The Impossible Rebellion

I spent three days with Extinction Rebellion in London. In the light of the IPCC report that issued a “code red” warning for humanity, the recent horrific weather events, some of which have been widely reported like the New York flooding, and others which have been largely ignored like the drought in Madagascar, the overwhelming scientific evidence that we must act now if we are to save humanity and our fellow creatures on this planet from disaster and the continued policies of Governments and Corporations that are speeding our demise rather than trying to protect us, I feel it my duty to do what I can to protect our futures. 

Photo Credit Gareth Morris @xr_photographers

So what are my reflections on these three days? I witnessed extraordinary bravery and sacrifice from rebels. Over five hundred people were arrested for peacefully protesting including four from Sheffield. I witnessed shocking violent behaviour from police and a totally over the top police presence. XR will no doubt be blamed for the massive policing bill, but the enormous police presence was unnecessary for non-violent protestors. 

Here I am reading the “Heading for Extinction” talk to the police who were preventing me from joining the occupation. It was actually the police, not the demonstrators, that blocked the road. The demonstrators wanted to welcome everybody to the crisis talks.

The public reaction was surprisingly positive. I had many conversations with passers-by, explaining what was happening and why people were getting arrested. The public mood has definitely changed as far more people are now very aware, and indeed frightened, of the climate emergency we are facing. They were sympathetic to our action and concerned by the Government’s failure. Occasionally I experienced anger from the public, but this was a tiny minority and was more concerned with our tactics than our aims. The one time an ambulance needed to get through the crowd the protesters quickly moved aside to let it through.

Occasionally people would challenge me with arguments they have seen in the right-wing press. 

“Why don’t you go and protest in China or Brazil” was a common one. Well for someone who hasn’t flown since 1990 due to climate change, this is obviously not going to be possible! But we did go and protest at the Brazilian Embassy, where we got the message over loud and clear to the representatives of Bolsonaro’s regime that they must respect the rights of the indigenous people in the Amazon and stop destroying their home, the Amazon rainforest. 

My video of the protest outside the Brazilian Embassy
Mother Earth cries out to the Brazilian Government, “Will you stop?”

“What about China” is not an excuse for our Government and financial institutions to continue investing in fossil fuels. The new Cambo oil field, Cumbrian coal mine, airport expansions and road-building schemes mean we are running fast in the wrong direction. If you look around the objects that are close to you at the moment it’s a fair bet that several of them were made in China. We have cut our emissions by outsourcing manufacturing to China so they now get blamed for our consumption. The Government also lie to us about our emissions as they refuse to count shipping and aviation in the figures.

“Why do you have to cause so much disruption” was another frequent comment. If there was a way to influence the Government without disrupting people, believe me, we would be doing it! I have been writing letters to MP’s signing petitions, going on marches, boycotting companies and changing my own personal lifestyle for 40 years, but it has not worked. So now like the Suffragettes, Extinction Rebellion has adopted disruptive tactics to get its message across. Indeed more people have now been arrested in this country protesting about climate change than in the long campaign to win women the vote

We are sorry for the disruption we cause but see no alternative. A Financial Times journalist wrote “XR will always be annoying. So is the repeated beeping of my smoke alarm when its battery is flat. That’s the point. It means I change the battery, and hopefully makes sure my home doesn’t burn down. On balance, I’m glad it’s there.”

I was pleased the focus of the protests were the City of London. If the City was a country it would be the world’s ninth biggest emitter of carbon and businesses listed on the London Stock Exchange or financed from the UK account for about 15% of global carbon emissions. The most moving protest was when XR Doctors staged a die-in outside the offices of JP Morgan, which is the biggest funder of fossil fuels in the country. One doctor said before he was dragged away by security, “I’ve realised during my 10 years in medicine that it is much easier to try and keep people well than wait for them to get sick. At the moment we are making the planet sick and we are making our people sick and our eco-system sick. It needs to stop now, which is why we are saying stop all fossil fuel funding immediately.” The doctors say they have a duty of care to their patients to demand this.

How do I feel after the protests? Encouraged that so many beautiful people are willing to stand up to the system and demand change. Angry that the media have not given it the coverage that it deserved. Terrified that the Government and Corporations still show no sign that they intend to take the climate and ecological emergency seriously. 

You can find many live streams and highlights from the Impossible Rebellion here.

Photo Credit Crispin Hughes

Sheffield Council to reduce Glyphosate use

There is news today on Sheffield Council’s plans to reduce the use of Glyphosate.

This is a good start, but the action falls far short of the demands of the petition that was signed by 6595 people.

