We CAN change!

March 23rd, 2020

Air pollution has reduced significantly during this Covid-19 crisis.

That is such good news.

Might it lead to global commitments to maintaining this situation? Changing away from polluting industries, frequent flying, heavy car traffic…

Someone from EasyJet actually wrote back to me last week, probably hoping he could satisfy my enquiry/suggestion with a simple response. He was so polite and personal, however, that I’ve written again – this could be an opportunity to re-think so many things…

Another positive example of humans leaving Nature alone is the current dramatic improved condition of rivers and waterways in Venice – fish, swans and even dolphins are swimming in the clear water.

BUT there’s plenty of bad news, of course – as habitat and biodiversity loss increase globally, the novel coronavirus outbreak may be just the beginning of mass pandemics (according to John Vidal, writing in the ‘age of extinction’ series in The Guardian).

A decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harbouring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans such as Ebola, HIV and dengue fever.

But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19.

A new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.

Thinking of different ways of looking at the world, check out Kate Raworth and ‘Doughnut Economics’  (highlighted by my friend Claire, thank you) – we are told we have to ‘respect the economy’ so many times, as if there is just one all-important ‘economy’, that of growth and more growth. But there are different economic models of course – surely, it is time to choose one which will preserve the planet, while meeting all our basic needs..? 

I’m going to promote something personal now – my son (whom I quoted in my first blog, about ‘changing the world slightly’), the musician and poet Gecko, is playing a virtual gig (via Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/geckoband) on Saturday (March 28th).

The particular reason for mentioning him here is that the eponymous song of his last album, Volcano, featured a bear coming out of hibernation.

Unfortunately, the unusually warm winter has caused bears in Russia, Finland, the US and Canada to stir early from hibernation. Among other problems, this means there are likely to be an increased number of conflicts with people. Chris Servheen, a former grizzly bear recovery coordinator at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said he had heard about black bears emerging from hibernation in the Rocky Mountains as their snow dens melt and they are forced to leave their damp homes. Even some grizzly bears on higher ground are leaving their dens.. Mr Servheen said: “The problem is they can’t stay in, but there is nothing for them to eat. They are burning up energy moving around, but the plants haven’t started to grow yet… If bears come out early they will seek food around people, such as in garbage, bird feeders and crops.”

Finally, the ‘cyclist-first’ city of Utrecht is constructing the Netherlands’ first high-density, car-free residential district for more than 12,000 people, making it one of the largest of its type in the world.

It is hoped the 24-hectare site will enhance Utrecht’s reputation as a bicycling capital of Europe.

Homes, schools, health centres, shops and businesses will be built on the site, from 2022, accessible to the rest of the city by bike lanes and trams.

Only four dead-end roads of 60 metres will protrude into the car-free idyll, for those who cannot quit their addiction to the car – just one car for every three households.

Parking spaces will be available for use at a heavy cost to dissuade use. Alongside them will be 300 shared cars for residents’ use. The closest alternative parking will be 3km away!

A Global Crisis

March 16th, 2020

This feels like the most awkward blog post I’ve written…

Despite climate change being the ultimate biggest issue worldwide, I somehow feel apologetic for engaging with it instead of with Covid19/coronavirus.

Everyone else in the world seems focussed on the virus, understandably wanting to stay safe (but madly panic-buying too….).

Here goes, anyway.. I’ll try to do my ‘work’…

I’d intended this ‘edition’ to look at food and farming.

British agriculture is responsible for 10% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, mainly through methane from cows and sheep, nitrous oxides that are produced by fertilisers, and CO2 that comes off the land when carbon-rich organic matter in the soil oxidises during ploughing. And internationally, as shown in the graphic last week, 7.8% of the 10% of agricultural land is used for meat and dairy. So livestock grazing and animal feed production is prioritised, massively, leaving only 2.2% of the agricultural land for growing crops to feed people…..

Choosing to eat less meat and dairy would, in principle, free up more land for plant crops for us.

