Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Crunch carrots, cut climate change

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We really need to be redoubling our efforts to tackle climate change. Just look at the blog entry before this one, where Stern says the problem is far worse than he'd previously described in his highly influential report - and the entry before that on government giving the cold shoulder to action on climate. Many think of efforts to tackle climate change in terms of flying less, driving less, using renewable, low carbon energy sources, insulating our homes, recycling materials...but adjusting our diet is not so commonly mentioned.

Changing to a lower meat, higher fruit and veg diet can in fact be one of the most effective ways of lowering carbon emissions and tackling climate change, especially if beef consumption is reduced or eliminated. Consider the estimated total eco footprint of meat compared with fruit and vegetables: 6.9 to 14.6 hectare yrs per tonne for meat (calculated using average global yield and embodied energy data - the range is due to pasture-fed vs grain-fed animals); as against 0.3 to 0.6 hectare yrs per tonne for a range of fruits, roots and vegetables (calculated using average global yield for a range of veg, with an allowance for transport, processing and energy for farming).

These estimates from the book Sharing Nature's Interest by footprint experts Chambers, Simmons and Wackernagel (2000) show the the environmental impact of meat is 11 to 49 times higher than fruit and vegetables. This chimes with the basic science because the food chain for meat is obviously longer, with many vegetables and grains being grown for use as animal feed. [Meat impacts are 1.5 to 8.5 times higher than grains and pulses too.]  Beef farming has a very high climate impact due to: rainforest clearance to create the farmland, perhaps by burning; grain feeding the animals; methane released by the cows metabolism, (and dont forget the long distance trade in frozen meat).

In short: crunch carrots more, eat meat less and you will contribute to cutting climate change! Whether the fruit and veg are chemically grown abroad, or locally and organically grown, they're going to have lower climate impact than any kind of meat. There are other benefits too as lower meat diets are cheaper and healthier. Carrots for instance - given that it was National Carrot Day on 3 Feb and that it will be International Carrot Day on 4 April  - have the highest vitamin A content of all veg and are loaded with vitamin B6, vitamin C and potassium too. Find out more from this amazing, if somewhat bizarre site: http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/    

Friday, February 01, 2013

Climate change: consummate concern

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Nicholas Stern: 'I got it wrong on climate change – it's far, far worse'. Author of 2006 review speaks out on danger to economies as planet absorbs less carbon and is 'on track' for 4C rise

Lord Stern, author of the government-commissioned review on climate change that became the reference work for politicians and green campaigners, now says he underestimated the risks, and should have been more "blunt" about the threat posed to the economy by rising temperatures.

In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: "Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then."

The Stern review, published in 2006, pointed to a 75% chance that global temperatures would rise by between two and three degrees above the long-term average; he now believes we are "on track for something like four ". Had he known the way the situation would evolve, he says, "I think I would have been a bit more blunt. I would have been much more strong about the risks of a four- or five-degree rise."

He said some countries, including China, had now started to grasp the seriousness of the risks, but governments should now act forcefully to shift their economies towards less energy-intensive, more environmentally sustainable technologies... Full story from link below:

Nicholas Stern: 'I got it wrong on climate change – it's far, far worse' | Environment | The Observer

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Climate cold shoulder

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Here's an interesting Radio 4 program on what lies beneath widespread denial of climate change. Laurie Taylor talks to Sally Weintrobe, the editor of the first book of its kind which explores, from a multi disciplinary perspective, what the ecological crisis actually means to people. In spite of a scientific consensus, many continue to resist or ignore the message of climate communicators - but why? What are the social and emotional explanations for this reaction?
What is this climate problem anyway? The key stores in the global carbon cycle are shown in the image I've drawn (below, click to enlarge). The arrows representing the flow of carbon between key stores are annotated with the mechanism of transfer.
Key aspects to note: Chalk and limestone and fossil fuels are very large carbon stores formed over very long periods but when used they very quickly release carbon to the atmosphere. Burning forests and changing land use by logging and then farming beef or soya both very quickly releases carbon into the air and cuts the rate of carbon removal. Ocean capacity to absorb and store carbon is decreasing as it’s warming up, and oceans are acidifying. The result of this and more: carbon concentration in the atmosphere is rising. 
People, especially those living in the most economically developed societies, currently impact heavily on the carbon cycle. Total carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per person per year in the UK are now more than 10 tonnes, when a sustainable level is 2 tonnes. Elsewhere in the economically developed world it can be higher than this eg in the USA.
 In constructing homes, factories, roads...people consume huge quantities of fossil fuel and cement (see image). Extracting/producing, transporting and using fossil fuels and cement in itself releases large amounts of carbon.
In heating and lighting homes and using many gadgets people consume large amounts of natural gas and electricity (largely produced by burning fossil fuels in power stations).
In transporting themselves around by car and their factory mass produced and consumed goods around the globe by heavy lorry, planes and ships, huge amounts of petrol, diesel and aviation fuel are burned, emitting carbon.
Demand for land is high and growing eg to feed a growing world population and to meet high demand for meat. Beef farming in particular is land and energy intensive - large scale deforestation (see image) has occurred to make land available for it.
One reaction to all this: the UK Climate Change Act, 2008 under the last Labour Govt, which sets a carbon reduction target of at least 80% by 2050 from 1990 levels, and carbon budgeting. However, the Coalition Govt has, amongst a long list of green failures: dropped the pledge to cut EU emissions by 30% by 2020 and is instead getting the EU "back on track" to cutting energy consumption by 20% by 2020; abandoned a planned rise in the renewable energy target; axed a commitment to replace air passenger duty with a per-flight tax; severely limited the scope of green financial products supposed to enable people to invest in green infrastructure; favoured greater reliance on finite and climate change causing natural gas; favoured fracking for shale gas....see here for more. 

