Friday, 8 February 2019

Plastic pollution and the W.I.

A few months ago, we received an email from Kimcote and Walton Women’s Institute, asking if anyone would be able to give them a talk about plastic pollution. Kelly Swann volunteered and she went to visit their group on 7th February.
Kelly introduced her talk by explaining that her interest in plastic pollution dates back to a holiday in Greece in the 1990s, when she stayed near a nesting site for loggerhead turtles and saw them swimming in the sea. She was captivated and has been interested in these beautiful creatures ever since. So when she heard about turtles dying as a result of plastic pollution, she immediately began to find out more.
Plastic was invented in 1862 but it was not until the Second World War that the industry really began to grow, as plastics were used for everything from military vehicles to radar insulation. After the war, the industry needed new consumers and they turned to the domestic market. Plastic was considered a miracle material at this time because it could be moulded into any shape, was easily mass-produced, it was cheap and it was waterproof. It was also non-biodegradable and we have only recently started to understand what that means for our environment.
Nearly all of the plastic ever created is still in existence and Greenpeace reveal that an estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans every year, which is a truck load of rubbish every minute. Some of this plastic has collected in the North Pacific Gyre between Alaska and Russia, a floating garbage patch that is twice the size of Texas.
Kelly spent some time explaining the effect that plastic pollution is having on sea life. For example, the National Geographic recently reported that a pilot whale had died in Thailand and was found to have 80 plastic shopping bags in its stomach, effectively causing it to starve to death. Seabirds have also been affected and one study found that 90% have got plastic in their stomachs. Animals often cannot tell the difference between small pieces of plastic and their normal food and so they eat rubbish and feed it to their young by mistake.
Recycling plastic is difficult because there are so many different types that have to be treated separately. In the UK, each local authority has a different recycling scheme, so it can be difficult for people to know what to put in the recycling bin. However, individuals can help by trying to reduce the amount of disposable plastic that they use. Kelly gave some examples of how to do this, including Morsbags, bamboo toothbrushes and solid shampoo bars. Finally, she encouraged everyone not to despair at the size of the problem but to do what they can at home and to join Friends of the Earth to call for changes in legislation!

The meeting ended with tea and biscuits and more informal conversation about what we can all do. Many of the women present had already started to make changes and had their own tips about plastic-free teabags and other items. Thank you to Kimcote and Walton WI for taking an interest in this important issue!
If you're interested in what you can do to reduce your use of plastic, national Friends of the Earth have just launched a #DrasticOnPlastic Timer Challenge.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Green Screen: Waste Land film showing

We are currently working with the Phoenix cinema to host a series of environmental films. The first was Down to Earth in November, which was introduced by our very own Malcolm Hunter, who gave us an overview of climate science before the film started. 

The second film, in January, was Waste Land. Marie Lefebvre from Leicester Fixers introduced the film by talking about the importance of repair and projects in Leicester that are encouraging people to repair rather than replace. 

Waste Land was the story of an artist who worked with 'pickers', i.e., people collecting materials for recycling, at a landfill site in Brazil. He collaborated with the pickers to create portraits of them using rubbish from the landfill site. Many of us went to see this film expecting it to be rather grim and depressing but in fact it was rather inspiring. The pickers were obviously doing a job that most of us wouldn't choose, and many of them had had to resort to that way of earning their living when something had gone wrong in their life (parents dying, divorce etc.) But in spite of this, they were incredibly dignified and in some cases, even proud of their work. They recognised the importance of what they were doing. The vice-president of the pickers' workers' association explained that any material they could remove from the landfill site would reduce pollution. He said that when people asked him what the point was in recycling one aluminium can, he would reply that 99 is not 100 and that recycling even one can makes a difference. 

The artist's project made the pickers famous. When the president of the pickers' workers' association was interviewed on national television, he corrected the interviewer who introduced him as a 'collector of garbage': 'May I just correct you? We don't collect garbage - we collect recyclable materials.' He received a round of applause. Let's hope we can all get better at recognising the value of our waste.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

The trees of St George's Churchyard are safe!

