Monthly Archives: January 2016

Strange things did happen here

If you go down to the woods today…you might see something odd; me falling off a slackline. Slacklining was originally invented by climbers, but has developed a wider appeal over the last few years, and is definitely up there on my list of self propelled sports. Learning to walk across a 2 inch wide piece of webbing is proving pretty tricky, but great fun, and gets me out into the woods at the weekend which can’t be a bad thing. I can only manage about 5 metres without falling off at the moment, however I’m sure controlled bouncing and backflips are only a few weeks away. Travelling Lobster has already attained a much higher level of competence, however I think that’s due to a lower centre of gravity and more limbs; basically he’s cheating.

Lobster demonstrating how to walk a slackline in Bacton Woods

Lobster demonstrating how to walk a slackline in Bacton Woods

There are allegedly several benefits to be enjoyed from slacklining, including better balance and posture, improved core strength and concentration, and perhaps even a reduction in your chances of ankle or knee injuries when participating in other sports, which can’t be a bad thing. One can enter an almost meditative state whilst walking the line, as you’re only concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, and getting to the tree at the other end. Unfortunately my meditative state is usually broken after a few seconds as I tumble off. It’s also pretty hilarious, which helps – laughing is good for the soul. I’ve been learning with a friend, who incidentally is far better than me; the inadvertent monkey noises, arm windmilling, intense expressions of concentration and frequent bouts of swearing are all cause for much hilarity. I’m not sure what people out for a walk in the woods think, must look and sound a bit strange, but I’d throughly recommend it as a cheap, fun, and non environmentally harming activity. Of course you’ll need a bit of patience, but one can look forward to feats such as those being shown off by the individuals in this YouTube clip (I’ve got a way to go yet):

There are loads of YouTube videos you can watch on slacklining, with some pretty amazing stunts, including some people riding bikes over them which I’ll have to try at some point; maybe not with all my panniers on though.

Talking of cycling, two cool things this week, the first being I had my first ever go on a tandem bicycle. There’s a vague plan afoot, with a friend from work, to ride from Cambridge to Norwich on a tandem, raising money for charity. I was slightly dubious of this idea to begin with, especially as my fellow tandem rider hasn’t actually ridden a bike for 25 years, however the initial feasibility study has proven successful, so watch this space.

The second cool cycling thing this week is tickets have gone on sale for this years Cycle Touring Festival in Lancashire. I went to the first one last year, which also marked the start point for my 6 month European cycle tour, and can thoroughly recommend it for meeting like-minded individuals who don’t think you’re a bit strange to go off pedalling for weeks, months, or in some cases years, living off what you can pack on your bike. My friend Tony, who with his wife Gill pedalled around the coast of Britain in 2014, following a similar route to mine from 2013, recently wrote an entertaining blog post about the festival and its attendees –

You can get tickets for the festival via their website here:

I should probably explain the title of this blog post. Usually I find coming up with a title for a blog pretty easy, but for some reason I’m failing tonight. I’m going to stick with the lyrics from a song I’ve had stuck in my head for the last few days, ever since watching Mockingjay Part 1, which I really enjoyed and very much lived up to the books. ‘Strange things did happen here’ is quite apt in many ways, as lots of strange things do happen, some of which I’ve described above.

And now on to the not so good strange things. Five dead sperm whales have been found on the East coast of England over the last few days, having beached themselves, probably because they got lost in the North Sea where their sonar doesn’t work too well. The North Sea is too shallow for them compared with their normal ranges, meaning they get lost, and if they beach themselves on a sand bank they suffer cardiovascular collapse and organ failure; not a very nice way to go. Sadly this isn’t an uncommon event on our coastline, but I’m hoping it wasn’t caused by humans in this instance; maybe just the whales getting lost whilst chasing their squid prey, rather than getting confused by sounds in the sea originating from us, or becoming ill from a build up of toxins and beaching themselves (PCBs, plastic, radiation etc). I really don’t want to see any more pictures of people taking selfies with dead whales, or as I saw earlier today someone attacking the carcass to claim teeth as trophies; people are pretty awful sometimes.

