Category Archives: Climate Change

Anger…

Most of the time cycling to work is great. It’s relaxing, keeps you fit, non-polluting, burns calories, and all the other positives.

Sometimes however it can leave me feeling a bit angry, for various reasons.

Today was one such day. I wrote a poem about it on my lunch break.

Anger
As I cycle…

Fields flash past
Forest, stream
Wild hedgerows
Full of thorns
Rooks caw
Cold, clear
Fresh, free, clean
Relax…
Turn the pedals
Breathe deep
Enjoy the moment

Then
I sigh…
Two young hedgehogs
Hit…
Dead
On the verge
Did they crawl there to die?
A blackbird
Head crushed, slain
Will sing no more
A pigeon
Ragged, bloodied, feathers everywhere
I pass more corpses
Rat, deer, rabbit
Hawk, pheasant
Lying on a tarmac altar
Sacrificed for what?

Plastic, litter
Infesting hedges, ponds
Fields, woodland, paths
No-where is spared
Polluting, poisoning
More jettisoned
From car windows
No thought
Heedless of damage
Why no shame?
Why so lazy?
Why think this is okay?

Fumes, foulness,
Exhausts belch
Black smoke, invisible toxins
More poison
Choking, chest hurts, throat burns
And new roads
Scar the countryside
More bad smells
Bitumen
Strangling Earth
Infected arteries
Opening the countryside
To more…
Death

Past the Broad
A small sanctuary
Peace
Smile returns
Weave down the road
Morning dogs!
Wildfowl paddling
Early morning rowers
Swans gliding
Majestics presences
Not enough

Drivers, many good
Some, not so
No indication
Pass too close
Abuse…thanks
3 mile commutes
Or less
Why not walk, cycle?
They won’t
Don’t think
Too hard
Too much effort

That’s why
I’m sometimes angry
Depressed, despondent
Can this ever change?
People won’t
Too selfish
Too…someone else
Until it’s too late
Then they’ll blame
Others
Instead…
Look in the mirror

END

 

Thankfully it’s not all bad, and a lot of people are trying to make things better. That was, however, cathartic.

What’s important in life?

Last week everything was getting a bit hectic. Work was busy as always, I had a stack of admin to do, and I’d been trying to sort out house buying/selling stuff as well as visiting my brother and family, then visiting him again to collect my laptop which I left behind; what a plonker! Thankfully he only lives just over an hour away.

With stress levels mounting the short film below by Alastair Humphries was brought to my attention, which came as a timely reminder of what’s important in life, and got me thinking about future adventures again. I’d highly recommend you take 5 minutes to watch it.

I love the quote from John Muir…

‘A lifetime is so little a time, that we die before we get ready to live’

I bet this is a concern many share, and we should do our utmost to ensure we don’t delay living, instead of just plodding along hoping something will change, for a lottery win, or that fame and fortune will randomly find you if fame and fortune are what you really want. Definitely don’t wait for retirement to spread your wings. Who knows what the future holds and how long you have to enjoy it; the world doesn’t feel like a very stable place at the moment.

So  reminding myself of the above, I think it’s time to start planning some fun stuff in the outdoors for next year. I’m not thinking of trips taking several months again, instead it’ll be shorter excursions, and not just by bike this time. Current ideas include hiking/biking in Scotland, one of my favourite places, climbing in France, and perhaps canoeing in Canada. I’d better get saving however not all of these need be expensive. I also really need to commit to doing some writing, something I always say I’m going to do but rarely prioritise, finding other things to occupy my time instead. On top of that I’d like to commit time to environmental and conservation causes and projects, perhaps with some volunteer work, or fundraising for charities involved. Looks like 2017 could be busy then.

On the environment front a colleague at work asked me today why I don’t use my car to get to work when it’s cold and wet, instead of cycling all the time. Aside from the fitness side of things and constantly trying to lose weight, my more immediate response was as follows.

‘If your house catches fire, do you throw more fuel on it to make it burn more quickly and destructively,  or do you go and fetch a hose pipe and call the fire brigade?’

Every time I get in my car, and even though it has very low emissions, I’m conscious of the fossil fuel it’s burning and how the emissions from this are contributing to climate change. 2016 is another record breaker, being the hottest year on record, and CO2 levels have permanently gone over 400 ppm now. The planet seems to be on course to continue warming, with all the disastrous side effects such as ice melt, sea levels rising, warming oceans leading to coral bleaching and anaerobic dead zones, as well as habitat destruction and species decline on a massive scale. I could go on with examples but it gets a little depressing, especially with a new president due in the USA who doesn’t believe in climate change and who is going to encourage more coal-burning. I think the Paris Climate change agreement to limit temperatures to a 2’C rise is broken.

Perhaps that’s the problem. Of course you wouldn’t throw more fuel onto your house if it’s on fire, however most people just can’t see that the same thing is happening to the planet.

