Organic Farming?

Disclaimer: I’m not for or against, just don’t like how people are misled.

I follow a lot of plant scientists and it’s interesting to see their organic evidence vs the media.

Organic farming can be better or worse than non organic. There is good and bad. It’s hard to understand with few rules which vary in different countries.

Several claims though are clearly false despite being prevalent.

For example, “Organic doesn’t use chemicals or pesticides”

Yes it does, there is a list of approved chemicals. It’s not a secret. There are fewer, but they aren’t safer. Also, everything is a “chemical” so it’s not an accurate claim. Soil Association (SA)(who make organic rules) found 95% of people buying organic think there are no pesticides, which is untrue. Farmers acknowledge this happily, advertising does not. SA says pesticides from “natural sources” are acceptable.

Copper sulphate is a common natural pesticide but is very nasty. Harmful to humans and animals, lethal to pollinators but kills fungi and is heavily used in organic farming, particularly wine. 

By weight, organic farms sometimes use more pesticide than non organic (source: National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy). If used well this is fine, if badly it will be devastating.

Organic farming can do a lot of good things, proper field margins, rotations, avoiding monocultures, nature based solutions etc. But then so can non organic. Those are farming practises that vary widely between all farm.

Non organic can be pesticide free, organic can use tonnes. Organic is not more environmentally friendly or safer. That depends on the farmer. You could well argue it is worse as non organic pesticides are very specific in their action. Targeted to one species or issue. Organic are more broad brush, more like a generic poison.

Organic animal rearing is complicated with some refusing antibiotics when animals are sick and some not. SA rules say try “effective homeopathy” (clearly nonesense) before asking a vet. Many argue this is animal abuse as it causes unnecessary suffering.

Is it healthier? Organic marketing says yes. Scientific studies don’t have a consensus.

Advertising organic as somehow better, more healthy or more environmentally friendly is misleading. Organic also has a lower yield per hectare so to feed more people it will take more land area, land that may be providing ecosystem services already.

Depending who is labelling, “organic” can mean anywhere between 50% and 100% made up of organic ingredients. Like how “recycled plastic” can be 5% recycled and 95% new.

Summary: eat whichever you wish but don’t be misled by false advertising claims. Farming is a scale from good to bad, organic is just one aspect. Just because you favour one over the other doesn’t mean everything about it is better than the other.

Don’t confuse the words “organic” and “natural”, and don’t trust anything that says chemical free.

The New Green Deal?

So Biden won.

Unsurprisingly this is pretty good news for climate change. The bar was pretty low to be fair.

In the short term the US will rejoin the Paris agreement having only just left it officially. This essentially pledges them to reduce emissions. A good step but meaningless on its own with the rest of the world failing their Paris targets.

Biden has talked about a Green Deal. He wants to invest $1.7 Trillion into climate policies to get the US to net zero by 2050 and US electricity be be net zero by 2035. Combined with other countries, like China, pledging this it brings global goals back on target and would potentially avoid a 0.1C temperature rise by 2100.

This is good. Competition spurs action, the US don’t want beaten to net zero by China, the EU, South Korea etc. It’s a little sad that world politics still has bragging rights but perhaps it is more effective to use this than fight it.

Bad news? Opposition in the US is strong, the election showed how divided the country is. With the senate being close and the Supreme court being Republican (ok technically “unbiased” but, you know..), legal challenges could drag on for years. 

Biden winning is good for the climate on paper, although in a normal year his climate policies would be around average. Factions of the US are onside, California for example, the 3rd biggest economy in the world, refused to drop the Paris targets when Trump came in. As one of the biggest economies they hold a lot of power in this economy vs climate battle that will no doubt be brought out again. It’s a terrible argument but one that the media and opposition will persist on using. 

Even the media showed a shift with US media turning strongly against Trump, no doubt part of the reason so many of his own spoke out against his actions, many for the first time in 4 years. A sinking ship simile comes to mind. ๐Ÿ€๐Ÿ€๐Ÿšข

The plans are good which is all you can say at this point. The Republic Senate will probably try to block a lot of these ideas though, winning Georgia in the runoff vote would ease this problem.

Perhaps the hope alone is enough for now. It could be much worse. Indeed it was.

Men in Sustainability?

So I recently did a podcast with @honestlyconscious (go give her follow on Instagram and come back). I was asked about the male/female balance in sustainability as my own Instagram followers are 84% female, a trait shared by most people in this sector and the question was, why is that?

I remember being at school and being told biology (which I did) was “a girl’s subject”, fortunately I ignore a lot of advice and carried on. Is that a reason? Are men put off more by the perception that sustainability is feminine? My biology class was mainly female, my job in conservation was mainly female and currently my colleagues in sustainability are almost entirely female.

In the university and college sector that I work in it is close, probably more male though. These people do not have “sustainability” roles though. They are things like “energy” “estates” etc. Does the word sustainable in the title put people off? Like how men don’t like to apply for jobs entitled “secretary”? There is an age thing here too with those studying engineering etc in the 80’s/90’s getting these jobs, mainly men.

A colleague of mine works with Asian female immigrants and points out they wouldn’t go for sustainability jobs despite already doing all the actions. They don’t relate to the word.

Neither do many, I was 18 before I heard the phrase “Sustainable Development” and found out about the “Sustainable Development Goals”. Whilst these can be useful terms (can be awful too) they have caused confusion. I remember a sustainable development course at uni that featured basket weaving at some point. That was definitely the target of ridicule and I’m sure it put some people off, likely more men.

It’s typically an arts subject too. Woman usually outnumber men in the arts so does that help explain it? It’s only sprung up recently as a field and maybe it needs time? Or, like the immigrant example, some men don’t relate to the word and focus on specifics like energy or travel instead a more holistic approach?

What are your thoughts? Are men less interested in sustainability? Is the word confusing? Do men care less about the world?

Let me know!

Will COP26 be any good?

The COP26 Climate Conference will be in Glasgow next year. The UK is in trouble for having no woman in the top team and for talking to oil companies about being sponsors.

Gender ๐Ÿ‘ซ

 It’s not great when you remember that female COP President was sacked and replaced days before the launch. For me it boils down to whether the people selected are the best in terms of their skills. If we have 8 world leading male experts then ok if this is purely merit based. However we don’t, arguably only 1 or 2 of the delegation are experts. Why Matt Hancock is there (or has a job at at all) is a mystery. Replacing the original female president with less qualified people is wrong. Perhaps she was sacked so this could happen as she would definitely not have chosen the current group. Since this story broken, a woman has been added, Anne-Marie Trevelyan. Not someone who has a history of action on climate change and someone who is pro fracking. Whilst she may improve the gender balance marginally, she is a pretty awful choice.


BP, Shell and Equinor have had 10+ talks with government about this. Shell say they have no interest in being part of COP and we’re just involved in “normal” policy discussions.

BP want to highlight their renewable credentials and Equinor similarly as they point out they are building the world’s biggest wind farm currently.  BP claim to have changed direction and be committed to becoming one of the world’s biggest renewable providers and are (sort of) British. The last COP had a “local” energy company sponsor too so there is a precedent for this and you can see what they are trying.

Energy companies need to be somewhat involved as they will ultimately build the renewables we need or stop the oil production. We are also reliant on them currently so they need to know what is happening. If policies are strong they will have to change.

The danger of course is they are buying influence. Unfortunately you have to think they are and should thus be avoided. They can’t vote on policies but could buy some good will I’m sure.

Ultimately, why does a conference run by government, set to make millions in travel and tourism, need a sponsor? Is it just greed and schmoozing?

It’s like the gender issue, why did the government even expose themselves to this criticism? Why not avoid these predictable incidents with just a little bit of thought?

It’s not a promising start.

Food Waste: Who to blame?

We hear about food waste a lot. Globally we waste about 35% of food. About 45% in the UK.

I’m never sure how this is worked out to be honest or what actually counts as waste. Are potato peelings and apple cores waste?

Anyway, it sounds bad and we should be more careful.

However, with Covid and with EU Agriculture laws, food waste is happening at a bigger level. Due to supply chain breakdowns one farmer from the US who was interviewed was burying 100,000lbs of onions. Other veg that hadn’t been picked was just ploughed back into to the ground as demand dropped.

Equally the EU has been responsible for paying farmers to produce surplus food, and then destroying it. Think of the legendary butter mountain being.

One reason for this is to exploit Africa. The EU pays farmers for surpluses, then exports the surplus to parts of Africa. Because of the subsidy, EU milk us cheaper than African milk and thus undercuts the locals. They then cannot afford to continue farming and the EU takes over completely. As the only supplier they can then alter prices as they wish. Pretty sneaky and exploitative.

As the subsidies drop though, this is no longer viable so surpluses are destroyed as African farmers start up again and refuse EU products. This was one of the reasons farmers protested recently by throwing milk powder on EU buildings. You can’t really blame them, they just thought they were selling excess to the EU to distribute. It is not as if the EU advertise the destruction of local economies.

Similarly, in Russia authorities bulldozed “illegal” Western food that had entered the country. There is plenty of food poverty in Russia but they felt the political image of a bulldozer rolling over food was better than giving it out to the starving.

Obviously this also is producing a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions and wasting money as we pay people to produce and then destroy. To go further, think of all the pesticides and antibiotics used in this too.

We should be careful not to waste food but there is a world of difference from throwing away some bread that “smells funny”, and paying to create and destroy food at an industrial scale.

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