Blog - Birmingham Friends of the Earth Birmingham Friends of the Earth exists to advance the principles of sustainability and positive environmental change. Sat, 25 Oct 2014 02:42:38 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb Waste not, want not!  

I was really looking forward to The Real Junk Food Project coming to our meeting this Monday. Food is one of my passions in life. I love cooking and I hate waste!

The main aim of the project is to intercept waste food and turn it into hot and cold meals for those in need on a pay as you feel basis. Money isn't the only way to pay, customers can pay with their time, by volunteering in the cafe or on other projects.

Too much food is thrown away because it has passed its used or sell by date but is still good enough to eat. The Real Food Project are hoping to work with supermarkets, resturants and other retailers who throw away food they are unable to sell.

We were treated to samples of what waste food could be turned into.The food smelled delious and looked amazing. I couldn't believe they had created a colourful and tasty buffet from food that would otherwise have ended up in the bin!! As soon as I saw the deserts, I knew we were in for a treat. The chocolate and orange mousse was amazing!! There were many plates of tasty and nutrious food but one of my favourites was the vegan broccoli Quiche.

The Real Food Project are looking to open cafes across Birmingham. The hope is to have the cafe open 7 days a week. They are looking for volunteers to help with intercepting the food, cooking, serving and washing up. Check out their facebook ( and twitter ( to find out more about how you can get involved. 

Fantastic to see an amazing project, which is saving the planet by tackling food waste, and is helping those in need at the same time!

]]> (Libby Harris) Blog Tue, 21 Oct 2014 14:50:08 +0000
The Problem With TTIP The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a bit of a mouthful to even say out loud, and transcontinental investment treaties are never the sexiest of topics for campaigning. But the TTIP, currently being negotiated in secret by the EU and the USA, threatens every hard-won piece of environmental legislation in the past hundred years. This comprehensive free trade agreement has one goal: to remove regulatory barriers which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations.

What a transnational corporation sees as a barrier to profit, of course, is what most ordinary people would see as indispensable social standards, such as labour rights, food safety rules (including restrictions on GMOs), regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, digital privacy laws and even new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. Through a euphemistic commitment to 'harmonise standards', the TTIP would ensure a race to the bottom for working conditions and environmental protection.

The 'Investor-State Dispute Settlement' mechanism would grant corporations the right to sue governments, if governments make decisions which reduce their profits. This would take place through an international arbitration process that completely bypasses countries' existing legal systems. This is the same mechanism that tobacco and oil companies have used against legitimate states.

If the treaty comes into force, countries in the global south will come under huge pressure to apply TTIP standards to avoid losing trade from the EU and US. The business lobby are upfront about the fact that they aim to secure "global convergence toward EU-US standards which could then become de facto global standards". TTIP would make it easier for western companies and governments to push deregulation and neo-liberal economic policies on poorer countries, worsening poverty and inequality.

For the UK, this would mean locking in the privatisation of the NHS, an easier ride for fracking companies, an attack on workers' rights and declining standards for food safety and consumer rights. A particular concern for those of us involved in the anti-fracking movement is that a major impetus for the deal on both sides of the Atlantic is securing EU market access for US companies involved in fracking.

A huge range of concerned groups have formed an alliance against this assault on our democratic rights. Groups such as War on Want, WDM, Friends of the Earth, trade unions, anti-fracking groups, Occupy activists, NHS campaigners all recognise the threat the TTIP poses and are actively fighting back. Protests and pressure against this corporate power grab are mounting across the EU.

]]> (Roxanne) Blog Wed, 15 Oct 2014 14:16:17 +0000
Reclaiming the Power In August, Birmingham Friends of the Earth campaigners travelled to Lancashire for the weekend to attend a ‘mass anti- fracking action camp’. We joined an impressively collaborative and organised group of people deeply concerned about the future health and well-being of themselves, their children and their environment.

