Emerging 2 #1

December 4th, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockdown 2 #4

November 27th, 2020

How is this happening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve written to the CEO of Persimmon Homes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockdown 2 #3

November 17th, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockdown 2 #2

November 12th, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on petrol/oil now….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockdown2 #1

November 5th, 2020

Mm, what a day….

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

And today there’s England’s second lockdown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, a few pieces of wildlife news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holding on #6

October 29th, 2020

Everything’s connected!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the labels when shopping!

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

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

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

Holding on #5

October 21st, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See what you think at actionnetwork.org

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

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

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

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

Holding on #4

October 17th, 2020

A new campaign has been launched, in a bid to persuade more of us to change behaviour, in the fight against climate change – it’s called ‘Count us In’.

It highlights 16 steps that we can all take to help reduce carbon emissions. As well as the usual steps such as cutting down on car use, flights and meat, it includes asking politicians to act or invest to support the steps, choosing financial institutions and funds that invest responsibly and talking to friends (& speaking up at work). These three ‘extra’ steps are my ‘mission’ here really…

HSBC (who also own First Direct) is one of the ‘Count us In’ partners, apparently – I’ve written to them, not sure how ethical and responsible they really are…?

Some climate campaigners have dismissed the new group, feeling it is shifting responsibility on to ‘ordinary people’, away from the actual polluters.

I can sympathise with that view (big organisations should certainly not get away with environmental destruction by hiding behind ‘greenwashing’), but I do believe we could all change the actions of the powerful – by withdrawing our support….

Of course that’s a terrible over-simplification, but the bottom line is surely that ‘business as usual’ continues because people support it. It’s particularly hard at the moment, of course, as during the pandemic we’re desperate for some usual/normal in our lives. Life could be better than the ‘old normal’ though…. And we need to prevent future pandemics – they’re more likely to happen if we return to the ‘old normal’.

I think I should stop rambling, but please check out the Count us In (count-us-in.org) website – we really can make changes if we all pull together! 

If not us, who?

If not now, when?

This week has been quite depressing on the Farming and Fisheries front – our deeply disappointing government has voted against preserving in law safeguarding British food and farming trade standards; and post-Brexit protections against over-fishing have also been rejected.

How can supertrawlers in marine protected areas be justified? So wrong. Where was Carrie Symonds’ influence? Boris Johnson’s partner paradoxically works for Oceana, the organisation that is trying to protect oceans, as I might have mentioned before….

Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy’s amendment to the Agriculture Bill, about pesticides, was not even ‘brought to a vote’.

One glimmer of light is that the organisation Sustain (the alliance for better food and farming) believes the Government and MPs are worried by the level of public concern and media coverage – so it is asking us to write to our MPs in support of #SaveOurStandards and #BackBritishFarming. Do you remember Boris Johnson wearing a sheaf of wheat badge on National Farmers Day?! So ironic….

Apparently, another irony, while the Agriculture Bill was being debated, Channel Four was exposing the ‘Dirty Secrets of American Food’ – it should be required viewing by MPs, hoping that some might be ‘on the fence’ and change their minds…important to hope…

I need some cheerfulness now!

Idris Elba and his wife, Sabrina Dhowre Elba, have said individuals can make a difference in tackling climate change. They are ambassadors for the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development. Some of IFAD’s projects aim to make food production more resilient to the impacts of climate change. They are piloting climate adaption technologies such as rainwater harvesting and supplementary irrigation. Idris Elba particularly focused on education – he urged people to read about what is happening in the world, how we are damaging it: “Each one, teach one: the next person’s going to learn something.”

They were talking on BBC Radio 5 Live’s new podcast with Liz Bonnin (who made that amazing, deeply disturbing documentary ‘Meat’ and who I saw on stage, telling us about plastic…) – ‘What Planet are we on?’ Each week this is ‘offering solutions and practical tips as well as hearing from experts, campaigners and well-known names.’

