US donations to climate science denial organisations threatens UK environmental protection

During 2017, the United Kingdom’s major climate-science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, (follow the link for an accurate description by DeSmog), recieved $177,001 in ‘grants and gifts’. At the time of writing, this is worth £137,900. These numbers were shown in the tax returns filed by the GWPF’s US-fundraising group, American Friends of the GWPF.

Another right-wing thinktanks, the Taxpayer’s Alliance, recieved around £223,300 from US-based donors within the last five years. An article published by the Guardian described the Taxpayer’s Alliance as “an “independent grassroots campaign” that speaks “for ordinary taxpayers fed up with government waste, increasing taxation, and a lack of transparency in all levels of government”. It keeps its donors secret, saying it respects their privacy.”

These two organisations, along with seven other right-wing thinktanks, were allegedly coordinating amongst themselves in order to push for a hard Brexit, a ruling that would have spelled disaster for UK environmentalists.

All this raises the concerns surrounding the influence of foreign money on issues surrounding environmentalism, such as when lobby groups push to cut regulations in order to implement trade deals with countries that have been named as major polluters. This was part of an alternative ‘Plan A+’ Brexit plan published in September backed by former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and former Brexit secretary David Davis. The report singled out environmental protection regulation as one that is “damaging to growth” and is “moving in an anti-competitive direction”.

Those behind the alternative Brexit plan see themselves as “supportive of environmental protection”, yet see aspects of the protection, the regulations that enforce that protection themselves as leading to the “increases in costs for many companies”. We see this as direct and willing hypocrisy. The plan describes environmental regulations as “somtimes valid attempts to deal with real environmental problems”, and that “frequently they are disguised methods of protectionism”.

The donations that the GWPF received are seen as a significant increase since the previous year. The tax regulations set up in the US require that the organisation declare how much it received, but holds no rules set up that require the source of the donations be included.

In an article recently published by  DeSmog, it was revealed just how much the network of US libertarian climate science denial campaign groups pushing for environmental derergulation post-Brexit, including the Heartland Institute and the Cato Institute, had increased their European activities coinciding with the time of the Brexit referendum.

“Brexit negotiations have created a policy vacuum at the very top of the UK government” stated the article, which in turn allows the space for the policies and ideas of these right-wing thinktanks to gain traction, pushing their ideologies through the donations of rich investors.

“As a result, powerful private lobbies have strived to fill that vacuum and advocated to slash regulation and environmental protection post-Brexit in order to strike trade deals. This includes the Koch brothers, the Mercer family and the Atlas network”.

It was estimated by Greenpeace that the Koch brothers had “sent at least $100,343,292 directly to 84 groups denying climate change science since 1997.”.

The prospect of the Brexit deal, recently put in place by Theresa May, has seemingly increased the amount of lobbying these organisations have been doing. Greenpeace’s Unearthed recently exposed the extent of influence this group, a group which in the UK bases itself in Tufton Street in London, has on cabinet members, including current environment minister Michael Gove.

The UK government has been warned that its environmental laws could be left suffering with “gaping holes”, allowing “polluters to go unpunished and depriving wildlife of vital protection after Brexit”. MPs from the Environmental Audit Committee found that the government had still not committed to replacing roughly a third of all environmental rules that cannot be transferred from the EU into UK law after Brexit. These laws cover air, water, chemicals, and waste disposal. While this gap remains, right-wing thinktanks use the aforementioned donations to weaken environmental regulation in the UK.

It is unfortunate that, as the contributors of these amounts are not obligated to reveal themselves, huge private interests are disguised, and will carry on presenting themselves as proponents and defenders of free-market ideology, all the while justifying the fore-planned dismantling of the United Kingdom’s environmental protection policies.

 

 

 

 

 

New agricultural methods increase bee populations and yields for farmers

A new strategy aimed at increasing bee populations, devised by the International Center For Agricultural Research In Dry Areas, has been put forward at the UN Biodiversity conference this week.

Global bee populations have been suffering greatly over the last few decades, such as in Germany where a 75% population decline has been seen over the last 25 years, and in Puerto Rico there has been an even sharper decline. Around 80% of food crops require pollination, but the population of insects that carry out this job, mainly bees, lessens every year.

The study recommends that a quarter of all cropland be dedicated to flowering economic crops such as oil seeds, spices, and medicinal plants. This would hopefully represent substantial gains in biodiversity. The report also mentions an increase in income across the board, but we must stress that we believe that the true measure of wealth is in natural biodiversity and the resilience of the living planet against human intrusion.

Pressure has already been put on agricultural industries by environmentalist groups for their farming procedures and intensive use of pesticides, and the responses from world governments have been increasingly varied. Just this year, Brazil’s pro-agribusiness congressmen voted for what has been dubbed as, the ‘poison package’, a lift of restrictions on an amount of pesticides that are currently banned in other countries for their detrimental impact on ecosystems.

Stefanie Christmann, who has headed up the research, has spent the last five years working on what she calls “farming with alternative pollinators”, with trials being carried in out Uzbekistan and Morocco.

“In 2013–2014, therefore, a 18-month-pilot project was set on a participatory basis in Uzbekistan, to test this farming with alternative pollinators approach on field and orchard crops. The practicability and the potential of the approach were tested in collaboration with seven smallholders, two commercial farmers, and two schools. “

“We analyzed the yield and insect diversity (pollinators, predators, and pests) of seven cucumber fields in the Parkent district and four orchards of sour cherry in the Boysun district in Uzbekistan. Here we show that the fields with enhanced habitats faced higher diversity of pollinators and predators, but less pests than control fields. Furthermore, the farming with alternative pollinators approach doubled the yield of sour cherry in 2014 and highly increased the income from cucumber in 2013. “

The technique that Christmann proposes represents an agricultural method closer to the formation of natural green areas such as forests, in constrast to intensive monoculture farming already in place. One in every four cultivation strips should be dedicated to the aforementioned flowering crops. Nesting support for bees and other insects should also be provided to encourage populations to thrive, support such as old wood and beaten soil that can be burrowed into.

