– I try to update them from time to time, but there are many gaps: this is a huge field!!!
Links: Other Parts of ‘The Natural Environment’: Extra notes on the environment:
Bookmarks for topics in these notes (an incomplete list - I will add more later!): and see #other problems
recycling – see waste renewable energy (solar, wind, tidal etc) [see also nuclear power...]
2. Key Concepts: #key concepts
2.1 Ecology and the ecosystem - living things interacting with each other and with their environment: biodiversity makes for stability; non-hierarchical interdependency.
2.2 World model: the planet as ecosystem – spaceship earth: impact of human activity; Club of Rome report 1972 “Limits to Growth”: population, resource depletion, production of food, and of goods, land, pollution, exponential growth, feedback loops.
2.3 Gaia hypothesis: earth as self-regulating system
3.1 Monetary values: how to put a price on quality of life? air, sea, rivers: free?
3.2 Externalities/residuals - the market’s limitations
4.2 Acid rain: #acid rain
lakes, trees, plants, buildings, coral reefs
4.3 The ozone layer: #ozone layer
- skin cancers: CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons): found in: aerosols, foam blowing, air conditioning, fridges. Action: substitutes ? recycling? time-lag...
[4.4 the greenhouse effect – global warming – climate change: now see Part 4. ]
4.5 coal: #coal
4.6 oil: #oil
4.7 corporate lobbying on climate change: #lobbying (notes to be moved)
4.8 renewable energy: #renewable (notes to be moved...)
5.1 Agriculture, the land, and soil: #agriculture
5.2 Badgers: #badgers
5.3 Bees: #bees
5.4 Biodiversity: #biodiversity
5.5 Biofuels: #biofuels
5.6 ‘Development’ – and developing countries: #developing countries
5.7 Food and food miles: #food miles
5.8 Fracking: #fracking
5.9 Genetic modification: #genetic modification
5.10 Nuclear power: #nuclear
5.11 Pesticides: #pesticides
5.12 Population: #population
5.13 Sea: #sea
5.14 Waste: #waste
5.15 Water #water (and flooding).
6.1 The market, new technology – “carbon trading” (
6.2 Self-regulation - “reduce, recycle, re-use” – green business, But: just PR?
6.3 Policing the market - pressure groups & green lifestyle/green consumer (“light green” approach) – carbon accounting. But: growth still? Structures not changed.
6.4 Regulating the market - planning the economy. But: unaccountable bureaucracy; public not involved.
6.5 Sustainable development, “sustainability”. But: just a “buzz” word? Current inequalities and power structures maintained, unless redistribution occurs; third world expectations and rights not dealt with.
6.6 Alternative technology, new social structures (“dark green” approach). But: utopian? How to implement? Eco-groups, ecological housing etc.
7. General References: #references.
1.1 Humans have always
affected their environment, especially since they settled on the land. (Nomadic
peoples and hunter-gatherers have a more balanced relationship with the land).
Agriculture needs the clearing of trees, and many places we think of as
“natural” such as the
However, note the time-scale below, and remember how recently we have used agriculture and industry – we have affected the environment without realising how short the time-scale of our existence is:
million years ago first hominids emerged in
2.6 million years ago first stone tools
2.3 earliest Homo genus
1.175 million – 350,000 Homo erectus
250,000 – 28,000 Neanderthals
Homo sapiens appears as a species, and 100,000 years ago anatomically modern
humans appear in
90,00 years ago modern humans reach Near East
72,000 y.a. first use of fire to modify stone tools, 70,000 y.a. earliest decorated stones
y.a. modern humans reach
y.a. cave art begins, modern humans reach
y.a. modern humans reach
– 11,000 y.a. farming begins in
y.a. earliest known city in
200 years ago industrialised society emerges.
In other words, industrialised society has existed for 0.000027% of the time humans and their ancestors have been in existence. Or: 8 generations out of 300,000.
(From Natural World, Winter 2009)
1.2 However, once industrialisation
got under way, factories and railways altered the landscape dramatically, and
began to cause what we think of as pollution.
William Blake, the 18th century English poet and artist, who
wrote the words of “
Later, especially in
large towns such as
1.3 Another kind of
pollution that arrived with towns and cities was air pollution
(see further details below). The smoke from factory chimneys became so thick,
that at times visibility was reduced to a few feet. The mixture of fog and
smoke (especially when they reacted with sunlight: photochemical smog) came to
be called “smog”. Again, when it was realised that large numbers of people,
especially the very young and the elderly, were suffering from asthma and other
lung diseases as a result of the air pollution, then legislation was
passed: the Clean Air Act of 1955 in
The other salient point to be emphasised as something that was learnt from the phenomenon of smog was that often combinations of chemicals are more dangerous than each one separately. Thus smog actually caused by a mixture of otherwise fairly harmless gases, but which when exposed to sunlight, became dangerous – photochemical smog. These interactions are an important part of the phenomenon of pollution.
1.4 The next step in our gradual realisation of the scale and complexity of problems of pollution came in the 1950s, with the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”. She noticed that there were less birds than there had been, and she traced the decline to the increased use of chemical pesticides. It was soon realised that chemicals used to spray crops or to remove weeds were not disappearing, but remained in the bodies of the insects, animals and finally humans that ate the crops. Thus the idea of the “food chain” was accepted as important in understanding our interaction with the environment.
1.5 In the 1970s
another publication – the report of the “Club of
(i) There are limits to many resources, such as coal, minerals and oil, and at some point in the future we are going to exhaust these resources
(ii) Each element in the relationship between humans and their environment needs to be studied in relation to the whole – as each affects other elements. Thus,
obviously, population growth leads to more pollution, and growing more food leads to a scarcity of land; but also reducing pollution means a growth in
population – so a faster use of resources. Another way of describing these interactions is to think of feedback loops – as when you place a microphone to near a
loudspeaker, and the sound from the speaker goes through the microphone, back through the speaker, and so on – the result is a horrible whining or hum!
(iii) Examples of feedback:
Note: now we are aware of climate change (see later), there are some striking examples of feedback. CO2 is a ‘greenhouse gas’ – that is, a gas that acts like the glass of a greenhouse, and traps warmth (which would otherwise have escaped into space). We have produced more CO2 since the industrial revolution began, as we have burned fossil fuel (coal, gas and oil). This is increasing the average temperature of the earth...
- oceans, soil and trees absorb half the CO2 that humans produce. As the climate warms (due to the increased CO2 we have produced), the sea and the soil may produce yet more CO2 as they warm up, thus in turn increasing the global warming effect. Also tropical forests may die from excessive warmth or dry weather, and there will be less absorption of CO2
- oceans, soil and trees absorb half the CO2 that humans produce. As the climate warms (due to more CO2), the sea and the soil may produce more CO2, also tropical forests may die and there will be less absorption of CO2
- the polar ice-sheets reflect nearly 80% of sunlight – if they melt the water reflects less heat
increases as time goes on. This is a dangerous process, since we tend not to realise there is a problem until too late in the day. For example, weed on the surface
of a pond may be growing exponentially – if so, it will take some time to cover half the pond, but then only a fraction of that time to completely cover the pond
and suffocate the living creatures in it.
There were some unexpected results from this study: in particular, it was suggested that if we only apply solutions to single problems (e.g. pollution, or population control) we will in fact make the overall situation worse!
A recent overview of our
damaging relationship to the environment comes from John Vidal, Guardian
The 7 are: hyper-consumerism, corporate power, the car, population, soil, inequality, poverty...
See my notes below 5. other problems on specific topics. This includes: new dangers such as nuclear radiation – which not only poisons individuals subjected to it, but damages their genetic makeup, and therefore affects future offspring. Some radioactive materials also “decay” very slowly (radioactivity is a process of decay of the atoms in a substance), and some man-made radioactive elements will take hundreds of years to disappear. We don’t seem to be able to leave “nature” alone, however, and scientists are now experimenting with genetic modification of plants, and animals, and even cloning – the public is alarmed by these experiments, and there is widespread opposition, but commercial interests come into play and the experiments are going ahead in many cases.
The science of ecology deals with living things interacting with each other and with their environment. We can study the ecology of any area – a pond, a river estuary, even parts of our bodies (since bacteria etc live on our skin!). The area studied acts as an ecosystem. What scientists have observed, and which gives a scientific basis to some of the points made above, is that there is widespread interdependency between the different elements in an ecosystem. This corresponds to the point made above about food chains.
A recent article by Robin McKie (Observer10th July 2016) illustrates this in a number of ways, including how otters can help absorb carbon dioxide...
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/10/sea-otters-global-warming-trophic-cascades-food-chain-kelp?page=with%3Aimg-2 – when the population of sea otters declined, then the crustaceans which formed their foods increased, and they in turn destroyed the kelp forests – which are important for absorbing CO2. The article deals with ‘trophic cascades’ – the effects via the food chain on other components. This can be top-down (as here) as well as bottom-up. The other discovery noted is that killer whales began to feed on otters when their own food (whales) was diminished by whaling...
And a previous article:
Two important lessons can be learned from ecology:
more elements in a system, the more likely it is that the whole system will
stay in balance. This is because a degree of “redundancy” is built in
i.e. elements can take over the function of others when needed (as in a
sophisticated electrical circuit, or in the human brain!). Thus, diversity,
especially biodiversity, makes for stability, and therefore to survival.
We can apply this principle to economies and human communities as well, I
believe. Any country that relies on only producing one or two agricultural
products (as was the case with
(ii) More unexpectedly, there is not the same hierarchical arrangement in ecosystems that we have developed in our human, social systems. Just because mammals are more complex living creatures, it does not follow that they play a more important part in the survival of the system as a whole. We could even argue that the “humblest” forms of life, i.e. bacteria, are the most important, as without them most other life-forms would disappear.
Another fundamental principle (pointed out by the Club of Rome report see Meadows et al 1972) comes from the application of ecosystems thinking to the whole planet.
We live in a carefully balanced, closed system – that is, the only extra resource that enters the system is sunlight, otherwise everything else (water, air, land, plants, minerals) is finite. The different elements within the system - population, resource depletion, production of food, and of goods, land, pollution, interact in complex ways.
More recently, James Lovelock (a scientist who worked for NASA on the question of how to identify life on other planets) came up with the radical observation that the earth is a self-regulating system (see Lovelock 1979, etc). It is amazing that life exists at all, given the very special conditions that it needs; moreover, the earth seems to maintain itself in balance – plants, microbes, water and air all interacting and re-adjusting themselves to keep a steady set of environmental conditions. Lovelock was not suggesting that there is anything like a god maintaining the earth (even though Gaia was the name of the Greek earth goddess), but some have rejected his theory because it seems metaphysical. Lovelock always maintains that he is giving a scientific description of how the earth system works.
It was also not Lovelock’s intention to suggest that we need not do anything to protect the environment: if we humans do enough damage we could upset the whole system, whereas other living things always seem to keep the balance. The human race, then, surely has a special responsibility to take care!
Update: Gaia and James Lovelock: June 2012 interview where he defends nuclear and fracking (!):
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jun/15/james-lovelock-interview-gaia-theory - argues we need fracking because methane is better than coal; suggests politics here works like a self-regulating system, the parties balancing each other out; the greens are a religion... Lovelock says he is influenced by EO Wilson in that the mega-city is the way of the future (seems to have little sympathy for those who fall out because of competition etc), sustainable development is meaningless drivel’
One of the challenging criticisms that the green movement, and ecology, have thrown up is that conventional economics is unable to help us understand the environment. At all sorts of levels, the value-system of economics is inappropriate.
In economics we put a value on all kinds of
“productive” activity, and the
On the other hand, economics is not able to put a value on the essential parts of the environment: air, water, sunshine – so that if an industry damages, say the air, there is no market mechanism that will prevent this. Essentially, economics treats the natural environment as a “free” resource: it belongs to no-one and so no-one will seek costs, or sue anyone, if it is damaged. The market is a mechanism that only works with regard to private property.
