Anthropogenic Extinction & Plastic

Last week scientists provided the starkest report yet warning of a man-made extinction level event.

Also known as Anthropogenic or Holocene extinction, the findings give evidence that we are going to see the eradication of 1m species which will have catastrophic effects on food chains and on levels of biodiversity needed to sustain our environment.

From the images we see on our television screens and social media news feeds of animals suffocated by plastic to the air pollution monitoring systems accessible online, we can see almost in real-time the devastating impact that we are having on the planet.

We are not only polluting the atmosphere through the overuse of fossil-fuel-rich sources but we are reducing ground level carbon sinks such as peat bogs and rainforests as cut down trees for commercial purposes, to build roads and for property development. Our effects on the planet are not slight, but monumental in their brevity as reported by Camilla Cavendish in The Financial Times: “Three quarters of the land, two thirds of our oceans and 85% of wetlands have already been altered or lost.”

Despite this information there is not enough being done to combat climate change. In certain areas of society climate change is ignored or described as a “hoax.” Donald Trump has time and again shooed the idea of climate change as a threat by claiming that there is evidence on both sides of the argument or else citing jobs as a reason to ignore climate change action.

The same was recently reiterated by Nigel Farage during an interview with Andrew Marr in which Nigel Farage claimed that he would not pursue climate action because of the loss of “hundreds of thousands” of jobs. This statement either highlights the lack of information that Nigel Farage is privy to regarding the vast scale of employment levels that would be achieved through a green energy market, Nigel’s willingness to overlook the signs of looming devastation in a bid to appeal to fossil-fuel companies like his friend Donald Trump, or perhaps just trying to appeal to the older voters of the U.K who remember with fondness the days of coal mining and oil extraction.

We don’t have the time to entertain regressive energy politics when we are seeing the destruction of 1/8th of the species that inhabit and contribute to our planet’s ecosystem.
Labour have recently announced that (if they were in power) they would D-list companies that do not follow strict environmental procedures. This at least provides incentive to work in a cleaner and more environmental way were Labour not facing embarrassing losses through both local elections and through the upcoming European elections.

Another worrying piece of information was put forward yesterday by television icon and environmentalist, David Attenborough: plastic pollution kills up to 1m people a year in developing countries. The awareness of environmental issues has skyrocketed, especially in the last year, but there is still little being done about it, predominantly by corporations whose products are found floating in waters the world over. While people recycle and do their best to limit water usage and take part in local clean-up operations, there needs to be a movement by corporations to become plastic free.

There are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently littering the oceans, as mentioned by the The Ocean Cleanup, an Dutch organisation currently leading the world’s largest ocean plastic removal scheme. Corporations and citizens need to work together to come up with innovative new ways to distribute products whilst eliminating plastics. At present, immediate convenience seems to trump full-scale catastrophe.

Trump and the Environment

Image courtesy of AllVector

President Donald J. Trump is a controversial figure. He faces questions about possible collusion with Russia, obstruction of justice, fraud and money laundering. We know for certain that he paid off Stormy Daniels. Bank account transactions and testimony from Trump’s previous confidante are proof to that effect.

The most dangerous aspect of Donald Trump’s presidential cabinet, however, is the absolute refusal to believe that climate change is a danger. Or, in some cases, is even happening.

As written by Simon Johnson in the i newspaper:

“Just 24 hours after the United Nations warned that a million species were at risk from environmentap degradation by humans, the United States has refused to sign an agreement on protecting the Arctic.

“Diplomats said the US objected to wording in the deal that stated climate change was a serious threat to the Arctic. The Trump administration has consistently downplayed or even denied climate change.”

The reason for America’s choice is clear; the melting Arctic ice holds a potential 13% of the planet’s untapped oil.

The Trump Whitehouse is overseeing the abolishment of scientific findings and irrefutable fact. Essentially ignoring common sense.

That being said, the world must pick up the slack in the green energy market. Whilst America tinkles with fossil fuels and sits firmly in a residual industrial phase, a new global player can take the leading position of innovative change.

We can only hope that the recent predictions of a decline in fossil fuels within the next five years is accurate.

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.

Capitalist Dystopia

Is capitalist-dystopia its own genre?

Dystopian works feature many end-of-the-world themes. Nuclear fallout, volcanic eruptions, solar flares, the heating of Earth’s core (because of solar flares), the slowing down of Earth’s liquid magma, the uprising of machines, asteroids, alien invasion, climate change. And of course, my favourite: zombie virus.

Last year I read Paulo Bacigalupi’s, The Water Knife. A novel based (as the name would suggest) on corporate interests battling for water rights in a world which has been ravaged by climate crises, and is now facing drought.

The whole way through Bacigalupi’s novel I found my mouth parched by descriptions of dry and arid lands, of characters longing for drink and the constant awareness of rationing what little water is available. But more than anything, I was intrigued and appalled by the depictions of corporate greed and consequential foul-play.

Is this the kind of future with which we should become accustomed?

Spurred by The Water Knife, I read Bacigalupi’s other dystopian masterpiece, The Windup Girl. In this novel, Bacigalupi creates a world bashed and beaten by corporate espionage which takes form in the poisoning of crops, (leading to something horrendous called “blister rust”) outperforming one another by creating genetically modified food and by using money to influence politics.

In both novels (and throughout the Ship Breaker series), the planet has essentially been ruined for financial gain. That ol’ bird, Capitalism. Not the kind of capitalism that frees the shackles from the poor mind you, more the neo-liberal, unchecked-market kind of capitalism.

George Orwell showed us a world ruled by Communism and it could be said that Ray Bradbury introduced us to the world of rampant capitalism with the focus on fast rides and fun times, but the works of more modern writers feels less like a prophecy for the not too distant future and more like something that could take place with the signing of a few pieces of trade legislature.

For example, Catherine Webb/Clare North’s 84K shows a Britain at the whim of mass production and insurance companies who dictate what level of existence is given to people judged by how much money they earn or how much money they owe. Need I say more?

A more comic approach to rampant capitalist-dystopia is Max Barry’s Jennifer Government. Neo-liberalism has won and the world is split between corporations to the extent that all life is split between corporations to the extent that to be employed is to take the corporate name, for example; Hack Nike. The government and police, on the other-hand, have become something that more resembles charity than any real form of leadership. If people want crimes investigated, they must pay.

Science-fiction and dystopian-fiction does the wonderful thing of attempting prophecy. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is more relevant now more than when it was written, especially given the advances in biotech taking us ever closer toward designer human beings. With that in mind, are we much removed from the capitalist dystopias as portrayed by so many other dystopia fiction novelists?
Motor insurance companies monitor drivers through apps in order to gain data. This is done with the premise of decreasing insurance costs depending on how you accelerate, decelerate, how sharply you brake and your average speed. We already allow devices to count our steps and monitor our sleeping habits in order to improve our overall health. Are we really that far from allowing insurance companies to monitor our health so that they can determine our general health habits? And how would that effect our insurance costs? And what other information can be garnered from such apps?

When it comes to corporate influence, are we that far removed from the landscapes of Bacigalupi and Barry when we already witness the political might of the NRA and oil conglomerates over presidential candidates in the United States? What is to stop such forces from gaining more momentum under Trump?

Capitalist-dystopia is so effective because it allows us to entertain the future possibilities of an ideology with which we are already attached. These novels should have the same kind of resounding clout as George Orwell’s warning of Communism faced by the world post World War 2.

#fiction #dystopia

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