Green Tau: issue 62

20th January 2023

Imagining life in 2033

By 2033 we should be at least half way to net zero. How will things have changed? What will daily life look like? Imagine a letter from the future …

In many ways life in 2033 is not that different from in 2023. I still live in the same house, with the same husband and even the same – now rather elderly – cat. We have recently replaced the solar panels on our roof and are now not just self sufficient for energy but are regularly put electricity back into the grid. Talking of solar panels, every house in our street now has them, as does the local school and our church – and you have probably guessed, very few buildings now-a-days have gas boilers.

Other changes in our street include more trees, which provide welcome shade during heat waves, and fewer cars. Being an affluent area, most people have hung into their electric cars despite the rising ULEZ charge, but as in most urban areas many more journeys are now made by cycle or public transport. All main roads now have a dedicated cycle track wide enough for cargo and family bikes.  Buses and suburban trains have all been free for the last five years leading to less cars using the roads and, therefore, faster journey times for buses! Suburban trains run on a regular ten minute interval and trains on the mainlines operate on a ‘Taktfahrplan’ similar to the Swiss one, ensuring good connections on all routes. Most people opt for the half price rail card, especially families as children travel free.

Another change you might notice is the number of cargo cycles. They were certainly around in 2023 but the exception rather than the rule. Increases in road tax in 2025 saw a rapid expansion of delivery bikes, and electric ones regularly use the vehicle lane on the main roads where they can move at the same speed as other users – oh yes, I should have pointed out that in London the speed limit is now  20mph on all roads. The NHS has certainly benefited from the upswing in cycling. It has made us fitter and the reduced particulate pollution from tyres and brakes has helped reduce breathing problems. There is talk now of replacing buses with trams. 

You will be pleased to hear that we do still have a national health service. There were some dodgy moments when it looked like the system might collapse, but with the influence of a people’s assembly, the whole health and welfare system is being overhauled. There is a focus on preventative care and long term investment plan – improving the health of children (physical, mental and educational) will have profound benefits for our society but the financial savings may take 20 to 30 years to kick in. 

It has been surprising how much addressing the climate crisis has actually improved people’s wellbeing. All school and institutional meals are now all plant based, and I hope you are not surprised to hear that plant based dishes now occupy at least 50% of all restaurant menus. Vegan cooking is now mainstream although at the time the All Vegan Bake Off series in 2024 seemed radical. The change in our diets has not only improved our health but has changed the appearance of the rural landscape. With fewer livestock, those that are kept have a much higher welfare standard. And you will find that many farms and some of the larger rural homes keep a couple of sheep or pigs as outdoor pets. The UK is now self sufficient in growing wheat, whilst other arable land has been given over to growing a vast number of different fruits and vegetables. It has been a horticultural revolution with drip feed irrigation and small robots and drones making the work less back breaking. Work in this sector is now well paid and popular. Orchards have expanded and now encompass new trees such as olives, walnuts, pistachios and almonds, and are often intercropped with shade loving crops. The amount of trees in the landscape is perhaps the biggest change that you would notice. Not only have we seen orchards expand, but many areas have been rewilded with wide hedgerows, copses and new woodlands. The latest nature report has shown an increase in biodiversity in the UK. It is a revival that has had to be worked at but is now reaping rewards. Nightingales are now often recorded – but not necessarily in Berkeley Square! – and a new generation of children are listening out for the cuckoos in spring. Walks and trips to wildlife hides are increasingly popular as there is now so much more wildlife to see!

The Upper Richmond Road is still our main shopping area but it does look more attractive with more trees and well-stocked planters. If you want a few herbs, it’s a case of pick your own. I was going to say the traffic moves more slowly as back in 2023 the speed limit was 30mph. But now-a-days the traffic moves at a pretty constant 20mph which I’m sure is faster than it was then. I can remember sitting in the Artisan cafe watching the traffic remain stationary as the lights went from red to green and back to red. Traffic lanes are narrower now to make  space for the cycle lanes. Milestone Green has finally been revamped (that’s been at least ten years in the planning) with new seating, a water feature and a large chess board. 

There are a few different shops, such as The Splash – a bike wash coffee shop where customers enjoy a coffee and cake whilst their bike is cleaned, oil and tyres pumped. There’s the now standard repair shop, Repairs are Us, where can get virtual anything domestic repaired, and next to the Fara charity shop, is Tailor Tricks where they readjust any clothes you buy at Fara (or elsewhere) to fit. If you like a skirt but is too long or trousers that are too wide, they speedily make the adjustments. At the other end of the market is the made to measure fashion outlet. Video loops from the latest catwalks plus magazines and fabric swatches all entice you to try something new. Interactive screens show you what you would look like in these garments, and once you have made your choice, the workshop sets to work and within hours your made to measure outfit is ready. 

Of course there are more cycle shops – and cycle accessory shops. The pet shops still thrive as we are increasingly aware of the value of pets for our mental wellbeing. Another growth has been in plant shops as we increasingly enjoy filling our homes with living things – as well as a growth in companies offering plant care services. Sheen also has its own coffee roastery, brewery, two new bakeries and a nut-cheese delicatessen. The local council has made a real effort to promote local businesses with preferential rates for local businesses. 

