Lockdown 3 #1

January 22nd, 2021

Thank Goodness (or even Thank God…?) we now have a new ‘leader of the free world’…

Joe Biden has moved to reinstate the US to the Paris climate agreement just hours after being sworn in as president.

The world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases will rejoin the international effort to curb the dangerous heating of the planet.

Biden is also set to block the Keystone XL pipeline, a bitterly contested project that would bring huge quantities of oil from Canada to the US, and halt oil and gas drilling in various locations, including the Arctic national wildlife refuge wilderness.

On the White House website all mentions of climate were scrubbed out in 2017 – now a new list of priorities puts the climate crisis second only behind the Covid pandemic (both linked anyway, as we know…).

Biden is also expected to convene an international climate summit in the spring to help accelerate emissions cuts. Sweeping climate legislation to make deeper cuts in emissions will be more challenging to get through Congress, however. The Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans and is unlikely to embrace anything as progressive as the Green New Deal (that’s to help everyone, what is so suspicious about it…? oh, yes it threatens the greedy status quo…)

Keep fighting, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez! I also have to appreciate Kamala Harris at this point; and the amazing, inspiring youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman – so serene, her profound words set to graceful punctuating gestures.

So, there’s significant, heart-warming reason for hope; but sad reality clouds my ability to wholeheartedly switch off my anxiety. As Leah Stokes, an expert in environmental policy at the University of California, said: “The best time to cut emissions was decades ago; the second-best time is today.”

Now, I’d like to ‘come back to earth’ even more – to look at the UK and our individual contributions to addressing the climate crisis. The organisation Climate Outreach is asking for help in changing the way people think about lifestyle change. Why should we change how we live?

They’ve made a video, simply showing that lifestyle change and system change are two sides of the same coin. Please watch and share it:

Every year, the UN Environment Programme publishes the globally significant Emissions Gap report, analysing the difference between anticipated carbon emissions and levels consistent with the Paris Agreement. For the first time, the December 2020 report includes a focus on the key role of lifestyle change in bridging that Gap. A key message is that household activities are linked to around two-thirds of all emissions.

Now, I don’t want to be an advertiser, but Octopus Energy is worth switching to, if you haven’t already – the Group’s vision is to use technology (Kraken computer software) to make the ‘green energy revolution’ affordable. (‘Agile customers’, like us, can even benefit from using up excess green power… check it out!) I wrote to its CEO Greg Jackson (a former coffee shop owner like us!) who replied with a personal engaging reassurance, when I questioned his association with Australia and Japan – “We absolutely will not be polluted or diluted in our mission to drive renewables. Working with companies like this we can take the enormous financial resource and deploy it to drive renewables globally, as well as greening the companies themselves.”

I’m never far from thinking about grandchildren (part of my week is enriched by our childcare bubble, even if it’s tiring sometimes!) – I’m taken back to my own childhood with this next piece of news: the four Ladybird books ‘What to look for in….Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter’ are being re-published.

More than 60 years on, these books aim to inspire budding young naturalists to learn more about the wild creatures they might see during the different seasons. Good news, but of course there are sad aspects too – turtle doves (sung about with my grandson recently, in the Twelve Days of Christmas), once a familiar bird across rural England in summer, are set to vanish from our shores, having declined by 98% since the 1960s. Lapwings also featured in the original series, because they were then far more common than they are now. And water voles, also in the Summer volume, have vanished from many places during the past six decades – at least, as the new book points out, conservationists are now helping them to return. And also on the upside, species featured in the new volumes include the osprey, bottlenose dolphin and grey seal, all of which have increased dramatically during the intervening years.

Thinking of the natural world, it is so cheering to see snowdrops emerging at this time of year in England. A headline in a recent Guardian appealed to me (I love wordplay!) – ‘A galanthus effort: Covid-hit snowdrop festival moves online.’ (Galanthus is the Latin/botanical name for snowdrops.) The Garden House in Devon usually hosts a very popular snowdrop festival, cancelled for 2021 because of covid. To try to fill the gap, the Garden House is staging what it confidently believes to be the UK’s first “virtual snowdrop festival.” Every day the team of gardeners, with student horticulturalists Rose and Rosie (perfect, apt names!…), will go out into the snowdrop drifts (many varieties); and post live images of flowers as they appear, dots of brightness shining in the winter gloom. Visitor services manager Karen Willcocks said she believed the sight of snowdrops, whether viewed in person by local people or online by others all around the world, would be a balm in these most difficult of times. So, that’s what I’m ending today’s post with – not an overt allusion to the climate crisis, but uplifting Nature in its simple beauty. We all need to continue to protect it, in whatever way we can. 

Looking forward…

January 1st, 2021

Happy New Year!

My first photo of this ‘brave new year’ is a sad (arty & posed) comment on my current feelings….

I felt wonderfully lucky and grateful that our daughter & son-in-law (and their dog!) were able to come across for Christmas Day itself, but 2020 Christmas was not the hoped-for family celebration of course. 

As my brother-in-law put it on the phone from France yesterday, we’re all a bit depressed at the moment…

Negativity won’t help anything to change, I realise, and I’ll get on with the positive direction I promised for 2021 soon, but I believe honesty is important and sometimes ‘the best policy’ too…

January 1st is the start, for some (including one of my sons and his partner, I think) of Veganuary, a month where people make a New Year’s resolution to ‘go vegan’ or at least to try that lifestyle/diet until February. I didn’t realise Einstein became a vegetarian (see photo, a tea-towel Christmas present from my sister) and, more importantly, that he warned us in 1954 about the connection between what we eat and the ‘survival of life on Earth’. Why haven’t we learnt?

Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Paul McCartney, Ricky Gervais, Lily Cole, Johnny Marr and John Bishop, along with many other musicians, actors and sports stars, have all signed an open letter calling for more people to join in with the Veganuary pledge….

The letter says: “We cannot tackle climate change while we farm and eat animals on an industrial scale”.

Chris Packham (one of my heroes!) told the Observer newspaper: “Nature has taught us a very harsh and cold lesson. If we don’t start understanding that we are all connected implicitly to nature, and that what we eat impacts on nature, we’re in deep trouble.

“Deforestation is serious for lots of reasons. It pushes wild species to extinction. It displaces indigenous peoples. It drives climate change. And it brings us in ever closer contact with wild animals and any viruses they may harbour, raising the risk of another pandemic.”

I know I’ve said all this before, here….

This bit is why I need to say it again, if only to ‘get it out of my system’ – lockdown has fuelled a boom in meat consumption. Yes, so depressing…. Is meat comfort food?

Bill Bailey, a great animal lover, winning Strictly this year (in the UK) raised my hopes for making all these connections mainstream…. but he’s not a vegetarian, and I have a comment recurring in my head: amazing red-haired Australian dancer Dianne (I love Strictly!) summed up Christmas, for her, as “turkey & crackers, and Strictly”…. We still have a long way to go….

Chris Packham is realistic about how much we can achieve – I know close family who are sceptical about veganism… And I must admit I love cheese (strides are being made with vegan cheese, but sadly not fast enough..), and baking with eggs… 

Mr Packham says the solution is not for the whole population to turn vegan.

“The people I call ultra-vegans just want to stop all meat consumption overnight. But that would be no good for meat farmers. It would be no good for our landscapes, where low-intensity, good-quality animal husbandry and livestock farming are actually good for biodiversity.”

But immediate awareness does need to increase – there is evidence that soya produced in felled Brazilian rainforest has been used to feed chickens sold in UK supermarkets and fast-food outlets: “If you put that chicken in your mouth, you’re connecting yourself very directly with deforestation in South America.”

And please try to avoid products containing palm oil (also so often from deforestation) – it’s in biscuits, shampoo, toothpaste (and even the Ferrero Rocher we were given for Christmas, by lovely well-meaning neighbours).

Finally, for today, I hope some of you might feel inclined to make the New Year’s Resolution I’ve made – switching to the ethical tree-planting search engine Ecosia. 

Here’s a link to its latest video – https://youtu.be/OpRJVCDHFTg

I feel a bit ‘sheepish’ that I didn’t know about this ‘eco option’ before – a friend of mine, wonderful XR and Green Party activist told me she assumed I knew… and my sister has been ‘on it’ for years, without sharing that with me…

Let’s all share more! I still feel, for some ridiculous reason, like I mustn’t ‘go on’ about climate activism.

I’m always keen to know more, about positive changes particularly admittedly!

Knowledge is power, surely? I think I’ve said that before too…..!

‘See’ you soon (ish…)!

Thoughts for Christmas

December 11th, 2020

I’m going to start, today, with good news about the Bristol Airport expansion proposal – well, hopeful anyway….Bristol city councillors, who had supported the airport’s plans, have now agreed it is “incompatible” with carbon reduction targets and “must not go ahead”.

Please add your objection comments too, if you haven’t already, to the North Somerset Council planning page – you have until January 6th and here’s a link:

Now, a local piece of environmental destruction.

A mile-long stretch of the River Lugg outside Kingsland, near Leominster in Herefordshire, has been flattened by a bulldozer. Trees have been felled, the river straightened and the river bed damaged.

Landowner/farmer John Price believes he was doing this with the blessing of the Environment Agency (I’ve written to its CEO) and he has the support of Kingsland villagers, in order to prevent future flooding….

Is this another example of shortsightedness? And also shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted…. We need to protect Nature, biodiversity and ecosystems, surely, to avoid floods and other environmental catastrophes…

Guy Linley-Adams, a lawyer for the charity Salmon and Trout Conservation, witnessed the destruction to the river, which is protected as an SSSI, site of special scientific interest. He said: “This is one of the most egregious acts of ecological vandalism that I have seen in 25 years of working on rivers in the UK”.

The River Lugg is an important habitat for salmon, otters, lamprey, dragonfly and crayfish. Helen Stace, the chief executive of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, said: “This is a crime against the environment, with dire consequences for wildlife and water quality downstream.”

Even more important that ‘ecocide’ should become law….

I just want to add here some personal thoughts, linking with the flooding references. I keep seeing images in my head of Noah’s Ark floating on a tempestuous sea, with a rainbow above. The coronavirus pandemic seems almost Biblical to me – I don’t believe in God, but I do believe Nature is warning us. If we don’t act soon, there will be more pandemics and climate catastrophes.

And more people with influence now seem to realise that – I’m putting my faith and hope in them, not in simply ‘the vaccine’, to steer the world on to the right path/channel….

I was pleased to see the news about the UK’s first all-electric car charging forecourt set to open for business in Braintree, Essex, to charge electric vehicles with 100% renewable energy.

It is the first of more than 100 electric forecourts that Gridserve, a clean energy company, plans to roll out across the country over the next five years as part of a billion-pound ‘sun-to-wheel’ infrastructure. Good! In company with many other people, I expect, we’re currently saving up to afford an electric car.

The only downside, of course, is that electric vehicles need batteries; and mining for lithium (‘white oil’), routinely used in rechargeable electric car batteries, poses problems itself – for the environment and for human rights…. Thank goodness that some scientists are exploring alternative battery cells, using sodium-ion, more powerful, durable, sustainable and cost-effective. 

Maybe we should all just drive less! Less traffic, quieter roads, sounds a perfect solution!

A very sad inquest is currently being held at Southwark coroner’s court – it is considering whether dangerous levels of air pollution around nine year old Ella Kissi-Debrah’s home in the London borough of Lewisham (near where we used to live) contributed to her death. Sir Stephen Holgate, a professor of immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton, heavily criticised the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra )and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for failing to work together on toxic air. Apparently there was a royal commission for environmental pollution, of which Holgate was a member – it was closed in 2011. Why?

