Tuesday 9 February 2010

Sea Shepherd Needs our Support

You may have seen on the news that the wonderful Sea Shepherd organisation has had quite a run-in with the Japanese Whalers. Their fast interceptor vessel Ady Gil was rammed and sunk by the Japanese harpoon ship Yushin Maru. Since then, both of their flagship vessels - the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker - have engaged the Nisshin Maru factory ship. This is the first time Sea Shepherd has had both ships on the Nisshin.

As a result of Sea Shepherd’s heroic activities, the Japanese ships have stopped whaling and it has been nearly a week since their last kill. However, the Yushin Maru has just rammed ‘Bob Barker’, causing a serious hull breach.

The group is strapped for cash, as ever, and spends far more time doing brave and wonderful things than it spends fundraising. They want to replace the Ady Gil whose speed terrified the whalers, with a stronger hulled fast patrol boat. Its Blue Fin Tuna campaign meanwhile starts in Monaco at the end of May and they will do their best to stop illegal Tuna and Shark fishing during the key two months.

Sea Shepherd is a wonderful organisation. It needs support, and if anyone wants to help, they can donate to

Sea Shepherd UK:
Nat West Bank sort 50-21-16
Account 47625317
Name: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Address of UK office:
Argyle House
1 Dee Road

Thursday 28 January 2010

MPs Demand An End to Pig Cruelty

Seventy MPs have signed an Early Day Motion demanding action to end the appalling cruelty and environmental waste and destruction behind the production of 1.3million tonnes of pig meat consumed annually in the UK

The motion praises film maker Tracy Worcester’s shocking film, Pig Business and calls for improved enforcement of animal welfare regulations, mandatory labeling of meat as to farming method and for public procurement to play a leading role in improving pig welfare. The EDM also calls on retailers to support British pig farmers by not selling imported pigmeat that has been produced to lower standards of welfare than those required in the UK

Scenes from Pig Business, one of the most significant and disturbing films ever made about man’s abuse of the environment and the industrialised cruelty to animals were shown at the House of Commons on 27 January.

The screening was co-sponsored by Zac Goldsmith, who said;

“Pig Business exposes the true cost of cheap food; a cost that is paid in needless animal cruelty and appalling pollution of the environment. Equally it demonstrates the inequity of a system where the UK insists on its own farmers maintaining relatively high animal welfare standards while permitting the import of poor quality food from abroad. It is a major reason why British farmers are being forced out of business.

There’s lots we can do. For instance, we should demand honest labelling. Currently products can be described as British produce even where they have been produced elsewhere. We can ensure that imports meet our own standards. And we can spend public money more intelligently.

It is scandalous that the £2 billion of public money that we spend each year on food for schools and hospitals is wasted on the cheapest junk available on the world’s markets. We should use it to support the rural economy, cut food miles and make good quality, humanely produced food available to children and patients everywhere.”

Tracy’s film has been hampered by legal threats, and media outlets have been reluctant to screen it. Tracy said; “I am delighted that, at last, key parts of the film will be shown without fear of retribution at the House of Commons. Now lawmakers can decide for themselves if this industry should be allowed to continue to flood the UK with ‘cheap’, low welfare meat while UK farmers, who respect our higher animal welfare laws, are struggling to survive.”

Pig Business is available to view on Youtube. It will be shown at midnight on More 4 on 2nd of February 2010 and the community channel on 31st January at 10pm

Note: The Early Day Motion [562: Pig Welfare] reads:

This House congratulates Tracy Worcester on her film, Pig Business, highlighting the adverse health, animal welfare, environmental and economic impact of industrial pig production; calls on retailers, food manufacturers and food service operators to support British pig farmers by not selling or using imported pigmeat produced to lower animal welfare standards than those that are required in the UK; calls upon the Government to take a lead in persuading the EU to adopt mandatory labelling of pig meat as to farming method so that consumers can make informed choices; calls on public sector bodies to procure only pigmeat that is free range or is produced to standards equivalent to those of the RSPCA Freedom Food scheme; and further calls on the Government to ensure the proper enforcement of EU legislation on the welfare of pigs and to press other EU governments to do likewise.

The Pig Welfare EDM 562 has been tabled by Peter Ainsworth MP and signed by 45 MPs that include the following, in standard order.

