Are we leaving the Goldilocks zone - that part of the universe where life can exist? It's not too hot and it's not too cold; in fact it's just right. How much longer will the Earth be in the Goldilocks zone?
And if it’s not hot enough already, some politicians seem to be making a bonfire of their principles, while others, notably the so-called Common Sense Group of MPs, are urging people to take this heatwave in their stride. Bad environmental news from Australia and testing times for the new government as permits for new coal mines require decisions.
I'm Anthony Day.
Welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 22nd July.
What am I talking about?
Before I go any further today, let me ask, “What am I talking about?” It's a question you may well be asking too. As I see it there are two main issues. One is the climate crisis and the other one is maintaining the planet.
In my view they are equally important but the climate crisis is by far the most urgent, mainly because things seem to be going in the wrong direction.
Maintaining the Planet
By maintaining the planet, I mean taking action to make sure that we don't use up all the resources, we don't drain all the water, we don't destroy biodiversity. In the best traditions of sustainability we aim to leave a planet which will support an equivalent standard of living to our own for those who follow us. As I said, I think the climate crisis is the most urgent. The heatwave in continental Europe and across much of the UK has concentrated minds but for how long, I wonder. I'll talk about that some more in a moment.
I am regularly offered a very wide range of possible interview topics and I believe that in future I must be much more selective. Many of the products and technologies which I have discussed with interviewees will certainly help with the maintenance of the planet, avoiding pollution and making responsible use of resources. The problem is that almost without exception the difference they make is small and the time they’ll to make a difference is long.
If the climate crisis is urgent maybe I should get out from behind my keyboard and join the people like those from XR protesting outside the offices of JP Morgan last weekend. I comfort myself by believing that constantly reminding people of the urgency of the climate crisis through this podcast is enough, but is it?
I've shared one recent idea for an interview with my patrons and I'd like to take the opportunity to thank everybody, so many of you, who came back with your ideas and suggestions. So I won't be doing that particular topic.
Oh, and thanks for your comments about my GBNews interview, Manda Scott. And if you haven’t heard it, it’s at the end of last Friday’s Sustainable Futures Report, No 422.
And so let's move to the key issues concerning the climate crisis which have crossed my desk this week.
In the UK we're just coming to the end of a week of exceptional heat. The record for the highest temperature was broken by 1.6°C at 40.3°C. There are heatwaves across continental Europe and countries such as Spain are planning for temperatures of 50°C. Here in York in the north of England temperatures in excess of 38°C were recorded, already higher than the previous national record.
Before the heatwave started there were predictions that there would be increased deaths and that people would finally realise that the climate emergency is real and urgent. I’ve visited hot countries but I found Tuesday very wearing. Few UK homes have air conditioning and while some public buildings are cooled nobody wanted to walk into town to find them. I felt trapped and I’m sure many others had it worse. Sadly many people jumped into water to cool off and several did not survive. The heat probably hastened the deaths of many vulnerable people - already there’s talk of 1,000 heat-related deaths across Spain and Portugal - but official figures are not get available.
Did it make people call for immediate action on climate change? Not really. Sir John Hayes MP a member of the Common Sense Group at Westminster said, “This is not a brave new world but a cowardly new world where we live in a country where we are frightened of the heat. It is not surprising that in snowflake Britain, the snowflakes are melting. Thankfully, most of us are not snowflakes.” Others said that they had survived the heatwave of 1976 so they would have no problem surviving 2022. Although they got a lot of traction on social media, the press was generally critical.
The heatwave in 1976 came after a long period of drought, but temperatures were some 4°C lower than those seen this week. 40°C is well above normal body heat and therefore it is difficult for the body to cool itself. If it cannot cool itself, serious, possibly even fatal, consequences follow. That's the first issue that we have to face.
The second issue is the wildfires that broke out on the hottest day of the year. Grass fires which spread and set fire to 60 houses across the UK on Tuesday. Fires which put the greatest pressure on the London Fire Brigade since the Second World War and put two fire fighters in hospital with heat exhaustion. Fires which tore through fields of corn. The Times reports that as of this week, there have been 420 fires in England and Wales since the start of the year, according to the National Fire Chiefs Council. There were 247 in the whole of 2021, and 200 the year before that.
The third issue is water. There were pictures in the press of dried-out reservoirs. They won't have dried out overnight in response to a single hot day. This must reflect lower rainfall and probably increased demand as well. As rainfall declines the proportion of sewage in our rivers grows. If we have insufficient water, and hot and dry weather puts our food crops at risk we are seeing the sort of consequences that are already arising across the world. We’ve had far more wildfires than usual in the UK, but there were wildfires as well across continental Europe. Wildfires destroy crops, they destroy habitats, they destroy biodiversity and while a field of corn can be replanted and another crop can be harvested next year, forests and woodland and wildlife will take years to recover. As long as the fires don’t come back next year.
Scientists warned that we must achieve net zero, in other words we must stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, if we are to avoid heat waves like the ones we are seeing now. But surely, the concentration of greenhouse gases as it exists is causing this extreme weather. We can only reduce the risk if we can physically reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Leaving that aside for the moment, how are we doing on reducing the global emissions? According to Our World In Data the rate of emissions slowed during the 2021 lockdown, but we are still adding between 35 and 40 billion tonnes each year. Net Zero means adding none at all. Getting the climate crisis under control means getting to Net Zero and then extracting some of the emissions that we have pumped into the atmosphere over the last couple of centuries.
