Blowing hot and cold on wind

19th October 2011 by

A normal conversation whilst visiting my parents house in Wales goes thus:

Me: “Where are you off to Dad?”

Dad: “Just up to see Nora, I’ll be back for lunch.”

Me: “Is she alright? This is the third time you’ve been this week!”

Dad (looking slightly perturbed): “I’m not sure, she’s not been moving much lately – I just want to go and check on her.”

Enter Mum, rolling her eyes: “Are you still going on about Nora????”

Photo by John Williams, Bro Dyfi Community Renewables

Now you may be wondering whether Nora may be an ailing neighbour, or even a mystery female. However, Nora, the woman so close to my dad’s heart, is in fact a wind turbine, formally known as the Nordtank 500, which stands proud and tall on the hill opposite my family home in the heart of Wales.

Nora is one of two turbines owned by Bro Ddyfi Community Renewables, one of the first locally owned energy cooperatives in the UK. The co-op is owned by mainly local shareholders – just normal local people – who want to put their money where their mouths are and create renewable energy for the local community, as well as getting a small return from selling the electricity to the grid. The project was also funded by Ecodyfi, a local NGO dedicated to sustainable development, the project from which is used to tackle energy poverty through providing grants to households for energy efficiency measures.

For many, wind turbines are an emblem of the environmental movement, symbolising the essence of sustainability: harvesting clean, renewable and often cheap energy from the natural environment. Many people, me and my dad included, see wind turbines as things of beauty, majestically gracing the hills and mountains of some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. And all over the country normal people are walking the talk, getting involved with community owned wind projects from Scotland to Oxfordshire in a bid to do their bit in the fight against climate change and other global environmental destruction associated with the oil industry.

However, not everyone shares these views and aspirations. As anyone who lives near a planned wind farm site knows, there is often substantial and vocal opposition to wind power. Driving through small villages in mid-Wales you can see fields littered with increasingly humorous placards proclaiming ‘No to wind’.

Paradoxically, opponents of wind also see themselves as stewards of the environment, although with a slightly different mandate to wind supporters. One MP from mid-Wales called proposals to create a new wind farm ‘environmental vandalism’, citing the usual (and often unsubstantiated) criticisms concerning noise pollution, bird deaths and damage to tourist-luring vistas.

So how is it that members of the same community, who are fighting for the same cause of environmental protection, end up in such embittered conflict over wind? It seems to me to depend on depth of environmental worldview.

Photo by John Williams, Bro Dyfi Community Renewables

People who see the environment as a global and long lasting entity tend to see wind turbines as a necessary tool in fighting climate change, and perhaps are willing to overlook small scale distruption to the local environment. Others, who see the environment as limited to what they see in their gardens, are passionately fighting to limit what they see as destruction of the natural landscape and biodiversity in their locality – resulting in what is commonly known as NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) syndrome.

It would be naive to say that people accused of NIMBYism do not understand the environmental issues at stake. However, it it boils down to how this information is processed, depending on how you look at the world. Some people will put their hard-earned savings into building a wind turbine of their very own, whilst a neighbour may spend long hours planning campaigns to shut it down.

Obviously one of these viewpoints is going to have to change or be overruled, which is why the issue of wind in many communities is such a touchy subject. Perhaps as climate change comes more to the forefront of people’s minds, and the cost of fossil fuels increase as peak oil looms, then attitudes will change. Perhaps the people who support wind should become as vocal as the often minority anti-wind protesters, to show local support  to counteract the resentment.

Maybe it’s up to people like my dad and his friends to change people’s attitudes and show that wind turbines are the lesser of the evils in the quest for a secure energy supply. All I know, as I follow my dad’s gaze to watch a Nora happily spinning round on her hilltop throne (and I’m sure even the most NIMBYistic of my community would agree), is that I’m glad she’s not a hulking great power station.

Coal Cares and Oil is oh-so sustainable

20th May 2011 by

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t for a minute think this was real.

This month a coalition of America’s coal companies launched ‘Coal Cares’, a brand-new campaign to combat the stigma of asthma faced by children living in the shadow of coal power stations.

“Why Free Inhalers? Because COAL CARES.

Coal Cares™ is a brand-new initiative from BHP Billiton, one of America’s proud family of coal companies, to reach out to American youngsters with asthma and to help them keep their heads high in the face of those who would treat them with less than full dignity. For kids who have no choice but to use an inhaler, Coal Cares™ lets them inhale with pride.

