A Timely Reform by Ian Ridley

Blog & web site of Ian Ridley

Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

In favour of switching off Street Lights

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
Copyright Roger Kidd under Creative Commons Licence
Copyright Roger Kidd under Creative Commons Licence

The Conservative-controlled Leicestershire County Council, “plans to save up to a £1 million annually by switching off street lights or limiting the hours they are illuminated,” according to the Leicester Mercury.

Like other areas, Leicestershire has rolled out a partial or full switch-off of selected street lights since 2010. Around 2-3% of lights have been changed so far. So the report must mean that the scheme is being extended.

I am in favour of a judicious reduction in street lighting. It saves tax-payers’ money, reduces carbon emissions and makes the nocturnal environment more natural for wildlife. It also allows people to see more of the night sky. For the latter reason, the Campaign for Dark Skies (part of the British Astronomical Association) supports more efficient street lighting.

The County Council list sensible criteria for exempting areas with above-average crime, road hazards and so on. Many lights on roads near to us have been switched off after midnight with no anecdotal increase in traffic accidents or crime. I can’t find any data from Leicestershire Police on changes in crime, although police in Dorset, Hertfordshire and South Gloucestershire all report no increase in crime or traffic accidents. This is a generalisation, as Police can and do request that the lights are switched back on if there are problems.

The Crime Prevention Web Site neatly summarises the positive and negative arguments for street lighting.

Leicestershire Liberal Democrats suggest LED street lights as an alternative to a partial switch-off. However the jury is out on the impact of these brighter, bluer lights on people, wildlife and the night sky.

Perhaps legislators should also look at ensuring lamp fittings on private and public buildings are correctly designed direct all light towards the ground. Only recently, the Leicester Mercury published photos that show how much light goes wastefully upwards into the night sky. Any new LED lighting should be on the warmer, yellower end of the spectrum to reduce glare and reflection.

Switching off street lights is not a conservative thing to do. Maintaining the status quo, keeping the lights on  and reassuring elderly residents would be a more natural policy for the Tories. They are driven by the need to save money, rather than pragmatism or  environmental concerns.

However, it is disappointing to see the Lib Dem Group on the County Council oppose this move, principally on the basis of fear of crime and indeed fear of change. I would counsel them to make policy based on evidence, rather than uninformed perception. They should support the policy, but with oversight to ensure reduced street lighting is not at the expense of road safety or actual crime. Properly directed, “warmer” coloured LEDs may also be part of the solution. LED lights can also be switched off when they are not needed, thereby saving energy and money in two ways.

Chips ‘n’ bins: liberals and environmentalism

Monday, September 4th, 2006

I have been a little taken aback at some dissenting voices from fellow liberals on environmental policies such as:

  • charging people for the weight of recyclable waste they produce;
  • taxing high polluting cars;
  • introducing a system to discourage a wasteful “standby” mode on electrical appliances

Liberals need to position themselves somewhere on the divide between allowing people to become voluntarily environmentally responsible and using compulsion.

We need to start by making it easy to be environmentally responsible. Once these measures in place we need to use tax to penalise polluters and those who generate excessive un-recyclable waste.

Looking at the landfill/incinerator waste issue, helpfully sensationalised as a Bugs in Binsstory by the Mail on Sunday, we still need to:

  • bring kerbside collection of all recyclables to all houses that currently have a landfill waste collection;
  • legislate to reduce unnecessary waste packaging, encourage the use of recyclable packaging and ensure all recyclable packaging is clearly identified. Most of my landfill waste is unrecyclable plastic nowadays (my local council collects types 1 to 3 but a lot of packaging does not display the type of plastic).

Once these are in place then we can look at charging people by the amount of non-recyclable waste that they produce. This would assume that a workable system could be found. For a starter it would have to be an individual allowance rather than a household one. There are plenty of practical problems that might arise – increased fly-tipping, neighbours using each others’ bins. I thought some EU countries had systems in place but cannot find anything on the net.

So my concerns about weighing rubbish are more practical than liberal. Can all householders easily recycle waste and compostable material? Are manufacturers being forced to reduce packaging and use recycleable materials? And finally, can a weighing system work?

“Liberal” arguments against weighing rubbish or a tax on polluting cars or taxing those manufacturers who insist on keeping a wasteful “standby” button on your TV do not impress me. In fact, I’d class these as more coming from a libertarian perspective – an argument for small or non-existent government overriding environmental concern

Mill wrote, “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” This is often seen as shorthand for modern liberalism.

By unsustainably polluting the planet, we are all harming each other. This needs to be tackled by compulsion as well as enabling people to be more environmentally responsible. The devil in the environment is in the detail: 3 or 4 appliances left on standby in one home may add up to hardly anything in the UK’s energy budget but multiply that by tens of millions of homes….

Calling a chip in a bin a “bug” is a good old Wail sensationalism. It’s no more a bug than getting your pet microchipped. Like your pet, the chip in the bin stores which property the bin comes from. It does not transmit weight, sound or other dynamic data.

Targetting those….. Part 2

Friday, May 19th, 2006

Back to the 4×4 /SUV issue (and I see the Lib Dem VED and indeed air travel policies have got some publicity today)

I was accused of demonising all 4×4 drivers. Well I wouldn’t quite call it that but perhaps I could have been more precise:

– Not all 4x4s are the top polluters;
– so it follows that not all 4×4 drivers are selfish. And of course some 4x4s are essential for professional use.

But there are a hell of a lot of top polluting SUVs and 4X4s out there that are just fashion accessories. But fashion accessories that are adding to greenhouse gas emissions. Individually a 4×4 that goes out on the occaisional journey may seem to be not a big deal but the sums add up. Just like that coal fired power station, those short haul and long haul flights.

I would like here to pay tribute to my commenters Alex/ Richard, who have pulled me up short on my random generalising (there’s no fun left in the world – I’ll tell you). I even have to add an extra category of responsible 4×4 owners: hardly use it but carbon offset the emissions and not even in that temporary “we’ll plant some trees” way.

To continue: switching to a lower emission vehicle might not seem like making a big difference, nor does turning off the TV rather than leaving it on standby or putting a wind turbine on your roof. But spread across millions of people, particularly when we are looking at an industrialised China & India joining the “developed” energy-rich world, it is crucial to the environmental future of the planet.

Finally as a tall chap myself (6’5″) I have found it difficult to find a suitable car to drive too. I learnt to drive in a Corsa 5 years ago. We had a Vectra for a while but it wasn’t good for my back. My older Cavalier was/is better for that. Now we have a Zafira – much better for someone my height but the 204 g/km of CO2 it chucks out is not ideal. Not so much a tank, more like an APC.

In fact there is web site that rates cars by ergomic comfort: