Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report
I'm Anthony Day and it's Friday the 13th of October. Lucky for some. Thank you for listening to another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. I haven't kept detailed track but this must be number 224 or thereabouts. Nearly all these episodes, certainly all the recent ones, appear on the blog so if you prefer to read rather than listen go to www.sustainablefutures.report and it's all there. I include as many links to my sources as possible so you can find out where I've got these stories from. And no, they don't all come from the Daily Mail. Hardly any.
A big welcome to all my patrons and my listeners in the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and 100 or more other countries across the world.– Glad to have you along. And thanks for your ideas as well. PATRONS? Go to patreon.com/sfr to learn more.
So what's new and sustainable?
This week it’s about Our Ocean and the Prince and the plastic bottles, billions of them. More about plastic straws, too. Could the wind be changing? Had you heard that the war is over? That’s the American war on coal. It seems the EPA is fighting a rearguard action. In Siberia they’re using wood - too much of it by all accounts. And they’d rather you went away. Probably a good idea in case you fall down a sinkhole. On the way down you’ll pass the methane - that highly potent greenhouse gas - coming up.
What can we do about all this? Not a lot, but not nothing either. I’ll share some ideas. And talking of sharing, where’s your nearest community fridge? Community what? Community fridge. Listen up and learn more.
Last week the EU staged the Our Ocean Conference in Malta. Once again we heard that the volume of plastic rubbish in the ocean was rapidly reaching the level where it would exceed the weight of the fish.
“The EU seeks to set an example,” it said, “and send a strong message of encouragement to the rest of the world to step up and take action in the face of growing ocean challenges such as plastic pollution, protection of marine life, impact of climate change and criminal activities at sea.”
The commitments – amounting to over €550 million (£482m) – include:
• more than €250 million (£219m) to fund marine and maritime research;
• €37.5 million (£33m) to ensure maritime security and counter piracy along the south-eastern African coastline and in the Indian Ocean;
• €23 million (£20m) of investment in marine environment monitoring under the EU's satellite monitoring programme (Copernicus) in 2017 and 2018;
• €20 million (£17.5m) to support the management of marine protected areas in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries;
• the launch of a prototype surveillance tool which detects ships to reveal the extent of human activities at sea;
• draft measures to reduce the leakage of plastics into the environment by the end of 2017, as part of the EU's upcoming plastics strategy;
• phasing-out by end 2017 all single-use plastic cups in water fountains and vending machines
Enter the Prince
Prince Charles, who has long been an environmental campaigner, represented the UK. In his speech to the conference he said, “As many of you know so well, the eight million tonnes of plastic that enter the sea every year – through our own doing I might add – is now almost ubiquitous. For all the plastic that we have produced since the 1950's that has ended up in the ocean is still with us in one form or another, so that wherever you swim there are particles of plastic near you and we are very close to reaching the point when whatever wild-caught fish you eat will contain plastic. Plastic is indeed now on the menu!”
10 years ago Prince Charles hosted a climate change conference - Mayday 2007. It was held in real-time by video link across a dozen cities in the UK. I was there. There was enthusiasm and determination and a recognition that something had to be done. 10 years on, the prince must be as frustrated as I am as the science has revealed the seriousness of the situation but the issue of climate change has largely slipped away from public consciousness. In fact he went on in his speech this week to confess to mounting despair over how little has been achieved in his four decades of environmental campaigning, fearing we are “no longer a rational civilisation” but are driven by economic ideology.
He pointedly chose not to mention President Trump, who has denied climate change, but warned: “If the unprecedented ferocity of recent catastrophic hurricanes is not the supreme wake-up call that it needs to be, to address the vast and accumulating threat of climate change and ocean warming, then we – let alone the global insurance and financial sectors – can surely no longer consider ourselves part of a rational, sensible civilisation.”
