Thursday, 4 July 2019

The shortest environment book!


I remember, quite a few years ago, there was a competition on Radio 4 for a novel to be written in 6 words.  A novel in just SIX words!?  This was staggering – how could a story be told in 6 words?

The winner, however, was amazing.  So amazing that I (who hardly ever reads a novel) can still remember it.  It read:
“For sale, baby shoes, never worn”

In just 6 words a whole story unfolded.  The author laid out a picture of family, hope, despair, poverty and resignation.  Incredible!

I started thinking…….  Can I write the environmental story in 6 words?  Can I capture our current environmental predicament so succinctly?  I had a go:


“The absolutely essential
   is completely impossible”


Maybe a feeble attempt against the novel that won the prize but in my mind, these 6 words are at the heart of environmental cause and conflict.  Maybe the fact that I am now going to explain myself means that it’s not going to win any prizes!


The absolutely essential is clear.  An end to fossil fuel use, large-scale restoration of nature across the globe, equitable distribution and sustainable management of the earth’s finite resources, an economic system based on sustainability rather than growth.  And so on, and so on.  These things are essential, otherwise civilisation is time-limited.  Anyone opposing these lives in a dream world.  Others, however, would be equally certain that this is idealistic nonsense.  These things are completely impossible, even if we had all the time in the world.  Simply mentioning these necessities opens one up to claims of living in La La Land (I speak from experience!).  These absolutely essential things are completely impossible to achieve.

This is where we are….
The problem is .... both sides are right!  A paradox of  an “irresistible force against the immovable object”.  

Are we going to do the absolutely essential, or be defeated by the completely impossible?

This is the scale of the task we’re up against, captured in just 6 words!

Friday, 26 April 2019

Climate emergency, and local democracy.


We are in a time of climate and ecosystem emergency.  Any dispassionate view of the science inevitably draws you to that conclusion. 

We have little over a decade to address climate change before we run the risk of catastrophic change – although even now we have probably already caused irreversible changes to our climate.  We have rather less time to address ecosystem breakdown – although even now it will take the earth at least 3 million years to recover from losses caused so far.


Climate and ecosystem breakdown are not things of the future - they are with us now.

People are now waking up to this - see for example the South East Climate Alliance.  There is now significant pressure on local and national government to declare a climate emergency.  Some have done so, some have not.  But whether or not a climate and ecosystem emergency is declared the key test is what those in a position of authority are going to do about it.

The UK has tended to rest on its laurels on climate change – claiming to be a climate leader because of our theoretical emissions reductions.  Creative accountancy” is perhaps the best way to describe this.  Apparent reductions have come from a change from coal-fired power stations to gas (a lower emitter of carbon dioxide), a change that was going to happen anyway.  This is a one-off change not a trend (and ignores increased methane leakage which is a far worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide).  And a new coal mine is due to open shortly anyway!  Also, UK manufacturing industry has disappeared to other countries, apparently reducing our emissions.  But our demand for products now made in China still drives up carbon emissions – which are counted elsewhere.  We also don’t count emissions from air travel and shipping, some of the fastest growing sources.  Not counting them does not make them go away.

Just as creative accountancy does not cure financial crises, creative accountancy will not cure the environmental crisis.  Real progress is needed.

On the 2nd May we have a chance to call elected representatives to account – the day of our District Council elections.  Local Authority elections can have a notoriously poor turnout – few people bother to vote in local elections.  This is a pity.  Our environmental crisis needs to be addressed at all levels of government and this is the local level.  We all should engage in this process and test candidates in terms of their environmental credentials.  What answers to they have for the climate and ecosystem emergency?  You might be pleasantly surprised: candidates, from any political party, may well have strong environmental ethics and lobbying from their electorate may unlock the sort of change that is now needed.

This is democracy - find out who your local candidates are, find out how they plan to address the most important issues of our time, vote for the ones with the best environmental policies and lobby for necessary change to be delivered.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Restore the natural world and help save us from climate disaster.


Last week “NaturalClimate Solutions”  announced a new initiative to address both climate breakdown and ecosystem breakdown.  This is a group with a broad spectrum of support from Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury) to George Monbiot and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and with the sign-up of a large number of keyorganisations.

The message is simple: restore our battered natural world on a huge scale - far greater than the feeble efforts we’ve seen so far – and this will also draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and so help address climate change.  All efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses remain vital, but our dismal failure to address climate breakdown means that more is needed.  Taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is now necessary – and nature is the only viable way of achieving this.

In fact restoring the natural world will give us a huge number of other benefits as well – flood risk reduction, erosion control, pollution reduction, pollinating insects, soil, food, water, oxygen, etc, etc.  As well as just making the world a whole lot better!

“Natural Climate Solutions” calls for the large-scale restoration of lost forests throughout the world, the rebuilding of degraded peatlands on a huge scale, restoration of coastal habitats like salt marsh, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds (some coastal habitats can lock up carbon 40 times faster even than forests).  And so on.  Not just here and there, not just in nature reserves, but on a global scale in all regions.

The climate emergency is well known.  But the breakdown of our natural world is at least as worrying, yet far less recognised.  Warnings of our predicament abound.  Insect populations are falling off a cliff, vertebrate populations are down 60% in the last 30 years and extinction rates are about 1,000 times higher than they should be.  More than merely a pity, this is the breakdown of the life support systems on which we depend.

This is not just the rantings of a few radical environmentalists.  An independent international body (with the enormous title of the “Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform onBiodiversity and Ecosystem Services”)  has conducted a 3 year UN-backed study culminating in an 8,000 page report compiled by 500 experts in 50 countries which is perhaps the greatest attempt yet to assess the state of life on earth

In my mind there are two key messages coming out of this report. 

First is the basic fact that we are using nature at a rate that far exceeds its ability to renew itself.  As a result, our ability to support the human population is being compromised in every region on earth.  This is serious stuff – certainly as serious as climate change.

Second – this is the most important issue facing the human race and some of the best scientific minds have produced a state of the art document to raise the alarm.  But I bet almost no one reading this blog has heard about it! 

As a species we are obsessed with trivia rather than focus on the things that matter.

Ecosystem breakdown and climate breakdown are, of course, linked.  So it is refreshing to see the group “Natural Climate Solutions” promoting this agenda. 

It is not new, however.  We have been saying similar things in the Wildlife Trust for many years.  Our “Vision for the Wildlife of Sussex”, published in 1997, promoted major restoration of ecosystems throughout Sussex.  20 years later our strategy “Nature andWellbeing in Sussex” made similar points and giving nature the space it needs to be part of all our lives is the central call in our Wilder Sussex campaign .


Restoring nature was urgent – 30 years ago.  That is why most developed nations signed the convention on biological diversity  in 1992.  Since then progress has been dismal.  Virtually every (unambitious) target has been missed and we have entered the earth’s 6th mass extinction.  More than merely “urgent”, restoring nature is now an emergency integral with the climate emergency.  Maybe “Natural Climate solutions” will give us the impetus we need.