Companies campaigning to end plastic waste ‘investing billions in new plants’

This week a number of firms announced their impending collaboration surrounding plans to tackle plastic pollution, while also being the world’s biggest investors in new plastic production plants.

The Alliance to End Plastic Waste is made up of these companies: BASF, Berry Global, Braskem, Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LLC, Clariant, Covestro, Dow Chemical, DSM, ExxonMobil, Formosa Plastics Corporation, Henkel, LyondellBasell, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, Mitsui Chemicals, NOVA Chemicals, OxyChem, PolyOne, Procter & Gamble, Reliance Industries, SABIC, Sasol, SUEZ, Shell, SCG Chemicals, Sumitomo Chemical, Total, Veolia, and Versalis.

According to a European NGO Recycling Netwerk, the companies have invested an estimated £778m in reducing plastic pollution, and yet have tens of billions dependent upon the industry increasing in production over the next decade.

“The signatories claim to invest over a billion dollars to “end plastic waste”. But an overview of pending investments in the expansion of plastic production, quickly reveals the hypocrisy of the Alliance. Without tackling the production of plastic at its source, all clean-up efforts will be in vain”, Said the NGO. Click this link and scroll down to see the list of investments from each company.

ExxonMobil has begun production on a new polyethylene line in Texas, which will produce 650,000 tons per year. Shell plan to build a new plastic plant in Pennsylvania, which will turn shale gas into 1.6 million tons of polyethylene per year. Given these investments, the Alliance appears to be nothing more than a ‘greenwashing’ operation.

Since 2010, fossil fuel companies have invested more than $180 billion in new fracking facilities, or ‘cracking’ as it is known, which will increase plastic production by 40% over the next decade.

Rob Buurman, the director of Recycling Netwerk, said: “It is interesting to see [the plastics industry] finally acknowledge that there is a problem with their plastics. But unfortunately, this initiative does not tackle the problem at its source: the gigantic production of 400 million tonnes of plastic each year, with 60 million metric tonnes produced in Europe alone.”

It is estimated that each year around 8 million tonnes of plastic waste finds its way into the sea. This plastic goes on to choke, infect, and kill multiple marine creatures, and can destroy habitats.

A spokesman for the alliance said: “Reducing the amount of plastic required to create products while preserving the benefits people rely on and making plastics easier to recycle is definitely part of the solution. Not all alliance members produce plastic. Some of the members do produce plastic, and some have announced expansions to meet the demands of a growing population.

“Plastic provides many critical health, safety and sustainability benefits that help improve and maintain living standards, hygiene and nutrition around the world and replacing it could, in the end, do more harm than good.”

While both arguments are valid, it must be stressed that trust cannot be placed in the hands of big business. It has been a neoliberal con that has placed the consumer as the one who is to blame for plastic pollution. Public opinion in recent years, especially, 2018 has changed for the better, and yet it leads to organisations such as the Alliance To End Plastic Waste which talk of progressive change, but mask realities.

Graham Forbes, global plastics project leader at Greenpeace, said: “This is a desperate attempt from corporate polluters to maintain the status quo on plastics. In 2018 people all over the world spoke up and rejected the single-use plastics that companies like Procter & Gamble churn out on a daily basis, urging the industry to invest in refill and reuse systems and innovation. Instead of answering that call, P&G preferred to double down on a failed approach with fossil fuel giants Exxon, Dow and Total [which] fuel destructive climate change.”

“Make no mistake, plastics are a lifeline for the dying fossil fuel industry, and this announcement goes to show how far companies will go to preserve it.”

With many of the investments of these companies being linked to fracking, we cannot view an organisation like the Alliance as an inherently good thing, and must ask the question, are these apparent progressive environmental campaigns a costly but effective way of disguising and safeguarding future plastic investment and production.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An open letter: 100 notable figures from around the globe sign a call-to-arms on climate breakdown

100 notable figures from around the globe have come together to sign an open letter which calls upon concerned citizens of the globe to rise up and radically organise against current governmental complacency on the ecological and climate emergency we are facing.

The 100 includes Vandana Shiva, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Chris Packham, Lily Cole, Bill McKibben, Dr Rowan Williams, and Bill Ripple of Scientists Warning amongst others.

The open letter, penned and organised by Dr Alison Green, Dr Richard House, and Dr Rupert Read, who are all representatives of climate advocacy and action group Extinction Rebellion, has been published today simultaneously round the globe, in media including The Guardian (UK), South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), Taipei Times (Taiwan), O Pais (Mozambique), Aftenposten (Norway) and Al Wihda (Chad).

