Art, Extinction Rebellion & Brexit

For all that this week has been, there has at least been a focus on the environment despite the overwhelming, ongoing and seemingly never-ending wrangling over how much we’re willing to sacrifice for a Conservative Brexit deal. Extinction Rebellion has succeeded in getting the attention for the environment that it so urgently needs and although not all will agree with the tactics, it has been inspiring to see so many engaged. Brexit, however, seems to be turning now into a game of one-upmanship manoeuvres rather than a serious attempt to get what’s best for the country. It is clear that “getting Brexit done” actually means many years more of this. I had a brief pause to enjoy the better things of life in Burnley at ‘art & Soul, plus an invite to a very positive seminar at Lancaster University on the future of hydrogen in our energy mix – the North West so often delivers the highlights of my weeks!

Green Study Days 

The European Green group chose to come to London for our ‘study days’. In essence, it is a time-out to look at planning priorities of the group for the next five years’ mandate, for both the legislative process in the European Parliament but also in our campaign work to move our Green objectives up the agenda. 

The Greens’ heartwarming commitment to internal democracy was fully evident and manifested in the following guiding political objectives being adopted:

  • Fight climate change and protect biodiversity
  • Make our society fair and equal
  • Protect democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms
  • Make Europe an open and inclusive society
  • Put the digital revolution at the service of the people
  • Make the EU a change-maker in the world
  • Campaign for a feminist EU advancing gender equality and all forms of diversity

The decision to show solidarity with us newly-elected UK MEPs was so appreciated and London was abuzz with Extinction Rebellion activities.

Extinction Rebellion

Out first evening event for the study days in London held just metres from Trafalgar Square, hosted a rousing welcome speech from George Monbiot, the police decided to abruptly change tack, close all forms of XR protest and clear the Trafalgar Square of people and possessions.

Our own Ellie Chowns MEP was arrested while demanding to know under what powers this was happening, and in the following days co-leader Jonathan Bartley and George Monbiot, after speaking at a defiant ‘standing room only’ protest in Trafalgar Square – now not just about climate but about protecting the very right to protest – were themselves arrested. Our visiting Green MEPs from Europe were shocked by such a turn of events. What unusual times we live in.

There is always of course criticism about some of the tactics used in campaigns and protest and nothing will be perfectly acceptable to everyone: Extinction Rebellion HAVE succeeded in getting the climate on the news agenda and continue to be a group many are turning to in the absence of real action from governments. Across the world, XR (like the school strikes) has finally created an outlet for the frustration, anger and fear at the threat to our future. Raising awareness of the pollution, toxins, over-farming, plastics, the extinction of so many species and the suffering of those in areas already impacted by droughts and floods made worse by worsening climate change is vital if we’re to find solutions.

Hydrogen 

The Lancaster Hydrogen Hub workshop, exploring opportunities for developing a local hydrogen-based economy ties in well with my forthcoming report on what the Green New Deal would mean for the North West. I arrived to see the hydrogen-powered bicycle and off-road buggy in action. Among other developments, there were examples from Arcola in Liverpool about their hydrogen bus project and hydrogen for heavy transport, and Lancaster-based Nanosun presented information about hydrogen storage, distribution and dispensing. The key to hydrogen energy filling a future energy gap is that the process of producing it, electrolysis, itself uses renewable energy – and there is every potential for that to be the case. Really exciting stuff! 

 ‘art & Soul

A fantastic cultural, educational and uplifting event in Burnley organised so professionally by my North West staff, together with local professional artists and hosted at Burnley’s new flagship digital hub, the Landmark. ‘art & Soul brought Marc Francesch Camps, Director of ConArte Internacional, based in Girona, to share with us his experiences of the power of art to unite and empower communities and raise the profile of towns.

The discussions at the event showed positive answers on how the creation of new cultural experiences especially for children can redefine the town for visitors, investors and residents in all its communities; how art and culture could play a crucial role in the regeneration of Burnley; and how funding can be found if there is political will to do so.

Marc’s work on the unique ‘Planters’ (‘seedlings’) Project, an artist-led social cohesion project delivered with schools across the region of Girona in Spain, proved just how much can be achieved. We were treated to films of the wonderful performances of children’s orchestras who come from a wide range of socially and economically deprived areas. Local artist Jai Redman and producer Ian Brownbill explored how artists can play a leading role in generating economic and social capital, artist-led projects. The whole day was recorded so that we can share the highlights and the conclusions of this really inspiring workshop. 

Brexit

Johnson’s deal is considered worse than May’s by nearly all but the hard-right MPs, and has exposed his deliberate move towards isolating ourselves from Europe, diluting of regulations and standards, loss of rights and putting power in the hands of a Conservative Government. It risks the single market in terms of environment, social standards, tax avoidance, and creates risks of smuggling across the borders in Ireland. Some argue it will almost certainly lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom.

As Caroline Lucas argued yesterday in Parliament, if anybody is capable of looking ahead, it is clear that in this deal, no-deal has simply been delayed until the end of the transition period, by which time we will have no rights to call for extension and will be entirely in power of EU.

