Monday 24 September 2007

Bored of election speculation

I'm bored of all this election speculation. It's a huge waste of time. We should have fixed term parliaments, to avoid all this nonsense. Of course, parliament should still be able to sack the government!

Friday 21 September 2007


Lib-Dem conference is over. I attended every day, except to attend a Lewes Alternative Travel day on Wednesday afternoon.

The organisers did an excellent job. There were always too many interesting things going on, with debates and discussions in the conference hall, exhibitors of all kinds, and dozens of fringe events at breakfast, lunch and in the evening.

We passed new policy on the environment, political reform, the surveillance society, flood defences, gun crime, Darfur, and a host of other issues.

On the environment, we're promising to cut carbon emissions by 100% by 2050, with specific measures on transport, housing, electricity generation, etc. to get us there. But, most importantly, also including proposals to ensure that the developing world has access to technologies for carbon neutral development.

An interesting proposal - which was rejected for lack of detail - was for a new planning process which would allow local authorities to get more income from the development process. It's a two stage closed bid auction process, worked out by an economist who was a student of the guy who designed the 3G auctions which generated an astonishing £22.5 billion. That's 500,000 times more than the "beauty competition" that was used to sell off 2G licenses!

If this proposal was made to work, it would allow local authorities to raise enough money to properly support new private development with development of public services. At the same time, it would remove all the problems that are currently involved in negotiating with developers about section 106 agreements - where the developers currently hold all the strings. Too often, land owners and developers are acting as local monopolies at the moment, with their power derived from our local plans. Under this system, they'd be bidding against their peers, with the local authority calling the shots.

At a fringe event, we were told that all the main parties are interested in the proposal - and our leadership are to look at developing the proposal in detail. It's even possible that the income from such auctions might be enough to cut council tax completely!

Saturday 15 September 2007

Internet Service Providers

Which? have just published their Internet Service Provider survey.

The results are not surprising: once again the providers that spend lots of money on advertising come bottom of the pack. They're the large providers, that you'd heard of like Talk Talk, AOL, Orange (formerly Wanadoo or Freeserve), and Tiscali.

The top three providers were Global, Waitrose and Zen. These are companies that spend their income on service provision, not advertising.

Ice shortage

I came across the European Space Agency web site the other day, and subscribed to it's RSS feed. An interesting, and worrying story about Arctic ice today. It's at its lowest since measurements began 30 years ago, and has taken a big drop this year.

Of course, the amount of ice declines every summer, but this year it's reached a level 25% lower than the previous minimum - 3 million square kilometers, compared with a record minimum of 4 million in 2005 and 2006.

Melting sea ice doesn't directly contribute to sea level rise, because it's floating. However, sea ice does help to keep the planet cool by reflecting sunlight better  than water does.  

Tuesday 11 September 2007

Carbon Offsetting

So, the debate on carbon offsetting was very interesting. It turns out there are a lot of very difficult problems judging whether a particular scheme is effective or not. On the other hand, an effective scheme can be a far more effective way of spending money on saving carbon emissions than some ways of trying to cut your own emissions.

What annoyed me was the academics arguing that, because we can't be certain about carbon offsetting, and because it might make people complacent about their own emissions, we shouldn't do it at all. And this from a guy who's flying to China to talk about global warming. Talk about hypocrisy!

My conclusions were:

1. Save on your own emissions where it's clearly free or economic to do so.
2. Where the economics of saving emissions are doubtful, think about offsetting instead.
3. Where you can't save on emissions (hey, we all have to eat something!), then definitely offset those emissions.
4. When offsetting, offset more than your own emissions. Maybe double or treble the offset, if you can afford it.
5. Look quite carefully at the particular scheme you're investing in.

A good offset scheme should make an investment in some low carbon technology. That technology should not be the cheapest available for the job, otherwise the investment would have happened anyway. Alternatively, look for a well managed reforestation scheme.

I've not managed to find a site that reviews offset schemes, or even lists many of them. If you know of one, please comment below!

Saturday 1 September 2007

Wooden Stakes

On Friday afternoon, Ley and I stashed 230 wooden stakes, and a load of timber (nearly a ton in all) in a locked vault under Baxters Field. This has nothing to do with my previous post, you understand. It's all there pending construction of a nature trail through the wood in Baxters Field. Honest.

Whitby Holiday

We went to Whitby for a week. You can take a trip round the harbour
on the old lifeboat, for a couple of quid. This is a view of Whitby
Abbey, beneath which Dracula's ship, the Demeter, was wrecked.