Packaging has definitely changed. Initially it was the ending of single use plastic cups and boxes in 2023 that stimulated change. As suppliers adapted the packaging they produced, so supermarkets adopted this same packaging for ready meals, salads and pre-packed fruit. A year later reverse vending machines for bottles became obligatory – in supermarkets initially but quickly afterwards in all shops selling bottled goods. This included both glass and reusable plastic bottles, glass jars and reusable yogurt pots. All single use packaging is now either recyclable or compostable. The effect on refuse and recycling services has been marked. With less to throw into dustbins and recycling bins, most weekly collections have been replaced by fortnightly ones – a useful cost saving for councils.

As we have adapted to more extreme weather conditions so we have been adapting our buildings. Awnings that pull out are popular for both shops, houses and flats to provide shade in the summer but there can be problems if these are not safely retracted in advance of strong winds. The met office app usually provides adequate advance warning. Shops tend to have more substantial affairs that also provide protection from the rain. Keeping customers dry is a definite plus for trade!

Overhead there are far fewer airplanes – you might recall from the first covid lock down how surprised we were when the planes stopped and we could hear birds singing. Well that’s what we have now on a daily basis. There is a heavy tax to be paid for air flights (although there is an annual tax allowance that can put towards long haul flights). Air freight is gradually being replaced by rail freight and marine cargo vessels. Some capacity in the system has been freed up as we are no longer shipping oil, gas and coal around the world, and there has also been a sharp decline in the amount of animal feed and meat being shipped. Increasingly popular are cargo ships linking up with educational packages. You can take a ten day crossing over the Atlantic and use the time to engage in a fully immersive language course, learn to play bridge, or do a page to stage theatre production. 

Ten years on things have changed but it is not a totally different world nor a life lacking in comfort. If anything we have a healthier and happier lifestyle. 

Green Tau: issue 61

11th January 2023

Climate Action

In December I compared climate actions  with strike action. I noted how many people  had taken to the streets in previous years to protest to the Government against the poll tax  in 1990 when between 180,000 and 250,000 people march  to the Houses of Parliament, and against the Iraq war in 2003 between 750,000 and 2,000,000 people marched to Hyde Park. 

On New Year’s Day Extinction Rebellion made an unexpected announcement: “We’re quitting!” Certainly that was the phrase picked up by the media. Quitting what? The climate crisis arena? Activism? Public life? 


The group is quitting, for the moment, disruptive actions such as glueing to things, blocking roads or breaking glass, and instead sticking to such legal protests as are still permitted. “As we ring in the new year, we make a controversial resolution to temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic…This year, we [will] prioritise attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks, as we stand together and become impossible to ignore.”

So this morning I joined a hundred people from XR with a hundred flags (or thereabouts) for the launch of 100 Days. A hundred days until the 21st April when everyone passionate about protecting the world from the further ravages of climate change is invited to unite in protest in Parliament Square.  

The message to the Government is that we need action now on the climate crisis to safeguard all our futures.

Green Tau: issue 60

21st December 2022

Climate Strikes

The UK is facing a stream of strikes, as nurses, ambulance drivers, railway staff, border control officers, ground crew and Heathrow, postal workers, Civil Servants,  and the National Highways staff, demand action on better pay and working conditions. Years of underinvestment in staffing and resources has come to a head. Many of those on strike would argue that the short term inconvenience to the public is outweighed by the long term improvement to services that will derive from better paid  and better resourced employees. Strikers hope that initially the threat of strike action and the inconvenience  it could cause, would prompt those who control the purse strings to engage in a constructive resolution of the issue. That taking striking action has a financial impact on those taking part, should demonstrate the degree of commitment – of self sacrifice – of the employees towards their cause. 

In many of these current disputes, it is the Government that is the ultimate controller of the purse strings. It is hard to find ways of directly  inconveniencing the Government so inevitably it is the public who are inconvenienced.  In 1990 between 180,000 and 250,000 members  of the public gathered in London to march  to the Houses of Parliament in protest to the poll tax. In 2003 between 750,000 and 2,000,000 members of the public joined a March to Hyde Park to protest against the Government’s decision to join the war against Iraq. 

Does such action constitute ‘strike action’ in so far as the public are withholding their willingness to support the Government? Would one classify the Extinction Rebellion protests as strikes, as strikes protesting against the Government for their lack of action in response to the climate crisis? Would one classify the blocking of roads by Insulate Britain as they called upon the Government to insulate people’s homes, as strike action? Would one classify blocking roads by Just Stop Oil as they called upon the Government to stop new oil developments, as strike action? 

Greta Thunberg has been widely celebrated and honoured as a climate activist. Every Friday she sat outside Parliament, deliberately absenting herself from school, demanding that her Government take serious and concerted effort to address the climate crisis. She named this as a School Strike.

Strikes, non-violent protests, marches, and signing petitions are all means by which we, the public, can  call on the Government to take action that is in the public’s interest. Yes such action may cause  the public short term inconvenience just as do other industrial strikes, but that inconvenience pales into insignificance when balanced against the ongoing and escalating inconvenience that the climate crisis will cause of action is not taken before it is too late. By 2030 the scientists tell us, our carbon emissions will need to have been halved, and by 2050 brought to net zero to prevent temperatures rising above the – barely safe – 1.5C limit.

Green Tau issue 59

13th December 2022

This Green Tau is a brief personal comment on the prison system in the UK followed by a statement from a climate activist who is currently in prison.