The human race seems determined to ignore all the warning signs, and continue blindly on with its destructive lifestyle. Endless consumerism of goods you don’t really need and often pointless technology, is driven by large corporations driven only by profits and greed. People are often completely unwilling to compromise on their comfortable lifestyles to try to limit their impact on the environment. Having the latest gadget, upgrade, a new car, or a wardrobe full of new clothes is still a necessary status symbol for many people, even though we’re using up the planet’s resources at an unprecedented rate and destroying countless habitats to do so.

It really is completely messed up and illogical, and I think I’m beginning to agree with Sir David Attenborough’s comments that humanity are a plague on Earth and population growth needs to be limited and reversed; unfortunately that still seems to be a bit of a taboo subject. Any arguments around the planet not being overpopulated by humans as there’s still loads of space, of which I’ve seen a few recently, are seriously flawed. Yes there’s enough space to make lots more farmland, but at the expense of more critical ecosystems, and with more people will come more demand for goods that will strip the our remaining resources even further, at the expense of the other animals we share this world with, and future generations.

Still, I like to think there’s still hope, with awareness growing of the issues we face, and more and more people taking notice and trying to change their lifestyles to limit an adverse impact on the environment, pollution, waste and energy use. Even the small things like stopping buying coffee in non reusable cups with plastic lids helps; just stop it! It may be too late to stop some of the changes such as sea level rises that will sink coastal cities, but hopefully other changes can be averted.

If we can persuade governments to invest more in renewable energy, expose large corporations with damaging practices, and change our habits things will get better. There are also projects such as ITER, which I just read about, which could provide a clean source of energy on a permanent basis, solving many of the world’s problems (see https://www.iter.org/). And perhaps more critically I firmly believe, along with hundreds of thousands of others, that we need to do more to  keep fossil fuels in the ground, even if that means fuel prices may rise and life might get a little more difficult in the short-term. We’ve got to do something to force the political elite, as well as the very small percentage of the superrich who seem to control everything with only their own wellbeing and wealth in mind, to take notice.

Those were my musings for a Tuesday evening. By writing about this I hope to increase awareness and make people think, as it should (IMHO) be something we are all concerned about on a daily basis; after all, what is important in life? And if you didn’t like the environmental bit I hope the video was at least enjoyable.

The UK and Europe. What’s next?

Waking up on Friday morning to see 52% of the population had voted to leave the EU came as a shock, leaving me with feelings of disbelief, anger and sadness. This is the biggest peacetime decision to impact the United Kingdom since the end of the Second World War, as far as the consequences are concerned. Many voters appear to have made their decision to vote ‘leave’ based on wanting to stick two fingers up at the establishment, or concerns about immigration. I can sympathise with the first, given most people despair of our politicians, or are completely disenfranchised with Westminster; something needs to change. On the second, I can see why people worry about ‘how crowded the UK is becoming and the strain of our infrastructure’, but think we’ve shot ourselves in the foot, and encouraged a dangerous and growing trend in xenophobia; thankfully the great majority of the UK population, on both sides of the vote, are by no means racist, and pretty level headed most of the time (just don’t push them too far).

It’s clear we’re in for several difficult years, and that we’re all going to have to work very hard to make it a success. Hopefully it can work and I’ve some thoughts on that later on, so if you want to get to the positive bits you might want to skip the next section.

The ranty bit
It’s clear there have been lies, disinformation and false propaganda spread by both the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ campaigns. Only now are the mainstream media and politicians starting to talk straight about what could happen, and what the actual facts are where they’re known. I acknowledge there were a number of experts who did talk sense beforehand, but they were unfortunately ignored or overlooked by most.

It’s sickening seeing Leave campaigners now back-tracking on statements they made prior to the referendum. I don’t think I need to go into detail as it’s easy to find, and I’m trying to limit the length of this post as it appears most folks aren’t willing to commit time to reading lengthy articles which might actually contain sound reason and factual content; I failed on limiting the length of this post by the way.

It’s massively frustrating seeing some Leave voters now wishing they hadn’t voted that way, as they hadn’t really understood the consequences beforehand. Or saying they’d never thought the Leave vote would actually win. I can’t blame a lot of them as it’s a really complex issue on which, I believe, there should never have been a referendum, and on which there has been so much spin.

It’s disheartening seeing people think that all the red tape is now going to be slashed, even though our own Government and Civil Service invented a lot of it. Do you really think things are going to get easier for UK businesses, both large and small?

Related to the above, on the red tape front, I’m concerned that a lot of the initiatives and rules put in place to combat climate change, protect nature, and improve the environment, for example air pollution action, reducing carbon emissions, and protecting endangered species and habitats, will now be scrapped or put on the back-burner, due to more pressing economic and social concerns; although I believe the environmental challenges we’re facing are still far more pressing that anything else.

I’m frustrated that people think this will reduce immigration, when in all likelihood it won’t, as we’ll still have immigration from outside the EU, and if we want to sign trade deals with European countries I’m sure we’ll have to sign up to freedom of movement. Not only that but I wonder how many Brits living abroad will need to, or be forced to, return to the UK now. That could run into the hundreds of thousands, which surely will put additional strain on our infrastructure.

