Thursday, March 30, 2017

Linking Meat to Climate Change

Published as a podcast on Friday 31st March at iTunes, Stitcher and

Kristie Middleton
Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, 31st March. I'm Anthony Day and this week we're talking about meat and climate change. How is meat linked to climate change? Can what you eat have an effect on global warming? "Yes", is the answer from the Humane Society of the United States and we'll meet two people from that organisation in the moment and they will explain how and why that's true.

You'll find links to my stories and a complete transcript of the interview below.

First, some headlines this week. Although Donald Trump appears to have failed to dismantle Obamacare it looks as though he’ll have more success in repealing Obama’s clean air legislation. EPA chief Scott Pruitt says that this will permit cheaper coal-fired power and create more mining jobs. It's good news, he says, for industry and for the environment. Exactly how he quantifies the benefits to the environment is not clear, but of course in his view it cannot do any harm because he refuses to believe that CO2 emissions have anything to do with climate change and rejects the scientific evidence. This is in direct contradiction of statements on the EPA website.

Dr Helen Harwatt
The move away from coal seems to be gathering pace across the world. In 2016 there was a 48% fall in planned coal units and a 62% drop in new starts. Most of this is due to changing policies in India and China. See the Boom & Bust 2017 Report produced by Coalswarm, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace. 

I mentioned last time that 2016 was yet another hottest year on record. The World Meteorological Organisation reports: “Climate breaks multiple records in 2016, with global impacts.” It expects extreme and unusual weather trends to continue in 2017. You can read the press release here.

Turning to transport news, the Wright One, an electric plane, could carry 150 people on journeys of less than 500 miles within the next 10 years according to reports from the BBC. That could make London to Paris electric flights a reality. EasyJet is said to be interested, although the plane is not yet in development. The key issue is battery technology which is developing rapidly but has not yet reached the necessary power to weight ratio. The problem is that as batteries get more and more energy-dense we have seen that they can catch fire or explode. There will also be a need for a completely new regulatory framework.

A TED Talk you should see. Styrofoam - expanded polystyrene - is a versatile plastic used for throwaway cups, cutlery and toys and for packaging goods like TVs, washing machines and so on. It’s generally thrown away because styrofoam can’t be recycled economically. But maybe not any more. Ashton Cofer explains in this video how he and his classmates  have worked out how to convert styrofoam into activated carbon, as used in water filters.

And now to the main event:

Anthony: Today we have two guests on the Sustainable Futures Report. First, Kristie Middleton who is a senior food policy director for The Humane Society of the United States. She’s author of a number of articles in this field, there’s one that caught my eye, The Chicken in the Room at the Paris Climate Talks, that’s something we must talk about later. She’s also just published a book, Meatless: Transform the Way You Eat and Live One Meal at a Time. That’s published in the United States but you can get it for the Kindle via Amazon wherever you are. And our other guest is Helen Harwatt, Dr. Helen Harwatt, who is formerly an environmental nutrition research fellow at the Loma Linda University in California. She’s now a freelance sustainability researcher, her key interests focus on the potential contribution on sustainable diets to climate change mitigation. And she’s published a number of articles in scientific journals on food and the environment so we welcome you both, thank you very much for taking part. 

Kristie: Thank you so much for having us.
Helen: Yeah, thank you.

Anthony: Okay. So what we want to talk about today is the link between climate change and meat consumption. So, that’s going to be our first question. Helen, can you explain how that works?
Helen: Sure, yes, so there’s a few things to mention here, starting with the total greenhouse gas emission contribution that the livestock sector makes and that is around 15 percent, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. And this is just worth pointing out that there is some interest in issues related to the direct greenhouse gas emissions from the animals. So here we have methane and nitrous oxide being the main contribution comes from livestock for those two key greenhouse gas emissions. And a really important thing to mention here is that methane has a much shorter atmospheric lifetime than carbon dioxide, and we know that carbon dioxide is the current focus of climate change policy efforts, but actually methane has a higher warming potential than carbon dioxide and coupled with a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere could really be key to achieving short term reductions in temperature and avoiding those dangerous tipping points. And we also see that indirect greenhouse gas emissions are very important, as well, so this is for example from land used to feed crops and mainly in the change of land use for example deforestation. So the Brazilian Amazon is an example: 70 percent of deforestation is directly linked to livestock production. And this is really important because we’re losing really important carbon stores and interfering with the natural carbon cycle. And land use is really crucial for meeting climate change goals. So we were really looking to offset greenhouse gas emissions through various land use. So, for example, restoring natural habitats to forests and currently animal agriculture takes up 30 percent of all ice-free land. And an interesting report just out last week from researchers at the University of Aberdeen showed that 85 percent of the UK’s total land footprint is associated with meat and dairy production. Last year researchers from Cambridge University showed that a 50 percent reduction in calories from animal products in the UK combined with restoring the land spared from animal agriculture to its natural habitat would actually reduce UK’s emissions by about 80 percent, so this is huge. 

