a marginal party. People assume it is just about “the environment” and fixed with energy saving light bulbs and recycling – but a much more fundamental change is needed, which needs people’s understanding and agreement
  • Why I am concerned about climate change
    • Yes, impact on the environment
    • Yes, unfairness of developed world being largely responsible and developing world being largely impacted
    • Yes, unfairness of future generations being the most impacted
    • But most of all, the uncertainty.
      • Agriculture was developed during the last dying stages of the last ice age about 13000 years ago, and the climate has been stable since then, allowing our great civilisations to develop.
      • The world climate has been steadily predictable for millions of years, with 100000-150000 year cycles of ice ages. We are supposed to be at the top of a plateau of temperature now, between ices ages, with a new natural ice age starting slowly in tens of thousands of years. 
      • Instead, temperatures are rising.
      • Scientists just don’t know for sure what that will mean, as we deviate from the natural course. When will tipping points kick in to move us to a different world?  What will Britain look like?  I find that scary.
    • Current international commitments are nowhere near enough to give a reasonable change of avoiding a 2 degree rise in temperatures (source: e.g. IEA) – 50% chance of 2.6 degrees by 2100, 3.5 degrees by 2200.
    • Need to be able to press for ambitious deal in Paris
    • Would conservative party be willing to go beyond the Climate Change Act to get that deal?
    • Public opinion – most understand climate change is real, but a lot don’t, particularly older conservative voters, and some back-benchers.
      • Was only the other day that I was talking to two local town councillors, and they were saying off-hand that they didn’t think global warming “was real” – was not an appropriate moment to have an in-depth discussion about it – it is crazy
      • Some parts of press at best not helpful. Could be the nub of the issue.
    • But other notable and influential bodies accept the problem:
      • BP / Shell called for a tax on carbon
      • Church of England divesting, pope encyclical, Quakers divesting
      • UK health community calling on phase out of coal
    • There would be cross-party support for a bold public declaration, with fanfare, from David Cameron, BP, Shell, NGOs, religious bodies and Royal Society to all stand up and say “sorry, climate change is real, caused by us, and is bad. We need to stop it, and need to get a good international deal in Paris – give us that leeway”.  Leadership is needed.
    • Then tax, planning and subsidy policies need to be in line with the rhetoric.
    • Committed to keeping bills down
      • Onshore wind farms are the cheapest form of energy we have
      • Early ending of wind farm ROG means needing to invest in more expensive technology
      • Why?
      • If because wind farms unpopular, why promoting less popular fracking?
      • If because wind farms are established technology, then why increasing support for oil?
    • Renewable community energy of all sorts is the way forward – I know we will run up against problems locally as we try to move things forward if there remains scepticism about our motives and the issue in the first place, so what can you do to help (e.g. write to sceptical councillors or keep incentives for community schemes)



A time to lobby

Since the surprise election result, the last couple of months have involved a fair bit of lobbying of the new government to ensure they stick to their pre-election promises.

This started with the mass Speak Up lobby on 17 June organised by the Climate Coalition, where 9000 people lobbied 330+ MP’s, and culminated in meeting our local MP David Gauke, and getting a letter back from Lord Bourne at the Department for Climate Change.  They talk a good talk, but actions speak louder than words, and the extensive cut-backs to support for a clean energy future do not look good at all.  I find myself swaying from optimism about what we can do locally and the technology coming through, to concern and even anger at the lack of political will to lead.Speak_Up Prior to 17 June, I obediently got in touch with David Gauke’s office following the suggestion on the Climate Coalition website after I signed myself up for the lobby.  I got a fairly timely response, informing me that Mr Gauke would meet me and other constituents within the lobby of the Houses of Parliament.

The day arrived, without my having found time to prepare hugely.  I got on a train with Nigel Crawley from Tring, and we discovered that neither of us really knew what was going on.  We ended up following a blob on a digital map that was over the wrong place, but did just about get to Westminster with enough time to get through security before the meeting.

Only we talked to one of the organisers, who informed us that too many people had turned up to fit in the lobby, and we should make our way round to the other side of the river, where everyone was gathering waiting for MPs to be shuttled over on rickshaws.  It took us a lot of walking up and down before we found out that our South West Herts constituency was lumped in with the East Anglia region, and a few more fellow South West Hertsonians joined us.

I had left a few messages with Gauke’s office to say there were too many of us to meet him in the building, and he should get himself out on a rickshaw.  I was a little disappointed that not everyone I was expecting turned up.  I needn’t have worried – they had got there earlier, and been directed inside (they wrote a beautiful account).  We should have gone in when we had the chance.  But I think it was fate.