That poor child may become the first person in the UK for whom air pollution is listed as the cause of death – an innocent ‘canary’ drawing attention to the dangers of air pollution. (As Holgate said: “Two centuries ago canaries were used in coalmines to detect high levels of pollutant gases…”) 

A glimmer of hope from Australia now – a little pygmy possum has been found on Kangaroo Island for the first time since bushfire destroyed most of their habitat in last summer’s devastating blaze. Fauna ecologist Pat Hodgens said he was optimistic the pygmy possums would now survive on the Australian island but work is now needed to protect what is left of the population.

I’m close to ‘bidding farewell’ for this year, but I can’t finish without mentioning Brexit. ‘No deal’ looks unavoidable (to satisfy the empty notion of ‘saving our sovereignty’) now. Despite senior Conservatives warning Boris Johnson that “the world is watching”, our prime minister is pressing on with the disaster. Hopefully he gets a rude awakening soon, to at least make him take his climate responsibilities more seriously, with the world watching ahead of COP26…..

Now, finally, to explain my illustrations this week – one is a new-style Christmas tree, made by my creative husband. We’ve always chosen a ‘real’ Christmas tree as more ‘green’ than a plastic one, but this year Bill said: “Watching a tree slowly dying isn’t my perfect idea of celebrating birth”…. Mm, I see what he means. Maybe the wooden tree idea will catch on, following this design which is made to easily take apart and store compactly for future years – wood from sustainable sources, of course. The second picture is our sycamore stump decorated outside (it was cut to allow light to reach our solar panels, and we’re protecting our other trees!).

The images come to wish you HAPPY CHRISTMAS.

For presents this year, I’m hoping more family and friends will feel compelled, as I do, to make a green difference in the world – I sometimes feel awkward about talking about my campaigning, but I wish really that more people felt as emotional about it all as I do…..

In 2021, I’ll be reporting on positive projects from green enterprises who are doing just that.

Do tell me about any you know.

My email address is emilyjanethwaite@icloud.com; and please keep supporting the petitions and actions on Bill Sanderson’s Facebook page and at #grandmaglobal

Emerging 2 #1

December 4th, 2020

I’ve spent the morning confronting the threat of a Bristol Airport expansion.

The airport management is so shortsighted and greedy…..it’s appealing against the rejection of the original expansion plans. On the basis that the impact of the pandemic can be seen as ‘exceptional circumstances’. Yes, exceptional circumstances that require the world to change, not add to the devastation!

Anyway, if you live in and around Bristol (or even if you don’t maybe, just feeling strongly on principle..), we have until January 6th to submit objections/comments to North Somerset Council’s planning department.

The United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres has made a very powerful stark speech, saying “Humanity is waging war on nature… suicidal. Human activities are at the root of our descent towards chaos. But that means human action can help to solve it.”

The UN was founded 75 years ago at the end of the second world war to try to promote world peace after two devastating global conflicts. In his address, The State of the Planet, Guterres said that now we need to make peace with nature – this “defining task of the 21st century… must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere.” He also struck a note of hope, noting that many countries, including the biggest emitter, China, the EU and the US president-elect Joe Biden, have adopted targets of reaching net-zero emissions around the middle of the century. He said: “I firmly believe that 2021 can be a new kind of leap year – the year of a quantum leap towards carbon neutrality.”

A major UK parliamentary enquiry has begun, a complete rethink of transport priorities. A fresh look at the need for the HS2 high speed rail line and the desirability of the £27bn road-building programme are included in a select committee’s investigations. Chairman Huw Merriman said: “Transport investment is at a pivotal moment. The pandemic has changed the way we travel. For meaningful numbers of us, it could change it for good. Our climate change commitments require us to shift away from diesel towards greener forms of energy.” This comment he made seems particularly important – “Changes to the way we appraise capital spending projects mean that the government no longer has to use value for money as the sole indicator.” Good, there are other things in life that are more valuable than money!

Highways England has promised more wildflower verges by the sides of roads – beautiful, of course, and important for restoring biodiversity (the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows since the 1930s); but, as Amelia Womack from the Green Party said, “This is no substitute for taking the more serious action needed to tackle the nature and climate crisis we currently face.”

Another substitute for addressing a serious issue (why are we simply not all vegetarians?!) is the invention of lab-grown meat. A regulatory authority in Singapore has approved for sale ‘chicken bites’ produced by the US company Eat Just. The company says this could open the door to a future when all meat is produced without the killing of livestock. The cells for Eat Just’s product are taken from biopsies of live animals and then grown in a bioreactor and combined with plant-based ingredients. Dozens of firms are apparently developing cultivated chicken, beef and pork, with a view to slashing the impact of industrial livestock production on the climate and nature crises, as well as providing cleaner, drug-free and cruelty-free meat. Currently about 130 million chickens are slaughtered every day for meat, and 4 million pigs. By weight, 60% of the mammals on earth are livestock, 36% are humans and only 4% are wild.

Now, important good news that puts pressure on the UK. Denmark has brought an immediate end to new oil and gas exploration in the Danish North Sea. Denmark’s climate minister, Dan Jorgensen, said: “We are now putting a final end to the fossil era” and Helene Hagel from Greenpeace Denmark described the parliamentary vote as a ‘watershed moment’ and “a huge victory for the climate movement.”

This news coincides with a report by the think tank IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) which says the UK’s North Sea oil and gas industry should agree to phase out production through a series of five-year targets to help its 260,000 strong workforce migrate to clean energy sectors. Luke Murphy, an associate director at IPPR, said: “It’s time for the UK to move on from oil and gas to a net zero North Sea and a greener and brighter future.

“As host of COP26, the UK has the opportunity to lead by the power of our example by committing to keep fossil fuels in the ground and offering a blueprint for affected workers and communities to make the most of the huge opportunities offered by the zero-carbon economy.”

Now, an amazing victory by six youth campaigners from Portugal. The European court of human rights has ordered 33 European governments to respond to their landmark climate lawsuit – they say governments are moving too slowly to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are destabilising the climate. If the defendant countries fail to convince the Strasbourg-based judges, lawyers say they will be legally bound to take more ambitious steps and to address the contribution they – and multinational companies headquartered in their jurisdictions – make to overseas emissions through trade, deforestation and extractive industries.

