Author Archives: angelo@percorso.net

Geology in Britain cannot support fracking for oil and gas, expert claims

The UK’s geology is likely to be unsuitable for hydraulic fracturing, research by a Scottish university has discovered. Professor John Underhill, the chief scientist at Heriot-Watt University, revealed that while opponents of fracking continue to focus on the environmental impact of this method of oil and gas extraction, the geology of the UK doesn’t support it.

Professor Underhill said: “Both sides of the hydraulic fracturing debate assume that the geology is a ‘slam dunk’ and it will work if exploration drilling goes ahead.

“Public support for fracking is at an all-time low of 17 percent based, in the main, on environmental concerns but the science shows that our country’s geology is simply unsuitable for shale oil and gas production. The implication that because fracking works in the US, it must also work here is wrong.

“For hydraulic fracturing to be successful, a number of geological criteria must be met. The source rock should have a high organic content, a good thickness, be sufficiently porous, and have the right mineralogy.

The opportunity has been overhyped

“The organic matter must have been buried to a sufficient depth and heated to the degree that the source rock produces substantial amounts of gas or oil.

“However, in locations where fulfilment of some of the criteria have led to large potential deposits, uplift and the faulted structure of the basins are detrimental to its ultimate recovery.

“Yet, the only question that has been addressed to date is how large the shale resource is in the UK. The inherent complexity of the sedimentary basins has not been fully appreciated or articulated and, as a result, the opportunity has been overhyped.”

The UK uses over 65 billion cubic metres of gas to heat 80 percent of its 25 million homes and generate around a quarter of its electricity every year. While efforts to move towards renewable energy sources like wind and solar continue, the demand for gas is likely to remain high for the foreseeable future.

Few fractures or major faults

While the UK’s gas supply was self-sufficient until 2004, indigenous production has declined to just 45 percent, leaving a precarious shortfall, topped up with European pipelines and LNG deliveries, primarily from Qatar Seismic data and geological map of UK record the tilt.

Conventional gas exploration in the North Sea is unlikely to reverse the current situation, which is why many argue that the UK should consider all options, including onshore shale gas, citing success in the US and Centrica’s impending decommissioning of the UK’s main gas storage site in the southern North Sea likely to make the country more reliant on imports to meet demand.

The most successful US shale areas, like the Marcellus, Barnett and Haynesville plays all lie at present day depths and temperatures that mean they are ready to expel their oil and gas when fracked. They occur in relatively stable, undeformed intracratonic areas away from the edges of active tectonic plates.

These primarily consist of foreland basins, which form adjacent to mountain belts, or extensional sag basins, both of which have continuous layers of rock with only gentle dips and few fractures or major faults. Their gentle dip and relatively undeformed state aids subsurface imaging, gas and oil detection and the directional drilling needed for shale exploration.

Oil and gas escape

Professor Underhill added: “The seismic data and geological map of the UK shows a very different picture. A significant tilt affects the UK, which was initiated by active plate margin forces over 55 million years ago due to an upward surge of magma under Iceland and the subsequent formation of the Atlantic Ocean. The latter led to buckling of precursor sedimentary basins against the stable tectonic interior of continental Europe, including those considered to contain large shale resources.

“Areas that were once buried sufficiently deeply with temperatures at which oil and gas maturation occurs, lifted to levels where they are no longer actively generating petroleum. They have also been highly deformed by folds and faults that cause the shales to be offset and broken up into compartments. This has created pathways that have allowed some of the oil and gas to escape.”

Professor Underhill cites three potential fracking sites to illustrate the issue – the Weald basin in southern England, the Bowland Shale in Lancashire and the West Lothian Oil Shale in Scotland.

The Weald basin of southern England was a major area of sedimentary deposits in the Cretaceous, (the period between 65m and 135m years ago) but was subsequently deformed into a major anticlinal arch – a type of fold that is an arch-like shape and has its oldest beds at its core.  

Extremely unwise to rely on shale

The margins of this tectonic fold are particularly well defined since they are marked by the steeply dipping chalk ridges that form the North and South Downs in south-east England. 

Other basins believed to contain commercial shale gas, like the Bowland Shale in Lancashire and West Lothian Oil Shale in Scotland, went through an additional period of deformation about 290m years ago. This has further compounded their structural complexity.

Professor Underhill concluded: “There is a need to factor this considerable and fundamental geological uncertainty into the economic equation. It would be extremely unwise to rely on shale gas to ride to the rescue of the UK’s gas needs only to discover that we’re 55 million years too late.”

This Author

Brendan Montague is the contributing editor to The Ecologist and a regular columnist for openDemocracy. He Tweets at @EcoMontague

 

Donald Trump ends IPCC funding and ‘abandons global science leadership’

The now enacted Budget 2017 for the United States government zeroes out funding for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) –

in stark contrast to the leadership role America has historically contributed to the process.

The IPCC also appears as “zero request” for the fiscal year 2018 in both the State Department’s Congressional Budget Justification and the House’s State and Foreign Operations Bill – whose summary includes the IPCC on a list that does not include funding for controversial or unnecessary programs”).


This is a remarkable departure considering the previous high regard for the IPCC, including the fact it was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about  man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”


John Holdren, the longest serving science advisor to a US President since World War II, recently opined about the critical role of the IPCC: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself…can be regarded as a ‘red team-blue team’ operation, in which every conclusion must pass muster with a huge team of expert authors and reviewers from a wide variety of disciplines and nations, including from Saudi Arabia and other major oil producers inclined to be skeptical.”


National security implications


I remember distinctly Vice Admiral Walter E Carter, Jr., USN, Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy, testifying before a U.S. Congress field hearing in July 2015.

 

He told of seawater inlet temperatures for the aircraft carrier that approached almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit, far above normal temperature for that time of year in the region they were operating (listen 1:19:19 into to this video).  That is a very difficult place for anybody to operate regardless of what type of equipment you are working with,” declared Vice Admiral Carter.

 

Confronting these and other climate trends, the Department of Defense (DOD) and security organizations cite the IPCC findings and incorporate these into national security risk assessments. For example, the National Intelligence Council uses IPCC climate projections as the basis for their assessment of the risk of extreme weather events for national security.

 

IPCC sea level rise projections also formed part of the basis of the Department of Defense’s 2016 assessment of the risk of sea level rise for DOD coastal installations. Take a look at examples of US military bases confronting rising seas.

Cost of preparing for climate risks

 

The information generated by the IPCC (e.g. special reports and comprehensive climate assessments) is incorporated into the US National Climate Assessment and similar activities in nations around the world.

