The Top 6 Environmental Films for Beginners

We’ve compiled the top 6 environmental films for beginners. Are you an environmentalist looking for something new to watch? Writing an essay on climate change and don’t want to do any proper research? Having a movie date with your eco-friendly significant other? Looking to improve your knowledge of eco-inspired cinema? All of the above? Look no further.

First off, a quick tip; don’t put on The Day After Tomorrow.

  1. Princess Mononoke
  2. Before The Flood
  3. Chasing Coral
  4. The True Cost
  5. The Return of Navajo Boy
  6. Koyaanisqatsi

PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997), dir. by Hayao Miyazaki

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Possibly the best film to come out of Studio Ghibli until Spirited Away stole the limelight. The tale of hotheaded San, (the eponymous Princess Mononoke – Mononoke roughly meaning ‘vengeful spirit’ – which in this case is true), and reticent prince Ashitaka may not seem like an environmental film at first glance – a film filled with magic and spirits – who take the form of thinking, speaking animals, or ‘Forest Gods’, protecting the land they are a part of. San herself was taken in by the wolf god Moro as a child, and rides her similarly massive pups into battle with the leader of the nearby Iron Town, Lady Eboshi.

Princess Mononoke itself is constructed from a tangled web of interconnected themes, voiced expertly by a set of characters that each get their own specific screen time, thoughts, and narrative. This allows the viewer’s allegiances to change with every new line. Essentially, the workers of Iron Town want to tame and ‘destroy’ the forest gods, which will allow them to mine iron and produce capital with no interference – something the forest gods are, quite obviously, not happy about. Meanwhile Ashitaka, who at the beginning of the film fights with a demon boar and is cursed because of it, simultaneously searches for a cure for his curse while trying to create peace between the warring factions.

The most evident and overarching theme is that of progress vs. conservation – how does a human community survive, thrive, and improve it’s technological prowess without hurting the environment it exploits to further that progress? That question is only half answered in a very roundabout way – after the Forest Spirit gets it’s head severed from it’s body, spewing toxic sentient goo over the whole forest which kills everything it touches, the humans decide they need to rethink their relationship with the thing which ultimately gives them life: Life itself.

It’s beautifully written, funny and sad in equal measures, has some of most insanely gorgeous artistry of any Ghibli film, and has a wonderfully-strong female lead, and a male lead who doesn’t muscle in, acting as a stirring vision of calm masculinity (even if he has a demonic arm). Also, and this may seem controversial, but if you’re not a Japanese speaker, we prefer the dubbed version, with stellar voice acting from Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, and Minnie Driver. The subtitled version is good, but the translated lines of the dubbed version evoke a lot more beauty.

BEFORE THE FLOOD (2016) dir. by Fisher Stevens

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Actor-turned-environmentalist Leonardo Dicaprio heads up this 96 minute long environmental documentary. Fresh-faced but still bearded from filming The Revenant in 2015, DiCaprio presents the devastating impacts of climate change as they are happening, questioning as he goes humanity’s ability to reverse arguable the biggest problem we have ever faced.

The reason we add this film to the list is because of the impact DiCaprio has as both an auteur and a hollywood A-lister – who else do you think would have been able to interview both Barack Obama and the Pope in single film? Not us. Not through lack of experience we must add, but simply because DiCaprio’s name bears weight.

The film itself does not present much by the way of resolutions to the issues we face, but does a great job of visualising these issues. The film is shot over a period of three years, as DiCaprio talks to activists and dignitaries alike, from Greenland to the USA to Kiribati. He translates the complex scientific issues into easily-digestible bites, which through the film’s tone, sincerity, and cinematography, retain some of their actual bite.

The film itself isn’t groundbreaking and the choppy, Hollywood-esque cuts sometimes distract you from forming an emotional connection to what is on screen, or from receiving a suckerpunch of eco-anxious revelation. It has a few scenes that are definitely noteworthy, such as the conversation with astronaut Dr. Piers Sellers, and does a good job at providing bite-size morsels that present a much bigger, bleaker picture. A good film for beginners.

CHASING CORAL (2017) dir. Jeff Orlowski

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Coral reefs. They occupy less than 1% of the Earth’s oceanic area, but provide a home for at least a quarter of all marine animals. They are also dying. Jeff Orlowski’s Chasing Coral sees a group of divers, scientists, and photographers from across the globe attempt to document this loss.

It’s a truly remarkable thing to see, timelapses of coral bleaching, dying, and decaying. We wouldn’t recommend this film for the date, it can be a little bleak at times. Yet, this is where Chasing Coral succeeds – it does a grand job of melting together voices, emotions, and hard facts.

