Protecting the Planet
These notes are a development of earlier notes on corporate responsibility to the environment: CSR6 Environment
Week 6 & 7: What are the best ways of dealing with environmental problems?
Note: For each of the problems we have touched on, there follows:
(a) a very brief summary of the most important causes, and then of possible solutions.
(b) Discussion of solutions, based on examples.
The possible solutions are grouped roughly and where appropriate, into the ‘levels’ summarised previously (week 5). That is: (1) the individual level – and the pro-market perspective, (2) business and industry – self-regulation, (3) the ‘green consumer’ – changing lifestyle, [I will discuss (4) pressure-groups in week 8], (5) national government, (6) international.
1. Global warming:
Causes: fossil fuels, meat production, deforestation
Possible solutions: (1) better insulation in housing, low energy light bulbs, smart meters etc. (2) carbon capture and storage, nuclear power; (3) renewable/low carbon energy: solar, wind, tidal, geothermal; (4) eating less meat! (5) geo-engineering?
Update: 18th Feb 2017 (Kim Willsher, Paris): Alpine ski resorts are disappearing. If global warming is limited to 2C then 30% of the cover would be lost by 2100 – above this the cover could dwindle by 70%. Ice in Antarctica is also covering a smaller area: 883,015 sq miles on 13th Feb (previous lowest was 884,173 sq miles in 1997).
But: 11th Oct 2016 (Rob Davies: World Energy Council report): demand per person for energy (including transport fuels, heating and electricity) would begin to fall after 2030 (although electricity would increase as part of the mix). Solar and wind could provide up to 39% by 2060. Fossil fuels will remain the number one source of energy, falling slowly from 86% in 1970 to 81% in 2014, and providing from 50% - 70% in 2060. Moving from petrol/diesel cars will be the most difficult...
(1) LBH Climate Change Action Plan:
Generating £1,059,000 cumulative savings from energy efficiency projects since 2009
Bringing in £4.5million in grants for heating and insulation measures for Havering residents since 2010
Transforming streetlighting and office lighting in Havering to LEDs, reducing energy use by 60-75%.
Trialling a 30% biofuels mix, electric & hybrid vehicles and piloting a staff car pool scheme.
Upholding standards of energy efficiency in new development and refurbishment
Five Council buildings and seven schools benefitting from renewable energy
Undertaken a Local Climate Impacts Profile to identify key climate risks in Havering
(1) – energy efficiency: 16th Sep 2016 (letter, Andrew Warren, Chairman, British Energy Efficiency Federation): energy efficiency (according to Damian Carrington based on government research) could deliver six Hinkleys’ worth of electricity by 2030. This would require a big shift in policy etc! However, since 2010, electricity consumption [in UK] has fallen by 25 terawatt-hours – the amount of electricity Hinkley would produce if and when it is built!
(3) – general on renewables/low carbon: 23rd Dec 2016: (Adam Vaughan):
(i) Half of the UK’s electricity came from low carbon power (wind, solar, wood-burning and nuclear) between July and September. An increase of 45.3% on last year.
UK’s energy mix in second quarter of 2015 and of 2016:
Gas 29.2% à 45.2%
Renewables 25.4% à 24.9%
Nuclear 21.5% à 21.3%
Coal 20.3% à 5.8% (4th quarter is higher: 19.9% in 2015 – but 30.9% in 2014)
Other 2.9% à 2.8%
(ii) 17th Aug 2016 (letter, Dr John Twidell): the variability of most renewables is not a problem given ‘ever advancing telecommunications and electronic control systems that allow demand to be adjusted to fit supply. In fact, nuclear power is wasteful because it produces a steady source of supply that cannot be matched to demand....
(3) – tidal: 13th Jan 2017: A government-commissioned report (chaired by Charles Hendry, a former energy minister) backs a trial tidal lagoon at Swansea Bay. With a government subsidy (putting 30p per year on electricity bills, for the first 30 years; five full-scale projects would add less than 60p over 50 years) it could provide 2,000 jobs, and power for 150,000 homes.
