Emerging #6

August 4th, 2020

Hello! Today I’m going to attempt to cover some ‘stories’ in a local, national and international order.

So, starting with a petition that concerns our local river, the Wye. Hopefully, some people reading this will have enjoyed holidays on and near it – a beautiful stretch of water flowing from the Welsh mountains through Powys, Monmouthshire, Herefordshire and eventually meeting the Severn Estuary into the Bristol Channel, inspiring poets, naturalists and holiday-makers ‘messing about in boats’…. 

Nowhere is free from human pollution. 116 intensive poultry units in Powys each raise more than 40,000 birds. There are now an estimated 64 times more chickens than people in that Welsh county… There is a legal responsibility to protect the river from the damage caused by effluent from the ‘farms’ to the river and water courses.

Kate Bull has started a petition to Powys County Council, calling for an immediate moratorium on planning permissions for new or extended poultry units in the county. Please sign it – at change.org

For a good clear ‘chat’ (surprisingly hopeful), visit Paloma Faith’s Instagram feed/page (?…) – last month she asked Rosie Rogers from Greenpeace UK about the climate emergency. Many people still seem to be unaware of how little time we have to ‘sort it’ – Paloma Faith’s fans/followers probably are a representative group of one type of young people….?

The Met Office (meteorological, not Metropolitan police…!) has produced its annual climate report.

It states that the climate crisis is exerting an increasing impact on the UK – demonstrated by more extreme heat, less frost and snow, and trees coming into leaf earlier.

Maybe the regular weather forecasts on tv and radio will start mentioning this…? The report says: “Weather conditions are the result of the warming trend driven by global heating as well as natural variability.” Prof Dave Reay, at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Seeing temperature records go down like sweaty skittles is a stark reminder that climate change is still tightening its grip on all our futures. No corner of the UK is immune to the impacts of climate change.” Quite an image! Memorable, at least….

The National Trust has announced a re-organisation plan this week – over the next two months it will be making 1,200 staff redundant (including my son-in-law probably): a blow for those people of course, but the NT is determined to remain committed to the ‘battle against climate change, becoming carbon net zero by 2030, planting millions of trees and creating green corridors for people and nature’.

Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy has produced its first report. The aim of the NFS is to ensure a food system that is healthy, affordable, sustainable, resilient and productive. 

This first part calls for ‘a gold standard level of scrutiny’ to ensure new trade deals do not undermine the environment.

Verification schemes should address concerns such as imports of beef reared on land recently cleared of rainforest. (I hope Burger King and McDonalds are listening too…. ) And the government should press on with plans to pay English farmers to improve the countryside, such as by capturing carbon or increasing biodiversity.

“Be bolder. Go faster,” the report said. This part ties in with Brexit deals, of course, and now it also has relevance with the heightened obesity awareness around coronavirus. 

How fast action will be taken remains to be seen… We have to wait for the second part of the report, due to be published next year, too – this promises to ‘examine issues in more depth such as climate change, biodiversity, pollution and zoonotic disease.’ All such important stuff – it is very heartening to know it’s being addressed. We need to keep the pressure up on the government to follow the report’s advice.

Hedgehogs have been added to the British mammals section of the Red List of species at risk of extinction (run by the International Union for Conservation of Nature).

Last week saw International Tiger Day (wild Sumatran tigers are threatened with extinction, but Indochinese tigers, in a conservation programme in Thailand, seem to be thriving); and whales are celebrating the reduced presence of humanity in oceans – there is a beautiful Youtube video of ‘happy humpback whales frolicking in quiet shipping lanes’.

The UK government has agreed to use £900m of taxpayers’ money for a gas pipeline in Mozambique. Now Boris Johnson is reported to be furious about the potential damage to the UK’s reputation on climate and has ordered a review of the use of government finances to oil and gas projects abroad. Mm, I hope he actually cares about the climate now, not just ‘our reputation’…but that would be a start! There is a powerful video about this subject made by Friends of the Earth – worth watching…

Now, two stories about Nestle, the ‘world’s largest food and beverage company’ – it owns so many brands (you have to read the small print to check when shopping…).

It has just sold its bottled water operations in Canada (and possibly might drop its water brands in the US and China as well), ‘because it’s not worth doing business there’.

This seems good news – are people buying fewer plastic bottles? I wonder about the attitude of the Canadian company that has bought from Nestle – Ice River Springs. I’ve written to their CEO.

I’ve also written to Nestle’s CEO – Mark Schneider needs to turn his attention now to the scourge that is deforestation. Nestle, Unilever, Procter & Gamble are still sourcing palm oil from producers that destroy rainforests.

I’ll just add a bit of good international news here (well, a small step anyway..) –

A federal court in the USA has ruled that the Trump administration broke the law when it undid the Methane Waste Prevention Rule. Lissa Lynch, an attorney for NRDC, said: “The Waste Prevention Rule is a common sense protection that holds the oil and gas industry accountable for uncontrolled leaking of methane – pollution that harms public health and fuels climate change.”

The French government has this week laid out a batch of new measures to reduce the country’s carbon emissions.

These are the result of months of discussions with a Citizen’s Convention on Climate. One of the new measures is a nationwide ban, from 2021, on heating terraces for France’s bars and restaurants. This is controversial as the restaurant sector has been hit especially hard by coronavirus. But I hope people will see the ‘bigger picture’ – as France’s new Environment Minister Barbara Pompili said: “We are at risk and, if we don’t do anything, we’ll have an ecological crisis after this health crisis”.

Another measure is ‘Housing decency’ – from January 2023, any tenant in a house consuming more than 500 kilowatt of energy per square meter per year can ask the landlord to renovate the building. From January 2022, anyone building a new home will have to choose sustainable means of heating – coal and oil boilers will be banned.

Heating of buildings currently represents 20% of France’s greenhouse gases.

Well, I’m waiting to hear the outcomes of those discussions with a citizens group in this country that I mentioned a while ago; and when/if our government will act on the recommendations.

