Friday, May 12, 2017

Not Much News

Published as a podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and at for Friday 12th May.

Yes, here we are again! It's Friday, I'm Anthony Day and it's the Sustainable Futures Report. And for the record it's Friday, 12 May.

Maybe it’s because our election is dominating the news, but there’s not a lot to talk about, so I won’t detain you long. 
In this report we see that Trump is procrastinating, the US judiciary is standing firm, and the Morteratsch Glacier is snowed up. Germany is using less coal, DEFRA is trembling at the prospect of Brexit and there’s a new circular economy standard. More about cricket, but the insect this time, not the game, and is the UK facing a drought? 

Nothing about the UK election. Guaranteed.

Apparently in the very early days of BBC Radio the announcer once said, “This is the BBC. There is no news.”

I feel in a very similar situation. It's not that there is no news at all but I don’t want to bore you by revisiting topics where nothing much has happened. Having said that, there are a few items worthy of note.

Paris Disagreement
The big non-news of the week is the decision of the Trump Administration to postpone a decision on whether or not to ratify the Paris Climate Change Agreement. With other American news hogging the headlines this issue has faded from view and it's not clear when or if the decision-making meeting will be reconvened. An interesting point is that Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State and former Chief Executive of Exxon has said that the United States should observe the agreement.

Warm Outlook for Winter Sports
Do you ever go skiing? It's getting more difficult.
A study published last September found that Switzerland has 40 fewer snow days a season compared to the 1970s. Ski resorts at both low and high altitudes saw snow arrive, on average, 12 days later and disappear 25 days earlier in 2015 than in 1970.
The Morteratsch Glacier is a huge tourist attraction and something of a national treasure because it is the only glacier with a “snout” that is easily accessible. “Locals claim it’s the only place you can reach a glacier from a wheelchair.” 

That’s because it’s shrinking. It has retreated in length from 8.5 kilometres in 1860 to 6 kilometres today, and is losing 30 to 40 metres per year. The locals can't afford to lose it so they are taking action.

The idea is to create artificial snow and blow it over the glacier each summer, hoping it will protect the ice and eventually cause the glacier to regrow.

“The major effect of the snow is reflection of sunlight,” says Johannes Oerlemans of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who came up with the plan. Without this covering, the sunlight would begin to melt the ice, but “as long as there’s snow on top, the ice beneath is unaffected,” he told the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna, Austria, on 27 April. This would be the first large-scale attempt to do this anywhere in the world. It will involve 400 snow machines - and that’s just for the glacier. No plans for artificial snow on the slopes so far.

It never rains…
We are no longer surprised at reports of record-breaking weather events. It's quite some time since last year wasn't the hottest year on record. We now have reports in the UK of how dry last winter was, with the lowest rainfall for 20 years. According to the Met Office instead of April Showers, on average the UK saw less than half the rain expected for last month. Talk of hosepipe bans and water shortages, particularly in the south, is popping up in the press again. We still use high-quality drinking water to wash clothes and flush toilets. Time for a re-think?

Six Legs on the Menu
Entomophagy. Now there’s a word for crossword setters! It means eating insects. Over 2 billion people regularly eat insects already. Apparently crickets taste rather like popcorn and wax worms taste of pine nuts and butter. We spoke about wax worms last time. They are the larvae of the wax moth which attacks honeycombs and, we've recently learnt, will eat plastic. Not clear what effect this will have on the flavour. I understand that a dung beetle has twice the protein of beef. So far I’ve found no reports on what that tastes like.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have found that replacing half of the world’s meat with the likes of crickets and mealworms could cut farmland currently used for livestock by a third. In turn, that would considerably reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Even a small increase in eating insects could also be massively beneficial to the planet, the researchers added.

It’s another story that we've had before. The tabloids publish pictures of people eating things which we’re supposed to find repulsive. Can you buy edible insects in the UK? A quick search throws up (no, I didn’t mean to say that) reveals Edible Forest Scorpion, Edible Roasted Crickets, Cricket Powder, Crunchy Critters and grubs. It's a very sustainable future. Go on. You try them first.
As it says on one supplier’s website: “Face the Fear, Forge the Fashion, Feed the Future”. No, after you.

