Growth won’t save the planet

We continue to destroy our only planet, driven on by the moneymen – and women. Politicians, in awe of the economists, see growth as the answer to every question.

Anyone who stops to think for a moment can see that more and more growth is not any sort of a solution to today’s problems on a planet with limited resources. 

This view of economics is hard wired into our society through the legal system. Most company directors have as a prime responsibility, that they must maximise the money made by their shareholders. Failure to do this means that they can be sued.

Without changing company law to revise director responsibilities, we will remain locked into money being the measure of everything. And consequent ongoing environmental destruction.

If you haven’t seen it already, I recommend spending four minutes watching Greta Thunberg’s “How dare you” speech to the United Nations. Follow this link.

If the politicians and moneypersons don’t stand up now to save the planet, I will also not forgive them. And I am in my 70s rather than a 16 year old.

Goodbye garden village?

A funding fiasco means that the 6,000-home Welborne estate will be less effective than promised in providing homes for people who really need them.

The developers, Buckland, will have to pay a bigger share of the cost of improving Junction 10 on the M27. Buckland has agreed to double its contribution from £20million to £40million. But they say this means they will have to reduce the proportion of affordable homes provided as part of the development.

A revised planning application for Welborne can be seen on the planning pages on Fareham Council’s website. The application number is P/17/0266/OA and residents have until January 25 to comment on it.

Bukland will also now be unable to provide Passivhaus buildings – homes and other buildings which need less energy for heating and cooling – or Life Time Homes, which are designed to be accessible and adaptable for everyone from young families to older and/or disabled people.

The shortfall comes because the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership has withdrawn £25million it had pledged for the £75million junction. Delays to the Welborne project meant the LEP’s contribution could not be spent before a government-imposed deadline. But Welborne cannot go ahead without guaranteed funding for the junction.

A Government contribution to the junction will have to be increased from £10million to £30million via Homes England.

Jim Forrest, Lib Dem spokesman on Planning and Development on the Council, said: “Reductions in affordable housing make a nonsense of the argument for developing on greenfield sites. And the loss of adaptable homes undermines efforts at all levels of government to fight the climate emergency.

“If Ministers are serious in their estimates of housing need, they should have enabled the LEP to stand by their commitment. Instead they are undermining the concept of a Garden Village, and running the risk of making Welborne yet another over-priced, soulless estate.”

This revised Viability Statement attached to the new application sets out Buckland’s arguments for the changes.

Should we be blooming wild?

With the longer nights very much here, after a difficult year for our community, it can sometimes feel somewhat bleak. However as with all things there is hope and we can all be inspired to make positive changes.

Something we found particularly uplifting this year was the seeming “bounce” our local wildlife enjoyed during the quiet of lockdown.

People spending more time walking, cycling and really reconnecting with our beautiful local area. Hopefully, this may be one thing that sticks, bearing in mind climate change and mental well-being.

Could we be achieving more locally to promote flora and fauna though, with some municipal greens and roundabouts being “rewilded” into flower meadows, which are so important to butterflies and other invertebrates?

I’d like to know if there is an appetite for more “community meadows” or even “public orchards” instead of grass monocultures. Do let me know if this is something you would support.

Floating on the current

It is difficult to avoid the endless promotion of electric cars — but when will we ever see a similar transformation of boats?

The idea of swapping out a smelly diesel engine, gear box and fuel tank for a small electric motor and a larger battery pack seems a fair idea — we could surely use the extra space and enjoy the relative silence. But the design considerations (not least weight distribution) might suggest that electric boats will more likely be entirely new designs rather than conversions.

Looking at full marinas, it seems we don’t actually go to sea very often and, from an ecological viewpoint, the other saving grace of cruising is that when we do, we aim to use the engine as little as possible. Of course, we constantly check the fume-filled cooling water to reassure ourselves that the engine is not overheating. Then we drive home — and probably wonder whether our next car will be fully electric.

Logically, when environmentalists prioritise emissions reduction, surely their first target would be cruise ships and cargo vessels running their generators day and night whilst in dock — wafting their pollutants across great cities already fuming about car fumes.

Ferries — particularly for Greek island hoppers — are another obvious target for technology ventures like Artemis who have vast experience of hull design, wind/electric hybrids and autonomous yachts. Next up, surely, green campaigners will demand that fishing fleets deploy solar panels and wind energy to keep their winches winding at sea.

Occasional cruisers pottering in the Solent would seem a relatively minor issue compared, say, to the amount of untreated sewage and galley waste that we sailors dump overboard. When did you last moor in a marina with a pump out facility?

The Solent, that South coast haven for yachties, holds a murky dirty secret — Nitrate pollution. Partly, pollutants are run-off from fertilised fields and urban housing and partly from untreated drain-water and sewage. Out on the water, most of us try not to fall overboard but a fair few of us curse weed-tangled propellers. Some water-sports enthusiasts delight in closer contact with waves but are disgusted by sampling our outputs — and that’s before we take account of the plastic dumped in our waters. UK coastal waters are, reportedly, second only to the USA in terms of plastic pollution.

Long before we get around to electric boat building, or the rewiring of pontoons for heavier current consumption, there’s surely much to be done cleaning up our maritime mess.

Cycle pathology

Local councils have put in temporary schemes to improve walking and cycling safety in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

They are bidding for funds for more projects.

In the longer term, we need high-quality permanent improvements to encourage a shift away from unnecessary, polluting car journeys to healthier walking and cycling.

The Government recently announced funds would be made available to encourage such projects.

But as this well-researched paper by Fareham Liberal Democrat and international tri-athlete David Abrams shows, none of Fareham’s current cycle routes would qualify for funding. On Your Bikes.

David is engaging with Council officers and the cycling charity Sustrans to seek better solutions.

Imagine if our local authority had authority

I remember the time, way back, when the school RI syllabus changed from (Christian) Bible Study to Comparative Religion – a far more interesting, more-inclusive, approach that opened our young minds to a world we would not have encountered.

Ever since, I’ve approached any challenging study by standing back and surveying the wider scene. The thorny topic of how we are, or perhaps could be, governed is a classic case. How often do we recall the theme tune of The Magic Roundabout, and Dougal, shaking his head sorrowfully and muttering, ‘ What a way to run a railway ’.

The governance question is particularly relevant at this Covid time. The downsides of a highly centralised regime are only too apparent. But alternatives are difficult to imagine. We have a complex mix of Metro, County and Local bodies, with competing tensions, widely different community needs, vested interests, and arcane budget formulae whose rationale seems lost in ancient history – as we call last year.

So I found myself listening to Bo Frank – not least because, back in 2010, I led a Scottish delegation to Sweden in search of Full Fibre futures. Bo was Mayor of a town we didn’t visit, but one that seems typical of the many places we explored.

Växjö’s overall population is comparable to Fareham, and similarly spread over several communities. Bo Frank was Mayor or deputy mayor from 1991-2016 and is now president of the council. The place also has a strong boating community – albeit an inland lake rather than the Solent or Portsmouth harbour. It was that lake, or rather its pollution, that in 1996 set the communities on a determined environmental mission to become fossil free by 2030 – and there the similarities end.

There is no substitute for listening to this 22-minute podcast via Spotify. Settle down and absorb the many differences between Fareham and Växjö. Then ask yourself what Fareham Borough Council would do if it had the same sense of responsibility and authority as Växjö. Suggestions welcome in the comments section below.

What car?

I’m in a bind. My car, a 1.6 diesel has done 216,000 miles and does 65 mpg. Great for CO2 and cost, but diesels have to go and surely mine will fail at some point. But what to replace it with?

I have just investigated the brand new Toyota Yaris self charging hybrid. Toyota claims an mpg between 59 and 65. Where is the climate emergency breakthrough?

When will the powers that be take the planet seriously? How is it that a brand new hybrid is no more fuel efficient than my 12 year old car?

In fact, the Yaris has an engine that is more powerful than mine – what for? The manufacturers know that for 80% of the time a car generally uses less than 20% of its engine’s power.

Surely the trick is to have as small an engine as possible (consistent with efficiency) that will allow the car to cruise at 70 mph and still be able to keep the batteries topped up. An 800cc twin cylinder engine would do the job nicely and be able to use the stored battery energy for acceleration when required.

When hydrogen technology is rolled out, the little petrol engine can be replaced with a fuel cell. All that is needed to make this happen is some government strategy and direction which is sadly lacking.

What if the government rules were that cars had to do 80 mpg (or electrical equivalent) by 2030 and 100mpg by 2040. This would rapidly reduce the fossil fuel use of transport until it can be CO2 free at some point.

Simply banning the sale of new diesel and petrol cars will have the effect of keeping lots of old cars on the road for longer. It puts the personal transport eggs in the one basket of battery cars, relying on some future magical technology breakthrough to make them workable.

China effectively controls the supply of lithium batteries. Does anyone think this is a good idea? Where do I look for a new car? By the way, I have no off street parking so charging an electric car at home is not possible. Open to suggestions.


Ruling The Waves?

A cold shower of reality. This is 2020. Few of us will be here in 2100, but this is not just because we don’t all expect to live for another 80 years.

Very few of us will be here in 2100 simply because large parts of here will be going, going, gone — along with many of the houses, roads, businesses and fields we know so well.

Rising sea levels may not seem to be an urgent problem — and, anyway, we are supposed to have a coastal defence plan. But our grandchildren are also likely to have a lesson in nature’s exponential arithmetic.

