The Carbon Cost of Christmas

8322843924_e468686b2c

 

Christmas time is accompanied by seasonal increases in our level of consumption. But what is the environmental impact of Christmas?

From eating and drinking to giving and receiving, it is the time of the year when we do things to excess. Unfortunately, it also means we are likely to have a greater impact on the environment.

A number of studies have attempted to calculate the carbon footprint of Christmas.

So, let’s start with the Christmas tree. When it comes to the use of an artificial versus a natural Christmas tree, one study found that when compared on an annual basis, the artificial tree (6 yrs life span) has three times more impact on climate change and resource depletion than the natural tree. The natural tree contributes significantly less carbon dioxide emission (39%) than the artificial tree.

As for Christmas dinner, it has been estimated that a British style Christmas dinner is equivalent to 20kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) emission – 60 per cent related to life cycle of turkey. Total equivalent emissions for UK Christmas dinners is 51,000 tonnes – or 148 million miles travelled in a car. Cranberry sauce is the worst offender for transport-related carbon emissions.

tree_87637075

Even Santa Claus is not excluded from scrutiny. With  another study suggesting that Santa’s 133 million mile trip around the world is responsible for emitting about 70 million tons of CO2!

However, if we look at the total consumption and spending on food, travel, lighting and gifts over three days of festivities (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day). Then this could result in as much as 650 kg of CO2 emissions per person – equivalent to the weight of 1,000 Christmas puddings!

Such studies will vary in their assumptions, data sets and methodologies and may not necessarily be comparable. However, we don’t need any study to tell us what we already know –  that our consumption peaks at this time of the year.

christmas-pudding-recipe-og_63107007250911bd1a10a3

But we can still have a good Christmas and be kind to the planet?

With a bit of thought we can limit the impact we have on the environment this Christmas and still have a great time. There are a number of actions we can all take which can reduce our CO2 emissions.

Food
• Support your local economy and try buying from local organic suppliers.

• Compost your vegetable peelings after you’ve finished cooking to make sure that this extra organic waste doesn’t head straight to landfill.
• Plan your meal carefully to reduce the amount of uneaten food thrown away – check who likes Brussels sprouts!
Travel
• Plan your Christmas travel to reduce the distance travelled and try and use environmentally friendly modes of transport or car share.
Lighting
• Less is more when it come Christmas lighting! Opt for a small tasteful lighting display and turn the fairy lights off before bed and save both money and carbon.

Shopping

polar-bear-christmas-tree

• When it comes to Christmas presents buy quality not quantity. Well-made goods last longer and will not have to be replaced in the New Year.
• A good Christmas gift doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive.
Think about giving alternative gifts such as a charity or environmentally friendly gift, an experience or giving your time.
• Give your unwanted gifts to charity or to local hospitals or hospices.

In this time of seasonal goodwill, we should all spare a thought for the planet!

A Merry Christmas to you all, everyone!

Advertisements

Effective Environmental Policy in the Age of Man

https://i1.wp.com/graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2011/05/17/opinion/17rfd-image/17rfd-image-custom1.jpg

The rate and scale of human-induced global environmental change is so significant that it now constitutes a new geological epoch in the Earth’s history called the Anthropocene.

The acceleration of human pressure on the Earth’s system has caused critical global, regional and local thresholds to be exceeded. This could have irreversible effects on the life-support function of the planet with adverse implications for human health and wellbeing. More than ever, there is a need to have appropriate and effective environmental policies to make the transition to a low carbon and sustainable society.

New social movements, political parties, greater media coverage of environmental disasters, and a growing body of scientific evidence on the effects of environmental pollution have all led to an increased imperative to take action.

However, the human cost of environmental change must not be underestimated. For example, population growth and an increased trend towards urbanisation have all had social and environmental consequences. The loss of arable land has increased concerns about food security, and has contributed to higher levels of environmental pollution.