I had to shoot off before the end to meet some potential partners in a sizeable local solar farm, bumping into Andy Burnham, challenger in the Labour leadership contest, en-route.  He was waiting in his very shiny shoes at Westminster tube station.  I used my well-rehearsed and perfected routine for talking to famous people – say hello, confirm their name, say “you don’t know who I am” and introduce yourself, then start up a natural conversation.  We talked about the lobby event and climate policy in general.  He said he hadn’t made it to the lobby, but had a lot of sympathy with the aims.  He told me one of the policies he is standing for as leader is a moratorium on fracking, and described the Conservative policies on onshore wind as “insane, pure insanity”.  When the tube train pulled in, I made sure to get on at a different door to avoid over-staying my welcome.

Given Gauke missed out on an earful from me, the following Thursday I phoned his office to arrange to meet him at an MP surgery.  The following day I was cycling to Tring through the rain to see him.  I had a much more prepared message for him, to find out about their apparently self-contradictory policies and suggest that they should take more leadership in persuading their supporters to give their support for effective climate policy.

More on how that went in a few days…

New beginnings – a personal account of organising a Transition Roadshow

I’ve been meaning to get back into the habit … no, not the habit: the discipline … of writing up my adventures on this blog.  We hosted the 4th National Transition Roadshow a few weeks ago, and if that doesn’t deserve an honest, down-to-earth write up, I don’t know what does.

The Roadshow was probably the main thing I could have been writing about over the past few months, on top of solar panels on Ashlyns School roof and the end of my tenure as leader of Transition Town Berkhamsted.  I could have filled pages writing about BP and Shell publicly calling for a price on carbon emission, the G7 committing to phase out all carbon emissions by the end of the century and the growing movement to divest funds away from the fossil fuel industry.

Roadshow mapBut it’s the Roadshow that’s getting the star treatment.  Transition Network is the charity that grew out of the first Transition Town, in Totnes, that takes an overview of all things Transition (communities getting on with the job of moving off fossil fuels, basically).  A little less than a year ago, I was sitting next to my life-dominating computer when I had one of those mild panic moments I get when your distracted brain raises a little hand and reminds you about a deadline you’d been determined to forget.  I had been in touch with the local Transition Towns about an opportunity to apply to host one of the three Roadshows they planned instead of the usual single annual conference.  Of course, while there had been general interest, no-one had put their head above the parapet.  Haddenham had, I only found out later.

Deadline an hour away and no time to cast about for thoughts, I got to work and cobbled together a last minute application.  At least I’d done it.

A week or two later, I was taking a break over a cup of tea.  I got a phone call from Amber of Transition Network to let me know they had chosen our application.  We were to host a national Roadshow.  Yeah.  Gulp.

We were chosen for two main reasons – we had an established network of local Transition groups, and we had plenty of experience of running reasonably large events.  Both certainly made the job easier.

We wasted (a) little time in getting a meeting organised with people from the local Transition Towns, and the debate started as to where we would host the Roadshow, what it would contain, when and so on.  We only got mired in the trap of endless circular ramblings that consensus decision making can bring for a couple of hours.  After a few conversational laps we settling on holding the Roadshow on 19 April in Berkhamsted, sandwiched between eco fairs in Milton Keynes and Tring.

We tried to keep the number of meetings down, so people didn’t need to give up too many chunks of their weekends travelling around Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.  A lot of cake got eaten and tea drunk.  Eventually, we settled into a pattern where we in Berkhamsted did a big chunk of the organising, with particular assistance from nearby Tring on publicity, and the other Transition Towns pitching in with volunteering on the day and running workshops.

Chatting in the eveningThe experience of running similar, if slightly smaller, events in the past helped keep me calm as the big day approached.  I could have panicked that ticket sales didn’t look great, but knew that people often book late or turn up on the day.  OK, I did panic just a tad.  We could have got into a stew about all of the little things that needed organising, but knew most of what needed to be done and just got on with it.  Certainly helped a lot on that score that the lovely and brilliant Emma Norrington ran around like a highly organised chicken with head fully intact and got things done.  It was a drain on time during lunches and evenings for us.

Given that, when the day came, I was expecting to feel a great relief at the end of the day, a kind of end of term moment.  The night before we had gone out for a meal with the founding fathers and leading lights of the Transition movement, and then I’d stayed up quite late with co-founder Ben Brangwyn printing programmes and maps.  So on the day, after the relief of seeing people starting to flood in a little after the official start time, I hit a bit of a wall of fatigue.

