TONY JOHNSON: How green was my borough

It can all be traced back to Joni Mitchell, a Canadian singer-songwriter with her ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ in April 1970. Yes, there’d been half a dozen protest songs beforehand, but on single subjects.

She brought the topics of destroying trees, over-development, pollution, organic food all together and made them memorable – covering much of the modern environmental movement.

Well, I do declare!

The ‘I’ in this case was WBC’s Leader, who in July’s council meeting proposed that the borough declare a Climate Emergency. Which they promptly did, as did eleven other councils on the same day.

Earlier in the meeting, WBC’s executive member for Climate Emergency had declared that ethically manufactured solar panels would be installed onto the roofs of the borough-run schools, starting during the next school year.

As a borough, Wokingham’s in good company. By last weekend 214 out of England’s 343 primary councils had declared a Climate Emergency and the vast majority had committed to achieving a carbon-related goal somewhere between 2023 and 2050.

The game’s afoot

Well, it used to be a metre, but apparently the new viceroy of India – aka Jocab-ulary Seize-Fogg – has declared that we’re going back to Imperial measurements and some words and punctuation are no longer fit for purpose and, very hopefully, unacceptable.

Having set their goals, around 200 councils have been caught with their Climate Emergency plans round their ankles. One gets the impression that in the frenzy of the declarations, most people aren’t sure if they need carbon reduction, zero carbon, net-zero carbon, or carbon neutrality, let alone when they need it (or can afford to do it) by.

Fortunately, Basingstoke, Charnwood, Chichester and Harborough are in better shape and have published their plans and are now working to them. And while Charnwood’s offering climate change grants for Community buildings, up to 2013 Basingstoke were working with grants to ‘Insulate Hampshire’. Hmmm.

But among the undeclared, Camden is easily the most impressive. They’ve put together a Citizen’s Assembly with councillors, staff and members of the public and have arranged presentations and discussions. They’ve put the slides and the public’s suggestions on Camden’s borough website, plus a link to the public’s geo-specific comments map.

However, what’s patently clear among the great, the good, and the gormless is that there’s not much in the way of a common framework.

Where’s the thinking edge?

Unsurprisingly, it’s at the UK’s universities and academic institutions, where the focus isn’t just with the environment/ecology, it includes the ability to keep it going for the foreseeable future – otherwise known as ‘sustainability’.

Which is why People and Planet, the UK’s largest student activist network’s publication of the How Sustainable is your University league table, just three days before WBC’s declaration, was so timely.

Not only does it show why Manchester Metropolitan comes in with a ‘First’ while Imperial College rates a ‘Fail’ among the 150+ colleges portrayed, it explains how each one measures up on the thirteen factors they’re scored against.

And it’s a well thought out set of factors too, including sustainable food, energy sources, carbon, water and waste management. But the factors don’t stop at the basics as they also cover intangibles such as policy and strategy, people, engagement, audit systems, ethical finance, investment and supply chains along with education on what sustainable development really means.

Not only is the league table clear, but the scoring system itself is well explained and openly available.

How do we measure up?

Wokingham Borough Council isn’t a university, so we don’t. At least, not yet.

But if you wanted trustworthy advice on ‘going green’, then being told what shade of paint would be allowed – under WBC’s Climate Emergency rules – might not be quite the full ticket.

However, if you’re an owner of 2.7 of Wokingham’s near-mandatory cars and considering how to get them completely ‘off-grid’ and arrange for your house to be carbonically neutralised, you’d want to know what kind of solar voltaics would get planning permission to be put in on a flat roof and how many AAA battery packs would get you to the shops and back.

And if none of this makes any sense, you’re going to need this commentator’s handy guide to ‘effical gweenewy’, available from all good berk-shops, priced just four ninety-nine (thousand)…

… until the Borough has created a practical and more affordable alternative that is.

The Last Word

As for cutting down trees, building a hotel, boutiques and swings, then paving paradise and putting up a ‘parking lot’ (aka a multi-storey car park) – did Joni Mitchell mean us?

She surely did.

As did the 450 other artists who’ve released cover versions ever since.

And regarding the hint in this week’s title, that film’s valley mined the coal for the furnace that burnt Citizen Kane’s sledge, which is why the Valley, not the Citizen ended up winning 1941’s Oscar for best picture.


Who said the creative process was easy, or predictable for that matter?

Published by
Tony Johnson
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