Life imitates art

Hello dear readers (hi mum). Firstly, an apology. Blog number four as this has been inspirationally titled on my laptop, hand and brain for the past few weeks, has been a long time coming. I’ve been performing (favourite) auntie duties over the Easter holidays and when I haven’t been living to regret teaching the eldest three about April fools or trying to get the littlest one off to sleep with patchy renditions of Bob Dylan I have been freaking out, to put it politely, about my impending exams. (I’ll be eased in gently with a four-hour one on sport this week, on my birthday to be precise. Humph.) But anyway, panic over/blocked out for the moment, and back to the important business of blogging.

Looking back over these posts I’ve realised I make fairly frequent reference to popular culture: Speed, Dawson’s Creek, I’m nothing if not high brow.  In the last few weeks though, my life has begun to mirror a film more than ever. That’s right, I’ve been in Erin Brockovich. Don’t get confused, I haven’t been Erin Brockovich, no no, I could never rock a leather mini like Julia Roberts. My role’s been more that of the nosey extra, sceptical yet secretly intrigued. One of Albert Finney’s grumpy secretaries realising that lairy Jules is onto something perhaps.

A few weeks ago I found myself in Balcombe, a pretty (and pretty posh) little village in East Sussex about twenty minutes away from Brighton. Balcombe didn’t seem particularly remarkable as little villages go, aside from its total lack of signage or street lighting. Lovely, I’m sure, but I was more than a little grouchy after stumbling into a pitch-black muddy field and wrecking my trainers. Did I mention this was a Friday night? What has happened to me?

Balcombe’s residents would no doubt like their village to remain unremarkable but that may be about to change. The village has been licensed by the government, alongside nine other areas,  as an ideal site for a controversial method of energy extraction fairly new to Britain, hydraulic fracturing.

“Fracking”, as it’s commonly known, is a process used to extract shale gas from deep under the earth’s surface by drilling down until a layer of shale rock is reached and then turning the drill 90 degrees and drilling across into the rock. A large volume of water, also containing small volumes of potentially hazardous chemicals and sand is then forced down at high pressure, causing the rock to fracture and releasing the shale gas. The license for all ten UK sites is held exclusively by energy company Cuadrilla.

Concern about the impact of fracking peaked when it was found to be the cause of two earth tremors near a site in Lancashire where exploratory drilling began in 2011.  As a result of this, and government concern, the company has now suspended drilling at the site until 2014.

I’d gone to Balcombe to hear a talk by Jessica Ernst, a Canadian who is currently suing the Alberta government in a $33 million lawsuit in which she alleges that the ground water supply in her town of Rosebud, Alberta was contaminated with toxic chemicals through fracking.

Her claims were terrifying and it was clear her audience was left reeling. Ernst’s argument, put simply, is that the Alberta government and its two main regulatory bodies, Alberta Environment and  the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), allowed the process of fracking to take place without adequate regulation and that their actions, or oversights, have breached her civil rights.

Ernst came across as incredibly motivated and knowledgeable, and gave a highly detailed account of her battle against the authorities and energy company EnCana. She had a wealth of scientific evidence to support her claims but the speed at which it flashed up on screen behind her made it hard to process, let alone scrutinise.

Easily her most alarming point was ERCB’s own admission that they have “no duty of care” to Alberta residents.

Ernst’s cautionary tale seemed to have the desired effect on her audience, mainly of local residents, who appeared to be experiencing a cold sweat epidemic. There were gasps of horror and lots of talk about where to go from here, namely bombarding local MPs with letters of opposition.

In this week’s 15-year-old episode of Dawson’s Creek, Dawson’s mum Gail, a local TV news anchor, told him that: “The best journalists just ask the right questions”.

(I knew my love for Dawson’s would pay dividends eventually. It’s just a shame it’s not in the very literal form of Joshua Jackson being my husband. Bloody Diane Kruger, what has she got that I haven’t? Oh, right.)

Anyway, questions. Ernst’s talk had focused almost entirely on the failings of the regulatory bodies and perceived corruption that she believes has resulted in the hazardous pollution of Rosebud’s water source.

Her appearance came after a tense meeting between Balcome residents and representatives from Cuadrilla in January after which the company were keen to stress that fracking in Britain would face much tighter regulation than in the U.S. and Canada.

So it was only logical that she would leave herself open to the question of whether or not fracking in itself is dangerous and without merit, or if the poor regulation and subsequent cover-ups are to blame for what has happened in her town.

