Notes from the Green Party MEP for East of England. Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Thursday, 26 July 2007


Now I've discovered another alternative to wellingtons. They're called Overboots and they're flexible rubber socks that you put over your shoes. When you aren't wearing them they are a lot less awkward to carry than wellingtons. And you can go to a party in your party shoes: just peel off the overboots when you get there!

My father used to have something similar called goloshes, but they were just shoes, so they didn't protect the legs and trousers; and they weren't flat pack like these ones.

These amazing useful things can be bought in Hawkshead shops, and are currently reduced to £1 a pair. How good is that?

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Carbon offsetting again

I spent last weekend at the Joint Session (a major UK philosophical conference with about 250 delegates). It was hosted at a rather unpleasant campus which seemed to bear an uncanny resemblance to the surface of the moon—or particularly the moon as it would look if covered in a maze of rectangular concrete buildings—, on the edge of Bristol, currently known as UWE, though in days gone by it was called Bristol Poly. It's not a place I am keen to see again in my lifetime. As a colleague pointed out, if they'd done the abbreviation properly the University of the West of England would be known as University of the WOE.

We weren't originally supposed to be at the University of WOE, but at the real University of Bristol, which might have been better aesthetically, and certainly would have landed us in a more desirable urban environment (as it was, the only things within walking distance were Hewlett Packard's works and, I gather, some examples of the edge of the city retail park with its B&Q and so on). But thanks to Bristol University and its building programme, the conference had been relocated at rather short notice.

But the point of this post is not the place we were in, but the process of getting there. This is what they said on the conference information:

Directions to the UWE Frenchay Campus are available at Note that the nearest train station is Bristol Parkway rather than Bristol Temple Meads.

The Philosophy Department at the University of Bristol operates a carbon off-set scheme. Any delegates wishing to minimize the environmental impact of their conference travel are requested to contact Finn Spicer:

Now when unpacked as a guide to how to get to Bristol this seems to me to say the following:

We assume that you will typically be coming by car. You'll need directions for how to get there which can be found on the web site mentioned. Some people prefer to come by train, but we don't specially recommend that. Bristol Parkway is nearer than Bristol Temple Meads, but it's not really very near and not really very convenient. We don't see much difference in environmental impact between coming by car and coming by train, and since we now run a carbon offsetting scheme, there's really no need to use the train or to worry at all about the impact of driving, as long as you're prepared to pay a few pence for someone else to do the tiresome bit of being green on your behalf, so you might as well drive, use the free parking on campus and just send us a bit of money to salve your conscience (if you have any: we're proud that we do have a conscience as you can see).
Now it seems to me that what they should have said is the following:
Although there is free parking on campus, we strongly urge you to consider travelling by train rather than by car. Bristol Parkway, with high speed trains from London, Didcot and South Wales, is only a five minute bus ride from campus and there are plenty of taxis to be had. Train travel accounts for far fewer carbon emissions than road travel, and your train journey will assist the Bristol University Philosophy Department's attempt to become carbon neutral in all its activities. Contributions to the carbon offsetting scheme can be made by contacting ... but such contributions should not be regarded as a substitute for a low carbon lifestyle.
I hope one would say something like that even if train travel were quite a lot more difficult than it was in this case.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Hooray for wellington boots!

This week I bought a wonderful pair of wellies. They're pistachio green with pink trimmings and pink and blue spots. Just right for the summer.
I've decided to wear them all the time.
One huge advantage is that it makes it practical to ride my bike while wearing pale or white trousers, even on a bike with no chain guard, and even in wet conditions.
This is a major improvement to the quality of life. When I get a chance I will add a photo.

Air conditioning on trains

Does anyone else share my abhorrence for trains which have sealed windows and air conditioning?
There are two main problems in my experience.
One is that if the heating/air conditioning goes wrong there is nothing whatever anyone can do about it. One of the trains on the Norwich line had a faulty heating system in the winter which was blowing out extra cold air on some of the really cold days, so that you were chilled to the bone even sitting in an insulated ski-jacket.
Now we have the problem of "summer". The train companies seem to think that we want the train kept at exactly the same temperature whether it is winter or summer, and so (quite unnecessarily) they cool the train down on a nice warm day, so it's like getting into a fridge. What they don't seem to realise is that in the winter you get on in your thick socks and shoes, woolly sweater and long-sleeved shirt. Then you want the temperature set to the sort of level at which it's comfortable to read, without having to peel off all your warm clothes.
In the summer, by contrast, you arrive lightly clad, with sandals and short sleeves. On a warm day you probably don't even have a jumper or jacket with you. Three minutes into the journey on this refrigerated train you are perishing cold. You ask the "conductor" (meaning the guard) whether he can make it a bit warmer, but the answer of course is "no". There are no controls. The thing is just set at a certain temperature, presumably the same temperature winter and summer.
What a waste of energy! Most of the time we wouldn't need to be air conditioned: the outside air would be perfectly fine. And even if we do have air conditioning, it doesn't need to be working like a fridge to make us into blocks of ice. It could be set five degrees warmer, and we'd all be just fine. 21º in the winter and 25º in the summer would seem a sensible system to work on, to minimise energy and maximise comfort.
But best of all, let the human beings have control instead of the machines. Because, after all, we're the ones who have feelings...