The camp at Little Plumpton was set up adjacent to one of Cuadrilla’s proposed test rigs and over the course of a week became its own little self-contained community, bringing together seasoned activists and local campaigners – most notably the Nanas. There were workshops, talks, regional meetings, training, legal advice and storytelling. On Sunday, we marched along Blackpool front and on the Monday, some activists super-glued themselves to the entrance of Defra in London and occupied Cuadrilla’s Blackpool office.

The government are bending over backwards to make it as cheap and easy as possible for fracking companies like Cuadrilla and IGAS to fracture rock and pump chemicals beneath our feet. So much so that the revolving doors between governments, banks, corporations and other establishment institutions are hard to keep track of when it comes to fracking.

The best example is Lord Browne. He has hopped between senior positions at BP, the House of Lords, Goldman Sachs, the Royal Society, Oxford University, the Tate, the Royal Academy of Engineering and is currently the Managing Director of Riverstone Holdings who co-own Cuadrilla. He headed the review recommending removing the cap on tuition fees, and is thought by some as the man most responsible for the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the Texas City Refinery explosion due to his cost cutting programme at BP.

It is these kinds of major white collar criminals who hold the power we need to reclaim, and we can only do so by uniting and spreading information. The best placard I saw in Blackpool was one simply saying ‘google fracking’ – urging people to research the issue for themselves and then see if they come to a different conclusion from the Reclaim the Power activists.

If you haven’t already, you can start to fight against fracking by joining the ‘Not For Shale’ legal block at

Adam McCusker

]]> (Maryam Patwa) Blog Mon, 06 Oct 2014 12:30:47 +0000
Bicycle: A Film Review I’ve been excited about this film ever since I first heard about it at Bike Lounge. I was so excited that I contributed to the crowd funding project for the film. Thanks to BFOE I was lucky to be able to go to the screening of the film as part of the Birmingham Cycling Revolution. Stakeholders were invited to attend a private screening before the two sold out public showings at the MAC.

The film itself documented the history of the bicycle from when it was invented to Britain today. The first version of the bicycle was the penny-farthing, which was predominantly used by athletic, rich, white men in Victorian England. A more user-friendly version of the bicycle was invented, which has remained similar to the bikes of the 21st century in design. The newer version of the bike helped give independence to people as it was a cheap way to travel longer distances than before. Cycling grew in the post-War period as people had more disposable income to spend on things like bicycles than they did pre-WWII. The West Midlands was a powerhouse for the cycling industry with Birmingham being the home of important cycle manufacturers, including Dawes, which is the main bicycle manufacturer sold by Sprocket.

Unfortunately, in the 1960’s and 1970’s as it became more affordable, the car became king. Cyclists dropped off the radar and our transport system became the domain of the car. Birmingham is a great example of this with flyovers and a motorway leading to the city centre! After this, the film talks about the growth of cycling post-1992, first at the elite level and now as a form of transport. The film ends on a campaigning message that the growth of cycling will only continue if we fight for it. The Dutch were going in the same direction as us but made a conscious decision to prioritise cycling. Chris Boardman’s speech about cycling infrastructure is inspiring.

Interwoven amongst the history are personal stories of cyclists, including Danielle Khan, an elite level cyclist from Solihull. A lot of the footage was filmed in Birmingham, including the Rea Valley Route. Our very own Phil Burrows makes a starring cameo. I enjoyed the film Bicycle tremendously and I think that it clearly demonstrates how wonderful the bicycle is and the potential it has to be a key part of a sustainable society.

Shaz Rahman

]]> (Maryam Patwa) Blog Mon, 06 Oct 2014 12:27:28 +0000
The Start of the Road to Paris In September, Birmingham hosted the Green Party Conference, flooding Aston University campus with environmentalists from across the UK and beyond. Friends of the Earth ran a stall and participated in panel discussions. National FoE Climate and Energy Campaigner Donna Hume was in the limelight of the debate on the impending UN Climate Conference in Paris in 2015.

In the aftermath of the disastrous Copenhagen Climate Summit, the Paris Climate Conference is believed to be the last chance to reach global consensus on action against global warming. Green MEP Jean Lambert chaired a panel dedicated to this issue. The two speakers, Bolivian Ambassador Roberto Calzadilla and national FoE Campaigner Donna Hume, represented two voices that most need to be heard in Paris – the voice of the developing countries and the people’s voice.

Hopes of the developing world

Roberto Calzadilla said he was looking forward to the Parisian promise of new policy to replace the Kyoto Protocol. He could not stress more that global warming has already had catastrophic repercussions on the developing world, adamant that Western humanitarian missions should include subsidies for sustainable development and climate change mitigation. Roberto emphasised that the political concept of sustainable development needs to move away from constant reiteration of its potential for the new businesses and markets, instead turning to the essentials such as harmony with nature and living well.

What UK citizens need to ask?

Donna Hume’s speech was similarly optimistic. According to Donna, the main stumbling point on the way to action against global warming is the ‘lack of political will’. This can only be countered by widespread public action. Donna added that progress in talks can only be influenced by people’s demands, such as a push for fixed EU emission targets, stopping British politicians from blocking negotiations. UK citizens should call for moratorium on fracking, funding for renewables, creation of a national energy strategy and abolition of government funding of fossil fuel companies.

What NGOs need to do

Donna also stated that green NGOs need to be more transparent and accessible. They should stop using jargon and address common needs in common language, encouraging more people to join action groups. Moreover, these groups need to improve communication and become united nationally and internationally. Finally, a new generation of community projects like ‘Run on Sun’ must become commonplace, since this is a great way to plant eco-ideas in the most fertile soil – schools, children and families.

Wind in our direction

Donna concluded with a saying: ‘the wind is blowing in our direction; it just needs a bit of push’. This hopeful statement is a promise that climate issues will be tackled if we as citizens pledge to champion change - little by little, doing what we can. We have all the necessary tools, so let’s start!

Lija Lascenko

]]> (Maryam Patwa) Blog Mon, 06 Oct 2014 12:18:33 +0000
Big Green Debate After several Big Green Debates about specific environmental issues we’re having a debate about campaign tactics this issue. Zarqa Mahmood and Sawsan Bastawy are debating the merits of online activism, i.e. clicktivism or slacktivism to its detractors. A powerful campaigning tool or so easy to use it’s meaningless? Read on and make up your own mind! 

Yes - Sawsan Bastawy

The pejorative term ‘slacktivism’ (meaning activism that takes little time, effort, or involvement,) is used to challenge the worth of online activism, and question whether or not it accomplishes anything bar giving people a sense of satisfaction.

The terms clicktivism and slacktivism are oft used interchangeably; and therefore the anti-slacktivist and anti-clicktivist backlash are often indistinguishable. However, clicktivism and slacktivism are, and should be seen as, distinct. The internet provides a platform for activists to speak. It assembles audiences and creates spaces that are hard to find in the real-world or mainstream media for a message to be shared.

Petitions are considered a slacktivist action and have received significant negative press because they require little effort. However, petitions often have phenomenal global effects. It is therefore impetuous and lazy to say all online actions that require little physical effort are valueless, and worthy of a derogatory term like ‘slacktivism’.

Clicktivism, unlike slacktivism, encompasses all manner of online actions, quick and easy to long-term and labour-intensive. Volunteering your skills online is great for people who want to donate their time and skills to a cause they care about, or to a cause that is geographically distant. The United Nations Online Volunteering Portal is an excellent example of this.

It goes without saying that criticisms of clicktivism and use of the term slacktivisim in a pejorative or derogatory way overwhelmingly originate in the West and/or are directed at Western clicktivism. In some countries, liking or creating a Facebook page is a tremendous display of strength against a dictatorship, particularly when we consider that people are routinely arrested for Facebook posts and tweets in some countries.