Peter Ainsworth; Alan Simpson; Chris Mullin; Gwyn Prosser; Steve Webb; Timothy Farron; Paul Holmes; Lindsay Hoyle; Paul Flynn; Peter Bottomley; Adrian Sanders; Lynne Jones; Bob Laxton; John McDonnell; Alan Meale; Laura Moffatt; Colin Breed; Colin Burgon; Martin Caton; Frank Cook; Ann Cryer; Janet Dean; Andrew Dismore; Mark Durkan; James Gray; and Ann Winterton

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Councils CAN stop Garden Grabbing

John Healy the Housing Minister, has admitted that ‘garden grabbing’ by developers has become a serious problem in ‘hot spots’ around the country, but has lambasted Councils for allowing it to happen.

Kingston and Richmond Councils have always blamed central Government for the intense problem we face here with inappropriate developments, but the Minister states that Councils already have the power to prevent the development of gardens and green spaces.

He has said that local authorities have been “sitting back and washing their hands” of a problem which they can prevent simply by including protection of gardens in their annual local plans – the statement which local planning authorities issue to describe how they see development in their area.

The Minister’s view is backed up by a Kingston University review which found that areas which had stated a preference for limited building on gardens found it easier to turn down developers’ applications.

It is certainly the case that new rules brought in by John Prescott eroded the distinction between Greenfield land and brownfield land, and that needs to be reversed by the next Government. In the past five years, 180,000 new homes have been built on gardens and land already containing a property. In some areas as much as 94 per cent of residential development is on gardens or occupied land, with the London suburbs being worst hit. I will continue to push for that change to be made.

But in the meantime, we need to demand questions of our own Lib Dem Councils which have allowed an astonishing number of inappropriate developments in this area. We need to know why Richmond and Kingston Councils have put up so little resistance, and what they will now do to protect our green spaces in light of the Ministers' statements.

Zac Goldsmith
Conservative PPC Richmond Park and North Kingston

I have been involved in countless local campaigns to protect green spaces, but there are far too many for any MP or candidate to fight effectively. That’s why I helped to establish www.protectourgreenspaces.com — a web-based toolkit designed to help people campaign more effectively.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

At a Rate of Knots – improving public transport on the River Thames

Click here to read Policy Exchange’s new report, At a Rate of Knots – improving public transport on the River Thames

With contributions from among others, Zac Goldsmith, it recommends creating a new, waterborne Tube line, with a frequent service of high-speed boats at 20 piers from Putney to Woolwich. In less than three years, and for an initial outlay of just £30 million, we can create a fast and frequent river service, providing a low-cost way to improve London transport.

Featuring maps of how the new service would look, and a detailed timetable for rolling out changes, this major report has been written by leading transport economists with contributions from Zac Goldsmith, Justine Greening MP and the Mayor’s Advisor on Transport, Kulveer Ranger.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said:“With the right mixture of investment and imagination river services can become a truly integral part of our transport network, and I'm grateful to Policy Exchange for their constructive thoughts on how we can take our agenda forward.”

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Sense about Science?

Every few months, an organisation called Sense About Science issues a pamphlet that makes fun of celebrities getting their science wrong. It is full of what it regards to be false assertions by celebrities about the benefits of homeopathy and so on, and ends with an offer by the organisation to act as a fact-checking service.

Newspapers always lap it up. The problem is that they have fallen into a trap? again. While they quote Sense About Science with the kind of deference usually reserved for the Royal Society, the organisation is?at best suspect.

Sense About Science is much more than an innocent fact-checking service. It is? a spin-off of a bizarre political network that began life as the ultra-left Revolutionary Communist Party and switched over to extreme corporate libertarianism when it launched Living Marxism magazine in the late eighties. LM campaigned against, among other things, banning child pornography.

During the nineties, Living Marxism campaigned aggressively in favour of GM food. In 2000, it was sued for falsely claiming that ITN journalists had falsified evidence of Serb atrocities against Bosnian Muslims, and was forced to close. It soon reinvented itself as the Institute of ideas, and the on-line magazine Spiked.

The Chairman of this movement¹s latest incarnation, Sense About Science, is the Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Taverne. While he routinely fires off about non-scientists debating scientific issues, calling at one point for Prince Charles to be forced to relinquish the throne if he made any further statements critical of GM food, he doesn¹t have a background in science himself.

