Friday, 29 February 2008

Something to 'look forward' to...

Dear Rupert's readers; have you read Richard Heinberg's 'Peak Everything' yet? Highly-recommended, if you want to be equipped for the true challenge of the 21st century.
As you will probably gather from Heinberg's title (!), one thing he is onto is the point that the long crisis that we have entered into isn't just about carbon, or oil -- it is across the piste. So: we are going to need solutions (involving presumably some kind of rationing, in order to be fair to all while sustaining all) across the piste...
I am working on this problem, in my philosophical research at present, and will offer highlights of my proposed solutions, in posts later this year.

Plastic bags -- and incineration

Plastic bags are a serious environmental problem, chiefly because of their impact on our landscape and and upon the seas, where many of them end up. It breaks my heart to hear stories of birds choking to death on plastic bags or dying from internal bleeding because of bits of plastic that they have eaten.
Especially, because this problem is so easily avoidable: Ireland has put a tax on plastic bags, and use of them has dropped by 90%; and a number of towns in England are now banning plastic bags outright (for example, Aylsham in Norfolk is considering doing so, which is excellent news).
Moreover, the more plastic there is, there more pressure there is from the government to incinerate them -- and we in the Green Party are now joining with local residents across East Anglia to fight against incinerator proposals: in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. Every additional plastic bag means a little bit more pressure in favour of incineration; to stop incineration, we need to turn the tide of plastic bags...
Do your bit, today: never accept plastic bags from retailers, and always bring your own bags...

Saturday, 23 February 2008


News: Green Party of England & Wales
22 February 2008

In the wake of the life sentence handed down today to the Suffolk strangler Steve Wright for the killing of 5 prostitutes in Ipswich, Green Party Norwich councillor and prospective MEP for the Eastern Region Dr. Rupert Read calls for the complete decriminalisation of sex work so that the focus of police efforts can be redirected to protecting the most basic human rights of prostitutes: their life and their health.
Green Party policy called for the complete decriminalisation of prostitution on the "New Zealand model", so that the focus for sex workers moves from evading arrest to their safety and wellbeing.

Dr. Read, a lecturer in moral philosopher at UEA, said: "The current system that criminalises prostitution just pushes street sex workers further into the twilight, further from traditional areas of relative safety and further into danger.

"Decriminalisation could mean that instead of hearing about prostitutes being murdered and attacked on the streets of our cities and towns, we would instead be talking about health and safety in sex work premises, which are already 10 times safer than working on the street.

"Criminalisation of actions associated with prostitution leave workers vulnerable to violent clients, and encourages police and other authorities to treat them as criminals even when they are in fact victims of serious crimes."

Dr. Read also attacks the new Clause 124 of the Labour government's Criminal Justice Bill, which introduces a new 'order to promote rehabilitation' for the offence of 'loitering or soliciting for the purposes of prostitution.'

He noted that this was effectively re-introducing imprisonment for the offence of soliciting, which was abolished by a Tory government in 1982.

He said, "The government with this Bill is treating prostitution as though it were an illness, and one for which women and men should be punished. Of course we would hope that sex workers who want to get out of the industry, and who need help with that, should find it immediately - and for that the government needs to provide greatly improved funding for, for example, drug addiction treatment programmes. But women and men arrested for soliciting should not be forced into 'treatment' against their will.

"And the government should note that it is often its own policies - inadequate support for women with children, the withdrawal of recourse to public funds for failed asylum-seekers, that is forcing women and men into the industry."

Dr. Read added: "Centuries of criminalisation have not wiped out, or even reduced, the level of prostitution. Instead it has left on our streets, and our consciences, the bodies of many murdered women and men."

20mph zones coming to road near you?

Norwich Evening News 24
22 February 2008

Plans for a city-wide 20mph speed limit on residential roads have been made a priority for Norwich City Council for the coming year.

Councillors from all four political parties at City Hall unanimously backed the motion, raised as an amendment by Rupert Read, Green party councillor for Wensum ward, at the budget meeting earlier this week.

A feasibility study into the proposals are currently underway and while the findings will not be published until May the move has put the blanket limit as one of the council's key aims for 2008/09.

Mr Read said the lower limit would improve safety and reduce pollution in the city.

He said: “When you have people on safe streets they are far more likely to walk or cycle on those streets. This is a consensual item across the chamber. The vast majority of us have thought for a long time the 20mph limit across the city should be put into place.

“I move that it should be put into place across all residential streets and that this should be a priority for the coming year.”

