Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Another response to Monbiot on Veganism

I wouldn't normally just paste in someone else's comment, but this is just so spot on that I had to...

This is from Merricks blog:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

animal instincts, gut reaction

George Monbiot's written a piece about the way increased consumption of animal products is exacerbating world hunger.

Basically, we're feeding a serious proportion of our food to animals who shit out most of the nutriment. We then eat the high-input low-output animals. So even though we're growing more food than ever, people are starving.

As the animal products are more profitable than the basic grains and pulses, the market is happy to see the poor starve.

Joachim von Braun, head of the International Food Policy Research Institute, said that the current rapid increase in world food prices is roughly 20% caused by the impact of climate change, about 30% by the impact of biofuels, and about 50% by increased affluence leading to more consumption of animal products.

Of course, those proportions are likely to shift as climate change will get a lot worse in the years to come, and biofuels - despite it now being clear that they're an environmental disaster as well as a humanitarian one - continue to grow. We're burning food while people starve.

But it's equally crazy to turn edible food to shit for no good reason, which is what the meat and dairy industries do. Even grass-fed animals get their winter feed from foodstuffs that could be fed to humans. In a two pronged attack, we exacerbate climate change by first chopping down the forests to grow soya for cows, who give it a second punch by turning that soya into shit and climate-assaulting methane.

The obvious thing is for us to eat less animal products. Monbiot concurs.

A vegan Britain could make a massive contribution to global food stocks.

and then immediately backtracks with

But I cannot advocate a diet I am incapable of following. I tried it for about 18 months, lost two stone, went as white as bone and felt that I was losing my mind. I know a few healthy-looking vegans and I admire them immensely. But after almost every talk I give, I am pestered by swarms of vegans demanding that I adopt their lifestyle. I cannot help noticing that in most cases their skin has turned a fascinating pearl grey.

Oh look, here's the emaciated and fascinatingly pearl grey Carl Lewis zooming through the air as he wins the Olympic gold medal for the long jump in 1992.

Carl Lewis, long jump, Barcelona Olympics 1992

At the same Olympics he got another gold medal for his running. A man capable of running 100 metres in under ten seconds and 200 metres in under twenty, one wonders how his vegan diet impaired his performance. Monbiot's year of veganism was dogged by his seemingly inevitable ill-health. How was yours, Carl?

my best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet

I went to see Prince last year. He's fifty, but with the energy, the verve, the effervescent pizzazz of someone less than half his age. Vegan with it.

I don't doubt Brother George's account of the impacts of a vegan diet on himself. But his implication that this is what most vegans are like is just bollocks. It's a cheapshot that is frankly unworthy of him. It's as daft as saying veganism will make us all into Carl Lewis, or that vegetarianism is bad because Hitler was one.

Certainly, there are some unhealthy vegans. But in the same way, you could report on someone grossly obese and say that's what anyone who eats meat is inevitably like.

Monbiot was clearly eating a poor vegan diet, and was seemingly anaemic. It's easily overcome though. A diet with plenty of fresh greens supplies huge amounts of iron and vitamin C (which helps you absorb the iron).

Can that be done all year round though without importing stuff? Just ask someone like, ooh, George Monbiot. A week before he published the vegan article, he published one that said

There are at least 20 kinds of vegetables and salads (mostly oriental varieties) that you can grow through the British winter. You should be able to eat fresh greens every day of the year.

Many people find that if they suddenly take something out of their diet their health suffers, usually because they're eating the same old stuff but with something missing. Carl Lewis was smart enough to look into the nutritional aspect before he changed.

But even if you don't do that first, it doesn't take much work to find balanced, tasty, easy food that's vegan. You're a couple of clicks away from hundreds of sites that can help you, and there are at least as many books too.

Veggies and vegans tend to eat a lot better than omnivores; as they have to really think about their food, they become better cooks and eat a greater variety of ingredients.

I've been vegan for most of my life. In the 1980s it was a bit more work, but these days there is absolutely no truth in the 'it's too much effort to be vegan and healthy' thing. It's a lazy cop-out by those who haven't got the self-discipline to obey their conscience.

That said, any reduction in the amount of animal produce you consume is positive. There's this common idea that people have to be absolutist, as if it's a religion and any sinful behaviour will see them damned. But someone who is basically vegan but eats animal stuff once or twice a week is clearly having less of a detrimental effect than someone who is an ongoing omnivore because they don't feel they could be unwaveringly veggie.

