Monthly Archives: February 2018

How climate change is provoking clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria

Climate change is not ranked among the five top causes of conflict in Nigeria – namely: tribalism, resource control, religion, land and trade.  But that reality has been altered. 

The past thirty-six months have been fiercely violent for several Nigerian states, which have experienced rampaging Fulani herdsmen killing many subsistent farmers whilst trying to protect  their land from grazing herds. A number of reasons have been given for the violence, but no connection has yet been made between the herdsmen migrating south and the effects of climate change. 

Herdsmen – for whom cattle is a source of livelihood and wealth – have killed approximately 1,000 Nigerians. Myetti Allah – the umbrella body of the herdsmen – justify the killings in the name of self-defense.

Under attack

Having lived in southeastern Nigeria for the past two decades, I have never witnessed a more turbulent time than the past three years. This is not to suggest that life has always been smooth, but we have hitherto enjoyed relative peace. Now, our farms are under attack and our children and women are left vulnerable to the violence of the Fulani herdsmen, who would rather kill humans than risk losing their cattle to hunger.

The Fulani herdsmen are nomadic and habitually migratory. They annually move from north to south with their cattle in search of grazing fields. The movement is seasonal. Now with climate change, the movement pattern has been markedly altered.

Due to expansive desertification, drought and unchecked deforestation in northern Nigeria, the herdsmen naturally seek greener pasture further south. As the resultant migration has intensified, so too has violent clashes over grazing lands between local farmers and pastoral herdsmen, whom the former accuse of wanton destruction of  their crops and forceful appropriation of their lands. 

The emerging conflict is further compounded by the shrinking of Lake Chad from 45,000km2 to 3000km2 in less than three decades. The consequence according to the United Nations, is the displacement of about 10.5 million people. It’s a combination of these factors that has pushed herders from north-eastern Nigeria, the region closest to Lake Chad, to the southern parts of the country.

The spiralling rise in killings by the Fulani herdsmen coincides with the assumption of office by President Muhammadu Buhari- also a Fulani- who may be standing for reelection in 2019.  In the two and a half years that the Buhari administration has been in power, over 50 percent of the casualties recorded have been in the south-east and north-central geographical regions.  Farming communities in Benue, Kogi, Taraba and Nassarawa in the north and Enugu, Abia and Anambra in the south-east have incurred the highest casualties.

Climate change

The government’s response has ignored climate change as the source of conflict exacerbating the herdsmen’s grazing crisis.  Historically, since the existence of Nigeria, the Fulani herdsmen have grazed their herds in the north and intermittently in other areas. But incremental drought with resultant desert encroachment forced them to regularly look southwards for greener grazing areas. 

As Mary Ikande observed in an article published on naij.com: “With regard to precipitation at the coastline, the eastern part records 430cm, the western region records 180cm, the centre of Nigeria records 130cm, the upper north is the driest zone and records only about 50cm”. 

These statistics, which merely confirm pre-existing academic research on rainfall patterns in Nigeria, point to the underlying problem.

According to an International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) publication released in November 2017, “over 80 percent of Nigeria’s population depends on rain-fed agriculture leading to a high risk of food production system being adversely affected by the variability in timing and amount of rainfall.”

With the rising attacks, some Nigerian states have enacted anti-grazing laws that make grazing in open fields or farms a punishable offence. Whereas such measures have reduced the tension in some affected states, in places like Benue state, it has failed. 

Green vegetation

The 2018 New Year day herdsmen attack resulted in the gruesome murder of 73 people in rural Benue communities. The attacks occurred despite the  anti-grazing law the Benue state government had enacted which prohibited indiscriminate and open field grazing.  The herdsmen had vowed not to obey the law.

The Federal Government’s response has been lethargic and its reaction, if any, has always been the deployment of security operatives to affected areas. 

In developed and some developing countries, cattle herds are ranched with provisions made for growing their choice species of grasses. Nigeria must do the same. Ranching has been widely recognised as a solution, but entrepreneurs are reluctant to take advantage.

The onus is on the government to take the first step and introduce policies that will make ranching attractive such as an effective ban on open grazing, easy access to land, improved species of grasses and compulsory inter-state transportation of cows by trucks.  This will also create thousands of green jobs for unemployed youths.

Intensifying the pace of the Great Green Wall project (a reforestation plan for sub-saharan Africa to  combat desertification) in the 11 northern pilot states where it is meant to take place is now imperative. Implementation of that project will help return green vegetation to the north.

Political lethargy

Nigeria also needs to change its policy on climate change from a vision into action. It is distressing that Nigeria is not yet a member of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) – a 43-nation group of most vulnerable countries that negotiate as a bloc at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

It speaks to the lethargy that characterises such issues of great importance. Joining the CVF will give Nigeria the opportunity for knowledge-sharing with countries facing similar challenges. 

Nigeria can’t escape or ignore the impact of climate change on the herdsmen crisis. 

The best way to tackle it is to approach the herdsmen and explore the opportunities they present to empower people. In a country with terrifying unemployment, this moment should be seized to stop a naturally-induced crisis from becoming politically explosive.

This Author

Chiagozie Udeh is the winner of the Cambridge Climate Lecture Series (CCLS) article competition 2018 and is a climate change policy research associate at Selonnes Consult Ltd. 

Everything you need to know about the CEPA trade deal but were afraid to ask

International trade deals, discussed and negotiated behind closed doors, manage to shape the policy space available for governments to further public interest. For this reason, the TTIP and CETA trade negations commandeered a mass trans-national response.

However the EU-Indonesia trade agreement – otherwise known as the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) – which began its fourth round of negotiations this week, seems to be have gone largely unnoticed by mainstream media. This is concerning, since a recent report concluded that this deal may have negative impacts on democracy, consumer rights and environmental protection.