It’s saddening hearing about a growing tide of racism and xenophobia in many places. There are  lots of stories about inflammatory remarks being made to people who have come here to live and work from the EU, or further afield, many of whom just want a normal life away from harm’s way, and who contribute positively to our economy and culture. Stories I’ve read about so far include remarks like ‘you best start packing…’, a banner promoting repatriation/deportation as well as stopping immigration, polish children in tears after comments made to them at school by other children, offensive graffiti and just general abuse over social media. There are a lot of scared people in this country at the moment, on both sides, and scared people are more likely to do extreme things. A small but dangerous segment of the population seem to see the referendum decision as giving legitimacy for overt racism and abuse.

I’ve just bought a new house, and thankfully been able to fix my interest rate for a couple of years, but am very worried that potential interest rate rises, brought about by us leaving the EU, could make it hard for me to afford my mortgage in future. How on earth are young people going to stand a chance of getting on the housing-ladder if interest rates make it even more expensive; they’ll already be in massive debt if they’ve been through university anyway?

On the voting demographics front it’s sad that the younger generation, who are going to be impacted most by the changes, and who voted for the most part to Remain, are going to have to live with the implications for a lot longer than the older generation, a lot of whom voted to Leave, and who in many cases are comfortably well off with little to worry about on the pension or housing front.

It’s barmy that people in Wales, and other regions who received a lot of EU funding, are now saying there mustn’t be any cuts in grants, when many of them voted to Leave. I’m sorry, it doesn’t work that way; you can’t have it both ways and I suspect the government won’t be able to assign replacement funding as they’ll be too busy stopping the UK going bust. It’s a real shame a lot of the regeneration is now under threat. It’s also a shame that many people in these areas voted Leave on the basis of seeing ‘too many immigrants’ living on their doorstep, when I read earlier that the opposite is the case, madness.

I need to check this, but it appears the UK may have already slipped from being the 5th largest economy, to being the 6th, due to the pound sliding. There are also jitters around us losing our triple A credit rating, which will impact our ability to borrow money cheaply. This in turn could impact the very people who voted to Leave, with cuts to public services and taxes going up. The well off, such as many of the people who run the country, won’t be affected; again, shot ourselves in the foot.

I’m hoping this doesn’t happen, but we could well see the cost of imported goods rise due to changes in the exchange rate, as well as tariffs being imposed. This could lead to food price increases which will hit harder on people already vulnerable to changes brought about by an EU exit. Personally I think food is too cheap anyway, but that’s because of unsustainable or damaging farming practices; I’d rather food prices went up because of improvements in that area, and not because of leaving the EU.

It’s sad that a lot of businesses, both small and large, will probably be adversely impacted by the changes. There may be tariffs to contend with for exporting goods abroad. Borrowing money to start or expand your business could get harder if investors pull out of the UK; some already are. Unemployment could rise as a result, especially if some multi-national companies, for example financial institutions, decide to move elsewhere.

It’s slightly ironic that the banks and investment companies who have been blamed for so much in recent times, and to be fair did make a lot of mistakes, are now so critical to the future success of this country. London is the financial centre of Europe, but will it continue to be so once the UK exits the EU? You can blame the bankers all you want, but at the end of the day they employ thousands, and make a lot of money for this country.

Then there’s what’s going to happen to the UK. Scotland wants another referendum on their independence, and it seems likely the vote leave side will win this time, despite concerns about where their money will come from with oil prices being low. One wonders if Wales will start considering the same; personally think that’s unlikely but who knows.

The EU itself may be doomed, as more countries consider leaving to follow their own path. The UK referendum result has strengthened the position of many Leave campaigns in other countries, and unfortunately given legitimacy to views on the far right of politics, such as the National Front in France under Marine le Pen. It feels like a backwards step for Europe and the rest of the world, with barriers being put up instead of taken down, and the risk that we slip into more dangerous times (see Brexit Bomb blog if you want really dire predictions). I’ve had a few European friends contact me asking what’s going on, with sentiments of confusion and shock at the decision we’ve taken. It’s uncomfortable and slightly embarrassing, but I’ll continue to build bridges wherever possible and they’ll stay on my Christmas card list!

There’s been a lot of talk from many of the younger generation about quitting the UK and seeking opportunities abroad, and I can’t say I blame them. I personally think there won’t be much of an impact from this, but it’s sad that many are at least considering it; we could end up losing good people. It’s also more likely that less people will want to come to the UK, so we won’t benefit from the skills, economic boost,  labour force, and socially enriching cultures they bring with them.

And what are we left with? Some dodgy politicians who lie, change sides for their own political ends, are completely out of touch with the general populace, and who in some cases have racist overtones. Brilliant! Watching the news programmes today most of them still can’t give a straight answer to a question; do they know how irritating that is? One thing for Farage; at least he does give straight answers, even if I don’t believe them.

