Archives for posts with tag: Climate Change

 Faiths working together for a low carbon future

As part of national interfaith week, join Footsteps’ annual event to meet other people faithfully caring for the environment, and share ideas about how we can work together for a low carbon future.

Footsteps is a project of the Birmingham Council of Faiths

Venue: the Progressive Synagogue, 1 Roseland Way, B15 1HD, Nov 19th 2-5pm

There is an optional tour of the synagogue at 1pm. If you would like to join please select the option when registering.

Doors will be open from 1pm for you to come and have a cup of tea, chat to others at the event and view exhibits about faith and other responses to climate change.  Many poor countries lack the funds to make the transition to a green economy because of debt. Main speakers & discussion session starts at 2pm.

To book please click on the link to the Peace Hub’s website: or ring Chris Martin on 0121 475 2088








A scientist recently asked in a private email message: “Just how much of a scientific rationalist is Jeremy Corbyn? As far as I know he has never distanced himself publicly from his climate-denialist brother Piers”. He was recommended to read Corbyn’s reports Protecting our Planet & Environment and Energy and to see his video (snapshot right):

It has welcome input from the excellent Alan Simpson, a former Nottingham MP, about the Robin Hood energy co-operative.

More recently Kate Aronoff in the Guardian sees hope for real progress on climate change lying in its appeal to the interests of the 99% (our term, replacing her use of ‘populism’).  

It’s one of history’s greatest “us v them” scenarios, pitting a handful of oligarchs and profit-hungry fossil fuel CEOs against the rest of humanity”.

She continues: “The brand of climate denial that informs Trump and the Republican party line is the result of one of the global elite’s most effective projects yet. It’s been multinational corporations funding the campaign to cast doubt on scientific consensus. ExxonMobil, for instance, has poured at least $33m into such efforts since the Kyoto protocol was launched in 1997”.

Despite this long-running disinformation campaign, Kate notes that the majority of voters in every state support the United States’ participation in the agreement” and today we read about the critical response from some major industrialists and about several US states deciding to ‘go it alone’ after the president refused to be part of the Paris accord. Representatives of American cities, states and companies are preparing to submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions targets under the Paris climate accord, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement. The group (to date) includes 30 mayors, three governors, more than 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses. Read more in the New York Times.

Kate points out – as Hines, Green New Deal convenor has long asserted, that any reasonable solution to climate change will require massive amounts of job creation, putting people to work doing everything from installing solar panels to insulating houses to updating the country’s electric grid to nursing and teaching, jobs in two of the country’s already low-carbon sectors.

She quotes climate scientist Kevin Anderson, who said earlier this year that shifting to a low-carbon society within the timeframe we have is an absolute agenda for jobs, “You are guaranteeing full employment for 30 years if we think climate change is a serious issue. If we don’t, we can carry on with structural unemployment.”

Her tactical advice: “Don’t chide Trump and the rest of his party for denying climate change when they pull out of the Paris agreement. Chide them for denying millions of Americans the well-paying jobs and stable future they deserve”.

Corbyn summarises: “A Labour government, under my leadership, will deliver an energy policy for the 60 million, not the Big 6 energy companies, championing community-owned renewable energy”.




Deeply troubling? Is this democracy? Is this sovereignty? 

Should not political decisions be taken in the interests of the 99% ?

The Guardian article refers to troubling revelations by Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer and notes that the Electoral Commission is now investigating the role played by US billionaire Robert Mercer in our EU referendum – adding ruefully, “But if it discovers any breaches of the rules, the penalties are feeble”.

Journalist George Monbiot goes on to highlight the use of ’dark’ money that does not seek to influence elections directly, but to change the broader political landscape.  

He explains that dark money is funding used, without public knowledge, by front groups and some thinktanks which resemble ‘covertly funded lobbyists’. The research group Transparify ranks these “thinktanks” by their openness about their funding and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Adam Smith Institute and Policy Exchange are rated as “highly opaque”. But though they refuse to reveal their sponsors, they are often invited to speak by the BBC – in the Today programme, Question Time, (IEA’s Jamie Whyte on 5-Live today) and other media.

