Protecting the Planet:
Topics in alphabetical order:
#activists (including legal actions)
#Deepwater Horizon(oil spill)
#NETs (Negative Emissions Technologies)
#population (Paul Ehrlich)
20th March 2018, Damian Carrington: Action by 12 UK citizens reaches the high court today, and tomorrow in San Francisco the science of climate change will effectively be on trial. The UK group is called Plan B, and has the support of Prof Sir David King, the government’s former chief scientific advisor. In the US, the cities of San Francisco and Oakland are suing big oil companies for damages. There will be a day-long hearing on the science. Other cases have been brought due to rising seas, and more than 1,000 suits are logged by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, NY. Others are seeking to block oil drilling in the Arctic. In Colombia, 25 young plaintiffs are taking to the courts to halt deforestation.
In 2015 in the Netherlands, the court ruled the Dutch state must increase its cuts to reduce emissions (the Urgenda case). In Pakistan a farmer won a judgement against the ‘lethargy’ of the state. In Peru a German energy company RWE is being sued over the melting of glaciers.
6th March 2018, Arthur Neslen – officials from 24 Latin American and Caribbean countries have signed legally binding pacts with measures to protect land defenders. Two years ago Berta Caceres was killed in Honduras. Last year almost 200 nature protectors were killed across the world, 60% of them in Latin America.
Most cases are in the US, including the Juliana case, filed by 21 teenagers in Oregon (Our Children’s Trust).
The argument is that these companies (like the tobacco companies in the past) knowingly sold products that cause damage. Like the tobacco companies, oil companies have tried to obfuscate and blur the issues.
26th March 2018, Michael McCarthy: a quite optimistic assessment, that if we leave the EU’s agricultural policies we will have a lot of money to spend on ensuring our agriculture is sound for the environment. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/26/wildlife-modern-farming-insects-birds
17th Feb 2018 (Tom Levitt): Dutch cows are producing so much waste the authorities don’t have space to store it! The Netherlands is the fifth-largest exporter of dairy. It has 1.8 million cows and there are legal restrictions on where the manure can be deposited. Farmers are dumping it illegally, the country is breaking EU regulations on phosphates, and the high levels of ammonia are affecting air quality. WWF is calling for a 40% reduction in cow numbers over the next decade. Its Netherlands head says they have the lowest biodiversity in Europe after Malta, with only 15% of their original biodiversity left. 80% of farms produce more dung than they can legally use on their farms – the Dutch are already allowed to spread more manure on the land than the rest of the EU. Some political parties support restrictions on the number of cows.
8th Feb 2018, Fiona Harvey: level of antibiotic use on US farms is five times as much as in UK, and nine times in the case of beef cattle, according to Alliance to Save our Antibiotics. It is three times higher in chicken, twice in pigs and five times in turkeys. Europe has banned the import of beef from America, largely owing to growth hormone use. This issue obviously affects Brexit! The fear is of superbugs developing through the growth of resistance. Nearly three quarters of the total use of antibiotics worldwide is thought to be on animals.
28th Feb: German courts have agreed cities can ban diesels. 13,000 people are estimated to die from NOx each year. EU threshold is 40 mcg/m3 – it’s often 70 in some cities. There is some opposition, and no-one expects widespread banning just yet, as so many cars are affected. 15th Feb (Philip Oltermann and agencies): the government is considering temporarily scrapping fares for public transport in some cities. Berlin is struggling to meet EU targets and to avoid fines. Cities say they would need federal funds to make up for the losses. The proposal will be tried in five cities by the end of the year. Green Party politician Anton Hofreiter says the idea is vague and the government should concentrate on pressurising the car industry to free technical upgrades on some diesel cars.
UK taken to court: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/23/renewed-calls-for-uk-to-tackle-toxic-air-ahead-of-high-court-hearing - and found for the third time to be breaking legal requirements! Clean air in the UK will now be overseen by the courts rather than ministers, in what was described as a ‘wholly exceptional ruling.’
