Today is Friday, 20th September, the day of the GLOBAL CLIMATE STRIKE.
This is the Sustainable Futures Report and I'm Anthony Day.
If you're a patron and getting this in advance of publication day, take this as prior notification of the event. We'll talk about why it's happening, how it might affect you and what you can do.
Also this week I'm talking about why scientists need to speak up and about those that do. The weather forecast is extreme. I bring you news of nuclear from Normandy, of VW from Australia, of living in a cardboard box and explain why I’m going nuts about packaging.
Yes, this week's climate strike is a global climate strike, led from New York by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg. She’s attending a climate conference over there. She travelled out on a sailing yacht. Of course it was a stunt, but it got everyone's attention didn't it? If she flew out there she’d have been criticised far worse than Prince Harry and if she’d gone on a cruise ship, which has a far larger carbon footprint, she’d never hear the end of that either.
Friday’s global strike has grown out of Greta’s Youth Strike 4 Climate. This one involves everyone. “If not you, then who?” they ask. “If not now, then when?” The Metro newspaper reports that the whole of Oxford will close down on Friday. People all over the world are encouraged to come out and stand with the students in solidarity, even if they can only take time out of a lunch break. 4,000 events will happen in 120 countries across the world. Activists are demanding action: action from governments to recognise the crisis and to take action to deal with it.
Although most of the demonstrations will take place on Friday, the event is billed as a week-long happening. It's not clear whether this will involve civil disobedience as practised by Extinction Rebellion or whether students will stay out of school for the whole week. What is clear is that very many people believe now that we have a crisis and that governments must act.
Extinction Rebellion is already planning its next actions from 7 October. This will aim to close off access to Westminster and activists are ready to be arrested as they were at the protest in London back at Easter. In UK there is a risk that these actions will be confused with protests arising out of the current constitutional crisis, where the government and executive appears to be trying to ignore both parliament and the judiciary while forcing through its right-wing agenda.
At this point I should say I don't want to get into politics, but the climate crisis is a political issue because the solution can only be achieved by governments. Happily, whether or not the demonstrations in the UK are ignored, they are part of an international action and international pressure is being brought to bear on leaders across the world.
Inevitably this podcast goes to press several days before the start of the Global Climate Strike but I shall be down on the streets with my recorder and my notebook and I'll bring you first-hand reactions and impressions next time.
How will this affect you? In the long term it could improve your survival chances, and those of humanity as well. Possibly. In the short-term it might cause traffic jams and make you late for something. Maybe a price worth paying.
Covering Climate Now
A collaboration of more than 250 news outlets around the world to strengthen coverage of the climate story has come together under the banner “Covering Climate Now”. In an article shared on the network by CNN they report that Americans are waking up to the climate crisis and 66% believe climate change is either a crisis or a serious problem, with a majority wanting immediate action. A majority are ready to give up plastic straws, recycle more, drive less, use efficient lightbulbs, give up plastic bags and travel less. However, 69% are not willing to give up eating meat.
The most important thing is to keep the message at the forefront of public attention.
Scientists Speak Up!
Writing in Nature Ecology & Evolution, Charlie J. Gardner of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, and Claire F. R. Wordley of the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, argue that scientists should join civil disobedience movements to fight the interconnected planetary emergencies threatening our climate and ecosystems. “Scientists have worked hard,” they say, “to communicate the severity of these crises — not only to each other through peer-reviewed publications, but also to policymakers and the wider public. On two occasions, we have collectively issued stark ‘warnings to humanity’: in 1992 when the Union of Concerned Scientists warned that ‘a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated’, and again in 2017 with over 15,000 signatories.”
Scientists Act Up!
Urging support for campaigns like School Strike 4 Climate, XR and Ende Gelände they say: “Many of the most profound political and social changes of the past century were brought about in this way, and leading practitioners, such as Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi, once reviled as dangerous dissenters, are today revered as heroes.”
Some scientists are speaking out.
Speaking to the BBC, Professor Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, said: “It’s appropriate to be scared. We predicted temperatures would rise, but we didn’t foresee these sorts of extreme events we’re getting so soon.”
He said the world had changed faster than generally predicted in the fifth assessment report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014.
He referred especially to the loss of land ice and sea ice, and to the weather extremes in which he said warming probably played a role.
Several other scientists contacted by the BBC supported his emotive language.
The physicist Prof Jo Haigh from Imperial College London said: “David King is right to be scared – I’m scared too."
