Tag Archives: Environment

Extinction Rebellion

I’ll start this post with some autumnal pictures. It’s my favourite time of year, incorporating beautiful colours in the countryside, crisp and bright days, and the Norwich beer festival; always a must visit.

Walking or cycling through the countryside, breathing in the fresh air, is a true delight. And  there’s always the joy of jumping into piles of leaves, or taking in a magnificent sunset. I don’t have any recent sunset pictures, as sometimes it’s good just to take it all in without having to photograph it. I do have the privilege to cycle past Whitlingham Broad on my way to work each morning though, which always offers a calm moment before the day starts in earnest.

Each year I wonder if we’ll see the same next year. What will have burnt, been blown down, or perished from either drought, habitat destruction or any one of a number of other human caused blights? The wildfires in California, or the increased frequency of ‘once in a hundred years’ storms, are just a few examples.

There’s no doubt we’re in the midst of an environmental crisis now. The symptoms of Climate Breakdown are everywhere to see and this is just the beginning. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or Climate Breakdown as it should now be called, says we have just 12 years to avert catastrophe. I hope this is true and we’ve not already passed the tipping point.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report

I’m not going to include lots of links to evidence, to scientific commentary or opinion, as it’s easy to find on the web, however if you have any doubts this is true, or are in denial, I recommend doing a bit of research (I can supply some pointers upon request).

A lot of us have had enough of this now. Of the failure of governments, corporations, and indeed most of the people on the planet, to do anything to avert the impending catastrophe. We are failing future generations of children, and indeed all life on the planet. We can’t however dwell on the past too much, or start blaming previous generations, that won’t help.

For what has probably been several years this has been weighing heavily on my mind, and I’ve experienced a full range of emotions on the subject which I now realise, with the help of friends and wiser people than I, are down to grief. You’d have thought I’d have recognised the symptoms given previous life events. Sadness, a bit of denial, despair and depression, anger, and now hopefully acceptance. You can’t move on and do anything constructive about an issue you’re grieving about unless you can accept it’s happened or happening, and the truth. If you’re going through this yourself I can thoroughly recommend looking up Joanna Macy, the deep ecologist, and the work that reconnects. It helps.

On a side note I’m really starting to think that a lot of the mental health problems we’re seeing at the moment might be related to all of this. At some level, even subconsciously and especially amongst children, are we all recognising the problem and threat? Is this why levels are depression and anxiety are soaring?

Last night I decided to go to a talk organised by Extinction Rebellion. It was a game-changer as far as I’m concerned. The talk was hosted by Rupert Read, a Green Party politician, academic and reader of philosophy at the University of East Anglia where I studied. He gave the same talk at Churchill College in Cambridge recently, and I’d really recommend everyone listen to it, challenge it if necessary, and try to understand it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzCxFPzdO0Y

If you do nothing else, or don’t ready any further, please watch at least some of this!

Yes, this stuff is really scary, terrifying. I was beginning to think that very few other people saw it the same way I’ve been seeing it. It makes one feel very alone, and question whether you’re one of the ‘crazies’. I don’t feel that way anymore. They expected maybe 50 odd people to turn up last night. There were around 120 of us crammed into the room, a brilliant turn out given it was only organised the week before. There were people from all walks of life too, lest you think it was just fringe hippies and malcontents. Finally a group of like-minded I can relate to, who are as worried as I am, and who are willing to try to do something about it.

We really do have just years to try do something about this. It’s something that will not just potentially cut your children’s lives short, it could do so for your own life, or at least future wellbeing. As Rupert says in his talk there are three possibilities at the moment.

  1. Complete breakdown of civilisation, which will start within our lifetimes – there won’t be much of anything left, we didn’t do enough, quickly enough
  2. An alternative civilisation – a partial collapse of what we have today, but things are left intact to some extent, we just about did enough
  3. A successor civilisation – we transform our current civilisation now, and quickly, bringing about the chance for massive improvements and a better way of life for all on the planet

I reckon number three is the sensible choice to strive for, if it’s not too late, but it’s also the hardest route to take, and possibly the biggest challenge we’ve faced as a species. To make it work it’ll need everyone to get on board, completely change their lifestyles, and priorities. It’s harder than previous challenges we’ve faced on subjects such as equality, voting rights, and discrimination. We are after all talking about people who are currently rich, comfortable, and enjoying a life of comparative luxury (most people in the UK relative to other parts of the world) needing to set much of what they currently value aside. However, if we can start to transform civilisation we’ll be in with a chance, and we could end up being in a much better place than we are now on many counts.