So what’s next?
One thing I’m not going to do, and I’m sure a lot of us aren’t going to do, including many on the Leave side of the vote who’ve seen just how rubbish a lot of our so-called leaders are, is keep quiet about this. The ‘silent majority’, a lot of whom are middle class hard workers trying to earn a decent living and support their families, should speak up more often, or stop moaning about how politicians aren’t in touch with their constituencies. We’re all encouraged to keep working hard, pay our taxes, take a family holiday and distract ourselves from real issues by prioritising the X Factor, football or celebrity gossip in the tabloids. If we want things to change we’ve got to make sure our elected representatives know we want things to change. I’m going to get on with trying to make things work, but I’m not going to shut up as some people seem to want us to do. Not speaking out when you think something is wrong has caused very bad things to happen in the past, just look at the history books. We’re good in this country at resolving issues via debate and reason, so there’s no need for violence, but make sure you don’t just tow the line and keep quiet when you see ignorance, racism, lies, or just a breakdown in common sense, causing problems. We’ve all a duty to speak up, and the Leave decision is not a mandate for allowing racism and xenophobia to spread; it’s truly distressing hearing some of the media reports about what some people are doing or saying to foreign nationals in this country.

As I mentioned earlier I’m particularly concerned that a lot of environmental issues will be sidelined now, and green initiatives shelved because of money. ‘Red tape’ introduced for very good reasons to protect the environment, endangered habitats and species, might be slashed. I’ll continue to write to my MP, sign petitions and support organisations such as Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund, and Green Peace to make sure that doesn’t happen. I hope everyone else will do the same on issues they feel passionate about, and to hold their elected representatives accountable. Don’t keep quiet, speak up!

 

Personally I think talk of a second referendum isn’t very constructive; I’m pretty it’s not going to happen. What we can do is use the upsurge in interest in politics to demand electoral reform in whatever form that may take, and to demand that our politicians listen and take us more seriously. I’d love it if we could prosecute them for proven instances of deliberately misinforming the public, as appears to be the case with some of the statements made in the referendum campaigns; e.g pictures on buses saying they’ll spend £350m a week on the NHS instead.

 

We can try to keep the UK together, and convince our countrymen in Scotland to stay with us should there be another referendum. I know it’s tempting to wish them all the very best, and to think about moving up there should they vote out and apply to rejoin the EU (I’m tempted, love Scotland), but the break up of the UK would be yet another backwards step for humanity, leading to more barriers and complications; all arguments that have been made before. As an aside, and not really supporting the case for Scotland remaining part of the UK, if Scotland does leave the UK they do have an opportunity perhaps to take over from London as the English-speaking financial centre of Europe. This could significantly boost their income and allow them to stand on their own two feet. They already have a lot of expertise in that area, and who knows, if London does disappear beneath the waves due to Climate Change perhaps a move to Edinburgh would be a good thing; although not sure Edinburgh is actually much higher than London…sorry for the tangent.

To help keep the UK together, and above water (no pun intended), we need to get off on a firm footing as far as the economy goes. So we’ve all got to keep working hard and looking for new opportunities for growth and stability. Keeping in contact with European partners, suppliers, customers and friends seems vital for this, as does reassuring them we’re not all crazy and really do want to keep trading with them. I don’t buy that we can just increase trade with other parts of the world; hopefully we can, but the fact is you’re more likely to trade with countries closer to you, due to transport costs and similar preferences. On the London being the financial centre of Europe front, hopefully we can diversify outside the EU to present new opportunities to foreign investors looking for somewhere to put their cash; not sure how this would work without introducing dodgy tax breaks but worth thinking about.

We need to get new trade agreements set up, build not break, and try not to take 10 years about it; some experts have suggested it might take that long to sort out new deals, and I’m not sure what will be left of our economy if we wait that long. We do have a strong economy, and many world leaders have said they want to continue to trade with us, so we need to use that to establish practical and worthwhile agreements. We’re a huge market for foreign companies who want to export goods abroad, not the size of the EU but still huge. Looking ahead if we can prove that this will work, with deals that benefit all parties in that agreement, then maybe other countries will follow suit and we can set up a new trade organisation, based on principles of free trade but without the rules that have irritated so many, and caused alleged problems, since we joined the EU; please can we keep the rules helping to protect the environment though. We’re going to need to some good politicians and negotiators to get these agreements set up, so I’m hoping people will continue to vote and speak up when the right deal isn’t being made, bad decisions are taken, or common sense fails. The demise of the EU might turn out not to be a bad thing if we can create something new and improved out of the ashes, with the UK as a founding member; that could be really exciting.

 

Lastly, on the keeping together front, we need to keep embracing our cultural diversity and welcoming people of other nationalities to our country to live and work, so we in turn will be welcomed in their countries to do the same. Having seen so much of Europe last year, and met so many great people, I know we’re all fundamentally the same and have so much to offer one another. We’re still all European, and a break down of relations if xenophobia and racism increase would only take us in a bad direction. If you don’t know your neighbour and are nervous because you’ve heard them speak another language, go and talk to them, pretty sure you’ll find out they’re nice people with very similar motivations to you.

So I think there’s hope, but we’re going to have to work really hard to make it work, and in the short-term (next 10 years) it’s going to be difficult. There are also lots of risks which could impact this, as should be evident from the above; one for those risks is people not really wanting to make it work, either because they’re British and p*ssed off with the direction taken, or European and wanting to make Britain pay – yes, people can be that petty.

