Stalled on the runway: why the avian industry is refusing to innovate.

After your diet, which I have previously untangled (link below), the most meaningful environmentally conscious action is to stop flying. In fact, a single return journey across europe can undo all of the emissions saved from a meat free diet in a year.

The huge greenhouse gas release from planes isn’t catastrophic at the moment, as flying is only available to the absolute elite and so only accounts for 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, by 2050 this is expected to grow to 25%, for two reasons:

First, as global affluence increases, the demand for flights increases.

Secondly, and most importantly, the rise is due to the expected decarbonisation of other industries, which have recognised the threat of climate change and have started to adapt.

Disappointingly though, the aviation industry is not looking to follow suit. Instead, more and more planes will be bellowing out greenhouse gases thousands of kilometers up, exactly where they can have the biggest warming effect. The reason, is that governments view flying as a means of economic prosperity and a grab for power on the foreign market. As such, the tax on plane journeys are absurdly low (I got a return flight last year from the UK to Italy for £14).

Companies claim to be trying to reduce emissions, but they do this by increasing efficiency. However, efficiency is reaching its peak and only marginal gains are being made. Really, there is no incentive for the aviation industry to innovate because they have almost finished improving efficiency, and there is no economic gain from being environmentally friendly.

Simon blakely, from the University of Sheffield explains that two possible solutions exist: either reduce the number of flights, or replace the fuel with a sustainable alternative. Unfortunately, he explains, fuel replacement technology seems a world away, as biofuels would require huge amounts of deforestation to be viable.

Therefore, the only option is to reduce the number of flights. Considering that 70% of flights are from frequent flyers, changing tax so that it doubles per flight made in a year, rather than staying the same for everybody, could be an option.

Diet impacts:

Car impacts:

Just how bad is eating meat for the planet?

‘One person not changing off a meat heavy diet won’t make a difference.’ – 7.6 billion people

More and more people are becoming concerned about what affects their diet has on the planet and other people. Last year, doctors Poore and Nemecek from the University of Oxford compiled data from over 500 published papers to understand just how bad the food industry is for the planet, which parts are the worst and what can be done about it.

Recent science articles reveal some astonishing and shocking statistics of the impact our food, and particularly meat intake has on our Earth:

  • Agriculture contributes to a quarter off all human greenhouse gas emissions.
  • 14.5% of this is from livestock alone.
  • Agriculture is the biggest single threat to biodiversity.
  • Livestock takes up 83% of agricultural land, yet only provides 37% of our protein and 18% of our calorie intake.
  • Agriculture uses more freshwater than any other human activity, of this, livestock uses the most.

So if you thought the impact of the food industry is trivial, think again. It has impacts far exceeding animal rights, into global biodiversity, human societies and now the global climate. Even if you couldn’t care less about the planet and what lives there, a transfer off a meat diet would free up 3.1 billion hectares of space, to be used for other things. Moreover, as i explain here, livestock is uses four times as much antibiotics as humans, which is building up a resistance set to cause more human deaths than cancer by 2050. (

The other thing many people suggest is that changing their diet won’t have a big impact. However, Poore and Nemecek ran a scenario where humans completely stop meat intake and found we could:

  • Reduce land use from food by 76%
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 49%
  • Reduce freshwater use by 19%

As i will explain in a following article, there are also major health benefits from switching to a meat free diet, so really its a win-win-win. So it does make a difference transferring off a meat heavy diet and it is important, so it’s time to stop.

‘One person not changing off a meat heavy diet won’t make a difference.’ – 7.6 billion people

Politics and policy are not the same. They are at war and this is a major problem.

Ever get frustrated that nothing seems to get done nowadays, even if it has a simple solution? As a society, we have realised the failings of a multitude of issues for decades that has resulted in a sexist, racist, unequal world that is under unprecedented threat. Yet still we bulldoze on, destroying everything in our path and perpetuating these issues on a bigger and bigger scale. So why, if we know these problems exist, and we know the answers, don’t we simply do something about it?

This is not a politically charged article, but one that identifies a fundamental issue with the current political system, regardless of right or left wing views. That issue is the difference between policy and politics.

