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Ethical consumerism

This is a guest post by Rachel Maurice for Aberdeen Climate Action

If you are an active and knowledgeable customer, you can make fair and sustainable choices. If you don’t and passively accept little or no information on your potential purchases, you can make these choices, so the exploitation of our world will continue. I believe we can change this, all it takes is a little knowledge.

By trying to make more ethical choices in my daily life in general, I have actually started to buy, and thereby consume, much less. And I still eat and drink, don’t worry! It’s only recently that I understood how zero waste lifestyles allow you to get rid of what isn’t serving you, and focus on the important stuff. The products I do buy are better quality, and overall, it might even come out cheaper in the end, not to mention healthier!

For instance, a lot of the food I buy is local and organic, whether I get it from wholefood shops like Foodstory, or from farmers markets (see list on Sustainable Living website: https://sustainableaberdeen.com). One of my main targets in my journey to a more sustainable way of life is… PLASTIC!!! Plastic definitely has its purpose, but plastic trash is pervasive, you’ll find it wherever you go. It is unsightly, gross and unsustainable especially as a single use “throw away” material. Luckily, there are ways out of plastic! Or just about…. When I first thought about cutting down plastic use in my life, I looked around and lost count of the amount of plastic items surrounding me. The dream to live plastic-free seemed daunting and unachievable, but, taking one step at a time, I gradually changed my habits (and my partner’s!) and my lifestyle.

When I shop at the local shops and farms I mentioned, I take my own jars and tote bags to fill them with many staples.

This new way of consuming has brought its share of creativity into my life, which I love!! I bake much more often those lovely shortbread that my partner devours instead of the packaged store bought biscuits. I also cook a lot more from scratch and, although I wasn’t fond of cooking initially, I have uncovered new culinary skills and found easy and handy strategies to save time and as well as money while taking care of my health and that of the planet.

If you want to find out more practical tips for a lower waste way of life, join us during Climate Week North East on Wednesday 20th March at the How to Go Green event. Hope to see you there!

Are activists’ voices heard? An example from Bialowieza Forest logging

This is a guest post by Magda Strzala for Aberdeen Climate Action

GOVERNMENTAL DECISION TO LOG BIALOWIEZA FOREST IN POLAND
The Bialowieza Forest in eastern Poland has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and classified as of ‘outstanding universal value’. Home to wolves, lynx, bison (25% of the world’s European population), and a rich array of birds and beetles, Bialowieza is Europe’s largest remaining lowland old growth forest. In Belarus the entire woodland is recognised as a nature park, but in Poland, unfortunately, only a small part is protected (16% of Polish Bialowieza Forest).

In 2016, Jan Szyszko, then Polish Minister of the Environment, approved a tripling of industrial logging in Bialowieza, asserting that it was necessary to combat an outbreak of spruce bark beetles. Environmental groups disagreed, claiming that it wouldn’t defeat the beetle and would lead to more harm than good. WWF highlighted that bark beetle outbreaks and dying spruce trees are ’natural processes’ that have been forming the Bialowieza Forest for centuries and its biodiversity depends on richness in dead wood. The real reasoning behind the government’s decision, I believe, is more to do with financial as opposed to ecological gain: it was an excuse to allow the state-run logging regime access to pristine old growth wood and benefit the budget.

Unsurprisingly, the Polish Minister’s decision met with fierce opposition. I am so glad that citizens across the country took on the authorities – and eventually won. Unfortunately from 24th May 2016, when logging operations started, until its cessation it is thought that at least 10.000 trees were felled in Bialowieza.

ACTIVISTS INVOLVEMENT IN PROTESTS AGAINST THE LOGGING
If you believe that the voices of individuals protesting against governmental decisions have no chance of being heard and listened to then a counter argument can be found in the circumstances that lead to the cessation of logging in Bialowieza.

In May 2017, activists set up a permanent camp in the village of Bialowieza to protest the logging through direct action and engagement with the local community. Protesters ran several projects; one of which was visits from biologists organising walks in the forest to teach anyone interested in Bialowieza’s particular trees, plants and biodiversity. The location of the camp in a village was intentional – the environmentalists wanted to peacefully cooperate with locals and raise their awareness on the significance of protecting the woodland.

More importantly, activists were involved in patrolling and monitoring the forest and areas in danger of being logged. A lot of effort was put into gathering data on places where logging took place as well as a scale of it. This data was then used in the media to evidence the current status and impact of the logging and in again lawsuits against the government. The European Commission, as well as UNESCO, was interested in what was going on in the forest; they needed reliable information and, luckily, there were hundreds of people who devoted their time and energy to collect relevant data and then provided them to the authorities.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
ClientEarth and other environmental groups filed a complaint with the European Commission, which took the case to the European Court of Justice in 2017, alleging that Poland was in violation of EU laws to protect habitat and birdlife. Eventually, the EU’s highest court ruled in 2018 that Poland’s logging in the UNESCO-protected Bialowieza Forest was illegal opening the door to potentially multi-million-euro fines.

Szyszko was fired from his Ministerial role in early January 2018 as part of a Cabinet reshuffle intended to improve relations with the European Union. The new Minister of the Environment, Henryk Kowalczyk, confirmed that Poland will respect the verdict and, hence, logging in Bialowieza Forest was halted. Additionally, he assured that all lawsuits against the protesters would be withdrawn.

POSITIVE LESSON FOR FUTURE ECO-ACTIVISM AND PROTESTS
I believe that protests, such as those in Bialowieza, do not only directly impact on the physical environment (for example lead to logging being stopped) but also indirectly change society’s attitude towards environmental issues. Such actions catch the media’s attention and attract influential people to get involved and openly speak about these issues. Public opinion is affected; those, who previously ignored climate change, start to think about it, they hear more about environmental dangers and crimes and, hopefully, learn how serious that problem is. I can see this process first-hand because many of my friends from Poland are becoming more and more aware of ecological dangers.

There is an increasing awareness of the need to protect our environment and urgency to take actions. On 15th February hundreds of children missed school to protest against the biggest threat to their future – Climate Change. The more people get involved, the louder and stronger our voice becomes and in that way we can stop logging, force local and national governments to ban plastic bags or to abandon plans for new coal plants, just to name a few actions that had already succeeded in the past.

As more and more people are lifting their voices to be heard on stopping climate change and creating a better, greener future, let us not forget the importance of activism and the initial voices that spark a movement. We should never forget how important the voice of an individual is. Let’s think how much else can be improved if we all speak out loud?

Polish dependency on coal and possible routes that Poland may follow in the future

This is a guest post by Magda Strzala for Aberdeen Climate Action

WHY DOES POLISH ECONOMY RELY HEAVILY ON COAL?

Opening the COP 24 UN summit, Polish President Andrzej Duda boasted that Poland is sitting on 200 years’ worth of coal supplies and ‘it will be hard not to use them.’ These words uttered by the Head of State surprised and outraged many, particularly in times when the EU actively calls for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Currently, there are 90 coal deposits in Poland which produced above 140mln metric tons of coal in 2012, providing 55% of that country’s primary energy consumption, and 75% of electrical generation. Poland is the ninth-largest coal producer in the world and second in Europe.

International Energy Agency 2016 Review provides that productive capacity of 62% of Polish coal mines is older than 30 years. Such coal mines are around 20% less effective than the more modern ones, burning more coal and emitting more greenhouse gases.

Despite the lack of sufficient redevelopment in that area, the coal mining industry in Poland became a source of identity and national pride, especially in the southern Silesian area. Coal mining has historical value in that region, as well as cultural and political connections.

Many fears that weakening the coal industry or diversifying the energy mix will lead to an economic disaster. This, together with above mentioned almost ‘mythical status’, has led to a heavy reliance on the highly pollutant fossil fuel that remains Polish main energy source.

Polish CO2 emissions constitute around 1% of the world’s emissions. If all countries (regardless of population and economy) emitted as much as Poland- global emissions would double.

NEGATIVE SIDES OF POLISH ‘BLACK GOLD’

Coal, known in Poland as ‘black gold,’ has helped the country gain its energy independence. But, that high-polluting fuel has been linked to serious diseases and premature death.

