When the spires of churches, abbeys and cathedrals rose against the backdrop of the pristine rural landscape of medieval Britain, no one complained about how the tall monuments to the Christian god polluted the hills and the valleys. Nobody said in desperate anguish,
Well, probably not, as any medieval church nimby who dared to complain would likely be on the receiving end of medieval Christian love: your property confiscated by the church and a burning at the stake. Fortunately, these days such complainants wouldn’t be at the vicious mercy of lords and clerics. At worst they get ridicule.
So step up Rt Revd Martin Wharton, the Bishop of Newcastle.
In a sermon against wind farms he somehow managed to imply that wind turbines are un-Christian, claiming the demonic wind turbines are turning the North East countryside into a “disfigured industrial landscape”:
“It is a basic Christian truth that we all have a duty and a responsibility to care for and exercise wise stewardship over God’s creation, which has been entrusted to us.”
The ‘basic truth’ is that our modern society needs energy. Lots of it. We also need to produce energy whilst at the same time reducing our carbon emissions to try and minimise the inevitable effects of climate change. Wind, along with solar energy, ground source heat and other renewable and low carbon energy sources each need to form part of mixed energy solution.
Wharton, along with many wind turbine objectors, seem to hold a vague romantic view of the rural landscape, putting it on a mythic pastoral pedestal. The reality is different; our rural landscape is home to the industry of providing food, a landscape designed, shaped and developed over a thousand years to feed people and maximise profits for landowners. Enjoying the benefits of the latest in agricultural technology: materials, machinery and an arsenal of chemicals to squeeze out every ounce of productivity, a environment equally moulded by technology as it is by social change. Underground, the mines of the North East provided the lead, iron and coal to fuel the industrial revolution. Electricity pylons and telephone lines carry electricity and words, roads and railways carrying people, all have had a criss-crossing visual impact on the countryside. It’s a landscape which has been evolving for thousands of years, and we’ve become so accustomed to many of these “blots on our landscape” that they have become part of it. It’s a delicious irony that many of those who object to wind farms in Northumberland also want to see the very same countryside slashed with a dual carriageway all the way through the county.
Much of the wealth of the Church of England has been from it’s massive property holdings, so the church holds some responsibility for the current appearance of much of Britain’s landscape. Hypocrisy? You betcha. Inclosure acts took land from communities and handed it over to landowners, changing rural society forever, with open land sliced away in a thousand pen strokes, the church often profiting from such acts. Here in South Tyneside, the Church Commissioners’ vision of a “wise stewardship over God’s creation” included a plan to build a ‘business park’ and housing over the green belt at Fellgate in Jarrow. In Gateshead the “wise stewardship” gave us the Metrocentre, ushering in out of town shopping, increased car use and the near death of many town centres. Even now it looks like the Church Commissioners are seeking to claim mineral rights using ancient laws, looking forward to mammonic feast at the fracking trough.
The church cannot pretend to be protectors of our landscape or our environment.
Now, with wind farms, we are seeing the next step in the evolution of our northern landscapes (and seascapes), producing energy for an ever power hungry nation. As an industrial scale technology, the second wind energy revolution is still in it’s infancy, and many detractors like Wharton use this to imply that the technology is unproven or unable to provide energy adequately:
“There is no evidence that I have seen that suggests that wind farms will ever provide the reliable, controllable energy that is required by our society, however many there might be.
“Furthermore some studies have even suggested that far from reducing CO2 emissions, wind farms actually increase them.”
Go back a mere hundred and twenty years, and many people with a similarly Luddite bent would be saying something eerily similar about electricity.
It shouldn’t really be surprising that a cleric would try to justify his opinion using an ancient holy book – the same holy book which also gives valuable nuggets of advice about how you should beat your wife and slave, and stone children for giving you lip. However, when claiming a lack of evidence for an emerging technology, Wharton should realise that his glass house of god doesn’t stand up to the rocks of evidence at all.
If a demonstration was needed of who calls the tune for the TaxPayers’ Alliance, you couldn’t get better than Friday’s performance of TPA spokesperson Emma Boon on Sky News. She was interviewed alongside Green Party spokeperson Darren Johnson, where she parroted Eric Pickles’ line on weekly bin collections. The right-wing TPA, which claims to be independent and fight against government profligacy, quite happily supports Pickles’ plan to throw hundreds of millions of pounds at councils already running fortnightly collections, to pay them to run weekly bin collections.
