More Nature

Continuing Sketching Weakly’s ongoing mission to Rule the World. This post is continuing from Less Carbon Dioxide, and If Sketching Weakly Ruled the World....

Nature is our climate crash mat. Nature, in so many ways, can help buffer the world against climate change. From forests producing rainfall and sequestering moisture to urban trees cooling and shading their local area, to flood prevention, to pollination, to minibeasts controlling pests on crops, nature can increase our climate-change resilience. And boosting nature is always a WIN-WIN – because you get the flood prevention/rainfall/shade/habitat/etc PLUS the cascades of animal life and beauty that humans love, and the resilience of having more biodiversity to adapt to a changing world..

Climate change is going to hit nature – there will be moving temperature zones, changing habitats – so if animals can’t move, they’ll die out in that area. So we need connected habitat everywhere for our nature to move around to where it needs to be.

Our relationship with nature has changed. Back in 1532 Henry VIII’s Preservation of Grain Act made it compulsory for every man, woman and child to kill as many creatures as possible that appeared on an official list of ‘vermin’. Virtually all wild animals were on the list: otters, beavers, hedgehogs – even kingfishers. That kind of wildlife massacre would be unthinkable now.

So why does nature still get wallopped?

The main culprits are generally agricultural practices and land-use change. Wild habitat gets converted into farmland. And intensive farming practices leave no space for wild habitat. Roads fragment habitat. Housing developments often feature more car parking space than habitat.

An example of a rather tarmac-heavy devopment: OK, so where are the trees going to grow here?

I’d suggest three changes to help create more space for nature. These changes all involve

A National Planning Policy Framework that puts habitat-protection and creation at the heart of planning developments.

An Agriculture Bill that fosters farming practicies that are wildlife-friendly.

A Packaging Revolution that makes it easy to buy products that have been produced in a biodiversity-friendly way.

1. The National Planning Policy Framework: the way we build things

At present, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has, at its heart,“a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan making and decision taking.” But sustainable development is a slippery concept; in my opinion development is ‘sustainable’ if it can continue for ever at that level with no loss of biodiversity. But if you are gradually increasing the amount of built over land – the end result must be gradual loss of nature. I’d propose a change of emphasis, from a golden thread to a green thread: I propose we build for biodiversity: we put nature at the heart of planning. Established habitat should have extremely high value; destroying ancient woodland and green belt land should be an unthinkably expensive thing to do. We should plan for as little tarmac as possible – cars can be parked on all sorts of surfaces. Developments should conserve established habitat and build around established trees and hedgerows. After all, somebody already lives there. Green belt land should not be converted into built developments: green belt land is exactly the kind of green space most treasured by people as it is close to where settlements of people live. It’s not ours to nibble away at and pave over – it is our gift to future people so they can live close to nature too. It’s ever-tempting to develop green belt land because it’s cheap to convert and will be the type of place that people will like to live – but that takes something we all share and converts it into a one-off profit that is now out of the shared commons – so it is a robbery from all of us and from people of the future.

The present NPPF requires that councils set aside land for building new housing upon for the next 5 years. This just isn’t sustainable UNLESS the land set aside is land that has been built upon already. We need to become the first animal ever to voluntarily limit our own effects on the world, and tread more lightly and imaginatively on our planet.

Biodiversity is our Green Infrastructure – it can buffer us egainst extremes of flooding and heat. It is so valuable, but it’s not factored properly into economic decisions – it’s a classic market failure situation. To address this – we need legislation. So I would propose a NPPF with boosting biodiversity at its heart, with a mandate to measure biodiversity and land-use change.

2. The Agriculture Bill: the way we farm animals

Some things happen because it’s free to do them. There are some ways of farming that are absolute planet wreckers. Here are some:

Intensive animal farming: if we saw it we wouldn’t like it. It’s only allowed to happen because it’s invisible. Animals are kept indoors or on feed lots in huge numbers, living miserable lives. These type of industrial ‘farms’ are called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs. And they’re not just in other countries: we have them in the UK. These animals are fed planet-wrecking foodstuff like soy grown on deforested land. The animal density makes them a hotspot for disease and the overuse of antibiotics. They’re unpleasant to live near to, and generate huge quantities of animal sewage which has to go somewhere. This is total madness, and just plain cruel. And it’s so we can have cheap food. But this cheap meat has a massive real price-tag in animal suffering, disease and destruction of habitat. I’d include trawling and other intensive fishing practices in this destructive intensive farming group, as well as fish-farming of predator fish like salmon.