One thing for sure, it’s going to be a very interesting next few months and years, and in any case, we’re all going to have to make big changes soon to react to the impacts of climate change, so one way or another the future isn’t certain. A cabin in the woods in Canada still seems quite an attractive proposition to me!

Soon I’ll get back to blogging about adventures and stuff, promise.

 

Cycle to work: Why pollute when you can pedal with a plethora of positives?

With the clocks changing I’ve had the opportunity for a few longer evening rides this week, altering my route home from work to take in more of the Norfolk countryside. I’m really hoping the two glorious days we’ve just had aren’t the sum of our 2016 summer; fingers crossed there’s more good weather to come.

You have lots of time to ponder things whilst you’re pedalling peacefully past pleasant panoramas. I’m sure the roads are getting busier, and the fumes from traffic worse. It made me wonder yet again why more people don’t use a bicycle to get around? There are so many benefits that come from regular cycling, and using your bike to get around often doesn’t take any longer that the same trip by car.

I start my day with a 7.5km ride to work, often with a break for a few minutes at a quiet spot to contemplate the day ahead and organise my thoughts.

Pause for thought on the way to work

Pause for thought on the way to work

Getting to work on my bike takes about 24 minutes. It could be quicker but I prefer to take a more roundabout route to avoid traffic and pollution on the inner ring road. Driving to work, which I very occasionally do, takes the same time or longer to cover a shorter distance, and leaves me feeling thoroughly wound up from sitting in traffic. I know I’m more used to cycling long distances, but it really doesn’t take very long to become accustomed to a self propelled method of transport.

A quick search on the Interweb has revealed that a few years ago the average commuting distance to work in England and Wales was around 15km. I’m not sure why Scotland didn’t get a mention, maybe Scottish commutes are convoluted due to other factors such as the threat of ambush by wild haggis. 15km, which is just over 9 miles, isn’t  very far, and as that’s the average there are an awful lot of people who commute a far shorter distance.

I was trying to think of why people don’t cycle to work, or even walk, instead choosing to use their car instead. Maybe they don’t want to arrive at work a bit sweaty, or with helmet hair, or are scared of cycling due to bad driving. The first two are often easily solved as many work places now have showers you can use, and to be honest a 25 minute cycle doesn’t generate that much unpleasantness, especially during the winter months when it’s colder. If you’re worried about your hair, well…lucky you…a lot of people don’t have much, and frankly there are probably more important things to worry about.

I do however understand people who are nervous about cycling due to the amount of traffic, and bad driving, as it can be intimidating and scary if you’re not used to it. However the only way to overcome such fears is to give it a go and build up your confidence, with a bit of defensive cycling thrown in to make sure you’re seen and drivers don’t try something stupid. Incidentally I in no way condone stupid cycling; riders should obey the rules of the road just like car drivers.

Maybe it’s better to focus on the benefits of using your bicycle, rather than what might put you off. There are so many positives to getting on you bike and leaving the car behind. I’ve compiled a bit of a list, which is by no means exhaustive, of the reasons to take up cycling, especially for that daily commute.