Essentially, the oceans are the biggest heat traps and always have been, and as global temperatures rise the oceans get warmer and warmer. Coral, which acts as a home for some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, is very suited to particular temperatures. As the seawater warms, the corals bleach. This is a stress response, meaning that the corals eject all of the microscopic plant-life that gives them their colour, causing them to go bright white. The corals can sometimes survive in this situation, but the plant-life acts as their main source of nutrition, and more often then not, this bleaching will eventually lead to death.

Chasing Corals is a well-shot, well-paced film. It lacks in breadth, which is not an inherently bad thing. Too often environmental films try to focus on ‘all’ the issues, ending up lacking in crucial evidence. Furthermore, this can also help to overwhelm and alienate the viewer, presenting environmental issues as insurmountable problems. In its sole on the issue of coral, this film succeeds in presenting a well-rounded approach on a singular focus.

THE TRUE COST (2015) dir. by Andrew Morgan

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Not simply an environmental documentary, The True Cost also looks into the social aspects of fast fashion; the exploitation, the consumerism, and how it all fits into global capitalism. This isn’t a tale of groundbreaking designers or fabulous models, it’s a documentary on the very beginnings of commodified and damaging haute couture.

Director Andrew Morgan was drawn to the subject after the Dhaka building collapse in 2013, where a commercial building in Bangladesh crumbled and killed over a thousand workers. These workers had been subjected to unsafe working conditions, and we’re also part of a business that manufactured for big brands such as Prada, Gucci, and Versace amongst others.

The film explores the structural poverty that comes with the fast fashion industry, looking at the unsafe conditions many workers face and how the environmental cost of the industry affects poor communities, further hinting at issues of institutionalised and environmental racism.

One of the most poignant and shocking parts of the film focuses on Indian-grown cotton. Demand for the crop led to the planting of genetically-modified cotton by larger companies, pushing the price up, leading to a number of suicides by smaller, traditional cotton farmers. The GM crops themselves needed more pesticides, leading to ecosystem damage and birth defects amongst newborns in the local Punjab population.

The main themes that run through the film are of exploitation and disposability – and not simply disposability of fashion, throwing away a top after a few wears – we are talking about the disposability of human lives and environmental security. To engage with this film is to realise that there is something truly wrong with where we source the very shirts on our collective backs. You may have spent £25 on it, but what is the true cost?

THE RETURN OF NAVAJO BOY (2000) dir. by Jeff Spitz

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Released in 2000, The Return of Navajo Boy deals with an incredibly important, but unfortunately little spoken- about issue in the modern environmentalism movement. That is the issue of environmental racism.

Environmental racism is essentially a concept that explores environmental injustices that are carried out, either through practice or through policy, with a racialised context. Think of the American Bison, who were hunted to near extinction in the 1870s by the American army in an effort to force Native Americans off of their homelands.

In the context of The Return of Navajo Boy, we see the story of the Cly family, through them exploring the unregulated mining of uraniam in Monument Valley, Utah, and how it has caused illness. It raises key issues of white supremacy, political representation, and reparation denial, all within the context of environmentally-unfriendly policy. It is a film steeped in sadness, and a must-watch.

KOYAANISQATSI (1982) dir. by Godfrey Reggio

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The word ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ is a Hopi word that roughly translates to ‘life of moral corruption or turmoil’. It’s a phrase that should be on the viewer’s mind while watching.

The film is the most experimental and ephemeral of those on this list and is more art than documentary. It is an 86 minute-long visual tone poem, consisting of slow-motion or timelapse imagery of cities and landscapes across the United States. If there was ever a film to convince us of Timothy Morton’s philosophical view of ecology and environmentalism, that humans need to be convinced that they live ‘inside’ climate change, rather than climate change being something that is in ‘another place’, this is it.

It’s essentially an instrumental piece. There is no dialogue to be heard, save for choral chanting in Hopi. The music is a score by American composer Philip Glass. Explaining the choice of no dialogue, director Godfrey Reggio said, “it’s not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words. It’s because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation. It no longer describes the world in which we live.” Eat your heart out Timothy Morton.

Reggio said of the film that “it is up [to] the viewer to take for himself/herself what it is that [the film] means.”, adding that “these films have never been about the effect of technology, of industry on people. It’s been that everyone: politics, education, things of the financial structure, the nation state structure, language, the culture, religion, all of that exists within the host of technology. So it’s not the effect of, it’s that everything exists within [technology]. It’s not that we use technology, we live technology. Technology has become as ubiquitous as the air we breathe …”

The film ends with a translation of three Hopi prophecies, which are chanted in their original language earlier in the film, the most poignant of which reads: “A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans.”

Maybe not the best film for a date.

SPECIAL MENTIONS

Into The Wild (2007), Interstellar (2014)Minimalism (2016), The 11th Hour (2007), Chasing Ice (2012), Climate Refugees (2010), Cowspiracy (2014), Under The Dome (2015), Erin Brockovich (2000), Silent Running (1972), WALL-E (2008), Pom Poko (1994), Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984).

Deeply Good’s Climate Change Playlist

Here it is, the first instalment of our curated mixtape, featuring songs from many different genres. Their one uniting theme? They are all inspired by, and are artistic responses to, climate change.

The Climate Change Playlist #1‘ (Yes, there will be more), contains genres that range from folk, classic rock, to hip hop and even electronic genres such as techno and industrial. When researching for this playlist, we were met with an avalanche of environmentalism-inspired songs, but understood that to create a playlist that sounded like a mixtape, we would have to consider which songs to keep in, and which songs to leave out.

Hopefully we have created something that flows nicely, something to work to, or to chill out with while travelling, or even sitting with a cup of tea. It’s up to you. From The 1975 and Greta Thunberg, to Björk, to Childish Gambino, to Thom Yorke, to Led Zeppelin and Bon Iver, we hope you enjoy.

As always, some songs will be more relevant than others, but it is up to you to figure out which ones you connect with the most. Why not send us your thoughts via our twitter @deeplygoodmag?

 

 

 

Greta Thunberg contributes stirring monologue to The 1975’s latest track

Pop music, but at its most poignant.

In a move that came truly out of the blue, the young climate activist Greta Thunberg has collaborated with indie band The 1975 on their latest track.

The song, released today, coincided with what was to be Britain’s hottest day on record – a day that unfortunately has been held in high regard by mainstream media.

The track is simply called, The 1975, and is intended to be the intro track to the band’s upcoming new album Notes on a Conditional Form, which is set to be released in February 2020. We are not here to critique The 1975 in their work, which has seemed to polarise music fans, seemingly fitting into both the ‘underrated’ and ‘overhyped’ categories, but for a band with an undeniably massive presence within younger audiences, for them to ask to Greta to pen an original monologue for the intro, it is nothing short of prophetic.

“We are right now, in the beginning of a climate and ecological crisis” Thunberg begins, in her now well-known accent. “And we need to call it what it is. An emergency.” It is the classic combination of hard-hitting truths and a realistic and moving sense of optimism we have come to admire and respect from the young climate activist.

“We have to acknowledge that older generations have failed. All political movements in their present form have failed. But homo sapiens have not failed.”

“Unless we recognise the overall failures of our current systems, we most probably don’t stand a chance.”

One of the most poignant parts of the track is probably its shortest line. Thunberg states “Now is the time to speak clearly.” In the age of ‘fake news’, Cambridge Analytica, and the political echo chambers of social media, speaking clearly is an increasingly radical act. This, amongst the other messages of the track, will hopefully speak volumes within the minds of fans worldwide. And speak clearly Greta does.

“You say that nothing in life is black or white. But that is a lie. A very dangerous lie. Either we prevent a 1.5 degree of warming, or we don’t.”

“There are no grey areas when it comes to survival.”

Thunberg also touches upon an issue inherent within the realm of environmental action, the war between systematic change and individual action. Forms of mainstream media, global multinationals, and neoliberalism itself do a great job of convincing us that we, the everyday citizens of the globe, are to blame. In part, they are correct, our consumer actions influence every corporate decision. Yet, it is the choices of a few incredibly rich individuals that have an incredibly large impact also, and our systems of government allow those decisions to be carried out. Thunberg does well to encapsulate this idea, and provide a succinct argument to align both ideas: “We need a system change rather than an individual change, but you cannot have one without the other.”

What is most inspiring about this piece in terms of its context within music history and culture, is that the ‘lyrics’ resemble early anarchic punk rock songs, the traditional ‘tear down the government’ politic. Yet this song is seemingly more ‘punk’ than any of those. Here we have a 16 year old imploring the minds of youths to change the world, not by smashing glass and wearing plaid jeans, but by restructuring both our economics and our politics into forms that do not exploit the living world.

“We can no longer save the world by playing by the rules. The rules need to be changed.”

Aesthetically speaking, this is a slow and sombre piece. It will have no sympathy for those moved to sadness by Thunberg’s words. We’d argue that this track is The 1975’s way of saying, ‘we are not here to play games’. Rather heroically on their part, all proceeds for the track will be going to climate activism group Extinction Rebellion.

“Everyone out there, it is now time to civil disobedience.” Thunberg says in the penultimate line, and then the music stops.

“It is now time to rebel.”

 

 

School Climate Strike: Why we need the youth to protest

On Friday, schools across the UK noted a significant drop in pupil numbers. Those pupils were out on the streets protesting against the ineffectual governmental action on climate change.

When Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief, said it was “time to heed the deeply moving voice of youth”, she couldn’t have been more correct. To see the youth of this country understand the issue and the drastic action needed to be taken better than those in charge, is both inspiring and shocking.

With at least 60 protests occurring from Glasgow to London, it is estimated that more than 10,000 pupils left their scheduled lessons to protest against the mounting ecological crisis, with some even being threatened with punishments of detention and suspension.