We can’t afford to farming these ways any more, it’s time to move to properly sustainable farming practices.

We can can make UK agriculture a model for planet-friedly farming to be really proud of – farmers are already trying to do this, and the UK landscape is incredibly suitable to animal-friendly farming.

So what do we want more of?

Things like:

In the sea: the marine farming of kelp, mussels and oysters that creates habitat for other sea live to thrive.

Farming with biodiversity as its friend, leaving field margins wild and leaving some waste around to feed farmland birds; using natural predators to help control unwanted pests, farming to boost soil health, farming animals where they can live a natural life in the landscape, allowing trees to grow to boost biodiversity and help manage water in the landscape.

Farmers often try to do these things anyway – but they also often have to compete on a level playing field with others who farm intensively to produce food more cheaply.

There’s a new Agriculture Bill travelling through parliament at the moment. Our new agriculture bill needs to reward farming for biodiversity and reward growing our green infrastructure to be our climate change crash mat – and it looks like it broadly will do that, with a ‘payment for public goods’ ethos rather than the EU CAP payment by quantity of land held. But we also have to use the same standards to measure farmed imports that enter our country too, or UK farming will be fatally undermined.

And we can reward nature-friendly farming practices another way at the same time by making it easy to buy planet-friendly products, with….

3. A Packaging Revolution: make ethical buying choices easy to do


I am a hasty impatient shopper who doesn’t have the time and diligence to check out the supply chains for all the products I buy. I want to be able to wander into a supermarket and instantly be able to choose the products that are good for the planet.

Government action stepped in and revolutionised the packaging of cigarettes. We can all agree that cigarettes are pretty bad for human health. Now cigarette packets look so grim, it’s impossible to buy them without being aware of what you’re buying into. But intensive agricultural practices are killing our planet’s biodiversity. It’s another robbery.

Packaging is hugely influential. There’s been an enormous success in egg-packaging: legislation to require clearly stating the conditions hens were raised in has really boosted demand for free range and barn-raised eggs.

At the moment there are certain symbols you can look for on farmed products: there’s the Soil Association mark, RSPCA-acccreditation, the Red Tractor mark and the Lion Brand symbol. The first two do ensure environmentally-friendly or animal friendly farming. The second two ensure a moderately basic amount of animal welfare and ensure the origin is British. Compassion in World Farming is calling for much more explicit animal-product packaging that really shows the conditions the animals lived in.

But the buyer still has to do a lot of fine-print reading, plus the labelling only applies to animal-products, and I want to buy into farming for biodiversity too.

What if there was a symbol – say an Ethical Earth symbol, that could be put on all packaging?

Maybe something like this?

The ethical farming practices to earn the Ethical Earth Symbol would need to be agreed upon by a panel which would need to be unpartisan and have the interests of the planet and its future at heart, and also the interests of the animals farmed. Practices might include: nature-friendly farming with biodiversity as its friend; farming where animals live in a natural way in a natural habitat; farming that boosts biodiversity and creates more habitats on land and at sea. Achieving organic status is very difficult; Ethical Earth status could be less ‘all or nothing’, it could be more ‘every little helps’, with a broad menu of biodiversity friendly farming practices to choose from that would add to gaining Ethical Earth status, without having to tick every box.

And just as importantly, there have to be certain farming practices that disqualify you from achieving the Ethical Earth symbol. These would have to be agreed, but I’d suggest: animals stocking densities beyond a certain level, animals living in conditions where they are unable to express their natural behaviour, animals fed on products that have caused deforestation.

So, if you farm in a nature-friendly way, that boosts habitat and biodiversity, and is not cruel to animals, I should be able to see that easily on your product on the supermarket shelves, and I might be prepare to pay more for it. Cheap food is often just food where the costs have been passed on to everyone and people of the future in degradation. This is possible because packaging hides the truth about where the food came from.

