Tag Archives: Sustainability

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.


  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

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.