Sense About Science Director, Ellen Raphael, said; “a little checking goes a long way”. This is the same organization that claimed, in response to concerns raised by various celebrities, that “most [chemicals] leave quickly but some stay: asbestos and silica in our lungs, dioxins in our blood. Do they matter? No!”

Another SAS expert declared that if cancer is increasing, “it’s mostly because people are living longer.” This is hard to substantiate for all kinds of reasons, not least the fact that according to the US National Cancer Institute, childhood cancers have been increasing by 1 percent every year since the fifties.

Not everything the new pamphlet says is nonsense. It can’t be, or the newspapers would be embarrassed to run with it. Some examples of celebrities getting it wrong are spot on. They provide readers with the odd laugh, and more importantly, they give credence to the SAS critique of other, perfectly sensible celebrity observations.

Gwyneth Paltrow for instance is ridiculed for saying: When I read about what pesticides can do to small animals, I thought, ‘why would I want to expose my child to that?’? It’s a comment that resonates with many people.
SAS however counters that; “If studies produce doubt about the safety of a pesticide, it is not approved for use.”

Perhaps SAS is unaware of the story of Atrazine, a pesticide that causes male frogs to grow ovaries in their testes living in water containing levels thirty times lower than those set by the US Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water. Like countless other dangerous chemicals, it slipped through the safety net and was only banned in 2004 by the EU - after years of campaigning by environmentalists.

A little fact checking, indeed.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

The big green bogeyman

Why must the media undermine sensible carrot and stick eco-initiatives by turning them into inaccurate scare stories?

We always hear from newspapers that while people understand the environmental challenge, they are unwilling to stomach the solutions. The trouble is, we only ever hear about the solutions from the media, and for whatever reason, they are almost always caricatured beyond recognition. If there's no appetite for green, it's not surprising.

I remember opening a tabloid one day to find a photograph of myself next to the image of a giant pink vibrator and under the headline "Goldsmith wants to ban dildos" (because sex toys are apparently energy inefficient). No less than the paper's political editor demanded that my ideas be "dropped like a stone". Of course he knew I'd never said anything of the sort. I believe the story was prompted by a news release calling for greater standards to be imposed on electrical appliances.

Other newspapers are less direct, but no less tricky when it comes to green policy. A couple of years ago, a broadsheet was given an exclusive look at a green car policy being proposed by the Conservative party's Quality of Life review, which I was part of.

We were calling for measures to make new clean cars more affordable, and recommended a tax on new polluting cars to pay for it. The idea was that people would still have a choice, they wouldn't be punished for a decision they'd already made, it wouldn't represent a stealth tax, and we would have a cleaner car fleet within a matter of a few years. This idea already works well in Denmark, and is a no-brainer if we want to cut emissions and oil dependence.

A senior writer prepared an article in which he properly described the idea. He explained that the cost of polluting cars would go up, and the cost of clean cars would go down. He gave the idea a big thumbs-up.

But by the time it was published in that paper, all reference to clean cars becoming cheaper, and indeed all reference to this being imposed only on new cars, was removed. With common sense stripped from the idea, the paper was able to trash it, and it did. The journalist was rightly furious, and later cited this as his reason for resigning from that newspaper shortly after.

Green policy is about triggering a shift to a cleaner way of doing things. To be effective, it needs to incentivise the right behaviour, for example through tax breaks, and that needs to be paid for by disincentives on polluting behaviour. It should never be retrospective, it should be revenue neutral for governments, and it needs to be totally transparent.

There will be winners, just as there will be losers. Clever companies will spot the trend and deliver clean products that can last. Others will be left behind.

It's a basic good cop/bad cop approach, and it's not complicated. When opinion surveys have been conducted on specific green policy ideas, they are almost always met with overwhelming approval. But never when newspapers focus exclusively on the "bad cop".

This is a major problem. If you tell people, "that old banger of yours, we're going to tax the hell out of it," they'll rightly tell you to get lost. But if you tell people that when they next buy a car, the tax will be adjusted so that the cleanest ones will cost less and the polluting ones will cost more, most people would say "fair enough". Cars would cost less to run, we'd be less oil-dependent, and we'd see a cut in our emissions.

It is true that many of our newspapers now devote pages to the environment. Pictures of icebergs and Inuit appear virtually every week. That represents an improvement. But when it comes to actual policy, the thing that might help move us in the right direction, it is almost always portrayed in such a way that it can only be rejected by readers.

