#BlackFriday – a day to promote mass consumerism and acquire unnecessary possessions. If you want to contribute towards a habitable planet for future generations of our species and of other species, perhaps don’t allow yourself to be bewitched by the ingenious advertising.
Good article highlighting the parlous state of England’s watchdog for our beleaguered wildlife:
I’ve watched and listened to a number of programmes related to the partition of India into two separate states during August 1947…
The haste at which this was carried out, particularly the drawing over a few weeks of the two new borders between India demarcating the two areas which were to become Pakistan, beggars disbelief! India had been clamouring for independence for years with Britain refusing to act, then suddenly after WW2, with Britain now broke and India requiring money for re-investment and modernisation, Britain led by Churchill and aided by Mountbatten, dropped India like a hot potato. Indian politicians, in particular Jinnah, and to a degree Nehru also carry a fair amount of blame for the eventual Partition and the ensuing bloodshed.
Britain seem to just want to forget about the rising tide of religious tension, under investment and the fact that thousands of men from India had fought and died for Britain in two World Wars. The ensuing slaughter of perhaps a million civilians along religious lines in the ensuing division of land, the five million displaced people, is truly shocking.
I know it’s easy with hindsight to judge events of some 70 years ago but it again makes me recoil from being proud of some aspects of what Britain and the Union Jack have done for the World, colonialism – exploitation and meddling in other peoples affairs, (include here Iraq, Palestine, Africa).
Two items of current focus in Brexit news this week have been environmental standards and trade talks.
Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox, appear to have differing goals where these two suggested policies meet.
Post-Brexit, Gove is talking of a ‘gold standard’ for the environment and for farming in the UK, whilst Fox has been in America getting-up close and cosy discussing a possible post-Brexit trade deal, which would very likely have to include meat US, produced to both lower husbandry and processing standards, being imported into this country. Read here, industrial-scale animal production with far fewer animals enjoying life outside grazing on grass (at least during the summers) and gobbling-up vast amounts of cereal and soya. Widespread use of growth hormones, antibiotics in feeds and lower cleanliness in poultry slaughter relying on a final clean-up with heavily-chlorinated water. The emphasis here should be about how the meat is produced not about whether the meat id healthy to eat or not.
The UK can’t have post-Brexit both Gove’s ‘gold standard’ environmental standards and Fox’s imported meat produced by cheaper, lower welfare standards. This ‘cheapness’ – with animals paying the difference with their lower standards of well-being, would make both the profitability of UK farmers even harder to achieve and it would also allow meat produced by these morally lower methods into the UK’s food chain.
Came across this shocking story today which to put in a nutshell, is a government department being unconstitutional and rounding-up and probably leading to slaughtering of thousands of wild horses, just so that greedy ranchers get more grazing!
Bill Will Send Them to Slaughter Against the Will of the American People.
Washington, DC (July 18, 2017). Today the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee stripped language from the Department of Interior’s 2018 budged that federally prohibits the slaughter of America’s federally protected wild horse and burro herds.
The amendment, put forth by by Republican Chris Stewart (R-UT) and passed by a voice vote, allows for the destruction of healthy wild horses and burros that Interior Department bureaucrats deem to be surplus. The removal of the protections would result in wild herds across the West being slaughtered on a mass scale. Captured wild horses and burros in government holding facilities would also be subject to being killed en masse.
Suzanne Roy, executive director of The American Wild Horse Campaign, the nation’s leading wild horse advocacy organization, issued a strong statement condemning the Committee’s vote.
“Let’s be clear: House Appropriations Committee members just signed a death warrant for America’s mustangs and it will lead to the wholesale destruction of these irreplaceable national treasures,” Ms. Roy said. “The Stewart amendment is a slaughter amendment, and its proponents are trying to hide that fact from the American people.”
“We will hold these Members of Congress to account for this public deception and unacceptable assault on our wild mustangs,” Ms. Roy said.
Recent public opinion polls and previous polls consistently show that 80% of Americans support protecting wild horses and burros from slaughter, and the vast majority support the use of humane birth control rather than slaughter to manage our nation’s wild horse herds.
The bill now moves onto the full House for a vote. The Senate is expected to take up the issue after the August recess.