I do hope more people will consider becoming vegetarian – it’s not hard, but I would say that, wouldn’t I, having not missed eating meat for 40 years?!

Of course there are lots of details and degrees of change involved in changing farming.

In this country, the current change is enshrined in a new agriculture bill (connected with the environment bill that makes polluting farmers pay for chemicals running into rivers…) – intensive agriculture prioritised a bumper harvest, while the new approach emphasises the preservation of the land (soil health).

Food shortages might of course be an issue (and will be, globally, if climate change is allowed to ‘run its course’…). The obvious way to mitigate shortages of food is to throw less away. In Britain, we are very guilty of food waste – about one-third of the food produced each year (about 1.3bn tonnes), is thrown away…

I now want to promote two positive food ‘stories’ – Tom Hunt, who writes in the Saturday Guardian, has a passion for ‘climate-friendly cuisine. He created the first zero-waste banquet for the Thames Festival in London in 2011. He has a new book out, ‘Eating for Pleasure, People and Planet’. And Meera Sodha, ‘The new vegan’ also in the Guardian’s Feast magazine, tells us about Anshu Ahuja’s company Dabba Drop which delivers home-cooked Indian food by bike.

I’m not going to write much more this week (that was a very long post last time..!); but I just want to point out that ‘stretchy’ plastic wrapping bags can be recycled at large supermarkets. Some people might not know this (there’s a label on them, although I know most say ‘not yet recycled’… why not and when?…). Terracycle and other companies are a much better solution, though, actually using the plastic for making new stuff…I’ve written to Sainsbury’s, and my local council, asking them to become collection points – all crisp packets can be used again by them, for instance.

I’ve also written to our MP, as I was very disappointed with the Budget – a few ‘green’ bits and pieces, but not the urgent large-scale measures we need.

Finally, I’ll refer to the dreaded coronavirus again – after it all ‘dies down’ (sorry if that’s an insensitive phrase…), might the world see the chance for change…?

The aviation industry has been ‘knocked for six’ – I’ve written to Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, the IAG, EasyJet and RyanAir and KLM, not expecting replies really but just to ask about future plans….

Always hoping for light in the darkness, I wonder if this could all be an opportunity to prefigure the world we want to build: one that chooses life and regeneration over despair and fear.

To put it more simply and personally, maybe the restrictions people are having to cope with now make us realise we could make some permanent changes (less flying and driving, more home based living) that would help with climate targets.

PS I had a very informative, detailed reply today from Brendan McNamara at HSBC’s Executive Office, showing the bank is investing more in renewable energy. And he didn’t mention ‘the virus’, thank goodness…

The Air that we (all) Breathe

March 9th, 2020

I’ll return to the issue of food & farming next time!

This is going to be quite a rambling blog post – I apologise in advance….

My first contribution is a response to the coronavirus madness all around us – James Dyke, senior lecturer in global systems at Exeter University, wrote a brilliant piece in the Guardian about this. He starts by saying: ‘The science is clear: we are currently facing an epidemic that is now the leading cause of premature deaths.’

He continues by painting the bigger picture, however – in 2019, more than eight million people died as a consequence of air pollution. Globally, toxic air now kills more people than tobacco, which used to be the largest cause of premature death. In the UK this year, between 28,000 and 36,000 people will die because they are exposed to air pollution. These deaths won’t make front pages. There will be no live updates. Cobra will not be convened.

An inadvertent consequence of factory output and car sales in China collapsing because of the virus outbreak is improvements in air quality that are desperately needed. Air pollution kills more than one million people a year in China. The Chinese government has possibly saved just as many lives by reducing exposure to toxic air than any one virus.

Mr Dyke asks, so importantly: ‘Why are these measures not sustained? It shouldn’t matter if someone dies from respiratory failure due to particles of soot or a virus. The loss of life is always tragic. But coronavirus is presented to us as a new threat. A narrative of urgency is easy to produce.’ Look at all the newspaper/tv headlines at the moment – that’s my added comment: they are all examples of how an air of urgency, panic even, can be created by the media.

