Sunday, 23 December 2018

Rudolph the Reindeer threatened

Where are we on tackling climate change? Judged by actions taken we are not even close to achieving the scale, pace and scope of the changes needed according to the best available scientific evidence.
Judged by words spoken and 'agreements' reached (in Katowice recently; in Paris previously; and on many previous occasions going back for at least 30 years) we are on our way, with common rules on how carbon is to be cut, how finance is supplied to less economically developed countries and how the monitoring of any actions taken will be done.
Am I impressed by the greenspeak? Not at all. What was agreed to in the Paris climate pact: was far too vague; much of it was not legally binding; and would not keep climate change that much below 3 degrees of warming even if fully implemented. In any case what was agreed there has often not been implemented - since the words were spoken carbon emissions have increased further.

The recent climate talks in Katowice nearly failed altogether at one point. A great deal of time has passed since the best scientific evidence told us that we need urgent, large scale and wide ranging action to tackle climate change. Yet only this year, decades on, have common rules on cutting carbon emissions, providing finance and checking on whether commitments made are being adhered to, been agreed.
Legal liability for causing climate change has not been agreed, even though we have continued causing more climate change long after it was known to bring huge problems, whilst storing even more problems for the future. Issues where disagreement persists, such as the rules governing carbon markets, have been kicked down the road to future talks.
Disagreement on how to regard the scientific evidence still persists: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United States all thought it was wrong to welcome the recent UN report which pointed out that far from being on the road to achieving 1.5 degrees of warming (included in the Paris climate pact as an ambition) we are instead heading for 3 degrees. 

Commitments to cut carbon emissions are still entered into on a voluntary basis. The commitments currently made would not cut carbon deeply enough or rapidly enough. Urgency is lacking. Plans are insufficient.  Actions are even more insufficient - or are making things even worse.

The signals that need to be sent to the public, to all levels of government and to the markets, are not being sent. They needed to be sent some time ago.

As things stand we are set to get 4.5 degrees of warming if we take no action. Following our current policies results in 3.5 degrees of warming - and implementing current voluntary commitments results in 2.9 degrees. None of these scenarios will lessen or prevent the serious and large scale consequences of climate change.

The consequences of climate change have already been impacting us seriously, from: huge and increasingly frequent forest fires in the United States; to droughts in and accelerated human migration from Africa; to flooding in Somerset, Gloucestershire and elsewhere; to the health impacts of heatwaves in Australia; to the reduction in the minimum extent of Arctic sea ice from 7.7 million square kilometres in 1980 to 4.4 million in 2018; to the reduction in Arctic reindeer numbers by more than half in the last twenty years. Climate change impacts are everywhere.
If there is a Rudolph the reindeer living somewhere in the Arctic then he is threatened by climate change - with some herds becoming 90% smaller over the last two decades. Why is this happening? Less food energy in, more food energy out, in short. 
Reindeer like to eat lichen. A warmer Arctic climate has resulted in taller plants which outcompete the low growing lichen. In addition there are drought conditions in some parts of the Arctic. In other places there is more rainfall which freezes on the snowy ground, creating a hard layer that reindeer cannot push through to get at the lichen. All this means less reindeer food is available and more time and energy is spent looking for and digging around for it. Warmer conditions also mean higher bug populations which plague the reindeer, who use up a lot of energy trying to get them off or finding places with fewer bugs around.  
Further information:
The Paris climate agreement:
The Katowice talks on climate change:
Arctic Reindeer number cut by half:
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Arctic Report Card, tracking recent environmental changes:  

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Safe Wells Rd Crossing

I have signed the e-petition here calling for a safe crossing on Wells Rd in Knowle between Somerset Rd and Marston Rd. I urge others to sign it, to help in increasing the pressure for safety and security at this location. Here is the full text of the e-petition:

We the undersigned call on Bristol City Council to put in place a safe crossing point on the Wells Road between Somerset Road and Marston Road.

This area of Wells Road is home to several nurseries, a school, care homes, churches, and a GP surgery. It is a natural crossing point for families living on both sides of Wells Road to get local schools and nurseries, parks and other amenities. Currently there is no safe crossing point between the traffic lights at Totterdown shops, and the traffic lights next to Broadwalk Shopping Centre.