27th Feb, Matthew Taylor – ClientEarth has found that 60% of parents want traffic diverted away from schools at the beginning and the end of the day. 63% oppose new schools being built where pollution is high, 60% are worried about the effects of air pollution on children, and 70% in favour of the government alerting schools on high pollution days. British Lung Foundation declares the situation ‘simply unacceptable’. The two organisations are launching Clean Air Parents’ Network to work together on this.
16th Feb, Ian Sample – scientists say that household cleaners, paints and perfumes have become substantial sources of urban air pollution, especially now that traffic pollution is being reduced. These are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which react in the air to form ozone or PM2.5. Ground level ozone is harmful to health, affecting breathing. ‘Between one quarter and a third of all particles are made up of organic compounds that originate as VOCs’. (A. Lewis, Prof of chemistry Uni of York). The problem is that many of these substances are not controlled.
28th March, Matthew Taylor: Holland and Barrett has agreed to remove krill-based products such as Omega 3 from its shelves, after activists sent 40,000 emails in 24 hours and put protest stickers on products in its shops. Campaigners are calling for Boots and others to follow suit. Boots say that their brands are in line with Marine Stewardship Council products from sustainable sources. Last week Greenpeace campaigners boarded a Ukrainian trawler. (See Facebook https://www.facebook.com/greenpeaceaustraliapacific/videos/10155831450743300/?utm_term=EML2&bucket=Oceans-Antarctic&source=ca_Oceans-Antarctic__
15th Feb 2018, Matthew Taylor – climate change and industrial fishing together are threatening the krill population. George Watters, lead scientist for the US delegation to the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) warns that the penguin population could drop by almost a third by the end of the century because of changes in the krill biomass. (Published in Plos One). Some areas of krill could decrease by 40% in size. Ocean warming is the main problem, but fishing also affects it. Krill feed on algae and are a food source for whales, penguins and seals – they also remove CO2 from the atmosphere when they eat near the surface, and then excrete at lower levels. Krill populations have declined by 80% since the 1970s. Krill is fished for health products, and the industry is growing by 12% a year.
There is a campaign to turn 700,000 sq miles into a sanctuary, protecting wildlife and banning all fishing, in the Weddell Sea. Krill fishing companies say they are only taking 0.4% of the estimated biomass around the peninsula.
Arctic: 2nd Feb 2018, Oliver Milman - polar bears are sliding towards extinction faster than previously feared. Research by US Geological Survey and Uni of California Santa Cruz, published in Science, shows polar bears have a 50% higher metabolism than previously thought, and so require more prey to meet their energy needs at a time when sea ice is receding. There are some 26,000 polar bears in the arctic today. They are leading a feast and famine lifestyle. The arctic is warming at twice the average global rate, and has declined by about 13% a decade since 1979. In the past 10 years Greenland has lost two trillion tonnes of its ice mass.
11th April 2018. UK Butterfly Monitoring scheme reports that 2017 was the 7th worst year, and for 2 species – grayling and grizzled skipper - the worst ever. (Patrick Barkham) Long-term falls in population are due to habitat loss, but recently climate change, pesticides (such as neonics) and nitrogen pollution have been the causes. UK has 59 native species. Red admiral and comma have increased, and targeted management plus warm spring has helped the pearl-bordered fritillary. Food crops of the worst affected are harmed by increased nitrogen (transport and fertilizers) which helps more vigorous grasses to grow at expense of their food plants.s
12th April 2018. Risk Assessment by FoE:
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/12/green-brexit-unlikely-despite-government-claims-report-concludes Main risk is a gap between policy statements and concrete regulations. A ‘non-regression clause’ which means that post-Brexit rules would not be weaker is asked for, along with a body to oversee environmental standards.
4th April 2018 Michael Jacobs, author of Rethinking Capitalism: Economics and Policy for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth – short piece 4th April warning of dangers if we do not replace existing EU legislation on the environment with something at least as good and preferably stronger. He suggests a new sustainable economy act, with a legal requirement on government to set environmental limits and to produce economic plans to achieve them. These should include: air pollution, soil degradation, resource depletion, plastics pollution and biodiversity loss. Each would need a long-term goal and shorter term targets and plans. These should be based on the advice of an independent expert sustainable economy commission, modelled on the climate change committee.