We await the details of the scheme that will enable residents to keep their pavements Glyphosate free if they offer to remove weeds outside their homes. The question is, what is a weed? One person’s weed is another’s wild flower! Will residents be expected to pull everything out, even rare wild flowers that might be facing extinction? This includes one in five of all our wild flower species, thanks to the widespread use of herbicides. Will the mowing regime be changed so that residents can cultivate wild flowers on the verges? Will more areas in our parks be set aside for wild flower meadows to protect our endangered pollinators and insects?

Obviously some residents don’t have the capacity to weed outside their property. How will the Council help those that can’t manage this?

It is pleasing to see the Council moving in the right direction. The Greens on the new Cooperative Executive are obviously having some influence. But this, as the Council have declared, is a Nature Emergency and so demands emergency action.

National Trust, please stop spraying Glyphosate

Guest blog by Nicky Watts

Last time we visited a National Trust property, I witnessed the spraying of herbicides on paths in the gardens.

I was so shocked and disappointed, I wrote to National Trust central enquiries (enquiries@nationaltrust.org.uk) about my concern.  I learn that the National Trust has no central policy to ban the use of glyphosate and was referred to the head gardener of the property I had visited.

He affirmed that they do use Glyphosate sparingly.  His answer disturbed me.  He stated that although Glyphosate has a bad reputation, ‘it is in fact classified as non-hazardous and bio-degrades readily once in contact with the soil’

Information from this guide by Graham Wroe states otherwise.  It was given to councillors in Sheffield prior to a vote concerning the use of glyphosate in public areas. In the light of the information this guide is based on, many countries and local authorities in the UK have banned or restricted Glyphosate.

Glyphosate is in fact, water-soluble and has had significant effects on species that underpin the entire aquatic food chain. It upsets the balance of microbial communities in soil increasing the numbers of some micro-organisms and decreasing others, impacting soil fertility. It also binds micro-nutrients in the soil causing deficiencies in plants.

 Not only has Glyphosate been found to have adverse effects on earthworms, beneficial insects and bees. Studies have found that glyphosate-based herbicides have worked their way into our food chain, and can interfere with various organs and biochemical pathways and appears to accumulate in human cells. Testing has revealed that glyphosate is present in people’s urine in Europe and in and breast milk in the USA.  At low concentrations, it damages liver, kidney and skin cells and long term effects include cancer, infertility, pregnancy problems, birth defects and respiratory diseases.

Glyphosate can be replaced by safer methods.

The National Trust is an organisation with a reputation to promote the conservation of wildlife. Your cause, according to your website, is to protect our environment, “From ancient trees to bees and butterflies… We’re working hard to safeguard nature for years to come.”

The organisation does so much to encourage wildlife with wildflower meadows, it is shocking to find that it allows the use of known poisons on its property.   

Isn’t it time for the National Trust to develop a unilateral policy banning the use of Glyphosate?

IPCC launch 6th Assessment Report

Today the IPCC launched their report. The IPCC press release is a good summary of the findings and here is an excellent report in the Guardian. “For the tipping points, it’s clear that every extra tonne of CO2 emitted today is pushing us into a minefield of feedback effects tomorrow,” says Prof Dave Reay, at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

“Unless there are immediate rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5C will be beyond reach,” says Abdalah Mokssit, secretary of the IPCC.

The full report can be found on the IPCC website.

Meanwhile in Rother Valley Park Act Now were highlighting the urgency of action.

Why would an 11 year old decide to walk to London?

Why would an 11 year old boy from Hebden Bridge decide to walk all the way to London?

Youth activist Jude Walker recently passed through Sheffield on a 200 mile journey to drive support for a petition to introduce charges on carbon emissions.  He is desperately trying to  raise awareness of the urgent need to stop using fossil fuels ahead of the vital COP26 talks in Glasgow in November.

On 25th July, Jude, from Hebden Bridge, began walking to Westminster to raise awareness for the need to implement a carbon tax.

He has met with Louise Haigh MP and Paul Blomfield MP in Sheffield, Calder Valley Conservative MP Craig Whittaker and Brent North Labour MP Barry Gardiner – who called Jude “one of our next generation of climate leaders.”

A carbon tax would charge companies based on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted – with more charged for the more they emit. It would help influence companies to switch to renewables. It could also provide the government with funding for climate change mitigation measures – for example, tree planting and carbon capture technologies  – as well as cushioning households from the costs of the transition to net zero.

A petition urging the Government to implement stronger carbon pricing was launched in February by the Zero Carbon Campaign and already has 48,500 signatures. Carbon pricing has recently been endorsed by G7 and G20 ministers, as well as a host of world leaders.

