Could you be Luton’s climate champion?

As part of its Easy Being Green campaign, Luton Council is hosting a competition to find the town’s climate change champion.

The council wants to hear examples of people who are reducing their carbon footprints, and who would be willing to share their story. Using images and video, you’d be sharing your experienced of how you are cutting waste, saving energy, choosing sustainable transport options, and any other steps towards a greener lifestyle. Who might you inspire by sharing your story?

Is there a prize, you may ask. And yes there is. A family membership to ZSL – that’s Whipsnade and London Zoo – is on offer. It’s an annual pass that’s worth £325, or if the zoo isn’t your thing you can request an equivalent value in vouchers.

“Each action we take on climate change makes a difference” says Councillor Tom Shaw, Portfolio Holder for Climate Change. “Our Climate Change Champions will highlight how small lifestyle changes are impactful, attainable and often cost free – if anything our residents could actually save money!”

“I’m very excited to hear what our community is doing to tackle this issue in their everyday lives – the more original the idea, the better! Whilst we are taking steps to lead the way on climate change locally, from reducing emissions in council buildings to using gas-to-liquid fuel in our vehicle fleet, we know the people of Luton are also key to change. Those with experiences, ideas and ‘green’ lifestyles are our allies and we need to hear their voices.” 

How do you enter? Email the council here: LutonLife@luton.gov.uk

You have until the 27th of May to enter, with the winner announced on June 5th. More details here.

Green controlled growth at Luton airport?

Luton Rising are proposing a new approach to sustainability concerns around expanding the airport. Called Green Controlled Growth, the aim is to set fixed limits for a variety of environmental harms. Any expansion of the airport has to fit within those boundaries, or it can’t happen. Here’s the video introducting the idea:

As Luton Rising CEO Graham Olver writes, Green Controlled Growth “means we cannot grow unless we remain inside set environmental limits on carbon emissions, aircraft noise, surface access modes, and air quality. These constraints will be legally binding, overseen, and monitored by an independent body.”

This is a pioneering idea, and if done well, it would be an interesting innovation to come out of Luton Airport. As an airport wholly owned by the local council, it’s appropriate that Luton should be pioneering socially conscious approaches to aviation.

However, the bottom line with climate change is always the same: greenhouse gas emissions. Every source of climate emissions needs to be falling. No sector gets a free pass to increase emissions. And here’s where Green Controlled Growth can’t deliver on the most important thing. It only covers emissions from ground operations. Once planes reach cruising altitude, it’s not considered part of Luton Airport’s emissions, even if the fuel was pumped on board in Luton.

As Luton Rising acknowledge themselves, “by far the largest contributor to the airport’s overall climate impact is the carbon emitted by aircraft engines.” And that is not covered by the Green Controlled Growth strategy.

To put it another way, Green Controlled Growth can be seen as a way of managing local impacts, but not global ones. Expanding the airport is still going to lead to a massive increase in greenhouse gas emissions and climate impact.

Look our for our Little Green Libraries

Have you seen one of our Little Green Libraries yet? We’re pulling together collections of inspiring and informative books on environmental themes, and placing them in public places. It’s part of our work on climate literacy, and making sure that anyone in Luton can find the information they need to make a difference.

They run on trust, so there’s no membership, check-out or late fees. Unlike normal libraries, you’re welcome to share books of your own too – just leave them in the box for others to benefit from them.

We’re currently piloting the idea, so there are just two to discover at the moment: one in the Lagoa bistro in High Town, and one in the lounge of Stopsley Baptist Church. A third is on its way, and then we’ll be keeping an eye on how they’re used. If they are popular, we’ll do some more. With choices tailored to location, we’d love to put them in cafes, churches, schools, and perhaps in actual libraries.

If you’d like one, get in touch. We’ll need to secure some funding or sponsorship to put more out there, but we’d like to. And if you can help with sponsorship, let us know. (The initial pilot has been sponsored by Earthbound Books)

A quiet revolution in street lighting

With bills rising dramatically, there’s been a lot of interest in ways to save energy recently. Replacing old light bulbs with LEDs is a common piece of advice. But what if you could do that with a whole town? That would be quite a saving.

Luton has in fact just done that. Over the last few years over 18,500 street lights have been switched over to LEDs, with the transformation very nearly complete. Perhaps you’ve noticed them where you are.

There are multiple benefits to LED (Light Emitting Diode) street lights. For a start, they consume a fraction of the energy. As more and more streetlights have been switched over, the council is now saving a million pounds a year on its electricity bills.

There’s obviously a saving in carbon emissions too. Emissions from lighting have been cut by 80% since the beginning of the transition.

An added benefit is that LED bulbs are very reliable and require almost no maintenance. With nothing but a routine inspection from time to time, they should light the streets for 20+ years without needing a bulb change.

The LED streetlights are also better for wildlife, because they are designed to point downwards, reducing the light pollution that can affect birds and insects. Local star-gazers will hopefully notice a reduction in ‘sky glow’ as well.