 

The US has historically contributed around $2 million a year to the IPCC Secretariat to facilitate gatherings of hundreds of world experts to assess the latest developments in climate science published in peer-reviewed journals.

 

Through these assessments, IPCC scientists produce highly vetted climate projections for governments, and identify key risks and sources of exposure and vulnerability to climate change.

 

To put this annual historic contribution of around $2 million to the IPCC in perspective, New York City, in 2013 embarked upon a $20 billion climate resiliency plan. In one year, the climate resiliency portion of the New York 2017 Executive Budget included $170 million in City funds for storm water management infrastructure to complement the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project from Montgomery Street to East 23rd Street and $27.5 million in City funds for the Two Bridges section of Lower Manhattan Protect and Connect flood protection.  

 

The design for these investments must incorporate the latest climate projections. New York City and other communities around the US benefit from a sustained IPCC that continually draws upon experts worldwide, including many from the U.S. Without the U.S.’ contribution in FY 2017, the IPCC was short in contributions. As a result, the institution was forced to draw from its financial reserves.

 

This may not be sustainable in the long run and risks the institution’s ability to provide governments with the best available information on changes ahead. Accordingly, in June 2017, the Netherlands announced it would double its IPCC contribution in light of U.S. actions and is urging other nations to increase their contributions.

 

There is a large return on investment in the IPCC for the United States.  Annual U.S. contributions to the IPCC trust fund could help ensure the IPCC Secretariat can sustain convening functions that leverages largely voluntary contributions of experts that produce robust IPCC assessments. Highly vetted information from the IPCC is key for our nation’s risk assessments.


This Author


Brenda Ekwurzel is a senior climate scientist and the director of climate science at Union of Concerned Scientists. She has expertise on many aspects of climate variability, including the Arctic Ocean and sea ice, wildfires, groundwater, and coastal erosion.

 

Donald Trump ends IPCC funding and ‘abandons global science leadership’

The now enacted Budget 2017 for the United States government zeroes out funding for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) –

in stark contrast to the leadership role America has historically contributed to the process.

The IPCC also appears as “zero request” for the fiscal year 2018 in both the State Department’s Congressional Budget Justification and the House’s State and Foreign Operations Bill – whose summary includes the IPCC on a list that does not include funding for controversial or unnecessary programs”).


This is a remarkable departure considering the previous high regard for the IPCC, including the fact it was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about  man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”


John Holdren, the longest serving science advisor to a US President since World War II, recently opined about the critical role of the IPCC: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself…can be regarded as a ‘red team-blue team’ operation, in which every conclusion must pass muster with a huge team of expert authors and reviewers from a wide variety of disciplines and nations, including from Saudi Arabia and other major oil producers inclined to be skeptical.”


National security implications


I remember distinctly Vice Admiral Walter E Carter, Jr., USN, Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy, testifying before a U.S. Congress field hearing in July 2015.

 

He told of seawater inlet temperatures for the aircraft carrier that approached almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit, far above normal temperature for that time of year in the region they were operating (listen 1:19:19 into to this video).  That is a very difficult place for anybody to operate regardless of what type of equipment you are working with,” declared Vice Admiral Carter.

 

Confronting these and other climate trends, the Department of Defense (DOD) and security organizations cite the IPCC findings and incorporate these into national security risk assessments. For example, the National Intelligence Council uses IPCC climate projections as the basis for their assessment of the risk of extreme weather events for national security.

 

IPCC sea level rise projections also formed part of the basis of the Department of Defense’s 2016 assessment of the risk of sea level rise for DOD coastal installations. Take a look at examples of US military bases confronting rising seas.

Cost of preparing for climate risks

 

The information generated by the IPCC (e.g. special reports and comprehensive climate assessments) is incorporated into the US National Climate Assessment and similar activities in nations around the world.

 

The US has historically contributed around $2 million a year to the IPCC Secretariat to facilitate gatherings of hundreds of world experts to assess the latest developments in climate science published in peer-reviewed journals.

 

Through these assessments, IPCC scientists produce highly vetted climate projections for governments, and identify key risks and sources of exposure and vulnerability to climate change.

 

To put this annual historic contribution of around $2 million to the IPCC in perspective, New York City, in 2013 embarked upon a $20 billion climate resiliency plan. In one year, the climate resiliency portion of the New York 2017 Executive Budget included $170 million in City funds for storm water management infrastructure to complement the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project from Montgomery Street to East 23rd Street and $27.5 million in City funds for the Two Bridges section of Lower Manhattan Protect and Connect flood protection.  

 

The design for these investments must incorporate the latest climate projections. New York City and other communities around the US benefit from a sustained IPCC that continually draws upon experts worldwide, including many from the U.S. Without the U.S.’ contribution in FY 2017, the IPCC was short in contributions. As a result, the institution was forced to draw from its financial reserves.

 

This may not be sustainable in the long run and risks the institution’s ability to provide governments with the best available information on changes ahead. Accordingly, in June 2017, the Netherlands announced it would double its IPCC contribution in light of U.S. actions and is urging other nations to increase their contributions.

 

There is a large return on investment in the IPCC for the United States.  Annual U.S. contributions to the IPCC trust fund could help ensure the IPCC Secretariat can sustain convening functions that leverages largely voluntary contributions of experts that produce robust IPCC assessments. Highly vetted information from the IPCC is key for our nation’s risk assessments.


This Author


Brenda Ekwurzel is a senior climate scientist and the director of climate science at Union of Concerned Scientists. She has expertise on many aspects of climate variability, including the Arctic Ocean and sea ice, wildfires, groundwater, and coastal erosion.

 

The shock, the inefficiency, the illogicality of the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene, the new geological era created by human activity, is starting to enter popular thinking. But how we understand it and its causes is a crucial issue for what to do with it, and that’s what Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz address in The Shock of the Anthropocene (translated by David Fernbach).

The authors are rightly scathing about the frequent lack of critical thinking around the concept. Far too often this is presented as some kind of inevitability, a genetic destiny for our species, and a situation in which all individuals are equally complicit.

They demonstrate how it was the elites, certain states, certain classes and business interests that drove decisions made over centuries that got us where we are today, often against passionate, powerful resistance.

And that these choices often made no sense at all not just environmentally but also in terms of human wellbeing and even economic interest.

So there’s the case of English mill owners, who could more cheaply and practically rely on water power, but chose the new coal-fired steam engines, because it didn’t require them to cooperate and coordinate with each other, something that their ideology discouraged.

Extreme inefficiency and illogicality

And the domination of electricity in the America suburbs, enforced by the monopoly power of General Electric, which helped kill off the established solar electricity generation industry of the early 20th century.

