Meeting Summaries 2014 - 2015
Session 2nd October 2014
We discussed some topical issues and then I used the spider diagram that showed all the different areas we had covered or could cover under the umbrella of 'the environment'.
I summarised some key points emerging from the recent Climate Change Summit.
This highlights the different perspectives that are at last coming together:
Governments - Climate change Summit New York(23/09/14) called by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to help move towards legally binding targets to cut emissions at Climate change Conference Paris 2015 (196 nations).
Gmts pledged new money for climate change fund (eg France $1bn)(EU $3.9bn)
EU pledged to reduce emissions and increase use of renewables and increase energy efficiency.
UN conference on small island development states (eg Maldives and Marshall Islands) highlighted problems include persistent drought & extreme weather events, sea level rising, coastal erosion and ocean acidification. Problems for food security and sustainable development.
Marches took place across world before the Summit to try to show the politicians that people needed them to tackle climate change seriously (161 countries 2,700 marches).
Consumers are influencing big business from finance houses to Unilever on foods etc (see * below).
Corporate Leaders- This summit seemed to spark off movement by Corporate leaders - perhaps because it was held next to Wall St? Unilever CEO Paul Polman said “Consumers have sent companies a clear signal that they do not want their purchasing habits to drive deforestation, and companies are responding.”
We had decided to focus on food at the start of this year so considered all the aspects of this topic. I also gave out a sheet showing how the footprint of food is made up of many aspects of its production and supply to customers.
Session November 2014
We started with a general discussion about some of the issues that were in the news. Tom brought up the topic of a plague of locusts which are initially thought of as a problem but perhaps they could be seen as an excellent food source?
It is interesting how 'connected' all the aspects of the environment are; the discussion revolved round and ended up with discussions of the wind turbines and Nuclear power.
I gave a brief report on a talk by Suzanne Jeffrey (Vice Chair of the Campaign for Climate Change), 24th Oct 2014 (CAfS Penrith).
In the second part of her talk she explained the ideas behind the report 'One Million Climate Jobs: Tackling the Environment and Economic Crisis'. http://www.climate-change-jobs.org/
The second main topic for our meeting was Genetically Modified Food –
After covering the major science and some examples such as golden rice and the grain camelina we discussed the following issues:
1 Long term effects difficult to gauge although Americans been eating GM foods for the past 20 yrs.
2 Effects that 'foreign' genes have on the environment and people's health.
3 Crops have no obvious increase in yield so are they just moneymaking? More being developed by Gates foundation and universities.
4 Cross pollination? Can happen so prudent to use crops that do not 'out-cross' eg Camelina?
5 Development of herbicide resistance – happens anyway.
6 Large multinationals such as Monsanto have give GM a bad image.
2012 report on all studies of GM and animals indicated no harm.
We decided to continue looking at Genetically modified food and the issues surrounding it next time.
Session 4th December
We discussed the UN Climate change negotiations which were in the news
Among other points:
“Peru is among the countries most affected [by Climate Change]. The Andean nation has 70 percent of the world's tropical glaciers, which have lost more than a fifth of their mass in just three decades, putting 300,000 highlanders under severe stress as pastures and croplands dry up, the planting cycle becomes more erratic and cold snaps more severe. Lima is the world's second-largest desert capital after Cairo, Egypt, and its 10 million inhabitants depend on glacial runoff for hydropower and to irrigate crops.” Quote from USA Today
We briefly talked through the areas covered so far eg science, regulations, advantages, disadvantages. Then we discussed points borought up in the the international Scientific magazine, Nature, which had a special issue on GM. http://www.nature.com/news/specials/gmcrops/index.html
In a general article Daniel Cressey indicated that GM benefits were not visible to ordinary people and there was an idea of GM as evil. Now many crops were being developed that would help the general population eg golden rice and bright orange bananas which are fortified with nutrients to improve the diet (and so health) of people in the poorest countries.
We explored other examples such as Casava which is an area ignored by big agricultural companies. One example is the work of Vanderschuren (Swiss) and virus resistant cassava. After lab trials work is being done on establishing the technology to do this in labs in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. It is hoped that this will give those countries more control over the developments.
Some interesting articles:
Global Plant Protection News: https://iapps2010.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/african-farmers-could-soon-grow-virus-resistant-cassava/
Daily National African news http://www.nation.co.ke/oped/Opinion/-African-farmers-are-losing-out-/-/440808/2468106/-/vwp49hz/-/index.html
Session February 2015
We started off with some items that had been in the news:
1 A new Propafilm RCU developed by Innovia Films (East Cumbrian Gazette). This provides 1.5 yrs protection against mineral oil migration so better for our health when used to wrap dried foods.
2 The government wants to spend £80m of taxpayer’s money to boost the fracking industry's dire reputation.
3 News about Climate change: there have been moves recently and this is needed before the global climate deal comes in December in Paris 2015.
