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The circus is coming to town! Don’t get too terrified kids, there’s no killer clowns living in sewers or elephants in top hats (though I think that kind of thing is illegal now). Nope, it’s a great big Climate Change circus, and it’s coming to Birmingham.

At this circus we have the bizarrely named ‘Strawberry Jam’ clown who, according to the website, “a cheeky, bright, bubbly, mishievious character” who performs magic with chickens and washing machines. Sounds a bit Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas to me. There are also various reggae bands and other acts, and to be fair, whilst I can sound all cynical, it sounds like a good idea for getting people environmentally aware whilst having a good time.

So, instead of laying into a family event, I’ve decided to lay into a different aspect of it, a so-called pledge scheme. The Birmingham Cutting C02 site offers people the chance to make a carbon cutting pledge, essentially a promise to do something environmentally friendly in order to help Birmingham cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2026. When you make the pledge, the site calculates what the pledge is worth in carbon emissions. Basically, you tell them what you want to do, they do the maths and you, in theory, keep the promise.

Okay, that’s great, there’s plenty of hypothetical situations I could apply to the site such as people not keeping their promises (of course, humanity has such a good track record of promise-keeping) but that would be picking just for the sake of picking. My problem lies with the amount of people who’ve actually engaged with the site. To date, there has been 66 pledges, with 21 members. Seeing as you have to sign up to the site to pledge, that means 21 Brummies have made pledges, some making multiple ones. That’s 21 people out of a potential 1,016,800. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a fundemental lack of engagement from the general populace of Birmingham.

And to be honest, I think this fundemental lack of engagement has been the theme of my blog from the start. From Recyclogeddon and it’s disappearing boxes leaving people disillusioned or plain disinterested in recycling, to the fabled Recycling Champions, presumably still operating as an underground sect as there is still little to no mention of them anywhere, Birmingham seems to lack engagement with recycling outside of placing waste in the boxes they’re told to.

Of course, recycling rates have actually gone up, so maybe just enforcing rules and telling people what to do is the way forward. Perhaps people don’t want to become a champion of recycling, banging on the nearest bass drum and screaming the recycling message at the top of their lungs like some deranged eco-warrior, and simply want to integrate recycling into their normal routines with as little fuss as possible. Perhaps people just want a recycling box to sort out their waste, and a simple way to get it replaced if some scallywag runs off with it. Perhaps we all just want a bit of normality.

Beginning with a random clip from a cult Michael Douglas film eh? Bit pretensious of me! However, it’s more an excuse for me not blogging for a while, as well as allowing me to post one of the funniest scene’s in cinematic history. Anyway, me and Mikey D share something in common; we’ve both been feeling alot of pressure. Except I didn’t quite pull an uzi on a packed out McDonalds. Quite.

It’s fair to say it’s been a nightmare couple of weeks, and I’ve been pretty much weighed down by deadlines, meaning I haven’t had much time to dedicate to the blog and not much time to get you all scared that some random urchin is going to steal your recycling apparatus or that David Cameron is going to build a nuclear power station in your back garden (on that note, it’s funny how D-Cam went from nuclear power as ‘last resort’ to fast-tracking it). Never fear, I’m back now!

Anyway, I’ve been playing about with interactivity. I’ve been messing around with Yahoo! Pipes, but WordPress won’t allow me to post those results so you’ll have to just take my word for it. I also had a go at a timeline, but then realised I didn’t really have anything interesting enough for people to track through.

Then I saw it. Glancing at me across the room, winking at me, tugging on my leg and practically pleading for me to take it back. It’s only bloody Recyclogeddon again!
Yep, after pleading for horror stories last time and getting…well…one, I’ve decided to utilise my new found interactive skills on Google Docs to create a ‘collaberative’ document I’ve named the Book of Recyclogeddon. Basically, I want your horror stories, troubles with the council, whatever reason you can’t/won’t recycle. Then I’m going to send the document to the council and confront them with it and hopefully sort out this whole silly mess and get a good story out of it too. And hey, it’s your story too! Isn’t this just one lovely journalistic love circle where everyone can have a nice old slice of hot journalism pie?

Contribute Here!

It’s the 7th of May, one day after what we were told would be the closest election for years. What was meant to be the rebirth of three party polictics, the yellow pheonix rising gloriously from the flames of it’s past and joining the red and blue at the ascendency. This, we were told, would be true democracy in action. As it happened, the Liberal Democrats ended up shuffling home with five seats less than 2005. Some great yellow hope that was.