His comments were backed by the Labour administration.Brian Morrey, executive member for environmental impact and transport, said: “We have always campaigned for 20mph limits in residential areas and the feasibility study is still going on and we are waiting for the results.

“If we don't have to drop anything else that's more important it should be a priority for safety reasons. “In lots of housing estates people don't travel more than 20mph anyway. I don't see any need to travel more than 20mph in residential areas.”

But he said the final decision on speed limits would be made by the Norwich Highways Agency Committee (NHAC) - which is made up of representatives from the city and county councils.

Judith Lubbock, Liberal Democrat councillor for Eaton, and member of NHAC, said changing the limits would also save money by reducing the need for alternative traffic calming measures.

She said: “A 20mph limit will make huge savings because the council will not have to spend huge amounts on other measures like speed humps. One important thing is that it's in this year's service plans.”

Antony Little, leader of the Conservative group and Bowthorpe city councillor, also backed the move but said the lower limit would need to be properly enforced to succeed.

He added: “If it's not enforced it's not going to work so we need more consistent checking. It's important it works in practice and not just on paper.”

Friday, 22 February 2008

British landscape under serious threat - FROM OUR OWN GOVERNMENT

[I don't usually do this, but: this email brings such bad tidings of the true colours of our government, that I just had to publish it... . It is from Jason Torrance, of the excellent Campaign for Better Transport. SPREAD THE WORD!]

Soon the Government could tell us exactly how much the survival of this bluebell wood is worth, in pounds and pence. Our rivers and hedgerows, our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, all could be given price tags.

British landscape under threat
I think some things are priceless, so I find the Government proposal to assign a monetary value to our landscape hard to swallow. If you feel the same way, don't despair: Campaign for Better Transport is fighting to stop it from happening.

The proposal comes out of the Government's review of the way it assesses whether transport schemes (such as new roads) should go ahead. The transport appraisal process is heavily biased towards roadbuilding, so we're glad it's being reviewed, but we're also very concerned about some of the Government's suggested changes. We think they could make things even worse, leading us towards more roads and less public transport.

At the core of the transport appraisal process is the idea of cost-benefit analysis. The Government weighs up the costs of a proposed transport scheme (such as how much a new road will cost to build) against the benefits (such as the time it will save drivers) and comes up with a figure, either positive or negative, which determines whether the scheme goes ahead. So far, so good... until we looked a bit more closely at how these costs and benefits are calculated.

Our findings make for a shocking read. We've sent them to the Government, and I thought you should see them too.

What we found out
Our first shocking finding: If projections show that a scheme will result in more fuel being used, this is classed as a benefit. Yes, you read that correctly: the transport appraisal process favours schemes that lead to increased fuel use. Why? Because more fuel sales mean more fuel duty for the Government. This crazy logic means schemes that increase traffic, air pollution and CO2 get a big thumbs up.

Our second shocking finding: Cyclists and bus users are given a lower value than drivers, because it's assumed that we make less contribution to the economy. I mentioned earlier that if a scheme saves drivers' time, this is calculated as a benefit. Fair enough. But while one minute of a driver's time is valued at 44p, a minute of a bus-user's time is valued at 34p. And a cyclist's minute is apparently worth just 28p. This chilling assessment of our worth gives the Government little incentive to spend money on us lowly bus-users and cyclists.

Our third shocking finding: The transport appraisal process already assigns a monetary value to CO2 emissions, noise pollution and even the lives lost in road accidents. Now the Government is proposing putting a price tag on our landscape too. In other words, things that should be priceless are cynically traded against fuel duty revenue and time-savings for drivers.

We've told the Government that these shockingly biased elements of the transport appraisal process must be changed immediately.

Spread the word: don't let the Government get away with it
If you're as shocked as I am by our findings, please do just one thing: forward this email to your friends. The Government's crazy logic has gone relatively unchallenged up 'til now because very few people have known about it. We need to change that.

Forward this email to your friends now

Thanks for spreading the word!

Jason Torrance
Campaigns Director
Campaign for Better Transport

No more Steve Wrights,,30000-1304367,00.html As well as locking up the Sufolk strangler Steve Wright for a long long time, today, so that he can never do any more harm, we need to change the law such that prostitutes are never again an easy target for a serial killer. Green Party policy would make it significantly less likely that there will be more Wrights in the future.

The best memorial to all Wright’s victims would be to ensure that: Never Again.