“We do the analysis, we think what’s going to happen, then publish in a very scientific way.
"Then we have a human response to that… and it is scary.”
The Met office is forecasting more violent weather on the way! Professor Jason Lowe, Head of Climate Services at the Met Office, said: “The projections show that the UK climate is likely to get much hotter. If you look at the frequency of those hot spells exceeding 30 °C for two or more days, the records show they are largely confined to the south east and locally they occur, on average about once every four years.”
In the future, the model suggests there will be significant increases in hourly rainfall extremes. For example, rainfall associated with an event that occurs typically once every two years, increases by 25% by the 2070s under a high emissions scenario – a level where insufficient global action has been taken to reduce the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.
As I tell people in my workshops, don't just think of global warming as extra heat, think of it as extra energy. It's the energy that drives our weather systems, and the more energy, the more violent the weather can get!
No End to the World?
Petteri Taalas, the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a specialised UN agency, said he fully supported United Nations climate goals, but he criticised radical green campaigners for forecasting the end of the world.
He agrees that polar ice is melting faster than expected, but he’s concerned that public fear could lead to paralysis – and also to mental health problems amongst the young.
Know thine Enemy
Promoting the climate message is always problematical. And while scientists have marched and written letters and changed their own behaviour, lobbyists for fossil fuel corporations benefit from much greater access to political processes than is available to scientists or environmental campaigners. In 2018, the fossil fuel industry spent over US$125 million lobbying politicians in the United States alone
And in these dangerous days of rampant social media, bots and trolls can spew out fake news faster than Twitter and Facebook can filter it out.
Meanwhile, a new report from the UK Office for National Statistics has found that road transport emissions have risen since 1990, despite efforts to reduce it. Cars have become cleaner, but there are more and more and more of them and the UK government remains committed to freezing fuel duty and building more roads. Hardly surprising that only 0.5% of vehicles in the UK in 2018 were ultra-low emission vehicles.
I say that cars have become cleaner, but not as clean as they claim to be, and a lot of cars involved in the diesel gate scandal will still be on the roads. This week it was announced that VW/Audi would pay compensation in Australia for "dieselgate". The amount involved at $AU120m looks tiny in comparison with the $42bn the company has already paid out in fines, settlements and recall costs for cars fitted with devices designed to give false readings in emissions tests. No such compensation looks likely in Europe, maybe because VW is a European company.
Money doesn't really make up for this. There are 40,000 premature deaths in the UK caused by air pollution. (The WHO estimates 4.2m worldwide.) Much of this pollution comes from road vehicles. Diesel engines produce less CO2, but CO2 is not harmful to humans. It's the other gases and especially the particulates, the microscopic fragments of soot which lodge deep in the lungs, which not only cause premature death but are increasingly suspected of arresting intellectual development in children. There’s no protection against this. The face masks you sometimes see cyclists wearing are completely ineffective. If a mask could trap these tiny particles you wouldn’t be able to breathe through it.
Time to put away the cheque books and get polluting vehicles (and that means most of them) off the road.
People are becoming more and more concerned about plastic pollution and doing what they can to avoid it. And yet when they go to music festivals they seem to forget all about these principles. It's been calculated that UK festival goers abandon some 24,000 tons of rubbish each year, including tents, sleeping bags, mattresses, clothing and even barbecues, food and drink when they leave the event.
They like to believe that the tents will go to charity and indeed some of them will. Festival Waste Reclamation and Distribution is a charity which collects up tents and equipment for reuse, but many of them are damaged or dirty and volunteers are needed to take them down, fold them and pack them. The problem is made more difficult by the fact that sites are frequently strewn with rubbish of all types, so most are simply sent to landfill.
Not Cleaning Up
An earnest entrepreneur on the BBC Dragons’ Den programme recently proposed a service to ship people's camping equipment back to their homes so they wouldn't have to carry it after an exhausting festival. The panel pointed out that first of all the tent that he was offering was far more expensive than others available and secondly the users were expected to pack it up; probably the part that most people least enjoy. They didn’t think anyone would buy it.
Another option is Kartent, which is a tent made of cardboard. The company will erect your tent so it’s waiting for you when you arrive at the festival, and yes, you can abandon it with a clear conscience when it’s all over. The tent will be recovered for up-cycling, into litter bins, cigarette bins, chairs, even lamps or office furniture. The cost is about €35 for a two-person tent.