“There is a very low barrier so anyone in even the poorest country can do this. There is no equipment, no technology and only a small investment in seeds. It is very easy. You can demonstrate how to do it with pictures sent on a cellphone.”

Ultimately, 94% of the farmers were willing to enhance pollinator habitats after being informed of these higher-yield figures.” During the test periods, the efficiency of crop pollination was increased, and the amount of pests was significantly lower.

The greatest gains in the four differing climatic regions that Christmann studied were found in semi-arid climates, where pumpkin yields rose 561%, aubergine 364%, broad bean 177% and melons 56%. In rainier areas, the harvests of tomatoes doubled in size, and aubergines harvests increased by 250%.

There are many environmental and economic benefits to increasing the amount of wild pollinators by encouraging the planting of more diverse crop rotations. This can also be applied to cities, where the planting of wildflowers, berry bushes, and flowering trees can aid in biodiversity.

“The entire environment would be richer, more beautiful and more resilient to climate change,” said Christmann “We would have many more insects, flowers and birds. And it would be far more self-sustaining. Even the poorest countries in the world could do this.”

It is hoped that there may be, in the near future, support for a multilateral environmental agreement on the wellbeing and promotion of natural pollinators, similar to the international convention on trade in endangered species.

But there will be resistance, Christmann admits “I think Monsanto won’t like this because they want to sell their pesticides and this approach reduces pests naturally,”.

Christmann’s research comes as part of a growing campaign to change the very nature of global food production. In the ‘Ecological Farming versus Industrial Agriculture’ section of Greenpeace’s ‘Plan Bee – Living Without Pesticides’ report, it is written:

“Agricultural intensification in Europe has typically led to more homogeneous landscapes, defined by large cereal fields and a loss of non-cultivated habitats on farms – such as hedgerows, ditches, woodland, and field margins. In addition, there has been widespread loss of semi-natural grasslands due to their conversion into arable fields and coniferous tree plantations (Meeus et al. 1990). Semi-natural habitat loss and degradation on farms and in surrounding areas, together with the increased use of agrochemicals such as synthetic pesticides, has been linked to a loss of wildlife species in agricultural landscapes (Belfrage 2005).”

Things are looking a little brighter, with a recent EU-wide ban on bee-harming neonicotinoids. “Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment.” Said Vytenis Andriukaitis, European commissioner for Health and Food Safety, after he welcomed the vote.

On organic, pesticide-free farming, Giannis Melos, a farmer from Greece, had this to say: “In the past I have used plenty of chemicals as a conventional producer, but when I started farming organically only then I realised how many mistakes I had made in the past and that I had been trying to fight the symptom and not the cause. […] With the balance brought about by organic farming there are many benefits in your cultivation. You can see that the soil is more lively, you can see the organisms that form the surrounding environment being in a balance that is not disrupted. Of course there are benefits for the planet, because the residues from chemicals take many years to degrade.”

Atmospheric greenhouse gas levels at all time high, says UN

In a new report by the World Meteorological Organization, the UN’s meteorology experts, it states that the greenhouse gas emissions that are currently causing global climate breakdown are at an all time high.

The levels of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are far above their pre-industrial level counterparts, with seemingly no reversal of their upward trend. In 2017, the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere rose to a global average of 405.5 parts per million, which is 2.5x higher than levels before the industrial revolution. Methane, a gas which has a heating capability 25x that of CO2 and is responsible for around 17% of global warming, now has levels that are 3.5x higher than before the industrial revolution. This rise has mostly been caused by agricultural practices such as large-scale industrial cattle farming.

“The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5m years ago, when the temperature was 2-3C warmer and sea level was 10-20 metres higher than now,” said the WMO secretary general, Petteri Taalas. “The science is clear. Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gases, climate change will have increasingly destructive and irreversible impacts on life on Earth. The window of opportunity for action is almost closed.”

The internationally-ratified Paris Climate Agreement aims to curb the rise of global heating at 2C, yet the more hopeful number is 1.5C. It must however, be stated that this number is itself somewhat arbitrary. It is impossible to say what the actual damage will be at 1.5 or 2C. The recent IPCC Report on the effects of 1.5C of heating, stated that there would be incredibly severe consequences for human life at this level.

This report, with it’s 91 separate authors and review editors from 40 countries, explores “a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC, or more. For instance, by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2ºC.”

“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5ºC or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

“Every fraction of a degree of global warming matters, and so does every part per million of greenhouse gases,” said the WMO deputy secretary general, Elena Manaenkova. “CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the oceans for even longer. There is currently no magic wand to remove all the excess CO2 from the atmosphere.”

To negate this rise in emission levels, collective action needs to be put in place, such as investing in low-carbon or carbon neutral technologies; wind and solar energy needs to become rapidly mainstream. Pressure needs to be put on multinationals, whose business practices are responsible for a large percentage of global emissions.

Fortunately, it is becoming an increasingly poignant issue for people, with environmental demonstrations and campaigns taking place all over the world.  On Wednesday the Yearbook of Global Climate Action 2018 was published, finding that 9,000 cities in 128 countries had committed to some sort of climate action. This is alongside 240 states and regions in 40 other countries, and more than 6,000 businesses.

