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Red Lines

This week we set out our ‘Red Lines’ on environmental action and climate change, together with other campaigners around the UK as part of Go Green Week.

We worked together with a number of other student groups including CUSU Women’s Campaign and Cambridge Student Action for Refugees – thanks to everyone who took part! It’s really important to remind people that the climate crisis is not just an environmental problem – it’s also a huge threat to social justice.

Coverage in Cambridge News;

Coverage in Varsity;

WP_20170217_00520170217_100834 IMG_20170217_085044


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Zero Carbon Campaign Meeting! 31/10/2015

Tomorrow (Saturday 31st October) 13:30pm, Magdalene Bar

Zero Carbon’s third (& most important!) campaign meeting this term. Our campaign launch is imminent so there are lots of things that need to be done urgently to ensure it’s a slick operation. The press is starting to roll out articles calling Cambridge to divest from fossil fuels. It is now #timetoact to make Cambridge a #fossilfree university. New-comers are most definitely welcome so don’t worry if you haven’t been able to make the meetings so far!


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Food for Thought Review: The Gigatonne Gap in China’s CO2 Inventories.

Food for Thought Review: The Gigatonne Gap in China’s CO2 Inventories.
by Mya Goschalk

‘Food for Thought’ is a weekly discussion group led by PhD students, the first of which was Soren Lindner who wrote an influential research paper on the gap between China’s officially stated CO2 emissions, and the reality. They came to the conclusion that China released 1.4 gigatonnes of CO2 emission higher than officially stated by the government, which amounts to 5% of global output. When prompted to make a press statement on these findings, the Chinese climate minister suggested that we should to look at historic accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere from industrialised nations such as the UK.

This ‘gap’ in the data has been explained by problems in methods of collection by the Chinese government. The national bureau of statistics develops surveys for households and industries which is then conducted by the local authorities in thirty provinces. The report found that the biggest gap is from misreporting in raw oil consumption, and that yearly data shows this gap getting bigger since 1997. Soeren put forward two main reasons for this discrepancy. The first is the fact that in the last ten years the big industries came together to form industrial parks whilst the smaller firms relocated to less developed provinces which lack some of the institutional resources to record correctly. The second main reason is that there is competition between the provinces as they are competing for growth. Each province over-reports regional GDP, which in order to fit the data means that energy data also needs to be over-reported. In contrast, national data is under-reported in order to please the international community.

What becomes increasingly important now, are the implications of this ‘gap.’ Firstly, within China there is a plan for an emission trading scheme between provinces, but in order for this to be established there must be reliable data. Secondly, for countries in the West this has a large effect on trying to calculate their own carbon footprints when taking imports into account, as the data on the production side will be incorrect. And finally, arguably most importantly, is the effect that these huge uncertainties will have on climate models.

It is clear that what must be done now is to look for solutions to avoid these discrepencies, and make it increasingly aware that this type of CO2 ‘gap’ may also be occurring in other countries.

Food for Thought Week 2’s topic will be ‘Shallow Geothermal Systems for Space Heating and Cooling’ – Denis Garber, PhD Student, Energy Efficient Cities Initiative. Wednesday 17th October, Wordsworth Room, St. John’s, 1pm-2pm. The talk will start at about 1:10 so don’t worry if you’re a little late. Bring your lunch and munch as you listen, then we’ll have a relaxed discussion/Q&A session. We hope to see you there!

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Food for Thought Week 1

Don’t miss Food for Thought (our lunchtime lecture and discussion group), which kicks off this Wednesday – the topic for this week is ‘The Gigatonne Gap in China’s Carbon Dioxide Inventories’ – Soren Linder, PhD Student, Dept. of Land Economy.

Wordsworth Room, St. John’s, 1pm-2pm. The talk will start at about 1:10 so don’t worry if you’re a little late. Bring your lunch and munch as you listen, then we’ll have a relaxed discussion/Q&A session. See you there!

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Freshers’ Fair Information (but not just for freshers!) – This Year’s Plans

Here’s the main bits you need to know about this year’s plans (I stress the ‘plans’ part, as we also want your ideas and involvement to shape what happens).

