Eco News Q4 2019

Living Rights:  Should a tree have the same rights as you?  Should it have the right to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve?

“Tree … he watching you.  You look at tree, he listen to you.  He got no finger, he can’t speak.  But that leaf … he pumping, growing, growing in the night.  While you sleeping, you dream something.  Tree and grass same thing.” 

By Bill Neidjie, senior elder of Kakadu National Park, Australia.

Think Carbon!  Greta said, “I want you to panic!”  The news that the oceans are running out of oxygen as temperatures rise may well be cause for panic.  It is another dire warning of the way Humankind is destroying the Planet; but is it a time to panic?  Not yet to panic, but certainly a time to act? Definitely! A time for all of us to question our lifestyles. A time to Think Carbon and carbon reduction.

That was the aim of our recent Carbon Footprint Workshop (18th October).  The intention was to draw attention to the way in which our daily lives play out in terms of the amount of CO2 emitted; to understand it; and take action to reduce it. 

For that reason, and to re-emphasise its content, this Editorial opens with a review of the event by one of the speakers, Ian Myers, ex-Chairman of QE and Senior Technical Adviser at the Environment Agency, who writes:

“Know your Carbon Footprint. – Can you afford it? –Think Carbon not money!  You may remember that prior to the event QE invited over 250 people to calculate their carbon footprint using WWF carbon calculator

The calculator provides a useful picture of what makes up a Carbon Footprint and helps one become aware of which lifestyles pollute more and which less.  It is based on the four themes central to most people’s lives:  energy, food, transport and “stuff”. 

102 people calculated their footprint and sent in their results to QE.  The results showed that participants generated an average of 11.8 tonnes of CO2, with a median value of 10.7 tonnes and a range of 8.0 to 42.2 tonnes.  The average for the UK as a whole is 13.6 tonnes and for the Planet 5.3 tonnes. 

Given that the Committee for Climate Change says we need to get to around 1.5 tonnes by 2050, these results show what a way we have to go!

Fortunately, some of the things we can do are both easy and effective, such as stop flying or change to a green energy supplier. (See www.quantockeco.org.uk green band at the bottom of each page for a list of suppliers).

Other actions such as changing our diet (eating far less meat and dairy and switching to organic and plant-based foods) can also make a substantial difference. 

Of course, there are complexities and often personal factors that dictate what any of us can do.  At the event we simplified the advice into something snappy – instead of thinking about whether you can afford something in financial terms, just think in terms of how much CO2 your lifestyle generates, set up a Carbon Budget, and how you aim to reduce it.

We all have a long journey to go; but don’t despair, with many small steps from many people over time there is no doubt, we will make a difference.”

Editor:  Ian has prepared a series of graphs which you might find very useful.  They may help show you what can be done to improve your footprint.  If you would like to see them and have Microsoft Excel or compatible please email us at quantockeco@btinternet.com and they will be sent to you.

The event certainly raised the level of consciousness of how our lifestyles contribute to GHGs.  At the end of it several participants signed written pledges stating what they were going to do to improve their carbon footprint over the next year. 

The most frequent pledges were:  travel by train not plane; use a green electricity provider; stop using plastic water bottles; delete old computer data; and plant more trees.

Over the next few issues we shall explore ways in which one’s Carbon Footprint might be improved:  in this one by planting Trees, followed by a good look at Travel, Energy, Food and “Stuff” in subsequent issues. 

Editor:  If you haven’t yet calculated your Footprint, please do it soonest by going to WWF carbon calculator.  You may find it is a wake up call!

Think Trees!:  Why Trees first?  Quite simply because they are the ultimate multi-tasker:  they not only absorb carbon, they help combat biodiversity loss, flooding, and pollution; they also nurture wildlife, susurrate, make landscapes more beautiful and resilient, and above all they provide us with oxygen!  Planting trees is in fact the only carbon reduction act that provides that life-essential element.

Add to all those qualities the fact that they are easily scalable and much more affordable than other sustainable technologies (in fact often free!) makes it easy to conclude that they should be the first of our considerations in the Big Climate Fightback. 

Despite a handful of naysayers who claim that planting trees does little to resolve our Climate Crisis, there is ample scientific evidence to show that nature-based solutions such as the restoration of forests, grasslands and wetlands, coupled with good stewardship, can have a transformative effect.

