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It’s Friday, it’s 11th September, it’s the Sustainable Futures Report and I’m Anthony Day.
This time I’ll be catching up on stories shared during August, by listeners from Australia, Japan and other parts of the world. Closer to home, XR’s protests continue to make headlines, although you may not have seen them as XR blockaded several presses last weekend and many papers did not make it to the shops.
But first, let’s talk about diet. If we’re environmentalists should we be vegan? On the Sustainable Futures Report this time I have two guests: Sammy Bishop, a recent graduate in human physiology and a vegan, and Deirdre Lane who describes herself as a green finance expert who’s morphed from traditional commodity markets to empowering citizens on sustainable actions. She is not a vegan.
Anthony: What started this all off for me was the idea of veganism and some quite strong opinions. And I believe there are some quite strong opinions on veganism. And therefore I was very interested to hear what Sammy said recently about being a vegan. Now, I understand that you've been a vegan for about two years, so that suggests you weren't brought up in a vegan household.
So what was your motivation in becoming a vegan in the first place Sammy?
Sammy: Um, no, you're right. I've been vegan for just over two years now. And veganism stemmed from hearing about the, the climate change and the challenges that our planet is facing just in general culture and across the news and seeing the pretty irreversible direction we're currently traveling in.
And I started by making the very standard changes of my reusable coffee cup. and trying to use less plastic when I can. Um, just reading and watching documentaries about the overwhelming evidence for the positive impacts that a vegan diet can have on our planet. It just about two years ago became the inevitable next step that I took to try and minimize my personal impact on the planet.
And that's my vegan journey, really. And I've been going strong for two years ever since.
Anthony: So two years without any backsliding or any secret, um, burgers or
Sammy: Nothing ever intentional. I once drunk from the wrong cup of coffee, but I don't, I don't put myself down for that.
Anthony: Okay. So your right cup of coffee has got almond milk or something like that in it.
Sammy: It's a soya cappuccino is my go-to.
Okay. Okay. Now I've spoken to you about this, Deirdre, and you express some cynicism about the value of veganism. Do you want to expand on that a bit?
Deidre: Well, starting with the almond milk, if you consider the plight of the bees, the commercial harvesting of, of the almond with the bee population. So more bees are abused in the U S and they're classified actually in the U S as livestock. So more bees die every year in livestock. In the U S above fish and above, um, agricultural ingestion of, of animal protein and animal meat. So it's quite incredible that yes, we do want to do the right things, but are we doing it in the right way?
And are we considering all of biodiversity in our circular thoughts? So, yes. Let's go for the almond milk, however, let's have a rethink of it. How is the almond milk coming to you? Is it in a plastic container? What's the carbon footprint and biodiversity footprint of your almond latte, but it's fascinating how you can phrase the coffee consumption. I was in a cafe in London and they said, do you want to have an 80% less carbon coffee? And of course I said, yeah, it was actually an oatmeal coffee. So yes, absolutely reduce the, the input of dairy, but how are we going to do that at what price to nature? And you mentioned plastic as quite curious as part of plastic free July audits um, I went through all my presses and most of my plastic food sources were actually, um, my vegan food sources. So, you know, the packages of Plasta and the packages of the, um, all the other lentils, et cetera. I was really, um, concerned that even if you do want to go vegan and vegetarian, it really increases your use of plastic, which I was quite concerned about actually. So you're trying to do the good things. You're trying to change your diet, but in fact, are you accidentally damaging nature and increasing your plastic use?
Anthony: Well, how do you find that Sammy? I mean, tell us about what you eat now. I mean, I think a vegan menu to many of us is, is a completely closed book, so to open it up and give us some information, would you,
Um, and just to know, I am not by choice gluten free as well. So perhaps my vegan diet, isn't the most representative in some ways, but, um, My main, especially to begin with my main vegan diet, as you say, was very great in pulses - things like chickpeas and lentils, either tinned or from a packet. And very vegetable, nut heavy and as I say, things like burgers and things being gluten free, certain a lot of the vegan meat alternatives, mince and chicken and things like that. The vegan alternatives aren't in fact, gluten free. So perhaps mine isn't the most representative, but a lot of pulses and grains to get that, um, variation in the vegan diet is where I focus mine.
And I think your point about plastic is interesting. I know from, uh, from my personal experience, before I bought lentils in plastic, I bought for example, chicken in plastic. And so. Although, that is a very important point that you can't focus on the food solely for the average person walking down the street, trying to do their bit, even if it's not a perfect, and there are complications and confusions about how to make your diet completely zero planet impact, which is of course it's never going to happen.
If you're growing consuming products, you've got to at least be trying to take a step in the right direction. And I think if you start saying overloading people with too much information about the meat, the vegetables, the plastic, am I better to have a can of chickpeas or a bag of chickpeas, it can become overwhelming.