One Balcombe resident asked this question at the end of Ernst’s presentation, a valid one in my eyes, and was called an idiot for his trouble.

I found it infuriating. I’ve spoken before about protests preaching to the converted and this was an occasion where someone asking a valid question based on the content of the argument he’d heard was verbally attacked by those who assumed they knew better than him.

Ernst herself was quick to jump to his defence and used the incident to impart what she said was the most important lesson in her tale, that in order to succeed, the residents of Balcombe must unite and listen to each other. Questions shouldn’t be shot down or the inquisitive belittled. As she put it: “I really believe that a healthy community cannot be fracked.”

And the question remains a valid one: Can fracking ever be a good thing if it’s carried out with proper regulation?

Well, I can’t answer that. I have a Google alert on the subject that throws up enough articles to change my mind on a daily basis. Knowing which of those articles to trust is an even harder question.

Articles on fracking are never objective but there are good ones out there and by consulting a wide range of sources and opinions it’s possible to at least grasp the different sides of the debate.

For clear scientific information on shale gas formation and extraction, National Geographic offers a detailed but digestible description.

For a simple graphic demonstration of the drilling process see here.

For a by no means unbiased summary of Ernst’s lawsuit and the corruption she alleges see here.

For a picture of the UK’s position in the development of fracking globally see here.

Dr. Bill Chameides, academic and Dean of Duke University’s School of Environment, raises some good questions about the long-term productivity of drilled wells here.

But by far the clearest information I’ve found is in Balcombe’s own report on fracking, conducted by a working group set up by the village’s parish council.

The report is restrained and factual and helpfully puts the issues raised by the prospect of fracking in the village into the context of the process’s consequences so far and the fears they have stirred. It also points out that Cuadrilla’s current license runs out in September 2013, when all drilling would have to cease unless the license is renewed.

The principle risks, of seismic activity (earthquakes) and contamination, are detailed, but the report also highlights the concerns of those living in close proximity to drill sites, which should not be ignored. Locals polled were worried about the increase in traffic, noise and light pollution that the process of drilling would bring.

The impact of these, it concludes, would be minimal. The risk of contamination from the toxic chemicals which make up a very small percentage of the fracking fluid would also minimal, given the stringent safety measures that would be in place.

But there are other questions to ask.

Should enormous volumes of water be committed to energy extraction in a county frequently categorised as being in drought? How accurate are the projected gains of fracking? Dr. Chameides states that the productivity of fracked wells decreases up to 90% in the first two years, in stark contrast to industry claims that one fracked well can provide energy for up to 40 years.

And perhaps the biggest issue that fracking raises is that of our country’s commitment to green energy. Some see all actions to develop fracking as undermining Britain’s development of renewable technologies.

Others argue that, while we are still far from able to cater for the nation’s energy needs with green technologies, fracking is environmentally sounder than traditional fossil fuels and an ideal transitional method that could reduce our dependence on other countries.

While Ernst’s talk was insightful and terrifying, Cuadrilla are keen to point out that Balcombe is not Canada and that regulatory bodies here are stronger.

I learned a lot from my trip to Balcombe. I learned that Wivelsfield is a funny name for a place and that I am not yet mature enough to adequately stifle a giggle when it’s announced by a train conductor. I learned that postcodes and Google maps are a crap combination. (Before Google or the Post Office sue me for libel that’s a review firmly grounded in fact – the fact being that the postcode I entered into Google maps led me to the middle of a very large, very muddy field in possibly the worst-lit village in England.)

I learned that people power shouldn’t be underestimated. Maria van der Hoeven, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in May last year:

“There is a very real possibility that public opposition to drilling for shale gas and other types of unconventional gas will halt the unconventional gas revolution in its tracks. The industry must win public confidence by demonstrating exemplary performance.”

Indeed a lady I spoke to at the talk encouraged Balcombe residents to speak up about their concerns, stating that her hometown in Ireland had successfully been declared a “frack-free zone” after immense pressure from locals.

Whether you should be pro or anti-fracking I can’t tell you. But I can tell you that your voice is important. The impending Growth and Infrastructure Bill means that soon power may be out of people’s hands. Fracturing the earth is an unpredictable business, and one that won’t be reversed, so while there is time, and you have power, if you don’t want fracking – make your voice heard.

Alex

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Preaching to the converted

My mum is worried.  An arrest for public disorder could be a big setback for a girl’s career don’t I know. Being in my twenties and living in a different county are clearly no barrier to a solid motherly chastising.