In the UK, National Tree Week has just ended.  It is the country’s largest annual tree celebration; launches the start of the winter tree planting season, and took place this year from 23rd November to 1st December. 

To mark that week the Woodland Trust announced that their community tree packs had had a bumper year. Neighbourhood groups and schools had applied for free packs totalling 716,000 trees to be planted across the UK. Each one of the individuals in those groups and schools was described by the Trust as “a Climate Change warrior”.

QE also had its own Climate Change Warriors:  members from the Stoweys (Over & Nether) led by Roy Osborne planted 63 trees of different native species.  Another group working with Wivey Action on Climate & Environment planted over 300 at Wimbleball Lake. 

You may be pleased to hear that plans are being laid for QE to work with the AONB, SWAT, WWT’s Two Valleys, and Friends of Quantock to launch a Tree Planting Campaign. 

Follow our website and Facebook page for updates on this initiative early in the New Year.  If you would like to take part, please email us at quantockeco@btinternet.com.

Climate Conundrum:  COP 25 negotiators have failed again.  Casting blame and side stepping liability have once more scuppered the talks.  The idea that zero emissions can be achieved by a carbon trading framework, i.e. paying each other for emissions created or reduced is likely to remain unattainable always.  

It is near fiction that one can create a market for something which has no intrinsic value such as carbon dioxide.  Yet this has been set as an essential part of the Paris (COP 23) Rule Book and is regarded as central to holding global temperatures to 1.5ºC, and below 2ºC by the end of the century. 

With such a core objective it is unlikely that such targets will ever be achieved.  A new approach is needed.  Let us hope that one will be agreed at COP 26 next year in Glasgow.  For example:  establish phased incremental taxes on all GHG emitting activities; ring fence the income raised from those taxes for financing the application of sustainable technologies at all levels of society and across the globe.

The IMF has already reported that global coal, oil and gas “subsidies remained large at $4.7 trillion (6.3 percent of global GDP) in 2015 and are projected at $5.2 trillion (6.5 percent of GDP) in 2017” goes on to state that “efficient fossil fuel pricing in 2015 would have lowered global carbon emissions by 28 percent and fossil fuel air pollution deaths by 46 percent, and increased government revenue by 3.8 percent of GDP.” 

What are we waiting for?  Those subsidies represent maintaining vested interests which continue to challenge and delay COP agreement.  It is no surprise that the IMF cites the “largest subsidizers in 2015 were China ($1.4 trillion), United States ($649 billion), Russia ($551 billion), European Union ($289 billion), and India ($209 billion).” 

There is in fact raw irony that on the day the COP 25 opened in Madrid, Mr Putin and Mr Xi signed a 30-year agreement to build a 1,850 mile pipeline to supply China with 38 billion cubic meters of fossil fuel gas every year as from 2025.  Yet at the same time the Planet continues to strive to raise standards of living as defined by the UN’s Sustainable Development Gaols.

These call for action by all countries (poor, rich and middle-income) to promote prosperity while protecting the Planet.  The Goals state quite clearly that “ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address social needs” while tackling Climate Change.  Does this not illustrate a weakness at the heart of any plan to beat back Climate Change?  The conundrum that COPs are supposed to resolve.

We know that economic growth is the driving force to better standards of living.  Those countries that have already achieved a high income classification will wish to conserve it, while those who do not have it will wish to strive for it.  Since 1993 there has been a huge change in the profile of the Planet’s wellbeing when ranked by income.  Those classified as low-income have decreased from 60 percent of total to 10 percent; and with those higher incomes has come a better standard of living.

Population by Income Group, 1993-2019 (% of Total)

We also know that 10% of the richest people on the Planet account for 49% of CO2 emissions and 50% of the poorest for 10% of emissions.

Income, Emissions & Associated Lifestyles

There is a clear correlation between higher incomes and GHG emissions.  The WWF carbon calculator used at QE’s Carbon Footprint workshop supports this for the UK whose CF is 13.6 tonnes/year compared with 5.3 tonnes for the Planet as a whole.  Logical, as the UK has one of the highest standards of living on Earth.

Is it not therefore legitimate that Mr Putin and Mr Xi should do as the UN wishes:  push for a better standard of living for their people?  As heinous as their actions may be from our climate urgency perspective, can their intentions not be understood, if not condoned? 

Either way, what do we do?  How does one create a more equitable society and beat the Climate Crisis?  If you think you have the answer please email us.

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