In no particular order…

  1. It’s actually faster  okay, not all the time, and it depends on your route and the traffic, but that’s certainly the case with my morning ride to work. If you live in a town or city and drive to work you’re likely to be stationary for a lot of the trip, whereas on your bike your moving for much more of the journey. So you’re saving time by cycling!
  2. You can eat more – this is one of my personal favourites as I love eating. Pedalling to work every day burns off several hundred calories, which I very much enjoy replacing with the occasional bacon roll, or cake off the tea trolley that comes around at 15.00 each day and which I have great trouble resisting. Guilt free eating really is a lot of fun, and quite handy around Easter time; busy consuming an egg as I write this.
  3. Lose weight  it’s really easy to lose a few pounds each week through cycling. I struggle with this one slightly as I’m really into to benefit number 2, and keep having to add another few kilometres onto my evening ride to burn off that unexpected jaffa cake or sausage roll. If you have any sort of willpower you’ll find the pounds falling off. Also, after exercise your body will continue to burn fat at an increased rate for a short time, even after you’ve stopped pedalling, which has got to be a good thing when you’re tucking into a post ride doughnut.
  4. Be healthier – there are countless health benefits associated with cycling, from a better immune system, to increased brain power, as well as a healthier heart and lungs, better bowels and a reduced risk of cancer. Allegedly it can make you cleverer as well, due to increased blood flow to the brain and boosted hippocampus development, although I’m not convinced it’s had much of an impact on me; I’ll ask my colleagues at work, I’m sure they’ll be kind….maybe I’ll just skip that one. As a result a bit of pedalling will also reduce the risk of degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimers. Finally cycling a decent distance each week can apparently also improve your sex life, although I suspect that really depends on your saddle; make sure you choose a good saddle, very important.
  5. Look younger and live longer – cycling increases your circulation and thus delivers oxygen and important nutrients more effectively around your body. Exercise of any sort also helps flush out toxins (it’s a good way of getting rid of a hangover). I just read that it can boost collagen production which helps reduce wrinkles and heal wounds, the latter being quite handy for me as I’m always banging my pedals against my shins or calf muscles. You’ll also live longer due to all the points mentioned in 4.
  6. Be happier, and less stressed, sleep better and be less tired – I’ve grouped these together as they often go hand in hand. Exercise of any kind releases endorphins which makes you happier. Time on your bike where you only need to focus on pedalling can reduce your stress levels, especially after a hard day in the office. A decent ride will tire you out so you’re more likely to sleep better, and exercise can actually wake you up which I find always helps in the morning.
  7. Less pollution an obvious one, as by cycling to work you’re not adding to exhaust fumes which do all sorts of bad things both to people’s health, as well as the environment. With climate change getting higher on everyone’s list of priorities this will become more and more important, especially after people read the latest predictions about sea level rises and the need to reduce emissions drastically. This is one of the most important benefits for me, as I’m getting quite sick of breathing in fumes and am very concerned over the dangers posed by fossil fuel burning induced climate change. The more people who cycle the less pollution they’ll be, so get on your bike!
  8. Avoid pollution – by taking the road less travelled to work, or using a cycle path if you’re lucky enough to have one, you’ll get to breathe in cleaner air. Even if you have to use main roads apparently you breathe in less fumes as a cyclist compared with a driver, which surprised me, but is down to being at the edge of the road and not directly behind an exhaust pipe.
  9. Encourage more cycle friendly routes – the more people who cycle the more there’s an argument for money to be spent on cycle paths and cycle friendly routes. This has got to be good for everyone as it’ll mean safer cycling, and fewer cyclists on the roads ‘annoying’ drivers. Likewise the more people that cycle the more used to cyclists drivers should get, and the more tolerant they’ll be, hopefully.
  10. Less traffic – in line with the above point more people cycling equals fewer cars, which in turn means fewer traffic jams and fewer accidents, as well as a reduced requirement for road mending, meaning everyone can go about their business more quickly and less angrily.
  11. Time to think – we lead such busy lives these days, often always connected to social media or otherwise contactable by phone or text. Putting your phone away and going for a pedal gives you time to contemplate whatever you need to contemplate. I often find myself entering an almost meditative state whilst cycling, and studies have shown it can increase your creativity. It’s also gives you a bit of playtime each day, and we don’t play enough these days; playing isn’t just for children!
  12. Increase your motivation – as with any exercise you’ll feel more motivated after going for a bike ride. Exercise can give you a bit of a high, which is one of the reasons people can get addicted to it. So pedalling to work should make you more productive at work, and more motivated to get off your backside at home and do those things you keep meaning to do, like go on adventures.
  13. Learn to appreciate the weather – Modern life means we’re often completely cut off from nature and the outdoors, shuffling from car to office to home and spending as little time as possible exposed to external elements. I don’t think humans were meant to be inside all the time. This is probably one of the reasons people get ill both mentally and physically, with more allergies and suchlike. If you cycle in all weathers you really love it when there’s sunny and warm day, but likewise I have learned to embrace the rain; it can be a lot of fun splashing through puddles – that playtime thing again, try it. The only weather I don’t particularly get on with on a bike is the wind; headwinds can be soul destroying if they go for too long, and I have had a lot of arguments with whichever deity I blame at the time for sending a headwind my way; I mostly blame Loki.
  14. Better communities – in a car I don’t get to say hello to people, or exchange smiles and waves. In fact people are more likely to swear at fellow commuters when they’re driving, or give them ‘the bird’. Each morning on my bike I say hello to people walking or cycling the other way, generally the same people each day, and feel better for it. A smile given, and received in turn, can really make you feel better. You can make new friends too, who knows who you might meet!
  15. Improve in other sports – regular cycling builds muscle, makes you fitter aerobically, and is good for the joints, so it can really help with other sports you participate in. Although don’t assume it’ll make you a good runner. Running hurts. I don’t know how anyone really enjoys running, unless its over an obstacle course with lots of mud and rivers to jump in.
  16. Raise money for charity – a long cycle challenge can be an excellent way to raise money for your favourite charity, as I have discovered when raising money for the Big C. Just be careful what you agree to; might have accidentally said I thought a tandem bike ride from Cambridge to Norwich would be a good idea, really not sure it is but it’ll be fun whatever.

There are no doubt plenty of other benefits that are worthy of a mention. What do you think? Anything I’ve missed which you think is a real positive produced by pedalling?

I’ll finish with a few photo’s from my cycle home through the Norfolk countryside today. It was ‘bootiful’ and I saw my first Swallow of the year which seems a bit early, perhaps not?

And please consider using a bike rather than a car for your commute to work, or to take the kids to school. Got to be better for everyone 🙂

 

2050 – A day in the life of…

It’s spring again, after yet another wet and windy winter. I’d better go out and feed the chickens,  but can’t say I feel particularly motivated to do so, not with the rain lashing against the window, sending muddy streams of water running down the hill to the already swollen river.

