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Blogs seem to join up different issues. Climate Change. Working conditions. I’ve got various tags, categories and trends on this one now. The future of the Royal Mail and it’s staff is something I keep coming back to. Things have quietened down on the news front as far as the postal strike is concerned, but that doesn’t mean the issues go away.

The blogger Roy Mayall is featured on Radio 4’s Book of the Week “Dear Granny Smith” this week. Catch up with it in the Radio 4 archive. Billy Hayes (General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union) is discussing some of the issues Roy raises on the BBC Radio 4 consumer affairs programme “You and Yours”.

As for me, on this last day of the Climate Change talks in Copenhagen – I’m thinking – if they scrapped the Royal Mail’s current transport infrastructure altogether (including all it’s bicycles) – surely that would mean increasing carbon counts all round?

For some of my previous blog posts on this subject click on the categories  Royal Mail and Postal Strike.

Update:

I’ve just listened to the You and Yours BBC Radio 4 programme I mentioned earlier. The following points occurred to me. Firstly, I think the speakers underestimated the cultural (and political) impact of Roy Mayall’s work. From what I know of the postal service (having worked there myself) and from conversations with postal workers Roy is not simply presenting a sentimental view of what is happening, but he is also analysing current problems, some of which are hugely relevant to the recent postal strike and the current negotiations taking place.

Roy writes about walk-sequencing machines. He actually says they help the workload ‘a bit’ but not very much.  This is a really, really important point, which none of the speakers picked up on, I felt. It echoes what other postal workers have told me about the ways in which machines are being used (or not) and how effective (or ineffective) they actually are. See this post which I wrote during the strike. It includes a quote from a CWU union rep. Surely the question we need to be asking is: “How useful are they?”.

If you listen to this programme carefully you will hear one of the speakers say that the closure of mail centres will be a part of the ‘modernisation’ process. I’d like to hear what postal workers have to say about that one.

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We approach the final day of the Copenhagen Climate Change talks and today’s timetable looks like this.

To access citizen journalist reports at the Climate Change Summit – live coverage at this link.

The Guardian blog from the protests is updated every minute. See this link:

A message from Jeremy…

“Hello from the climate summit, where the next three days will have a major say in whether children born today have a liveable world to look forward to when they reach the age where they can understand what their predecessors have done to the planet.

The outcome is far from certain, but I remain cautiously optimistic based on patterns of behaviour reminiscent of Kyoto in 1997. Then, the world came together to negotiate a legally-binding climate treaty, against expectations, in a drama that ran to the final hour.

The Kyoto Protocol wasn’t perfect, but it kept hope alive. I have posted the story of that night in history (the final pages of The Carbon War) on my homepage. On it, you can find links to my daily blogs for the Financial Times. These relay one person’s view of the unfolding story. I have also updated the triple crunch log through today, and in it you can find concise summaries of the developments in the first week of the Summit if you feel the need to catch up. I will be posting blogs daily through to the end on Saturday morning.”

www.jeremyleggett.net

is the link

I’m running out of appropriate words for what is happening (or not happening) in Copenhagen right now. This song covers it. 350 parts per million is what many scientists, climate experts, and progressive national governments are now saying is the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere.. For the science and numbers click here.

Faith at the summit. Odyssey Networks on the trail of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was asked “Should good Christian people be on marches with big placards?” He answered: “In a word ‘yes'”. Rowan Williams referred to the demonstration as “one of the most important events in our lifetimes”.

Go to this Christian Aid site link for ongoing coverage and videos of the climate summit and the protests. (Includes a video of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Copenhagen).

At this late hour on a Saturday I haven’t been able to locate coverage as discerning as I might like. But here is the Guardian news on this:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/12/hundreds-arrested-copenhagen-protest-rally

Note the parts which say those accused of ‘throwing stones’ weren’t able to because they were dressed in ‘cow’ costumes.