Freshers’ Fair Info

Remember that the Freshers’ Squash will be held this Saturday (6th October) at 1-2pm in the Dirac Room (which is in the Fischer Building at St. John’s College). The idea is that you can get a feel for the society, and how you can get involved in a way that suits you. I look forward to seeing you there! Grace (current president 🙂 ).

PS. If you can’t make it to the squash – don’t worry! Drop me a line at and I’ll give you a rundown of what happened and what you can do next!

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Corporate Change Makers

On Monday 7th November, the Cambridge Zero Carbon Society held its first Careers Showcase for a Low Carbon Economy. Over forty-five students came to hear our speakers talk about the opportunities and challenges climate change presents to business.

Jonathan Grant – climate change and carbon markets specialist at PwC
Ruth Findlay Brooks – Senior Advisor, Sustainability Leadership, University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability leadership
Hugh Parnell – Director at NW Brown Group

From left to right: Jonathan Grant, Hugh Parnell, Ruth Findlay Brooks

We’re not there yet

According to PwC’s annual Low Carbon Economy Index, the global economy’s carbon intensity increased for the first time since 2004, with the UK performing particularly badly. Slow action has cost us – we will need to reduce carbon intensity by 4.8% each year between now and 2050, which is faster than any country has achieved over an entire decade. To put us on a more sustainable trajectory, we need a revolutionary change in the way we use and produce energy. We need a transformation in the traditional business model and a move away from the short-termist thinking that dominates the current business and political decision-making. We need to remove the power from those barring the way to action and impart more certainty within the investment market. We need to change behaviour and reverse consumerist habits. Ultimately, we need to start taking responsibility for climate change.

The business case

The role of business is crucial in the transition to a low carbon economy, and in many cases, firms are leading the way, ahead of governments and individuals. Views of what motivated businesses to act differed between the panel members. Ruth, through her work with business leaders, has found that leadership on climate change is important for recruitment and retention, as graduates are increasingly pushing the sustainability agenda. Jonathan spoke about the co-benefits of low carbon generation and how businesses are responding to new opportunities and risks, especially within the carbon market. Hugh argued that business sustainability is what ultimately motivates the private sector and their continual drive for innovation and the search for the next generation of thinking.

Sustainable leadership

What are the leadership qualities that are required in the low carbon economy? All speakers emphasised the value of innovation and creativity, along with more traditional skills including the ability to build and maintain relationships, deal with stressful situations, work in a team, have high standards of communication and project management, and technical competence. Opportunities within the low carbon economy are increasing rapidly, amongst both small and large firms. The sustainability and climate change team within PwC has almost trebled in four years, whilst there are more than 450 innovative clean tech firms around Cambridge. The opportunities are out there, so seize them and make a positive difference.

We will be posting a podcast of the evening online soon.

Our next Careers Showcase will be looking at the role of law and the legal profession in the low carbon economy: Monday 21 November, 7.30pm, Trinity Hall Lecture Theatre.

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Curse of the Climate Zombies

A Report on the ‘Climate Change Debate’ hosted by Trinity Hall, Cambridge, 24th January 2011

Written by Rhiannon Mulherin

Many bemoan the lack of a ‘real debate’ on the validity of anthropogenic climate change. Maintaining that the issue has become so polarised that there is no possibility of a reasoned discussion on the topic. On one side there are the ‘Deniers’, vitriolic about colluding scientists and conspiracies within the mainstream media. On the other there are the ‘Believers’ incensed by corporate political lobbyists and industry manipulation of the mainstream media. As revealing as this is of our universally low opinion of the Press, the more frustrating truth is that over the last decade the dialogue on climate change has stagnated.

On Monday night I was very excited by the opportunity to attend a highly publicised debate between two Cambridge Alumni: Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, one of the UK’s leading climate scientists, and Dr Walter Grant Scott, a trained nuclear physicist turned successful financier. Was I finally going to witness a ‘real debate’ (read: verbal slugging match) between two highly articulate and intellectual foes? Alas, no.

