Protecting the Planet
(a WEA course)
Week 5 Alternative Solutions - Examples
1. air pollution,
2. agriculture and the soil,
These notes are a development of earlier notes on corporate responsibility to the environment: CSR6 Environment
Different Possible Solutions to sample problems:
Solutions are grouped in a similar way to the different approaches explained in Week 4:
(a) the individual or voluntary level, lifestyle choices, socially responsible business
(b) government policies and regulations (local or national), including lobbyists
(c) pressure groups’ aims and more radical ideas
1. Air pollution (acid rain, ozone layer) #air
Causes: internal combustion engine, factories (smelting), power stations, aircraft. Wood-burning stoves. A world-wide problem.
Possible solutions: (a) gas rather than coal (less sulphur), catalytic converters (remove nitrogen oxides), scrubbers in factory chimneys; electric or hybrid cars and buses, cycling, (b) smoother traffic-flows, regulations on emissions (Euro-6) fines – e.g. low emission zones – and from EU (c) opposition to expansion of Heathrow
2. Agriculture and the soil: #agriculture
Causes: damage from over-ploughing and use of fertilizers and monocultures, removal of hedges and ‘wild’ areas, removalof trees, hedges, shrubs; loss to buildings, roads etc; over-ploughing, over-use of nitrogen fertilisers, pesticides
Possible solutions: (a) reduction in use of chemicals, and less ploughing; more localism (b) planning for ‘green infrastructure’; (c) organic methods, not national parks?
3. Bees: #bees
Causes: threats to habitat, intensive farming, loss of wildflower meadows, disease, pesticides (especially neonicotinoids) – colony collapse disorder. Neonics affect bees’ sense of direction, ability to communicate (waggle dance), reproduction, ability to shake out pollen...
Possible solutions: (a) more flowers including wild flowers in gardens, less use of pesticides; more meadows and edges of fields for wild flowers, natural methods of pest control; (b) controls on pesticides; (c) less monoculture, more organic, oppose multinationals
International controls and other dangerous chemicals, e.g. herbicide atrazine – an endocrine disruptor. The LD50 test (dose required to kill half the population tested), reference dose (‘safe’ level for human consumption, and other controversies over safe levels
1 in 10 species in the UK is threatened with extinction, and worldwide there is significant decline:
Causes: habitat loss through urbanization, intensive farming, pesticides, climate change.
Solutions: (a) conservation, reserves, (b) re-wilding (return to recent normal) (c) re-wilding (return to older ecology)
5 Waste: #waste
Food waste: in the UK we send 10m tonnes of waste a year to landfill sites. Of this, 60% is food, a quarter of which is reckoned to be edible. 200,000 tonnes of the food waste comes from seven major supermarkets. 70% of produce is dumped by producers and retailers before it even gets to the stores. Each adult throws away over £400 of food a year (plus a further £400+ in packaging).
Solutions: (a) consumer awareness, (b) regulations, fines (c) rejection of consumerism.
Causes: internal combustion engine, factories (smelting, cement manufacturing), mining, construction, power stations, aircraft. Recent fog in London was partly caused by increased use of wood-burning stoves. Note: 3.3 million people worldwide die of dirty air – more than HIV/Aids, malaria and flu combined (Hadassah Egbedi, 13th Feb 2017).
(a) at the individual level: gas rather than coal (less sulphur), catalytic converters (remove nitrogen oxides), scrubbers in factory chimneys; electric or hybrid cars and buses, cycling.
(b) smoother traffic-flows, regulations on emissions (Euro-6), fines – e.g. low emission zones – and from EU.
Example: (Times 1st Feb 2017): Cornwall may use compulsory purchases to get to move away from polluted areas! NICE (National Inst for Health and Care Excellence) recommends: average speed cameras on A roads, new homes and schools away from polluted areas, ‘no idling zones’ especially outside schools, hedgerows between cycle paths and roads, and cyclists allowed to pass quickly where vehicles idle, councils ‘should consider the impact of speed humps (?), roadside noise barriers and street trees which can trap pollutants beneath their canopies.’
Updates: Jan 2017: Older more polluting vehicles, will have to pay £10 to drive into central London (the toughest emission standard of any major city according to Sadiq Khan). Will affect up to 10,000 vehicles – those that do not meet Euro 4 standards, that is typically registered before 2006. It will operate on top of the congestion charge, so: £21.50 a day between 7 am and 6 pm on weekdays.
But: 13th Jan 2017: Fiat Chrysler accused of cheating with software that disguises the amount of nitrous oxide their Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Ram vehicles produce when being tested. It could be fined £37,000 per vehicle, and 104,000 vehicles could be recalled. NOx contributes 8% of the warming of greenhouse gases. Fiat Chrysler denies it has done anything wrong, and it had to ‘balance the requirements for emissions control with engine durability and performance, safety and fuel efficiency.’ (Sam Thielman, NY)
EU: 16th Feb 2017: Britain has been sent a final warning to comply with EU air pollution limits or be taken to the European Court of Justice. Heavy fines could follow. 40 – 50,000 people die prematurely from respiratory, cardiovascular and other illnesses associated with air pollution (NO2, particulates and ozone).