This week we’ve continued to see strange weather patterns afflicting much of the world, with freezing temperatures in parts of South East Asia that don’t often go below 10’C, massive snow storms hitting the East coast of North America, and now the UK is beset by more gales and wet weather; although we have it lucky in comparison, at least most of us have central heating. The frankly worrying weather patterns are again caused by hot air being drawn up over the Arctic, including Greenland, forcing cold air south, disrupting the Jet Stream and turning weather normal for this type of year on its head in many areas. This will no doubt melt more glaciers and contribute to sea level rises in the season when these glaciers should be expanding. Reading the science behind this, the culprit is again the human race, due to unchecked CO2 emissions causing global warming in places that really don’t need to be warmed, and thus climate change. It seems obvious we’re in for rough times as the climate further destabilises, although who knows, maybe it’s just a blip; the evidence doesn’t seem to back up a blip though, with CO2 levels at their highest in 3 million years*, causing temperature rises that are warming our atmosphere and seas with devastating consequences.


On the subject of CO2 emissions, the low fuel prices we’re seeing at the moment can’t be a good thing can they? A massive increase in oil production, from tapping shale reserves (fracking) has driven prices down, which in turn must have lead to an increase in use, with demand still rising in China and other fast developing countries. Wouldn’t it have been better to keep prices high, by increasing taxes? This would in turn:

  • Show down consumption, meaning reserves would last for longer. It’s not like we’re sustainably farming oil. We don’t plant a new crop every year and thus replace reserves; once it’s gone it’s gone, with some of the alternatives such as Biofuels having equally damaging consequences for the environment.
  • Limit CO2 emissions from cars, planes etc, and thus help with meeting targets set in the Paris COP21 agreement
  • Increase tax revenue that could then be spent on good stuff, like researching and implementing alternative clean energy sources (fusion, renewables), the NHS, or feeding and homing the homeless

I don’t claim to understand all the economics behind the oil price changes, but it seems to be driven by human greed yet again, as well as politics; wealth and politics won’t matter much if we  don’t have a planet we’re able to live on. Can we at least, as I think Stephen Hawking recently said, avoid completely destroying Earth until we have invented viable space travel and are able to colonise other planets; although quite why the human ‘plague’ should be inflicted on other worlds I don’t know, not until we mend our ways slightly anyway.

I’ll pause there on the doom and gloom front, but you have to admit it’s pretty strange how we seem driven as a race to ultimately destroy ourselves? I read a blog today where the author used the phrase ‘challenge our sense of entitlement’. This really struck a chord with me; I think we need to really challenge our sense of entitlement to what we take for granted; excess consumerism, driving a car, burning fuel, waste, our place in the Earth’s ecosystem etc.

I’ll finish with a few humorous, or in the case of the latter touching strange things.

  • Trout tickling. How on Earth was that ever invented?  Did someone just randomly get in a river one day and approach fish with rather strange intentions? This was one of the topics we contemplated whilst slacklining in the woods, and is something I think I need to try at some point. If you don’t know what it is there are videos on YouTube.
  • Ferret Legging. This is the sport where contestants put ferrets down their trousers and see how long they can keep them there. The custom allegedly arose in Yorkshire, which perhaps explains a lot, with individuals trying to hide there poaching activities by keeping these furry and sharp toothed creatures hidden down their trousers; sounds hazardous to me.
  • Cheese rolling. This is another bizarre British tradition, which takes place at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester. Locals started racing rounds of Double Gloucester cheese down the hill, and now people come from all around the world to participate. This has apparently been going on for hundreds of years, however it sounds like something the Victorians would have invented to me, as was for example Morris Dancing, another odd but entertaining pastime. I think I might right a blog just on odd British pastimes.
  • The performance artist Marina and Ulay reunite: I saw this video a while ago, and remembered it the other day. I challenge anyone not to be moved by it.

Disappearing down the rabbit hole

…”down the rabbit hole”, a metaphor for an entry into the unknown, the disorientating or the mentally deranging, from its use in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

I can’t decide whether I’m disappearing down a rabbit hole, or perhaps emerging from one. Given my state of ongoing confusion and disenchantment with the state of the planet I suspect I may still be spiralling downwards instead of upwards. Incidentally, this might not be the most uplifting of blog posts I’ve ever written, perhaps because today is allegedly the most depressing day of the year, however these are topics I’ve been thinking about a lot since getting back from pedalling around Europe, and as such I thought they deserved an airing. Perhaps I’m still suffering from post expedition blues; a well-known condition where the individual just wants to keep on pedalling/walking/exploring, and has trouble fitting back in to ‘normal’ life and work.

It’s definitely not all doom and gloom. I’ve been enjoying getting out for some long cycle rides in the January sunshine, whilst avoiding too many stunts on icy roads, meeting up with friends, attempting to learn to slackline (look it up), and have even started running a couple of times a week. I’ve decided running isn’t very good for you, but hopefully it’ll get easier, and I’ve joined a team of friends running 2016 miles in 2016 for charity to assist with motivation.

Before I dive into more serious stuff here are some uplifting photos; please refer back to them if reading this all gets a bit much. The Norfolk countryside and coastline is really beautiful at this time of year.

Nature, the environment, conservation and climate change are areas I’ve been interested in all my life, which is probably one of the reasons I studied Biology; not sure why I work in Financial Services now however it pays the bills and allows me to finance cool stuff, so all good. When you’re on the road for a long time, sleeping in a tent and pedalling through all sorts of weather, you tend to become a lot more aware and attuned to the climate and seasons, prone to thinking about the impact it can have on you each day, and to wondering what things will be like if some of the forecast changes come to pass. Travelling also brings you into contact with a wide variety of people, both rich and poor, with varying degrees of security, from refugees on the road to tourists on holiday in expensive villas. If we see some of the major climate changes scientists are talking about it’ll affect everyone regardless of wealth, however as usual it’ll be the poor that’ll suffer the most.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading since I returned to the UK, and am increasingly concerned we’re heading for a meltdown; I’ll present my very short conclusion and some of the sources I’ve garnered information from at the end of this post.

Here’s the stuff I’m worried about, especially when I think about the sort of world the last few generations are leaving for future generations. It shocking really, and driven by greed, ignorance to an extent laziness, oh and did I mention greed. I might delve into these topics in more detail in future blog posts.

