Caroline Lucas: We need to invest in a positive, green and socially just future…

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Next week the Conservatives will present their first Budget as a majority Government.

The context is grim.

Progress on child poverty, surely a bellwether for good government, has stalled – with one in six children living in poverty. And when we consider how the Government is doing when it comes to keeping children warm in their homes, things look just as bad.  Last year, 2.23 million children in England were living in fuel poverty, whilst an estimated 65 people a day die in the UK in winter as a result of illnesses due to cold homes.

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Added to these shocking figures is the fact that so-called improvement in our economy remains extraordinarily skewed towards London and the South East, with Government figures showing that almost 40% of the UK’s economic activity is happening in just those two regions. The jobs that have been created in recent times are, all too often, short term and insecure.

Some parts of the forthcoming Budget, like the £12 billion cuts to social security spending, we already know about. The other announcements, which will trickle out over the next few days, will no doubt also serve to lock the country into further austerity and bring our public services ever closer to breaking point.

Ministers know that alternatives do exist.

One such alternative offers a route to rebuilding our economy, tackling climate change, and providing decent long terms jobs in every city, town and village across the UK.

It’s known as Green Infrastructure Quantitative Easing (GIQE), a concept first proposed by the Green New Deal Group and an idea that, if you can get past its unappealing name, basically means investment in a positive green and socially just future.

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GIQE could contribute to strengthening the UK economy via a carefully costed, nationwide programme to train and employ a ‘carbon army’. This army would be at the frontline of the fight against cold homes by making all of the UK’s 30 million buildings energy efficient, and, where feasible, fitted with solar panels. This would, in the first instance, dramatically reduce energy bills and fuel poverty, whilst also cutting greenhouse gas emission and cutting current dependence on imported energy.

Secondly, a GIQE programme could also help tackle the housing crisis by financing the construction of new affordable housing that’s highly energy efficient and built predominantly on brownfield sites.

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Thirdly, GIQE could help finance improved regional public transport networks to help revitalise local and regional economies. That’s more and better buses, trains and coaches, helping people to get around their communities and stay connected.

Quantitative Easing is already back on the global economic and political agenda. The growing threat of deflation has meant that Japan has reintroduced QE, and the European Central Bank has begun its own programme to deal with the serious economic problems of the Eurozone.

Here in the UK, our export markets face global threats that include a slowdown in the US and Chinese economies plus the financial fragility of the Eurozone – compounded only this week by the ongoing crisis in Greece.

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Moreover, domestic economic difficulties, including inadequate tax revenues, a deficit that is likely to prove to be stubbornly high and the spectre of deflation – none of which are encouraging consumers to spend or business to invest- mean the time is ripe for a new round of QE.

The scope of the GIQE energy efficiency initiative would be huge – and ambitious: There are around 28 million dwellings and 2 million commercial and public sector buildings in the UK. But we should be ambitious – on behalf of the unemployed who needs jobs, the families who need affordable housing and the climate that needs our protection.  It has been estimated that nearly £500bn of investment in new low-carbon infrastructure is required over the next 10 years, of which £230bn will be required for energy efficiency alone. A ‘Green Infrastructure QE’ programme would likely cost £50 billion a year over the next ten years.

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To put this into context, between 2009 and 2012 the Bank of England e-printed £375 billion of conventional QE, at an average of £125 billion per year.

This was the equivalent of over £6,000 for every man woman and child in the UK. Yet this considerable sum of money mostly benefited the banks and investors by inflating house prices, the stock market and commodities. It had very little impact in terms of generating real economic activity on the ground or delivering concrete social and environmental benefits. Green QE is designed to achieve far more – targeted far more effectively.

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The actual mechanism is relatively straightforward. The Bank of England would e- print tens of billions of pounds annually, as it did during the last round of QE, and a considerably enlarged publicly owned Green Investment Bank (GIB) would issue investment bonds to be bought by this QE programme. This would effectively leave the money required to fund green investment both debt and interest free, in the hands of the Green Investment Bank (GIB), to be invested over a realistic time scales and so be non-inflationary.

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, is on record in a letter to me saying that, if the government requested it, a next round of QE could be used to buy assets other than government debt – thus clearing the way for the kind of ambitious green infrastructure programme we urgently need.

