The Brexit Effect- What next for Nature?

“We’re calling on UK Governments to turn leaving the European Union into an opportunity to create a countryside richer in nature.”

Martin Harper for the RSPB

Earlier this year science proved, as it so often does, something we already instinctively knew: spending time in nature is good for our health, and for our happiness.

forest-907742__340The ’30 days of random wildness’ study conducted by Derby Uni and the Wildlife Trusts invited 18,500 people to get hiking, biking or whatever they had a yen for, out in the countryside, imagination the limit.
The results? Measurably significant improvements for them in “life satisfaction, vitality, meaningfulness, happiness, mindfulness, and [lowered] anxiety.”

Taking the kids out into Nature is even better. If we get them climbing trees, bug hunting, or just sploshing through muddy puddles, it helps raise their self-esteem and gives their creativity free rein. Fresh air, exercise and rosy cheeks are to be had in the park too. Even green spaces in cities do the business for us it seems, whatever age we’re at.

Our Nature, the ecosystems and the wildlife in them, are something we absolutely need to cherish, even if we’re only thinking of their benefits to ourselves.

But, and it’s a big but, barely a month ago the State of Nature 2016 report delivered its damning indictment – the UK is now one of the most nature-impoverished countries in the world. One in seven of our British species face extinction, and more than half are in decline.

And it doesn’t stop there. We “worryingly face losing much more if we don’t take action today and step up our efforts in the years ahead.”  Martin Harper

Right now, the future fate of our wildlife and environment all rests on two moves we are awaiting from Prime Minister May which will be truly pivotal for them. These are the post-Brexit Great Repeal Act, and the 25 Year Plan for the Environment. At this moment, we are standing on the threshold of history in the making.

swan-1412233__340But before you yawn and mumble that history is not your bag, just pause a minute to cast a quick eye over what this means for us, for our animals, and for our iconic British countryside. It matters. Those two enactments could be the making or breaking, environmentally speaking, of the UK as we know it.

First, a quick look at the Great Repeal Act

The Great Repeal Act will revoke the act that took us into Europe in the first place, the European Communities Act 1972. At the same time, the GRA will incorporate into British law all the laws passed since 1972 by the European Parliament.

When the European Communities Act was passed, all subsequent legislation from Brussels, obviously, became binding on us here in the UK too. (The press at the time was full of hysteria about Brussels bureaucracy – the EU will force straight cucumbers and bananas on us, and other such nonsense.)

From that entire 44 years of EU law, the Environmental Chapter which concerns us here, contains more than 200 provisions. It’s almost entirely these we have to thank for our cleaner beaches, cleaner air, cleaner countryside and cities, and protection for our wildlife. Before 1972, we could boast here in the UK only 27 beaches not polluted with sewage. Now in 2016 we can swim without fear of encountering something gross at more than 600 beautiful clean beaches around the land – courtesy of EU environmental law.

butterfly-1507031__340Some of those 200 provisions, for instance the EU-wide ban on the use of neonicotinoids, so deadly to our bees and butterflies, were actually opposed in Brussels by the Tories. It’s a fact that under EU law we benefit from some environmental protections our government did not want us to have.

You might be wondering, if all 200 provisions are going to be incorporated into British law anyway after the Great Repeal Bill, why should we be worried about the ‘Brexit Effect’ on Nature here in the UK?

The problem is that there are multiple ways the Tories will be able to simply  ‘lose’ EU provisions they don’t like. :

