We’re Here To Stay

7 May

Many thanks to everyone who voted for one of Thanet Green Party’s candidates in the county elections. From a standing start (we are a new branch) we put three strong people forward in Broadstairs, Ramsgate, Margate & Cliftonville and we’d like to extend our appreciation to everyone who put a cross in one of those boxes; we beat the Liberal Democrats in all three wards.

There is a lot of work to be done going forward and we hope to do it.

Here are a few reasons why.

Our country has been turned into what the Guardian’s economics editor Larry Elliott in 2007 dubbed “One big offshore hedge fund churning speculators’ money while asset-strippers draw up plans for the few remaining factories to be turned into industrial theme parks.”

And that was before the financial crisis.

There is only so far that propping up a massive housing bubble and bad mortgage raddled banks with cheap money conjured off the printing presses can be dubbed an economic strategy and the shortsightedness of our successive governments has been unparalleled.

As maternity and mental health wards close, ambulance stations are sold off, prisons are put in the hands of private sector profiteers, young soldiers sent on repeated tours of countries where we went to war illegally, stupidly and to little long-term gain, something has to change.

UKIP like to blame immigrants and the European Union.

It was the British Government, not immigrants, that has since 2007 committed to spending over £1.162 trillion bailing out the banks, with it costing taxpayers up to £5bn a year just to service the loan that the crisis incurred.

From energy policy (incompetent fumbling negotiations over redundant nuclear technologies pilloried by everyone from the experts to Private Eye) and government equivocation over renewables that has cost us investment even here in Thanet (the owners of the Richborough Energy Park blame precisely that for a failure to progress their plans) to simpler things like opposing a ban on toxic pesticides believed to be behind mass loss of bees, our politicians keep getting it so wrong.

With the bees, it was simple: Our government was in the pocket of biotech corporations. With the banks, it is probably as straight forward.

Here is how Willem Buiter (an establishment economist with a resume that reads “Professor of European Political Economy, London School of Economics and Political Science; former chief economist of the EBRD, former external member of the MPC” etc) puts it:

I used to believe that state capture took the form of cognitive capture, rather than financial capture… But it is becoming increasingly hard to deny the possibility that the extraordinary reluctance of our governments to force unsecured creditors (and any remaining non-government shareholders) of the zombie banks to absorb the losses made by these banks, may be due to rather more primal forms of state capture…

Governments everywhere are doing the best they can to delay or prevent the lifting of the veil of uncertainty and disinformation that most banks have cast over their battered balance sheets.

The banking establishment and the financial establishment representing the beneficial owners of the institutions exposed to the banks as unsecured creditors – pension funds, insurance companies, other banks, foreign investors including sovereign wealth funds – have captured the key governments, their central banks, their regulators, supervisors and accounting standard setters to a degree never seen before.

You heard it from an expert. Our politicians have been bought.

With all the three main parties unpalatable and UKIP pointing the finger in the wrong place, the Green Party needs to raise its game. Your blogger joined the Green Party for the simple reason that  this comment from Nobel Laureate and economist Robert Solow did not sound quite right…

It is very easy to substitute other factors for natural resources, then there is in principle no ‘problem.’ The world can, in effect, get along without natural resources, so exhaustion is just an event, not a catastrophe.

If you can believe that and win a Nobel prize, there is something very wrong with the world (or perhaps just economists…) And with our recent governments’ (Labour, Conservative + Liberal Democrat) string of mindbogglingly stupid wars, palpable venality and shortsighted support of rapacious developers and property speculators at the expense of affordable housing, protection of green spaces and decent public transport, we need to step up to the plate.

The Green Party, for all its “uncoolness” has actually been ahead of the curve on a lot of issues. Like all parties, it sometimes gets it wrong, but more often than not it is prescient (on a land value tax, on renewables, on biodiversity loss, on job creation through a Green New Deal – bastardised by the government).

For all those reasons and no doubt many more, growing numbers of people are joining the Green Party; across the country and at quite a clip, here in Thanet. Joining a political party is a passé thing to do for many, but single issue NGOs and activism, however much they do, can only go so far.

We are an independent-minded crowd and we are here to stay.

It’s always good to meet people with fresh ideas, enthusiasm and a passion for social justice, our beautiful Isle of Thanet and the environment in any sense of the word, so please get involved – by joining, ambling along to one of our meetings or in any other way you see fit.

Thank you, finally, one more time to all those who voted.

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Our Fragile Food Supply

29 Apr

In 2008 a sharp climb in food prices on the global markets caused chaos across the world. Wheat prices rose 130%, soya spiked 87% and rice shot up 74% in just 12 months.