“On one hand, greenhouse gas emissions have yet to peak and countries struggle to maintain the concentrated attention and effort needed for a successful response to climate change. On the other hand, climate action is occurring, it is increasing and there is a will to do more. I highlight this because falling into despair and hopelessness is a danger equal to complacency, none of which we can afford.”, said Patricia Espinosa, head of the UN framework convention on climate change.

Thousands descend on London for biggest UK climate protest

On Saturday, thousands of environmental protesters occupied five bridges in central London, one of the largest acts of co-ordinated civil disobedience this country has ever seen.

The protest, organised by environmental activists, Extinction Rebellion, saw approximately six thousand of people young and old descend on the Waterloo, Lambeth, Blackfriars, Southwark, and Westminster bridges. It one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in the UK in decades, one of the largest of all time. Of the many protesters, eighty-five were arrested. 

Protests began amassing on the bridges from as early as 9am on Saturday morning, having travelled from all over the country to take part. The day was brisk but the Sun was shining, perfect conditions for the protest to take place. The scene on Westminster Bridge originally felt a little tense, with police presence seemingly increased. A police officer walks past two women and says jokingly “Good morning ladies, are you here for the protest? Are you gonna be nice?” They laughed. There as a palpable energy to the area, as cars still streaked across the bridge, as the people who gathered on the sides knew what was to come.

Protesters gathered on Westminster Bridge.

While some had been there since 9am, and the roads were meant to be occupied at 10am, it was 11am when the protest began en masse. Police were previously informed this protest would be taking place, so that alternative routes for emergency vehicles could be plotted. Chants of “No more coal, no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil!”, and “What do we want? Climate justice!” can be heard echoing across the bridge. The mood is fun; both spirited and passionate. People have brought musical instruments and perform impromptu songs.

‘Rebellion Day’ as it was named, was put on in an effort to force the governments to treat climate breakdown as a serious issue, influencing them to take more action on the crisis and develop a new set of policies that would change the UK’s environmental stance and emission rate.

“The ‘social contract’ has been broken … [and] it is therefore not only our right but our moral duty to bypass the government’s inaction and flagrant dereliction of duty and to rebel to defend life itself,” said Gail Bradbrook, one of the organisers.

The vast majority of the crowd were those who had either never protested before, or more likely, never taken part in an act of civil disobedience. Most arrests that happened over the course of the day had been for obstruction under the Highways act. 

Environmental activist, filmmaker, and YouTuber Jack Harries giving his speech

The protest seemed to go incredibly well on Westminster Bridge, which had the largest numbers, but throughout the day the group at Lambeth Bridge struggled, and by 2pm the blockade of Southwark Bridge had been abandoned, although movement of protesters between all remaining bridges continued, with numbers being supplied where needed. 

In the afternoon there was a plethora of speakers that stood on a podium with mic in hand. In their democratic, open framework for the event, anyone who wanted to speak was allowed to speak. Poetry was read, songs were sung (with group participation), and environmentalists from all walks of life got to have their say. 

The topics of the day ranged from ‘The law of ecocide’, where environmental advocates would hopefully in future be protected by law if classified as a ‘conscientious protector’. Class politics were also on the table, after a member of a eco-conscious communist group took to the podium. In the speech given by Jack Harries, the environmental activist, filmmaker, and YouTuber, Harries exclaimed “It comes down to power”, and that we should in future value “Planet over profit”. 

“Climate change doesn’t care about borders. Climate change doesn’t care about fucking Donald Trump”

Jack Harries, in his speech on Saturday.
A number of protesters had taken the time do design and create their own signs.

“Given the scale of the ecological crisis we are facing this is the appropriate scale of expansion,” said Bradbrook. “Occupying the streets to bring about change as our ancestors have done before us. Only this kind of large-scale economic disruption can rapidly bring the government to the table to discuss our demands. We are prepared to risk it all for our futures.”

Later on in the day, the scheduled talks, part of the ‘Extinction Rebellion Assembly’, began, with six environmentalist figures, whose homelands had been disrupted by undemocratic processes through environmental destruction.

The environmentalists were Raki Ap of Free West Papua Campaign, Rumana Hashem of Phulbari Solidarity Group (Bangladesh) as well as representatives from Ecuador, Kenya, Ghana and Mongolia. The final speaker was Tina Louise Rothery from the UK-based Anti-Fracking Lancashire Nanas. 

The main banner on Westminster Bridge. People took turns to hold it throughout the day.

Extinction Rebellion are calling for the government to make sure that the UK’s net carbon emissions are reduced to zero by the year 2025. They also call for a ‘Citizen’s Assembly’ to be established, in an effort to recreate WWII-era mass organisation in an effort to tackle climate breakdown.

The group, in a declaration letter, stated “While our academic perspectives and expertise may differ, we are united on this one point: we will not tolerate the failure of this or any other government to take robust and emergency action in respect of the worsening ecological crisis. The science is clear, the facts are incontrovertible, and it is unconscionable to us that our children and grandchildren should have to bear the terrifying brunt of an unprecedented disaster of our own making.”

It has only been a few months since Extinction Rebellion was established, but it has already founded groups that stretch from one end of the UK to the other, and raised £50k in small donations. It is seemingly the first group to draw in environmentalists of all types.


Something I have been waiting for, for a very long time, is happening. People are risking their liberty in defence of the living world in very large numbers. It is only when we are prepared to take such action that people begin to recognise the seriousness of our existential crisis.

