Eco News Q4 2020

Best Wishes:  Quantock Eco wishes you and your family a safe and happy Christmas and New Year.

Autumn Fields – collage by Annabel Gaitskell Anderson

A Little Bit of Climate Pain?:  If it is not too late David Attenborough’s new book, A Life on Our Planet, might make a worthwhile present, despite the very disturbing statistics in his Witness Statement.  These are summarised in the table that follows. Estimates for 2020 have been added to underline the fact that humankind does indeed face a serious Climate Emergency.

In the 83 years since 1937 the world’s population has increased three and a half times, while the area of Wilderness remaining has been so farmed, mined or built upon that it is now a fraction of the total it once was.  Equally staggering is the fact that farming, mining and construction have increased the carbon in the atmosphere to well over 350 ppm, once regarded as the upper limit to avoid the dreaded “tipping point”.

These revelations only serve to emphasise the fact that, to survive, humankind has a greater problem than Covid-19 with which to deal; but like Covid-19, it can be beaten if there is a global will to do so. 

Yet tackling Covid is different:  its fatalities are palpable short-term and that leads to immediate action to do something about it.  On the other hand Climate Change is deceptive:  it creeps up, as if by stealth and at a petty pace.  The tragedy unfolds slowly, we know something is up, we’ve heard a great deal about it, but it doesn’t hurt, there is no pain, so we doubt and dither. 

In its report of 27th November the IPCC warns that global temperatures have surpassed 1ºC and must be kept from rising beyond 1.5°.  We have been warned – again.  We are currently at 1.2ºC! 

Should Humanity not heed David Wallace-Wells’ apocalyptic warning in his The Uninhabitable Earth, and act to rein in its Fall from Grace?  “At 2º of warming, droughts will wallop the Mediterranean and much of India.  At 2.5º thanks to drought the world could enter a global food deficit.  At 5º the whole earth would be wrapped in ‘perennial drought’.” 

Perhaps, if we were to feel Climate Pain (just a little bit!) we would react as we have to Covid, and COP26 might, at last, lead to a real, strong, global fighting phalanx to save humankind.

Is Our Diet to Blame? To what extent has what we eat reduced our Wilderness to less than a quarter of what it once was? We now know that food production accounts for 26% of global GHG, and that the most significant contributor to this is livestock.

The FAO states categorically Food security, climate change and biodiversity loss belong to the key challenges for a sustainable development of humankind.  In particular, livestock production and the increasing demand for meat, egg, milk and dairy products have led to several environmental problems that are a major threat for food security”

Curious is it not, that eating one specific group of nutrients should be pronounced a global threat to food security?  Here are the facts.  Meat production alone generates 15% of all global emissions. 77% of the Planet’s arable land is taken for livestock, its grazing, feedlots and feed production.

Global GHG from Food Production

Source:  Source:  Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek – Science

Deforestation:  What is more, new land for the same purpose is constantly being carved out of the rainforest at the astounding rate of two acres every second!  Not only does that act diminish the Planet’s carbon sink resource, it reeks havoc with plant and animal species, provokes zoonotic disease, seriously affects rainfall patterns, and is the driving force behind desertification and erosion.  What are we doing?!

Water:  Water is another natural resource that is being depleted rapidly by our penchant for meat.  Believe it or not, it takes 15,400 litres of water to produce one kilo of beef; 10,400 a kilo of lamb, 6,000 of pork and 4,300 of chicken! 

We may see water, water everywhere (70% of the world’s surface is water) but only 2.5% of it is fresh water; and one-third of that is used to rear livestock and manufacture meat products.  Are we not, as meat eaters, hastening the state when there may well be nor any drop to drink?

The experts say that over the next three decades the demand for water from global food production water will increase by 50%.  No wonder the World Bank was led to alert us, in its report High & Dry, that “the impact of climate change will be channelled primarily through the water cycle”.  A freshwater crisis is an alarming prospect.  We know that nothing will function if we are unable to quench our thirst!

Demand:  Rapid population growth over the last 83 years has aggravated the situation by generating an even faster growth in the demand for all meats.  This is especially evident in countries that have had strong economic expansion.  For example, China’s per capita consumption has grown 15-fold, while Brazil’s has quadrupled.

There seems little doubt that the answer to the question “Is Our Diet to Blame?” is a resounding “Yes!”, and that the consumption of meat is an important contributor to our Planet’s woes? Yet we also know that 10% of the Planet’s inhabitants lack food security and many suffer from malnutrition.  It is therefore no surprise to find that the FAO’s guiding principles for a healthy diet include moderate amounts of eggs, dairy, poultry and fish; and small amounts of red meat, so highlighting the importance of livestock in a healthy diet. 

