Do we still believe in them? In this current day and age, we are saddled with a nagging distrust of ourselves and of others, and certainly, it is the politicians we very often trust least of all. They are not able to stand for the ideals which seemed self-evident just a few generations ago, and yet, how many times have the people been duped over and over again, by kings and queens, the upper classes, the clergy, authorities and simply those seemingly in charge.
And yet, after all, what about these kinds of promises? Pinky swear?
- The Northern Forest?
An ambitious £5.7m project to create a new forest spanning more than 120 miles of land, i.e. 62,000 acres, around the M62 motorway in the north of England. This is supposed to be overseen over the next 25 years by the Woodland Trust and the Community Forest Trust.
Unfortunately, however, this is creating an environment rather than preserving it. To be fair, the region in question is the most denuded in England with a tree cover of less than 8%. This would be mostly the result of 19th- and 20th-century industrial activity, as this area had been one of the heartlands of the industrial revolution.
But as it was adequately put in a recent article by Patrick Barkham “Jays plant more oaks than humans”. What we create might after all not be the right environment native species actually rely on. This can, for example, be felt very clearly in areas of Dumfries and Galloway, i. e. some stretches of pine forest in the Galloway Forest Park, which are eerily still as they seem to be almost devoid of wildlife apart from wood ants, tiny goldcrests and some deer (which, like pheasants, have been put there mostly to be shot for sport anyway). Sometimes, a lone woodpecker comes and visits, while a lot of raptors, such as the red kite, hover around Loch Ken, waiting to be fed daily by humans. Nonetheless, the rewilding of the red kite has been a great success, so much so, that there are now almost too many of them, but there is a difference between creating monocultures through reforestation as opposed to managing and extending places of ancient woodland such as Castramon Wood near Gatehouse of Fleet or the Wood of Cree near Minnigaff, which, by the way, have been sustainably used and managed in the past.
In the case of England’s Northern Forest, however, the high-speed train project HS2 will, in turn, provide the funding that is desperately needed for the planned reforestation while the train project itself is actually threatening areas of ancient woodlands north of Birmingham.
So, destroy ancient habitats, and then receive loads of money to create a semi-artificial habitat? Makes sense? Well, some business-people and the like need to get from Manchester to London even faster, so fast, they’ll leave themselves behind standing on the platform wondering where the hell they’ve got to. Get the picture?
- Brexit Wildflower meadows?
As Michael Gove ambitiously announced, he anticipates a lot of UK farmland to be turned into wildflower meadows after Brexit. Subjecting the whole idea to some scrutiny, however, this just seems to be yet another example where the two worlds clash (economic growth and feasibility as opposed to sustainability).
The whole initiative might be thwarted by ceasing to reward those with the highest amount of private wealth via the BPS (basic payment scheme) into which 80% of the £ 2.6 bill. farming subsidies flow. Another fly in the ointment is putting a stop to one of the other loopholes, which is the exemption from inheritance tax if the land is actively farmed again within two years.
How can we be certain of their continued support? They own the land after all and would they applaud any scheme that would ultimately cost them, no matter how much money they have got already? I mean, they do need that new Porsche and the racehorses, don’t they?
The idea would be to transform the present system of “rewarding” land ownership for its own sake by supporting environmental benefits such as clean water, wildlife and tree planting instead. Let’s just hope that at least some of it will come to fruition, and so-called Green Brexit is not just a figment of the imagination after leaving the EU, as the implementation of some laws actually deriving from EU policies still remains to be seen.
- Plastic-free aisles = plastic-free isles?
Blue Planet II really seems to have sparked a new wave of concern about our impact on the environment, specifically the oceans, and in its wake, Theresa May launched an environment plan at WWT in London. As it won’t do to be left behind, the EU has announced a new initiative as well.
On the whole, George Monbiot’s response to it does seem quite dispiriting. This is mainly due to the fact that the rhetoric of the environment plan leaves you hopeful and happy that at last something is going to be done, but the policies which are likely to be implemented to achieve these goals range, as Monbiot put it, “from the pallid to the pathetic”. And then, if you look more closely, it is mainly about “encouraging initiatives”, “raising awareness”, “scientific assessments” and such, but no real action is so far taking place. How could it, as long as the plastic packaging binge is to continue and more investments are made into building even more facilities to produce even more?
As has been comprehensively shown in a recent study, the goal of an ever-growing GDP ad infinitum is not sustainable. It is illusory to think one could decouple it from environmental impact. In other words, sustainability measures are not compatible with constant economic growth. We cannot reduce environmental impact and expect the economy to grow in the same way we have been used to in the past.
This can be illustrated, albeit a little simplistically, by reference to a long, drawn-out debate about the container port in Hamburg. If international trade is to continue and preferably expand, the river would need to be dredged once again (it has been seven times already) in order to accommodate the ships transporting goods upriver to the port. The port itself is still situated where it was over 800 years ago, which is further inland, unlike its fiercest competitors, Rotterdam and Antwerp. The mediaeval man obviously did not anticipate how far we would take it with our ambitions.
Some get wild and furious about this, as it won’t do to not dredge the river only because some lone newt swims in the marshes or some rare species of plant might be endangered by dumping tons of mud on ancient wetlands in the process.
The point here is though that it is about the ships getting ever bigger, rather than the river just not being the right size, i. e. not deep enough. Which seems to be pretty much the attitude. Then there is the argument that jobs are at risk if the port has to move further down-river nearer the coast to places like Bremerhaven. Just let us think for a minute: what about the ships just remaining the size they are? Or just waiting for the tide to come in to be able to navigate in water that is deep enough? But why should we wait, as time is money and patience seems to be a weakness to the minds of many and a lost art? So let’s just make it the way it suits us, regardless of future impact.
Basically, the greatest problems arising from all these examples is the intricate entanglement of them with high-profile business ventures and industries whose funding is needed for the implementation of these measures.
If this obvious fact is not addressed, all these new projects and hopeful schemes and are bound to remain just this: insipid ideas. Fundamental change needs to be initiated, as empty words and promises won’t get us anywhere, no matter how fiercely we interlock our pinkies.