Hello, this is Anthony Day and here's the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, 14th April.
Last time I mentioned Patreon.com which is a sort of crowdfunding site for supporting ventures like the Sustainable Futures Report. You can pledge from as little as $1 per month. I am delighted to welcome my first patrons. Richard Atkinson was the very first. Thanks for that Richard! My second patron was Frederica Roberts. Welcome, Fred! And a special thank you too, to patron Kasper Kaasgaard. Thanks very much for your support.
I hope to be welcoming you next time. For April only, all new patrons, not just those pledging more than $5 per month, will receive the unique Sustainable Futures Report enamel badge. Now I know that you listeners are far too sophisticated to be swayed by a cheap giveaway like that, but you could give it to the kids. And it is unique, so one day it may be very valuable. Do let me know if you get offers for it. I’ve ordered quite a lot of them. Meanwhile, if you've not yet visited Patreon, please go across to patreon.com/sfr, where you'll find out what it’s all about.
In this week’s report:The European Electricity Industry commits to phasing out coal. Meanwhile there are doubts about exactly how much gas can be recovered by fracking in the north of England.
The Colombia mudslide - was this global warming in action? Air pollution is in the news again. Are our children safe and how realistic are the proposed measures against vehicle emissions?
A nice piece of salmon for Easter? How much longer will we all be able to eat salmon? We look at the state of fish-farming.
Bees are under threat, but there are things you can do to help. Wild life and open spaces are under threat. Taking back control after Brexit means we can abolish European Environmental Regulations and build on protected land. There are certainly some people who want to do that.
As always, links are on the blog at anthonyday.blogspot.com.
More On MeatFirst, my recent interview - Meat and Climate Change - with Kristie Middleton and Helen Harwatt from the Humane Society of the US sparked a lot of reactions. Here’s some of the feedback.
Daniel Sandars says: “Whilst it is easy to single out ruminants and implore a vegan future it is worth noting grasslands are a natural part of our ecosystems with crop lands much less so. In the bigger picture the case is complex.”
Tom Langdon-Davies says “Meat from US style feedlots is a very bad idea, but meat from grazed pasture can be positively beneficial to carbon sequestration, see Allan Savory on TED.”
I had a look on TED and I strongly recommend you watch the video. In his talk, Allan Savory claims that desertification does more to exacerbate climate change than carbon dioxide emissions from transport and industry. From long experience in Africa he shows that rather than causing soil degradation and desertification, livestock effectively protects the land. By constantly moving on and leaving grasslands fertilised with their manure, farmed livestock and wild animals preserve the grassland. He showed graphically how tonnes of water falling on barren land can drain away or evaporate literally overnight.
Covering the soil with grass leads to water retention and stabilises the soil - and locks in the co2.
Incidentally, a recent documentary on BBC4 showed how desertification is leading to dust storms which are affecting more and more of the world, particularly the Middle East. Thos dust clouds contain micro-particles like the emissions from diesel engines. PM10s are tiny and lodge in the lungs. PM2.5s are even tinier, and pass through the lungs into the bloodstream.
Back to meat..Manda Scott comments: I live in a rural agricultural area of England - if people stop buying meat, my neighbours (many of them old enough to draw pensions) will be put out of business - and I doubt very much indeed if the land would be re-wilded. It’s far more likely to be bought by the massed agri-businesses that own too many of our local fields and pay contractors to spray them weekly through the growing season so they can strip mine them for crops (Wheat and oil seed rape, mostly)
“They are destroying the fabric of the soil. George Monbiot has figures that say that we have 66 harvests left if we continue like this (can’t find the specific reference: there’s a link on the blog that says 100 harvests left, but he’s revised it since then: http://www.monbiot.com/2015/03/25/3703/)
And she goes on,
“…and if the US continues as it does - they take massed hives of bees around to monoculture almond plantations - which means that drinking almond milk may help the dairy cattle, but it’s not helping the bees - or the land…”
“So my feeling is that we need to be more clever than this. We need to move towards regenerative agriculture, not just let the 1% own the land.
“Colin Tudge has written a book called ‘6 Steps Back to the Land’ and has started up the ‘Real Farming Conference’ which takes place in Oxford each January - and also the Campaign for Real Farming http://www.campaignforrealfarming.org which aims to move towards regenerative agriculture.”
Thanks, Manda. And thanks to you all for these ideas and opinions. Please keep them coming!
