Thursday, 4 March 2021

Food Fight

The UN believe farming has been generally ignored in climate talks. A Food Systems Summit has been set up with the brief of examining ways of reducing hunger and improving global food systems, as the climate crisis intensifies and biodiversity is threatened (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/mar/04/farmers-and-rights-groups-boycott-food-summit-over-big-business-links). The Food Systems Summit (important, as it is), has not got off to a good start. Many farming and ecological groups are convinced the proposed meeting is already biased in favour of corporate, hi-tech intensive farming. They think that approaches like agro-ecology are completely missing. Some of these same groups think that the corporate sector are (at least partly) responsible for rather than being a solution for the growth of hunger and disease. Intensive agriculture also has a powerful negative effect on biodiversity. Some of the groups are calling for a boycott of the conference. It is to be hoped that they can be brought onboard, as we really must talk about food.

Air Time?

The UK government can't claim to have been unaware of the profound health damage resulting from exposure to toxic air. There have been many studies detailing the detrimental effects of air pollution. Upper limits for atmospheric gases and particulates have been in place for many years. The Court of Justice of the EU have recently ruled, in a case started before Brexit, that the UK has 'systematically and 'persistently' broken legal limits on toxic air pollution (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/mar/04/uk-has-broken-air-pollution-limits-for-a-decade-eu-court-finds). The court found that levels of nitrogen dioxide (mainly from diesel vehicles), had been illegally high in 75% of urban areas in the UK, for (at least) a decade. Although the UK have left the EU, they could still face financial penalties, if they don't take urgent action to comply. The legal costs incurred by the European Commission in bringing the case, have been awarded against the UK. I know it can be difficult to deal with the motoring lobby, but there really is no longer an excuse for not doing something about air pollution in our towns and cities.

Should We Leave Saving the Planet to the Accountants?

Professor Simon Lewis (University College of London and Leeds University) has written a timely opinion piece warning of some dangers associated with so-called 'carbon credits' (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/mar/03/climate-crisis-carbon-accounting-tricks-big-finance). Most people now appear to accept that human-mediated additions to atmospheric carbon dioxide drive global heating. Lewis notes that even the governments of many countries claim to agree, in spite of their short-term actions not always following. Governments state they have been convinced that we must move to 'net zero' release of carbon dioxide, by 'mid Century', to prevent 'runaway' climate change. As Lewis points out, the science of 'net zero' is simple. It can only be achieved if every sector of every country is, on average, a zero emitter of carbon dioxide. We know how to do this for many sectors (like the operation of cars, heating of homes and generation of electricity). There are, however, other areas (such as air travel and some agricultural operations), where 'there is no prospect of zero emissions in the near future'. The existence of this second category, means 'net zero' can only be achieved, by sucking 'greenhouse gases' out of the atmosphere at the same rate. Lewis specifies that low-tech (like planting trees) and hi-tech (like removing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) methods of generating 'negative emissions' (as carbon removal is sometimes called) exist. He notes, however, there is not enough land for the required number of trees and large scale versions of the hi-tech solution don't currently exist. This is where the accountants, with their offsetting schemes, come in. Lewis is dubious about them. He notes that you can't really claim to be 'carbon neutral' (even if you are the $600bn Brookfield Asset Management) by 'counter-balancing' the oil and gas in your portfolio, with investment in renewables. The future emissions savings by the renewables, does not balance the carbon dioxide release associated with the non-renewables. What is important, is the amount of carbon dioxide released. Lewis also suggests that many of the currently-traded carbon credits are either entirely notional or even historical artefacts. He seems concerned that these accountancy 'tricks' are simply designed, to let business go on 'more or less as usual'. I fear he may be right. I also fear that governments will be attracted to them.

Wisconsin Wolves

It's a complicated business, this Grey wolf culling! The Wisconsin authorities wanted 200 wolves culled 'to keep their populations stable' (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/03/wisconsin-hunters-kill-216-wolves-less-than-60-hours-uproar). They, accordingly, allocated around 80 to North American tribes (where the wolf has symbolic status), leaving almost 120 for permit holding- (they sold more than 1,500) hunters to trap or shoot, in the week-long 'hunting season'. Unfortunately, the permit holders (many with tracking dogs) killed 216 Grey wolves in less than 60 hours. This exceeded the quota by more than 80%, meaning that the hunting season had to be closed 4 days early. Even this wasn't easy, as the Wisconsin authorities had to give (by law) 24 hours of notice of closure. I appreciate that local government is attracted to the money generated by the sale of permits (a frequent pro-hunting claim is that 'it helps to pay for conservation'). Allowing the wolf hunting, probably also generates local votes by enthusiasts for the authorities. If culls are necessary, however, this seems a profoundly inexact way to attempt to arrive at the right number. The process also does nothing to ensure the 'right animals' (in terms of their sex, age and membership of a pack) are being killed. Perhaps the Wisconsin authorities will come up with a better system (e.g. using their own experts)?

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Birder's Bonus 206

The first predated egg of the year in Loughor. Looks like that of the Common wood pigeon (Columba palumbus).

HS2: Swings and Roundabouts?

Like other Ecology-minded folk in the UK, I am not a supporter of the High Speed 2 (HS2) train link. I (like many others) just think that the expense and the environmental damage incurred, is too great. Having said that, one can't help being impressed by the plans (even if they look a bit like 'greenwash') for the Colne Valley Western Slopes development ((https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/mar/03/hs2-to-rewild-127-hectares-around-its-10-mile-chilterns-tunnel). The plan is to use the 3 million tonnes of chalk, excavated in the construction of its 10 mile long Chiltern's tunnel, to 'rewild' 127 hectares of chalkland (as well as cutting down the contractor's emissions for moving the rubble). The intention is to increase the amenity for humans and wildlife. The area will be seeded with 70 grass and flower species. In addition, 32 species of natural trees and shrubs, will be planted. The development is designed to generate distinct microclimates (such as basking areas for reptiles and butterflies). This might be quite a nice addition for people in Chiltern's area but the destruction of ancient woodland elsewhere, pushes the balance for HS2 well into the negative zone.

Nationality and Covid-19 Protection

Kanishk Tharoor makes some interesting observations about the unfairness of access to Covid-19 vaccines (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/mar/02/vaccine-rollout-nationality-covid-jab-poorer-countries). Tharoor points out that, by mid-February 2021, 130 of the world's poorest countries, had not had a single jab with a Covid-19 vaccine. He also noted that wealthy countries, accounting for 14% of the world's population, had bought up more than half of the anticipated output of leading candidate vaccines. The Economist Intelligence Unit also say that 85 poor countries, will not see a mass vaccination programme for Covid-19, until 2023. Tharoor's main point is that the lottery of nationality, largely determines whether or not we get early access to life-saving vaccines. I would just add, that failing to get the vaccine out more widely, is leaving lots of scope for Sars-CoV-2 to mutate into new and exciting variants. These might come back to haunt us, even if we live in one of the world's priviledged locations!

Food Fight

The UN believe farming has been generally ignored in climate talks. A Food Systems Summit has been set up with the brief of examining ways ...