“The size of the Youth Strike 4 Climate is testament to the passion and awareness among young people that we need to fight for a future that simply doesn’t exist because we’ve been betrayed by the inaction of those in positions of power.” said Jake Woodier, a member of the UK Youth Climate Coalition.

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A protest held in Edinburgh on Friday. Credit: Fiona Mansfield

“Joining so many school children for the last Friday For Future School strike was very emotional.” said student and environmental activist Jo Becker, who attended one of the strikes in Edinburgh on Friday. ” Seeing these kids out of school to ask for a future made my heart ache. But also it was an extremely positive day. Seeing so many children from different age groups and backgrounds come together and taking the lead at a demonstration was truly empowering. Adults have a lot to learn from these passionate, brave youngsters – and we have to start listening to them if we want to ensure a safe future.”

The movement that led up to today’s protests began when Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old student from Sweden who began protesting outside the Swedish parliament during her school hours over the effects of climate change. Since then she has gone on to become the face of the movement, and a prominent activist and voice within the environmental activism community.

Thunberg recently travelled to Davos to attend and speak at the World Economic Forum, where she told a panel “Some people, some companies, some decision makers in particular have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”

“I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. We owe it to the young people, to give them hope.”

The youth who participate in today’s protests, and the protests that will inevitably happen more regularly from now on, are doing what needs to be done in terms of negating the effects of climate change: they are speaking truth to power.

These grassroots movements such as #SchoolStrike4Climate and the work of Extinction Rebellion is being mirrored in political parties across the world, from the UK’s Green Party, to the recent Green New Deal being proposed by American congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. These are not the ineffective climate secretaries we have seen in the past, these are, like the youth that follow and emulate them, people who are more than willing to make drastic change.

In the midst of the strikes being held in Australia after the highest seaside temperature ever in the Southern Hemisphere was recorded, high school student Imogen Viner said “Without activism, there’s no point in going to school, because there won’t be a future we want to live in.”

Traditionally, climate groups have been passive, nonpartisan; but that is not the case anymore. With the rise of political interaction within the younger generations, and the worsening degrees of ecological destruction, these groups are becoming more militant, more passionate, and more social-media savvy. They call out fossil fuel industries, corporate powerhouses, and climate change deniers to their face, and take no prisoners while doing so.

While some within the older generations may feel a sense of complacency and comfort, the younger generations can see the future that is being given to them, and quite frankly, they fear it. 12 years is the number they have been given, 12 years to alter the course of global history for the better. It’s a gargantuan task, and the weight of failure is something too dark to think about.

17 year old Rosie Smart-Knight, who participated in the strikes, wrote in an opinion piece “Even if the climate strike doesn’t prompt the change we need and demand, it has given so many young people across the country a chance to raise their voice and make it heard. This movement is allowing young people to realise they’re not alone, that others care about the climate, and are worried about the future. I will continue to raise awareness of the climate crisis, and I will continue to demand change”

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An image of Extinction Rebellion’s first ‘Rebellion Day’. A large majority of the protesters were young.

One hopes that the momentum of the growing climate activism movement, which consists of a myriad of groups across the world, does not falter. Guardian columnist George Monbiot writes that, for the movement to ultimately succeed, it needs a rigorous framework from which it acts from. Monbiot cites the need for a ‘narrative’, writing that it may go something like this:

“The world has been thrown into climate chaos, caused by fossil fuel companies, the billionaires who profit from them and the politicians they have bought. But we, the young heroes, will confront these oligarchs, using our moral authority to create a movement so big and politically dangerous that our governments are forced to shut down the fossil economy and restore the benign conditions in which humans and other species can thrive.”

In his piece, the writer also calls upon the movement to develop for itself a set of key tenets or ‘tangible objectives’, such as a date by which we operate a zero carbon economy, or a promise from the UK government to completely divest in fossil fuels. “This ensures that the activists, rather than the government, keep setting the agenda.”

More strength within the movement will come from proper training, communication, and a strong defence against divisive political intent. Already the School Strike and Thunberg are being targeted by rumours, criticism, and misinformation. They also need to be prepared for the passion-draining effect of emotional despair. Already groups have sprang up on Facebook designed to assuage the effects of climate-based depression or anxiety, with one being aptly-named ‘UK climate grief & eco anxiety hub for academics and concerned citizens‘.

It is clear that while politics and bureaucracy have an important part to play, they will not be enough without the firebrand and emotive voices and actions of the younger generations all over the world, for it is those generations that shall eventually take on ownership of this world. They do not want to be left a barren wasteland, they do not deserve such a poor legacy to inherit.

We need the youth because they are not deeply entrenched within the ideologies of a world which is slowly breaking apart through it’s own devices.

 

 

‘Food in the Anthropocene’: new ‘plant-focused’ diet could save the planet

A new diet report, created by the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, has been proposed as a diet that could both poor global nutrition and avert environmental disaster caused by present-day food production methods.