People may ask isn’t the Paris Climate Change Agreement supposed to avert all these problems? Doesn’t the IPCC report offer hope? The answer to that, in brief, is no. The Paris agreement is effectively burnt, especially if the US pulls out. It doesn’t go far enough and won’t prevent the temperature rises that are going to cause so many problems. These reports and agreements don’t take into account things like feedback loops from ice-melt and the permafrost thawing. If methane emissions soar (releasing the dragon), which is entirely possible, we’ll see the release of massive amounts of a greenhouse gas far worse than CO2.

It would appear therefore we have years to try to fix this, and we need to get as many people involved to completely change the way we live, consume, travel, grow our food, enjoy our leisure activities etc. I’m not sure this is possible but surely it’s got to be worth a go? It really is time for people to wake up to this, for people to start talking about it and for action to start happening on a major scale. And we have to approach this in the right way, not with accusations and trying to force people to see your point of view, but by providing information and the facts, and asking them questions, so they can reach their own conclusions, go through the grieving process, and come out the other side to add a positive contribution. This is much bigger than Brexit, or the NHS crisis, yet it’s not anywhere near the top our governments agenda. They are letting us down.

That’s where Extinction Rebellion comes in (@ExtinctionR

https://rebellion.earth

Governments and corporations aren’t doing anything quickly enough, or anything at all in many cases. They need to start listening and the only way to make that happen appears to be via non-violent direct action, which is what Extinction Rebellion is trying to organise. We need to stop the destructive spiral that is going on at the moment and make change happen.

I’d invite anyone reading this (there’s got to be at least 2 or 3 people who got this far), to check out Extinction Rebellion yourself. Spread the word. Get involved and consider non-violent direct action to make the government listen. There are ‘Holding actions’ we can undertake to slow things down. There’s going to be some good stuff happening in London this weekend. This has the potential to be huge, and even if it doesn’t work I don’t want to be in situation in 10 or 20 years time wishing I’d tried to do something. It’s got to be worth a shot whilst we still have a chance hasn’t it?

In the meantime though, I might do a bit of prepping, just in case…

Writing to my MP

I made a commitment to myself at the beginning of the year to write to my local MP, Keith Simpson, concerning issues that I feel strongly about.  I figure you can’t complain if you’re not willing to do something about it, and also it’s going to help me keep sane in a world that increasingly makes less and less sense.

I may still write to him about being paid to cycle to work and how the Government could contribute to this, but I need to do some more work on that; they already indirectly contribute via things like cycle to work schemes, I’m just not sure they work very well. In the meantime I’ve sent the below, and am looking forward to seeing what he has to say.