Poor sanitation in developing countries, especially in slum areas on the peripheries of cities is clearly associated with an increase in preventable diseases such as cholera. Additionally, conflicts and social unrest associated with dwindling resources are evident, and are likely to increase if current trends continue.

In addition, the impact of climate change is potentially so profound and could result in population displacement, widespread threats to those living in low lying areas, risks to food security, increased diseases are all predicted impacts of climate change. While the immediate burden of these effects is more likely to fall on developing countries, there are major implications also for developed nations.

In order to effectively address environmental problems through policy, a number of issues needed to be considered:

  • balancing social, economic and environmental objectives
  • „addressing uncertainty, risk and the negative impacts of policies
  • „the scale of the problem and the solution.

Traditionally, environmental policy has had to compete with social and economic objectives. While sustainable development has provided the paradigm to demonstrate that all three are equally important, this has not always been translated into practice.

Attempts have been made, however, to include the environmental costs of human activity into policy evaluation tools by giving a monetary value to the costs and benefits of environmental regulation.

https://garyhaq.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/ae89f-science-and-religion.jpg

At the international level, policy debates have attempted to balance economic and development concerns. One of the strategies of international climate policy is the investment in projects that will encourage greener development trajectories in developing countries.

However, national level policy making is influenced by national political system, national elites, existing policy frameworks or legacies, and any national level environmental concerns. Local level policy is affected by many similar issues, but is often subject to local circumstances.

Meeting future environmental challenges will require more flexible and adaptive global and national governance frameworks. Doing so will also potentially require a redefinition of wealth and prosperity, taking into account the impact of consuming limited and non-renewable resources.

Potential barriers to meeting these challenges  include a lack of political will to make difficult changes with short-term costs, and a lack of public acceptance that such changes are necessary.

In developed countries, popular aspirations, habits and lifestyles which rely on high levels of consumption may not be amenable to the action that is needed to address environmental challenges, suggesting the requirement for change in some aspects of society and social norms.

A further challenge is the requirement to consider the economic development needs of the world’s poorest countries alongside the need for environmental protection.

In the ‘Age of Man’ increasing natural resource scarcity, rising global temperatures, biodiversity loss, environmental pollution and food and energy insecurity means that appropriate and effective environmental policy is vital if we are to remain within planetary boundaries, and ensure the future survival of humankind.

To read more see A Short Guide To Environmental Policy by Caz Snell and Gary Haq (April 2014).

 

 

What Do Older People Think About The Environment?

We are all getting older. There are now approximately 760 million people globally aged 60-plus compared to just 200 million back in 1950. By 2050 people aged 60-plus are predicted to reach 2 billion people.

We are all getting older. There are now approximately 760 million people globally aged 60-plus compared to just 200 million back in 1950. By 2050 people aged 60-plus are predicted to reach 2 billion people.

Increased lifespan demonstrates the success of modern medicine particularly in developing countries. However, an ageing population will have major implications for health care, pensions and working practices.

An older society will require a cultural change in how we perceive and treat older people and policy makers will need to prepare for the challenges of an ageing population. Not just in terms of need but also the contribution older people can make to society in later life.

Evidence shows that some older people in certain regions of the world can be disproportionately affected by environmental problems such as air pollution, climate change-related heat waves and other natural disasters.

In addition, recent research, surveys and consultations have exposed the missed opportunities associated with the lack of closer engagement of the over 55s in general discussion on environmental issues.

It is therefore important that seniors around the world make their voices heard so that policy makers can take action to better prepare for the needs of an ageing population.

In June 2012 the environment will once again be in the international spotlight as world leaders descend on Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) for the United Nations Conference for Environment and Development or “Earth Summit”.

In an attempt to address the “missing voice” of older people and to encourage wider involvement, an consortium led by the Stockholm Environment Institute is seeking the views of older people around the world on the environmental issues of primary concern and their ideas for tackling them.