I have been a lightweight climate activist having only been arrested once as part of a protest trying to establish a responsible and practical response to the climate crisis. My daughter has been more physically active, with the support of her parents. She has taken part in a number of Just Stop Oil protests this year, blockading roads, oil refineries and petrol stations, and most recently climbing on to one of the M25 gantries. It is for this last action that she has been placed in prison on remand. Currently (mid December) she has been at Bronzefield Prison for four weeks.

For us as parents this is heart breaking as once in prison people are not treated as humans who have rights. In part this is the nature of the UK prison system and in part it is due to the underfunding of the system. Prisoners have little control over their lives and no recall when things that should happen do not. Heidi’s cell mate’s name was omitted from the meal list for 6 days during which time no meals were prepared for her. Heidi shared hers plus the kitchen staff gave them any left overs. 

If there are staff shortages, they may spend 23 hours in their cell. 

Books can be sent in but only from approved suppliers and there is usually a delay of a week between parcels arriving and being handed over. 

To access any activity such as using the library, the education department or the gym, permission must first be requested via a computer terminal, then approved and even then it is dependent on staff being available to collect and take the prisoner to and from their cell. 

Visits are more frequent for remand prisoners but still work out at an average of one a week.

Heidi, hopefully, will only be in prison for a short while – maybe three months; we are not sure. But for prisoners there on long sentences the experience must be soul destroying and can not in anyway be expected to improve people’s ability to live good and fulfilled lives. 

Personal Statement – AVS Russenberger

I am currently being held on remand at HMP Bronzefield, charged with ‘Recklessly and Intentionally Causing a Public Nuisance’.  This is slightly ironic, as the government’s reckless intention to license over 100 new oil and gas sites will lead to more than just a ‘public nuisance’; it will contribute to irreversible, catastrophic climate breakdown and the loss of millions of lives and livelihoods.

We saw the beginnings of climate breakdown this year.  Temperatures reached over 50ºC in Pakistan and India; 33 million people were affected by floods in Pakistan; climate induced famine in East Africa kills one person every 36 seconds.  In the UK, temperatures reached 40ºC resulting in 6,000 excess deaths; the London Fire Brigade had their busiest day since the Second World War; half of the wheat crops were lost and a projected one quarter of the potato harvest.

This will only get much, much worse. Small island states, low lying countries, and equatorial regions will become uninhabitable.  Devastating floods, wildfires, and drought will become commonplace.  Resources will become scarce, leading to conflict, and a rise in violence and abuse of women, girls, and the LGBT community.  Global crop failures will result in famine and soaring food prices.  We are struggling with the cost of living crisis now, but it is only going to get far, far worse.  But the government is more concerned by a ‘public nuisance’ than this global disaster.

I’ve signed petitions and letters, held placards, voted in every election I can, but the government has continued to pursue an immoral policy of issuing new fossil fuel licences.  More oil and gas will not reduce fossil fuel emissions or address the cost of living, it will only make it worse and threaten the lives and futures of people in the UK and abroad.  The media has been negligent and failed to inform the public of the scale and projected impact of the climate crisis, and has failed to hold the government to account.  I felt that the only option left for me was to continue to protest and refuse to be ignored, because human lives are precious, and worth more than a temporary public nuisance.

Green Tau: issue 58

30th November 2022

Who benefits from fossil fuel investment? 

The big oil companies are expanding their exploitation of gas and oil reserves in response to the short falls in supply from Russia. The rapid rise in gas prices is prompting some African nations to consider developing the gas reserves under their land. To  explore and develop these reserves investment is needed and, it seems, is  readily available from western investors. 

In some ways it is not illogical. If you are a company whose raison d’être is finding, extracting and selling oil, that if you hear of new oil deposits, you go after them. Ditto if you are an investment company that has always invested in oil because it has always earns large dividends, then that is what you keep on doing. People and companies are wary of change, or perhaps become so immersed in the comfort of where they are, that they don’t look outside their own silo to be aware that change is already happening. This can be short sighted. Vis a vis oil, there are two black clouds on the horizon. Peak oil – that point in. Time when demand for oil will start to drop and co to use to drop. Many commentators suggest that we have already passed peak oil back in 2019. The decline in oil use arises when cars switch from petrol to electrical power (something that is happening aster than expected), as more plastics are made from recycled plastic rather than virgin oil, as users of oil become more efficient in their use of an expensive raw material,  and as users find renewable energy is cheaper. The second dark cloud is the climate crisis. As concern about the crisis takes root more people, companies and countries are going to be cutting back on their use of oil in an attempt to limit global temperature rises. If such moves are not successful then the world will experience rising sea levels, widespread drought, extremes of weather and widespread loss of life and incomes. And this of itself will severely reduce demand for oil. Either way it seems that long term the future for the oil industry is not good – but for in the short term their dominance of the global economic systems shields them. This has been highlighted by the war in Ukraine.  So the oil industry continues to be heavily subsidised by governments. “Since the Paris Agreement, the government has provided £13.6 billion in subsidies to the UK oil and gas industry. From 2016 to 2020 companies received £9.9 billion in tax relief for new exploration and production, including £15 million of direct grants for exploration, and £3.7 billion in payments towards decommissioning costs.”

