2014’s Problems Into 2015.

CLIMATE CHANGE and ENERGY.  A path set out in Lima last month by the UN Environment Programme, is intended to limit global temperature rises to 2C above pre-industrial times, implied a 4.2% fall in world emissions between 2010 and 2013. Governments will try to work out a UN climate deal in late 2015 at a summit in Paris to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, which trap the sun’s heat…

Adair Turner recently wrote: With just days left to go, 2014 seems certain to be the warmest year on record, or at least the runner-up. International agreement on robust action to limit global warming remains inadequate: the just-completed Lima climate-change conference delivered some progress, but no major breakthrough. (6).

Away from the diplomatic circuit, technological advances make it certain that we can build low-carbon economies at minimal cost and great benefit to human welfare. Solar energy reaching the earth’s surface provides 5,000 times humanity’s energy needs. The technology to capture it cost effectively and cleanly is available. Indeed, photovoltaic module prices have fallen 80% since 2008 and the best utility-scale solar projects can now produce electricity for less than $0.10 per kilowatt-hour. Optimists say that solar energy will become economical without subsidies later this decade, while pessimists put the break-even point in the 2020s. The question is when – not whether – this will occur. (6).

The New Climate Economy report, launched by the United Nations in September, estimates that the investment required over the next 15 years will total $14 trillion. But the incremental low-carbon capital costs relative to the above high-carbon economy, are a smaller $4 trillion, less than a third of 1% of global GDP over that period. And the maximum sacrifice of future income per capita will be no more than 1-4% of global GDP. That means that the world might have to wait, say, until December 2051 to reach the income and prosperity level that it would otherwise have achieved the preceding January. (6).

So we do not need fossil fuels to support prosperous economies. If some extra-terrestrial thief came in the night and stole two-thirds of the planet’s coal, gas, and oil reserves, all of humanity could still enjoy the household appliances, information-technology products and services, heating, lighting, and mobility that define the modern world. But no such thief exists, and we are cursed with fossil fuels in dangerous abundance. (6).

Some environmentalists claim that we will soon reach “peak fossil fuels,” making green energy essential not only for the climate, but also for continued growth. Sadly, that is not the case. Total gas and coal reserves could support current demand for more than a hundred years, and technological progress – for example, hydraulic fracturing, which has unlocked shale energy – makes an ever growing share of these reserves economically attractive. Oil production may peak within the next few decades, but gasoline equivalents can be synthesized from gas or coal. As 2014 draws to an end, falling oil, gas, and coal prices threaten to undermine investment in green energy and stimulate wasteful consumption. (6).

Greenhouse gas emissions by the world’s top 500 companies rose 3.1% from 2010 to 2013, far off the cuts urged by the United Nations to limit global warming, a study recently showed. The top 500 firms by capitalisation accounted for 13.8% of world greenhouse gas emissions and 28% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013, according to the report. “Almost all of us use products from these companies,” said Tim Nixon, Director of Sustainability at Thomson Reuters. “This is about transparency. We hope companies will look at the report and engage with their stakeholders to reduce emissions.“ (4).

When Roman Catholic bishops called earlier this month for an end to fossil-fuel use, their intervention was criticized for being out of touch with economic realities. Committing to phase out fossil fuels would strengthen incentives for technological innovation; and if consumer preferences are socially determined, even unsaintly consumers would lose nothing in the long term. Sadly, the bishops have less influence over divine action than over economics: Whatever deity might have put fossil fuels on earth, they have shown no willingness to take them back. Maybe this holiday season we should wish for a miracle. Absent that, we should commit to leaving most fossil fuels forever in the ground. (13).

Carbon dioxide emissions from energy registered one of their steepest rises in the last quarter century. Australia, which has the world’s second largest reserves of coal, has ramped up production 37% since 2000, helped by up to $3.5bn in government subsidies to the entire fossil fuel industry. Coal use in Germany rose last year for the third year in a row, even as the country met its ambitious targets to transition to wind and solar power. Poland has been promoting its coal as an alternative to Russian natural gas. (1). The UK is hooked on natural gas and the current government is fixated on the supposed bonanza offered by fracking. That’s a disaster in the making, scientists and energy experts say. The International Energy Agency has concluded that two-thirds of all fossil fuels will have to stay in the ground if the world is going to avoid crossing the 2C threshold into dangerous climate change. (1).

Recently, it is reported that the Narendra Modi government in India has decided to revive the long-pending Renewable Energy Bill in a bid to generate 1,00,000 MW of renewable energy by 2019, to help meet a promise to hook up the 400 million without electricity on to the grid in the next five years. (2).

America gets about 40% of its electricity from coal – according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), its use of coal for energy rose 4.8% last year. But the reality is that President Obama has spent the last six years expanding coal, oil and gas production under his “all of the above” energy strategy. “We quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the earth and then some,” Obama told a rally during his 2012 re-election campaign. (1).

The US federal government under Obama, gave away $26m last year in tax breaks to the coal industry, according to the Overseas Development Industry report. Even if the president wants to do more to curb coal, the Democrats’ heavy defeat in the mid-term elections means there will be no pull in that direction from Congress. Mitch McConnell, the Republicans’ leader in the Senate ran on a slogan of “Guns, Freedom and Coal”. Campaigners say the rise in coal use under Obama undermines his climate agenda and could wipe out efforts by other countries to fight climate change. (1).

Surprisingly, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz faced off against Muammar Qaddafi, the Soviet Union and China. His latest cause, though, is one few fellow Republicans support: fighting climate change. Two years ago, Shultz was alarmed when a retired Navy admiral showed him a video of vanishing Arctic sea ice and explained the implications for global stability. Now, the former Cold Warrior drives an electric car, sports solar panels on his California roof and argues for government action against global warming at clean-energy conferences. Shultz, at 93, has a message for the doubters who dominate his own party: “The potential results are catastrophic,” he said in an interview. “So let’s take out an insurance policy.” (12).

Meanwhile, the Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, has stirred up the wrath of environmentalists by appointing a controversial advocate of agribusiness and weaker forest conservation as her new agriculture minister. Kátia Abreu, who has been nicknamed the “chainsaw queen” by her enemies, is included in a new cabinet that rewards political allies who supported Rousseff in her recent narrow re-election victory. Abreu is a leading figure in the “ruralista” lobby, which prompted the government to weaken Brazil’s forest code. In congressional debates and in her feisty newspaper column, she has called for more roads through the Amazon, congressional control over demarcation of indigenous reserves, more efficient monocultures, and the approval of genetically modified “terminator seeds”. (5).                                                                    [It seems as though many of our politician’s have taken the correct turning but are proceeding slowly with one hand pulling on the handbrake!]


