‘A game of cat and mouse that would define the evening’s disturbances’

Eye witness: Mare Street 08/08/2011

Scenes of police officers fighting running battles with mobs of teenagers haunt the capital this week. But at 4pm on Monday afternoon a seemingly peaceful crowd gathered at the corner of Mare Street and Amhurst Road in Hackney, North London.

The small group — which surrounded 10 or 12 police officers who had attempted to search a young man — was made up of an unexpected cross section of the local community. While hooded youths were dispersed in the group there was also a large contingent of elder residence and onlookers.  Mothers with children in prams and community leaders, like the local vicar, were among those gathered as a third day of violence loomed over London.

It was ten minutes later as police reinforcements arrived through the grounds of the St Johns at Hackney church that temperatures began to rise among the crowd. Around 30 officers formed a cordon as they attempted to arrest one young man and move him to an awaiting police van.  In doing so they enraged some members of the growing crowd, still largely made up of spectators, who surrounded the police as they tried to move away from the church grounds.

The corner of Mare Street and Amhurst Road where a heavy police presence appeared to antagonise the crowd

Tensions increased and the tipping point between peace and disorder approached as a single brick thrown from the crowd made contact with a helmetless-officer.  The attack changed the atmosphere immediately. Within minutes riot police formed a cordon around the injured officer (pictured) as reinforcements and police dog units made their way to the scene.

Police make a protective cordon around an injured officer before moving rioters along Mare Steet

As one teenager, no older than 16, posed for photos in front of a police van, an officer, clad in riot gear, pushed him out of the way with his shield. A chorus of protest rang out from the crowd of spectators, many videoing the unfolding saga on smartphones.  The officer, struggling to supress his rage, told the teenager that his colleague had been injured and that it was no longer a joke.  Police officers now appeared agitated and angry, while eager to protect their fellow officers and prevent riots of the scale seen across London on Sunday night.

Police became increasingly agitated after an officer was injured

One onlooker, attempting to control his two dogs amid the panic, tried to justify the violence. “This has been coming for a long time. They asked for discussions with police and it didn’t happen, so now they’re doing this,” he shouted.

It soon became clear the police were waiting for reinforcements to amass before charging the crowd and as the police lines moved South on Mare Street the majority of the onlookers tried to move out of harm’s way but were hampered by gridlocked traffic in all directions.

The size of the crowd rapidly increased in the next few minutes, as hooded youths swarmed in from the South. Masked groups appeared from side streets to launch bricks and pieces of wood at police before disappearing down alleyways in a game of cat and mouse that would come to define the evening’s disturbances.

At 4.45pm a helicopter circled low overhead while police looked on helplessly as a patrol car was pelted with bricks before two rioters calmly walked forward and threw a dustbin through the shattered windscreen.

The lawlessness spread back from the police lines as groups of youths, some making vein attempts to obscure their faces and others wearing motorbike helmets, broke up curb stones to provide more ammunition, laughing joyfully as they launched rocks towards the police. Among the chaos on what is normally a busy shopping street an increasing number of onlookers, some clearly on their way home from work and others looking to grab a snapshot of the disturbance, became caught up in the violence.

As the number of rioters continued to swell, police charges succeeded in driving the rioters into side streets along Mare Street where the chaos began to fully unfold as youths torched cars, vandalised buses and looted shops into the early hours of Tuesday morning.


European airlines to start controversial biofuel-powered flights

The use of plant-based fuels for flights, backed by the EU, could contribute to higher food prices and increased greenhouse gas emissions

The airlines announced their plans to switch to biofuels at the Paris Air Show this week

Europe’s biggest airlines, including British Airways, Lufthansa and KLM have announced a major biofuels drive despite UN calls to limit biofuel growth.

A glitzy gathering of the elite of Europe’s airline industry in Paris this week saw the launch of a major PR offensive to highlight the move towards replacing fossil fuels with biofuels- liquid fuels made from crops plants such as oil palm and jatropha.

The EU has set targets for 10 per cent of transport fuels to come from renewable sources – as part of that it is now pushing for the aviation sector to use two million tonnes of biofuel, mostly oil palm, each year by 2020.