In economics, such “costs” to the environment (e.g. a polluted river) incurred alongside but not in the production process are actually called “externalities” or “residuals”. (See Mishan 1967)
Surely this encourages the attitude of irresponsibility that is at the root of most environmental problems? The air is not in fact “free”, and it is encouraging misuse of it to regard it this way. How ironic, that because the air belongs to us all, it is counted as of no value! We have a situation then where, in the end, we can only deal with the costs of pollution when the state steps in and sets fines or penalties for pollution.
It has also often been pointed out that the conventional economic measures such as GNP do not measure the quality of life. Not many people want to live in a noisy, dirty, ugly industrial environment where illness is widespread as a result of pollution – yet such conditions may well be counted as part of a high GNP! Some attempts have been made to find alternative measurements, such as a Measure of Domestic Progress (MDP), suggested by the New Economics Foundation - this measure would “factor in the social and environmental costs of economic growth, and the benefits of unpaid work such as household labour, that are excluded from GDP” (see www.neweconomics.org) (see section E).
Finally, economics cannot put a value on life itself, for example when someone is killed, other than by calculating the amount of production that was lost by the death! What an insult to the relatives of someone who has been, say, killed at work, to be compensated in terms of the value to the workplace! The problem is that if we use money as the measure of value, this means that the value of something lies in what we can exchange it for, not in any intrinsic (or “use”) value. Both Aristotle and Karl Marx believed that problems would follow from disregarding use value in this way.
Diana Liverman surveys the debate over the “commodification of nature” and the related question of how to put a price on environmental services, in an article published in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers – 94 (4).. As she points out, the pro-market view regards putting all aspects of the environment on to the market as the best solution to environmental damage – whilst opponents believe this would lead to pillaging and damage to indigenous peoples. (See further under Solutions, below).
Note: there are obviously many forms of environmental damage. By taking this one alone I do not want to suggest it is the only problem or even the most serious. What I want to do is to use it to demonstrate some applications of the principles noted above, and to begin to link the issue of pollution to specific industrial or commercial practices.
4.1.1 causes and effects of air pollution
The most obvious consequence of air pollution, as noted already, is illness. Such illnesses as asthma and bronchitis are on the increase – almost certainly triggered by air pollution. Research at the University of Southern California, in 2004, (reported in the Guardian, November 2004 – see www.usc.edu/keck and www.guardian.co.uk/medicine), identified another problem: when they enter the lungs, the tiny particles that are part of air pollution cause inflammation of the arteries which eventually builds up into a hardening that can cause heart disease and heart attacks! These particles come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil (and diesel engines are the main offenders here), but other industrial processes such as smelting and working metals also produce them. These particles are measured in micrometres, and those that fall between 2.5 and 10 micrometres are inhalable.
The particles come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil (and diesel engines are the main offenders here), but other industrial processes such as smelting and working metals also produce them, as do building works and power stations (especially coal – see below). Not to mention aircraft (the controversy over the expansion of Heathrow comes in here!), and ships, which are heavy polluters but are not, I believe, subject to regulation...
To illustrate the nature of air pollution, (we have already mentioned factories and chimney smoke), it is useful to list some of the ingredients of the exhaust from the internal combustion engine:
carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons.
Some of these (nitrogen oxides) are comparatively harmless in themselves, but as noted, when combined with other ingredients such as small particles, and especially when mixed with water (i.e. rain – or the moisture in our lungs) then the resulting solution is a harmful acid (causing ‘acid rain’...) When sunlight acts on these mixes of chemicals there is a photochemical reaction, causing a particularly nasty kind of smog.
John Vidal article,
Guardian (G2) 20.03.13) – distressing to see that photochemical smog is still around...
(my notes on this were first written in the ‘70s and ‘80s – and the Clean Air
Act goes back to 1955!!). There are 5.4 million people in
Other outputs from the internal combustion engine – carbon monoxide (which suffocates), and hydrocarbons (which are carcinogenic), are far from safe!
We will come across some of these ingredients again, when discussing other consequences of air pollution below. However, it is worth mentioning the issue of lead in petrol: in order to reduce the amount of refining that petrol needed to give a smooth combustion, lead was added. Scientists began to be concerned about the effects of tiny lead particles in the atmosphere on the lungs – especially of children. Children living in inner city areas, or near roads with heavy traffic, it was suggested, might even suffer a loss of IQ (a measure of the abilities of the brain). There was a long campaign – because, as ever, petrol producers maintained that it would be too expensive to change the fuel (or that the customer would not pay!). However, eventually the government stepped in and we now have “unleaded” petrol.
This story does illustrate another aspect of the issue: the power of vested interests – in this case the roads and car manufacturing lobby.
interests are always lobbying government to try to convince them that there is
no problem. Back in 1975, the
overnight (Simon Caulkin, Observer,
Environmental Directive could be “the last nail in the coffin of manufacturing”. Given this, Stephen Tindale, director of Greenpeace says: “The current gulf between a company’s green credentials
and the behaviour of trade associations” risks exposing companies as hypocritical.
There were also signs that the ‘New Labour’ government responded to such anti-environmental lobbying: Tony Blair, early in 2005, raised the permitted levels of carbon dioxide emissions, having originally
accepted a target of 20% reduction over three years.
Cornal Walsh (Observer Business,
giant ExxonMobil have given large sums of money to political parties that will adopt their line and oppose further controls (according to Friends of the Earth, in the same Observer article by Walsh).
It is also revealing to note how the car and oil industries put up a long resistance to the idea that they ought to be researching alternative fuels. [Neale, in Fairweather at al 1997]
The British Roads Federation has long campaigned against cuts in road building, and it is a significant donor to the Conservative Party, which it (rightly?) sees as more road-friendly. Even the RAC and AA are of concern to anyone who wants to see car use reduced, since they – naturally – are not in favour of any reduction of car use. If you want to join a road rescue/protection organisation that does not campaign for more roads, there is an Environmental Transport Association, ETA, see www.eta.co.uk (“The motoring organisation that won’t cost the earth”!).
In other words, even a small increase may have an effect – and this puts into question the whole notion of ‘safe levels’...
Yet again, we find an ‘unintended consequence’ of pollution!
Examples of CO2 emissions by type:
A. VW Polo BlueMotion 1.4: <100 (g/km)
B. Peugeot 107 1.0: 101 – 120
C. Fiat Panda 1.2: 121 - 150
E. Renault Scenic 1.4: 166 – 185
G. Porsche Cayenne: 225 (some Porsches 300)
Average CO2 emissions in cars sold in EU: 160 g/km
Most new models sold now fall into middle bracket, especially @ F: 186 – 225 (1,166 as against 193 in A/B range). Rest (C,D,E: 2,391). G: 799.
GLA says 33,000 a day in G category!!
EU target: all new cars must emit average 130 g/km by 2012.
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (smt.co.uk):
· Average new car CO2 emissions have fallen by 26.4% since 2007 to 121.4g/km in 2015, with a 2.6% decline on 2014.
cars were, on average, over 20% lower CO2 emitting than the average car in use.
· Total CO2 emissions from all road transport
has fallen by 9.6% since 2007, with a 10.6% reduction from cars (Source:
· Diesels have played an important role in
delivering lower CO2 emissions. By buying diesel,
The previous Euro-5 standard, introduced in 2011, focused on PM (or soot) from diesel cars, requiring an 80% reduction in these emissions.
Diesel particulate filters (DPFs) that capture 99% of all PM were developed to meet this, and are now fitted to every new car. Today, PM from cars meeting Euro-5 is equivalent to just one single grain of sand per kilometre driven.
With Euro-6, the emphasis has shifted to NOx, reflecting concerns about the emerging science connecting these emissions with respiratory problems.
How much cleaner is Euro-6?
This latest standard mandates a 56% cut in diesel NOx emissions compared with Euro-5.
Euro 5 standards: Petrol NOx: 0.06g/km Diesel NOx: 0.18g/km Diesel PM: 0.005g/km
Euro 6: 0.06 0.08 0.0045
Getting round the law:
Once again it has to be said that business can always find a way round regulations: the 2016 scandal involving Volkswagen has caused a lot of alarm. 11 million diesel cars were fitted with software that allowed them to cheat emission tests, and were sold from 2008. The software changed the performance of the engines under test conditions, with the result that on the road the engines were producing emissions above the permitted level.
The company has put aside 16.2 billion euros to deal with the scandal and is facing legal cases around the world. A chief executive (Martin Winterkorn) has resigned and is being investigated by prosecutors – but he was paid 7m euros last year... VW owns Audi and Porsche.
was not the first time such cheating occurred: in 1973 Chrysler, Ford, GM,
Aside from using software to cheat tests, many cars have been found to have a different level of emissions and/or fuel consumption when on the road conditions are compared to manufacturers’ claims. Note that all the above covers both CO2 and NO2 emissions...
Other points about cars:
Myth of excessive taxation of drivers was put paid to by EU report: road
accidents, pollution and noise from cars cost every EU citizen more than £600 a
year. Report: The True Costs of
Autonomobility, was by transport academics at
with drivers’ insurance payments discounted the total cost to the EU was £303
bn or 3% of the bloc’s entire GDP. (Peter Walker Guardian 26th Dec
2013). Total costs did not include costs of congestion or ill health caused by
lack of exercise...
Fuel duty (including VAT) and vehicle excise duty contribute around £38 bn a year to the Treasury - £10 bn less than the estimated cost.
They conclude that ‘internalisation of external costs is the essential thing in a market economy. It’s a prerequisite for everything – for individual behaviour and for innovation within the car industry.’ See also CSR chapter 6...
On the theme of “growth”: the number of cars on the
Air pollution is getting worse, rising 8% in the last 5 years, and more than 3 million people a year die from outside air pollution. Indoor air pollution (firewood or dung stoves) causes another 3 million.
of the affected children live in poor parts of the world: south
Extract: A study by the Clean Air Task Force suggests that coal power in the
You're picturing filthy plants in
While nuclear power is faltering, coal is booming. Almost 1,200 new plants
are being developed worldwide: many will use coal exported from the
John Vidal, Guardian
new industrial emissions directive from
4.1.3 lead in petrol: a success story
We will come across some of these ingredients (in car exhausts) again, when discussing other consequences of air pollution below. However, it is worth mentioning the issue of lead in petrol: in order to reduce the amount of refining that petrol needed to give a smooth combustion, lead was added. Scientists began to be concerned about the effects of tiny lead particles in the atmosphere on the lungs – especially of children. Children living in inner city areas, or near roads with heavy traffic, it was suggested, might even suffer a loss of IQ (a measure of the abilities of the brain). There was a long campaign – because, as ever, petrol producers maintained that it would be too expensive to change the fuel (or that the customer would not pay!). However, eventually the government stepped in and we now have “unleaded” petrol.
As an example of how
pollutants can change when exposed to the environment, acid rain is formed when
gases in the air dissolve and make the rain acidic. The main ‘culprit’ here is
sulphur, in coal...
- acid rain is now known to affect the oceans (Green World 65, Summer 2009):
- pH indicates the alkalinity of water – 7 is neutral, i.e. anything below 7 is acidic, and above 7 is alkaline or base.