WILDLIFE in the UK.  More than one in 10 of England’s local wildlife havens have been lost or damaged in the past five years, conservationists have warned. Sites including hedgerows and ancient woodland are under threat from house and road building and changes to environmental farming schemes. A study of 6,590 of the country’s “quiet, unnoticed wild places in which nature thrives” found that 717 had been lost or damaged between 2009 and 2013.

The Wildlife Trusts warn that the true scale of damage may be far higher, with many more of England’s 42,865 Local Wildlife Sites potentially under threat. The most recent losses also come on top of decades of earlier damage to wildlife. Local Wildlife Sites, which unlike national reserves and sites of special scientific interest are not protected by law, the Trusts warn.

They provide homes for wildlife ranging from frog orchids and marsh gentians to grass snakes, harvest mice and water voles. They give people access to nature in their local area and provide a network of stepping stones and corridors to connect wild spaces, the charity said. Such sites are key to reversing wildlife losses which have seen 60 per cent of species decline over the last half century.

Stephen Trotter, Wildlife Trusts’ director, England, said: “There is a real and pressing need for Local Wildlife Sites – one of England’s largest natural assets – to receive the recognition of their true value to society. “In some counties they are the best places for wildlife but they continue to slip through our fingers like sand. “Local Wildlife Sites are the Cinderella of the natural environment. Many are quiet, unnoticed wild places in which nature thrives. All act as links and corridors between other important habitats and are crucial to securing nature’s recovery. “They are vitally important for people as well as wildlife, bringing tangible benefits to local communities and contributing significantly to our quality of life, health, well-being and education. “We need to secure greater recognition and protection for them in the planning and decision-making process. We need action now to prevent further and ongoing loss of these wildlife-rich treasures by investment in them.”

Some habitats, including wild flower meadows and wet woodlands, have become so rare that the majority of those that are left automatically qualify for the status. But the Trusts warn that if they are not managed properly they can deteriorate, lose species and become “deselected” as Local Wildlife Sites, which means they lose their protection within the planning system. (3).


DEVELOPMENT in the UK.  Communities have been left to face ever increasing risk from flooding, according to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), after Communities Secretary Eric Pickles recently announced big exemptions allowing developers to continue directing rain water to sewers.

Nine out of 10 new developments have been automatically excused from installing SuDS – [areas where rainfall can seep into the ground to reduce flood risk] – and a large number of caveats have been added to rules governing the remaining developments. The decision will pile pressure on existing sewers, many of which are at full capacity already, while climate change is increasing the risk of storms.

71% of respondents to a recent Government consultation, including WWT, warned that the changes to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, would mean water couldn’t be managed sustainably over the long term. Furthermore a large number of respondents warned that the exemption of smaller developments could have a cumulative, detrimental effect on flood risk. Despite the weight of public opinion and the Government’s own figures backing the economic case for SuDS, Mr Pickles’ written statement said that the changes had been brought in to avoid [unsubstantiated] “excessive burdens on business”. (7).


NEW EU FISHING QUOTAS.  Britain’s fishermen will be allowed to increase their catch of cod and other key fish species next year after late-night wrangling between EU ministers in Brussels resulted in a new set of fishing quotas that flout scientific advice. The quota for cod catches for 2015 will increase by 5% on last year, though scientific advice suggested that it should be cut by 20%.

The UK’s fisheries minister, George Eustice, hailed the deal as a triumph for Britain’s dwindling fishing fleets. He said: “Although these were difficult negotiations, I am pleased that we were able to secure the best possible deal to ensure sustainable fisheries and a strong UK fishing industry. While fishermen had feared there would be major cuts, we were able to keep the same quota as last year for many species, in addition to important increases to the North Sea cod and haddock quota, which will benefit Scottish fishermen.”

Conservationists said the deal, reached after a day and a half of negotiations in Brussels, was not in line with what scientists had advised. After nearly four years of tense negotiations, the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy was finally reformed this year. In its new state, it is supposed to guarantee that fish stocks are managed at what scientists deem to be sustainable levels, known as the maximum sustainable yield.

Andrew Clayton, of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which advocates a sustainable fisheries policy, said: “After decades of failing to get to grips with overfishing, the new common fisheries policy was supposed to bind ministers to setting sustainable fishing limits this year. Instead, they have set a considerable number of [quotas] in excess of the level that scientists advised, failing to meet the targets they set themselves for overfishing. These are weak decisions, jeopardising the livelihoods of fishermen and the sustainability of stocks.”

The reforms are supposed to mean that fishing fleets must land all their catch, rather than discarding those specimens or species that are lower value. Discarding – the wasteful practice of throwing healthy fish back to sea because they are of lower value or because a boat has already reached its quota – has been a particular target of green groups in the last three years, with a campaign spearheaded by the chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. However, there are significant gaps in the new regulations that mean many fleets will be able to continue to discard large quantities of fish for several years.

The new European commissioner for the environment, Karmenu Vella, said after the deal was concluded: “We have succeeded in increasing the number of stocks that are now managed at sustainable levels. I can therefore say that sustainably managed stocks are now a broadly accepted concept across the EU. This will allow fishermen to progressively reap more and more benefits in terms of higher catches for these stocks. This is because science-based decision-making is increasingly becoming the norm.”

But he admitted that many of the decisions on quotas were contrary to scientific advice. “We have worked with [ministers] to ensure that where we do not follow science, member states take the necessary decisions to avoid a real disaster happening later.”

Greenpeace EU fisheries policy director Saskia Richartz said: “It is unacceptable that many of the fishing quotas agreed today fail to end overfishing. Ministers gave no justification for postponing action to recover fish stocks, despite new laws requiring that any delay is justified with appropriate evidence.” (8).


UK BADGER CULL.  The controversial badger cull in Gloucestershire may not succeed in reducing tuberculosis in cattle, the government has admitted for the first time. But environment secretary Liz Truss, releasing the results of the 2014 cull pilots in Gloucestershire and Somerset, said she is determined to continue culling.

The Gloucestershire pilot failed dramatically by killing fewer than half the minimum number required. In Somerset, the minimum target was met, but the target has been criticised as “rubbish” and “unbelievably easy” by a leading expert. The UK’s chief vet, Nigel Gibbens, said: “Given the lower level of badger population reduction in the Gloucestershire cull area over the past two years, the benefits of reducing disease in cattle over the planned four-year cull may not be realised there.” But he said the results in Somerset showed that, “in the right circumstances”, culling could work.

Truss said: “The chief vet’s advice is that results of this year’s cull in Somerset show they can be effective. That is why I am determined to continue with a comprehensive strategy that includes culling.” She said: “During the last parliament, bovine TB rates in England soared to the highest in Europe. That is why we taking strong action in pursuing our comprehensive strategy, including tighter cattle movement controls, vaccinations and culling.”

Maria Eagle, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, said: “It is appalling these badger culls went ahead for a second year when they had already been described by Professor David Macdonald, the chief scientific advisor to Natural England, as an ‘epic failure’. The government must today commit to abandoning any attempt to continue these unscientific, inhumane and ineffective badger culls.”

Claire Bass, at Humane Society International/UK, said the government was “placing politics above science and ethics”. She said: “The cull fails animal welfare by subjecting supposedly protected animals to inhumane shooting; it fails farmers by promising a solution to TB that scientists agree cannot be delivered by killing badgers; and it fails the public by wasting valuable funds that could be far better deployed on nationwide badger vaccination, improved farm biosecurity and stricter cattle movement measures.”

But Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers Union, said the Somerset results showed culling must be rolled out to other areas: “There are many other areas where bTB is rife and is having a massive impact on farming family businesses.” He said the results from Gloucestershire highlighted the need to make it more difficult for culling operations to be sabotaged by protesters.

The government has disbanded the independent expert panel, which found the first year of pilot culls in 2013 were neither effective nor humane. Defra’s report on the 2014 cull found that 341 badgers were killed in Gloucestershire, far short of the 615 minimum. In Somerset the minimum target was 316 and 341 were shot. A landmark £25m trial of badger culling that ended in 2008 showed that TB in cattle could actually increase if too few badgers are killed, as displaced badgers spread the disease further.

The report found that, as in 2013, about 10% of badgers shot at were not subsequently found. Defra said the shots may have missed but that “we have assumed these animals were at risk of experiencing marked pain.” The report also concluded that about 15% of the free-running badgers that were killed were not shot in the target chest area. Defra said the culls were “carried out to a high standard of public safety”.

Vet Gibbens said: “Continued action is needed to increase levels of confidence in the effectiveness of any future culls, for example through contractor training and assessment, improved operational planning, monitoring and delivery.” In October, Professor Rosie Woodroffe, who worked on the landmark 10-year trial and believes the current culls should stop and said: “The cull targets are all rubbish because they are based on rubbish data. In Somerset they set themselves an unbelievably easy target.” (9).


UK POLITICS.  The traditional political parties are in big trouble. Back in the 1950s, one person in every ten was a member of a political party. The era of two big political parties slugging it out on the national stage is well and truly over. Today we publish new research showing clear public appetite for having a larger number of parties on the national stage, and for those parties to be willing to work together in pursuit of the common good.

The older, more traditional parties need to wake up to this new reality or face the consequences of ever-dwindling support. They need to embrace new ways of opening up beyond their narrowing band of members, and they need to push through reforms which will give people the type of politics they want. Parties should be a force for good. At their best, they bridge the divide between politics and people and make our democracy work. They should be part of the solution to political disengagement, not part of the problem. But to achieve this, the British party system needs to catch up with the type of politics people want to see.

The Electoral Reform Society recently published a landmark report on the future of political parties. Open Up sets out the challenges faced by the mainstream parties, the ways in which newer parties appear more adept at attracting support in the 21st century, and what the mainstream parties need to do to reconnect with voters.

The report makes four core recommendations for the mainstream parties to address their spiral of decline. These are:

  • Increased role for non-members Parties’ experiments with involving non fee-paying supporters should be accelerated
  • More member- and supporter-led policymaking People want to see an end to top-down, command-and-control politics
  • Party funding reform Parties’ reliance on big donors is undermining people’s trust in them
  • Electoral reform A fairer voting system would help meet people’s expectations of having a greater choice of parties and more consensual policymaking. (11).


EUROPEAN POLITICS LURCH RIGHT.  The launch of a ‘New Ecology’ movement by France’s National Front (FN) this week has been condemned by environmentalists as opportunistic and inconsistent. The far right eco-nationalist grouping was launched by Marine Le Pen, with a ‘patriotic’ platform of opposition to international climate talks and support for France’s nuclear industry. The FN has made political capital about cruelty to animals in the preparation of halal and kosher meat in the past, and its MEPs are preparing a resolution that would limit shale gas exploration, despite the party voting against a shale moratorium in the last parliament.

In Hungary, the neo-Nazi Jobbik party has campaigned against invasive flora from abroad which they say is destroying Hungarian plants and animals as it spreads unchecked.

The far-right Danish People’s Party is virulently opposed to immigration, multi-culturalism and multi-ethnicity. But it also pledges “to ensure that the way in which the earth’s resources are used bears the stamp of consideration, care and a sense of responsibility for the natural world and all its living creatures.” (10).

In Greece, a snap election has been called which could well see an anti-austerity party gain power and possibly lead to Greece leaving the EU and the Eurozone being turned on its head.



  1.  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/10/-sp-the-real-story-of-us-coal-inside-the-worlds-biggest-coal-mine
  2. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/modi-government-to-revive-renewable-energy-bill-to-achieve-long-term-power-target/1/408854.html
  3. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/conservation/11306652/One-in-10-local-wildlife-havens-lost-or-damaged.html#disqus_thread
  4. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/23/top-500-companies-carbon-emissions-rise-despite-calls-for-cuts?CMP=share_btn_tw
  5. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/24/brazil-agriculture-katia-abreu-climate-change?CMP=twt_gu
  6. http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/low-fuel-prices-threaten-environment-by-adair-turner-2014-12
  7. http://www.wwt.org.uk/news/all-news/2014/12/wwt-news/communities-left-with-flood-risk-after-nine-out-of-10-developments-exempted-from-suds/#.VJg6afuDCvc.twitter
  8. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/16/fishing-quotas-defy-scientists-advice?CMP=share_btn_tw
  9. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/18/government-admits-badger-cull-could-fail-reduce-bovine-tb?CMP=share_btn_tw
  10. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/18/french-national-front-launches-nationalist-environmental-movement?CMP=share_btn_tw
  11. http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/blog/open-up-the-future-of-the-political-party
  12. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-12-01/reagan-statesman-s-sunshine-power-hint-of-thaw-in-climate-debate
  13. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/12/28/3607083/pope-francis-climate-secret-weapon-next-year/

5 Things You Should Know About Soil

The Dirt on Dirt: 5 Things You Should Know About Soil

By Linda Qiu, National Geographic. Published December 5, 2014

We walk on it every day. Get it under our fingernails. Track it into the house. But do we really appreciate the vital role soil plays—not just in the environment, but in human health? The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is giving soil its due. Friday, December 5, is [was] World Soil Day, and 2015, the FAO has declared, will be the International Year of Soils.

