Lockdown 3 #9

June 4th, 2021

Last week there were some good ‘wins’ for the campaign against Big Oil’s part in the climate crisis.

Over the course of less than 24 hours, courtrooms and boardrooms turned on the executives at Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron. Shell was ordered by a court in The Hague to go further to reduce its climate emissions, while shareholder rebellions in the US imposed emissions targets at Chevron and a boardroom overhaul at Exxon.

Hopefully, this is a turning point in the financial and legal consequences awaiting oil companies that do not act fast to take accountability for their role in preventing a climate catastrophe.

Eli Kasargod-Staub, the executive director of Majority Action, a shareholder group, said: “For the first time in history, responsible shareholders have breached the walls protecting recalcitrant boards of directors.”

It’s not all about people/shareholders ‘seeing the light’, though – the group pushing Exxon to take action, Engine No 1, is (sadly…) keen to say its motivation is not about saving the Earth from climate disaster but about fossil fuels investment no longer making financial sense. 

Of course, the voice of money is louder than the voice of conscience!

We just have to take whatever crumbs of comfort we can….

The Green Party’s doing that too!

After the May elections, Greens gained 99 new councillors, gaining representation on 17 new councils for the first time, with the highest ever nationwide vote in the Welsh election. 

On June 13th, voters in Switzerland will decide whether to make their country the first in the world to ban ALL toxic pesticides. 

If they do it, bees especially (fundamental to the health of our planet) will be able to thrive. The campaign group Sum of Us believes a positive vote could start a pesticide-free revolution that could spread, country by country. The group, as with all struggling people-based campaign groups, needs funds!

Now, I want to tell you some lovely things about bees!

There are more than 250 wild bee species in the UK (at least 35 of these are endangered, including a quarter of our bumblebee species, due to habitat loss and widespread pesticide use).

Many of these bees are small and brown (a sweet fact, somehow!), making them difficult to distinguish from each other; some are so tiny they are hardly visible to the naked eye, while others are restricted to rare coastal habitats.

The hairy-footed flower bee is one of the easiest to spot – large and round with a velvety black body, she has a distinctive hovering movement and flies rather comically with her long, straw-lie tongue outstretched in preparation for reaching nectar in bell-shaped flowers.

The wool carder bee teases out the fibres from the soft leaves on the lamb’s ear plant. She rolls them into balls nearly as big as herself, to plug her nest.

Mining bees make burrows underground to lay their eggs in, leaf-butter bees plug their nests with circular pieces of leaves (often cut from a rose bush, leaving it looking as if attacked by a hole-punch…). Carpenter bees fashion their nests from wood.

My final lovely fact – few of the wild bee species sting.

I’ve learnt all this from a Guardian article by Alison Benjamin – she co-wrote ‘The Good Bee: a Celebration of Bees and How to Save Them’.

I just want to add that it would be brilliant if we could avoid killing wasps this summer season – they do sting, of course, and I’ve been very guilty of killing them in the past (when we ran a coffee shop, especially…). But they all provide important ecological services – pollination, predation, and parasitism. Each summer, social wasps in the UK capture an estimated 14 million kilograms of insect prey, such as caterpillars and greenfly.

Now, the opposite end of the scale of human attitudes to living creatures – the ‘Shooting Times’.

A headline appeared in that newspaper earlier this year: ‘Shooting for a perfect ten’.

It headed an article about a contributor’s day’s shooting when he went out to shoot 10 different species of wildlife in a day, ‘just to see if it could be done’. He’d never done that before. A photograph with the article shows him proudly standing with his ‘kill’ – Red Fox, Rabbit, Carrion Crow, Red-legged Partridge, Woodcock, Mallard, Teal, Pheasant, Wood Pigeon and Jay. A nice day out…I felt sick for a day after I’d seen this – the human gloating, as much as the deaths…

Chris Packham of Wild Justice (and Countryfile!) is questioning whether the General Licence conditions were met when the shooter killed three of the species. All wild birds are protected by law, but licences provide cover for the casual killing of protected wildlife simply for ‘fun’.

Chris Packham is also campaigning for chicken welfare. Many of the chickens sold in supermarkets are still fed on soya sourced through deforestation; and they are often housed in overcrowded, cruel conditions. Of course it would be great if people stopped eating chicken all together, but that’s not going to happen – so we need to spread the word about the negative associations. 