One of the most common forms of plastic pollution is of course the Coca-Cola bottle. It’s estimated that the company produces 209,000 plastic bottles per minute, amounting to 110 billion last year. I’ll say that again. Coca-Cola produced 110 billion plastic bottles last year, but in 2016 just 7% of plastic bottles were eventually turned into new bottles. To some extent Coca-Cola blames the consumer for not recycling more. In the UK the recycling level is 58%, whereas in Germany and Denmark it reaches 90%. The company calls for a deposit scheme on plastic bottles. The government of Scotland - population 5.4m - has announced that it will introduce a scheme which will cover plastic bottles, glass bottles and aluminium cans. There are no plans, as far as I can tell, to do the same in England - population 54m. Ah well, as a well-known retailer says, “Every little helps.”
While we’re on the subject of plastic pollution, here’s an update on straws
I complained last week that Wetherspoons were giving all their customers straws whether they asked for them or not, adding to the global hoard of un-recycled plastic polluting the oceans, damaging wildlife and taking space in landfill. They must have heard me because the company has now announced that from January 2018, it’s banning single-use plastic straws from all 900 venues across the UK and Ireland, in a bid to help the environment. Instead they will offer biodegradable paper straws. Must have cracked that supplier cost problem that my correspondent identified last week.
All Bar One, another chain of bars, has announced that they will be reducing the number of straws that they use, aiming to cut the total by one third. In their bars and restaurants they use 4.7 million of the things each year. And they too will provide eco-friendly biodegradable straws for those that insist that a cocktail just wouldn't be the same without one. Their campaign is #strawssuck, which says it all really. In the first three weeks of the campaign they cut the number of straws they sent to landfill by 91,000.
Will the wind change?
I read this week that IKEA has more wind turbines than stores. Lego has wind turbines too, and not just model ones either. It’s part of a corporate objective to become carbon-neutral. It’s unlikely that you’ll find any of these in the UK, at least not on land, because the Tory party decided its supporters didn’t like onshore wind farms and took steps to ban them immediately after it won the 2015 election. Now, though, opinion might be changing. In an article in Conservative Home, the party’s house magazine, MP Simon Clarke praises onshore wind and says, “As things stand Whitehall prevents local people from approving developments that could provide cheap, clean energy and much needed investment in less well-off areas. Surely local people should be able to decide if they want to take part in this revolution?”
Will the government change its policy? Or will we change the government first? But that’s another story.
The war on coal is over. So says Scott Pruitt, Director of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This week he announced that he would repeal the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan. This is in line with Donald Trump’s campaign promises and enacted by a man who shares the president’s climate scepticism. In the past Pruitt’s election campaigns have been supported by the fossil fuel industry and as a lawyer he was previously active in representing that industry against the EPA. Power generation in the United States accounts for one third of the nation’s emissions. Unsurprisingly environmentalists are protesting at this latest move and the attorneys general of New York and California as well as the Environmental Defence Fund and the National Resource Defence Council have indicated that they are considering legal action.
Quite apart from whether or not emissions from coal burning cause climate change, there can be no doubt that such emissions pollute the atmosphere and lead to poor air quality and the health problems. None of that was mentioned when Pruitt made his announcement in the heart of the coal-mining region. Despite the move, observers say that the decline in the coal industry will not be reversed as renewable energy rapidly develops. Nevertheless it will slow down the progress of the US towards its Paris Accord targets, although of course the president has said that he intends to abandon them.
I'm left wondering what it will take to make some politicians realise that the science predicts catastrophe if we carry on as we are.
News from the East
Have you been watching BBC2’s series on Russia with Simon Reeve? Quite concerning facts about the effects of climate change came out of his first episode. In the far east of Russia where nomadic tribes herd reindeer they find that the weather can become unseasonably warm and rain falls instead of snow. This rain then freezes into an ice sheet which locks in the lichen which the reindeer graze on in the winter. They can dig through snow but they cannot break through the ice, so many of them starve.
In Siberia, Reeve met a man who tracks the Siberian tiger and who told him that uncontrolled logging was threatening the tiger’s habitat and its survival. Apparently Russia is the world’s largest exporter of timber and widespread corruption means that much logging is unauthorised and unsustainable. This is all part of the Northern Boreal Forest mentioned in a previous episode. Do you remember? It was Greenpeace complaining about Velvet luxury toilet tissue being made from unsustainable timber from the Swedish part of the forest. Important, but pretty trivial by comparison.
