Going Green (er)

The photo may not look like much but this is a big achievement. Only two days ago these peas were a third smaller and their vines are now clinging tightly to the trellis. That’s life right there.

When I was younger I tried to go vegetarian. I was studying at the time and the lack of meat sent my energy levels through the floor. This later turned out to be because my diet as a not-very-well-off-sudent was pretty shocking. Predominantly bread, cheese, beans and sausages. Yup.

I read an article recently that one of the most effective ways to combat climate change was to plant more trees and increase green spaces. So growing my own vegetables is a two bird with one stone kind of deal. It will help me go veggie and I can do my bit in going a little greener.

All you conservationists and die hard environmentalists can rest assured by the next half of my plan which is to plant more trees in my local area!

I will let you know how that goes.

BIRTHSTRIKE: an answer to climate change?

The planet is quickly becoming less inhabitable. When 97% of climate scientists agree that we are seeing a manmade (or anthropogenic) climate change, it is no longer debatable. Words contesting the idea are meaningless and wasted. It is time for change.

And yet, very little is being done about climate change. Especially since Brexit, Donald Trump becoming president of the United States and the rise of populism which has diverted the public’s attention to focus on more provincial matters.

Donald Trump cannot be underestimated when it comes to the battle against climate change. The man single-handedly decided to take America out of the Paris Agreement which was a unilateral effort to lower emissions whilst putting in place a former coal and fossil fuel lobbyist, Andrew R. Wheeler, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Another problem with climate change is one of scale. People are more prone to react to something that immediately changes within their surroundings whereas climate change is a gradual shift. Because of this, climate change can often go unnoticed against the background of problems that arise because of our more local differences. If London were to flood tomorrow, immediate action would be taken. But, since it is flooding incrementally, the threat feels far less urgent.

There are many things we can do to combat climate change, however, from using public transport or by walking or cycling to and from work. By choosing more environmentally friendly cars or by sourcing food locally which would have a much smaller carbon footprint. Going vegan. Plant more trees. Get better insulation for your house. Switch to a green energy provider. Vote for green initiatives. Use less plastic. Grow your own vegetables. Create or support collectives to put pressure on business to go greener. Fix your own goods. Don’t buy an Urban 4×4. Seriously, don’t. The concept makes no sense, they use diesel and they have wider tread tyres meaning that, should they actually face snow, they are more likely to be immobile. Why even call them Urban 4×4’s?

It was when listening to environmental podcast, Sustainababble that I heard of another initiative which is as much as a way to reduce environmental impact as it is a humane practice. This is done by deciding against having children. This may sound strange to some and it definitely brings with it a level of controversy but take a moment to imagine the following.

Shrinking the climate perspective, imagine the planet is your house and there is a candle burning in the living room. The wax is laced with lead, carbon monoxide, methane and diesel particulates. At the bottom of the candle, where the wick touches the base, is a pool of petrol. You have two children. Two grandparents. A dog. A cat. That flame has yet to burn through the candle but as it gets lower the air becomes harder to breathe as the nitrogen and oxygen mix we need is being replaced by carbon monoxide. The sun coming through the windows is hot and sticky because the methane is creating a greenhouse effect. Your grandparents are finding it harder and harder to string sentences together because the particulates are effecting their cognitive abilities. Children are coughing and spluttering as they develop respiratory problems.

The windows and doors won’t open. You can’t let the pollution out. It’s got nowhere to go. After all, outside the house is just a vacuum of space and you are the only house floating through that vacuum and all other houses you might be able to someday reach are uninhabitable. Too full of gas. Too hot. Too cold. No atmosphere.

The family hasn’t discussed a way that they are going to see without the candle and they have not yet come up with a way to clean the air. But there may be some answer on the horizon. In the future, perhaps. One of the family members says that they think that they want to bring another child into this house. The flame is still strong but the candle is two-thirds down. When the flame hits the petrol…
Would you want your children to grow up in the environment that I have just described?

It’s bleak and there are some people out there who might consider a mother-daughter Fury Road-esque apocalyptic landscape a fun place for themselves and their children, but most people would, I think, not want to bring a child into a future where the very air around them is toxic. To bring a child into that kind of environment would scare many of us.

This is the stance taken by Birthstrike.

Birthstrike are not a movement willing the community not to have children nor is it some kind of release-a-plague-on-the-world-Inferno/Twelve Monkeys-style activist movement. It is a group of people who have decided not to have children as not to subject them to an inhospitable environment. To do so would be to raise a child into the world who could potentially suffer.

During an interview with Sustainababble, Alice Brown makes it absolutely clear that Birthstrike is a support network. This is also echoed by Birtstrike’s founder, Blythe Pepino in the Guardian: “its aim is not to discourage people from having children, or to condemn those who have them already, but to communicate the urgency of the crisis.”

After all, the choice not to have children can be lead to a high degree of emotional damage, not only for advocates of the movement but for partners and, in some cases, the wider family unit.