There is still a little work to do to get the last few streetlights replaced, with some further savings expected from replacing the control mechanisms. Overall though, the patient work of switching over Luton’s streetlights has delivered safer streets, lower emissions and cheaper electricity bills for the town.

The wild future of Bradgers Hill

Conservation volunteer Nivan Hammond on why Bradgers Hill Wilder Futures is important for the site and the community.

Bradger’s hill is a distinctive area, both in terms of its place in the memories of local people as well as its status as a classic area of chalk grassland. When I was younger, it was regular for groups or schools to use the hill and the John Dony Field Centre for education purposes. Young people would get to know about and care for this gem in their community.

The John Dony experience has long since halted, although the road signs to its former location remain. As such, it is at risk of becoming a hill that people take for granted, unaware of the history or the ecosystems found there. I believe this can be changed, with environmental issues being brought to the front page of newspapers or TV screens, now is the time. It’s so important that those people in the community know about the unique area of natural beauty and the species that live within it.

The Wilder Futures project is an important beginning. Drawing people’s attention to this site, getting them to interact and learn from those who are passionate about it will inspire people of all ages to get involved and begin to care more for the green spaces around them. Led by a team who are knowledgeable in their field and working with the Friends of Bradger’s Hill, I’m personally excited to see this site brought back to life.

This is not only good for the future of site, but also brings the community together through exploring, learning and shared experiences.

For more information please visit: Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs & Northants, Friends of Bradgers Hill, or look them up on Facebook. You can also contact Noreen Iqbal on Noreen.Iqbal@wildlifebcn.org

The climate and our future: an invitation

Did you know that Luton Borough Council has a Principal Climate Officer? Would you like to hear about what he does? Well, here’s the perfect opportunity!

In 2019 Luton Council followed the government in declaring a climate emergency.
They set an earlier target for reaching net zero carbon emissions – 2040.

Luton has a Climate Action Plan, which is in 2 parts:

  • Council activities, properties and transport, including the airport (flights and transport to the airport and actions on the airport site)
  • The borough more widely, including action by businesses, organisations and individuals.

Dylan Katuwawala will be updating us about progress on the Plan, how they have prioritised actions, what they have achieved, and their plans and targets, so we look forward to a lively discussion.

Before Christmas, Jeremy Williams came to talk to us about his book, Climate Change is Racist. We were fired up with how what we do in the privileged West affects communities around the world. We enjoyed some wonderful food brought by participants, especially the Sikh community.

We’d like updates on some initiatives we heard about at our last meeting. For example:

  • How Luton Council of Faiths are planting hundreds of trees across the town, to remember those who have died from Covid
  • How Bedford Radio has promoted climate and nature in recent broadcasts
  • The work that the Kashmir Development Foundation is doing to combat climate change through tree planting and other initiatives in Kashmir
  • How the Sikh community is providing hot meals locally to disadvantaged people (who suffer disproportionately from the effects of pollution)
  • The activities of Muslim Green Activists
  • What else we are all doing locally to cut carbon, and what more we could do

Interested? We would love to see you and any of your friends, colleagues or contacts.
This will be on the 7th of April at the Friends Meeting House, Crawley Green Rd, just uphill from Crescent Rd, at 7.30pm.

Please let us know if you are able to come, as we need to know numbers. If you’d like to bring vegan or vegetarian snacks for the interval, we would be delighted, but please don’t feel you have to. If coming by car, please try to come with someone else. If you need a lift, we may be able to help.

Covid restrictions have been relaxed, but many think it wise still to wear masks, and we ask that you consider that and social distancing at the meeting to reduce the chance of spreading the virus to vulnerable or older people.

Best wishes
David Oakley-Hill and Julie Furnivall
Luton Friends of the Earth
greenactivities@outlook.com

PS Please respond to the consultation on Luton airport expansion – deadline 4 April.
Advice at LADACAN and Stop LAE.

Protests at airport expansion plans

While the consultation on Luton airport’s expansion plans is ongoing, a number of groups have made their opposition clear. High profile opponents include Bim Afolami, Conservative MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, who has launched a petition against the expansion. There is no mention of climate change in Afolami’s petition, which objects to the “detrimental impact on local transport networks and increase in air and noise pollution in Hitchin & Harpenden.”

Climate campaigners Greenwash.earth picked up on sustainability claims and named Luton Rising the ‘Greenwasher of the Month’ for February, saying that “flying can never be sustainable.”

More locally, the Luton branch of Extinction Rebellion has branded the plans “ludicrous” and is protesting against the expansion. “This goes against the council declaring a climate emergency and puts the people of Luton and the planet at risk from climate change.” The group have picketted consultation events, including a protestor greeting visitors to the Harpenden event dressed as the grim reaper.

Having demonstrated at events around the area, Extinction Rebellion Luton is inviting those opposed to airport expansion to join them at the consultation at Wigmore Church on the 26th of March. The group plans a carnivalesque series of interventions including a samba band, live music, costumes and dancing. All are welcome.

Latest consultation opens on Luton airport expansion plans

Luton Rising, the owner of Luton Airport, has begun a new round of consultation on airport expansion plans. The latest round incorporates changes and suggestions drawn from the last set of consultation events held in 2019.