Marc Willers QC, who is representing the young plaintiffs, said: “It is no exaggeration to say that this could be the most important case ever tried by the European court of human rights.”

Such amazing tenacious young people, but as 12 year old Andre Oliveira said: “What I’d like the most would be for European governments to immediately do what the scientists say is necessary to protect our future.”

To finish, I’ll refer to the top picture – although this photograph is from a zoo, I just want to draw attention to the return of bushfires in Australia. After enduring the hottest spring ever this year, with temperatures more than 2C above average, fires are threatening people, homes and wildlife once again. When will Australia’s Scott Morrison and his administration face the fact of the climate emergency?

Lockdown 2 #4

November 27th, 2020

How is this happening?

Of course many of us breathed a sigh of relief when fracking was banned (though it’s officially a ‘moratorium’, therefore temporary…), but sadly this looks like ‘fracking by stealth’….

For years, apparently, Rathlin Energy (whom I’d not heard of before, but of course I’ve written to them now – no CEO contact details on their website, however…unsurprisingly…?!) has been taking over the land surrounding the tiny village of West Newton in Yorkshire.

Oil and gas wells have been drilled in what were once peaceful, rolling fields. Now, Rathlin is about to double these operations and build two more wells.

Local volunteers have spent two years camped outside the sites, monitoring pollution levels and tracking what is going on. Now, with the burden of covid as well as winter approaching, this community is worried they’ll have to pack up and let Rathlin win this battle.

This is an example of our government’s double standards – if it was really committed to tackling the climate crisis, it would be determined to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

In ‘God’s own county’ of Yorkshire too…! We used to live there, and some of our family still do, as well as the friends we made. Hopefully, some of them will have the energy and enthusiasm to help the fight.

Talking of UK government commitment, the 10-point climate plan did actually materialise last week. As Friends of the Earth has said, a plan to tackle the climate emergency published by a Boris Johnson-led government would have been hard to imagine a couple of years ago. So it certainly is heartening that it exists. But, predictably, it falls far short of what we all need.

One of the ten points is definitely very important good news, however – new diesel and petrol cars will be banned by 2030. This announcement is a real win for people power, particularly against a backdrop of industry opposition. Cleaner cars equals cleaner air, as well as lower carbon emissions.

600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028 will be fitted in housing, in order to abandon the use of gas-fired boilers. To meet climate targets, we actually need to fit 10 million heat pumps by 2030. All new homes should be built with eco-heating systems, obviously. The government apparently initially planned to ban the fitting of new gas boilers by 2022, but a lobby by Persimmon Homes blocked this.

I’ve written to the CEO of Persimmon Homes!

This week there has at least been some good news from the government (in contrast to ‘tears over tiers’ and the depressing spending review….) – onshore wind and solar power projects will be  given subsidies for the first time since 2015.

Energy companies will compete for subsidy contracts in a competitive auction to be held at the end of 2021, which could support up to 12GW of renewable energy, or enough clean electricity to charge up to 20m electric vehicles a year.

Now, on a more immediate ‘feel good’ level, a green glimpse from Guy’s Hospital (where our three children were born)  and St Thomas’ (where our nephew was born!) – well, the hospital trust’s charity anyway… It is funding the installation of low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN) measures in a London borough. Because the health and social benefits of reducing motor traffic are so substantial, the wards of Camberwell Green, St Giles and Faraday (some of the most socially deprived in the UK) will have widened pavements, additional seating and roadside markings to encourage walking and cycling. Also, some parking spaces will be removed as part of the scheme, which is due to start in December.

LTNs have had mixed receptions. In Acorn Road, Jesmond, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, there was massive opposition to plans a few years ago. Now, since the changes to the street went ahead anyway, one business owner has been eating his words, even welcoming the changes. 

An example of ‘the bigger picture’ proving to be worth considering, I hope – short-term worries turning out to be unfounded. Let’s all focus on what’s right for the long-term.

Two everyday things we can do: one, through shopping; one, through doctor’s surgeries.

Tesco, Lidl, Asda, McDonald’s, Nando’s and other high street retailers all source chicken fed on soya linked to thousands of forest fires and at least 300 sq miles (800 sq km) of tree clearance in Brazil. The soya is supplied by Cargill, the US’s second largest private company. Please stop buying this chicken, and spread the word – or maybe become vegetarian (a simple solution)?!

And finally today, a GP friend of mine has asked me to draw attention to this (I had no idea about the problem) – standard asthma inhalers are bad for the environment. The liquified compressed gas in them, according to a new study from the University of Cambridge, is responsible for approximately 4% of all emissions attributed to the NHS each year. Of course this doesn’t mean you should risk asthma attacks, but your doctor should be able to help you switch to environmentally-friendly alternatives in the shape of aqueous mist and dry powder inhalers.

Not only would these be kinder to the environment, but they could also incur savings for the NHS as well.

I’ll sign off by pointing you to another uplifting group of people who are trying to ‘engage the British public on climate change’ – Climate Outreach.

Check out http://www.climateoutreach.org/britain-talks-climate

Lockdown 2 #3

November 17th, 2020

One of the side effects of lockdown is watching more television – some of it is a welcome relief, of course. This week I’ve also been thinking about the adverts.

It’s heartening that some of these are now acknowledging the climate crisis (my favourite is still the ‘petrol graveyard’..), but we still need to be cautious, ‘buyers beware’ and all that….

The latest from Shell is very depressing – Elvin (why doesn’t he have a surname?) waxes lyrical about solar panels and battery storage. We have both those ‘technologies’ and I started listening to him, with interest and hope, watching him and his two little girls exploring sunny countryside. Then it turned out he  is ‘Head of Product’ at Shell Energy. 

Why is he not ‘making a difference’ for a green energy company? We (and he…?!) are being fooled. His ‘sustainable’ role is completely incompatible with a company that continues to damage fragile eco-systems by drilling for oil, polluting our world almost to a point beyond recovery….