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Since QE involves the central bank putting new money into circulation, by creating e-money and using it to buy assets, this programme will not increase the UK’s repayable debt levels. Professor Werner, Director of the Centre for Banking, Finance and Sustainable Development at the University of Southampton, and the creator of the quantitative easing concept, explains that since the central bank can simply keep the assets on its balance sheet, there is no need for taxpayers to repay this debt or for it to be considered as an expansion of public debt.

Indeed, this is completely consistent with the most recent UK quantitative easing programme. This saw the Bank of England, which is owned by the UK government, buy UK government debt in the form of gilts. The net result is that one arm of the government ends up owing debt to another arm of the government. If accounted for like a commercial enterprise this debt would, as a result, show as cancelled because you cannot, of course, owe yourself money. This is precisely why George Osborne could cancel the interest payments on the £375 billion of gilts held under his previous quantitative easing programme.

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In the case of GIQE, bonds issued by the Green Investment Bank will never need to be repaid. This means that the GIB will in turn not need to demand repayment of the loans they grant to local authorities and others to fund green investment.

One further and crucial benefit of GIQE is that it would increase the tax by increasing the number of people in well-paid employment in the UK. This in turn would have benefits for deficit reduction, contributing to that all important confidence that’s needed to unlock additional private funding from pension and insurance companies, through to individual savers.

Taken together, this all adds up to providing the scale of long term investment required to create the sustainable economy the UK needs. GIQE could achieve all this and it would do so while benefitting every single part of the UK.

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GIQE is ambitious, because it has to be. The status quo – of an economy that fails to lift children out of poverty and sees older people die in their homes because of the cold – is a resounding failure.

It’s not just the Government who should look closely at the significant benefits of Green Infrastructure QE. The Labour Party, so short of fresh thinking in recent years, should be closely examining this proposal too. Labour leadership candidates must answer a simple question: if not this, then what? We need a plan to create jobs in every constituency across Britain – I hope those candidates will join me in making the argument for a fairer, greener economy fit to serve all of us for years to come.

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Britain needs more decent jobs. We need a credible plan of action on climate change. We need bold action to tackle the housing crisis. It’s time that both the Government and the Opposition, rather than continuing to hand money over to the banks as they have done since the financial crisis, will seriously consider this plan to build a resilient economy, protect our shared environment and create thousands of new well paid jobs.

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Google makes another pro-environment announcement via Widow’s Creek

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This time, we’re doing something we’ve never done before: we’ll be building on the grounds of the Widows Creek coal power plant in Jackson County, which has been scheduled for shutdown. Data centers need a lot of infrastructure to run 24/7, and there’s a lot of potential in redeveloping large industrial sites like former coal power plants. Decades of investment shouldn’t go to waste just because a site has closed; we can repurpose existing electric and other infrastructure to make sure our data centers are reliably serving our users around the world.

At Widows Creek, we can use the plants’ many electric transmission lines to bring in lots of renewable energy to power our new data center. Thanks to an arrangement with Tennessee Valley Authority, our electric utility, we’ll be able to scout new renewable energy projects and work with TVA to bring the power onto their electrical grid. Ultimately, this contributes to our goal of being powered by 100% renewable energy.
   In 2010, we were one of the first companies outside of the utility industry to buy large amounts of renewable energy. Since then, we’ve become the largest corporate renewable energy purchaser in the world (in fact we’ve bought the equivalent of over 1.5 percent of the installed wind power capacity in the U.S.). We’re glad to see this trend is catching on among other companies.
   Of course, the cleanest energy is the energy you don’t use. Our Alabama data center will incorporate our state-of-the-art energy efficiency technologies. We’ve built our own super-efficient servers, invented more efficient ways to cool our data centers, and even used advanced machine learning to squeeze more out of every watt of power we consume. Compared to five years ago, we now get 3.5 times the computing power out of the same amount of energy.
   Since the 1960s, Widows Creek has generated power for the region—now the site will be used to power Internet services and bring information to people around the world. We expect to begin construction early next year and look forward to bringing a Google data center to Alabama.

Jill Stein to run as U.S Green Party presidential candidate for 2016

Vowing to combat the “converging crises” of racism, militarism, climate change, and “extreme materialism,” Dr. Jill Stein, on Tuesday 23 June 2015, announced this week that she is running for president of the United States as a Green Party candidate.

