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environment

Ethical and sustainable living, Life

Earth Overshoot Day; changing the way we travel

August 2, 2017
Driving down the Icefields Parkway
 

Today is Earth Overshoot Day; the point in the calendar whereby we have used more natural resources than the planet can renew throughout the whole of the year. That’s a pretty sobering thought when there are almost five months left of 2017.

The Earth Overshoot Day website goes into more detail about what August 2nd represents and some of the things we can do to push that date back. It even allows you to calculate your global footprint. While it isn’t 100% perfect as it doesn’t include many countries on it, you can pick the one closest to you and it gives you some indication of what you could do to reduce your global footprint. According to my results, we would need 4.9 planets to support a world living the same way I do. That was a pretty surprising result as I thought I lived fairly greenly.

A couple of days ago, the UK government announced that it plans to cease sale of petrol and diesel cars (though not hybrid cars) by 2040. In comparison, India wants the same by 2030, and Norway only wants zero emission cars on their roads by 2025. Last month, Volvo announced that they will only introduce electric or hybrid vehicles after 2019. While it requires more work and money for a country to support that kind of change than for a company to stop producing a specific type of car, why is our government planning to fall 21 years behind Volvo, 15 years behind Norway, and 10 years behind India?

No, it’s not as simple as us replacing petrol and diesel cars with electric or hybrid versions, it will require culture shifts and a lot of investment in energy and public transport, but why are we aiming to fall behind?

The government estimate that air pollution is linked to 40,000 premature deaths per year, though it is hard to verify that figure. We know that air quality in some areas is poor, it can make existing conditions worse, and no one really wants to breath in dirty air, period. We know something needs to be done, but are our government doing enough, fast enough? These are just some of the issues that need to be tackled to change the way we think about travel.

Green energy

It’s all well and good harping on about how green electric cars are, but how green are the energy sources charging that car? If an electric car is charged using electric from fossil fuels, it isn’t truly emission free; albeit, the emissions are being emitted from a power station, not the car directly.The UK government is woefully behind other European countries in terms of green energy. A few times a year, stories pop up about the likes of Germany or Sweden generating enough green energy to power the entire country for a day or two. It’s not perfect, but they’re on the right path and we need to follow suit.

The problems with UK public transport

If you’ve traveled to Europe, you will know how inadequate and expensive the British public transport system is in comparison. The UK rail networks are in need of upgrading but that isn’t a priority for the government, who recently scrapped plans to electrify key lines. It seems the only public transport system the government are interested in is HS2, which will tear up parts of the British countryside, will cost £55.7 billion (way above the £32.7bn originally estimated), and will probably be the rail equivalent of the M6 toll; that is, barely used.

We are moving to Edinburgh soon and our friends and family have been doing some research into the easiest and cheapest way to get to Edinburgh, which is about 270 miles from where we currently live. In my car (a 0.9l Renault Clio), it costs less than £30 in fuel one way. The train? Costs over £100. Where is the incentive for people to take public transport instead of their cars when it is so expensive? What’s worse is you could fit five people in the average car, which would drop the cost to £6 each in fuel, but everyone would still be paying £100 on the train.

On top of that, our networks need to expand their reach to encourage more people to take public transport. It takes me just under 20 minutes to drive 7.5 miles to work, but what if I wanted to take public transport? I can’t, safely. I would have to walk a couple of miles down an unlit country lane with no footpath, and it’s doubtful buses would be running when I finish at 1am.

That leads us nicely to cycling. To a lot of motorists, cyclists are considered to be a pain because UK roads aren’t quite wide enough to safely pass. This is even more problematic in rural areas. The Netherlands is a country we really need to learn from because it has been estimated that up to 70% of journeys in Amsterdam and The Hague are made on cycles.

Changing how we travel

Helping our environment does not just require a change in how our government thinks and our infrastructure works, it requires us to change our mindsets. We need to change the way we think about travel. While that does go hand in hand with improved public transport, we need to start walking or cycling more.

I include myself in that category. When we’re living outside Edinburgh, we probably won’t need the car much at all but it seems hard to give up that sense of freedom that comes with owning a car. Conversely, if public transport was better and cheaper, it wouldn’t be as hard.

It isn’t going to be completely pain free and easy, but we haven’t done our fair share in terms of protecting the world we live in for long enough and it’s time we step up and take responsibility.

