All Posts By

Roger Heppleston

Intensive farming

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Three new reports catalogue how intensive farming methods are destroying the natural world and threatening our future .

In the journal of Biological Conservation, Francisco Sanchez-Bayo reports a ‘catastrophic decline’ in insect species.

A UN report on the state of food biodiversity reports a growing reliance on a small number of crop species to supply our food; just 9 species account for 66% of crop production.

A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research identifies that topsoil is being lost 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replaced. Since the 1950’s, 30% of the world’s arable land has become unproductive due to erosion.

It all makes grim reading. However, there are small sprigs of hope.

The Union of concerned scientists https://www.ucsusa.org/food-agriculture/advance-sustainable-agriculture/what-is-sustainable-agriculture claim that ‘there’s a transformation taking place on farms across the United States.’

For decades, we’ve produced the bulk of our food through industrial agriculture—a system dominated by large farms growing the same crops year after year, using enormous amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that damage soils, water, air, and climate. This system is not built to last, because it squanders and degrades the resources that it depends on. 

But a growing number of innovative farmers and scientists are taking a different path, moving toward a farming system that is more sustainable—environmentally, economically, and socially. This system has room for farms of all sizes, producing a diverse range of foods, fibers, and fuels adapted to local conditions and regional markets. It uses state-of-the-art, science-based practices that maximize productivity and profit while minimizing environmental damage.

Some proponents of intensive farming claim that its impacts are the price we must pay to “feed the world.” In fact, a growing body of scientific evidence has debunked this claim, showing that a more sustainable model can be just as profitable—and can meet our needs for the long haul.

The issue of immigration

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The issue of immigration brings into focus the developing confrontation between liberal humanist values and nationalist instincts.  Increasing levels of immigrants from different cultures have fuelled the rise in populism across the world. As a result, the international cooperation necessary to save the planet is becoming even more difficult to achieve.

The Turk Umut Ozkurmh has been pondering the rise of the far right in Sweden, where he lives. This paragraph from  his article in the Guardian is worth quoting:

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/23/cosmopolitan-sweden-far-right-refuge-europe

I had to understand that the central question is, as the Swedish historian Lars Trägårdh puts it, whether it is possible to resolve the fundamental tension between, on the one side, “universal moral rules founded in notions of human rights”, and on the other, “nationally bounded claims derived from the idea of citizenship in particular nation states”.

My answer is yes, and the formula is simple: emphasise the connection between rights and duties; speed up the process of integration of newcomers (refugees or migrants) without demanding that they fully assimilate into the dominant culture, but asking them to respect the existing social contract; foster a sense of common destiny that does not necessarily require myths of common ancestry; and engage with the demand for recognition in a fair and equal way, without privileging either minorities or majorities.

Governments of the world should listen to his views  and act accordingly to avert future strife.

How can it be morally justified to risk the future lives of our children?

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How can it be morally justified to risk the future lives of our children? The biological purpose of human existence is the preservation of our species, and yet somehow the threat of climate change doesn’t register as an overwhelming moral issue.  Religious authorities are supposed set moral standards, and yet Evangelical religions and the Catholic Church are much more concerned with today’s unborn children than worrying about the prospects for future generations. How can this be so?

We are suffering a crisis of moral leadership. Our religious and political leaders are overwhelmed by their own issues born of past events. No one is looking at the big picture or is statesman enough to  to lead us safely through the year’s ahead.

We have been told that we should cut back on flying and eating meat if we are to have a chance of reducing carbon emissions to zero. If we had leaders who exercised moral authority and showed their commitment by changing their own lifestyle, then perhaps the public at large would follow.  Right now, we seem to be stuck in a moral abyss and drifting towards ecological tragedy.

GDP growth isn’t the only objective for society

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GDP growth isn’t the only objective for society, though sometimes it seems to be the only measure of success that all our politicians endorse. There are arguably other more relevant measures of a nation’s success. This week the UK’s Office of National Statistics published its figures on life expectancy for 2015 to 2017; it shows that life expectancy in the UK is 79 years for men and 83 years for women.

Surely most of us would like to live longer, but it is currently a post code lottery.  In some regions of Scotland and the North you are likely to live 10 years less than people living in the South East. The reasons are unclear. As Southerners are not physically different than Northerners, it must be due to lifestyle issues like diet, exercise and drug consumption or stress related issues like poverty, caring and unemployment. These are factors that are in the power of society to change by policy, education and example.

Wouldn’t everyone welcome an initiative to improve life expectancy.  Shouldn’t life expectancy be high on the list of success factors for our society. Let’s encourage politicians, economists and civil servants to make it a national imperative.

