The Art of Cutting Carbon

In April last year we reported on a new arts commission, called My Carbon Family, which was part of Coventry’s City of Culture programme. The Council allocated a budget of £75,000 for five artworks relating to climate change based on an idea of Coventry’s Roger Harrabin.

We later heard that the project had been abandoned, possibly because the site for the sculptures was no longer available. We can find no explanation of this on the Council’s website or in the news.

However, the project didn’t go away, the sculptures were completed and are now on display at the Eden Project, without any mention of Coventry’s input.

Renamed “Our Carbon Creatures” the sculptures are now being displayed in a landmark exhibition at the Eden Project in Cornwall.

The exhibition is part of the legacy of Roger Harrabin’s career as the BBC’s Energy and Environment Analyst. On this retirement Roger has produced a documentary film The Art of Cutting Carbon which celebrates new ways of cutting carbon dioxide usage. The sculptures feature in the film which is available on the BBC’s I player.

The sculptures highlight the huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the manufacture of everyday materials – concrete, steel, plastic, paper/card and aluminium.

Bringing the exhibition together has been a labour of love lasting more than a decade for Roger Harrabin and creative director Simon Bingle after they were inspired by the ground-breaking work of Julian Allwood, Professor of Engineering and the Environment at Cambridge University.

Simon and three fellow artists, Kedisha Coakley, Gina Czarnecki, and John Jostins made sculptures from these materials for The Art of Cutting Carbon.

The Sculptures

Mbulu Ngulu by Kedisha Coakley made out steel. Global steel production creates 3 billion tonnes of CO2 every year.

Mbulu Ngulu, 2022, by Kedisha Coakley (Photo Eden Project)

Concrete Truths by Simon Bingle.  Global concrete production creates 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 every year.

Concrete Truths, 2022, by Simon Bingle (Photo Eden Project)

Child Born of Oil by Gina Czarnecki made out plastic.  Global plastic production creates 1.8 billion tonnes of CO2 every year.

Child Born of Oil, 2022, by Gina Czarnecki (Photo Eden Project)

Call me All by John Jostins made out aluminium. Global Aluminium production creates  0.6 billion tonnes of CO2 every year.

Call me AL, 2022, by John Jostins (Photo Eden Project)

Cardboard Catastophe by Simon Bingle. The global production of paper and cardboard creates 0.9 billion tonnes of CO2 every year.

Cardboard Catastrophe, 2022, by Simon Bingle (Photo Eden Project)

The Art of Cutting Carbon

The documentary highlights a number of revolutionary technologies which can reduce the production of CO2 associated with these industries.

Roger visits a zero-carbon steel works in Sweden which emits only water vapour, and experiences ‘edible’ plastic bottles manufactured in the Netherlands. There is a magical gadget that sucks the ink off printer paper so each sheet can be used 10 times over.

Concrete makers are experimenting with new materials and techniques that would allow the industry to generate less CO2. In Germany there is a new machine that takes in aluminium chips, then warms them and compresses them though a sort of giant toothpaste nozzle, to produce a tube of re-formed aluminium – at a fraction of the emissions of normal recycling.

You can watch Roger’s documentary here.

Roger Harrabin (67) was brought up and started his career in Coventry and will be giving this year’s Lord Mayor’s Peace lecture on 10th November.

Appeal to Bring Hutton Drawings back to Coventry

The Friends of Coventry Cathedral have launched a funding appeal to bring cartoons of three panels of the famous Hutton Screen back to Coventry.

The famous Hutton Screen is the beautiful window which connect the Old Cathedral to the new. It was designed by New Zealand artist John Hutton and comprises sixty more than life sized images of angels and saints. It took ten years to create the window.

John would initially do pencil drawings and would then re-create them at full size with white chalk on black paper.  The glass for the window would be put over the chalk drawing so that the design could be seen through it. John would grind away at the glass with his own hand-made engraving tool which was made out of an old washing machine motor fitted with a flexible drive shaft.

Three of these drawings, which together form one image, have now become available in the estate of a deceased art collector.