Monbiot cites the tobacco industry, which has sponsored the IEA since 1963 – a fact only revealed when a legal settlement forced open its archives. Last week the IEA published a report critical of the UK’s smoking ban and tobacco packaging law which was covered in the media, but with no reference to the institute’s funding-related bias.

Though the Conservative Party manifesto outlines a plan to “lead international action against climate change”, it also pledges to ensure oil and gas plays a “critical role” in UK energy provision. 

Ben Chapman in The Independent points out that the Electoral Commission files show oil and gas corporates’ donors to the May government including:

  • Ayman Asfari, the chief executive of Jersey-registered oil and gas firm, Petrofac, who gave £90,000 in December.
  • Ian Taylor, chief executive of the world’s largest oil trader, Vitol. He has personally given the Conservatives £47,000 since Ms May won the party leadership in July last year, adding to hundreds of thousands he had previously donated.
  • Former Vitol partner Matthew Ferrey has also given £124,000 to the Tories since last July. He has now set up his own investment company which invests in the sector.
  • Alexander Temerko, Ukrainian-born former deputy chairman of the Russian Yukos Oil Company, who has donated £63,800.
  • Amjad Bseisu, the Palestinian-born boss of energy company EnQuest who previously worked for Petrofac has given £28,500 to the Tories under Ms May, while
  • Abdul-Majid Jafar, chief executive of United Arab Emirates-based Crescent Petroleum, gave £28,000 in December.

The Independent article records accusations made against some of those listed, a legal case pending and a conviction and Monbiot ends:

“Why has there been no effective action on climate change? Why are we choking on air pollution? Why is the junk food industry able to exploit our children? Because governments and their agencies have rolled over and let such people make a mockery of informed consent. Now the whole democratic system is sliding, and the Electoral Commission is neither equipped nor willing to stop it. There’s an urgent, unmet need for new laws to defend democracy”.






Why we want to stay in the EU

Rex Harris (77), David Kennedy (62), Allan Walton (40), Oliver Brooks (26)

The ages of the authors are in the brackets after their names and we cover quite a range, from a retired professor to a final year PhD student and all four have a strong professional interest in the rare-earth metals.

Many fellow scientists and engineers have already emphasised the damage that would be done to UK based science and engineering if we voted to leave the EU and we endorse fully this view. However, we also thought that we should add our personal reflections on the very positive influence the EU and its predecessor, the EEC, has had on our studies of these metals and why it would be nothing short of a disaster for us to lose our membership of this organisation.

Rare earth metals sound very esoteric and a common and understandable reaction is that these studies have little or no impact on everyday life but this could not be more wrong. Rare earth metals such as neodymium (Nd) form essential components of rare earth-iron(Fe)-boron(B) permanent magnets which, without doubt, are revolutionising the design and performance of electric generators, motors and actuators and form essential components in off-shore wind and tidal generators, data storage, electric bicycles, electric cars, vacuum cleaners, robots etc, etc.

It is no exaggeration to state that these elements are absolutely essential in humanity’s drive to battle climate change and to develop a sustainable society.

Establishment of secure supplies and appropriate recycling strategies are absolutely essential and the EU has developed a long term strategy to tackle these issues and the UK science and engineering community have and are having a significant voice in these deliberations. A particular problem facing these and other vital raw materials is their current and longer term availability and this has been recognised by the EU and the rare earths have been placed at the top of their endangered list.

It is important to emphasise that the long ranging nature of the EU scientific and engineering plans are certainly not a recent development and, for instance, the appreciation of the importance of the Nd-Fe-B based permanent magnets was recognised immediately by the EEC with the first reports of their discovery in Japan and the USA in 1984.This lead quickly to the formation of the EEC funded Concerted European Action on Magnets (CEAM). This EEC-wide programme ran for around 10 years and was recognised widely as a great success with the UK playing influential roles in the processing of these magnets and in their applications in actuators and motors. Perhaps the most important contribution of the EEC and of CEAM was the firm establishment of a permanent magnet community throughout the European Community which persists to this day and forms the framework for future actions.