The Climate Change Act, he says, does impose limits etc, and in effect puts the UK under a sustainability constraint. Every five years the government must adopt a legally binding carbon target, and these must be set fifteen years ahead, and be on the trajectory to the goal of an 80% reduction by 2050 (relative to 1990 levels).
James Tapper, Observer 21st Jan 2018 quotes a coalition of green groups saying there is a significant risk that our environmental protections will be reduced after Bexit. Greener UK represents 13 groups including WWF, National Trust, RSPB, FoE, Green Alliance and the Wildlife Trusts. Chair Shaun Spiers says there is a lack of willpower to ensure high standards across the UK when we lose the common frameworks currently provided by the EU. MEP Julie Girling (who had the whip withdrawn when she supported an EU resolution saying the UK had not made sufficient progress in the talks) said the UK was no longer working effectively with the EU on environmental issues.
Observer, 15th April 2018, review by Alex Preston of Britain: Our Place: can we save Britain’s wildlife before it is too late? By Mark Cocker. Argues that despite the British love of the countryside etc, we are destroying our wildlife: quoting the 2013 State of Nature report (by 25 British environmental organisations), of the 3,148 species studied, 60% had declined in the last 50 years; 31% had declined badly and 600 were threatened with extinction. We lost 44m birds between 1996 and 2008. We have lost 99% of our wildflower meadows, half of our ancient woodland, three-quarters of our heathland, three-quarters of our ponds. Yet there are 5m members of the National Trust, 1.2m in the RSPB, 800,000 in various wildlife trusts. These organisations are afraid to campaign (and the NT placates the landed aristocracy). The villains of the story are industrial agri-business, moneyed landowners, and the politicians who defend their interest (mostly conservative of course). Monocultures and grouse moors are destroying the natural countryside.
12th April 2018. Changes to the Gulf Stream are more dramatic than first thought:
‘The new research shows the current is now 15% weaker than around 400AD, an exceptionally large deviation, and that human-caused global warming is responsible for at least a significant part of the weakening.
The current, known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc), carries warm water northwards towards the north pole. There it cools, becomes denser and sinks, and then flows back southwards. But global warming hampers the cooling of the water, while melting ice in the Arctic, particularly from Greenland, floods the area with less dense freshwater, weakening the Amoc current.
Two studies have been carried out, [both published in Nature – see links in original article] and ‘both studies found that Amoc today is about 15% weaker than 1,600 years ago, but there were also differences in their conclusions. The first study found significant Amoc weakening after the end of the little ice age in about 1850, the result of natural climate variability, with further weakening caused later by global warming.
The second study suggests most of the weakening came later, and can be squarely blamed on the burning of fossil fuels. Further research is now being undertaken to understand the reasons for the differences.
However, it is already clear that human-caused climate change will continue to slow Amoc, with potentially severe consequences. “If we do not rapidly stop global warming, we must expect a further long-term slowdown of the Atlantic overturning,” said Alexander Robinson, at the University of Madrid, and one of the team that conducted the second study. He warned: “We are only beginning to understand the consequences of this unprecedented process – but they might be disruptive.”
A 2004 disaster movie, The Day After Tomorrow, envisaged a rapid shutdown of Amoc and a devastating freeze. The basics of the science were portrayed correctly, said Thornalley: “Obviously it was exaggerated – the changes happened in a few days or weeks and were much more extreme. But it is true that in the past this weakening of Amoc happened very rapidly and caused big changes.”’
27th Jan 2018, New Scientist, Michael Le Page – scientists do not agree how much warming will result from a given increase in CO2, known as the equilibrium climate sensitivity (equilibrium because there is a time-lag before the temperature settles). The consensus is that if we double the amount, the rise would be between 1.5 and 4.5C. But Peter Cox has narrowed this down to between 2.2 and 3.4 (Nature, doi.org/gcsmn4). Other studies put it higher (e.g. between 3 and 4.2C). There is agreement that the low values are unlikely, but the higher values may be wrong since it takes thousands of years for temperatures to stabilise. In the long run the true figure could be 6C or more. If we continue to emit CO2 at current levels, it is agreed the world will heat by 4C by 2100 – this is a projection of the actual warming, not a measure of sensitivity
17th Jan 2018: Damian Carrington – UK will miss its Carbon targets if no detail is added to the government’s ‘vague’ plans, according to the Committee on Climate Change. Solid plans must be made if petrol and diesel cars are to be banned by 2040, and more trees will need to be planted. There are also significant risks attached to the Hinkley C project. The government published its Clean Growth Strategy last October. A number of pledges are made with little or no detail on how they would be delivered. Making all homes energy efficient by 2035, for example. The chair, Lord Deben (John Selwyn Gummer) said if the bonus paid to Persimmon’s chief executive had been used on the 18,000 houses it built last year it could have saved everybody electricity bills.
