Why Bristol’s Red mayor is anything but Green

(reading time: 4 mins)

I voted for Marvin Rees in 2016 and consider myself a Labour voter by default, who sometimes votes Green or LibDem. I have never voted Tory and never will. But with bookies suggesting Bristol’s city mayor contest is a two horse race between Labour and the Greens, I will be voting for Green candidate Sandy Hore-Ruthven, not Bristol’s current mayor on May 6th.

Labour voters assume Greens can’t get elected and that Labour will always be more Green than the Tories anyway. But I would argue Marvin Rees’ environmental record is worse than a Tory mayor would have been. Here are three key issues.

Firstly Rees has supported more road building at Western Harbour, and supports turning the abandoned railway line at Callington Road in Brislington into a relief road for the A4. Strangely Labour have even argued this extra road will reduce pollution. For some reason they don’t understand the basics of road building – extra roads always fill up with more traffic, traffic jams and pollution follow. More roads only aggravate this problem.

Secondly Bristol Labour now sides with the fossil fuel companies. Yes seriously! In July 2019 there was a Green and LibDem motion before the council to have the Avon Pension Fund divest of its fossil fuel company investments. Labour diluted that motion and voted with the Tories for ‘active engagement’ with fossil fuel companies instead. ‘Active engagement’ is not a serious policy, it’s a lobbyist’s dream. Bristol Labour are staggeringly naive if they believe a local council might actually have some influence on multi-national oil companies – taking pension money out of oil and gas is the only way to exert influence. Even as a purely financial decision, fossil fuels will become increasingly risky for a pension fund, because fossil fuels have no long term future. In the next decade or two fossil fuel investments will lose value rapidly once renewable technologies reach a certain threshold (renewable power generation is already cheaper than fossil fuels). It’s the most bizarre decision from Labour, and the opposite of what I thought Labour were supposed to be about – opposing the predatory self-interests of the wealthiest.

Third was Rees’ response to the cancellation of a second runway at Bristol Airport by North Somerset council, in the week that Greta Thunberg visited the city in Feb 2020. This is how the interview went with Matt Frei of Channel 4 news;

Frei: But you were in favour of it last year, on the record.
Rees: Well it’s not my decision, and as a political….. [inaudible]
Frei: But you were in favour of it.
Rees: Well no, because there’s a context. I’m not in favour of airport expansion. There is a question, the real aim is to get the number of people flying to reduce. And I think that’s where people are missing the point. We are in favour of reducing the number of people flying. And that’s the campaign I’m part of.

Surely the only reason for a second runway was to increase the number of flights and the number of people flying? I’m not aware of Rees expressing any public opposition to a second runway, until the decision had been made and Greta Thunberg came to town. If he believed the economic benefits outweighed the environmental risks, he should have stuck with that position. But his response in that interview was clearly a politician suddenly hoping to distance himself from a controversial issue.

I will say during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests Marvin Rees did strike the right tone after Colston’s statue was (rightly in my view) finally pulled down. Other than that I’m struggling to think of much that’s positive from his five years in office. I didn’t vote for George Ferguson in 2012, but at least Ferguson had some clear policies associated with his tenure – parking zones, 20mph limits in residential areas, and pushing for a Bristol Arena in the middle of the city, which is the natural place for it. With Rees though, there are no signature policies.

There is also the question of why Bristol City Council kept wasting council tax payers’ money to prop up failing Bristol Energy www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol… and concerns about the political culture inside Bristol Labour www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/bristol-councillor-joins-greens…

I don’t see much leadership from Marvin Rees. As far as the environment goes, the leadership he has shown has been heading in the wrong direction. Labour voters who care about environmental issues should not make the mistake of assuming Bristol Labour are somehow ‘Green-Lite’.

Disclosure: This is my personal view written in my own time. I am a Bristol City Council employee in a non politically restricted post, and as such a member of the Avon Pension fund.

Is Infrared heating the renewable silver bullet?

Thermal images of people, dog and coffee mugs

(reading time: 10 mins)

Could infrared be the renewable alternative to gas central heating for Britain’s ageing housing stock?

As my twenty five year old combi-boiler approaches the end of its life, I’ve been looking for a more renewable heating option. Infrared heaters are fairly cheap to buy, around £2.5k for my house. By contrast my lowest quote for air source heating was £11k, only £4.5k of which could be recovered with the government renewable heat incentive (RHI) payments.

So during the winter 2019/2020 I tested far infrared (FIR) panels in one room. Continue reading…

Why Labour lost the election. Again.

Downing street from behind railings

(reading time: 6 mins)

2019 was a particularly bad election to lose.

This country has more food banks than MacDonalds (fullfact.org). The Tory majority coupled with Brexit gives them carte blanche to finally dismantle the NHS, politicise the courts and introduce voter id across the country, a Republican strategy to discourage the poor from voting. Then there’s Tory indifference to climate change and income inequality. We could be looking at a very different country in 5 years time.

There is no way losing 43% to 32%, 365 to 203 seats can in any way be considered a moral victory, or something to build upon. The Labour party needs to own this failure.

Continue reading…

What happened to the GOP? Go back exactly 30 years.