So we are seeing large numbers of oil companies and oil investors focusing on exploring and  extracting oil and gas from the African continent. Despite the long term risks of declining demand, these companies seem convinced that there is money to be made. The idea of making rich profits from oil is certainly seen as attractive by some governments in Africa – oil would seem to offer rewards in licence fees and taxes. But who will benefit? Possibly governments, big businesses, banks and the like. Probably not the ordinary person in the street, the small scale farm or business, and definitely not the rich biodiverse  natural environment. 

Given the high price of oil, the availability of more oil will more likely benefit the big users of oil in the western world, not the person on the street in Luganda or Accra or Windhoek, not the small farm and the rural villager, nor the small businesses. What they need is cheap and accessible electricity , electricity that can be produced locally without reliance on an expensive national grid, electricity that comes from local wind turbines and solar panels? What they need is a move away from polluting vehicles and power plants. What they don’t need is the pollution and disturbance caused by drilling for oil,  building pipeline and running oil refineries. 

What the nations of Africa do need is investment in renewable energy. Ideally not in large projects such as hydro electric dams but in multiple smaller scale projects that will connect to and supply local towns and communities. 

“The potential for wind and solar is 400 times larger than Africa’s total fossil fuel reserves and it comes pollution-free and creates more jobs, but there is finance gap…That is why there is so much attention at this COP to changing the global capital allocation system,” Mr Gore

What the nations of Africa need is protection for their remaining areas of natural habitat – rain forests, wetlands and savannahs. Again this is an area in need of large scale investment that will protect habitats and provide sustainable incomes for local people. 

 “The area of land allocated to oil and gas activity in Africa is set to quadruple, threatening critical forests that help combat climate change, according to a new report by two environmental groups. Rainforest Foundation UK and Sacramento, California-based Earth InSight used mapping technology to show that gas and oil blocks overlap with about 30% of the continent’s dense tropical forests and more than a third of the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest rainforest after the Amazon. The Democratic Republic of Congo, which accounts for about 60% of the basin, launched a bidding round  in July for 30 oil and gas permits, several of which overlap with the basin. Congo, one of the world’s poorest countries, has defended its right to explore for oil and develop its economy.” KBloomberg UK 

Can the big fossil fuel companies reinvent themselves? Can they recalibrate their raison d’être as energy companies?  Can they become suppliers of renewable energy technology that can enable communities to control their own energy sources? Can they create new business models that can invest the money from our banks, pensions funds and insurers, to protect and enhance the natural environment? 

Green Tau: issue 57

21st November 2022

We’re in a climate crisis – will it get worse?

Global temperatures have risen by at least 1.1C, and possibly nearer to 1.2C, above the pre-industrial revolution norm. This is because of the increasing proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – as of October 2022 this measures 419 parts per million. Pre-industrial levels stood at around 280 ppm. At 350 ppm the world could maintain global temperatures at about 1C above pre-industrial levels. 

With a global temperature rise of at least 1.1C we are already in a climate crisis. 

Icecaps, and glaciers are melting and reducing in size. Melt water from Himalayan glaciers has been contributing to flooding in Pakistan, whilst across the world sea levels are rising and drowning low lying coast lines in places like Tonga, Kiribati and Vanuatu. 

Warming seas are killing off corals through the process of bleaching. They are shifting the location and breeding patterns of many marine creatures at a rate which is causing a steep decline in populations of many species including birds – and land based animals that rely on the oceans for food.

Warming seas and warming air causes increasingly heavy rainfall and strengthening tropical storms, monsoons and hurricanes. These extreme weather events have led to flooding and the destruction of homes, roads and other infrastructure, forests and mangrove swamps – these latter help prevent coastal erosion – across the globe.  We have also experienced exceptionally heavy rain and storms in the UK. In February of this year three storms hit the UK – Franklin, Dudley and Eunice – leaving  three dead and 1.4 million homes without power. Just this last few days storms have again bought flooding to the UK cutting of road and rail links and leaving another person dead.

Summers have become hotter and dryer. The hottest temperature of 40.3C was recorded this summer, whilst four of the five hottest summers in the UK have all occurred within the last 20 years. This summer’s series of heatwaves caused more than 2800 excess deaths. The same heat wave has been felt across the world with wild fires in the UK, Europe and North America. The hot weather has been accompanied by a lack of rain causing widespread droughts, some of which, for example in California and East Africa, have been ongoing for several years. The drought in East Africa is creating a widespread famine.

These are all examples of changes in the climate that we will have to live with both here in the UK and across the world. They are changes that are now built in because we cannot reverse the 1.1C  increase in average global temperatures.  As global temperatures rise we will have to come to terms with even more changes in the climate,  and will have to try and adapt to them. Ideally (or rather the least worse scenario is) our aim should be to do all we can to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C. 

Is this possible? Scientists and academics have been working on this for several decades now and the route map agreed in Paris in 2016 is that if we can reduce all carbon dioxide (and associated greenhouse gases) emissions by approximately half by 2030 and to net zero by 2050 we should be able to keep temperature rises to 1.5 or 2C. Calculations have been carried out to show that this would be possible if the appropriate plans are  put in place now and acted on. It is in everyone’s best  interests to follow the carbon emissions reduction plan.

Will we achieve this?