The CCC also argues for more carbon capture and storage: CCS is essential (to save costs...) – George Osborne cancelled a £1bn programme in 2015. Since then only £100m has been pledged for it. Oil and gas companies need to get working on it.
How was the government going to drive up sales of electric cars? At current rates of tree planting it would take a century to plant the 70,000 hectares of trees promised for 2025.
Coral Reefs see also plastics.
17th Jan 2018: BP has had to make another payout of $1.7bn for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The total compensation is likely to be $65bn (£47bn). The total for 2017 is $3bn (it expected only $2bn). Eight years after the disaster, BP has processed nearly all the 390,000 claims made under the court-supervised settlement, and hopes to complete the process in coming months.
The spill, at the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people and affected fishing and tourism.
19th March 2018, Adam Vaughan: the Green Alliance says 2040 is too far off for the ban on new petrol/diesel cars, and propose 2030. This would cut the gap in meeting the UK target by 85%, or 98m tonnes of CO2. It would save up to £6.63bn a year in oil imports.
This would also boost sales of electric cars, and the UK could even become a net exporter. A fifth of the electric cars sold in Europe in 2016 were manufactured at Nissan’s Sunderland plant.
BMW will make its electric Mini at Oxford, but Jaguar land Rover production will go to Austria.
In 2016, transport overtook energy as the single biggest source of CO2 emissions in the UK (due to changes in power stations) – but the taste for bigger cars has meant that emissions from the average new car rose...
23rd Jan 2018. Adam Vaughan: Provided divers shift charging to off- peak times, the grid will be able to cope. Aurora Energy Research predicts growth of electric cars from about 120,000 today, to 10m by 2035, and then over 17m by 2040. Tariffs need to be offered to get drivers to use ‘smart’ charging (e.g. not on returning from work!). 0.5GW of peak demand would be added, which is not significant. Taking advantage of cheaper charging times could halve the driver’s electricity bill, at £110 a year (as against £280 for charging at peak times).
Fishing: worried by the pro-Brexit anger of our fishermen, I’m not sure what the best view is of the common fisheries policy etc, but here is a charity/NGO that seems to me to have the best line: http://www.bluemarinefoundation.com/about/what-we-do/
22nd Jan 2018: Lloyds of London plans to stop investing in coal companies. Insurance is one of the industries worst affected by hurricanes, wildfires and flooding in recent years. Lloyds offers a marketplace for almost 90 syndicates of other insurers (it doesn’t underwrite operations directly). Big insurance companies have moved £15bn away from coal in the past two years, says the Unfriend Coal network (NGOs, Greenpeace, 380.org). AXA has dropped companies with at least 30% coal, and Church of England uses 10% as criterion. Analysis by ClimateWise shows that the ‘protection gap’ – the difference between the costs of natural disasters and the amount insured had quadrupled to $100bn a year since the 1980s.
1st Feb 2018, letter from David Smythe Emeritus prof of geophysics, Univ of Glasgow: Ken Cronin (Letters, 17 January), of the UK onshore fossil fuel trade body, responds to your editorial on fracking(10 January) by claiming that imported natural gas has “higher [environmental] emissions” than the gas “beneath our feet”. This claim is akin to the 40-a-day smoker with lung cancer telling their doctor that only the last two or three cigarettes of the day do the damage, and promising to stick to 37 a day. There is a global gas glut. The UK is well supplied by imports from stable countries, the price of which is predicted to remain low and stable for years to come. So no additional bridging supply is needed while the 23m UK households that depend on gas are weaned off their fossil fuel addiction over the next one or two decades.
