Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category
Driving along the road to a nearby town you cross a long Victorian stone bridge than crosses a river and wide water meadow. At the moment the course of the river has disappeared as it now stretches across half of the low lying meadow. It happens most winters and is part of the natural seasonal landscape.
The low lying meadows help attenuate the flow of the river and protect the local town and villages. Its been that way for hundreds of years, a natural solution to a natural problem. Planners should learn from the past and apply these lessons to the future.
One way we used to get a few extra pennies as kids was to scavenge for empty beer and soft drink bottles. Depending on their size you got 3 to 6 old pence per bottle, not a lot now but for someone who got a shilling (5p) for pocket money, a couple of empties were a big financial boost. Slowly during the early 1960 a new innovation, the non-returnable bottle appeared and our route to a few extra sweets was lost.
Some countries kept the deposit paid system and, with the move towards recycling, have made it compulsory. Walking through the streets of most big German cities you will see people scoring the litter bins and hidden places where empty beer and soda bottles may have been discarded. These individuals are doing this social duty as a necessity, most being unemployed and often homeless.
Its an intriguing thought that what once helped to sustain us as kids is now providing money for the very poor and ensuring the majority of bottles get recycled. There has been very little discussion in the UK about the reintroduction of the deposit paid bottle. It’s probably something the drinks industry would strongly object to happening, however, its clearly a very successful recycling strategy and one long over due in this country.
Geoengineering is the new climate change buzz word, its the process of artificially modifying the climate to counteract the effects of global warming. Its now thought by some engineers and scientists that it is too late to try and significantly reduce CO2 emissions and we need to start extracting the excess CO2 from the atmosphere. Until now such a suggestion has been given little time by the climate change lobby, perhaps things are now changing.
The problem with this solution, and all the others proposed over recent years is one of cost. Fossil fuels are relatively cheap easy to access and convert into power and heat. Renewable energy is expensive unless you live somewhere with a geophysical advantage such as the thermal springs in Iceland or the hydroelectric systems of Norway. For most of the worlds population these low cost energy sources are unavailable.
There is no conclusive evidence to say we have reached the tipping point beyond which climate change is inevitable although many think it is now very close. When the tipping point is passed geoengineering will become essential, lets hope national governments don’t wait too long to start investing in this new technology.
The Food Standards Agency recently issued a report deriding the nutritional benefits of organic food and completely ignoring the environmental issues. Well we now have numerous reports of an algae blooms in France, UK, China and America. Some blooms have resulted in the build up of toxic gases that have killed wildlife and the blankets that form over ponds, lakes and the sea shore kill off water life and fish.
One of the main causes of these inland and coastal algae blooms is the run-off from agricultural land that has been sprayed with nitrogen rich fertilisers. The algae feeds on the nitrogen and grows at an incredible rate forming thick blankets that dry and rot causing severe pollution and turning the water stagnant. Its an increasing problem in areas of intensive arable farming and costs a huge amount to clear.
Just one of the obvious benefits of growing food organically is the elimination of nitrogen run-off and its consequences. Its a great pity the Food Standards Agency is not more concerned with the total impact of food production rather than doing a PR job for the agrochemical industry.
Gill Fine, Director of Consumer Choice and Dietary Health at the Food Standards Agency, has posted a short comment on the blog of the Agency’s chief scientist Andrew Wadge, about the recent report on organic food, which had itself been commissioned by the same agency. Its of no surprise that she claims all food in the UK is safe even non organic food which has been produced with the aid of pesticides. These chemicals are strictly controlled in the UK and the residuals on the food we buy are carefully monitored so they don’t exceed safe levels.
It was clear from the very narrow scope of the research it was aimed at confirming something many people already suspected, organic food has no nutritional benefits over non-organic food. What the report entirely avoided was any assessment of the importance of land stewardship and the environmental impact of different farming practices. As has been said by many people responding to this pointless report, going organic is about caring for the environment and the land on which the food is grown.
If the FSA wants to ensure the quality and security of our food supply it should consider the whole of the production cycle and its impact on the environment. Many modern food production methods are unsustainable in the long term, requiring greater and greater chemical interventions to keep up production levels. This is the area that needs researching, but that would risk the anger of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which remains under the influence of the powerful farming lobby.
It took some effort and many years, but wearing a seatbelt has become a very common habit, now only 12% of drivers don’t buckle up. Drink driving has followed the same trend having become an anti-social activity and, given time smoking will go the same way. These are all activities that can have a direct impact on one’s health and the health of others. When something has such a direct impact change becomes inevitable, but where the impact is more secondary change for the good takes much longer unless its helped along.
The voluntary code for the reduction in plastic carrier bags has resulted in a reduction in use of 49% by the big six supermarkets in three years. A good result one might think, but with almost 4.5 billion plastic carrier bags given away each year there is still a long way to go if we are to get rid of these unnecessary and polluting items. The Welsh Assembly is considering introducing a 15p charge for each plastic bag in order to reduce their usage to a minimum.
The UK government has refused to take similar action and has relied on the good will of the retailers to enforce a voluntary code, of course retailers will only do what is good for their bottom line and the last thing they want is to upset their customers. If there was a groundswell of public opinion against plastic bags I’m sure the supermarkets would follow suit but such a change is unlikely at present. Many countries have already taken firm action to restrict the issuing of plastic carrier bags, its time our government got in step.