Apart from that, everything went rigidly to plan. That is if your plan was to have hours upon hours of election counts and still not actually know who won. Cue a bemused David Cameron, a (probably) relieved Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg, who has pre-empted the countries disappointment next month when the English football team inevitably gets pounded by those ever-efficient Germans (incidently, can you imagine the Germans floundering around for a leader after ten hours of vote counts?). We are now threatened with a Labour-Liberal Democrat ‘party of losers’ running the country or, even more sinisterly, a Frankenstein’s Monster made up of dug-up parts from the Lib Dems and the Tories, with Dr. Cameron Frankenstein the insane creator.

Basically, it’s a confusing time and no-one knows where it’s going. However, the prospect of the Tories and the Lib Dems collaberating got me thinking; what does this all mean for the environment? A quick glance at the BBC’s excellent ‘Where They Stand’ shows us that the environmental policies of the two parties contain some strong contradictions.

Nuclear power is the obvious stand-out, with the Tories backing it and the Lib Dems firmly against it. With two contradictory policies in force, where does nuclear power go? Are we going to be subject to months of flip-flopping on the subject, with constant in-fighting on the subject?

The green taxation system throws another spanner into the works. Whilst the Lib Dems propose taxes on domestic flights to encourage rail use, as well as per-plane taxes rather than passenger duty, there is no mention of such policy in the Tory manifesto.

Even with the more matched Lab-Lib coalition, things aren’t much better. In fact, I would say the Labour and Tory manifestos are the two which would work best together on the environment.

Of course, this is all speculation in a confusing time. Of course, negotiations will go on, figures will be drawn up and various environmental policies will be drawn up. It’s just the key issues where the parties hold such significantly different views that worry me. How do the Tories propose to ‘speed up the nuclear planning process’ when a proportion of their cabinet of mercenaries is completely against it? It could lead to years of desolation in planning for the future of energy, time we don’t have when power cuts could come as soon as 2016.

Hung parliament? It’s looking increasingly like a Hung Environment…

  
Download now or listen on posterous

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Apologies for the lack of quality, this came about 2 mins after an impromptu jump off the bus to go and talk to him. So I was a tiny bit unprepared! Nevertheless, here it is. I’m going ‘unlive’ for a while (because nothing is exciting is happening at all) but I’m starting up again when Election Night gets underway.

Download now or watch on posterous

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Video I took on the bus whilst looking for Dick Rodgers dressed as Big Ben

This is apparently how things stand at the moment in the polls. Also provides a good oppotunity for me to play around with posterous 🙂
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Wordle: Untitled
Above is my blog is cloud form. It basically shows you what I’ve been talking about and the words I like to use alot, which include businesses and booklet. Enjoy it, it’s pretty and interesting. Just like the man who made it.

What a bloody day yesterday was. I was meant to be attending the Northfield Hustings, which I thought would mean a simple 20 minute bus journey and a nice stroll to the Northfield Baptist Church. What actually happened was a Tolkienesque epic involving several misdirections, hours of walking and a tepid Big Mac meal. All that was missing was a horde of grim-faced trolls and an overly loyal sidekick trying to help me to the church.

Anyway, the Northfield Hustings. Below are my thoughts on the Hustings, but before I go into that, I should point out that a more professional account of the event (with more focus on policies) will be on Birmingham Recycled later. I also want to point that I have tried to put aside my own political stance (if you don’t know what that is, look at my Twitter profile and I’m sure you’ll find out due to my regular ill-advised outbursts) and cover the hustings impartially.

Firstly, I want to give masses of credit to the organisers of the event and the residents of Northfield. What could have been a shambles was actually an extremely well organised event (right down to the klaxons signalling the end of the candidates two minutes) that was extremely well-attended. Not only did the residents of Northfield turn out in force, they came with multiple questions, all of incredibly high quality. So congratulations to the organisers and residents who made the hustings a bit like those Leaders’ Debates, only with a bit more substance.

I felt that every candidate gave a good account of themselves. Richard Burden (Labour) was particularly impressive, articulating some strong policy points with confidence and clarity. Similarly, Mike Dixon (Liberal Democrat) provided lots of substance in his answers and stood up well against some tough questioning.