Sir Brian’s presentation was straightforward and refreshingly non-sensational. He presented evidence and carefully explained its implications. Dry and factual, I believe that the peer reviewed reference list for Sir Brian’s talk was very long indeed. The same could be said of Dr Grant Scott’s talk, but with a slight twist. Every argument he used has either been rebutted multiple times, or was an argument in support of climate science presented in such a way as to appear negative. With shock I realised I was encountering my first Climate Zombie.

These arguments that resurface again and again, no matter how many times they are rebutted, are the scourge of climate science. Zombie arguments are sinister misrepresentations that seek to become truth through repetition. They are old and the literature arraigned against them is strong, yet their ubiquity makes them incredibly powerful.

Whenever someone is billed as a ‘Climate Sceptic’ I prepare for the same old talking points. However, I thought to myself, surely in a city as educated as Cambridge no intelligent man would stand in front of an audience with a presentation that is so demonstrably false? Surely he would be laughed out of town? Amazingly, no one challenged him on it. The speakers could have been in different rooms for all the interaction they were allowed and out of the eight questions fielded, the three directed at Dr Grant Scott were on: his motivations for being a sceptic, the undeniable benefit of waste reduction and human resilience.

‘Debates’ of this type give climate sceptics an undeserved air of legitimacy and I dearly wish Sir Brian had been able to highlight the errors within his opponent’s presentation. A proper debate is not a series of statements that are allowed to pass unchallenged. I do not believe that the audience was wholly unaware of the nature of Dr Grant Scott’s talk, but rather that they did not feel sufficiently confident to accuse a guest of deliberately spreading lies. This list of Zombie talking points is very dangerous and we simply must arm ourselves with the facts and be prepared to argue them in any situation. If we are vigilant perhaps the dialogue can start to move forward again.

There are now many good websites that collate frequently used ‘sceptic arguments’ and supply rebuttals pitched at varying degrees of scientific training. Thankfully I am blessed with a tape recorder and access to the Internet. Hence it is my pleasure to present you with a list of Dr Grant Scott’s arguments against the validity of anthropogenic climate change and links to counter arguments prepared by people far better versed on this topic than myself.

Dr Walter Grant Scott:

“There is no doubt at all that the climate changes… there is equally little doubt that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, but there is considerable debate as to whether manmade carbon dioxide makes any relevant difference to the global warming situation.”
It’s not Us

“There is no practical support for the alarmist consequences attributed to global warming”
Why a few degrees of global warmings matter

“It is very difficult to assign cause and effect of the parameters of the climate system.”
Correlation, Causation, Carbon, and Common Sense

“Most obviously the sun is the cause of our climate, all the cause of our climate”
Solar activity & climate: is the sun causing global warming?

“[Carbon dioxide] is not the only green house gas and it’s a tiny tiny little bit of the atmosphere… It is very difficult to imagine that a fraction of one third of one percent could be causing so much unhappiness… The other green house gas, the biggest by far in water vapour… Water vapour contributes 80% of the total heating of the planet… Can’t clouds be considered as some sort of a thermostat?”
Water vapour is the most powerful greenhouse gas

“Carbon dioxide is described as a pollutant… In the absence of carbon dioxide there would be no life… In historical terms when the temperature has gone up and carbon dioxide has gone up it has coincided with times of great prosperity. A warm climate is somewhere where we want to live”
CO2 is not a pollutant

“Observation would suggest that sea levels go up and down quite a lot over the time span of history… There are quite a number of little towns in the north of France called ‘something sur Mer’, the trouble is they’re no where near ‘la Mer’… Sea levels change.”
Note: This is the one point I haven’t been able to find easily on a rebuttal website. However, of the now isolated villages that I encountered Montreuil-Sur-Mer  was cut off due to the silting up of its estuary. Other villages may have suffered from post-glacial rebound. Interestingly there are laws in place governing the ownership of ‘new land’ acquired in this way.

“The planet has existed for over 4 billion years. Homo sapiens has only been here for 10,000 years. Is it not the height of sixties’ child arrogance to think that we matter a damn to the planet?”
Are humans too insignificant to affect global climate?

