Welcome to our Snippets newsletter which as always endeavours to provide coverage of developments in energy and environmental issues, from both here in New Zealand and around the world. We hope you continue to find our fortnightly collection of articles to be of interest in what is a rapidly evolving area.
The Paris Agreement may well come into force earlier than 2020, the year anticipated when it was first proposed. Earth Day, on 22nd April 2016 saw 177 parties sign the agreement at the UN in New York, and of these, 34 either joined or committed to join this year, representing 49% of global emissions. To come into effect, the Agreement needs 55 countries accounting for at least 55% of global emissions to join/ratify it.
The USA (17.9% of emissions) and China (20.09%) lead the way in committing to join this year, and 16 parties (mainly small) have already joined. By getting the Agreement ratified and into effect this year, before the US elections, the ability of the newly elected President to leave the Agreement would be negated, as there is a withdrawal clause that requires 4 year’s notice. An early start would also increase the chances of limiting warming to the lower 1.5C goal. We hope these early indications of countries intentions are enough to see this Agreement come into effect sooner, rather than later.
This Snippets we examine our impact on water and land use. Apparently, if the rest of the world ate like the US, the planet would have run out of fresh-water 15 years ago. Nestle, the world’s largest food company advised U.S. officials that the world is on a doom ridden collision course due to Americans eating too much meat. Worryingly, the rest of the world now appears to be following suit, especially amongst Chinese and Indian middle classes, where meat is on the menu more and more frequently.
To continue down this path is simply unsustainable and a major correction has to occur. The way we manage our land use and water resources simply has to change. Working on better soil condition, water use, biodiversity, retaining carbon in soils and animal welfare are all ways we can improve our resource management. Rotating crops, using less pesticides and herbicides are certainly smarter ways to farm.
To highlight the need to change farming practices, we examine the nutrient content of some commercially produced fruit and vegetable. We have been taught that we should eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, on the basis that they are good for us. But as our next article discusses, it is now possible to possible to buy an Orange with zero Vitamin C, or in Australia, carrots with a Vitamin A content, that has dropped 99% (between 1948 & 1991). And it is not just fruit and vegetables. In the UK, the mineral content of meat has dropped significantly – iron by 54%, copper by 24%, calcium by 41%, etc. Modern farming practices are robbing the soil of nutrients which help make these things so good for you.
Not only do we need to be mindful of the loss of nutrients, we also need to be aware of the amount of carbon stored in the soil. Feeding the world’s population is a very carbon intensive process. About three times the carbon currently in the atmosphere is stored in the Earth’s soil — up to 2.4 trillion metric tons, or roughly 240 times the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels annually. If all the Earth’s farmers were to manage their fields so the soil stored more carbon, impacts of the greenhouse gases emitted from burning fossil fuels annually could be cut by between 50 and 80 percent.
To highlight the need to develop more sustainable long term farming practices, let’s examine the use of nitrogen fertilizers. Nitrogen is absolutely crucial to life — an indispensable ingredient of DNA, proteins and essentially all living tissue — yet it also can choke the life out of aquatic ecosystems, destroy trees and sicken people when it shows up in excess in the wrong places. The use of reactive Nitrogen (N2O, NOx, NH3) produced from fossil fuels has now passed the limit on what the planet can safely handle and is choking waterways, creating oxygen depleted dead zones in our oceans, etc. Just as with everything, use in moderation is fine, and it’s another habit we need to ween ourselves off.
Maybe not a solution, but a step in the right direction, is not feeding grains and fish products to animals. At present, 14 per cent of the world’s ocean fish catch is fed to farm animals and growing demand for soya-based feed is driving deforestation and undermining staple food crop production in South America. If maggots raised on animal manure could provide a sustainable alternative to this, then surely this is of worthy consideration, albeit for some of us once our phobia of maggots is overcome.
Another alternative is the humble fungi. A product of nature and often maligned, the fungi could be utilised in a number ways as the search for sustainable products continues. Inroads in packaging products and insulation have already been made. In the future a replacement for plastic based products is a possibility. Good on you fungi!
The next set of articles discusses actors and film writers, specifically their stance towards awareness of climate change. It examines a growing trend among actors and the films they are presented in, having a strong stance on climate change and their public effort to try to spread awareness. Although we would like to believe that all words are equal, it appears, specifically to younger generations, that the words and actions by celebrities in social media resonate most with them. Seen as role models perhaps?
The power of media is underlined by the success of Countryfile - a UK TV program, similar to Country Calendar. The show has shown surprisingly larger audiences each season, with 8.7 million viewers tuning in to the latest episodes. As discussed, maybe one reason for this significant increase, includes people living fast paced lives in inner suburbia, with this being their only connection to nature. Now that is a scary thought.
One thing for sure is that the next generations are going to be inheriting a very different world to the one we grew up in. One of these generations is the Millennials. In a Total Audience Report, the observations noted that Millennials cannot be lumped into one group from a HR perspective. Instead it proposes three broad groups. There is however, a common trend among the groups and that is finding a purpose. Millennials want their careers to be tied directly to their overall outlook of life. This linkage, combined with an awareness of climate change, makes Millennials a generation most likely to take climate change actions head on.
And finally, credit goes to Apple for leading by example in recycling its own products. By allowing its customers to “take-back” old products, Apple have managed to recycle these and minimise their requirements for new gold and many other components of their devices, not only saving waste from going to landfills and all the harmful effects of this, but also saving the company money on purchasing new materials. Hopefully, this is the start of a trend.
Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and we look forward to catching up with you again. If you have any items of interest you would like to submit, then please feel free to forward them.