  • The Plasticene Age – I read that the human race produces over 300 million tonnes of plastic a year, with a third of this going into the trash pretty much straight away. This has an enormous impact, so much so that we’ve created a new age which will be recognisable in the Earth’s geology for hundreds of thousands of years. At least we’ve cut down on plastic bag use, however it’d be great if we started using more sustainable materials; bring back clay pots!
  • Plastic and micro-beads – continuing on the subject of plastic, the polluting effects it has on the planet’s flora and fauna, especially in our oceans, is catastrophic. More recently the issue of the plastic micro-beads you find in so many products  (toothpaste, face scrub etc) being washed straight into the sea has been widely reported. These beads, as well other types of plastic, end up in the food chain, causing pollution and poisoning animals all the way up the chain, including humans eating fish at their favourite restaurant. It’s pretty heart-rending seeing the pictures of seabirds and creatures who’ve ingested too much plastic, often dying a particularly painful and slow death.
  • Overfishing – just when are we going to get real about this? There are still huge factory ships and fishing fleets dredging up anything from our oceans, indiscriminately, effectively turning huge swathes in dead zones. Overfishing is a real problem, with the WWF reporting that the global fishing fleet is 2 to 3 times bigger that the oceans can sustainably support. You can read the stats on the WWF website, and plenty of other sources, on irrecoverable species decline, and how new species are now starting to be exploited due to the old ones not being there anymore. Unfortunately due to economic pressures it looks highly likely oceans such as the Indian will be turned into barren wastelands before too long.
  • Rising sea levels – continuing on a water based theme for the time being, I wonder if it’s now too late to avert a catastrophic rise in sea levels. I know the Paris cop21 agreements might give us some hope, however changes might not come soon enough to avert widespread flooding and certain island based countries disappearing for good. I read recently how the storms this winter have been pushing hot air up into the Arctic, causing temperatures to rise above freezing at Christmas, which could be unprecedented in recent times. These hot temperatures may well be causing glacial melt in Greenland, rather than them freezing and growing during the winter period, which in turn could be causing a massive meltwater run off into the ocean (think lots of analysis still going on). Glacial melt, unlike melting sea ice, contributes to sea level rises, so it’ll be ‘interesting’, or perhaps I should terrifying, to see what impact this has over the next few years.
  • Climate change in general – I don’t particularly care, other than getting slightly annoyed, if you want to dispute the cause of climate change, but I don’t think anyone can say it’s not happening. And yes, we know the Earth has gone through ‘natural’ climate change in the past and bounced back, however the speed it is occurring at now is rather frightening, and whilst the planet might bounce back, will we? Personally I’m with the camp naming human based CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels as the perpetrator, with contributions from farming practices; 20% of CO2 global carbon emissions alone come from deforestation (WWF). We’ve all experienced the intense storms of the last few years, with many scientists calling them unprecedented, and in particular this year the impact of the El Nino effect. These storms seem destined to become the norm, and get worse, so we’ll see more flooding and damage from hurricanes and typhoons. There’s loads you can read about this on for example Robert Scribbler website, including details on average temperature increases and the knock on impacts weather systems can have on different areas.
  • Migration – more extreme weather types look to be the next big cause of population migration, once we’ve got over fighting one another in different arenas; not sure that’ll happen as part of me thinks it’s deliberate on some governments parts. Drought in Africa and other parts of the world will cause massive population movement to Europe, and other less dry regions. This will in turn cause ongoing social and economic problems, with borders being closed, right-wing movements gaining power, and all the associated problems we’re seeing with the economic and refugee migrants at the moment; not a pretty picture.
  • Increased standards of living – this might seem like a weird one, but it’s going to have an exponential effect on the above unless we find and implement for example a clean source of energy (fusion, more wind farms and solar), and more sustainable sources of protein. China and India all have burgeoning populations, as do several other parts of the world, and they’ll all going to want better lifestyles, and to consume more, whether it be food or goods. This is all going to take up more resources which we’re running out of. You can’t blame people for wanting a better life, and it’s difficult to object when the West has had it good for so long, and is the cause of a lot of the damage, but something has got to stop/give somewhere along the line.
  • Exploitation of natural resources and pollution – huge companies continue to exploit the planet’s natural resources, at the expense of the environment, animals, plants and other humans. You see it in then news with pollution caused from oil and gas leaks, habitat destruction to make way for drilling or mining, and wars being fought to get control of these resources, all for the sake of profit.
  • Species decline and extinction – okay, I know species decline and extinction can be regarded as a ‘natural’ event, it’s what happened to the dinosaurs, but it’s depressing how the human race is causing so much of it; you could argue us causing it is natural, otherwise you’re saying humans are unnatural, maybe natural is an awkward word but best not get too philosophical. There have been reports of mass die offs amongst some sea-bird species, due to starvation; warming sea water leading to food sources moving. Then there is the problem we’re seeing with bee colonies dying, due to Neonicotinoids, at alarming rates, which in turn could impact agriculture, and ecosystems being completely disrupted due to one species disappearing, for example a top predator, due to human interference. I could write several blogs alone on the impact we have on different species due to fishing and farming practices, overhunting, poaching, habitat destruction and climate change. I can’t believe people still hunt endangered species, including for example whales, how is that possibly acceptable other than if you’re doing it because you need to live (e.g. some small aboriginal communities kill the odd whale for food and resources). I fear children in a few generations time will only be able to look at creatures we take for granted today on a computer screen.
  • Conservation – on the face of it conservation has got to be a good thing, right? It is but it’s got to be done right and with the proper commitment from governments and organisations. For example, many of the National Parks in the UK are pretty devoid of wildlife, both flora and fauna, aside from sheep, game birds and deer. They might be nice to walk around, but they’re pretty barren due to overgrazing, and controlled burn-offs (swaling), thus no species succession occurs in terms of long-term tree growth and areas being re-forested with something other than conifers. Economic pressure from landowners wanting to earn money from sheep farming and hunting is often the cause; sheep farming in mountainous National Parks is one of the least efficient forms of farming around, but I suppose it looks nice.
  • Overpopulation – this might be a taboo subject when it comes to discussing a solution, however the basic cause of a lot of the problems we’re seeing is there are too many people, wanting to consume too much. Thankfully with antibiotic resistant bacteria on the rise, due to irresponsible farming practices, it’s probably only a matter of time before a superbug kills off large proportion of the human race.