Why cannot that sense of urgency be created about the climate emergency and air pollution?

To quote James Dyke again: ‘The current crisis shows us that we are willing to accept quite significant changes to our lives in order to help slow down the spread of a dangerous virus. When it comes to reducing air pollution, we know that taking cars off roads, and closing coal-fired power stations would mean people will live better, longer lives. We have the solutions. There are eight million reasons to implement them with urgency.’

The UK ban on new onshore wind farms has been lifted – I’ve written thanks to our MP, but haven’t heard from him for ages….

On the Leap Year Day (Saturday, February 29th, 2020), The Guardian featured ’50 simple ways to make your life greener’, ideas from cooking and cleaning to fashion and finance. It’s simple to find online too. 

The CEO of British Gas/Centrica got back to me – really swiftly, actually, prompted by thoughts of his teenage children I’m sure. He talked about finding a long-term replacement for gas boilers; and, in the more immediate term, signing ‘exclusive deals’ with Ford and VW to install charging points for electric vehicles. Good news, I think…! But of course the main point is that British Gas customers need to ask about the green options and plans – customer-led change is crucial.

A study has found that bad local transport is linked to failing schools – a ‘striking overlap between places in England with slow public transport and places with struggling secondary schools’. Researchers found clusters of bad transport and underachieving schools in places such as Norfolk and north-east England. London has high levels of connectivity in transport – and, despite deep pockets of deprivation, some of the best school results in the country. The rural poor suffer, while the rural rich add to the air pollution and carbon emissions (parents giving lifts to school…).? Public transport definitely needs to be dramatically improved in the isolated areas, for so many reasons, not least environmental.

Canals, mines and the London Underground will become new sources of renewable heating – the government has promised to spend more than £20m on nine schemes across the country to exploit cheap, renewable heat. GreenSCIES is working on a proposal that uses ‘waste heat’ from the Underground transport network in London to warm hundreds of homes in Islington. Exeter is retrofitting council housing, both cutting emissions and reducing energy bills at the same time. And in Luxembourg, public transport has just become free of charge. These pieces of good news are courtesy of ‘Possible’, an inspiring group doing positive, practical climate action – have a look at their clear website.

I’ve been assured by Costa that all its non-dairy milk is supplied by Alpro – the almond is from bee-friendly sources, and soya from sustainable farms – and they will be adding oat milk.

The General Synod has set a 2030 target for net zero carbon emissions for the Church of England, rejecting the initial recommended target of 2045. The proposal came in an amendment by Canon Professor Martin Gainsborough (Bristol). Good old Bristol (where my grandson lives)! Of course targets are one thing, and action is another. But the will is there; and, hopefully, the Church is a respectable institution that ‘ordinary people’ (even if they’re not ‘believers’) might take notice of…..? I noticed, however, the  Bishop of Salisbury’s (lead bishop on the environment!) reluctance/resistance – ‘he feared that pushing parishes around the country to be net zero by 2030 would cause resentment’….

Those in charge have to get over their fear of offending/upsetting us – be brave, and tell it how it is…! The Archdeacon of Knowsley and Sefton told the meeting he’d often heard churches say that they were saving money for a rainy day and countered: “Today is the rainy day”. Go, Archdeacon!

The EU is in the process of implementing a Green Deal, a hugely complicated process (and dismissed as ‘surrender’ by Greta Thunberg), fraught with significant hurdles. I read loads about it, feeling impressed with Ursula von der Leyen’s and Frans Timmermans’ determination, and then realised that actually the crucial, ‘bottom line’ is that whatever political opposition there is to green  changes (and there certainly is a lot!), young people’s opinions are what count. As one UN official said: “You can imagine a conversation with your own children is much more confrontational than a conversation with a shareholder, or a bad headline in a newspaper.” 

So much amazing hope right there – keep marching, striking and shouting, young activists. We believe in you….

