Are ‘super farms’ good for the environment?

My response to http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2012/jun/07/super-farms-environment-livestock-climate

The case for super farms ignores two things.

1. It is increasing the case that monoculture proves to be a bad thing, in farming like anything else. Moving to larger scales of monoculture merely increases the likelihood that diseases and pests will claim the entire huge crop. Mixed cultures are much better from that perspective.

2. A “super” farm is only possible with large amounts of cheap energy. The costs of energy are rising and will continue to do so.

I also heard on the radio this morning that super farms will create jobs because 1 man can now do what 10 used to. Not sure how that works?

What seems to be more useful is the opposite: small, human scale organic farms with mixed crops, probably designed using permaculture principles. This would seem to be a more productive way forward to produce more food, of different types, and more employment, while using less energy.

Zac Goldsmith: climate change pushes other issues off the agenda

My response to http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jun/06/climate-change-other-issues-goldsmith?commentpage=all#start-of-comments

I would blame the media, who only seem capable of focusing on one issue at a time. Politicians respond to that.

Most environmentalists (like myself) know that we need to change nearly everything we as a species do if we want to avoid a collapse of our civilization. Pick your scenario – economic collapse, 6 degree temperature rise (and counting), sea level rise, resource depletion, peak oil, soil sterility, antibiotic resistant disease, crop failure, pesticides in our foods poisoning us, the obesity epidemic, the fact that we eat fish today that were considered inedible when I was a kid, the lack of fresh water etc etc. There’s plenty more and they’re all very feasible right now.

It is our economic system that delivers all this, supposedly in the name of progress. If we were all happy, perhaps it would be worth it, but most of us aren’t. Why, exactly are we destroying our own habitat in order to make ourselves miserable?

Saying no-one votes for the environment misses the point. The laws of physics, chemistry and biology don’t negotiate. If we have to wait for our “politics is the art of the possible” to reluctantly see the need for action then we’re in deep trouble.

Unfortunately what we need are brave politicians. I don’t see any in the West, so I guess we’re going to have to collapse before we can start to build a sustainable future for humanity. At least that will be better, but it’s going to be interesting getting there.

Thoughts after my Permaculture Design Course

It’s interesting watching yourself have your own world view changed.

As I drove to Steve and Fiona Hansons “Permaculture Eden” for my two week design course, I was wondering if after two weeks I’d finally know what to plant with what. I guess I had permaculture fixated in my head as “hippy gardening”, and the only reason I was really going was because the Transition Handbook strongly suggested it was a good thing to do.

I’ve always liked nature – I enjoy hiking on mountains and in forests, but I guess I viewed it as a kind of nice to have thing. Great to get into, but nothing to do with the real world of people.

Then came the two week immersion, with a fantastic group of intelligent people, coming at the whole topic from different angles. We had different cultures, ate different foods (I am not, and almost certainly never will be by choice, a Vegan), spoke different native tounges, and came from different backgrounds. A mix of practical and hopeless (I’m still working on my tree and herb identification), but all with a great desire to learn about the subject.

On day one, I was sceptical. All this talk about the people that started it. By the end of day two I was hooked. This wasn’t hippy, this was really design science! I was in my element. By the end of day seven, we were due a break. I needed it, pleading “my head’s full”. But we kept discussing, and kept learning. By the end of the course, we’d learned all sorts of things, some new, some not so, and could piece it all together. We were so pleased with our design, and all of us wanted to stay on and build it, and see if it could really be done. I’m sure we’ll all build part of it somewhere.

Before we all left, we held a party, and I drove to the supermarket for beer. It seemed so strange going into this enormous shop and buying things that we could just grow.

The following day, driving home, I realised that I would never see the world in the same way again. What had been nice pretty hedges on the way in, had become fabulous edges, full of interaction, co-operation and competition. What had been nice fields became lifeless deserts, with a monoculture crop standing in a lifeless dead ex-soil supported by pesticides and fertilisers. And the trees! Not just satisfying to look at but a source of so much, capable, if managed properly, of sustaining many of our needs.

When I got back to Ferney-Voltaire, my pensive mood continued. Who knew there was so much food lying around growing in the town already? I had thought growing food in town would be really difficult, but now I know that by working with nature, rather than against it, it’ll be much easier than we think.

Copenhagen climate change conference: ‘Fourteen days to seal history’s judgment on this generation’

This editorial calling for action from world leaders on climate change is published today by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages

Editorial-logo-001

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June’s UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: “We can go into extra time but we can’t afford a replay.”

At the deal’s heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world’s biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of “exported emissions” so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than “old Europe”, must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”.

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

This editorial will be published today by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. The text was drafted by a Guardian team during more than a month of consultations with editors from more than 20 of the papers involved. Likethe Guardian most of the newspapers have taken the unusual step of featuring the editorial on their front page.

This editorial is free to reproduce under Creative Commons

Creative Commons License

Climate change: Go figure!

Climate change: Go figure! brings climate change down to a few stark numbers.  With all the talk about “climategate” in the UK we seem to have a British population intent on saying that a few emails will make global warming go away.

Here’s the problem:  The laws of physics don’t do political compromise

Here’s my post from the above comments section:

So if people think a few emails “break the conspiracy” for scientists to collude across the world for years so they can….what? Get a weekend in Copenhagen in December? If you think climate scientists are getting rich on a made-up AGW theory you clearly haven’t investigated the salaries of scientists.

More seriously, let’s suppose the “climategate” people are right, and the global warming isn’t man-made (please note this goes against far more science than just that from Cambridge). If mankind isn’t doing it, then were are really in trouble. Because if we aren’t the cause – we don’t know what is causing the glaciers to melt and the ice sheets to shrink.

Which means we don’t know how to stop it.

Which means we had better prepare for sea-level rises now, and start working out how to deal with the hundreds of millions of climate refugees that are coming, as we have no idea how to stop climate change.

Myself, I’d rather trust the scientists that say we do have a good idea of what is going on and have a chance of stopping it, because the alternative is too awful to contemplate.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll continue reducing my CO2 footprint and saving myself money…