Before we start let's remember the people caught up in the terrible earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. Sustainability news doesn’t stop, nor does the weather, nor do GHG emissions. I’ve a bit of catching up to do, including XR, more extreme weather, wood burning stoves, the government’s environmental plan, FOMO and FOFO, the controversy over Verra and carbon offsets, the future for podcasts, the financial climate, the unlawful arrest of journalists, biodiversity and the cost of Twitter, a comment from Greta and a whole lot more that I’m going to have to hold over until next week.
Just Stop Oil
First, Just Stop Oil. You may remember that last year seven women were found guilty of criminal damage after they deliberately and very carefully cracked the glass at the front of Barclays Bank’s headquarters in Canary Wharf. They stuck labels on it saying “In case of Climate Emergency Break Glass.” Barclays Bank is a major investor in the fossil fuel industry and has continued to invest billions since the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb emissions.
On 27th January the seven came up for sentence and were given between 6 and 8 months imprisonment, suspended for two years. Each defendant will have to pay £500 in prosecution costs. Counsel for the prosecution said that Barclays sought compensation, believed to be around £100,000, but no compensation costs were imposed by the judge. It's not clear whether Barclays can recover compensation by a separate legal action. I hope to talk to one of the defendants, Zoe Cohen, who has appeared previously on the Sustainable Futures Report, and find out more details.
The judge spoke about the defendant’s “sincerely held beliefs” which to my mind categorises them with religions, which are no more than lifestyle choices. Climate science is real. It can never be totally definitive and there is always the possibility that it will be proved wrong, but at the moment the overwhelming probability is that continued emissions of greenhouse gases, significantly caused by the consumption of fossil fuels, will lead to planetary disaster. While we can accept that the science may possibly be wrong, we are taking a very risky course if we ignore it altogether.
In the UK the professional bodies for lawyers are the Bar Council and the Law Society. I must look into whether they provide guidance to their members on climate issues.
Extinction Rebellion started the year with a clear resolution: “We Quit”.
They are going to stop staging non-violent protests which inconvenience the public. They want to avoid alienating the public. Of course, if no-one is inconvenienced there’s no story, no media coverage, no change, but blocking roads and so on has not achieved change either. The only reaction from government seems to be the promise of more legislation to curb protests and free speech.
The new strategy that XR is calling The Big One involves getting everyone on side and culminating in 100,000 people assembling in London’s Parliament Square on 21st April. The details are on the website and it looks as though the plan is to besiege Parliament and for as many people as possible to stay as long as possible - maybe days, weeks - until parliament is forced to act. Not many people have signed up so far, but there are more than two months to go. I should be there on the 21st, but for those of us living outside London it is difficult to stay for much longer because of transport and accommodation costs.
Between now and then there’s a continuing information campaign urging all supporters to explain to friends and family why all this is important and how it links in with inflation, rising prices and industrial unrest. They say:
“Integrated with XR’s methodical mobilisation campaign Project 3.5, thousands of people with a shared purpose will build bridges of inclusion and cooperation, and through revitalised engagement and a calendar of actions. As the days count down, momentum, relationships, resilience, trust and numbers build up.”
XR points out that a mass gathering brought down the Berlin Wall.
It appears that Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain are not convinced by this new approach, and will continue with non-violent direct action.
Why is this important?
It’s important because nothing is being done, or at least not nearly enough. Every COP ends with promises and the expectation that everything will be finally sorted at the next COP and so we go on, as the clock counts down and the rate of CO2 emissions continues to rise.
Once again, 2022 was the hottest year on record with an exception in December. As the year came to an end North America experienced exceptional snowstorms and freezing temperatures extending way south. As the New Year started Europe experienced a heat wave. Right across Europe temperatures were up to 10℃ above normal. It is difficult to sympathise with the rich whose ski breaks were spoilt by snowmelt; more important to be concerned about the effect this might have on agriculture - you know, the industry that grows all the food without which we’d all starve.
You may not have heard of the Kimberley. It’s actually in the far northwest of Australia. Over Christmas ex-tropical cyclone Ellie made landfall with extensive flooding in the towns of Fitzroy Crossing and Broome and dozens of bridges washed away. Remote settlements were cut off and without power for weeks. James Ashley from the Bureau of Meteorology said 60,000 cubic metres of water per second were moving down the Fitzroy River –“that’s more water than they believe they’ve seen in any river in Australia, ever.”
Moving down the river in one day “is about what Perth uses, water wise, in 20 years”, he said.
When I wrote this in January, the floods in the Kimberley were still high, but the snows had receded in the US and forecasters were predicting unseasonable warm weather in the north-eastern states. Now this week a record-setting wind chill of minus 78 degrees Celsius was recorded at the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire as a blast of Arctic air descended on the north-east corner of the United States. What was once classed as extreme weather seems to be rapidly becoming the norm.
It is suggested that the return of El Niño in 2023 will lead to more extreme weather towards the end of the year and into 2024. Before all that happens there is damage to be undone, in the Kimberley, in the US, in Europe and let’s not forget Pakistan which suffered extensive floods last year. And sympathy, too, to the victims of the earthquake in Turkey, although we can’t blame the climate for that.
