Highest ever CO2 emissions

This morning I posted my breakfast blog on the need for more urgent Government action to set higher recycling targets for English Councils as part of a sound environmental policy. Timely? Yes.

Now only hours later I have just opened my iPad to read the depressing front page story in today’s Guardian that unpublished data produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicates that global carbon emissions increased last year by 5.5% from 29 gigatonnes of CO2 to 30.6 Gt. And this despite a worldwide recession of great severity.

This will mean, according to the IEA chief economist, that the chances of keeping average temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees celcius are now wishful thinking and unachievable. Above that we have to anticipate large scale climate change with massive effects on lands and populations across the globe. 

Sadly it is unlikely that this news will stir up sufficient concern for political  leaders to plan and agree actions to tackle global warming effectively.

Recycle now please – URGENT

Thanks to the writing on a recyclable cardboard soup carton, I learnt last week that there’s a great DEFRA website (www.recyclenow.com), with lots of information about recycling. 

This includes a searchable database. You can type in your postcode and find out more about local practice and the policies of your local authority for the recycling of different kinds of materials. This is useful because these are changing as new techniques of sorting enable more to be collected and saved.

Allerdale local authority had managed in 2009 to achieve a recycling rate of 45%, but last year the figure dropped to 44%. When I asked Stephanie Fleming, Allerdale’s recycling officer about this, she replied “the weather’s got to take the blame here”. 

With so much flooding in November, the Council was overwhelmed with the sheer task of getting areas cleared and houses habitable. Water was covering huge areas and recycling for a while had had to take second place. Hard to argue about that!

But there is a bigger question here we need to ask. The EU has set a 50% target by 2020 for household recycling for the UK as a whole, but both Scotland and Wales have set their own higher targets of 70% for 2025. With no targets set for English authorities does this mean, say Friends of the Earth that we’ll shelter under the skirts of the Scots and the Welsh and lag behind? 

We know this Government is averse to the ‘nanny state’, but let’s see a bit more forceful direction on this front! Surely we need this if we’re going to create a green economy, which Ministers tell us they want.

Two other good Government websites on green issues are worth looking at. A more technical waste data flow site, (http://www.wastedataflow.org/) provides additional information about waste management across the country.  You need to register to get access to the data.

The second is for the Department of Energy and Climate Control  (http://www. decc.gov.uk/). This includes information about the Government’s Green Deal programme, with more details due out soon.

Of maids and cotton workers

The more I read of the allegations about the behaviour of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with a maid from Guinea in a New York hotel, the more I am reminded of my research on the conditions of women in Lancashire’s cotton industry 125 years ago, which I did for my book, Manchester and its Ship Canal Movement (M&SCM).

In the late 19th century cotton industry, women were not only the majority of the workforce but were also in the forefront in pressing for better conditions and for resisting the unreasonable demands and actions of their employers.

Fines, age discrimination, refusals to take account of domestic situations, instant dismissals for minor offences, wage cuts, sexual harassment – these were all common problems faced by women and there are accounts in my M&SCM book (pages 112-118) of women like Rochdale’s Martha Kilburn and Manchester’s Jane Davies, who were willing to fight for their principles and in some cases go to jail.

The example in M&SCM of greatest resonance with what happened last week in a New York hotel suite occurred at the Henshaw Street Spinning Company in Oldham.

The women cardroom workers had in 1886 formed their own union and in the same year persuaded their union Secretary to complain to the employer of the actions of the head carder Robert Yates, who had a record of molesting and sexually assaulting young girls in the factory. He boasted too about his prowess to other people.

Just as DSK has a reputation as a seducer and lapin chaud, about which the French appear to have an attitude of insouciance, so Yates’ reputation for sexual harassment was well known in the factory. When the employer would take no action, all 68 female and male workers went out on strike for almost a year.

The company’s collusion with this shabby feature of a dominant male culture only ended, when the union’s solicitor obtained a conviction of Yates in the Police Court and he was dismissed by his employer. The strikers were not reinstated.

DSK has had the good sense to resign from his post with the IMF, thus allowing the organisation to get on with pressing issues like debt refinancing for a beleaguered Greece and supporting we hope stronger measures on climate change. If the case against DSK for attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment is proved, what can we expect?

In evidence given to the Royal Commission on Labour 1893-4, it was reported that sexual harassment was not uncommon in the cotton industry and that the action taken by the Henshaw Street strikers in 1886 had led to a marked improvement in overlookers’ behaviour and the attitude of employers.

Women then were the catalysts in this process. Now there are other women making complaints about former incidents involving DSK and the BBC has today reported unconfirmed claims of DNA material being found. If DSK – who was strongly tipped to be the President of France next year – is found guilty of the offence, my prediction is that the complainant chamber maid for Suite 28-06 at the Sofitel Hotel will be responsible for significant changes in public attitudes in France to harassment and treatment of women by men.

She will have joined the ranks of brave 19th century women reformers like Martha Kilburn and Jane Davies, but in this age of mass media and the internet she will certainly not have to wait like them for a later historian to pluck her from obscurity!

Fresh from the garden plot

It won’t make the next edition of Allotment News, but our raised vegetable bed beside the garage has had a good first 18 months since we got it up and running (Blog report 6 October 2009). With plenty of predators around – birds, slugs and rabbits especially – we’ve netted it all round and put stringing across the top and this seems to have worked.

Since it is only 3 metres by 1.5 metres, we have to chose carefully what to plant. We had a reasonable first yield of potatoes – though they had gone in late – and have a very healthy fennel plant and well-established sage bush. The winter greens had a poor time and didn’t prosper in the snow and harsh conditions this last December and January.

Most spectacular with its huge leaves has been the rhubarb. Left to establish itself last year, it has already provided three pickings in three weeks and there is plenty more to come.

I have not done any vegetable growing for years, so for me this is a re-learning period. Lindsay is the head gardener and has provided me this spring with some healthy looking beetroot and parsnip plants.

These went in last week in some well prepared soil. (See photo above) The beetroot will give us a chance to use the two delicious beetroot recipes we have in our Larches virtual cafe – the one with cumin we owe to our daughter Chloe. The one with yoghurt was kindly supplied by Colin Turner who’s stayed here at The Larches. Parsnips, a favourite of our son Barney, may tempt him up here soon for some tasting!,

New UK carbon emissions plan

Today’s Observer (15 May) reports in a front page article, “Historic climate change deal with legal powers agreed by Cabinet”, that the Government has now agreed to back far more comprehensive carbon emissions targets in line with recommendations from the independent committee on climate change. An announcement is expected on Tuesday. If implemented these will require substantial public and private investment and will by 2050 bring emissions down by 80% from 1990 levels.

The change in policy has been pushed by Energy Secretary and backed by David Cameron against Treasury opposition. It appears to be the consequence of the disastrous election results for the Lib Dems, who want to be seen as effective champions of at least some of their key policy commitments.

This is a welcome development and a wholesale reversal of the last year’s policies. For details of the plummeting UK investment in green technologies in 2010 see my recent blog report (24 April).

POSTSCRIPT May 16th: The BBC report in an article today that because of disputes amongst Coalition ministers, the agreement is subject to review and lowering of targets if other EU countries fail to keep to the commitments they made on emissions.

POSTSCRIPT May 18th: Full details were released yesterday, including information in today’s Guardian about letters with opposing views from Vince Cable and William Hague. The plan aims by 2025 to cut CO2 emissions by 50% from 1990 levels.