NB Germany, Italy, France and Spain were also served with final warnings, and 23 of the EU’s 28 countries have breached limits – including 130 cities. Britain has been resisting the laws though. Solutions: electric cars, reducing traffic, clean air zones etc. (Arthur Neslen, Guardian Brussels).
(c) opposing expansion of Heathrow;
Heathrow etc: (9th Jan 2017 Andrew Simms G2) and global warming: 70% of all flights by UK residents are accounted for by just 15% of the population.
Greenpeace and four local councils are taking legal action against expansion (Gwyn Topham, 26th Oct 2016: government announces a third runway will go ahead) which would worsen air quality, increase noise, and jeopardise Britain’s climate change commitments. Mayor Sadiq Khan also opposes the expansion. The number of planes taking off will go up by about 50% to 740,000 annually. Air quality around Heathrow has already broken legal limits – it may be mitigated by congestion charging and better public transport but up to 200,000 more people will be overflown.
The importance of the soil:
Soil is crucial (May 19th 2013 New York Times), not only to grow food and feed animals, but we get most of our antibiotics from it, and scientists are looking for more. Soil is rich in biodiversity: it contains almost one third of all living organisms, according to the EU Joint Research Centre. Only 1% of its micro-organisms have been identified. A teaspoon may contain billions of microbes, divided among 5,000 different types. Not to mention thousands of species of fungi, nematodes, mites etc. See the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative.
Here is a quote from a review of book (The World-ending Fire’) a collection of essays by Wendell Berry, selected by Paul Kingsnorth (review from the New Statesman, by Andrew Marr, 2nd Feb 2017): ‘Without topsoil the thin layer between the Earth’s scores-of-miles deep crust, and the atmosphere we breathe, we could not exist. The historian JR McNeill describes topsoil thus: ‘It consists of mineral particles, organic matter, gases and a swarm of tiny living things. It is a thin skin, rarely more than a hip deep, and usually much less so. Soil takes centuries or millennia to form. Eventually it all ends up in the sea through erosion. In the interval between formation and erosion, it is basic to human survival.’
Wendell Berry is a farmer and writer, with radical views: modern industrial capitalism is a machine based on greed and short-termism that produces grotesque unfairness and waste – and will lead us, before long, to disaster. We must return to cherish and look after the soil we depend on. ‘Our destructiveness has not been, and is not, inevitable. People who use that excuse are morally incompetent, they are cowardly, and they are lazy.... All of us, regardless of party, can be inspired by love of our land to rise above the greed and contempt of our land’s exploiters.’
In other words, soil is basic to human survival. Berry uses horses not tractors. Like John Berger, Berry has championed the cause of migrant workers, and he is one of the most compelling writers on racism in America.
In Ali Smith’s novel Autumn there is this epigraph taken from a Guardian article published last July: ‘At current rates of soil erosion, Britain has just 100 harvests left.’ (Andrew Marr loc cit).
Large-scale agriculture, which leads to removal of hedges, and over-use of pesticides. Also, repeated plowing kills off beneficial fungi and earth-worms – the soil then 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. Organic matter also helps the soil store carbon dioxide (reducing global warming).
March 25th 2015: The Soil. George Monbiot: according to the UN we need 6m more hectares of land every year to grow food for the growing population of the world. In fact, we are losing 12m hectares a year due to soil degradation.
Intensive methods are the problem: allotment holders (according to UK researchers last year) produce 4 - 11 times more food per hectare than farmers do!!
(a) No-till: March 22nd 2015: Putting the Plow Down to Help the Soil (by Erica Goode NYT/Observer):
A 2,000 hectare farm in North Dakota, run by Gabe Brown, uses no tilling, and applies ‘green manures’ etc – no nitrogen fertilizers, and no fungicide, and produces yields above the county average. Organisations like No-Till on the Plains encourage it. Some 35% of cropland in US is no-tillage. For soybeans the amount of no-till land has doubled in the last 15 years (12 million hectares in 2012). (NYT/Observer article 2015).
George Monbiot: allotment holders (according to UK researchers last year) produce 4 - 11 times more food per hectare than farmers do!!
We have used so much of our land for (intensive) agriculture, and removed hedges, that we have removed habitats for wildlife, so the RSPB has suggested a mandatory 4-5% of farmland to be out of production. Increasingly farmers are leaving uncultivated strips around their fields. When the EU had a ‘set-aside’ policy – which lasted about 20 years until 2007 (it was dropped when food prices rose after some poor harvests) the bird population flourished. [The policy was brought in because of over-production: grain mountains etc...]
Localism: (19th Oct 2005, John Vidal, Ian Sample, Guardian). Need return to localism for food production, as 4 companies sell 70% of the food in Britain – high costs in transport etc. 1500 shops feed half the country. Tim Lang: “Land around London that once fed the city now goes to stockbrokers’ ponies. It’s bonkers… Simply unsustainable”
Reducing pesticide use:
7th April 2017, Damian Carrington: research published in Nature Plants (peer-reviewed) analysed pesticide use, productivity and profitability across almost 1,000 farms in France, and found that 94% could cut their use of pesticides without any loss of production, and two-fifths would actually produce more. With insecticides the results were even more dramatic: in 86%, lower levels would produce more, and in no farms would lose production.
