Cumbria County Council hasn’t yet declared a climate emergency, but it might as well have done. In September 2019 its councillors unanimously supported a motion “to become a ‘carbon neutral’ county and to mitigate the likely impact of existing climate change“. In the wake of that decision, leading members of the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservative parties on the council fell over themselves to confirm via a Council announcement that no meaningful democratic choice is to be allowed to the public with regard to this subject:
Commenting on today’s motion, Cllr Rebecca Hanson, Liberal Democrat member for Cockermouth North, who put forward the motion, said:
“Making the whole of Cumbria carbon neutral will be a vast challenge. Taking on the challenge of tackling climate change is only possible if everyone works together so it was a huge relief to see politicians of all persuasions coming together to support this motion today. As well as working together in Cumbria we are all now committed to challenging our parties to ensure they have the right national and international policies in place to tackle climate change.”
Cllr Stewart Young, Leader of the Council and the Labour Group of Cumbria County Council added:
“It was great to see cross-party consensus in Chamber today on an issue which is so significant. As a council it is important that we all work together to tackle Climate Change and collaborate with our six district authorities and our national park colleagues to become a carbon-neutral county.”
Cllr James Airey, Leader of the Conservative Group of Cumbria County Council, said:
“This is such an important issue and it was excellent to see Members of all political parties getting behind this essential motion. Climate change is the number one challenge facing the world and Cumbria County Council has to play its part in reducing carbon emissions and safeguarding our planet for future generations.”
Perhaps they are correct in their views, perhaps they are not, but the lack of choice offered to the public is depressing, especially when one considers the cost and futility of such policies. Cumbria has a population of just under 0.5 million, while the UK has a population of a little under 70 million, so Cumbria’s population is around 0.7% of the UK’s total. The UK’s contribution to man-made CO2 emissions on an ongoing basis is around 1%. Thus, Cumbria’s contribution to humankind’s ongoing CO2 emissions is around 0.007% of the total.
However, I digress. The purpose of this article is to consider how Cumbria County Council’s hype matches the reality. And there is plenty of hype. About a year after the “carbon neutral” motion was passed, the Council’s “Executive Director – Economy and Infrastructure” submitted a report to the “Scrutiny Advisory Board – Communities and Place” that:
…outlined the background to the development of the Carbon Management Strategy and the joint working that was taking place to ensure the aim of becoming a carbon neutral County and to mitigate the likely impact of existing climate change was reached. The Cumbria Climate Change Group, that had been established in June 2019, had six key aims and were now focussing work around mapping out specific programmes and action across transport, energy, business and industry, housing, waste and agriculture.
The officer gave a brief outline on the work the Council had commenced to support its response to the Climate Change agenda. This had included introducing a strengthening of the Senior Manager role to include a clear “Sustainability” element. Members noted other activities taking place within the Council and joint working with other organisation [sic] such as Cumbria LEP, within the Borderlands project and Cumbria Strategic Waste Partnership.
I will return to this report in a little while. Now, a little under two years later, the Council’s website is replete with its own climate change section. This has a major part dealing with “Our response to the climate emergency”, which in turn is subdivided into paragraphs about such things as “Cumbria Climate Change Working Group”, “Carbon Management Strategy” and“Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership”, (which links to yet another website, for Cumbria Action for Sustainability). This latter tells us:
The partnership brings together 80 organisations spanning the public, private and third sectors, with the aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions – the root cause of the climate crisis. Members include community groups, local authorities (district and county councils), the NHS, police, national parks, businesses and the farming community, among others. The partnership is jointly chaired by CAfS and Angela Jones, executive director for economy and infrastructure at Cumbria County Council, with CAfS having put together the successful funding bid on its behalf.
A successful funding bid, eh? There’s a lot of money sloshing around in this stuff, and in this case all for a county with a population of less than half a million people. However, I digress again – it’s all too easily done. Back to the Council website. Some of it is difficult to object to, especially if you’re keen on looking after the environment – treescapes, roadside verges, planting for pollinators, etc. On the other hand, I’m less convinced that this will make much difference to anything:
The council has also invested in charging infrastructure, installing a total of 30 new electric vehicle charging points located at five Council-owned sites in the county. This is in addition to a number [number not specified] of charging points already provided by Cumbria County Council that are available for public use.
To encourage cycling and walking, the council has established a Cycling and Walking Programme to identify, develop and secure funding to deliver infrastructure improvements. The development of Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs) is a key part of this and these are currently being developed in Barrow-in-Furness, Carlisle, Kendal, Workington, Whitehaven and Penrith.