The price is expected to be similar to the £92.50 per megawatt hour agreed for Hinkley C, but the latter would be over 35 years and tidal lagoons would last much longer.
10 lagoons could provide 10% of our electricity, cut carbon emissions by 36% and only add £8 or £9 to average bills.
17th Aug 2016 (letter Steve Emsley): tidal lagoons etc have potential to supply 8% of our baseload, at about a third of the cost of Hinkley. The project would last about 90 years (three times a nuclear station). No nuclear waste to be kept safe for thousands of years!
However, Wales Wildlife Trusts and RSPB said they were worried about potential local ecological impacts, and some (Citizens’ Advice) are concerned about the costs.
(3) – solar: (Terry Macalister 11th June 2016): we now have up to 10 gigawatts, enough to power more than 3m homes (= 65% of Hinkley). All coal-fired power stations will be closed by 2025.
But government subsidies have been cut (government argues the cost of solar has come down, so household bills should be reduced...) – more than half the solar industry’s 35,000 jobs have been lost. The Solar Cloth Company went into liquidation in May, and Solarlec closed with 170 job losses. Mark Group late last year closed with 1,000 redundancies...
BP says that increased use of solar accounts for no increase in CO2 emissions in 2015 (first time in ten years).
20th Jan 2017, Tom Phillips, Xining. China has the world’s biggest solar park, with nearly 4 million panels, covering 27 sq km, producing 850MW per year, for 200,000 households. China is the world’s biggest investor in clean energy and has pledged to increase the amount of energy from non-fossil fuels to 20% by 2030. Drivers are both a belief in the seriousness of climate change, and a problem with air pollution. China is the world’s biggest emitter of CO2, but sees a future in exporting low-carbon technologies, and is investing in clean energy in Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam. Last year only 4% of China’s electricity came from wind power and 1% from solar.
(3) – wind: UK is not as advanced as Europe in renewables, but is sixth largest global generator of wind power, and has the largest offshore capacity in the world (Renault advert, 26th June 2016) – the London array feeds half a million households, generating up to 630 megawatts (in December 2015 they generated 639,000 MWh – a record for the array). They operate in wind speeds of 7mph to 55mph. Turbines are designed for at least 20 years, but of course require constant maintenance. Much of the offshore territory belongs to the Crown Estate, who have argued (Terry Macalister, 15th Aug 2016) that offshore wind power is cheaper than the proposed Hinkley reactor (which could cost more than £18.5bn).
We have 2,200 turbines in operation and under construction, taking up less than 1% of our total seabed, and National Grid estimates half our electricity could come from the seabed by 2030 (including tidal lagoons and links to neighbouring countries).
Offshore wind is on track to provide 10% of our needs by 2020 – Hinkley would produce 7% and is not expected to be complete before the mid 2020s.
Unpublished report by the energy department shows:
onshore wind power and large-scale solar will cost £50 – £75 per
- new nuclear: £85 - £125 (EDF for Hinkley has been guaranteed £92.50)
In the first quarter of 2016 renewables generated a quarter of our electricity, and about half of this came from on- and off-shore wind.
11th June 2016 Terry Macalister: 8.8GW of onshore wind power, and 5.1GW offshore, according to Renewable UK (a lobby group).
(4) – eat less meat! 22nd Jan 2017 (Robin McKie, Science Editor, The Observer): US National Academy of Sciences study in 2016 (led by Marco Springmann of Oxford) says eating less meat would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30-70% - as well as reducing global mortality by 6-10%.
‘The food system is responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, of which up to 80% are associated with livestock production [mainly cattle and sheep].’
Meat production requires huge amounts of pesticide, fertiliser, fuel, feed and water, and at the same time it releases significant greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals.
Judith Batchelar, director of brand at Sainsbury’s is looking at ways to get customers to eat more fruit and veg – by displaying more choices – also non-meat products alongside meat in displays...