We then moved on to Organic Farming
We started with a discussion about the many factors that influence any farmer as they try to produce food for the world in the most effective way. The external pressures include a growing population, economics, food distribution as well as rules and regulations. There is also a need to maintain a healthy environment without reducing the biodiversity.
We then started to discuss some facts about Organic farming and how this addresses some of the issues brought up above.
Other issues came up such as:
Who controls organic status? In the UK there are a number of Organic controlling bodies (CB). These are at least as strict as the European Commission rules.
The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) is the worldwide umbrella organization for the organic agriculture movement, which represents close to 800 affiliates in 117 countries.
Another common problem is the question of whether Organic farming is viable when we need lots of food worldwide? Well there has been a lot of research into this and a recent paper in the Royal Society journal indicates that things are improving here.
Session March 2015
1 The idea of a tidal lagoon in Swansea bay see promotional film at http://www.tidallagoonswanseabay.com/. This is intended to be the first of 6 across Britain (4 Wales 1 in Somerset and 1 in Cumbria) with planning application in 2017 and completion 2020 according to BBC at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-31682529
There are other tidal power projects in Holland and the Rhine.
2 Judy mentioned the Food Standards Agency which has a website showing lots of interesting aspects of the control of food. Some of the recall notices seem sensible (eg Salmonella found in melon seeds) and some relating to slips in labelling which seems a waste of good food. This labelling is a minefield!
3 Ideas about the need to limit the burning of fossil fuels if we are to tackle Climate Change and limit the average temperature rise to 2degrees C:
The Bank of England warned Insurance firms about potential big losses in their investments in fossil fuels.
4 The Infrastructure Act 2015 was given the Royal Assent on 12th Feb and this removes the need for the government to consult locally about the location of the Geological Disposal Facility (for nuclear waste) which is deemed a provision of nationally significant infrastructure project.
We have to deal with nuclear waste long-term but can we be sure that the government will choose the safest place?
5 Do we know enough about how food is processed? See the Joanna Blythman article about processing food and clear(?) labels http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/feb/21/a-feast-of-engineering-whats-really-in-your-food
We then Reviewed what we considered last month about organic farming:
What about perception of consumer about provenance? Why important? Treatment of land and environment as well as quality of food etc.
We moved on to the problems Cotton production
Why a production a problem?
60% of cotton produced by 40 million small farms
Vast amounts of water needed for growth and processing
2.5% of cultivated land used for cotton but 16% of insecticides and 10% pesticides.
Subsidies of some farmers (US)
Yield, market price etc volatile and small farmers often tied into supply chains
GM seeds (some insects become resistant, farmers tied into buying seeds from Monsanto)
Organic (maintain soil, reduce chemicals, help biodiverse agriculture etc)
Fair Trade (helps farmers create farmer owned cooperatives and helps local society)
Session April 2015
George Highlighted the work of SUMA who claim - “The Suma range of food and household products. Our products are sourced ethically, with the environment in mind.” See http://www.suma.coop/
Soil erosion is an important aspect considered by organic farmers as well as others. The significance of this has been highlighted by George Monbiot see 'Ploughing on regardless' at www.monbiot.com
The You and Yours Radio 4 program reported that Organic food sales are up 4% but 4% less land in UK is being farmed organically. Sales dropped around 2008 when financial problems. Non-organic OK for farmers with local consumers but if selling more widely the certification is the only way to prove pesticide free and care taken over soil etc. The report also indicated that consumers of organics are spread over the income range.
We then went on to look at some ideas presented by Iain Stewart in his talk 'Planet Oil' on 17th March. I used the chart of 'Historical Crude Oil Prices 1861 to Present' at http://chartsbin.com/view/oau to discuss some of the historical developments of oil. There are a lot of clips and ideas on www.bbc.co.uk/planetoil as there have been 3 programs on BBC Scotland – lets hope they will be aired on BBC England soon. (In fact aired in England in Autumn 2015)
He made the point that the dilemma we face is that while there are plenty of fossil fuels left in the ground, can we really afford to burn what's left?
Some other points that came out during question time:
Things like the use of renewables, nuclear (including thorium) and reductions in consumption are happening and help to move away from oil but moving too slowly.
We have options for generating electricity but other uses of oil are less easy to replace.
Oil CEOs are aware of problem and planning strategies. (responsible/ethical investment?).
Oil extraction less likely to be reduced because demand from us consumers still very strong.
We in the more developed world cannot expect developing countries to cut back (American consumes 20x the energy consumption of an Indian consumer).
Perhaps if we did things too dramatically there would be unforeseen consequences.
Session May 2015
The Croft, which is an organic farm and part of Hadrian Organics.
Session June 2015
Cragside to see the newly installed Archimedian Screw which generates hydro electricity as well as Lord Armstrong's hydro electric engineering collection.
Session July 2015
Linstock Castle Farm Anaerobic digester.