I recall overhearing several similar warnings during my childhood. Aged 18, my eldest brother was firmly advised to shave off his sideburns, unnecessary hair apparently being the biggest hindrance to  finding employment in the mid-90s. The desired result was easily achieved by a combination of constant haranguing and bringing out the big gun, our formidable Grandmother, until he parted with his treasured facial fuzz.

Middle brother received similar guidance, tattoos being, without argument, wholly unacceptable for anyone seeking a career outside ice road trucking. If the fear of mama Barbuti’s wrath* was ever in doubt, his insistence on hiding the tattoo covering the most part of his upper arm for the next 14 years was a fair indicator.

On discovering his crime many years later our dear mater was astounded, (and a little appalled I think), that anyone with such flagrant disregard for the body God had given them could acquire not only a respectable career but a wife and children. Her concern and confusion at the sudden and prolonged bout of teenage body-consciousness that led him to exit the bath in a long-sleeved shirt until the age of 32 suddenly falling into place.

Given this history, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Tom Cruise sprung out of Minority Report and into my living room to lock me away before I’ve had a chance to put my troublesome plan into action.

So what heinous crime am I about to commit?

Protesting. Well, not even that really, attending a demonstration.

I was recently asked by the director of CPRE Sussex to attend an anti-fracking demo in Brighton. It was to be the first demo I’d attend (intentionally at least) and I felt a mixture of intrigue and nervousness.

The image of angry hippies was troubling me beforehand and I felt certain I wouldn’t understand much of the detail of their arguments but despite this I was looking forward to it. The subject was something I’ve developed quite an interest in recently (more of that later) and something which I hoped to get a clearer picture of.

Unfortunately though, as much as the title of this post may be a lazy cliché, it pretty much sums up my view of the majority of protests and the one I attended did precisely nothing to change it.

Yes I think those who take the time to demonstrate are very noble, and yes of course I am a lazy hypocrite for daring to criticise them whilst I sit at home in my spare time watching repeats of Dawson’s Creek on Sky but I, and from what I saw, none of the rest of the people on the streets of Brighton that afternoon, took anything from it.

It begged the very basic questions: Who and what are protests really for?

Image

My first demo

If the point of demonstrating is to parade your own virtuosity and pat like-minded friends on the back then it was a job very well done. If, however, it’s to try and inform others as to why they should care as much as you do about a perceived ill then this self-righteous display failed spectacularly.

Let me be clear. I am not against protesting. Our right to freedom of speech is something that we should be fiercely protective of and as an aspiring journalist I believe strongly in the power of knowledge to change things. Many countries do not afford their citizens such freedoms and we should be immensely proud and forever protective of ours.

What I don’t like is the form of demonstration I’ve stumbled upon so often that makes no attempt to explain to the general public in reasoned terms why they should put down their Starbucks and listen.

Visually, the protest I attended was interesting. Those partaking had a giant structure, including drill, to represent the process of hydraulic fracturing. They wore hats fashioned into foxes, rabbits and other wildlife that garnered many confused stares as they moved through the street on a busy shopping Saturday.

What they didn’t do was effectively act on this attention. It’s all very well making a visual statement but it needs to be backed up with some explanation.

I’m sure keen environmentalists would like to believe that everyone in Sussex has an in-depth knowledge of the process of extracting shale gas from deep below ground known as “fracking” but from my own experience, they don’t.

So to hold a demonstration that does nothing to explain what that process entails and why that might be a bad thing seems, frankly, futile and self-congratulatory.

No doubt the day provided some excellent photo opportunities for the websites of the groups taking part and the Facebook profiles of their members. But how many of the people on the street had their interest piqued enough that when they got home they thought about the changes that are already happening on their doorstep and joined them. I’d guess not many.

Yes lots of people were staring, but not, I don’t think, for the reasons those demonstrating hoped.

I’m not trying to advocate doing nothing.  As Abraham Lincoln said: “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.” (Philosophical musings about protest, I’m realising, have the distinct power to make you feel simultaneously totally inadequate and inspired).

But shouldn’t the aim of protest always be to convert as many people as possible to the cause? Surely to be content with the minority that already agree dooms your cause to stagnate and die?

The strength of a protest should be in the argument. If the facts of your argument are as strong as you believe then people shouldn’t need emotional blackmailing to be moved by them.

For all the demands that we “Say no to fracking”, I didn’t see or hear a single reason why. If the facts speak for themselves, then let them.