So what can we do about all this? Does it even matter, in the grander scheme of things? If it all goes horribly wrong then yes lots of people will die, but in a few thousand years the Earth will perhaps have recovered without us, or with a lot less of us. It’s easy to comment on and rant about such topics when we live in a first world country and don’t have to worry about running out of food or somewhere warm to sleep. Do the majority of people even care, other than paying lip service to these issues? What’s it going to take for people to make changes, and change their priorities from consuming to conserving what we have left?

Aside from running away and living in a cabin deep in a forest in the mountains somewhere, waiting for the end, which I’m still seriously considering, there are several things I’ve been doing, and I know a lot of other people are too, or things we should do as a whole, to try to improve matters. Here are some of them.

  • Read more – it’s free, and easy with the Internet. Remaining ignorant on these issues isn’t an excuse when you live in a developed country. There are loads of websites out there you can use to educate yourself, a lot of them using simple language and explanations, which I find very helpful. Following the right people on social media also helps – Twitter very useful for this. In turn you can help to educate other people and encourage constructive changes, or engage in lively debate; there is no doubt stuff I’ve written here that people will disagree with, or offer an alternative view-point or evidence, that’s great, bring it on, as long as it raises the profile of the challenges we’re facing.
  • Reduce ignorance – on the same subject as reading more, it would be great to spread the word on the issues we’re facing, and their causes, to people and in particular other cultures who don’t have it as high on their agendas. I know it’s hard to argue that someone shouldn’t clear that piece of land to grow good to feed their family, however once it’s gone in many cases it’s gone, and alternatives need to be offered. Signing petitions can often help with this, for example by highlighting issues to governments, especially in those countries where people just don’t see it as an issue, or are unaware of the disdain it causes from other nations (e.g. Japan and some Scandinavian countries with their whaling practices)
  • Consume less and recycle more – it would be great if we could all consume less in the way of plastic, and goods in general, however we’re all constantly encouraged to buy and use more stuff we don’t really need to be happy. In fact more stuff often makes you unhappy. I’ve been trying to buy things with less packaging, which is surprisingly difficult, however at least we can all try to recycle more. I’ll also be holding on to my current mobile phone for as long as possible, as well as other gadgets, and not upgrading them, as the amount of resource used to make for example a new smart phone, and the knock impact this can have, is pretty  gruesome.
  • Put pressure on corporations and governments to change their ways – it works as we’ve seen from prominent TV campaigns by the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, or as a result of petitions asking supermarkets to stop stocking certain brands (e.g. Tuna caught unsustainably). If we know something is wrong, and causing damage, we shouldn’t let them get away with it for the sake of profit. Greenpeace run a lot of worthwhile petitions, and engage in a lot of good work to highlight issues and put the pressure on companies or governments, but there are plenty of other organisations to support if you don’t like them. Here’s a petition I recently signed on the micro-bead issue:
  • Eat less meat – I’m trying to have several vegetarian meals a week, and do my bit to reduce CO2 emissions from some types of farming. It’s really not very hard, and enjoyable finding alternatives. I think it’s important we set an example to other countries in areas like this, particularly developing nations where meat is becoming more available, or where there’s an increasing demand for it.
  • Drive less – perhaps this is easy for me to say, as I cycle a lot, and use my bike for commuting to work. I’m also fortunate I have no disabilities preventing me from an active lifestyle. It’s frustrating seeing the number of people using their car for such short journeys; perhaps a few kilometres to drop their kids off at school. I believe the average commute was recorded at around 15km in a 2011 census, which means many people have to travel a lot less than this each day, and could therefore walk or cycle. I felt slightly nauseous cycling to work the other day due to the pollution from car and lorry exhausts; it’d be great if we saw lots more people walking or cycling, and think of the personal health benefits.