[Here is the full G.P. policy on prostitution, from the national Party website:

Prostitution and the Sex Industry

RR550 The Green Party believes that the law should not seek to regulate consensual sexual activities between adults where those do not affect others. Where there are such effects, a balance must be reached. Adults should be free to do as they wish with their own bodies, and to practice whatever form of sexual activity they wish by themselves or with each other by mutual consent. This includes the freedom not only to engage in such sexual acts, but also to be photographed or filmed doing so, to make such images available to other adults with their consent, and to be able to view such images. That someone might receive payment for any of these activities should not affect this freedom.

RR551 Regardless of generally accepted standards of public morality in the past, no attempt to end various aspects of prostitution with prohibitive laws has worked. In addition, with the availability of sexually explicit material via the internet it is not realistic to expect that censorship laws will be able to stop access to such material in the future.

RR552 For the reasons given above, the Green Party believes that attempting to stop the sex industry by using prohibitive laws is neither desirable nor realistic.

RR553 Criminalisation of many parts of the sex industry leaves those working within it in a vulnerable position. They are often unable to turn to the law for help in cases where their rights are violated, and instead fall prey to criminal gangs and pimps.

RR554 Therefore, all aspects of sex work involving consenting adults should be decriminalised. Restrictions and censorship of sexually explicit material should be ended, except for those which are aimed at protecting children. Workers in the sex industry should enjoy the same rights as other workers such as the right to join unions (See WR410), the right to choose whether to work co-operatively with others etc. Decriminalisation would also help facilitate the collection of taxes due from those involved in sex work. Legal discrimination against sex workers should be ended (for example, in child custody cases, where evidence of sex work is often taken to mean that a person is an unfit parent).

RR555 The Green Party recognises that, although people should be free to engage in sex work if they wish, this is an industry which can be more exploitative than others, and those who work in it should be adequately protected against such exploitation. There should be zero tolerance of coercion, violence, or sexual abuse (including child abuse). Those who have been trafficked into the country and forced to work in the sex industry against their will should receive protection under the law (see MG450-454). There should be legal support for sex workers who want to sue those who exploit their labour unfairly, and access to re-training for those sex workers who want to leave the industry. As far as possible, public services, the Government and legal system should aim to end those social attitudes which stigmatise those who are, or have been, sex workers.

RR556 Regular health checks should be available to all sex workers, free of charge (see H300), to protect both them and their clients.

RR557 The use of commercial premises as brothels should be legalised, and such brothels should be subject to licensing by local authorities to ensure protection of those working there and clients from abuse, and protection of the local community from nuisance and abuse. Some prostitutes choose to work from home, or similarly in residential premises, like some other trades. Such use of primarily residential premises should be permitted without a licence being required, subject to the avoidance of nuisance and abuse. This exemption from licensing requirements should still apply if more than one person works in such premises, provided that such activities take place on a sufficiently small scale that they are not tantamount to a commercial brothel.

RR558 The decriminalisation of prostitution should not require all prostitutes to work in regulated brothels. Doing this would still leave a criminalized street prostitution market. Those workers whom regulated brothels chose to employ would work legally, and those who not so employed would still work illegally on the streets. In order to protect those street workers (often the most vulnerable) the law shall not criminalize their activity.

RR559 Laws against soliciting should be repealed, and issues of "public nuisance" should be dealt with under general legal provision against nuisance. In order to minimise any such nuisance, wherever possible particular areas should be designated where street prostitutes can work in safety without upsetting local residents and traders. Such areas should be decided by negotiation between the police, prostitutes and/or their representatives, and the residents and/or their representatives. Local authorities and the health service should ensure that such street workers have ready access to health facilities and advice about the health risks of their work. ]

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Let's fight hidden phone mast threat

Story by David Bale in the Norwich Evening News - Click here to read.