The report states, “Because much of the world’s population is inadequately nourished and many environmental systems and processes are pushed beyond safe boundaries by food production, a global transformation of the food system is urgently needed.”

Key tenets of the diet include a radical change in food production, a great reduction in red meat consumption in traditional western diets, and a reduction in sugar consumption.

“Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts.” said Prof. Walter Willet, one of the leaders of the commission. “Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”

The main bulk of the report itself is devoted to three sections, the goal, the targets, and the strategies. The goal stated by the EAT-Lancet Commission is ‘To achieve planetary health diets for nearly 10 billion people by 2050″. The targets include and require red meat and sugar consumption to be cut in half globally, while the consumption of vegetables, pulses, fruit, and nuts, must double. This range is not universal, but geographically specific, stating that instead of halving their red meat intake, North Americans need to eat 84% less, and up their bean and lentil consumption six times. In Europe, we must reduce our red meat consumption by 77%.

The report is wise in it’s differing estimations, noting that “some populations worldwide depend on agropastoral livelihoods and animal protein from livestock. In addition, many populations continue to face significant burdens of undernutrition and obtaining adequate quantities of micronutrients from plant source foods alone can be difficult” 

The introduction of the report stated that their were four scenarios that could develop in the future; win-win, win-lose, lose-win, and lose-lose. According to the scientists behind the report, win-win would prevent the deaths of 11 million people worldwide, and prevent the collapse of the natural world, which is currently under an immense amount of pressure.

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An example of the plant-focused, flexitarian plates that the report endorses. Source: EAT-Lancet Commission Summary Report

Our global food system is inherently broken, with distribution favouring wealthier countries, who both consume more than they need, and waste much. There are also issues with physical production, in terms of the environmental degradation caused by overfishing, and the footprint of the meat industry. Reducing meat and dairy products, or avoiding them altogether, may be the greatest way the individual can reduce their environmental footprint.

In a report published by Springmann et al, it was stated that a 90% drop in red meat consumption and reductions in other meat categories were essential to introduce into our lifestyles in an attempt to avoid the effects of climate breakdown.

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet,” said Prof Johan Rockström at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden, another author of the report. “[This requires] nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.” The ‘planetary health diet’ strongly recommends only one portion of red meat per week, the size of an average beefburger, and stresses that most protein should come from plant alternatives. The steep rise in plant-based and vegan diets in the last two years has shown that, at least in western countries, this change in protein source is highly possible, and no longer a ‘radical’ idea.

Willett emphasises that this is not a diet of ‘depravation’, but rather “a way of eating that can be healthy, flavourful and enjoyable.”

To keep in line with the 2C limit of global warming set by the Paris Agreement we can assume that “world agriculture will transition toward sustainable food production, leading to a shift from land use being a net source of carbon to becoming a net sink of carbon. “

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“Actions considered for reducing environmental impacts from food production.” Source: EAT-Lancet Commission Summary Report

“Global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience.” said Prof. Johan Rockström, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research & Stockholm Resilience Centre. “It constitutes the single largest driver of environmental degradation and transgression of planetary boundaries. Taken together the outcome is dire. A radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed. Without action, the world risks failing to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.”

In all, the report advocates the ‘Great Food Transformation’. “The data are both sufficient and strong enough to warrant immediate action. Delaying action will only increase the likelihood of serious, even disastrous, consequences. ” The report outlines five strategies for this immense change:

  1. Seek international and national commitment to shift toward healthy diets
  2. Reorient agricultural priorities from producing high quantities of food to producing healthy food
  3. Sustainably intensify food production to increase high-quality output
  4. Strong and coordinated governance of land and oceans
  5. At least halve food losses and waste, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals

The report goes on to state that food will be the “defining issue of the 21st Century”. Richard Horton and Tamara Lucas, editors at Lancet, wrote “Civilisation is in crisis. We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. If we can eat in a way that works for our planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance will be restored.”

 

 

 

 

EU report names the UK as largest contributor of fossil fuel subsidies

A new report published by the European Commission, has shown that the UK has the largest amount of fossil fuel subsides in the EU, finding that £10.5 billion a year supports fossil fuels in the UK. This is in contrast to the £7.2 billion given to renewable energy. These remain at the same level as 2008.

What these subsidies do is act as an hindrance to what both the EU and the G20 pledged  in 2009 to do; phase out subsidies for fossil fuels in efforts to transition to renewable green energy.

While such policies are being pursued with intent to cut carbon emissions in an effort to meet the 2C warming limit set by the Paris Climate Agreement, fossil fuel subsidies within the EU have not decreased. The report stated that “EU and national policies might need to be reinforced to phase out such subsidies.”

