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Monday 4th June 2012
Hay Festival's latest green events prove to be a roller coaster for Jeremy Bugler's blood pressure
Contributor: Jeremy Bugler

This year at the Hay festivals, I have developed a reflex which is not a good one for a reporter to own.  Concerned about my blood pressure, I have been avoiding events when I know for sure that I will be listening to people who will infuriate me.   Not a good idea.   How could the news be reported if reporters kept away from listening to, say, George Osborne, because he is so obviously, patently, a walking farrago of outrageous reaction?   So I have to develop resilience for a blog on this site.   St Augustine said “Oh Lord, make me chaste  - but not yet” and in like way my resilience was not operating on Sunday in Hay.

In Hay at this time, there is a second festival running, How The Light Gets In, and on Sunday the organisers had chosen to spread light by inviting Lord Lawson, the climate change sceptic and Bjorn Lomborg, the Dane who has done much to delay effective action against climate change, to talk on … climate change.   Now I have watched Nigel Lawson over many decades and I need no further persuading that he is invariably wrong.   He was the Thatcher chancellor of the exchequer who first cut top rates of income tax and accelerated the creation of the highly inequitable (and thus unresilient) Britain we have to today.  Lomborg has much to answer for as well.  

But on the Hay festival site, I met refugees who had attended this event.   One was the excellent writer and sage Ronald Higgins, author of the seminal The Seventh Enemy.     Ronald reported that Lawson was long-winded and self-important and that Lomborg’s position is now that we just have to trust to technology to sort out the problem.  Crispin Tickell and Polly Higgins, a lawyer who wants a crime of eco-cide to be recognised, made sense.   Lawson, I took it, resides still in a place where no light gets in.  Then I noticed that Ronald was nursing a broken arm.   Who did this?   Lawson must be too old for physical violence.  I blame Lomborg.

Feeling lucky to have escaped without even a scratch, I made for the Hay Festival’s Digital Stage …. And George Monbiot.   Now George can raise blood pressure too, but not mine on this occasion.   He was talking, fascinatingly, about a book he just finished and which will be published next spring.  Its subject, if not its precise title, is `the re-wilding of Britain.’   Having lived up till recently on the edge of the Cambrian mountains, Monbiot told us he had become convinced that it was like a kind of nuclear winter landscape, the bald, naked hills preserved by mistaken conservationists.  They have fetishized heather moorland and acid grassland, ideal for sheep but little else.   But for this policy, he claimed that the Cambrian mountains would be a surviving part of the Atlantic Rainforest, which once ran from Scotland to northern Spain.

Interestingly, he argued that the way to restore bio-diversity to these blasted landscapes was not small things first, then larger things to feed on the small things, and then the large predators, but precisely the other way round.   If you introduce the large predators, you then get a `trophic cascade’  If the lynx was re-introduced to the bare hills of Wales, the sheep and destructive deer would soon start to keep away from areas where they were in danger.   These small valleys and cwms would start to grow a variety of new plants and host new creatures.

By the same token, Monbiot explained how krill is maintained in the Southern Oceans.  They are maintained by the whales, which consume krill in vast quantities.  How come?   Well, the krill-feasted whales excrete huge quantities of faecal matter, which in turn create great plankton blooms which then feed the krill.   Kill the whales, and you kill the krill.

It was intriguing and also provocative.    Brave of Monbiot to say to an audience in Wales that their farming is rubbish:    70 per cent of the land area of the Principality is given over to meat production (that is, sheep farming) and yet Wales imports seven times as much meat as it produces.   He savaged sheep.  “Sheep came from Mesopotamia.  They are no more a native species than the giraffe!”

I can’t wait for the book.

Another interesting green session at Hay 2012 tackled the question: Should We Leave Oil in The Ground?  The panel were unanimous that we should, which was not great for controversy but a lot a light was emitted.  Most interesting speaker was Andrew Simms of the New Economic Foundation who argued for a Plimsoll line to be drawn around the world oil reserves, so keeping 50 per cent in the ground.  Burning the remainder would cause irreversible climate change.  Chillingly, he mentioned that the floating of a huge Indian coal company, called Coal India, has a prospectus of 500 pages – and no mention of climate change in all those pages.