Many might think the choice to not have children is extreme. But, thinking about it logically and keeping in mind current predictions for the ways in which our planet could change in the next couple of decades, rearing a child may become less sustainable. A recent prediction put before the U.N states that we have only 12 years to make dramatic changes to the way we live our lives and inhabit this planet before we move beyond the tipping point. After that time the changes in climate and weather patterns will be well and truly out of our control and we will become subjects to changes the likes of which we have never seen.

If that prediction turns out to be correct we could see countries suffering from droughts leading to potential food shortages. Storms and floods. Cuts in supplies of pharmaceuticals. Air littered with particulates which (as alluded to above) causes breathing problems, dementia and have even recently been found in placenta which means the damage could already be taking place before birth. A rise in temperature and fresh water run-off making large portions of the planet both on land and in our oceans uninhabitable.
Is this a place in which you would your child to grow?

A study correlates Birthstrike’s position by concluding that one of the most effective methods to combat climate change is, in fact, to have one fewer children. The average human has a carbon footprint of roughly 10 tonnes. The equivalent of 24 million balloons of carbon dioxide. However, other studies have pointed out that, even if the world universally adopted a one-child policy, we would still see the dramatic changes that have been predicted. What is actually needed is a vast overhaul of our infrastructure and living habits to make any realistic change.

This gives hope for potential families. For those wanting to become parents. For those wanting to raise a child in a clean and prosperous world. But it also means that we need to see those dramatic changes being made. We need to completely rethink our ways of going about our day to day lives whilst simultaneously doing everything we can to reverse the damage that has already been done.

This is what we need and it is what Birthstrikers want. For that great change to happen. But in the meantime, maybe caution is best.

Regressive Energy Politics

Is the slashing of 4,500 jobs by Jaguar Land Rover evidence that the U.K is aiming for a greener future?

It was made public last week that Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) are in the process of slashing 4,500 jobs due to uncertainty brought around by a waning of the Chinese market, Brexit, and of course the tax rise on diesel vehicles.

So, is JLR’s decision symptomatic of a change toward a greener future? The answer is convoluted to say the least.
In a typically capitalist society, two determining factors generate change: markets and the government. In the wake of the so-called ‘Dieselgate Scandal’ which exposed Volkswagen as bodging emissions results, the market reacted with reluctance to purchase diesel vehicles until they could get assurance that the vehicle they were buying was not in violation of the law. In response to Dieselgate and the call to lower air pollution levels, the government raised tax on diesel vehicles. In the past, this kind of response only made money whilst other people continued to suffer deleteriously on the streets.

The drop in demand for diesel vehicles is a positive step when it comes to clearing our air of harmful particulates, and it may even signify a shift toward electric or hybrid vehicles. But the decision to increase tax was a reactionary move and its effect on the diesel industry was more accident than anything else.

Ultimately it can be said that, yes, the loss of jobs at JLR is a signifier that the country is heading in a greener direction but it is more the market driven than through government initiative. At this point in time, it is government initiatives to tackle pollution and environmental damage that we need. But they are unwilling.

An example of their unwillingness is the motion for cars to go entirely electric by 2040 whilst other parties are pushing for the year 2032. Not great but an improvement. Now put this against the background of Volvo’s pledge to make only electric cars by 2025.

It was made apparent to me by Tom Bawden (‘i’ weekend: 12-13 January 2019) that forty five incinerators have been approved and a further 40 to be signed off which will help burn up not only the 800,000 tonnes of waste that we can no longer send to China, but all other plastic waste that the U.K produces. Incinerators produce high levels of pollution ad are hugely contested by the general public. The incinerators gain approval, however, by producing electricity, using the heat from the incineration process.

The fact that these incinerators are being planned and built highlights a drastic flaw in our system, or rather, the flaw that is our system. And that is this strange desire to keep things how they are, or else go backward. What I term: Regressive Planning.

There are many different avenues that can be taken when it comes to dealing with plastic. It can be melted down and repurposed for oils broken down and used as mix for new plastic roads, the likes of which we have seen produced in Enfield. The plastic has more flexibility and more strength than conventional methods i.e. tarma,c and is currently being developed on this side of the Atlantic by Plastic Road.

But why would you look to the future, bring in a plan of recycling and manufacturing that could develop an entirely new and fruitful economic model that would make us glide along with our European counterparts when we could just throw a match on the lot and burn it all? Ta-da!

Cough. Cough.

Sorry kids.

The plan to burn plastic for power is rudimentary at best and disastrously neglectful at worst. These are not the plans of a dynamic and forward reaching government but those of a party lacking imagination and hope for future generations.

Instead of believing that we are killing two birds with one stone by burning off all that waste and keeping our lights on, why don’t we revel in the fact that we could kill two birds with one stone by getting rid of plastic waste by finally creating a road system that doesn’t fall apart every time it is hit by frost?