And an individual may just panic and say that I can't process that much information. Let me just carry on as normal. And that's what I think. You've got to think of the nuance of these situations, but be careful of the average person over analyzing every single thing that touches their lips.
Anthony: Okay. And how do you feel?
I mean, some people say that a vegan diet is defective. It is defective in certain nutrients or vitamins or things like that. Do you feel as healthy, more healthy, less healthy than you did two years ago?
Sammy: I can with total honesty say yes, I felt no difference whatsoever. Some people claim that it is more healthy and I'm sure that's true for me, not a single thing changed in how I felt, how much energy I had, how much I performed.
I know it obviously is different for different people, but, um, we, some world class athletes, even are vegan. And so for most people, one would assume if you have less energy demands on your body, then a world class athlete, perhaps. So for most people, I would assume that it is an entirely healthy way of life.
Deidre: It's interesting for female health that I found as, um, females get older, those of us who choose, um, a vegan diet actually have issues with their bones and osteoporosis, and also the depression can be linked to, um, Having a deficiency in B12 as well. So a really good friend of mine who has chosen to be a vegan for the last three years.
She now has osteoporosis, she now has to have medication for it. And she has, she's a doctor herself. She, she shrunk three inches as well. So now that she has chosen vegan living and really healthy living as well. So she eats her carrot tops, for example, as well, carrots. And they're delicious. I'd never thought of doing that before.
So, um, her combinations of tastes from a vegan diet are amazing. Her brother is an organic farmer and he farms organic beef. So his point about having heart attacks, eating red meat is processed industrial farming practices. They take the beef, they bring the animal to the, to the slaughter house. The animal can smell the fear and death.
And then you're digesting something that is full of chemicals and hormones with fear, and then we're getting the heart attacks from the red meat. So I just spoke to my dad inside. I just cooked the dinner. Dad, would you ever be a vegan ? And he went no. And thumped the table,"I like my traditional diet."
So fish on a Friday and pig all year long. And they did not waste a single ounce of that pig. So the neighbors came in and they had the black pudding and nothing, nothing was wasted or spared of the pig. Um, and even the, the processing of the pig manure as part of the refertilisation of the ground, it was very much a circular system.
Everything enclosed included. Uh, we have this great words in Irish called mehel . So it's, it's, uh, let's say at the moment it's Apple season. So you're calling your friends out to help you, or if it's a hay harvesting, you'll have a mehel and people, all your neighbors come along and we have so very much the killing of the pig was a mehel.
Sammy: I just want to quickly add that. I totally agree that for many people. Veganism may not be healthy. I know you stay. Um, as a young woman, I know a lot of people that suffer, for example, with eating disorders and things like that. And the one of the worst things for someone with a history of disordered eating is tightly controlling what you can and can't eat so, so although I think for many people, it is healthy.
If it is not healthy for you, I think it's important that everyone should respect that.
Anthony: Okay. So you're not then saying that we should all become vegans or are you saying ideally we should all become vegans?,
Sammy: I would say undeniably, I think a vegan diet would have a positive impact on the planet. If we were all to undertake it. I think saying that everyone should become vegan is not taking into account far too many factors, including for example, your health, where you are, what access you have to be vegan, food, vegan alternatives, whether you have the time to make the changes to become vegan whether you have the financial stability and the ability to become vegan.
And so I think those who can should, but I understand that many can't and that is absolutely fine. I think if you start telling people off for not being vegan, because they can't, then that can be a very counterproductive way to continue
Deidre: You probably know the restaurant "Cranks". And I often, um, I used to go there beforehand.
So for me, how do you know someone's a vegan as they tell you? So oftentimes my vegan friends, it's just, it's, it's difficult to invite them to events, et cetera, because they come with a list of, of cranky, still considered by some, notions, but vegan food it's fantastic. But I think that the question is how do we sustainably balance our diet?
So how can we shop sustainably from a local support, a local source of protein. So, where do you get your protein from? Is it a high caliber? How has that protein even farmed? So for example, you started talking about almond milk, but the amount of chemicals now put on the almond milk, that we're now digesting ourselves.
We really have to re-envisage how we digest food, how, where we get our foods from regenerative farming and exactly what is the more sustainable solutions and choices, economical choices we can make as well. So there's one point in Dublin. It was fascinating for years they were trying to get ladies to eat more healthily and feed their families healthily and the women joined a fitness club and the fitness people, they had to pay to be part of this fitness thing. And the fitness group said eat chickpeas. And all of a sudden they're eating chickpeas. So it's a mindset so should come away from, as you suggested somebody that cranky you should should, should to " here's a suggestion."