The most thought-provoking and action-inducing workshop for me was on something called REconomy, which means enabling and starting-up businesses and social ventures that are financially viable, don’t rely on volunteers, deliver real social benefit and reduce carbon emissions.  It also discussed how money leaks out of a local economy via national chains, so it was a little ironic after the workshop when I collapsed into Costa for a bite to eat and a refreshing drink.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, as the workshops continued into the afternoon, and we made our way up the hill in Berkhamsted to the Centenary Theatre for the evening’s entertainment.  I was again hungry when we got there, but by the time I had walked to the town centre and back to get some cash, the food ran out.  I found out later that because of an over-order for the last event, we had adjusted requirements down.  Trouble was, so did the caterer.  And then they had to run off to hospital due to a family emergency, and we were stuck ordering Papa John’s pizzas.

All that was left was then to listen to the figurehead of the movement, Rob Hopkins, relay stories of the frankly jealousy provoking amazing projects and achievements that other Transition Towns have managed, where people actually get paid for doing this work, and then to be entertained by the rambling humorous poetry of Matt Harvey.  Oh, and I sat on a panel to answer questions from the audience, a task of which I felt I made a complete Horlicks.

At the end of it all, I didn’t feel the expected elation.  No, I was deflated.  Although we did have a reasonably good turn-out of people from all over the area, from London to Ipswich, and certainly weren’t out of pocket, not many people from outside of the Transition group came from Berkhamsted.  I had been to council meetings, Rotary club, Chamber of Commerce networking events, but few new people came along to find out what we were all about.

That feeling of disappointment abated over time, as I started to receive thanks and congratulations from those who did come along.  Evidently, the day had been a success from their perspective.  And then a few more newbies turned up to our monthly social, which happened to be our AGM.  Then there was the inspiration and example of REconomy, which has given our group new direction.  We can set ourselves up in such a way that people can be employed to help take Transition forward, and by building on socially and environmentally responsible enterprise we can start to have a real impact.

Thank you to both Emmas, Philipa, Anna, Bridget, Christine, Barr, Michael, Vicky, all the Johns, Peter, Jeremy, Claire, Madela, Sarah, Samantha, Wendy, Leslie, Sue, a smattering of Pauls, Bruce, Denis, Rob, Michael (the other one), Amber, Ben, Hilarie, MK Christian Foundation, Karen, Richard, Greg and Lindsey for all your support, time, enthusiasm and general help in organising the Roadshow.  It would have been rubbish without you.

UK party leaders #showthelove

The Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have agreed to work together across party lines to tackle climate change, whatever the result of the General Election.

David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have jointly pledged:

  • To seek a fair, strong, legally binding, global climate deal which limits temperature rises to below 2°C.
  • To work together, across party lines, to agree carbon budgets in accordance with the Climate Change Act.
  • To accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy efficient low carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for power generation.

This agreement comes after commentators have questioned UK political commitment to climate action, and business investors have asked for more certainty about the UK’s low carbon direction. The cross-party agreement includes commitments to seek a strong global climate deal and to end the use of unabated coal in power generation.

This year is a pivotal one for climate change negotiations which run throughout 2015 and culminate in the December Paris summit. Today’s statement highlights the contrast between the UK and countries where climate change is a deeply partisan issue such as the US, Australia and Canada.

The agreement has been widely welcomed across the political spectrum and from business leaders:

Former vice president of the USA, Al Gore, said:

“This agreement represents inspiring leadership and true statesmanship by all three men.  The political courage it represents on all sides is exactly what our world most needs in order to solve the climate crisis. Thank you! Thank you! And thank you!”

Lord Howard of Lympne, former leader of the Conservative Party, said:

“I welcome this cross-leader agreement which will send a signal to our partners around the world that the UK is serious about our responsibilities as stewards of the environment.”

Marylyn Haines Evans, chair of Public Affairs Committee of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, said:

“With nearly three quarters of British women saying that tackling climate change cannot be left to future generations, the global leadership shown by the three main UK parties today is a vital step towards making a real difference for future generations, something that’s a real priority for WI members.”

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, said:

“The importance of this pledge cannot be overstated.  In this critical year, both for the international climate change negotiations and the agreement of the sustainable development goals, this statement of cross-party recognition of the importance of climate action, as well as support for a legally binding global deal, sets a terrific example for other countries to follow.”

Mark Wilson, Group CEO, Aviva plc, said:

“As insurers and investors, we are well used to thinking about sustainability in the long term. This statement represents political leadership on a key issue at a crucial time.”

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, said:

“Consensus is a rare thing in British politics, but this makes agreement even more powerful when it is reached. I applaud party leaders for setting aside their differences to lay out the common ground on climate action that exists between Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.  Investors should take reassurance that the UK will remain on its current path to decarbonise its economy irrespective of who wins the election.”