There are two basic differences, both of which seriously undermines finding solutions.

Firstly, policy, in theory, aims to use science and reason alone to solve problems. Politics, on the other hand, aims to wins votes. This difference is important because it turns out basing policy on science and reason is not effective in winning votes. For example, reducing greenhouse gas emissions makes social, economic and environmental sense, but it doesn’t win votes and so governments won’t make it policy.

Second, policy works on whatever timescale is needed. Fitting a village with electricity maybe a policy on a monthly scale, but other issues, such as providing housing to everybody, works on a long-term, decadal scale. Politics, however, only works on a short timescale. Politicians make policy only for the next few years, and nothing beyond. This is because long term plans will benefit future governments, not their own and they can be brought down with ease, as soon as another government gets into power.

What is the point then for a politician to think to the future when it firstly won’t get them votes, and will probably be rejected as soon as a different government get into power?

Why the Arctic is so vital in the fight against climate change.

The Arctic is warming far more than the rest of the world, in some regions it is already more than 3oC warmer than the 1950s, already exceeding the Paris agreements threshold. What makes this so frightening is the incredible potential the Arctic has to warm the planet further.

The albedo effect is when solar radiation enters our planet from the sun and some is reflected. Brighter surfaces are more reflective than darker ones, and so at the moment the Arctic reflects huge amounts of heat out of our atmosphere due to its bright sea ice and snow cover. However, as sea ice and snow melts, more and more solar energy is being absorbed by the Earth’s darker surfaces.

Moreover, cold Arctic temperatures have limited carbon release for tens of thousands of years, instead storing it in the frozen ground. However, as temperatures rise, the ground is starting to thaw, releasing huge volumes of carbon that is thousands of years old.

We used to think this warming would be counterbalanced by the increasing biomass (basically the amount of living stuff) from higher temperatures, which would take in more carbon. However, several studies have now shown that whilst increased temperatures does promote life, extreme events such as droughts, fires, storms and pest outbreaks are potentially decreasing the biomass.

Jarle Bjerke released one such study which revealed the unbelievable and absolute devastation of an Arctic ecosystem which caused half of all life to die:

First, there was the biggest storm for 30 years. Next, temperatures shot up from -20oC to above freezing for 10 days. This ‘tricked’ the plants into thinking it was spring and so they burst their buds, and in the process losing their tolerance to cold conditions. When the temperatures inevitably fell again, the plants were encased in ice, which pierced their cells and drew all the moisture out.

Not only that, but there was then a devastating outbreak of a moth species which completely stripped the plants off all of their leaves. Finally, all the dead stuff on the floor acted as a fuel, and so when a fire was ignited, it spread rapidly and killed most of whatever was left.

Is the concern from overpopulation a racist concept?

Headlines asking, ‘Can we live in a world of ten billion?’ both in the media and in scientific articles are widespread. They portray a kind of dystopia world where houses are stacked on top of each other whilst the population manically consume the entire world’s resources. The reality, in fact, is just as bad, but population isn’t the main issue.

Here I show two things. Firstly, that our lifestyles have much more of an impact on the world than population size. Second, that the focus on overpopulation in the media is inherently racist, as it tries to place blame on developing nations, avoiding the elephant in the room that actually, countries with the least population growth are consuming the most.

One example is the often stated problem of how we are going to feed 3 billion more people by 2050. Actually, those 3 billion more people only account for a third of the extra food we need to produce. The other two thirds come from people eating a more meat heavy and exotic diet.

Another, is the fact that Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world, yet only contributes to 1% of greenhouse emissions. Moreover, India has more than three times the population of America, but only consumes half as much.

So clearly, having more people on the planet doesn’t matter as much as what they do, so why does western media kick up such a fuss?

Well, if population rise is seen as the worst of the world’s problems, then so is Africa and Asia. To this extent, blaming population over and over is just a way of saying, ‘look at Africa and Asia, their population is growing so fast we won’t be able to cope!’. And if we can blame the Africans, the west can continue to fly on holidays, own huge homes and cars, and unfairly monopolise the planets resources.