Some supermarkets have signed up to the Better Chicken Commitment, but Morrisons are refusing to put animal welfare before profits. So, on Thursday June 10th, to coincide with its AGM,  Mr Packham’s campaign is holding a ‘Facebook event’. If you’re on Facebook, you can join in, an opportunity for anyone with a stake in Morrisons (customers and shareholders) to ask decision-makers important questions.

Finally, this time (nearly a month since my last post – I’ve been having 2nd anniversary anxieties…), I’d like to point you towards a clip from the television programme ‘Years and Years’.

Anne Reid’s character brilliantly (with dark humour, cleverly) points out that we are all responsible for the state of the world. Stick with it, please! She’s not directly referring to the climate crisis, but the fundamental principle rings true and can be applied to so many human situations.

Every choice we make affects the future…..we need to all ‘step up’….!

Lockdown 3 #8

May 7th, 2021

Following on from my enthusiasm about Ade Adepitan’s television series (On the Front Line of Climate Change), I’d like to draw attention to The Bahamas.

More than 80% of The Bahamas’ land surface is only a metre or less above sea level, making it particularly vulnerable to climate-related hazards. Nearly two years after the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, for example, sensitive ecosystems such as mangroves and coral reefs are still being damaged by the weight of marine debris and exposure to toxic contamination.

A major injustice of this situation is that The Bahamas remains one of the world’s lowest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions while suffering the collective consequences.

Now, the optimistic part – the work of Bahamian climate justice advocates, marine scientists and community members to foster ocean resilience within their country and around the world is important and inspiring. Check out (and donate to?!) The Tide, a global community who care deeply about the ocean. I got my information from ‘Only One’, a ‘nonprofit’ based in New York.

Some good packaging news now – I got ridiculously excited when our Sainsbury’s delivery of recycled toilet paper this week arrived in paper wrapping, not plastic….it is very easy to feel overwhelmed by knowing about the stifling amount of plastic rubbish in the world.

Rebecca Prince-Ruiz determinedly and inspiringly looks ‘on the bright side’…. Based in Perth, Australia and author of ‘Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters’, she started Plastic Free July in 2011 with 40 people committing to going plastic-free one month a year. Now 326 million people pledge to adopt the practice today. And people/consumer power drives companies to replace single-use plastic.

So, keep complaining about too much plastic packaging, people, and even congratulate when you see companies bowing to our pressure?!

Well, this morning in the UK we’re waiting for some good news from local council elections. It’s not looking brilliant…

But many councils at least have declared climate emergencies (action being slower to follow: pension funds need to divest from fossil fuel companies urgently..).

And now ‘climate emergency centres’ (CECs) are opening up across England and Wales. Owners of vacant retail premises in high streets have the option to reduce their business rates payments by up to 100% through leasing the property for community benefit to a not-for-profit or charitable organisation, such as a CEC. The sustainable centres are run by the communities themselves and offer a range of activities that focus on both addressing the climate emergency and bringing people together – from hedgehog protectors to church groups, including art exhibitions, exercise classes, sustainable living workshops, bike repair facilities and vegetarian & vegan cafes.

Pete Phoenix, one of the organisers of the centres, said: “As well as trying to protect the planet, people are desperate for community and connection after the year we’ve had. These centres bring together the energy of younger people and the wisdom of the elders.” A former William Hill betting shop in Staines, Surrey has been renamed Talking Tree; and a former River Island in Swindon, Wiltshire is also being transformed into a climate emergency centre.

In April last year, Cardiff Council in Wales introduced ‘Bee Bus Stops’, inspired by a scheme in Utrecht, Holland. Installing green roof tops onto bus stops has created a bee friendly space for the endangered species. The wildflower roof tops will also help absorb rainwater, capture dust/pollution from the air and regulate temperatures. Adding urban plants also has the benefits of increasing biodiversity, reducing stress and noise pollution and beautifying cities.

Yasmin Zoe Muir has created a petition on change.org with the ambition of making all bus stop shelters wildflower gardens, starting with her home town, Brighton. Please search out and sign!

