Tuesday, 27 September 2011

27 September 2011 - Today is Earth Overshoot Day

The following is taken from today's press-release from Global Footprint Network.
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Humanity is surpassing nature’s budget for the year, and is now operating in overdraft, according to Global Footprint Network calculations for 2011.

Earth Overshoot Day, which this year falls on September 27, helps conceptualise the degree to which we are over-budget in our use of nature. In approximately nine months, we are demanding a level of ecological services – from producing food and raw materials to filtering our carbon dioxide emissions — equivalent to what the planet can provide for all of 2011. From an ecological standpoint, we have effectively spent our annual salary, with a quarter of the year still to go.

“From soaring food prices to the crippling effects of climate change, our economies are now confronting the reality of years of spending beyond our means. If we are to maintain stable societies and good lives, we can no longer sustain a widening budget gap between what nature is able to provide and how much our infrastructure, economies and lifestyles require.”
(Global Footprint Network President Dr. Mathis Wackernagel)

Meeting the Needs of 7 Billion
This year, Earth Overshoot Day comes as the UN is projecting the human population to reach 7 billion sometime in late October. Current resource trends pose these questions:
- How will we be able to meet the needs of a growing population?
- Support the increased consumption as millions in emerging economies join the swelling ranks of the middle class?
- Provide for the 2 billion alive today that lack access to enough resources to meet basic needs?

Global Footprint Network’s preliminary 2011 calculations show that the rate we are now using resources would take between 1.2 and 1.5 planets to sustainably support. If we continue on the course estimated by (the very moderate) United Nations projections for increasing population and consumption then, by well before mid-century, we will need the capacity of two Earths to keep up with our level of demand.

“Providing good lives for the world’s people is certainly possible – but it will not be possible using the resource-intensive development and growth models we have pursued in the past. That means finding new models of progress and prosperity that limit demand on ecological assets. It also means maintaining the resources we have left as an ongoing source of wealth rather than liquidating them for fast cash.”
(Global Footprint Network Director of Research and Standards, Dr. Juan Carlos Morales)

Have We Reduced Global Overshoot?
The Ecological Footprint and biocapacity calculations that Global Footprint Network made last year placed Earth Overshoot Day a few weeks earlier in the year than this year’s estimates do. This has raised the question as to whether we have reduced global overshoot. The answer, unfortunately, is no. Global Footprint Network is constantly improving the calculations and data sets that are the basis for determining Earth Overshoot Day, and as such the date shifts from year to year.

Currently, we are undertaking some revisions to the way we compare productivity across different geographies and land types – forests in Russia, for example, as compared to fishing ground in Chile. If we look at where Earth Overshoot Day would have fallen over time based on these new assumptions (which we are still testing), we would see overshoot continuing to grow slightly year on year. (Learn more about these revisions, and when Earth Overshoot Day would have fallen over time using our most current assumptions.)

It is not, of course, able to determine with 100 percent accuracy the exact moment when we bust our budget. Hence, Earth Overshoot Day is meant as an estimate rather than as an exact date.

Our methodology does change and may continue to shift, but no matter what scientific approach we have used, and what improvements we have implemented to try to account for both human demand and nature’s supply, the trends remain consistent: we are in significant overshoot, and overshoot is growing.

The 'when' is less important than the 'what': a mounting ecological debt, and the interest we are paying on that debt – food shortages, plummeting wildlife populations, disappearing forests, degraded land productivity and the build-up of CO2 in our atmosphere and ocean, with devastating human and monetary costs.

Overshoot and the Global Economy
In spite of the global recession, resource trends indicate that since October 2008, humanity’s resource demand has been on the rise, although more slowly than in the first eight years of the millennium.

There is more and more evidence that rapidly rising resource costs, in particular for food and energy, played a major role in accelerating, if not sparking, the current global downturn. Now we are trying to reverse the downturn by building jobs and stabilising our economies. But this depends on a reliable resource supply.

“As resource constraints tighten even more, it’s going to feel like trying to run upward on a down escalator. As we look to rebuild our economies to be healthy and robust, now is the moment to come up with ways of doing so that will continue to work and be relevant in the future. Long-term recovery will only succeed, and can only be maintained, if it occurs along with systematic reductions to our dependence on resources.”
 (Dr. Wackernagel)

We are moving to a new paradigm – from one in which resources were treated as limitless to one in which they must be as prudently spent and as carefully managed as financial reserves.