Further exploration of the web has thrown up some profound statements on the importance of protest. Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor once reminded us that: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” I certainly can’t argue with that.

But it’s the nature of the protest that needs some thought if its goals are to be achieved.  Socialist and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph believed that:

“We must develop huge demonstrations, because the world is used to big dramatic affairs. They think in terms of hundreds of thousands and millions and billions …Billions of dollars are appropriated at the twinkling of an eye. Nothing little counts.”

It’s true that huge sites like 38 Degrees and Avaaz have achieved enormous followings and success by enabling activism to become global. Their beauty is that not only do they allow people in their millions to take action on an issue but that doing so is made so incredibly easy.

I think their other great strength is that they are truly social. They allow people, through Facebook, Twitter and other social media to nag their friends to take a little bit of action for the sake of something they care about. And whose opinion do we trust and value more than our own friends?

An old colleague of mine recently posted a plea on Facebook to sign an online petition to prevent the closure of the Marine Biology Station at Millport in Scotland. I didn’t know where Millport was or that it had a marine biology station and to be honest I don’t know enough to have strong feelings on it now. But because she’s my friend, and a rational, intelligent and caring one at that, I trusted that if it was important to her, it was worth two minutes of my time.

Incidentally, the websites and Facebook pages of the groups that organised the demo I attended are pretty good: (Frack Off). It’s just a shame that none of their valid reasons for concern were conveyed when they had the chance.

Perhaps the wisest words of all come from the most unlikely sources. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got it right in 2004 when he said: “It’s no fun to protest on an empty stomach.” I most definitely agree with that.

But I’ll leave the final word to that great beacon of wisdom, Ice Cube: “I think the worst thing you can do about a situation is nothing.”

And with that, I’ll step away from the television.

*As she’s one half of my loyal readership (hello mum) I should point out that some artistic licence has been employed here. My mum is lovely. And as my dad always says: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Alex

The road to nowhere?

The Bexhill to Hastings link road.

No, I hadn’t heard of it either.

Since moving to Brighton a few months ago, however, I’ve realised that, to paraphrase the great Ron Burgundy it’s “kind of a big deal”. Well, it is to my colleagues at CPRE Sussex at least. 

But to the average Sussex resident? I’m not sure. The topic certainly warranted some pretty blank faces when raised amongst my fellow students recently. But then, I do talk a lot, it’s only reasonable for them to drift off occasionally.

 Anyway, I’m digressing, what was I saying about talking too much?

For those, like me, who are fairly clueless on the subject, I shall attempt to clarify the issue.

East Sussex County Council is, as I write, forging ahead with plans to build a £92 million major link road between Bexhill-on-Sea and Hastings.

It is doing so, it says, because the area is “the most deprived in the south east and one of the most deprived in the UK”.

As part of a larger project the link road will, the authority promises, regenerate the area and provide the beginnings of an infrastructure that will allow: the construction of between 1,200 and 2,000 homes; a business park; and the creation of jobs that will boost the local economy by approximately £1 billion over the next 25 years.

The £92m money pot will comprise of £56.9m of Department for Transport funding, with the remainder met by ESCC.  

Much has been written about the project but the issue, from what I gather, is this: do Sussex residents need a new road or not?

Well, from my point of view, no. I didn’t even know where Bexhill was until a month ago and I don’t have an urgent desire to drive there. I couldn’t if I wanted to anyway because while I was on hiatus in Western Australia my dad sold my cherished Penny Punto to a passing teenager for £100.

But though there are many things in this world that are of little use to me personally, I am not selfish enough to believe that makes them unnecessary.

Extensive Google-ing informs me that the two towns are approximately five miles apart, with Hastings to the east and Bexhill to the west (the geography is for my own benefit).

Those wishing to travel between the two currently can either use the A259, an apparently scenic, if slightly meandering coastal road or take a nine minute train journey, with an adult return ticket costing £3.30.

As with most developments of this nature, there seem to be pretty reasoned arguments from both sides. A quick glance at a map shows that there’s a clear, albeit little, gap in the area where one major road is separated from another by a gap a bit too big to jump, (my mind has now drifted to the scene in Speed where Sandra Bullock has to somersault a bloody great bus across what appears to be half a mile of unfinished road).

From a simplistic point of view it makes sense to plug the gap and make travel in the area that little bit more efficient. On the other hand, five miles doesn’t seem like an unreasonable distance to have to potter along the coast.  