Of the 50 most polluted cities in the EU, 36 are in Poland, causing nearly 50,000 premature deaths a year, according to the European Environment Agency. Cracow Smog Alarm proved that benzo(a)pyrene level in the city was 8 times above the recommended limit. Each resident’s exposure to the toxin is equivalent to the damage caused by smoking around 7 cigarettes a day. Similarly, according to data collected by Quartz, in one day in January 2017, the levels of air pollutants registered in Warsaw reached 437 micrograms per cubic metre – with the average norm established by the EU being 50
micrograms per cubic metre.

In the 70s in Poland there were around 4 days in a year with a temperature above 30 degrees; in the last 10 years, there were on average around 13 days with such temperature. The last two decades have shown that more frequent precipitation has negatively affected the risk of floods, water erosion and landslides. Disastrous floods occurred in Poland in 1997, 1998, 2001, and 2010. There is also a serious threat of drought in the vegetation seasons (major droughts occurred in 1992, 2003, and 2006) which impeded the country’s ability to feed itself.

CAN POLAND OVERCOME ITS COAL DEPENDENCY?

During the last UN summit talks, due to increasing pressures, Poland promised to reduce its reliance on the fossil fuel. However, with 100,000 coal-dependent jobs in the country, switching to alternative sources of energy may carry great economic risk.

Recently, 17 Polish cities joined a zero-carbon coalition. According to a survey by Greenpeace, a proposal to phase out coal by 2030 has the support of 69% of Poles. On the other hand, currently governing party the Law and Justice won the 2015 parliamentary elections on a promise to keep the coal industry as the country’s main energy source. Politicians are aware that the mining industry plays a crucial role; weaning Poland off its coal reliance may lead to a decrease in support from those involved in this sector. Hence, the government should ensure that during that process benefits packages should be offered to those adversely affected by necessary transformation of the Polish energy sector.

Those politicians who have tried to introduce changes are struggling, according to Mateusz Klinowski, the former mayor of Wadowice located in Silesia. He lost office in an election after trying to cut pollution and wean the city off coal. ‘But even if I tell them the planet is dying and I will give them 50% of the cost of a new heating system, they think it’s just green bullshit and not necessary. We need to change the state government and do it at the top level.’

One of the main coal mining cities in Silesia – Katowice – has partly reinvented itself as a cultural centre, conference hub and university city, but the resistance has been fierce from the left and right of the old economy. The Solidarity union, representing tens of thousands of Polish miners, has joined with the
right-wing US lobby group, the Heartland Institute, to dispute the climate change.

But it is not just Poland ignoring the problem. Coal is on the rise in Japan, Indonesia, India, Vietnam and Russia. In China, the world’s biggest producer, output has increased after several years of declines. Ottmar Edenhofer claims that planned new coal investments in the world would add 330 gigatonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Jennifer Morgan of Greenpeace concluded the COP 24 held in Poland: ‘A year of climate disasters and a dire warning from the world’s top scientists should have led to so much more. Instead, governments let people down again as they ignored the science and the plight of the vulnerable. People expected action, and governments did not deliver. This is morally unacceptable.’

I do believe that Poland can move away from coal dependency. But what is needed is active involvement of the government. Politicians can change the attitude of society towards climate change. Individuals do speak up and raise awareness but, unfortunately, it does not suffice; especially when we talk here about transforming the energy sector. Right now, I do not know if I should be optimistic about the future of the Polish energy sector. On one hand, concluding COP 24, Poland’s presidency sought to highlight the issue of a “just transition” for workers away from fossil-fuel jobs. But I do not see any decisive steps that the government would take. I hope that this inaction will end and that our politicians will finally be concerned not only about profits but also about our planet. How long do we need to wait? Well, future will tell; let’s just hope that it will not be too late.

Environmentalism on a budget

Sometimes environmental goals and economic ones overlap and we can do the right thing and save ourselves money at the same time. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the climate change problem and to feel helpless but there’s a lot of simple things we can do as individuals which can collectively make a difference.

  1. Eat less meat and dairy. Livestock farming accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector: that’s all the trains, trucks, planes, cars, and ships on the planet. It may seem difficult at first to reduce meat consumption and eat more plants but think of it as adding new and interesting foods to your diet rather than taking foods away. There are around 20,000 species of edible plants on the planet and yet we consume the same three or four species of animals over and over again. Plants are also cheaper so you’ll save money on the weekly grocery shopping.
  2. Ditch the car. Not everyone can afford an electric or hydrogen vehicle but if you give up the car completely you’ll save thousands of pounds every year by dispensing with car-related expenses like petrol, insurance, registration, and maintenance. We’re lucky in Aberdeen to have a car-club so it’s easy to dispense with the car but still have access to one, when needed.
  3. Turn the heating down and replace light bulbs with low energy LED bulbs. Not everyone can afford to install solar panels but we can all replace bulbs, when they blow, with low energy LED alternatives and we can turn our thermostats down. This will reduce our emissions and save us money at the same time.
  4. Take your own reusable bags to the shops. Plastic waste is not biodegradable and much of it finds its way into our oceans. Plastic is also made from fossil fuels. Take your own bag to the shops and you won’t have to pay for one.
  5. Go on local holidays. We’re lucky in Scotland to have so many wonderful, inspiring, and fascinating landscapes to visit. Support the local economy, save money, and reduce your emissions by holidaying in Scotland rather than flying to far-flung places.

I’m sure there’s more! Please share your ideas in the comments.

sea landscape nature water
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Reducing waste

I haven’t bought disposable pads or tampons in more than ten years. I stopped buying them after I gave birth to my first child when I discovered the cloth nappy community. We never used disposable nappies on our children and it made me question why I used disposable feminine hygiene products. When my periods returned I decided to use cloth for myself as well and have never looked back.

Women have been using washable cloth to absorb menstrual flow for centuries. The use of disposables is a recent and tragic phenomenon. Tampons take longer to biodegrade in landfill than the lifespan of the woman who used them and the average woman sends about 11,000 tampons to landfill during her lifetime. But it needn’t be this way. By switching to reusables we can reduce this waste and save ourselves money at the same time.

At Foodstory in Aberdeen you can buy Lilahpads which are organic cloth pads made by an Aberdonian mum. You can also purchase them online through their website and feel good knowing you are supporting a local business. At Newton Dee you can purchase a Mooncup which is a silicon alternative to disposable tampons.

There’s no need to buy disposables and the modern cloth alternatives are terrific and much better than the rags our ancestors had to use. They’ll also save you money over the long term. What’s not to like about that?

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Aberdeen Sustainability Festival

The George St Sustainability Festival is happening this Saturday, 7th July. It’s on George St, outside John Lewis, and is a celebration of sustainable living. There’ll be a farmer’s market selling a range of locally-produced food as well as some community groups, including Aberdeen Climate Action. I will also be there representing Cycling UK and promoting active travel. Please come along and show your support!

Article in the Evening Express.
Article on the Aberdeen City Council site.

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In common or alone: how to grow your own food!

Climate Café #5 was last Tuesday evening and the topic was growing your own food. Growing food encourages community, healthy eating, and makes out society more resilient to climate change and changing weather patterns. We had three speakers: Alan Carter from the Powis Community Garden, Bob Donald from One Seed Forward, and Greg Walsh from the Allotment Market Stall. Here’s my summary of the talks.

Alan Carter from Powis Community Garden

Alan Carter talked about how to transform a derelict and unloved space into a thriving community garden. How did he do it? There isn’t a formula for how to make these transformations a success, other than having one or two passionate people, but Alan shared some really great tips with us. For instance, he used the resilience of nature to build green space. Wildflowers, for example, are hardy and beautiful at the same time. Food crops like fruit trees and brambles can be dispersed to help mimic nature and avoid creating monocultures in one area. He also opted for plants that work well in a community setting like crops with high pickability and low nickability. For example, a lot of effort goes into growing cabbages but picking them is easy. Hence cabbages have high nickability and low pickability. Compare this with raspberries that don’t require much effort to grow but a lot of effort to pick and hence have a low nickability and high pickability. A low nickability is better for community gardens because you don’t want to make it easy for one person to take off with the entire crop in one night.

It’s also important to provide individuals with space of their own. The community space gives people new to gardening a way to dip their toes in and gather ideas. The individual space lets people take full control and thrive with their new hobby. The best community spaces have a combination of both.

The benefits of community food gardens are not just for the vegetables and the carbon savings. It’s also about getting people together, building relationships, and encouraging engagement with food which is particularly important at a time when 50% of the food in the UK is processed. There are also mental health benefits when people have agency/control over food production.

If you’d like to learn more then head over to Alan’s blog, Of Plums and Pignuts.

Bob Donald from One Seed Forward

Bob is the founder of a particularly inspiring community growing initiative called One Seed Forward. It was founded in December 2016 and targeted Aberdeen City and Shire. The aim is to get people growing their own crops and is based on the principles of the Slow Food Movement – good, clean, and fair. It’s good for them and the planet, clean – no pesticides, and fair for the producer and worker.

One Seed Forward gives away seeds for free to individuals and community groups. The idea is that for every free seed you get you give two back in return. These can be given to your neighbour, your school, anyone. It’s about getting involved in food growing and encouraging others to do the same.

In 2017 One Seed Forward gave away 400kg of seed potatoes and 50,000 spring onion seeds. These were given to 13 schools and 16 community groups. They generated approximately 4,000kg of potatoes grown locally as a direct result of the initiative. In 2018 Bob plans to give away 625kg of potatoes.

Every attendee of the Climate Café went home with a bag of potatoes from One Seed Forward. Mine are happily chitting away as I type this and I plan to bury them at my plot at the end of this month. If all goes well I’ll have some potatoes in about 18 weeks. We were all encouraged to share our progress and the Climate Café Community (CCC) of growers was born.

Greg Walsh from the Allotment Market Stall

How many cabbages can you eat? This is the question that inspired Greg to start the Allotment Market Stall. One allotment gardener had a particularly prolific crop of cabbages one year and wasn’t sure what to do with them all. Greg then had the idea to gather all the excess produce from allotments around Aberdeen and sell it, thus reducing waste. At the same time he’d be able to promote growing your own food and a little bit of money would go back to the allotments.

They started in 2013 with a 5-week pilot during which they collected and sold excess produce for a total of £700. Since then they’ve done it every week over the summer, selling the food at Duthie Park. In 2017 1,664kg of produce was collected over 12 weeks. They sold 1,464kg, sent 116kg to food banks, and 80kg went to compost.

The Allotment Market Stall is run by 13 volunteers and in 2018 they’ll be selling produce at both Duthie and Seaton Parks in Aberdeen. They calculated the maximum and minimum food miles of the produce they sell and the largest is 23 miles while the shortest was 5 metres.


The next Climate Café is on the 3rd of April and the topic is Hydroponics and Permaculture. Please join us at Waterstones Bookstore in Aberdeen. The talks start at 7pm.

Environmental impact of the food system

The last climate café was on the impact our food choices have on the environment, which is right up my alley. I was looking forward to these talks very much and I don’t think I was the only one because it was our busiest climate café ever with more than 120 people turning up on the night. Here are my notes.

Professor Pete Smith from the University of Aberdeen
Food choices and how consumerism can influence the carbon footprint.

Managing demand for livestock products is essential for future food security. By 2050 we can expect to need to feed around 9-10 billion people. This will level off to around 12 billion by 2100. That’s a lot of mouths to feed.  In developing countries we have a rising middle class and with increases in wealth comes increases in meat and milk consumption, both of which put more pressure on the food system. In the next 50 years we’re going to need to produce more food in the same land area than we’ve ever produced in the whole of human history. Increasing production by 10% or 20% is not going to be enough. This will be hugely challenging. It’s not like we’re currently doing a good job of this with some 800 million people going hungry.

