Cardiff Friends of the Earth Newsletter - Spring 2000

Traffic jams or traffic reduction?

In October 1998 the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott committed the Government to the reduction of overall traffic levels in Britain by getting people out of their cars and onto their feet, bicycles and public transport. "I agree to keep that commitment" he promised, "judge me by my performance in five years."

Two years later and the Government forecasts a bleak situation for Britain's roads. The Commission for Integrated Transport believes that if no action is taken, we will see a 35 percent increase in traffic and a 65 percent increase in congestion on British roads by 2010.

Friends of the Earth and other organisations are campaigning for a 10 percent cut in traffic levels in Britain, measured on 1990 figures, by 2010. As part of this campaign Friends of the Earth are hosting the Road Traffic Reduction Roadshow on 10 February 2000 at the Temple of Peace, Cathays Park. This will form part of an open debate on the traffic-related problems facing Cardiff. The speakers are First Secretary of the National Assembly, Alun Michael AM; Executive Member for the Environment of Cardiff County Council, Councillor Christine Priday; Executive Director of Friends of the Earth Charles Secrett; and from Bro Taff Health Promotion Service, Iona Gordon.

Traffic has many detrimental effects on the quality of lives in Britain. Urban areas suffer the worst afflictions. In 1997 more than 16,700 vehicles entered Cardiff between 7.30am and 9.30am every day.

This large volume of traffic produces huge amounts of pollution. Almost half of British emissions of nitrogen dioxide gas comes from road transport, as does three-quarters of PM10 dust. The Department of Health estimates that 24,100 deaths in Britain each year are directly linked to air pollution.

John Prescott has described air pollution as a "key quality of life indicator". At urban monitoring sites, Friends of the Earth have calculated that 1999 saw air pollution exceed government standards one day in every thirteen. The Government has refused to set a national traffic reduction target despite demands from 430 of the 650 MPs at Westminster to do so.

Traffic levels have social implications as well. The fact that 2,000 children were killed of injured on Welsh roads in 1997 alone produces a fear of roads. Parents are wary of allowing their children to play outdoors, particularly in urban environments. Their social development suffers as a result. In many cases people become almost prisoners in their own homes, their only way of escape ironically is in their car.

The solution is for fewer people to drive and for priority to be given to pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport users. Currently these methods of transport are made dangerous by the car. On Cardiff's roads in 1997 49 pedestrians and 10 cyclists were killed or seriously injured, compared to 66 other road users.

The campaign has secured the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997 and the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998. We are now pressing for Parliament to pass the 10 percent national target. A reduction in traffic would mean a healthier and safer life for thousands of people.

Ethical investment and the ecology of money

The following is based on a Schumacher Lecture I went to last year, the theme was the ecology of money. It explained how important it is for all of us to take control of our money to ensure that it is not being used in unsustainable and environmentally damaging ways.

Today's financial system is unfair, ecologically destructive, unsustainable, and economically inefficient. It is based on the constant need to increase profits and the interest in investments. This encourages the rapid exploitation of resources, whatever the ecological and social effects.

Some economists are becoming worried about the workings of the financial system itself. Money has become an almost abstract concept that is increasingly de-linked from the creation of value. Electronic transfers between computers has mostly taken over from cash transactions. According to the World Bank, there is ninety times as much money circulating in the world as there are goods and services to exchange for it. The financial markets increasingly employ mathematicians who deal in probability analysis and chaos theory (they are the only people who can understand an unstable system based on the speculation of money which doesn't exist in any real sense).

We too are becoming de-linked from our money, and therefore we have very little control over how the money we invest in bank accounts, ISAs, stocks, shares, pension policies etc. is used. For all you know it may be re-invested in companies that are making huge, short-term profits through deforestation or mining.

What can we do about this? Here are a few pointers:

  • Use the Alternative Economy. Credit Unions, Local Economic Trading Schemes (LETS), and community-based food fairs or trading schemes.
  • Self-education. Understanding how money is used enables you to make informed decisions about how it is used. Read up on the issues so you can inform others.
  • Green consumerism. Chose your bank accounts, pension scheme, and investments wisely. If you chose to change them for ethical reasons, make sure everyone involved knows why.
  • Ask awkward questions. Ask your current providers if they have an ethical policy.
  • Demand to know where your money is being invested. Find out if your employer has an ethical pension scheme that you can join.

Make ethical investments:

  • Co-operative Bank - Saving, current and investment accounts.
  • The Ecology Building Society - Saving accounts, pensions, and mortgages.
  • Triodos Bank - Saving, current and investment accounts.
  • Holden-Meehan independent Ethical Financial Advisors.

References and further reading:

  • Korten, D. C. 1996. When corporations rule the world. Kumarian Press Inc. and Berret-Koehler Publishers, USA.
  • Lang, P. 1996. Ethical Investment - a saver's guide. Jon Carpenter Publishing, UK.
  • Robertson, J. 1998. Transforming economic life: a Millennial challenge. Green Books, UK.

The Terrorism Bill

The Government is currently trying to rush through a new Bill on terrorism. Although most of this Bill relates to Northern Ireland, the definition of terrorism will be changed. Anyone who uses action to "seriously damage property" (Part I s.1) will would be classed as a terrorist. The problem is that "serious damage" is open to a wide range of interpretations. Under the proposed Bill, members, supporters, or even people displaying window stickers of direct action groups such as Reclaim the Streets and GenetiXsnowball may be branded as terrorists and punished as such.

If a significant proportion of society agrees with the aims of such groups (if not the actions themselves), then surely it is up to society as a whole to decide who it does, and does not, consider to be a terrorist. There has been very little public debate about this Bill. The Blair Government appears to have forgotten the public reaction to the Criminal Justice Act, but we haven't. Please write to your MP or the Home Secretary voicing your concerns about the Bill. Don't let them rush this through without the debate it deserves.