I’ll write to him, though that may well prove to be wasted energy on my part….

Another potentially hopeful advert is for Ovo, the energy provider. It is not actually the greenest choice, as its ‘fuel mix’ still results in carbon emissions ‘above the national average due to the high percentage of gas used’ (that quote is from Ovo’s own website…).

The other day I sent an email to family and friends, forwarding Friends of the Earth’s appeal that we switch to a green energy supplier.

Ecotricity and Octopus seem the best choices, but there are others….check them out!

Three of Britain’s biggest energy companies have agreed to build giant underwater power cables (yes, there will be side-effects: marine life must be protected simultaneously…) to bring Scotland’s vast reserves of renewable energy to millions of homes in England. This ‘superhighway’, to be built by Scottish Power, National Grid and SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy), could help to unlock the potential of the prime minister’s plan to build enough offshore wind farms to power every home in the country by 2030.

Talking of ‘the prime minister’s plan’, his anticipated week of announcements to build back better (giving us hope, in words, at least..) has typically been overshadowed by government incompetence – vital, crucial action is put on hold yet again. While Boris Johnson and others are in isolation, we’ll just have to get on with moving things forward without them….!

I’ve just been reading heartening news, from the movement Open Democracy, about grassroots actions in America among a new generation of activists daring to imagine a radically different future.

And the Green Party in the UK has drawn my attention to a ‘Future Generations Act’ which is being brought to Parliament after being adopted in Wales. Wales now has the world’s first ‘commissioner of the unborn’, responsible for delivering social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being for current and future generations. Let’s hope the United Nation’s Assistant Secretary General Nikhil Seth’s statement comes true: “What Wales is doing today, the world will do tomorrow”. And why not?!

As I expect you all know, the next important climate conference is COP26 – it was postponed from being held this month in Glasgow….

There are ominous signs that Shell and BP will sponsor it, or at least have their logos displayed on the publicity… This is madness, of course! How can a conference for a cleaner world be associated with polluting oil companies? It will not be taken seriously by anyone.

I think I’ll return here to the analogy with tobacco companies and smoking. I realise that people still smoke, but even they (the majority of them at least, I imagine?) know the dangers and admit that their choice is not healthy.

We all critically need to get to the point of accepting that oil is not a healthy choice.

We need health warning labels at garages (Extinction Rebellion has tried to do this…).

In Sweden, eco-labels have been mandatory since May, showing climate impact; and Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, has gone a step further – making information about the environmental and human health impact of fossil fuel use mandatory on all self-service fuel pumps.

Warning labels connect the abstract threat of the climate emergency (it’s still, sadly, abstract for many) with the use of fossil fuels in the here and now, sensitising people to the consequence of their actions.

Finally (but I hope it’s not final, for the activists/protectors), climate activists have spent the past two weeks in Norway’s Supreme Court, in a bid to drag western Europe’s biggest oil producer out of the Arctic. 

Greenpeace and a local group called Nature & Youth have already been rebuffed in Norway’s appeals court. But since then, new evidence has emerged that the environmental groups hope will be ‘a game changer’. The court case ended on Thursday without providing a date for a verdict. It’s apparently likely to be before Christmas.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful Christmas present if the environmentalists (and consequently, the world) won? The case against Norway tests its new law, which states that “everyone has the right to an environment that secures health, and to a nature where productivity and diversity are preserved.” It’s hard to imagine anyone ignoring the beautiful Arctic’s role in preserving productivity and diversity of Nature, for the sake of productivity of short-term financial gain. 

Lockdown 2 #2

November 12th, 2020

Well, so many of us breathed a collective sigh of relief last weekend when Joe Biden was pronounced president-elect at last, with Kamala Harris as vice-president which is a particularly important move forward.

Trump will predictably do his best/worst to destroy anything he can, during these last months.

It’s outrageous that he withdrew the USA from the Paris climate agreement days before the election. Joe Biden will re-join eventually, but four years have been wasted….

If any of you have friends or relations in Georgia, USA, please urge them to vote on January 5th for Democrat candidates in the Senate (December 7th is the voter registration deadline) ‘federal runoff election’. If Republicans, with Mitch McConnell as leader, continue to control the US Senate, significant efforts to fight globe-heating pollution would be obstructed.

America’s oldest city (founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers), St Augustine, Florida, is often deluged by floods and is struggling to save its landmarks from the climate crisis.

St Augustine’s archaeological sites include relics from centuries of European colonial and American history, including the 17th century Spanish fort Castillo de San Marcos, as well as more than 4,000 years of Native American heritage. Today, flooding affects more than 60% of the archaeological zones in the city, and all sites will be vulnerable with 1.5ft of sea level rise. And homes in the city’s historic districts are overwhelmingly at risk of flooding, with 76% of land expected to be underwater during a major flood.

Also in Florida, tropical storm Eta arrived on Sunday night, with maximum sustained winds of 65mph (100km/h), causing beaches, ports and Covid testing sites to be closed. 

This storm had already done terrible damage in Mexico and Central America, killing scores of people with 100 declared ‘missing’…..

The human reality of the climate emergency is starkly evident in a video on the BBC News App (Storm Eta: ‘We have nothing….I am in pain’)

People in Nicaragua and Guatemala were already desperately affected by mudslides caused by torrential rain when the latest storm hit, leaving some homeless and mourning dead family members.

How can governments, investors, polluters turn a blind eye to such damage?

Back to the UK, it was good to hear that our prime minister said: “I just spoke to Joe Biden to congratulate him on his election. I look forward to strengthening the partnership between our countries and to working with him on our shared priorities – from tackling climate change, to promoting democracy and building back better from the pandemic.” We look forward to action (supporting the CEE Bill would be a start – hope you’ve written to your MPs..?!); and I’m trying to ignore that Johnson’s words were apparently in a tweet. Governing by tweet needs to be ditched, along with Trump….

