Saturday, April 27, 2019

Tipping Point

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Have we finally reached a tipping point? 

Margaret Thatcher warned about climate change in 1989, Al Gore presented his “Inconvenient Truth” in 2006 and Lord Stern warned about the same time that every year we failed to act would make the price of averting the climate crisis higher and higher. President Barack Obama signed the Paris Climate Change Accord along with some 190 countries in 2015, but despite all this little has actually been done. Certainly not enough to make enough of a difference.
Until now. Have we finally reached the tipping point? Have a Swedish schoolgirl, a naturalist in his 90s and a civil disobedience campaign in the streets of London finally led people to realise that the climate is in crisis and that it affects us all?
Hello, I’m Anthony Day and this is the episode of the Sustainable Futures Report that I promised you to report on the actions of Extinction Rebellion. It’s Friday 26th April, although this episode was written on Wednesday 24th. 
Last month some 700,000 people marched in London to express their dissatisfaction with Brexit. The march made some headlines, but most reports were on inside pages and TV and radio coverage soon faded away. It’s pretty much forgotten by most people. 
Extinction Rebellion
The Extinction Rebellion action started on the Monday before Easter, and received much the same treatment in the press. It wasn’t helped by the fire at Nôtre Dame cathedral in Paris which drove most other news off the front pages. The difference was that Extinction Rebellion didn’t just take place for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. At the time of writing it’s still continuing and over 1,000 people have been arrested for civil disobedience.
One of the people protesting in London, though not arrested, is John Cossham. He’s been an environmental activist since the 1980s and won the 2008 Oxfam Carbon Footprint Competition with the lowest carbon footprint in the UK. Here’s what he told me.
Sorry, no transcript this time.
John Cossham - inveterate eco-warrior and winner of the 2008 Oxfam Carbon Footprint Competition.
The Naturalist and the Schoolgirl
Last week Sir David Attenborough presented an hour-long documentary, Climate Change - The Facts. People who had never taken part in a demonstration before turned up to support Extinction Rebellion saying that Attenborough’s message had made them take action. His documentary on the damage done to the natural world by plastic shocked public opinion. Could he now be doing the same for people’s awareness of the climate crisis?
Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 16-year-old who started the school strike for the climate and went on to address the United Nations, the World Economic Forum and several governments was in London to speak at Extinction Rebellion. She went on to speak to a packed meeting at the House of Commons attended by all party leaders except the Prime Minister. She criticised the government for arguing about truancy and civil disobedience when the urgent issue is the issue of climate change. It was reported that of the people in the room Michael Gove, environment minister, had the greatest power to take action but said the least of any substance.
Have we reached the tipping point? Don’t ignore the backlash, which has hardly started. An editorial in The Sun newspaper criticised the police for failing to clear Extinction Rebellion from the streets. Some commentators called an activist seen with a smart phone a hypocrite, because smartphones contain scarce resources and involve polluting processes in manufacture. Others criticised Emma Thompson for flying in from Los Angeles - air travel is a significant source of carbon emissions - to address protestors. Not all activists are living exemplary lives, but that doesn’t invalidate the scientific arguments which tell us that the climate is in crisis.
Anecdote and abuse is the response of those who realise that they have lost the argument. Don’t underestimate the vast vested interests who will attempt to derail the climate movement at any cost. More about that and the phenomenon of denial in future weeks.
And that’s it…
I’m Anthony Day and this has been an interim episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. As the planet warms the  debate appears finally to be warming up. I’ll continue to monitor the situation and report on how we can build a sustainable future. I’m away from base at the moment so there will be no Sustainable Futures Report next week but I’m aiming to be back to normal later in May.
Thanks for listening.

