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 👫

 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.

Sponsors💰

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.

China to be Net Zero for CO2 Emissions by 2060?

So this was a fairly surprising announcement a few weeks ago. It was almost missed by the news altogether despite it being one of the biggest climate stories in the last few decades.

China has said it aims to “have CO2 emissions peak by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2060”.

This is HUGE!!!!!!! This puts global CO2 targets back on track. One third of all CO2 emissions could be wiped by 2060. Even if it doesn’t go to zero it will still be huge progress. Strictly speaking we should have said CO2 equivalent or Net Zero for Greenhouse Gases but the terminology is no that important really.

How and why is this happening? Well, for starters China has a single government and no elections thus they can play the long game without caring about popularity and voters. Secondly, in the same way governments own oil companies, China can own renewables and sell back to its people which makes it massively viable.

Also the huge investment needed will raise China’s GDP by about 5% and make the country richer. It also has knock on effects around the world for supply chains originating in China who will now have a reduced impact (depending on who is allowed to claim the reduction).

It is a huge story and a massive step forward. Their governance may not be perfect (hard to be critical of other governments at the moment though) but they have made a huge commitment and one that will power their economy and make them much richer as a nation, something that won’t go down well with many countries who keep saying it is too expensive and not viable. It’s totally undermined the world’s procrastination.

It’s good for China in all kinds of ways, as the world fails to act it is encouraging to see this action. China are not a country that does things by halves, nor a country the West likes to be “outdone” by. Even now there will be people in the UN and USA working on new ideas. Politically they can ignore or beat this pledge. No one wants to be seen as being “led” by China for fear of it looking like weakness.

It’s an incredible story but one almost ignored by the media. China take a disproportionate amount of blame for climate change but are actually doing more than almost anyone else.

US and UK Citizens Worse for Plastic Use

Plastic is in the news again.

Unsurprisingly, the UK is one of the worst for plastic.

There is currently a lot of focus on single use plastics, which is great, but are we missing something? I’ve talked before of how plastic shouldn’t be in the sea anyway (illegal dumping) but I was thinking of another issue.

An huge amount of plastic in the sea is microplastic. This makes sense, you break a big bit into a hundred bits and now amount you have 100 pieces. However what if we looked by weight?

If we do we find ghost fishing gear to be the biggest culprit. This is fishing gear that was lost and just floats about. This is not deliberate, a trawler net can easily cost £50,000+ and the sea is a rough place where accidents happen.

Much ghost fishing likely comes from illegal fishing, with modern boats having all kinds of safety to reduce the risk. Certain groups will only by from boats with “safe” practices.

 Even legal gear can go missing, with the industry slow to adopt GPS tags or some form of identification on the gear to give some record of it. We shouldn’t penalise everyone who loses a net, but the prevention aspect of this could be significant and GPS would certainly make recovery more easy and save the fishing fleets money. Money they need to fish more to make up for.

Moreover it comes from regulation, we do this in the UK a little with inspectors boarding ships to check for illegal activity.  Even when we know it is hard, for example the Chinese fishing fleets faked GPS data to fish off the coast of West Africa during Ebola, and illegally overfished around Galapagos during Covid.  We know it for a fact yet nothing was done. 

Once you go beyond national boundaries the law is, “More like guidelines than actual rules” with no one policing the sea.

If we can’t stop illegal fishing we can see, we can’t stop the ones we can’t see. Illegal fishing is devastating for oceans in multiple ways and until it is stopped, control of ghost fishing and ultimately plastics, will be next to impossible.

If plastic straws are 0.03% of ocean plastic and ghost gear is between 10-40% (estimates vary), should we focus more on this? Or is it right to focus on what we control?

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