PS The television show ‘Race across the World’ is my ‘light relief’ at the moment – adventure is perfectly possible without the use of aeroplanes (well, I guess they got to the start & finish by plane – a ‘once in a lifetime/year’ experience I hope…?!).

Bees, trees and money

March 2nd, 2020

We had family visiting this weekend, so I’ll start with local/manageable actions we can all take in the climate change fight.

My husband’s busy making a raised bed for growing vegetables at this moment, and I’ve received a message from the National Trust encouraging all of us to ‘make a promise for nature’ this leap year. Planting bee-friendly flowers is one suggestion (and for other pollinating insects, including wasps!) And the National Trust has ditched plastic for the annual membership card it sends out to 5 million people. The new cards will be made from a type of durable paper featuring a tough water-based coating with the paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and will be produced in a mill powered by its own biomass. The new cards will be entirely recyclable and compostable, at a fraction of the cost of the old cards, which were made of plastic and chalk, a by-product of the mining industry. Elsewhere, the charity is looking at removing plastic from most of its greeting cards and wrapping paper, and testing drink dispensers to reduce the sale of bottled drinks (my son-in-law is involved, working to improve National Trust cafes – a family friendly blog, this….!).

Another initiative from the National Trust is looking at alternatives to plastic tree guards, for protecting new saplings.

Tree planting is one way of dealing with the climate emergency. Sir Harry Studholme, who has led the Forestry Commission for the last seven years, has warned: “A tree is for life – don’t plant the wrong ones”. The key to reaching 30,000 hectares of trees a year by 2025 (the government’s target) will be forestry funding via a new system of financial support for farmers – still being devised by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, hopefully to help farmers shift to some forestry.

Mr Studholme said fast-growing conifers are able to sequester more carbon than native deciduous trees. The denser timber of native oak sequesters more carbon per cubic metre. But there are many more cubic metres of timber in a Douglas fir plantation because the trees can grow much closer together, and the firs grow more quickly. So mixed plantations are the answer. 

And ‘we need to do what’s right for each different bit of land.’ Deer and grey squirrels need to be controlled, too, to protect the new trees. If plastic guards are ditched, very, very good deer control will be needed – sad, but true….

On the smaller scale of schools and local communities, the Woodland Trust offers a great range of grants (even, some free offers…) to encourage more tree planting – just go to their website for an application form (if you have some land/permission sorted, of course!.).

Spring is such a heartening time, of course, with its increased light and new growth, but now it’s tinged with sadness about ‘lost’ winters. The Woodland Trust has warned that many species of nesting birds, active insects and amphibians are losing their seasonal cues as winters warm and seasons shift. Some could be tempted out of hibernation too soon and be hit by plummeting temperatures amid increasingly erratic weather. Oak trees respond by producing their first leaves earlier and caterpillars seem to be keeping pace. But blue tits, great tits and pied flycatchers are struggling to react in time for their chicks to take advantage of the peak amount of caterpillars, the food source on which they depend.

I must admit that however much I love warm, sunny weather, I’m concerned that our summer enjoyment will distract from the central issue that’s not going to go away – we must not forget the urgency of the climate emergency…..

I’ll now turn away from the personal, local domain to the human, global WORLD!

Starting with some good news, highlighted by ‘Fossil Free News’ from 350.org:

In Canada’s tar sands region, the largest ever proposed open-pit mine has been shelved – the company Teck Resources said that uncertainty over climate policy and protest in Canada convinced them to pull out.

In the Philippines, a new ban on all new coal-fired power station projects in the province of Antique has passed after years of anti-coal protests in the region. The provincial board said the ban was because of the damaging effects of coal to communities’ health.

In Brazil, what would have been Latin America’s largest open-pit coal mine was stopped by a federal court, thanks to a diverse campaign of marches, public education and advocacy. The court said the coal company’s failure to consult the local Indigenous population was a key factor.

So people power does work!

Please keep signing the petitions I post on Facebook and Twitter (#grandmaglobal); and go on Marches if you can (my daughter in law was at the last Bristol one, and my daughter in spirit…).