This comes on top of a UN report which said that it was a myth that pesticides were necessary (March 2017) and that they have ‘catastrophic impacts on the environment and human health.’ The report accuses pesticide manufacturers of a ‘systematic denial of harms.’
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/07/un-experts-denounce-myth-pesticides-are-necessary-to-feed-the-world - see above for reference to the power of ‘dark money’.
(b) Set-aside (and the EU): (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. this led to an oversupply, and ‘grain mountains’ …
The cost of storing the surplus grew, and it was then cheaper to pay farmers not to use the land. This led to the policy of ‘set-aside’ (though according to David Adam this was “voodoo economics”): 8% - 15% farming land set aside, the policy continued for 20 years, and during this time bird population flourished… (less chemicals, more weed seeds).
In 2007 the policy was dropped (it had lasted about 20 years) after poor harvests led to rising food prices. More food was needed, so farmers took set-aside land back into use.
Then a decline in cereal prices led to a slight rise in unfarmed land – and the government plans to start set-aside again (because concern over wildlife?), giving subsidies. [check...]
We have used so much of our land for (intensive) agriculture, and removed hedges, that we have destroyed habitats for wildlife. The RSPB wants a mandatory 4-5% of farmland to be out of production, while farmers want it left to them. Increasingly farmers are leaving uncultivated strips around their fields.
However, farmers say they can manage the problem, and compulsory measures mean farmers don’t deal with it so thoroughly/effectively.
Agriculture and Brexit: 3rd August 2017, Sandra Laville. National Trust warns Brexit is damaging countryside: farmers are returning to intensive methods because of uncertainty. Director Dame Helen Ghosh says farmers have ploughed up pasture which had been created with EU money. Legislation needed now. Maintain the £3bn a year subsidy with incentives for nature-friendly farming. Provide guarantees that food and environmental standards will be maintained or strengthened. Ensure £800m of greening subsidies are redirected in 2019 (and not later) into more effective incentives.
NT is part of the Greener UK coalition, along with FoE, Greenpeace and RSPB. We need to repair historic damage, adapt to climate change, restore soil and water quality, habitats, species, natural flood protection and damaged landscapes. Over the last 50 years 60% of species have declined in the UK and 31% have strongly declined. Farming yields are suffering because the soil is exhausted largely as a result of the industrialised farming methods which have been incentivised since WW2.
(c) More controversial views::
Going organic: Soil Association: less than one sixth of the land on Earth is suitable for growing crops – and now one third of this is degraded, and 75% of that is severely degraded. It can take a thousand years for one centimetre of topsoil to form. The UK countryside has only 100 harvests left.
Seven ways to protect and support our soils:
- recycle plant and animal matter for natural fertilizers
- improve soils health monitoring
- encourage soil organisms
- protect soils with continuous vegetation cover
- plant and retain trees on vulnerable and marginal land
- reduce soil compaction from livestock and machinery
- crop rotations designed to improve soil health
(i) remove subsidies for maize grown for anaerobic digesters. Maize is already subsidised under CAP, so it shouldn’t also get the Feed-in Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentive subsidies. (ii) Maize is harvested in autumn when soil is wet and compact – rain then washes pesticides and fertilizers into waterways (causing flooding too as the rain doesn’t sink in).
(ii) introduce strict management measures to minimise soil loss. UK accounts for 5% of soil erosion in Europe although it occupies only 1% of the land area.
Organic matter reduces the amount of sediment washed off. 89% of agricultural CO2 emissions can be mitigated by improving soil carbon levels. Organic farms in N-W Europe have 20% more SOM (soil organic material) than non-organic – and organic farms store more CO2 in topsoil. There are now 186,000 farms with organic farmland across the EU, and the area is increasing by half a million hectares every year. Organic farming may be less productive than conventional farming, but this is not definite since many organic farms are situated on less favourable land. It requires more labour, and the same amount of fossil fuels, but of course no synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, so is ‘low input’.
Parks – how English ‘national parks’ are ‘neither national nor parks’ (George Monbiot G 1st June 2015):
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
There are many different species of bees, and they have two extremely valuable roles: to produce honey (honey bees) and to pollinate flowers, fruit and flowering vegetables. They pollinate roughly 70% of our food crops.
The history of colony collapse disorder:
In America an industry has grown up around using bees as pollinators: in the early 2000s, two things shook up this industry. First, the world discovered almonds. Thanks to global demand, particularly from Asia, the nut has taken over Central Valley, nearly doubling its hectarage to 370,000 since 2005. California produces more than 80% of the world’s almond supply today. The boom brought with it an unprecedented demand for pollination. With bees, an almond tree produces 70% more nuts than without. “Bees,” one almond grower told me, “are as important as water.”