The executors were initially hoping to raise at least £2,000 from its sale but have agreed to sell at the pre-auction price of £1500 if it can be raised by the Friends of Coventry Cathedral, as they would like the angel to wing its way to Coventry.

Cathedral Archivist, Dianne Morris, has visited the drawings in the North of England and reported back:

“They are just amazing, and I was lost for words when I first saw them. There is a triptych of images, with the image in the middle signed by John Hutton. They are white chalk on black cartridge paper and measure approximately 8’ by 3’. They are framed and glazed”.

The framed drawings. with reflections

CovSoc member and Chair of the Friends, Martin Williams, launched the appeal in his monthly newsletter. Martin said “The Hutton cartoon is an original work of art that is now offered to the Friends before it goes to auction.   We have a month to raise £1800, a sum to include the cost of specialised transport to bring the cartoons back to Coventry.

“I appeal for your help.  Will you please help the Hutton Angel to fly back to Coventry?”

Contributions (payable to The Friends of Coventry Cathedral) can be sent to the following address:

Hutton Angel Appeal

63 Daventry Road

Coventry CV3 5DH

Payment can also be made direct to the Friends account at

HSBC, PO BOX 24, City Branch, Coventry CV1 1QJ

Sort code 40 18 17  Account number 80360244 marking the payment “Hutton Angel”.

Walking Backwards No 9. The Firs to Greyfriars Green

Today we have the ninth episode of Peter Walter’s series of lockdown walks “being a compendium of idle facts, hidden places and meaningless historiana gathered on walks within easy striding distance of the writer’s abode – and beyond”.

Gone are the William and Mary cottages and the toll gate that stood nearby, but the original route of the road from Kenilworth is still there to be walked as it hurries into the centre of Coventry from Earlsdon.

It’s a broad footpath now, running between the back gardens of Belvedere Road and Morningside, fragrant with clematis and bright with laburnum and rhododendron blossom that reaches over forbidding brick walls and stout security fencing.

Further on, the tennis courts in Spencer Park are silent in lockdown. Here, on another sunny day more than a hundred years ago, a photographer took a picture of some of the first players on these courts, slender young ladies in sweeping hats and long dresses. Must have been tough, going for an overhead smash in all that clobber.

The next landmark on the way into town is an oak tree said to have been nurtured from an acorn picked up on the battlefield at Verdun in 1916. It’s growing on the site of the city’s first, but to much relief all round, temporary Great War Memorial, unveiled on a filthy afternoon in October 1918. There’s a photograph to commemorate those who attended that day too. Drowned rats doesn’t come close.

Photo courtesy of David Fry

Anarchy bridge, over the old railway goods yard, hasn’t seemed quite so anarchic since they built a retail park below it, and now the station itself is getting a re-invention, the latest of several since the first one opened in 1838. A paltry affair it was too, for the first city to be connected to London, but that’s another story.

At that time the old road passed through orchards and market gardens on its way down to Greyfriars Green, once waste ground outside the city walls that had been Coventry’s chief dunghill. It had gone somewhat upmarket by the 1830s, when earnest young Mary Anne Evans was a star pupil at a school for young gentlewomen run by the Franklin sisters in the last house on Warwick Row.

Nevertheless, things could still happen on Greyfriars Green that young gentlewomen were never meant to see. In 1819 radicals had held protest meetings there in the wake of the Peterloo Massacre, and at the Coventry Great Fair two years earlier the authorities had had to shoot a bear that had been shaved and tortured and passed off by its owners as the Polo Savage.

In 1849, the year Mary Anne Evans left Coventry to become the great writer George Eliot, an elephant due to lead the Great Fair procession the following day attacked and mortally wounded young William Wombwell, nephew of the menagerie proprietor, in its quarters on the green. Needless to say, that didn’t get into Middlemarch.

Richard II Loop Moves Forward

In December 2020 we reported on plans for the Richard II Loop line. This is a new countryside walking and cycling route near the Charterhouse. Plans for the scheme have taken a step forward with work under way on Phase One of the Loop Line.

