Inspired by Matt's call to action a couple of days ago, a guest blog from Olivia Betts in the RSPB's Public Relations team
I am partial to a bit of blogging me, so when Dr Olly Watts our Senior Climate Change Policy Officer was chatting about actually doing things instead of just worrying about them, I got quite excited. His mantra seems to be climate change exists, get over it!
So, my first hurdle? Remember Family Fortunes?
Well mentally, the survey tends to say ‘Ergh Ergh’ when I am bombarded with information. On any subject really, let alone something as vitally important as the environment.
Therefore, I want to keep this simple by writing a list of 3 commitments and actually do what I am suggesting. Firstly, to ensure it is achievable being a self-confessed carbon foot print novice and in a slightly more selfish way, there has to be something in it for me.
These changes need to benefit my life as a whole and be something that I carry on doing well after this blog has been posted. My mantra? I’m a realist, get over it!
Right, so let the carbon reduction begin...
“Vegetarian!?” I hear you scoff “Sorry love, I love meat too much love”. Now I also thought this. I was a vegetarian for 6 of my 7 rebellious teenage years, but this was mainly due to me wanting to annoy my parents and I wasn’t averse to a Linda McCartney pie, rather than any wider environmental agenda.
But livestock farming is responsible for almost 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions from human-related activities. Nitrous oxide is almost 300 times as damaging to the climate as carbon dioxide and 65% of the total quantity produced by human activity comes from livestock (mostly their poo!).
Cows, pigs and sheep live in pastures, which mean rainforests worldwide are being destroyed to make way for cattle. Without the rainforests to trap carbon, we don’t stand much of a chance at fighting global warming. So why not get your protein elsewhere?
No one says you have to give up completely. Start small maybe just eating meat a couple of days a week. I started with some simple recipe ideas from The Vegetarian Society. So not only am I a climate hero but I genuinely feel better for not eating meat and food really has never tasted better.
Go second hand!
Based on estimated annual global textile production of 60 billion kilogrms (KG) of fabric, the estimated energy and water needed to produce that 60 billion KG of fabrics boggles the mind: 1,074 billion KWh of electricity (or 132 million metric tons of coal) and between 6 – 9 trillion liters of water. Yikes! Think of that next time you peruse the Next catalogue...
So buying recycled clothes instead of brand new ones is a great way to cut your carbon footprint. From charity shops to high fashion vintage outfitters via online auction sites, there are countless options available.
And whilst we’re feeling green with your fabulous newly acquired wardrobe... why not reduce CO2 emissions further by:
Oh and it’s not just clothing you’ll find whilst hitting the charity shops of Great Britain and beyond. Children’s toys, kitchen wear, music, jewellery, stuff for the garden. These days most charity shops don’t just specialise in clothes, so get bargain finding!
Go get a quote!
So let’s talk loft insulation *yawn*.
OK, not riveting stuff but you could save up to 40% off your energy bills and could be done without charge.
Nearly half of UK homes waste an average of £150 of heat through their roofs every year, because they don't have enough loft insulation.
I live in a relatively new house with my long-suffering mother. When I informed her that up to 25% of the heat generated in our house could be going through the roof, she went, well, through the roof! She immediately rang our energy provider who agreed to install it for free. Get in!
As a casual aside whilst clearing the loft with my mother later that week, we discovered loads of lost or forgotten items we could sell. In a strange turn of events, we ended up better off after the loft insulation than when we started.
Oh yes, for any house repair enthusiasts, loft insulation can be installed by anyone reasonably competent at DIY (I do not include myself in that group).
My own conclusion to all this carbon reduction? It’s much easier being green than I thought.
We all hold the power to change our lives individually to collectively help the planet. We must accept the things we cannot change, but also pluck up the courage to change the things we can.
So, what small thing will you change today? Go on write a list...
Matt Williams, RSPB Climate Change Policy Officer
‘I never ever want to talk about the science of climate change ever again!’ This was a line from the best talk on climate change I have ever heard, by Jonathon Porritt in 2011. For Porritt, and many others including the IPCC, the debate on whether climate change is happening, and whether it’s caused by people, is over. Personally, I couldn’t agree more.