Anthony: Let me just clarify that point,  you’re saying a 50 percent reduction in calories from meat, you mean, do you mean by that if we ate 50 percent less meat in the UK that would have that 80 percent reduction in emissions?

Helen: So that’s 50 percent reduction in calories from animal products, so not just meat but mainly coming from meat in the greenhouse gas impact share. And that’s coupled with restoring the land that would no longer be used for animal agriculture to its natural habitat which would obviously store carbon in forests and grasslands. 

Anthony: Before I move on to what we eat if we don’t eat meat, Kristie can I turn to you because I understand that The Humane Society focuses very much on meat reduction. Tell me a bit about the campaign that you’re working on at the moment.

Kristie: Right, well, thanks for asking about that, so I think that when people hear about The Humane Society they tend to think about how we’re helping cats and dogs and our organisation built in the US and in our sister organisation Humane Society International we do a lot of that through providing free and low cost spey/neuter services. We also work to help wildlife and end animal fighting, so we are involved in a lot of campaigns and programs. My organisation, or my team at the organisation, specifically works to help institutions with reducing the amount of meat they are serving and adding more plant-based options to their menus. And we do this because it’s an animal protection organisation we would be remiss if we weren’t addressing the area where the most animals that are used in our industrial food system are institutionally abused and that is in the meat industry, within the United States alone, nine and a half billion animals are factory farmed and the global total is, of course, billions more than that. And so we work to help end factory farming through getting schools, hospitals, colleges and universities and others to reduce the amount of meat they are serving. And, of course, as it turns out, what is good for animals and ending their suffering in factory farming, is also really good for our health, as well. So there’s a lot of research that indicates that eating less meat, eating more plant-based foods or even going completely to a plant-based diet can help with addressing a lot of our chronic preventable diseases like heart disease, cancer, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and even reducing the obesity epidemic. And then, of course, environmental sustainability and that includes biodiversity because the animal agribusiness has so much at stake in terms of what Helen mentioned decimating our Amazonian rainforest and other really precious natural landscapes and so we are destroying biodiversity when we plough down forests to create grain for our cattle and other animals. 

Anthony: Well, my question is, are you recommending that everyone should be vegetarian?

Kristie: The Humane Society’s perspective is we advocate for what we call the three R’s which is reducing, replacing and refining. So reducing the amount of animal products in your diet through something like a meatless Monday or identifying other ways that you can reduce, replacing those products with plant-based products, and refining your diet by choosing higher welfare sources if you do continue to eat meat, eggs and dairy. And, so, in my book Meatless, I go over all of the reasons that more and more people are eating less meat or are going vegetarian or vegan. I outline a lot of the common obstacles of diet change, and finally I help with providing simple tips and tricks as well as recipes and other resources for other people who are interested in getting started. So it doesn’t have to be 100 percent, any movement in that direction is a good start, but I know Helen probably has an opinion about that too, so I’d love to hear what she thinks. 

Anthony: Well indeed, actually I’m very interested to hear that because a lot of people say to me you’re into sustainability you’re into environmental protection, how can you be if you’re not a vegetarian, because I’m not a vegetarian. 

Helen: Yeah, you were asking does everybody need to be a vegetarian. So, there’s a couple of studies just to mention on that, so one looked at different types of diets, this one is by Bryngelsson et al from Chalmers University last year. They looked at different types of diets and how much greenhouse gasses result  - net greenhouse gasses - and for the vegan diet it’s actually net negative. And, like I was saying, that really frees up carbon budget for other areas where reductions are difficult to come by especially in the short term. So the nearer we get towards vegan definitely means that we have more of a carbon budget to play with. And, also, just to mention again the study from Cambridge researchers where they looked at a 50 percent reduction in animal products consumed in the UK and combined with restoring the land spared back to its natural habitat, so they were looking at 50 percent reduction combined with the land sparing and they came to the 80 percent reduction in UK emissions. So, again, that’s not saying 100 percent but it really depends what that land is used for afterwards. 

Anthony: A lot of people don’t know very much about the link between climate change and food, and maybe don’t want to know because a lot of environmentalists do say you’ve got to be a vegetarian if you’re serious. And what do you think about that Helen?

Helen: Yeah, well, if we look at the evidence - let’s focus on climate change. So a publication last year from the University of Oxford, for example, found that a fully vegan diet applied at the global level would reduce food related greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent. Now, this is really significant because the more we reduce food related greenhouse gasses means that we are freeing up carbon budget for other areas that are more difficult or may take longer to achieve reduction such as the energy sector, for example. So really key things to consider there are the potentials of the low hanging fruit that food related greenhouse gas reductions represent should really be taken seriously as climate change mitigation policy. 

Anthony: Yes, but as you said, there are other ways of doing it and we aren’t going to persuade everybody to be vegan and we’re certainly not going to persuade everybody to be vegetarian. So this is one part towards reducing the global carbon footprint. What other things should people be doing? 