Global Footprint Network and its network of partners is working with individuals, organisations and governments around the globe to make decisions that are aligned with ecological reality – decisions that can help close the ecological budget gap and provide for a prosperous future in the face of changing and challenging resource trends.

Learn more about Earth Overshoot Day
• Still wondering, “What is Overshoot?” Watch this video

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Down on the farm . . .

A few months ago, I introduced the National Trust's new 'My Farm' project. A lot's been happening since then!

Back in May I wrote about the first members' decision about which crop to plant in a particular field. In the end, the decision was for the most clearly and reliably commercial option - sowing wheat. Scott, one of the the farmers on the estate, was delighted . . . it was the decision he would have made.

The next decision to be put before members was about livestock. The sheep flock was to be increased, so the question was: should they go for additional rare breeds, or for a 'safe' commercial breed? The project billed this, on their website, as a 'head vs heart' decision, but I'm not sure that's really accurate - there are very good 'head' reasons for stocking rare breeds. The issue is really, in my view, about short-term, self-centred, commercial return; or long-term, socially responsible approach to sustainability in livestock management. Rare breeds are pools of important genes for future breeding. When we face an uncertain future in terms of food production, keeping open as many options as possible is part of farming sustainably.

Scott originally posed the question as
We originally asked: 'What sheep should we buy' but actually it's more along the lines of 'What sheep should be breed?' To date, Wimpole has kept sheep only on the parkland, which is suitable only for grazing. The sheep kept here are all rare breeds, as part of our work with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, and we should be very clear this is not under threat in any way. However, as we start to establish the organic rotation on the arable farmland, 2/5ths of the farm will be sown with grass and clover at any one time – so we have the opportunity to expand the sheep flock, as their fertility will be important to this phase. We have a decision to make as to which sheep to breed on this land. The question is essentially whether to continue our work with rare breeds, or to start keeping a more commercial breed.
This was followed by a video of a discussion about the market for different kinds of meat, and then one about rare breeds vs commercials. Some of the points made in this latter were [edited from the transcript]:
Scott: On paper, financially, it would be obvious to go with the commercial sheep. But there's the genealogy and everything else that goes with the Rare Breeds. Tell us why we should extend the Rare Breed flock?

Mark: It's probably true that the figures don't stack up, but anyone now can go out and purchase reasonable quality lamb from the supermarket, that isn't very special or different from the next leg of lamb. I think keeping and breeding Rare Breeds adds another aspect to it, that you enjoy the meat more because you know they've lived longer, they take longer to mature. A visitor once bought a half lamb off me and described it as "the taste of Wimpole". And I feel that the Rare Breeds are the taste of Wimpole. Anyone can farm regular sheep and get a lamb into the supermarket as soon as possible. Because we take longer to rear them, longer to grow them, and probably give them a bit more love and attention, I think that comes out in the flavour of the meat. So as a unique selling point, I'm always in favour of keeping Rare Breeds.

Scott: So as a stockman you've probably got a passion that if we don't look after these Rare Breeds, they become extinct right? And once they're gone, they're gone.

Mark: Once they're gone they're gone. Someone has to do this. And I think we're uniquely set up here at Wimpole to carry on this work. We're all used to dealing with these Rare Breeds and their unique characteristics.
There's a video clip of a discussion with school children about rare breeds vs commercial stocks (and you can also read a transcript).

Then Morris talked with an agribusiness consultant (Keith Preston) about the economics of the flock [edited from transcript]:
Morris: We're proposing to increase our sheep by 100% - an extra 100 ewes this year. What would you do in that situation?

Keith Preston: I think you have to look at how the Wimpole business has evolved. Initially they ran a commercial flock and some rare breeds, and it was a financial disaster. We restructured it on the basis that we'd keep the rare breeds, and have enough sheep to provide a gene pool for each of the breeds, and the lambing weekend. So that's why we've hit at the 300 ewe flock. You've now got a fantastic opportunity because you've got all these green manures that are part of the fertility building phase. In the past there was a constraint because there was only a certain amount of parkland. The parkland was managed extensively, but now you've got lots of forage. So, the real challenge is going to be, can you absorb these hundred sheep into the existing management without increasing your labour costs.

