GROWING up as a child on a council estate in Llanelli one could say that there was a shortage of spare cash and that most children thanked their lucky stars for whatever they received, be it food or a bicycle once in a lifetime. Walking to school to save bus money was a normal thing to do. Of course there were footpaths linking the estates and the town. As we know, they were built over to make an out of town town, which killed the town that now needs saving as a town if you follow the logic. There were regular buses and yes, the pushbike was popular. Traffic was not as voluminous as today but what traffic there was on the road spewed out far more pollutants than today’s vehicles.
There were numerous playing fields and parks, which were tended by dedicated gardeners working for Llanelli Borough Council. Many were the fathers, brothers, mothers and sister of people on the estates. Gardens were furnished with sheds, greenhouses, vegetable plots and fruit trees. There was of course a compost heap and some people kept chickens, pigs or goats. There was also a generation who had served in the First and Second World War around to remind us that we never had it so good. Examples we were to measure ourselves by and respect. Were we in poverty? Well it is all a matter of perspective and it is relative to the times, the conditions, the ambitions, the cost of living, the availability of social housing and many other contributing factors.
Do people today really have grounds to complain? Do people really face the same problems or have things changed? Is climate change the single most important issue for people in Wales today?
We are told that the major issue facing society today is Climate Change. Prior to that it was the threat of Nuclear War. The warnings over climate change have been sounded as early as the 1950’s so it is nothing new. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring alerted a large audience to the environmental and human dangers of pesticides, spurring revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. Despite condemnation in the press and heavy-handed attempts by the chemical industry to ban the book, Carson succeeded in creating a new public awareness of the environment which led to changes in government and inspired the ecological movement. It is thanks to this book, and the help of many environmentalists, that harmful pesticides such as DDT were banned from use in the US and countries around the world.
In order for farmers in Wales to feed the whole of Wales farming would need to change. Aforestation is taking place as we speak and agricultural land is being sold to investors. We have a shortage of lorry drivers and inevitably there would be a shortage of manual workers to harvest any large scale cultivation of native crops. We have seen the impact of TB on cattle. Mad Cow’s Disease and Avian Flu. Like the weather patterns in Wales, the agricultural sector is also susceptible to unpredictability. Green energy is also susceptible to problems and ultimately relies on fossil fuels to provide the majority of power.
There are changes which could be made but they may be unpalatable to a generation used to having energy on tap 24/7. When I lived in Romania the power would only come on at certain times of day. Hot water too. There was little or no street lighting People would slaughter their home reared pig on the street. State owned farms were used to grow fruit and vegetables, there was little left in winter so people pickled and salted whatever they could to store for Winter. I recall taking an orange to a neighbour at Christmas and watching as she peeled and kept every single element of that fruit for use. Nothing was thrown away. The horse not car was King.
The wrath of politicians in Wales has not been wielded on farmers as yet but there have been rumblings. The drive is towards renewable, green clean energy and a reduction in pollutants entering the atmosphere, protection of endangered species, conserving fuel and food supplies and planting trees to offset carbon emissions. It seems like a very simple recipe for success and one which would reap benefits for society as a whole. In recent weeks we have heard politicians calling for us to eat less meat, to prepare for less out of season fruit and vegetables, to stop using wood burning stoves, to start using public transport, using electric cars and bikes, to insulate our homes and to travel less and work from home. What we have seen is investors rushing in to buy up land for planting trees. Questions are being asked regarding the use of wood burning biomass plants. Using natural products to save nature is something most green environmentalists would question. Planting trees to burn isn’t the vision a young Greenpeace activist I once was would acknowledge as sane.
Much of what we are being asked to do is problematic for many reasons. In order to use an electric car or bike one would have to be earning a considerable sum of money to pay for what are expensive luxuries. It is beyond the scope of most working class families and many middle class families. Public transport has historically been bad. In rural areas like Carmarthenshire, Mid Wales and North Wales bus services are becoming non existent. Car is and always has been King. There are many examples one could give of the Utopian ideal of us all on communal buses being driven to the countryside or the beach to enjoy clean waters teaming with life surrounded by clean air and looking out onto fields of in season crops, abundant fruit trees and cattle and livestock on farms, which have been reared organically and slaughtered humanely for the consumption of those of us left that are not vegan or vegetarians.