This isn’t just history – it feeds into the debates of today. Knowing that the choice to run down public transport in the interests of the individual motor car actually raised transport costs and journey times is a useful fact.

The authors make the powerful point that in a real democracy, it’s unlikely that the roads would have been given over to the domination of cars – something some cities are just starting to repair.

Bonneuil and Fressoz recount many excellent examples of the extreme inefficiency and illogicality of the choices made: maize production used to produce 10 calories of food for each calorie input – but now, in the age of industrial farming, we’re down to three for one.

And they highlight how these were not the choices of ignorance. Even in the 1770s in Normandy, fishermen understood the importance of wrack (seaweed) as spawning beds for their catch, demonstrating that complex understanding in a letter to the Academy of Sciences to protest the weed beds’ destruction for industrial production of glass.

A truly global perspective

Some of the examples you’ll likely have encountered before, such as the automobile interests in the US doing for the street cars. But many of them you won’t: one advantage of getting out of the Anglophile world is visiting new stories and new angles.

And this is a truly global perspective, setting out evidence for the way in which “the driving phenomenon of the Great Acceleration embarked on from 1945-73 was the tremendous ecological indebtedness of the Western industrial countries”.

Lots of the “facts” you learned at school will be challenged. The Shock is particularly good on explaining how the Industrial Revolution was built on innovations in traditional, non-fossil fuel technologies such as animal breeding – American draught horses getting 50 percent more powerful in three decades to the 1890s.

This is an important book, an informative and interesting book, and anyone thinking about where we go from here should read it.  It wears its erudition and intellectual depth relatively lightly – unlike some texts I’ve read translated from the French. This isn’t quite a popular book, but it is accessible to anyone with an interest in the future of our planet and the human race.

And crucially, it is an optimistic book. In an age when many are wrestling with despair, its conclusion is uplifting: “To strive for decent lives in the Anthropocene … means freeing ourselves from repressive institutions, from alienating dominations and imaginaries. It can be an extraordinary emancipatory experience.” Or in the terms I use, we can stop trashing the planet and create a decent life for all at the same time.

This Author

Natalie Bennett is the Green Party candidate for Sheffield Central and was leader of the party until 2016. She tweets at @natalieben.

 

Biodiversity spending slashed by government as crisis grows

Spending to protect nature has hit its lowest level since the Conservatives came to power, even as threatened species continue to decline.


The government has cut biodiversity spending by a third since 2008-9, new figures show, while progress on key conservation measures has stalled or gone into reverse.


Nearly three quarters of the UK’s monitored species declined since 1970, data from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) find. Nearly three fifths declined since 2010.


Spending on biodiversity abroad almost halved under the coalition. The international budget, covering conservation programmes and policing of wildlife crime, fell from nearly £80m to around £40m.

 

Invasive species


The government cut UK biodiversity spending a further six percent last year, the data show. The total – covering nature reserves, land management, National Park conservation programmes, green farm schemes, sites of special scientific interest and the Forestry Commission – now amounts to 0.024 percent of GDP.


Invasive species have caused more and more damage in every class of habitat over decades, Defra’s figures show. Pollinating insects have suffered long-term decline, and all major groups of rural and sea birds declined, most over the long term. Threatened pig breeds did worse and horse breeds continued to decline.


Fewer poor-condition habitats were found to be on the mend: the share “improving” fell by a third, and the proportion showing no improvement more than trebled. Sustainable forestry, protected areas and sites of special scientific interest stopped improving, and green farm schemes covered a much smaller area.


Surface water quality dipped, with only a third rated “high” or “good”, and air quality stopped improving. In November, a Commons committee found the Treasury was ignoring long-term environmental needs, and called for a “systematic “green-check”” when allotting funding.


The exchequer has “ridden roughshod over other departments’ objectives,” the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) reported, “changing and cancelling long-established environmental policies and projects at short notice with little or no consultation”.

 

Greenest government ever


The latest figures flout government pledges to protect nature and fund conservation.


The UK’s Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework pledged to “address the underlying causes” of species loss and “reduce the direct pressures” on the natural world. The plan promised “mobilisation of financial resources” and boasted of providing “essential financial resources for important biodiversity work”.


In May 2010, David Cameron said he was “absolutely committed” to leading “the greenest government ever”. The coalition’s 2011 Environment White Paper hoped for “the first generation to leave the natural environment of England in a better state than it inherited”. May’s Conservative manifesto repeated this ambition and pledged to “lead the world in environmental protection”.

Yet in late 2014 the EAC gave the government a “red card” on biodiversity and demanded urgent action.

The new figures follow repeated warnings on biodiversity loss. WWF calculate that up to 100,000 species become extinct every year. The world lost nearly 60% of its fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles between 1970 and 2012, the group estimate, and could see a two-thirds decline by 2020.

2016’s State of Nature report, published by over fifty green groups, found the UK is “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”. More than one in ten monitored species face extinction, the authors concluded.

Intensive farming

While cutting biodiversity spending, the government has continued to subsidise fossil fuels.

Defra figures show the UK spent £44 million on nature abroad and £453 million at home last year. By contrast, leaked figures show it spent over a billion pounds backing international fossil fuel projects. The Overseas Development Institute find Britain subsidises coal to the tune of £356 million a year.

Intensive farming has done most harm to UK species, according to a 2016 study in PLoS One. Habitat destruction, intensive grazing, fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides have devastated biodiversity, researchers found. Climate change, growth of cities, river drainage and decreasing forest management also played a role.

Globally, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) lists farming, fishing, hunting, logging and harvesting among the main drivers of biodiversity loss, alongside invasive species, pollution and climate change.

Brexit could harm Britain’s biodiversity even further, the EAC warned in December, as up to a third of the UK’s environmental safeguards could become unenforceable “zombie legislation”.

This Author

Tim Holmes is an ‘active bystander’ and also researcher, writer and editor. He tweets at @timbird84.

 

Does the Impossible Burger feed our desire to avoid necessary choices?

It’s one of the most depressing aspects of environmentalism that pressing needs for change inevitably get turned into saleable products. As the need to reduce our meat consumption rises, so too does the number of so-called ‘meat substitutes’ – products which aim to get us to eat less meat while still pretending that we are eating meat.

There are real problems with meat analogues – both old and new – which, in their enthusiasm, supporters either don’t understand or wilfully choose to ignore.

The glossy PR about the future of food is compelling. But fake meat is no more the future of food than fake fur or fake leather are the future of clothing.