I’ve been reading about an amazing all-women project in China, run by WWF, protecting tigers which are seriously in danger of extinction. Thank goodness for them; but also for the knowledge that as well as the red list of threatened species, there is actually a ‘green list’ – this is also compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN has high standards for protected and conserved areas; and recently, 10 more sites – in Switzerland, France and Italy – achieved green list status, bringing the total to 59 sites in 16 countries. Contamines-Montjoie national nature reserve near Mont Blanc was among seven added in France, increasing the country’s sites to 22, the highest number in the world. About 500 sites in 50 countries are working the meet the 17 requirements on good governance, planning, management and preservation of nature to achieve the green list status.

I’ll end with another appeal for people to keep up the climate activism.

Six Extinction Rebellion activists have been found ‘not guilty’ at Southwark Crown Court – they had caused criminal damage to Shell headquarters and the judge said they had no defence in law BUT a jury took the amazing, extraordinary decision to clear them on moral grounds. 

One of the defendants, Simon Bramwell, said: “It is a significant victory for the truth of these times, when despite the letter of the law, jurors can clearly see that a broken window is a just response to a breaking world.”

I just hope more of the ‘general public’ will also come to their senses soon (before it is too late…. that is a real possibility, so sadly…). Apparently, television coverage of recent XR ‘Rebel of One’ protests predictably only highlighted the ‘inconvenience’ caused to people instead of focusing on the indisputable facts of the climate crisis and the genuine passionate concern expressed by despairing people…. Inconvenient Truth…!!! 

One man passionate about climate protest is Roc Sandford, trying to change things from a shed on a tiny Scottish island in the Hebrides… Hopefully, his actions will be noticed, for the right reasons, by more people through a television programme, ‘Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over’ – to be shown at 10pm on W channel (I’ve never heard of that, but I’m sure we’ll all find it!) on May 17th.

Lockdown 3 #7

April 23rd, 2021

Today’s post is going to be one of contrasts.

First, it is in memory of my father, a keen nature-lover – he was born in 1930 when England was home to many more wildflowers and insects than today: there was an estimated overall decline in butterfly populations, for instance, of 84% between 1890 and 2017.

Yesterday was Earth Day; and there are many amazing projects fighting for the Earth’s future.

BUT those in power still don’t seem to realise the urgency of the climate crisis – they are too ‘cosy’ with vested interests and don’t have the political will to turn words into actions.

I was heartened to know that Joe Biden held a virtual White House climate summit yesterday; but enough is definitely not being done.

Boris Johnson has finally realised/admitted that reducing carbon emissions ‘could also be good for the economy’ (the Green Party could have told you that, if you’d only listen…). And he’s ‘urging world leaders… to step up with plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions this decade’ (quoting The Guardian newspaper). BUT, crucially, for all his grand-sounding commitment, the UK’s policies are going in the opposite direction.

Johnson’s government is cutting overseas aid, hurting countries trying to cope with the impacts of climate breakdown (caused by us, the rich countries); giving an initial green light for a new coalmine in Cumbria; appointing Australia’s climate sceptic Mathias Cormann, next head of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development; giving new oil and gas licences in the North Sea; and scrapping the green homes grants for insulation, just as many people applied for them.

We must not be fooled…!

Please watch Greta Thunberg’s amazing ‘Mind the Gap’ video, in response to all this…It’s on Twitter, but I’m sure you can find it in other places too…

Other recommended (even required…?!) viewing is her television documentary, ‘A Year to Change the World’ (Monday evenings), preceded by Ade Adepitan’s ‘Climate Change: Ade on the Frontline’ (Sunday evenings).

All very sad, but galvanising too – campaigning/activism is essential!

It was also my birthday during this strange week (‘When I’m 64’!) and my son and his girlfriend gave me a brilliant book, ‘Back to Nature – how to love life and save it’.

Basically, it’s celebrating Nature (a consolation for many of us during lockdowns), but also funny, informative, warm and political… I’ll quote Chris Packham, who wrote it with Megan McCubbin, here: ‘even the humblest, everyday, still-common creatures have lifted our spirits in the darkest days of a terrible crisis. When it comes to protecting them, we have plenty of tools in the conservation box; we can rebuild, restore, reinstate or reintroduce. We can march, lobby, sign petitions, we can demonstrate. We can take action. We can make a difference…….. We don’t all have to agree about all the details, but we must stand shoulder to shoulder with all who care enough to take some action.. Our wildlife needs us, and it needs you more than ever.’