“It has become dogma that the ‘science is settled’… the very definition of science is that it’s not settled. [Explanation of measurement, hypothesis and testing], thus Newton’s hypothesis about gravitation… turned out to be just a subset of a more general theory. Special relativity did not become ‘settled science’, neither did general relativity, neither did quantum gravity.”
Is the science settled?

Note: The explanation of how science works is correct and is one that is often used against the common sceptic argument of “There is no consensus.”
Is there a scientific consensus on global warming?

“Climate science has not generated any useful or accurate predictions.”
The Models are Unproven
NASA paper using the paleoclimate record to advise upper limit for CO2 at 350ppm

“CO2 concentrations have risen this decade and the temperatures have not, which is in direct contrast to the IPCC forecast.”
IPCC overestimate temperature rise

“It appears from satellite measurements that temperatures have actually fallen from the peak in 1998”
Warming stopped in 1998
Did global warming stop in 1998, 1995, 2002, 2007, 2010?

“[The] marvellous Hockey Stick graph… the flat bit eliminated the medieval warming period and the little ice age… Michael Man’s chart suggested that we had an equilibrium atmosphere, which was being seriously disrupted by us… well that work was debunked completely… Ross McKitrick and Steve McIntyre proved it was wrong, and wrong in every dimension. Beyond that there is so much eye witness evidence that the medieval warming period did happen and the little ice age did happen.”
The hockey stick is broken: Rebuttal A
The hockey stick is broken: Rebuttal B

“University of East Anglia email debacle should be included in the ‘out of the window’ observations for not thinking that this is real”
What do the ‘Climategate’ hacked CRU emails tell us?

“A very significant part of the IPCC prognostication comes from computer modelling… given a large enough computer and enough parameterisations it is possible to fit just about anything”
How reliable are climate models?

“Incidentally it is just worth observing that models like the General Circulation Models have been used quite liberally in finance and that’s why the world is in the mess that its in.”
Note: I could not find anything on the use of GCMs in finance. Most financial models struggle with the chaotic nature of the markets. During the Question and Answer Dr Grant Scott implied that the climate was a chaotic system and again drew correlations to finance, so I am linking to the rebuttal of that here.
Chaotic Systems are not Predictable

“An assumption has to be made about the sensitivity of the climate… a small perturbation results in a positive feedback and an out of control spiral… such a climate… would have imploded many many centuries ago. In an insensitive climate a small perturbation would trigger a negative feedback… There is evidence from satellite measurements in the last decade that… the climate may just as plausibly be a neutral or negative feedback system as the reverse.”
How sensitive is our climate?

“What is clear is that the effect of clouds and the differential effects of high and low clouds is not put into these models.”
What is the net feedback from clouds?

“In the same was there is an inadequate understanding of the effects of aerosols in the atmosphere… manmade and natural.”
It’s aerosols
Aerosols Should Mean More Warming in the South

“IPCC CO2 rising goes with rising temperature, goes with equally plausible suggestion that CO2 concentration follows temperature but evaporation from the seas. Evidence suggests 600 year time lag.”
CO2 Lags Not Leads

“The model assumes anthropogenic CO2 is the driver… Some other driver? Recent satellite data shows negative. Science not settled”
Satellites Show Cooling

“The model fits the observed facts that has the Sun at the centre of our climate. The Sun’s output is not consistent… Sun spots have been know and observed for a very long time. Comparison of recorded solar cycles with the historical temperature shows a remarkable fit… Minimum in solar activity coincided with the little ice age and… 1975 chill spot.”
Do solar cycles cause global warming?

By studying the solar cycle… it is possible to make accurate predictions about temperature and weather developments. Solar scientists have been warning for a decade that the solar cycle would lead to cooling cycles for some time… ie cooler temperatures this decade ie bad winters. They have accurately predicted the massive deviation from IPCC forecasts”
What does Solar Cycle Length tell us about the sun’s role in global warming?