Moreover, as with all market solutions to complex problems, once the cracks begin to show they quickly become irreparable.

Documents have very recently emerged which show that the US FDA has repeatedly sought, but not received, proof of safety for the one of the ingredients in the much vaunted Impossible Burger, a substance known as soy leghemoglobin (SLH).

Panel of paid experts

The documents were obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ETC Group and other environmental and consumer organisations.

The Impossible Burger is already on sale in selected outlets across the US. Backed by $257 million in venture capital funding from Khosla Ventures and Bill Gates amongst others, manufacturers Impossible Foods, have pushed it onto the marketplace on the basis of a self-affirmed GRAS (Generally Recognised as Safe) status. Its panel of paid experts determined that the SLH proteins were structurally similar to natural ones and therefore safe. The FDA, however, rejects this claim.

Amongst its concerns was whether SLH was an allergen and in the FDA’s words: “The current arguments at hand, individually and collectively, were not enough to establish the safety of SLH for consumption.”

So many campaigners were super excited by the developments, but food being the big business that it is, the Impossible Burger does not need FDA GRAS status to remain on the market.

Regulations don’t require the company to disclose the results of its own safety tests or even share them with the FDA, so really we may never know what testing was done unless, or until, more whistleblower documents suddenly appear. Or until it kills someone.

Bleeding obvious

This story will run for a while, but while we wait it’s worth deconstructing other aspects of the burger as well.

The SLH in the Impossible Burger is produced using a genetically engineered yeast culture. Its purpose is to make the burger cook and taste more like meat.

Impossible Foods maintains that humans have been eating this kind of heme for “hundreds of thousands of years”. But this is a novel ingredient which has only emerged in the last few years.

The SLH, a plant based source of iron, also makes the burger appear to ‘bleed’ when cooked.

Technically the manufacturers should not be referring to it as heme since this is only present in meat and shellfish. Plants produce non-heme iron.

Substantial equivalence

But more importantly, the FOIA documents reveal that up to a quarter of this heme ingredient is composed of 46 “unexpected” additional proteins, some of which are unidentified and none of which have been assessed for safety.

Unexpected proteins are common in genetically modified foods and are the reason why campaigners believe that regulators’ reliance on the concept of ‘substantial equivalence’ (the idea that if a GMO food looks and tastes the same it can be considered the same as non-GMO food for regulatory purposes) is both false and risky.

In 2016, for instance, scientists at Kings College found that a genetic modification altered levels of different proteins in strain of GMO maize, NK603, which is widely consumed by humans and animals.

Amongst other things the GMO maize was found to contain substantially higher levels of the polyamines cadaverine and putrescine, which can heighten allergic reactions and are involved in the formation of carcinogenic substances in the body.

The distorted focus on the bleeding burger and its ‘heme’ content assumes that foods, like Lego action figures, are just assemblages of individual components. It denies the fact that fresh meat, just like fresh grains, pulses and vegetables, is a wholefood and that wholefoods are complex. We really haven’t even scratched the surface of how the components of wholefoods work synergistically with each other and in our bodies.

Strict vegetarian diet

But there are some things we do know and one of these is that there is more to nutrition than how much of something a product has in it. Iron, in particular is tricky stuff and how much the body absorbs is dependent on multiple factors including the source of the iron and how low or high an individual body’s iron stores are.

Impossible Foods nutrition data suggests that its burger has more iron than a comparably sized ground beef burger, which on the surface of things looks true.

But some aspects of the matrix may render this unavailable to the body. For instance, soya and wheat contain phytates, fibre that binds to iron and transports it through the digestive tract unabsorbed.

Experts continue to wrestle with the issue of iron bioavailability from different foods; it is possible, for example, that the processing of the Impossible Burger may break down some of the phytates and make iron more bioavailable. But in general only 5-12% of the iron in a strict vegetarian diet is absorbed, compared to 14-18% from a mixed diet that includes meat.

Plastic fantastic?

Unlike the lab grown meat which debuted in 2013, the Impossible Burger is said to be made from ‘plant products’.

Yet, Impossible Foods founder Patrick O. Brown and COO/CFO David Lee didn’t go out into the back garden together and pick a bunch of veg and turn it into a burger. This is a highly processed product made in a way that is not so much vegetarian as vat-etarian.

The assumption behind it is that if you can make it look the same, feel the same and ‘bleed’ the same then no one will notice the difference between it and a regular meat pattie.

It’s not entirely clear that taste tests have shown this to be true, and this burger is several steps removed from its plant-origins.  To get the wheat and soya proteins to clump together like those in meat, and therefore give the burger some ‘bite’, they need to be ‘plasticised’.

Water and powdered proteins are poured into a machine with two long, intertwined screw-like shafts. The mix is churned through these whilst alternatively being heated and cooled to turn it into fibres that can be moulded together in a burger shape and have a meat-like bite.

This extrusion process is the same basic one used to make plastic from maize or soya.

Burger culture

Starting at the lower end of the market with one of the world’s favourite fast foods is, of course, a clever way to try and hide the potential shortcomings of plastic food.

Most of us can barely identify the meat in a ‘real’ ground beef burger – which is why not so long ago Burger King had to come clean about the horsemeat in its burgers. Burgers from Tesco, Lidl, Aldi, Iceland and Dunnes Stores in the UK were similarly found to contain horsemeat. In fact the Tesco’s ‘everyday value burgers’ were almost one third horsemeat.

Shoved between two large pieces of bread and slathered with mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce and maybe even cheese, almost any meat analogue can hold its own for a meal to two.

The same could be said for other cheap eats like ‘wraps’. This may be why US chef Mark Bittman, famously said he could not tell the difference between a wrap containing real chicken and one with Beyond Meat brand chicken strips with all the trimmings.

But the question remains as to whether this kind of highly-processed food can ever be eaten on its own and whether this really is what we want to be eating for the rest of our lives.

La-la-labs

Some of the new proposed fake meats are whizzed up in a lab, often in large vats – a process that is not so much vegetarian as vat-etarian.

It’s doubtful that any lab-based product will ever be scaleable to meet current consumption and trying to do so will quickly reveal the inefficiency of lab-based products, not the least of which is the energy they require for instance for heating, refrigeration and other processes.

It’s important also to remember that laboratory food is as prone to contamination – perhaps even more so – as most food processing plants. With increasingly poor oversight on our food system it’s an accident waiting to happen.

Some fake meats are made from products that, while they may work or even seem sustainable on a very small scale will never be able to replace meat in the volumes in which we currently eat it.

Lupin is an example of this. There will never be enough lupin the world to replace our current meat consumption. It will remain a small and expensive alternative.

