The complexities of plastic bags

Do you dislike the UK’s “throwaway” culture? Do you share the Daily Mail‘s concern about the damage with plastic waste is doing to our coastlines and oceans? If so, you will probably be pleased to know that since the introduction of the 5p charge on plastic bags in supermarkets in 2016, single plastic bag use has dropped dramatically – by as much as 90% according to some sources.

Now the 5p charge is being extended. Small outlets (defined as those with less than 250 employees) will lose their exemption and will have to start charging for plastic bags too, most likely before the end of the year.

While most of us must surely be delighted if there are fewer discarded plastic bags cluttering up our roadsides, the issue isn’t quite that straightforward.

Firstly, it exposes the complexities of political life for politicians like Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State for the Environment. Gove has traditionally been labelled “Centre Right“, which has historically meant a supporter of small government.  You would think, therefore, that although he was apparently “haunted” by the amount of plastic which is polluting our oceans, he would look to find a solution which is more free market and less statist than the introduction of what is, in effect, another tax.

This, however, is far from the only complexity which has been raised in this war on plastic. When the initial legislation bringing in the 5p charge was introduced, nowhere did it mention that it has its origins in an EU directive. Not once does the 2015 Bill mention the EU or the Directive, according to the EU Observer. Perhaps, claims the author, Gove “may want to portray the success of the 5p charge as a domestic affair”.   For sure, given that the original legislation pre-dated the Brexit vote, the omission of any mention of the EU cannot have been as a result of wishing to downplay the EU’s role for fear of boosting its popularity and thus undermining the case for Brexit. More likely, as the writer suggests, in these days when politicians are eager to emphasise their “green credentials”, it is more a case that Michael Gove or perhaps even Theresa May are wanting people to make assumptions that the 5p tax is their idea, given that the war on plastic is largely seen as a good thing.

In a sense, the EU Observer is making something of a mountain out of a molehill. Although the writer is upset by the reluctance of UK parliament and politicians to acknowledge the EU’s role in the war on plastic, preferring to claim the credit themselves, as one astute observer has put it, without the UK’s influence, much of the EU’s environmental legislation would never have got off the ground in the first place:-  “all the current EU countryside environmental schemes have their origins in UK policy goals and schemes.”

And finally, to anyone who now feels uncomfortable now they realise that a development which they considered beneficial had its origins in Brussels, it is worth remembering that even the most odious of political régimes occasionally do good things. For instance, Germany is rightly proud of its Autobahn network and while the oldest section of it dates from the late 1920s, its most significant and dramatic period of expansion, from a mere 108km to 3,736km took place between 1935 and 1940 because of one man’s far-sighted recognition of the value of a nationwide high speed road network. His name was Adolf Hitler.

Photo by oparrish

Fishing:- Template letter to MPs

A number of our members and supporters have been in touch after signing the petition to stop the Common Fisheries Policy being adopted into UK law post-Brexit.

They have received a reply from the government e-petitions site which includes the following:-

A group of MPs called the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee are investigating how possible changes to the fisheries and seafood trading arrangements between the UK and the EU will affect fishers, seafood processors, consumers, coastal communities and the environment.

To help them with their investigation, they’d like to hear from you.

The Committee are particularly interested in these questions:

1. What are the most important things that the Government need to look at when thinking about UK fisheries?

2. What are the challenges and opportunities that UK fisheries will face after the UK leaves the European Union, Common Fisheries Policy and London Fisheries Convention?

3. What stock management objectives should the Government establish in order to achieve the right balance between the interests of seafood consumers, fishers, seafood processors and the environment?

4. What trade policy objectives should the Government establish in order to achieve the right balance between the interests of consumers, fishers, seafood processors, and the environment?

5. How effective are the Government’s arrangements for representing the interests of the UK’s constituent nations within the UK’s negotiations for fisheries?

Please see this attachment which we believe provides a suitable template for your reply. In our opinion, these five questions raised above do not get to the core of one important issue – that UK authorities alone must determine who fish in our waters. This letter does make that point and strongly endorses the “Faeroe-Islands-Plus-Plus” model advocated by Fishing for Leave.

We would strongly recommend not sending it verbatim as politicians are more likely to ignore large numbers of identically-worded e-mails or letters, but on the other hand, we also suggest that you largely stick to the subjects covered in the template, as much of the content originates with Fishing for Leave, which includes the most experienced fisheries campaigners in the country.

 

As a post script, if you would prefer to stick more closely to the five questions, John Ashworth of Fishing for Leave has provided the following suggestions:-

1) What are the most important things that the Government need to look at when thinking about UK fisheries?

  • That the UK becomes a world leader in fisheries management
  • Do not copy the Common Fisheries Policy
  • Re-establish our coastal communities
  • Address the issue of discarding of dead fish
  • The Nation’s resource must not end up in the hands of a few

2) What are the challenges and opportunities that UK fisheries will face after the UK leaves the European Union, Common Fisheries Policy and London Fisheries Convention?

  • Establish the UK as a maritime nation again
  • Create a multi billion pound industry, plus ancillary, including recreation and tourism
  • Get rid of the quota system
  • Abide by international law
  • Work with nature, not against
  • Create a policy that unites fishermen, fishery officers, and scientists

3) What stock management objectives should the Government establish in order to achieve the right balance between the interests of seafood consumers, fishers, seafood processors and the environment?

  • Use sea-time limit, not quota allocation, as that causes dumping
  • Maintain a balance between small, medium and large vessels
  • All marine resource caught in the UK’s EEZ must be landed in UK, unless individual permission is given by the UK government

4) What trade policy objectives should the Government establish in order to achieve the right balance between the interests of consumers, fishers, seafood processors, and the environment?

  • Trade deals should not be linked to access to UK fishing waters. Keep trade/access seperate
  • What marine resource the EU buys from UK cannot be readily obtained from elsewhere.
  • Must abide by internatonal law
  • You have to catch marine resource before you can process or sell it

5) How effective are the Government’s arrangements for representing the interests of the UK’s constituent nations within the UK’s negotiations for fisheries?

  • We don’t know as to date we have heard very little. I suspect the department would prefer the UK territorial waters out to 12 nautical.miles to continue to be devolved but the EEZ of 12 to 200n. Mile/median line as one unit.
  • Four separate EEZs would be a nightmare as international reciprocal arrangements have to be agreed.

 

A greener country outside the EU?

Green issues have so far not had a high profile in the EU in/out debate.  The official Green Party line is that the UK should stay in as the EU provides better environmental protection than the UK would, and it is only the EU big stick that makes us toe the line. Other environmental campaigners use a similar argument.  According to these people, we owe whatever environmental standards we have to a bunch of Brussels bureaucrats and left to ourselves we would not bother.  A curious argument which flies in the face of all the evidence.

England had its first clean air act in the 13th century, and this was followed by others, notably in the 19th century when the use of coal increased dramatically.  And in the 1950s and 1960s, other acts followed.  Since the 1970s, being a member of the EEC, the UK has adopted whatever standards the EU/EEC has directed. It has not been a case of the UK being forced to do something it would not otherwise do.  What has happened in the past two decades is that research has shown the potential health dangers of many particulates not previously considered dangerous, and the understanding of climate change drivers has forced a reassessment of the use of fossil fuels.  This has been while the UK has been a member of the EU so naturally it has been the EU’s responsibility for establishing environmental standards.  It would have been pointless and irrelevant for the UK to duplicate this process.  To say that the UK would not implement environmental policies in the absence of the EU is just, well, bonkers.

One never mentioned fact about EU climate change policy is that each member state is given a target reduction in CO2 emissions, and can be fined if it fails to reach that target.  Yet the source of most of these CO2 emissions is the country’s population which consumes power for heating, cooking, driving, traveling even on public transport, sitting in traffic jams, etc.  In fact, almost every human activity in a modern consumer society involves the consumption of power, most of which in the UK is generated by fossil fuels (and is likely to remain so for at least another 40 years until better technologies are available).  But another strand of EU policy is the free movement of people, and the UK has around 3 million immigrants from other EU countries.  These all undertake the usual consumer activities which produce CO2 emissions which makes it harder and harder for the UK to meet its targets which were based on lower population levels.  And the Government’s own projections anticipate another 3 million EU immigrants over the next decade.

It’s a topsy-turvy world when the UK is condemned to ever harder-to-meet emission level targets whilst not being allowed by the same central authority to take prudent steps to limit the number of agents that produce them.  The counterpart is that it is easier for the EU countries with net emigration to meet their environmental targets!

Then there is water quality in the environment – our rivers and seas.  According to those hypnotised by EU propaganda, any standards we have are due entirely to the Brussels bureaucrats.  Without Brussels, our rivers would be dead and our bathing waters a sewer.  Yet there was major UK legislation on these issues long before Brussels decided it was their province to establish standards – what about the Water Act of 1973, the Control of Pollution Act 1974, and the establishment of river authorities and river boards before this?    The transformation of the Thames into a thriving wildlife habitat owes nothing to the EU.  All that Brussels has done is to assume responsibility for what the standard should be, while avoiding any responsibility for actually finding the money to fund them.  And of course, its free movement of people policy ensures that there are more sources of pollution in the UK every year.

I have heard people argue on the television and radio that without the EU there would never have been any schemes to protect the countryside, schemes such the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, the Farm Woodland Scheme, the Hedgerow Incentive Scheme, nor any of the regional schemes which subsidise activities in remote rural areas.  The irony is that these schemes only exist because the UK argued for them.  The UK has historically had much greater concern for the preservation of the countryside than EEC countries whose main preoccupation was agricultural production for production’s sake – the more one produced, the more subsidy one got.   All the current EU countryside environmental schemes have their origins in UK policy goals and schemes.  And even the EU regional schemes are merely developments of UK schemes of the 60s and 70s.  This is not to argue any great virtue on the part of the UK – it was indeed a mix of policy preferences and budget practicalities.  Under the Common Agricultural Policy, the UK being a food importer paid a large amount into the EEC/EU budget but got very little in return.  Getting the EEC to adopt environmental and regional programmes was one way of getting some of this money back.  Essentially, this budgetary imbalance still exists, because of the importance of the agricultural budget.

But all this is just a part of the fundamental irreconcilability of the preservation of the environment with EU policy on free movement of people.  If a country is large, spatially, in relation to its population, then uncontrolled immigration might have minimal impact for some time (though not for ever).  For a spatially small country like the UK with an existing relatively high population density, a high rate of immigration has a disastrous impact.  This is especially so when most immigrants go to all already densely populated regions.  There might be space in the Scottish Highlands or the Welsh hills but there is no work nor infrastructure there to attract the migrants.  The main environmental impact of this immigration is firstly demand for housing, which impacts on an already tight housing market.  Three million migrants need housing, even more houses have to be built, towns and villages expand, new towns are developed, and we have the suburbanisation of the countryside.  And it does not end there.  Every barn in the countryside becomes a developer’s dream because planning permission rules are relaxed to meet the exigencies of the housing market.

The necessary huge increase in house building is one impact.  Another is the increase in traffic and congestion, leading to calls for more roads, wider roads, more motorways etc.  These developments all require space, something even politicians cannot conjure out of a hat.  So we lose more countryside.

I have a house and a garden.  It is sufficient to accommodate my family and any visitors I care to invite.  Imagine the chaos and decline in the quality of life if I had to take in anyone who cares to turn up on my doorstep!  But that is what is happening.  Living abroad I see the changes from mass immigration more starkly when I visit periodically than people living in the UK who have had the changes creep up insidiously.  It is much more serious than people realise.

I haven’t even mentioned the impact of mass immigration on health, education and other public services ….

This point of view has nothing to do with racism or xenophobia.  I don’t believe that British is best, or the average Briton is necessarily superior to a foreigner.  Not at all.  But I do believe that the British have a right to preserve their culture and quality of life, and the countryside is a key part of that.  And villages and towns for that matter.  Their character is being destroyed by development.

The EU is not the only source of immigrants, and it is true that successive UK governments have done little over the years to restrict immigration from other regions of the world.  There has been no overall population policy.  Governments have regarded a larger population as a goal in itself as it increases the size of the tax base.  No one in government is concerned about the preservation of the countryside, protecting it from urban and suburban creep.  Those of us who do care are just the hoi-polloi.  The Establishment, and the large corporations that buy power from it through political donations and the bribery of individuals, never face the same problems as the rest of us.  With their money and connections they can buy themselves the privacy, the large estates, the services they want (made cheaper by immigration), the holidays abroad etc.  They don’t even see the degraded countryside as they speed along the motorways on their way to their secluded, private country houses or their overseas villas via the airport.   Their lives are extremely satisfactory.

This referendum is not just about trying to preserve our environment from crushing population levels, it is also about trying to wrest back control from the rich and the powerful.  It is the people against the privileged.

This article, by Jos Haynes, first appeared on http://greenleavers.co.uk/ and is used with full permission of the author.

Environmental groups are using our money in support of pro-EU campaign

Britain’s biggest environmental charities have been accused of using public donations to campaign for staying in the European Union. The charities watchdog will on Monday issue new guidance on political neutrality after Friends of the Earth, The Wildlife Trusts and Greenpeace all made public comments backing EU membership.
The charities have all insisted that Britain being a member of the EU is vital to protecting Britain’s wildlife – with one suggesting that those backing Brexit want to make the country “the dirty man of Europe”.
“There are strict rules about charities engaging in political campaigning and organisations meant to be dedicated to good causes should not be seeking to circumvent them.”
Their public support of the Remain campaign has prompted formal complaints from eurosceptics and has led to the Charity Commission issuing new guidance on political neutrality during the referendum.
The new guidance from the charity watchdog says that charities should only get involved in referendum campaigning in “exceptional” circumstances and stresses that the importance of maintaining independence and neutrality.
Eurosceptic MPs and charity transparency campaigners complained that donations from the public to protect the environment were being used to campaign against Brexit and said donors would be “infuriated” by the findings.
Andrew Bridgen, the Tory MP for North West Leicestershire, has written to the Commission to see whether the charities are “breaking the law”.
“There are strict rules about charities engaging in political campaigning and organisations meant to be dedicated to good causes should not be seeking to circumvent them,” he said.
Gina Miller, who campaigns for charity transparency and set up the True and Fair Foundation, said donors would be “infuriated” to discover their funds were being spent trying to keep Britain in the EU. “I feel uncomfortable they are exerting undue pressure. There is a very fine line between a trustee doing this as an individual and someone using the standing of the organisation for political purposes.”
She added: “Members would be infuriated. If you are a Eurosceptic you do not want your money spent on the other side.”

The concerns mark the opening of a new front in the EU referendum campaign that has seen the Remain campaign dubbed “Project Fear” over ”scaremongering” claims about the consequences of Brexit.