Climate code red

[[This post is a 'sequel' to other recent posts, below, on Peak Oil and 'Transition Culture']]
Peak Oil will lead to / is leading already to a reaching for other more carbon-intensive forms of energy. Let me put it this way: The strains that would be put upon our society by a rapid energy-descent are almost the least of our worries. If we as a society avoid/postpone those strains by means of dipping heavily into carbon-intensive alternatives to oil, then we will buy ourselves another decade or two of energy-obesity, at a terrible cost. For we will initiate then a climate cataclysm.
It seems to me that this is highly-likely to happen, without enormous political will. It is highly-likely, in other words, that politicians will not face the challenge posed by Peak Oil head-on, soon enough... There will be a direly-strong temptation to soften the Transition: by burning the oil shales, the tar sands, the heavy oil, the vast reserves of coal, and half-hearted gestures at doing so 'cleanly' will conscience-salve only...
Peak Oil makes the need for a cap to be placed on carbon emissions and for most fossil fuels to stay in the ground MORE urgent. Peak Oil will in effect precipitate climate apocalypse, unless we put in place the needful caps at national and world levels, fairly soon.
[See also the brilliant and terrifying report, for more detail.]
We need to find ways of enabling people to understand the dire need for carbon rationing and 'contraction and convergence' soon; otherwise, our future, and the chance of building resilience in our society and effecting a transition to a low-carbon future, will be swept aside by an avalanche of CO2 emissions and 'positive' (sic.) feedbacks. This long crisis that we are entering calls for the strongest and bravest of leadership.
I will certainly do all that I personally can, to rise to the challenge.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Capitalism and the Environment - Come join the Debate!

A reflection: why I am in politics

I still feel very tired, after Party Conference and now back at work and a full Council meeting tonight...
Life is NOT easy, for someone active in local, regional and national politics. The demands on my time are so overwhelming; and people don't tend to respect and appreciate people in party politics as much they do people in charities, NGOs etc. . Politicians are scum, the lowest of the low, as far as most people are concerned. Never mind that most politicians in most Parties are genuinely doing their best for the people, for the future, for precious little reward.
But there's the rub: most politicians are genuinely doing their best, but their best is not good enough -- because most of what they are doing is counter-productive, because they are in fact working in the short-term service of growth, of big business, of the rich, etc.
I decided not to try to spend all my life lobbying other people / lobbying industrial-growth-oriented Parties in order to vainly try to raise awareness enough so as to bring in ecologistic policies. I decided to be one of the people who gets lobbied, instead... I decided to work inside politics in a Party that embraces ecologism, and that hasn't been captured by moneyed interests.
Unless lots of other people make similar decisions, I believe that our species is in very serious trouble.
And so I tell it like it is.
I hope that other people get on board, in time.
If you can help, please get in touch.
[Also, if you are on Facebook, why not goto , and sign up there, to help me get into the Euro-Parl.]
Thanks for reading!

RR talking on socialism, tomorrow

I am speaking tomorrow [see 'Capitalism and the Environment', above] on the relationship between capitalism and ecology. Lots to say, but for now I think the key thing I want to say is this: that the population issue HAS to be faced, because we have (b)reached the limits to growth. If one is serious about ecology and about localisation, one has to be serious about restraining population. It is not proven that this can be done entirely by voluntary means. We may have to think, e.g., about limits to family size, or at least about fiscal incentives for smaller families.
What is not good enough is the standard old socialist mantra of open borders and procreative freedom. This mantra only works if one just doesn't care either way about ecological limits -- as old socialists, indeed, generally didn't care, preferring simply to maximise 'production'.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Is there still a role for the state?

I am sometimes asked why we need to use the state to make the political changes that are needed in order to address the climate crisis; in order, for example, to make Transition Towns have the real-world impact that they deserve to have.
The answer is straightforward: The state has to provide the caps that make a framework within which public goods (such as limits to pollution so that we stay within our ecological limits) are incentivised and public bads are disincentivised. The only fair way to do this is through carbon entitlements, etc. [See e.g. ] That is why it is Green Party policy to introduce such a scheme. Without such a scheme, either one introduces regressive carbon taxes (which is what, inasmuch as their policies address the issue at all seriously the Conservative Party and the LibDem Party propose to do, in effect punishing the poor for the emissions of the rich); or one simply gives up the ambition to be serious about carbon-reduction nationwide, and so about Contraction and Convergence etc. worldwide.
As I have argued in several posts during the last week, there is no voluntary-based way of reducing fossil fuel use, ESPECIALLY once one reaches the limits to growth, and less for one person simply opens up the opportunity of more for another. The climate crisis and Peak Oil introduce a renewed and utterly vital role for the state: setting the framework which gives us some chance of acheiving climatic balance again, by creating the conditions under which low-carbon living can happen for all.
Opposition to the positive use of state power is nothing less than a total disaster, an abnegation of responsibility, in the historical period that we are now in.
And recall: it is unbridled corporate power -- it is the unleashing of capital that has been the big economic-political story of the last 25 years or so -- which has got us into this emergency in the first place...

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Friday 15th February 2008 Green Party Conference

This is a photo-gallery from the Green Party Conference, which is coming to an end today, featuring among other things several pictures of Martin Bell at the major fringe meeting during the Conference chaired by Rupert Read.

Click here to view!

Martin Bell and me at GP Conference!

I am back from Green Party Conference. The Conference blog continues here:

The event that I chaired with Martin Bell (and that featured also Guardian Weekly journalist and Green Party Communications Officer Natalie Bennett) went really wonderfully well.
Bell gave an inspiring speech, in which argued that our Party could and should be anti-war and pro-peace but also pro-soldier; he mentioned the 'remarkable' fact that all 165 Murdoch newspaper editors 'independently' decided to back the Iraq war...; he called upon the Green Party to cast itself as "the Party of honest politics", and suggested that this was a very plausible string to our bow beside our 'core' issues; he said (drawing upon his experience of having fought the Eastern Region Euro-elections last time -- this is the Region where I am now our Party's lead candidate) "Rupert has a very good chance of winning in 2009; You are a mainstream Party now and deserve such breakthroughs; I wish you every good luck."
Wow! You can't get much closer to an endorsement than that...

Patio heaters...

We in the Green Party are highly critical of the EU where criticism is called for. For example, we find the Common Agricultural Policy as it is presently constituted a dangerous waste of money; we oppose joining the Euro; and we think that big business fat cats and lobbyists have an undue role in creating European laws. We are Euro-critical. But we are not outright Euro-sceptical – because it is obvious that Britain’s membership of the EU has in some respects conferred significant benefits on this country. For example by playing a key role in keeping the peace in Europe for most of the last sixty-three years, by ensuring human and political rights for all citizens (including equal rights for men and women), by giving rights of travel and employment throughout Europe (for plumbers, for painters and decorators, for British people who want to live and work elsewhere in Europe, for everyone).

But, most significantly, it has taken action, where the British government has failed, in measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thus fight dangerous climate change.

The most recent move in this direction is the proposal to ban the sale of patio heaters which must be the most wasteful form of energy-use of all. A 9.3 kW gas heater generates 2.3 tons of CO2 per year and 90% of the heat generated goes straight up to the sky. I have long campaigned against the use of these climate-dangerous patio heaters and welcome this move by the EU.

EU policy in this instance is really just common sense. Isn’t it just a bit silly to burn your money? But that, in effect, is what one is doing when one uses a patio heater. Paying, to heat up the night sky…

RR in the Norwich EVENING NEWS casting some doubt on EEDA's new brainchild...

The Green Party is watching this EEDA initiative carefully -- is it going to be a great thing for carbon-reduction, or just a waste of resources?

More on why the Transition movement needs politics, so that it can work

1) Inasmuch as Peak Oil is upon us and oil is running out, recall that 'energy descent' involves not a complete giving up of any reliance upon oil / carbon-based energy, but a radical reduction. But this means that one still needs some: and so it is very important to the possibility of the Transition movement building genuine resilience that the remainder is not just guzzled. This is where politics comes in, to manage energy descent among everyone, including would-be ‘free-riders’. A Transition Town deprived of ANY oil at all is a 'Transition Town' in free-fall.
2) One needs to take in the terrifying truth mentioned in my article on Transition Towns ((see below)): that, unless we stop it politically, Peak Oil will result in the tar sands, the oil shales, heavy oil, coal including heavy-sulphur coal (and including the gasification and ‘petrolification’ of coal) being exploited far more heavily, so long as they yield a positive energy balance. This means that Peak Oil will not magically save us from dangerous climate change — it will MAKE IT WORSE. Peak Oil will unleash climate cataclysm — unless we restrain these exploitations of fossil fuels, by politics and other means.
Across the country, across the continent, and across the world, we absolutely need collectively to implement the g/Green agenda. (By the way, Simpol may be a critically-important tool here: ).

Why I am a Green

I am now back from Green Party Conference. But: Why am I a Green? Why do I have very little hope for any of the 'main three' Parties delivering the needful changes, at this fateful point in history?
The key reason why is that the 'Conservatives', the LibDems and New Labour are all thoroughgoingly committed to neo-liberal economics. This points in the OPPOSITE direction to the changes that are needed. As fast as their manifestos become 'environmentalistic', so their belief in 'making things easier for business', in building roads and airports and coal-fired and nuclear power stations etc. undermines any progress they make elsewhere.
What we need is not environmentalism attached to an agenda which in other respects involves business as usual. What we need is ecologism (See e.g. Andrew Dobson's book, 'Green political thought'. ) And, as I bring out in the posts and comments below, we need moreover ecologism across large tranches of the world. 'Ecologism in one country' is pretty hopeless. But that of course doesn't mean (and here I am taking up an issue in the debate around Transition Towns that I have spawned -- see below) that we shouldn't try to make Britain one huge demonstration project -- we _should_.
I am also given hope by the increasingly global nature of the anti-globalisation movement -- and of the Green Party, the closest thing we now have to a truly European and to some extent global political Party...

