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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Small and medium businesses to start carbon trading?
The UK's Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is considering a scheme in which small and medium-sized firms may face pollution limits in the UK's drive to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

If these businesses exceed their allocation of permits to emit CO2 they could soon have to buy additional pollution permits from a carbon market.

Large businesses in the EU, such as power stations and steel works, already have to operate within the constraints of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. However, medium-sized businesses, such as supermarkets, have so far been left outside the EU scheme.

The UK's Carbon Trust has proposed this move as a way of including more businesses in efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Although the government's much-delayed climate strategy review is due to be published in the next few weeks, the BBC's Roger Harrabin has discovered that the DTI is worried that businesses have already borne too much of the burden when it comes to reducing national emissions of carbon dioxide (17.5% cuts since 1990) and is resisting calls to ask much more of business.

This concern seems to miss the point that businesses are not charities and have a habit of passing on costs to their consumers!

This business-centric view also downgrades the importance of the available science, which consistently tells us that severe cuts in greenhouse emissions are necessary in order to keep CO2 concentrations within levels that are likely to be "safe" for humanity.

It also diminishes the input of the department for the environment (DEFRA) which has told ministers that bigger cuts will be needed in order to achieve the 20% cut in emissions by 2010 pledged during the past three elections.

It will be interesting to see which department has won this argument when the climate review is published...

"Back off Badgers!" says the RSPCA
The RSPCA is today tackling the government head-on in a desperate fight to prevent the senseless slaughter of thousands of badgers in England.

Badgers are protected by law, yet the government is now consulting on whether - and how - badgers should be killed. They could be shot, snared or even gassed. The public only has until 10 March to write and object to the proposals - badger killing could start as early as this summer.

In advertisements in the national press, the RSPCA is urging members of the public to tell the government to "back off badgers" in the hope that public outrage will prevent the slaughter.

"The RSPCA believes that badgers are being made the scapegoats for a rise in bovine TB in cattle," explains Colin Booty, senior scientific officer at the RSPCA. "This is in spite of the latest scientific evidence which indicates that culling badgers is very likely to make the situation significantly worse. The evidence comes from the government's own research, which took more than eight years, cost taxpayers £34 million and involved the killing of about 12,000 badgers."

The results of the long-term government research project were published in December 2005.

"For the first time ever ministers have a robust science base on which to base TB control and they are ignoring it," said Professor John Bourne, the chairman of the Independent Scientific Group that designed the study. (Western Morning News, 17 December 2005).

The RSPCA believes that one of the strongest arguments against a badger cull is that it simply won't work. While there is a link between badgers and bovine TB in cattle, the nature of the link is not clear. A whole range of scientific studies show that infected cattle are the key source of infection in other cattle.

Therefore the most effective way to combat the spread of bovine TB would be more - and better - pre-and post-movement testing of cattle, together with strict quarantining of new animals. There are more than 13 million cattle movements in the country each year and because of the current inadequacies of testing, there are far too many undiagnosed cattle moving about the country.

It has also been claimed that culling badgers would be for the badgers' own good - to save them from a horrible death from TB. But most badgers don't have TB and even those with the disease often show no symptoms at all, and live + breed normally.

Unfortunately, there is no reliable test for TB in live badgers; the only reliable test is for dead badgers. This means killing them to find out if they are infected, which is a very extreme measure if they are not infected after all especially as the vast majority of badgers do not have TB.

All members of the public are encouraged to respond to the current government consultation by writing to: Bovine TB and Badgers Consultation, Defra, 1a Page Street, London SW1 4PQ or sending an e-mail to: bTBconsultation@defra.gsi.gov.uk.

Visit the RSPCA's badger campaign area for more information

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Climate Challenge Fund launched
On 26 January the UK government launched a Climate Challenge Fund which aims to support climate change communication at the local and regional levels.

The Fund will distribute a total of £6m over the next two financial years and support projects in England aimed at raising awareness and changing attitudes to climate change.

One imaginative element of the campaign is to find 10-18 year olds who can act as climate change “champions”, and help to spread the word about climate change in their region.

The closing date for proposal entries is 31 March 2006.

Good luck if you intend to have a go!!!

Although a welcome development, Earth Info feels that the Fund's criteria will exclude or hinder many obvious applicants, and that the sums available are rather inadequate, given the scale of the problem and the ambition of the scheme.