It is extraordinary that Parliament would support such a destructive deal merely because of ‘Brexit fatigue’ but that appeared to be the situation yesterday. 

Our Prime Minister is not going to let the bothersome rules of Parliament get in his way of what is clearly his desire for a no-deal, crash-out Brexit. We wait to see how the European Heads of Government react to his latest sent-but-not-signed letter and with I-don’t-mean-it-really note asking for an extension, and at home, whether Labour can pull their rebels in line.

It’s important to remember in this, the powerful elites who are counting on making millions from no-deal by betting against the UK economy in the hedge fund markets. 

Meanwhile this week

Good

75 Green MEPs in one place is always a delight and when that place is London, it’s a genuine honour. Choosing London this year for the annual gathering was done to make it clear that the Greens stand firmly together for a People’s Vote and a longing for the UK to remain close, and for the day that Brexit is not the subject that drowns out all else.

Bad

Almost everything to do with Johnson’s deal, but particularly Michael Gove, in an interview stating as if absolute fact: “A second referendum ain’t going to happen… there’s no way we’re having a second referendum…Parliament is not going to vote for a second referendum.” His words making clear he believes the power lies with him and this minority Conservative government, with Parliament having no say!  It seems that the way ahead is paved with endless stages of Brexit that will go on for many years. ‘Yes’ to the Johnson deal would actually mean the end only of the very first chapter of the beginning of “getting Brexit done” (said someone else on BBC yesterday). 

Where hope lies

Hope that the determination of the public, as witnessed by the estimated one million people in London for the Let Us Be Heard march yesterday, will convince MPs to move us positively forward from this mess of the Conservative government’s making AND ensure that we have secured the long-term best interests of the country. What we have in being part of Europe is by far the greatest opportunity to tackle together the big cross-border issues of climate breakdown, trafficking, crime, public health for our greater good.

As I write, I am less optimistic but still hopeful that the convincing arguments to move to a People’s Vote to solve the crisis will win out and if not, that then perhaps the more drastic need for a Government of National Unity.  

I have just booked my Eurostar ticket for going to Strasbourg for the plenary week tomorrow 

Onward


 

UK Green MEPs Welcome Extinction Rebellion Protests

Yesterday, Extinction Rebellion kicked off two weeks of global demonstrations, demanding world leaders act now to tackle climate breakdown. The UK’s Green MEPs have welcomed the protests in a joint statement: [1]

“Our planet is on the brink of a climate catastrophe. At this critical moment in history, it’s truly inspiring to see so many people take to the streets and demand our government acts now.

“Our Prime Minister wants to treat protestors like criminals, yet he’s happy to wine and dine with the bosses of the corporations destroying our environment.

“It’s clear which is the right side of history. We urge the UK Government to open its eyes, face facts, and act now to safeguard all of our futures.”

Gina Dowding, Green MEP for the North West said:

“The sheer number of people involved in the Extinction Rebellion protests is heartening and I wholly support their efforts. I hope to stand with Rebels next week during a conference trip to London, and show solidarity with their mission to make the climate emergency one that the UK government acts upon with urgency.

“In the North West, we have been battling the climate-wrecking fracking industry, as they have tried and failed to frack in Lancashire. The industry has been so very deceptive when it comes to promoting natural gas as a climate solution. It is not a ‘bridge fuel’ nor a time to use fracking as a transition – fracking is another fossil fuel extraction technique, responsible for increased global methane emissions.

“The time to move to renewable energy is now and the UK government must drop support for dirty fossil fuels and back renewable energy and a Green New Deal.”

ENDS

 

[1]. Signed by: Scott Ainslie (London), Ellie Chowns (West Midlands), Molly Scott Cato (South West England and Gibraltar), Gina Dowding (North West England), Magid Magid (Yorkshire and the Humber), Alexandra Phillips (South East England) and Catherine Rowett (East of England).

 

 

Ireland, Inundation & 12-Steps

This week afforded some free days and it was a joy to get over to Ireland to have much-valued family time; sadly I had to miss the Climate Action Bolton event but clashes of timetables couldn’t be corrected. I’ve also been getting on with planning; I decided early on that it would be important to have some tangible outcomes as a result of my first four months (whether or not that’s the only four months) in the European Parliament. With funds and resources available to MEPs that can contribute to our work here in the North West, I’ll be producing a report in October about the Green New Deal and what that means for our region.

It’s so encouraging to see councils up-and-down the country but also here in the North West declaring a ‘Climate Emergency’ and it’s vital to ensure that those calls result in fundamental changes in what local authorities do as providers of local services, in their procurement and practices, but also as community leaders. As a long-serving councillor, despite our media being dominated almost exclusively to the point being obsessed with national Government, I know it is in reality, local councils who have the ability to provide good leadership and to whom people relate in the first instance as their democratically elected representatives.

To this effect, our report will aim to be about “Responding to the Climate Emergency…turning a call for action into a plan. How a Green New Deal will address the social, economic and environmental crises in the North West”.