About the American Wild Horse Campaign
The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) (formerly known as the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign) is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. Its grassroots mission is endorsed by a coalition of more than 60 horse advocacy, humane and public interest organizations.
Trump yesterday has confirmed what most sensible people feared. This man is arrogant, selfish and shows himself to be ignorant and stupid! He is putting mankind and this beautiful planet in serious jeopardy.
June 1 2017. [Abridged]
Trump climate deal pullout: The global reaction. President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US is withdrawing from the 2015 Paris climate agreement has drawn strong reaction from supporters and opponents inside America and from around the world…
Former President Barack Obama, who negotiated the deal for Paris the US:
“The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created. I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack. But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect I’m confident for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”
French President Emmanuel Macron:
“I tell you firmly tonight: We will not renegotiate a less ambitious accord. There is no way. Don’t be mistaken on climate; there is no plan B because there is no planet B.”
Elon Musk, entrepreneur and Tesla Inc CEO who had served on a White House advisory council:
“Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world,”
US Senator Bernie Sanders, former Democratic presidential candidate:
“At this moment, when climate change is already causing devastating harm around the world, we do not have the moral right to turn our backs on efforts to preserve this planet for future generations.”
Democratic Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio:
“President Trump can turn his back on the world, but the world cannot ignore the very real threat of climate change. This decision is an immoral assault on the public health, safety and security of everyone on this planet. On behalf of the people of New York City, and alongside mayors across the country, I am committing to honour the goals of the Paris agreement with an executive order in the coming days, so our city can remain a home for generations to come.”
Democratic former US Secretary of State John Kerry:
“The president who promised “America First” has taken a self-destructive step that puts our nation last. This is an unprecedented forfeiture of American leadership which will cost us influence, cost us jobs, and invite other countries to walk away from solving humanity’s most existential crisis. It isolates the United States after we had united the world.”
Republican US House Speaker Paul Ryan:
“The Paris climate agreement was simply a raw deal for America. Signed by President Obama without Senate ratification, it would have driven up the cost of energy, hitting middle-class and low-income Americans the hardest. I commend President Trump for fulfilling his commitment to the American people and withdrawing from this bad deal.”
US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer:
“President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement is a devastating failure of historic proportions. Future generations will look back on President Trump’s decision as one of the worst policy moves made in the 21st century because of the huge damage to our economy, our environment and our geopolitical standing.”
Peabody Energy, largest coal mining firm in the US:
“Peabody supports the administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. We believe that abiding by the accord, without significant changes, would have substantially impacted the US economy, increased electricity costs and required the power sector to rely on less diverse and more intermittent energy. Peabody continues to advocate for greater use of technology to meet the world’s need for energy security, economic growth and energy solutions through high efficiency low emissions coal-fuelled power plants and research and development funding for carbon capture.”
UK Prime Minister Theresa May – a Downing Street statement:
“The Prime Minister expressed her disappointment with the decision and stressed that the UK remained committed to the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement provides the right global framework for protecting the prosperity and security of future generations, while keeping energy affordable and secure for our citizens and businesses.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (via spokesman Stephane Dujarric):
“The decision by the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change is a major disappointment for global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote global security. It is crucial that the United States remains a leader on environmental issues.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
“We are deeply disappointed that the United States federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth.”
European Commission climate action commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete:
“Today is a sad day for the global community, as a key partner turns its back on the fight against climate change. The EU deeply regrets the unilateral decision by the Trump administration to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement.”
President Frank Bainimarama of Fiji, which is organising the next UN annual climate meeting, COP23:
“The decision by the Trump Administration to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change is deeply disappointing, especially for the citizens of vulnerable nations throughout the world. As incoming President of COP23, I did what I could – along with many leaders around the world – to try to persuade President Trump to remain standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us as, together, we tackle the greatest challenge our planet has ever faced. While the loss of America’s leadership is unfortunate, this is a struggle that is far from over.”
And so the cool, dry spring continues without much prospect of change until towards the end of May…
May 6th and during the evening there was a group of 7 swifts hawking for insects in the cold easterly wind, high over St.Leonards old town. Still numbers of turnstones along the beach. May 8th and as I sat down to my breakfast, 6 swallows flew across the street at window height in that purposeful, determined flight behaviour that characterises swallows on migration, heading north-westwards. I wished them well.