However, environmental groups believe aviation’s demand for biofuels will increase the expansion of oil palm in the tropics, leading to destruction of rainforest in countries like Indonesia and Cameroon. While the UN says paying for the production of crops like oil palm or jatropha for biofuels removes the availability of land for food crops and puts increasing pressure on food prices.

Airlines believe they can reduce their carbon footprint using biofuels but experts are unconvinced

Biofuel production will need to increase dramatically to meet the two million tonnes target, which is the equivalent of filling the petrol tanks of 40 million cars. Campaigners say an area the size of Belgium will be needed to grow enough plants to meet this demand.

 Read the full article at the Ecologist

Black carbon: how reducing it could slow global warming and lift the Asian smog

Emissions of short-lived pollutants like black carbon can be reduced and provide quick reductions in climate change and improvements in air quality. The Ecologist reports

Filters on diesel vehicles could reduce black carbon emissions and slow global warming

Black carbon – which gives soot its black colouring – is the result of incomplete fossil fuel and wood combustion and is emitted as particles into the atmosphere. The main sources being diesel vehicles and in less industrialised countries from the burning of biomass.

Up in the atmosphere it absorbs sunlight and increases air temperature, while on the ground it adds to air pollution, particularly in urban areas. It can also darken snow and ice, increasing absorption of sunlight and has been linked to accelerating melting of the Arctic.

The contribution of black carbon to warming is thought to be 100-2000 times greater than CO2. However, it has a much shorter lifetime, staying in the atmosphere for only a number of days or weeks compared to 100 years for carbon dioxide (CO2), meaning benefits from reducing emissions will be rapidly noticeable.

In a study this week, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) estimate we could quickly reduce ‘near-term’ global warming by 0.5 degrees Celsius by tackling black carbon emissions. Reduction measures would have an even greater benefit in the Arctic where it could reduce warming by 0.7 degrees.

This represents as much as two-thirds of change anticipated in sensitive Arctic regions and could help to stem irreversible changes including melting of ice and release of methane from permafrost.

A small number of measures to reduce emissions, including particle filters on diesel vehicles and methane capture from waste management, were identified that would produce immediate benefits.

The report was released at the latest UN climate change meeting in Bonn, Germany, where delegates met to discuss strategies for tackling climate change ahead of the next major UN climate conference (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa, this November.

A reduction of 0.5 degrees could prove vital for nations who agreed to limit global warming to two degrees at last years UN climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, and may lead nations to agree to a more ambitious 1.5 degree limit in the future.

Read the full story a the Ecologist

How one town foiled energy giant ‘bribes’ over renewable grid

Originally published 9th May, 2011

As Germany attempts to abandon nuclear power, one small town has successfully overcome industry intimidation and begun its own post-nuclear age

Merkel abandoned plans to prolong the lifetime of 17 nuclear power plants in the face of wide protests

Earlier this year German chancellor Angela Merkel announced plans to phase out nuclear power and placed a moratorium on nuclear power which has closed all pre-1980’s plants until early June.

Germany’s plans to exit nuclear power follow widespread protests by anti-nuclear campaigners and growing fears over radiation leaks at the Fukushima power station. A switch from nuclear to renewable energy represents a complete reversal by the German government, who last year had announced their intentions to extend the life of 17 nuclear plants for an average of 12 years.

Despite Merkel’s U-turn, which many saw as political opportunism, the anti-nuclear Green Party continue to gain electoral support and won a recent local election in the country’s south-west. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union lost control of Baden-Wuerttemberg state for the first time in 58 years, demonstrating the increasing opposition to nuclear power in Germany.

While the German government bows to growing concern among voters, one town in the picturesque Black Forest region has already moved into a post nuclear age in a revolutionary story of ‘civic uprising’ against energy monopolies.

Electricity rebels

An energy company, owned and managed by local townspeople, have been supplying the town of Schönau, in South Germany, with nuclear-free energy for more than 20 years.

Following the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine and amid concerns of nuclear fallout across Europe, the citizens of Schönau decided to take matters into their own hands. Later that year, Parents for a Nuclear Free Future (PNFF), led by Ursula Sladek, who recently won the Goldman Environmental Prize, was established to campaign for renewable sources of energy, free from the dangers of radiation.