Two of us are old enough to remember how difficult it was to represent business in Europe, where even to transport exhibition materials necessitated carrying a “carnet” and presenting documents at every border to prove that the materials were not being exported. Younger exporters may have no concept of the relative ease with which we currently operate and any expectation of decreased regulation is deluded.

Currently the UK is again playing a pivotal role in EU sponsored programmes with an emphasis now on raw materials and recycling. It is these strategic issues which we believe make it imperative that we vote to stay in the EU and continue to make a real and significant contribution to the direction of particular research programmes.

The issues we now face in terms of likely constraints in the supply of vital raw materials can only be solved on the basis of EU-wide measures, with waste materials moving across national borders. For instance, comprehensive expertise on rare earth metals and their recycling, exists only on an EU level and without these networks, insufficient supplies could exist within one country and therefore it is essential to coordinate the necessary technologies to achieve a full recycling flow sheet. With these problems very much in mind, in recent years the EU has provided substantial funds to enable these networks to be established with the UK being an important partner.

We have to work together with our EU partners and to paraphrase a Native American saying, we should remember, at all times, that:

The UK was not given to us by our parents but loaned to us by our children.

It is their future that must be the overriding consideration in the forthcoming referendum.





The annual Diana Stableforth Lecture will be held at the BMI at 7.30pm on 6th June at the Birmingham and Midland Institute in Margaret Street.

BMI best

There will be two speakers:

  • Gavin Wright will speak about air pollution, health and the work of Greenpeace. He writes:

“UK air pollution tends to be invisible compared to the pea-souper smogs of the late 19th and early 20th century – but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. In fact, the UK has consistently been exceeding EU air pollution limits – something that environmental law firm Client Earth are taking the UK government to court over. Parts of London broke the annual limits within just eight days of the new year. But it’s not just about breaching a law. People’s health is seriously at risk from air pollution, particularly the most vulnerable in society – the young, elderly and people with a lower income”.

  • and Professor Rex Harris, Birmingham University: Towards a Pollution Free Environment: Hydrogen and Rare Earth Magnets”. He writes:

“As well as playing an essential role in the development of a possible circular economy the enormous challenges of climate change and inner city pollution will be considered. This talk will describe the exciting possibilities of using hydrogen, both as a processing agent and as an energy store. A wide range of sustainable technological applications include highly efficient electric motors, generators, actuators and -in very substantial amounts – in wind and tidal generators”.


This environmental event is held every year in memory of UNA member Diana Stableforth.


Organised by Birmingham’s United Nations Association





stirchley baths

Local people from this lively neighbourhood are taking a great interest in the Edwardian Stirchley Baths, lovingly restored and re-opened – hundreds coming to an open evening in December. If the fine front door is closed, visitors are asked to go to the side entrance at the left.

change kitchen logoThough there has been no advertising or promotion people are visiting ChangeKitchen (Tues. to Thurs., 10-3), which opened in January, to enjoy food made with local, organic and seasonal ingredients – see a LWM post.

Dishes on the menu that week included mushroom & spinach lasagna, Homity pie, baked potato with two fillings, croissants, mini pastries and ‘bacon’ and egg roll.

change 2 interior kitchen

ChangeKitchen is an award winning event caterer – a thriving social enterprise

Every platter of food is prepared ‘from scratch’ – shared and enjoyed by all, including the 80% of customers who are not vegetarian but nevertheless value ChangeKitchen’s delicious and nutritious vegetarian and vegan dishes at very reasonable prices. There is a growing awareness that producing the meat in our diet causes more carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide than transportation or industry.

change kitchen birgitDuring a recent visit, the writer met ChangeKitchen’s founder, Birgit Kehrer, and on its website we read that the story of ChangeKitchen goes back to her youth, growing organic vegetables from an early age with her father, and developing a passion for eating vegetarian food made from fresh home-grown produce. In her twenties Birgit learned to cook vegetarian food at the Goldene Gans Braeustueble restaurant in her home town of Augsburg and afterwards travelled to India where she picked up more ideas for world-class cuisine.