We can acknowledge that clicktivism has potential problems, and that it can lead to lazy activism, but this does not mean that it does not have value and that it does not constitute real activism. While few would likely claim that clicktivism is the best form of activism, it is certainly a valuable form of activism, and has the potential to challenge real-world campaigns in terms of efficacy and impact. We simply need to develop tools and strategies to make sure that a dangerous culture of ‘slacktivism’ isn’t born as a result. 

No - Zarqa Mahmood

Today the internet is streaming with so called ‘clicktivism’, as it is considered to be cost effective, fast and easy to use. However, this form of online activism should not be regarded as activism, it is merely a slacktivist method activists use for their political means.

The concept of slacktivism refers to activities that are effortlessly performed. They are considered more effective in making a participant feel good about them self rather than achieving the stated political aims.

Online petitions are a prime example of slacktivism, as there is little effort put into generating a petition, sending it out via online channels, and it spreading to mass audiences. The idea of it reaching a big audience is phenomenal; however getting signatures via a click is simply lazy and this should not even be considered as real activism.

A recent example of slacktivism is of the ‘no make-up selfie’ to support Cancer Research. The ‘no make-up selfie’ was a hash-tag trend started by a member of the public, who posted a picture of herself with no make-up on and nominated others to do the same. Soon the trend became viral and the individuals who joined in felt they were doing their bit for the charity. Were they really? After a massive viral spread Cancer Research got involved by suggesting those who took selfies could do something meaningful and donate £3 via text. Soon after, people started to screenshot their donations and it went viral, showing the possibilities of people donating merely to make themselves feel good and to look good in front of their peers.

Clicktivists may argue they utilize the internet as a catalyst to promote and arrange events in order to show support for a certain campaign and it can be extremely cost-effective. However these are just ‘virtual activists’, who fail to recognise that real activism (offline activism) is completely different to the online world. Overall online activism is argued to be clicktivism however, it actually displays pure slacktivism. 

]]> (Sawsan Bastawy; Zarqa Mahmood) Blog Wed, 02 Jul 2014 14:09:10 +0000
From basecamp with love

Somewhere between a festival and a conference is Friends of the Earth’s Basecamp; an annual event gathering local groups from across the country alongside staff members and a wider network of interested parties. From hard-core environmental activists to the eco-curious. Held outside the village of Castleton in the Peak District and with sessions predominantly held in yurts, getting away from it all and connecting with nature was high on the agenda.

Friday night kicked off with the Earthmovers awards ceremony – always a highlight – celebrating personal and group achievements from across the country. I always find it inspiring to hear about the breadth of work that is going on in different local groups, although when talking about our nominated project ‘Citizen Science’, I was stumped for an answer to the question ‘what was the most embarrassing moment of your campaign?’ when collecting our certificate.

There was a packed programme of different events and I participated in workshops and discussions about topics such as the general election, strategy and governance, and diversity within the network. I also learnt to shim sham and ate some cheese and wine with the Land, Food and Water Team. Food was a positive theme and one meal was cooked for us by the local Real Junk Food Project entirely from food that would otherwise have been thrown away.

The night-time festivities included a ceilidh and after the bar had closed a potentially hazardous walk through the woods to the campfire. The bar (in a yurt, naturally) was staffed by Young Friends of the Earth and my elation at discovering they were serving real cider was only matched by my disappointment when it sold out early on the Saturday night.

There was a full programme of events for children as well and the culmination of the weekend was a theatrical extravaganza where a group of solar-powered kids fought off a giant puppet personifying fracking. Being with so many committed people doing amazing things across the country and beyond was rewarding and inspiring, and it all went to show that environmental campaigning can be interesting, it can be varied, and it can be a lot of fun.