  • Change priorities – it’s hard to do this in today’s modern society, with the pressure to keep up with your neighbours, consume more, and of course there’s never enough time to fit everything in. I think it’s a question of priorities. You could make time to walk to school or your workplace if you decided not to do something else, set off a bit earlier, or have a conversation with your employer. You could also choose to consume less, not buy the latest version of such and such, or live a simpler life. There are lots of articles out there about how changing your priorities to lead a simpler life, fitting in time for stuff that matters, or only buying what you really need, can make you a lot happier. I’m giving it a go, but am not going to say it’s easy to escape the trap of the modern lifestyle, especially with so much advertising telling you to consume more. I guess you also need to consider the impact of us all stopping consuming; there’d definitely be an economic meltdown of sorts, which is perhaps what the big cheeses are all scared of and thus do everything to stop. I agree there’d be some pretty tricky times in the short-term, but things would balance out in the longer term, with priorities changing and helpfully a better society and environment resulting.
  • Plant a tree – or even better, plant lots of trees. All the deforestation around not only emits loads of CO2, but also means there are less trees to convert the CO2 back to O2. It can be a fun activity, and something rewarding to watch grow. Even if you can’t plant one yourself you could support organisations doing so.
  • Tolerance – with the issues mentioned around increased migration due to climate change, it’s going to be even more important we become more tolerant of other cultures and nationalities wanting to enter our respective countries. If not we’ll no doubt see more unrest and wars starting, as well as acts of terrorism. Unfortunately I think this is one of the biggest challenges facing us in the next decade, and not one that’s going to be easy to overcome, as people, understandably, want to protect their own interests/families etc. After travelling around Europe for 6 months last year, and meeting people from all over the world, I can safely say that the majority of folks are essentially the same; nice people who want the same as you or I.
  • Reduce overpopulation – okay, this could be a tricky one. Breed less? Overpopulation by the human race is the root cause of so many problems, but not sure how you stop it. Medical advances are brilliant, and I’m all for them, but they unfortunately mean people are living longer, and surviving more illnesses. It’s a bit of a taboo subject really, but we need to start talking about it more.
  • Develop and use more clean energy – this needs to happen, with Fusion being the ultimate goal, however in the meantime I’m supporting the development of , and trying to use, more clean and sustainable forms of energy such as wind, solar and tidal, however these come with their own environmental and social challenges; you can’t please everyone and they all have an adverse impact in one regard or another.
  • Seed and gene banks – seed banks such as the one on Svalbard already exist to safeguard versus catastrophes that wipe out for example a crop type or important plant species. Maybe we could build a gene back as well, in the hope that one day we’ll be able to bring back species that have since gone extinct through genetic engineering and cloning techniques; might be a bit far-fetched however there are new developments all the time in these areas.
  • More conservation areas and re-wilding  – and managed in the right way to encourage species diversity, and environmental benefits such as reducing flood risk. These areas don’t have to be human free, far from it, they just have to respected, allowed to grow, well-managed and non-commercial; this will unfortunately always run into the pressure of making money from tourism through resorts etc.

I think that was mostly a cathartic exercise on my part, however hopefully others will be encouraged to think more on these subjects, and make a few changes for the better. I’m more than happy to be challenged on any of the above, in a constructive fashion, as I learn something new every day, and have seen lots of counter arguments and theories. I’m may also have missed important topics in the above which I’ll write about some other time. It’s often surprising that what you take as a given, on face value, can actually be incorrect or ill-informed when you start digging a bit. If I was being a conspiracy theorist I might suggest that the uber rich and powerful, that top 1% who are richer than the rest of the world combined, don’t want us to change as it’ll impact them too much, whereas if we carry on as we are they’ll be safe in their ivory towers at our expense, but maybe that’s just fantasy. Either way it looks like some big changes are going to happen over the next decade which will impact everyone whether we like it or not, and regardless of whether we make any changes now or not, so maybe my plan of a cabin somewhere remote isn’t such a bad one.

That was also a bit of a diversion from my usual posts, but still has a self-propelled theme from the point of view of sustainability. I think my final conclusion is we’re probably screwed whatever we do now, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to fix stuff.

Sources include the below – I should really get a bit better at listing them and referencing in future.