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 leveled to just under 30% each year. Beekeepers find ‘boxes and boxes of dead colonies every winter, and have to scrape out the crusted nectar and tiny corpses.’
In the UK, hive losses were between 20% and 40% in the last few years. Factors that contribute are: loss of wild flowers, meadows, etc. the varroa mite, climate change, and finally pesticides.
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... Hives are so valuable that there is large-scale theft: in 2015, poachers stole more than 1,700 hives...
Scientific research has demonstrated that insecticides – especially neonicotinoids – are perhaps the main factor in the decline of bees. (Some apiarists blame disease – and the varroa mite - first, but the counter-argument is that neonics must weaken the bees’ immunity). It is believed that neonics disrupt the bees’ nervous system, resulting in disorientation – not knowing how to find pollen/nectar, or to get back to the hive.
In 2010 the European Union placed a moratorium on three types of neonicotinoids on flowering crops such as oilseed rape (Britain abstained in the vote), but three years later these insecticides have not disappeared.
In fact (says Dave Goulson of Sussex University) their use in British farming continues to rise. They are 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. Dave 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”.’
2015: ‘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.
2017 (Report by Damian Carrington): The world’s most widely used insecticides harm the ability of bees to vibrate flowers and shake out the pollen to fertilise crops, according to preliminary results from a new study, led by Penelope Whitehorn of the University of Stirling in Scotland and presented at British Ecological Society conference.
Some flowers, such as those of crops like tomatoes and potatoes, must be shaken to release pollen and bumblebees are particularly good at creating the buzz needed to do this.
We are talking about tiny doses of these chemicals: The researchers took two colonies of bumblebees in a laboratory setting and split the bees in each into three groups. One control group was not exposed to the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam, but the other two groups were fed solutions containing two parts per billion or 10ppb of the pesticide, doses similar to those found in crop fields.
The study adds to a large body of evidence from lab- and field-based studies that neonicotinoids reduce learning and memory in bees, impair their communication, foraging efficiency and immune systems and, crucially, reduce their reproductive success as well as the pollination services that they can provide.
It is not just bees that are affected: Dec 6th 2016. Patrick Barkham listens to Dave Goulson talking at the 2015 National Honey Show: ‘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.’
Frogs in Australia: 5th July 2016 (AP): Neonicotinoids are widely used in Australia and frogs have declined by 95% in Cairns – which Deborah Pergolotti has happened since neonics were introduced 20 years ago. She has treated frogs with extra limbs, missing eyes, cancer, stunted growth and skeletal problems – none of which occurred before 1996.
(a) more flowers including wild flowers in gardens and parks, less use of pesticides; encouraging meadows and leaving the edges of fields for wild flowers, natural methods of pest control;
(b) European Union has brought in a ban on neonicotinoids which are believed to be the main culprit in causing the decline of bees. However, not every member country has gone along with this (Britain opposed the ban when it was proposed), and there is intense lobbying by multinational companies such as Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta.
The problem is that these companies make genetically modified seeds to enable crops to be grown which will (in theory!) not be damaged by weedkillers. They also, of course, produce the chemicals that go into the weedkillers!
These companies are known to lobby very effectively. The National Farmers’ Union also puts pressure on government.
(c) On the other hand, a range of pressure-groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace... are all campaigning hard to get neonicotinoids banned.
One (American) example: the Bee Defenders’ Alliance – coalition of beekeeping organisations: ‘This year, we’re working around the clock to get Canada to join France in banning neonics, extend the European neonic ban, and stop U.S. grocery store giants like Kroger from selling bee-killing products. We’ll also continue to support threatened bee scientists like Jonathan Lundgren and the beekeeper alliance that’s fighting Bayer and Syngenta in court.
And finally, we’ll do everything we can to stop the Bayer-Monsanto merger from hell and continue to fight the biggest bee-killer of them all, Bayer.’
Jonathan Lundgren, from Washington Post March 3 2016: “I don’t think science can be done, at least on this subject, in any of the conventional ways,” he says. “I think we need truly independent scientists — not funded by government or industry.”
Bee declines, says Lundgren, are not difficult to understand. “Yes, the bees are in crisis, and we need to help them,” he says. “But what we have is not a bee problem. What we have is a biodiversity problem.”
U.S. corporate agriculture tends toward monoculture farming — in the simplest terms, one giant farm specializing in one crop. The two key monoculture crops are corn and soybeans. Corn alone takes up 30 percent of the country’s crop space, an area almost the size of California.
Soybean acreage is nearly as vast. The corn rootworm, the Colorado potato beetle and soybean aphids all thrive best on the crops that give them their names. And so monocultures have allowed, even caused, says Lundgren, pest populations to explode.
“We’re using all of these pesticides because we’ve created a pest problem,” Lundgren says, “and bee health is a symptom of this underlying cause.”
He says the solution is to diversify American farming. “Any other course is unsustainable,” he says. “Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides should be something we resort to, not a first option.”