“Spiralling climate change is going to cost people and our economy huge sums of money, through the damage, disruption and instability it causes.” said Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett. “It’s astonishing that the UK government is still throwing taxpayers’ money at some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. Ministers must switch funding to rapidly boost energy efficiency and renewables.”

The report stated that €55bn was given as fossil fuel subsidies in 2016, and that “Overall European energy subsidies have increased in recent years, from EUR 148 bn in 2008 to EUR 169 bn in 2016”. The UK, France, The Netherlands, Sweden, and Ireland gave the most in subsidies to fossil fuels, while Germany provided the highest amount for renewables, at €27bn.

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Financial support to fossil fuels in the EU- Source: EC, Trinomics

While the news of the UK’s fossil fuel obsession is bleak, the renewable sector is looking promising. “The increase was driven by the growth in renewable energy subsidies which reached EUR 76 bn in 2016.” stated the report. 45% of the subsidies over the EU went to renewable energy, compared to 33% for fossil fuels.

“Renewable energy growth also plays a direct role in mitigating and diminishing the negative impact of uncertain global fossil fuel prices and exchange rate risks. Thus, the ambitious 2030 renewable energy and energy efficiency targets recently agreed will help reduce the EU’s dependence on fossil fuel imports and vulnerability to global fossil fuel price shocks and uncertainty.”

“At the same time, energy efficiency and renewable energy investments set the EU on the path to compliance with the Paris Agreement and will stimulate the innovation needed to achieve the energy transformation.”

“We do not subsidise fossil fuels,” a government spokeswoman said. “We’re firmly committed to tackling climate change by using renewables, storage, interconnectors, new nuclear and more to deliver a secure and dynamic energy market at the least possible cost for consumers.” This claim is based on how the UK government defines ‘subsidy’. It is however, false. The WTO definition of ‘subsidy’ includes the definition “government revenue that is otherwise due, foregone or not collected”.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, said in September that the UK government had ‘forgone’ around £46 billion after it chose not to implement a scheduled rise in fuel duty, in apparent efforts to keep bills down. Germany and Italy call tax breaks, such as this decision to not raise fuel duties, ‘subsidies’. Providing a semantic smokescreen for fossil fuel subsidies is nothing more than “playing games”, as put by Shelagh Whitley of the Overseas Development Institute, who went on to say that the government’s claim of providing no fossil fuel subsidies was simply “continuing to prop up a centuries old energy system.”

 

 

 

Record numbers sign up for Veganuary 2019

Veganuary. The month that people dedicate to changing up their diet by consuming solely plant-based, vegan produce. With people entering 2019 with the phrase ‘new year, new me’ rooted deeply in their mindset, will we see them sticking to the change of diet?

This year, record numbers have signed up to the Veganuary pledge, with over 250,000 from 193 countries signing up. On Sunday 30th December 2018, 14,000 people signed up at a rate of one every six seconds.

2018 saw a real boom in the rise of veganism, with numbers of products available and adherents to the vegan lifestyle increasing exponentially.

“In 2018 there hasn’t been a week that has gone by without veganism hitting the headlines, whether it is a magazine editor being fired or Waitrose launching a new range of products,” said Rich Hardy, Head of Campaigns at Veganuary.

“Vegan products are getting a lot better and it is becoming a lot more convenient to have a tasty plant-based diet.”

One of the reasons for the surge in active members in the vegan community has been the warnings from scientists across the globe about the damage meat production and consumption has on the living planet, in terms of the amount of greenhouse gas emissions the industry creates each year.

A report published in 2014 called ‘Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans in the UK‘, noted that the average emissions of meat eaters was 7.19kgCO2e/day compared to 2.89kgCO2e/day for those who consumed a vegan diet. In May 2018, an incredibly comprehensive analysis of the impact of animal agriculture was published, which stated that avoiding animal products was the single most productive way to reduce an individual’s environmental footprint.

‘Moving from current diets to a diet that excludes animal products has transformative potential, reducing food’s land use by 3.1 (2.8-3.3) billion hectares (a 76% reduction), including a 19% reduction in arable land; food’s GHG emissions by 6.6 (5.5-7.4) billion metric tons of CO2eq (a 49% reduction); acidification by 50% (45-54%); eutrophication by 49% (37-56%); and scarcity-weighted freshwater withdrawals by 19%.’

Recently, delegates who attended the COP24 meeting in Katowice, Poland were reprimanded for the menu served in the food court on site, a menu very high in meat-based products.

A third of UK consumers say they have deliberately reduced the amount of meat they eat, or excluded it from their diet entirely, according to the supermarket chain Waitrose. in 2018, one in eight Britons declared themselves as either vegetarian or vegan. 21% participate in a flexitarian diet, which is where a mostly plant-based diet is sometimes supplemented by meat, dairy, or fish.