   

40,000 activists hit the streets of London demanding "Climate Justice" at "the Wave" London, 5th. December, 2009. Photograph by Frances Laing

 Two pointers for today’s International Day of Action for Climate Justice. First: check the Huffington Post today. You can upload your photos and videos and see coverage from around the world. Second: look out for the candlit vigil in your area which takes place early this evening. 3,000 events have been registered so far. It’s organised by Avaaz an effective global campaigning organisation and the message is: “THE WORLD WANTS A REAL CLIMATE DEAL”
 
 To find the venue and exact time for your location  follow this link:

"The Dragon". Climate Justice Demonstration. London Saturday 5th. December, Photograph by Frances Laing

 

"The Wave". Climate Change March. December 5th, 2009. Picture by Frances Laing

Five ideas and useful links to stay informed and act on climate justice. (It’s not too late to do your bit…)

1. WWF – petition and update on progress during the summit http://wwf.org.uk/voteearth
2. Christian Aid – email to Gordon Brown http://www.christianaid.org.uk/copenhagen
3. Friends of the Earth – register to be updated during the summit http://www.foe.co.uk/climatetalks
4. Avaaz.  global on-line campaigning organization promoting vigils around the world on 12 December to keep pressure on the negotiatiors at Copenhagen.  http://www.avaaz.org/en/
5. Stop Climate Chaos – for links to everything else: http://www.stopclimatechaos.org   

  On the way to Saturday’s  Climate Change march people read various papers and leaflets.  A Guardian headline  told us:  “Our children won’t forgive us if we fail”. (Gordon Brown). Emotive, isn’t it? Especially for the likes of me. As  the mother of a four year old child, I spend a lot of time considering my actions. What do I give my child to eat? What will I say about Climate Change?   

Protestors prepare for the 'Wave'. Climate Change demonstration. London, December 2009. Photograph by Frances Laing

   I sometimes say: ‘mummy used to work for Greenpeace Germany’s North Sea campaign’. Perhaps in future I’ll tell my child how Greenpeace stopped acid waste dumping in the North Sea – twenty years ago – and (in another campaign) show her the photos of me chaining myself to a gas exploration rig in the Wadden Sea – in a protest against habitat destruction and the lack of a coherent European Energy policy. 

I’ll explain – when I started out twenty years ago how I learned about something called the ‘Precautionary Principle’. Which in simple terms means: ‘Don’t do something unless you are certain it will not cause harm’. I don’t pretend to be a saint – (my vices are many and varied). But applying the Precautionary Principle makes sense in parenting and politics too. Where is this philosophical and political principle at Copenhagen?  

Climate Change Negotiations outside Methodist Central Hall. The Wave, London. Photograph by Frances Laing

 I tell my daughter about the importance of ‘marching’ together and acting as a community. Together you stand a chance of changing things for the better.  

Dare I say I’m taking a more realistic approach than Gordon Brown.  I explain to my child that sometimes – as progressive people – we’re going to fail. But that doesn’t mean we stop trying. Generation after generation needs to keep the pressure up. We’re building on what went before. We’re getting ourselves ready to make our voices heard again. Shouting louder.    I’ve heard people say that protests and marches don’t change anything. What they forget to mention is that all those people who march have friends, relatives and family. When they go home – activists talk to their communities and carry the news and the issues with them. They are multipliers.     

It’s obvious there’s a need to look very closely at what political leaders are saying and how they’re saying it. They are the ones who are supposed to be acting on our behalf – they have the mandate to negotiate at Copenhagen. On the face of it, our Prime Minister has lent his support to a progressive deal at Copenhagen. On You Tube he has signalled his support for the ‘Wave’.

 But Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a twenty-five minute video interview to the Guardian this week. I watched it twice today and analysed it.     Brown starts out in this interview by focussing on four  ‘big issues that will need to be resolved over the next six months – in order to have a truly global society’. One he says is the ‘economic recession’, the other three are: ‘nuclear weapons’, ‘terrorism’ and ‘climate change’. Climate Change being the most ‘comprehensive of all the challenges that the world faces’.     

Brown accepts: “There has been a wave of opinion…based on scientific evidence that has convinced me and I believe the vast majority of leaders and governments around the world that we need to act. If the talks break down…it will be a huge failure of leadership if we can’t get an agreement“. 