The pH of the ocean’s open water has been 8.2 for millions of years, now (since burning fossil fuel for couple of centuries) it is down to 8.05 (i.e. more acidic), and this damages coral reefs, & microscopic life that are at the base of the food chain;
– acidity goes down to 1,000 metres and in some places to 3,000 metres – ocean makes up 99% of planet’s living space – plankton control the carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle and part of the oxygen cycle – 3.6 billion yrs ago plankton began to produce oxygen, hence life could develop – every second breath we take is of oxygen from plankton also plankton makes less calcium in more acidic water – we don’t know what effect this will have, though coral reefs (home to rich diversity of life) are dying
acidification could lead to mass extinction: the previous 5 such events were
all accompanied by acidification (last time 65 m yrs ago, the dinosaurs died
out – probably the gases came from a meteor strike). [Alanna Mitchell, author:
The Hidden Ecological Crisis of the
cleared up a lot of the problem in 1980s by switching from coal to gas (little
sulphur), catalytic converters (reduce nitrogen), scrubbers in factory
chimneys, and this led to an 80% cut in acid rain. In the early ‘80s, (?only)
3m tonnes SO2 were emitted p.a. in
- pre-industrial levels of SO2 were 280 ppm by volume, and by mid-century is likely to be doubled to 560 ppm – plankton makes less calcium in more acidic water – we don’t know what effect this will have
[Also in the oceans, Coral Reefs are dying off, or at least bleaching or going into survival mode (New York Times, 031010, Justin Gillis). However, this is mainly due to warming of the oceans – see the notes on Global Warming and Climate Change... Acidity may also affect the reefs, so I include a brief note here.
reefs are made up of millions of polyps (tiny animals) algae get nutrients from
them and live in the reefs, in return the algae capture sunlight and carbon
dioxide and make sugars that feed the polyps. NB a good example of symbiosis…
The first eight months of 2010 matched the highest temperatures yet recorded,
in 1988 (Jan – Aug). Reefs harbour perhaps a quarter of all marine species,
even though they only occupy a small space in the oceans. Reefs of the coasts
What has just been said (new technology or new chemicals can have unexpected side-effects because of complex interactions; the damage is often world-wide) is even more strongly the case with the ozone layer. This is a thin layer of ozone gas, high in the atmosphere, that protects us from 95% of the sun’s harmful ultra-violet radiation. Some years ago, in the 1980s, scientists noticed that the layer had a hole in it over one of the poles. The layer is being destroyed by gases used in industrial production and air-conditioning, especially CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), and carbon dioxide and methane have a similar effect. CFCs are also used in aerosols, in processes that involve “foam blowing”, and in fridges.
If the protection we get from the ozone layer is reduced, then there will be more cases of skin cancer as a result. Again, this problem has been known about for since the 1970s, and some changes have been made: the United Nations passed the Montreal Protocol in 1987, as a result of which CFCs have being phased out. (Substitutes have been identified and put into use, but even here there is controversy over their safety). Like other aspects of our self-regulating planet, the ozone layer is able to replenish itself naturally, and scientists are watching for this.
However, as with many natural phenomena, there is a “time delay”, and, according to the National Geographic (August 2003) there is still no evidence of ozone levels going back up in the lower stratosphere, where most ozone is to be found (some evidence of decreases in the upper stratosphere were reported).
This example illustrates:
- the unexpected consequences of new inventions and chemicals: I believe very strongly in the “precautionary principle” i.e. any innovation in technology should be carefully tested for safety and environmental damage before being implemented. Of course, this might mean slowing down the rate of change and innovation, but given the danger – with regard to environmental damage – of reaching a “tipping point” beyond which changes become irreversible, surely precaution makes sense?
- the problem of time delays before corrective action reverses damage,
- and, again, the need for international action.
Nov 2015: New Statesman has good overview of the history of the industry, by Martin Fletcher: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/energy/2015/11/last-days-big-k
last coal mine in
Deep coal mining dates back to Tudor times and peaked during the arms race before the first world war, with 3,024 mines producing 292 million tonnes of coal, and employing 1.1 million people, in 1913.
Bevin boys were 48,000 men brought in to keep the industry going in the second world war.
Since 1700 164,000 miners have lost their lives. Mining deaths did not fall below a thousand a year until well into the 20th century. 1,297 were killed and 20,000 injured in 1923.
and 1974 miners’ strikes were a turning point:
- 5 strike was triggered by a plan to close 20 unprofitable pits and lose
20,000 jobs. But Scargill played into the government’s hands (the strike called
in the spring when demand was falling, he didn’t call a national ballot and
split the union, undermining legitimacy of the strike, he also got money from
NUM has 800 members (was once half a million). Miners still employed don’t believe the reasons given for closing mines are good – rather see it all as political.
2015 three deep mines left but two closed in the summer.
48 million tonnes of coal consumed last year, 42 million were imported (from
May 2015: Guardian is leading a divestment campaign – Keep it in the ground....
good news: 28th May, a key parliamentary committee recommends
Dec 2013: George Monbiot,
‘A study by the Clean Air Task Force suggests that coal power in the
You're picturing filthy plants in
While nuclear power is faltering, coal is booming. Almost 1,200 new plants
are being developed worldwide: many will use coal exported from the
March 2013: John Vidal, Guardian
new industrial emissions directive from
Little has happened on Carbon Capture and Storage. This involves pumping condensed CO2 into underground ‘reservoirs’ for storage instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. Not only is the technology experimental (and the long-term feasibility of such storage is unknown) it appears that more fuel is needed by a power station that is going to capture and condense the CO2. So to run such a power station is more costly. Moreover, the chemicals used in the process are likely to go into the atmosphere, so the air quality is reduced (Wikipedia).
It is not possible to do justice to the role of the oil industry here, but it is clear that their presence is felt in a whole range of ecologically damaging situations, Such is the power of the industry, and its importance to governments, that it also has significant impacts on politics. Often the resultant civil conflict has caused death and suffering.
Here are a few examples of environmental damage by the oil industry (some of these are from New Internationalist 335, June 2001):
1: Exxon Valdez: by Ewen MacAskill in
US government scientists
are about to publish a report on the situation in
11 – 38 millions of gallons
of oil were spilled. It hit Bligh Reef. The tanker was on its way to
Salmon, sea birds, seals and otters were affected.
The crew’s ability was partly to blame, and the Raytheon Collision Avoidance system had not been maintained. There were other failings – stressed crew and not informed that coastguards were no longer issuing warnings of Bligh Reef, etc.
Dispersants failed (and some were not used because of toxicity fears), explosions were tried, and burning, (but these led to fumes harming villagers downwind). How water was tried but this killed plankton – food for bacteria and fungi which would otherwise have ‘eaten’ the oil.
Clean-up crews suffered illnesses afterwards. Only 10% of the oil was actually cleared up.
In 2007, there were more
than 26,600 gallons of oil still in the water, and in 2010 23,000 gallons lying
on the sand – it was thought the pollution would gradually disappear, but it is
only going at a rate of 4% a year, and even slower in the
Between 10,000 and 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles, 22 orcas, and unknown numbers of salmon and herring killed.
There are more than 26,600
gallons of oil still lying just below the water surface – it was thought the
pollution would gradually disappear, but it is only going at a rate of 4% a
year, and even slower in the
Two decades on (and more!), the ecological impacts of Exxon Valdez are still being counted.
Other threats to the
- BPAmoco (a joint British/US company) is involved in plans to extract oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
- Dangers of encroachment into permafrost in
Settlements also bring environmental damage and HIV… New St 13.08.07
- There were over 100 oil spills in the
explosion and fire in the semi-submersible Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU)
killed 11 workers and injured 17 more. There was a massive oil spill in the
drilling platform was built in
Oil started leaking at 8,000 barrels of crude per day. 4.9 million barrels were spilled in the end, making it the largest spill in American history. In 2010 there were still a million barrels in the water.
Criticised for a ‘rush to completion’ of the well, poor management decisions, and no culture of safety on the rig. Six or seven faults in procedure and equipment. (Wikipedia)
wildlife was damaged than in the Exxon Valdez case (3,000 birds, 500 turtles,
64 dolphins) – and difficult to tell effects given seasonal variations (
‘The Deepwater Horizon operation saw the injection of 771,272 gallons (2,919,582 litres) of dispersant at depth, in addition to the 1,072,514 gallons (4,059,907 litres) used on the surface.
The impact of the deep water deployment is definitely an unknown unknown, as it has not been used on anything like this scale before.
Expeditions are planned to investigate the impact on reefs, but they have yet to report.
Other important investigations are going on into how quickly the oil is
breaking down in the warm Gulf waters - something that should in principle
happen much faster than in the icy conditions of
That rate will have practical implications for the seabirds that will come to winter along the Gulf coasts - the piping plover, the blue-winged teal and the northern pintail - because it will largely determine how much oil will be there to greet them.
And while the warmer Gulf waters are unlikely to take quite so long to settle, even a preliminary reckoning will have to wait until the first wintering birds have returned, shrimping boats have cast their nets again right across their grounds, and the wetland grasses have had a first chance to shed their oily carapaces and sprout anew in a fresh Spring.’
The oil industry, the environment and politics: Shell and
In the Niger Delta, Shell has been extracting oil for some time. The resultant pollution (oil leaks ruining the land, gas flares poisoning the air) has been a cause for anger on the part of the local Ogoni people. Protests have been put down ruthlessly, with many killed by police and – it is alleged, by paramilitaries employed by the company and armed by the government.
In November 1995, a special court established by the military government illegally detained and tried some protesters on spurious charges. Convicted without due process, they and the “leader” Ken Saro-Wiwa were executed 10 days later, despite enormous international outcry.
questioned the legitimacy of the Saro-Wiwa trial, to no avail (May 2009). It is
alleged that there has been widespread brutality against the Ogoni, involving
torture and the destruction of villages. Sadly, this is not an isolated
occurrence. A recent report by human rights organization Global Witness
documents the murders of more than 700 environmental and
Indigenous-rights activists over the past decade – more than one
killing a week, on average. (Greenpeace
Update 2013: the son of the executed Ken Saro-Wiwa, also called Ken, is now a presidential aide; he alleges that the theft of vast quantities of oil from the pipeline ‘is on and industrial scale, and involves commodity traders, international [criminals] and a whole network of people. There are some allegations that the oil companies themselves are implicated.’ See John Vidal in The Observer, 06.10.13: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/oct/06/oil-theft-costs-nigeria
"From the moment I got to the scene [the next day] I was suspicious," says Catholic priest Father Obi, appointed by Shell to be an official observer for the Bodo investigation. "The scene had been hurriedly deserted. Shell must have known what was going on. The military must have known. Everyone knew there was complicity. I am personally sure that Shell knew that its oil was being stolen. If the managers did not know, then those who they put in charge [of the operation]seemed to know. This [theft] could not have happened without the collusion of the authorities and the military." Obi is concerned that the official report has still not been published and is threatening to release his own.
It all adds up to organised crime stealing oil using the cover of the authorities, he says. "Why was a massive barge able to hold 10,000 barrels of oil being loaded at with crude? Why did another catch fire? Why were excavators there? Why were local observers arrested the next day, their cameras confiscated and memory cards destroyed? Were the thieves being protected by the military? Was the company paying workers to clean up oil spilled in the process of theft they themselves were engaged in? Did Shell know its oil was being stolen from under its nose?" he asks.
4: Other issues related to the oil industry
Safety: (by Andrew Clark and Terry Macalister, in Guardian Financial,
In 2005, the BP Texas refinery exploded, killing 15 people – recently disclosed documents show the director responsible for running the refinery, Don Parus, knew that it was held together by little more than “Band Aid” and “superglue”.
Parus made remarks to an independent investigation, which was held after 23 fatal accidents in 30 years (the most recent involving a worker being boiled alive!).
The local fire brigade say that there is an average of one fire every week – 50 to 80 a year. The site director, appointed in 2002 had worried whether he could turn round the lax safety attitude single-handed, and even said: “killing somebody every 18 months seems to be acceptable at this site”.
Many documents have been disclosed as a result of a legal settlement with a woman who lost both parents in the explosion.
An external report said there was “an exceptional degree of fear of catastrophic incidents” – and it was surprising how many workers going into the plant in the morning volunteered that they were thinking about safety and wondering whether they would go home!
BP has pledged to spend $7 billion to improve the
safety and integrity of their
Shell’s involvement in
Finally, I think no-one could be unaware of the involvement of US companies in
gas ashore in County Mayo (article, Observer 290511) Shell bought major stake
after gas discovered by Enterprise Energy Ireland (1996); will bring raw gas
ashore (new process) to be refined at Ballinboy, 6 miles south; pipe will come
ashore at Broadhaven bay, and will cross farmers’ land (could have gone across
bogs?); gas will be at high pressure; Bay and nearby Carrowmore lake are
EU-designated Special Protection Areas. At first, planning permission was
denied, but then Shell and
Opponents have served jail sentences – ‘Rossport Five’; a film has been made: The Pipe (getting awards around the world). Some fishermen gave up their rights in return for money from Shell, others fought against losing their livelihood – one was prevented from fishing by the Irish navy!!!