Innovative Westmill Wind Farm share offer
Westmill Wind Farm Co-operative Ltd. is seeking to raise £3.75 million to build the first community owned wind farm in southern England on the Oxfordshire/ Wiltshire border.

It is doing this through a Share Offer that will close on 28 February 2006. The Share Offer is open to individuals or organisations. The minimum investment is £250, the maximum is £20,000.

It is being supported and modelled on the Baywind Co-operative Wind Farm in Cumbria which has 1300 members and has been running successfully since 1996. Westmill also has widespread support from its local community including: businesses - The Midcounties Co-op; Councils - Faringdon Town Council; academics - Dr. Brenda Boardman MBE, University of Oxford; religious leaders - Bishop Crispian Hollis; climate change campaigning organisations – both Oxfordshire and Wiltshire Friends of the Earth; Government organisations - South East England Development Agency. It also has the support of the overwhelming majority of local people.

Westmill is a pioneering project that has been initiated and developed by individuals determined to take positive practical action in response to the threat of climate change. Westmill is more than the construction of 5 wind turbines; it acts as a focus encouraging the local debate about climate change, energy generation and consumption and how we as individuals and communities contribute to shaping the future. Westmill is setting up a template that communities across the UK will be able to replicate as a basis for establishing similar, community owned, projects.

Construction is due to start Spring this year, commissioning is planned for December 2006. The five wind turbines are predicted to produce 12.6 GWh/yr – equivalent to the domestic electricity consumption of over 3000 average households.

For more information visit www.westmill.coop. To request the prospectus phone 0870 234 2002.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

BanTheBulb.Org energy-efficiency campaign launched!
Earth-Info.Net has just launched it's first online campaign at BanTheBulb.Org!

This campaign aims: (1.) to increase the use of energy-efficient light bulbs, (2.) to encourage the taxing and phasing out of incandescent light bulbs, (3.) to propose a time limit for the replacement of light fittings requiring the use of incandescent light bulbs and for altering the shopping habits of consumers and (4.) to include environmental costs in the prices consumers pay for their light bulbs and to reward those who switch to using less polluting light bulbs.

In 2001, lighting accounted for 101 billion kWh (8.8%) of U.S. household electricity use. Incandescent lamps, which are commonly found in households, are highly inefficient sources of light because about 90% of the energy used is lost as heat. For that reason, lighting has been one focus of efforts to increase the efficiency of household electricity consumption. Energy-efficient light bulbs use up to 67% less energy that traditional light bulbs, with no loss in light. They also last 8 to 10 times longer, delivering up to seven years of light.

This campaign has been established in order to illustrate that it is possible to tackle our energy and climate problems by using technological solutions which already exist, work well + save money.

However, in order to kick-start this change we must begin to turn fine words and good intentions into action. Hinting at possible solutions, but not being prepared to introduce the new laws and taxes or the binding targets necessary to guarantee the delivery of far greater energy-efficiency, has not worked.

On the bright side, switching to energy-efficient light bulbs is something that we could all do quickly and simply, without any serious loss in our quality of life. We would also save ourselves approximately £7 per bulb per year!

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has recommended that the UK should aim to reduce it's greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2050. For this to be achieved we will need to make cuts wherever and whenever they are possible.

Please support this campaign if you agree with it's goals.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Obituary: Prof. Sir Richard "Dick" Southwood
Earth Info is very sad to have learnt that Prof. Sir Richard "Dick" Southwood died on Wednesday 26 October, 2005.

Prof. Southwood was the one of the fathers of modern ecology and an important mentor to many ecologists.

Prof. Southwood founded and chaired the Division of Life Sciences at Imperial College London. At Imperial's Silwood Park field station he was responsible for fostering a golden period in British ecology and entomology, and this led to him moving to Oxford University in 1979.

In addition to fulfilling the requirements of their thesis examiners, many of Prof. Southwood's PhD students were encouraged to become an expert in their own order of insects. This helped his students to widen their scientific horizons, and to ensure that the world benefitted from a new generation of top-class entomologists.

A former Vice-President of the Royal Society from 1982-1984 and Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Prof. Southwood was responsible for attracting both Lord Robert May and Bill Hamilton to Oxford University's Zoology Department.