George Monbiot, Guardian Columnist & Writer

 

“Our children have the right to a future”.

“Rebellion Day will disrupt London. It is not a step we take lightly. If things continue as is, we face an extinction greater than the one that killed the dinosaurs. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be a worthy ancestor,” said Tiana Jacout of Extinction Rebellion.

“We represent a huge number of concerned citizens. Scientists, academics, politicians, teachers, lawyers, students, children, parents, and grandparents. But we have no choice. We have tried marching, and lobbying, and signing petitions. Nothing has brought about the change that is needed. And no damage that we incur can compare to the criminal inaction of the UK government in the face of climate and ecological breakdown.”

There is a second Rebellion day, Rebellion Day 2, to be held on Saturday November 24th.

You can find out more about Extinction Rebellion on their website.

The Extinction Rebellion symbol.

Environmentalism and club music: Inside the world of Eco-Grime

You may not have realised, but there has been an incredibly long trend of environmentalism within music. Tracks like ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ by John Denver, ‘Earth Song’ by Michael Jackson, and ‘Blackened’ by Metallica all represent the influential wave of environmentalism (If we conveniently forget the hunting passions of Metallica frontman James Hetfield).

Classical music has always had a strong connection to the living planet. From Vivaldi’s lush, sweeping, magnificent Four Seasons, to the more contemporary classical, such as John Cage’s ‘Child Of Tree’, in which the composer amplifies the sound of cactus and pea pod shakers to add to the timbre of the piece. More obviously an environmental piece is Ludovico Einaudi’s 2016 ‘Elegy For The Arctic’ – a stunningly beautiful piano composition, which you can watch below. What makes this recording even more awesome and shocking is Einaudi plays while on a raft, as large chunks of ice break off the glacier around him and tumble into the water. It’s almost as if nature is supplying the percussion to it’s own destruction.

Now environmentalism, or the inspiration that comes from the living planet, has seeped into the realms of contemporary electronic music. The netlabel Eco Futurism Corporation – a group of forward thinking artists and producers, have even come up with a name for the genre, and it is exciting: Eco-Grime.

Eco Futurism Corporations is a label dedicated to artists such as HERBARIUM, tropical interface, SHYQA, Gem Thee, LORD Ø, and soullets, and proclaims itself as ‘Wrapping ‘anti-club’ tunes and abrasive sound design around CGI-inflected visions of the organic.‘ Our first listens have introduced us to a rapturous, mutating, bio-mechanical, elated, and yet also dark, twisting anthemic landscapes. This is no everyday club music. It is the cousins of Bjørk’s 2016 album, Utopia, produced by both the Icelandic auteur and the Venezuelan producer Arca, which proved to be a scintillating look at when an album surpasses itself to become a soundscape, sort of a aural version of the lengths Tolkien went to in creating Middle Earth (a work itself steeped in environmentalism), and just as intricate. These artists make their own languages.

These languages entertain multiple stories; the wilful destruction of humanity by AI in an effort to save nature, the evolution of animals to survive off plastic, the discovery of human life being the evolution of biological contaminants left behind by extraterrestrial travellers, a.k.a. ‘Garbage Theory’. The stories, while surrounded by beautiful, fragile melodies and samples, are themselves dark and foreboding. These are the inventions of the Eco-Grime proponents, inspired themselves by ecological themes, crafting music to score the slow and wilful eradication of the living planet by the consumptions of modern life.

Sounds of chimes, birdsong, waterfall, the chirps and chirrups of birds, insects, and other creatures. The music of these artists present full and biodiverse environments of sound, championing the natural samples they compose around. Like the water used in many of the tracks, these artists have fluidity. The soundscapes ebb and flow into one another while remaining very much autonomous. It is exciting stuff to listen to.

“Roots of such ecologist utopias unconsciously existed all this time in the field of eastern way of harmony with surrounding against western anthropocentrism, which crystallized into architecture, infrastructure design, human relationships and many other things, including Eco Futurism Corporation.” The label explained about it’s origins in an interview.

“It’s expressed in samples from cult films of the future like “Blade Runner” or “GITH” and ends with the title tracks. From the other side, eco futurism have a positive outlook for the future, utopia, the opposite post-apocalyptic and alternative to cyberpunk. We suggest another way.” EFC shares on the influences of eco-futurism expressed within their work.

In a Facebook post about their album, ВЕЖЕСТЬ (Freshness), HERBARIUM wrote “The main idea is to immerse the listener in different scenes using the contrasts between artificially created effects, ‘computer’ synths, and common sounds that surround you in real life. The process is more like painting; I’m trying to create a unique atmosphere for each track and transform it into dynamic futuristic collage.” This phrase seems to be emblematic of the whole subgenre itself.

The Ecomodern series, a mixture of different contributing artists, is itself an incredibly biological work, a work that would class itself as symbiotic. It is not a mixtape, it is an ecosystem. The track ‘eco world’ by tropical interface could itself act as the grim anthem of this movement, containing an artificial voice that declares “Welcome to the new world, the world of ecological future / High technological artificial intelligence had to take over nature to exterminate humanity, because nature has a higher priority than humanity.” This mixes with powerful beats, trickling water sounds, and undulating synth beds that project a sort of serenity that jars with the AI’s proclamation. It almost surrenders you to this hypothesised end to humanity. The soundscape created helps you to accept.