The sneering idea that 'oh, you had some milk chocolate so you're not really vegan' gets bandied around, as if it undoes all the good you do by not eating animals the rest of the time. I note that it tends to come from people who eat meat, essentially as a desperate attempt to gag their own conscience.

By the same token, we could ridicule anyone advocating a reduction in carbon emissions if they ever use any fossil fuels, and tell ourselves that therefore it's OK for us all to drive SUVs and have patio heaters.

As Robin Fishwick observes, the only way not to be a hypocrite is to be an amoral twat

we have a social climate where it is impossible to embrace any moral position without fear of being branded as 'loony' if you cling doggedly to the position, or 'hypocritical' if you fall short of it. The result is that we are left with a cynics jamboree and a tendency towards moral paralysis.

In a perfect world, moral paralysis would not be a problem, but a perfect world it is not, and as soon as you so much as express concern the snipers are out. It is much safer to abdicate all moral responsibility than step into the danger zone - and the danger zone is huge. If you fall short of the ideal you espouse, you are a hypocrite.

It follows, therefore, that in order never to be a hypocrite, it is safest not to espouse any ideals you may have any difficulty living up to - result; said cynicism and moral paralysis.

Better to be a hypocrite than a bastard. If you don't fall short of your own standards once in a while then you probably haven't set them high enough.

It's common for people who are kicking a habit to have a relapse, and if people want to indulge as they shift their habits, if that's what makes it work for them in the longer term, fine. Most ex-meaties I know who give in to temptation are repulsed by the heavy dense unfoodlike feeling of meat in their gut, and it helps them leave it behind.

It is very clear that the consumption of animal products has a severe climate impact. As with the other reasons for abstaining from animal products - compassion for the animals, personal health, concern at the amount of land used and its impact on wild land going under the plough, or straightforward cheapness - it makes more sense to be vegan than vegetarian. And in our lands of plenty, it's not difficult. As George Monbiot's lame attempt shows, there really is no good reason.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Consequences of biofuels and "the food crunch"

I've just read George Monbiot's article about global food shortages and biofuels, which follows on very eloquently from the article on the Biofuels demo we did at Ruth Kellys office on Tuesday this week.
Here's a link to his article:

He's basically saying, there are already food shortages in the world at this point in history where we are now obligating all drivers in the UK to have a 2.5% biofuel mix in their tanks. It's only going to get worse. We should all go vegan, but he can't advocate that because from the sound of it he's not kicked his meat addiction or more likely from what he says he's not figured out how to be a healthy vegan.

Whilst I respect his honesty about his own diet most of us could at least reduce the amount of meat and dairy in our lives. I've been veggie for years, but I struggle with my cheese and chocolate addictions that keep me away from veganism. Having said that, some of the time I eat dairy products because I'm eating processed food that has things like whey in it. It's what I call unnecessary non-veganism, I think it's caused by the dairy industry needing something to do with their by-products and nothing to do with the food product being any better for having whey in it. So if we avoid processed food, eat more fruit and less cake, that's a step towards veganisim and lower carbon emissions. There's not enough public debate about the impact of our food habits on climate change, it's time for some more information on the real cost of our food.

We could all be more vegan without actually being completely vegan and we could be healthier for it.
I guess it's time for some recipes........................

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

No bad biofuels please!

There is a proven direct link between biofuels and climate change, deforestation and the degradation of local communities and bio-diversity and world hunger; the ‘Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation’ which comes into force from the 15th April will only fuel these problems as there is no safeguard ensuring that the biofuels you and i will be putting in our tanks from the 15th come form a sustainable source. We're demanding that Transport Minister Ruth Kelly tells the bureaucrats in Brussels that the UK is withdrawing from the directive until a biofuel sustainability certification is put in place."

For more information or to get involved visit: and

see this link for the news coverage of the demo:

Hulme Looks Forward event this wednesday!

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Council Leader runs away from Green scrutiny

The Leader of Manchester City Council Richard Leese today used an excuse to leave the Council Chamber rather than stand up to scrutiny by Manchester's Green Councillor Vanessa Hall.
Cllr Hall used the Council meeting to ask several questions including one to the Leader of the Council regarding the plan to expand business flights at Barton Aerodrome turning it into a "city airport".
Barton Aerodrome is owned by the Manchester Ship Canal Development Company, which is in turn owned by Manchester City Council and Peel Holdings.

