Monday, 28 September 2009

Closer than you think

The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/28/met-office-study-global-warming) and the Daily Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/6236690/Met-Office-catastrophic-climate-change-could-happen-with-50-years.html) are both reporting today on a study prepared for the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The study, by the Met Office, apparently states that unless serious action is taken to reduce emissions, there could be an average global temperature rise of 4 degrees C by 2060.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported last week that an analysis of the latest peer-reviewed science indicated that many predictions from the upper end of the IPPC 2007 forecasts were becoming ever more likely (download the full report here: http://www.unep.org/compendium2009/).

In the UNEP report it is stated that carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industry had exceeded even the most fossil fuel intensive scenario developed by the IPPC: that aragonite (a substance in shells) corroding water is already upwelling along the California coast, decades earlier than existing models predicted; that losses from glaciers, ice sheets and the polar regions appear to be happening faster than anticipated; that an average sea level rise of 0.8-2.0m above the 1990 level is now plausible (compared with the 18-59cm scenario in the 2007 IPPC report). The list goes on...

Taken together, these reports indicate a truly horrific scenario, that we may already be committed to "damaging and irreversible impacts" and that unless there is co-ordinated and drastic action now, further environmental tipping points may be reached sooner than previously predicted.

Climate change is not just a distant threat to our grandchildren. The effects of climate change will be felt by people now living and those effects will be huge and unprecedented. Human civilisation has developed within relative climactic norms and we are facing the possibility of pushing the climate outside those norms.

We must act now and we must make our politicians act now. We must prepare for the impacts which will happen and do our best to avert those which might happen. Each one of us who takes no action now shares responsibility for what is to come.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Earth Overshoot Day 2009

According to the Ecological Footprint Network (http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/) today is Earth Overshoot Day.

The earth can only produce a certain amount of resources and absorb a certain amount of waste each year. Any resource consumption or waste produced above this level is unsustainable. Year on year, we use more resources than the earth can produce and we produce more waste than the earth can absorb in that year. So, between 1st January 2009 and today, we have used up all the resources the planet can sustainably produce in an entire year: from today we are living on ecological credit. And we still have more than three months to go till the end of the year. Any householder can see that this is ridiculously unsustainable.

We first went into overshoot in 1986. By 1996 we had a 15% greater demand than the planet could meet and now our demand is around 40% greater than the planet can meet in one year.

Overshoot Day shows the day on which our total ecological footprint (measured in hectares) is equal to the biocapacity (also measured in hectares) which can be regenerated in 1 year. It is calculated by multiplying the ratio of available global biocapacity to global ecological footprint by 365, which gives the day of the year when we go into overshoot. (See here for more info http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/earth_overshoot_day/#calc).

Earth Overshoot Day 2009 is only one day later than last year. The global economic slowdown has not really cut our demand. And according to calculations by the Global Footprint Network, we have been moving 4-6 days closer to January 1st each year.

Earth Overshoot Day is yet another indicator that our overconsumption is killing us. As I have said on this blog many times, we MUST reduce our demands on the planet and there MUST be a more equitable distribution of resources and responsibilities. We in the developed world bear prime responsibility for this ecological debt and need to face up to that fact, both as nations and as individuals. Each of us must take individual responsibility for reducing our own ecological footprint.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

On foraging and the right to roam

From my viewpoint, which I recognise may be a little off-the-wall, foraging is an essential skill. Foraging allows us to "live within the landscape" in a way that is unique and goes some way to helping us reconnect to the planet on which we depend. It can also reawaken a knowledge of our dependence on the land and a sense of protectiveness towards it. This is, in my opinion, desperately needed.

At a time when world hunger is reaching epic proportions, our food supply is completely unsustainable: it is fragile in the face of peak oil and climate change. Reconnecting to the land and developing the skills to live more bioregionally are not only desirable, but essential.
Foraged food is really the ultimate in local seasonal food.
As a vegetarian of 23 years standing I have put some thought into my diet and have decided to eat flesh.

Where I live in Shetland there is an abundance of shellfish. As I walk by the sound I find edible seaweeds, maritime plants, oysters, mussels, cockles and crabs (along with winkles and whelks) within minutes.
After consulting the local offices of SEPA and the local Environmental Health Office regarding the legality and the safety (sewage, blue-green algae etc.) of foraging in the area, and having received some very positive support and clarification, I have decided to try my hand at foraging my own dinner once in a while.

If harvested on an individual scale with respect for their life-cycles and the local ecosystem, then I believe that my foraged seafood may have a lower environmental impact than Quorn, which is shipped in from the mainland, or cheese with all its associated animal-welfare and environmental issues.

One argument which I have heard against foraging is that "If everybody did it, it would not be sustainable", but it seems to me that this argument completely ignores the lack of sustainability of our present practices. Yes, care must be taken and I do not believe that foraging alone will provide food for all. But I think that if more people foraged (with care and respect), our worldview might well improve.

The right to roam or to gather shellfish, and access to the land and to the foreshore, have a long history in English and Scottish law. There is something very satisfying about going for a ramble and gathering food along the way, or going out with some buckets and a drop-net with the kids, or even going blackberrying, hunting puffballs and field mushrooms, or taking part in Abundance Project like the one in Sheffield (http://www.growsheffield.com/pages/groShefAbund.html).