One thing is certain: we cannot all eat a western diet because there’s not enough land. We must change our diets if we’re to produce enough food and make sure everyone has access to it – this is about food security. Furthermore, if we’re serious about tackling climate change then we need to address demand for animal products. This has two components: minimising waste and dietary change. In developed countries around 30% of purchased food products goes to landfill. This could potentially be reduced by 50%. Dietary change can also have a large impact on reducing our carbon footprint because meat products have a much higher impact than plants. There’s a 100-fold difference between eating ruminant beef compared with vegetables in terms of the CO2 emissions they produce. In other words, it’s 100 times better to eat a vegetable burger than a beef burger.

Currently 30% of all crops grown are fed to animals. If we weren’t feeding so many animals we’d free up land for other things like reforestation. Animals are not particularly efficient at converting protein from plants into energy. We’re about 10% efficient and so it makes little sense to filter plants we can eat through an animal that’s only 10% efficient and then eating the animal. We need to shift consumption from animals to the food we’re feeding those animals. Meat is a luxury consumption that we don’t need.

This doesn’t mean we all have to go completely vegan tomorrow. It’s not a binary choice of all or nothing. But we need to shift away from a diet centred on animal products to one that is more balanced and healthy. Doing so will give us benefits in triplicate: it will improve the health of the population, reduce the risks associated with climate change, and improve food security. The health benefits are a reduced incidence of diabetes and heart disease as well as a lower risk of some cancers. The challenge is how to incentivise plant-based diets so we can realise these benefits. We could tax the foods that put more pressure on the environment, the public health system, and food security.


Dr Stephen Whybrow, University of Aberdeen
Is eating less meat the answer?

We know we need to reduce our emissions by changing the foods we eat but what would happen if we all started reducing our meat consumption? The Scottish diet is already notoriously bad with too much sugar and fat and not enough fibre. How would switching to a plant-based diet impact our health and the micronutrients we need? Sugar and oils are high in energy but not much else.

The question is, how would meat-eaters change what they eat if plant-based diets were incentivised? If meat-eaters switched from lean chicken and veggies to macaroni cheese then this is not great for their health. One study found that 25% of meat-eaters would increase their dairy consumption if they reduced meat consumption and this is going to have only minimal benefits for the environment because of the high environmental impact of dairy farming. There’s also the question of whether people will compensate for no-meat days by eating more meat on other days.

In terms of nutritional requirements, will we get enough protein if we reduce our meat consumption? Yes, we eat way too much protein right now. What about iron? Iron absorption from plants is not as high as from meat. However the amount we absorb also depends on how much we have in our body. If our iron stores are low then we’ll absorb more. For most people iron is not going to be a problem. Of greater concern is B12 which comes exclusively from animal products. Folic acid also masks problems associated with B12 deficiency. What options are there? We could issue supplements to everyone or fortify foods.

Is eating less meat the answer? No, it’s only part of the answer. We also need to consider nutritional issues.


Scott Heron from RGU
Plastic: The Naked Truth

Inspired by a “naked onion” (an onion wrapped in plastic), Scott and his partner, Pam, decided to challenge themselves to go plastic-free for 30 days. Plastic packaging is a huge problem. Currently 13 million tonnes of plastic goes into the oceans every year. What happens to it? It will not decompose on human time scales so it will be there for a very long time. There is also the issue of micro-plastics which are ingested by plankton and end up cascading up the food chain.

How did Scott manage for the 30 days? He decided that everything they already had in the food cupboard could stay but all purchased things for the 30 days had to be plastic-free. It was hard to buy fruit and vegetables without plastic packaging. There’s no green grocer in Aberdeen. He tried to get meat and fish from the deli counters at the supermarket – at the meat counter they were happy for him to use his own container but this was not possible at the fish counter. He was told it was a health and safety risk. Scott was eventually able to source fish from the local fishmongers.

Part-way through the challenge Scott ran out of salt and went to a beach north of Aberdeen, collected some sea water, then boiled off the water to make his own. Two things that he found surprisingly difficult to buy without plastic packaging were pasta and coffee. He eventually found pasta in a cardboard box but there was a tiny bit of plastic in a window on the box.

At the end of the 30 days Scott found his diet had improved considerably and he was eating far less sugar. He’s also much more aware of how pervasive plastics are.

Scott and Pam are starting another plastic-free challenge on the 14th February which is in two days! If you want to join them head over to the Facebook page.