A couple of other good things: two young sisters, Jia and Asha Kirkpatrick, have been awarded as ‘Young Heroes’ (Amplifon Awards 2020, alongside Marcus Rashford) for their work in lobbying Kellogg’s to reject palm oil from deforested areas, in order to protect orang-utans.

And ‘Sound and Music’, the national organisation for new music, has announced Climate.Sound.Change – 3 x £500 grants for artists working with sound and music to create new works that respond to the climate emergency. A minimum of one of the grants is reserved for a young person aged 16-21. Works can be created either solo or with collaborators of your choice. The opportunity is intentionally open, and it can be broad; or focused on areas that might include mass production, pollution, disability, access to water, global warming, indigenous rights, racial justice, class discrimination, environmental refugees and displacement, biodiversity loss, specific regional issues.

For more information, contact heather.blair@soundandmusic.org 

If you have accessibility needs and require additional support for applying contact alex.noble@soundandmusic.org

Holding on #3

October 8th, 2020

The green recovery has started! 

Well, the words sound good – Boris Johnson has promised to power every home in the UK with offshore wind energy within a decade. The devil is of course in the detail – Greenpeace’s John Sauven said: “If carried through, [the commitment] would help cement the UK’s global leadership in this key technology. But delivering 40 gigawatts of power on to the grid by 2030 requires action in this parliament. We now need to see the prime minister’s newly found enthusiasm is followed through by knocking down all the barriers that the offshore wind industry faces in delivering its ambition.”

And no mention was made of onshore wind, which is the cheapest form of wind energy but has been subject to stringent planning regulations brought in under David Cameron, meaning few onshore turbines have been built in the UK in the last five years.

Politicians still believe, apparently, that our communities are generally anti wind turbines – you could prove them wrong by telling your MP and/or joining local projects to install these essential energy providers. We are a windy country, destined to experience more windy storms – as people like Dale Vincent, founder of Ecotricity, have been saying for years, we need to harness natural power….

At the same time as Johnson’s promises, why has the go-ahead been granted for a new coal mine in Cumbria? Unbelievable double standards….

‘Stay Grounded’ is appealing for help in countering aviation greenwashing – resisting unnecessary flights, and certainly opposing all airport expansions, is the only way to reduce the impact of the aviation industry in the climate crisis.

Companies like Airbus want us to believe that hydrogen-powered aircraft is the answer.

So we can return to irresponsible flying habits.

Waiting for such technologies prevents effective climate action today; and in the meantime emissions continue to rise.

Airlines have not been meeting their own low targets for biofuels for years. Why would they do any better in switching to hydrogen?

The biggest problem about hydrogen is it’s energy intensive to produce. Aviation at pre-Covid levels would need an enormous amount of it. Emission reductions would only be possible with ‘green’ hydrogen from renewable energies. We are already struggling to develop enough renewable energy systems. We should not waste precious energy on a relatively luxurious activity of a global minority – better to simply reduce luxury flying and travel by train, surely?!

Where hydrogen will probably prove useful is to run buses, ferries and even trains. 

Scottish Power plans to use clean electricity generated by a major new solar farm on a site near Glasgow. This electricity will run an electrolyser to split water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Lindsay McQuade, head of renewables at Scottish Power, said: “Green hydrogen is something that everyone is talking about, but we wanted to do something about it.”

She said that by working with industry leaders such as ITM Power and BOC the partnership would be able to offer the operators of heavy vehicle fleets and industry “a packaged solution that brings all of the pieces of the jigsaw together – production, distribution, supply” from as soon as 2022. “All they have to do is provide the vehicles”, she added.

The UK agriculture bill returns to the House of Commons next Monday (October 12th) – there are still serious worries about USA standards (depressingly low) influencing our food and farming….

Minette Batters, National Farmers Union president, has called on our government to make a legal commitment to ban chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef from supermarket shelves.