The Wells Road has two lanes of busy traffic, as well as a bus lane at this point. There have been several pedestrian accidents and near-misses involving both adults and children, the latest involving a 4-year-old who was hit by a motorcycle in October. We ask the council to act now to improve safety and to prevent other serious and fatal accidents.
To find our more:

You can also help by taking part in survey about known pedestrian accidents and near misses on the Wells Road:
Started by: Ben Smith
This ePetition runs from 05/11/2018 to 31/03/2019.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

What is truth in an era of fake news & post-truth, post-fact, post-reality politics?

This blog post is about truth (and thus, perhaps, falsity?). Its purpose is to provide an overview of current theories of truth, given that some say we are in an era of fake news and post-truth, post-fact and post-reality politics. Terms such as true, fact and reality are being used in ethical and political debate by many - including those claiming to be liberal-minded - as if they are straightforward, beyond debate and a matter that can be definitively settled by certain experts or authorities. 

Is it not rather lazy thinking just to assert that the truth is the truth and fact is fact (?) as well as really not telling us much at all about what this actually means? I'm for a more practical approach in relation to matters of truth, falsehood and uncertainties - an approach which roundly considers: verifiability; warranted assertability; accuracy; success; and good technique & best practice that takes us towards the truth, rather than truth in some absolute, either/or sense based on an 'objectively' perceived 'real world'.   

Why is this important? And why an overview? Its important because of the centrality of truth in debates. Additionally, truth  is a very large subject. It’s also a very varied subject, raising many issues. Truth has been discussed in its own right and in philosophy for thousands of years and is always current. Many issues raised bridge from theories of knowledge to theories of reality. What are the problems of truth? What are truths? What, if anything makes them true? Is there a deep, difficult, discarnate problem of truth?

Lets cut to the chase and consider paradox.Truth seems to denote a property, expressed by the affirmation is true. But if this is so, of what is truth a property? What are the primary bearers of truth? Is it the case that a statement is false if and only if it is not true as two-valued logic (bivalance) tells us?. There are problems here, including: vagueness and uncertainty in the world and our multiple perceptions of it; incompatibility with constructivism; semantic paradoxes eg the liar paradox where a liar says they are lying or that everything they say is false, posing the conundrum that if liar is lying, then they are telling the truth, which in turn means means they are lying.  

Are there greys in the black and white, true or false scheme? Or other ways of thinking about true/false? The principle of bivalance (two-valued) in classical logic says no. But consider the implications of a statement such as 'Don't believe a word I say'. If you don't believe a word I say then you should not believe the statement saying you should not believe me, in which case you should believe me, which means you should not believe me...See the similar example in the image. It appears that there is more to truth than not being false, so what theories of truth are there and what advantages and disadvantages do they have?

Neo-classical theories of truth group into three main types: Coherence theory; Correspondence theory; Pragmatist theories.

Coherence theory of truth: the truth is when a proposition coheres with others ie it is a member of a well defined body of other propositions (consistent, coherent, possibly with other advantages). We commonly test our beliefs in the light of other beliefs, including perceptions; and cannot step outside our own best system of belief. But what does cohere mean? And don’t some propositions have to be assigned a truth-value independently?

The correspondence theory of truth: when what is said about the world is true it depends on how the world is. Propositions are true if and only if they correspond with the facts (or something equivalent). This theory - perhaps the most prevalent one -  has these advantages: it is simple observation based; it has strong intuitive appeal. But we have no access to facts independently of the statements and beliefs we hold: so what is our fix on facts? Whose facts and reality and interpreted from what perspective? Facts and their interpretation are often nothing like as straightforward as they seem - especially in ethics and politics.

Pragmatist theories of truth: the focus is the usefulness and practical value of accepting a proposition (James/Peirce); truth is the end of inquiry (Peirce). A precise, settled, definitive view of truth within pragmatism is perhaps more difficult to pin down than for correspondence and coherence theories.  However, we can say that there is a strong connection with accuracy, success, good technique & best practice…making meaning through use possible. But this perhaps raises the question of whether there are false things it might be useful to accept and true things that it wouldn’t be useful to accept (though this assumes just two categories, true and false - and most of science can be regarded as taking us towards the truth rather than being true in an absolute sense).