But watch what happens to each of the big issues during the course of this interview. Brown speaks of the desirability of a ‘more diversified energy sector’. The Guardian interviewer points out we have a ‘lamentable renewable energy industry in this country’. Brown says: “we’ve made a decision on nuclear which other countries are not prepared to do, but equally “that is about reducing emissions“.  

My reaction is – we already know there is considerable opposition to the planned installation of new nuclear power plants in Britain. Some of us are convinced this is not an effective way to reduce our emissions and that this is not a sensible way forward. 

Brown says: “It is possible to do a ‘heathrow’ (airport/third runway… F.L) whilst at the same time  having to take other action to reduce aviation emissions and emissions generally..”. 

I say: there is huge public opposition to this plan too. 

As far as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is concerned we know that the U.K. is not fully meeting it’s obligations. 

Brown maintains: “We’re trying to build a global society with a shared ethicwhether it is talking about the recession or nuclear weapons or terrorism and the institutions that are capable of  managing that global society, we talk about the G20 and the non-proliferation treaty”.  

I say: the U.K. is sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan in a move which John Pilger has described as: “a very bad war which exemplifies the moral and intellectual contortion that has led humanity into the bogus ‘war on terror’ and an era of great peril”. (see John Pilger’s introduction to the pamphlet ‘Afghanistan – why we should get out’ www.stopwar.org.uk ) 

Is this what Gordon Brown understands by a ‘global society’ with a ‘shared ethic’? 

Watch the Guardian interview with Gordon Brown in full at this link. 

Reminding myself that this blog aims to focus on “News that doesn’t normally get out” – I travelled down to the ‘Wave’ on Saturday – the Climate Change protest – with the Cafod coach from Chester. Copenhagen and Climate Change are important and ongoing stories. I’m telling some of these stories in blog posts this week. With pictures.

Four Girls. Cafod Coach Number 17 from Chester.

As some of you will know, I was trained by and worked for Greenpeace Germany two decades ago. My own work then focused on the protection of the North Sea. But Climate Change issues were never far away and each week all Greenpeace Germany staff would get an update and discussion on this very central issue in environmental politics. That’s twenty years ago now. There is so much to say about all this. More than could possibly be related in a single blog post as you can imagine.  In passing I’m just noting an important fact here – at least two decades went by before these issues reached mainstream politics in Britain. Some of us (most notably politicians) have been wasting time. 

Not so the activists on the coach, there were some new faces but most had all been engaged in various ways with social justice and climate justice issues for decades already. We had a 4.a.m. start. In the past I’ve organised similar coach trips myself – respect is due and a big thank you to the Cafod coordinator – the organisation is tiring and it can’t be easy having a journalist sit next to you all day.  Most of the people on our coach wanted to attend the ecumenical service in the Central Methodist Hall in London at 11.a.m.   We were making good progress towards London when we hit traffic gridlock. “That’s part of the problem, isn’t it?”, I said, (unhelpfully no doubt).

Eventually we reached our venue but the service had already started and there was “no room left at the inn” for the people on our coach, due to the huge numbers of people queueing up to attend the service. The venue could accomodate 2,000 people comfortably (and with respect for fire regulations) I believe there were another 1,000 people left outside who would have liked to be at the service. Good news as such that so many people wanted to get in but sad for those to whom being there would have meant so much.

On arrival at the Methodist Central hall – I quickly donned my bright yellow press jacket. Ironic. My press pass meant I was the only person from our coach who managed to get into the event. As a convinced Quaker (of merely eight years) – I’d normally be the last person keen to attend an ecumenical service led by two Archbishops…But I did my job, got pictures and I hope these blog posts convey something of what was said for all those people who couldn’t be there in the hall, or at the march itself.

Whilst listening to important leaders of churches in Britain I imagined the scene at Copenhagen right now and recalled Jess Worth’s brilliant article I had read in the ‘New Internationalist’ (December 2009) on the way down to London. Worth said:

“Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of Copenhagen, where politicians, bankers and corporations compete for the best campaign slogans, Coca Cola entreats the world to sign its ‘Hopenhagen’ petition, while Shell sponsors glossy magazine pull-outs reminding us we only have ’10 days to save the world’….don’t be dazzled by this extraordinary show…

…because it is clear that the political will just doesn’t exist, either in the U.N. or at national governmental level, the global climate justice movment is re-evaluating its strategy and upping the stakes. If laws become unjust, it is our responsiblity to change them…

Copenhagen is the last chance – for the bloated and corrupt UN circus to deliver genuine action on climate change. WHEN IT FAILS, IT WILL BE TIME FOR THE REST OF US TO TAKE OVER”.