Joseph Poore, of Oxford University, who led the research, said: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth – not just greenhouse gases but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”

Veganuary’s site states that the three main reasons to practice veganism are animal welfare, health, and environmental protection. It offers a practical explanation of all three reasons, including recommendations for videos, articles, discussions, and a list of vegan myths they take the time to dispel. There is also a ‘vegan starter kit’, advice on where to eat out, and a hundreds of recipes.

While Veganuary grows in numbers, environmentalists are worried that it will be hard to promote this lifestyle to the majority of people within the small time-frame that we have left to tackle climate breakdown.

‘Though dietary change is realistic for any individual, widespread behavioral change will be hard to achieve in the narrow timeframe remaining to limit global warming and prevent further, irreversible biodiversity loss.’

 

Timber skyline: The rise of the wooden skyscraper

Rapid urbanisation of cities is becoming more and more apparent. This immediately presents issues in terms of the carbon footprints of buildings. The bigger cities get, the taller buildings get, the more greenhouse gas emissions we produce in their construction. In order for us to make our cities bigger, taller, more environmentally-friendly, cities need to find ways to future-proof themselves.

By 2050, the global population is expected to rise to 10 billion, and around two-thirds of us will live in cities. Of course, the solution to this in terms of space will be high-rise complexes.

The materials we use now to build with, mainly concrete and steel, have a large carbon footprint. The answer may lie in something called cross-laminated timber, or CLT.

We are currently in a somewhat renaissance for timber. Wood, of course, is a renewable resource. Currently, the world’s tallest building at 53m tall is the Brock Commons Tallwood House in Vancouver, which was completed in 2017, just beating the then world’s tallest wooden building, the Treet building, at 52.8m, in Bergen. These however may be left in the proverbial timber dust, with a proposed building in Tokyo known as the W350 Project planned to reach 350m (although this is scheduled for completion in 2041).

In Brummundal, Norway, an 81m high residential building is being constructed from Norwegian timber. Vienna is currently working on an 84m high wooden building. In the Parisian district of Terne, an entire wooden building complex is under construction, and in Germany, an eight-story wooden house was built on an area that used to belong to the United States army in the Bavarian town of Bad Aibling. It is a current showpiece for energy-efficient construction.

Concrete and steel are both costly to produce and heavy to transport, whereas wood can be grown sustainably and is far lighter. Concrete manufacturing is the world’s third largest producer of greenhouse gases, and is also 15 times less thermally efficient as timber.

Another boon to using timber as a construction material is it’s ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere as it grows, trapping that within it’s makeup. For example, Kielder Forest in Northumberland has 150 million trees. These trees sequester 82,000 tonnes of carbon annually. “This means that as a rough estimate each tree at Kielder is locking up 0.546 kg of carbon per year – equivalent to 2 kg of carbon dioxide.”

Credit: The Economist

It has been shown that a timber building can reduce it’s carbon footprint by up to 75% in contrast to a building of the same size made of conventional building materials. American architectural firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrell (SOM) , who designed Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, have designed a 42m tower, which, if built, will have a carbon footprint 60% less than a conventional build.

“Wood environments make people happy”, gleefully asserted the exhibition ‘Timber City‘ at the National Building Museum, which ran from 2016 to 2017. The exhibition included “architectural models, a video about managed forests and a world map that highlights more than 30 notable recent wooden buildings.” There was also a selection of tree stumps, wood manufacturing examples, and different types of lumber waste, nearly all of which can be used commercially and are recyclable in some way or another.

Regular timber unfortunately isn’t malleable like steel or concrete – it cannot be poured and set as those materials can. It is not strong enough to build high. This is where CLT comes in. It is a wood-panel product made by gluing layers of solid-sawn lumber together, with each layer glued perpendicular to one another. By gluing the layers perpendicular, the finished panel achieves better structural rigidity in both directions.

Whole sections can be pre-made and erected quickly on-site. Due to the relative strength and lightness of the wood, it is also suitable for closing gaps, or construction projects on existing buildings.

In April, plans were proposed for an 300m high wooden building, consisting of 80 storeys, which would be integrated with London’s Barbican Centre, a scheme which was developed between Cambridge University’s department of architecture alongside PLP Architecture and the engineers Smith and Wallwork. The project, if realised, could create over 1,000 new residential units.

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The skyline for the proposed timber tower at the Barbican. Image: PLP Architecture / Cambridge University

“If London is going to survive it needs to increasingly densify”, says Dr Micheal Ramage, director of Cambridge’s Centre for Natural Material Innovation. “One way is taller buildings. We believe people have a greater affinity for taller buildings in natural materials rather than steel and concrete towers.”

For those of you whose immediate thought is – are we not forgetting the Great Fire of London? The fires that frequented the city of Edo (The name for 17th century Tokyo)? Fortunately for those afraid of house fires, CLT does not burn like conventional timber, as the above video will testify.

“Every well-trained firefighter knows today that an adequate solid wood construction made from cross-laminated timber will withstand fire long enough for them to rescue the residents,” said architect Tom Kaden.

