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December 2009

Picture of Old Seal Pup
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Tuesday 1st December
Many who follow the climate negotiations at Copenhagen next week may come to feel disappointment at the wheeling and dealing that seems inseparable from international affairs. Yet time and again history has shown that God uses the most unlikely agents in the working out of his deep purposes. If we hold before us the first commandment that God ever gave to a human being (Gen. 1.15), the Copenhagen summit will appear not as an end in itself but as a staging post along the road to true sustainability.

Wednesday 2nd December
“The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis” is a report from Global Humanitarian Forum detailing the number of people now being affected by climate change: 300,000 people dead 325 million seriously affected. Economic losses of $12.5 billion. Kofi Annan asks in his introduction to the report:
“Where does a fisherman go when warmer seas deplete coral reefs and fish stocks? How can a small farmer keep animals or sow crops when the water dries up? Will families be provided for when fertile soils and fresh water are contaminated with salt from rising seas? The first hit and worst affected by climate are the world’s poorest groups. 99% of all casualties occur in developing countries. If all countries were to pollute so little, there would be no climate change. New climate policy must therefore empower vulnerable communities to cope with these challenges.”

Thursday 3rd December
“Suffering the Science” is a report from Oxfam which draws on scientific estimates of yields from rice and maize, on which half the world’s population depends. On current trends, there will be a 15% drop in yields by 2020 in much of sub-Saharan Africa and India. It concludes: “Climate change’s most savage impact is likely to be the increase in hunger. The countries with existing problems in feeding their people are those most at risk from climate change. Millions of farmers will have to give up traditional crops as they experience changes in the seasons that they and their ancestors have depended on. Climate-related hunger may become the defining human tragedy of this century.”

Friday 4th December
While oil prices have fallen back since last year from $147 a barrel, increasing economic activity in China and India is expected to lead to a rise in oil prices to perhaps $110. As Jonathon Porritt points out: “Even the oil companies now acknowledge that the days of ‘easy oil’ are gone for ever, removing the foundation stone on which the whole of modern food production has been built. Without cheap oil and cheap gas, there is no more cheap food. Few people understand our near-total dependency on fossil fuels in terms of fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, farm machinery, storage, supply chains, retail systems, and so on. We are basically ‘eating oil’, and on an almost inconceivably inefficient basis.”

Saturday 5th December
At 11 am today in Westminster Central Hall, Christians of all denominations will join in a service with Archbishops Rowan Williams and Vincent Nichols to worship and pray for world leaders as they meet at Copenhagen to thrash out a new climate deal. The Stop Climate Chaos Coalition has 11 million supporters from over 100 organisations. Those who attend will wear blue as a symbol of an unstoppable wave. After the service, everyone heads for Grosvenor Square where, at 1 pm, a family-friendly peaceful march will begin to head for Parliament Square.

Sunday 6th December
Grant us, Father, a new vision of your world:

  • A world of justice where the costs of climate will be equitably shared between nations;
  • A world of plenty, where sufficient food and water will be available to all;
  • A world of brotherhood, where success shall be founded on service and honour be given to integrity alone;
A world of peace, where order shall not rest on force, but on the love of all for this wonderful world.

Monday 7th December
According Jonathon Porritt, “The only way to avert food crises resulting from supply disruptions and spikes in energy prices is to systematically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. All farms must therefore become powerhouses of renewable energy, investing as fast as possible in on-site energy schemes such as wind turbines, solar thermal, solar PV, micro-hydro, biogas digesters, biomass boilers.” This will require decisive action by government to provide the necessary grants and loans.

Tuesday 8th December
How will farmers cope with the inevitable rise in fossil fuel prices in addition to the inevitable impacts of climate change? Graham Harvey in “The Carbon Fields” points out that farmers around the world are ploughing up grasslands and sowing new high-yielding annual crops. In doing so, they are making the world dangerously dependent on oil in the form of pesticides and chemical fertilisers. They are also reducing soil fertility, so threatening the food supply of future generations and exacerbating climate change by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Instead of helping to stabilise the world’s climate, modern high-yield agriculture is making things worse.