Climate Action Bolton

Early this week in my absence (but not without my input!) was the Climate Action Bolton meeting; lobbying Bolton Council to join seven other Greater Manchester Councils and declare a Climate Emergency. It’s 16-year-old Paris Hayes who is the driving force behind this. I wish I could have attended the “packed room with an impressive range of speakers” including Ali Abbas from Friends of the Earth, Lisa Nandy MP (Wigan), Dee Codd of Youth Strike 4 Climate Manchester and Extinction Rebellion and Astrid Johnson my Greater Manchester Liaison Officer.

Astrid said:

“It was a great meeting with an engaged audience and good questions that brought inspiring discussion. There was a spirit of co-operation along with collaboration; Lisa Nandy was very positive about the Green Party and Caroline Lucas in her speech. It was good to have Gina’s virtual presence and a pleasure to read her statement.”

My statement included:

“Today, I support in particular, the efforts of the Climate Action Bolton group and all interested parties that here today pressure Bolton Council to do the same. It is not only in Bolton that we are seeing our brave youth rise up to the challenge and demand that our political leaders take the climate crisis seriously – it is their future that is at risk. The youth climate strikes for example, have grown on a global scale and are simply inspiring: our young people are to be commended for taking a stand and we should hear them.”

Ireland

It was great to spend a few days accompanied by my son in Ireland this week visiting family. There’s a story -and a personally epic one in itself; although adopted, loved and brought up by Londoners, I have a wonderfully welcoming birth family (on both paternal-Protestant and maternal-Catholic sides) in the Republic of Ireland – discovered 21 years ago.

My birth father and half-sister are incredibly proud to have an MEP in the family, but bewildered and concerned about how Brexit is playing out on the island of Ireland. Sadly I don’t have any inside information or particularly greater insights than most who are following this. But I’m horrified to see the way that new Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seemingly trying to stir up trouble with the Irish Government and blame them for what is in effect, an impossible conundrum to solve. If Johnson gets what he wants- a hard Brexit – then that has to involve a border in Ireland between the EU in the south and the UK in the north. And no one of any political persuasion in Ireland wants that.

Meanwhile this week

Good:

I watched with deep concern as the news of the dam risk unfolded this week in Derbyshire and there’s more on the issues to consider around this below; the ‘good’ of it though is the efforts of the people who stepped up to help and offer kindness. The people of Whaley Bridge and surrounding areas acted from the best part of themselves in offering accommodation, toothbrushes, transportation, food and clothes to those who had left so quickly in the evacuation.

There were social media posts from mountain rescue teams thanking local businesses for providing food and rest for workers, a Muslim faith-based charity brought food to the school where many were evacuated to and countless other stories of human kindness that must have at least helped to ease immediate concerns. People at their finest.

Bad:

The awful situation for those 1,500 residents of Whaley Bridge who are still not able to return to their homes after they were evacuated due to life-threatening damage to a dam above the town. The Toddbrook Reservoir, like so much infrastructure, is just not designed for ever more extreme rainfall as the climate changes. I’ll be writing to the Environment Agency to ask what measures have been taken to increase the frequency of inspections and range of safety checks, taking into account changes in the way infrastructure like this behaves in a changing climate. A New Scientist article reports:

“Dams are typically designed to cope with a so-called 1-in-100-year flood event. But as the world warms the odds of extreme rainfall are changing, meaning the risk of failure is far greater.

“The 1-in-100-year event is perhaps happening every five years,” says Roderick Smith at Imperial College London. “I’m absolutely convinced that it is due to climate change.”

More here:

Where hope lies:

With the government and more than half of our councils having declared a ‘Climate Emergency’, the task now is how to react. Helpfully, the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) has been working with a number of authorities to support them with strategies, action plans and projects. Focusing on strategic and practical considerations, APSE Energy’s 12 points will help Councils to plan and act (full details in the link at the end):

  1. Leadership: the local authority has a duty of leadership

2. Strategy: a strategy to address a climate emergency

3. Capacity: enough political will to perpetuate an approach; human & financial resources

4. Action Plan & Projects: monitoring, reporting & reviewing

5. Targets & Data: setting a target date for carbon neutrality and monitoring targets

6. Finance & Risk: the skill is in prioritisation

7. Partners: the local authority has a responsibility to support businesses, employers, academic institutions, public services    & citizens to work towards reducing their emissions.

8. Suppliers: a local authority cannot have a climate-related target whilst ignoring the activities of its suppliers that have a duty to supply sustainably

9. Education & Culture Change: making a definite effort to put in place materials & resources that will educate in order to change behaviour

10. Innovation: invest in technology, deliver services and collaborate in new ways

11. Review & Inform: reviewing strategies and action plans to ensure outcomes

12. Behaviour Change: supporting people to change their eating, travelling & buying habits. Ensuring this agenda remains at the forefront of people’s minds.

Full information here.

Onwards 💚

*Image: Whaley Bridge, Sikh Sewa Organisation Manchester

 

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