(iv) A few words on ‘peak oil’:
G 17.11.2009: Two whistleblowers
from IEA say it has deliberately exaggerated amount of oil still extractable.
Research paper from Univ of Uppsala also argues IEA wrong (because impossible
rate of extraction included). IEA World Energy Outlook forecasts demand to rise
from 85m b/d in 2008 to 105m in 2030, and says that production will rise to
meet this demand (including biofuels). Projections for 2030 have been falling,
from 123m predicted in 2004. But even today’s numbers are too high says the
Need therefore to be substituting other sources now (especially in farming…).
100905: (1) reserves running out – in 2002, 25 bn barrels used, only 8 bn new
reserves discovered (total: 994 bn extracted, 764 remaining, 142 to be found).
(2) supply unstable: politically/commercially/conflict… (3) tpt increasing its
share to 57.2% in 2002 – esp air travel increasing – and
(v) Government subsidies:
FoE accuses Osborne of giving excessive subsidies and £1 billion of tax breaks to the oil and gas industry – he has expanded field allowances, first set up by A. Darling in 2009 to encourage the exploitation of small or technically challenging fields. Larry Elliott, Guardian 04.02.13
Conclusion: this is just a brief portrait of the power and scope of the oil industry. When it comes to dealing with damage to the environment we also have to acknowledge to role of the electricity generating industry, car manufacturers, and the offshoots of the oil industry namely petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. In my view all these industries contain huge companies that are, to say the least, slow to recognise their social responsibility – and most of the time they are positively hostile to such notions. Again, I have only given a glimpse of their power and influence, but this needs to be kept in mind when we move on to “solutions”.
4.7 Thoughts on corporate lobbying, especially on global warming (also see Part 4):
Unless you accept the view that there is no danger of global warming and climate change, what is most disturbing, from the point of view of corporate social
responsibility, is the extent to which vested
interests are lobbying government to try to convince them that there is no
problem. Back in 1975, the
predicted that the 1975 clean Air Act would wipe out car manufacturing
overnight (Simon Caulkin, Observer,
BP argue in favour of cutting greenhouse gases, the CBI has warned that the European Environmental Directive could be “the last nail in the coffin of
manufacturing”. Given this, Stephen Tindale, director of Greenpeace says: “The current gulf between a company’s green credentials and the behaviour of trade
associations” risks exposing companies as hypocritical.
There are also signs that the present government is responding to such anti-environmental lobbying: Tony Blair, early in 2005, raised the permitted levels of carbon
dioxide emissions, having originally accepted a target
of 20% reduction over three years. Cornal Walsh (Observer Business,
adopt their line and oppose further controls (according to Friends of the Earth, in the same Observer article by Walsh).
As argued in CSR Chapter 5, concerning the consumer, it is often the case that scientific research is funded by corporations who want particular findings to be
supported. Walsh mentions such financial links between
Exxon and the American George C Marshall Institute, which together with the
Network, which has overlapping personnel with the free-market Adam Smith Institute (see CSR Chapter 2 on this institute).
There is also an overlap between these pro-market,
anti-environmental organisations and the Competitive Enterprise Institute in
climate advisor is a member! Lord (Bob) May of
(Guardian 271/05) makes the same points, adding that another key figure in the opposition to theories of global warming is William O’Keefe, who was previously
chairman emeritus of the Global Climate Coalition.
This organisation (disbanded since President Bush came out in opposition to
the oil industry in order to deny global warming.
We can also see how the dispute has become part of the right vs. left political distinction when we note (as does Bob May) that the Telegraph and the Mail both
question theories of climate change. May ends his article with a warning made by Jared Diamond at the Royal Society, that there have been populations in the past,
such as those on
Diamond called “ecocide”.
Dec, Guardian, Adam Vaughan: Half of the
Gas 29.2% à 45.2%
Renewables 25.4% à 24.9%
Nuclear 21.5% à 21.3%
Coal 20.3% à 5.8%
Other 2.9% à 2.8%
August 2016 (see also nuclear power re alternatives to Hinkley Point): letters Guardian: in
2015, 147 gigawatts of renewable energy – the largest ever annual increase –
came online and more than twice the amount was spent on renewables compared
with gas or coal. $6.22 tn is being invested in the green economy...
Damian Carrington on renewables providing more electricity than coal for first time; http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/sep/24/renewable-energy-outstrips-coal-for-first-time-in-uk-electricity-mix
Between April and June the mix was: gas: 30%, renewables: 25%, nuclear: 21.5%, coal 20.5% (cf fuel mix for 2010 below...)
Solar power: Report on flexible panels from the Solar Cloth Company: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/mar/22/solar-sails-set-course-for-a-new-journey-into-renewable-energy
Book: The Quest: energy,
security and the remaking of the modern world, by Daniel Yergin (
Cost of changing to non-CO2 generation of electricity: Damian Carrington reports on study by Prof David McKay (Chief scientific advisor to dept of energy and climate change) using a ‘2050 pathways calculator’ – which shows that it would be no more expensive to convert than to continue with maintenance and replacement of existing power stations. See: http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2134710/uk-switch-low-carbon-energy-cost-gbp5-person - there are more articles by Carrington here, and the website looks good!
Green energy: a tipping point? Investment in green energy overtook fossil fuels in 2008 – according to UN figures (G 040609): $140 billion as against $110 billion for gas and coal. If include energy efficiency measures this goes up to $155 billion. Report: Global Trends in Sustainable Energy, by New Energy Finance consultancy for the UN.
growth has been in
Microgeneration: DTI study says could
provide 30 – 40% of
Wave power: Waves could provide 15 – 20% of
From FoE leaflet: average wind farm will pay back energy used in its mfr within
5 months – given a life-span of 20 years that’s 17 years carbon-free energy.
Sep 2008: article by Michael Connellan in Technology Guardian about wind turbines failing – note this is said to be ‘insignificant’ by one insurance expert, and towards the end of the piece it is said that one of the turbines that failed was 20 years old... i.e. overall impression without reading in detail is that there is a problem, when I doubt there is:
2010: (Terry Macalister, Guardian, 13.09.10): Largest ever offshore windfarm to
be built off coast of
Nov 2012, Zoe Willaims on the dispute: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/nov/30/windfarms-bitter-fight-dividing-uk?INTCMP=SRCH
Hundreds of articles at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/windpower !!!
Parks – how English ‘national parks’ are ‘neither national nor parks’ (George Monbiot G 1st June 2015):
Declining bird population. David Adam, G 25.05.09:
About 75% of British countryside is farmed.
During 1980s, farmers were paid a guaranteed price by EU for wheat, barley etc. àoversupply, grain mountains …
Cost of storing surplus grew, and cheaper to pay farmers not to use the land à ‘set-aside’ (“voodoo economics” acc. David Adam).
8% - 15% farming land set aside and policy continued for 20 years. During this time bird population flourished… (less chemicals, more weed seeds).
2007 policy dropped after poor harvests and rising food prices. More food needed, so farmers took set-aside land back into use. But if prices rise…
in cereal prices àslight rise in unfarmed land – government
plans to start set-aside again (because concern over wildlife?), giving
subsidies. RSPB wants mandatory 4-5% of farmland to be out of production, while
farmers want it left to them (they say they can manage the problem, and
compulsory measures mean farmers don’t deal with it so thoroughly/effectively –
others say if farmers don’t implement set-aside, they only have to forgo the subsidies
– £240 per year for each acre devoted to conservation – while growing wheat
would bring £130 profit per year according to John Cousins, farmer in Hadleigh
Useful and controversial piece by George Monbiot: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/03/rich-landowners-farmers-welfare-nfu-defra
and replies in Guardian 7th March: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/06/mistake-claim-all-farming-same
Repeated plowing kills off beneficial fungi and earth-worms – it requires more fertilizer and is prone to being washed away in heavy rain (and the nitrogen etc spreads into rivers and streams).
Each 1% increase in soil organic matter helps the soil hold 30,000 more litres of water per hectare. It also helps the soil store carbon dioxide (reducing global warming).
methods are the problem: allotment holders (according to
5.2 Badgers: George Monbiot 23.10.12 a cull could, according to Prof John Bourne who led the government’s trial (cost 49 m) ‘make TB a damn sight worse’. In the 1960s strict quarantine rules and rigorous testing of cattle almost eliminated TB, but farmers complained and controls were relaxed...
Dec 2016: Patrick Barkham on Dave Goulson’s speech to the 2015 National Honey Show – now on YouTube - https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/05/banned-pesticide-kills-bees-neonicotinoid-insecticide
‘Scientists this year calculated that these insecticides caused a 10% reduction in the distribution of bee species that forage on oilseed rape. Another study found neonicotinoids cut live sperm in male honeybees by almost 40%. Two studies show a strong correlation between neonicotinoids and declining butterfly populations, while another showed the insecticide accumulating to dangerous levels in nearby wildflowers.
The European Union placed a moratorium on three types of neonicotinoids on flowering crops such as oilseed rape three years ago but these insecticides have not disappeared.
I’ve just about learned how to pronounce neonicotinoids, but what I didn’t realise until Goulson told me is that the insecticide’s use in British farming continues to rise. It is deployed on non-flowering crops such as wheat. We use them in horticulture and daub them on our pets: flea powders for cats and dogs contain imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid. Goulson says the “plausible deniability” he encounters from neonicotinoid makers is “rather similar to what the tobacco industry did for 50 years claiming that smoking didn’t cause any harm”.’
Sep 2012: Damian Carrington [blog link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/ ]
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2012/sep/18/bees-pesticides-neonicitinoids Sep. statement includes: ‘The govt has already put new research in place to explore further the impacts of neonicotinoids on bumble (sic!) bees in field conditions and to understand what levels of pesticide residues and disease in honey bees are normal. This work is due to finish in spring 2013.’
Scientists from Fera [Food and Environment Research Agency – an executive agency of Defra, whose ‘overarching purpose is to support and develop a sustainable food chain, a healthy natural environment, and to protect the global community from biological and chemical risks’ http://www.fera.defra.gov.uk/] and the University of Exeter have come to the conclusion that neonicotinoid pesticides may not pose as great a threat to bee populations as had previously been thought. In a study, published this month in the journal Science ,researchers suggest neonicotinoid oilseed rape pesticide Cruiser may not be responsible for colony collapse disorder in bees, though two studies published earlier in the year in Science[my emphasis] came to the opposite conclusion.
Neonicotinoids are among the most widely-used agricultural insecticides in the World; honeybees ingest residues of the pesticides as they gather nectar and pollen from treated plants. Previous studies had shown that sub-lethal doses of the preparations caused disorientation and other harmful effects in bees, leading authors to suggest the chemical could be linked to colony collapse disorder, wherein worker bees abruptly disappear from a colony.
In response to findings from April this year, which linked thiamethoxam, the active ingredient in Syngenta’s Cruiser OSR pesticide, to colony collapse disorder, the French government banned the chemical. Italy has since followed suit and environmental activists in the UK have called on the government to introduce a National Bee Action Plan and join the French and Italian governments in outlawing the pesticide.
The week, the UK government announced it would not act on the matter, following consultation with Fera and the Health and Safety Executive.
However, the Fera study does not suggest that pesticides are in any way harmless. It merely points out that the authors of a previous French study had not accurately calculated the rate at which honeybee colonies recover from losing individuals or expand during the spring, when oilseed rape is blossoming. Previous research, led by French scientist Mikaël Henry, showed that the death rate of bees increased when they drank nectar laced with a neonicotinoid pesticide at concentrations which they would typically find in the field, the new study does not contest this.
Clarifying the results of his research, Dr James Cresswell of the University of Exeter who led the Fera study said, “We know that neonicotinoids affect honeybees. I am definitely not saying that pesticides are harmless to honeybees, but our research shows that the effects of thiamethoxam are not as severe as first thought.”
