Category: Climate Change

Corby by-election: British Tories all talk on wind power

by Adam Corner

There are few cardinal sins in politics – but campaigning on behalf of your opponent has to be one of them. So when news broke this week that the British Conservative Party MP Chris Heaton Harris had boasted on camera of providing resources and support to an opposition anti-wind farm candidate in order to “cause some hassle”, it was widely expected that the axe would fall.

But instead, as the story developed, it transpired that this was a trail that led to the very centre of the Conservative Party.

In the end, the manouverings came to naught – Labour won the by-election easily, the first time it has taken a seat from the Tories in a by-election since just before Tony Blair’s seismic 1997 general election victory.

Heaton-Harris was caught in an undercover sting by the environmental campaign group Greenpeace. He was bragging that he had backed the anti-wind farm election campaign of the blogger and self-publicist James Delingpole, a far-right commentator whose pantomime-villain outbursts are typically treated as undeserving of serious engagement. Among the climate-sceptic elements of the Conservative Party, however, Delingpole appears to have carved out a role for himself as the mouthpiece for views that they dare not air in public.

Delingpole stood down as a candidate in the Corby by-election several weeks ago, prior to the video emerging. But not before the energy minister, John Hayes, gave an interview declaring that “enough was enough” for on shore wind. This was seemingly in direct contrast to official government policy, which favours a range of renewable technologies as part of an increasingly low-carbon energy mix.

And in potentially even more serious developments, a second Greenpeace film appeared to show the Chancellor, George Osborne, implicated in a plot to withdraw government support for onshore wind. This is despite its huge value to the British economy as a fully operational low-carbon technology.

When David Cameron boldly proclaimed that his would be the “greenest government ever”, following his election in 2010, he must have known the boast would come back to haunt him. And, although the UK is (currently) a world leader in terms of legally binding carbon reduction targets, some members of the Conservative Party look like they are doing everything they can to ensure these targets are unlikely to be met.

The Conservative central command would like to paint anti-wind zealots like Heaton-Harris as existing on the lunatic fringe of the party. But increasingly, it is looking like the MPs who represent the rural constituencies where wind turbines are typically sited are having a disproportionate effect on the Conservative Party. Although there has been no formal shift in energy policy, the “mood music” around the environment on the British right is worrying.

To be clear: opposing the siting of a wind farm cannot be equated with climate change scepticism. But the willingness of Conservative party representatives to promote and publicise the views of hardline anti-environmentalists like James Delingpole does not send out a good signal. And opposing on-shore wind without suggesting an alternative policy for reducing levels of carbon dioxide is tantamount to dismissing the risks that climate change poses.

The relationship between climate change scepticism and political ideology has been documented repeatedly and consistently in the US, the UK and Australia. But how to address it is an altogether trickier question.

There is a proud tradition of conservation and respect for the natural environment in the history of British Conservatism. But the “conserve” part of conservatism currently seems to apply only to the hyper-local, with debate focusing on the aesthetics of wind-farms instead of the value of clean, green energy for the whole of the UK.

Ultimately, the Conservative Party will lose its hard-fought status as an (allegedly) moderate, modern, compassionate, centre-right group if it associates itself with the extreme views of individuals like Delingpole. If the Conservatives don’t want wind farms across the UK, their challenge is to identify and implement another set of policies that will allow Britain’s carbon targets to be achieved – with the consent of the electorate.

Despite the noises coming from climate-sceptic Conservative MPs, wind farms – and renewable technologies in general – are very popular with the public. They are certainly more popular than nuclear power or fossil fuels.

Few credible energy future scenarios see no role for on-shore wind. If the Conservatives have evidence to the contrary, they should speak up. If not, they need to find a way of convincing their voters that climate change is the biggest threat to the environment that they supposedly want to conserve so much – not the wind turbines that can provide clean, abundant energy for the future.

Adam Corner is  a Research Associate in the Understanding Risk research group at Cardiff University.

This article was first published at www.theconversation.edu.au

 

The Putty Valley is no place for the Coal Seam Gas industry

by Luke Foley

 Nine days ago I visited the Putty Valley and met with local residents.

 The Putty Valley is mid way between Windsor and Singleton, nestled between the Wollombi and Yengo national parks, and within the electoral district of Upper Hunter and the local government area of Singleton.

 It is a place of indescribable beauty. A place where heaven meets earth.

 The Putty Valley immediately brought to my mind the Clogher Valley in County Tyrone, in the north of Ireland.

 My wife was born and reared in that valley, and we were married there.

 The Putty Valley and the Clogher Valley have both been dominated by dairy farms for generations.

 In Putty Valley, most of the dairy farms have given way to grazing.

 The rugged terrain of the wilderness and mountain ranges surrounding Putty is reminiscent of County Tyrone’s Sperrin Mountains.

 The Wollemi National Park encompasses the largest wilderness area in New South Wales, and is part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, as is the Yengo National Park.

 The area is home to one of the world’s great biological mysteries: how did the Wollemi pine, the ‘dinosaur tree’, survive 5 million years secluded in a single canyon before being discovered?

 The rural environment of the Putty Valley is today threatened by the coal seam gas industry.

 So are the surrounding national parks, notwithstanding their protected status under the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

 We know that the extraction of large volumes of water impacts on connected surface and groundwater systems.