Until next time.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Next Week

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 - this is Anthony Day with the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 12th April. I called this episode Next Week but who knows where we'll be or what will be happening next week? By the time you listen to this or read it you’ll know far more than I do now. Could the UK be teetering on the point of leaving the EU? If we wake up on Saturday morning and are no longer members, then all environmental controls and carbon commitments will be in the hands of our own Michael Gove. That's former journalist and now Secretary of State for the Environment Michael Gove who once said that we'd had enough of experts. Will he continue to follow the EU experts on environmental protection or will he follow some other path? And what about the Paris Agreement? The EU signed that on behalf of all 28 members. Presumably we’re going to have to re-sign it on our own behalf. I hope our commitment will be at least as strong as the one we made as part of the EU.
Easter Break
I did tell you last time that I was going to suspend the Sustainable Futures Report over Easter and for a couple of weeks thereafter. But of course, next week sees Extinction Rebellion’s big event. Their plan to block the roads of central London and to be arrested for it if that's what happens. I don't think I can let that pass, so look out for another episode, but I'm not promising to publish on Friday. 
The other reason for going ahead is to pay tribute to all my listeners, patrons included, who are growing in number by the hour. I mentioned previously that downloads for March were growing rapidly and in fact they exceeded the totals for each of December, January and February. Downloads in April continue to run at about double previous levels. So if you're a new listener, welcome and I hope you'll stay and if you're a loyal listener, thank you for staying with me. And here's the inevitable plug for Patreon. If you'd like to support me in this podcast for as little as $1 per month I'd be more than grateful and you can find out all about becoming a patron at Apart from that I get no subsidy, sponsorship or advertising. I do chair conferences sometimes, and I’m paid for that, and I’m always ready to deliver keynotes so do bear me in mind for your next big event.
Where does it all come from?
Following on from last week’s question about where I do ever find enough material for a weekly podcast, here's what I'm covering this week.
Re-wilding the countryside, global warming in Canada, what engineer I K Brunel thought about pollution, the downside of banning throwaway coffee cups, the future for gas home heating, the Lancet’s Countdown, naming and shaming some plastic polluters, coal-fired power plants and cleaning up the National Grid, air quality in London and regenerative farming. But not necessarily in that order.
Fighting Back
A sign that the fight-back against climate change is gaining support. There was an article in my paper talking about the incredibly cheap flights available just at the moment. The journalist said she was going to take advantage of as many as she could possibly afford. Three letters in my paper the following day criticising her irresponsibility given that aviation is a major source of carbon emissions and air pollution.
I’m grateful to Professor Hilary Graham of York University for telling me about The Lancet’s Countdown initiative.
The Lancet Countdown: tracking progress on health and climate change was established to provide an independent, global monitoring system dedicated to tracking the health dimensions of the impacts of, and the response to, climate change. The Lancet Countdown tracks 41 indicators across five domains: climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerability; adaptation, planning, and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; finance and economics; and public and political engagement.
The Lancet Countdown's 2018 report arrives at three key conclusions:
IMPACT: Present day changes in heat waves, labour capacity, vector-borne disease, and food security provide early warning of compounded and overwhelming impacts expected if temperature continues to rise.
DELAY: A lack of progress in reducing emissions and building adaptive capacity threatens both human lives and the viability of the national health systems they depend on, with the potential to disrupt core public health infrastructure and overwhelm health services.