Morris: So that would suggest the commercial breed gives us potentially the better returns.

KP: I think it'll be an interesting challenge, won't it? I mean, my own view is that Wimpole's got a fantastic opportunity, with all the visitors that you get - it's just a fantastic site for a farm shop. So, if you think you've got a quarter of a million people visiting the park, we don't have to sell to many of them to get rid of all the progeny from the 300 or the 400. So can we actually add more value by extending our rare breeds, and making sure we get the rare breeds that will come up with the goods, because some of the breeds are rare for a very good reason, that they have attributes that make them not worth keeping. But, they have a wonderful role in the gene pool.

Morris: So either could work, and the pressure is on the marketing.

KP: The marketing, yes. The simplest, if you're just going to put them into the supply chain rather than direct marketing, would be to go for the commercial breed, because it will give you more performance, and will be a nice test against the rare breeds, and how they perform as well.
And then there was a discussion with Richard Broad, from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust [edited from transcript]:
Morris: Richard is the field officer for the Rare Breed Survival Trust, and has come to convince [the members] to vote for the rare breeds. Richard, why is it important that people like ourselves keep these rare breeds?

Richard Broad: The RBST was started in 1973, and prior to that in the 20th century we lost 26 different breeds of cattle and sheep and pigs. Since then we haven't lost any, and we're trying to maintain their genes. They are lower cost, there are lower inputs needed as far as buying in concentrates. And most of them are very good at converting cheap products such as grass and grass-clover into meat and sheepskins and things like that which we can use.

Morris: On this farm it's good quality grass and clover, really high protein, good food. What would you say the rare breed has going for it as against the financial opportunity with the commercial breeds?

RB: The inputs needed are available on the farm. They're better at converting the grass and grass-clover into meat, rather than having to buy in expensive concentrates. Also, with the rare breeds I think you really need to be looking at what you're going to do with the products, before even you decide to have the rare breed of sheep. Look at adding value to the meat instead of selling it in a market or to the supermarket, maybe looking at it as a branded product: Wimpole best White Faced Woodland meat, or something like that. A lot of the breeds are coloured, which means that skins can sell at £50 to £60 a piece as well. So as an added value product, the horned breeds, the walking-stick makers are interested in the horns. What you need to look at is all the end products, and also trying to sell them as a product rather than just a commodity.

Morris: So, in your opinion the rare breeds stack up equally against the commercial breeds in opportunity.

RB: Definitely. People can sell rare breeds as a premium product. But they need to understand that they need a market, and they need somebody with an ability to produce those products, and sell it to the end producer, without a middle man there. Hopefully at Wimpole you've got access to a restaurant, and also customers that come to the farm as well.
And lastly - they were being really thorough about all sides of this discussion - there's an audio of a conversation with Phil Stocker from the Soil Association [edited from transcript]:
Phil: I’m Director of Farmer and Grower Relations at The Soil Association, overseeing our work for farmers and growers. I provide information and advice, and make sure we have an interesting programme of activities.

Scott: We’re about to have a vote on which sheep should we breed. Morris has the opportunity to extend his flock for roving grazing across Wimpole Farm, of up to 100 ewes. He’s got a dilemma as to whether just to extend the existing rare breeds or to buy in some commercial breeds. He hasn’t got any commercial breeds on site at the moment. We’re putting this vote to our members, and I wondered what The Soil Association’s take would be on that in terms of organic farming? He wants to increase from 300 to 400 ewes.

Phil: You should consider whether he’s got a market for that rare breed meat, and if he can expand by another 100 ewes and still find a market. If he’s got as many of this particular breed that he can sell, then he’s is likely to be selling more into the open market and he needs to think about a more commercial ewe breed. The rare breed is likely to be producing a carcass which is likely to be a thinner, less fleshy, less meaty carcass. There is a market for that but it’s usually selling direct to the public.

Scott: From an organic point of view is there any real difference in rare breeds grazing compared to commercial sheep?

