Our wildlife can be saved – but only with political will

theGuardian

The Guardian, 28 March 2018:

Michael McCarthy is absolutely right to underline how little attention has been paid to the catastrophic loss of insect populations and farmland birds over the past 50 years, but this is part of a general trend that is accelerating.

The three main factors driving species loss are climate change, loss of habitat, and the introduction of alien species into vulnerable populations. The rate of loss for all species is currently 1,000 times higher than normal, with half of all amphibians, a third of all corals, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all plant species and a sixth of birds under threat of extinction.

Of course Homo sapiens is just another species that will disappear along with all the rest. If we lack the intelligence or the motivation to stop this process, we probably don’t deserve the description of sapiens.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue The Planet

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We can now measure carbon flux from space

financialTimes

Financial Times, 23 February 2018:

Sir, George Whitesides (Letters February 21) states that the “Blue
Marble” image of Earth, taken from space in 1972, gave rise to the
modern environmental movement. This overlooks the campaign by
Stewart Brand in 1966 to force Nasa to release a rumoured colour photo
of Earth. The image was subsequently used on the covers of Brand’s
seminal Whole Earth Catalog that offered tools for ecological living and
was published from 1969 to 1972. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth
were founded in 1971. The great value of space access is that it is now
possible, using hyperspectral technology, to measure from space the
carbon flux on areas of Earth. This will make global carbon pricing and
trading viable as it brings scientific integrity to carbon sequestration
claims. Carbon markets have failed previously due to political
intervention and inaccurate measurement. Soil and forests, as carbon
sinks, are our main hope for reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.
Satellites can help.

Craig Sams
Hastings, E Sussex, UK

 

Our presence in space is helping us manage climate change

financialTimes

Financial Times, 21 February 2018:

Robin Russell-Jones (Letters, February 16) is right to assert that solving
climate change will involve a variety of Earth-bound commitments. He is
wrong though to dismiss the improvement of access to space by private
companies as pointless and harmful. The relevance of space-based
technologies to climate change mitigation has been self-evident since the
“Blue Marble” image of Earth, taken in 1972 by the crew of Apollo 17,
helped give rise to the modern environmental movement. Since then our
knowledge and understanding of the causes and effects of climate change
on the planet, as well as how to better manage the consequences for its
inhabitants, have been immeasurably improved because of our presence
in space. The new commercial space companies such as Virgin Galactic
aim to bring space transportation into the 21st century with reusable
space craft, cutting the cost and environmental impact of launch and so
permitting innovative space-based solutions to a host of Earth-based
challenges — including that of climate change.

George Whitesides
Chief Executive, Virgin Galactic

Planetary techno-fixes will not solve all our problems

financialTimes

Financial Times, 15 February 2018:

Elon Musk’s ambition to populate the world with electric vehicles
running on solar-powered batteries is a vision we can admire, but
pretending that Mars provides some insurance policy against fouling up
our planet is delusional (Opinion, Feb 10). Richard Branson is another
entrepreneur whose obsession with space travel is combined with concern
about climate change; but not every problem is amenable to planetary
techno-fixes.

The solution to climate change is closer to home and requires a huge
investment in renewables and energy conservation, combined with a
carbon tax that reflects the damage that fossil fuels impose on human
health and our environment. Virgin Galactic or building colonies on Mars
are vainglorious projects with little purpose and a huge carbon footprint.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet,
Stoke Poges,
Bucks,
UK

Turkish environmentalist murders and the legend of Gilgamesh

theGuardian

The Guardian, 18 October 2017:

There have been many attempts throughout history to preserve the cedars of Lebanon, including a decree against logging by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, but Aysin and Ali Büyüknohutçu are the first to have been murdered since Gilgamesh, a king in ancient Mesopotamia, slew the mythical guardian of the cedar forest, Humbaba, in 2750BC (Murders are a warning, say Turkish activists, 18 October).

It is likely that the Epic of Gilgamesh was written to warn against assaults on the natural world, but ancient cedar forests in Lebanon have nevertheless been decimated, not least by the British military when constructing a railway from Haifa to Tripoli, and Cedrus libani is now classified as a near-threatened species. The best-preserved trees are now found in the Taurus mountains of southern Turkey, and it is for these forests that the couple gave their lives. Turkey no longer has an independent judiciary, and there is a menacing link between nationalistic leaders and disregard for the environment. Trump’s attitude to climate change is just as dangerous as Turkish hitmen who murder environmental activists.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Author, The Gilgamesh Gene

 

The budget should address cuts and chronic underfunding – before it’s too late

theGuardian

The Guardian, 6 March 2016:

Dieselgate has been described as one of the greatest public health scandals in living memory; and last week researchers at MIT estimated an extra 1,200 deaths from the use of VW’s defeat devices just in Germany. The equivalent figure for the EU is around 5,000. Yet there is no indication that the chancellor has any plans to protect the public from the reckless and illegal policies adopted by car manufacturers (Opinion, 6 March). If the government increased fuel duty and vehicle excise duty for diesel cars, then the monies could be used to invest in non-polluting technologies, and the UK could become a world leader in clean energy and green transport. Instead we have an administration that rivals President Trump in its addiction to fossil fuels.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Ex-chair, Campaign for Lead Free Air, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

How to win the war on air pollution

theGuardian

The Guardian, 19 February 2017:

Air pollution is not just a London problem (Editorial, 17 February). Of the 43 zones currently monitored in the UK, 38 fail EU standards for NO2, so any strategy has to be nationwide and not left to individual councils.

The most likely government response is an extension of clean air zones, but there are serious doubts as to whether this will improve public health. First, designating certain areas as clean does nothing to reduce total emissions; it merely diverts them elsewhere. Second, the health effects of NO2 and particulates are without threshold, so reducing levels below an arbitrary limit may make sense politically, but will have little effect biologically. Third, the projected improvement in air quality is predicated upon new vehicles producing less NO2 in line with stricter EU vehicle emission tests, but we already know that emissions of NO2 “on the road” are four to five times greater than in laboratory tests, a discrepancy that even applies to the latest Euro 6 engines. Finally, studies of London schoolchildren showed no improvement in lung function after three years living in a low-emission zone.

As your leader proposes, we are in urgent need of a new Clean Air Act that hastens the demise of diesel and other highly polluting technologies, something the government could and should have championed more than 20 years ago.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Former chair CLEAR, Campaign for Lead Free Air, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

 

Finding a solution to pollution

sunday times

Sunday Times, 5 February 2017:

Most of the carnage inflicted by Trump since he took office can be reversed when he leaves; the exception is climate change, since failure to mitigate global warming today will probably result in irreversible changes tomorrow. Trump’s solution is to ban any discussion of global warming when he meets the royal family, even though the future of humanity is under threat. He needs to recognise that there is not a single reputable scientific journal, or a single national scientific institute, that does not accept that global warming is man-made and getting worse. His behaviour is that of an autocrat in denial.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones,

Help Rescue the Planet

Known risks

sunday times

Sunday Times, 1 January 2017:

Cavendish says the 20% of lung cancers that occur in non-smokers is “sheer bad luck”. According to Cancer Research UK, exposure to radon gas – for example, in houses built over granite accounts for about 5% of the 36,000 annual lung cancer deaths. However, the biggest cause after Smoking is outdoor air pollution, which is behind more than 2,300 respiratory and lung cancer deaths every year, according to a recent joint report by two medical royal colleges. So it is bad luck if you live or work in an urban environment heavily polluted by diesel emissions and nobody informed you of the risks.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones

Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire