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:

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?

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.

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!

Is the choice between agriculture and biodiversity really an ultimatum?

A once diverse community is converted into a sea of golden wheat.

Land that used to harbour an array of life is being converted into vast expanses of tumbling golden carpets of wheat fields, relentlessly smothering and suffocating everything in its path. This planting of monocultures is considered the single biggest threat to biodiversity on Earth. However, nearly a billion people are malnourished, and with an extra 2 billion more people by 2050, we have to find more food from somewhere.

It may seem like an ultimatum between food or forests, but Dr Joern Fischer from The Ecological Society of America examines how food can be produced without human’s mass slaughter of anything living.

Fischer suggests that combining fields and forests by having fallow years, targeting areas for native wildlife to establish, or even just to have a row of trees at the boundary of the farm is enough to significantly increase biodiversity. Providing a lush oasis in the middle of the rolling dunes in wheat field deserts would not only save vital species, but make the crops less vulnerable to disease or shocks and stabilize and pump nutrients into the soil, ultimately increasing yields in the long term.

In Costa Rica, they have combined agriculture and natural forests to create a diverse, but productive landscape.

Fischer also notes the importance of creating corridors between ‘natural paradises’ or national parks. Every creature has a certain climate they thrive in, called their ‘climate envelope,’ outside of which survival is a struggle. Clearly, a polar bear would struggle in the Amazon and Trump (or Drumpf, which is his original family name) would struggle in any meaningful conversation. These natural refuges can’t move and so, with climate change, more and more species are suffering in a climate their not supposed to be in. Natural corridors would offer a network, like roads between cities, for creatures and trees to travel across in order to stay within their envelope.

It seems then that whilst intensification of agriculture is needed to feed the world, we can work with nature to produce more food, whilst maintaining oases for wildlife to thrive.

The car: a self-necessitating parasite.

There are nearly a billion cars roaming the Earth. These alone will cause more than 2 degrees of global warming.

You drive to work in the morning, groggy from a lack of sleep, coffee in one hand and it seems a relief you can sit in a car, press a couple of pedals, turn a wheel and your there. On the way you are exempt from normal social interactions between others inhabiting the streets, with nothing but the occasional monotonous sound of a horn. You don’t need to look, talk or acknowledge anyone. You are the king.

As Adorno writes in 1942: ‘And which driver is not tempted, merely by the power of the engine, to wipe out the vermin of the street, pedestrians, children and cyclists?’

Whilst Adorno may be exaggerating, it shows how the car has become a symbol of individuality, power and personal sovereignty. Similar to the mobile phone, the car becomes an extension of the self, a description of your personality.

It is little wonder then, that any policy aiming to disarm the car, promote shared mobility and curb fossil fuel emissions becomes an attack on you, an attempt to take your personaility and do away with your sovereignty and independence.

Therefore, governments are ‘locked in’ to car use, essentially forced to promote cars, despite the knowledge that energy use by cars alone in developed countries would be enough to smash the 2oC global warming threshold. This dependency is also determined by the physical space around us. Houses, towns, cities and entire nations are designed around the use of the car. In fact, a whopping 25% of London is a ‘car only’ space.

It may seem hopeless, but as a consumer, it is imperative you stop driving cars, and stop now. Show the politicians that you want improved public transport rather than improved cars because if they think they’ll win votes, they will do it.

As John Urry from the University of Lancaster says, in the future we will look back and, ‘No-one will comprehend how such a large, wasteful and planet-destroying creature could have ruled the Earth.’ Whether our children think that with relief or contempt is down to us.

Fizzling out fast fashion: Are clothing companies finally becoming sustainable?

The Rana Plaza sweatshop in Bangladesh collapses, killing over a thousand people

Cheap clothes and a growing influence of social media and celebrities on ‘must buy’ textiles are rapidly changing fashion trends. The result is companies requiring entirely new stocks of apparel every time a youtuber shows of their ‘shopping haul’, or a Kardashian dons a new sparkly top.

With trends changing so fast, clothes aren’t designed to last, with cheap jeans lasting just 60 miles of wear. This throw-away culture means that in the last 15 years, retailers have doubled their output to keep up with demand. If this continues, the fashion industry could account for a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.

Then there’s the sweatshop scandal, involving multinational companies such as H&M, Nike and GAP. Workers, including children, were found to be severely malnourished and routinely collapsed from exhaustion whilst tirelessly producing clothes, only for them to be thrown out after a couple of wears.

Scholars Federico Caniato and others explain that there are crumbs of comfort. Patagonia now make clothes with organic cotton to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the outfit’s lifetime. They also ran a remarkable ‘don’t buy this jacket’ campaign on black friday, trying to educate us on our throw-away, over-consumption culture. Furthermore, 34% of all ASOS fibres are now from sustainable sources, whilst smaller companies that use waste material to craft their cloth are growing in popularity.

Advertising campaign from Patagonia, urging customers not to over-consume on Black Friday.

However, there is a still a long way to go, and as consumers we have the responsibility to continue to drive the market away from single use, throw-away fast fashion, to environmentally sustainable, socially acceptable slow fashion.

How the grim conclusion of your old phones and computers will make you think twice about casually throwing them out, and what you can do about it.

In a world of increasing dependency on technology, the waste of electronic devices, or ewaste, has increased exponentially, reaching a massive 44 million tonnes a year, yet most of us turn a blind eye to what happens next.

Shockingly, only 25% of your ewaste is recycled, with the remaining three quarters exported to poorer countries, where low labour costs and lax health and safety laws make recycling cheaper. Here, metals are battered, burned and bathed in acid (figure below) to extract useful parts, and the rest ignored in landfill. What’s left is a population of working women and children exposed to heavy metals in the drinking water, toxic fumes in the air and land with beds of tangled, twisted metal.

The health effects include increased chance of cancer, decreased lung function, damage to nervous, blood, thyroid and reproductive systems and to kidneys, bones and brain.

What can you do about it?

In a lot of ways, not much. As seen when Ireland refused to accept a £50million fine the EU gave Apple from tax avoidance, huge multinational companies hold the power. Have you noticed that your devices seem to brake faster now? Well you’re right, companies deliberately make phones and computers that last, on average, half as long as they used to, so that you throw the phone out and buy their newest model. Companies also make it harder to fix your phones, so when just a single part is broken you have to buy an entire device, even if the rest works perfectly.

However, some companies are working towards taking responsibility, with Nokia and Lenovo now paying you to send the phone back to them, so the materials can be used again. Even if they don’t offer this service, companies, by law, have to take the product back when you send it and dispose of it according to strict regulation. You can also buy refurbished phones, which go through similar rigorous testing to new phones, yet are cheaper and use recycled materials. Furthermore, some devices are easily fixed with a simple youtube tutorial. Most importantly though, educate your friends and family and raise awareness to hold companies accountable for their waste. Remember, supply = demand.