Dear Rt Hon Keith Simpson MP,
I hope this email finds you well, and like me looking forward to it getting a little more spring-like soon. It was good to see you in the local press recently alongside the announcement that the last bit of the NDR will be opening soon.
I am writing to you concerning the increasing number of housing developments that are being planned around Norwich, which are starting to eat up more and more green field sites. I understand there is a housing demand, however I want to make sure this demand is being satisfied in a well conceived and sustainable fashion, without too much impact on the environment and our beautiful countryside, something I’m sure you can agree with.
To let you know a little about myself. I moved to Salhouse just over a year ago, and am loving living in the countryside after being in Norwich since I moved from the South East to go to UEA in 1993. I now work for Virgin Money as a Project Manager.
I recently read an article in the EDP (http://www.edp24.co.uk/edp-property/councillors-approve-380-homes-sprowston-1-5459687) which claims that a housing development in Sprowston will only have 10% of affordable homes, despite the Joint Core Strategy policy having a target of 33%. I would like to know if this is true (the EDP isn’t always 100% accurate), and what the reason for this deviation is. Is it a case of the developer saying they won’t have a sufficient profit margin if the affordable housing ratio goes above 10%, and if so has this been independently verified? I understand this development falls within the Broadland district.
My concern is that whilst we have a housing shortage, and need to build more homes, what’s the point if people aren’t going to be able to afford them? People may also overstretch themselves on the borrowing front, leading to bad debt and repossessions should interest rates go up, which seems inevitable in the short to medium term. My suspicion from reading other articles on housing plans is that very few will meet the recommended percentage of affordable housing. Perhaps the strategy needs to be revisited on this, or pressure put on developers to change their plans?
I also recently wrote to the Broadland Planning department concerning a small housing development that is being planned for the field behind where I live (Application 20180360). I know they don’t reply to individual emails, however I’d like to make you aware of the points I raised, especially considering Salhouse again experienced issues with flooding this winter. I have copied in the relevant section of my email of 31 March 2018 below.
1) Access to the new development via Barn Piece Close. I’m not convinced the road is big enough to be used by vehicles accessing the additional site. It’s quite narrow, and access on to the main road could start to become an issue with the increased number of cars. There could be a risk this turns into an accident zone as cars don’t exactly travel down Salhouse Road to the mini roundabout slowly. Also the dead-end close has children who play in it at the moment, and safety issues might result from increased traffic. Is there an alternative route into the site that could be considered, perhaps directly from the main road?
2) Mains sewerage capacity. I read in the parish magazine about issues with the village sewerage system overflowing, and not really being fit for purpose for the current number of homes. Is there not a risk the increased number of dwellings could cause more overflow problems. Should the sewer system be improved and expanded prior to any new development being considered? The sewer system recently overflowed again, thus proving this is still an issue.
3) Other utilities. Aside from sewerage, are other utilities such as gas, water, broadband, electricity etc of a sufficient capacity to supply the new homes, with no loss of service to the existing homes in the vicinity?
4) Further expansion. Would this development pave the way for even more development in the immediate area, which would exacerbate the above points even further?
5) I assume the standard ecological surveys ref bats, newts etc will be completed? We have enough threats to the UK’s biodiversity as it is. I would really prefer to see more brown site development going on.
I realise development on brown field sites can be more expensive, and that affordable housing is not going to be as attractive to developers seeking to maximise their profits. However, with the challenges first time buyers and lower earners face with getting on the housing ladder, and the threats our countryside and environment are up against, would it be possible to initiate a review of the planning policy to ensure it is benefitting everybody, and doing what it can to protect our rapidly diminishing natural spaces and biodiversity.
A supporting argument for this may also be that the housing market is slowing down due to fears of interest rate rises and lack of affordability. Hopefully this means we have the time to review plans and make sure we get them right?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
James Harvey

 

I’ll share any response I receive. I have a feeling this may be the first of many pieces of correspondence to Keith, however I’ll always try and make them constructive.

In my next post I’ll get back to plans for summer cycling trips; bike-packing in Scotland on the horizon.

Get paid for cycling to work?

I thought the ‘Beast from the East’ was behind us when I went out for a pedal round the Norfolk countryside on Saturday, and to begin with that appeared to be the case. The snow was contained to small patches in fields, and I merrily splashed down narrow lanes full of melt-water. What remained of the previous week’s blizzards was quickly disappearing, with rivulets of water joining together to form larger streams, and in some cases torrents, flowing quickly downhill. Beneath the retreating snow crocuses and other spring growth were appearing, soon to replace the snow drops. The birds were in fine voice, celebrating the snow’s retreat by collecting twigs for nests and generally getting jiggy with it.

I’ve recently rejuvenated my Ridgeback Panorama used for my Bike around Britain tour in 2013. My Oxford Bike Works Expedition Bike is off the road at the moment awaiting wheel repairs and a general post winter rebuild. It’s good to be back on the Ridgeback, despite it being a bit creaky these days; it brings back good memories and the larger wheels mean I’m a bit speedier on the morning commute.

So, the Ridgeback and I were speeding along, having taken in Woodbastwick, Ranworth, South Walsham and several other small villages, when we turned down a road near Burlingham which obviously hadn’t seen much sun.

No road closure signs required

No road closure signs required

Determined not to be defeated by this impasse, I decided carrying my bike over the still significant snow-drifts was the way forward. The drifts must have been at hedge-height level prior to the thaw.

Ridgeback portage required

Ridgeback portage required

I made it to the other side with feelings akin to those Amundsen must have felt on reaching the South Pole in 1911, however perhaps shorts hadn’t been the best choice of clothing for this outing, and my shoes were on the damp side by the time I hit tarmac again.

As well as weekend rides I’ve been using my Ridgeback for the daily commute, determined not to have to resort to driving which tends to leave me in a grotty mood for the rest of the day. I was snow-bound for a few days during the Beast from the East episode, and not being able to get out for a ride left me feeling irritable and fidgety. It took me a while to realise it was because I hadn’t been having my daily dose of exercise. Cycling has so many benefits, as I’ve extolled before, that I find it difficult to understand why you would drive if you have an alternative. Here’s 10 reasons to get on your bike:

  1. Health and fitness – stronger and better endurance, helps you lose weight, and keeps me prepped for my next tour
  2. Reduced risk of cardio-vascular disease and cancer, and no doubt many other diseases. Some studies have shown it’s better for your lungs than driving, as you avoid more fumes. It also appears to help maintain brain function due to better blood flow, reducing the risk of dementia
  3. Boosted immune system; read an article this week about pensioners who cycle regularly having the immune system of people in their 20’s
  4. Keeps you looking more youthful – or so I like to think
  5. Improved mental health – from exercise, being outside in the fresh air and nature, and taking some time-out each day
  6. Cycling has less impact on your body than, for example, running, so you save your knees! I know this to be true because I went for a run for the first time in ages on Saturday, and still haven’t completely recovered
  7. Less polluting than other forms of transport, so better for the environment and more sustainable. We really need to reduce our CO2 emissions
  8. It’s actually quicker than driving in cities, and you find places you’d never see in a car. It improves your navigational skills and sense of direction to boot
  9. You can eat more cake; other foodstuffs are available (and frequently taken advantage of)
  10. Improves your sex-life; apparently it’s all about muscle groups

There are other benefits to be had, however if that isn’t enough I don’t know what is? If you’re still not convinced how about being paid to cycle to work? In New Zealand one business owner has taken it to a new level and is paying his employees $5 a day if they commute by bike for 6 months, rising to $10 a day after that, paid as an annual basis. He’s paying for it out of business profits, and says it’s covered by the improvement in employee productivity and better health.

Here’s a link to the article on this:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/07/new-zealand-cycle-cash-10-a-day-employees-work-company?CMP=share_btn_tw

This got me thinking about whether we could do this in the UK. People are often more motivated, at least initially, by monetary incentives rather than the 10 benefits listed above; I know, weird isn’t it, you’d think you’d cycle for those alone with any money being a bonus. If companies can’t afford to do this themselves perhaps the government could offer grants to at least partially fund it. Their incentive to do this would be less stress on an already straining-at-the-seams heath service, as well as improvements to the transport network due to less road erosion, and less traffic jams. It really has to be a win-win for everyone. I suppose the government already pitches in via cycle-to-work schemes, which give you tax breaks, however there have to be the opportunities to encourage cycling.

I’m wondering how I can turn this into some sort of business case to present at work, however it might be a bit tricky to assign an actual £ value. Got to be worth a go though, as my gut instinct says the benefits of a more motivated, healthier and happier workforce would outweigh any costs.

And perhaps instead of all the money being paid in a bonus to employees they could opt for some or all of it to be paid to charity instead, with Gift Aid on top of these donations.

I’ll do some more work on this and maybe float the idea at work. It would mean we’d probably need more places to lock bikes, and maybe more showers, but these things are all doable. In the meantime if you have any suggestions or comments please let me know, all gratefully received; let’s get more people self-propelled!

Where do we go from here?

I love it when it snows, and after several years of nothing significant the ‘Beast from the East’ brought buckets of the stuff over the past week. The only draw-back, from my point of view anyway, is that it makes cycling a little tricky; I don’t have any studded tyres.

Imagine if we could control the weather; but would that really be a good thing? The potential benefits around, for example, a predictable climate for agriculture, sunshine for the tourist industry, or rain for drought hit areas all sound good. But what about the impacts we couldn’t foresee or chose to ignore?

Controlling the weather in one region could adversely impact another geographical area, where perhaps they didn’t have as much money or influence. This downstream area could get hit by extreme weather, or mass species die-off events could become more common-place, such as the Saiga antelope catastrophe in Kazakhstan. In excess of 200,000 of this endangered species died in 2015, when human-caused climate change increased temperatures to such an extent it’s thought they triggered a bacteria present benignly in the antelopes at lower temperatures to cause hemorrhagic septicemia (blood poisoning and internal bleeding), with thousands dying within a few days of each other.

An increase in life-threatening diseases due to climate change could happen to human population centres, and some would argue it already is. For example Nigeria is currently experiencing an outbreak of Lassa fever, which in extreme cases has symptoms similar to Ebola, and has no vaccine. There are some theories that the increased frequency of this disease could be down to changing weather patterns.

So no, I don’t think we can be trusted to control the weather responsibly. We’re already doing it indirectly via human-caused climate change due to fossil fuel burning. The recent snowy weather resulted from unseasonably warm air being drawn up to the arctic, the Jet Stream slowing down and disrupting the polar vortex, which forced cold air and blizzards down to the UK. Whilst we experienced temperatures well below freezing in Norfolk, it was above freezing in parts of the Arctic, melting yet more of the already at record lows sea ice. This is explained much more eloquently and in far more detail on this website – well written and easy to understand; definitely worth a read.