“They have been largely disregarded. One astrophysicist Piers Corbyn accurate forecast last winter and this winter… his ideas remain heretical. This seems to be the fate of anyone who believes it’s not the exhaust pipes of 4x4s that is causing the problem.”
2009-2010 winter saw record cold spells
The wikipedia article on Piers Corbyn

“Present levels of [sea ice] melt are consistent with past solar cycles and recorded memory… It appears now that the sea ice is recovering.”
Arctic icemelt is a natural cycle
Has Arctic sea ice returned to normal?

“The medieval warming period saw farming in Greenland”
Greenland used to be Green

“Polar bear population is not declining”
How will global warming affect polar bears?

“The Antarctic is not melting, although there has been a significant change in the shape.”
Is Antarctica losing or gaining ice?

“Glaciers are not vanishing… They come and go… but it’s nothing to do with manmade CO2.”
Glaciers have always grown and receded

“Global warming will expand the spread of disease? Not so. Carbon dioxide enhances food produce, bang goes malnutrition…Respiratory diseases are ameliorated by warm climates…There is no evidence that warming increases, or even influences, the habit of tick born disease”
What’s Wrong With Warm Weather
Positives and negatives of global warming

“Acid oceans and wide spread extinctions? Well the sea remains firmly alkaline and extinctions have been part of life since life itself began.”
Ocean acidification: global warming’s evil twin
Can animals and plants adapt to global warming?

“The marvel of this fear mongering… is that it is not going to show up in anybody in this room’s lifetime”
The United Kingdom Climate Projections
The UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP)

“It’s wonderful for politicians seeking to have power over the people. It’s perfect for the seekers of Nobel Prize notoriety, cause they’re not going to be proved wrong in their life time and it’s perfect for people looking for government funding.”
Global Warming is Just a Hoax

“…despite the fact that at present there is not warming taking place”
Evidence for global warming

“… despite the fact that there are no persuasive natural descriptions for the 20th century warming that do not rely on anthropogenic CO2…”
Empirical evidence that humans are causing global warming

“Wind turbines. They don’t work…Why is the IPCC and the government so quiet of nuclear? It’s the only real alternative IF we have a problem”
Can renewables provide baseload power?

Ending with final quote by C.S. Lewis:

“Of all the tyrannies, tyrannies sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Note: I’m just going to supply the full quote and let people make up their own minds about how applicable it is.

Full Quote:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

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Biofuels Discussion – The views of the Cambridge parliamentary candidates

I have recently been in touch with some of the Cambridge parliamentary candidates to ask their views on biofuels. The Green Party policy on biofuels is very clear and robust and amongst other things “calls for an immediate moratorium on agrofuels from largescale monocultures” (point C6 at The Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative parties do not have a written policy on biofuels and it seems important that this pressing issue is brought to their attention and their views are made available to voters. I have written to the candidates from these parties and the Green party to ask their views.

A recent post to this site gives a thorough analysis of the problems with biofuels.

I became concerned about the views on biofuels of Tony Juniper, the Cambridge Green party candidate, when I heard him speak in a radio interview at in which, when challenged on the EU biofuel targets, was rather ambivalent and said that he thinks
that “biofuels is a part of the equation”. This prompted me to write to him to ask for confirmation that he is in full agreement with the views stated in the Green Party policy, and was disappointed to discover that this is not the case. He gave the following response:

“I am very familar with these issues, not least through my many years working as the Vice Chair of Friends of the Earth International. With this in mind the Green Party policy on this subject accords very closely with my own views. I might have one or two questions, however, for example in relation to sugar cane, that I believe can actually be quite good in achieving a useful carbon reduction, if done right. Of course this needs to include in relation to land use and food growing and also labour issues. Finally, I think we should say more about what fuel sources might work in the future in meeting the massive human need for energy that is not going to go away. A look at so called second and third generation biofuels would be illuminating in setting out what technologies we think might be acceptable, as well as those that we are sceptical about.”

Sugar cane plantations have had a devastating effect on Brazil’s Cerrado and it seems to me that Tony Juniper’s belief that sugar cane can be a good option does not actually “accord very closely” with the Green Party Policy which specifically includes sugar cane as part of the problem. (point CC252 I have asked him for the information on which he bases his view that sugar cane “can be quite good”.