Sea walls at Hill Head need constant repairs

It seems increasingly unlikely that climate warming will be constrained to +2℃. The current Paris Agreement (+1.5℃ target) is already seen as inadequate and unlikely to be achieved. The plan assumes, of course, that every country will stick to their international agreements to limit global warming. How likely is that?

The latest observations suggest that the rate of sea-level rise may double every 20 years.

This year’s rise in sea level may not seem very much at all. But, as it rises faster, year on year, the cumulative effect is huge. 5mm a year in 2020 becomes an extra 1cm/p.a. in 2040 and, by 2100 the rate will be accelerating by +8cm every year.

That adds up to a lot of extra water — between 1 to 2 metres. It adds up to a lot less habitable land, more local islands, probably a growth in ferry services, no skiing holidays, many more beaches and houses built on stilts. And that doesn’t count inland flooding from extreme weather events, also triggered by climate change.

‘The last time our world was a couple of degrees warmer — during the Eemian interglacial 125,000 years ago — sea level was between six and nine metres higher than it is today.’ — Prof. William J McGuire, UCL

London is currently protected by the Thames Barrier. It was designed and built as an urgent response to the UK’s East Coast flood of 1953 — a catastrophic combination of high tides and poor weather. When completed in 1982 the barrier was expected to be needed perhaps twice a year. Last year the barrier was raised 9 times. It will be useless once the sea level has risen more than 2 metres. Some pundits may suggest that the Eemian is a poor guide to the future, arguing that there is little symmetry between the heating of the poles, but recent Antarctic observations provide little comfort.

Meanwhile, here on the UK’s South coast, the local plan to hold back the waves is, apparently, stalled while people argue about which latter-day Cnut might pay for it. There’s no sign yet of any plan to retreat from low-lying places around here, but, if we were interested, there’s a wealth of experience to be found in Asia and southern parts of the USA. Alternatively, we might, perhaps, gain some time if our governments realise that their aspirations to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 will achieve far too little, far too late.

Like glaciers, time is melting away. Governments and large organisations are rarely good at sustaining long term plans. Sustainability is an individual choice. Each of us must now choose the life we leave to our grandchildren.

Finding Fareham’s fibre

With the long lockdown, the calamities and the clapping, the confusions and cracks exposed, some things became blindingly obvious. These things may well have been obvious before – but only with Covid 19 did we really ‘get it’. Now we have a list of urgent actions. Stuff that must not be forgotten. Stuff that must be remedied.

I wonder what’s top of your list. Hands up if you found working from home easy? Keep them up if your broadband was brilliant – no lag on the line, rapid downloads and uploads, smooth video calls with great audio – and the doctor available for remote consultation at the touch of a button.

TV news may well have done more than anyone to show up the weaknesses in the UK’s broadband – the oddly distorted voices, the long gaps and nodding heads, the sudden picture freezing, the collapsing conference call – but, when they got their act together, the brilliant multi-player synchronised productions.

To work properly the networks need fibre – but we knew that back in 1990 when the Tory government barred BT’s plan so as to not queer the pitch for CableTV providers from the USA or Murdoch’s SatelliteTV. Most of the UK’s franchises for Cable have now ended up with Virgin Media (VM). Meanwhile BT has soldiered on with its old copper network. Both BT and VM have done their best to deliver broadband – but both now recognise that taking fibre only as far as their street cabinets is nowhere near broadband enough.

BT’s Superfast fibre was never super, fast, or fibre if the signals must be squeezed through old copper pairs to reach your home. VM faired only slightly better because their copper coaxial cables from the cabinets were a little shorter and able to carry faster signals, leastways in one direction. But both BT’s FTTC and VM’s Cable are still outpaced by ‘Full Fibre’ to your home or office.

Fibre is the foundation for building a better community and its local economy. We can wish for future resilience and greater well-being but without fibre the local fabric will not hang together.

So how can Fareham get Full Fibre?

The good news is that it can be found. The bad news is that it cannot be found everywhere – and it costs a lot. If you really want Full Fibre broadband at a reasonable price, you should move to villages in rural Lancashire where properly engineered very fast 2-way 1000Mb/s low latency services will cost just £30 per month.

So why not here? Because we’ve not been bothered to demand better. Because it’s not been a priority. Because we left it to the market. Because we didn’t think it important – until we really desperately needed it. But we are not alone. The UK’s fibre network is way behind others because of a lack of investment. Far better, they thought, to squeeze that last drop of profit from old copper cables before giving customers a really useful service.

As in so many Covidised quarters, the time for excuses is over. The time for being led by markets that have only short-term profit interests has passed. The time for sleeping on the job and not being fully aware of citizen and business needs has ended. Top of my list is a campaign to bring Full Fibre investment to Fareham without any further delay.