Where am I going with this? I’m pointing out we often don’t really understand, or are unable to predict, the consequences of our actions on the planet.

As I mentioned in a previous recent blog post I’ve been pondering where we’re going as a species, and why we keep pursuing unsustainable growth and consumption, whilst the world literally collapses around us. Climate change is becoming a very tangible symptom of our labours. Surely we should be petrified for the future of our children and grandchildren, if not the other species we share the world with. Yes, the planet will survive us, however will anything else on the Earth be left by the time we check out?

There are lots of examples of as yet un-checked unsustainable activity in the present day, which we seem to be in denial about. All these have either obvious, as well as I suspect as yet unpredicted consequences. Here are a few examples.

  1. Human population growth. The world’s population is growing at around 83 million or 1.1% a year, although this rate has slowed down since peaking in the 1960’s at about 2.1%, and is predicted to fall further to around 0.1% by 2100. The graph below shows how dramatic this growth has been in the last 200 years. The impact this puts on the environment, especially as more of the population start to live ‘western’ lifestyles, is unsustainable. 
  2. Agricultural land use. As this article in the New Scientist from 10 years ago says; humans are living completely beyond their ecological means. We knew this a long time ago but still pump fields full of fertilisers and pesticides, which in the long-term degrades the land and makes it less productive, as well as poisons the underlying substrates and surrounding countryside, reducing biodiversity. That coupled with soil erosion means scientists are predicting we only have a limited number of harvests left, maybe 100, due to our unsustainable farming practices. The good news is this should be reversible, given the right techniques and less reliance on chemical fertilisers. The big agrochemical companies, such as Monsanto, don’t really want you to know this for obvious reasons. Check out this video from Dr Elaine Ingham if you want to find out more, a real eye-opener.
  3. Fishing. In many areas of the world we’re literally stripping the oceans bare of life to feed our appetite for seafood. Huge industrial trawlers and dredgers indiscriminately take everything, and even if by-catch is thrown back it’s probably not going to survive. Studies have shown that fish numbers have halved since the 70’s, with some species being hit particularly hard such as tuna and mackerel; a 75% decline in numbers. Continued unsustainable fishing practices driven by consumer demand, coupled with horrific plastic pollution and coral reef bleaching, paint a grim picture as far as recovery is concerned. If however large areas of our oceans are designated as marine conservation areas, such as the Arctic, perhaps they’ll stand a chance.
  4. Meat eating. There are hundreds of articles out there, such as this one, describing the impacts of raising livestock on the environment. As demand grows due to an increasing population and new markets, the impacts will grow. These include a large contribution to the greenhouse gases causing climate change, increased pollution due to run off, increased water use, and more land being needed to for livestock resulting in deforestation. The amount of land needed to feed a human on meat is about 20 times more than needed for a vegetarian diet. This is clearly unsustainable. The answer seems obvious, eat less meat and dairy products, with the associated health benefits as side-effects.
  5. Fossil fuel use. We continue to burn vast amount of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas, in order to generate energy, heat our homes, or power transportation. The CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning continue to increase, despite the Paris Climate Change agreement being signed in 2015. Burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of climate change.  We have perhaps 100 years left of these primary fossil fuels, which means we’ll have used up what the world has to offer over the course of about 300 years, reserves that took millions of years to create. This has to be one of the best examples of unsustainable human-based activity, however with continued research and development hopefully alternatives such as electric cars (go Tesla!), renewables, or fusion energy will increase or come online soon.

    CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning

    CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning

Those were a few examples of unsustainable activity, which seem to make less and less sense to a growing number of people, especially the younger generation who don’t understand how we could, as a race, have been so ignorant, and how we continue to pursue these activities. I think they’ll be an accounting at some point, and the history books won’t look back kindly on what will come to be regarded as criminal practices. It can be summarised quite simply…

Infinite economic, industrial and agricultural growth is unsustainable and therefore impossible when based on finite resources, coupled with environmental constraints

…not sure one can argue with that. A basic example of this can be found from studying the growth of a bacterial colony in a petri dish. The colony starts off slow, then grows exponentially using up the finite resources available, then dies off once the agar jelly runs out. A simple example but with obvious parallels to humans and the Earth.