Slogans used in reviews of the theories of truth sum up some of what I've said so far. A belief is true if and only if it corresponds to a fact (correspondence theory). A belief is true if and only if it is part of a coherent, consistent system of beliefs (coherence theory). Truth is the end of inquiry; truth is what it is satisfactory to believe (pragmatist theory).

Lets turn now to contrasting correspondence and coherence theories. Correspondence: seeks to capture intuition; there is a content to world relation; there is object to world pair up with true propositions;  it tends towards a realist metaphysics, though not all adherents take this stance. Coherence: not content to world but content to content or belief to belief; tends to anti-realist metaphysics, though not all adherents take this stanceReification, making something real or concrete, is an issue for both correspondence and coherence theories of truth however - because some noun has a use then they assume there must be something to which it refers either in the world or within a system of beliefs. Having a noun does not have to mean having a distinct topic and a whole lot of deep, difficult and discarnate metaphysics theory to go with it. 

But can the problems posed by paradoxes be overcome? This brings us to Tarski and the semantic theory of truth. He was concerned to overcome semantic paradoxes that occur in natural languages. He said truth can only be defined for a language that does not contain its own truth-predicate. Tarski defined truth for an object language, a natural language, in an appropriate metalanguage. His theory finds quite broad-based positive evaluation mostly though not only from adherents of correspondence and/or deflationary theories of truth (see later). It provides a useful toolbox for philosophers to use but it is controversial just how legitimate the appropriation of Tarski’s ideas is eg for giving a semantically sound description of natural languages.

In broad terms each neo-classical theory of truth is related to a particular metaphysical stance: realism or anti-realism.

Features of realism: the world exists objectively, independent of how we think about or describe it; our thoughts and claims are about that world; tending to unrestricted use of the principle of bivalence. One can generalise about realist metaphysics but its complicated by a variety of possible subtleties and stances. Realism is associated, though not exclusively, with adherents of correspondence theory. Issue: how can realists make or refrain from making statements whilst fruitfully mounting a philosophical gloss on what they are doing as they make the statements (a point well made by verificationists, some pragmatists, and minimalists). How can humans objectively know and make claims about the world independent of themselves?

Features of anti-realism: rejection of bivalence (two-valued logic); claims are correct subject to verification; identification of truth with warranted assertability; has idealism as its most radical form. One can generalise about anti-realist metaphysics but it is complicated by a variety of possible subtleties and stances. Anti-realism is associated, though not exclusively, with coherentism  (and some pragmatism). But is it not an obvious fact that we do not create worlds but find ourselves in one? Perhaps but we cannot make claims about the world completely separate from our thoughts about it and our observations of it - objectivity is at the least a problematic thing.

Truth pluralism: proposes that there are multiple ways for truth bearers to be true (depending on the domains of discourse a correspondence, coherence or pragmatist approach may be best; Wright). The implication, it seems, is that there are multiple concepts of truth or that the concept true is ambiguous (this is debated). An interesting pluralist development (Lynch) talks of the functional role of truth and of truth be realised in different ways in different settings (multiple realisability). Making claims about material objects for instance may be very different from making moral, ethical and political claims.

Deflationism (in brief): redundancy and minimalist theories of truth, as opposed to the substantive theories: correspondence; coherence; pragmatic (though the division is not always that clear cut).

Truth and language relate closely. The key issues and concepts here are - what are the primary truth bearers (beliefs, propositions, sentences, utterances…)? What conditions must the world meet if the statement is to be true (truth conditions)? For many approaches to truth, a theory of truth is a theory of truth conditions. Positions taken depend on one’s metaphysical stance (or lack of any significant metaphysics in one’s stance). 

Theories of truth that are theories of truth conditions can be seen as part of a theory of meaning (Glanzberg). But how do we get from sounds, inscriptions…to communications and understanding? How is meaning related to what we know (if it is)? Study: noises; grammatical sentences; saying something meaningful; what is done in saying things; effects on hearers…Issues: loss of confidence in determinate meaning (see postmodern and Quinean critiques).

Finally to the matter of assertion. Platitude: Truth is the aim of assertion (asserts Dummett!). But surely many speakers don’t aim at truth? There’s more behind the platitude than is first apparent though (assertion as a practice in which certain rules are constitutive; the point of the concept of truth or what it is used for).


Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The case for bespoke, co-designed, residents parking schemes

Residents parking schemes are a way of regulating and controlling parking in particular places where a need is established. In cities especially they are one key part of the jigsaw of sustainable transport along with walking, cycling, trains, buses and safe speeds in residential areas.

There are clear indications of demand in parts of Bristol for a new residents parking scheme to be established (as in Totterdown, where a Labour Councillor has expressed his frustration with the current process). There are also clear indications that some existing schemes should be expanded (as in Southville, where Green Councillors have worked for this but have been thwarted). Yet Bristol's Mayor Marvin Rees (who halted the residents parking scheme roll out planned under previous Mayor George Ferguson) and Council have made it clear that the onus is on local councillors to demonstrate overwhelming demand - and have provided obstacles rather than support.

South Bristol Voice, March 2018
Controlled parking gives residents and those who visit them a greater likelihood of being able to park close to their home through the issuing of permits eg for those living close to and in shopping areas or places attracting traffic seeking to park for other reasons. Residents parking schemes are particularly justified where there just isn't the space for those living in an area to park. This may be due to current restrictions. It may be due to significant take up of parking space by visitors or commuters parking. 

In addition to prioritising parking for residents and those who visit them, residents parking schemes need to take account of a range of other factors.  These include: the requirements of pedestrians, people with disabilities and cyclists; customers to shops & attractions; essential business users; visitors to community facilities; loading; discouraging of long stay commuter parking on street; managing dangerous and inconsiderate parking; reducing congestion; encouraging more & better public transport.

These are the sort of criteria that need to be generally satisfied to begin to design a scheme: a majority of residents have parking problems; parking spaces are regularly taken up by extraneous vehicles; less than half of residents can park off the road (in conservation areas this guideline might be relaxed); the area concerned is mostly residential; there is genuine engagement by the authorities with locals and plenty of reasonable opportunities for a wide range of people to be involved; traffic management needs are met; schemes will be implemented via suitable Traffic Regulation Orders.

When designing residents parking schemes (best done in close collaboration with each local community ie co-design) the rationale should involve providing for a variety of residential, retail and other businesses, education, community facilities and visitor attractions. In the past Bristol's approach has worked to have: permit-only bays where predominantly residential; pay & display around retail & employment centres; shared bays where mix of retail/business & residential; safety and congestion related waiting restrictions.

Types of parking permits made available can range widely beyond residents and visitors such as relatives, to business, education, medical, traders and more. Many variations in number of permits, registrations per permit, free permits to meet particular needs and vehicle types, cost of permits for different categories and more are possible. Areas covered and the times within which rules and charges apply can be varied. There is a lot of flexibility and local authorities should be able to offer everyone support, information and advice on travel and parking.

Residential parking can and should be co-designed with communities and neighbourhoods to establish bespoke schemes to meet local needs.  I worry that due to some of the history of the implementation of residents parking schemes in Bristol we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater - we need a lead from the Mayor, Council and MPs to enable a democratic and strategic approach.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Additional car parking in Broadmead re-development plans

Here is copy of my objection to proposals for 580 new car parking spaces as part of plans being put forward to redevelop Broadmead. Planning application number 16/06594/P can still be commented on here Green Councillor Charlie Bolton's petition opposing the additional car parking can be signed here.

As a regular user of the Broadmead area I object to the plans  as they currently are.  In the main this is because of the inclusion of a very large number of additional car parking spaces in a central part of the city. Additional car parking like this acts as a magnet for traffic and is thus a significant negative.
The city is often traffic congested already and as a consequence air pollution frequently exceeds EU and WHO standards and is therefore unhealthy. The Mayor has only recently set up a group of councillors to look at the establishment of a clean air zone.
Decisions taken on planning applications should be consistent with all council policies and general direction of travel, if the city is to develop in a manner that makes overall sense. To approve hundreds of additional centrally located parking spaces runs against action needed to clean up city air. Bristol needs to harmonise planning policies, practices and decisions with sustainable transport so that one doesn't contradict the other as it so often does.
I urge the committee to make the required connections across a range of economic, planning, transport, health, environmental and other policy areas. We need to get a coordinated, coherent fully 21st century response to problems both planned and implemented, including properly planned access into and around the city via public transport, cycling and walking. Many cities across the world, Europe in particular, have moved and are moving away from allowing cars in their central area.
One of the reasons that Ljubljana turned itself into one of Europe's green capitals is because of the action it took against cars in its city centre. One of the reasons for the green capital initiative is that cities should learn from each others experiences.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Bristol's Cuts Consultations

