Hello, this is Anthony Day with your Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, 14th June. This week we're cutting the carbs. No, not carbohydrates, not carburettors, no we’re cutting carbon footprints. Yes, we will talk about food, in the context of food waste as I promised last time, and about food distribution and packaging. The supermarkets are stirring. (Although not much.) Also free speech and free thinking, what going green will cost the government (although the government’s denied it) and an update on an update about rare earth metals.
First I’ve come across some worrying examples of climate change denial. Yes, I know, I’ve been promising for a while to research denial and let you know what I’ve found. I have been reading up on it quite extensively and it’s far more complex than I imagined. The ideal would be to provide a single-page guide to recognising a denier and how to talk them out of it. Not much chance of that, I’m afraid. There’s much more detail, but I know if I produce a comprehensive study you’ll never read it, and why should you - we’re all busy people. I’m aiming to produce something about the length of an episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. But remember what Blaise Pascal once said: “I have made this letter a rather long one, only because I didn't have the leisure to make it shorter.” Less is more, but sometimes less takes more time.
Tales out of School
Anyway, the first story comes from United States. Over there it is the custom for the top students of the class leaving high school to make a valedictory address. Schools across the nation have made it very clear that nothing can be said in these speeches about catastrophic climate change because it is a political issue. I think someone should tell the school authorities that stopping people from talking about it won't make it go away.
It’s only weather
The second issue comes from a public meeting that I attended recently. A lady there told everyone that although 93% of scientific opinion supports the idea of the climate crisis, she believes in Piers Corbyn, who strongly disputes that climate change is man-made. “After all,” she said, “he is a trained meteorologist.” I expect there are many other trained meteorologists among the 93%, but if you don't want to believe in climate change just find the meteorologist that supports your view.
It’s still only weather
During his recent visit to United Kingdom President Trump had a 90 minute meeting with the Prince of Wales who explained to him in detail why climate was an acutely urgent issue. Nonetheless, the New York Times reports that the Trump administration is creating a new climate review panel which will question the National Climate Assessment, due to be updated for 2021 or 2022. The assessment will report on the future effects of a rapidly warming planet and present a picture of what the earth could look like by the end of the century if the global economy continues to emit heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels. Officials have made it clear that worst case scenarios will not be included.
News from Scotland
Just to keep you up to date with the urgency of the climate crisis, let me quote from a recent lecture by Francesca Osowska, chief executive of Scottish Natural Heritage, at Royal Society of Edinburgh.
“Let me paint you a picture of what we could have in Scotland if we don’t act by 2030. Imagine an apocalypse – polluted waters; drained and eroding peatlands; coastal towns and villages deserted in the wake of rising sea level and coastal erosion; massive areas of forestry afflicted by disease; a dearth of people in rural areas; and no bird song. All of this is possible, and there are parts of the world we can point to where inaction has given rise to one or more of these nightmare landscapes.”
The whole speech is worth reading and there’s a link on the blog.
Cows and Sheep
We need to cut our carbon footprint. I was explaining to my audience last week about how cows and sheep produce that dangerous greenhouse gas methane, and how if we went vegetarian or at least reduced the amount of meat in our diets it would help to cut the amount of greenhouse gases released into the air. “Are you sure it will really reduce methane emissions?” asked a lady in the room, “I’ve been vegetarian since Christmas and it’s changed my digestion an awful lot.”
They’re working on it Australia - emissions from livestock, that is. The Australian Beef Sustainability Framework reveals that, using 2005 as the baseline year, the industry has reduced emissions by 57% (for the most recent reporting period of 2016). This has been achieved largely through a focus on improving productivity and vegetation management practices, so the improvements have come from land management while the cattle continue to belch methane. Nevertheless, the industry has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030. The data shows that in Australia it now takes 12.6kg of carbon dioxide equivalents to produce a kilogram of beef pre-processing. In future changes to the diet of the cattle will contribute to methane reduction. They say,
“Methane production in the rumen can be inhibited by bioactive additives. This is the most promising pathway to significantly reduce or eliminate methane emissions. Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) is focused on working with existing research partners such as CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and James Cook University, as well as establishing new partnerships to further develop bioactive additives, such as Red Asparagopsis seaweed which has been shown to virtually eliminate methane emissions from livestock. However, key barriers to overcome include developing a consistent and affordable supply and a delivery mechanism for intensive and extensive animal feeding systems.”
I’d heard about researchers in the Netherlands experimenting with seaweed. Seems as though it could make a dramatic change to the emissions from the beef industry. But will they be able to do the same for sheep, and how will it affect the economics of meat production?
Of course we can all do our bit at home to reduce our carbon footprint. Writing in the Irish Times, Conor Pope says,
“Irish people could handily reduce the amount of carbon we generate by about a third by being more mindful of what we are doing. The steps we can take might be small but by taking even some of them you will feel better about yourself and save a few bob into the bargain. What’s not to like about that?”
Here’s what he suggests:
- Drive less
- Drive greener - here he suggests an electric car, but as discussed previously they are not right for everyone yet. And I’ve no idea how widespread charging points are in Ireland.
- Drive smarter, by keeping the tyre pressures correct, not running the engine to heat the car before you leave and taking the roof box off when you’re not using it.
- Cycle more
- Eat less meat - unless of course the livestock has been fed on seaweed
- Shop better, and avoid wasting food
- Shop local, and avoid food miles
- Be a better shopper. Don’t buy what you don’t want, don’t need or won’t last. Buy quality, and then reduce, re-use and recycle.
- Insulate your home and cut your heating bills
…and he mentions several other things like drinking tap water, not bottled water, and of course flying less.
The World Economic Forum joins the debate but takes a more philosophical approach with its “5 ways you can personally fight the climate crisis”. First, it says, you must join the discussion. “When you consider the climate crisis in your decision-making, others notice. Discussion begins, and the effect of your decision is multiplied. The reason that brands recruit influencers to wear their clothes, drive their cars and visit their hotels is because they know that people are more likely to follow the preferences of those they relate to or aspire to emulate.”
Secondly, you must “Tap into your relationship capital.” By this they mean you might know someone of influence in your network. Persuade them to take action. “Get to know your local, regional, national and global policy landscape”, and presumably do something to reinforce it or change it as appropriate. “Amplify the voices of others”, like Greta Thunberg, when she urged adults to “wake up and act like the house is burning”. And finally, “Recognise the journey.” Support each other and make sure we’re all moving in the same direction.” Well, I said it was a bit more philosophical.
Chile has just announced that it will go carbon neutral by 2050. That will be a remarkable achievement for a country which is heavily developed dependent on coal. Although Chile represents a mere 0.25% of global emissions, the country is one of the 10 most vulnerable nations to climate change.
Counting the Cost
British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond was reported by the Financial Times this week as saying that the UK net zero emissions target would ‘cost more than £1tn’. There would be no money left for schools and hospitals or the police. Shortly afterwards a message came from the government at 10 Downing Street that he didn’t say that at all. I know this is beginning to sound like a cliche, but there will be no jobs on a dead planet, and no schools, hospitals or police either.
As you may be too well aware, the process of electing a new leader of the Conservative party, who will automatically become prime minister, is well under way at the moment. While it is not clear who will win, and on past performance the favourites never does, it is close to certain that Philip Hammond will not survive as Chancellor under the new regime.
Watching Waste Lines
Last month Ben Elliot, the Government's Food Surplus and Waste Champion, hosted a major symposium - ‘Step up to the Plate’ - at London’s V&A Museum. Major players from the worlds of food retail and hospitality, along with social media influencers and well-known chefs, joined forces to pledge ground-breaking action to reduce food waste. The event was organised by WRAP, the Waste and Resources Action Programme. The launch video started with the staggering statistic that globally one third of all food that is produced is wasted, and the majority of that is wasted in the home. They say,
“Wasting food is an environmental, moral and financial scandal. If global food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the USA and China. An estimated 800 million people in the world do not have enough to eat, and in the UK we squander 10 million tonnes of food and drink every year.”
That’s about £500 per household, or £15bn and if you add in the £5bn wasted by business that makes an annual £20bn.
At the event, organisations were encouraged to “step up to the plate to stop the food waste crisis” by signing a pledge to adopt the following commitments:
- Set targets, measure results and take action. Food businesses will adopt the WRAP and IGD Food Waste Reduction Roadmap.
- Organisation will embrace a Food Conversation week of action in November 2019 by spearheading activities and engagement with citizens, including the younger generation, to highlight the changes we can all make.
Individuals can sign the pledge and commit to:
- Inspire continued action - by persuading other people.
- Change my habits - “I will be a Food Value Champion at work and at home, buying only what I need and eating what I buy, wherever I am.”