So next time somebody stresses about the population increase in Africa and Asia, question why they think they can consume so much, but the rest of world should stay the same.

Antimicrobial resistance is not a scare story, it’s happening, the World Health Organisation warns.

The idea of antibiotics failing to work and medicine plunging back to the medieval ages seems ridiculous. However, the World Health Organisation, Center for Disease Prevention and Control and government funded research by Jim O’Neill have all now come out and said that it is a distinct possibility.

50,000 people die each year due to antibiotic resistant infections, a number that is projected to rise above the deaths by cancer by 2050, when resistance will cost the U.S 29 billion dollars each year in healthcare.

Antibiotic resistance builds up when bacteria aren’t fully exterminated by the antibiotics. In these cases, most of the bacteria are killed, but the strongest survive. The trouble is, doctors give out prescriptions far too easily, meaning that the bacteria are rarely wiped out.

America is especially guilty here, where private healthcare results in profits being more valuable than human lives. As such, doctors give out as much medicine as possible, regardless of the illness. As a result, America has a disgraceful healthcare system which is the least efficient in the world and one of the least effective amongst developed nations.

Worst of all is the meat industry which feed their animals low levels of antibiotics, as it prevents some infections and makes the livestock heavier. Low levels of antibiotic use and unsanitary conditions however, is the antibiotic resistant bacteria’s absolute dream. Worse still, these meat companies refuse to release information to scientists and so there’s no way of telling what resistance is building up.

Jim O’Neill says that the regression to medieval medicine is a genuine possibility, but easily preventable if governments and companies take responsibility and work together to improve antibiotic use and research into new antibiotics.

The most extreme life on Earth part three: the great deep sea farmers

In the abyss of the deep, vents provide energy for an oasis of incredible and bizarre life.

The bottom of our oceans are a black expanse of nothingness for hundreds of kilometers in each direction. Yet in the darkness of the deep sea desert, hydrothermal vents provide a spectacular oasis, as densely populated as most ecosystems on land, boasting an array of the strangest animals on the planet.

In the deep abyss, you have to deal with crushingly high pressures, low and high temperatures but most of all, an absence of energy. About a kilometre down there is no light and without photosynthesis, or basically anything else, finding an energy source is like finding a needle in a haystack.

The vents provide energy by constantly pumping superheated water (up to 400oC, as at high pressures the boiling point of water increases), which have previously gathered minerals in the rock below.

Large animals can’t use this chemical energy directly, but incredibly they literally farm microbes which can.

Tube worms (above and below) can grow to a massive 3 meters long, and they are gross. Perhaps the weirdest thing about them isn’t the fact that they look like a garden worm on steroids, but that they don’t have an anus. Instead, they gather their excrement in a sac, which slowly fills up and poisons them until they die. More remarkable still, their farming of microbes has gone so far that they have replaced their digestive tract with their livestock. Infact, half of the body weight of a tube worm is pure microbes, constantly using the hydrogen sulphide to provide the worm with energy.

The tube worm outside its shell showing the sac which slowly fills up with its own excrement.

Pompeii worms are equally as bizarre, but farm their microbes in a more traditional sense (kind of). They harbour the livestock on their back, let them grow and then let other worms feed on them. Vent shrimps do something similar, growing microbes on their body, but instead of letting others harvest them, they wait until they shed their skin, and then eat their old carcass.

A Pompeii worm

Considering these crazy creatures have been farming for millions of years, and we only started 12,000 years ago, maybe they’ve beaten us other things? If we look further maybe they’ve got little cars and record players, and are studying humans in tiny, deep sea laboratories.

Fairtrade doesn’t work: It’s time for the government to take responsibility for food injustice.

Cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast face volatile prices for their product if they don’t meet Fairtrade requirements

If you donate to a food charity, Fairtrade seems the place to go. After all, it provides a decent living wage to the world’s poorest farmers, who themselves often suffer from malnourishment. There’s one slight problem though, Fairtrade places it’s product on the global capitalist market and as a result creates more inequalities than it solves.

