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News from the farm   |   COP26   |   Climate change   |   Politics   |   Net zero

Phasing down and copping out

To spend two weeks debating climate change, while barely mentioning the fossil fuels which cause 89 per cent of it, should be unbelievable – but given many people’s current expectations of our politicians, it somehow seems normal.

COP26 represents a triumph for fossil fuel industry lobbyists, and a tragic failure of global governance. My only hope comes from the rising pressure from citizens that will, one day, force change – plus the fact that we don’t have to wait too long for an attempt to do better, as countries will meet again next year to revisit their pledges.

Given that the science is clear, and the emerging solutions are both doable and affordable, one might conclude that collectively we just don’t care enough about the future of our planet and our children to act.

Human nature can be both selfish and extraordinarily altruistic; what makes the difference is the behaviour we see normalised around us. We live in an era of unbridled personal greed, accompanied by declining standards in public life, which can easily make anyone aspiring to behave better feel like an isolated mug – and seeing politicians, celebrities, and billionaires arriving in Glasgow in private jets, or MPs lining their pockets while lobbying for oil companies, undermines the individual sacrifices (e.g. higher energy bills) that the rest of us will be asked to shoulder for collective salvation.

I now read with disbelief that ExxonMobil, perhaps the worst of the oil companies in terms of funding climate change denial, will be officially advising our government on the UK’s path to net zero through Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS).

This is the favoured option for oil companies, because it allows business as usual – but CCUS currently accounts for 0.1 per cent of emissions, with no rapid rise in capacity expected. I remain convinced that taxes on carbon (or directly on fossil fuels) offer the only realistic path away from catastrophe – and that the obstacle is not a lack of public, or even in most cases business, support, but the depressingly low standards of global leadership.

Noam Chomsky tells us: “If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”

Whether in China, Australia, the USA, or the UK, the change we need most is in the example of morality and personal behaviour set by those at the top – unlocking hope, and action, for us all.



    1 Week 2 Days

    Thank you Guy for, as usual, a clear and thoughtful analysis of the situation.
    The Naomi Chomsky quote was particularly appropriate as it is so easy to feel there is no point in trying on occasions, when one looks at the antics our so-called leaders.

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    1 Week 2 Days

    Bleeding autocorrect - Noam not Naomi!

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    1 Week 2 Days

    It might be time to get hold of Jane Goodalls’ Book of Hope

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    1 Week 2 Days

    Yes, I needed to hear that quote!

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    1 Week 2 Days

    And so as expected COP 26 or whatever the number is came up (or is down) to espectations - the world's so called leaders all flew in (mostly in Private jets of course) and did very little except enjoy a nice party - the climate of course got precious little and most of those who it does matter to go even less! So the media slagged off Putin and the Chinese fellah for not attending - but you know whilst I think they should have at least they are the only truthful leaders we have! "we don't believe it so we are not doing anything about it [or maybe we are not allowed to believe it - our people would destroy us if we did do anything"

    Sad in'it but of course it has been expected - now next year we have another party and again nothing much will be done!

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    1 Week 2 Days

    So disappointing. It seems that all their energies go into PR "window dressing" exercises, which are of course designed to pacify and deflect attention from their REAL concern - that addressing the issues effectively would threaten their filthy lucre.

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    1 Week 2 Days

    At least for the UK, our govt's attitude shows how broken democracy is. They were voted in on the basis that they would deliver Brexit. I think if the Monster Raving Loonies had been the only party offering hard brexit, they would have won. And now, the same Loonies - sorry, Tories - hosted the world's biggest climate conference while holding zero climate policies.

    But my humble opinion on the climate crisis is that we need carbon budgets. We currently only have one - the climate scientists' global carbon budget. But we need one for every nation, and even for every person in each nation. Sadly, perhaps ironically, managing your own personal carbon budget is seriously challenging!

    Riverford's role would be to put the carbon emissions on every item they sell so we customers can quickly tot up exactly how good or bad our food is and make informed choices - whether it's meat, dairy, lentils or bananas. How else am I going to stay within my carbon budget?

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    Jack Thompson

    8 Hours 53 Min

    Hi Adam,

    A carbon budget is interesting, but should we just focus on one barometer of sustainability, carbon emissions, even though it is an important one obviously? Biodiversity, nitrous oxide, water usage, soil health, carbon sequestration, and land use are all important measures and the overall sustainability depends on how these are interconnected.

    Do you think it's feasible a) to measure this accurately? b) communicate this multi-factorial notion of sustainability effectively to people so that they can make more informed decisions?



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    4 Hours 59 Min

    If we let ourselves get bogged down, then we'll lose valuable time. Lost time equals worse climate change and worse resulting impacts. What you're asking and I hear it a lot, is how do we get directly to sustainability utopia? CO2 emissions are the first step. If we can significantly reduce CO2 emissions, we can win ourselves more time on all fronts. It's got to be the biggest focus. How to get from here to sustainability is a Wicked Problem, and who knows best - I don't know.

    The UN Sustainability Development Goals are a description of the minimum requirement. I'm putting together and advocating for a wide-ranging approach to climate change that tries to cover as much as possible natively, it's called Universal Carbon Credits and it would require you (Riverford) to put your CO2 emissions per product onto the price label. But the effort to do that would not be borne solely by you, so it to answer (a), yes it would be feasible. The answer to (b) is that the multiple sustainability factors would become more communicable under this UCC framework.

    On a simpler level without such a framework though, not having the CO2 emissions info available for buyers makes it difficult - it's akin to asking a Weight Watcher to guess what food s/he should choose without telling them the calorie count.

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    1 Week 1 Day

    Reducing Carbon Dioxide to atmosphere is fundamental to success. People take for granted the overwhelming benefits of modern plastics, rubbers, and allied technology. These are easy to form, highly durable engineering wonders. At the same time those properties create hazards in the environment that need to be mitigated and managed. One available safeguard is capturing the pollutant at source and storing it forever. Carbon capture does just that turning CO2 into carbonate below ground immobile forever and inert. No business or material will survive unless carbon neutral operations are delivered. We need all available solutions to tackle the crisis. When regulators (Government) assert that licence (budget) for large scale CO2 release is legally required via the Environment Agency then companies will respond and could respond quite quickly at least on an agreed plan. Denial of technological advances will not progress the change. Denial delivers disappointing outcomes in every context as the Environmental reality does not care about politics at all.

    Riverford are a leader and I admire the evident progress towards zero carbon delivery. Lead by example and embrace opportunity together.

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    Guy Singh-Watson

    Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 80,000 customers a week. Tired of meetings, brands and the assumption that greed is our predominant motivation, Guy converted the business to employee ownership in 2018, using the proceeds to buy a small farm and return to growing organic vegetables. In common with many of Riverford’s new co-owners, Guy is an advocate of using business to shape a part of the world, however small, to be kinder, more considerate and sustainable; more like the world most of us want to live in.  His weekly newsletters connect people to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about.

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