Osborne's fracking plan
Published: 10 Dec 2012
The Chancellor of the Exchequer's autumn statement, and his gas plan published alongside it, will be of particular interest to the energy sector, which could soon see an unexpected boost in gas production handed to them by the "greenest Government ever".
George Osborne announced to the House of Commons that the Government were "consulting on new tax incentives for shale gas". Shale gas is controversial because the fracking process to extract it involves pumping high-pressure water and chemically-treated sand into the shale rock, which can lead to polluted water supplies and earth tremors.
However, David Kennedy, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, said, "Early decarbonisation of the power sector should be plan A - and the dash for gas Plan Z."
The plan has also drawn heavy criticism from the environmental sector. Joss Garmin, political director at Greenpeace, said,"Over a third of the UK's economic growth in the last year came from the low-carbon sector. By ignoring this and instead offering incentives to the gas industry, George Osborne is undermining crucial green growth."
Likewise, a recent study from thinktank Cambridge Economics claimed that the UK economy would be £20bn a year better off by 2030 if investment were directed towards large-scale offshore wind projects rather than new gas power stations.
The Chancellor has also approved the building of over 30 new gas-fired power stations to replace the UK's ageing nuclear, coal and gas stations. This announcement comes, perhaps as a slight contradiction, in the wake of the publication of the new Energy Bill which aims to raise a levy from energy customers to pay for low-carbon energy infrastructure and which Energy Minister Ed Davey said would begin the UK's switch to a low-carbon economy. It is also difficult to see how such plans would enable the Government to achieve their commitment to limit carbon emissions set under the Climate Change Act 2008.
In a rather festive statement, Andy Atkins, executive director at Friends of the Earth, said, "The big polluters must think Christmas has come early - but if bad Santa Osborne's gas-fired energy strategy gets the go-ahead it will leave cash-strapped households and the environment with a thumping hangover for decades."
Rotten around the Christmas tree
Published: 10 Dec 2012
This year, UK Christmas trees have been hit with a virulent fungal disease which could threaten entire plantations.
The mysterious disease, known as "current season double needle necrosis" (CSNN), turns needles brown during the summer before they drop off. It is suspected it was imported from the Caucasus in the seeds of Nordmann Firs, the species that accounts for four in five Christmas trees sold in the UK.
Fortunately, few trees have been hit this year, but there has been a reported surge in cases since 2009. As yet, no fungicide has been found to stop it. More that 150 growers so far have been affected, with the majority reporting damage to up to 3% of their stock. In the worst cases, more than 15% of crops have been damaged, with many losing tens of thousands of pounds in lost trees.
This has sparked fears that the price of Christmas trees, which has already risen over the past few years, could increase even further if there are shortages caused by the disease.
Colin Palmer, an advisor to the British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA), has found the disease in some of his own trees growing near Ledbury, Herefordshire. He commented, "The disease is puzzling. It is connected to a fungus, Sydowia polyspora, which has been around for 30 years without a problem. We used to see trees lose their needles after strong sunshine. It was like sunstroke - annoying but not serious. But it has gone from affecting one or two trees to affecting many. For this year we have a very robust market with plenty of trees, but next year could be different."
Solar Christmas for town
Published: 07 Dec 2012
More than 50% less electricity will be used in this year's Christmas light display in Thatcham, as the Berkshire town turns to solar power to help reduce energy bills.
Thatcham Town Council has ordered new Christmas lights for the town including solar powered Christmas trees and lights for the Bath Road and High Street, which will aim to reduce their electrical consumption.
Each tree sits in a planter and is covered with dozens of flashing LED lights. The units are self-contained and there is no need to wire them into lamp posts or stretch cables across the street. The planter hides a battery and built into the top of the tree is a solar panel. The panel converts daytime light into electricity, which is then stored in the battery and when darkness falls, the lights switch on using a timer. In addition, new low energy LED lights have been purchased for the Broadway green and the oak tree at the Northern end of the Broadway.
Town Mayor, John Boyd, said, "Each year the Christmas Lights Committee researches and discuss the options that are available to provide the town with an atmosphere that helps to kick-start the Christmas spirit. This year with the eco-friendly lights we have been able to spread the display up the whole High Street and thank those who have given permission for the lights to be mounted on their buildings."
Once in Royal Dafydd's City
Published: 07 Dec 2012
Council officials in Llangefni have ordered town centre Christmas lights to be taken down over health and safety concerns.
The festive lights were erected for the big switch-on this week, but the council was contacted by the island authority asking for them to be removed claiming permission had not been granted for the lights to be put up over public highways.
The Town Mayor, Dylan Rees, said, "There has been a communication from the county council over the Christmas lights regarding requiring certain permissions for the lights to go up. With the switch on tonight our view was that they would not be coming down and that the event would go ahead as planned. We think this is the common sense approach as the lights are important to the people of Llangefni and our town centre. The town council meets on Monday and we will debate the communication before deciding what response to give and what action to take."
However, a spokesman for Anglesey County Council argued, "Anyone who wants to erect festive decorations in or above the highway must submit an application to the county council so that we can ensure public safety at all times. These guidelines are set by a national code of practice. Unfortunately, we recently discovered that new Christmas lights had been erected on the street lighting columns at Buckley Square and town hall car park in Llangefni. This is not permitted and as a result we have asked the town council to take these lights down."
They continued, "The county council has been actively promoting Christmas events and celebrations in towns on Anglesey, however we ultimately have a duty to ensure that visitors are able to enjoy these activities safely."
The City sans Light
Published: 07 Dec 2012
Paris, also known as the "La Ville Lumière" (The City of Light), is soon to be shed into darkness if proposals from the French minister for energy and environment go ahead.
Minister Delphine Batho unveiled plans which will require lights in and outside shops, offices, and public buildings, including the flagship Louis Vuitton store and the Lido cabaret house on Paris' Avenue des Champs Elysees, to be turned off between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. The plan, to be applied across all French cities, towns and villages, is aimed at saving energy and money and showing "sobriety".
The plans were mooted under former President Nicolas Sarkozy and are part of a broader European plan to improve energy efficiency by 20% by 2020. In January, his Government passed a measure that took effect in July, forcing stores and businesses to turn off neon lights highlighting their names between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.
"Great! Another positive message sent to citizens and to tourists: the city will go dark!" said Sofy Mulle, vice-president of the France's Commerce Council, which represents all of the country's 650,000 merchants employing about 3.5 million people. "We are ready to make efforts, but the Government is cutting a fine line between sobriety and austerity. Surely, we can work out environmentally friendly solutions that have less impact on our society and our economy."
An environmental group that helped draft the plan says the energy saved each night will equal the output of a 1,300-megawatt nuclear reactor during an equivalent period. “There is no intention to put us all into darkness or frighten Japanese tourists,” says Alain Fleury, a leader of the Association to Protect the Sky and the Night Environment. “We can find a balanced way to consume and not always push for more."
This is not just any kerbside recycling scheme
Published: 07 Dec 2012
Marks and Spencer customers showed just how much they care for the environment by taking back a total of 8.3 million Christmas cards as part of the M&S 2012 Christmas Card Recycling Scheme.
As well as recycling the cards, M&S also promised to plant one native tree for every 1,000 cards collected in-store throughout January 2012 by donating money to the Woodland Trust. As a result of the cards collected in 2012, the Woodland Trust will be able to plant an extra 8,308 trees around the UK, with 32% of those trees to be planted in the south east.
The annual Marks and Spencer Christmas Card Recycling Scheme will take place once again in January 2013.
As most other kerbside recycling schemes don't usually donate money to charity as well as recycling cards, you can be sure that the extra effort you make to drop your Christmas cards off at your local M&S really does lead to a big impact on the protection, planting and enjoyment of the UK's beautiful woodland landscapes.
The Woodland Trust used to run the Christmas Card Recycling Scheme, but stopped doing so in 2011. Since then Marks and Spencer have run it and donated proceeds from the sale of the recycled cards to the Woodland Trust to plant more native trees around the UK.