OPPORTUNITY: Despite these delays, trends in a number of sectors see the beginning of a low-carbon transition, and it is clear that the nature and scale of the response to climate change will be the determining factor in shaping the health of nations for centuries to come.
Ensuring a widespread understanding of climate change as a central public health issue, they say, will be crucial in delivering an accelerated response, with the health profession beginning to rise to this challenge.
Among its 10 recommendations the report includes
  • investing in climate change and public health research
  • phasing out coal-fired power
  • encouraging city-level low-carbon transition to reduce urban pollution (more about that in a moment)
  • rapidly expanding access to renewable energy, unlocking the substantial economic gains available from this transition
  • developing a new, independent collaboration to provide expertise in implementing policies that mitigate climate change and promote public health, and monitor progress over the next 15 years
This is another authoritative voice, identifying the challenges of climate change and urging action. Difficult to ignore, unless perhaps you’re Donald Trump. As they say, a lack of progress…threatens human lives. The world is beginning to realise that something must be done. The problem is that since we’ve delayed our action long after the challenge has become evident we’re going to need to act rapidly and dramatically.
Counting Down
Remember the reports of last year’s IPCC Report? Which said that we had only 12 years to sort things out? Does that mean that we’ve only got 11 years left now? No. What the IPCC actually said was that we’ll get to the point of no return in 2030 unless we start doing something NOW.
There’s a link to the Countdown report on the blog and there’s also a link to a discussion of the report with Professor Hilary Graham and Professor Hugh Montgomery.
In the Air
Talking of air pollution - again - this week sees the introduction of London’s ULEZ, the Ultra Low Emissions Zone. If your vehicle is not an ultra low emissions vehicle, which means it meets Euro 4 emission standards if it’s a petrol car or Euro 6 for diesel cars, you will have to pay to drive in the zone. The charge is £12.50 for cars and vans and £100 for buses and lorries. Electric cars are of course exempt.  The ULEZ charge is in addition to the Congestion Charge, but while the Congestion Charge does not apply after 18.00 or at weekends or on public holidays, the ULEZ charge applies 24/7 every day of the year. If you travel late at night and you’re in the zone both before and after midnight you’ll have to pay for two days. If you fail to pay, the penalties are £160 for light vehicles and £1,000 for large vehicles.
Sub Standard
Incidentally, I’ve looked up the Euro emissions standards and they say nothing at all about CO2, the most common greenhouse gas. They specify limits for gases like carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide and the concentration of particulate matter, but not CO2. Time for some revisions there, I think. 
Getting Better
Something clearly has to be done about London's poor air-quality, although it is by no means the only city in the UK or indeed in the world with an air pollution problem.
The Guardian reports that while in 2017 London saw its first breach of annual pollution limits just five days into the new year and in 2018 it occurred within a month, three months into 2019, no such breaches have taken place. So things are getting better. Nevertheless, the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory shows that there are still 2 million people living in areas with toxic air, including 400,000 children.
Brick Wall
Ministers have been defeated three times in the high court over the inadequacy of their national action plans for improving air quality. The latest plan, described by environmental lawyers as “pitiful”, revealed that air pollution was much worse than previously believed.
Air pollution causes at least 40,000 early deaths in the UK from lung and heart disease, but it is being linked to an increasing range of health impacts, from miscarriage to teenage psychosis.
We can hope that once Brexit is out of the way the government will take a sensible approach to air quality and to the many other issues which have been on hold for the last three years. Unfortunately it seems that if the government doesn’t get its way its policy is to try and try and try again in the face of all opposition and legal rulings.