Here’s a boost for some wildlife – landowners and farmers in Wensleydale, the Yorkshire Dales, have grown a six-mile continuous stretch of woodland and hedgerows to provide a highway to join up two fledgling populations of native dormice, a very endangered species. They have become extinct in 17 English counties in the last 100 years. Ian White, from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, said “If you get it right for dormice, you help a broad range of other species as well.”

My GP friend has passed on this interesting information, connected to the NHS striving to become a zero carbon institution. Apparently 20% of all journeys are health related. These have been reduced dramatically by necessary adaptations to the pandemic – e-consulting, video consulting, phone consulting – and, happily, some of this reduction is set to continue.

Also, 5% of our water pollution (and resultant reduction in biodiversity) is due to people flushing unwanted medications down the loo… what?! Who would think that was fine….? Anyway, let’s encourage people to return unwanted medications to any chemist (for safe disposal).

Finally today, returning to the gap between words and actions (even Jacinda Ardern’s government has shortcomings….), Greenpeace New Zealand has alerted us to the emerging industry of seabed mining. This is an experimental process that involves extracting minerals and metals from the ocean floor, disturbing the precious and fragile animals and ecosystems that live there. The ocean, as we know, already faces a growing number of threats from plastic pollution to oil spills, climate change and overfishing. Greenpeace’s campaign aims to ban seabed mining in Aotearoa/New Zealand.  

Lockdown 3 #6

April 9th, 2021

This post is going to focus on being ‘thankful for small mercies’.

Important in my personal life at the moment too…

I’ll open with dandelions!

This year I’m looking at these common, humble flowers with fresh eyes – they are a welcome source of pollen to many insects; and considered by botanists to be herbs.

A German company even makes bicycle tyres from dandelion rubber (Taraxagum)!

I was taught to pull dandelions up because many gardeners consider them to be weeds, but now my instinct is to leave them to grow. 

So many of our human behaviours are habits. Let’s question more often what we are doing and how we are living….     

One of our key habits is what we eat, of course. 

I’m going to touch on a very serious subject here – the recent release of a documentary, Seaspiracy. There has been a lot of controversy about it, and it has put many people off eating fish, but the bottom line is surely that all industrial and commercial ‘farming’ is unsustainable – we can’t go on as we are, exploiting the natural world. 

And the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (a large collection of floating debris in the Pacific Ocean, containing a lot of fishing nets) is such a terrible disgrace – why is the world, collectively, not ashamed of it and doing something about it?….

Sorry, I didn’t mean to be depressing – I’ll get back to the small mercies/blessings…..!  

The first one that I’ve noticed approaches the problem of fishing from a different angle – the world isn’t going to stop fishing, so here’s a small practical solution (a ‘drop in the ocean’, perhaps, but better than nothing…). Every year, longliners fishing for the likes of tuna and swordfish set about 3bn hooks, killing an estimated 300,000 seabirds, many of which are albatrosses. Fifteen out of 22 species of albatross, and six out of seven marine turtle species are threatened with extinction. A new invention, Hookpod, could help secure future populations of these marine animals – it encloses the barb of the hook until it sinks into the water, out of reach of foraging seabirds.

Some Hookpods have already been deployed on Brazilian fishing boats, and in January 2020 they were rolled out across New Zealand. Marine biologist Becky Ingham, CEO of Hookpod Ltd, who hopes to work with the fishing industry in China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan, said: “Skippers have been reporting zero bycatch, so it’s more effective than we even hoped for commercial use.”

As I’m typing this, I can’t help thinking about the cruelty of hooking fish and the negatives of commercial fishing – in an ideal world these would not exist, but we are far from an ideal world…

We need to work with what we’ve got….

As biologist Rafael Mares says: “We need to focus people’s attention on the importance of wildlife and habitat conservation.” He is using the data collected by other wildlife researchers to create digital experiences that he hopes will inspire a wider audience to engage with conservation.

‘Unseen Empire’ is a video game created by Internet of Elephants, a team of conservationists and game designers in Kenya and the US.      

These environmental tech innovations, to help wildlife and nature, have been showcased at Earth Optimism 2021, a global summit hosted online by Cambridge Conservation Initiative.  

My final reference to the sea today is to point you to pieces of writing by two young people, Ellie Sillar from Scotland (who also takes brilliant photographs) and Ana-Maria Munteanu from Romania. They wrote so passionately and informatively about ’10 years in the ocean’. I hope you can find them in the Guardian’s article, Dare to believe, part of Seascape: the state of our oceans.   