Find out more on climate change from: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate-change



Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Disavow Dumping

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Received from Stop Hinkley:

Councillors in the Lake District have volunteered as a potential site for a nuclear waste dump. Please sign the petition calling on them to withdraw from the process immediately. http://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/no-nuclear-dump-in-the-lake-district
This petition is important as the Lake District is a very under-populated area and they are 
pushing the plan through because there are low numbers of locals complaining.  The Lake 
District is visited by people from all over the country and with this petition we have a voice.  
There is less than a week before the Council’s will decide if it will go ahead.
Nuclear waste storage is key to whether new nuclear waste should be produced, so it is important to the campaign to stop nuclear new build in the whole of the UK.

You can find out more about this from http://www.noend.org.uk/

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Steiner Secrecy??

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Excellent blog post here by Andy Lewis on the Steiner Free School that is being proposed in Bristol (see this Post story for the latest news on this here). Andy is rightly calling for the school's advocates to be fully open about what Rudolf Steiner (see left) and Anthroposophy stand for and whether/how this will be put into practice if the Bristol Steiner Free School goes ahead. Andy asks these pertinent questions:

1. Will you publish what associations you have with the Anthroposophical Movement?
2. Will you publish a full discussion of how Anthroposophy and Steiner’s work inspire teaching within the school?
3. Will you fully state how you ensure Steiner’s racial teachings do not influence the School?
4. Will you explain how Steiner’s work influences your teaching of science?
5. Will you publish what the spiritual and religious elements of your curriculum are?
6. What role does Anthroposophical Medicine play in your School’s ethos and how will you ensure parents are fully informed and the nature of any therapies or treatments given to students?
7. Will you tell parents about the gnomes?

You can read more views on Steiner and see links to many others from here: http://www.openwaldorf.com/steiner.html . Also see my previous post on the proposed school which expresses my particular concern that Steiner's ideas are highly inconsistent with modern science here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Congestion charge case

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Bristol’s horrendous traffic continues to lower our health, wellbeing and quality of life. This will continue to damage present and future generations if we don’t do something soon that is effective. I’m therefore glad that Bristol's Mayor George Ferguson has not ruled out introducing a congestion charge for the city (see here and here).

Bristol’s transport problems are serious: every day too many vehicles are trying to use local roads; there are very limited possibilities for building more roads and in any case more roads bring more traffic and more damage; drivers spend half their time crawling in jammed traffic; congestion is costing business very large amounts of money; traffic congestion generates more air pollution and produces more climate change causing carbon emissions; congestion causes frustration and raises stress levels.

A congestion charge would ideally try to achieve: significantly reduced traffic in the most congested areas; similarly reduced delays; shorter journey times; reliable delivery times; the saving of many hours of journey time; the raising of large sums of money for re-investment in transport, especially public transport; switching to sustainable transport modes; a boost for public transport use; a system that pays for itself over time.

Lessons from London’s congestion charge should encourage us. Boris would have got rid of it altogether if it did not have merit. Congestion and traffic levels there would be worse without it. Numbers of cars and car movements would be even higher. Movements of buses, coaches and taxis would be more resticted. Tens of thousands fewer bus passengers would not enter the charge zone during the morning peak. Bus reliability and journey times would be worse and the time passengers wait at bus stops would be longer. Disruption on bus routes due to traffic would be worse.

We clearly have a serious problem in Bristol. We need to both provide a disincentive to car use and raise money to improve the public transport and other alternatives. If the details of any congestion charge scheme for Bristol are right, the decision making processes are fair and we can implement the scheme properly then I'm strongly in favour.