There’s a lot of hope out there in terms of alternative more sustainable options, however these are reliant on:

  • Public take up of the alternatives, and a willingness on everyone to make sacrifices to ensure long-term sustainability
  • Funding for the research and development of these initiatives
  • The same initiatives not being blocked due to profit seeking by the incumbent industries, who wield so much power and influence
  • Politicians actually listening to their constituents and scientists

I’ve been reading recently about shifting baseline syndrome. Over time knowledge is lost concerning the state of the natural world, as people don’t perceive the changes taking place. Today’s younger generation won’t for example remember that gardens used to be full of butterflies, or that birdsong used to be so much louder, or that rhinos were once commonplace in Africa. It has to be a concern that the environment and biodiversity will continue to decline due to unsustainable activity, but people won’t realise the extent of the decline because they have no first hand experience of what things used to be like.

Over the last 25 – 30 years: (Source: WWF-UK Living Planet Report)

  • 80% of freshwater species have declined
  • Over 50% of populations of land species have declined
  • 40% of our forests have disappeared to agricultural land with 15 million trees lost each year just for soy production
  • 1 in 6 of the planet’s species are at risk of extinction from climate change

I hope that education will fill this gap, and Deep Ecology will start to become part of the syllabus; humans are just one of many equal components that make up the global ecosystem. We’re not above or apart from it, we’re a part of it, and could not only survive but thrive if things are done the right way.

I don’t know how we change public opinion quickly enough to make the changes needed to ensure we can survive and thrive. Most governments don’t seem to give it a high priority, or are swayed by lobbyists driving their own commercial agendas, and whilst industry is changing it’s debatable whether it will happen quickly enough. It’s bizarre that we can continue so blithely down this path when you can for example see the ice melting, species dying, diseases increasing, the plastic in our oceans, antibiotic resistance rocketing, and extreme weather events due to climate change happening. I can only assume most people are in a massive state of denial, and refuse to wake-up, because to do so would cause a mental breakdown.

The underlying causes of all this have to be the drive to consume (we’re all indoctrinated to do so from an early age via marketing), what we are taught to regard as being successful in life, the pursuit of unreasonable profit and therefore money by a relatively small percentage of the population, and the often mistaken belief that more money will make you happy. After being on my bike for six months travelling round Europe, I realised you need very little in order to be happy. It looks increasingly like we need an alternative model from capitalism, which no doubt had its place in the past, in order to endure. That’s maybe a topic for another blog.

If you don’t already know about it Earth Hour takes place this weekend, where people are encouraged to turn their lights off from 20.30 in a show of solidarity for the planet. Here’s a link to the WWF website which has more detail on it – https://www.wwf.org.uk/earthhour

Well done and thank you if you made it to the end of that one. As usual my opinions are my own, however I hope that many of you will agree seeing as the evidence around all this is so easy to come by (see sources), and that you’ll conclude that we need to stop now and make some changes. I think everyone really can make a difference, because trends and movements spread and grow when they make sense. Let’s rectify this:

People and nature in Venn diagrams

People and nature in Venn diagrams

As always, safe cycling, and please feel free to comment with any feedback, opinions or interesting links to further information.

Sources

  1. BBC – Lassa fever: The killer with no vaccine – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-43211086
  2. Robert Scribbler – Sudden Stratospheric Warming and Polar Amplification: How Climate Change interacts with the Polar Vortex – https://robertscribbler.com/2018/02/28/sudden-stratospheric-warming-and-polar-amplification-how-climate-change-interacts-with-the-polar-vortex/
  3. World Population Growth by Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina – https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth
  4. Unsustainable development ‘puts humanity at risk’ – https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12834-unsustainable-development-puts-humanity-at-risk/
  5. Youtube – The Roots of your Profit, Dr Elaine Ingham, soil microbiologist, founder of Soil Foodweb Inc – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2H60ritjag&t=3511s
  6. Huffington Post – Ocean Fish Populations cut in half since the 1970s: Report – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/crucial-marine-populations-cut-in-half-since-the-1970s-report_us_55f9ecd2e4b00310edf5b1b2
  7. The Guardian – Animal agriculture is choking the ​Earth and making us sick. We must act now – https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/04/animal-agriculture-choking-earth-making-sick-climate-food-environmental-impact-james-cameron-suzy-amis-cameron
  8. The Guardian – Fossil fuel burning set to hit record high in 2017, scientists warn – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/13/fossil-fuel-burning-set-to-hit-record-high-in-2017-scientists-warn
  9. Wikipedia – Deep Ecology – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_ecology
  10. WWF – Earth Hour – https://www.wwf.org.uk/earthhour

Brake the Cycle

A couple of weeks ago I came across Brake the Cycle, a touring company that organise adventures combining bicycles, caring about the planet, eco-communities and permaculture, with helping individuals find a new healthier and happier path in life. What better way to do that than on a bike? In short it’s all the sort of thing I’m passionate about, in trying to practise a more balanced, sustainable, and connected to nature lifestyle.