At least we don’t live in the village, that’ll be flooded again. I’m surprised more people haven’t moved, but I guess folks are clinging on to what they can these days. Maybe I’ll trade the last orange with the kids, as payment for doing the morning chores; we don’t see much in the way of oranges, and haven’t done for several years now, not since the new laws came in around carbon footprints. As for bananas, the children have never had one, they got wiped out by some new fungus that couldn’t be eradicated in time to save the plantations, and they’d be too far away to transport now anyway.

Still, life is pretty good, all things considered and despite the lack of exotic foodstuffs. There’s definitely more of a community spirit, and healthier lifestyles going on, both mentally and physically. Sod it, I’ll save the orange for later.

I bang on the kid’s bedroom door to wake them from their respective slumbers, and put on my boots, heading out into the rain as the sun rises behind the clouds, and the neighbours ever hopefully cockerel welcomes in the new day. The constant whirring of the wind turbine supplying power to both our house, and those of several neighbours, reminds me that I should check the solar panels soon, now that we’ve more daylight they’ll need cleaning. There’s a lot more renewable energy now, with the ban on most fossil fuel burning in place. We’ve enough power for everything we need, unless it’s really cloudy and there’s no wind for an extended period.  As long as the kids have an internet connection they’ll be happy, but I ration them to an hour online a day, aside from school, to make sure they have time for chores and learning skills that’ll be important should things deteriorate.

So much has changed in the last 30 years, and so quickly, faster than any of the scientists were predicting, or willing to predict anyway. The CO2 levels in the atmosphere rocketed, due to warming oceans soaking it up less and less, more being released from vast areas no longer locking greenhouse gases away under a permafrost layer, and humankind’s continued thirst for cheap and dirty energy. A few big and unexpected volcanic eruptions didn’t help either, although they did remind people we can’t control everything. We reached a tipping point where global temperature rises were locked in, and are still locked in despite a massive reduction in carbon emissions. In the space of about 20 years the big glaciers in the Arctic Circle had all but melted, causing sea levels to rise dramatically, and huge areas to be flooded; the Norfolk coastline certainly changed, however at least we’re still above water, unlike swathes of Bangladesh and India, the Maldives, and countless other areas around the world.

I let the chickens out, make sure they’ve got enough grain, then do the rounds to check everything is in order, the pigs are happy, and nothing’s been stolen overnight. We don’t have much trouble nowadays, compared with 10 years ago, but there’s still the odd band of desperate people about, those without a home or means to contribute enough in return for food. All’s well and I head back inside hoping Danny and Jess have got breakfast ready.

The altered climate brought with a whole host of challenges. Some areas had too much water, whilst other suffered from extended drought, causing huge population migrations. War had been the motivating factor before, however now climate change took over. Then things got really bad, with economic meltdowns in China and the US sending everyone else down the tube. This led to more unrest, with richer countries no longer able to help out those most in need, or unwilling to do so with so many issues on the home front. Borders started closing, but this didn’t stop huge numbers of people streaming into Europe from the Middle East and Africa. The dystopian future people had feared would happen started to become a reality, with fascism on the rise in many countries, and vicious crackdowns on anyone threatening to further destabilise already precarious governments. The UK, by virtue of the English Channel, was spared a lot of the problems that hit France, Germany and Scandinavia, especially after some radicals blew up the Channel Tunnel; no mean feat considering it was meant to be relatively bomb proof.

Danny and Jess are up and already half way through their breakfasts by the time I’ve shaken the water off my coat and sat down at the table. We chat about who’s doing what today as we munch our way through eggs and bacon, with a few rounds of toast for good measure. I’ll need to go and restock on butter from the farm down the road again soon, and we’re nearly out of jam, with a few months until we can make any more. My wife Cassy used to make the best jam, but she passed away a few years ago, one of the last to die of the Snow virus before a vaccine was made widely available. Danny and Jess will work on their schooling this morning, before helping out in the workshop this afternoon. I leave them to clear up breakfast and head there myself, keen to finish fixing up a couple of biofuel generators that have been on my to do list for the last month, and which the mayor chased me up on yesterday.

I think about Cassy, as I often do, as I get to work cleaning the generator alternators. I miss her so much, but life goes on and I still have Danny and Jess; I’m fortunate compared to so many others. Rising global temperatures and melting ice didn’t just cause sea level rises and intense storms, we got hit by diseases no one was expecting. It started with the Zika virus spreading like wildfire, and then a whole load of other outbreaks as vector numbers and their viable habitats increased. We saw more Ebola due to a deterioration in sanitation in parts of Africa, but the Snow virus was the worst. Scientists reckon it was something locked away in the ice that thawed and went airborne, infecting masses before a vaccine could be created. Survival rates were low, and death not pretty, with funeral pyres lighting up the countryside for miles. The latest stats estimate over 70% of the world population perished due to Snow, with outbreaks still happening in some remote areas; I guess that’s solved the overpopulation crisis. Weirdly Russia seems to have done a lot better than other countries, and there are more than a few conspiracy theories suggesting why that might be, however it might just be that they were more prepared to take drastic measures to look after their own.