May 8th. There’s still a reasonable population of english elms in the vicinity of the station at Pevensey. Also nearby, are a number of trees (poplar?) with thriving plants of mistletoe high in their crowns; nice to see.
May 18th. In the following pic, scrub-bashing with a difference! These fellas are removing dense ivy from off the cliff face at Rock-A-nor at Hastings in order to attach steel mesh safety netting as can be seen above them. They’re working from off ropes using pneumatically powered equipment.
On the same day in the evening, saw this amazing ‘barley-twist’ cloud formation.
May 24th. There were 10 swifts over St.Leonards old town as I sat having breakfast. Went for a walk in Ham Street Woods National Nature Reserve in Kent, a lovely wood but unfortunately there appears to be not a lot of coppicing now going on – how this wood was traditionally managed. Saw this tree which many years ago had suffered severe trauma, survived and prospered!
Nearby the entrance to the woods stands a row of four Victorian(?) cottages. I thought they were very unusual in that the upper storey is clad all around the entire block with butt-jointed slates with strips fixed over the vertical joints.
On this jaunt I travelled by train and spotted just west of Winchelsea good and bad farming practice – the latter almost certainly contravening government/EU regulations by cultivating as close to a watercourse as physically possible. The adjacent water must be receiving a very unhealthy cocktail of fertilizer and chemicals First, good practice with 2 metre wide uncultivated headlands on a neighbouring farm and then the bad. Apologies that the second doesn’t make the point very obvious but the train was going quite fast! Stile and post are on nearside of watercourse.
In the evening, saw my first painted lady butterfly; it was in beautiful condition and probably had not long arrived from across the Channel. About 10 swifts screaming high overhead mid-evening. I’m not religious but full marks to the Pope for giving Trump some serious reading matter today!
In a final betrayal of the Cadbury brand, Kraft has quietly abandoned its promise to stick with Fairtrade.
Hannah Fearn, Tuesday 29 November 2016.
When John Cadbury founded his legendary confectionery firm in 1824, he was selling just three products: tea, coffee and – perhaps more predictably – drinking chocolate. With the help of his brother Benjamin, he grew the business rapidly; by 1885 they were even supplying chocolate to Queen Victoria.
When John Cadbury’s sons took over the business in 1861 it had only 11 employees and was losing money – but the pair turned it around. At the end of the century, inspired by their father’s Quaker ideals, the brothers built the Bournville estate to house the hundreds of workers the company’s now vast factory required and “alleviate the evils of modern, more cramped, living conditions” in the process.
Cadbury’s was just one of a proud tradition of ethical British businesses, including the confectioner Rowntree, Clarks the shoemaker and Wedgewood pottery. Here was a company that provided a quality product to the people, and exercised a social responsibility in doing so.
Sadly, the creation of the still-lively community at Bournville may have been the high point for this historic brand. The first signs of its descent from its origins as a force for social good – the lowermost slopes of which it finally traversed this week – were visible as early as the late 1960s.
In 1969, Cadbury merged with Schweppes. That put an end to its Quaker ideals and social underpinning. It became a business with a single, capitalist motive: selling more confectionary, making more money.
On went the journey towards the symbol of global hyper-capitalist culture it is today. In 1978, a US chocolate magnate, Peter Paul, acquired a 10 per cent share. Its profits outside the UK overtook its British interests. In the late 2000s, jobs were stripped with the closure of a factory in Keynsham. Some of that production moved overseas.
After months of wrangling, in January 2010 Kraft Foods finally bought the firm for £8.40 a share. A great British icon, an important brand in the history and evolution of British business, was no longer British at all. The name persisted, but precious little remained of the company Cadbury himself had created, or the strict business ethics under which he and his two sons worked.
But there was even more change yet to come. When the buyout occurred, Kraft said it would stick to Cadbury’s commitment to using Fairtrade cocoa beans to produce its chocolate. Fairtrade rules mean that cocoa farmers earn a minimum of £1,600 per tonne of cocoa sold. This week, Cadbury confirmed that it was no longer working with Fairtrade, and had instead switched to a new cocoa production partnership known as Cocoa Life – which does not exert the same price rules.