Puff-Puff™ inhalers are available free to any family living within 200 miles of a coal plant, and each inhaler comes with a $10 coupon towards the cost of the asthma medication itself.”

The website  features such textual joys as “Coal: it’s the safest energy there is”; a Kidz Koal Korner full of fun coal based activities and some incredible energy ‘facts’.

“Facts:

Coal power is solar power
That’s because millions of years ago, before coal began to form from decaying organic matter, the sun provided the energy that organic matter required to grow and die.

Wind Kills
Wind turbines can kill up to 70,000 birds per year, or 4.27 birds per turbine per year. Coal particulate pollution, on the other hand, kills fewer than 13,000 people per year.”

Of course the website and offer of free asthma inhalers does not come from a coalition of coal companies. The true authors are the Yes Men and a small environmental and public health group called Coal is Killing Kids (CKK). This is their response to the coal industries expensive lobbying against the Clean Air Act. “We don’t have their millions, but we do have a knack for incredibly tasteless jokes,” said Veronica Tomlinson of CKK.

I doubt I was the only person momentarily fooled. After all was this website that much more ludicrous than some of the greenwash pedaled by coal, oil and gas companies? In 2007 Shell got into trouble with the Advertising Standards Agency for it’s flower-power adverts, picturing flowers billowing from power plant chimneys. “We use our waste CO2 to grow flowers, and our waste sulphur to make super-strong concrete. Real energy solutions for the real world” proclaimed Shell, ‘liars and false environmental claims’ cried out environmental groups and the ASA.

BP’s ‘Beyond Petroleum’ ad campaign included a poster declaring “if all UK motorists switched to BP Ultimate the reduction in harmful emissions would be the equivalent of taking one million cars off the road”. All well and good, but largely irrelevant unless BP scales down, rather than up, it’s drilling plans.

In the run up to their AGM, BP marked the anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill with full page colour advert in all the national papers. “One year later. Our commitment continues” they declared over a picture of clear blue seas dotted with oil rigs. Not so, claimed the delegation of Louisiana fishermen who were refused entry to BP’s AGM.

The moral of the story? If you can’t beat ‘em do as Coal is Killing Kids did and join ‘em.

An open letter to Climate Week

15th March 2011 by

Dear Climate Week Supporters, Sponsors, Organisers and Judges,

We are writing to you because of your involvement with March 2011 Climate Week. This signifies a clear commitment to taking strong action on climate change, and we applaud you for this. Whilst we are completely behind the aims of Climate Week, we have concerns about Climate Week’s corporate sponsors, the Royal Bank of Scotland in particular. Some organisations who were invited to enter the Climate Week awards, including the Otesha Project and Magnificent Revolution, have been unable to do so because they feel that the association of RBS with Climate Week constitutes ‘greenwash’.

We support Climate Week’s intention to ‘shine a spotlight on the many positive steps already being taken in workplaces and communities across Britain’ and use these examples to inspire others. However we do not agree that RBS is ‘supporting the transition to a low carbon economy’.

Unfortunately any positive steps taken by RBS in their business operations and in their investment in the renewable energy sector are far outweighed by RBS’ continued investment in carbon intensive industries. Whilst sponsorship of Climate Week could constitute a welcome first step on a journey to more sustainable practice for a bank which self-identifies as ‘The Oil and Gas Bank’, there is currently no evidence to suggest that this sponsorship represents anything more significant than ‘greenwash’.  Perhaps this rebranding is a response to continued criticism from numerous NGOs and grassroots campaigns, which has led to more widespread negative publicity for the bank. However it is concrete action, not rebranding, which is required.

RBS cites its high ranking by the Carbon Disclosure Project as testimony to its environmental credentials. Unfortunately the CDP ranking does not appear to have sufficient scope to capture the entirety of carbon emissions for which a company such as RBS is responsible: only the energy usage within bank branches and offices is taken into account. Whilst every action taken to reduce carbon emissions is important, it is vital that we do not allow the championing of RBS’ weak energy saving measures to obscure the far more damaging practices financed by RBS, such as the coal, oil and gas industries. We are particularly concerned with RBS’ financing of the Canadian Tar Sands, the exploitation of this resource is trampling indigenous rights, destroying vast areas of ancient boreal forest, and has the potential to cause runaway climate change (for more information see ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/03/canadian-oil-sands/kunzig-text).

Sponsorship from companies with such weak green credentials lends legitimacy to the flawed concept that one small action is a sufficient reaction to climate change and that changing the light bulbs allows us to continue ‘business as usual’.
We urge you to reconsider your involvement with Climate Week and to raise these concerns with others involved in Climate Week.

