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


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…