The second area in which his view differs with Green Party policy is to do with second and third generation biofuels (CC254). The following articles give a convincing presentation of the problems with these:

The view supported by several of the NGOs mentioned below is that there is no such thing as ‘sustainable’ industrial biofuels. All will destroy natural habitats either directly or indirectly by displacing farmers from agricultural land. All involve the use of agrochemicals with toxic by products, heavy water use and soil erosion. In the light of this, I would like to hear exactly what kind of large-scale biofuel could possibly be “quite good”; the caveat used (“in relation to land use and food growing and also labour issues”) clearly needs to be fully explained.

It is worrying that biofuel proponents have been so successful that there are now government policy incentives in place whereby burning biofuel in power stations attracts twice the subsidies compared to on-land wind power generation. George Monbiot makes this point here.

With over a billion people in the world going hungry, it seems to me morally indefensible to use land to grow crops to power our vehicles rather than to feed hungry people.

When contacting the other parties, since they do not have a policy on biofuels, I quoted the Green Party Policy and asked whether they are in agreement with this. I have received the following response from Julian Huppert the Liberal Democrat candidate.

“I think there are real concerns about trying to develop wide-scale biofuels for exactly the reasons described. We would firstly ensure that the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) only permits sustainable biofuels as required by the EU 2009 Directive on the Promotion of Renewable Energy Sources and includes a calculation taking into account the effects of indirect land use change, and secondly aim to ensure that energy is supplied by more renewable and less damaging alternatives.”

I have raised the following points with him (based on information from the NGOs mentioned below).

1. The RTFO, and soon the European Directive (RED) are licensing all biofuels with false sustainability standards, and this applies to all large scale biofuels, even those made from Brazilian sugar cane. This is exactly what the problem is about and the Green Party policy gives examples of biofuels (including even rapeseed oil from Europe) which have a knock on impact on deforestation elsewhere in the world.,

2. The calculation to compensate for indirect land use change (ILUC) is completely inadequate. It allows just a few percent compensation as part of a “risk adder” when ILUC causes additional emissions of thousands of percent.

3. Both the RTFO and the RED make no inclusions for their wider ecological footprint including biodiversity losses and the attendant acceleration of climate feedbacks as ecosystems are systematically wiped out.

4. Both directives allow biofuels from countries where human rights abuses and land grabs are commonplace…i.e. even the safeguard against human rights abuses in both directorates is absent or entirely inadequate.

5. Currently it is illegal for the UK to have different “sustainability standards” from the EU: we need a new Government who has the courage to challenge this.

6. Also under EU rules, it is illegal to “discriminate” against particular biofuels for example because people have been evicted or even killed to produce them; (there are no adequate safeguards – even minimal additional safeguards are illegal)

7. Under EU rules, it is also illegal to “discriminate” against biofuels which can be shown to cause people to go hungry.

8. Although a final decision is still pending, the European Commission has proposed to class oil palm plantations as forests! So if natural forests are cut down for oil palm plantations, this is not classed as deforestation! Hence palm oil can still be classed as “sustainable”!!

9. Ironically there is actually no requirement on the UK to keep the RTFO in place and no renewable energy target for transport applies BEFORE 2020. This means that the UK or any other EU member government who is concerned about the problems outlined above can simply withdraw. By 2020 the EU legislation may well have been changed in view of new and ongoing evidence about biofuel impacts as well as fast increasing public opposition so not meeting the 2020 10% targets would not be an issue.

10. There is also currently no requirement to support biofuels in the heat and power sector. The Renewable Heat Incentive associated with this will go through Parliament later in the year.

11. You may be interested to know that a number of Lib Dem councillors and Green Party members in Bristol and Portland are fighting hard against the biofuel power stations proposed by W4B, using some of the arguments cited here.

I should mention that I’m not an expert in this field and have gained this information from discussions and reports from the following organisations: Biofuelwatch, Action Aid, Friends of the Earth, Global Forest Coalition, and World Rainforest Movement

I am calling on concerned individuals to contribute their views to this discussion. I will post here all further responses that I receive from the candidates.