11th Jan 2017 (George Monbiot on EU subsidies and how they are used to boost the rich landowners): the subsidy system sustains sheep grazing (‘the greatest cause of habitat and wildlife destruction in Britain’ – worse than all the building that has taken place). Sheep occupy roughly the same amount of land as is used to grow all the cereals, oilseeds, potatoes, fruit, vegetables and other crops that this country produces. Yet lamb and mutton provide just 1.2% of our diet.
2. Air pollution (acid rain, ozone layer)
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).
Possible solutions: (1) gas rather than coal (less sulphur), catalytic converters (remove nitrogen oxides), scrubbers in factory chimneys; (2) electric or hybrid cars and buses, smoother traffic-flows, cycling, opposing expansion of Heathrow; (3) regulations on emissions (Euro-6), fines – e.g. low emission zones – and from EU
(2) – traffic: (Times 1st Feb 2017):
Cornwall may use compulsory purchases to get to move away from polluted areas!
(2) – Heathrow etc: 9th Jan 2017 G2 on Global Warming: 70% of all flights by UK residents are accounted for by just 15% of the population. (Andrew Simms).
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.
(3) – regulations, fines: 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)
(3) – 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).
Causes: removal of trees, hedges, shrubs; loss to buildings, roads etc; over-ploughing, over-use of nitrogen fertilisers, pesticides
Possible solutions: (1) reduction in use of chemicals, and less ploughing; (2) planning for ‘green infrastructure’, leaving land for wild flowers etc; (3) organic methods
[Reminder (from week 4):
19th 2013 The importance of the soil: (
(1) – less ploughing: Wendell Berry: The World-Eating Fire – essays selected by Paul Kingsnorth – soil is basic to human survival. Berry uses horses not tractors.
(2) – uncultivated land: (George Monbiot?): 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.
(3) – 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
Also: (i) remove subsidies for maize grown for anaerobic digesters, and (ii) introduce strict management measures to minimise soil loss. (i) 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).
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’.
2,000 hectare farm in North Dakota, and 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). (
George Monbiot: allotment holders (according to UK researchers last year) produce 4 - 11 times more food per hectare than farmers do!!
Causes: intensive farming, pesticides, loss of wildflower meadows
Possible solutions: (1) more flowers including wild flowers in gardens, less use of pesticides; (2) meadows and edges of fields for wild flowers, natural methods of pest control; (3) less monoculture (4) controls on pesticides
See previous notes (week 4). Also:
(4) – pesticides:
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.’
(4) – more on pesticides: 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.
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 ]
Causes: scientific discovery, desire for growth and ‘progress’
Possible solutions: (1) ‘precautionary principle’; (2) organic/natural alternatives?
- see notes on soil and bees above.
6. Biodiversity and species decline (Week 7):
Causes: destruction of habitats, chemicals and pesticides
Possible solutions: (1) conservation; (2) planning regulations, green belt and protection of the sea; (3) re-wilding
(1) – conservation: 15th Feb 2017: a group of 14 scimitar-horned oryx (type of antelope) 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). Bred in captivity in zoos including Whipsnade. Zoological Society of London announced.
17th Feb 2017: scientists are trying to
‘resurrect’ the woolly mammoth (by splicing mammoth
(2) – protection of the sea: 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.’
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 ‘[fish] in distinct columns of five and six miles in length and three or four broad.’ George Monbiot on re-wilding the seas, 4th Feb 2017.
(2) - 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)
(2) – 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 2017 Press Association
(3) – rewilding: 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).
(3) 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...).
Causes: consumerism, growth mania
Possible solutions: (1) reduce, re-use, re-cycle; consumer awareness; (2) fines, monetary incentives; (3) rejection of consumer society
(1) 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%.
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).
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.
(2) – 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.
A new problem: plastic in the oceans:
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!
Summary of difficulties/obstacles affecting each kind of solution:
- motivating individuals;
- time delay even when find a solution;
- new technology to clean up may cause new problems;
- government (local, national, and EU) can be slow and bureaucratic;
- power and influence of wealthy companies in manufacturing etc;
- the economy (costs, imports/exports, growth).