Why do Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees consultations on the deep cuts in local services he and the Labour controlled Council propose only offer options that mean cuts? It's hardly fair and complete. It's hardly consistent with the Mayor's promotion of the Bristol People's Assembly rally against cuts (the Mayor has not explicitly and pointedly called for cuts in services to end and be reversed). Wouldn't a Mayor and Labour controlled Council that wanted to fight against cuts forced on local administrations by central government consult people earlier and more completely? Wouldn't they ask people completing the surveys if they were opposed to cuts and the austerity agenda so that full stats could be used to back any case made to government for proper local government funding?

There's a lot about the consultations that is disturbing. The language used is very revealing. Control of the agenda is retained by the Mayor and Labour controlled Council rather it than being offered to Bristol's people. In place of words like cuts in budgets/services the consultations use language such as 'difficult decisions', 'services needing to change', 'spending in the best ways', 'new services' and 'savings'. Participation at its best is all about: open exchange of ideas; mutual understanding; effective, timely information; promoting trust; highlighting decision-making processes; dealing with complex, controversial issues; unique insights; serving each other. Participation ideally develops a common view, a sense of purpose – and allows people and communities to take control and set agendas. The Mayor and Council have strictly limited the options in the surveys - despite saying repeatedly that they want to be open and that nothing is off the table!

Like me, many involved in local politics and community activity are concerned that a lot of people still don't even know about the Bristol City Council consultations on significant cuts in their local services. Only a tiny fraction of the public have taken part. The online surveys can still be completed up to the consultation end date of 5 September. Paper copies of the surveys are in local libraries (before the cuts close many of them!). I attended one eight local meetings held in various parts of Bristol on some of the proposed cuts, though the last of these meetings took place on 24 July, quite a way before the consultation ends - and no further meetings were scheduled. The timing of the consultations over the Summer is far from the best to maximise participation, with politics dialling down somewhat, kids home from school, people on holiday, and many students not now in the city.  

I urge people to contribute their views - and to make maximum use of the blank boxes asking for further or additional comments rather than just saying which local services to cut or how they should be cut which is what the options offered in the survey direct you towards. I urge people to seek out and support the people and organisations campaigning to save local services, such as through signing and sharing petitions. Local services whose budgets are being cut include: day services for adults with learning difficulties, dementia, physical and sensory impairment and social care needs; libraries; public toilets; school crossing patrols; neighbourhood partnerships; and supported living accommodation for people with mental health issues or a learning difficulty,  sheltered housing, advice services and floating support for people in their own homes. This is by no means a comprehensive list. To add insult to injury the Mayor and Labour run Council are also proposing cuts to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, imposing a tax rise on 25,000 of the very poorest people in Bristol (though Green and Lib Dem Councillors say the consultation on this may be illegal - see here and here).

I don't agree with the repeated use of the term 'saving's with respect to the cuts proposed as local services serve a multitude of community functions the loss of which is a cost not a saving. We need to be investing in services not cutting or removing the budget for them. The Mayor only offers a choice of which raft of libraries should close in the consultation. Several libraries are set to close in all the options offered.

It's a very, very limited and ultra-narrow consultation that only offers the one choice of a pifflingly small amount of money or zero money for public toilet provision. Bristol is a wealthy city that features a lot of leisure and recreational activity from those who live here. The city also attracts a lot of tourists from other parts of the UK and from abroad. It's reasonable to expect the city to have a decent number of public toilets available, especially in locations where other toilet facilities are not present such as away from shops, pubs and cafes.  Any true savings from cutting the budget for public toilets to virtually zero needs to be offset by costs to the image and reputation of the city and thus its appeal to its own citizens and tourists when they go out and spend their money here.