Powerless farmers

On the other hand, some meat substitutes are made from crops we have plenty of, like soya.  The agricultural world is already overrun with large, damaging monocultures of soya, a large proportion of which is genetically modified and most of which are being fed to animals or turned into biofuels. In fact, nearly half of the soya currently grown is made into food for cars instead of people.

Even if you take animal feed out of the equation, it is likely that we will need more – not fewer – soya fields to meet demand for fake meats (assuming there is demand – again this has yet to be conclusively demonstrated).

And let’s be clear. There’s nothing ethical about soya. The industry is run by large, ruthless companies that wantonly destroy land and the livelihoods of small, powerless farmers. Ask countries like Brazil and Argentina whether we need to grow more soya in order to build a vat-etarian utopia and the answer will be no.

The corporate cupboard

The people and corporations behind vat-etarian foods are largely those who have no experience of farming or interest in food as anything other than a commodity and a marketplace.

Most of them, as I’ve written before, have already made their millions in computer software. These are aggressive business people who understand the power of the patent. As the software industry reaches saturation point they are looking for new games to play and new ways to own something that will make them money.

Look behind the scenes of the new meat and animal product analogues and you will see a Who’s Who of Silicon Valley magnates. These include Microsoft founder Bill Gates (chickenless eggs), Sun Micorsystems’ Vinod Khosla and (egg and cheese analogues and lab-grown meat and leather) and twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone (the newly launched Beyond Meat chicken analogue).

The world’s first in vitro burger, a long-time project of Dutch vascular physiologist Mark Postat of Maastricht University cost $330,000 to produce was backed by money from Google founder Sergey Brin.

Taking an even bigger step into the brave new world of food, Modern Meadow, backed PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, is working on using 3D bioprinting to produce leather and, one day, meat.

Bioprinting uses a biological ‘ink’ containing various types of cells. The ink can be printed out in multiple layers, and in three dimensions, to produce a structure such as a kidney or an ear. The ultimate end result is a steak you can print out from biological materials.

There is, similarly, a growing corporate interest in synthetic biology (synbio) where DNA sequences are written on computer and printed off on 3D printers and used to make synthetic version of vanilla, saffron, stevia, coconut and cocoa amongst other things.

Food, software, whatever

If you need more evidence that patents rather than people are at the heart of the new corporate foodies look no further than the cheerleaders for biotech in the 2013 Bowman vs Monsanto case, which focused on seed patents. Monsanto won that one when the US Supreme Court unanimously agreed that farmers do not have the right to plant and grow saved, patented seeds without the patent owner’s permission.

That result was inevitable, but what most people didn’t see was that BSA/The Software Alliance, a trade association created to advance the interests of the software industry, and which represents companies like Apple and Microsoft, helped the case along with an amicus brief to the court. This warned that a decision against Monsanto might “facilitate software piracy on a broad scale” because software, like seeds, can be easily replicated/reproduced.

A dangerous mindset

What all these savvy investors have in common is an eye for a market in need of a shakeup. They believe the processed food industry is in real need of their expertise in branding, patenting and IP in order to turn the ultimate open source resource, food, into a privately owned commodity to be wrapped up in a shiny package of public good, and sold to a premium market.

Target markets include schools and hospitals – places where ‘bad food’ has become a talking point. Restaurants too are being the unwitting partners in normalising the fake food phenomenon. Impossible Foods claims to be “partnering with chefs and restaurants to bring Impossible Burgers to mouths everywhere”.

What schools, hospitals and restaurants have in common is an ability to open up markets while obscuring the reality of food ingredients.

It’s hard to overstate how dangerous it is to bring this kind of mindset into food.

For the most part the eggless eggs, the chickenless chickens, the milkless milks are still at development stage. They are proofs of concept with multiple problems of cost, scale, palatability, safety and a general ‘yuck factor’ to overcome.

As it is with software, most of these products will never really have to move beyond proof of concept – and their problems never need truly be overcome – for those behind them to be bought out for eye-watering sums and retire to their private islands before the age of 50.

A middle class fantasy

Vat-etarian food is designed and built rather than grown and harvested. How much we embrace this idea as the future of food will determine how we eat for the next millennia.

The truth is that the Impossible Burger and the other analogue foods like it are a comically first world fantasy of what solutions look like.

Such foods do nothing to solve the seemingly intractable problems of the food system. They don’t ‘feed the world’. They move us not forward but backwards into an age where we unquestioningly accept whatever is put in front of us trusting that the mother corporation will serve us up something good that we don’t have to think about too much.

 

‘Flexitarians’ join vegans in stampede for meat free restaurant treats

A quiet revolution is taking place. Restaurants, pubs and cafes around the UK are rethinking their menus to cater for growing customer demand for dishes without meat.

Crucially, these people have not necessarily become vegetarians or vegans, but are consciously reducing their consumption of meat in response to environmental and health concerns.

“Flexitarianism”, as it has become known, has no rules but generally involves eating less meat, and when eating it, insisting that it is more ethically-sourced.

Health food chain Whole Foods predicted it would be one of the biggest food trends of the year. One fifth of British people are now interested in meals that contain less or no meat, according to Mintel in a report published last month.

Feedback from customers

The consumer research company has also even predicted that food originally designed for vegetarians or vegans could take over the mainstream.

Food outlets that have caught onto the trend include sandwich chain Pret, which has expanded its “not just for veggies” meat-free food range in response to “overwhelming” feedback from customers.

They also include cafés on RSPB reserves, where meat-free dishes now outnumber those with meat; and Wetherspoons pubs, which has expanded its vegetarian range and introduced a specific vegan menu.

The Vegan Society says it is working with chains including Zizzis, Ikea, and the Handmade Burger Company on expanding their ranges of dairy-free food.

“You don’t have to be vegan to eat vegan,” Abigail Stevens from the Vegan Society pointed out. “A lot of people wrongly assume that the market for vegan products is just vegans, but in reality a lot more people are choosing vegan because they want to cut down on meat.”

More vegan dishes

Upmarket restaurants are also shifting away from an emphasis on meat. Croydon’s Alberts Table has introduced an extra menu with both vegetarian and vegan options.

Michelin starred chef Josh Eggleton has just opened “Root”, a restaurant where vegetables take the starring role and meat and fish feature only as side-dishes; while chefs the Gladwin brothers are experimenting with intensifying the flavour of meat so that diners will feel satisfied with smaller portions.

These moves have mainly been in response to customer feedback. Alberts Table head chef Josse Anderton said: “People kept asking us for more meat-free options so we thought we should just do something about it. Now we’ve done it, they’re asking for more vegan dishes!”

