The Daily Mail, I’m told, is the one of the biggest selling daily newspapers in High Wycombe. Strange then that they would want to antagonise the locals with their ill-judged piece calling us ‘the town where only the rats are happy‘. Reading the article, you might be forgiven for thinking that High Wycombe has become a cesspit of filth and vermin. But in true Daily Mail style, the truth has been distorted to produce a hysterical headline that will ensure that the blue-rinse brigade go scurrying to the polls next week to vote Tory. Err, except Wycombe is a Tory council already!
Now let’s just set out some facts behind this case. Wycombe District Council have been rolling out a two-bin system with alternate fortnightly collections. As it stands, not every home in Wycombe yet has the new system. If you do, as I do, then you have a green bin for compostable material (including food waste, garden waste and soiled newspaper) and a grey bin for non-recyclables. Each are collected on alternate weeks. We also have a smaller bin for recyclable paper. The pile of black bags you see in the Mail photo should not contain anything of interest to vermin, and at any rate it is the householder’s responsibility not to leave waste food outside in bags.
For those of us with larger families, we struggle to cope with one bin per fortnight for non-recyclable items. This is mainly down to the excess packaging that food producers and supermarkets foist on us. But I also find that many residents are filling their grey bins with items which are recyclable! Glass bottles, aluminium cans and recyclable plastic bottles are still going into the grey bins. The problem is that WDC are not doing enough to recycle these items. We do have bottle banks, but frustratingly they are not emptied often enough. I was outraged once when I turned up with a fortnight’s bottles I had carefully saved, only to be told to throw them in the rubbish because the bottle bank was overflowing. I have worked on the continent, where a four-bin system is routinely used to manage waste and recycling. If they can do it – so can we.
Bins are like motorways, if we just give people more bins – we will fill them. We have to cut excess packaging at source and make it easier for people to recycle the recyclable packaging that is currently ending up in landfill.
Sometimes there are snippets of news which make you relieved, grateful or proud to be a Lib Dem. This week it was the turn of Richmond to give us something to shout about. The news that it was a Lib Dem council who became the first to propose to use it’s parking regime to encourage residents to buy more environmentally responsible cars is most encouraging. Of course, such a measure won’t do much for the environment by itself. But many such measures will reinforce the message that we all need to make more responsible choices. This week, I came across the ‘Association of British Drivers’, whose website devotes pages to claiming that global warming is just a ‘myth’, presumably made up by those of us who envy 4×4 owners. Global warming really is the biggest challenge currently facing politicians, and currently it is the Lib Dems who lead while others follow.
Electricity is not yet receiving the right kind of attention. Electricity may seem like a relatively clean form of energy, but there is an environmental cost to generating it. This week, our government mooted the idea that councils may be bribed to take nuclear waste for burial. It beggars belief that the government appears to want to build more nuclear power stations, when that is the best strategy it has for dealing with the waste from the current ones. The most frustrating thing about nuclear power is that it has such a powerful lobby behind it – when it isn’t even commercially viable! The only way we can have more nuclear power is with the help of huge subsidy from the public purse. It is time to recognise that nuclear power has been a failed experiment – and leave it there.
The real solution to our electricity dilemma rests much closer to home. Many people still have little idea about how much electricity is wasted in our homes. Now that energy saving light bulbs are cheap and plentiful – why do our shops still sell the old ones that use five times as much power? Now that we understand that all of the standby buttons in the UK could power a small city, why do new appliances still have them? Manufacturers and electrical retailers do not focus enough on promoting the most energy efficient fridges, washing machines, TVs and so on.
Best of all, if you still want to burn lots of electricity, you could always generate some of your own. I do find it heartwarming that B&Q now list wind turbines and solar panels on their website. I actually believe that microgeneration is the most attractive solution to the energy crisis. Even though this technology is in it’s infancy, it is already feasible for most houses to generate at least a third of their own energy requirements. I believe that we need to invest heavily in promoting microgeneration. Maybe some of the money could come from not building new nuclear power stations.
Maybe a Lib Dem council will take the lead in getting microgeneration off the ground in their area? I do hope so.
Well, I never really believed Blair was a Socialist anyway, but I thought perhaps Beckett might be? Then why oh why does the taxpayer foot the bill for £1.2 million worth of Blair’s flights using the Royal Flight from RAF Northolt? Important summits – perhaps – but holidays in Italy? Commuting to his Sedgefield constituency?
Aside from the hideous expense of using the Royal Flight on routes where there are perfectly good scheduled flights, what about the environmental impact involved? Remember, the scheduled flights would take off anyway – the Royal Flights are all extra flights which could have been avoided. Next time Tony wants to get to Sedgefield, for example, he could try BMI’s scheduled flight from Heathrow – or even the train!
Environmental hypocrisy scales new heights if we turn to Margaret Beckett (laughably our Environment Secretary) who has taken no less than 110 Royal Flights in just three years.
And apparently, Blair even uses the Royal Flight to get to Labour Party conferences. Mind-boggling hypocrisy at our expense.
One of the things that instantly attracted me to Chris Huhne’s leadership bid was that from that first hustings meeting at the LSE, he had clearly got global warming right at the top of his agenda – where it belongs. Now there has to be a debate about how we tackle the problem. Chris has proposed greater taxation for burning fossil fuels, but with the proceeds being used to help the less well off. The logic is brilliantly simple, although admittedly there are detail questions about how you avoid coming down too hard on those who have no choice but to burn the fossil fuels in the first place – the obvious example is those who live in rural communities with poor public transport options. But none of these objections is insurmountable – as long as the detail is carefully worked out. I do understand that none of us wants to pay more for our fuel – but increasingly science accepts that doing nothing is not an option.
Which brings me neatly on to SUVs. Petrol and diesel are already expensive in this country. A few years ago, car adverts were crammed with headlines about how economical this or that model was. Low fuel consumption was a major selling point. Now I haven’t done any in depth research, but these things are breeding here in the South East. I have recently been canvassing for the Greater Marlow by election, and have been shocked to find some well heeled cul-de-sacs with one of these fuel guzzling monsters on nearly every drive. Two in some cases! If I have to go into London for work, and it’s not snowing, I often take my bike and thread my way through the lines of stationary traffic on the A40. These poor souls queue up every morning on a road that runs parallel to a major railway line and a tube line fuming (in both senses of the word) as we bikers slip between them on our way into London. Again, the numbers of king-size SUVs are definitely on the increase. You can’t miss the on a bike – some of them are so wide you are reduced to waddling between them with your feet down. Why do they need to be so big? These are clearly impressive vehicles that could cope easily with some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth. These marvels of engineering are instead reduced to stop-starting around London’s streets belching out tonnes of CO2 as their drivers try to cope with the frustration. And the bull bars – two inch thick bull bars protect the front of many of these go anywhere gargantuans – what the hell do they need them for?
I am really desperate to know why these cars are becoming so popular. Please would anyone who owns one of these like to tell me how you reached your buying decision? What made you choose an eight wheel drive earth mover when a car would have done? I wholeheartedly endorse using the tax system to try and encourage more responsible use of fuel, but my sincere worry is that some people clearly have more money than sense!
The news, yesterday that global warming is happening even faster than we thought is probably a much bigger news story than one would judge by the amount it was discussed. I believe that, as a party, we need to be taking a much bigger profile on environmental issues. Too often, it is too low down on our manifestos and leaflets. One of the reasons that I am supporting Chris Huhne is that I believe he has this issue sufficiently high on his agenda. I fear that too many politicians don’t see the environment as a vote winner. But to ignore it is like fiddling while Rome burns.