Abridged article based on article by Gaby Hinsliff, columnist, The Guardian, April 19 2019.
At this critical time… Stores know (that many of) their young customers are eco-conscious, impressively fluent in the evils of plastic and diesel, where as past generations were oblivious. But they’re also human, still occasionally craving the disposable fashion they’ve always had. They want what most people secretly want, which is to enjoy the pleasures of a pre-climate-conscious age – foreign travel, strawberries out of season – but in ways sustainable enough to let us feel good about it…
To watch passing shoppers and tourists stop and film (climate protesters) on their camera phones is, however, to wonder how prepared we really are for the life of minimal consumption inherent in treating climate change as an emergency. The protesters have public sympathy for their broad aim in the bag. But that’s a very long way from securing public consent to the specifics…
In practice, that (would) indicate the kind of collective effort rarely seen outside wartime. It means goodbye to petrol cars, gas boilers and cookers – fine for those who can afford to replace whatever they’ve got now, impossible for the poor without significant subsidy and, hello to restrictions on flying. It implies eating significantly less meat and dairy, and no longer treating economic growth as the first priority, with all the possible consequences that entails for pay, tax revenues and public services. We might hope to create jobs in green industries but shed them in carbon-based ones but with no guarantee of the new, clean technologies basing themselves in those towns hardest hit by the loss of the old, polluting industries.
All of that might be necessary to stop global warming in the long run, but the difference is that doing it in six years, not 30, means it would have to happen at breakneck speed, with painfully little time for communities to adjust. Those who are prepared to accept sacrifices for themselves need to be honest about what they’re wishing on others, which is why alarm bells ring when Extinction Rebellion’s Gail Bradbrook says that “this is not the time to be realistic”. We’ve seen in the three years since the Brexit referendum what can happen when campaigners win an argument by refusing to be realistic about what their dream means for other people.
#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.
Princess Cruise Liners fined in illegal ocean pollution case.
Ethical Consumer. 02/12/2016.
United States Department of Justice announced on the 1st December that Princess Cruise Liners has received a US$40M penalty after pleading guilty to seven federal charges in an illegal ocean pollution case that involved one ship’s use of a so-called magic pipe to divert oily waste into the waters.
According to the press release “Princess will pay a $40 million penalty – the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution – and plead guilty to charges related to illegal dumping of oil contaminated waste from the Caribbean Princess cruise ship.”
Princess, headquartered in Santa Clarita, California, is a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation (Carnival), which owns and operates multiple cruise lines and collectively comprises the world’s largest cruise company.
As part of the plea agreement with Princess, cruise ships from eight Carnival cruise line companies (Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line N.V., Seabourn Cruise Line Ltd. and AIDA Cruises) will be under a court supervised Environmental Compliance Program (ECP) for five years. The ECP will require independent audits by an outside entity and a court appointed monitor.
It said “The U.S. investigation was initiated after information was provided to the U.S. Coast Guard by the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) indicating that a newly hired engineer on the Caribbean Princess reported that a so-called “magic pipe” had been used on Aug. 23, 2013, to illegally discharge oily waste off the coast of England.”
“The whistleblowing engineer quit his position when the ship reached Southampton, England. The chief engineer and senior first engineer ordered a cover-up, including removal of the magic pipe and directing subordinates to lie.”
According to papers filed in court, the Caribbean Princess had made illegal discharges through bypass equipment since 2005, one year after the ship began operations.
The discharge on Aug. 26, 2013, involved approximately 4,227 gallons, 23 miles off the coast of England within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone. At the same time as the discharge, engineers simultaneously ran clean seawater through the ship’s overboard equipment in order to create a false digital record for a legitimate discharge.
Illegal practices were also found on four other Princess ships, including use of clean ocean water to fool onboard sensors that would otherwise detect dumping of improperly contaminated bilge water. Authorities say cost savings was the motive and that the ship’s officers and crew conspired to cover up what was going on.
History of environmental violations.
“The conduct being addressed today is particularly troubling because the Carnival family of companies has a documented history of environmental violations, including in the Southern District of Florida,” said U.S. Attorney Ferrer.
“Our hope is that all companies abide by regulations that are in place to protect our natural resources and prevent environmental harm. Today’s case should send a powerful message to other companies that the U.S. government will continue to enforce a zero tolerance policy for deliberate ocean dumping that endangers the countless animals, marine life and humans who rely on clean water to survive.”
If approved by the court, $10 million of the $40 million criminal penalty will be devoted to community service projects to benefit the maritime environment; $3 million of the community service payments will go to environmental projects in South Florida; $1 million will be earmarked for projects to benefit the marine environment in United Kingdom waters. [!!]
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
I came across these three posted comments regarding an environmental story on the BBC News website which, probably capture the attitude and the route that civilisation (and much of world) is upon:
There is no waste bin on planet earth. It’s a closed system. We can’t throw things away – all we can do is move them around. Putting things out of sight means nothing to the rest of nature. Every gram of toxic chemical that’s manufactured has got to go somewhere. ‘Chuck it overboard’ was the attitude of sailors in more innocent days. Now innocence has gone. Adult responsibility is demanded.
Offer the governments of the world the choice between GDP growth of 5% or, a sustainable clean-up of the planet and they’d choose the former every time. Long-term planning doesn’t come into it anymore (if it ever did!). One day, perhaps not even that far away, the chickens will come home to roost. It’s hard to say but we, the human race, deserve everything that is coming our way.
For once, it would be nice if the governments of the world would take heed of scientific evidence about the environment and do something about the mess rather than letting business’ desire for greater profits be what drives our green policies.