So what’s wrong with CEPA?

1. Democracy

Trade deals like CEPA are made behind closed doors, denying transparency, public scrutiny or parliamentary debate. Corporate lobbyists often have preferred access, meaning large transnational corporations largely drive the negotiations. This gives them disproportionate influence in shaping the trade agenda, resulting in trade deals that favour corporate rather than public interest.

These deals use trade as an instrument for business growth, rather than to ensure equitable and sustainable development between and within nations. Unlimited market access between parties and protection for foreign investment deepens wealth inequalities and concentrations of markets and capital. In short, the cost of boosting trade is often paid in public welfare.

2. Palm Oil

One of the biggest contentions of the CEPA negotiations surrounds palm oil. Indonesia is the world’s largest producer and exporter of palm oil, followed by Malaysia, with these two countries covering nearly 90 percent of global production.

This huge supply is matched to a huge demand, with palm oil monopolizing ingredient lists in cosmetics, biofuels and processed foods. It is found it over half of consumer goods, from lipstick to ice-cream to pizza dough to soaps.

And to what impact? Rainforests are disappearing at the rate of 169 trees every second, which can be attributed predominantly to palm oil plantations. This deforestation is endangering the existence of several species such as Orangutans, and causing the evacuation of indigenous communities from their native land.

It is also increasing greenhouse gas emissions due to a reduction in trees and slash-and-burn clearing techniques, making Indonesia the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases

Furthermore, the palm oil industry is linked to land-grabbing, human-rights abuses, and degradation of habitats.  Regardless, negotiations continue in the hope to expand this $44billion market under the flawed economic logic that ‘if there’s money to be made, there will be trade’.

Certification systems for ‘sustainable’ palm oil are weak, and standards are getting weaker in an attempt to increase the numbers of certified sustainable producers and make palm oil more political palatable.

3. Bad Law

Investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS) has been a serious issue in trade deals, and CEPA is no exception. Trade agreements provide one-sided protection for multinational corporations and foreign investors. This includes international arbitration tribunals (ISDS) that circumvent the national legal system to allow foreign investors to claim against governments.

For example, the Newmont Mining Corporation, which began mining in Indonesia as part as a bilateral investment treaty (BIT), historically argued that the Indonesian government’s plans to implement a ban on unprocessed mineral exports would impinge on the company’s profits and hence violate the investment agreement between Indonesia and the Netherlands. On this basis, they were able to present a claim against the Indonesian government.

Indonesia has had many difficulties in having claims filed against them for pursuing public policy. Because of this, Indonesia announced in 2015 that it would allow all 67 of its BITs to expire.

However, the CEPA deal would re-introduce an investor-state dispute mechanism via the ‘multilateral investment court’. This would lock Indonesia into a system of corporate rights and foreign investor claims, again dissuading the government from tabling new bills/developing new standards in the public interest.

Brexit

The CEPA deal is symbolic, as it signals a gateway for exporting this type of trade deal to other countries. Whilst other similar trade deals have historically been hampered, the adoption of CEPA could inspire the revival of other ‘profit over people’ deals such as the TTIP, which is currently dormant.

The fact that CEPA has been resurrected from the ashes of TTIP demonstrates the might and seeming immortality of corporate power. So instead of business as usual, it’s time to rethink the nature of our current trade agreements.

Brexit will demand the renegotiation of many trade deals once the UK leaves the single market. Therefore CEPA deserves extreme scrutiny if it is to be a model future deals are based upon.

It is a possibility that UK trade agreements may forego policies that protect people and planet, to ensure a ‘strong and stable’ economy for a post-Brexit Britain.

It is a possibility that climate and sustainability initiatives will be side-lined to boost trade and economic growth through polluting fossil fuels. Hence, moving forward into a space of democracy, equity and justice demands more scrutiny and criticism of these back-door negotiation spaces.

This Author

Katie Hodgetts works for Friends of the Earth Europe, which is campaigning against the CETA deal and are envisioning an alternative trade vision.

Climate science denial group GWPF sees membership income double post Trump’s election

The UK’s main climate science denier thinktank has seen its income from membership fees double over the last year, its latest accounts show.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) has consistently argued against the climate science consensus and was set-up by former Chancellor Nigel Lawson to combat what it describes as “extremely damaging and harmful policies”  designed to mitigate climate change.

GWPF’s latest accounts published on Companies House last week show a rise in the income generated from membership fees from £5,479 in 2016 to £11,937 in 2017.

Donations increase

Donations were also reported to have increased from £257,044 in 2016 to £284,141 last year — raising the foundation’s total funds to £743,959.

GWPF also paid a fundraising consultancy fee worth £4,380, which appeared for the first time in the 2017 accounts.

GWPF’s latest accounts show a reverse of a previous trend that saw the foundation’s membership income slump by more than 60 per cent between 2011 and 2016.

Writing in The Independent, Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said the 2016 membership fee income was “the lowest annual total in the foundation’s seven-year history”.

On its website, GWPF asks its members to give “at least £100 per year” to fund its activities.

New appointment

GWPF did not respond to DeSmog UK’s request to clarify if membership had increased or if members had made larger donations this year.

But in a previous statement to The Independent, GWPF said membership had stagnated between 200 and 300 members over the last few years and that not all members paid the full £100 suggested fee.

The accounts also show that wages and salaries have increased by more than £30,000 reaching £119,824 in 2017 despite the number of employees —  four —  staying the same over the last couple of years. Trustees at the foundation, including Lawson, are not remunerated.

The accounts also make public the appointment of Sir Nicholas Bonsor as an honorary director of development.

