Monday, 30 March 2009

March 2009 – “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”

This month I watched the premier of the film The Age of Stupid simulcast into a cinema in Cardiff, it was a good-heartedly organised low carbon event with a green carpet to greet the film goers which included people like Vivian Westwood, Ken Livingstone and Ed Miliband. The film makes an overwhelming case for taking action now and planning to avoid runaway climate change, presenting a doomsday scenario in the future made more and more plausible, as the film goes on, by documentary and news stories from weather events and human activity from our real life present. After the film Ed Miliband spoke and what was most striking about what he said were his assertions about the absolute necessity of developing clean coal technology - something that doesn’t yet exist.

Dwight D. Eisenhower apparently said “Plans are nothing; planning is everything” and i don’t think Ed and the government are following Dwight’s maxim because they have a target (80% reduction in emissions by 2050) and they have a plan (maybe like baldrick once had a cunning plan – a plan for something that doesn’t exist) but their isn’t too much evidence of planning. The decision on the third runway at heathrow actually suggests that the governments short and medium term planning is working against their own target and the decision on Kingsnorth’s coal powerstation in the autumn will be a further test of government planning - as flagged up by Pete Postlethwaite at the premier saying he will give his OBE back if they give the go-ahead on Kingsnorth.

One person with the ear of this particular government in the past is Anthothy Giddens and he has a new book out this month called The Politics of Climate Change. And Giddens has been talking up a new politics-of-planning for a number of months saying that longer term planning and consensus building around a ‘green state’ is essential to correct the failings of our current culture of short term politics. The big problems he indentifies to be addressed by better planning include; the chicken game (who goes first on the hard choices) between citizens and government, achieving worldwide collective action and overcoming what he modestly called “Giddens’ Paradox.” These big issues are clear enough though it remains to be seen how racial his advocacy for “active planning” will prove to be.

Plan to make some green custard? The Hackney Post have got a recipe famous as of this month.
Currently there is an opportunity to influence government planning through a consultation on planning for low carbon business and industry the consultation was kicked off by a green custarded Peter Mandelson early in the month.

So back to The Age of Stupid which shows that planning is necessary at all levels of society – way beyond the political realm. The battle to get planning permission for a wind farm in the film, against local people who don’t want it on their doorstep, highlights the problem of ‘free riders’ in a system (the general term Gidden’s uses for people benefiting, without contribution, from others acting collectively) and the challenge for climate change of planning at the local level. The Planning Act November 2008 placed a duty on local authorities to consider climate change but it remains to be seen whether it is it having a big impact. The Act appears to move in two directions at once, with “National Policy Statements” to be developed by government departments in consultation with interested parties to move decision making more effectively to the local level and a body called the “Infrastructure Planning Commission” which should take some major decisions away from the local authorities. In any case a glance at the Act suggests that local planning is still contingent on good National and UK wide planning. Major social change often goes hand-in-hand with land reform and organisations like Lammas are campaigning for more radical approaches to planning to allow the social change they want for themselves to live a lower carbon lifestyle.

I have also been learning the hard way this month that more planning at the personal level is needed, for example, to get reasonable price train tickets (to not drive), stop buying bottled water and other things that are better but not necessarily quicker solutions. There are loads of tools for measuring personal emissions and setting personal targets but there doesn’t feel like as many tools around (though there are some good ones I know and some I don’t I‘m sure) for day to day personal planning. It would be a shame if as individuals we had the will to act and our targets but were scuppered by our planning.

So yes more planning (not just plans) from government to match targets, local government planning executing that duty to consider climate change (with well judged government support on the big decisions) and more planning at the personal level all would be helpful. Of course April brings an international focus to plans made on climate change with the G20 in London, before come December pressure for a master plan in Copenhagen.


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