SalmonTalking of food, how much longer will we be able to eat salmon? Salmon farming has transformed that fish from an expensive delicacy to an everyday meal, but the Guardian reports that salmon farming is in crisis. The problem is the sea louse, a parasite a bit like the varroa which attacks bees. The sea louse attaches itself to a fish and eats its blood and skin. Two or three are enough to kill a fish. The Scottish salmon farms have some of the worst lice infestations in the world, and the industry has spent some £300m trying to control them. It’s a global problem, which has seen worldwide production fall and the price of salmon rise. The controls themselves have consequences, as the farms are treated with increasing quantities of antibiotics and toxic chemicals. New Scientist reports that a natural solution is possible. A fish called the wrasse feeds on sea lice and so can clean up the farms. The difficulty with that is that a Norwegian study suggests that wrasse are now being over-fished. Industry representatives are confident that the problem, like any other agricultural challenge will be solved. On the other hand Don Staniford, who runs the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, calls fish farms “toxic toilets” and warns that diseases are rife, waste is out of control and the use of chemicals is growing fast.
Staniford has been sued by the industry for defamation, lost a high-profile Canadian high court battle, been heavily fined, been threatened many times, and been ordered never to repeat statements such as “wild salmon don’t do drugs” and “salmon farming spreads diseases”.
“He is an ace troublemaker. He annoys everyone … but he uses freedom of information requests to get his data and 99 times out of 100 he is right”, says Scottish investigative journalist Rob Edwards.
“I am a trained scientist. I use peer-reviewed science and use the industry’s own figures,” says Staniford.
The use of chemicals, especially, worries him. Last month he unearthed the fact that not only was the use of the toxic drug emamectin rising fast, but also that the industry had persuaded the Scottish environmental protection agency to withdraw a ban planned for next year. Other papers showed that the levels of chemicals used to kill sea lice have breached environmental safety limits more than 100 times in the last 10 years. The chemicals have been discharged into the waters by 70 fish farms run by seven companies. According to the Mail online emamectin is hazardous to human health, but the risk depends on the residual quantity, if any, in the fish which ends up on the plate.
Salmon is the UK’s fourth largest export in terms of food and drink behind whisky, beer and chocolate with sales overseas of almost £600million a year.
Meanwhile, Business Vancouver reports that a deadly virus has been found in British Columbia farmed salmon. HSMI can wipe out 20% of fish, and scientists warn that the disease can infect wild salmon swimming by.
A report from Fish Update says that farmed salmon have been found to contain fewer contaminants than wild salmon. This reverses the conclusions of an American study carried out in 2004, but Professor Anne-Katrine Lundebye of the Norwegian Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research says that that study compared wild Pacific salmon with farmed Atlantic salmon and that the two salmon species are distinctly different. Her own study was based on farmed Atlantic salmon and wild Atlantic salmon caught north of Norway and led her to the conclusion that careful control of the diet of the farmed fish resulted in the lower level of contaminants. Neither the wild nor the farmed salmon posed any risk to human health, she stressed.
The fish industry, like the meat industry, is struggling hard to keep up with the growing demand for food.
ElectricityThe Union of the Electricity Industry, EURELECTRIC, is the sector association representing the common interests of the electricity industry at pan-European level. It represents 3,500 companies across Europe with an aggregate turnover of €200 bln. It covers all major issues affecting the sector, from electricity generation and markets, to distribution networks, customers, as well as environment and sustainability issues.
In a statement adopted by the Board of Directors, the sector reiterates its commitment to deliver on the Paris Agreement. In addition, it announces its intention not to invest in new-build coal-fired power plants after 2020.
“The power sector is determined to lead the energy transition and back our commitment to the low- carbon economy with concrete action,” said EURELECTRIC President and CEO of the Portuguese energy group EDP, António Mexia.
“With power supply becoming increasingly clean, electric technologies are an obvious choice for replacing fossil fuel based systems for instance in the transport sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he added.
So how are they going to fuel their power stations? A recent edition of The Bottom Line on Radio 4 interviewed major players behind the planned new nuclear stations for the UK. They are very impressive people and made cogent arguments for nuclear as the low-carbon source for base-load electricity. The facts remain, however, that Westinghouse, planning to build the new station near Sellafield, is bankrupt after losing $6bn on nuclear power stations in the US. Westinghouse is part of Toshiba and its difficulties are likely to bring the whole Toshiba group down. There are still ongoing technical problems with the design of the nuclear station to be built by the French and Chinese at Hinkley C.
FrackingWhat about gas? The Bowland Shale in the north of England is a prime site for fracking, but researchers at Durham University have thrown doubt on how much gas will actually be recoverable. They have done this not by estimating the volume of gas held in the rocks but by looking at the space needed for installing production equipment on the surface. First of all they have discovered that installing a production pad at any point within the licensed area has a 33% “probability of interacting with immovable infrastructure”. Which means that there is a building, a pipeline, a pylon, a road, a river or even a wind turbine there already. Restrictions on how close these production pads can actually be placed to immovable infrastructure will reduce their number still further. Taking into account the “setbacks” - the required distance from infrastructure -imposed on existing UK wells, the Durham team concludes that only 26% of predicted reserves will be recoverable.