Emerging #5

July 28th, 2020

Hello! I’ll add a few more personal thoughts this week…

I’ve made a first visit to my hairdresser and friend (a post-lockdown treat and relief for many of us, I’m sure). We discussed the state of the world of course. Focus, naturally, was on the immediate needs of working people. (I never forget how lucky I am, retired and from the catering sector which is struggling in particular now…) I left the salon saying ‘it’s out of our hands’ now, meaning the government and other ‘powers that be’ have to be pressured into treating the climate crisis as urgently as the pandemic crisis – coronavirus is a warning…..

It’s odd how I still act apologetic when talking about ‘green’ political issues – I actually believe I have nothing to feel awkward/apologetic about at all, but my politeness/kindness ‘lets people off’.

And, I suppose, it’s ultimately about individuals must NOT be scapegoats – governments and corporations should be protecting us.

 But I do believe we individuals still have responsibilities – car-free days, giving up meat and planes, avoiding single-use plastics and switching to green energy providers and green investments – if only to show we are serious and that returning to ‘business as usual’ is no longer acceptable.

Our main hope, however, is lobbying, petitioning and demonstrating – laws have to change.

OK, so now to the hard facts…

Hurricane Hanna has been wreaking havoc in Texas, USA. No mention of climate change in the weather reports; and the windy weather here (still no reference on everyday BBC) may not actually be the tail-end of it.

But these should all be reminders that something catastrophic is going on.

Siberia has been hot, even on fire, and now a heat wave has spread across most of the highest reaches of the globe – Eureka, Canada, one of the northernmost settlements on Earth, located on Ellesmere Island, and Longyearbyen, on the northern Norwegian island of Svalbard, have recorded more than 21 degrees Celsius. Eureka is considered the coldest place in Canada, with average July high temperatures of 9.3 degrees Celsius. Longyearben, where everything on the island from seeds to code archives are normally entombed in vaults tucked into the frozen soil, has never experienced anywhere near these high temperatures.

And polar bears will be wiped out by the end of the century unless more is done to tackle climate change, a study predicts. Scientists say some populations have already reached their survival limits as the Arctic sea ice shrinks. As the ice breaks up, the animals are forced to roam for long distances or on to shore, where they struggle to find food and feed their cubs.

Dr Steven Amstrup, chief scientist of Polar Bears International, who was involved in the study, said: “The trajectory we’re on now is not a good one, but if society gets its act together, we have time to save polar bears. And if we do, we will benefit the rest of life on Earth, including ourselves.”

I’ve only just caught up with Boris Johnson’s comment about “the newt-counting delays in our system”… so protecting the environment is not about protecting us, according to our prime minister… he can’t be that short-sighted or stupid, surely? He’s depressingly being a politician, trying to appeal to short-sighted people who get frustrated with bat & newt planning laws while at the same time appeasing developers (many being greedy of course, but I’ll be kind and call them short-sighted…).

At least Tony Juniper of Natural England is trying his best, to convince the government that environmental health is inextricably linked with the country’s wealth (obvious, surely…?…!).

Contributing to the debate about the horrible-sounding Project Speed (‘scything through red tape’, along with people’s housing standards as well as sustainability needs, it seems…), he said: “If we are going to look to change the way we do development, hopefully this is the moment when we choose to do things differently.”

Now, a glimmer of hope that the government might be held to account. MPs plan to scrutinise the government’s green economic plans and industrial strategy to test whether they are still fit for purpose in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Two separate enquiries into its plans, by the Treasury and Business department parliamentary select committees, will question whether its existing policies will help or hinder sustainable post-pandemic economic growth.

Darren Jones, chair of the business, energy and industrial strategy select committee said: “We are keen to hear the views of businesses about their thoughts on the barriers to growth … providing the right environment to deliver sustainable investment, a skilled workforce and high-quality jobs.”

I’ve written to local developers, and our solar ‘provider’, suggesting they contribute to the enquiry.

You could too… ? Maybe we could get to a point where ‘eco-campaigners’ aren’t the enemy of developers – developers might just want help with developing sustainably….?! We can hope; and try to think positively at least…

Did you know that crisp packets can be recycled/upcycled? I’ve mentioned Terracycle before. Charities, internationally, raise funds through this ‘eliminating waste’ social enterprise.

I’ve just taken a lot of crisp packets (collected during lockdown) to a collection point near here. Some places, like schools and our local arboretum, are not collecting because of possible virus contamination; but there might be a collection point near you (check the Terracycle website).

Of course this is a tiny ‘drop in the ocean’ of plastic pollution (intentionally ironic/dark pun…); but I desperately want to believe that nobody is too small to make a difference. I’m small!

Now, good news and bad news (connected to cycling and oceans…), the bad more fundamental than the good, I’m afraid….

The first active leak of methane from the sea floor in Antarctica has been revealed by scientists. Microbes that normally consume the potent greenhouse gas before it reaches the atmosphere had only arrived in small numbers after five years. Andrew Thurber, from Oregon State University, who led the research said: “The methane cycle is absolutely something that we as a society need to be concerned about. I find it incredibly concerning.”

Yesterday’s headline in The Guardian may give us a little comfort, although I must admit that the cynic in me is asking ‘what about the bigger picture’? (that road-building scheme… I’ve written to Highways England)

Residents will get powers to banish through-traffic from local streets in a new cycling and walking initiative – Active Travel England will be a watchdog to ensure new cycle and walking routes are up to standard. Matt Mallinder, from Cycling UK, said: “The funding already announced will not be enough. However, with a forthcoming spending review, now’s the time for the chancellor to invest in the future and make the prime minister’s vision of a golden age of cycling come true.”

Mm, I think we might be waiting a while for Mr Johnson to ‘put his money where his mouth is’…

In the meantime, cycle safely…

Emerging #4

July 23rd, 2020

Amazon forest fires are raging over even more vast areas this year than last….

Greta Thunberg has been awarded a Gulbenkian prize for humanity, for the way she “has been able to mobilise younger generations for the cause of climate change and her tenacious struggle to alter a status quo that persists”.

She’s donating all of the prize money to climate & ecological crisis groups.