Fairtrade releases a commodity, let’s say cocoa, on the capitalist market. As such, the commodity is competed for by huge multinational retailers and the price of cocoa is now more volatile and reduced overall. Whilst this doesn’t matter for those who get a decent price from Fairtrade, what about everybody else?

To get a fair price for your food, you have to meet certain standards and be able to speak and sign documents in English. Those who can’t meet these requirements are often the absolute poorest and so not only are they not getting Fairtrade prices, but the price of their cocoa has gone down.

But what can Fairtrade do? It is embedded within an inescapable global capitalist market that itself opposes. In this way, they fundamentally oppose their own actions. Now i’m not saying you shouldn’t donate to Fairtrade, it is far better than the alternatives. However, it raises the question of why a charity that doesn’t even support its own actions, is seen as the solution to food insecurity.

Elizabeth Dowler, from the University of Warwick found that not a single UK policy was dictated by food security. Instead, they ‘support’ charities like Fairtrade. This is a blatant passing of the baton and a deliberate hiding from responsibility.

Providing global food security should be at the top of government agenda, but instead the best they can do is say, ‘fairtrade and other charities can do it, we support them.’ This total negligence of the world’s poorest is unacceptable and responsibility can no longer be placed at the hands of charities.

What happens when social and climate extremes collide?

Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the Syrian civil war, but would this have been prevented without climate change?

For most of us, the image of climate change is a hungry polar bear in a distant land, orangutans without a home or the bleaching of our precious coral reefs. For others, it means war.

Collin Kelley from Imperial College London explains that the appalling suffering from the Syrian civil war, whilst facilitated by extreme governance, is in fact the result of climate change. Collin explains that between 2007 and 2010 the fertile crescent, on which Syria lies, experienced the worst drought ever recorded. Although gross mismanagement by Syria’s president crippled their water supply, this was a drought that would be impossible without the release of greenhouse gases from humans.

The drought that lasted for 3 years resulted in crop and livestock devastation, but would not have been possible without rising greenhouse gas emissions.

The drought caused catastrophic loss of livestock and cropland, and without food a whopping 1.5 million people moved from rural areas to the cities, just to try and survive. Combine this with a huge influx of Iraqi refugees and Syrian cities faced massive overpopulation, crime, illegal settlement and famine. The Al-Assad regime has since systematically neglected the migrants, stimulating the shocking civil war.

This story makes two things abundantly clear:

Climate extremes, which are becoming more frequent, colliding with unstable societies ends in disaster.

Climate change isn’t just for tree huggers and weed smokers, but for anyone who cares about society and everyone in it.

Plenty more fish in the sea: the remarkable conservation success in the Gulf of California.

Biodiversity is flourishing the the Gulf of California since a conservation programme started.

Fish consumption has more than doubled in the last 50 years, leading to the over-fishing of a third of the worlds stocks. As a result, 90 species are at risk from extinction, including 40% of sharks and rays, which are important in ecosystem functioning.

It is easy to forget that fishing is not farming, it is hunting. On land, any animal that has ever been hunted for food has gone extinct. Luckily, the ocean is humongous and relatively inaccessible, so we still have a chance to protect our fishy friends from the same fate.

In the Gulf of California, Cabo Pulmo National Park was set up in 1995 and enforced a community based ‘no take’ zone, banning all fishing. Scientist Aburto-Oropeza studied the fish community in 1995, 1999 and then again in 2009.

After the first check up, they were disappointed to learn that the fish stocks hadn’t changed. You can imagine the excitement then, when ten years later fish biomass had increased by a ridiculous 463%, corals were thriving and sharks had started to patrol the ocean once more. Incredibly, the fish population had exploded so much that there was over-spill into surrounding area, boosting the yields of local fishermen.

However, these ‘no take’ zones only cover less than a percent of our oceans as it takes long term commitment and cooperation. Moreover, some of these have failed, due to a ‘top-down’ approach, where large companies have failed to use local expertise and reliable conservation methods to recover fish communities.

In any case, in a world where any environmental story is seemingly doom and gloom, it is nice to see a positive one!