I originally stood for election in Belsize because of my concern about climate change. That concern has grown over the years as the science has become clearer. A few mistakes in the scientific literature and a cold winter don’t change the underlying facts. The world is heating up and our weather system is becoming more chaotic because we’re burning fossil fuels at a tremendous rate. It’s a hard message to sell when the evidence isn’t in front of peoples’ eyes, and when the government and media are conveying such muddled messages, but we risk nothing less than making ourselves and all other living creatures on this planet extinct.
An equally urgent reason to act on carbon is peak oil or the end of cheap fossil fuels. This is less well understood in the community at large. We are at or close to the production peak of oil and other fossil fuels. In the industrialised world we have no ready substitutes for the cheap (and polluting) fossil fuels which underpin every aspect of our life and wealth. From now on prices will rise inexorably. If we don’t prepare for life after cheap oil, then we will hit a wall. Very hard.
It’s been a slow and frustrating process trying to change a large bureaucracy like Camden Council, a task made much slower by the anchor effect of being in coalition with the Tories. But thankfully Camden Council has understood the climate message and is taking action – on Monday night the Leader pledged to reduce Camden’s emissions by 40% by 2020 if he and the Lib Dems are re-elected.
More than 100 recommendations made their way from the all-party Sustainability Task Force I chair to become council policy. I’m particularly proud that Camden is soon to get a recycling system which will allow residents to recycle much more and which will actually benefit the planet. The encouragement of food growing and the planting of orchards; emissions-based parking charges and municipal vehicles fuelled by biogas made from food waste; energy efficiency home advisers and low carbon retrofits of Victorian homes – these are all ideas which came from the Task Force.
Planning committee has been transformed in my time at Camden. Now a new building needs a green roof, rainwater harvesting, grey water recycling and it needs to create 20% of its energy needs through renewables. Soon developers will have to aspire to the Passivhaus standard, which means walls so thick that central heating isn’t needed, and pay into an eco fund for any carbon created.
I hope the people of Belsize have been satisfied with my work on their behalf. I’ve battled alongside parents to secure more primary school places, I’ve organised Xmas lights and Eco Weeks, I’ve helped set up food growing sites and I’ve fought to save postal facilities. I’m currently working on a plan to turn Belsize Library into a space that’s better used by the community but with more library hours. Above all I’ve tried to be accessible at all times and to keep residents informed through my regular e-newsletters.
But the thing I’ve most enjoyed about the last four years has nothing to do with my councillor role - it’s Transition Belsize, a community attempt to resolve the issues of climate change and peak oil by building a more resilient society. As a result of going to Transition Belsize workshops this year I’ve learnt to make my own books, darn my socks and draught-bust my flat. I’m part of the Belsize Energy Company (BECY) which is aiming to advise residents on installing photo-voltaic panels. I invented one of three Transition Belsize Pestos which should shortly be available in local shops and restaurants. On behalf of Transition Belsize I’m hoping to get permission from Transport for London to turn the forecourt outside Belsize Park tube station into a food growing showcase. These things give me great hope for the future.
I’ll continue to push for things that are right for our community and for the planet, and to work with environmental groups in the borough through the Camden Climate Action Network (Camden CAN). But I want to try to have wider impact on this agenda. I work one day a week as Councils Coordinator at the 10:10 Campaign. Nearly 150 councils responsible for services to 25m UK residents are now committed to reducing their emissions by 10% in 2010. My aim for the future is to have more impact like that.
I’ve learnt a lot over the last four years. I won’t say it’s been easy – it hasn’t. But I know Camden is a greener place than it was before I was elected, and I’m certain that Camden and her amazing people can and will continue the work to create a truly low carbon society. Residents, businesses, eco-activists, councillors, council officers – working together we can. Camden CAN.