The ‘rest of us’ that Jess Worth is talking about includes faith communities. The first  picture shows the Archbishop of Canterbury addressing the ecumenical congregation.

The Archbishop of Canterbury addresses an assembled ecumenical congregation in London before the 'Wave' the Climate Change March in December 2009

The event was filmed. I emailed the Archbishop’s Press Office yesterday. They have an audio version of this sermon which readers can listen to if they follow this link. A transcription of the sermon will be posted here shortly, so check back in a few days for more details.
There is much substance in this sermon – worth listening to more than once. I particularly liked what Rowan Williams said about the ‘task of believers’. He said:
“The task of believers is to transform the face of the earth” and “there is no choice to be made between looking after human beings and looking after the planet”. This task he said “might mean making ourselves a little less comfortable – but so what – if there is life and good news for others”.

Umme Kulsum, Cafod partner from Bangladesh and delegate to the Copenhagen Climate Change conference sharing her perspectives on Climate Change.

The congregation also heard vital eye-witness testimonies from Bangladesh. No less than 150,000 people had been displaced recently due to worsening climatic conditions.
It wasn’t easy to take photographs whilst the service was going on – but I managed to get up to the balcony to hear the Archbishop Vincent Nichols say the words which appealed to me most: “We must live simply, so that others may simply live”. This photograph gives you some idea of the size of the congregation.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols: "We must live simply so that others may simply live".

In the corridors of the church, thousands of placards lay waiting to be taken up by the congregation as they headed out on the crest of a ‘Wave’ with the hope of saying goodbye to the old ways and welcoming the Good News of change.

Placards. Ecumenical Climate Change Service before the Climate Change March 'The Wave' Methodist Central Hall. December 5th. 2009

Cafod placards. As is often the case, the diversity of placards across the whole of that day’s event shows how broad grassroots support really is. Each different placard representing a secular or faith-based movement, local or national committee, charity, political party or trade union.

Placards. Central Methodist Hall. 'The Wave' Climate Change Ecumenical Service Climate Change March, December 5th. 2009

Placards. Methodist Central Hall. Climate Change March, December 5th. 2009

During the service an ‘Act of Repentance’ was read out. As so many people could not attend I hope no-one objects if I share the text of it here:

Act of Repentance “The Wave” Service, 5th. December, 2009

Loving God, we confess that we have sinned through thoughtlessness and greed. By the destruction we have caused and the actions we have failed to take.

When we look you in the eye, do not forgive us if we excuse ourselves for our ignorance, for our weakness. For our own deliberate fault.

We are truly sorry.

We repent of all that we have wasted and the bounty we have squandered. Knowing that it is the poor who have paid the greater price.

Create a new willingness within us to turn back the tide of impending judgement, to honour international agreements and to play our part in your future.

Grant that we may serve You in newness of life, to the glory of Your name through the wonder of your creation. Amen.

Helen Garton

Bus Users U.K. Surgery, Chester City Centre, November 2009

 I started writing this post last week  -aiming to look at climate change prevention – actions people could take on a day-to-day basis. I thought I wouldn’t make it to the  Climate Change Emergency Rally tomorrow. 

Now there’s a seat for me on the Chester coach to London (organised by Cafod ) – so I’ll be up at four a.m with camera batteries charged – setting off with the Chester crowd to cover the event. Stay tuned. Can’t say I’ll be blogging live (although I’d like to) – as logistics are tricky at this point – but I’ll do my best with reports and analysis tomorrow and over the course of next week.

When it’s all over we know we’re still going to need to speed up the shift to low carbon transport. There’s plenty to do at home to cut our carbon emissions. Like taking the bus instead of the car. I’d like to write more about what sort of things are standing in our way. 