Londoner Paul Kaye is also trying to eat more vegetable-based dishes after realising that not consciously thinking about what he was eating meant that meat was on his plate a couple of times a day. “I’m sensitising myself to think about it more. Now if I’ve eaten a lot of meat, I consciously choose the vegetarian option even if the meat option looks really good. But the choice of vegetarian meals on a menu has a big impact on whether I can stick to that,” he said.

Annabelle Randles, co-founder of retailer By Nature felt so passionate about spreading the word on flexitarianism that she set up a blog about it. A self-confessed “committed carnivore” previously, she decided to lower her meat intake in response to environmental concerns, a change that became more radical when she noticed that her health improved. “Meat is not something I crave any more,” she said.

She has noticed an improvement in options available when eating out, though menus are generally better in London than outside. “Pizza Express now has a vegan pizza, which you wouldn’t have found a few years ago,” she said.

Happy to experiment

While there is definitely a move towards more meat-free options, there is still a lot more that restaurants and cafés could do to capitalise on the trend, according to Tom Tanner, spokesman for non-profit membership organisation the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA).

The SRA has this month launched a campaign to encourage restaurants to increase their vegetable-based options. The Food Made Good campaign is “a celebration of all things plant, not an imposition of a vegan’s charter”, he explained.

When creating meat-free dishes, chefs should start with a blank canvas, rather than trying to reshape traditional meat dishes for people who want more vegetables.

“That’s really liberating for a chef. Anyone can grill a steak, but getting them to create a really delicious dish with a cauliflower or a bunch of carrots will really make them earn their corn,” he said. If a chef can create a really imaginative vegetable-based dish then customers will be happy to experiment, he added.

This Author

Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and the former deputy editor of the environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.

 

Lawson’s climate denial met with ‘rapid, referenced and robust’ debunking

John Humphrys is a national treasurer who brings news of the latest world affairs to a bleary eyed nation with the BBC Today programme. Lord Lawson was once the nation’s treasurer, and today tours the newsrooms advocating climate denial and an isolationist Brexit.


The release of Al Gore’s latest film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, has put climate change firmly back on the agenda, including the fact coal, oil and gas companies have for decades paid public relations companies and front groups millions of dollars to attack the science of global warming.


Disappointing then, that a time-pressed researcher from the BBC would give the Global Warming Policy Foundation – which presents itself as a charity supported by politicians of all stripes – a call and that Lawson, its founder and chair of trustees for life would be made available for interview.


Unfortunately, Lawson is literally the last man in Britain who should be appearing on the country’s favourite source for balanced, intelligent daily news to discuss the issue of climate change. Not least, because he is precisely the kind of climate denier that Al Gore is trying to warn us about.


Lawson returned from political obscurity in the South of France to become Britain’s most effective climate denier and from there a leading proponent of a hard Brexit. This month he appointed Terence Mordaunt, owner of the Bristol Port Company and big time Leave donor, as director of his Global Warming Policy Forum (set up so Lawson could side step charity law).


Indeed, Lawson sits at the very centre of the climate-denying and Brexit-supporting web of wealthy industrialists, PR spivs and corporate sponsored think tanks operating out of the now notorious 55 Tufton Street.

 

The same old claptrap


The choice of Lawson by the Beeb has led to a Twitter storm of genuine outrage and concern. Professor Brian Cox, himself a BBC presenter and also a qualified scientist, attacked Lawson for amplifying “the same old claptrap”. He argued it was “irresponsible and highly misleading to give the impression that there is a meaningful debate about the science.”


Richard Black, the former BBC environment correspondent who was among the journalists to break the “Climategate” story, was equally scathing. He Tweeted, “tbf, opinions can be as inaccurate as you like. However, things presented as fact when they’re bollocks ought to be flagged up as so.”


The primary objection to Lawson’s appearance on the Today programme is simply that most of the claims and conjecture the former chancellor espoused are easily refuted. Black initiated a thread on Twitter with the “false statements” in the broadcast.


Lawson said Britain had “one of the the highest energy costs in the world”. Steve Smith, the head of science for Parliament’s Committee on Climate Change, provided a chart from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy showing Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Austria all had higher energy costs than the UK.

 

Lawson went on to say that average global temperatures “have slightly declined” since 2007. Roz Pidcock, head of communications for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, provided a chart where NASA, UEA, NOAA, Berkeley, and raw data from temperature stations each registered a clear and deeply concerning rise in temperatures since 2000 (and indeed, since 1880).

Lawson stated “we don’t” subsidise fossil fuels, which is directly contradicted by a research paper published in the March 2017 issue of the World Development journal by David Coudy et al which found that “fossil fuel subsidies are large, amounting to 6.5 percent of global GDP in 2015.” This is $5.3 trillion. Among the more generous with subsidies is the European Union.

 

The wealthy and powerful


The online response to Lawson’s claims – especially by Carbon Brief – was rapid, referenced and robust. Black, who will have conducted hundreds of interviews broadcast by the BBC, concluded “usually this frequency of errors would bar a guest for lack of expertise”.


But the problem is the genie is already out of the bottle. Debunking climate denial myths is not as effective as we would like. It can even reinforce the false claim being made. The wealthy and powerful who benefited from Lawson’s housing boom and market deregulation are likely to trust him over a bearded, sandal-wearing climate activist.


Sarah Sands, this year appointed the new editor of Today, should never have allowed Lawson to appear on the programme in the first place. This is not about freedom of speech. This is a matter of upholding the standards BBC listeners expect and assume are in place when they trust the broadcaster.


I spent five years researching Lawson and the GWPF. I began from a place of being sceptical about what the Tory peer and architect of British neoliberalism would say about the biggest environmental issue of our times. But I was still shocked and angered by what I discovered.


Lawson was recruited to the climate denial campaign by a chap called David Henderson, an activist and advisor to the hard-line neoliberal think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs.


More intelligent that the average person


The IEA for decades accepted cash from tobacco companies while fighting the regulation of smoking, which still kills 100,000 people in Britain every year. The IEA also took money from oil while publishing the first reports to attack the science of climate change.


Lawson and Henderson travelled together to the US to meet the head of US think tanks also paid by tobacco and big oil. And then they set up the GWPF in the UK. Lawson frequently spoke alongside S Fred Singer, the US-based, oil and tobacco supported, granddaddy of climate denial. The GWPF has been represented at least one event alongside Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco, an event funded by the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.