The route has been given a £200,000 grant from the West Midlands Combined Authority’s Better Streets Community Fund and is being worked on by Coventry City Council and Historic Coventry Trust.

Phase One of the route will run from the Binley Road Cycleway to the Gosford Park School/Humber Avenue walkway.

It will provide added accessibility and future phases will see the route extended to the full 1km length of the disused railway line, connecting it with the southern end of Charterhouse Heritage Park.

The path will go back to the city centre past the Charterhouse Carthusian monastery.

All of the Loop Line’s phases have been granted planning permission and cash from the Severn Trent Community Fund will go towards the remaining phases’ construction costs.

The aim is to have all phases completed by next year.

Historic Coventry Trust chairman Ian Harrabin said: “Once the Loop Line is open this will provide a fantastic woodland walk and cycle route for all ages as part of the Charterhouse Heritage Park which will be enjoyed by residents and visitors to the city.

“It is great to see work getting underway to start clearing the site to uncover another of Coventry’s historical gems.”

What Is The Real Purpose of Coventry’s Climate Board?

More tales from Coventry’s grassroots climate community, this is one from me, David Ridley (Coventry Green New Deal chair), about Coventry City Council’s Climate Change Board (link to video, there doesn’t seem to be an official page for the Board, which is not surprising).

I found out about Coventry City Council’s Climate Change Board through Coventry Green New Deal’s work during the coronaviorus pandemic, particularly during the first lockdown, in trying to engage with the Council on its new Climate Change Strategy.

We spent a long time trying to work with the new Head of Climate Change, Bret Willers, who informed us that the Council wanted to set up a “Sustainable Development Commission” (pdf) which would “pull together all those with the talents and experience to build the new future in a post COVID-19 world to deliver net-zero emissions and to limit the damages from climate change.”

We tried our very best to get involved with this commission as a “key stakeholder”, but the door was unambiguously closed to us. Paraphrasing Willers, we had nothing to offer – the Council only wants stakeholders that can deliver the kinds of top-down, technocratic solutions it prefers, which means preferably having lots of cash (i.e. Eon, Severn Trent), but failing that, at least having some significant civic power as an “anchor institution” (i.e. university, hopsital etc) or as a respectable third sector organisation (e.g. Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, Canal and Rivers Trust).

Anyway, we didn’t hear any more about it until suddenly the Climate Change Board appeared at the end of last year, as reported by CovCan. At this point I tried for many weeks to get more information about this from Willers via my local Councillor, Bally Singh. Eventually he replied with the membership (see end of this email), but was silent with regards to further requests for information about its terms of reference, relationship with the Council, particularly its scrutiny mechanisms, and its transparency arrangements.

So I submitted an official information request under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), which was answered on 5 May 2022 and is now available to view on the Council website.

As you will see from these documents, the Climate Change Board is “not directly accountable to the Council however it works closely and collaboratively together for the benefit of the city”. Its minutes are “not currently publicly available” because the Climate Change Board is “not a public meeting”. However “press releases are made regarding the progress of the board.”

The purpose of this Board is very vague – “to share policies, plans, good practice and work together collaboratively in an effort to keep the city on track for a zero-carbon future.” For me, Cllr Jim O’ Boyle’s offhand remark to CovCan, that the Board “will be able to deliver a range of cost-effective schemes to invest in a more sustainable future for the city” is more revealing.

My worry is that the Board will set up financial arrangements – private-public partnerships – that will fundamentally structure the future of the city and all climate change plans that are put in place.

We’ve seen something similar in Bristol, where the Council has created the City Leap partnership with key investors Ameresco Limited, a “leading cleantech integrator and renewable energy asset developer” based in the US and Vattenfall Heat UK, “Sweden’s nationally owned energy company, who specialise in low and zero-carbon heat networks.”

The City Leap partnership is “aimed at delivering low carbon energy infrastructure, such as solar PV, heat networks, heat pumps and energy efficiency measures at scale, all which will help Bristol meet its carbon reduction targets of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. The partners will invest in the council’s estate to deliver low carbon energy infrastructure and support others, such as residents, community energy groups and businesses, to deliver local carbon reducing projects.”