However, it is certainly great to hear the words, Build Back Better, now used in ‘mainstream’ life, on both sides of the Atlantic, instead of being sneered at and marginalised.

Large companies and financial institutions in the UK will have to come clean about their exposure to climate risks within five years, Rishi Sunak has announced, in an attempt to demonstrate the government’s commitment to tackling global heating.

The chancellor also announced plans for Britain’s first green gilt – a bond that will be floated in the financial markets during 2021, with the money raised paying for investment in carbon-reducing projects and the creation of jobs across the country.

Rishi Sunak, Mark Carney and Andrew Bailey (former & current Bank of England governors) were speakers at the Green Horizon summit, which took place on what would have been the first day of the UN climate change conference (COP26) – postponed because of Covid19.

Now, closer to most people’s lives, a worrying survey by the RAC has concluded that our attitudes to public transport have been set back by two decades – because of Covid, we feel safer in our cars. I can understand this. So, we simply need to make fewer journeys…Easier said than done, for many reasons, of course. But maybe possible….? And of course we need much more help from governments and car manufacturers (at least tv adverts reflect concerns now…) to ‘go electric’. Greenpeace has just made an imaginative appeal/protest about this – toy cars raced under the gates of Downing Street to deliver a message to Boris Johnson: phase out new petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles by 2030.

More on petrol/oil now….

November 10th was the 25th anniversary of the murder of writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists in Nigeria. They tried to protect the Niger Delta from Shell’s exploitation and were hanged by the Nigerian government. I remember being shocked at the time, writing a protest letter I think (to national/local press…?) and avoiding Shell garages for a while. But it’s terrible how memories and commitments fade, isn’t it? Extinction Rebellion has reminded me of that news in 1995 (a year before we left London) and sent me to listen to an amazing but horrifying BBC podcast – Green Originals. Shell continues to work with the corrupt Nigerian government, whose military forces have recently opened fire and killed dozens of peaceful protestors.

So, if you see XR’s stickers and posters at Shell – this explains them.

It’s also timely, since Shell have launched a survey on Twitter (that ‘love to hate’ platform again…) – it asked customers ‘What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?”

This ‘Energy Debate’ resulted in many brilliant people posting replies.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said: “I’m willing to hold you accountable for lying about climate change for 30 years when you secretly knew the entire time that fossil fuels emissions would destroy our planet.”

Greta Thunberg accused the company of ‘endless greenwash’, while climate scientist Prof Katharine Hayhoe pointed out Shell’s huge contribution to the atmospheric carbon dioxide that is heating the planet (‘equivalent to that of my entire home country of Canada’). Ms Hayhoe (whom I’ve heard on the Outrage & Optimism podcast, a brilliant Christian and activist) added: “When you have a concrete plan to address that, I’d be happy to chat about what I’m doing to reduce my personal emissions”!

So, my message today is please boycott Shell garages (I’ve written to the CEO Ben van Beurden – he’s never replied!).

Good luck with your lockdowns/restricted lives, wherever you are….

A final thought for the determined lone 17 year old Extinction Rebellion protester in Norwich – after a mass demonstration was postponed due to the national lockdown, Alex Sidney scaled a crane in Duke Street early on Saturday morning. He said: “I’m desperate…there’s no alternative, and my generation are the ones inheriting this planet – so I really want to try and not let it go to waste.”

Please check out (and sign?) the petitions I post to Facebook and Twitter (#grandmaglobal), even though I sometimes despair of the latter….!

Lockdown2 #1

November 5th, 2020

Mm, what a day….

Anticipating writing today, I imagined being able to share relief and positivity that ‘Trumpism’ was unequivocally shown to the world as harmful and only worthy of being consigned to the past….There is no such clear path ahead – at least we can still hang on, until tomorrow maybe, to the possibility he might not be President any longer!

And today there’s England’s second lockdown.

I was also fondly imagining this could be the start of less polluting traffic on the road and other positive signs of lower human impact – but it doesn’t seem likely.

Eight months after our first lockdown, it feels as if the emphasis is on political squabbling and personal frustration – the glimpse of what future life could be like and the determination to ‘build back better’, avoiding future pandemics, seems to be receding.

Not with some admirable groups of people, however. And I’ll concentrate on those here today!

The Green Party (please consider becoming a Friend – checkout the Green Living Room..) asks us to dare to be different and think about a whole new way of living.

“Economics is broken. It has failed to predict, let alone prevent, financial crises that have shaken the foundations of our societies. Its outdated theories have permitted a world in which extreme poverty persists while the wealth of the super-rich grows year on year. And its blind spots have led to policies that are degrading the living world on a scale that threatens all our futures.” Those words are from ‘Doughnut Economics’ by Oxford academic Kate Raworth. She sets out a roadmap for bringing humanity into a ‘sweet spot’ that meets the needs of all within the means of the planet.

UK Student Climate Network is crowdfunding for their own version of COP26 (the climate conference postponed from last November). ‘Mock COP26’ plans to culminate in a powerful message from the youth of the world to political leaders stating what they need to do right now (not wait until the ‘real’ conference…). They have secured youth representatives from 144 countries, arranged keynote speakers, confirmed 22 fringe events and also have the interest of Newsround and Channel 4 News. You can tune in to livestreams on the Mock COP26 YouTube channel – the opening ceremony is at 12 noon UK time on November 19th.

Two organisations based in the USA will continue to fight to protect the natural world, whoever is in power – Rainforest Action Network and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Flight Free UK has launched its 2021 pledge. There are three levels of pledge – to be flight free in 2021, to refrain from holiday flights in 2021, or to stay grounded for life!

As they say, this year turned out to be a lot more flight free than we could ever have imagined – but for the wrong reason. The pandemic has been difficult for many people, and a temporary decrease in flying will not solve the climate crisis. But Covid-19 has shown us that rapid change is possible. Air traffic has decreased dramatically because we have had no choice, but we now need to apply this thinking to our response to the climate crisis.