Independent Germany
Sustainable energy is one of the most important aspects of our sustainable future. I recently went to a lecture by Prof Andy Heyes of the University of Strathclyde who looked at our options in some detail. I thought this would be of interest to you, listeners or readers of the Sustainable Futures Report and I was fortunate enough to meet him recently and record an interview. I'll publish that just as soon as I have the transcription which is currently in process.

Meanwhile, Germany has broken a new record for renewable energy, with low-carbon sources nearly obliterating coal and nuclear power recently. At one point on a sunny and breezy Sunday, sustainable energy from wind, solar, biomass and hydro power provided a record 85 per cent of the country’s total energy. Electricity prices fell to negative figures for several hours, as renewable sources fed so much power into the grid that supply exceeded demand

Germany has been investing heavily in renewables, as part of the government's Energiewende initiative to transition away from fossil fuels and nuclear power to a low carbon, environmentally sound, reliable, and affordable energy supply by 2050.

The country's ambitious energy transition aims for at least 80 per cent of all power to come from renewables by 2050, with intermediate targets of 35 to 40 percent share by 2025 and 55 to 60 percent by 2035.

Juliana Still Complaining
Amid all the noise about the Paris climate change agreements and the director of the FBI you probably missed the news that the US government is still being pursued through the courts for threatening children's health by doing nothing to prevent emissions and climate change. This action has been going on for some two years, since before Trump was elected. The government and the fossil fuel industry, who are joint defendants, first argued that the case should go to appeal even though it has not get been decided in lower courts. Alternatively they argued that the case should be put on hold. Judge Thomas Coffin denied both requests. The children in whose name this action is brought - it’s called the Juliana Complaint - are supported by  Our Children’s Trust, which advocates for legally-binding, science-based climate recovery policies on behalf of youth and future generations.

Bumps on the Road to Brexit
In Civil Service World, Mark Rowe reports that untangling the UK’s complicated relationship with European environmental policies and subsidies could be the hardest part of leaving the EU. Despite being one of the smallest government departments, DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has one of the biggest Brexit to-do-lists.

Defra’s brief includes EU laws that set standards relating to conservation for birds and habitats, pesticides, drinking water and bathing water quality. Defra handles arguably the two most fiendishly complicated links between the UK and the EU, the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy

The farming sector as a whole uses 700,000 migrants and maintains it cannot gather crops or sell at competitive prices without this labour. However,  secretary of state Andrea Leadsom – a prominent Brexiteer – has declined to offer reassurance about a revival of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme for both EU and non-EU workers, which granted temporary visas until it ended in 2013. She further warned at a National Farmers Union conference in February that “we mustn’t forget that a key factor behind the vote to leave the EU was to control immigration”.

Defra’s budget is 17% smaller now than in 2010, according to the Institute for Government, and will be almost 35% smaller by March 2019. In addition to all this DEFRA is responsible for the implementation of the government’s 25-year plan for the natural environment, - you remember, the one we’re still waiting for. “Defra has been told that nothing stops,” the Institute for Government’s spokesperson says. “Brexit has just been layered on top of those projects. That is a significant challenge.” Amongst all the many issues which DEFRA must consider is the availability of neonicotinoids, the systemic insecticide which threatens honeybees and the pollinators. Will they support the farmers or the bees (and the rest of us who rely on pollinated food crops)?

Circular Standard
And finally, there is a new standard for the circular economy.
BS 8001. Framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy in organisations. It's shown as a draft for discussion, although the deadline for comments passed in January. There is a big feature on it in the Ethical Corporation’s monthly magazine. Case studies show how industry is taking the concept seriously even though it is still generally well below the public’s radar. Like all the other issues that I report on in the Sustainable Futures Report  I just hope that constant repetition will eventually raise awareness.

And that's it for another week.
You see? Still nothing at all about the British parliamentary election. However, next week the parties should be publishing their election manifestos so I shall leaf through those (the authorised ones) and let you know what they are promising on sustainability.

I'm Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Just a closing word about . Next week I'm setting up an online discussion for gold supporters and above. Sign up now if you want to take part.

And that's all for this week. Have a good one and there will be another Sustainable Futures Report next Friday. In the meantime I’ve got to go and look at my bees They were giving every sign of swarming this morning. I hope I can find where they’ve gone and get them back!

Bye for now!