Working hard in Chester recently were Bus Users U.K. with a Bus Users surgery.  In case you didn’t know – this organisation is charged with the important job of trying to make life for bus passengers easier and more enjoyable – some people think if you can make bus services more accessible, attractive and efficient you can go a long way towards tempting people out of their cars…

On their website Bus Users U.K. explain something of the politics of public transport: “Years ago bus services were run by local authorities and nationalised industry. Now bus companies run for profit. Very often the aims of making a profit and of giving you a good bus service are one and the same. Sometimes they’re not, and, except in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the law that brought in the changes didn’t do anything to help passengers get their views across. Bus Users U.K. stands in the gap to give you a means to have your say.”

So what was the surgery for exactly? Phil Tonks said: “We do this surgery to get a snapshot of one day’s services – to find out what bus passengers think – we’d like to understand what people are saying about their buses”. Phil mentioned “cheap effective ticketing systems” and “frequent, value for money buses” as good incentives for people to use them. “If people take their grandkids on the bus – that’s a positive step”, he said.

Four bus operators were represented at the surgery. Arriva, First, Helms and GHA. It’s a First Park and Ride Bus you can see in the picture. I slipped up in not getting any direct quotes from bus passengers but Phil Tonks said they had spoken to about 100 passengers that day and that all queries, comments and suggestions for improvement would be collated and responded to in writing. So that means Bus Users U.K. will have a jolly good stab at doing something useful about the issues at hand. Paul de Stantis (Commercial Director of  First ) told me amongst the complaints people had were ‘buses not running on time’.

As we know, congestion is a huge problem in Chester. I asked Paul de Stantis what he thought of Climate Change, how he could help citizens in Chester and the implications of Cheshire West and Chester Council’s  Free Parking after Three scheme. Standing together in the cold as we were the first issue seemed too big for us – but he homed in on the last two: “Monitoring” he said for one thing. On the subject of  Free parking after Three he took a deep breath and said “You’re going to quote me on this, aren’t you?”. “Yes, I said”.

“Unfair Competition to bus services” was the reply I got. Santis proceeded to describe the frequent and prolonged gridlocks on Northgate Street (particularly on Fridays and especially around the area of the bus station) endured by bus passengers and caused in the main by traffic congestion.  “Cars don’t need to drive down Northgate Street” he said.

Standing at a local bus stop earlier that day, talking to fellow bus passengers this was my understanding of the word on the street too. Policies such as Free parking after three may apparently benefit the large hotel and retail chains which in the main draw money out of the city but they often make life more difficult for local bus passengers (and local council-tax paying people).  Don’t these policies also make it more difficult for us to reduce our carbon count per head of our city’s population?

 Just outside the city we have much-feted  Ashton Hayes which is striving to be the U.K’s first carbon neutral village. But progress in Chester itself seems very slow to me. It’s fine for communities outside Chester to go carbon neutral, but it defeats the object if our council has a policy of encouraging everyone to use their cars to come into the city centre itself, doesn’t it?

At the bus surgery I also talked to  Julie Richard who was representing Cheshire West and Chester Council Customer Services and valiantly promoting Cheshire West and Chester  Council’s Concessionary Concessionary Fare Scheme. The information and forms Julie gave me were very useful.

Here’s a link to the Cheshire West and Chester site you need to visit find out more about concessionary fares, the English National Bus Pass, Senior Railcards, Disabled Persons Railcards and Taxi Vouchers. Click here and tell your friends. Thanks to  Julie, Phil, Paul and the Bus Users U.K. team – the bus surgery seemed like a really useful event.

The two questions I had brought with me are huge ones, so I gave Julie a copy of them and asked her to forward them to Cheshire West and Chester’s Press Office so that I could continue to document their responses. Climate Change is an ongoing concern. The two questions are:

1. Improvements in local services – what do people want? Will these improvements be enough to reduce our city’s carbon emissions? and

2. How do these developments impact on Cheshire West and Chester’s Climate Change Prevention targets?

I’ve emailed a copy of this blog post to Cheshire West and Chester’s Press Office today too. Let’s see what they decide to say…

Climate Change and Bangladesh

November 30, 2009

Sea level rises exacerbated by cyclones and climate change. Bangladesh. See this Guardian video.