€100,000 will go to SOS Amazonia, led by Fridays for Future Brazil, to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in the Amazon. The indigenous and riverside communities in the Amazon are the biggest defenders of the forest, fundamental players in the fight against climate change. The health system in Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas in Brazil and the main health centre for most of the Amazon Rainforest’s traditional peoples, has collapsed. The city’s press officers have announced over 100 deaths per day due to Covid-19. SOS Amazonia is helping both the rural and urban populations to contain the spread of the virus and protect the heart of the Amazon from destruction.

Another €100,000 of Greta’s prize money will go to the Stop Ecocide Foundation, to support their work to make ‘ecocide’ an international crime. This group, making it illegal to damage and destroy Nature (why isn’t that already a crime?..), the key to the success of all our other campaigning, grew out of Ecological Defence Integrity, based in Stroud, Gloucestershire (near where I live!). The visionary UK lawyer, the late Polly Higgins, founded it with the environmental activist Jojo Mehta. It’s now in the Netherlands and has charitable status. Watch Jojo Mehta’s powerful video, ‘Imagine’! Claire Dubois, of Tree Sisters which I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, is on the advisory board.

Greta Thunberg is one of the signatories of a letter being delivered to the EU tomorrow – it says the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that most leaders are able to act swiftly and decisively, but the same urgency has been missing in politicians’ response to the climate crisis.

“It is now clearer than ever that the climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, neither from the politicians, media, business nor finance. And the longer we keep pretending that we are on a reliable path to lower emissions and that the actions required to avoid a climate disaster are available within today’s system… the more precious time we will lose.”

(I’ve just heard on today’s radio news that Brexit is likely to be delayed until at least September, so we still haven’t left the EU… ?!)

But we need to get on with pressuring our UK government separately – Extinction Rebellion is planning actions in London, Manchester and Cardiff from September 1st. They/we’ll probably be accused of being irresponsible, but social distancing, mask-wearing and all the precautions will be observed – and we all need to remember that this pandemic is a wake-up call, a warning from Nature….

The UK’s carbon emissions have begun to rebound following the easing of lockdown, causing the ‘carbon savings’ triggered by the coronavirus to halve within weeks. Chloe Depigny, at Sia Partners who made the analysis, said the data underlines the fragility of the UK’s short-term carbon savings during the pandemic, and the need for ambitious fundamental changes to the economy if the government hopes to meet its long-term carbon targets. Where have I heard that before?

Another piece of depressing news – ‘the masks you throw away could end up killing a whale’.

More and more protective equipment is ending up in the sea….I’m sure all of you are wearing re-usable masks. Oxfam has teamed up with the PeoplesMask initiative to provide work for some of the thousands of artisans in Asia who have lost their jobs because of the lockdowns in their countries. I think the masks have sold out here, though…

I just want to acknowledge an amazing tiny group of determined activists in Malaysia – when illegal factories sprang up around Jenjarom, choking the town with toxic fumes and tonnes of plastic waste from Western countries, they fought back. Sadly, I think they’re still fighting (there’s a video, by Tessa Wong, on the BBC News online). They say they’re saving the town ‘from your Western rubbish’ – we should be ashamed.

Pink snow has been observed on parts of the Presena glacier, in the Italian Alps – it might look pretty, but it’s believed to be caused by algae (ancylonema nordenskioeldii) that accelerate the effects of climate change. Normally ice reflects more than 80% of the sun’s radiation back into the atmosphere, but as algae appear they darken the ice so that it absorbs the heat and melts more quickly.

Well, now a few little glimmers of hope! 

Dover clifftops are ‘buzzing with wildlife’ after a National Trust takeover. This piece of the British landscape had become depleted of flora and fauna because of years of intensive farming. Now, butterflies, birds and bees are back. And poppies – so many poppies this year, so cheerful!

Red kites are thriving in England 30 years after their reintroduction. Jeff Knott of the RSPB said: “It might be the biggest species success story in UK conservation history.”

Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, said he had ‘enormous high hopes’ that white-tailed eagles (placed on the Isle of Wight) would follow the success of the red kites. I’ve already referred here to Isabella Tree’s project with white storks, and the beavers project in Cornwall featured on Springwatch. But I’ve only just realised that these are not permanent features….

The government has yet to authorise their return. That doesn’t really fill us with confidence, I imagine…! ‘Coronavirus delays’ seem to be being used again as an excuse.

Another project to preserve wildlife that I’ve noticed this week, is along the Kenya-Somalia border, Africa – hirola, or Hunter’s antelope, are now listed as at critical risk of extinction. Abdullahi Hussein Ali talks about his conservation programme on BBC News online.

Now back to the ‘nuts and bolts’ of sustainable human living. The Green Homes Grant will be launched in England in September. But the chair of Parliament’s business select committee, Darren Jones MP, has expressed concern about how people will be protected from poor quality work.

Mr Jones warned that under previous government programmes, a number of consumers had work done on their homes by suppliers who failed to meet required standards, with many unable to get the redress they deserve. More than 13 million homes in the UK have had cavity wall insulation but industry insiders have told the BBC that insulation will have failed in at least 800,000 homes….So it’s difficult to have faith in the government’s commitment to retrofitting homes…

New developments should be legally obliged to incorporate sustainability, of course.

If you’re interested and able to convert to sustainable heating, I’d like to recommend the company who installed our solar system (our own little planet…?!) – http://www.thesolarpeople.co.uk

I’m not going down the ‘road’ of getting sponsors (?!) – no money is changing hands! I simply want to support businesses that are also ‘doing the right thing’ for our world.

We’re generating plenty of electricity in this sunshine…. 

PS Please read my tweets as well – #grandmaglobal

Emerging #3

July 15th, 2020

Did you read the BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin’s article on Friday? The vast majority of emissions saved by electric cars will be wiped out by the government’s £27bn road-building scheme.

SO depressing…

Transport for Quality of Life, using data collected by Highways England, says the 80% of the CO2 savings from clean cars will be negated by the planned roads programme. It adds that if ministers want a ‘green recovery’ the cash would be better spent on public transport, walking, cycling, and remote-working hubs.

