Category Archives: Environmental

Extinction Rebellion in Hereford

Extinction Symbol

Extinction Rebellion is coming to Hereford. This Saturday, 1st December, we will hold our inaugural action, starting on Castle Green at 11.00 am. I have the honour of being one of the speakers. Each of us has just a few minutes. I doubt if I’ll have time to talk about many aspects, so let me expand a bit here. This is both deeply personal and of planetary importance.

Many of my generation have been active campaigning for ecological sustainability and social justice since the late 1960’s, and before that there was a long tradition of concern and action. Over all these decades humanity made some steps in the right direction, but larger ones in totally the wrong direction. We cleaned up rivers and created national parks and wildlife reserves, eradicated smallpox, lifted millions out of poverty, spread literacy and achieved much else. However over these same decades carbon emissions grew, ever more habitats were lost and species made extinct. As some forms of pollution were clamped down on others expanded rapidly.

The prospect of the extinction of our own species is very real. This is personal. By the time my grandchildren are reaching old age the planet may simply be uninhabitable. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is now at over 405 parts per million. This is destabilizing the climate and it is also causing the acidification of the oceans. Humanity is utterly dependent on a well functioning biosphere. As oceans become more acidic phytoplankton die, and without phytoplankton the oxygen cycle breaks down, threatening the ability of large mammals, such as human beings, to breathe. Phytoplankton die-off due to ocean acidification is just one of numerous tipping points beyond which we must not pass. To safeguard our existence as a species we need to change our global political and economic systems. The latest science suggests we need to reduce global carbon emissions to zero within twelve years. To do this will require extraordinary levels of commitment. It will require unprecedented action from governments, who currently seem totally unprepared and unaware of the situation humanity is in.

As I’ve said numerous times on this blog, technologically and philosophically there is so much we could do: the obstacles are largely political. Extinction Rebellion has been formed to force governments to take action by engaging in non-violent protest, which will often involve some, but not all participants taking action for which they may be arrested. In London this has largely been blocking roads, occupying government buildings and similar things. Extinction Rebellion groups are now springing up all around the world.

Extinction Rebellion fits into a crowded field of people hungry for change. The school strikes for climate action started a few weeks ago in Sweden with 15 year old Greta Thunberg, and are now spreading fast, with kids from 100 towns in Sweden and over 260 places worldwide on strike today.

We need many diverse voices calling for rapid and bold action on climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and the rest, and we need politicians capable of listening to them and taking the required action. We don’t have long.


Life After Fossil Fuels

Oil: do we need it to keep modern civilization running?

Oil: do we need it to keep modern civilization running?

A decade or so ago I started running evening classes called ‘Global Problems: Global Solutions’. We tried to envisage solving multiple mega problems simultaneously, from climate change to hunger and poverty. It still seems to me the possibilities of creating a better future are almost limitless.

One of the key concerns of people coming to these events was how life might look without fossil fuels. Some people were most worried from a resource scarcity angle. They saw Peak Oil as a big problem. Others were more worried from a planetary pollution perspective, and for them Climate Change was the biggest worry. Many people seemed to think that as oil is the basis of so much of our global economy we would have to do without many of the oil derived products, and much of the productivity and prosperity that oil has made possible. Many of these people thought that it would be the horse and cart that replaced the car, that global food supplies would massively decrease and that cities would collapse due to lack of food and energy.

I tended to put forward the case that the transition to virtually 100% renewable energy for all humanity’s electricity, transport, heating and cooling would be possible, and that recycling and resource substitution would be possible for most types of industrial production. We could at least in theory move to a circular economy where pollution was minimized and efficiency maximized, and for it all to be based on renewable forms of energy.

Looking back over the last decade it seems to me that the improved technology has led to falling costs of renewables to such an extent that this transition should be even easier than even I predicted. What we didn’t see coming a decade ago was the re-emergence of overt racism, ultra-nationalism and fascism. The likes of Trump, Orban and the Brexiteers care not a jot about climate change, the plight of the poor or any of the other problems we considered in our evening classes. They represent a denial of scientific reality, and simple human compassion, on a scale I’d never have envisaged seeing in any democratic state. They act to protect the ultra rich and the fossil fuel industries.

Now we have the rather bizarre situation of much of the global financial community understanding the risks associated with climate change and backing a lot of ideas put forward by Green activists and environmentalists, most of whom are quite critical of the concepts like capitalism and endless economic growth. Opposing them are a lot of right wing politicians who in theory support capitalism and growth, but who now endlessly have to intervene in the market to protect the economic interests of those who profit from the pollution.

Pesticides, Plastics & the Precautionary Principle

neonicotinoid ban

Neonicotinoid ban: a victory for grassroots environmental action, bees and human health

At long last the EU has passed legislation to ban neonicotinoid pesticides. The ban should come into place within six months, covers the three main types of neonicotinoids on all outdoor use on crops (but not use in greenhouses or on pets and some other instances) This ban is something a whole raft of environmental groups like Friends of the Earth and Avaaz have campaigned in favour of for many years. At last Michael Gove has reversed UK government opposition to the ban. Similar bans are under consideration in many other countries around the world.

The evidence that these chemicals harm bees has been gathered over many years. What I find staggering is how little research has been done on the effects on human health. Science Daily states that ‘Very little research has been done on their effects on human health’. One recent study indicates that neonicotinoids have endocrine disrupting effects that may be one cause of breast cancer. Clearly more research needs to be done on this, and much else. It is widely known that neonicotinoids change bee’s behaviour and sense of navigation. How might they be affecting human neurological function?

Another issue that has huge, global and as yet largely unstudied ramifications are microplastic particles. These are present in the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink. Larger scale plastic debris has had very much more media coverage over the years, with well documented damage to marine wildlife. Because microplastic particles are essentially invisible they have been largely ignored until recently, yet potentially they pose a serious threat to human health.

Radically reducing the use of both pesticides and plastics is possible. The precautionary principle should be applied. The protection of environmental health, and human health, should be prioritized. A circular economy which reuses and recycles as much of its throughput of materials and energy as possible is the only long term sustainable direction in which to develop the global economy. This recent ban on neonicotinoids is a step in the right direction.