Kristie: Well I’ll dive in and share that what we’re seeing really is a move toward reduction in the United States there’s a publication called Meatingplace, so it’s a trade publication for the meat industry and they conducted their own research last year and published their findings and one of the things they found was that 70 percent of meat eaters are saying that they are eating a non-meat protein at least one meal once a week and that figure’s up 22 percent from just a year ago. So I think while we may not see people shifting from vegetarian to vegan, certainly not overnight, people are definitely interested and I think more than ever before in eating less meat and that will certainly have an impact, and in the UK it could be through a Meat-free Monday and in the US we have a Meatless Monday program and the idea behind that is to take a holiday from meat just one day of the week to get started. There’s also the idea of being a flexitarian which is a mostly plant-based diet and eating meat or dairy every once in a while, or doing something like eating vegan before 6 p.m., so many more people are interested in doing this and the food industry is responding, such as Veggie Pret in the UK, which was just a pop-up restaurant and now it’s so popular and they’re talking about making it a permanent fixture. In the US, of course, we are seeing even fast food chains like Burger King, the king of burgers, now has a veggie burger on its menu and now you can get it at every location across the country. So I do feel like people are better understanding the reasons and the impact that their diet choices can have not only on their health and animals but on the environment, and they’re interested in making changes and sometimes they’re not really sure where to get started, and those are just a few reasons that make you do so. 

Anthony: Let me follow up on a couple of points. First of all I show my ignorance, could you give an example of a non-meat protein? 

Kristie: Sure, I think beans are probably one of the easiest and most widely available, and, in addition to that, it’s very inexpensive. So beans are a great source of protein and they’re also full of fibre and vita-chemicals so they’re both cancer fighting chemicals, as well, and they’re available pretty much anywhere in a can. You can get them canned, you can get them dry, and you can create them in all kinds of amazing recipes. Pretty much every culture around the world has their own variety of beans that they love and it’s a great way of getting a really clean protein. 
Anthony: Right and they’re quite a lot cheaper than meat. 

Kristie: Absolutely! Just yesterday I was in the supermarket and they’re roughly $1.19 to $1.99 for a pound of beans and meat prices were anywhere from $4.99 to $9.99 a pound. So they’re quite a bit cheaper. And the other hidden cost if you’re purchasing meat is that we are, of course, causing the environmental devastation we’re talking about, in addition to the impacts of climate change, we’re talking about huge amounts of waste, animal waste that’s being created from pollution to the manure that is polluting the soil, all of those are the hidden costs. 

Anthony: Let me go back to the other point you made, you mentioned the pop-up restaurant in the UK, maybe you can send me a link to that so people can follow that up when they look on the blog, what was it called again?

Kristie: Oh, this is Pret-A-Manger, which you probably see all over London if you’re in London.

Anthony: Oh, I Pret-A-Manger, I didn’t hear it clearly. Oh yes, I’ve heard of that. 

Kristie: And then they have Veggie Pret, so it’s just a vegetarian version of the chain. 

Anthony: Veggie Pret. No, I have not heard of that. 

Kristie: And London just got its first ever vegan fried chicken restaurant earlier this year, so I don’t know if that’s really considered to be healthy but there are definitely more and more options that are becoming available. 

Anthony: How can you get vegan fried chicken? 
Kristie: I don’t know the answer to that but I’m interested in finding out.

Anthony: Right. Helen, you’ve been involved, I believe, in calculating the carbon savings and institutions are making though menu options.  Tell me a bit more about that.

Helen:  Yeah, sure, so basically I’m using published scientific data on the greenhouse gas footprints of different foods to measure the impact of changes made to food purchasing and obviously through menus, so for example, if an institute reduced beef purchases by 50 percent and replaced that with beans then I would be able to measure the greenhouse gas impact change and I will be assessing those emissions periodically so before any menu changes have taken place and after any menu changes have taken place and at several points in time after that, as well. And this is a really great opportunity for institutes to assess their food related greenhouse gas emissions and it comes at a time when they’re actively seeking to do that and are being required to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions across campus. 

Anthony: Right, so you talk about academic institutions and hospitals perhaps are there other public sector organisations? 

Helen: Yeah, so right now we are just focused on universities but definitely will be included in those other types of institutions, too. 

Anthony: I think you’ve also been involved, Kristie, in working with institutions on reducing their carbon footprint.

Kristie: Right, so institutions are purchasing a lot of food, from schools to hospitals to universities even the military and correctional facilities -- all of these institutions are looking at ways to offer more helpful and more sustainable options to their guests and one intervention that we’ve offered is through plant-based culinary instruction and we’ve now trained several thousand chefs to create delicious, filling, nutritious and plant-based options for their menus. And I’ll share just a couple of examples of some of the things institutions are doing here. One of those is a case study from University of North Texas, which is just about 30 minutes or so north of Dallas. So if you know anything about the geography there, it’s not really a hot bed of animal activism. It’s really in the heart of cattle country. And they’ve been receiving all kinds of requests from students for a vegan option and so they took one of their five dining halls and made it totally vegan, and it turned out to be a massive success generating all kinds of free publicity for the university and increasing student satisfaction. It went from serving about 100- 175 meals a day to 700 to over 1000 meals per day, and also helped with increasing sales of their dining plan. It was a massive success and they were able to reduce their carbon footprint. Another example is UC Berkeley, they’re part of this program called Menus of Change which is put together by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America, which is the premier culinary institute here. They’re really trying to find ways to help Americans eat less saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and other things, just so there are healthier more sustainable menus. So, as a result of that, UC Berkeley created a concept restaurant on its campus which they called Brown’s, which is a sustainable cafĂ©. Where they’re really trying to focus more on plant-based foods, and they created a dish they call the flipped plate and they can get it either totally plant based or you can get it with some meat, but the concept behind flipping the plate is looking at it through the lens of making vegetables the real centre of the plate, and if you do opt to have some meat or animal protein then making that a very small portion. So you’re going from the way we would usually look at the typical plate having meat really as the centre, now vegetables are at the centre of the plate and meat is the side if it’s on the plate at all. So there are really interesting interventions at institutions that are going about approaching this and there’s not really a one-size-fits-all but I think it’s really important for everyone to start thinking of ways that they can do their part. 

Anthony: Yes, it sounds that you have got really interesting initiatives there, and if we are going to make a significance difference, though, I can’t see anybody or any politicians or any governments actually trying to restrict the operations of the agriculture sector. On the other hand, if consumers aren’t buying the product then that actually will reduce the production of meat and so on but consumers won’t stop buying meat unless they are confident and informed about what the alternatives are. So how are we going to address that?

Kristie: Yeah, I think that is a really wonderful point and I think that consumers are increasingly interested in finding out more about the alternatives and I think that’s why we can see the US market really responding. So, one example is the dairy industry, which is a notorious methane emitter and now there are all kinds of plant based dairies from almond to soy milk, which are now pretty ubiquitous to exotic milks that are coming out all the time like cashew cream or hazelnut cream. Ben and Jerry’s which is a subsidiary of Unilever, one of the world’s biggest food companies, came out with six new flavours of it delicious ice cream and it happens to be totally plant-based, totally vegan. And then Breyers, another chain company, came out with a couple of flavours and it’s a much less a premium brand.  So they definitely see that there is consumer interest and I think that as there are more products out there that are still delicious that still have the same flavour profiles that we are used to eating, that people will start trying these products and the market will respond, as well. 

Anthony: That’s very interesting; as we draw this to a close I would like to ask each of you in turn. Helen, first of all, what one thing should people who listen to this do tomorrow to make a difference in order to reduce their carbon footprint, how can they do that in terms of what they eat?

Helen: Yeah, so the easiest thing really is if you’re going to start tomorrow is to find some recipes and really experiment. Find things you really like, so find some vegan recipes to replace your favourite meat and dairy dishes. Another thing really good to do is to look at substitutions, so like Kristie mentioned, the vegan fried chicken. So if there is any kind of particular thing that somebody loves just look for the plant-based alternative and that’s a great way to reduce your impact. 

Anthony: Right, the thing is, of course, that more and more people are living to a very large extent takeaways and ready meals. I don’t see, maybe because I don’t look for them, but I don’t see vegetarian or vegan ready meals on the shelves. Kristie, am I wrong on that, are they available? 

Kristie: There are quite a few brands. So I know Linda McCartney’s got a wonderful brand of frozen meals that you can heat up at home, and certainly we have loads of them here, and I really think that it’s just identifying items like that. So, our food is so deeply embedded in our culture and our daily routines so it’s just a matter of tweaking our habits and that’s one of the things that I talk about in my book, is just finding an option that works for you. As Helen just mentioned, look at what you’re already eating and find something that’s a simple substitute or a simple trade off. And another real critical element of this is building community because the way that we eat is so heavily influenced by our friends and family. Walter Willett at the Harvard School of Public Health talked about how obesity is contagious, if our close friend is obese, we are 57 percent more likely to be obese, but health is also contagious, too, so why don’t we encourage our friends and family to join us on a journey, because not only will be we more inclined to succeed but our impact will be multiplied.

Anthony: Well, that’s very encouraging. And have you got one thing that people should do tomorrow, starting tomorrow?

Kristie: Well given it’s Thursday, I would say, probably a meatless Thursday, you really can do it any day of the week but I think it’s to start something and really to have a concrete plan in mind. Don’t just think I’m going to try to eat less meat say  I’m gonna do it at least one day a week or at least one meal a day I’m going to eat meatless, and I think you’re more likely to be successful. 

Anthony: I’d like to thank you both very much for an interesting discussion and wish you both success in the campaign. 

Kristie: Thank you so much, and happy meatless Thursday (or it’s Wednesday today.) 
Helen: Thank you, Anthony.