The publication of the letter comes at the same time as the COP24 United Nations climate summit in Katowice, Poland, which is the first to be held since the IPCC report on climate breakdown and the proposed global temperature limitation of 1.5C was published in October.

At COP24, renowned environmentalist Sir David Attenborough declared in his speech, “Right now, we’re facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years: Climate Change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations, and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

“The world’s people have spoken. Their message is clear. Time is running out.”

As an organisation, Extinction Rebellion ‘rejects the complacency and denial exhibited by business and political leaders, and insists that the truth about the climate crisis is told.’ It uses non-violent direct action and civil disobedience to bring attention to the apparent ‘criminal activity’ of governments.

The group’s demands are as follows:

  • The Government must admit the truth about the ecological emergency, reverse all policies inconsistent with addressing climate change, and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens
  • The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels
  • A national Citizen’s Assembly must be created, to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.

“We feel we have really struck a chord with this letter. People understand that there is nothing wrong with telling the truth,” commented Dr Alison Green, PVC Academic at Arden University.

“It has been heartening to have the support of so many high-profile people, and amazing that some of the biggest names were also the quickest to respond. Even people who felt unable to sign the letter commented that they supported the action.”

Fellow letter organiser and chartered psychologist Dr Richard House added, “I co-organised the famous press letter on ‘toxic childhood’ that went viral overnight in September 2006, and tellingly, the level of concern shared by our signatories to this letter surpasses even that. The ignoring or sidelining of this issue by corporations and governments is simply no longer an option.”

Read the full letter below.

Climate Emergency: An Open Letter to Concerned Global Citizens

This open letter appears today in major newspapers across the world.

In our complex, interdependent global ecosystem, life is dying, with species extinction accelerating. The climate crisis is worsening much faster than previously predicted. Every single day 200 species are becoming extinct. This desperate situation can’t continue.

Political leaders worldwide are failing to address the environmental crisis. If global corporate capitalism continues to drive the international economy, global catastrophe is inevitable.

Complacency and inaction in Britain, the USA, Australia, Brazil, across Africa and Asia… – all illustrate diverse manifestations of political paralysis, abdicating humankind’s grave responsibility for planetary stewardship.

International political organizations and national governments must foreground the climate-emergency issue immediately, urgently drawing up comprehensive policies to address it. Conventionally privileged nations must voluntarily fund comprehensive environment-protection policies in impoverished nations, to compensate the latter for foregoing unsustainable economic growth, and paying recompense for the planet-plundering imperialism of materially privileged nations.

With extreme weather already hitting food production, we demand that governments act now to avoid any risk of hunger, with emergency investment in agro-ecological extreme-weather-resistant food production. We also call for an urgent summit on saving the Arctic icecap, to slow weather disruption of our harvests.

We further call on concerned global citizens to rise up and organise against current complacency in their particular contexts, including indigenous people’s rights advocacy, decolonization and reparatory justice – so joining the global movement that’s now rebelling against extinction (e.g. “Extinction Rebellion” in the UK).

We must collectively do whatever’s necessary non-violently, to persuade politicians and business leaders to relinquish their complacency and denial. Their “business as usual” is no longer an option. Global citizens will no longer put up with this failure of our planetary duty.

Every one of us, especially in the materially privileged world, must commit to accepting the need to live more lightly, consume far less, and to not only uphold human rights but also our stewardship responsibilities to the planet.

You can see a full list of signatories here.

 

Sir David Attenborough: “Our greatest threat in thousands of years: Climate Change”

On Monday, World-famous environmentalist Sir David Attenborough addressed the UN Climate Change Summit in Poland, appealing to those present that “together we can make real change happen”.

Attenborough’s message “Leaders of the world, you must lead”, was given alongside a gathering of messages from all over the world, pat of the UN’s people’s seat initiative. These messages were presented to the delegates of almost 200 nations who are currently in Katowice, Poland, planning the actualisation of the Paris Climate Agreement agreed three years ago.

In the speech, Attenborough references the UN’s new ActNow Chatbot, a device created to help ordinary people change their lives through taking individual personal action against climate breakdown. The ChatBot, which is open to use through Facebook Messenger, is part of a social media campaign that encourages people to talk about climate breakdown, and gives them ideas and information about how they can alter their lives to make them more eco-friendly.

The past few years have seen the hottest yearly average temperatures recorded since 1850. Since 2000, we’ve had 17 of the hottest years, each increasing since the last. Studies show that an climate-warming El Nino event is likely to occur in 2019, with the possibility to further warm that year.

“Climate change is running faster than we are and we must catch up sooner rather than later before it is too late,” said the UN Secretary General António Guterres. “For many, people, regions and even countries this is already a matter of life or death.” The secretary general also touched upon the move towards sustainable green economies, “Climate action offers a compelling path to transform our world for the better. Governments and investors need to bet on the green economy, not the grey.” This echoes the actions taken by the World Bank recently, who pledged $200bn to combat climate breakdown.