Earlier this year, Prague-based label Genot Centre released a limited-edition cassette of Plastisphere by the Finnish producer Forces. Within the work, EDM is deconstructed into a medium that can be used to explore the lives of organisms who have been affected by climate breakdown, most specifically, plastic pollution. Eco-grime seems to focus itself as mood board, mirror, and social commentary on the environmental catastrophes we face. In an interview, Forces said “I don’t know what would be the solution out of this mess we have made. I can only try to circumvent the issue with my music and art.” Plastisphere was created in part in reaction  to an ecological disaster near his home, where toxic cyanobacteria blooms grew off the Scandinavian coast, rendering swimming in those waters impossible.

The Eco-Grime movement is constructed of a thriving community of artists and auteurs, who are currently pushing against the creative grey areas of underground club music, representing the more contemporary, niche side of environmental advocacy. Whether it is a city commute, an afternoon desk-bound work, a casual jaunt through a local green area, the environments that this movement creates are ones well worth getting lost in.

For an in-depth look at key Eco-Grime tracks, check this article from Bandcamp Daily.

 

 

Fossil fuel subsidies from G20 countries risk 3.2C of global heating

According to research on progress towards the goals and deadlines of the Paris Climate Agreement, the emissions of 15 G20 nations have increased since last year. The Brown to Green Report, published by Climate Transparency, is the world’s most comprehensive review of G20 climate action. It shows that climate action is deeply lacking in all but one of the world’s largest economies.

Within these 15 countries, energy produced by coal, oil, and gas, still makes up 82% of all energy consumed. These industries have relied heavily on subsidies within the last 10 years, in a last ditch effort to compete with the increasingly cheaper and cleaner renewable energy sources.

The Paris Climate Agreement stipulated that countries would agree to work towards the goals set, phasing out fossil fuels, and yet their net contributions in the form of subsidies to those industries spent £114bn on subsidies in 2016, with current trends showing that the global temperatures will rise by 3.2C, in contrast to the 1.5C lower threshold set by the Paris Agreement.

The 1.5C threshold represents that line by which coral reefs will be able to survive, a threshold that will limit the damage to Arctic ecosystems, and hopefully prevent the displacement of hundreds of millions of people at risk of increased drought, flooding, forest fires, or dangerous summer temperatures. While a 1.7C gap does not seem very big, this actually represents countless changes to the way our modern societies function.

The Brown To Green Report allows you to compare and contrast the goals, policies, and actions of different countries. India is the only country within the G20 to be on course with staying below the upper limit threshold of 2C set by the Paris Climate Agreement. Other countries such as Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are on track with taking the world well past 4C of warming.

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The first page of the report on the United Kingdom’s Paris Agreement progress. You can see that while the energy intensity of the UK is well below the G20 average, the UK government has also cancelled several emission-reducing policies.

Indonesia, Brazil and Argentina have promised to cut deforestation but the destruction rate of forests shows no sign of reversing.

The UK has made the fastest transition amongst G20 countries, seeing a 7.7% decline in fossil fuel use between 2012 and 2015, yet both looming Brexit uncertainties and the cutting of several energy efficiency and zero-carbon home policies makes it likely that this progress could stall in the coming years.

The world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases, China, reduced its dependency on coal, which stabilised its carbon emissions for a number of years, but this trend was broken as it increased its coal consumption during 2017. Deforestation has also been a key topic for some countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Indonesia, as forests are a major instrument in the sequestration of carbon. These countries promised to cut deforestation, but rates show no signs of dropping, and in fact, in Brazil research shows a 52% increase in deforestation rates from 2012 to 2017.

Yet all the good work being done is coming up against a brick wall, the subsidies given to fossil fuel companies from G20 countries. One of the Brown To Green Report authors, Jan Burck, said “There is a huge fight by the fossil fuel industry against cheap renewables. The old economy is well organised and they have put huge lobbying pressure on governments to spend tax money to subsidise the old world,”.

To avoid more than 1.5C of global heating (The term George Monbiot prefers us to use), emissions from G20 need to begin declining in the next two years, and be halved by 2030. Not one country has set a target credibly enough to see this through, and with the leaders of the US and Brazil, Trump and Bolsonaro, are hostile towards tackling climate breakdown, there seems to be little hope. On the brighter side, what inaction we see at a federal level, we see much action happening at a public, community level, with groups such as Greenpeace, the WWF, and even smaller organisations such as Extinction Rebellion leading the way.

“Global emissions need to peak in 2020. The Brown-to-Green report provides us with an independent stock-take on where we stand now. This is valuable information for countries when they declare their contribution in 2020.” said Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Below are links to each specific country within the Brown To Green Report. Click through them to see your country’s data.

Argentina
Australia
Brazil
Canada
China 
The European Union
France
Germany
India
Indonesia
Italy
Japan
Mexico
Russia
Saudi Arabia
South Africa
South Korea
Turkey
United Kingdom
United States

 

 

Eco-cities: Ideas to make our cities greener

More cycling and walking infrastructure. More greenery. Less cars. Commitment to sourcing renewable energy. There is a plethora of activities a city can undertake to create a green haven, increasing public health and quality of life. Deeply Good takes a look at some of the cities and some of the good ideas that can turn a city from being polluted to being green.

GREENERY

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The featured image of this article depicts the inside of the Cloud Forest, part of Singapore’s 250 acre nature park, Gardens By The Bay, created in 2012. The park aims at enhancing the quality of life within the city by increasing the amount of flora and fauna. It is a resounding success. Awe-inspiringly beautiful and ecologically marvellous, Gardens By The Bay represents just one way in which a city can increase their green footprint.

In Paris, the local government recently passed a law which allows citizens to plant their very own urban gardens in public spaces. Permits allow them to grow anything from plant-filled walls, to trees, to planters along the roads. Also, the city will provide the topsoil and seeds upon any request, though plots are required to be maintained by those who proposed them.