Bonsor’s new role within GWPF has not been detailed in the foundation’s accounts. DeSmog UK asked GWPF whether the new fundraising consultancy fee meant Bonsor was in charge of fundraising, but did not receive a reply.

Nicholas Bonsor

A practising barrister, Bonsor was a Tory MP for Nantwich and Upminster between 1979 and 1997 and served as a minister of state for foreign affairs between 1995 and 1997.

In 2010, he supported Nigel Farage in his unsuccessful campaign to unseat Commons Speaker John Bercow from his Buckingham constituency.

Educated at Eton and Oxford, Bonsor inherited the title of baronet and is a vice president of the Standing Council of the Baronetage,  a social network which provides advice to those wishing to prove their succession to a baronetage.

Bonsor has also held a number of directorships on the boards of mining companies.

He served as a non-executive director of London Mining, a London-based company which developed iron ore mines for the steel industry, and was appointed deputy chairman in 2010.

London Mining

The company was involved in a major controversy in Greenland where voters feared ministers were surrendering their country’s interest to multinational mining companies.

London Mining was at the centre of the controversy in 2013 over its £1.5bn plan to build one of the world’s biggest iron ore mines to serve the steel industry in Beijing, as well as a pipeline and a deep sea port.

The project sparked concerns from environmentalists who feared the project would have significant social impacts and could damage Greenland’s natural areas.

London Mining went into administration in 2014 after going bankrupt.

Bonsor also served on the boards of other extractive companies including Blue Note Mining, Forest Gate Energy, Cassidy Gold, Metallon Gold and Tomco Energy.

Trump effect

GWPF’s director, Benny Peiser made reference to Donald Trump’s pro-fossil fuels energy policy in the director’s report section of the accounts.

Peiser mentioned President Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement and praised his support for “cheap and secure energy as the engine to drive US economic revival”.

He wrote: “The election of Donald Trump as US president in November 2016 up-ended many of the assumptions on which much of Britain’s and the EU’s climate policies are based.

“He [Trump] has supercharged the transition to shale gas that has already transformed the US energy market, giving US manufacturers a massive boost over their European competition.”

Peiser also wrote that prime minister Theresa May’s poor result in last year’s general election had seen a “weakened government” focusing only on the Brexit negotiations, with “little time or appetite for energy policy reforms”.

This Author

Chloe Farad is a journalist and contributor to DeSmog UK.

Why economic growth is not compatible with environmental sustainability

‘Growth for the sake of growth’ remains the credo of all governments and international institutions, including the European Commission.

Economic growth is presented as the panacea that can solve any of the world’s problems: poverty, inequality, sustainability, you name it. Left-wing and right-wing policies only differ on how to achieve it.

However, there is an uncomfortable scientific truth that has to be faced: economic growth is environmentally unsustainable. Moreover, beyond a certain threshold already surpassed by EU countries, socially it isn’t necessary. The central question then becomes: how can we manage an economy without growth? 

Enough is enough

Kenneth Boulding, the economist,  famously said that: “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist”.  

Ecological economists argue that the economy is physical, while mainstream economists seem to believe it is metaphysical.

Social metabolism is the study of material and energy flows within the economy. On the input side of the economy, key material resources are limited, and many are peaking including oil and phosphorus. On the output side, humanity is trespassing planetary boundaries.

Climate change is the evidence of the limited assimilative capacity of ecosystems. It is the planet saying: ‘Enough is enough!’. 

Mainstream economists – finally convinced by the existence of biophysical limits – have started to argue that economic growth can be decoupled from the consumption of energy and materials.

Trade off

Historical data series demonstrates that this – up to now – has not happened. At most, there is relative decoupling – a decrease in resource use per unit of GDP. But, there is no absolute decoupling which is what matters for sustainability: an absolute decrease of environmental resources consumption.

The only periods of absolute dematerialisation coincide with economic recession. Trade should also be taken into account, to avoid externalisation of pollution intensive activities outside the EU. 

The current economy cannot be circular. The main reason being that energy cannot be recycled, and materials only up to a point. The global economy recycles less than 10 percent of materials; about 50 percent of processed materials are used to provide energy and are thus not available for recycling. It is simple: economic growth is not compatible with environmental sustainability.

The list of nice oxymorons is long – from sustainable development to its reincarnations like green economy or green growth – but wishful thinking does not solve real problems. Increase in GDP leads to increase in material and energy use, and therefore to environmental unsustainability. 

No magic bullet

Technology and market based solutions are not magic bullets. Faith in technology has become religious: scientific evidence shows that, based on past trends in technological improvement, these are coming way too slowly to avoid irreversible climate change.

For instance, efficiency improvements lead to rebound effects, in the context of economic growth (the more efficient you are, the more you consume; e.g. cars and consumption of gasoline). Renewable energy produces less net energy, because it has a lower EROI (Energy Return on Investement) than fossil fuels. For this, and other reasons, it cannot satisfy current levels of energy consumption, which therefore needs to be reduced.

Most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground, unburned, to keep a global temperature rise to no more than 2°C. In fact, fossil fuels should be called unburnable fuels. 

Science sometimes brings bad news. An article recently published in Nature Sustainability argues that: “No country in the world meets the basic needs of its citizens at a globally sustainable level of resource use.” The question then is: How can the conditions for a good life for all within planetary boundaries be generated?

The uncomfortable truth to be faced by policy makers is the following:  Economic growth is ecologically unsustainable. The total consumption of materials and energy needs to be reduced, starting with developed countries. 

De-growth strategy

Economic growth might also not be socially desirable. Inequalities are on the rise, poverty has not been eliminated and life satisfaction is stagnant.