Jude said: “Part of my aim is to raise awareness for the Zero Carbon Campaign’s carbon tax petition. I read IPCC reports, got increasingly concerned about climate change and thought what I could do to make a difference. One day I read ‘This Is Not A Drill’.  It said that it doesn’t matter what people do in the provinces, only in the capital city, where all the big businesses are based.” So he decided to walk to London.

Hannah Dillon, Head of the Zero Carbon Campaign, said: “We are blown away by Jude’s support of our campaign, and his resolve and determination to hold political leaders to account with regards to their climate commitments.  He understands better than most adults the severity of the climate and ecological emergency, and the need to implement effective, economy-wide solutions to address it. It is outrageous that we continue to enable and actively subsidise the dumping of toxic greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere. As Jude has shown, the time has come to make polluters pay.”

Jude’s mums Tamsin and Sarah said: “We tried to put Jude off this idea, but he is adamant that he wants to do something to raise awareness about introducing a meaningful carbon tax. We suggested waiting until he was a bit older, but he said the climate emergency wasn’t waiting. Also, as COP 26 was happening in the UK this autumn, this summer would be the perfect time. We couldn’t really disagree with his reasoning and have chosen to support his walk.

“We are very proud of him and the many other young people across the UK, and the world, who are desperately trying to make us adults stand up and take responsibility for the Climate Emergency. While making personal changes to diet, lifestyle, etc, are all helpful, to reach carbon neutrality within a timeframe that will actually make a difference we need systemic change; we need governments to act, and a meaningful carbon tax will really help this.”

 Jude is asking people and politicians to support his walk by signing the Zero Carbon Campaign’s petition to introduce charges on carbon emissions. You can follow his progress Twitter, Facebook and Instagram channels.

Many people will argue that a carbon tax would unfairly target the poor, who already suffer from fuel poverty, when it is the rich who are actually responsible for most CO2 emissions. So a fairer solution would be carbon rationing. Sheffield scientist John Grant explained this on Facebook. He suggests that everything we buy should have a carbon footprint. “The environmental impact of everything would be fairly rationed. So rich people (they cause most of the harm to our planet) would only be able to cause the same as those less well off.” So if you choose to go on a flight to Australia, you will be very limited in the amount of fuel, meat, and other high carbon products you can purchase.  In the war rationing was successfully used to ensure everyone had their basic needs met. Today we can have a much more sophisticated system to ensure everyone only uses a fair share of our carbon budget, which needs to get to zero by 2030. 

Whether it’s Carbon Tax or Carbon Rationing, the message to our politicians is they must act now and get on with urgently reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Hat’s off to Jude, for bringing this to their attention. 

Extreme weather continues but the media are still not telling the truth.

This week we have seen further extreme flooding in Belgium, China, India, Panama and Russia. London is flooding as I write.

Watch how a peaceful road in Belgium turns into a raging a torrent in less than a minute.

The famine in Madagascar has been recognised as the first to be caused solely by global heating. The Greenland ice sheet is on the brink of a major tipping point. Scientists say it is now impossible to stop  melting  which will cause between 1 and 2m of sea level rise. Even if we cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero tomorrow the rest of Greenland is in great danger of continuing to melt, which will cause sea levels to rise by 7m. This would flood most coastal cities and make Doncaster a seaside town. 

The Amazon Rainforest is no longer a carbon sink. This means that instead of breathing in the carbon dioxide humans are producing, it is now adding to that pollution because there are so many fires. Fewer trees mean less rain and higher temperatures, making the dry season even worse for the remaining forest.   Luciana Gatti, at the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil explains, “We have a very negative loop that makes the forest more susceptible to uncontrolled fires.”

The media have been reporting some of these events but they are still not telling the whole terrible truth about the climate and ecological crisis. 

The recent Climate Change Committee report  has been ignored by the media. Published in June this advises the Government about the risks the UK are facing from the changing climate. It details extreme risks we are facing now, not just in the future. These include 

*Risks to the viability and diversity of terrestrial and freshwater habitats and species from multiple hazards

*Risks to people and the economy from climate-related failure of the power system 

*Risks to human health, wellbeing and productivity from increased exposure to heat in homes and other buildings

*Multiple risks to the UK from climate change impacts overseas

So in plain English we should be preparing for widespread power cuts due to extreme weather, food shortages due to harvests around the world being devastated and many deaths due to extreme heat. Some species will go extinct.