At present it doesn’t look hopeful. In fact this year carbon emissions are expected to rise by around 1% rather than fall. Following last year’s agreements at COP26, it was hoped that nations and parties would come back with revised plans showing even greater ambitions to reduce emissions to meet the 2030 and 2050 targets. We are still waiting for the final outcomes of COP27 but certainly the UK Government is not on track for the 2030 targets. And the Government’s willingness to grant new licences for exploring more oil and gas fields in the North Sea is definitely a regressive step. 

Can we be part of the solution? 

Yes. We can focus on reducing our own carbon footprints – by 2030 we should be aiming for about 2.7 tonnes of CO2 per capita in the UK which is about half of the current average. (There are a number of carbon footprint calculators on the web. The WWF – – one is very easy to use whilst the Carbon Footprint Calculator is more in depth – Knowing what your footprint is and what are its major components will enable you to,begin to work out how you can reduce it. As we work out how we can achieve this reduction we can put pressure on the companies we buy from – writing or emailing or simply asking in store for things/ services with a lower impact. We can also use our voices to call on the Government to create the system changes that are also needed – such as increased investment in public transport, in the insulation of buildings, completing the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy supplies, and transforming the way we farm and the foods we eat. 

We also need our Government and big businesses to work with their colleagues across the world to achieve a just transition to a net zero world. The climate crisis is a global crisis and needs global cooperation, or, as The UN Secretary General put it, we will be condemning ourselves to a global suicide pact. We can use our voices writing to MPs and business leaders, joining action groups, signing petitions, and at election time, using  our votes. 

The future is in our hands.

Green Tau reflection

15th October 2022

The ways of protest.

Last week I took part in the Earth Vigil outside Parliament. Participants sit on the pavement, backs against the wall that surrounds the building, and between 11 and 3pm a prayerful presence is maintained holding the needs of creation before God.

When we arrived a young police constable asked what we were doing. 

“Praying for the earth”  

“Well if you need anything …” he replied. 

We take up our places and quietly began to pray as tourists and workers and parties of school children walked by – a back and forth, crisis-crossing flood of human life. ‘Lord help us change our lifestyle and our priorities and safeguard the next generation.’ Abruptly the murmur of urban life is broken by loud, upbeat music (via an amplifier) whilst a commentary is loud-hailered by a one man protest group, hurling abuse at the Tory party. 

Restore focus once more on our silent prayer. Behind the many legs of the passersby, waves of traffic slide past by as traffic lights regulate their flow. Buses in twos and threes, black cabs swinging round tight curves, delivery vans and construction trucks, SUVs that are certainly not for utility and bikes which are! ‘Lord help us shape a better future, a better use of people’s skills and resources; a cleaner, kinder world.’ From the opposite side of the square another amplifier sets off in competition with the first. The music is more classical in tone. These protestors are women speaking out against the oppression of their comrades in Iran. They are wrapped in flags. 

Refocus, centre down, pray. A trickle of people come and go through the chicane that gives access to Parliament, inside whose doors policy is worked on, debated, argued, and often fudged.  ‘Lord help change the systems that shape our economy. So often they damage the lives of ordinary people and the health of the environment – bring wisdom and humility to the hearts of minds of those in power.’ A kerfuffle in the middle of the road – police are rushing forwards – has someone fallen over? No not fallen down but sat down. Not one but a dozen or more sat or lying in the road, odd hands glued down, other hands grasping ‘Insulate Britain’ banners. 

The frenzy of the moment is heart stopping. Brave? Vulnerable? Safe? The faces look confident. Now the road swarms with police and journalists – where did they all come from? More activists and members of the public add to the melee. Traffic grinds to a halt. It takes a while for the police to restart the traffic, directing them along the unoccupied traffic lane – a rogue motorcyclist tries to take an alternative route and is reprimanded.

A degree of order returns. Traffic moves in waves controlled by the lights.

Pedestrians continue to cross-cross the pavement, now and then stopping to take photos. Tourists add pictures of both the Houses of Parliament and the freedom to protest to their phones. More police vans, more police officers arrive and a slow process of note taking and questioning, surveying and evidence collecting starts. ‘Lord be with those who risk their comfort to stand up for the cause of justice. Be with those in other parts of the world who risk their lives in this cause. Challenge our churches to recognise what is happening and what needs to happen.’

A quick reconnoitre confirms we know some of the glued on protestors. Both they and the women of Iran are held in prayer. ‘Lord surround them with your protection that they may know they are loved. May their endeavours for justice be fruitful.’

Person by person the road protest is slowly – almost tediously – dismantled as the protestors are conveyed to the back of police vans and driven away. The media presence holds strong filming and interviewing the protestor in the road – they have certainly caught the attention of the press. And the public too. Passers by continue to stand and stare and take photos – what will they say when they get home or when they share these images on social media? Will their sensibilities about the current crisis of climate and justice have been raised? Only 2 or 3 shout abuse or remonstrate with the protestors.

Pray, think, reflect. ‘Lord transform the hearts and minds of all who pass by today. Fill them with compassion and a desire for justice. Safeguard the earth that it be not destroyed by our folly.’

And tomorrow and next week and next month …. the protests will go on for we need justice in our world and there are many willing to demand it. ‘Lord have mercy.’

Green Tau: issue 54

14th October 2022


The natural world and its ecosystems are our life support system providing us  with oxygen, clean air, water, food, medicines etc that keeps us all alive. They reduce flooding, even out extreme temperatures, and ensure rainfall. They maintain our well-being – being in nature, seeing blue and/ or green landscapes are known to improve mental and physical health. To diminish the natural world is to diminish what makes life enjoyable and possible. To severely diminish the natural world is to severely compromise life to the point of extinction.

The natural world depends for its vitality on its biodiversity – those the numerous and varied life forms that co-exist in an interconnected web. Reducing biodiversity – whether through the diminution in number of any  species or through the extinction of individual species – reduces the health of the  natural world and thus the viability of life on this planet.

Do we value the natural environment and its biodiversity? In economic terms do we ascribe to the natural environment – to its natural resources on which we are so dependent – an appropriate financial value? When we build a road do we put a sufficient price on what we will loose through the initial and ongoing damage to the natural environment that it will cause? If we did we might be shocked at how expensive road building is! The WWF calculates the value globally of nature as a capital benefit as being at least US$125 trillion every year. A UK Government study in 2010 reported:-  

  • The benefits that inland wetlands bring to water quality are worth up to £1.5billion per year to the UK;
  • Pollinators are worth £430million per year to British agriculture;
  • The amenity benefits of living close to rivers, coasts and other wetlands is worth up to £1.3billion per year to the UK; and
  • The health benefits of living with a view of a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year.

Are we, as a nation and a world, encouraging biodiversity and caring for the natural environment?  Sadly no.

Scientists working with the Natural History Museum have carried out a survey to measure biodiversity levels across the globe. 100% represents areas where the natural level of biodiversity is intact, where human interaction has not diminished the number or diversity of species. Such areas of pristine biodiversity only exist in remote parts of the Arctic plus a few isolated pockets in the rain forests. At the other extreme there are many areas in, for example the USA, Argentina and New Zealand, where biodiversity has been diminished by nearly 50%. The global average stands at 75%. The safe level – sufficient to guarantee the health and well-being of humans – is 90%!

What causes this loss of biodiversity? 

Changes in land use 

This includes clearing forests to create plantations or farm land; clearing pasture to create arable land; switching to monocultural farming; digging up hedges; using large tracts of grassland for sheep or cattle (another form of monoculture); clearing vegetation to create mines and quarries. In many places, particularly in Europe the initial change from wild to farm land will have happened a thousand plus years ago – since the 1500s 133 species have become extinct in the UK.  However in the last hundred years there has been a marked acceleration in the loss of biodiversity. The State of Nature  2019 report revealed a 41% decline amongst UK species since 1970.


This is a particular variation of changing land use, and includes not just building houses, commercial and industrial buildings but also transport infrastructure. In Britain the swift population has declined by  38% since 1985 as new and modernised buildings no longer provide suitable nesting spaces. 

Buildings and infrastructure not only diminish wildlife habitats, they also fragment existing habitats so preventing species from migrating and/or limiting their gene pools. A rising to the Biologist magazine, everywhere volunteers in Henley on Thames carry upwards of 5000 toads across the A4155 from the ponds where they overwinter to the ponds where they spawn. (


Pollution damages or kills species. Pollution includes not just pollution of water, land and air but also noise pollution. This particularly affects marine creatures. Swift populations have also been affected by the decline in insects. A German study found that insect numbers had declines by 76% since 1990, undoubtably affected by the increasing use of pesticides. The river Wye suffers from excess quantities of phosphates leaking into the river from factory-sized chicken farms that populate the valley. This by-product of chicken faeces kills plants such as water crowfoot, and by taking oxygen from the water, kills local fish and the wildlife that relies on these fish for food, such as kingfishers and otters.


Whether hunting or fishing, overkill diminishes numbers right up to the point of extinction, as was seen with beavers (16th century) and wolves (18th century) in the UK. Globally the great auk became extinct in the 1850s (last two were killed in Iceland) and the western black rhino was declared extinct in 2011, whilst only two northern white rhino still exist – both female. 

Invasive species

With global travel, non native species have spread around the globe and often proof invasive in their new locations. Japanese knotweed is a particular problem in Britain, whilst rats have threatened wildlife on the Scilly Isles.

Global warming 

Many species are sensitive to climate change, and whilst they might overtime be able to adapt or migrate, the speed of change is such that many cannot adapt fast enough and instead decline rapidly in number. Such species include the Adélie penguin in the Antarctic and the North Atlantic cod, as well as alpine plants such as snow pearlwort, drooping saxifrage and mountain sandwort which are all nature to Scotland.

Armed conflict

This is not something we often think of, but armed conflict destroys not just infrastructure but wildlife too and often expended armaments lead to long term pollution of soil, air and water. In marine situations, conflict is a cause of noise pollution too. The Eastern gorilla, which inhabits Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, is at risk due to fighting in the region. The Ukraine is critical resting spot for migratory birds like the curlew sandpiper. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine coincided with the springtime migration. Fighter jets roared over nature refuges and birds, susceptible to sound, were scared away from their normal resting grounds. 

At the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 then Convention on Biological Diversity was set up having three main goals: the conservation of biodiversity; the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of its benefits. In 2010 the signatories of the CBD agreed a set of 20 global targets, with a 10 year time frame, to halt global loss. The Government’s Sixth National Report, published in  2019, showed the UK had missed 14  of its 20 targets. 