Wednesday 9th December
The world’s soils hold far more carbon as organic matter than all the vegetation on the planet – including forests. 82% of the world’s carbon exists in soils. Harvey believes that, just as we have depleted soils of carbon by industrial crop production, we could easily put it back by changing the way we grow food. Reduced tillage and the use of cover crops could increase the level of organic matter in the soil and so encourage carbon capture – even under intensive crop farming. Producing food from well-maintained grasslands could actually reverse climate change. According to the Royal Society, carbon capture by the world’s farmlands could with better management of the soil, be as much as 10 million tonnes of CO2 a year – that’s more than the annual accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. “A different form of agriculture, with more emphasis on grasslands, wouldn’t merely help with the problem of climate change. It would solve it.”

Thursday 10th December
William Davies, a former director of the Grassland Research Station, warned in 1952 that land maintained under a monoculture of cereals often ended up in poor shape, with the risk of erosion when land was cropped with cereals for too long. “If the world is to feed itself better – and at the same time increase its population – it must farm its soils better than it has ever done in the past. It has become apparent that the grass crop plays a more fundamental role than any other.” But within ten years, government subsidies for cereal growing, particularly under the CAP, persuaded farmers to invest in the necessary machinery and chemicals. Subsidies still drive this wasteful system. Even the new support for biofuels (see November 3rd) is in reality a grain subsidy in disguise.

Friday 11th December
For fifty years farmers have been throwing nitrate fertiliser on pasture lands without a thought for the nitrogen-fixing clovers which could do the job without depleting the soil of essential minerals. Every tonne of nitrogen fertiliser equates to more than 6 tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere. The natural diet of cattle is grass. When fed with cereals, maize and soya, the increased acidity in their rumen plays havoc with their normal metabolism. Routine antibiotic treatments deal merely with the symptoms. Cows become sick because of the way they are fed and managed.

Saturday 12th December
Britain’s grasslands, properly managed, can according to Harvey produce a truly secure supply of food. No matter what happens to global markets and the price of oil and fertilisers, grasslands will go on producing healthy foods. Just as importantly, they will retain and build the fertility and carbon storage that the world so desperately needs.

Sunday 13th December
Loving Father, you sent your son to be a light to those who walk in darkness. Enable us who have brought your creation, the land, the water, the creatures and our own selves, to the edge of darkness, to see the new path that we must tread, through the power of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Monday 14th December
According to Jonathon Porritt, the combination of high oil prices, high input prices, the growing demand for food from an increasing population, and the growing pressure on soils, water and biodiversity, compounded by accelerating climate change, all point to one conclusion: The more high-quality, healthy food we can produce close to the point of consumption, the more resilient our food supply chain will be. “That’s not an expression of some anti-globalisation extremism. It’s just commonsense. The trends I have outlined are not just foreseeable: they are inevitable. So why not get good at working with them rather than dying on the barricades of some superannuated ideology that sees global as good and local as second-best and a bit sad?”

Tuesday 15th December
In 2007 the IPPC estimated that if world agriculture adopted best practice to increase soil organic matter, it could mitigate 6-10 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030 – i.e. 20-35% of current annual emissions. This equates to a sequestration rate of between one and two tonnes of CO2 per hectare, and that is a conservative estimate. However, recent research finds that forests can absorb over 8 tonnes per hectare every year for ever. Best practice could and should aim for something approaching that rate. To help farmers achieve this, the NGO Climate Friendly Food has produced a carbon calculator for organic growers and will be launching a non-organic version next year. For more information visit

Wednesday 16th December
Is this just a problem for farmers and food suppliers? Far from it. Consumers are, as always, the key players. Our insatiable desire for dairy products and cheap meat is fuelling the destruction of Amazon rainforest, on which we all depend. According to research at the Brazilian university of Minas Gerais “By 2050 current trends in agricultural expansion will eliminate 40% of Amazon rainforests, including at least two-thirds of the forest cover of six major watersheds and twelve eco-regions.” The Brazilian government aims to reduce deforestation by 70% by 2020 and the Norwegian government is offering Brazil $1,000 million to achieve this target. But without a credible response from ordinary consumers, government action can only be seen as a stopgap.

Thursday 17th December
“Eating the Planet”, a new report from FoE and Compassion in World Farming, suggests that we can still eat meat while feeding the world, by using planet-friendly and humane farming methods. Production of meat and dairy products already generates more climate-changing emissions than all the world’s transport. The researchers find that eating meat three times a week can allow forests to remain untouched, animals to be farmed in free-range conditions and greener farming to be used. FoE comments: “It’s amazing news that we can feed a rapidly expanding population without trashing the planet – and still eat meat several times a week.” Amazing, indeed. But will any change to farming-friendly methods outpace the rapid growth in meat-eaters throughout the world?

Saturday 19th December
A month ago the world’s largest hydro-electric wave energy generator was opened at the Marine Energy Centre in Orkney. The Oyster energy generator produces power by pumping high pressure water to its on-shore hydro-electric turbine. The power will be fed into the national grid to power homes in Orkney and around Scotland. Opening the plant, Scotland’s First Minister said: “Scotland’s renewables capacity is estimated at around 60 gigawatts. Our waters hold around 10% of Europe’s wave power potential and 25% of its tidal power potential.” He confirmed R & D funding of nearly £1 million for Oyster 2 which could be installed within two years.

Sunday 20th December
“A wind has blown across the world And tremors shake its frame. New things are struggling to their birth And naught shall be the same. The earth is weary of its past Of folly, hate and fear. Beyond a dark and stormy sky The dawn of God is nigh.” (F.C. Happold)

Monday 21st December
Opponents of wind power say that the wind is so unreliable as to be useless as a source of energy. Therefore gas-fired power stations are needed to generate spare electricity in case the wind suddenly drops. Any reduction in CO2 emissions is negligible, they say, and the cost of installing turbines is huge. However, new evidence from Electrica de Espana, where 14% of electricity is generated from wind, shows that none of this is true.

  1. Good grid management can integrate large amounts of wind energy provided that pumped storage and hydraulic power is available for storage and international connections enable easy export and import.
  2. CO2 emissions during the night of 8/9 November, when strong winds were providing 53% of Spain’s electricity needs, were 145 g. per kWh – about a quarter of typical UK emissions from electricity generation.
  3. The Spanish system pays wind park owners 75-90 euros per MW hour, which is considerably less than the UK pays to wind farm operators.
Chris Goodall, author of “Ten Technologies to Save the Planet” comments: “The Spanish system is therefore:
  1. Improving Spain’s energy
  2. Reducing CO2 emissions
  3. Costing less per MWh than the British system
  4. Providing incentives for building a huge number of extra wind turbines.

Tuesday 22nd December
The world’s first full-scale floating wind turbine, off the Norwegian coast, sits on a weighted buoy extending 100 m. below the surface. Three anchor points prevent the turbine from floating away as well as linking the structure to undersea cables. Floating turbines benefit from higher wind speeds far out at sea and would bring offshore wind power to coastal areas, such as in Japan and the USA, which lack shallow water sites. Statoil-Hydro has invested £42.8 million in developing and building the pilot project.

Wednesday 23rd December
SeaGen, the tidal power generator operating in Strangford Lough, is generating enough electricity for 1,000 homes. A second such plant, seven times more powerful than SeaGen, is planned for the waters off Anglesey. However, these projects are insignificant compared to the 260 MW. tidal plant off the coast of South Korea and the two additional plants, totalling 460 MW. planned elsewhere on the coast of Korea. Peter Fraenkel of Marine Current Turbines, the builders of SeaGen, believes that tidal streams could contribute up to 12% of UK electricity needs provided there is a significant increase in government subsidies. The Scottish government already provides 50% more in subsidies for the development of tidal energy.