Using CLT and other wooden materials offers new design potential, and ultimately, space to grow. The transition from concrete and steel to construction using timber may possibly have a wider positive impact on urban environments and build form.

It is possible that these new ideas will allow architects, designers, and engineers to reformulate the aesthetics of architecture, but also the inherent structural methodologies that architecture has generally become accustomed to. New innovations in timber could lead to a greener revolution in architecture for the 21st Century and beyond.

 

 

 

“Completely inconsistent” EU coal deal fails to deal with coal subsidies

Analysts have stated that an EU deal to phase out coal subsidies within the Paris Climate Agreement is “completely inconsistent”.

Negotiations at COP24 ended on Wednesday. A benchmark CO2 emissions standard of 550 grams per kWh for all European power plants has been set, with limitations set to be in effect by 2025. Unfortunately, a loophole has been secured by Poland, a coal-dependent country, which allows countries another year to negotiate new ‘capacity mechanisms’ that would be exempt from the deadline. This may allow for unprofitable coal plants to keep operating until 2035, which is five years after the projected cut-off for meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

“Continued support for coal as just agreed by the EU is completely inconsistent with meeting the Paris agreement goals and in particular with limiting warming to 1.5C [above pre-industrial levels].” said Bill Hare, the director of the Climate Analytics thinktank. “It appears to be a de facto rejection of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finding that coal needs to exit the power sector rapidly. In the EU this means by 2030.”

After the deal was signed, the EU’s climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, tweeted “A more flexible market will facilitate the integration of more renewables. We also limit capacity mechanisms and #support5050 to move #BeyondCoal. #CleanEnergyEU completed.”

https://twitter.com/MAC_europa/status/1075184954357805057

This has not been met with universal support. Environmental campaigners Greenpeace have said that the proposed capacity mechanisms and stay of execution for subsidies levied on the coal industry showed unequivocally that many EU governments were still not fully serious about or dedicated to tackling climate breakdown.

The deal “will help the transformation to cleaner electricity production” said MEP Krišjānis Kariņš. “It will open up more competition in electricity across the EU border – good for the climate and good for the wallet”.

Green MEP Florent Marcellesi said that the delayed introductions of an emissions standard guaranteed “a free licence to go on polluting despite the impact on climate and public health”, meaning that the deal is ‘insufficient’ to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

“The cost-optimal pathways show that to be in line with the Paris Agreement, the OECD and EU countries need to phase out coal the fastest – by 2030. China would need to phase out coal around 2040, and the rest of the world by 2050.”

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Image taken from Climate Analytics

 

Governmental cherry-picking: over 32,000 badgers killed in annual cull

During the annual badger cull this autumn, more than 32,000 badgers were killed. This was done with the intent to reduce tuberculosis in cattle.

While officials stated that the culls were effective in stemming the prevalence of the disease, independent scientists said the date said officials were quoting was cherry-picked.

In 2017, 33,000 animals that were infected with TB were slaughtered in 2017. Michael Gove, the current environment secretary approved a huge increase in badger culling in September, which could see up to 42,000 animals shot. The data published by the government on Tuesday shows that so far, 32,601 badgers have been killed, a record number.

It seems that this cull is nothing more than an effort to protect capital over biodiversity.

While some badgers will be spreading TB, it is poor biosecurity on farms and the frequent trading of cattle that has more of a negative effect on TB control efforts than badgers themselves. The increasingly high amount of badgers culled in efforts to stop the spread therefore seems meaningless. Around half the culls failed to meet their initial targets.

“The ways that these targets were altered varied between sites in a completely non-standard way,” said Prof Rosie Woodroffe, of the Institute of Zoology, who was part of a 10-year badger-culling trial. “The scientific term for this methodology is ‘making it up as you go along’.”

Woodroffe stated that there was no basis for confidence in the cull, since it was impossible to estimate from the information gathered.  “We are all used to politicians making optimistic statements based on unreliable data. For a scientist to do so is deeply worrying,” she said.

“Claims that the culls are reducing cattle TB is based on cherry-picking data from a report produced by government scientists. It states explicitly that ‘these data alone cannot demonstrate whether the badger control policy is effective in reducing bovine TB in cattle’.” said Woodroffe. The government focused on areas where TB seemed to be dropping, yet missed out areas where rates of TB seemed to be rising.

“This is the largest destruction of a protected species in living memory.” Said Dominic Dyer, the chief executive of the Badger Trust. “By the end of 2018, the government will have spent over £50m of public funds killing over 67,000 badgers [since 2013], which could push the species to the verge of local extinction in areas of England where it has lived since the ice age. The badger cull is a cruel, costly and ineffective policy and its continuation is a national disgrace.”

We have to ask; what is the point of this cull? To simply protect assets? It is clear that government officials do not view natural biodiversity as an asset. Other options must be assessed.