The Depressing, The Uplifting and The Worrying!

The Depressing, The Uplifting and The Worrying!

With thanks to Greenpeace and others. By Sally Campbell

At this time of almost continuous 24 hour news on coronavirus and its effect on people, communities and countries it is easy to forget the much bigger picture and look beyond this present and immediate crisis to the much wider ecosystems we are part of and strategy for the future. So these are three areas, The Depressing, The Uplifting and The Worrying to think about and not to overlook in the immediacy of keeping Arran residents safe, food at the Co-op, the ferry issues and whether a walk on the beach in Blackwaterfoot, if you live in Lamlash, is breaking the rules!

The Depressing
Dolphin numbers in the Indian Ocean have fallen by 87% since 1980 as they have been most frequently drowned in gill nets set for tuna. Not just there either. Fishing continues to be the main cause of deaths but infections are now more common than before as a result of persistent synthetic chemicals accumulating in the animal’s’ tissues and suppressing their immune systems. Industrial fishing is the primary cause of the 1,100 dead dolphins around the Bay of Biscay in 2019.

Illegal fishing on the High Seas continues apace. Using data from Global Fishing Watch and research from a wide range of maritime sources, Greenpeace has developed a record of 416 ‘risky’ reefer (refrigeration) vessels operating on the high seas. The way these vessels operate poses a threat to the marine environment by facilitating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and undermines the human rights of their workers.

Chinstrap penguin colonies have lost as much as 77% of their population since the early seventies. A quote from Greenpeace: ‘Without the help of generous public financial support. Greenpeace would not have been able to undertake this research and reaffirm the need for a network of ocean sanctuaries that would create places where wildlife like penguins can recover and adapt to a changing climate. Together we can make sure we get the strongest Global Ocean Treaty possible protecting our oceans. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and imperative that we make it happen. Over 300,000 people have already signed the petition calling for stronger protection for our oceans’. Executive Director, John Sauven, added that ‘the connectedness of our planet has never been more clear and we know with whatever happens, we’re all in this together’.

Further, inshore waters need protection too. Mexico is struggling with tonnes of seaweed on beaches along its coastline, blooming for the past 10 years excessively across the Caribbean. Why ! because there are rising sea temperatures, fuelled by fertilisers and untreated sewage flowing into the sea. Literally throwing nutrients into the sea. This rotting sargassum seaweed increases the sea’s acidity and temperature and reduces oxygen, so is poisoning coral reefs. Mexico struggles to remove 500,000 tonnes/year of rotting seaweed from its beaches but it is still getting worse. Not just Globally, but local environment protection of marine waters is vital.

This is so, even in Scotland’s inshore waters. Scotland’s salmon farmers are now allowed by SEPA a temporary relaxation of regulations that will allow them to exceed biomass limits if they are forced to delay harvests because of the Covid-19 outbreak. They are unable to fly their fish to foreign markets, such as China and the USA. We need vigilance that this is not extended, so sacrificing Scotland’s inshore waters to increased pollution, and greater plankton blooms in order to protect the profits for salmon farmers.

The Uplifting
There is such a big opportunity to recreate the world when our virus crisis is over. It feels like nature has pressed the reset button. All these years we have been asking people to fly less, travel less, spend less, but flights are so cheap and we have grown accustomed to ‘new’ experiences across the world. Countries are told by their politicians that nothing can change because it would hurt the economy too much. But look at us now! Imagine if someone had told you in November last year that by March, people all over the world would no longer be flying, driving or cruising in huge ships, consuming at every level. It was unimaginable and now it is the new reality. We cannot ever return to business as usual, or will we? It is up to us! We are living through a transformation, a paradigm shift on a grand scale.

The Court of Appeal has judged the UK government’s plans for London’s Heathrow Airport expansion illegal on climate grounds. This ruling is an historic and ground-breaking result for climate justice and could set a precedent for similar cases in the future. This is testament to the hundreds of people – including local communities, environmental organisations, councils, MPs – who worked so hard to stop the expansion. It can be done.

