Green Party Conference about to get underway!

The Green Party Spring Conference 2008 is to be held at Reading Town Hall from 14th to 17th February. I will be heading down from Norwich tomorrow night. A good number of Eastern Region Green Councillors, campaigners and members will be attending ahead of what is expected to be another good set of local election results for us here in the East on May 1st.
In my city, Norwich, the Greens are aiming to make history by becoming the first Green Group to be the largest opposition party on a principal authority. Greens are also working hard for gains in Waveney, Watford, Welwyn, St. Alban’s, Cambridge and Colchester. In 1999 there were just 2 principal authority Green Councillors in Eastern Region. Now there are over 20 with more seats being won every year. It’s an exciting time to be lead Euro-candidate for the Region for the Greens!
The Reading conference will be considering an update of Green Party Energy policy – a vital area as a consequence of dangerous climate change becoming ever more evident. The UK is failing to cut its carbon dioxide emissions under Labour, as this blog has documented over the past few months. Whilst the Labour Government plans for ever more unsustainable development that will make things worse, the Greens are saying that we have to face the reality that business as usual economics is off the agenda. Expanding airports, building more motorways and concreting over floodplains is incompatible with tackling climate change.

It is also going to be a big conference for international issues, with speakers expected from Venezuela, Palestine and Nigeria. Scottish and Irish representatives will be available to speak about their parliamentary experiences. There will also be a prominent speaker from the European Green Party, and a fringe on the Lisbon treaty.

At noon on Friday, I will oversee a fringe event with Martin Bell. Mr Bell is very well known for his work as a television foreign correspondent, former MP and campaigner for high standards in public life.

I am, naturally, delighted that Martin Bell will be joining us for our conference fringe debate about integrity in public life. ‘The man in the white suit’ has a well-deserved reputation for such integrity. The Green Party cares deeply about honesty and integrity in public life, which is why we stand up strongly for what we believe in, whether or not it is popular to do so. It will be very interesting to hear what Mr. Bell — a native of East Anglia, whose first job was in Norwich with Radio Norfolk — has to say about the way forward on these issues.

…For more, and for updates over the next several days, go to our Conference group blog:

‘Transition Towns’ are great – but they won’t save us, without help

[Prefatory note: A shortened version of this opinion piece has just been published in GREEN WORLD magazine. Here is the full version — I am publishing it now on my blog, to allay the misplaced fears [see

; see also my comment, the second comment on the piece] of the excellent Rob Hopkins, founder of the ‘Transition Towns’ initiative, that I am somehow an enemy of Transition Towns. I hope that it is clearer from this than it may have been from the inevitably-compressed GW piece just what it is I am saying:]

On the airwaves so far this year we’ve heard a lot from the nuclear lobby and its apologists. And they are gagging for a techno-fix to keep in place the current unsustainability of the energy-obese West. Meanwhile, there is a growing ripple of underground excitement about a remarkable idea for how to maybe reduce energy demand radically – in a manner that will render the hungry search for greater energy supply increasingly unnecessary. More and more people are talking about how ‘Transition Towns’ ( ) might change the world and save us from oil depletion and climate catastrophe. And they are walking their talk, across the country, in ever-growing numbers.

A transition to a lower energy future is certainly badly needed, and so the Transition Towns movement, which looks to develop NOW ways in which to live with the power way down, is obviously deeply to be welcomed. But there is, I’m afraid, one critically important respect in which the bold hope vested in this movement as it stands could not possibly come true:

The Transition Towns movement alone cannot save us, because, within the existing economic system, some reducing their use of fossil fuels is received by others as a price signal that it is OK to use even more fossil fuels. I.e. For every litre of petrol that (say) Totnes or Stroud does not use, everyone else in Britain is very slightly incentivised to use more petrol, by the price not going up as much as it otherwise would. Thus (e.g.) others’ even more unsustainable commuting patterns will almost entirely cancel out the positive effect of Totnes.

This means too that, as resource depletion crunches ( ), successful Transition Towns will not be able to count on accessing even the small amount of oil that they still need. For the price will be through the roof, with others having guzzled what the Transition Towns voluntarily eased back from guzzling. (This is a classic case of the so-called ‘Tragedy of the Commons’.)

Transition Towns are a wonderful and inspiring experiment. But, alone, they can function only as demonstration projects. They show what is possible. But in order for them to be part of a movement that actually reduces overall use of fossil fuels, legislation is needed. Legislation that enforces lower overall use of fossil fuels, and/or, I suppose, legislation that obliges every town to try to become a transition town. Legislation that treats precious natural treasures such as oil – and a liveable atmosphere – as true commons, held in common by all and (as much as possible) in perpetuity.

And that is where party politics comes in. Unless we g/Greens force political change through the electoral mechanism, then the ‘Transition Towns’ vision of how why we might make a transition to a saner future would remain unattainable. A lifestyle choice is not enough: Tragedy can only be averted, if collective action is forced by us all upon us all. Science and equity must trump free-for-all price ‘signals’. ‘Transition Towns’ pride themselves on being a community of people working together, and that’s great – but the truly collective and communal response to our plight, the response that most deeply acknowledges our interdependence upon one another, must think and act across a much larger piste. The admirable local action of Transition Towns is countermanded by economic effects of that action elsewhere in an unreformed more global economy.

So: if you hear a Transition Town afficionado speaking about how Peak Oil renders ordinary politics irrelevant, please beg to differ. Without policies such as carbon rationing ( ), and, at a global level, ‘Contraction and Convergence’ ( ) being put into place, the Transition Towns movement will do virtually nothing to prevent the onset of climate catastrophe though excessive burning of fossil fuels.

Because, as fast as oil runs out, so – unless we change the political economy of the nation and indeed of the world radically, and fast – the existing system will look to exploit other more carbon-intensive fossil fuel sources (as I explain at ), such as tar sands and of course coal.

In fact, this is already starting to happen. This is where the real commercial sector energy ‘action’ is, not in the lumbering nuclear distraction. Terrifyingly, the energy-intensive process of extracting usable petro-substitutes from the tar sands has already begun: even ‘good old’ BP, who with good old greenwashed boldness now of course characterise themselves as ‘Beyond Petroleum’, is moving in on the action ( ), and lessening the bite of Peak Oil only by producing and burning much-higher-carbon alternatives.

The prognosis is extremely challenging. Peak Oil will hasten climate catastrophe – unless g/Greens manage, and fairly soon, to change the rules of the game, for everyone… and not just for the converted few.

I back Obama — and pay homage to Dean

Rupert’s read is behind Barack Obama in his bid for the Presidential nomination in the States. But this blog also wants to pay homage to the man (and his campaign) who more than anything else made Obama’s bold bid possible. Howard Dean was the first mover, here. Obama would not be anywhere near where he is now, if it hadn’t have been for Howard Dean. Dean led the way on anti-Iraq-war candidates being possible in the States; he led the way in an internet-based insurgency; he led the way in mass campaigning (via the internet and Move On, and on the ground — I strongly recommend here the incredibly-inspiring book by his Campaign Manager: the genius, the new Carville, Joe Trippi, ‘The revolution will not be televised’). Obama is probably narrowly going to beat Clinton (though watch out for some of those sleazy super-delegates), because of the size of his base and because (crucially) of the fund-raising base this gives him. As Trippi clearly describes, that was what the Dean campaign pioneered — it was Dean/Trippi who made possible the incredible swing of money towards Obama that we see in 2008, confounding pundits.
Now that Edwards is out of the race (a matter of great regret — a fight for the nomination between Obama and Edwards would have been much better for progressives/greens), the ex-Dean-‘machine’ is virtually 100% behind Obama. These factors are what will probably give Obama the edge, and enable him, against huge odds, to prevail in gaining the Democratic nomination (and he, unlike Clinton, will probably just about manage to beat McCain).
Interesting times…
p.s. Yes, before you ask: If Nader were running / if the Green Party were making a serious bid for the Presidency this time, I would of course back them instead…

All-day showing of ‘Lord of the Rings’ at UEA!

Exciting news, for those of you in the Norwich area with an interest in thinking about films that think!…
LT3 on UEA campus has been booked from 9am-9.30pm for a film screening of all three LOTR films on Saturday 8th March! Each film will be preceded by a short talk from me.
I am looking forward to this ‘ordeal’ (which is, admittedly, a less severe ordeal than that that faces Frodo…).
This is happening btw because I am teaching these films on my ‘Film as philosophy’ unit.
p.s. If you want to get a sense of how I believe that ‘Lord of the Rings’ fits our theme(s) this semester, a good place to start is with the relevant chapter in my new book PHILOSOPHY FOR LIFE, available in Waterstones and in the University Library and on Amazon, etc. – see under ‘Local links’, at left.

Apres nous, le deluge

Our weather is changing. Sudden downpours and flash flooding are on the increase — manmade climate chaos is of course the culprit. The ten-year forecast is for more and more floods.

[I got utterly drenched by a freak rain-and-hail storm the other day, which is why I have been moved to write about this!]

After last year’s catastrophic floods, the government set up a review to identify the lessons that could be learnt. The interim findings have now been published, but the report pays little attention to avoiding floods. Of the report’s 15 recommendations, 13 deal with emergency responses and the other two are about monitoring water levels and risks. Not one of the recommendations deal with steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of flooding!

Surely we should be trying to prevent floods, not just thinking about how to mop up afterwards? This would save a lot of distress and would be more cost-effective.

To prevent flood risks accelerating we must preserve flood plains so that they can act as natural “sponges”. We must minimise development in these sensitive areas. We must avoid paving over more green areas — including our own front gardens. And we must take seriously the need to minimise dangerous climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Green Party would prioritise these measures, not just improve emergency response to flooding. A problem prevented is a problem one never has to respond to!

Latest nuclear set-back

This from the INDY on Sunday yesterday may interest readers of R’s read; see also my posts on nuclear from January:

‘Shambolic’ Sellafield in crisis again after damning safety report
Britain’s most notorious nuclear installation was plunged into crisis last week, when vital equipment broke down just as it was recovering from an accident that shut it for two years. Sellafield’s Thorp reprocessing plant has been closed again, while starting only its second job since the shutdown.