I finish the generators, grab lunch with Danny and Jess who as usual seem determined to explain why learning algebra isn’t going to help with anything, then we all head back to the workshop to continue working on the tram components needed for the new network in Norwich; self-drive systems I have the knowhow to build, and which Danny and Jess can help with, sort of, they’re learning anyway, and I’ll get them working in the vegetable patch if they get bored.

It’s great we have power to run things like trams, and electric vehicles, as well as our homes. We didn’t a few years ago when huge storms wiped out a lot of the off-shore turbines; higher sea levels, and massive storm driven waves aren’t kind to turbine blades. Some places started to use old petrol and diesel generators again, but that didn’t last long, with a violent backlash from many who saw such things as the cause of all our problems, and rightly so might I add (just in case the Environment Ministry is reading this). How could the human race continue using resources that are essentially dooming us, for so long, ever since the industrial revolution…bastards…why didn’t they just think a bit more about the future and their children, instead of being so unwilling to make even the slightest change to their excessive lifestyles. We’ve got fusion coming online now, finally. We should no doubt have put more effort into developing it sooner, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Fusion is going to take a few more years to roll it out across the country, however once it’s in place we’re sorted energy wise, and the last of the nuclear plants can finally be shut down for good, getting rid of another threat to the world’s future.

We knock off an hour before dusk, after a productive day on all counts, even if Danny did fall out of an apple tree trying to retrieve the drone he’d accidentally flown into its branches. They shouldn’t have been playing with it anyway, but I let that pass; they’re good kids for the most part, and I’m conscious they don’t get as much time to just be kids as they should. Over supper we watch the latest news reports, which aren’t all doom and gloom, despite more severe weather warnings as the persisting El Nino effect and disrupted Jet Stream send more storm fronts our way; nothing new there. There’s a great documentary on how marine life has recovered in the last 15 years, since the genocidal fishing fleets were put out of action, and demand fell due to a reduced population. It reminds me we should head up to the coast, not as far away as it used to be, to enjoy some fresh crab and restock on smoked fish. Although we don’t have all the food luxuries that were ever-present 30 years ago, we’re pretty well off now, and even have an abundance of some things, such as vegetables and meat, although we try not to eat too much of the latter. It was bad for a while, with anarchy reigning when food shortages hit and things collapsed, but we got there in the end.

We wash up and ensure any waste is assigned to the relevant pod for recycling, not that there’s much waste these days with packaging made illegal, and people taking their own containers and bags to pick up food or goods from merchants or the government-run outlets. That’s another thing that’s hard to believe nowadays; how could people in the 20th and early 21st century be so wasteful? We’ll be living with a legacy of plastic bottles for millennia to come, but at least we can reuse them for various things, and very few are produced new now due to the restrictions.

After dinner, and for a bit of fun, we take the electric motorbikes out for a scramble around the nearby forest track, wearing our light enhancing goggles to avoid crashing on the way there.  We enjoy seeing who can perform the most outrageous stunts around the solar storage lighted track, and as usual Jess wins; she’s no fear that girl. After a chat with the neighbours on the way back, who are out for a horse ride and like us enjoying a break in the rain, we all plug-in to the Net for an hour before bed, surfing our way through games, adventures, social media or news, whatever takes our fancy, and occasionally interacting with each other, far away friends or relatives as we float disembodied in the ether; I can see why some people were tempted to go fully virtual.

Then some alone time. Jess and Danny are in bed. I sit by the wood burning stove which I’ve lit as a luxury, burning a few kilograms of our wood allowance, and reflect. We’ve made it, things are looking up for the human race now, as long as we remember lessons learned. A tear tracks down my face as my thoughts turn to Cassy, and all the others we’ve lost, including my parents, early victims of the Climate Riots. Yes, we’ve made it, Danny and Jess have a future, and as long as we continue to strive to live in harmony with Earth, rather than exploiting and abusing it and each other, we stand a good chance. There’s still the threat that the climate changes we’ve locked in will throw us some curve-balls, or the odd country might go rogue and contravene the Earth agreement; Russia still worries a lot of us, but we’re getting there. I wonder what our parents, grandparents, great grandparents would have changed if they could have only seen us now.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Interesting to write, and think about what life could really be like in the not to distant future. If not by 2050, then within the next few hundred years. It’s fascinating to think about how things could change, quite quickly, for the worse in the short-term, but better in the longer term, with sustainable policies coming into effect, and the human race living in parallel rather than perpendicularly to the rest of the planet, and technological advances still benefiting us. Of course I haven’t mentioned a zombie apocalypse, but I’ll save that blog post for another day.

Now if only everyone would really think about this, and the challenges ahead, and make changes before we’re forced to by circumstance.

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 – http://www.gillandtony.co.uk/its-a-tribal-thing/

You can get tickets for the festival via their website here: http://cycletouringfestival.co.uk

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.

*http://robertscribbler.com/2016/01/26/arctic-heatwave-drives-deadly-asian-cold-snap/

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: https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/page/s/ban-microbeads
  • 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.