He said that his study merely showed that “there is no evidence that [thiamethoxam] could cause colony collapse; when we repeated the previous calculation with a realistic birth rate, the risk of colony collapse under pesticide exposure disappeared.”
Damian Carrington (Guardian) Oct 2012:
Oct 2012: 23.10.12 George Monbiot points out that other European nations have banned neo-nicotinoids, and a new study in Nature this week provides more evidence of the devastating impacts of neo-nics. However, as Monbiot argues, class interests work against doing the sane things about all this.
January 2013 Damian Carrington
reported that EFSA has said that imidacloprid should not be used on crops that
Feb 2013. An article by Damian Carrington – the importance of wild insects as well as bees for pollination:
March 2013: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/15/bee-harming-pesticides-escape-european-ban
an article on
The research was published in Science journal.
the 20th century in the
- a good Guardian editorial on bees and neonicotinoids:
April 2013: European commission will suspend use of three neonicotinoids for two years – British government abstained in the first vote and then voted against a ban.
Damian Carrington report: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/apr/29/bee-harming-pesticides-banned-europe
May 2014. IFLS article, put on Facebook criticises a study by Dr Alex Lu as not proving what he claims – that neonics are a serious contributor to bee decline. A Public Health Bulletin summary is interesting: http://foodpoisoningbulletin.com/2014/harvard-study-strengthens-link-between-neonicotinoids-and-bee-death/
The researchers say that the classic measurements used to assess the
toxicity of a pesticide are not effective for these systemic varieties and
conceal their true impact... "There is so much evidence, going far beyond
bees," Prof Dave Goulson from
FoE call for National Bee Action Plan http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/bees_report_briefing.pdf
May 2016: the state of the ‘bee
industry’ (!) in
About a third of the country’s beekeeping operations, known as “apiaries”,
Then, in the early 2000s, two things shook up the industry. First, the world discovered almonds. Thanks to global demand,
Second, the bees started to die. During the 2006 winter, beekeepers reported losing anything from 30% to 90% of their hives to disease, an unprecedented amount compared with previous decades, in which losses hovered around 10 or 15%. (The average death toll has since levelled to just under 30% each year.) Even Johnson, a second-generation keeper with “honey in the blood”, finds boxes and boxes of dead colonies every winter, and has to scrape out the crusted nectar and tiny corpses.
What became known as “colony collapse disorder” – a lethal combination of disease, drought, land loss and pesticide use – brought the industry to its knees, forcing hundreds of keepers, unable to maintain their hives through the cold winter, out of business.
Consequently, the national supply of bees fell, while demand for pollination has since quadrupled alongside almond growth. This year, almond farmers paid $180 to rent a single hive. And every half-hectare requires two hives...
In 2015, poachers stole more than 1,700 hives
Sep 2016: re-wilding:
The National Trust bought a sheep farm, Thorneythwaite near Borrowdale, and will replace the monoculture with ‘healthy soil, natural water management and thriving natural habitats.’
Cohen adds that farmers receive up to 60% of their income from EU subsidies. Now ‘they will have to do what the public wants’ (We wonder...)
Re-wilding will help offset global warming and slow floodwaters, as well as bringing back wildflowers, butterflies, farmland birds, water meadows...
August 2016: grouse...
hunting season opened recently, and a row has broken out over the desirability
of grouse shooting – heightened by a radio discussion between Chris Packham and
Ian Botham. An overview of some of the issues is provided by Clive Aslet,
former editor of Country Life, in the Observer,
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/13/countryside-guardians-merit-praise-not-censure - though, as this title suggests, the author is more pro-grouse shooting than against it?
Interesting to note that Alladale Wilderness Reserve in Sutherland is possibly going to be rewilded – re-introducing wolves, bear, lynx, wildcat and wild boar... He also points out that badgers eat hedgehogs... ‘the countryside isn’t a wilderness – humankind keeps the balance. Many wildflowers, for instance, only survive in combination with farming practices, whether the grazing of chalk downland or the turning of soil by the plough.’ He maintains that grouse moors have lapwings, plovers and curlews – and not many foxes and stoats, which produces ideal conditions for many species, along with an income to pay for it.
Red List (begun in 1996, but includes extinctions going back to 1500 – see
March 2013: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2013/mar/01/biofuel-habitat-loss-usa
on takeover of land for biofuels in
- Good News?
Jan 2008: Luiz da Silva: rich
countries produce 65% of greenhouse emissions;
Monbiot, G 110510: more to blame than developing world for
environmental damage – not case that ‘only rich countries can afford to protect
the environment’. Look at Gulf of Mexico disaster, and report: Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences which says deforestation between 2000 and 2005
was done mainly by US – least damage done by Democratic Republic of Congo (10
times less), with Indonesia in between (half as much damage as US). Moreover,
it is western demand for oil, palm oil, timber, animal feed that damages
Monbiot (G 110510) cites The Dark Mountain Project (co-founded by Paul Kingsnorth) which claims that greens are trying to sustain the world at level of developed countries, advocating technologies that would damage wild places and the third world, trying to save industrial civilisation, when should be trying to save the biosphere. We should be ‘negotiating the coming descent [from our level of civilisation] while creating new myths which put humanity in its proper place.’ Monbiot believes the projections of the end of resources are alarmist – and no good waiting for civilisation to collapse without trying to change the way it operates. Need also to distinguish between technology that not seriously harmful (wind-farms) and that which is: oil… note: forthcoming book from Dark Mountain Project, also festival May 2010.
Article on a pioneering researcher who is studying the genetics of food crops in the developing world – not to encourage GM but to facilitate cross-breeding of better plants: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/jun/02/genetic-mapping-plan-to-boost-africa-crops
of Wangari Maathai, Kenyan winner of the Nobel prize for environmental efforts
to help the very poor, first woman to head a university department in
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/26/wangari-maathai and a piece by John Vidal on Wangari:
In 1977 she set up the Green Belt movement – poor women suffer the most from environmental degradation, she argued. Initially the movement planted trees, but then it took on issues of democracy. The tree became a symbol for democratic struggle. Set up Mazingira, the Kenyan Green Party and won 98% of the votes in her constituency, joined the coalition that overthrew Moi in 2002, and became a junior environment minister in President Kibaki’s government (2003 -5).
Larry Elliott G 091109: Tobin tax is right to redistribute from
socially useless to socially disadvantaged… 0.05% tax on UK financial trades
would raise about 100bn a year (study by Austrian govt) – would wipe out
structural part of our budget deficit. Brown suggests half should be used for
developing countries. Crucial is technology transfer: coal-fired CO2 emissions
are rising, especially as
paper: Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change; why financing for technology transfer
matters, by A. Ghosh and K. Watkins, for Global Economic Governance Programme,
Ecologist June 2009 (Khadija Sharife): dams are not helping Africans: more
than 60% of
Dams in Africa
causing problems because: large-scale projects lead to corruption, money
supposed to be for displaced not reaching them (27,000 in Lesotho), migrant
workers bring HIV to popn already impoverished by displacement: many orphans…
Many dams have caused indebtedness, inequalities, environmental degradation,
prevented small-scale projects, etc. Big dams proposed for
Native Peoples and Conservation.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jan/20/can-oil-save-the-rainforest: John Vidal on
2. Mark Dowie, 03.06.09.
of Conservation Refugees; The Hundred-Year Conflict between global conservation
and native peoples, MIT – points out that originally (
Two books on food and development: Feeding Frenzy: The New Politics of Food, by Paul McMahon (Profile
12.99); A Hungry man in a Greedy World, by Jay Rayner (William Collins)
reviewed in Observer 26.05.13. Latter argues that ‘food miles’ is not the most
important aspect of deciding whether food produced is environmentally friendly
(whoever said it was the only factor? We need to take into account things like
the amount of fertiliser used, the costs of the technology etc. For example,
lamb, apples and diary products shipped from
NB we throw away 30-40% of the food we produce, yet 1
billion people live in near starvation! Panic in commodity markets in 2008 and
2010/11 led to an increase of 30% in food prices. We produce enough food – why
was there such a panic? (Led by
I probably would agree with Alex Renton’s review, that a number of different approaches must be used: less meat-eating, less waste, and helping African farmers to be as productive as US ones by taking down trade barriers.
Meat production (and CAP): Meat production also counts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse emissions. (UN FAO).
Ecologist (June 2009): Taxpayers are subsidising
intensive and factory farming to the tune of £700 million a year according to
food – could feed
John Beddington, government chief scientific advisor says (date?) we face a ‘storm of problems’ including food shortages. Others say this is not the case – and food is only short if crops are used inappropriately for biofuels, or animal feed.
Food miles: Do food miles matter?
also Jay Rayner, previous topic. Concept first coined by Prof. Tim Lang of
the Guardian, 16th March
2013: letter from Lyn Summers, retired
All these – together with fears of fracturing the rock layers and polluting the water table – seem to me to be ‘risks too far’.
Another letter says that it is wrong to say fracking is opposed by “opponents of fracking” – bodies and individuals who have said it is incompatible with meeting our targets for reducing greenhouse gases include: the parliamentary energy and climate change select committee, David MacKay – chief scientific advisor to the Dept of Energy and Climate Change, and the committee on climate change.
another letter says that according to Le Monde Diplomatique, Sir David King has
‘noted that production at wells drops off by as much as 60-90% within the first
year.’ US companies such as Eagle Fox in
On the other hand, Fred Pearce, author of The Last generation: how nature will take her revenge for climate change, says it is a ‘bridging technology’ which we need because there is far too much burning of coal. ‘The share of coal in the world’s energy supply rose from 25% to 30% in the past half decade.’ He only identifies two problems: one, that ‘there are plenty of places where fracking would not be a good idea, especially in overcrowded Britain’ – and secondly that what is proposed as a short-term solution can become ‘locked-in’ – and Osborne, as an opponent of wind-power etc, is not the person to trust (my words) not to get ‘locked-in’. See:
From Freedom March 2012: in Morgan County, West Virginia, a group calling itself Morgan Country Frack Ban is also trying to get the county declared an International Water Site. They say: ‘Ecology is the only economy that really matters. One cannot make a living on a dead planet; and one cannot drink money.’
Sample, Guardian 17th Feb
2013: report by senior academics at University of Texas says that fracking
is essential to the US, and found that many problems were common to all
drilling, and water contamination could often be traced to surface spills,
However, they were hindered by the industry’s not disclosing what chemicals it
used in fracking fluids, and a widespread failure to sample and record baseline
levels of water quality.
John Vidal in the Guardian, 20th Oct 2011, on the ‘Global Citizens’ Report on the state of GMOs’ – this groups together 20 Indian, South-east Asian and Latin American conservation groups, representing millions of people. The report casts doubt on the effectiveness of GM crops: more insecticides have to be used, and Monsanto, Syngenta and Dupont control nearly 70% of global seed sales, and are the three largest GM firms. Monsanto has control of over 95% of the Indian cotton-seed market and this pushes prices up.
250,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves over the past 15 years, mainly because of indebtedness. See:
Ecologist Magazine, Dec/Jan 2009 has article on
Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, who has battled with Monsanto over the
contamination of his crops with GM rape seed – he argues that it is almost
impossible now to buy non-GM seed in
Ecologist June 2009: French govt has agreed
introduction of labelling ‘fed on non-GM feed’ on meat and dairy products, a
victory for group Que Choisir. In
The Ecologist May 2009: criticises the publication by ‘Sense About Science’ – ‘Making Sense of GM’, which appears to have been written by people with connections with the GM industry, viz: Prof. V Moses, head of industry-funded GM lobby group CropGen; 8 contributors from John Innes Centre, which receives funding from the GM industry; and a draft version, obtained by Private Eye, shows that one of the contributors – whose name was removed from the publication! – was toxicologist Andrew Cockburn, former director of scientific affairs at Monsanto (when he was invited to author part of a government review there were questions in parliament and one of the other panellists resigned). More disturbingly, the publishers (directors of SAS) are part of the Living Marxism group, which also is ‘behind online magazine Spiked and the Institute of Ideas – the group promotes climate change denial, eulogises GMOs, human cloning and nuclear power, and portrays environmentalists as Nazis…’ (Jonathan Matthews in The Ecologist). LM lost a libel action against ITN when it tried to argue that new pictures of starving Bosnians were faked. The magazine had to close… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_Marxism. See also Zac Goldsmith’s Guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/05/sense-about-science-celebrity-observations.