Economic growth is fueled by debt, which corresponds to a colonization of the future. This debt cannot be paid, and the financial system is prone to instability. 

For instance, scientifically it is not clear how the European Union will achieve a low-carbon economy in the context of economic growth, since it implies a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

In fact, climatologists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows have argued convincingly that: “[F]or a reasonable probability of avoiding the 2°C characterization of dangerous climate change, the wealthier nations need, temporarily, to adopt a de-growth strategy.”

Obviously, a transition from a growth society to a degrowth  one poses several challenges. However, the emerging field of ecological macroeconomics is starting to address them convincingly.

Happiness factor

Happiness and economics literature shows that GDP growth is not needed for well-being, because there are other important determinants.  High life expectancy is compatible with low carbon emissions, but high incomes are not. Moreover, lack of growth may increase inequalities unless there is redistribution. 

In any case, the issue is not whether we shall abandon economic growth. The question is how. Scientific debates around it are on the rise, but I am afraid policy making is behind.

There are good signs: critiques of GDP as an indicator of well-being are common, there are policy proposals and degrowth is entering into the parliaments. This is not new. For example, in 1972 Sicco Mansholt, a Dutch social-democrat who was then EU Commissioner for agriculture, wrote a letter to the President of the EU Commission Franco Maria Malfatti, urging him to seriously take into account limits to growth in EU economic policy.

Mansholt himself became President of the European Commission after only two months, but for too short a term to push a zero growth agenda.

The time is ripe not only for a scientific degrowth research agenda, but also for a political one. As ecological economists Tim Jackson and Peter Victor argued in The New York Times: “Imagining a world without growth is among the most vital and urgent tasks for society to engage in.”

This Author

Federico Demaria is an ecological economist at Environmental Science and Technology Institute, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. He is the co-editor of Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, and of the forthcoming Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary.

Researchers shed new light on how hunting impacts the Amazon rainforest’s ecosystem

When it comes to spreading their seeds, many trees in the rainforest rely on large-bodied animals and birds, clinging to their fur or hitching a ride within their digestive tract. As the seeds are spread around, the plants’ prospects for survival and germination are increased.

But these animals and birds are the favorite quarry of hunters for bush meat and over-hunting is diminishing populations and  changing the make-up of the forests themselves.

A new study of the Amazon rainforest by researchers at the University of Connecticut  and the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation and Research, published in the Journal of Ecology, examines what happens to plants if their seed dispersers are no longer present.

Less devastating

They found that theoretical models predicting a dire impact on plant communities and huge decreases in the amount of carbon stored in tropical forests are not supported by the facts. Instead, the effects on the ecosystem are less straightforward and less immediately devastating.

Robert Bagchi, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut said: “Yes, there is a negative effect, but there isn’t 100 percent mortality. The story is more complex and much more subtle.”

In Western Amazonia, as many as two-thirds of all tree species rely on native, fruit-eating mammals such as spider monkeys and tapirs, or birds like guans, trumpeters and toucans, who are able to travel fairly large distances and carry any ingested seeds far from their parent trees.

Dispersal is advantageous for seeds because spreading out will give seedlings an edge over specialized natural predators who might otherwise wipe out clusters of undispersed plants.

Carbon storage

“The idea is that the seeds escape,” says Bagchi. “A lot of pathogens and insects are quite specific about which plants they will eat, and if there is no dispersal and their desired plants are densely aggregated, those plants will be clobbered.”

In addition, the tree species dispersed by these animals also store the most carbon. The researchers examined tree communities in the tropical rain forests of Western Amazonia, in terms of forest spatial organization and carbon storage capacity. 

They found  that tree communities in hunted forests appear to be undergoing a reorganization, where saplings of species that rely on large hunted animals for dispersal are now growing closer to each other and forming denser clumps in hunted forests.

Positive findings

But the long-term implications for biodiversity and the biomass of forests are not yet clear. 

And the expectation that without their dispersers, seeds of these plant species will land in the “kill zone” of insects and diseases under their parents and be replaced by other species that store less carbon, culminating in huge decreases in the amount of carbon stored in tropical forests, has not materialized.

A number of factors could be contributing to the reason that previous theories are not proving true, Bagchi says. Smaller seed dispersers that often increase when their larger competitors are hunted out may be compensating. 

Additionally, the trees analyzed in the study were already at least 10-15 years old, so follow-up studies will instead focus on the early lives of these trees, starting at the germination stage.

Further research

Questions the researchers hope to pursue include, What are the survival rates of undispersed seeds in hunted forests? Is limited dispersal by smaller animals enough to ensure a seed’s survival? How do these stages fit together – does high survival at a later stage compensate for low survival of undispersed seeds?

“We can’t simplify the process to just a linear one,” says Bagchi.

Bagchi also cautions that although these findings are somewhat hopeful in light of previous modelling studies, tropical forests in South America, Asia and Africa are becoming ever more stripped of their diversity of flora and fauna, fundamentally changing the structure of these complex systems. 

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.

Legal history made in ClientEarth case as judge makes ‘exceptional’ ruling

ClientEarth made legal history today after a High Court judge ruled that the court should have effective oversight of the UK government’s next air pollution plans.

The ruling came at the end of a judgment which saw the government defeated for the third time by ClientEarth over air pollution.

It means, for the first time ever, that ClientEarth can immediately bring the government back to court if it prepares a plan which is unlawful.

Government’s actions

This move, which means the environmental lawyers will not need to apply for permission to bring judicial review, was described by the judge as “wholly exceptional”.

Anna Heslop, a lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “The Judge has effectively allowed us to bring this matter straight back to court without delay if the government continues to fall short of its duties.

“We are extremely grateful for this because it means we will be able to monitor the government’s actions even more effectively and hold them to account.”