Hastings and Bexhill don’t strike me as the business capitals of the south east so I’m not sure if it really matters that a car journey between them is a little arduous.

According to Wikipedia, (an admittedly unreliable source but one which the town’s own websites struggle to beat in providing a clear picture of their characteristics), 85% of the firms in Hastings employ fewer than 10 people, which certainly doesn’t suggest a willingness of big companies to base themselves there.

Saga is the exception to this. Since moving to the town in 2011 it has vowed to employ up to 800 staff, with 306 in position by January 2012 boosting the local economy by £3m. By the time its capacity of 800 is reached the company predicts that figure will have doubled.  

This success story certainly suggests further potential but it’s a big gamble to take. Will companies really flock to these towns and create a wealth of new jobs? It seems a tad unlikely.

American Express, Brighton and Hove’s largest private employer has in the last month announced the loss of 195 jobs in the city. What’s to say companies setting up in the revamped towns of Bexhill and Hastings won’t do the same?

Perhaps companies eyeing development in the area should finance improvements to infrastructure themselves, it would certainly give them reason to stick around and make their investment worthwhile.

The issue certainly isn’t a simple one. If both towns could fulfil a much greater potential (economically at least) were they better connected it would seem wise in the long term to make that happen. Would refusing to do so doom both towns to spiralling deprivation as East Sussex County Council seems to believe?

All this raises an unanswerable question: How much can we ever predict how an area might benefit from something it doesn’t have?

According to East Sussex County Council there will be a loss of 38.6 acres of “best and most versatile agricultural land” if the road goes ahead. Some of this has already begun. Having read Natural England’s Agricultural Land Classification system, (a must for any insomniacs), I am not much wiser as to what this means but it definitely doesn’t mean crap land.

My appalling grasp of measurement makes it difficult for me to visualise 38.6 hectares but the wonders of the internet have helped me calculate that it is equivalent to just under 87 football fields.

When I imagine them all lined up, perhaps 40 either side of me, the first thing that strikes me, to be honest, is that that’s more than one million pounds per football field. But as I’ve said already, I don’t live in Hastings or Bexhill and this isn’t just about the money. Were 87 football fields worth of concrete set to be dumped outside my house I probably wouldn’t be too happy.

So what are the alternatives? People living in large towns in 2013 need to be able to travel quickly and efficiently and there’s certainly an argument for the jobs that may be created by such an ambitious project.

I’ve recently be learning about Gross Domestic Product (GDP), deficit and other financial nonsense in my course’s public affairs module and I’m told you don’t just stop spending altogether to get yourselves out of a crisis. But it would take the promise of a lot of jobs not to balk at the estimated cost of this road.

Ninety-two million pounds. It’s an amount I can’t even fathom. And it’s not even the final figure. Dealing with protestors and the resulting delays has apparently already borne an added cost of £5m.

As somebody with very little budgetary knowledge it strikes me as a massive amount of money for a council that has pledged to save £50m over the next two years to be spending on anything.

As with all other services, shouldn’t we be cutting back, or at least settling for what we’ve got rather than ploughing staggering amounts of money into new projects?

Well, even I know that’s not quite how it works.  The separation of revenue and capital budgets means that even if the road isn’t built, the money “saved” probably wouldn’t be eligible to cover the cost of other services. Ridiculous as this may seem to my idiot’s grasp of financial problem solving, it is how it is.

But the combination of the cost and the irreversible changes this would force to the landscape nonetheless make the link road a pretty unsavoury idea.

Finance aside, the proposed road raises huge environmental dilemmas.  Personally, I’m inclined to be a little bit wary of any project that would see the destruction of vast areas of countryside. I’m even more concerned by the materials and energy used in making such a bloomin’ great thing.

And from an environmental point of view that’s what this debate really boils down to; a lifeline/monstrosity – whatever your take on it, this road would be irreversible.

It’ll be too late in twenty years time for today’s kids to decide that the destruction of parts of the countryside was a bad idea.

That’s a frightening truth where any land is concerned, but a crucial aspect to this case is that it may not be any land after all. A case has been made to English Heritage alleging that the proposed route for the link road in fact includes the site of an event so ingrained in the mind of most Brit’s that I can recall it quicker than my own parents’ birthdays: The Battle of Hastings. (1066 in case you needed reminding, my dad looks pretty good for an old fella hey?).