In a campaign kick-off speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Stein laid out the major planks of her platform, excerpted below:

Our Power to the People Plan lays out these solutions in a blueprint to move our economy from the greed and exploitation of corporate capitalism to a human-centered system that puts people, planet and peace over profit. This plan would end unemployment and poverty; avert climate catastrophe; build a sustainable, just economy; and recognize the dignity and human rights of everyone in our society. The plan affirms that we have the power to take our future back:

We have the power to create a Green New Deal, providing millions of jobs by transitioning to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030. 

We have the power to provide to a living-wage job and workers rights for every American. 

We have the power to end poverty and guarantee economic human rights.

We have the power to make health-care a human right through an improved Medicare for All system.

We have the power to provide education as a right and  abolish student debt.

We have the power to create a just economy.

We have the power to protect Mother Earth.

We have the power to end institutional racism, police brutality and mass incarceration. 

We have the power to restore our Constitutional rights. 

We have the power to end our wars of aggression, close foreign bases and cut military expenditures 50%

We have the power to empower the people.

Stein, who also ran for president in 2012, talked about her candidacy in an exclusive interview with Democracy Now! on Monday. Among other things, Stein highlighted one major difference between Greens and the mainstream political parties: “We are part of a party that does not accept corporate money and that does not accept money from lobbyists nor from corporate CEOs or surrogates of corporations.”

While Stein admitted to similarities between herself and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is running for the presidency as a populist Democrat, she was hard-pressed to find overlaps between her platform and that of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

“With Hillary, you know, I think, across the board, Hillary is the Wal-Mart candidate,” Stein said. “Though she may change her tune a little bit, you know, she’s been a member of the Wal-Mart board. On jobs, on trade, on healthcare, on banks, on foreign policy, it’s hard to find where we are similar.”

Speaking of her economic priorities, Stein told Democracy Now’s Goodman: “We are very focused on reforming the financial system, not only breaking up the big banks, but actually establishing public banks at the community, state and national level, so that we actually can democratize our finance. We can nationalize the Fed and ensure that it’s running for public purpose and not simply for private profit.”

In Historic Ruling, Dutch Court Says: Climate Action is a Human Right

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In a landmark ruling that many hope establishes a new global precedent for a state’s obligation to its citizens in the face of the growing climate crisis, a Dutch court on Wednesday said that the government has a legal duty to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

The decision came in response to a lawsuit, launched in November 2013 by the Amsterdam-based environmental nonprofit Urgenda Foundation along with 600 Dutch citizens, which argued that the government was violating international human rights law by failing to take sufficient measures to combat rising greenhouse gas emissions.

“The state must do more to avert the imminent danger caused by climate change, also in view of its duty of care to protect and improve the living environment,” read a statement from the Hague District Court.

Marjan Minnesma, Urgenda Foundation’s director, called the ruling a “great victory” and that the judge had the “courage and wisdom to the government ‘you have a duty of care toward your citizens.'” Minnesma also said that she hoped the ruling would spur similar court cases against governments around the world.

According to Urgenda, it marked the first case in Europe in which citizens attempted to hold a state responsible for its potentially devastating inaction, and was the first in the world in which human rights are used as a legal basis to protect citizens against climate change.

Now, with similar suits pending in Belgium and elsewhere, environmentalists are celebrating the victory as a potentially precedent setting moment in the climate fight.

Columnist Nick Meynen, who is one of 10,000 Belgians who on April 27 launched a similar case against their government, explained in a piece published by This Changes Everythingon Tuesday: “[I]t’s hard to find any country in the world with climate legislation in place that is in line with what the science requires. Somehow, governments have so far managed to get away with that. But the days of empty promises are over.”

Meynen spoke with Roger Cox and Nic Balthazar, the “driving forces behind the Dutch and Belgian climate court cases,” who say they are working with colleagues to launch similar suits in Australia, Brazil, Austria, England, Ireland, and Norway. “All of them are closely watching the Dutch court,” Meynen wrote.

Original article at ‘Common Dreams‘ June 2015

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Ah! The Joys of air pollution & dementia!

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“WE SHOULD GET out of here,” says air pollution chemist Eben Cross. At 7 a.m. on this cold November day the wind blows steadily through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Cambridge campus, cutting through our thin jackets. But Cross isn’t afraid of the cold. He worries about the air we’re breathing—especially considering the six fire trucks directly ahead, idling in the dim morning light.