The Leader declared an interest as a Director of the Ship Canal Company but failed to make provision for one of his deputies to answer the question, despite them both being present and him receiving the question last Thursday.
Councillor Hall asked the question anyway, then commented in her supplementary question that as he'd had nothing to say for himself she must assume that he is in agreement with her on the issue of business flights and then on as assumption that he would have said something about economic growth, reminded the chamber of the seriousness of the impact of climate change both globally and in this country, which she is sure that Richard Leese is aware of and asked, Why he continues to put economic growth above survival?

This question, like the previous one was left hanging in the air as Manchester Labour clearly don't seem to have the answers.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Any old iron - well copper actually..

Steven and I were just leaving the Monton Estate residents meeting last night chatting to some residents when one of them spotted a fire on the site of the former Whitworth School.
Steven and I jumped on our bikes and cycled over there.
We went through the gap in the fence to find a small fire and saw 2 lads (approx 12 yrs old, wearing dark clothes with their hoods up) running off.
I quickly spotted a section of copper cable several metres long and realised that the fire was for burning the rubber off the copper cable to be able to go and cash it in.
The price of scrap metal has gone up a lot lately which is why we are seeing a spate of thefts of cabling and also the lead flashing off the walk-up flats such as Bentley House and Northdown, Southdown and Grenham in St Georges.
We phoned the police, who were going to take an hour to come out, the lads were still hanging around at a safe distance waiting for us to go presumably to come back for their copper.
So, we took matters into our own hands and after asking a local resident to call out the fire brigade if the fire got any worse (it was small and looked safe to us), we headed off through the estate with 3 residents to take the copper to the police station.
We ignored the phone outside the police station as we knew it would be useless telling a call centre in Wigan that we were outside Greenheys with some copper and were just about to chuck it over the fence when someone came out and took it off us and agreed to call off the patrol as it was no longer needed.

It just goes to show, you should always expect the unexpected in this job!

I must also add that I really appreciated the kind words from Alice at the residents meeting who thanked me for my contribution in my last 5 years as a Councillor. The Monton estate is a great community, their passion and neighbourlyness stands out. Thank you.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008


I was really shocked earlier today when I heard that Michael Todd, GMP Chief Constable had died whilst walking on Snowdon. He died at Bwlch Glas, which is the top of the PYG Route, ab0ut 80 ft below the summitt of Snowdon. Exactly where I was less than 24 hours earlier.

I was going to put up a blog post with some of my photos anyway, but now this post is a tribute to all walkers and climbers who have lost their lives on the mountains.

Long may we love the mountains, climb them, and come back safe.

Looking NNW from the Summit - this is the way the weather is coming in from, very windy and slippy underfoot because of the snow and ice.

This is my favourite photo - equally wild and beautiful.

Crib Goch from just below the Summit, you can see the PYG Route zigzagging up the hill and the lakes in the distance.

Next morning from Pen-y-pass, after hearing the wind howling in the night, the other side of Crib Goch and the first part of the PYG Route, taken in between showers of rain.

The day before you could see the top from this side and no snow!

This was my first time up Snowdon, but I don't intend it to be my last.

Until next time....

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Biofuel - savvy

Today asked the following question of Cllr Neil Swannick, the Executive Member for Environment at the Council Meeting in the Town Hall:

How will Manchester Council inform residents that whilst Biofuel from waste (vegetable and animal) oils can be sustainable, Biofuels crops (either in this country or the global south) are not sustainable and can produce up to 10 times the emissions of the fuel that they seek to replace?

Neil's first response went into some detail about the current developments in Biofuels and the new legislation due to come out in April. He disputed the figure of "up to 10 times the emissions" and mentioned the Council's use of Biofuels in it's vehicle fleet. He seemed to be saying that the jury was still out on the issue of Biofuels.

For more information on Biofuels see:

This is a really good introduction to the subject:

There are more reports at:

including "Biofuels : an unfolding disaster", which contains the following quote:

However, fuel suppliers are only required to report
50% of their biofuels in 2008-2009. So Palm Oil,
creating up to 9 times the greenhouse gas emissions
than diesel, may be hidden in the unreported 50%.