Despite having all the correct permissions and paperwork, Simon Reeve and crew were repeatedly stopped and delayed by the local police and eventually bundled onto a train and out of the area. Something to hide? They still managed to visit the Batagaika Crater. This is in an area where the permafrost is beginning to melt and as a result buildings are starting to sink and collapse. The crater itself, more than a kilometre long and growing, is a mega-slump or sinkhole. As the permafrost melts the crater gets larger, and as the crater enlarges it releases methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases. More greenhouse gas means more warming, more warming means more permafrost will melt, more melting permafrost means more methane released, and so on. Siberia may be a far off country of which we know little, but what is happening there every day is affecting the global climate, our climate, which supports our lives and provides the food we eat, every day. Avoiding climate breakdown is an urgent issue. More urgent even than Brexit. More urgent than saving jobs in American coal mines.
So what can we do?
It’s the constant question. Well we could remind our politicians of the urgency of the issue. In particular, we could tell UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove that while it’s a good thing to ban the sale of ivory and take steps to stop elephant poaching, (Nice headlines, Michael,) it’s more important to urge countries like Russia to manage their forests sustainably, even by putting tariffs on their timber. To urge the US not to renege on the Paris accord and to recognise and support those US states that are committed to emissions reduction, regardless of the messages from Washington. Let’s support India where they’ve banned the sale of fireworks in Delhi, because the air pollution after last year’s Diwali was so severe that schools were closed for three days, people were advised to stay at home and all construction and demolition work was banned for five days due to the choking smog.
We should tell our politicians to penalise cars that pollute, even making the dirtiest ones unaffordable. It’s important to phase out fossil fuels from transport and energy generation as quickly as possible. Of course the car industry like the coal industry will scream and trot out that constant claim that it will cost jobs. But what price jobs when your children can’t breathe? And are there no jobs in renewables? OK - let’s not be over-dramatic but let’s look at the evidence.
In recent months the UK government has been prosecuted repeatedly by lawyers Client Earth for failing to address air pollution and for being in breach of EU regulations on clean air. Each time the government has lost, but each time it has treated the court with contempt and little has been done. Parts of London have exceeded their total annual allowances for certain pollutants before the end of January. In other cities it’s much the same. It’s a medical fact that young children exposed to pollutants and particulates will suffer lung damage which cannot be reversed.
So that's what we can do. We can remind our MPs and ministers, whose role it is to serve our best interests, that the situation is getting worse and it is their duty to do something about it.
And it’s not just air pollution. It’s sea-level rise, it’s violent and unusual weather; droughts and floods, it’s ocean acidification and species extinction and all the rest.
When the alarm was given on the Titanic that the ship had hit an iceberg some people went back to their cabins confident that she was unsinkable. Remind you of anyone?
Others stayed on deck to find that there weren’t enough life-boats. ‘Nuff said.
At the moment there are wildfires in Northern California. Apparently this is unheard of at this time of year in that part of the world. They say the weather is changing. Or could that be the climate?
Last week I mentioned Hubbub which describes itself as
“a charity that creates environmental campaigns with a difference.”
The campaign I reported on was #Bringbackheavymetal, urging people to recycle some of the 178 million dead batteries which are lying around in the UK and contain valuable metals. (You did recycle yours, didn’t you?)
Anyway, another idea which they are promoting is the community fridge. Sadly more and more people in the UK are having to rely on food banks because of their personal circumstances. Food banks don't usually offer fresh food, because of the difficulty of storing it. Hubbub’s community fridge campaign lets people donate fresh food by providing a fridge in a community centre or similar location. Let's face it, we all waste food from time to time, and those of us with gardens can have more fruit and veg that we can cope with. Find a community fridge near you and give it away in the knowledge it will help somebody out.
You can find them on Facebook.
And that’s it…
And that’s it for another week. There are more ideas already on the way for next time, but if there’s something you’d like me to look into, or if there’s something you know about and you’d like to talk about, let me know on firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d like to show your support you can become a patron of the Sustainable Futures Report from as little as $1 per month. Hop on over to patreon.com/sfr and find out more. It helps me cover my hosting and transcription costs.
Thanks again for listening. Thanks particularly to my patrons.
This is Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Have a great week.
Until next time.