The paper estimates that a third of the predicted increase in emissions would come from construction – including energy for making steel, concrete and asphalt. A third would be created by increased vehicle speeds on faster roads. And the further third would be caused by extra traffic generated by new roads stimulating more car-dependent housing, retail parks and business parks.

Its authors say history shows that building roads almost always generates more traffic.

So, we have to oppose our government’s plans – yet again….. I’ve written to my MP, of course (yet again!), copying in the Committee on Climate Change.

Now, another reference to government plans – that vast Brexit customs clearance centre to be built in Kent…. A blight; and such a contrast to other uplifting stories from Kent:

Wild bison are to return to the UK for the first time in 6,000 years, with the release of a small herd in Kent planned for spring 2022.

The project to reintroduce the animals will help secure the future of an endangered species; but they will also naturally regenerate a former pine wood plantation by killing off trees, which creates a healthy mix of woodland, scrub and glades, boosting insect, bird and plant life.

The bison will come from the Netherlands or Poland, where releases have been successful and safe.

Paul Hadaway, from Kent Wildlife Trust, said: “The Wilder Blean project will prove that a wilder, nature-based solution is the right one to tackle the climate and nature crisis we now face. Using missing keystone species like bison to restore natural processes to habitats is the key to creating bio-abundance in our landscape.”

And the animals do all the work for us, bless them! Like the beavers helping to prevent future flooding in Cornwall – both projects have been featured on television’s Countryfile…

Populations of the UK’s most important wildlife have plummeted by an average of 60% since 1970. Britain is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, despite the best efforts of conservationists. Good luck to Chris Packham – he’s still trying to oppose HS2 in the courts…

Another Kent project that has been successful (against all the odds, we’re so fortunate to have determined conservationists fighting on….) is the boost to the endangered population of the Heath Fritillary butterfly.

Insects are the foundation of all life on Earth.

Friends of the Earth are offering ‘Bee Saver Kits’. Just ask them for one!

The conservation charity Buglife hopes to help restore and create at least 150,000 hectares of wildflower pathways – it launched its B-lines network for England on Monday this week.

B-lines are a strategically mapped network of existing and potential wildflower habitats that criss-cross the country. It is hoped the new corridors will help species such as the long-horned bee to thrive. It has been predicted that 40-70% of insect species could become extinct if confined to tiny fragments of land. The long-horned bee was once common across the south of England, but arable farming and over-grazing by sheep and cattle has robbed it of food.

Mm, another reason to re-think farming. Wildlife Trusts demonstrate wildlife-friendly farming methods, the RSPB works with farmers, I’ve just come across an organisation called ‘Farming and Conservation’ and listeners to The Archers will be aware of their projects. It would be helpful too, though, I’m sure, if more of us stopped eating meat….?!

A ‘near-term’ way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere may, apparently, be to spread rock dust on farmland. The chemical reactions that degrade the rock particles lock the greenhouse gas into carbonates within months. The researchers, in the journal Nature, are clear that cutting the fossil fuel burning that releases CO2 is the most important action needed to tackle the climate emergency. But climate scientists also agree that, in addition, massive amounts of CO2 need to be removed from the air.

The ‘enhanced rock weathering’ (ERW) approach has several advantages. First, many farmers already add limestone dust to soils to reduce acidification, and adding other rock dust improves fertility  and crop yields, meaning application could be routine and desirable. Also, basalt is the best rock for capturing CO2, and many mines already produce dust as a byproduct, so stockpiles already exist. And the world’s biggest polluters, China, the US and India, have the greatest potential for ERW, as they have large areas of cropland and relatively warm weather, which speeds up the chemical reactions.

I’m going to close with some international news. First, I saw frightening images of floods in China – one report mentioned climate change…

The NRDC (Natural Resources Defence Council) in America has announced that important victories have been won, to block, slow or stop three oil and gas pipelines zealously backed by the Trump administration – the Keystone XL, the Dakota Access, and the Atlantic Coast pipelines.

This is good news for our climate, our environment, and for the millions of people who live along these pipeline routes and face significant dangers from spills and toxic pollution.

But, as the NRDC says, ‘Our communities and our climate aren’t even close to being out of the woods yet… Trump and the oil and gas industry have vowed to press on and do whatever it takes to get the pipelines built/back up and running…’

So, please, any readers of this in the United States and any of you have friends and family there, please consider getting involved, by signing the NRDC’s Clean Energy Now petition and by voting and making sure others vote to defeat President Trump in November.

Emerging #2

July 7th, 2020

Good afternoon!

I’ve just spent a ridiculously long morning finding contact details for various financial institutions (who’d have thought…?!), writing to people only to discover the emails returned by the Mail Delivery System, so re-sending to different addresses…

Anyway, I seem at last to have successfully written to the International Finance Corporation, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the CDC Group plc. 

Our government is a major funder of both the first two; and the third (formerly the Commonwealth Development Corporation, challenging in itself…) is the UK government’s own development bank, which finances projects such as a huge beef feedlot in Ethiopia and poultry companies in Niger and Uganda.

Basically, despite the clear link between industrial/factory farms and global heating world banks are financing them.

These institutions are finally realising ‘it pays not to pollute’ (quoting Philippe Le Houerou at the IFC) and are starting to divest from fossil fuel projects.

Now they need to do the same in the realms of agriculture, distancing themselves from industrial farms and meat companies.

Hopefully, things can really change.

The global gas market is collapsing, along with the oil one….

Multibillion-dollar liquified natural gas (LNG) projects are in danger of being abandoned.

Ted Nace, of Global Energy Monitor, said: “Modelling shows that renewable packages (don’t you just love finance-speak?! – my ‘aside’…) are already outcompeting imported gas in South Korea. And every year that goes by, renewables get more competitive.” Excellent!

A decade ago LNG was considered by many to be a ‘green’ investment (I vaguely remember that claim…), because burning gas for power emits roughly half the emissions as burning coal. However, many countries have since adopted renewable energy at a quicker than expected rate. So now the European Investment Bank’s vice-president has concluded that investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure including LNG is “increasingly an economically unsound decision”.