It maybe circumstantial, but everything else is very clear evidence of the effects of climate change and our progress down the highway to Hell described by Antonio Guterres, General Secretary of the UN.
That’s why it’s important. That’s why we must pressure the UK government and all other governments to act. Yes, the UK is tiny in the scheme of things, responsible for only about 1% of global GHG emissions. But the UK government is the one we in the UK have the best chance of influencing. We must do all we can to get it on the right side of the argument.
For the moment, the government appears to be ill-informed and defeatist. Our minister for the environment, Thérèse Coffey, she who recommended re-usable coffee cups as a route to saving the planet, has relaxed the requirements on water companies to clean up river pollution and says that the 2030 target to cut back urban air pollution is unachievable so she has reduced the targets for that as well. Not unachievable at all, according to research by King’s College and Imperial College London. The government could achieve the more stringent targets, which are supported by the public in polls, they say, if it took stronger action on the sources of pollution, which include diesel cars and wood-burning. Wood burning stoves, which are a fashion item rather than an efficient heat source, pollute the atmosphere of the room every time they are opened for refuelling and domestic burning of coal and wood is responsible for 40% of outdoor particulate pollution.
Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of charity Asthma + Lung UK, said: “Air pollution is a public health emergency which causes 36,000 premature deaths each year.”
There are regulations to control smoke and soot, but despite thousands of complaints only a handful have ever led to prosecution. Thérèse Coffey has said she does not want to point fingers, and to be fair local authorities, who are responsible for enforcing the law, have ever-dwindling resources and many more important things to deal with.
FOMO and FOFO
We've all heard of FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out, but the new acronym is FOFO, Fear Of Finding Out. It's the theme of that film Don't Look Up. Don't look up and you won't see that meteorite, that glowing fireball on a direct collision course with the Earth. Don't look up. You won't see it and if you can't see it it can't be there, can it? La La La La La La La La La.
When people put serious comments about the climate on social media they are frequently trolled by people who want to share the most ridiculous ideas, to make the most ridiculous accusations and surely this is just displacement activity because they're afraid to find out the truth. Did you see that film by the way? I’ve just watched Seaspiracy. I know it came out over a year ago but like Don't Look Up it is only available on Netflix and I don't have a subscription. A number of things about Seaspiracy:
- I wonder if you'll ever eat fish again after you've seen it
- It features Professor Callum Roberts, formerly of York University. Some of you will remember that I interviewed him for the Sustainable Futures Report in October 2015
- The Sustainable Futures Report for 1st February 2021 went into detail about fishing, the oceans and pollution. It included commentary on What a Fish Knows by Jonathan Balcombe. Read it if you haven’t already. And then see if you still want to eat fish.
Last month The Guardian and German magazine Die Zeit published a report criticising Verra, the international organisation which certifies the majority of carbon credits. We are talking about a particular type of carbon credit, REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation). Businesses of all types purchase these credits and assure their customers that their operations are carbon neutral. Flying with their airline, eating their sausages, even filling up with their petrol is apparently helping the planet because they have purchased Verra-certified carbon credits.
TheGuardian/Die Zeit report claims that over 90% of these credits are worthless and have no beneficial effect on the climate. They may even, they claim, cause damage. Verra has responded in detail and links to the original article and the response are in the Sources section at the end of this article.
Although REDD+ credits are endorsed by the UN, I have always had doubts about them, even if they work well. If part of a rainforest is cleared then this destruction leads to the emission of GHG, principally CO2. Verra has detailed methodologies for assessing exactly how much CO2 would be emitted, taking into account the type and age of the trees and vegetation. The theory is that the landowner will be paid not to cut the forest and this therefore avoids an increase in atmospheric GHG which would otherwise occur. The purchaser receives carbon credits in proportion to this, emits an equivalent volume of CO2 from its own operations and claims that the net effect is carbon neutral.
The Guardian/Die Zeit report takes issue with the way certification is handled. Is there really a likelihood that this forest will be felled? Is forest destruction actually being avoided?
My concern is with the actual principle involved. Even if it works, there is no reduction in CO2 levels. In fact there is a gain.
Let’s take an example. A bathtub half full, where the water represents the GHG contained in the atmosphere. We don’t want that water level (emissions level) to rise, but if I operate my business as usual I’m going to generate emissions represented by a bucketful of water. Happily I meet a forester, who tells me that if he cuts down his trees the emissions released will be about the same as mine. I pay him not to cut down his trees and so not to tip his bucket into the bath. He gives me a certificate to confirm the agreement and the emissions-value of the trees that he’s not cutting down. I empty my bucket into the bath and claim that my operation is carbon neutral because it is completely offset by the trees that were not cut down.
The reason I see this as a total illusion, is because at the end of the day the level in the bath has been increased by one bucketful. If I had not paid the forester and he'd tipped his bucket into the bath then the level would have gone up by two bucketsful, so the increase is less than it might have been but it is still an increase. It would only be carbon-neutral if someone had actually removed one bucket of water from the bath before I tipped mine in. If we rely on illusory offsets to allow us to continue business as usual the problem of atmospheric emissions is only going to get worse.
