Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Green Deal

Juliette Jowit in the Guardian on Wednesday made some very good points about the loans that home-owners will be able to take out for energy saving makeovers.

She points out that on the Decc's own figures, if the loan is taken out for solid-wall insulation, the annual payments for the loan will be more than the amount saved on fuel.

Jowit does not take into account the effect on the home's value of making the improvement.  At the moment insulation may not increase the home's value very much, but as fuel bills rise, buyers are going to become more aware of the value of insulation and at the very least, insulation will make a home easier to sell. So, home-owners may choose to take out one of the loans on the basis that even if they end up paying a little more than they are saving on fuel, they will increase the amount of equity in their home.

It also seems likely that solid-wall insulation will become cheaper as the market for it grows.

Nevertheless, Jowitt has highlighted a major problem with the scheme.  I'm fairly certain that most of the UK's housing stock is still pre-1930's and built with solid-wall construction.

Jowit also points out that a number of policies on climate change, for example the EU emissions trading, are driving up underlying energy bills, effectively amounting to a form of regressive taxation.  Surely this is true of all green taxes?  Even where the taxation is a tax on industry, as with the carbon trading scheme, the cost will ultimately be borne by the consumer.  I don't see that this is a bad thing.  Consumers need to be encouraged to reduce their use of fossil fuels and the easiest way to do this is to raise the price.  The regressive effect can be ameliorated by using some or all of the revenue from green taxes for progressive tax allowances.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Those charging horses

I'm very fed up with watching videos of policemen assaulting peaceful protesters or keeping them penned in (surely false imprisonment?) for hours on end, together with bystanders who weren't even demonstrating.

As someone who has been on many marches, and also organised peaceful demonstrations, I'm very concerned that British citizens can no longer exercise their lawful right to march safely, without risking police assault.

Can anybody seriously think that the British police are dealing with protest marches appropriately or even legally?  Their current methods are clearly inflaming and inciting violence and making things worse.

I agree with David Cameron that protesters who commit acts of violence or vandalism should be prosecuted, but such people are always a small minority on any march and their actions do not alter the fact that there is an urgent need to review police methods for dealing with public order.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Canada's insidious campaigning against climate change action

Emma Pullman on DeSmogBlog details how Canadian and Albertan governments are using public funds to try to undermine US and EU climate change legislation.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

We shall not be moved

To the students in Oxford whose education has clearly been too narrow in scope -- the next line is

Like a tree that's standing by the waterside
We shall not be moved.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Canada's example

If you still think that following Canada's example is a good idea, take a look at the graph on the right hand side of this BBC page.

Arctic Weather

The Grauniad's In Praise of column often has an Eeyore quality, a clutching at straws by hacks forcing themselves to view the glass as half full, even though they really think the world is a damp and boggy place, leading to pathetic pleasure in a burst balloon and an empty jamjar.

Today it's "Arctic Weather".  Nothing to praise from where I'm standing Sunshine!  The temperature outside at midday is a balmy -9°C, up from -24° first thing this morning. Yesterday it got down to below -25° and never got above -17°.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Canada and Climate Change

At Cancun, Canada will be playing its usual role of trying to obstruct any meaningful progress.  Canada's own target of a 17% emissions reduction from 2005 levels by 2020 is both totally inadequate and totally unreachable on current policies.  Stephen Harper's Conservative government's aims are quite clear.  Harper was a climate change denier when he came into office in '06, and has only changed his line since to keep in step with the USA. Under Harper, Canada is betting its economic shirt on the tarsands industry, the emissions from which are so high that arguably the industry's success depends on potential importers -- chiefly the USA and China - not treating climate change seriously.

But what of the two opposition parties, the Liberals and the NDP?  If, following the next election, the Liberals were able to form a minority government with NDP support, would Canada start taking constructive steps to reduce its emissions?  The recent performance of both parties does not augur well.

The last federal election in 2008 was fought on the issue of climate change.  The Liberals,led by Stéphane Dion, put forward a radical and detailed "Green Shift" programme which would have used carbon taxes to force a shift of Canada's economy from carbon intensive industry to green technologies.  The aim was to reduce Canada's emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. However, the Liberals lost the election, Dion resigned, Michael Ignatieff took over as leader; the green shift and carbon taxes were immediately forgotten.

The Liberal Party currently supports a cap and trade system to reduce emissions, but is vague about targets.  Ignatieff has a habit of contradicting himself, and it is difficult to tell how sincere he is about this (or any other) issue.  Prior to Dion's leadership, the Liberal Party's record on climate change has been described as "hot air", paying lip-service but doing nothing. The signs are that the Liberals are back to business as usual.

The NDP also supports a cap and trade system, but is against carbon taxes, and on that basis opposed the Green Shift.  They want a 25% emissions reduction by 2020 and an 80% reduction of emissions from 1990 levels by 2050, but their road plan for getting there is no more substantial than the Liberals', and given that they don't support carbon taxes, the target is in the realm of fantasy. 

The Climate Change Accountability Act was to embed the NDP targets into law. It was introduced by the NDP and passed with Liberal  and Bloc Québécois support.  The Act is a short read - little more than 2 pages -  and that's only with the bilingual translation.  It's a holiday brochure without a price list, an itinerary, a map, or a picture of the hotel. I've been told a lot of work went into it, in which case I'd like that job. The Act has just been killed by the Senate.

The problem with Canada adopting a target for 2020 which is actually more ambitious than the EU's is that whereas the EU had reduced its emissions by 8% from 1990 by 2005, Canada had increased its emissions by 10.54%.  A lot of that growth has come from the tarsands, and although the NDP have called for a moratorium on new tarsands development (while Ignatieff has boasted about having enough oil for the USA for a hundred years), even the NDP has not suggested the tarsands should close down tomorrow.

The Senate rejection of the Act has enabled the opposition parties to complain about lack of democracy.  The Act was never going to achieve much else, and cynical me suspects it was never intended to.  I know a number of young people who are sincerely disappointed.  Meanwhile the NDP is campaigning to abolish the Federal Sales Tax on home heating, one of the very few taxes on carbon in Canada.

Scallion Rap

I've started a separate blog about cooking called Scallion Rap.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The NHS

Partly due to the very poor health care that I and other members of my family received in the years before I emigrated to Canada in '06, I do not share the British NHS fetish. I am a NHS sceptic who wonders if it would be better to re-organise it following the example of some of our European neighbours who as David Laws says in his Orange Book chapter.

"succeed in delivering health services with greater choice and competition than our own, but also with better health outcomes and fairer access for lower income groups."

After we came to Canada it did not take long to decide that we would not stay here in old age, (partly because seeing homeless people freezing on the streets makes me cry). However, my first thought was not to go home, but plan for retirement in France, where as well as lovely countryside and nice food, there is a greater chance of surviving if you have a stroke. That plan was vetoed by my multi-lingual husband on the grounds that although he speaks several foreign languages, he refuses to die in one. So, England it is, and we will have to take the health service as we find it.

It follows that I am comforted by the report in today's Guardian that "the NHS fares better on free access to healthcare" out of 11 advanced industrialised nations, even though I think the report by the American Commonwealth Fund needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.  There are a number of factors liable to skew the figures.

For example, it is usual for people in both France and Canada to have annual health check-ups with a full blood screen, which is fairly time consuming for the patient.  I've currently got one routine screen outstanding from my annual check-up in August. It is not surprising that more people in both countries report skipping a test, treatment or follow-up than in the UK where there is far less screening. This has nothing to do with access to treatment being denied.

Nevertheless the report does suggest that the NHS is doing relatively better than I'd realised, and I am a little reassured.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Homeless families in Edmonton (Alberta)

The results of the biennial homelessness count were published today. Unexpectedly, the figure is down 21% from the last count to 2,400 (Edmonton's total population is 730,000). That includes people sleeping in the streets and in hostels, but not the wider definition of homelessness we'd use in the UK.

Whereas the majority of the homeless are singles there are about 70 families. About half of these are absolutely homeless - that is sleeping on the streets, and they include sixty-two children. No you didn't read that wrong. There are sixty-two children sleeping on the streets, in a stairwell or in a tent, in this one, small, Canadian city.

The temperature this afternoon is -10°C, feels like -18°C with wind chill. Tonight it is expected to fall to -18°C (that's about the temperature of the inside of your freezer).

Monday, November 15, 2010

The stories that mattered on climate science

Climate Progress has a summary of the really important climate science stories that were missed while the media (including The Guardian) concentrated on the non-story of "climate-gate".

It makes for worrying reading.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Student Fees and the Canadian example

An interesting article in the Globe and Mail, by economist Armine Yalnizyan, comparing the UK's austerity measures with Canada's in the nineties, with special reference to the hike in student fees.

The author makes some interesting points about the effect of rising fees in Canada, but, note that the average tuition fee in Ontario is currently $6,307 p.a, which is roughly comparable to the fees currently being paid in Britain. That means that the increased UK fees in two year's time are going to be two or three times what Canadian students are paying.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Holy Days and Fasting Days

There are a large number of web pages stating that the Holy Days and Fasting Days Act of 1551, which makes church attendance on Christmas Day compulsory, is still in force. James Paice MP is one of the authors.

I'm sorry to spoil the fun, but the Act was actually repealed by the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1969.

