The United Kingdom is the fourth richest country in the world. It is a cornerstone of the global economy, with billions of pounds of investment pouring in each year. We have a highly educated workforce, access to the most advanced technologies available, and have enjoyed tremendous (though diminishing) international influence ever since Thomas Newcomen invented the steam engine 300 years ago.

 

So why is the UK not a leading light in the quest towards a green and sustainable future?
Why, in 2012, of all 28 member states was the UK the third lowest producer of renewable energy in the European Union, ahead of only Luxembourg and Malta?

 

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It certainly isn’t due to an absence of means. According to figures from the National Audit Office, the Exchequer was able to find an astonishing £1,162 billion to support the banks during the financial crisis of 2008.

 

The British government’s response to a crisis it seems, is based less on the resources available than upon their idea of what is labelled a ‘crisis’. If the vested interests of the City of London are threatened for example, then evidently no expense will be spared to ensure its survival. If a crisis involves the survival of planet Earth however, and all the millions of species that depend on it, including us, then we see quite a different picture entirely.

 

As part of the Renewable Energy Directive agreed by the European states in 2009, the UK is committed to achieving 15% of its energy needs from sustainable sources by 2020. As a barometer of progress, we were supposed to have achieved 10% by 2010, but this target was missed. True, the UK has made much progress over recent years with the introduction of the Feed-in-Tariff and the Renewable Heat Incentive, but it is far from certain that we will reach our goal of 15% in five years from now.

 

One thing that is certain, is that the UK has not embraced the transition to a sustainable economy in the same way as our European neighbours. Iceland is able to supply 85% of the country’s housing with heat from geothermal energy.
Sweden leads the EU with 52% of its energy coming from renewable sources, followed by Latvia, Finland, and Austria which are able to generate a third of their energy needs sustainably.

 

So why does the UK have such an unambitious target only 15%, which many say will not be met by 2020? A major reason is surely our love-affair with nuclear power. The UK currently has 16 reactors with a total generating capacity of 10 gigawatts of electricity, and plans to increase this to 16GW with the first new reactors expected to be operational in the early 2020s. This new generation of nuclear power stations will require a total investment of at
least £60 billion, and that does not take into account the ‘nuclear clean-up market’ which is estimated at £70 billion at Sellafield alone. It is abundantly clear that our policy makers are determined to steer us towards a future that benefits the big corporations that inform them.

 

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Unfortunately for us however, nuclear is definitely not the answer. Often, the public is subject to a vociferous campaign of disinformation surrounding nuclear energy. The reality is that nuclear power poses major security and environmental risks, is heavily dependent on taxpayer subsidies, and generates deadly radioactive waste that remains dangerous for thousands of years. Furthermore, the processes involved in mining and enriching uranium, the construction and dismantling of a nuclear plant, and the transport and disposal of hazardous waste are anything but ‘low-carbon’.

 

So what does this mean for renewable energy in Britain, where our government are happy to spend £100 billion to renew a Trident Nuclear Defence system, while cutting subsidies to renewable energy? In the same way that the Civil Rights Movement was born of a frustration with government inertia, we too cannot stand idly by and wait for our leaders to show us the way to a sustainable future.

 

If the UK is to meet its green energy targets, then the momentum must come from the grassroots. In the absence of leadership from above, we must invest in renewables at a community level, and take control of our energy fut
ure. BHESCo is committed to establishing the first community owned micro-grid in Brighton and Hove, helping to set down a blueprint for others to follow, and moving the UK towards our targets for 2020 and onwards.

 

300 years after Newcomen’s steam engine, its time for a new revolution in England…

 

 

frack free lancashireThe success of two recent events, the decision to reject plans to frack in Lancashire and the recent landmark ruling in the Dutch courts to accelerate action on climate change, symbolise a significant shift towards people being able to have a real impact on decisions being made by policy makers on the environment.

They suggest a move towards a true democracy where the people can mobilise to make a difference in their communities.

Fracking in Lancashire

Local councillors rejected Cuadrilla’s application to frack at Preston New Road, near Blackpool. This decision was made across party lines due to the local councillors’ belief that these plans would have an ‘unacceptable’ impact on the local landscape and residents.

Although this decision could still be overruled at the appeal stage, this is an important event. This represents local councillors taking action which supports local residents in their fight against big companies who are unconcerned with the environmental impact on local people and landscapes.

Case against the Dutch government

Following a recent court case, the Dutch government has been ordered to cut its carbon emissions by at least 25% within the next five years.

Previous to this ruling the only legal requirements for states to take action on climate change were international treaties. This ruling suggests that the state has an obligation to its citizens, not just other states, to have a positive impact on the environment. By framing the case as a human rights issue, the focus is on the impact of climate change on Dutch residents. There is hope that this case could spark similar legal action on climate change in other countries.

Taking action on climate change

There two examples represent ways in which people are taking action on climate change locally. It is becoming increasing clear that people want to have a say in decisions impacting on the future of the environment.

According to a recent study by BHESCo partner Climates, a social network for people taking practical action on climate change, 90% of people want the policy makers  to take ambitious action to tackle climate changeat when they meet in Paris for the UNFCCC conference in Paris in December.

Community energy groups, such as BHESCo, are one way to take action with minimal risk involved. Being part of an energy cooperative means being able to have a say in the future of energy generation in your local community.  Since half of us believe that it is our individual responsibility to take action, you can become a member of BHESCo to reduce your carbon footprint and tackle climate change.

dueeast summer festival 2015When? Saturday 18 July, 12.00-16.00

Where? St Cuthman’s Church, Whitehawk Way and the green spaces down to the Crew Club

What? Games, activities and stalls including a water slide, live music and dance, BBQ food and drink, horse and cart rides, crafts and local history, DueEast Brighton walking football cup, Secret Theatre.

dueeastlogoWhen? Wednesday 8th July, 6pm – 8pm

Where? Whitehawk Library and Community Hub, Whitehawk Rd, Brighton, The City of Brighton and Hove BN2 5FL, UK

What? DueEast operates in the estates of Whitehawk, Manor Farm, and the Bristol Estate in Brighton and Hove continuing the work of the Neighbourhood Governance pilot promoting local decision making by local people.

The agenda for this meeting includes representatives from Brighton and Hove Buses providing an update on services and responding to community requests for route changes,  planning for real and community priorities, updates on local projects, activities and funding from your representative Neighbourhood Council.

nuclear-waste-1In the last hours of parliament before the general election, a new law was rushed through which means that local communities may have nuclear waste dumps imposed on them without the need for public support.

By classing nuclear waste sites as “nationally significant infrastructure projects”, the decisions for their locations can be made by the Secretary of State for Energy without the support of the local council or communities of residents. Additionally, they will not be bound to recommendations made by the planning inspectorate.

Nuclear legacy

The use of nuclear energy in power stations, weaponry and medicine over the past 50 years has left a legacy of radioactive waste which needs to store somewhere on a long term basis. Radioactive waste can remain dangerous for tens of thousands of years. The UK also has the largest stockpile of plutonium in the world, one of the most toxic, radioactive substances ever created.

There is no long term solution in place for storing nuclear energy as current plans only last for up to two hundred years. Whilst there is a need for a long term strategy for radioactive waste, these decisions cannot be made without the support of local people who will have to co-exist in a potentially dangerous environment.

Local decisions by local residents

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) stated that they would prefer to work with public support and were willing to take action even if they failed to achieve the needed support from local people.

Following a proposal to develop a deep storage site at Sellafield, local groups have growing concerns.  Cumbria County Council rejected the construction of a nuclear waste storage facility in January 2013.  There is currently no evidence to support the long term safety of this type of storage, and no evidence to suggest that the geology of this area is suitable. Germany recently put on hold similar plans, and the only existing site in this style, based in New Mexico, has been closed following two accidents.

Whilst a local community can now reject the construction of onshore wind farms, they cannot deny fracking or the storage of nuclear waste. This shows that the government is willing to bypass the decisions of local communities to support unsustainable and potentially dangerous projects, limiting our ability to aid in the generation of sustainable energy.

Local communities should be able to have a decisive say in all matters concerning our energy landscape whether this is dangerous nuclear waste shortage, shale gas or coal bed methane drilling where they live as the quality of their living environment is at stake.


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