“The minerals, the nutrients that make up our muscles and bones almost entirely come from soil,” says Jerry Glover, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and agroecologist at the U.S. Agency for International Development. “This is, of course, very critical because we’re supposed to be increasing agricultural production to feed and nourish some of the ten billion people, but it’s at the same time that our soils are the thinnest and most nutrient depleted.”

Here are five things you should know about soil.

1. Soil, like oil, is a finite resource.

Poor farming practices deplete soil nutrients faster than they are able to form, leading to loss of soil fertility and degraded lands. Glover compares it to the concerns that surround oil depletion.

“We still continue to harvest more nutrients than we replace in soil,” he says. If a country is extracting oil, Glover points out, people worry about what will happen if the oil runs out. But they don’t seem to worry about what will happen if we run out of soil. (Read “Our Good Earth” in National Geographic magazine.)

By 1991, an area bigger than the United States and Canada combined was lost to soil erosion—and it shows no signs of stopping. In fact, says Glover, native forests and vegetation are being cleared and converted to agricultural land at a rate greater than any other period in history. To restore soil in the United States to its pre-Columbian levels would take about 200 years.

2. Misusing soil can topple civilizations.

Modern examples of the impact of soil erosion are well-known: the Dust Bowl in the American and Canadian prairies, the erosion of China’s Loess Plateau, the famine in Africa’s Sahel. Ancient societies also reaped what they sowed when it came to their farming practices.

“The Romans still plowed themselves out of business, as did the Greeks, and Easter Islanders,” says David Montgomery, who studies topography at the University of Washington in Seattle and is the author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations.

On the flip side, few societies have actually taken care of their soil, he says. Inca terracing practices and agroforestry on the Polynesian island of Tikopia are on the short list of exceptions.

3. Good soil usage helps prevent droughts.

During recent droughts in the western U.S., farmers who used no-till practices—for example, not disturbing the soil through ploughing—produced healthier crops, according to Montgomery. Soil conservation goes hand in hand with water conservation, he says; healthier soils retain more water.

The impact of poor soil use, meanwhile, goes beyond food production. Wind can carry thinned topsoil off fields and onto large bodies of water. Through a process known as eutrophication, the excess nutrients hasten plant growth and algae bloom, sucking up oxygen in the water and killing fish and other marine fauna.

“In the Gulf of Mexico, dead zones have developed during certain parts of the year,” says Glover. “These are often prime fishing areas and prime biodiversity areas, now dead because of soil carried thousands of miles downstream.”

4. High-tech makes a difference.

There has been improvement in soil conservation in the United States since the introduction of no-till and low-till farming, but reducing soil disturbance is not enough. The restoration of soil health, experts say, will require new practices and old-fashioned “soil husbandry.”

Experts agree that healthy soil requires a marriage of ecology and technology, such as planting perennial strains of grain crops. Another approach: sophisticated farming systems that integrate crop production with native vegetation and livestock—a system that has successfully restored soils in northern Ethiopia, says Glover.

5. Soil is alive.

Chemical fertilizers, which replace three or four nutrients, are simply not enough to replace the complex system that is soil. They’re “not a full health package,” says Glover.

That’s because soil is crawling with microbes and bugs, which nourish the soil. They help cycle nutrients in exchange for plant sugars. It’s a symbiotic relationship that is the root of life, but we don’t fully understand it, according to Montgomery.

“This is brand-new science. Over the past 30 years, there’s been a big shift in our understanding of microbial connections and the community dynamics under the ground,” he says. “It’s the hidden half of nature.”


Can We Stop the 6th Great Extinction?

I came across this article on Twitter recently by ecologist Miles King and consider it a well put case on some of the huge environmental problems currently faced by wildlife around the world.

Can we stop the 6th Great Extinction?

Written and posted on Twitter by Miles King on December 16 2014.

Scientists suspect we are entering the sixth global mass extinction. How can we tell, and if we are, what can be done?

The August edition of the journal Nature recently published ‘Life – a status assessment.’ It’s a graphic portrayal of the vast number of species disappearing from the planet. This is difficult as scientists don’t know how many species there are, with estimates ranging from two to 50 million. Most taxonomic effort is focussed on a few groups – birds, mammals or amphibians; very few new species of birds or mammals are found these days. For fungi the situation is rather different; less than 50,000 have been named, out of an estimated total of 600,000 to 10 million species. The scale of the challenge is astronomical.

For those species we know about, the picture is grim: Globally, 41% of amphibian species are facing extinction; 13% of all birds are at risk as are 22% of flowering plants. For fungi, nobody has a clue as only between 0.05 and 8% of fungi have even been identified – to know something is disappearing it needs a name. IUCN, celebrating their 50th year, have a target to name 160,000 species by 2020. Developments in DNA analysis provide opportunities to “bar-code” nature short-circuiting the long process of traditional taxonomy. It’s now possible to collect a sample of invertebrates from a forest, whizz them into a soup and send that off to a lab where species are identified by their DNA.

The reasons behind this mass extinction are manifold, but all stem from human activity. Humans are “the ultimate invasive species” spreading from Africa to every corner of the planet (and beyond) in 100,000 years. In doing so we have removed the habitats of other species, or affected them by moving other invasive species around, causing pollution and driving climate change. We do so at our peril, because humans came from nature and we utterly depend on it for our survival.

If it is possible to stop this mass extinction, humans need to take rapid and radical action. Here are five actions that I think will be needed:

  1. Give places back to nature.

3% of the oceans and 15% of land fall within “protected areas”. In practice many of these offer no protection to nature: The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in theory protects 15% of the world’s coral reefs. In practice, dredgings are dumped in the park to keep Queensland’s ports clear for shipping Coal, Iron ore and LNG. More protected areas are needed, and they need to be properly protected.

  1. Change the way we view nature.

Nature is not another asset class to be traded on the world’s financial markets. Yet we see Governments and businesses keen to implement biodiversity offsetting, where biodiversity lost to development is “traded” through a type of money called conservation credits.  Most would consider it heinous to develop a market in tradable credits for children’s happiness – so why is it deemed acceptable to trade biodiversity? Humans have an absolute requirement for nature – for the food we eat, the oxygen we breathe, but also for the inspiration it provides, the sense of wellbeing, meaning, joy and solace it brings to us all. We need to develop new ethics that transform the values people ascribe to nature and the way we relate to it.

  1. Our economic system is not capable of valuing nature.

The obsession with economic growth and profit is a major driver of this mooted global extinction. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the main way economists measure economic growth. A farmer can grow a profitable crop of maize, ignoring the costs of cleaning up the nearby river contaminated with silt, nitrogen fertiliser and pesticides; or the homes flooded further downstream. These costs are externalised and are either not addressed or are paid by the taxpayer. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) counts the economic value of the crop, the cost of cleaning the nitrogen from the water and the cost of clearing up after the flood all as contributing positively to GDP. This is makes no sense on any level. We need to radically transform the way nature is valued through economics.

  1. End public subsidies that damage nature.

Perhaps the largest causes of nature destruction in Europe over the past 40 years are the Common Agricultural Policy on land and the Common Fisheries Policy at sea. These have paid farmers to replace places rich in nature, with places almost entirely devoid of it; and paid fisheries to empty the seas. All this has been paid for by taxpayers. It is time to abolish the CAP and the CFP and replace them with systems that only support farming and fishing practices that either do no harm or actively restore nature. Practices that continue to cause unnecessary damage to nature should be taxed or outlawed.

  1. Consumption, Population and Inequality

The planet cannot sustain our current consumption of finite resources and as our population expands, other species disappear. There is a near free market in the products of wildlife crime, in that the laws of supply and demand operate without much hindrance; the wealthy can afford to pay ever higher prices for poached products, such as ivory. Elephants have a right to exist, and their existence enriches all our lives. Yet the ivory buyers have no care for elephants, nature or for society.

As wealth is concentrated in corporations and the top 1%, key decisions that affect the future of nature are left to a tiny number of individuals, who act neither in the interests of society, or of nature. It is also the world’s poorest people who depend most on nature, so their lives are most affected when nature is damaged.

In the long run nature will survive, as it has the previous five extinctions. It is we, Homo sapiens, who will join the myriad other species disappearing in this mass dying, unless we radically change our relationship with nature.

Reshaping the Horse Through Millennia

This is quite a long article but of interest to those of us into horses but there’s no direct reference to our Exmoor ponies…


Reshaping the horse through millennia: Sequencing reveals genes selected by humans in domestication.

December 15, 2014  Faculty of Science – University of Copenhagen

Whole genome sequencing of modern and ancient horses unveils the genes that have been selected by humans in the process of domestication through the latest 5,500 years, but also reveals the cost of this domestication. A new study led by the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, in collaboration with scientists from 11 international universities, reports that a significant part of the genetic variation in modern domesticated horses could be attributed to interbreeding with the descendants of a now extinct population of wild horses. This population was distinct from the only surviving wild horse population, that of the Przewalski’s horses. The study has been published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The domestication of the horse some 5,500 years ago ultimately revolutionized human civilization and societies. Horses facilitated transportation as well as the circulation of ideas, languages and religions. Horses also revolutionized warfare with the advent of chariotry and mounted cavalry and beyond the battlefield horses greatly stimulated agriculture. However, the domestication of the horse and the subsequent encroachment of human civilization also resulted in the near extinction of wild horses.

The only surviving wild horse population, the Przewalski’s horses from Mongolia, descends from mere 13 individuals, preserved only through a massive conservation effort. As a consequence of this massive loss of genetic diversity, the effects of horse domestication through times have been difficult to unravel on a molecular level. Says Dr. Ludovic Orlando, Associate Professor at the Centre for GeoGenetics, who led this work

“The classical way to evaluate the evolutionary impact of domestication consists of comparing the genetic information present amongst wild animals and their living domesticates. This approach is ill suited to horses as the only surviving population of wild horses has experienced a massive demographic decline in the 20th century. We therefore decided to sequence the genome of ancient horses that lived prior to domestication to directly assess how pre-domesticated horses looked like genetically.”

Recent advances in ancient DNA research have opened the door for reconstructing the genomes of ancient individuals. In 2013, Ludovic Orlando and his team succeeded in decoding the genome of a ~700,000 year-old horse, which represents the oldest genome sequenced to date. This time, the researchers focused on much more recent horse specimens, dating from ~16,000 and ~43,000 years ago. These were carefully selected to unambiguously predate the beginning of domestication, some 5,500 years ago. The bone fossils were excavated in the Taymyr Peninsula, Russia, where arctic conditions favour the preservation of DNA.

The human reshaping of the horse.

While the horse contributed to reshaping human civilization, humans in turn reshaped the horse to fit their diverse needs and the diverse environments they lived in. This transformation left specific signatures in the genomes of modern horses, which the ancient genomes helped reveal. The scientists were able to detect a set of 125 candidate genes involved in a wide range of physical and behavioral traits, by comparing the genomes of the two ancient horses with those of the Przewalski’s horse and five breeds of domesticated horses. Says Dr. Dan Chang, post-doctoral researcher at the UCSC Paleogenomics Lab and co-leading author of the study:

“Our selection scans identified genes that were already known to evolve under strong selection in horses. This provided a nice validation of our approach.”

Dr. Beth Shapiro, head of the UCSC Paleogenomics Lab continues: “We provide the most extensive list of gene candidates that have been favoured by humans following the domestication of horses. This list is fascinating as it includes a number of genes involved in the development of muscle and bones. This probably reveals the genes that helped utilizing horses for transportation.”

And Dr. Ludovic Orlando from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen concludes: “Perhaps even more exciting as it represents the hallmark of animal domestication, we identify genes controlling animal behaviour and the response to fear. These genes could have been the key for turning wild animals into more docile domesticated forms.”

The ‘cost of domestication’ in horses.

However, the reshaping of the horse genome during their domestication also had significant negative impacts. This was apparent in the increasing levels of inbreeding found amongst domesticates, but also through an enhanced accumulation of deleterious mutations in their genomes relative to the ancient wild horses. This finding supports an earlier theory coined ‘the cost of domestication’, which predicted increasing genetic loads in domesticates compared to their wild ancestors. Says Professor Laurent Excoffier, University of Bern and group leader at the Swiss Institute for Bioinformatics:

“Domestication is generally associated with repeated demographic crashes. Yet, mutations that negatively impact genes are not eliminated by selection and can even increase in frequency when populations are small. Domestication thus generally comes at a cost, as deleterious mutations can accumulate in the genome. This had already been shown for rice and dogs. Horses now provide another example of this phenomenon.”

This is something that was only detectable in the horse in comparison to the ancient genomes, as Przewalski’s horses were found to show a proportion of deleterious mutations similar to domesticated horses. Says Hákon Jónsson, PhD-student at the Centre for GeoGenetics, co-leading author of the study: “The recent near extinction of the Przewalski’s horse population resulted in the persistence of deleterious mutations in the population, following the same mechanism that once led to the accumulation of deleterious mutations in the genomes of domesticated horses. What is striking is that a similar order of magnitude was reached even though this occurred in a much shorter time scale than domestication.”

An ancient contribution to the present.

In addition, comparison of the ancient and modern genomes revealed that the ancient individuals contributed a significant amount of genetic variation to the modern population of domesticated horses, but not to the Przewalski’s horses. This suggests that restocking from a wild population descendant from the ancient horses occurred during the domestication processes that ultimately led to the modern domesticated horses. Mikkel Schubert, PhD- student at the Centre for GeoGenetics, co-leading author of the study concludes:

“This confirms previous findings that wild horses were used to restock the population of domesticated horses during the domestication process. However, as we sequenced whole genomes, we can estimate how much of the modern horse genome has been contributed through this process. Our estimate suggests that at least 13%, and potentially up to as much as 60%, of the modern horse genome has been acquired by restocking from the extinct wild population. That we identified the population that contributed to this process demonstrates that it is possible to identify the ancestral genetic sources that ultimately gave rise to our domesticated horses.”


Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by Faculty of Science – University of Copenhagen. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Anniversary of December 17th – 2010!

The following is a piece I wrote after a most memorable pony move back in 2010 from Ashdown to Lullington:

‘With help from Bob, the Army’s Lands Warden and four people from the Estate Co and a bucket of feed, we led Herd 1 the ¾ mile to the [then] newly constructed permanent corral, all in about ¾ of an hour.  We then separated 12 ponies out and released the remainder.  Then the weather closed in!

Bob, our haulier phoned to say he was coming an hour earlier at 1pm due to the worsening conditions.  By now there was a heavy snow falling; he duly arrived and proceeded to reverse with trepidation the last 1/4 mile downhill to the corral.  We then split the ponies into groups for loading; Trouble was her usual un-sociable self and refused to load but we eventually cajoled her on board.  Bob managed to drive his truck up and out of Pippingford – in the nick of time.  The weather had now seriously closed in with visibility down to 20/30 metres, half darkness and with the snow packing down and resembling an ice rink by the time we reached the A22.  Bob remarked that ‘it was the worse weather he’d driven in.’  It took us 2½ hours to reach Lullington arriving at 4pm.  The seven volunteers were by now cold, bored and wondering how we were going to finish the task off.

Duncan Ellis (the farmer), had kindly gone on standby with his stockman Mick and a tractor to assist if necessary in towing Bob.  It was decided however to shut several gateways and to drive the ponies along the farm roadway.  By now, we were working in the surreal conditions of snow [6 inches?], darkness and moonlight – quite, quite beautiful.  We eventually persuaded the ponies through some cattle and into the area adjacent to where they were intended to be, (until conditions allow us to drive them further up into Deep Dean).  As for myself, I left Lullington at 5-30 and arrived home at 10pm!

A real team effort!  I would particularly like thank Bob, Alan and Richard and staff for assisting with the gathering. To Bob for persevering in atrocious road conditions.  To Maria, Michael, Mick, Mike, Nick and Sue for waiting around all afternoon and to Duncan and Mick for being on hand to advise and assist.’


Hello everyone!

“I cannot resist adding a note to Monty’s report.  Eventually, Bob the lorry driver (what amazing skill!) got the lorry backed up the lane.  I assumed that the ponies, once released, would high tail it as far as possible from the lorry and three of us had positioned ourselves further down the lane to ensure they did not go off the lane.  We heard the rumble of hooves getting off the lorry – but no ponies came galloping past.  Instead, through the dark we heard Monty, the Exmoor pony whisperer, approaching followed by an orderly file of ponies!  A priceless memory for me!”

 Susan [volunteer Looker]


Crows Murderous – But Not so Bad After All?


Murderous – but not so bad after all?  By Dr. Mark Avery.

A new scientific study has shown that crows, including Magpies and Ravens, do not have as big an impact on bird populations as has previously been thought.  This has implications for the legality of some aspects of gamekeeping in the UK.

It is one of the most obvious things in the world to imagine that if a predator eats lots of a particular species, then it must have an impact on the population level of that species. This can happen, but, for example, there is little evidence that predators like Sparrowhawks have much impact on their common prey such as Blue Tits and Great Tits.  If lots of tits weren’t eaten by Sparrowhawks they would simply die of starvation later in the winter. And if they didn’t die in the winter than we would soon be drowning in a sea of tits!

Predation certainly can drive populations lower, eg introduced species or high levels of illegal persecution on raptor populations, but it doesn’t always happen like that.  It depends on the biology of the prey species and the level of predation. It’s far more complicated than ‘they kill them, so they must reduce the population levels’. If that weren’t so, then all hunting would, of course, be unsustainable and should be banned.

But we have all thought that generalist predators such as Red Foxes and Carrion Crows can reduce the population levels of their prey under certain circumstances.

This new study suggests those impacts of corvids are rather smaller than has been thought by the average biologist (and miles less than you would be told by the average gamekeeper).