Valuable monitor

Handing down judgment, Mr Justice Garnham said: “The history of this litigation shows that good faith, hard work and sincere promises are not enough… and it seems court must keep the pressure on to ensure compliance is actually achieved.”

He added that this is the third unsuccessful attempt by the government to produce a plan to bring down air pollution to legal levels as quickly as possible and all the while people in towns and cities are at “real risk” from air pollution.

Mr Justice Garnham praised ClientEarth as a “valuable monitor of the government’s efforts”.

Immediately after the judgment the Prime Minister and Defra wrongly claimed  the judge had “dismissed two of the three complaints” brought by ClientEarth. In fact, the judge ruled in ClientEarth’s favour on two of the three grounds.

This Author

Jon Bennett is communications manager for ClientEarth.

Try a little tenderness – why compassion really is the best medicine 

Medical practitioners have long been troubled by a debilitating sequence of events that commonly occurs when patients fall sick. The illness causes fatigue. Fatigue affects mobility, with an accompanying decline in both the energy and motivation to leave the house.

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The will to do such domestic tasks as cooking and cleaning weakens. So, too, the readiness to drive and go about the business of making a living. Such inertia leads to social isolation and, with it, a diminishing sense of self-worth. In such depleted circumstances one’s sense of identity begins to blur. Soon one may begin to wonder whether there’s any point remaining on this Earth.

Loneliness is frequently the cause as well as the effect of such decline, and, as George Monbiot stated in a recent Resurgence article (Rebuilding with a Sense of Belonging, Issue 305), chronic loneliness increases the risk of early death by more than 20 percent. It’s what can happen when ailing people lack the surrounding presence of a compassionate community.  

Nature of illness

But these days increasing numbers of otherwise healthy people also suffer from a devastating sense of loneliness and a consequent loss of self-esteem; so the plight of sick people is highlighting problems that reach beyond the provision of health care. It has become an urgent murmur at the failing heart of our communities.

Recent developments in the Somerset town of Frome, in South West England, suggest that the most effective answer to such a growing crisis lies in the restoration of an active sense of compassion within the wider pattern of community life.

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We are probably never more human than when we are moved by the distress of others, and such compassion is an aspirational quality in which most people hope to share. But true compassion is more than just a feeling – it’s a transformative act of the empathic imagination.

The innovative work of the Compassionate Frome project has shown how, by translating impulses of kindness born out of concern for one’s fellow human beings into effectively organised social action, a town can do more than restore a sense of value and purpose in both carers and those in need of care: it can also bring significant practical and financial benefits to the whole community.

The Compassionate Frome project began three years ago when the town’s medical practice saw the need to rethink the way it considered the nature of illness.

Our evolution

The rethink was prompted by concern for people who presented at surgeries with no clearly defined medical condition yet who evidently needed care and attention, and also by the number of patients who occupied hospital beds only for want of more appropriate means of tending to their welfare.

Through the remarkable vision of lead GP Helen Kingston and the imaginative insight of Jenny Hartnoll, leader of the community development service at Health Connections Mendip, a new scheme of community-based welfare was brought into action with the enthusiastic financial and strategic support of the independent Frome Town Council. 

By interlinking the health centre, the community hospital and social services with care provision available from local charities and other groups, and by then recruiting a growing network of individual volunteers, Compassionate Frome has devised a model that has significantly lowered emergency admissions to hospital, with consequent savings in costs.

The scheme also carries considerable implications for ways in which the creative power of compassion might be applied to the enrichment of community life across wider society.

A sense of compassionate community has of course existed for a long time. Throughout our evolution, humans have always lived in communities and have helped each other out, even in times of conflict.

Pleasure of performance

Though it may not always be apparent, a fund of good-heartedness is still abundantly available among friends and neighbours, but increased social mobility and the consequent fragmentation of society have weakened many of those bonds. So the question arises of how best those bonds might be strengthened and extended. 

In addressing the issue, the Compassionate Frome project identified four key areas for action: the mapping of all existing community resources and the subsequent compilation of a service directory; the formation of a network of willing volunteers, known as Community Connectors, offering support to those in need and guiding them to appropriate sources of help identified in the service directory; the formation of groups requested by members of the community to meet newly identified needs; and the creation of one-to-one support relationships through liaison with Health Connectors.

At the start of the project the Community Development Service within Frome Medical Practice mapped out the wide range of active groups and other resources already available in the town and surrounding area.

That list has continued to grow. For a population of 28,000 residents there is now a directory of almost 400 varied groups and organisations offering support, advice, companionship and creative activity.

Not all of these might immediately be thought of as sources of welfare provision, but the value of becoming, for example, a member of a choir reaches beyond the pleasure of performance. A choir is a communal enterprise that requires the will to attend rehearsals, and may involve the need to recruit help to do so.

Natural human kindness

Once there, the new member can find a rich source of possible friendships as well as the affirmative sense of harmony that arises from the act of singing together. Other forms of joint creative activity – weaving and writing workshops, for example –offer similarly rewarding social contexts.

Once the town’s resources were mapped, the list of available support was placed on the Health Connections Mendip website and made accessible both to the general public and to the health professionals working within the practice.

With the cooperation of Frome Town Council, this directory opened opportunities for recruiting volunteer Community Connectors who would help friends, family, neighbours and colleagues find support and obtain advice on things such as housing, education and debt.

The Community Connectors receive bespoke training on the most appropriate methods to identify, support and guide those in need of help. During 2017, training sessions were also run for patients, carers, schools and colleges, care agencies, housing associations, community police, town council staff and people working in residential and nursing homes.