This survey is being conducted by an international consortium of older people organisations and universities. The consortium is led by SEI at the University of York (UK) and the Simon Fraser University Gerontology Research Centre (Canada) and includes Help Age International, Age UK, Community Service Volunteers’ Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP) and the Council On The Ageing (COTA) – Victoria (Australia).

If your are over 55 then make sure your voice is heard by completing the On-line survey at www.envirosurvey55.com before the 30 April 2012.

© Gary Haq 2012

Our Green History

oday environmentalism influences the language and decisions of government, corporations and individuals to an extent that was not possible a century ago.

The belief that the environment should be protected has become widely held throughout society as the global speed and scale of resource use and environmental destruction has been recognised and understood.

As western standards of living have increased, basic material needs have been met, and people have demanded higher standards of environmental quality. But beyond the basic belief that the environment should be protected, there is no agreement on why this is important or how this should be done. There is no unifying set of environmental ideas that society subscribes to nor a single environmental movement united behind a shared cause.

Environmentalism has evolved in complex and sometimes contradictory ways to span conservative, reformist and radical ideas about what the world should look like, as well as how change should be brought about. Each strand of modern environmental thinking brings its own set of ideas about how humanity should organise itself and interact with its environment.

Today environmentalism influences the language and decisions of government, corporations and individuals to an extent that was not possible a century ago.

The belief that the environment should be protected has become widely held throughout society as the global speed and scale of resource use and environmental destruction has been recognised and understood.

As western standards of living have increased, basic material needs have been met, and people have demanded higher standards of environmental quality. But beyond the basic belief that the environment should be protected, there is no agreement on why this is important or how this should be done. There is no unifying set of environmental ideas that society subscribes to nor a single environmental movement united behind a shared cause.

Environmentalism has evolved in complex and sometimes contradictory ways to span conservative, reformist and radical ideas about what the world should look like, as well as how change should be brought about. Each strand of modern environmental thinking brings its own set of ideas about how humanity should organise itself and interact with its environment.

Over the last 60 years these have evolved with each new environmental cause from nuclear power and pesticide use in the 1960s, to acid rain and the depletion of the ozone layer in the 1970s and 1980s and biodiversity loss and climate change in the 1990s and 2000s. Often these causes have taken hold in different countries at different times, each prompted by particular historical circumstances. For this reason environmentalism has been taken up in many forms across generations and the continents of the world.

The explosion of environmental activity in the 1960s did not represent the creation of an entirely new set of ideas. In 1885 German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) wrote: “It would never occur to me to regard the enjoyment of nature as the invention of the modern age.” The same can be said for modern day interest in the environment.

The fact that modern environmental concern spread following atomic bomb tests and to the backdrop of the Vietnam War is a point much referred to by historians and environmentalists. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (1962) was amongst the first to link the dangers of the atomic bomb to the misuse of pesticides, emphasising humanity’s capacity to destroy nature and itself.

Over the next ten years a number of publications followed suit, Tragedy of the Commons (1968), and Limits to Growth (1972), raised wider anxieties about the future of the planet, whilst Blueprint for Survival (1972), and Small is Beautiful (1973) sketched out green alternatives. Almost half a century later the anxieties expressed in each of these books are still at the centre of many environmental concerns today.

Media coverage of dramatic pollution events has been instrumental in raising environmental concerns over the last half century.The first major oil spill in Britain occurred when the super tanker Torrey Canyon struck a reef between the UK mainland and the Isles of Scilly in March 1967.

The resulting oil slick covered 120 miles of Cornish coast, killing tens of thousands of birds. Two years later an explosion on the Union Oil Company oil platform, six miles off the coast of Santa Barbara in California, resulted in the release of hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil.

These highly visible examples of humanity’s impact on the environment occurred as the age of colour television began and broadcasters discovered that major pollution events made visually dramatic news stories. Each decade since has witnessed at least one massive oil spill from a super tanker or oil platform, these serve as timely reminders that environmental issues have not gone away.

The history of contemporary environmentalism has been marked by the establishment of new institutions. Campaigns on issues such as pesticide use and nuclear testing led to the development of a new breed of professional campaign groups which have become the public face of environmentalism.

At the same time governments have responded to public concerns about the environment by establishing environmental institutions of their own. Agencies, scientific programmes, international agreements, laws and regulations have been established to support environmental goals.

All this has helped give environmentalism a permanence that has transcended the decades.

This article is based on the book Environmentalism Since 1945 by Gary Haq and Alistair Paul, published by Routledge in September 2011.

© Gary Haq 2011

Is Speed Reduction a Solution to the Oil Crisis?

The Middle East crisis forces up prices at the pumps, Spain has lowered its national speed limit to achieve a 15 per cent saving in fuel use. This has been seen as an exceptional measure for an exceptional situation. But will it work, and should Britain do the same?

AS the Middle East crisis forces up prices at the pumps, Spain has lowered its national speed limit to achieve a 15 per cent saving in fuel use.

This has been seen as an exceptional measure for an exceptional situation. But will it work, and should other countries do the same?

The Spanish government has reduced the speed limit on main roads from 75mph (120 km/h) to 68mph (110 km/h) in an attempt to reduce fuel use. This has been in response to the unrest in Libya and concern that it will spread elsewhere in the Arab world. Spain is dependent on imported oil, with about 13 per cent coming from Libya.

The reduction in the speed limit is part of a wider package of measures to reduce energy use. As people spend more money on foreign fuel, they have less to spend on buying products made in Spain which could slow the recovery of the Spanish economy.

However, critics see lowering the speed limit as a desperate measure and are sceptical it will achieve the savings the Spanish government claims.

US President Richard Nixon took similar action in 1973 in response to the oil crisis then. He introduced a speed limit of 55mph (90 km/h) in 1974 in a bid to reduce fuel consumption by 2.2 per cent.

The measure only achieved a fuel saving of about 0.5 per cent but had the additional benefit of reducing road deaths. In contrast, France tested the strict enforcement of speed limits on main motorways in 2004 and achieved a 19 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

In the UK, petrol now costs on average about £6 a gallon. However, rather than reducing the speed limit, the Conservative-led coalition has actually talked about increasing it. Recently, the UK Transport Secretary Philip Hammond was reported to have suggested increasing motorway speeds to 80mph in an attempt to shorten journey times and help the economy.

This is despite the UK Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety claiming that raising the speed limit to 80mph would increase motorway casualties by between five and 10 per cent.

Lowering the speed limit will be a challenge, as many petrolheads will perceive it as an infringement of their human rights and another attack in the “war on the motorist”. According to a 2008 UK Department for Transport study on speed, drivers can be divided into three groups: speed limit compliant, moderate or excessive speeders. Excessive speeders tend to be young, male, risky drivers who are often involved in accidents.

The UK study also found that a substantial number of drivers report that they regularly break speed limits of 30, 60 and 70 mph.

At speeds of 50mph and above, drivers tend to over-estimate the time gained by going faster and the time lost by going slower. In order to encourage people to drive at lower speeds, this “speed-time fallacy” will need to be addressed.

Reducing speed is seen as a quick hit as it relatively easy to implement. It requires little legislative and capital investment and can achieve rapid savings in fuel consumption as well as cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

A lower speed limit will, of course, increase travel time, which will further depend on road conditions, weather, traffic congestion and roadworks. Despite this, limiting the speed at which we drive offers a number of social and environmental benefits.

The exact fuel and carbon dioxide savings of reducing the speed limit are influenced by vehicle weight, engine and fuel type, driving style and traffic flow conditions. Increasingly, optional extras such as air conditioning have increased the average fuel use of a car.

According to the UK Energy Research Centre, introducing and enforcing a 60mph speed limit could reduce carbon dioxide emission on average by about two million tonnes each year.