In Shenzhen, China, a crowded city of 12 million that is vulnerable to flooding, has begun a project of turning it’s rooftops into gardens. The gardens themselves can help to retain 65% of rainwater and reduce pollution through carbon dioxide intake. The project is part of China’s sponge cities initiative, which is helping poorer communities become more resilient to extreme weather.

Ideas for greenery can come in even quirkier forms. For example, the Dutch designer/artist Daan Roosegaarde has come up with an idea which could revolutionise not only the way our cities look and how we keep them green, but how we keep them lit at night.  Through biomimicry-inspired technology, Daan has come up with the idea for a ‘bioluminescent plant’, through splicing the DNA from luminescent bacteria with the chloroplast genome of plants to create a jellyfish-type glow. Roosegaarde hopes that one day it could replace our conventional street lighting, allowing us to plant more trees and save on the electricity bill.

And who said a garden had to be on a horizontal surface? Wall gardens have become more prevalent and more important in the fight to keep our cities green. Drawing on the advances in hydroponic growing, the free space on a number of buildings can now be taken up by plantlife. In London, the Edgware Road Tube Station, among other locations, has a vertical garden incorporated into its structure, created by UK-based firm Biotecture.

Adding greenery to cities improves air quality, the mood of passersby, and can also create more resilience to hotter summer temperature. It stimulates evapotranspiration, in which evaporating water from plants leaves reduces the surrounding air temperature.

TIME FOR REFLECTION

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We’ve been experiencing hotter and hotter consecutive summers within the last decade, with heatwaves lasting weeks. Cities are particularly susceptible to these, as pollution and the trapping effect of architecture can create heat pools that keep temperatures up.

We all know that the best reflective colour is white. As the Sun beats down upon our planet, the white snowy areas do their part to reflect that light and heat back out into space, but as those white areas are melting under the strain of climate breakdown, we need to take matters into our own hands. If cities are to be made to be more eco-friendly, and cooler in the long run, the materials used to build with must be changed.

Urban areas are filled with, almost-oppressively, with dark materials – your concrete, asphalt, brick, metal painted black. These dark colours absorb heat from the Sun, growing hotter and hotter throughout the day. In Australia, conventional paving can reach temperatures of up to 67C and conventional roofs up to 50-90C on a hot day. This heat is then leached back in to the streets during the night, not allowing for any respite from it during summer months.

Research done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has shown that living on the top floor of a building with a dark roof poses a health risk, after having identifying a risk factor of mortality in the 1995 heatwave in Chicago. The best way to avoid this is to use cool-coloured coatings.

White-coloured coatings or materials applied, not only to roofs, but to walls and even roads, can reflect more solar energy away from a building. In New York, the Cool Roofs Initiative, has seen more than 500,000m² of roof space covered in white reflective coating, reducing the amount of CO2 produced by 2,282 tonnes per year. Research done by NASA suggested that a white roof could be anywhere up to 23C cooler than a normal black roof on the hottest day of the year.

In Los Angeles, a city known as an urban heat island, the local government has begun to paint roads in white coloured sealant that has a high reflective value. This could, as suggestions proclaim, reduce temperatures in the road by 10-15ºF.

INTERACTIVE TECHNOLOGIES

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As our cities and populations grow, we need to adapt our technologies so that they fit both our current and our future needs. The picture above is the definition of this. These impressive structures make up the Supertree Grove at the previously mentioned Gardens By The Bay in Singapore.

The 18 Supertrees stretch up to 50 metres high, their steel frames housing a whopping 162,900 plants of over 200 species. It is fairly evident that a large part of their function is to serve an aesthetic function, one which they carry out with rare beauty and grace for pieces of architecture, but they also serve environmental purposes. Each Supertree is equipped to harvest rainwater, and some are replete with photovoltaic cells, which mimic the chlorophyll of real trees and capture solar energy. Others are integrated with the conservatories that make up Gardens By The Bay, and serve as air exhaust receptacles, ventilating them.

In London, they have taken interactive technologies to a much ‘lower’ level. In West Ham there is an elevated pedestrian walkway close to the underground, and built into this walkway is an intentional underfoot ‘springiness’. This springiness can be attributed to the five millimetre thick smart tiles that capture the kinetic energy produced by a pedestrian’s footfall, powering the streetlights above, an innovation which was created by Pavegen, and has also been installed in London’s Heathrow.

Another Good Idea in turning cities ‘green’ is something that has been capturing the attention of many people – solar roads. In the Netherlands, a solar energy-harvesting bike path made waves when it produced 3,000kWh – enough to power a small household for a year. Public interest has also been focused on the US company, Solar Roadways, which aims at covering every highway in the US with thick, durable LED-lit solar panels.

It has been theorised that if their plan were to succeed, the solar roadway network would produce more electricity than America uses. The residual heat stored in them melts ice and snow, they are able to store underground cables, and are effectively resistant to potholing. What this could mean for cities would be a vast network of solar roads which powered the adjacent buildings and public transport links.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT

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The World Health Organisation estimates that around 7 million premature deaths are caused by air pollution. This pollution can be found at it’s worst in cities, where high buildings and high vehicle generates and traps a lot of polluted air. In England, around 40,000 premature deaths and even more health conditions are linked to poor air quality. So what can we do about it?

