Life is full of dilemmas and paradoxes. I’ve been married to an oil and gas engineering consultant for over 20 years. I’m passionate about nature and care about the future for my children. What do I do? Sack him? Or work to influence his views and do what I can to make a positive difference to our collective future?
Situations are often more complex than they initially seem. Much of his work is with gas, a cleaner energy than oil and coal in the transition to a green economy. As he points out in an article, ‘more than a century after the light bulb was invented, most of the African continent remains cloaked in darkness after nightfall. School children often cannot read after dusk, businesses cannot grow, clinics cannot refrigerate medicines or vaccines, and industries are left idle.’ He goes on ‘Using natural gas in parallel with renewables can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of power generation’. Perhaps not all bad.
And who I am to judge? We live in the country. I drive a very reliable old diesel Honda CRV which might have justified its manufacturing carbon footprint spread across 154,000 miles of service and had better miles per gallon (average 41.6 mpg) and lower CO2 emissions than its petrol equivalent, but it’s not the best option for climate change or pollution. I’m part of the problem. We can all be part of the solution.
I’m making progress. Our house is well insulated, our energy supply is from 100% renewable sources and most of our bulbs are now LEDs. I’m investigating air source heat pumps to replace the oil-fired heating system. I cycle to buy vegetables from a local organic farm – a win, win for health and reducing my carbon footprint. Regular exercise significantly increases my survival chances post breast canceri. My diet is low on meat, high on vegetables – good for health and climate change. I buy eggs from the local farm – truly free-range and foraging birds. The beef I occasionally eat is local, pasture raised – better for your health and the environment.
There are calls to eat less red meat for climate change and health reasons. But not all red meat is bad. As the Sustainable Food Trust points out, sustainable farming practices with livestock as part of the mix can play a vital role in soil fertility and locking carbon into the soil. Pure grass-fed livestock provides food with a perfectly balanced ratio of Omega 3 and 6 (1:1) according to Dr Servan-Schreiberii and some people thrive better with meat in their diet according to nutritionists who look at metabolic types. By contrast, he points out, livestock fed corn and soy can result in imbalance in our bodies as much as 1/15, even 1/40iiicontributing to inflammation, a condition in which cancer thrives.
Turn to the environment and you find that more than two thirds of rainforest destruction is linked to commodities such as soy, beef, palm oil and paper according to Global Canopy, a key player in the field. Our consumption is helping to drive deforestation. Yet forests are vital for a whole range of reasons from climate change, clean air, flood prevention and medicines to livelihoods for over a billion of the world’s poorest people and habitat for a myriad of species. More than 25% of modern medicines originated from tropical forest plants according to Rainforest Concern, and we’ve only learned to use 1% of these amazing plants. Imagine what medical breakthroughs may lie in the other 99%.
The message from science is alarming. The UK government has declared a climate emergency and yet business continues as usual. Twelve years to keep climate change to within a rise of 1.5 degrees ran the headlines in the autumn of 2018. The earth’s sixth major extinction event is underway scientists warn.iv Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate with 3.6 million hectares of primary rainforest, an area the size of Belgium, cut down in 2018v. A 60% decline in the size of populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians in just over 40 years according to WWF’s 2018 Living Planet report. A 75% decrease in insect populations.vi Amongst this are conservation success stories but not yet enough.
Cancer is now predicted to affect one in two people in their lifetimes according to Cancer Research UK. The world is experiencing an epidemic of other chronic diseases, stress and loneliness. We are living out of harmony with nature and ourselves.
We all need to become part of the solution, to look at how we live and what we consume, to build on success stories, to help turn the tide.
I’ve been through Grade 3 cancer. I’m over three years on and clear. I believe in empowerment, positive action and hope for the future. Positive Nature has been set up in a spirit of optimism, that working together we can all make a positive difference. My vision is to develop a network of people who feel the same. To share experience and promote good practice through projects, events and briefings and to signpost to the organisations already making a difference. Join me on the journey.
i The Importance of Physical Activity for People Living With and Beyond Cancer, A concise Evidence Review, Macmillan Cancer Support 2011 cited two studies suggesting a 40% lower risk breast cancer mortality and breast cancer recurrence for women undertaking the recommended minimum levels of physical activity (150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week), a statistic which inspired my approach to exercise going through cancer. This publication has now been replaced by a more up-to-date review of evidence. See: Physical Activity and Cancer, A concise evidence review, Macmillan Cancer Support 2017. Please consult your oncologist and take expert advice to inform your approach to exercise.
ii Anticancer a New Way of Life, Dr David Servan-Schreiber, Penguin Group 2007
iii See ii.
iv See Earth’s sixth mass extinction event under way, scientists warn, Guardian 10 July 2017 from an article Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signalled by vertebrate population losses and declines, Gerardo Ceballos, Paul Ehrlich, Rodolfo Dirzo, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 2017.
v Tree planting has ‘mind blowing’ potential to tackle climate crisis, Guardian 4 July 2019. Research published in the journal Science by The Crowther Lab of ETH Zurich. See release How trees could save the climate.
vi See Scientists warn of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after study shows flying insect numbers plummeting 75%. Independent 19 October 2017. Scientific team study, More than 75% decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas, published in journal PLOS ONE.