In my supplementary question I explained that whilst I currently believe that Ebony Solutions who supply the Council's Biofuel are (reasonably) sustainable and that this was obviously a complicated issue, there are what can be simply described as "bad" Biofuel and "good" Biofuel and I asked if this could be explained within the Council's Environmental Campaigns information.
Before I had finished asking the question, other Labour front benchers were shouting "yes", so they seem keen to get the message out there (actually I think they were just keen to get out of the meeting). Cllr Swannick also stood up and said yes, so I look forward to Council campaign information including Biofuels.
I wonder if I might need to remind them...

Come back next week to see a write-up of the other 2 questions I asked and my uncontested budget speech!

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Happy Mothers Day!

Happy Mothers Day to my Mum and mothers everywhere.

When people ask me how I became an environmentalist, I explain that I think it started with my Mum when we watched Blue Peter together and she got me into recycling milk bottle tops. So thanks goes to my Mum for being an inspiration. She also taught me to care for other people and was a great introduction to that which I now call "random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.."
I think both of these qualities have given me both the motivation and the empathy for the job of a Green Councillor, where I often find myself acting as "Counsellor" as well as "Councillor".

Cheers Mum and thanks for a lovely lunch and afternoon together today.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Critical Mass was awesome!

Critical Mass on Friday was great! Considering the weather was really windy and wet at times the turnout was amazing. After a varied route around the city centre we cycled through Hulme and then came back into town down the Princess Parkway, with a lap of honour round the roundabout at the end. Lots of friendly pedestrians and even some friendly motorists. Only one or two idiot drivers but overall a good, safe and quite fast ride around the city ending at Cafe Saki in Rusholme for a brilliant Benefit night.
It makes me proud to be a cyclist!

Friday, 29 February 2008

Crap cycle lanes and Critical Mass

Today is a day for bad cycle lanes and good cycling actions.

Greater Manchester Cycle Campaign invitied me to attend a crap cycle lane which I am sad to say is the Hulme Ward. By the Princess Parkway on the junction of Radnor Street is a 3 metre cycle lane that is more of a liability than of any use.
It is useless, unnecessary and puts cyclists and pedestrians in direct conflict.

Vincent Walsh from GMCC presented me with the Crap Cycle Lanes book, which I have been asked to pass on to Manchester City Council's Cycling Officer.

We had a brief discussion about the transport plans for Manchester and agreed that I should ask for a joint meeting with Council Officers to scrutinise the crap cycle lanes and look forward at the TIF (Transport Innovation Fund) bid to ensure that cycling is placed at the heart of the future transport plans for the city.

The event was covered by both the Manchester Evening News and Channel M, so look out for their coverage too.

And this evening at 6pm it will be time to get on your bike again for the monthly Critical Mass, meeting from 6-630pm for a cycle round the city centre to celebrate the bike and all things cycling.
See the Facebook group for more info, pics etc:

Is it in the bag with Brown?

I read today the laudable words of Gordon Brown on the subject of plastic bags.

Gordon Brown has warned retailers he will force them to cut down on plastic bag use if they do not act voluntarily.

Great Gordon, but why wait? Why does Brtain so often seen as the Dirty Manc of Europe continue to lag behind when countries like Ireland lead the way with their recent ban on plastic bags.
It is inly when legisaltion comes in that a level playing field is created to ensure that all retailers can charge for bags without smaller businesses losing out.
The big chains will benefit from the publicity as they cash in on their Greenwash, only legislation to cover all shops is a fair way to deal with the problem of single-use plastic bags.

And what next for the nations shopping? Paper bags as we see in America?
Let's hop not because recent studies have shown that the production and transportation of paper bags causes more climate change emissions that the single-use plastic bag they seek to replace.
This is one of several environmental conundrums where our elders truly know better, re-usable shopping bags like Granny used to use.

Monday, 25 February 2008

End Manchester to London flights now!

Well done to Greenpeace for their action today highlighting the link between unnecessary domestic flights and dangerous climate change:

Climate campaigners bring peaceful protest to Heathrow

This morning, four of our volunteers have climbed on top of a plane at Heathrow and are wrapping a banner around the tailfin. The plane - one of 32 flights every day between London and Manchester - had just arrived in Heathrow and the passengers had disembarked when four volunteers walked through the double doors at Heathrow Terminal One, crossing an area of tarmac and climbing onto the fuselage of the British Airways flight.