Goodwings Travel, based in Denmark, is a travel company that aims towards a future where everyone travels sustainably and 100% carbon neutral. They are asking for climate reviews on wedonthavetime.org

Some good news that I posted recently has been undermined by new information, sadly – Britain’s bid to build enough offshore wind farms to power every home in the country by 2030 risks being derailed by outdated regulation. Germany’s RWE, one of the industry’s ‘key players’, has warned that work to connect the growing number of wind farms off the UK coast to the onshore electricity grid will not keep pace with the government’s goals unless decades-old regulation allows for faster investments. So, another example of Boris Johnson’s government ‘fobbing us off’ with positive-sounding intentions, without supporting these words with practical, radical action….

At least companies might now be held accountable – those that market their products or services as eco-friendly are to be scrutinised by the UK competition watchdog to make sure they live up to the claim and do not mislead consumers. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it was concerned that a rise in demand for green goods could encourage some businesses to make misleading claims about the environmental impact of what they are selling. Mm, yes, greenwashing – please beware!

One piece of good news from our beleaguered, floundering government (I think…) is that they have seen sense, or given in to pressure anyway, about farming and food standards. The UK government has finally vowed not to allow chlorinated chicken or hormone-fed beef on British supermarket shelves, defying demands from the US that animal welfare standards be lowered as part of a future trade deal. And the international trade secretary, Liz Truss, and the environment minister, George Eustice, have also revealed the recently established trade and agriculture commission will be put on a statutory footing with a new amendment to the agriculture bill. The statutory body will give independent advice on trade deals as they go through parliament.

And finally, a few pieces of wildlife news.

A huge spider assumed extinct in Britain has been discovered on a Ministry of Defence training ground in Surrey, having not been seen in the country for 27 years. The great fox-spider is a night-time hunter, known for its speed and agility, as well as its eight black eyes which give it wraparound vision. Mike Waite of Surrey Wildlife Trust said: “It’s a gorgeous spider, if you’re into that kind of thing”! As a child I was encouraged, by my father, to admire insects and pick spiders up without fear. But unfortunately as an older adult, I’ve developed an irrational fear of large spiders, alongside so many other people it seems (after getting a surprise nip from one that obviously felt trapped when I picked it up…). I certainly don’t want to do them any harm, admiring them from afar now…

I’ve signed a petition to save lapwings at Beddington Farmlands (look it up on change.org). The Beddington incinerator in South London has been built on a 400 acre nature reserve, a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation and supposedly protected as Metropolitan Open Land. It is now a site of local species extinction. The Beddington Farmlands Bird Group has worked on a comprehensive list of proposed solutions – these need to be implemented with urgency by Sutton Council, Viridor and Thames Water.

I’m thinking about hedgehogs again (Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night today) – if you’ve made a bonfire, check a hedgehog hasn’t crawled in to make it home. And piles of leaves left to rot in gardens could provide insulation for a hibernation nest for hedgehogs, and as the leaves rot they also provide a home for insects/hedgehog food.

North Atlantic right whales are seriously endangered, National Geographic has announced – only 409 remain….They inhabit the busy waters off the Atlantic coast, where they must navigate crowded shipping channels and water columns clogged with fishing gear. There is better news about blue whales – scientists say they have seen a remarkable collection of blue whales in the coastal water around the UK sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia. 55 blue whales in one year doesn’t sound that many to me, but apparently there was ‘basically nothing’ in the last 40 or 50 years – so, thankful for small mercies…?

‘Save the Whale’ was a slogan accompanied the environmental movement when I was a student – we were perceived in those days as impossibly idealistic and unrealistic. Surely, it’s time to change, before it’s too late, and see that all of us need to protect wildlife & Nature.

A lighthearted way of making the point could be ‘Save the Whale because one day it might save you’- this refers to the incredible story this week of a Dutch metro train crashing through a barrier and then being suspended in mid-air thanks to a whale sculpture. No-one was hurt. I would have used a ‘wow’ picture to hopefully make you smile, but the photos are copyrighted….

Holding on #6

October 29th, 2020

Everything’s connected!

This post is going to have personal overtones – I’ve just been spending time with my elderly parents.

My mother is admirably committed to the principle of people cutting down on driving – but care-givers of course must be exceptions (as well as being given help to ‘switch up’ to electric vehicles) …

We were clearing out a few things, ‘dead’ batteries included. It might be tempting to put them in the bin, but please don’t! I’ve read an article this week (Damian Carrington in the Guardian) – “zombie batteries” are causing hundreds of fires a year at waste and recycling sites. During collection and processing, according to the Environmental Services Association (Esa), they are likely to be crushed or punctured, causing particularly lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries to ignite or explode, setting fire to other materials. In some cases, this leads to incidents requiring dozens of firefighters and the evacuation of residents, potentially putting lives at risk.

So, take your dead batteries to separate collection points at supermarkets and recycling centres – they contain ‘lots of valuable materials that can be recycled and used to make new things’, a quote from Esa’s new Take Charge campaign. Check it out.

Thinking of fires, on a much larger scale, the enormous devastating wildfires in America are still raging – the latest development is the Silverado Fire that is forcing thousands out of Orange County, California.

We must not forget these horrible reminders of the climate crisis.

Also on an international level (starting in the UK) BP is leading energy companies preparing two major carbon capture projects. I think this is good news – carbon capture and storage is considered vital to the UK’s legally binding target to create a carbon neutral economy by 2050 (I can’t believe that date is still there – too far in the future…). According to the International Energy Agency, it would also be virtually impossible for the world to meet its climate targets without it.

I’m trying to ignore (for my own sanity) the bad news – the oil industry seems to be ‘getting back on its feet’, (this is outrageous and shocking), illustrated this morning by Shell restoring profits for its investors. It makes me feel a bit ill knowing that rich oil-lovers care so little about the future – I’ve appealed to my ‘friend’ Bernard Looney to continue educating them….?! Oil is not the future.