Now, a bit of good news that’s between local and global, drivers in Coventry could be paid up to £3,000 a year in transport vouchers to ditch their cars under a UK-first scheme. The Transport for the West Midlands pilot project is designed to reduce congestion and pollution. Those who scrap their cars will get between £1,500 and £3,000 in mobility credits to spend on public transport, taxis, bike shares or a car club. The scheme will be tested in Coventry next year, and could be rolled out across the region if successful. People will be able to apply for the trial later this year.

Jim O’Boyle, the city council’s cabinet member for jobs and regeneration said: “The key now is to work up the scheme in a way that benefits people who may be dependent on using a vehicle as part of their daily responsibilities.” Yes, there is the ‘rub’…. People have to be convinced that there is a benefit for them – is the reward of cleaner air, fewer emissions enough?…Can we convince people that making sacrifices and adapting to living differently is worthwhile?

Fear doesn’t work, I know, but I just had to add this shocking news: new cars sold in the UK produce more carbon dioxide than older models…

Cars that reach the latest standards of emissions use cleaner internal combustion engine technology to combat air pollution; but the demand for bigger, heavier models has led to average greenhouse gas emissions rising (according to Which?, the consumer group). Emissions rose fastest among hybrids, in part due to the weight of the two power sources.

Now, the financial sector. It’s currently reeling because of coronavirus. Maybe it will come back in a different form, a new economic model, once that has retreated…?! We can hope!

More realistically, we just have to keep putting pressure on banks and investment companies to divest from oil, coal and gas.

I’ve written to CEO Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase bank; and I hope friends and climate activists I know in America (and wherever else they have branches) will join the protest action on April 23rd (coinciding with my BP meeting date!).
Turning to the UK and friends & relations here, Barclays has one of the worst records of funding fossil fuel companies – please question this, if you bank with them….

Finally, two positive actions to promote – one, noticed on a trip to my parents’ Norfolk church: next Thursday (March 12th, 7.30pm), Tessa Wardley (who works for DEFRA) is talking about ‘Enjoying Creation and Effecting Change, Nationally and Internationally’ at St Margaret’s Church, Hempnall. She’s an author of several books, including ‘The River Book’, that seek to connect children & adults to the natural world.

The second, 8 Billion Trees, is an amazing group of people fighting deforestation in the Amazon – check out their website.

Greta (a stranger to some…)

February 28th, 2020

I’ve just listened to 17 year old Greta Thunberg address a huge muddy crowd at College Green, Bristol.

Tears were running down my face – why should all these children and young people be fighting for our planet?

Most of the young speakers, incredibly impressive as well, were celebrating the achievements of the youth climate movement, particularly in Bristol, trying not to spread ‘gloom and doom’. 

Greta Thunberg, however, got straight to the point – NOTHING is being done (on a large enough scale). She acknowledged the Bristol Airport expansion rejection achievement, but added “of course it’s not enough”. And she repeated her warning to those in power: “We are not going away”.

The climate strike march was attended by 30,000 people – many came to see ‘Greta’ (chants of her first name greeted her arrival) of course, but more importantly (everyone there would agree, I’m sure) we turned out because we’re frightened, angry about the future and WANTING ACTION….. for our amazing, trusting, anxious, children and grandchildren.

I had a sobering experience on the way home – a young mother, travelling with me back from Bristol, had never heard of Greta Thunberg…. I gave her my ‘non-business as usual’ card… We all need to spread the word and engage with more people, even if it might be tempting to ignore/protect everyone (‘nearest & dearest’ as well as kind, innocent strangers…!)

Bernard Looney, BP’s CEO, was broadcast on Radio 2 as saying “The world is changing, and we have to change too – what’s more we actually WANT to change”….

I’ll be asking him about his real motivations/‘wants’ when I meet him on April 23rd – he’s responded to a personal letter from me. 

In the lead-up to today’s Bristol event, the BBC couldn’t help reducing the fundamental issue of the climate emergency to a ‘personality/cult’ thing: “Who is Greta Thunberg and what does she want?” You’re missing the point, BBC. She wants a better world for her generation, indeed for us all. Leave it at that. 