Now for the financial commitments (so far): “Private sector partners will contribute capital funding, including £424 million over the first five years of the twenty-year partnership, in low carbon energy and capacity and expertise in the delivery of low carbon energy infrastructure projects. The project will remove around 140,000 tonnes of carbon across the city in the first five years of operation.”

I imagine that Coventry’s Climate Change Board will set up such partnerships in the near future, most likely with E.ON at the helm (E.ON incidentally didn’t win the bid for the Bristol Leap parnership, which is perhaps why it has turned its attention to Coventry).

But isn’t it disturbing that it is allowed to do all this at arms-length from our democratic represenatives in the Council, and without public scrunity?

In an excellent article for the Bristol Cable, Adam Corner highlights the controversy that Bristol Leap has already caused, particularly with regards to transparency and accountability:

“While the Greens and Labour seem largely in agreement on the necessity of leveraging private investment, there have already been some heated exchanges in the chamber around a potential lack of transparency in the City Leap partner selection process, and here the council’s recent experience with Bristol Energy looms large.

“Created in 2015, Bristol Energy was wholly owned by the council, rather than a public/private partnership. But it quickly encountered problems and struggled to compete with the ‘Big Six’ energy companies. It required an injection of more than £35m of council money, and the company was sold in 2020, ending the council’s ill-conceived foray into the energy supply market.

“It may be a different type of project to City Leap, but questions raised around the governance arrangements surrounding Bristol Energy are drawing even greater attention to how City Leap is managed. An independent auditors’ report on Bristol Energy focused on ensuring the cabinet has access to all the information it needs and the importance of clear communication with the public.

“The lessons from multi-million projects like Bristol Energy should be clear: when budgets are in the millions or even the billions, oversight really matters. Where the profit motive of private companies potentially comes into conflict with the public good, there must be accountability.

“Scrutiny is important to the democratic process,” says Councillor Beech. “It is important that people know what City Leap is. But at the same time, it is a partnership with the private sector, and it’s important that we go through this process of procurement in a way that is appropriate.”

We need more attention on this development in Coventry, especially from the media, and from Cllrs who probably know nothing about it. So far the Council is getting away with operating behind closed doors with regards to climate change policy (I’ll send a follow up email explaining where the Council is at with its new climate change strategy), which is incredibly dangerous.

If this all goes wrong, it will be us that pays the cost, in more even more cuts and public service closures. See for example Slough and Croydon.

If you would like to help raise awareness of this issue, and/or have expertise in this area, or are a reporter that would like to cover this story, please email coventrygreennewdeal@gmail.com.

Please share this email widely, and encourage people to sign up to the Coventry Green New Deal mailing list to hear about what is going on in Coventry.

Coventry Climate Board Membership:

Margot James Executive Chair, WMG, University of Warwick (Chair)
Cllr Jim O’Boyle Councillor, Coventry City Council (Vice Chair)
Martin Sutherland Chief Executive City of Culture
Ian Marshall Deputy Vice Chancellor & Chief Operating Officer, Coventry University
Chris Ennew Provost, University of Warwick
Clive Robinson Sustainable Development Manager, University Hospital Coventry
Mike Lewis Chief Executive Officer, EON
Tony Evans Chief Executive, Sarginsons
Louise Bennett Chief Executive, CW Chamber
Ed Green Chief Executive, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust
Audrey O’Connor Heritage & Environment Manager, Canal and Rivers Trust
Mandy Bygrave Operations Manager, CDA
Neil Griffiths Strategic Enabler for Sustainability, West Midlands Fire Service
Mariama Ceesay Social Enterprise Programme Manager, CU Social Enterprise CIC
Matthew Rhodes Director, Camirus
Sophie Mason Energy & Sustainability Lead Coventry Building Society
Sarah Windrum Chair of the CWLEP, Coventry Warwickshire LEP
Louise Woollen Environment and Sustainability Manager, West Midlands Police
Lizzie Frost Carbon & Net Zero Programme Director, Severn Trent Water