As before, the consultations will be seeking the views of local people around the area as the airport seeks to expand from 18 to 32 million passengers per year. This will not require a second runway, but it will include a new terminal, and building across much of Wigmore Park.

Previous consultations raised objections around the environment, and Luton Rising insist their plans have taken this into consideration. “We firmly believe there is a way to grow an airport in a sustainably responsible way” says Councillor Javeria Hussein, chair of Luton Rising.

Chief Executive Graham Olver highlights a new “Green Controlled Growth framework” for the airport expansion, described as “at the heart of our sustainability measures, which we believe are some of the most far-reaching ever put forward by a UK airport.” The plan is to put robust limits on key environmental impacts, and make them legally binding.

Critics remain sceptical, pointing out that previous limits such as noise restrictions have been repeatedly breached. Anti-expansion group LADACAN say the plans will lead to 40,000 extra passenger journeys on the roads every day, and impose day and night-time noise increases across the region.

Most importantly, the expansion of Luton Airport would lead to a 60% rise in greenhouse gas emissions from the flights. Even if the airport itself were to operate entirely on renewable energy, Luton Airport would be directly responsible for over two million tonnes of CO2 a year from the planes – a vast contribution to global climate change.

We will be covering Luton Airport and its plans in more detail in future articles.

To find out more about the expansion plans, drop in on one of the public consultation exhibitions, or visit the online exhibition space on Luton Rising’s website.

Councils awarded scorecards for their climate plans

Climate Emergency UK has graded every council in Britain on their climate action plans, and produced a ranking. They can be viewed at councilclimatescorecards.uk

Councils receiving top marks include Manchester, Solihull and Edinburgh, which all scored over 80%. The average score across the 409 UK councils was 43%.

Luton’s climate action plan scored just 19%, putting it in the lower reaches of the ranking – though better than the fifth of councils have no plan at all, and thus scored zero.

Climate Emergency UK, which was founded to track and support climate emergency declarations, used a team of volunteers to read council action plans. Scores were allocated based on community engagement, clear goals, costings, timelines and political commitment. The full checklist can be viewed here, along with the methodology.

This methodology was released after Luton’s climate plan was published, and sources at the council expressed frustrations with the process that led to Luton’s low score. The Climate Emergency UK assessors only looked at Climate Action Plans as a single document. Luton council provided supporting documentation along with the plan that would have filled in more of the criteria, but only the single document was assessed.

The timing of the rankings is not ideal for Luton either, as an updated action plan is due in Spring 2022. The existing plan is clear in the introduction that “this is only a starting point”, and that “this plan does not describe how the borough as a whole will reach carbon neutrality.”

While the rankings may not tell the whole story in Luton, they do provide a baseline, and the Climate Emergency UK project brings together council plans in one place for easy comparison and learning.

For more on the Council Climate Scorecards, see this interview with Isaac Beevor, who is from Luton and is currently Campaigns and Policy Officer at Climate Emergency UK. You may also wish to support the charity’s crowdfunder to expand their process to include climate action, and assess how well councils are translating their plans into actual emissions reductions.

Luton climate activist jailed for Insulate Britain protest

An activist from Luton is among five climate protestors to receive prison sentences for their actions with Insulate Britain. El Litten, a programmer aged 35, was summoned to the High Court along with 19 other Insulate Britain protestors on February 1st. When the court was due to return for the afternoon session, Litten and three others sat down outside the Court of Justice and glued their hands together.

El Litten, 3rd from right, takes part in a protest outside the High Court, February 2022. Photo: Denise Laura Baker

While other protestors received suspended sentences, the act of resistance at the hearing earned Litten a custodial sentence for contempt of court. The four were sentenced to between 24 and 32 days.

Insulate Britain, as the name suggests, demand that the government take the “no-brainer step to tackle rising energy bills and the climate crisis by insulating Britain’s leaky homes.” Their protests throughout 2021 caused controversy by blocking ports and motorways.

Energy bills have risen by record rates in Britain in recent months, with the 54% increase in energy costs pushing millions of households into energy poverty. Government programmes to insulate homes have stalled, with the Green Homes Grant abandoned in 2021 after helping to improve just 47,500 of a planned 600,000 homes. No replacement to the scheme has been announced.

Insulating homes would address the cost of living crisis, improve health outcomes, while also cutting carbon emissions.

In a statement, Litten explained her reasons for taking part in the protest at the High Court:

“It’s frustrating that our society allows politicians and businesses to lie with impunity, to make pretty speeches while the truth is that their actions and decisions are causing harm and death on a massive scale. I’d ask the government to do what is right, to act in order to protect lives, not to protect their own power.”

“I cannot stand by whilst our government causes so much damage and so many deaths, both in the UK and on a much bigger scale around the world. I don’t want to be part of the terrible injustice of the climate crisis, with the worst effects always landing on those who have done least to cause them.”

El Litten has previously taken part in Extinction Rebellion actions in Luton, and was one of three XR Luton protestors arrested at Luton Airport in 2019.