One only has to look at one street in Llanelli to see that there are double standards at work, hypocrisies, unfair distribution of political will and effort and government funding for the tax paying citizens. If a local authority running as a business funded by citizens as financial contributors makes £2m in savings then those same people should have a say in where those savings are spent. We have thousands of councillors in Wales and we have a prospect of a doubling of the numbers of politicians at the Senedd.
It is the residents who live on Sandy Road not the politicians. A road which is one of the most polluted roads in Carmarthenshire. Chock-a-block with vehicles spewing out fumes at dangerous levels. Residents suffering with respiratory problems. Ringed by more and more homes pumping more and more pollution out into the estuary killing wildlife and making the water unsafe to enter if one can get through the asbestos left over from the town’s industrial past. To the residents of Sandy Road it is a universe away from the utopian dream.
At a local level the council wanted to turn a large area of Parc Howard into a car park. Protests put pay to that. The local country park draws in thousands of vehicles every year and provides a huge revenue in parking fees. Is it really in the council’s interest to stop those cars travelling along Sandy Road to Pembrey along with all the trucks, the school buses and to somehow incorporate traffic control measures.
Residents have made suggestions like; Times when people could travel on that route, restrictions on heavy vehicles. A one way system road edging the railway line so that traffic is reduced. Providing children with bicycles to go to school. Planting trees and pollution busting plants along the road. Improving windows and using monitors which would alert residents to dangerous levels of pollution.
None of this is happening or likely to happen. What is happening is that Carmarthenshire County Council and no doubt other councils across Wales have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money on electric charging points, which believe it or not in the main draw power from the National Grid. How many Llanelli residents will benefit from those facilities costing £550,000? Jess Hamer (pictured) attended COP26 and has been campaigning for clean air around her school. Mums For Lungs also has a campaign for clean air around our streets. A small group of people in Sandy Road struggle to be heard and their solutions are given short shrift.
One wagers that almost every child in Carmarthenshire could have been provided with a bicycle for that amount with change left over for trees for Sandy Road. The President of Barbados Mia Mottley was lauded for giving an inspiring speech at COP26. Are we really serious about Climate Change is the question. Are we being led down the garden path by politicians who are hand in hand with green energy companies and investors who benefit most from the demand for us all to buy electric vehicles and solar panels? Anyone who dares question this call to arms is labelled as a climate change denier.
Most residents will know how much they pay in council tax and what they actually do or don’t get for that money. Spending £550,000 on electric charging points while closing down schools, while children go to school hungry and with holes in their shoes, walking along one of the most polluted roads in Carmarthenshire, unable to swim in the local water or ride their bicycle on expensive cycle paths for fear of being bulldozed by pseudo Tour De France entrants in bulging lycra and watching developers cutting down more trees to cram in the dolls houses with 2.5 cars beggars belief. Building a cycle path between Carmarthen and Llandeilo will surely alleviate the numbers of people dying as a result of being unable to see a doctor or get medical treatment.
My generation and the one before are not robbing this generation, not robbing them of a future, not to blame for the climate change we are witnessing. As we see the war generation fading away when we stand in silence on 11.11 and wear the poppy to remember those who fought and died for this world, who’d hoped for a better future for their children; They could never have foreseen a country led by politicians who have the gaul to preach the gospel of climate change to people who can barely afford to put food on the table for their children. To people who do not have the luxury of buying best Welsh meat and the freshest fruit and vegetables for their daily intake, nor the means to buy an electric vehicle. Take a look at the world and look at where the biggest polluters are located and where the greatest divide between rich and poor is and you will find a correlation. Climate change cannot be overcome without addressing the issue of poverty however relative that is and wherever that is.
How can we change and save the world if we can’t even help a handful of residents on Sandy Road and save them from a death sentence from all those green warriors driving to and from the country park for their weekly dose of fresh air? Real change will come when politicians look closer to home and help those who elected them and pay their wages.
As more families face the worry and stress of more brown envelopes coming through their door with bills, not bundles of cash, councils rising council tax, police commissioners rising police precept, government rising NI and all the while councillors get a pay rise, ministers get their fat cat salaries and expenses for covering their bills including second homes. Is it any wonder we are seeing a mental health crisis, a rise in suicide rates and more children in Wales looking like the Dickensian Oliver Twist than ever? Blaming Westminster all the time does not wash. This is a modern day version of Robin Hood with a twist named Oliver as victim, Government and local authorities robbing the poor to pay themselves.