The UK shale basins are far more complex geologically than in the US, and a fully fledged drilling industry will need to be developed from scratch – Lancashire is not Texas. This will require several billion pounds of capital investment, the training of several thousand technicians and engineers, and will take at least a decade to create. UK shale gas will probably cost around double that of US gas. The Committee on Climate Change report only sanctioned shale gas development on condition, among others, that indigenous gas replaces imports and does not add to it. Mr Cronin should tell us whether he favours a tariff on gas imports, an import ban or else a subsidy, to make UK shale gas competitive.
26th Jan 2018, Adam Vaughan: extra hurdle for fracking as Greg Clark, business secretary, says an application by Third Energy to begin fracking until it had completed a financial resilience assessment, which would include being able to clean up the site afterwards. The company has already met delays because its accounts were not in order. It has overdue accounts for the period ending 31st December 2016 (due last September). There are 13 other technical tests the company has to pass as well. Cuadrilla and Ineos will now have to go through these financial checks as well. Third Energy wants to start fracking at Kirby Misperton. John Dewar resigned as director this week, and the company’s acting chief executive Keith Cochrane was a director of Carillion which went into liquidation January 20128.
Hydrogen cars: Jan 20th Oliver Franklin-Wallis: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jan/20/hydrogen-cars-hugo-spowers-future
Kenya, 15th Feb, Jonathan Watts: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/kenyas-erin-brockovich-defies-harassment-to-bring-anti-pollution-case-to-courts problem of lead pollution from a metal plant – the Center for Justice, Governance, and Environmental Action has forced closure of the plant in Mombasa, and is now seeking compensation and a clean-up. This could be a landmark case for environmental groups across Africa. Led by Phyllis Omido who was co-winner of the Goldman environmental prize in 2015 with Berta Caceres, a Honduran activist who was murdered a year later. The EPZ refinery was closed, and two other companies are being pursued in a class action.
28th Jan 2018, Observer, Robin McKie: (link to follow...) talks of a project set up by Climeworks, which extracts (only) 900 tonnes of CO2 a year from the atmosphere, and uses it in greenhouses to help grow plants.
There will be a report this week from Natural Environment Research Council on techniques for removing CO2 from the atmosphere. These include burying biomass and burying the CO2 that results, adding fertilizers to the sea to boost the growth of carbon-absorbing blooms, crushing and spreading rocks over fields and beaches (‘enhanced weathering’), and planting new forests.
But ocean fertilisation could create too many algae, and increase acidification; ‘beccs’ (biomass energy with carbon capture) would require vast amounts of trees at a time when we need more land for food – and CCS is as yet underdeveloped; enhanced weathering would require large amounts of power to crush and transport the rocks.
Other (myself included!) argue that developing negative emissions technology would be used as a pretext so that ‘we’ could go on burning fossil fuel. The problem is urgent, and such explorations remove the incentive to get to the bottom of it, viz, cutting emissions!
1st Feb 2018 (Damian Carrington and others): A report from Southampton University says that methods of sucking CO2 from the atmosphere would not work on a large enough scale to help beat global warming. The IPCC had included this method as a way of meeting the Paris targets. It calculated that about 12bn tonnes of CO2 a year would need to be captured and stored after 2050 – about a third of all emissions today. John Shepherd, an author of the report says there is no silver bullet. ‘NETs are very interesting but they are not an alternative to deep and rapid emissions reduction. These remain the safest and most reliable options.’ NETs include tree planting, but this raises the problem of having enough land to grow the food needed for a growing world population.
Letter 5th April 2018 from Prof Andy Sterling and Dr Phil Johnstone, SPRU, University of Sussex, challenging Mike Clancy of UK Nuclear Industry Council: why do they, and unions generally, support nuclear and not renewables. SPRU have reported on the way the civil nuclear power industry supports nuclear submarines – despite this not being economic.
Plans for a new nuclear power station on Anglesey have been delayed because of concerns about the effect of the large-scale building etc on rare sea birds, especially the tern – sandwich, arctic and common terns are protected under the EU habitats and birds directive. About a fifth of the UK’s sandwich terns live nearby. (Adam Vaughan 10th April 2018). The proposal is for a twin reactor to replace the former magnox one at Wylfa. To be built by Horizon Nuclear power, a subsidiary of Hitachi the power station will generate 3GW – enough for 7% of the UK’s electricity. The power station has already cost £2bn – and £1m is being spent every day on it. It is likely the concerns about the birds will only delay and not prevent construction.