But scientists have until recently been very reticent about linking the extreme weather to climate change. And we’ve certainly had a lot of extreme weather across the world recently. Just this summer, we’ve seen the worst rain in Beijing in 60 years, millions of Indian farmers missing out on the monsoon and facing financial ruin, almost 80% of agricultural land in the US facing the worst drought since the 1950s alongside the warmest spring on record; and newspaper reports warning of a likely global food crisis.
New research is now starting to bridge the gap between our weather and climate change. Nobel prize winner Mario Molina recently told the American Chemical Society that extreme weather events are now strongly linked with climate change. Dr James Hansen, head of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has said that the chances these extreme weather events would have happened naturally – without climate change – is negligible. For the extreme hot weather of the recent past, including Europe’s heatwave in 2003 and Russia’s in 2010, there is virtually no explanation, other than climate change. And these conclusions come not from projections, or hypotheses, but from statistical analysis of actual weather data.
The Met Office concurs with the overall findings, saying that climate change has significantly increased the odds of some recent weather events. Met Office and Oxford University scientists concluded that the extreme warm average temperature in November 2011 was 60 times more likely to have occurred then, than in the 1960s. Oxford scientists showed that the extreme floods of 2000 in the UK were two to three times more likely to occur, with climate change.
And our mostly poor, wet and cold summer may also be linked to larger scale climatic shifts. It’s probably the result of the jet stream, a high altitude air current bringing warm air across the Atlantic, not reaching as far north as usual. We’ve also seen significantly warm Arctic weather, causing 97% of the area of the Greenland ice sheet to melt for a few days in July – twice the normal amount, an event that occurs only every 150 years or so. If Arctic warming persists, this may influence our summers to come.
These extreme weather events are already leading to direct impacts on people’s lives. The World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 people a year already die from climatic changes. And several millions more are seriously affected, from both direct and indirect affects of flooding, droughts, heatwaves and fires.
As a youth campaigner on climate change, I’ve worked to influence decisions made today, because of their future consequences as I grow up and grow. But the scientists, statisticians and human cost already evident are now showing me that I’m only partly right: climate change is not just something for the future, it’s with us right now.
We have ever more compelling evidence of the need for decisive, effective action from us all - what will you do?
Guest post by Kelsie Pettit, Energy and Climate Policy Officer, RSPB Scotland
The above words, spoken by a colleague from Birdlife International at the European launch of the Good Practice Wind project (GP Wind), are a reflection on the global community in which we live.
Our insatiable media and virtual connectedness makes it child’s play to find examples of birds being harmed by poorly sited wind farms. This causes huge damage to the reputation of the wind industry internationally, and provides fodder for vocal anti-wind groups looking for any shred of evidence to use against proposals for new wind farms. Never mind that we don’t (so far) have ‘problem wind farms’ in Scotland – every story about a wind farm causing harm to wildlife and the natural environment, no matter where in the world it is, erodes the level of public acceptability for new developments, and bolsters the myth that wind farms and wildlife cannot co-exist peacefully.
The RSPB supports the continued development of an environmentally sustainable wind energy industry as a proven way to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So when RSPB Scotland had the opportunity to be involved in a project looking at how to reconcile wind farm development with both the environment and community interests, we naturally jumped at it.
Good practice at Beinn Glas
Led by the Scottish Government, with RSPB Scotland as a leading partner and with input from across eight European member states, the GP Wind project has sought to identify and learn from good practices in wind energy. The good practice guidance produced as a result of GP Wind is an incredible resource. Have a rummage around. As well as the numerous recommendations for developers and decision makers there are hundreds of real life examples of good practice showing that the wind industry can, with the right approach, get it right.
If developers avoid proposing new wind farms on areas of known natural heritage sensitivity and bring communities along with them, then ultimately the process by which they gain planning consent will become more efficient, saving time and money for all involved. That’s the theory anyway.
The Scottish Government’s ambitious targets for renewable energy, coupled with the fact that a lot of the ‘easy’ sites have been used up, means that the pressure on our most valuable wildlife sites will only increase. That’s why we promote a strategic approach to the development of the wind industry. The importance of strategic planning for renewables has been identified through GP Wind as well as in this report from Birdlife.