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

A point by point response to Rob Hopkins

[See the posts below, for explication of the context here.

This is a reply to Rob Hopkins's critique of my column, here


>The first of [Rupert Read’]s specific arguments, the one that I am still scratching my head about days after reading his piece, goes as follows; ”The Transition Towns movement alone cannot save us because, within the existing economic system, some people reducing their use of fossil fuels is received by everyone else as a price signal that it is OK to use even more fossil fuels”. This seems like an astonishing argument from a member of the Green Party, to suggest that it is counter-productive to reduce fossil fuel consumption in one place because it will just increase it elsewhere. I sometimes hear the same argument from those who suggest that there is no point in our doing anything to lower our carbon emissions because China and India will never do so. So does Read suggest that instead we just madly consume whatever fossil fuels we can in order to use them up as quickly as possible? No. His argument is that what we need is “legislation that enforces lower overall use of fossil fuels and/or that forces everyone to try and become a Transition Town”.

Yes – because anything else simply will not work.

Look: you cannot change the world very much just by asking people to be nice. In a globalised world, if you succeed in getting tens of millions of people to be nice, you have only a very tiny effect, if you simply allow other people to do more of what isn’t nice, as a result.

But let me be completely fair to Rob here: he asks a good question. The question he asks is: If Rupert Read’s argument posing a problem for Transition Towns is valid, then doesn’t that imply that if we use less oil China and India and America and so on will just use more, and so it isn’t really worth us using less oil, in terms of having any impact at all on long-run resource-crunches and pollution-disasters? This is a good question: because the reality is that the main reason for Britain to use less oil is not to have a lower overall pollution and resource-depletion effect, because (as any economist worth their salt will quickly tell you) even the whole of Britain cutting back on its oil use as a matter of a successful government policy – a far larger effect than Transition Towns can hope to have for a long time to come – would have only a relatively minor effect upon world consumption levels, because it would send a price signal to other countries that its OK to burn even more of the stuff like there is no tomorrow.

Is this a shocking – “astonishing” -- thing for a Green Party member to say? No, because it is simply fact. Only: if one stops there, one is being irresponsible. There IS a very good reason for Britain to use less oil: and that is, to lead by example, and to show what is possible. In other words: to be what I call a demonstration project. Wouldn’t it be great if Britain was the first major world economy to try to be a Transition Country? But that alone wouldn’t do much at all to save the world.

We can show an example to others: and then, to actually save the future, we have to get most of them to make the change too. (And not just allow them to free-ride and to be in denial about the need for energy-descent for years longer as a result.)

That is going to require political action on an unprecedented global scale – it will make Seattle look like a walk in the park.

Rob goes on:

>It is absurd to suggest that reducing dependence on fossil fuels is counter-productive for many reasons, including the following;

  1. It inspires other places. Places such as Findhorn and BedZed with their low carbon footprints show the rest of the world what is possible in an inspiring way. There is no research to the best of my knowledge to indicate that communities living next to those places feel duty bound to increase their fossil fuel consumption due to that left over by their more frugal neighbours
  2. This is about more than just cutting consumption. In the Transition approach, the cutting of carbon emissions/fossil fuel consumption is a way of making the settlement in question more resilient, with a stronger local economy which in turn unleashes all kinds of other positive economic feedbacks
  3. In the context of the peak oil argument, as the price of liquids fuels starts to rise, it will be the degree of resilience that has been put in place that will be important. Delight at being able to pick up, for example, Totnes’s fossil fuel leftovers, will be short lived and entirely counter-productive.

Well, I agree with 1, 2, & 3: but they do nothing to address the issue that I have raised. Nothing. What is Rob Hopkins’s answer to the free rider problem?

Rob asks:

>It seems to me that legislation will struggle and be ultimately ineffectual if it is fighting against rather than with the will of the people.

I agree. This is the huge challenge that we face: reframing the issues such that making the collective changes that need to be made becomes the will of the people. This requires democratic engagement on a large and intense scale. And it requires that we have faith that people can desire to make these changes, and can face the realities – and the wonderful opportunities -- of the long emergency that we are embarked upon.