  • The Awkward Bits  Minister for Energy & Climate Change Andrea Leadsom says that there is between a quarter and a third of EU law it would be ‘impractical’ to move into UK law. Whichever way you look at it, that’s a lot of laws. Considering the Tories’ opposition to some of the EU environmental laws, there’s every chance those will find themselves on the ‘Impractical’ List.
  • Bits to Unpick  The Tory cabinet is keen on deregulation. Minister for Defra George Eustice described the EU Nature Directives as ‘spirit-crushing’, and has already declared, “The birds and habitats directives would go.” There will undoubtedly be other bits they want to unpick, such as planning restrictions in protected areas, to give business more of a free run.
  • Parliamentary Scrutiny  In “the largest scale legislation process ever carried out”, to have Parliament deliberate on every detail would just not be do-able. In consequence many decisions will be left to individual Ministers, bypassing Parliament altogether. Very convenient for the Tories.
  • Updates  Things change fast. The government may just not bother keeping pace with post-Brexit updates from Brussels to existing environmental law.
  • Money  Funding for environmental protections gets a high priority in the EU budget. Who knows what our government will do with the money it no longer contributes to Europe. If its track record is anything to go by, environmental and animal issues may soon be taking a back seat.
That’s the bad news. Let’s shine the light of hope into the picture and take a look at the 25 Year Plan for the Environment – “a chance to imagine a wildlife-rich natural world in the future.”

Catherine Weller for ClientEarth.

We don’t actually know yet what is going to be in the Plan. After Mrs May’s election to PM in July, publication of the Plan was put back until the end of the year. But we hope it will reference the Red List of Ecosystems, and the Green List of Protected Areas drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Closer to home, the UK’s biggest Nature organisations – the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust and WWF-UK – have been working together to lobby the government with their ideas for a post-Brexit environment, farming and wildlife plan.

They think it should look something like this:

  • Replacing the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy with codes that give high priority to environmental standards in land management
  • Setting up an Independent Policy Commission for the environment that would encourage open debate and public input
  • Joined-up working for farming and environment in the government, with all future proposals measured against the 25 Year Plan
  • Keeping existing EU schemes that reward farmers for environmental work on their land

What we need at this turning point for our country, is the government to take a good hard look beyond its blinkers. To change its mindset. Protecting wildlife, the countryside and the environment is not an expensive nuisance, a luxury to be trimmed off the budget, or unpicked to free industry of ‘unnecessary’ constraints.

It’s tragic if money really is the only thing this government understands. Let’s at least hope they pick up on that health and happiness study, and that when drawing up the 25 Year Plan, the study results remind them to factor in Nature’s huge savings to the NHS.

No-one puts the value of Nature better than David Attenborough.

quote-it-seems-to-me-that-the-natural-world-is-the-greatest-source-of-excitement-the-greatest-david-attenborough-1-23-18

But true as that is, and wonderful as Sir David is, he is still presenting there the human-centred view of Nature – its benefits to us.

Even more than making our lives worth living, and in fact providing for our lives, Nature is something that does not belong to us. It exists for its own sake, and we have a duty to honour that, and protect its rights. My hope would be that our government might see beyond money, beyond even the UK population’s health and well-being, beyond what Nature gives to us. To see  “that our ecosystems – including trees, oceans, animals, mountains – have rights just as human beings have rights.”

We could not do better than emulate Ecuador: “By recognizing rights of nature in its constitution, Ecuador – and a growing number of communities in the United States – are basing their environmental protection systems on the premise that nature has inalienable rights, just as humans do.” Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature

It’s time to stop regarding Nature as human property. Time to redress the balance –  a balance which has placed far too much weight on human interests, especially monetary ones, and nothing like enough on the best interests of other species and the land we share, habitats, ecosystems, the Nature we hold in common.

Petition the government:

Protect UK Environment & Wildlife – adopt EU legislation here

Keep the EU’s environmental protection laws for the UK here

Keep the EU laws that protect our environment here

As EU law is still binding on the UK until Article 50 is triggered, tell the EU to prevent a ‘Silent Spring’ here

Petition the UN:

Sign The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth here

Update

5th December 2016 New petition to Sir Julian King, UK Commissioner attending meeting of the European Commissioners on Wednesday 7th December. Save our nature laws. Click here

4th January 2017 Brexit legal changes ‘could put countryside and wildlife at risk’ – itv NEWS

Sources

Environmental law endangered – Wildlife and Countryside Link

How nature is good for our health and happiness – BBC Earth

Brexit would free UK from ‘spirit-crushing’ green directives, says minister – The Guardian

Our nature needs proper policies – RSPB

*The UK’s 25-year plan for nature – all eyes on wildlife – ClientEarthBlog, Catherine Weller

The Rights of Nature – Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature

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UK one of “least natural countries in the world”

Hope for the Animals & the Planet?