On British breakfast tables, that meant a 45% rise in the price of a four-pack of croissants. In Egypt, the world’s biggest wheat importer, it meant many couldn’t eat and triggered riots.

Consumers globally are vulnerable to a complex and highly globalised food supply chain. Here in the UK, we import 40% of the total food consumed and the proportion is rising.

We are in what writer Kalle Lasn terms “ecological debt” –  if most western industrialised nations were cut off from global trade “they would immediately collapse, their resource bases far below what is necessary for their populations to survive.”

Perhaps that doesn’t worry you: We can’t all exist in a state of crude autarky or revert to being subsistence farmers. Yet most analysts are aware that we are teetering on the brink of a monumental crisis when it comes to food security – one that could be truly cataclysmic.

Do I read too many dystopian novels? Perhaps, but their narrative staple of ferocious competition for primary resources and fragile access to food, energy and water in the face of easily disrupted distribution networks, rampant biodiversity loss and disease are now staples in the news too.  

Here’s how the sober partners at think tank The Munden Project put it (their partners work in environmental sector risk assessment, drawing on signficant expertise in commodities trading and systems analysis).

We are in an increasingly interconnected world, one based on the assumption that we can quickly deliver food, energy, fiber or medicine across great distances. Our view is that these systems are every bit as fragile… as the financial system was in 2007.

We therefore expect, within no more than 15 years, for there to be a major, systemic breakdown in how we deliver basic goods (such as food or energy) that will demand immediate action.

The “Three Ds” of work are typically known as “dirty, dangerous and difficult”. The fragile food supply chain has “four Ds” which could be crudely summarised as “demand, distribution, diesel and disease”…

Demand:

It is no secret that the global population is growing fast. That means more mouths to feed. Analysts estimate that the world needs to bring around 10.3m hectares of new land a year into food production “just to keep stocks steady”.

Changes in eating habits are also having massive impact. Worldwide meat production has tripled over the last four decades and increased 20 percent in just the last 10 years.

More than two-thirds of all agricultural land is devoted to growing feed for livestock, while only 8 percent is used to grow food for direct human consumption.

The global livestock industry uses dwindling supplies of freshwater, destroys forests and grasslands, and causes soil erosion, while pollution and the runoff of fertilizer and animal waste create dead zones in coastal areas and smother coral reefs. There also is concern over increased antibiotic resistance, since livestock accounts for 50 percent of antibiotic use globally, according to the FAO’s Livestock, Environment and Development initiative.

Few of us in the west are likely to give up our bacon and eggs, but if everyone in the world ate as much meat as we did, we’d need two-thirds more arable land than the world has got. And even the land that is free is increasingly being used to grow crops for biofuels… Which brings us to the next big problem.

commodities

“People will wonder why every new recession is a bit worse then the previous one” Richard Heinberg. “The End of Suburbia”

Diesel:

Well, crude oil really. The fuel strikes of 2000 in Britain made many realise how dependent our food supplies were on smoothly flowing supplies of petrol. With depots blockaded, supermarket shelves were empty in a flash, deliveries halted, panic buying ratcheted up, ambulances struggled to get people to hospital. As the government later put it after some head-scratching:

The disruption in the energy sector created a chain reaction among other critical infrastructure sectors such as transportation, health care, food distribution, financial and government services due to their interconnectivity and interdependencies.

Any major and sustained disruption to energy and our imports stutter badly. If they dry up for a protracted period, a lot of people would starve to death.

For behind the always full supermarket shelves meanwhile, as the UK’s Global Food Security group notes, lies a supply chain sensitive to economic and environmental events and exposed to volatile global markets for products like animal feed that have strong impacts on supermarket prices. 

Of those “economic and environmental events” the oil markets are one of the most influential. Senior IMF research economist Samya Beidas-Strom has pointed out that the food crisis was exacerbated by many forms of export restrictions by major food exporters – but “energy prices played a big role in the last crisis”. 

Our declining arable land and growing demand for food is echoed in the energy sector, where finite supplies of easily accessible crude are diminishing. The “Arab Spring”s relationship to an apparent “fossil fuel autumn” was no coincidence.

It came as financial analysts Raymond James issued a report stating that global production of petroleum had peaked in the first quarter of 2008, in “a paradigm shift of historic proportions”.  Crude demand falls during an economic contraction – with many believing that provides a timeless self-correcting mechanism, driving down prices.

(The relationship between energy prices/peak oil and the rest of the economy is fairly succinctly summed up by this cartoon, which shows how peak oil doesn’t have to mean a linear growth in wholesale oil prices – a timely reminder as analysts get bearish on crude… But meanwhile, despite weak economic growth, demand for agricultural commodities remains robust. People have to eat…

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Cartoon by John Kinhart and half-inched from The Oil Drum.