I have wandered a little off track. The thing is, the only thing that government has put into place is a tax scheme designed to hit drivers of diesel vehicles. If the Conservatives wanted to move the country forward into a prosperous future, they would do more than make dissolvable promises.

We are in an age where innovative solutions are available. Some better than others, but most better than incinerator plants that have a tendency to run over budget, wasting taxpayers money, as was the case in Stroud, before poisoning them.
Incineration accounts for 42% of all waste disposal. That 42% could potentially be the starting place for a green energy revolution as much as the aiming away from diesel cars could be the start of a revolution within road transport. The green energy market is one of the fastest growing in the world and it genuinely baffles me as to why we are not making a future by entwining ourselves within it.

Pollution, pregnancy & false data

“Air pollution passes from pregnant women to placenta” – Peter Stubley, i, 17th September, 2018.

My last blog post was dedicated to the effects of pollution on people’s health – dementia in the older generation and early deaths predominantly in children, but also in adults. Well, not too long after this study was released I was shocked to read the latest update.

In an article by Peter Stubley in the i, he claims: “Evidence that air pollution passes from pregnant women’s lungs to the placenta has been found for the first time” before going on to say: “Previous research has indicated links between pregnant mothers’ exposure to air pollution and premature birth, low birth weight, infant mortality and childhood respiratory problems.”

For example on the 1st September, 2008 the Society for the Study of Reproduction (SSR) published a paper giving evidence that they had tested on mice and concluded that “In humans, adverse pregnancy outcomes (low birth weight, prematurity, and intrauterine growth retardation) are associated with exposure to urban air pollution.”

This is, however, the first time that definitive evidence has been gathered from placentas from Caesarean section births and confirmed the thesis. “Researchers detected what they believe are tiny particles of carbon, typically created by burning fossil fuels, after five non-smoking mothers living in London…”
The idea that children might be born into this world with a running chance has now been extinguished. Particulates are so dangerous that they effect children before birth. This news was on page 13.

I read that article and sped off to research the issue. This morning before I stepped out of my house to do my morning tasks, I heard something else on the radio that made me stop in my tracks. This news was that executives from Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW have now been known to have meetings with the agenda to deliberately avoid competition. The result: instead of trying to come up with innovative engine designs that would effectively reduce emissions, they held off such advances in order to sell their backlog of diesel and petrol cars.

This is an additional finding in what is currently being called Dieselgate, the scandal broken in 2015 in which Volkswagen was found to be taking part in emissions manipulation. This was done during the testing phase in which the emissions numbers were tampered with in order to make selected cars seem greener. More recent information (as published on 18th September, 2018 by Benjamin Wehrmann on cleanenergywire.org) has brought to light that Volkswagen CEO, Herbert Deiss, knew about his company’s emission fraud software long before he had originally conceded when the story was first broken.

Diesel emissions as we know are among the worst offenders when it comes to pollution. In London the primary culprits are delivery vans, hire vehicles (that are not subject to the toxicity charge, or T-Charge as it is better known) and congestion created by cycle lanes and lack of infrastructure. The city has suffered from illegal levels of particulates since 2010 and is close to Delhi and Beijing in level of toxicity according to an article by Leslie Hook and Steven Bernard and published in the Financial Times on 21st August, 2018.

The problem is that whilst the congestion charge and T-charge seem like an understandable way to deter people from driving into the city centre, business still needs to continue as usual and therefore the charges will be paid in order for trade and traders to access the city. Charges simply do not dampen the effects of what Defra called “the largest environmental health risk in the U.K”. Make no mistake, this claim is not limited to the U.K’s metropolis.

When you first click on to the Airlabs homepage, a company mentioned in Pollution & Dementia (5th September, 2018) you are met with a startling statistic. “92% of the world’s population are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution”. If you doubt the sincerity of this claim maybe take into consideration the Financial Times finding that Airlabs founder, Sophie Power, has deemed the threat of particulates so severe that she has installed an air filter inside her child’s pram. And with good reason.

Another worrying piece of information provided by Airlabs is that pollution hotspots are “places with a high density of people, high emissions and long dwell time. Hotspots in cities usually occur at transport hubs, in parks and playgrounds close to roads, outdoor eating/drinking areas and inside ground floor shops along high streets.”

So, pretty much everywhere we like to go.

Now, consider that particulates are causing dementia, early deaths, and now entering the bloodstream from the lungs and effecting unborn children, the case for change is more evidential and urgent than ever.

Links:

Peter Stubley

i

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/air-pollution-pregnant-women-london-study-placenta-first-evidence-a8539861.html

Airlabs

http://airlabs.com/

@air_labs

Financial Times

https://www.ft.com/content/9c2b9d92-a45b-11e8-8ecf-a7ae1beff35b

Leslie Hook: @lesliehook

Steven Bernard: @sdbernard

cleanenergywire.org

https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/dieselgate-timeline-germanys-car-emissions-fraud-scandal

Benjamin Wehrmann: @BenJoWe