Note on the problem of international agreement on standards:
There are other dangerous chemicals that are the subject of bans in some countries but not in others:
Sat 23rd May 2015: US lobbying led to EU not banning Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) – this was done as a result of fears of a trade backlash under the TTIP. PAN has details... http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/22/eu-dropped-pesticide-laws-due-to-us-pressure-over-ttip-documents-reveal
March 22nd 2015: the use of atrazine, made by Syngenta, one of America’s most popular herbicides, is subject of a piece in New York Times International Weekly/Observer: 33.4 million kilos were used in US in 2013. But it is banned in Europe and Switzerland because it contaminates water: in US the onus is on regulators to show evidence of danger – while in EU companies have to establish they are safe before they are put on the market. Question is will the Transatlantic Trade talks lower the threshold?
Jan 29th 2017, The Observer (Joanna Blythman): 82 pesticides are banned in the EU on health and environmental grounds – but not in the US. These include: permethrin, a broad spectrum insecticide that is classed as a likely carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor, and atrazine, a herbicide thought to affect the immune system, which has also been linked to birth defects.’ Of course, if the UK agrees a trade deal with the US after Brexit, then these protections could be lost.
March 2015 (New York Times/Observer): atrazine, made by Syngenta, is one of Australia and America’s most popular herbicides: 33.4 million kilos were used in US in 2013. But it is banned in Europe (2004) and Switzerland as an endocrine disruptor (can alter the natural hormonal system – frogs change sex) and because it contaminates water. Farm workers show health effects of pesticides, but as they are exposed to several it is not easy to identify specific dangerous products. However, ‘maternal exposure to atrazine in drinking water has been associated with low foetal weight and heart, urinary and limb defects in humans.’ (ATSDR – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry).
LD50 measurements and ‘threshold doses’ controversy. 750 mg/kg in rabbits, 1,000 mg/kg in hamsters, 3,090 mg/kg in rats... EPA’s ‘reference dose’: 0.035 mg/kg/day.
NB in US the onus is on regulators to show evidence of danger – while in EU companies have to establish they are safe before they are put on the market.
May 2015: US lobbying led to EU not banning Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) – this was done as a result of fears of a trade backlash under the TTIP.... Further information from PAN.
4. Biodiversity and species decline: (see also Week 7)
The 2016 State of Nature report found: More than one in 10 of the UK’s wildlife species are threatened with extinction. (Damian Carrington 14/9/16). The numbers of the most endangered creatures have fallen by two-thirds since 1970. This covers birds, animals, fish and plants.
Overall 53% - 56% of species declined between 1970 and 2011, but some species increased - this ‘does not look like a healthy, natural situation’ (Mark Eaton, conservation scientist at RSPB) – some species going up very quickly, and others going down equally quickly, so we could end up with ‘50% left’.
Insects and invertebrates have declined most dramatically, by 59% since 1970. Thus pollination, healthy soil etc are damaged. ‘They are about the most important things out there’ says Eaton.
Causes: intensive farming, urbanization, climate change.
Public funding for biodiversity has fallen by 32% from 2008 to 2015.
Nature provides economic and health benefits of about £30bn a year (government 2011 analysis).
March 3rd 2017.
Mozambique’s ‘Google Forest’ – Mount Mabu - was ‘discovered’ by Julian Bayliss when looking at Google Earth in 2005 – with a Kew Gardens team he has discovered three new species of snake, eight of butterflies, a bat, a crab, tow chameleons, many plants, and birds that are critically endangered. Expedition by Alliance Earth March 2017 (Observer 26.03.17) to create a 3D map publish studies, seek out potential non-timber forest products and film a VR experience for museums etc. The hill was used by local people when the fight for independence from Portugal took place – 1964 – and there are holes where people hid, especially with children, so their cries would not be heard by the Portuguese looking for them...
Mozambique is still losing timber through illegal operations, and according to the Environmental Investigation Agency some $130m of hardwoods are stolen annually, much of it going to China.
Aim is to use ecological/sustainable tourism to preserve the biodiversity: honey, mushrooms to generate income locally. It needs to be legally designated as a community conservation area.
Palm oil and loss of forests: Bank of England looking for other sources of fat for its notes, after row over use of animal fat, and may use palm oil. WWF says ‘Palm oil has benefits as it produces more oil per acre of land than any other equivalent crop... Worldwide demand is expected to double by 2050 but this expansion comes at the expense of human rights and tropical forest – unless it is sustainable.’
Doug Maw who started the petition against animal fats says ‘Palm oil production has brought the orangutan to the brink of extinction and coconuts are often harvested in a very exploitative way.’
NB: there is also a world-wide problem with the killing of elephants, rhinos, sharks etc.
15th Feb 2017 (Zoological Society of London): a group of 14 scimitar-horned oryx (type of antelope) have been reintroduced to a nature reserve in Chad (the size of Scotland!), by the Sahara desert where they used to live. (Driven to extinction during civil unrest 1980s and 1990s). They were bred in captivity in zoos including Whipsnade.
17th Feb 2017 (Hannah Devlin, Guardian science correspondent): scientists are trying to ‘resurrect’ the woolly mammoth (by splicing mammoth DNA – preserved in the ice – into an elephant genome). Woolly mammoths could help prevent tundra permafrost from melting as they punch through snow and allow cold air to come in. A simulate ecosystem study showed that mammoths in Siberia could bring about a drop in temperature of up to 20 degrees C. In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow.
(b) Reserves and re-wilding:
(George Monbiot on re-wilding the seas, 4th Feb 2017): ocean ecologists want 30% of Britain’s seas protected – we have achieved on 0.01% (off Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, Lamlash Bay off the Isle of Arran, Flamborough Head in East Yorkshire). ‘When you establish reserves in which fish and shellfish can breed and grow to large sizes, [you get a] ‘spillover effect’ – fish migrating to the surrounding waters’ – so the policy actually helps the fishing industry.
‘Declaring areas of sea off-limits to the fishing industry would also revitalise other coastal industries [attracting] divers, whale watchers and sport fishers – all of whom tend to bring in more income and jobs than commercial fishing.’
Monbiot says that ‘a rich ecosystem includes many different species of fish, tuna, ‘blue, porbeagle, thresher, mako and occasional great white sharks’, and behind, within sight of the shore, fin whales and sperm whales...’ as described by Oliver Goldsmith in the late 18th century. He saw: ‘[fish] in distinct columns of five and six miles in length and three or four broad.’
The world’s largest marine park has been created in the Ross Sea off Antarctica – widely seen as Earth’s last intact marine ecosystem. (29th Oct 2016 Michael Slezak)
Protection of rivers: payments in lieu of fines.
Businesses are paying ‘enforcement undertakings’ as an alternative to prosecutions – Environment Agency says the money will go to charities and projects to clean up rivers etc and for community groups to invest in public parkland. Northumbrian Water has paid £375,000 for pumping sewage into a river, and Anglian water has paid £100,000 twice for 2 pollution incidents which killed fish. 31st Jan 2017Press Association
(c) More controversial re-wilding: Lynx UK hopes to introduce six Eurasian lynxes, imported from Sweden, into Kielder Forest (a nature reserve in Northumberland). Lynx was last seen across Britain in AD700. They would reinvigorate the biggest forested area in Britain and control its herbivore population – their main food is roe deer, which is damaging the growth of wild flowers and plants, and preventing the regeneration of trees. They have been successfully re-introduced in northern Germany. Dr Ian Convery (Univ of Cumbria) says we have lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average and we are amongst the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Three benefits: restoring ecosystems, controlling deer, attracting tourists (as happened in Germany).
Other re-wilding initiatives: (Observer 13th May 2015, p 31 Tracy McVeigh): attempts are being made to return wild animals (and plants etc) to areas from which they have died out. Examples: reindeer (extinct since the 12th century, reintroduced 1952, especially in Cairngorms) black Grouse (reintroduced in Derbyshire in 2003), wild horses, wild boar have been re-establishing themselves for several decades (but these have escaped from farms?).
(Observer 26th June2016 Jessica Aldred): dormice being reintroduced to Yorkshire Dales National Park. They need managed (coppiced) woodland and hedgerows – England lost 50% of its hedgerows between 1946 and 1993 from an estimated 500,000 miles to 236,000. Dormice need to be off the ground, so drystone walls and woods are essential.
This community it is hoped will link up with another released three miles away. A good species to get people involved with conservation, and what’s good for them is also good for birds, bats and butterflies.
Beavers have improved water (flood management etc) and biodiversity in Devon. Wolves could manage deer. Sea eagles were returned to the Inner Hebrides (but endangered sheep...).
In the UK we send 10m tonnes of waste a year to landfill sites.
Of this, 60% is food, a quarter of which is reckoned to be edible. Some will be from supermarkets (2m tonnes according to Waste and Resources Action Programme - WRAP), some from households.
In 2015 the UK threw away an estimated 15 million tonnes of food.
Tesco alone threw away 59,400 tonnes in 2015, the equivalent of 119m meals.
UK looks to be top of the EU league table for food waste!!! (Though Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat – a cult of perfection is to blame. Vast quantities left in the fields to rot).
200,000 tonnes of the food waste comes from seven major supermarkets.
70% of produce is dumped by producers and retailers before it even gets to the stores.
Each adult throws away over £400 of food a year (plus a further £400+ in packaging).
(One third of all waste in Havering is food...)
Avoidable food waste also generates 19m tonnes of greenhouse gases over its lifetime – equivalent to a quarter of the cars on the road. (Rebecca Smithers, 10th Jan 2017).
People get a new mobile phone on average every 18 months
1.5 million computers are thrown away each year, of which 99% work perfectly.
‘Restart Parties’ may help? (See later).
15th June 2017: Damian Carrington. Thames Water fined £8.5m for failure to cut leaks. It missed its targets by 47m litres a day. Amount of leakage has not decreased for at least four years. In March it was hit by a record fine of £20.3m for pumping 1.4bn litres of untreated sewage into the Thames, its tributaries and on to land. A ‘shocking and disgraceful’ situation according to the judge. TW also revealed it caused 315 pollution incidents last year – higher than the year before. Steve Robertson, chief executive, earns £700,000 a year , and has an annual bonus of £54,000.