Familiarity with our local bioregion and an understanding of our dependence on the planet that feeds us is critical to developing awareness of how unsustainable consumption impacts the planet, and in recognising that the results of our over-consumption will have a direct impact on ourselves and our descendants.
Land-rights and foraging-rights are vital as a means of educating ourselves, and may, in the future, become critical as a means of supplementing our families’ diets. They must be preserved.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Mr Brown goes to town

The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has become the first national leader to pledge to attend the climate conference at Copenhagen in December. This is good news. I hope that his action will put pressure on other leaders to attend and to agree an effective, binding deal.

I am pleased that politicians are waking up to the gravity of the situation and to the possibility of public outrage and the loss of faith and consequently their jobs if they fail to show integrity on this issue. I am also innured to the capitalist vision of the economic returns from investment in a "green economy" and accept that this is the necessary driver for business. I hope that these will be sufficient to motivate even the most environment-blind politician to see the benefits of agreeing a strong global policy.

I am, however, cynical. They may talk the talk; now to see whether they walk the walk.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Feet of Clay

According to The Guardian newspaper today (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/15/europe-us-copenhagen), in the Draft Implementing Agreement submitted by the US to the UN in May was a clause which stated that emissions reductions will be in accordance with domestic law. It’s clear to see what loopholes this opens up for the unscrupulous!

The problem seems to be one of domestic politics: the urgency of the oncoming crisis appears less appreciated by the US populace and climate change is lower down the list of national priorities than, say, jobs and the national economic interest. The US Senate never ratified the Kyoto Protocol and the Obama administration appears doubtful that a new global treaty would get the 2/3 majority it would need to pass in the Senate, hence the clause. It also appears that there is some conflict between the EU wanting to build on Kyoto and the US desire to sweep Kyoto away and negotiate a new agreement based on their own system.

Critically, this may result in no firm agreement being reached at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year.

Re-negotiation could take years; years that we may not have. The IPCC report published in May 2007 indicated that global emissions must peak by 2015 in order to prevent a global mean temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius. A 2 degree rise would still affect millions, but a higher rise could be catastrophic (see an interactive map by New Scientist, depicting the projected state of the planet based on a 4 degree rise, here: http://www.newscientist.com/embedded/mg20126971700-surviving-in-a-warmer-world).

While I personally fear that we may be already too late to limit the temperature rise to 2 degrees, we must not despair. We must act! Politicians everywhere must be left in no doubt of the importance, both to us and to our future, of a strong, binding agreement and globally co-ordinated action now.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Business as Usual!

A BBC news report today regarding the airline industry (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8243922.stm) reveals a situation that is nothing short of outrageous.

The article reports that the Climate Change Committee (CCC) is warning that the UK as whole will have to make more severe cuts in emissions than the planned 80%, in order that the aviation industry can continue to grow.

The CCC suggested in a letter to Ed Milliband (Climate Change Secretary) and Lord Adonis (Transport Secretary) that the aviation industry will need to cut its emissions back to 2005 levels by 2050. This is a much smaller emissions cut than is expected of any other sector, business or private. The overall UK target is to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050.

So where will the slack be taken up? Who will really pay for this? Will our fuel bills get higher and our lives become significantly harder in order to pay for the jet-setting life-style of a minority? In an age of near-instant communications technology, much air travel is completely unnecessary. Up to a point, even conferences can be organised via the internet.

In its 2007 report, Dying on a Jetplane, the World Development Movement said: “Flying is an activity dominated primarily by the rich. The richest 18 per cent of the UK population are responsible for 54 per cent of flights, whilst the poorest 18 per cent are responsible for just 5 per cent.” It’s very clear to see who benefits.

David Milliband (UK Foreign Secretary) is reported to have said (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8244223.stm) that there is a "real chance" that the Copenhagen summit will not reach agreement. No surprises there, then! How likely is it that we can convince developing nations like China, India and Brazil of our sincerity and of the desperate need to limit their emissions when we are pandering to the desires of our own elite minority and of big business interests regardless of the consequences?

No wonder some critics talk of the neo-imperialism of emissions trading and carbon reduction protocols! Developed nations tell developing nations (often former colonies of theirs) to limit their consumption while at the same time making exceptions and cosmetic changes only themselves. The parallels with the "exceptionalism" of international diplomacy and dominance are quite chilling.

In the face of the oncoming crisis it is essential that we are in agreement on the necessity to act globally and that we think in terms of our common survival and not in terms of "the national interest". Economic growth and consumption are not true measures of the health and happiness of a population. We must not be enslaved by their siren song.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

I'm Back/In a new place

Hi All

Thank you for your patience. It has taken BT nearly a month to connect us after our move to Shetland, but finally we are back online.

In this more rural setting, life seems slower and the immediate environmental concerns here are different: sewage, overfishing, marine pollution and a large inappropriate development (of which more another time). But there is still awareness of the global challenges facing us.

The Unst Regenerative Growers Enterprise (The URGE)(http://www.unstmarketgardens.shetland.co.uk/), just down the road from my home, aims to “turn your food miles into food inches". They grow chemical-free veg and fruit in polytunnels using scavenged materials. Due to the poor quality of the soil locally, they "make" the soil using kelp, animal dung, compost and a lot of hard work.

I suppose the point of this post (apart from saying "I have returned") is that local solutions need to be found to local issues and also that local knowlwedge and engagement are both necessary and highly desirable in finding ways adapt to the crisis that we face.