And thank you to Kristie Middleton and Helen Harwatt, speaking on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States. Thank you also to their colleague Elizabeth Walker who produced this transcript of the interview.

Here are some links to resources which they asked me to pass on. Helen says: “For the food replacements that Kristie and I both mentioned, in the UK the best ones are made by Fry's and are available in some of the major supermarkets and most health stores, including Holland and Barrett. Here's their website with product and supplier information: Also, Sainsbury's have just launched a great range of vegan cheeses. For anyone really wanting to dive in for a challenge, there's a 30 day supported vegan challenge from a UK charity - here's the link:"

And Kristie adds: “Here’s a link to where your listeners can find MeatLess:  

And here’s a source on animal agriculture’s impact on biodiversity: 
Machovina et al., 2015. Biodiversity conservation: The key is reducing meat consumption. Science of The Total Environment."

More resources from Helen:

Gerber et al., 2013. Tackling climate change through livestock - A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Bryngelsson et al., 2016. How can the EU climate targets be met? A combined analysis
of technological and demand-side changes in food and agriculture. 

Lamb et al., 2016. The potential for land sparing to offset greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

Springmann et al., 2016. Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change.

de Ruiter et al., 2017. Total global agricultural land footprint associated with UK food supply 1986 - 2011.

Also, here are two studies around public awareness of food and climate change (I didn't get to mention them but might be of interest to readers/listeners):

A large scale international consumer survey reported by Chatham House:
Wellesley et al., 2015. Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption.

A recent survey of UK consumers commissioned by the Global Food Security programme:

And that’s all for another week. Next week I’m talking about Business Ethics and Sustainability and I’m launching a Patreon page. If you don’t know what that is go across to I’ll see you over there shortly.

This is Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.

Have a great week!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sustainability - a Psychologist’s View

Published as a podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and at 

Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 24th March. I’m Anthony Day and I bring you sustainability stories, ideas and interviews without advertising, subsidy or sponsorship. 

The main part of this week’s Sustainable Futures Report is an interview with psychologist Dr Jan Maskell. I don't have a transcript of the conversation, but I've summarised it below. I'm looking into creating transcripts for all future interviews, because I know that many of you prefer to read rather than listen.

But, before we get to that, we’ll call in to the No Surprises Department.

It’s no surprise, unfortunately, that 2016 has now been confirmed as the warmest year on record. Just like 2015, 2014 and so on and so on. The warmest February on record has just drawn to a close, so 2017 looks like one for the record books as well. One thing that didn’t make the headlines was a consequent 15mm rise in sea levels - about  five times the previous average. Bad news for coastal cities - like New York, Singapore, Sydney, London and many, many others.

It’s no surprise that the G20, influenced by the US and Saudi Arabia, has dropped from its latest communique any reference about willingness to finance measures to combat climate change as agreed in Paris in 2015. The B20 - twenty leading global businesses - has fought back. “Climate change represents one of the largest risks to sustainable development, inclusiveness, equitable economic growth and financial stability,” they said. 

It’s no surprise that Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency involves a cut of $2.6 billion - back to 1990s levels - and a reduction of 3,200 employees in the EPA workforce - back to 1980s levels. There’s a detailed rundown of the cuts at 


Well Jan Maskell certainly isn’t. Alone we may not change the world, but together we just might.

In my conversation with Jan she explained her progress from architecture and the civl service to qualifications in psychology, which is now the basis of her business. She told me why sustainability is important to her, and how it is embedded in her lifestyle at .

We mentioned how some politicians may have attempted to use psychological techniques to influence voters. I shared links to the story about Cambridge Analytica with her and you can find them here.

Jan recommended a number of information resources, including - which you’ve heard me mention several times before - and a book, “The Switch” by Chris Goodall. 

She’s also contributed to an article in Huffington Post about hidden agendas behind your children’s education. Scary stuff!

Listen to the full interview on iTunes, Stitcher or via

Have you come across the acronym she mentioned? PESTLE. I think it stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental - all the angles you need to cover.

That’s it for this week. Next week’s episode is another interview and this time there will be a full transcript here on the blog. I’m talking about the link between meat and climate change with Kristie Middleton and Dr Helen Harwatt of the Humane Society of the US. 

I’m also planning developments and enhancements to the Sustainable Futures Report. Watch this space for more news soon, and of course for the next issue of the Sustainable Futures Report, which will be out next week.

This is Anthony Day.

That was the Sustainable Futures Report.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Islands of Dreams

Published as a podcast on Friday 17th March on iTunes, Stitcher and at

Hello, this is Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 17th March. Welcome to new listeners, welcome to established listeners. The Sustainable Futures Report reaches across five continents, and is brought to you without advertising, sponsorship or subsidy. Don’t forget that if you need a conference presenter, keynote speaker, awards host or webinar facilitator you can contact me via 

This week there’s more about energy and about islands - in the middle of the North Sea and floating out there in space. How do you get your groceries? Ocado has a new idea and Ocado is not alone. Drones, robots, autonomous lorries? Are these the future? There’s more on the effects of air quality and the WHO has produced a new report on a sustainable world for children, linked to the SDGs. Surfers are protesting against plastic bottles - a story which made the front page this week. Do you remember American Judge Ann Aiken? She’s now under attack from the Trump administration, as well as from the fossil fuel industry. I’ll tell you more.