England is the only nation to have a fully privatized water industry. TW paid out more than £1bn in dividends to its shareholders in the decade up to 2015. It is owned by a consortium of investment funds including sovereign wealth funds of Abu Dhabi and China, as well as investors from Canada and Kuwait.
17th Feb 2017: plastic pellets known as nurdles (used as raw material to make plastic products) have been found on 73% of UK beaches. At Widemouth Bay, Cornwall, volunteers collected 127,500 pellets on a 100-metre stretch of beach. The pellets can get into drains or rivers during manufacture, transport or use – they are a main source of microplastics, which can soak up toxic chemicals and then are eaten by birds and fish. The search was organised by a Scottish charity Fidra, and involved the Environmental Investigation Agency, Fauna and Flora International, Greenpeace, the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage. ‘Fidra has been working with the UK plastics industry since 2012 to promote best practice to end further pellet pollution.’
14th Feb 2017: (Damian Carrington, information from Nature, Ecology and Evolution): extraordinary levels of pollutants in the six-mile deep Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean. Many miles from any industry... The levels were ‘sky-high’ in the creatures that scavenge on the ocean floor
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs - including polychlorinated biphenyl: PCB) which were banned in the late 1970s, but do not break down in the environment. Some 1.3 million tonnes were produced, and about a third of this has leaked into coastal sediments and open waters (and still coming from poorly protected landfill sites). They affect reproduction in living things, and have been found in Inuit peoples, killer whales and dolphins in western Europe. POPs accumulate in fat and are concentrated in creatures higher up the food chain. They stick to plastic and are water-repellent. Plastic waste and dead animals sink to the floor of the ocean. Cans and plastic bags have also been found in the Mariana trench!
(a) Consumer awareness: 4th July 2016 (Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs, from Food Standards Agency and Defra): people need more guidance on how to store frozen food safely – including on date markings. Ignorance contributes to the food and drink waste mountain. Britons throw away 7m tonnes of food and drink from their homes every year, most of which could have been eaten, and the grocery supply chain wastes 1.9m tonnes a year (Waste and Resources Action Programme – Wrap - a government body). Better use of the freezer would lead to less food being thrown away.
Labelling changes and price rises meant that between 2007 and 2012 total household food waste fell 15%.
16th June 2016 (Zoe Wood): Tesco is the only UK retail company to publish how much is wasted – the information helps reduce waste. It showed a 4% increase over the previous year however... Other solutions: reduce time food stays in supply chain (so it can be on sale for longer), selling more ‘wonky’ fruit and veg (changing consumers’ perceptions – much food is wasted because it is not ‘perfect’). There is an agreement – the Courtauld Commitment 2025 – to reduce waste by a fifth within the next decade, but there is little evidence that much is being done.
(b) – regulations and fines: France has banned supermarkets from throwing away food (14th July 2016, Arthur Nelson, Brussels) – outlets can be fined up to 75,000 euro if they refuse to donate to food banks or charities. MEPs have voted to end unfair trading practices which lead to overproduction and waste, and there is a demand for legally binding food waste targets.
(c) Rejection of consumer society.... (See some ideas to be explored week 10 especially)
(i) Regulations on pesticides: Extracts from COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING REGULATION (EU) No 485/2013 of 24 May 2013 amending Implementing Regulation (EU) No 540/2011, as regards the conditions of approval of the active substances clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid, and prohibiting the use and sale of seeds treated with plant protection products containing those active substances
In spring 2012, new scientific information on the sub- lethal effects of neonicotinoids on bees was published.
In particular, pending the evaluation of the Authority on foliar uses it considered that the risk for bees from foliar applications is similar to the risk identified by the Authority for seed treatment applications and soil treatment, due to the systemic translocation of the active substances clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid through the plant.
In particular the uses as seed treatment and soil treatment of plant protection products containing clothianidin, thiamethoxam or imidacloprid should be prohibited for crops attractive to bees and for cereals except for uses in greenhouses and for winter cereals.
Extracts from guidance on risk assessment for bees EFSA Journal 2012:
‘A decline of some pollinator species was reported in several different regions of the world (Biesmeijer et al., 2006; Committee on the status of Pollinators in North America, 2007). Bee poisoning incidents were reported in Europe (e.g. exposure to dust from seed treatments). Pollination is a very important ecosystem service for food production and maintenance of biodiversity (Gallai et al., 2009).’
[See also: Laura Maxim and Jeroen van der Sluijs – EEA Late Lessons Volume II Chapter 16 pdf ]
(ii) Further notes on ‘Sustainability and ‘sustainable growth’ by Olivia Hanks – Norwich Radical:
‘Labour MEP David Martin, was author of a European Committee on International Trade document celebrating climate change as creating “new opportunities for the economic development of the Arctic”.
The comment, spotted and lambasted by Green MEP Molly Scott Cato, might seem extreme in its suicidal logic: we’re burning down the house, but look, we can use the newly exposed rafters for more firewood!
