Saturday, 25 February 2012

Greenwash; ‘The truth, some of the truth, and a bit of misdirection’

RBKC, the home borough of the leader of the ‘greenest government ever’, he who infamously and without permission put a silly little wind turbine on his roof, only to be forced to take it down, has got sucked into what could be described as an exercise in greenwash: ‘a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that a company's policies or products are environmentally friendly’ (Wikipedia).

Our somewhat more extravagant project involved a plan to put solar pv cells on the roofs of the Town Hall and Central Library. This was a step to fulfil our various obligations to reduce carbon use. Then those wretched chaps at Whitehall decided that they would cut FITS payments (Feed-In Tariffs, a system of payment for electricity put back into the grid), by half, and we began to look a bit silly ourselves. The quick response was to reduce the ambitious plan and only fit solar pv to the Town Hall, which was just about possible before the cut-off date in December. This was achieved in time.

However, some might say the sums on this project now look rather unhealthy. We have invested nearly £250,000 in solar cells which – in the unlikely event that the FITS programme continues, and the cells survive that long – could give us a surplus of £80,000. After 25 years.

We are informed, however, that this is not to be considered as a financial investment, the environmental benefits far outweigh that, and residents asked (how many was that I wonder?) have said they think it worthwhile on those grounds.

But – were they told that the solar pv cells were sent over from CHINA?

In Germany, where they are taking carbon reduction very seriously indeed, they source all their materials and labour as locally as possible, sometimes even setting up a factory and service centre for the purpose, and bringing jobs and local growth into the mix. Sending our money to China, and taking into account the carbon miles to bring the materials to the UK, makes the whole process appear pure greenwash.

On a similar vein, the Council has told us to be very excited about the ‘borough wide free wifi’ that we have been told we are getting this summer. This will be at no cost to the Council, and will actually give us a surplus. Press stories on the subject were ecstatic on our behalf, commenting on the benefits of free wifi for our poorer residents.

One rather important fact was not made clear – the free wifi will cover just two streets: Kensington High Street, and Exhibition Road.

Which is why, ladies and gentlemen, when presented with ‘facts’, you should keep asking questions until you have the entire story, not just the facts that they wish you to know.

‘The truth, the WHOLE truth, and nothing but the truth.’

Thursday, 16 February 2012

White rage and fat foxes

Having spent far too many hours poring over the Council’s budget proposals provokes such a depth and breadth of outrage that it becomes almost too much to bear. Rage turns from red to white, hot fury to cold purpose.

Having been told that no older person would be turfed out of their home in the ‘Royal’ borough due to government caps and cuts, an 82 year old woman received an eviction notice. Having been told that no vulnerable families would be housed away from their support networks, we had to fight for a young single Mum with a disabled baby to be moved back from East London to be within striking distance of medical specialists and family. Having been told that school students approaching exams would not be decanted, we heard that one borough primary school is to lose 50% of its children due to the effects of LHA cuts. Likewise mental health, adult social care, youth services, nursery care are all to be decimated.

The sheer scale and apparent vindictiveness against decent honest people whose neighbourhoods have changed around them due to property speculation encouraged by the Council, is simply gobsmacking.

The same politicians, national and local, who talk about the injustice of families being helped with funds they haven’t earned and perceived ‘culture of entitlement’, were often born into wealthy (perhaps, ironically ‘en’-titled) families who inherited money, property, and then bought the kind of education that provides an overweening arrogance to match.

Not all, by any means, there are some notable exceptions and long may they prevail along with their own sense of moral indignation and social conscience.

Our government, and our Council, are betraying the very people from whom they demand respect and obeisance. £23m spent on a potentially lethal paving scheme in South Kensington is not a triumph when residents in North Kensington’s Golborne Ward are now joint poorest in London with a ward in Haringey. Spending on a sorely needed secondary school in North Kensington is hugely welcome but also hugely overdue; we can afford it and could have for many years. Other high-profile capital projects may be good news in themselves, but tempered with cuts so brutal it is unimaginable when funds are still available.

Meanwhile, rubbish is piling up in North Kensington as street cleansing is cut, and our foxes are getting fat. Urban foxes used to be skinny and mangy; no more. Our foxes now are fat and sleek, and prospering while others decline. A very sad sign of the times.