> Read misunderstands the Transition approach when he writes “the Transition Towns movement alone cannot save us”. No-one has ever said it can.

Well; what I have sometimes heard people say is that individual and small-scale local action is enough, and is all we are ever going to get. But Rob and I at least evidently agree on fundamentals, which is good:

>Transition Initiatives are seen as one of a hierarchy of approaches that will be required to get us through the twin crises of peak oil and climate change. We will need international action such as Contraction and Convergence, the Oil Depletion Protocol, strong international climate legislation and a moratorium on biodiesel production. We will need national action such as strong climate legislation with realistic targets, a carbon rationing system such as Tradable Energy Quotas and a national food security strategy, and we will need more local solutions.

Here we are in total concord.

>That said, Transition Initiatives can do a lot more than merely, as Read sees them, “function as demonstration projects”.

Well, I don’t think ‘merely’ is the right word at all. ‘Merely’ is Rob’s word, not mine. I think demonstrating that one can live sustainably on a path of energy descent is fantastic, and vital.

>For me, if Totnes were to be the only Transition project in country it would have failed. Isolation is not a viable response to the challenge that peak oil presents us with. Hence the Transition Network, which now comprises around 40 formal Transition Initiatives on a range of scales, and over 600 more at earlier stages of this process.

Absolutely. The more the Network grows, the stronger and more effective the demonstration.

>That said, Transition Initiatives can do a lot more than merely, as Read sees them, “function as demonstration projects”. It is not unimaginable that we might move to a stage where the majority of settlements in the UK adopt this process, and start engaging with proactively designing their pathways to a lower energy future in the form of an Energy Descent Plan, seized by the potential such a future holds.

But even if we imagine this – and it seems to me slightly far-fetched, although I would be delighted to be proved wrong on that point – , then, unless the same thing is happening in most countries of the world at the same time, a very serious problem remains, for the reasons given above. If Britain alone was a haven for Transition Towns, this would function as a magnificent beacon to the world, showing what was possible. But it would delay by only a very short time the onset of very serious oil depletion and of climate catastrophe – because in the meantime other countries would simply be helping themselves to what we were voluntarily abstaining from.

>The suggestion that Read puts forward of legislation that “forces everyone to try to become a transition town” misses the point completely. That would surely be the fastest way to kill the idea stone dead.

This is not a suggestion that I am putting forward as a recommendation for policy. I think that the much better option is to put in place carbon rationing and contraction and convergence, which will create the kind of atmosphere in which Transition Towns will flourish and ‘mainstream’. The point I was making was that, logically, you either have collectively to insist upon Transition Towns or collectively to insist upon carbon caps. Allowing most people voluntaristically simply to carry on as they wish would, by contrast, eat up most of the benefits for society that the Transition movement was creating.

>Legislation at each of the three levels outlined above needs to be based on enabling the building of resilience at a local level, alongside cutting carbon emissions. That legislation may come from parties such as the Green Party, or may even come from other political parties. There is often discussion about how politically difficult it will be to get elected on a platform of “vote for me, and every year your consumption of energy, carbon producing goods and services and travel will fall, but you’ll be happier for it”, a difficulty reflected in the Green Party’s poor standing in recent elections. As well as encouraging and supporting political representatives who are skilful at turning that message into both votes and legislation, we also need to find other ways of initiating and supporting that change, and the Transition movement is our attempt at doing that.

Huge agreement here. I hope that I / we are skilful… And I am totally with you in what you are trying to do.

>The key point about legislation is that its role should be to support and enable the Transition work happening at a local level.

Agreed. That is exactly why I am saying that Green Party policies are needed – because we’ll do that by far the best.

>Of course we need ‘ordinary politics’, but we cannot wait for/depend on it. The beauty, as I see it, of the Transition approach is that it engages people at a community level, and it makes preparing for life beyond cheap oil feel like an exhilarating challenge, a historic opportunity to do something extraordinary. Indeed I suspect that what makes it more powerful is the fact that it is not an overtly ‘green’ approach. It steps outside the usual suspects and is all the more powerful for it.

Agreed. With this one important caveat: without ordinary politics to complement your efforts, you will be stuffed in the end. We all will. There is no solution to this that is local or that comes down to individual action.

The exciting aspect of why, is that we truly are all in the same boat. …Humanity has (b)reached the global limits to growth: We are now having to learn that we are in this together; that we are one. Will we truly learn this in time? The question is open. But it is for sure that only a solution to our predicament that involves us all will work.

Consider the -- importantly different -- case of vegetarianism. If one becomes a vegetarian, one ensures that over time the lives of many animals are saved, or at least not lived in a dreadful manner. Because one reduces the demand for a ‘commodity’ whose total amount can be reduced or increased in proportion to that demand. But with oil and carbon emissions, the situation is that the total quantity available is, roughly, fixed. There is a given amount of oil on the Earth – increasing demand for it cannot really increase that amount; nor can reducing demand for it really reduce it. All we can do collectively is decide whether or not to use it all. The same goes, crucially, of course, for all other fossil fuels, too, including much more deadly ones. For the same goes for carbon emissions: there is more or less a fixed amount which we can put into the atmosphere without generating runaway climate change and extinguishing ourselves.

Are we going to leave enough fossil fuels in the ground, and use what there is gingerly enough, or not? Remember: we are all in this together. Me using less and someone else using more doesn’t help. As George Marshall rightly says: The atmosphere doesn’t care who emits carbon. It grinds on, remorselessly. All that matters is the total amount of carbon emitted into our collective life-support system, our great lungs: the atmosphere.

We have to find ways, fast, of ensuring that the amount that gets put up there is not too much. We have to do this together, societies as a whole and the world as a whole.

That is the point: that liberal individualism is not conceivably a way forward. Now is the time for collectivism, and ecologism.

>Perhaps the Green Party should be looking at how to engage with and support this emerging [Transition movement] groundswell rather than seeing it as competition.

This is a cheap shot, which I am sure that Rob doesn’t really mean. (And let me note again that my article does not in any case express Green Party policy. It is a personal view expressed in a Column in order to provoke thought and discussion.) I am fully in support of this groundswell; and there is no competition between us. ON the contrary: my point is precisely that we need each other.

>Perhaps the Green Party should be looking at how to engage with and support this emerging groundswell rather than seeing it as competition. The Green Party has done much that is wonderful, and contains many inspired, principled, dynamic activists, no doubt such as Read himself. But any frank assessment of where it finds itself as the country teeters at the top of the peak oil curve, about to enter a crushing recession, hideously dependent on cheap imported food, would suggest that we need, at this historic juncture, more than just the Green Party.

Agreed. Nothing that I wrote suggested otherwise.

>What concerns both Transition Initiatives and the Green Party is how best to design a pathway through this ‘sustainability emergency’ to the benefit of everyone. However, unless we also have a tool that motivates and engages people in seeing these challenging times as also being a thrilling opportunity, we are always going to struggle, and we will end up needing to resort to imposing change from above resulting in a long and drawn out process of the public being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the post carbon age. The Transition movement may not, in the long view of history, turn out to have been that approach, but whatever that approach ends up as being, it is hard to imagine that it wouldn’t use many of the tools it has been developing. At the moment, it appears to be unleashing a spirit and a depth of engagement that Rupert would do well to support rather than belittle.

I agree with this; and I sincerely apologise that evidently what I wrote was not carefully enough framed… For the last thing I would want to do is belittle the Transition movement. What I want to do, rather, is to make it possible for us all to work together in order to win; or at least to be able to have the long view of history, rather than no view at all (because there is no-one left to write the history).

But do not be under the illusion that everyone is going to be persuadable to give up carbon-obesity in time through the power of a good example. Any political movement involving real change has seen hard hard struggle. Look at the suffragettes; at the Chartists; at anti-apartheid; at the Civil Rights movement; at Trades Unionism. Look how viciously people who felt threatened have held onto their power and riches.

It is going to take political action to provide the umbrella through which amazing new experiments in living are able to lead the way into a sustainable future. For the struggle we face is much harder than the ones I have just mentioned. Because none of those struggles involved absolute limits which we as a species are breaching and none of them essentially involved tragedies of the commons.

We need to be clear that Rob’s ‘hierarchy of approaches’ has to be taken in earnest. And that is all that I was saying in my piece. So I’ll stop now, in hope that we can now agree to agree…

My Green World column on Transition Towns

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.

Monday, 11 February 2008

RR on Green Party Conference blog!

I won't be posting much on 'Rupert's read' for the next week: because I will be posting on the inaugural group-blog for Green Party national Conference:
Do check me out there!

Saturday, 9 February 2008

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...

Thursday, 7 February 2008

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.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

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!

Monday, 4 February 2008

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.
1. 2. 3. Rupert's Read: February 2008 4. 12. 15. 18. 19. 20. 21.

Rupert's Read

22. 23. 31. 32.