Jonathan Matthews is the founder of GM Watch www.gmwatch.eu
Instead of HS2 we need ‘a European supergrid... to iron out fluctuations from different sources of renewable energy’ (Robin Russell-Jones, Chair, Help Rescue the Planet).
Decc (now demised!) showed that renewables with ‘backup gas can produce same output as Hinkley Point a decade earlier and at least 25% cheaper. Only 900 new jobs would be created by Hinkley, each at a cost to consumers of 800,000 a year’ (Neils Kroniger, Green Hedge UK Ltd)
‘For the same price as Hinkley we could put solar hot water and PV with battery storage on [the same] 6m homes and thus taking a quarter of British homes out of fuel poverty for ever... We have over a million solar roofs, and tens of millions have been invested in solar research – meanwhile 2.5 bn has been invested in moving some dirt and laying some concrete at Hinkley... (Professor Sue Roaf, Edinburgh).
The Severn Barrage could produce 10% of our energy needs (Michael McLoughlin).
The likely cost continues to escalate: the National
Audit Office has warned that consumers could pay £30 bn in ‘top-up payments’
due to falling wholesale power prices. DEC has already put the potential cost
of Hinkley Point at £37 bn. Hinkley would produce 7% of Britain’s total
electricity, but it has been hit by delays due to concerns in EDF about the
financial burden. In addition, trades unions in
The problem of radioactive water is enormous: each day around 400 tonnes of ground water flows from surrounding hills into the basements of three of the reactors, where it mixes with coolant water. Most of the contaminated water is pumped out into storage tanks – of which there are more than 1,000, holding 500,000 tones of contaminated water.
Work has begun on a barrier underground to prevent water from reaching the basements – it is 1.5 km long and will be frozen.
Workers are removing 1,331 spent fuel rods from reactor number four – and this should be completed by the end of this year. In the other three reactors radiation levels are still too high for humans to enter.
Decommissioning the entire plant is expected to take at least 40 years, at a cost of around £55 bn.
07.11.14 Guardian carried Ecotricity advert: Nothing Happened:
On Sunday Oct 19th four nuclear power stations shut down, and Didcot went up in flames – nine million homes-worth of electricity was lost, but our windmills carried on and provided almost 25% of the country with power.
by Sustainable Devt Commission as well as Greenpeace and CAT show that
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/24/divorce-after-fukushima-nuclear-disaster?INTCMP=SRCH on the emotional and psychological effects.
Feb 4th 2013: Highly critical report (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority: Managing Risk at Sellafield) published on management of Sellafield – (Terry Macalister) Commons public accounts committee, chaired by Margaret Hodge, saying ‘the public are not getting a good deal from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority arrangements with Nuclear Management Partners.’
It’s not clear how long it will take to deal with Sellafield’s waste, and last year the consortium got £54 million, despite only 2 out of 14 major projects being on track. Of the 14 projects, 12 were behind schedule, and 5 of those were over budget.
Every year some £1.6 billion is being spent on the site, where waste includes 82 tonnes of plutonium.
Oct 2012: Rupert Neate, Observer,
reports the price of uranium has sunk since
Oct 2012, obituary of Crispin
Aubrey – investigative journalist and green campaigner – note he published two
books on Sellafield etc: Meltdown: the collapse of the nuclear dream; and Thorp
March 2012: letters in the Guardian
on news that the
Feb 2012: letters Guardian point
out, in response to article on ‘prism’ reactor, said to be able to use up spent
fuel: we have 25,000 tonnes of depleted uranium and 100 tonnes of plutonium;
the Japanese spent $13 billion over four decades trying to develop fast breeder
reactors unsuccessfully (Tom Burke et al).
Between 1955 and 1995 the
Nov 2011: thorium
– less dangerous as don’t produce plutonium; smaller (300 MW) and therefore
Jan 2010: Dr Ian Fairlie replies to retired prof Wade Allison (not a radiation biologist nor epidemiologist) who, 11.01.10, minimised risks from nuclear radiation (esp. said that there should be a threshold, not a continual level of less risk from decreasing doses). LNT (linear no-threshold theory) is used by UN, International Commission on Radiological Protection, Health Protection Agency etc.
Recent German govt study found 22% increase in leukemia, 160% in embryonal cancer among children living near all German nuclear reactors.
Jan/Feb 2010 (Guardian): at Sellafield there are 100 tonnes of plutonium – a ludicrous amount!! The budget to clean up old nuclear sites is £2.8 bn per annum.
Govt refusing to give details of five separate security breaches at nuclear power stations. These could include: unauthorized incursion, incidents involving explosives, attempted theft of nuclear materials… See the Office of Civil Nuclear Security (OCNS) annual report. Dai Davies MP tabled a question, but energy minister David Kidney refused to give details.
letter Gdn 09.01.08:
of tumour/leukemia in children increases closer to plant (study of 41 districts
near 16 plants in
5.12 Population: global
growth: predictions for world
population, from 6.5 bn in 2010 to 9.2 bn in 2050; consequences: 50 m new
mouths to feed each year (= population of UK/Italy); if
Book: Population Ten Billion,
by Danny Dorling, (Constable) professor of human geography at
of encroachment into permafrost in
2014: recycling rate: 44.8% --- 2015: 43.9%
EU target: at least 50% of waste to be recycled by 2020
Consumer uncertainty about what can be recycled is part of it (plastic bottles get recycled, other containers don’t) – also lack of facilities provided by local authorities: 80 local authorities (20%) do this.
24/9/2006: Waste food, and sell-by dates:
from Lucy Siegle, Observer Magazine,
this, 60% is food (6m tonnes!). (
70% of produce is dumped by producers and retailers before it even gets to the stores.
Each adult throws away £420 of food a year (plus a further £470 in packaging).
A quarter of the food waste that goes into British landfill is reckoned to be edible.
The Charity Fareshare (www.fareshare.org.uk) aims to feed some 4m Britons suffering from food poverty – and some retailers (M & S, Sainsbury, Pret a Manger) donate food that is just within use-by date.
So, a question: are “use-by” dates a way of getting us to buy more (because we throw away food that reaches its use-by date, when maybe it’s still OK)?
And what does BOGOF really mean? Is it “buy one get one free” or “buy one throw one in the bin”?
More figures on waste, especially related to computers:
People get a new mobile phone on average every 18 months
Last Christmas more than 6 million PCs were left on standby in empty offices
1.5 million computers are thrown away each year, of which 99% work perfectly
The average Briton throws away own body weight in rubbish every seven weeks acc. Wrap (govt-funded recycling agency). Estimated 30% could be composted. [“Change” (Co-op) Spring 2007]
Letters in today’s Guardian criticise Miliband for proposing to charge residents who produce a lot of waste.
Points made include:
- most waste is material the manufacturers produce, that we don’t want;
- the amount of food waste we throw away has not changed much over the decades and is nearer a fifth of household waste (as it was in the ‘60s);
- the bulk of the 100 tonnes of waste produced comes from industry and commerce;
- many people want to recycle but don’t believe that what the council collects will actually be recycled;
collectors to provide them with recyclable material – result clean city and less unemployment as well as saving energy and resources.
Why does this government insist on blaming the individual instead of dealing with the failings of business and industry? What has this kind of approach got to do with a “Labour” government?
But the main problem is scarcity if we look from a global perspective: there are more than a billion people making do with less than 19 litres each per day, while Americans use around 375, and Europeans 250.
Climate change is going to cause more problems: in
Water Patrol from Canal and River Trust (April 2015?): lists invasive species e.g. American signal crayfish (carries a disease that threatens native crayfish, which have declined by around 95% since the 1970s), and eats invertebrates, snails, small fish and fish eggs. Others: mink, terrapins, giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed, floating pennywort, killer shrimp, zebra mussels... See www.canalrivertrust.org.uk
Guardian 8th May 2012, Damian Carrington: water companies are not being asked to reduce leakage – the entire industry will only be asked to reduce leakage by 1.5% by 2015, and 11 companies have zero targets. Every day 4.3 billion litres of water leaks from the system.
The average water bill is now £376. Water companies made £2 bn in pre-tax profits and paid shareholders £1.5 bn in dividends in 2010 – 11.
Guardian, 23.01.08, Paul
need for new kind of solutions to problem of excess rainwater/flooding: Chris Baines: need to look at whole rural landscape, find ways of
slowing rainwater when it hits ground, holding it, delaying its release. Increase
broadleaf woodlands on slopes, fewer animals, reinstatement of hedges,
re-creation of reed-beds etc. Likely increase in rainfall: Autumn 2000 was
wettest for 270 yrs, floods affecting thousands of properties, 1.3 m hectares
of agricultural land on flood-planes in Eng and
Damian Carrington quotes National Trust’s review of 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/28/national-trust-2016-review-wildlife-weather-bees-butterflies Some creatures and plants did well, others suffered, as result of varied/unsettled weather, which is ‘becoming the norm’ according to Matthew Oates, green expert for the National Trust. NT is the country’s biggest farmer, with 2,000 tenants and the biggest landowner after the Forestry Commission. Winters have become milder, and the summer wetter – which is what scientists predict with climate change.
As is my custom in these notes, I will lay out a number of different solutions that have been proposed; each one reflects a certain (usually political) viewpoint, ranging from the right to the left – but with other views escaping from this traditional spectrum. As regards CSR, these views range from something close to hostility, through to the argument that the whole system needs changing, and “in the middle” different views of what CSR actually involves.
There have always been those who believe so strongly in the market that they would leave all these problems alone, provided the market is made as free as possible. I have commented on the problem of market values above, (link) and I have also made the observation that we do not seem to deal with problems until they cause us noticeable damage. But this is precisely how the pro-market viewpoint deals with problems: why should we spend money unnecessarily on putative problems, when once a phenomenon hits someone’s pocket they will start paying to prevent it?
A parallel view to this
stresses that it is only as a result of the market and competition that we
are come up with new technologies at all. If we could not make money
out of something, would we bother with trying to make it? Consequently, the
best way to deal with the negative consequences of industrial and technological
growth is to try to find new and better (i.e. more energy efficient, less
polluting, less wasteful) technologies. We also need to be looking for
technologies that will help to clear up pollution, otherwise how are we going
to do it? And after all, money can be made from clearing up a mess! Witness the
discussion of how it is the Chinese who are processing most of
To solve the problem of
getting international agreement on reducing carbon dioxide (and other
greenhouse gases), the
I shall take this as an example of a market-based approach, although it also depends on international governmental agreement. At first sight it looks like an attempt to put a value on “externalities” – but it is a money value, and then the inevitable happens, i.e. if any reduction in pollution occurs it will be because it makes economic sense to the country concerned, not because of any intrinsic value in reducing pollution. Also I am concerned that desire for profit will mean the scheme is used for profit rather than to reduce pollution. (I will try to explain this below)
Under the scheme, each
country is given a target amount of permitted emissions, and these are
expressed as “credits”. If a country manages to reduce its emissions beyond the
target (i.e. emissions are reduced to below the target), it will have credits
in hand that it can “sell” to another country that is likely to exceed its
target. If it goes over that figure, it can “buy” excess credits from
elsewhere, but if it still fails to meet its target there will be fines, in
proportion to the excess that it produces. (See the Guardian, Life,
There are now trading schemes that are up and running – for example the European Trading Scheme – where millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide are traded each month. In fact, it looks as if banks and others (including Enron, before it collapsed!) are interested in how they can make money from buying and selling pollution credits. If this happens, I am not sure what will become of the original purpose of the scheme. However, the hope is that as governments make their targets more stringent, it will be cheaper to reduce emissions than to buy credits. But this obviously depends on governments being strict, and to date what we have observed is the British government backtracking and reducing pressure on industry. Not only this, but governments have to set targets for particular companies – and this has not been thought through carefully or fairly, according to some critics (Ian Sample, loc cit).
observers (e.g. Michael Meacher, the former Environment minister, Guardian
Update (2007): J Freedland, Guardian 05.12.07: is much cash now
in carbon cap-and-trade market: grew x 3 last year, now worth at least $30
But opponents who
believe the underlying problem is industrial growth, not just the increasing
production of greenhouse gases, will not see much benefit from this treaty. It
is all very well being a “realist”, as Michael Meacher is, but if as much
damage has been done to the environment as some scientists claim, then surely
the time has come for something more drastic? However, Adair Turner, former director general
of the CBI, believes that environmental restrictions and economic and
industrial growth are compatible (Simon Caulkin, Observer
There is also the argument (says Freedland) that capitalism is best at innovating – For example, we now can have a meter to show how much energy a household is using… promoted by SEED: social environmental enterprise + design.