I don’t object to plans to encourage people to walk and cycle (I do a lot of walking and a bit of cycling myself), but they aren’t going to encourage people to do their shopping or travelling to work by bike. This is Cumbria. It’s cold and wet, not just in winter, but much of the time. Despite all the repeated fanfares in the mainstream media about an impending heatwave, I can count on one hand how many the times the temperature has (very briefly) touched 20C so far this year, and probably on two hands how many times it has exceeded 15C. The two weeks weather forecast for where I live on the BBC forecast has one day when temperatures briefly touch 19C and two when temperatures briefly touch 18C, and that’s it. Quite a few of them see temperatures no higher than 14C. In summer.
However, I digress yet again. Back to the meeting that discussed the report submitted to the relevant Council committee. I note these discussion points from the minutes:
A number of issues were raised by members. The Senior Policy and Scrutiny Project Officer explained the programme of Carbon Literacy that was in development to increase understanding of the climate change challenge and the role of the council. It was the intention for this to be rolled out to members and employees later in the year….
The officer highlighted the scale of change in transport that would be needed, a 70% reduction from normal levels similar to lockdown level.
And with that, finally I arrive at the point I want to arrive at. Council members and employees were to be subjected to a programme of “Carbon Literacy” so that they can better understand “the climate change challenge and the role of the council.”
How’s that going? Well, just under two years ago, when society was fairly well “locked down”, despite some summer relaxation of the restrictions, I had the sad task of registering a death. Because of coronavirus restrictions, the Council I dealt with (not Cumbria County Council, as it happens, though I believe the policy was adopted by them also) abandoned face-to-face appointments and registered the death via a telephone appointment. I found the process sympathetic and efficient, and it was completed within five days’ of the death. This month our household has, sadly, had to register another death. Coronavirus restrictions have happily been abandoned, but it seems that no lessons have been learned, no dots have been joined. Not only have restrictions been abandoned, but so have the telephone appointments that were working so well. Now we have to attend in person once more, just like the old days. There are just two problems. The first is that this time it has taken 11 days to obtain an appointment (and this is not a criticism of the staff my wife and I have dealt with, who have been sympathetic and helpful). The second is that the Council has closed the Registrar’s function at its small office in town, that is five minutes walk from where we live. Instead we were given the choice of appointments at any of four offices, respectively 15, 30, 30 or 45 miles from where we live, necessitating a round trip of 30, 60 or 90 miles depending on which we choose. Anyone in our small market town (and others) who has to register a death (or, presumably, also a birth or a marriage) will be faced with the same journey options. What was that about “the scale of change in transport that would be needed, a 70% reduction from normal levels”?
So much for the Council. The closing of local offices and the centralising of functions is a national trend. I moved to Cumbria in the year 2000, and, as a brewery solicitor who spent much of my time making licensing applications, was immediately confronted by the closure of Keswick Magistrates’ Court (now a Wetherspoons). Local publicans seeking to make licensing applications had no choice from that date on but to travel to Workington Magistrates’ Court, a round trip of over 40 miles. County courts are closing at quite a rate, too. Do you want to collect a debt? Get divorced? Be prepared for a lot of travelling.
A tragic event which occurred shortly after I moved to Cumbria was the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. There was a time when many towns, big and small, had their own abbatoir. Many have closed, and that trend continues. Indeed, many had already closed by 2001. Did the mass movement of livestock to far-flung abattoirs contribute to the spread of foot and mouth disease? I don’t know, but I can’t help harbouring a suspicion that it might have done. And that’s before we consider the increased greenhouse gas emissions associated with the closure of local facilities.
Meanwhile, out-of-town shopping has been encouraged by the authorities, with all the damage it has caused to local High Streets, and the inevitable increase in emissions associated with it.
But never mind. At least the NHS is on the case. Remember this?
…the Long Term Plan commitment to better use technology to make up to 30 million outpatient appointments redundant, sparing patients thousands of unnecessary trips to and from hospital.
All well and good, save to the extent that there is evidence that some telephone appointments taking place instead of face-to-face appointments have resulted in missed diagnoses, which in turn have resulted in tragically unnecessary deaths. What a farce it all is. A deliberate strategy of reducing in-person health appointments, with the avowed aim of reducing travel, so as to “save the planet”, only for some of the resulting telephone appointments to result in missed diagnoses leading to unnecessary deaths, which then have to be reported in person at a far-flung Registrar’s office, with all the consequent extra travel associated with that. Farce doesn’t seem like too strong a word. Is anyone in a position of authority joining the dots?