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

Brexit: The Animals’ View

Mountains of Cheese, Lakes of Milk, & What We Can Do About It

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Hope for the Animals & the Planet?

In the week WWF’s Living Planet Report disclosed the terrifying rate we’re losing life on Earth – animal and plant – we really could use some hope.

Well, hope might just be at hand in the form of ‘Natural Capital’, ‘Ecosystem Services’, the ‘Economic Capital of Nature’. But what does the jargon mean? And how can it help us save the planet?
What it means is bringing two enemies to the negotiating table. Two enemies who’ve been engaged in outright battle for decades: The Economy and Ecology.

One one side the ruthless aggressor, in the form of mega corporations like Dow, Monsanto, Walmart, Unilever, Nestle, Bayer, Exxon Mobil, for whom Nature exists only as the supplier of resources, “or worse still an economically costly distraction that gets in the way of economic growth”. They despoil the Earth in the pursuit of profit. I imagine them in black and red, the colours of blood and death.

In the defending army, naturally in green, the eco-warriors, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, The Wildlife Alliance, The World Conservation Trust, The Rainforest Alliance, WWF, and so on. Not forgetting the foot soldiers, we who care.

forest fire red black destruction reflection lake
Clearing forest for palm oil

The Greens fight valiantly, but limited resources mean limited success. The Black and Reds wield the immense power afforded them by almost unlimited cash – and the shameful abetment of national governments they seem able to mould to their will. So they continue to gain ground, leaving a wasteland in their wake.

Up against such odds, it’s time for the army in green to change tack. They must move the conflict off the battlefield and into peace talks. The problem is how to talk when the two sides just don’t speak the same language. In the words of environmentalist George Monbiot, the Greens talk ‘values’, and the Black and Reds, only ‘value’. There is only one language the latter understand, and it looks like this $$$$$$$$$$$.

“One source of hope comes from the growing realisation that nature is essential for economic development. That could soon lead to a new era of policy-making. One in which ecology and economics go hand in hand, but only if we have the tools to build bridges between these worlds that are so alien to each other. And that is where the economic valuation of nature can come in.” Tony Jupiter in The Guardian

It may go totally against the grain for the Greens to see “a tropical forest as a collection of ecosystems services for humans to use, rather than to see it as a priceless heritage.” But the truth is Capitalism understands nothing else. Jupiter again, “Making the moral case in the face of such [capitalist] beliefs won’t work. If, on the other hand, such scepticism can be met with economically compelling logic, then we might get a bit further.”

Natural Capital is that ‘economically compelling logic’. It means putting a price on Nature. So yes, it is the ‘commodification’ of Nature. But the potential prize is so great – saving the planet and its treasure trove of life no less – doesn’t the end justify the means? Shouldn’t we grab at this way forward with both hands?

The Green camp is split. Some like George Monbiot see it as the ultimate sell-out: “Rarely will the money to be made by protecting nature match the money to be made by destroying it. Nature offers low rates of return by comparison to other investments. If we allow the discussion to shift from values to value – from love to greed – we cede the natural world to the forces wrecking it.”

He has a point. It’s a sad world where a price tag has to be put on animals, people even, and Nature itself. But how else to appeal to Earth’s exploiters than by showing them what’s in Natural Capital for them?

Anyway, regarding Nature’s economic value Monbiot may be unduly pessimistic. Massimiliano Morelli in Voices for Biodiversity writes:

“One way to estimate the value of a tropical forest is to calculate the cost to replace what ecosystems do if humans had to perform the services. When ecosystem services are estimated in this manner, such services provide approximately twice the world gross national product. If we lose these natural ecosystem services, we are losing that much of the global economy.

Each time we harm ecosystems, we also harm our global economies. In addition, there are non-use values for nature and biodiversity. Mental health is maintained by a close relationship to nature. The cost to society of nature deficit disorder in children is now very high.