Two other arguments that oppose the pro-market position should be noted:
the market may throw up new technology, but there is always the possibility that this is accompanied by new problems. For example, when nuclear power was first put into operation, enthusiasts told us we would have virtually free electricity. Experience has thrown up the incredible difficulty and cost of disposing of waste, and the likelihood that cancers have been caused. Now the whole viability of nuclear power is in doubt.
Another example would be how automation was supposed to bring more leisure time, but in practice has meant that we all work harder because the technology enables us to do more. With BSE and CJD we “discovered” some unforeseen consequences of intensive meat production. After all this, isn’t the public right to be wary of new technology having as yet unknown harmful consequences? It is surely little wonder that there is uncertainty about GM crops, mobile phones and radiation from radio masts.
as the market works on the basis of risk-taking to make a profit, how likely is it that money will be found to deal with very expensive environmental problems? We have noted already that insurers do not have a bottomless purse when it comes to the likely consequences of climate change. Nuclear power, too, would not survive without enormous government subsidy. In fact nuclear power has probably only been worked on because of its connection with bombs. I would maintain that the market can not deal with nuclear power, and that to hand such a dangerous and costly industry over to “free market” forces would not only be dangerous – experience has shown (in this country at least) that a buyer is unlikely to be found.
Amongst those in business who accept that the dangers of climate change are real, there is still disagreement over the extent to which regulation is necessary. Elkington and Hailes in their best-selling “Green Consumer Guide” (1988), represented the view that business would “green” itself – as a result of market forces, and consumer pressure. They argued for “bridge-building” between business and environmental groups, and they set out a number of criteria that consumers could use in order to make their purchases environmentally sound – which would then put pressure on business to meet this demand.
This position differs from the entirely pro-market view given above, since Elkington and Hailes recognise the need for some sort of outside pressure on firms in order to produce “green business”. However, this is a very mild form of pressure, and often takes the form of providing “consultancy” over environmental issues – whilst building on public alarm over the environment.
In fact, John Elkington himself has become a consultant for “sustainable business”, and other environmental campaigners have decided that if you can’t beat them you should join them! For example, Jonathan Porritt (formerly of Friends of the Earth) is now chair of the government’s Sustainable Development Commission, and runs Forum for the Future, a “charity working closely with business”.
I am not convinced that Elkington and Hailes’s argument makes sense: their optimistic view that business is becoming green seems to have little foundation, given the track record of most business in relation to the environment, (as argued above).
It is also hard to see how links between business and environmental groups can be made, since (see next point) environmental groups are often based on a radical philosophy that is not compatible with traditional business methods and values. Moreover, it is not clear to me where consumer pressure will come from – except, as argued above, when consumers are faced with some sort of threat as a result of environmental degradation (by which time it may be too late).
However, it is not too difficult to envisage business realising the benefits of environmental consciousness, and such slogans as - “reduce, recycle, re-use” are attractive to businesses if explained in such a way that they realise they might gain from adopting them! This of course leaves the final doubt: to what extent is a business that boasts of its environmental credentials simply indulging in clever PR? Greenwash!?
Update: Re-usable water bottles – www.sigg.com – Swiss company sustainably made, and free from phthalates and Bisphenol-A (which can leach out in landfills).
Personally I would apply this argument even to some of the new “green businesses” (see www.GreenBusiness.net) – are these businesses supplying real needs in an environmentally friendly way, or are they simply pushing their way into a “niche market”? (This is much the same argument that I rehearsed concerning Body Shop: Chapter 1).
Take “Red Jellyfiish” as advertised on the above (American) website: its main activity is selling posters and e-cards with themes about nature – “every purchase helps the environment” presumably by donations from the proceeds to environmental protection groups. You can also click on one of the advertisements appearing on the site and a similar donation is made (out of the money paid by the advertisers presumably). I need hardly say that posters are hardly a basic need, and all sorts of questions come to mind about the ecological costs of producing them!
Recently we have seen the growth of “social enterprises”, which have environmental considerations as part of their goals – and which seem to have adopted Elkington’s triple bottom line (see below link). These will be dealt with separately, as they are not primarily concerned with the environment.
Corporate Social Responsibility?
airlines resist plan to include them in emissions targets!! IATA says 170
countries oppose the proposals to make flights in and out of EU subject to caps
that apply to power stations etc.
National Trust HQ,
But Christian Aid report, by Andrew Pendleton 190207: only 16 of top 100 meet govt guidelines on greenhouse gas emissions – almost 200m tonnes missing from annual reports. Top 100 produce 12-15% of our emissions. True figures should be 67% higher..
Consumers International and Accountability (includes National Consumer Council and Which) report, June 2007, says 40% distrust business claims about the environment, and 50% not sure. 60% believe scientists, 50% believe pressure groups. Family and friends are also trusted more than business or politicians. Only 17% trust the media… Director of Accountability: Philip Monaghan (international non-profit making body). [Terry Macalister, G 190607.] Survey of consumers’ actions shows 60% often reduce energy use, nearly 50% bought energy-reducing light bulbs, but complaints about cost of environment-friendly products, and 1/3 “confused”.
Shell: sponsored conference on
the environment, but still burning flares in
6.3 POLICING THE MARKET & CHANGING LIFESTYLE
Many of those concerned about the environment would feel that it is worthwhile joining a pressure group and/or adopting a green lifestyle: there is some overlap with the previous viewpoint, where pressure is applied simply to make business “behave better”. However, pressure groups are not market forces! Moreover, your lifestyle is your individual choice and may have no effect on society whatsoever.
Putting pressure on business is a strategy adopted by the “light green” end of the environmental movement. The environmental or green movement is split between what are called “light green” and “dark green” wings. I will deal with the “dark green” approach below (section 6), since they would go much further than simply “pressurising” or “policing” capitalism.
The “light green” position is that capitalism can be reformed – and that it is our responsibility as consumers and businesses to find ways of doing the least damage possible to the environment. We can do this by adopting a green lifestyle.
Thus, as with Elkington and Hailes’s “green consumerism”, what we are given is guidelines for us to modify our purchasing behaviour. There is little explanation as to what will motivate us to do this however. The most widespread guideline to environmental impact is the “carbon footprint”: for those who wish to minimise their “carbon” impact, it is possible to measure how much carbon (i.e. fossil fuels) we have used each day in various activities (from boiling a kettle to leaving the computer on standby, or from driving some miles in a car, to travelling by air). Once we know how big our “carbon footprint” is, we can all take steps to reduce it. The same procedure can be used for whole businesses or nations. This is sometimes called “carbon accounting”. If we go beyond only thinking about fossil fuels, and include other impacts on the environment, we can identify an “ecological footprint” for each of us (or, again, for a given business, industry, or nation).
Whilst these measurements produce some interesting information, and can be used to “shame” excessive polluters, there are obvious limitations with this approach. First, do companies or nations feel “shame”?! Or are they only concerned about their wealth or their power? Second, there is an underlying drive for growth that still has to be dealt with: to significantly reduce all our ecological footprints would surely require a re-structuring of whole economies and societies? This is even more obvious if, thirdly, we consider the inequalities that exist between the developed and less-developed world: the main polluters are countries like the US, and they should surely have to reduce their footprints first and further than the rest – but how is this to be done?
On the other hand, leading a green lifestyle within developed countries is increasingly feasible – for example, houses that are sustainable and have nearly no environmental impact have been designed and built, according to Steve Rose, the Guardian 29/11/2004. (see www.earthship.com or www.lowcarbon.co.uk). They are “heated by the sun, generate electricity from solar and wind energy, use rainfall, process their own sewage through plant beds which also produce bananas all year round”. They also can be built using waste such as old car tyres.
There are many green products (the Ecover range for example) on the market; there is more interest in organic gardening, including composting food waste; you can buy cosmetics and clothing made from hemp – which is more environmentally friendly for developing countries to grow (see www.thtc.co.uk for the Hemp Trading Company, or www.motherhemp.com), and you can even arrange to have a green funeral: www.naturaldeath.org.uk!
Divestment: recently (writing 2015) The Guardian has started a campaign to get investments taken away from the fossil fuel industry. Here is a link to a piece about the Gates Foundation, which gives a lot of money to charity etc, and Bill Gates has said that climate change is the most serious problem we face, and yet it invests heavily in oil and mining: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/19/gates-foundation-has-14bn-in-fossil-fuels-investments-guardian-analysis
6.4 REGULATING THE MARKET
Believing that only limited change can be brought about by or within capitalism prompts some to turn to the state, or to international bodies with the power to regulate and control business. Socialists often make the assumption that with state control, or workers’ control, we will automatically adopt greener industrial practices. There is a questionable logic at work here: state ownership does not necessitate care for the environment, and in fact could be carried out in a manner that is totally un-ecological – as was seen in the former Soviet union, which turned out to be (along with communist East Europe) one of the world’s worst polluters. (Conversely, it is possible to take measures to protect the environment without at the same time converting to socialism. Andre Gorz (1987) recognised this when he wrote of the danger of “eco-fascism”).
Those such as Gorz who want to maintain a link between socialism and ecology must “add” something to the idea of common or state ownership as promoting equality. It could be argued, for example, that planning the economy must involve long-term perspectives, which in turn must mean ecological sensitivity. Gorz (1994) argues for an “eco-social rationality”, but the strongest point he makes is that this rationality is quite incompatible with capitalism’s drive for growth and profit and its creation of never-ending needs (see on the consumer in Chapter 5 - marketing link). Where his thinking is lacking is on how to implement this eco-social rationality, and he even seems to have made socialism less important than ecology in some of his writings.
Having said this, there still remains the further, real/practical problem for “traditional” socialists that most of the experiments that have been carried out so far with state planning have led to an unaccountable bureaucracy. This might be, as many believe, because “power corrupts” or, more subtly because planning came to be regarded as a specialised activity, in which the amateur public could not be involved. This is the problem of technocracy that was mentioned when discussing the worker – and we will return to it under “inequality” in Chapter 8. Here I also deal with worker co-operatives as a remedy for inequality (link). In Chapter 1 I (link) have argued that worker-ownership is likely to produce more socially responsible businesses, it is worth asking if there is a natural connection between co-ownership and sensitivity to the natural environment? The Suma whole-food co-operative certainly includes environmentally friendly processes in its aims.
Elkington (1997) writes of seven “sustainability revolutions” that he believes must take place to reach sustainable business. These include changes in the approach to markets, values, transparency, life-cycle technology, and governance. He describes the series of events that have changes our awareness of the environment – in a similar way that I did at the start of this section – identifying three “waves” of sustainability, with peaks and troughs for each. For Elkington, the formation of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace (1970s), the disasters at Bhopal and Chernobyl (1980s), public battles over environmental issues such as Brent Spar and Shell in Nigeria (1990s), together with the more recent BSE “mad cow” disease etc, and the current phenomenon of globalisation, have all helped us move towards sustainability by convincing business that it must do something. Now, he says, business must be aware of the “triple bottom line” – economic, environmental and social, but this will not be really effective until it is “built into” corporate agendas from the moment a new business is set up. This is very reminiscent of John Humble’s (1973) argument, referred to in the Chapter 1, link and it seems to me to be just as over-optimistic, and lacking in grounds and evidence of actual change inside corporations.