Thursday 24th December
O Lord, there sit apart in lonely places On this the gladdest night of all the year Some stricken ones, with sad and weary faces To whom the thought of Christmas brings no cheer. For these, dear Father, our petition hear, And send the pitying Christ Child very near. (Anon)

Friday 25th December. Christmas Day.
Loving Father, you have sent your Son as your gift to all humanity and to all of this your soiled and suffering world. Deepen our compassion for all who are bearing the consequences of careless and greedy lifestyles. Plant in us a new determination to put right what has gone amiss, to look anew at the way we live our lives and to strive for justice and peace throughout your world. Amen.

Saturday 26th December
The New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index, which measures life expectancy, life satisfaction and ecological footprint, puts Costa Rica at the top of its list. The UK comes 74th and the USA 114th. Costa Rican law requires national development plans to factor in sustainability. The country generates over 90% of its electricity from renewables, the largest source being hydropower, supplemented by geothermal, biomass, solar and wind. The UK has pledged to generate just 15% from renewables by 2020. However, even Costa Rica uses more than its fair share of natural resources, consuming more than would be required for ‘one planet living’.

Sunday 27th December
Lord God, teach us to value our possessions aright. Help us never to think more of them than of people. Make us ready to use them freely for the good of others and to share them generously without grudging. Thank you for the beautiful things that we enjoy possessing, May our enjoyment be wholesome and right and may we hold lightly to all we own. This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ who became poor that we might become rich for ever.

Monday 28th December
According to DEFRA’s Food Security Assessment we in the UK produce 61% of the food we eat (down from 80% twenty years ago), but waste about 30% of it. According to CIWEM’s Executive Director, Nick Reeves, unless DEFRA’s strategy promotes a ‘rights-based approach’ to food and trumps the profit-making priorities of agri-business corporations, it will be less than credible. The only future for us and the planet is to put food systems on a sustainable course. We will need to eat differently, accepting a choice of 7,000 items on supermarket shelves instead of the current 30,000. We will need to set aside land for food rather than houses, motorways and airports. Above all, a national stocktake of land is necessary to ensure that we get the most out of what we have and to encourage grow-your-own lifestyles.

Tuesday 29th December
A revival of UK food production is impossible without unpicking policies and laws that are hostile to change. Last year a UN-sponsored agricultural assessment found little potential for GM crops and recommended a move to small-scale, diverse and ecologically-focussed farming based on local food needs. The Government’s renewed rush for GM crops cannot be an option without proof that it can combat climate change and will not upset the ecological balance in fragile landscapes. “We desperately need the Government to act now to reduce the UK food industry’s global impacts and to secure planet-friendly farming and fair food supplies”, says Nick Reeves.

Wednesday 30th December
The new Anaerobic Digestion & Biogas Association (ADBA) is looking to help farmers to raise finance for anaerobic digestion as well as lobbying government for changes in legislation to make it easier to produce and sell biogas. ADBA is aiming for 1,000 UK biogas plants by 2015, so creating an industry employing over 20,000 people. Lord Redesdale, launching ABDA, said: “Anaerobic digestion and biogas are vital to Britain’s energy needs. By 2015 we shall be importing 80% of our gas from overseas, with a large part of that from Russia. We’ve witnessed the problems that countries like Ukraine and Bulgaria have had with their energy supply, raising serious questions about energy security. ABDA’s work will ease our dependency on fossil fuel for the gas and electricity grid.”

Thursday 31st December. New Year’s Eve
Eternal God, before whose face the generations rise and pass away, to whom a thousand years are but as yesterday, as we meditate upon the solemn passing of time and turn our minds to the contemplation of eternity, save us from being enslaved to the temporal and the transient. Help us to look forward with hope and determination. Let our sinfulness teach us our utter dependence on you. So, marching forward into this New Year, make us brave, serene and strong, so that even in a world so full of suffering and grief, we may be as lamps shining in the darkness, helping to light the path that humanity must now tread in its return to sustainable living, until at last our feet are guided into the way of peace between each other and peace with all creation, through Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. (Leslie Weatherhead – adapted)

“The Carbon Fields” by Graham Harvey (Grassroots £9.99)
Green Futures
CIWEMBusiness Briefing Resurgence

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