Then Juliet Davenport, head honcho of Good Energy, reminded us that Britain ranks 28 out 30 European countries in our deployment of renewable energy.   The countries doing worse than us?   Luxembourg and Malta.   

I felt my blood pressure rising as the session went on.

Friday 1st June 2012
Get Resilient at Hay Festival's Green Events
Contributor: Jeremy Bugler

Over the next few weeks Jeremy Bugler will be blogging on the green events at this years' Hay Festival. Here are his words on the first day of the festival:

 

Hay-on-Wye is a singular town, probably the most perfect place in Britain for a Festival.   I was once walking its streets with a friend, the writer Richard Boston, who remarked amiably “This town is full of lunatics.”    Living close by Hay, I was moved to disagree.   Nonsense, said I, it is just a Welsh border town with non-conformist Welsh mixed in with ex-London intelligentsia.   We went round the corner to find walking towards us a man dressed in Roman toga.  “I rest my case” said Richard.

This year, the Festival is catering for the widest range of people, not excluding those who want to go around dressed as ancient Romans, and very much including those who are concerned about the environment.   The 2012 Festival programme has no less than 41 green events, very ably organised by local man Andy Fryers.   And the Festival itself is taking environment seriously.  Gone are the adverts and placards of yesteryear saying Fly Emirates.   This year, there are healthy-looking students from Cardiff University asking questions such as: what could the Festival organisation itself do to aid the environment?  (I suggest  - erect permanent solar PV panels on part of the site, feeding into the grid and Hay’s fridges and freezers.)

Yesterday, I went first to Green Event No 2, negotiating crowds of local school kids who have come for events run by Michael Rosen and Marcus Alexander and others.   Green Event No 2 was held a lunch time and was called Tough decisions on Food, Flora and Fauna.   Taking my seat, I felt slightly guilty, digesting a lunch-time and un-green hot dog bought from the British Legion stand.  Around me, there sat a bevy of powerfully built men in short-sleeved shirts and even shorter haircuts.  These proved not to be members of the Wales Olympic wrestling squad but rather a goodly collection of Herefordshire’s and Brecon’s farmers. 

The panel was made up of people who all were dairy farmers and also chairs or chief execs:  there was Paul Christianesen of Natural England;  David Gardner of the Royal Agricultural Society and Caroline Drummond of LEAF. How they get the milking done beats me:  Mrs Drummon revealed that her husband gets up at 3.30 to start the milking. I came over all faint. When she added that, using a pedometer, her husband walks occasionally 66,000 steps in a day  - or 22 miles – I almost called for the ambulance(or `ambiwlans’ as they say in Wales).

The session, to be frank, was a bit round the houses, but arresting observations broke through, if in a higgledy-piggledy way.   We know modern societies waste food, but I hadn’t known that in the U.S, some 40 per cent of all food ends up in skips (or dumpsters, as they’re known in America.)   Most of the waste is post-production,  that is in the store or the home. Moreover, highly processed and packaged foods are still making gains, for all the tv cookery programmes. Mrs Drummond said that there are some houses being built in Birmingham now without kitchens.  Apparently they just have microwaves, fridge-freezers and simple sinks installed in a corner.

We learnt that there is a great phosphate scarcity coming on  - only enough for 50 years and 75 per cent of the reserves in Morroco of which David Gardner remarked “Fortunately, the Arab Spring hasn’t kicked off there yet.”   I wouldn’t count on nothing happening in the next 50 years, David.

The lack of resilience in the world’s crops was well emphasised.  There are 270,000 plant species apparently.  Some 20,000 of these are edible.  Some 7,000 are used in food production  -- but only four are the world’s staple crops : maize, rice, potatoes and wheat.   The opportunities for highly disruptive diseases are obvious.