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Books

5 reasons why you need to read Blood & Earth by Kevin Bales

May 11, 2017

Blood and Earth by Kevin Bales

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a book review, eh? I’ve barely had time to read this year but Blood and Earth demanded I read it with some kind of immediacy and then tell everyone that they need to read it too. 

 

1. You don’t know what you don’t know

I can’t speak for everyone but I went into this book thinking I knew about where things were coming from but I was wrong. I was shocked by a lot of the things I read. I had no clue that shrimps were harvested by young boys and men who had been lied to, enslaved, abused, and forced to live in awful conditions with the threat of death if they tried to escape back to their families. I honestly would never have made the logical leap from shrimp farming to slavery. Never.

It is very easy for us to buy into marketing and what we are told by retailers without ever questioning the origin of our phones, laptops, food, or clothes. It’s easy to be ignorant because you don’t have to ask that many questions before you feel very uncomfortable.

 

2. It is our responsibility to know where things come from

By buying a product we are, whether we like it or not, agreeing with the practices of a company we buy from. Large, global retailers don’t really care about anything aside from profit and to force them to change their profit needs to suffer.

This leaves us with the reponsibility of holding companies accountable with you and me. By actually asking companies to change and voting with our money we can make companies aware of the way we feel about their actions. More transparency is needed and until we demand it most retailers probably won’t feel obliged to provide it.

 

3.We kinda like the planet

The kind of scum who value profit above people’s lives are also the kind of people who don’t care about the environment.

Mining for gold has resulted in streams and rivers being polluted with mercury, which local families use drink, wash in, or use for cooking. Would we stand for that happening in our own towns? No.

The demand for charcoal has resulted in large chunks of forests being decimated and ecosystems destroyed, resulting in not just loss of species but severe flooding in local areas because the forests “held” the water.

Mangrove forests are being destroyed in x for shrimp farming. The problem with this is, again, not just related to the ecosystems and species being wiped out, but mangrove forests are also huge carbon sinks. When they’re destroyed, that CO2 is released into the atmosphere.

None of these are positives and Kevin Bales does an incredible job of explaining the link between slavery and the destruction of the environment. He states that if you combined the CO2 pollution of global slavery, it would be the third biggest polluter behind America and China. If not for humane reasons, slavery needs to be stopped.

 

4. It will change your life

This might sound cliche but you will struggle not to question your buying choices or retailers actions after reading this. And that is perfect and exactly what the world needs.

In one of the last chapters, Kevin shares the story of Claudio and Maria; two environmentalists who lived on their farm in Brazil and taught others how to live and make money off their farms without being destructive. Disgustingly, they (along with hundreds of others) were killed because they stood in the way of people who wanted to destroy the forests for profit. The loss of their lives can’t be in vain and who wants us to be sitting around in years to come and think we should have taken action sooner?

 

5. Our governments are idiots and we need to make them change

Ok, so let me preface this by saying not all governments are idiots. The UK and US governments seem especially moronic and ignorant when it comes to the environment at the moment. In America, you have a President who thinks climate change has been invented. In the UK, we are in the run up to a general election and the current party in power aren’t talking about the environment at all in their manifesto. In the UK, the capital city breached annual legal pollution limits for 2017 after just five days. And, the UK government has failed on repeated occasions to clean up the air in London, despite thousands deaths as a result of it. This is not acceptable.

The more of us who are educated, the more we can force change.

I’m not going to lie, this isn’t a happy Sunday afternoon read but it is an important read that shouldn’t be ignored, no matter how bad it makes us feel. I did actually find Blood and Earth to be a really gripping read because I just needed to know more immediately. Despite all the horror, it’s an inspiring read to know that we are responsible and can force change.

I’d also like to point out that I’m not suggesting that if we all read this book things will change instantly and it’ll be a walk in the park, full of sunshine, bunny rabbits and fluffy clouds. This book isn’t a silver bullet, it’s a starting point. It will be hard to change our society and the things we take for granted, and have become so reliant on. No one said change was supposed to be easy but if we want to ensure slavery is wiped out, want to enjoy the natural beauty of this planet, and continue sharing it with wonderful species that are vital to the ecosystem, we have to try.

If you’re intrigued by Blood and Earth, or want to know more, you might also like to read Kevin Bales’ interview with NPR (it’s written so you don’t need audio).

If you’ve got any suggestions for environmental / ethical reads, please send them my way.

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