Ursula Sladek led a group of citizens to reclaim their power grid

‘[After Chernobyl ] we thought now is the time when things are going to change. But the government and energy suppliers didn’t want any changes, so we realised it was going to be our job to do this. We had to do something now.’ Sladek told the Ecologist.

Read the full article at the Ecologist

Germany joins up with Lufthansa to sponsor biofuel six times worse than fossil fuels

Campaigners are outraged over airline Lufthansa and German government funding for jatropha biofuels trial

European airline Lufthansa is running a six-month biofuel trail using jatropha

The German government is financing a leading European airline’s biofuel trials despite claims from environmental groups it could cause emissions six time greater than fossil fuels.

A total €2.5 million of government money is being ploughed into the six month biofuel trial run by leading European airline Lufthansa, who will be partly financing the €6.6 million project.

Attempts are being made to source jatropha oil for biofuel test flights which aim ‘at reducing overall emissions in air traffic’. However, environmental groups have raised concerns over the use of jatropha as a biofuel crop. A recent report by ActionAid and RSPB found that the development of jatropha plantations would produce 2.5 to six times more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.

‘Jatropha is far from the ‘sustainable’ fuel that it is made out to be by the aviation industry. In fact, it could end up increasing carbon emissions,’ says Tim Rice, ActionAid’s biofuels expert.

Campaigners believe developing new jatropha plantations leads to the loss of indigenous communities’ farmland and are making life more difficult for people in less industrialised countries.

Read the full story at the Ecologist

Only a quarter of UK population concerned about climate change

Twice as many people in India and Japan rank climate change as one of the most important environmental issues, highlighting the challenge facing UK policymakers and climatologists

Experts believe last year’s notoriously cold British winter may explain why people in the UK are less concerned about climate change.

Only a quarter of Britons believe climate change is one of the most important environmental issues facing the UK today, according to a survey conducted by Ipsos MORI and released to the Ecologist this week.

Ambivalence in the UK is in sharp contrast to Asian countries like India, South Korea and Japan where 50 per cent of those polled consider climate change to be one of the most important environmental issues.

The MORI poll involved more than 18,000 people across the world, who were asked to choose the three most important environmental issues facing their country. Of the 24 countries surveyed, the UK was among the least concerned about climate change, with energy security, waste disposal and overpopulation listed as the most pressing environmental issues. Other European countries showed similar results to UK, with people in Germany and Sweden principally concerned with sources of future energy supplies.

Climate researchers put the difference, in part, on the countries susceptibility to climate change. ‘India has much less resilience to climate change and less money for adaptation and mitigation. They have an extremely large population in coastal cities which are sensitive to rising sea levels,’ says Professor Corrine Le Quere, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change. ‘Bangladesh is also the neighbouring country which is very sensitive to rising sea levels so they might have immigration coming from Bangladesh.’

Read the full story at the Ecologist

Disney caught up in carbon offsetting controversy

Disney avoids emission cuts by investing $15.5 million in carbon offsetting schemes criticised by campaigners, including projects soon to be banned in the EU

Disney admitted spending $15.5 million on carbon offsetting schemes

Disney – the media company behind Mickey Mouse and world famous theme parks – has become the latest in a long line of multinational organisations to finance carbon offsetting schemes, which campaign groups say fail to reduce climate change and instead create ways to avoid cutting emissions.

The company recently admitted to spending $15.5 million in carbon offsetting schemes, including forest protection, reforestation and the destruction of industrial gases.

Carbon offsetting involves paying into a project that prevents carbon emissions from somewhere else or removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere in order to compensate for your own emissions. The voluntary sector alone has ballooned in size over the past decade and was worth an estimated $387 million in 2009. There is also a bigger compliance sector, which allows countries to meet carbon emission reduction targets more easily by offsetting their emissions.

Voluntary offsetting has become increasingly popular with companies but critics say it allows them to continue as normal instead of trying to significantly reduce their emissions.

‘Companies should be doing all they can to reduce their carbon emissions through energy efficiency and adopting new processes. However, often the easiest thing to do is get a bit of green PR by buying offsets overseas and declaring themselves to be carbon neutral,’ says Mike Childs, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth.

Read the full story at the Ecologist