Freedumb in the UK 1

July 24th, 2021

I started this project more than two years ago, inspired by the birth of my son’s son. Today my daughter’s daughter is one week old.

I am even more determined that the Earth should be a better place.

The record high temperatures in the UK over the last week (what a week to be born in…?!), the floods in Western Europe and China, as well as more wildfires in America, should surely wake the world up to the climate emergency?

There are 100 days left until the climate conference in Glasgow (COP26). What gets decided at this summit will shape the future for everyone, but particularly the youngest amongst us…

As hosts, the UK plays a vital role in ensuring world leaders do everything they can to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C and secure a healthier, greener, fairer future.

Please visit The Climate Coalition team online, to see what they’re doing to remind Boris Johnson and co to ‘step up’…

And, to coincide with this new feeling of urgency, the Campaign for the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (a new UK law to protect our precious Earth) has re-named itself Zero Hour.

“Zero Hour literally means the time an operation has to begin.

In other words…

For decades, we’ve known about climate change, for decades, we’ve talked.

For decades, we’ve hesitated.

But, now we have to take action.

Now, it’s Zero Hour nature.

Zero hour for the UK’s future.

It’s time to act….”

They have the backing of 112 MPs (no Conservatives, I think, predictably – they’re under the illusion that they’re doing enough with their Environment Bill, far from it…) and 82 councils.

Three of my local councils are named as supporters – I’ve written to my ‘contact’ at one, a large one, that’s missing….

Ben Fogle, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Konnie Huq and Thom Yorke (Radiohead) are ‘signed up’ as well – hopefully, their names will bring more publicity to the campaign.

It would be great if you could check www.ceebill.uk too, please!

Now, oat milk!

We haven’t drunk/bought dairy milk for a while …

Primarily, this is to end our support for livestock farming, a significant contributor to climate change (so much of the Earth’s land is wasted, and degraded, on feeding animals).

And cows are made to have calves, which are then unnaturally taken away from them….Too much stuff goes on ‘behind the scenes’ that we conveniently close our minds to…so that we can carry on drinking milk & eating meat…

I’ve discovered there are added benefits to drinking oat milk instead! It tastes good, much more gentle, smooth somehow!

Also, particularly noticeable in the recent heatwave, it doesn’t go ‘off’ as quickly as dairy milk – ‘best consumed within 4 – 5 days of opening’ (an unopened life, in fridge, of about 3 weeks).

I’m keen to promote the English oat milk, Pure Oaty, from Glebe Farm Foods – they’re being taken to court by Oatly, unbelievably…. That Swedish company seems to be getting ‘too big for its boots’ and turning into a typical greedy multi-national…..

Hopefully, Jord (‘Nordic oat drink’ stocked by Sainsbury’s, that we drink) isn’t going the same way.

Pure Oaty is stocked by the Co-op, but not in all stores – maybe ask for it, as I did in our local store.

Greenpeace is running a campaign to raise awareness about Tesco’s dubious environmental record. The company sells more meat and uses more soya for animal feed than any other supermarket in the UK. Tesco has made a commitment to remove deforestation from its supply chain – yet it’s still buying meat reared on South American soya and from companies (Moy Park and Pilgrim’s Pride) owned by notorious forest destroyer JBS.

I’m delivering a letter to our local Tesco manager on Monday.

Greenpeace aims to shine the spotlight of unwelcome publicity on every Tesco store in the UK, believing Tesco cares more about its public image and reputation than it does about the Earth and precious Amazon forests.

You can visit act.gp/tesco-stores to see which stores haven’t been visited yet – 438 stores ‘done’, 2,297 left apparently!

Finally, I’d like to promote 5 ethical fashion brands using recycled ocean plastic.

Discarded fishing nets (or ghost nets) make up 46% of ocean plastic.

The team at Bracenet say it’s “our mission to retrieve ghost nets from the oceans, as well as to prevent them from polluting the seas in the first place”. They make bracelets, hence the name, and also anklets, keychains, bags, dog leads and more. They even tell you which ocean your Bracenet came from!

Using organic, OceanBalance (™) recycled materials, Fish People has created a collection of clothes for both men and women, including board shorts, leggings, swimsuits and hoodies.

Oceans The Brand boasts that their range is “an absolute win-win for stylish people with a conscience”. They only make men’s shorts, but these come in funky (?!) styles and colours and are made from 100% recycled fibres that come from plastic waste.

Aava offers sea-life inspired swimwear made from reclaimed ocean waste such as plastic bottles and fishing nets. They also make towels and accessories.

And Seamorgens uses regenerated yarn to create a range of women’s leggings and swimsuits.

I hope you’re continuing to visit my Facebook page (lots of campaigns/petitions to join!), Emily Thwaite; and also follow me on Twitter #grandmaglobal

Lockdown 3 #11

July 10th, 2021

This is a bittersweet time in my family life at the moment…..

There have been a number of big global news events since I last wrote, not least the Gulf of Mexico on fire due to oil, but I’m going to start with the ‘small’….

I’m trying to re-train my mind and view common household ‘pests’ as all part of the Earth’s rich tapestry of life. Rodents and insects are all wildlife, with a vital part to play in our ecosystem. As Laura-Lisa Hellwig, at the vegan charity Viva!, says: “Some of them have been here for a much longer time than we have. Really, we should find a peaceful way to live together instead of eradicating or cruelly killing some of them.” Tim Dowling (Guardian, July 5th) has written a pest-by-pest guide to humanely controlling them. As he says: “Unfortunately, many pest control products still associate effectiveness with lethality. The ant trap I bought says it ‘destroys ants and their nests!’ I really just wanted them off the worktop.”

With ants, the key is to find their entry point and wait for nightfall! Kevin Newell, founder of Humane Wildlife Solutions, says: “Because the ants will return to their nest at night – they don’t come out at night to forage – you just need a simple Polyfilla or something to block that hole up.” If you keep the whole area clean, with hot water mixed with lemon juice or vinegar, you’ll essentially remove the ants’ scent trail so they’re back to stage one. Clean the kitchen floor so there’s no food to be found – even if the first ant, which started laying the scent trail, comes in again, when she doesn’t find anything she’ll simply go back out, and it will be deemed an area where there’s no food for them.”

Simple solutions!

Now to wildlife outdoors – the People’s Postcode Lottery (we won The Perfect Planet book the other day!) are helping to fund 12 new Wildlife Trusts projects, focused on both climate change mitigation and adaptation. The Great North Bog project aims to put more than 4,000 hectares of upland peatland under restoration management: peat bogs are able to store large amounts of CO2. Another project, in Devon, will create a nature-based solution centre on a farm to show how nature can help reverse the impacts of intensive agriculture.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, said: “We urgently need to be thinking about how we can let nature help in tackling the climate crisis and how it can help with adaptation. A lot of that is about holding water back in the landscape: recreating our wetlands, restoring our peatlands and reintroducing beavers.

“We know there is a lot of eco-anxiety and sometimes people feel we are not changing fast enough. If we can establish large-scale projects and actually start to turn things around, we can demonstrate what can be done in the UK.”

On the subject of farmed animals, I have only just realised the extent of the problem of supermarket chicken. Major poultry producers, stocked by all our UK supermarkets (yes, including Sainsbury’s where we shop…and the Co-op which is usually good on ethical issues), have cross-bred and interbred birds to create ‘mutant’ chickens which grow larger in a shorter space of time and need less feed. They end their lives hardly able to stand, and often in filthy conditions. (Franken-chickens, as campaigners call them, grow six times faster than a century ago, and are now slaughtered at only 35 days old…) All to feed ‘our’ billion-a-year appetite for chicken…..

Marks and Spencer has decided to end the sale of these unnatural, suffering birds.

If you want to join the campaign to put pressure on the other big supermarkets, visit the Open Cages website, or just spread the word and get friends & neighbours to stop buying….!

Here is some encouraging news (from the EU!) – the European Commission has announced it will propose legislation to phase out caged farming through the EU. This is a huge step forward in the campaign by Compassion in World Farming to End the Cage Age.

So, don’t give up hope – ‘green’ lobbying can work, not just the immoral kind by politicians and multinationals!

This month is Plastic Free July. 

A special report in the journal Science says that a binding global treaty is needed to phase out the production of ‘virgin’ or new plastic by 2040 (surely that’s manageable…?).

Science senior editor Jesse Smith writes: “The time for preventing plastic pollution is long past – the time for changing the future of plastics in our world, however, is now.”

The report calls for a new global treaty “to cover the entire lifecycle of plastics, from the extraction of the raw materials needed for its manufacture to its legacy, pollution”.

A report by Tearfund last year revealed that just four companies, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle and Unilever were responsible for more than half a million tonnes of plastic pollution in six developing countries each year, enough to cover 83 football pitches every day.

We have such a duty to ‘clean up our act’ in the rest of the world….

And there is so much to think about…!  The new traffic-light system of ‘eco-scores’, to be piloted on British food labels so we know the environmental impact of our food and drinks, is welcome. Apparently, together with British brands, Nestle is backing Foundation Earth, a new non-profit organisation which has put together this scheme. 

Mm, the same ubiquitous polluting Nestle, who are also draining millions of gallons of waters from California’s aquifers and selling it back to people in plastic bottles…

We must beware of the climate crisis being cynically used by ‘big business’, as just another opportunity – greenwashing….

Boots, for instance, has started making ‘eco’ nappies – is this to switch customers away from buying ‘Eco by Naty’ nappies? And Its own brand are not as good, only containing 40% eco/bamboo fibre…..

Or shall we just be grateful that companies are competing to be ‘green’ nowadays….?

Finally (sorry this is long – but I’ve been quiet for a while..), if you just do one ‘eco’ thing today,

please check out MakeMyMoneyMatter.co.uk – the most powerful thing you can do to protect the planet is to make sure your money is being invested ethically…..

See you!

Lockdown 3 #10

June 19th (Juneteenth), 2021

‘The Human Swan’, Sacha Dench, is starting a 3,000 mile journey, around mainland Britain, on Monday (June 21st), to raise awareness about climate change.

She is flying in a paraglider powered with an electric engine, from a location near Glasgow and returning to land in the area approximately six weeks later.

The Australian biologist, conservationist and adventurer lost her family home to bushfires last year.

She said: “I’m doing it to try and demonstrate just how far we can go in terms of decarbonising our transport and our lifestyles in general.

“The real thing we’re hoping to do though is make use of the journey, and the fact that I have to stop frequently to change batteries, to stop and land and speak to people who have solutions for climate change…brilliant projects… whilst Britain drove the industrial revolution, we can drive the green revolution too.”

So, some positive actions looking ahead to the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow – putting the disappointments/shortcomings of the G7 meeting in Cornwall behind us!

Children and young people are leading some of the ‘brilliant projects’ – Asha and Jia, aged 13 and 11, following on from pressuring Kelloggs, have now started a campaign to urge Colgate-Palmolive to ditch palm oil from their products.

They write: “We are sisters and we care about the environment and the world we live in.

“Do you know that most products in your house contribute towards deforestation, from toothpaste to bread?

Before August 2018, we’d never heard of palm oil either. However, after watching a documentary about the impact of deforestation, we were extremely upset to discover that most products in our house contributed towards mass deforestation.

So, what is Palm Oil? It is an oil that derives from Palm Fruit and it could be completely sustainable. But to farm this mass-produced oil, rainforests are destroyed and rows of palm trees are eventually planted instead. This is extremely problematic for every species in rainforests but it’s especially harmful for orangutans, which are already an endangered species – 25 orang-utans are killed every day due to palm oil and we must take action now.”

You can sign the girls’ petition(s) here – www.petitiongirls.com – and, better still, stop buying Colgate-Palmolive products!

As well as destroying wildlife (and even people), deforestation is, of course, contributing to devastating global heating by destroying huge areas of carbon-capturing rainforests.

The sisters have won awards and their campaigning is recognised in an inspiring book, Stone Soup for a Sustainable World.

Another positive book (that my grandson was recently given by relatives) focuses on another selection of young people around the world (including China..) who are making changes in their communities and raising awareness. Of course part of me finds it very sad that we are sharing such difficult images/stories with our precious children, but the wonderful hope of the active, caring children is inspiring.

And some of these children/young people even take their countries to court over climate inaction. I’ve mentioned the brilliant Portuguese group before, whose case has been granted priority status. Others are highlighted in this Guardian article:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/may/07/the-young-people-taking-their-countries-to-court-over-climate-inaction?CMP=Share_ iOSApp_Other

One statistic that seems to be moving in the right direction – the International Energy Agency (IEA) has raised its forecast for the global growth of wind and solar energy by another 25% compared to figures it published just six months ago. This ‘exceptional’ level of annual additions will become the ‘new normal’ in 2021 and 2022, the IEA says, with the potential for further acceleration in the years that follow.

Now a bit of information, about a flower that looks pretty but is causing a lot of problems.

Himalayan Balsam (an invasive species, originally ‘escaped’ from Kew Gardens I think…) is choking our waterways, causing riverbank erosion and smothering our wild flowers at a terrifying rate.

Determined to stop the plant colonising even more of Britain’s lowlands, Cumbria is the latest county to raise an SOS about Himalayan Balsam – the West Cumbria Rivers Trust is asking for volunteers in Mosser, Cockermouth and Loweswater to help vanquish them before they come into flower in mid-July.

Few plants can spread their seeds like this – when ripe, its pods explode open, shooting seeds up to seven metres away, each plant able to produce about 800 seeds, so easily dominating an area after just one season.

The good news is that, unlike other invasive species like Japanese knotweed, Himalayan Balsam is very easy to pull up. Its stout, reddish-translucent hollow stems rarely have roots more than a few centimetres deep. 

According to the article I read, they can be pulled up ‘with a pleasing tug’ – maybe that’s how you’d like to spend some summer days…?!

I’m going to draw to a close today with the lovely news that more than half the trees in two new woodlands in lowland England (in fields next to Monks Wood, a nature reserve in Cambridgeshire) have been planted not by landowners, charities or machines but by jays! During ‘passive rewilding’, thrushes spread seeds of bramble, blackthorn and hawthorn, and this scrub then provided natural thorny tree ‘guards’ for oaks that grew from acorns buried in the ground by jays. Apparently many people don’t like jays, traditionally seen as pests. I love them, those bright blue ‘side feathers’!

Finally, ‘The People vs Climate Change’ should be compulsory viewing!

It’s a documentary covering how everyday people (108 ‘ordinary Brits’) feel about the climate crisis, recording the Citizens Assembly meetings, before the pandemic…. 

I wonder how they’re all feeling now….whether the connection between the two crises is being made….

So many interesting, thoughtful people. And some shocks too – ‘ignorance is bliss’, one girl says, almost proudly. But there are no judgements – it speaks for itself… Check it out on the BBC’s Iplayer – please!

Lockdown 3 #9

June 4th, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Green Party’s doing that too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockdown 3 #8

May 7th, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockdown 3 #7

April 23rd, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We must not be fooled…!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockdown 3 #6

April 9th, 2021

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

Important in my personal life at the moment too…

I’ll open with dandelions!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need to work with what we’ve got….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockdown 3 #5

March 26th, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please visit WWF UK’s website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockdown 3 #4

March 12th, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another thought for ‘Women’s Week’….!

Lockdown 3#3

February 21st, 2021

Almost exactly a year ago today (in a week’s time, to be precise!), I saw and heard Greta Thunberg in Bristol, England.

The air was full of hope, optimism, promise for a brighter future…

Mm, what a year it has been since then.

The air at the thousands-strong climate protest was probably also full of coronavirus19, sadly….  It is likely that we were, unwittingly, part of spreading it.

I remember, after the event, organised by Fridays for Future, hearing reports that ill-wishers were hoping we would all be struck ill, and worse. People who do not want to accept the facts of the climate crisis can be so cruel.

Anyway, in my own ‘all or nothing’ mind, I desperately wanted the pandemic crisis to be recognised for what it is, a wake-up sign that humans are encroaching dangerously on the animal world; and that there would be a consequent global energy to ‘build back better’ & start respecting Nature.

I really have to learn to set my sights low.

There are certainly now some encouraging global signs, the growth of clean energy for example. Instead of mourning that these are not nearly radical enough, it’s important that I celebrate the environmentally healthy projects that are happening,  despite the negative influences of greedy oil & plastics corporations and power-hungry leaders. Easier said than done!

I’ll start with the natural wonder of plants, not surprising but widely unrecognised, apparently…

Prof Alistair Griffiths of the Royal Horticultural Society said: “We are continually identifying new ‘super plants’ with unique qualities which when combined with other vegetation provide enhanced benefits while providing much needed habitats for wildlife.”

For example, ivy wall cover excels at cooling buildings, and hawthorn and privet help ease intense summer rainfalls and reduce localised flooding. Cotoneaster hedges (in my picture) planted beside busy roads are 20% better at soaking up pollution than other shrubs. Prof Griffiths added: “We could make a big difference in the fight against climate change.”

Better not to have so much polluting traffic in the first place is my instinctive first thought of course, but in the meantime….!

Community forest projects have seen a surge in volunteers keen to reduce CO2 emissions by creating new woodlands. One of these projects is on land surrounding Newton-le-Willows on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. Bob Sampson, a former land-use planning adviser for the Ministry of Agriculture and member of the village’s climate-change group, has written to local landowners asking permission to grow trees on their land. Seven have agreed so far, with volunteers set to plant oak, sycamore, birch and rowan, tailored to relevant sites, to benefit both the climate and the environment.

The Woodland Trust runs a free trees scheme for schools and community groups; and, despite covid, it had more applications for spring 2021 trees than for the previous year, now set to send out close to half a million saplings.

Neil Jones, project manager at Possible, is hoping to hear from tree enthusiasts during the weekend of Saturday, March 6th. He has had to cancel the group’s spring public hedge planting plans (covid restrictions) but he and his colleague Dionne have determinedly organised a weekend of home-based tree planting activities. Neil said: “While we might not be able to plant together in person, we can plant together in spirit.” His tree will be planted live on YouTube at 3pm on March 6th. Email hello@wearepossible.org if you’re interested, even if you don’t have a garden.

Now, I can’t avoid the disappointing subject of domestic wood-burning any longer, some people’s main connection with trees….

Fires used by just 8% of the UK’s population cause triple the particle pollution of traffic….

Two-thirds of the people burning indoors used a wood-burning stove (that includes my own household), while a third had open fires. My instinct on hearing this news was to worry, as usual, and take responsibility to a certain extent.

We have actually stopped lighting the stove while our grandson is in the house – scientists declared in December that wood burners triple the level of harmful pollution particles inside homes, and should be sold with a health warning. Prof Jonathan Grigg, of Queen Mary University of London, said: “It is difficult to justify their use in any urban area.”

That is where I can relax a little…

We live in a rural area (though of course movement of air doesn’t respect boundaries..).

And we do only burn seasoned wood – it is wet wood that produces high levels of pollution. More people should be educated to lay fires properly, as we do (plenty of paper, kindling and smaller logs to start with) to produce less smoke – there’s a great New Zealand guide online at www.warmercheaper.co.nz Interesting that it emphasises the ‘cheap’ aspect, always a selling point – good for the environment too!

Having got that out of my system to a degree, I’ll turn to the other challenging topic of my climate week.

Two significant books have just been published – How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates; and The New Climate War by Michael Mann. I haven’t read them but I’ve read a review (in The Observer last Sunday)! Hope that entitles me to an opinion…?! The review, by Bob Ward, opens with the thought that these books “should help to capitalise on the new spirit of cautious optimism by laying out bold but well-argued plans for accelerating action against climate change.”

I’m glad to re-read that thought today, as I’m beginning to lose my spirit of cautious optimism, as you might be able to tell from my opening paragraphs….

I must admit that the main thought that’s been going round in my head about the Bill Gates book is that he blithely excuses his own giant carbon footprint. 

That feels like a kick in the teeth for us who are trying so hard to live sustainably. 

Of course, I realise that, as Michael Mann (America’s most famous climate scientist), says, as important as personal efforts are, they can distract attention away from the critical role of governments and companies in making systemic changes.

So, here’s something you can do (please!), to show our UK government that we mean business!

As you may know, it (in its infinite lack of wisdom) is in the process of lifting the ban on neonicitinoids (a pesticide that kills bees), due to lobbying from sugar beet farmers.

At the same time, it is consulting on its draft National Action Plan for pesticides. 

The more voices that contribute to this consultation, the better for the health of insects, our food, farmers and ultimately all of us. 

The Wildlife Trusts nationally have helpfully made it easy for us to respond to the consultation – just fill in their simple form, adding any of your own views you have about pesticides.

Hurry, as the consultation closes on February 26th!

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org