Yet such statements are the logical conclusion when economic growth is viewed as the goal of all human activity. They lead on naturally from support for wasteful and destructive infrastructure projects like Hinkley Point, Trident and any number of ill-conceived road schemes on the grounds that these projects will provide jobs. This is the Labour position from which the party will have to free itself before it can have anything meaningful to say about climate change.
It has been known to us for decades now that there are limits to the growth of an economy based on the extraction of fossil fuels and minerals. At first, the focus was on the finite nature of the planet’s resources: the economist and philosopher Kenneth Boulding famously observed in 1973 that “anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”
Supporters of the pro-growth status quo have come up with a phrase to reduce their cognitive dissonance: ‘sustainable growth’. The use of the word ‘sustainable’, with its association with the green movement, makes this phenomenon sound ideal to the appearance-conscious capitalist: we can keep building and burning all we like, with a friendly nod to the treehuggers. But, lest we forget, ‘sustainable’ means ‘can be maintained’ – maintained indefinitely. Political and business documents are littered with examples of the word ‘sustainable’ achieving nothing but a warm sense of satisfaction for those involved. The second point of the trade committee document states that “any current and new economic activity should be carried out in a sustainable way in order not to undermine the Arctic’s natural heritage”. The idea that profiting from the melting of the Arctic by extracting oil and gas reserves which can be burned to further melt the Arctic can be done “in a sustainable way” would be laughable if it weren’t so frightening. It simply doesn’t make any sense. But it doesn’t have to make sense – it just has to include the magic word ‘sustainable’, and then all will be well.
When we go back to thinking about what growth actually is, we quickly realise that the idea of it as a) a goal and b) sustainable doesn’t make sense in any field. Whether it’s an ecosystem, the human body, or a friendship group, for example, any system regulates itself so that it can continue to function – it doesn’t expand indefinitely. Growth is the means by which a system reaches the optimum size for its function.
Yet when it comes to the economy, we have stopped speaking of growth as a means to ends we might once have considered its functions: better health, prosperity or quality of life. Growth itself has become the goal; and if growth is the goal, then the economy will never reach a size that is ‘big enough’ – it will always demand more resources. That cannot be sustainable.
We are able to mentally project the upward curve of growth endlessly into the future because we view time as a straight line. We can rely on fossil fuels only if we have this linear view of time, since each fuel can be used only once – an extreme example being fracking, where wells are exhausted and abandoned almost immediately as companies move on to new sites, ignoring the obvious snag that the Earth’s land doesn’t actually stretch on for ever. The linear model of time allows us to imagine a future onward march in which we discover ever more resources and solutions to the problems we are creating today; an upward curve which allows us to predict only a continuation of that curve. This leads to a dangerous reliance on future technology, as found in the belief that geoengineering will save us from climate change – releasing us from any obligation to change our high-carbon way of life today.
Societies with a more cyclical understanding of time, like Native American and many African cultures, would feel this to be a nonsense: our ways of living must be such that recurrence is possible. Sustainability is fundamentally circular, as proponents of the circular economy understand.
Societies like ours, with a linear view of time, may be more inclined to focus on the short term because it’s all we can see; we talk of ‘future generations’, but it is a fairly abstract concept. If, however, we understand time as cyclical, in some sense we are future generations too.
We cannot rebuild our entire way of thinking on a cyclical model (regardless of what a recent Hollywood offering might have you believe). What we can do is try to learn from cultures which think in different ways; learn from natural systems, which embody real, eternal sustainability in ways we are at risk of forgetting; and in fact, while we’re at it, maybe abandon the word ‘sustainable’ to its bland corporate fate. It is so ubiquitous that it is a dead term: we no longer think about what it means. A new word is needed. How about ‘cyclical’?’
Comments on report by Sustainable Development Commission at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/30/g20-sustainable-development-commission
Extra Notes (to be developed...):
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.
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:
The 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 Canada, and these seeds would not be acceptable in Europe. ‘There is no such thing as containment; there is no such thing as co-existence; there is no such thing as choice. Your yields drop and you end up using three to five times more chemicals. We now have superweeds in our towns, on our golf courses, in our cemeteries and on our roads. The chemicals we have to use on them contain up to 70% of the constituents of Agent Orange.’
The 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 Germany a ban on GM maize variety (because when fed to mice they showed reproductive problems) has led to lawsuit from Montano…
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
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 Chinaincreasingly eats meat, then demand for grain will increase; perhaps also demand for biofuels. So: food prices increase – and hunger unless something done. See WDM report: The Great Hunger Lottery. (Patrick Collinson, G24.07.10) Also notes that it is likely that investment in food is a good bet – but speculation will increase prices further…
Book: Population Ten Billion, by Danny Dorling, (Constable) professor of human geography at university of Sheffield.
The Sea: the North Sea is almost dead from over-fishing (Callum Roberts: The Unnatural History of the Sea, Gaia Books) Sep 2007 (New St 13.08.07)
Dangers of encroachment into permafrost in Arctic: Russian gas/ plants e.g. Sakhalin, Yamal, BP’s Alaskan Prudhoe Bay oilfield: closed after spill… Settlements also bring environmental damage and HIV… New St 13.08.07