“We’re getting hammered right now,” Cross says, shouting over the hum of the engines. He’s taken his gloves off to manipulate the display panel on his pollution monitor. The acrid smell of diesel is unmistakable. “Anytime you can smell it, you are in a regime that is very polluted,” he says. “In many ways your nose is a better mass spectrometer than any device on the market.”

Cross’ monitor measures the presence of microscopic particles suspended in the air. Earlier, in his home, the device reported average concentrations of between 10,000 and 100,000 airborne particles per cubic centimeter of air (the latter after he burned some toast). Now it detects millions. The massive size of the fire trucks’ engines, combined with their inefficient combustion in cold weather, means that the air reaching us is replete with fine and ultrafine particles—specks of waste at least 36 times finer than a grain of sand, often riddled with toxic combinations of sulfate, nitrate and ammonium ions, hydrocarbons, and heavy metals. Though we have long known that these tiny particles cause and exacerbate respiratory problems—like asthma and infections and cancers of the lungs—they are also suspected to contribute to adiverse range of disorders, from heart disease to obesity. And now cutting-edge research suggests that these particles play a role in some of humanity’s most terrifying and mysterious illnesses: degenerative brain diseases.

While coarse pollution particles seldom make it past our upper lungs, fine and ultrafine particles can travel from our nostrils along neural pathways directly into our brains. Once there, they can wreak a special havoc that appears to kick off or accelerate the downward spiral of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. While much of the research is still preliminary, the findings so far are compelling. Autopsies of the brains of people who lived in highly contaminated areas have turned up traces of pollution and corresponding brain trauma. And among those still living, epidemiologists have recorded elevated rates of brain disease and accelerated mental decline.

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All of this is especially scary when you consider how many people are at risk. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s already afflict 50 million people worldwide and about 6 million in the United States. In 2015, nearly 1 in 5 Medicare dollarswill be spent on Alzheimer’s; this disease and other types of dementia will cost the United States $226 billion. By 2050, experts predict, that cost will rise to $1.1 trillion—the baby boomers are only now entering the phase of life when degenerative diseases usually emerge. Because boomers were born before the improvements of the Clean Air Act, passed in 1970, they likely have had a greater lifetime exposure to air pollution than any other generation before or after them.

But although American air today is the cleanest it has been in four decades, pollution is still a major public health problem. According to estimates from the American Lung Association, more than 46 million Americans—about 15 percent of the US population—are chronically exposed to levels of particle pollution that exceed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, with a further 44.1 million plagued by periodic unhealthy exposures on bad air days or, as in parts of California, seasonal air pollution spikes. Meanwhile, in some Chinese and Indian cities, air pollution levels are routinely three to six times higher than World Health Organization standards. A recent study in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health and Technology estimated that we could avoid two million deaths globally by cleaning up the world’s air.

Researchers have struggled for decades to pinpoint the risk factors that, in addition to genetics, can contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases; theories have ranged from viral infection to aluminum exposure to high-fat diets, but none of these has withstood scientific scrutiny. The research implicating air pollution is in its early stages, and many questions remain unanswered—for example, it’s unclear whether particle pollution initiates degenerative disease or merely accelerates it. Still, the evidence so far suggests that pollution could be the most pervasive potential cause of brain disease that scientists have ever discovered. We’re not “beyond a doubt,” says Michelle Block, a neurobiologist at the Indiana University School of Medicine, but “everything we do says this is probably happening.”

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8 renewable energy projects that are definitely not ugly.

1. This community owned wind turbine in Victoria

Hepburn Wind, is Australia’s first community-owned wind farm, just south of Daylesford, Victoria. The turbines are owned by the 1,900 members of the organisation – over half of them locals. The revenue raised by the energy production goes back into other community projects, and is forecast to raise over $1 million in the next 25 years.

But the best thing is that they didn’t build them and move on. The community went on to crowd-fund and artist to paint this beautiful mural!

2. Disney’s plans to build a solar plant in the shape of Mickey Mouse

We’re not joking. Walt Disney World needed some extra juice for their Florida theme park and resort, so Duke Energy are building them a solar plant across the road in the shape of Mickey Mouse. The solar farm will take form as three circles symbolising the famous mouse using 48,000 panels. Incredible!

3. The silent “Wind Tree”

Designed by French engineers who wanted to create a wind-turbine you could have on a suburban street, The Wind Tree is 26-foot tall and can be found in Britanny in northwestern France. Each leaf contains tiny blades that turn inwards, enabling them to turn regardless of the direction the wind is blowing.

4. Dubai’s solar palm trees

Okay, so all palm trees are powered by the sun, but these are a little different. With over 100 of these being installed right now, “Smart Trees” will soon be found throughout Dubai, providing a shaded park bench, WiFi and phone charging stations. The designer even claims that the solar panels will charge your device 2.5 times faster than your wall socket at home.

5. The SolarImpulse plane

Getting ready to break a whole bunch of records, the SolarImpulse is a work of art. The aircraft can hold a single pilot and is able to fly day and night, without a drop of fuel. The wings, which are larger than those of a Boeing 747, contain 17,000 solar cells that power the motors and recharge lithium batteries.

6. BWM’s solar garage

If you’re going to get an electric vehicle, you probably should try to avoid powering it straight from the grid – otherwise your sweet new wheels are still using dirty fossil fuels. BWM found a solution: a solar garage.

7. This solar yacht

Check out the Tûranor PlanetSolar (tûranor means “power of the sun” in Elvish), the world’s largest solar-powered boat. But this epic catamaran isn’t just for looks – it was the first ship to circumnavigate the world on solar power alone. 512 square meters of solar panels are able to charge the two 8.5 ton batteries below.

8. The most colourful wind turbine, ever.

German artist, Horst Glasker, decided that wind turbines were a bit too white for his liking. So he launched an artistic project, Aero Art, to celebrate the existence of renewable energy by painting two turbines in colours impossible to ignore.

Climate Council June 2015

 

Survey Of Big Investment Companies Shows Why We Might Be On The Verge Of A Solar Power Boom

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Approximately two-thirds of big investment companies plan to prioritize solar power in the next five years, according to a new survey.

The survey, commissioned by financial services firm Wiser Capital, got responses from 100 representatives from large investment companies in the United States. It found that 32 percent of those companies plan to invest in solar for the first time this year, and 28 percent will invest in solar for the first time in the next two to five years. It also found that about 80 percent of the companies polled want to invest in solar “to support a cleaner energy future, and a little over 60 percent want to invest in it because they’re confident they’ll get a return on the investment.”

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“We have known the demand for mid-scale solar investment was growing in the U.S and it’s clear the boom has in fact already begun,” Nathan Homan, executive director of Wiser Capital said in a statement.

The survey also looked at potential reasons why firms wouldn’t invest in solar. It found that lack of policy and industry standardization, as well as uncertainty about policies such as net meteringin some states, was the main reason, with about 46 percent of investors citing that as a reason they might hold back from a solar investment.

“It has always been a notoriously difficult sector for investors to assess risk and prove investments viable without incurring incredibly high administrative costs,” Homan said. “With our technology finally unlocking this new market segment, we are excited to see sustained and aggressive growth in the solar industry across the country.”

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CREDIT: WISER CAPITAL

Wiser’s survey looked at corporate investors, but there’s been work in recent years surrounding public investment in solar too. Last year, SolarCity introduced solar bonds, which the company bills as a way for regular Americans to invest in solar. The bonds are sold online in $1,000 increments, and as of this year, people can also get them through their retirement accounts. Tim Newell, vice president of financial products at SolarCity, told ThinkProgress in March that Americans are getting more interested in making socially-responsible, sustainable investments, which makes the introduction of solar bonds timely.

“Impact investments and socially responsible investments have been around for a long time, but I think now people’s expectations have changed,” Newell said. “People are learning that…you can earn good economic returns and do good with your money at the same time.”

Wiser’s report also came on the heels of an announcement from the White House of a $4 billion commitment to ramp up investment in clean energy. The $4 billion is coming from pension funds and foundations and groups such as Goldman Sachs and the Sierra Club Foundation.

“One of the real challenges is the gap in financing clean energy,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said at a press conference on the commitment earlier this week. “There is a continuing need for new capital investment.”

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BY KATIE VALENTINE (Climate Progress) POSTED ON JUNE 17, 2015 AT 12:05 PM