The most important solution though, must be changing attitudes. The idea that people can walk away from an event leaving usable equipment but also tons of litter implies an expectation that “somebody else” will clean up after them.
When it comes to the climate crisis this attitude is frightening. It’s true that individuals cannot do enough on their own to solve the crisis: we have to rely on “somebody else” - the government - with enough power to take action that will truly make changes. But the people at the Global Climate Strike on Friday must have a different outlook. Otherwise they would just stay at home and grumble that “somebody else” was falling down on the job.
In other news…
There’s bad news from Flamanville where EDF is still trying to finish a new nuclear power station which is years behind schedule and millions over budget. There are once again problems with components and welds and while fuel loading was expected to start later this year with generation following in 2020, commissioning has now been postponed until 2022. The plant was planned to come on line in 2012 at a total cost of €3.3bn. The latest cost estimate is €10.9bn.
This is bad news for the UK’s plant at Hinckley C, also under construction by EDF, to the same design, also late and also over budget. Private Eye magazine reports that there are serious personnel issues on site. They say: “the very large workforces required for new build nukes, always on remote sites, cannot be recruited locally, so workers live away from home on special thousand-bed campuses, 11 days on with three days off. Unions speak of poor mental health among workers: a bullying, macho “construction culture” is depicted with multiple suicide attempts and management trying special measures (including sessions hosted by ex boxer Frank Bruno on his own mental health struggles) to get on top of the problems. The magazine also suggests that similar problems exist at Sellafield, the nuclear reprocessing site. At least there are no nuclear materials at Hinckley C for the moment.
Nuts about Plastic
Do you like peanuts? I like peanuts. KP Peanuts are on every supermarket shelf and I slip them in the shopping basket when my wife’s not looking. At least I did. They used to come in a foil package, in fact thinking about it, it was probably a plasticised foil package and therefore difficult to recycle. This packet came with a bit of sticky tape and the idea was that you'd seal it up so that you didn't eat all the nuts at one sitting. Because the sticky tape didn't stick I frequently ate more than I should. The people at KP have come up with a solution. Their new packet now has one of these plastic locking strips inside the top which reseals it securely. Trouble is, it must make it impossible to recycle.
There is a shop near us which sells nuts and cereals and flour and all sorts of dry goods from dispensers. You bring your own container. Yes, they sell roasted peanuts but they’re not salted and they still have a sort of flaky skin on them. They're just not the same. I can't bring myself to buy KP's packets any more. Does anyone know where I can get my salted peanuts with minimal or no plastic guilt? Please let me know!
Maybe I should tuck into some Kentucky Fried - no, not chicken. They’ve launched a meat-free meal - a Kentucky Fried Miracle - and when they launched it at a restaurant in Atlanta it sold out within 5 hours. It’s not clear whether this will become a regular offering.
And that’s it
Well, that's another episode. Thanks for listening. Listener numbers are steadily increasing but please tell your friends because I would like them to increase even more steadily. Thanks for being a patron if you are a patron because your dollar per month or more helps me cover the cost of transcriptions, which have been quite heavy recently, and the cost of hosting this podcast. You'll notice there are no advertisements and there's no sponsorship or subsidies either. That does mean of course that I can say what I like because I've got no advertisers who might get upset. But I'll try not to upset you, the listener, because after all you are what this podcast is all about.
Next Round-table discussion
Before I go, a note to patrons. If you'd like to take part in an online discussion which we'll record for a future episode please do get in touch either via the Patreon site - www.patreon.com/sfr - or by firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you would like to talk about.
That's it for this week. Next week I have an interview with an archaeologist who explains how technologies he uses to find ancient cities hidden the jungle can help with tackling the climate crisis.
In the meantime enjoy the next seven days including the climate strike and let's see what comes out of it. A week is a long time in politics and a week is a long time in climate activism too. Go out and take action. Remember, every little helps. Remember too that the late David Mackay once said: ‘If everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little’
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report and I’m delighted to have brought this episode to you. When I opened the file this morning to start recording I found it contained none of the 1800 words I wrote yesterday. There was nothing in the cloud and nothing on my local back-up discs either. I did eventually recover the file from within the Apple Pages software, but I can do without shocks like that.
There will be another Sustainable Futures Report next week.
Global Climate Strike
Flamanville nuclear station
Science needs to speak up
VW compensation in Australia
Americans aware of crisis