Lawson has steadfastly refused to name the funders of the GWPF, even in defiance of his fellow Parliamentarians. His financial backers, he says, “tend to be richer than the average person and much more intelligent that the average person”.


Among the money men behind the GWPF who I managed to expose are Neil Record, a currency speculator and trustee of the oil and tobacco funded IEA; Lord Nigel Vinson, the industrialist, IEA stalwart and Brexiteer and also Lord Leach, who may or may not have shares in oil and gas. The Guardian also named Michael Hintze, who has handed millions to the Tories and donated to the Brexit campaign.


Lawson has said none of his funders have a “significant interest” in fossil fuels. However, the GWPF has benefited enormously from the non-pecuniary support of Lord Ridley, a member of its “academic advisory board” and AGM keynote speaker. Ridley enjoys an income from the two massive opencast coalmines on his family estate. As I reported for DeSmog UK, Ridley used to supply coal to a local power station until it was converted to biomass to comply with EU regulations.


A hard, right-wing, Dirty Brexit

 

Which all brings us back to Brexit. Lawson and Henderson when launching the GWPF spent considerable time networking and calling members of a particular political cohort: rich old men convinced by neoliberalism and ideologically opposed to almost all forms of regulation, and in particular environmental regulation.


These same men were the driving force behind the Vote Leave and Business for Britain campaigns. Ridley promoted BfB in the North East. He is brother-in-law to Owen Paterson, the one time Environment Secretary who set up Vision 2020 after a boozy dinner at the IEA with BP and British American Tobacco.


Graham Stringer, a right-wing Labour MP, has been a board member of Vote Leave and also a member of the board of trustees of the GWPF. Matthew Elliott is the former chief executive of Vote Leave and the founder of the Taxpayers’ Alliance. The TPA once had John Blundell on its advisory board, an employee of the oil baron Koch brothers who first imported climate denial to the UK when boss of the IEA.


Lawson was responsible for the Lawson boom. His economic prescription of financial deregulation arguably resulted in the 2008 economic crisis. Lord Ridley was the asleep-at-the-wheel chairman of Northern Rock, the collapse of which helped precipitated the crisis and last decade of economic hardship. Both men are now advocating a hard, right-wing, Dirty Brexit. Are they the best poeple to advise us on the risk associated with climate change?


This Author


Brendan Montague is contributing editor of The Ecologist, and tweets at @EcoMontague

 

‘Flexitarians’ join vegans in stampede for meat free restaurant treats

A quiet revolution is taking place. Restaurants, pubs and cafes around the UK are rethinking their menus to cater for growing customer demand for dishes without meat.

Crucially, these people have not necessarily become vegetarians or vegans, but are consciously reducing their consumption of meat in response to environmental and health concerns.

“Flexitarianism”, as it has become known, has no rules but generally involves eating less meat, and when eating it, insisting that it is more ethically-sourced.

Health food chain Whole Foods predicted it would be one of the biggest food trends of the year. One fifth of British people are now interested in meals that contain less or no meat, according to Mintel in a report published last month.

Feedback from customers

The consumer research company has also even predicted that food originally designed for vegetarians or vegans could take over the mainstream.

Food outlets that have caught onto the trend include sandwich chain Pret, which has expanded its “not just for veggies” meat-free food range in response to “overwhelming” feedback from customers.

They also include cafés on RSPB reserves, where meat-free dishes now outnumber those with meat; and Wetherspoons pubs, which has expanded its vegetarian range and introduced a specific vegan menu.

The Vegan Society says it is working with chains including Zizzis, Ikea, and the Handmade Burger Company on expanding their ranges of dairy-free food.

“You don’t have to be vegan to eat vegan,” Abigail Stevens from the Vegan Society pointed out. “A lot of people wrongly assume that the market for vegan products is just vegans, but in reality a lot more people are choosing vegan because they want to cut down on meat.”

More vegan dishes

Upmarket restaurants are also shifting away from an emphasis on meat. Croydon’s Alberts Table has introduced an extra menu with both vegetarian and vegan options.

Michelin starred chef Josh Eggleton has just opened “Root”, a restaurant where vegetables take the starring role and meat and fish feature only as side-dishes; while chefs the Gladwin brothers are experimenting with intensifying the flavour of meat so that diners will feel satisfied with smaller portions.

These moves have mainly been in response to customer feedback. Alberts Table head chef Josse Anderton said: “People kept asking us for more meat-free options so we thought we should just do something about it. Now we’ve done it, they’re asking for more vegan dishes!”

Londoner Paul Kaye is also trying to eat more vegetable-based dishes after realising that not consciously thinking about what he was eating meant that meat was on his plate a couple of times a day. “I’m sensitising myself to think about it more. Now if I’ve eaten a lot of meat, I consciously choose the vegetarian option even if the meat option looks really good. But the choice of vegetarian meals on a menu has a big impact on whether I can stick to that,” he said.

Annabelle Randles, co-founder of retailer By Nature felt so passionate about spreading the word on flexitarianism that she set up a blog about it. A self-confessed “committed carnivore” previously, she decided to lower her meat intake in response to environmental concerns, a change that became more radical when she noticed that her health improved. “Meat is not something I crave any more,” she said.

She has noticed an improvement in options available when eating out, though menus are generally better in London than outside. “Pizza Express now has a vegan pizza, which you wouldn’t have found a few years ago,” she said.

Happy to experiment

While there is definitely a move towards more meat-free options, there is still a lot more that restaurants and cafés could do to capitalise on the trend, according to Tom Tanner, spokesman for non-profit membership organisation the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA).

The SRA has this month launched a campaign to encourage restaurants to increase their vegetable-based options. The Food Made Good campaign is “a celebration of all things plant, not an imposition of a vegan’s charter”, he explained.

When creating meat-free dishes, chefs should start with a blank canvas, rather than trying to reshape traditional meat dishes for people who want more vegetables.

“That’s really liberating for a chef. Anyone can grill a steak, but getting them to create a really delicious dish with a cauliflower or a bunch of carrots will really make them earn their corn,” he said. If a chef can create a really imaginative vegetable-based dish then customers will be happy to experiment, he added.

This Author

Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and the former deputy editor of the environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.

 

Lawson’s climate denial met with ‘rapid, referenced and robust’ debunking

John Humphrys is a national treasurer who brings news of the latest world affairs to a bleary eyed nation with the BBC Today programme. Lord Lawson was once the nation’s treasurer, and today tours the newsrooms advocating climate denial and an isolationist Brexit.


The release of Al Gore’s latest film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, has put climate change firmly back on the agenda, including the fact coal, oil and gas companies have for decades paid public relations companies and front groups millions of dollars to attack the science of global warming.