Prof. Southwood was also the person the government turned to for emergency scientific advice, in the form of the Southwood Working Party, at the outbreak of Mad Cow disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) in the UK. His Working Party was horrified to discover that heavily infected cows were still going into the human food chain. As a result, they immediately recommended that all diseased cattle carcasses should be burnt, and that cattle feed containing ruminants (thought to be the source of infection) should be banned.

In addition to producing his own important work on insects and ecological methods, Prof. Southwood encouraged the scientists under him to become more inter-disciplinary. This led to an excellent atmosphere for both academic research and co-operation. It also resulted in Richard Dawkins popularising Bill Hamilton's work on kin selection, and to the physicist Lord Robert May refining his own ideas on chaos theory in relation to biological systems.

Very kindly, Prof. Southwood once told me in the lift at work (where he talked to almost everybody) that he considered me to be his academic grandson, as two of my Phd supervisors had completed their PhDs under him. Today, I feel that all ecologists have lost the equivalent of a wise and supportive grandfather.

Correction: Many thanks to Prof. Paul Harvey for correcting two factual errors in my original posting. The detailed obituary he co-authored with Prof. John Krebs for the Times newspaper can be read here.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Beavers, Reindeer + Lynx to make a come back in the UK?
The Wilderness Foundation has proposed that 800,000 hectares of Britain should be managed as wilderness reserves.

Such a scheme could help to revitalise rural communities, where farming is likely to become uneconomic over the next 20 years, and allow the re-introduction of species that used to live in Britain, such as beaver, reindeer, lynx, auroch + elk, but which have been eliminated by a combination of hunting, land clearance and intensive agriculture.

This idea has already been supported by major wildlife groups such as the WWF and the RSPCA, and major land owners such as the National Trust and the Forestry Commission.

Proposals have also been presented to the UK Treasury and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

So far, locations which might be suitable for "re-wilding" have been identified in Snowdonia, the Scottish Highlands and the Fens of East Anglia. A further 10 islands, moors and mountain areas have also been be identified as being suitable for native herbivores. Although the possibility of introducing more controversial large predators such as wolves and brown bears seems to have been sidelined, at least for the time being.

The existing proposals build on experiences in South Africa, where people have been encouraged to co-habit with wildlife using a variety of buffer zones, and in Holland, where reclaimed land at Oostvandersplassen has been set aside for re-introduced wildlife.

As the economic case for change gets stronger, the loss of European agricultural subsidies accelerates and the improvements in the quality of national life associated with habitat restoration become clearer perhaps this is an idea who's day has finally come.

... in a separate development six European beavers have just been released on 500 acre estate in the English county of Gloucestershire.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Carbon Rations and Domestic Tradeable Quotas
Green MEP, Caroline Lucas, has called for the introduction of domestic carbon emission rations.

Sometimes called Domestic Tradeable Quotas, personal carbon rations have the potential to assist the process of contraction and convergence in global greenhouse gas emissions.

They would do this by allowing every citizen to emit their fair share of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and forcing those who wish to emit more to pay for the privilege.

Within a limited market, carbon rations would initially be shared out equally. Unused rations would then be sold to others via an open market. Such a system of rationing should help to guarantee minimum living standards and be fairer than leaving access to carbon emissions to those who can afford escalating fossil fuel prices. It should also help to redistribute wealth, especially to those in the developed and developing world who have not contributed to the emission of the greenhouse gases and/or who have cut their historic emissions.

Most of the technology needed to establish and administer a carbon ration scheme is already be available. An electronic carbon credit card could keep track of purchases for fuel, air travel and consumer electronics. Whilst a personal identity card, linked to contact/billing details, could assist with the sending of targetted advice related to the reduction of personal emissions.

Earth Info is due to attend a UKERC-sponsored workshop on DTQs in November and will keep you posted with developments related to this issue.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Bird flu panic ignores and exaggerates risks
BirdLife International have warned that hasty responses to Avian Influenza based on incomplete or unsound data could do great damage to birds and other biodiversity, while actually raising the risk to people and to the economically important poultry industry.

BirdLife International’s Partners throughout Europe, such as the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK ), are working or preparing to work with their governments to monitor migratory wild bird populations and to provide scientific data and expert guidance.

Recent outbreaks of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of avian influenza in Europe have occurred along migratory flyways (including the Danube delta, a great gathering place for migratory waterbird) during the autumn migration. There is no concrete evidence that migratory birds have helped transmit the disease between countries or regions, but the possibility cannot be ruled out.