Good News - nearly
Good news in that the National Grid has announced a plan to make its operations 100% clean by 2025, as reported in the Australian press. Good news on the face of it, but as Energy Voice explains, what the company actually said was that its ambition is to transform the operation of the electricity system by 2025 so it can be operated “safely and securely at zero carbon” when there is sufficient renewable power online and available to meet demand. Zero carbon means renewables and nuclear, which together supplied 53% of the nation’s electricity in 2018. It’s not clear, but I’m assuming that the 100% target depends on Hinkley C coming on stream by 2025. Meanwhile Centrica announces its path to net zero and commits to supplying 7GW of clean energy systems by 2030.
Collapsing Coal
In view of this it’s not surprising that The Guardian reports that there has been a global 'collapse' in number of new coal-fired power plants. China originally took the lead in this but the signs are that faced with an economic slowdown they have restarted some of their suspended power station projects. But Christine Shearer, of Global Energy Monitor, said even emissions from the existing coal plants were incompatible with keeping global warming below 2C. “We need to radically phase down coal plant use over the next decade to keep on track for Paris climate goals,” she said.
News comes from the Green Left Weekly that mining giant Glencore has decided to cap its production of thermal coal at 150m tonnes and at the same time China is limiting coal imports. “Is this the beginning of the end of coal?” they ask.
But more news comes from The Guardian that Glencore spent millions bankrolling a secret, globally coordinated campaign to prop up coal demand by undermining environmental activists, influencing politicians and spreading sophisticated pro-coal messaging on social media. 
This is the problem. The science is clear but commercial interests with vastly deep pockets will use everything they can to deny the problems caused by their industries. We saw it with the tobacco industry. We saw it with Exxon and other oil companies. We’re still seeing it, even though it may be very subtle, with many other fossil-fuel companies. As I mentioned before, I’m researching denial. I hope to understand it well enough to discover how to counter it.
Journalist George Monbiot, together with three colleagues, has set up a new organisation called Natural Climate Solutions. Its stated mission is, “To catalyse global enthusiasm for drawing down carbon by restoring ecosystems: the single most undervalued and underfunded tool for climate mitigation.”
Monbiot explains how we not only need to cut down carbon emissions across the world but we also need to extract some of the carbon dioxide that's already in the atmosphere. Several technological solutions have been proposed. One is bio energy with carbon capture and storage or (BECCS). This involves growing trees which will absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, then burning them for energy and capturing and storing the carbon dioxide that is emitted. He rejects this because the land needed for growing the trees would be vast, would cause hunger by displacing agricultural crops and make the problem worse by creating emissions from fertilisers and from the cultivation process. Although carbon capture and storage has been under development for many years it has not so far been operated on a commercial scale.
Another option is direct capture of CO2 from the air. This involves vast machines which would be used to collect the CO2. Although the actual concentrations of CO2 have reached levels which are dangerous for the planet they still represent a tiny percentage, significantly less than half of one percent of the atmosphere, so truly enormous amounts of air would have to be processed to extract useful amounts of CO2. Presumably these machines will need energy to operate them and of course they will be made of steel and possibly concrete and the production process of the equipment needed to have a worthwhile effect will itself create significant carbon emissions. And there will still be the problem of how to store the captured carbon.
Natural Sequestration
The approach of Natural Climate Solutions is to use natural sequestration of carbon. They believe this is the only practical way to reduce atmospheric carbon and the only way of doing it in time. They recommend that we restore natural forests and mangroves. That we protect and recover peat bogs which are drying out as they are drained and dug out for horticultural use, releasing their stores of CO2. They recommend that bottom trawling should be stopped, as this releases CO2 stored on the seabed. They believe in the protection of the animals and fish which prey on the herbivores which destroy the carbon-locking vegetation if unchecked.
The Natural Climate Solutions website shows a wide range of allies from the United Nations Environment programme to the Leonardo di Caprio Foundation and the WWF. Together with Greta Thunberg, Michael Mann, Naomi Klein and 20 other notables they have written an open letter to the UNFCCC, the UNCBD, governments and NGOs warning of the dangers and urging global support for their actions.
As they say on the website,
“A better world for wildlife is a better world for people.”
Hotting up in Canada
Meanwhile, global warming goes on and seems to be particularly acute in Canada. Canada’s Changing Climate Report 2019 finds that both past and future warming in Canada is, on average, about double the magnitude of global warming. Northern Canada has warmed and will continue to warm at even more than double the global rate. “It is likely,”they say, “that more than half of the observed warming in Canada is due to the influence of human activities.” The report goes on to study changes in rainfall, snow and ice, climate extremes, fresh water availability and sea levels. 
They warn that, “Scenarios with limited warming will only occur if Canada and the rest of the world reduce carbon emissions to near zero early in the second half of the century and reduce emissions of other greenhouse gases substantially.
“Beyond the next few decades, the largest uncertainty about the magnitude of future climate change is rooted in uncertainty about human behaviour, that is, whether the world will follow a pathway of low, medium, or high emissions. Given this uncertainty, projections based on a range of emission scenarios are needed to inform impact assessment, climate risk management, and policy development.”
Go to to find the report.
Foot off the Gas!
Home Heating
One way to cut carbon emissions is to cut down on the use of gas for home heating. The UK government has floated plans to exclude gas heating from new homes in a few years’ time, but what are the alternatives? Patron Tom de Simone caught a documentary on BBC Radio: Costing the Earth - Dash from Gas. Here’s what he thought:
“It was not bad. They talked to people who are using/developing:
  • district heat networks
  • water source heat pumps from abandoned flooded coal mines (I spoke to Prof Jon Gluyas of Durham University about that back in October.)
  • air source heat pumps in conjunction with a gas boiler (for top-up when it's really cold)
  • electric radiators in combination with solar PV and battery (which is charged overnight when electricity is cheap)
  • normal gas central heating, but with per-room temperatures and schedules
“What they didn't mention once was making your home more efficient to heat in the first place, which was pretty disappointing. I think some of these systems would work well with extra insulation i.e. not a full retrofit; if you can reduce your home's heating requirements by, say, half, options like ASHP (maybe without the gas backup) and electric radiators start to look more viable.
“They didn't really favour any one approach, and they basically finished by throwing their hands up and saying "I dunno, it's hard"... which is kind of a fair assessment of where we're at! They briefly touched on the money side of it, but only to say it's going to cost £450 billion and add £300 to everyone's bills, which wasn't really helpful. No hint that maybe governments might want to help with some of the cost of, you know, saving the world and all that.”
Find the programme on the BBC Sounds app, or via the link on the blog. 
Time for a coffee? 
The BBC reports that independent coffee chain Boston Tea Party (BTP) has seen sales fall by £250,000 since it banned single use cups last summer. Owner Sam Roberts said it had factored the loss in takings into its plans and that too many operators were "putting their profits before the planet".
The chain, which has 22 branches around England and is based in Bristol, started the ban in June 2018.  Although they tried giving people 25p off for bringing their own cup, only about 5% of customers responded. They calculate that they have saved 125,000 disposable cups from going to landfill since they started the scheme.
If you go to BTP without your own cup you’ll have to buy a re-usable cup or go thirsty.
My question about these schemes is will they wash your cup? If you drink out of a reusable cup you’re left with a dirty cup. If you want to go back later in the day for another drink will they rinse out your cup and refill it?
Cleaning up Bristol
Concerns about pollution were also expressed in Bristol many years ago. Newly discovered letters written by engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel reveal his concerns that factory waste was polluting water supplies in Bristol, although he said this was “in some measure unavoidable”. Fortunately we’ve moved on since then.
Plastic Wastrel
Not far enough according to Greenpeace. They’re piling the pressure on to Sainsbury’s, accused of being the supermarket doing the least about plastic pollution. Greenpeace have a spoof video on Facebook claiming to be a response from Sainsbury’s head of PR, Polly Ethelene. Link on the blog. 
Costing a Packet
Walker’s, the nation's biggest crisp manufacturers, were the target of a campaign by pressure group 38°. The packets which Walker’s use are notoriously difficult to recycle and mainly end up in landfill. Walker’s fought back with an agreement with Terracycle who claim to be able to recycle almost anything. More than 8,500 collection points were set up across the country amid a fanfare of publicity and Walker’s recently announced that 500,000 packets have been recycled, recovering enough plastic to make 250 benches. Not good enough, responded David Innes, a campaigner with 38 Degrees. While it's great that people are recycling their packets, 500,000 packets is a very small drop in the ocean when you consider that 11 million packets are produced each day. UK consumers eat 6bn packets of crisps a year and plastic-free packets can’t come soon enough.
The company has made a commitment to make crisp packets recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025.
No-Throw Zone
Climate Action reports that the European Parliament has approved a new law, banning throwaway plastics such as cotton bud sticks, cutlery, straws, stirrers and plates by 2021. The directive will also ban plastic balloon sticks, single-use polystyrene cups and those made from oxo-degradable plastics (plastics that fragment into tiny pieces). This of course will apply only to EU member states. 
Regenerative Farming
Last week I was able to have a conversation with Gillian Julius in New York who told me what she’d been learning about regenerative farming. It’s the principle of mainting the fertility of the soil by returning goodness to the earth in the form of compost. It’s something I’m going to research in more depth, but in the meantime Gillian gave me a couple of links. The first is to a blog called Post Veganism. The latest article is a detailed assessment of the sources and effects of methane, with particular reference to methane from livestock.
The second is a presentation from the California State University called Regenerating the Diversity of Life in Soils: Hope for Farming, Ranching and Climate.
Singing Frogs
She also told me about Singing Frogs Farm in California, a business built on regenerative farming.
And finally…
Attenborough Speaks
As the pressure finally grows and climate change starts to get press coverage naturalist David Attenborough has launched a documentary series about the climate crisis on Netflix. For those of us who don’t subscribe he has an hour-long documentary called “Climate Change - The Facts” on the BBC. It airs on BBC1 next Thursday 18th April at 9pm.
Easter Break
That brings me to the end of another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. It brings me to a short break although I will probably comment on Extinction Rebellion’s activities which are planned to take place next Monday. Today, that is Friday, 12 April, when this episode is released to the public domain, another Youth Strike Against Climate is scheduled. As I said before, it's taken a long time to get people to even notice climate change let alone believe that it’s something serious. This is only the start. The changes we need will be challenging because in many cases we will need to abandon accepted practice and give up business as usual. We’ll need imagination and determination to shape a sustainable future. I believe we can do it, I believe we will do it, and that we’ll end up with a better future for ourselves, for our children and for their children as well.
That's it for now. 
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.