Amazing article by Adam Vaughan, 22nd Jan (posted on Twitter) describing the lengths that are being gone to, in order to bury highly radioactive waste safely – for ‘hundreds of thousands of years’. Waste mixed with resins, in steel containers, forms insoluble blocks; these placed inside copper and steel sarcophagus; deep underground would be tombs of buffer materials to soak up radiation and minimise water seepage, around each container; this all buried hundreds of metre down under rock, and storage tunnels filled with concrete...
Plastics & coral reefs:
26th January 2018. Damian Carrington. Plastic has been found to cause disease in coral reefs. 89% of the corals examined that were fouled by plastic were found to be diseased. Scientists examined 125,000 corals across the Asia-Pacific region. At least 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year. Corals are not only home to a diverse range of life, but they are vital for at least 275 million people who depend on them for food, coastal protection from storms, and income from tourism. Plastic was found on a third of the reefs examined between 2011 and 2014. They did not assess microplastics... Diseases found include: skeletal eroding band disease, white syndromes and black band disease. These diseases spread across a colony once there is infection. Plastic cuts the living creatures in the coral, and blocks out sunlight. Plastic pollution is estimated as likely to increase to 16bn pieces by 2025 (an increase of 40%) unless action is taken. Repeated bleaching is now the ‘new normal’ according to Prof Terry Hughes of James Cook University’s centre for coral reef studies.
Population growth – Paul Ehrlich strikes again! https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/mar/22/collapse-civilisation-near-certain-decades-population-bomb-paul-ehrlich - ‘perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell’ – to start with we must: ‘make modern contraception and back-up abortion available to all and give women full equal rights, pay and opportunities with men.’ This will take a long time to reduce the world’s population, which he estimates should be 1.5 – 2 billion, or 5.6 billion fewer than at present...
However, a letter 28th March, from Prof. John MacInnes argues Ehrlich’s views are ‘discredited’ – ‘the birth rate in the developing world is now lower than it was in rich countries a few decades ago. ... the carrying capacity of our planet ... is almost certainly well above the likely peak of population that will be reached in the second half of this century. Reducing the vast global inequalities in energy consumption will do far more for the environment than the ultimately racist idea that the poor have too many children.’
Adam Vaughan, Guardian 28th Feb 2018. There has been a ‘solar rush’ as prices have gone down by 86% from 2009 – 2017. From 100MW in 1992 there is now (2016) 300GW across the world. At one point last summer solar provided more power in Britain than nuclear... A new crystal may mean another breakthrough: perovskite, which is abundant in the earth’s crust, can improve the efficiency of PV cells. It captures the energy from a different part of the spectrum to silicon, so a layer could be put on top and would add 20% more power. It is light, so can be used for windows. It doesn’t need heating to high temperatures to process (silicon needs 1,000C). Saule Technologies and Oxford PV are working on it as there is more to be done before it is usable.
1st Nov 2018, Michael McCarthy, author of The Moth Snowstorm – Nature and Joy: damage to nature is usually a secondary consideration – except for agent orange spread on 12,000 sq miles of forest in the Vietnam war, or the mass oil pollution from the Sea Island terminal in Kuwait during the Gulf war 1991. In the second world war 60 million people or 3% of the world population (2.3 billion at the time) died... but the amount of shipping sunk in the battle of the Atlantic was the equivalent of about 250 Brent Spar oil rigs (Greenpeace forced Shell not to sink it but move it for breaking up). Professor Tim Birkenhead of Sheffield University, in the journal British Birds, suggests the war badly affected breeding of guillemots on Skomer Island off the west coast of Wales. He estimates there were 100,000 individuals in 1934, but only 4,856 in 1963, a reduction of 95%. Now the numbers have gone up to 23,746. The worst decline was between 1940 and 1946, and oil pollution is the most likely cause. The ocean is far less resilient than we have thought.