Here’s a bit of info that is interesting (well, I think so!) – the UK (Scotland and Ireland more than England, it seems..) is doing OK on the renewable energy front, with wind power (the go-ahead has just been given to a giant wind farm project off the Norfolk coast, good news!); 

but Iceland generates the most clean electricity per person on earth – it derives all of its energy for home heating from geothermal and hydroelectric power plants. Maybe some of you have even visited the geothermal plant at the Blue Lagoon (by train and ferry of course?!)….

And Costa Rica and Nicaragua use their volcanoes to produce geothermal energy.

I’ll stay with the travelling theme – coming out of lockdown, so many people are craving a change of scene…

Please consider not going away by plane.

Government advice is currently not to travel by public transport, but no such guidance is being applied to aircraft.

Once upon a time, the big public health crisis was smoking. The tobacco industry was powerful and effective in its lobbying of the government – much like the aviation industry is today. Airlines have received multi-million pound bailouts in recent months with no green strings attached, even though this is a golden opportunity for a green transition: many of the highly-skilled workers currently being made redundant at companies such as Airbus could be effectively re-deployed in the renewable energy sector (so many such projects are ‘shovel-ready’, I keep reading – they simply need investment…).

I’m quoting from ‘Flight Free UK’ with that paragraph. They go on to say: “In the same way as we once did not understand the health impacts of smoking, many of us are still unaware of the harmful impact of aviation.”

One day I hope, along with them, climate warnings will be added to boarding passes, with carbon information given at the time of booking. Or just turn your backs on aeroplanes altogether (unless you have family to see on the other side of the world, or a funeral to go to….)?

‘Possible’ has posted an amazing video interview/speech on its latest newsletter – an airline pilot, Todd Smith, talking passionately about why he’s stopped flying; and urging us to put pressure on government before it’s too late. I think you can find the clip by following ‘Possible’, ‘what’s it like being an airline pilot during the climate emergency?’ or ‘plant based pilot’…..

Now to our disappointing government again – tomorrow a full announcement is due for ‘greening the recovery’; but already it looks pitiful in its lack of ambition.

And lack of understanding about the scale of emergency we’re in… I keep hearing Boris Johnson’s voice in my head: he claimed back in February when he sacked the woman leader of COP26, so ignorantly/arrogantly (both…?), that he didn’t ‘get’ climate change….

£3bn is being promised, mainly to insulate buildings (the UK’s homes are the draughtiest in Europe). This is in contrast with the German government’s £36bn investment in measures to boost the economy while cutting emissions, with France spending £13.5bn to the same end. “Surely this  is just a downpayment?”, asked Rosie Rogers, head of green recovery at Greenpeace UK. Ed Matthew, of the E3G environmental thinktank, said £18bn was needed in the next 10 years to make all buildings energy efficient. That’s an under-estimate, considering the 2050 zero-emissions target is too late…

Anyway, hopefully some people will apply for Rishi Sunak’s ‘vouchers’, (I admire you if you do) but he seems to be relying too much on home-owners’ motivation ‘to do the right thing’; and what about tenants, the rented sector?….

More dragging of heels here – everything else hinges on a green, healthy planet: when will that be acknowledged?

Emerging #1

July 1st, 2020

So, how many of us were actually aware of Boris Johnson’s speech yesterday, promising to ‘build back greener’….? It was so hyped and when it actually happened was full of hot air, avoiding the crucial green issue, focussing more on build, build, build – in the old, destructive way….

How on earth (apt pun…) does our government think it’s/we’re going to meet zero-emissions targets?

I’ve written to Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, (even though he may not be in office for much longer…?), blind-copied in to my ‘friend’ at the Committee on Climate Change Chris Stark….

An extra blow is that the ‘New Deal’ speech came hard on the heels of a report by Green Alliance, saying that an extra £14bn a year is needed to help the UK meet its climate commitments. The cash is needed for clean transport, nature restoration, and low-carbon buildings.

On the subject of transport, I noticed charging points for electric cars in a Bristol park yesterday (on a socially distanced walk with family – that bit was lovely!) – a great initiative by Bristol City Council, but pointless if people aren’t helped to buy electric cars….

National government is letting us down…

A new poll has revealed that only 6% of the public want to return to the same type of economy as before the coronavirus pandemic. Trade unions, business groups and religious & civic leaders are uniting in calling for a fairer financial recovery, the ‘Build Back Better’ campaign. They include former head of the civil service Bob Kerslake (my daughter in law’s former boss!) and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. 

My husband cynically commented that the 6% who want to return to the ‘bad old days’ are unfortunately all in Government…

They’re all we’ve got at the moment, though – we have to keep trying to make them listen.

I really hope we’re not just knocking our heads against a brick wall…

Now I’m going to return to the subject of oil.

‘Europe could face a major shortage of oil within decade’ reads a Guardian headline recently. Mm, I remember hearing about ‘peak oil’ years ago; and in the early days of this blog (June 25th, 2019) I referred to Bob Dudley (then BP’s CEO) admitting the world is on an unsustainable path…Now,  ‘the move to increase the use of low carbon energy is even more urgent’…

The emphasis of the article, by Jillian Ambrose, is on production, supply and market prices, all business factors affected by coronavirus; but an environmental conclusion can be drawn – as Per Magnus Nysveen, head of analysis at Norwegian consultancy Rystad Energy, said the forecasts offer “yet another reason” for economies to reduce their reliance on oil. 

There is no simple solution, of course. The transition to green economies is a challenge; but at least there now seems to be a consensus that this change is necessary – among so many, including the business and finance ‘worlds’. Our government still hasn’t got the message, though, it seems….

Aberdeen, the centre of the oil and gas industry in Europe, is an example of the challenges of the transition time. Jonathan Watts has written a very interesting article (in the Guardian, of course).