I'm Anthony Day and don't worry–I'll be back!

Friday, April 05, 2019

All at Once

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It’s like buses

It’s like buses. You wait for climate change activists and then several thousand suddenly turn up at once. I've been banging on about climate change for at least the last 20 years. My friends are very understanding and apologise to me when they buy a plastic bottle or a diesel car. “It's your planet, too,” I tell them, but they just smile and move on. And now from nowhere, as it seems, there is this movement called Extinction Rebellion - you were going to send me some links to that, John - which is aiming to bring the whole issue to the top of the agenda by civil disobedience. Well good luck to them. I really hope they achieve what I’ve been trying to achieve for the last 20 years. More about that in a moment.
Welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, 5th April 2019. I'm Anthony Day with a special welcome for my patrons who support this podcast. More details about that and how you too can become a patron are at
News Roundup 
Somebody asked me once, “A weekly podcast on sustainability? How can you ever find enough material for that?”
The truth is that I'm just scratching the surface of all the stories. This week for example I'm going to tell you about the future of insects, views on climate change denial, more about glyphosate, some thoughts on population, and a new entry to Europe's top10 polluters.

But first, the climate.
Bare bottom fight
Climate protest took place this week in Parliament. Members of Extinction Rebellion removed most of their clothes and then turned their backs and pressed their buttocks to the glass wall separating them from the chamber of the house. Some actually glued themselves to the glass and one protester dressed as the elephant in the room was carried out. They have been charged with outraging public decency which sounds a bit pathetic when you consider the sorts of things you can see on television.
The Rebellion
But this is just a start. On the 15th April the Rebellion begins. The demands are simple:
  1. The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.
  2. The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
  3. A national Citizen’s Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.
This idea of a citizen’s assembly is gaining support. It was a method used in Ireland before last year’s abortion referendum. It’s been suggested that it should have been used after the UK’s Brexit referendum to clarify exactly what people wanted.
According to the ER website:
“In the UK, thousands of rebels will peacefully block streets in Central London – where the UK’s politicians, media, people and money are concentrated – until the government agrees to meet and seriously discuss the crisis with us. We invite people of whatever age or background to participate in this rebellion – blocking roads and standing up for our future. This is a community rebellion. United in love for life we will stand together and support each other as we confront the government with our demand for decency and sanity.”
This is just what the government wants at this time of constitutional crisis over Brexit. Of course our parliament has shown itself to be totally incapable of dealing with the issues surrounding an exit from the European Union so any hope that they could do anything sensible about this vastly more important issue may be in vain. 
Public Opinion
How will the public react? People going about their ordinary business or commuting to work will probably be frustrated and angry. Will that rally them to the Extinction Rebellion cause? Like Brexit, do people fully understand the issues?
According to the instructions to volunteers, people taking part in the Rebellion should bring a tent and book two weeks off work. That means the plan must be to continue the protest right over Easter. People whose Easter holidays are disrupted will certainly not be amused.
Although there are hints that action may take place in other cities, it appears that the major protest will be in London. This could be greeted by schadenfreude from the rest of the country, amused to see that for once London is not getting everything its own way.
The bare-bottom protest in Parliament gained wide publicity and did so without alienating the public. But British society is tense and divided at the moment. Intolerance is becoming widespread. I fear that this action by Extinction Rebellion could just pour petrol on the flames. Still, if they achieve what I’ve been trying to achieve for 20 years, good for them. If they don’t, and they put the debate back by 20 years then so much the worse for us.
Climate Denial
Keeping the climate crisis message in the media is key. It is clear that vested interests are equally keen to reinforce and repeat the climate denial message. 
Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson is the former president of Ireland and the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Special Envoy on Climate Change. She has been awarded the Kew International Medal and in her acceptance speech she says that the denial of climate change is not just ignorant, but “malign and evil”, because it denies the human rights of the most vulnerable people on the planet. According to the Irish Times Mrs Robinson said fossil fuel companies had lost their social licence to explore for more coal, oil and gas and must switch to become part of the transition to clean energy. She said exploration for new reserves must end, given that most existing reserves must be kept in the ground if global warming is to be tackled.
“The system we have at the moment is underpinned by rampant capitalism. The social contract with people is kind of broken. The unions are being trod upon, especially in the United States but also globally to a certain extent,” 
Quoted in Green Left Weekly, an Australian paper, Hans Baer asked, “How can she reconcile a desire for environmental sustainability with her membership in the B-Team, a group of business leaders that includes Richard Branson, whose Virgin Galactica project promises space tourism for the very wealthy?
“Robinson acknowledges the need to reduce social inequality, but fails to confront the growing concentration of wealth in most countries in the world and the persistence of major social inequalities. Essentially, her book, Climate Justice, domesticates the notion of climate justice, reducing it to a moral problem that can be solved by persuading the rich to do better.”