Writers like Elkington are fond of inventing colourful terminology to describe the different business practices they observe with regard to CSR. Thus there are “corporate locusts” (who devour the environment rapidly), “corporate caterpillars” (slowly munching away!), “corporate butterflies” (like Body Shop, with some CSR but many limitations) and finally “corporate honey-bees” who are fully sustainable. He even acknowledges that “corporate butterflies” have an impact on consumers that is out of proportion to their small economic role. How he then can be optimistic and not see the world as nearly over-run by swarming corporate locusts I do not know!
There are, then, serious weaknesses in the argument that business is becoming sustainable. Predictions of how the “big picture” is changing – large-scale historical predictions - are fun to draw up, but time has an even funnier habit of proving them wrong! (Burnham, Heilbronner, Marcuse, Marx – their names are legion). One would have thought that after the incredibly complex and supposedly scientific predictions of Marx were demonstrated to be seriously wrong, social scientists would be a bit more humble and recognise the unpredictability of history. This is not to say that we should not say how we wish the world to become – but it seems to me that the basis for these arguments have to be ethical not pseudo-scientific.
Another serious weakness in these arguments about sustainability is that they do not address current inequalities and power structures across the world: to ask the Indians and the Americans at the same time to be “sustainable” is to maintain the gross inequalities (See Chapter 7 and Chapter 8) and that were touched on above with regard to carbon emissions. It is surely impossible to expect Americans to give up their way of life altogether, and if carbon reduction is achieved we can be sure it will be done by new and cleaner technology. On the other hand, what do we say to third world countries about their environmental impact? Are they to be denied the standard of living of the developed world?
Comments on report by Sustainable Development Commission at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/30/g20-sustainable-development-commission
6.6 ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGY, NEW SOCIAL STRUCTURES
A “dark green” approach, that some will regard as utopian, requires changes to social structures, politics and economics, usually based on “alternative technology” (see www.cat.org.uk and Dickson 1974). See also Chapter 4 and CAT.
The key to understanding alternative (or “soft” or “appropriate”) technology is the realisation that technology is not neutral – it does not simply develop as we progress, but it is developed as a result of the way that certain problems are defined and certain kinds of solution are sought. In other words, technology varies with the kind of society in which it is found, and this is not simply a question of some societies being under-developed. There is nothing “inevitable”, either, about the discovery of certain kinds of technology, or technological “advances”. Again, what we define as an advance will depend on our social goals and values.
What has happened in the developed world is that we have developed technologies (and work processes) which:
· put machines and production before people: the working conditions of most people in the early stages of industrialisation were appalling, (and the whole process was built on slavery anyway) – but the promise was held out of a better future, and workers were told that these sacrifices were worth making. As we saw, the work process was alienating, and industrial disease and injury has continued to scar large numbers of workers to this day, and getting compensation has meant endless struggle. .
· centralise power and control: right from the earliest changes brought about by industrialisation, i.e. mechanisation, the ability of the worker to control his/her own work was taken away – no longer were most people self-employed peasants or craftsmen, working the hours they chose, with the tools and techniques they chose. Instead the managers and factory owners controlled the clock and the work process. The corollary of this was the growth of the “expert” who knew how to manage work and machinery – workers’ skills were no longer trusted (as we saw with Taylorism). Managers in the factory, and then managers and owners working together in their associations, replaced trade unions not only with their power to organise work, but with political power too (see next section).
· pollute the environment and consume energy wastefully: it was cheaper to run a machine by steam power than to use human strength, especially since coal seemed plentiful. The air, rivers and the sea were “free”, as we have seen, so there was no need to worry about running out of it, or about pollution causing real damage. As with coal, so with oil (so long as it could be bought at a “reasonable” price!) and raw materials: these seemed to be plentiful, “God-given”, and the political power of the first nations to develop ensured that a “reasonable” price was maintained.
The idea of alternative technology grew out of this analysis, and out of the needs of developing countries: rather than believing that our machines and factories and other forms of technology would be useful wherever they could be sent (or sold!), it is argued that each local community needs to decide what are its priorities for work, social life, environmental impact and economic growth. Then, appropriate technology can be developed to meet these needs.
Thus, in a society (e.g.
In case this is thought fanciful or simplistic, aid agencies at the United Nations learned the hard way, in the middle of the last century, that sending tractors out to developing countries to help with the ploughing was mostly a waste of time, since tractors can only run when there is available fuel, labour to maintain them, and available spare parts. (Of course, this might suit developed countries – since it sets up a relationship of dependency, as we saw in the section on the third world).
Other examples of “low level” appropriate technology include using reeds to make egg cartons (rather than paper or plastic), bicycle-power or wind-power to run pumps or to generate electricity – since all of these use locally available raw materials, are non-polluting, and can easily be maintained. However, recently has come the development of more technically advanced technology that still might count in some respects as alternative, such as solar cells: in countries with long hours of sunlight, these are infinitely preferable to nuclear power from an environmental point of view, and they do not need the skilled maintenance that nuclear power stations do. However, of course, they are not so appealing to the state!
The other use of alternative technology is, of course, within developed countries in order to reduce environmental damage, and to improve quality of life (see the points about lifestyle above). However, these are not likely to have much impact on the overall social and political context.
Finally, we might return to the question of co-operatives (see above, also references in: Chapter 1, and Chapter 8) since for some these are the seeds of a new kind of society… On the other hand, as with social enterprise, the Body Shop etc, there does seem to be a tendency for such “different” initiatives to be “co-opted” by the system as it is, and then their radical potential is lost.
Bookchin, M (1990) Remaking Society: Pathways to a Green Future, South End Press – combining anarchism and ecology/social ecology
Cairncross, F (1995) Green Inc: A Guide to Business and the Environment, Island Press – are growth and sustainability compatible?
Recent: Davies, Nicholas B. and Krebs, J.R., West S.A.: An
Introduction to Behavioural Ecology (4th
edn) 2012. On fluence of natural selection on behaviour (Krebs has been
opposing badger cull,
Dobson, A (1990) Green Political Thought, Unwin Hyman – if you want to clarify “light” and “dark” green thinking, and to decide if green political thought is coherent
Dickson, D (1974) Alternative Technology and the Politics of Technical Change, Fontana/Collins.
Dowie, Mark: Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between global conservation and native peoples, MIT
Ecologist, The (1972) Blueprint for Survival, Penguin – another key warning from the 1970s (see also Meadows)
Elkington, J (1997)
Cannibals with forks: the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century
Elkington, J and Burke, T (1989) The Green Capitalists, Onion Publishing Co.
Elkington J. & Hailes J. (1988) The Green Consumer Guide, Gollancz – a “light green” view on consumption that will not damage the environment
Fairweather B. et al (1997) Environmental Futures, Macmillan – see Alan Neale’s article on the motor industry’s resistance to change (NELP)
Farley, Paul, Michael S Roberts: Edgelands... (see Woolfson)
Tim: Here on Earth: a new beginning,
electrochemical reaction’ – looks at evolutionary and human history, extinction, climate change and the role of civilisations as super-organisms – we survive
because we co-operate with other biological entities. We need to respect Gaia. We could feed 9 billion humans and save other species. (Tim Flannery is an
Australian biologist and climate scientist).
Gore, Al: The Future, WH Allen, 25. Reviewed John Gray Guardian 02.02.13: - ‘a tour de force that no government can afford to ignore’. Starts with 6 drivers making
the world a different place – more globalised economy, planet-wide electronic communication and robotics, new political economy shifting to the east,
unsustainable population growth and resource depletion, biological and biochemical advances that allow us to shape the fabric of life, unstable relationship
between human civilisation and the environment (climate change etc). Can we keep up with these changes? Warns against a mechanistic understanding of
science and reductionism. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jan/31/the-future-al-gore-review (Though does argue for
Gorz, A (1987) Ecology as Politics, Pluto – from a Marxist perspective, includes “socialism or ecofascism”
Gorz, A (1996) Social Theory and the Environment, Polity
Heinberg, Richard: Peak Everything
Humble, J, (1973): Social Responsibility Audit, a Management Tool for Survival, Foundation for Business Responsibilities – a very early text on CSR, arguing for
incorporation of social responsibility as a core business objective, and proposing the social audit technique
Jamie, Kathleen: Findings... (see Woolfson)
Jupiter, Tony: What has Nature Ever Done for Us? Profile, 9.99. Reviewed by Robin McKie, Observer 20.01.13. Nature underpins our productivity and our fecundity
– it is not true that if we take care of nature we will have to slow down our development. Shows value and usefulness of e.g. vultures in Inda, peat bogs,
mangroves, soil itself. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jan/19/what-has-nature-ever-done-for-us-tony-juniper-review Review by Mark Cocker.
Leslie, Brian, editor: Sustainable Economics, and author: The Party’s Over (2003)
Liverman, D (1994- 4) article from the Annals of the Association of American Geographers
Lomborg, B (2001 The Skeptical Environmentalist – see also www.lomborg.com
Lovelock, J (1979) Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, Oxford Univ. Press – the planet as a self-regulating natural system: controversial
Lovelock, J (1995) The Ages of Gaia, OUP
Lovelock, J (1991) Gaia: the practical science of planetary medicine, Gaia Books
Meadows, D.H. et al
(1972) The Limits to Growth,
Packard, V (1960) The Waste Makers, Penguin – another early text!
Mabey, Richard: The Common Ground... (see Woolfson)
Mishan, E.J. (first published 1967) The Costs of Economic Growth, Pelican (1969)
Pearce, Fred: The Last Generation: how nature will take her revenge for climate change
Porritt, J (1984) Seeing
Green, Blackwell – Porritt is involved in green politics in the
Porritt, J and Winner, D
(1988) – The Coming of the Greens,
Ridley, Matt - The Rational Optimist 4th Estate May 2010 £20
Ryle, M (1998) Ecology and Socialism, Radius – a green socialist perspective
Sachs, W (1997) The Development Dictionary – see the chapter on the environment for a critical pro-third world perspective on western notions of protecting the
environment against economic growth
Scruton, Roger: Green Philosophy: how to think seriously about the planet, Atlantic 12.99. Many ecological externalities e.g. river pollution can be sorted by a
combination of free markets and common law. Opposes international organisations and state power. Tries to blame the loony left for any inconsistencies etc.
(Jonathan Ree, Guardian 12.01.13
Simms, Andrew and David Boyle: The New Economics
Singer, P (1976) Animal
Sprackland, Jean: Strands... (see Woolfson)
Ward, B, Dubois, R (1972) Only One Earth, Penguin – earth as a spaceship
Esther: Field Notes from a
view nature – more attention paid to, and books, on the ordinary... and on the creatures we live near to, some of which are seen as pests. Woolfson’s previous
book: Corvus, 2008, an ode to the maligned crow family. This book is about why the urban wildness is important to us, and starts with her home-town,
Questions the idea that ‘invaders’ should be removed.
See also: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/23/alien-species-british-countryside-kneejerk-nature by Mark Cocker (we should take each case on
its own merits). Woolfson: how everything would be changed if we lost sparrows!!
World Commission on Environmental Development, (Brundtland report) (1987) Our Common Future, Oxford Univ. Press – one of several important UN declarations
www.cat.org.uk - Centre for Alternative Technology
www.thtc.co.uk - the Hemp Trading Company
www.motherhemp.com - also for hemp products
you can even arrange to have a green funeral: www.naturaldeath.org.uk
www.eta.co.uk - Environmental Transport Assocation
www.neweconomics.org - The New Economics Foundation
www.lomborg.com - the “sceptical environmentalist”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/johnvidal - John Vidal, Guardian environment correspondent.
George Monbiot (and others) on the film The Great Global Warming Swindle,