‘Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, thousands of oil workers have been laid off in the Scottish city. The pandemic looks likely to accelerate the shift towards renewable energy, raising hopes for a greener future but also throwing up huge concerns about intergenerational injustice. Without government intervention, the young look set to take a double hit from the post-lockdown economic downturn and the energy transition. No age group is immune to the shift, but those closer to retirement are more likely to have a nest egg saved up from the golden era of North Sea oil.’

The article goes on to quote several oil workers, both old and young, with an impressively positive attitude – “I would advise anyone entering the industry to focus on developing experience and expertise in areas that are CO2-neutral, because that is the future”, from one who sees the only growth areas in Aberdeen as decommissioning old rigs and offshore wind energy; and “if they could help me with training as a wind turbine technician, that would give me an extra chance.”

The Scottish government has gone further, apparently, than the rest of the UK in preparing its economy and workforce for a shift to renewables (why am I not surprised…?).

Rachel McEwen, part of the Just Transition commission and also chief sustainability officer at SSE, one of Scotland’s leading companies, said: “Companies like us have pinned our whole being on finding profitable solutions to climate change. If that transition is unfair, you delegitimise it. So we have an interest in ensuring it is done in a thoughtful and just way.”

I really hope these are not just words… And Colette Cohen goes even further… she is the CEO of the Oil and Gas Technology Centre in Aberdeen – despite that off-putting title, she claims to believe in a green future. “From industry perspective and from government connections, I would say the only recovery is a green recovery. A lot of people have seen a better world and want a change. It’s very exciting. It’s an amazing time to be involved in energy and technology.”

I really want to believe her! 

I’ve written to her. 

Another piece of good news – the US shale gas giant Chesapeake Energy has collapsed.

And France has been swept by a green wave – ecology candidates won a number of major victories in the country’s local elections. Anne Hidalgo in Paris said voters had chosen to make Paris more “ecological, social and humanist”. Lyon, France’s third largest city (and home to some of my relatives – bonjour to you all!), also choosing a Europe Ecologie Les Verts (EELV) candidate.

Back home, our only Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, bravely battles on. She is supporting a new National Nature Service – it will train and employ people to restore nature as we rebuild from the Covid-19 crisis. Please, all of you, help convince the Government to take this forward by pledging your support – just visit nationalnatureservice.org and submit your support. It’s a lovely green form!

Lockdown #15

June 22nd, 2020

I’m going to quote from an article written (by Damian Carrington in The Guardian) more than 2 years ago – we still haven’t got the message!

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.

The research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

While meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses 83% of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.

From a personal point of view, cheese is difficult to give up; but more vegan cheeses are being made. And oat milk, as I’ve said before, is a completely acceptable alternative to dairy milk, I find!

I’ve written to the CEO of Dairy Crest, the biggest dairy firm in the UK.

A disturbing statistic struck me this week – the 13 biggest dairy companies in the world have the same combined greenhouse gas emissions as the UK, the sixth biggest economy in the world.

This report’s author, Shefali Sharma, European director at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said: “Unlike growing public scrutiny on fossil fuel companies, little public pressure exists to hold global meat and dairy corporations accountable for their emissions…. Few of these companies are even reporting their emissions.”

The UK’s meat industry is feeling the effects of coronavirus – a meat processing site owned by Asda in West Yorkshire became the third food plant in 48 hours to confirm an outbreak after about 150 workers fell ill with the virus. The Kober plant, which supplies bacon to Asda supermarkets and employs more than 500 people closed; the UK’s main supplier of supermarket chicken, 2 Sisters Food Group has closed its Anglesey plant after 58 people tested positive for coronavirus; and Rowan Foods, which makes food for supermarkets across the UK, had 38 staff test positive.

Conditions for the low-paid workers in these places is another good reason to think twice before buying meat….

Happily, as the latest Extinction Rebellion newsletter points out, ‘amid all the sadness and tumult, there are some bright things happening.’ Whoopi Goldberg voices a lovely little animation, The Gigantic Change, encouraging people to believe that we can change things – have a look, and check out the website. And The Condor & The Eagle is a new documentary bringing Indigenous voices to the forefront – it’s out on Friday (June 26th).

Another broadcast is by Greta Thunberg, entitled ‘Humanity has not yet failed’ – thank goodness!

It tells the tale of her journey ‘to the front lines of the climate crisis’. After her speech at the United National General Assembly in the USA last year, Greta and her father travel through 37 states. Apart from a few wind power plants and solar panels, there are no signs whatsoever of any sustainable transition, despite this being the richest country in the world.

She was discouraged from visiting the state of Alberta in Canada, but went there anyway. Alberta is one of the western world’s largest oil producers and has a very powerful and aggressive oil lobby. Greta Thunberg, a 17 year old girl, had to call for police protection on several occasions, ‘when the level of threats and the sheer harassments become too serious’. How many people realise what damage is being done in Canada?….

I’m going to turn to Australia now – the country’s fire-ravaged forests are recovering, with local residents feeling hugely relieved and cautiously optimistic. In the middle part of a charred tree, lime green leaves sprouting from blackened bark prompt Claire Polach, from the South Coast, to say that Australia’s nature “is doing its thing” and “we’ll follow the nature”.

But scientists are still warning that a warming climate could mean more severe fires, more often, bringing concerns that even the ‘fire continent’ will struggle to recover fully.

Will Scott Morrison listen to the scientists now?

As Greta Thunberg says: “Doing our best is no longer good enough. We must now do the seemingly impossible. And that is up to you and me. Because no one else will do it for us.”

Keep up the activism!

Lockdown #14

June 15th, 2020

Gateshead, England is showing us the way!

It has a scheme to use hot water from old mine workings – making something good with the remnants of an era that is gone.

The Gateshead Energy Company plans to install 5.5km of new heating pipes to the east of the town centre, potentially supplying heat to 1,250 new houses, as well as a care home, Gateshead International Stadium and other council-owned buildings in Felling.

Let’s hope that the plans come to fruition; and that more councils like Gateshead Council are successful in applying for the Heat Networks Investment Project grants, a Government initiative…

The funding will help install a water source heat pump, which will extract heat from the water in underground mine workings 150 metres beneath Gateshead town centre. The council is working with the Coal Authority, which manages all the disused mine workings under Gateshead.

