Thursday, 29 December 2011

Public transport at Christmas: the Austrian way.

A letter in the Guardian despairs of our Christmas/New Year public transport arrangements and asks if it is done differently in Europe. I can say from personal experience that, yes, it is. When I lived in Austria we enjoyed brilliant public transport. Christmas Eve is the most important part of Christmas in Austria and there was no problem going to my Austrian in-laws for the celebration by tram - and getting back the same evening. South Eastern, of course, stopped services early on 24th December this year and ran none at all on Boxing Day. If memory serves trams didn’t run on Christmas Day but there was a full service on Boxing Day in Vienna.

New Year’s Eve is much bigger in Austria than it is here. The City of Vienna would put on extra trams throughout the night to ensure revellers didn’t get into cars after drinking – and the trams were free after midnight for that one night. That’s what you call real joined up policy making – not the short sighted keep-costs-down parsimony that passes for public transport policy in this country. 

We could learn a lot from our continental neighbours – if we weren’t so busy trying to isolate ourselves from them as Cameron did with his veto.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Is your Christmas Tree Green?

For several years I wrote ‘Green Christmas’ letters or press releases. It was a sure fire way to get newspaper coverage and then radio interviews. In fact, one year I did a pre-Christmas and a post- Christmas and New Year radio interview. Now everywhere is full of ‘Green Christmas’ pointers and the message has lost its distinctiveness. But one major Green dilemma remains – the Christmas tree. 

What do you get: a living Christmas tree, a natural but cut down Christmas tree or an artificial one?

A living Christmas tree to be planted out afterwards sounds very green at first. But think of the environmental impact of the monoculture plantations where they are grown. They are also the most expensive option. When my children were small I couldn’t afford a living tree – besides we were in rented accommodation and the landlord probably wouldn’t have appreciated a Christmas tree plantation in the back garden. That’s another disadvantage – who has acres of land to plant them all out every year?

Mostly we bought a chopped down natural tree. Local Councils are now very clued up about recycling natural Christmas trees – although you could use yours to make your own mulch instead. Then one year a friend gave us the artificial tree she was otherwise going to throw away. Now that is truly green. We could save a tree from being thrown away and save money by not having to buy one every year. Reuse is always better than recycling. 
What is your solution to the Christmas tree dilemma?

Friday, 16 December 2011

Education for Sustainable Development - what is it?

2005 – 2014 is the UN Decade for Education for Sustainable development (or ESD) – did you know that? Not many people do, with the possible exception of those who work in education; and even there quite a few are unaware. I went to a job interview in September and mentioned that I was writing and article on ESD. The response from one of my interview panel was: what’s that?

So what are we doing in this country about ESD. Well not an awful lot although there are some isolated beacons of hope. Two English universities were given funds by the Higher Education Funding Council for ESD.. The University of Bradford’s Ecoversity project has integrated ESD into all its procedures for validating and reviewing its programmes of study. Sounds brilliant until a lecturer tells you that, for some staff, it has become a mere tick box exercise. 

The University of Plymouth’s sustainability project looks as though it has been adopted by the teaching and learning department – until you click on Education for Sustainable Development – and the web page is not available.

So not an awful lot going on there: and plenty of university leaders who have never heard of Education for Sustainable Development. Where is the next generation of sustainability conscious campaigners going to come from with this lack of engagement? Greens to the forefront. I feel a campaign coming. Ask your local university about their commitment to ESD.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Pedestrianise Tonbridge High Street

I handed out PATHS leaflets at the Farmers’ Market yesterday, Sunday. PATHS stands for Pedestrianise Action for Tonbridge High Street – a new campaign group. The High Street has very heavy traffic and is unpleasant for walking: which is why most people who live in Tonbridge use alternative footpaths instead.
Air pollution in the lower High Street is above permitted levels so it is an Air Quality Management Area. This means the Council is legally obliged to have an Air Quality Management Plan. It has, but most of what the plan says is that the Council will monitor air quality and talk to Kent Highways - not very proactive and not very effective.
The only measure mentioned to reduce traffic is to realign a roundabout. They claim they have already done this but we can’t see any difference. It certainly hasn’t reduced traffic. Now our proposal – to pedestrianise the lower High Street – would definitely reduce traffic.
Tonbridge is the only town of any size in Kent which doesn’t have pedestrianisation. We think it’s about time it did. Please do sign the online petition at

The Euro Crisis

As Greens we are often faced with an ambiguous attitude towards Europe and the actions of the UK government within Europe. The Merkel/ Sarkozy stampede towards a European Central Bank which dictates fiscal policy to national government horrifies Greens: it directly contradicts all our decentralist instincts. However, Cameron’s reasons for vetoing the agreement are the wrong ones. His claim to be ‘protecting the national interest’ rings hollow when the interest he is protecting is that of the City of London: and possibly his own personal pension plan.
A transaction tax is Green Party policy: we do want on in order to curb the excessive activities of the City. Why oh why will our own government not see sense and our policies end up being proposed by other European countries – just not this one.