More international bad news (sorry, but it needs acknowledging) – an expedition of scientists has reported that a new source of greenhouse gas (‘sleeping giant’ Arctic methane deposits) off the East Siberian coast has been triggered. 

Returning to my family visit, we bought a sandwich on the way home – ‘not tuna’ and sweetcorn. This seemed a good idea for us – vegetarian/vegan ‘option’. Looking closely, however, it contained both soya and palm oil, neither labelled as ‘sustainably sourced’. 

It is so important, I believe, to try to influence ‘the markets’ , by not buying – as I’m sure you know, soya and palm oil are contained in so many food products, and often contribute to deforestation which is fuelling the climate crisis.

Read the labels when shopping!

Now, two pieces of good news to end with – hedgehogs (particularly apt ahead of Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night…watch out for them) are getting more recognition by developers and gardeners, who are including ‘hedgehog highways’ (13cm holes that allow the endangered creatures to move freely between gardens to find food and a mate). Read the positive story about Kirtlington, Oxfordshire, a village brought together by a love of hedgehogs!

And an international parliamentary alliance for the recognition of Ecocide has been formed – time to criminalise those who threaten the planet and the rights of those who are trying to protect it. Indigenous people in the Amazon particularly, including the Waorani, are fighting for survival – land disappearing, in fires intentionally set by multinational corporations for agribusiness profits.

I’m being brief this week – a bit tired after my weekend: at least I think I have contributed to a better future for my parents, even if still struggling for the next generations?!

Holding on #5

October 21st, 2020

I’ll open today with a bit of positive thinking!

Guardian environment correspondent Fiona Harvey tells Rachel Humphreys (watch the video!) how civil society can force governments and business to change – giving us campaigners optimism for the future!

She said: “Faced with multiplying and interlinked environmental crises in the 2020s – the climate emergency, the sixth extinction stalking the natural world, the plastic scourge in our oceans – it is easy to feel overwhelmed. But it’s also easy to forget that environmentalism is arguably the most successful citizens’ mass movement there has been.”

Campaigner Janet Alty started a local campaign to ban lead in petrol, which became part of a much bigger movement, CLEAR, the Campaign for Lead-Free Air. The campaign took years (and we don’t have years with the climate crisis, sadly – start now, everyone, buying less petrol please!), but eventually leaded fuel was finally removed from the last petrol pumps in 1999.

Campaigns against acid rain and ozone-depleting chemicals (CFCs) were also successful relatively recently. Public pressure on the worst-offending countries- chiefly the US and the UK, which were responsible for acid rain falling largely on neighbouring countries and regions, such as Canada and Scandinavia – was key to protecting forests and lakes.

And the hole in the ozone layer, once a threat to most living things, in now on the path to recovery – a result of the world moving quickly, with governments getting together under the aegis of the UN, agreeing in 1987 to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals globally.

Of course we still need to campaign – urgently and forcefully…..We just mustn’t feel that there is no point….

Some practical information might help some people – Scarborough (near where we used to live) Borough Council, with Yorkshire County Council and Ryedale District, is offering residents a free renewable heating scheme; and the Forest of Dean District Council (where we live now) offers Green Homes Grants, towards the cost of installing energy efficient and low-carbon heating improvements to homes. Other UK councils hopefully have various schemes.

If talking to your local council, you might ask them who they invest with….Council pension funds across the UK have more than £16 billion invested in polluting fossil fuel companies. A growing number of local campaigns are proving it’s possible to persuade councils to divest. Check out Friends of the Earth’s guide.

Former archbishop Rowan Williams has called on UK universities to follow the example of Cambridge and end their multimillion-pound investments in fossil fuels. He said all universities had a duty to their students to create a ‘safer world’ and investing in fossil fuel corporations was incompatible with this.

And former Bank of England governor Mark Carney (a good man, generally!) has said banks should link executive pay to climate risk management, as part of efforts to align the finance industry with Paris climate goals. Speaking at the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative roundtable, he said lenders should – at the very least – be transparent over whether or not pay is being tied to climate targets.

NatWest Group confirmed that decisions on pay for its top executives – including chief executive Alison Rose – do take climate targets into consideration. The bank has pledged to fully phase out coal financing by 2030 and is aiming to ‘at least halve’ the climate impact of its lending activity by the end of the decade.

There are still a lot of dirty investments in banking, of course; and the only bank that is truly ethical and sustainable in this country is Triodos – its mission is ‘to help create a society that protects and promotes quality of life and human dignity for all. Since 1980, our sustainable financial products have enabled individuals and organisations to use their money in ways that benefit people and the environment.’

We still haven’t moved to them, I have to admit, but I really intend to….

And neither have I joined the Green Party – as they have written recently, ‘only a tiny number of people ever join a political party, but there are a huge number who identify as Green and want to see policy and systems changes that will positively impact on the climate and ecological crisis.’

So I have become a ‘Green Friend’, to try to help them ensure Better is Possible – their party political broadcasts on television recently spoke such sense. (A contrast with the ‘Time is Running Out’ statements – Time is Running Out, sadly, to address the climate crisis; the No-deal Brexit ship seems to have sailed….)

See what you think at actionnetwork.org

There are two videos worth watching on BBC News – teenagers living in remote Arctic communities, worried about the effects of climate change, are calling for help; and young activists from the UK, including Bird-girl from Bristol whom I ‘featured’ recently, have made an urgent plea for global leaders to prevent climate action being sidelined by Covid.

Finally, some news about wolverines – the Centre for Biological Diversity is going to court, as these animals on the edge of extinction (through fur-trappers and predator-killing programmes) have been denied federal Endangered Species Act protection.

This is personally poignant for me – my musician son (Gecko) alludes to this creature in his song ‘Volcano’. He also wrote very movingly about ‘The End of the World’, prescient about the demise of animals such as koalas and polar bears. I’ll end on a happy note – he has a new album out on Friday (October 23rd)! It’s called Climbing Frame and is, of course, brilliant!

Please continue to sign petitions that I post on Facebook, and at my Twitter account – #grandmaglobal