All at Sea
Next week three companies from the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany will sign an agreement in Brussels, backed by the EU, to develop a large renewable electricity system in the North Sea.

They are going to build an island on Dogger Bank which is a shallow area of the North Sea between the United Kingdom and the European continent. It will cover 2.5 square miles with an airstrip, a harbour and accommodation for the workforce. It will be a hub for the vast array of wind turbines in the surrounding sea. Interconnector cables will link the hub to Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Belgium. These cables will be used to bring power from the wind turbines ashore, but will also be used to allow countries with surplus electricity to export it to other countries. The island will be a maintenance centre for the turbines, saving the time needed to travel backwards and forwards to the mainland. The location is also in the middle of an area with relatively high and stable wind speeds.

There are no details at present of how the island will be constructed and there is no doubt that it will be a challenge. First, even though the sea is shallower here than elsewhere in the North Sea, it’s still 15-36 metres deep depending on the tide. It would be impossible to create an island just by dumping rocks on the site. Will they build it on legs? Dogger Bank is a sandbank, so those legs would have to go well into the sea bed to give stability. For a 2.5 square mile platform that’s an awful lot of steel. You could question whether the carbon savings from the renewable wind energy will ever compensate for the carbon emissions from the construction.

Then there’s the geology of the site. In 1931 an earthquake took place below Dogger Bank, measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale. It was the largest earthquake ever recorded in the United Kingdom. It caused damage across eastern England and was felt in countries all around the North Sea.

Dogger Bank is an important fishing ground, and there are also calls to designate it as a Marine Conservation Area. 

Doesn’t look like plain sailing to me for this project! I’ll let you know when I have more news.

Solar Farms in Space
There’s wind power in the North Sea but if you were to build solar farms in space they would be super-efficient because there’s no clouds or atmosphere to get in their way.

This week is British Science Week, and Jerry Stone of the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) presented a paper on living in space. Together with other members of the BIS he’s been updating research carried out in the US in the 1970s into how humans could start living in space in large numbers. They believe that thousands of people could be living in floating space colonies orbiting the Earth in as little as 20 years’ time. A colony would consist of a vast hollow cylinder, which would rotate to provide gravity for the people who would live on the inside. While life in space might sound unappealing to some, they say it could actually be healthier than planet Earth, enabling people to live longer and, eventually, grow taller. It’s probably healthier than an island in the middle of a windy ocean. 

Space colonists would initially build and maintain solar panels that would be used to provide power on Earth, but other industries might later move into space to take advantage of the weightlessness and huge supply of energy from the sun.

I’m not sure how the electricity from that solar farm would be transmitted to earth, but then, I’m not a scientist. Obviously not a cable, but perhaps a laser beam. As long as you don’t fly through it.

Delivering the Goods
If you’re living in a space colony, I suppose you have to wait for a rocket from earth to bring you supplies, at least in the early years. If you live in London, on-line supermarket Ocado has been testing grocery delivery by electric vehicles as part of a bid to cut its carbon footprint, reduce congestion and keep noise levels to a minimum, especially in residential areas.
It uses the Danish-designed TRIPL Urban Cargo Drive vehicle for short-distance home deliveries. It looks bit like those tricycles you see selling ice-cream at the seaside, with a big box on the front and the courier sitting over the single wheel at the back. No pedalling. The electric drivetrain gives a range of up to 100km, a top speed of 45kph and a maximum payload of 200kg.

But who needs a courier?

The Starship robot is a six-wheel automated trolley that can travel up to 4 mph for roughly 10 miles. It uses a GPS signal and nine cameras to navigate and avoid obstacles. It runs along the pavement, or sidewalk, as you say in America. It doesn’t have a driver, although if it gets lost or confused it can call home for help and an operator can then look through the cameras and take over control. It’s much smaller than Ocado’s trike, but it can carry up to 10 kilograms or three shopping bags at a time. It’s designed to transport packages, groceries and takeaway meals. 

Instead of a person arriving at their door, customers could find themselves receiving a notification on their phone that says a robot is on its way and a code to unlock it. "Put the code in, the robot opens up, and there's your food," said David Buttress, chief executive of Just Eat. 
So far there are no reports of any accidents or any cargoes going missing. Allan Martinson, the chief operating officer of Starship, said,  "The most surprising reaction has been the lack of reaction, but kids love it. We've seen them try to chase it, hug it. One person tried to feed it a banana.”