You know, if you eat this it's healthier, it's better for your family. It's more economical, less plastic. There are other solutions that we can and may explore. And, and the way you, you suggest those changes to the diet as well. It's so important that we do get a choice and vegan food is delicious, but so is my steak.
Anthony: So Sammy, you are committed to veganism for the foreseeable future then.
Sammy: For the foreseeable future, I'm certainly not tempted to. Yep. Although I love a steak. I'm not tempted to go back that's for sure.
Anthony: Right. On the other hand, Dierdre you're not going to give up your steak or your black puddings.
Deidre: Oh, lovely black puddings. But it's funny, the healthy choices you make. A vegan colleague gave up cigarettes and started eating wine gums instead. She didn't realize where gelatine came from. So really have to ask these people in the choices that you're making. What are you swapping? What for very important that we, we, we, we balance the situation.
Anthony: Okay. Well, thank you both for your, your thoughts on this very important topic. And before we close, I'd just like to ask for your thoughts on what's been going on with extinction rebellion over this last week, because you're aware that, uh, they generated a lot of controversy by blockading the printing works and stopping a lot of newspapers from being distributed on Saturday. Um, the, there is a rumor that the government wants to reclassify extinction rebellion as organized crime and extinction rebellion itself says the police are being extremely heavy handed in these later stages of the demonstration by using all sorts of legal excuses, uh, using in particular the, uh, the COVID regulations to drive people off the streets.
What's your reaction to what's going on? Should people break the law or, or what? Um, Deirdre, would you like to go first?
Deidre: So having been part of extinction rebellion in Britain and the UK and a fantastic convivial festival ambience outside parliament square in London. I can vouch for the behavior when I was present at the time.
And it was very encouraging, positive intellectual debate involving young people and families on the future of our country. So using COVID regulation to hinder the meeting of more than six people can be viewed very, very suspiciously. So we have the right to protest. We should regard that right. And save that right preciously. Extinction rebellion are doing a really good job in actually sharing that conversation in a meaningful way. So being heavy handed with young people is really going to backfire. I think in Brexit, your country seriously is in trouble. And the last thing you want is to make malicious militants, teenagers and families oppose the forces that are in power. So there are ways to do things. Of course, um, nonviolent dialogue is extremely important and very well practiced by extinction rebellion and to be commended. So I I'm pretty horrified by the corralling of rebels, how they're being treated currently, especially with the religious dimension.
So we've had some really great faith groups involved in extinction rebellion in the UK. And this is how you're being rewarded in 2020 it's, um, it's quite fearful and some of us who are peaceful and who do want to have a positive change.
Anthony: Thank you. Well as a, perhaps somebody not so heavily involved, but nonetheless, uh, affected by the future of the planet as we all will be.
Although you'll probably be effected by it for quite a lot longer than some of us Sammy. What's your, what's your take on what's been going on?
Sammy: Yeah, I'd say on the whole, I agree with what Deirdre said, particularly peaceful protests, um, should have a mutual respect between the protesters and those who are enforcing or overseeing it.
It's really important that although obviously at the moment, our country is facing some some serious things. they're dealing with COVID particularly, we can't use that as an excuse to let every single other thing fall to the sidelines until it's a convenient time to deal with it. Um, and so I think it's really important that protests are allowed to and do continue with respect, assuming that they are undertaken with respect and fairly and um, that, so I think, yeah, it's really important that they can and do continue in an appropriate way.
Anthony: Just on the point of blockading the presses. So that four national newspapers did not actually get out to the newsstands on Saturday. People have said that's a denial of free speech. Would you, either of you see it as that?
Deidre: Is the press free in the UK? My question. Who owns the press?
Anthony: Well, we'll leave that hanging. Shall we? Uh, Sammy, what do you, did you, did you get your paper on Saturday?
Sammy: Um, well being a 22 year old graduate, I do not read the paper. My news app did update as normal. So my access to the free press was not impacted.
Anthony: Okay, well, thank you both. So thank you for your thoughts on this and on veganism.
I think that's really interesting. And, um, I much appreciate your taking the time to talk to the sustainable futures report. Thanks again.
You can follow Deirdre Lane @ShamrockSpring on Twitter and on FaceBook as well. Both Sammy Bishop and Deirdre Lane are on LinkedIn.
And in Other News…
Nations suing governments, deforestation and population, and CO2 as a fuel.
Carol Dance draws my attention to an action by Torres Strait Islanders. Climate change is putting life on the islands of the Torres Strait at risk. Advancing seas are already threatening homes, as well as damaging burial grounds and sacred cultural sites. Many Islanders are worried that their islands could quite literally disappear in their lifetimes without urgent action, with severe impacts on their ability to practise their law and culture.