There’s amazing amounts of data available nowadays – it’s possible to track individual animals through supply chains; this could help in the earning of an Ethical Earth symbol. At the same time, to push change harder, there could be an Unethical Earth hazard symbol that you have to put on your packet if you haven’t achieved an Ethical Earth standard. It ought to be possible to request Ethical Earth-rated products only when you do your online shop. Having the Ethical Earth symbol or the symbol of not-having-achieved it could be mandatory on all food packaging, so you could buy Ethical Earth chocolate biscuits – if it’s possible to make such a thing. And that means with my buying choices I’m now supporting producers in other countries who are farming sustainably and not destroying rainforest habitat.

On the supermarket shelves, the world and its biodiversity is on sale. A Packaging Revolution could enable everything you buy to be a vote for what you want more of. When you choose the Ethical Earth symbol – you could be buying into a better planet.

Making it easrier to choose who to buy….?

We can’t wait for all the world to agree. We have to lead by example. We have to model how to be good citizens of the Earth – by making less CO2, and do our part in protecting and boosting the nature on these islands, and making it wilder and better. It requires enlighted policy-making by a government that is acting in the interests of Biodiversity and the future inhabitants of Earth.

Less Carbon Dioxide

Continuing Sketching Weakly’s mission to Rule the World. This post follows on from If Sketching Weakly Ruled the World, and precedes More Nature.

I was lucky enough to be part of the Oxford Citizen’s Assembly on Climate Change. It was an amazing and enlightening experience. Often, how to change individual behaviour seemed to be the issue, especially as the majority of emissions were coming from buildings (space heating) and travel.

How do we change behaviour? By making the desired behaviour the easiest option and/or the cheapest option, so that making the right choices is a no-brainer.

To change individual behaviour there needs to be a catalyst for change. Back in June 2007 it was OK to smoke in restaurants and pubs. That seems absolutely unthinkable today. There has been an enormous change in smoking behaviour. And that happened because on July 1st 2007 a ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces came into force by government legislation. Before it happened there was huge resistance, but from the perspective of now it was enlightened legislation that changed public health for the better. The ban was simple and clear, and after it had happened it was accepted. It is that kind of legislation we need now, to defeat our twin demons of carbon dioxide and biodiversity loss.

Pricing carbon can make change in behaviour happen. But we know a rise in prices for fuel is unpopular – see President Macron’s struggle with the Gilets Jaunes. So it seems that carbon pricing is avoided as a strategy – it’s a bit of an elephant in the room. Grand Green New Deals are proposed, but they never seem to directly tackle the issue that is essentially free to emit carbon dioxide into our shared atmosphere.

But it is possible to price carbon in a way that is fair, empowering, simple and visible.

Carbon Dioxide is a difficult subject to inspire passion. Unlike plastic, it is invisible. When we emit it, we can’t see it. We can see the plastic trail that we leave, but it’s impossible to grasp what size your own carbon dioxide emissions are. But carbon dioxide is key, because the blanket of greenhouse gases is making Earth warm, melting the arctic and Antarctic and pushing temperatures worldwide out of the range of recorded history, towards a new climate that none of us or other life-forms on earth are adapted for.

But the good thing is, we CAN change this by shutting down the flood of CO2 leaking from humankind into the atmosphere.

HOW can we take action on CO2?

We can take action by putting a meaningful price on carbon, aiming towards $80-$100/tonne.

It is the nudge the world needs. A puny 5p plastic bag charge drastically reduced plastic bag use by 85%. Pricing really changes behaviour.

Our modern economy reflects countless choices, made by billions of people all over the world. A broad-based carbon price influences them all. Nothing else can.” Tim Harford

But what is the best way to price carbon?

I’ve compared different carbon pricing options. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (which is what the UK seems to be modelling its carbon pricing system on, post-Brexit) lets the market control the carbon price (so it ends up ineffectively low) and doesn’t apply to all industries or the general public. It’s a system that is invisible and complicated.

What I’ve discovered is:

A Carbon Fee and Dividend (Climate Income)  stands out as the most fair, empowering, simple, and visible way to put a significant price on Carbon.

What is Carbon Fee & Dividend?

The government places a price on CO2 at source.

The revenue is returned equally to all citizens via a monthly/annual lump sum or ‘dividend’

I think it is the only way to make a carbon price that is high enough for effective change to be palatable.

There are a few good things about a carbon fee and dividend plan. Here they are.