In addition, becoming a “smarter driver” and being conscious of how to drive efficiently has the additional benefits of reducing annual fuel bills, wear and tear on the vehicle and can result in safer and less stressful journeys.

By 2030, global oil production is expected to decline as demand increases. The exact timing of the tipping point when oil availability begins to decline, and the ensuing rate of that decline is debateable.

However, there is increasing recognition that the “peak oil” phenomenon is real. National and local governments have all already begun designing policies to cope with the lack of cheap oil – with Sweden committing to be oil free by 2020.

Reducing the speed limit will be the least of our problems as we will be forced to make more fundamental changes to our energy intensive lifestyles in order to adapt to a world of increasing energy insecurity.

© Gary Haq 2011

The Impact of the Meat on Our Plate

Meat production not only contributes to climate change and land degradation but is also a cause of air and water pollution and biodiversity loss. The farming industry accounts for nine per cent of UK total greenhouse gases, half of which come from sheep, cows and goats. Is the meat on our plate really worth the impact on the planet?

FROM Paul McCartney to Lord Stern, more people are promoting the benefits of a meatless society.

Meat production not only contributes to climate change and land degradation but is also a cause of air and water pollution and biodiversity loss. The farming industry accounts for nine per cent of UK total greenhouse gases, half of which come from sheep, cows and goats. Is the meat on our plate really worth the impact on the planet?

Deforestation, manure and livestock flatulence all contribute to global warming and are associated with excessive meat consumption.

As nations become richer, they tend to eat more meat and more livestock has to be raised to keep up with the demand.

In turn, more grazing land is required and more forests are cut down to expand farmland. As trees get the chop the carbon dioxide that they have absorbed over their lifetime is eventually released back into the atmosphere.

Manure is a source of nitrous oxide which is a greenhouse gas 300 times stronger than carbon dioxide. A recent report warned that nitrogen pollution is costing each European citizen up to £650 a year in damage to water, climate, health and wildlife.

As livestock digest grass, they produce flatulence which contains the greenhouse gas methane. Research by Reading University suggests changing the diet of livestock could reduce methane emissions by 20 per cent.

Improving the efficiency of resource management when it comes to crop and livestock production could help reduce the environmental impact of meat production.

However, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the current prices of land, water and feed resources used for livestock production do not reflect true scarcities and create distortions that provide no incentive for efficient resource use.

This results in the overuse of resources and major inefficiencies in the production process.

Abandoning our carnivorous habits is both good for the planet and our health. Eating too much meat, especially processed meat, can be bad for a person’s health as it can contain high levels of saturated fat and salt.

An Oxford University study funded by Friends of the Earth showed that more than 45,000 lives a year could be saved if everyone ate meat no more than two or three times a week.

A widespread switch to low-meat diets would stop 31,000 people dying early from heart disease, 9,000 from cancer and 5,000 from strokes. This could save the NHS £1.2bn and help reduce climate change and deforestation.
I am one of the four million vegetarians in Britain and have led a meat-free life for the past 25 years. I still remember the day at primary school when I realised I did not like the idea of eating a dead animal.

However, it took me another nine years before I was able to proudly declare that I would eat “nothing with a face”.

Over the years, being a vegetarian in this country has got easier, people are more accepting and there is more choice of vegetarian food in supermarkets and restaurants.

There are now about 30 top-range vegetarian restaurants – an increase of 50 per cent since 2007. This reflects a growing interest in healthy lifestyles although many people would not necessarily call themselves vegetarian. One 2009 survey suggests 23 per cent of the population are “meat-reducers”, and 10 per cent as “meat-avoiders”.

Despite the increasing awareness of the environmental and health effects of carnivorous cuisine, the seduction of a sizzling sausage, the allure of the bacon butty and the prospect of the Yorkshire pudding with roast beef may simply be too much for many meat eaters to resist.