Keep on Trucking
Here’s yet another futuristic delivery system. Mercedes-Benz Vans announced an equity investment last week in a drone startup company, Matternet and that it will invest €500 million over the next five years in designing electric, networked vans.  The drones will launch from the rooftops of the van. It’s all about efficient delivery over the last mile.

Steve Banker, writing in Forbes magazine, is sceptical. He points out that regulations in both the US and Europe make the use of autonomous drones totally impractical. On the other hand, the technology in the van is a significant advance. Racking modules are loaded up in the warehouse and then loaded into the van. The van is electric, designed to be quiet when travelling down suburban streets, and although it’s not totally autonomous the driver controls everything from a joystick. No steering wheel, no pedals. Arriving at a location, the racking module delivers the correct parcel to the driver. No searching in the back of the van for the right one. The screen gives last-minute instructions like “leave with neighbour”, “put under flowerpot”, and so on.

Meanwhile, for long-distance deliveries Mercedes-Benz has unveiled an autonomous lorry that will be able to drive itself across Europe's roads within the next 10 years. This looks like good news for the thousands of Eastern European drivers in the news this week. It was reported that they can’t afford to live in the expensive Western European countries where they work, so they camp in their vehicles, sometimes for months at a time. When these new autonomous vehicles come in they won’t need to live in their cabs, although they may no longer have jobs. But wait, the new autonomous lorry will still have a steering wheel - and a driver. What’s the point of that? It looks as though a boring and tedious job could become even more boring and tedious. The driver will have far less to do. Maybe operators will be able to pay the drivers even less. 

Something in the Air
More about air pollution, and this time it’s not just about the effect on people.

Plantlife is a British conservation charity working nationally and internationally to save threatened wild flowers, plants and fungi . It owns nearly 4,500 acres of nature reserve across England, Scotland and Wales where you can find over 80% of the UK’s wild flowers . It has 11,000 members and supporters and HRH The Prince of Wales as its Patron.

A new report from Plantlife, “We need to talk about Nitrogen”, explains how atmospheric pollution with nitrogen compounds is affecting both plants and animals. 

Writing in the charity’s blog, Dr Trevor Dines says,

“It is no exaggeration to say that an excess of nitrogen deposited from the air is pushing many wildlife habitats in to critical condition. In a report released today by Plantlife we reveal that a staggering 90% of sensitive habitats in England and Wales are suffering from excess nitrogen.
Nitrogen deposition takes place when nitrogen emissions from transport, power stations, farming and industry – mainly emitted as nitrogen oxides and ammonia - are deposited back into the natural environment directly from the air or in rain. And the results of nitrogen build-up are hugely damaging to biodiversity. 'Thuggish' plants - such as nettles - that flourish with high levels of nitrogen are overpowering many of the UK’s rare and endangered wild plants, who simply cannot survive in such nutrient -'rich' soil.
As the countryside greens up this Spring the impacts of nitrogen deposition are clear for all to see; you don't need to venture far to see that nettles are running ever more rampant. In some areas once diverse habitats are becoming monotonous green badlands where only the nitrogen-guzzling thugs survive and other more delicate plants - such as harebells - are being bullied out of existence.”

The report spells out how tackling the destructive impact of atmospheric nitrogen deposition on plants and ecosystems is one of the greatest challenges faced in nature conservation. It not only affects plants, but also affects animals, insects and birds as their habitats are overwhelmed.

Nitrogen oxides are emitted from the burning of fossil fuels mainly from power stations, factories and transport emissions, whereas the main source of ammonia is from agriculture. In 2014, agriculture accounted for 83% of all UK ammonia emissions, with the largest contributor being livestock manures, especially from cattle, as well as emissions from organic and inorganic fertilisers that are spread onto fields.

“The nitrogen deposition problem is complex and requires co-ordinated and multi- faceted approaches to address both its causes and consequences,” says the report. “Links need to be strengthened between related policy areas such as agriculture, water quality, energy, transport, climate change and public health. The reactive nitrogen problem is a global, regional, country and local issue, and effective solutions will need to be sufficiently integrated to drive a reduction in overall emissions.”

In other words, governments must act. If only they hadn’t got so many other things to consider at the moment. Maybe that 25-year Environmental Strategy that we’re still expecting from DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will have some answers. Maybe.

Sustainable World
Another report is out. This one is from WHO

“Inheriting a sustainable world?  Atlas on children’s health and the environment”

“More than a decade after WHO published Inheriting the world: The atlas of children’s health and the environment in 2004, this new publication presents the continuing and emerging challenges to children’s environmental health.
“This new edition is not simply an update,” they say, “but a more detailed review; we take into account changes in the major environmental hazards to children’s health over the last 13 years, due to increasing urbanization, industrialization, globalization and climate change, as well as efforts in the health sector to reduce children’s environmental exposures. 
“…as governments discuss sustainability in the face of growing populations requiring food, water, housing and other basic needs, investing in the health of children by reducing exposure to environmental risks has to be an overriding priority. Only in healthy environments do children have the potential to become healthy adults, capable of meeting the challenges of the future.” 