Juergen Maier, CEO, Siemens plc, said:

“The low-carbon transition represents a major economic opportunity and a consistent UK policy framework was a crucial factor in Siemens’ decision to make a multi-million pound investment in wind turbine production and installation facilities in Hull.  This demonstration of cross-party support sends a clear message that the UK remains a good place for global companies to do low-carbon business.”


Show the Love

Hello everyone.  It has been a shamefully long time since I wrote anything on my blog, as I realised that simply writing it was taking a lot of my time, and I needed to prioritise time with my family, working on the business and actually getting on with the job of Transition.

Quick update below, but first to Valentine’s Day.  Transition Town Berkhamsted is a member of the Climate Coalition, which I’m sure I have mentioned before.  They are a group of 100+ organisations, from NUS to Christian Aid, WWF to Grandfathers Against Climate Change, RSPB to

Boy, are they getting organised, as the movement gears up to the Sustainable Development Goals in September and the international climate change agreement in Paris at the start of December.

It all starts with the video above, which I’d urge you to share around.  Let’s all #showthelove and put our hands up about what we care about, and is threatened by climate change, now and for future generations, here and abroad.

To show you care, download instructions as to how to make a tiny green heart, or make one of your own, and wear it.  And this Valentine, #showthelove by giving your loved ones a heart using this fantastic online tool.



PS – just found out that the credit for the photo in the banner goes to our very own Hannah Henderson, who is now working for Christian Aid.  Love you Hannah!  Great job.

People’s Climate March

It’s been two months since my last blog post.  I will keep blogging, but not as frequently as I had in the past.  I just have to now, to hopefully encourage a good turnout of support for the People’s Climate March on 21 September.  I’m hoping to persuade a few of you reading to turn up in one of the cities that are holding marches, or at least to join in with an online Thunderclap.  This is huge.

Why now?  Why 21 Sept?  The reason is that Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, has convened a meeting of all of the world’s leaders in the lead up to the 69th UN General Assembly, in New York on 23 September.  On the agenda will be one item only – commitments to action to address climate change by curbing man-made emissions of greenhouse gases.  This is in preparation for the Paris COP in 2015, the point at which all of the countries of the globe have committed to set out their plans and targets jointly for reducing emissions.

SG Meeting“The world needs to see what countries are already doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The race is on, and now is the time to for leaders to step up and steer the world towards a safer future.” Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General.




All sounds great – until you realise that the commitments so far made fall far short of those needed to keep global warming to less than 2°C, the temperature increase that was agreed by all governments internationally as the threshold for catastrophic climate change.

The world’s leaders need to know that they have our support to go further and make our planet safe.

There is hope.  China has just announced that they will set up a national carbon pricing market – effectively putting a price on carbon emissions.  It means China are getting serious about reducing their impact, and paves the way for others to do the same.  Europe already has a carbon pricing market, currently the biggest in the world, but which was reduced in effectiveness a few months back when they accidentally voted to release more permits to emit carbon dioxide than they should have and flooded the market.  I say accidentally because some of the MEPs later admitted that they’d got confused and meant to vote the other way – it was a close vote.

I’m going to the march in London, meeting friends around 12 noon.  The march starts from Temple at 1pm, only lasting 45 mins before a rally at 1.45pm.  Let me know if you are going.

Elsewhere in the UK, there are marches in Stroud, Manchester and Edinburgh, as well as another 7.  There are other marches all over the world, with the biggest in New York itself, where hundreds of thousands are expected to take to the streets.Your Children Need You

This could be the most important moment in history.  You’ll want to be there just to be part of it, take a few photos for the grandchildren.  They’ll be miffed if you don’t.

John Bell,

Ordinary Bloke

PS – I promise to write about the climate changey stuff I’ve been doing over the past couple of months at some point – I’ve not been dormant.  Transition Roadshow, Mike Berners-Lee coming here on 23 Sept, organised a picnic for the people in my street, been to Houses of Parliament to launch the “For the Love Of” campaign, da di da.  I also plan to set out my step by step guide to saving the earth, and talk about different sorts of people.

Fracking government speech

Been a long while since I’ve posted up on here, as I’m making sure I do a good job on a smaller number of things for a few weeks.  Planning for the Transition Roadshow, next Ashlyns Conversation, cavorting around with a pan on my head in inner transition while playing with ideas to make meetings more fun and productive, gearing up to the global day of action in September – that’s all still happening.  I’ll write about it all soon.

In the meantime, here is the speech David Cameron would make if he was being honest.  I’m sharing more for it being funny than anything else.