School Strikes
Mary Robinson underlined her support for climate protests, including the school strikes for climate initiated by Greta Thunberg. There is another school strike planned for next Friday 12th April. That will be the third. How will it compare in turnout with the previous demonstrations?
Greta Thunberg addressed a celebrity audience in Berlin recently. “We live in a strange world, where children must sacrifice their own education in order to protest against the destruction of their future,” she said, “We are failing, but we have not yet failed.” 
It’s only 5 minutes. Watch it.
Disturbing news about the world’s insects
An article in the journal Nature Communication by Powney  and others reports a widespread decline in pollinating insects across the United Kingdom. Here’s the introduction to their paper:
“Pollination is a critical ecosystem service underpinning the productivity of agricultural systems across the world. Wild insect populations provide a substantial contribution to the productivity of many crops and seed set of wild flowers. … Here we show substantial inter-specific variation in pollinator trends, based on occupancy models for 353 wild bee and hoverfly species in Great Britain between 1980 and 2013. Furthermore, we estimate a net loss of over 2.7 million occupied 1 km2 grid cells across all species. Declines in pollinator evenness suggest that losses were concentrated in rare species. …This contrasts with dominant crop pollinators, which increased by 12%, potentially in response agri-environment measures. The general declines highlight a fundamental deterioration in both wider biodiversity and non-crop pollination services.”
Warming Effect
An article in Global Change Biology describes how researchers studied UK data for 269 aphid, bird, butterfly and moth species between 1965 and 2012. They found that global warming had advanced the timing of biological events and that further warming was likely to drive significant future biodiversity loss. The problem is that the lifecycles of plants, animals, insects and birds are getting out of sync with each other. If plants flower at the wrong time there is no food for insects. If there are no insects there is no food for birds. With fewer insects there will be less pollination and fewer productive plants. If there are fewer birds there will be less food for their predators, and so it goes on.

40% under threat
An article in this month’s Biological Conservation journal says that over 40% of insect species are threatened with extinction. Habitat loss by conversion to intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, while agro-chemical pollutants, invasive species and climate change are additional causes.
Last Generation
WWF says that this is the 'last generation' that can save nature (CNN) It warned that current efforts to protect the natural world are not keeping up with the speed of manmade destruction. The crisis is "unprecedented in its speed, in its scale and because it is single-handed," said Marco Lambertini, the WWF's director general. "It's mindblowing. ... We're talking about 40 years. It's not even a blink of an eye compared to the history of life on Earth."
"Now that we have the power to control and even damage nature, we continue to (use) it as if we were the hunters and gatherers of 20,000 years ago, with the technology of the 21st century," he added. "We're still taking nature for granted, and it has to stop.”
12 months ago, Cristiana Pașca Palmer, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, was already saying that at least half of the world should be made more nature-friendly by 2050 to ensure the wellbeing of humanity. She said that to reach the goal, nature reserves, ocean protected areas, restoration projects and sustainable land use regions should be steadily expanded by 10% every decade.
Half Earth
With this objective in mind, Half-Earth Day is an annual celebration and opportunity for scientists, conservationists, community representatives, decision-makers, and educators to share their progress towards biodiversity conservation and inspire fresh energy and engagement.
They say, “Half-Earth is a call to protect half the land and sea in order to manage sufficient habitat to safeguard the bulk of biodiversity. Advances in technology now allow us to comprehensively map the geospatial location and distribution of the species of our planet at high enough resolution to drive decision-making about where we have the best opportunity to protect the most species. This is the work of the Half-Earth Project.”
We could just all give up in the face of this bad news, or do something about it like the people at the Half-Earth Project and many other groups of people who are determined to do everything they can to meet these challenges.

