Category: Blog

It’s unhappily easy for our earnest efforts to fall on deaf ears, especially if (like me) you’re a bit of an egg-head. It would be lovely if people listened attentively to our reasoned arguments, but any academic psychologist could tell you it ain’t so. The Bad Science movement has roundly bashed the media for dangerously misrepresenting science. Ben Goldacre angrily lays blame at the feet of humanities graduates (like me?) who write and make editorial decisions about scientific subjects without any understanding of the subject or even getting the basics of the scientific method. Just recently we have seen climate scientists have their names dragged through the mud by, er, journalists and editors who obviously don’t realise how much of a non-scandal “Climate Gate” really was. So do we fight back with Goldacre-style condescension, taking the arguments to pieces and shouting at humanities graduates like me? That probably won’t get…

Read More Don’t be such a scientist

How could the Greater London Authority, Southwark Council or tenants on estates use OpenStreetMap? I regularly use it to get around, but of course I’m an OSM nerd. Most people have never heard of it, which is a shame because they could really benefit from it. This evening I introduced the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations to the project, handing around some printouts showing how OSM has many estates much better mapped than Google, and how we have nice (but very incomplete) public transport and cycling maps which are much more useful for your average tenant than a map for car drivers. Everyone seemed really enthusiastic, which was lovely! One lady thanked me for getting the name of her estate right; it changed in 1979 but lots of maps still have the old name. So I’m going to do some workshops with tenants on a couple of estates to get…

Read More Getting OpenStreetMaps out in London

Are free photos evil? I’m going to stick my neck out and defend the Greater London Authority for setting up a Flickr group where Londoners can submit photos to be used on the GLA web site. A few photographers are upset that anyone can now get decent photos for free from citizens who donate them. Shocker. These photographers want the GLA to use our taxes to pay them for their hard work. I’m sorry, but that’s just plain ridiculous. Should we condemn the GLA for using free software for their web site, instead of paying for a proprietary content management system? Dearie me. Look, the web has changed many creative industries and bust the business models of those few who were charging for stuff that lots of us will happily share quite freely. Get over it. This storm-in-a-lens-pouch has been picked up by the venerable Boris Watch and the Telegraph,…

Read More Boris the culture commie?

Labour have never really understood how to empower people and their community groups, although they do love to talk about it. Take this recent article by Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander, where they say “the right kind of state action is not a drain on individual empowerment; it can enhance it”. Great, so why have they been party to a state that has taken ever more power away from people, replacing citizenship with shallow consumer rights? How do you get beyond slogans and soundbites to genuinely empower local people? In a recent blog entry I wrote about the money side of the equation – how you can enable local people to directly invest in projects that will improve their neighbourhood, a topic Matt Sellwood has some interesting thoughts on. You could also use tools like participatory budgeting, made fun by the unsurpassably brilliant The People Speak, or really make the…

Read More Power to the people!

How can we tell a simple, persuasive story about Green housing policy? Tom Hill sent me this challenging article about the US Democrats’ recent failure to turn solid facts into folksy stories, reminiscent of George Lakoff’s past work on their failure to frame issues correctly (read this and this). I’ve been doing some work recently on the Green story about the recession, and what the Mayor of London should do in response. A big part of this is the Green story on housing, since the housing bubble is both a structural weakness in our economy and a negative consequence for the majority of people for whom it is far too expensive. Jenny Jones has recently published a great report explaining the downside of the story, and we’re working together on a follow-up describing a range of rather complex solutions. So how can we tell our positive story on housing in…

Read More Telling the Green story on housing

I came across a shocking statistic today: environmental taxes are decreasing in the UK! The total revenue has risen slower than inflation between 1999 and 2008; from around £32.6bn in 1999 to £38.5bn in 2008. If it had grown with inflation over that period it would have stood at £41.4bn in 2008. As a percentage of GDP over that period it fell from 3.5% to 2.7%. As a percentage of the total taxes and social contributions in the UK, it has also fallen behind. In 99 it peaked at 9.7% of total tax revenue, then fell to 7.2% in 2008. Environmental taxes made up a lower share of our economy and tax revenue than at any time since 1993, when the ONS records begin. So much for shifting the tax burden from income to environmental damage!

Read More Eco taxes going down in the UK!

Halifax have published a great little fact sheet on some key housing trends over the last 50 years. The most dramatic is that the cost of buying a home has risen 273% above incomes over that period, with the sharpest rise during the 2000s when they rose by 63%. This is the increasing cost of housing adjusted for increases in income; or adjusting for inflation to state rises in real terms, for economists. Imagine if food or heating bills rose that quickly compared to incomes! Whilst the property-owning journalists hail this rise in house prices, more and more people are squeezed out of the market, or forced to sacrifice huge chunks of their salary to repay mortgages. Jenny Jones published a report on the housing crisis in London recently. She shows that over the past decade the cost of buying a home doubled in London, well above the national rise…

Read More The cost of housing doubles in London

Here’s another reason not to try and terrify people out of conspicuous consumption, aside from the basic flaws in the “eco angel” approach and recent evidence that moralising is putting people off ethical consumerism. Some interesting research by Swiss psychologists found that warnings about death has the ironic effect of making some smokers want to smoke even more! The reason? They derive a self-esteem boost from smoking; warnings about death sent these smokers to a trusty source of self esteem to overcome that downhearted feeling – death-bringing cigarettes! So next time you tell someone that buying too much crap might cause planetary collapse, it’s fairly likely that your nasty nagging well send them running for a standard Western self-esteem boost: shopping.

Read More Might eco-nagging encourage more shopping?

Can a local community pay for its own regeneration instead of relying on developers with tall blocks of flats and massive government grants? I got thinking about this again after reading a jargon-fuelled paper on urban rights and renewal sent my way by local hero Eileen Conn. The author writes about communities owning, or controlling, their urban environment, and being able to determine how to spend “surplus value” (Marxist terminology for capital that rich people and governments accumulate off our backs). How could local people in Peckham, for example, decide how money is spent in the area? Here are two quick steps that are decidely practical compared to the ivory tower academic paper. First, give people more control over the property and land in Peckham. At the moment you either buy a home and the land it sits on, or you rent from a landlord, or you rent from the…

Read More Can the community regenerate Peckham?