For a political party and a lobby organisation that claim to be anti waste, they seem to be awfully fond of it.
Boon even repeated Pickles’ claim that “bin collection is one of the few visible things Council tax payers get for their money”, which isn’t an argument for weekly bin collections, but a demonstration of how dishonest their position is. We don’t pay for services to be ‘visible’, we pay for jobs to get done.
The additional claim that this was a fight-back against Euro diktat would be laughable, if these spoiled goods weren’t making or influencing government policy.
However, both Pickles and his TPA puppet Boon have failed to lay the blame for any of the costs of waste disposal at the door of the manufacturers and retailers. If packaging was reduced and a system of reuse of glass containers were introduced then waste going into the recycling stream would be reduced, and landfilling and incineration of contaminated recyclables would be cut.
Despite this blog post title, this story really isn’t about confirmation that the TPA is a Tory black ops PR front. That’s pretty much settled. The real story is in how we deal with our waste. Instead of a rational approach to finding a waste solution, Pickles has decided to appeal to the lowest common denominator: Tory voters.
Darren Johnson argued on SKy News that fortnightly bin collections in conjunction with smaller weekly food waste collections presented a more sustainable and less costly alternative. Organic waste collections means composting, and methane can be extracted for energy use, instead of wasting a resource in incinerators and landfill.
Fatty Pickles has £250m to waste on this rabble-rousing folly: he’s literally throwing money in the bin, and the TaxPayers’ Alliance is cheering him on. Imagine if he instead had decided to invest it in finding a sustainable zero-waste solution, he might have actually gone some way in achieving something useful.
The Gazette’s front page splash on South Tyneside Council’s plans to commit us to a 25 year contract for waste incineration (16th September) is a clear example of PR before fact.
The project is heralded by the Gazette as an ‘eco-friendly revolution’. There’s nothing eco-friendly about incineration. Despite the claim that the incinerator will ‘save’ 64,000 tons of CO2 every year, this is only in comparison to landfilling without methane reclamation. If South Tyneside Council and it’s partners Sunderland and Gateshead had chosen sustainable reclamation instead of burning, the CO2 saving could have been considerably more, and kilowatt for kilowatt incinerators produce more CO2 than traditional gas-fired power stations.
Full reclamation and recycling also saves valuable materials which can be reused, saving more energy than is created by burning the waste and reducing the need to make products from virgin material. This in turn helps to protect fragile ecosystems around the world from pollution, deforestation and habitat loss.
Councillor Jim Perry claims that incineration helps to “increase recycling and protect the environment”, but he’s wrong. Incinerators need a minimum and consistent stream of waste to function profitably. Incineration contracts like the one our council’s signed up to locks us into to supplying waste to burn for decades, which means there’s little incentive to increase recycling if you’re financially committed to feed an incinerator.
South Tyneside Council had an opportunity to usher in a cleaner sustainable future without the ecological burden of incineration.
It was an opportunity wasted.
David Miliband’s recent article (Taking steps to combat fuel poverty, 30 April) reinforces the feeling that Labour is far removed from reality. Rather than a strident defence of people on low incomes in the face of rising energy costs, the article reads more like an apology for the energy industry’s corporate greed and government ambivalence to fuel poverty.
Labour has had ten years to sort out the sharp pricing practices linked with pre-payment meters. Ten years of people scraping pennies together to pay for tomorrow’s light or heat, condemned to pay more than everyone else for their energy.
The government wants to delay even more: waiting for reports, consulting with the energy companies and then, at the very last, possibly introducing legislation – but not to remove unfair pricing practice, but merely “reduce unfair differentials”. Not surprising, given that this government is terrified of challenging corporate excess.
A massive home insulation programme, instead of half hearted tokenism, would have a huge effect in helping keep homes warm, costs down and lower domestic carbon emissions. A national insulation programme should be treated with all the zeal of a war effort.
However, since Labour prizes fat cat appeasement before a progressive and equitable society, this seems unlikely.