She said: “If we don’t put a marker in the sand, if government doesn’t put a red line down in the agricultural bill, that allows secondary legislation… to change it. You have to put that marker down and say: ‘No, you know, we’re going to stick by our word today’.”

Mm, that would be good – I’ll try to have faith, in the NFU if not in the government! Henry Dimbleby, the ‘food tsar’ behind the National Food Strategy, is ‘on the case’ too…..

Two positives:

Plans have just been submitted for the first stage of arguably the UK’s most ambitious council-led housing programme in a generation – in York (close to my heart!). The city is planning to build at least 600 homes across eight sites within the ring road, each designed to have a net carbon emissions figure of zero. Every element of the scheme, from the front door out into the transport network, is tuned to tackle the climate emergency head on.

London-based practice Mikhail Riches has been selected as lead architect, the firm behind the acclaimed Stirling prize-winning Goldsmith Street in Norwich (where I also have history!).

I’ve written to them!

A charity called Rory’s Well is pioneering a holistic programme of regenerative agriculture around the Gola Rainforest in Sierra Leone. ‘Slash & burn’ agriculture is one of the major causes of deforestation, soil degradation and carbon emission in the tropics, but subsistence farmers have little choice if their families are to eat…. This charity has been working for five years to develop paddy field systems in the swamps which provide permanent community farms, and bee keeping initiatives which help preserve both bees and the forest. The third part of the plan is to use Inga, a leguminous tree, to enable the development of permanent sustainable farms on reclaimed forest land. Inga has a range of very impressive qualities that can help transform how food is grown – this new farming system is also powerful in reducing CO2 emissions.

To find out more, you could join the Wotton-under-Edge Climate Action Network meeting via Zoom on October 22nd, or visit http://www.roryswell.org

Holding on #2

October 2nd, 2020

As we enter the final quarter of this life-changing year, I am planning a ‘new look’ for my blog.

From the New Year 2021 I intend to concentrate on promoting life-affirming projects by people (individuals, groups, communities, small companies around the world), striving to re-connect us with Nature. To be honest, my heart sinks writing that date – we should be well on the way to avoiding catastrophic global heating by then, but we’re clearly not…

So, I will continue to address the people in power, when I have the energy, and will continue to demonstrate and protest so we are still visible; but on a personal level, I will just write about good stuff here! Please let me know, via these posts, if you know of any projects that would like a little extra recognition….

‘Flock Together’ has gladdened my heart! – a birdwatching club for people of colour, such a great thing. For founders Ollie Olanipekun and Nadeem Perera, it’s about making birdwatching accessible to as many people as possible, especially those who live in urban centres and don’t always grow up with the opportunity to engage with nature in a meaningful way. 

A group of young people is appealing to their peers to get engaged in climate issues. Filmmaker Alice Aedy, one of the founders of Earthrise, said: “One of the most dangerous things we are trying to tackle is this idea of ‘Oh, we’re f****d anyway. What’s the point? I’m just going to live my life…. That feeling of powerlessness is something that we are going to dedicate this platform to trying to fight.”

Jack Harries added: “Especially post-Covid the story should be, ‘How do we build back better? How do we build a better world for everyone? How do we make it positive?’ We simply can’t afford to return back to normal.”

I don’t want to be a ‘platform’ for promoting particular ‘brands’ or companies, but of course some are better than others….! The Environmental Investigation Agency has reported that Iceland has issued a ‘plastic challenge’ to rival supermarket chains, urging the UK Government to introduce mandatory reporting and reduction targets. In the lead up to the EIA’s Checking Out on Plastics supermarkets survey, Iceland has revealed its accurate plastic packaging footprint for 2019. (31,000 tonnes, so awful to envisage…..) Inaccurate reporting from the UK retail sector is ‘the norm’, apparently, obstructing meaningful action on plastic pollution. So, Iceland is good for being honest and championing the need for proper reporting. But, such a long way to go….

Another ‘back-handed compliment’ this week will go to Tesco. It has committed to boosting sales of meat alternatives by 300% by 2025. It’s certainly good to know that during the past year demand for chilled meat-free foods (burgers, sausage and mince substitutes being most popular) has increased by almost 50%. The awkward question of course is how many of these ‘lines’ contain soya and/or palm oil from places involved in deforestation…? Hopefully, Tesco is addressing these issues too – they are working with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), at least….to try to halve the environmental impact of the average UK shopping basket, they say.

A very timely email has just arrived – Greenpeace have put a really informative (and even entertaining…?!) video on its YouTube channel, about soya. Vast areas of land in South America are being cleared for soya crops. Who’s eating all this soya though? Is it vegans and vegetarians eating soya burgers and drinking soya milk? No, only 6%. Most of it is used as animal feed to produce industrial meat. Search for Greenpeace, or I’ve put the link on Facebook and Twitter – my husband Bill Sanderson’s accounts, as I’ve broken my phone…!

Did you know that Pope Francis called last year for ecocide to be made a ‘fifth category of crimes against peace’ at the International Criminal Court? Maybe your Catholic friends did…

Last month, a special eco-delegation from France (including writer Pablo Servigne and actress Juliette Binoche, with Valerie Cabanes of Stop Ecocide) presented the Pope with a request for him to use his diplomatic and spiritual influence to build on his call. The French delegation apparently witnessed the Pope spontaneously recounting his ‘ecological conversion’. Indigenous elders in the Amazon and Canada helped him see “the way all things connect. Everything is connected, everything is in relationship. In our human societies we have lost this understanding… this sense of roots, of belonging.”

Satish Kumar is an advocate of living in harmony with Nature, too. He believes, and I totally agree, that the worldview that human beings are at the centre of the universe is no longer valid. He says, in his new book (published by Leaping Hare Press, beautiful name!): “We are utterly dependent on other species and we have to take care of them. We are members of one Earth community and need a new trinity that is holistic and inclusive, that embraces the entire planet and all species upon it – soil, soul, society.”

‘Possible’ has won funding to work with communities in London, Bristol, Leeds and Birmingham, building new visions of cities free from private cars; and the campaign group’s solar railways project has secured its first commercial funding, to develop a pipeline of new renewable energy projects in England and Wales. 

A few more pieces of good news! 

Scotland has invested £1.8m into decommissioning oil and gas infrastructure in the North Sea. And the vast majority of workers affected are looking forward to the switch to green careers, taking money away from fossil fuels.

More than 300 British Olympians and Paralympians have called on the government to prioritise a green recovery.

Lego is switching to eco-friendly paper bags in its packaging.

Dr Jane Goodall and Thomas Mangelsen, both having spent a lifetime immersed in wildlife, will be having ‘A Conservation Conversation’, headlining Wildscreen Festival on Thursday, October 22nd – aiming to continue to bring conservation issues to a wide audience.

Now, earlier this week I was pleased to read about 64 world leaders (including Boris Johnson) signing a Leaders’ Pledge for Nature – committing to put wildlife and the climate at the heart of post-pandemic economic recovery plans, promising to address the climate crisis, deforestation, ecosystem degradation and pollution.

However, this may still be more words, without action; aiming for 2050 is still too late; and ‘key players’ (including the USA and Brazil) still seem oblivious to the crisis BUT there are some seeds for hope here.

The UN’s biodiversity head, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema (whom I quoted a while ago as saying we are handing down a dead planet to future generations), has welcomed the pledge as an ‘inspirational contribution’ to ongoing negotiations.

Finally, one more appeal for you to contact your MP (UK readers…!) – Power for People are campaigning for a new law that would make new community energy businesses viable – at the moment, unfair regulations and high costs mean local energy projects are often impossible to get off the ground.

More than 200 MPs (even Conservatives, thank goodness..) are backing the proposal, for a Local Electricity Bill – please ask your MP to support this too. You can check if he/she is already on the list of supporters, at Possible or Power for People.