The study found that Carrion Crows – along with Magpies and Ravens – have surprisingly little impact on the abundance of other bird species.  The authors state that these birds are in fact being menaced by mankind in the mistaken belief that removing them is good for conservation.  Of course corvids take eggs and chicks, the question is, do they take enough to affect bird population levels.

The study was led by researchers at the University of Cape Town and published this week in the leading ornithological journal Ibis. It found that in the vast majority of cases (82%), corvids had no impact at all on their potential prey species.

“Many nature lovers have been distressed to witness a crow or magpie raiding the nests of their beloved garden songbirds, stealing their eggs or eating their defenceless chicks,” said study co-author Dr Arjun Amar from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute for Ornithology, “Although this predation is entirely natural, these observations can be upsetting to witness and often leave people wondering if these predators might be reducing bird numbers.”

“However, our global review suggests that we should be cautious before jumping to conclusions over the impacts these species may have. Just because a predator eats something occasionally does not always mean that they have an impact,” Dr Amar said.

The study reviewed all published evidence on whether predation by corvids actually reduces the overall breeding performance of birds or, more importantly from a conservation perspective, reduces their numbers. Data were collated from 42 studies of corvid predation conducted across the globe over the last sixty years.

Not only were corvids unlikely to have any impact on their potential prey species, if there was an impact it most often affected the breeding success of the prey species rather than their subsequent numbers. Half of cases found that corvids reduced breeding success whereas less than 10% of cases found that they reduced prey numbers in the long term.

The review analysed the impact of six corvid species on a variety of prey species including gamebirds, songbirds, waders, herons, cranes, sea birds, waterfowl and raptors.  The 42 studies incorporated into the review included 326 cases of corvid –  bird prey interaction Most of the data stemmed from field research in the UK, France and the United States.  The impacts were determined partly by comparing bird counts before and after corvids were either removed or their numbers reduced.

The lead author, Chris Madden said she hoped that the review would challenge the perception that all corvids were bad, thereby preventing needless killing: “Our results suggest that this is a mistaken belief and that generally speaking people would be wasting their time killing corvids to increase bird numbers.  Overall therefore, our study points to the fact that we are often too quick to jump to the conclusion that crows and magpies may be the cause of bird population declines,” she said.

In the UK, most killing of corvids is done by gamekeepers under the ‘General Licence’. The General Licence allows people to kill a variety of birds which some, but not I, would call ‘vermin’.  However, it is not legal, as I understand it (and maybe I am wrong) to kill things simply to increase the number of gamebirds available at the end of the breeding season to enter the shooting season.

The General Licence allows you and me to kill Carrion Crows, for example:

*to prevent damage to agriculture, livestock, fisheries, property, or archaeology

*to protect public health and safety (including air safety) (see the quite awful www.GOV.uk site)

Rather better than the government site is the RSPB site. You see there is no mention of allowing killing for game preservation. Gamebirds are not livestock (nor property) – some of them are ‘wild’ birds and released gamebirds would have to be cossetted rather more than they are if classed as livestock. Your average gamekeeper isn’t killing crows etc to protect you on your flight to Malaga, nor to protect agriculture, nor fisheries, nor to stop the spread of disease.  The only ‘excuse’ for killing crows would be, and maybe it should be tested in law, to ‘conserve wild birds’.

This paper suggests that it is a rather thinner excuse than before this study was published.

Now, I am not an expert on the law, even wildlife law, but this is how I have always understood things. If I’m wrong then please correct me.

As far as the biology is concerned, would we want all gamekeeping of corvids to be eliminated in the countryside?  That’s a question for you, but my answer would be ‘Maybe not’. It might be though, that in any licensing of shooting estates we should expect them to send in returns on how many crows etc they have killed, for what reason and by what means. And, perhaps, if this paper is right, to exercise rather more restraint in the numbers of corvids killed.

Lima Climate Talks Outcome


UN members agree deal at Lima climate talks.

United Nations members have reached an agreement on how countries should tackle climate change.  Delegates have approved a framework for setting national pledges to be submitted to a summit next year.  Differences over the draft text caused the two-week talks in Lima, Peru, to overrun by two days.

Environmental groups said the deal was an ineffectual compromise, but the EU said it was a step towards achieving a global climate deal next year in Paris.

The talks proved difficult because of divisions between rich and poor countries over how to spread the burden of pledges to cut carbon emissions.

he agreement was adopted hours after a previous draft was rejected by developing countries, who accused rich nations of shirking their responsibilities to fight global warming and pay for its impacts.  Peru’s environment minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who chaired the summit, told reporters: “As a text it’s not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties.”

Miguel Arias Canete, EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, said the EU had wanted a more ambitious outcome but he still believed that “we are on track to agree a global deal” at a summit in Paris, France, next year.

UK climate change minister Ed Davey said: “I am not going to say it will be a walk in the park in Paris.”  He described the deal as “a really important step” on the road to Paris.  “That’s when the real deal has to be done.”


Analysis: Matt McGrath, BBC News, Lima

There was a good deal of optimism at the start of these talks as the recent emissions agreement between the US and China was seen as an historic breakthrough. But that good spirit seemed to evaporate in two weeks of intense wrangling between rich and poor here in Lima.

It ended in a compromise that some participants believe keeps the world on track to reach a new global treaty by the end of next year.  None of the 194 countries attending the talks walked away with everything they wanted, but everybody got something.

As well as pledges and finance, the agreement points towards a new classification of nations. Rather than just being divided into rich and poor, the text attempts to reflect the more complex world of today, where the bulk of emissions originate in developing countries.

While progress in Lima was limited, and many decisions were simply postponed, the fact that 194 nations assented to this document means there is still momentum for a deal in Paris. Much tougher tests lie ahead.

The final draft is said to have alleviated those concerns with by saying countries have “common but differentiated responsibilities”.  “We’ve got what we wanted,” Indian environment minister Prakash Javedekar told reporters, saying the document preserved the notion that richer nations had to lead the way in making cuts in emissions.

It also restored a promise to poorer countries that a “loss and damage” scheme would be established to help them cope with the financial implications of rising temperatures.

However, it weakened language on national pledges, saying countries “may” instead of “shall” include quantifiable information showing how they intend to meet their emissions targets.


