map of London with Daniel Raven-Ellison’s spiralling walk
London, like all great cities, has suffered from horrendous pollution. Wildlife and human health have suffered. Gradually, with much effort and intelligent planning things have got better, and could get very much better in the future. One idea I’m really keen on is to make London into a National Park City. (Please watch this lovely 6 minute film). Last summer Daniel Raven-Ellison walked 563kms spiralling inwards through all 32 London boroughs to promote the concept. As London becomes more densely populated its wildlife and biodiversity could increase, its ecological sustainability improve and the quality of life for its human population could also improve.
From the 1860’s the cholera epidemics that swept the city were sorted by building better sanitation. In just four days in December 1952 smog from burning coal killed 12,000 people and the resulting Clean Air Act of 1956 has saved many lives. By the 1950’s the River Thames was pretty well lifeless, now fish are flourishing once more and otters are breeding again.
If we think of how life in London might be improved over the coming decades some obvious things spring to mind and some useful steps are being taken. Over the next couple of years the Elizabeth Line will open and Oxford Street will be pedestrianized, two small steps in reducing the blight caused by traffic. Just as for people in London in 1950 it was hard to imagine stopping burning coal, now it is hard for many people to think to the post fossil fuel future. Life in London might be very much more convivial as we transfer road space away from cars to trees, parks, cycleways and very much better and cleaner public transport.
You can declare your support for the Greater London National Park City here. It is an idea whose time is now. Its creation would be a major step in the long struggle to improve the living conditions of Londoners, and it would be a beacon for other cities to follow.
Humpback whale, one of many species found in the magnificent Revillagigedo archipelago
The world’s oceans are being damaged by plastics and pollution, overfishing and drilling for fossil fuels, by acidification and warming. One part of repairing the damage is to create marine reserves where no fishing or extractive industries are allowed. It is especially important to create these no take reserves in some of the most biologically rich and unique habitats. A number of countries bordering the Pacific Ocean are now doing just this.
Creating marine reserves has many advantages. It is not just about protecting wonderful and unique habitats. There are potentially many economic benefits. Perhaps the most obvious is tourism. As the reserves provide sheltered breeding grounds and fish stocks recover so the adjacent seas outside the reserves become much more productive fisheries. The enhanced global reputations of countries creating these reserves can also have significant diplomatic, political and economic benefits.
The North Sea, like many others, has suffered from overfishing, pollution and from the oil and gas industries. Now the North Sea is the epicentre of the global expansion of the offshore wind industry. I welcome this. Humanity needs to switch from a fossil fuel to a renewables based economy with great urgency. As we do so many wind turbines will be built in the North Sea. There seems some evidence that the sea’s biodiversity can recover as a result. The base of each turbine creates a mini reef effect, providing an anchorage for seaweed and crustaceans and shelter for fish to spawn and so for seals to hunt. I would love to see more focus on how these effects could be enhanced, for example by suspending chains between the turbines and creating no take reserves within the wind farms. A couple of years ago I wrote a blog enthusing about offshore wind, tidal lagoons and the idea of creating an artificial island in the North Sea to act as an energy hub for all the countries bordering the North Sea. This could be designed to help create a very much more biodiverse ecosystem, as well as being a major part of helping Europe become a zero carbon economy. It could have many and varied political, economic and ecological benefits. Helping nature flourish is not just about protecting pristine habitats. It is also about creating new habitats within our cities, in our industrial landscapes and also in our changing and industrialized seas. To really protect the oceans we need to switch from a linear to a circular economy, from fossil fuels to renewables, from pollution to conservation, and we need to do it all quickly. Humanity is capable of rising to the challenge. There is much to celebrate and very much more still to do!
Yesterday Colette and I and an old friend of ours trudged through deep snow up to the top of Dinedor Hill. It was so magical to be immersed in the perfection of the natural world. We could tell from the way the snow stuck to the east faces of tree trucks that the wind had first come from that direction and that later it had become very still as more snow piled up deeply on top of tiny twigs. The weight of snow in the silent woodland weighed heavily on branches and from time to time a branch would come crashing down, breaking off with a sharp crack followed by a swooshing sound as it and a load of snow descended to the forest floor. I think we all experienced that pure joy at the shear perfection that the natural world can present us with. Something to treasure.
We returned home and watched Blue Planet Two. Again we were immersed in the perfection of the natural world, but tinged with its fragility and the damage we are doing to it. Seeing a man snorkelling off the coast of Sri Lanka as a pod of about 300 sperm whales swam past was wonderful. A pod this size probably hasn’t been seen since before the days of whaling, a couple of hundred years ago. Individual species and the whole planetary ecosystem can flourish if given the chance. We are a part of that whole interwoven tapestry of life and it is vital for our survival as a species that we treasure and protect it. David Attenborough, in very clear and simple language made the case that we need to stop the pollution and the damage. He and these programmes are an inspiration to millions of people. We need to absorb the message and use it to redirect our politics, our economy and the technologies we utilize. We also need to get out and experience nature first hand, in whatever way we can, in our own neighbourhoods. It is such a source of pure joy and something to celebrate often and deeply.
It is now nearly eighteen months since the Brexit Referendum. The public mood seems to be coming round to the fact that the whole process was so deeply flawed that it should be declared null and void. We should ‘Exit from Brexit’. This will probably happen via a second referendum on the terms of any agreement that the UK government comes to with the EU. One option must be to cancel the whole process and stay within the EU, ideally on exactly the same terms we were on before the referendum of June 2016.
One of the most interesting themes to emerge over these last eighteen months has been the extent to which the main movers and shakers behind the movement to leave the EU were funded by a strange mix of ultra conservative Americans and the Russian government, cooperating through techniques coming from the weird world of psychological warfare. I would strongly urge readers of this blog to follow the investigative journalism of Carole Cadwalladr, J. J. Patrick, Adam Ramsay and Peter Geoghegan, the barrister and campaigner Jolyon Maugham and the Green MEP Molly Scott Cato. Between them they are doing the job that Woodward and Bernstein did to uncover Watergate. Brexit is part of a global assault on democracy. The Mueller investigation is uncovering the Trump end of this mess, while the Electoral Commission is beginning to investigate the UK end.
The lies that won the Leave campaign their victory are being revealed as just that, lies. The lie that if we left the EU there would be extra money for the NHS was perhaps pivotal in winning it for Leave. It is now clear that there will not be extra money for the NHS. Instead it will be decimated and privatized. The Leave campaign claimed that leaving the EU would be quick, easy and pain free, and now quite the reverse is plainly true. Businesses, scientific agencies, key workers and all manner of opportunities are leaving the UK just as many Remain people pointed out they would.
The one thing that politicians really are influenced by is how people vote. During the month of November there have been 35 council by-elections in Britain. Only eight changed hands, but they are very interesting. The Liberal Democrats gained seven and the Greens one. The Conservatives lost four, Labour two and UKIP two. This represents a gain of eight for the most pro EU parties and a loss of eight for the main parties supporting Leave. Some of the swings have been dramatic. The Conservative vote in Cradley and Bishops Frome collapsed from a high of 81.1 % in 2011 to just 28.8% last month as the Greens made an emphatic gain. The LibDems took seats from UKIP, Conservatives and Labour in vote Leave areas of the country, and they won them with some huge swings. This is only one month and only a few by-elections, but if it is a sign of more to come that could be very significant. It may well be that the public mood is now strongly to remain in the EU. UKIP have totally collapsed, and if Labour and the Conservatives don’t wake up they might follow UKIP onto the fire of a backlash to the Brexit lies and deceit.