The emphasis throughout was on respect for the dignity of personal privacy, because any sense of interfering in the lives of others, whether family members, neighbours or friends, would go against the grain of that natural human kindness to which we all have access and on which the success of the entire project depends.

Times of hardship

The overall aim has been to create a loose but caring social infrastructure that gives larger scope to deploy that kindness, and to do so in a manner that affirms the feeling that the community is genuinely concerned for the welfare of its members.

In that respect, the needs of people in poor health may be best met by the one-to-one support service offered through Health Connections Mendip. By asking, “What is important to you?” the Health Connector begins the process of helping the patient to set goals and find the best means to achieve them.

Thus, a lonely 90-year-old diabetes sufferer living on the fourth floor of a block of flats who wishes to take part in a choral group that meets on the ground floor may need help to get there.

By giving that help, a kindly volunteer, identified through the directory, will bring companionship and encourage increased mobility, while the pleasures of socialising with the group will give the patient more reason to attend to their diabetic condition. In this way, rather than conventional care planning, a new horizon-widening, goal-based, patient-centred pattern of care has been put in place.

One of the most significant aspects of the Frome project has been its success in helping people make use of existing informal supportive networks. For many reasons, we may fail to reach out to those we know and love in times of hardship. We may not know how to ask for help, or how to accept it when offered. We may feel that we are burdening people who are already preoccupied with busy lives.

Emergency admissions

Perhaps we simply don’t understand the importance of caring networks to community life, or that people can feel good about themselves – heartened and enlarged, rather than burdened – when their offer of help is gratefully received. Because building networks of support is a skill we have largely lost, we may not even know they exist. But they are, and have always been, a vital part of the fabric of our lives.

A common misperception is that caring networks are there only to attend to the physical or emotional needs of a person who is unwell, but assistance with the everyday business of life – shopping, cooking, cleaning, walking the dog or mowing the lawn – can be equally important.

Simply asking someone how they are feeling, or inviting them to join you for coffee and a chat can immediately improve the quality of their day, and it’s an important aspect of the caring network that such selfless gestures give a lift to the morale of the carer too.

But the benefits are not just personal. The combination of the primary care team’s revised view of illness with the introduction of the compassionate community approach has had a remarkable and measurable impact on Frome.

While emergency admissions to hospitals across Somerset have increased by 30 percent, incurring a 21 percent increase in costs, Frome has seen admissions fall by 20 percent, with a 21 percent reduction in costs. This represents five percent of the total health budget. No other interventions on record have reduced emergency admissions across a population.

Greatest strengths

The implications of what has happened in Frome are profound. It suggests that perhaps a third of the people currently in hospital are there not because they need more or better medication, but because they are isolated individuals with poor networks of support.

Such diminished circumstances occur because, in a society dominated by the pressures of getting and spending, we have lost touch with an essential ingredient of what it means to be human – that active quality of compassion which motivates us to create nourishing and supportive patterns of community life.

More and more people are being admitted to hospital with serious illness, and increasing numbers of them are dying prematurely. So perhaps it’s no surprise that recent gains in longevity now seem, unpredictably, to be slowing down. Yet, in such a critical state, to focus solely on dealing with ill health is not enough.

Severe illness often comes at the avoidable end of a lengthy process. People can endure months, even years, of social isolation before they are finally rushed into crowded hospital wards. An urgent need to revive and sustain our community life is demanded by the recognition that warm social interaction has been fundamental to human evolution.  It remains so, and deprived of it we suffer enormously.

The building of compassionate communities makes sense in many contexts. First and foremost, it’s right because it exercises and demonstrates that essential quality of human kindness which is among our greatest strengths as a species. In a time of increasing social isolation it emphasises the life-enhancing value of human contact, and thereby generates and affirms a vital sense of meaning and purpose.

Inspiration and aspiration

It also significantly reduces the costs of health care and social welfare, while simultaneously creating a cultural environment more conducive to happiness and good health. These are surely compelling reasons for making this approach a fundamental building block of a better future.

Frome’s successful efforts to build a more compassionate community have inspired the conviction that what works well in the context of health and welfare can also be applied to other areas of social enterprise.

A Manifesto for Compassionate Communities has been written out of that conviction and is published on the Resurgence website as a source of inspiration and aspiration. Compassion belongs to no one and to everyone. May it spread across the globe for the benefit of all.

These Authors

Julian Abel is a consultant in palliative care. Lindsay Clarke is a freelance writer.

The Indigenous Climate Action women fighting for mother earth

Ta’ah is preparing a ceremony. She is an Indigenous elder of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, in what has been known as Canada for the last 150 years, since it was colonized. Calling on the strength of her ancient ancestors, Ta’ah brushes the six women before her with a cedar branch and purified water.

These women make up the Indigenous Climate Action team, and they are meeting with each other face-to-face for the first time in Vancouver. The ceremony marks the beginning of the first meeting of this Indigenous-led climate justice organisation, and a way for them to bring their traditional roots into the space.

“This is how we want the water to be,” Ta’ah says, signalling the purified water. Before the ceremony, she spoke of water pollution, and the impact industrial activities are having on sacred water bodies.

Indigenous children

Water ceremonies, canoeing, and swimming are all embedded in the history of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, but Ta’ah says they now come out of the water covered in red rashes.

Ta’ah suddenly stops, and the colour drains from her face. After a pause, she says: “I just saw a really sick whale. He was just lying limp on the beach. We have to speak for them.”

This is a stark reminder of why the world needs Indigenous Climate Action. This Indigenous-led group is speaking up for Mother Nature, and helping to channel Indigenous knowledge and experience into real solutions to protect the planet.

Whether it be whales around Vancouver, the water tainted by oil refineries, or the sacred Indigenous land turned over to pipelines and land trains.