Bonfire of the Principles
This brings me to the Bonfire of the Principles that I mentioned earlier, and like most things sustainable it all comes down to energy. The conflict in Ukraine has put pressure on natural gas supplies in Europe since Russia is a principal supplier. Russia has already suspended deliveries to some European countries because they have refused its demands to pay in roubles. The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline has never been brought into operation and Nord Stream 1 is currently closed for annual maintenance. It is scheduled to reopen today, Thursday 21st July, but there are fears that Russia will make excuses to keep it closed and therefore limit European countries’ ability to restock their gas reserves or indeed to run their industry and heat their homes as winter approaches.
The EU is taking action and has signed an agreement with the President of Azerbaijan for the supply of gas from the Caspian region with a doubling of supply over five years.
Meanwhile President Biden has been visiting Saudi Arabia where he fist-bumped the ruler and urged him to increase the production of oil.
There are undeniable political problems because the thought of people sitting in the cold and the dark must be every politician’s nightmare. But I call these actions the bonfire of the principles because the current president of Azerbaijan has ruledfor the last 19 years with a reputation for corruption and human rights abuses. But he has gas to sell.
President Biden has been meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a man that he described as a pariah following the murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Embassy in Turkey, in a plot almost certainly approved by the prince. But he has oil to sell.
In the event Biden didn't get the agreement he wanted, and the oil price continue to rise.
So that’s human rights principle abandoned. But isn’t tackling the climate crisis a principle as important as protecting human rights? OK, political reality demands compromises, but where are the speed limits to cut petrol consumption, the insulation programmes to keep houses warm with less energy? Where is the public information programme to prepare people in Germany and other European nations for a hard and difficult winter? Where’s the declaration of climate emergency? It’s hard not to fall back on to cliches about sleepwalking into disaster and words like “deckchairs” and “Titanic” keep coming to mind.
More Principles Abandoned
Just a couple more examples of abandoned principles; ignoring the climate of the environment for political expediency. Having turned its back on Europe as a result of Brexit, the British government has concluded a trade deal with Australia which is generally believed to be most favourable to the Australians at the expense of British farmers. Australian agriculture uses antibiotics and pesticides which are banned in the UK and has a poor environmental record. Green groups – including WWF, Sustain, Green Alliance, Compassion in World Farming, the Soil Association, the Trade Justice Movement and the Tenant Farmers’ Association – have taken the legal action under the Aarhus convention, an international agreement that requires public consultation on decisions by the government or public sector that have an impact on the environment. Determined to avoid any controversy, the government has blocked any further debate in parliament before the agreement becomes law.
According to the government's own estimate, the new agreement will increase the size of the British economy by about 0.02% over 15 years.
Australia has just published a damning national environmental report, held over until after the recent election.
At the same time the international trade secretary is believed to want to relax tariffs for goods including palm oil from Malaysia, a country of top concern over deforestation. The removal of tariffs without any green strings attached would undercut the UK’s parallel efforts to end illegal deforestation overseas, one of the centrepieces of the deal that ministers forged at the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year.
Sam Lawson, the director of the UK campaign group Earthsight, who has spent many years investigating deforestation for palm oil in Malaysia, said: “This proposal to slash tariffs on Malaysian palm oil without any conditions regarding the devastating deforestation those imports are known to cause is utter madness. Instead of addressing the cost of living crisis, this government is using it as a hollow excuse for ditching its own climate goals in a craven effort to get another trade agreement under its belt.”
No Compromise - XR
While politicians may be forced to compromise in defiance of facts and reality, others will protect their principles at all costs. I’m talking about the six medical professionals who were arrested on Sunday for damaging the offices of bankers JP Morgan. The protesters cracked windows at the front of the building and put up signs saying, ‘in case of medical climate emergency break glass’.
“JP Morgan is the world’s biggest funder of fossil fuels, having poured $384.2 billion into the sector since the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016. The financial services giant and investment bank funded the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $61.7 billion in 2021, the same year the International Energy Agency stated that new oil, gas or coal investment must end if the world is to reach net zero by 2050.
“Heatwaves are known to pose a variety of health risks, including an increased risk of stroke, and heart failure. Periods of extreme heat have also been linked to negative impacts on mental health and increased suicide rates, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change looking at data from the U.S and Mexico. Experts have warned that thousands of people in the UK could die as a result of the coming heatwave, with both the vulnerable as well as the fit and healthy at risk.”
There followed statements from each of the six protesters. You can find the link below/on the Sustainable Futures Report website.
On 5th September the UK will have a new prime minister. Alok Sharma, chair of COP26 and responsible for the actions agreed at that conference until COP27 takes over in November, threatened to resign if the candidates did not take the climate emergency seriously. Some of them had said that climate action should be subordinate to getting the economy going, although after the very hot weather and Sharma’s threat they all paid lip service at least to climate change.
Nothing much will happen before the 5th of September. The current prime minister, yes Boris is still nominally prime minister, did not bother to turn up for the cabinet briefing on the heat wave, instead partying at his official country residence. Still it's not as though it was urgent.
And that's enough for this week
There will be no Wednesday interview next week, despite the fact I continued to be overwhelmed with requests for interviews. I’m looking for quality, and for relevance. You can look forward to next Friday’s Sustainable Futures Report - the last before I close down for August.
Thanks for listening, thanks to all my patrons, and I hope you have a very good and somewhat cooler week.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report
Until next time.
 The Independent: Every river in England is polluted, government figures reveal
The Financial Times (paywall): Water companies leaked sewage into UK waters 370,000 times in 2021
 The Rivers Trust: Sewage Reduction Plan
Our World In Data - emissions
Gas from Azerbaijan
Biden fails to get support from Saudi
Australian Trade deal
Australian State of Environment
Reducing restrictions on palm oil
Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/alexantropov86-2691829/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=7180090">Alexander Antropov</a> from <a href=“https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=7180090”>Pixabay</a>
Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/ajale-1481387/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1474962">Ajale</a> from <a href=“https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1474962">Pixabay</a>