I  also came away with one distinct impression: that some of the fiercest opposition to GM foods appears to be fragmenting.  Only about a quarter of this audience raised their hands to the proposition “I am strongly anti-GM”.   But the most applauded comment at the same time was “We want less science and more wisdom.”   Most of the farmers sat on their hands at this point.

The afternoon session was more coherent. Devoted to the topic of Justice and Climate Change, it featured the admirable ex-Welsh assembly minister Jane Davidson in the chair and a panel of Molly Scott Cato of Roehampton Business School and green economist Brian Davey, co-ordinator of the inventive Cap and Share scheme for controlling carbon emissions.

What came across most powerfully to me is how much climate change control is going to be an issue of social justice. Richer people emit more carbon; so do richer countries.  Professor Cato referred to a new WWF study just published – the Living Planet Report  which reveals that on current consumption, the world is consuming the resources of one and a half planets.  The UK is using the resources of 4 planets; Wales (being less rich) of 3 and at the very bottom Palestine of one.  The most consuming: Qatar  - at 12 planets.  Very properly, Cato called for an end to neo-liberal economics and for governments to intervene actively in the market to ensure fairness and equity in the controlling of C02. 

I came away with feelings re-inforced that the efforts to create a world that measures itself to its resources is as much about wisdom, politics and justice as about science and technology.  On the way out, I nearly bumped into the Festival shuttle bus.  More wisdom needed?  Or better technology?

Tuesday 29th May 2012
How can we prevent urbanisation from undermining resilience?
Contributor: Will Bugler

In his article 'Dealing with flood against the tide of urbanization in central Uganda' Bob Manubi Abdallah highlighted some of the very real implications of rapid urbanisation for people living in Uganda's major cities. He showed how resilience can be undermined by population pressure and poverty. So if we accept that urbanisation will carry on occuring over the coming decades, how do we ensure that we can build resilience at the same time. To do this we must first understand the links between urbanization, biodiversity and ecosystem services.

In this video Thomas Elmqvist, editor of Cities and Biodiversity Outlook, investigates this in more detail. Learn more here: http://www.cbd.int/authorities/cbo1.shtml 

Wednesday 23rd May 2012
Optimism is essential while we prepare for the worst
Contributor: Jeremy Bugler

I’ve long puzzled over why fisherman are often so devoted to fishing-out the stocks on which their livelihoods depend.   The tragedy of the commons is one  factor; Garret Hardin’s insight years ago that multiple individuals, acting rationally in their own self-interest, can destroy a common resource even though it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen. So it was the great Cape Cod fishing banks were destroyed.

I had a glimpse years ago in west Wales of another element in play in this unrelenting destroying of the fish.   I was in a small village in Pembrokeshire, called Abercastle, talking to a man I had known for many years, a lobster fisherman and building carpenter called Ron Phillips.  One was hard put to find a more decent and generous man in all Pembrokeshire than Ron Phillips; he was generous, kindly and found it extraordinarily hard, even if severely provoked, to find a hard word to say about anyone.  Or Anyone.  I once saw him standing on the Abercastle harbour side, watching as his uninsured fishing boat was destroyed bit by bit by a savage storm.   “Now who said God is good?” said I.  “Oh, I wouldn’t blame the Old Fella.  I expect He has His eyes on something else” came the reply from the man £20,000 out of pocket.   When Ron died a few years back, it wasn’t a surprise that his funeral was attended by more than 300 people, quite overflowing the  crematorium chapel in Narbeth.

Years before, I had talked to Ron, over a pint in the Ship Inn in Trefin, about fishing out stocks. “Oh they’re going all right” he said.  “They’ll all be gone soon.  But I tell you one thing.   Out there, at the end, there is going to be one giant yellow lobster surviving.   And I will be the one to have him!”

So I think fatalism also plays a part in the hoovering away of our fish stocks. Fisherman think the game is up anyway.   How else, apart from sheer greed, can one explain what has been happening in Scotland to the mackerel industry?  Seventeen purse seiner skippers from Shetland have under-reported catches to avoid EU mackerel and herring quotas.   Their scam has been worth some £47 million.