David Attenborough has recently been accused by writer and Guardian columnist George Monbiot of betraying ‘the living world he loves‘ though ‘downplaying our environmental crisis’.

“Knowingly creating a false impression of the world: this is a serious matter.” Writes Monbiot. “It is more serious still when the BBC does it, and yet worse when the presenter is “the most trusted man in Britain”. But, as his latest interview with the Observer reveals, David Attenborough sticks to his line that fully representing environmental issues is a “turn-off”.” Does this speech come as part-response to Monbiot’s comments? It is difficult to say exactly, but we view it as a welcome use of activism considering Attenborough’s large platform.

COP24 has also had it’s fair share of criticism. The summit itself is being sponsored by a Polish company. This act in itself “raises a middle finger to the climate” according to Friends of the Earth International. The Polish president Andrzej Duda, speaking at the opening of the summit, said the use of “efficient” coal processes and technology could be undertaken with no contradiction to taking climate action. While more energy efficient technology has been employed in the country, resulting in a cut of 30% to it’s carbon emissions since 1988, this type of talk is dangerous, although it does not represent the official stance of the Polish government as a whole.

“Safeguarding and creating sustainable employment and decent work are crucial to ensure public support for long-term emission reductions,” states the Silesia Declaration on Solidarity and Just Transition, which is a goal for the Polish government, who want to provide job security to workers in fossil fuel industries as the energy industry changes to more renewables.

We have transcribed Sir David Attenborough’s speech here:

“Right now, we’re facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years: Climate Change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations, and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon. The United Nations provides a unique platform that can unite the whole world, and as the Paris Agreement proved, together we can make real change happen.”

“The world’s people have spoken. Their message is clear. Time is running out. They want you, the decision makers, to act now. They’re behind you, along with civil society represented here today. Supporting you, in making tough decisions, but also willing to make sacrifices in their daily lives. To help make change happen, the United Nations is launching the ActNow bot, helping people to discover simple everyday actions that they can make, because they recognise that they too must play their part. The people have spoken. Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of our civilisations, and the natural world upon which we depend, is in your hands.”

80% chance of climate-warming El Niño event in 2019

According to the latest data from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization, that there is a 75-80% chance of a weak, and yet, still climate-warming El Niño event by next year. “Oceanic conditions have been at weak El Niño levels since October 2018, but not yet coupled to the atmosphere as required for a typical EL Niño event.”

El Niño events occur naturally every few years. They are caused by fluctuations in ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, coupled with the overlying atmospheric circulation. This in turn has a direct and major influence on climate patterns all over the world.

The WMO’s model forecasts suggest that the chance of a full-fledged El Niño between December 2018 to February 2019 is estimated to be about 75-80%, with a 60% chance that it will continue from February through to April. Current predictions show the El Niño range as being from a warm-neutral condition through to moderate strength. This could mean that sea surface temperatures being at approximately 0.8C to 1.2C above the average. The chance for a strong El Niño is currently low.

Maxx Dilley, director of WMO’s Climate Prediction and Adaptation branch, said “The forecast El Niño is not expected to be as powerful as the event in 2015-2016, which was linked with droughts, flooding and coral bleaching in different parts of the world. Even so, it can still significantly affect rainfall and temperature patterns in many regions, with important consequences to agricultural and food security sectors, and for management of water resources and public health, and it may combine with long-term climate change to boost 2019 global temperatures,”

The last El Niño event ended in 2016, which helped that year become the hottest year on record by exacerbating the effects of man-made global heating. 2017 was ranked an equal second, but was also named the hottest year on record with an El Niño event. It has not yet been quantified, but it is expected that 2018, which saw many climate-related disasters across the globe, to be the fourth hottest on record.

In most of Asia, Europe, North and South America, the Caribbean, Australia, Africa, and the Indonesian archipelago, there has been an increase in the odds for abnormal surface-air temperature. There is also for the Caribbean, central America, parts of South America, some South Pacific Islands, portions of southwest Africa, eastern equatorial Africa, an increased probability of below-normal precipitation, which could possibly lead to drought in those areas.

El Niño events exacerbate and are exacerbated by the billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions humanity releases every year, and as these emissions have recently hit record concentrations, we can assume that stronger El Niño events will be more likely in the future.

Between 2000 and 2017, Human-caused global warming has given us 17 of the 18 hottest years since 1850. This frequency cannot be a coincidence. Although, whether 2019 will be another record remains to be seen.

 

 

 

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.”