As the writer enjoyed her coffee, she heard about the community cinema which the film club is setting up, watched children coming in happily to enjoy a party, met Phil Banting of the newly formed Stirchley History Group, and – later – Justin Wiggan, from the Centre for Curious Sonic Investigation, who will be presenting a ‘sound piece’ at the Baths, with input from local children and also from a tape buried in a 1989 time capsule which, together with a 2015 time capsule, has been placed in a deep illuminated well under the pool and can be seen through a perspex window in the café.

Location and contact details:

Stirchley Baths, 2-4 Bournville Lane, Birmingham, B30 2JT

t: 0121 464 9072

WMNEG logo

On Thursday 10th December, 5-7 pm

West Midlands New Economics meeting

FOE Warehouse, 54 Allison St, Digbeth, B5 5TH

BFOE warehouse

The main issues on the table will be climate change – the negotiations in Paris, the recent Autumn statement and where Austerity is going.

Holding meetings in the evening has been an experiment we are continuing with. Any feedback on this would be welcome.

Birmingham based Professor Rex Harris writes:

Today I am 76 and I thought I should take this opportunity to reflect on the state of my beloved Labour Party and hopefully demonstrate that the present “doom and gloom” surrounding the party is, in my view, totally unjustified.

Although society has made enormous strides in technology and science we are still living under a very regressive political system. Thus we still have the primitive “first pass the post” electoral system whereby, with just 38% of the vote, the Tories have been re-elected for another depressing 5 years during which time the gap between rich and poor will become even wider.

Lack of scientific expertise in Parliament

The cabinet is still predominantly ex-public school and male and in the composition of the new parliament of around 650 MPs, only a very tiny minority will have any significant scientific/engineering background and hence technical knowledge. I believe that in the last parliament there was only one science-based PhD and, in the current batch the picture is probably even worse.

This critical absence of technical expertise is, to my mind, extremely worrying as the quality of the future will be dependent on implementing long term, technically-based measures determined by the overwhelming need to reduce carbon.

The mammoths in the room are climate change and resource depletion and yet these topics received barely a mention in the debates leading up to the 2015 general election. These and related areas will determine, not only the future shape of the Labour party   but that of the whole world and these should be the dominant themes in the current and future debates.

When asked to define the most challenging aspect of his political life, Harold McMillan stated:

                                     ” Events dear boy, events”

This was a very wise statement and with the increasing manifestation of climate change in the UK as well as throughout the world, related events will become ever-more predominant in political life. The difficult, if not impossible task, is to predict the exact time it will take for the reality of climate change and resource depletion to have a significant impact on the electorate.

Currently, I believe we are all living in a “fools’ paradise”

The stark reality is that our present consumer driven economic system cannot provide the necessary long term solutions to these problems and this is why the Labour party must not seek short-term political gain by trying to emulate our existing system which seems to be based predominantly on the motivating force of personal greed.

The necessary changes cannot be achieved by short-term tinkering with the existing system

The majority realisation that there has to be a radical change could come in the next 5 years or it might take longer, but come it will.

In the meantime the Labour party, along with other like-minded groups, has to formulate detailed root and branch policies to provide a workable alternative to the present unsustainable system which is based on the growing consumption of ever diminishing raw materials and evermore carbon-based energy.

The Labour Party must provide the blueprint for a sustainable future and the sooner it sets its mind to this objective the better.

It might be useful to consider what could be some of the political priorities (in no particular order):

  • Introduce a system of proportional representation and real federalisation within the UK.
  • Increase substantially the proportion of female Labour candidates.
  • Try and increase the proportion of candidates with a scientific/engineering background. Aim for engineers and scientists to be “on top” not just “on-tap”.
  • Develop a series of independent technical workshops to inform MPs and other policy makers of the technical challenges that lie ahead.
  • Set-up a parliamentary group to investigate comprehensively the impacts of climate change and resource depletion. For instance, to develop a full-scale recycling strategy
  • Look to build a purpose-built parliament building in the Midlands and convert the existing parliament buildings into tourist attractions.
  • Strengthen and expand the concept of a “Green Bank” to fund new businesses based of sustainable technologies.
  • Electrify all urban transportation and develop battery recycling technologies.
  • Strengthen and develop EC and other international ties.