 

deer yellowstone national park snow wildlife natureNatural landscapes, national parks, zoological and botanical gardens, and recreational activities (e.g. bird watching, diving, eco-tourism, hiking, fishing, photography, etc), keep people not only mentally healthy, but also physically fit, and represent a significant and growing income for businesses and governments.”

So in truth we need the warring parties to see the light. Urgently. Stop fighting. Work together. Because like it or not the causes you fight for – Ecology and Economy – are inextricably entwined.

Now enter one of the ‘special envoys’ for those peace talks, The Natural Capital Project. The NCP is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, WWF, and the universities of Stanford and Minnesota, founded specifically for the complex task of quantifying nature’s benefits before we lose them all.

And good things are happening! These are a few of the Natural Capital Project’s success stories to date:

A five-year collaboration with Dow to help identify the true value of fresh water, clean air and other “green infrastructure” to the corporate bottom line – a perfect example of the two ‘armies’ laying down arms and working together for the benefit of all

More than a dozen water funds in South America where the water producers contribute to conservation, and 40 million people get fresh clean drinking water

Establishing scores of marine protected areas in the Caribbean and Pacific to safeguard coral reefs and other ocean life

Working with farmers in the BirdReturns Project, rotating crops with wetlands to improve habitats

Sustainable Rivers Project striking the right balance between using and protecting rivers

Working Woodlands managing forests for high quality ecological and economic values

Restoring oyster reefs, one of most endangered habitats on Earth, which protect coasts from storms, filter pollutants and create habitat for marine life

river washington state USA american shallows beauty spot waterThe NCP is not the only collaborative project implementing the idea of Natural Capital. Take Part cites the Elwha River Project in the USA, a joint venture between the National Park Service and the Lower Elwha S’Klallam Tribe to quantify the economic capital value of restoring the river by removing two hydroelectric dams.

Environmental economics expert John Loomis calculated taking out the dams would generate $3.5 billion in non-economic benefits. “Once we incorporate those, we see that doing agriculture the cheapest way possible, or producing goods in the most profitable way, doesn’t incorporate these environmental costs. We need to shift our production and consumption to account for these costs [and] not squander that natural capital by treating it as having zero value.”

But what about here in the UK? Well, you may not have heard about it, but we have the SEA and the NEA. The first is the EU’s Strategic Environmental Assessment. The second our own National Ecosystem Assessment 2011, the most comprehensive assessment of the UK’s natural environment and resources ever undertaken. Its key finding was “that the benefits we derive from the natural world and its constituent ecosystems are critically important to human well-being and economic prosperity, but are consistently undervalued in economic analysis and decision-making.”

But where does this leave us as individuals who want to do our bit for the planet?

My first post on the Living Planet Report shows how each of us has the power to help the planet simply by cutting down on, or cutting out altogether, the meat and dairy on our plates. Or better still, cutting out animal products in every area of our lives. It’s not hard.

The Nature Capital approach to saving our Earth operates at corporate or even governmental level. So is there any way we can get behind this as individuals to make a difference? Well yes, there is. Here in the UK, we can support the Wildlife Trusts. You can be sure they will do all in their power to keep our government in line with the NEA. You can also join the Ecosystems Knowledge Network. They greatly value individuals’ input.

In the USA, there is the truly wonderful Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club. Both would welcome your support.

All of us also have votes. Natural Capital – a positive way to reverse the decline of life on precious Planet Earth. What do our electoral candidates have to say about that? It’s just about the most important question they need to answer. Shall we ask them?

Sources

Mass Consumption Is Causing Mass Extinction. Can We Stop Ourselves? – TakePart

The Economic Value of Nature – Voices for Biodiversity

Ecosystem Services – Science in Action

National Ecosystem Assessment – The Wildlife Trusts

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The Living Planet Report: Our Dinner Plates Are Destroying Life on Earth

Now is the time to stop hiding our heads in the sand. Planet Earth is in a mess. And we, the human race, are entirely to blame.

This week the WWF published its Living Planet Report. It makes a chilling read.
“Populations of wild animals have plummeted 58 percent in the past four decades as humans have pushed them into ever-smaller habitats or killed them for food.”
“Global wildlife could plunge 67 per cent in the fifty-year period ending this decade as a result of human activities. The report shows how people are overpowering the planet for the first time in Earth’s history.”
Put it this way: there’s now only one third of the wildlife left that there was when a person now 50 was born.

How has it come to this desperate state of affairs? Sad to say, like this:

  • We have overfished the oceans
  • We have wiped out natural habitats to graze farmed animals, and grow crops – crops largely to be fed to farmed animals
  • We have polluted air, land and water, in some large part through farming animal
  • We have caused climate change, farming animals being the single biggest contributor
  • We have introduced invasive species (like the mink in the UK, escaped into the wild from fur farms, and predating endemic species such as the endangered water vole)

“All five threats [to the Earth] are symptoms of overconsumption of natural resources, the report states, which has far outstripped the capacity of ecosystems to restore the fertile soil and clean water that support wildlife as well as human health and welfare.”

Feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of the crisis? What if I told you each and every one of us can take back the power into our own hands? That our individual actions could make ALL the difference?

It’s really very simple, and no hardship – we can reverse the frightening decline of life in all its glorious forms on Earth, by taking meat off the plate and tucking in to the cornucopia of delicious plant foods instead.

Better, much better still, maximise our personal impact by transitioning to a fully vegan lifestyle where no animal products are used, for food, medicine, entertainment, clothing, experimentation, transport or anything else.

Our chance, perhaps our last chance, to take the pressure off the planet is NOW!

So, is the problem truly as big as WWF says it is? And is it all about humans’ use of animals? Well, let’s take a look at our plates and see.

Most of the world’s arable land is dedicated to livestock production

grazinglivestocklivefeed2We’re using precious land resources to produce food for our food. Not exactly efficient

16poundsgrainequalstomeat2

Only a small portion of all the grain grown in the U.S. actually goes to feed people

grainfeedlots2

If we fed these grains to people instead of to livestock, it could make a huge dent in world hunger

livestockfeed2

As the amount of land to grow livestock feed and graze cattle grows, the need to convert forests into agricultural land grows. This comes at a huge cost to native wildlife and plantslivestockgrazing21

Animal agriculture’s track record for water use isn’t much better

agriculture70percent21

The bulk of our water footprint comes from ‘virtual’ water in the meat we eat

meatvswaterusage2

In addition to land and water, fossil fuels are also used to produce fertilizers for livestock feed, as well as in transportation and processing of animal products

oilslickplantprotein2

As if pollution from fossil fuels weren’t bad enough…

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When you combine the greenhouse gases emitted from fossil fuel use, deforestation, and the animals themselves, animal agriculture has a huge carbon footprint

greenhousegases2_720

Bad, isn’t it? But denial is no longer an option. And we know what we have to do.

Reducing, or preferably eliminating altogether our consumption of animal products will –

  • help save species from extinction
  • conserve land, water and grain resources
  • remove a major cause of pollution
  • and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, simply taking meat off the plate will cut your personal carbon footprint in half.  Who would not want that?

Ready to swap that burger for a tasty Earth-friendly veggie burger? Here are some mind-blowing veggie burger recipes. With so many delicious plant-based alternatives available, kicking out those damaging animal products is easy as pie. Join the #EatForThePlanet movement and start using your daily food choices to make the change that is so vital to the fate of every creature on Earth, humans included.

People can’t act unless they know the facts. Please share with family and friends.

Help to go vegan here or here or here or here

Petition to the next President of the USA to make wildlife a priority in first 100 days in office – here

There is one more important thing humans can do to reverse the despoliation of Planet Earth. Coming soon.

Graphics by Elizabeth Lee

Sources

10 Shocking Environmental Facts That Make This Veggie Burger More Delicious Than Ever – One Green Planet

Mass Consumption Is Causing Mass Extinction – Take Part

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