These two girls are likely to become passionate, informative young women.

I’d like to also point you to some writing by older women! For Mother’s Day, my daughter gave me a very inspiring book: ‘Why Women will Save the Planet’. It focuses on big cities, believing they can be turned around to be powerhouses of well-being and environmental sustainability. It is a collaboration between Friends of the Earth and C40. I’d never heard of C40 before, but it’s great to know about it now – it connects more than ninety of the world’s greatest cities, representing more than 650+ million people and one-quarter of the global economy. C40 is focused on tackling climate change, while increasing the health, well-being and economic opportunities of urban citizens. Wow, brilliant!

And my mother pointed me to a piece of good news, on a more lowly local level…. the University of East Anglia, in the UK, has joined the Hedgehog Friendly Campus campaign. In the 1950s it was estimated there were 36.5 million hedgehogs in the UK. In 1995, their numbers had declined to 1.55 million. Since 2000, hedgehogs have declined by at least 30%. The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) compares the decline of UK hedgehogs to that of the loss of the world’s tigers.

Universities are in a unique position to help conserve our hedgehogs, many of which have campuses that are home to thousands of species of flora and fauna. For more details, the campaign can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.

Last Saturday’s Country Diary in the Guardian focused on bees – now that spring is creeping along, there are “about 270 species gearing up to demonstrate just how many ways there are of being a bee”. Lovely!

More good news – Great Britain’s electricity system recorded its greenest ever day over the Easter bank holiday, as sunshine and windy weather led to a surge in renewable energy.

If you’re considering ordering/buying books soon, consider using bookshop.org which supports independent bookshops – to mark Earth Day on April 22nd, they will be offsetting all home deliveries of books across the entire UK book retail industry…

And finally, this week, please vote for the Green Party in the May 6th local elections. You can stay safe by getting a postal vote, and Green is the way ahead, surely….?!

Lockdown 3 #5

March 26th, 2021

To draw attention to World Water Day this week, a giant piece of sand art appeared on Whitby Beach. Created by artists from Sand in Your Eye, for Water Aid (supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery), it was a portrait of 12 year old Ansha from Frat in Ethiopia who spends hours each day collecting dirty water from a river.

Washed away by the rising tide, it is a stark reminder that rising sea levels will lead to flooding, contaminating ill-protected water supplies and endangering lives.

Climate change is happening and those who have done least to cause it are feeling its effects first and most severely.

Another reminder of the existence of the climate crisis is the current situation in Australia – the Warragamba Dam overflowed as a ‘mini tornado’ ripped through a western Sydney suburb.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF, not wrestling…?!) is reminding us about Earth Hour – this year it takes place from 8.30 to 9.30pm tomorrow: Saturday, March 27th.

Millions of people across the world switch off their/our non-essential lights for an hour, showing we care about the future of our planet.

This year, WWF says “we’re also looking a bit closer to home, thinking about how we can make sustainable changes to our own lives and reduce our environmental footprints. The impact of individual actions might seem small but collectively they can make all the difference in the world.”

Please visit WWF UK’s website.

In 2013, the world’s first Earth Hour Forest began in Uganda, an ongoing project to restore 2,700 hectares of degraded land. 

Today marks the day the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill was due its second reading in Parliament. Caroline Lucas MP presented the Bill to Parliament back in September 2020 as a Private Member’s Bill, a law proposed by backbench MPs rather than by the Government.

The Bill was on the schedule in the House of Commons today, but the pandemic impacted parliamentary process, postponing the second reading.

This means it will have a very low chance of progressing in this parliamentary session, due to the sheer volume of Private Member’s Bills lined up to have their second readings – further delaying the urgent climate action that’s required.

Of course, the CEE Bill will be reintroduced in the next parliamentary session in June. 

But Nature can’t wait – it needs protecting now…!!

An inspiring group of campaigners is ensuring today is not going unnoticed – I’ve added to the pressure on MPs, of course, asking for support for this Bill that offers a clear roadmap to tackle both climate and nature emergencies. It already has the support of more than 100 MPs from 8 political parties. But it needs more – particularly Conservatives!

Please do what you can to persuade/engage your own MP, over the coming days.

It’s getting even harder to make our voices heard in the ‘current climate’ – I hope you’ve expressed your opposition to the new Policing Bill in the UK….?

Our government is trying to rush through laws that will mean politicians and police will be able to dictate where, when and how people are allowed to protest, only allowing protests that are not ‘noisy’ or ‘causing a nuisance’. 

As a friend of mine wisely said, “We do need to be able to protest peacefully, but not necessarily quietly!”

Environmental campaigners surely deserve to be listened to: our message is loud and clear – we’re trying to save the planet, for all of us!

Apparently, the average UK family throws out £730 of surplus items a year, and about a third of all food produced globally is wasted. 3.4 million people around the world are now using an app, Olio, designed to encourage people to give away rather than throw away unwanted food. 

The UK’s first food waste action week took place earlier this month. The campaign was fronted by Nadiya Hussain (Bake off winner/television chef) – she said, “Wasting food is a major contribution to climate change. It isn’t just the leftovers on our plate to consider but the many resources that go into producing our food, like water and land. If we each make small changes, we’d dramatically reduce the amount of food that ends up in the bin…”

The first World Rewilding Day was held last Saturday, the spring equinox.

Last month, Rewilding Britain launched a network to promote the process of nature restoration and make the most of people’s desire to ‘build back better’ after the covid pandemic.

The group plans to restore 30% of Britain’s land and sea by 2030, with 5% of this dedicated to core habitats such as native forest, peat bogs, salt marshes and kelp beds.

News of projects that are quietly getting on with tackling the climate and nature crisis makes me feel so much better! A study from the IPPR think-tank (Institute for Public Policy Research) found that community projects, often set up with the aim of reducing poverty and improving day-to-day lives, are also reducing emissions and restoring nature. Luke Murphy, the lead author of the report, said, “Under the radar, there are already flourishing and transformative community initiatives to pool resources and create shared low-carbon energy, housing and natural assets.”

An example is the Ambition Lawrence Weston community group, based in an area of Bristol with high levels of fuel poverty. It is establishing community-owned renewable energy projects, with a solar farm and plans for a giant wind turbine to power 3,850 homes.

And finally, I’m very proud today – my sons are writing an environmental fable in podcast form, with songs, championing Birds! Watch/listen out for it in the summer!

Lockdown 3 #4

March 12th, 2021

This week I have been troubled by the roaring sounds of high winds – I am so lucky that I’m personally experiencing nothing worse than the sounds….

Some people might say these particular winds, in the UK, are technically weather, not climate, related; but surely they should remind us all of the seriousness of climate change, anyway?

We should all be doing whatever we can to increase sustainable living, as well as putting on political and financial pressure;

and some of us need help with preparing for future flooding….

The Environment Agency’s CEO, James Bevan, has said extreme flooding in the UK indicates an urgent need for change, if humanity is to survive – we are already hitting ‘worst case scenario’ levels….

When we hear news reports of flooding, why is the climate crisis still not routinely mentioned?

As Mr Bevan said, “Our thinking needs to change faster than the climate”.

Now I’ll return to the positive projects that are happening, in spite of desperately slow progress by governments and ‘big business’.

All these have been sent to me by friends and family. Thank you!

This year’s Cheltenham Science Festival will be exploring the theme of #BeTheChange. At the Festival will be a group of young activists, led by Gina Martin, including climate activist Daze Aghaji, ethical fashion blogger Tolmeia Gregory, conservationist Bella Lack, naturalist and conservationist Dara McAnulty (I love his ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’, written when he was 14 and 15) and ClimateinColour Joycelyn Longdon.

Gina Martin said, “We need science festivals to counterbalance all the misinformation, polarisation and politicisation we’ve experienced in the past 17 months.”

For further news of events (the festival is in June), visit http://www.cheltenhamfestivals.org.uk

An old friend pointed out this next organisation (a less than appealing name, but that’s the point of course…), ‘Who Gives a Crap?’. Founded in 2012, they make bamboo and recycled toilet paper, as well as forest-friendly tissues and paper towels – both to minimise environmental impact, and also to help build toilets for the 40% of the global population who don’t have access to a toilet.

During this week celebrating International Women’s Day, ‘Beekeepers for Life’ is helping female groups in rural Africa to alleviate poverty through beekeeping whilst adapting to the shifting demands of climate change. Beekeepers for Life is run by Bees Abroad, a UK based charity run by a global community. Since 2000, Bees Abroad have been working with, and building, beekeeping communities – it now has more than 34 active projects throughout Africa, in countries including Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda. 

In many of these rural communities, beekeeping has typically been the preserve of the males. But with climate change forcing men to migrate further with herds in search of pasture, beehives are becoming entrusted to women.

Beekeeping generates income without destroying habitat, it encourages forest protection, uses poor land, and maintains biodiversity. The charity promotes locally appropriate beekeeping practices, through training and mentoring programmes lasting three years.

Back in England, my youngest nephew sent me the following news: Forest Green Rovers, based in Gloucestershire (and owned by Ecotricity’s Dale Vince), have continued in their bid to become more sustainable by launching a new shirt made from coffee waste. The League Two football club’s shirt is now made from a mix of coffee grounds and recyclable plastic. Mr Vince said, “This is a message for fans and people everywhere that the clothes we wear are an important issue.”

In Yorkshire, where we used to live, a group of volunteers has formed Scarborough Climate Action, with the first aim of planting trees – perhaps especially in parts of seaside town Whitby that have problems with attracting rubbish…. Scarborough Borough Council is getting ‘on board’ and the group has a Facebook page.

News from another of my nephews is a follow-up to the Climate.Sound.Change. music project I mentioned in an earlier blog post. Four works, responding creatively to ‘what is unequivocally the most urgent and far-reaching issue of our time’, have been chosen from more than 140 responses. You can check out all four winners at 

https://britishmusiccollection.org.uk/article/climate-sound-change-winners-announced

Very inspiring! Included is Gwen Sion whose work will be composed – using field-recordings, found objects and physical fragments of the natural environment as instruments – in response to HS2, in a political act to record and preserve UK woodland.

Outside our front door, two new homes are being built – I wonder if they’ll be anything like Solar Avenue in Leeds?! These new low-energy homes have been built in a factory across the road, from super-airtight timber panels stuffed full of wood-fibre insulation, with triple-glazed windows and solar panels on the roof, each erected in less than a week.  Using up to 10 times less energy than a conventional house, their heating demand is so low that they create excess electricity that is fed into a community grid and used to charge shared electric cars.

A few years ago these houses would have been experimental one-offs. But a green-design campaign group has calculated there are as many as 30,000 low-carbon homes in the pipeline – the industry is leading the way, crucially not waiting for the painfully slow government (have I said that before…?!).

Emma Osmundsen, director of Exeter Council’s housing company Exeter City Living which is on the seventh generation of its low-energy house design, said, “Passivhaus is really not complicated, and it doesn’t have to cost more than conventional construction.

Perhaps it’s because the building industry is so male-dominated, but there is a general reluctance to follow a new recipe.”

Another thought for ‘Women’s Week’….!

Lockdown 3#3

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 hello@wearepossible.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!

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org

Lockdown 3 #2

February 5th, 2021

I imagine that many of us are now losing strength, optimism, patience with the multiple effects of the coronavirus pandemic on our lives.

Somehow we need to hold on to the knowledge that this crisis is connected to the climate crisis; and preserve some strength to ‘fight the good fight’ against that existential threat.

And there are some wonderful, positive, uplifting projects happening around the world to give us that emotional strength (they could do with our support too, with a little time and/or money!).

The last ‘episode’ of David Attenborough’s Perfect Planet series (please watch it and spread the word) highlighted some of these, including the Great Green Wall on the edge of the Sahara desert. This is an African-led movement with the ambition to grow an 8,000km natural ‘wonder of the world’ across the entire width of Africa. A decade in and roughly 15% underway, the initiative is already bringing life back to Africa’s degraded landscapes at an unprecedented scale, providing food security, jobs and a reason to stay for the millions who live along its path.

There are complications involved, of course, not least the thorny issue of international aid – that is why my Facebook and Twitter (Emily Thwaite #grandmaglobal) political posts are never far away from the subjects in this blog:

please keep signing petitions and emailing your MPs about the tricky stuff…..

Here’s a lovely video, though, featuring Malian singer Inna Modja (billed as Buena Vista Social Club meets Year of Living Dangerously..), to return to the good stuff! https://youtu.be/IDgDWbQtlKI

Continuing on a musical/arts level, the group Possible is organising an online Climate Cabaret to create and perform work in response to climate change – part of their bid to bring climate conversations to wider audiences (they’ve already produced climate-themed boardgames..).