Ta’ah, and other Elders we speak to across what is now known as British Columbia, all carry so much pain, from the destruction of their sacred land, to the residential schools that Indigenous children were forced to attend by the Government.

A larger problem

These boarding schools were designed to wipe out native culture and language, and assimilate children into “Canadian” culture. The elders we speak to all say they experienced years of torture and abuse: verbal, physical, and sexual.

Ta’ah and her fellow Elders now look to the next generation, like the six women of Indigenous Climate Action. They, she explains, can harness the pain that their parents and grandparents have felt firsthand, but are not so broken as to be powerless. They can do something.

“I am Eriel Tchekwie, and I am Thunder Woman. I carry the sound from the lightning.”

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, the executive director and founder of Indigenous Climate Action (ICA), has seen her native Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation land face destruction from tar sands, where bitumen is mined to be turned into oil.

These tar sands, Eriel says, are a symptom of a larger problem: Indigenous groups have been marginalised and left out of decision-making.

Changing ecosystems

“It’s so important to empower Indigenous communities. We have been left on the sidelines of so many discussions. In this country we just celebrated 150 years of Canada. For a lot of our communities that means celebrating 150 years of being oppressed,” she says.

For a long time, Eriel resisted the idea of creating an organisation and leading staff, but other members of her community persuaded her that she needed to. This Thunder Woman (the translation of her name in her traditional Athabaskan Dene language) is surrounded by five other Indigenous women, all bringing their own strength, history, and knowledge.

Now, Eriel says: “Why am I doing this? Honestly, I don’t feel like I have a choice.”

Indigenous Climate Action is not championing one specific climate change solution. The organisation exists to support Indigenous communities across Canada, giving them the capacity to become climate champions and promote the things they are already doing.

“While we’re the first and foremost to be impacted by climate change and the changing ecosystems on the planet, we are actually also the first that are able to build solutions to adapt and be resilient to them, because of our intimate relationships with the lands and the ecosystems,” Eriel says.

Easy maneuverability

The solutions to climate change stem from ancient Indigenous knowledge, and the organisation focuses on land defence, and challenging the drivers of climate change.

It makes use of Indigenous rights to territories, and uses international rights to empower people to stand in the way of projects which threaten the land. Through this, communities strive to protect both ecosystems and cultural identities.

Eriel and her team are now meeting with Indigenous communities across Canada to find out how they can support them, and work towards building an Indigenous climate change toolkit. The toolkit will connect communities, provide training resources, and amplify discussions about Indigenous rights and climate change.

One group supported by ICA is The Tiny House Warriors, which is providing climate change solutions by standing up against a threat to nature, water, and sacred land.

The group is building ten tiny houses to position along a proposed Trans Mountain Kinder Morgan pipeline route, which would transport crude oil across 518 km of Secwepemc Territory. The houses are built on wheels for easy maneuverability, and the household equipment inside is powered by solar energy.

Recycling and reusing

Leading the charge is Kanahus Manuel, an Indigenous activist and defender of the land. Her name means ‘Red Woman.’

“This pipeline that is being proposed to come from the Alberta tar sands all the way through our territory, through pristine mountains, glaciers, and rivers, is going to impact our way of life, because we are so connected to the land,” Kanahus says.

She explains that the Tiny Houses have more than one purpose. While the buildings are being used to occupy land targeted for the oil pipeline, they are also homes. They are proof that it is possible to downsize, and take less from the planet.

Kanahus says: “We don’t need to be consumers and capitalists to have a happy and successful life. We can have less of an imprint on the Earth, and show people that we can house ourselves. We can solve some of the issues that we face because of colonisation.”

Indigenous people have already tackled environmental issues like recycling and reusing, Kanahus says, because they are not big consumers. For the Tiny House Warriors, standing up to climate change means standing up to Kinder Morgan.

Like-minded

ICA is right behind this group, promoting its cause by helping raise donations, making  connections and gaining support for events, while promoting Indigenous leaders like Kanahus as climate solution ‘voices’.

In the future, ICA is planning to build a whole media strategy around groups like this. Podcasts, webinars, and mini documentaries could help to share the knowledge and efforts of the people who are committing their lives to climate action.

There are countless other groups that ICA is working with right across Canada. Just last week, it had its first meeting with the Pacific Peoples’ Partnership in Victoria, Vancouver Island, to explore ways of working together.

This organisation is rooted in environmental and social justice, and works with Indigenous communities across the Pacific. Next on the agenda, they will be organising an international climate networking conference, called the Red Tide Summit, alongside the Toitoi Manawa Trust who will host the summit in New Zealand. This will be another step in connecting Indigenous communities.

Eriel says: “Their vision is our vision, and we need to be working with people who are like-minded.”

Time to listen

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger is standing in the Elders’ lounge in Tsleil-Waututh Nation. She is listening as I interview Ta’ah, the Elder who will bless her at the meeting tomorrow, and will see the sick whale in her vision.

Ta’ah talks to me about her land, her people, and the Kinder Morgan pipeline that is ripping through everything she and her people hold close. Once she finishes speaking, there is a long silence. Both Ta’ah and Eriel weep for the pain they feel for their land and people, and it is so clear that the world needs to change.

Standing on the pebble beach just across the road from where some members of the Tsleil-Waututh live, a bald eagle flies over our heads and lands high up in a tree. The water we stand before is sacred to the Tsleil-Waututh.

Their ancestors canoed here, and held their ceremonies in this place. Right across the water, humming relentlessly and pumping smog into the sky, is an oil refinery.

Next to this is a Kinder Morgan terminal, which provides the crude oil for the refinery. It is nothing short of sickening – there is no other way to describe it.