These are just some of the many priorities that Labour will have to address, analyse and then formulate workable solutions. A far cry from today’s often trivial and somewhat irrelevant arguments


Date: Monday, 27 July, 2015, 16:03

On February 14th, during a Birmingham Fossil Fuel Divestment Day in Victoria Square, Birmingham City Council was asked to move investment from fossil fuel companies.

bfoe divestment day2

Birmingham Friends of the Earth produced a giant Valentine’s Card, signed by members of the public and organisations, asking Birmingham City Council to be their “valentine” by divesting from fossil fuels. Read on here.

On the same day, in the Priory Rooms (Bull St), the Central England Quaker Low Carbon Commitment Forum heard about steps taken by Quakers in Britain to disinvest from companies engaged in extracting fossil fuels. The decision was taken by their Investment Committee, following their 2011 commitment to become a sustainable low-carbon community.

A sign that efforts to tackle climate change have been more effective than expected

iea logoA month later the Financial Times reported the International Energy Agency findings that global emissions of carbon dioxide, the most long-lasting greenhouse gas, did not rise in 2014 – for the first time in 40 years. Though the global economy grew 3%, the amount of CO2 pumped out remained at the 2013 level of 32.3bn tonnes.

Two factors were mentioned:

  • China has cut its use of coal, one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions, and installed more hydroelectricity, wind and solar power, imposed energy efficiency standards for industry, shut older factories and shifted away from the heavy manufacturing that has powered its economic growth.
  • Wealthy OECD countries have started to “decouple” economic expansion from emissions increases as they install more renewable energy plants and set a range of stricter standards on car fuel economy and home appliance energy use.

The IEA is to publish a June 15 report advising governments what energy measures should be agreed at a December meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris where world leaders are due to finalise a global climate change pact.

nigel maxtedThe research of Dr Nigel Maxted at the University of Birmingham is “committed to the conservation of genetic diversity in plants with a focus on species of agricultural value, using novel approaches to conservation and diversity management”. To learn more click here. Dr Maxted is a senior lecturer in plant genetic conservation, with specific expertise in in situ and ex situ conservation techniques.

Wild genetic diversity is essential for protecting global crops such as wheat, barley, rice and beans from climate change, pests and environmental stress. The world’s plant genetic resources are under considerable threat. Crop improvement depends on diversity in our plant genetic resources, which, it is argued, is inadequately recognised and conserved.

Biodiversity is at risk:

  • University website: from multiple threats including climate change.
  • Financial Times account: from conflict in the Middle East, habitat loss in China and inaction in southern Europe
  • India’s minister for agriculture: after halting GM food trials, explains that this has been done, “to ensure that no harm is done to traditional gene pool /biodiversity of the nation, soil, food security and health of the people of India”.

The Birmingham scientists have compiled a global database of wild species related to priority crops for use by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation as it debates strategies for conservation.

wild plants b'ham research header

The database reveals that establishing protected reserves in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East is the most crucial action for protecting global food security. However, such resources are an issue of national sovereignty and the FAO remains in negotiation with governments in the region.

Fears over the Syrian civil war provoked the duplication and safe relocation of thousands of samples of crop and wild relative varieties to international gene banks.

shelagh kellThe Birmingham researchers also point to China and southern Europe as crucial for preserving the genetic diversity of important crops. “China has a flora that is one of the richest in the world,” says project manager Shelagh Kell. “This diversity represents a vast natural reservoir of genetic resources.” Despite their potentially high economic value, at least 17% of wild native crop relatives in China are at risk of extinction.

The database compiled by the Birmingham team and its Chinese colleagues identifies which species should be flagged as a conservation priority. The next step in China is to locate the ideal sites.

European conservation is not much further ahead. 11.5% of European crop wild relatives are threatened with extinction. Countries with the highest diversity of species include Portugal, Bulgaria, Italy and Spain.

Ms Kell calls for funding from an organisation like FAO to provide the funding and skills to help those countries to conserve plant genetic resources.