In 2021 Natural England, Natural Resources Wales,  NatureScot, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee launched a new report – Nature Positive 2030 – which laid out how the rate of biodiversity loss could be reversed. It called on national and local governments, landowners, businesses and others to:- 

  • protect existing wildlife habitats – Meadows are one of the rarest habitats in the UK, with 97% of this habitat lost in Britain since World War II. English Heritage properties have some of the last remaining  meadows, and is maintaining these to provide much needed habitat for a wide range of flora and fauna such as wildflowers and butterflies. In the Royal Parks, land is being established as wildlife meadows including areas in both Green Park and Hyde Park in central London.
  • invest in new habitat restoration projects – of the south coast England’s largest seagrass restoration project has planted around 3.5 hectares of seagrass, whilst another project has  planted approximately 1.2 million seagrass seeds across 20,000m2 in Pembrokeshire, Wales.  Seagrass provides a vital habitat for a diversity of marine life and an excellent absorber of CO2. 
  • create nature networks – the Somerset Wildlife Trust recently bought  Honeygar Farm in the Avalon Marshes. The aim is to rewild the land as wetland enhancing its biodiversity and increasing the connectivity between nearby nature reserves. The land now forms part of the newly designated  “super nature reserve” covering 15,000 acres of the Somerset landscape. 
  • integrate biodiversity as an integral part of all development plans – the NHBC Foundation, with the RSPB and Barratt Developments has produced a report ‘Biodiversity in new housing developments: creating wildlife-friendly communities’ to show how design concepts, practical solutions and best practice case studies can ensure that new homes are built in a way that enhances wildlife, develops climate resilience, and improves people’s health and wellbeing. 
  • give preference at every opportunity for nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation – In Richmond’s Old Deer Park, land which regularly floods is to be rewilded  with a network of creeks, wetlands, bogs, and reedbeds, a mosaic of wet habitats that could sustain more wildlife and better hold excess river water. This is part of the Thames Landscape Strategy and aims to reduce the extent and impact of flooding in the Thames valley. 

Similar projects are and need to be taking place at scale across the globe.


However many countries lack the necessary funding. For others the short-term economics may make it more attractive to sell licenses to rich companies who will exploit the land, than to conserve the biodiversity and natural richness of their land. The provision of external funding for the countries is one of the issues that is to be addressed at the concluding part of COP15 which is due to take place in Montreal this December (the biodiversity COP as opposed to the climate change COP27 taking place in November in Egypt).

It is equally important that wealthy nations do not export its biodiversity loss to lower-income countries – ie if in the UK we rewild agricultural land, we need to ensure that at the same time we  restructure our food production to maintain – and ideally improve – our home-grown production rather than just importing more food from other countries to make up any shortfall. In particular this will mean increasing  plant based foods and reducing our consumption of animal products. (The former requires far less arable land than the latter). 

There is a lot for government and big businesses to do to achieve the necessary improvements in biodiversity but we as individuals through volunteering and fundraising, through petitions and protests, as gardeners and as consumers, can be part of the solution too.

The Green Tau: issue 53

23rd September 2022

If we all went vegan what would happen to all the cows? 

This seems to be a frequent concern amongst those who are not vegan. If people didn’t eat meat or drink milk, would cows become extinct? 

The question is one of genuine concern but raises some other questions in response. For example what life does a cow have? Dairy cows will commence their milking life aged 2 when their first calf will be removed from her care within hours of birth.  She will then give birth once year, being milked for ten months producing quantities of milk (on average 8000 litres) greatly in excess of what a calf would consume. After 2.5 -4 years, when her milking yields drop, she will be slaughtered. The usual life expectancy of a cow is 20 years. Of her offspring, males calves will have a limited life to be slaughtered as veal at 5 – 7 months. Of her female calves most will follow in this mother’s footsteps unless they are deformed or ill, in which case they too will be slaughtered. 

Very few farmed cattle enjoy a full life. By contrast cattle kept on re-wilded land, although smaller in number, live a much more natural life. In the Lake District re-wilding projects are in place at Haweswater, Ennerdale and the Lowther Estate, whilst in Sussex there is the now famous Knepp Estate. According to Rewilding Britain 112,166 hectares of land are now part of a re-wilding project. 

So no, cows would not become extinct but would be kept in much smaller numbers – just as rare breeds of many farm animals are being conserved. 

In 2020 there were 9.36 million head of cattle in the UK. It was not always so! Originally there were only the early forebears of cattle, the aurochs. Overtime cattle were domesticated and as the human population of the UK grew so did the number of cattle. Selective breeding improved and diversified the      cattle with some favoured for milk production and others for meat. As the human and domestic animal populations increased, so the amount of uncultivated land and wildlife decreased: the auroch was hunted to extinction in the UK about 3000 years ago; the brown bear became extinct in the 6th century whilst the wolf hung on until the 17th century. What is true for the UK is also true world wide. Whilst once humans and domesticated animals were once nonexistent, they now comprise 36% and 60% of the biomass of all mammals, leaving just 4% as wild animals (biomass measures the quantity of a species by its mass rather than its numerical quantity).