Cadbury has agreed with Fairtrade to keep its logo on the back of their chocolate bars, as a “partner” with the brand. Fairtrade demands that farmers should not be worse off under the new scheme. But this is nevertheless a significant pulling-back from the company’s original commitment.
Cadbury is now a subsidiary of an arm of Kraft, or spin-out company, known as Mondelez International. Its chief executive is Irene Rosenfeld. Her remuneration rose by 50 per cent in 2014, to $21m. What the cocoa farmers who work to supply her global operation will earn for their crucial part in her success is now under question.
Other smaller brands under the Cadbury group have had their ethos similarly stripped from them. Green & Blacks was founded as a small, organic brand and was awarded Britain’s first Fairtrade mark. It was bought in 2005 by Cadbury, and subsumed by Mondelez International as part of the Kraft takeover. Its new range of chocolate for the US market will no longer be organic – the first time that the Green & Black’s label had ever used non-organic chocolate since it was founded in 1991.
Perhaps it’s unfair to single out a single brand when the journey Cadbury has taken, from a local family business to global corporate, is one that so many have followed. But it is the very epitome of the destruction of business value in the search for profit at all costs.
For now, Bournville is still home to Mondelez’s Global Centre of Excellence for Chocolate research and development. Every Cadbury chocolate bar you buy can trace its origins back to the heart of the British business. How much longer before it’s cheaper and easier to do that work somewhere else – whatever the cost to the community that birthed this great British brand?
I personally think that the regulations need tightening on this; the housing shortage is so acute that the last hurdle it needs is this type of greed by landlords.
Airbnb introduces 90-day annual limit for London hosts.
Robert Booth and Dan Newling, Thursday 1 December 2016.
ABSTRACT. A quarter of London homes listed on Airbnb were rented for more than 90 days last year, many illegally and in breach of an act intended to stop landlords turning badly needed housing into unofficial hotels. The booming home-sharing website admitted on Thursday that 4,938 of its “entire home” London listings – 23% of the total – were let out for three months or more, despite a law requiring anyone doing so to apply for planning permission.
Follow the above link for the full story.
The following article reflects concerns I have had for decades – the loss of soils by un-enlightened farming practices. Admittedly, some of the best – Walton’s at Alciston and Ellis’s of Litlington are making an effort now with methods involving no ploughing. In the 1980’s, I can recall soil, flint, seed corn, being washed for over a mile on the Downs!
We’re treating soil like dirt. It’s a fatal mistake, as our lives depend on it.
George Monbiot, Wednesday 25 March 2015.
Imagine a wonderful world, a planet on which there was no threat of climate breakdown, no loss of freshwater, no antibiotic resistance, no obesity crisis, no terrorism, no war. Surely, then, we would be out of major danger? Sorry. Even if everything else were miraculously fixed, we’re finished if we don’t address an issue considered so marginal and irrelevant that you can go for months without seeing it in a newspaper.
It’s literally and – it seems – metaphorically, beneath us. To judge by its absence from the media, most journalists consider it unworthy of consideration. But all human life depends on it. We knew this long ago, but somehow it has been forgotten. As a Sanskrit text written in about 1500BC noted: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”
The issue hasn’t changed, but we have. Landowners around the world are now engaged in an orgy of soil destruction so intense that, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world on average has just 60 more years of growing crops. Even in Britain, which is spared the tropical downpours that so quickly strip exposed soil from the land, Farmers Weekly reports, we have “only 100 harvests left”.
Landowners around the world are now engaged in an orgy of soil destruction.
To keep up with global food demand, the UN estimates, 6m hectares (14.8m acres) of new farmland will be needed every year. Instead, 12m hectares a year are lost through soil degradation. We wreck it, then move on, trashing rainforests and other precious habitats as we go. Soil is an almost magical substance, a living system that transforms the materials it encounters, making them available to plants. That handful the Vedic master showed his disciples contains more micro-organisms than all the people who have ever lived on Earth. Yet we treat it like, well, dirt.
The techniques that were supposed to feed the world threaten us with starvation. A paper just published in the journal Anthropocene analyses the undisturbed sediments in an 11th-century French lake. It reveals that the intensification of farming over the past century has increased the rate of soil erosion sixtyfold.