Initially, we can petition local governments to invest in the infrastructure of public transport, making it more reliable. If we can rely on public transport, more people will readily use it than resorting to taking their cars. In Helsinki, there are plans to offer ‘mobility on demand’ by the year 2025. The plans are based around integrating all public transport services; buses, taxis, bikes, and ferries, into one smartphone app. This app would act as both route planner and payment platform, allowing residents and tourist the ease of cheap and convenient travel options.

Some cities around the world are taking other action, banning cars in certain areas or on certain days. Paris bans cars in historic central districts at weekends and during major events where pollution will be high, makes public transport free. Similarly, in Madrid there is a new incentive to encourage the use of public transport. When air quality levels are breached, 50% of cars will be banned, and public transport will be made free.

In Copenhagen, the bike is prioritised over the car, and is widely known as the city with more bicycles than it has people, having 26 ‘cycling superhighways’  . Large parts of the capital have been closed for decades, and the city is currently planning to become carbon neutral by 2025. The car-free movement can be seen in a large amount of cities around the globe, such as Helsinki, Olso, Zurich, Bangalore, and Delhi.

A GREEN CITY

There are effectively an impressive amount of ideas that a city can undertake to make itself more environmentally friendly, but one we have not yet mentioned is very important – it is the ability to invest in renewable energy. A sustainable eco-friendly energy source, if invested in properly, could provide jobs and energy indefinitely. All these technologies and ideas, if integrated properly, could turn a humble city into a bastion of green energy and policy, leading the way for other cities to join in preparation for the future.

 

 

Air pollution worsens as UK government’s policies labeled ‘shambolic’

ClientEarth, an organisation of lawyers using the law to take governments to court over climate breakdown, state that the UK government’s plan to reduce the levels of air pollution in affected cities has become a “shambolic and piecemeal mess”. It comes as the air quality in large cities continues to deteriorate, with two of the first five organisations tasked with reducing the amount of poisonous air in cities missed their targets.

In 2015, five authorities that represented areas with some of the worst pollution outside of London – Southampton, Nottingham, Birmingham, Leeds, and Derby, were ordered to produce proposals on tackling air pollution by September 15th, air pollution which kills roughly 40,000 people prematurely every year.

It later became apparent that Derby and Nottingham would miss their targets, with Katie Neild, a ClientEarth lawyer, had this to say on Derby’s actions: “Their preferred option does not seem to be based on any kind of assessment of the possible impacts on air pollution in the city … from our point of view that is totally inadequate and seems to be creating more space for more cars and little else.”

As this is a national issue, it is imperative that the UK government occupied a stronger position in the enforcement of a more coordinated plan. If not, this crisis will continue. Previous attempts to cut air pollution were so poor as to be effectively illegal.

“What we are concerned about is a lack of government leadership on this. Things are coming out in a piecemeal fashion, different schemes being put forward by different authorities of different quality, with different charging levels with different exemptions. It is creating a very confusing picture and it is coming across as pretty shambolic.” said Neild.

It has been documented that not only does poor air quality produce respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchiectasis, it can also affect, if not directly cause developmental problems for the lungs of children, making them more vulnerable to the aforementioned conditions as they come into adulthood. Air pollution has also been linked to cancer, strokes, dementia, reduced cognitive ability, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Although other cities throughout the globe have been taking their air quality and environmental footprints more seriously, the UK government has been warned by the UN that, in effectively denying their right to clean air they are knowingly endangering people’s health.

Last month, David Boyd, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment, said that the government had to take a lead in introducing new legislation on reducing air pollution and improving overall air quality, inferring that air pollution and climate breakdown were causally linked, and in tackling one, you had to tackle the other.

“The interesting thing about the UK is that the London smog of 1952 was the galvanising event that led to the world’s first Clean Air Act,” said Boyd. “I really feel like we have reached the point again where it is time for the UK to step up and show some leadership.”

 

 

EU members demand increased action on 2020 UN deforestation goal

An action plan on the alarming rates of global deforestation from the EU, which has previously been delayed, has been demanded to be brought forward “as soon as possible”, by the Amsterdam Declaration, a declaration proposed and sign by a number of EU countries, in a letter sent to the European commission.

The letter states that “despite progress in recent years, deforestation and forest degradation continue at alarming rates, in particular in tropical and subtropical regions, with as much as 80 % of global forest loss being driven by expansion of agricultural land, according to FAO estimates.”

The UN has a goal of halting deforestation by 2020, part of their Sustainable Development Goals, with goal 15 referencing the target of halting deforestation, and similarly goal 12, which works towards ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, notably of palm oil.

The Amsterdam Declaration group letter states that “as a major importer and consumer of many commodities which include embodied deforestation, the EU is both part of the problem and can be part of the solution by stepping up its efforts to address the impacts of the consumption and adopt a more coherent and comprehensive EU approach to the problem of deforestation.”

The Amsterdam Declaration itself aims at promoting “sustainable economic development” as it’s main tenet, but also focuses on an “inter-sectoral and holistic agenda” for poverty reduction, food security, gender equality, water and sanitation, sustainable consumption and production, climate action, and the halting of land degradation and biodiversity loss.

“The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR5) states: “total anthropogenic Green House Gas (GHG) emissions have continued to increase over 1970 to 2010 with larger absolute decadal increases toward the end of this period (high confidence)”. In 2010, 24% (12 GtCO2eq) of total net emission was associated to Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses – AFOLU – (IPCC AR5). Moreover, according to the FAO (2014) AFOLU emissions may still increase by up to 30% if the status quo remains unchanged.” states the Declaration.