All the panel at the Great Aviation Debate in Manchester last November agreed that we should not fly between Manchester and London. That included the Manchester Airport paid "Professor of Sustainable Aviation", MA's Director of Planning, and the Chair of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

The end of Manchester to London flights is inevitable, and the sooner the better.

Friday, 22 February 2008

The Manchester Evening News is a quality newspaper - myth or reality?

Just when you think they couldn't get any worse, the MEN do something that looks good, but just can't be...and it wasn't.
Before I go on, I must say that I am convinced that there are many good journalists at the MEN, however somewhere in the process of reporting the news, something seems to go badly wrong.

I would love to say "Well done" to the MEN for their piece on Climate Change - lovely picture of the earth of the front cover, but when they asked the question in their Climate Change debate - myth or reality, is Climate Change caused by human activity they set the debate back a good few years.
So, well done Evening News objective acheived. Because of course you don't want to tell the truth, to represent the consensus of Scientists, the IPCC, Kyoto, David King, Bali...etc etc

The question now is how bad will it be, how much of the human population of the planet will be wiped out and how many of our sister species will we take with us.

And the second question is what are we going to do about it?

The answer to the first question, based on current predictions is too scary to publish here - I would rather you read the next bit, than get switched off because of the fear.

In the debate the panel were asked for policy ideas for legislation to help. Kevin Anderson from Manchester Uni's Tyndall Centre said:
  • Ban all sports cars and 4x4's that do less than 50mpg
  • Ban all fridges that are less then A++ rated
  • Ban all power stations that do not use combined heat and power to use the heat that currently goes up the chimney
  • Emissions caps - either individual or per country.
From a Green Party Perspective I'd add:
  • the Climate Change Bill should have a target of 90% reductions by 2030, with 8% year on year cuts.
  • No airport expansion, phase out domestic flights.
  • Renationalise and invest in the rail network.
  • Real integrated transport in all towns and cities.
  • Ban patio heaters.
  • No big business biofuels - the emissions are worse than what they seek to replace.
In this debate progress means insulated houses, community CHP plants, wind turbines and yes, energy effiecient lighbulbs.

Anything else is just human-induced mass suicide.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

From grot to grandeur

Today I visited the Gorton Monastery for the first time since 1996. It is now a conference and banqueting venue which has been restored by the Gorton Monastery Trust. Their website describes how they saved the building from rack and ruin:

Whilst a in a BBC news report the visionary behind the Trust is quoted:
Elaine, 51, from Lower Peover near Knutsford, said: "I can remember the first time I visited the monastery. I was amazed when I came through the doors and thought someone must do something to save it.

What she fails to say is how she came to be walking through those doors. A section of the Monastery's history has been airbrushed from the news reports.

The reality is that a community activist called Cae Guest saw that the Monastery was falling down and set up "The Monastery Campiagn". He squatted the building, started to clean it up, organised open days for the public and acheived extensive media coverage. It was on one of those open days that Mrs Griffiths and her husband who used to be a choirboy at the Monastery
walked through the doors. And I know all this because I was there.
See Moastery Madness article:

Congratulations to them for their years of hard work and fundraising in restoring the building, but don't ignore one of the reasons why it happened: squatting!

Although it was very nice to sit in posh chairs at a posh table with posh vases and posh lunch, I can't help wonder what it would have been like if Cae and the community had access to funding in the way that Elaine Griffiths from Lower Peover, Knutsford did.
The initial plans were for an internet cafe (would have been the first in Gorton), youth club, climbing wall, training space for the unemployed, etc - you get the picture - a community resource in a splendid building...

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Nuts for trees...trees for nuts

I happened to scrutinise an email a received today detailling which streets across the city were getting new or replacement trees planted. After noticing that Chorlton got lots and Hulme only a few I enquired as to whether more could be planted in Hulme.
The answer was "yes" for replacement trees - so quick Hulme residents of you know of a site where we need a replacement tree, contact me now and I'll make sure it's not missed off this season's planting.
As for new trees, now is the time to propose sites for next winter's tree planting, so again, please contact me. I've raised the question of what species of tree will be planted and I'll be putting in requests for nut trees so we can harvest our own nut crops in years to come.
See this link for the Totnes Transition Town nut tree planting project, which is were the inspiration comes from: