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It was obvious. The timing was just too much of a coincidence. The UN is now claiming that data from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit was hacked into by climate change skeptics intent on derailing the talks which begin in Copenhagen tomorrow.

Achim Steiner, director of the UN Environment Programme, had this to say:

This is not ‘climategate’ it’s ‘hackergate’. Let’s not forget the word ‘gate’ refers to a place [Watergate] where data was stolen by people who were paid to do so. So the media should direct its investigations into that

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice-chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has said that:

If you look at that mass of e-mails a lot of work was done, not only to download the data but it’s a carefully made selection of e-mails and documents that’s not random at all. This is 13 years of data and it’s not a job of amateurs

You can read the article which appeared in The Times here.

But please, please, lets not go referring to this as ‘climategate’ anymore. That cliche is so overused and is just annoying these days. Wish they’d find something else to call scandals.

I’ve often contemplated going vegetarian. I really don’t eat all that much meat as it is, and I really don’t think I’d miss it all that much.

I tried it for a while a few years back, but it never stuck. I think I missed certain foods. Bacon, for example.

Daydreaming aside, I come from a family which doesn’t cook meat heavy meals. In fact, my mother could quite happily stop tomorrow. My girlfriend is a vegetarian so I’m being slowly being pushed into becoming a herbivore.

Now, if I am to live up to my eco-credentials (as aspirations of eco-friendliness), maybe it’s the only way forward.

Indeed, all this week, and in the run up to the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, the BBC World Service is broadcasting a series called “The Climate Connection“.

The series follows five young people as they explore an issue they believe to be at the heart of the climate change debate. The participants come from all parts of the world and they look at potential solutions to the present crisis.

The series is in partnership with the Open University and their “Creative Climate” project. I’ll leave you to discover more about that if you wish. Just click here.

Tonight’s episode was titled “Does the World Need Meat” and followed a young American student from Columbia University in New York.

Together with the presenter she criss-crossed the United Sates in search of answers to that very question.

I thought it was a really interesting programme that took a very balanced approach and examined each side of the argument in equal measure. It did not try to impose a particular view on the listener in what can be a heated debate.

In fact, the “Climate Connection” series has so far been fair to all sides as it looks at quite contentious subject matters that divide opinion.

America and the beef obsession

Why America? Well, if there was ever an avid meat eating nation, this is it. This is the country that chomped its way through millions upon millions of bison, driving it close to extinction, and continues to worship the cow, especially when it is on their plates.

10 billion animals are killed every year in the United Sates in order to feed their voracious and ever growing appetite for all things sanguine.

Of course, unashamed meat consumption is not limited to the US. Such is the demand that one third of the planet is devoted to rearing livestock and demand is expected to double by 2050.

At present, livestock accounts for 18% of global emissions. In the US, that figure is 2.8%. If you have read one of my previous posts, cows et al burp methane and this causes global warming.

The level of burping has a lot to do with the synthetic grain they are fed. Indeed, if you modify their diet, the burps decrease.

Anyway, in the States, the vast majority of cattle are raised in pens and fed on corn. Makes for a tastier animal apparently. Grass just doesn’t cut it (no pun intended).

And there are estimated to be 9.5 million cattle in such pens, or feed lots as they are also known.

What was interesting was the range of views we got in the programme. We heard from both sides of the debate, starting with the staunch defenders of the meat industry. We heard from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the ‘voice’ of beef industry as their Chief Environmental Counsel described it. Keen to point out that livestock produce only 2.8% of the US emissions, she was defensive when the presenter put it to her that the intensive raising of cattle was unnatural.

The American Farm Bureau, the largest farm lobby group in the US, argued that the US is the most efficient food producer in the world and attempting to regulate the industry through stricter standards would only have the effect of moving production to other, less efficient, parts of the world with the net result that the methane footprint would invariably increase.

Their president declared that the war raging between the meat eaters and the herbivores in the US is a pointless one

We like our hamburgers. We like our steaks, We like our chicken. We like our bacon in the morning and I don’t see that changing in the near future

I am inclined to agree with the naysayers. Nevin Cohen, from the New School in New York, said that their is a fatal flaw in the lobbyists’ argument. They fail to account for the vast swathes of rainforest in South America that is destroyed to make way for the soy plantations that feed the cattle. This raises CO2 levels.

Transporting the grain to the US and elsewhere raises CO2 levels.

As a result, the meat industry has a carbon footprint of rather large proportions.

Changing habits

Perhaps we do, as consumers, need to change our eating habits. Perhaps policy makers need to change policies. Yet, as the economic situation of a country improves, so does its meat consumption.

Maybe Pedro Sanchez of the Earth Institute at Columbia University is right..the American way of producing beef is sick. Through unnatural practices, the US is producing fatty beef by feeding them grain after grain. The world needs meat, but we must do it right. We have to use intelligent farming practices.

The problems associated with large scale soy farming in South America are well known. It is saddening to see hundreds and hundreds of thousands of acres of forest being cut down to feed the world’s appetite for meat and other agricultural products.

In its drive to become an agricultural giant, Brazil is plowing one of its most precious resources – the Amazon. We are talking farms the size of large English counties. They are now the world’s largest supplier of soybean and the country could soon replace the American heartlands when it comes to food production.

National Geographic
covered the problem in typically excellent fashion.

So, the environmental arguments against meat eating are quite plain to see.

Will the world wake up tomorrow and turn vegetarian? No. People love their meat and will not stop eating it.

Can we modify our farming practices? Perhaps. I leave that to the experts.

More importantly, could alternative methods meet the ever growing demand for meat. Maybe only intensive farming would satisfy it.

I do believe that governments would be reluctant to do away with existing practices, if only for economic reasons. As we have seen, cattle farming in the US is a gargantuan operation with powerful lobbyists supporting it all the way up the steps to Capitol Hill.

Likewise, as much as Brazil would like to increase their eco-standing in the world, soybean farming will continue regardless. Why stop? There is a worldwide demand for the commodity.

If you would like to listen to the programme, click on the link below.

P.S. If you have read this far, well done. Note to self: rant less and keep the posts short.

Rainforest Charity Links

Very short post this evening just to mention a few of my favourite charities.

Rainforest Alliance

Rainforest Concern

The Living Rainforest

The Prince’s Rainforests Project

World Land Trust

WWF

Of course there are many, many more, but it’s a small selection of my favourite.

If there are any others you feel deserve a mention, then get in touch!

 

Australia has found an innovative solution to global warming: breed ‘green’ sheep that burp less. That’s right, burpless sheep.

It sounds like something you’d hear about on April 1st, but it’s November and the story is entirely true.

Forget planes, forget oil hungry America and most certainly forget those Chelsea tractors. Farting and burping sheep and cows are the real reason why we’ll all be sunning it in England very soon.

Joking aside, gasey livestock is a serious problem apparently.

According to Australia’s department of climate change, 16% of the country’s greenhouse emissions come from agriculture. And Australia’s Sheep Cooperative Research Council says 66% of agricultural emissions are released as methane from the the bellies of livestock.

New Zealand have a similar problem, where scientists estimate that a massive 43% of the country’s greenhouse gases come from livestock.

Globally, 28% of all methane resulting from human related activities comes from agriculture. Who would have thought that grass would have such a stomach rumbling effect, causing sheep and cows to burp and fart in symphony after each and every one of their meals??

Methane is considered the second most important gas produced by human activity after carbon dioxide, yet has far more impact on global warming than its much publicised cousin.

Scientists now believe that we have seriously underestimated the gas’ impact on global temperatures and that this is about a third higher than previously thought.

The Australian researchers in New South Wales are trying to discover the genetic link that means some sheep burp less than others and have been conducting experiments in special pens where they measure how much gas sheep emit when eating (not a job that had many volunteers I’m sure).

The problem is not a new one. It has already been a few years that scientists have been studying the problem and have been hoping to invent foods that reduce gassiness.

Anyway, if you think I’m making this all up, check out the incriminating evidence in this video. Very rude sheep indeed.

 

Oh dear. Recent reports that confidential emails, memos and notes from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit were stolen by a computer hacker are embarrassing to say the least. The centre is considered to be one of the world’s leading climate research facilities who’s aim, as stated on their site, is to:

improve scientific understanding in:

– past climate history and its impact on humanity

– the course and causes of climate change during the present century

– prospects for the future

They are now at the centre of a scandal that threatens to undermine the credibility of their work as well as destroy the arguments in favour of man-made climate change. Skeptics must be rubbing their hands with glee.

Those accused of massaging data to bolster their argument that man-made global warming is genuine have rejected the claims saying that the emails have been taken out of context and have denounced skeptics for selectively picking emails.

“It does look incriminating on the surface, but there are lots of single sentences that taken out of context can appear incriminating,” said Bob Ward, director of policy and communications at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. “You can’t tell what they are talking about. Scientists say ‘trick’ not just to mean deception. They mean it as a clever way of doing something – a short cut can be a trick.”

1000 emails as well as 3000 documents were stolen, so it could take some time for the complete truth to get out, but early reports do not make for a comfortable read.

The documents also suggest that climate change scientists from both sides of the Atlantic deleted particularly sensitive communications in an attempt to escape Freedom of Information requests from climate change skeptics.

Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor, has called for an independent inquiry into the affair and has denounced the apparent deception. He quite rightly states that it jeopardises British science’s reputation.

Hopefully with time an innocent explanation will emerge. Nevertheless, it is a painful episode for the climate change camp and comes at a rather awkward moment, just three weeks away from the United Nations climate change summit at Copenhagen. In fact, some are seeing it as an attempt by the hackers to destabilise those talks. Whether this happens remains to be seen. What is certain is that it will no doubt be spoken of in the corridors of the conference center.

If you’re interested, the Telegraph also published some of the most contentious quotes.

Oh, and here’s an article that appeared in The Guardian. And here too. Don’t want the post to be too Telegraph heavy 🙂

Green activists get a bad press

Found another interesting video, this time on the Independent newspaper website.

It’s called ‘Melting Pot’ and it’s part of their Green TV section. It’s all about green activism and features members of groups such as Plane Stupid and Greenpeace.

It was an extremely enlightening video, exploring and exposing the lengths to which the authorities (chiefly the police) go to undermine environmental protests and activists, in effect attempting to curtail citizens’ right to freedom of expression.

And so, the police send undercover agents to infiltrate various organisations to spy on, and discredit and disrupt, their operations.

In one bit of the film, a Greenpeace activist spoke about when he, along with the members of his protest group, were labeled terrorists. At the time they were protesting against the growth in the short haul market (deemed particularly damaging to the environment) and had camped out on one of the taxiways of Nottingham’s East Midlands airport (chosen because it specialises in short haul flights). This prevented planes from leaving. They called it Sermon on the Runway.’

OK, that is a pretty extreme demonstration of green activism and they did breach security, but I don’t think it warranted them being labeled as terrorists all the same. I mean, they had apparently notified the police in advance of this peaceful protest and by positioning themselves on the taxiway, rather than the runway, had taken steps to ensure the public’s safety by allowing planes to land in case of an emergency.

Other parts of the film featured politicians and lawyers talking about how police tactics push the use of terrorism legislation to the extreme and into a grey area. It is being used to stop and search any protester, for example.

Journalists who participated in the film explained that they are routinely arrested and held without charge after covering a protest. And they are held until news deadlines pass. Clearly an attempt at news management.

A section showed a freelance journalist being questioned by police at a protest. He was following the event and police began quizzing him on what he was doing. When he told them that he was a freelancer, the police said ‘oh, so you’re not really a member of the press then.’ He was eventually told to turn off his camera. It all seemed pretty fascist if you ask me.

Activists claim that the press is biased in favour of big business. The Evening Standard was indeed slapped on the wrist by the Press Complaints Commission for fabricating a story about climate change campaigners at Heathrow in what activists have called a blatant attempt to smear their activities.

What was interesting was hearing, from a journalist, that environmental activism reporting is not exactly professional. Journalists are simply reading from press releases that are sent to them by corporations and simply regurgitating it. They don’t even bother going to the protests to see the other side of things.

Firstly, that’s plane lazy. And secondly, and far more importantly, it’s just shocking how bad that sort of journalism is. In fact, it’s not even journalism, it’s PR. It just contributes to the negative spinning against environmental campaigners.

We, as journalism students, are quite rightly taught about the ethics and professional standards we must uphold when we enter the real world. We are the voice that brings the news into the living rooms of people around the country. As such, there is an unquestionable need to be impartial and objective in order to inform in the best and most effective manner.

Just last week, a guest lecturer told us that journalists have never enjoyed the public’s trust, and that it is getting in fact getting worse. I think one of the stats we were presented with showed that print journalists are considered less trustworthy than estate agents. Enough said. Shoddy reporting of any kind just undermines the profession’s credibility and needs to be addressed.

Portions of the press are playing a significant role in pushing activists to the extreme and fringe of environmental debate.

I personally may not agree with the manner in which environmental protests are carried out, but you can bet that should I be called upon to cover an event at some point in my career, I will be out there getting the other side of the story and not just sitting behind my desk, relying solely upon the PR machine of big business to report what is happening.

If you’re interested, check out the video. Just click here. I found it be an informative watch and it certainly raised question in my head on how environmental protests are dealt with by the police and how the press goes about the reporting of such news.

Here’s an interesting video with David Attenborough in which he speaks about what it means to lose so much of our rainforests. Enjoy