Leicester City Council's planning committee considered the application to cut down 21 mature trees in St George's Churchyard again tonight. They first considered the proposal back in January but postponed making a decision until a site visit could take place. 

Three people spoke against the proposal. The first was Melanie Wakley, speaking on behalf of Leicester Friends of the Earth. She pointed out that the bat survey had been conducted in November, when bats are known to be hibernating, so it was not sufficient. She also asked the planning committee to consider the impact on bees and other pollinating insects if 21 mature trees were removed from the city centre and she quoted a local beekeeper, who highlighted the wildlife value of mature lime trees. The next speaker was Steve Matijas, from the Serbian Orthodox church that owns the land. He stated that the council has a licence to maintain the grounds but this doesn't include removing trees. The church only want the trees nearest the church to be pruned back. The third speaker was Olga Suhomlinova, a resident of the flats overlooking the churchyard. She asked that the churchyard be retained as a quiet green space, rather than allowing local bars to use it for outdoor seating, which would create a lot of noise for local residents. 

Patrick Kitterick, the local councillor, then spoke against the proposal. He reminded the committee that trees take a long time to grow and it would take a generation to replace them. He also summarised the arguments of the other speakers and pointed out that the church, the local residents and the environmental movement all opposed this plan.

The planning committee discussed the application for a few minutes, raising their own concerns about the impact on biodiversity and air pollution if the trees were removed. The chair then recommended that they reject the application and the rest of the committee voted with him. 

So the trees of St George's Churchyard are safe!! We are very glad that the council have decided to reject the planning application. This is wonderful news to end the year.  

The Leicester Mercury reported this story in detail

Friday, 7 December 2018

‘Last chance’ to save St George’s trees

St George’s churchyard in autumn 

The City Council have announced that they will be re-considering the application to cut down 21 trees in St George’s churchyard, opposite Curve, at the next planning committee meeting on 12th December. Campaigners have immediately expressed their dismay and are planning a ‘last chance’ Tree Festival in Orton Square on Sunday 9th December, from 12 noon to 2 pm, to show the Council how much people care about the trees.

Anne Scott and Kelly Swann performing The Lorax

The Tree Festival will begin with a performance of The Lorax, the Dr Seuss story about a forest that is lost to economic greed. Two local teachers, Anne Scott and Kelly Swann first performed the story for the Everybody’s Reading Festival in September and have agreed to repeat it in Orton Square on Sunday as part of the campaign to protect the trees. The story is loved by children and adults alike. Leicester Friends of the Earth and CivicLeicester, who are organising the Tree Festival, hope that it will encourage more people to oppose the planning application.

The proposal for the churchyard was first considered in January but the planning committee deferred making a decision until a site visit could take place. At that meeting, some councillors expressed concerns about the removal of so many trees, especially those that are covered by protection orders. They decided that they needed more information about the state of the churchyard. Campaigners expected that a decision would be made one month later, as normally happens when a site visit is required. It is not clear why the Council have waited 11 months.

Hannah Wakley from Leicester Friends of the Earth said:
“We are disappointed that the Council's idea of Christmas cheer and solidarity with the environmentalists currently meeting in Poland on climate change, is to reinstate their plan to cut down 21 trees in St George's churchyard. The trees have done their job of soaking up carbon emissions for the past 11 months but seemingly no-one on the Council has used this lengthy time to consider any viable alternatives to their original ideas. But as the Lorax says, ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.’ We will speak for the trees of St George’s churchyard and we hope the Council will listen. These much-loved trees should not be cut down just to please the local business owners.”

Ambrose Musiyiwa from CivicLeicester said:
“Trees are an important part of our city’s heritage. The cluster of trees in St George's Churchyard is particularly unique and important because of the work it does to combat air pollution in the city. The cluster needs to be preserved. Cutting down 21 of the trees, as the city council want to do, will be an act of vandalism that will have a negative effect on the health of the city.

"I hope people will continue opposing these plans.

"I hope they will continue writing to the planning committee and I hope they will come to the Tree Festival on 9 December and to the City Council's planning committee meeting on 12 December to oppose the plan."

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Leicester sends a message to the climate talks

On Sunday 2nd December 2018, people concerned about climate change met in in Jubilee Square to form the number 12, to remind politicians that we have just 12 years left to take radical action on fossil fuels if we want to avoid climate catastrophes. An aerial photograph was taken from the Big Wheel and has been sent to negotiators going to the UN climate talks in Poland, as a message from Leicester calling for urgent action.

Red Leicester Choir attended the protest and sang songs with an environmental theme. They also led a mass sing of an adapted version of ‘Silent Night’, which calls for fracking to be banned. This song was streamed live on Leicester Friends of the Earth’s Facebook page.

One member of Red Leicester Choir, Christina Mottram, is travelling to Poland to attend the UN climate talks as a campaigner. She wants the negotiators to understand that people are very worried about the effects of climate change and they are asking governments to follow through on the commitments they made in Paris three years ago. In 2015, nearly every country in the world signed up to the Paris climate agreement, with the long-term goal of keeping temperature increases to 1.5 degrees. However, so far, countries’ commitments to reduce fossil fuel use have not been enough to meet this goal.

Christina said: “My children are now in their 30s, and ever since they were young I have wanted a better world for them to live in. It also makes you realise that some children are disadvantaged by the effects of climate change - especially poverty, migration, and the effects of global warming on local environments.”
Hannah Wakley from Leicester Friends of the Earth said:

“Over 100 people came to Jubilee Square today to send a message to talks in Poland. We know that we are running out of time to deal with this problem. If global temperatures increase by more than 1.5 degrees, millions of people will be affected by floods, drought, extreme heatwaves and poverty. It is still possible to avoid these catastrophes but governments must act now.”

Photo credit: Ambrose Musiyiwa

The Guardian covered the latest UN climate change report.
COP24’s website explains the aims of the conference.  

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Can you spot the fracking difference?

Over the summer, the government is consulting about whether to change the law to reclassify fracking as ‘permitted development’. This is part of the UK planning law that allows people to carry out improvements on their home or property, such as putting up a garden shed, without having to apply to the local council for planning permission. The government is proposing that exploratory drilling for shale gas should also be considered as permitted development, which means that oil and gas companies would not need to apply for planning permission to construct an exploratory fracking well pad. Well pads can cover 1.5 hectares and result in noisy day-and-night drilling for up to 8 months. They require over 60 HGV journeys a day.

It seems that the government can’t tell the difference between a fracking rig and a garden shed. These proposals are an attack on our local democracy, as they would prevent councils from opposing fracking in their area. The government has realised that they are never going to persuade rural communities to accept fracking, so they are now trying to find some way for the fracking industry to start drilling without consulting local people.

An area of north-west Leicestershire has already been licensed for fracking. If the government succeeds in changing the law, oil and gas companies would be able to move in and start exploratory drilling without even applying for planning permission. Fracking has been banned in many countries, including Scotland and France, because people are concerned about the health risks and pollution. It is not fair that it should be forced on communities without them even being able to have a say.
Fracked gas will increase climate change at a time when we should be moving towards clean renewable energy. The Paris climate agreement acknowledges that we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground if we want to avoid dangerous climate change.

We asked people if they would sign our petition to Leicestershire County Council, asking them to speak out against the proposals to fast-track fracking. The shed and the fracking rig attracted a lot of attention and most people we spoke to were keen to sign the petition and prevent this unfair change to the law.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Evesham Road / Aylestone Road link will be debated

Our colleagues in the End of the Road campaign group succeeded in collecting over 1500 signatures in under a month in their petition (a fantastic achievement!) so there will be a full council debate about removing the road from the Leicester Local Plan on 4th October.

They are asking as many people as possible in as many different parts of the city as possible to lobby their councillors and ask them to speak against the road in the debate. They have sent a briefing to all the councillors, but they need to be encouraged to read and think about it by their own constituents. They are asking for 3 things: 1. That the council removes the road from the Leicester Local Plan 2. That the council also removes it from the map of possible future roads 3. That to show that they are committed to this, the council have a public consultation about what to do with the assets (land and buildings) it has retained with a view to building this road. Please take 5 minutes to read their notes and contact your councillors about this unnecessary road.