Other risks that are not quite so imminent but that will hit us in the next two decades include

*Risks to soil health from increased flooding and drought

*Risks to crops, livestock and commercial trees from multiple hazards

*Risks to supply of food, goods and vital services due to climate-related collapse of supply chains and distribution networks

*Risks to natural carbon stores and sequestration from multiple hazards leading to increased emissions

In other words a hotter climate will make it much harder to grow crops as the soil will deteriorate. Supermarket supply chains could collapse, leaving the shelves empty. Our forests and woods that currently absorb carbon could be subject to wildfires, turning them from carbon sinks to carbon emitters, further increasing climate change. It is hard to imagine how our civilisation would survive these threats. 

Extinction Rebellion Sheffield are distributing a tabloid paper called “Not the Sun”. The front page features Rupert Murdoch in front of a burning planet. It accuses him of pumping out propaganda through his global network of newspapers and TV channels to convince us that climate change is fake news. “He’s part of a super rich cabal of newspaper owners including Viscount Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail, and Frederick Barclay, who owns the Daily Telegraph, who Not the Sun believes want to boost their huge bank balances by stopping urgent action to tackle a global warming meltdown-until it’s too late.”

https://issuu.com/mediattt/docs/not_the_sun_final?fbclid=IwAR33GToTrzgQuCQz2xlf0z2K_Cb1uDL22QMXwKdxGiwitTwjz7DX2JfT0o4

The media are  not  holding the Government to account when it comes to the climate emergency. They let the Government get away with fooling us. For instance the Government is nowhere near meeting the first major milestone for its net zero target, which is a 68% reduction in emissions by 2030. At best they will miss this target by 25%.  The Government also lies to us about the emissions we add to the atmosphere. They count 451 megatonnes of CO2, but ignore the 347 megatonnes from air travel, shipping, and goods that we import, which make up 43% of our emissions. 

Somehow we have to free the press from the control of this super rich elite, so they can tell the truth about the catastrophe we are facing. 

In the light of the continued dramatic increase in extreme weather, the continued worldwide increase in CO2 emissions and the failure of the press to report accurately in our newspapers and tv, it is not surprising that climate activists will again be taking to the streets of London in August to demand the politicians ACT NOW to defend us. 

Edgar McGregor recently tweeted “I don’t think people understand….climate activists are losing. Despite everything we have done, our civilization is STILL emitting more CO2 than ever before. We are on track for ecological collapse. We need your help. We need you to be a climate activist. Please. Please.

Save Owlthorpe Fields

Today I joined campaigners from the Owlthorpe Fields Action Group for a wonderful walk around the area, not far from Crystal Peaks, threatened by the development of a massive new housing estate. I was bowled over by the amazing range of birds and insects- I have been to RSPB sites and seen less variety! Planning permission has been given for 2 more building sites, but the campaigners are still hopeful they can prevent further expansion onto the remaining sites. Please help them by signing the petition.

Here are Act Now performing at the beginning of the walk.

I spoke to Claire Baker (Chair of the Action Group) and Gary Monaghan (treasurer) about the campaign.

Some photos from the walk.

Sheffield City Council use of Glyphosate over last 5 years.

Today I received the reply to my Freedom of Information request regarding the use of Glyphosate. Here are the results.

20162017201820192020
Parks1125950900450450
Bereavement310310310310660
Highways3606345833153451.53570.95
Total5041471845254211.54680.95

It appears from the graph that Highways are by far the biggest user. However, there are some important points to note. The product purchased for Bereavement services in 2020 were ready mixed, ready diluted controlled droplet application (CDA) products, containing significant volumes of both water, adjuvant and carrier, so
these figures do not represent “neat” chemical use of glyphosate. This explains the big increase in 2020. Unfortunately the Council did not tell me what proportion of the mix was Glyphosate so I can’t work out the actual figures. The same is true for all the Highways figures, so actually the total amount used on Highways may be much nearer the figures for Parks and Bereavement.

The main conclusion from the data is the Council are using large amounts of Glyphosate on our streets, cemeteries and parks, poisoning the soil and harming biodiversity. Despite strong warnings about the dangers both to the workers and to nature, no real effort has been made to reduce the amounts used over the last five years.

The Council have given information regarding a trial of Katoun Gold. This is a product containing an active ingredient Pelargonic Acid which is used for weed management around shrub beds. It is marketed as a natural weed management solution.

The trial is described as follows-

“Fig 1 – depicts the area sprayed with glyphosate and Chikara. As can be
seen the results were very effective.”

“Fig 2 – depicts an obstacle where Khatoun Gold and Chikara was used to
spray around it. As can be seen the results were moderately effective.”