Phil: There’s a difference between rare breeds and indigenous breeds and certainly some of our more native breeds are probably better at grazing, and do well on foraging lower grade, rougher; whereas some of our more commercial improved breeds want improved grass to perform well, and are more reliant on concentrate cake feeding as well. So I think some of our more native and indigenous breeds are quite different to other rare breeds. Some of our rare breeds thrive very well on particular habitats, in upland situations or in coastal regions where they’re raised on coastal grasses. Some of our rare breeds are very closely adapted to the conditions where they were initially developed but there’s no requirement for an organic farmer to use a rare breed. There are benefits in organic farmers using traditional and indigenous breeds, but The Soil Association’s view would be that the most important thing is really that the sheep are developed on farm, on site and allowed to adapt and to evolve to the situation on that farm. You know sheep will become accustomed to the grass type, to the climate, to the topography, to the mineral status of the soil and the most important thing is to have a flock of sheep which are permanently on the farm and are allowed to adapt to the farm’s unique situation. 
In the end, the members voted for rare breeds, interestingly a different outcome from the crops question; and the responses of Morris, the stockman on the farm are very interesting when set in a global context[edited from transcript]:
Morris: Very clear win and very interesting result. I must admit I’m disappointed. This was an expansion to our sheep and wasn’t detracting at all from what we do with conservation. This was an opportunity to increase our revenue increase the potential for the farm. I saw this as a as something to expand on, where we could increase production, put more food into the food chain, and I feel - you watch the news last night [famine in the Horn of Africa] - this is a decision we’ve made with food on our plates. If we were in another continent without food on our plates, what would we decide?

Scott: Why do you think they went for rare breeds?

Morris: There is a tremendous value in the conservation work we do and there’s a huge need to ensure those genetics go forward and I’m not decrying that work - it’s important that we do it. But we must always remember that at the back of our minds that there’s a population to feed.
After all the discussion about whether to buy rare breeds, the next vote was on which rare breed! There was a members' discussion on the website about sheep genetics. The choice was between extending the current flock of Norfolk Horns, or bringing in either Oxford Downs or Hill Radnors. The Oxford Down emerged as a clear victor with 66% of the votes. These are large, hefty sheep and probably supply more 'commercial' type benefits than the other two (interesting in the light of the discussion about rare breeds vs commercial).

Other things have been happening, of course, and I'll summarise them briefly. After the decisions to sow wheat in Pond Field, there was a subsequent decision on which variety to sow, and the vote went to Magister, a high protein good milling wheat, perfect for bread making - a good commercial decision this time. And they posted some recipes online to get people baking!

Meanwhile, Queenie, one of the farm's Shire horses, lost her foal in a neo-natal death. The labour and birth were webcast live, and had attracted a lot of interest, so this was an emotional experience for a lot of people.

More updates in a few weeks. If you'd like to sign up as a member - either as an individual or on behalf of a class of children, say, you can do so here. You don't have to be a National Trust member to join in.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Ecocide Trial - coming soon

During my Swarthmore Lecture, Costing Not Less Than Everything (and in the book, p.46) I discuss briefly the concept of Responsibility to Protect (known as R2P). This is part of a United Nations Human Rights initiative. At present it stipulates that
The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
In my lecture I suggested that Quakers, building on our long-standing support for, and engagement with, the United Nations might start a movement to add a fifth item to this list: 'crimes against the environment'.

I now discover that this is underway, with a very imaginative, high-profile and eye-catching campaign.
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The Ecocide Trial

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
30 September 2011

The Hamilton Group is a not-for-profit organisation encouraging businesses, organisations and communities to bring responsibility for the Earth to the forefront of their decision-making. They are a growing network of individuals, businesses and organisations that have adopted their Ethos as part of their values They invite everyone to take responsibility for their communities, organisations, businesses and the the human-made and natural world by signing up to their Ethos and joining them in this Mission.

The Ecocide Trial is the next event of the Hamilton Group. What follows is adapted from their website.
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"Once upon a time people did grievous harm to the environment without fully understanding the consequences of their actions. That defence is no longer available, and that sure knowledge we now have entails equally sure moral obligations. In this context, the idea of establishing the crime of Ecocide is both timely and compelling."
Jonathon Porritt, former Chair, Sustainable Development Commission
"In these days when the human impact on the environment is becoming everyday more evident and proves to be not only damaging to our surroundings but a serious threat to human life and survival, it is imperative that we should declare Ecocide a Crime Against Peace. The Club of Budapest is happy to endorse this initiative and is committed to following it up to the best of its abilities and potentials."
Ervin Laszlo, President, Club of Budapest  
It has been proposed that Ecocide, the environmental equivalent of genocide, becomes the 5th International Crime Against Peace alongside Genocide itself, Crimes Against Humanity, Crimes of Aggression and War Crimes.

The new law has been proposed to the UN by British Environmental Lawyer, Polly Higgins who proposes that under the new law Heads of States and Directors of Corporations be required to take individual and personal responsibility for their actions.

On September 30th 2011, London's Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will be the venue for a Mock Trial, played out as though the crime of Ecocide had already been adopted.

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan have shown us the unstoppable power of nature. There is little we can do to protect against these events but we can take responsibility for our own actions and their effect on the Earth.

One of these actions could be to create an international law on Ecocide, the environmental equivalent of genocide. This law would establish the requirement of heads of states and corporations to take individual and personal responsibility for their actions. What will this mean in practice? Is it legally possible? Will it have more negative effects than positive? Would the Alberta Tar Sands mining, destruction of the Amazon rainforest, oil spills, the threatened existence of the low-lying Maldive Islands because of rising sea-levels, the Pacific Gyre, the island of garbage twice the size of Texas slowly spinning in the Pacific Ocean, be classed as Ecocide? Who would be the individuals prosecuted under this proposed law? Could Banks be culpable as well if they provide funding for activities prosecuted under Ecocide? In reality, what effect would the law have on the environment and businesses and the people who run them?

Polly Higgins, the British barrister and international environmental lawyer, proposed to the United Nations in April 2010 that a law on Ecocide to be classed as an international law alongside Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, Crimes of Aggression and War Crimes, as a 5th Crime Against Peace. If Ecocide is accepted as a crime under international law it will have a profound effect on Governments, Heads of State, Corporations and those who run them, and on the ecosystems of the Earth.

Ecocide is defined as:
"the mass damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished."
The Trial
The Ecocide Trial is a mock trial, will last one day and follow UK court procedures.

Michael Mansfield QC, the prosecuting barrister, and Nigel Lickley QC, the defence barrister together with supporting legal teams, will lead the case for and against a fictional Mr X, CEO of a major corporation. Before the case is heard, legal argument will be put as to whether Ecocide and the Earth Right to Life should be applied to the charge against Mr X. Mr X will be played by an actor and has been charged with a number of ecocides - which one will be tried will be determined on the day. It could be:

Deforestation of the Amazon
Arctic drilling
Fracking for shale gas in Nigeria
Major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
Bauxite mining of the Niyamgiri mountain
Unconventional tar sands extraction in Canada
Deep sea mining of the Central and Eastern Manus Basin

The trial will examine how the crime of Ecocide protects the Earth Right to Life and will be tried as though the proposed crime of Ecocide has been adopted by the UN.

What will happen is not pre- scripted; it is ultimately for the jury to determine whether the crime of Ecocide is made out and whether the Earth Right to Life is breached.

The trial will be the focus for a sustained campaign to raise awareness of the issues around Ecocide and to have them debated and discussed fully within Government, business, communities, the media, universities and schools, nationally and internationally.


It will be filmed and streamed live to social network sites. Edited versions of the event will be available for international, national and local television, radio and other media outlets and for public and private screenings.

The Witnesses
We are in discussion with a number of experts in relevant fields. Their names will be announced nearer the date of the Trial.

The Lawyers
Prosecuting team
Leader: Michael Mansfield QC, Tooks Chambers
Kirsty Brimelow QC, Doughty St Chambers
Junior: Steven Powles, Doughty St Chambers

Defending team
Nigel Lickley QC, 3 Paper Buildings Chambers
Adam Hiddleston, 3 Paper Buildings Chambers

All lawyers are giving their time and expertise free.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
The Hamilton Group is using the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in London as the venue. This in no way implies endorsement by the Supreme Court of the opinions raised in the trial or the verdict reached by the trial jury.
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Watch a video about ecocide.
For more information, or if you want to support this event in any way, please contact the group direct.
To donate to The Ecocide Trial please use CrowdFunder or PayPal.