As the witches warned Macbeth, the writing’s on the wall when Burnham Wood comes up to Dunsinane. Chillingly, the cause of that turned out to be anthropogenic. Now some other odd and untimely phenomena could be heralding the disappearance of tree, plant and wildlife species in our woodlands. With much of the UK’s remaining forest cover reduced to small and isolated woods, the threat from climate change is especially acute. To survive, many species will have to move 150 km north, or 100 metres uphill, for each 1 o C increase in temperature. A worst case scenario provides the drama in the Trust’s report - A Midsummer Night’s Nightmare - but there’s also a constructive emphasis on what should and can be done to make our woodland more adaptable in the face of climate change. Now the Trust is promoting a mass observation campaign (0800 026 9650; www.phenology.org.uk) to record changes in the natural calendar. “The more we know”, says the Trust in its appeal for more recorders, “the more success we will have in finding long-term solutions.”
At this year’s annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), researchers came up with some startling stats on what we are doing to our world.
Ice now covers 15% less of the Arctic Ocean than it did 20 years ago. The Arctic permafrost is melting in places -which could aggravate the greenhouse effect by allowing the release of huge amounts of carbon hitherto locked up in the frozen soil.
Ice is vanishing from Africa. Its highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, has lost 82% of its ice cap since 1912.
Surveys from space reveal that half of the earth’s land area has been transformed by human activity. The breakdown shows that the grazing of livestock represents by far the most widespread use (26%), followed by ploughing for farmland (11%) and forestry plantations (11%), with 2-3% taken over by housing, industry and roads.
The AAAS’s Atlas of Population and Environment is published by the University of California Press. AAAS, +1 202 326 6417 www.aaas.org
The Danish government is planning a major boost for passive solar. Concerned that the heat has gone out of the non-domestic market over the last five years, Environment Minister Svend Auken has come up with proposals to make passive solar heating mandatory for all new commercial and office buildings where energy savings would cover the installation cost within 20 years - unless they are hooked up to district heating schemes.
Energy conservation and energy efficiency are the cheapest and fastest way to reduce carbon emissions. According to the Worldwatch Institute, efficiency measures alone could cut global carbon dioxide emissions from 5.6 billion tons to 2.6 billion tons a year by 2010.
“A quiet revolution in villages and market towns up and down the country” is what Countryside Agency chairman, Ewen Cameron had in mind. With foot-and-mouth, of course, he got a revolution that wasn’t so quiet. And despite everything that appears to have been changed forever by the current crisis, there’s still a lot of valuable material and ideas in The State of the Countryside, the third annual assessment by the Countryside Agency.
This is no static snapshot. On the contrary, Cameron sees it as a blueprint for rural renewal. It contains specific proposals - in particular for revitalising the former central role of market towns. To drive this along, the Agency plans to establish 20 ‘beacon towns’, which would provide a hub for the delivery of all kinds of service.
Something to celebrate, and a strong draw card for the beleagured West Country tourist industry: the Eden Project, sheltering a variety of exotic ecosystems within its interlocking giant biomes near St Austell in Cornwall, is now fully open to visitors.
Squarely aimed at the business market, and timed for the introduction of the Climate Change Levy this April, a new Green Electricity Marketplace (GEM) service warns that the resulting new demand for green electricity is likely to outstrip the still very limited supply. “Those businesses that act the quickest will be able to snap up a cheaper, green tariff,” says GEM director, John Green, encouraging them to visit his website (www.greenelectricity.org) as the quick route to comparing competing quotes from the electricity suppliers. He promises an up-to-date list of what’s on offer, and advice to enable businesses to make an informed choice.
But which of the tariffs is a ‘best buy’ on ethical grounds? Ethical Consumer magazine’s comparative chart offers guidance on this aspect of the choice for the would-be purchaser (and there are so far only about 17,000 people in the UK signed up for green electricity schemes).
Sustainability is out of reach for the tourism industry - the emissions from air travel are just too great. In search of solutions, WWF prefers to speak of ‘responsible tourism’. Justin Woolford examines who is responsible.
There is an easy answer. Responsibility for the impact of tourism rests with everyone involved. But at WWF we are seeking partners for work on detailed solutions: we need to target the players with most influence. Which means? The tourism industry itself - and specifically, in the UK at least, the tour operators.
The public acceptance of new technologies depends increasingly on genuine involvement in the debate around risks, needs and options. It’s no longer enough for government or industry to push out information in a one-way flow; we need - and demand - new and interactive forms of discussion. That’s the (heartening) conclusion of Wising Up: the public and new technologies, a new report on research at Lancaster University’s Centre for the Study of Environmental Change (CSEC), commissioned by Unilever UK and the environment think-tank Green Alliance.
It’s less heartening to reflect on the existing shortcomings in our society’s handling of technological risk. But Wising Up’s authors Robin Grove-White, Brian Wynne and Phil Macnaghten say government and industry must now work together, to understand “how best to stimulate wider public discussion about the ways forward”. It is no good officials pretending, for example, that a lack of firm evidence of risk means there is no risk.
If you believe the hype, fuel cells will sweep away the days of dirty traffic and give us all guilt-free green motoring. Ashok Sinha and Caspar Henderson take a closer look under the bonnet, and just about come up smiling... How things change. Sheikh Yamani, who as Saudi oil minister was the bête noire of the 1973 oil crisis, now enjoys something of a reputation as a guru of greenery. His aperçu that, as the Stone Age did not end for lack of stones, the Oil Age will not end for lack of oil, is trotted out with mind-numbing regularity. Late last year, the Sheikh upped the stakes with the bold statement: "Fuel cells are coming before the end of the decade and will cut gasoline consumption by 100%."
Heady stuff. Because fuel cells offer the tantalising promise of emission-free travel. And if the hydrogen which they depend upon is generated by renewable energy, then they’re the closest we have to a dream scenario – cars sans pollution.
Solar energy is proving its worth as the most cost-effective way of getting electricity supply systems up and running in isolated parts of the world. BP Solar, the energy giant’s flagship venture on renewables, is now gearing up in the Philippines for what it describes as the largest solar-energy project ever.
The scheme, backed by Spanish aid money and due to get under way on the ground in September, involves power supplies for 150 villages on Mindanao Island, with a total population of over 400,000. Typically this will mean electric light and power in the school and the community centre in each village, as well as some basic communal lighting, home lighting systems, electric pumps for irrigation and drinking water, and essential refrigeration facilities in health centres.
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