Here’s a video from their website that’s really making me look forward to touring again a bit later this year; I’m hoping to pedal down the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland.

You can check out there website here – www.brakethecycle.xyz

If you’re thinking about giving cycle touring a go, but a bit nervous and would like to do it with a group of like-minded individuals, then I’d recommend checking them out. They organise tours in the UK, such as Lands End to John O’Groats and an Odyssey in Wales, to pedalling round Spain or Greece. And they’ll carry your luggage for you! A great way to see new places, make new friends, and experience the joys of cycle touring in a sustainable way.

I recently wrote a guest blog post for them, which you can read here – www.brakethecycle.xyz/single-post/bikearoundBritain

Incidentally I have no commercial connection to this website, I just really like what they’re trying to do and may well get a few friends to join me on one of their tours.

I’ve also copied in the blog post below, as I really enjoyed writing this one, and want to keep it for posterity.

Bike around Britain by James Harvey
Riding a bike. I don’t think I could do without it now. I get grouchy if I haven’t cycled for a couple of days. If I have to use my car to commute the day is definitely worse for it. On my 10 mile ride to work I see people stuck in their vehicles, looking grumpy, frustrated, bored, and disconnected from the world outside their sterile, sealed metal boxes.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant if more people used their bike to get to work? There are so many benefits to be gained from a regular pedal: mental and physical health, fitness, saving money, and less pollution. It’s actually quicker in towns, and you can eat more cake without worrying too much about the calories. You’re closer to the natural world too — not separate from it like so many people seem to be these days. As we move into Spring and everything starts waking up there’s more to see, smell, listen to and experience whilst pedalling.

Snowdrop covered bank

Take the path less travelled

Cycling several times a week also means that when it comes to your next cycle tour your legs are better prepared for it, although it’s one of those hobbies where you really can get fit on the job. I started cycle touring properly in 2013, when a major life event made me re-evaluate what’s important. I took some time out and decided, fairly randomly, that I’d cycle around the coast of Britain. Why wait until you retire to start adventuring? You never know what’s going to happen. If you have the chance to do something different, to pursue something out-of-the ordinary you’ve always wanted to do, then go for it, ‘brake the cycle’ and take that first step out of your front door. Every step after that is easier. One of my favourite quotes, from Henry Rollins reflects all this:

‘No such thing as spare time
No such thing as free time
No such thing as down time
All you got is life time. Go!’

I didn’t especially know what I was doing when I set off round the coast. I bought a bike I’d been reliably informed was decent for touring, as well as camping equipment I could fit on it, and a whole  host of other bits and pieces I thought I might need. Once I’d packed my panniers I mounted my trusty steed, and gently tumbled onto the grass outside my house. It appeared I might have to cut down on what were going to be my worldly possessions for the next three months. That was the start of realising you really don’t need much to be happy. In fact, from what I’ve observed, the more people have the less happy they often are. You meet a lot of people when touring, whether it be in Britain, or in more remote places (for us) such as Albania, Scandinavia or Turkey. The friendliest and most content people I’ve met are often those that seem to have the least, from a material possession point of view; I’d argue they probably have the much more from a spiritual and non-material angle.

Starting from Norwich and heading to Lowestoft, on the East coast of Britain, before turning North, getting fitter as I went. I almost immediately had a crash on a Norfolk coastal path, when I discovered loaded touring bikes don’t cope well with sand. This wouldn’t be the last ‘stunt’ of the tour.

It didn’t really take very long to get to Scotland, however it took a me a disproportionate amount of time to get round the coast of that glorious country. There are so many ins-and-outs, up-and-downs, sideways then back up bits. Thankfully on a coastal tour it’s quite hard to get lost, all you have to do is keep the sea on one side, and in Scotland there aren’t a lot of roads to choose from when you get beyond Edinburgh. Another Scottish bonus is you can wild camp as long as you’re sensible and respectful, so finding a place to rest wasn’t hard.

Wild camping on the shores of Loch Fyne

Wild camping on the shores of Loch Fyne

I always get asked what my favourite bits of a tour are, and it’s often hard to pick one. I know that the journey is definitely more important that the destination — the latter often being a bit of an anti-climax after all the adventures along the way. On my 2013 Bike around Britain tour I can definitely say Scotland was my favourite bit, aside from the midges which will eat you alive if you’re not careful. The coastline is amazing, especially the West Coast, and then there’s Orkney where I immediately felt at home,  and Skye and Mull which are quite different from the mainland. The wildness of Cape Wrath where I camped next to the lighthouse and ate fresh wild Atlantic salmon was amazing, and I’ll never forget cycling over the Bealach na Ba pass from Applecross, up the steepest ascent in the UK, then descending carefully down the other side with my brakes smoking. That’s feeling alive.