The Islanders are taking a climate change complaint against Australia to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations. This case is the first of its kind in the world.
They will ask the UN committee to find that international human rights law means that Australia must increase its emission reduction target to at least 65% below 2005 levels by 2030, going net zero by 2050, and phasing out coal.
The outcome will undoubtedly be watched with interest around the world. We in Britain have come to know that former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott believes that actions to tackle the climate crisis are about as sensible as making sacrifices to appease the volcano gods. Such attitudes are shared to a great extent by the present Australian government, which keenly advocates fossil fuels. Understandably, as coal exports provide a major element of the national income. How much longer they will find a ready market may depend on how much more the government annoys the Chinese, but that’s another story.
If you burn fossil fuels you release CO2. Not much you can do about it at the individual level like vehicles, but at major industrial sites and power stations carbon capture and storage (CCS) or carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) is the holy grail. If you capture the CO2 what can you do with it? Now Argonne National Laboratory in the US announces a new electro-catalyst which efficiently converts carbon dioxide and water into ethanol. Ethanol is an ingredient in nearly all U.S. gasoline and is widely used as an intermediate product in the chemical, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.
“The process resulting from our catalyst would contribute to the circular carbon economy, which entails the reuse of carbon dioxide,” said Di-Jia Liu, senior chemist in Argonne’s Chemical Sciences and Engineering division and a CASE scientist in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, University of Chicago.
Certainly the process would slow down the release of CO2, but it’s not a closed circle. CO2 will be emitted and lost if the ethanol is used in road fuel, and will be re-emitted when the products of the other industries are eventually discarded.
Patron Esteban Velez Vega contacted me about an article he saw in Nature on “Deforestation and World Population Sustainability.” The authors’ opening remarks include,
“We evaluate the probability of avoiding the self-destruction of our civilisation. Based on the current resource consumption rates and best estimate of technological rate growth our study shows that we have very low probability, less than 10% in most optimistic estimate, to survive without facing a catastrophic collapse.” They continue,
“it is highly unlikely to imagine the survival of many species, including ours, on Earth without [trees]. In this sense, the debate on climate change will be almost obsolete in case of a global deforestation of the planet.”
Of course some people are not fazed by this at all. Elon Musk, of Tesla cars and SpaceX, believes we should leave the Earth and colonise the planets. He has said he would be happy to die on Mars, as long as it’s not on impact.
The authors of this study have considered the idea. Here’s what they say: “We connect such probability [of survival without facing a catastrophic collapse] to the capability of humankind to spread and exploit the resources of the full solar system. According to Kardashev scale, which measures a civilisation’s level of technological advancement based on the amount of energy they are able to use, in order to spread through the solar system we need to be able to harness the energy radiated by the Sun at a rate of ≈4 × 1026 Watt. Our current energy consumption rate is estimated in ≈1013 Watt. As shown in the subsections “Statistical Model of technological development” and “Numerical results” of the following section, a successful outcome has a well defined threshold and we conclude that the probability of avoiding a catastrophic collapse is very low, less than 10% in the most optimistic estimate.”
President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil is another not fazed by all this. Under his rule the chainsaws have never stopped.
Someone recently sent me an email which started like this: “Climate change doesn’t stop for anyone. It doesn’t pause for pandemics, it doesn’t go on a Summer recess and it doesn’t reward good intentions.”
And the wildfires in California haven’t stopped, either.
That’s why I’m concerned at the measures the British government is taking to suppress the current XR protests. Calling the activists criminal lawbreakers is particularly ironic in a week when a government minister has announced in Parliament that the government intends to break international law.
And that’s it!
That’s it for this episode. Thank you for listening and I'm delighted to say that people are listening in rapidly increasing numbers. I must be doing something right but please do get in touch and tell me what else you'd like me to focus on. At the moment I get my stories by scanning the media and picking up what I think is interesting, but some people do write with ideas and I'm always grateful for more. As always you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks also to my ever-loyal patrons who contribute a small amount each month to help cover the costs of hosting and researching for this podcast. Your support is immensely appreciated. You too can become a patron and the details are at patreon.com/sfr .
Before I go here’s an item from the i-newspaper which shows why you should be kind to wildlife.
“A gentleman, in his 80s, was eating his dinner when he became annoyed at a fly buzzing around him. He took aim with an electronic fly swat and tried to dispatch the insect for good, unaware of a gas leak in his kitchen. When he took aim a spark from the swat ignited the gas. The gas cylinder exploded, demolished part of his kitchen and caused a section of his roof to blow off. Local reporters said the man managed to escape with just a burn to his hand but the house is currently uninhabitable. The fate of the fly is unknown.”
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Deforestation and population