Other news this week: the third runway plans at Heathrow Airport have been ruled illegal by the court of appeal because ministers did not adequately take into account the government’s commitments to tackle the climate crisis. That is very good news.

But I do despair about the lack of progress. What commitments exactly?! Yes, they have a target… 2050 (too late..) But what plans are actually being put into place to meet targets, what action is happening? Houses are still being built, without sustainable heating; and being built on flood plains.

Wet wood and house coal is to be banned from next year, to address the serious issue of air pollution. Excellent. A ‘drop in the ocean’, however…?  

Are there more fundamental plans to phase out oil and coal heating systems…?

I’ve written to two of our local suppliers, systems that are common in rural areas such as where I live.

I’ve also written to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon – he’s committed loads of money to ‘climate change solutions’ but at the same time funds climate-denying think tanks and climate-delaying policy; as well as penalising the amazing, brave ‘Amazon Employees for Climate Justice’….

And I intend to contact JP Morgan Chase Bank (CEO James Dimon) – similar ‘half-cocked’ climate pledges seem to be happening there…

Sorry, I could go on, but I’m sure you don’t want me to…

Somehow, I feel more gloomy after today’s March – the passion, commitment and energy of all those young people is unbearably moving….

I met a lovely woman on the train to the event, however – I hope she won’t mind that I encourage any of you to check out her blog (for the sake of her grandchildren, as mine is…one grandson, so far, but three ‘children’ I so love….): clairessavetheworld.blog

She told me about an inspiring, encouraging positive film, 2040, which concentrates on all the amazing projects that are being done around the world to promote a greener future.

Seaweed has wonderful properties, apparently – there are so many answers: the people in power need to really WANT to change and fund the solutions, not add to the problems.

That’s the end for today….

Greenwashing (part 2)& dishwashing

February 18th, 2020

BP has announced that it will be carbon neutral by 2050.

On hearing the news, I felt so excited and relieved, even though 2050 is not soon enough – could one of the most polluting companies in the world, responsible for helping to drive climate change, actually be a passport to turning round the crisis?

NO, is the sad short answer, I quickly discovered. They intend to continue drilling for oil and gas. They will offset emissions, eventually… What? Does BP really believe that will lead to a ‘brave, new world’?

Offsetting is now becoming accepted as the norm, it feels. That idea was made up years ago, when a few of us first decided to stop flying.  It didn’t take off (please excuse all the vehicle puns….), because, I think, environmentalists recognised it for what it was – a way for people to feel better about carrying on without changing anything… Now, it has re-surfaced, because most people realise something has got to be done but companies do not want us to change our behaviour too much – so they offer offsetting to us. Our accountant was explaining offsetting to me the other day (unnecessarily!) and he said ‘it’s what airlines do’. Of course planting trees, and all the environmental schemes supported by such companies as RyanAir, are brilliant.

But not flying is better!

No amount of offsetting can cancel out the harm that BP and other oil companies are doing. It’s great that they have green plans – please keep them, to soak up the huge amount of carbon emissions that are already in the atmosphere.

Please stop the drilling too, though, and don’t pretend you’re green – that’s the end of today’s appeal!

One more appeal to my friends and family (& any other followers..), actually – take a look at the Flight Free 2020 website. ‘We Stay on the Ground’ campaigners have a really sensible, non-preachy ‘frequently asked questions’ section. They spell out the reasons that carbon offsetting is definitely not the answer. And, another fact they highlight – did you know that there is no tax on aviation fuel? Unbelievable… That’s how flights can be so cheap. And don’t forget the costs of getting to the airport etc…. I know time is an issue, with train travel, of course.

Talking of trains, HS2 has finally got the go-ahead, as you in the UK will know.

The destruction of ancient woodlands is unforgivable in my opinion, but there are also plenty of business arguments against the clumsy, wasteful scheme. Nils Pratley in the financial pages of The Guardian said: “Those of us who believe there are smarter ways to spend £100bn on improving railways, and faster ways to deliver ‘levelling-up’ benefits, have lost.”