]]> (Roxanne Green) Blog Wed, 02 Jul 2014 14:00:44 +0000
Cyclists are doing it for themselves

In August 2013, Birmingham City Council started their Cycling Revolution - to make it easier and safer for people to cycle - with £24.3 million from grants and self-funding. As a keen cyclist, who has cycled all over the world yet finds her home town one of the hardest places to cycle, I welcomed this. So the cancelling of the traffic free and family friendly Sky Ride due to no suitable date being available, left me asking ‘eh’? Was this really the action of a council committed to cycling?

After the initial ranting, I remembered that one way cycling can have a higher profile is in increasing the amount of cyclists. Of course there are concerns, but the more cyclists there are, the more there will be.

This ‘critical mass’ idea led to, well, Critical Mass rides. Starting in San Fransisco in 1992, rides have taken place in over 300 cities worldwide1. A non-formalised ride, usually on a Friday evening, with cyclists (and other forms of non-motorised transport!) riding through their city together. It isn’t an organisation, more ‘an idea allowing people to reclaim cities by getting together and outnumbering the cars on the road’2. A celebration of bike-ness, it’s a fun alternative to car culture.

Another group getting out and about are the North Birmingham based road riders, the Boldmere Bullets Cycling Collective. Tom Swinbourne, one of the founder members, said the group was set up to create a stronger cycling community in Boldmere and raise the profile and visibility of cycling. It now has over 200 members since starting at the beginning of 2014. Tom would like to encourage other likeminded cyclists to replicate this fresh approach to getting communities on their bikes throughout the city: a group of cyclists getting together for social and harder road rides, as wanted.

So, yes, rant at the council, I have, but do we need them to tell us where and when we can cycle? Or should we do it for ourselves, get on our bikes and go for it?

Critical Mass rides: first Friday of every month, 18.00, Pigeon Park (St. Philip’s Cathedral)

Boldmere Bullets: Rides posted on Strava and Facebook. Socials every other Sunday, 7pm. Meet Dubella Lounge, Boldmere Road.


]]> (Cath Palgrave) Blog Wed, 02 Jul 2014 13:40:17 +0000
BFoE meets Phil Bennion MEP

On the 13th May, we received a visit from Phil Bennion MEP, who came to our offices to talk about our campaigns and discuss his views on some of the key environmental issues that BFoE is camapaigning on

The meeting was a positive one, full of lively discussion, and Mr Bennion spoke with enthusiasm about his passion for decarbonisation and tackling air pollution.

Mr Bennion said he was in favour of government action on the carbon footprint of vehicles, and has been working with vehicle manufacturers on lorries that have a shape that are less likely to create fatal crashes/accidents and are better for fuel consumption. In addition, Mr Bennion fully supports action on air quality and is likely to support the tightening of air quality regulations in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) regulations. At the EU level, Mr Bennion has worked on pollution from vehicle exhausts and earlier this week received a Clean Air Award for his work on tail-pipe tests.

Despite his belief that the UK can meet the EU's 2020 targets on air quality if sufficient time and resources are dedicated towards this, Mr Bennion expressed serious doubts about the UK's ability to meet the 2015 targets on air quality.

On the subject of low emission zones, Mr Bennion made some interesting points. Overall he is in favour of low emission zones as long as they are not prohibitive to occasional visitors to the city, like rural-dwellers, for example; and is not against charging zones, such as congestion charge zones.·

Mr Bennion was outspoken on the issue of neonicotinoids. He feels there is not sufficient quality research to demonstrate that the effects of neonicotinds on bees is such that it warrants a ban; calling the ban "unscientific."·He believes that there needs to be more research into the circumstances in which neonicotinoids harm bees and work towards making sure those circumstances do not exist, as opposed to banning substances outright. He believes that we have a clumsy approach to banning pesticides, and banning chemicals is not practical when they are beneficial/not proven to be dangerous- possibly threatening world food supply. He didn't seem to say that the ban would be foreshortened, but did at least agree that now we have it, it should be used to conduct proper research.