 On 19 August 2011 Dart Energy commenced drilling a core hole to explore for coal seam gas at a property on Putty Road, in the Putty Valley area.

 The bore site is just over 500 metres from the boundary of a World Heritage listed area of international significance.

 The exploration site is 40 metres from Long Wheeney Creek which runs into Putty Creek, Wollemi Creek and the pristine and protected Colo River through the Wollemi National Park, before joining the Hawkesbury River.

 Prior to the election, the Liberal and National parties announced that they would introduce a Strategic Regional Land Use Policy to “strike the right balance between our important agricultural, mining and energy sectors, while ensuring the protection of high value conservation lands“.

 The Coalition’s election policy stated that “The NSW Liberals and Nationals believe that agricultural land and other sensitive areas exist in NSW where mining and coal seam gas extraction should not occur.”

 Today’s announcement of the Government’s Draft Upper Hunter Strategic Regional Land Use Plan provides no comfort whatsoever to the people of the Putty Valley.

 The protection of strategic agricultural lands and high conservation values is left to a process which can sideline water protection and be sidelined itself if the government deems the project to be ‘exceptional’.  

 There’s no certainty for sustainable agriculture nor threatened habitats.

 I do accept a role for gas in this state’s energy mix.

 I also believe that there should be no go areas.

 The NSW Liberals and Nationals used to believe this too – at least until polling day last year.

 I believe that the Putty Valley is a perfect example of a sensitive area that should exclude mining and extractive industries, in order to protect its significant environmental values.

 Allowing the coal seam gas industry into the Putty Valley would create a pustule of industrialisation in the heart of the Wollemi and Yengo World Heritage areas.

 The Putty Valley is no place for the gas industry.

  Luke Foley MLC is the Leader of the Opposition in the NSW Legislative Council

 

O’Farrell Bypasses Scientific Advice to Approve Coal Seam Gas Licenses

 The O’Farrell Government’s draft strategic land use policy gives Ministers the power to bypass independent scientific panels and approve Coal Seam Gas extraction licenses in secret at the cabinet table, the NSW Labor Opposition said today.

“The O’Farrell Government’s draft strategic land use policy gives politicians the power to green light Coal Seam Gas extraction licenses, regardless of how close they are to homes and prime agricultural land,” Opposition Leader, John Robertson said today.

“Cabinet may declare a project to be an exceptional circumstance project if the subject resource is of exceptional value to the state. For an exceptional circumstance project, the requirement for a gateway certificate would not apply.”

(p86, New England North West and Upper Hunter Draft Strategic Regional Land Use Plan)

“Under this new policy, Ministers would be given the power to bypass independent approval requirements if the Coal Seam Gas project had ‘exceptional value’,” Mr Robertson said.

“This strategy is not what the people of NSW were led to believe would occur prior to the election.

“This sneaky addition on page 86 flies in the face of the O’Farrell Government’s commitment to having independent panels scrutinising Coal Seam Gas license approvals.

“The O’Farrell Government is politicising the Coal Seam Gas industry approvals process and offering no protection to areas with ‘high value’ projects nearby.

“Even the Government’s own aquifer interference policy will allow Coal Seam Gas pilot or test wells to operate for years before an aquifer license would be required.

“While elements of this policy are positive, the fact restrictions would only occur in the extraction process and not the lengthy exploration period beforehand would still allow significant damage to potentially occur.

“The O’Farrell Government needs to adopt Labor’s policy to suspend all current Coal Seam Gas exploration licenses and cease issuing new extraction licenses to protect the State’s aquifers and water resources.

“Until a water-tight regulatory framework is in place based on independent scientific research and conclusive evidence, we should not be allowing Coal Seam Gas mining to proceed unabated.

“Instead of sneakily giving itself the power to approve major Coal Seam Gas projects under the cover of darkness, the O’Farrell Government needs to act now to protect our precious ground water resources.”

Sustainability: A Number of Policy Points Focusing on the Environment and Global Warming

by Yusuf Isik

The sustainability question needs to be answered. In this phase of economic development, its impacts on a number of domains need to be considered. Environmental problems, both in the form of global warming and also economic and social issues, are the primary concern. The political implications are also crucial.

Both domains have specific and common aspects regarding sustainability. The world economic crisis of 2008 illustrates vividly the need for economic sustainability. The environmental and climatic concerns related to global warming are more alarming because they, particularly the latter, raise survival issues relating to the near future. They are not just a question of standard of life.

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Gender and Climate Change: Durban Explores the Intersection

by Rebecca Lefton

Most people do not think of climate change as a gender issue. But experts at the COP 17 climate conference in Durban, South Africa are trying to raise awareness of the disproportionate impact that a changing climate has on women. Women are responsible for collecting water that is becoming increasingly scarce, and they are needing to travel farther distances to reach clean water supplies. Women are primarily responsible for putting food on the table, but food prices are rising and as climate change worsens agricultural productivity. And women are often the most vulnerable in war and regional conflicts, which will be exacerbated by resource scarcity.

A discussion held  in Durban focused on these impacts. The panel featured the Honorable Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In addressing climate resilience, Robinson stressed the importance of focusing on health and burden impacts of climate change. One of the keys is access to reproductive health for women.

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