ColombiaYou probably heard about the Colombia mudslide. These disasters pop up on the news and then are overtaken by other events and forgotten. That doesn’t mean that they are not serious. The town of Mocoa was hit by a mudslide after heavy rains caused three rivers to flood, sending a sea of mud, boulders and debris crashing into the town. 300 people, many of them children, were killed. The president of Colombia blamed climate change for causing the exceptional rainfall. It’s impossible to say categorically that climate change was the cause, but torrential rain is certainly a predicted consequence of climate change. Others blamed uncontrolled deforestation which released land for farming and livestock, but was carried out while ignoring environmental regulations. (Allan Savory’s TED talk, referred to above, shows just how important vegetation is to mitigating floods.) The National Disaster Risk Management Unit in Colombia said there were still more than 100 people missing and 4,500 homeless after the disaster. And what the floods didn’t take was stolen by looters.
Deforestation has a long-term effect on the climate, but events like this show that removing trees and vegetation which absorb and slow down the rain can cause short term disasters as well.
Air PollutionAir pollution is still in the news. The Guardian warned that 2,091 nurseries, schools, further education centres and after-school clubs in England and Wales were within 150 metres of a road emitting illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide. That’s the main pollution from diesel vehicles. The paper offered a tool to let readers check if their children were at risk. According to the BBC a south London primary school concerned about high levels of air pollution was issuing parents with advice about buying face masks for children.
Westminster City Council will become the first town hall in Britain to impose a parking surcharge to deter motorists from driving "polluting" diesel cars into the area. Drivers will pay an extra 50% in addition to the normal charge of £4.90-an-hour to park their cars.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has made it his mission to clean up the air in London. From 23 October 2017, cars, vans, minibuses, buses, coaches and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) in central London will need to meet minimum exhaust emission standards, or pay a daily £10 Emissions Surcharge (also known as the Toxicity Charge, or T-Charge). This will be in addition to the Congestion Charge.
There is a substantial discount for residents and strangely vehicles over 40 years old will be exempt, but more stringent restrictions, including a total ban on cars over a certain age entering the congestion charge zone, are expected by 2020.
Full details, including whether your car is affected, are on the Transport for London website. https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/emissions-surcharge
BeesAnd now, away from the bustle and pollution of the city, let’s talk about bees.
Not just bees. Although many food crops like corn are pollinated by the wind, almost all fruit and vegetables rely on insects for pollination. Honey bees are important, but so are bumble bees, hover flies and even butterflies and moths. Wild About Gardens Week, in association with the Royal Horticultural Society and the Wild Life Trusts, is on the case. They have events across the country throughout the year and you can download resources from their website. http://wildaboutgardensweek.org.uk/Downloads
The Great British Bee Count, organised by Friends of the Earth, runs from 19 May to 30 June 2017. “Since 1900,” they say, “the UK has lost 20 species of bee, and a further 35 are considered under threat of extinction. So it’s vital that we better understand how they’re doing across the country. You can help by counting and recording all the bees you see this summer with our free app.” Go to their website to register for the app, which will be launched on 19th May.
Friends of the Earth are also still campaigning for a ban on neonicotinoids, an insecticide used as a seed dressing. Research indicates that these chemicals can damage bees and other insects (hardly surprising, as they’re insecticides) and can persist in the soil and infect other plants.
Still on wildlife,
Writing in TheConversation.com, Jeremy Robson, who is a Principal Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, says we should celebrate our laws protecting wildlife, not discard them as inconvenient red tape.
On the other hand, Michael Gove MP, a former minister and leading Brexit campaigner, sees withdrawal from the EU as an opportunity to get rid of this legislation. He believes that European environmental law “massively increases the cost and the regulatory burden for housing development”. He’s keen to roll back these laws so that more houses can be built in his Surrey constituency. It’s all part of taking back control. You can read the complete article on the website, but Robson concludes like this: “If Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary, really does want to ensure that we are ‘the first generation to leave our environment better than we found it’ then we will need a robust legislative framework. Laws which ensure our ecosystems are protected and improved should be celebrated – not treated as burdensome red tape.”
A final thought......before I leave you. William Robertson Davies, CC, OOnt, FRSC, FRSL, was a Canadian novelist, playwright, critic, journalist, and professor. Among other things, he said:
“The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is, in fact, a return to the idealised past.”
And that’s it for another week. I’m Anthony Day and that was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Before I go, another big thank-you to Richard Atkinson, Frederika Roberts and Kasper Kaasgaard for helping to make this weekly podcast possible. Go across to patreon.com/sfr and find out how your name could be up here too. And if you’re quick you’ll get a badge!