But there’s another glimmer of hope here too – Boris Johnson apparently made a remark in the House of Commons that could be interpreted as the mood turning against Heathrow’s proposed expansion. Mr Pratley continues: “Never underestimate the power of the Heathrow lobby, which is just as determined as HS2’s, but it suddenly looks very easy for a PM with a large majority to kill the third runway. He should go for it.”

We at last have a leader for the Glasgow COP26 – Alok Sharma, the new business secretary. I’ve tweeted him (please do the same, or write, and check out my tweets #grandmaglobal). I’m not very optimistic – he’s likely to be distracted/lobbied to put short term political interests before the health of the climate….

Now, the subject of reducing waste. I’ve come across an organisation called TerraCycle – its aim is to recycle the ‘non-recyclable’. It turns waste materials into useable items, such as tables and planters (& even weirdly, ashtrays…?!). Crisp packets, baby food and pet food pouches, and other items I think, can be sent to the company; and there are also pick-up points around the country (and in other countries). I’m going to give this a go, instead of adding to yet more landfill (and, worse, dumping in oceans…).

There’s also a good new shopping initiative, The Loop, being launched next month. It is backed by major consumer goods companies Unilever and PepsiCo, which might make us suspicious.. but it does sound a move in the right direction.

Groceries will be delivered in durable metal, glass or plastic containers that can be returned and reused. Afterwards the empties, like the old-fashioned milk bottles delivery service, are collected from the doorstep, cleaned and reused up to 100 times. In France, the Loop service has already started with the Carrefour supermarket chain. Mike Barry, a sustainability expert who spent 14 years at Marks & Spencer (latterly as head of its ethical scheme Plan A), said: “The new sustainable future has to cope with 7.7 billion people who are consuming trillions of items a year. Loop is an exciting alternative to today’s approach to consumption but the big question is can it be scaled up quick enough to stop the ocean pollution crisis?” Probably not, sadly, but doing something is better than doing nothing, of course….As Tesco would say: “Every little helps”….?!

In addition, it would be wonderful if more people could put pressure on such people as Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos, to stop the production of so much horrendous micro-plastic. Boycott Ineos, at least…

And finally on waste, I’ve heard that a canteen at one of my relative’s work-places continues to serve coffee and tea in take-away cups (to save the effort/space etc of dishwashing). This kind of ‘convenience’ should no longer be acceptable – that’s the ‘inconvenient truth’….

I write this during the flooding caused by Storm Dennis, quite close to my home. The Environment Agency has announced that ‘we are in uncharted territory’, as reported on BBC Radio’s news, but no mention of the climate crisis.

Why do we not hear the phrase ‘climate crisis’ more in daily life, galvanising us all to action….? 

Cabin Pressure

February 13th, 2020

Some good news this week – the expansion plans by Bristol Airport have been rejected by North Somerset council. Hurrah!

The decision still has to be ratified, and the airport has six months to appeal, so of course every piece of silver has a cloudy lining….

But I’ve written to Bristol Airport and various airlines, of course, and for now I’m just trying to be happy with the core news.

KLM has already replied to me, noting expansions due to take place all around European airports too. I hope those cities all have energetic Extinction Rebellion groups and other ‘flygskam’ enthusiasts opposing the plans, to match those impressive people in North Somerset.

Emma Crewe, a local resident and professor, was quoted in the Guardian saying: “In the last year we have witnessed an incredible and diverse movement of volunteers, young and old, springing up across the south-west making arguments against airport expansion. I think they are motivated by extreme concern for the planet, the greenbelt and the beauty of this part of Somerset.”