It can appeal to people who call for social justice and want to battle inequality

The lump sum system is progressive: it really benefits lower earners most. The richest (and largest users of CO2-intensive energy) benefit least. Anders Fremstad of Colorado State University and Mark Paul of Duke University calculate that taxing a tonne of CO2 at $49 would leave 59% of Americans worse off, including 75% of the bottom half, if the revenue were used to lower personal-income taxes. By contrast, recycling the receipts as lump-sum payments (Dividends) would leave 89% of the bottom half with an average net gain of $788.

The 6 lowest income groups all break even or are better off, with the poorest getting the biggest benefits. The wealthiest, highest fuel users, are the worst off.

Compared to tax rebates, it’s demonstrably fair as all get an equal dividend.

It’s also possible to get dividends to the poorest and most marginalised sections of society, by, for example “investigating inventive ways of paying the dividend to ensure that the most vulnerable receive it. Linking the dividend to national insurance numbers would be one way to pay the dividend, but this may mean that the most vulnerable miss out. The Government should investigate whether new technology can be used to pay the dividend securely through a mobile app to ensure as many eligible people as possible receive it.” The Future of Carbon Pricing,

It is motivating and empowering

Through their dividend the public can support renewables in their choice of what energy to buy. The dividend is a visible sign of your purchasing power, and the public is trusted to choose how to spend it; wise choices bring a win-win virtuous spiral of energy-source-change away from fossil fuels. The dividend also gives voters an immediate interest in the fight against climate change – a lump sum arriving in your bank account is a very interesting event. All green energy sources benefit by becoming comparatively cheaper.

It sends a signal to industry that the carbon price will be a permanent policy

The Dividend, once people are used to it, is hard to withdraw by future governments (see what’s happened with UK Winter Fuel Payments) – and so acts as a pledge to industry that the carbon price will endure.

These three aspects of carbon fee and dividend mean is can appeal to: groups who want action on climate change but also social justice; the general public who will find higher fuel prices unacceptable; businesses who want a clear steer to what the carbon future will be.

Carbon is infused in all our lives and all our choices. We need to tackle climate change with a way that involves and empowers everybody, is fair and acceptable and progressive, and that also is able to set a high enough price for carbon to bring about change, in a way industry can see will not be overturned by a change of government.

Carbon Fee & Dividend: fair, empowering, simple, visible.

If Sketching Weakly ruled the world…

…well, it would be a disaster, wouldn’t it? But every now and then, a bit like daydreaming about what one’s Desert Island Disc choices would be, it’s nice to imagine what one would do if unwisely left in charge of things. So here are Sketching Weakly’s ruminations….

Making the visible invisible, is the usual magic trick. But making the Invisible visible, is the magic trick we need.

What can we learn from lockdown? What have we discovered from this strange experience of imposed isolation? To me, two things have emerged:

People will step up to a Big Ask

If people are given a clear fair rule they will follow it, accept it and be prepared to make reasonable sacrifices.

People have been willing to completely change their way of living in order to prevent the Covid19 virus rampaging through the population.

People love Nature.

To most people, nature is really important and a source of joy and wonder.

People have been treasuring their daily walks, getting to know their local patches of nature, and watching the small changes as Spring 2020 has been coming in, and transforming into Summer.

Can we use these two lessons to tackle climate change?

It often seems like the issues the world faces are endless, and to address the world’s problems we have to change everything. But it can help to concentrate on the two biggest existential threats to life (as we know it) on Earth. Those two threats are: loss of biodiversity, and carbon dioxide.

CO2 is invisible. When we emit it, we can’t see it. We can see the plastic trail that we leave, but it’s impossible to grasp what size your own carbon dioxide emissions are. But carbon dioxide is key, because the blanket of greenhouse gases is making the Earth warm, melting the Arctic and Antarctic and pushing temperatures worldwide out of the range of recorded history, towards a new climate that none of us or other life-forms on Earth are adapted for.

But the good thing is, we CAN change this by shutting down the flood of CO2  leaking from humankind into the atmosphere.

Action on Climate Change for me boils down to two main asks:

Less CO2 and more nature.

Can we use the magic trick of making the INVISIBLE VISIBLE, to make less CO2 and more nature?

Yes we can and here’s how. I’m going to do carbon dioxide first. Then I’m going to do nature. You can do them in any order you like.