The consultations assume that a purely technical, data-based method of establishing whether it's ok for school safety/crossing patrols (lollipop persons) to be removed is an acceptable approach.  The PV squared method the consultation gives information on is a purely and narrowly utilitarian one. It says that additional road crossing risk in certain places can be acceptable after the removal of a lollipop person. Parents, grandparents, carers, children, school staff, road users and people in neighbourhoods around all schools, especially nursery and primary schools, want safe routes to all schools. They know that a lollipop person adds to safety and that therefore removing them reduces safety - and that is simply wrong and not something one can put an acceptability figure on via a technical calculation. Road users make mistakes, run through traffic lights and across zebra crossings. Children crossing roads make mistakes and can be unaware or careless. We should keep the safety for children and not make these cuts. There is no better provision than a lollipop person. All other options (which the consultation asks about) are second best, or worse, for children and that is not acceptable.

At the consultation meeting I attended and when filling in the consultation forms I proposed that the Mayor asks officers to prepare a total cost-benefit analysis for all proposed cuts compared with the current situation and also what could be achieved over time with further investment.  The three scenarios could/should then be used as part of any case put to central government for more money eg in the lobbying process this September and in the Green Paper the Mayor has referred to.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Bomb - and the Balance of Terror

After the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, 6 August 1945

America then demonstrated the ability and willingness to use nuclear weapons to kill on a scale and with a speed previously unmatched. 

We have 'progressed' to being able to kill on an even bigger scale now  -  and with even more countries able to do so.

The threatened or actual use of nuclear weapons cannot be consistent with justice. Why?

  • Nuclear weapons are indiscriminate, killing civilians and military alike 
  • They bring about mass destruction on the scale of cities, societies - potentially human civilisation itself - and all life present in very large land areas 

Using nuclear weapons would be committing mass suicide and so can't be legitimately considered a defence. We can't expect to be able to forever sustain a world that relies on the threat of mutual, indiscriminate mass destruction because at some point, by accident or design, nuclear weapons will again be used.    

The theory of mutually assured destruction (MAD) says using nuclear weapons causes the complete destruction of all sides. The claim is that there is a deterrent effect which stops all sides from using them.

With a balance of terror no side would want to start a nuclear conflict. However, no side would want to give up its nuclear weapons either. This leaves a sustainability issue, with current and future generations stuck with a nuclear balance of terror, spending billions updating the weaponry to maintain it.

There are clearly problems with the mutual destruction, nuclear deterrence theory which illustrate the need for nuclear disarmament:

  • decision makers will come along who are not entirely rational: rogue commanders; extremists; people with a fervour for mass destruction; those with the bunker mentality of Hitler
  • at some point a decision maker will decide irrationally not to avoid mutual destruction
  • the complete and error-free information and interpretation required for fully rational action is not possible
  • a side might gain the upper hand technologically, gaining greater speed, stealth or scale in its attack or ability to defend itself  - therefore they may be tempted into striking first
  • errors or accidents in the equipment and procedures will at some point result in the firing of nuclear weapons, so their continued possession passes the threat from generation to generation 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Public funding of public parks as a public good

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees is pictured in today's Bristol Post promoting the city as European City of Sport

At the same time he plans to withdraw ALL council funding for public parks where a lot of sporting activity takes place (more on this issue here; sign the petition opposing the plans here). 

I urge him to change his incoherent and unacceptable plans to abandon all funding for our parks and instead support public funding of public parks as a public good.

See the case for the idea of public provision of services here. Also see here on how and why city green spaces are of great value. 

Saturday, 22 July 2017

21st Century Transport Plan?

Building the M32 right into the city beginning in the 1960s was 20th century transport practice. Cabot Circus shopping centre with a large, centrally located car park to act as a magnet for vehicles and the South Bristol Link (Road) were built in the 21st century but show 20th century transport thinking and practice. 

The latest West of England transport report 'leaked' to the local media' includes some, though not sufficient, good ideas on public transport, parking cost and provision in the most built up places, walking and cycling and - up to a point - new transport technologies, as well as a sizeable investment figure of £8.9 billion. The figure is the sort of size needed to establish a much more sustainable transport system in Bristol and the surrounding area but unfortunately significant parts of the plans assessed in the report would take us away from what we can sustain economically, socially and environmentally. 

