Monthly Archives: May 2016

Without a Seaweed Meadow

A close up of an Ascophyllum mat at low tide with attached tufts of Vertebrata lanosa, an obligate epiphyte red seaweed.

Ascophyllum nodosum is a brown seaweed and a ubiquitous member of intertidal communities throughout the temperate North Atlantic. This cold- and calm-water loving species has long strappy branches and air bladders along its axis. It grows in dense stands that are up to a meter tall – forming beautiful floating meadows at high tide and thick, floppy mats of seaweed at low tide. Ascophyllum’s high abundance, canopy formation, and place at the bottom of the food-chain makes it an important foundation species for intertidal rocky shore communities. So what would happen if Ascophyllum was suddenly gone tomorrow?

An aerial view of an Ascophyllum dominated intertidal community at low tide. Eager phycology students head down to survey the diversity at Quoddy Head State Park, Maine, USA. (C) Kylla Benes

Fortunately, there have been a few classic and long-term studies* that have addressed this question. Clearly, the removal of any foundation species would result in an immediate decline in associated and dependent species. But what about the long-term changes in intertidal communities?

First a little lesson on intertidal community organization. For sessile (attached and non-mobile) organisms, competition for space is a key driver of diversity on rocky substrate. Recruitment rates, growth rates, longevity, and position in the food-chain can determine which species are most abundant. Ascophyllum is not very good at recruiting. But its density, height, long life-span (up to 100 years), and low palatability mean that this species can out-compete many other sessile seaweeds and invertebrates. Large disturbances—such as strong waves or ice scour — that can remove Ascophyllum and/or high recruitment of other sessile species can lead to other seaweed and invertebrate species becoming dominant. Importantly, the identity of the dominant species can have major impacts on the associated community.

At locations where there is little recruitment, such as the northern-most reaches of the Gulf of Maine, the removal and absence of Ascophyllum could result in a mostly barren landscape or a sparse and low diversity community at best. At locations where there is high recruitment of invertebrates, barnacles and mussels can form near monoculture beds that provide little habitat for the intertidal community that is characteristically associated with Ascophyllum. Although, micro-invertebrates that can live in the interstices between mussels and predators of barnacles and mussels would be happy. In particular, mussels can become so dominant and persistent, that they can form stable and alternative intertidal communities to the Ascophyllum-based versions communities. At locations where predatory pressure from whelks and crabs is high enough to keep these invertebrates in-check, other brown seaweeds in the genus Fucus can be dominant space holders. As close relative to Ascophyllum, these species can play a similar role in intertidal communities, but they are not as long-lived and are more susceptible to damage from waves and herbivores. In the long-run, Fucus-dominated locations may be less stable compared to Ascophyllum-dominated intertidal communities.

Mussels versus Fucoid

The rocky intertidal at Mill Pond, Swans Island, Maine USA. From the 1980’s to 1990’s mussels and barnacles dominated this site (left). Beginning in 2000, disturbances from ice scour opened up space, allowing for a shift to a seaweed dominated community (right). Arrows indicate reference points at the site. Photos: (C) Steve Dudgeon and (C) Peter Petraitis – To see other photographs and learn more about the long-term studies of alternative stable states in the Gulf of Maine, visit the LTERB website.

The above, are all direct effects of the loss of Ascophyllum on the structure intertidal communities but there would also be some indirect effects. Many birds, fish, and invertebrates use Ascophyllum meadows as temporary habitat during migration or as juveniles. Further, seasonal release of gametes and senesce of Ascophyllum may be a large source of nutrients and carbon for intertidal animals or may even be exported to other ecosystems such as the deep subtidal. With Ascophyllum gone, these animals and ecosystems may suffer. These indirect, but potentially important, effects of Ascophyllum are much less well known and studied than direct effects.


Example seaweeds (A-C) and invertebrates (D-I) commonly associated with Asocphyllum. A) Palmaria palmata, B) Corallina officinallis, C) Ulva lactuca, D) Littorina littorea, E) Testudinium testudinalia, F) Littorina obtusata, G) Botryllus sp., H) Mytilus edulis, I) Semibalanus balanoides.
Photos: (C) Kylla Benes

Lastly, the disappearance of Ascophyllum would result in a loss of many ecosystem services that we humans are reliant upon. Lobster, cod, and several other fisheries species use seaweed meadows as nursery habitat for their young. The sudden disappearance of Ascophyllum would result in a reduction of these species, and ultimately income from these fisheries. And this would result in less of the surf, in your surf and turf dinners. Ascophyllum itself is harvested for use in fertilizer, nutritional and beauty products, and even as packaging to ship lobsters to distant restaurants (leading to a small temporary population in the San Francisco bay area). Last year, over 15 million pounds of seaweed were harvested from the coast of Maine, USA and the products of the seaweed industry are valued at about $20 million per year. In addition to its importance in fisheries, Ascophyllum is a foundation species of biodiversity hot spots (e.g., Cobscook Bay) and may be an important carbon sink, which could help mitigate the effects of ocean acidification.

Whether you’re an ecologist interested in community dynamics, think protecting the Earth’s biodiversity is important, or simply love a lobster dinner, we all have a reason to care about Ascophyllum.


*References on Intertidal Community Organization in the Gulf of Maine

Menge, B. A. 1976. Organization of the New England Rocky Intertidal Community: Role of Predation, Competition, and Environmental Heterogeneity. Ecological Monographs 46:355-393.

Petraitis, P. S. & S. R. Dudgeon. 1999. Experimental evidence for the origin of alternative communities on rocky intertidal shores. Oikos:239-245.

Bryson, E. S., G. C. Trussell, & P. J. Ewanchuk. 2014. Broad-scale geographic variation in the organization of rocky intertidal communities in the Gulf of Maine. Ecological Monographs 84:579-597.


May 31, 2016

We must localise the EU and curb corporate power – but does that mean in or out?

Most voices in favour of Brexit seem to offer little more than narrow nationalism, xenophobia and racism.

Such associations make it feel impossible for most Greens and progressive thinkers on the left to vote Leave in the upcoming UK referendum.

And that settles it in the minds of some: one ‘has’ to vote Remain. Anything else feels ‘unprogressive’, reactionary, even downright dangerous.

However, there are powerful arguments against the European Economic Union. In all five Nordic countries: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, we have had a very powerful critique of the EU from an ecological, cultural, global solidarity and democratic perspective.

A large proportion of the population realised that the impetus to link countries together was primarily based on a misguided notion of economic growth. However, these arguments didn’t reach the English-speaking world, and today on both sides of the debate in Britain this misguided notion continues to prevail.

In order to make sense of misleading pro and con arguments in the media, we need to go behind the scenes to examine the issues holistically. We need to look carefully at the process of economic ‘integration’ that has been going on for several generations now around the world.

At the regional, national and global level, societies and ecosystems have been transformed in order to accelerate economic growth. The emphasis has been on increasing international trade and benefits to international traders, at great cost to ecosystems, livelihoods, and democracy. It is important to understand the formation of the EU in this context, but by no means do the points we make here apply to the EU alone.

The EU is dedicated to corporate interests and economic globalisation

The European Union is an extension of the Bretton Woods institutions – The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

It is widely assumed that the European Union was formed in order to prevent conflict and in order to avoid another depression. In the aftermath of the Second World War, political elites and business leaders promoted the notion that economic integration was a path to peace and harmony.

But in fact, the result was, a form of economic development – based on debt, global trade and consumerism – that systematically undermined democracy and favoured corporate interests while hollowing out local economies worldwide.

Interlinked multinational banks and corporations constitute a ‘de facto’ European government, determining economic activity through the ‘European market’. Their vast lobbying power has an overwhelming influence on the EU Commission and the secretive Council. Corporations run Europe.

In country after country, transnational corporations (TNCs) have been able to evade taxes by ‘offshoring’ their activities, and to bargain for lower tax rates and higher subsidies by threatening to move where even less in taxes will be demanded, and more in subsidies provided.

Economic integration imposes human and ecological monoculture

Europe is home to a great variety of cultures, languages and customs. The economic union is based on an economic model that is eroding this diversity, which was born of human adaptation to different climates and ecological realities. A fabric consisting of mutually enriching and different cultural traditions is being replaced by the uniform culture of consumerist ‘individualism’.

Previously, the many borders, currencies, and differing regulations made trade difficult for big business, while the diversity of languages and traditions put limits on mass marketing. None of these were obstacles to businesses operating within their own countries – in fact, the borders and cultural diversity helped protect the markets of domestic producers from the predations of mobile capital, helping to ensure their survival.

But for big corporations and financial institutions, diversity is an impediment, whereas monoculture – in all aspects of life, from seeds, fast food and clothing, to architecture – is ‘efficient’. For them, a single Europe-wide market of 500 million people was an essential step to further growth: their growth.

Meeting that goal required a single currency, ‘harmonized’ regulations, the elimination of borders, and centralised management of the European economy.

The EU economy increases pollution and CO2 emissions

The global economic model promoted in the EU increases pollution and fossil fuel use in a multitude of ways.

  • First of all, economic policies are responsible for a concentration of jobs in ever-larger high-rise urban centres. When people move into urban areas, net resource and energy consumption tends to rise, massively increasing CO2 emissions and toxic pollution.
  • Secondly, the EU subsidies system not only wipes out family farms but paves the way for agribusinesses that destroy soils and ecosystems, or employ cruel factory farming methods.
  • Thirdly, investments in infrastructure and fossil fuel subsidies help to prop up the energy-intensive system of mass production for mass consumption. Moreover, most energy subsidies tend to support highly centralised power systems, rather than more decentralised renewable energy.

Even worse is ‘redundant trade’: in a typical year, Britain exports millions of litres of milk and thousand of tonnes of wheat and lamb, while importing nearly identical amounts. The cod caught off the coast of Scotland is shipped 5,000 miles to be turned into fillets in China, then shipped back again.

This kind of wasteful trade – which greatly overshadows the efforts of well-meaning individuals to reduce their personal carbon footprints – actually benefits no one but massive corporations. And it is not efficiency but a wide range of subsidies and ignored costs that make it all possible.

National governments stripped of political power

At the same time as governments subsidise big business, they must pay from their depleted treasuries to retrain displaced workers, to mend the unraveling social fabric, and to clean up the despoiled environments left behind by deregulated, mobile corporations.

Forced to go hat-in-hand to banks, countries can easily find themselves on a downward spiral, with interest payments consuming an increasing proportion of national output. It’s no wonder that so many governments today are struggling to stay afloat, while global corporations and banks are flush with cash.

This has left nation-states increasingly powerless to deliver what people need. They have lost the power to protect their citizens from the impacts of international capital and financial speculation. As a result, many people have lost confidence in governments and democracy itself. They feel disenfranchised and angered by the escalation of inequality-driven by international market forces and rootless, profit-hungry corporations, with the full complicity of the EU.

This is a dangerous situation, ripe for exploitation by extremist forces, including those of atavism and of outright fascism.

European government is not the answer

Many idealists see the EU as a political bloc that has raised environmental and human rights standards continentally and globally, and acted as a buffer to the US. There is much truth in this. And to greatly strengthen pan-European collaboration with the aim of solving our global ecological and human rights problems is clearly highly desirable.

However, this type of collaboration does not need to – ought not to be allowed to – erode the rights of smaller nation states to run their own affairs under clearly negotiated agreements of environmental protection. We hold that the relatively high standards in the EU have been a consequence of the integrity of the democracies in many of the constituent countries, not a consequence of creating a single market that benefits big business.

We would also argue that to assess the overall contribution by the EU to global environment and human rights affairs we must not look exclusively at the relatively benign EU policies in these areas themselves but also at the consequences for ecological justice of EU policies in trade and military policy.

In fact, the main impetus behind the European Economic Union was the desire of big business to compete with the US. And to a great extent, what we have today is a nascent United States of Europe, competing with the US about market shares but also working closely together with the US in preserving the hegemony of the global North over the global South.

European democracy? If only …

Meanwhile, within the EU, the public has very little power and ability to affect decisions. There is no common public sphere where European citizens can get together to, muster democratic control of the European economy and the administrative power concentrated in Brussels.

The European Parliament is weak, and, more importantly, elections to it work mostly on a national-level basis. There are no real European political parties and movements. Thus the situation is even worse than it is at the national level: for at least at the national level there is a public, a citizenry, a demos, a press, a political debate.

It might appear that the solution is to remove power from national governments and give it to a democratically-controlled European government. There is something completely understandable about this impulse. After all, there is a real need for international co-operation around the political and ecological crises gripping our planet.

But scaling up government means increasing the distance between civic society and their representatives. It would be a step backward to to create a ‘European democracy’, a federal superstate of Europe. Such a government would be virtually incapable of responding to the diverse needs of half a billion people.

Democratic institutions need to operate at a level that is comprehensible and accessible to people: at a human scale. We must take seriously the possibility that global democracy – people’s urge to care for the globe and for all its citizens – can only be real if most functions are local and people’s dependence on global trade and institutions is limited.

When presented by continent- and global-level problems caused by businesses and untrammelled markets, let’s increase international collaboration with the goal of scaling down businesses and markets. This form of collaboration is fundamentally different from scaling up government. It points in the opposite direction!

The following point is then at the heart of the very challenging position we find ourselves in: there is a profound mismatch between politics at the national level, and economics at the international level. Many well-intentioned ‘progressive’ / green / ‘Left’ people and organisations across the continent believe the best response to this problem is to create a true (rather than a merely de facto) European government. Yet this is likely to merely amplify the control already exerted by corporations over the European economy.

The answer, instead, is to decentralise the European economy. This will enable us to shape economic activity to reduce waste and resource consumption while providing meaningful livelihoods and restoring the environment,. Through decentralisation and relocalisation we reassert democratic control over our own destinies.

The way forward: localisation

There is an alternative to undermining our own people in order to enrich foreign corporations and banks. It’s called ‘localisation’ and it involves moving away from ever more specialised production for export, towards prioritising diversified production to meet people’s genuine needs; away from centralised, corporate control, towards more decentralised, local and national economies.

This means encouraging greater regional self-reliance, and using our taxes, subsidies and regulations to support enterprises embedded in society, rather than transnational monopolies.

A shift away from the global towards the local is the most strategic way to tackle our escalating social and ecological crises. Localisation shortens the distance between producers and consumers by encouraging diversified production for domestic needs, instead of specialised production for export.

Localisation does not mean eliminating international trade, or reducing all economic activity to a village level. It’s about shifting the power from transnational corporations to democratically accountable entities, including nation states. At the same time we need to build up regional and local self-reliance. It’s about reclaiming power over our lives while simultaneously shrinking our ecological footprint.

Localisation – the benefits

In contrast with the make-believe of derivatives and debt-based money, localisation is founded in real productivity for genuine human needs, with respect for the rich diversity of cultures and ecosystems worldwide.

By shortening the distance between production and consumption, localisation minimises transport, packaging, and processing – thereby cutting down on waste, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. This simultaneously increases resilience, which will be needed to cope with the inevitable crises coming our way.

Localised economies rely more on human labour and creativity and less on energy-intensive technological systems. This increases the number of jobs while reducing the use of natural resources.

By spreading economic and political power among millions of individuals and small businesses rather than a handful of corporate monopolies, localisation provides the potential for revitalising the democratic process. Political power is no longer some distant impersonal force, but is instead rooted in community.

As the scale and pace of economic activity are reduced, anonymity gives way to face-to-face relationships, and to a closer connection to Nature. This in turn leads to a more secure sense of personal and cultural identity.

Localisation is a remarkable solution-multiplier – but it should not be mistaken for a complete panacea. It offers no guarantee for peace and ecological wellbeing. Going local needs to be pursued in full awareness of the need for environmental and human rights protection that goes beyond local, regional and national borders. It’s a prerequisite, a necessity in order to build the accountable structures we need that respect and renew diversity.

Localisation, or decentralisation, was central to the thinking of the people’s movements in the Nordic countries that have resisted full integration into the EU. In Norway, the economic and political elites twice tried to achieve EU-membership and were defeated, thanks to the campaigns for democracy and global responsibility for environment and justice.

In Denmark and Sweden, membership in the Eurozone has been rejected in several referenda after historic grassroots campaigns. In Iceland, the popular support for EU membership has always been weak. The first application for membership in the EU was submitted in 2009 but suspended in 2013 when the pro-membership government lost elections.

Think before you vote!

We are facing huge crises: the frightening spectre of climate change; the threat of nuclear annihilation; the enormous problems of hypermobility and large-scale migration

These are all consequences of a fixation on growth and technological ‘progress’. The leadership in both Brexit and Remain are committed to promising more ‘economic growth’ to the millions of people who are struggling to hold on to a job, struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

The ‘growth’ that is being discussed is actually supporting excessive global trade and global businesses and banks. The very same process is handing over more wealth and power to the 1%, to the detriment of the 99%. And this type of growth demands ever-more energy for global infrastructures, including bigger airports, ports and super-highways.

So we have a system that destroys livelihoods while driving up CO2 emissions and other forms of pollution. More and more people, including Nobel laureate economists, are questioning this path.

There are some who would believe that collaboration at the pan-European level could facilitate a path to genuine economic decentralisation. Others are convinced that we can best take those steps to localise if we first leave the EU. Others still don’t favour either of these paths. We are not trying to tell the reader how (or even whether) to vote; we are asking you to help us shed light on and bring sanity to this volatile situation.

Whichever way you vote, please reject the glaringly stupid rhetoric in the media. Speak out, let your voice be heard for ecological and economic sanity, for a fundamental turnaround.



Helena Norberg-Hodge is a pioneer of the worldwide localisation movement, and recipient of the Goi Peace prize and the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’. Director of Local Futures, she is the producer of the award-winning The Economics of Happiness and author of Ancient Futures.

Rupert Read is Chair of Green House and stood in the East of England for MEP in 2014 and in Cambridge for MP for the Green Party in 2015.

Thomas Wallgren founded the campaign Yes to the World – No the the EU before the Finnish referendum on EU-membership in 1994. He is a member of the advisory board of Corporate Europe Observatory and of the city council in Helsinki for the social democrats.


Lies, damn lies and the national cycling ‘strategy’

Following last week’s awful news of a young woman killed cycling on a dreadfully designed bridge in Croydon, I woke up this morning feeling really angry about the total lack of action by our Government and in particular by the Cycling Minister Robert Goodwill.

So I decided to do some early morning number crunching.

In March Goodwill launched a supposed national cycling ‘strategy’ proclaiming that it would double cycling by 2040. The accompanying press release announced a pathetic budget of £60 million per year.

Central to his strategy was to basically say it was almost totally up to local councils to take the cycling strategy forward. However, the press release did not say that the government has cut almost £1.8 billion from local council’s transport budgets since they came to power.

This means vast majority of councils have absolutely no money in the kitty to install the urgently needed protected cycle lanes.

There are about 85,000 km of major non-motorway major roads needing Dutch-standard cycle lanes in the UK – excluding the 300,000 km of C and unclassified local roads. The two new Dutch standard protected cycle-lanes in London cost £1.6 million per km. This compares with costs for the M74 motorway extension of £86 million per km!

Thus Goodwill’s proposed national cycling strategy ‘funding’ would build a measly 37 km of Dutch-standard cycle lanes per year or 0.04% of the roads needing them. At this derisory rate of spending it would have built 888 km of protected cycle lanes or 1% of the roads needing them by Goodwill’s target date of 2040.

And the national cycling ‘strategy’ would bring the UK up to Dutch standards by the year 4,313 AD – after a wait of 2,297 years!

Meanwhile Osborne cuts £1.8 billion from Councils’ transport budgets

Last week the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cycling held an inquiry into this new strategy and invited Robert Goodwill to attend.

The resulting discussion led to widespread ridicule of Goodwill on social media and despair at the Minister’s statements, when he referred to women’s hair-do’s not coping with cycle helmets and the media reporting of cycling fatalities, as the reasons why cycling was not making progress outside of London!

Just as Goodwill has slashed the national cycling budget, whilst calling on local council’s to do more for cycling, the Chancellor George Osborne has also slashed local council budgets, having cut a whopping £1.8 billion from local council transport budgets since 2010.

This means that there are almost no funds at all left to make local roads safer for cycling.

This is yet another example of the government’s deceitful agenda across a plethora of government departments. They announce grand new plans to devolve project funding to local governments, making it sound like new investment. When in reality, behind the scenes they are slashing the available budgets. In this way, they are destroying government services, whilst letting all the blame lie with the councils.

So what would it really cost to transform our major road network into one fit for humans, a network where children and pensioners have the human right to be able to cycle safely, without fear of death? The total cost of doing the entire major road network at the London cycle lane prices would be £136 billion. If we invested £3 billion per annum, this would take about 45 years.

Polite requests for sanity are getting us nowhere

This sounds a lot until you realise that the government plans to waste £205 billion on the total lifetime cost of Trident, which provides comparatively little wider economic return, whereas cycling is estimated to provide between £8 to £20 return per pound investment! In other words, cycling investment could provide a massive boost to the economy and employment, as well as enormous health and environmental benefits.

But as the current government Minister ‘Bad-will’ says NO, what should be done?

It is time for the national cycling groups to realise that their patient polite lobbying over the last six years has got us nowhere. Indeed, nationally things have been going backwards. It is now time for them to adopt the radical protests staged by some cycling groups in London, including Stop Killing Cyclists over the last two years.

We have staged repeated Dutch inspired Die-In’s across the capital, which have brought the traffic to a silent stop, again and again as we marked the tragic deaths and called for radical action. In London, the lobbying of Transport for London and the Mayor by the established groups went hand in hand with these radical street protests.

Together, these have successfully transformed the cycling agenda, with a comprehensive protected cycle-network now being rolled out and Mini-Holland schemes now promised to create Dutch style cycle-friendly communities in all 32 of London’s boroughs.

Time for Britain to become a cycling nation!

Six years of fruitless lobbying of the Minister is enough. Goodwill must resign, He is a total failure and part of the problem rather than the answer. There is enormous public support for investment in cycle lanes, with recent opinion polls showing over 70% support, which is astonishing in view of very low current levels of cycling.

Clearly, there is an enormous pent-up demand across Britain for a modern European standard protected cycling network.

We cannot afford to permit another generation of children to grow up, with their parents afraid to allow them to enjoy the freedom and health benefits of cycling in their childhoods.

We cannot afford to continue with the tens of thousands of Britons dying from transport pollution related diseases.

We cannot afford to have tens of thousands more Britons dying from inactivity diseases because they are afraid to cycle to work, due to lack of protected cycle lanes.

We cannot afford to continue churning out millions of tonnes of CO2 from our vehicle fleets.

The time for action and protest is now. Britain can and will become a cycling nation.



Donnachadh McCarthy FRSA is the co-founder of Stop Killing Cyclists and is the author of The Prostitute State – How Britain’s Democracy Has Been Bought. @DonnachadhMc


Brazil: rules protecting Amazon under threat

Environmentalists in Brazil fear that the new rightist government will move undermine essential environmental protections.

And a key battle is looming over a long-proposed constitutional amendment, PEC65/2012, under which environmental licensing would be ‘auto-approved’ once an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is been submitted.

The rule could apply to any major projects considered ‘public works’ including roads, hydroelectric dams or oil platforms.

Controversial schemes include stalled plans for the São Luiz do Tapajós hydroelectric complex  – which critics warn could infringe on indigenous lands, destroy local biodiversity and trigger deforestation.

An attempt by lawmakers to pass PEC65 was stalled last week in the Senate, but the threat has not gone away: the fear is that the government itself may now force these measures through. If the rule is eventually passed by the new government it would mean that projects considered important public works, following the EIA submission, could not then be suspended or canceled.

It also means that communities affected by projects – such as those opposing the Tapajós project – would not be consulted on the plans before ‘auto-approval’ is given. “It is completely absurd; it is as though the act of applying for a driving licence entitled you to drive a lorry”, says Carlos Bocuhy, president of environmental NGO PROAM.

Senate battle

Proposed in 2012, the move to eliminate formal licensing was recently pushed forward by Senator Blairo Maggi, the new agriculture minister in the newly appointed right-wing government.

Senator Maggi from Brazil’s centre-right Republic Party, also known as the ‘soy king’ due to his extensive agribusiness interests in the commodity, is a key new appointment in the interim cabinet.

The amendment was approved by the Brazilian Senate’s Commission on Constitution, Justice and Citizenship (CCJ) on 27th April, bringing it back to the Senate for its next stage last week.

But it was foiled by the leftist Senator for Amapá, Randolfe Rodrigues, who successfully argued that the move should have been considered in the Commission alongside another more recent amendment named PEC153/2015 – as passing the two could prove contradictory.

The move led to the changes being sent back to the CCJ because the rival amendment actually calls for more assessments and sustainability planning for large projects.

This newer amendment was submitted following the Samarco Mariana tailings dam burst in late 2015, which is widely considered to be the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history. The burst iron ore mine’s tailings dam polluted 400 kilometres of the Rio Doce and devastated local communities, and 19 people were killed.

PEC153 would oblige the government to adopt sustainability criteria in their actions and services and works contracts. Now both amendments are to be considered together.

Impeachment plot leak

The fight over the change follows the suspension of the former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and the formation of a new centre-right government.

The new cabinet was formed following Rousseff’s suspension on 12th May by Senate vote. She stands accused of manipulating public finances ahead of her reelection campaign, a charge she denies. Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment is still not complete. She will face a Senate trial in the coming months, which will end with a vote.

The interim government is led by President Michel Temer, a 75 year-old lawyer who has appointed an all-white, all-male cabinet. Temer has promised to restore “economic vitality” to the country.

Many of the new cabinet ministers are themselves embroiled in corruption allegations within the ‘Lava Jato’ corruption probe – and Temer is himself facing the same charges that led to Rousseff’s suspension.

On Monday, one of Temer’s closest allies, Planning Minister Senator Romero Jucá, was forced out of the government after just one week following the leak of a phone conversation in which he appears to discuss stopping the progress of the investigation into the complex Lava Jato scandal by impeaching President Rousseff.

He says his words were taken out of context.

‘Radical’ auto-approval a distraction technique?

Temer has avoided taking a position on the environmental licensing issue and said only in a television interview that it would be up to Congress to examine the text – in effect giving his supporters a green light to pass the measure.

He advocated “combined efforts among environmentalists and those who take care of agriculture in the country” – referring perhaps to Maggi: the agro-industrialist is from Mato Grosso state and – critics suggest – stands to benefit from large infrastructure projects such as the reconfiguration of the Tapajós River for canals to transport soy through to Amazon River ports.

The government environment agency, IBAMA, has said of the proposals for ‘auto-approval’ would constitute a serious setback for environmental management in Brazil – and that there is a need for balance between development and environmental protection.

Some environmental groups have also suggested that PEC65 is too radical a proposal to be realistic and that an alternative will likely emerge from other proposals currently under consideration.

There are currently three other proposals relating to the removal of environmental licensing being discussed different stages in Congress. Being comparatively moderate, they are more likely to pass.



Helle Abelvik-Lawson writes for the Greenpeace Energy Desk.

Also on The Ecologist:Ecocide in Brazil: new laws threaten Amazon devastation‘ by Jan Rocha.

This article was originally published on Greenpeace Energydesk. Some additional reporting by The Ecologist in this version.


Scientific error, omission and misrepresentation: the Royal Society on GM crops

This Royal Society document about GM crops, like every other one they have issued over the last nearly 20 years, argues in favour of GM.

Everyone knows that there are at least some scientific controversies, and disagreements about evidence concerning GM crops. None of these are mentioned in the Royal Society document.

This may not be surprising, given that there are no scientists who have consistently expressed scepticism about the application of GM technology to agriculture listed among the authors.

Scientific enquiry normally proceeds by open discussion of disagreements about evidence – the Royal Society’s involvement in GM has been consistently one-sided, ignoring scientists with dissenting views, and overlooking facts which do not fit with the views of supporters of GM crops.

Hiding the bad news – GM crops are in serious trouble

For example, in this latest document, on page 17, there are glaring omissions in the brief discussion of one of the two most widely grown GM crops – those with the Bt insecticide engineered into the plant.

Figures are given for claimed reduction in insecticide use as a result of the use of these GM crops, but no acknowledgement is made of the large quantity of insecticide effectively present in all of the GM Bt crops that are grown worldwide – so the figure given for an alleged reduction in insecticide use is misleading.

Nor is there any mention of an unexpected impact of the use of these GM crops, namely the emergence of new insect pests to take the place of those killed by the Bt insecticide in the crop – these new pests have proved more difficult to kill than the one they replaced.

Finally, no mention is made of the unfolding tragedy of GM Bt cotton use in India, where there have been widespread crop failures due to attacks by the pink bollworm, which GM Bt cotton has proved unable to resist. This is leading to widespread moves away from GM cotton seeds in India, often with the support of State governments.

On page 18, the document reports on where GM crops are grown worldwide, without noting that these figures come from a GM industry source. Although figures for 2015 are cited, no mention is made of the significant fact that, for the first time in 15 or more years, there was a slight decrease in the area of GM crops grown worldwide in 2015.

Serious omissions and profound scientific error

On page 20, there is a discussion about the use of GM soya in animal feed. The reports suggest that only the UK supermarket Waitrose is able to guarantee that some of its meat and dairy products come from animals fed GM soya.

However the Royal Society omits much more significant information, for example that non-GM soya imports to the EU are now increasing, because supermarkets in countries like Germany and France are moving away from the use of GM animal feed.

It also omits to mention that more US farmers are now growing non-GM soya, because of increasing demand. The Royal Society simply tells you that tens of millions tons of GM soya and maize are exported every year from North and South America, and that 90% of imported soya is GM.

On page 22, the Royal Society claims that GM food is “safe” – going on to explain that there is no evidence that it is unsafe. No evidence that something is unsafe is not same as evidence that it is safe – this is basic scientific error, confusing absence of evidence with evidence of absence.

For example, proponents of GM regularly claim that the fact that GM food has been eaten in America for 20 years shows that it is safe, despite the fact that the during the same period that GM food has been eaten in America, diet-related ill health amongst American citizens has increased dramatically.

However, just because things happen at the same time, does not mean one causes the other. Also, until somebody does some research, we have no idea if the widespread consumption of GM food in the USA has had health consequences or not.

Who is ‘anti-science’ now?

On page 25, the Royal Society neatly illustrates another trick that GM proponents have played over the years, when scientific evidence of harm has been difficult to explain away.

In this case, the Royal Society looks at evidence of environmental damage associated with GM crops, something which a large-scale, five-year study funded by the UK government established beyond doubt. The Royal Society’s answer is to say that this is nothing to do with GM crops, but simply a result of “farming practice”.

It is clear just how disingenuous this is, from the fact that every time this document claims some advantage for GM crops, it turns out that this is entirely because of GM, and nothing to do with farming practice. However, when there is clear evidence of damage, it’s nothing to do with GM, and all down to what farmers do.

Despite efforts to present their pro-GM arguments as neutral and unbiased, the scientific establishment in the UK seems incapable of following normal scientific practice when dealing with GM crops.

Scientists with differing views are excluded from the production of documents of this sort, dissenting views are ignored, and inconvenient facts are either omitted completely or misrepresented – or as a last resort, blamed on farmers not GM.



The document:Genetically modified (GM) plants: questions and answers‘ was published this week by the Royal Society.

This article was originally published by the Soil Association.


On the Importance of Mitochondria

Most of us learned back in grade school that mitochondria are the power plants of our cells. These tiny organelles, some as small as half a micrometer, give our cells the energy needed to carry out basic functions. Our teachers probably spent just as much time covering mitochondria as they did covering the endoplasmic reticulum (our cell’s factory) and the Golgi apparatus (our cell’s FedEx). But forget those things. The fact that our school’s never offered a full semester-long course covering just the mitochondria is an insult to the field of biology. After all, these tiny intercellular generators are responsible for an enormous portion of our current understanding of taxonomy and biodiversity, play a major role in conservation and species management, and paved the way for the evolution of complex life on earth.

Much of our current taxonomic system relies heavily on the use and analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Since most sexually-reproducing organisms inherit their mitochondria maternally, it’s much easier to get a clear understanding of matrilineal phylogenies by examining the DNA sequence of mitochondrial genes. MtDNA is also highly conserved, exhibits relatively slow mutation rates, and degrades slowly compared to some forms of nuclear DNA (nDNA). Thus, researchers are able to utilize mtDNA to reconstruct ancient phylogenies and understand interspecies and intraspecies evolutionary relationships. If mitochondrial DNA did not exist, taxonomists (and scientists in general) would be working with a much poorer understanding of evolutionary relationships. We would also very likely be drastically underestimating global biodiversity. Since effective management of both endangered and invasive species relies heavily on an accurate understanding of these species’ or populations’ reproductive barriers, genetic diversity, and effective population sizes, we would be improperly managing both species that need our protection and species that need to be controlled. Without mtDNA, taxonomists and evolutionary biologists would be trying to illuminate the underground caverns of biodiversity with just a few matches.

But let’s be honest; mtDNA is just sort of a nice side effective of the existence of mitochondria. No one can really argue that the sole benefit of these organelles is the information they give us regarding evolutionary relationships. No, the real benefit of mitochondria is their ability to produce large amounts of energy, in the form of ATP, for our cells. Without mitochondria, eukaryotic cells would rely heavily on anaerobic fermentation, rather than the aerobic respiration allowed by mitochondria, for energy production. This process is about 13 times more inefficient than aerobic respiration, meaning eukaryotes would not have the ability to replicate, repair, and translate DNA at the scale many currently do. Cellular functions would decline if not break down, metabolic processes would go off the rails, and life as we know it would essentially cease to exist. And if you think that’s hyperbole, consider the fact that many researchers believe the only reason life was able to make the leap from tiny, basic cells to the tapestry of diverse, complex multi-cellular organisms we have today is because of mitochondria. About 1.5 billion years ago, an ancient cell (possibly a type of Archaea) engulfed an ancient bacteria and gave rise to the very first eukaryote. This host cell provided a favorable environment for the bacteria to grow and reproduce, and in return these “mitochondria” provided the host cell with an enormous amount of cellular energy through aerobic respiration. This new form of energy production allowed early eukaryotes to grow and create the vast diversity of plants, animals, and fungi that exist today. Without mitochondria, life on this planet would exist only as tiny, simple cells incapable of complex functions or physical growth. No mitochondria, no humans, no corgi puppies, no shark week, no Neil deGrasse Tyson, no three-toed sloths, no Lin Manuel Miranda. Life without mitochondria, however you slice it, would be a dull and boring affair.

May 26, 2016

Institutes from around the world are making deposits to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

More than 8,000 varieties of crops from Germany, Thailand, New Zealand, and the World Vegetable Center arrived at the Vault, located on a remote Norwegian archipelago, to be stored deep within the permafrost. The Vault is located within the Arctic Circle, and helps to protect the biodiversity of some of the world’s most important crops against climate change, war and natural disaster.

The ryegrass and white clover seeds that have arrived at the Vault from New Zealand make up much of the feedstock for the country’s 60 million sheep, and the crops they produce have been worth an estimated NZD 20 billion to the nation’s national economy over the last 50 years. New Zealand recently pledged NZD 2 million to the Crop Trust Endowment Fund.

The deposit from Thailand has been inspired by its Royal family, after Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn visited the Arctic. Included in this deposit is the Grand Father Sumet Chili Pepper, which was named by the Princess in honour of the Secretary-General of a Thai gene-bank, who recently became a grandfather.

Germany and the World Vegetable Centre have made regular deposits to the Vault since it opened. The IPK genebank in Germany added more than 6,000 varieties, whilst the World Vegetable Centre added nearly 1,000 varieties originating from 116 other nations for safety backup in the Seed Vault.  

Depositing these seeds in Svalbard safeguards a rich reservoir of genetic diversity, essential for the health of global agriculture and food production, which is threatened by ever changing environmental and geopolitical and socioeconomic conditions.


Preserving duplicates of these seeds means that depositing gene-banks can be restocked should this ever be required, and ensures that scientists and agriculturalists have access to the varieties they need to grow more resilient and productive crops.


Last year saw the first ever withdrawal from the Vault, as duplicates of seeds which had been preserved in Aleppo, Syria by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, were sent to Morocco and Lebanon from Svalbard, after the Syrian civil war had made the Aleppo bank unviable.


The Crop Trust, an international organisation devoted solely to ensuring the conservation and availability of crop diversity, funds the annual operating costs of the Seed Vault with its partners, the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and NordGen.






Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Crop Trust says: “Today’s deposit is another important step towards ensuring that the global agricultural system is secure and diverse enough to meet the challenges of the 21st century.


“Maintaining crop diversity, and the genetic wealth it provides to current and future generations, is beneficial not just to crop breeders, but to the farmers that feed all of us on the planet.”




Footprint Indentification Technology – where traditional ecology meets technology

Imagine a time long before modern technology, before the industrial revolution, before the wheel, even before agriculture.

Humans had evolved a complex and powerful traditional ecological knowledge that enabled them to track and hunt effectively.

This knowledge was arguably the origin of science. It required rigorous observation, deduction and repeatability. Those who acquired it lived to breed more, and prospered. But fast-forward a few thousand years and traditional ecological knowledge is vanishing with the decline in hunter-gatherer societies.

Some years ago, we spent a decade in Zimbabwe, researching black rhino population dynamics. We worked with local trackers, observing their extraordinary skills as we tracked through the bush for long hours every day in the blazing sun.

The trackers who accompanied us, armed with old Russian AK47 rifles to ward off any threat from wild animals or poachers, used to laugh at our earnest attempts to track rhino using telemetry by by following erratic bleeps from their collars.

All the evidence we needed was right under our noses

Why go to all the trouble of chasing a rhino, usually with a helicopter, in the heat of the midday sun, just to fit a VHF or GPS collar for tracking? All the evidence, they reasoned, was on the ground right under our nose in the shape of the animals’ own footprints.

Truthfully, we were sceptical. Surely identifying animals from their footprints was bushcraft, not science? We settled into collecting data from the radio-collared rhino and after a few years had an unprecedented dataset, which revealed an alarming trend: Female rhino that were darted frequently for re-collaring (collar failure rate was high) had significantly lower fecundity, obviously a disaster for an endangered species.

We went back to the trackers. We already knew they could follow animal trails over thick grassland and rocky terrain, and amazingly, we found they really could identify which animal had made those footprints. And footprints, unlike the animals themselves, were ubiquitous.

Now this really grabbed our attention triggering the idea that footprint identification would be a less invasive and more cost-effective way of identifying individual animals. We set about trying to distill just the very basics of the trackers’ knowledge. Our first attempt was to trace rhino footprints and measure them. We spent three months with our noses in the deep red African soil, hunched over footprints. We did some preliminary biometrics. It was a total failure. Nothing matched, nothing made any sense.

Depressed, but undeterred, we adopted digital cameras, revised and standardized our data collection protocol and tried again. We purchased a copy of JMP data visualization software and with their help wrote a customized script for measuring footprints automatically. That was our true ‘AHA’ moment because what the trackers had seen in their minds, we suddenly could see before us.

Success at last!

It was a revelation. The visual analytics allowed us to ‘see’ differently. Not only did the software enable us to classify footprints by individual, we were also able to discriminate age-class and sex. We published our first paper on the footprint identification technique (FIT) in 2001. It caused quite a stir and before long we were inundated with requests from other researchers to use FIT for a range of species.

We now have algorithms for 15 species and more than 20 projects around the world but the icing on the cake has come with our most recent paper, published this month. It communicates FIT at a new level in the world’s first peer-reviewed video-journal; the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE). This a perfect forum for FIT as a technique rooted in visual analytics.

With our colleagues at the N∕a′an ku sê Wildlife Foundation in Namibia and Manchester Metropolitan University (UK), we have been able to demonstrate every step of the FIT software process in the cutting-edge software JMP from SAS and our next big challenge will be to keep pace with the demand for FIT – to get it to where it’s needed faster and more effectively.

We have an exciting new initiative working with partners in Southern Africa, the UK and the USA, to develop the world’s first open-access footprint database. A new partnership with the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums will aid the development of the database, significantly streamlining algorithm development making it possible to reduce development time and we will now start engaging fixed and mobile networks of Citizen Scientists to help us with the necessary stages of training datasets, algorithm development and field validation

Our footprint identification technique sprang from an unexpected source – traditional ecological knowledge. Yet it uses only a tiny sub-section of the skills we observed in trackers over the years. There is so much more to be re-awakened, revived and interpreted. Critically, integrating traditional ecological knowledge into conservation strategies also engages local communities – the key stakeholders in global conservation.

Technology has massive potential to transform the way we conserve endangered species, but our own research has pointed out that there are costs in not integrating this effectively into conservation strategy.

If we are searching for techniques that work safely and sustainably within the natural world, what better resource and foundation than traditional ecological knowledge, which has been shaped, tested and evolved so rigorously by natural selection over millennia.



Drs. Zoe Jewell and Sky Alibhai co-founded WildTrack in 2004 to address a widespread need for less invasive and more cost-effective tools to monitor endangered species. This mission works hand-in-hand with a need for local conservation efforts to engage local people. WildTrack’s award-winning footprint identification technique (FIT), based on traditional tracking skills, has now been developed for species ranging from black rhino to Polar bear and mountain lion. Jewell and Alibhai are Principal Research Associates in the JMP Division at SAS software (the world’s largest private software company), Adjunct Faculty at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, Adjunct Faculty at North Carolina State University’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Associate Academics at the Centre for Compassionate Conservation of the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia.


Exim Bank of India – stop support for the Rampal Coal Power plant!

The Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, a natural fence protecting the coastal areas and shielding the people of Bangladesh from the devastation of cyclones, is now at risk of destruction.

The threat comes from a planned 1,320 MW coal plant in Bangladesh only 14 km away from the edge of the Sundarbans Reserve Forest.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site, a crucial source of livelihood for many and home to the royal Bengal tiger among other endangered species, is under threat from the Rampal project – with financing from the Export-Import Bank of India now a very real prospect.

If this coal plant is constructed it will pollute the whole ecosystem of the mangrove forest and have a severe detrimental impact on all those who inhabit the Sundarbans. It will also make a substantial contribution to climate change and rising sea levels, one of the threats to the Sundarbans forest, to the entire Bangladeshi nation, and to low-lying regions around the world.

The Ecologist is joining the call on Exim Bank India to abandon this uniquely damaging and misconceived project.

A severe and direct threat – locally and globally

Dear Mr. Yaduvendra Mathur, CEO of Exim Bank India,

We, the undersigned organisations from around the world, have learned that your institution intends to finance the construction of the 1,320 MW Rampal coal power plant in Bangladesh via the extension of a ‘buyer’s credit’ of USD 1.6 billion to the Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Ltd.

We have received this news with great concern, as we consider the Rampal coal power plant a severe and direct threat, not only to the livelihoods of the local population and to the world renowned Sundarbans wetland adjacent to the project site, but also to the world’s climate.

Exim Bank India is supposed to be an institution that takes its responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of its operations very seriously. After all, your ‘Citizen’s Charter‘ states that the bank “recognizes its obligations as a citizen of the world” and “considers citizens of India and the global community stakeholders of the bank”, while the ‘Export-Import Bank of India Act‘ reassures us that “the board […] shall act on business principles with due regard to public interest.”

Our organisations fail to see how Exim Bank India, a self-declared responsible ‘citizen of the world’ acting ‘with due regard to public interest’ could support a project as destructive as the Rampal coal power plant. As ‘global community stakeholders of the bank’ we would like to point out to your bank that this project:

Threatens the livelihoods of over two million of our fellow world citizens

Over two million people living in villages around the forest depend on the Sundarbans forest’s resources to fulfill their basic needs, while others make use of products to earn a living.

The vast majority relies on aquatic resources such as shrimp cultivation or fisheries. Wood is collected for the construction of houses and boats but also for export. Acres of land acquired to build the coal plant were previously used for agriculture and farming activities.

With increased river erosion, noise pollution, health hazards and a decrease in the groundwater table as a result of the Rampal coal-fired power plant, there will inevitably be a loss of culture fisheries, social forestry and major destruction of agriculture.

Threatens to destroy the unique, extraordinary rich Sundarbans forest, a recognised UNESCO World Heritage site

Climate, topography, land use patterns, air and water (both surface and ground) quality, floral and faunal diversity, wetlands and tourism will be permanently affected by the proposed coal fired power plant.

The Rampal plant will pollute the air by releasing toxic gases which will impact people, animals, trees, plants and land. The plant will contaminate rivers by discharging used, warm water into the River Passur daily, for at least 25 years.

Additionally the rivers of the Sundarbans will be used as shipping routes to carry coal to the Rampal site. The four recent incidents involving sunken vessels which dumped oil, fertilizer and coal in the rivers stand as clear warnings of the accidents that will take place if the Rampal coal plant plans proceed.

Threatens to wipe out the Bengal tiger and other iconic species

Sundarbans is home to some of the last remaining iconic Bengal tigers, as well as the estuarine crocodile, the Irrawaddy and Ganges dolphins, the Indian python, some 260 bird species and around 120 aquatic species.

If the coal power plant becomes operational, the toxic discharged water and polluted air, as well as the constant coal transport, will have a destructive effect on all life in the forest. It is not possible to protect high profile animals in the Sundarbans without a true balance between various ecosystems. Tigers will not be there without the deer, and deer will not be there without the keora tree.

If the Sundarbans degenerates we will be forever losing the animals which depend on it, with future generations no longer able to enjoy the splendid sight of these animals.

Threatens to add further havoc to an already deeply distressed global climate system

The Rampal power plant, once in operation, will emit 7.9 million tons of CO2 per year for the next 25 years, therefore adding a further major load to an atmosphere that is already saturated with greenhouse gases.

If the world is to have any chance to limit the global temperature rise below the critical 2 degrees Celsius threshold agreed upon by the countries of the world last year in Paris, let alone the 1.5 degrees threshold considered crucial to keep life on earth more or less as we know it, there must be an immediate end to the construction of all coal plants.

There is an urgent need for institutions such as Exim Bank India to put their full weight behind financing the energy transition which the world urgently needs to meet the challenge of rapid climate change, away from the burning of fossil fuels and towards the full realisation of the potential of renewables.

For all of these reasons we, as fellow world citizens, call upon you, a responsible financial institution acting in the public interest, to act for the common global good and refrain from financing the Rampal coal power plant.

As global stakeholders to your bank we thank you in advance for changing course.

Yours sincerely,

Johan Frijns, BankTrack Director, on behalf of supporting organisations.



Action: There is still a good chance to stop the Rampal project, especially if Exim Bank India hears a resounding appeal from the international community about the huge dangers the coal plant poses for the Sundarbans and climate change. Add your organisation’s name to support the call!


Return of the Frack

Yorkshire district Ryedale will be “devastated” and “changed forever” campaigners warned Monday evening after county councillors gave the go-ahead for the first fracking tests in the UK in five years.

North Yorkshire County Council yesterday approved Third Energy’s plans to frack for shale gas at its existing well in Kirby Misperton, known as KM8, following two days of deliberations and representations.

The decision rides roughshod over a litany of concerns about gas leaks and safety breaches, as well thousands of objections.

Nicky Mason, resident of nearby Great Habton, broke the story at last Friday’s planning committee meeting about an unreported gas leak at Third Energy’s Malton 4 well-site in November 2015. Around 70,000 cubic metres of gas were subsequently released at the Knapton Generating Station.

Third Energy breached its permit by failing to report the leak to the Environment Agency when it should have. Ms Mason said:

“This is just the latest in a succession of problems experienced by Third Energy and their ageing infrastructure which have been previously documented. We all know that Hydraulic Fracturing brings a substantially higher level of risk than current conventional gas operations, and these are to be self-regulated.”

In 2008 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) wrote a scathing review of a pipeline operated by Third Energy (then known as Viking UK Gas Ltd). It was particularly concerned about “continuing poor standards” and “unresolved failures”.

And in 2014 Third energy staff detected a leak of ‘sour gas’, which is extremely poisonous even in small quantities.

The fight goes on!

The council’s decision sweeps aside the long and bitter campaign fought by the local community and environmentalists to keep Ryedale frack-free.

North Yorkshire County Council had received 4,375 objections – compared to just 36 statements in support – and impassioned pleas to reject the plans from the likes of Sir Richard Storey, a local landowner, and Flamingo Land, a tourist attraction and large employer.

All five town councils and Ryedale District Council had passed anti-fracking motions. But earlier this month the council’s own officers recommended the plans for approval and today the Conservative majority Planning and Regulatory Functions Committee voted through Third Energy’s plans, with a majority of seven votes to four.

However, campaigners Monday evening vowed to “fight on” despite the council having bowed to government pressure to approve the tests.

Russell Scott, a spokesperson for Frack Free Ryedale, said: “It doesn’t end here. We will appeal. The fight has to go on – fracking would be devastating for this area. The authorities must listen to the will of the people: 99 percent opposed the plans – that says it all. Nobody is for it!”

He added: “Third Energy has never hydraulically fracked in its life. And the process is inherently risky anyway – the industry’s own stats tell you these wells will leak eventually. Pumping pressure into the ground at high pressure constantly for years – to suggest that would have no impact is impossible.”

Mr Scott rejected accusations that protesters against fracking were ‘NIMBYs’, saying: “That isn’t the case. We have made commitments to meet climate change targets and reduce fossil fuel consumption. How can you tackle that by opening up even more extreme forms of fuel extraction?”

This rural area will ‘change forever’

Third Energy has said it helps support local businesses, currently employs more than 20 staff locally and supports local grassroots sports.

But Mr Scott remains unconvinced of the benefits or fracking, warning Ryedale would “change forever” if the plans to frack go ahead: “The pattern in America shows fracking does not create much local employment, only short term jobs. The energy companies just drill a well and move on. All the while jobs in farming and agriculture are damaged.”

Simon Bowens, Yorkshire and Humber campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: “This is an absolute travesty of a decision but the battle is very far from over. Today 7 out of 11 North Yorkshire county councillors voted to approve this fracking application in Ryedale, ignoring the objection of Ryedale District Council itself, as well as thousands of local residents and businesses.

“Despite this decision, public support for fracking is plummeting as Wales, Scotland and countries across Europe have suspended it. The risks to people’s health and the environment are unacceptable and we will fight on.”

Of the decision, North Yorkshire County Council said: “The planning committee is satisfied that in this particular application, mitigation of the effects of the development with regard to safeguarding the natural environment, protected species and habitats, the amenity of local residents, the protection of ground and surface water quality and traffic management can be achieved through the discharge of the planning conditions.”

Richard Flinton, North Yorkshire’s chief executive, said: “We are proud of our beautiful county which attracts so many visitors and maintains a thriving tourism industry. We have no intention of jeopardising those qualities and our rural industries and livelihoods. For that reason the planning conditions must be fully discharged and monitored.”

Third Energy did not respond to a request for comment.

This does not mean fracking will ever really get going in UK

Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth and injecting shale rock with a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to release the gas inside.

The Ryedale planning permission paves the way for the first shale gas exploration in Britain since 2011, when tests in Lancashire were believed to have caused minor tremors in the area. A ban was temporarily based on fracking but lifted the following year.

In 2013 Third Energy drilled an exploratory well near the village of Kirby Misperton, close to the North York Moors National Park. Now it has the green light to frack the well to test whether it can unlock shale gas from rocks up to 3,000m underground.

But Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said that it remained highly doubtful that large-scale fracking would ever go ahead in the UK:

“Although proponents of fracking will claim today’s decision as a victory, the fundamental questions around UK shale gas haven’t changed. As we see from protests outside the council today and from opinion surveys, the public is not supportive, and the economics remain unclear – so whether commercial fracking ever goes ahead is still an open question.

“Other issues also remain open. Last year, the Commons Environmental Audit Committee said fracking is incompatible with our climate change targets, and the government hasn’t been able to show they’re wrong. If leakage rates are above a few percent, gas burning turns out to be worse than coal for climate change, and yet the government hasn’t set a maximum permissible leakage level.



Victoria Seabrook writes about climate change, the criminal justice system, and social justice. She is news editor at independent local newspaper Hackney Citizen, a co-editor of Prison Watch UK, and a regular correspondent for

This article was originally published on Some additional reporting by The Ecologist in this version.