Friday, December 13, 2019

Biomimicry - Nature Shows the Way

Biomimicry - Nature shows the Way
Image by Couleur from Pixabay

Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 13th of December. There is no news of the general election results because I wrote this before the polls even opened. 
This Time
Aside from election news, on the sustainability front Australia is still ablaze, COP25, the UN Climate Conference, draws to a close this week with criticism and complaints, Greta Thunberg says the school strikes have achieved nothing and some in Scotland are having a grouse - about grouse moors. But apart from all this, whatever we do to our world we are going to have to live in it and it’s important to make the very best of it. There are lessons we can learn from Nature. I recently heard a presentation by Richard James MacCowan who is the founder and managing director of Biomimicry UK. In the conference brochure it said:
“Richard is a real estate consultant and designer having worked across Europe on projects from billion-dollar asset transfers to new developments. His passion for all things biomimetic and problem-solving started in his youth, and it has never stopped since then. This has led to unexpected clients and opportunities with the BBC, luxury hotels and even running a workshop in a nudist colony in the Balkans!”
He never told us about that in his presentation, but I was able to catch up with him later and we discussed a whole range of things.

Richard MacCowan of Biomimicry UK. Find out more on his website: 

Australia Ablaze
We need nature, but nature in some parts of Australia is under severe threat. The fires that I reported weeks ago are still burning and are now being called too big to put out. They are covering an area equivalent to the size of greater Sydney, and they are not that far from Sydney. Temperatures were expected to reach 43C during the week. The city is choked with smoke and air quality has exceeded "hazardous" levels on several occasions. This has led to a 10% rise in hospital admissions, while paramedics have treated hundreds of people for breathing problems. There are air quality problems from bushfire smoke in Adelaide as well.
Firefighters say there is no hope of putting the fires out because everything is so dry. All they can do is wait for rain, which is not expected before late January or February. We spoke about water vapour last time and how warmer air can hold more of it. This means that when it finally condenses into clouds and then turns into rain the downpours are excessively heavy. But on the other hand it means that where clouds rise to heights which would normally trigger rainfall it's not cold enough, so the clouds move on leaving drought behind them. As we warm the atmosphere we change weather patterns.
All these fires must be putting tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, but at the same time they are killing wildlife and destroying habitats. For those creatures that survive there may be no insects or plants or prey left to live on.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, has consistently said there was “no credible scientific evidence” linking climate change with the fires. This has been rejected by climate scientists, who have said politicians are “burying their heads in the sand while the world is literally burning around them”. The Climate Change Performance Index rates Australia’s climate policies as the worst in the world, coming 57th out of 57 countries.
As we learnt recently, Australia accounts for 37% of world coal exports. Shutting the mines would devastate the economy overnight. Equally, shutting the mines would not stop climate change or the droughts or the fires. It’s a necessary but not sufficient action for controlling the climate crisis, which depends on actions by governments and corporations across the world. The effect of humanity on the environment has built up over the last 200 years or so; and particularly in the last 50. The effect of cutting CO2 emissions and extracting CO2 from the atmosphere will take centuries if not millennia to work through. Somehow we need to sell the necessity of immediate action to deliver long-term security but no immediate return. You can understand why politicians would prefer to believe that climate change is not happening.
It’s not just in Australia that the mining industry is resisting calls to curtail its operations. Friends of the Earth warn that the international Energy Charter Treaty could be used by fossil fuel companies to challenge countries’ climate regulations. The original objective of the treaty was to protect western energy companies as they started to invest in former Soviet states, and the organisation is certainly not without teeth. The most notorious case, involving the Russian Yukos company, ended with a $50bn judgement. 
COP25 closes this week, after this edition has been published, but already there’s much news. The general message is that not enough is being done quickly enough and corporations and countries are dragging their feet, if not deliberately hampering progress. 
Johan Rockström, joint director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said, “We are at risk of getting so bogged down in incremental technicalities at these negotiations that we forget to see the forest for the trees” An example is the position of China, Saudi Arabia India and Brazil on the use of the term “climate urgency”. They claim that since the phrase has not been used in the past it cannot be used now. Other delegates are frustrated at this insistence on a triviality in the face of the science, of the shrinking time to act and the realisation across the world of this emergency.
In 2015, countries signed up to the Paris agreement and are due to put new plans on the table to run from 2020. The richer countries were supposed to undertake specific carbon cutting actions in the years between 2015 and 2020, but many haven't yet achieved these targets. Negotiators have ignored the central question of increasing country pledges to cut their carbon and concentrated instead on protecting national interests.
Carbon Markets
There are two contentious issues: loss and damage, and carbon markets. The conference is setting out to establish a new scheme for carbon trading but some countries, notably Brazil, want to carry forward carbon credits that were generated under previous schemes. This would limit the efforts needed by Brazil to meet its targets, but it is claimed that these old credits do not in fact represent real carbon reductions, so their use is not justified. If old credits are allowed there is little point in having a new scheme. 
Loss & Damage
Loss and damage has been on the agenda since the conference opened. Poorer and developing countries affected by sea-level rise or major storms that have a climate component are looking for support and assistance from richer countries. Richer countries are afraid of being held liable for billions of dollars indefinitely.
It’s Time
You’ve probably heard that Greta Thunberg has been nominated as Time Magazine’s person of the year 2019. It’s as much about Time Magazine as about Greta, but the publicity must be welcome for the climate cause. In the past Greta has been dismissive of praise and awards. What she wants is action. Speaking at the summit in Madrid this week, she urged world leaders to stop using "creative PR" to avoid real action. She also said that the school strikes for the climate over the past year had “achieved nothing” because greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. In the four years since the Paris Agreement global emissions have risen by 4%. Meanwhile delegates at the conference focus on the wording of the documents rather than the urgency of the bigger picture.