An underground network for Bristol is technically difficult but possible, though prohibitively expensive, if the scale involved is large. In any case it doesn't address the cause of our transport unsustainability: transport intensive lifestyles. A major civil engineering project would have massive opportunity costs. Money spent on a large scale underground would be much better spent elsewhere eg subsidising bus and train fares. Large cost increases and delays in underground completion are quite likely - just look at the history of major building projects. If we can't get an Arena built to time and cost in Bristol how can we get an underground network? There is no pure technofix for our transport problems - we need proper technology assessment and a whole range of social, political, economic and technical changes to get to sustainable transport.

Including more motorway and road developments and other ways in which the capacity for travel would be further stimulated - as the leaked report does - means more traffic, greater resource consumption and higher not lower environmental impacts. New traffic is diverted onto new roads. New trips are made. Longer distances are travelled. All caused by the availability of new roads and linkages. Building more roads is a highly discredited idea but clearly it hasn't stopped them from being proposed. The evidence on induced traffic is not being acted on.

Taken overall the latest West of England transport report show that key features of conventional 20th century transport thinking is still with very much us. Little wonder that transport problems like congestion and air pollution persist. 

To properly address transport problems local and central government need to be working together with local people: first and foremost to reduce the need and demand for all transport to begin with, such as through the provision of local services, facilities and jobs. The priorities then should be:
  • shifting from high impact means of transport such as cars and lorries to lower impact means such as light rail, trams, walking and cycling - transferring parts of the existing transport infrastructure to more sustainable methods
  • reducing the impact severity of all the most polluting means of travel in all the most polluted places, tackling diesel fuelled vehicles especially - and implementing clean air zones which restrict and charge the most polluting vehicles from entry (reinvesting the money raised into public transport, walking and cycling)
  • harmonising planning policies and practices with sustainable transport so that one doesn't contradict the other as it so often does
  • establishing a truly strategic, integrated approach across the West Country area
  • bringing back the public service ethos of public transport
  • making the price of methods of travel fairly reflect their actual total costs (buses, trains, trams should be made a lower cost option relative to cars and lorries, in part using money raised from clean air zone charging - plus parking revenue)

A lot of the above is developed in the Good Transport Plan for Bristol.

Decision makers need to get up to date. They need to make the required connections across a range of economic, planning, transport, health, environmental and other policy areas. We need to get a coordinated, coherent fully 21st century response to problems both planned and implemented. 

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Leaders need to take responsibility for their actions and inactions

An edited version of the first part of my recent blog post 'Opposing cuts in services' was published as a letter in the Bristol Post. It has sparked a reply, which is great because the more we discuss austerity and cuts and the need to oppose them, reverse them, and invest in our future wellbeing instead, the better. 

Below is a copy of my response:

I'm glad that there is some common ground between myself and Bob Farmer, who replied (Post 19 July) to my letter of 12 July about the deep cuts in local public services being made by Bristol's Labour Mayor Marvin Rees. Bob and I agree that central government are the primary cause of the cuts.

The Conservative Lib-Dem Coalition followed by the David Cameron and Theresa May Conservative Government's austerity policies have cut budgets for most government departments, cut funding that goes to local government, cut public-sector wages, cut benefits, cut spending by government - and increased the overall tax burden at the same time. This is very poor economics with very bad social, economic and environmental consequences.

Bob says that it's not helpful to blame Bristol's Mayor for the local cuts. I disagree because the Mayor has done too little, too late to make the case for more money for Bristol from the Government. He has to take some responsibility for his actions as the elected leader of Bristol. 

Instead of it being his first and urgent action when elected in 2016 it has taken him a year to get together with the other core cities - all Labour run - to begin to make a case. Green Councillors urged him to take this action a year ago. As Bob himself points out, the Government can and has found money, doing a £1.5 billion deal with the DUP to keep itself in power. It is vulnerable to pressure - but pressure from Bristol and the other core cities is lacking at present.

Bob refers to the situation Mayor Rees has inherited as 'untenable to most of us'. I agree but untenable means it cannot be maintained or defended, which means it should be changed and opposed. Mayor Rees is enabling the untenable situation to continue by setting budgets that go along with it, rather than fighting tooth and nail for more local government funding.

Reflections on leadership and how cities should be lead