These last two sound a bit like the WEF actions for cutting carbon. Let’s watch out for the Food Conversation week of action in November.
The supermarkets have recently been in the firing line both because of food waste and because of packaging.
Sainsbury’s has not a had a good press recently and has been accused of doing far less than its competitors to reduce plastic and other packaging. The company has recently produced a report entitled The Future for Food which looks at what we will be eating in 2025, 2050 and 2169. They seem to have chosen the last date as the 300th anniversary of the founding of the firm. The report mentions packaging four times, but only in terms of packaging design. Recycling doesn’t appear at all. It does mention waste and suggests that waste could be eliminated altogether by 2169. Can we wait that long? There are some fascinating facts and intriguing prospects of the future in this report but I fear there are more immediate concerns which need urgent attention.
The Guardian features “How one woman’s crusade against plastic sparked a new era at Waitrose” It’s the story of Catherine Conway who came up with the idea of selling foods and household products unpackaged, where people brought their own re-usable containers. Now Waitrose is trialling the idea in one of its supermarkets. The event which kicked the market into life was David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, which suddenly made people realise that they needed to find ways to avoid single-use plastic. Let’s see what happens. Will it cost more, or less? Will consumers give the extra time needed to fill containers? Will they buy an extra container if they rush in and find they’ve left theirs at home?
This is not a unique idea. A corner shop near me called the Bishy Weigh (don’t ask) has opened recently to do just this. All power to them! www.thebishyweigh.co.uk
And The Guardian added some tips at the end of its article (it’s all tips this week, isn’t it?)
Swap your soap dispenser and shampoo and conditioner bottles for bars.
Carry a refillable water bottle with you. Download the app from refill.org.uk to find places near your location which will allow you to refill your bottle.
Freeze out the bags
Buy biodegradable clear bags instead of plastic freezer bags.
Cut the clingfilm
Instead of clingfilm, use greaseproof paper or if you need something that will grip to bowls and plates opt for a reusable beeswax wrap.
A lot of bottle
Get your milk delivered in glass bottles which can be returned and reused. Use findmeamilkman.net to find your closest deliverer.
I’ve mentioned a company called splosh.com a number of times. They sell detergents, handwash, washing up liquid and so on as concentrates, delivered by post. You just mix it with water in your re-usable bottle. You can send the empty concentrate containers back to them for recycling by freepost. I just don’t know why they’re not cleaning up. I did ask them for an interview a few months ago but they said the time was not right. Maybe I should contact them again. Meanwhile we’ve been using their products at home for at least the last five years. In the same bottle.
Catch the BBC’s War on Plastic on iPlayer with further episodes to come on Mondays. I told you last time about the dumps in Malaysia. In these programmes Hugh and Anita show you the pictures, and they tell you a lot more eye-opening statistics. More to come.
I also spoke last time about electronic waste and rare earth metals. On the day of publication I went to a lecture on that topic as part of the York Festival of Ideas. I learnt an awful lot more and I'm meeting with the presenter for an interview shortly, which I'll share with you.
I was on Radio Sangam for two hours on Sunday. Thanks to those of you who came up with ideas for the playlist which we used. I’ve been promised a link to the recording, so you can listen and see what you think.
That's it for this week. I'm Anthony Day and that was the Sustainable Futures Report. I've been talking about climate change and the environment and pollution and raising related issues for 10 years and more and it's been quite a difficult task to find audiences that want to listen. All of a sudden that's changed so I hope that I can continue bringing you this podcast as well as talking to live audiences across the country. If you have an audience or group or an organisation that would like some awareness-raising on the broad panorama of sustainability, from climate change to pollution, do get in touch. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well, as I always say, there will be another episode next week. There are just so many things going on and so many people I want to talk to and interview about climate change, climate catastrophe and how we go forward. If you have any ideas on things which you think I should follow up I'm always ready to hear them, but I'm afraid it may take me a while to be able to act on them.
Oh, and if you’d like to continue to support the Sustainable Futures Report why not become a patron from as little as $1 per month? You’ll find details at patreon.com/sfr. Thank you to all my existing patrons, and thank you too for listening.
End of another episode.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report .
I'm Anthony Day
Till next time.
US schools accused of censoring climate crisis message in graduation speeches
Piers Corbyn knows best?
Scotland faces climate 'apocalypse' without action to cut emissions
Hammond on Climate costs
Sainsbury’s Future of Food
How one woman’s crusade against plastic sparked a new era at Waitrose