Tuesday, 6 February 2007

We've had this green debate before!!

Is this the standard of 'green' debate we should expect in Bristol? Bristol Conservative leader Councillor Richard Eddy, photographed of course - since all Conservatives were really Greens all along - looking very concerned that newspapers are not being recycled at the city council, ' slagging off ' Councillor Gary Hopkins and his Lib-Dem colleagues as 'two-faced' ('Recycling - is it one rule for us and another for the council?', Post, February 6). Councillor Hopkins of course has a go back, in characteristically bruising style. Both claim to be Green these days, because they feel (as they have done in the past) that there are votes in it of course, but engage in the debate in the most un-green manner!

Councillors Eddy and Hopkins both seem to have a particular fixation with recycling, as if it is an end in itself! This one feature of politicians who are not Green but who are trying to appear Green. Actually recycling is far from the top of the list as far as being environmentally friendly is concerned. The first priority is waste reduction or minimisation and on this basis I'd be asking why there are so many newspapers at the council that need dealing with in the first place! After reduction comes the reuse of objects so that they do not enter the waste stream: for example the refilling of bottles. It's not until one gets down to the third level in the waste management hierarchy that one gets to recycling, composting and the recovery of energy from waste and yet much of the focus is here, both in government targets and council action.

Real Greens would be campaigning hard to emphasise the need for reduction and for reuse as our top priorities instead of quibbling over a relatively small point about city council newspaper recycling, the solution to which appears to be forthcoming anyway! However, I've no doubts that Councillor Eddy has achieved his political objective of getting some significant publicity by appearing to be concerned about so-called 'green issues'.

My great fear when I see and take part in the Green debate of today is that we have been here before. Back in the late eighties and early nineties there was a surge of interest in and concern for all things Green, as there is now. Politicians in the big parties suddenly 'became green' and claimed to have green policies. Yet if they had and they had followed through on those policies nearly twenty years on we would surely expect far fewer problems rather than the greater problems we actually have!

Something I wrote back in summer 1990, in response to Bristol City Council's Green Charter, is as worryingly relevant today as it was then:

'Can the institutions and decision making processes and politicians who have been in power and caused the problem really be trusted to solve it? Will they compromise at crunch points, as has happened over the years which have brought us to this point? Indeed we must ask whether the political will for real action can exist without Green Party councillors on the City Council. One of the big dangers is that people will feel that everything is ok because 'the council is doing something' when nothing fundamental has changed and environmental problems are more urgent than ever. It is vital that everyone keeps the pressure for action on, and remembering the kind of politicians that have given us our problems we must all beware of 'greenspeak'.'

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