Shellac, Tim Farron and Christmas Cake

I was interested to discover, from Mark Mardell's blog, that shellac, as a verb, can mean trounce in North America, while we Brits only use it for varnishing. Knowing what the Washington Post meant does not alter my mental image of a shiny shellacked Obama.

I was impressed by Tim Farron's piece in the Guardian. I'm glad I voted for him.

Today I'm making a Christmas cake, although I'm not sure this is a wise thing for me to do. I may end up eating most of it myself. As a rule, North Americans, including Canadians, do not like baked dried fruit, or the flavour of mixed spice. However, Ian has promised me that if I make a cake, pudding and mince pies, he will eat his share.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Terry Pratchett Interview

Prepare to be charmed. Routledge are promoting the journal of the Folklore Society with podcasts of a conversation between Sir Terry Pratchett and Dr Jacqueline Simpson, who has, as Pratchett puts it, an "accent that runs round Europe", not dissimilar to that of the denizens of Uberwald. The first podcast also features Sir Terry singing a folksong, and it's not about hedgehogs.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A weird day on Jane's blog

Two things happened on this blog today:

Someone has left their entire life story in comments.

A government left a comment. Admittedly it's only the government of Alberta, population one third the size of Greater London, but it's still a government.

Beat that.

Poppies red and white

The Royal Canadian Legion is yet again threatening a legal action to prevent the sale of white poppies in Canada -- this time in Prince Edward Island (the last time was in Edmonton). In recent years, as well as opposing the sale of the internationally known symbol of the Peace Pledge Union, the Legion has objected to an academic reassessment of Vimy Ridge -- a battle which has become a totemic symbol of Canada's nationhood.

I used to buy a red poppy in the UK, but I've been rather taken aback by the political stance taken by the RCL. That is not the role that I expect the Legion to play. I expect them to ensure the war dead are remembered with respect and to help veterans and their families. I don't expect them to assume a monopoly of the historic record or threaten legal action against pacifists. So I regret that yet again I won't be buying a poppy.

EU delegation to the tar-sands

Yesterday an EU delegation toured the tar-sands. What is at stake is how the EU Fuels Quality Directive is implemented. Since the Directive is intended to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of fuel used in the EU, it has the potential to ban the import of tarsands oil. However, a direct reference to tarsands oil was taken out of the legislation, thanks to oil industry lobbying.

It's interesting to note the importance the Canadian and Albertan governments have attached to this visit, even though the EU is currently a very small market for Alberta's dirty oil. Federal minister Iris Evans even described it as "crucial". She stated that the fear is of the EU's influence on other states who might implement similar legislation.

Kellie Cottam replies

Kellie and her mum have both replied to my post on the article about her in the Daily Mail. As I suspected, the Daily Mail contrived to give an impression of a much more luxurious lifestyle than Kellie actually has.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Food Banks and Halloween

Halloween is one of the delights of living in Canada. Canadian kids are very well behaved; there is no risk of getting broken eggs all over your parked car as there can be in the UK. They only call if you have your lights on, and most will only call if they see you have a pumpkin or other Halloween decorations. We were visited by about 20 trick or treaters this year. Their costumes were mostly home-made. One child was a "transformer" made from cardboard and papier mâché, with flashing head-lights -- amazing!

There was one embarrassing moment when a dad carrying his tiny tot did not want candy, but asked for food for the food bank. We don't give to the food bank.

Food banks are a difficult issue for me. I feel very strongly that rich countries like the UK and Canada can afford for all their citizens to be adequately housed with enough income to feed themselves and provide a basic standard of living. I think that if people have to accept charity, particularly if it is in the form of goods rather than money, that is demeaning for the giver and the receiver alike. It is precisely what the welfare state was created to avoid.

I've stated several times on this blog -- and I can't state it often enough -- that Canada did not cut its deficit in the 90's without social cost. It did so by creating a permanent underclass of many thousands of homeless people in every city, dependent on charity to survive. It is not acceptable for that to happen in the UK.

Food banks fill some of the gap left by the welfare cuts, but they are not a good solution. The American experience shows that donations to food banks go down during a recession when the donors are themselves feeling the pinch, but when the banks are needed most. Much of the food donated by food producers is of poor quality or inappropriate to needs. One might hope that the existence of food banks would shame governments into increasing welfare payments, but in the USA and Canada, the opposite seems to be the case: food banks have become an accepted alternative to welfare payments, and in the USA they are funded by taxpayers' dollars as well as charitable donations.

A friend who works at a food bank in Toronto has argued with me that I should donate to food banks, whatever my reservations, because I can't deny people need the food. But I feel that if I do, I am implicitly accepting an ideology that prefers discretionary charity to welfare payments as of right, and what is more I am encouraging the decay of the welfare state by assisting in the growth of the alternative.