If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this letter further, please contact Jo Clarke (jo@otesha.org.uk).

Your Sincerely,

The Otesha Project UK
www.otesha.org.uk

People & Planet
www.peopleandplanet.org

Magnificent Revolution
www.magnificentrevolution.org

The Climate Week Conundrum

9th February 2011 by

Last week we had a phone call inviting us to enter the Climate Week Awards. Climate Week is a new national event to get individuals, schools and businesses taking action on climate change. So far, so good. But closer inspection reveals that Climate Week is sponsored by RBS, the infamous publicly owned bank sometimes also known as the ‘Oil Bank of Scotland’ (see Platform’s report on RBS’s financing of oil and gas industries). So it would appear that while RBS are funding Climate Week, they’re also funding climate change.

Other dubious sponsors of Climate Week include Tesco and EDF Energy. Tesco now controls over 30% of the grocery market in the UK. In 2010, the supermarket chain announced profits of £3.4bn. Growing evidence indicates that Tesco’s success is partly based on trading practices that are having serious consequences for suppliers, farmers and workers worldwide, local shops and the environment.

EDF Energy produce almost one-quarter of the nation’s electricity from nuclear, coal and gas power stations, as well as combined heat and power plants and wind farms. 25% of their electricity is produced through burning coal and only 7% comes renewables (less than the UK’s target to get 10% of all electricity generation from renewable sources by 2010).

So what to do? We are taking a multi-pronged approach:

  • Otesha will not be entering any Climate Week Awards. We have a corporate screening policy that prevents us from accepting donations fromcorporations whose practices or reputation might, in the opinion of staff or management committee, diminish the credibility of Otesha UK; corporations that actively promote environmental citizenship without actively adjusting corporate practices to respond to those needs; corporations that through advertising methods actively participate in green washing‘. Although any Award we might receive would not be financial, we consider an ‘in kind’ donation of publicity or any other support to also be subject to the same criteria.
  • We are writing an open letter to Climate Week, Climate Week’s judges, sponsors and supporting organisations explaining our decision and our concerns.
  • Whilst we have concerns about the funding of Climate Week we are completely supportive of the aims of Climate Week. We are inviting schools to partner with Otesha to mark Climate Week with hands-on sustainability workshops on Fairtrade, bike maintenance, recycled fashion, the media and consumerism, growing food and energy use in the school.

We know that lots of other organisations have been considering the same Climate Week condundrum, and we’d be interested to know what other people think.

Do it like the french do it

21st October 2010 by

Last Saturday hundreds of activists descended on Coryton oil refinery in Stanford-le-hope, the biggest oil refinery in the UK, and blockaded the only road in and out. The protest was entirely peaceful, there were no arrests and an estimated 375,000 gallons of oil were prevented from reaching factories, airports and petrol stations in and around London.

All well and good. But look what the french have been up to! France is facing an oil crisis after over 3.5 million people took to the streets. This week 4,000 petrol stations ran dry after a week long blockade of France’s 12 oil refineries. And they’re not even protesting about oil!

If we want our government to sit up and take notice of us whilst they up the retirement age and cut the public sector into smithereens, we’re going to have to shout a lot harder (possibly in french). And if we really want to move our economy, our infrastructure and our lives away from oil, we’re going to have to try a lot harder.

Here’s a little video of the Crude Awakening action at Coryton.

Hair Enough

5th May 2010 by

Now we’re all obviously very concerned about the oil spill, it’s going to devastate areas of natural beauty, destroy livelihoods, kill wildlife and generally continue to make a massive mess of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s just another in a long list of response to shake our heads in disapproval at BP. But we were staggered to read that one of the clean up solutions is to soak it up with hair. And I was worried about my oily hair problems!

Ok, I’m being facetious, writing a blog about the oil spill just so I can make some oily puns. But while we’re on the subject, check out Oyal Bank of Scotland. Not only does it boast a brilliant pun title but it can also tell you everything you ever wished wasn’t true about RBS-Natwest ‘the climate change bank’, which we the public also happen to own an 84% share of. It’s puns not policies that improve a campaign I reckon.

Anyway it’s clearly time for us all to put some proper effort into renewables, drilling for oil is boring. I better stop now because I’m starting to scrap the bottom of the barrel, I shell go away and try to drill up some new ones. I apologise for the dreadful humour in this blog post and thank the internet for being an endless source of awful jokes.

If you appreciated this, you’ll probably like this too.


Search Blog

Get Social