A wonderful uplifting sight of clear water in Venice. Marine Life flourishes in calmer waters of Venice in the absence of overwhelming tourism. Clear water, sandy bottom, crabs and small fish. The canals emptied of speeding motorboat taxis, transport and tourist boats. Swans and cormorants returned. No cruise liners. The locals want it to last, but pressure is already building from the cruise liners and tourist industry to resume as soon as possible.

A bacterium that feeds on toxic plastic has been discovered by scientists. The bug not only breaks the plastic down but uses it as food to power the process. The bacterium, which was found at a waste site where plastic had been dumped, is the first that is known to attack polyurethane. Millions of tonnes of the plastic are produced every year to use in items such as sports shoes, nappies, kitchen sponges and as foam insulation, but it is mostly sent to landfill because it is too tough to recycle. When broken down it can release toxic and carcinogenic chemicals which would kill most bacteria, but the newly discovered strain is able to survive. While the research has identified the bug and some of its key characteristics, much work remains to be done before it can be used to treat large amounts of waste plastic.

There are strong commitments coming from the garment industry to reduce waste in clothing manufacture and the huge amounts of unsold clothing going to landfill sites.

The Worrying
See more at Unearthed by Greenpeace

The leading lobby groups for the auto industry have written to the EU commission to suggest it should not be required to comply with the years-in-the-making carbon dioxide emission standards and also nitrogen dioxide emission limits, due to the Covid-19 crisis that has sent sales plummeting and production severely disrupted. Indeed the German car giant VW told Unearthed “the conditions for achieving the targets are becoming more demanding”. This sounds suspiciously like ‘Economics as usual’.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has in the past been a beacon of good practice and independence in the USA for 60 years. More recently there has been a deregulatory drive under the Trump administration. It has now suspended enforcement of all environmental laws, if companies can claim an issue was due to coronavirus. The agency said it will not ‘seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations’. This is environmental protection going backwards and a worrying trend. The EPA is also trying to limit the type of scientific studies that can be used to write or update public health policies.

The influential and wealthy conservative groups the Manhattan Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) are arguing that the coronavirus crisis demonstrates why efforts to reduce plastic bags are misguided. The claims, however, appear to misrepresent research on the topic, with the virus shown to live on plastic for days. Meanwhile in Wales, plans to cut back on single-use plastics are under review due to the crisis. Misinformation by lobby groups is increasing.

As part of the gargantuan financial package in the USA that made its way through the US congress this week, the airline industry is set to receive a $60 billion bailout, with no obligation to cut its carbon footprint in the future. Democrats’ attempts to insert requirements for industries to meet certain environmental standards fell short, and even the renewable energy industries – which face tens of thousands of job losses and billions in investment – has not yet received any targeted relief. So the powerful American oil lobby wins again, at least in the short to medium term.

Fresh from the US bailout, airline companies are also targeting EU efforts to curb aviation emissions. The head of the International Air Transport Association warned this week that the industry’s fragility – laid bare by the current crisis – is an argument against raising its taxes — as the EU had intended to introduce a new fee for jet fuel. At present, although road fuel is charged excise duty, which represents a substantial proportion of the pump price paid by motorists, aviation kerosene (AVTUR) which is used in jet engines is exempt from tax.

The power of the lobbyists in the USA and the UK is unrelenting. As the stimulus took shape, you might think social distancing would limit all the lobbying. The New York Times describes this unique moment in Washington, a time when industries were forced to make their case on the phone or by email for provisions in a government spending package that was larger than anything ever seen and that just had to happen right away. The answer, as always, will be in the small print. For Deregulation Efforts, it is business as usual in the USA. As the prospect of a very different re-election campaign crops up on the horizon, the Trump administration is striking while the iron is hot with their environmental deregulatory plans. It is at the very least disheartening.

What is the message to take away from all this whilst we have time to sit and think ! Whilst we are in the midst of understanding this Pandemic we must not lose sight of our wider world and its ecosystems on which we all depend and still work to defend environmental standards for land, air and our precious marine environment. A good Global Ocean Treaty would be an added bonus!

Sally Campbell
March 2020