“In 2015, 26% of the deaths of 5.9 million children who died before reaching their fifth birthday could have been prevented through addressing environmental risks – a shocking missed opportunity. The prenatal and early childhood period represents a window of particular vulnerability, where environmental hazards can lead to premature birth and other complications, and increase lifelong disease risk including for respiratory disorders, cardiovascular disease and cancers. The environment thus represents a major factor in children’s health, as well as a major opportunity for improvement, with effects seen in every region of the world. 

“Children are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, because it is children who will inherit the legacy of policies and actions taken, and not taken, by leaders today. The third SDG, to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages,” has its foundation in children’s environmental health, and it is incumbent on us to provide a healthy start to our children’s lives. This cannot be achieved, however, without multi-sectoral cooperation, as seen in the linkages between environmental health risks to children and the other SDGs.”

Surfers against Sewage 
Surfers against Sewage are campaigning to urge the Scottish Parliament to introduce deposit return schemes on plastic bottles to help stop plastic pollution. This is just part of a story which continues to make the news, not just in Scotland but throughout the world. In the UK we buy 35 million plastic bottles each day, and although many of them are recycled, some 16 million are dumped. Little wonder that the press coverage shows beaches covered in plastic bottles as far as you can see. It’s a classic case of “externality”. An externality is an event for which a producer is not held responsible. There’s no penalty for Coca Cola, Evian, Sainsbury’s, Halfords, or any of the thousands of suppliers if a consumer finishes one of their products and throws the bottle away. It’s external to their responsibilities. The consumer might be penalised, although that rarely happens. Many externalities are now controlled, so manufacturers can no longer emit gases into the air or pollutants into watercourses with impunity. Surely the ‘polluter pays’ approach should be extended to the suppliers of plastic containers.

Although putting a charge on plastic bags has dramatically reduced their usage, putting a deposit on a plastic bottle is different. In most cases it’s not possible to refuse the bottle, because even if you’re carrying your own container, the product will have arrived at the retailer in a bottle. With a plastic bag you can refuse to pay for the bag and it is not supplied and not used. With a bottle it’s always supplied and it’s only taken back if you think it’s worth collecting the 5p or 10p deposit. If it’s taken back, it’s taken back to be recycled, which uses more energy and resources than if you never had the bottle in the first place. 
You can take your own cup or insulated container to be filled at most coffee shops. Why not extend this to soft drinks and other liquids? Body Shop always used to offer refills for their lotions and potions, but I’m not sure if they still do. How often do you throw away a washing-up liquid bottle? How many are thrown away each month in your street? In your town? In the UK? Have a look at They provide washing-up liquid. You get a bottle and you refill it using concentrate that they send you by post. Once the concentrate pouches are empty you send them back for recycling. You keep your bottle indefinitely. And it costs about the same as buying it from the supermarket, but you don’t have to carry it home.

There’s no doubt that we need to do something, as we discussed in detail in the Sustainable Futures Report for 10th February. It’s not just about rafts of plastic bottles on beaches, it’s about the micro-particles that these plastics break into, that pollute the oceans, damage marine life and get into the human food chain. You can make a start by carrying your own re-usable water bottle or checking out And don’t forget the Litterati app I told you about. (That’s with two Ts) It lets you identify, locate and photograph pieces of litter. Let’s use it to name and shame the organisations that produce all this rubbish.

And finally…
Lawyers representing fossil fuel defendants in a youth climate lawsuit filed a motion last week with a U.S. District Court seeking an appeal to the order in Juliana v. United States. As reported by The Washington Post, the Trump Administration filed a similar motion requesting appeal. Fossil fuel defendants support the Trump Administration's motion.
The background to this is that in April last year, twenty-one children, aged 8 to 19, successfully sued the Federal Government and the Fossil Fuel Industry for damaging their future by not doing anything about climate change. Judge Ann Aiken then rejected a motion to dismiss the case.

Now the fossil fuel defendants claim that the Judge erred when ruling that the dispute was not a political question. The fossil fuel defendants argue that the government, and not the judiciary, should resolve the issues presented by plaintiffs in this case.

However, in her 11-page judgement Judge Ann Aiken explained in detail why it was not a political issue and therefore a matter for the courts, not for the government. The latest challenge shows how determined the fossil fuel industry and the government are to defeat this so-called “Kids’ Case”. It looks as though it will go on and on. Of course if the courts did eventually find against the government and the industry it would have monumental implications. No wonder they don’t want to lose.

I’ll keep watching and keep you posted.

Next Monday I’m talking to MBA students at Huddersfield University about sustainability and business ethics. What should I call the presentation? Maybe, “The Only Way is Ethics.”

That's all for this week. You might say that's more than enough. 

This is Anthony Day, that was the Sustainable Futures Report and there will be another report next week.
I’m off to Whitby on a steam train at the weekend. Don’t mention the carbon footprint!

Bye for now.