February 21st, 2021
Almost exactly a year ago today (in a week’s time, to be precise!), I saw and heard Greta Thunberg in Bristol, England.
The air was full of hope, optimism, promise for a brighter future…
Mm, what a year it has been since then.
The air at the thousands-strong climate protest was probably also full of coronavirus19, sadly…. It is likely that we were, unwittingly, part of spreading it.
I remember, after the event, organised by Fridays for Future, hearing reports that ill-wishers were hoping we would all be struck ill, and worse. People who do not want to accept the facts of the climate crisis can be so cruel.
Anyway, in my own ‘all or nothing’ mind, I desperately wanted the pandemic crisis to be recognised for what it is, a wake-up sign that humans are encroaching dangerously on the animal world; and that there would be a consequent global energy to ‘build back better’ & start respecting Nature.
I really have to learn to set my sights low.
There are certainly now some encouraging global signs, the growth of clean energy for example. Instead of mourning that these are not nearly radical enough, it’s important that I celebrate the environmentally healthy projects that are happening, despite the negative influences of greedy oil & plastics corporations and power-hungry leaders. Easier said than done!
I’ll start with the natural wonder of plants, not surprising but widely unrecognised, apparently…
Prof Alistair Griffiths of the Royal Horticultural Society said: “We are continually identifying new ‘super plants’ with unique qualities which when combined with other vegetation provide enhanced benefits while providing much needed habitats for wildlife.”
For example, ivy wall cover excels at cooling buildings, and hawthorn and privet help ease intense summer rainfalls and reduce localised flooding. Cotoneaster hedges (in my picture) planted beside busy roads are 20% better at soaking up pollution than other shrubs. Prof Griffiths added: “We could make a big difference in the fight against climate change.”
Better not to have so much polluting traffic in the first place is my instinctive first thought of course, but in the meantime….!
Community forest projects have seen a surge in volunteers keen to reduce CO2 emissions by creating new woodlands. One of these projects is on land surrounding Newton-le-Willows on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. Bob Sampson, a former land-use planning adviser for the Ministry of Agriculture and member of the village’s climate-change group, has written to local landowners asking permission to grow trees on their land. Seven have agreed so far, with volunteers set to plant oak, sycamore, birch and rowan, tailored to relevant sites, to benefit both the climate and the environment.
The Woodland Trust runs a free trees scheme for schools and community groups; and, despite covid, it had more applications for spring 2021 trees than for the previous year, now set to send out close to half a million saplings.
Neil Jones, project manager at Possible, is hoping to hear from tree enthusiasts during the weekend of Saturday, March 6th. He has had to cancel the group’s spring public hedge planting plans (covid restrictions) but he and his colleague Dionne have determinedly organised a weekend of home-based tree planting activities. Neil said: “While we might not be able to plant together in person, we can plant together in spirit.” His tree will be planted live on YouTube at 3pm on March 6th. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested, even if you don’t have a garden.
Now, I can’t avoid the disappointing subject of domestic wood-burning any longer, some people’s main connection with trees….
Fires used by just 8% of the UK’s population cause triple the particle pollution of traffic….
Two-thirds of the people burning indoors used a wood-burning stove (that includes my own household), while a third had open fires. My instinct on hearing this news was to worry, as usual, and take responsibility to a certain extent.
We have actually stopped lighting the stove while our grandson is in the house – scientists declared in December that wood burners triple the level of harmful pollution particles inside homes, and should be sold with a health warning. Prof Jonathan Grigg, of Queen Mary University of London, said: “It is difficult to justify their use in any urban area.”
That is where I can relax a little…
We live in a rural area (though of course movement of air doesn’t respect boundaries..).
And we do only burn seasoned wood – it is wet wood that produces high levels of pollution. More people should be educated to lay fires properly, as we do (plenty of paper, kindling and smaller logs to start with) to produce less smoke – there’s a great New Zealand guide online at www.warmercheaper.co.nz Interesting that it emphasises the ‘cheap’ aspect, always a selling point – good for the environment too!
Having got that out of my system to a degree, I’ll turn to the other challenging topic of my climate week.
Two significant books have just been published – How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates; and The New Climate War by Michael Mann. I haven’t read them but I’ve read a review (in The Observer last Sunday)! Hope that entitles me to an opinion…?! The review, by Bob Ward, opens with the thought that these books “should help to capitalise on the new spirit of cautious optimism by laying out bold but well-argued plans for accelerating action against climate change.”
I’m glad to re-read that thought today, as I’m beginning to lose my spirit of cautious optimism, as you might be able to tell from my opening paragraphs….
I must admit that the main thought that’s been going round in my head about the Bill Gates book is that he blithely excuses his own giant carbon footprint.
That feels like a kick in the teeth for us who are trying so hard to live sustainably.
Of course, I realise that, as Michael Mann (America’s most famous climate scientist), says, as important as personal efforts are, they can distract attention away from the critical role of governments and companies in making systemic changes.
So, here’s something you can do (please!), to show our UK government that we mean business!
As you may know, it (in its infinite lack of wisdom) is in the process of lifting the ban on neonicitinoids (a pesticide that kills bees), due to lobbying from sugar beet farmers.
At the same time, it is consulting on its draft National Action Plan for pesticides.
The more voices that contribute to this consultation, the better for the health of insects, our food, farmers and ultimately all of us.
The Wildlife Trusts nationally have helpfully made it easy for us to respond to the consultation – just fill in their simple form, adding any of your own views you have about pesticides.
Hurry, as the consultation closes on February 26th!