GHG Emissions Across the Supply Chain (Kgs CO2-e per Kg of Product)

Source:  https://ourworldindata.org/food-choice-vs-eating-local
Visit the above website for a better image. 

The question is then how can we achieve good nutrition without damaging the Planet?  Is it just a question of balance?  Perhaps if we were just to cut down on meat, not eliminate it, we might reduce its negative impact.  The challenge to making such a societal change is immense. How does one break an “addiction” to meat when consumption (in terms of “carcass mass”) levels are these: USA 120 kilos per capita per year; Australia 112; and Argentina 98, UK 84, World average 43?

Going “Flexitarian!” (make meat a treat) or going “Labmeat” might help the predicament!  See links below for more:

Watch video on NewsComAu Flexitarianism: vegetarianism but fun! Jun 1, 2018

and

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/02/no-kill-lab-grown-meat-to-go-on-sale-for-first-time?utm_term=bea7b874b85a0c8117e6344fb4f323fa&utm_campaign=GreenLight&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=greenlight_email

West Somerset Real Food & Farming:  A small embryonic group of interested parties met on 10 December to ‘inspire, incubate and implement initiatives’ that strengthen local food networks and support sustainable farming.  This is an initiative newly launched by Cerys Dehaini.  Quantock Eco was represented by Ian Myers (member of its Executive Committee, ex-Chairman of QE and Senior Technical Advisor at the Environment Agency).  This summary has been prepared by him and is published here to encourage further debate.  For more please contact Cerys on cerys@squirrelsarchitecture.co.uk.

It is early days, but the West Somerset Real Food and Farming Network hopes to connect local producers, processors and consumers through a range of initiatives including Community Supported Agriculture.  Hopefully this will play some part in helping to address the combined challenges of post Brexit agricultural policy, climate change and our common need for food.

The Agriculture Bill is mooted to be transformative in rewarding farmers for delivering public goods for public money, such as better air and water quality, thriving wildlife, soil health, or measures to reduce flooding and tackle the effects of climate change.

All this will happen under the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) that aims to boost farm productivity and incomes to produce high quality food in a more sustainable way. It all sounds perfect but the reality may be different.

ELMS certainly has the potential to double the amount of land for wildlife from 4 to 8% but this is not enough it needs to be in the order of 40%.  Improving biodiversity is expensive and the funds may not be available for the level of change we need.  Change is also hindered by what people want to eat and so livestock farming that uses 80% of agricultural land will continue to be a major pollution source and driver of ecocide both home and abroad. 

It is clear that our current farming activity is not in harmony with the earth and many now call for us to substantially cut our consumption of meat and diary products as we make the shift to a plant-based diet. 

Grass-fed Cattle – Estancia Omanicki, La Pampa, Argentina

Livestock generally does not create the biodiversity nor the reductions in carbon we now need.  If we are to eat animal-based foods, then livestock farming needs to fit into nature and not the other way around.  55% of UK cropland is used for animal feed and it’s not just grass.  (Local writer Graham Harvey explores the potential for this in his book Grass-Fed Nation and local farmers Holly and Mark Purdy are practicing regenerative meat production at Horner Farm.)

So we need to move away from intensification of livestock but the provisions of the Agriculture Bill might drive a split with limited ELMS support being taken up by some farmers whilst leaving many others to rely on intensive production to survive. 

Away from the UK of course there is a massive impact from animal fed particularly of soyabeans for chickens, pigs and cows.  Agri business is expected to consolidate with economic competition driving lower standards for those outside of ELMS requirements.

Internet Pollution:  Many pundits say that internet communication is now the most valuable resource on the PlanetThere is little question that it is a wonderful resource. It allows us to browse, upload, stream, store, communicate and broaden our horizons in myriad ways, over, and over again. It allows us to learn, listen and laugh while on the go or in the comfort of our homes. It can be whizzed around the world in milliseconds and globalise our contact with family, friends and businesses in the twinkling of an eye.

To cap it all there is little doubt that it will help lift vast swathes of humankind out of poverty by being also an instrument of self-education.

Will data add to the Planet’s woes?  It offers us such an unprecedented, exciting future that perhaps it is best not to ask.  Imagine what the Internet of Things we will do for us.  We will be able to connect anytime, anywhere, with anyone, and even with any-thing, seamlessly, wirelessly, and in real time! 

Source: Research Gate GmbH

So how does data impact our promise to Build Back Better?  How many of us are conscious of the fact that using the internet currently comes at a cost to the Planet?  The small amount of energy used to access a device and power its wireless network emits just a few grams of CO2. Much, much more energy is needed to support the huge servers that save our content and allow us to access it on demand.