Greta complained as well about the criticism of activists and the abuse she has received. Petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson surprised everyone when he said that climate change must be real because he found that he couldn’t take a boat up the Mekong River in Cambodia because parts of it had dried up. It didn’t take long for him to revert to type and say that Greta should shut up and go back to school. She told activists in Madrid that we needed more activists, that school strikes could stop if governments took action and she hoped that there would be a positive outcome from COP25, as ministers from across the world arrived for the final stages of the summit. She didn’t look optimistic, but she always looks determined.
At the other end of the age range, 82-year-old actress Jane Fonda has joined the climate activists and been arrested four times. She says that she’s inspired by Greta Thunberg and that climate activism has helped lift her depression which followed the election of Donald Trump.
Grouse Moors
The United Kingdom lies a few hundred miles north of Madrid, and large areas of northern England and Scotland are pretty barren. There are very few trees and much of the landscape is bog and heather populated by sheep. Although this countryside has looked like this for 200 years or more, it’s not natural. It’s managed like this for grouse shooting, an activity which uses 13% of the land area of Scotland but contributes a negligible amount to Scotland’s economy. A report from Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform, claims that continued management of this land as grouse moors will maintain a large area of Scotland’s land in an impoverished state. It’s treated with pesticides, contaminated with lead shot and parts are burned each year so that the heather puts out new shoots that the grouse feed on. This close-to-sterile landscape could be returned to scrub and woodland, with habitat for a wide range of wildlife, opportunities for year-round leisure activities and managed forestry with associated jobs. The trees would be a carbon sink, but protecting the peat bogs, already a massive carbon sink, would be far more important. To achieve this, of course would need political will and cooperation from those that own the land. Politicians may well choose easier battles to fight.
I fear the Scottish landowners would be every bit as obdurate and obstructive as the coal companies.
And Finally,
Some good news. Well, reasonably good news anyway. The Times reports that the UK market share for greener cars rose above 10 per cent for the first time in November, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Demand for hybrids rose by 15 per cent to 7,038 compared to the same month last year; plug-in hybrids increased by 34.8 per cent to 4,362; and battery electric cars rose by 229 per cent to 4,652. 229%! But then that’s a very low base. And that’s just 4,652 vehicles out of a total of some 160,000. And is the car, petrol or electric, the way to go?
I think that’s a question for another time.
And that’s it…
…for another Sustainable Futures Report.  Remember that links to the sources for all of these stories are on the blog - or will be by Friday.
Next week I’ll bring you a more measured response to the results of the UK election, to the outcome of COP25 and there’ll be a look at how we can adapt to the climate change already built into the system. That will be my last episode of 2019, bringing us up to 45 editions for the year, so you won’t be surprised that there will be a break in January. I’m aiming for a 3rd January episode, although precious few have come back with 100 words on what we should do in 2020. Send me your ideas!  Before Christmas if you possibly can.
If you’re contemplating a New Year’s Resolution (OK I know Christmas hasn’t even started yet!) But if you are, why not become a patron of the Sustainable Futures Report. Details at Makes an ideal Christmas present, too.
Right, that’s enough for this time. 
But before I go, 
lest we forget, XR hunger strikers are now in their third week with nothing but water and vitamins.
Some people have immense courage and they’re doing this for you and me.
I’m Anthony Day
That was the Sustainable Futures Report
I’ll be back next week in time to wish you a Merry Christmas.


Australia fires: blazes 'too big to put out' as 140 bushfires rage in NSW and Queensland
Sydney's air 11 times worse than 'hazardous' levels as Australia's bushfires rage
Energy treaty 'risks undermining EU's green new deal'


UN climate talks failing to address urgency of crisis, says top scientist

Greta Thunberg says school strikes have achieved nothing

Jane Fonda on joining the climate fight: 'It's back to the barricades'

Close Scottish grouse moors to help climate, report urges


Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 13th of December. I was planning to stay up late tonight so that I could incorporate the result, or at least the trend, of the general election in this episode. Then I realised that by the time you listen to this you will know far more than I might do at midnight on Thursday. So we’ll talk about the election next time. I hope you get this on Friday. BT are about to cut our internet off - maybe for as much as 24 hours the man’s just told me. I’m sure I’ll find a way.

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