As stated above, agribusiness is responsible for 80% of the current amount of global forest loss. The forests that stretch around the planet are not only responsible for maintaining biodiversity, but for land reclamation and an incredible amount of carbon sequestration. Better forest management and natural climate solutions could possibly provide more than a third of climate breakdown mitigation needed by 2030 if acted upon, which makes this letter from the Amsterdam Declaration group all the more important.

This move comes as tensions and concerns continue to increase over the election of right-wing Jair Bolsonaro as President-elect of Brazil, whose campaign was funded in large by powerful agribusiness interests’ promising to construct a highway through the Amazon rainforest, an act with the potential to spread deforestation to an area of rainforest larger than Germany.

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Rainforest in Brazil.

Stronger regulations and laws within the EU could be put in place to lower the ecological footprint of our societies within all levels of the economy, from demand to production to consumption. According to Greenpeace, it is the production of soy, beef, and palm oil which drives deforestation in Brazil today.

Over the last decade, production of palm oil has doubled. This is expected to double again by 2050. Palm oil itself accounted for 65% of all vegetable oils traded internationally in 2006.

Recently an advert from Iceland and Greenpeace went viral, depicting a cartoon orangutan telling the story of the destruction of its home for the production of palm oil. While noble in it’s message, it misses out on the fact that it is not the issue with outright consumption, it is an issue of land management.

It has been claimed that to produce as much oil from a substitute in ‘palm oil free’ products, the amount of land needed increases to as much as 40x for coconut oil and 25x for soya. Soya production has been linked to massive deforestation in the South Americas, and yet is not covered in the mainstream media.

This could be attributed to the lack of coverage for environmental issues caused by the animal agriculture business, with around 90% of soybean production used for animal feed. It is similar in focus to the recent proposed ban on plastic straws across the UK, in an effort to reduce plastic waste in our oceans, when a large majority of plastic waste in our seas comes from discarded fishing gear, and yet the focus falls on plastic straws.

It is possible that for deforestation to become more manageable, it is not simply our consumption that needs to be reduced, but that actual way that we farm these products. These ‘Natural Climate Solutions’, can be read about here.

The full letter from the Amsterdam Declaration can be read here.

The taxation of red meat is a needed measure to save lives, states new research

New research published in the journal Plos One, a peer-reviewed Open Access journal that publishes ‘scientifically rigorous research’, has stated that a taxation on red meat would save many lives and also raise large amounts of money for use in healthcare. The research found that ‘Including the social health cost of red and processed meat consumption in the price of red and processed meat could lead to significant health and environmental benefits, in particular in high and middle-income countries.

This new research, headed up by Dr Marco Springmann, who currently works on the Future of Food project at the Oxford Martin School, uses a standard economic approach, named ‘optimal taxation, to calculate tax rates. The healthcare costs incurred by eating one additional portion of red meat is used to set the tax rate, in contrast to using the total healthcare costs that come about through red meat consumption.

While factually correct, it is still relatively unheard of that processed red meat had been classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organisation in 2015, and yet despite this announcement, the consumption of red meat is on an upward trend, especially in western countries. For example, in the United Kingdom of 1961, the amount of meat consumption was 69.8kg. In 2002 it was 79.6kg. In the US of 1961, meat consumption per capita was 89.2kg, and in 2002 it was 124.8kg, and increase in 40 years of 35.6kg of meat.

The findings stated that, based on current trends, the health-related costs to society ‘attributable to red and processed meat consumption in 2020 amount to USD 285 billion… three quarters of which were due to processed meat consumption’.

As the prices of processed meat increased by 25% on average under optimal taxation, and prices for red meat increased by 4% on average, the number of deaths attributable to these two foodstuffs decreased by 9% annually, with health costs decreased by 14%, valued at USD 41 billion.

These taxes were created relative to the amount of meat consumed and do not represent a flat global rate. The US would be one of the countries with the highest rates, for example, there would be a 163% levy on ham. Australian meat prices would be met with a 109% tax on processed, and a 18% tax on unprocessed meats. UK rates would 79% and 14% for those food-groups respectively.

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‘Change in the price of red meat (a) and processed meat (b) under cost-compensating taxation in relation to attributable health costs (%), change in deaths attributable to red and processed meat consumption (%)’. Image: Springmann, Mason-D’Croz, Robinson, Weibe, Godfray, Rayner, Scarborough.

“Nobody wants governments to tell people what they can and can’t eat,” Springmann said. “It is totally fine if you want to have [red meat], but this personal consumption decision really puts a strain on public funds. It is not about taking something away from people, it is about being fair.”

The intensive method and global scale of meat demand and subsequent production is also an incredibly damaging industry to the living planet. In a critical report from a group at the University of Oxford published in May, it was stated that reducing meat and dairy products, or avoiding them altogether, is the single biggest way as an individual to reduce your environmental impact. In a similar report, also published by Springmann et al, it was stated that a 90% drop in red meat consumption and reductions in other meat categories are essential to introduce into our lifestyles in an attempt to avoid the effects of climate breakdown.

More than 80% of arable farmland is used for livestock, in both intensive and organic farms, but it produces just 18% of global food calories. We see this a drastic misuse of land, resulting in not only the willing destruction of native habitats, but the production of large amounts of greenhouse gases. Per 100g of beef produced, a further 105kg of greenhouse gases are created. It is possible that the recommended drop in red meat consumption is a conservative figure, and a route more beneficial to the environment would be to give up the foodstuff altogether, replacing it with plant-based alternatives.

These taxes proposed by Springmann et all, would mean a 16% reduction in the processed meat consumed globally, and would result in the greenhouse gas emissions produced by livestock to reduce by 110m tonnes annually.

What are your thoughts?