On issues of waste and recycling, Mr Bennion called for·more research efforts into finding better ways of recycling so that the recycling is good quality (e.g. not just low-grade recycling), rather than simply enough to meet targets

Scientifically, Mr Bennion is pro-GMO, and feels that now we have extensive gene-maps, we can make sure there are no problems with GMO. However, Mr Bennion did note that there can be a problem with GMO's, but there is no scientific problem with GMO's being generically problematic; ultimately claiming that objections to GMO's are not scientifically based.

Mr Bennion also noted that nobody has tested whether Monsanto's bundle of seed and sale of produce will stand up to European law and suggests a court case may be necessary to determine whether bundling is consistent with European law, as it is consistent with European law not to allow such a contract. In most sectors bundling is considered to be anti-competitive and Mr Bennion expressed the belief that anti-competitive bundling should be illegal in this case if it is not already.

Overall we felt it was a positive meeting. Mr Bennion said he is willing to demonstrate support for actions in favour of the environment as long as there is significant research and a scientific basis for the findings, and was interested to work with us in the future on areas we where agree.

]]> (Sawsan Bastawy) Blog Thu, 22 May 2014 12:05:40 +0000
BFoE meets Will Duckworth On the 19th of May we received a visit from Green Party deputy leader Will Duckworth who is the lead candidate for the Green Party in the West Midlands for Euro elections.

, Mr Duckworth main priorities on the EU are climate change and pollution, workers’ rights and human rights, and animal welfare. He is also committed to fighting fracking and wants EU countries to leave as many fossil fuels in the ground as possible, ultimately believing that climate change is best tackled at EU level. However, Mr Duckworth is clear that Europe should not stop UK from nationalising energy and that UK should maintain sovereignty over energy. Will also believes that there may be sufficient funding from the EU to bring down air pollution levels, and that it is just not being spent correctly at the moment.

In terms of more local issues, Mr Duckworth supports the 20mph limits with BFoE that where it has been done well, it has achieved good results. On the subject of HS2, his position is clear- HS2 should be scrapped and the money used for local infrastructure.

Interestingly, Mr Duckworth expressed some scepticism about the efficacy of low-emission-zone's (LEZ) in the long term, saying that they are useful locally but cannot be a solution to air pollution and climate change nationally and globally. He cited an example in which high polluting vehicles that were oft used in London were sold to Essex following the implementation of a LEZ in London; ultimately creating lots of pollution in Essex- demonstrating that single LEZ's can be counter-productive.

On the subject of neonicotinoids Mr Duckworth believes that the evidence demonstrating the danger to bees is sufficient for a ban; however, he agrees that further research is needed in order to convince sceptics of this. He also feels that large monoculture farms have produced problems, as well as the perception that GMO’s are neccessary.

Mr Duckworth felt we should aim to reduce, reuse and repair before we recycle; and that producing less waste is more important than recycling it, as it is not sustainable to recycle waste compared to reducing or reusing it. He also stated that long-term contracts mean councils have no reason and limited ability to get rid of incinerators, and noted that Hereford is building an incinerator based on a 25 year contract with a private company. Will suggested that government should research ways to tax the producers of the waste, and that money from taxing waste producers should go into general tax money.

Mr Duckworth spoke of the dangers of TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and his concerns of the ability of the EU to minimise damage caused by TTIP, which he believes will mean a situation where governments are have to pay out millions to private companies if they reverse decisions. He gave the example that HS2 could not be stopped by future governments under TTIP.

On the issue of Food security and seed-patenting, Mr Duckworth is firmly against GMO and GMO being allowed into the UK. He also expressed his concern about companies like Monsanto owning seeds and selling them to poorer countries, showing some agreement with the position that GMO technology is not the problem- it is how it is applied that is the problem- e.g. when it is used in sub- Saharan Africa, creating enormous food security problems.

Overall it was a positive meeting we look forward to being able to work with Will Duckworth in the future

]]> (Julien Pritchard) Blog Tue, 20 May 2014 00:00:00 +0000