Cllr John McElroy said: “The council has always seen the development of low-carbon energy as key to meeting our climate change goals, but also in generating lower-cost energy for residents and organisations in Gateshead.”

I heard about all this from an item on BBC radio news (coincidentally my sister works in Gateshead and may well know about the scheme). I really don’t understand why some news items ‘make it’ to the regular broadcasts – why are we not regularly reminded about the climate crisis, to wake us up about our responsibilities but also to hearten us with stories of positive change?

I’m waiting to hear from Laura Kuenssberg!

I’ll continue with a couple more positive stories (& then tackle the inevitable gloomy stuff…).

The UK government is considering steps to end its ongoing financial support for fossil fuels overseas. This follows a period of using £3.5bn of public funds to support polluting projects since signing the Paris climate agreement (SO cynical, immoral & disgraceful – how did we let them get away with it….?).

Senior civil servants are understood to be planning a new climate strategy that would phase out financial support  for oil and gas infrastructure in developing countries ahead of the UN’s Cop26 talks next year. 

Daniel Willis, with Global Justice, said: “For the government to show real climate leadership ahead of Cop26 and support a global green recovery from Covid-19, it needs to end these highly damaging investments.”

Earlier this year, Keir Starmer, before he was elected Labour Party leader, said: “Rather than funding fossil fuel projects abroad, we should use our development budget and technical expertise to help other countries skip our bad habits and grow their own low-carbon economies on renewables instead.”

Despite so much bad news coming out of America, this is good: New Jersey has become the first state to add climate change to its schools’ curriculum. New Jersey students will start learning about climate change in kindergarten and keep studying the crisis through graduation under the state’s new education standards.

This is good news, the crisis being acknowledged and made part of the education system; but I hope, of course, that children and young people are also given positive information about how to tackle the crisis, encouraged to be an active part of ‘greening the world’….

Closer to home, for me, and on a personal level too (Rebecca’s mother is my godmother!), I enjoyed reading writer Rebecca Frayn’s recommendations of what to watch, and encourage us, during lockdown – “hope-filled environmental documentaries that remind us that one silver lining in this global pandemic is the possibility of rebuilding green.”

She drew my attention to ‘Tomorrow’, by French film-makers Melanie Laurent and Cyril Dion – “it offers such a wonderfully positive, intelligent, hopeful and solution-based approach to living….an achievable utopian world”.

Interestingly, my penultimate reference was to be to Jane Goodall, whose documentary on National Geographic is titled ‘The Hope’. The quote I read from her, in the Guardian’s Green Light section, was anything but hopeful – “Humanity is finished if it fails to adapt after Covid-19”. 

She blames the emergence of Covid-19 on the over-exploitation of the natural world, which has seen forests cut down, species made extinct and natural habitats destroyed.

We need to drastically change our food systems, she warns. I know she’s talking about the world’s systems, horrendous intensive farming in particular, but we can all help by reducing the market for meat, can’t we?….

I’m going to end today with a tweet from Greta Thunberg – “If countries like Sweden are to fulfil their commitments in the Paris Agreement their national CO2 emissions must be reduced 12-15% every year, starting now. This is according to the first study based on the Paris Agreement and the latest IPCC research.”

Keep writing to your MPs! Drastic changes need to start now. We are a country like Sweden!

Lockdown #13

June 8th, 2020

Of course this week my thoughts are dominated by the movement for justice for Black people around the world. Could this, at long last, be a moment for real change? In everything – our relationship with the natural world; and our relationship with each other….It is all connected. There is no just recovery for people and the climate, without addressing the systemic harm and violence towards Black communities, as 350.org put it. So many indigenous peoples around the world are being victimised, even killed, by greedy polluting corporations; and I keep forgetting to mention the terrible storms that have been affecting India and Bangladesh recently. People are coping with dreadful circumstances; and we here are all too easily able to ignore them – why does the BBC, for instance, not at least announce such news as these storms together with a warning about climate change….? The importance of protecting the planet and protecting all humans equally is surely not a matter of opinion – it is a matter of fact and morality.

It would be great if you could contact the BBC about this – Extinction Rebellion suggests the following:

“We need an economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis that prioritises people and planet. The BBC says ‘Our Planet Matters’, but where is the discussion on the news?

Tell the BBC to cover a green economic recovery instead of a return to ‘business as usual’. Submit comments and complaints via the BBC. Share on social media with the hashtags #EmergencyOurPlanetMatters #NoGoingBack #BBC4CEE, or on our Facebook page.”

And/or write a personal letter, like I do. Sometimes they get answered!

Returning to the subject of racism, I have a personal memory – working at Lucas Vale Primary School in Deptford, London, I knew such a loving, inspirational nursery teacher there, Thelma Perkins. She wrote a children’s book, ‘Wishing on a Wooden Spoon’. It is so important that all children from an early age (my 18 month old grandson has loved books from when he was tiny) ‘read’ books where the protagonists are black, as well as actively anti-racist books. Aimee Felone in The Guardian has some suggestions. Check out the Letterbox Library too.

I read a horrible tweet telling Greta Thunberg to ‘go back to climate fake news’ with her righteous anger (such an important phrase) – 

about the EU and individual democratic nations’ lack of official condemnation of the police brutality and attacks on the press.

Children and young people are our hope for correcting our wrongs in both spheres – such a burden for them too, of course….

Friday (June 5th) was World Environment Day. A digital event was hosted in Stockholm by ‘We Don’t Have Time’ and in Colombia by the United Nations. This year’s theme was biodiversity. An impressive array of government representatives, businesses, celebrities and ‘ordinary citizens’ focused on this ‘urgent and existential’ theme….The Day was mentioned on the BBC Radio Three news, but with absolutely no urgent and existential comment – a day to think about animals, as far as most listeners could tell….

Now, pieces of serious information that need attention (by all of us, to some degree):

the International Monetary Fund has said equity markets have generally ignored the increasing number of natural disasters over the past 50 years and tougher rules are needed to make investors aware of the dangers posed by the climate crisis.