The spread of H5N1 within and beyond South-east Asia appears attributable to movements of infected poultry. The patterns of spread are not consistent with the timing and direction of movements of wild birds. It is likely that H5N1 originated in domestic poultry through mutation of low pathogenic sub-types and was subsequently passed from poultry to wild birds.

Transmission is promoted in domestic flocks due to the density of birds and the consequent close contact with faecal and other secretions through which the virus can be transmitted. Husbandry methods in SE Asia where domestic flocks are often allowed to mix freely with wild birds, especially waterfowl will have facilitated the transmission to migratory waterbirds, leading to several reported instances of die-offs.

There is no evidence that H5N1 infection in humans have been acquired from wild birds. Human infections have occurred in people who have been closely associated with poultry. The risk to human health from wild birds is extremely low and can be minimised by avoiding contact with sick or dead birds. However, there is a possibility that this virus could develop into one that might be transmitted from human to human. If this happens, then it is most likely to happen in SE Asia, from where it could then spread rapidly around the world.

BirdLife International strongly opposes any suggestion that wild birds should be culled as a way of controlling the spread of the disease, on grounds of practicality and effectiveness, as well as conservation. Any such attempts could spread the virus more widely, as survivors disperse to new places, and healthy birds become stressed and more prone to infection. The World Health Organisation, Food and Agriculture Organisation and OIE (the World Organisation for Animal Health) agree that control of avian influenza in wild birds by culling is not feasible, and should not be attempted.

Similarly, attempts to drain wetlands, to keep waterbirds away are also likely to be counterproductive as well as disastrous for the environment, the conservation of threatened species, and for vital ecosystem services such as flood control and water cleansing. Birds will seek alternative staging places and waterbirds forced to fly further and endure more crowded conditions along their migration route will be more prone to infection. Some Asian and Middle Eastern governments are reported to be already formulating proposals for draining wetlands.

The most efficient control techniques involve improved biosecurity, to reduce contact between poultry and wild birds or infected water sources. Further measures include stricter controls or even bans on movements of domestic poultry, and on wild bird markets. Countries should also ban imports of wild-caught birds from infected areas. Such measures should be introduced worldwide.

BirdLife International therefore welcomes the recommendations by the European Commission that surveillance and biosecurity measures at poultry farms in the European Union should be strengthened, and that the Member States and experts have been advised to increase resources and efforts to monitor migratory bird species.

“We would like to offer our expertise in the Member States through our Partners and invite the EU state administrations to contact our Partners in country for help especially with the wild bird monitoring programmes,” said Dr Clairie Papazoglou, BirdLife International’s Head of EU Policy,.

BirdLife International’s Director of Science, Dr Leon Bennun, stressed the importance of informed and balanced judgement in responses to the threat of avian influenza, and in the public dissemination of information about it.

It is important that discussions of the issues relating to avian influenza should differentiate between the real problems caused by the spread of the disease within bird populations, especially within the poultry industry, and the theoretical risks of a human pandemic.”

For additional information see the following update pages from:

Birdlife International e.g. There are 144 varieties of Avian Flu, most of which are benign to humans.

World Health Organisation

Food + Agriculture Organisation

Friday, July 29, 2005

Campaigners call for a Climate Change Bill
A coalition of British NGOs and MPs have called for a new law to ensure that the UK reduces its emissions of greenhouse gases. Despite Tony Blair’s concerns about climate change, UK emissions are continuing to rise, and are now higher than they were in 1997 when Labour came to power.

MPs and NGOs launched the details of the proposed new law in Parliament on Wednesday 13 July 2005. They argued that without a legal framework, the UK would fail to make the essential year-on-year cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases.

The importance of tackling climate change was highlighted at the recent G8 summit in Edinburgh, where US opposition blocked any tangible agreement for an international plan of action to tackle the problem.

The Climate Change Bill is supported by:

Former Environment Ministers from both Labour (Michael Meacher MP) and the Conservatives (John Gummer MP) and the current LibDem environment spokesman (Norman Baker MP).

200 MPs who have declared their support for the bill.

Ten NGOs who have formed a coalition to work for a new climate law. The coalition includes Transport 2000, Friends of the Earth, Help the Aged, the Association for the Conservation of Energy, Christian Aid and WWF-UK.