A national strategic approach to onshore wind would drive the industry towards those areas of least environmental sensitivity. We can’t afford to make the mistakes seen elsewhere – the future of the industry depends on convincing the sceptical public that wind farms can be developed in harmony with nature.
So please do check out the good practice guidance and let us know what you think about it.
I’ve been doing a lot of work with RSPB colleagues across the UK recently looking at our policy on energy and renewables and asking whether it’s fit for the challenges ahead.
In a nutshell, our policy is that we want a renewable energy revolution in harmony with nature. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you understand why we need renewables – although if you’re in doubt check out some previous posts on this blog! So let’s put this aside for a moment and think about what ‘in harmony with nature’ means.
The impact of our energy system on the UK’s wildlife is a function of three variables.
1) How much energy we need
Reducing how much energy we use is the best way of cutting emission’s from our perspective as the cost to nature is zero. Remarkably for a country with lots of old buildings and an appetite for all things fast, bright and electric, the UK is pretty rubbish at this. Have a look at the graph below showing energy saving ambition by 2020 for different European countries. As you can see, we don’t compare very well!
My conclusion is that the RSPB and everyone in the nature conservation community needs to do more here.
2) The energy technologies we use
Wind, wave, solar, gas, carbon capture and storage, biomass....
There’s a big menu of energy technologies we could use to meet our needs. All have potentially significant impacts on wildlife - fossil fuels and renewables - and some have higher risks than others. We’ve tried to classify the renewable energy techs into low, medium and high risk to wildlife and are currently doing something similar for fossil fuels -
Low risk – Solar power, bioenergy from wastes and sustainable forests, heat pumps, geothermal
Medium risk – Concentrated solar power, on and offshore wind, tidal stream, wave, bioenergy from crops
High risk – Biofuels, tidal barrages, biomass electricity, hydropower.
A sustainable energy mix would arguably prioritise the lower and medium risk technologies over the high risk, and we would need to do everything we can to mitigate the risks, which brings us on to...
3) Where and how stuff is built
This is traditionally where the RSPB focuses a lot of its effort. Making sure our most special sites are protected from development, and that any development is designed and managed in a suitable way so that risks to wildlife are minimised. Wind, for example, is classified as medium risk above, but get the siting, design and operation right and it can be very low risk.
My conclusion is that if we want an energy system that respects the natural environment we need to get all of these three things right. The problem? It’ll cost more than just building the cheapest stuff.
What do you think? – Have we got it right? And are you willing to pay Taste the Difference prices for energy if it means protecting wildlife?
From Jim Densham, Senior Land use Policy Officer, RSPB Scotland
Anyone guess what this is? Is it a playground climbing frame? Or a 3-Day-Eventing hurdle from the Olympics? No - it’s a bar apex log jam. And it’s a simple, cost effective measure that farmers in the Scottish borders are using to help manage floods.
Last week we went to see an innovative group of farmers who are having to deal with torrents of water from repeated heavy rainfall, tearing up their fields. They’ve set up the Cheviot Futures project as a hands-on approach to dealing with problems of climate change and build the resilience of their businesses.
On the river Bowmont, a tributary of the Tweed in the border hills, Cheviot Futures staff have worked with land owners to install physical measures to hold the gravelly riverbed in place, secure river banks, and reduce sediment washing downstream. That’s where the log jams come in. They act like fallen trees in the river which would naturally collect and hold up sediment and reduce the speed of the water flow.
At another site, it was good to see willow planted to shore up a riverbank and stop high water levels eroding a wheat field – a far more sustainable approach than using concrete. Cleverly, the Cheviot Futures team’s knowledge of biodiversity led them to include some early flowering willow amongst the varieties used, to benefit insects.
These simple, natural solutions help build the resilience of the farm businesses to the climate impacts that are already being experenced in the Borders. In time the farmers and the Cheviot Futures staff may have to work together to find other solutions if the climate and flooding impacts worsen. Eventually, they may need to allow the river to find its own way through the floodplain and allow nature to take over - even at the expense of prime wheat fields.
But for now, willows and log jams are doing the trick. These Cheviot farmers have shown the way to go with simple, early and sustainable actions to tackle climate change. It's a good challenge to the rest of us – what could you do?