Companies should be forced to disclose their exposure to climate risk because a voluntary approach does not go far enough, the IMF said.

How many warnings do we need? We all have a duty to check how our money is being invested; and spread the word with everyone we know that companies need to be accountable. We can’t wait for laws to change, it seems – let’s use our people power and withdraw support from blinkered (a polite way of saying greedy…?!) companies….

Some UK companies are leading the way (hopefully…) – they have sent a letter to the prime minister urging ministers to use the Covid-19 lockdown as a springboard to propel a green economy. The signatories to the letter, including Asda, Sky and Yorkshire Water, urge ministers to publish detailed plans that will put the UK back on track to meet the medium-term climate goals, from which it’s slipping. Why is it slipping?…. And the goals are still too far in the future…

On June 25th, the Climate Change Committee is due to publish its annual report assessing the UK’s progress in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, OR LACK THEREOF.  Extinction Rebellion is planning action on that day – please do what you can to support XR. Chris Stark of the CCC has always re-assured me and sounded optimistic about the government’s progress. But can we really trust this government…?! I’d love to think so, but they’re failing us in so many ways, yet again..

I’ll end with some immediate action that is possible. ‘Possible’, the group ‘inspiring climate action’, is promoting a ‘Stride and Ride 5’ initiative. Keeping buses and trains safe as we begin to emerge from lockdown presents an unprecedented challenge for our cities and towns – and the serious risk that our streets become choked with cars.  This new initiative encourages people pledging to walk, run, cycle, skate or scoot at least 5 times in a fortnight. Each journey represents one of 5 reasons to stride and ride: to keep public transport safe; to keep our air clean; to keep our streets safe, quiet and peaceful; to improve our health; and to help tackle climate change.

As Max Wakefield of Possible said: “With everyone’s routine shaken up, what better time for us to all try something new together?” Visit their website.

And sorry but just before I go, I have a further reminder of Donald Trump’s cruelty: his administration is finalising rules that will allow hunters in Alaska’s national parks to shoot bears and wolves, and their cubs and pups, while they are in their dens. Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director for the Centre for Western Priorities, called the rule change “amazingly cruel” and said it was “just the latest in a string of efforts to reduce protections for America’s wildlife at the behest of oil companies and trophy hunters.” Keep writing and signing petitions! Even oil companies care about their reputations- let’s expose them!

Lockdown #12

June 1st, 2020

Well, it’s June 1st, the first day of the summer months.

‘Lockdown easing’ has started in England; and barbecues, those traditional English favourites, are allowed (with restrictions, of course…).

To herald this piece of news, the accompanying photo I saw was of rows of sausages – unlikely to be vegetarian sausages…?! I wonder if one day it will be ‘normal’ to enjoy a picnic/meal outdoors without sausage rolls…?!

Last year the National Food Strategy was launched – I think I might have mentioned this in an earlier ‘post’: I wrote to Henry Dimbleby, the ‘independent lead’ of the project, and he replied with a sweet pledge to do the best he could for my grandson….!

The NFS is the first independent review of England’s entire food system for 75 years. Included in its ambitious aims is ensuring our food system ‘restores and enhances the natural environment for the next generation in this country’.

The statement above this aim says the system needs to be ‘robust in the face of future shocks’.

I doubt anyone was prepared or could have imagined how soon the countryside and farming, and the whole world, would be tested by this year’s shock of coronavirus.

One of the review’s plans was to create Citizens’ Assemblies (so important, to consult people, everyone seems to agree…) – I was too late to contribute to that process (how many of us knew it was going on, I wonder..?). And now, I’m told, “The National Food Strategy team has temporarily paused our work, so that we can concentrate on helping the Government ensure that food gets to the most vulnerable people in society over the coming weeks…” Fair enough.

‘Henry and the National Food Strategy team’ went on to say, “This is a vital endeavour…more so than ever, in fact. We will be returning to the work with renewed vigour as soon as we are able to and we will stay in touch through a strong, national network of food system ambassadors.”

So, check out the National Food Strategy website if you’re involved in farming, food supplies and/or have opinions about the future of these – from a ‘tweet’ at the beginning of last month, it looks as if Henry Dimbleby is gearing up to get going again….(please also follow my tweets, if possible, by the way, at #grandmaglobal)

I hope he remembers his ‘story of hope’ back in 2019 , to ‘pivot this system ….delivering sustenance, pleasure, jobs and (for some!) profit, to one that does that while simultaneously restoring and enhancing our environment, sequestering carbon and that stops making us sick’. I think he was referring to obesity ‘sickness’ – now the virus must make us re-think too….

In his speech to the Oxford Farming Conference in January this year he said: “We need to start framing the carbon problem as one of both production and consumption. The current production-only climate change targets make no sense. What is the point of doing the enormous amount of work required to create a net-zero farming economy here, if we then just import that carbon from other countries?”

I’m sure all (6?..) my ‘readers’ buy local food as far as possible – influencing family and friends is the start of changing demand: we’re all customers/consumers.

So, connected with barbecue/picnic time, I’ll quote Professor Joe Smith, chief executive of the Royal Geographic Society, who told BBC News: “For many people, the recent long sunny spell is simply ‘nice weather’. In a wider context it’s a signal of the increasing unpredictability of the UK’s climate. Planning for the growing season is starting to resemble a night at the gambling tables. “The fact remains that bold early actions to slash emissions can still cut the larger risks associated with climate change in the UK and around the world.”

Eating no meat would contribute to ‘slashing emissions’….

And, finally on the outdoors summer theme, my attitude to wasps (unwelcome picnic ‘guests’) has changed – even since last summer….!

I’m still anxious to keep away from them, for my grandchild’s sake mainly, of course, but I can admire them from afar – that vibrating on wooden surfaces is them ‘eating’ paper to use for their nests (a skill my nephew told me about ); but, more important for the environment is that wasps as well as bees pollinate plants. So, don’t kill their busy, buzzing please!