“Fig 3 – depicts an area similar to Fig 1 but using the Khatoun Gold and
Chikara mix. As can be seen the results were less than satisfactory.”

They conclude “Furthermore, it is worth bearing in mind that Khatoun Gold is not yet
licensed for use on hard surfaces. Given the facts presented it’s
considered that Khatoun Gold is not a viable alternative to Glyphosate.”

My thoughts on Figures 1 and 2 are they both look a mess! I would question why it is necessary to spray anything along the wall or around the post. Figure 3 looks much more attractive, but again I don’t see why anything needs to be sprayed here.

It is very disappointing that no trials have yet taken place on the various other alternatives to Glyphosate that are detailed on the Pesticides Action Network website.

How should Sheffield react to the events in Germany and Canada?

As I write this it’s 30oC outside and I’m sweltering. Extreme heat is very debilitating, and for some can be fatal, especially if it continues for several days.

Heat can cause dehydration and heatstroke. Over the course of several days, extreme heat affects the internal organs and puts extra strain on the cardiovascular system. The kidney, liver, heart, brain, and lungs can be affected, which can result in renal failure, heart attack, stroke, among other potential causes of mortality.

During the heatwave please keep out of the sun, drink lots of water and check in on any vulnerable friends and neighbours. 

We can expect far more extreme heat in the future as the climate continues to overheat. Examples recently from Western Canada have been extremely frightening. The town of Lytton didn’t just break it’s hottest temperature record- it smashed it to pieces. Meteorologist Bob Henson tweeted “Prior to this week, Canada’s all-time high was 113oF.  Now it’s 121.3°F.  That’s a 21% increase in the all-time high!” It’s a bit like someone beating the Olympic high jump record of 2.39m, not just by 1cm but by 50cm, jumping 2.89m!

What followed in Lytton was of course the wildfire, which almost totally destroyed the town. 

Lots of people mistakenly believe climate change will be gradual. It won’t be. We can expect more sudden and massively disturbing changes to weather around the world. As feedback loops kick in, disasters will follow, making whole countries uninhabitable.  

Last week saw the hottest temperature ever recorded on this planet. 130oF (54oC) in the appropriately named Death Valley. Elsewhere in the States, Portland Oregon broke its longstanding high (107oF) three days running, with temperatures of 108, 112 and 116 oF. Quillayute in Washington broke its all time high by 11oF (old record 99oF, new record 110oF).

In Europe we have seen catastrophic floods, turning small rivers into torrents reaching the third floor of buildings. The latest death toll in Germany and Belgium is 180 as I write, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel exclaiming  “the German language doesn’t have words for the destruction that’s been wreaked”. Meanwhile horrendous floods in Uganda went unreported by the press. 

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Gone are the days when we have to say “you can’t attribute one weather event to climate change”. These events are so extreme and so obviously way out of statistical norms, it is perfectly clear that they have been caused by climate change- just as climate scientists have been predicting for many years. 

So how should we react to them in Sheffield? We have to be more prepared for extreme weather. We are well aware of the damage flooding can cause, but we need to do far more to help prevent future disasters. It was very pleasing to see news this week of the £183,000 plan to plant more trees across Sheffield. Trees are brilliant at both providing shade and cooling to cities in a heatwave and preventing flooding. We need far more of this! Also it was pleasing to see plans for active neighbourhoods in Crookes and Nether Edge, making it easier and safer to cycle into town, to encourage people to leave their cars at home. An important step forward, but this is needed all over the City.

Better flood defences may be needed in some places, but usually this moves the problem further downstream, as the residents of Fishlake can testify. So we need to be planting thousands of  trees upstream of the rivers to provide more natural flood defence. Why not  reintroduce beavers to make dams to hold back the waters?  

In the city we need to continue to turn grey to green. We need green roofs on city buildings and bus shelters to help absorb the torrential rain when it falls, and more permeable surfaces instead of concrete and tarmac so the water doesn’t run straight into the sewers and overwhelm them. Some work undoubtedly needs to be done to increase the capacity of our drains. In a recent downpour I was at the bottom of Granville Road and the water was jetting out of the manhole cover like a fountain. 

To protect from heatwaves we must ensure all homes and workplaces are well insulated. 

Even if we implement all the measures I am suggesting, there will be no defence if we experience something on the scale that Germany has just gone through. So we also need to up our game when it comes to a local emergency response plan. We need to involve citizens in this, so when a catastrophe occurs at least people are prepared to start to deal with it. 

I hope the awful events in Canada and Germany will convince Sheffielder’s that this is an emergency. Those preparing to go to Glasgow for COP26 must demand strong legally enforced measures to cut carbon immediately.