The agreed document calls for:

*An “ambitious agreement” in 2015 that reflects “differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” of each nation

*Developed countries to provide financial support to “vulnerable” developing nations

*National pledges to be submitted by the first quarter of 2015 by those states “ready to do so”

*Countries to set targets that go beyond their “current undertaking”

*The UN climate change body to report back on the national pledges in November 2015

Environmental groups were scathing in their response to the document, saying the proposals were nowhere need drastic enough.  Sam Smith, chief of climate policy for the environmental group WWF, said: “The text went from weak to weaker to weakest and it’s very weak indeed.”

Jagoda Munic, chairperson of Friends of the Earth International, said fears the talks would fail to deliver “a fair and ambitious outcome” had been proven “tragically accurate”.

December 12th – A Wild Night & An Early Start

During the night, an Atlantic depression whipped up by the jet stream, swept across southern England accompanied by strong winds and heavy rain.  At 5am the Greenwich Light weather buoy some 20 miles off the Sussex coast recorded a maximum steady strength of the wind of 49 knots, that is, Storm Force 10 on the Beaufort Scale.  At 8am it recorded a minimum atmospheric pressure of 994 millibars.

Having heard during the night the wind at times roaring over the rooftop some 30 miles inland, I decided on making an early move, leaving the house at 6-30am, togged up in full waterproofs.  When having reached just half a mile from the coast at Birling Gap I encountered the full might of the angry weather just as daylight was breaking.  A squall accompanied by almost horizontal rain hit the truck and for the next 10 minutes, the view through the glass was reminiscent of a blizzard!

Once it had passed, I made my way around the mile of electric fencing securing loose fence stakes and also having to repair a long broken section, the plastic tape snaking away before the wind.  Next port of call was near the summit of Beachy Head some two miles to the east.  On the way, passed two large round bales of haylage laying in the road, blown by the severity of the wind from off a neighbouring slope.  After arriving, found a section of electric fence running down a steep downland spur, was stretched across the grassy slope like an abandoned washing line.  Later, the boys from Eastbourne Borough Council rectified this later in the morning.  In both cases, the ponies were taking shelter on lee slopes so did not make a bid for freedom!

Then it was on to Hastings to check the next herd of ponies, these however being within proper stock fencing.  All in a days work…

Time For Change at Westminster

The British electorate (at least those south of the border), are largely disenfranchised with the political status quo…  The current Westminster system requires urgent root and branch change if this country is not to drift down a lane to impoverishment and disillusionment; a rise in power of ultra-right or left wing groups with the possibly of leading to prolonged home-grown violence and civil unrest.

The current three-party system does not now fully reflect the aspirations of a majority of the British public.  We seem to lurch between times of over-generous spending, to periods of savage cuts to public services – read Wilson, Thatcher, Blair and now Cameron.  In 2015, we are probably looking at being presented with further swinging cuts to all manner of public services and to grants that help fund many other areas of British life.  After the next election, local government, health, environment and defence are possibly going to suffer cuts ‘not seen since the 1930’s.’

The country has to live within its means.  We have to face up to the fact that if we want decent services, a rich and diverse environment and a strong defence forces to protect our way of life, then we have to accept that taxes are going to need to rise a modest amount to help pay for them.  The alternative over the next decade is too miserable to even contemplate.

Overhaul of the system in my opinion, including proportional representation (and possibly some element of federal government?) should be brought to bear on the current electoral system together with a fully-elected second chamber to scrutinize the decisions of the first chamber.  The House of Commons should be a smaller chamber, operating in 21st century efficient surroundings like those of Holyrood and Cardiff.  The current public school-boy baying in the Commons should be swiftly consigned to history.  MP’s should not be allowed to stand for office until they had spent at least five years fully employed in mainstream employment or having served a similar period in one of our public services.

George Osborne’s Cold Shoulder for the Green Economy


 George Osborne’s cold shoulder for the green economy

Damian Carrington, The Guardian.com, Wednesday 3 December 2014.

George Osborne, giving his final Autumn Statement of this parliament, saved his greatest contempt for the nation’s burgeoning green economy till last. Pure politics prevailed, and we are all the worse for it.

 Previously, the green economy has been at least mentioned as an aside. There have been insults too – “we’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business” – but even that was better than Wednesday’s feat: total silence. The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, as the old saying goes.

Instead, Osborne threw more tax breaks at the “vital” North Sea oil and gas industry, which already enjoys billions in relief. Fracking was mentioned, with the promise that its currently nonexistent revenues will flow into a fund for northern England.

New roads, piling up like a traffic report in the pre-statement news stories, were not matched with support for public transport. Even flying was made cheaper, as air passenger duty is being abolished for children. The £2.3bn for flood defences represents nothing more than an end to earlier cuts, despite wild weather being on the rise.

One would be forgiven for forgetting that as Osborne spoke 194 nations are gathered at UN negotiations attempting to sketch out a global deal to tackle climate change, without which “severe, widespread and irreversible” impacts will strike people and property.

Yet the most incomprehensible aspect of Osborne’s cold shoulder for the green economy is that it offers exactly what he is seeking for the UK economy: plentiful, good jobs in industries that enable the nation to compete internationally, be they in clean energy, engineering expertise or smarter crops. “Our future living standards depend on Britain earning its way in the world,” Osborne said.

Even more galling to those investors seeking the political certainty needed to plough billions into the UK’s green economy, Osborne clearly understood the power of green growth once upon a time. “The global market for green goods and technologies is worth trillions of dollars a year, but with less than a 5% share of that market Britain is failing to take advantage. This has got to change,” he said in 2009, six months before becoming chancellor.

The CBI, the UK’s top business group, heartily agreed and has promoted green growth ever since. The difference between businesses and politicians, said the CBI boss, John Cridland, this week is that once businesses have understood green and growth are allies, they don’t forget it.

So what has happened since 2009, when Osborne pledged his Treasury “will no longer be the cuckoo in the Whitehall nest” on green issues? The answer is as simple as it is depressing. A significant number of Tory MPs and voters loathe greenery, as does Ukip, and there’s a general election coming. The government has gone from the “greenest ever” to cutting the “green crap”; and, if its credibility is shot, why even pretend any more?

The problem is, it really matters. Confidence is key to the green economy in fields such as energy efficiency or offshore wind farms, where big investments must be made up front but are prone to political meddling. Without confidence, fewer investments are made, and they will cost more to fund.

Osborne has put popularity with a Ukip-tinged fringe of the electorate ahead of the national economic and environmental interest. That does not sound to me like a “long-term economic plan [that] is working”.