Rather than it being a question of ‘what would happen to all the cows?’ perhaps the question should be ‘what has happened to all the wild animals?’ The State of Nature Report of 2019noted that since the 1970s, 41% of UK wildlife has declined, and that 26% of the UK’s mammals are at risk of becoming extinct. Re-wilding more of our land would help reverse this decline and allow for the reintroduction of lost species such as the lynx and the stork.

Globally 77% of agricultural land is used to feed livestock, including both grazing land and the land used to grow animal feed. In the UK 40% of the land (9.74 million hectares) comprisespermanent grazing, 6%  temporary grazing (1 – 5 years) and 5%  rough grazing. Only 20% of the land is used for arable crops. Even so home grown animal feed is supplemented by imports – somewhere in the region of 50%.

Globally the 77% of land used for grazing and feeding farm animals, produces only 18% of the world’s food calories. At the same time this major land use contributes more than half of the carbon footprint of our global food production. If everyone globally were to eat the same amount of meat as the average British person (approx 85g per day), then the amount of farm land needed would have to increase – putting even more pressure on natural habitats and wildlife. And if everyone were to eat as much meat as the average American, we would run out of land.

Reducing our consumption of meat and dairy products would release more arable land for growing more sustainably a great variety of plant-based proteins with the potential to improve the diets and health of billions of people world wide (subject to a radical improvement of trade and wealth distribution systems). Research the by the UN suggests that with fewer cases of lower coronary heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, a global vegan diet would also result in 8.1 million fewer deaths per year worldwide.

Britons have in fact already reduced their meat consumption by 17% over the last decade. The Government’s Food Strategy has the target of reducing that by 30% by 2030. This target has been set  in recognition of the adverse affect meat production has on both climate change and the environment, as well as the link between the consumption of red and processed meat the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Looking to the future, there will be fewer cows – but hopefully they will be enjoying a happier life – and instead more land used to restore greater biodiversity. 

Further reading 

The Green Tau: issue 52

Positive Tipping Points

Scientists have long predicted tipping points in the climate crisis, vis events that will be triggered by rising temperatures and which will be irreversible even if temperatures fell. EG a temperature increase of 1.5C will cause the Greenland ice sheet to melt. Even if temperatures subsequently fall back that ice sheet cannot be recreated – it was the product of thousands of years of cold temperatures. 

The widespread destruction of the Amazon rain forest is leading to another tipping point where the loss of tree cover, and thus the ability of the ecosystem to absorb water, such that other trees cannot grow.

But there are also positive tipping points. For decades the petrol car has ruled supreme. Roads and service stations have all been developed to facilitate the use of the petrol car. The more ecological option of an electric vehicle has been slow to take off. The initial cost of each vehicle was high as productions numbers were low and scale of economies as yet untapped. Recharging points were limited in number and far apart as low numbers of vehicle discouraged investment. All these factors deterred would-be consumers, and expansion was therefore slow. However in recent years, rising demand has boosted the impact of change. Soon a tipping point will be reached where the number of electric cars produced and used in the UK will exceed those reliant on fossil fuels. The number of charging points will exceed petrol pumps. Petrol stations and the huge carbon footprint of vehicular transport will become a thing of the past. 

At present domestic heating is another big contributor to our national carbon footprint. The use of heat pumps and solar panels,  and the equipping of houses with double glazing and insulation, will be the norm, with the economies of scale and the increasing number of qualified technicians ensuring the affordability of these options. There will also be the swing in social norms that means that everyone will expect such technologies and the alternatives of  gas and oil fired boilers will be seen as antediluvian.

Whilst the number of people who follow a vegan diet has increased significantly, absolute numbers are still low as a proportion of the total population. So whilst the availability of plant based milks in cafés is widespread, there is not yet a comparable selection of vegan cakes and sandwiches. Whilst  in restaurants there may be the option of a vegan burger and possibly risotto, we are still waiting for the time when the dishes at the top of the menu are vegan and meat based items are the minority fare at the bottom of the menu. But when that tipping point is reached and the vegan diet is the norm, the carbon footprint for our food will be reduced by more than a third.

In the past we have seen positive social tipping points past. We have moved from a society in which wearing seat belts in cars went from being the exception to the norm. We have moved from viewing a last drink for the road as acceptable, to one that deplores drink driving and where taking a taxi after an alcoholic evening is the norm.  We have seen the change in expectation of maybe one holiday a year, typically in the UK, to two or three holidays a year with at least one involving taking a flight to hotter climes. 

In Sweden ‘flygskam’- flight-shame – has led to a fall in the number of people taking domestic flights and an increase in those travelling by train. Here in the UK Flight Free aims to persuade people to give up flying, not through shaming them, but through providing people with both illustrative information that shows the damage and pollution air travel causes, and testimonies from people who have made the Flight Free pledge. 

In the Netherlands 43% of people cycle everyday compared with 4% in the UK. Whilst a government survey found having off-road and segregated cycle paths (55%), safer roads (53%), and well-maintained road surfaces for cycling (49%) were most likely to encourage people to cycle more, there has not been sufficient investment to significantly improve the cycling infrastructure. In terms of tipping points, the more cyclists there are on a route, the more confident other cyclist feel about joining them. And the greater the likelihood of more investment!

We can all be part of the tipping process. If we make the beneficial changes the climate needs and talk about them with friends and family, at church, in the work place, at the gym and in the café or bar, the desire for change will grow in momentum and change will happen.