The role played by environmental charities with hundreds of thousands of members has now been called into question amid evidence that the charities have backed Remain.
Friends of the Earth says on its EU referendum page that membership has created “cleaner beaches and drinking water”, “less air pollution” and “protected wildlife” in Britain.
A string of blogs and academic papers extol the virtues of EU membership while its CEO Craig Bennett, who is on the steering committee of the ‘Environmentalists for Europe’ campaign, has warned Brexit would make the UK “the dirty man of Europe yet again”.
The Wildlife Trusts, which represents 47 different trusts across Britain who manage more than 95,000 hectares of land, announced it would be backing an In vote last month.
“Our research and evidence indicates that the safest outcome for wildlife and the environment would be for the UK to stay in the EU,” it concluded.Greenpeace has insisted that Britain being a member of the EU is vital to protecting Britain’s wildlife. A Greenpeace representative told a meeting in Parliament earlier this year there was “not a question” of the charity sitting on the sidelines in the EU referendum, adding: “I hope others will join our call.”
In the 1500-word guidance Charity Commission said that charity staff found tweeting support for either side in the referendum or putting up posters in offices would be “clear breaches of our guidance”.
It also raises fears that pro-EU trustees could use the charities as a “vehicle” to push their own views about the EU referendum in such a way that would breach impartiality rules. It warns charities getting EU funding that they could “seriously undermine” their reputation by campaigning and demands they spell out clearly any financial links to Brussels. Charities that refuse to take note of advice could lead in extreme circumstances to trustees being sacked if found guilty in an investigation by the watchdog.
Bernard Jenkin, the Tory chairman of a Commons committee which oversees the regulation of charities, raised the possibility of charity bosses being called to justify their behaviour in Parliament. “If we receive complaints about charities’ conduct during this referendum and there is a consensus on the committee then it is highly likely that we would want to inquire into this matter,” he said.
A Charity Commission spokesman said: “Our guidance on campaigning, and specific guidance on elections and referendums, explains that charities who want to engage in a referendum must consider carefully how such activity supports their charitable purpose, and how they will ensure that they maintain their independence and neutrality. Only in very exceptional cases will it be appropriate for a charity to directly campaign for a yes or a no vote.”
Spokesmen for Friends of the Earth, The Wildlife Trusts and Greenpeace all said they believed their activity complied with Charity Commission guidelines and that the issues at stake at the EU referendum were important to the causes backed by their charities.
Mr Bennett, Friends of the Earth CEO, said: “Friends of the Earth exists to protect and improve our environment. The threat posed to our environment by leaving the EU – be it to our birds and natural habitats or to having a reduced ability to legally challenge government inaction on killer air pollution – is why we’re campaigning to stay in. “We are more than within our rights to campaign on the EU referendum. Indeed it could strongly be argued that we were failing our charitable objectives if we stood by and did nothing”.
Nigel Doar, The Wildlife Trusts’ director of strategy, said the EU referendum was a “very significant issue” and “core to our charitable purposes”.
He added: “Our approach is in line with Charity Commission and other relevant guidance. We believe that we would not be doing the right thing for the UK’s wildlife, wild places and natural environment if we took any other course of action.”
A Greenpeace UK spokesman said that all campaign work falls under Greenpeace Ltd, a non-for-profit organisation, rather than Greenpeace Environmental Trust, which is a registered charity.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “From ministers to industry lobbies and think tanks, there’s hardly a pressure group or politician left in the country that hasn’t declared their hand on theremain or leave issue.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph)

Interstingly, the article didn’t go into the degree to which these organisation receive funding from the EU.  However, as we pointed out, certainly Friends of The Earth has benefitted from Brussels’ largesse in recent years.

Photo by gvgoebel

They would, wouldn’t they?

FoE ogoOne of our supporters recently pointed out to me that Friends of the Earth has come out in support of our remaining in the EU. A round-robin  e-mail from the organisation’s CEO, Craig Bennett, says “The evidence is clear: the EU has been good for UK nature and the environment. Because of this, Friends of the Earth will be campaigning for the UK to remain a member of the EU.”

The e-mail provides a link  to a page on the Friends of the Earth website which concedes that, “the Common Agriculture Policy has proved an environmental disaster.” but insists that “exiting the EU would leave the UK’s environment in even worse shape.”

The website offers a further link to a pdf setting out the organisation’s position in more detail, which I perused. In fact, I had a pretty good look round the website, even lookint at the accounts for both the limited company and the trust.

You may ask, why spend my time studying the website? The answer is simple. I was looking for any admission of the real reason why  Friends of the Earth were so unequivocal in  their support for our EU membership. I eventually found some evidence tucked away in the trust accounts:- “We have also recevied grants from the European Commission through our European Friends of the Earth partners in Hungary and Austria,”  No figure was given, but Robert Oulds’ book Everything you wanted to know about the EU states that in 2011, Friends of the Earth Europe received over €1 million from Bruessels – 46% of its total funding.  Now se wee the real reason for Friends of the Earth’s stance:- who would want to bite the hand that feeds them?