Another paper, by researchers in the UK, shows that soil in allotments – the small patches in towns and cities that people cultivate by hand – contains a third more organic carbon than agricultural soil and 25% more nitrogen. This is one of the reasons why allotment holders produce between four and 11 times more food per hectare than do farmers.
Whenever I mention this issue, people ask: “But surely farmers have an interest in looking after their soil?” They do, and there are many excellent cultivators who seek to keep their soil on the land. There are also some terrible farmers, often absentees, who allow contractors to rip their fields to shreds for the sake of a quick profit. Even the good ones are hampered by an economic and political system that could scarcely be better designed to frustrate them.
Why are organic farmers across Britain giving up?
This  is the International Year of Soils, but you wouldn’t know it. In January, the Westminster government published a new set of soil standards, marginally better than those they replaced, but wholly unmatched to the scale of the problem. There are no penalities for compromising our survival except a partial withholding of public subsidies. Yet even this pathetic guidance is considered intolerable by the National Farmers’ Union, which greeted them with bitter complaints. Sometimes the NFU seems to me to exist to champion bad practice and block any possibility of positive change.
Few sights are as gruesome as the glee with which the NFU celebrated the death last year of the European soil framework directive, the only measure with the potential to arrest our soil-erosion crisis. The NFU, supported by successive British governments, fought for eight years to destroy it, then crowed like a shedful of cockerels when it won. Looking back on this episode, we will see it as a parable of our times.
Soon after that, the [then] business minister, Matthew Hancock, announced that he was putting “business in charge of driving reform”: trade associations would be able “to review enforcement of regulation in their sectors.” The NFU was one the first two bodies granted this privilege. Hancock explained that this “is all part of our unambiguously pro-business agenda to increase the financial security of the British people.” But it doesn’t increase our security, financial or otherwise. It undermines it.
The government’s deregulation bill, which has now almost completed its passage through parliament, will force regulators – including those charged with protecting the fabric of the land – to “have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth”. But short-term growth at the expense of public protection compromises long-term survival. This “unambiguously pro-business agenda” is deregulating us to death.
There’s no longer even an appetite for studying the problem. Just one university – Aberdeen – now offers a degree in soil science. All the rest have been closed down.
This is what topples civilisations. War and pestilence might kill large numbers of people, but in most cases the population recovers. But lose the soil and everything goes with it. Now, globalisation ensures that this disaster is reproduced everywhere. In its early stages, globalisation enhances resilience: people are no longer dependent on the vagaries of local production. But as it proceeds, spreading the same destructive processes to all corners of the Earth, it undermines resilience, as it threatens to bring down systems everywhere.
Short-term growth at the expense of public protection compromises long-term survival
Almost all other issues are superficial by comparison. What appear to be great crises are slight and evanescent when held up against the steady trickling away of our subsistence. The avoidance of this issue is perhaps the greatest social silence of all. Our insulation from the forces of nature has encouraged a belief in the dematerialisation of our lives, as if we no longer subsist on food and water, but on bits and bytes. This is a belief that can be entertained only by people who have never experienced serious hardship, and who are therefore unaware of the contingency of existence.
It’s not as if we are short of solutions. While it now seems that ploughing of any kind is incompatible with the protection of the soil, there are plenty of means of farming without it. Independently, in several parts of the world, farmers have been experimenting with zero-tillage (also known as conservation agriculture), often with extraordinary results.
There are dozens of ways of doing it: we need never see bare soil again. But in the UK, as in most rich nations, we have scarcely begun to experiment with the technique, despite the best efforts of the magazine Practical Farm Ideas.
Even better are some of the methods that fall under the heading of permaculture – working with complex natural systems rather than seeking to simplify or replace them. Pioneers such as Sepp Holzer and Geoff Lawton have achieved remarkable yields of fruit and vegetables in places that seemed unfarmable: 1,100m above sea level in the Austrian alps, for example, or in the salt-shrivelled Jordanian desert.
But, though every year our government spends £450m on agricultural research and development – much of it on techniques that wreck our soils – there is no mention of permaculture either on the websites of the two main funding bodies (NERC and BBSRC) or in any other department.
The macho commitment to destructive short-termism appears to resist all evidence and all logic. Never mind life on Earth; we’ll plough on regardless.
- A fully referenced version of this article can be found at Monbiot.com