Racial hatred is a cultural issue

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Homo sapiens is a tribal species with a dangerous propensity to unite ‘us’ against ’the rest’.  Our history is marred with despicable acts of cruelty, as contact between different hunter-gatherer bands, tribes and states turned into inter-community hatred and violence. Since the Enlightenment the level of violent conflict has declined and the major powers of the world have learned to live in peace with each other. However, inter-community hatred is still present and can bubble up at any time. When combined with differences in physical characteristics this inter-community antagonism is known as racism.

Those in the Eugenics movement in the early twentieth century tried to show that this racial division had a scientific basis; that different races were essentially different species. This has since been disproved; we now know we are all one species that emerged some 200,000 years ago in Africa. The latest proof comes from David Reich in his book Who We are and How We got Here.  He has shown conclusively that the makeup of our DNA is a result of tens of thousands of years of intermixing of peoples from different geographical regions. Differences in skin colour and facial and physical characteristics between people from different countries account for only one sixth of the natural variation in DNA between humans.

Racial hatred is a cultural issue that has no scientific validity. This does not mean that it does not exist or is not important. It is part of our inherited tribal behaviour; it can only be overcome by changing cultural habits. Groups of humans always have a choice about the way they interact with other groups; they can compete or co-operate. In our globally integrated world competition that leads to hatred and violence is especially destructive. This is why developing a culture that can unite people of different cultures, religions and nations is so important for the future of mankind.

 

Our politicians are hopeless

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We need our politicians to plan our country’s future. We know that society is aging and that this will create huge problems for our health and social services. Surely the least we could ask of our politicians is to have a plan to deal with this challenge?

Two reports published recently (see Health and Population Articles page) underline the extent of the task ahead.

They show:

  • The number of people over 85 that require 24-hour care will double in the next 2 decades.
  • British women are amongst the least healthy in Europe; they are more likely to suffer diabetes, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s at an early age.
  • Whilst life expectancy is increasing for women, healthy life expectancy remains constant. Women are spending longer living with chronic health conditions

These are just a few of the issues. The NHS and Social Services stumble from crisis to crisis. There is no plan.  Our politicians have no clue what to do and there is no initiative to tackle the problem. We are all going to suffer in the years to come from our leaders’ lack of political foresight.

If you want to save the world veganism isn’t the answer

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Environmental activists are encouraging us all to become vegans because methane emissions by ruminants are a major cause of climate change. There’s no question that we should be eating less meat but Isabella Tree in her book Wilding: The Return of nature to the British Farm argues that veganism also has environmental downsides. She says:

 [Veganism] drives up demand for crops that require high inputs of fertiliser, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides, while demonising sustainable forms of livestock farming that can restore soils and biodiversity, and sequester carbon… Counter-intuitive as it may seem, adding the occasional organic pasture-fed steak to your diet, could be the right way to square the circle.

Sustainable living

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How do we develop the habits and systems that preserve nature and reduce pollution? Most people would agree with the aim of living a sustainable life on Earth.  However, they do little in practice; compared with other pressures on their lives, creating an eco-friendly society seems much less important and far too difficult.

In Compete or Cooperate, Roger Heppleston argues that creating an eco-friendly society will only happen if the moral culture of society as a whole changes.  The wave of hot weather that has swept the world this summer has finally convinced most people that climate change is real. As the environment deteriorates further and the effects of climate change bite harder, people will gradually come to realise the importance of preserving the planet for our children.  When this happens, we will develop a practical set of moral imperatives that each of us can follow to preserve the environment.

The aim of the Eco-humanity website is to accelerate this process by drawing up a practical set of moral behaviours that support a life-fulfilling, eco-friendly society.  These should be capable of being adopted by people of all cultural backgrounds. A first suggestion is shown on the Sustainable Lifestyle web page. Please let us know your views.

Let’s stop buying black plastic containers

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Every week we dutifully wash out used plastic containers and put them in the recyclable waste bin for collection by the council. It now transpires this is largely wasted effort.

The Local Government Association says that two thirds of plastic is unrecyclable and being sent to landfill. This is a scandal. Even industry sources say that most packaging could be made to be recyclable. But yet again the government and industry leaders are letting us down. No one is looking at the big picture and ensuring that we do the right thing. Simple  inexpensive solutions that would drastically reduce plastic waste are not being applied.

What can we do as consumers? Well, for a start, we can stop buying anything in black plastic containers. The only reason black plastic is being used is that it makes the food look good.  However black is the only colour that can’t be easily scanned by recycling machines; as a result, all black plastics are being sent to landfill.

Stopping buying black plastic is just a first step, but we need to make a stand and take action to show we care about our environment.

Articles web-page

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The Articles web-page is launched today.

It will aim to a library of articles and books that show the development of human evolutionary change.  It will show how global warming, the destruction of the natural world, the headlong pursuit of technological development and economic growth combined with the misuse of political power is creating a divided world that is destroying the planet