Keeley Huxtable (Conservative) was the youngest of the candidates, but displayed a confidence and knowledge of her parties’ policies and provided a strong case for voting Conservative. To be honest, I felt that I learnt more about Conservative policy from her last night than I have from David Cameron over three hours of Leaders’ Debates. We all know the media loves a good personality, and that the leaders provide a good personalisation of the parties, but I think last night proved that these local debates are probably more beneficial to learning about policies than a constant focus on the leaders. Should the media be focusing more on local level election coverage? On last night’s evidence, definitely.

The surprise of the night for me was Dick Rodgers, an independent candidate for the Common Good party. I have to admit to succumbing to the media focus on the main three parties, but seeing an independent candidate Dick is involved with the church, so obviously his policies tended to have a Christian slant, but I felt that a great deal of the audience were on his side. He stood up well to the other three parties, and challenged their policies in a way that I feel a member of the main three parties couldn’t. It was a nice illustration of why independent parties are still important to the political process despite the three party dominance of parliament.

Anyway, I think I’ve rambled enough!

With grim inevitability, I return to the recycling champions saga. The whole saga really is a foul temptress, drawing me back in with the offer of some potential answers to my questions, then slapping me down and leaving me bewildered and back at square one.

Hope this time came in the form of an extravangant green and black magazine/booklet provided to me by Rachael Giaramita, who seems to have some kind of anonymous council based tap that churns out materials and email addresses for relevant council officials. So thanks for that!

The front cover offers so much potential, the oddly gothic green and blacks juxtaposed by an incredibly joyful lady in a hi-viz jacket, practically screaming to the heavens with delight as she helps her local community. The reactions of those around her at this time aren’t illustrated, but I imagine it would be a shuffle of awkwardness.

In big letters streaking across the front is the declaration: MAKING STREETS INTO NEIGHBOURHOODS. How promising, for wasn’t the role of our illustrious champions to make our grey streets into gold-paved recycling havens? The title of the booklet is ‘Street Champions’ (you may note that the site is still under construction. The booklet states the site will be live by January 2010. Typical eh?),  a slightly different title but maybe this new crack squad of mercenary citizens encompassed the recycling messiahs?

First page, and so far, so good. There’s a bloke who helps dispose of waste for his neighbood in Lozell’s. Not exactly recycling, but at least he’s helping to tidy up a bit. On the next couple of pages, I noted they’d even roped in kids (in standard council issue hi-vis jackets) to litter pick! What a great school trip that must have been.
Over the next couple of pages, it’s clear the Street Champions do alot. They clean up graffiti from skateparks, clean up allotments, stop people from dumping rubbish (I’m sad to admit I regressed into a 6 year old’s mindset and had a good chuckle at the ‘Stop The Dumping’ tagline), and organise various community events. But the ‘R’ word was missing. No mention so far.

My heart was sinking quicker than Steve Brookstein’s illustrious music career (he played a Pizza Express in Maidstone recently dontchaknow?!), and things didn’t get much better. The ‘R’ word just wasn’t coming up. However, I was intrigued by a piechart which outlined the fact that 71% of Street Champions didn’t actually feel that the current system worked. I’m not being funny, but that sounds like an oddly high level of discontent amongst people who volunteered for the role.

There was also a piece calling for volunteers to be Community Crime Fighters. Doesn’t this sound like a scheme spiralling a tiny bit out of control? Volunteering to clean up graffiti is great, I mean if the council don’t want to do it and can find people willing to for free, then I’m all for it. But crime fighting? Unless some kind of action movie dream-team consisting of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris happen to live in Birmingham, I would hate to see a kind-hearted resident end up in danger simply because they were willing to help out their neighbourhood. Surely this is what PCSO’s are for? They might as well be asking people to dress up as Batman and patrol the mean streets of Birmingham at night from the rooftops.

Anyway, I digress. Cutting to the chase, Recycling Champions are only mentioned once in the entire 20 page booklet. It’s on the very last page, and guess what? It’s only another bloody advertisement for ‘Community Recycling Champions’. Written by Jeremy Shields from BCC, it basically asks for volunteers in the same vein as pretty much any other recycling champions material I’ve found.

There is a huge contact list in the booklet, but most of them are managers of street champions. Considering the advert comes from Jeremy Shields, I’m guessing that Recycling Champions are different entity handled elsewhere. Nevertheless, I’m attempting to get in contact to get some answers. Otherwise, I’ll have to send my old friend FOI to draw out some answers…

So there you have it. The carnival that is looking for Recycling Champions, encapsulated in one small booklet. It almost makes the Elections seem simple…