If you’d like to join this, or want to suggest someone (from musicians to drag queens, poets to dancers..), contact Skye at wearepossible.org

This year Fairtrade Foundation is running a ‘Choose the World you Want’ online Festival, promoting the message that in order to tackle the climate crisis, the farmers and workers behind our everyday essentials need a fairer deal.

On Wednesday, February 24th at 7.30pm actor Adjoa Andoh is joined by digital artists, musicians, writers and others to discuss how creativity can be used to power up climate campaigning. There is also an event called The Climate Change Garden (how to grow sustainably and why it matters) bringing the Permaculture Association’s Chris Warburton-Smith together with eco-chef Tom Hunt and a Fairtrade farmer sharing the reality of how climate change is affecting the sustainability of their own farm. This is on Saturday, March 6th at 11am. On the previous evening (March 5th, at 7.30pm)  there will be a Quiz Night, with a special guest appearance.

If you’re interested in any of these events, contact Stefan Donnelly at hello@fairtrade.org.uk

I wonder if you took part recently in the RSPB garden bird count in the UK…Sparrows are the  ‘dominant species’ in our garden, but we do also have regular wren and robin visitors. My son and his girlfriend counted in their local park, as they don’t have a garden (their count included a parakeet – they’re in London!)

Now, there’s a flower count survey coming up – organised by the National Trust, from Friday 12th to Monday 15th February. The photo I’ve used today (poor quality, sorry!) is of saplings covering hillsides in Derbyshire, England. Each one has been planted by hand, part of the Clough Woodland project to establish new woods in the cloughs (valleys) of the Peak District. They count towards the 20 million trees the National Trust has pledged to plant by 2030. These trees are a mixture of native species, including sessile oak, silver birch, rowan, hawthorn and hazel. Each sapling has a guard to protect it from grazing animals. Once the trees are established, the rangers will remove the guards and allow the trees to grow and spread, free from human interference.

International Tree Foundation is suggesting a special Valentine’s Day gift you could give this year – planting trees: “show your lasting love and become part of the restoration of this beautiful forest”. Your gift of twelve trees (so much better than a dozen dying roses….) will grow in Kenya’s Imenti Forest – a beautiful stretch of wilderness and a vitally important elephant migration corridor. Plundered throughout the 20th century, Imenti became a hotspot for wildlife poaching. Today, with thanks to the love and commitment of many people, Imenti is becoming a healthy, diverse and wonderful forest once again.The 12 trees will only cost £12; and a picture postcard will be sent out, to give to your Valentine.You can email esther@internationaltreefoundation.org

Sticking (a pun..?!) with trees, Britain’s rarest native tree is being planted in an unloved city grassland to restore it as a community wildlife habitat. The black poplar is in decline with only around 7,000 growing wild in Britain. This rare hardwood will be placed near to a “tiny forest” being planted in an area the size of a small tennis court.The plot in Southmead, Bristol (near my grandson’s home) has been cleared of rubbish by a team of local volunteers. Tiny forests are based on forest management methods developed in the 1970s in Japan, where many different species are planted closely together in urban areas. The first “tiny forest” in the UK was planted in Witney, Oxfordshire, last March.

The Bristol tiny forest will include a community orchard and forest school and a mix of British native trees, including English oak, hornbeams, beech, lime trees, silver birches, spindle, hazel and dogwood.

I’ll end today with a couple of more ‘heavy’ things…

I noticed in the local paper, Stroud News and Journal, a piece about Dale Vince (founder of Ecotricity), one of our ‘local heroes’ – he has drawn attention to an advert by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board which is basically anti-vegetarian/vegan….It’s trading on people’s interest/hope in vitamins being a source of protection from coronavirus. With the catchline ‘To B12 or Not to B12’, it suggests that meat is the only source of this vitamin, a commonly held mistaken belief. In fact, B12 is present in dairy products and eggs; and in yeast extract, fortified breakfast cereals, veggie burgers and veggie margarines.

And, more concerning really, the B12 in the meat which dominates supermarket shelves is often actually there because of supplements given to animals raised through intensive farming.

Finally, a ‘call to arms’ – please contact the West of England Combined Authority (democratic.services@westofengland-ca.gov) to add your objections to the plans to expand Bristol Airport: the threat hasn’t gone away, sadly….

Take care – keep strong!

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…)!