Bealach na Ba

Bealach na Ba

Eventually it was time to leave Scotland and cross back into England, via Gretna Green. That in itself was a culture shock after weeks in relative wilderness; coach loads of Japanese and Chinese tourists greeted me as I pedalled through, and I suddenly had to contend with roundabouts and traffic lights again, a rarity in the highlands. Then it was on to Wales which turned out to be, whilst beautiful, very wet and windy. In fact it mostly rained for all of Wales, but you get used to that kind if thing whilst cycle touring, as well as dirt and mud; my theory is your skin is waterproof, so all good. A few local cyclists I met on the road bought me the odd meal, or a pint, which kept motivation levels up.

When you’re on a long cycle tour you’re much more in touch with the natural environment you’re in, especially if you’re camping most of the time. You become attuned to the daylight hours as well as the weather, and are definitely very much a part of nature, rather than disconnected from it. On your bike you spot things you’d never see in a car, and meet people you’d never normally speak to. They’re interested because you’re on a loaded touring bike and they want to know where you’ve been and where you’re going ; this can often lead to free meals! You rest when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, and take a diversion to see something interesting if the notion takes you. I’d challenge anyone not to feel less-stressed after a week or two of that.

 

Cycle touring - enjoy spectacular sunsets in nature's embrace

Cycle touring – enjoy spectacular sunsets in nature’s embrace

The funny thing was as soon as I rode to the other side of the Severn Bridge it stopped raining. I could look back into Wales and it was still cloudy on the other side of the Severn, however I was now in sunshine. Wales is damp, lovely country, but damp.

The South West was another highlight, although the hills were steeper than in any other part of the tour; I didn’t have to get off and push until I got to Devon. I rode to Land’s End on a wonderful sunny day, completing a rather long and unconventional John O’Groats to Lands End (‘Jogle’) trip. I laid back in the heather and dozed for a bit, listening to the waves crashing against the rocks far below. The sound of the sea, my constant companion for the three months of my  tour, is always relaxing and trance-inducing.

Lands End - listening to the sea

Lands End – listening to the sea

Along the South Coast it got a lot busier, but remained entertaining, with the odd ferry to catch over inlets and estuaries. There was more regular supply of ice-cream, and friends joined me along the way to experience a bit of life on the road.  After the peace of Scotland the South East was the opposite. A more frantic pace of life as well as an increase in traffic and prices, and more opportunities to get lost. As with everywhere folks still often wanted to say hello and find out what I was doing, or to offer hospitality.

Helford - ran out of road, waiting for ferry boat

Helford – ran out of road, waiting for ferry boat

Heading North across the Thames I joined the Tour de Latitude, taking a diversion to cycle to the music festival. It proved to be an excellent decision, a chance to catch up with a few friends and ease tired muscles, before heading back to the coast to finish the circuit back in Lowestoft, and home to Norwich.

I learnt so much about myself and the UK on that tour. Since then I’ve continued to go on adventures on my bike, including a six month pedal around Europe in 2015, taking in Nordkapp, Tarifa and Istanbul. But there really isn’t any need to leave  Britain to get away from it all, reconnect with nature, and try something new. We have so much on our own doorstep to enjoy, learn about and be part of.

You have a lot of time to mull things over whilst you’re pedalling. In the last two hundred years we’ve grown more and more apart from the natural world, somehow forgetting about it, or believing we’re above other species on this planet. There’s a constant pressure for growth, whether that be population, industrial, agricultural or economic, which is at odds with the finite resources we have access to, as well as our own wellbeing. I can’t help wondering if a lot of the mental health issues we experience today are caused by the realisation, by all of us at some level, that things aren’t right at the moment. Getting on your bike, whether that be for you daily commute to work or to take up touring, is a great way to start reconnecting with the world, to start working out what’s important, and to bring more contentment and satisfaction into your life.

People always seem to ask me what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go next? I ask, where are you going next?

“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

James Harvey is a keen cyclist and advocate of two wheels for wellbeing. Find out more about his 2013 tour (with routes) here: www.bikearoundbritain.com. You can find James sharing his thoughts on the wonderfully titled www.selfpropelled.life and follow home on Twitter here @jam_har

 

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.

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.