An excellent journal of the sea called The Marine Quarterly reports that the scam was more than a matter of keeping one set of records for the factory and another for the fisheries officers.

The scales of the Lerwick-based processing company …were actually set to under-estimate the weight of the fish being landed by the boats.  The scales were linked to computer screens.  But there were two sets of screens – one in the main floor of the plant, which was monitored by Government fisheries officers, and another in the plant engineer’s offices, off-limits to the fisheries officers, which showed the true weight.” The seventeen skippers have been ordered to pay a total of £3 million in compensation and will be fined later this year.

This ghastly ingenuity is not confined to the lads from the Shetlands.   The mainland fishermen from Fraserburgh are even more resourceful.   The Marine Quarterly’s current spring issue tells how their scam worked.   Apparently, the normal method of handling large quantities of mackerel or herring is to pump it ashore in a large bore-pipe. In Fraser rough, the fishermen constructed a secondary loop, with lever-operated valves, to bypass the officially monitored weighing scales.

“The lever shed was known as the Wendy House, according to the Crown Prosecution Service outlining the case against four skippers. ‘This portable building had DANGER- HIGH VOLTAGE signs on it. But on inspection, no high voltage equipment was found.’”

The four Fraserburgh skippers have pleaded guilty to landing £8 million of over-quota fish between 2002 and 2005.    They too face their profits being confiscated and massive fines.

This dreadful venality has its roots in greed, obviously; in feeling that if they didn’t get the fish someone else would.  And perhaps in the fatalism of Ron Phillips  - the fish of the sea are being destroyed so why not take your cut before the last fish flaps?    A dose of optimism about such things as fishing, agriculture, even the climate, seems to be necessary to get human kind to do the right thing.

 ____________________________________________________________________

Optimism, faith in the future, yes - but not wishful thinking. 

The New York Times has reported, on May 13th, that climate change sceptics are now putting their faith in clouds, asserting that clouds will change in such a way as to counter much of the predicted rise in temperatures.   The standard-bearer of the cooling-cloud theory is Richard S. Lindzen, professor of meteorology at M.I.T.  “On a warming planet” reports the New York Times “less coverage by high clouds in the tropics will allow more heat to escape to space, countering the temperature increase.”

Conference delegates going to gatherings of the Heartland Institute (“the primary American organisation pushing climate change scepticism” ) apparently give Professor Lindzen standing ovations.   However, it seems most mainstream climate scientists think that Lindzen is pushing his luck.  Lindzen argues that when temperatures at the surface of the earth increase, the columns of moist air rising in the tropics will rain out more of their moisture, leaving less available to be turned into the ice that forms the high clouds called cirrus.  A decrease in cirrus would count against the increase in warming greenhouse gases.

Lindzen shows an off-hand nonchalance about scientists who have pointed out mistakes in his calculations.  “If I am right, we’ll have saved money” by not spending on measures to limit CO2 emissions, he says.  “If I’m wrong, we’ll know it in 50 years and can do something.”

A colleague of Lindzen’s in M.I.T plainly shares a common reaction to this kind of gamble, on not doing anything about emissions because, hey, those cirrus clouds might come into play.  “It just seems deeply unprofessional and irresponsible to look at this and say – we’re sure it’s not a problem” says Kerry Emanuel.  “It is a special kind of risk, because it is a risk to the collective civilisation.”

The precautionary principle is surely one element of a truly resilient society - not just putting all the eggs in one basket, not just limiting centralisation, but very much also being prepared for the worst.  

Sunday 20th May 2012
Johan Rockstrom's TED Talk on Letting the Environment Guide our Development
Contributor: Will Bugler

Human growth has strained the Earth's resources, but as Johan Rockstrom reminds us, our advances also give us the science to recognize this and change behavior. His research has found nine "planetary boundaries" that can guide us in protecting our planet's many overlapping ecosystems.

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