Did I mention climate change?
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) reports that the State of the Climate in 2018 shows accelerating climate change impacts. The report says that the physical signs and socio-economic impacts of climate change are accelerating as record greenhouse gas concentrations drive global temperatures towards increasingly dangerous levels. It also highlights record sea level rise, as well as exceptionally high land and ocean temperatures over the past four years. This warming trend has lasted since the start of this century and is expected to continue. “Extreme weather has continued in early 2019,” they say, “most recently with Tropical Cyclone Idai, which caused devastating floods and tragic loss of life in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. It may turn out to be one of the deadliest weather-related disasters to hit the southern hemisphere.” 
Cyclone Idai
Do you remember Cyclone Idai? It’s gone off the news stories now, but the devastation and the relief effort continues. And don’t forget Madagascar. That country was hit as well.
The report records that in 2018, most of the natural hazards which affected nearly 62 million people were associated with extreme weather and climate events. Hurricanes Florence and Michael, for example, were two of fourteen “billion dollar disasters” in 2018 in the United States of America (USA). They triggered around US$49 billion in damages and over 100 deaths. Super typhoon Mangkhut affected more than 2.4 million people and killed at least 134 people, mainly in the Philippines. The report goes on to examine food security, displacement and refugees, heat, air quality and health, coral bleaching, warming oceans, sea level rise, ocean acidification, diminishing sea ice, and retreating glaciers.

Roundup News
Turning to other news in this roundup, Monsanto's flagship herbicide Roundup, otherwise known as glyphosate, has been identified as a substantial cancer factor in a recent court case. This was the opinion of a jury in the case of a Mr Hardeman, who treated his property in California regularly with the herbicide from 1980 to 2012 and was eventually diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This follows an earlier case where another California man was awarded $289m in August after a state court jury found Roundup caused his cancer. That award was later reduced to $78m and is on appeal. There are more than 11,000 similar cases awaiting trial in the US.
Roundup has been available since 1974 and the manufacturers insist that it is a safe product. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organisation's cancer agency, concluded that glyphosate was "probably carcinogenic to humans", but  the US Environmental Protection Agency insists it is safe when used carefully. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) also says glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer in humans and in November 2017 the counries of the EU voted to renew its licence.
Roundup has been the focus of controversy for years. The concern is that Roundup-resistant crops can be sprayed with the chemical. The crop survives, but all other plant life is destroyed. In turn, this removes the habitat of a wide range of creatures and organisms. Monsanto argues that clearing the ground with a weedkiller instead of ploughing it means that the soil structure is not disturbed, it is not compressed by heavy machinery and no diesel powered tractors are used, avoiding their carbon footprint.
No doubt the debate will go on. We need to feed the world’s growing population and the way we do it needs to be sustainable. Maybe regenerative farming is the answer. I’ve started looking into that and I’ll tell you more about it in a future episode. 
Population rising - or not?
And what about this population that needs feeding?
A recent article in The Guardian explains how a number of researchers are expressing doubts about the United Nations estimates of future population. According to the UN Global population will reach 11 billion by the end of the century. On the other hand Jørgen Randers, believes that it will reach 8 billion by 2040 and then decline. Other researchers agree.
The key issue is the fertility rate, the number of children born to each mother. 2.1 is the average rate believed to be necessary to keep a population stable. In the UK it is 1.7 and population growth is due to immigration. In China it is 1.5 while in India it is 2.1 and falling. In parts of Africa it is 7 or 8, but even this is a decline in comparison with previous years. The factors which change the picture include reduced infant mortality, but a major driver is the urbanisation of society. Women moving into towns seek jobs and careers, postponing marriage and childbirth and having fewer children. If these trends continue and the UN estimate proves to be way ahead of reality, a world with fewer mouths to feed than expected must be good news for us all.

And finally,
 As you jet off on your Easter break, reflect that Ryanair is now in Europe’s top 10 polluters. This is the first time that any company in the top 10 has not owned a coal-fired power station. We’ve talked before about electric aircraft. As batteries get lighter they are a real possibility for shrt-haul routes. Watch this space.

And that’s it…
…for this week. There’s so much more I could write, but if I did I’d never get anything recorded and you’d never hear it. Some things I’ve held over until next time. I hope what I have included is interesting and useful. I’m in your hands and I’m grateful to those of you who write with suggestions and ideas. You can always contact me via 
And that’s it for now.
This has been the Sustainable Futures Report.
And I’m still Anthony Day.

Till next time.