DISTRIBUTION:

With agriculture so dependent on crude – whether to fuel agricultural machinery, ship crops or produce vast quantities of pesticides and artificial fertilisers – it is distribution that is another weak link in the chain that “delivers” the goods we depend on.

Smelling the weakness (and the profits) the multinationals that dominate global grain trading have tightened their grip on the global supply chain amid recent price volatility. Just four companies – ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Dreyfus – already control up to 90% of global trade.

Farmers are often dependent on the grain trading companies for their seed and fertilisers as well as providing a buyer for their crops. “It (grain market consolidation) has a negative impact, both on the many producers that feed into this very small number of traders and on the other end on their customers and ultimately consumers,” said Jodie Thorpe, policy adviser for Oxfam.

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Disease:

“Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less dependent on nature’s services in a world of close to seven billion people”.

Achim Steiner: UNEP Executive Director 

It is disease and decline in biodiversity that is the final and perhaps most worrying weak link in the global food supply chain. That our soil, species and sustenance are all at risk has not gone unnoticed by scientists and increasingly the wider public – not least a sharp fall in the populations of insect pollinators, such as bees, moths and butterflies.

In the UK alone, bee populations have collapsed by 10-15% in just two years (with the decline nowhere near halted). A third of crops are pollinated by insects, and further declines could lead to higher food costs and potential shortages. (Honey bee colony declines in recent years have reached 10 to 30 percent in Europe, 30 percent in the United States, up to 85 percent in Middle East, says scientist Peter Neumann, one of the authors of the first ever UN report on the issue…)

And while the EC is set to vote for a ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides widely blamed for the collapse (although the UK’s environment secretary told the chemicals company Syngenta that he was “extremely disappointed” by the proposed ban and said “the UK has been very active” in opposing it) loss of habitat, another key factor, is unlikely to stop soon.

Crop scientists meanwhile, facing a rise in plant pathogens like “wheat rust”, fear the “Ug99” fungus could wipe out more than 80% of worldwide wheat crops, with its capability of infecting a healthy crop in hours and “turning it into a useless mulch in days”. Wheat crops are no joke, accounting for a fifth of humanity’s food, second only to rice as a source of calories in the diets of developing country consumers and first as a source of protein, providing 21% of food calories and 20% of protein to 4.5 billion people in 94 developing countries.

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With virulent new mutations of wheat rust emerging, the threat is growing. The variant of Ug99 identified in Kenya, for example, went from first detection in trace amounts in one year to epidemic proportions the next year. GM crops were believed by many – not least the companies promoting their product – to have been the answer to food security and threats such as wheat rust. But as Dan Basse, president of AgResource, one of Chicago’s most respected commodity analyst companies and GM grower himself, told the Guardian:

Superweeds are coming on so fast with GM that US farmers are going to have to go back to more traditional cultivation methods [as opposed to the practice with GM seeds of not tilling the soil and simply spraying to control pests] – but they don’t have the capacity to do that.

Biodiversity is considered by many to prove a better bulwark against disease. But with extinction rates high and the use of monocrops widespread (the FAO estimates that 75 percent of crop diversity was lost between 1900 and 2000) there seems little hope currently of increased biodiversity being taken seriously as an answer. It ought to be:

Transmission rates in communities depend heavily on the level of species richness. In diverse ecosystems, pathogens are more likely to find themselves in unsuitable or “dead-end” hosts that wont (or cant) transmit the disease. Additionally, since there is more heterospecific contact where diversity is high, transmission rates generally decline in diverse ecosystems.

And meanwhile despite despite consumer resistance, it is increasingly hard to keep GM crops out of the food chain, with Tesco having recently announced that it could no longer confirm its poultry feed was GM-free and other supermarkets already having caved in to industry pressure,

That may infuriate consumers, but it is at the production end that the real concerns are. Both superweeds and a corresponding more intensive use of arguably carcinogenic glyophosate herbicides are a result of increased GM crop growing, which – for example in the case of GM Alfafa, a perennial used primarily for animal feed – has raised significant fears of contamination of other crops.  

Never mind, biotech profits were at a record high last year.

In a world of finite resources but one based around the notion that perpetual growth is the only way forward, it is clear that something is going to give. Quite how fast and hard it gives remains to be seen, but the omens are not looking good.

By Ed Targett

Pleasurama

16 Apr

 

Our candidate for Ramsgate, Mike White, has been asked “what action he would advocate to resolve the Pleasurama site situation”. Here’s his response:

The Pleasurama site is a major issue with Ramsgate residents and cannot be left to languish till 2017. The developer SFP obviously does not have the funds for the project and therefore the contract should be cancelled. They have been given till next month to prove that they have funds for the project before this process can begin. The cancellation of the contract could cost the council one to two million but if these figures are genuine this eyesore (accentuated with the empty casino building) would cost Ramsgate far more on lost tourist revenues and on going legal wrangles when nothing is done in 2017.

 

On no account should SFP be given the freehold for the site at a knockdown price, or any price for that matter. The next question is what can be done with the site once SFP have been dismissed. There would probably be another huge delay in finding another genuine developer and there is also a problem, I believe, in the fact that the site is nominated as a flood risk.

 

Controversially therefore I would like it to be returned to a recreational area for families with a play area but this may not be to everybody’s liking – and to get something sorted out with the casino building as an all weather recreational area, indoor market with cafes or even an ice rink.

Cliftonville East – Louise Oldfield

11 Apr

The by-election for shamed former council leader Sandy Ezekial’s seat in Cliftonville East will be a high-profile one for Thanet. Under most circumstances we would have fielded a candidate.

But the announcement by Louise Oldfield that she will be running as an independent made us think twice. If anyone deserves the seat Louise does.

She has demonstrated her integrity, her tenacity and her commitment to the community with Streets Ahead Margate, with a persistent asking of difficult questions to the council and with her constant calls for greater transparency and accountability in Thanet.

You can see some of her Freedom of Information here and many fumbling half (or non-existent) responses. You don’t always make yourself popular asking difficult questions, but Louise has persisted, because they are questions that demand answers.

For that reason we have decided to stand aside and back Louise.

We wish her the best of luck.

Hurting the Vulnerable – Whilst Padding their Pockets

8 Apr

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In case you missed this, Kent County Council is paying £5 million to outside consultants to work out how to cut its social welfare spending on vulnerable adults.

It also spent more than £4.5 million on consultants in just one year – the equivalent of more than £370,000 a month.

The arrogance of its entrenched Conservative leadership is staggering.

Last year whilst its Family and Social Care Directorate spent £267,000, its Business Strategy and Support unit spent MORE THAN SIX TIMES the figure, including on “executive coaching”.

The KM Group reported that:

A company called Unlimited Potential was paid nearly £18,000 over the year.

Its work for KCC, according to its website, involved “a number of soft skills and developmental workshops for all individuals with the authority including the emergency services”.

It additionally provided the authority with “leadership for beginners and personal confidence workshops for individuals at all levels”.

A consultancy called The Change Corporation, which was paid £15,550, says on its website: “We guarantee measurable results for your organisation delivered through changing culture and behaviour, increasing motivation, confidence and skills and developing world-class leaders.”

Passe Partout, another executive coaching agency, received £13,600. The company website states: “Our strength and our passion is to uncover the psychological and cultural factors that drive performance and behaviour inside organisations. It really is our passion – we talk about this stuff over dinner!”

KCC is hacking away at funding for libraries, refuges for victims of domestic violence and more. But it employs more people on salaries of more than £50,000 than all but one other authority in the country, with 491 staff earning above the figure.

Throw the councillors allowing this out. Vote Green for an accountable, fiercely independent voice in county hall.

A Letter to Eric Pickles

9 Mar

Dear Secretary of State,

Last week the former leader of Thanet District Council from 2003-2010, was convicted at Maidstone Crown Court of four serious offences over the purchase of two properties close to Margate’s sea-front conservation area. Sandy Ezekiel was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.

Even before the verdict was announced, the Isle of Thanet Gazette reported that Kent police detectives were investigating several cases of major planning applications where councillors and officers may have had undeclared interests in the schemes. The report said that there had been extensive research and interviews with figures past and present about council contracts and undeclared business connections.

The report also pointed out that the Information Commission, responsible for openness in public life and data privacy, was investigating claims of a council cover-up after the council repeatedly refused to comply with requests under the Freedom of Information Act and official business had been conducted through councillors’ personal e-mail accounts.

Inevitably, these developments involving corruption at the highest level, call into question the planning decisions and property deals made by Thanet Council and its willingness to act in an open and transparent way with the public. The verdict in the Sandy Ezekiel case and the police investigations tarnish the reputation of the council and an area which badly needs sustainable development and regeneration.

In view of this we urge you to reject immediately the application for a Tesco Superstore to be built on the Arlington House site and that the developers be requested to make a fresh application once Thanet District Council has, with a little help from Kent Police, put its house in order. Only if this is done, can the public be reassured that this major development on Margate’s seafront can be fairly and openly considered.

Yours truly,

Tim Spurrier, Thanet Green Party Spokesman.