Sign in road where Berlin wall once stood
Image by pixabay.com/users/emilyalp

(reading time: 3 mins)

If you’ve been wondering what happened to the Republican party under Trump, look beyond 2016 and look back exactly 30 years. The Republicans’ wholesale abandonment of some many core values, to the point where elected members now spout deep state conspiracy theories that contradict the CIA and FBI in order to stay on message with their president, has not been an overnight process. However the event that triggered it, the fall of the Berlin wall, was.

Continue reading…

The myths that divide us from nature

(reading time: 8 mins)

The ancient idea that whatever enables human consciousness is a basic property of our material world is an elegantly simple philosophical standpoint. But few can conceive how it might work in practice without resorting to some sort of mysticism.

I believe a significant factor is the language we use to describing human consciousness, and in particular how we differentiate it from other animals’ awareness, revealing a long held assumption that our species is almost above nature. As a result, the more removed human consciousness appears to be from nature, the less plausible any suggestion of ‘awareness everywhere’ becomes. Continue reading…

The limits of Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion flags in Bristol July 2019

(reading time: 4 mins)

Why was I absent from Bristol’s Extinction Rebellion protests last week? I’m a left leaning voter who accepts time is running out for climate change action. Last winter I spent eight days upgrading my loft insulation to reduce my gas consumption by about 10% – which is one of many actions I’ve taken to reduce my carbon output. So why did I cycle past the protest each day instead of joining in?

Although XR are doing an important job of keeping climate change in the news cycle, I believe there’s a limit to what XR’s protests will achieve.

Continue reading…

When is a tax not a tax? When it’s a carbon dividend

Oil extraction

(reading time: 8 mins)

Scientists and economists have long advocated carbon taxes as the most effective way to remove carbon from the world economy. The carbon dividend is one of the few ways to make carbon taxes politically acceptable.

But while taxing carbon may be vital, people rarely vote for new taxes. While left of centre Europeans like me want increased funding for public services, history shows it’s an uphill task selling voters the tax increases needed to pay for them. It’s too easy for voters and politicians to think short-term and let future generations pay, with the cost of inaction rising all the time.

However the strength of the carbon dividend may be its cross party appeal. In different forms, the carbon dividend has long been popular with environmentalists (it is UK Green party policy), but is also gaining traction with Republicans and Libertarians. Continue reading…

How to build a green roofed garden store

Since I laid out my slate patio a few years back I’ve used it less than expected. I realised lack of storage was one reason for this. Along with the inevitable broken flower pots and recycling bins, the odd bag of rubble or scrap of wood temporarily parked until the next recycling centre trip was giving my back garden a builder’s yard vibe!

Instead of storing my rubbish in an ugly plastic box, I built my own green roofed garden store. I chose Sedum turf instead of wildflower because although both encourage pollinating insects, as Sedums are semi-evergreen they give you something to look at through the winter as well as summer. Continue reading…

Climate change, anxieties and actions

Oil refining
Image courtesy of NASA

(reading time: 11 mins)

This summer’s heatwave through Europe and Asia was one of many extraordinary weather events, which along with forest fires, storms and flash floods, are becoming less extraordinary every year. Scientists are not claiming direct cause and effect for individual weather events, rather there is a very simple principle at work – CO2 and Methane put more energy into our weather systems. The more energy goes in, the more energy comes out, with greater frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

The IPCC October 2018 report and the ‘hothouse earth’ report that rounded off the summer both re-state that climate change may become irreversible, but with the worrying twist that the tipping point may be closer than previously thought. There are more frequent warnings that we really could leave Earth permanently damaged for our species, perhaps within a few generations.

Such headlines grab the attention for a time because our hunter-gatherer brains are hardwired to monitor for immediate threats. However as the solution requires action outside of our control, what remains is often a sense of powerlessness.  Continue reading…

Is subjective experience essential to true consciousness?

traditional view of humans at top of species pyramid

(reading time: 6 mins)

Humans are considered the only truly conscious animals, because we are not just reacting to our environment but we do so through a rich complex inner world. However I think this complicated, self aware, highly subjective experience is just one type of intelligent awareness. In fact as I will argue here, there are even parallels between our subjective experience and a legacy computer system.

Most people would agree our species sits at the top of the evolutionary tree, the apex of the pyramid perhaps, because we have the most complete, even enlightened awareness in the animal kingdom. Analytic thinking, self awareness, subjective experience and so on, were long thought to be uniquely human traits, which makes their appearance in just one species an ever greater mystery.
Continue reading…

Why do people catch a yawn?

seal pup having a nap

(reading time: 2 mins)

No, don’t yawn. You’ll set me off…..

As infectious yawning is only found in apes and humans, the unanswered question of why we do it keeps drawing in the research dollars. Consensus seems to be settling on contagious yawning as a form of social bonding. But I wonder if our hunter-gatherer ancestry means there’s more to it than a symbol of simple social cohesion, unrelated to sleep?
Continue reading…

Two non-problems of modern philosophy

There are two questions in modern philosophy, which I believe are largely created by a failure to compensate for the nature of human perception.

beach ball and shadow image

The (non) hard problem of consciousness

Philosophers like Daniel Dennet who treat this a non-problem, believe the question will eventually be resolved by more research into the brain itself. I have a slightly different take. I believe by asking this basic question about subjective experience; ‘how does seeing the color blue create the sensation of blue?’ David Chalmers is really asking (in a metaphysical not neurological sense) where do sensations of the external world finally end up?
Continue reading…