Michael Bernard, from the Bexhill Link Road Resistance group (BLINKRR) has appealed to the High Court to block the development claiming  that there is evidence to suggest that this historic event didn’t take place at Battle Abbey, as has always been believed, but at nearby Caldec Hill, which will be destroyed if the link road construction goes ahead.

The evidence, based on research by historians John Grehan and Nick Austin, is compelling and if true would dramatically change accepted facts about the battle. Most notably, as you might be more used to hearing in a playground: “who started it?”.

Pressure groups the Hastings Alliance and Combe Haven Defenders both provide convincing arguments against the road’s construction, supported by organisations including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and, tellingly, The Campaign for Better Transport.

They have cast doubt over the promises made by ESCC by highlighting the discrepancies in its own statistics. The two main funders of the project, the Combe Haven Defenders point out, wildly differ in the benefits they project. ESCC, they say, have promised 3,000 new jobs; DfT a more modest 900. The difference in those numbers makes you wonder if they’ve been plucked out of thin air.

Perhaps most damning of all, East Sussex County Council has itself estimated that the link road would save car users a whopping *drum roll*… four and a half minutes.

Huh?

Dare I say it but that’s….pathetic.

As I said before, I’m sold on the idea that people need to be able to get from A to B quickly. What I struggle to understand is why the money earmarked by the council and DfT hasn’t been ploughed into improving public transport.

The concept of “induced demand” suggests that, as in Field of Dreams “if you build it, they will come”. Unfortunately for Sussex residents, the “they” in this case would be cars and not Kevin Costner.

What message does investing in roads rather than trains and buses give to us all? Certainly not that our government is committed to greener transport.

I also can’t help but wonder how the most deprived, presumably too poor to own a car, would really benefit from this scheme to help their deprived towns?

Surely the money would be better spent making public transport between and surrounding these towns more frequent, reliable and efficient?

Having tried to get my head around what Sussex residents need, what is it they actually want?

According to ESCC, when 65,000 residents were given the opportunity to make their voices heard on the proposals in 2004, only 2,558 bothered to respond. Of those, 419 stated that they did not want the link road. That’s 16% of respondents and less than 1% of those offered the opportunity to respond. Is it any wonder the council doesn’t appear to care what they think?

A petition to stop the construction by the Combe Haven Defenders had 1,390 signatures when I last checked. The combined population of Bexhill and Hastings is approximately 125,000.

Do 123,000 or so residents of the towns want the link road? Who knows? If not, they had better act fast.

Alex

The Conflicted Environmentalist

Hello, I’m Alex. I’m 28 and a *cough* “mature” student on City College Brighton and Hove’s NCTJ Journalism course.

I’ve joined up with CPRE Sussex Countryside Trust to bring you this blog in which I’ll be exploring the environmental issues facing Sussex and what Sussex residents need to know about them. The ponderings expressed here are all my own.

As a somewhat lazy environmentalist I sometimes wonder if we are overloaded with information about the environment around us and bombarded with the opinions we should have. It can be hard to know where to start and sadly we don’t always try.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be seeking to de-mystify some of the big environmental issues facing us in Sussex and beyond.

As a student on a relentlessly tight budget, is it possible to source my food locally and keep a roof over my head? Is it ok to buy my socks from Primark? Can I drive when train fares are so expensive?

I like to think I do my bit, but am I burying my head in the sand? Is switching off the lights and doing my recycling enough?

Should I be marching through the streets of Brighton with a placard to make a stand against infringements into the countryside? Who are such protests really for and do they work?

I don’t like the sound of fracking but as I type this on my admittedly not-hamster-powered laptop with the light from four bulbs and a stand-alone heater staring greedily at me I can’t see myself giving up an energy-fuelled life anytime soon.

I certainly don’t fancy living in hut made from disused tyres on the South Downs eating home-grown potatoes. Surely there’s a balance?

The rights and wrongs of many environmental and sustainability issues leave me feeling overwhelmed and conflicted.

American blogger Aaron Biebert believes that: “(being) conflicted means you’re learning. Conflicted people or organizations are usually hunting for a resolution.  The act of searching for answers keeps us learning, sharp and educated along the way.”

I’m inclined to agree with him (and not just because he affirms my baffled state of mind).

Perhaps it’s okay not to have all the answers or even to know exactly where you stand on certain things. The important thing is that you try to find out.

As well as all the above, I’ll be discussing the best ways to stay informed on these issues without drowning in science and statistics and which resources to trust.

Please get in touch with any issues you’d like to see discussed and if you’re also conflicted, welcome to the club.

Alex