Only this week for instance, the Sunday Times has me calling for "a great big new tax" on polluting cars. The quote is 50% true, but the missing 50% (a great big tax cut on the cleanest cars) is absolutely key. Indeed its omission from the quote is an obvious deal-breaker. So why leave it out? I had a detailed conversation with the Sunday Times on this very issue.

Politicians usually get the blame for dragging their feet on environmental issues. And fair enough. Most of them do just that. But the blame isn't theirs alone. For politicians afraid of losing votes, a bristling media waiting to transform good green ideas into monsters is a colossal disincentive.

Article first published in The Guardian, 7th December 2009 :

Sunday 1 November 2009

Here’s what’s wrong with politics in Britain

Have a look at the following paragraph. It’s a House of Commons Early Day Motion from March 2009, asserting:

“That this House welcomes the provisions of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 requiring the publication of local spending reports; believes that people have a right to know how their money is spent by public bodies; especially welcomes the assurances given by the Minister for Local Government, the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth, that the local spending reports will include all public agencies; further welcomes the Minister's assurance that the purpose is to achieve a report that identifies how much will be spent in each area by the authorities; is therefore very alarmed that the consultation now issued on the local spending reports proposes only to include local authorities, including fire authorities and police authorities, and primary care trusts, and to exclude all other public bodies despite the assurances of the Minister; believes it to be unacceptable that this document is now in blatant contravention of the expressed assurances of the Minister; and calls for proper local spending reports to be published, which give effect to those assurances.”

Then have a look at this House of Commons Early Day Motion from October 2009. It is virtually identical.

“That this House welcomes the provisions of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 requiring the publication of local spending reports; believes that people have a right to know how their money is spent by public bodies; especially welcomes the assurances given by the then Minister for Local Government, the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth, that the local spending reports would include all public agencies; further welcomes the Minister’s assurance that the purpose was to achieve a report that identified how much would be spent in each area by the authorities; is therefore very concerned by the limited information available in the local spending reports produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government; believes them to be a contravention of the expressed assurances of the Minister; and calls for proper local spending reports to be published, which will give effect to those assurances.”

You would expect that whoever approved the first motion, would necessarily approve the second. Not so. Below is a list of Labour MPs who approved the first, and rejected the second.

It’s not a frivolous issue. In 2007, Nick Hurd introduced the Sustainable Communities Act, with cross-party support. It was designed to give local people the power to decide how their cash is spent in their area, and to demand a regular breakdown of spending by central government departments and quangos in new ‘Local Spending Reports’.

All of a sudden the government has gone cold on the idea and prefers not to include transparency in relation to quango spending. Given that quangos now spend an astonishing £90 billion a year – equivalent to £3,640 a year for every household, it’s a major omission.

So what was it that forced a change of heart among the MPs on this list? To my knowledge there were no great debates, apologies or explanations. The only possible answer is that the Labour Whip simply instructed these MPs on how to vote, and they meekly obeyed. To which we have to ask, what is the point in electing them? Surely a computer would do a much more efficient job, and at a fraction of the cost?

List of Labour MPs who voted for the first motion and against the second:

Abbott, Diane
Ainger, Nick
Anderson, David
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Borrow, David S
Caborn, Richard
Campbell, Ronnie
Caton, Martin
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Katy
Clarke, Tom
Clelland, David
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Ann
Cummings, John
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Frank
Drew, David
Farrelly, Paul
Field, Frank
Fisher, Mark
Flynn, Paul
George, Bruce
Godsiff, Roger
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, George
Hoyle, Lindsay
Humble, Joan
Iddon, Brian
James, Sian C
Jenkins, Brian
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Martyn
Kilfoyle, Peter
Levitt, Tom
Linton, Martin
Mann, John
Marsden, Gordon
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
McCafferty, Chris
McDonnell, John
Meacher, Michael
Michael, Alun
Mitchell, Austin
Morgan, Julie
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis
Naysmith, Doug
Owen, Albert
Plaskitt, James
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Gordon
Prosser, Gwyn
Reed, Andy
Riordan, Linda
Sarwar, Mohammad
Skinner, Dennis
Taylor, David
Touhig, Don
Truswell, Paul
Vis, Rudi
Walley, Joan
Wood, Mike