Today some 54% of the Planet’s population (4.2 Bn people) uses the internet, and the carbon footprint of the sum total of all internet systems accounts for 4% of global GHG.  More concerning perhaps is what the future holds. Covid-19’s fillip to webinars, working from home and online shopping, plus the introduction of IoT, surely means exponential growth for data.

IT gurus already cry for digital sobriety.  By that they mean “prioritising the allocation of resources as a function of uses in order to conform to the planet’s physical boundaries while preserving the most valuable societal contributions of digital technologies” Absolutely clear!

They have identified that the societal contribution of greatest concern is the burgeoning demand for video streaming.  In 2014 video content already accounted for an impressive 64% of world internet traffic; by 2019 it was responsible for 80%. To curb its use will require huge behavioural change, just at a time when our devices offer us such splendid video opportunities on social media, and in-home viewing entertainment begins to flourish even more.

Such concerns are understandable, are they not?  Especially when the current video streaming profile is this:

Source:  The Shift Project 2019 – VoD e.g. Netflix – Tubes e.g. YouTube

The conclusion is stark:  until such time as all energy is from sustainable sources, humankind will be faced with a burning dilemma.  Does it, or does it not curtail its video streaming?  That is the question:  curtail googling and help the Planet, enjoy it all, or leave it to someone else to make the sacrifice? 

Roll on technological change:  bring us all sustainable electricity and the circular economy (necessary to minimise the device footprint) soonest possible.  Only then can we feast our viewing unperturbed by Climate Conscience!

Postscript:  One step that can be taken now to help the Planet is to delete all unnecessary files from your devices.  They will not only use less energy on start up, but will work faster, and one’s carbon footprint will be reduced.  An easy, personal, win, win act to help the Planet. 

And, anecdotally https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJn6pja_l8s

The Three R’s – Part 2, Reduce:  This article continues Kim Martin’s reflections on waste.  Kim is a member of QE’s Executive Committee. 

O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,
You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten everyone.

The problem is we all want to eat oysters now, and there aren’t enough to go around.  When inequality and globalisation collide people with spartan lifestyles want affluent ones, witness mass economic migration.  But it wont be possible for everyone to achieve the dream of the developed-world lifestyle.

Rich countries consume resources per capita at rates up to 30 times higher than in poor countries.  If every person on earth consumed resources at the same rate as rich countries consumption rates would be 10-fold what they are at present or, to put it another way, that is the equivalent of a world population of nearly 80 billion people with the current distribution of consumption rates.  The current world population is 7.8 billion.

We promise developing countries that if they just adopted good policies such as honest government, they too can enjoy affluence; but that promise is a cruel hoax.  The world doesnt contain enough resources.  We’re already having difficulty supporting a developed-world lifestyle now, when only about one billion people of the worlds 7.8 billion enjoy it.

People of other countries want to enjoy the consumption rates that we enjoy.  They wouldnt listen if told not to do what we are already doing.  The only sustainable outcome for our globalised world is one in which consumption rates are more nearly equal around the planet.  But we cant sustainably support todays developed world at its current level, let alone raise the developing world to that level.

So what’s the answer? We could have a stable outcome in which all countries converged on consumption rates below what developed nations enjoy now.  The problem is we won’t sacrifice our living standards for the benefit of those in developing countries, witness the recent announcement of the reduction in the UK overseas aid budget as exhibit A!  But the cruel realities of world resource levels guarantee that our way of life will change, like it or not.

Consumption rates and well-being, although related, arent tightly coupled. Much of our consumption is wasteful and does not contribute to our quality of life.  How many times do we buy things because we need them in contrast to just wanting them?

So, heres the bottom line:  Its certain that within our lifetimes, per capita consumption rates in the developed world will be lower than they are now.  The only question is whether well reach that outcome by methods of our choice or by unpleasant methods not of our choice.  Its also certain that within our lifetimes, per capita consumption rates in developing countries will no longer be one-thirtieth of developed countries’ rates but will be more nearly equal to them. 

Those trends are desirable goals, rather than horrible prospects to be resisted.  We already know enough to make progress toward achieving them; whats lacking is the necessary political will.

Should we be depressed by the consequences of inequality?  I don’t think so.  While problems are getting worse, potential solutions are getting better.  Multinational and World agreements have already succeeded in solving some big problems. Maybe the Brexit negotiations can even solve the problem of how to share our fish!

Video of the Quarter: “Half the battle is knowing what we have so that we can value it.”  Should we not do our very best to conserve and improve areas like this?

See – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ai-qNE-O0jE&feature=youtu.be – and enjoy a special underwater view of one of our treasured bays.

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