While there has been a change in eating habits the vast majority of Britons still eat meat, with one-in-five eating meat every day. This suggests education and awareness alone will not work to reduce our meat consumption.

One suggestion to address the harmful effects of meat consumption is to introduce a European-wide meat tax.

The EU is already committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and has taken a number of measures such as the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs.

A meat tax would be similar to taxes on alcohol, tobacco and petrol. Unlike petrol, which is harder to replace, the effect of the tax would encourage consumers to replace meat with other food products.

It is clear that we have to improve the efficiency of livestock production and reduce the demand for meat to make the transition to a low carbon society.

The recent discovery of horse meat in labelled beef products indicates how meat production has become increasingly mechanised and the extent to which we have become disconnected from the food we eat. Perhaps it is now time to reconsider our meat consumption.

Rather than shunning meat altogether, meat eaters could start by following a “demitarian” diet – reducing meat portions by half. It is recommended that total weekly meat intake should not exceed 210 grams – a small sacrifice to secure the future of the planet.

Beyond Planetary Limits

here is increasing concern that the rapid growth in human activities is placing further pressure on the planet.

This could destabilize critical biophysical systems and lead to abrupt or irreversible environmental changes that would be damaging or even catastrophic for the welfare of human society.

There is increasing concern that the rapid growth in human activities is placing further pressure on the planet.

This could destabilize critical biophysical systems and lead to abrupt or irreversible environmental changes that would be damaging or even catastrophic for the welfare of human society.

Determining the extent to which human society has exceeded the planet’s natural limits is nothing new. In 1972 The Limits to Growth predicted the consequences of rapidly growing world population and finite resources for the future of humanity.

A recent review of the accuracy of the Limits to Growth’s predictions over the last 30 years discovered that changes in industrial production, food production and pollution are all in line with the prediction of economic and societal collapse in the 21st Century.

Other studies have shown that we are currently in ecological overshoot. In 2009 we used approximately 40 per cent more than nature can regenerate. We are currenlty living beyond our ecological means.

It is only recently that human activities have begun to affect the functioning of the Earth’s system. Since the industrial revolution human activities has progressively been pushing the planet outside the range of variability for many key processes which sustain life on Earth.

A 2009 study on planetary boundaries has attempted to quantify the safe biophysical boundaries outside which the Earth System cannot function in a stable state. Human pressure on the Earth’s ecosystem has reached a point where rapid global environmental change is possible. There are critical climatic, geophysical and ecological thresholds we must respect if we are to have a sustainable future.

In total nine planetary boundaries have been identified. These are climate change, stratospheric ozone, land use change, freshwater use, biological diversity, ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to the biosphere and oceans, aerosol loading and chemical pollution.

Three of these planetary boundaries have already been transgressed: climate change, biological diversity and nitrogen input to the biosphere. Since the boundaries are strongly connected crossing one boundary may seriously threaten the ability to stay within safe levels of the others.

The extent to which human societies will be affected by transgressing these planetary boundaries will be dependent on their ability to cope with rapid environmental change. It is often poor communities with weak infrastructures and social support services which are most at risk.

The notion of planetary boundaries provides a first attempt at defining the limits for humanity. However, there are a number of uncertainties and gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed to improve this concept.

If we are to minimize the negative effects of human activities and ensure a safe space for sustainable human development, we need to take action to prevent crossing these planetary boundaries and avoid major human-induced global environmental change.

Planetary boundaries are further evidence that human society cannot continue business-as-usual. There is a need for a fundamental change to the structure of our society and way of life.

A transformation to a new “ecological age” where we live within planetary limits will require a change of the scale achieved in the industrial revolution. However, this time it will be drive by clean, efficient and renweable energy technologies and will be sustainable.

Assessments of the current state of the global environment and scientific predictions of future human and societal collapse provide the evidence on which to base policy.

We know the ecological consequences if we do not fundatmentally change our way of life. The big question is does anyone really care?

© Gary Haq 2010