Disappointing then, that a time-pressed researcher from the BBC would give the Global Warming Policy Foundation – which presents itself as a charity supported by politicians of all stripes – a call and that Lawson, its founder and chair of trustees for life would be made available for interview.


Unfortunately, Lawson is literally the last man in Britain who should be appearing on the country’s favourite source for balanced, intelligent daily news to discuss the issue of climate change. Not least, because he is precisely the kind of climate denier that Al Gore is trying to warn us about.


Lawson returned from political obscurity in the South of France to become Britain’s most effective climate denier and from there a leading proponent of a hard Brexit. This month he appointed Terence Mordaunt, owner of the Bristol Port Company and big time Leave donor, as director of his Global Warming Policy Forum (set up so Lawson could side step charity law).


Indeed, Lawson sits at the very centre of the climate-denying and Brexit-supporting web of wealthy industrialists, PR spivs and corporate sponsored think tanks operating out of the now notorious 55 Tufton Street.

 

The same old claptrap


The choice of Lawson by the Beeb has led to a Twitter storm of genuine outrage and concern. Professor Brian Cox, himself a BBC presenter and also a qualified scientist, attacked Lawson for amplifying “the same old claptrap”. He argued it was “irresponsible and highly misleading to give the impression that there is a meaningful debate about the science.”


Richard Black, the former BBC environment correspondent who was among the journalists to break the “Climategate” story, was equally scathing. He Tweeted, “tbf, opinions can be as inaccurate as you like. However, things presented as fact when they’re bollocks ought to be flagged up as so.”


The primary objection to Lawson’s appearance on the Today programme is simply that most of the claims and conjecture the former chancellor espoused are easily refuted. Black initiated a thread on Twitter with the “false statements” in the broadcast.


Lawson said Britain had “one of the the highest energy costs in the world”. Steve Smith, the head of science for Parliament’s Committee on Climate Change, provided a chart from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy showing Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Austria all had higher energy costs than the UK.

 

Lawson went on to say that average global temperatures “have slightly declined” since 2007. Roz Pidcock, head of communications for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, provided a chart where NASA, UEA, NOAA, Berkeley, and raw data from temperature stations each registered a clear and deeply concerning rise in temperatures since 2000 (and indeed, since 1880).

Lawson stated “we don’t” subsidise fossil fuels, which is directly contradicted by a research paper published in the March 2017 issue of the World Development journal by David Coudy et al which found that “fossil fuel subsidies are large, amounting to 6.5 percent of global GDP in 2015.” This is $5.3 trillion. Among the more generous with subsidies is the European Union.

 

The wealthy and powerful


The online response to Lawson’s claims – especially by Carbon Brief – was rapid, referenced and robust. Black, who will have conducted hundreds of interviews broadcast by the BBC, concluded “usually this frequency of errors would bar a guest for lack of expertise”.


But the problem is the genie is already out of the bottle. Debunking climate denial myths is not as effective as we would like. It can even reinforce the false claim being made. The wealthy and powerful who benefited from Lawson’s housing boom and market deregulation are likely to trust him over a bearded, sandal-wearing climate activist.


Sarah Sands, this year appointed the new editor of Today, should never have allowed Lawson to appear on the programme in the first place. This is not about freedom of speech. This is a matter of upholding the standards BBC listeners expect and assume are in place when they trust the broadcaster.


I spent five years researching Lawson and the GWPF. I began from a place of being sceptical about what the Tory peer and architect of British neoliberalism would say about the biggest environmental issue of our times. But I was still shocked and angered by what I discovered.


Lawson was recruited to the climate denial campaign by a chap called David Henderson, an activist and advisor to the hard-line neoliberal think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs.


More intelligent that the average person


The IEA for decades accepted cash from tobacco companies while fighting the regulation of smoking, which still kills 100,000 people in Britain every year. The IEA also took money from oil while publishing the first reports to attack the science of climate change.


Lawson and Henderson travelled together to the US to meet the head of US think tanks also paid by tobacco and big oil. And then they set up the GWPF in the UK. Lawson frequently spoke alongside S Fred Singer, the US-based, oil and tobacco supported, granddaddy of climate denial. The GWPF has been represented at least one event alongside Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco, an event funded by the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.


Lawson has steadfastly refused to name the funders of the GWPF, even in defiance of his fellow Parliamentarians. His financial backers, he says, “tend to be richer than the average person and much more intelligent that the average person”.


Among the money men behind the GWPF who I managed to expose are Neil Record, a currency speculator and trustee of the oil and tobacco funded IEA; Lord Nigel Vinson, the industrialist, IEA stalwart and Brexiteer and also Lord Leach, who may or may not have shares in oil and gas. The Guardian also named Michael Hintze, who has handed millions to the Tories and donated to the Brexit campaign.


Lawson has said none of his funders have a “significant interest” in fossil fuels. However, the GWPF has benefited enormously from the non-pecuniary support of Lord Ridley, a member of its “academic advisory board” and AGM keynote speaker. Ridley enjoys an income from the two massive opencast coalmines on his family estate. As I reported for DeSmog UK, Ridley used to supply coal to a local power station until it was converted to biomass to comply with EU regulations.


A hard, right-wing, Dirty Brexit

 

Which all brings us back to Brexit. Lawson and Henderson when launching the GWPF spent considerable time networking and calling members of a particular political cohort: rich old men convinced by neoliberalism and ideologically opposed to almost all forms of regulation, and in particular environmental regulation.


These same men were the driving force behind the Vote Leave and Business for Britain campaigns. Ridley promoted BfB in the North East. He is brother-in-law to Owen Paterson, the one time Environment Secretary who set up Vision 2020 after a boozy dinner at the IEA with BP and British American Tobacco.


Graham Stringer, a right-wing Labour MP, has been a board member of Vote Leave and also a member of the board of trustees of the GWPF. Matthew Elliott is the former chief executive of Vote Leave and the founder of the Taxpayers’ Alliance. The TPA once had John Blundell on its advisory board, an employee of the oil baron Koch brothers who first imported climate denial to the UK when boss of the IEA.


Lawson was responsible for the Lawson boom. His economic prescription of financial deregulation arguably resulted in the 2008 economic crisis. Lord Ridley was the asleep-at-the-wheel chairman of Northern Rock, the collapse of which helped precipitated the crisis and last decade of economic hardship. Both men are now advocating a hard, right-wing, Dirty Brexit. Are they the best poeple to advise us on the risk associated with climate change?


This Author


Brendan Montague is contributing editor of The Ecologist, and tweets at @EcoMontague