Standing on this sacred land, it is all very obvious. Indigenous Climate Action is asking the world to listen, to cease destruction, and to include Indigenous voices in decision-making. Now is the time to listen, and to take action.

This Author

Katie Dancey-Downs is a senior writer at Lush Global Media Studio. Indigenous Climate Action was a Lush Spring Prize 2017 winner, receiving £25,000 in the Young Project Award category. The Lush Spring Prize 2018, coordinated by the Ethical Consumer Cooperative, will be held in May 2018.

Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the EU speaks out for Bialowieza Forest

Increased logging in Poland’s Bialowieza Forest has breached EU nature laws, according to a legal opinion issued today by the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the EU.

Jan Szyszko, when minister for environment, tripled the logging limits for the Bialowieza Forest in March 2016, despite warnings from scientists all over Europe that it would be very harmful for the forest.

Environmental lawyers ClientEarth, together with six other organisations, filed a complaint to the European Commission and in July 2017 the case was brought before the Court of Justice of the EU. Szyszko has since been dismissed from the post.

Destructive policy

Agata Szafraniuk, a lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “The increased logging in the Bialowieza Forest breaches EU nature laws because Polish authorities failed to adequately protect rare and precious species in this ancient forest.

“What’s more, they even failed to assess what impact the logging could have on the unique nature of the forest, which is also required by the law. We are not surprised by this important legal opinion. That has been our stance from the beginning. From the legal point of view this case is really very simple.

“The opinion by the Advocate General proposes a settlement of the case. Opinions are not binding for the Court but the statistics show that in a vast majority of cases, the judges follow them in the final ruling.”
 
She added: “We hope that Minister Kowalczyk, who took over from Jan Szyszko a month ago, will put an end to the destructive policy of his predecessor and grant the whole of Bialowieza Forest national park status. This is the only way to properly protect it from damaging logging for good.”

The final ruling will be published in a couple of weeks.

This Author

Catherine Harte is contributing editor of The Ecologist. This story is based on a news release from ClientEarth
 

The Spanish meat scandal making waves in Britain is no isolated incident

If you ask any representative of the Spanish meat industry what day they had their worst nightmare, they would probably tell you that it was the night this month that investigative TV programme Salvados exposed the meat industry in Spain. It showed devastating scenes of animal suffering recorded on a farm supplying meat giant El Pozo – a brand stocked by supermarket chain Morrisons, Amazon, and other UK retailers.

They filmed numerous animals suffering from infected abscesses and giant hernias throughout the farm, which housed around 900 pigs (very small by British standards). There were several with severe deformities, and some with weeping ulcers covered with flies and larvae.

All of these animals were in an advanced state of ill health and were clearly suffering – all without adequate veterinary care. They also found animals living in pens with corpses in an advanced state of putrefaction, and animals unable to stand being trampled and cannibalised by other pigs. These were truly some of the worst conditions ever uncovered on a farm in Europe.

Working incognito

The head of Spain’s national pig farming lobby Interporc sent a letter to the Minister of Agriculture, Isabel García Tejerina, requesting help to defend the interests of the pig sector – four days before the broadcast of the programme on national TV. Such was the fear amongst meat industry bodies.

The call for help was answered by the minister, who appeared on TVE on Tuesday, February 6 and declaring that Spain’s pig industry is a world leader in animal welfare. And – the most scandalous of all – admitting that she had not seen the programme. I imagine that’s why El Pozo refused to participate in Salvados: why send a representative on the programme if the minister can speak for them?

On the other hand, El Pozo’s response to this complaint will be studied as an example of what should not be done in the face of a brand crisis. They attacked the programme in which they had refused to participate. They did not acknowledge any responsibility for the scenes recorded on the farm. They accused Jordi Évole, the journalist who made the programme, of manipulating the images, saying that these animals were in an isolation area. 

The managers of El Pozo have a somewhat peculiar notion of what an isolation area is. Many of those animals were dying, sharing a pen with other healthy animals. There were animals eating each other, animals with open wounds that had not received veterinary attention for weeks, as confirmed by the veterinarians consulted by the programme. The owner of the farm confirmed in the programme that they were integrated into Cefusa, a supplier company of El Pozo, and that it was a farm for human consumption. 

That the meat industry has long shadows is something already revealed at the beginning of the twentieth century by Upton Sinclair in his classic, The Jungle. After weeks working incognito in slaughterhouses of Chicago, he revealed the slavery to which the migrants were subjected, and exposed as never before the unhealthy practices of the industry. 

Ministers and spokespeople

The impact of the work was of such magnitude that it led to a Roosevelt investigation, which ended with the approval of the Pure Food Legislation. Although more than 100 years have passed, it seems that the essence of the monster portrayed by Sinclair is still untouched: labour exploitation, animal abuse and terrible environmental impacts.

At Animal Equality we have been carrying out investigations inside the meat industry for more than a decade. And the response of the sector has always been the same: “They are isolated cases”. This answer will not do. We are tired of so many isolated cases.

I have been inside hundreds of farms in my life. I have seen firsthand the hell that these animals endure, condemned to a miserable life to be turned into cheap meat. This time we as a community were with Jordi Évole inside that farm. He did not come alone. He was accompanied by the millions of people who watched the programme. This is what makes the meat industry tremble.

No matter how much money they have to pay in advertising and ministers to be spokespeople in the media, the crack that has been opened will never be closed again. Nothing will be the same again. 

This Author

Javier Moreno is the executive director of Animal Equality Spain.

Right of Reply

A Morrisons spokesman said: “The welfare of animals is extremely important to us. The images in this video are deeply distressing and we are concerned to see the condition of these pigs. El Pozo have been clear that they stopped taking any animals from this farm last year.”