The new law would:

• Set a legally binding target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 3% every year.

• Compel the Prime Minister to report annually to Parliament on progress towards meeting the target.

• Introduce a series of measures to get emission cuts back on track if they do not meet the 3% target report. This would include: requirements on ministers to introduce new policies; greater powers for Select Committees; and ultimately symbolic pay cuts for the Ministers failing to cut emissions.

At the recent general election, all three major parties supported long-term cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, all promising a 60% cut by 2050. Yet emissions have risen in recent years, making it ever harder to meet such a target. As carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for many years, the real limit is not simply the level of emissions in 2050, but cumulative emissions between now and then. Without this law, high emissions for the next ten years will mean far bigger annual cuts would be needed by 2050.

Transport 2000 Executive Director Stephen Joseph said: “The UK certainly leads the world in rhetoric on climate change but if our words are to be taken seriously then we must get our own house in order and this means making the connection between climate change and transport choices. We must tackle our increasing car use and the rapid growth in aviation.”

Friends of the Earth's Executive Director, Tony Juniper, said: “Climate change is the greatest threat facing humanity. We have a window of opportunity to prevent catastrophic climate change but that gap is narrowing. It is critical that we set ourselves on a pathway to achieve the necessary carbon dioxide reductions. This bill will set us on a sensible and achievable glide path towards the necessary long-term targets.”

Mervyn Kohler of Help the Aged, said: ”Older people are a vulnerable group. For both environmental and behavioural reasons, they are at risk in hot weather and in cold weather. Air pollution is a further health hazard. To manage these risks better, as well as passing on a decent world to future generations, Help the Aged strongly supports this initiative.”

Association for the Conservation of Energy's Director Andrew Warren, said: “The energy efficiency industry needs the reassurance this bill gives that the Government is serious about its long term carbon dioxide reduction targets. We can then ensure the long-term investment necessary to produce new, cutting-edge carbon-saving technologies.”

World Development Movement’s Head of Campaigns and Communications, Benedict Southworth, said: “The impact of climate change will hit the world's poorest harder. Justice for the world's poor requires developed countries to take responsibility for the problems they have caused. By setting out clear emission reduction target the Climate Change Bill will ensure that the UK doesn’t pass the buck to the world’s poorest countries.”

Christian Aid’s senior policy officer, Andrew Pendleton, said: ”Poor people in the developing world are on the frontline of climate change, where increasingly severe weather is making lives and livelihoods more difficult year on year. And yet they have done little themselves to trigger climate change, which is why rich countries must make firm, legally-binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

ACT’s Ron Bailey said: ”Climate change is the greatest threat facing us. Citizens want government to act. The targets in this bill and the mechanisms to hold government and MPs to account are crucial for sustainability and democracy.”

Matthew Davis, WWF-UK`s Climate Change Campaign Director, said: “Targets that can be missed with impunity take us backwards on climate change. They provide an illusion of progress, while covering up the lack of real action to reduce emissions. This bill will make targets meaningful, ensuring that Ministers are individually responsible for staying on track, and spelling out the consequences should they fail. As well as the devastating impact on people, this could mean up to one-third of land-based species facing extinction by the middle of this century while many marine species could also be lost."

For further reading see the following documents:

The Energy Review (UK) - Feb 2002 - Cabinent Office, Policy + Innovation Unit

UK Energy White Paper - Our Energy future - Creating a Low Carbon Economy - Feb 2003

UK Carbon Abatement Technology Strategy document 2005

UK Energy Projections May 2004

G8 Gleneagles Communique

US inspired Asia Pacific Climate Control Pact... BBC analysis

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

BBC Governors: Dealing with Scientific Uncertainty
The BBC are asking for questions which can be put to their Board of Governors...

I have sent in the following question:

"Will the BBC consider producing new editorial guidelines for the reporting and coverage of scientific uncertainty?

I feel it is wrong for the BBC to continue giving a minority of climate change sceptics, who are mostly funded by the fossil fuel industry, equivalence to the peer-reviewed science and the overwhelming majority of credible scientists.

If you are interested in this topic, I recommend that you read the joint statement produced, in the run up to the G8 meeting in Gleneagles, by the national academies of science from all of the G8 nations (plus China, India and Brazil)."