So yes, that is the solution – all of us human beings somehow have to recognise that this ‘fight’ is for all of us, and come together: we might differ in what we place emphasis on (from local to global), but at heart we share. ‘More in Common’ as Brendan Cox said, remembering his murdered wife Jo, in a different context of course, but optimistically relevant, I feel…

The image of an ostrich burying its head in the sand is sadly appropriate – Ryan Air and Easy Jet are continuing to offer ridiculously low-cost flights, stoking the general public’s ability to ignore the climate emergency. Both budget airlines proudly boast their ‘environment credentials’ (tucked away, far from the immediate lure of cheap holidays; and, maybe more worryingly, the hook of commuting by plane, sometimes daily!..). These consist mainly of ‘offsetting’ – as Adrian Gibbs, an environment consultant, said: “The airport would need to plant millions of trees a year to offset the extra CO2 the expansion scheme would create”. Offsetting is never going to solve the problem. Stopping things at source, or at least limiting, is the answer. (A fellow volunteer at the community shop I go to on Friday reckoned, last week, that I wouldn’t like something because it was plastic – it’s single-use plastics we need to stop, at source.) He added the crucial phrase, that some people still seem yet to acknowledge – “Our house is on fire”. To expand an airport is to throw fuel on it.

A desperately sad example of pouring fuel on fire is in Australia – Scott Morrison’s cynical, arrogant government claims it has no alternative to burning more coal and gas in the face of the country’s catastrophic fires….Its plan to plant more trees to capture carbon is risible action, as it goes hand in hand with the coal mine plans and even forest clearances… 

As Tim Flannery says: “If Australia was being threatened by an external enemy, Morrison’s government would be doing everything within its power to recruit allies. It would put the economy on a war footing, and raise arms.” But this global heating enemy, caused in part by Australian policies, is not worth fighting…? In addition to using the frightening term ‘mega fires’, and warning  there will be more to come around the world, Mr Flannery has written a book that sounds optimistic – ‘Atmosphere of Hope: Solutions to the Climate Crisis’.

We mustn’t forget the crisis – if one country’s suffering is out of sight for a while, it should not be out of mind.

Here’s another strange hopeful turn of events, in this country – Michael Gove is expressing opinions that are moves in the right direction. He has implicitly criticised the US and Brazilian presidents for their scepticism about the climate emergency. Calling for concerted global action on the emergency, at the forthcoming COP26 summit, he said: “I shan’t mention any world leaders by name in a critical fashion. However, it’s important in the United States and in Brazil that we recognise that there will be people, at the state and at the city level, who can play a vital role in driving change that we all need to see.” Good plan, let’s circumvent Trump and Bolsonaro – leave them isolated in their vicious cruelty….

Gove also admitted that as the first country in the world to industrialise, Britain has a “responsibility to lead a green industrial revolution as well.”

I never thought I’d say this, but thank goodness he still has a front bench role in the UK government (minister for the Cabinet Office). As you’ll know, I’m sure, Boris Johnson’s re-shuffle today has resulted in a new Chancellor – where does that leave hopes for the March Budget….?

Now, sad and bad news about bees – bumblebees are in drastic decline across Europe and North America owing to hotter and more frequent extremes in temperatures. A scientific study suggests the likelihood of a bumblebee population surviving in any given place has declined by 30% in the course of a single human generation. The researchers say the rates of decline appear to be “consistent with a mass extinction”. There’s that word…. I know some people do not like Extinction Rebellion’s ‘gloom and doom’ approach; but the natural world is seriously suffering extinctions…On a lighter note, do you remember the ‘Bee Movie’ in 2007?… Why didn’t we take action after that, though? Bees are so important for pollination of crops. Professor Jeremy Kerr, from Canada, the study’s senior author, at least gives us hope. He said: “This work… implies ways that we might take the sting (good choice of words, my comment!) out of climate change by maintaining habitats that offer shelter. Ultimately, we must address climate change itself and every action we take to reduce emissions will help.”

Finally, good news, I think, from another unlikely source – Nestle, apparently (according to someone on change.org who started a petition appealing to Kellogg’s to ‘stop destroying rainforests for cheap palm oil’) , has started using satellite tracking to identify deforestation so they can take action if it is one of their suppliers.