The sad fact is that despite all the offset schemes the level of GHG in the atmosphere is not only increasing, but increasing at a faster rate.
I’ll have more to say on this in a future episode.
The Financial Climate
Jerome H. Powell, chair of the US Federal Reserve, said last month that the Fed was not the right institution to delve into issues like mitigating climate change.
“Without explicit congressional legislation, it would be inappropriate for us to use our monetary policy or supervisory tools to promote a greener economy or to achieve other climate-based goals,” he said. “We are not, and will not be, a ‘climate policymaker.”
Mr. Powell has been clear that the Fed should not try to incentivise banks to lend to green projects or discourage them from lending to carbon-producing ones. It should retain political independence in all matters. In London the governor of the Bank of England expressed similar views.
The obvious conclusion is that legislation must urgently be put into place because there is no doubt that finance is the lifeblood of the fossil fuel industry, as it is of any other industry or organisation.
The Right to Protest
As long as finance is made available to the fossil fuel industry protesters will continue to protest. Some Just Stop Oil activists have stated that the only penalty which would deter them would be the death penalty. The government is a long way from that, of course, but it is introducing legislation to make protest more difficult. The law currently going through parliament will give the police increased powers and will allow them to prevent people that they suspect might possibly cause a disturbance from attending protests or rallies. Let's get this clear. They are not arresting people for committing offences, but they will in future be allowed to detain them because they might be going to cause a disturbance.
A worrying story comes from London where the mayor was holding a public inquiry into the proposed Silvertown tunnel beneath the Thames. A number of people who objected to the scheme were recognised and called by name by the security guards at the entrance and refused permission to enter. Apparently they had been identified with the use of CCTV and facial recognition. What database they were on, and what right the security staff had to use this data is not clear but the fact that they were excluded raises questions about freedom of speech and secret surveillance. It also casts doubt on the value of the public inquiry if interested members of the public were excluded.
Last year members of Just Stop Oil blocked the M25, London’s orbital motorway. Journalists covering the story were arrested and detained overnight by the police, even though they provided their credentials as journalists. Hertfordshire constabulary have admitted their officers acted unlawfully by arresting a photographer and violated his right to free speech, and the force has accepted liability for false imprisonment over his detention. No doubt the other three will receive similar apologies.
So is that all right then? Of course not. Police know the rights of journalists. It’s hard to believe that these reporters were not only arrested but taken to the cells. The public were deprived of an independent view of the protest and of the actions of the police.
Bill of Rights
A Bill of Rights is currently going through Parliament. At present British citizens have a right of appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Britain was one of the founders of the ECHR, which is completely separate from the EU and therefore totally unaffected by Brexit. It is likely that the new bill of rights will remove the right of appeal to the ECHR. Will that make things better for the citizen, or better for governments determined to push through their dogma at any cost?
A couple more stories…
…before I leave you.
Biodiversity and Twitter
The COP15 biodiversity conference was held before Christmas and the conclusion was that $30 billion would be needed to protect biodiversity in areas most at risk. It's been pointed out that at around the same time Elon Musk decided to spend $40 billion on a vanity purchase – the takeover of Twitter. One cannot help wondering whether the best place for vast riches is in the hands of rich people.
Are podcasts no longer fashionable? I read somewhere that the rate of new podcasts being launched is declining, but I read somewhere else that in the UK at least the number of listeners to Podcasts is expected to grow.
Not sure what to make of that, but I can tell you that the Sustainable Futures Report has been going since 2007, although not called that at the beginning, this is episode number 447 and I'll probably get to 500 before I give up. In fact I'll probably be very close to 500 around the turn of the year. I hope you'll still be with me and I hope as many of your friends as you can tell will be with me too.
This is quite a long podcast, mainly because there are so many stories to catch up on.
It will probably come out at around 30 minutes but I haven't finished the recording yet so I don't quite know. I'd very much like to have your feedback about the length of each episode. I know some people produce hour-long editions and others cut it back to as little as 10 minutes. I know the length of my episodes is not particularly consistent, but if I were able to be consistent what's your ideal length?
A word from Greta
Former kickboxer, professional misogynist and online influencer Andrew Tate and his brother Tristan Tate were recently arrested by Romanian authorities in connection with appalling allegations of sex trafficking, which they deny.
Just before that he’d sent a tweet to Greta Thunberg about his sports car collection. “Please provide your email address so I can send a complete list of my car collection and their respective enormous emissions,” he wrote.
Greta’s response? “Yes, please do enlighten me. email me at
And that's a note to end on. Thank you for listening, thank you for being a patron if you are, and all you have to do is to go to patreon.com/SFR if you're not.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report .
Who knows what next week will bring? Another episode of the SFR, for sure.
Bye for now.
Fed says climate change is not its responsibility
Unlawful arrest of journalists
Spying on Protesters
Investment v cost of twitter
What a Fish Knows by Jonathan Balcombe
Verra - Carbon Offsets
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Apparently tax cuts, which will give people more to spend, will stimulate growth whereas pay awards, which will give people more to spend, will boost inflation. Am I missing something?